Film discussion: Focus on some drama and action flicks

Shirley

Shirley focuses on horror and mystery writer Shirley Jackson famous for The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery among many others, her career spanning two decades. When young couple Rose and Fred move in with Shirley and her husband Stanley , Rose becomes attached to Shirley as Shirley becomes further unhinged every day. Directed by Josephine Decker and written by Sarah Gubbins this was based off the novel from Susan Scarf Merrell. Decker describes the story as a cat and cockroach dynamic where the older couple squash the younger couple, let them run away then squash them again. The film represents the monstrosity of the creative process portraying what a writer’s life is like. Decker talks about the two main characters as being two sides of consciousness trying to integrate, perhaps the two sides of Shirley. Using the real characters from a novel and placing them into fictional circumstances gave the director creative freedom. She let the actors try and explore the space and create as much as possible allowing the shots to be defined by their choices.

I didn’t find the plot very engaging, it was uncaptivating and dragged on too much. Elizabeth Moss convincingly portrayed the pitfalls of the creative process bringing across unhinged Shirley throughout the film. Logan Lerman does not do much with his character, similar to his role in Hunters where his character was on the annoying side. The cinematography and music transport viewers to the 50s. Blurred shots are used throughout the film to represent a sense of disorientation.

A film that provides perspective on adultery and a writer in the midst of her creative process. However the plot did not engage me nor did the dialogue entertain.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Good Time

If a fast paced adrenalin fuelled high stakes adventure is what you are after Good Time delivers. After a robbery gone wrong which lands his brother in prison, Connie does all he can to free him. Another Safdie brothers classic directed by Benny and Josh Safdie and written by Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie. This shows what money can’t buy. It depicts someone who can’t stop running but is running out of places to run to. Everything is represented at the speed of Connie and his brain. This brings an experience where a person is acting without having time to consider the consequences of their actions.

This film contains an array of fantastic actors. Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Benny Safdie all bring their characters to life. Pattinson realistically portrays a man determined to help his brother whatever the cost. Benny Safdie and Jennifer Jason Leigh also portraying the complexity of their characters with ease. Safdie realistically portrays the effects of being manipulated into his brother’s schemes for too long while Jason-Leigh represents a woman under her mother’s control ,dependant on her credit card. The dialogue makes the viewer feel the urgency and desperation of the situation being faced. The experience of a person with a developmental disability was explored, helping the viewer understand what Nick was going through on a daily basis and showing how his brother manipulates him.

As the title dictates this film is definitely a ‘good time’ for the viewer. If you liked Uncut Gems I would highly recommend this.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Logan Lucky

A heist film with a comic twist, Logan Lucky sees Jimmy and Clyde Logan plan to rob a racing circuit in North Carolina. Written by Jules Asner and Steven Soderbergh(Erin Brokovich, Oceans Eleven ) Soderbergh views his film as a heist movie from a different perspective. The Logan family don’t start off as criminals in contrast to the Oceans film where characters start off as established thieves. They learn their way in the criminal world which is an interesting aspect of the film.

The plot is nothing too novel . Some of the situations faced were over the top and unrealistic .The dialogue delivers some funny one liners enhanced further by the acting of Channing Tatum ,Adam Driver, Daniel Craig and Riley Keough. All of the acting brings across characters that are more than meets the eye. Each individual in the Logan family has a complexity that is more than just 2D characterisation. However there was nothing too unique used cinematography wise to lift the plot.

If you are after a laid back heist film with some funny one liners try this one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Assassination Nation

A tale that brings Kill Bill costuming back in style this explores how getting information leaked makes people get a bit weird as the main character puts it so eloquently. Assassination Nation focuses on Lily and her group of friends who are going about their life when a hacker starts leaking information about everyone in their town. When people find out the IP address links to Lily everyone starts going a bit crazy and trying to kill her. I haven’t watched the purge but this film creates a similar setting where everyone wears creepy masks and gets violent. Written and directed by Sam Levinson who thought of the idea when he was considering the kind of world he was bringing his new-born son into. In particular about America and the anger that was brewing. He wanted to create a roadmap or guide to being a young person during this time and uncover what would happen when the projection of a person posted on social media and who the person truly is collide. The movie was designed to mimic the emotional volatility of social media. Levinson wanted to create a story that follows a similar format to a comments section on the internet where things start off as normal conversation and spin into a conflict.

A thought provoking watch, Assassination Nation focuses on how women are treated in society and how people don’t listen to reason . The mob mentality and how this can make things a lot worse, is explored. The cinematography used was phenomenal. The panning shots in each of the rooms of the house with the scene unfolding as different characters were followed around the house, added to the extreme nature of the desperate situation. The scenes shot in parallel to represent the disparate experiences of the girls at the party allowed the viewer to follow each of the characters, their experiences and step into their shoes. The PVC red coats gave this a Kill Bill meets Matrix look providing unique costuming. Odessa Young and Hari Nef come across as strong women who want to make a difference in the world, with the voice over narration allowing viewers to delve into this world of chaos.

