First time director Greta Gerwig is one of only five female directors nominated in the Oscars Best Director category. The Shape of Water's Guillermo del Toro will most likely take this year's award, however Gerwig is a mighty contender who is equally deserving for her work with Lady Bird. An original script also written by the respectable young filmmaker - Lady Bird is atmospherically set in 2002, where we follow a young girl's coming of age in Sacramento, California.
Much like the spotted little insect after which it's named, Lady Bird is quirky, vibrant and full of life. Lifted by Saoirse Ronin's inspiring, headstrong performance - Gerwig captures everything it means to be a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. Through an uplifting screenplay - serious at the moments it needs to be - Gerwig perfectly highlights the challenges and obstacles of being a teenager, emphasising each of the many directions it stretches you in.
We follow seventeen year old self titled Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson - a young high schooler facing almost every current teen issue going: a testing relationship with her mother, bad grades and how to meet boys. Juggle this with trying to fit in with the crowd, whilst simultaneously trying to be her own person, Ronin captivatingly portrays the fresh faced Lady Bird as bold, daring, and eager to get ahead in life. Aside from Gerwig's heartwarming screenplay Ronin is the key reason the film feels relatable, whether you are a teenager yourself or a parent who recognises the sacrifices necessary in family life. From beginning to end it's almost impossible not to fall in love with Christine the Lady Bird.
From the adult side of the equation Laurie Metcalfe's gives an emphatic turn as struggling mother of three trying to make ends meet, locking horns with Ronin's outspoken, strong willed nature. These towering performances gives us an insight from both sides of what can divide us from our parents, yet what can ultimately bring us closer towards them. At the same time Lady Bird emphasises the value of individuality and the need to respect that in each of us.
Lady Bird is neither overly ambitious nor too light and superficial. As it stands, the film is a gorgeously relatable tale of the family dynamic and the complex, angsty stages of growing up. Richly yet softly shot, Gerwig paints many scenes using natural or subdued lighting, giving Lady Bird a warm and fuzzy home video feel. Ultimately it's a short, sweet and accomplished coming of age story that focuses on the importance of home and our mothers - learning to understand them rather than rebelling against them, appreciating our time together and grateful for the individuals they shape us to be.
I, Tonya gives us a slice of history with heavy shake of spice and huge slug of attitude. In the months before the 1994 Winter Olympics Nancy Kerrigan was attacked after a practise session during the U.S Figure Skating Championships by an unidentified man who bashed in her knee. It was later found that the volatile and violent husband of Tonya Harding - Jeff Gillooly - had orchestrated the attack on Miss Kerrigan. At the time Harding was Kerrigan's arch rival on ice, and the only American woman to successfully land the almost impossible triple-axel jump. Given Harding's troublesome background and feisty reputation the blame was eagerly shoved into her direction.
Tonya Harding makes a reappearance in an ice cold sports-thrill that throws all the glitzy figure skating sequins out the window. Retelling one of the most notorious and controversial stories of the era I, Tonya makes no judgements, instead providing the platform for both Harding, Gillooly and several others to tell their stories. Perhaps unexpectedly the film never becomes a grand pantomime of Harding vs Kerrigan, instead I, Tonya is entirely focused on Harding, her deprived upbringing and the frequent slaps, punches and humiliations she endures on the way to the top.
I, Tonya quite ingeniously turns a potentially humorous story into a stylish and slick biopic that evokes genuine feeling. Whilst the Tonya Harding scandal has been known as almost a grand game of Cluedo, I, Tonya becomes a fantastic whodunnit that allows the public to piece together the information as they please. It makes a thundering statement about how the world judged her, underestimated her and ultimately shut her out.
Through Margot Robbie's fiery, oscar worthy performance Harding is portrayed as the underdog, but neither victim nor the villain. I, Tonya is dedicated to Harding's huge determination, and highlights the setbacks she overcame and - vitally - her guts and determination when the entire world stood against her. Aside from being an electrifying character piece, I, Tonya is a fantastic nod to all those who have pointed the finger throughout time.
The film blends drama with mean spirited humour, sprinkled with an iconic Deadpool fourth wall break to the audience giving this sports drama a unique structure and style of its own. As soon as Tonya is on the ice we are instantly captivated - I, Tonya is exhilaratingly zany, taking wonderful twists and unexpected turns - emphasising what the fallen skating star should be remembered for.
