My Favourite Cinema Experiences of 2017

2017 is now drawing to a close, and it’s definitely gone by so quickly. I got my Cineworld Unlimited card for Christmas in 2016, a very thoughtful gift from my parents as they know how much I love films. This card has provided me with some of the greatest moments I’ve experienced this year, as I’ve managed to see more films than I ever have before. I told myself in January that I would make a personal record for the number of films I see in the space of a year, and I achieved just that. Overall, I have seen 258 films this year (not counting my repeated viewings of certain films), and I viewed 48 of those at my local cinema. Although there were a few pictures that I was not particularly impressed with, 2017 really has been a great year for film and I’m so thankful that I got to see such a wide variety of them.

Looking back got me thinking about some of my favourite experiences I had at the cinema this year, and I would like to share them with you. I can also look back at this post a few year’s down the line and be reminded of these special moments in time.

Keep in mind that not all of these films are necessarily my absolute favourites of the year (although most of them are), but they are ones that left an impression, ones that challenged me, moved me or simply just entertained me.

La La Land

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Obviously, this would not even be my list if I didn’t mention this film. The Unlimited Screening for it was at 9pm on a Sunday, the night before one of my mock exams, so I was intending to have an early night. But my anticipation to see it was overwhelming me at this point, and I simply couldn’t turn down the opportunity to go. Not only was it the best experience I had at the cinema this year, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had at the cinema for the past few years. I try not to get my expectations too high before I view a film, as I’m normally left slightly disappointed. But this was everything I wanted it to be and more. It reminded me of what I miss most from modern-day films; quiet moments and visual storytelling. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the abundant amount of loud, action-packed extravaganzas that cinemas are flooded with nowadays, but this was such a breath of fresh air and reminded me that film is a beautiful visual medium. The songs are simple yet gorgeous, the chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is irresistible, and the final 10 minutes made me break down into a mixture of happy and sad tears. There’s something about the way the music and the visuals came together in that Epilogue sequence that was so perfect; I couldn’t think of a better ending to such a lovely story. I remember one of my friends laughing at me when we were leaving the screening when she noticed that I was still crying, but I couldn’t help it because I was so blown away by the entire experience. People are probably sick of me going on about this film, but seeing La La Land on the big screen was such a euphoric experience that I had to go back and see it a couple of more times.

Get Out

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What a unique experience this was. I saw this with one of my best friends and I knew very little about it, apart from the fact that it was receiving rave reviews from critics. This naturally peaked my curiosity, but I have, for the most part, been unimpressed with recent horror films, so I was a bit worried going into this. Thankfully, I absolutely loved it and completed understood why people were applauding it so much. Not only is this a well-made horror film, but it is also a tense thriller and an often amusing social satire about racism. I was slightly concerned that it was going to be really preachy like a lot of films concerning race are, but this was a really intelligent and thought-provoking piece, including some twists that I genuinely wasn’t expecting.  It irritates me that a lot of films about race just want to make a giant political statement, forgetting to tell a good story and include interesting characters along the way. I was hooked from beginning to end watching this, and I can only hope Jordan Peele (the director) receives the attention he deserves when the Oscar nominations are announced.

Baby Driver

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Another film that I saw more than once at the cinema. I saw this for the first time a few hours after I had completed my final A-level exam, and what a treat it was. It’s a shame that the likes of Kevin Spacey will probably taint the legacy of Baby Driver because it is such a great film, both on a technical level and from a character perspective. Ansel Elgort was a joy to watch in the lead role and he’s proven that he isn’t just a heartthrob for the Young Adult crowd to gush over. The film also has one of the best soundtracks of the year, and the music feels like an integral part of the story due to the various genius ways it is incorporated into the narrative. Edgar Wright is one of my favourite directors working today, constantly creating works that are fast-paced and original. I’ll be revisiting this one a number of times.

Dunkirk

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Even when he directs a war film that should contain straightforward storytelling, Christopher Nolan likes to challenge his viewers with complicated narrative structures. I normally dislike it when films don’t develop their characters whatsoever, as that makes it more difficult to connect with their struggles. However, I loved the lack of dialogue and the phenomenal use of practical effects; literally everything about Dunkirk felt authentic, and it really throws you into the desperate situation that these soldiers were in. Their actions told you everything you need to know about them, and you understood what was running through their minds with just a very small amount of dialogue. My heart was pounding for the majority of it; the impact it has when you view it on a big screen is immense. Nolan is another one of my favourite directors working today and, big shock, it was another film that I had to see twice at the cinema.

mother!

