Tag: Blog

Review: You Were Never Really Here

Director Lynne Ramsay proves there is still life in the revenge thriller yet with her latest project You Were Never Really Here. Based on the novella by Jonathan Ames, the plot follows Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a former Marine and FBI agent who is tortured by the violence he has witnessed. When he returns from duty he becomes a contract killer who focusses on breaking down paedophile rings and rescuing the young girls who are helplessly trapped within them.

In preparation for the role Phoenix puts of a staggering amount of weight in both fat and muscle and when combined with the mass of facial hair he is almost unrecognisable. Joe has very few lines of dialogue in the film and he instead conveys emotion through body language, facial expression and an intent to his movement that is terrifying. The nature of this role suits Phoenix, who has mastered the skill of evoking so much by doing very little.

Even in the lighter scenes where he is singing a song with his elderly mother, his massive frame and haunting expression keeps me unsettled, always expecting something to be waiting around the corner. In the dark lurks disturbing flashbacks to Joe’s past. Unlike traditional flashbacks that only serve to throw exposition at the audience, the ones here are sliced into fragments and are spattered chaotically to reflect on the character whose memory they depict. We see a hammer-wielding father who beat his wife and son, and the monstrosities he witnessed in the Middle East.

When he picks up a new contract, it turns out that the man ordering the hit is a Senator whose daughter Nina was kidnapped to be a part of a Manhattan-based brothel. “They say that you’re brutal,” the Senator says, after a brooding-filled pause Joe replies “I can be”. The ring that Joe begins to shatter turns out to have far bigger political ties than just the Senator who’s daughter has been taken. It’s sad that such a twisted and evil story can mirror similar events in real life as high profile arrests and accusations of paedophilic activities are not a rarity, even with politicians.

The fantastic editing work done by Ramsay and Joe Bini lays at the core of the film’s success. It keeps the plot ticking over whilst also weaving the nightmarish flashbacks. The effect is almost hallucinatory and exacerbates the metaphorical punch packed. Johnny Greenwood, who composed a sumptuous score for Paul Thomas Anderson’ Phantom Thread, steps in again here but he produces a something very different. Similar to Hans Zimmer’s work for Blade Runner 2049, Greenwood builds a brutalist soundscape that feeds into this hallucinatory feeling. Nothing in this world feels real. Even a simple photograph becomes a horrific reminder of a mass murder.

At a touch under 90 minutes in length, You Were Never Really Here does not overstay its welcome. In fact, you could argue it is too short. There’s so much left unexplored in the character of Joe that the film could double in size and still not drag, a testament to the powerful performance by Phoenix and the deeply visceral viewing experience that Ramsay creates. If you saw Joaquin Phoenix bounding down a corridor wielding a hammer you would truly wish you were never here.


Best Animated Short – 90th Oscars

With the 90th Oscars just 13 days away, James Gill and Eloise Wright assess the nominations for the Best Animated Short Oscar and choose their favourite to win the award. Click the title of each short to read our reviews and let us know who you think should win.

Dear Basketball

Directed by Glen Keane, 5 minutes


Garden Party

Directed by Gabriel Grapperon, Florian Babikian, Victor Caire, Vincent Bayoux, Théophile Dufresne, Lucas Navarro, 7 minutes



Dave Mullins, 6 minutes


Negative Space

Directed by Ru Kuwahata, Max Porter, 5 minutes


Revolting Rhymes

Directed by Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer, Episode One (Nominated) 28 minutes, Episode Two 28 minutes


Our Predictions

James – Had both episodes of Revolting Rhymes been considered together it would have been a surefire winner, yet judging just the first half means it misses that magical conclusion. Therefore I think Negative Space will win the Oscar for its painstaking detail and heartfelt narrative.

Eloise – All five animated shorts nominated for an Oscar are of a rare quality and each deserves its place amongst the nominees, yet none equal the simultaneously succinct and strong essence of Negative Space, placing it in the most favorable position to win.

Review: Negative Space

In a moment of reflection, the protagonist of “Negative Space” recounts the way he bonded with his late father whilst growing up, through the art of packing.

Adapted from Ron Koertge’s poem of the same name (2014), film students Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata carefully created a masterpiece worthy of the sorrow and nostalgia that the story carries. The narrator takes us through the steps of perfectly packing his father taught him, each item laying itself out, folding itself up and making its own way into the suitcase, as if animated by a life of their own.

Remembering, the narrator revisits his memories of these times he felt close to his father, together and apart, now forever in the past. The short concentrates on just using Koertge’s short poem for narration, the rest of its message coming through the beauty and attention to detail it possesses. His father now gone, all that is truly left of him is this inherited special knack for making good use of any nooks and crannies, or negative space. Can you blame him for only being able to wish there was not so much wasted space in his father’s coffin?

“Negative Space” is not only a technical marvel, but also a strikingly moving story of lost parents, the characteristics we pick up on as children that make them our parents. The loss of a parent is one almost too painful to bear, yet it is through our memories of them, the traits we inherit from them (good or bad) that allow us to keep hold of something from them.

Review: Garden Party

Garden Party is a sumptuously animated if strange short by a group of French students as their graduation project. It follows a group of frogs as they explore a mansion and it’s surroundings.

