Film Review: The Old Man and the Gun

Like its leading man, David Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun is oozing with charm. The film is wonderful. 

An older man walks into a bank and commits a robbery. An unlikely figure, but this isn’t his first crime. As the police, attempt to trace the robber, he stays one step ahead…

From the opening sequence, the tone of Lowery’s film is immediately set. Writer-director Lowery and cinematographer Joe Anderson make The Old Man And The Gun look like a film made in the early 1980s (when the film is set). The grainy quality is immediately reminiscent of this period. Coupled with the titles, the film is very much a throwback to this era. 

The structure of the picture is set up like a game of cat and mouse. And although this loose structure is followed, the film is anything but generic. Lowery develops complex characters, not just with the protagonist and his chaser detective Hunt, but also with Jewel. The relationships that develop during the course of the film are a joy to watch. 

The film does offer tension, but this isn’t the modus operandi of the picture. Instead, the director offers an insight into the lead character, who is based on a real person. Rather than proffering a moral judgement, Lowery is interested in what drives this fascinating character. In doing so, they also explore his counterpart; with Hunt’s conversations with his wife and children elucidating his transitioning feelings towards the object of his prey. 

In what is rumoured to be Robert Redford’s final movie, Lowery has created an ode to the leading man. In using the early picture, and footage, the film feels dedicated to the fine actor. It is also fitting that he plays a character that is incredibly charming. Sissy Spacek is also excellent as Jewel; her expressions convey so much about how the character feels without the need for words. Casey Affleck is as solid as ever, while Danny Glover and Tom Waits provide good support. Daniel Hart’s soundtrack is superb, setting the tone and feeling very much of the relevant era.  

The Old Man And The Gun is one of Lowery’s more accessible films, yet there is no diminishment of beauty. A beguiling picture. 

The Old Man And The Gun is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

Film Review: A Ghost Story

David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is a poignant meditation on grief, and indeed life itself. The film covers an expansive subject, but does so with style.

A couple who live together are beset by a tragedy. C returns in spirit form hoping to comfort M, but he struggles to connect with her. His new form takes him on a metaphysical journey…

Written and directed by David Lowery, A Ghost Story is an extensive exploration of themes delivered in a simple cinematic form. This is none more distinct than in the depiction of C as a ghost. The film does not rely on special effects, instead C wears a white sheet to depict his ghost form. At first instance this is humorous, yet the lack of technical effects is disarming. It promotes a lack of distraction from the film’s central themes that perhaps a more sophisticated rendering would not.

Akin to Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, A Ghost Story unfolds at a relaxed pace, allowing for atmosphere to develop. The most striking thing about the film is not the individual characters featured, but how the film speaks about life as a whole. On one level the film is about grief; the loss of a loved one and the effect this has. On a broader level however, this segues into the wider theme of loneliness of existence, and indeed each person’s place in both their time and wider history. The film becomes more compelling as it progresses, thanks to the questions that it asks. There is a section of the film which features a diatribe by a throwaway character. Although this serves to verbalise the film’s key themes, it feels an unnecessary intrusion. A Ghost Story performs best in its subtlety.

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara both offer good performances in the film. Nevertheless, the highest praise goes to David Lowery for creating such an honest and compelling film.

Film Review: Manchester By The Sea

Manchester By The Sea

Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea is rich with emotion and so finely executed that it lingers in the mind long after viewing.

After tragedy strikes, Lee is forced to travel to Manchester By The Sea to look after his nephew. Lee is a reluctant caregiver, as he feels closer to his past in the town…

Kenneth Lonergan exhibits a skilfulness in filmmaking and storytelling with the excellent Manchester By The Sea. The film is a masterclass in portraying grief. In spite of the bleakness of the subject matter, Lonergan’s film never becomes mawkish or melodramatic. Instead, it is taut, and subtle in conveying some harrowing incidents.

