Pride (2014) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Pride (2014) Directed by Matthew Warchus. With Ben Schnetzer, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, George MacKay, Monica Dolan, Andrew Scott and Paddy Considine.

Pride-Film-Poster-638x424

Based on the true events of an alliance between a group of gay and lesbian people and a rural community of Welsh miners in 1984, Matthew Warchus’ BAFTA award winning Pride is testament to the better side of human nature, during one of the most divisive times of recent social unrest in the United Kingdom.

Boasting a broad ensemble cast, the film is a hop, skip and jump of a watch. Stuffed with 80’s pop anthems (obligatory Soft Cell) and a zippy visual freshness, the film fights hard to come across as upbeat, despite the intolerances and hardships many of the characters are forced to endure. It is, in this sense, papering over some of the rougher cracks for the sake of giving its audience a good time. Thanks to an array of likeable performances, though, you shouldn’t have too much of a hard time joining in.

Singling any one performance out from a film so jam-packed with attention grabbing turns isn’t easy. As a key community organiser, Imelda Staunton is a strong contender with her direct sense of humour and pit bull approach to confrontation. George Mackay, the youngest member of the group LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) serves as an amiable conduit for a narrative subtext about ‘coming out’ and embracing your individualism. The truth is, thanks to a fine script by Stephen Beresford, film is overflowing with dialogue, giving quality screen-time to all of the enthusiastic cast, even those on the periphery.

If I have anything negative to say, (and I’m at pains to do so) I’d probably suggest that the overall cheerfulness is a little over-prescribed. This wasn’t an easy time to be gay, or to be a miner; yet the overall tone has a Sunny Delight glow to it that is perhaps not entirely truthful to the ‘true events’ the film sells itself off on. At times, the people in the film seem to be having a better time than the cast of Mamma Mia. That said, in the spirit of brightening up your day, there are good hearts and minds behind this project, and the overall message of acceptance, love and solidarity is an important one. 3.5/5

Posted in Comedy, Drama Comedy, Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) Directed by Peter Webber. With Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth, Essie Davis, Tom Wilkinson, Judy Parfitt and Cillian Murphy.

Girl-with-a-Pearl-Earring-2003

Based on a novel of the same name by Tracy Chevalier, Girl with a Pearl Earring is a period drama about a young peasant girl (Scarlett Johansson) living and working in the year 1665 for the household of the Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). Directed by Peter Webber, the film was recognised with a host of prestigious award nominations across all major categories.

For starters, it is beautifully shot. A central theme is colour and light, and through beautifully composed cinematography by Eduardo Serra the film at times has the distinct sense of an old faded painting. The dialogue is sparse and many of the characters are in some way at odds with themselves; dealing with repression brought on by either their differences in social class, or an inherent need to keep up appearances.

Johansson plays Griet, a timid young house-servant caught in the middle of a family drama. Her presence in the house captures the attentions of Firth’s character, causing a further rift between himself and his wife Catharina, played by the excellent Essie Davis. Due to the nature of the period and circumstances, this is a work of deftly muted performances. The cruel torment of being so close, yet so far is played out with lingering glances as opposed to grandstanding speeches.

We feel great sympathy for Griet and wish a better life for her. Her intelligence shines through, yet she slaves away at her endless chores while the posh folk laze around, rudely barking orders at her; all the while looking broken inside themselves. Her youth and beauty only serve to fuel the existing unhappiness of Catharina (Essie Davis). Other characters circle her world. Tom Wilkinson is overbearingly vile with intentions we don’t entirely trust, while Greit’s potential knight appears in the guise of  Cillian Murphy’s ‘butcher boy’, who offers a potential escape from the trappings of servitude. But then, there’s the silent seduction of playing the muse.

The end result is a subtle, but no less powerful portrait of repression, jealousy and desire. Johansson is beautiful and sincere in a role that demands restraint and great poise as she tempts and resists herself through Firth’s longing gaze. With stunning costume design and a real feel for the period, Girl with a Pearl Earring is both solemn and quiet, yet beneath the canvas, it screams. 4/5

Posted in Film Reviews, Period Drama | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stakeout (1987) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Stakeout (1987) Directed by John Badham. With Richard Dreyfuss, Emilio Estevez, Madeleine Stowe, Aidan Quinn, Dan Lauria and Forest Whitaker.

m4FranuOoaLwCpde96rkMp0ocVc

John Badham’s action-comedy, Stakeout, stars Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez as a pair of adolescent Seattle detectives given the job of observing the house of woman whose ex-partner has recently escaped from prison. Released in 1987; spawning a sequel 6-years later (the imaginatively titled Another Stakeout) the film is a curious blend of light comedy banter and violent action thriller. Indeed, the opening jailbreak sequence sets a tough, gritty tone that isn’t entirely in-step with the lasting feel of the piece. We know from Badham’s CV (Saturday Night Fever) that he has a knack for juxtaposing humour and lightness with grittier elements, and he continues that motif here.