Master of all things weird and wonderful, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro may just have a cinematic triumph on his hands with the magical The Shape of Water. Audiences and critics alike swim in harmonious joy over this aquatic love story that follows the lonely, mute Elisa as she works the cleaning night shift at a top secret government research facility. One day she discovers an amphibious creature being held in captivity - quickly forming an unlikely and fateful relationship with it ...
Re-spinning the classical monster movie formula, Del Toro creates what is unquestionably cinema's most diverse love story. Inspired by the classic 1954 Creature from the Black Lagoon, Del Toro delivers a tale that breaks all genre conventions - creating a heartstring tugging fairytale where we root for the 'monster' rather than fearing it. The Shape of Water is easily one of the riskiest twists attempted by any mainstream director, and quite frankly Del Toro couldn't have pulled it off any more beautifully.
The creature, or monster along with the dark and terrifying mysteries it beholds, is juxtaposed against the warmth and colour of Elisa's innocent, yearning compassion. You may question how a film about a woman who falls in love with a fish man can be at all meaningful, but what seems like a faintly absurd premise proves to be a crashing wave of melancholy emotion. Just like water, Alexandra Desplat’s huge, smooth, spellbinding score laps against the senses, perfectly complementing Del Toro’s intensely visual, almost dreamlike fantasy world.
The Shape of Water dives into delicate themes of difference, alienation, un-fulfillment and the challenge of finding your voice in complete, isolated silence. Set in an oppressive 60's Baltimore at the height of the Cold War, Del Toro assembles three of society's most outcast individuals: an african-american cleaner, a gay painter and a handicapped woman. Exploring a poignant message of how people fear what they do not understand, the creature symbolises all who have been shut out from the rest of the world. The Shape of Water is a raw, warts and all fairytale that highlights the possibility of against-the-odds love towards quite literally anyone, of any species.
Elisa - whose disability separates her from the rest of society - symbolises all those without a voice. Sally Hawkins’ blissfully shy and apologetic demeanor never falters as she is drawn to the creature, which appears to be the only living thing who doesn’t judge her for what she lacks. Though it may be unconventional, their relationship evolves and intensifies with unforeseeable consequences.
Ironically Elisa is the films loudest voice, yet never utters a single word. Hawkins brings colour and life to each and every one of her moments on screen - her emphatic nature resonates with you across the entire picture. Elisa experiences genuine love for the first time, and doesn't allow her disability to tame or temper her emotions. She sees her chance at genuine happiness, and following a lifetime of isolation she is driven to fight for herself .
The Shape of Water reinvents the stereotypical Hollywood love story, Guillermo del Toro flipping a classical monster movie on its head to create an adventurous, beautiful tale. Words don’t really describe the blissful magic behind The Shape of Water - a romance brought to life by the passionately driven del Toro and the sensational Sally Hawkins, who delivers one of the finest female performances in recent years. This fishy fairytale is weird, wonderful and mystical and quite possibly the most unique love story you'll ever see.
The Shape of Water:
It would be an understatement to say that Marvel is an important factor of not only modern pop culture but modern cinema itself, indeed an impressive four billion dollar box-office juggernaut. Here in 2018 Marvel finally realise Black Panther's potential - arguably the graphic novel's most influential character of colour. The first-rate Ryan Coogler directs with Chadwick Boseman returning as T'Challa, who upon taking up the mantle as King of Wakanda must face all those who oppose him.
Deep down Black Panther's mighty roar is desperate to break loose - but for now, sadly it remains largely silent. The story is played far too safe and doesn't do justice to the cultural significance of the Black Panther legacy - Marvel yet again trip themselves up in a comic book race that should have led them to the top of the podium. One can only hope this is a last minute blip before Infinity War - but Black Panther proves to be just another brick in the wall.
That said it goes without question that the kingdom of Wakanda is mesmerising. A picturesque use of sound - blending bongos with contemporary rap - not only is this probably Marvel's best sounding work but its easily their most beautiful feature to date. When it comes to the representation of African culture - I don't believe Coogler could have been more precise, delicate or respectful. Most of the film's finest moments take place in the heart of Wakanda - the bits we see are fantastic but are ultimately too infrequent. Symbolic of Black Panther as a whole really - what's there is good, however Coogler fails to go any further with it.
