downsizing, review

During a financially difficult time in their lives Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey (Kristen Wigg) decide to go in for a new procedure in which they are shrunk down to join a community of people 1/16 their original size.

Alexander Payne’s filmography boasts of Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska. His experience with characters looking for something in their lives is solid, so it’s a shame to see such an amazing concept fall short.

Matt Damon stars with his on-screen wife Kristen Wigg, they play Paul and Audrey Safranek, whose last name becomes a tired running gag when others are trying to pronounce it. After seeing a report about downsizing on TV and meeting a couple who had the procedure at their high school reunion they decide to do a little research. They are told their money would be worth a considerable amount more (their $152,000 converts into a whopping $12m) and due to their recent financial troubles, they both opt to go ahead with it, knowing full well that it’s irreversible.

The script, co-written with Payne’s regular partner Jim Taylor, is smart as it doesn’t take the easy route of making short jokes, if anything their choice of lifestyle is a cause of friction with problems including their right to vote and the amount of taxes they pay. The writing pair have come up with real world problems which could happen if life ever imitated art. Whilst there is very little waste and they don’t take up much room there are still issues such as it becoming easier to smuggle people from country and country whether for political purposes or to harm others. It gives it a genuine feel which the rest of the film mostly fails to do.

It’s supporting cast is made up of Jason Sudekis, the high school friend who is instrumental in convincing the Safraneks that this was the best thing they’ve done, Christoph Waltz, the charmingly smug and entertaining upstairs neighbour Dusan Mirkovic who is constantly holding parties and trying to convince Paul not to be so boring, and his cleaner Ngoc Lan Tran who slowly becomes the crux of the story. She comes from Vietnam and her unfortunate accent is entirely put on by actress Hong Chau. When imitating a real accent there should be a level of caution taken however she becomes the source of “comedy relief”. It comes across as though they are mimicking their culture which felt like a real low point.

There are constant reminders that these people are small, including a full sized dollar bill hung on a wall and a flower which is literally carried around so you don’t forget. It’s this sort of technique which proves that, whilst the concept is smart and original, this is just another film about lost people connecting in an unlikely place. It’s fine but loses credit in the by reminding you what these people are. 

With an idea as original as this (admittedly others have been shrunk in movies before but it’s ordinarily against their will) and some good performances, it’s a shame it feels the need to remind you what it’s about. As it reaches it’s anti-climactic end, you can’t help but feel short changed 

3 out of 5.

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Brawl in Cell Block 99, review

After becoming a drug-runner, former boxer Bradley Thomas gets imprisoned in a maximum security facility to complete a violent task.

Until a few years ago, Vince Vaughan was primarly seen as a comedic actor. Starring in movies such as Wedding Crashers, Dodgeball and Old School, he made his mark on the industry by making people laugh. More recently however he’s been pushing his serious actor status after working on various projects such as Hacksaw Ridge, True Detective and now Brawl in Cell Block 99. Whilst he’s an interesting presence, the film isn’t quite the role Vaughan was probably hoping for. 

He stars as Bradley (not Brad) Thomas, a former boxer who is fired from his job at a garage. Feeling desperate to provide for his wife, he turns to drug dealer Gil to become a driver in order to make a living. When a deal goes wrong, he’s arrested and thrown into prison. During Bradley’s stint, his wife is kidnapped and he’s tasked with killing a fellow inmate in order to get her back. 

The film rests on Vaughan’s fighting skills and that is something which is worth seeing, at first. Besides his anger, he’s relatively emotionless, only breaking down once. A straight talker who tells you what he’s thinking, it seems he’s always on the lookout for trouble, even before prison. Furiously smashing a car with his bare fists, breaking bones of those who get in his way, even becoming aggressive with his own associates, it’s clear that he’s been like this for a while. It’s a heavy weight to carry and Vaughan doesn’t quite manage it. His fighting style becomes quite dull as it’s the same thing over and over again. He’s easily the best thing but when he’s up against several mishandled supporting characters such as the warden pretending to be a sheriff  (he may as well literally have said “I’m the sheriff in this town”) and a few slimey bad guys, it’s not that difficult. The prison guards were pretty funny though, you can imagine the sense of humour you need to work in a place like that.

