Oscars 2020 – My Thoughts

I know I’ve left this a little late, but my main reason was my desire to see as many of the nominated films as possible and today was my first opportunity to see Parasite (which has only just been released in the UK this week). More on that film coming up, but I’ll start by saying that, for the most part, it seems that this year’s awards are likely to be largely predictable, especially the acting categories and with only hours to go, the biggest question seems to be whether Parasite can be the first foreign language film to take Best Picture. Is that something the Academy is ready to do? I’m still not sure it is.

Yet, despite a lot of these “predictions” feeling rather predictable, I still wanted to set them out and see how many I get right (or indeed wrong). Full disclosure before I start – I’ve tried to see most of the films, but largely due to some films disappearing within a week from my local cinemas, I’ve not yet see Ford v. Ferrari (aka Le Mans ’66), Pain & Glory and Harriet. I’ve also been unable to see the film shorts, or the documentaries, so I’ll leave those categories out.

Right, that said, here are my thoughts on what I think will win and what I’d have voted for.

  • Best Picture

I’ll start with the big one – Best Picture. Of the eight I’ve seen, I’ve enjoyed most of the nominees this year, although I don’t think it’s as strong a year as other recent ones.

I enjoyed the epic scope of The Irishman, watching these lives over decades and thought Pesci was particularly impressive. It was perhaps 30 minutes too long though. Little Women was a welcome new interpretation of a story most of us have seen at least one version of by now and I enjoyed the way Greta Gerwig chose to move around the timelines here, giving the story a freshness I didn’t expect. It seems to be controversial, but I thought Joker was very good – for me, it was a powerful look at how someone, already vulnerable and in need of support from society, can spiral in to a frightening life. Did I think the violence was glamourised? No. It was far less violent than The Irishman (which was based on real events) and for me it wasn’t aiming to seek sympathy for a criminal; it simply forced me to ask difficult questions about the grey. It stayed with me for a long time afterwards. JoJo Rabbit was a real gem this year; a film you aren’t sure you’ll like, or should even like, but yet is one that becomes so much more than a film mocking Nazis. It’s a beautiful story of friendship, love and kindness conquering hate, which made me feel surprisingly hopeful by the end. 1917 was as powerful, moving and visually impressive as I’d been expecting. The one-shot style didn’t feel like a gimmick and I loved how it highlighted the incredible acts of bravery during WWI, alongside the tragic needless loss of so many young lives.

I didn’t particularly enjoy Marriage Story, despite appreciating the strength of the performances and wasn’t strong enough to win for me. As for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it seems people either love it, or found it rather tedious. I’m in the second group. It was so long (The Irishman felt like a short film compared to this) and not being familiar with the historical events that are changed, it didn’t resonate with me, the way it may do with others.

And so – my winner. Until today I wasn’t sure if there’d be a film this season that would really make me sit up in my chair and take a moment to acknowledge I’d watched something truly special. That changed earlier today, as I walked out of Parasite. I’ll review this separately, but I loved it. Clever, engaging, Shakespearian, filled with humour and darker moments in equal measure and able to convey so much about society and those at the top and the bottom in a way that hit home. For me, it’s the clear Best Picture. Will it win? I’m not so sure.

Will Win: 1917 (unless the Academy are brave and do the right thing)

My Choice: Parasite

  • Best Actor

There’s not too much to say here, as I think the winner is already obvious and in my view, rightfully so. All four (of five) that I’ve seen are very good, although not all would have made my top five. I was particularly impressed with Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes, which I really enjoyed (far more than I expected). I’d also say that, although I didn’t particularly like Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler’s performance was one that I do think deserved to be on this list and Michael B Jordan in Just Mercy should also have been in serious contention too. Yet, it’s ultimately moot, as no one was going to beat Joaquin Phoenix. He’s simply outstanding in Joker. The visual transformation is horrifying, yet it’s also the way he brings that character to life; every mannerism (the way he runs the same, whether or not he’s wearing the clown fit as one example), the different laughs and the sheer raw emotional power he brings to the screen. He’s always been a superb actor and he’s earned this one.

Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix

My Choice: Joaquin Phoenix

  • Best Actress

This seems to be another category where the winner seems all but guaranteed and from the nominees listed, I’ll be happy to see Renee Zellweger win this year. I wasn’t hugely impressed by Judy (perhaps partly due to seeing the play it’s based on End of the Rainbow, which impressed me much more), but she was excellent in this. A close second for me is Charlize Theron in Bombshell. Yet, my biggest issue with Best Actress is that my Best Actress this year isn’t nominated and that’s Alfre Woodard for Clemency, playing a female prison warden of a men’s prison. It’s the performance that has stayed with me and impressed me the most and it’s incredibly disappointing she isn’t nominated.

Will Win: Renee Zellweger

My Choice: Alfre Woodard

  • Best Director

This is a tough one for me. I thought 1917 was terrific and a great achievement by Sam Mendes. Joker is also handled so well by Todd Philips, but for me the winner should be Bong Joon Ho. What he has achieved with Parasite is something very special indeed. This being the Oscars, I’m not sure who’ll win, but I have a feeling it’ll be Tarantino v. Mendes, so I’ll say Tarantino, as lots of Hollywood types seem to be in love with this film.

Will Win: Quentin Tarantino

My Choice: Bong Joon Ho

  • Actor in a Supporting Role

Having seen all five of this performances, none of them really stood out for me to be honest. They were all very good, but again, Jamie Foxx stood out in Just Mercy for me and he wasn’t nominated. It seems clear it’s Brad Pitt’s time to win, which I’m fine with and he was my favourite part of a film I didn’t really like.

Will Win: Brad Pitt

My Choice: Brad Pitt (notable mention for Jamie Foxx)

  • Actress in a Supporting Role
Laura Dern

Again, I’ve seen all four performances and they were all very good, in very different ways. It seems likely Laura Dern will win, but for me the best were Margot Robbie, whose performance in Bombshell really felt real, conveying the awful situations too many women have found themselves in and Scarlett Johansson, who brought humour, fun and a great deal of emotion to JoJo Rabbit. It’s close, but I’d go with Johansson.

Will Win: Laura Dern

My Choice: Scarlett Johansson

  • Cinematography

I’ve seen four of the five, but this surely has to go to Roger Deakins for 1917. His work is helping create the one-shot style of this film makes the film what it is. If that didn’t work, the film would have far less power than it does.

Will Win: 1917

My Choice: 1917

  • Orignal Score

Music is always hugely important to my cinema experience and a great score shines out, while not taking over the film. All those nominated do this very well this year, but it has to be Joker, as Hildur Guonadottir’s score helps to create the mood of the film and with some themes written before filming even started, the music really does feel as though it’s another character.

Will Win: Joker

My Choice: Joker

  • Original Screenplay

I’m probably starting to sound predictable by this point, but for me this should go to Parasite, for the sheer originality of the storytelling. Yet, I won’t be surprised if the Academy awards Tarantino.

Will Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

My Choice: Parasite

  • Adapted Screenplay

I think this will perhaps be where the Academy attempt to make up for that directing snub and acknowledge the work of Greta Gerwig, which I’m more than fine with, as the writing choices for this version of Little Women were a huge part of why I enjoyed it so much, although I do have a huge amount of love for JoJo Rabbit.

Will Win: Little Women

My Choice: JoJo Rabbit

  • Visual Effects

I’m assuming this will go to 1917, but for me I’d choose Avengers: Endgame; a film which deserves something for being such a damn good film.

Will Win: 1917

My Choice: Avengers: Endgame

  • Production Design

I’m less certain about this one, but I’d probably choose 1917, for creating such a very real world over the course of the journey of those characters. I’ll say the Academy will agree, but who knows!

Will Win: 1917 (maybe!)

