Seen: Mute

This is a review of the film ‘Mute’ starring Alexsander Skarsgard and Paul Rudd. None of my reviews contain spoilers and only broad comments on the plot of a film.

Moon, directed by Dylan Jones in 2009 is one of my favourite sci-fi films, so I was really keen to watch Mute and see if the director could keep up the high quality.

Mute is set in a dystopian Berlin of the future, looking in places like Bladerunner or the more recent Altered Carbon.  It tells the story of Leo, played by Skarsgard, a mute Amish bartender who is in love with Naadirah, a waitress in the same nightclub.

After Naadirah goes missing, Leo goes on a mission to find and rescue her. This brings him into contact with a variety of underworld gangsters, pimps and prostitutes – including a pair of mercenary doctors, Cactus and Duck,  played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux, one of whom seems to be particularly deviant.  They spend much of their time acting like bad guys, bowling and watching girls, in between fixing up gangsters with random wounds.


The story dials back the cyberpunk setting, and focuses on the bizarre and unsettling characters – and I found the story a little bit confusing along the way.  The central story is workable, but some of the side stories (the doctors, the gangsters, a vintage car) just seem unfinished and almost incidental.

I really liked the look of the film, and particularly enjoyed some of the future technology which felt like it was properly thought through.  Instantaneous translation, drone delivery of food that tracks cell phones and medical advances, that even when used for ill, seemed to make sense.   Of course, any futuristic Berlin is going to have flying cars and giant holographic advertising – but keeping the personal tech within the realms of possibility made Mute feel sensible.

Overall, the movie could do with about 20 minutes taken out of it and a more focused approach to the central story, which despite the weird Amish thing, was actually an engaging plotline.  I was a bit disappointed that the promise of Moon was not followed up here, or in the other Dylan Jones movies.

Overall. 6/10. IMDb

Seen: Phantom Thread

This is a review of the film ‘Phantom Thread’ starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville. None of my reviews contain spoilers and only broad comments on the plot of a film.

Back to the Oscar-nominated films, I was excited to see Phantom Thread after enjoying the soundtrack for a few weeks (Spotify link). I was also interested to see what is supposed to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film, and see how Paul Thomas Anderson had directed this story – especially after hearing a great interview with him on the Adam Buxton podcast last week.

Phantom Thread tells the story of Reynolds Woodcock, a haute-couture dress designer and maker in 1950’s London, a man of exacting and sometimes eccentric standards and taste.  Lesley Manville plays his sister Cyril and provides both a foil and accomplice to indulge his whims.

The film focuses on the relationship between Woodcock and a young woman called Alma, who comes into his life following a chance (?) encounter over a brilliant breakfast scene.  The couple does not have an easy relationship, given his focus on work and demanding nature.

Phantom Thread

Along the way, we meet some of the interesting customers that might frequent an haute-couture fashion house in the 1950’s, from Princesses to Countesses to socialites, and all of the challenges they entail.

Phantom Thread is beautifully made, with an attention to detail and pace that makes it a lovely film to watch. The performances from Day-Lewis, Manville and the newcomer Vicky Krieps as Alma are electric and worthy of the finest films.  There is something gothic and unsettling about Reynolds, and like many of Daniel Day-Lewis’ finest parts, he dominates the screen and dialogue.

Just after I watched this, Phantom Thread was largely overlooked at the BAFTA Awards, picking up Best Costume – I suspect that this will change at the forthcoming Oscar ceremony.  Whatever the awards bring, this is my favourite of the season.

Overall. 10/10. IMDb


Seen: Downsizing

This is a review of the film ‘Downsizing’ starring Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz. None of my reviews contain spoilers and only broad comments on the plot of a film.

Taking a break from the Oscar-nominated movies, I decided on something a bit lighter this weekend and took in Downsizing, a social commentary/comedy starring Matt Damon.

