Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Before I Go To Sleep – Zzzzz

Someone’s really kidding themselves with ‘Before I Go To Sleep’.

Adapted from S. J. Watson's novel of the same name, BIGTS sees Nicole Kidman waking up terrified one morning in bed with Colin Firth. Colin Firth, however, reveals himself as Ben, her husband . . . of fourteen years. Turns out poor old Nicole has some strange form of amnesia that leaves her waking up every morning having forgotten the previous days events.

The stage is set for a twisty psychological thriller about trust, or the lack thereof, and adult relationships. But, Rowan Joffe (director) never really delivers. The two leads, while both fine actors, are hopelessly miscast. I know typecasts should be subverted, but really? And, I feel ashamed to say it, but they’re both too old for their roles. There’s an interesting movie to be made about middle-aged relationships, but the script screams of youthful naivety . . . that Kidman and Firth simply can’t deliver.

Mark Strong, on the other hand, does a solid job delivering the increasingly creepy diagnoses of amnesia-specialist, Dr. Nash, and he provides a few moments of clarity in an otherwise cluttered and messy movie.

Why they chose to dress up what is ultimately a trashy thriller as something distinctly more high-brow has me confused. I never saw anyone but Kidman and Firth on-screen and even Mark Strong was still just Mark Strong.

There’s a decent movie to be made from this source, but this isn’t it. In truth, maybe they should’ve just given it to David Fincher . . . 


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Pride – A Real Crowd-Pleaser

I must admit that, for all the amazing word-of-mouth support for ‘Pride’, I wasn’t convinced. And thus, I expected the movie to pass from theatres without my attendance. But, the powers that be had a different plan and called me in to steward a 9pm screening of, you guessed it . . . Pride. A packed house seated, I joined them for two of the most life-affirming hours I’ve had in a cinema for a good long while.

Honestly, believe the hype; Pride is fab! It’s a vital piece of British history known by too few (certainly of my generation) and its charms are infectious.

It chronicles the plight of a small group of gays and lesbians who decide that the enemy of their enemy is their friend and band together to support the miners in their fight against Thatcher’s iron fist. Their support finds them in tow with a small mining town in rural South Wales but, as expected, not all of the locals appreciate the help.

To lead the charge, Matthew Warchus (director) has assembled an ensemble cast of British thesps unmatched since the Harry Potter years. Paddy Considine is on particularly fine form and it’s great to see him back on the big screen, after what seems like a considerable absence*. Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton are also reliably exceptional as the village elders, as are Dominic West and Andrew Scott (Moriaty’s backstory’s kind of complex, right?) as a chalk and cheese gay couple. Also, a big shout out to Joseph Gilgun who is quite simply one of the best young British actors working today.

Speaking of Gilgun, on a number of occasions, Pride reminded me of the more joyous moments of Shane Meadow’s seminal work, ‘This is England’ (both the movie and the TV series), in it’s heart-breaking portrait of a particular sub-section of 80s youth culture. And, let me assure you, that’s high praise indeed.

Warchus ensures it isn’t all plain-sailing, however – even if he doesn’t quite sink to the horrendous lows of the truth – but, above all, he delivers a barnstorming crowd-pleaser. An exceptional cast and an exquisitely measured balance of comedy and drama ensure that Pride will linger long in the memory come awards season.


*’seems’ being the key word here. He, of course, had a sizeable role in last year’s ‘The World’s End’.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Gone Girl – American Psychos

With ‘Gone Girl’, Gillian Flynn (screenwriter, and author of the original novel) and David Fincher (director) hold up the most shameful of mirrors for us to each take a long hard stare at ourselves, at the people we care about and, most importantly, at our society. So it may be unnerving to know that what you see staring back at you belongs in the depths of hell . . . and it shall never be unseen.

The writer-director team combine perfectly to create a totally insane movie-going experience that sees Fincher at his demented best and marks Flynn out as a major talent.

Five years of marriage has come to this. On the day of their anniversary, Amy (Rosamund Pike, in a career-defining role) goes missing, leaving her loving husband, Nick (the equally fantastic Ben Affleck), behind to lead the search. But, as you may already know, things go sour . . . and then some.

Fincher and Flynn take us on a relentless ride through the terrifying world of 21st century sensationalist media. We see public opinion spasming from one extreme to the other; crashing the weight of the world onto our characters’ shoulders and then drowning them to relieve the stress.

