Review – A Simple Favour

Writer and director Paul Feig’s films are generally good or bad, or love or hate. There doesn’t tend to be much in the way of an inbetween on any of them. For example, I loved The Heat and Spy, but really couldn’t have liked Bridesmaids more if you paid me.

So, when it came to his latest project, A Simple Favour, things were set to go either way. Admittedly, after having the trailer thrust on upon me during a cinema visit, I wasn’t bathing in anticipation. On the surface, it just looked like a Gone Girl knock-off, so I’d kind of half wrote it off. However, when some very celebratory reviews tied in with a dead weekend for me, I threw caution to the wind and went to see it. Whilst the Gone Girl vibes are definitely present, A Simple Favour does manage to avoid becoming the cheaper version it originally threatened to be. The only question surrounding the film now is whether it’s worth the time and money needed to go and see it at the cinema.

The film centres around two mothers who meet through their kids having a play date. Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a stay-at-home mum who loves nothing more than motherhood, whilst Emily (Blake Lively) has a high profile job in PR which doesn’t mix brilliantly with having a kid. The performances put in by both actresses were super entertaining. They played polar opposites who brought out the best (or worst) in each other, and it is in creating these kinds of characters where I think Paul Feig’s strengths lie. Kendrick seemed to be right at home as quirky vlogger Stephanie, and Lively was the perfect accompaniment as too-cool-for-school Emily. When the two of them shared the screen together, there were some magical moments to be had, and these definitely made for some of the film’s highest points.

The storyline here was pretty strong too. I liked the little twists thrown in here and there, and the ending involved a particularly impressive sequence as well. Although, as I’ve mentioned already, the film did manage to steer away from being a budget version of Gone Girl, the vibes that remained acted as more of a curse than a blessing. Some moments felt like they’d been lifted straight from that film and bastardised a bit. There were also a few things that happened throughout the story that seemed as though they’d skipped a beat. For example, why did Stephanie make the assumption that, if Emily was still alive, she’d be stalking her blog everyday? How exactly did she come to that conclusion? Why, of all things, would she be doing that? It was little things like this that didn’t quite add up for me and made it feel like too much had been attempted that couldn’t be pulled off.

One thing that no-one can take away from this film is how excellent the style is. Everyone and everything looked fantastic! Special shoutout to Blake Lively’s suit game whilst we’re on this subject – they were all very impressive, and will now be how I model my own image every day i go to work from now on.

Despite my initial reluctancy to watch it, A Simple Favour turned out to be a fairly decent film. It’s not perfect, but it’s strengths carry it through nicely. Kendrick and Lively are terrific to watch and I don’t think you could’ve found a better combination of actresses to play the two characters they did here. I love the look of the film, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough to detract from the points where it did occasionally lose itself through either trying to pay tribute to other thrillers of a similar nature or attempting to pull off twists that it couldn’t quite manage. Still, it’s far from a terrible film, so give it a go when you get the chance.

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Review – Searching

Every so often, a film comes along and exceeds all of the virtually non-expectations I have for it. Searching is one of those films, and I think it’s fair to say that it’s had that effect on a lot of people.

The film follows David Kim (John Cho) who has drifted from his daughter Margot (Michelle La) since the death of her mother. When Margot goes missing, David pulls out all the stops to bring his daughter home. Sounds pretty straightforward, but I can assure you that Searching is anything but.

Straightaway, the film gets off to an interesting start with an opening sequence that is majorly reminiscent of the opening to Pixar’s Up. I don’t know if it was something done intentionally, but I thought it was a nice touch and was an effective way to quickly get the audience emotionally invested in the characters.

John Cho and the character he played were both fantastic. It was the little details about David that worked wonders for the authenticity of the whole film, which is something it has been widely praised for. Things like how he didn’t instantly know what everything was or how it worked – these weren’t the biggest of things to include but they did make the biggest difference. Cho’s performance did a fantastic job of showing a father’s desperation in searching for his daughter. He was really easy to get behind, which I think is half the battle sometimes. These characters can often come off as super abrasive, and sympathising with them can be challenging as a result. David had a willingness to listen that meant he was actually a help, rather than a hindrance to the investigation, and remained very composed despite his desperations and so was massively more likeable.

