Whiplash

Miles Teller Whiplash

When an aspiring drummer, Andrew (Teller), registers at a world-renowned New York music school, he fast realises that his drum kit isn’t the only thing that requires a thick skin.

Nothing sounds more like vanilla than a film about drumming. Drums are the Steady Eddie of instruments; the “not cool enough to be featured on our Unplugged album” rhythm-keeper of all bands. Spending two hours with drums and/or a drummer sounds like something I would checkout of post-haste. It is for that very reason that I am surprised that Whiplash has a strong chance of remaining top of my Film of the Year 2015 list.

My surprise was short-lived, however, because Whiplash was not really a film about drumming. The instrument was the vessel through which the story was told, and this was a story of pain, perseverance and the pursuit of perfection.

Much of the narrative was focused on the relationship between Andrew and Fletcher; the young student vs the bastard tutor (and bastard is a light word in this context), similar to the character dynamics in Full Metal Jacket. Teller’s characterization of the quiet, socially awkward protagonist should have been recognized in this year’s Oscar nominations, especially considering J.K. Simmons was given the nod as Best Supporting Actor. Both of these actors gave standout performances, their relationship dissected with nuanced excellence. Teller usually plays the wise-cracking jock, yet this role was a complete departure for him as he showed a tense vulnerability on screen.

The last film directed by Damien Chazelle, Grand Piano, also dealt with a talented protagonist playing a musical instrument, but instead of a vacuous plot carrying one-dimensional characters, Whiplash bears the hallmark of greatness, which is also a theme that is deeply explored in the film. Andrew has engulfed his life in drumming. Rather than developing relationships with family and friends, he sacrificed everything in an effort to be the greatest drummer of his generation; he opted for CDs over conversations; his sticks over a girlfriend. Every literal and metaphorical knock back drove him harder to prove the greatness he desired, which at times became cringe worthy to watch. At times the movie became a little far-fetched from a plot perspective, however the events helped to act as a visual metaphor for Andrew’s unrelenting drive to be the best.

Clearly a film about a drummer needed to have scenes of drumming, and they absolutely delivered. There was a wonderful adventurousness to the camera, with the drum kit and the drummer being shown from all angles, and the editing had a kinetic feel to it that reminded me of the music video to The Chemical Brothers – Star Guitar. At points I felt myself simultaneously gritting my teeth, nodding my head and tapping my feet.

Even if Whiplash is usurped as my Film of the Year, the movie about a drummer, which isn’t about drumming, will remain long in my mind. La La Land, Chazelle’s next movie, released later this year, is a piece of cinema on which I will be keeping a very close eye.

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10 Reasons why the critics have got it so wrong about Gone Girl

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Last night, to dust off the writing cobwebs formed after a long summer of football, festivals, house moves and holidays, the Framerates team went to the cinema to see the highly-anticipated, critically-acclaimed, David Fincher directed, adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel Gone Girl. With the screenplay also by Flynn, and a top cast that included Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, our hopes were high. Could Fincher channel his immense talent to create a chilling, intelligent thriller that echoed the intensity of Se7en and Zodiac?

In a word: no.

To our surprise, though, Gone Girl is seemingly a hit with many critics. Here are ten reasons why we feel that this critical reception is a case of mass “drinking the Fincher Kool Aid”.

This article contains spoilers.

1) A faithful, unfaithful adaptation

Despite a screenplay from Flynn herself, the tense, psychological, emotionally engaging tone that is captured in the book fails to fully translate onto the screen. Flynn has faithfully stuck to the narrative laid out in the novel however without the continuous stream of thought from the characters the movie feels shallow and the characters motivations and emotional arcs unclear. This is no more apparent than in the final act of the movie where we see Amy heartlessly slaughter Desi Collings. This played on screen like the calculated acts of a horror movie psychopath whereas in the novel, despite Amy’s deplorable moral compass, the reader understands that she is left with little choice.

2) Tone issues

Perhaps Fincher added flecks of humour throughout Gone Girl to provide comic relief, and to heighten the darkest moments of the movie. However, when characters are making the stupidest decisions left, right and centre, unfortunately, the humour intended as light relief was actually just a series of snorts at the movie’s ridiculousness. An absurd movie this was; “an absurdist thriller” this was not.