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Definitely one of the strangest films I saw this year, but I’ve certainly not forgotten about it. I had been feeling kind of low for most of September, as I didn’t have college to go back to and I had no idea how I was going to make the most out of my year out of education; then this film came along, a picture that really thrilled me and left me thinking about it for days. mother! is definitely the cinematic equivalent of Marmite, in that you either love it or hate it. I’m not even sure if it’ll make my top 10 of the year when I make my list in February, but this was such an artistic, bold and risky film, and for me it paid off. It is one giant religious allegory and people may not be fond of the copious amounts of metaphors within the film, but I personally thought it was open to interpretation and I saw it more as a statement on celebrity culture. The fact that it can be interpreted in a number of ways is the beauty of mother!. The third act of the film is unbelievable; it was so claustrophobic, stressful and anxiety-inducing that I started to feel sick watching it. I certainly found it way scarier than most horror films I’ve seen over the past few years. When it ended, my friend and I just sat in silence for a moment, not really knowing what to say due to how on edge it made us feel. Meanwhile, there were two women sat next to us, and one of them said “Well, that was shit.” I knew right then that this was going to be a polarising piece of work. Whether you love it or hate it, mother! is unlike anything you’ll see this year.

Blade Runner 2049

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↑ This is officially one of the most perfect shots of all time ↑

It’s official: I love Ryan Gosling, and I’m willing to forgive him for The Notebook. It was directed by Denis Villeneuve, the man who has been behind some of my favourites films of the past few years, including Prisoners, Enemy and Arrival. I was worried that this sequel would not live up to the original sci-fi classic, but once I found out that Villeneuve was directing it and that Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford were set to star in it, I knew we were in good hands. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is flawless; the film contains some of the most interesting images I have seen all year, and it is one of the most visually appealing films ever made. It is really long, running for 2 hours and 40 minutes, but it is so worth it. The performances are wonderfully subtle, the story moves at a slow yet appropriate pace and, like the original Blade Runner, it makes you ponder some existential questions. I really do believe that this film is on par with the original (if not better), and it has such a quiet, peaceful and incredibly poignant final scene. I loved every minute of it and saw it twice; the second time I saw it, my friend and I were the only two people there. While I was saddened that people weren’t turning up to see the film, having the screening to ourselves and being able to sit back and escape into this world for a few hours made a perfect evening. I am now just waiting impatiently for the Blu-ray release.

 

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My Top 5 Unconventional Christmas Films

It’s that time of the year again, and what better way to get into the Christmas spirit than to watch an abundance of festive films? We all have our favourites, the ones that we watch year after year because they follow a certain narrative formula that feels appropriate for the joyful period of Christmas time. However, there are also a number of films that take on a much different approach to Christmas, so much so that people often debate whether they are actually Christmas films or not. It got me thinking about some of the films I watch around this time of the year that aren’t necessarily traditionally festive but are ones that definitely provide an interesting spin on the holiday season. After putting some thought into this, I now want to share with you my top five unorthodox Christmas films that I absolutely love. I couldn’t decide on an ascending or descending order, so I’ll just list them chronologically.

Brazil (1985)

Would this even be my blog if I didn’t talk about Brazil once again? Not only is this one of my favourite unconventional Christmas films, it’s one of my favourite films period. This is one of the strangest and most visually creative films I have ever seen, and it just so happens to be set at Christmas time too! One of the very first scenes in the film depicts a family enjoying a nice evening together by their Christmas tree. Suddenly, unsettling masked men invade their home, which we soon learn are government officials who kidnap the father of this family after he is wrongly accused of committing acts of terrorism. Although Brazil can be an incredibly dark film, it is comedically dark and uses Christmastime as a way to criticise capitalism and the government’s greed. This film is a satirical masterpiece and will overwhelm your mind with confusion on a first viewing; it becomes more and more interesting each time I watch it. Also, it has Santa in it! Not the most comforting depiction of Santa, but still…

Die Hard (1988)