Deborah Messing starred opposite Cho as Detective Rosemary Vick. Her part in the film turned out to be far more important than I had originally expected, and I think the way the story utilised Vick was brilliant. Messing was good in the role, and gave us just enough to believe she was all she said she was.

The writing for Searching is superb. Every part of it is so well crafted. Obviously I’ve already commented on some of the main characters, so I’ll now take a moment to talk about the story. What I loved about it was the fact it gave you all the hints you needed to work things out yourself, but did so s subtlety that you didn’t always pick up on it until it was too late. This meant that every turn the story made was entirely plausible, and you never once sat there thinking, ‘well, that was just for the sake of being twisty’.

The final thing I shall mention before signing off is the way Searching was filmed. It dawned on me ver early on how screen recordings were being used, however it hit me at the end that the entire film was shot this way. I loved this concept, not only for it’s originality, but for how it proves how accessible filmmaking is with a bit of creativity. I also have a lot of admiration for the amount of stage management this set up must have required. I know the difficulties I encounter when I open more than 3 windows at a time. To have been able to execute this as cleanly as it was done must’ve taken a lot of organisation, and I can only commend writer and director Amersham Chaganty for his vision here.

Searching was a surprise for me. A film that I’d have known very little about beforehand if it wasn’t for a trailer being forced upon me at a cinema screening a couple of months ago, it seems to have come out of nowhere, and that could very well be the secret to it’s apparent success so far. It takes an ultra-realistic and highly original approach to a type of story that I don’t think has been told as artfully as this before. You see real people on the screen thanks to the wonderful jobs all the actors have done, and the plot keeps you guessing until the final moments, meaning you cannot take your attention away for a second. I’ve a funny feeling this is a film that will be making it’s way onto the top ten lists of many people at the end of the year, and it’s really not hard to see why. Get yourself a ticket booked and see this film because you absolutely could do far worse.

Review – The Game

Every so often, I’ll watch a film that will well and truly make my brain go numb.

Not in the sense that it is so amazing that I can’t begin to comprehend it, but more so the fact that I have no idea what is going on, nor do I have any desire to find out.

That’s how I felt when it came to watching The Game. David Fincher seems to love a mystery revolving around a treasure hunt. Unfortunately this isn’t one of his best efforts. The film plods along and never once gave me much to grab onto in order to stick around for the duration. There’s no mesmerising female antagonist such as that handed to us by Gone Girl, and there is most certainly not a prolific serial killer waiting at the end of the saga as was the case in Se7en. Instead, what we get here is a rich guy who is one hell of a dick, and bad things happen to him. I mean, excuse me for struggling to get with the programme here but why exactly would anyone want over two hours of that?

I’m pretty indifferent to Michael Douglas’ acting – perhaps I’ve not seen his best films yet. I didn’t find his performance as Nicholas Van Orton to be anything special, but it wasn’t terrible either. Average is the word I’m searching for here, I believe. I was, however, excited to see Sean Penn’s name attached to this film, then I felt a wave of disappointment crash into me when it turned out he was playing a character who would appear for all of three scenes.

Everywhere this film turned, it just offered up something that fell massively below my expectations. I bet for the entire first two-thirds of the film there was nothing that got the heart racing for me. In fact, I almost reached a point where I didn’t finish it. I haven’t felt more disengaged with a film for a long. The Game really did not float my boat at all.

All that being said though, I can’t really drag it through the mud because it wasn’t terrible. Nothing extraordinary, but certainly not bad. Shall we just say that I experienced some creative differences with the people who helmed this project and move on?

One thing I absolutely cannot fault is the score. It did an excellent job of creating mystery and tension throughout the film, regardless of whether either of those two things ever amounted to anything. At least it hinted at what the film was trying to do, even if it never managed to execute any of the plans the the music seemingly laid out.

