Tag Archives: Whiplash

FIRST MAN

Four Star Rating

“…Chazelle’s footage of these brave pioneers hurtling into space in what amounted back then to glorified reinforced tin cans, is an extraordinarily tense experience.” – Wayward Wolf.

It seems that director Damien Chazelle has prioritised realism over glossy sentiment in First Man, his ambitious take on the latter stages of the Great Space Race; more particularly, the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the moon.

The film observes Armstrong and his family in the years preceding this monumental event; a time in which Neil’s single-minded dedication to the cause and an ability to remain focused in the face of innumerable setbacks and personal tragedies, saw him ultimately Captain Nasa’s historic space mission, himself.

Whilst First Man will doubtless appeal to the technologically minded engineers and rocket scientists amongst us, it is a film equally concerned with people; with life and relationships, family and friends.

Claire Foy is cast as Armstrong’s wife, Janet. She portrays a ‘typical mid-century American woman’. A home-maker. Bar the support and friendship of her fellow housewives, Janet frequently finds herself alone, yet she expertly keeps the home fires burning, performing the essential ‘life’ and family functions in her husband’s frequent absences.

But even when he is around, there is a level of detachment about Armstrong’s attitude to family life. Chazelle’s film seems to pin his rather aloof nature upon the family’s loss of their young daughter to illness at a very early age. This is something that Neil seems never to have fully recovered from and has rendered him unable (or unwilling?) to display the same levels of affection and devotion to his two remaining sons.

Ryan Gosling’s performance is the kind of brooding portrayal that we have come to expect from the two-time Oscar-nominated Hollywood heart-throb although this is not the sort of performance of repressed potentially explosive anger that we have witnessed in Nicholas Winding Refn movies, for example – think Drive or Only God Forgives – but of a calm, emotionally disengaged man, for whom the ability to express genuine emotion is in fact something akin to rocket science.

Whilst the family friction and tension is an engaging enough side story in itself, it largely plays second fiddle here to Chazelle’s brilliantly realised scenes of space exploration. From the gruelling astronaut preparation right through to the realisation of national and personal dreams, Chazelle’s footage of these brave pioneers hurtling into space in what amounted back then to glorified reinforced tin cans, is an extraordinarily tense experience. No brightly coloured tight nylon-clad space explorers being warp-sped into far off galaxies here, just a noisy, tooth-rattlingly disorientating, and overwhelmingly claustrophobic experience for all concerned.

It’s truly mesmerising and quite frankly terrifying stuff.

Although IMAX 70mm film is used for the moon landing footage itself – to gain maximum cinematic effect – the bulk of the film is shot on a combination of 16mm and 35mm film. Such a tactic sees Chazelle’s film adopt a sort of soft grainy finish which seems in keeping with its 1960’s feel and setting. That said, the direction is evidently very current with frequent use of jerky handheld camera techniques even during relatively calm scenes concerning simple domestic matters. Whilst in isolation this could be deemed a little unnecessary, within the context of the film as a whole, it is not nearly as jarring as it might have been.

The excellent Justin Hurwitz – he that would appear to be fast becoming what John Williams is/was to Steven Spielberg – once again teams up with Damien Chazelle to provide a subtly understated yet very beautiful theremin and harp-led score, lending the film an at times magical, timeless feel.

And talking of Spielberg, it would be interesting to know exactly what the full extent of his responsibilities were in his role as Executive Producer on this project. It’s undeniable that there’s definitely something of a Spielbergian ‘feel’ to this piece, if such a thing exists?

Considering the nature of Chazelle’s projects prior to this – the blistering Whiplash and the ever-so-enchanting La La Land – a certain degree of criticism from some quarters has been levelled at the director for both his choice of topic and his rather more ‘considered’ approach to film making this time around.

Far from being a regressive move though for this still remarkably young and prodigious talent, if anything, First Man should be considered one great step for Chazelle’s career, further cementing his well-earned place amongst Hollywood’s very biggest hitters.

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MOTHER

“…Mother is a veritable whirlwind that grows relentlessly in intensity, launching a devilishly wicked assault on the senses…”

Wayward Wolf.

Someone said to me recently that they no longer went to the cinema because everything had been done already, and no-one was bringing anything particularly new to the table.

There’s certainly a partial argument in there, and there’s no doubt that we’re all on the receiving end of more than our fair share of formulaic drivel that comes spewing forth from ‘the machine’ with depressing regularity.

But that’s why it’s such a joy when films as original and utterly enthralling as Mother, hit the big screen, and by all accounts this one has been dividing audiences the length and breadth of the country.

Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, it tells the tale of a couple. Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem), live in a huge house in the middle of the countryside. Impressively, Mother has taken it upon herself to completely refurbish this previously fire-damaged property, and her considerable handiwork – of which she is rightly very proud – is now nearing the point of completion.

Him is a renowned poet and author and much older than his beautiful partner. Much to his frustration he is suffering from writer’s block. Mother is nothing if not wonderfully empathetic to his plight and supportive to the last, ensuring that she attends to his every need. Despite the occasionally aloof, slightly distracted nature of her man, the couple nonetheless seem well enough matched and in love.

Events, however, start to get a little interesting following an unexpected visit one night from a doctor, (Ed Harris), and a little later, from his wife, (Michelle Pfeiffer); two apparent strangers, whose erratic behaviour begins to ring alarm bells in Mother’s head.

But they are merely the tip of the iceberg for what is to come.

A catalogue of progressively bizarre happenings is set to break apart – with increasing regularity – the carefully assembled pieces of the home that Mother has built, throwing her well ordered life into almost unimaginable turmoil.

From fairly innocuous beginnings, Aronofsky is unafraid to completely change the film’s trajectory, something that he implements skilfully, ramping up the intensity as he goes. And like the curve on a hockey stick, the impending madness of the couple’s situation increases exponentially until such a point that you’d swear that you were in fact watching something totally different by the film’s end. Yet, everything is very closely and cleverly connected throughout, with the smallest, most subtle of clues dropped strategically here and there throughout the piece, hinting at the hellish events that await.

Mother is enormously entertaining. A film that positively whisks its viewer along, wide-eyed and slack jawed, to its crazy conclusion, challenging one’s perceptions of what constitutes unacceptably bad taste, in the process. One hell of a ‘marmite movie’, if ever there was one.

In much the same way that László Nemes chose to almost exclusively use medium close-up shots of his chief protagonist’s face in the superb, Son of SaulAronofsky here, elects to employ a similar, if slightly less relentless and claustrophobic technique, on his leading lady, Jennifer Lawrence. Her facial expressions convey the anguish of Mother quite brilliantly, as she is dragged mercilessly through the wringer, experiencing the entire gamut of emotions in the process. Her initial expression of sweetness and innocence quickly switches to one of troubled confusion, then disdain, exasperation and ultimately outright unadulterated fear. By all accounts Lawrence was prone to hyperventilating during the making of this film, and it’s certainly easy to see why.

Javier Bardem is mesmerising as Mother’s apparently caring partner whose penchant for generosity, helping others and sharing everything is gradually exposed for what it really is. Harris and Pfeiffer, amongst others, are wonderful in their wholly sinister cameo roles, flagrantly disrespecting both Mother and the home that she has so lovingly created. And all the while, Him insists upon Mother’s patience and trust in the unfolding melee, as things go rapidly from bad to worse.

In much the same way that Damien Chazelle‘s marvellous Whiplash generated such complete and utter emotional engagement from its audience, Darren Aronofsky’s film demands and very much receives a similar response.

Engaging, seductive, confusing, shocking and at times terrifying, Mother is a veritable whirlwind that grows relentlessly in intensity, launching a devilishly wicked assault on the senses in the process.

See it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards: for 2015

 

Greetings all!

Welcome to the third, annual Wayward Wolf film review of the year; an opportunity to recall and reflect upon the cinematic hits and misses of 2015.

Which brings us on to the Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards, better known as (I’ve just made them up) The WWAFAS – what do you mean you’ve never heard of them? – a self-indulgent selection of self-congratulatory nonsense which, as far as I’m aware, nobody has ever successfully been able to summon up the resolve to read through from start to finish.

What a year it’s been! In fairness, that line is trotted out each and every year, but in light of the fact that I can barely remember what happened this morning, let alone anything prior to that, 2015 does indeed seem to have been a particularly strong year in the world of film.

The WWAFAS are very much in the spirit of supporting the cinema-going experience, and as ever, only take into consideration films that a) had a UK release date in 2015 and b) I managed to see on the big screen in 2015.

It’s been a year in which I’ve finally broken the 50 film barrier, with a staggering – yes, staggering – 56 films viewed between January 1st and December 31st, 2015*

*Actually, two of those films were watched on the 1st and 2nd of January, 2016, but I’m including them in the 2015 run through for the sake of continuity.

Can’t handle that? Speak to my lawyer.

So, without further ado, strap on your incontinence pants in case it all gets a little too much, and let’s just see exactly what unfolded in the remarkable year that was 2015 because… here come The WWAFAS!

