Looking at: Joy

Right, I wasn’t originally going to see this, I didn’t like American Hustle and probably one of the very few human beings to not rate Jennifer Lawrence as an actor, no I haven’t seen Silver Linings Playbook, yes I’ll get around to it but haven’t seen much in other films she’s been in. So it’s safe to say I had very little expectations with this film. When the film started with this sudo soap drama setting and messy introduction of the characters, I can’t help but feel my expectations were being met. But, at the same time the Joy character had enough, so did the film and became better. By the end of it I’m glad to say that I not only enjoyed the film, but can now see what everyone was on about with Jennifer Lawrence.

Joy is the rags-to-riches/underdog story of Joy Mangano, a divorced mother of two, living in a hellish soap opera who becomes a success with her invention, the Miracle Mop. She is surrounded by endless naysayers who try to stop her reaching the top and put her in her place. But she keeps on fighting and against all odds with very little support manages to get where she wants to be.

Now I did enjoy the film, I’m a sucker for rags-to-riches stories, but it does have it’s flaws. Every character that isn’t Joy, are your very typical plot devices. They are all one note characters who are there to guide the Joy story along. They bring very little value to the film and you can’t help but think that the film would be no different if Joy was talking to post-it notes with their archetypes written on it. But take away the one note characters and meandering that is the first act, you are left with Joy, a well rounded and excellently performed character with an interesting core story. Seeing her succeed and to paraphrase of the characters “live in a mans world” was wonderful to watch. I was truly behind the character all the way. When things went well, I cheered, when things went bad, I cried, always with the character. I believed in her ability and when she went down and people put those barriers around her, I felt her rage and urged her to break them down.

If however there was something to criticize about the character and her portrayal it would be that part way through the story, Joy turns from a caring, hard working mother to a take no prisoners business kingpin in very quick succession which I didn’t find convincing at all. She does go back on track later but it feels more of a step backwards at the point.

But that aside I did enjoy Joy’s tale and performance but it is dragged down by it’s very lacking supporting characters which is a great shame.

Looking at: The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl, welcome to this years Oscar bait and boy does it show. When I first saw the trailer to this film in the cinema my first thoughts were: “here we go, theory of everything all over again.” When I came to watch the film, I was expecting the same shallow and distant mis-telling of an interesting and wonderful story, moved along only by the fantastic performances of the lead stars. What I got? Well…what I got wasn’t that but I’m not sure if it’s much better.

The Danish Girl is a film that is already riddled in controversy due to the lack of a trans actor playing the title role. To touch on it slightly, my concerns with the film has nothing to do with that, on the whole I thought Eddie Redmayne’s performance was rather good and he fitted really well into the role. To call this film transphobic because it didn’t cast a trans actor in the role is ridiculous and I urge people to not label it as so.

The title character is Einar Wegener, a painter who was born a man but identifies as a women. We meet the character in the midst of her success alongside her struggling wife’s (Gerda Wegener played by Alicia Vikander) career, also as a painter. One day when a sitter is late to appear in one of Gerda’s paintings, Einar sits in, donning stockings and a dress. This is the pivotal scene where we first see Einar’s realisation that she was born in the wrong body. Initially, Gerda goes along excitably with Einar’s exploration into this side of her; willingly going out to pick out dresses and teaching Einar how to appear and act as a women. It’s painted as a game the married couple share and enjoy, however things become too real for the two when Einar is approached by an admirer, played by Ben Whishaw, whilst in the Lili persona. So starts Einar’s journey to become a women, and so begins the breakdown of the Wegener marriage.

With the story aside, my concerns lie with how shallow the film’s telling of that story is. We are watching the first man to transform into a women and the complications it can bring to a marriage. The film is urging us, no, begging us to be on Einar’s side, to be gushing over the personal conflict she’s going through, and it thinks that it being a film about a trans person is enough. That we are obliged to be on their side. As much as I want to, and I really do, the film does a very poor job of getting me to do that. Now this isn’t the fault of Redmayne, his performance is really well done and you believe the conflict within the character, but is directed to be selfish and quite frankly harsh to others around her. Throughout the film, we see Einar being given tremendous amounts of support from others around her, no one (with the exception of some doctors and a couple of bystanders) rejects her choice or belief. Even her wife Gerda, who’s probably in one of the most difficult and testing situations one can find themselves, comes to fully support Einar. But time and time again, we see this support thrown back into the faces of the characters, more so than others Gerda. She endlessly tries to please Einar and do what she can for her but essentially gets burned for the efforts. However, there are points where the film becomes aware of this fact and tries amend Einar’s attitude, however it is handled so badly and rushed it just comes across as manipulative more than anything else.

