The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

“messy toybox madness”

Directed by Chris McKay
Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson and Ralph Fiennes

LEGO Batman does well to balance an effective story with universe-blending antics, though the speed at which things unfold is too quick. We open with a chase of cataclysmic proportions and a register of established villains, meaning everything afterwards struggles to up the ante. Too often every tool from the Bat-universe is thrown together and the action can feel hollow. The jokes and performances are still fun, and there’s more Bruce Wayne character development here than in any previous movie, but when the things are meant to run, they sprint, and when they should walk, they feel like a standstill.

Robin: My name’s Richard Grayson, but all the kids at the orphanage call me Dick.

Batman: Well, children can be cruel.

Further Reading:
David Betancourt’s ‘The Lego Batman Movie is all fun with none of the standard Dark Knight drama’ posted February 9th available from Washington Post here

Max Covill’s ‘Lego Batman Answers the Call for Quality Family Entertainment’ available from Film School Rejects here

What do you think of The LEGO Batman Movie? Leave a comment below!

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Jackie (2016)

“real life fairytale”

Directed by Pablo Larrain
Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup and Greta Gerwig

With sharp visuals and measured performances surrounding a cracking central role from Portman, this is an interesting balance of storybook fantasy and grounded reality. Using Jackie Kennedy’s grief to explore JFK’s place in history, framing is used particularly effectively to both keep the focus squarely on Jackie and show the cluster of White House staff ushering her out. It’s a testament to the power of history’s forgotten stories that drama is not found in a bloody shooting of nation’s commander, but in the anger and sadness a woman feels for her husband, while the country he led swiftly moves on.

Jackie Kennedy: There should be more horses, more soldiers … more crying, more cameras.

Further Reading:
Brian Formo’s ‘Jackie: Natalie Portman on Jackie Kennedy’s Humanity and Her Strange Accent‘ published on Collider, 1st December 2016, available here

Youssef El-Gingihy’s ‘Pablo Larraín’s Jackie: She is a big part of the reason why a half century on we are still talking about JFK and why films are still being made about him‘ published on Independent, 20th January 2017, available here

What do you think of Jackie? Leave a comment below!

Arrival (2016)

“talking in circles”

Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg

Many words can describe the execution of Arrival, though few match as well as “tight”. Everything flows together so seamlessly that it’s only upon reflection that you realise you’ve been dazzled. From Adams’ reserved performance to the flowing melancholic music, each element deftly aids the story which is one of the best-paced evolutions of stakes you can find. A premise rife with intrigue and contemplation builds into a story of mystery, romance, action, tragedy, and out-right thrills. It’s a wonderful puzzle made of vastly interesting individual pieces, and literally had me on the edge of my seat.

Ian Donnelly: Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.

Further Reading:
Jay Caruso’s ‘Arrival’ Challenges Audiences To Face A Daunting Question posted November 19th, available from The Federalist here

Gus Lubin’s ‘Arrival’ nails how humans might actually talk to aliens, a linguist says posted November 21st, available from Business Insider here

What do you think of Arrival? Leave a comment below!

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

“minor-key misery”

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler

Manchester shares many traits with its main character, Lee (Affleck), dipping into a painful past through flashbacks and carrying a constant air of melancholy. It’s a small movie in almost every sense; with mundanity and struggle surrounding an emotionally explosive core and powerful character moments revealed with little grandeur. Affleck and Hedges shine as their relationship sputters along trying to find a version of themselves that fit together, and while the focus on emotional emptiness can occasionally make things too reserved, this is a very real reflection of the damage and loss people can go (and put themselves) through.

Lee Chandler: I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it. I’m sorry.

Further Reading:

Michael Nordine’s ‘Bennett Miller on ‘Manchester by the Sea’: ‘The Film Itself Feels Conscious’ posted on IndieWire 8th December 2016, available here

Kristen Page-Kirby’s ‘‘Manchester by the Sea’ director Kenneth Lonergan was inspired by … the Marx Brothers?!‘ from The Washington Post available here

What do you think of Manchester by the Sea? Leave a comment below!

