Safe Haven – Review

Rating: 12a
Cast: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders and David Lyons
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Written by Dana Stevens, Gage Lansky (Screenplay) and Nicholas Sparks (Novel)
Length: 115mins

Safe Haven tells the story of a mysterious woman who turns up in a small town. Nobody knows who she is or where she came from as she sets about creating secluded life without significant human contact. Our leading character, Katie (Hough), is soon drawn to the appeal of ‘small town life’, including a handsome widower (Duhamel) and finds herself starting to build a life. From the first moments of the film it is clear that there is something in Katie’s past that she is running from which, of course, comes to light just as her happiness starts to fall into place. The plot is relatively interesting for a film of this standard; it’s enjoyable but not earth moving. It lacks challenge or lesson but serves the purpose of entertainment should you enjoy a romantic story.

Nicholas Sparks, known for his romance novels, has had several of his stories translated to film. The mass following of the romance novelist presents an expectation of grand gesture, love surpassing all else and films that are easy to watch but perhaps, somewhat repetitive. Having grown up watching and enjoying several of these films it didn’t surprise me that I enjoyed Safe Haven; though the basis of the film has many similarities to other Sparks movies. Though I could happily find myself watching and re-watching films based upon the novels of Nicholas Sparks I cant help but notice that they are lazily formulaic. They follow a very precise structure which makes them easy to recognise, but it is a formula that sells to the romanticised audiences rather than creates an authentic connection between character and audience.

Safe Haven carries a reminiscent feel to that of ‘Sleeping With The Enemy’, a film which expertly tells its story. It doesn’t quite achieve the same level of tension or authenticity, however it is perhaps a bridge between a younger audience starting to experience storylines of this nature to that of a slightly darker representation. It is difficult to mention a key moment of this film which pulls it from entertaining and mildly interesting through to a bit ridiculous; without a significant spoiler. The ending throws a completely unnecessary curveball which, for me, detracts from the films strengths.

I wouldn’t recommend this film as an essential watch, as previously stated it doesn’t carry any importance or particularly mind blowing filmmaking. It is however a pleasant enough film with a very particular target audience – if you have enjoyed other Nicholas Sparks film adaptations then theres a good chance that this will satisfy for an entertaining evening.

Honey Boy – Review

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Rating: 15
Cast: Shia Lebouf, Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges, FKA Twigs and Byron Bowers
Directed by Alma Har’el
Written by Shia Lebouf
Length: 94mins

From the mind of Shia Lebouf, ‘Honey Boy’ delivers a deeply personal story of Lebouf’s own childhood, the relationship he has with his father and his experiences working as a child actor. Characterised by two intersecting narratives, with one following a 12 year old Shia (Noah Jupe), as he works on set whilst sharing a motel with his father, who is aptly played by Shia Lebouf himself. The second story provides an insight into Shia’s early adult life, following a performance by Lucas Hedges as Lebouf struggles through the hardships of rehab and PTSD from his own childhood experiences. Despite this appearing to be a one-man show, the entire film is carried brilliantly by its dynamic cast and the influence of director Alma Har’el.

For a story that almost feels as if it’s confined to the experiences of just one man, ‘Honey Boy’ allows room for all three of the films leads to provide their own clear impact on the story. The unrelenting harshness of Lebouf’s father, James Lort, is portrayed in a deeply human way by the person that felt the greatest effect of Lort’s struggles with sobriety and despondency – his own son. Furthermore, for someone so young, the trauma that Noah Jupe brings to the film is heart-breaking, and reflects the deep impact that his father has on his life. There’s a dramatic irony to the hope the audience feels towards Jupe’s character, as we believe that he may break away from this corrupt relationship and live a happier life, but the film only responds with its other narrative of an older Lebouf struggling through rehab. Once again, Lucas Hedges role as Shia struggling at this stage provides a clear impact to ‘Honey Boy,’ performing almost like a distant echo of the hope seen in Jupe’s character.

Whilst Shia’s voice remains strong throughout the film’s narrative, as a result of his authorship over the screenplay, Alma Har’el still makes her mark on ‘Honey Boy.’ The entire film maintains consistently opposing themes of hope and desperation that are articulated beautifully through all elements of the film. In particular, though the visuals and the composition may mark this film as one that re-iterates some fairly standard indie film ideas, they still show a unique flair that brings the narrative together. Alex Somers delivers an excellent score filled with a modern approach to ambience that fleshes out any scene that it touches. The music reflects the setting and situation in which the characters find themselves, and quietly draws the viewer into that world.

