White Palace (1990) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

White Palace (1990) Directed by Luis Mandoki. With James Spader, Susan Sarandon, Jason Alexander, Eileen Brennan and Kathy Bates. 

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Adapted from Glenn Savan’s original novel by the screenwriting duo of Ted Tally and Alvin Sargent, White Palace is an absorbing romantic-drama that portrays loss, lust and love (in that order) in a way that shuns the pizzazz of Pretty Woman (released the same year) in favour of a grounded maturity that is given the kiss of life by its two leads, James Spader and Susan Sarandon.

Spader and Sarandon make for an unlikely, albeit delightfully mismatched screen couple, struggling to deal with their own personal tragedies. Spader’s Max comes from education and money, whereas Sarandon’s Nora struggles as a diner waitress living in semi-squalor. Their worlds could not be further apart – the chasm so often being fertile ground for love to grow.

As the Marylin Monroe-obsessed Nora, Susan Sarandon is excellent, giving an intelligent performance imbued with a keen sharpness of wit. The beauty of Sarandon often stems from the realness she’s able to convey, which doesn’t always strive to make us like her characters. Here is no different – Nora’s acid-tongued take-down of a complete stranger seems cruel, and her insecurities are often a result of her own preconceptions, yet somehow, Sarandon’s strengths and vulnerabilities make her appealing, even with a side-order of selfish.

Max, on the other hand, is less complicated and more direct. James Spader is often overlooked for not being a bigger part of the mainstream, but White Palace reminds us what a fine actor he can be, as he emits a collected warmth that allows space for Sarandon’s more volatile turns.

In the years that have passed, it seems unfair that White Palace has been largely disregarded by distributers and TV-networks. Perhaps it is hamstrung in that grief is a hard sell, and that it doesn’t front-load glamour. What it does manage to be, though, is a beautifully rewarding piece of semi-mainstream romance anchored by two superb central performances. 4/5

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Badlands (1973) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Badlands (1973) Directed by Terrence Malick. With Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. 

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With Badlands, writer-director Terrence Malick captures a sense of America’s past that speaks to the soul, potently webbing together nature, humanity and the beautifully insane chaos that goes along with it. Alongside, it’s an involving story of love on the run, told from the perspective of an adolescent girl’s misadventure into the unknown – part accomplice, part victim to Kit, a charismatic, single-minded young man with an itchy trigger finger.

Between the use of music and Malick’s stirring encapsulation of a time and place, Badlands is a film that is capable of taking you away from the humdrum. The melting pot of nature and humanity fuse together to produce a dangerous tone that feels seconds away from disaster at any given moment. But it’s also life-affirming, in the strangest and most oddly pronounced way, that you can’t help but fall in love with the blind romanticism that it so fondly exerts.

As Kit, Martin Sheen seduces not only his young muse, but also the audience with his James Dean-inspired, laconic style, which is punctuated by a raging passion born of the need to love and be loved, whatever the cost. As Holly, Sissy Spacek narrates heaven-sent dialogue that is coloured by an affecting innocence and further accompanied by images that remind you why it’s good to be alive. An absolute, unquestionable masterpiece. 5/5

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Premium Rush (2012) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Premium Rush (2012) Directed by David Koepp. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon.

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As titles go, Premium Rush is a fairly generic one, which could partly explain why I hadn’t heard of it before it unceremoniously plopped into my Netflix stream last week. Now if they’d called it Google Maps: The Movie (actually a better fit) for better or worse, my recollection would’ve been clear.

Directed and co-written by David Koepp, the film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Wilee, a New York City bike messenger who gets a job to deliver an important envelope of across the ‘death maze’ of rush hour Manhattan. We’re immediately at street level with JGL, winding and weaving between the familiar sight of yellow cabs to the sound of honking horns, as the film aims to establish a pace it intends to maintain. And so, for about 20-odd-minuites, it succeeds, but with a growing sense of inevitability that it will tire and become clichéd, which is exactly what happens.

