Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
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After only four films - Ratcatcher, Morven Callar, We Need to Talk About Kevin and You Were Never Really Here, it's now apparent that Scottish director Lynne Ramsay has managed to forge her own particular style. She's also a director that's so focused on her own approach that she won't just bow down to studio pressures as her proposed adaptation of The Lovely Bones will attest to and her ill-fated vision for Jane Got a Gun - both films that she walked away from despite being heavily involved in the initial stages. Her latest, You Were Never Really Here, is somewhat the perfect example of her uncompromising approach and how powerful her bad-assitude can play out on screen when she's left to express her own vision.
Plot: Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a Gulf War veteran with PTSD who is completely unafraid of violence. This makes him the best hired gun when it comes to tracking down missing girls for a living. Sometimes he's even employed because of his brutal reputation and his effortless ability to hurt the perpetrators when he catches up with them. However, when Joe is employed to find Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) the innocent 13-year-old daughter of an ambitious New York senator (Alex Manette), he finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that spirals out of control.
Lynne Ramsay herself has said that she often doesn't understand the plot synopses of this film as they don't quite capture what the film is actually like. I've been just as guilty of that as others have in what I've written above and I can completely understand her feelings on this. Any synopsis is just a general overview and can never encapsulate a films mood, characterisation or artistry. It's like saying that Drive is just about a getaway driver - it's not and for anyone who's seen it will know that the languid pace, the cinematography, the mood and the score are just as important to the film as any plot developments. In terms of plot this shares some similarities with Nicolas Winding Refn's aforementioned film; it's a literary adaptation, it's about one man's crusade to rescue someone in need and they're both directed by Europeans who have entered into the American market. The biggest comparison, however, is that the plot is secondary to the overall composition. The reminder of the plot is actually Liam Neeson in Taken. Don't be disheartened, though, as this is a very different film and it's a perfect example of how a story can essentially be regurgitated and work even better when it has a quality director behind it. This isn't your standard Hollywood schtick where Phoenix runs around dishing out the knuckle-sandwichs or talking like a Neeson-esque tough guy. To be fair, Taken has it's place among the action genre and appeals to the masses but the more discerning viewer will appreciate Ramsay's film much, much more. There are action scenes involved here but that's not Ramsay's primary focus. If anything when she delivers them she does so in a brutal and unrelenting way that it's far from the glorification of Hollywood violence. Ramsay makes no bones about being more focused on character and it's here that Joaquin Phoenix excels. Phoenix has been on great form recently; his outstanding performances in The Master, Her and Inherent Vice have been some of the best flawed individual performances for the past few years and his work here can be included among them. Phoenix's Joe is a hulking brute who prefers to serve out his vigilante justice with a ball-peen hammer but it's not just as simple as that. Joe has his own issues. A former war veteran who's scarred body reflects the scars and inner turmoil of his mind and this coupled with his own traumatic childhood leave him in a permanent state of suicidal despair where we regularly witness him pushing himself to edge as he asphyxiates himself with a plastic bag and dangles daggers into his mouth. What's most striking about Phoenix's performance, however, is that he has very little dialogue. The bulk of his communication is purely physical and Ramsay has a keen eye and inventive means in which to make Joe a very damaged but powerful presence.
Complimenting Ramsay's measured and deliberate filmmaking is Jonny Greenwood's deeply affecting score. As Ramsay imbues the film with hallucinatory and elliptical imagery, Greenwood symbiotically ebbs and flows alongside, contributing to not only the emotional state of our lead character but to the entire film as a whole. It's this meeting of minds that contribute to how successfully the film becomes its own beast. It has been likened to a modern-day Taxi Driver and I can see the comparison (again in terms of plot) but Ramsay puts her own stamp on the proceedings and manages to turn a conventional narrative into something more inventive, artistic and unconventional.
A raw, brutal and uncomprising revenge thriller that may well be Lynne Ramsay's best film thus far. It received a seven-minute standing ovation at its Cannes Film Festival premiere with Ramsay winning the award for Best Screenplay and Joaquin Phoenix winning for Best Actor. Although I'm happy about this, others may not see what the fuss is all about. It's unconventionality and enigmatic style may ostracise some viewers but, personally, that's what I found so intriguing.
