Charlie’s Cinematic Diary: March 2018 (part 1)

As is custom before I go to bed each and every night. I wash my teeth and my face and spend a good few minutes in front of the bathroom mirror giving myself a good cold hard stare thinking about my day’s achievements (or lack thereof). It is my believe that you are your own worst critic, that person staring back in the reflection is your biggest obstacle in life, you’ve got to be prepared to face them every so often. And so, never dropping eye contact, I shout back my mantra to myself:

“My brand is strong. My brand is strong. My brand is strong”.

After doing that for several minutes, mirror Charlie and I  are usually in agreement and I’m ready for bed and a good dreamless sleep. The other night, after completing said routine, it hit me like a bolt of lightning.

Charlie, you need a better title for these blog posts.

So here it is: Charlie’s Cinematic Diary 2018.

We haven’t even reached the end of March, and I’m already drowning at the cinema. There are so many movies coming out at the moment it’s hard to keep up with it all. But I do my best. It is my belief that the following five movies cover the whole spectrum of human emotion. There is really nothing left for humanity to say after these five movies.

I realise there may be some anti-Russian sentiment packed within these little movie reviews that probably makes me sound like a tin foiled hat conspiracy nut. I don’t know really know what to say to that… Except, I am aware of it, and I am prepared to deal with it, but I guess I would implore you to think of it as a single snapshot of my mindset at this specific moment in time. The news is really scaring me at the moment, hence why I go to the cinema so much.

Red Sparrow

red

After The Death of Stalin, Western actors putting on the dodgy Russian accent in spy thrillers rife with cold war tensions and lots of twisty turns and double/triple crosses just doesn’t feel the same anymore. It all feels kind of silly. Then you have all the troubling business regarding Russia today, a dead spy on the streets of London, the ‘re-election’ of Putin, collusion and interference in foreign elections. Movies like Red Sparrow with all your big name actors speaking in Russian accents just feels a little quaint – as if we’re well behind in the game.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika, a ballerina who after an onstage accident, loses her ability to dance professionally and is forced into the only line of work she can possibly get to keep her terminally ill mother (Joely Richardson) in relative comfort. Yup, you guessed it, she must become a spy specialising in the art of seduction, getting in close with certain individuals and using her feminine whiles to squeeze whatever secrets they have. I guess they don’t have artisanal cheese counters in Russia. And so she is tasked with using her exceptional skills in finding the identity of a US mole entrenched deep within the Russian government, which also involves her coming into contact with Joel Edgerton’s American spy. Whom she may or may not be developing real feelings for, of maybe they’re both playing each other – who indeed is fucking who?

Place your bets now, may the odds be forever be in your favour.

Director Francis Lawrence worked with, I’m just going to call her J-Law, on the last three Hunger Game movies. Those movies were geared towards more of a teen audience and made J-Law the leading lady she is today, and so Red Sparrow can’t help but feel like it is trying too hard to grapple with more adult HBO themes, your gratuitous scenes of a sexual nature, lots of torture and a procession of people meeting sticky ends.  There is a lot of scenes of a sex and nudity here. To become a Sparrow, Dominique  is trained to figure out the dark desires of her subject. She literally goes to spy school to do this, though it’s referred to as whore school. Dominika comes to sexy spy school to get tutored but she arrives pretty much fully formed and shows great skill at pinpointing exactly what gets a man off.

Apparently he’s into weird kinky shit with pears or something, nobody not even the Russian state knows about it. Jennifer Lawrence will find out just by looking at him of course with some pseudo Sherlock Holmes styled deduction that’s never really explained. In all about 10 seconds she’ll have clocked it. PEARS. And then she’ll be knocking at your door at night with a box of pairs just for you…. Before you even know it, you’ll have revealed all your secrets, and will be standing butt naked munching on a pear wondering what just happened. J-Law will get her coat to leave and say ‘all too easy’ in a Russian accent. That’s exactly how it’ll go down.

