Unanimously piercing satire – The Death of Stalin (2017), dir: Armando Iannucci

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Men in power can be outrageous and Iannucci seems to know that well. Not only does he know but he is also brilliant at conveying this on screen in the form of sharp satire, with the contribution of extremely talented individuals.

The canvas is the Soviet-era, and particularly the days after the death of the Union’s great leader. Naturally, his comrades start playing dancing chairs first in complete shock, and moments later mad for the opportunity to replace the tyrant, they start plotting and exchanging creative swearing with poisonous ease.

The characters are caricatures of a different time and yet, alarmingly familiar. The ensemble cast is exceptional and admittedly one of the two most unique elements of the film, the other being Iannucci’s pen.

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Speaking of which, I was particularly surprised that the film embraced the ugliness of realism, in the sense that the atrocities taking place under the Stalin’s rule – kidnapping, torture, rape, executions – were bluntly displayed and blended into social satire and farcical scenes. Personally, I felt this horrific background reduced the film’s comical effect significantly in spite of them being given the minimum possible screen time.

Political amorality is depicted in the faces of the comrades that pass quickly from antagonising to plotting the elimination of one another.  The chief of Soviet security, Beria is a figure of satanic appetite and monstrous efficiency in pulling the strings and pushing his rivals to the edge. Simon Russell Beale is such a powerful performer that makes this cartoonish character feel upsettingly real.

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Michael Palin is superb as Molotov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs; a pitiful, passive and self-sacrificial man with a comical devotion to the Stalinism. Steve Buscemi is Nikita Khrushchev, the head of the Party and sets the great plan of de-Stalinizing the country with nervous anticipation and dramatic gestures that entertain. Jeffrey Tambor is a ridiculous, vain and extravagant Malenkov. From Secretary of the Central Committee he rises to Chairman when the short, foul-mouthed, corrupted leader is put into his red-ribbon box and he is such a delight while doing so. Malenkov’s naivety and asinine gaze makes us almost pity him despite his crimes.

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Jason Isaacs is outstanding as the uncouth war hero with the heavy accent and preposterous collection of metals on his chest. Isaacs is an extremely gifted actor and is also responsible for intense laughter, cracking us up simply by the way he bears himself as the pompous Military Commander with the signature scar. As Stalin’s offspring, Andrea Riseborough and Rupert Friend are given their fair amount of funny lines and neurotic weirdness. Let’s not forget Paddy Considine who opens the film as Andreyev, the panicky radio producer who needs to find a way to satisfy the leader under time pressure.

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The film moves fast and has an intense, almost neurotic pulse as stinging exchanges full of meaning take place. In the comical ridiculousness of this conception reality is deeply entrenched and although, it reduces the power of comedy it adds to the intertemporal social and political satire attempted here. For instance, there are scenes like the decision-making/ voting one, the absurdity of which touches upon our most basic human flaws and so do all lines/ jokes betraying the thirst for power.

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After the film you might drink Vodka while re-watching Woody Allen’s “Love and Death”, revisit a Dostoyevsky’s novel, fantasize upon what role you’d assume in such an unholy Commission, think about a time when you desperately wanted to fill someone else’s shoes and how far you ended up going to see it happen, you might also delve into the work of Russian classical composers while contemplating the extend of corruption in your country’s political scene and then you might end up drinking more Vodka to forget….

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Nightmare of an allegorical invasion – mother! (2017), dir: Darren Aronofsky

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Shocked from the abuse and panic in Darren Aronofsky’s allegorical piece I left the cinema and have been gazing into the void ever since. It is a difficult film but also brilliant and refreshingly unique.

I stand with owe in front of Aronofsky’s cinematic achievement because mother! is visually impressive and paradoxically original. Who could have imagined that such an old, biblical (literally) tale could be retold through a metaphorical narration of that sort. Aronofsky’s genius as a writer is revealed in the story’s structure and as a filmmaker in the film’s horrifying and yet deeply emotional effect.

