Check out my review of short action thriller Chameleon for UK Film Review here
Filming the same actors over 12 years to show them ageing in real life is what made Richard Linklater’s Boyhood famous. However the film is far more than just a clever idea, it is a phenomenal film literally about growing up. It is an engaging, funny, moving and relatable masterpiece that explores childhood and parenting in great depth.
The film has no real plot in the normal sense of the word, it simply follows Mason Junior (Ellar Coltrane) from the ages of 6 to 18. His life evolves naturally and realistically, there is no great drama or plot twists, it is simply conveying real life, which it does perfectly. The jumps in time are unannounced and irregular, instead they are shown by how the characters look and the setting. This results in the feeling similar to seeing a friend or relative after a long time, where things have changed but there is still a great sense of familiarity. Although Mason is the focus, we watch his sister (Lorelei Linklater), Mum (Patricia Arquette) and Dad (Ethan Hawke) grow and change in their own ways, making the film much more than just a tale of ‘Boyhood’. The cast is the real strength of the film, Arquette and Hawke are undeniably superb and the child actors, including the many side characters, are exceptional throughout. This is an accomplishment that should not be overlooked, casting very young actors that need to have the skill to remain talented throughout is incredibly hard, as shown by the Harry Potter franchise and, to some extent, Modern Family. With their talent and the pitch perfect script, the film manages to explore and tackle themes and issues that in less skilled hands would come off as overly sentimental or irksomely quirky.
One of these themes is nostalgia, something that is challenging to do without appearing like you are trying to get a cheap emotional reaction from the audience. It is handled expertly. It is not trying to shove a toy or popular song down your throat shouting “remember this??” Instead the film is simply using the music, clothes, Gameboys etc that were around when it was filmed in a completely natural way. It feels like 2002 because what you’re seeing is 2002. This is yet another example of how Linklater’s idea and hard work really paid off. Had the same script been shot in one go using makeup and different actors to portray the ageing process it just would not be as effective or moving.
X-Men: Apocalypse is the ninth film in the increasingly convoluted X-Men series (including Deadpool) and provides 2016 with its fourth major super-hero flick. Set in 1985, the young X-Men, led by familiar faces Professor X (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), face a suitably threatening Apocalypse (Oscar Issac), the world’s first mutant, who wants to rebuild the world for him to rule. It’s a story that had potential from the source material, but unfortunately falls to genre clichés too often. This is a real shame, especially since director Bryan Singer’s earlier X-Men films were so good at creating thought provoking plots within the super hero genre.
This lack of thought provoking material really bugged me, themes like prejudice and the fear of difference were brushed to the side for a by the numbers world destruction plotline. Bar a couple of reasonably well-handled scenes with Magneto (Michael Fassbender) including a return to Auschwitz, the film lacks any real emotional punch. There is even a character death that is seemingly forgotten within five minutes. The poor and occasionally cheesy writing delivered by some surprisingly average acting really doesn’t help. There are a few good jokes, mainly from Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, but some of the laughs in the screening I attended were for scenes that clearly were not intentionally funny.
Quicksilver, who is given the screen time he deserves, is the real bright spark of the film and keeps it from being, for lack of a better word, boring. Evan Peters seems to be having the time of his life playing the speedster. He brings to the screen the joy that belongs in modern super-hero films. His trademark scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past was a show stealer and I for one was eagerly anticipating its follow up. Fortunately I was not disappointed. His magic moment is longer, funnier and more ambitious than the original jaw dropper. It is without doubt the highlight of the film.
However that one great moment of movie magic cannot save the film from its occasionally shoddy pieces of filmmaking. The opening act is clunky and jumps around the world in a confusing manner, as if it’s setting up a subplot, forgetting about it, then suddenly remembering fifteen minutes later and rushing to revisit it. The romance between Scott Summers and Jean Grey is unbearably forced and the CGI opening titles are cringe worthy.
There is some fun super powered action to enjoy in the final third, but in a year with the outstanding Captain America: Civil War, and the hilarious Deadpool, there isn’t much to keep it from feeling a bit underwhelming.
