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In 1971, there was an American movie called "Joe" set in New York City
and state in which a couple of ordinary 'joes' (one is actually called
Joe), resenting the liberal society in which they find themselves, turn
to appalling violence. Now (2014), we have another American film with
the same title with a story that is almost as depressing and almost as
violent as again a joe - both in character and name - finds himself
turning to brutal action for what he judges to be a righteous cause.
This time the director is David Gordon Green who films Larry Brown's
novel in a very male, dirt poor, hard-drinking world around Austin in
In a slow-moving and atmospheric tale, Joe befriends a 15 year old Gary who is abused by his drunken father. This is an outstanding central performance from Nicolas Cage who keeps his trademark histrionics under control here. But the two other lead roles are played by interesting characters. Gary is ably portrayed by young Tye Sheridan who, after both "Tree Of Life" and "Mud", is beginning to make a name for himself. Then the violent father is represented by a complete non-professional: Gary Poulter, a homeless man who died on the streets shortly after the film was finished. This is art imitating life imitating art.
Three years after the considerable success of the latest reboot of "The
Planet Of The Apes" in the form of "Rise Of ...", we have the sequel
with the confusingly similar title of "Dawn Of ..." In narrative terms,
we are ten years on. A pandemic, resulting from the laboratory
experiments that created the intelligent apes, has killed most of
mankind, while the simian colony has been able to develop in
sophistication and language. This movie has a different director (late
reserve Matt Reeves who has already been signed up for the next in the
franchise) but two of the same writers (Rich Jaffa & Amanda Silver), so
there is strong continuity.
Again the action is in San Francisco and the redwoods north of Golden Gate Bridge but now the forces on either side are much more symmetrical. Furthermore we have doves and hawks in each camp: Caesar (wonderful Andy Serkis) and Koba (Toby Kebbell) among the primates and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) among the humans. Clearly the human-like apes can be seen as a metaphor for people who do not look or behave quite like the majority in any community and the message of the movie is that all groups have honourable and evil characters.
As with the original film, the special effects are brilliant, with performance capture conjuring terrifically realistic apes (well done, Weta Workshop) and some convincing post-apocalyptic street scenes mostly put together in Vancouver). I didn't think the story was quite as strong as the previous film and most of the actors playing human characters - Oldman was the exception - were rather weak. But clearly the battle is far from over ...
War casts long shadows over both nations and individuals and, when the
fighting stops, the pain remains. This is the remarkable story of a
British officer who became a prisoner of war when the Japanese took
Singapore in early 1942, worked on the infamous Burma-Siam railway, and
suffered terrible torture for constructing a radio receiver.
Eric Lomax is played by Jeremy Irvine (wartime) and Colin Firth (post-war), while his lead kempei torturer Takeshi Nagase is portrayed by Tanroh Ishida and then Hiroyuki Sanada. Nicole Kidman sports a good English accent (as she did in "The Hours") as Lomax's (second) wife, but the casting of the Swedish Stellan Skarsgård is odd.
This is not a easy film to watch but tells a moving real-life story that is ultimately up- lifting. In the central role, Firth is impressive. Like a good wine, this is an actor who improves with age.
I loved this movie. From beginning to end, a smile rarely left my face.
OK, so it's essentially a remake of "Once" (2007) with the same writer
and director (Irishman John Carney) and the same story (a man and a
younger woman from another country meeting in a major city of the guy's
nation and uniting to create unconventional music). I actually enjoyed
"Begin Again" more than "Once". The earlier film was shot on an almost
non-existent budget with camcorders, whereas this one has a decent
budget and much more professional production values; I think New York
is snazzier than Dublin (I've been to both about half a dozen times);
and Mark Ruffalo as the guy and Keira Knightley as the girl are much
better actors than ... (exactly - who remembers them?).
The movie has a smart opening with beautiful Knightley as the British singer- songwriter Gretta giving an open-mic performance of one of her songs before meeting charming Ruffalo as a washed-up American A & R man Dan before the film backtracks twice to show us how each of these very different characters came to be at this place at this time. In a similar fashion to my wife (who can view a room and mentally refurnish and even redesign it), Dan can visualise how Geta's song would come over with full backing musicians and a revised arrangement.
The songs - written by Gregg Alexander of New Radicals - are good, but it is Knightley who is the surprise. Although she is married to a rock and roll player, she is outside of her comfort song here, but she learned to play the guitar for the role and sings well (as indeed she did in "The Edge Of Love").
American actor Matthew McConaughey has totally reinvented himself. The
jobbing actor who starred in such lightweight work as "How To Lose A
Guy In 10 Days" (2003) and "Fool's Gold" (2008), gave an starkly
different performance in "Mud" (2012) and is almost unrecognisable in a
brilliant piece of work here in "Dallas Buyers Club". McConaughey lost
an amazing 47lb to take on the role of real-life Texan electrician Ron
Woodroof and deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Actor for
totally inhabiting the part. Indeed his Texan drawl was so naturalistic
that I didn't catch all the dialogue.
Hardliving Woodruff was diagnosed with AIDS and given three months to life. By a combination of web-based research, hustling for locally available drugs and importing non-approved drugs from Mexico, he kept himself alive and then offered his medicinal cocktail to other HIV/AIDS sufferers for a club fee. In the end, he managed to live for six years.
Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée directed this fine independent movie that was shot for a mere $5.5M over just 25 days. As well as McConaughey, there is another Oscar- winning performances from the superb Jay Leto, who returned to films after five years and himself lost 30lbs for his role as trans-sexual Rayon. Jennifer Gardner is pretty but somewhat weak as Eve, the local hospital doctor who comes to lose faith in big pharma and the medical establishment. In fact both of these characters were created for the movie.
