Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool review

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a deeply moving story tracing the relationship between Peter Turner, a young Liverpudlian actor, and Gloria Grahame, an aging Hollywood star. Adapted from Turner’s memoir of the same name by Paul McGuigan, the film is a portrait of sincere companionship and unexpected romance, featuring Annette Bening in a career-best performance.

McGuigan’s film is charismatic, capturing the surreal glamour of Hollywood with clever visuals, and the immense complexity of Gloria Grahame, an Oscar-winning actress who, in 1981, was coming to the end of her life. Gloria’s character – brilliantly funny, entirely self-aware, and quietly vulnerable – is celebrated in this biopic; a film that is at times great fun, and at others undeniably sad.

Director McGuigan seamlessly weaves scenes together in an unconventional mode of storytelling, intelligently playing with the chronology of the story that charts the pair’s unique love. Grahame’s relationship with Turner – a man who was 20 years her junior – is the focus of the film, but beyond this surface story McGuigan focuses in on the idea of one person giving another a sense of home in a way that feels so familiar, so honest, and as a viewer involves you entirely.

Jamie Bell stars alongside Bening and the pair share a searing chemistry; not only depicting a deep romantic connection, but a sense of friendship often amiss in stories of this kind. The fact that this tale is true of course makes the emotional impact heavier, but McGuigan’s genteel exploration of Turner and Grahame’s relationship gives the film a sensitive quality that is genuinely effecting and totally absorbing.

The support cast are reliably brilliant, bringing in Stephen Graham and Julie Walters, alongside a swift, but no less memorable, appearance from Vanessa Redgrave. It’s not the star power that propels the film to great heights though, it’s the modes of storytelling McGuigan deploys to bring this compelling experience in Turner’s life to the screen.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a terrific feature which tells a truly fascinating story of life, love and death, and one that explores its characters with brilliant warmth. Simply fantastic.


Straight Outta Compton, review

You don’t have to like rap music to enjoy F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton. While an aversion to the genre might have some kind of sway on your initial choice of whether or not you should endeavour to see this film the movie, which stars an ensemble of incredible talent, isn’t just about the notorious N.W.A group. It’s about race, violence, society, and the somewhat corrupt music industry told through the lens of Gray from the perspective of three men who helped to shape rap. What those audience members didn’t previously know – at least in such intricate detail – was the impact that Eric ‘Eazy E’ Wright, Andre ‘Dr Dre’ Young, Ice Cube (and in fact the whole of N.W.A) had on how the rest of the world saw the treatment of lower-class America in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Their songs contained profanity and explored themes of police brutality, they were met with hesitation from authorities and threats from the FBI, but N.W.A lifted the lid on life in Compton and gave others a voice, too; this is why Straight Outta Compton is so important.

The film begins pre super-stardom, set in Compton where if you’re black and stood on a corner of a street you’ll (apparently) be arrested for gang-banging. The opinion the feature has of police is clearly a negative one, but, as you discover as a spectator, rightly so. The first half or so is focused on creating a clear divide between N.W.A and the law, which stems from before Ice Cube penned the now infamous track Fuck Tha Police. You quickly get on-board with the foul-mouthed song as you learn that Ice Cube, Dre and many, many more young black men were the subject of racial police prejudice. The political side of Gray’s film is prominent, but not extreme as it hovers in the background when appropriate with writers Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff aware of possibly alienating audiences. The script is sensational; Insightful, emotional, and surprisingly witty, Herman and Berloff provided Straight Outta Compton with a screenplay that, had it landed in the wrong hands, could of been delivered ignorant and uninteresting. Even the 147 minute run-time isn’t an issue with Gray taking his time to carefully explore all angles of the life of N.W.A from the viewpoint of all three main hitters. With enough revelations to keep its audience pleased and a perfect fusion of life as a musician to life as a friend, son and husband, the feature is one of the best biopics of the last ten years. Who woulda’ thunk it?

The score speaks for itself, too. With non-diegetic music from the likes of Funkadelic and Parliment that produce 80’s nostalgia in the early moments of the feature; and live-music scenes recreated to perfection that create this sense of total awe; to Snoop Dogg coming in on Nuthin’ but a G Thang for the first time – it’s these individual junctures that ignite delight among the watching audience who were drawn in for the music legend. The actors who play the N.W.A founders: Jason Mitchel as Eazy, Ice Cube’s own son O’Shea Jackson and Corey Hawkins as Dre, deserve undeniable acclaim. The chemistry between the trio is brimming with brotherhood in the early years and charged when the lawsuit years begin, with not a music-biopic cliche insight. Eyes are opened wide when it comes to Eazy E as you walk away with Mitchel’s performance firmly in mind and Jackson is a complete revelation, channeling raw anger alongside this streak of sensibility – expect to see his career blow-up.