Writer-director Lonergan tells the story of a haunted man becoming the reluctant guardian of his nephew. The film is littered with flashbacks, which tells the story of Lee’s previous relationship with his nephew, with his brother, and with other members of his family. The film requires the audience to be patient in waiting for more details; these are revealed slowly and effectively. Lonergan’s eschews dropping these for shock value. Instead, these are careful placed, and more effective as a result.

Characters in Manchester By The Sea are so well drawn. Lee enters as a isolated, monosyllabic character. As more is revealed about his past, the reasons for his behaviour become clear. The story is not what some may expect from the film’s premise. What could have been an odd couple style comedy drama in different hands, is an exceptional drama in this case. Casey Affleck delivers an incredibly potent performance as Lee. Lucas Hedges is convincing as Patrick. Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler provides good support.

Kenneth Lonergan’s mastery is depicting darkness, but drawing this back every so often with naturalistic humour. Manchester By The Sea is a thoroughly convincing portrait of a broken man.

Manchester By The Sea is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.

Film Review: The Finest Hours

The Finest Hours

Based on real events, The Finest Hours is an engaging adventure drama. There are some schmaltzy moments, but the film entertains throughout.

Bernie Webber is a member of the Coast Guard at Cape Cod. When a pair of oil tankers are battered in a 1952 storm, Bernie and his team concentrate on how to reach them. Back on land, Bernie’s sweetheart Miriam worries about his safety…

Director Craig Gillespie mixes disaster movie with drama in The Finest Hours. Set in the early 1950s, the film certainly has nostalgic appeal. The opening scenes in particular immediately situate viewers in the era. Music goes a long way to setting the scene, as does the brilliant costume design. In a way, the film feels like a throwback, with its wholesome characters. There is a charm to this quaintness, more than anything else.

The characters are developed as much as they need to be for the purposes of the plot. Protagonist Bernie is given sufficient depth to explain his actions later in the film. His relationship with Miriam gives the film heart, and makes it easier for the audience to empathise with him. The crew of the tanker are given enough material to interact believably in the perilous situation. Although their fates are important in The Finest Hours, the film concentrates more on giving depth to its protagonist.

Gillespie’s direction has drive in the action sequences. The level of energy fits the tone of the film. Special effects are good, as is the production design. The level of discomfort of both the rescuers and stranded seems accurately portrayed. Chris Pine is well cast as the classic American hero. Casey Affleck is good in a fittingly subdued performance. Holliday Grainger appears authentic in her role.

The Finest Hours is formulaic in its narrative, yet the tone and action sequence are commendable. The film harks back to an earlier era, which is no bad thing.

Previews: Fantastic Beasts sneak peak, Me Before You and more!

Lots of film-related goodness in this week’s previews, including a Fantastic Beasts sneak peek, the Me Before You trailer and more…

Fantastic Beasts Sneak Peek

For the Harry Potter fans out there, a Fantastic Beasts sneak peek. Actors including Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston discuss their characters in the upcoming film. With a screenplay by J.K. Rowling herself, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set for release on 18th November 2016.

Me Before You Trailer

Me Before You is an adaptation of Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel. The film features an array or British talent, including Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, and Matthew Lewis. The film concentrates on Lou, a young woman, and her burgeoning relationship with Will, you she acts as a caregiver for. Me Before You will be released in UK cinemas on 3rd June 2016.

The Finest Hours Trailer

Inspired by a true story, The Finest Hours tells the story of the a mission to rescue the crew of an oil tanker off the coast of Cape Cod. The film stars Chris Pine, Casey Affleck and Eric Bana. The Finest Hours hits UK screens on 19th February 2016.

Hail, Cesar! Featurette

George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson and others talk about the making of Hail, Cesar! in the above featurette. The Coen Brothers direct the Hollywood Golden Age-set comedy. With a magnificent cast, Hail, Cesar! arrives on UK screens on 4th March 2016.

