Connect with us

Movie Reviews

TIFF 2015: ROOM Review

Published

on

room-poster

Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Stars: Amanda Brugel, Brie Larson, Cas Anvar, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Joe Pingue, Kate Drummond, Megan Park, Randal Edwards, Sean Bridgers, Tom McAmus, William H. Macy

Released: January 29, 2016 (UK)

Alice in Wonderland has been used as inspiration for what are surely an innumerable number of stories. The idea of getting lost down a rabbit hole or your life not going the way you’d imagined it when you were a child is universal. The metaphors and analogies to be made are no doubt endless with any aspect of any single person’s life, but Room is a certain kind of Alice story as you can feel the loss of our protagonist both physically and psychologically. Loss is a key word, a key theme if you will given the circumstances of the situation presented in the film, but if you don’t know that situation going in you’re all the better for it. All that is necessary to know is that Brie Larson plays Joy Newsome, a woman who has seemingly been trapped in a single room shack for an ungodly amount of time while having raised her five year old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), in this confinement for the entirety of his life. There is only a single door in their room and it is protected by a locking system that only a mysterious visitor (Sean Bridgers) knows the code to. This stranger, referred to as “Old Nick”, brings Joy and Jack food once a week, but like the majority of the supporting characters in any Alice story, he is cruel towards our heroine. Knowing little more than this myself before walking in, Room operates as a tense and unnerving thriller for it’s first half before becoming an intense psychological trip in it’s second. Both are equally engaging as is the film as a whole.

Director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) begins his adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel (who also penned the screenplay) by giving us a glimpse of the daily routine for Joy and Jack. It is Jack’s fifth birthday and the first time he and his mother will bake a real birthday cake together. When Jack wakes in the morning he says hello to every item that is contained in their small, square world. He is affectionate towards a dresser he must sleep in when “Old Nick” comes to visit, he has names for his spoon and a special place in his heart for his TV. In order for Jack to understand why they can’t leave this shelter Joy has made up numerous stories to convince him it is for their own safety. Jack believes the world is a disaster, a post-apocalyptic wasteland of sorts and that there are aliens beyond their walls with everything he sees on TV being a work of fiction. This kind of twisted mentality obviously gives Jack a warped view of the world and only breaks Joy’s heart further as she continues to raise her son day after day, with zero room to breathe on her own. One can only imagine how this leaves her state of mind all the worse for wear as well. It is best not to watch the trailer for Room as certain plot points are given away so I’ll stop there before I tempt you too much, but if you’ve read Donoghue’s novel or have already seen the trailer you know that the story only goes on to explore the repercussions of this kind of nurturing and the adverse effects it has on Jack.

Again, without going into too much detail what Room really enjoys mining is the psychology of the traumatized mind. With both Joy and Jack we enter into two extremely different sets of emotional trauma. In dealing with the experience of being confined to a single space for a number of years on Joy’s end and with Jack knowing nothing else of the world other than “room”, as he affectionately refers to it. As far as Joy is concerned she begins to question herself and her choices. Was it best to even raise a child under such conditions? Was she being selfish in keeping Jack with her? Is Jack better off without her? These all come flooding in at a time when Joy should indeed feel the emotion her name inspires, but instead she can’t shake the idea that she has scarred her child forever. Maybe even moreso than anything “room” inflicted upon him. Throughout all of the highs and lows that Joy and Jack come to encounter it is Larson’s consistent fragility that makes us unsure of what might be around the corner. It can’t be easy for what seems like would be a typically strong woman to submit to such restrictions, but Joy clearly does this to protect her son. As she is the only one for the first half hour or so that knows the whole truth of the situation Larson plays the role with as much effortless care as one would likely expect. Larson displayed a knack for compassion and empathy in 2013’s Short Term 12 and she again utilizes that ability here in order to make us feel the dire circumstances she has suffered. When it comes down to it,Room is really the story of the love between a mother and her child and without Lasron’s vulnerable yet synonymously bold turn the film wouldn’t resonate nearly as much.

