You may be the best person in your friend group at certain things. Tennis, for example. Others may be better at more obscure tasks, keeping their fish tank clean perhaps. But who out of everyone you know is the best at everything? Who’s the best in general? That’s what Director Athina Rachel Tsangari takes aim at in her delightfully weird comedy Chevalier, a movie about everything and nothing at the same time.
Story-wise, the plot’s quite simple. We join six middle-aged men enjoying an ocean excursion on a luxury yacht. With a few days to kill before they sail into Athens and return home, they decide to play a game to find out who is the best person on the boat, with the lucky winner taking home a coveted chevalier pinky ring. In order to figure this out, the group must score each other on absolutely everything; from personality and posture to how well or poorly they perform everyday tasks. With the on-board help providing each man with a notebook and pen, the game tentatively begins. Scores mount, paranoia quickly takes hold.
Bizarre but refreshingly simple, Tsangari’s bottle comedy takes a good look at how we see ourselves and our tendency to compare every aspect of our lives to those around us. The Director’s female gaze is key here and allows for a more honest reflection of alpha-male competition. Interestingly, Tsangari’s film is almost entirely testosterone filled, with female characters only appearing briefly as off-screen voices. This choice allows for an unbiased, outsider viewpoint through which to inspect the pissing-contest mentality that’s so often found in male dominated environments. As you can imagine, it’s not long before dick measuring is brought into the equation. Ridiculous? Yeah, but we all know it’s probably what would happen in real life.
Anchoring Tsangari’s cast is some dryly comic dialogue that finds humour in the minutia of everyday chat. A dinner table scene in which the gang debate whether or not one of their mates resembles a panda is particularly funny. As the game takes hold, each player's words earn more weight as personalities are painstakingly picked apart and each players’ cards are gripped ever closer to their chests. The cast all have their moments but it’s Makis Papadimitiriou who turns in the most broadly comic performance as overgrown manchild Dimitris. His peak is reached as the stakes get higher and the one-upmanship mounts, resulting in one of the film’s most left-field - but weirdly funny - sequences. As it stands, Greece might not exactly be well known - or known at all - for its comedy chops but with Chevalier, Tsangari shows us what we’re missing.
There’s a bit in the new Ghostbusters where the gang have finally got things up and running and immediately face skepticism from internet trolls. “Aint’ no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts” reads Melissa McCarthy’s plucky scientist Abby Yates from the comments section of a ghost video they’ve posted on Youtube. To say that Paul Feig’s reimagining of Ivan Reitman’s original movie has received its fair share of grief is a bit of an understatement. It’s had so much, it’s bled into the movie itself. Spooky.
It’s no surprise then that Feig decides to tackle this head on, peppering lots of knowing winks (or are they middle fingers?) to all the naysayers who were so vocally against this movie happening. As it turns out, the naysayers were wrong as naysayers often are. Despite what felt like the whole world fighting against it, 2016’s female-led Ghostbusters movie is no disaster. It’s not perfect - not by a long shot - but it’s undeniably fun. Sorry misogynistic internet.
Feig’s franchise freshener places a quartet of new faces in the Ecto-1 and pits them against a quiet loner hellbent on supercharging New York’s supernatural activity and sending the entire city to a ghostly nether region. Plot-wise, that’s all you need to know and really, all we get to know. Gone is Aykroyd and Ramis’s deep love of the genre, instead Feig seems more occupied with gags than ghosts - which is to be expected. After all, as the director of Bridesmaids and some classic US Office episodes, comedy is this filmmaker’s forte but pair that with a Ghostbusters movie - or more accurately, a movie that a lot of fans have a lot of (very specific) expectations for, and the two don’t always gel.
Still, this doesn’t irreparably damage the film. Feig’s Ghostbusters works best when it’s in full-on comedy mode and he couldn’t have picked a better quartet of leading ladies to drum up the chuckles. Kristen Wiig’s skeptic-turned-believer Erin Gilbert and McCarthy’s Yates have fun in their usual playground of ad-libbed humour while SNL ace Leslie Jones as the street-wise Patty Tolan brings some welcome sass to the situation. However, it’s Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzman who gets the most laughs. From her quirky screen intro to her weirdo quips and blonde quiff, McKinnon steals the show with a character that relishes in her own weirdness. Feig’s well aware of this too, even giving her her own action money-shot sequence during the movie’s big bustin’ climax. That’s right, prepare to meet your new favourite Ghostbuster.