The cast of Straight Outta Compton

The cast of Straight Outta Compton

When the feature was initially released there was this slight controversy around the brushing over of certain behaviour, mainly towards the treatment of women. Most critics agreed this was a detail that is totally unpleasant but that if you watch the film and truly believe these young rappers were innocent you’re highly misguided. Straight Outta Compton is first and foremost about the birth of talented musicians and the rise (and fall) of those, and while every moment in those 10 or so years isn’t seen on-screen, the director and his producers (Dre, Cube and Tomica Woods-Wright) don’t shy away from the more shocking aspects of life as an N.W.A member. From hotel orgies and an arsenal of guns on a tour bus, to gang-bangers responsible for family deaths and Suge Knight’s psychotic behaviour at Death Row Records (Which Dre apparently overlooked for some time), this isn’t a rose-tinted overview of rap super-stardom. If anything, this is a tale that constantly reminds viewers (as if the title wasn’t enough) that Wright, Young and Cube didn’t forget their heritage and the effect of Compton on young men. The feature isn’t flawless and clearly not entirely accurate, but Gray attentively portrays key events with such thought,  including Eazy E’s death and the Rodney King trial – all of the while with Compton roots in mind.

Straight Outta Compton could of become a completely fallacious biopic were Dre and Cube not attached to the making of it. Gray directs with ease and a visual edge that depicts the changing of decades appropriately while an intelligent and Oscar-worthy screenplay and an ensemble who not only look like the real deal but clearly studied their characters to the highest extent possible support him. Dre, Eazy E, Ice Cube, and their story of revolutionary rap music is done total justice.

The Theory Of Everything, review

Carefully directed and sensitively handled, The Theory Of Everything is the story of Professor Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane Wilde. Charting their romance, the film positions the audience with both as we are allowed a close look into their marriage, and more specifically, Stephen’s diagnosis and following years with Motor Neurone Disease.

Directed by James Marsh, who you may be more familiar with on a documentary basis (for Man on Wire), and starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones (as Mr and Mrs Hawking) the film focuses on the romance and marriage of Jane and Stephen who met in Cambridge during the 1960’s. Beginning before Stephen’s diagnosis, Marsh takes a comfortable twenty minutes or so to portray these two as individuals meaning for the next 100 minutes (approximately) the audience are intrigued to have an insight into both people. Cleverly interjecting Hawking’s  career as a renowned physicist and his life at home The Theory Of Everything takes the audience on an emotional true story that relays the inspiring life of two intelligent, brave people.

felicity jones and eddie redmayne as jane and stephen in the theory of everything

Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne as Jane and Stephen in the theory of everything

Eddie Redmayne is spectacularly good as Professor Stephen Hawking, embodying his mannerisms and well-known streak of humour with an incredible realism. Although seen in acclaimed films such as Les Mis before this, the actors power on screen was yet to be fully realised – now, we are all aware of the talent Redmayne possesses, and to take on the duty of portraying a man such as Hawking, who has had such an astounding – yet difficult – life, is an impressive feat in itself. Redmayne makes Hawking a favoured man with audiences, and for the first time we find ourselves wholly inquisitive about his personal, rather than professional, life.

Accompanying Redmayne is Felicity Jones. Again, an actress who has glimmered with spark in previous characters, but here comes to life as Jane Wilde. Jones demonstrates to the audience the strength of Mrs Hawking, a woman who cared for Stephen through the toughest years of his life. With her own story here, those watching learn who Jane really is – a keen reader, a talented singer, adoring mother and loving wife and friend to Hawking. If you are going in blind with this film (and aren’t the most knowledgeable when it comes to the life and career of Hawking) then like me you will be compelled to learn more about these two come the end. Their life together, displayed here on screen in an attentive and compelling way, is such an intriguing story and one which is a pleasure to be educated on.

While not everyone will find themselves interested in the physics side of this film (after all it is a very complex field, and I found myself one or twice thinking ‘Whaaaaa?‘) Marsh uses simple yet effective visual imagery to demonstrate Hawking’s ideas and epiphanies to those watching, and these ideas while important to the story, never become the overhanging point; the focus is Jane and Stephen, and that is clear throughout. There are one or two stand-out scenes, and these need a warning: bring tissues. Beyond this, the script also deserves a moment of appreciation. Penned by Anthony McCarten the dialogue is never unnecessarily dramatized and stays realistically conversational, with the odd moment of humour that helps to remind you that this is a character-driven film. Simple yet effective seems to be the running theme for both McCarten and Marsh.

Generally a strong picture, at times it feels a little over-long. Some scenes overstay their welcome, but are generally outnumbered by ones of immense force and an emotional insight into the Hawking family. David Thewlis adds great support as Dennis Sciama, Hawkings mentor, teacher and friend and the addition of several other cast members (including Christian McKay and Simon McBurney) help to further push this film into the territory of greatness. With only a few weaknesses, James Marsh should certainly be proud of this moving and riveting biopic based on one of the greatest scientists (and obvious to audiences now) down-to-earth and inspiring men – Professor Stephen Hawking – the world has ever seen.

