Film Review – A Star Is Born (2018) – Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga take hold of your emotions and don’t let go, in this incredible film

MV5BMjE3MDQ0MTA3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDMwNDY2NTM@._V1_.jpg

Last night, I had the opportunity to watch a preview of one of the year’s most anticipated films and I have to say, I was not prepared for the emotional response it would illicit from me. So viscerally real is the emotional gut punch this film delivers, that I left the cinema feeling as if I’d just experienced a story first hand, as is often the case following a powerful theatre show. It is almost as if you are standing backstage watching the story take place in front of your eyes.

For those who, like me, have not seen any of the previous three versions of this story, A Star Is Born sees internationally successful musician and singer, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), struggling with the pressures of a career in the spotlight, the worsening of his tinnitus problem and toughest of all, an addiction to drugs and alcohol.  One night, after a concert, he stumbles in to a bar and is captivated by the raw vocal talent of Ally (Lady Gaga) and the two have an immediate connection.

star-is-born-2018-still-01_758_426_81_s_c1

What follows is an incredibly moving exploration of two careers at opposite ends of the spectrum – as one takes flight, the other falls to earth and how the pain and heartbreak of addiction affects not just the addict, but those closest to them.

The question I’ve been asked most since seeing the film is whether Lady Gaga can act. The answer is an emphatic yes and she delivers a confident, beautiful performance as Ally, from her early, slightly nervous interactions with Jackson, to a woman taking a hold of her chance at success and shining. I admit, I’d wondered whether I’d be able to see past the extravagant image we all know her for so well. Yet, the film perfectly takes those pre-conceptions and discards them, as we see Ally first perform La Vie En Rose, on stage at a drag show, in full make-up, only for this to be stripped away, in part literally by Jackson, to reveal the person underneath and you soon forget she’s ever anyone else.

It’s no surprise her vocals are stunning, from the intimate gig, to the vast stadiums, but Lady Gaga also brings the soul of her character to the forefront, as we see her struggle to first believe her good fortune, before also finding herself in love with a man she’s trying so desperately to help. Many have wondered whether she’d be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand (both of whom have starred in previous versions). They needn’t have worried and I fully expect award nominations for her performance, which will no doubt introduce her to a whole new audience.

v1.bjsxOTQ4Mzg1O2o7MTc4ODc7MTIwMDs2MDE2OzQwMTY

Another key to the success of this film is the chemistry between Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. From their very first scene together, you can feel the connection between them and it certainly adds credibility to a story in which two people almost instantly fall in love. It doesn’t feel contrived or forced. You believe the passion and love they share, which is essential if you are going to invest in the journey of these two characters. Watching them move through the highs and lows, I felt as if I was observing real lives; that’s how strong their relationship on screen is and the trust and affection they clearly have for each other as actors feeds in to their performances. Together, they make you laugh and cry.

As for Bradley Cooper’s performance in the film, in my opinion, it’s his finest performance to date and should undoubtably earn him a fifth Oscar nomination. Not only does he look different, but his voice is lower and more importantly, he is able to convey the complex palette of emotions that are constantly battling within Jackson as an addict. The combination of his hearing difficulties and need to rely on drugs and alcohol to simply exist in the touring world he inhabits have made him a lonely figure and it’s a joy to see the difference meeting Ally brings to his life. You see the light in his eyes at having a new reason to live. Jackson, in the hands of Cooper, is a gentle soul, struggling to keep going and the vulnerability he brings to the role is utterly heart-wrenching to watch, as we see a man with so many personal demons he’s trying to overcome and I confess, there were moments so emotionally raw, that I could barely watch. At this point in time, I can’t imagine a finer performance beating him to next year’s Oscar and 24 hours after watching the film, his astounding performance is still on my mind.

IMG_2191.JPG

The film also draws on strong supporting performances, most notably from Sam Elliott, who plays Jackson’s older brother Bobby, who stepped in to the role of the father figure his brother never had, due to their father’s own problems with alcohol and this relationship forms another touching facet of the story. Bringing a lightness and humour to the film is Andrew Dice Clay, as Ally’s father, whose pride and utter joy at her success brought a smile to my face.

A Star Is Born is also the directorial debut of Cooper and what a superb achievement it is. Yes, it’s perhaps a little too long and drags slightly in places, but it’s clear that Cooper had a strong eye and clear vision of what he wanted to bring to the screen. His choices in certain scenes, whether the framing, or the focus on which the camera rests in order to maximise both the stunning scale of the bigger moments and the quiet intimacy in others, is certainly impressive. If this is what he can achieve with his first film, I cannot wait to see what else we’ll see from him in the future.

009-1.jpg

A film centring on the love and lives of two singers, also required a strong soundtrack and the original songs written for the film are stunning and crucially, filmed live for the scenes. This decision adds yet more authenticity to the piece, as we see Cooper and Lady Gaga performing in front of audiences at actual venues (including Coachella in California and Glastonbury in the UK). The biggest surprise musically, is perhaps the vocal ability of Cooper, who has a fantastic voice and you can sense the pleasure the two leads had performing together. As well as Lady Gaga and Cooper, collaborators include Luke Nelson, Mark Ronson, Dave Cobb, Diane Warren, Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter. I can easily see the film vying against itself in the original song category at next year’s Oscars!

The film isn’t perfect of course. I’ve mentioned it’s a little too long and although my view may be clouded by his later decisions, which left me so angry, the character of Ally’s manager seems rather two-dimensional.

