LFF Day 10 – Thelma | Downsizing | You Were Never Really Here | Let the Sunshine In

Thelma

Thelma (Eili Harboe) is living away from her devout Christian family for the first time to study biology at university. Isolated from her loved ones Thelma finds university to be a lonely place before she inserts herself into the life of the popular but welcoming Anja (Okay Kaya).

Anja and Thelma become close in ways that the latter isn’t prepare for. As Thelma begins to question her own identity she starts to suffer from seizures and experiences strange visions. Before too long an undercurrent of the supernatural has seeped into proceedings and Thelma can’t decide whether to be afraid or if others should be afraid of her.

Thelma is a striking film to look at and filled with nuanced performances but didn’t strike the right tone for me. An exciting blend of the supernatural and a character study but sadly lacking in the thrills I kept expecting to be around the next corner.

Downsizing

Alexander Payne’s Downsizing is a tricky film to review; I don’t know whether to review the film it sells itself as, or the film it actually is.

The film we are sold is a comedy starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as a couple who decide to fix all their troubles by being shrunk down to five inches tall so they can join a thriving community of small people. The idea here is that being small means you need fewer resources and create less waste; it’s the only way to save the planet! Oh, and your money is worth a thousand times more in the small economy. The idea is intriguing and executed well down to the smallest detail. We get to see the scepticism of those around the couple prior to the downsizing, and the small world and the procedure required to get there are convincingly realised.

So far so good! I wonder what the film will explore in this unique situation…

With the first act finished the film takes an alarming left turn. Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau are introduced as questionable racial stereotypes and a different plot is introduced that focuses less on the small world but on issues affecting the world we live in. My man bug bear really is that this plot could have been explored without the whole downsizing premise, and that a second film could have been made to make the most of that squandered opportunity.

The resulting film is amusing but very messy.

Downsizing is released in UK cinemas from 19th January 2018 and I cannot wait to hear what you make of it.

You Were Never Really Here

It is a tragedy that Lynne Ramsay hasn’t directed a film since 2011 and We Need to Talk About Kevin so her new film was met with a long queue of critics anxious to devour her latest. And boy was it worth the wait.

The always compelling Joaquin Phoenix stars as a weary gun-for-hire who will perform any task for a bundle of cash and who is plagued by traumas from his past. Phoenix is called upon to rescue a young girl from a sex trafficking ring and finds himself embroiled in a bigger conspiracy than he first realises.

What makes this film unique is that Phoenix’s character has no interest in unravelling the conspiracy or getting to the bottom of everything. He has a single focus; protecting a young girl from harm and inflicting violence on those who are to blame. Often armed only with a hammer Phoenix is a hulking bundle of sore muscle who is relentless in his pursuit.

If this sounds like Taken then forget that notion as what we have here is something without contrivance, extraneous details, or pulled punches. The violence her is unshowy and brutal. Brawl in Cell Block 99 may be more graphic but this film is much more visceral and harder to watch for it. We spend a lot of time in Phoenix’s head and see flashes of his past as they intermingle with unfolding plot. The results is a heady brew of cinematic gold.

Ramsay’s direction is perfection. Phoenix’s performance is sublime. Jonny Greenwood’s score is bone rattlingly good. An absolute trauma of a film.

Juliette Binoche

Claire Denis directs a showcase for actress Juliette Binoche as she plays a divorced artist searching for love and finding quantity rather than quality.

A witty film in which we watch Binoche work her way through a series of lovers that she finds unsuitable in a variety of ways, all the while declaring her love life to be over. The film is a fun examination of how we are often our own worst enemies and rarely know what we actually want unless it is the one this we cannot have.

Maybe I was too emotionally assaulted by the previous film but Let the Sunshine In failed to grab me in any deeper way. A fun but forgettable affair.

