Lady Bird

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+Lady Bird

Directed and Written by: Greta Gerwig

Produced by: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neil

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges.

We’ve all been there – growing up, becoming a teenager, trying to find your own identity whilst also trying to deal with so many pressures that seem insurmountable when you’re only 17. It’s the age when events conspire to seem like the biggest tragedy, provoke the most embarrassment or the deepest emotion, without any sign of how to get beyond them.

So it is for Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played with intense believability by Saoirse Ronan, who is trying to find her sense of self while living in Sacramento, California during 2002.

She constantly clashes with her mother Marion (the outstanding Laurie Metcalf), who is a prickly, bossy woman with a life full of pressures and stresses her daughter barely glimpses or understands.

These two are so alike yet they can’t see it: opinionated, emotional and yearning for something beyond their ordinary existence.

Writer Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut said that this mother-daughter relationship is the love story of the film, and this relationship is what resonates far more deeply than the daughter’s awkward dalliances with two boys.

The opening scene shows us Lady Bird and Marion both sighing with deeply shared emotion after listening to an audio book during a long car ride, an experience that draws them closer together, yet within moments a carelessly expressed comment leads to a huge misunderstanding and a reckless reaction.

This scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with numerous situations between the mother who loves but cannot communicate with her daughter without provoking a backlash, and the daughter who in her turn feels misunderstood and unwanted.

The director aimed to have each of these people be “painfully failing to reach each other”, an aim that is convincingly and realistically achieved.

Gerwig’s skill allows the audience to cringe in shared dismay at each new outburst, seeing it coming and wondering why Lady Bird and her mother can’t help themselves or learn from their earlier mistakes.

The director succeeds in making the film “frothy and exciting like waves breaking on a beach”, followed closely by “a sudden undertow…and before you know it, you are in much deeper waters than you expected.”

This is exactly how it felt watching “Lady Bird” – one moment you’re laughing at the silly things and situations the main character experiences, and then the whole mood changes and things get serious when moments of amity are quickly shattered by a thoughtless or misconstrued comment.

Lady Bird also struggles to be one of the cool, sophisticated kids at school, ashamed of her family’s working class roots.

She falls madly in love with boys because she hungers to be in love more so than with an actual person.

She lies to find acceptance with the cool gang at school.

Her experiments with fashion, alcohol, drugs and music all reflect her constant drive to discover who she is (hence her rejection of her birth name in favour of the more exotic “Lady Bird”).

Her struggles and relationships with her family, best friend and assorted acquaintances are often depicted with humour, reflected by the audience’s gentle laughter at her predictable reactions, behaviour and affectations.

Her friendship with a girl at her school (Julie, played by Beanie Feldstein) is particularly sweet, showing how teenagers often view the world naïvely.

What was particularly moving about this film was how little people learn from their mistakes, repeating them in astonishing variations even when they gain some wisdom.

There is no happy ending, no neat resolution with all forgiven, just an ever-evolving awareness, hard-won maturity and an appreciation of one’s childhood home and family, just like real life.

Products from Amazon.com

Insidious: The Last Key

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MInsidious: The Final Key

Directed by: Adam Robitel

Based on Characters Created by: Leigh Whannell

Written by: Leigh Whannell

Produced by: Jason Blum, Oren Peli, James Wan

Starring: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer, Aleque Reid, Ava Kolker, Pierce Pope, Bruce Davison, Javier Botet.

Set as a prequel to the original, Insidious: The Last Key begins with parapsychologist, Dr. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) growing up in 1954, living in an abusive home: 413 Apple Tree Lane in Five Keys.

Elise has the gift, she was born with the gift.  And her father hates her for it.

She lives with her brother, Christian (Pierce Pope) who’s understandably afraid of the dark, and is given a silver whistle to call his mother if he ever feels scared.

But when their mother dies, Elise finally leaves home at 16, leaving her little brother and the terrors of her childhood behind, including Key Face (Javier Botet), a demon who convinced her that setting it free would bring her more light.  Key Face wants Elise to set them all free from The Further, because she’s the only one who can.

A phone call from Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo), the current inhabitant of her childhood house, brings her back to all those bad memories.  Haunted, Ted asks for help.  And reluctantly, Elise returns with her new family, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson): The Spectral Sightings crew.

There’s a different feel to this fourth instalment, with new director, Adam Robitel bringing a more human drama to this otherwise suspenseful, supernatural franchise.