Needless to say, I was left severely underwhelmed by The Game. On paper, it did all the right things – intriguing premise, decent cast and a director who is bit of a dab-hand when it comes to the mystery genre. But it just fell flat. At no point did it ever really start to get going, and as a result, I found it very hard to actually stick with the film until the bitter end. And when I did finish The Game, the final outcome was not worth it. Overall, I must admit that I should’ve admitted defeat far earlier.

Thursday Thoughts – How much power do TV audiences have?

Fox has been on something of a killing spree of late. After cancelling 5 shows in as little as 2 days, you have to question whether channel bosses will still have anything to run by the time they’re finished.

Amongst the massacred was Brooklyn Nine Nine. The decision to call time on this much-loved cop show was met with shock and outrage from fans (myself included). Cries of disbelief rang out across social media and soon these turned into campaigns to get the show back. In the space of just 36 hours, the show has died, been buried, and then was resurrected by Fox rival, NBC.

This reinstatement of the Nine Nine raises the question of how much power audiences actually possess, especially when it comes to TV shows. With films, it’s all fairly clear cut – if the film makes enough money, you tend to get a sequel, whether you asked for it or not. With TV, it’s not quite the same kettle of fish, however there is obviously a correlation between audience numbers and show survival rates as one of the most common reasons for cancelling a show is low ratings. Quality doesn’t seem to be a real deciding factor here either, which means this selection process is quite unfair. Shows that are actual works of art are take from us far too soon, while others that are tripe at best go on forever purely because there’s a larger audience watching it.

However, it would seem that there is hope for those good shows that come to an untimely end. Resurrections do happen – they have now saved two shows that I hold very close to my heart (one being B99, the other being Ripper Street). And on both occasions, these decisions have been brought about by the actions their audiences have taken, mainly in the form of kicking up one hell of a fuss about some idiot’s momentary (but HUGE) lapse in judgement.

So, TV audiences have power, but exactly how much do they have? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the answer is, but we definitely have a decent say in what makes the cut and what doesn’t. I don’t have the statistics for the Brooklyn Nine Nine revival handy, but I know that in the case of Ripper Street it took only 12,000 signatures on a petition to get Amazon to take the show on. In the grand scheme of things, 12,000 really isn’t a massive number either when you think about the 3.38million people that watched the show on average.

But here’s the thing – we are very spoilt for choice when it comes to what we watch on TV now. More so than ever before. There’s a lot of things to watch, but the actual audience size hasn’t increased as quickly, which in theory means that each new show and channel added stretches that audience thinner. Suddenly, 12,000 is a significant number of viewers for a channel to lose if it displeases them, and it’s also a significant number of viewers for a newer kid on the block to think about winning over. These two things coming together were ultimately what saved Ripper Street’s ass, and they will create similar dynamics in future that will save other shows. Why? Because in this world where everyone’s attention is being fought for constantly by at least 10 different entities, it’ll be the ones that give audiences what they want that come out on top. We as an audience must remember that we are the most important people to these TV stations, and also streaming platforms too. Without us, they have no purpose and therefore would cease to exist. NBC are giving the people what they want by saving Brooklyn Nine Nine, just as Amazon did when they saved Ripper Street. I do not doubt for a second that they will benefit from their decision, but regardless of however it turns out, they will be known to millions as the people who saved B99, and that kind of testimony packs a punch. And the only people who can provide that testimony are the audience, which is why they wield so much power.

Review – A Quiet Place

It’s very easy to underestimate the power of sound.

In a lot of good films where it is used well, noises and music can become almost like an extra character. The people behind A Quiet Place knew this, and decided to go one step further by making sound the focus of the entire film.

Let me tell you, it worked. I mean, it really worked, very well indeed.

The film takes place in, presumably, the not-too-distant future, and depicts a world that we quickly find out has been overrun by monsters that hunt their prey via sound (and which we get to see plenty of throughout the film which made a massive change for once). In order to stay alive, all living things have to make as little noise as possible, as once these creatures find you, they generally don’t leave until they’ve killed you.