I did not like the violence but at least it was represented in a way that added to the plot rather than mindlessly detracting from it. The smart dialogue represented a society that wants to marginalise women rather than trying to understand them. Case in point being the speech that Lily gave to her principal regarding her artwork.

An intense look at the power of rumours and secrets in a small town, Assassination Nation is smart and aesthetically pleasing, yet at times too violent and farfetched.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Vivarium

A suburban nightmare with no escape, Vivarium is a plain weird experience that stays with the viewer. A young couple go house hunting and are taken to a viewing in Yonder, a new suburban development. When their estate agent goes AWOL during the viewing the couple find they can’t leave the neighbourhood no matter how long they drive. Directed by Lorcan Finnegan(Without Name, Foxes) and written by Lorcan Finnegan and Garret Shanley this is a unique take on lifecycles. The idea started when Finnegan made Foxes a film about greed from land developers creating these intrepid developments with houses that look the same. As he and Garret Shanley felt there were more themes to explore relating to this concept they started working on Vivarium.

This film is a metaphor for people being trapped in a system from which they can’t escape and being fed on by parasites. In a way it represents a mortgage as a buy in to the corporate wheel where you are trapped the rest of your life. In the director’s own words it shows absurdity by amplifying reality. Imogen Poots brought across the effect the situation has on her character with ease. Jessie Eisenberg did the same yet retaining the same acting style as every other film he has done. Sennan Jennings was well casted as the creepy kid bringing a Village of the Damned quality to the film. The beautiful cinematography of the nest and cuckoo provide focus to the subject matter at hand. The green used for the houses in the neighbourhood make the shots more impactful adding to the maze like quality of the development.

A twisted take on corporate greed, Vivarium shocks and provides some food for thought.

Rating: 4 out of 5.


EMA

An arthouse character study about motherhood and doing what you love, EMA tells the story of a woman who is a pyromaniac and dancer. She is dealing with the aftermath of an adoption gone wrong and the impact this has on her relationship. Directed by Pablo Larrain(Jackie) and written by Guillermo Calderon this film focuses on families in a world of dance and music. It explores the negative side of adoption and what happens when a relationship falls apart. The plot has clear motivations for Ema showing where her priorities lie. A mood of fun energy with sad undertones of being a bad parent shows how a woman uses her vices to get over something. The character study is set in a world where Ema is surrounded by her friends who are like family and and is able to let go of her problems through dance.

The writing is smart and brings with it a series of one liners that shock and wow at the same time. Mariana di Girolamo realistically portrays Ema who is trying to deal with recent pain she has gone through. She brings across a tough character who is trying her best to deal with life. The wide shot of the burning traffic light at the start of the film was beautiful perhaps to convey the beauty of the fire to the main character and immediately introduce the viewer to her world.

Bright colours are used in the shots of the ball of light changing colour . The wide shots of the dancers and the glowing ball added to the artistic depth of the dance but display it in a calmer fashion than when Ema dances freely later on. This suggests that Ema has found a new freedom and is starting to find herself again. Ema wears clothes that are always loud and colourful, representing her as a fun energetic person that is going through challenges in her life. The music works well with amazing reggaetón dance sequences throughout.

A film that focuses on family life ,EMA is a captivating watch about a woman’s journey after a terrible heartbreak.

Rating: 4 out of 5.



Lost in translation

A lovely exploration of Tokyo, Lost in Translation looks at the perspectives of two tourists getting lost in the sights and sounds . A young woman who stays in her hotel room all day while her photographer husband works and a movie star going through a mid life crisis meet at the hotel bar unexpectedly one night. The two strike up a friendship and start to experience the beautiful city together, getting to know each other.

The mood is comic yet on the sad side as these two characters are having difficulty in their married life. The characters are lost in Japan but also in their lives. This films represents important themes of parenthood and what impact this can have on a marriage The dialogue expertly displays the cultural differences while also conveying words are not the only form of communication. You can also understand others by connecting with them through dance, song and gestures. There was also a very funny scene regarding stockings. Tokyo and it’s vibe was represented well so the viewer could get a good idea of what life is like there through a series of long/wide shots. This helps show the point of view of the characters and their experiences. The shots under the fluorescent lights represented the colourful nightlife one can experience in Tokyo setting the scene. The mystery of the final scene and the way it was shot peaked my interest and I thought this was very well done to keep the viewer engaged. Both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are both phenomenal actors who brought forward their characters realistically throughout the film and had good on screen chemistry.