That being said, my response to A Star Is Born is overwhelmingly positive. In fact it exceeded all my expectations, delivering not just a wonderful love story, but also a very real, painful and heartbreaking insight in to the struggles so many people suffer when caught up in cycles of addiction. Writers Eric Roth, Will Fetters and Cooper himself, have taken a classic story and brought it in to the twenty first century, ensuring it feels utterly relevant for today’s world. I laughed, I smiled, I held my breath during both the highs and lows and I shed quite a few tears. This is a film that will stay with me for a long time and I’ll be returning to see it again at the earliest opportunity.

A Star Is Born opens in cinemas in the UK on 3rd October and the USA on 5th October. Running time: 136 minutes. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/nSbzyEJ8X9E 

 

 

Advertisements

BFI London Film Festival 2018 – My Top 25 films to see!

bfi-london-film-festival-2018-website-header-crop-830x467.jpg

Friday night was the members’ programme launch of this year’s BFI London Film Festival (running from 10th October – 21st October). As I have found in previous years, the night proved to be incredibly insightful, not only reiterating my desire to see certain headline films, but also bringing lesser known ones to my attention, which I might otherwise have missed.

For those new to the festival, it offers a selection of films from across the world (this year 77 countries are represented), across different strands (which include themes of Love, Debate, Laugh, Dare, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Create, Family, Treasures and Experimenta, as well as the gala screenings, special presentations and competition entries).

As well as a glimpse at the programme of films this year, it was also fantastic to hear that 38% of the directors (or co-directors) whose work will be shown across the two weeks of the festival, are women. In a time when the world is looking more than ever at the representation of women in the film industry, it is wonderful to hear that London’s festival is playing its part. It’s also wonderful to see that, for the first time, there will be a screening held outside of London as part of the festival, which is the latest film from director Mike Leigh, to be held in Manchester and simulcast across the UK. In another first, the winners of Best Film, Best First Feature and Best Documentary will be announced in front of a public audience.

As I have done in previous years, having attended the launch and read through the complete programme, below are the 25 films that have more caught my interest and that I’m looking forward to seeing, whether at the festival, or at a later date. Hopefully there’ll be something in the list for all tastes!

A Private War

1535498242329

One of the first films in the line-up that caught my eye was this one, which tells the story of The Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin, who was killed in Syria in 2012. A Private War marks the dramatic debut of director Matthew Heineman (previously known for documentary films such as City of Ghosts) and stars Rosamund Pike as Colvin, together with Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci and Tom Hollander. I’m very much looking forward to seeing a film about such a courageous woman who put herself at risk in order to shine a light on the Syrian conflict for the world to see. You can see the first trailer here: https://youtu.be/TTf0Lc5YAcc

The Breaker Upperers

The-Breaker-Upperers-720x340

On seeing the brief snippet of this New Zealand comedy at the programme launch, it had me wondering how on earth there hasn’t been a film of this before. It centres on two women who run a relationship break-up service. If you want out of a relationship, these two can help, whether faking a pregnancy, staging apparent cheating or crashing a wedding, if their clients are paying, they’ll get the job done! From what I saw on Friday, this looks to be a lot of fun! You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/qKVhDbe9VOo

Widows

Widows.png

Another film I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while opens this year’s festival and that’s Steve McQueen’s contemporary adaptation of Widows, Lynda La Plante’s 1980s television series. Why am I so excited about this? First, it’s directed and co-written by McQueen, the man behind the incredible 12 Years A Slave. It’s also co-written by Gillian Flynn, author of some of my favourite books, including Gone Girl and Sharp Objects. Then there’s the cast, which is led by the superb Viola Davis, who commands the screen in every role that she has and who is supported by talent such as Britain’s own Cynthia Erivo, in a film which sees four widows, whose husbands were involved in criminal activity, pick up where their husbands left off in order to pay off their debt. My hopes are horribly high, so fingers crossed! You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/nN2yBBSRC78

Life Itself

Life_Itself.png

Anyone who is a fan of the wonderful This Is Us (currently airing the second series here in the UK, with the third starting soon in the US), should add this film to their list. Written and directed by that show’s creator Dan Fogelman, it promises to be a multi-layered story of love, which I’m expecting will make me as emotional as his series does. It also has a very strong cast which includes Oscar Isaac, Antonio Banderas and Annette Bening. You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/b5kwtJkUdpA

Etangs Noirs

etangsnoirs_vafnieuws

The reason why going to the programme launch is so useful was highlighted this year by the recommendation that came from one of the festival programmers to see Etangs Noirs, which I might not have paid much attention to otherwise. Yet, on reading more about it, this Belgium film sounds fascinating, in which a young man in Brussels becomes obsessed with delivering a parcel to his neighbour, which has been mistakenly delivered to his address. I’m not too sure what to expect, but I’m looking forward to finding out. You can see a brief trailer here: https://youtu.be/-1kxDIc5KLg

Beautiful Boy

beautifulboy_2

After reducing me to tears by the end of Call Me By Your Name, it seems Timothy Chalamet is set to do so again, in this story of a family dealing with addiction. Adapted by Felix Van Groeningen and Luke Davies (who worked on the beautiful film, Lion), it’s based on two memoirs, one by Chalamet’s character Nic, a young man who becomes caught up in the spiral of drug addiction and the other by his father, played by Steve Carell. You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/tXulJuKJTgA

Destroyer

nicolekidmandestroyer

I’ve started hearing very good things about this film from those who’ve seen it at the Venice Film Festival, but I can’t say I’m surprised when it has Nicole Kidman in the lead. Her character, Erin Bell, is an LAPD detective who, together with her partner, spent time undercover in a criminal gang, the memories of which still haunt her. On discovering the ring-leader may have resurfaced, she is determined to find him and put the past to rest.

