Quick Hit: Phoenix continues to transform himself and, coupled with strong directing, sells every part of this film.
Lynne Ramsay has a fantastic film on her hands, and should be very proud of it. In this film, we follow Joe (Joaquin Phoenix – seemingly huge and filling every inch of the screen and sporting an impressive beard), a man for hire in a world of despicable things. Joe seems to specialize in rescuing people from sex trafficking circles, but he doesn’t seem to be the same as Liam Neeson in Taken or even a slick agent from the MI films. He doesn’t have gadgets, and rarely even seems to work with a gun. Instead, he goes in and is shabbily dressed, often just in a hoodie. He doesn’t go for the guns, instead preferring something like a ballpeen hammer.
You Were Never Really Here is an extremely confident film. This is because the film is set up to have some confusing event in it. Joe is a veteran, and obviously suffers from PTSD of a sort. This manifests itself on the screen as Joe having to remove himself from everything. Ramsay navigates this wonderfully, sometimes driving back, sometimes just moving the screen so that Joe seems much smaller than his imposing size. And throughout it all, we maintain the narrative – Joe is trying to rescue a girl, even if there might be more to it than just the job.
There are a number of violent interludes in YWNRH – but rarely do they ever have enough violence that it distracts from the images that Ramsay is trying to present. Joe is horribly damaged, but lives with his mother, taking care of her. Eventually she is brought into the fold, and Joe handles this as he has handled everything else in the film. In probably the most harrowing part of the film, after mortally wounding an enemy, Joe stays with him as he dies, even keeping him company by lying on the ground near him. It’s an emotionally charged scene that shows Phoenix’s true range despite displaying a consistent blank of a face.
There’s not a lot else I want to say about this film, besides that I really enjoyed it. I think that the score was award nomination material – Greenwood perfectly sets the mood for a different type of film right off the bat, and Ramsay’s strong direction carries it totally forward. I’m giving You Were Never Really Here an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Mesmerizing and convincing at times, this thriller also lacks something.
To shoot an entire film on an I-phone is impressive. To do that in a way that convinces a studio and a production company to pick it up and put it in theaters is even more impressive. Steven Soderbergh accomplished that task with Unsane, a thriller about a woman who finds herself in a mental hospital against her will.
Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) goes to see a therapist because she sometimes has thoughts about hurting herself. She is sent for an evaluation and then suddenly she is surrendering her phone and being asked to turn in her clothes. They then tell her that she is being kept for a short period of time for observation. She wants to be let go, but she signed the forms. Then she ends up violent with an orderly and doctor decides she maybe needs to stay a little longer. It turns out (through conversation) that this is a common place insurance scam mental hospitals run. Who better to take advantage of than those that no one believes right?
Mental health is a fragile topic in movies. Sometimes (and too often) it’s played for laughs like in K-Pax and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Other times, there is a graphic destruction of mental health as someone kills or begins to kill, like My Friend Dahmer or American Psycho. And sometimes, a filmmaker somehow toes the line between the two. That’s the best way that I can describe the mental health that is shown in Unsane. The fellow inmates range from violent to overtly sexual, but for the most part, everyone seems like they’re real people. Foy goes a long way to sell the concept, rarely ever leaving the center of the screen.
The conflict in the story is driven not just by her situation, but also from a past stalker, who has resurfaced in her life, now as an orderly at the hospital that she is interred at. The movie might stretch out a bit too long whether Sawyer is crazy or not, but the best parts in the movie come during the interactions between her and David. And don’t be fooled – there’s quite a bit of payoff for those that will wait until the end.
The biggest issue is probably the pacing. Unsane knows where it’s going, but it takes a long time to get there. The film only runs about 98 minutes, so it’s not the runtime that is the culprit here. The structure of the film is just that there are long periods where not a lot happens as you have to waffle between crazy or not. I enjoyed the film, but it could have been cleaned up. I think some of these pacing issues came from the ambitious I-Phone choice, because it makes it seem so much more real than a normal film often seems. I’m giving it a “B-“ and a round of applause for being daring.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: SO MANY FISH PEOPLE.
I was extremely wary of this film. Despite loving the majority of James Wan’s work, taking Aquaman and making him BA and also making him “Bro-man” was a bit of a risk. I wasn’t sure that all of it would pay off, but as Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe and others continued to get involved, I couldn’t help but be a bit anxious that it had a chance to actually…be… good. And you know what? It was! Aquaman was wildly entertaining, led first and foremost by Jason Momoa. But it’s Wan’s strong directing that brings it forward as we ping-pong throughout the film and the stakes and the set-pieces get larger and larger and larger.
And I’m absolutely not kidding. There’s so much going on. Fish people (literally, not just humans that breath underwater), crab people, giant mythological creatures, and a sequence that could literally be out of one of Wan’s horror films that features creatures that remind me a bit of something I would see in The Upside down in Stranger Things. The design of these creatures is fantastic and is at times gives feelings reminiscent of watching Lord of the Rings for the first time when you got to see the Orcs and the Uruk Hai. And of course, there are people riding freaking sharks and seahorses and other things.
That’s one of the first points that I want to make about Aquaman. If it’s not clear, this movie is a bit like a fantasy epic. There’s a quest for a mythical item that will help the hero succeed in his quest, but throughout the whole film, he is learning that he is good enough despite being a child of two races. He has a strained relationship with his brother due to his half-blood nature, and he is eventually confronted by a beast that is straight out of mythology in the Kraken. If you dive into the film and look at what’s in it, it could essentially be a retelling of a Tolkien story or a Greek or Roman myth. To do that in a modern blockbuster and still make it feel new is impressive.
I’m also totally in and sold on Bromoa and the whole surrounding cast. I thought the weakest part (as in most films about super-powered beings) was the villain development. I think the development of Manta was a bit slow (I understand he was being set-up primarily for sequels, but why have him be such a big part in this one then?), and Orm/Ocean Master is one of those that without Patrick Wilson’s ALL-IN dedication, he would have just been a cliché. As it is, Wilson totally sells it, and if you haven’t watched a clip of him yelling repeatedly, I’d highly recommend it.
I also thought they did a great job at selling the slow reluctant love story between Mera (Amber Heard) and Arthur. Amber Heard is enough that she totally put Bromoa in her place several times, and the whole thing definitely reminding me of Khaleesi in Game of Thrones. She’s a strong woman, and Wan gives her plenty to do – she’s not just a red-headed arm piece. Indeed, without her, Arthur never would have been able to complete his quest. The chemistry between Heard and Momoa wavers at times, but never gets distracting. As the film goes, they get stronger, but they never approach the easy going chemistry that Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison manage to have from the get-go. Their love story is truly one of the best, even if it is also very reminiscent of something you’d see in, say Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
Speaking of Kidman – she’s a boss in this as well – and she gets to have a freaking Center of the Earth type sequence. She doesn’t get quite enough to do in the latter half of the film, but she’s great anytime she’s there.
I could type on this film however long I want – if anyone wants more information on my thoughts, let me know. Until then, I’m going to end it with this – Aquaman is fiercely entertaining in all the best ways. I’m going to give this absolutely bonkers fest a “B+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"