This is a messy, brutal and fierce film looking to make Vince Vaughan into a bigger brute than he seems. It’s certainly commendable but falls flat due to it’s clunky dialogue, over the top gore and a terrible supporting cast.

2 out of 5.

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The Shape of Water, review

A lonely woman who is employed as a cleaner at a highly secure government laboratory has her life changed after bonding with a creature. 

Guillermo del Toro has created a striking film in which he has combined the genres of fantasy, fairytale and love story all in one. Using modern society as an inspiration and being set during a cold war era, two living things bond in the most unlikely of places.

Sally Hawkins plays Eliza, who works as a cleaner at a laboratory based in Baltimore. She lives on her own above a cinema and counts her chatty neighbour Giles (an incredibly likeable Richard Jenkins) and her protective co-worker Zelda (the always wonderful Octavia Spencer) as her friends. During a routine shift a creature, referred to by Strickland (Michael Shannon) as the asset, is wheeled through in a metal tank. Eliza’s first encounter with the amphibious being is brief but immediately intriguing.

From here, the pair bond over being outcasts. They are both mute and share a love for each other’s company, Eliza is able to communicate with the creature on a level like no other human can. Her child like demeanour and love of imitating old movies gives her the perfect amount of innocence and fascination to be at complete ease with it. Hawkins has formed a character around being mute and somehow made her charming, sweet, adorable and likeable without the use of a single word. Her performance pushes the boundaries of what you’d expect from an actress of such high calibre. Shannon’s turn as the deliciously evil, mildly threatening family man gives you a villain to hate and admire. His terrifying grin and idiosyncratic love of a type of particular sweet gives him an edge of unsure malice. Despite it’s subject matter, the movie still has several moments of comedy relief including a scene involving a number of pies and another with Zelda proclaiming “Some of the best minds in the country and they still pee all over the floor in here”. The humour adds a level of realism in what is a fantasy film.

A beautiful fantasy film with a breathtaking creature and stellar performances from Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon makes this film a contender during awards season.

4 out of 5.

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The Breadwinner, review

A girl in Afghanistan pretends to be a boy in order to provide for her family after her father is wrongly imprisoned.

For girls to go outside without a male member of their family in certain parts of the world is unthinkable. They are still considered second class citizens and treated as such. Even when they are with a member of their own family, it is still looked down upon. This is the premise of The Breadwinner, an animated film by Nora Twomey who is directing her first solo feature. Taking place in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, it shows the harsh conditions people have to endure in order to live.

Creating the initially atmosphere, The Breadwinner is a beautiful looking film, with stunning landscapes and scenes along with sounds to accompany them. The oppressing environment girls are living in is also established quickly with the girl, Parvana (Saara Chaudry) who is selling items with her father at the local market. During an altercation with three men, her father is told she should not have left the house and both are almost beaten for doing so. As things escalate, her father is hauled off to prison, leaving the family with little money and food. Shortly after she is being chased away from attempting to go shopping on her own, which forces Parvana to disguise herself as a boy to provide for her family. Living with her sick mother, older sister and younger brother, there are a lot of mouths to feed, Parvana puts pressure on herself to be the breadwinner. 

Parvana is a strong willed girl who uses her method of storytelling as her own form of escapism and dealing with harrowing events from her past. The flashes into her story about a boy trying to defeat an evil spirit are as equally gorgeous as the rest of the film, looking as if it’s been cut out from paper. These dream like images pushes it’s plot forward by becoming more erratic as does their situation at home. 

During the course of the movie, we are constantly reminded of the place women have in this particular society. They are beaten for no reason, told not to work, that men are always in charge, that they should be staying at home and look after the men in their family and do nothing else. It’s with this that the director shows what our protagonist is made of, defying what the social convention is whilst hiding who she is. 

