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The Invisible Woman (2013)
Ralph Fiennes brings the literary legend to life
With The Invisible Woman being the second feature in which Ralph Fiennes tackles Charles Dickens, you may say that the thespian, already known for his love of Shakespeare, has developed a new romance with English literature.
With Fiennes at the helm, this biographical drama, based on the book by Claire Tomalin, takes a stroll into the private life of the public figure, Charles Dickens. Although The Invisible Woman positions itself at the heart of the Victorian literate, this is in fact the story of Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones); hence the title.
The bulk of this character-piece plays out as a flashback, as the narrative oscillates between the world of Dickens and the world post-Dickens. The mysterious title refers to the young Nelly, an avid-admirer of the literary colossus, as she enters into a secret affair with her idol. She spends the best part of her youth amorously involved with the writer, but given that Dickens was a lot older, it was inevitable that she would outlive her lover.
Alone with her thoughts, Nelly, dressed in mournful black, marches along the beaches of Margate like a sleepwalker in the night, tormented by the loss of her companion; she must find a way to bring that chapter of her life to a close so that she may now move on.
The picture paints Dickens as the talented and charitable man that he was, however we are also privy to a more sinister side of the wordsmith, as we learn of his malicious actions towards his wife (played by Joanna Scanlon).
The camera takes its time, as it soaks up the brilliant performances of the cast and Abi Morgan's (Shame, The Iron Lady) masterful script provides a titillating narrative, as it transports us to the Dickensian period. Ultimately, The Invisible Woman stands as a beautifully crafted piece of filmmaking, however, it somewhat pales in comparison to Fiennes' earlier, more vigorous work. Anthony Lowery
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Coen Brothers' love letter to folk music.
"The George Washington Bridge? You throw yourself off the Brooklyn Bridge traditionally." Inside Llewyn Davis' witty one-liners are just one of the conventions to typically feature in a Coen Brothers collaboration.
Musician Llewyn Davis (earnestly played by Oscar Isaac) journeys the competitive folk music circuit with nowhere to call home; just like the records he produces, the guitarist goes round and round in circles, as he contends with life's many curveballs. Nothing really happens here. This is a character piece and we are just voyeurs peering in on Llewyn's meaningless existence.
This musical drama, which co-stars Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and Justin Timberlake, opens with a stellar vocal performance by Oscar. His choral rendition of Dave Von Rank's Hang Me, Oh Hang Me is magnificent and, just like the song, Inside Llewyn Davis ends where it began.
Are we looking at an Oscar for Oscar?
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
No need for sugar - this goes down just fine
Once upon a time (seeing as though that's how all fairy tales seem to start), there lived a boy from Missouri, called Walt Disney. This boy had a piece of paper with a mere sketch of a mouse upon it. Who ever would have thought that this was to be the start of such a great legacy? In 1961, Walt Disney invited P.L Travers, the author of "Mary Poppins", to his California studios to discuss the possibility of acquiring the rights to her book - a discussion that Mr. Disney had initially sparked twenty years prior. For those two decades, the proud author refused to depart with her precious work in fear of Hollywood's mutilation of it and repeatedly told Mr. Persistent to go 'fly a kite
up to the highest heights'. However, when sales of her book begin to dwindle and with a rough economic climate ahead, Travers reluctantly agreed to travel across the Atlantic to hear what the impresario had to say. This untold backstory of how Travers' classic work of literature made it to the big screen provides the substance for John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr. Banks. Here, we have an American icon that plays an American icon. Two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks delivers extraordinary sense of character as he renders Mr. Walt Disney with expert attention to detail. "There's a lot of voice work, the way he walks, the body positions, the way he holds his hands, the way he touches his moustache. How he phrases things and lets sentences roll off the end", Hancock remarks - and so Tom Hanks becomes the public face for Walt Disney and we learn of the man behind the mask (with two fluffy ears). Our central protagonist is Mrs. P. L Travers, played by Emma Thompson (who similarly boasts two Academy Awards). "She was a wonderful case study, requiring so many different shades. She was just so complex. She's one of the most complicated people I've ever encountered", says the British actress. Her rendition of a tetchy and cantankerous author who's plagued by the memories of her past is brilliantly executed. As narrative flashbacks delve into Mrs. Travers' childhood, we soon realise the true depth of her literary creation, Mary Poppins. Mr. Banks explores the bond between a young Travers (then Helen) and her drunkard father, Travers Goff (exceptionally played by Colin Farrell). Like a puzzle, the story is pieced together, bit by bit and we learn that her deep-seated adoration for her father is what lies at the heart of her magical masterpiece. Demonstrating that her novel holds such personal significance, Travers continues to exercises a stubborn reluctance to hand the rights to her book over to what she considers to be a dollar-printing machine. The straight-talking novelist is repulsed by Disney's empire and this is only intensified when the entertainment wizard showers her in all kinds of ridiculous merchandise. As Walt Disney haplessly pursues Travers, unsettling the adamant writer with his vision of the film, it seems that he will never obtain the rights to make the movie of Mary Poppins. We are, of course, watching this in hindsight and the knowledge that the book was made into a successful film adds a magical quality to the experience and permits laughter as it plays on dramatic irony; and there are some real gems for the Disney die-hards. Walt Disney made a promise to his daughter to make the movie of Mary Poppins. As the likelihood of fulfilling this promise fades into the distance, the entertainment-guru reaches into his own childhood and discovers a new, more personal connection to the emotionally troubled Travers. In order to break away from a life dictated by her past, Travers agrees to sign the waiver so that one the most lovable films in cinematic history can be made. This biographical dramedy stands as a poetic tale of hope, which ultimately gives testament to the might of the mouse house and conveys the magical idea that everybody has a story to tell. Making memories is what Disney is all about and for its 125-minute runtime, we re-visit old memories and we also create new ones. With all the conventions of a family film (after all, this is Disney), Saving Mr. Banks is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! (Couldn't resist).