Dallas Buyers Club, review

Released late 2013 and winner of three Academy Awards Jean-Marc Vallee’s critically acclaimed Dallas Buyers Club is a biopic of sorts, charting the real-life story of Ron Woodroof (portrayed wonderfully by Matthew McConaughey) wh0, when diagnosed with AIDS, takes treatment for not only him but other sufferers into his own hands. The film, at 116 minutes, is tough at times – prepare for real emotion and some mixed feelings when it comes to Woodroof. This is such an important story to tell and despite potential difficulties is essential viewing. Lifting the lid on AIDS Vallee takes the stance of a non-judgmental director, its up to you how you feel about Woodroof and his controversial lifestyle, but one thing is for certain – you care, and you feel sympathy for what people with this illness had to go through before helpful treatments became accessible (a light is also shined on the prejudice they unjustly received).

Set in 1985 when these real-life events took place we are positioned with Ron, a man who leads a lifestyle of hard drug use, gambling and precarious sexual endeavors. Having suffered from several blackouts and then an accident at work Woodroof is told he has AIDS and is given thirty days to get his affairs in order before his illness will kill him. Refusing to accept this horrible diagnoses he takes part in a drug test for AZT (which at that time was one of the only drugs approved to treat AIDS in America). Shortly after Woodroof meets various other sufferers including the charismatic and rather beautiful Rayon, a transgender male. Rayon, played by Jared Leto (unbelievably good in this role) is a juxtaposition to Woodroof, and is due credit to the change in Ron’s attitude to life, and a change in his morals which is highlighted throughout the course of the film. The majority of Buyers Club focuses on Ron’s illegal drug trade (he smuggles in ddc and peptide T, both of which improved his health) which helped to prolong the lives of many AIDS patients as well as his own (Ron lived for seven years after his diagnosis was originally given to him). Interestingly, it is the medical system in America that seems to be under attack rather than Woodroof’s initial lifestyle choices.

The most intriguing element to this riveting true story is the relationship between Ron and Rayon. Leto plays the latter with a sterling heart and love for life; unafraid to be different. Leto’s performance lends to some heartrending moments, and one of the best performances (if not THE best of 2013) which deservedly led to him winning Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. McConaughey’s onscreen chemistry with Leto is wonderful at times, these two are a pair that couldn’t be further apart but during the course of the film they help each other in an array of ways which leads to a strong friendship. Rayon in particular changes Woodroof’s opinions on homosexuality for the better which is best exemplified in a scene in a supermarket; A man Ron knows verbally insults Rayon which leads to a fight because of Woodroofs refusal to accept what he has just heard. It is at this moment that you know there is a heart somewhere in Ron, but perhaps he has just been too afraid to show it.

promotional still for dallas buyers club

promotional still for dallas buyers club

McConaughey is a treasure as the protagonist of the film in a physically and emotionally demanding role (he lost three stone in weight to portray Ron at his most frail), never overplaying as someone who has a tremendous change of perspective (going from a man who is not particularly likeable to someone who cares for others more then he does himself). He also plays Ron with a charismatic charm about him – even in his darkest moments he still cracks a smart comment or some kind of joke. McConaughey and Vallee are never judging Woodroof, who certainly behaved in ways which could be looked down upon, its up to those watching what viewpoint they end on. Supporting the two main actors is Jennifer Garner, an actress who is often overshadowed or perhaps forgotten for the roles she plays but steals the scenes she is in because of her fragility and kindness. Those two things are adopted as she embodies Dr. Eve Saks, a woman who refused to quietly ignore the wrongdoings of the American medical system at that time.

The whole film is full of tender moments which are often challenged by ones of the harsh reality of what these people were dealing with. Humanity and friendship are of great significance in Dallas Buyers Club and the relationships played out are touching to watch and heartbreaking to see end. A particular scene in a restaurant between McConaughey and Garner shines with personality and aura and it feels as though you could be placed there with them. Another wonderful trait to the piece is its non-intrusive stance; for a film focused on people dealing with a terminal illness scenes relating to this never feel overwrought or uncomfortably gruesome but Vallee is still able to make you aware of the limited time Rayon, Ron and their friends were left with.

Intelligent, wickedly humorous at times and just damn brilliant Dallas Buyers Club is a stellar example of cinema at its best and most powerful.

Guns N Roses film in pre-production

Appetite for Destruction, an album which cemented Guns N Roses as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Now, the making of that album is being made into a feature film, with the lives of the famous band being played out on screen. No cast members have been announced, and no crew have been pondered on yet (the bands biographer Marc Canter is the only name currently attached, and apparently is having a say on the script), but a film about one of the best bands ever? Who cares who stars, its gonna be a good’un. Depictions of the rock and role lifestyle led by bands from the 70s and 80s is always a well-received narrative, and the formula set out (on the road, drug taking, sex) makes for a fun ride – just watch Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (a life changing movie, seriously) if you need to be persuaded.

guns n roses - the focus of the new band biopic in pre-production

guns n roses – the focus of the new band biopic in pre-production

Axl Rose has said he wont be involved with the film (what a diva) but if the cliches of rock films can be put aside, and some candid documentary-style film-making can be brought in this is going to make for one hell of a biopic. Canter promises the film will look and feel ‘cool’, and while speaking to Channel 24 said “In no way will it be a cheesy movie like Rock Star. There really is such a great story here that even the outtakes will be great.

We might not know a whole lot right now – but we haven’t seen a great music feature in a while; bring on Guns N Roses the movie.