Jennifer Lawrence (Mother) is a passive, understanding, affectionate creature of immense patience and love for her poet husband, the Creator (Javier Bardem). The cracks in their relationship are evidently deep and irreversible, as it is soon confirmed. His wife’s company is not enough to keep him motivated and inspired so he invites a Man in (Ad Harris), and the next day, surprise surprise, here comes knocking his audacious, absurdly rude wife (Michelle Pfeiffer).

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These two are followed by their Cain and Abel offspring, and more uninvited guests that are bearers of filth and destruction to the beautiful home Mother has been building with love and effort. But the poet, as goes for every artist is thirsty for admirers and would sacrifice anything to keep them close. Whether you are the types that enjoy a full house or the ones that perceive their house as a sacred refuge from the world, I guarantee you will feel disturbed by the home invasion depicted here.

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From this point on is when my immersion into the story began, as questions multiplied and observation gave place to confusion and identification. The entire story unfolds in the interiors of a house but claustrophobia is achieved through the tight shots of the actors’ faces, especially Lawrence’s, being the film’s beating heart. And it is a brave performance she delivers here so she can be rightfully considered a truly gifted actress. There’s an array of intense emotional states she undergoes and she takes us through each one of them with admirable effectiveness. Initially she seems constantly confused, later on, she gets frightened and hurt, then immensely terrified and by the end, when the limits of sanity are by far surpassed, she embraces the cleansing destruction.

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Horror is not my cup of tea but mother! takes fear and repulsion to an existential level. Mother’s vulnerability faces an appalling degree of violence towards the end and that can be a challenging spectacle, despite having recognised the metaphors of her abuse and torture. The rational part of your brain might coldly command “Oh, look that’s Mother Nature’s child, an allegory for Jesus that is being killed – no biggie” but the emotional part might feverously react to the horrendous spectacle. Perhaps that is the most effective way to empathise with something of entirely foreign nature to you.

How easily would we avoid so much as dig a hole, if we visualised earth as a human being, like us. Of course, that is not the film’s purpose, to convert us into responsible and respectful habitats of this planet and unite us into combating the ecological crisis. That is not to say though that the unapologetic exploitation of everything Mother creates and is, will not make evident our similarity to Bardem’s character and will not bring forth guilt and shame for our kind.

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Mother! is a surrealistic film that breaks the rules of evidence and pushes you to spot the allegories in order to solve the mystery of Mother’s unjustifiable torment. It transports you into apocalyptic, wild, grotesque scenes that will make you feel imprisoned into someone else’s nightmare that unfortunately, feels all too familiar and deeply personal. The film is gripping and atmospheric as Mother has an established connection to the house that comes in complete contrast with how she relates to other people.

The cathartic scene towards the end, where she transcends into a fierce destroyer of everyone and everything is the most coveted resolution of the vulgar attack against her. But as the Creator follows his usual ritual to commence the next big creation, we are left pondering about the limits of hope that every other time could turn out differently than the last…

The film certainly deserves a re-watch, if not for its masterfully rich visuals and strikingly ingenious narrative, then for all the details that might have been overlooked. Question is, are we daring enough?

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After the film you might feel emotionally abused, empty and existentially shocked, you might avoid having friends over for a few days, you might lean your head on the walls of your house, carefully assess whether you’re respectful to Mother Earth (energy efficiency, water consumption, recycling, etc.); you might also, think about people you know that resemble the Creator’s idiosyncrasy (aka the egomaniacs) and finally, about the occasions when you were more of a taker than a giver, demanding more than someone could possibly give you.

Eccentric personalities score thrilling points – Borg vs McEnroe (2017), dir: Janus Metz Pedersen

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Tennis is a wonderful sport that celebrates speed, precision, discipline and technique. The rival athletes whose glorious history in court inspired this film are two of the best players the sport has produced. Completely opposites for the spectators but strikingly similar in their core, Borg vs McEnroe sheds light to the experiences that shaped the players as well as to their emotional state upon the 1980 Wimbledon championship.

The film starts with an excited young Björn enjoying his favourite sport to quickly contrast him to his more mature self, hanging on the edge both literally and metaphorically. The visual narrative succeeds in creating a personal portrait of the protagonists through short, meaningful flash backs that hold the key to unlocking their psyche and also, breath air into an otherwise linear and emotionally claustrophobic route leading up to the final match.