My Choice: 1917

  • Makeup & Hairstyling

I honestly cannot decide who will win here, but personally, I think Bombshell deserves it, for all the effort to transform the actors in to those people, so that it was almost uncanny.

Will Win: Bombshell (maybe)

My Choice: Bombshell

  • Costume Design

Another one that I’m not confident about, but I’d give this to Little Women.

Will Win: Little Women?

My Choice: Little Women

………

As I’ve not seen the short films and documentaries, I won’t try and predict anything there and my knowledge of sound mixing and editing make these categories I’d be simply guessing. As for editing, I’ve heard a lot of talk about Ford v Ferrari, which as I haven’t seen, I can’t really comment.

I know this is late (blame the UK’s late release of Parasite!), but I’d love to hear your thoughts!

My films of the Decade!

I’ve reflected on my theatregoing over the decade and my top television choices, but before I look ahead to films and theatre I’m excited to see in 2020 (those posts will be up over the next few days), I thought I’d have a think about my film highlights from the last 10 years. I’ve seen some people have decided to choose one film from each year of the decade, but if this is going to be my top 10 films, then I’m giving myself the flexibility of picking more than one from any one year.

So, in no particular order, these are my favourite film since 2010. It’s a personal list. They may not be the most critically acclaimed, but they are the ones that I was most impressed by, or which I love watching again and again.

Inception (2010)

I’m a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s work (no other Batman is needed for me thanks) and not only did Inception impress me from the first time I watched it, but it is one of the few times I’ve experienced a regular public cinema audience applaud at the end of a film. It was clever, visually stunning and required its audience to focus and pay attention, not to mention a strong cast and a perfect score from Hans Zimmer.

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

I admit, I struggled for a long time to choose between Infinity War and Endgame, but in the end, I went with the one that served as the final chapter of the Infinity Saga (Spiderman: Far From Home aside). I loved Infinity War, but the fact Endgame managed to tie up the stories of so many characters in one film, in such a satisfying way, was beyond anything I could have hoped for. It was also thrilling, nostalgic, and contained the right amount of emotional gut punches. Plus I could listen to the “Portals” music cue on repeat all day.

12 Years A Slave (2013)

From my first viewing at the London Film Festival, which received a standing ovation from the audience (I’ve still never experienced that since), I’ve never been able to forget this film. It’s always an emotional experience to watch it, as the shocking true story of Solomon Northup unfolds, anchored by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s utterly breathtaking and heartbreaking performance. Am I still mad he didn’t win an Oscar for this? You bet I am! An important story that needed to be told, which makes me cry every time. You can read my original review here.

Lion (2016)

Speaking of crying during a film, Lion is another example of a film which makes me cry every time I watch it! It tells the incredible true story of a young boy, Saroo, separated from his family in India, adopted by a couple in Australia who, 25 years later, finally sets about trying to find his roots and his mother and siblings, with the help of Google Earth (in its infancy back then). The film bravely leaves young Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a child, to carry the film until it moves forward in time to the present day. It could have failed, but instead it draws you in to the traumatic and heartbreaking experiences he faced, which invests you so much more in travelling with him as he seeks to find where he comes from as an adult. With wonderful performances from Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, this remains a film I regularly recommend to people. You can read my original review here.

Arrival (2016)

Arrival may first appear to be just another alien invasion movie, but this is not Independence Day and I loved this new, intelligent and deeply emotional exploration of not just contact with aliens, but also of what it means to be human and the importance of language and communication. Linguist Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams (hopefully the next decade will see her receiving some Oscar recognition), is tasked to find a way to communicate with the mysterious aliens who have appeared overnight in the USA (and in crafts around the globe). Aided by physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), the story starts in one direction and then takes you somewhere you didn’t anticipate and it stayed with me for a long time afterwards. You can read my full spoiler-free review here.