 

The Best Male Performance (Lead or Support) WWAFA goes to:

Winner: Michael Keaton – (Birdman)

Runner-up: J.K Simmons – (Whiplash

Best of the rest: Michael Shannon – (99 Homes)

 

Best Female Performance (Lead or Support) WWAFA goes to:

Winner: Maggie Smith – (The Lady In The Van)

Runner-up: Cate Blanchett – (Carol)

Best of the rest: Charlotte Rampling – (45 Years)

 

Best Music score WWAFA goes to:

Winner:  Johann Johannsson – (Sicario) – Johannsson’s soundtrack is gritty and raw but relatively sparse adding both impact and drive where necessary, yet leaving adequate space for the film to breathe. A really powerful, affecting soundtrack.

Runner-up: Atticus Ross – (Love and Mercy) – Granted, this was not an entirely original soundtrack, but the inventiveness of Atticus Ross’s re-imagining and ‘affecting’ of Brian Wilson’s music fits perfectly here. A wonderfully inventive, ‘kind of’ original soundtrack.

 

The Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards: Worst Film of the year, 2015:

In all honesty, of the fifty-six films watched, I can honestly say that not a single film absolutely stunk the gaff out. Yes, some were forgettable, but none were truly awful which ether tells you a lot about the quality of films released in 2015, or maybe something about my own impeccable viewing habits?! You decide.

If I must single one or two out under duress, then it’s probably the following (in reverse order):

3. Listen Up Philip:

It all looked so good on paper and this is one that I went out of my way to track down a little while after its initial run had ended in London. Wish I hadn’t bothered. All rather self-indulgent, overly stylised and above all way too drawn out. It’s also barely funny at all which, considering the key to dark comedy is usually laughter of some description, is probably a bit problematic I’d say.

2. Terminator Genisys:

Easily the worst of the Terminator franchise to date. Unconvincing on most levels and all rather dumbed down for the 12A generation. Not terrible, but as I mentioned in the full review, a bit of a slap in the face for the die-hard Terminator fan base.

And the WWAFA for the WORST FILM OF 2015… Goes to:

1. Fifty Shades of Grey:

A bit of an easy target admittedly, but not nearly as bad as I had feared. Forgettable nonsense which drastically held back on the explicit sexual content – the one thing that of course could possibly have saved it or at least made it slightly more interesting – but it’s quite a slick and well put together effort overall if the truth be told, if utterly throwaway, and surprisingly, there were just a handful of evacuees bolting for the exit during the particular screening that I attended.

There’s a sequel planned too. Oh joy…

 

So, that’s the worst dealt with, but what about the cream of the 2015 crop?

 

The Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards: Top Ten Best Films Of The Year, 2015 – (In reverse order):

10. Sicario:

Grizzly goings on exposed in long, drawn-out takes that really ramp up the suspense levels. Emily Blunt is excellent in the lead role and together with the equally excellent Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, it all comes together to give Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario real impact.

9. Amy:

An emotionally poignant documentary superbly realised, sympathetically handling both Amy’s joy and hardships, but ultimately giving us all food for thought.

8. Ex Machina:

One of the very finest science fiction films since Spielberg’s A.I.  Oscar Isaac is tremendous and Alicia Vikander is spellbinding as Isaac’s very own A.I.

7. 45 Years:

Never has the adage that there’s no fool like an old fool been so true. Charlotte Rampling, playing alongside Tom Courtenay, is simply superb as Kate, somehow remaining stoic in the face of historical revelations and emotional upheaval.

6. Force Majeure:

Truly excellent Swedish film that poses the question: “How would you react if…?” A Swedish family on a hard-earned skiing trip is about to discover the answer to that very question exposing the fragility of their domestic situation.

5. The Tribe:

Brutal, savage, gritty and relentlessly bleak and all achieved almost entirely without dialogue. An incredibly powerful piece from director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky. Seems to have been totally overlooked which is quite frankly outrageous.

4. Birdman:

Michael Keaton, once flying high as a popular actor, is now desperately seeking credibility in New York’s unforgiving theatre land. Brilliant.

3. 99 Homes:

With the building trade hit by the 2008 U.S recession, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) needs to make some tough decisions to support his soon to be evicted family. Ramin Bahrani’s absolutely superb, low-key indie gem almost sneaked under the radar. To miss this would be a crime.

2. The Lady In The Van:

Maggie Smith is absolutely sensational in Nicholas Hytner’s wonderful, mostly true tale of the eccentric homeless Madam that parked up on Alan Bennett’s driveway.