3) Pacing. Pacing. Pacing.

I felt I was watching three episodes of a TV programme that were cut together by an amateur YouTube editor. I do believe that the movie got caught somewhere between police procedural and Stepford Wives thriller, and there was such a blatant division between the three acts of the film, which resulted in an extremely jarring watch.

4) Direction

Was Fincher deliberately telling his cast to act on the same level throughout the film? Everything was so flat, it felt like the director was intentionally channeling Frank Underwood and the entire feel of House of Cards, but with a mixture of Prisoners thrown in for good measure. It was very disappointing that this didn’t feel like a Fincher movie, but maybe that will act in his favour when people finally remove their tongues from his arsehole.

5) Acting

A flat tone, jarring pacing and seemingly misguided direction in Gone Girl all results in some rather underwhelming performances from the leads. Pike as Amy does a good job as coming across as cold, sharp and intelligent but fails to fully round Amy as a character- arguably this is in large part down to the lack of distinction between the opposing Amy’s (see point 7 for more). Affleck has always been a firm favourite over here at Framerates.net as an actor, as well as a director, however the stoic nature of the character of Nick required a nuanced performance that depicted an internal dialogue, instead Affleck at times felt vacant and the emotional weight was lacking.

6) Team Amy vs Team Nick

Fincher himself has said that people will leave in either a “Team Amy” or “Team Nick” camp. If the director has acknowledged that fact, there are clearly flaws in the way his characters are represented. One can claim “misogyny” towards Amy, or “men’s rights” at Nick, until they’re blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is that all of the above factors have contributed to a film that leads us beautifully into Point 7.

7) Failing to define the character roles.

The single most important element of the movie to get right was the clear and apparent differences between the two Amys. ‘Cool girl’ Amy, the Amy created for Nick, and the real Amy. Fincher makes no distinction between the two opposing personalities. Without this we don’t understand Nick for falling in love with Amy and equally we don’t empathise with Amy and the façade she is forced to display. Instead of creating a compelling insight into two flawed characters, who we both empathise with and despise, or making a coherent point about gender roles and feminism, the movie leaves us with two people who we neither understand very much and who represent very little.

8) It looks beautiful, but what is below the surface?

When you look at a movie like Zodiac, you can literally peel back the nuanced layers within the frame, the acting, the cinematography and plot. In Gone Girl, because the characters were so unrelatable, it was hard to get fully immersed into the world that Fincher is normally so great at building. Gone Girl left me with a similar feeling as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which is a movie referenced in another 10 things post from last year.

9) No one shags in a library after 3 years of a relationship

After 1095 days together, you’re lucky if you get your genitals get but a fleeting glance when you’re out with your other half, let alone being balls deep in a dark corner of a public library. I will suspend my disbelief for many things, but this is not one of them.

10) It’s just really not as good as people are claiming

All-in-all, the film was over two and a half hours long and after half an hour I was feeling frustrated and bored. The word flat has been used many times in this article to describe elements of this film and that’s exactly what the overall experience left me feeling. There was no excitement, intrigue or desire for any of the characters to succeed in anyway. Unlike Se7en, Zodiac or Fight Club, which are intense, thrilling and heaped with personality, Gone Girl is as grey as the colour palette it displays.

140 words: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

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Abraham Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel, Dracula, has been adapted for screen more times than I can count while at work. A story of blood-sucking Transylvanians and naive Victorian Londoners, the book packs a subtext of repressed sexuality, yet delivers that with mindless parasitic violence and uncanny death. Coppola’s Dracula, while being a movie that is steeped in atmosphere and Gothic imagery, is far too self-aware; each scene dripping with filmic techniques (frames within frames; film layered dissolves) to take seriously as a Dracula film. Gary Oldman as the titular character hams his way through each scene, and for some reason, rather than being a blood-lusting, mindless monster, is a little bit too concerned with his broken heart. Hopkins and Ryder were just passable, however Keanu Reeves’ English accent was piss-poor. It has to be said….Universal did this story better in 1931.

 

The Sacrament

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When a Vice documentary crew discover that one of their own’s sister has fled the US, they embark on a journey to a remote jungle in an undisclosed location to find her. Once they are on the ground in “Eden Parish”, their initial warm reception soon fades away, revealing something entirely more sinister.