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You simply cannot discuss Christmas films that don’t follow the norm without mentioning Die Hard. Everyone debates whether this is a Christmas film or not; I wholly believe that it is, but it certainly isn’t your typical family-friendly experience. And, like Brazil, it’s another film that involves terrorists (I’m noticing an unnerving pattern here). Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) has become distant from his wife and wants to save their marriage, so decides to attend her employer’s Christmas party in the hopes of reconciliation. Little does he know, however, that a group of terrorists, led by the intimidating Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) are about to disrupt the party and threaten the lives of everyone inside the tower. McClane is the only one skilled enough to stop them. Die Hard contains some brilliant action sequences and memorable lines of dialogue, but it also emphasises the importance of family and being there for your loved ones, especially at Christmas time. A more brutal look at the holiday season, but still a highly entertaining and appropriate December viewing.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

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What can I say? I grew up on Tim Burton films, and I will always have a love in my heart for his earlier work. Edward Scissorhands, the story about an unfinished invention (Johnny Depp) who falls in love with a teenage girl named Kim (Winona Ryder), is one of my personal favourites of his. It is the atmosphere of this film that really gets me into the festive spirit. I always find it to be emotionally powerful but also heartwarming. The Christmas decorations and the snowy settings make me feel so warm and joyful. But my favourite moment has to be the enchantingly beautiful scene where Kim embraces the snow while Edward sculpts an ice block in the background. It’s hard to describe why I love that particular scene so much; there’s just something magical about the visuals joined with Danny Elfman’s gorgeous musical score. Admittedly, this is one of the films I watch in December that tends to make me tear up by the end of it. I wish Burton’s work was still this strong today.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)

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I literally have no one to talk about this film with. It’s criminal how overlooked Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is; it deserves so much more recognition than it receives. Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer star as two quick-witted men who, through a series of events, hilariously manage to get themselves caught up in a puzzling murder conspiracy. The film also features Michelle Monaghan as the childhood sweetheart of Downey Jr’s. character. What makes Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang so enjoyable is that the murder mystery isn’t really the main focus of the film; the characters and the dialogue are the most important aspects of the story. It is very dialogue heavy, but it has an extremely sharp and clever script that is delivered terrifically by the cast members, most notably by Downey Jr. and Kilmer, who are a surprisingly fantastic comedic duo. And how does the tale of this murder mystery begin? With Downey Jr.’s character stealing a toy that is on his child’s Christmas list. Sort of a much smarter spin on Jingle All the Way.

In Bruges (2008)

What could be more in line with the Christmas spirit than watching two hit men hide in Belgium after one of them, Ray (Colin Farrell), makes a horrible mistake on one of his missions? Like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, this is another unexpectedly hilarious gem that not enough people have seen. The dialogue is very sardonic and cynical, and the delivery of this dialogue by the cast makes it even funnier. The final shootout during the third act of the film has a luscious Christmas setting, full of glowing lights and people strolling happily with their loved ones. Unfortunately for Ray, and for his mentor named Ken (Brendan Gleeson), their life-threatening boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), tracks them down in Bruges and intends to kill Ray for his “unforgivable” action during one of his assignments. Colin Farrell and Brandan Gleeson are very humorous as the two main characters, but the scene stealer for me is Ralph Fiennes. There is a conversation between Harry and Ray at a hotel that had me in stitches laughing for about 5 minutes; me and my brother actually skipped back to that part once the film was over so we could hear the great dialogue and line delivery again. Again, a rather violent film and definitely not one to watch with very young viewers, but this and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang provide a lot of laughs during this festive season.

The Death of Stalin – Film review

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Considering how much this story is tied into a significant period in Russian history, very few (if any) of the actors in The Death of Stalin attempt to put on a Russian accent. And all the better for it – this political satire constantly reminds you of its own ridiculousness, and it emphasises how hilariously pathetic the power struggle was between Stalin’s committee of faithful chums. At least, they were respectful towards Stalin before his death. It is a much different matter after the Soviet leader unexpectedly suffers a cerebral haemorrhage and passes away.

His death leaves the committee flabbergasted, but it is not long before they start quarreling like foolish children. The main players during this chaotic time were Khrushchev (Stalin’s eventual successor, played by Steve Buscemi), Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Molotov (Michael Palin) and Beria (Simon Russell Beale), although others come into the picture as well. In public, the men act in a civil manner, putting on an honourable demeanour during Stalin’s funeral. Behind the scenes, however, it is clear that their interests do not lie in giving Stalin the perfect funeral, but attempting to remove the opportunity for their counterparts to take over Russia. But again, this is almost always played for laughs, and the film has more than filled the void of black comedies this year by being silly and cleverly-written, whilst also providing some intriguing political commentary.