But with that aside the performances are really good, but it isn’t Redmayne that should be collecting an Oscar this year, it is Vikander. Not only does she outperforms Redmayne, but she essentially carries the whole film. Every emotion, every conflict and every reaction can be seen in her performance alone. She brings great depth into the character and overall, you truly do side with her. You feel her pain and tragedy she goes through and you want to be at her side through it all.

Going on however, the film also greatly lacks ambition. Again it thinks because of it’s subject matter is enough to win the heart of the audience, but painting this tragedy as a glossy and whimsical tale shows how much the film doesn’t understand the story it’s telling. Even when we eventually get to the operation, there is no sense of struggle or hardship. The first ever gender reassignment surgery and it comes across as routine. The film makers attitude towards the topic is the same as the characters attitude towards Einar. They pussyfoot around the issue, they see it on the surface and they don’t want to understand, they just want to please and keep people happy. No ambition, no balls, no conflict. A shallow story kept abreast solely by Vikander’s performance.

Looking at: Entourage

Well I spent a lot of this laughing. Not with the film, but at the film. It was that bad.

Story: bunch friends want to make it big in Hollywood. Lead guy is a big shot actor and is directing his first feature, and boom it’s a success.

Now I haven’t seen the TV show, nor will I, and I heard pretty bad stuff anyway so I had low expectations. But man this is so bad, it didn’t even meet those. This is the most racist and sexist piece of cinema I have seen in a very long time. It’s not funny, the characters are all horrible people and the film is on their side. When you have a film with horrible people, they are suppose to satirized not praised. The director goes to say that this is the male fantasy. I am offended to think that this guy would go to say that every male living would fantasize about being hollow idiots with no respect for the people that surround them. There are even points in the film where the characters were to be taught a lesson due to their misdealings, but it just glosses over it all. The film looks on smuggly and allows these vile creatures to get away with anything. If they had killed someone the film would’ve let them get away with it through the power of believing they are better than everyone and that they should all bow at their knees. There are some cameos which are somewhat funny but that’s not enough to save this film.

If there were some explosions in this it would be a Michael Bay film. It has the same level of offensive and disgusting material as Transformers. There are racist stereotypes, women treated as objects and morally bankrupt characters. All the cameos that happened looked as if they were embarrassed to be there.

Don’t watch this, it’s worse than Transformers, it’s worse than Movie 43, it’s worse than anything that’s made it to the big screen. If it weren’t for the TV show, I feel it wouldn’t even made it there.

Why there shouldn’t be a Fast and Furious 8

Now before I continue, first watch this.

Now, spoilers ahead.

That is how the 7th film ends. With a very respectful and well put together tribute to the late Paul Walker. Now I’m a person who really disliked this franchise. I thought it was a shallow and boring piece right from the first film. I hated what it stood for and that it makes so much money when other better films struggle to make an impact at the box office. But, even I found this tribute to be fantastic. When watching the seventh film, I connected with the characters and their family unit. See, when the film was good, it wasn’t during the chase scenes or fight sequences, it was during the character pieces. When Vin Diesel spoke about the group being a family, the humorous banter among the characters, the sense of unity when Hans died, and the final scene when they see where Brain really belongs. With his family.

Now when they were shooting that final scene, it was after when Paul had died. So the reactions from the characters about them losing a family member is very real. The actors were all very close as having been on the same project for a number of years. Everything was authentic.

Now you ask what does this have to do with an eighth film. This film ends perfectly. Some say it has an open ending, but it is also all wrapped up. Bad guy is caught, old romances rekindled and Brian returns to his family for good. It’s a perfect ending. It ends on a sentimental note. You can’t ask for a better ending. To do another film would do a big injustice to not only this ending, but to Walker’s tribute. How do you follow that? The death was something that affected not only the film makers but the huge fan base. And to carry on the series would be to “brush it under the carpet”.