In between McKinnon and the stupidly funny Chris Hemsworth (emphasis on the stupid) as secretary Kevin, Feig has so much fun churning out the funny the whole Ghostbusters thing feels a little secondary. Leaps are made, exposition’s dumped and baddie’s preach in a slime-covered plot that feels a little rushed and squeezed amongst countless nostalgia nods that hold the film back from becoming its own entity. In fact, there are so many strolls down memory lane, this sort of feels like the birth of a whole new genre: the nostalg-equel? Sure there’s a catchier name...
Plotting problems aside, Feig does still manage to capture the magic that really made Ghostbusters so appealing in the first place: four nobodies rising to the challenge of saving the world when no one else can. In the words of Winston Zeddemore, they have the tools and they have the talent. Next time out, there’ll be no stopping them.
Living in one of the most opulent ages in history, it goes without saying that there’s plenty of stuff we take for granted. Gratification needs to be instant these days and if it isn’t, imagine the grumble we’d have at being denied something. But imagine having your sight taken away from you; being stripped of your entire world without compromise or even a much needed light at the then of the tunnel. Could you handle it?
On the surface, it could be easy to describe Peter Middleton and James Spinney’s documentary Notes on Blindness as, well, just a film about blindness. However there’s much more to be found lurking in the darkness. This captivatingly shot documentary focuses on John Hull, an Australian-born, UK-living academic who lost all vision back in the late seventies after years of sight issues. In an attempt to regain some sort of control over his life and tragic situation, Hull began documenting his newfound isolation via countless cassettes, translating his routines, findings and pain into carefully dictated audio snippets.
It’s these voices in the ether that directing duo Middleton and Spinney pull from to bring this turbulent journey to life, together with some newly captured interview testimonials from Hull and his wife Marilyn. The last pieces of the puzzle are two expert turns from actors Dave Renton Skinner (better known as Shooting Stars’ Angelos Epithemiou of all people) and Simone Kirby as Hull’s dedicated spouse who breathe life into these audio accounts with some to-the-tee lip-synching. In fact, they do such a good job at framing Hull’s audio notes, you soon forget you’re not actually watching the interviewees themselves. Each performance pulls you in, making Hull’s touching and often painful story all the more affecting.
Perhaps the most potent parts of the documentary, and the reason why Hull’s story is worthy of the big-screen treatment, are the often overlooked or sometimes not even acknowledged aspects of blindness. Imagine the raw pain of not being able to see your child’s smile on Christmas morning. Think about the claustrophobic panic you’d experience fumbling around in a wholly unfamiliar surrounding. Consider what a thirty year absence of visual stimulus does to the human brain. Hull eloquently touches upon all of these topics and more while detailing his unique life experience.
You’re probably thinking this all sounds a little too heavy for a casual trip to the cinema. At times, Middleton, Spinney and their cast translating the full extent of Hull’s ordeal so well that it can be quite hard to bear. However the team still manage to end things on a positive note and remind you that while your road may be rocky and situation unpredictable, a strong foundation can be the only light you need.
Notes on Blindness is in cinemas now.
The Witch from Production Designer turned Director Robert Eggers is best watched in the dark. That sort of goes without saying when it comes to horror movies, however this small but effective addition adds tonnes to the overall effect of the film. Eggers’ chilling debut is bristling with a sense of paranoia and unease. The stark, drained look of this period piece doesn’t need much help setting a foreboding tone, yet throw in Mark Korven’s tense score and you’ve got something much more sinister on your hands: a genuinely terrifying horror.
Eggers’ tale takes us back in time to 1630’s New England, an era consisting of little more than deep religion and creeping suspicion. Having been booted from his small commune village for prideful crimes, patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) leads his family into the wilderness to start life anew. Settling beside a forest with little more than a farmhouse and some goats, they place their trust in God and begin the tough slog of survival. However things quickly turn south when their youngest, baby Samuel, suddenly and mysteriously disappears during a game of peek-a-boo with sister Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy).
You’d expect the next hour or so to be a straight up search for the missing little one but unfortunately this becomes the least of their worries. Things swiftly go from bad to worse as crops fail, children are possessed and murmurings of witchcraft start to mount. While the God they tirelessly pray to remains silent, it soon becomes clear that a more malevolent spirit has taken a shine to this jettisoned family unit. Left at the centre of each of these supernatural tragedies is eldest sister Thomasin who’s forced to answer some difficult questions when fingers start pointing. Meanwhile Eggers keeps us guessing as to who the real culprit really is, with the family’s unsettlingly sly looking goat Black Phillip always close to hand when things get dark.