But seriously, the concept could be the basis of a more interesting darkly pyscho-sexual thriller, but Red Sparrow just feels very sexless and I think it’s down to the kind of characters J-Law usually plays in these kinds of movies, headstrong, morally unbreakable but kind of cynical as well. It’s telling that the much of the audience in my screening laughed inappropriately at some of the sexual content in this film. To iterate, within the first 40 minutes of the film, Sparrow almost gets raped twice. To teach one of the sparrows a lesson, the teachers bring in this renowned pervert and pedophile, and one of the trainees is told to give him oral sex there and then in front of the whole class. The state demands it. He unzips himself, grinning like a deviant. And the girl is crying and it should be horrible but it’s just kind of… funny? I’m sorry, I literally can’t take this scene seriously!  And then there are all the scenes of torture. I guess there’s an argument that Sparrow uses her sexuality as a weapon to control men but… the film has some problems in properly justifying this. It’s like DiCaprio in the revenant, so much angst and suffering, and yet so what?

Weirdly, I did find myself transfixed by the film. Not by the actors or the overall plot, but the locations. The exterior and interior shots of Russia are visually arresting, the architecture of these big ornate rooms, these oppressive Soviet Russia era concrete blocks, this fucking giant swimming pool that features within the first half that is like 25 metres in width! I want to go there! The locations are all playing into the film’s idea that the ghosts of old Russia are still very much alive doing their dark bidding to create imbalance in the world. There’s so much power in the film’s surroundings, the giant spectre of the state looming impenetrable above everything and everyone. This is all great, but it means Red Sparrow is a movie where the locations are literally more interesting than anything and everything happening within them.

Red Sparrow is just distinctly average, as a thriller you can see exactly what is going to happen. On a scale of 1-10 how much would you really miss your funny uncle who sent you to whore school in the first place? So yeah I don’t know, your dad might like it. If you really want to see a kickass Cold War spy film starring a female lead, I’d recommend last year’s Atomic Blonde instead. If you want a theory explaining the current state of the world, the prevalence and manipulation of mass stupidity and Russia’s specific involvement in it, I’d watch Hypernormalisation on iPlayer, or hey… just watch the news because it’s all popping off!

You Were Never Really Here

youwereneverreallyhere

It’s been 7 long years since Lynne Ramsay’s last film, her adaptation of We Need To Talk About Kevin. It was a harrowing story about a mother struggling to maintain her life following an event of mass murder perpetrated by her son. It’s the kind of film that gets under your skin and stays there, you became embroidered into the mother’s daily life and begin to see everything from her fractured mindset, like how her son’s villainy has imprinted on her and made her a villain in the eyes of her community, like how every past event in her life leading up to pregnancy through to motherhood all collects a new meaning, was her son just born evil? Or somewhere along the way was it her fault as a mother? Following We Need To Talk About Kevin, Ramsay was due to make a science fiction themed version of Moby-Dick, which to my ears sounded like the best thing ever, but plans unfortunately fell through once it was established that she would not be able to make the film she wanted to make. You Were Never Really Here is Ramsay’s latest movie adapted from the novel of the same name by Johnathan Ames and oh boy, is it stunning.

The story centres on Joe, played by a bedraggled looking Joaquin Phoenix, a hired hitman – a man specialising in the retrieval of abducted children.  One day Joe is recruited by a politician whose daughter has been abducted and forced into a child sex ring. Joe is given the address of where she is being held and is hired to bring her back and to hurt those that kidnapped her. Joe obliges but in so doing kicks the hornet’s nest unearthing a larger more dangerous conspiracy making him public enemy number one. It may sound like your typical thriller on paper, but in execution and empathy for its central character, You Were Never Really Here becomes something so much more.