Silence (2016)

“subdued suffering”

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Yōsuke Kubozuka and Liam Neeson

Films about punishment should rightfully be punishing to watch, though Silence goes about this task with a naturalistic style that makes it feel like a slog rather than a journey of enlightenment or reflection. It raises interesting questions concerning faith, and delivers small, powerful moments of internal revelation, but Andrew Garfield’s performance isn’t captivating enough to hold interest through the (sizeable) time we spend alone with him. While faith is the focus of the events of the film, exchanges between characters also concern little else, meaning scant connection can be made with them before their suffering unfolds.

Ferreira: You see Jesus in Gethsemane and believe your trial is the same as His. Those five in the pit are suffering too, just like Jesus, but they don’t have your pride. They would never compare themselves to Jesus. Do you have the right to make them suffer? I heard the cries of suffering in this same cell. And I acted.

Further Reading:
Through ‘Silence’, Martin Scorsese examines his own spiritual journey by Glenn Whipp for the Los Angeles Times available here

A Brief History of Martin Scorsese’s Cinematic Obsession with Religion by Zach Schonfield available here

What do you think of Silence? Leave a comment below!

La La Land (2016)

“dream come true”

Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend and Rosemarie DeWitt

At the end of a year that was brimming with public unease, La La Land is a shooting star exploding with life and inspiration. Stone and Gosling make a delightful pairing that beautifully balances Hollywood romance with bittersweet realism. Musical numbers are dreamlike and majestic while almost every scene pops with colour and leaves a smile on your face. It’s all about optimism, without being the naivety that hinders many other tales of wonder. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but most importantly you’ll believe anything is possible so long as you pursue it with passion. An absolute triumph of the soul.

Mia: Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make.

Further Reading:

Oscar Songs: How ‘La La Land’ Songwriters Wrote a Love Letter to Movie Musicals posted on The Wrap here

‘La La Land’: A Musical Ode to Men Who Love Loving Jazz posted on NY Mag’s The Cut here

What do you think of La La Land? Leave a comment below!

Taking A Pass: 30th Leeds International Film Festival

I naturally learned about Leeds International Film Festival promptly upon starting my first year of studies at Leeds University. Due to an overwhelming amount of trepidation about a great many things at the time (as many freshers experience) I attended a grand total of zero films. In the following years I vowed to not make the same blunder.

As a result, some of the strangest films I’ve seen over the course of each year are from the festival, including The Bothersome Man (the story of a man trapped in purgatory) and 22nd of May (about a security guard reliving a shopping mall bombing he failed to prevent). One of the most interesting experiences I had was getting trashed at a metal night before dragging myself out of bed to go watch One Piece: Strong World. Suffice to say, hungover and with no prior engagement with the source material is no way to watch what I later learned was the tenth movie installment of a manga series.

Since then I’ve seen the self-congratulatory lows of Masterpiece: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns to the neon highs of Blade Runner on the big screen. I even got to watch John Carpenter’s The Thing with two hilarious accompaniments:

1) A pre-recorded interview with Carpenter, in which he humbly expressed little desire to praise his own work over other people’s, which made the twenty minutes the interviewer spent trying to make him do so seem as awkward as possible, and…

2) A woman sitting one row ahead of me who had very clearly not seen the film before and likely made five permanent dent marks in her partner’s arm, applying a vice-like grip throughout a good portion of the film.

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But this year, the festival’s thirtieth, I’ve taken the plunge and bought an individual pass so I can finally go absolutely berserk. Here’s my upcoming schedule, my pre-film expectations, and I’ll update them with post-film responses as the festival rolls on:

Friday November 4th – Interstella

Pre: Music video movie of Daft Punk’s album Discovery. An alien rock band’s superfan trying to free them from the clutches of an evil music mogul? I’ll have me some of that.

Post: Thoroughly enjoyable. Really great story considering it’s essentially a feature length music video and I give it major points for genuinely surprising me with a major character death. There’s also some neat anti-corporate music stuff in there and the anime stuff works wonderfully well with Daft Punk’s musical style. Grab a copy and stick it on in the background of a party. You’ll definately have a handful of people stopping to take note of it.

Sunday 6th – Schneider vs. Bax

Pre: Foreign movies are a good source of black comedy, so I’ve got good expectations for this one about a hitman’s job gone wrong. And ‘hitman’ is essentially the best occupation you can give a movie character without having to actually delve into their past, so it’s already ticking boxes in my book.

