Review – It (2017)

A group of bullied school kids spend their summer investigating the disappearances of a series of local children.In October 1988, Ben’s (Jaeden Lieberher) littler brother went missing, and was never found. The following summer, a number of other kids start to go missing, and Ben is not able to ignore It (Bill Skarsgård) . He and his friends (all played by some cracking performers) join together to see what’s been going on, only It has his eyes on them first.

What. A. Film. I am a very happy person right now. It was brilliant! I’m finally able to say that I like horror films when they’re done right, and this thing didn’t put a foot wrong. I would honestly have not problem paying to see the film again this week.

The kids in this film were all brilliant. I loved all the characters, and the way each actor captured their own was really great to see. There was none of that cheesy, over-egged acting that can sometimes happen with younger performers, and that had been one of my main concerns after deciding to see the film. They each really understood the eccentricities and oddities of their roles, for example, Jaeden Lieberher nailed Ben’s stutter, and Finn Wolfhard got Richie’s ballsiness down to a T. I was also a huge fan of Sophia Lillis as Beverly. She fitted right in with the lads and wasn’t afraid to be different, and I really liked that. There was, of course, Bill Skarsgård’s performance as Pennywise too. He was excellent, getting the two elements of his character just right – the childlike side of him was hugely contrasted by the less friendlier moments, and both complimented each other really, really well. 

As I said at the start, this is a film that I’d happily pay to see again at the cinema. I think the atmosphere helped me to get into the film, but the other thing that worked well was the fact that I thought that It was actually scary. There’s a lot of shockers that happen – I’ve not read the book and I avoided trailers like the plague so had no idea what to expect. People who’ve been reading my stuff for a while will know I’m a jumper, and this film well and truly got me… many times. As always, it was a mix of the moments Stevie Wonder could see coming and those that were not as expected that had me on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was very effective at building tension, but also at counteracting it with some massive anticlimaxes that persuaded you to let your guard down for a second. 

Alongside the horror though, there was plenty of humour, but not in the way that turned it into a comedy horror (I’d have felt quite let down had that have been the case). It was a style of humour that I can’t put a word to to describe, but I can say that it properly fitted the coming-of-age nature of the story and cast. Again, it helped to break the tension at points so you got a nice change in pace and it kept the film feeling fresh.

On the whole, I can’t recommend It enough. This is a film that has given be greater confidence in horrors, and has me very excited for a sequel that we better get sooner rather than later. I loved the characters, and thought the overall style of the film was spot on. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say this could be the best film I’ve seen so far this year, which is saying something.

Review – Just Charlie (Midlands Movies Feature)

This review first appeared on Midlands Movies

A gifted footballer struggles with her identity as she becomes more and more aware that they are a girl trapped inside a boy’s body, while her family and friends also try their best to come to terms with these changes.
When young footballing talent Charlie (Harry Gilby) receives an offer for a trial at his county’s football team it would appear that he quite literally has the world at his feet. If he plays his cards right, his future could be sorted. However, a life of luxury doing what he loves is more daunting to Charlie than one would initially think it would be. Trapped in the body of a boy, Charlie is painfully torn between living up to his father’s expectations and following the life he never could, and shedding his ill-fitting skin. When he unintentionally fronts up to his family, Charlie’s action threatens to tear his family apart forever.

Just Charlie is a Midlands-based project that takes a look at the story of a young boy who is a young girl at heart. It is a wonderfully made film that sensitively deals with an issue that has recently started to have more and more light shed on it.

I really enjoyed a number of the performances here, although I absolutely must start off by saying hat’s off to young Harry Gilby for his portrayal of Charlie here. For a first appearance in a feature length film he did a terrific job. It was a truly brilliant performance that I think showed real maturity on Gilby’s behalf. I think a lot of very experienced actors would have to seriously consider taking on a role such as this because it is a very sensitive issue that has only really become something that has started to be discussed publicly very recently. There is potentially a lot that could go wrong when someone plays a transgender person as there is such a huge number of ways the role could be unknowingly mishandled. For me though, Gilby did a very good job of portraying Charlie, so kudos to him.

