As Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) departs for the jungle for what will be the last time, he and his son Jack (Tom Holland) lean out the window of their train car, waving at the people who wait just to catch a glimpse of the explorers. As they pass the gathered crowds, so too do they pass the sleeping form of Percys wife, Nina (Sienna Miller), and his other two children. It is as if he is dreaming them, as if time has begun to collapse as Fawcetts adventure comes to an endor a beginning.
To watch James Grays The Lost City of Z is to be caught in that dream with him. Movies are often cited as a form of escapism, but there are very few movies that are quite as transporting as this one, and it deserves to be in contention as one of the bestif not the bestmovies of the year. (Its streaming on Amazon Prime, and I would recommend seeing it on the largest screen possible.)
Admittedly, its not a particularly easy sell at almost two and a half hours long. Its not really a brisk movie, either, though as a proponent, I cant say that I ever felt weary of the movies runtime. Its also focused on such a specific story and era that anyone not in the mood for a period drama might overlook it. But all it takes is the films openingthe crackling of torches, the hum of Christopher Spelmans scoreand the spell is cast.
Its Ravels second suite of his score for the ballet Daphnis et Chlo that plays over Fawcetts final journey into the Amazon. Its a composition that is just as lush and verdant as the film and the jungle into which Fawcett is about to descend, and its place in the impressionist movement is also fitting for the way in which Gray makes movies. At the risk of sounding pedantic, Gray is a filmmaker whose visions are of the sort that Hollywood doesnt indulge anymore.
In 1925, British explorer Percy Fawcett embarked on an expedition to find the remains of a city that he had dubbed Z. The expedition was the culmination of Fawcetts research and previous forays into the Amazon, as well as his fervent belief in the existence of a city that would prove that the jungle could sustain complex civilization, and had done so before Europeans ever had. The last communication from the party was on May 29, 1925. Then they disappeared.
In the intervening years, numerous explorers have tried and failed to find what became of Fawcett, and its telling as to the power of the story that were still discussing it, now. Gray is keenly aware of the tendency to romanticize exploration, and what makes The Lost City of Z so remarkable is the way in which he corrects that notionnot by dispelling the perceived beauty in it, but by shedding that light upon every aspect of the story.
We see the toll that exploration takes, not just on the explorers themselves (though they are indeed gruesome) but on Fawcetts family. The minutiae of each expedition are treated with care, with all of it circling back to the political and cultural ramifications of what might be learned, and how those results might reflect upon Fawcetts reputation. His social standing, in turn, affects the lives of his wife and children, who already suffer a loss each time he goes into the jungle. But he cant help his obsession. Even as he recovers from what might have been a fatal injury after serving in the war, all he can think about is whether or not his wound will prevent him from venturing on another expedition.
And yet, despite all that, it is impossible not to understand Fawcetts obsession, or the impulse that drove so many other people, including an unrecognizable Robert Pattinson, to follow him into the unknown despite knowing the risks. Gray is a master of evoking feeling through film, which is the sort of thing that cant be said ofand sometimes simply isnt even attempted byevery movie. The score, for instance, is meant to evoke a mood rather than a moment; it isnt necessary for each moment to be spelled out as long as the feeling of it is clear.
Then, and most incredibly, there are the dream sequences that pass in and out of the film. By the end, the effect of these visions is comparable to the strange beauty of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Arguably, Fawcett hasnt really traveled any more or less than Keir Dulleas Dr. Bowman. No, The Lost City of Z isnt about the creation of man, but the sense of wonderment in discovery, despite all the dangers that come with it, is cut from the same cloth. Fawcett sees the jungle even as he hunkers down in the trenches during wartime; then he passes his family by as he returns to the jungle, a reminder of just how much of their lives he has missed, and how much more time he will lose with them. But he doesnt turn back.
The Lost City of Z is the kind of movie that would feel like a miracle no matter when it was released. Its rich without being excessive, beautiful without glossing over the horrors that often befell explorers, and straightforward in picking apart the colonialist and racist beliefs of the time and the characters where it could just as easily have left them implied or ignored them completely. But words ultimately dont do the film justice. Its more than the sum of its technical triumphs: its a dream, and well worth seeking out before the year is over.
