Father Figures (2018)

This is one of the first films this year where I knew absolutely nothing going in. Didn’t know who was in it, what it was about, didn’t even really know the title. After watching it, it turns out there’s a reason for that. It’s quite dull. Nothing about it really works, the performances are flat, the characters are badly written to the point where they’re basically just really annoying and easy to dislike, and the story takes too long to go nowhere. I mean, it’s technically a film, but only in the same way that a Pot Noodle is technically food. I mean, it has moving images which are projected, and there is recorded sound that goes along with it, and you watch it in a cinema. But in terms of emotion and storytelling, it’s lacking. You know what it reminds me of? There was a period in the 70’s where it seemed like every British sitcom (Porridge, On The Buses, Steptoe and Son etc) got a movie. Normally they’d contain sub-par writing and they’d just use an increased budget to do an episode with lots of exterior shots. The stories would basically be fluff and it would be hard to imagine it being somebody’s dream to tell that story. That’s this film. It also features an inexplicable cameo by someone who won’t be known by anybody outside of the one country the film is set. I mean, who is Terry Bradshaw? I’ve read his Wikipedia page and I’m still not entirely sure. It doesn’t help that they have him playing himself, then have Ving Rhames playing a fictional team-mate of his. For someone who knows nothing about American Football (from what I can tell it’s about them trying to put an egg in a really impressive Super Bowl, presumably to make an omelette later on) this is quite weird and takes you out of the movie.

Now, back to the performances. Ed Helms seems like he’s playing a character that was written for Ben Stiller that he turned down. He’s hinted at having anger issues but this isn’t really explored besides people saying “hey, remember your anger issues, stop being angry”. Christopher Walken seemed to be sleepwalking through his performance,  and similar accusations could be levied at Owen Wilson. There are two exceptions to this: Glenn Close has one scene in particular where you’re reminded of just how truly great an actress she is, and Katie Aselton is the highlight of the film by far. It’s not just her performance (although that is great, she plays her character perfectly), it’s the way her character is written too. There’s a five-ten minute scene of her and Ed Helms characters interacting drunkenly, and it’s full of warmth, emotion, and laughs. All of which are missing from the rest of the film. This is probably one of the only times I can think where a romance subplot in a movie saved it. It was the only period in the film where I was completely invested in the characters in front of me. Shame it didn’t last.

I could lie and say this movie had potential, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Outside of that one scene, there was nothing I really enjoyed about this. I suppose this is why it wasn’t advertised, and also why the release date changed from November 2016 to January 2017, and then changed again the same month as the intended release. Apparently, it’s the sixth worst opening of all-time for a film released in over 2,500 theatres. Never like to see something like that, and it makes me sad that it happened, but I cannot really defend this film. I can’t even really say it tried, as it’s so cliche and unoriginal that I don’t even think it did that. About thirty minutes into this film this couple sitting near me received a phone call saying their child had been injured at school and needed picking up, they were the lucky ones.

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Winchester (2018)

Imagine going to see a magician. You sit in the crowd watching, wondering whether he’ll be any good. She (for the purposes of this hypothetical it’s a female magician) comes on stage and for her first trick pulls a lion out of a hat. Wow, pretty impressive. Then for her next trick, she turns a bouquet of flowers into a Ford Fiesta, again you’re impressed. She then produces a hat, you’re excited to see what she’ll do, you anxiously await to see what will happen. Drum roll, lights dim, and she slowly reaches into the hat and pulls out……a lion. I mean, that’s still impressive, but less so than it was before.  But then she gets another bouquet of flowers out. You fear the worst, and she does the worst, transforming them again into a Ford Fiesta. She repeats those two tricks for the entire night. Now, no matter how impressive those tricks were the first time you saw them, would you still consider that a good show? No, you’d consider it a waste of time and ask for your money back. That, pretty much, is what watching this film is like. It runs out of steam after the opening scares, which, by the way, aren’t needed. You can cut the entire opening and it wouldn’t affect the film at all. Actually, it might improve it as it would save some of the creepy visuals for later.

I really wish this film was better. It has a great concept, someone has acquired vast sums of wealth but feel guilty by the deaths caused by it, so seeks to make amends to those who have died. That would be a great character-driven drama to have. It also wastes the location. It’s set in a house that’s constantly changing and with no real floor plan. That’s PERFECT for a horror film. A house that’s a maze, trapping people in there making you wonder if the house is genuinely set up like that or if the characters are losing their minds. Actually, that would be a great survival horror video game; you’re locked in an ever-changing house and need to escape before you starve to death and the longer you last the harder it gets as you start to suffer hallucinations.

And now back to the film. It has its good points. There’s a scene near the end where a room full of guns suddenly rise and point themselves at the main character, it’s a beautifully composed shot in an otherwise visually-lacking film. The story has potential but never really fully lives up to what you think it can do. The performances are……..okay. Helen Mirren deserves better than this. Jason Clarke continues to be a dependable “where do I know that guy from? Oh right, ALMOST EVERYTHING” guy. His performances are usually pretty good, but every single one makes it seem like he’s the guy they get in to replace the actor when a successful film franchise goes straight to DVD. I’ve never really found much to fault with his performances, but I’ve also never been overly impressed, he’s just been there, like the casting equivalent of white bread.