There’s less reliance on the soundtrack, the suspense built on silence broken by footsteps on floorboards and the squeaking turn and fixing of a light bulb.  It’s a slow burn that builds into a surprisingly sinister tale.

But I had trouble with holes in the script – OK, maybe not holes.  Everything was there, but there wasn’t enough weight given to the why and backstory of Key Face.  I don’t want to give too much away, but the death of Elise’s mother felt superficial to me, not supernatural.

And her death is an important part of the film as the story relies on this essential part of the fable and the power of Key Face.

The object of the whistle gives the supernatural a touch-stone of reality.  And restraint makes the ghosts from The Further all the more believable.

So, there’s thought about the detail here which makes the glossing over the essential annoying.

Lin Shaye as Dr. Elise Rainier continues to bring authenticity to the difficult role of a parapsychologist who can commune and see ghosts.  And the humour of Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson as Specs and Tucker works in this instalment; the humour given more time to work unlike the over-editing in Chapter 3 (where Leigh Whannell was also the writer), which rendered the jokes mis-timed and inconsequential.

As producer Blum says of writer Leigh Whannell: “There is a real relationship that has evolved between the audience and the characters in the movie.  Leigh understands that what makes a good scary movie is not the scares, but what comes in between them.”

And seeing Spectural Sightings together in their van, AKA, The Winnebaghost, with Tucker sporting an impressive mullet, was a definite highlight.

Insidious: The Last Key manages to create a unique tone and story to the previous instalments.  A more adult and suspenseful drama with some good humour to break the tension with a few scares that could have been so much stronger with better understanding of the Key Man and his power.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA+THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Written and Directed by: Martin McDonagh

Produced by: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Martin McDonagh

Executive Producers: Bergen Swanson, Diarmuid McKeown, Rose Garnett, David
Kosse, Daniel Battsek

Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Peter
Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, John Hawkes, Caleb Landry Jones, Sandy Martin.

Not since 1986 have I applauded out loud, in a packed cinema, for a movie that blew me away with the dynamic force of its female lead and its nuanced emotional and moral rollercoaster, of great cinematic story.

Eight years ago, English/Irish, playwright/filmmaker, Martin McDonagh, wrote Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in one single draft.  A third film after the slow burning cult success of, In Bruges and the darkly twisted, Seven Psychopaths.

The narrative tightrope of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is taut and confronting, pathos rich, in equal parts both tragic and hilariously funny.

Within ten minutes you will think you have sized up all the characters but you will be completely unprepared for what McDonagh does next.

The story opens with Mildred (Frances McDormand) her terrible grief has no tears left as she stands beneath three newly pasted billboards, billboards she has hired, billboards that witnessed the rape, murder and torching of her teenage daughter Angela, seven months earlier.

Since then there have been no arrests and the local police department have no leads.

Unable to accept the paralysis of her grief and fueled by fury, Mildred embodies the fight or die quality of a lone cowboy making a last stand against the local police and emblazons what must be the largest victim of violence impact statement and directs its lethal force at the town’s much loved, Chief of Police, Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).

Raped while dying
And still no arrests?
How come Chief Willoughby?

There is no word for the place that Mildred is left in the English language as the parent of a dead child.

When a child loses a parent, they are an orphan. When a parent loses a child, there is no word.

Mildred’s relentless rage, blows apart the small town, minding-everyone’s-business, complicit charm of Ebbing, Missouri.

When shooting Three Billboards, McDormand to intensify the combative fury and isolation she would bring to the screen and her fellow cast, McDormand kept herself isolated, only seeing the cast at shooting.

And it worked.

McDormand is simply outstanding in this role. Simply dressed in one commando-like-overall with barely no facial expression, her seething and impact are latent and volatile and you just know that her lethal cocktail of fury, grief and a sense that justice has not been served, will suffer no prisoners.

In a quote worthy scene, Mildred strides into the Police Station – her town popularity at the bottom of the heap, oblivious to a herd of police mulling about, she calls out to Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) – a cop we’ve already sized up as the worst kind – a cop that is racist, stupid and armed.

‘Hey fuckhead!’ says Mildred.
‘What?’ says Dixon.
‘Don’t say what, Dixon, when she comes in calling you fuckhead’ says a Policeman.

McDonagh’s script is peppered, rich with racial taboos, social taboos, humanity. His characters, dark in pathos, humour and humanity. As a master storyteller, McDonagh’s skill is in serving up humour as a cathartic release after scenes heavy in tragic sadness.

Dixon tells Mildred, they don’t do “n– — r torturing” no more but “persons-of- color torturing”.

