Every year for the past fourteen years best friends Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have gone out in New York City together on Christmas Eve. But now they’re getting older and are getting more responsibilities, this year the Christmas tradition is coming to an end and to end on a high they’re finally going to attend the Holy Grail of Christmas parties – the Nutcracka Ball.
The Night Before is very funny. It’s kind of a stoner comedy in the sense that the three friends spend a good chunk of time searching for weed but it is only Seth Rogen’s character that gets high on just about every type of drug imaginable. Cue silly antics as he starts panicking about being a father, loses his phone and is generally not able to function. There are some great cameos in The Night Before, some of them are truly unexpected yet brilliant, and the supporting cast is a lot of fun too with Mindy Kaling being a highlight. Then there’s Michael Shannon who plays Mr. Green the intense yet strangely wise drug dealer. His scenes are some of the funniest while also being oddly Christmassy as he often makes one of the trio of leads think about their lives and what’s important to them. He’s kind of like a stoned version of Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life, and amazingly it works and adds to the Christmas feels that are there beneath the cursing and dick jokes.
In amongst all the drugs and swearing, the main theme of The Night Before is surprisingly sweet and heartfelt. Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Mackie all have great chemistry and they really feel like lifelong friends. They are each at different stages of their lives, Isaac is about to be a father, Chris is a famous football player, while Ethan is feeling a bit lost as he’s no longer with his girlfriend and his career isn’t going anywhere. At its heart this film is about the trio of best friends and how friendships evolve as people grow up but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be friends and grow up together.
The Night Before is funny and often silly and ridiculous, but with the three leads having such great chemistry and New York City feeling so Christmassy, it unexpectedly feels like a true Christmas movie in the sense anything can happen, and it’ll be in the spirit of Christmas. 4/5.
Bridget (Hilary Swank) returns home to help her brother Nick (Michael Shannon) look after their mother Ruth (Blythe Danner) who has Alzheimer’s and persuade their father Burt (Robert Forster) it is time for him to look into care options for Ruth as her illness deteriorates.
What They Had opens with Ruth getting out of bed in the middle of the night, putting on some lipstick, her shoes and a coat over her nightshirt, and then lets herself out of her home and walks off in the middle of a snowstorm. This incident is the final straw for Nick who has been trying to get his father to see how much the illness is affecting Ruth and how they both need help and support. He calls Bridget and she and her daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga) fly out to help.
Everything about What They Had and how a family deals with a loved one having Alzheimer’s is incredibly true to life. Everyone’s experiences with an illness differs but there were so many moments in this film I could relate to as someone who has had one grandparent die after having dementia, and another currently living with Alzheimer’s. The script allowed each character to have their own point of view of what this illness was doing to their family. Nick is often frustrated as he’s the one that’s been helping his father look after his mother for so long, whereas Bridget can still see the funny side of things – because sometimes things happen or are said which are funny – but that’s not exactly helpful to Nick. Then there’s Bert who is in denial and doesn’t want to be apart from his wife, which is totally understandable, even if that could be what’s best for the both of them.
The whole cast give brilliant performances, with Swank and Shannon bouncing off one another really well and feel like proper siblings. It’s Blythe Danner though that really needs to be commended. The way she portrays someone with Alzheimer’s is spot on and even with the more absurd moments, she’s never over acts it. It’s the quieter moments though, when Ruth slips from being unaware of what’s happening around her, to momentarily understanding it and being frustrated by it, before slipping back to obliviousness, that are like a punch to the gut. It gives her loved one’s emotional whiplash and highlights how horrible the disease is.
What They Had is a well written and well-acted film that never lacks empathy for these characters. It’s certainly a tough watch at times, especially for those who have experienced a love one losing their mind to Alzheimer’s or dementia, but it’s a film that highlights the struggles and difficult choices a family in that position must make. 5/5.
In a top-secret research facility in 1960s Baltimore, a lonely cleaner named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) befriends a mysterious amphibious creature (Doug Jones) who is being terrorised by government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon).
The Shape of Water has a magical quality to it. The setting and particularly the music, gives it almost a golden age of Hollywood feel. Especially as the story is almost a classic story of love, friendship and good trying to triumph over evil. It’s almost like a fairy-tale and the way the film is bookended by some narration definitely adds to that feeling.
All the performances in The Shape of Water are great. Sally Hawkins does a brilliant job at conveying Elisa’s thoughts and feelings without ever saying a word. You believe in the connection she’s forming with this creature and seeing the two of the bond is lovely. Michael Shannon’s Strickland is a menacing presence from the first moment he appears. Every time he’s on screen your eyes are on him as he’s like a coiled spring ready to explode at any moment.
The Shape of Water is a bit tonally uneven. At its centre is a sweet story but then there’s sudden bouts of blood and violence – most of which are courtesy of Strickland. It’s also got some surprising moments of humour, a good number of them were from Elisa’s neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) who’s friendship with Elisa is lovely.
The Shape of Water is one of those films where I appreciated it more than I liked it. While for many it is one of their favourite films of the year, for me it was a lovely film with a lot of heart, but I don’t think it will stick with me for very long. 3/5.
Roy (Michael Shannon) goes on the run with his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) to protect him from the government and a cult that are drawn to the child’s special abilities.
Midnight Special is a great combination of science-fiction, family drama and a road-chase plot. At its heart is the relationship between and father and son, they have a believable bond for instance when Alton tries to reassure his father that he’ll be OK and Roy says he likes worrying about him, it is one of the most relatable sentiments for a parent or child.
The other key characters include NSA analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) who believes Alton is not what the government nor the cult believe him to be, Lucas (Joel Edgerton) Roy’s loyal friend who will do anything to protect Alton and Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) Alton’s mother. Nearly all the characters have their time to shine though unfortunately Sarah seemed to be underwritten compared to her male counterparts.
The plot of Midnight Special is intriguing and full of suspense as Roy and Alton struggle to stay one step ahead of their pursuers and you’re never sure which would be the lesser of two evils between the government and the cult. The special effects are brilliant and always feel natural and grounded even when things are happening around Alton that are really abnormal.
Midnight Special is one of those films that you really should go into knowing as little as possible. It might not answer all of the viewers’ questions but that’s OK because the ride is wonderful and full of terrific and understated performances. 4/5.