The beauty of the animation is matched by the emotional weight within it’s characters. The torture and torment they all suffer on different levels hits the perfect mark in each scene. 

4 out of 5.

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Battle of the Sexes, review

After becoming the most successful female player of all time, Billie Jean King is challenged to a match from retired male player, Bobby Riggs.

Tennis movies are a difficult one to crack. It’s not the most cinematic event to watch and it’s only occasionally exciting. How do you create an exciting film in which one ball gets hit around a court by two people? Well, you cut it out of most of the movie. This is what Battle of the Sexes has done, which focuses more on the of politics of man vs. woman than the sport itself. A smart move from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

Based on true events from 1973, it begins with Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) winning a pivotal match which makes her the most succesful female tennis player of all time. Shortly after, she’s told by her sassy friend Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman, clearly enjoying herself a lot) that the women’s prize money will be considerably less than that of the men’s. This news triggers a surprise meeting with Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), the man who has made this decision based on his own sexist views which essentially boils down to men are better than women. It’s this encounter which spurs Billie to start a rival tournament.

It’s impossible to keep count of the amount of sexist and patronising comments said by men which, whilst frustrating, serve a narrative purpose to the feminist story being told. Billie takes on the establishment for not helping her and other female tennis players despite selling just as many tickets as their male counterparts. The discourse in female rights, social politics and male dominance is rife throughout the movie’s central plot. Steve Carell’s Bobby Riggs is one one of these men. Frustrated by his post tennis career and working at his father in-laws business, he gets the idea to play against Billie during a late night tennis match which is funding his gambling habbit.

The pacing of the film is perfectly executed, going from the rise of Billie’s defying tournament, and moving on to her personal life whilst weaving it into her career. There’s a real sense of creating a narrative which links together very nearly, and with it’s smart writing from Simon Beaufoy, it achieves this with ease. The tension between King and Riggs builds before the climax towards the end.

Carell and Stone both give perfect performances. The former as the flamboyant, over the top, annoyingly charming (despite his sexist remarks) Riggs. He has channelled what it’s like to go from world phenomenon to working in an office, becoming increasingly irritated by his own mundane existence. The latter convincingly battles with countless men regarding their views on what women can and can’t do as well as concealing her sexuality during a time when it was not considered wholesome to be anything but straight and married with children. At one point she meets the open minded and going with the flow Marilyn Barnett played by Andrea Riseborough. The pair have an immediate spark which is difficult to fake. Stone embodies the most perfect version of Billie Jean King; an activist in a repressive time. 

It’s an impressive sports film without much sport, it deals with the gender politics perfectly and accurately looks at how tough women had it (and still have it). It’s final match fails to get to the lofty heights of excitement you usually witness in a boxing movie however it’s more than that. It shows how far we’ve come and how far we’re yet to go.

4 out of 5. 

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi Release New Trailer, Images and Poster

We finally have a brand new trailer for The Last Jedi and it seem Disney are being very generous by giving us some images and a new poster too. Some of the images have been taken directly from the new trailer, all of which features the cast in it’s entirety. 

Since seeing the first trailer about 5 months ago, fans have been eagerly awaiting more from the upcoming continuation of the saga. We’ve had a few images released along with the Vanity Fair photo shoot but now we have more! Take a look at the trailer, poster and images below.

What we see includes an all out war against the First Order, Chewbacca with an adorable new friend in the Millennium Falcon, Finn taking on Phasma, General Huxleading Stormtroopers (possibly including the rumoured Tom Hardy) into battle, Rey potentially turning over to the Dark Side, Kylo Ren acting like an angry child again with the chance of killing his mother and Luke FINALLY getting something to say. He’ll be happy with that.

The new poster is pushing the colour red even more than before, we have Luke, Finn, Rey, Poe, Leia, Chewie, General Hux, R2D2, C3PO, BB8, Phasma, Rose Rico and lots of red. Very curious to see why they’ve gone this way with this colour, not long until we get to see it.

