The Shape of Water – A Review


We’ve known for a long time that the mind of Guillermo del Toro is exceptionally fantastical: Pan’s Labyrinth, like this film also solely written by dT, is a modern classic, a fairy tale like no other, and his influence on the work of others is unique and identifiable. Everything about The Shape of Water screams the Directors name – and damn is it a cool name. Guillermo. Del. Torrrrro.

Set some time around the middle of the 20th century, in America, in some kind of military bunker, a scaly, slimy, manlike fish is chained, contained and tortured. Michael Shannon heads up this dastardly project; he dominates everyone around him, chewing his candy, and spouting his obnoxious positive-thinking one liners he read someplace. But why subjugate this thing? Come on! It could be a weapon, and the Russians could probably steal it and use it against us, of course!

Sally Hawkins, playing Elisa Espacito, sees the beauty in a monstrosity. She feels a kinship with this being, this misunderstood, hurting creature – for she too cannot be understood easily, she is mute. Hawkins is my favourite British actress, primarily for her roles in Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky, Submarine and Woody Allen’s masterful recreation of A Streetcar named Desire, Blue Jasmine. I’ll watch anything with her in it, and she doesn’t let me down here. I believed the sign language, I believed the face over the sign language – she has such big eyes; evocative eyes. I was drawn into this world through her quirky personality. She lives as friends with a failing product artist, they watch old song-and-dance numbers together, she’s clearly a romantic: she taps along to the music, she doesn’t have to say anything. Her day job is cleaning this military facility, and when she locks eyes on this frogman her curiosity is deeply roused and held. Sneaking in to the containment pond it’s kept in whenever possible, Elisa feeds and begins to communicate with her new friend.

The set design is fantastic, and yes, as everyone is saying: dat colour palette though. The film is green and swampy, like its centrepiece. It’s aesthetically beautiful and ugly, like how the sickly, brown hue of Villeneuve’s Enemy draws and repulses you. The camera is very mobile, which I thought was really appropriate: scurrying us along the floor like a rat etc.

There are elements of comedy, tragedy, romance and action, all captured with their own properly-paced rumblings, build-ups and climactic set-pieces. This might be dT’s 2nd best film; that’s saying something, its hype and probable awards are deserved.



Downsizing – A Review


Well, I thought Downsizing was great; or at least very good.

It interests me that this is the next film out of Alexander Payne – he directs and co-writes, with long-time writing partner Jim Taylor. It interests me because it’s his first real venture into the absurd, and he’s been quite a grounded, earthly director with Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska in particular; he’s growing on it, living on it, crossing it.. So him making a movie that questions our responses and solutions to climate change, well, I’m already on board.

The film received a negative-to-mixed response online, why? The concept is great: shrink, if you want, and really contribute to saving the planet; oh, and also, you’ll make yourself effectively a multi-millionaire. Become ~1/2340 the size of an average human, coming in at a whopping 5.9 inches tall, and you can live in a doll’s house and feel like you’re in a real mansion. For the first 45 minutes of the film I felt really uncomfortable, I thought, “Would I make that leap?” The Downsizing facility and process has a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory feel that I found hilariously unsettling: the mass shaving, the removal of tooth fillings (Key: Forget to do this and risk a head explosion), injection of the “Downsizing solution”. It’s irreversible, but it works. So would I make the leap? Would I make it for the environmental/social reasons, or because I could become a rich-ass hum-ant like the sneering, hedonistic, opportunistic Dusan Merkovic, played by Christoph Waltz.