 

And the Wayward Wolf: FILM OF THE YEAR, 2015, WWAFA goes to:

  1. Whiplash: I suspected that Damien Chazelle’s enormously excellent Whiplash would be hard to beat as this year’s film of the year when I saw it. There have been some tremendous films this year, but nothing has quite gripped me and had me right on the edge of my seat the way this did. Ultimately, we all go to the cinema for entertainment and to feel totally engaged in the film that we’re watching, and to find ourselves asking just where the time went once it’s over. Whiplash is almost over before it’s begun and there is not a single moment when it wasn’t completely enthralling. For that reason and umpteen more, it just had to be my film of the year. Ruddy, bloody great.

 

And finally:

Here is the complete Wayward Wolf run down, of each and every film seen in 2015 – (in order of preference):

  1. Whiplash(See top ten summary above)

2. The Lady In The Van(See top ten summary above)

3. 99 Homes(See top ten summary above)

4. Birdman(See top ten summary above)

5. The Tribe(See top ten summary above)

6. Force Majeure(See top ten summary above)

7. 45 Years(See top ten summary above)

8. Ex Machina(See top ten summary above)

9. Amy(See top ten summary above)

10. Sicario(See top ten summary above)

11. The Look of Silence: The follow up to 2014’s The Act of Killing is no less devastating in dealing with similar, blood-chilling subject matter.

12. Grandma: An excellent slice of life indie offering. Quirky, amusing and crucially, refuses to preach.

13. Me & Earl and the Dying Girl: Amusing, but above all whole-hearted tale of teen angst in trying circumstances.

14. Carol: Blanchett and Mara are absolutely breath taking in this stylish adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel.

15. Brooklyn: A stand out performance from Saoirse Ronan in this fantastic tale of love, loss and hard decisions.

16. Mommy: More hard hitting cinema from brilliant young director, Xavier Dolan.

17. Love and Mercy: Surprisingly good Brian Wilson biopic with stand out performances and a superbly re-imagined Beach Boys soundtrack.

18. Bridge of Spies: Spielberg and Hanks on form with this tense, Berlin cold war saga.

19. Sherpa: Strong Himalayan documentary highlighting the hardships of these Nepalese mountaineering saviours.

20. Suffragette: Powerful dramatisation of the Suffragette struggles. A film crucially with mass appeal.

21. The Theory of Everything: Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are wonderful in this biopic of the scientific genius, Stephen Hawking

22. The Lobster: Bizarre, off the wall concept of a Big Brother society that frowns upon those of single status. Loses its way a little in the latter stages, but very few films will boast as tense a finale.

23. X + Y: Rafe Spall provides the standout performance as dry witted, laugh-out-loud funny maths tutor Martin in Morgan Matthews’ sweet tale of a young reluctant maths prodigy’s rise to prominence.

24. Still Alice: Predictably strong performance from Julianne Moore, a woman suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

25. Legend:  Tom Hardy ‘doubles up’ to portray both Ronald and Reggie Kray in this rather reverential biopic of London’s favourite gangsters

26.  Jurassic World: Could have been awful, but a surprisingly strong reboot of the much loved dinosaur franchise.

27. A Most Violent Year: Oscar Isaac convinces in this scaled down gangster flick set in early 1980s New York City.

28. Spectre: Sam Mendes’ reign as Bond director continues to be fruitful with a strong follow up to 2014’s excellent Skyfall.

29. While We’re Young: Ben Stiller here puts in arguably a career best performance in Noah Baumbach’s excellent middle age crisis comedy.

30. Mississippi Grind: Two gamblers head south along with their considerable emotional baggage.

31. Everest: A respectable attempt to shoe-horn the entire 1996 Everest disaster story into two hours of cinema.

32. American Sniper: Clint Eastwood’s patriotic, chest-thumping biopic of America’s finest ever military marksman.

33. An Irrational Man: Joaquin Phoenix impresses in Woody Allen’s existential tale.

34. Star Wars (The Force Awakens): J.J. Abrams manages to salvage some respect for everyone’s? favourite sic-fi franchise. One to please both die-hard and newbie fans, alike.

35. In the heart of the sea (3D): Beware the 3D overdose! Typically fast-paced, Ron Howard swashbuckling sea yarn.

36. Sunset Song: Terence Davies’ adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel is an exquisitely shot, wistful tale of love and hardship in the beautiful Scottish countryside.