Stan & Ollie

Stan-And-Ollie-Movie-Photo-Poster-Steve-Coogan

Closing the London Film Festival this year is the world premiere of Stan & Ollie, which looks at the story of one of Britain’s funniest double acts, Laurel & Hardy. I spent many a happy day with my grandparents watching their films and can’t wait to learn more about their lives in this poignant story, which stars Steve Coogan and John C Reilly and is set in 1953, when their popularity was on the wane. I’m sure it’ll make me smile.

Wildlife

wildlife

Carey Mulligan is one of my favourite actresses, both on screen and stage and on seeing her in this film during the festival, it went straight on my list. Marking actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut, this 1950s-set film, based on Richard Ford’s book, centres on a young couple and their son, who move to suburban Montana for a new start, only for cracks to start to appear, in what I expect to be a powerful drama if Mulligan’s involved. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/GevYxH6rcvU

The Kindergarten Teacher

938

This adaptation of an Israeli film caught my attention as I read through this year’s festival brochure. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a kindergarten teacher, whose life is unremarkable and unsatisfying. She joins an evening poetry class, but her work receives little reaction from the group, but then one of the boys in her class reveals a talent for poetry and she decides his work should find a wider audience. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/Iaa1c4Tp-f0

Freedom Fields

Freedom_Fields_still_1510659456619_870bbc69d00

Freedom Fields is the debut from British Libyan Naziha Arebi and charts six years with Libya’s women’s football team, including the opposition they faced and their determination and spirit in the face of such obstacles. I love stories that can inspire their audience and this uplifting film sounds as though it’ll do just that.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

002_cyefm_03105_r-h_2018

I admit, I hadn’t heard of Lee Israel before reading about this biopic, but this fascinating story of a literary forger who, in the 1990s, having fallen on hard times, began to sell “newly discovered” correspondence from various literary giants, sounds very good indeed. This adaptation of Israel’s own memoir stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant and I hope it’s as darkly comic as it sounds! You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/UvJIaNsf_bY

They Shall Not Grow Old

they-shall-not-grow-old-2018-001-soldiers-around-table-1000x750

This year’s festival also sees the World Premiere of Peter Jackson’s exploration of the First World War, told through the men who lived through it. Jackson has spent months using the latest technology to bring old archive footage truly back to life, giving these men’s stories a new platform on which to be heard and experienced. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the result of all of his effort on this project ever since it was first announced and it’s wonderful that the LFF is the first to showcase it, both in 2D and 3D, with Jackson himself introducing the film.

The Frontrunner

frontrunner1-facebookJumbo

I tend to enjoy political stories and The Front Runner sees Hugh Jackman as Democratic candidate Gary Hart, who was tipped to win the 1988 Presidential campaign, until his extramarital affairs were exposed by the Miami Herald, changing the landscape of the campaign in the space of one week. Jackman is always a strong lead and this film also sees him supported by Vera Farmiga (as Hart’s wife) and J.K. Simmons as his campaign manager. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/BAOYDcnVx6E

Arctic

arctic

As part of the Journey strand of the festival, Arctic sees Mads Mikkelsen as the survivor of a plane crash, fighting to stay alive, who stumbles across the sole survivor of a helicopter crash. It’s then up to him, to save her as well as himself by trekking across the icy wilderness. With apparently little dialogue, the film rests on the lead and with someone as strong as Mikkelsen in that role, I’m expecting good things. You can see a clip here: https://youtu.be/Tk3rf8M6uP0

The Hate U Give

DSCF6559.RAF

I recently saw the trailer for this film at the cinema and immediately knew it was a story that deserved to be told and it is receiving a special presentation at this year’s festival, which also offers those aged 25 and under the opportunity to book tickets for only £5. It’s an adaptation of a young adult novel of the same name, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, in which the life of Starr Carter (played by Amanda Stenberg, best known as Rue in The Hunger Games film) is changed forever, after she witnesses the fatal shooting of her black friend by a white police officer. Such a subject is always going to be powerful and with a supporting cast including Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby, I’m expecting this film to stay with me long after I’ve seen it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/3MM8OkVT0hw

Fahrenheit 11/9

fahrenheit119_HERO

Michael Moore is known for his outspoken, political films and he’s back this year with Fahrenheit 11/9 which, unsurprisingly, focuses on Donald Trump (who was elected on 9th November). If you’re familiar with his style of wit, you’ll know what to expect, as he looks at what led to the ultimate result of the 2016 Presidential election. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/SZeLvaflLLc

The Old Man and the Gun

screen-shot-2018-04-19-at-5-11-14-pm

Robert Redford has recently announced his retirement and as I’ve always enjoyed his films, I’ll make sure to watch what looks to be his final acting role. He plays Forrest Tucker, the bank robber, whose last heist was committed when he was 79 and apparently the film focusses on his crime-spree in later life with his partners in crime (known as the Over-the-Hill-Gang), as they evade both police and the FBI, while along the way he tries to woo Jewel (Sissy Spacek). You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/d7rlUe-Thvk

Papi Chulo

papichulo_01

The Love strand of this year’s festival also includes this story of an LA weatherman, who breaks down on air following the break-up of his relationship with an older Latino man. After being placed on compassionate leave, he soon strikes up a friendship with a straight and married migrant worker, which develops in to a platonic partner substitute. Matt Bomer (best known for White Collar and who has recently been on stage in The Boys in the Band on Broadway) stars in what I expect to be a touching film.

