Movie Review

A Ghost Story (2017)

This is not a horror film.  

Before you think it is, A Ghost Story is not a horror film, it is anything but. Although Ghost appears in the title, it’s rather a comic ghost that situates itself throughout the best part of this film.

One of the first things I noticed about A Ghost Story was the ratio setting of the screen, as David Lowery encloses the screen in a box awash with a vintage-esque filter. This was actually really effective and almost became a window in the relationship of C (Casey Affleck) and M. (Rooney Mara)

Through this lens, we see C and M living in their quaint suburban house, but what unfolds is a strange devoid between the two of them for some unspoken reason. Suddenly the idyllic relationship between C and M is thrown into the abyss as C is killed in a car crash. But this is when the Ghost comes into the story.

At the morgue, M identifies the body and leaves. But Lowery holds the scene for an extraordinary amount of time with the body and it rises becoming the titular ghost. He returns the house C and M lived in and watches M as she tries to deal with the passing of her husband. Lowery has a tendency to hold his shots for a significant amount of time and he continues this trend, holding the shot where M eats the pie. The stillness of this shot is incredibly, especially as the Ghost watches on mere metres away.

Instead of becoming a terrifying story about the ghost, it rather begins to transcend time as the ghost watches M leave the house and the new residents that move in after him. These moments pass by like seconds, as the Ghost watches them through piano lessons, Christmas and mealtimes.

Throughout the 90ish minutes of film, the film is mostly devoid of speech, but it rather about the movements of C as the Ghost. Lowery does lace the screen with beautiful and picturesque shots, including the shot where the house is torn down and the Ghost is stood there amongst the rubble, almost contemplating the destruction around him.

As well as being almost devoid of speech, A Ghost Story contains the perfect blend for the score, between the natural sounds of suburban life to the soundtrack and score becoming increasingly enchanting as the Ghost passes through the future in a matter of seconds.

During one of the new tenants, Lowery chose to have a lengthy nihilistic speech interjected into the film, which worked perfectly. Considering the Ghost glides through these peoples lives, almost as though nothing matters when all is said and done.

A Ghost Story isn’t packed to the gills with narrative, but it’s not about the narrative completely, but rather the interesting premise of this time-travelling ghost and essentially the message that time does continue when we are gone, regardless of what we can try to do to stop it. The performances displayed by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck are brilliant, because it’s not about the speech and over-egged performance, but the nuanced movements that are displayed by the duo that makes the distance in the relationship believable.

A Ghost Story on a large scale worked, but I doubt it will be challenging for a spot of top film come the end of the year. But through the subtle performances and lengthy shots, David Lowery has really created a window into this relationship and the perception of time. Although A Ghost Story slipped into the realms of Interstellar towards the end, it managed to keep it’s footing. With the picturesque scenes throughout and enchanting music, A Ghost Story will definitely be a more memorable picture than most I’ve seen recently.

Blast From The Past: Batman Returns (1992)

Before Christopher Nolan all but completed the Batman franchise with his reimagining of the legendary comic book figure, there was the gothic interpretation, with Tim Burton directing and Michael Keaton returning as the Caped Crusader, after the 1989 Batman film.

One of my local cinemas occasionally puts on films of yesteryear, usually cult classics, so I’ve started a new segment called ‘Blast From The Past’ and this is the first one I’ve caught. Batman Returns was probably my favourite Batman from the 90s, but all I remember was that featured the grotesque-looking Penguin villain.

I forgot how dark the opening is, as a young Cobblepot is born but discarded into a river on Christmas. Fast-forward 33 years, and there are rumours floating around, that a Penguin-Man has been sighted and living in the sewers. And in true Tim Burton style, the film is filled with gothic stylisation and shadows aplenty. From the opening scene with costumes the Cobblepots are wearing, to the tall shadowy buildings that surround Gotham City, Burton has really dressed the screen in his gothic imagining.

Michael Keaton continues his role as Batman and protecting Gotham City, but doesn’t actually show up until the Red Triangle Gang cause havoc during the annual turning on the Christmas tree lights, with a speech by Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). Shreck is kidnapped and blackmailed by The Penguin (Danny Devito) in the aftermath, to make sure he becomes an up-standing citizen of Gotham City after being cast away by his unknown parents.