Although the film may not have received widespread mainstream attention, it still feels like an important release for many reasons. A mainly female-led crew and director shows a step in the right direction for the film industry, and the story also showcases the strength and promise of young performers such as Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges and even FKA Twigs, who breathed life into every scene she was in. As well as this, it shows a look towards a fresh start for Shia, who undeniably deserves it based on the quality of his screenwriting and acting abilities on display in ‘Honey Boy.’

La La Land – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K Simmons
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Written by Damien Chazelle
Length: 128mins

In 2016 Damien Chazelle brought the highly anticipated ‘old Hollywood’ style musical, La La Land, to the big screen. The film itself seems to have split audiences into passionate opinions of ‘love it or hate it’ and for that response in itself I think its worthy of comment. I have found it so interesting to enter into conversations with people who disagree with my own views; I would confidently say that this is one of my absolute favourite films.

Our story follows two artists in Hollywood – Sebastian, a hot headed but passionate pianist with a deep love for Jazz music and Mia, an actress, taking on the industry one audition, one rejection at a time. Their paths cross a couple of times before their conjoined story begins, but what seems to be key is that they are connected – both young people, with big, possibly unrealistic dreams. This story has a very raw feel, assisted of course by the cinematography and directorial choices, our main characters have such a normal feel about them. I find both Mia and Sebastian very easy to relate to, sharing explicit moments of vulnerability; weakness, frustration and emotion. All performed beautifully by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, both of whom received high accolades for their work including multiple nominations and awards. I feel that what this film has done so brilliantly is create something that people relate to. Mia and Sebastian express so much of human nature making it almost impossible to not connect with the characters on some level. This makes me question the impact that this level of empathy instills within it’s audience, perhaps some dislike the outcome of the story because choices made aren’t the ones they would have made? Maybe not, but it’s an interesting idea to consider.

In comparison to one of Chazelle’s previous hits, ‘Whiplash’, La La Land was an opportunity to show a whole different side to his vision and creativity. Where Whiplash is said to have been a very ‘tight’ production – heavily relying on editing with lots of shots, focussed on exact, predestined moments. La La Land was a much more ‘free’ production, relying on less shots than Whiplash but allowing time for rehearsal and regular retakes (to assist in the practicalities of syncing actors to playback etc…) I understand that there was plenty of opportunity for improvisation within the script – though the visuals were predesigned the key relationship needed a real casual essence as its driving force and so the relaxed atmosphere of two professionals, totally in character, improvising gave new layers of truth while keeping the relationship and story telling light. In considering the visual presentation on a whole you cannot miss the sheer attention to detail. Everything is so deliberate from the colour schemes, camera angles to moments of quiet and a small glance.

I’m not sure you can discuss La La Land without commenting on the music, another element that divides people. I for one was slightly confused at some peoples outrage at the use of seemingly ‘normal’ vocals. These vocals, though of an extremely high standard, rarely sound polished or like recording artists and perhaps it’s just not to some peoples taste, but I feel that, firstly; it was a deliberate choice and therefore was selected to allow for the tone of the overall story and, secondly; it still sounds great, it just doesn’t necessarily fit with the framework of modern day ‘moive-musicals’. For me, the music and the lyrics provide extra layers to the storytelling, layers that are perhaps unreachable through alternative methods. I feel like Justin Hurwitz, the films composer, has outdone himself. In the films that he’s worked on I always find myself paying attention to the music, not as a distraction, rather as another thread of the canvas so to speak. As someone without much musical knowledge I wasn’t sure i’d ever really have a ‘favourite’ composer, but I certainly do admire and respect Hurwitz’s ability to tell story through music. Each piece of music, each song is so deliberate and powerful.

This film is truly a piece of art. By nature it wont be loved and adored by everyone, but it will speak to people in different ways. I encourage you to look at this film through a slightly different lens than just ‘popping something on the tv’. Consider the films intentions, the messages hiding in each detail, in each lyric. It might teach you something about yourself or encourage something in you that you had pushed aside.

“Here’s to the fools who dream”

Psycho – Classic Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin and Martin Balsam.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Robert Bloch and Joseph Stefano
Length: 109mins

Often described as the greatest horror of all time, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film ‘Psycho’ demonstrated to the world the directors power over suspense, and brought an entirely different sort of thrill to the big screen – human psychology. When office assistant Marion Craine steals a large sum of money from her boss, it seems that the Bates Motel –  a run-down establishment hidden from the nearest highway – appears as the best hiding place for her to stay the night at. However, after encountering the enigmatic and mysterious owner, Norman Bates, the night may not run so smoothly.

