Eurovision Song Contest – The Story of Fire Saga

Rating: 12A
Cast: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens and Pierce Brosnan
Written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele
Directed by David Dobkin
Length: 123mins

A Netflix release in the height of lockdown amidst Covid:19 fears and concerns, this film carries so much joy and silliness that helps to focus on positives amongst worrying times. Though at first glance it may look like a classic Will Ferrell comedy, surprisingly, it carries some moving moments; these moving moments intertwined with catchy songs, amusing accents, magical Elves and so much more…

Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) has always dreamed of winning the Eurovision Song Contest, with his doe-eyed childhood friend and not quite sweetheart, Sigrit (McAdams). Their band, Fire Saga, was selected at random to compete in the contest, representing their beloved Iceland. The drama that follows the pair is mostly nonsensical, but the story holds its own and keeps moving with the fun of outrageous ‘Eurovision-eque’ songs and dance routines paced throughout the film.

One of the most brilliant elements of this film is that it feels like Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele sat down to write the script and every possible hilarious idea that popped into their heads they wrote down and found a place for it to fit. There is a lot of detail in every scene, nothing is there to just connect the story and with each watch I found myself noticing more intricate choices.

What is truly lovely about this film is that amongst all of the busy, vibrant scenes are really well written characters with whom the audience can connect. Seen by most peripheral characters in the film as ‘freaks’, the performances of the lead pair are full of brilliant choices which allow the characters to feel authentic, if a little ‘out there’. Whilst some of the action is extreme, it doesn’t feel like you’re watching actors perform these characters, you are allowed into their sheltered world which encourages empathy. It almost creeps up on you as you enjoy the comedy and the silliness, then you’re hit with a moment that you can relate to in some way. With themes of perseverance, friendship and chasing your dreams there is something for everyone to take away.

This film isn’t going to change anyone’s life, but it might just lift your spirits. It’s an easy, entertaining watch with positive messages of inclusivity and finding what is important to you. It is worth warning, however, that you will most likely find yourself singing some of Fire Saga’s songs and they are not easy to get out of your head! If you need a bit of a release, a break from the worries of today, I suggest you give it a watch. Let yourself fall into silliness and have a good laugh.

Boyhood – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater
Length: 165mins

The career of director Richard Linklater is a particularly interesting one, from his origins as an iconic creator of slacker-comedies in the early 90’s to an almost obsessive insight into the relation that time has on film, it’s no surprise that he would eventually create a film like ‘Boyhood.’ In a similar style to his ‘Before’ trilogy, where the same narrative was picked up each time the filmmakers returned to the trilogy, even with the ten-year gap between films, ‘Boyhood’ became well-known for the director returning to the same actors every year or so in an attempt to accurately portray how they develop throughout their childhood and teen years.

Whilst the creation of the film features an interesting and unique approach to filmmaking, the whole elaborate plan would be completely irrelevant if the final product turned out to be a bad film. In the case of ‘Boyhood’ this isn’t exactly true, as the characters are often engaging, and their emotional journey throughout the film is interesting and will most likely resonate with many of the audience. The monotonous suburban lifestyle put to screen is one that is fairly atypical in recent years, and the fads and styles that litter the narrative will be familiar to anyone who grew up during the turn of the millennium. However, a film shouldn’t simply rely on an audience being able to compare their own lives with that of the characters to be successful, it should create an interesting and engaging story of its own. Whilst there are moments of this within ‘Boyhood,’ for a film that boasts a near-three hour runtime, there aren’t nearly enough elements of intrigue or excitement to really grab the audience’s attention. It could be argued that this isn’t the film’s intent, and rather its aim is to document the often underwhelming elements of adolescence, and in this way it would succeed if the characters were portrayed to be people that we could invest ourselves and our own experiences in.

One of the most difficult elements of a project such as this would most likely be maintaining a clear consistency across every scene. A cut between one scene and the next could be a difference of a year both within the film and the real world, and so ensuring that both the technical aspects and the performances don’t feature noticeable changes would have been difficult undertaking. Whilst the film is successful in its aesthetic continuity, the performances can often feel subdued, as if a low-energy approach to the characters will ensure that there are very few changes in their presence onscreen. In particular, the films lead, Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane) is often sullen and unenthusiastic, which does accurately represent most teenagers, but provides little interest when he’s featured in all but two scenes within the films 165 minute runtime. By the end of the film, you are left with very knowledge of any of the character’s interests or passions – save for one – and the relationships that he develops with those around him throughout the story feel fairly surface level. There are some great scenes that really shine through, such as his mother’s sudden outburst of emotion moments before the Mason Jr heads for college, but there aren’t nearly enough for a film that is working on as grand a scale a this one.