As good as Larson is though, Tremblay is equally as impressive. It is almost impossible to even conceive of how to visually show what it must be like to experience the world for the first time and even harder to find a child actor who could hope to convey that mentality, but with Donoghue’s keenly observational dialogue and Tremblay’s innocent voice and wandering eyes Abrahamson somehow manages to pull it off convincingly. Tremblay is especially effective in scenes where he interacts with Joan Allen and Tom McAmus. Without giving away the context of these scenes, trust that they are some of the most affecting in a work that provides one of the most heart-pounding and tense sequences I’ve seen in a film for some time. This sequence also hinges solely on the performance of Tremblay and the physical performance he delivers. It is something we don’t consciously consider when watching the film, but every bit of what we see Tremblay do on screen in this scene matters and builds it to an exceptional moment in a rather outstanding film. The film hinges on these two performances, this mother and son relationship and both Larson and Tremblay dig deep to deliver an idea of what it might really be like in situation similar to those news stories we tend to find so fascinating.

As good as Larson is though, Tremblay is equally as impressive. It is almost impossible to even conceive of how to visually show what it must be like to experience the world for the first time and even harder to find a child actor who could hope to convey that mentality, but with Donoghue’s keenly observational dialogue and Tremblay’s innocent voice and wandering eyes Abrahamson somehow manages to pull it off convincingly. Tremblay is especially effective in scenes where he interacts with Joan Allen and Tom McAmus. Without giving away the context of these scenes, trust that they are some of the most affecting in a work that provides one of the most heart-pounding and tense sequences I’ve seen in a film for some time. This sequence also hinges solely on the performance of Tremblay and the physical performance he delivers. It is something we don’t consciously consider when watching the film, but every bit of what we see Tremblay do on screen in this scene matters and builds it to an exceptional moment in a rather outstanding film. The film hinges on these two performances, this mother and son relationship and both Larson and Tremblay dig deep to deliver an idea of what it might really be like in situation similar to those news stories we tend to find so fascinating.

In the first half of the film, once we realize the circumstances of our characters, we begin to root for them as opposed to simply being fascinated by their situation. When the second half of the film begins we then dig into that process of exploring the damage that has been done. That is all to say, the film keeps up the tension and mystery enough in the first half to make this exploration of the second all the more worth finding interest in. Sure, the score is a little intrusive at times, telling us how we should feel and the last scene more or less feels tacked on so that Abrahamson can end on a specific shot, but overall Room is one of the better films I’ve seen this year. And like Alice, both Joy and Jack seem to relegate their experience in “room” to something of a nightmare. Not necessarily something that lends itself well to finding a resolution and while nothing good or worthwhile comes from this type of solitude our characters are able to come to some kind of piece with their existence, to be able to begin dreaming again instead of constantly living a nightmare.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

LFF Review 2018 – Madeline’s Madeline ★★★★

Published

on

Madelines Madeline Movie Marker

Director: Josephine Decker

Stars: Miranda July, Molly Parker, Helena Howard

Released: London Film Festival

Indie favourite actress/director, Josephine Decker premiered her third feature, Madeline’s Madeline at Sundance earlier this year where she received praise for her unconventional take on mental illness.

16 years old Madeline suffers from unspecified mental health problems which have created a wedge between her and her slightly over bearing mother (Miranda July). Spending most of her time alone, she finds comfort when joining an experimental theatre troupe and even develops a strong bond with its ambitious director, Evangeline (the psychotic Molly Parker). When Evangeline starts to use Madeline’s delicate mental state and personal issues with her mother as part of her play, the line between reality and illusion quickly starts to blur.

‘The emotions you are having are not your own. They are someone else’s. You are not the cat – you are inside the cat’. So begins 15 minutes of blurred and beautifully shot sequence that immediately puts the audience in a state of daze. When we are officially introduced to Madeline, we find an energetic young woman who would much rather disappear behind wild animals in theatre rehearsals than have any serious discussion with her mother. Sharing the screen is the interesting Evangeline, who is as passionate as inspiring but whose play doesn’t seem to make much sense to anyone, including herself.