In a packed cinema we gasp together, in horror at Dixon’s racism and in a packed cinema, we laugh out loud, together at his stupidity.

The power of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is in its straightforward truths.

There are no ambiguous wonderings. We are served a plate full of raw humanity and we love it. We recognize the truth of our shared humanity, all our shades of despair, rage, tragedy and ultimately our ability to use humour from that dark place to release tenderness, hope and redemption.

I, Tonya

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+I, Tonya

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Produced by: Bryan Unkeless, Steven Rogers, Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley

Screenplay by:  Steven Rogers

Cinematography by: Nicolas Karakatsanis

Starring:  Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Mckenna Grace.

‘I was loved for a minute, then I was hated – then I was a punchline.’

Based on one of the biggest scandals in sporting history, I, Tonya shows that truth can be fluid.

The film is structured around interviews with Tonya Harding (MARGOT ROBBIE), her now ex-husband, Jeff (SEBASTIAN STAN) and Tonya’s mother, Lavona (ALLISON JANNEY), when questioned about the surrounding circumstances that led to the knee-capping of rival ice skater, Nancy Kerrigan (CAITLIN CARVER).

What fascinated writer and producer, Steven Rogers about the project was just how different the stories told by Tonya versus Jeff were about the incident that ruined her career.

Tonya is candid in her re-telling of the events leading up to that fateful incident but with the contrasting perspective of Jeff, it’s hard not to question the truth of each story.

To demonstrate: the film makers show the continued falls of Tonya on the ice, her re-telling of the episodes making the excuse of her blade being incorrectly repaired and out of alignment to flash backs of her unhealthy lifestyle of smoking and downing shots.

Although it’s difficult not to question the truth of the story, what the film gives the audience is the circumstances Tonya overcame to become an ice skating phenomenon – to this day, one of only six women in the world to make the triple axel.

And she did it 25 years ago.

A feat the film makers had to use visual effects to achieve because of the immense difficulty.

Currently, there’s only two skaters in the world to have any hope of pulling off the triple axel but are unwilling to risk injury in the lead up to competing in the Olympics.

What makes Tonya’s success all the more amazing is her difficult upbringing, as she states, ‘I don’t have a wholesome American family’.

With a mother who strives to make her angry because Tonya skates better when she feels she needs to push back, Lavona is shown in interview with cigi and pet bird on her shoulder included.

The film shows Tonya suffering abuse from her mother, pushing her to the limit from four years of age, through to her teenage years where she met Jeff who continued the abuse with his fists.

When news broke world-wide of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, I remember thinking it was Tonya who did the deed.  An incorrect assumption.   And the film shows there’s so much more to the story than petty jealousy.

Oscar-nominated, Margot Robbie gives a gritty performance, digging deep to show the true nature and character of Tonya.

The highlight for me was Allison Janney as Tonya’s mother, Lavona – her performance had to be believable so the audience could digest her bizarre behaviour.

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

And the difficulties and destructive nature of Tonya’s relationships are the humour in the film – it’s just so bad, it’s funny.

The structure of the film, with the narrative based on the interviews, to flash backs that either support or contradict what’s being said keeps the pace running – camera work of Tonya skating is used up close and personal giving a rawness and faster-paced action.

Yet, I felt I wanted just that little bit more from the script.

I was fascinated by the different perspectives and the perversion of truth.  Yet, the incident of the knee-capping itself was down-played to the extent of a one-minute shot.

What’s a knee-capping compared to the abuse Tonya suffered her whole life?

The view taken was to show the other side of the story, not what was portrayed in the media.

The truth of the story?  It’s all about perspective.

Products from Amazon.com

Darkest Hour

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: PGDarkest Hour

Directed by: Joe Wright

Written by: Anthony McCarten

Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, Lisa Bruce, Douglas Urbanski

Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup and Ben Mendelsohn.

Set over the course of four weeks in 1940, Darkest Hour is based on the true story of Winston Churchill and the immense burden he carried as newly-appointed Prime Minister when Nazi Germany invaded Western Europe.

It’s a critical time in history.  A decision must be made to either fight in another world war against all odds, the Germans surrounding the entire British army on the shores of Dunkirk – or to negotiate with a madman.

The fight on Dunkirk is fresh in the minds of film enthusiasts after the recent release of Christopher Nolan’s memorable, ‘not-a-war movie’, Dunkirk.

