Half Term Report

‘People like films because stories are a structure, and when things turn bad it’s still part of a plan. There’s a point to it.’ – Tom, Their Finest

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Rogue Agent (Director Interview)

A spy thriller for the modern world

Read my interview with the film’s director, Kai Barry, at:

Kai Berry – Director of ‘Rogue Agent’ (The VH interview)


Astonishing And Devastating In Equal Measure

To begin with, an analogy. Have you ever wrung a towel, a facecloth or even just a piece of fabric in general? You put all your strength into the movement, creating enough tension to drain the cloth of the water it possesses. Are you with me? Now let’s replace a few words of that scenario – the face cloth is the viewer of ‘Room’, the water is either literal tears or just emotion in general and the source of the wringing is the film. Everything, from the cinematography, the mise-en-scene, the dialogue to the extraordinary performances , works in conjunction to drain you so brutafully (see, I made it work there too!) drain you. Never has such a thing been done so willingly, nor with such reward. ‘Room’ is otherworldly in its brilliance and ability to shatter your heart.

Jack (Jacob Tremblay) lives in Room. As far as Jack knows that is all there is to life as he has never left Room. As Ma (Brie Larson) has explained to Jack outside is ‘Space’ and filled with aliens. The only other person knows of is Old Nick who brings them food, necessities  and a ‘luxury item’ referred to as a ‘Sunday Treat’. When Old Nick comes to spend time with Ma, Jack must sleep in the wardrobe. Jack has just turned five and Ma has started to release that he may be old enough to know the truth. That there is a whole world outside of Room, but a world that has been closed off to Ma since Old Nick kidnapped and locked her away seven years ago. Ma was once Joy, a seventeen-year-old girl on her way home from school. Now no-one knows where Joy is. Joy comes up with a plan that involves tricking Old Nick into taking Jack outside of Room, allowing for Jack to escape and get help to rescue Ma. But will Jack be able to accept he could have a life outside of Room?

‘Room’ is a blend of true-crime and fairy-tale. It tells a story that is so abhorrent and seemingly hopeless in a way that is grippingly real, intimate yet somehow beautiful. Jack’s view of Room is fairy tale-like, where what are ordinary objects to us are the only one of their kind, have a personality and are therefore addressed with capitalisation (Table, Lamp, Bed etc.). The television is not a link to the outside world, there is no outside world, but instead images of things that do not exist. It is Joy’s view that is the true-crime, through her eyes the surroundings are depicted in their true horror. Joy is a prisoner, her child was born into captivity, and she has created this world to help them both survive. It is the blending of these two worlds that generates the film’s astonishing power.

But it’s the performances of its two leads that allow this power to land – to convince and cherish. Brie Larson presents an anguish that is so severe that at times becomes unbearable to watch.  Her raw and honest performance is miles, lightyears even, away from the many mawkish performances of exploitative ‘true movies’. Jacob Tremblay provides the kind of child performance you see once in a decade, his abundant glee at the rose-tinted life in Room through to his difficult transition at learning everything believed was a lie. Joy tells Jack these stories to keep him sane in confinement, and Jack’s job unbeknownst to him is to keep Joy sane.  The bond shown between mother-and-son is otherworldly in its believability and its depth.

‘Room’ is gut-wrenching, heart-wringing and brain-haunting. It’s not typical night-out to the movie fayre. At times it’s impossible to watch, and will haunt far longer than its two hours running time. Yet it’s a narrative journey well worth making, proving the power of cinema and the power of extraordinary performances.

‘When I was small, I only knew small things. But now I’m five, I know everything!’ – Jack


What is ‘Joy’?

The question above does not refer to eternal philosophical ideas, but is a question posed to director David. O. Russell. What is ‘Joy’? Is it a comedy, a tramedy, a somewhat biopic or an ironic look at the American Dream? In theory is shouldn’t be a bad thing that a film defies generic classification, that it is something new, fresh and different. However in this case this question is raised by how irregular in tone and pace the film is. The film is remarkably uneven, drifting from one genre to another. However, an incredible performance from Jennifer Lawrence anchors a film that overall doesn’t quite gel.