37. Danny Collins: Al Pacino turns on the charm in this warm-hearted tale of a washed-up old pop star.

38. Black Mass: Straight froward gangster ‘epic’. Nicely enough put together but nothing genre-defining.

39. Alive Inside: Thought provoking documentary which should serve, as much as anything, as a governmental call to action.

40. Dark Horse: Engaging tale of unlikely rags to riches for a Welsh community.

41. Mistress America: Typically acerbic Baumbach piece but a little too self congratulatory at times.

42. Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation: Tom Cruise on top form. High action nonsense. Good fun.

43. American Ultra: A surprisingly fun, darkly comedic offering with loose MK Ultra overtones.

44. Southpaw: Overhyped and ultimately a little too formulaic to stand out, though still powerful in places.

45. Blood Cells: Ethereal and gritty tale of a loner, wandering aimlessly through broken Britain.

46. A Walk In The Woods: Lightweight adaptation of Bill Bryson’s best seller, but still amusing to those of a certain vintage.

47. PhoenixA Jewish lady in post-war Berlin seeks to be reunited with her husband with emotional consequences.

48. Selma: A tremendous performance from David Oleyowo in a film that crucially seems to lack a little of that ‘something special.’

49. Mad Max Fury Road: Reboot of the obscure 80s franchise. High octane entertainment.

50. The Martian: An interesting concept with a great lead performance from Matt Damon in a film that ultimately is chalked up as a missed opportunity for Ridley Scott.

51. Steve Jobs: Danny Boyle’s intelligent telling of the impressive Steve Jobs’ story, is very dialogue heavy – too heavy in fact.

52. Palio: A well put together documentary chronicling the yearly Palio horse race in Siena, Italy. Hard to care too much about silly tribal boys’ games, however.

53. The Falling: Interesting concept, but overly long and tiresome. Mark Kermode, film critic has real passion for this film and it makes me feel that I’ve maybe missed a trick here? Deserves a second viewing, if ultimately only for an impressive performance from the excellent Maisie Williams.

54. Listen Up Philip: (See Worst films section above)

55. Terminator Genisys: (See Worst films section above)

56. Fifty Shades of Grey: (See Worst films section above)

 

Until next year folks…

 

FILM REVIEW: 99 Homes

“Don’t get too emotionally attached to real estate Nash. They’re just boxes. It’s not which one you have, it’s how many you’ got”

All his relatively short life, Dennis Nash (the excellent Alex Garfield), has ‘busted his hump’ doing the right thing, working hard in construction, building houses in order to support his young son.
When recession hits and the bottom falls out of the real estate market, the work dries up, as do the mortgage payments, putting the family home that he shares with his mother, Lynn (a supporting role, but as ever an assured performance from Laura Dern), at risk of foreclosure.
We’re always good to find the money to make that elusive payment. We’ve all got a plan, but we’ve all got a sob story too, to justify just how we’ve found ourselves in such an unfortunate financial predicament in the first place; We’ve also all got an excellent lawyer on the case to save us, but unsurprisingly, that counts for very little in the eyes of the financial institutions, and more to the point,  those that enforce their unsympathetic rules and regulations.
It’s one such ‘enforcer’ who, whilst poised to turn Nash and his family’s  world upside down, will also provide an unexpected lifeline, but at a considerable cost.
The irony of the man who will break him, being the man that will also ‘make’ him, is not lost on Nash.
99 Homes traces Nash’s apparent rise from the financial dead men to his subsequent, rapid descent into the murky world of ill-gotten wealth on the back of the property repossessions market. He’s aided and abetted by his sinister mentor, the Larry Hagman / JR Ewing-esque, Rick Carver, (a stunning performance from Michael Shannon); he of the rather dubious, Carver Realty.
Carver has made a fortune on the back of the 2008 U.S. recession, but more pertinently, on the back of the misery of others. An individual driven by a determination never to be the man that his father was; cash poor and a victim of the system.
Can Nash justify his new found wealth and job stability to his family and more importantly, to himself? Or is the deep down realisation of what he’s got himself into going to torment him, in spite of the considerable financial benefits it brings to the table?
There are shades of Boiler Room and Wall Street in what is a quite excellently realised fable of moral dilemmas and a sort of warped, reversed American Dream that plays out with an unfussy direction and convincing performances across the board.
Much like the superb Whiplash earlier this year, 99 Homes is low-budget, relatively short, snappy and to the point. It’s tense, emotionally intense and thought-provoking and even a few dubious dubbing and syncing issues early on can’t detract from a powerful piece that lives long in the mind.
Director Ramin Bahrani, take a bow. 99 Homes sneaks in under the radar, yet it’s comfortably one of the highlights of 2015, so far.