Dark, twisted, ultra-violent and uncompromisingly explicit, Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece provides an unmistakably brilliant yet uncomfortable viewing experience. Based on the book of the same name, the film follows Alex, a young boy who is as equally obsessed with extreme sexual violence as he is with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, spending his evenings with his pack of ‘droogs’ causing mayhem until he becomes the centre of a controversial government brain-washing programme designed to rid society of crime.
The film explores powerful issues, such as government intervention, the importance of free will and the split between the young and old of society, that make the film continuously thought-provoking and disturbingly relevant. Kubrick achieves a grounded sci-fi feel through intelligent use of sets, backgrounds and props. Instead of crazy gadgets or robots, erotic art and quirky costumes give the sense of a different society. The film looks futuristic to an extent, but feels very realistic, making its content even more apt and terrifying. Kubrick also incorporates the book’s made up language, Nadsat, a combination of English, Russian and Cockney rhyming slang. It results in intriguing dialogue that feels like you are part of an older generation attempting to understand the weird colloquialisms of teenagers. This language is prevalent, thanks to narration from Alex himself. Malcolm McDowell’s definitive performance is unnervingly brilliant as the psychopath. He comes across as charming in his speech yet repulsive in his actions. He often refers to the viewer as ‘friend’, creating an uncomfortable personal relationship between oneself and Alex. The juxtaposition of his speech and actions makes for an engaging and interesting character, and it is easy to see his influence throughout cinema.
A Clockwork Orange is a multi-layered motion picture that has great range and depth. It deals with ever more relevant issues and themes and is therefore a true must watch film.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is an intense drama focused on the conflict between ruthless capitalist Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and egotistical preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). On the surface the film is about an early 20th century oil prospector building his wealth in Southern California. However the film’s themes and subplots go far deeper, exposing a highly complex story about family, business, religion and human nature. It is a thought provoking masterpiece of filmmaking that stayed with me after the end credits and seemed to improve the more I considered and reflected on it.
The most striking and obvious talking point of the film is Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance, which rightfully won him an Oscar. His manages to shift from terrifyingly intense to unnervingly quiet from scene to scene. Day-Lewis brings the most out of Anderson’s writing with expert delivery packed with emotion. He also brings an incredible physical element to the role in the subtle ways he demonstrates power with his walk, the way he holds himself in scenes and his piercing, ever present gaze. He effortlessly coveys the character’s ruthlessness and detachment from others, and adds a feeling of tension whenever he’s on screen. However Paul Dano is by no means overshadowed as he delivers a powerhouse performance as Eli Sunday and his brother Paul. Like Day-Lewis he can shift from almost maniacal preaching to calmness resulting in a similar unnerving feeling. It is a shock that he was not even nominated for best supporting actor at the 2008 Oscars as it really is effortlessly brilliant. It is also worth noting Dillon Freasier as Daniel Plainview’s son, HW. Despite his young age he gives a talented well-rounded performance that results in a convincing and hugely important father son relationship.
The real star of the film however is Jonny Greenwood’s score. It is continuously ominous and foreboding, giving every scene an air of threat. It almost feels like a score for a horror film which, combined with the tense performances and complex writing, gives the film an element of real life terror. The power of the score means that even when it isn’t in a scene you still have the intensity due to the way it builds up, making the silences feel like everything is coming to a head. The climactic scene removes the background music, allowing Day-Lewis and Dano to really hit home. Combining this score with Robert Elswit’s beautiful cinematography really drives home the brilliance of this film. Elswit uses reasonably lengthy takes to capture the performances, and epic wide shots to capture the astonishing scenery. The film’s big action moment, where oil shoots out of the ground to create a towering inferno, is a work of cinematic art.
Overall There Will Be Blood boasts everything needed to create the perfect film. Incredible writing, complex characters, award winning performances, an astounding score and expert cinematography. It delivers a realistic, yet often terrifying, story that will make you think. A true masterpiece.