Inside Out (2015)

Inside Out may have been presented as a children’s movie, but it also speaks to every adult who sees it, highlighting how we change as we grow up and how our memories and how we feel about them can also change and the fact it works on so many levels highlights just what a superb film it is. Who doesn’t have memories that once were joyful ones, but have since been tainted by later life experiences? Yet, Inside Out reminds us that we need the difficult memories, just as much as the happy ones and it does this through a bright, colourful story about a young girl growing up and the little creatures that live inside all our heads, representing each of our emotions. I’m not sure what it says about me that Sadness was my favourite, but I loved this film and would recommend it to people of all ages.

The Hunger Games (2012)

Some may find this an odd choice, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunger Games movies, especially the first one and return to them often. A largely faithful adaptation of the original book by Suzanne Collins, it includes a very strong performance by Jennifer Lawrence and shouldn’t be snobbily overlooked because of its blockbuster franchise label. Add to that the wonderful support from Woody Harrleson and Elizabeth Banks and this story of a dystopian world in which children are used in a fatal game for the entertainment of the wealthy and to keep the weaker of society in line, is one very worth your time.

La La Land (2016)

La La Land was always bound to be on my list of favourites of the decade. From the first time I watched it at the London Film Festival, I absolutely loved it. It was a fun, colourful, funny, love story, which brought the magic of the classic film musicals of the past back to the big screen for a new generation. The soundtrack is so catchy, the dance numbers visually wonderful and the central performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are captivating. It was a superb blend of the past and the present and I left the cinema smiling every time. You can read my original review here.

Free Solo (2018)

Another incredible film of the decade was the documentary about rock climber Alex Honnold, whose goal was to climb up El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, but without any form of ropes, in what’s known as a free solo climb. The documentary digs in to his life, from his childhood and the reasons he first took up climbing, as well as his attitude towards life when his climbing goals are his main focus. Through those also in his life, whether friends or family, we also see the effect of his choices on those who care about him. Watching this on an IMAX cinema screen was quite something and the tension in the room was palpable as we watched his ascent. I kept having to remind myself that it really was real and not a fictional film!

The Lady In The Van (2015)

The stage version of Alan Bennett’s play was before my time living in London, so thankfully it was turned in to a wonderful film, again starring Maggie Smith as the lady of the title and is based on the unbelievable true story from Bennett’s own life – when an elderly lady, Mary Shepherd, who lived in a little van, moved on to his driveway and stayed for 15 years! It’s a charming British film, full of humour and poignancy, as we learn more about Mary and how she came to be living this way. Alongside that, we get an insight in to Bennett and his life as a writer, as he often discusses his predicament with an imaginary version of himself; a version he’d perhaps like to be more like if he dared. Boasting a cast full of British theatre acting talent and led beautifully by Smith and Alex Jennings, this is a film very dear to my heart.

The Greatest Showman (2017)

I was late to The Greatest Showman. I admit, the critical mauling when it first arrived in cinemas put me off and I just never made time to see it. That was until I watched in with my mum after it was available to rent on a streaming service and it was not what I expected. The main reason? I loved it! Yes, it’s a bit cheesy in places and yes, it’s not all true to the story of P.T Barnum, but it was hopeful, uplifting and made me feel lighter once I’d watched it. If I’m feeling a bit low, it’s still one of the films I turn to if I need a pick-me-up. Plus, the soundtrack is wonderful, ridiculously catchy and full of heart. I’ll be in line for tickets to the Broadway show when that finally happens too!

Paddington 2 (2017)

In the same way that The Greatest Showman brings a smile to my face as I watch it, the same is absolutely true for Paddington 2. I enjoyed both Paddington films, but it had to be the sequel on this list for the added joy of Hugh Grant! For those unfamiliar (surely there can’t be many of you), Paddington is a bear that lives with the Brown family in London (voiced by Ben Whishaw), who loves marmalade sandwiches and in this film gets caught up with the theft of an antique pop-up book and the treacherous antics of an ex-actor with a huge ego (played by Grant), trying to track down hidden treasure. It’s just such a wonderful family film, that deserved far more awards recognition.

……..

So, those are my film highlights of the year. They are personal to me and each one brings back memories that make them special. Hopefully the next decade will bring many more wonderful films too!