There is a clear beauty to ‘Boyhood,’ and the cinematography captures the simple intrigues of everyday life in a consistently interesting style – an impressive feat for a film that’s shot over the course of seven years. However, ‘Boyhood’ ultimately feels as if it contains a lot of missed potential. No doubt Richard Linklater will have more tricks up his sleeve in the future, and may attempt a project as lengthy as this this one again, but for now we should at least be thankful that his ‘Before’ trilogy turned out as well as it did.

Sleeping With The Enemy – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Julia Roberts, Patrick Bergin, Kevin Anderson and Elizabeth Lawrence
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Written by Ronald Bass (screenplay) and Nancy Price (Novel)
Length: 99mins

Martin Burney (Bergin) is a successful man; a high earning job, respect, an impressive beach house and a beautiful young wife, Laura (Roberts). However, it doesn’t take long for this illusion to shatter. Although all of the above is true, the audience is soon introduced to his abusive tendencies and the driving force for the plot to come. Though frightened and manipulated by her controlling and violent husband Laura is determined to escape and start a new life far away without her husbands knowledge. Joseph Ruben entangles hope, suspense, romance and fear throughout the telling of this story led by a particularly strong cast.

With just over 90 minutes to tell the story I think they do a good job. Taking on a film that represents both psychological and physical abuse is not an easy task and Ruben does it well. The manipulative comments and physical battering are run parallel with extravagant gifts and kind words, a realistic representation of this kind of abuse. With a plot that see’s Laura run from her terrifying, lonely existence it allows the writer to implement hope into her life, the dream of a future that she longs for. Something that, despite the suspenseful nature and reappearance of the villain in this thriller, is important for an audience who might see elements of their own life being mirrored on the screen.

Having released in 1991, watching now must elicit a very different response to its original audience. Some of the more theatrical moments don’t settle quite as naturally with a generation that has experienced more ‘scary’ thrillers. Although Bergin creates an intimidating, cruel character in Martin Burney, his actions in the climactic moments of the film do present as slightly pushed and more for dramatic effect rather than realism. Julia Roberts brings the charm and skill that she does to all of her characters, the audience want her to succeed, not just be safe, but to move forward and be happy.

Some critics dismiss the entire film based upon it’s ‘believability’ in the moments leading to Martin finding his wife, and perhaps these moments could have been addressed differently had the film length been stretched and focusses switched. Generally I think this is a solid story that moves quickly whilst dealing with a tricky subject; undoubtably it’s Julia Roberts performance showing the layers of her character brilliantly that holds the audience throughout. Though the film has not aged terribly well; relying heavily on the emotional response of it’s audience, it’s one that I enjoy and will continue to watch every so often.

Melancholia – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Keifer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Alexander Skarsgård and Stellan Skarsgård.
Directed by Lars Von Trier
Written by Lars Von Trier
Length: 135mins

From behind the sun emerges a planet previously unknown to the human race, much greater in size and set to travel past Earth’s atmosphere within very close proximity, Lars Von Trier is quick to establish the greatness of the spectacle that the aptly-named Melancholia will provide, whether it passes us by or smashes straight into us. However, like a prophecy being foretold, the viewer is allowed to witness the chaotic end-to-the-world within the film’s opening sequence, leaving only a constant sense of ambiguity within the story as to whether the two planets really will collide.

Released in 2011, ‘Melancholia’ is a very clear story of two parts. Divided neatly by title cards which simply characterise the first act as being called ‘Justine,’ whilst the second is named ‘Claire,’ these acts take their names from the two sisters that lead the films narrative, and it’s their relationship that the focus of the film is deeply rooted in, despite the chaotic and life-changing circumstances that surround them.  