Scot Williams played Charlie’s dad, and again, this was another blinding performance. Some of his scenes with Gilby were horrible to watch, but this had such an impact on me as a viewer. I cannot begin to imagine the toll that a situation such as the one presented here in the film must take on a family, but if I were to try to, the results would come pretty close to so many of the scenes that the two actors shared here. As difficult and upsetting as they were to watch at times, they really did the job very well. Williams managed to play Paul in a way that meant you didn’t view him as a heartless idiot, but as a man who was grieving in some way, meaning you were able to empathise with him somewhat.

I have to praise writer Peter Machen on the story he created for the film. He managed to write something that covered just a bout all bases of Charlie’s life – home, school, football, and everything in between. He also managed to do all this without making the film feel as thought it was trying to be much bigger than it actually was. While it may have branched out and touched upon the issue in a variety of settings, the story still felt personal and intimate enough for you to really be drawn into it.

All in all, Just Charlie is a beautiful film that pulls no punches in delivering it’s message, yet still brings everything back round for a happy ending (or should I really say beginning in this case?). The top notch writing covers so many things while the truthful performances do a great job in tying everything together very nicely indeed. This is a touching journey of a film that is definitely worth every moment spent watching it.

Review – Moonlight

*Please bare in mind I wrote this review before last night’s Oscars

A film chronicling the minefield of adolescence for a young boy struggling to find who he is.
A young man with a difficult home life comes of age in Miami during America’s ‘War On Drugs’ era. The tale of his adolescence is told through three chapters which detail every element of teenage years and young adulthood, and highlight his struggle in trying to discover who he really is.

Maybe I’ve left things very understated with that short synopsis of Moonlight, but then, maybe I haven’t. The film has a very basic concept, but, much like Fences, does the simple things very well. Perhaps the reason it has been so well received is that it is a film that resonates with everyone on some level. Whatever it is, it has ensured that the film has taken the world by storm.

Every single performance in this film is wonderful, but there are a couple of stand outs for me. Naomie Harris was very, very good as Paula, Chiron’s addict mother. She was a far cry from her previous performances as Eve Moneypenny in the James Bond films, and I think showed her capabilities as an actress as she has had no previous experience with addiction herself. She gave a convincing performance, and the progression, or should I say downward spiral, that we see with her character is crystal clear throughout the film.

Mahershala Ali was also terrific, although I have to be honest I had expected to see more of him, especially given the fact that he received an Oscar nomination for his work. One scene in particular was what sold his whole performance to me. If one thing is for certain, regardless of how long he was on-screen for, he made a lasting impact, which is what you want with every character you see in every film, otherwise what was the point of them being there in the first place?

As I’ve already said, the entire premise of this film is so simple, but that is where it’s genius lies. For me, it shares similarities with Boyhood with its tale of adolescence, but perhaps works out slightly better than the other film as it has a runtime that comes in at about an hour less. The struggles depicted throughout the film are along the lines of what we all have to deal with during this period of our lives and is why it works so well. 

Director Barry Jenkins really has accomplished something of greatness with Moonlight. One of the film’s greatest strengths was it’s use of silence. When you sit and think about it, there is a relatively low number of conversations that take place throughout the film – the spaces where nothing is spoken verbally screams way more than what the characters actually say, especially when it comes to Chiron. I can only assume that it was Jenkins’s awareness of the effectiveness of the sound of silence that made it almost like another character throughout the film.

On the whole, I’d say Moonlight is a very good film, but I have a feeling it may not clean up at the Oscars. That is no reflection on the film, but I just think it may be up against some stiff competition and there is one film that will definitely win a few awards. As good as it is, I also cannot quite say that it is my absolute favourite of all of this year’s nominees I have seen, but that does not mean it is not worth the time spent watching it.

