My review of Beautiful Boy is over at FilmInk and below…
A disappointing treatment of the best-selling memoirs of father and son David and Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy aims to showcase the strength of the familial bond in the face of an overwhelming drug addiction. But rather than allowing the audience to work this out for itself, it is constantly shouted at how the love of father and son is unbreakable. An overly worthy and Oscar-bothering piece, the film features two powerful performances from leads Carell and Chalamet, but ultimately doesn’t know what to do with them.
There is a lack of clarity and resolution. It is concerned with drug addiction after all, an aspect of life not known for its focus or drive – and screenplay adapter, Australian Luke Davies (Lion) should know, as his own biographic script for Candyillustrates. But in the case of Beautiful Boy, it too often goes on a repeat of score drugs, get wasted, go into expensive rehab, go on the run, dad brings son home. And then repeat. Again and again.
The movie struggles to make enough of an emotional impact, which is undoubtedly its biggest failing. The tone is either bored and aloof or angry and dejected; the outright pain and sadness of losing a loved one to drugs is barely touched upon.
There is an overriding sense that this is a story not particularly well suited to the big screen. The revelations and personal thoughts might well inspire in written form, but as a cinema outing there is not the structure, or the detail needed to make it either entertaining or particularly informative.
It’s true that statistics are quoted about the disease of addiction during rehab scenes and at the conclusion, but these feel like facts thrown to a lecture theatre audience. And this overly solemn lecturing tone surrounds the whole film, making the experience more like a badly thought out social education lesson than a movie with emotional depth and structure.
Musically, the film often resembles an MTV docu-drama of sorts, with the soundtrack providing hints to father and son’s past memories. This is understandable, as music often holds the key to unlocking all sorts of forgotten dreams and nightmares. But in this case the slickness of one song going on to the next as a kind of intense playlist just feels forced.
Carell brings a guilt-ridden anguish to his role of beleaguered and hyper stressed dad. In Sheff’s attempts to understand his son’s malaise and addiction he even goes onto the street himself to score crystal meth. He ends up experimenting with the drug home alone, a scene that plays out as being weird more than anything else. The actor brings a detachment and cold anger to detail his experience of his son’s plight, but it rarely engages. Chalamet fares better, perfectly summing up the limbo of getting well and getting sick and manipulating everyone around in between.
The film goes for big emotional hits, but ends up providing more of a limp hangover. A shame then, as the two leads give everything they’ve got to the film, but are hamstrung by odd directorial and writing decisions.
Review of The Plan… over at Flickering Myth and below…
The Plan That Came from the Bottom Up is an engrossing visual essay, documenting the never before seen inventiveness and energy of a group of factory workers who saw a different way to invent and engage. Rather than being a straight up historical documentary, filmmaker Steve Sprung conducts the whole project with a stimulating artfulness.
The film deploys edits of news footage, advertising and various media alongside personal interviews with those involved to offer a film that goes beyond a specific time and location.
That time that we’re going beyond is the 1970s and the location is Lucas Aerospace in the UK. It was here that a group of skilled engineers, when faced with redundancy, joined forces to suggest new ways to do business and new projects to concentrate on. These new designs included products made to be ‘socially useful’ and to offer ‘environmentally sustainable alternatives’.
Wind turbines, hybrid cars and an energy efficient home were all blueprinted and put forward as a responsible and effective alternative to the military projects the factory had previously been manufacturing. The Plan asks in two parts why the world is not more aware of the engineers’s story and why it was not taken further by the authorities of the time.
But the film doesn’t just stay in the 1970’s UK. It also contrasts that time with the present. Contemporary media of our own war-ravaged and environmentally fragile times highlight the need for different forms of thinking on this subject. And it asks, how might life have looked the group’s ideas been put into action?
It’s a compelling question, and The Plan also puts forward many others, asking the audience plenty of uncomfortable questions about the current climate (political and environmental). One such question never far from the core of the film relates to economics and capital. It could be summed up as ‘is the constant need for profit above all else an ultimately reasonable way to go forward?’
Almost all of the political establishment at the time – and a fair amount today – would say yes, growing profit is always desirable and essential. The Plan examines this notion closely with clear sighted view, and effectively and eloquently dismantles it. There was – and still is – a better way forward.
My review of Eric Khoo’s Ramen Shop is over at FilmINK and below.
The power of food and travel is brought to life in this emotive drama from Singaporean director Eric Khoo. Exploring the cultural exchange between Japan and Singapore, as well as a glimpse of the troubling war time history, Ramen Shop explores the desire to understand more about personal history and identity.
The story centres on Masato (Saito), a Japanese Ramen chef driven to discover more about his parents’ past after his father passes away. Through a love of Singaporean flavours and cooking, and the following of Mei Lian’s (Jeanette Aw) food blog, the young man takes swift steps to discover his family’s past, travelling to Singapore to find out more about his history and the country’s cooking styles.
The film delights in showcasing the various stages of preparing tasty looking dishes, but it does so with real purpose and becomes a lot more than just a food magazine show. Food and the meaning of culinary enjoyment takes on a wider scope here as Masato, with Mei Lian’s help, uncovers more of the truth and attempts to heal rifts caused by painful memories.
