Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Colette - Review

Rather surprisingly, Colette is not based on the fallout of the shocking Oscar snub of Toni Collette for Hereditary but the true story of Colette Willy, the wife of the famed French author and his muse and ghost writer who created and wrote his finest work, the Claudine novels.
Despite the fact that Colette is apparently one of France's biggest selling authors of all-time, this reviewer was shockingly ignorant of her and her story (particularly when a Wikipedia search post film revealed she wrote the novel that was turned into the Oscar winning film Gigi).
Yet that does not matter as the film does an excellent job of taking the audience through Colette's story. From timid, meek ingenue to muse and ghost writer (sometimes to the point of tortured slave labour), through her burgeoning sexual awakening to the point where she truly discovers herself and stands up to her husband demanding full credit for her work.
*Note - these are not spoilers as it is all in the trailer*
Now men taking credit for other people's work is certainly nothing new and what Colette does very well is remind us that sadly not much has really changed in the 119 years since the publication of Claudine a L'Ecole.
Yet Henry Willy, played with relish by Dominic West, is playful, charming, seductive and persuasive in his controlling ways and arguments to keep his name on the books, claiming he is a "brand" and any suggestion that he did not pen the work could be catastrophic and ruin their lifestyle which the books pay for.
He is in many ways the perfect abuser and despite his obvious charms, one hopes that Colette will find a way out from under his grip.
Knightley impresses as Colette, coming into her own just as Colette does when she experiments with her sexuality and gender role. She has always seemed more comfortable and fitting within a period setting and it is no different here, doing a fine job of reminding people of this trendsetter and inspirational role model.
Colette. The best a woman can get. Or should that be the best women can be?

3 stars

Stan & Ollie - Review

If you asked anyone who watched Jon S. Baird's adaptation of Irvine Welsh's Filth that featured a career-best performance from James McAvoy what his next project would be, it is doubtful any of them would have picked a biopic of one of the greatest comedy duos of all-time Laurel and Hardy.
The two are worlds apart with the only real connection being that Bruce Robinson would have certainly gotten them into plenty of fine messes.
However it is clear with every frame of Stan & Ollie that Baird is a genuine fan of the double act and that love and appreciation shines through the screen. Whether that be in a pitch perfect recreation of their iconic dance from Way Out West or their hilarious theatrical stage routines.
However Baird is not afraid to peek behind the curtain and show that behind the make up and fame was a very tumultuous and complicated relationship between the two performers.
Biopics that play out as simple rags-to-riches tales that speed through all the big moments like a jukebox musical playing all the hits can be crowdpleasing but ultimately shallow and dull affairs (*cough* Bohemian Rhapsody*). It is refreshing to find one that focuses on a story or period of history that the public may not be too familiar with in order to show the world who these people really are (or were).
Following the acrimonious break up of the duo due to Laurel's stubbornness over his contract, the two went their separate ways before falling on harder times and reuniting for a theatre tour in the UK with the eye on securing finance for a future film that would put them back on top.
As the two former partners and friends travel round the country performing some of their classic routines to audiences who have moved on with the times, it is clear that they are carrying round more baggage than just their carry on luggage.
The performances of Steve Coogan as Laurel and John C. Reilly as Hardy are spot on, with Reilly disappearing under some impressive make up to become the duo and the two actors spark off each other both on stage and off as they seek to resolve their differences before it's too late.
The chemistry between the two transfers over to the other relationships in their lives, their wives (played with steel and scene-stealing guile by Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda) but it is clear who the real love of their lives was. It is no coincidence that Laurel (and others) refer to Hardy as "Babe".
The result is an affectionate tribute that packs a surprisingly emotional punch that will have audiences crying tears of sadness and laughter to the point their faces will look like another fine mess they have gotten themselves into.