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a divorced mother of two young children. Her ex-husband and failed musician Toni (Édgar Ramírez) lives in the basement. Her seemingly-agoraphobic divorcee mother (Virginia Madsen) doesn’t leave her bedroom and whiles away the days watching soap operas. Her lothario father Rudy (Robert De Niro) briefs comes to stay before finding love with rich but uptight Trudy (Isabella Rossellini). Her half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm) works with their father and constantly passively aggressively attacks Joy on a daily basis. All this is overseen by her loving Grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd). Joy’s days are spent dealing with all of her family’s dramas, with life not having handed her a very even deck. Having spent the first half of childhood being incredibly creative, designing multiple inventions, her enthusiasm was crushed the day her parents split up.  17 years later Joy is not particularly happy, stuck with being her family’s errand girl. It is during one of these errands that Joy makes a new invention that she is sure will make a fortune. But persuading the world of the value of her idea, let alone even her family, will not be so easy. Yet a chance encounter with Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) could be one step closer to the success she has always deserved. 

A great cast does not always make a great film, as some may view is true of ‘Joy.’ Though it does have some extraordinarily powerful scenes, some emotional hold-your-breath moments, that’s all they are – moments. For the film itself is rather meandering – moving in unexpected and somewhat underprepared ways. It muddles through the key events in Joy’s life in a rather lacklustre fashion – never quite achieving its potential. This could be for multiple reasons. One could be the source material, as this is not a biopic of real-life inventor Joy Mangano, but a blended narrative of multiple women O. Russell admired. Another could be the fact the film used four different screen editors, a decision that without true collaboration can result in four differently edited films being shoehorned together. Tonally the film aims for a quirkiness that seems remarkably forced, from the rather unrealistic quirks of the characters to the voiceover narration from Grandma Mimi, to the various time hops to some oddly-placed soap opera themed dreams.

Obviously once Joy has come up with her fantastic new idea it will not be easy to make it a reality, but the disequilibrium – Joy does something badass to fix it – temporary equilibrium – another bout of disequilibrium – does become rather repetitive after a while.  However is is that phrase ‘Joy does something badass to fix it’ that feels like the real point of this film. This is Lawrence’s third time at working with O. Russell and most of this ensemble cast and the benefits of that really shine through. The director knows how to help his lead achieve a star turn. And also her legacy in badass GIFS. Her performance is remarkable. Considering that she is potentially too young for this role Lawrence is incredible in how she interacts with the other characters, uses her voice to convey all manner of emotions and portray a world weariness that is beyond her years.

Overall ‘Joy’ in a enjoyable enough romp of a movie.  Though the film itself is rather direction-less Lawrence herself is a ‘Joy’ to watch.

No Escape

Escape from [insert name of fictional Asian city here]