The premise is clear from the trailer.  As a way of saving the planet, mankind discovers a way to shrink itself to just a few inches tall, thus reducing carbon footprint.  Matt Damon and his wife see this idea and see it as a solution to their lives.

The highlight of the film is the transition process from ‘big to small’, and then the obvious scenes where Matt Damon gets to grips with a life at 5 inches tall.  He lives in a ‘park’ environment and enjoys a very different lifestyle to his life as a normal size person.

Along the way, he meets some great characters – especially Dusan Mirkovic, played amazingly by Christophe Waltz – who steals the show as a mysterious, louche neighbour with questionable morals.

Udo Kier plays Konrad, Christoph Waltz plays Dusan and Matt Damon plays Paul in Downsizing from Paramount Pictures.

I found Downsizing a little bit of a letdown, whilst there are some funny scenes, it is not really a comedy movie.  The story device of shrinking humans is good, but I feel like we’ve seen it before, although the actual process is very funny. However, the film leans very heavily on the social commentary aspect and feels like it loses some fun.

It is a pretty long movie, clocking in at over two and a quarter hours – but doesn’t really move at pace and it feels like it could have had a bit of tightening up, both in script and editing.  Matt Damon and Christopher Waltz are excellent, and I love the interplay between their characters.

Overall. 6/10. IMDb


Seen: The Post

This is a review of The Post a film starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.   None of my reviews contain spoilers and only broad comments on the plot of a film.

I’m continuing my sweep through the Best Film Nominations for the Academy Awards (6 out 9 watched now), with The Post.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, this is a story about press freedom in Vietnam era America. Opening with a bloody firefight in the jungle of Vietnam, the aftermath is captured in a top-secret report filed away in Washington.

Like an early-seventies Snowden, the truth wants out and the report finds its way to the hands of the press who are involved in their own battle of the Titans, The New York Times vs The Washington Post – owned by Katherine Graham (played by Meryl Streep) and edited by Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks).

And so, the battle plays out between the newsrooms, the courts and most importantly across the smoky dining tables where deals are done.

The Pos

I enjoyed this movie, it clipped along at a good pace and felt like it was fast moving despite not having any ‘action’ scenes.  Tom Hanks is believable as the editor, at home in the world of typewriters and hot metal press.  Meryl Streep plays the widowed Kay Graham brilliantly, slightly vacant at times and seemingly in a world where money means you don’t have to connect as much.

My only concern in the story was the ending which I will not spoil – but I don’t think that Streep’s character was utterly convincing in her actions, it all seemed a little convenient to me.  That said, the dovetail into the story ‘All the Presidents Men’ is excellent, where Jason Robards will pick up the part of Ben Bradlee. (Reminder to self – put that on the list for a rewatch!)

That said, The Post is beautiful to look at and artfully directed. The early seventies really comes alive in the newsrooms, with no computers and paper ruling the roost. The parallels to the press freedom debates of today are clearly writ, and it seems that Spielberg is keen to let that play on the screen.

Overall. 8/10. IMDb.

Read: Here is Real Magic by Nate Staniforth

This is a review of Here is Real Magic: A Magicians Search for Wonder in the Modern World by Nate Staniforth. You can read my other 2018 book reviews here.

There is a gap in time, between the final flourish of an illusion or trick and the point at which my mind kicks in where I still have a flash of childlike awe. Immediately after that I automatically try and decipher what I have seen, looking for a trap door or camera angle that would give the secret away.

In ‘Here is Real Magic’, Nate Staniforth dwells on this moment, describing and enjoying it in all its glory – despite being the guy who knows the answer to ‘how did they do that?’  He walks us through his journey, from the usual stopping point of the toy magic set at home, through to seeing David Copperfield in his hometown, and onwards to earning a living on the circuit.

Somewhere along the way, the author loses his wonder and begins a search that will take him to India to meet snake-charmers and illusionists from slums that are more than a round-trip airfare from his home in Iowa.

