Film Review: State Like Sleep

Writer-director Meredith Danluck’s State Like Sleep is a slow-burn thriller. Despite its talented cast, the film is indolent.

Katherine returns to Brussels, a year after the death of her famous actor husband. As she visits her ailing mother, Katherine attempts to find out what happened to her late husband in the days leading to his death…

Written and directed by Meredith Danluck, State Like Sleep crosses a mystery thriller with a drama. The film takes a little while to get going. In the meantime, Danluck establishes the protagonist Katherine and the background to her return to Brussels. The narrative unfolds through a series of flashbacks as Katherine grapples with her past and the troubles of her present.

The question over the death of Stefan is positioned at the centre of the film, once the narrative gets going. Yet the mystery is not gripping in a traditional sense. As Katherine attempts to find answers, viewers are not enveloped with notable twists or satisfying reveals. State Like Sleep is more concerned with exploring grief than offering an open-and-shut case. The theme of hiding is returned to throughout. From the very beginning, when Katherine makes her escape from the apartment, it is clear that this is a character wary of the spotlight. The focus on grief makes for a thoughtful drama, but hinders momentum as far as the thriller aspects are concerned.

State Like Sleep‘s downfall is in this lack of drive. The film takes a while to get going, and even when the central plot emerges the film has no sense of momentum. There are a number of strands, but none of these lead anywhere satisfactory. Danluck’s film needed a sense of urgency which is sadly missing. Performances are solid throughout, despite the narrative. Katherine Waterston is a strong protagonist, and Michael Shannon always delivers.

State Like Sleep is a let down thanks to the lack of narrative drive. The themes explored a decent; the film is just lacking a good plot.

State Like Sleep will be available on Digital Download from 18th November and can be bought here

Film Review: The Current War

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s The Current War is a well performed and visually pleasing historical drama. The film engages viewers throughout, building tension in an admirable way.

In the late 19th century, the US is still lit by fire. Inventor Thomas Edison is certain his direct current system is the way to provide electric light to America. Entrepreneur George Westinghouse and his alternate current system compete with Edison to light up the country…

Focusing on the rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in the late 19th century and the race to connect the US to electricity, The Current War takes place at a very exciting moment in history. Screenwriter Michael Mitnick’s narrative chooses to view the race through the rivalry of these two men, with some focus on other key players. 

Film is a historical drama, focusing on key moments in a thirteen-year span. There are some moments of levity, but for the most part The Current War is a serious affair. The film is suitably earnest, although some later moments are not quite as tense as director may have hoped for. The narrative tells us something about these two characters, even if it is not immediately clear. Initially posits the two protagonists as distinct entities; the inventor who wants to do good against the entrepreneur who wants to make money. Predictably, the film is not quite as simple as this, and subverts initial expectations. 

Gomez-Rejon shows some visual flair with his direction. Panning and tracking shots are frequent, perhaps hoping to replicate frenetic setting. The art direction and costumes are wonderful. There is a rich use of colour, and some striking contrasts which are most appealing. Performances solid throughout. Michael Shannon and Benedict Cumberbatch are great as the protagonists. Nicholas Hoult and Matthew Macfadyen stand out in supporting roles. Katherine Waterston is also good in a minor role. 

The Current War should prove rewarding for those with a rudimentary knowledge of the events. Those with more expertise should still find the film most enjoyable. 

Previews: Ad Astra Poster, The Current War, More!

Lots to see in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including the new Ad Astra poster, The Current War, Pain And Glory, and more…

Ad Astra Poster

Here is the brand new Ad Astra poster. The film, directed by James Gray, is about an astronaut who travels to the edge of the solar system to find his missing father. Brad Pitt heads the cast, and is joined by Tommy Lee Jones and Ruth Negga. Ad Astra launches onto UK screens on 18th September 2019.

The Current War Trailer

Above is the trailer for the forthcoming The Current War. Set in the late 19th century, the film is about the rivalry between Thomas Edison and entrepreneur George Westinghouse. The enviable cast includes Michael Shannon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Katherine Waterston, Nicholas Hoult, and Tom Holland. Counting Martin Scorsese as an executive producer, The Current War hits UK cinemas on 26th July 2019.

Pain And Glory Trailer

Here is the latest trailer for Pain And Glory. Directed by Pedro Almodóvar (The Skin I Live In, I’m So Excited), the film is about an ageing film director and a series of re-encounters. The film, which stars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, will be released in UK cinemas on 23rd August 2019.

21 Bridges Poster

21 Bridges is an upcoming thriller with quite a cast. The film stars Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, Taylor Kitsch, Stephan James, and J.K. Simmons. 21 Bridges is a thriller about a New York detective involved in a city-wide manhunt for a pair of cop killers. The film is set for release in UK cinemas on 27th September 2019.