So the concept’s great, and Matt Damon’s character Paul Safranek, an occupational therapist, is perfectly confused, hopeful, nihilistic – he goes through a lot, the list goes on! The film could probably have legitimately earned a production design Oscar nomination in another year; the combination of camera trickery (high angles, tilt shift, long shots etc.) and props making Leisureland (one of many small colonies) look just small enough – scaled-to-fit. I also appreciated the little touches eg. Safranek shrinking as he walks down the hall into the Downsizing area, the smart phones being relatively big for small people because components can only get so small right now

So the concept, humour, acting and visuals are great. It must be the plot, then, and I would agree. It’s what I would describe as a rather unsatisfying film. Downsizing throws a lot of ideas at you, and gives you scenes that make you ponder them and develop them. Some of mine: How much am I willing to change to save the planet? Only 3% of Earth’s population actually underwent the process, does this reflect our inability to steer our planet away from disaster today? Furthermore, the reconstitution of an unequal society in a tiny society is a shockingly real possibility if for example we begin to populate Mars (Praise Elon). The selfish opportunist prospering, the selfless activist who’s been mauled by the state – it’s tiny and funny, but it’s all there and should be taken seriously.

My advice for this film would be let it wash over you and don’t try to put a label on it.

And don’t expect tiny people fighting rodents. I know it’s fun, but don’t.




In a video released on the 7th of December 2015 on the Criterion Collection Youtube channel, Sean Baker holds a copy of Ken Loach’s masterpiece, Kez, and states, “I’m going to be making a film with kids soon, and this is one of the greatest films ever, so I’m definitely going to want to revisit this”. Baker’s research and awareness of the works of his predecessors permits him to defy W.C Fields’ age-old trope “Never work with kids or animals” and create something beautiful: An intimate stay with a poor, single mother and her kid in a Florida motel — Sean is an exemplary filmmaker, and has made one of the best films of the year.

So, my first port of call, casting. Newcomer Bria Vinaite plays Halley, a single mother, living scam-to-scam (I can’t say paycheck-to-paycheck; she doesn’t get one) and trick-to-trick out of a small room in a giant, purple motel. Vinaite’s performance perfectly balances the two characters Halley must play in order to survive: fun, sweet Mum (for her child) and hardened, unrelenting urban survivalist (for them both). Brooklynn Prince plays Moonee, Halley’s Daughter, and, with their performances supported by realistic dialogue, every time they’re on screen, both together and separately, we’re gifted profound slices of a life none of us would wish for ourselves. I’m talking about sending your own kid and her friends off to beg for food. I’m talking about teaching them inappropriate dance moves to modern music with lyrics kids shouldn’t be exposed to, or bonding over swimwear selfies. Their situation is different to mine, and I feel it’s one of my responsibilities as a relatively privileged person to be at least aware of people like Halley and Moonee so that one day I might act compassionately — slice-of-life films often have this effect.

I can’t describe much how good the performances are without entering into hyperbole, so please, please see them yourself. All the kids, Willem Dafoe (Bobby, the motel manager), and all the smaller parts are perfectly gritty, yet human. I think my favourite films are funny AND something: The Florida Project’s characters are humanised by how much excellent dialogue we get, with a lot of it being hilarious, so the film is funny AND dramatic, or funny AND poignant. The kids are always roaming around, going on adventures. They giggle playfully as they spit onto a neighbours car, they make fart noises with their hands under the stairs, they run to a nearby field and cower under a tree, “I didn’t think it would rain!”. Bobby’s strife with trying to keep his tourist destination motel descending into becoming a homeless shelter is oddly comedic too.

Calling the film beautiful would be incorrect in a lot of critic’s eyes because of where else that word is often used. Using beautiful, people think of Star Wars-like vistas. Here, it’s difficult to describe downtrodden motels and waffle houses as beautiful (if you were there, it would be the last word to come to mind), yet Baker makes The Florida Project a perfectly beautiful film. Using a squat, wide aspect ratio film, low angles, and a range of static and dynamic camera movements, Baker creates a world for these kids and makes them the biggest stars in it ie. fills the shots with their faces a lot. Shots outside are bright and vibrantly colourful (Orange world, purple motel, Balamory-esque derelict houses); it’s the kids play area, and they have the most fun here. Inside, they’re locked in the bathroom, or sat bored in the dark — inside is an adult space, you have to worry here about food and rent.

The combination of a relatively unknown cast with something to prove, the excellent plotline that builds and pays-off perfectly, and the gorgeous film design (location scouting, costumes, grading etc.) come together to create something that will be nominated for Oscars and recognised as a victory for independent filmmaking: from Tangerine, to here. This story has purpose, it’s entertainment coupled with activism.