Star Wars. Episode VIII: The Last Jedi will be released in the UK on December 14th, with Rian Johnson directing. I’ve heard that tickets are on sale this week so check your local listings. 

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Wonderstruck, review

A young boy’s story of finding his estranged father intertwines with that of a girl 50 years previous. 

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” The movie starts with a dream of wolves and this quote, which introduces us to Ben, the vulnerable protagonist of this story. In the first few minutes we learn that he’s living with his aunt and cousins after the death of his mother. It soon cuts to 50 years previously in 1927 where a deaf girl is searching for a famous actress she appears to be an admirer of. 

It’s from here that the film intertwines it’s story, showing their paths both of which lead to New York. Ben, played by Oakes Fegley, makes his way using a coach after escaping from a hospital following an accident. His clues lead him on different roads to find out about his father. Whereas Rose (Millicent Simmonds) runs away from home to escape her repressed childhood and frightful father. 

Along the way we’re introduced to Ben’s mother, Elaine (Michelle Williams), Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore) and Jamie (Jaden Michael), a friend Ben makes whilst searching for answers. His father works at the museum of natural history so it’s here where the pair bond in the way children do; curiosity. 

Both Oakes and Millicent give decent performances to portray the struggles they would be going through in different times, however when you have a cast that includes Michelle Williams, who pretty much just makes a cameo and Julianne Moore, there is no competing. The two are effortlessly brilliant as ever, Williams once again picking a relatively small film and Moore expressing everything in the odd look here and there. You can see it all in her face. 

However these two are not enough to save what is a pretty flimsy film. The intricate weave it’s trying to put together doesn’t quite pay off. It struggles with the amount of time it spends with Jamie, who doesn’t have a narrative point and serves absolutely no purpose. If anything he slows down our protagonist in getting to where he needs to go. This creates a lengthy running time of almost two hours, with a film that should really be an hour and half. Tops. 

With an interesting premise and a promising start, this is a movie being pushed down by it’s inability to cut scenes from a weighty script.

2 out of 5.

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Colin Trevorrow Has Left Star Wars Episode IX

A mutual decision by Lucasfilm and Colin Trevorrow has resulted in the director leaving Star Wars Episode IX. It was announced by Disney yesterday that due to having different ‘visions on the project’ they have parted ways leaving it open for another director to step in. 

In a statement regarding Trevorrow, Disney has said ‘Lucasfilm and Colin Trevorrow have mutual chosen to part ways on Star Wars Episode IX. Colin has been a wonderful collaborator throughout the development process but we have all come to the conclusion that our visions for the project differ. We wish Colin the best and will be sharing more information about the film soon.’
The news comes after Ron Howard replaced the fired Phil Lord and Chris Miller on the Han Solo movie in June. Recent rumours have surfaced regarding their sacking including their attempt to make Han Solo similar to Ace Ventura. The directors had been working on this film for almost 2 years so this came as quite a shock.

Trevorrow was announced as director of Episode IX on 2015 after the success of Jurassic World which has rebooted the franchise after making $1.6bn at the box office.

A replacement director has not been announced just yet so watch this space. Star Wars Episode IX is due for release on June 21st, 2019 with the next part of the saga The Last Jedi in cinemas on December 14th, 2017.

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Star Wars. Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. New Images

Not long until we see the next part in the saga which is due to end in 2019. The Last Jedi is coming round our way this Christmas and so far we have a name, a trailer a couple of posters and that’s it. It’s not really much to go on but of course stemming from the previous film, The Force Awakens, there are dozens of fan theories of who Rey is, where does Snoke come from, is Han Solo really dead? Oh Sorry, spoiler alert there. Awkward…

Anyway! The lack of detail is pretty standard for a big budget blockbuster by Disney, secrecy will keep you intrigued and guessing up until you watch it (or some blogger ruins it for you…) However we now have a few images to go on, starring a lot of our favourite characters from Episode VII as well as a few new ones. There’s Luke, Chewie, Leia, Rey, Po and Finn, plus Kylo Ren, as well as new comer Rose Tico, new ships and an intriguing looking building. (I can’t find any details on this but if you know please tell me!) One other thing, the red guys you’ll see are Praetorian Guards. So there, I know stuff! Check them out below.