The script (written by Jim Kouf) offers a certain amount of good fun. Some of the plot developments however, are the sort of things that only happen in films, but complaining about this in a mid-to-late 80’s action comedy is like moaning about sand on the beach. The good news is, Richard Dreyfuss brings his trademark sense of energy and knack for comic timing. Furthermore, he shares some enjoyable chemistry with Emilio Estevez as they play pranks and get up to no good on the job. They are, in essence, the embodiment of the man-child; boys bonding together while getting excited about naked women, as if they’ve never witnessed one before. Much of it is silly, some of it is mildly amusing.

It’s not long before things get complicated and the woman they are watching (Stowe) is brought into the plot. There are times when you feel the daftness is perhaps tilting too far to one side, but then the charisma of Dreyfuss redresses the balance. Madeleine Stowe isn’t given all that much to do outside of being ogled by Dreyfuss, but she is a pleasant screen presence, even if her character is slightly contradictory in some of her urges and reactions.

What is odd about Stakeout is that it flirts between being an amiable romp coupled with strong flashes of gritty action set-pieces and violence more akin to that of a Lethal Weapon adventure. These noticeable tonal jumps seem to clash with each other. In the end, the comedic elements end up being its final signature, and the warm chemistry of the leads make it worth hanging out with. 3/5 

Posted in Film Reviews, Action, Action-Comedy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Skeleton Twins (2014) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

The Skeleton Twins (2014) Directed by Craig Johnson. With Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joana Gleason.

skeleton-twins-poster

The pairing of Saturday Night Livers, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in any film has my immediate attention. Both have repeatedly tickled my funny bone over the past several years and the opportunity to see them playing brother and sister in a film they co-headline is too enticing a prospect to wait for. Hence, I rushed out and bought the new DVD straight away, knowing next-to-nothing about the overall tone. I was surprised.

Aside from its moments, this is a million miles from the Hader and Wiig we know and love. This is two gifted comics demonstrating a reservoir of talent that had been waiting in the wings. It is an introverted family drama about two estranged siblings, dealing with depression and anxiety. The come together through a near tragedy to pick up the pieces of their lives in an attempt to reconnect with their old selves. Between the gaps, magic happens.

Directed by Craig Johnson, (who also co-wrote the award-winning screenplay), aspects of the film reminded me of the Colin Firth film, A Single Man. Not only are there thematic and narrative similarities; like that film, there is also a dim undercurrent of sadness to it, yet here it is punctuated by the presence of two comic actors with the ability to prick the bubble of gloom at any given moment. For example, one scene in which Hader and Wiig lip-sync the 1980’s power-pop ballad ‘Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now’ is a moment of brilliance in which they both do what they do best. True story; my glasses steamed up and my smile ached during the sequence.

Make no mistake, though, we aren’t being asked to completely side with these characters. We’re allowed to gain an understanding and some empathy, at times, but ultimately the writing and performances are designed to show us people that we’d like to root for, but conversely, is at pains to point out how flawed and selfish they are; Wiig’s ill treatment of her husband (a puppy dog Luke Wilson), Hader’s dismissively judgemental overtones.

The Skeleton Twins is a far more emotionally complex and challenging watch than I had preconceived. I suspect many others will make a similar discovery. Upbeat battles downbeat throughout and in the end, they meet somewhere in the middle. All the while, Hader and Wiig are nothing short of sensational. 4/5

 

Posted in Drama, Drama Comedy, Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Begin Again (2013) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Begin Again (2013) Directed by John Carney. With Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, James Corden, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener.

mark-ruffalo-and-keira-knightley

After winning huge critical acclaim with his 2006 musical/romantic drama film, Once, writer/director John Carney returns to similar, albeit starrier ground with this New York-set story about a group of people brought together through a mutual love of music. In lesser hands, this is the sort of film that could easily fall by the wayside as an unremarkable star vehicle with some nice songs, sung by depressed pretty people. And while that description can be attributed to it, it summons enough character and warmth to help it rise well above the humdrum as a rewarding, gently uplifting experience.

The film has a head-start, in as much as the excellent Mark Ruffalo co-stars as Dan, a down-on-his-luck music producer who stumbles drunk into a bar one evening to discover Keira Knightley playing a song on her acoustic guitar at an open-mic night. Ruffalo brings all of his natural charisma and charm in a performance that would perhaps add an extra star on any review, just for him being there.

Opposite Ruffalo is a prickly Knightley, who demonstrates another side to her talent as singer/songwriter, Gretta. Firstly, the songs themselves are actually quite beautiful and Knightley doesn’t let the side down. The contrary, she captures the essence of the frustrated, yet single-minded musician while holding her own on lead vocals (the songs are pre-recorded). This is a film full of people stepping outside of their comfort zones. Adam Levine, the lead singer of rock band Maroon 5, plays a prominent dramatic role as Knightley’s on/off boyfriend. His performance is capable, and his presence as an accomplished musician adds a layer of authenticity to the film that allows him to successfully walk the delicate tightrope of rock-star turned-actor.