Enough Said (2013)
It's a shame that Enough Said's status as a posthumous movie will reel in certain audiences who wouldn't normally go for its female-centric genre. James Gandolfini's premature death will invite fans of The Sopranos but guys, this is a chic-flick and although it's refreshing to see Gandolfini bear a different kind of role, his turn as a sluggish and overweight single parent is far from meeting the supremacy of Tony Soprano.
Enough Said is the new romantic comedy from writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Friends With Money, Six Feet Under). It tells the story of Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a masseuse and single parent as she steps cautiously into a relationship with Albert (Gandolfini). On the same night as she encounters her new companion, Eva also acquires a new client Marianne (Catherine Keener) who, during their sessions, does little besides complain about her pathetic loser of an ex- husband Yes, you got it. Before long, Eva works out that she is in fact talking about Albert.
As harsh as it may sound, given the escapism element of cinema, it's quite easy to overlook the fact that an actor has passed and to just savour the performance as being their last. Sadly, this is not the case here. The late Gandolfini appears weighty and unhealthy, but the "comedy" goes out of its way to ridicule the size of the screen legend. Jokes about calorie books and being squashed during acts of intimacy offer constant reminders that the superlative Soprano is gone; needless to say, this infringes on what should have been a sincere experience.
Enough Said follows the conventional Hollywood mode of storytelling and in that vein, renders itself predictable. It claims to be a comedy and its plot loosely mimics that of Bridesmaids in where the emotionally unstable female breaks the gentle guy's heart, right before she realises her own shallowness. Given its half-hearted attempt to rework the narrative of Paul Feig's hit female-Hangover, it's almost as if Holofcener fed her cat the script to Bridesmaids, waited for the fur ball to be coughed-up and then slapped her own title to it. Where Holofcener's reputation sees to it that she makes movies that are easy to slip into, there's something awkward at the heart of this portrait of middle-aged relationships that prevents it from growing as a successful rom-com.
Louis-Dreyfus is comically able and a radiant centrepiece. Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) and Catherine Keener (The 40 Year Old Virgin) are also amongst the rich acting talent that help keep this potholed script afloat. The last word is reserved for the great Gandolfini whose dedicated performance as a character far from his comfort zone sees the perfect way to round off his illustrious legacy.
For Jim. Enough Said.
Captain Phillips (2013)
Tom Hanks is superb
Two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks is the face of the 57th BFI London Film Festival, as the maritime thriller Captain Phillips and the biographical comedy, Saving Mr. Banks bookends the 11-day event.
British director, Paul Greengrass has built a reputation for dramatising events of terror (United 93, Bloody Sunday, Green Zone). He remains consistent with Captain Phillips, as he presents us with an adrenaline-charged rebirth of a real life hijacking.
Based on true events and the book A Captain's Duty, co-authored by the real Captain Richard Phillips, this biographical blockbuster is an intricate dramatisation of the 2009 capture of the U.S container ship Maersk Alabama, by a crew of Somali pirates the task was to transport food and drink from Port Oman to Mombasa, Kenya. However, the vessel's course was set to travel through the pirate-infested waters of the Somali Basin.
At the very beginning, we are introduced to the security-conscious Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), an experienced seaman who sets out to navigate a cargo ship round the horn of Africa. Soon after, the narrative shifts to Somalia where we meet a clan of pirates who live under gang rule. Muse (Barkhad Abdi), a fisherman-turned-pirate who dwells in little village on the Somali Coast, occupies a cold-hearted demeanor and his general icy glare earns him the title of pirate captain; with his visceral behavior, Muse is close to meeting the same screen magnetism as our beloved Jack Sparrow. Skinny and feeble but with a mindset that's as strong as steel, the Somali- American newcomer pulls out a performance that forces even our front-man to raise his game.
