The Long Song review

The first of the BBC’s December TV highlights was The Long Song. Screened over three nights last week, the adaptation of Andrea Levy’s book follows July, a young woman born into slavery in Jamaica. A strong ensemble cast bring the source material to life in what must, surely, be the best mini series of 2018.

Hayley Atwell stars alongside rising star Tamara Lawrance, while Jack Lowden (of Dunkirk fame) supports. Episode one features a must-see guest spot from the brilliant Lenny Henry, almost unrecognisable in his transformation here. Director Mahalia Belo has stayed true to Levy’s mode of storytelling in that The Long Song is a story of slavery that doesn’t showcase extreme violence, thus in turn limiting its audience, but instead creates a moving human drama that pulls an audience in with its accessibility. That’s not to say this is an easy watch, but more to point to the fact that Levy and screen writer Sarah Williams craft a very important story – fiction supported by fact – that studies its characters and the ways in which they adapt to survive in a terrain that is wholeheartedly against them.

The series is a true feat of storytelling that so masterfully blends brilliant humour with gut-wrenching cruelty. As we watch July, over three episodes, we see a story of survival against the odds, one that is filled with unthinkable horror but also a constant glimmer of hope. It’s haunting, deeply moving, powerfully acted. I was immersed in every single second.

A study of human nature, you’ll be both shocked to the core and moved to tears as the final days of slavery are put to the screen in a drama that is an absolute must-see. The only way to end this review is to say; please, everyone, watch this stunning series. You will be richer for it, I promise.

Advertisements

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.

The Predator review

The newest incarnation in the Predator series of films, which was first introduced to us in 1987, comes back to the big screen with bad language, bloody violence and a new set of characters that aren’t only forgettable because they don’t all have names (really), but because of choppy editing and one very hazy narrative.

In The Predator a team of rogue soldiers must band together to protect civilisation from a new kind of threat; an evolved Predator that travels to earth to reclaim a ship and wipe out the human race.

The Predator is Shane Black’s attempt at rebooting the franchise, but Nimrod Antal’s 2010 film starring Adrien Brody achieves much more: it’s well-acted, the effects are spectacular and the story isn’t convoluted. Black’s film has undoubtedly been messed with at editing stage and there’s no question that the director’s vision for the horror is not what we are seeing in the cinema.

The film’s big budget isn’t reflected on screen and a lot of the effects are questionable.  To the movie’s detriment CGI is favoured over practical effects and instead of epic moments of action (which is what we’ve all turned up for) a lot of these scenes pass by in a confusing flash. The moments of violence are bloody and 80’s inspired, but there are also one or two deliveries of poorly-timed humour attached to killing that just don’t fly.

No one turns up to the cinema to watch The Predator expecting sensational filmmaking, but a couple of hours of mindless fun is enough. And the film certainly is funny in moments, particularly early on when Boyd Holbrook meets his ragtag team of  reluctant heroes. The easy humour is lost as the film progresses and with a run time of 107 minutes it’s slightly too long.

It’s almost unbelievable to think Shane Black – the writer-director of The Nice Guys – could have had final say with this film, and, saying that, I don’t think he did. The Predator isn’t the all-out action we wanted, and it certainly isn’t a reboot to remember, but it serves a cinematic purpose with its attempt at old-fashioned fun that, when it works, is worthwhile.

 

Review: A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash is acted to perfection. Luca Guadagnino’s sexually charged flick is visually stunning and its script – penned by David Kajganich, based on a story by Alain Page – escapes clichés and reflects a wonderful originality. Despite the genuinely brilliant nature of this critically acclaimed drama there’s something amiss, and it’s incredibly hard to put a finger on what that might be.

Tilda Swinton (one of the best actresses of her generation) stars as rock star Marianne Lane. Vacationing in Sicily with troubled boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), they are joined by the outrageous Harry (Ralph Fiennes clearly had an absolute ball in this role) and promiscuous daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). The small ensemble is phenomenal but Schoenaerts struggles alongside Fiennes in a subdued role that doesn’t allow him to shine amongst a cast of acting heavyweights. Johnson is an unexpected star, showing herself to be a young actress of such sheer talent that she will surely go on to bigger and better things than the truly absurd Fifty Shades of Grey franchise.

Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

Guadagnino directs with a sharp eye, demonstrating his artistry early on through snappy camera direction and set pieces reminiscent of Woody Allen. The film is sexy and boisterous with a sun-drenched visage that masterfully deceives its audience, resulting in a finale that is tinged in unexpected darkness. Its cinematography is a triumph and Yorick Le Saux’s photography truly rouses the senses while the enviable costume design further propels the film into stunning territory.

A Bigger Splash questions the price of fame while exploring the boundaries (and burdens) that come with intimate relationships, whether that be father/daughter or boyfriend/girlfriend and this it does truly successfully. Cracks in the plot begin with the unlikeable characterisation of the majority of those seen on-screen. Yes, Marianne is a tour-de-force of a protagonist and Swinton is a gem as always, but Schoenaerts’ Paul is weak and easily forgettable while Harry‘s overbearing nature loses effect early on and the escalation of his behaviour becomes meaningless. Each character holds secrets and these are much beyond having slept with each other. Alcoholism, drug addiction, underage sex, suicide; Alain Page’s story unabashedly explores these themes but they are thrown at the audience with such an eager force that the twists and turns of the plot lose effect.

It’s certainly flawed but A Bigger Splash is lavish filmmaking with a stellar ensemble that boasts some of the best the big screen has to offer. Sophisticated and gorgeous to look at, Guadagnino’s layered flick is a treat on the eyes despite never fully delivering an engaging premise.

Suicide Squad: First Thoughts

On paper Suicide Squad sounds a dream. Talented cast? Tick. Capable director? Check. Tried and tested Box Office formula? Should be. It was meant to be really good. Since its release last Thursday we’ve quickly come to learn that it’s actually not as good as we had hoped. It is fun though; the type of fun that Tim Burton’s Batman achieved, the so-bad-it’s-good type that we like to loathe. Suicide Squad is far from loathsome but it’s even further from the cinematic perfection that its audience were promised.

In hindsight the film’s woes began with its overwrought marketing campaign. Too many trailers, too much teasing – it made us look forward to a feature we weren’t delivered. We were promised bad guys forced to do good and we expected Christopher Nolan style grit, but grittier.  David Ayer seemed a good choice as director, too. He wrote Training Day, directed Fury, and now was his opportunity to turn comic book antiheroes into cinema’s favourite foes, and he scratches the surface but never attains the greatness he strives for.

The film is driven by an almost constant soundtrack made up of everything from Eminem to Queen and if you are wondering whether the pair should be put together in the same movie, the answer would be no. At times the score is completely effective in setting a particular tone, but more often than not it’s misjudged and poorly timed. Dialogue is written with any lack of realism and the comic book cliches are clear and present. Ayer directs and writes with such force in other instances, even if they aren’t as appreciated as they should be, but as a director o

the cast of suicide squad

the cast of suicide squad

f the DC universe he seems to become a filmmaker without a clear vision.

Thus far the main criticism has been aimed at the clunky nature of the narrative, and the whole run time is a series of episodic scenes that don’t fit together as seamlessly as they could. Predominately set over just one night, there’s potential for a flowing plot-line but it gives way to scene after scene of badly-shot action that doesn’t hold our focus. The finale isn’t easy on the eyes and the main villain (who is only really given real screen time at this point) looks a lot like he belongs in The Cabin in the Woods – only it worked there and it doesn’t here.

It’s not all bad though. The ensemble cast works well together and Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Jai Courtney are fantastic. Viola Davis is on form, as always, as the sinister government official who is keen to let the bad-guys do her bidding. Leto isn’t featured as much as he should be, but he’s electric as a mob-style Joker who seems to be running a successful criminal empire. For the first time we see the cult foe in love, and it’s a sub-plot that is both intriguing and rather concerning as we see him plunge into an acid bath with his partner-in-crime Harley Quinn. He’s her Puddin’. Robbie is sensational as his female counterpart; she’s cheeky and alluring, yet vulnerable as she quietly portrays emotion, successfully sparking a reaction. There’s a whole Joker/Harley backstory that is captivating in itself and with a little more development it could have been a stellar addition to the narrative. It’s the same for any of the Squad’s stories, the timeline of their imprisonments and abilities are mentioned but never fully acknowledged which would do to lift the story tenfold if time were taken to get to grips with our meta-humans.