Great job Sean. 9.2/10.



A misstep tangentially re-routes a young Indian boy’s life in the 80s; torn from his family, thrust into chaos and plucked from the brink by angelic Australian adoptive parents. Where’s home for the re-located, and, even before that, what makes home home? Garth Davis’ wildly successful adaptation of Saroo Brierly’s tale is fluid in its telling, punchy in its climactic moments and believable at its core. This really happened: using Google Earth to find your house, only you don’t know where your house is.

Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel play young and 20s Saroo, and each have roughly equal screen time. Early on, Saroo is established as a joyful, responsible, fun-loving young boy; a boy part of a loving, but impoverished (his Mother labours in a local quarry) Indian family. When Saroo pesters his brother to take him to work with him and loses him at night in a train station, childishly he steps onto a decommissioned passenger train which he unwillingly moves with to Calcutta. Every mother’s worst nightmare is manifest in the following scenes: their child lost, hungry and alone, strewn amongst the uncaring and occasionally malicious population of a busy city. Only miracles rescue kids in this situation from fates which should be unacceptable, but unfortunately homeless kids still exist to this day all around the world.

Saroo, for one reason or another, is lucky. He is rescued. A little kindness here and there takes him from the hectic streets to a quiet family home in Tazmania where he grows up healthy and happy – that is until technology, the great enabler, makes scraps of memory a viable way to backtrack. This is an incredible story, and a true one at that. Sometimes little choices change everything and Saroo is a shining example of making the best of what you have. “..You’ve seized every opportunity. We’re so proud of you.” say John and Sue Brierly lovingly. Saroo’s life brightened the lives of his adoptive parents at the cost of 25 years of heartache for his Biological mother; I think he makes the right decision to use Google Earth to fix that broken heart if he can, whatever it costs him.

Lion is an excellent film. It highlights that things can go wrong, and things can happen to you without your say so, but also that if you can stoically stay strong, composed and if you use your little bit of luck, why can’t you work a miracle?

Miracle worker: hmm.. that could be all of us, right? If you use, or work, a miracle to squeeze the best from it. I need to work my miracles more, because my life is Cloud 9 compared to Saroo’s.





Blade Runner 2049 – A 10-minute Review

Blade Runner 2049 is the definition of a perfect modern sequel. An original film that could have been left alone, its name to be uncovered only by the most intrepid cinephiles, is reinvigorated under the guise of a soft-reboot with updated visual futurism and a clearer storyline.

Its lack of explosiveness in the Box Office is both understandable and not so. I think many are put off merely seeing the run-time and others because the original, with which many cinema-goers have no tangible connection, released over 30 years ago. Furthermore, the original, cerebral Sci-Fi noir polarises its own audience; it’s one of those where you’re either in, or you’re out. But, Gosling, Ford, Leto.. These are big names in the pop culture sphere; even Denis Villeneuve (Director) is becoming a household name due to his huge recent success. Big names should equal big money in the movie business especially in the mainstream.

It’s not all about money, however. The people that go to see BR2049 will be rewarded for their choice, have no fear. The words “Beautiful”, “Cinematography” etc. have been thrown around and rightly so. The score contributes well to atmosphere, despite being largely the same annoying, grandiose phwooarrring that plagues most film trailers – the flying cars, electric signs etc. look like they could make these humming, droning sounds, just less dramatic, for example. Everyone actually acts really convincingly, even when they have to pretend to be robots who might be this, and then might be that.

I would recommend BR2049, especially to those that haven’t seen the first one. It’s not boring, but it does demand attention; let your gaze/hearing slip, and you will lose out.

Go for a pee before the film starts.


La La Land – A Review


There aren’t many greater things in life than enjoying a song and dance with your partner, in my opinion. When you’re both there, together, the external stimuli take us from the real world to somewhere different and special, and great musical films make you feel you’re escaping reality in just the same way.. while you’re sat on your arse.

