Director: Richard Linklater


I am neither a Richard Linklater fan nor an Ethan Hawke fan, as some of you may remember from my blog on Before Midnight (2013), and unfortunately for me they are one of those frequent collaborative pairings that you often find in Hollywood.

It’s fairly safe to say that I approached Boyhood with some already preconceived notions based on my previous experiences with the Linklater/Hawke pairing so I wasn’t really expecting much. Then there was my additional issue with films that seem to attract an annoying level of hype and praise before they even hit the cinemas in their general release (like Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens but more on that at a later date!) – so rarely do these types of film actually live up to the hype that I have learnt to temper my expectations. I guess this is in part why I avoid reviews as much as possible. Ironic I know, given that I am in the very process of doing exactly that and writing a review.

With Boyhood my reluctance to watch the film was not just the inordinate amount of hype surrounding the film, or the unfavourable pairing (at least in my eyes) but also the very concept of the film. Growing up is a hard thing to do in the first place without the added pressure of doing it on camera … and let’s face it Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record of looking after it’s young stars now does it? So to me the idea of filming someone going through what could arguably be the most awkward period of their life, over a prolonged period, seems massively self-indulgent on Linklater’s part.

“The actors age before us, though it is the evolution of Ellar Coltrane (who plays the boy, Mason) and Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter, playing Mason’s sister) that has the most resonance.” (931, Mick McAloon, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

BoyhoodWhile it is kind of fascinating to watch Ellar Coltrane grow up I was never entirely comfortable with the film and couldn’t quite ignore my feeling that it’s somewhat exploitative. There doesn’t actually appear to be that much of a narrative but rather relies on the gimmick of watching the cast age across the period of 12 years. It’s a massive undertaking on all parts, which I do definitely recognise, but in the main just ends up strengthening my view that the film is much more about Linklater’s overweening arrogance. In recognising Linklater’s achievement I am never the less left with a faint sense of voyeurism that never really sat very well with me.




Director: Damien Chazelle


“The pouring sweat, dripping blood, and relentless emotional battering of Whiplash’s gladiatorial combat takes place in an esteemed New York music academy.” (941, Leigh Singer, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) There was such hype surrounding Whiplash that I eagerly went out and watched the film … and was actually pretty disappointed. There is no denying that the drumming is intense and at times pretty insane but other than that not much really actually happens. It turns out that I like a narrative that actually progresses and has something to say. This doesn’t do that and feels much more like a character study rather than a narrative. The film is wonderfully lit in warm colours which are actually at odds with J. K. Simmons’ performance as Fletcher – he is anything but a warm or nurturing character.

tn_gnp_et_1011_whiplash“Though Fletcher convinces Andrew of his warped Darwinism, Chapelle isn’t so easily swayed, laying bare both men’s macho arrogance and power games. He’s rewarded with two standout performances. Simmons’ sadistic Fletcher is a career peak for this consistently fine character actor. He’s matched beat for beat by Teller, regularly performing his own drumming.” (941) J. K. Simmons is one of those actors that you know you’ve seen in loads of films but can’t always place him when asked what he’s been in. There’s not really anything liable about him in this film. It wouldn’t be a far stretch to say that at times his approach towards his students could amount to abuse – a thread picked up in the narrative (such that it is) of the film. He’s a thoroughly unpleasant person and in my opinion the worst sort of teacher there is, but that doesn’t stop his performance from being magnetic.

Miles Teller is quickly rising in my estimation of him. From playing the rather vile Peter in the Divergent series to Mr Fantastic himself, Reed Richards, in the unneeded reboot of the Fantastic Four (Josh Trank, 2015) Teller is fast becoming one of those actors that will capture and hold my attention in anything he is in. There is a scene in this which must have taken some guts to film having read about how he got the noticeable scars on his face so kudos to him for giving it his all. And the fact that he did the vast majority of the drumming himself just makes his performance all the more visceral to watch.