The Last Jedi is due for release on December 15th, with Rian Johnson in the directors chair. 

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Dunkirk, review

Telling the story from a broader view of land, sea and air, Dunkirk shows the lives and rescue of the allied men from Belgium, the British Empire and France stuck on the beach during World War II.

Christopher Nolan has told countless stories from the point of view of his characters, creating their backstory, giving them a history and supporting figures in their lives in order to make their anguish and struggle seem more personal so that you can connect with those you wouldn’t normally. It’s in Dunkirk which he has subverted his own story telling technique. Here you have several events taking place with a range of soldiers going through a number of situations. Without knowing very much about them at all, some whose names are never said, you find yourself caring greatly for them and their safety. Knowing full well that you would never want to be in such a situation, Nolan immerses you as much as he can within the fighter planes, in the water, in the boats, on the beach, running from gunfire. It’s his unique way of making a war film (despite the director stating that this isn’t a war film).

It starts with a few soldiers walking along quiet deserted streets, picking up leaflets strewn across the ground which say “We Surround You. Surrender + Survive”. It’s a stark reminder to the men and the audience of the dire situation that they are in. Shortly after, the gun fire begins and they are running for their lives. From here on in, it’s a heart thumping race to survive in any way possible.

It’s narrative is spread not only across land, sea and air but also through three different timelines, intertwining with each other, getting a wide spread sense of the fear and danger each and every soldier is in. There’s one week for Tommy (Fionn Whithead) initially running from gunfire, it’s a day for civilian Mark Rylance who takes his boat, son and friend out to sea to help those trapped on the beach and it’s an hour for Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot, yet again having his face covered up but working wonders with his eyebrows. The intricate non-linear plots are stitched together seamlessly and minus the brief indications on screen, it’s not a detail which you notice too much.

Each performance feels more like a supporting character as there is no one person’s story which is told through out. Rylance and his boat, Hardy and his plane, plus Kenneth Branagh all appear on screen plenty of times, whilst giving gut wrenchingly intense performances while Whithead and Harry Styles who primarily remain on the beach together create a perilous atmosphere as they run and hide to survive.

These characters do not have a back story that we know about, the only part of their lives that we are aware of is what we see in front of us. Yet with it’s incredibly clever use of sound (the bullets piercing boats and planes, boots on the ground, heavy breathing) and sparing dialogue, you find yourself deeply concerned for all of those involved. The initial gun shots are deafening and echo off the houses and around the streets, showing how alone they are. The fear created primarily by rounds firing is hammered home when Rylance picks up Cillian Murphy, who’s terrified to the point of anger. Across his face and in all of his actions, you can feel it. Rylance feels it’s necessary to remind him “There’s no hiding from this son”.

Despite the 400,000 men who have no way of getting home, it’s Nolan’s use of each bullet that goes to show how isolated they are. It also becomes a way of pushing in the sense peril, the rattling of the war planes as they are hit several times by bullets, the explosions on the beach getting louder and louder as they approach you. It’s all encompassed by Han Zimmer’s stunning score, which is his best with Nolan yet. The use of sounds within the film being played along to Zimmer’s music, the thudding, the bangs, the piercing bullets as well as the sound of a ticking clock as if time is about to run out puts an intense and intimate atmosphere throughout the film.

Each and every moment has been designed to bring you as close to the edge of your seat as possible, it immerses you into the action without the use of 3D. If there was ever an argument for getting rid of 3D for good, this is it. A consistent visceral feeling which will remain with you for a long time. This will give you a hint of what it was really like on that beach, just without the danger.

5 out of 5.

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