The Death of Stalin had the danger of taking things a step too far and becoming offensive, especially given the time period and what was occurring. Thousands of people were being sent to Gulags (forced labour camps), and many died in horrific ways. Getting humour out of these particular events would be like making a comedy surrounding the Holocaust (which Roberto Benigni attempted to do in Life Is Beautiful in 1997, much to my everlasting horror). But the film mainly mocks the leaders of Russia, not the people who suffered greatly under their rule. This has to be one of the most perfectly cast films of the year, with actors like Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Paddy Considine and even Jasons Isaacs utilising their brilliant comedic talents to highlight the amusing paranoia Stalin’s committee were feeling at the time. What we learn from them is that they were all cowards – only after Stalin’s death did these men start to display their true colours and their honest opinions about him. But they were living in a period of immense fear during Stalin’s leadership, so you understand their predicament. Nevertheless, that does not make their actions following his death completely justified.

Although the absence of Russian accents constantly makes it difficult for you to suspend your disbelief, the film looks very Russian and can be visually beautiful at times, thanks to Armando Iannucci’s direction and Zac Nicholson’s cinematography. Stalin’s funeral scenes in particular are full of luscious reds and a grand display of Russian artefacts, placing you in these moments of history. The Death of Stalin may not take itself seriously from a storytelling perspective, but there is a clear dedication from the filmmakers to make it as visually exciting as possible without making it appear cartoonish.

As a lover of history and of political satires (especially ones that have a cast as great as this), The Death of Stalin will keep you laughing until the very end, even during its darkest moments.

★★★★

 

 

Classic Film Recommendations #3

I have neglected this blog over the past month due to a busy schedule, but I am going to make sure that I update it fairly regularly from now on. You all know about my love for old films at this point, so here are another five more pre-1970 classic movies that I strongly recommend!

A Night at the Opera (1935) – Comedy

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I am quite ashamed of the fact that it took me so long to start watching the Marx Brothers films. Out of the few I have now seen, this one is my favourite. It follows the quick-witted businessman Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) who, with the assistance of two mischevious stowaways (Chico Marx and Harpo Marx), attempts to bring a young couple together and make them the stars of the opera, getting involved in lots of hilariously chaotic antics along the way. What makes the Marx Brothers’ films work is the incredibly smart dialogue and the perfect comedic timing of each actor. I lost count of how many times A Night at the Opera made me chuckle; it is full of genius moments of humour. Groucho’s sharp delivery of dialogue, Chico’s cunning nature and Harpo’s dim-witted innocence all mesh together wonderfully. The film has provided us with some of the funniest quotes in cinematic history, one of my favourites being “When I invite a woman to dinner, I expect her to look at my face; that’s the price she has to pay.” But A Night at the Opera takes it a step further by also being a good musical; the songs are sung exquisitely and with lots of fervour. Comedy is such a difficult genre to tackle for two reasons; different things make different people laugh, and jokes tend to age poorly over time. It is remarkable, then, that the Marx Brothers starred in several comedies that are timeless and continue to make audiences bawl with laughter.

White Heat (1949) – Crime Drama

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I am astounded by how diverse of an actor James Cagney was. He was well-known for his incredible tap dancing skills in films like the 1942 musical Yankee Doodle Dandy, yet he could also play psychotic criminals effortlessly. In White Heat, Cagney stars as Cody Jarrett, an unhinged, aggressive delinquent who breaks out of prison and causes events to spiral out of the control of the authorities. Cagney is very believable as the gangster with a very strange mother complex, similar to that of Norman Bates’ character in Hitchcock’s Psycho. He commands the viewer’s attention with his thunderous shouting, and his cold-hearted one-liners provide the film with a darkly comedic tone that you do not expect. As a result, Cody Jarett became an anti-hero due to Cagney’s wonderful sardonic manner. The tension builds and the chaos grows the more the story progresses, leading to a grand finale that feels earned and necessary. No one will forget the iconic moment where Cagney maniacally yells “Top of the world!” once they’ve seen White Heat; it is one of those images that will always stay with you.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) – Drama