Darkest Hour shows a different version of WWII, focussing on the same time in history yet here the story unfolds not on the ground – the soldiers dodging bullets or falling into the icy waters – here, we follow the men making the decisions and observe the politics and strategies of war held behind closed doors.  And with Churchill, sometimes the most important conversation taken on the telephone behind the door of the lavatory.

Darkest Hour is based on the beginnings of WWII, yes, but the story is about the man – Winston Churchill and all his flaws.  A man who has never taken the tube (well, only once during the strikes), a man whose wife (Kristen Scott Thomas) finds him intolerable but loves him anyway.  And no matter his power or position will always know him as, Piggy.

Churchill never gives up, and it’s precisely his flaws that give him the strength to succeed.

Gary Oldman is every bit deserving of his recent Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.  See his acceptance speech here.

As Winston Churchill, Oldman’s barely recognisable as he embraces the part and becomes every bit the British Prime Minister affecting all the required mannerisms of the mumbling, alcoholic, cigar smoking, yet brilliant mind and oration of the man.

Ben Mendelsohn finally gets to be the good guy, here as King George VI.  Not the regal performance of Colin Firth in, The King’s Speech (2010) but suiting the tone of the film better with the gritty human nature of the characters used for amusement amongst all the seriousness of the story.

And there’s not many tricks here – director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna, Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina) keeping any effects subtle with a sometimes lofty birds-eye-view to convey the overall feeling of politicians seeing the population as small parts to be manuvered for the greater good.

Mostly, this is a character-driven film, focussing on the dialogue and emotion of those who discuss the fortunes of thousands of lives.  We, as an audience, get a window into the world of Churchill as he weighs the cost; to ultimately decide no cost is too much – there is only perseverance to fight until the very end.

So, for all Churchill’s flaws, we are shown true grit and the character required when the world ceases to make sense.  And can the man speak!  The real pleasure of the film watching Churchill use his words to win over a nation, his famous speeches delivered by the believable performance of Gary Oldman.

Would I watch the film again?  Probably not.  This isn’t a thriller that keeps you on the edge, this is a stirring education and insight into just how close we came to losing our freedom.

All The Money In The World

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+All The Money In The World

Directed by:  Ridley Scott

 Written by:  David Scarpa based on the book by John Pearson          

Produced by: Dan Friedkin, Bradley Thomas, Quentin Curtis, Chris Clark, Ridley Scott, Mark Huffam and Kevin J. Walsh

Starring Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer and Mark Wahlberg. 

When a movie such as this is labelled ‘Inspired by True Events’ I can’t stop my mind constantly evaluating which of the events portrayed are true and which are pure speculation.

In this case the basic facts are that Jean Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) is an American-born British industrialist who negotiated a series of lucrative oil leases with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and was declared the richest American in 1957.

On 10th July 1973, Paul, his grandson, (Charlie Plummer- no relation), then age 16, was kidnapped off the streets of Rome. Paul’s mother, Gail (Michelle Williams) spends the rest of the film negotiating with a grandfather reluctant to pay the demanded ransom.

The film is based on a book on the Gettys written by John Pearson and this adaption from book to film does cause some narrative problems.

Although the kidnapping occurs very early in the film, a series of flashbacks quickly follow in succession, each dated to supply the necessary biographical information about the family’s background. I found this constant interruption of the main narrative quite disconcerting.

This is a film that moves slowly despite the potential for drama of a kidnapping. The tension is muted, crisscrossing between scenes of Paul and the kidnappers and his mother’s increasingly frustrated attempts to convince his grandfather to ‘pay up.’ It is only in the last half hour that the adrenalin really starts pumping.

Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams give solid if somewhat pallid performances with Williams reprising the mood of her role as Alma, wife of Ennis Del Mar, in Brokeback Mountain – all stoic endurance.

Surprisingly, moments of emotion are few and far between and unexpectedly more often between the young Paul and Cinquanta, one of the Calabrian captors (played convincingly by Romain Duris), who does what he can to make the captivity endurable.

What intrigued David Scarpa, the scriptwriter, about the story were the psychological aspects, how “the obstacle wasn’t paying the ransom and rescuing his grandson – the obstacle was psychological, he just couldn’t bear to part with his money.”

This is a visually beautiful film from Dariusz Wolski, (Director of Photography) renowned for each of the first four films in the record-breaking Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

The Italian landscapes fairly hum with an erotic energy and the lush interiors of the Getty mansions with their shadowy corners and opulent décor are more like scenes captured from the Old Masters that hang on the Getty walls.