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The cast is brilliant; the Icelander Sverrir Gudnason finds a remarkable way to communicate the inner struggle and the unconfessed pressure that the handsome king of tennis bares. An inability to accept himself and communicate his needs, the burden of not leading a freeing, private life in addition to his constant effort to repress and control his feelings are reflected with perfect clarity through Sverrir’s performance, who also happens to bear a resemblance with Borg.

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Shia LaBeouf on the other hand, who is older and physically dissimilar to McEnroe is doing an equally impressive job. He brings out emotional depth to the character whose outbursts and obsessive behaviour are the consequences of an austere and oppressive upbringing that didn’t seem to tolerate his occupying anything but the first place.

Stellan Skarsgård is by no surprise, again a joy to behold on screen as Lennart Bergelin, Borg’s coach who sculptured his mentality and game. As a father figure and the most sensible influence, he stands strong and emotionally generous to the much tormented and tormenting player. Tuva Novotny plays Borg’s fiancée, and delivers captivating, painful looks to express the helplessness and despair experienced due to her partner’s psychological challenges.

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It is exciting to uncover layers of the experiences that formed one’s character, especially when it comes to the greatest athletes of the sport to date. It is the truth that little do we see in the film from tennis as it is evident that the actors, as also mentioned in interviews, followed a choreography that assimilated the real matches so it is CGI and good editing we should thank for the natural, almost documentary-like feel.

What makes Borg vs McEnroe a good and gripping drama, a thriller about sport, victory and human psychology in other words are the powerful performances, the non-linear narrative and playfully short shots and the depth of the attempted character study. It is almost magnetic to witness the dynamic between these opposite poles of a man towards the end when they finally meet on court. The tension has been successfully built by that point as it’s made clear what their obsession with being the best and with one another truly means and where it can take them.

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The final scenes and the epilogue leaves you emotional as the determination and soul stretching that happened on court resembles more of a battle for self-preservation. And given the insight into our characters’ idiosyncrasy, they seem to acknowledge that their mental survival is preserved through these battles.

Borg has always been a private man of few words and ice-cold exterior, whereas McEnroe has been loud and provocative enough to disorient the public from the purpose of his outbursts. I particularly loved the close shots of Borg’s eyes while watching McEnroe’s game on TV. He sees through him, how he uses his rage strategically to reach concentration and fuel his stress, he shows signs of relief and warmth when he meets him outside the game, as if he finally found someone that has experienced the same struggle, he identifies with that misunderstood boy from Queens that was told by his parents that his 96% grade at school is missing 4 points to be acceptable.

In the same way, Borg had to find a way to fuel his anger and almost unbearable desire to win and followed the complete opposite strategy, that of shutting any emotion and thought out of his mind and relying on meaningless rituals to preserve a sense of control and discipline against his genuine impulses.

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After the film, you might watch the original 1980 match (if you haven’t already…), acknowledge that tennis is one of the most amazing, thrilling and elegant sports, pick your favourite tennis players (ehh… Federer will be your first choice I’m sure!), delve into your motives for wanting to win badly or for being a perfectionist and seriously assess whether it’s worth the effort, you might also contemplate about the limits of obsession, how deceiving appearances can be and finally, how complicated and fragile we all are.

 

And these are the gentlemen that inspired the film:

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Demon clown terrorises the fellowship of the sewer – IT (2017), dir: Andy Muschietti

It might not come as a surprise that clowns have always seemed disturbing to me. As years went by I’ve met a few people who share my natural repulsion.

Their image or even worse, presence seems to bring about terrible physical and emotional effects, elevated heart-beat, goose bumps, palm sweat, disgust and… well… some fear too. It is their appearance and attire; the carrot-coloured, curly hair, silly clothes and irrational make-up. What signals most clearly the danger is that fake, absurdly exaggerated smile pf theirs that seems to betray a sickening feeling underneath.