The film’s stand out is the acting and nothing ever feels rehearsed. Helena Howard as Madeline is terrific and easily switches between the disturbed teenager, the cat, the seductress, the turtle and the actress, always bursting with energy and vulnerability.

The film has its witty moments, particularly when during an acting exercise Madeline decides to punish Evangeline for using her personal confessions by simulating a painful childbirth, in the hopes of terrifying the freshly pregnant teacher.

Decker also explores the interesting duality of the role of the artist. Often torn between the idea that creating is disappearing behind someone’s else story or on the contrary it is all about using real experiences to bring depth and authenticity, Decker seems to suggest it is a little of both and that both extremes could end up with either an artificial or violating result. No one understands what Evangeline’s play is about at first and when she finally finds substance that speaks to others (Madeline’s personal issues), she chooses to entirely focus on it instead of adding her own substance and ends up being kicked out by the troupe.

Madeline’s Madeline is visually stunning thanks to Ashley Connor ‘s imaginative cinematography and both Howard and Decker bring to life a condition that is still misunderstood and dismissed. The storyline does takes its time to emerge and the daze occasionally mixes with confusion. Howard keeps the audience in her mental maze throughout the film. It is messy, unusual and dense and maybe that was the whole point.

Continue Reading

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – A Private War ★★★

Published

on

A Private War Movie Marker

Director: Matthew Heineman

Stars: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander

Released: London Film Festival 2018

‘ I see it so you don’t have to!’ Rosamund Pike, as war correspondent Marie Colvin, spits out at her Sunday Times editor Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander) towards the end of A Private War  as they argue on the banks of the Thames which rolls serenely past. She means the atrocities of war which she is compelled to return to time and again to report on despite hating her own compulsion. She does it, she believes, to give a voice to the ordinary men, women and children who are fodder for the military and political ambitions of dictators and leaders themselves safe in their palaces, well, until the mob gets to them and takes selfies with their mutilated corpse as we see later in the film.

Marie Colvin was a much celebrated war reporter who was killed in Syria in 2012 along with her interpreter/guide. She achieved fame in her lifetime for her fearless, uncompromising journalism but also for the black eye patch she wore after losing an eye in Sri Lanka when reporting on the Tamil Tigers in 2001. Her death will still be fresh in the minds of those who follow current affairs as will her extraordinary persona.

It’s a testament then to the tremendous power of Rosamund Pike’s performance that minutes into A Private War she becomes Colvin. The deep gravelly voice, the Long Island accent, the no nonsense, blunt manner of speaking are not only completely captured but taken possession of by the very English rose Pike.

She embodies Colvin with a natural ease which exposes the private vulnerabilities of a woman who could have been simplistically portrayed as a one of those annoying ‘strong, uncompromising women’ that Hollywood seems to think raises the female profile but real women find unbearable. Pike is not afraid to make the chain smoking, heavy drinking, conflicted Colvin unlikable at times. But it’s in the quiet, reflective moments of Colvin’s life when she is alone with her ravaged eye and light desire for the normal suburban life she rejected that Pike is at her most effective. This is a film about the psychological damage of seeing what the rest of us don’t have to as much as it is about the grotesque mess of war on the battlefield.

Colvin wants a child and considers it with the man (Greg Wise) she’s already divorced a couple of times despite having suffered two miscarriages. She may or may not be prone to seeking connection through other convenient liaisons. Her friend tells her she’s an alcoholic and she thinks about convincing a psychiatrist she’s sane so she can leave a rehab clinic she’s an inpatient in before she’s really up to it. She’s plagued by flashbacks and nightmares.
We learn all this about her but, like her, don’t have time to fully process any of it before she and we are whisked off to Iraq. There she meets a freelance photographer, Paul Conroy, (Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades Freed) and the two quickly form a professional partnership with Colvin very much in the driving seat as to where they go and what risks they take. In one case this involves her confidently flashing a gym membership card to get through a heavily armed checkpoint. The friendship which builds between the two is not explored enough and Dornan is not given enough to do but when the inevitable danger which is foreshadowed throughout the film befalls them it’s intense and a swallow-hard moment.

