Benjamin review

Simon Amstell’s feature debut, Benjamin, is a subtly funny, deeply romantic picture starring Colin Morgan and Phenix Brossard. Led by a powerhouse performance from Morgan, the film explores the idosyncracies of twenty-somethings in the creative industries in London in classic Amstell fashion.

At its core, Benjamin is a romantic character study interested in the unsaid. Exploring what constitutes art (and what inspires it, too), the film gently and playfully mocks the industry it focuses on. Interested in the formation of relationships, Amstell shakes off unrealistic displays of romance and instead grounds the film in everyday examples of love; the kind you can relate to. The kind you might have experienced.

It feels like a personal narrative for Amstell, who has spoken openly in interviews about his own experiences as a gay man navigating relationship territory. Indeed, Benjamin‘s mannerisms are comparative to Simon’s, as is his dry humour and awkward quality. These traits only endear us to the titular character more, as we watch his relationship with Phenix Brossards’ Noah blossom.

Brossard and Morgan share an enigmatic chemistry, both are a joy to watch. They share porridge, take mushrooms and wash each other’s hair. They support one another’s creative ventures. They both feel fear at the strength of their feelings. This is not an exploration of unchartered territory but instead a film interested in honest, innocent love and one that understands the complexities of it.

Joel Fry co-stars as Benjamin‘s best friend Stephen, a struggling comedian battling with depression. The scope of male friendship is explored in a manner both unobtrusive and moving, but Fry isn’t present enough and the short run time doesn’t leave space to explore his story more. However, this is just one small gripe and the feature, as a whole, is beautifully shot and refreshingly original in its take on modern love.

Simon Amstell, known previously for his cut-throat comments on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, shows his penchant for warmth and wit – and it’s not at the expense of others. Simply yet powerfully crafted, Benjamin is a relatable tale of young love that will resonate with anyone who has ever had, or sought out, organic romance.

 

 

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.

Widows review

Steve McQueen adapts Lynda LaPlante’s iconic mini-series Widows, leaving behind London for inner city Chicago, tackling race, capitalism and contemporary America along the way.

Steve McQueen is a director who, through a handful of exceptional films tackling tough subjects, has cemented himself as one of the best filmmakers working today. From Hunger and Shame to 12 Years a Slave and, now, Widows – perhaps his most Hollywood effort to date – when news hits that McQueen is working on something new, there is a collective buzz among film critics and fans. So, with the release of Widows, an Americanised version of a very British 80’s drama series, we expect big things.

In Widows, Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his crew make money stealing from gangsters but their latest job goes wrong leaving their wives to pick up the pieces. Viola Davis is Rawling’s wife Veronica; a wealthy woman who, upon losing her husband, is left with nothing. Threatened by gangster-turned-politician Jamal, she recruits the other lost wives to pull off a heist laid out by Harry. McQueen unites a cast of superb actresses, supported by a handful of acclaimed actors, for a reimagining of Lynda LaPlante’s much-loved heist story. It’s a simple premise which delivers a fantastic twist, but something is slightly amiss.

The treat of the film comes with the cast. Oscar winner Viola Davis is exceptional as Veronica; a woman whose experiences with loss have left her cold and, ultimately, alone. Daniel Kaluuya is excellent as Jatemme, Jamal’s psychotic brother with a penchant for violence. It’s great to see him flex his acting muscles, playing a character who is truly awful, and believably so. The youngest of the esteemed cast, his role leaves a memorable mark, alongside Elizabeth Debicki whose character transforms her emotional vulnerability into a surprising strength. Michelle Rodriguez is cast against type; frequently known as a bad-ass heroine, here she is seemingly out of her depth as a young mother fighting for economic survival. The film establishes McQueen as a director fascinated with people, one who directs with such a fierce virtuosity and understanding of human nature.

Gillian Flynn’s screenplay is paired back and refreshingly realistic; there isn’t a trace of unnecessary dramatics, with the characters reacting to events in a wholly relatable fashion. Every aspect of the film comes together to make it a complete movie that is really rather excellent, but the genre detailing isn’t as fast-paced or exciting as expected and this ultimately leaves us with a sense of dissatisfaction come the end scene.