The new Pennywise Clown that Bill Skarsgård created for us ticks all the boxes. The front teeth, long as fingers that strive to reach the lower leap, which drugs low enough to touch the chin, the down-leaning head that reveals those yellowish, inner-crossing eyes and the cracked white forehead that exiles his red hair to the middle of his skull make him one of the most appalling clowns I’ve personally come across. At this point, I believe it’s only fair to congratulate the make-up department as they evidently envisioned and generated a living nightmare for people like me.

The film is a supernatural thriller obviously but it is to an equal extent, a coming-of-age story. The victory of the IT is its cast more than the mystery, the thrill, the directing, etc.

The Losers Club consists of extremely talented fellas that enrich the morbid theme with smart jokes and genuine sensitivity. They are a bunch of talented actors, with great chemistry and excellent in both comedy and drama. Each Loser assumes a different role in the Club, as being part of a group usually goes… Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is the brave and sensitive, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) the smart loner, Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is determined and fearless, Richie (Finn Wolfhard) is the loud joker, Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is the survivor, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) the hypochondriac blabbermouth (and my personal favourite, he has a flare for comedy this kid…), and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) the quiet, reasonable boy.

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The opening scenes put you straight under the gloomy, rainy streets of Derry to have you shocked and appalled shortly afterwards with how evil the clown in question can be, luring an innocent, sweet kid into the sewer with promises for candy and popcorn, which makes the whole business way more cruel…

Moving forward, the narrative is driven by the friendship of those kids as we are slowly being introduced to their lifestyle, characters and fears, naturally… Whether it is disease, burning buildings, clowns, a dead kid brother, an abusive father, a beheaded zombie, or a deformed portrait of a ghost-like lady, the real demon can bring all these fears to life and therefore, challenge the sanity of the poor souls who are haunted by them. There is a well-built tension throughout the film around Pennywise’s appearances, the forms it takes and the damage it inflicts.

It is a pity however, for films like IT that have been adapted from novels or have been previously presented on screen that the audience is strived from the element of surprise, which is crucial in horror, in particular. There isn’t one moment that we experience agony for the Losers’ fate or hope as a matter of fact, that Pennywise will be defeated.

Pennywise’s close ups are creepy enough to trigger the primitive instinct of running away but for the most part the clown is subdued to visual effects that give life to his other forms. The sequence of the scenes in the abandoned house on Neibolt Street where all his victims gather up to face him deliver gripping action and emotional intensity but fail to scare us. In reality, I believe the only time Pennywise was truly frightening was in that opening scene. Throughout the rest of the film, he became of secondary importance to me as my focus shifted on the group dynamic and the kids’ performance. I caught myself observing their reactions more than the source of their terror.

On the other hand, the dialogues are rich, quick and funny and the scenes satisfy visually as fear peppered with humour bring about a heart-warming result. IT showcases the limits of true friendship, the sacrifice and bravery of its youngsters who willingly assume the burden of saving their little town from the demon in order to safeguard its present and future inhabitants while giving justice to the Clown’s past victims.

They stand up to bullies, attempt to save each other from oppressive and manipulative adults, create a safe environment for expressing themselves freely and stand together against a threat that the adults deny facing. The grow stronger through this traumatising experience and preserve some sense of normality. They continue being themselves but one can barely see them as kids anymore. The last scene reassures us of the second chapter, set for 27 years later but also gives a heart-warming and tender epilogue to the first chapter.

After the film you might avoid the dark, repeat x times the quote “You’ll float, too”, look up how the modern clown persona came to be (find the culprit, in other words…), wonder why on earth would a demon who respects himself assume the form of a clown for eternity and to make things worse, address himself as Pennywise (can it get any tackier?!), you might recall a time when you believed that monsters exist, contemplate what are your worst nightmares and fears and finally, who are the friends you’d like by your side in case you needed to face a mortal threat.

 

The limp that mushroomed into a castration – The Beguiled (2017), dir: Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola’s new film tells the tragic story of eight people brought together by circumstances, or in other words tells the dark tale born by two opposing forces, the man and the woman, the sex drive and the suppression of instincts, the punishing control and the uncontrollable freedom.

