Monday, 4 December 2017

2017 Catch-Up Reviews - 1

December is here. Shocking, right? Let's forget about Christmas and celebrations and family and all that jazz for now though, and instead focus on this: a new series of Catch-Up Reviews for all the films I missed throughout the year. This first one's a bit funny though, these three films I had actually already seen prior to my little catch-up sessions, I just didn't have the time to review them - so I'm doing it now. We'll look at Sean Baker's The Florida Project and S. Craig Zahler's Brawl in Cell Block 99, but first: Michael Showalter's The Big Sick. Let's get cracking!

The Big Sick [dir. Michael Showalter]

The Big Sick is good enough to revitalise an entire genre. I'm aware this is a pretty bold statement to make in the opening of a review (especially a mini one like this) but why hide how great this film is? It's essentially a rom-com for people who don't necessarily like rom-coms, sourcing its comedy in a variety of places but keeping the romance looming throughout. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon's script - based on experiences of their own relationship, but overly dramatised here for storytelling purposes - is deft in its approach to the rom-com genre, precisely working out which tropes to shake up, which to keep the same and which to throw away entirely. It's probably the best example of a modern romantic comedy we've had in some time.

Where the film finds most of its strengths, though, is in its approach to family and religion. Kumail (as played by himself) keeps his relationship with Emily secret from his family for religious purposes, but when Emily falls ill he struggles to keep his two worlds apart. The film finds genuine emotion here, frequently landing on scenes that'll get you working through a whole box of tissues. Hell, you may even need to borrow from a friend come Kumail's final scene around his family dinner table. It's a stellar performance from Nanjiani, one as showstopping as it is personal - his combination of comedy and heart is impeccable, and you'll root for him every step of the way. The Big Sick is maybe sometimes too sweet for its own good, but it'll fill you with every emotion under the sun and you'll be thinking about it for days on end.

In A Sentence: As funny as it is moving, The Big Sick is a modern rom-com that ticks all the right boxes and sources a powerhouse performance from Kumail Nanjiani in the process.

The Florida Project [dir. Sean Baker]

The Florida Project has a heart of gold, that’s one thing that absolutely cannot be argued about it. Its depiction of childhood through the eyes of six-year old Moonee is full of joy, she skips through fields with her friends and laughs at the stupid stuff in life. The film even takes the time to show us moments that most other films would deem far too inconsequential, a scene of Moonee and her friends playing hide and seek is in no way related to the plot and yet it helps to build this childlike atmosphere The Florida Project relishes in. It’s without question the best depiction of a child’s life since Boyhood.

The Florida Project must be commended for shining light on a part of America we so rarely see, and even though it isn’t selling this as the ideal lifestyle, the way it captures Moonee’s free spirited joy is nothing short of a revelation. However, Moonee’s mother Halley is perhaps overly sold as an unlikeable person for the film’s thin narrative arc to stick the landing. She repeatedly refers to Moonee as her “fuckin’ kid”, she steals up to $1200 from innocent people, she viciously lashes out at a mother in a similar position for trying to form a better life for her own child. The Florida Project wants us to sympathise with Halley, and to a large extent I did, but the film soon pushes her over a boundary. The Florida Project remains essential viewing though, if for no more than to see the world through the eyes of a child more vividly than you’ll have seen it in years.

In A Sentence: While its final act may lose the magic touch of the film's best moments, The Florida Project is nonetheless an affecting, likeable film that shines a light on an underrepresented community.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 [dir. S. Craig Zahler]

The best praise I can award Brawl in Cell Block 99 is that it is so intensely violent that it made me feel physically sick, and this is coming from someone who really doesn’t get affected like this by movies anymore. Other films have similar displays of violence to Brawl, but this film uses its style and performance and sound design to amplify what we’re watching. It creates a wholly unique experience, and one that I’ll probably never forget, even if I never want to go back there again. And it stars Vince Vaughn – who’d have guessed it? Take the Saw films, for example. They are violent and gory and undeniably grim, but they also make use of an extremely heightened visual style, they’re mostly poorly acted, and they frequently feel too smug for the violence to really land.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 displays horrific levels of violence – from heads slammed in metal doors to arms bent so far backwards the elbow bone shoots out – but it’s done kind of tastefully. The sound design here is extraordinary, every bone crunch resonates like a brick to the chest. Vaughn’s performance is superb, too. He fully embodies his character’s anger and desperation, turning what could be gratuitous violence into something entirely necessary. The film doesn’t find much room for emotion or character development, and there’s a late middle act twist that throws a lot of the logic out the window, but Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a thrillingly unique film experience in just how far it’s willing to stretch its violence before you have to turn away. This is exhilaratingly brutal film making, I’m almost ashamed for liking it so much. Almost.

In A Sentence: Featuring career best work from a Vince Vaughn who shatters as many expectations as his character does skulls, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a boldly violent film with more than enough grim thrills to make the trip worthwhile.


The Lost City of Z, Ingrid Goes West, Elle

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