The character of The Penguin reminds of Nolan’s interpretation of The Scarecrow, being a character that has a dark persona hidden by the public figure, especially as he discovers his true name of Oswald Cobblepot. Shreck in an effort to get his dodgy power planet authorised pushes Penguin to run for mayor so they can aid and abet each other. And Danny DeVito and Walken play these characters to perfection, as you become to dislike them as people and their slimy exterior.

And of course Tim Burton continues to dress the screen in dark colours throughout the 2 hours+ running time, otherwise would it even be a Tim Burton film? But some of the sequences included within Batman Returns are incredibly dark and strange. I mentioned the opening scene, where the child is abandoned to the sewers, but also Selina Kyle’s (Michelle Pfeiffer) transformation into Catwoman, but as Hello There transforms into the statement Hell Here is just brilliant imagery by the director.

Selina Kyle does becomes integral in this story, as she discovers why Shreck is a dodgy dealer when it comes to the power plant, but also the transformation becomes one of the key turning points in the struggle for Gotham City. And that’s what happens, you become wrapped up in this film and feels like you’ve been there for hours, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because of the enjoyment from watching a nostalgic classic on the silver screen.

That being said though, Tim Burton loves to drag out an ending doesn’t he? The climax of this film feels like it does drag on for a good half hour, but this is probably down to the three narrative interjections coming to a close. There are some cringey moments within Batman Returns from it’s one-liners, to the tight clothing of the Princess. But these issues do not necessarily overshadow the film as a whole.

The choreographed action sequences are what you would expect from the early nineties, but they are fun, especially the aerial efforts from the Red Triangle Gang. It was fun to see this film up on the big screen after all those years of not watching it, and it’s richness in texture and laced with the gothic imagery that Tim Burton just adores.

The film is not one of the classics, it’s fair to say. It’s just not. It hasn’t aged well at all. But it doesn’t matter, because the enjoyment trumps that completely. It’s two hours of over-egged performances from the star-studded cast, but it’s a fun way to spend two hours. And it’s not just Christian Bale that seems to be a moody Batman, Michael Keaton does his best at this as well.

6.9 Bats out of 11.

The Big Sick (2017)

Having Judd Apatow’s name appear next to a comedy, the likelihood is that it’s going to be quite good. His name features against some of the better comedies in recent memory, including Anchorman, Superbad and Step Brothers to name a few. Some of these films are a hive for intriguing, but genuine characters.

The Big Sick is the latest film to be attached with the Apatow name, but what I did not anticipate was the true story that revolved about the leading mans love life. Kumail Nanjiana wrote the romantic comedy story and told the story about him and his wife.

Kumail is a stand up comic, but survives day-to-day by being an Über driver around Chicago. As I mentioned, Apatow films often have genuine characters and that what Kumail is. As usual with this sort of comedy, it’s more wit than situation or slapstick comedy, and Kumail is the perfect vehicle for this as he is incredibly deadpan throughout the film.

Regardless of the situation he finds himself in, Kumail remains incredibly deadpan. His first meeting with Emily (Zoe Kazan) is brilliant as they have instant chemistry, which just emits from the screen. Of course, in true romantic comedic style, the newly-formed couple manage to enchant the screen and fill us with the joy of Kumail and Emily enjoying each others company.

But further to a classic romantic comedy trope, what goes up, must come down. They become infuriated with each other and break up, citing that they cannot do it anymore. They both abide, until Emily is placed in a medically induced coma to try and fight a strange infection and Kumail never leaves her side after learning this.

It’s not often that I am caught watching Romantic Comedies, truthfully because they are not my cup of tea, but The Big Sick has proved that there are still new avenues that can be explored in romantic comedies. Michael Showalter chose to explore the culture clash between Pakistani culture and a modern westernised culture that Kumail finds himself being pulled to and from.

Kumail consistently defies his parents wishes, from not praying to playing coy with the meetings with potential brides to appease his parents. This is all the whilst he keeps falling for Emily and their chemistry continues to light up the screen. The believability of this situation comes down to the acting that is on display from Kumail, Zoe and the rest of the cast.

And The Big Sick is incredibly honest for a romantic comedy, majority of the romantic comedies I have seen often fall into a certain farfetched approach to the story, but this one doesn’t. It has Emily acting skittish because she’s got to take a shit and doesn’t want to in Kumail’s house in an incredibly funny scene. But not only this, but the approach to Pakistani culture and recognising that there are people within those families that do not necessarily want to live that way.