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The Beguiled is an adaptation of Don Siegel’s 1971 film of the same name, both based on the Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel “A Painted Devil”. I strongly encourage you to watch the original film, starring Clint Eastwood only to perceive how unsimilar can be two stories drilling from one source (with many of the dialogues and scenes found in both). The tone of the films is so diametrically opposite and feels like two people told you the same story but saw its characters in an utterly different light. The first person saw a school of sexually frustrated young girls and lonely hugs that stage a porn play with a wounded soldier at the lead and the second person saw ladies, frustrated with their drained of pleasure and excitement lives whose most raw and vengeful instincts get triggered by the seductive presence of a wounded soldier.

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The original film is eccentric, crude and gripping as it strips (literally) the heroines and villainises them either through their admittedly cruel actions or through their manic claim of the Corporal’s attention. Coppola wouldn’t stand for such a simplistic depiction of sexual deprivation and carnal desire so she created an adaptation far more fair to the female psych and libido. Elle Fanning’s Alicia is a teenage girl bored to the death in this cage of a school and filled with hormones in her stage of sexual awakening and not a slutty and persistent little devil, acting with the confidence of a much older and experienced woman (Jo Ann Harris).

In addition, leaving out several controversial elements of the first movie help maintain focus on the central storyline, such as McBurney’s kiss to the 12-year old Amy after he reassures her that she’s “old enough for kisses” (eh, pervert alert right there…), or the fact that Miss Martha’s late brother was also her lover (eh, brotherly love took a wildly inappropriate turn…).

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It is no wonder Sofia Coppola won the Best Director award in Cannes Festival, as The Beguiled is a masterful cinematic piece that gently pulls you into the world of these women.  The images of the countryside with the misty landscapes and the  ghost-like whipping willows surrounding the school of white marble in classical architectural style alternate with the claustrophobic scenes that find  its inhabitants interacting under the mysterious candle light (choosing a shorter aspect ratio, resembling a box in order to transit the sense of entrapment).

The film tells the story laconically (94 minutes to be precise) and yet, achieves a deeper character analysis than the 1971 feature. The narrative develops in a perfect circle; Amy gathering mushrooms in the forest, McBurney being carried by the girls, the lens laid steady outside the main gate.

This version builds up a subtle tension in the atmosphere that facilitates our immersion into the era and the psych of those women. The stylised environment, the purity of nature and the beauty and innocence of the girls as demonstrated by their manners, their clothes and their lessons makes the unescapable decay even more painful.

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This adaptation of The Beguiled is elegant and flows with the ease of a fairytale on screen despite it being a dark and emotionally dry one. There isn’t enough drama stemming from the unfortunate sequence of events but the tension and tragic irony are effectively communicated. A great part in that plays the lack of a soundtrack, as the story is told in the silence of the Virginian countryside, with only the sound of nature (birds, wind, etc.) and the violent echo of cannons dressing the images.

There are comical elements dispersed into the narrative and the depiction of the characters too. For instance, Edwina in her silent torment and lazy movements may come across less tragic than intended and Miss Martha, being so self-conflicted and always pretending to be composed, blunt and austere might make you laugh. That is not to say that Nicole Kidman’s portrayal is a caricature of a religious, old maid. On the contrary, it is a flawless one and that’s why in her desperate state, we can perceive her repressed sensitivity as well as the ridiculousness of her behaviour.

Colin Farrell is an exceptional and gifted performer that can incorporate sensitivity, anger, pain and laughter in his act. His McBurney is particularly chivalrous and charming but also, a true chameleon that becomes instantly aware that his survival is strictly dependent on him choosing the right shades of colours to match the diverse expectations of his interlocutors.

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The scenes you’ll love…

The film is emotionally flat and visually delicate, leaving you with a sensation resembling the clean and soft taste of vanilla, enjoyable but not strong enough for your palate. Nevertheless, there are many intense scenes that anchor this period fairytale.

In fact, the scenes that draw the dynamic among the women in relation to their handsome guest are a pleasure to watch. One of my favourite scenes is the apple pie dinner scene where all of them strive to earn McBurney’s affections in the most naïve and foolish manner.