My Oscars 2019 Predictions

So, it’s almost time for the Oscars 2019. It’ll be the first night in 5 years where I don’t stay up horribly late to watch it (doing it alone is no fun!), but seeing as I’ve seen almost all of the biggest nominees, I thought I’d try and predict who will win. As is always the case with the Oscars, there are certain categories where I know my favourite won’t win, or where they aren’t even nominated!

So…….here goes!

1. Best Picture

This is an interesting one, as personally I’d have voted for Can You Ever Forgive Me, but as it’s not on the shortlist, I think this comes down to two frontrunners – Green Book, or Roma. I keep changing my mind about this. I know there has been controversy, but knowing none of that when I first saw it back in October, I really enjoyed Green Book and can see it appealing to a wider range of voters. Having said that, Roma is picking up a lot of steam and won at the BAFTAs, so it could be a groundbreaking night for foreign films in this category and also for Netflix. I’m truly torn, but final prediction is: Green Book.

2. Best Director

As much as I’d like to see Spike Lee finally win an Oscar for directing, I think this is going to Alfonso Cuaron for Roma.

3. Actress in a Leading Role

The more films I watched between October and now, the stronger the field of potential nominees in this category became. The five finalists could have been joined by Rosamund Pike for A Private War and Nicole Kidman for a truly stunning performance in Destroyer. I’m still a little shocked at how little awards attention that film received to be honest and no doubt others I’ve forgotten. From the five women nominated, my vote would go to Melissa McCarthy, who I thought was superb in Can You Ever Forgive Me. Yet, this is clearly between Glenn Close and Olivia Colman. Would I love to see Olivia on that stage? Of course, but I think it’s going to be Glenn Close’s night. She was excellent in a film that didn’t really do much for me, but seeing as she’s missed out so many times, she’ll get this to remedy that oversight.

4. Actor in a Leading Role

I’m assuming this will come down to either Rami Malek or Christian Bale. Personally, I’d give it to Bale, but I’m guessing it’ll be Malek’s night.

5. Actress in a Supporting Role

Although I’ve yet to see If Beale Street Could Talk (it’s only been out here a week and I have a cold!), I’m putting my bet on Regina King and that’s fine with me, as she’s always superb (most recently for me in Netflix’s series Seven Seconds).

6. Actor in a Supporting Role

This is a strong category too and as much as I’d be thrilled to see Richard E Grant receive this, just to see his reaction and also because he was fantastic in this role, I think it’ll be a second win in this category for Mahershala Ali and to be honest, that’s fine with me, as I found his performance in Green Book deeply moving. It stayed with me long after I’d left the cinema and he’s more than earned it.

7. Adapted Screenplay

This could go in a number of ways, but I’m wondering if this will be where Spike Lee is awarded with a win, seeing as I doubt he’ll get best director.

8. Original Screenplay

I have no idea about this one! It could be any of them, so I’m going to go with The Favourite, as it’s clearly a popular film, but one I don’t see taking home any of the bigger awards.

9. Original Song

This isn’t even a race is it? This is Lady Gaga’s.

10. Original Score

This is another category I’m finding hard to call. I loved the music in BlacKkKlansman and I’ve yet to see If Beale Street Could Talk, which I know is the favourite of many people. I’d probably vote for Black Panther, for a score that became instantly recognisable and evoked a whole culture in just a few short notes. I’ve no idea really, but I’ll go with BlacKkKlansman.

11. Animated Feature Film

I haven’t seen them all, but I’m fairly confident in saying this is going to be a guaranteed Marvel win for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

12. Documentary Feature

I’ve only seen RBG and Free Solo, so if I had to choose it would be between these two. I thoroughly enjoyed RBG, but I’m rooting for the breathtaking Free Solo. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you do!

13. Cinematography

In some years this has been more obvious to me (The Revenant springs immediately to mind) and this year I think it’ll be another win for Roma’s Alfonso Cuaron.