The film has been described as Taxi Driver for a new century and whilst there are definitely shades of Martin Scorseese’s classic here and there, vigilante justice on child sex brothels, eyes of seething rage surveying the sinful city streets at night, it’s mostly devoid of any inner monologuing that was used to explain Travis Bickle’s troubling mindset. Instead, Ramsay creates this kind of cinematic stream of consciousness which brings you into a place of complete empathy for the deeply troubled, deeply haunted, Joe. The past and present are woven together, snapshots of the past flashing up to stop Joe dead in his tracks. The closest scene that comes closest to emulating the ‘You talking to me?’ is a scene with Phoenix washing up in a bath house in front of a mirror, he sings to himself before pausing to let out this manic grin to himself. This is just before he is about to hit the brothel. Before he lays the hurt down. A part of him enjoys the violence he does. At the same time, in a later scene, Joe has incapacitated an armed thug, and as he bleeds out, the killer and victim share a moment of kindness.

Following Phantom Thread (which I talked about last time), Johnny Greenwood provides the score for Ramsay’s  little epic, which is a mixture between organic sound effects and music, each working symbiotically to provide the movie with an itchy rhythm. I don’t want to call it a minimalist or subtle approach to film making, because that implies there is little going on within the frame, which feels like a disservice. There is plenty going on in each and every frame of You Were Never Really Here, every shot is so deliberate. Ramsay cancels film down to its bare essentials, visuals, performance, sound and music, all edited together to create a mood and tone, that ingratiate a rather simple story which nonetheless just mesmerises you from the beginning. An almost static shot of a bearded Joaquin Phoenix slowly swaying forth from the shadows into the daylight carries so much meaning.

I feel I have more to say about this film, but for now I would say it’s a must watch and easily the best movie I’ve yet seen this year. God help the next film on this list…

Love, SimonLove, Simon

Here’s something I wasn’t expecting to see. A teenage rom com about one young man building up the courage to come out to his friends, family and wider high-school social circle. I admit, I probably wouldn’t have ventured out to the cinema to see Love, Simon of my own volition. I guess I would say that I don’t generally care about teenagers and their problems. Movies about men teetering on the edge of sanity battering criminals heads in with hammers though? Sign me up! It was only through attending a mystery screening that I happened to watch Love, Simon – knowing next to nothing about it.

The result? Hey, I really liked this movie. It’s a ray of sunshine.

Back when I was a teenager, it felt as if the films being made for teenagers were mostly gross out sex comedies like American Pie, where the only concern of the youthful characters was losing their virginity before graduation – to become men. Simpler times, I guess. There was no worry about extortionate tuition fees or a failing job market or the inability to get on the housing market. In hindsight, I guess these movies weren’t actually being made for us specifically but for everybody who had ever been a teenager ever. But still… Today it feels teenagers are far better catered for, you’ve got your teenage dystopias where the kids undergo militarisation and try to save a world already ruined by the bloody adults. You’ve got your traditional high school rom-coms, like Superbad, Easy-A, Kings of Summer, Spider-man: Homecoming in which the kids are largely depicted as being so much more sharper and progressive. The joke in 21 Jump Street that all the old stereotypical divisions of an American high school, your jocks, your cheerleaders and your chess club nerds, have sort of all become old and redundant and kids are generally in a much better place because of it.

(I just remembered that movie The Faculty, maybe we weren’t so badly catered to).

In many ways, Love, Simon is a bit like Easy-A. You have Simon, played by Nick Robinson (snap endorsement for KINGS OF SUMMER – seeitseeitseeit) a teenager in his last year of high school who is secretly gay, and biding his time, waiting for the right moment to break the news to his parents, friends and classmates. Along the way, we meet all of Simon’s friends, a nice bunch of wholesome iced coffee swilling teenagers. You’ve got the teachers appearing like barmy side characters from Scrubs, you’ve got Buster from Arrested Development as the vice principal trying desperately to be hip and approachable. You’ve got Jennifer Garner as Simon’s mother, you’ve got the dad who just assumed his son would grow up to be a manly man.

Like Easy-A the film is sharp, funny and heartfelt where it needs to be.  We are quite used to technology being depicted as the devil in films and TV, but here it’s depicted as being something of a life safer. Where Simon is able to confront and share his sexuality with an anonymous poster to his school’s forum. Through email, Simon starts talking to the guy, they build up a relationship and give each other the strength to relieve the burden of the secret they are carrying. My generation, would be too busy absorbed on our phones watching Black Mirror brainwashing ourselves on how technology will be the death of us.