Koepp attempts to add style on top of energy; we get Google maps style cutaways to mark the routes along with alternate eventualities that play out in Gordon-Levitt’s head as he speeds through perilous areas of the city, some of which are hilariously disastrous.

Michael Shannon’s presence in a one note bad-guy role that only asks him to rant and rave makes you wonder if he owed Koepp a favour, much in the same way his character owes life-threatening quantities of gambling debt to backstreet crime syndicate. He’s good enough, but you can’t help puzzling why he’s here.

While it opts for a non linear approach to storytelling, Premium Rush is as straightforward as they come. The NYC setting allows it to remain busy, but ironically, the final third seems to drag along at a snails pace. 2.5/5

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Welcome to Me (2014) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Welcome to Me (2014) Directed by Shira Piven. With Kristen Wiig, Wes Bentley, James Marsden and Tim Robbins. 

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Kristen Wiig deserves credit for making unconventional career choices, despite those choices not always providing the best platform for her talent. Bridesmaids was Wiig’s graduation from SNL to the multiplexes, but her path since then has led toward more offbeat, challenging films like The Skeleton Twins, and now, Welcome to Me, in which Wiig plays Alice Klieg, a woman with borderline personality disorder who wins $86m on the lottery and decides to spend her wealth on becoming the new Oprah Winfrey.

On paper, it sounds hilarious, which acts as an elephant in the room from the very beginning. Directed by Shira Piven, the film has a noticeably uneven tone, prompting the audience to wonder if they have the licence to laugh. I found myself pondering if this was an intentional reflection of the central character’s muddled mind. In truth, it isn’t clear.

What is clear, is Wiig’s commitment to a role that asks a lot of her (add one awkward moment of full-frontal nudity to many others) as she’s supported by a fine cast of familiars like Tim Robbins and her psychiatrist, and Wes Bentley and James Marsden as morally dubious TV producers.

While the humour might be too offbeat for many, it’s hard to deny that Welcome to Me isn’t without merit. The central gag is that of surrealism invading the structured world of television broadcasting, a joke that I personally enjoyed. It might aim to tie a neater bow than people drawn to the material would like, but you are allowed to laugh. That said, you might want to choose carefully who you recommend it to. 3.5/5

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Emelie (2015) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Emelie (2015) Directed by Michael Thelin. With Sarah Bolger, Chris Beetem, Joshua Rush, Carly Adams and Elizabeth Jayne. 

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As a man with no children, sat in my living room feeling tense and uncomfortable in the company of Michael Thelin’s taught horror-thriller, Emelie, I found myself wondering what I might feel like if I was a father of three, out for the night with his wife seeing the same film at cinema, knowing the kids were home being ‘looked after’ by the babysitter. I suppose it’d be a bit like watching Die Hard 2 on an aeroplane…only about twenty times worse. Listen up parents – if you found Rebecca De Mornay hard to swallow in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, trust meyou don’t need introducing to Sarah Bolger as Emelie.

Film director, David Fincher, has previously talked about “films that scar” – films like Jaws and Psycho. Well David, add Emelie to your list. The film opens in disturbing fashion, setting a threatening tone that intensifies as events quickly take their course. It’s the sort of film you watch, seemingly aware of what awaits, yet still, catches you unprepared for the onslaught of upsetting moments that prevail.

Tonally, it’s shot with a gloomy, under-lit aesthetic that brings home a depressing reinforcement of the darkness that lives in the centre of its warped heart. Structurally, it offers little new to a genre that has trod similar turf in slightly different shoes, and while Sarah Bolger’s Emelie will never attain the iconic status of Glenn Close’s famous bunny boiler – in terms of overall nastiness, she surpasses her with ease.