“With a cinematic crescendo, Whiplash exploits jazz drumming the way Raging Bull (1980) did boxing: as an arena to viscerally explore and explode male vanity, insecurity, and obsession.” (941) It may be because I’m a girl, though as a girl I’m loathe to say that, but I just didn’t get this film. Yeah the drumming is incredible but really why go through all that pain, both physical and emotional, for someone who doesn’t respect you. In the end, for me, it just didn’t live up to the hype, sadly.

The Act of Killing

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer


The Act of Killing“[…] The Act of Killing is a shocking, surreal, and stunning original documentary in which resolutely unrepentant former members of Indonesian death squads are invited to re-enact their crimes in the style of the movies they love.” (931, Jason Wood, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Jason Wood has got this spot on – The Act of Killing is shocking and surreal while at the same time one of the most stunning documentaries I have seen in recent years. It’s such a surreal film that I was constantly having to remind myself that it was actually a documentary rather than a drama and the events being portrayed were events that had actually taken place. The acts committed by these death squads were horrific and their re-enactments only make them more so. I knew nothing about the Indonesian genocide so it was kind of a learning curve for me to watch and my view is probably warped seeing as my introduction to the history of the subject comes from the perpetrators.

“Proud of their deeds – which included the burning and butchering of entire families – and never punished, Anwar and his pals are delighted when Joshua asks them to re-enact these murders for a documentary” (931) I couldn’t quite get my head around the subject matter. You have large groups of men going around re-enacting the horrific crimes of their past and no-one seems to be batting an eye. I know all films, including documentaries, are edited to tell the story that the director wants us to know but there seemed to be a remarkable lack of any distention among the rest of the Indonesian people. They seem okay to go along with this bizarre filmic experience but then this could be due to the fact that the former death squad members still wield an immense power over their every day lives. There is a real sense of the mafia around them – with visits to local shops demanding money in order to fund the film, the owners handing it over without question. The whole film is a bit strange but things really get weird when they begin production on the re-enactments. For some reason one of the men, Herman Koto, always ends up dressed as a woman in these outrageous costumes – and he actually makes quite an attractive woman!

I was horrified by the laid-back and casual approach everyone had to discussing the mass murder of an entire country of people. It was really quite disturbing to watch at times. Not only were the main group happy to discuss their crimes but they were also all so proud of their actions. The first part that really turned my stomach was watching Anwar Congo demonstrate his new, more efficient method of cutting off someone’s head, at the same site where he did indeed remove a number of people’s heads. Anwar and Herman are the two people Oppenheimer focuses on and the audience gets to watch the moments when their actions finally seem to sink in. Throughout the film Anwar’s appearance changes a number of times,as he routinely dyes his hair in an attempt to look younger and how he looked during his time with the death squads.

Anwar Congo The Act of Killing“[…] as the reconstructions are played out, Anwar finally feels stirrings of unease and remorse.” (931) The change in Anwar is the most, dramatic isn’t the right word because it isn’t dramatic in any way, but maybe profound is more accurate. It made for uncomfortable viewing for me, as I didn’t want to feel any sympathy for this man who had so callously dispatched people, and enjoyed doing it at the time. But there were moments where you couldn’t help but feel for him. The first real moment you see an awareness come over him is during a re-enactment of a beheading in which he is the victim. He literally put himself in the shoes of his victims and finally had some sense of what it must have been like. I say some sense because even then he knew he was safe and that nothing was going to happen to him whereas the reality for his victims was the complete opposite – they knew without a doubt that these were their final moments on earth and nothing they could say would persuade Anwar to release them. At the end of the film we see a completely different Anwar – no longer is he the cocky aging war criminal but rather a sad old man who ages before your eyes.Anwar Congo

“Oppenheimer eschews historical context or archival footage, instead focusing on a few individuals as they gradually come to recognize the abhorrence of their crimes.” (931) The Act of Killing is an incredibly powerful documentary and well worth watching even if only in acknowledgement of the horrific acts the Indonesian people were subjected to, from the mouths of the perpetrators themselves. But it’s not by any means easy viewing and nor should it be – you have to keep reminding yourself that these are real people who really inflicted this kind of suffering on their fellow countrymen. I highly recommend it to anyone … and the companion piece The Look of Silence, told from the perspective of the victims and the surviving family members.