Grimsby Clip

Sacha Baron Cohen’s new comedy is Grimsby. The film is about a Grimsby football fan (Cohen) who reunites with his brother, a deadly MI6 agent (played by Mark Strong). Penelope Cruz and Rebel Wilson also star in the action comedy. Grimsby will be out in UK cinemas on 24th February 2016.

Previews: Finding Dory Trailer, Triple 9 and More!

Much to see in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including the first Finding Dory trailer, Triple 9, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and more…

Finding Dory Trailer

Here is the first Finding Dory Trailer. Finding Nemo is a modern Disney classic, so its sequel has to impress. From the looks of the Finding Dory trailer, the film has the same feel as its predecessor. Finding Dory is set to hit the big screen in Summer 2016.

Triple 9 UK Trailer

Triple 9 has a most enviable cast. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet and Anthony Mackie are among those who star in the crime thriller. When a group of corrupt cops are blackmailed by the Russian mafia, they must go to desperate measures to pull off a heist. Triple 9 will be released in the UK on 19th February 2016.

Zoolander 2 Poster

Zoolander 2 poster

Derek Zoolander and Hansel are doing what they do best in this poster for sequel Zoolander 2. Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell are joined by Kirsten Wiig this time round, with a screenplay written by Justin Theroux. Zoolander 2 is out on 12th February 2016.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 Trailer

This seems to have sprung from nowhere. Here is the unexpected trailer for belated sequel My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. The sequel reunites the cast of the original, as the Portokalos family come together for another wedding. Also written by and starring Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 hits UK cinemas on 25th March 2016.

Bridge of Spies Clip

In this Bridge of Spies clip, Tom Hanks’s character James Donavan discusses his controversial forthcoming case with his family. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film also stars Mark Rylance and Alan Alda. Bridge of Spies is out in UK cinemas on 26th November 2015.

Victor Frankenstein Clip

In this clip from Victor Frankenstein, the famed scientist exhibits much enthusiasm for his work. James McAvoy stars as the title character, with Daniel Radcliffe as protégé Igor. The film, written by Max Landis, is a twist on the Mary Shelley classic. Victor Frankenstein hits UK screens on 3rd December 2015.

Film Review: Out of the Furnace

 Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace is a brooding drama that builds to a thrilling finale. Scott Cooper’s film offers superb direction and performances.

Russell and his younger brother Rodney Baze live in the Rust Belt. With decent work scarce, Rodney looks at other ways to garner income. When this leads him deep in the wrong crowd, Russell takes matters into his own hands…

Out of the Furnace presents a simple tale, but one that is effective thanks to solid direction, a decent screenplay and some excellent performances. After the success of Crazy Heart, expectations were rather high for writer-director Scott Cooper. With Out of the Furnace he does not disappoint.

There is a brooding atmosphere that pervades the entire film. This is generated by the score, and the careful building of characters and relationships. Out of the Furnace builds slowly, but retains the attention. The final act functions as something of a pay off, with the tension that has gently been accelerating reaching a riveting climax.

Several themes come into play with Out of the Furnace. Most obvious of these is that of justice and revenge. In some ways, this gives the film a timeless feel. Nevertheless, the political backdrop, which is positioned early in the film, gives Out of the Furnace a more modern feel. Without explicitly expressing so, Cooper’s film exhibits the lack of a real sense of opportunity in contemporary industrial towns. This is dominantly conveyed through Rodney, and the choices he makes.

Christian Bale offers a powerful performance as Russell. As ever, Bale is entirely convincing in this role. Casey Affleck is also superb, whilst Forest Whitaker, Woody Harrelson and Willem Dafoe provide good support.

Out of the Furnace shapes its classical themes into a modern tale framed in an understated manner by the real issues facing some American communities today. Scott Cooper decisively illustrates that Crazy Heart was no fluke.

Film Review: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Ain't Them Bodies SaintsWriter and director David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is an absorbing drama.