Now I’m realistic, I know too well that with this film making $800 million worldwide in its second week, it screams for a sequel to be made, but from a critical point of view, there is such a thing of spoiling a good thing. Too many films ruined by studio greed with the dreaded sequel. Before this film the franchise resembled a line graph where the dots were forgettable films judged only by their box office performance. Now the seventh actually put some life into the film, took it out of the graph and into our hearts. With that, it would be a massive shame to see it go back to another statistic.

Culture in Conflict – The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Yesterday marked the first night of the Culture in Conflict film season. This season is designed to exhibit films that would provoke a discussion on cultural conflict. The first film shown was The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a story telling the tale of a Pakistani man, Changez, going through the cultural change that took place in America after the events of 9/11.

After the screening, the audience engaged in discussion with one of the film’s distributor Sanam Hasan, from Mara Pictures, about the events of the film and how it depicts the cultural change we face today.

It was a very successful evening put together by Jim Hornsby from Runaway Media with the discussion being recorded by Luton Sixth Form College and myself.

It was a very thought provoking evening and am looking forward to next week’s screening of Hunger.

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Looking at: Whiplash

Undeniably the most intense film of the year. Of the decade. I have been looking forward to this film ever since I saw the trailer back in November and it did not disappoint.

Whiplash is about Andrew Neiman, a wannabe-jazz drummer who wants to be the greatest. He gets picked up by Terence Fletcher, the drill sergeant like jazz instructor, to join his band where the best of the best play. However we soon find out it’s not all fun and games at the top. Fletcher’s philosophy on pushing someone beyond what’s expected of them to become the best blurs the lines between pushing and bullying. He frequently humiliates those who fail to meet his standards and go off on a tirade on those who miss out by a hair. Only perfection exists in his band and nothing less and Neiman wants to be that perfect at any cost. The two are the perfect match for each other. They will challenge each other to be the best at any cost.

The story of this is very basic which goes to show you can a great film out of anything. The performance is what really makes this film, especially from JK Simmons, playing the force of nature that is Fletcher. He perfectly encapsulates the tortured nature of a cruel and bullying tutor. Perfection at any cost. At the basis of it, the search for perfection makes both characters quite unlikeable on their own. Neiman have other people in his lives, his father and a girl he dates briefly, but omits them very easily in his pursuit for greatness.

The fast paced nature of the music marriages well with the film’s pace. It hits the ground running from the very beginning and the editing very much so displays this perfectly. With cuts matching the fast drum beats and perfectly framed intense shots of instruments and close ups of the characters.

This is the most intense and well acted films from this year’s awards season. A must watch.

Looking at: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

And so we come to the end. The end of the thirteen year journey that we all started on with the Fellowship of the Ring in 2001. A wondrous and emotional farewell.

I know the book’s been out for over seventy years but for those who haven’t read it, SPOILER WARNING.

The Battle of the Five Armies is the final installment to The Hobbit trilogy which depicts the final part of the 1937 novel. The mountain is won, with word reaching the four corners of Middle-Earth, armies of Elves, Men, Dwarves, Orcs and (eventually) Eagles set sight upon Erebor to bask in it’s riches. The film is exactly what it says on the tin, one massive battle. This in it’s self is both the film’s strength and weakness. Strength as it’s a grand spectacle of a battle filled with large set pieces and fantastic stand offs, weakness as it’s not much more than that. This goes on to the answer the question on everyone’s lips, should The Hobbit have been split in three parts? I would say no. I liked that it included parts that wasn’t in the book, especially when Gandalf was off doing wizard stuff as it nicely linked into the Lord of the Rings. The bits with Legolas was ok but the romance between Kili and Tauriel was weak at best of times and worse in this film. My main gripe with the trilogy aspect comes from this film. It comes in at 144 minutes, very lean for a Middle-Earth film, with the non-book moments feeling very misplaced. The films feels like it should’ve been at the end of the second film (as much as I do love the perfectly put together final sequence of Desolation of Smaug). The part where Sauron makes an appearance was very disappointing. It was very quickly dismissed and badly put together. I think more with Saruman was needed along with the opening sequence with Smaug. If you’re gonna make the third film, at least fill it up enough. In short, I think it should have been two parts like they originally planned. Make the beginning of An Unexpected Journey shorter so you could have some Gandalf side quest from Desolation. Then with the extra room have more of a conflict with Sauron along with the Battle.