The scene where Corporal McBurney attempts to get closer to Miss Edwina by diving into her psychological portrait and giving flesh to her fantasy of an empathic and romantic lover. The trembling hands, the facial expressions betraying her agony and the shattered voice when admitting that her greatest wish is to be taken away from that soul-draining place are only a few elements of Kirsten Dunst’s performance that prove how incredible an actress she is.

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Another remarkable scene is the bizarrely erotic sponge bath Miss Martha gives to McBurney. Nicole Kidman’s careful pauses and heavy exhalations show how incredibly hard is to be a constant judge of one’s true self. I wouldn’t say that Miss Martha is facing a dilemma because unlike Edwina, she made the choice between duty and desire a long time ago. Of course, her cold masquerade is in fact transparent and underneath it defenseless lay her needs and desires, ready to be triggered by McBurney’s presence and deliberate charm.

Towards the end comes the scene where Jon confronts the “butchers” and it’s an impressive and painful act followed by Edwina’s meaningful and passionate apology.

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So who is the beguiled in this story?

I don’t believe that the ladies are deceived by McBurney. They are all certainly aroused and seduced by him but it happened due to his playful nature and not with a malicious intent.

It is perhaps McBurney who should be considered the beguiled character in this story because he was misled by the graceful women who welcomed and admired him, only to wake up one morning with no second leg, or their sympathy.

I bet that the majority of women watching the film will sympathise with McBurney on how cruelly he was treated. Jon is man that received great attention and an equal amount of temptation so he acted as nature intended. He is not a bad man or deceitful but simply playful and flirty. The ladies however, turned from innocent admirers to vicious and “vengeful bitches” when he became a threat. Nonetheless, at that time women had no power to display and many hazards to look out for, and it is well known that fear mixed with frustration make the deadliest cocktail.

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Some might argue that it is self-preservation that led them to murder but it is certainly more than that. They had the option of reconciliation but instead chose to complete his punishment and send him off for the long journey.

The turning point for the tragedy was the decision to deprive him of his limp and the reasons behind Miss Martha’s action and Edwina’s silent participation are ambiguous. The amputation could be a metaphor for the castration that women secretly desire to perform on men as the apogee of their punishment for having been oppressed by them physically, mentally, socially and sexually for centuries.

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In contrast, it could be a broader critic on the cruelty and menace that rejection brings out in every human being, irrespective of gender. Men could have performed a different but equally harsh punishment to the woman who after having toyed with their feelings choice the bed of a much younger man. Similarly, had it been a male school and a Joanna instead of Jon, the antagonistic, young boys would have conspired to get rid of her after her fall from their grace.

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After the film you might want to talk with a Southern accent, eat apple pie or/and mushrooms, admit it’s useful to know how to stitch nice & even, look up how many poisonous mushrooms exist (and naturally, avoid them for a while for no actual reason…), you might be extra careful when walking up & down the stairs and finally, imagine an alternative ending in which the heroines decide they definitely need a gardener and also, learn how to share.

Get wheeled into an intoxicating rhythm; Baby Driver (2017), dir: Edgar Wright

Can you remember the last time you watched a film, got out of the theatre and turned back inside straight away?

That’s what happened to me after Baby Driver; minutes after leaving, I made a 180 degrees turn because I just HAD to experience the whole thing again.  I wanted to imprint every scene in conjunction with its soundtrack in my memory, grasp every detail in the performances, and essentially enjoy myself on repeat. Baby Driver is a fascinating and magically entertaining motion picture that captivates the audience with its caricature characters and stylised micro-settings. Music is employed as a narrative mechanism that is equally a recipe for infectious joy and excitement.

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The first scene is an excellent example of Wright’s incredible directing style: Baby is lip-singing Bellbottoms (performed by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion) while waiting for the gang to wrap up the robbery, get into his red Subaru so that an impressive and thrilling car-chase can start. This particular set-piece is masterfully choreographed and quickly gives away that Baby Driver in a few decades time will be surely enlisted in the classics.