To reiterate, in my day we had Jason Biggs having sex with a pie in a movie – and that’s all we had to look forward to (apart from The Faculty, 10 Things I Hate About You, oh and Donnie Darko, Drop Dead Gorgeous was pretty good too come to think of it). My point is, over a decade later and kids have become these technological geniuses dealing with real life problems that require empathy and respect for one another. Between me and them, It’s like seeing the evolution of man from shit flinging ape to levitating uber brain. I feel so old and out of touch, but at least there is hope that the kids of today are probably going to save the world. And there’s nothing anybody, not ever Red Sparrow, can do about it.

So yeah Love Simon is just lovely really.

Journeyman

Journeyman

When you grow up in the Midlands loving movies and wanting to make movies, Paddy Considine is something a hero. His earlier work with Shane Meadows were a particular influence on me, because it came with the revelation that movies were not the product of some one system based in Hollywood and it was proof that movies should not exclusively be made in Hollywood. In Dead Man Shoes, he’s the kind of antihero that rivals Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson, but made more terrifying and badass because he seems so familiar. He doesn’t seem to make bad movies does our Paddy, as an actor or a director. Journeyman is Considine’s second feature as director following Tyrannosaur in 2011. Unlike Tyrannosaur, Considine actually stars in Journeyman as well.

It’s a boxing movie, but unlike any other boxing movie you’ve seen before.

Matty Burton (Considine) is the world champion who has reached the apex of his career, a fighter with nothing much to prove to anyone anymore. He’s happily married to his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and has a young infant daughter of whom he adores, they all live together within this plush house, of which his illustrious career in the sport has built. As ever, he’s tempted back into the ring for one more fight against a young upstart. In the pre-fight hype, his opponent vows to destroy him and that this match will be a life changing event for the old timer. And… yeah he’s kind of right. Following the fight, Matty collapses with a head injury, where he must have emergency surgery. He returns home and we see the scars at the side of his head. He has become severely handicapped, incapable of doing much for himself, forgetful of all the people that used to surround him and prone to sudden violent outbursts. It’s here that this boxing movie really begins.

There is a long sad history of boxers who grow older and suffer from debilitating conditions caused by a life of taking knocks to the head. Though you do have the big fight at the beginning, Journeyman is mostly a story about a man trying to get better. By now the boxing movie has become it’s own kind of genre, a life affirming triumph of the human spirit. It’s about the fighter digging deep within himself to overcome the odds and achieve a degree of satisfied self-worth – to do his best. Journeyman is the same in this regard but the twist is, the fighter is literally incapable of digging deep within himself to win the fight – he requires patience and constant care and love from those around him. It goes to some very dark places, and can be very difficult to watch, but it’s quietly powerful.

Depicting someone who is mentally handicapped is always a challenge. Paddy Considine proves up to the task in a well observed performance. At first he appears as this likable bloke who loves his family, after the injury he becomes a shadow of his former self and it’s difficult to see the man he once was and it’s easy to write him off. Within the first half, this is Jodie Whittaker’s movie as she struggles to nurse her husband back to health, becoming a victim of her husband’s violent flares. Her character then leaves the picture half way through putting more focus on Considine’s character and his old boxing team. You do miss Whittaker’s character but only because it’s so hard to see the boxer in the state he’s in.

Journeyman is a difficult watch but it is engrossing and in the end it is life affirming. It just might not make you want to run up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Tomb RaiderTomb Raider

Let me tell you something about me. Knowledge, that one could probably be used for evil against me at some point (definitely by the Russians). I fucking love Tomb Raider. The original Tomb Raider from 1996 was the game that got me into games into the first place. If it wasn’t for Tomb Raider, I’d probably be a person of greater worth to society but because of Tomb Raider, I’m this 31 year old person who’d rather spend his free time immersed in virtual worlds. I love Tomb Raider. I like exploring ancient tombs as Lara Croft and gunning down all manner of endangered animals. Within the game you understand.