In summary, away from blood, guts and ghouls, Emelie is a film that offers genuine horrors. So much so, that it’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re actually enjoying yourself. To say ‘it isn’t for everyone’ might be an understatement. Oh, and hamster lovers pay attention – never watch this film. Ever. Just don’t. Ok? 3.5/5

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Steve Jobs (2015) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Steve Jobs (2015) Directed by Danny Boyle. With Michael Fassbender, Kate WInslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels. 

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Danny Boyle’s take on Steve Jobs is an artfully constructed piece that showcases the visionary behind Apple inc as a flawed human being, as he attempts to change the world with his revolutionary ideas for home computing and beyond. Michael Fassbender conveys Jobs as a passionate, stubborn, hungry, talented, arrogant, self-centred and emotionally shipwrecked person. A man with such belief in his own foresight, that he was happy to align himself with the greatest and most iconic of achievers, way before the boom days of the digital age and all the i-products that are now a significant part of our daily lives.

The film is separated into three acts (1984, 1988, and 1998), all of which take place 30-some minutes before Jobs takes the stage to unveil new technology to the waiting press and public. So it is that we meet Steve Jobs under the most intense pressure, which in a way, is a good swerve away from having to tackle who the day-to-day Steve Jobs really is. We get the occasional flashback, which show a brief glimpse of a more measured mind, but on the whole, we’re privy to stress and family disputes, that are accompanied by a bombardment of professional clashes and backbiting from people Jobs relies on/combats at every turn.

The one person to bring stability to Jobs’ world is his loyal assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet). Hoffman is the vocalisation of Jobs’ conscience, and she’s the glue that keeps his world from breaking apart. If the film is anything to go by, there can be no doubt that his achievements are in large part also hers.

Danny Boyle’s film has a distinctly theatrical resonance, which is emphasised by the way that each act culminates in its subject performing on stage. The drama occurs at a behind the scenes setting, and this juxtaposition only serves to strengthen the feeling of being given a backstage pass into Jobs’s world. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s novel is as dense as you’d expect, giving Michael Fassbender the floorspace to create a word-heavy version of a man whose ambition and vision fought a raging battle with his attempts to be a real human being. It shouldn’t go without saying that Fassbender gives yet another monumental performance in a role that demands a lot.

Ultimately, the film chooses to portray Steve Jobs as the father of two offspring; Apple Macintoch, and a little girl called Lisa. He doesn’t enjoy the smoothest relationship with either of them, but by the end, we’re fairly sure he loves them both evenly. 4/5

 

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The Intern (2015) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

The Intern (2015) Directed by Nancy Meyers. With Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway and Rene Russo. 

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Nancy Meyers’ latest relationship comedy-drama, The Intern, pairs the unlikely duo of Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway to surprisingly feelgood effect. With an array of New York establishing shots and a breezy feel that invokes any number of workaday rom-coms, you’d be forgiven for assuming a play of the same old beats. Pleasingly, it’s set slightly apart from by field, opertaing as a mainstream piece about the forming of unconventional friendships, while strongly pronouncing that conventionality itself is what often makes life such a drag.

De Niro plays Ben, a retired 70-year-old widower, eager to keep life busy, and thus, happens across the opportunity to work as a senior intern at a spirited young fashion company set up by an entrepreneurial Anne Hathaway.

Through De Niro’s Ben, Meyers’ script yearns for the men of yesteryear as Hathaway’s Jules opines – How, in one generation, have men gone from guys like jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford to…” – this is asked as she’s surrounded by three t-shirt-wearing, bearded twenty-something tech geeks. Of course, it’s a rose-tinted view that eschews a lot to appeal to a way of thiking that fits the statement of the piece. This is, of course, about a point of perspective, based more on a commentary of the times. It’s easy to say that men of a certain time have more class and taste, the truth of the matter (if there is any) is far more complex.

With De Niro and Hathaway, there’s a heartfelt sense of two people that are great friends. Moments of silliness occasionally threaten to undermine the good work, but they are thankfully few. Happily, The Intern is a film that, thanks to its engaging leads, brings home a lot of warmth. 3.5/5

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