Considering the plot, characterisation and cinematography this film contains, it is not difficult to imagine it being made in the 1980’s (with Harrison Ford replacing Owen Wilson as the lead hero) or even the 1950’s (starring Jimmy Stewart). This is not a way of complimenting the film and suggesting it is timeless, anything but. This film is dreary, predictable and exceptionally dated. It’s portrayal of foreign conflict and politics is extremely problematic, a one-sided view of global issues that is almost xenophobic in presentation. The only thing that separates No Escape from a B-movie shown on the dark and misty unknown entities of Sky Movies channels after channel 315 is it’s talented cast, who are severely let down by the dross of a screenplay. Having not stayed for the end credits (in my desperation to leave the cinema)  I can only presume my hunch that the ‘research’ for this film was the greatest hits of The Daily Mail is in fact true…
Jack (Owen Wilson), an American engineer, leaves behind a failed business to drag his family to 
Southeast Asia to head his water manufacturing company’s new plant there. When they get there; they seem to be having problems, the electronics don’t work and rarely any cars are seen in the streets. When he goes to the market the next morning, he finds himself caught in the middle of a violent rebellion headed by armed rebels executing foreigners. Unbeknownst to Jack, just days before these armed rebels assassinated their prime minster. Jack must get back to the hotel and with the help of a mysterious British “tourist” (Pierce Brosnan), must get his family to the American Embassy in the midst of the chaos. But is there any escape? 
Firstly, the family. Jack is the archaic kind of hero of cinema long ago. He’s the Everyman. A husband. A father. By agreeing to this new job he has uprooted his family and doesn’t appreciate how they might feel, so he must learn his lesson through enduring this hero’s journey. He has a jarringly good range of survival skills; he knows instantaneously how to survive the most incredible and most ridiculous situations without having to think about it. Most depressingly of all, he is intentionally presented as all charmness and niceties whereas his wife Annie (Lake Bell) spends most of the film crying or with her face contorted into fear/outrage.  And, as bad as it will sound, their children are unbearably annoying. The majority of hurdles the family face are either caused by the children or severely complicated by the children. Pierce Brosnan enters, exits and reenters the film to little effect. His presence here echos something Micheal Caine declared when once asked about his role in Jaws: The Revenge,’ I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.’ That must be the only reason that Brosnan is here giving a throwaway performance as a mysterious lothario Cockney.
The film’s biggest error is its portrayal of the ‘enemy’, The way the armed rebels are presented could have been an intelligent examination of ISIS or other militant groups. Instead they reflect the sentiments of those who use the term ‘swarm’ to label those currently seeking European asylum. They are characiatures: nameless, faceless and brainless. They are zombies, an epidemic the hero must save his family from.
No Escape mistakes creating tension by instead creating frustration. It’s one-part popcorn movie to two-parts shameless exploitation.

Man From U.N.C.L.E

A light-hearted and immensely entertaining spy caper

Finally, we get a proper Hollywood summer movie (admittedly slightly belatedly as the week of British summer time appears to have drawn to a close…) Nevertheless, this is the kind of film you’d expect to see, a fizzling and refreshing take of a much-loved genre. The story might not be the most original, or particularly remarkable, but the immensely charismatic performances of its stars make it a hilarious romp that is well-worth seeing.

It’s 1963. In the midst of a global stand-off, with the world on the on the cusp of nuclear war, ex-con turned leading C.I.A agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is tasked with tracking down and rescuing Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander). Her father, who is currently missing, was a Nazi scientist who worked for the U.S government due to his specialism of nuclear weaponry. Solo finds Gabby easily enough, but was being pursued by leading KGB agent Illyra Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) who is also on a mission to locate Gabby. A chase sequence follows, with Solo managing to get Gabby over the Berlin wall into West Berlin and leaving Illyra on the other side of it. That’s not the last the trio will see of each other, as the next day Solo’a American handler and Illyra’s Russian counterpart bring them to a meeting and announce that they will be working together to stop a pair of former Nazi’s who are forcing Gabby’s father to create their own personal nuclear weapon.  They must go undercover and work together to find Gabby’s father, however, Solo and Illyra are given private orders from their seniors to steal the data from the project for their respective governments.

What follows is a breezy, stylisation and oh-so elegant production. It’s an affectionate tribute to the Bond series and other espionage classics; a fun and frivolous, and even rather fresh, take on a much-worn genre. With a sparky soundtrack, gorgeous costumes and speedy editing to set the tone you’ll be kept engage from frame-to-frame. These features, along with the magnetic leads, make for a charming ride of a movie. Vikander is scintillating as a German mechanic who becomes embroiled in matters of international performance. Hammer is incredibly endearing as a Russian spy who may have a sweet heart within his looming psychique. Then we have Cavill whose charm, wit and suave emulates the pre- Daniel-Craig-era Bond.

It’s nothing particularly new, but with a few inventive twists and turns this makes for a laugh out loud cinematic gem.