4 stars

Monday, 14 January 2019

The Front Runner - Review

1988. Ah, the halcyon days of US politics. When the press publishing rumours of a reported affair was enough to have a candidate drop out of the race.
That is not a spoiler. It is the crux of this true life story of Senator Gary Hart. America's golden boy. The titular "front runner" for the Democratic nomination and the man many believed was capable of beating George WH Bush and be the next President... Unfortunately the man just couldn't keep it in his pants!
Jason Reitman's expose of this story is about more than just one man however. This captures a monumental turning point in how the press and the media reported on politics.
Gary Hart's position was that his private life behind closed doors did not affect his ability to perform his job or influence his policies. It was a view that until that point many agreed with, including the likes of The Washington Post (which actually makes for an interesting double bill with The Post), but there were others that believed that politicians needed to be held to a higher ethical and moral standard than others and if you were in the public eye, you were fair game.
Jackman is terrific as Hart. Using his natural charisma and abundance of charm to be the man who could be President when talking about policies (or women) but is equally stiff and awkward around cameras, with his frustration and anger reaching boiling point.
Reitman fills out his cast with regulars such as JK Simmons (once again on fine expletive dropping form), Vera Farmiga and a host of talent that would slot quite easily into a walk and talk segment on The West Wing.
However this is where the film finds itself lacking. It seems churlish to compare and contrast but while it does a perfectly adequate job of retelling the story in the style of a 70s/80s political drama, what it really needs (with the monumental change in the focus of the media at the time) is the satirical bite and razor sharp wit of Aaron Sorkin or In The Loop or The Thick Of It. Satires and comedies that have become worryingly more like documentaries.
On paper, this movie had everything you would for in a prestige Awards season film (great cast, seasoned director, based on a true story, timely political statement), however just as Gary Hart found out to his cost, sometimes that is just not enough and you go from The Front Runner to Also Ran in a heartbeat.

3 stars

Saturday, 5 January 2019

The Favourite - Review

Similar to the main characters jostling for the affections of the Queen, The Favourite is currently living up to its title as one of the favourites for this season's Oscar race but one expects it will not have to lower itself to such underhanded tactics as Sarah and Abigail resort in order to curry favour with the voters.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, Killing Of A Sacred Deer) brings his trademark sense of humour which is blacker than the Black Death to this acerbic retelling of this historical menage a trois.
The way that Abigail (Emma Stone) and Sarah (Rachel Weisz) scheme and play each other off Queen Anne in a continual battle for her affections, position and power makes it feel akin to the classic All About Eve. If the film had been about another famous Anne, it could have been called All About Cleves.
Queen Anne has a collection of bunnies named after her lost children and the metaphor runs deep as Anne herself at times feels like a frightened rabbit at the mercy of two cunning foxes stalking their prey, albeit too obsessed with fighting each other to truly go in for the kill.
The scenes between Stone and Weisz are electric. Trading witticisms, backhanded compliments and insults as barbed as Negan's baseball bat Lucille from the Walking Dead, and twice as dangerous.
Colman excels as the Queen who is portrayed in public as weak, stupid and cuckolded by Sarah but as the film progresses, questions are raised as to who is really playing who? This leads to an incendiary fallout in the conclusion and an audacious final shot from Lanthimos.
All three women will almost certainly be nominated for awards but it seems a disservice to have them face off against each other (ironically). They are equally great and arguably all leads in a film that aces the Bechdel test to the point the audience forgets that there are actually male characters as well (something the women seem as disinterested in at times). Of these, Nicolas Hoult is the standout as Harley, a man who has schemes of his own afoot.
A period piece as sumptuous to look at and full of romance as a Jane Austen novel but with a cut-throat sense and sensibility more often seen in Game of Thrones.

4 stars

Days of Future Past: Has Science Fiction become Science Fact?

If by some miracle a prophet could describe the future exactly as it was going to take place, his predictions would sound so absurd, so far-fetched that everyone would laugh him to scorn. The only thing we can be sure of about the future, is that it will be absolutely fantastic" 
      - Arthur C. Clarke, World's Fair, New York, 1964

It all started with one simple question: “Why don’t we have hoverboards yet?”
It was January 2015 and film journalists were already preparing their articles ahead of the 5th October 2015. The date that Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to the future in 1988’s Back To The Future Part II.
Science Fiction films were previously the work of fantasy. Writers and filmmakers creating a vision of the future that they imagined *could* potentially come true but never really thought they would be held accountable for.

"Science fiction was an expression of 20th century man's hopes, dreams and aspirations. A heavy percentage of science fiction is merely rubbish. Big eyed monsters, space battles or something of that nature. However science fiction has one thing in its favour, that even a story that from a literary standpoint is complete trash may prove very prophetic"

While the science fiction films of the past have earned their place in history, the clock has kept ticking and time has begun to catch up with these works of fiction, whether they are novels, television shows or films.