Three of my favourite films are "Before Sunrise" (1995), "Before
Sunset" (2004) and "Before Midnight" (2013), all written and directed
by Richard Linklater, all featuring the same two characters growing up
over time, all starring Ethan Hawke as one of those characters, all
using naturalistic dialogue as the main narrative device to tell very
domestic stories. So I was never going to need any persuading to see
"Boyhood", written and directed by Linklater, centred on Mason growing
up from five to 18, again starring Hawke, and again using dialogue
rather than action to tell the stories and overwhelmingly set in a
variety of homes.
What makes "Boyhood" different from the other three movies, indeed what makes it astonishing, is that this 12 year story was shot in twelve chronological segments over a mere 39 days with the same core actors but it is presented as one integrated whole over two and three quarter hours. There is no overt signalling of the year to year jumps with the viewer left to join up the chapters which proves remarkably easy and even fluid. The commitment of all concerned is simply breathtaking.
The eponymous Texan boy is Mason played by Ellar Coltrane who proves to be a remarkably subdued and laconic teenager, unremarkable in many ways and yet strangely attractive. His mom is Patricia Arquette who is terrific as a strong woman who nevertheless makes some bad choices, starting and finishing as a single parent. Hawke is the birth father who drops in and out of his children's lives with often a greater boyish sense of fun than his offspring. And Manson's sister is portrayed by the director own daughter Lorelie Linklater.
This is not a film that one can judge by conventional storytelling standards. There is no real beginning, middle and end. We come in at a somewhat arbitrary point, we hang out with the characters for more than a decade of growth and development, and we drop out at a fairly random point (Mason is about to start college but has reached no real decisions about who he is and what he is going to do). As his mother laments towards the end: "I just thought there would be more." This feels less like a feature film, therefore, than a real-life documentary. It is that good.
If you thought that this was a light-hearted, office-based rom-com,
look away now. The subject matter is quite dark, covering mental
illness, self harm and sado- masochism, although the treatment is quite
light and, at times, the whole thing is verging on the surreal. There
is a fair amount of sex, but most of it is not intercourse, and the
nudity - although very explicit - is brief and at the very end.
The dominant partner in this odd relationship is a lawyer called simply Mr Grey, played by James Spader who first came to prominence in another off-beat look at sexuality in "Sex, Lies And Videotape". The submissive is Mr Grey's secretary, the younger Lee Holloway, ably and bravely acted by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Both the original source material (a short story written by Mary Gaitskill) and the screenplay (written by Erin Cressida Wilson) come from women, so this is not a male fantasy but quite a subtle look at how some people need something different to achieve sexual satisfaction. Ultimately it is a tale of redemption.
I have not read any of the eight children's novels featuring Mary
Popppins and published between 1934-1988 or seen the 1964 movie musical
adaptation, but I enjoyed this cinematic explanation of how the
childhood experiences in Australia of the author P L Travers inspired
the original story and how Walt Disney and his creative team struggled
so long and so valiantly to bring that story to the screen.
Tom Hanks never gives a poor performance and is excellent here in his portrayal of Disney, giving a moving testimony towards the end. However, this is Emma Thompson's movie because she is simply wonderful as Travers, hard yet vulnerable, cutting yet clever. The Mr Banks of the title refers to the fictional version of Travers' father Travers Goff who is played by Colin Farrell.
This is the fourth feature of the writer and director team of Nick
Damici and Jim Mickle but the first that I have encountered and it was
a welcome experience because this independent movie grips the attention
from the tense opening to the explosive finale with some gear-grinding
sudden shifts in genre.
The story is set in East Texas in 1989, the year that the source material - a novel by Joe R Lonsdale - was published and this pre-digital age is brought home by the briefcase- sized mobile phone and the video cassette rental store. The triple avengers in this gruesome tale are played wonderfully by old-timers Sam Shepard and Don Johnson and younger Michael C Hall, an unlikely teaming in an atmospheric thriller that has you constantly asking 'Where is this going?' Enjoy the ride. I did.
In late 2013 and early 2014, two films made by black British directors
and starring black British actors took a real-life historical black
figure to say something important about slavery in the late 18th and
early 19th centuries - but the two works could hardly be different in
tone. Whereas "12 Years A Slave" was brutally hard-hitting in its
account of a free American who was kidnapped into slavery, "Belle" is a
much more gentle tale of the daughter of a black slave who manages to
be raised more or less as a member of the British aristocracy.
Dido Elizabeth Belle was the illegitimate, mixed race daughter of a well-born British sea captain and an African slave. She is played wonderfully by the mixed race actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw (her father is black South African), whose previously work has been mostly on television, and the movie is the accomplished work of the director Amma Asante (her parents are Ghanaian), whose only previous feature direction was a decade ago, and we are going to hear a lot more about these talented women. A fine cast of British character actors, including Tom Wilkinson as the Lord Chief Justice and Emily Watson and Penelope Wilton in more support roles, make this a very watchable work.
Given the setting - London mainly in 1772 (although the film was largely shot on the Isle of Man) - Dido has a degree of status and some wealth but has to contend with the triple trappings of race, gender and class, as she battles both to find a husband who actually loves her (enter Sam Reid as the earnest Mr Davinier) and to encourage the LCJ to make the honourable decision in the real life court case about the 'Zong' slave ship. In true Jane Austen fashion, our heroine finds both love and honour, so no surprises here but a movie with a heart.
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