In the past I have not hidden my love of Ti West’s style and directorial ability. The way he manipulates his audience with camerawork and sound is second to none in the horror genre, and I would definitely class him in the school of “soon to be auteurs”. That is why, when I discovered he was directing a found footage movie, I was slightly shocked.

The Sacrament, on paper, is certainly West’s most conventional movie. There is no vintage 80s aesthetic (The House of the Devil); there aren’t any ghosts (The Innkeepers) and we actually get to see some plot, unlike his short in The ABCs of Death. Instead of the lingering self-awareness he has shown in the past, we are treated to the traditional structure and pacing one would expect of a found footage movie. Maybe in the hands of another director that description could be used to show the film in a negative light, however West’s direction brings to The Sacrament a touch of class rarely shown in found footage movies. Not only are the performances of A.J. Bowen and Gene Jones absolutely stellar, but the story is entirely believable. Other commentators have pointed out the undeniable similarities between the infamous Jonestown Massacre and The Sacrament, which, upon researching, seem to be more than poignant, however these parallels should take nothing away from how this movie is constructed.

From the outset you can feel a creeping dread hanging over the film, even when things appear to be going well for our protagonists. The silence seems deafening at points, especially as the film beginnings to ramp up towards the final act. The way West marries his use of silence with his camera, to dictate pacing in scenes, is extremely compelling; we are treated to static mid shots cut with frantic steadicam chase scenes that all feel very organic. One particular scene in the final act is framed beautifully despite its shocking content. We also get treated to “film school shots” but they never feel pretentious within the context of the film; instead it just appears that West knows exactly how to create mood with form.

Another aspect of the movie that is very politically relevant at the time that this review has been written, particularly in Britain, is the topic of religious fundamentalism and extremism. Both of these terms denote acts of brainwashing the vulnerable, which is a theme that runs thick in this film; long, compelling speeches from the mouth of “the Father” seem to have everyone hanging on his every word, which, in the climactic scenes, proves horrifying and chilling (I really cannot do justice to how brutal, yet real, the end of The Sacrament is).

Beyond what has been discussed, I think the similarities The Sacrament has to Jonestown will either put people off or drive them to learn more. I knew of the event by name but had no idea the history of Jim Jones, and I do feel West has made a film that will prove a gateway into further reading for a lot of people. As for West, I am in no doubt that this director will go on to make a serious name for himself, not only in the horror genre, but in film as a whole.

 

All Is Lost

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PSA: At Frame Rates, we don’t like to reveal spoilers in our reviews. However, in the case of All Is Lost, it is impossible to discuss the movie without giving away the premise. Therefore, the following review will talk about the premise in detail, which in itself is a spoiler, but will not give away the finer plot points of the film.

After his boat collides with a stricken freight container, a seasoned sailor must not only battle the elements, but also fight the acceptance of mortality, in body and mind.

After 480 minutes of burning mind calories at work, one of the last things I want to do on a Monday evening is spend time questioning my own existence and attitude to mortality. Thankfully, rarely does a movie with such a delicate approach to storytelling deliver such a powerful message as the one I drew from All Is Lost.

The main thing to point out about All Is Lost, aside from a monologue at the beginning, is the complete lack of dialogue throughout. It is a bold move from writer/director, J.C. Chandor, and while his direction is precise, and his writing is compelling, it is because of Robert Redford’s on-screen gravitas that the silence works; he is called ‘Our Man’ in the screenplay, and his isolation begins to provide a insight into his nature. He is able to convey the smallest nuances of emotion by just literally existing in front of us; when his boat starts flooding, he goes about fixing it, and this happens throughout the film. By revealing nothing of his character, he actually reveals so much because we are made to think; about his past, why he is out on his own in the sea, and so on.

Some have commented on the movie’s lack of sailing realism, or complained about the seafaring techniques of the film’s protagonist. Only the most cynical of movie viewers would not accept the finer, more subtextual, aspects of the movie, and I feel these commenters have completely missed the point of this film. It’s not a film about sailing, but a story of survival and mortality that actually discusses its themes more successfully than Gravity; despite being absolutely gripping, the story and screenplay was the weakest aspect of Cuaron’s latest release. All Is Lost manages to say so much more about human perseverance, and the strengths and weaknesses of the human spirit, without actually saying a thing.