BFI August Season

There is plenty to look forward to at the BFI Southbank this August, leading with a season of Cary Grant films. Classics such as The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, and Notorious will be screened in August. Other highlights include a preview of Pain And Glory and a Q&A with Pedro Almodóvar, and a preview of Netflix’s upcoming The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance television series. More details of the full programme can be found here.

Film Review: The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi fairy tale The Shape of Water is at times beguiling, at times surprising, and a joy to watch.

Eliza is a cleaner at a high security government facility. She lives a solitary existence punctuated by routine. When a new asset is brought in, Eliza is curious about the creature…

With a screenplay written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water blends a number of genres. First and foremost, the film is fairy tale. It falls within the parameters of this structure, with its character archetypes and plot points. The film distinguishes itself by its setting and the unusual character fulfilling the ‘princess’ archetype.

The Shape of Water places a traditional fairy tale into a science fiction-tinged setting. Dominantly, this comes in the form of the creature itself. However, other markers are there, such as the preoccupation with the space race. The period setting allows for some beautiful production design.

From the first shot of the film, spectacle is almost assured. And the film does not disappoint in this respect. The special effects are excellent, and Dan Laustsen’s cinematography most admirable. There is some beautiful framing in the film, not least the last shot.

The main characters conform to certain archetypes, yet a coloured sufficiently to have their own personalities. It is wonderful to see Sally Hawkins taking the lead in such a big production. The character means she must communicate mostly through expression, and she excels at this. Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer play the type of roles we have seen from them before, but both a great at this. Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg are also on good form.

The Shape of Water is a different kind of fairy tale, but one that offers plentiful spectacle and entertainment.

The Shape of Water is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

Film Review: Loving

Jeff Nichols’ Loving is sincere and thoughtful drama based on a real case. Whilst the tone of the film is aptly pensive, the film lacks the punch some may expect.

Richard and Mildred are an interracial couple in Virginia, where anti-miscegenation laws are still in effect. The marry out of state, but are arrested at home. The legal battle to have their marriage recognised takes them to the highest court in the United States…

Writer-director Jeff Nichols has created a heartfelt and expansive film with Loving. The film takes its time to paint the couple and their story. It is not really a story of the court battles, rather it is a film about a couple in love and the personal struggle that they face. The story is pivotal to civil liberties and equality, and their case was a landmark one. Yet the emphasis remains on what it means to the couple.

Loving is a love story. The film begins by depicting Richard and Mildred as a couple, existing in a mixed community. Nichols’ continues in a similar style to his pervious pictures; a significant period of time passes before the first line of dialogue is spoken. Nichols’ shows his characters’ feelings through expressions and actions. These work very effectively.

The film is leaden on occasion; a weight can be felt but it is not always needed. Michael Shannon’s appearance perks up a stagnant moment, elsewhere the pacing functions adequately to allow viewers to absorb. Those brought up in a town or city may wryly smile at Mildred’s insistence on a country upbringing for her children. The Virginia scenes are beautifully shot.

Ruth Negga delivers a strong performance as Mildred. The actress is very believable in this role. She is matched in this respect by Joel Edgerton’s Richard. A man of few words, both Negga and Edgerton convey much of their relationship through expression. Loving tells an important story, made more pertinent by current affairs. Nichols continues his trend for producing beautifully-shot, Southern-set, ponderous films.

2016 Hollywood Trends

Cafe Society

2016 has been a remarkable year in current affairs, and a sad one for the untimely deaths of so many beloved celebrities. But let us turn our attention to something more comforting – film. As the year draws to a close, it’s time to review the 2016 Hollywood trends. Rather than a countdown of the best films, this article looks at the key trends in mainstream cinema of the year. It has been a year that harks back to Golden Age-Hollywood, whilst superheroes met head to head. Disney have dominated once again, whilst the Summer was lacklustre blockbuster season…

2016 Hollywood Trends: Superheroes Assemble

Captain America: Civil War

Although big superheroes appearing together in the same film is not a new phenomenon (2012’s Avengers Assemble and even 2014’s The LEGO Movie attest to this), in 2016 it became a noticeable trend. whilst February’s Deadpool only featured lesser-known X-Men with the title character, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice brought together three of DC’s biggest heroes in one film (paving the way for 2017’s Justice League). Released in  April, Captain America: Civil War functioned like ‘Avengers 3’ with the inclusion of Iron Man, Ant-Man and other secondary Avengers. Pivotally, the film boasted the addition of Spider-Man (who had previously appeared only in Sony films). In August, the hotly-anticipated Suicide Squad hit the big screen. The film featured many of Batman’s nemeses together, including the Joker, and Harley Quinn in her first live-action film appearance.