Outlaw King

16c47a5fa550daf96aed4d3c0793a692c57da62c

This historical drama focuses on Robert The Bruce and the battle for Scotland that took place between England and Scotland in the early 14th century, something I admit I know very little about, which is one reason I am looking forward to watching this film. With a strong cast that includes Chris Pine and Florence Pugh, this looks set to be one of the festival’s vast epics. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/Q-G1BME8FKw

The Guilty

guilty

This film won the Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award and from the synopsis and trailer looks to be a tension-filled thriller, in which a demoted police officer answers a call while on duty at emergency despatch to a frightened woman. The call ends abruptly and he becomes determined to find out what happened to her and save her, despite remaining office-bound. I’m expecting to have much shorter fingernails after watching this one! You can watch the international trailer here: https://vimeo.com/275237401

Benjamin

Dl2LNLtW0AERRO6

Simon Amstell in going meta for his feature, which sees a rising young filmmaker in turmoil as the premiere of his film at the London Film Festival approaches! I admit, the main reason this film is on my list is because it stars Colin Morgan, who always seems to impress me (especially his recent stage work) and I enjoy seeing bittersweet comedies, every once in a while!

Sometimes Always Never

Sometimes-Always-Never-Movie

Originally entitled Three Word Score, this film stars Bill Nighy as Alan, a Merseyside tailor, who is obsessed with Scrabble. His eldest son stormed out of a game years ago and has not been seen since (and I thought Monopoly was the game to cause fights) and the film sees Alan and his other son continuing to look for him, despite their own strained relationship. Within the Laugh strand of the festival, the summary refers to a family who “know plenty of words but struggle to communicate.” It’s a quirky plot and I’m rather fond of dysfunctional screen families, so this will be on my list in October.

Utoya – July 22

u-july-22-740x480

I admit, I’ve been unsure about whether to include this film in my list, as I’m still undecided about whether it’s something I’ll actually be able to watch. The reason for my hesitancy? It’s a real-time drama which reconstructs the appalling mass murder that took place at the youth camp on Utoya island in Norway in 2011. However, after hearing the strong words of recommendation about it from the festival programmers, that it acts as a powerful memorial to the bravery of those who survived, I perhaps may try. I’m also astonished to hear that of the 92 minute running time, 72 of those minutes are shot as a single take. I’m certain this won’t be easy to watch, but we perhaps owe it to those involved to ensure such acts are never forgotten. You can see the trailer here: https://youtu.be/6YP_pEVcPUk

……………

As you can see, there’s a wide variety of films on offer this year and this is only a fraction of them, with plenty more film shorts, documentaries and feature films across the festival. For details of the full programme, schedule and how to become a BFI member (for priority booking), visit the BFI London Film Festival’s website here: BFI LFF Website Public booking opens on 13th September at 10:00 a.m.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film Review Retrospective: Back on the IMAX screen,The Dark Knight remains a highlight of modern cinema & the only Batman I’ll ever need!

DIY-frame-The-Dark-Knight-Movie-Film-Poster-Batman-And-Joker-Fabric-Silk-Poster-Print-Posters.jpg_640x640.jpg

Ten years ago, I remember heading to my local cinema with a group of friends to see the second Batman film by Christopher Nolan. I can still remember how excited we were and this weekend I was able to relive the cinematic experience at the Odeon BFI IMAX at London’s Waterloo, which has the title of being the country’s largest cinema screen. For one week only, to mark the film’s 10th anniversary (where on earth has the time gone?!), it has been re-released on selected IMAX screens and it certainly did not disappoint. It therefore seemed appropriate to take this opportunity to reflect on the film, which is just as powerful on the big screen today as it was back in 2008.

Batman was always my favourite superhero when I was younger. I’ve still no idea why and I enjoyed the films of the 90s, but it wasn’t until Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, that I really felt I’d found my perfect portrayal of this character and the dark world of Gotham City.

IMG_1962
Awaiting the start of the film at the Odeon BFI IMAX, London

 

Having said that, The Dark Knight is so much more than a superhero movie and it is because of the incredibly layered story, its themes and its stunning performances that it has remained one of my top ten films of all time. It’s one of those films that you perhaps went to see expecting it to be one thing and then realised it had so much more depth to it and it may be the second of a trilogy, but it stands firmly as the best of the three and is more than able to be viewed as a standalone film experience.

First, Nolan’s strong script packs so much in to the running time, from Gotham’s courageous, young DA determined to make a stand against the city’s underworld, whose journey takes such a dark and tragic turn, to the crazed terrorising of The Joker, to the emotional pull of Bruce Wayne towards the woman he still loves (this time played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). There are so many twists and turns during the film, that you’re exhausted by the end! It also manages to highlight some interesting social issues, my favourite being our perception of the good and bad of society and who is more deserving of being saved. It certainly speaks volumes that it is the boat of “good” citizens who are very willing to sacrifice the prisoners for the sake of themselves and seemingly only fail because none of them were willing to live with the guilt.

The Dark Knight Rises - 2012
Christopher Nolan filming in IMAX (Source: Kobal/REX/Shutterstock)

The script also managed to throw in a few shocks, particularly (for me anyway) the death of Rachel Dawes. Knowing Harvey had to survive in order to become Two Face, it was very clever to have Batman come to his rescue by mistake, making her death and both mens’ grief so much more powerful.