Overall it was a very satisfying film. The highlights were Thorin’s duel with Azog and Bilbo’s farwell. Billy Boyd’s song The Last Goodbye is the perfect farewell featured over the closing credits. A very fitting end to not only The Hobbit trilogy, but to the Middle-Earth saga.

Something a little extra. To save time when people will ask me in the future here are the Middle-Earth films ranked. This was bloody difficult. These are just my opinions and are ranked among themselves. They are all wonderful films and will stand throughout time as one of the greatest achievements in cinema.

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
5. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Looking at: Interstellar

Gonna say this now, SPOILERS ahead. It’s a good film and you should watch it. Something I would say is that if you didn’t understand Inception, you will have a tough time with this film, but it shouldn’t put you off because it can be easy going if you let it. If you don’t want to know more than that, stop reading now.

Now, Interstellar is the latest film by Christopher Nolan, the mastermind behind the bendy films of Inception and Memento. The story is how a group of astronauts go off to find a new home for the human race. The film is a visual masterpiece and very accurate with regards to it’s science. At just under three hours running time, it’s a very easy moving epic which doesn’t feel long. It’s a roller coaster adventure that takes you from Earth to the far reaches of space.

I personally enjoyed it very much. I’m a big science-geek with regards to space travel and the fact that it was doing wormholes and black holes properly was very exciting. Just the scale of the film was epic, it felt very epic. The amount of stuff they went through in the film was astronomical. However, the film does fall down in some aspects. When it came to the emotional scenes, I felt they weren’t properly dealt with. Now I wasn’t following the development of the film as I wanted to go into it with a fresh mind but I learnt recently that the film was intended for Steven Spielberg to direct, which does show through these emotional scenes. Nolan is known for having very emotionally absent films; the complexity of the story and science behind the film is right up his alley but with the emotions and humanity side of the film is probably better suited for Spielberg. However with the two big tear-jerker moments, they did deliver.

However, what I really want to get down to is the third act. Now there are three big reveals in this film, two of which I saw coming and the third is somewhat predictable once you think about it. In the final act, McConaughey’s character, Cooper, goes into a black hole. Doing so he enters what is called the fifth dimension. I’m not gonna explain what that is as it is a very complex subject so I will leave this link for you to read up on. (Fifth Dimension) But in short I would say that if you take someone’s life, and track their point from birth to death, the fifth dimension is every possibility that could happen and you can interact with it (I think, this is rather deep stuff). So there’s Cooper with his daughter’s life around him. Earlier in the film, these “ghostly” occurrences leads Cooper to NASA where he then goes on to his mission. We find out that these occurrences are Cooper himself in the fifth dimension. Now I was watching this bit thinking “yeah that’s pretty good, pretty sad in parts…but something’s not right”. And they use the “love will conquer all” answer which was hinted earlier in the film. Now this is something that has to be handled very well. It’s very easy to get wrong and I’ve seen it fall in the past. This was the part that Spielberg would’ve excelled at, this had his name all over it. Sadly with Nolan, it wasn’t really executed perfectly. It was ok, but not what I would like.

All in all, I really enjoyed the film, I came out of it mind blown but I did sit there at points thinking “this scene is uncomfortable”, and unfortunately, it is the emotional scene and that third act. People have been asking me is it better than Inception and is it Nolan’s best film. It’s not Nolan’s best film, that title still belongs to Memento. Is it better than Inception? That’s very difficult to say as they are very different films. Inception is more enjoyable, but Interstellar is smarter. What I went in wanting to watch is a very thought-provoking film which is enjoyable, which is what I got. This is the same I got with Inception but the enjoyment outweighs the thought-provoking. If you want to enjoy a film that makes you think a bit, watch Inception. If you want to come out experiencing a very fun and thought-provoking space journey, watch Interstellar.

Enjoy the trailer.