Three Identical Strangers

The thing I often struggle with in watching documentaries, no matter how good they are, is that they are by nature subjective. With carefully timed revelations controlled by the director, I frequently feel manipulated by the end, which hugely reduces my enjoyment of the film as a whole.

With Three Identical Strangers though, director Tim Wardle gets the obvious reveals out of the way early, allowing for a more in-depth exploration of the lives of the eponymous identical strangers. We get to know how the revelations affected them in later life, and some of the background to their situations.

For the most part, it worked well. The subsequent twists and turns drew gasps and smiles from the audience, as the full realisation of what had happened was uncovered.

And then … the final act just couldn’t resist. Additional information is presented in an overly dramatic fashion, leaving me with the feeling that not only I, but also the subjects of the film, were being manipulated once more.

So having throughly enjoyed the majority of the documentary then, I walked out of the cinema with an unpleasant feeling and a whole bunch of questions raised just by the final 15 minutes. If the intention is to revisit with a sequel, then surely this did not need to be set up in this film?

Very good, and very disappointing at the same time.

Finding Your Feet

A sharp script balances the realities of ageing with enough comic moments to raise the spirits just at the right moment. Humour is the way that many choose to deal with life’s curve-balls, and the writers have captured this accurately.

While the plot may be predictable and at moments even cheesy, it’s rescued by the performances – Imelda Staunton in particular is strong as she races through a range of emotions in her way to finding her feet in her new circumstances, and a strong supporting cast.

You Were Never Really Here

There’s an awful lot packed into these 85 minutes, and they’re all pretty intense.

Joaquin Phoenix is not averse to taking on an enigmatic role, and this fits the bill. Enigmatic in that he says little and with no exposition, the audience is left to work out what’s happening by simply following the action and with a few glimpses of flashback.

And although a lot of the violence isn’t directly on screen, that doesn’t mean that the idea of what we think we see isn’t there. It’s brutal. I also felt quite uncomfortable with the relationship between Phoenix’s character and the young girl he was assisting – I’m not sure I was meant to.

Phoenix’s Joe goes about his business clearly carrying his PTSD in his carrier bag with him, and Jonny Greenwood’s score is visceral in describing this.

I am glad I have seen this, but it was not easy at all.

 

Gholam

Photographer turned writer/director Mitra Tabrizian brings an enigmatic character to the screen and provides a window to a life probably unseen and unconsidered by most cinema audiences.

Acclaimed Iranian actor Shahab Hosseini (The Salesman, A Separation) plays the titular role of Gholam, an Iranian taxi driver living in London, working two jobs and living in one damp room. He belongs in neither world properly, occupying space somewhere between the two. It’s existing rather than living.

We’re told very little about Gholam – we see that he’s a quiet man, a bit of a loner, and gradually we begin to accept that he seems like a decent man who helps elderly people, always pays for his meals and doesn’t want to create any fuss.

And then one day, minding his own business, he is recognised as a possible war hero from the past by a shady character, and finds himself with a decision to make.

Gholam moves at a gentle pace, with Hosseini doing a lot of walking in the London rain as he mulls over his options and tries to decide how much of himself he is prepared to compromise. And Hosseini is so good at that. We can see his internal conflict without him having to explain himself to anyone. His face and demeanour conveys so much.

It’s also a film which shows an unpleasant corner of London, and it’s no accident that the small kindnesses we see are for the most part between immigrants, whereas the local Londoners range from highly irritating business types to bigoted violent thugs, and it’s not pleasant.

I don’t imagine this will get a very wide theatrical release, but if you come across it anywhere, it’s definitely worth 90 minutes of your time.

 

Annihiliation

A film that does the big things well and messes up the small things.

The world-building is beautiful – the shimmer, the flora, the fauna. The ideas present are fascinating – the notion of cells multiplying and spreading, the doppergänger, the unreliable narrator, the ambiguity. The notion that we are self-destructive beings one way or another.

These parts I loved.

But then it goes and forgets that there has to be a plot that makes sense. It doesn’t have to be totally explained, and it can leave unanswered questions. But it can’t be stupid.

Example.  If I had just encountered a huge mutant alligator, the very last thing I would do is immediately go out on the river in a tin boat. That’s just daft.

And can we please have a little more to the characters than biologist, psychologist, addict, self-harmer – the labels did these women no favours at all.

 

Mute

I love Moon and so desperately wanted Mute to be good as we had waited so long for it.

You’ve probably already work out then that this unfortunately fell well short of expectations.