On top of this, the film is incredibly funny. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents are excellent with their brashness toward Kumail, but also Kumail’s deadpan jokes. (his response to the 9/11 question had me in stitches I must admit). Showalter was very unapologetic it seemed as the film progressed, but that’s great because it’s opened up fresher avenues for the film to explore through the genre.

For a fresh approach to the romantic comedy genre, you’ll not find a better film than The Big Sick. It’s use of comedy throughout is brilliant, because it relies on wit, rather than situational/slapstick comedy, but the characters at the heart of this film are the winners. It’s because you genuinely want these characters to get together by the end of the film and as always with Apatow films they are genuine characters.

The Big Sick is probably not going to be the best film I have seen this year, but it’ll be the best romantic comedy for sure. It’ll probably include some of the best laughs and characters from films this year and it just shows that Apatow knows his comedies and characters. I still find myself chuckling occasionally at the jokes.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Cor. What a title. 

The ability to build worlds within film has advanced an incredible amount, especially since the days of James Cameron’s Avatar. Luc Besson has had his hand in the Valerian pie for a long time, and recently thought that the technology was there for him to create Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Besson worked to adapt the French comic book series for the screen, but the title sticks out like a sore thumb considering the comic series is called Valerian and Laureline. I had a certain sense of apprehension for this as the last Besson film I had the ‘pleasure’ of watching was Lucy, and I absolutely loathed that film. But the trailer managed to lure me in with the visuals and the science-fiction element to the film.

Valerian (yeah, I’m just going to call it that from now on) hooked me from the opening sequence as the space station expands and welcomes other nations on-board. As it expands, alien life begins to join and the station grows exponentially into Alpha. As it reaches critical mass, it is pushed out of Earth’s orbit to travel by itself.

Besson apparently sat on this film for some time, and it’s clear to see why as world building that is undertook in Valerian is exceptional, from the market to the whistle-stop tour of the Alpha station is incredibly vibrant. Unfortunately for Besson and Valerian the enjoyment for the film slowly begins to fade when you look past the pretty visuals in the opening thirty or so minutes.

Generally speaking the scripting was just downright awful. And especially cringe worthy when agent Valerian (Dane DeHaan) was trying to woo? his partner agent Laureline (Cara Delevingne) by saying the most inane things. Some of the lines had me shaking my head in disbelief that they had made the final cut. Dane and Cara themselves were good in the role, but Cara’s character does fall into the standard damsel in distress character although Laureline as a character seems to be better than that.

But I don’t think the scripting was helped by the narrative, as it seemed to be jumping all over the place as Besson tried to mash together the love story between Valerian and Laureline and this mysterious element that they have found themselves pulled into. Often it felt as though it wasn’t sure which direction the film wanted to be pulled in.

The film does stand at over two hours, but unfortunately does feel like it’s over three hours as it slogs its way between the narrative, scripting and the indulgent visuals. I don’t think this could have been helped as Besson took the time to dress the screen in the incredible visuals, which were incredible to watch unfold on the screen.

I did enjoy the pairing of Dane DaHaan and Cara Delevingne as they bounce off each other, and do seem to have an interesting chemistry on-screen. Cara was the better off the two regardless of her damsel in distress characterisation, and Dane plays the cocky, arrogant character to perfection, regardless of the script-vomit that tumbles out of his mouth.

It has to be said though, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets only has one true winner, and that lies in the visuals. Besson builds incredible worlds, from the inter-dimensional market to the Thousand City Planet of Alpha and it’s incredulous atmosphere. I mean water, a fully submerged water section on a space station. Really?

However, between the scripting and the narrative being all over the place it’s not something that makes me want to rush back to see it all over again. Aside from the dazzling visuals and Cara’s performance as Agent Laureline, there is little to enjoy about this film. Even the score pulled me out of the film, by sounding reminiscent of Star Wars. As I try to recount the film, I have come to realise that it is less-than-memorable, with only a few glimpses sticking out, including the marketplace sequence being one of better in the film.

If you find yourself going to see it, see it on the biggest screen possible, but other than that, I wouldn’t rush out to see it, which is a shame as I wanted to like Valerian more.

Dunkirk (2017)

War is hell. Absolute hell.

And that is exactly what Christopher Nolan has chosen to portray in his latest venture, Dunkirk. However, unlike Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge with their glorious actions sequences, Dunkirk rather takes on a subdued approach to the war.