Despite its flaws, of which there are too many to state here, Suicide Squad still holds its audience. We rant about how disappointed we are, yet most of us want to run back to the cinema to see it again. There’s a definite style to the antihero flick, David Ayer just isn’t sure what he wants that style to be. Some moments are unintentionally funny, and others are cool as hell, but as one flowing piece of cinema it just doesn’t work. Yet, I want for more.

One thing is for certain: Suicide Squad is entirely captivating, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.

 

 

City of God

Fernando Meirelles’ compelling, uncompromising and, frankly, brutal, drama City of God is now thirteen years old. Age has no relevance in the case of features such as these. As relevant and heady today as it was in 2002, Meirelles’ exploration of Rio De Janeiro’s stoic Favela’s holds as much importance in 2015 as it did in the early 2000’s. Full to the brim with blatant violence and uncomfortable scenes of adolescent malevolence, City of God comes under many a critics ‘One to watch’, and serves as repeat watching despite its ability to stay with its viewer. Less of a review, and more of an appreciation piece, here, I delve into why Meirelles’ film of poverty, love and gang warfare should be watched by everyone who considers themselves to be a film aficionado.

rodrigues as rocket in city of god

rodrigues as rocket in city of god

Cidade de Deus took its inspiration from two sources. One, a kind of semi-autobiographical novel by escapee of the Favela’s Paulo Lins. Two, a documentary released prior to Meirelles film that focused on the ongoing battle between the residents of the Brazilian ghettos, and the city police who came charging into this separate world with a handful of brutality at the end of the 20th century. Merielle’s and co-director Katia Lund took much interest from the latter, and felt they needed to bring this big city, with its dancing, parades – and gun-filled, drug-fulled Favela’s – to the forefront of Western culture. And that, they did.

Casting a host of never-heard-of actors (as well as one or two familiar Latin faces) the pair brought the terrifyingly real narrative of one Favela in Rio to the screens of millions. No longer a secret, these urban living spaces gripped a nation – and this fascination with the civilians who happily (and some, not so happily) call this place home, has continued on. Just two years ago City of God – 10 Years Later was released, charting the lives of several of Meirelle’s actors. Three years ago saw a three part documentary, aired on the BBC, which followed an array of families living in contemporary Brazil. Together, Lund, Lins and Meirelles successfully made the Favela’s a talking point, opening Westerners eyes to the tough and troubled world of Rio’s hilltop housing estate.

douglas silva as li'l dice

douglas silva as li’l dice

Despite the level of neo-realism that accompanies the film – including a visceral and intense colour palette of burnt oranges and yellows, and an in-your-face ability to reiterate this idea that nothing, and no one, is safe –  City of God manages to juxtapose a level of cinematic glory with documentary fervor that keeps events seemingly real, and the viewer constantly unsure of what might happen next. The unexpected nature of a number of incidents, including that hand or foot scene, and a heartbreaking goodbye to Bene (Phellipe Haagensen) lend to the consistent realism in which Lund and Meirelle’s managed to create with this triumphant foreign feature.

Braulio Mantovani writes with an effective simplicity; the lives of five or six separate characters – all equally important in their own right – come together, not one underdeveloped and not one underwritten. From the rise and fall of psychopath and drug lord Li’l Ze, to the heartbreak and woes of good guy turned vigilante (of sorts) Knockout Ned, Mantovani gives each resident of Rio’s Favela, each character within Lund and Meirrelle’s film, their chance to dictate to the audience how their environment has shaped them – for better, or more frequently, for worse.

Images of children carrying and shooting guns, a symbolic chicken running for its life and a tale of triumph for protagonist Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) are just minor details in a 130 minute film that, some thirteen years later, add up to firmly settle Cidade de Deus into the realms of culturally important, and critically applauded cinema.