I think that’s the best way to describe this film actually; bland. When I come to the end of year list this will be really hard to write about and place as I don’t think I’m going to be able to remember much about it, in fact, if I didn’t keep a list I’m not sure I’d even remember I saw it. Helen Mirren deserves better, the story deserves better, and the audience deserves better. It kind of feels like a modern remake of a far superior film.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

*whispers* I think I liked this more than Coco. Now, obviously, they’re two very different films. But when a Pixar film is one of the first films you see all year it can sometimes seem like the cinematic year has peaked already. Thank god for this film then, showing that there is hope. Well, I say “hope”, this film isn’t one that really gives you that. It’s unrelenting in its bleakness, yet conversely is also incredibly funny. This is not a pleasing film, but it is a satisfying one.

This is the kind of film you don’t really watch as a film, you experience it. There’s no happy ending, good deeds go punished and bad deeds are rewarded. This does affect the way you watch it at the cinema. There’s a certain point in the film where a major event happens (not spoiling it as you REALLY need to see this film) and it feels like this is what the film has been building to. It felt like a natural crescendo for the film, where even if it wasn’t the ending it would be very close to it. I saw people quickly finish their drinks and food in preparation, then the film continued for like another half hour. The enthusiasm and the mood in the room deflated like a…..well, like a balloon being deflated. Kind of annoying, but also kind of wonderful. That’s basically the point of life, isn’t it? That there are no definitive endings and sometimes all you have is more questions.

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This is one of about three scenes in the film which are in contention for best of the year

The story wouldn’t be much though if it didn’t have the right cast to play it out. The cast that’s put together for this is absolutely superb, it’s been well documented how good Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell are in this. But the supporting cast is great too. Caleb Landry Jones is smug enough so that even he’s right you still kind of want to punch him and throw him through a window. Lucas Hedges continues to show that his work in Manchester By The Sea wasn’t a one-off bit of luck. Just generally a great ensemble cast. But I do need to point out the leads. I’ve watched a lot of films with Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell in, so it should be difficult for me to lose myself in a film starring them. It should be really difficult for me to not think of them as Woody and Sam, and to start thinking of them as the characters they are. But they’re so damn good that you do get lost in their performances, you buy into their characters easily. There’s one scene in particular where Woody Harrelson’s character is in an argument with Frances McDormand’s when he suddenly coughs up blood onto her. The way the actors play it is perfect, they instantly switch gears from an emotionally intense scene to a different kind of intensity. It’s a stunningly beautiful piece of acting, and a scene everybody should watch.

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“So how’s it all going in the nigger- torturing business, Dixon? “It’s ‘Persons of color’-torturing business, these days, if you want to know. And I didn’t torture nobody.”

I will admit I’ve struggled to write this review. It’s much easier to write reviews of bad films or films which could be improved. For this all you can say is “it’s really good”. Can’t point out problems, can’t point out weak links in it. I can’t even moan about it being underrepresented at awards shows. If it had M.Night directing it at least it would have had a twist ending where it turned out to be something to do with aliens. I mean, it would have been shit and ruined the film, but it would have given me something interesting to write about. Damn this film and it’s wonderful, brilliant greatness.

Downsizing (2017)

I wish this was better. I wouldn’t say I had high hopes, but I had medium hopes. I expected it to be average, and it couldn’t even manage that. The trailer intrigued me and when I saw mediocre reviews I assumed them to be wrong, kind of like Surburbicon last year. But throughout the film, I just felt that whenever the story was faced with multiple options it always picked the most boring one, kind of like Surburbicon. Multiple interesting side stories were swept to the side just to continue the story of Matt Damon, just like, well you get the idea.

Ironically, considering the subject matter, this film really needed to be cut down. It’s over two hours long and you feel every single second. I’d estimate the first hour or so can be cut down into about ten minutes. We don’t need the complete history of the scientific process involved. We also don’t need him to have a dying mother (who dies off screen after one scene and is NEVER mentioned again). You don’t need them going house-hunting or to a sales pitch for the process. You just need to set up that he’s bored as hell and is looking to change his life. Speaking of characters who just disappear (which I was, like a few minutes ago, not just now, but relatively recently), his wife. With the exception of her divorce leaving him with no money, her deciding to not get shrunk has almost no impact on the story and shows another missed opportunity. The film occasionally shows how people who haven’t got the procedure are acting slightly hostile towards those that do, saying they shouldn’t be able to vote as they’re not proper people etc. It does this for the opening, then again, never does it again. They could have had that play into the divorce settlement, have it so the court finds her more important because she’s an actual person and he’s not. But nope, they just show it as him signing a form and then he’s poor.

It isn’t completely without merit though. Hong Chau is amazing. Her performance is utterly heartbreaking. Actually, if the film was focused on her character from the start it would be A LOT better. She plays a Vietnamese activist who was shrunk against her will by the government and tried to escape to the US. But everybody she travelled with died and she lost her leg, leaving her in a lot of pain and having to work a menial job just to survive whilst essentially looking after an entire apartment complex of people; bringing them food etc so they can survive. She then meets a guy who can help her and they fall in love. It’s a very sweet story, but we see the dullest half of it. Think about it, her story contains a lot of political and social satire about the way the western world goes after other countries for the way it treats people, and then exploits those same people. It has basically everything you want from a story, so why wasn’t that one made?

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Depressingly I can guess the reason

Christoph Waltz seems to be having a lot of fun too, but then again he seems like that in most films. Every film I’ve seen him in he looks like he’s just having a blast making it, even when the film is terrible. Udo Keir, too, plays his role wonderfully, all the while looking like a mid-table Premier League manager who’s about to spend £40million on Andy Carroll.

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So in summary; as much as I don’t want to say this I would not recommend this film. Possibly the film I’ve enjoyed least at the cinema so far this year. The one highlight is Hong Chau’s performance, nothing else in the film makes it worth watching.