Month: January 2017

Hacksaw Ridge – Review

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Mel Gibson’s return to the movie scene sees him direct Hacksaw Ridge, one of the most graphic WWII movies since Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line. It’s a heck of a comeback for Gibson as, with the help of an incredibly impressive Andrew Garfield, he produces this touching yet action packed and gripping war flick.

Garfield plays combat medic and conscientious objector, Desmond Doss, a man of God who decides to serve during the war following Pearl Harbour. Due to his religious beliefs however, he refuses to carry a weapon in battle, causing controversy among his camp.

We first encounter Desmond as a child, growing up in Virginia in the 1930’s, fighting with his brother while his drunken WWI veteran father idly watches without any intention to break them up. We first see Desmond as a violent young lad but that deep down he struggles to comprehend his actions, appalled with himself over what he is capable of.

Following an incident with his brother, Desmond grows into a charming young adult – saving the life of a car accident victim shortly before sweet talking young nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) who he goes on to date and marry. This concludes the first act of the movie in which we get to witness Desmond’s home life, growing into an amiable and soft human being, sharing a smitten romance with Dorothy before landing the bombshell to her that he would be signing up for active duty.

The second section of the film sees the struggles that Desmond has to cope with in boot camp. We see him as an ideal soldier, beating his comrades in exercises and looking like a model student – until shooting practice. Refusing to even pick up his rifle, Desmond faces a back lash from his fellow soldiers as well as his officers in charge, which include strong performances from Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington.

After rigorous negotiating, Desmond is finally granted clearance to serve in Okinawa – without a fire arm, acting primarily as a combat medic. The final act of the movie is all out war and bloodshed, following Desmond as he rapidly reaches hero status for his actions amongst the carnage that is happening all around him.

Gibson does an incredible job of balancing the grit and horror of war with the compassion and courage that is based around this staggering real life hero. This balancing act helps make Hacksaw Ridge so much more than just a war film and much of that is down to Garfield. Although the Academy Award for Best Actor is likely to head elsewhere, Garfield produces his best performance to date and he is why we fall in love with Desmond who you can’t help but admire and respect.

Beyond the brilliance of its leading actor, Hacksaw Ridge is a visually stunning movie. The final act of the movie upon the ridge itself is one of the most intimate and brutal war scenes you are likely to see. By that stage, the previous two sections have set the audience up nicely, introducing you to Desmond and following his story and ambitions.

Despite his controversial past, Gibson has again shown that he has nothing to prove when it comes to gory storytelling. The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto were previous projects of his and all of these movies illustrate that he doesn’t get lost in all the blood and guts, but sticks to the story despite the violent carnage. It’s an incredible story of a remarkable human being, expertly portrayed.

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The 2017 Academy Awards – The Nominations

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The Oscars are only round the corner and the nominations are in! Here is a list of the notable categories and their nominations:

Best Motion Picture

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester By The Sea

Moonlight

Best Leading Actor

Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea

Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling – La La Land

Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Leading Actress

Isabelle Huppert – Elle

Ruth Negga – Loving

Natalie Portman – Jackie

Emma Stone – La La Land

Meryl Streep – Florence Forster Jenkins

Best Director

Dennis Villeneuve – Arrival

Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By The Sea

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Best Music Written for Motion Pictures

Mica Levi – Jackie

Justin Hurwitz – La La Land

Dustin O’Halloran, Volker Bertelmann – Lion

Nicholas Britell – Moonlight

Thomas Newman – Passengers

Best Documentary

Fire At Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

O.J: Made In America

13th

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight

Jeff Bridges – Hell Or High Water

Lucas Hedges – Manchester By The Sea

Dev Patel – Lion

Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis – Fences

Naomie Harris – Moonlight

Nicole Kidman – Lion

Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams – Manchester By The Sea

Best Animation

Kubo and the Two Strings

Moana

My Life as a Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

Best Cinematography

Bradford Young – Arrival

Linus Sandgren – La La Land

Greig Fraser – Lion

James Laxton – Moonlight

Rodrigo Prieto – Silence

The 89th Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, takes place in Hollywood on the 26th February 2017.

La La Land – Review

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It’s hard to believe that director Damien Chazelle is only 31 years of age and in just his third movie, he produces something as magical and captivating as La La Land. The movie has been tipped for huge success this year and it’s no wonder. Given the hype, it’s easy for expectations to rise to dangerous levels only to leave a disappointing taste once consumed, but La La Land reaches those steep heights and leaves its audience wanting more of a taste.

The plot is simple enough; Ryan Gosling plays Seb, a failing jazz musician, with an aching pain for the fading genre, who we see at the start of the movie losing his job as a restaurant pianist. Emma Stone plays Mia, a struggling actress seeking her big break in Hollywood, pouring her heart out in auditions only to be turned away in double quick time.

Despite a brief encounter on the night of Seb’s firing from the restaurant, the pair is reacquainted coincidentally at a pool party where Seb is playing in a humiliatingly cheesy pop band. The encounter leads the couple to a Singin’ In the Rain-esque skit with an enchanting Los Angeles backdrop. This is just one of the many examples of Chazelle hinting at a variety of classical musicals that the project tips its hat to. But Chazelle wanted a mixture of the charm of a musical with the grim realities of everyday life and once the pair fall in love, they begin learning a lot from each other’s passions, helping to discover how to fulfil their dreams.