Review – Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

A hopeless college graduate falls for a cool New Yorker, only to find that in order to win her heart he must defeat her Seven Evil Exes.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is something of a loser. He is an unemployed 23 year-old hipster in an unaccomplished garage rock band and is also dating 17 year-old Catholic schoolgirl Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Well aware of the state his life is in, Scott resorts to becoming a bottomless pit of self pity and woe until one day, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a damaged New Yorker in search of a new start, shows up in Toronto and catches his attention. Ramona is abrasive and only likeable to Scott, who immediately sets about making her his latest girlfriend. Little does he know, however, that before he can start dating Ramona, he must first prove himself worthy of her by defeating her Seven Evil Exes, who will all do whatever they must in order to destroy any new boyfriend she may consider.

A friend of mine was the reason why I took the time to watch Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I must admit, if it hadn’t have been for her and the many Michael Cera memes she has shown me, this film is probably not one that would have been on my radar. However, I must also admit that I did rather enjoy it. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is by no means the best film I’ve ever seen, and it certainly won’t be one that makes my all-time favourites, but for a bit of late night fun after two weeks of hard revision and exams, I could hardly complain.

You know there seems to be this joke that Michael Cera never actually set out to be an actor, and that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time one day, and that now he’s just been acting for so long there is no way out for him? Yeah, I can see where that came from. He is the reason why this film is the holy grail for many teenagers because he just seems to be all the not-so-brilliant aspects of teenage years personified, which works very well here. Cera was quirkily funny, and his whole demeanour as Scott worked in harmony with the general tone of the film. I can’t say I’ve seen him knowingly in anything else, but I would say to give him a few years to break his ‘awkward’ mould and I do sincerely believe he could turn out to be a very fine actor.

Since watching 10 CLOVERFIELD Lane I’ve decided that Mary Elizabeth Winstead is quite a good actress, but I didn’t like her in the role of Ramona. I just felt that her talents would have been better utilised if she hadn’t more or less just pouted for the course of the film. The role of Ramona in the way it was done was just not something I’d have envisaged Winstead as myself. For me, there could have been more to her than constantly scowling and the occasional attitude-drenched sentence.

The storyline was easily what made the film so fun to watch. It was done in a way that kind of resembled a sort of more kid-friendly Sin City, but a more grown-up version of Wreck It Ralph. It proved to be an effective way to put the film across and also meant that Scott was more believable as the hero of the story.

On the whole, I did enjoy Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, however I don’t think I’d be able to sit through it again in a hurry. It’s not what I’d usually opt for, and whilst I didn’t think it to be an awful, I’m not going to lie and say it’s the best thing since sliced bread. It’s fun, it’s different, but it’s not a classic and I do think it would become tiresome during the second time of watching.

Review – Dazed And Confused

The antics of up and coming freshmen and seniors in the last day of school, May ’76.

It’s may 28th, 1976, and the last day of the academic year at Robert E. Lee High School. Most of the kids are skipping classes, smoking weed no gearing up for a big house party. However, the only big thing on Randall ‘Pink’ Floyd’s (Jason London) mind is the contract the school’s football coach wants all the returning players to sign, stating that they won’t drink or do drugs over the long, hot summer, for fear of it damaging their chances for their supposed upcoming championship season. Pink doesn’t feel like giving up his freedom, and it puts a bit of a damper on the last day; another tradition of which is for the class of ’77 to traumatise next year’s intake. Amongst them is Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) who is the biggest target thanks to the request by his popular older sister. These thoughts and activities continue as the day goes on, right up to the house party that doesn’t quite go to plan…

Dazed And Confused is Richard Linklater’s 1993 modern American masterpiece that echoes ’70s school life for so many people. I wouldn’t know myself, but according to what I’ve read, Dazed And Confused gives a pretty accurate portrayal of the time, and is considered to be an all-American classic by some of the Hollywood greats.

The film made a lot of people famous – for the likes of Jason London, Wiley Wiggins and Matthew McConaughey (yes), it was a major breakthrough. However, and I don’t want to sound snobby or anything when I say this, Dazed And Confused used a cast that was made up of quite a few very young members, and there was the odd person whose lack of experience was evident. Despite this though, the film wasn’t any less enjoyable.