When Jaws was released in 1975, it done so well at the box-office that it was the first film to become, what we now know as, the "blockbuster". Having been responsible for this, it still looks like Steven Spielberg (at the ripe age of 71) isn't in any mood to change that as Ready Player One - his 33rd film - is still an example of the big brand of entertainment that he's now synonymous with. That said, he hasn't been delivering that many of these types of films for quite some time now, choosing instead to focus on more dramatic material but I'm happy to say that he's still possesses that childlike imagination and adventurous touch.
Plot: In the year 2045, a virtual reality system called the Oasis is an immersive world that allows people to escape their harsh reality and be or do anything the want - the only limits are your own imagination. The Oasis creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) decides to leave a message for all its users before he dies. He creates an Easter egg within the game and anyone who finds it will inherit his immense fortune and gain complete control of the Oasis itself. Naturally, everyone sets out to complete the challenge but unlikely hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) finds himself at the forefront of the hunt.
It's fair to say that Spielberg has been (and still is) one of the most influential filmmakers in history. So many of his films have entered popular culture making him the perfect director to adapt Ernest Cline's nostalgic novel Ready Player One, which works primarily on delving into the very pop-culture that Spielberg himself has helped shape. In Cline's book, Spielberg is heavily mentioned but to give the director his due he has decided, for the most part, to omit his contributions when adapting it for the screen. Despite this, however, you really can't have a film that relies on pop-culture references without Spielberg being mentioned and he does throw in the odd welcome nod to himself.
It's not just Spielberg on show here, though, as theres an abundance of nostalgia for anyone that grew up in the 80's and 90's and has even a passing knowledge of the rise of video games and such classic films as Saturday Night Fever, King Kong and Spielberg's own Jurassic Park. Most surprisingly of all, however, is the influence of The Shining. There's a sequence here that may offend the die hard fans of Kubrick's horror masterpiece but, personally, I was astounded at how well Spielberg uses scenes from that film to transport his own characters into; room 237 is explored again and we get to see the creepy twins in the hallway as well as the river of blood that floods from the elevator. Witnessing this with Spielberg's digitally enhanced characters shows how far technology can go in the movies and this is only one example. We also get to see Back to the Future's Deloreon back in action and fans of The Iron Giant will rejoice in that animated character being brought to life. To put it simply, the film is practically one big homage or nostalgic trip to films of the past and Spielberg wrings it out for all it's worth. Some may say that the central storyline suffers as a result of the CGI and I wouldn't argue with that but this is a film that wouldn't even have been possible 20 years ago and the imagination involved here is so intoxicating and reminiscent that I didn't care about the narrative taking a backseat. I was just happy getting swept along for the ride.
As visual spectacles go, this is a truly astounding piece of work as Spielberg captures the allure and breakneck pace of a video game world - with an astonishingly exciting race in the film's opening - and transports us into this virtual reality with ease. In fact, the CGI moments are so good that it can sometime leave the scenes in the real world somewhat flat and doesn't allow the actors to fully embrace their roles. That said, Tye Sheridan is a serviceable lead and Ben Mendelsohn delivers his usual reliability in the villain role but the other actors don't make much of an impact and this is most apparent in the final third when they're relied upon more. It's around this point that film loses touch with its pace and feels a little overlong and, as entertaining as it is overall, it could've benefited from a little trim. I also wonder whether the film will appeal to our current generation of kids when there's a lot of references that will inevitably go over their heads. In essence, this film has a target audience and it's most definitely for those who grew up in the 80's and 90's and those that experienced the rise of gaming before virtual reality was even a thing.
An intoxicating doze of nostalgia and a wonderful piece of escapism from Spielberg. The inventor of the blockbuster can still produce the goods and he proves it with his most entertaining movie for some time. Minor flaws aside, this is a true cinematic experience and one that made me feel like a child again - a skill that Spielberg has always excelled at.
Five years after their first collaboration on 1999's A Room for Romeo Brass, Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows penned a script together about some of the memories and experiences they remembered from their working-class backgrounds. Although they were obviously embellished, the result led to Dead Man's Shoes - a visceral and uncompromising tale of vengeance that became an instant cult hit and still stands as some of the best work they've ever produced.