Carefully, considerately shot – with an ensemble cast of dreams – Widows is, as expected, a fantastic film, but when the final job comes it doesn’t quite deliver the genre punch we came for.

A Star is Born review

Bradley Cooper revitalises one of cinema’s best-loved romances, updating the story of an ageing rock musician and his relationship with a talented rising star with an emotional depth often amiss in romantic-dramas.

With the cinematic release of A Star is Born – a film that had been hovering in development with various directors and actors attached for some time – came a plethora of critical acclaim. That acclaim, widespread and enthusiastic, is not misplaced. Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut – an obvious passion project that he has poured his heart and soul into – is a confident film with songs featuring hair-raising live music scenes, moving adult drama, and knockout performances from a small ensemble cast.

Both Cooper and Lady Gaga are sensational, they share an electric on-screen chemistry meaning their relationship is believable and their shared scenes (essentially the whole movie) are a delight to watch. There are many (quite possibly too many) romantic films out there. None are quite as affecting as this one.a-star-is-born

Gaga gives an Oscar-worthy performance, fusing quiet confidence with a rising-star vulnerability that endears us to her and allows us to see beyond the veneer of her real life star persona.  Cooper directs with a curiosity for his characters and the music industry that takes us on a captivating journey. Morphing into haunted rock star Jackson Maine, Cooper gives a physical and emotional performance that is both memorable and tragic, and veteran Sam Elliott is terrific, supporting his co-stars with comfortable ease.

With A Star is Born Cooper explores timely themes with such gut-wrenching force it’s almost impossible to leave the cinema unmoved. The film’s power is in its ability to stay with you long after the credits roll and, this alone, is its true triumph.

Billed as a romantic-drama, A Star is Born is so much more, going beyond its genre to explore the music industry, masculinity and mental health. It might be the story’s fourth incarnation but it is also quite possibly its best. Superb.

New on Netflix: God’s Own Country

Netflix is upping its array of indie delights and its most recent addition – God’s Own Country – is not to be missed. Released in October 2017, Francis Lee’s debut follows the relationship between two men. Quietly tender and arrestingly urgent, this moving story will have you bleary-eyed and seeking out more indie gems on the platform.

A great example of what people mean when they say ‘Very British Cinema’, God’s Own Country is set on a Yorkshire farm during a cold, dirt-strewn spring. Director Lee celebrates the beauty of this county while showcasing the inherent loneliness of farm life, while the central theme of the film focuses on the relationship between farmer Johnny Saxby (a fantastic Josh O’Connor who you’ll know from ITV’s lavish period dramedy The Durrells) and migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu). The success of Lee’s film can’t just be seen in the silently arresting performances of these two actors, but also in the way it tackles two vital themes: masculinity and Britishness. And more specifically, the pressure of upholding a family tradition that is founded on very British values.

Alec Secareanu and Josh O’Connor in God’s Own Country

We aren’t exactly a nation known for wearing our hearts on our sleeve, irritatingly stoic when it comes to talking about our feelings, the struggle to say how we feel is explored throughout the 105 minute run-time, and predominantly through silence. Director Lee masterfully tells the story of Johnny and how he breaks free of his own emotional prison with the tender, sentimental support of Gheorghe in a story that transcends the specifics of gender. Centrally about loneliness, rumination and how, without real, meaningful relationships, men can and will break down, the tale is refreshingly honest, and quite bittersweet too.

From start to finish the flick runs with little dialogue or music, placing us in the literal and metaphorical silence that Johnny lives with. What begins as a seemingly bleak British farm drama evolves into a hopeful story of love and friendship, responsibility and hardship, and the ability to begin again. God’s Own Country isn’t only a great film, it’s thematically relevant and undeniably important.

Next time you turn to Netflix, take a trip to God’s Own Country.

Lady Bird review

In Lady Bird we meet Christine, a 17 year old high school senior frustrated with adolescent life and bored of her Sacramento upbringing. We follow Christine, who now demands to be called Lady Bird, during her senior year of school as she embarks on first relationships, applies to colleges and discovers the importance of true friendship. The central theme of the film is Lady Bird‘s relationship with her mum, played beautifully by Laurie Metcalf. It’s a seemingly simple story of every day life that brims with heart.