Following Angelina Jolie’s turn as Lara Croft at the beginning of the millennium, which was largely based on the old school games and the 90s sex symbol conception of the character. This Tomb Raider reboot is based on the latest Tomb Raider video game reboot, which did the Batman Begins thing of deconstructing Lara as the world famous grave robbing aristocratic badass. Instead, she is posed as an impressionable young women seeking adventure,  who finds herself in a desperate struggle to survive after being shipwrecked on an island belonging to the grown up members of he-man woman hater’s club. The video game story was penned by Rhianna Pratchett (daughter of Sir Terry) and much of the set pieces and story beats of the game are present in the new movie though condensed into a tidy two hour run time.

Daughter of the late Richard Croft (Dominic West), who went missing years earlier in search of Yamatai, a mysterious island and resting place of an ancient evil queen (and witch) know as Himoko, Lara Croft has grown into an angry young woman – unleashing her aggression in the boxing ring or riding furiously around the streets of Shoreditch as a bike courier. Lone heir to the Croft fortune, and a nice big manor house, Lara refuses to sign anything as she believes her father is still out there. Eventually her own curiosity unearths a new thread in the big mystery and she’s off to Japan where with the help of a drunken sailor (Daniel Wu) sets a course over a dangerous stretch of ocean known as the Devil’s Sea in which lies the island of Yamatai, resting place of the accursed witch and.. hey look turns out there is a troop of armed mercenaries working under a shadowy ancient order led by Walter Goggins who are also searching for the tomb. Most likely, they’re going to raid it.

There has yet to be a truly great movie to be adapted from a video game. If you ask me, Duncan Jones’s Warcraft was pretty good, and I do look back at the 2000 Tomb Raider movie as something of a guilty pleasure, a campy trashy version of Indiana Jones in which Angelina Jolie was that adolescent boy’s fantasy – Lara Croft:Tomb Raider in the flesh. The new Tomb Raider movie is fine. I don’t think it’s as fun as the 2000 version but Alicia Vikander is great as a younger Lara Croft. She’s fierce, she’s feisty, she’s totally ripped and can run, jump and shoot bow and arrow with the best of them. It is a bit disappointing to see Lara lumped with a rather generic staple of estranged father issues however. In my mind, it’s too easy an explanation of the chacter. Tomb Raider isn’t a honourable moniker as far as labels go, but Lara find solace in it, surely? why? And so you see, I’ve clearly spent too much time with Lara Croft over the years.

When the Assassin’s Creed movie came out, I read about Ubisoft talking about the film as a great way to build brand awareness for the long running franchise – the bigger picture which was the game series itself. It’s not what you want to hear before heading into a film. The movie had a promising pedigree, a good cast, a good director, but it just ended up being kind of unmemorable and in service to… well thebrand. I feel this version of Tomb Raider is a similar exercise in maximising brand awareness for the latest Tomb Raider games, the third of which is presumably coming out later this year. Though Lara works, everything around it just feels a little by the numbers. This version of Lara was already influenced by The Descent or Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games – that is the brand of new Tomb Raider.

With all that said, I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t be interested in the sequel teased at the end of this movie, in which Vikander ventures to some other long lost tomb armed with her duel pistols and maybe fights a T-Rex or something.

NEXT TIME ON CHARLIE’S CINEMATIC DIARY! 

(my brand is strong)

I’ve got things to say about Netflix’s offerings. Most notably their trio of sci-fi movie, Cloverfield Paradox, Mute and Annihilation. Oh boy do I have some thoughts on Annihilation… In terms of theatrical releases, Pacific Rim: Rise of the Robots or something is bound to get judged, as is Unsane, A Wrinkle in Time and most definitely Rampage where the Rock teams up with a giant gorilla. Bet your house on it. 

UNTIL NEXT TIME FOLKS! 

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