You’d be hard pressed to tell that is Eggers’ first time taking a directing credit. A keen eye for composition and an effortless ability to elicit nerve wrecking dread give the impression he’s been at it for years. His Production Designer background is put to great use in the cinematography, with each frame resembling a photograph come to life. Couple that with the script’s commitment to the tongue of the time and you get an all-round authentic experience. It’s tempting to go into detail about the film’s more twisted moments but that’d ruin all the fun. Needless to say, you won’t forget this one in a hurry.
Louis Theroux documentaries always come as a welcome surprise. To start with, you’re never quite sure when he might actually be making them. Then, you’re never really sure what he might be focusing his trademark specs on. Even when all his prying questions have been answered and the film is done, dusted and in the can, you’re still never quite sure when you’ll actually be able to see the finished product on TV. Similar to how he handles his oddball interviewees, it seems Theroux likes to keep us on our toes.
The documentarian’s latest work is notable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it marks his long-awaited return to England. Recent years have seen Theroux travel to America in search of the weird and wonderful - and who could blame him. However when fans spoke, he listened and this new mini-series (neatly nestled in the lead up to his first feature film, My Scientology Movie) focuses firmly on UK shores and the stories within. Straight off the bat, it’s interesting seeing Theroux work in an environment where he’s a known entity, having spent so many years being the unknown abroad. It doesn’t impact too much but does seep in here and there. “He always does that…” remarks one interviewee slyly to the camera following a typically Louie-like question. We know he does, and so do his subjects.
Secondly this story is painfully tragic, perhaps even more so than his previous shows on things like Autism or Dementia which make no mistake, were definitely very upsetting. It’s interesting. Tragedy is dependent on the existence of hope and here, each of his broken interviewees are undoubtedly faced with a choice: to go with hope and get clean or to continue down the cider soaked rabbit hole. While it may take a conscious decision to become viciously right-wing, an unashamed paedophile or start believing in aliens - for the subjects of Drinking to Oblivion, the choice isn’t as cut and dry as you might think.
Here, Theroux looks at the harsh consequences of England’s favourite pastime: drinking to excess. He introduces us to a selection of sufferers; some victims of circumstance, some who have simply had the after-effects of drinking sneak up on them. Almost all of them however have experience of past trauma and seem to live a depressingly cyclical lifestyle. As is the case with most of his recent documentaries, Theroux’s subject matter seems so big, layered and complex that even he struggles to find a practical, rational solution to it all. More than once in the show’s 50 minute run time we join Louis in the chin-scratching confusion of what the right thing to do actually is.
It’s not all doom and gloom though and that expertly crafted interview style Theroux has honed over the years is put to great use, unassumingly disarming tense guests in unusually tense situations. Theroux even manages to find us a much-needed silver lining out of the whole ordeal too. However when all’s said and done and those end credits start to roll, it’s hard not to wonder how long it can possibly last.
The third segment in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy has a tricky job on its hands. In each previous installment, Linklater made the wise decision of leaving the fate of the seemingly destined Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in our hands - or more accurately, our imaginations. This ambiguity allowed for an infinite number of possibilities, each as golden as the time the pair spent together meandering around Europe’s streets.
Picking up another nine years later, Before Midnight provides a definitive answer to all your questions and paints a very real picture of long-term love. We find Jesse and Céline in Greece at the end of a summer-long holiday spent with some of Jesse’s literary colleagues on an idyllic island getaway. As we had all hoped, he did indeed miss his plane in Paris and has since started a new life with Céline. They have twins – a pair of mini-Célines - and the spark of chatty excitement that originally brought them together is clearly still present. It’s nice.
However it’s not all sunshine and roses. Their new life together came at a cost – namely, Jesse’s son Hank and a particularly bitter ex-wife. The latter he can deal with, despite her spiteful litigiousness and intense dislike for Céline but it’s the growing distance between his estranged son that’s the real kicker. Hank has been staying with them all summer and when the time comes for him to head home, it’s clear the long distance thing is taking its toll on the paternally paranoid Jesse.
This sensitive issue forms the backbone of Before Midnight. The fiercely independent Céline feels threatened; convinced that Jesse won’t be happy until she's swapped her career aspirations for housewife duty in the States. Jesse meanwhile is unwilling to give up the happily ever after he fought so hard to get yet feels convinced that some compromise must be made. All this tension comes to a head during a kid-free date night in a cushy Greek hotel, transforming what should be the perfect evening into a raging argument.
It can be a little painful watching the cracks emerge as this once joyful couple go for each other’s throats but it’s undeniably real. A bittersweet reminder of the sometimes difficult reality of long-term romance. What happens when the honeymoon period ends and the day-to-day reality kicks in? You’re soberly reminded of your own individuality and how hard it can be to keep two people on one path for a prolonged period. People grow, and sometimes they grow apart. It can be heartbreaking.