Plot: Disaffected soldier Richard (Paddy Considine) returns home from military service to his home town in the Midlands with revenge on his mind. While he was away, local thugs and bullies physically and psychologically tortured his mentally challenged brother. Anthony (Toby Kebbell) and Richard intends to make them pay. At first, he toys with the gang and and sets out to just just frighten them but it's not long before he steps up his military guerilla tactics to pick each of them off, one by one.
Going by the title and the film poster, I remember my first impression of Dead Man's Shoes being one of a cheap budget slasher. As a result, I avoided it for a few years until I could no longer ignore the positive word-of-mouth that I had been hearing or the rising reputation of its director, Shane Meadows. To be fair, it's a classic case of never judging a book by its cover as it turned out to, not only, be different from my expectations but it surpassed them. Meadows' dark, revenge thriller benefits from his fly-on-the-wall and authentic style of storytelling that comfortably combines the kitchen-sink drama's of Ken Loach with the snare and disturbing elements of horror that Ben Wheatley has become known for. For many, Shane Meadows is a filmmaker that has yet to be uncovered but his most well known film This Is England (and it's resulting TV mini-series') have rightly gained a lot of critical appreciation but it's probably fair to say that he hasn't quite achieved any international recognition. Either way, Meadows always strikes me as a filmmaker that is most comfortable on his own patch and regardless of recognition, I wouldn't change that. His films always have such a genuine ability to capture working-class lifestyles - much like the aforementioned Loach or Mike Leigh. In fact, it's this approach - when combined with a depraved and violent narrative arc - that makes Dead Man's Shoes all the more effective and chilling. The setting, the mood and the characters all feel authentic and Meadows draws some excellent performances from the entire cast, regardless of how small their role. That said, there are three particular performances that really stand out; former British boxer Gary Stretch is hugely effective as the gang's shady leader while Toby Kebbell is remarkably good at capturing the young innocent with learning disabilities that's the catalyst for the mayhem that ensues. All in all, however, the film belongs to Paddy Considine with his dynamic intensity echoing a Taxi Driver era DeNiro. One minute he's tender and loving, the next he's a vengeful and explosive maniac and the role provides Considine the opportunity to express his range to full effect.
Although the initial premise may seem a little far-fetched, the delivery of it is certainly not. This is raw and unflinching filmmaking that has a palpable feeling of dread and danger throughout its entirety. It's also not a simple as the vigilante premise would suggest. Meadows toys with our perspective of sympathy by allowing us to get close to the three-dimensional characters and never makes any black-and-white judgements. It's this approach that brings a genuine sense unpredictability in how the film plays out.
A dark, compelling and thoroughly satisfying thriller that benefits from measured pacing, a solid cast and a searing central performance from the hugely talented Considine. Shane Meadows is one the boldest English directors working at present and this is arguably his best film to date. What may seem like a formulaic revenge story results in a complex psychological parable that packs a genuine punch.
Beginning his career as an author and responsible for the source material of Danny Boyle's The Beach in 2000, Alex Garland then directly ventured into the film industry by doing screenplay's - again with Boyle on 28 Days Later and Sunshine - before he eventually took the reigns himself by making his directorial debut with the magnificent science fiction film Ex Machina in 2014. On this evidence, it's fair to say that Garland has went from strength to strength and his sophomore film, Annihilation, continues that trend. One could even argue that it's his best work yet.
Plot: Lena (Natalie Portman), a cellular biologist and former soldier, joins an expedition to uncover what happened to her husband Kane (Oscar Issac) who disappeared during a mission inside Area X - a swampland across the Florida coastline that was hit by a meteor and is now a sinister and mysterious phenomenon that blocks all contact with the outside world. During the expedition, Lena discovers a world of mutated landscapes and creatures that threatens everything we have come to know about science and evolution and threatens not only her life but also her sanity.
Based on the first book in the "Southern Reach" trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer we are drip fed the events and conundrum of Annihilation in the three stages of the characters' exploration: Area X, The Shimmer and The Lighthouse. Such is Garland's restrained approach, we are kept very much at arms length about what exactly is going as each of these chapters make little sense. When the film does provide some answers, it only opens it up to even more questions and therein lies the craftsmanship and intrigue of this abstract sci-fi fantasy. What's most apparent, though, is Garland's masterful control of pace and mood and it's his attention to these elements that provide the film with genuinely nightmarish possibilities.