Director: Steven Spielberg


“The Washington of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a world of collusion, compromise, and self-interest. The political sparring is brutal, with the lower chamber of Congress resembling a gladiatorial ring where legends are forged and vacillation can destroy a career.” (929, Ian Hayden Smith, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I can’t help but think Ian Hayden Smith waxes lyrical about Lincoln – and overly so at that. I don’t agree with much of what he says. It’s a long and somewhat boring portrayal of a pivotal time in history.

Lincoln“Daniel-Day Lewis is astonishing as the sixteenth President of the United States. Like Oskar Schindler in Spielberg’s 1993 Holocaust drama, we first see him from behind, hearing his voice before seeing his face. By the time we see him in close-up any trace of Daniel Day-Lewis is gone.” (929) I’m not a fan of Daniel-Day Lewis and that could have … what am I saying? It does have … a lot of do with why I find Lincoln to be one of the most boring, turgid and pointless films Spielberg has ever made. And I have a real bone to pick with Hayden Smith’s statement that by the time we see Lincoln all trace of Day Lewis has been removed. Mainly because it’s still recognizably the actor but more to the point we only ever saw still footage of Lincoln as he was assassinated before moving pictures came to be. So to say he has the characteristics of the 16th President is basically a fallacy – what we have is an actor impersonating other filmic examples of one of the most famous men in American history. Who knows what he was really like and how he moved? It’s all an interpretation. And yes while I know that all performance (and not just those on film) are just interpretations I think the thing I have an issue with is that Hayden Smith is lauding Day Lewis’ performance as being true to the person, and there is just no way that we could possibly know if that was true or not.

“The impact of one term in office and the grueling toll of a drawn-out civil war is visible in his face and physique, but when countering opposition to his plans he erupts with passion and fire.” (929) There is no denying that Lincoln made a huge impact on the landscape of American history in a very short space of time – there is a reason he is still one of the most recognizable Presidents so long after his tenure (and not just because he is now intrinsically linked to John Wilkes Booth, due to his assassination!) It’s actually a pretty interesting time in American history and yet it is still somehow a bit of a snooze-fest of a film unfortunately. The thing that interested me the most was the fight for the abolition of slavery taking place against the backdrop of the civil war raging at the same time.

And then on top of that you have all the interpersonal dramas taking place, which lend the film a much more human feel. You see the struggle of Mrs Lincoln to come to terms with the deaths and tragedies that have hit her family while at the same time being a public figure thanks to the nature of her husband’s job. Sally Fields does a tremendous job as Mrs Lincoln. I love her and her performance is one of the few things I enjoyed about the film. It’s so raw and vulnerable, yet at the same time she has this core of strength in her that makes her the equal of her famous husband.  Joseph Gordon Levitt is the poor set-upon eldest son of the Lincoln’s, desperate to be doing his bit in the civil war and yet unable to due to the strings his father pulls in order to keep him from harm.

Tommy Lee Jones in LincolnTommy Lee Jones is memorable – and not just for his laughably atrocious wig – but more for his usual grouchy self. He doesn’t hold any punches with his views and opinions and is one of the fiercest supporters of the bill for the abolition of slavery. The reason being is shown in a very touching moment towards the end of the film following the successful passing of the bill. The film concludes, just as it was starting to get interesting for me, with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln although you do get to see some of the emotional fallout from that event before the end credits roll.

“[…] Spielberg’s consummate drama is a reminder of why Abraham Lincoln is among the most revered figures in U.S. political history.” (929) I do agree that the film is a great reminder of why Lincoln is still remembered throughout, not just America, but the wider world too. And for something other than being the first President of the United States to be assassinated. Spielberg puts all of Lincoln’s achievements on display so that there is a record for the younger generations to embrace the man’s legacy. But for me, personally it was not a great film and is not one I will be revisiting – but by all means do not let that put you of watching Lincoln.