14. Visual Effects

I still think Avengers: Infinity War should have been in the Best Picture category. Not all films can pull off such a satisfying narrative for so many characters, but seeing as it has missed out on that, I hope it gets at least some recognition here!

15. Costume Design

My prediction here is for The Favourite, as costume dramas seem to always do well in such categories, but I’d love it to go to Black Panther.

16. Makeup & Hairstyling

This has to go to Vice, for the tremendous work helping transform Christian Bale in to Dick Cheney.

17. Production Design

I’ve no idea on the frontrunners here, but my vote would go to Black Panther.

18. Film Editing

My immediate response is that Vice should win, as so much of that film’s style is down to the editing. Yet, knowing all the behind the scenes difficulties on Bohemian Rhapsody, perhaps this will succeed in this category.

19 & 20. Sound Editing & Sound Mixing

I admit, every year I have to look up what the difference is between these two categories. Having reminded myself yet again, I’m going to say that Editing will go to Bohemian Rhapsody and Mixing to First Man, the film in which the importance of sound truly came across to me.

……………………………

As I haven’t seen any of the film shorts, it would be unfair for me to make a wild guess, so I’ll leave it at that. It’ll be interesting to wake up tomorrow and see how many I got right!

 

Film Review – Papi Chulo

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There are some films I knew very little about on booking them at last year’s London Film Festival and Papi Chulo was one of them. Having recently seen Matt Bomer on stage in Boys In The Band on Broadway and being impressed by his heartfelt performance, I decided to buy a ticket for this and I’m so pleased that I did.

Papi Chulo is a beautiful film, which reaches out to its audience regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation and that’s because the themes within it are universal – love, friendship, loneliness and that feeling of being adrift in life, not quite knowing where to go next, yet learning how to move forward, no matter how impossible it may seem.

The film centres on Sean, a young LA weatherman, who one day breaks down on live television in the middle of a forecast. The result – he’s put on leave, out of concern for him and the image of the network. His first task on arriving home is to sell the beautiful potted tree on his outdoor deck; a purchase made by his ex Carlos; someone whose absence is weighing heavily on him and who he is struggling to be without, frequently leaving him voicemails and staring at his photo on his phone.

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Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patino & writer/director John Butler at the London Film Festival 2018

Clearly a little lost and yearning for company, he enlists the help of a middle-aged Latino migrant worker, Ernesto, who he sees waiting for work with a group of others by the local hardware store. He’s tasked with the simple job of touching up the paint on Sean’s deck, yet what follows is a heart-warming friendship of sorts.

Muddling through on their limited knowledge of their respective languages, we see how very different men from very different lives make an impact on each other and the film works so well largely because of the genuine warmth and connection between Bomer and Alejandro Patino who plays Ernesto.

Writer (and director) John Butler’s script perfectly balances the more emotional moments of the film, with the more light-hearted, comedic scenes, particularly captured through Ernesto’s initial confusion and then bemusement at the surreal connection he is forming with Sean, which he conveys to his wife Linda via amusing phone calls, updating her on his days, which shift from painting and sanding, to spending time simply keeping Sean company. A scene in which he takes Ernesto for a row boat ride is particularly fun.

The film needs you to care about its central character and you certainly do through Bomer’s beautiful performance. His ability to express Sean’s vulnerability and openness of emotion as the film moves forward and we learn more about him and his ex, enables the audience to truly connect with and invest in Sean’s life and hope he’s able to find his way through and when the dam breaks alongside the LA drought, you feel the emotional release Sean experiences.

This film was a true highlight of the films I saw last year. It reminded me how we’re all capable of helping each other through simple acts of kindness and its heartwarming and positive message that simple human kindness can exist between us irrespective of our differences, whether language or background, is a very welcome one in these strange, difficult times.

If it’s in a cinema near you this year, I strongly recommend you buying a ticket.

Papi Chulo currently has an initial release date in the USA of 8th March 2019. UK release date is not yet confirmed. 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 

 

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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