Even though we know her death is coming , when it actually does, there’s a real sense of loss, largely due to Pike having brought Colvin to life so brilliantly beforehand. I predict we’ll be seeing a lot of Rosamund Pike during awards season for this timely film produced by Charlize Theron about a very modern heroine.

Continue Reading

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Assassination Nation ★★★★

Published

on

Assassination Nation Movie Marker

Director: Sam Levinson

Stars: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse

Released: London Film Festival 2018

When Director, Sam Levinson started writing Assassination Nation over two years ago, he probably had no idea how shockingly relevant this dark comedy would be today. Written as his wife was about to give birth, he credits his fear of raising his child in an increasingly brutal country as the main inspiration behind this vivid satire, depicting the disastrous consequences of living online.

The city of Salem, Massachusetts is about to delve into chaos when a data hacker starts exposing highly porn-ified secrets of its population. Internet search history, digital photos and texts conversations are published. Political careers and marriages end. The hack reaches Salem’s high school whose principal is also targeted and forced to resign, despite claiming his innocence. In need of a scapegoat, the town’s authority (macho detective and police man) finds it in high school head girl, Lily (Odessa Young), whose affair with a married man,  just leaked. Lily and her friends must face the town’s growing hysteria that quickly turns into a blood bath of sexism and brutality.

The film’s core storyline revolves around Lily, who with her friends make up the popular clique of Salem’s High School. The 1990’s had their mysterious virgin nymphs (“Virgin Suicide”) and the 2000s, their bullying princesses (“Mean Girl”) but in 2018, the popular girls are fun, clever and most of all, nasty. Born in a comfortable middle class family, Lily has good grades and a cheeky talent for drawing. What Lily and her friend lack is a reliable grown up figure to look up to. Surrounded by threatening boyfriends and denigrating parents, the only grown-up who pays her some attention is her principal but even he cannot completely give in when she makes a clever accusation of the sexism of internet and social media while defending her pornographic art work.

Assassination Nation 2 Movie Marker

There is thin line between victim and executioner in Assassination Nation and Levinson strategically jumps from teasing to threats as if one didn’t exist without the other. Levinson seems less interested in exposing the already well established outcomes of the digital age than exploring the hypocrisy and shaming young people, and particularly young woman, face on a daily basis.

Half way between  Little Red Riding Hood and Nikita, and far from victims, these girls fight back with whatever they are threaten with, usually guns but at times razors and even a shovel. Full of extreme close-ups, the camera is intrusive, and if this closeness can be difficult at first, it quickly helps creates a real connection with those girls.  Surrounded by obvious and familiar characters (naïve head cheerleader, immature boyfriend, cheating husband…), and lifted by invigorating performances by Hari Nef (Bex) and Odessa Young (Lily), these girls can only shine in authenticity and it is hard not to root for them.

Salem’s utter obliviousness takes final form in the slushy sipping little brother, revealed as the hacker. Youngest and quiet, he seemed like a harmless addition to the dinner table and yet could bring a nation to its knee. The warning signs were there, adults chose to ignore them. The film ends with a public letter to a certain president of a certain powerful nation and a feminist call to action against any form of violence and misogyny.

The film will most likely not affect every generation in the same way and will probably swing between anti-sexist fantasy revenge to painfully relevant. Yet there is nothing in this film that can’t be traced back to a recent newspaper headline or twitter feed, regrouped to create a bloody picture of the modern America, kids are made to grow up in.

“Don’t take your anger out on me, I just got here.”

Continue Reading

Trending