I felt this film delivered what it needed to but did not contain anything novel that a viewer couldn’t predict. This is a fun comedy with a serious undertone that is about marriage but is also an excellent exploration of Tokyo and Japanese culture.

Rating: 4 out of 5.


Brooklyn

An interesting take on moving away from home, leaving behind a familiar place and venturing out somewhere new, Brooklyn shows the viewer that home is more about people than place. Set in the 50s it represents a young woman’s move from Ireland to New York. This explores how she settles in to the city, finding work and subsequently love. Based on the novel from Colm Tolbin and adapted by Nick Hornby this is directed by John Crowley( Closed Circuit, Boy A) Crowley read the book and decided to take the project. He sees it as a film about homesickness and the advice of older/more experienced women to younger less experienced. It’s about the experience of home shifting when a person gets used to a new place. The plot is interesting delving into what it must be like immigrating to America from Ireland in the 50s.It shows the disparities between the familiarity of home and the promise and adventure of somewhere new.

There is a consistent colour palette used throughout and wide shots are used to convey relationships between the characters. For instance when Ellis is talking to the girl on the boat and in the relationships she has with her mother, Tony and Jim Farell. The dialogue is well thought out and indicative of the times. Lots of sharp wit is used both in the name of jokes, gossip and insults. Ellis’s colourful outfits indicate that she becomes part of the world she creates for herself in Brooklyn and brings warmth to each scene indicating her excitement at moving to a new place and all the good things that come with it. The characters re-wear a lot of their outfits which is indicating the times and the lack of money that they have providing a realism to the film. For instance the lady that is in charge of Ellis’s accommodation repeatedly wearing the same cardigan. Saoirse Ronan brings a warmth to Ellis and provides a relatable character. At the time she herself had just moved to London and was devastated at how homesick she felt . This emotion was available to her every day on set which was useful for this part.

A period piece about homesickness and the power of people rather than place, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and will probably read the book as well.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Assistant

A story about abuse in the workplace this follows a young graduate who aspires to be a producer and has landed a job working for a film mogul . She starts to become aware of her toxic work environment and decides to do something about it. Written and directed by Kitty Green(Casting JonBenet) who got the idea while looking at Me Too coverage feeling disappointment that everyone was focusing on the predators rather than the systems and structures keeping women out of power. She states that the problem is bigger than any one person and wanted to explore a day in the life of a person that had the least power to show how women are often side lined taking them longer to climb the corporate ladder than their male counterparts. She wanted to explore the journey of Jane who is taught to absorb the abuse of power and is crushed by the forces around her as there is a culture of silence . The HR department at this workplace is shown as protecting the company rather than the employees contributing to the systemic oppression. This can be seen through Jane’s journey and that of her co workers as there is a gaslighting mentality at play here.

Green spoke to over 100 people including some from the Weinstein company about their experiences to get an understanding of what it feels like to be in such a situation. The faces of the women going into meetings with the film mogul are not shown as Green wanted the audience to know as much as Jane knows bringing the audience into her experience. Julia Garner is an amazing actress. She won an Emmy for her role on the Ozark and if you have seen this show you will know how skilled she is. She brings a believability to Jane a young women trying to secure a good career while also becoming aware of the cost to her personal wellbeing. In the scene with Matthew Macfadyen the dialogue exchanged made her feel small and insignificant, just like a person in this position would be feeling. This scene made me extremely sad that this young women had fallen into such a terrible work environment.

This film makes you pay attention to the abuse . Nothing is fully spelled out but little interactions that the main character has with her manager and other colleagues give away what may be going on. There is a sense of acceptance of what the manager does from the other colleagues, a ‘this is the reality of things attitude’ The unprofessionalism of the film mogul is shown throughout. He seems to be very disorganised missing important meetings.

A slow yet thought provoking story which fosters compassion for Jane who just wants a good career out of this and is doing her best work for this person lacking professionalism. The cinematography focuses on Jane’s character and her emotions as well as her interactions with others. A series of closeups and wide shots represent this effectively. When the mogul is in shots a low angle is used to assert his power. The focus on the daily tasks of the main character show just how much she does and sacrifices in her life to maintain her work ethic. For instance she misses her father’s birthday. The dialogue teaches us about Jane and the reactions to her debilitating work environment the music used also creating a sense of unease.

A subtle film which creates awareness around a gendered work environment and acts as a puzzle that the viewer is trying to piece together , each scene providing a clue for understanding the overall picture.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hope you have some more films to add to your watchlist. My next article will review the Welcome to the Blumhouse collection currently on Amazon.

To see what else I’m watching check out my diary on letterboxd:

https://letterboxd.com/Lily2707/films/diary/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s