Rich with symbolism, Von Trier is a director known for his affinity for detail, and this shines through particularly in ‘Melancholia.’ Perhaps the most persistently recurring symbol found within the film is the allusion to John Everett Millais’s ‘Ophelia,’ a painting which depicts the character of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet,’ as she lies in a river and sings, despite the fact that she will soon drown. This beauty in the face of death is a clearly recurring element within ‘Melancholia,’ and is characterised by the films lead, Justine, who is played brilliantly by Kirsten Dunst. Certain scenes directly allude to the similarities between Ophelia and Justine through their visual details, but they also coincide within the narrative elements of their tragic stories. Set to be married just a few days before the two planets meet, Justine’s overwhelming depression often takes full control of her actions, much to the despair of those around her. The film’s first act concerns itself directly with her actions on the wedding day, and allows for the frequent distractions and tangents that she explores to be focussed on within the narrative, creating a true sense of who this character is. Her flaws are often either completely ignored or directly condemned by those around her, but all too often she is far too detached to show any reaction to these attitudes. It’s clear that Von Trier is using the traditional joy of a wedding scene and the happiness of the bride to explore the true lack of emotion that comes with depression, and the harsh contrast between what these two ideas represent allows for a more complex exploration into the range of human emotions.

The film’s second act, named after the elder sister ‘Claire’ appears as slightly more convoluted than the first. There is no wedding scene to revolve the character’s conflicting narratives around, and the impending sense of doom from the oncoming planet causes many of the characters to begin acting strangely (or, stranger than they all were before). The more subtle focus of this half, however, once again rests on the back of one of the sisters. This time it’s Claire’s emotional anxiety that becomes the crux of many scenes. Of course, some might argue that in the face of a possible planetary collision, anyone might be overcome by anxiety, but Claire’s emotional instability is highlighted in a way that sheds a light on her actions within the film’s opening half. The presence of her sister’s depression seemingly overshadowed her own anxiety, reducing it simply to a by-product of the environment around her, but this isn’t really the case. As shown by her actions when finally relieved of the pressures from weddings planners and over-eager guests, her worries are not lessened, but amplified. Once again, Lars Von Trier is cleverly hiding his own experiences with mental health within the actions of these two sisters, creating a personified caricature of anxiety that, despite its presence within a film about the end of the world, remains relatively familiar to many of us.

‘Melancholia’ is a film about many different ideas, and tackles most of them in a fairly avant-garde or experimental manner, but ultimately has a deeply honest message about mental health. With film being a largely visual medium, such an issue can often be difficult to tackle, but Von Trier incorporates his experience with experimental cinema and greater access to a larger budget than such directors would usually receive, to create a beautiful portrait of the minds of two sisters who struggle greatly with their own mental health.

Crazy, Stupid, Love – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore and Kevin Bacon
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Written by Dan Fogelman
Length: 118mins

In 2011 Glenn Ficarra and John Requa teamed up to create the three strand multi-generational romantic comedy ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’. The lighthearted story follows Cal (Carell) and Emily (Moore) as they negotiate issues in their marriage, serial ‘player’ Jacob (Gosling) as he meets his match in Hannah (Stone) as well as Cal and Emily’s son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) as he falls in love with his babysitter who, in turn, has her sights on another…

While not a particularly deep or powerful plot, what holds the audiences attention is the mix of all of the storylines. Dan Fogelman created a story that brilliantly captures all these different characters; allowing them their own lives and issues while cleverly connecting them. The only element of the story that I found to be a bit ‘too much’ was that of Jessica – the baby sitter. Though Analeigh Tipton does a good job I find her character so uncomfortable to watch. This, of course, could be fully intentional; her character is an awkward teenager who makes questionable choices but for me it detracts slightly from the other elements of the plot and feels like an unnecessary push at some extra comedy.

It’s been proven that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are a fantastic pairing; brilliant chemistry and the ability to provide deep, moving moments while bouncing off each other. The same has to be said for their roles in this film which are enhanced by the directors willingness to allow the pair to improvise some of the warmest, most authentic moments of the film. Steve Carell also side steps from his usual goofy comedic style and settles into ‘socially awkward dad mode’; not drastically different but the result is a character that triggers the empathy of the audiences and is a wonderful opposite to Goslings character making their relationship in the film both hilarious and endearing.

One of the interesting elements in this film, and what makes it stand out from other romantic comedies, is the balance of the two genres. Although it stars some powerhouse women, it’s main focus is on the male characters which is unusual in itself for this sort of film. It pushes a smooth blend of modern comic genres with a somewhat unexpected undercurrent of more dark, difficult emotions – all while sincerely contemplating the idea of soul mates and true love vs the limits of romanticism which is typically avoided in most romantic storylines.

This is not a perfect film and yet I can’t help but love it, I would suggest it’s one of the most brilliantly formed romantic comedies. It appeals to more than just teenage girls and has a real feeling of authenticity, lightly touching on some very real issues that some couples may face alongside a good splash of humour. More than anything it’s just an entertaining watch and I would highly recommend it.