It's no surprise by this point that Black Panther is (seemingly like every recent Marvel picture) consistently comedic where it shouldn't be. Admittedly, one bought into it a whole lot more than the desperately fish-out-of-water Thor: Ragnarok - but humour continues to be Marvel's greatest downfall. You invest more in the scenes that are supposed to be taken seriously, but the ill timed humour and obvious one-liners still arrive relentlessly. Black Panther fails to change the game as promised and given the cultural significance of the character - the pieces were practically already in place but Coogler somehow draws very little impact from this hotly anticipated picture.
I understand that I am growing up, but whilst I grow it appears that Marvel movies are staying stubbornly still. They take one of their boldest heroes - portrayed perfectly by the exhilarating Chadwick Boseman - and create a self-doubting soft action movie that relies heavily on a tired superhero formula. Black Panther places great ideas in a disappointing final product, and heartbreakingly feels like the one that just slipped through Marvel’s fingers.
You sense the director's excitement behind the camera but it unfortunately doesn't translate to the screen. Critically, Marvel have never been so rich in their characters' storytelling, but equally never have they been so unfocused with their actual plot line. Upon second viewing the initial problems still lie - however Black Pather has clear and admirable passion for its characters which are evidently the key inspiration behind this picture. It’s easily their best sounding and looking work to date and is a good set up for greater things to come but crucially Marvel's past mistakes continue to haunt them.
The Cloverfield Paradox is a mystery of its own. Delayed a year with no director, cast, plot synopsis and not even a title attached to the project - the working title 'Cloverfield 3' was rumoured to bridge the gap between the previous two seemingly unattached outings. Announced for release in April this year, Cloverfield 3 was finally given an official release date - and nothing else.
This time last weekend however Netflix released a thirty second clip titled The Cloverfield Paradox, announcing the film would be available on Netflix after the super bowl that very night - and the rest is history. Paramount's estranged, reality bending Cloverfield spin off is a flawed, somewhat silly space thrill that is undeniably, possibly unintentionally, fun. Many things don't work about this spin-off, but most painfully of all its a film that thinks its a Cloverfield film when really it isn't, therefore tries harder to be so.
The beauty of both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane is the gripping aspect of the unknown - wrapping you tighter and tighter - with absolutely no breathing space in between. Whereas here Paradox fails to capture the same impending, almost suffocating doom the predecessors are most notable for. Here we simply have an okay episode of Black Mirror with a touch of Geostorm, if you get what I mean
As a stand alone flick its fine and fun but is entirely unworthy of its Cloverfield title. There a few things that tie this ambiguous sequel to its cousins, but it would most certainly have succeeded far better if it kept a distance from any universe type tie in, unless done outstandingly well. That said, 10 Cloverfield Lane is only loosely based upon the original Cloverfield plotline (originally titled The Bunker before give the glossy JJ. Abrahams makeover). Luckily enough Lane was good if not better than the 2008 monster movie original, and a worthy addition to the so called Cloverfield universe.
Paradox works best when its exploring the dark, nitty gritty of particle altering dimensional physics type stuff, and when it is weird it is very weird indeed. Sadly there is far too little of this, and those rare moments usually interrupted by a corny Chris O'dowd da ba dum tiss moment. Where Cloverfield films have previously been known for abrupt and unexpected endings, Paradox runs a course of otherworldly events which we never really come to understand. Cloverfield is a wonderful head scratcher itself although if you search hard enough you can find many intricate hidden clues explaining the mystery of its premise. In this case Paradox isn't too confusing to understand, it simply doesn't make sense.
A wonderfully assembled cast and a generally well shot movie, Paradox isn't that bad, but it certainly isn't great. The one dimensional script is the primary hurdle Paradox had to overcome, ironic in a film about transcending time and space. I'm certain that with a few nips and tucks the dialogue would have been far less cringeworthy and silly than it ultimately turned out. Forget for a moment that it's supposed to be a Cloverfield movie you'll enjoy this weird, dark space thriller even if it isn't all that thrilling.
The Cloverfield Paradox:
Nick Park returns to the world of moulded plasticine with his latest stop motion picture Early Man. Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston and many fellow Brit favourites star in this stone-age footy, flick set shortly after the dinosaurs' extinction. The action kicks off when Dug and his cave man tribe have to fight for their home as the thuggish Lord Nooth brings the bronze-age crashing into their cozy world...