The film of course also looks visually stunning and seeing it in IMAX, when it was the first Hollywood film to be shot, in part, using IMAX 15/70 mm cameras and thus changed the role of IMAX in films, only enhanced that spectacle. From the opening shots of Gotham, to Batman gliding across the Hong Kong skyline, to the exhilarating armoured car chase (and that stunning lorry flip!), to simply the intensity of the emotions on display on a larger screen, it’s a film that continues to impress whether your first or 100th viewing. We’ve grown to expect films to look this good over the last decade and owe Nolan a huge debt of gratitude for that.

Then, of course, there are the performances, starting with the obvious. I’d been a fan of Heath Ledger for years and yet this role saw his acting talent step up to a whole new level. His Joker is dark, crazed, yet intelligent and crucially, very funny; frighteningly so in fact, which only makes him more fascinating. This isn’t a man in clown make-up. This is a figure to be feared and Ledger’s nuanced performance, full of tics and creepy mannerisms, is still utterly compelling and deeply chilling. You simply cannot take your eyes off him whenever he is on the screen.

tdk-imax-768x432

Christian Bale also deserves so much credit for this film (and the trilogy as a whole), as this is not a two-dimensional action superhero role. He conveys the complexities of the man that is both Bruce Wayne and The Dark Knight and finds great depths of emotion throughout, particularly in his scenes with Michael Caine’s sublime Alfred and Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon. Bale not only looks the part physically, but he brings an emotional credibility to the character that hasn’t been matched before or since in my opinion. He isn’t perfect; he’s complex and flawed and you truly care about him.

004-the-dark-knight-theredlist.jpg

Caine and Oldman are also incredible assets to the films, bringing weight to such iconic roles, meaning they truly make them their own and both develop a wonderful bond with Bale, one with Bruce Wayne and the other with his alter ego, allowing each to help shape the man he becomes across the trilogy. This second film also includes Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, whose passion and bravery to stand up for all that is just and decent, makes his ultimate fall in to darkness and despair so much more painful to watch. Eckhart plays both “faces” of Dent brilliantly and you certainly feel the depth of his loss following the shocking death of Rachel. It’s a testament to the strength of this film’s cast that I haven’t even mentioned Gyllenhaal or Morgan Freeman yet, both of whom play a vital role in the story.

Also, as well as looking visually stunning on the IMAX screen, this platform showcased the brilliance of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s gorgeous score. It’s so intrinsically woven in to the film that it’s an extra character and remains some of my favourite film music.

Whether you’re someone who, like me, loves this trilogy, or has never watched The Dark Knight before, if you’re able to catch it this week in IMAX, then I cannot recommend the experience strongly enough. I’m very tempted to go back for a second visit!

The Dark Knight is showing in selected IMAX screens (Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco & Toronto in North America and London in the UK) until 30th August 2018. Relive the trailer here: https://youtu.be/UwrOQ2pYDxY

 

Film Review – Bad Samaritan (2018): Yes, I love David Tennant, but he’s so much better than this average thriller

268x0w.jpg

I’ll start this review by admitting that Bad Samaritan is not the type of film I’d usually be interested in watching. Yes, I love a good thriller, but I’m not a big fan of the “abduct and torture women for entertainment” genre and so there was only one reason I made a trip to Fright Fest this weekend to see this film – David Tennant. Regular readers of this blog will know I am a huge admirer of the actor (especially on stage) and seeing he was actually the lead in a film for a change, I thought I’d give it a try.

Having already heard mixed opinions from those who had seen the film in North America, my expectations were rather low and perhaps because of that, I actually found the film much better than I thought it’d be, although the treatment of women in it did still sit uncomfortably with me.

cale28

The plot of the film makes one thing very clear to the audience – don’t use valet parking! Ever! (Oh and don’t break in to people’s homes, but that really should already be obvious.) We’re introduced to young, aspiring photographer Sean Falco, played by Robert Sheehan (who also gets to keep his Irish accent for the role). He has a fractious relationship with his step dad, little money and direction in his life and other than his girlfriend (more on that later), not much in his life, besides his best friend. Together they act as valets outside an Italian restaurant in Portland, where they identify potential wealthy patrons, access their car’s SatNav and pay a visit to their homes, where they steal items that they hope won’t be missed (oh and take photos of credit cards, cheque books etc.). Not the nicest of people then.

The twist in the tale comes when Sheehan’s character enters the home of Cale Erendriech (David Tennant) and finds a young woman chained up in his office. The chains can only be unlocked by the key around Erendriech’s neck and when he comes looking for his car, Falco has to leave the woman there and vows to send help, but becomes sucked in to the dark games of a man whose house he really shouldn’t have entered (see folks, crime does not pay!) while the authorities just think he’s crazy.

 

It’s an interesting, if far-fetched, concept and the film is a bit of a mixed bag. There were elements of it I enjoyed, but others that I found rather annoying. Although it does have some great jumps and times when I was sitting waiting for the next one, the characters aren’t particularly fleshed out, so can feel rather two-dimensional and for some supporting characters, surplus to the plot. Take Falco’s girlfriend Riley for example. She has little purpose in the story, other than being humiliated and then attacked, only to then be forgotten. The FBI agents brought in to the mix are also incredibly cringe-worthy (especially the guy) and I found it hard to take them seriously, with their role seemingly just to help quickly wrap up the ending. Also, Kerry Condon, who plays Erendriech’s prisoner does well with the material given to her, but is never fully developed as a character.

bad-samaritan-990x557

I did however, enjoy seeing Tennant play a darker role again, with his recent stint in Jessica Jones the first one in a long time (since 2005’s disturbing Secret Smile) and it reminded me how good he can be at subtle menace. Tennant is best in Bad Samaritan early on, with those piercing stares, dark looks and creepy smiles, as he works out Falco is on to him and begins his games. It’s a creepy performance that holds the tension, as you’re not sure what he’ll do next. Towards the end of the film, however, Tennant’s portrayal is forced down the OTT crazed psychopath route which, in my view, weakens the overall menace of the character. As someone who is very familiar with his career, I can say with confidence that he’s capable of so much more than this film is able to offer and it frustrates me that a film role really showcasing his talent still eludes him.