Outside of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Terminator 2 Judgement Day, Back To The Future Part II was the first science fiction film to have a set date that people could finally analyse and compare fact to science fiction.
It presented a vision of the future that featured flying cars, self-tying laces and the release of Jaws 19. To be fair, they got the resurgence of 3D correct. They were also a year out with the Chicago Cubs World Series Win but we’ll let them off because they weirdly kindly of predicted the rise of Trump.

The year is now 2019 and we have reached a time when science fiction is becoming a reality.
The science fiction films of our past are becoming the present. The year 2019 is the setting for films such as Daybreakers, The Road, The IslandAkira and one of the most influential films of all-time, Blade Runner.

What, if anything, did they get right about the future? And what can they teach us about technology, science, health and politics?
Arthur C. Clarke said "One mark of a first rate scientist is an interest in science fiction and conversely, the mark of a second rate scientist is a lack of interest in science fiction."
Where films got their predictions correct, was it because scientists were inspired by the technology seen in the movies? A sort of self-fulfilling prophecy so to speak?

Over the course of 2019, I will examine in detail a series of science fiction films to determine how prophetic they actually were.
The criteria for selection was they had to be set in a specific time period in history or the near future i.e. 2001, 2019, 2032, etc.
Also the films must have been released at least ten years prior to their setting to allow for a reasonable period of time for their predictions to take effect (sorry Geostorm, set in 2019 but released in 2017).

The films that will be analysed are as follows (in chronological order of setting):

  1. 1984
  2. Escape From New York
  3. Death Race 2000
  4. 2001 A Space Odyssey
  5. Timecop
  6. Back To The Future Part II
  7. Barb Wire
  8. V For Vendetta
  9. Rollerball
  10. Akira
  11. Daybreakers
  12. The Island
  13. The Road
  14. The Running Man
  15. Blade Runner
  16. Johnny Mnemonic
  17. The Purge
  18. Soylent Green
  19. Her
  20. Metropolis
  21. Children of Men
  22. Snowpiercer
  23. Moon
  24. Demolition Man
  25. Twelve Monkeys

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Best Films of 2018

As the New Year approaches, as is tradition, comes the time to reflect on the year that has passed and pick out my favourite films of 2018.
It is often very difficult to narrow the list down to ten, particularly in a year that has been superb for the horror genre, so the list will feature twenty titles.
So relax, grab your popcorn and enjoy this walk down the cinematic memory lane... well, given the list, the Netflix and Chill memory lane!

Special Mention: Secret Cinema presents Blade Runner: The Final Cut

While not technically a 2018 cinema release, the Secret Cinema presentation of Blade Runner was honestly one of the greatest cinematic experiences I have ever been a part of. Not only was the technical presentation top notch but the chance to become part of that world, albeit briefly, is something that will stay with me forever, not to be washed away like tears in rain.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Green Book - Review

Green Book, the Surprise Film of the London Film Festival and Cineworld's Secret Screening, is a genuine surprise... in just how charming it is.
On paper, the story of an Italian heavy who drives a rich, educated black pianist through the Deep South on a concert tour sounds like Driving Miss Daisy in reverse. A film that could be incredibly cloying, schmaltzy and patronising.
However the end result is an incredibly funny and charming film. Just as the story sees two people with preconceived views of the world and people slowly broaden their minds, this film will change audiences' minds who go in expecting one thing but come out pleasantly surprised.
Based on a true story, the film may not break any new ground in terms of plot and structure. You can see exactly how the film will play out as if reading a road map of New York to Alabama. But that doesn't matter at all when the film delivers on heart, wit and charm.
All of that charm and good will is down to the excellent pairing of Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali as Tony "Lip" Vallelonga and Dr. Don Shirley. The two spark of each other brilliantly and have some of the best on-screen chemistry of 2018 and make for one of the best odd couples of recent years.
Mortensen is certainly an actor more known for his intensity that comedic sparring ability but his brash, loudmouth bounces perfectly off Ali's uptight, reserved Shirley.
In the end, as the two attempt to make their way back to New York in time for Christmas, you realise that you have almost been watching a remake of Planes, Trains and Automobiles set during the civil rights movement.
Just as Shirley's performances impress audiences all over the States and Tony slowly works his charm on Shirley, audiences will find themselves utterly beguiled by Green Book which is destined to become one of 2019's breakout sleeper hits.

4 stars