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This film adaptation of one of Tennessee Williams’ most famous plays is full of visual eye candy; the cinematography is luscious, and it arguably starred the two most attractive film stars at the time (that is, Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor). It tells the story of the sensual “Maggie the Cat” (Elizabeth Taylor), who struggles to seduce her husband named Brick (Paul Newman), an alcoholic former football player. When Brick’s vulgar father (Burl Ives) visits the couple and announces that he has cancer, the dynamic between Brick and his family members is revealed through a lot of intriguing, strained conversations. Although it is disappointing that a lot of the homosexual subtext of the play was removed from the film adaptation due to Hollywood censors that existed during this period, the powerful, emotional performances, as well as the fantastically written dialogue, are what make Cat on a Hot Tin Roof work. Newman is brilliantly troubled and subdued as Brick, and Taylor perfectly displays her character’s physical desires. Williams was a genius at crafting family dramas and thoughtful character studies, and, despite the removal of certain elements of his play, the film version still shows off the talents of Williams and of its major stars.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) – Psychological thriller

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Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, the stars of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, famously hated each other; there has even recently been a TV series specifically detailing their rivalry, entitled Feud. Their hatred for each other, however, immensely benefitted this 1962 psychological horror. The best way I can describe this story is that it feels like a cross between Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard and the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery. Bette Davis plays Jane, an ageing, alcoholic and bitter woman who was once a famous and adored film star. She “cares” for her paraplegic sister named Blanche (Joan Crawford), although we quickly realise that she is holding her hostage rather than supporting her sibling physically and mentally. Everything about the film – the atmosphere, the performances, the eerie black and white cinematography – makes it a disturbing and unnevering experience. Bette Davis gives one of my favourite female performances ever as Jane, and her childlike make-up assists in making her character look all the more deranged and sinister. Despite its creepiness, it, like White Heat, has elements of black comedy; the scene where Davis sings in front of an insincerely polite acquaintance (Victor Buono) is uncomfortably hilarious. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is clever, complex and captivating, and still holds up remarkably well.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Science Fiction

After seeing numerous fantastic Stanley Kubrick films – including Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining – I was convinced that I had already seen the director’s best films. I can wholeheartedly admit that I was wrong. 2001: A Space Odyessey has inspired so many filmmakers for decades, and it is clear to see why. It feels very minimalist in some ways, but it is still one of the most extravagant, beautifully shot and delightfully ambiguous films I have ever seen. Although the narrative is difficult to describe, it is mostly a story of man vs machine after an intelligent computer named H.A.L. 9000 (voiced superbly by Douglas Rain) starts to turn on the crew that created him. But 2001: A Space Odyssey takes this complex story further by including themes of existentialism and human evolution. While humans still do very much exist in this film, Kubrick makes it clear that humanity has dissipated; the crew members are monotonous and stare blankly at everything, highlighting a lack of genuine emotion. Meanwhile, H.A.L. 9000 is one of the most menacing villains of all time because of his calm and conversational speaking voice, as if the physical torment he puts the ship members through means nothing to him. Yet his soft cry for help towards the end of the film is bizarrely moving and poignant, and when you witness the final image of 2001: A Space Odyssey, you are left with a plethora of questions instead of answers. It is the type of film you want to study and analyse, although you will probably never come to a completely concrete conclusion. One of the best science-fiction films of ever made? Absolutely.

mother! – Film review

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A love it or hate it experience, Darren Aronofsky’s latest venture, mother!, is unlike anything you will see this year. It is daring, claustrophobic, uncomfortable and even quite unpleasant to watch. It is also a difficult film to fully understand, especially if you only watch it once, as it is full of symbolism, metaphors and ambiguity. mother! is destined to be polarising. As the credits rolled, I just sat in silence with my friend, trying to absorb all of the weirdness that just unfolded on screen for the past two hours. Meanwhile, a couple of young women sat next to us announced in disgust that they thought the film was terrible.

Darren Aronofsky has always been a controversial figure, as his other directorial works, including Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan were criticised for containing some risky elements. But all of these films were, in the end, praised by most critics and a lot of filmgoers. mother!, meanwhile, is definitely going to be his most divisive film yet.

On the surface, the story is not that challenging. It focuses on a character simply referred to as “Mother” (played by Jennifer Lawrence). She is the young wife of a much older man (Javier Bardem), a troubled writer who also is not given a name; he is labelled as “Him”. In fact, none of the characters have ordinary names, as they all represent different figures from the Bible. Indeed, after some research, I discovered that mother! is a biblical story, although this is not what I took away from it when I saw it last night. “Mother” and “Him” seem to be content with their lives together, but not truly happy. “Mother” wishes that she could start a family with her husband, but “Him” is too busy working on his writing to even consider a commitment like that. “Mother”, however, does not speak out about her dissatisfaction.