2016 Hollywood Trends: Golden-Age Revival

La La Land

2016 has been the year for Golden-Age Hollywood nostalgia. The Coen Brother’s comedy Hail, Caesar! focussed on the day in the life of a studio fixer in 1950s Hollywood. As well as all the backstage activity Mannix has to keep under wraps, the film features some great musical sequences harking back to classic Hollywood features. Albeit, with tongue firmly in cheek. Woody Allen’s Café Society focuses on the assistant to a Hollywood producer working in the 1930s. With the action taking place between Hollywood and New York, the film offers wonderful costumes and a salubrious soundtrack. Although it is set in contemporary Los Angeles, La La Land (opening at UK cinemas on 12th January 2017) is brimming with Golden Age nostalgia. The opening sequence, and indeed others later in the musical, are reminiscent of the best technicolor musicals of the 1950s. Continuing this trend, Warren Beatty’s 1950s Hollywood-set Rules Don’t Apply arrives on UK screens in March 2017.

2016 Hollywood Trends: Disney Dominance

FINDING DORY

Disney sitting on top of worldwide box office grosses is not a surprise considering the properties the company owns (Marvel, Pixar, LucasFilm). In 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was crowned box office champ, pulling in almost $400 million more than nearest competitor Jurassic World. Nevertheless, this year Disney have completely dominated worldwide box office grosses, with four films (Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Zootropolis, and The Jungle Book) each grossing more than any other studio’s production. And this is while Rogue One: A Star Wars Story currently rides high at the box office across the world.

2016 Hollywood Trends: Starring Michael Shannon

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS - Michael Shannon

It may not be immediately obvious when looking back at 2016 films, but Michael Shannon has appeared in a plethora of films this year. The actor has no fewer than ten credits for 2016. These range from leading roles in films such as Midnight Special and Frank & Lola, to a supporting role in Loving (released in UK cinemas on 3rd February 2017), and even in a brief flashback in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Shannon delivered a scene-stealing performance in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, released in November. Expect to see more of Shannon next year, with Wener Herzog’s Salt and Fire, among others.

2016 Hollywood Trends: Lacklustre Summer Blockbusters

THE LEGEND OF TARZANThere were plenty of Summer blockbusters in 2016 (as has been the case for years), but this year’s tentpoles seemed to lack something. July’s The Legend of Tarzan may have delivered somewhat decent worldwide box office grosses, but reviews were less than sparkling. Ghostbustersdomestic gross did not get near its reported production budget, and Independence Day: Resurgence received poor reviews. Meanwhile, Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne, and Suicide Squad failed to make the impacted expected at the box office. At the tale-end of the Summer, sword and sandals epic Ben-Hur flopped at the box office. If 2016 is anything to go by, 2017’s Summer blockbusters will need to beat family animation and Spring superhero films to take the crown.

Film Review: Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals

Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is a sumptuous and tense film. The director keeps viewers captivated throughout.

Gallerist Susan Morrow receives a package from her ex-husband out of the blue. It contains the manuscript to a novel he has written, which has been dedicated to Susan…

Ford’s wonderful directorial debut A Single Man would have many keen to know what he would do next in the cinematic sphere. Despite the recess, this sophomore picture does not disappoint. Nocturnal Animals offers both style and substance. It is pensive and intriguing.

Based on Austin Wright’s novel ‘Tony and Susan’, Nocturnal Animals features a story within a story. Writer-director Tom Ford reels in viewers with both tangents, keeping them guessing as to a number of facets. The exterior narrative of Susan reading the manuscript works well because there are several elements which are left uncovered. Ford deliberately keeps the nature of Susan and Edward’s relationship under wraps until later in the film. This functions to give to offer a sense of mystery. It also is unclear where this narrative will go, and how it will conclude. The final sequence is subtle, but appropriate.

The interior ‘novel’ narrative has more fire to it. There is a tension which becomes unbearable at a point. Once a critical event has occured, there is still a sense of foreboding. This is joined by a bleakness that is contemplative. As the two stories dovetail, some viewers may hope for a deeply satisfying conclusion. Ford draws back from this, instead delivering a subtler ending. In this way, Nocturnal Animals is more realistic. Ford conveys to viewers that they can’t always get what they want. It is a stronger film for not choosing an expected conclusion.

As expected, the visual style of the film is richly indulgent. Ford shoots his characters and locations beautifully. The score is also great. Amy Adams offers a great performance as Susan, whilst Jake Gyllenhaal is powerful in his role. Michael Shannon injects a surprising amount of humour.

Nocturnal Animals is a pleasing second feature from Tom Ford. Viewers tempted in by the visuals will appreciate the engaging narrative.

Nocturnal Animals is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.