Just five minutes into the movie and you know you’re in for something special. The opening scene is a vast musical sequence set on the busy highways of Los Angeles and this scene alone illustrates the brilliance of cinematography and choreography that is apparent throughout the rest of the movie. La La Land is full of colour and vibrancy, preserving those musical traditions, but all the while balancing the serious nature of these two characters.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have had plenty of on screen experience together and it’s difficult to find a pairing in (real life) Hollywood with such mesmerising chemistry. They are both fantastic, making their characters incredibly believable, maintaining that balance of cheekiness and charm with grit and reality. Stone in particular produces arguably her best performance to date; witty and charismatic yet vulnerable while Gosling is also impressive as the tough but deeply pained Seb.

They are two characters you can’t help but fall in love with along with everything else associated with La La Land. It’s charming, funny though heart-breaking and punishing at the same time amongst all the colour and flair of the brilliant musical mayhem that is just so captivating. By the end, you just want to jump straight back in and do it all over again.

Live By Night – Review

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Ben Affleck has had a positive go of it throughout his short directing career. Obvious successes include Gone Baby Gone in which he directed younger brother, Casey, and Argo which was crowned Best Picture at the Academy Awards back in 2012. By now it’s clear to see that Affleck is a very capable director, yet his latest venture, Live By Night, based on Dennis Lehane’s 1920’s gangster novel, is an unremarkable dud on his otherwise prolific career behind the camera.

Starring in as well as directing, Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, a petty criminal in Boston during the Prohibition Era, evading the gangster life but instead carrying out robberies and holdups with the assistance of girlfriend Emma Gould (Sienna Miller). However, due to certain circumstances, he finds himself in Florida, gradually shifting into the gangster world, building his own empire based around the rum business, working with everyone from every race and background. As a result, he forms a list of enemies, including the Klu Klux Klan and converted daughter of Chris Cooper’s under-the-radar cop with whom to struggles to overcome due to the high pressures of the people above him.

Since its release, Live By Night hasn’t had the strongest of responses. This perhaps is more or less down to expectations following previous successes with its director. That said, there’s plenty of talent on show in the movie – Affleck of course behind the camera, with Miller and Cooper in front of him alongside the likes of Brendan Gleeson, Elle Fanning and Matthew Maher. All give strong cameo performances, when in fact Affleck is the least enterprising of them all. The movie looks stylish and carries a particular swagger, and it’s clear that much of the budget contributed towards the costume and set design. In fact this is Affleck’s most expensive film to date by far and it is a shame therefore that it could only produce this dull, flat adaptation which is disappointing when you consider all the ingredients that Affleck had to conjure with.

The movie continually hints at breaking through into something special but it lacks that certain grit to make it any different to previous gangster flicks. It’s not a terrible movie, but Live By Night is a movie that will go under the radar and pass by quickly which is a unfortunate given Affleck’s track record behind the camera.

Golden Globes 2017 – The Winners

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Best Motion Picture – Drama

Moonlight

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

Isabelle Huppert – Elle

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

La La Land

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Emma Stone – La La Land

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Ryan Gosling – La La Land

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Viola Davis – Fences

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals

Best Director – Motion Picture

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language

Elle

Best Motion Picture – Animated

Zootopia

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

La La Land – Damien Chazelle

Best Original Song – Motion Picture

‘City of Stars’ – Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul (La La Land)

Best Original Score – Motion Picture

Justin Hurwitz – La La Land

 

Fences – Review

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Not many people in the UK will know that Fences originally was a Broadway production. Released then 33 years ago, the writer of said play, August Wilson, refused to see his project converted to film without a black man behind the camera. Norman Jewison came closest to directing in 1987, with Eddie Murphy set to play the lead role, but the project fell through. Wilson’s demand stood firm until his death in 2005, and in 2016 Denzel Washington took charge of turning the play into a motion picture, directing and starring in. As a result, Fences is a film that, along with a number of other movies this year, ensures that there will not be a repeat of the backlash from the total absence of black nominees that overshadowed last year’s awards season.

Washington and Viola Davis both won Tony awards for their 2010 stage revival of Fences and they both reprise their roles on screen as Troy and his wife Rose. The former is a working class man in his early 50s who we perceive in the opening stages of the story as a well together, charismatic man. Strong but fair with his son Cory (Jovan Adepo). He shares a humble relationship with his wife and friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) as well as his brain damaged brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) and his eldest son with whom he had with another woman, Lyons (Russell Hornsby). A huge revelation halfway through the act, however, sees his manor change for the worse and he suddenly becomes bitter and forceful, completely changing the audience’s interpretation of the man.


Washington and Davis will certainly be mentioned during awards season. The latter of which perhaps more so. Despite much of the movie surrounding Troy, we see much of Washington’s best come out when his character is having a dramatic confrontation with wife Rose and Davis absolutely drives the power home. It’s no wonder Washington decided to stick with much of the original cast of the play’s revival and there is definitely a stage feel throughout with much of the movie played out in and around the family’s home. There’s a vast amount of dialogue, it’s virtually music-free and as a result it is clear to see that Washington was keen to stick as closely to the story’s on stage roots.

Fences has already been tipped to pick up some awards this season and despite all those years waiting for the play to be converted to the screen, it has certainly been worth it.