Film Reviews by DS

Welcome to DS film reviews page. DS has written 27 reviews and rated 17 films.

He was there, I saw him mooching around...

Certainly this is Taxi Driver for the 21st century but with director Lynne Ramsey’s distinctive stamp all over it. We stil see wet, seedy, dark locations as Joe traverses the underbelly of society but this is juxatobpose by bright, clear, colours and well-lit scenes. Joe is multilayered and fair from being portrayed as a somewhat likeable pyscho or even unlikealbe one he is shown, and amazingly acted by Phoenix, as a basically normal man with huge flaws. He has a disasterious past that bubbles to the surface from time to time, he is horrifyingly violent but only in when the circumstance arises, other than that he’s a somewhat scruffy, beardy bloke, you might pass on the street.

Sure the film is slow past with plenty of shots of Joe ‘thinking’ or wandering about, the flashbacks are cut-editted in, I liked this but I can see how others would get confused or irritated but let’s think about this. It’s slow-placed, a bit boring, so there aren’t enough flashy, explody, bang-bang-bang films out there for you? This is the opposite. You can drink this without scolding your lips.

The story is shockingly violent. Violence seams throughout the running time like some precious ore yet Ramsay very clearly says right from the beginning she’s not interested in the violence despite it being part of the life-blood of the film. In a lesser director’s hands I could have watching arterial spurting, brain splattering and hearing bone-crunching sounds alongside screeching and screaming. With Ramsay we see it remotely, in black and white through security cameras, or the aftermath, which is a bit gory, or it is entirely implied. I wish more film-makers did this, torture and gore porn have never been mine thing and worries me that so many people seem to get a kick out of it when at times it seems to he the only reason for the film – but I digress.

Joaquin Phoenix as Joe is centre and stage and fills the screen as a big bear of a man who seems on the outside normal although clearly troubled. all other roles and actors are bobbing in his wake. With this type of presence on the screen you need an actor with big shoulders to carry you and with the mercurical Phoenix, Ramsay got her man. Few other actors could have had the screen presence to carry this and the film would have been very different without him.

As a story You Were Never Really Here is actually as straight forward conspiracy that goes to the very top story with a loner tough-guy sorting it out but give it an actor and director and the top of the games, let them twist the plot and pacing the way they want it to go and you get something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

‘The man with the ball pane hammer’ will not be for everyone but if you give it a chance, maybe view it in the right frame of mind and perhaps watch it more than once you will see more than you first thought you did. It is good.

Finally like Taxi Driver is there a subtext to tell what is happening throughout the film – the title, the final scenes, well it should get some debate going but in the end you make your own mind up as you should with all good films.

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Eighteen year-old me would have loved this - but at fifty-six, not so much...

Having never read the novel and only seen a few reviews of Ready Player One so I went into the film with no idea what to expect.

I’ll say from the start as a slightly dull, fifty-six year old man with a grey beard I find the current trend for nostalgia-porn dull in itself. Naval gazing and eulogising about the glorious past leaves me cold. I was eighteen in 1980 and it was not fantastic nor was it ‘crap’ it was just a time. Some of the music was good, some was awful, some films were great, some were dross – do you know what? Just like now.

The acting in this film is good with Olivia Cooke once again showing why she is getting picked for roles left right and centre, and none of the vocal-fry that irritated me so much in TV’s Vanity Fair. Tyler Sheriden is believable and sympathetic and very ‘normal’ for the role of ‘hero’ likewise the supporting roles – all are believable ‘video gamers’. It would be too easy not to miss the target of the video gamers avatar and what the real person is like and this film hammers that to the hilt – like I said it was too easy a target. The baddy, played with some lovely scenery chewing, by Ben Mendelsohn, seems to exist to be bad, his motive, like so many films, is just to be corporate greedy. I understand this trope and there is some truth in it but it would be nice to see some nuance from time to time.

The film moves along at an exciting pace and certainly has some great visuals of the near future and it was fun for ten minutes, when in the OASIS, to see which ‘characters’ and pieces of nostalgia you can spot but like so many modern blockbusters we do end up with hugely confusing set-pieces of explosions, impossible derring-do escapes and confusing pyrotechnics. This type of action must be for the younger generation because in every film I ever seen featuring these ‘exciting’ battle and set pieces I usually get bored and confused. Near the end of Ready Player One I had no idea what was going on and ended seeing how many repeated place-holder creatures were popping in the scenes – they are there too.

Certainly, as film, I don’t know the book, Ready Player One seems to be a blatant nostalgia-fest with constant references both oblique and obvious but this to me is the real reason for its existence, the story is fairly simple, made to appeal to the video-game generation but nothing that you have not seen here or there. The trouble is when I see Robo Cop for a fleeting second it makes me want to the original Robo Cop and not Ready Player One. For me that is biggest problem of Ready Player One, from time-to-time it reminded me of better films I had not seen for a while.