Linklater’s not cruel though, he’s just a realist and this stark honesty actually makes Before Midnight stronger. When all’s said and done and the dust has settled, he’s keen to remind us why we joined him, Jesse and Céline on this journey in the first place. Things aren’t tied up in a nice bow but in real life they never are. Jesse and Céline have both fought hard for their relationship and hopefully this won’t be the last time we see them together.
Before Sunset picks up nine years after we left Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in the train station following their unforgettable day together in Vienna. The climactic moments of Before Sunrise saw the smitten pair leave their future happiness to chance, the same force that pulled them together in the first place. Meet again in Vienna in exactly six months time. That was the plan. The question is: did they stick to it?
The second film in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy finds its wayward couple in a different European city at different stages of their lives. Jesse, now a successful author having written a popular book based upon the night he and Céline crossed paths, is in Paris for the final date in a whirlwind book tour. While wrapping up questions from journalists keen to believe his thinly veiled work of ‘fiction’ is indeed based on a romantic reality, he sees a familiar face. Having heard he’ll be in town, Céline, now a passionate campaigner for environmentalist justice, couldn’t resist the opportunity to drop by. Suddenly, we’re back on familiar ground.
It’s not all smooth sailing, though. After a death in the family forced Céline to bail on her and Jesse’s fateful meeting their lives were forced down vastly different routes and the pair remain equally damaged by this missed opportunity. Jesse is now a father and stuck in a seemingly loveless marriage while Céline remains fiercely independent, almost to a fault; doubting that a ‘happily ever after’ is even still on the cards for her future. It’s bittersweet stuff but as the duo stroll around the beautiful Paris streets and urban gardens and sail up the Seine, they find a brief window of opportunity to work through their problems before Jesse has to catch a plane home.
The middle part of Linklater’s story may be the best, despite all three being stand out works of relationship drama. The director once again opts for long, meandering shots of dialogue as Hawke and Delpy, both of whom share screenplay credits this time around, try to make sense of how their lives have turned out so far. Linklater’s pacing to get these characters back to the hopeless romantics they once were is subtle and masterful. Both start guarded and nonchalant but as they delve deeper into the Parisian streets (the unofficial third member of the relationship) their defences are let down and their cards laid on the table.
The climax of Before Sunset is just as ambiguous as that of its predecessor - leaving audiences on tenterhooks as to whether Jesse leaves this would-be life and returns to his domestic reality. However, the sparks and simmering excitement in the film’s final moments are undeniable. If part one was about wreckless optimism, part two is full of quiet determination.
Undoubtedly the best thing about watching movies is randomly stumbling upon a film that instantly resonates. Some hidden gem that’s been sitting somewhere, silently waiting for you to find it and press play. Sometimes the mark of a good film isn’t in its immediacy, more its longevity. Can its story, themes and performances withstand more than one watch? What about the test of time? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you’re on to something special. These are the reasons why this review is focusing on a film that’s over 20 years old.
Director Richard Linklater has always enjoyed playing with people’s expectations when it comes to storytelling and with 1995’s Before Sunrise he flipped the romantic comedy genre on its head with touching results. In the process, he also inadvertently created a time capsule that captured stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy at their most potent. All this in a film that’s more dialogue than anything else. In fact, it's this focus on dialogue that gives Before Sunrise its raw edge, lending it an air of instant relatability.
We open on an old German couple arguing on a train. Not that romantic, admittedly - but it instigates Parisian Céline (Delpy) to ultimately cross paths with Jesse (Hawke), an American tourist on a soul searching trek around Europe. The pair instantly hit it off and when Jesse arrives at his destination he impulsively convinces Céline to spend the day with him wandering around Vienna until he needs to catch his connecting train the following morning. Heading into the city, the pair spend an evening exploring Vienna’s cobbled streets and getting to the heart of what makes each other tick. However before long it becomes crystal clear that this chance encounter has quickly evolved into something much deeper than either anticipated.
In the twenty-one years since the film’s release, Linklater has produced two sequels exploring the continued development of Jesse and Céline’s fortuitous relationship. This unique level of hindsight provides the perfect framework through which to view the messages and themes of the first movie in the trilogy. At its core, Before Sunrise is a celebration of the reckless optimism of youth. From Jesse taking a gamble on inviting Céline to walk the streets of Vienna with him in the first place, to Céline actually agreeing - Before Sunrise is littered with examples of throwing caution to the wind. Even right down to its hopelessly romantic climax - there’s still a feverish optimism there that everything will work out, everything will be okay, regardless of the odds or the challenges ahead. How could it not?
It’s hard to resist.