The pure value of food and cooking is proven as Masato finds out more about Ramen Teh – a blending of Japanese ramen and Singaporean bak kut teh, a type of tea made with pork bone. The mixture of the two nations is similarly part of his own life, with his father having left Japan for Singapore to become a chef. It is here that he met Masato’s mother (Seiko Matsuda). The couple’s relationship was not favoured by Masato’s grandmother, a proud Singaporean lady who experienced firsthand the terror of Japanese occupation during the war. Masato’s parents then left for Japan, where Masato was born and lived ever since.
It is this combination of personal history and the importance of food as a cultural signifier that makes the film both entertaining and informative. Ramen Shop does not shy away from difficult areas; an account of brutality witnessed during the occupation is heard during a visit to the city history museum, and the gravity of trying to understand history and its effects is given due gravity.
Effective too is the power of a love never known, in Masato’s case his mother’s, who became ill when he was still a young child. Her diary and notes speak to him across the void, and tells him of the soothing strength of nature and landscape. This is translated onto film in gorgeous style, with the breeze rolling across fields and meadows as her voice gently intones her poetry and life essence to Masato. Calming and thoughtful, Ramen Shop is a film to be savoured.
My review of WW1 drama Journey’s End is over at FilmINK and below.
The sheer horror of the first World War is captured in sobering detail in this quietly moving adaptation of a powerfully emotive play of the same name. First performed in 1928, just ten years after the end of the war, R.C. Sherriff’s drama brought the reality of the anxiety and claustrophobia of trench warfare to theatre-goers.
This film is the fourth cinematic outing for the story. Directed with intensity by Saul Dibb (The Duchess) and featuring a collection of memorable performances, Journey’s End is the story of a contingent of British soldiers in France waiting for a German attack.
The young and inexperienced officer Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) is keen to see the war for himself. He also wants to meet up with former school house-master and potential brother-in-law Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin), a leader with rapidly diminishing coping skills and a perspective overwhelmed by anger and alcohol.
Raleigh is soon introduced to the other members of the group, including the wise and peacefully dejected former school teacher Osbourne (Paul Bettany) and the no-nonsense plain speaking Trotter (Stephen Graham). Some brief moments of gallows humour are also provided by the less than 3 hat culinary offerings from the trench cook Private Mason (Toby Jones).
While the jumping off point for the story is undoubtedly Raleigh’s swift education in the ways of the war, and the blood, mud and scent of death that accompany it, it is as the film moves on to the unbearable wait for the attack that it really comes into its own. The mental unravelling of Stanhope is agonising to watch. Claflin does an excellent job in creating this eminently believable character of a man as close as can be to absolute breaking point.
The injustices of how soldiers were contemptuously treated as little more than statistics by the ruling elite is also strongly focused on. While the soldiers dine on tinned fruit and tea with bits of onion in it, the generals are served formal dinners and fine wine. Food and drink becomes an obsession with the men, as the torturous wait goes on with little to alleviate it but more alcohol.
The timeless story of conflict and assessing the value of life and death is shown in all its power. Asking all sorts of questions of nationality and patriotism 100 years after the culmination of World War One, Journey’s End provides a stark retelling of the grim truth of that most senseless of conflicts.
Review of A Prayer Before Dawn is over at FilmINK and below.
Based on the real-life accounts of boxer Billy Moore, A Prayer Before Dawn delivers a powerful message on the dangers of drugs – and more importantly… getting caught with them in the wrong place.
The place in question is Thailand, where Moore – portrayed with vigour and sensitivity by Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders) – has been working as a bodyguard in between boxing matches. He also spends time partaking in the smoking of local drug yaba, a crushing addiction that leads to him being busted and thrown behind bars.
Billy’s confusion in the prison is well brought out. The Thai spoken by guards and inmates is not subtitled, meaning the audience is in much the same position as Billy, relying on context and body language to discover what is being said. Luckily for us though, we don’t experience first hand the slaps and kicks.
The young Englishman’s rage at being imprisoned needs to have an outlet, and he begs to be allowed to train with the kickboxing team. His prowess is quickly recognised and a chance at survival and even release from prison hell is offered when he is allowed to compete in the inter-prison Muay Thai boxing tournament.
Billy is then packed off to another prison, where they swap subtitled stories of the grim deeds they did to end up there. Some of these conversations are delivered by real life ex-cons, so there is a provocative and alarming documentary quality about these scenes.
The fights themselves have a demonic circus atmosphere about them, with intensely maddening pipe music played over the speaker systems to accompany the blood and sweat. The close ups of whirling heads and flying fists (and feet) launch the spectator right into the heart of battle. It’s anything but a pretty sight.
The fights in the ring are gruelling enough, but the real challenge for the viewer is when the film details the violence in the prison itself. Painful and at points almost unwatchable, the film illustrates the suffering experienced by the prey of predators within a deeply flawed system.
Calling to mind something of the torment of ‘70s prison drama Midnight Express, but with the added confusion of blistering kickboxing bouts, A Prayer Before Dawnis a resolutely tough watch. But it’s also one that rewards, with the hope of redemption and rebirth.