Christopher Nolan is an absolute visionary of a director, with his back catalogue including Interstellar, The Prestige and the Batman trilogy. It’s an absolute change of pace from showing the quest to leave the planet, to the evacuation of Dunkirk, a key point during the Second World War for the British forces.

What’s always been interesting in Nolan’s filmmaking is that he shows a diverse range of how to tell a story from Momento to The Prestige. He chooses to have Dunkirk shown in a linear method with three intersecting stories from the air, the sea and the ground. And that is where we find Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) running the streets of Dunkirk eluding German fire as ‘We Surround You’ flyers cascade around him in one tense sequence.

And the tension doesn’t stop there. For the entirety of the film, the tension never takes it foot off the pedal. The constant changing of the tempo between the land, the sea and the air was crucial to keep the tension at boiling point throughout Dunkirk.

Christopher Nolan also manages to convincingly display glimpses into the hellishness of war, channelled mostly through Cillian Murphy’s shell-shocked soldier and his apprehension to continue heading into battle. But also the recognition from the civilian perspective, as Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his father, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), share a nuanced nod to not disclose information to the shell-shocked soldier aboard.

The narrative choice is possibly one of the most interesting choices, but it is key for the tension to be kept at a high level. But what is more interesting there is a certain absence of a traditional protagonist held within the film, but rather having The Mole, The Sea and The Air being characters within their own right and having characters placed throughout.

Normally Christopher Nolan allows the screen to be drenched in the characters, giving them time to be invested in, but the narrative method doesn’t allow this as time became a key factor in each of the segments. But there comes in the brilliance of the cast behind Nolan’s Dunkirk. Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh managing to exhibit the perfect amount of emotion that is needed regardless of how bleak the situation is and regardless of the screen time, especially when Home arrives.

Long-standing music collaborator Hans Zimmer chose to intertwine his score with occasional ticking, giving that reminder time is incredibly precious in these situations. This motif is carried throughout the three segments, as Farrier (Tom Hardy) keeps a close eye on the time to gauge his fuel.

Dunkirk is an incredible piece of filmmaking and Christopher Nolan showed a wonderful skill of narrative structure as the film progressed through it’s 100+ minute runtime and the motif use of time. The cast gave unbelievable performances, especially for the screen time each member received. It is potentially the tensest I’ve been in a cinema when watching a film and it was incredible.

Without the need to show the explicit war sequences, Christopher Nolan managed to give Dunkirk an incredible feel for the war by the incredibly loud action sequences from the get-go. By having the air sequences shot incredibly close to the nose was great and incredibly effective for what was needed on the screen. Overall, there’s little to dislike with Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan continues his incredible visionary filmmaking and remains one of the best directors in the business today.

Spiderman: Homecoming (2017)

Spiderman: Homecoming marks the third incarnation of the character after Sony have finally allowed the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have their wicked way. Another sign that the MCU is showing no signs of releasing the stranglehold it currently holds over Hollywood.

I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed Sam Raimi’s imagining of Spiderman with Tobey Maguire at the helm and disliked Andrew Garfield’s take on the character in the rebooted follow-up. After his appearance in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland gets his own standalone adventure in the MCU canon.

Tom Holland’s casting does bring about the youth and innocence that the character of Spiderman was missing in the previous films, and the film itself accentuates this as he tries to harness his own powers for good. This is all but helped by his interactions with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Tony Stark. (Robert Downey Jr.) (yes, Ironman makes yet another appearance in a Marvel film, bore)

But rather than having Ironman as the knight in red armour coming to save the day, he takes on the mantle of the father figure mentoring Peter Parker and goads him into becoming the neighbourhood friendly spider. And that is where we find Tom Holland as Spiderman, some time has passed since the events of Civil War took place and he’s vying for the next superhero call-up.

That is until he stumbles onto the weapons being harnessed from Alien technology by The Vulture (Michael Keaton playing a different kind of Birdman) and his cronies. And suddenly (and unsurprisingly) Spiderman: Homecoming falls into the framework that has been used time and time again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fair bit lighter than the previous Marvel ventures due to the youth, innocence and amateur-hour display from Peter Parker, but its does follow the pattern that is expected.

What has also become a staple for the Marvel Universe is the use of comedy throughout the film, and that is channelled through Ned (Jacob Batalon). Again it is a very over-egged choice of comedy, but for some reason with Spiderman: Homecoming it worked. Ned channelled the Michael Pena-esque Luis from Ant-Man, continually talking and just being hilarious with his quips.