Convicted outlaw Bob Muldoon escapes from prison in order to reunite with his wife, and the daughter that he has never met…

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is character-focused, rather than being a plot-driven film. There is not much too the plot. Instead, Lowery’s film concentrates on its two protagonists. Emotions in the film are conveyed acutely.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a slow burner. It takes a while for things to get going, and even then proceedings move at a near-glacial pace. As a result, the film is not likely to appeal to or please all viewers.

Those that give Ain’t Them Bodies Saints a go will be rewarded with a film that takes its time to develop characters. It is this evolving of the main characters that leads to an intense conclusion.

There is a melancholy to the film which is palpable. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is successful in generating atmosphere. This is aided by the remote setting. However, it is the style of the film and its themes which create the sense of passion that permeates the film.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints evokes Bonnie and Clyde; there are a number of parallels between the two films. Both romanticise the outlaw as a complex figure. Furthermore, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints places a love story within the confines of violent crime, just like the 1967 film.

The cinematography in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is fantastic. Bradford Young’s visuals are most attractive. The film’s sound is also highly effective.

Casey Affleck delivers a strong central performance. Affleck is entirely believable as Bob Muldoon. Rooney Mara is also convincing as Ruth Guthrie. Other performances, such as Ben Foster’s Patrick are also decent.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints immerses viewers in its sumptuous but haunting atmosphere. An impressive second feature from David Lowery.

Film Review: ParaNorman

ParaNorman is a fun family animated feature that tows the line in being ghoulish without being frightening. The film should be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

In the town of Blithe Hollow, Norman is a young boy detached from the everyday world. Norman can see and talk to ghosts, but no one but his new friend Neil believes him. When his eccentric uncle tells him about a curse, it is down to Norman to save the town…

ParaNorman is an adventure film that is a bit more sombre than most animated features of this type. Humour is present in the film, but is not a constant feature. ParaNorman is not really a comedy. It is not a horror movie either. There are some macabre scenes, but it is never too scary for children.

Norman is an interesting protagonist. The early sequence of him walking to school is great in its ability to encapsulating his character. Themes of the outsider and belonging are played out overtly. There was a danger that the film would get overly sentimental, but ParaNorman eschews this. The film offers a meaningful message without excessive syrup.

There are some great references to the horror genre, that those even with just a passing acquaintance should be able to spot. The credit sequence is fantastic. With its references to old horror films, ParaNorman is almost a homage to the genre played out as a family animated movie.

Kodi Smit-McPhee is well cast as the voice of Norman. ParaNorman is populated with well known voices. Casey Affleck is amusing voicing Mitch, while Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann and John Goodman all do a great job. The soundtrack to the film is also good.

ParaNorman is macabre in places, but its unequivocal message is most positive. A well animated and entertaining family film.

Trailer Round-Up

This week two new trailers have been released for upcoming animated features. The first trailer for remake Total Recall has also been unleashed, as well as a new trailer for Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator.

ParaNorman

ParaNorman is a new animated feature about a young boy who can speak to the dead. The film seems to be in a similar vein to Coraline, albeit with more humour and less terror. ParaNorman, which features the voices of Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck and John Goodman, is released on 14th September 2012.

Rise of the Guardians

Nothing to do with the owl film of a similar name, Rise of the Guardians is based on William Joyce’s book ‘The Guardians of Childhood’. The film is about a number of fantastical characters who team up in order to protect the world’s children. Rise of the Guardians features the voices of Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine and Alec Baldwin. The film is being released on 30th November 2012.

The Dictator

This week, the full trailer for The Dictator was released. It gives us more of an indicator of the plot for the film, and its not exactly what I was expecting. The film looks more like a traditional comedy than an outrageous satire. Hopefully Sacha Baron Cohen will provide plenty of laughs regardless. The Dictator was released on 18th May 2012.

Total Recall

The first full trailer for Len Wiseman’s remake of sci-fi classic Total Recall. Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 adaptation of the Philip K. Dick’s short story has a lot of fans, so it will be interesting to see the kind of reception this version will receive. Total Recall is released on 22nd August 2012.