Post: Not as much awkward humour as I was expecting and the whole thing struck a strange middle-ground between drama and comedy once a few other characters are introduced. Not bad, but veered on dragging at times.

Sunday 6th – Under the Shadow

Pre: Sunday is my first double-header, with Under the Shadow being the UK’s foreign language Oscar entry. It’s looking to be a ghost story, but not necessarily a horror, so that says to me ‘enough supernatural elements to creep me out, but enough story sense to give me it in tiny doses’. My over-under on jump scares is 2.5.

Post: It got me 3 times, so it’s an ‘over’ for that one. Overall, it was wonderful. Suitable amount of time given before anything out of the ordinary comes along meaning we’ve got some nicely rounded characters who make logical decisions when they’re scared. Throw in some super creepy visuals and this one is highly recommended.

Monday 7th – The Birth of a Nation

Pre: Nate Parker’s racial powerhouse doesn’t appear to be getting the slam-dunk responses that were suggested a few months ago, but it still has high-upside potential from occasional stellar reviews. I have the feeling this is going to be either great or okay, with plain old ‘good’ not being an option.

Post: Turns out ‘good’ was an option after all. While it didn’t leave me shocked and appalled, I did like them showing some weighty violence behind Nat Turner’s slave revolt. Strangely, the lighter the film is allowed to be, the better is looks, as sweeping shots of cotton fields look absolutely wonderful. Sadly, interior shots don’t achieve the same success and few scenes stick out. Solid, but not an must-watch.

Tuesday 8th – Being There

Pre: Following a rekindled love of Dr. Strangelove, and seeing his stellar work in Lolita, I need more Peter Sellers in my life. I’m just hoping that it’s a few beats away from Forrest Gump and Rain Man (neither of which I’m a fan of). At least I’m almost guaranteed another grade-A performance from Sellers.

Post: Wonderfully funny. I saw it with a good crowd that suitably hooped and hollered as the ludicrousness of the movie ramped up. I, too, laughed long and hard as the humour sits right alongside Strangelove, meaning nothing ever seems jumped up or slapstick. It’s quietly and reservedly a story of ridiculous circumstances and well worth your time.

Wednesday 9th – Aliens (with Royal Armouries Presents the Pulse Rifle)

Pre: I’m presently in the ‘Alien‘ camp of the great sequel debate, but I couldn’t pass up a chance to see Aliens on the big screen. Perhaps I’ll be a bigger fan on this go around, and I’ll definitely shout when Bishop gets what’s coming to him. Kickstarted with a presentation about the pulse rifle from the film, and I’ve got the makings of fun evening.

Post: Strangely, the lows and highs seemed lower and higher than before. I forgot how great the last 30-40 minutes of Aliens is and I have to keep this in mind when I consider that while the time spent in between the action isn’t exactly wasted, I still struggle to stay engaged outside of Burke’s shenanigans. Didn’t shout at Bishop getting destroyed, but gave a little ‘woo’ when Newt said “mostly”.

Thursday 10th – The Animatrix and The Matrix

Pre: First time seeing The Animatrix, so I’m looking for at least three enjoyable sections from the anthology. Seeing The Matrix immediately after should also let me judge how well the two work together. Strange how I missed this when I was 8, but making up for it when I’m 25.

Post: Missed out on Animatrix due to after-work commute times, but my god The Matrix is a solid gold hit of a movie. So many great visuals, superb philosophical ideas behind everything, and it’s one of the heads of the ‘rebel against mundanity’ movie hydra 1999 enjoyed. COnsidering it’s a film that informed an entire genre for the next ten years, and become synonymous with something as basic as a colour, rewatching it has solidified it as a cinema classic.

Friday 11th – Drive

Pre: If you’ve read anything else from my blog, you’ll know I’m a Drive fanboy. Not much to say other than I’ll try to keep my head-bobbing to a minimum while ‘Nightcall’ is playing. Two home-viewings have taken a little off the edge these past couple of years, so a big-screen setting might juice things up and resharpen the senses.