One of the greatest achievements of All Is Lost is the fact it played entirely with my expectation of action/disaster movies. I was constantly second-guessing the story, thinking that we’d have a twist or that there would be a Hollywoodised moment of peril, but the realism on screen was refreshing. Every movement, every action taken by Our Man was logical. As we got further into acts two and three, I began to understand the character’s intelligence as he found ways to keep afloat; it was like watching a machine work.

The technical aspects of the film were fantastic, and definitely complimented the clever, mature storytelling. As there is no dialogue, the camerawork, cinematography and post-production (editing and CGI) have to be compelling; All Is Lost had some excellent uses of first-person perspective to convey distance, underwater shots, and some majestic long shots of schools of fishes dancing below Our Man’s boat. The sound design was also absolutely superb; I felt genuinely cold during the storms, and appreciated the moments of silent tension being cut through by the delicate sounds of water colliding and lapping against the innards of the stricken boat.

The Oscars have been and gone, but it surprises me that this movie was overlooked in more categories (it did receive a nomination for Best Achievement in Sound Editing). At 77, Redford should have been nominated for Actor in a Leading Role, if not solely for putting his body through the runners in this film. I do think this is not your average action movie, and is more art house in style and tone, but I do recommend it regardless, as it reached into the deepest corners of my own fear of dying, and made me consider the lengths to which I would go to stay alive.

Robocop (1987)

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Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.

With the impending release of the Robocop reboot, I thought I would pop my nostalgia boner and revisit the 1987, Paul Verhoeven original. Oh, and spoilers for a 26 year old movie. Though you really should have seen this…

In a dystopian and crime-ridden Detroit, a terminally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg haunted by submerged memories. (Source: IMDb)

One of the main reasons I absolutely love this movie is the amount of horrifying brutality, and almost Manga-style violence and gore throughout; a cop gets shredded with a shotgun and his head blown apart; a perp gets shot in the the genitals; and my favourite kill…a gang member ends up doused in radioactive material, after which his deformed and sagging skin and body explode on impact from Robocop’s car. I remember watching this as a child and feeling a huge void, and almost nauseous, when Peter Weller (Murphy/Robocop) gets ripped apart in a hail of shotgun blasts. Oddly enough, I still feel a little bit repulsed upon viewing it today, but that’s quickly overridden by my love of horror movies and fictional gore.

Despite Robocop being an 80s, macho-action flick, I always enjoy the way the film deals with memory, repressed or submerged. It’s interesting that the relationship between man and machine is implicit in the resurrection of Murphy, with their manipulation if his memories going wrong later in the film, and resulting in some rough justice. Also, allegory-wise, Verhoeven confirmed it was a modern day telling of the story of Jesus, which can be confirmed in this set of pixels and by this 2010 quote;

It is about a guy who gets crucified in the first 50 minutes, and then is resurrected in the next 50 minutes, and then is like the supercop of the world. (source: Uproxx)

It’s important to note that, apart from the visuals on the displays as well as Robocop’s HUD, the look of the movie stands up on viewing even today. Detroit probably looks better than it does today, the cinematography is gritty and set design has the standard Verhoeven playful-cum-dilapidated aesthetic seen throughout his dystopian sci-fi products. And much like Total Recall, this movie also has an amazing, industrial soundtrack, and one of the best theme tunes for any character in 1980s cinema.

Onto the reboot; I agree with Verhoeven that it is going to lack the soul that is obviously present in this version, which will mainly be due to the over-reliance on CGI. That and it won’t half as gory!

Robocop is an action/sci-fi classic, which not only has an interesting allegory (and fantastic style), but contains an awesome amount of horrific imagery, which should tickle the bloody-bones of any horror fans out there.

12 Years A Slave

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One of the front-runners of this year’s Oscars is 12 Years A Slave, Steven McQueen’s latest attempt at the marriage of art and narrative film. The movie is based on the true story of Solomon Northup: an artisanal son of a freed slave, who finds himself kidnapped, taken to Georgia against his will and sold into slavery to a number of slave owners.