Greta Gerwig’s first feature length film has had critics and audiences raving. It even holds the highest rating to ever have been handed out by Rotten Tomatoes, certifying it as one of the most applauded releases of the year. Gerwig handles every relationship Lady Bird experiences with a unique realism that is often missing in coming-of-age films and entries into the genre are usually quirky indie films with small budgets but big ambitions. Recent notable examples are The Perks of Being a Wallflower and James Pondsolt’s exceptional The Spectacular Now. Greta Gerwig explores similar themes to those films but here focuses in on the tumultuous love shared between a mother and her daughter, and it’s told with an inimitable caring eye and loving touch, one that hasn’t been seen on film in a long while. Seemingly throwaway moments, like when Lady Bird turns 18 and buys a pack of camels, a scratch card and Playgirl – just to celebrate the freedom of her new age – perfectly showcases how it feels to be on the cusp of adulthood.

Saoirse Ronan plays Lady Bird with ease, channeling the complexity of being 17 with such severe talent. Metcalf is similarly fantastic, and it’s astonishing that these women, and this film, didn’t clean up at the awards. But it doesn’t matter, not really. Everyone who has seen Lady Bird knows just how remarkable it is, a once-every-few-years gem. It’s a feature that reminds you why film is important. It’s a film that lifts you up, and makes life feel better. It’s a film that celebrates our idiosyncrasies. And most importantly, it’s a film that joyously revels in not fitting in, and embracing your quirky, eccentric, individual self.

Gerwig’s main focus is on Lady Bird‘s relationship with her mum, and there are several notable scenes that give this film real heart. Metcalf’s turn as Marion is a stunning performance, incredibly dynamic yet understated and drawn from life. There’s no unnecessary dramatics here just simple, effective storytelling, with characters played by some of Hollywood’s most talented. Lucas Hedges also gives a moving performance, leading a sub-plot that is achingly poignant.

Lady Bird is a fiercly unique character who, at times, is desperate to fit in and experience as much as possible. As an audience, we’ve all been there and it’s the relatability of this narrative aspect that gives the film its universal appeal.The soundtrack is a nostalgic dream too, and the 2002 setting is equally enjoyable. Special mention must go to April Napier’s costume design; there’s a lot of humour in seeing certain fashions come full circle.

Lady Bird is so supremely special. Greta Gerwig has created something that brims with warmth and wit, that at its core runs on an emotional depth that will seep into your soul and refuse to let go. I left the cinema with joy, smiling at the story I’d just seen, feeling as though I was now part of a secret club that got to see this mega piece of cinema. But, of course, it’s not a secret club, because Lady Bird has received worldwide recognition. I reveled in every second of pleasure the film offers, and I can’t wait to show this film to every person I love, so they can fall for it just as I have.

Murder on the Orient Express Review

Kenneth Branagh directs a star-studded big-screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s famed murder mystery in this fun, paired-back thriller.

Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express features lavish set pieces and creates atmosphere with snowy motifs and a brooding, genre-specific score. It’s not perfect, and it certainly doesn’t present anything out of the ordinary, but it’s a fun ode to a bygone style of filmmaking and is impressively extravagant in scale. Perhaps most enjoyable is the ensemble the director has managed to unite; Academy Award winners Penelope Cruz and Judi Dench, alongside nominees such as Michelle Pfeiffer and Johnny Depp, featuring stage veteran and Branagh favourite Derek Jacobi. There’s a bunch of relative newcomers too in the shape of Daisy Ridley, Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton. It’s a who’s who of the industry and benefits hugely because of it.

The story itself is familiar; a murder happens on board the Orient Express, a train packed with the wealthy and powerful. The ‘best’ detective in the world, Hercule Poirot (Branagh), must solve the crime before they arrive at their destination and it’s left to the authorities to handle. The joy in the whodunit genre is in us, the audience, working out who is the criminal and who is innocent. But in this unique tale it’s a lot harder to figure it out than one might first have thought. Michael Green was in charge of adapting the screenplay from Christie’s story and has done so with what one would assume is fierce loyalty for the source material. Branagh injects wit where neccessary and despite the dark nature of the genre, the film itself isn’t bulked down by it.

Murder on the Orient Express is in no way exceptional but it’s entirely watchable, and serves as a real treat to see such Hollywood heavy’s all lined up together (quite literally, in one scene).