All in all, it is a well-made film, and well-acted, with some stunning visuals and rip-roaring storyline but on the negative side it is not as original as it thinks it is, it wallows in nostalgia, loves exposition and can be confusing at times, especially near the end with the battles and set pieces.

Ready Player One is okay but I won’t be watching it again in thirty-years time.

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Films Stars Never Die When There's Films Made Like This...

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is beautiful romantic drama about a part of real-life actor Peter Turner’s life in the late 70s early 80s. He met and had a romantic relationship with Gloria Graham, one-time Oscar winner and 50s silver screen star. The film centres on this tempestuous relationship that had its ups and downs, but the film makes clear was a true love between the two.

Jamie Bell plays Peter, already a fish-out-of-water actor within his own working-class household and neighbourhood who further pushes against the ‘norms’ when he starts a romance with the much older Gloria. Mr. Bell is on top of his game here, he rarely isn’t to be fair, and breathes believability into a working-class Liverpool lad who happens to love acting and really loves this older woman without actually realising exactly who she was. His relationship with his family, bewigged Stephen Graham and Julie Waters could be said perhaps to be conflicting, dramatastic, actor fodder but in all honesty it’s easy to believe that with Peter being an actor and all the problems and uncertainty that could bring and then being in relationship with a famous, albeit fading, eccentric movie star might bring a few errr conflicts. Still will all know actors love shouting and angry arguments.

The cast is uniformly fantastic with Annette Bening playing the older, insecure, Gloria Graham who ultimately proves to have a deep and caring love for Peter although he never finds out how much, but the audience is let in on it.

There is some great film-making creativity going on here and with trips back into the past a mere step through a door and some old-style backscreens during driving scenes which I think added to the charm of the story. The chemistry between the two leads is there to be seen and none more so than their first meeting a fantastically choregraphed and naturalistic dancing scene – and who doesn’t want to see Billy Elliott giving it some seventies disco?

There are many stand out moments in the film just two come straight to mind; the visit to the cinema and then the pan up to what film it is (not spoiling that) and Peter, his dad and the dog visiting the pub and a completely natural conversation between them that takes place.

All in all, this film is great piece of cinematic romantic drama that is acted impeccably by its superb cast made even more amazing by the fact it is based on a true story, a true romance if you will.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a simple love story about a younger man and an older woman – at last, because I’m fed up with wrinkly old men copping off with twenty-something starlets. That the star-crossed lovers are actors and one of them a fading famous one is really incidental. If they had been a plumber and a shop owner, written as it was and acted as it was, it would have been as good.

This a story about love and how any true love no matter how short and sorrow-filled is better than no love. Without doubt this is a film that loves love but there is some love left over for the magic of film and the days when Gloria Graham was a star.

Great acting, great film, great story and you will get ‘something in your eye’.

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Turbo Boosted Nostalgia is all Good Fun

It is to the makers of Turbo Kid’s credit that within ten minutes of the start of the film I was checking the sleeve for the year the film was made. It was 2015 not 1985. This truly was a well-crafted knowing love letter.

Right down to the cheesy synth pop movie to the style of shots, even the acting, Turbo Kid just shouted 1980s from the get-go. Often with this type of pastiche the story does not hold up, the acting can be creaky, yet with Turbo Kid, the joke never wore thin.

The hilarious and so spot-on grand guignol of spurting blood, flying heads and suspiciously rubbery looking intestines were enough to shock when they suddenly popped up or even gushed out. Yet they still make you laugh with their gloriously over-the-top and senseless ultraviolence. The action was the sort of thing that would have made the 80s school kid you were squeal with pleasure and then tell all in the playground the next day.

At 91 minutes running time Turbo kid didn’t outstay it’s welcome either. although I have to say my attention was just starting to fray near the end even though the goodies, baddies and in-betweens were lining up to meet their ends, escape or be the hero.

As far as the story goes it is nonsense, just as it should be but one point I particularly loved was in this dystopian future everyone rides push -bikes, which makes sense to me, do you know how to refine petrol? Everything else is in there, revenge for the murder of a mother, an unexpected reveal for a character, the cool mysterious stranger and the evilest of evils the one and only greatest. Michael Ironside. The tropes of being a hero to yourself loving a friend who initially you mistrusted and winning the day with a sacrifice are ticked off in a competent and fun way. If you loved this type of film as a youngster, you’ll love Turbo kid.