The fact that this story is true (and apparently not the only occasion someone was illegally sold into slavery at the time) is shocking enough, but McQueen does not shy away from showing the true brutality and undignifying existence for black slaves in the 19th Century. There are a number of scenes that are so harrowingly realistic, and acted upon a knife’s edge, that they will have you turning away out of respect for the victims of the torture. There is more genuine, effective horror in this movie than in any lowbrow torture porn flick and it is very difficult to watch.

A huge factor in how difficult the film is to watch can be attributed to a fantastically nuanced performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor as the protagonist, Northup. Ejiofor changes how Northup holds himself throughout the film; he is a proud violinist with a loving family at the beginning, and by the end he’s a complete shell of his former self, hunched and invisible when white people are around. There were some great turns from Nyong’o, Cumberbatch and Dano, but I am not sure Brad Pitt worked in his role. I also felt that sometimes, the main antagonist, Epps (Michael Fassbender), was played too much like a Disney villain, which may have been a decision on McQueen’s part to create a foil to the nuanced Northup. Whenever he explode in a fit of entitled white Christian rage it felt like the movie was trying to fit into generic narrative conventions of good vs bad, which cheapened the movie for me somewhat.

As with any McQueen movie it is shot beautifully; we get the lingering mid shots and close-ups of peoples’ faces for which the director is known. Whereas other another director would chose to end a scene when an audience would expect, McQueen managed to draw out the rawest emotion by having the nerve to leave the camera rolling just that little bit longer. In a movie such as 12 Years A Slave – a movie that is so deeply-seated in visceral emotion – this technique worked extremely well. If Shame was McQueen’s breakthrough movie, then 12 Years A Slave is his masterpiece, and I very much doubt his marriage of art and narrative cinema will ever be as popular.

12 Years A Slave is not a film into which you should go lightly. The subject matter lends itself to some graphic brutality and devastating realism that is not for the feint of heart, however the central performance from Ejiofor is definitely a reason this should, and needs, to be seen by everyone.

Classics reviewed by a 13 year old: Citizen Kane

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Ugh. So my stupid dad thought we should spend some time together this weekend, so he dragged me to the BFI in London to watch a really this crap black and white film called Citizen Kane. I don’t know why he was so excited because all I saw was like 3 hours of talking and nothing else. On the poster is said it won some Oscars, but that was like back in the Victorian times, so it doesn’t surprise me. Literally all they had back then was coal and bad teeth. That’s what I learnt in history anyway.

Anyway, so the film was about a rich man in America who dies and then it’s like a flashback to when he was poor. THEN NOTHING HAPPENS for the whole time. There is this crazy search for some roses for the whole film (why didn’t they just buy some), and then more talking. Then he becomes rich and there are newspapers flying around everywhere (I think that was then), and then he dies again. All of his stuff gets burnt and then for some reason the film ends looking at a stupid snow sled. Sorry, but that’s just a terrible ending in my opinion. Can you believe that people were clapping the film when it ended? #Idiots.

To conclude, if you want to watch a film that has no point at all, watch Citizen Kane. The black and white colour was a poor choice from the director because it was too dark sometimes, there was too much talking, and they didn’t even find the roses that they were looking for for the whole stupid film.

You’re Next

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When a family reunite for their parent’s 35th wedding anniversary, they find themselves at the end of a, seemingly random, murderous rampage. As things progress they realise that the perpetrators are willing to stop at nothing.

Bloody glorious. There’s my hand.

Right from the outset of You’re Next, we are treated to an orgy of dark humour, intelligent camerawork, gore (and shit loads of it), a score that goes from bouncy Americana to Lynchian industrial drones, and characters that do smart and dumb things, the latter enough for you to get behind their…demise.

Director, Adam Wingard, has constructed a movie that feels “refreshing”; in an age where a creative team can lose their project to the economics of moviemaking, You’re Next doesn’t bear the hallmarks of something into which a studio has sunk their agenda. This is a movie made by a director that reveres the horror genre and hasn’t had to temper his reverence for anyone.