The cinematography captures a sense of personality of New York City, as opposed to the overused glossy magazine cover style shots of the Chrysler Building and Central Park. Carney opts for an impression of a muddled city, ripe for creativity. It is more organic than we’re typically used to seeing. Woody Allen would approve. Ultimately, Begin Again is a film about relationships through music. The relationship of film and music is a long and fruitful one. We have another little gem to add to the playlist. 4/5

Posted in Drama Musical, Film Reviews, Musical | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Chef (2014) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Chef (2014) Directed by Jon Favreau. With Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt and Robert Downey Jr.

chef-movie

If you like great food, Latin jazz and a smile on your face, look no further than writer, director, lead actor Jon Favreau’s Chef, a big hearted little film about a talented Los Angeles cook taking on the world with his passion for all things cuisine. In the past several years, Favreau has made a name for himself as a director of mainstream Hollywood blockbusters; playing a pivotal role in setting up the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his 2008 smash hit, Iron Man. With Chef, he dials down the scale but if anything, strengthens the heartbeat with a film that is essentially about love and friendship conquering all. What’s not to like about that!?

Of course, Hollywood is a graveyard of forgettable fare about love and friendship. The idea has automatic mass appeal, but so often, the execution is either too saccharine or flimsy to genuinely register. Not so here. For starters, Favreau assembles a cast that would give the Avengers a run for their money (two of them are here), which immediately grabs our attention. Furthermore, it is full of confidence and purpose, even though after 30 mins it’s still unclear if the plot is actually going anywhere. Such is chemistry and likeability of everyone involved, that we’re just happy to be in their company.

It is also a testament to Favreau as an actors director. The people he works with clearly love him, and he gets the absolute best out of them all. As a result, the film is piled high with fine performances, led winningly by Favreau himself. His central character is the sort of guy you wish you knew; full of passion and drive, but without losing the humanity that can often be sacrificed at the alter of success. Through him, the film has spring in its step the like of which I haven’t seen for a while. It is beautiful in the basic sense that it aims to lift you up and make you feel good.

John Leguizamo is also superb in a supporting role, as is young actor, Emjay Anthony, playing Favreau’s son, Percy. Their scenes together are a joy. The son/father Twitter lesson, the father/son cooking lessons. There is so much goodwill here, you’re waiting for something sad to happen, yet the film fights hard to beat back the melancholy at nearly every stage, flooding each scene with an array of upbeat music ranging from jazz to New Orleans blues.

Chef is a lot of fun. It lives as two films. One, about a man with a rare gift, shackled by the constraints of the business world. Another, a joyous road movie about setting yourself free and rediscovering your life and passion. On paper, that kind of description can sound naff, but Jon Favreau has poured a lot of love into this project and it has all come out pure. Don’t watch it on an empty stomach. 4/5

Posted in Drama, Drama Comedy, Film Reviews, Road Movie | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A Lonely Place to Die (2011) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

A Lonely Place to Die (2011) Directed by Julian Gibley. With Melissa George, Ed Speleers, Alec Newman, Kate Magowan, Sean Harris and Karel Roden.

618w_lonely_place_to_die_poster

Imagine Deliverance meets Cliffhanger, with a hint of Ransom and you should arrive somewhere near A Lonely Place to Die. Julian Gibley directs and co-writes with his brother Will; a story about a team of mountaineers in the Scottish Highlands who unwittingly stumble into a dangerous situation forcing them into a fight for survival against more than just rocks and bad weather.

I’m not taking anything away from Gibley when I say this, but you’d have to be an awful director to make the Scottish Highlands look bad. Short of forgetting to turn the camera on, I’m not sure how you’d manage it. Despite the grey skies and clouds, it’s one of the most breathtaking places in the world. It’d look good if you filmed it on a potato. The film begins with sweeping panoramic shots of the landscape, essentially introducing us to what will be a key character in the piece.

On the subject of key characters, Melissa George cuts an impressive lead with a sturdy performance, reminiscent in more ways than one of Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. Her emergence as an actress since her days on Australian soap opera Home and Away hasn’t been as stratospheric as say, Margot Robbie or Guy Pearce (both Neighbours I realise nit-pickers) but she is nevertheless a fine actress with good screen presence. For a film that is essentially about thrills, spills and plot twists, she does a first rate job of brining a sense of humanity and character depth. You feel the film is lucky to have her.

There are some surprisingly violent moments, as well as upsetting themes of child abuse and kidnap. While the elements provide a gritty toughness,  they might also distance some viewers from being able to sit back and and ‘enjoy’ the film in the more traditional sense.

A Lonely Place to Die is very much a film of two halves, the first half being by far the more impressive. It reverts to type fairly early on, but once it moves away from the natural environments, it becomes just another ‘edge-of-seat’ thriller, as opposed to a thriller on the best film-set in the world. 3/5

Posted in Film Reviews, Survival, Thriller | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments