During the awards pre-season at a time where the winning wheat is famously separated from the also ran chaff, Downsizing was thought to have been a potential Oscars frontrunner. With Alexander Payne at the helm we have a social satire that highlights the Human Race in crisis, the sort of stuff that gave The Descendants director his name and seemed a sure fire recipe for success.
Norwegian scientists invent a solution to the overpopulation crisis - Downsizing - the irreversible method of shrinking people in order for them to lead a wealthier and more stable life. Married couple Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey (Kristen Wiig) are stuck in a rut and believe Downsizing is their chance of a new start. Amazingly, despite its neat set up Downsizing has - at the time of writing - proven to be a a critical and commercial bomb.
Nonetheless Payne's pint sized picture appears a miniature masterpiece. No matter how many people choose to tear this flick apart I would certainly shrink five inches tall just to see it again. A topical story that deepens along the way, Downsizing stops at nothing to explore the weird and wonderful aspects of life - where we've come from and the unexpected places it brings us to.
Downsizing follows Paul, a normal man, in a normal job, wanting more from his uninspiring life. He and his wife Audrey make the courageous decision to downsize, discovering they will be able to live in luxury. Downsizing is an ambiguous allegory for life, the unexpected twists and turns it takes, what we view to be important - money and wealth? - what we learn from our experiences and how we take the step to break away from the comfort of what we already know.
Though quite literally his smallest performance, this might just be Matt Damon's most compelling yet. His character, your typical minimum wage worker who feels he deserves a little more from life, seeks a wealthier existence. Once he falls into the lap of luxury he soon realises it isn't all it's cracked up to be. Though Downsizers claim you live like kings - the story reminds us that there will always be people living in pain and squalor.
Paul realises there are many far worse off than him and with this revelation arrives his life's true meaning. Through Damon's character we see a man stuck in a mid life crisis who opens his eyes to experience things he has never dared to imagine nor had the chance to attempt. He eventually values normal aspects of the everyday, realising the truly important aspects of life and finding his purpose for the sake of helping others. This powerful realisation is aided by the feisty Hong Chau who develops the story from just being about the teeny tiny shrinky man who gets a big house and a nice car.
This is certainly not a story for everyone. Downsizing is a social satire with a clear, stark vision. It understands the story its trying to tell and finds a perfect balance between humour, heart and meaning. It is a picture designed to transport people - offering a complex look at our problematic modern world.
There are various interpretations to be taken from its thickly layered narrative, though you have to work for it and some viewers may not be rewarded in the way they anticipated. Downsizing is the five inch gift that keeps on giving - we deserve a story this topical - one that explores humanism and the seemingly unavoidable inevitability of much in life. Matt Damon and Hong Chau make stunning appearances in a nuanced, intelligent and powerful pint sized picture that preaches the value of the really important things in life.
With an initial release set for February 2017, this final chapter of the Maze Runner saga was significantly delayed after a car accident resulted in life threatening injuries to male lead Dylan O'Brien. Fast forward almost a year and we finally have the hotly anticipated climax to the series - hero Thomas embarks on a journey to the last city, in a desperate mission to find and rescue fellow WCKD prisoner Minho, whilst seeking a cure to the 'Flare' virus and settling a few old scores.
The final route through this dystopian maze hits a surprising dead end in an underwhelming closing chapter. Whether it's based on hugely successful books or not, we find The Death Cure out of charm, out of excitement and most certainly out of ideas. The chances are you will be disappointed walking out the screening - still demanding answers to the questions you went in with beforehand. Perhaps I had too much riding on this final chapter to the once exciting franchise, but the result really is as dull as it seems.
Gaping, decaying city structures and post apocalyptic set pieces are the primary reasons the second instalment Scorch Trials promised us an epic finale, developing the quirky success of the original. As soon as Thomas and friends reach the dazzling City Central in the final phase of The Death Cure, the film quickly losses the sharp 28 Days Later grit of its predecessors.
One would expect The Death Cure to fill in the blanks - uncovering the truth behind the mysterious and merciless WCKD, the truth about Thomas and his past, along with a clearer understanding to the human race ending Flare virus. At first a heist movie, then a rescue operation, The Death Cure boils down to just another formulaic story of 'poor against rich'. The Death Cure pulls in many directions but none that we wanted to go in. A one note tone and no differentiation in characters - this maze ultimately leads to nowhere.
The team swap playful banter and have a few genuine moments but as whole The Death Cure has no real story follow. Wonderfully choreographed fight scenes, car chases and a spectacular train heist opening are all high spots, but this doesn't make up for where the story falters. The various unanswered questions and multiple loose ends render this closing chapter cumbersome and for the most part messy.
The Death Cure starts well but fizzles and burns quicker than you'd expect. Though it could have completed the series with oomph; sadly this feels like an unsatisfying crawl to the finish line.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure:
Beginning production during the same year that The Book of Life was released - Coco's recent arrival has drawn many similarities to 20th Century Fox's quaint animation. Coco highlights one of Mexico's largest celebrations, the 'Dia de los Muertos'.
All young Miguel longs for is to express himself with music, however his family have banned anything of the sort due to a mysterious and unexplained event from their distant past. By some means he enters the Land of the Dead intent on finding his great-great-grandfather, a famous musician who he believes will change his family's view on music. Coco is absolutely Pixar's most magical and joyous outing yet. An elegant look into the beauty of Mexican culture, illustrated with some of cinema's most breathtaking animated visuals - when it all stacks up not only does it offer a gorgeous storybook glimpse into Mexican belief, Coco might just be the studio's finest picture since 2009's Up.
Toy Story taught us the significance of our relationship with toys, Up explores the mystical beauty of ageing and our unexpected, new experiences that come with it. These family movies have never been as on the nose as Coco, which easily delivers one their most moving creations. Ingeniously using the Mexican festival: 'Day of the Dead' as inspiration, Pixar tackle the question that has surrounded our existence since the beginning of time - what happens to us when we die? For a family film, this undeniably sounds pretty morbid - but with a sprinkle of Disney magic, Coco is a courageous move that pushes the boundaries of family films and the stories they usually tell.
By the opening few minutes, panning through the streets of Mexico you realise this is their best accomplished visual work to date. Once Miguel accidentally passes into the Land of the Dead things become even more astonishing. Long bridges of vibrant orange petals, thousands of our ancestors in gorgeous skeletal form and grand, jaw dropping set pieces popping with vibrant shades of purple and yellow, even for the company that spans multiple decades this is impressive.
You will laugh, you will cry and you will most certainly cheer. Coco is a brave story that develops the importance of family and the beauty of Mexican culture along the way. Bright, bold colours illustrated through some of the most impressive visuals available, Coco isn't just Pixar's most magical work - its easily one of their best.
Meryl Streep appears in The Post, her second publishing picture following 2006's The Devil Wears Prada, this time playing a far warmer character than the ice princess fashionista Miranda Priestly. America's first female newspaper owner is led into battle against the the White House over covered up Government Vietnam war secrets, leading to an almost impossible decision.
Spielberg remarkably captures the blood, sweat and tears of the publishing world - from lingering one-take scenes and tense over the shoulder camera work, to upper floors rattling from the thundering printers down below. Spielberg has a knack for placing you right within the action rather than inviting you to feel like a privileged, silent observer - you can almost smell the sweat, cigarette smoke and printing ink.
The Post assembles a collection of hacks who don't just sit back and let authority roll over them but fight down to the wire for what they believe - risking everything to make Joe Public aware of the truth. This gritty get up and go attitude runs throughout - intensified by the pressures of time as the film races to the final print. From beginning to end, The Post is a blissfully directed picture.
I'm of course telling what you already know, but Streep and Hanks absolutely star performers, actors of their calibre and experience never appear to take on dull or lacklustre roles. Both continue to expand their portfolio, a worldly, empowering performance from Streep and a swaggering turn for Hanks. When considering the number of powerful female roles Streep has delivered, the actress could quite easily begin her own newspaper, covering her wide and successful career.
After all, the pages of this edition wouldn't piece together so fanatically well if The Post hadn't such a marvellously typed narrative. A story that binds individuals - one of integrity and bravery under fire and in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Highlighted by the international man of movies Stephen Spielberg and his magnificent crew of consistently faultless stars, The Post is as exceptionally enjoyable as it is intelligent and informative.
The Post is yet another prime example of Spielberg's captivating cinema craft. One embarks on this journey through 1971 experiencing the sweaty palms and held breath first hand as its story grinds towards its climax. The Post is like reading the morning paper...with a stiff glass of whisky to hand!
Darkest Hour is the second Churchill biopic in two years following Brian Cox's Churchill - released quietly in the pre-summer film cluster last year. In contrast, Oscar season is coming and Darkest Hour has been appointed an academy favourite. Gary Oldman stars as Winston himself and Darkest Hour tells the story of how the newly appointed Prime Minister is challenged to negotiate or fight with Hitler as our troops are pushed towards the Dunkirk beaches.
Darkest Hour certainly delivers an important story, however it's one we've heard too many times in the recent past. There is no doubt director Joe Wright tries to reward the us with a Spielberg Lincoln type equivalent, but disappointingly ends up delivering something a little more pretentious, and unsatisfying. Perhaps Darkest Hour wouldn't feel so dull if it wasn't following straight on from last year's war time offerings Their Finest, Dunkirk and (the other) Churchill.
The film sets out to hit us with artsy visuals from the start, but these can't distract from its loose narrative. They certainly look stunning at times but ultimately Darkest Hour believes it’s doing far more than it actually is. It's frustrating - Darkest Hour has all of the material to create something truly gripping - yet doesn't.
Negatives aside, Oldman's portrayal of Churchill is rather spellbinding. His transforming performance - quite literally in the make up department - is most probably the primary reason Darkest Hour has gained so much attention, and one wonders where the film would be with a different male lead.
Darkest Hour is inoffensive and perfectly watchable but lacks the fire you expect. That said, Oldman deserves every ounce of praise for his undeniably mesmerising portal of one of Britain's most iconic figures. These films are made with original intent, however Darkest Hour feels like yet another addition tagged on to the ever expanding war time period collection. Whilst I'm certain the PG certificate is bait for the younger generation - Darkest Hour is ultimately a cozy, Sunday afternoon catch up on the telly - nothing wrong with that, but sadly that's all there is to it.
Multiple Golden Globe winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is Martin McDonagh's first picture since 2012's Seven Psychopaths. Three Billboards follows the story of Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother who demands the police try harder to solve her daughter's murder months after. She rents three disused billboards on a minor road leading out of town to vent her frustrations, which brings turmoil and unexpected consequences to the small town of Ebbing, Missouri.
Martin McDonagh's powerful social satire is an unconventional spin on the usual black comedy formula. Three Billboards is an extremely relevant and complex piece of cinema which tackles head on numerous issues facing contemporary society - tempting the viewer to draw conclusions and form opinions, without ramming home any particular agenda. Chiefly its a story about right and wrong, anger and justice - on the other side of the coin its about coping with grief and the things it drives us to do, willing or unwilling. Three Billboards is a humorous yet at times merciless social commentary.
The buzz surrounding Frances McDormand's phenomenal turn as the compelling Mildred Hayes is not in the slightest way exaggerated. In fact, I would go as far to say this is one of the finest on screen performances I have ever seen. Mildred is energised by her simmering, righteous anger; her boldness empowering her to butt heads and call out anyone who she believes is wrong. She is a determined character - driven by the justice she is seeking - intent on letting nobody get in her way. Mildred Hayes is a mighty force of nature and the key to Three Billboards success.
Set in the imaginary town of Ebbing, Missouri, Three Billboards is contemporary but feels captivatingly timeless. It can be argued that Billboards is symbolic of many of the social issues facing the modern western world, cramming just about every grievance against humanity in the picture - racism, sexism, corruption and social apathy to name a few.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is beautifully scripted and acted - weird, dark and unconventional. McDormand delivers one of recent cinema's most blisteringly powerful performances, alongside the equally outstanding Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. Everything has meaning, purpose and reason - it highlights how individuals can act out in rage, exploring the reasons why we shouldn't but in some cases why it's important we should.
Consistently unpredictable, satirical and brutal - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is an incredibly compelling and abstract film to come from tinsel town.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri:
Yes, this is the movie Kevin Spacey was hastily pulled from following the recent wave of Hollywood sexual harassment allegations. In a mere two weeks his position as the infamous J. Paul Getty was taken by academy award winning veteran Christopher Plummer. Directed by Ridley Scott, All the Money in the World recounts the 1973 kidnapping of the teenage Paul Getty III - held ransom for $17 million. His mother risks everything to ensure her son's safety following the billionaire Paul Getty's refusal to pay a single dime for his grandson's return.
This gritty thriller is so close to deserving all the attention in the world, but in award season All the Money in the World is by no means Best Picture material. That said, it's commendable how Scott delivered anything given the explosion of the Spacey situation that risked the entire project itself. Considering the size of Spacey's role, it becomes clear this wasn't at all an easy fix for Scott. However, with all drama swept aside you wouldn't even know Plummer had filled in so last minute - terrific is his performance.
All the Money in the World ends up a reasonably refined and focused work. The opening twenty minutes struggle to settle the story and haphazardly shifts between different time frames. Scott ultimately commits this opening to setting up the Getty story - intriguing though it is - from where they came to who they grew to be and their significance of the times.
The material doesn't leave much to explore through Scott's cinematography - which is unusually inconsistent - either richly dazzling or fantastically mediocre. He just about fulfils the visual story telling to its full potential, although when is too much ever enough? The most striking visual moments occur from the obscure doorway shots which appear often throughout the picture. Scott uses a selectively narrow colour pallet capturing a dark and gritty story with equally dark and gritty cinematography.
All the Money in the World is perfectly cast. The brilliant Michelle Williams appears to never obtain a poor role with only fantastic performances under her belt, and it becomes evident Mark Wahlberg improves with age. He frequently plays forceful masculine figures but appears to do it better each time - and of course, Christopher Plummer is Christopher Plummer, is there much else more to say?
It's fair to say Scott's All the Money in the world isn't as disastrous as it could have been. Amazing performances from three stars who continue to stand out amongst the acting crowd appearing in an engaging, dark biopic. Caught in the mist of the oscar season I'm certain it won't win all the awards in the world, but the result is still an excellent attempt.
All the Money in the World:
Known for his award winning spin as screenwriter of 2011's The Social Network: Aaron Sorkin returns to write and direct the real life biopic of Molly Bloom. The story of a young and intelligent olympic skier who masterminds america's most exclusive high stakes private poker game - portrayed quite excellently by Jessica Chastain. Molly's Game is the gripping true story that accounts for everything that happened but - significantly - erases the names of the rich and famous
Molly's Game plays its cards right in this ferociously enjoyable, all-in round of poker. It gives the impression of being a Wolf of Wall Street style tale - but it isn't. Believe it or not, Molly's Game is a far nicer, well informed story that's primary focus is not so much about gambling, but more the drive, ambition, integrity and resourcefulness of its lead.
Jessica Chastain appears in her finest performance since 2011's The Help - taking helm of more challenging, contemporary role that deservedly should put the two time academy award nominee back on the mainstream Holywood map. As the story unravels and the protagonist begins to slip into illegal wrongdoings Molly maintains a likeable, good spirited and dextrous personality.
Chastain honours the real life poker princess in a film that could quite easily depict all the seedy excesses of the high stakes private gambling world, but instead concentrates on the how she right went about it things - incredibly - in the right way. What makes Molly's Game click is the sustained focus on Molly herself - poker being the backdrop to a beautifully painted picture. As the two elements combine it quickly becomes a quick, smooth and stylish adventure.
Molly's Game is a smart, slick roaring success. An exceedingly intelligent narrative - Molly's Game never becomes boastful or cumbersome to the average joe. In fact you can learn a lot for this movie: Aaron Sorkin is triumphantly superb, Jessica Chasitain continues to be one of hollywood's finest actresses and finally - most importantly - we all learn never to try and run a multimillion dollar poker game!
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Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.