Area X is a foreboding, inhospitable land where the laws of physics and nature have turned in on themselves as the environment mutates with new and fascinating results. There are plants that share human DNA and result in growths of eerie, man-like tree structures and animals that retain and replicate the screams of the victims they've killed. Everything refracts as our planet, as we know it, is in the process of evolving into something else entirely. It's this very concept that makes Garland's film a terrifying experience. While it's beautifully shot by cinematographer Rob Hardy and boasts some visually stunning scenes it also has atmosphere in abundance. I've seen genre horrors that have failed to capture half of this films palpable feeling of dread and Garland knows exactly how to handle it's unsettling moments while aided with a hugely effective score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury.
Harbouring the weighty themes of grief, suicide and self-destruction, Garland borrows heavily from the paranoia of John Carpenter's The Thing and also channels cancer as its psychological device, while many have compared it to Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 metaphysical film, Stalker. Having recently caught up with that, I can definitely see the resemblance. Tarkovsky's film has a more reflective, philosophical tone to it whereas Garland explores a more scientific nature but the two are certainly bedfellows. Like Stalker, Annihilation refuses to provide easy answers and some might even leave the film frustrated with its ambiguity. However, it's this very ambiguous approach that contributes to the film's allure and fascinating premise. Needless to say, those not willing to put in the effort to work through its many layers will be left sorely disappointed and needn't bother at all. In fact, the film's production studio, Paramount Pictures, voiced their concern on it being too intellectual and complicated for the masses and decided not to release it widely in cinemas in fear of losing money. Instead, a deal was struck with Netflix to internationally distribute it on their streaming service. It's such a shame that films as bold and inventive as this are never given the confidence and respect they deserve. Paramount have been fools in their handling and marketing of this and can only hope that the film's reception doesn't suffer as a result.
A haunting and genuinely frightening, sci-fi mystery that's as elliptical and unnerving as Tarkovsky's Stalker and as trippy as Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey - with a plethora of other science fiction influences thrown in for good measure. It's only March but already we have one of the potential best films of 2018. This is a truly bold and intriguing undertaking from Alex Garland and he's laid down the gauntlet for the forthcoming year.
After his brilliantly dark urban thriller Nightcrawler in 2015, a lot of eyes were on director Dan Gilroy with an eagerness to see what he'd deliver next. Roman J. Israel, Esq promises to be just as intriguing but it lacks the dramatic drive that made Gilroys's last film such captivating viewing. That said, it boasts a strong lead performance that's enough to maintain your interest.
Plot: Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Denzel Washington) is an a idealistic defense attorney who likes to work behind the scenes. However, when his colleague dies suddenly, Roman is forced to look for other work. He's hired by another law firm who have heard of his fastidious approach to the job but by this time Roman has crossed a professional (and personal) boundary that leads to some serious implications and both his job and his life in danger.
Dan Gilroy's legal drama opens with an intriguing concept of our main character's intention to have himself disbarred from legal practise by writing a memo that proposes that he will both prosecute and defend himself due to his personal indescretions. From here on it goes on to depict Roman J. Israel Esq. as a socially awkward but very competent and meticulous individual who has a passion for civil rights. Embodying this interesting character is, of course, Denzel Washington who delivers another wonderfully realised character to his already impressive resumé. Washington has been Oscar nominated for his work here and although it's unlikely that he'll win, this is still some solid work. That said, despite his good work, he's not entirely afforded a strong enough script to warrant his commitment. There's a lot of potential here but that's probably what makes it a slightly frustrating affair as it doesn't quite have enough of a dramatic punch to get things moving and Gilroy's decision to go for a more restrained approach, somewhat, takes the wind out the film's sails. Despite its great premise it doesn't really flesh it out when it actually comes to it. It spends plenty of time on the how and why but doesn't really and keep good on its promises.
A serviceable legal thriller that has good intentions but ultimately doesn't really go anywhere. That said, it boasts a great lead performance from Denzel and strong, cutthroat support from Colin Farrell but it's just a shame that the film doesn't capitalise on these two as it's left with a script that has an air of mediocrity to it. I enjoyed this slow-moving legal drama but it needed an adrenaline shot and left me feeling that it was a missed opportunity.