The film opens with a small frog leaping into an unkempt pool and immediately we notice the incredibly photorealistic CGI. The attention to detail is exquisite with even the little ripples of the water shown. As we become introduced to more frogs we are given clues as to why the mansion is abandoned; food left to rot, bullet holes in the security camera’s and doors — there has evidently been a shootout.

Nevertheless, the frogs roam around without a care, gorging on the food and generally exploring. One frog jumps onto a control board, buttons that switch on lights, pool jets, and music. With the pool lit up an army of frogs go over, in all shapes and sizes. Suddenly and concluding the short, we see a body rise to the surface, animated in gory detail.

The short is a magnificent display of the possibilities of modern animation yet the peculiar story they chose takes away from that slightly. That final shocking moment seems unnecessary and could have perhaps been presented in a manner more in line with the rest of the short.

Review: Lou

Disney-Pixar has a long history of showing short animated films immediately before one of their major releases and Lou is no different. It was released in June 2017 alongside Cars 3 and follows the guardian of a children’s playground.

Lou, who gets his name from a ‘Lost and Found’ box with the missing letters L, O, and U, is an anthropomorphised collection of random toys and clothing children have forgotten on the playground. When the bell rings and the kids go back inside, he collects everything left behind to return later. One playtime Lou spots a bully taking away the toys from others. With each stolen toy he gets angrier and angrier until he decides to give the bully a taste of his own medicine.

As is the case with all Pixar films, the level of quality and polish is second to none, a neat lesson for children about bullying without being overt. That said, in comparison to shorts that have won the Best Animated Short category in the past for Pixar, such as Geri’s Game or For The Birds, Lou is a tier below. While enjoyable, it lacks that same innovation, that something special that separates the good from the great.

Review: Dear Basketball

On November 29th, 2015 Kobe Bryant wrote a letter for the Player’s Tribune, a media platform for professional sportsmen. It detailed his love for basketball, a love which brought him five NBA Championships and 18 NBA All-Star appearances.

Narrating the film himself, Bryant talks about his upbringing, his determination, and his challenges. About how his work ethic made him become the legendary player we admire today. Accompanying these powerful words is an awe-inspiring animation painstakingly drawn frame by frame with a pencil and then filmed in sequence. Glen Keane, a 2013 Disney Legend, directs the short and is joined by fellow cinema great John Williams who composes a subtle yet powerful score.

The short ends with Bryant saying how, although his heart and mind could play until the day he dies, his body cannot take any more, and this season will be his last. In his final game, against the Utah Jazz, he scored a season-high 60 points. A special end to a special career.

Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of this film is its length, only 5 minutes 21 seconds. Three greats of their respective fields came together to make something beautiful, with such purity and heartfelt sincereness that when the credits appeared I wished for more.

Review: The Post

“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. Are we living in Nazi Germany” — Donald Trump, 2017

Steven Spielberg’s latest directorial drama utilises a trope that until now has been absent from his films: relevance to current affairs. In an interview with The Guardian Spielberg recognised that fact, stating ‘the urgency to make The Post was because of Trump’s administration’, and there is no difficulty in drawing parallels between the two. However, just like the crack team of reports at The Washington Post who rushed to get the story out, this film feels equally rushed.

Liz Hannah’s original script, featured on 2016’s Blacklist, was completely rewritten in two and half months by Spotlight’s Josh Singer and suffered because of it. The opening act changes dramatically with several long and ultimately meaningless expositional scenes added, including the much-loathed flashback and flash forward. Peppered throughout the film are several bizarre scenes filmed in a ‘Peeping Tom’ manner through the window of the Oval Office.

The scenes, another addition of Singer, show the back of an ever-incensed Nixon’s head with synced up audio recorded at the time with the supposed reasoning being to give additional context to the audience. Yet they also serve no narrative purpose. In fact, it feels suspiciously like these scenes were added purely to provoke comparisons to Trump, and if so it certainly worked.

The Post’s narrative surrounds the Pentagon Papers, thousands of pages of reports detailing how the United States systematically lied about Vietnam War, including crucially that they knew from the beginning that the war was never going to be won. 58 thousand United States soldiers died for a lost cause and one government employee, Daniel Ellsberg, spent months photocopying the entire thing.

He initially approaches the New York Times who publish stories about the materials provoking public outrage. Quickly though the Nixon administration gets an injunction to stem the flow of these ugly truths, in a move that sees protests in the streets. Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the incumbent editor of The Washington Post, manages to procure the Pentagon Papers and must decide, alongside publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), whether to break the law and print more stories to defend a free press.

Meryl Streep’s performance as Graham was noticeably poor, although perhaps the breakneck speed of the filmmaking process allowed her little time to explore the nuances of who she was to become. Her character faces multiple moral dilemmas and adversity in the form of sexism from her all-male peers but Streep traverses these potentially powerful moments with a lightness of footing generally attributed to bull in a shop selling fine china. That didn’t stop the Academy from nominating her performance for an Acting Oscar for the 21st time, a feat unrivaled in the history of the awards.

In order to make The Post Spielberg left post-production of the upcoming Ready Player One, which happened previously during the production of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. Within eight months the script was rewritten, cast, filmed, edited and mixed. As a result, this is his weakest film since 1989’s Always. The timeless quality his films usually possess is missing here, and it is no coincidence that this corresponds to his first attempt at contemporary political commentary.