Sheehan does a decent job in this film. Starting off playing a not particularly likeable character, he does a great job of changing your view of Falco, once he discovers the girl and risks jail to try and bring help. His determination to help her, despite the threats to himself and those around him certainly redeem him and Sheehan gives a very genuine performance, of someone finding themselves in a situation way over their head.

Overall, Bad Samaritan is an average thriller, but much better than I expected and for those who enjoy films that have you waiting for the next jump, or simply enjoy watching Tennant on screen, then it’s worth a watch.

Bad Samaritan is out now in selected UK cinemas and also available to rent on Amazon and iTunes. In the US, it’s now out on DVD. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/o1_iqyaQEi0

Film Review – Mission Impossible: Fallout – the best mission yet!

HO00005105-md.jpg

Action films may come and go, but ever since I ventured to my local Odeon in 1996 to see the first one, I’ve been rather fond of the Mission Impossible film franchise. Yes, some have been weaker than others, but overall this remains one of the most consistent action franchises in recent decades and I’d been looking forward to the latest one since it was in production.

There’s certainly been a lot of hype about Mission Impossible: Fallout, with some saying it’s the best action film of the last decade. That may be a bit much in my opinion, but it’s certainly my favourite since 2012’s Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises. Plus, a big strength of the MI franchise is that it knows its place and style. It isn’t Bond and it isn’t Bourne and it isn’t meant to be. There is something quintessential about these films and thanks to their lead actor / producer, that quality flows through each one. They are the perfect mix of action, intrigue and humour (and sometimes, even emotion).

p06f82ln.jpg

This sixth outing for the IMF sees Ethan Hunt and his trusted team trying to track down plutonium before it is used to set off multiple nuclear bombs across the world. The culprits are The Apostles, followers of Solomon Lane, who was the face of the shadowy Syndicate in the last film before being captured by Hunt and co.

Over the 147 minutes running time (which really does fly by, due to all the action packed in), we watch Hunt cover the globe in order to complete his latest mission and this certainly looks impressive on screen, with car and motorcycle chases across the busy streets of Paris, dashes on foot across London’s Bankside, not to mention some impressive scenes inside and around St. Paul’s Cathedral, culminating in an incredible rooftop getaway shot atop the Tate Modern, which certainly ups the ante for any other chase scenes set in London. Then there is the stunning backdrop of New Zealand’s Remarkables, the setting for an exhilarating helicopter chase through the mountains. You can certainly see the money on the screen in this movie, but director (and writer) Christopher McQuarrie also ensures the pacing and visual look of the film matches up with a decent story and strong performances.

mi6-ff-00066r_copy

Fallout (and indeed the franchise as a whole) has also benefitted from the cast it is able to attract. Some of our old favourites are back; Ving Rhames’s Luther, who’s been here since day one, provides both humour and heartfelt friendship for Hunt, Simon Pegg continues to shine as comical Benji and Rebecca Ferguson returns following her introduction in Rogue Nation, as does Alec Baldwin as their boss, who this time gets to enjoy some time in the field.

New to the party is Angela Bassett, as the no-nonsense CIA boss, who has taken on Baldwin’s scepticism regarding the IMF and Henry Cavill, as Bassett’s right-hand muscle (who, perhaps, raises the discussion on his suitability to move from CIA to MI6 in another film franchise!). As a theatre addict, it was also a joy to see the incredibly talented Vanessa Kirby have a decent role in the story as The White Widow, the daughter of Max (is that the Max played by Vanessa Redgrave in the first film?).

 

Screen-Shot-2018-07-20-at-12.19.59-PM.png

Then, of course, there is the lynchpin of every MI film and that’s Ethan Hunt and as always, Tom Cruise gives everything he has to the role and the film as a whole. His commitment and dedication to these films is well known (breaking a foot and finishing the scene, just one example) and this shines off the screen. The MI films are now known for their stunts and Cruise’s determination to perform them all himself and Fallout takes this to a whole new level.

920x920

There are so many jaw-dropping sequences in this film, that you barely have time to take a breath between them and guess what, Cruise does most of them himself! That HALO jump? Yep, that’s him. The helicopter sequence? Him as well (after 18 months of training and learning how to fly it himself in order to do those terrifying shots)! They make the thrilling chases through Paris and the leaping from building to building seem like a walk in the park! Say what you want about Mr Cruise, but he knows how to make fantastically thrilling movies!

Is some of it totally bonkers? Of course! This is Mission Impossible after all, not “Mission Difficult” (as Antony Hopkins once said in the second film, that would be easy for the IMF) and I have no problem leaving reality at the door and settling back for a truly entertaining couple of hours and Fallout proves to be one of the best action films of recent years. The best of the franchise? It certainly is for me.

Mission Impossible: Fallout is now on general release in both the UK and the US. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/wb49-oV0F78

Film Review – Breathe – a beautiful, true story, that makes you want to try and truly live to the full.