Wingard and his cinematographer, Andrew Droz, use lenses exquisitely throughout this film. The dynamics between the siblings are developed with a shallow depth of field, and we always seems to be very tight into the frame, with not a lot of breathing room for our eyes. This enhances pace, especially with the handheld camera, which creates a rolling stone of high tension. When the movie slows down and we are treated to the occasional jump scare, they never feel cheap, and are usually prologued or epilogued by a moment of dark humour; it’s a horror movie at heart, but there are some truly hilarious lines of dialogue and darkly comic kills towards the end. This seems to be Wingard’s specialty.

The kills in this movie are some of the most inventive in recent memory. I cannot go into specifics but there is one that will literally blow your mind it is that good. Much like this review, plot becomes secondary towards the end, and when incentives are revealed I didn’t care anymore. I was just grinning from ear to ear!

Before the proverbial hits the fan, there is a cameo from another ‘It Director’ from the horror genre, which, in my screening of horror nerds, went down extremely well, and we all loved his demise. ‘Strangers in the cinema’ barriers were broken at that very moment, and we all got behind the movie together, which hardly ever happens in a multiplex theatre.

You’re Next is not without its cliches, although I do think Wingard uses them knowingly to create moments of humour and to be ‘that meta guy’, but I have to say it’s the most fun I have had watching a new horror movie in a very, very long time. If someone asked me to watch it again at the weekend, I’d happily say ‘you pick the seats and I’ll book the tickets’.

I wonder if/when Wingard is going to try his hand at a straight up comedy?

Silver Linings Playbook (Ernie’s review)

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If Silver Linings Playbook wasn’t so widely accepted at this year’s Oscars as the ‘quirky indie feature’, I would feel less vitriol towards the movie. However, because every relevant category had a nomination for Playbook, it is firmly in the line of fire and will bear the brunt of a cinephile scorned. That’s not to say that this film doesn’t have its positives, but for me they are few and far between.

Silver Linings Playbook was one of the most insufferable movies through which I have ever had the displeasure of sitting. This tale of mental illness, a subject that has been executed so engagingly in movies like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Misery and Black Swan, resorts to lowest common denominator romance tactics to round off its contrived and self-indulgent story.

Bradley Cooper is completely unbelievable in his role as Pat, a man recently released from institutionalisation after suffering the mental anguish of a cheating wife and failed marriage. I don’t feel his acting is bad, but it never feels as if he is really enveloped in his character. When up against Jennifer Lawrence you can see the gulf in talent between the two leads, and it is insane that he was acknowledged as a best actor at the Oscars. Lawrence, one of the shining lights of the movie, puts in a much more believable turn as a similarly troubled character, but there is no point in this movie where the audience is left wondering how it is going to end between the two. One could use the excuse of ‘well it’s a rom-com so you’re not the target market’, but if you dress up your film as an indie, brainy comedy, then false, I am the target market.

The runtime was the biggest issue I had with the movie. For the first 45 minutes I was bored. It felt is if David O’Russell was just jerking off in our faces with repeated scenes and unnecessary character development. In the industry there is a term ‘shoe leather’, which is the act of showing meaningless actions before key scenes; shots of peoples’ shoes walking down streets, keys going into locks, people opening doors, paying for coffee, that kind of thing. It’s all the fluff that adds onto the runtime but could easily be edited out of the movie. Well Silver Linings Playbook has about 45 mins of this in the movie, but it’s meaningless nothing of people talking. Yes, it’s a movie about bi polar disorder, and yes, to show that on screen you have to have scenes in clinics, etc, but the amount we had to endure was a complete turn off from the characters, and from this I never recovered. The middle section does pick up and I was glad I didn’t turn it off I think (which I was close to doing). At this point, after a rollercoaster of ‘I hate this movie/oh, it’s OK now’, when the “payoff” happened at the end, I just wanted to punch myself in the face for agreeing to watch this film, then scorn every single Oscar committee member in the face for putting this film on such a pedestal.

To be honest, I can see why some people like the movie. Well done the Weinstein’s for conning the world into thinking this was anything other than a bog-standard rom-com. However, these are 122 minutes I am never going to get back, and it is for this I cannot forgive David O’Russell.

Update: If you’re wondering who Ernie is, it’s one half of FrameRates. The other half disagrees entirely, so expect a rebuttal review sometime soon! That’s the beauty of film though, right? Everyone can take from a movie what they want.