Whiplash Director Damien Chazelle returns with a lot more StarpowerTM and a little less originality with the latest Hollywood Oscar winning so-called masterpiece that is La La Land. Opening into a freeway gridlock of traffic à la Falling Down, a girl in a yellow dress jumps out of her car and wails about her trip into the unknown; she’s taking her big shot at stardom. Suddenly another all-too-happy road-user ups and preaches the same sermon et voila now they’re all at it. Haphazardly twirling about and prancing on top of one another’s cars the people have started a celebration of the person who’s on their way to makin’ it in the Big City. Once the music stops and the incredibly ethnically diverse dance crew is back sat down and belted up, Mia (Emma Stone) gives fellow driver Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) the finger and  later their Meet Cute is stuffed again when Sebastian blanks her after his performance in a local Jazz hole.

Despite their rocky beginnings, the persistence of aspiring actress Mia charms Seb at a local party and a beautiful romance is born. He loves Jazz music and she hates it; he knows she hates it because she doesn’t know it. Before Mia, lowly Seb was spitefully disobeying employers by deviating from their lame-o setlists and swapping in his own work, “I let life hit me, and hit me, and hit me and then I’ll hit it back when it gets tired” he says to his sister when she questions why he masochistically does what he does. Post-Mia, Seb is inspired to achieve greater things but when they both begin to taste success (re-using a theme from Whiplash Chazelle, alright) their relationship becomes a little less feasible.

The plot may be a little stale but it’s only there to move things along. The film is a lot of fun and without a doubt it’s a great (date?) movie. It’s definitely a musical but it’s definitely entry-level for the genre: Stone and Gosling have great chemistry but they aren’t the greatest singers or dancers meaning most musical numbers don’t reach louder than talking volume or jump higher than Gene Kelly’s lowest which leaves them far from memorable and the songs are all too similar thematically. I think it’s quite unfocused; sometimes I thought it was trying to make a point (similar to how there was a lot of discussion about the cost of greatness thanks to Whiplash) but then after the mid-point, with several scenes though one Super 8 one in particular, I was drowning in schmaltz.

All of that hatred said, I still enjoyed it. As I said, it was fun. There was chemistry, there were stand-out performances, a couple of cameos, an homage to Cleo From 5 to 7? I can’t knock something a little different making it mainstream either and Damien Chazelle continues to be a leading Director in musical films.

Cha, cha, shi-boop AH doo-wap se se six point five outta 10.

Notes on Blindness – A Review


You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, Joni Mitchell wasn’t singing about her eyesight but the incredible Notes on Blindness does just that. The story of theologian John Hull and his irreversible transition from seeing to blindness tackles the confrontation of man’s – literal – darkest hours whilst remaining watchable, relatable and most importantly, optimistic.

The film, written and Directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney and using the audio tapes which form the body of Hull’s book Touching the Rock, synchronises the original recordings and interview audio direct from John with mouthing actors to visualise his inspiring story. Maintaining his work as a University lecturer was of utmost importance to John so he tackled his experience of going blind methodically. Initially asking colleagues to record books for him and learning braille is enough for John, but, as he describes, memories and images distort and fade in the darkness of his mind which makes keeping a grip on the life behind the dark veil increasingly difficult. He decides understanding blindness is his only way forward and begins an inspired series of dictated, recorded audio notes to distance John, the academic, from the John, the blind person, until he’s ready for them to become one. John’s notes are beautiful, profound, gritty, and sad; they’re inspiring, life-affirming.

There are so many tear-jerking moments in Notes in Blindness. John shares the time when his young daughter suggested crying her tears into his eyes might heal them like in Rapunzel or how helpless he feels outside his own home or a similarly controlled environment. He tells how crushed and alone he felt when the last rays detected by his brain informing him when his wife passed by a window or if a light was on or off were eclipsed by the growing black spot his detached retinas propagated. If you don’t cry a little from what you hear, you might be deaf. On the other.. sense, beautiful shallow focus with wavy foregrounds forcibly reduce our dependence on visual stimulation and often turn the film into a more suitable “lightly visual audiobook”. Some set-pieces however, especially one at the end, are among my favourite shots of the year in cinema.