Director: Nicholas Winding Refn


DriveThe more I watch Drive the more impressed I am with every aspect of the film, but especially the performances by Carey Mulligan and Ryan Gosling. I still think Ryan should have been nominated for his performance as Driver – he is electric! He’s at his best when playing the strong silent type. And Driver is certainly the strong silent type – in fact he’s almost monosyllabic. “In this modern noir, Ryan Gosling plays a character enigmatically known only as Driver” (930, Simon Ward, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

“Each noir staple is alive, from Bryan Cranston’s mentor/father figure, to Ron Pearlman’s loose cannon crook, and the mesmerizing Albert Brooks as mobster Bernie Rose.” (930) Gosling remains in complete control with a cold efficiency to him despite the ever-present current of rage barely concealed under the surface. He allow the action to take place around him, almost like the eye of the storm, while he watches and absorbs everything. There is something almost machine like in his preciseness which is reflected in the brilliant soundtrack. Carey Mulligan is, as usual, flawless as Irene. And the perfect partner to Gosling’s Driver. She is equally comfortable saying very little while conveying a huge amount, preferring to embrace the moment instead of filling it with idle chatter.

I stand by much of my previous review especially when I referred to it as both a family drama and a revenge story at the same time. There is that feeling pervading the film and it does manage to form a complete narrative despite the tone of the film varying. The moments between Irene and Driver have a slow, sensuous, quiet and almost dreamlike presence while the revenge elements have a frenetic energy and pace to them, in keeping with Driver’s professional driving style. “Drive lives and dies on its emotions. Director Nicholas Winding Refn as called the film a fairy tale, and this is represented by beautiful damsel in distress, Irene; her “knight in shining stuntman jacket”, Driver; and the purity of their love for each other.” (930)

“This love drives the hero to sociopathic  extremes and the mixture of love and death, sensuality and violence perfectly comes together in the already-famous “elevator scene” – a hypnotic mixture of romance, tension, and head-crunching action.” (930) Their relationship is one full of longing, which ultimately remains unresolved – the one thing I would have liked the film to expand on is how their relationship turns out. Together they make an overwhelmingly absorbing couple to watch.

Drive is constructed in a hyper reality, making it somewhat of a meta-fiction. The viewer is aware that they are watching a film, a film that hums with unashamed thrills and emotion.” (930) The sound has a more noticeable role than in other films where it can all too easily become lost to the background. This is largely due to the precise employment of the sparse dialogue and Nicholas Winding Refn’s willingness to embrace periods of silence rather than run from them.

I stand by my statement that Drive was a much worthier contender for Best Picture than Midnight In Paris (Woody Allen, 2011) – which went on to win Best Original Screenplay despite being self-indulgent drivel! If you’re a Ryan Gosling fan you should watch Drive. And even if you;re not both he (and Mulligan) give such commanding performances that they might just convert you.

The Cabin In The Woods

Director: Drew Goddard


You ever watch a movie that you just love but have a really hard time explaining to someone else why you love it, let alone be able to put it into words? Well I’m having one of those moments with The Cabin In The Woods. So all I can say is sorry for this somewhat lackluster and confused review. Hopefully it will make sense to some of you.

“[…] The Cabin In The Woods is co-written and produced by Buffy creator and Avengers (2012) director Joss Whedon. Like Buffy, it is at once a knowing pastiche of horror conventions and a horror movie in its own right.” (Edward Lawrenson, 936, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) You may know by now how I feel about Joss Whedon (Joss is God!!) and although ultimately The Cabin In The Woods is directed by Drew Goddard in my mind it is always associated with Joss, probably very unfairly. But then both Joss and Drew have said that the process of filming was like being part of a hive mind – ‘one whole brain rather than two half brains.’ The main difference is the casting – Joss is known for casting characters from his well stocked pool of actors (and there’s a lot of them to pick from due to his penchant for ensemble casts) and Cabin is kind of light on members of the Whedonverse.Cabin In The Woods Jesse Williams Chris Hemsworth Fran Kranz

Despite having only a couple of Whedon regulars, in the form of Amy Acker as the head of the Chemical Department, and Fran Kranz as the intrinsically lovable stoner Marty, (oh and an appearance from Tom Lenk as Ronald the Intern) the cast is a well constructed one made up of a number of rising actors including Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. For all that the cast are nominally rising stars the nature of the story means that most of the sacrifices are reduced to bit parts, especially Anna Hutchison as Jules who really does become the stereotypical dumb blonde and the first to meet their grisly end. Hemsworth’s Curt is very much the alpha male jock who goes out in a blaze of glory – quite literally having collided with the force field confining them all to the area of play. Jesse Williams gives a shining though brief performance as Holden, the ultimately unrealized love interest for Kristen Connolly’s Dana.