London as Pink was great. He really showed the struggles faced by someone in his position – something I kind of feel like I can relate to. Throughout the whole film, Pink was trying to figure out whether or not he would play football for his school next year; the year in which the team’s coach truly believed that would taste real success. Pink would’ve had no problem playing for them, but his coach was asking him to give up too much. Along with the rest of his team mates, Pink was going to have to sign a contract saying he wouldn’t do anything over the summer that would even remotely thwart their chance of winning. Now, I don’t know about anybody else, but I fell like this reflects the way schools are perfectly. They want you to spend five days a week in their company, and complete every last piece of homework they set you, plus a little extra independent study on the side. Then, just incase what they’ve given you isn’t enough, you’re expected to do one hour’s classroom assistance every week. And on top of all that, if you’re daft enough as a newcomer to the school to offer to take part in one extra curricular sporting event (me), then you have to expect be drafted into every future sporting event the school signs itself up for, or else risk getting it from both barrels off yet another teacher who pretty much hate your guts. They say that your school days are the best days of your life, but with the pressure and expectations weighing down on us, they aren’t. Apologies for the rant, but what I’m saying is the character of Pink resembles the way I know I feel, and also the way I’d imagine many other young people do too.

As I said earlier on, Dazed And Confused made the way for some of today’s biggest stars. Ben Affleck played O’Bannion, the school idiot (because there always has to be one), Matthew McConaughey played Wooderson, an ex-student who is a friend of Pink’s, and Milla Jovowich played a stoner hippie girl. Today, that would be a big-budget ensemble cast, but back then, they were all relatively unknown, unaware of just what was to come for them all.

Other than that, however, I don’t really know what to say. Dazed And Confused will touch all young people with the way it portrays the dilemmas of coming of age brains upon us all, and it’s a hugely enjoyable film with some quotes that really will reach out to you. But, and here’s the funny thing, there’s not an awful lot of substance to it. As good a film as it is, Dazed And Confused isn’t all that earth shattering which could very well be the magic of it all. 

Review – Mud

When two young boys find a fugitive, they promise to help him hide from the vigilantes out to get him, and reunite him with the one he loves.

For local boys Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), the Mississippi River provides a playground in the form of an island. There is a boat stranded there and their plan is to fix it up for themselves. However, one day they travel to the island to find someone is living on their boat. They leave in a hurry but meet the man inhabiting their boat on the rivers edge. He introduces himself as Mud (Matthew McConaughey) and soon the boys find out that he is in the run from the law after killing a man who beat up his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), and that the family of the man are now out to get him. After the boys vow to reunite the lovers and help them to flee those searching for them, the three of them form a close friendship which proves to be worth its weight in gold.

Mud is a superb coming-of-age drama that will stick with viewers for a long time. Drawn to watching it by the man who played the title character and the great things I had heard about it, I was expecting big things from this film. It hit my expectations and then some.

The cast did a wonderful job. I’ll start with McConaughey first. When people talk about Mud, the main thing they talk about are the two main performances, so I’ll give my impression of the first one. This is one of my favourite roles I’ve seen McConaughey in, and I’ve seen him in a fair number of roles now. There were obviously the visual things he always brings to the table, but for me, McConaughey seemed really at home as Mud, which would make sense due to the way he grew up in the part of the world he grew up in. To see this portrayed on-screen was very enjoyable to watch.

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The second lead role was that played by Sheridan. It is often a real gamble giving such a substantial role to someone so young, especially when it would be in this role that the majority of people would see him for the first time. However, it is gamble that certainly paid off here. Sheridan played Ellis very naturally with such ease and was a match for every other big name he was on-screen with. I see big things in his future.

The story was equally as good as the acting. The best thing about Mud is the fact that it is a very believable, realistic story that shows the lives of characters that could very easily have been real people. I think that is why it is a film that will stick with anyone who takes the time to watch it. The story is something that could very easily happen to someone if it hasn’t already, and the dialogue is very natural, and all this helps you to connect with the characters even more.

All in all, I strongly urge you to go out and watch Mud. It truly is a magnificent film – I can’t think of any better way to put it. As I’ve said, the story and characters are totally believable and so you root for them right from the second you are introduced to them, meaning you won’t be able to leave the film until it is finished and you’ll probably have no problems watching it again either.