Nobody can say 2016 has been a weak year for film when films like Notes on Blindness are being released.


American Honey – A few words.

I’m very impressed with Andrea Arnold’s new film American Honey. Her other film I’ve seen, Fish Tank, was – to me – equally engaging (it also featured one of Michael Fassbender’s first feature film appearances.

Honey is cropped to the Instagram-like Academy aspect ratio 1.37:1. Lots of travelling shots, extremely shallow depth of field and vivid colours in the costumes and locations made me want to hit like and follow.

Our leading lady, Star, played by emerging actress Sasha Lane, joins a posse of fellow young’uns whose primary objective is to sell “magazines” to the public and make paper/stacks/cheddar – money, but the rappers rapping the annoying music (music which these budding entrepreneurs mindlessly repeat the rhyming words) prefer not to say money.

Our boy Shia’s there too. Giving it his all, as always. He leads his merry men and women into the battlefield each day, teaches new recruits and is the right hand man of the REAL leading lady, Krystal. Krystal is the pimp, 80% of the sales the team gets go to her and her operating costs.

It’s a real coming of age movie. None of these “on my gap yah I found myself” coming of age come close to this though. There’s a very real character who develops appropriately to the experiences she’s put through. It’s a longer film and for the most part it held my attention; only a couple of situations in the 2nd & 3rd acts felt repetitive.

One of my films of the year though. Gutted I didn’t get to see it earlier at London Film Fest, really.

Arrival – A Review


If one morning I were to step from my front door to go to work and a skyscraper-sized foreign object levitated with ease 30 feet above me personally I think I’d be really, really excited rather than scared crazy. Firstly, the fact I’m alive in that situation means the aliens (and yes, I’d immediately assume aliens) were friendly and not rampant extra-terrestrial terrorists pew-pewing laser beams and therefore likely less of a risk to my health than a McDonald’s breakfast. From there, then, I’d be even more joyous at the prospect of first contact, interspecies complex relations that are mutually beneficial, new technology..

Based on the 2000 Nebula Award winning Sci-Fi novella The Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Arrival, Directed by Québecois wonderboy Denis Villeneuve, is a clever multi-faceted look at how we, the humans of Earth, react to 12 stoic UFOs filled with things we neither recognise nor understand.

Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a professor of Linguistics in America who makes Robert Langdon’s understanding of semantics look elementary. Louise is quickly re-recruited by army man Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and teamed with Dr Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) in order to eventually communicate the question “What is your purpose on Earth?” to their otherworldly guests and decipher the answer hidden in their deep, menacing rumblings and creepy clicking sound that constitute their “language”.

In a series of over 30 meetings Louise and Ian begin at the beginnings and treat the silent visitors, who’re behind a protective clear screen, like foreigners from planet Earth and attempt to learn to speak the lingo. Imagine trying to learn Dog. Someone must of tried it. If you’d only just met a dog for the first time it would be ignorant to assume dogs have no means of aural communication with one another but is it as silly to think the way they mark territory with their urine to be as complex a means of communication as our written word? I don’t know and when Louise has a squid-ink ring squirted onto the screen before her she  has to use all her talents to derive all the meaning she can from it; who knows, maybe it just sneezed.

Benefiting from clearly exceedingly imaginative source material Villeneuve and CGI crew were able to bring loads of awe-inspiring imagery and set-pieces to an already gripping storyline. The giant eggish spaceships over lush fields had me thinking of rugby matches for the Gods, the perspective shifts with artificial gravity were gorgeous, certain scenes running through military tent tunnels looked straight out of Sicario. In my opinion some brutish writing surrounding certain countries response to foreign bodies in their airspace was a little lazy and reinforces stereotypes. Also, the whole “if we work together we can do anything!” side to international co-operation is a little stale as a plot driver; thankfully however there are more than enough “whoaaah” and “aaaaah I get it” moments that I won’t delve into here that keep it all fresh.

I’m always glad to see a new Villeneuve pop-up and I’m incredibly excited to see he’s at the helm of Blade Runner 2049; hopefully Arrival was just a warm up.