Godzilla – Film Review

Godzilla 4

The history of Godzilla goes back to 1954 when a Japanese film was released featuring a fire breathing dinosaur-like colossus rampaging its way through Tokyo. The film was a huge hit and acted as a scathing morality tale about the horrors that the country suffered during Atomic bombings in World War II.

Sadly my personal history of Godzilla only goes back to 1998 when an American film was released featuring a giant T-Rex that somehow manages to hide in downtown Manhattan. The film was negatively received and a potential trilogy was abandoned. This iteration was perfect for the ten-year-old me who saw the film in the cinema but subsequent viewing revealed it for the astonishing Matthew Broderick starring mess it was. This particular Godzilla was just a bit of fun, some light entertainment for a Sunday afternoon in front of the TV but nothing more than that.

The history of 2014’s Godzilla goes back to 2010 when British visual effects whiz Gareth Edwards released his debut feature as writer and director; Monsters. The film was a small story about two people trying to get back to America from Mexico in a time when the American border has been turned into a quarantine zone filled with extraterrestrial creatures. Working on a micro-budget, and creating his own visual effects, Edwards demonstrated a great visual eye and an ability to put characters first ahead of relying on the, admittedly excellent, CGI beasts. The question going into Godzilla is whether Edwards can learn from Roland Emmerich’s mistakes and make a film worthy of the 1954 original utlising the talents he showcased in Monsters.

Godzilla Still 7

On most fronts Edwards’ Godzilla is hugely successful. The sheer scale, bulk, and scope of both the monster and its setting is frankly jaw-dropping. Godzilla is big. I mean BIG. Seriously though, Godzilla is BIG. The press notes alone were over 40 pages long; everything about this film is done on a bigger scale than I have seen in a cinema before. In what is a film with a relatively serious tone the only laughter I allowed myself (aside from a few amusingly convenient plot contrivances) was when I just had to giggle at the spectacle of what I was seeing on screen. It was just plain ridiculous. Ridiculous and sublime. And BIG. As the chaos got more and more chaotic I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and shake my head in disbelief – a wonderful thing to be able to do at the cinema I’m sure you will agree.

With Godzilla as his second film Edwards is displaying some serious chops when it comes to a striking visual. While initially being coy about showing us the titular creature he is sure to give us our eyeful of monolithic prehistoric riotous beast before the film is done. When we aren’t feasting on creature visuals the film is littered with gorgeous photography filled with gloomy smoke, looming shadows, and this film’s signature red hue. While the 1998 Godzilla was a lumbering mess this is a gorgeous piece of cinema with endless treats for the eyes that need to be seen on the big screen. While I’m not going to be plugging the IMAX or 3D experience I really do think that this is a film that deserves a large cinema screen with loud speakers surrounding you.

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All that Godzilla lacks, something Monsters had in spades, is intimacy. While we follow the action through the experiences of a soldier (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his family (Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, and Juliette Binoche) the characters are rarely seen together so their disparate experiences don’t tie together in a satisfying way. The superb cast list is rounded out by Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe as Godzilla experts but they too feel a little underserved. The fact that I didn’t care who lived and who died is definitely a flaw but at the end of the day this is a story on a global scale with a large monster as its star. If you want a more intimate story about a big beasty might I suggest both Cloverfield and The Host? Both are films that take their stories down a notch to give a real human experience amongst the madness of a monster movie.

Godzilla is a big and beautiful film that knows what it needs to deliver to impress its audience. Special effects can so often leave me numb and disconnected but Edwards has a way of dealing with fantastical scenes to make them seem real and grounded. Both Godzilla and Godzilla have a real heft to them and the idea of a gargantuan creature and its effect on mankind is taken as seriously as is possible.

When the film was over my heart was pounding and I let out a quiet “bloody hell”. For well crafted spectacle you can’t do much better than Godzilla. There is room alongside the smaller, independant fare to enjoy big meaty blockbusters and I only wish they were all as good as this was.

Godzilla is in UK cinemas from today.