It’s true that this film is a landmark in Western cinema, and as a result some may say that everything that could be said about it has already been discussed, but I believe that the film provides an entirely new perspective for a contemporary audience – and one that shows Hitchcock’s work as surprisingly forward-thinking. An antagonist born from normality is exactly what scared audiences the most at the time of the film’s release, and such an idea has carried through into many of today’s modern horrors – from the self-reflective nature of Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ to the human insanity that brings about terror in Robert Egger’s ‘The Lighthouse.’ Anthony Perkins’ success as a deceitful character like Norman Bates comes from not only the strength of the acting, but also the normality brought to his actions by his regular appearance and mannerisms.

Of course, even if you haven’t seen ‘Psycho,’ most of you will be familiar with the ‘shower scene,’ a revolutionary sequence of events for cinema that featured not only a scandalous (for the time) level of explicit violence, as well as a rapid succession of cuts that delivers the threat in an unrelenting and gripping way. Despite being a big Hollywood name, Hitchcock utilises a radical approach to editing and violence within this scene to shock the audience to a greater extent, and deliver a thrill that still hits hard to this day.

Known as the master of suspense, many may associate the way Hitchcock plays out a scene to be dependent on the physical actions of the characters. Whilst this remains true for ‘Psycho’, the film also accommodates dialogue that perfectly develops the narrative and characters who inhabit this eerie world. The relationship between Norman Bates and Marion Craine is so unsettling because there is never a moment when either appears relaxed with the other. Whilst we know the reasons for Marion’s deceptively placed lies within their conversation, Norman remains a more enigmatic character, and all elements of the film re-iterate this idea. As a result, the morality of Hitchcock’s work is far more impactful, and the investment that the audience places in each character becomes of greater significance.

There’s a reason why ‘Psycho,’ is considered to be a classic, and I think that the film works as one of the greatest examples that classic cinema remains important in the modern day – influencing contemporary films and contemporary filmmakers alike.

The Invisible Man – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid
Directed by Leigh Whannel
Written by Leigh Whannel and H. G. Wells
Length: 124mins

This week’s review takes a look at the latest work of Leigh Wannel, the director who received critical acclaim for his stylistic action in his 2018 release, ‘Upgrade.’ This next venture sees the Australian director look to convey the horrors of disbelief in abusive relationships through a metaphorical scope, with the terror of there being no witnesses replacing what no one can witness – the Invisible Man. Our protagonist, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), escapes an abusive relationship, only to discover a few days later that her ex-boyfriend has killed himself. Plagued by the emotional trauma of their relationship, Cecilia can’t help but feel like her abuser hasn’t truly left her behind.

One of the first questions that must have been asked going into this project would have been, “How do you film something that is invisible?” Leigh Wannel and his cinematographer Stefan Duscio answer this question brilliantly, with the narrative being carried by consistently unnerving camerawork. There are moments of tension in which we know the Invisible Man is there, and the audience begins to question whether he is directly in front of the lens, or whether we are in fact seeing the events from his point of view. By visually building tension in such a manner, the viewer further engages with the fear that our protagonist is experiencing. Some people are put off by thrillers or horrors because of the experience they provide, and by using intriguing cinematography within his film, Wannel’s film becomes only a more engaging experience.

Once again, Elisabeth Moss demonstrates what a versatile actress she is, with moments of true terror balanced by scenes of kindness towards those around her that develops her character emotionally, allowing the audience to engage with her. However, despite Moss’s excellent performance, the development of the entire cast is hindered by the script. The film is successful as a concept, with the focus being entirely on Cecilia’s relationship with her abusive ex-boyfriend. Aside from that, there is only a surface-level exploration into how her relationships have been affected by her experiences, and as a result it becomes difficult to see the characters as little more than victims of the story’s phantom. Despite this, I do believe that the metaphorical exploration into abuse in relationships is successful, with the pain that Cecilia experiences when unable to explain her situation explicitly showing just how torturous the lies surrounding domestic abuse can be. She doesn’t just suffer physically, but mentally her abuser torments her, with his presence casting a shadow over her at all times.

It’s undeniable that ‘The Invisible Man,’ is a well-executed thriller, with great moments of tension developing throughout the film. Wannel appears to understand exactly when each new horror should be unveiled, and despite the story mainly taken place across various households and buildings, the thrill maintains its biting edge.

‘The Invisible Man’ feels like another step forward in the career of a relatively young director, and further demonstrates his capabilities when crafting a thrill. The film is a must-watch for fans of the genre, and definitely one that would serve as a great introduction to thrillers. I look forward to seeing where Leigh Wannel directs his talents next.