Michael Keaton’s hard done-by Vulture character was really intriguing, especially with his backstory and how neatly the narrative fits in together. But he does rip and tears through everything Spiderman throws at him, but ultimately as it’s a Marvel films you know what is going to happen. Jon Watts did do a masterful job of building tension though between Keaton and Holland during that scene.

Spiderman: Homecoming is a largely enjoyable film in the cinema, but afterwards it becomes largely forgettable one as I’m struggling now to find memorable areas within the film. (aside from that tense scene with Keaton) What it boils down to is a coming-of-age story, especially with the Tony Stark father figure shooting him down. But the believability of this coming-of-age story weighs on Tom Holland’s shoulders. Which does work as he does struggle to find the right way to go about stopping the baddies and does mess up but it’s all with the hope of doing the right thing.

Jon Watts’ reimagining of Spiderman for the Marvel Universe was a fun way to spend the best part of two hours plus, but don’t forget the film itself is less than memorable after you’ve left the cinema. That tense scene between Michael Keaton and Tom Holland was absolute genius but is that the only take away I got? Yes, yes it is. If you’re a big fan of the overconsumption that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ll probably take more away than I did, but nonetheless, it’s decent enough for a Spiderman film, definitely better than the Andrew Garfield lot.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

After the 2011 reboot, War for the Planet of the Apes is the third instalment and the now-blossoming franchise is showcasing some of the finest effects in modern cinema today with Andy Serkis portraying Caesar throughout.

With Matt Reeves returning from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I was a tiny bit apprehensive, as the two-rebooted Planet of the Apes films, Matt Reeves’ was the weaker. Lo and behold, I am a sucker for a good action flick though.

Reeves’ does briefly catch up the viewer with a few choice sentences, reciting Rise, Dawn and War, whilst the mentioned battle-hardened veterans weave through the forest. Having war in the title of the film, I was anticipating some all-out action sequences, and this is what happens immediately. The soldiers that adorn the ‘monkey killer’ helmet quickly light up an outpost, but not before the apes show up and take out the army.

As Caesar has taken on the leader role on this, his status is still key as he walks amongst the apes and they all part almost as though he is a God. And this is where the advanced technology really comes into it’s own as Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Caesar is brilliant.

And therein lies one of the greatest things about War for the Planet of the Apes is that the apes take the bulk of the emotion on show within this film. And it is tied in with some beautiful shots, as Lake and Blue Eyes reunite after a long time as the waterfall cascades down behind them.

Personally I think this device was really effective by Reeves’ as it shows the evolution of the apes over the humans. The first encounter between the apes and the humans, Caesar extends a compassionate olive branch in the hope of long-lasting peace, whereas Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is a very two-dimensional as a character. I don’t think that’s necessarily Woody Harrelson’s fault, more a device used by Matt Reeves.

It is now common that blockbusters are starting to use comic effect for one or two of their characters in their films and War for the Planet of the Apes fell victim to this trope. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t work. That was clear emotion elicited by the new ‘bad ape’, but his comic trope kept pulling me out of the picture.

Aside from that, there was very little that caused grief with this film. I was a massive fan of the compassion and humanity that the Apes showed and that being directly contrasted by the humans inability to elicit any emotion. Their ability to communicate and come together for the sake of their race was key, whilst the humans carried on bringing about destruction of their own race.

Although for saying the title of the film is War for the Planet of the Apes. There isn’t a great deal of war sequences within. There is that glorious opening sequences, and the climatic battle, but other than that it seems as though the war is held within Caesar. Especially as he is tipped over the edge in the battle for apekind against humankind, when the Colonel embarks on some pretty shady business with Caesar’s family.

Considering Matt Reeves’ first attempt at the Apes franchise was less-than-memorable, War for the Planet of the Apes is considerably better. Probably better than the first rebooted film, but this will be significantly helped by the portrayal of the apes thanks to the advancements in technology, but also Andy Serkis’ performance. His ability to channel the humanity and compassion from the start and then seeing the hatred completely take over is astounding.

In a summer of blockbuster films, War for the Planets of the Apes is probably in amongst the top for the enjoyment taken out of the action sequences, but also for having that narrative structure to allow for the film to be carried over it’s two hour plus runtime. Maybe with some fine editing and the removal of the comic relief the film maybe could’ve been the best film out of the summer for me, but alas, this has not happened. For now, it’ll be interesting to see whats next in stall for the Apes franchise.