What starts out as a futuristic neo-noir with Leo searching for his missing girlfriend abruptly turns in to a very different film about some nasty people in whom we have nothing invested. There are also several strangely flapping loose ends which concerned me. Where has Leo’s family gone? Why does he choose his current life style in neon technology land given that he is still clearly attached to his Amish upbringing (and does the fact that he is Amish even matter? It isn’t explored at all.)

The two strands kind of meet up towards the end, but it’s too neat.

I wish someone had had a quiet word in director Duncan Jones’ ear about the way his female characters are portrayed. ‘Characters’ is a bit of an overstatement, really. Leo’s girlfriend Naadirah, who goes missing early on, works as a waitress in a lap-dancing club wearing only her underwear. Most of the women are dancers, waitresses or sex workers, and wear very little. There is a gratuitous shot of Naadirah in the shower, and completely unnecessary views of young girls wearing very short skirts bending over. There is no sophistication to it, and it actually makes Blade Runner feel like a feminist tale.

The world-building and technological ideas are beautiful, and the sly nods to the fact that it is the same universe as Moon are nicely done. But I had so desperately wanted to like this film that the disappointment was difficult to shake off.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

So I’m wondering how can a film with such an array of great performances actually end up not quite working. And I guess it has to be in the writing?

I really enjoyed Frances McDormand, Caleb Landry Jones and Lucas Hedges. I think Peter Dinklage is an extremely talented actor who should be given more prominent roles. And I am rarely a Woody Harrelson fan but this is a different (and very good) Harrelson. It’s just a shame he disappears part way though – at least visibly disappears. His voice lingers in a way which marks the point at which the film and certain characters undergo changes which are wholly inconsistent and which started the demise of my enjoyment.

So I missed Harrelson, I disliked all the slurs against Dinklage’s character which were meant to be comedic, I found the coincidences to be too convenient and the ‘redemption’ of Rockwell’s character to be completely unearned. It went from a strong start to an unsatisfactory finish; I didn’t hate it, but I do hope it doesn’t win best film on Oscar night.

Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman is getting huge praise for his work in this film. Rightly so, as it can’t be easy to deliver any kind of a performance through the prosthetics required for his transformation into Winston Churchill. Director Joe Wright spends a lot of time with the camera very close up to Churchill’s face, and you cannot see the join.

Aside from that though, Darkest Hour is all a bit half-baked from my point of view and I left the cinema feeling somewhat underwhelmed.

I felt shades of the enormity of the political situation facing the government, but not the full terror. I saw glimpses of a fascinating woman with clearly a lot of history to tell, yet Winston’s wife Clementine was brushed to the edges leaving Kristin Scott Thomas with very little to do. In a strange yet successful piece of casting I saw an inexplicable change of heart from King George VI (by Ben Mendelsohn) which didn’t make sense. And I watched an oddly underused Lily James typing a lot.

Perhaps it fits so snugly into the Sunday evening TV period drama landscape that I found the cinematic experience lacking.

Suburbicon (2017)

Such potential, such a disappointment.

On the one hand, I’m a fan of Matt Damon and Julianne Moore, and they are good, or as good as they can be.

On the other, the two storylines just don’t mesh at all. The (presumably) Coen brothers-penned thread is full of dark humour and sees Damon and Moore involved in fraudulent shenanigans under the investigative eye of MVP Oscar Isaac. That’s all well and good, but there isn’t enough of a story to make a full movie. So then there’s an additional thread featuring the next-door neighbours, an African-American family who are subjected to terrible attacks in their own home by the white inhabitants of the residential estate into which they have just moved. Other than living next door there seems to be no other connection, and in fact their situation is infinitely more interesting.

I suppose there is the contrast between the white adults getting away with horrible crimes with no-one batting an eyelid, where as the totally innocent black family has their life destroyed for no reason whatsoever, but the two halves are not balanced, and I was left underwhelmed.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

Kind of a biopic, but because Gloria Grahame didn’t have a huge screen presence in her later years, Annette Bening doesn’t have to worry about an accurate impersonation of the actress, but can instead work on capturing the essence of an ageing star whose success has waned and who is frightened of growing old.

Based on memoirs of Peter Turner, we see a slice of Grahame’s last years and her relationship with the much younger Turner (Jamie Bell), who meet when they share the same actor’s digs when she is performing in stage plays around England. We see their time together through a series of beautifully managed flashback sequences, intermingled with her arrival at the Turner family home when she falls seriously ill. The family (Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham) welcome her back as she desperately seeks some semblance of family and love in her last days.

It’s a story that had the potential to be mawkish or cringe-inducing, but two excellent performances from Bening and Bell ensure that it is completely believable and intimate. Annette Bening is beautiful anyway but the way Jamie Bell looks at her throughout their scenes would make anyone feel 20 years younger.