The film however, exists in the shadow of that space where art and life often collide. Originally, Kevin Spacey, transformed by elaborate make-up and prosthetics, played the iconic tycoon. But when many men came forward alleging that the actor had sexually abused them, Christopher Plummer was hastily signed on as the replacement.

Many scenes had to be re-shot and interestingly Michelle Williams re-shot all her scenes with Plummer, refusing to accept recompense in solidarity with all those who had allegedly been abused by show business luminaries.

Perhaps this unfortunate interruption of reality goes part way to explain some of the film’s deficiencies and its rushed feeling. Sometimes the action verges on melodrama, especially in the several scenes where paparazzi on steroids surge like locusts around the Getty entourage or the one thousand newspapers delivered by Gail to Getty senior to capture his attention, swirl about him like snow. Nothing subtle here.

In the end Getty senior is a somewhat clichéd portrayal, the lonely old rich tycoon without no attempt to understand the causes of his rigid personality. There’s a deeper story here somewhere but unfortunately it’s tricky to find, much like the Getty ransom.

Pitch Perfect 3

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MPitch Perfect 3

Directed by: Trish Sie

Story by: Kay Cannon

Produced by: Paul Brooks, p.g.a, Max Handelman, p.g.a, Elizabeth Banks, p.g.a

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hana Mae Lee, Alexis Knapp with Jan Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks.

Firstly, I admit to being a Pitch Perfect novice.  In fact, a novice to any musical – I really don’t get it and find the idea cheesy: go watch a film clip if that’s what you want.

But, I can be open-minded and am a sucker for a good joke.  And thankfully, Pitch Perfect 3 had more going for it than sometimes out-of-sync, 20-something-year-olds, having their first life-crisis viewed through a soft-focus lens.

Producers Paul Brooks of Gold Circle and Max Handelman and Elizabeth Banks of Brownstone Production have returned after the huge success of the previous Pitch Perfect instalments which made more than $400 million at the global box office.

Writer Kay Cannon, who wrote the first two films of the series, has also joined the team, sharing screenplay credit with Mike White – this time bringing more music and action to the final reunion of the Bellas.Pitch Perfect 3

The story so far shows the girls post-graduation from Barden, embracing their new careers as personal trainers and vet nurses, producers of hip hop artists (where I admit the over-produced version Beca makes to improve a track called, Bend Over was worse than the supposed bad original: picking on the authentic, yo!) to the (speaking of authentic) Fat Amy Winehouse with Rebel Wilson still bringing it with those facial expressions and dead-pan delivery of the disgusting that’s funny cause she’s so cute.

But the girls don’t feel like they’re winning in life-after-college, so when they get an invite for a reunion of the Bellas, they can’t wait to get back on stage again.

And the singing is good.  If the lip syncing was sometimes very bad.

Pitch Perfect 3

Rudy Rose joins the cast in the attempt-to-be-cool villain and lead singer in a band called Evermoist, which competes against the Bellas in a USO tour that involves playing in front of army boys.  Add country band Saddle Up and DJ Dragon Nuts and DJ Looney, the Bellas get their much needed competition, that really becomes more about signing a contract with DJ Khaled, AKA Bill – the simplified name, Billy kinda cracking me up with the script adding some odd-ball humour.  As did Lilly (Hanna Mae Lee) with her truly random behaviour…

It wasn’t until Beca tells Theo (the music exec and key part of DJ Khaled’s crew, so a big deal regarding the competition) that he looks like a turtle, and then to face-off the awkward moment, that I really started to get into the film.

So, really, I think the idea is to have so many different characters with unique personalities, so the audience will identify with at least one?

But what they all have in common is they look like they’re having a good time.

This is a high-energy movie where some noise in the audience is all part of the experience.

The best and most believable performance had to come from competitor’s Saddle Up, also a band in real life and the DJs were pretty good (also real-life musicians – Trinidad James and DJ Looney).  But jeez, I did not get into the Evermoist crew.  But I guess that’s the point, being the villains and all.   Still…

So anyway, the Bellas get back together and jet-set around the world in this USO tour, when suddenly Fat Amy’s long-lost Dad (John Lithgow) finds her in Europe (having been banned from the US for his criminal activities).  And I have to admit, Lithgow pulls off a pretty decent Aussie accent.

So that adds a few twists to an otherwise musical about the usual friendship/finding love formula.

What can I say, a musical, yes, but with some good comedy and odd-ball random moments thrown in for the non-musical fan.

Pitch Perfect 3 was quickly forgotten but fun while it lasted.