That is, until people start to invade their home. A nameless man and woman (played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) arrive randomly one day, as they are fans of the work of Javier Bardem’s character. This makes “Mother” feel uneasy, and when Michelle Pfeiffer’s character starts to ask “Mother” personal questions about her relationship with her husband, while the couple also starts to sabotage the workspace of “Him”, “Mother” demands that the couple leave. Despite Mother’s desire to live a private life with her husband, more and more people start to unexpectedly arrive at the house, giving “Mother” very little room to breathe.

Believe me when I say that there will be people who will absolutely loathe this film, calling it a pretentious bore, but there will also be people that will hail it as an artistic masterpiece. Both sides of the argument are completely understandable, as Darren Aronofsky has purposely created something that not everyone is going to love. It is certainly not a feel-good film or an easy watch, and it is definitely not a film you take someone on a first date to see.

But it is not just Darren Aronofsky’s unsettling direction that makes mother! so creepy; it is also the performances. Jennifer Lawrence is brilliantly subtle and vulnerable, as her character is initially quite introverted and shy, meaning that only her facial expressions can tell you what the character is thinking in certain sequences. Lawrence is a very mature actress, taking on roles that would normally be more suited to someone a decade older than her, yet she does not feel miscast and completely sells this role. While Lawrence is concerned and timid, Javier Bardem seems like a benevolent husband, but you start to realise as the film progresses that his character is ignorant and does not put his wife’s needs before the needs of his adoring, if extremely reckless, fans. The Spanish actor’s performance is unnerving, but not in an obvious, over-the-top way. He is perturbing not due to the things he does, but due to the things he does not do. The supporting cast are also terrific and definitely create most of the tension within the film, pulling “Mother” and “Him” apart in the most chaotic ways you can imagine.

What does it all mean, though? Anyone who watches mother! will grasp the basics of the story, but all of the absurd images you will witness throughout will be more difficult to dissect. According to Aronofsky himself, the whole film is an allegory about Mother Nature and God (hence, why the main characters are called “Mother” and “Him”). He stated that since God is taking no notice of Mother Nature, he is destroying our planet. So clearly, the film has an environmental and religious message that reflects on our current society. I did not view the film that way, however, and it is to my belief that something like mother! can be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on the viewer. To me, mother! was about the obsession with celebrity culture, as all of the supporting characters constantly pester “Mother” and “Him” because the latter is a well-known and respected writer. “Mother” wants “Him” to spend more time with her and their baby that will soon arrive, but no matter how much she persists, he refuses to make his destructively devoted fans leave the house. The message I got out of mother! is that a lack of privacy, especially when you are a celebrity, can disrupt or even ruin your marriage to your wife and your relationship with your children. Just look at all of the celebrity couples that have broken up over the years; mother! rings true to the notion. That’s not to say, of course, that the religious references are not present. Once you understand Aronofsky’s vision, things become clear (or at least, more clear).

Numerous other people have already said this, but mother! really does have to be seen to be believed. But do be warned, if you do not like arthouse films that are vague, strange and do not have a straightforward message, it is very likely that you will dislike the film, or even hate it. It has been a while since the third act of a film has made me feel so stressed and alarmed, but still so intrigued and engaged. A piece of cinema has not got under my skin this much in a long time; I can recall at least five moments where my mouth dropped open in complete shock. mother! is a tough egg to crack, but if you like to dig deep into a film’s message, you will be in awe of this creative, original and horrifying piece of work.

★★★★☆

IT (2017) – Film review

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Stephen King is often deservedly regarded as one of the best authors of his generation, so it is no surprise that we have had countless film adaptations of his many, many books. Some of them have become some of the most beloved movies of the past few decades – The Shining, Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, to name a few – while others fell flat and were instantly forgotten about. In 1990, a miniseries of one of his most famous novels, IT, was released, starring the delightfully bonkers Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Now, King’s horror drama has been made into a feature film.

