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At The Movies

 

 

Ghost Stories ★★★★

Director: Andy Nyman, Jeremy Dyson

Cast: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther

‘Ghost Stories’ is an anthology horror film written and directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson. The film is based on the successful play of the same name helmed by the two long time friends and collaborators. The film is British through and through starring the likes of Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, some dreary late autumn English scenery and classic Hammer-style horror tropes with a generous serving of dry wit.
The plot revolves around Nymans character Professor Philip Goodman, a man who produces and stars in a TV show that debunks paranormal hoaxes and exposes charlatan mediums. When his childhood hero and fellow supernatural investigator invites him to look into three unexplained cases involving the macabre, Goodman is eager enough to accomodate.
The first case centres around a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) who works in an abandoned asylum for women. His tragic family past comes to the fore when a terrifying entity begins to haunt him.
The second case revolves around an awkward and neurotic young man (Alex Lawther) from a dysfunctional family. His world is turned upside down when while driving through a dark forest his car hits what appears to be a demonic being.
The third case is all about a wealthy banker (Martin Freeman) whose mansion is invaded by a poltergeist while his pregnant wife is in hospital enduring a complicated child birth.
All three stories are full of classically disturbing hair raising scenes and cryptic imagery (the meaning of which become clear in the end) with a number of contemporary jump scares thrown into the mix. The cinematography and the use of dark greys, browns and greens help to establish a depressing and moody atmosphere that complements the tone of the film.
While ‘Ghost Stories’ is definitely an emotionally (as well as visually) sombre affair, the effect of which is accentuated even more by the tragically twisted outcome that befalls Goodman, the filmmakers do take care to lighten up the mood a bit by throwing more than a few well crafted humorous lines and scenes into the film.
The acting here is top notch. Martin Freeman is clearly having fun playing the high powered and unabashedly anti-semitic banker, while Paul Whitehouse is great to watch as a tough-guy-wannabe curmudgeonly old geezer.

‘Ghost Stories’ is by no means a groundbreaking or original horror film but nor does it attempt to be. The film and three stories within it are a loving nod to the classic British horror cinema of the late 50s and 60s. And despite the familiar nature of the plot, it still manages to give plenty of scares. In other words this is a small but effective horror film that any fan of the genre is sure to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Isle of Dogs ★★★★

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Liev Schreiber, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Greta Gerwig

‘Isle of Dogs’ is the latest whimsical brainchild of director Wes Anderson. Written in collaboration with frequent alumni Jason Schwartzman and actor Kunichi Nomura, the story focuses on a Japanese boy looking for his dog on a trash island inhabited by men’s exiled canine friends.
Wes Anderson has been around long enough and has produced enough lauded work that it is instantly recognizable. It would be hard to confuse it for anyone else’s. Whether it’s the quirky dialogue, the cinematographic symmetry within the frame, the interesting color palette or the nonchalant laid back characters; the Anderson-ian tropes are so unique that it would be impossible for any other filmmaker to emulate them without being accused of stylistic plagiarism.
‘Isle of Dogs’ is Anderson’s only second animated feature, but everything his work has become known for is on display here.
The story is set in Japan in a not too distant future. In this particular version of reality, dogs are intensely disliked by cat owners. The chief amongst them being mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) of the fictional city Megasaki. When a mysterious ‘snout fever’ starts infecting Megasaki’s dog population, Kobayashi uses the opportunity to ban all dogs to a desolate trashpile of an island off the shore of mainland Japan.
A short time later the island is visited by Kobayashi’s distant nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin). He’s there to find his dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber); the very first dog to be exiled. Helping him out are a pack of dogs led by a rugged and proud stray called Chief (Bryan Cranston). With Chief and Co’s help Atari embarks on a long and arduous adventure through a desolate landscape full of hidden threats and obstacles.

While Atari and Chief’s pack embark on their adventure, back on mainland Megasaki a pro-dog student movement emerges lead by a Japanese American visitor Tracy (Greta Gerwig) after it was revealed that there was a cure for the ‘snout fever’.
While the story itself isn’t particularly original, its execution is what makes it stand out. The world that Anderson built is imaginative, meticulously detailed and beautiful to look at. On repeat viewings audiences are sure to notice new detail that they did not notice before.
The character designs of the dogs (at least the main characters) are distinct and unique for each. Once again the attention to detail is apparent. In what must have been a daunting process, the dog fur shifts around in the wind and the animators manage to express emotion in the motion puppets facial expressions. Cudos must also be given to Anderson for keeping most of the human dialogue in Japanese, with only the dogs speaking English.
The voice acting work is typical of an Anderson film, with the actors giving a subdued and somewhat monotone performance. I find this to be a bit of a shame as it becomes harder to distinguish the voices of the amazing talent behind the characters: I confused Liev Schreiber’s character with Bryan Cranston’s while writing this interview, and confused both with George Clooney when watching the film; even though he’s not in it.

It should be noted that despite the cuteness of the premise and the director behind it, ‘Isle of Dogs’ has a surprising level of violence. The characters often appear bruised and battered after a fight, with an ear being chewed off in one particular scene. Atari himself is often bruised and spends most of the films running time with a metal rod from an earlier plane incident lodged in his head.
Overall this is an excellent addition to Wes Anderson’s filmography. The faults in the film are few and far between and any fan of his work is sure to enjoy it.

 

 

 

Journeyman ★★★

Director: Paddy Considine

Cast: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Paul Popplewell, Tony Pitts, Anthony Welsh

When I was asked to review Journeyman, the latest movie from writer/director/actor Paddy Considine about a veteran boxer suffering from a debilitating injury, I have to admit I was a little worried.  After all, I know nothing about boxing apart from the fact it involves two people punching each other for extended periods of time.  I have to admit I haven’t even watched Rocky properly all the way through.  Overall it’s fair to say I have very little interest in the sport.
But then again, Journeyman isn’t actually a boxing movie; it goes much deeper than that.  It’s a film about a boxer who has everything and then loses it, and his road to recovery.
Considine plays Matty Burton, a boxing champion whose career you get the impression is starting to wind down.   Before he retires though he has a title fight with a cocky younger boxer called Andre Bryte, played note perfectly by Anthony Welsh.  Bryte takes great pleasure in mocking Burton at every opportunity – his brash, cockiness casts him as the perfect villain for the opening scenes of the film.
Burton defeats his villain, only to be betrayed by his own body – after the fight, he suffers a debilitating brain injury that leaves him unable to walk or even talk.  From this point on the film changes to a human drama about a happy couple pushed to breaking point when tragedy hits.
It’s the performances of the two main characters that stand out though – Considine as the aforementioned lead character and Jodie Whittaker who is terrific as his wife who wants to help him try to rebuild himself no matter how difficult it becomes.  The duo has an incredible on-screen chemistry, and the film works because they come across as a genuinely decent family that we want to see overcome the odds.
This leads me to my only complaint of the film though.   Although Paddy does a great job portraying Matty’s condition, it wasn’t ever actually explained what exactly it was.  There are several scenes where Matty’s does things entirely at odds with his charming personality from before the injury – but the film didn’t explain what it was making him act this way.  I wasn’t looking for a docudrama on the dangers of boxing by any means, but a little more detail on his condition would have gone a greater way for me as the viewer to understand why he acts so out of character in the second half of the film.
Other than that, though, I can’t recommend this film highly enough.  It was well written, well shot, amazingly acted (not only by the lead characters but by the supporting cast as well), and it’s one of those rare films where you genuinely want everyone to get a happy ending because you feel they deserve it.

 

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