Captive State review ambitious sci-fi thriller offers up uneven intrigue
“A jumble of themes and ideas jostle for space in an audacious, but often messy, film that takes a familiar alien invasion set-up and goes for broke
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Buried somewhere underneath the wreckage, theres a smart little sci-fi film pulsing at the centre of Captive State, a scrappy, unwieldy curio with plenty on its mind, coherence not necessarily included. Shot over two years ago and pushed around the release schedule, its a troubled project that feels troubled, with confused editing and clear structural issues clueing us in on its difficult journey to the screen. Its a frustrating experience but one that remains worthwhile because theres just enough of a glimmer of the film it could have been to make it worth watching the film it turned into instead.
Were presented with a familiar set-up: aliens have invaded Earth leading to destruction, division and plenty of dust. But unlike the majority of similar films that have come before, were then presented with an idea of what comes after. What if aliens stuck around? What if an uneasy arrangement was made with Earths governing bodies? And what if the invaders were now seen as the main legislative force whose presence had actually led to a statistically safer society? Its a fascinating conceit and one that raises a string of intriguing questions, some of which the film answers with skill.
Pitched somewhere between District 9 and The Purge, writer-director Rupert Wyatt, whose 2011 prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprisingly urgent and necessary blockbuster, focuses the action on Chicago and how the new world order affects a city already struggling with crime and economic disparity. His lead is Gabriel, played by Moonlights Ashton Sanders, existing in one of the poorer districts and working in a factory tasked with wiping data from digital devices, which have been outlawed. His brother Rafe (Jonathan Majors, a rising star after his charming turn in Sundance darling The Last Black Man in San Francisco) was leading a resistance against the state but after his death, Gabriel finds himself scrambling for an escape………………………………………………………………”
Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ demands to be watched and watched again
There’s a reason this lady has an Oscar.
“When the credits rolled on Us, I realized I needed a minute.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the film – quite the opposite. It was that the film, written and directed by Jordan Peele, is so rich, so layered, so diabolically clever and emotionally astute, that it felt an enormous undertaking to process in a single sitting.
Several hours and many conversations later, I’m still convinced this film has secrets I haven’t uncovered yet, and I’m just eager for my next chance to go digging through it again.
Which is not to say it’s without surface-level pleasures. Moment to moment, Us is a film designed to make you react – to get you to giggle at Winston Duke’s extreme dad-ness (“You don’t need the internet. You have the outernet!” he tells his exasperated teenage daughter), or scream at a villain silently materializing in the corner of a frame. And it shapeshifts so frequently, and so deftly, that it’s a fool’s errand to guess at any moment what might happen next.
But it quickly becomes obvious that Us has a lot more on its mind than making you jump. Every detail here seems carefully considered, down to the amount of dust gathered on a coffee table in a rarely used living room. In the hands of a filmmaker this precise, much of the fun is in waiting to see just how his intricate puzzle will come together.
Duke, Lupita Nyong’o, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex are instantly winning as the Wilson family, whose beach vacation is cruelly interrupted by funhouse-mirror versions of themselves. These strangers – clad in blood-red jumpsuits and armed with gleaming gold scissors – are hell-bent not just on killing them, but on explaining exactly why they’re doing so…………………………………………………………..”
Fighting With My Family review, Stephen Merchant has all the right moves
The writer-directors story of a British female wrestler striving to make it big in the US winningly balances oddball humour with affection for the antics of the WWE
“These are big movies, insists Michael Lerners studio boss in the Coen brothers 1991 hit Barton Fink, about big men in tights, both physically and mentally! Hes trying to explain to John Turturros angsty writer the inherent parameters of a wrestling movie, insisting: We dont put Wally Beery in a fruity movie about suffering. Yet just as William Faulkner reportedly did uncredited rewrites on Beerys 1932 picture Flesh, so writer-director Stephen Merchant here manages to subvert the genre and inject some of that Barton Fink feeling into this uplifting romp. Inspired by Max Fishers similarly titled Channel 4 documentary about a Norwich wrestling clan, Fighting With My Family is a hugely likable underdog tale, packing plenty of crowd-pleasing comedy wallop, and boasting a smack-down turn from the indomitable Florence Pugh.
Building on her brilliantly modulated performances in Carol Morleys The Falling and William Oldroyds Lady Macbeth, Pugh gets physical as Saraya (AKA Britani), punchy daughter of wrestlers………………………………………………………..”