Park's cave man caper may be set at the dawn of time but sadly is prehistorically uninspired. Creator of the legendary Wallace and Gromit along with the equally legendary (and academy award winning) Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Early Man fails to live up to the roaring slapstick success of its predecessors. Known for it's irresistibly zany Brit humour - Park fails to find the charm established in his works, clumsily -and perhaps surprisingly - falling into the trap of too much toilet humour over sharp one-liners.
Its apparent the majority of Early Man's efforts go into the gorgeous clay stop motion, which aside a from a few iffy CGI moments runs like clockwork. With Disney rapidly approaching global animation domination its wonderful to see smaller studios - like Aardman Animations - use old-school plasticine models and still seem impressive, especially in today's technology dependant society. Each fantastic actor voicing the clever clay figures may play for laughs but can't compensate for an under ambitious story that does far too little. Perhaps Early Man would have worked better as a thirty minute short rather than an overstretched feature.
For approximately eighty nine minutes the forever endearing Eddie Redmayne runs amok with his cave man tribe not really knowing what to do with themselves. The film would most certainly have been more interesting if it focused a little more on the the weird wonders of the stone-age moving into the bronze-age, yet simply becomes a film about prehistoric football. It has so much potential - yet so little of it is fulfilled.
Even taken at face value unfortunately it’s all rather dull. It's one little kids will most certainly enjoy and perhaps footy fans even more so, whereas I fear that film goers in general may not be very impressed. As always its up to you, but just be wary - this one is significantly unfunnier and far less original that any of Park's previous outings. There may be the odd chuckle and the animation certainly looks great, but for the most part Early Man should have probably stayed put in the stone age.
In preparation for the Phantom Thread - Daniel Day Lewis apprenticed under the costume department head at the New York City Ballet, and even went as far to sew a genuine Balenziaga dress. It so happens that Day Lewis' portrayal of Reynolds Woodcock would turn out to be the sixty year old actor's swan song - well at least in front of the camera anyway. Phantom Thread tells the story of said Woodcock - a renowned 1950s London society dress maker who's regime is interrupted by Alma - a young waitress who quickly becomes his lover and his muse.
Paul Thomas Andersons's delicate material wears well. Equally as graceful as the lavish dresses, Phantom Thread is from every angle a delicate, beautiful work. Embellished through intricate cinematography - not only is it a shock that Phantom Thread hasn't swept up any visual noms - but it's a tragedy. With such fastidious camera work it would be no surprise if genuine dress makers were at the helm of this exquisite picture.
Method acting appears to be Daniel Day Lewis forte - if this happens to be his last acting role it's wonderful to witness him go out with such a bang. His dress designer Reynolds Woodcock - might even pip Gary Oldman for best actor - and he probably should. An intense man who must not be disturbed by perceived distractions, like even the scraping of a butter knife on toast at the breakfast table or the clanking of tea cups. Day Lewis' nit-picky portrayal does far more than play the fashion diva - he's convoluted, attentive and most powerfully aware of his seeming 'curse' of intolerance.
Enter Vicky Krieps - Alma - a young, confident woman who Woodcock discovers and instantly adores, primarily for her perfect shape and measurements. She believes it to be love but soon realises she is just another object, a jigsaw piece in an introverted genius's repetitive life. However Alma - unlike Woodcocks previous lovers - builds dominance over him. She is strong willed and the first woman to get behind his towering defences and into his head and heart. Phantom Thread shows the sinister beauty of power and role reversal - being in control and pushing someone to their limit.
Stitched along the seam of this picture lies an alluring score from Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood, which deftly binds the material together. Beginning with soft, piano keys before spiralling into violent strings - the transforming score mimics Phantom Thread's changing pace and shifting tone. The soft, sugar plum elegance is all a facade with nothing quite preparing you for its dark and abrupt turn.
With a role like this is, it's almost heartbreaking to hear of Daniel Day Lewis departure from the acting world. Phantom Thread may just be the actor's crowning moment. With a score cleverly used to slowly build alongside a story; lifted by razor sharp dialog - Phantom Thread is a haunting enigmatic ghost of a story.
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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.