Greengrass' intentions were to offer a fair and balanced account of the events and although Billy Ray's screenplay seems to be weighted in Phillips' favour, the director stated during the LFF press conference that, "We haven't created characters that didn't exist; we haven't created great sways of the story that didn't exist." He continued, "I am very comfortable that this is a fair and accurate account of this event and I will stand by the methodology I used."
The piracy situation rapidly plummets into a kidnapping, as the bandits make off in the Alabama lifeboat with Cpt. Phillips as their hostage. Now a tactical military operation, the USS Bainbridge intercepts the lifeboat and Navy Seals are called in to execute a highly strategic rescue operation. Although this may seem like an unfair fight with the US Navy taking on an armed quartet of buccaneers in a lifeboat, Greengrass, together with cinematographer Barry Akroyd, keeps us in suspense as to which way the tide will turn.
Amongst the chaos, the cinematography finds time to linger on the beauty of the everyday, which effectively juxtaposes the brutal editing and maintains its strong sense of urgency. Akroyd allows the spectator to get so close to the action that they themselves are at risk of suffering seasickness.
This typically Greengrass affair doesn't afford in-depth characterisation as it would impede the relentless pace of the action; we are full steam ahead. Its music is extremely evocative; It heightens the emotional dimension and encourages Captain Phillips to reach its well-crafted and overwhelming climax.
Tom Hanks' performance as an average Joe, who demonstrates extraordinary fortitude and resilience, is focused, powerful and emotionally attached; we are privy to an acting tour-de- force that's sure to be in the Oscar's trajectory. Ultimately, Captain Phillips is a triumphant, albeit dizzying tale of human resolve, which by-the-way showcases both military and acting excellence.
Enjoy your coffee!
12 Years a Slave (2013)
"I will keep myself hearty until freedom is opportunity" For her crime of fetching a bar of soap in order to rid herself of her own unbearable stench, a young slave girl by the name of Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) is secured to a wooden post and relentlessly whipped by a ruthless plantation owner, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Combine this with an earlier scene in where the camera lingers in a torturous long take over Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as his back is brutally savaged by assorted instruments, we know that Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave will not be an easy watch. As Patsey receives her unjust punishment, Sean Bobbitt's unflinching camera captures the act of cruelty and all its agony. The girl's skin peels of her back as the whip tears through her flesh, exposing the blood and bone beneath. With every anger-filled lash, you cringe deeper into your seat, sheltered in an auditorium that has suddenly become rather chilly. The year is 1841. Based on a true story, this historical period-drama sees Solomon's life as a free family man stolen from under him when he is kidnapped and sold as a slave, first to the benevolent Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and then to the less-humane Epps. Throughout his journey from Saratoga, New York to a plantation in Louisiana, Solomon (slave name Platt) must keep his true identity and talents a secret if he hopes to survive; "I don't want to survive. I want to live", says Solomon and with every day that goes past, his chances of freedom grow increasingly unlikely. In response to the inevitable comparisons to Quentin Tarrantino's Django Unchained, McQueen's masterpiece proudly tackles the long-untouchable subject of slavery in its own way; "Either we were going to make a film about slavery or we weren't and we chose to make a film about slavery" says McQueen during the London Film Festival, "making a slavery movie without violence would be like making a World War II movie without shooting anyone." If the pulpster's cartoonish Django Unchained were to be considered little more than an appetiser to slavery, then the raw and difficult 12 Years A Slave is very much the main course
and what a taste it leaves. As Michael Fassbender's illustrious career screams for an Academy Award, up steps McQueen given that this is their third collaboration, with Hunger and Shame both drawing Oscar blanks, 12 Years A Slave puts the duo on track for third time lucky. The Fass's rendition of slaver Epps A.K.A the "nigger-breaker", whose mood is lightened whenever he delivers punishment to his "property", is truly remarkable and matches, if not surpasses DiCaprio's exceptional turn as Django's Calvin Candie. Ejiofor, our lead, graces us with a powerhouse performance as a broken man whose eyes know nothing but pain. His formidable rendition of a wrongfully enslaved man (not to say that any form is slavery is right) claws at our heartstrings with as much mercy as the winter shows its wildlife. Where the cinematography could be described as beautiful in the inspired way it allows the action to unfold, it feels very wrong to attach such an adjective to a film with visuals that are actually quite detrimental to one's peace of mind. Nonetheless, the creative camera-work encourages Slave's cinematic scope and as it lingers in close-up over the many lost faces, on some level this helps to restore their identities; we're given time to remember who they are. The title hints towards an inevitable conclusion, but nevertheless, this is a fantastic feature that confirms McQueen's directorial prowess
See you at the Oscars. As the credits role and the auditorium falls into darkness, nobody moves. Silent. Mesmerised.