Thankfully, the film does not shy away from one of the best aspects of King’s story: the children are not only scared of “It”, they are scared of their parents. The focus is on “The Losers Club”, a group of young kids who are all easy targets for the school bullies and have their own unique fears. For example, the girl of the group, Beverly (Sophia Lillis), is not afraid of clowns; the aspect of her life that makes her the most anxious is her perverted father, who feels threatened by the young boys Beverly associates herself with. Even if you are not easily scared by horror movies, there will be at least something in here that will at least unsettle you, if not petrify you.

The seven young outcasts are all played brilliantly by a cast of talented child actors, who are all very convincing in their roles of awkward, unpopular school kids. While some of them definitely have more of a character arc than others, all of them are still well-defined and you do not want to see any of them be harmed by “It”. Each actor brings out the insecurities of their character effortlessly, and their performances never feel forced. The standouts for me, however, were Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie and Stranger Things’ very own Finn Wolfhard as Richie. Similarly to the characters in the novel, these two provide a lot of the comedic relief in this otherwise grim tale, but their comedic timing is wonderful and the moments of humour feel very natural. Stephen King knows how to write young characters, as he understands that they do not talk innocently when their parents are not around; instead, they swear and say crude things. This aspect of his novel is present in this film adaptation.

The main thing people were worried about with IT was the clown himself. How does he hold up next to Tim Curry, one of the most entertaining character actors ever? Much credit does have to be given to Bill Skarsgård in this role, as he does not attempt to impersonate Tim Curry and takes a different approach to the character of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Tim Curry had more of a gruff voice and made some hilarious jokes (the Prince Albert in a can joke will always make me laugh), while this version is more childlike and high-pitched, making him creepy in a different way to Curry. This Pennywise even looks like a baby with the clothing he wears, and it is undeniably disturbing. I personally would have liked to have been scared more than I was, but there are some genuinely creepy moments scattered throughout the film. “It” transforms into a number of unnerving creatures, and you can feel how much it is taunting with the psyche of each child when each member of “The Losers Club” encounters it for the first time. Thankfully, this is a horror film that does not rely just on jump scares (although there are a fair few in here). There are good setups for scares, and they do leave an impression on you in some way.

Although the CGI was rather distracting at times and the camerawork was occasionally clunky, this is still a well-filmed, well-acted horror drama overall that is reminiscent of Stand By Me, as it explores what it means to be a child and taps into the mindset of that age demographic. The film is also set in the 1980s (which is an alteration from King’s book), providing it with a Stranger Things vibe. IT may not be one of the scariest horror films of recent years, but it does contain the one crucial thing that is absent from a lot of modern horror pictures: enjoyable central characters that we actually care about.

★★★★☆

September Favourites

Now that August is over, Summer has drawn to a close and young people are preparing to begin a new academic year. It can be a depressing month, especially for those who do not enjoy going to school, but the thing that always helps me through less exciting periods of my life is watching a film.

Since September is the “Back to School” month, I always enjoy watching films targeted towards a teenage demographic. These films can be silly, over-the-top, and, let’s face it, a bit cheesy. But they have also led to the creation of some very likeable characters, great film soundtracks and some unforgettably funny quotes. With that said, here are 5 teen films to make you feel more enthusiastic about heading back to school, college or university (or 5 films to simply put you in a good mood if you are no longer in education).

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1985)

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John Hughes is probably the most well-known director when it comes to teen movies, and definitely one of his most popular films is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The plot is simple: Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) is remarkably skilled at taking the day off and getting away with it, having a total of nine sick days in his current semester. Although it does not take much to fool Ferris’ naive parents, the high school principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) is less convinced and is determined to track Ferris down. With a title like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you would think that it would be clear who the main character is. But, while Ferris does play a large part in the story, the real focus is on Ferris’ best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), who is much more cynical and has low self-esteem. Ferris is more of a model of the type of person we wish we could be, but we are simply not cool enough. Cameron is the one we identify with, and he is the one who goes through a character arc and learns something, not Ferris. The film is still popular today because not only does it include a number of hilarious moments (Cameron’s phone call to Rooney, the pick-up of Ferris’ girlfriend, the parade scene where Ferris’ mouths the words to “Twist and Shout”), but also because it taps into the mindset of a teenager who is unsure of who he wants to be and where he wants to go. It is funny, poignant and even quite strange at times, but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off will continue to resonate with audiences.