Scenes are not merely dressed with the appropriate songs but they are purposefully designed to match their rhythm and intensity. Wright’s brilliant concept makes his film particularly powerful for everyone; just count the times you’ve attached everyday moments to particular songs and swayed to their melody by improvising scenes that resembled music videos, or the times you replayed memories while enriching them with song that could turn them into perfectly synchronised musical settings.

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Baby Driver is an amalgam of crime, violence, romance, action, thriller, drama, dark comedy, and musical and therefore, it constitutes a genre in itself. The music score is in complete harmony with every movement and sound in the scenes, in a way that music and narrative are inextricably linked.  Instead of being disorienting, Baby Driver’s musical flow bizarrely adds to its structure and storytelling goals. And it is precisely thanks to its fluidity and multi-sensory richness that it makes you crave re-watching the scenes in order to catch things you might have missed the first time.

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Baby Driver is a stylish hybrid dipped into American aesthetics; it reflects modern pop-culture through the lens of cult classics hence, notably resembling Tarantino in the ‘90’s (minus the explicit, blood- infested violence) but at the same time, it feels old-fashioned in its details, by presumably drawing inspiration from the classic Hollywood era (as indicated by the B& W day-dreaming scenes with Baby and Debora).

One of the film’s greatest strengths is the assembly of amazing and memorable supporting characters. They’re all conceived in a way that they fall into stereotypes, yet they gloriously leave their distinctive cinematic print thanks to Wright’s witty dialogues and the cast’s remarkable performances.

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Buddy and Darling represent a more evolved and sexy version of Bonny & Clyde, in that they are partners in life and in crime. Eiza González presents Darling, a seductive and vengeful thief who is also, a jewel and bubble-gum enthusiast and thankfully, doesn’t disappear under a clichéd and decorative depiction of the femme-fatale in crime films. Jon Hamm portrays her other half, Buddy who is a relatively warm, easy-going guy with a distinctive deep voice and sarcastic grim. The plot’s turn in act three gives Hamm the opportunity to branch off the attractive, macho man persona and dive into raging insanity.

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Griff’s (Jon Bernthal) frustration towards Baby’s attitude spurs a comical monologue that balances a humorous teasing against a bleak warning. Jamie Foxx as Bats is intense and funny but transmitting a very unsettling and dangerous vibe though his maniacal and dry gaze. Kevin Spacey stays faithful to a cold, distant and almost robotic portrayal of Doc, only for his unintentional paternal instincts to be revealed towards the film’s epilogue, triggered by his emotional vulnerability towards true love.

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Lily James gives us a Debora that can be easily adored thanks to her evident beauty and graceful personality that is conveniently subtle and discreet enough only to support and trigger Ansel Elgort’s lead performance as Baby (with whom she also has great chemistry). Elgort feels natural and spontaneous on-screen and ticks all the right boxes as he convincingly appears tender (especially when caring for his foster dad), romantic and innocent but also, fearless and brave.

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After the film you might want to watch it again (yeah, it’s that good!), wear your sunglasses all day & night, talk less, make your own playlists that match with specific memories or people, you might seriously consider it’s high time you fell in love (again?), exceed speed limit (and potentially get a speeding fine too), contemplate what kind of illegal activity would suit you best and finally, come up with a cool nickname for your criminal alter-ego.

 

Obsession & Old Pearls; My Cousin Rachel (2017), dir: Roger Michell

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The world was on fire and no one could save me but you

It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do

I’d never dreamed that I’d meet somebody like you

And I’d never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you

 

A cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game (performed by Ursine Vulpine ft. Annaca) was chosen to dress the film’s trailer and I believe there couldn’t have been a more appropriate song.

The film is an adaptation of Daphne’s du Maurier 1951 novel of the same name, written and directed by the South African director, Roger Michell. I’ve previously watched the original 1952 film starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton so the instant comparison in my head favoured the most recent version. The film’s cinematography by Joseph LaShelle elevates the beauty and elegance of British countryside (the story unfolds in a Cornwall estate) and the excellent performances. In fact, My Cousin Rachel has a theatrical feel in its directing and acting, as the cast is responsible for thrilling scenes that focus on dialogue and atmosphere. Speaking of which, the lush score composed by Rael Jones designs a mysterious and gloom frame.