The acting a from mainly unknown cast, to me at least, (I apologise to any Kiwis and Canucks who know them well), play their roles to perfection, the two younger protagonists Munro Chambers and Laurence Leboeuf playing Turbo Kid and Apple respectively do very well in particularly tricky roles. They have to play their pivotal characters completely straight and yet somehow give a knowing wink to is the audience, for me, this audience, it worked. Leboeuf in what could be an irritating presence had enough skill to make Apple daft, annoying, endearing, fun and ultimately tragic.

Some work there just in that one role.

Munro is Turbo Kid and his charisma carries past any flaws on the story or script. Michael Ironside and Aaron Jeffery are both experienced enough to carry their less nuanced characters with some ease and to wring out as much fun as their respective roles and presence in the film allowed.

If you into nostalgia from you misspent youth (1980s) Mad Max style apocalypses mixed in with BMX bandits channelling Kung-Fu kids with futuristic superheroes – this is the movie for you. The thing is it sounds awful but if you watched this films in your early teens you will get a kick from surprisingly well made and well-acted tribute.

Turbo Kid is fun and daft, like the original films, in fact scrub that, some of them were not this much fun.

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A nice gill-man, even if you are a cat….usually.

In the end, despite the reams of text written about The Shape of Water, it would appear that del Toro has made a simple love story, albeit between an amphibious humanoid and Sally Hawkins, but at the beating heart of it all, it is a simple love story.

Stylistically directed and shot the film very much reminded me of The City of Lost Children and similar Jeunet output. This is no bad thing and gives the film an air of fairytale despite the real-world setting. Like that French director’s films del Toro does not allow the saccharine to creep in too far and this film, like all his other outputs is filled with some unsavoury characters and involve sex and real death with all the messy details.

We do get a clear line of black and white hats, with Stuhlbarg’s character being a dark shade of grey, and having a noble motivation, whilst Michael Shannon being Michael Shannon does very well in a role that could have been said to be one-dimensional. He gives Strickland a scary motivation that most viewers could not agree with but could understand but he definitely has a hat that says ‘Bad Guy – hate me’.

Sally Hawkins effortlessly plays a non-speaking role to such a skilled and nuanced effect that I genuinely forgot for long periods her character is mute. Ably supported by Octavia Spencer and the sublime Richard Jenkins who plays the type of character that he has made his own over the years the film is in good hands.

Guillermo del Toro has often made films about being an outsider and being the ‘different’ one and here has turned the dial up to ‘eleven’ on this theme. You can’t be more outside than a ‘gill-man’ but then he throws into the mix Octavia Spencer as a poorly treated black cleaner with a work-shy husband, a mute orphan girl and a sensitive and lonely gay man. You’d have to be tone-deaf to not see his message.

Whilst others might baulk or see this message being pushed as unsubtle or ‘PC’ it has to be said in this day and age there are plenty of other films taking an altogether different message to the masses. Admittedly they won’t have the stellar cast or acting that del Torro gets but they are there. I did not see this as particularly anti-American or PC but it just says ‘be nice’ when you boil it right down. If you don’t agree with this simple message well….

This film gave me pleasure in watching it and equally nearly as much when I read some utterly foaming at the mouth reviews on IMDB. I thought people like me were supposed to be snowflakes? It’s just a film calm down. It won’t change anyone’s views that are not already entrenched.

The Shape of Water is a very modern fairy-tale about love and hate and like all good, violent and sexy fairytales in the end love wins…just.

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No Man's Land Online DVD Rental

Not a popular view on a popular film.

No Man’s Land garnered a lot of awards and was feted for being a realistic and funny depiction of the futility of war.

If nothing else this film shines a light for us fat and comfortable Europeans who saw the events on TV for a few months and then promptly forgot about them.

Directing Tanovic clearly tried to condense something of the conflict down into a manageable personal conflict. It is not the first time someone has tried this nor the last, this type of film certainly has been better made and definitely worse. Tanovic’s effort falls between the two stools. You can see what he wants to say, you get the funny and futile message he makes but at times it appears to be simplistic and childish.

The start of the film certainly shows the amateur and foolish side of war. There are no slick heroes here. They get lost and ambushed. No one really seems to have much of clue of what they’re doing. Instead of being slick cohesive units who know what is going on these ‘war heroes’ are scruffy, unmotivated, clumsy, scared and barely much use to anyone.

When we get down to the on-off three-hander in the trench things start to come a bit unstuck and clunky metaphors start to leak in. It seems to be obvious who the director things the real baddies are and what each of the characters represents.

For instance, one side seems to have a lot of overweight, unshaven slobs in their ranks. I don’t think this is a coincidence. One dead combatant is shown to be gay by having a picture of a nude muscled hunk in his wallet. This is treated by the character who finds the image with much disdain. It’s a bad thing, funny even, there is no doubt about the director’s message here.

Georges Siatidis is superb when he shows up as the hopelessly powerless UN sergeant only allowed to observe but who really wants to intervene in the carnage. Then we get Simon Callow playing directly opposite this as lazy, uncaring UN general who at first doesn’t want to leave the comfort of his office and sexy assistant and then when he’s forced to wants to get out of the situation as quickly as he can without any regards to anyone else. I’m sure the drama and conflict of what people wanted to do and what they had to do and why they had to do it could have used a slightly more subtle brush.

Katrin Cartlidge is the only female character of any note but I found it confusing for some time what here charactering was representing? Any other example of the west just being disinterested voyeurs, but Tanovic makes our mind up with giving her character some telling dialogue about murder and then makes her dispassionate near the end about the outcoming of her ‘breaking story’. As I’ve said before a bit clunky. A more interesting question would be, ‘if you take sides, how do you decide which side?’ Perhaps that is a question for another film. Nevertheless, she does well enough with her ‘writ large’ role.

The story plays out with mainly a big broad strokes to its conclusion – unsatisfactory and stuffed with more metaphors but as I said I found it unfulfilling.

The acting wavers between great and a bit wobbly and despite being labelled as surprisingly funny the laughs are sparse. Having watched a lot of films over the years I am well aware of the horror and stupidity of war so when a film comes along and says this again it has to be well acted, interesting and say something new for it not to get stale. I liked the vivid green of the Bosnian countryside which made a big difference from a lot of muddy brown hell-holes but for me, something was missing from the whole film.

No Man’s Land has its good points and while I feel that it is not the Emperor’s new clothes it definitely is wearing his jacket and tie.

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These apes are strong, strong together, and definitely need keeping an eye on.

So often in the modern filmmaking world, reboots/remakes that claim to 'pay homage' to the original films they are based never live up to the originals. Now as a huge childhood fan of the original Planet of the Apes films (and the TV show) it is a great pleasure to see a set of film-makers and actors who clearly have a great respect for the source of their film.

The War for the Planet of Apes is clearly greatly updated in the storyline, realistic settings and unparalleled special effects and ape acting but if you look closely you can see the setups and references to those original films. In particular, I was delighted with the build-up and story behind 'Nova' the mute girl and how human's became mute (or will). The makers really sat down went through the original stories and must have said let's pad this out, give it a reason and not just say 'because it is'.

It made me smile and still does thinking about it now. Someone thought long and hard about the backstory, cogs and wheels in the background.

The story itself is as old as the hills, revenge, pure and simple. What makes it better than most is the clear villain, Woody Harrelson, has a motive that makes sense and there is a reason for his specifically cruel and merciless actions. Most of us, but not all, would not agree with them but we do know why he does them and it's not because he is 'evil'. Yes, the makers do have a dig and modern society and the current world situation and why not? It's a road that is clear for all to see.

The action sequences are as good as most serious war films and especially the opening assault puts me in mind of a few Vietnam films from over the years, both claustrophobic and then all-encompassing with some great sweeping camera shots.

It takes some great writing and motion-capture acting to make you close to tears over the deaths of CGI apes and laugh at the antics of Steve Zahn's comic side-kick 'Bad Ape'. In lesser hands it could have been awful but the motion-capture and Zahn's comic chops had the role on the right side of the tracks. Needless to say, Andy Serkis is basically now a real talking ape because he has his role to the T so much you forget he's an actor from London. He is helped no end with his supporting cast, particularly the other apes where facial and body language is the performance. That is not to cast the 'humans' into the shadows because overall I could not think of a character that jarred with me throughout the running time.

It was great to see that a film that uses 'War' in its title did not go down the explosions and non-stop gun battles that perhaps some would expect or even want it to be. There is a battle at the beginning and battle at the end but in between you get a drama with pathos, laughter, tears and peril. Pretty impressive I'd say.

Both the main character are neither black nor white, there is a moral to the story and real peril throughout with no character, favourite or otherwise, guaranteed to make it to the conclusion. The settings and locations are both magnificent, wild and natural. A world left alone.

If I have a quibble it would be the ending seemed rushed and slightly too neat, which is odd considering the film's 140 minutes running time, I can't actually say what happens without spoiling the film but considering the way the story was crafted as messy and difficult for all the characters, like real life, the ending was just too neat, too tied up in a bow but it's a personal quibble really. Others will love the ending I'm sure.

Oh and I hated Woody Harrelson's actor's tool, the unnecessary sunglasses, used to take off and put on to emphasise points.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a very, very, good film, it sits comfortably with the first two films of the series, is a fine update on the original films and pays knowing, loving and carefully thought-out tribute and continuation of those 70s film storylines.

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