 

breathe-2017-002-poster

I was unable to go to this year’s London Film Festival and so I was relieved that one of the films I had been most looking forward to seeing, was coming out this month in the UK. The film is out now, but I was lucky enough to go to a preview screening last Monday, complete with Q&A with its star Andrew Garfield, director Andy Serkis and producer Jonathan Cavendish, the son of the couple depicted on screen, but more on the Q&A later.

Breathe is a beautiful film. From hearing what it is about you may think it is going to be a very sad one, but, although containing some very moving scenes, the overall spirit of Breathe is one of hope, love and the resounding message that we all need to live, as richly and fully as we can.

IMG_8376
Robin & Diana Cavendish

It is the story of Robin and Diana Cavendish (played by Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy), who meet in 1957 and soon marry. Robin is a tea broker and so they travel to Kenya for his work, enjoying a happy and loving life together. It is when Diana is pregnant with their first child, that Robin contracts polio, which results in the devastating news that he will be permanently paralysed from the neck down. He can only last two minutes at most off an external ventilator and doctors give him mere months to live.

Understandably Robin’s reaction is one of depression and defeat. He does not want to live, locked away in a hospital, unable to move and dependent on a machine and the staff around him and Garfield plays his withdrawal with such rich depth, not an easy task, when so much has to be conveyed through the face and the eyes. Not many actors could convey such emotions, but Garfield is one of the best around, both on stage and screen (his recents roles in Hacksaw Ridge on screen and Angels In America on stage, both had me shedding tears).

nintchdbpict000361431529
Claire Foy & Andrew Garfield

However, the key to Robin’s renewed sense of living, is thanks to the love and unwavering support he receives from his wife Diana and Claire Foy is utterly superb in this film (give her the nominations for the awards now). As with Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything, a lot of my tears shed during Breathe, were due to seeing the other person affected by such a prognosis and Foy shows how much strength Diana Cavendish had to have. She was away from home, pregnant and faced with losing her husband. It is clear that the reason Robin went on to live for decades is because of her and I left the cinema inspired by her strength.

Their story is not just about their determination to continue to live as a family, as the Cavendish’s fought for rights of those with disabilities, who at that time, were simply locked away and forgotten about by society. The resistance they face at removing Robin from the hospital is frightening and a scene in which he visits a hospital in Germany, in which people with similar paralysis are housed in storage units, seems unimaginable and highlights how important their work to have those with disabilities seen as human beings really was.

Breathe is blessed with many components that come together to create such a wonderfully satisfying film. First, it has been brought to the screen by producer Jonathan Cavendish, the son of Robin and Diana. He talked during the Q&A about how this was the most truthful biopic you would see, as everything in it happened. The involvement of those who were there, or knew those who were, ensures that you feel the authenticity of the film and also adds to the emotional response you have to the story, on knowing it all happened.

IMG_8377

The film also has a strong script from William Nicholson (who refused payment until the Cavendish family had read it and were happy for it to be made), which balances the sadder moments, with the overwhelming sense of joy and fun that you see. Yes, I did shed some tears throughout Breathe, but I also laughed a lot too. There are many moments of fun and humour, as we see how the Cavendish’s and their group of close friends adapt to Robin’s new circumstances, including when the family goes on holiday to Spain and have to pull over by the side of a cliff road, when Robin’s ventilator breaks. While help is called from England (in the form of Hugh Bonneville as their wonderful friend Professor Teddy Hall) and the manual pump is used to keep him alive, they are soon surrounded by locals, setting up caravans and fires and a party atmosphere! It seems so crazy, yet it happened, meaning an event that could have been frightening, actually still seems full of life and humour and joy.

4473The film is also wonderfully directed by Andy Serkis (known best for his work as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit). This is the first film Serkis has directed (although he did work as second unit director on The Hobbit films) and he has delivered a truly lovely film. He spoke on Monday about how close he felt to the material, having once played a polio sufferer himself and by also growing up with a mother who taught special needs children and a sister who was diagnosed with MS. He read the script and was moved by it, asking to direct it, as part of his and Jonathan Cavendish’s company, The Imaginarium Studio. He also had to contend with the tricky task of filming Tom Hollander in two different roles, as he plays Diana’s twin brothers. Serkis spoke during the Q&A about how much work this took to achieve and commended Hollander’s talent in pulling it off.

The talent of the cast is the final crucial element of Breathe. Garfield is fantastic as Robin, first as the athletic, young man and then as someone having to cope with such a terrifying change in their life. Watching Garfield go through the stages of pain and grief at his limitations is heartbreaking (a scene where Diana lays their newborn child by his head just one example). He conveys so much emotion without saying much at all and you feel all of Robin’s pain and sense of loss. However, what makes his performance all the more incredible, is the way he also brings Robin’s playfulness and humour to the forefront too. You laugh along with him, as he continues to live and thrive against all the odds.

IMG_8374
Jonathan Cavendish, Andy Serkis & Andrew Garfield at the Q&A at Picturehouse Central Cinema

Breathe wouldn’t work if the actress portraying his wife Diana wasn’t an equal to Garfield and in Claire Foy (best known for Netflix’s The Crown), they found the ideal talent. It is hard to imagine having to find the strength Diana did and Foy is superb from start to finish as she comes to terms with what has happened, stubbornly refusing to let Robin give up and then doing everything humanly possible to make their lives as rich as possible. They were clearly an incredibly devoted couple and it’s heart-warming to see. Jonathan Cavendish talked in the Q&A about how well they depict his parents, calling it extraordinary, also saying his own 83 year-old mother, who never cries, does cry every time she watches Breathe, shocked by the accuracy of Garfield’s performance.