A Quiet Place sets the scene in a way similar to 28 Days Later. You’re introduced to a world that has been almost entirely abandoned by everyone. Straightaway you know that something major has happened, but exactly what that is only begins to be revealed a few moments later. In one fast, and very early, change of pace, the film shows that it isn’t messing about. I was surprised because I didn’t think it would deliver on what it was dangling in front of me. I was wrong. It was a horrifically intense start to a film, and I loved it.

In terms of intensity, the film starts just as it intends to go on. I don’t think it’s entirely inaccurate to say that I lost the ability to breathe properly for the duration of the film. I’ve seen many a film and TV show that has mastered building tension in numerous scenes, but I honestly cannot say that I have been as on edge for a whole 90 minutes as I was watching this. And this is all because of sound. If we tallied it up, I reckon there was only about five minutes worth of dialogue in the whole film. The rest of it was noise and music, both of which were ALWAYS put to their best use to achieve the effects intended by director John Krasinski, who also starred in the film.

The main performances in the film allow you to really jump onboard with the high stakes that even the moments of less tension point towards. A massive battle for survival is endured by everyone, and after you see the extremes that this family has gone to in order to survive, you are completely behind them in everything they do. Emily Blunt is a talent no matter where you put her, and obviously things are no different here. Her character Evelyn has a few different layers that are added to as the film progresses, and she does a fantastic job of showing a woman who is trying her best to survive, but also a mother who would do whatever it takes in order to protect her children. Krasinski provides us with a performance that portrays similar objectives, but of course we see a more paternal approach from him in terms of this. We know that both these actors are good at what they do as we’ve had the chance to see their work on multiple occasions, however the two younger stars of this film, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, are simply wonderful, and I think both have their moments where they do, in fact, outshine their on-screen parents. There’s an overwhelming sense of maturity displayed in both of their performances, and this whole idea that the circumstances under which they are living has robbed them of their childhood is another reason why you want them to beat the odds. Both are smart and know what they need to do so that they don’t get killed – there’s no whining despite the constant fear that they both inevitably have. They just get on with it, which is more than can be said for a lot of the characters that have appeared in every other horror/thriller type film that I’ve seen.

I think another key thing to point out in relation to the performances is the use of sign language within them. It just brings another dimension to the film where you have to give people credit for what they’ve done. As well as this, it massively boosts the accessibility of the film too. Recently there’s been a lot of talk deafness and cinema following the success of short film, The Silent Child, and this film shows that sign language can be a massive part of film and be successful, and that a film doesn’t necessarily have to be about deafness in order to contain sign language. As film, this has a lot to shout about, but in terms of creating cinematic experiences for all, it has broken down barriers and shown that it is possible to create great films that everybody can watch.

It’s important to point out the all-consuming nature of A Quiet Place. I’ve never known a film like it if I’m completely honest (granted, I’m not that old, so it’s not the most impressive statement, but just go with it for a second). I saw this film with decent sized audience, and because I booked quite late, I had been forced to take a seat in the centre of the auditorium. Now, if I had have had my usual seat (back and centre, widely regarded to be one of the best seats in the house), I wouldn’t have been as aware of the people around me, which would’ve meant that I wouldn’t have experienced the atmosphere that that auditorium held for more or less the entirety of the film. It was almost as if we were all in sync. We’d all jump together. We’d all hold our breath together. Most notably, however, everybody was as silent as they could be for the whole time. The film had us all in such a vice-like grip that none of us felt able to make a sound either, much like the characters in the film. The writing and the ways and means by which it translated onto the screen have produced something that is a phenomenal example of how a film can move mass groups of people, and restores my faith in the fact that people will go out of their way to watch good films that don’t necessarily fit into the mainstream.

A Quiet Place is a fantastic film, and I really do think it’s going to be one of the most talked about this year. It confirms how important sound is in film, and also offers a masterclass in building suspense, keeping you on edge throughout. The characters are the kinds of people that you can actually vouch for, and as a result you are even more invested in a film that has already refused to loosen it’s grip on you. I love the fact that we get to see plenty of the monsters that are the cause of everything (unlike a recent monster movie sequel we’ve had unleashed upon us), but the fact that sign language plays such a key part in the film too is something that I think will create something of a legacy as I can’t think of another film that has featured signing so heavily that hasn’t been Oscar-bait nor has featured deafness as main part of the story.