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Throughout the film I developed tension and discomfort that kept me company all the way through the end, which I welcomed like a breath of fresh air because it concluded my agony and sadness. The exquisite photography was enhanced by the film’s Victorian setting, where we meet a woman, Rachel who is suspected to have committed slow and well-calculated murder by poisoning her husband. Rachel, portrayed by the masterful and powerful in all her performances Rachel Weisz, is a unique specimen of her sex. She is astonishingly beautiful and cunningly seductive. Weisz brings a dark and tragic tone to her character that lies under her confidence and disarming sexuality.

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There is great mystery surrounding Rachel as not only the facts of her past are only speculated upon but also because her every sentence and full-of-meaning looks promise an insight into her soul while in contrast, they give ground to further confusion. Accused of having turned into a sinister and grasping wife who, as the cherry on top has viciously got rid of her husband, she starts a love affair with Philip, her late husband’s nephew.

Admittedly, Rachel is neither trustworthy nor frank but she should not be placed on the other tip of the scale either, in my opinion. It is wisely said that the truth always lies somewhere in the middle. She’s passionate, sensitive and kind but also smart and shameless. She apparently has come to the realisation that only by achieving her financial and marital independence she can become her own person and enjoy a free life and thus, employs every mean to accomplish her goals.

It is often forgotten that in times when women were eternally dependent on their fathers and husbands, seeking independence took great courage and could trigger survival instincts similar to those of an animal who’s fallen into a deathly trap and fights for its life.

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Sam Claflin creates a magnetising and tormented Philip that falls unexpectedly in love and loses all reason. As Claflin mentions in an interview, Philip is a boy who believes he’s a man, and he successfully plays that part as a student and a loving nephew up until the point when his whole world crumbles: the man who raised him and considers his father, his Uncle Ambrose dies and leaves cues that incriminate his wife.

There is such childishness, innocence and naivety in Philip that turn him into an almost antipathetic character as he is perceived as a weak, google-eyed, untrained puppy and thus, idiotic in his altruistic acts of love. However, Philip doesn’t lack a darker side: he is possessive, impulsive and ill-tempered with violent outbursts that remind us that even the most gullible people can cause great harm. In his defence however, Philip who hasn’t interacted with women growing up is the most vulnerable prey for an experienced and manipulative woman that also happens to be his first love and sexual experience.

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In all his inner mess and outrageous, most eccentric and neurotic behaviour, he never loses one friend, the sweet and protective Louise (Holliday Grainger). Louise is not the opposite of Rachel but demonstrates another kind of strength and confidence. She is plainly in love with Philip and despite having to put up with his insults and a broken heart, she remains a loyal friend and gains our respect and admiration.

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Did Rachel poison them, or didn’t she?

She did! I believe that when Ambrose’s mental state was permanently affected by his brain tumor, she chose to poison him and set herself free from an abusive – despite it being none of his fault – husband. Later on, when Philip became asphyxiating, she had to bring back her poisonous herbs, only to regret it shortly afterwards – perhaps moved by his love and devotion, or feeling pity for his foolishness – and decide to see to his health.

The beauty in stories that leave you wondering is the complexity and sincerity attributed to the characters in the process. When a film achieves confusion to such extent then it has provided an interesting tale of mystery, deceit and complicated personalities.

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Finally, there were some incredible scenes beautifully-executed by Weisz and Claflin. Let’s take their first encounter for instance, where she offers him tea and cake, and he needs to lick his fingers from the melting butter. In the original film, it’s a comment lost between the lines and Burton’s sterile response is easily forgotten. In complete contrast, Michell and his performers take those lines and make an erotic, uneasy and utterly memorable scene out of them. The same stays true for the scene of whispers exchanged over a whipping Rachel, Philip’s outburst and many others.

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After the film you might want to read Du Maurier’s novel, listen to the lush and dark original score, remember a time when you were innocent and gullible in the matters of love, look up how many poisonous seeds exist in nature, debate whether Rachel is guilty or not, and finally make yourselves a hideous, healthy brew while pondering about the irresistibly seductive people you’ve met in your life so far.