Once again you have a resilient young female in the defining role of the film. While it is Dana who chooses their demise she is also the one who realizes that is just what they were manipulated into doing. She never gives up despite witnessing enough gruesome deaths to leave anyone catatonic. Fran Kranz is excellent as Marty. He has a unique, if extremely paranoid, way of looking at the world and is surprisingly switched on despite spending the entirety of the film high. Labeled ‘the fool’ he alone is the only one who realizes the dire situation they have found themselves in and ends up becoming the badass reluctant hero of the piece. I do always get the urge to watch the short-lived Dollhouse (2009-2010, Joss Whedon) after watching Cabin because Marty reminds me so much of Topher. If you love Marty then you should definitely check out Dollhouse.

Cabin In The Woods Joss Whedon Drew GoddardThe film has a very definite split between two sets of characters, the unfortunate sacrifices up above in the aforementioned Cabin In The Woods and the people pulling the strings underground, literally. This split is reflected in the aesthetic of the film as well. The Cabin while dark, and as we come to know very carefully constructed, is organic with a rustic (if slightly creepy) feel to it. As a contrast the underground control centre is clinical, practical and very uniform. It’s very gray and industrial.

“But for the movie’s ironic reference to other horror films, The Cabin In The Woods works in wholly visceral terms: it is at once a clever experiment in genre and a scary experience in itself.” (936) Cabin is definitely a scary experience in itself but then throw a clown into the mix and anything automatically becomes terrifying to me (it doesn’t even have to be a horror film) and that’s without the whole host of other creatures straight out of nightmares that inhabit the world of The Cabin In The Woods. Their imaginations just ran riot, anything you could possibly conceive of is included in this litany of nightmares (supposedly there is a Reaver somewhere but I have yet to find it). And despite including references to the wealth of horror films out there, they are subtle and avoid including any of the monsters made infamous by the genre like the numerous masked serial killers or even the old stalwart monsters. There’s no need to recycle vampires and werewolves when you can put your own spin on the creatures. Sugar Plum Fairy Cabin In The WoodsSome of the things contained within the innumerable elevators of evil I don’t even have names for or even realized I was scared of and yet there they are put on screen to enter into your dreams. Equally some of the monsters are kind of beautiful and elegant in their own way. I found the Sugar Plum Fairy and the guy with circular saws in his head mesmerizing and kind of graceful.Cabin In The Woods

“With its bloody exploration of ideas of sacrifice, the movie prompts difficult questions about the audience’s need for and enjoyment of onscreen violence and fear.” (936) The overriding theme is that everyone has their part to play even if they are doing so unwittingly. Everyone is expected to play their role without question and yet Marty and Dana don’t which ends with everything falling quite spectacularly apart. The resulting disintegration of carefully constructed rules plays out in a beautiful and bloody chaos. You can watch The Cabin In The Woods over and over again and never fail to find something new in it thanks to the “chaos on every screen”.

“Joss Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods is a fiendishly clever horror with an unexpected plot development that’s one of the great surprises in recent cinema.” (936)

Les Miserables

Director: Tom Hooper


Since watching Les Miserables for the Oscars last year I am only now just watching it again which is extremely surprising to those who know me. When I like a film I go out and buy it as soon as possible so the fact that I still do not actually own the DVD (I’m borrowing my sister’s copy!) kind of says something about how I feel about it. I think my previous review was just overwhelmed by the fact that we finally had a big screen adaptation of one of my favourite stage musicals. The more I contemplate Tom Hooper’s adaptation the more I realize that my feelings towards the film have changed quite substantially since my first viewing. Indeed there is little that I actually still agree with in my previous review

The music is still stunning but I often find the rearrangements jarring – this is most definitely because I’m just so used to the stage arrangements however. I understand the need for changes to lyrics (as mentioned previously Val Jean isn’t physically branded so the removal of those lyrics make complete sense) and some additions, a brief scene between Javert and Val Jean before the overturned cart.