Surrounding Foy and Garfield is a tremendous cast of British acting talent. Bonneville is wonderful as the friend who builds Robin’s mobile chair, allowing him more freedom than had ever been thought possible at the time and Stephen Mangan plays Dr Aitken, the friend who helps on their mission to raise the profile of the need for rights for those with disabilities. Playing two twin brothers couldn’t have been easy for Hollander, but he’s perfect in the roles, bringing another layer of fun and comedy.

Combine all of these elements with beautiful music from Nintin Sawhney and you really do have a very special film, that feels incredibly personal to those who have brought it to life. I certainly hope it features in the nominations list next awards season and cannot recommend it highly enough. You will cry, but you will also laugh and leave the cinema with a reminder that life is precious and we should do everything we can, to live it to the full.

Breathe is now on general release in UK cinemas. For more information, visit its website here: http://www.breathefilm.co.uk/home/ and watch you can watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JycCFypvgmI

 

 

Film Review – Dunkirk (2017): Powerful & emotional filmmaking at its best

9c75e5e9-ff3f-4fbc-860b-294132194fcd

On exiting the cinema tonight after seeing Dunkirk, one thought struck me in particular. After all the big, loud, brash Hollywood fodder in the trailers before it, here was a film that proves that a big budget does not have to mean over the top, overly long, Hollywood rubbish! Thank you Christopher Nolan!

Dunkirk is quite simply breathtaking in its raw, powerful, emotional depth, across a mere [96] minutes. I had expected quality from Mr Nolan and he delivered in spades, with a film that everyone should take time out of their lives to see. Those of us in the UK are perhaps more likely to be aware of the story of Dunkirk and it is fantastic that this incredible tale from WWII is being presented to a wider audience.

Dunkirk-film-still

For those less familiar, in 1940, after Nazi Germany had invaded France, the Allied forces were pushed back to the city of Dunkirk, resulting in almost 400,000 stranded soldiers in need of rescue on the beach. Attacked on land and by air, they were trapped and the fact so many survived is thanks to not only the bravery of the Royal Air Force, but also the civilian boats that answered the call to cross the English Channel to provide rescue, putting themselves in great danger in doing so, due to U-Boat attack and enemy fire.

I've been a fan of Nolan as a film-maker for years and he truly shows his skill as both a writer and director with this film. Structure-wise, Dunkirk is written in a very clever way, in that it is not a simple linear story. It takes a bit of time, but you start to pick up that the boat you saw capsized a few minutes ago is still afloat, or the people in the water earlier are suddenly characters you realise you know well from a different story strand. The script's movement from storylines on land, sea and air, over varying lengths of time (one week, one day and one hour respectively) means that you see moments more than once, from different perspectives, which only enhances their emotional power. It also means you have to pay attention as an audience member and I certainly found it a brilliant way of packing so much story in to a relatively short running time.

I know some have complained about the lack of introduction of the characters, but for me, simply throwing us in to the film's events and us having to learn who everyone is, gave the film another layer of realism; as if we were stepping in to a moment in time and witnessing it first hand.

Christopher-Nolans-Dunkirk-IMAX-poster-cropped.jpg

The acting is also excellent. There isn't loads of dialogue, requiring the cast to capture and convey the events and experiences we see through more than simple dialogue. It takes confidence for a film maker to not try and saturate a story with needless words and Nolan's use of this style also makes the film seem so much more real and true to life. We are watching people simply trying to survive.

The cast contains some of the most respected actors around. Tom Hardy moved me to tears by the end as the RAF pilot determined to stay in the air as long as he could to provide air support for those trying to rescue those stranded below. Cillian Murphy is wonderful as the shell-shocked survivor of a U-Boat bombing, Kenneth Branagh brings weight and authority as the Navy Commander, determined to try and get his men home and Mark Rylance gives yet another quiet, nuanced performance as the civilian determined to play his part in helping save his fellow countrymen. Much has also been said about the inclusion of Harry Styles in the cast, but he gives a solid performance as a simple soldier, who desperately just wants to make it home, despite feeling shame that their attack has resulted in retreat. Newcomer Fionn Whitehead is also excellent as Tommy, also struggling to be rescued.

harrystyles-dunkirk

Each aspect of the story is handled beautifully and as the strands begin to crash together, as the intensity of the events increases, I found myself gripped by just how real it all felt. Visually, it is excellent too. Nothing is done to extreme, so that the film always feels authentic and the opposite of Hollywood. The visuals of the battles in the air over the vast water of the English Channel are incredible, as are the shots when the full scale of the civilian rescue operation become apparent (I had a lump in my throat).

On top of that is Hans Zimmer's intense score. There is an undercurrent of music constantly and the strong use of strings and a ticking clock effect (produced using Nolan's own pocket watch) add an urgency and tension to every scene. It keeps you on edge. Therefore, the brief moments when the music disappears carry even more weight. Add in the inclusion of a slowed down version Edward Elgar's beautiful classical music "Nimrod" and the final scenes in particular had me shedding some tears (the track is Variation 15 on the soundtrack for those who want to hear it again).

All in all, this was every bit as brilliant a film as I had hoped for. Cleverly structured, fantastically and confidently directed and terrifically acted; the result being a truly powerful, realistic insight in to one of the most memorable stories of WWII. I urge everyone to go and see it as fast as you can (preferably on an IMAX screen if you can get to one).