We encounter cobras, and mystics – along with mystical moments and ancient Indian twists on modern illusions.  Staniforth describes his journey across India in meticulous detail, which left me to wonder about the contrasts in a vast country.

I loved Here is Real Magic, a short read of about 300 pages in a simple conversational style that left me with no question about how the search for wonder went, and where we should seek to find it:

I think you have to grow up twice. The first time happens automatically. Everyone passes from childhood to adulthood, and this transition is marked as much by the moment when the weight of the world overshadows the wonder of the world as it is by the passage of years.  Usually, you don’t get to choose when it happens. But if this triumph of weight over wonder marks the first passage into adulthood, the second is a rediscovery of that wonder despite sickness, evil, fear, sadness, suffering – despite everything.  And this second passage doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s a choice, no an inevitability. It’s something you have to deliberately go out to find, and value, and protect. And you can’t just do it once and keep it forever. You have to keep looking.

I raced through this book, enjoying every minute.  There is as much sage advice and wisdom in this book and magic, as there is in any management self-help book.  I highly recommend Here is Real Magic.

Seen: The Shape of Water

This is a review of The Shape of Water a film starring Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon.   None of my reviews contain spoilers and only broad comments on the plot of a film.

I’m continuing my sweep through the best picture nominees for this years Academy Awards, and what better way to spend a cold Sunday afternoon than in front of the Shape of Water.

Elisa (played by Sally Hawkins), is a cleaner at a shady research lab in 1960’s America, her nights spend watching black and white movies with her artist neighbour played by Richard Jenkins. She spends her days with Zelda (played by Octavia Spencer), in turns moaning about the scientists they clean up after and then curiously watching the work of the lab.

Shape of Water

One morning, a metal tank containing a ‘monster’ fished from a South American river arrives, accompanied by a brutal security guard, Strickland, played by Michael Shannon.

The creature is dangerous, but Elisa is captivated, befriending the monster with boiled eggs and big band jazz.   Of course, being a top-secret research facility, this relationship comes under threat, first from the menacing and violent Strickland, and then the traditional 1960’s U.S. adversary of Soviet Russia.

The romance combines with B-Movie thriller in the final act of the movie, with beautiful effect.

I loved this film,  seeing and hearing shades of Amelie along with monster movies of the 1950’s – the soundtrack was beautiful and the monster is expertly played, not too CGI and enough character to be believable.  Sally Hawkins is excellent, and Octavia Spencer is a great buddy in the adventure.   Michael Shannon is always brilliant (remember Boardwalk Empire?) and keeps his menace up all the way to the end.

The Shape of Water has been nominated for 13 Oscars, it’s very hard to see how it won’t win an armful.

Overall. 9/10. IMDb


Seen : Mollys Game

This is a review of Mollys Game a film starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner.  None of my reviews contain spoilers and only broad comments on the plot of a film.

Winter hibernation is a wonderful thing,  although there is less time outdoors, there is also the opportunity to catch up on the films you want to see in the warm glow of the movie screen.

Last weekend, I sat down to watch Mollys Game, a film based on the true story of Molly Bloom played by Jessica Chastain.  Molly was an Olympic class skier, who ended up running high stakes poker games that land her in trouble.

Idris Elba plays her attorney Charlie Jaffrey, drafted in to defend Molly during a court case that threatens to send her to jail, and the exchanges between Molly and Charlie are the highlight of the film.

The story is told with a series of flashbacks to Molly’s childhood, and then her time running poker games in the early 2000’s.  The glamour of the poker scene and the people involved contrasts well with the legal scenes.

Mollys Game is adapted from an autobiography and is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. I always like his TV work, and this film clipped along at a good pace. Despite being around the two-hour mark, it didn’t feel too long.  There is no doubt that Sorkin is a great writer, but I’m keen to see him making more cinematic movies to match his excellent scripts and characters.

The star for me is Jessica Chastain, whose recent output has been excellent. I loved Miss Sloane, and her roles in Interstellar and The Martian were outstanding.

Overall. 8/10. IMDb.