Heathers (1988)

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Arguably one of the best black comedies of the 1980s, Heathers is a teen film like no other, full of irony, sharp wit and jokes about dark topics, including suicide. Winona Ryder plays Veronica Sawyer, who is part of the most popular clique at her high school, which consists of three other girls who are all called Heather. She soon grows tired of their mean behavior and falls for J.D., one of the school’s outsiders. However, she begins to realise that J.D. has a dark secret of his own. It is difficult to imagine anyone who could have played the part of the bizarre school kid, J.D., better than Christian Slater around that time, and Winona Ryder also gives a wonderfully sardonic performance as Veronica. The film is a complete original; I really cannot think of any other high school picture to compare it to. It is simply its own weird thing that somehow works really well. It is also difficult to predict where the film is going to go or how it will end. Heathers gained a cult status for a reason, as not everyone will like it and some may think that the humour is distasteful and shocking. But, as someone who loves this kind of humour, I thought Heathers was very intelligent (smarter than people give it credit for) and unlike anything being released during that time. And let’s not forget some great lines of dialogue: “Chaos is what killed the dinosaurs, darling”.

Clueless (1995)

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People tell you to not judge a book by its cover, but I think this saying can also apply to films. I took one look at the DVD cover of Clueless and thought that it looked like ridiculous girly fluff with no substance and potentially annoying characters. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a chance, and what I got was a film that was much better and way smarter than I thought it could ever be. The film follows Cher (Alicia Silverstone), a popular and shallow teenager who plays matchmaker with her teachers and gives a makeover to the awkward new student, Tai (Brittany Murphy). But when Tai becomes more popular than her, Cher starts to reflect on her erroneous behaviour, while also dealing with her ex-stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd). Clueless is an interesting film because it takes the pretty, self-centered popular girl – who is usually the bully or antagonist in movies like this – and makes her extremely charming and friendly towards those less popular than her. I am also not knowledgeable about fashion at all (anyone who has seen the way I dress will know that) but this has to be one of the most stylish films of the 1990s, full of outfits that are still iconic today. Much like Heathers, Clueless has way too many memorable quotes to list here, but “Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie”, “I’m not a prude. I’m just highly selective” and, of course, “As if!” stand out as some of the best ones.

Rushmore (1998)

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I’ve made it no secret that I am a big fan of director Wes Anderson and like (if not love) all of his films. His second directorial work, Rushmore, certainly stood out to critics in the 1990s as a very quirky and eccentric high school movie. This is the first time Jason Schwartzman appeared in an Anderson film, and he plays the role of the central character, Max. He is an ambitious, if somewhat insensitive, high school student who excels at extracurricular activities but lacks any sort of interest in his academic grades. He soon develops feelings for a beautiful teacher named Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) and asks the father of two of his schoolmates, Herman Blume (Bill Murray), for advice on how to charm her. The only problem, however, is that Blume also falls in love with her, and the two men end up competing for her affections. Despite this, Rosemary is consistently not impressed with their antics. The film contains a lot of the elements that Wes Anderson has become famous for; dry wit, gorgeous colour schemes, symmetrical camera shots and pathetic (although very funny) characters. I feel like Rushmore was a step up from Anderson’s first feature film Bottle Rocket because it was a bit more unconventional and the visual style was more inventive. I love this film for the same reaosn a lot of people do: it reminds us that, whether we’re a teenager or a middle-aged person, we are still socially and romantically awkward.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

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This may be one of the more cliched teen films of the 1990s, but that is not to say that 10 Things I Hate About You is void of any good humour or entertaining characters. The plot is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew: Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) is an intelligent but brutally honest teenage girl, meaning that she does not attract a lot of boys. However, her sister, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) is ready to start dating and is irritated by the fact that her father will not allow her to date anyone until Kat does. Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who has a crush on Bianca, attempts to set Kat up with Patrick (Heath Ledger), a new arrival to the school. But Kat is not one to let her guard down easily, making it difficult for Patrick to woo her. The plot of this film can be found in other romantic comedies: the guy who gets paid to take the girl out on dates but then the two of them slowly start to fall for each other. But if you overlook that detail, 10 Things I Hate About You still feels fresh because of the characters, who are all amusing in their own way. I especially love the dynamic between Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger here, and I am always saddened by the fact that Ledger died so young because he was evidently a very versatile talent, playing heartthrobs in romantic comedies and then proceeding to play The Joker in The Dark Knight, one of the most menacing villains in cinematic history. Still, Ledger’s legacy endures, and 10 Things I Hate About You is remembered for its sharp script, catchy soundtrack and its cast of charismatic actors.