Gravity is out of this world. Roger that - over and out
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, as they star in Alfonso Cuaron's (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) sci-fi spectacular, Gravity. Houston, we have a problem.
Tonight's weather forecast "clear skies with a chance of satellite debris." Medical Engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and NASA Special Commander Matt Kowalski (Clooney) are on a repair mission in outer space, when a Russian satellite shatters and its shrapnel races towards them. Mission Control (voiced by Ed Harris) initiates an emergency abort, just before all telecommunications to Earth crash.
When you're suspended in the cosmos and the narrative is thus restricted to a single location, all there is to relish, besides the remarkable views and special effects, is character development. However, this is as far from a bad feat as our troops are from home. Where it is easy for a sci-fi to get carried away with itself, Cuaron's profound characterisations of our spacewalkers, who share extraordinary on-screen chemistry, grounds the spectacle in reality; so much so that science fiction appears to be science-fact.
Gravity is predominantly based in one location with one objective, yet the Mexican-born director does extremely well to grip our attention and the mesmerising visual cinematography makes it a pleasure to concentrate.
Clooney renders Kowalski with unbelievable strength of character, able to take the responsibility of the interstellar jester, despite the severity of the situation; "I know you never realised how devastatingly good-looking I am, but you need to stop staring", he says to Dr. Stone, as they cling together in the abyss.
Advised by fellow-director James Cameron, Cuaron delayed production for four and a half years so that the technology could catch up and meet expectations. The wait was certainly not in vain as Tim Webber's visual effects are simply groundbreaking. "There is no weight in space. There is no sound in space and the only light is what bounces off the Earth", explains Cuaron during a Gravity masterclass. The dramatic thriller gives testament to these interplanetary conventions to an expert degree.
In true Cuaron-fashion, for the first 15 minutes there are no cuts. The long take soaks in the sights at the same time as it lures the spectator into a false sense of tranquillity. Kowalski's wit and charm, as he playfully floats about, sends us further into relaxation; Clooney refuses to shrug off his debonair persona and proficient flirtation even in the face of death 600 kilometres above the Earth's surface.
All of a sudden, we get a sharp succession of cuts as danger ensues. The camera becomes very dizzy as it stylishly coils around our troubled astronauts; instead of the actors moving, the camera does all the donkeywork. The debris tears through their shuttle and telescope, leaving the duo adrift.
"Although there is no sound in space, there is music in film", declares Cuaron. The music in Gravity, composed by Steven Price, is harmonious and at times, even terrifying (unless of course we're talking about the Hank Williams Jr. country western jive that plays out of Kowalski's radio, epitomising his breezy persona).
Driven by pure heart and the will to survive, this story about letting go toys with symbolism of birth and rebirth, paying unspoken homage to Children of Men in where humankind loses the gift of fertility. As the loss of her daughter plagues her mind, Dr. Stone on several occasions showcases foetal characteristics. When her oxygen supply plummets, Kowalski attaches a tether cable, symbolic of the umbilical cord, to the distressed space-newbie in order to get her to safety. Stone is later seen poised in a zero gravity pod and her behaviour is strikingly symbolic of a foetus, as it curls inside the womb.
Gravity is out of this world. Roger that over and out.
Don Jon (2013)
A fantastic first-step for director Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Sing-a-long "It's such a good vibration It's such a sweeeet sensation." Marky-Mark's Good Vibration serves as a very apt soundtrack to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut Don Jon, as the dramedy immerses itself within the art of adult entertainment If you're not quite with me, never mind.
Levitt pops his director cherry and for his first time behind the camera, he delivers a bravely honest depiction of male sexuality, as his character Jon takes a bazooka to the erotic taboo: porn. Nicknamed Don Jon by his meathead mates for his ability to woo the women, our New Jersey lothario is a porn-junkie who prefers "beating it" to the real thing. "Unlike porn, real pussy can kill you", says the Don, and with justification like that, who can argue?
Although it favours a cartoonish superficiality over the refinement and sophistication of Shame, McQueen's movie of similar narrative sort, it totally works as entertainment anyway.
Just when the confession-goer believes that no woman can fulfil his carnal desires in the same way that porn can, enter Barbara Sugarman, a Scarlett Johansson gone ghetto as she chumps of chewing-gum and sports the slick street vibe. On a scale of one-to-ten, our blonde bombshell scores a "dime" and Don Jon is convinced she is the answer to his prayers. Finally, our masturbation-addict begins a serious relationship with something other than his computer.
Joseph Gordon Levitt takes a confident first step on the road to what looks to be an equally illustrious career behind the camera. Will it win an Oscar? Probably not but as Jon remarks, "They give awards for porn too." Go on, feel the vibration.