Review – Berlin Syndrome

Some of the best films centre around entirely plausible events. Berlin Syndrome is one of those films.

This film caught my attention when I saw a trailer leading up to it’s release however after seeing that trailer, I didn’t really see much else about it. Fast-forward a few months and good ol’ Netflix has come to my rescue.

At the heart of Berlin Syndrome is Clare (Teresa Palmer), an Australian photo-journalist who partakes in a holiday romance with Andi (Max Riemelt), but who wakes up in his apartment the next morning unable to leave.

This is a film with many plus points. First of all, I thought the two main performances were terrific. Both were really authentic-feeling and came together as one element that contributed wonderfully to the rest of the film. I thought Teresa Palmer’s performance was great – you got to witness near enough every emotion known to man whilst watching her. It was also nice to her survive based more or less all on her own wits.

Of course, we all know by now that I have a soft spot fo the bad guys in most films, so it’s inevitable that I spend time gushing about Max Riemelt’s performance. He made Andi so complex, but ultimately made it very clear what sort of mentality he was in. Long story short, he was a psychopath, and anyone who reads these blog posts regularly, if such a person exists, will know exactly how I feel about that.

Another big plus point of this film is how intense it is. Yes, it is slow burner, but I think even the most impatient will stay the journey with it because of how it played with tension. Right from the start of the film, you know two things are going to happen – Clare is going to get kidnapped and she is going to get out. But everything that happens in between, and how it happens, is a mystery. Berlin Syndrome thrives on this, and so does the viewer, who goes from scene to scene without really knowing how things are going to play out.

I thought the hints that were dotted throughout the story as to Andi came to be how he is here were a nice touch. But what I thought was the best thing about it was the fact that these possible explanations were never thrown in your face. In fact, this is a point that just came to me as an afterthought when writing this review, which I guess proves the subtlety.

There you have it then, my take on Berlin Syndrome. For me, the film’s a real winner. You have two brilliant performances and tension by the bucket load in a story, that in all seriousness, could happen very easily, which only adds to the experience as you’re watching it. Definitely worth a watch if you ask me.

Review – Sleeping With The Enemy

I’m a big Julia Roberts fan. I’ve seen a few of her films now, and I’ve enjoyed the majority of them. Sleeping With The Enemy was not really part of that majority though.

The film follows a woman who fakes her death in order to escape an abusive husband, but who ultimately makes enough mistakes to enable him to track her down in her new life. I liked the idea of the storyline – I think that had Roberts not have been front and centre in the film it would still have appealed to me because of this. As I was watching it, there were parts of the film that I think could have influenced other stories such as Gone Girl. I have to say though that I thought it could have been done better. There were certain elements of the plot that were a little too good to be true and worked too well in the favour of some characters. Now might also be a good time to point out that I didn’t find the ending to be very satisfying at all. I’d have preferred a more drawn out, more climactic final showdown that the one we got. What happened was a bit predictable for me – I’d have preferred something with more shock and awe to be honest.

This wasn’t my favourite Julia Roberts film, not by a long way. I don’t think there was anything that was majorly wrong with it, no crimes against film were committed, I just didn’t like it that much. Her character here was a far cry from Vivienne in Pretty Woman or Erin Brockovich in, well… Erin Brockovich. Instead, she was bit of a wet lettuce who you struggled to pull of the things she did. As for some of the other actors in the film… I haven’t got a clue who any of them were to be completely honest (all I know is the guy who plays Roberts’ husband here has recently made a prolonged appearance in Eastenders which tells you all you really need to know about him). Again, I didn’t think anything I saw was particularly stunning, but they were performances. I think I’ll leave it at that.

So those are pretty much all the thoughts I have on Sleeping With The Enemy. In short, I’d advise spending your time watching one of the numerous films similar to this but finished to a higher standard. This was rather average, and I think we all deserve better.