The film lifts the lid on the darkest depths of modern life. On the fact that no one can live a life free of lies and hate, how we’re all forced to play a role in some kind of twisted reality. A world where you’re brutally punished for being yourself and a misplaced smile can destroy you.

The first hour, in particular, is truly sublime as Fincher fulfills our voyeuristic desires and lets us peek behind the curtain, unlike the cavalry of news vans banished to the curb. This section of the movie then culminates in a breathlessly paced reveal that will leave you short of breath and dizzy with the macabre truth.

This marks the high-point and things begin to slow down from there on out. The drama becomes somewhat subdued, but it soon becomes apparent that it’s just a front for the underlying mania . . .

To swell . . .

And burst . . .

The delirium begins, and the final act tears through the remaining story wildly, leaving out key moments with infuriating results. However, the bewildering narrative-jumps mellow into a sense of chilling unease that lingers right through to the final scene.

Gone Girl is an ever-fascinating, if nihilistic, portrait of 21st century life. It will change the way you look at your loved ones and it will change the way you look at yourself.

Shakespeare said it better than I ever could, ‘all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players’ . . . and what an intoxicating play it is.


Monday, 6 October 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey – Culinary Charmer

Just some news on the life front . . .

Uni's going great and it's so refreshing to finally be studying something I feel truly passionately about.

Secondly, I've just signed up to volunteer at the rather fabulous Ultimate Picture Palace. Which should mean I can finally review a decent number of new(ish) releases; this being the first.

And hopefully it'll challenge me to review a few movies I would never normally watch, so be prepared for a bit of everything.

P.s. If you ever find yourself in Oxford, please drop by the UPP. It's a really wonderful venue and to pack out a Saturday evening screening of The Hundred-Foot Journey this far into its run was amazing to see. Support your local indie cinemas, folks!


Gorgeous scenery and luscious food are the stars of the show in this culinary charmer from director Lasse Hallstrom.

Om Puri stars as the patriarch of an Indian family who up sticks to Europe when their family restaurant is destroyed in a political riot. The family soon settle in the French countryside and it isn’t long before they open up the town’s first ever Indian restaurant . . . one hundred feet from a Michelin-starred establishment owned by the fiercely competitive Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Suffice to say, the stage is set for an epic battle of the dishes.

Fortunately, the tragic memory of India rarely seems to linger on the family, who get on with their business without a care in the world. The same can’t be said for Hallstrom, however, as he proves far less forgetful. There are a number of instances where he breaks up the party with a politically-charged outburst . . . for no particular reason. They may have worked in a more sincere drama, but here they just feel uncomfortable.

Which is shame because the culture-clash fluff that makes up the rest of the movie is really rather fun. Hallstrom shoots the cooking scenes like some kind of mega-budget cooking show, complete with slow-motion egg cracking. And, while the dramatic beats may be predictable, they’re effective.

The whole thing could have done with fewer courses (about half an hours-worth), but the performances are on-point and the comedy’s warm and cuddly . . . when there aren’t political activists blowing things up. And tying the whole thing together are some beautiful visuals that really accent the vivid colours of both the French countryside and the ruby red peppers.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Once – Shivers

I have a rule when rating movies that I never give anything a ten on a first viewing. It’s only if the film can stand up to multiple viewings that it takes the step up. ‘Once’ is my first ever exception to that rule. It truly is one of the most wonderful films I’ve ever seen.

John Carney’s (director) debut feature tells the story of an immensely talented, but hopelessly unsuccessful, busker (Glen Hansard) on the streets of Dublin, who dreams of making music for a living. Then along comes a street-level flower salesman (Marketa Irglova), who’s the first person to stop and really listen to his music. Her interest sparks something inside him and the two of them spend the coming weeks composing and recording a set of songs together.

Watching the magic unfold really is beautiful, and the collection of songs – most of them written by the two leads – are fabulous. Even on their own, it would be one heck of an album, but given the pathos of the two leads and the charms of the movie as a whole, the songs are elevated to a higher art. Music has never felt so good.

Even the student film production values feel perfect. The whole piece feels low-fi and, as a result, immensely accessible. The cast are also excellent, in particular Hansard who gives a deftly poignant performance as the lost soul at the centre of it all.

Not only is ‘Once’ a great collection of songs and a beautiful love story but it’s also an ode to artists everywhere. Queue it up on Netflix and let it wash over you for 90 minutes, you’ll come out feeling cleansed and ready for anything that life can throw at you.