You can feel the love and dedication of everyone involved in creating the best film they could to do justice to the epic story by Victor Hugo. I love the inclusion of numerous Les Mis actors from across the years – a real nod to not only their performances over the years but also to the fans of the musical who will recognize many of the faces in the background. Obviously the most recognizable is that of Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Val Jean, as the Bishop.

The costume design utilizes the costumes already associated with the story from the stage while at the same time creating a new look for the film. The film uses a slightly more muted color palette than the stage show but then it has the luxury of being able to do so. On stage the colors need to be more vibrant in order to be seen throughout the theatre. Key components of the iconic costumes have been kept  and expanded upon like the iconic rosettes and Enjolras‘ jacket. Cosette’s clothing is sumptuous befitting her position as the Mayor’s daughter. The best costumes in my opinion are those of the Thenadiers, and probably the most complex as they are forever adding to their costumes with the various items lifted from their unsuspecting victims.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are hilarious as the Thenadiers, the much-needed comedic element in an otherwise fairly depressing story. They have excellent chemistry, each complimenting the other well. And as we all know from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007, Tim Burton) they are both surprisingly good singers.

Despite some people saying he’s not the strongest singer in the cast I am still mightily impressed with Russell Crowe’s Javert. I love his approach to his songs. And his portrayal of the increasingly obsessed police officer intent on capturing Val Jean is magnificent.

I am still not enamored with either Eddie Redmayne or Aaron Tveit, as Marius and Enjolras respectively. And I remain adamant that Killian Donnelly would have made a much better Enjolras – he is an incredible performer, especially as Enjolras! It shouldn’t have mattered that he was an unknown in the film world as Hopper made the best decision for Eponine when he cast Samantha Barks (an as of then untested actress in the film world though obviously not within Les Mis on stage) She is stunning! You really feel every note of pain and longing in her voice. Her “Little Fall Of Rain” was one of the standout moments of the film and reduced me to even more of a blubbering wreck then I already was by that point.Little Fall of Rain Eddie Redmayne Les Miserables Samantha Barks

“Hooper ably captures the squalor of Victor Hugo’s Paris, particularly in the early scenes that detail Fantine’s fall. Her plea for mercy, for some relief from the drudgery of her existence, is the most powerful moment in the film. It is a raw portrait of a woman in despair. For sheer emotion, no musical and very few films from recent years can match it.” (936, Ian Hayden Smith, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Despite Anne Hathaway only being in the film for a short amount of time her nomination, and resulting win for Best Supporting Actress is so deserved. She is incredible – there is something so raw about her performance, which makes it all the more powerful. She really endeared the character to me which is a big thing coming from me because I have always found Fantine to be cloying and supremely annoying before. “I Dreamed a Dream” is without doubt one of the stand out numbers of the entire film for me.

I find myself less impressed with Hugh Jackman the more I think about his performance – I see more flaws in his Val Jean each time I watch the film which is something that I thought I would never say. I still feel that his rendition of “Bring Him Home” is one of the weakest numbers in the film, a fact that sits uncomfortably with me as that is my favourite number in the entire show … closely followed by “Do You Hear The People Sing?”

Les Miserables BarricadesI waited the entire film for the epic barricade to appear. You would have thought given the scope of film compared to stage the barricades would have been immense but it is only in the final shots of the film that you get a barricade to rival the one of stage at The Queen’s Theatre. That final barricade is worth the wait however setting the stage for one of the most spine-tingling set pieces in film over the last few years. The final shots of all those who lost their lives during the revolution atop the breathtaking barricade are beautiful and rousing. I shall be singing “Do You Hear The People Sing?” for days afterwards safe in the knowledge that I would once again “join in their crusade” which is exactly how you should feel having seen Les Mis.