Post: Yep, it’s still everything I remember it to be. Seeing it at the town hall definitely put the edge back into feel of the movie and with its viseral elements (action, framing, soundtrack) all in check, I’m starting to enjoy the story and performances more and more. This is my fourth go-around and, after careful consideration, it’s cemented as a bonafide classic in my eyes.

Friday 11th – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Pre: Another double-header, this time with my favourite Wes Anderson film. Firmly a fan of the beginning and especially the end, so I’m hoping to laugh a little more through the middle and be annoyed a little less by Owen Wilson.

Post: I learned, after much walking around, that ‘The Barge’ was not a water-based cinema name due to it being shown at Leeds Dock. Nope, as I went to Instagram, they showed the movie on a tiny boat with just ten of us sitting in. It was a great feeling as we occasionally swayed while chuckling along and I did enjoy the middle and Owen Wilson more than previously. Overall, one of the most memorable times I’ve had at the cinema to date.

Sunday 13th – Assassination Classroom: Graduation

Pre: Assassination Classroom was a big hit last year at LIFF, so I was pleased to see the sequel make an appearance here. A synopsis has promised me closure, and I’ll likely get it, I just hope it’ll take itself seriously when it should for the sake of drama.

Post: It took itself seriously! Suitably impressed by the time it took to explain things left over from the first film, which seemed to be more concentrated on comedy. Not to say Graduation was starved of laughs, but a much better balance of drama and comedy really worked this time. Might be worth me checking out the anime series and original manga now!

Monday 14th – Amadeus (Director’s Cut)

Pre: I adore the movie and if I could attend one screening, it would be this. The music is going to be incredible and I just hope I don’t have to crane my neck up for three hours. To the balcony seats I go!

Post: Loved it. I didn’t realise until I set off for the screening that it had been at least two years since I’d seen Amadeus, and even then I’d only watched it once. It was everything I remember enjoying and then some. Simply incredible and so happy the festival chose to show it. A definite highlight and the balcony seats were terrific.

Wednesday 16th – 2001: A Space Odyssey

Pre: In what has become a staple of the festival, 2001 is coming to the town hall and I’m honestly intrigued to see the effects of a repeat viewing on me. I’ve only seen it once, back in 2009, and I immediately had a great sense of appreciation for it. But to go through it all again? Like Birth of a Nation, high potential and little chance of a 7-8/10.

Post: Glad I got the chance to watch this on the big screen, and I can confidently saw it’s a film I massively appreciate. Perhaps it’s the lack of famous faces or that its iconic moment have been drilled into every sci-fi fan’s head, but I don’t feel the need to rewatch 2001 as often as I would Blade Runner or The Matrix. And there’s still nothing quite like the stargate sequence. Amadeus was the triumphant final chapter of my festival and 2001 was the contemplative epilogue.

So there it is, twelve films across ten days and five different locations in Leeds. If you haven’t already, I implore you to check out the films on offer this year and to try to attend a couple.

Bonus Films! Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th

To really get my money’s worth, I went back to the program and looked at what Saturday had on offer. I went for two movies, the first being Old Stone, about a cab driver stuck paying a stranger’s medical bills following an accident he isn’t responsible for. It was a great story about justice, responsibility, and obligation as the protagonist’s situation steadily gets worse. Solid work for the first hour and a surprisingly gripping finale made it a surprise treat.

In the afternoon, I had It’s Only the End of the World. The story of a man visiting his family to tell him about his impending death, it absolutely nailed a realistic family dynamic (with Vincent Cassel reminding me a lot of my brother). Sadly, it exceeded in little else and while certainly not a bad film, it definately felt lacking when it was all done.

My last surprise extra was Train to Busan, which was heavily recommended to me and, thankfully, shown twice at the festival (the first I missed due to attending Thought Bubble Comic Convention). It was a terrific mix of action, horror, humour, and (which I definitely wasn’t expecting) human drama. Though I’m not a big zombie movie fan, if it’s this fun and has me actively rooting for specific characters, it’s a job very well done.

I’m pleased to live in a city that hosts one of the best film festivals every year, so if you’re a local as well, are making the trip to Leeds, or are volunteering for the event, let me know with a comment below of what you’re looking forward to seeing!