The Other Boleyn Girl – Review

Rating: 12a Cast: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess, Mark Rylance and Kristin Scott Thomas Directed by Justin Chadwick  Written by Peter Morgan (screenplay) and Philippa Gregory (novel) Length: 115mins

In Justin Chadwick’s debut feature film, The Other Boleyn Girl, we jump back in time to a pivotal moment in English history and land in the midst of one of the most notorious monarchs, King Henry VIII. Straight off the bat it’s important to recognise that artistic licence is applied and that some of the Historical facts are debated, but it’s an opportunity to experience an interpretation of one of the Queen famous for her demise.

The plot follows the Boleyn siblings, primarily the two sisters Anne and Mary as they reach adulthood and have set sights set on potential husbands. Through a bit of family meddling and taking advantage of issues with the Kings marriage, the King meets both girls and while initially favouring Anne, becomes captivated with the ‘other Boleyn girl’, who is newly married. The Boleyn’s are summoned to court and thus begins the competition for the Kings attention. It’s not a particularly surprising storyline as Anne Boleyn’s fate is one of the memorable in Royal history, but it’s an interesting take to consider other members of the family. 

From start to finish this film is full of incredible talent. In playing the quarrelsome siblings, Portman and Johansson conjure admirable performances, working as best they can with the dialogue and situations they’re afforded. Portman creates a scheming and flirtatious Anne while keeping the hot headed reactions of a young, inexperienced woman while Johansson leans more to a sweet, innocent sister. Choices that are reactionary to the dialogue, no doubt, and clearly separate the sisters, however there is a slight risk of the characters feeling a bit shallow. It’s easy to criticise these more obvious choices, but there is also plenty to defend. The film is long, the story and it’s characters are very famous and so you could certainly argue that in exploring the focal characters in more depth could mess up the through line of the story and therefore extend the film and throw it off balance. I personally think they made the right decisions within characterisation and the cast were perfect for what they needed. 

Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of incredible actors, there isn’t time to truly analyse all of the performances, but the casting department did a phenomenal job and the outcome was brilliant. 

Aesthetically, the film looks great; the grand settings, beautiful costumes and intricate detail within hair and make up really help transport the audience into a different time and allows the story to be told without a second thought. 

This movie stirs me in an unusual way. It’s deeply sad to see a family torn apart and as we know the ending is all but happy. It’s an entertaining watch, and in reminding us of elements of History it’s helpful to see how society has progressed and possibly, how it hasn’t. I would recommend watching this film, but it’s not perfect and as with every Historical film it’s worth checking the facts. 

Letters to Juliet – Review

Rating: PG Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Gael Garcia Bernal, Vanessa Redgrave and Christopher Egan. Directed by Gary Winick Written by Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan Length: 105mins

Letters To Juliet tells the story of Sophie, a wanna be writer who takes a romantic trip to Italy with her somewhat distracted finance. While he seems to be more interested in sourcing ingredients for his New York restaurant than spending time with her, Sophie finds herself captivated by the local tradition of lovelorn women writing letters to Shakespeare’s Juliet and joins the team of women of whose job it is to write back to these unhappy souls.

When Sophie (Seyfried) finds a letter that is 50 years old, written by a young British girl about a Tuscan boy she met and fell in love with, she writes to the girl and soon Claire (Redgrave) and her grandson Charlie (Egan) arrive in Verona with the hopes of finding her long lost love, Lorenzo. The story is simple and extremely predictable but is connected with some truly beautiful shots of the Italian countryside. The warmth of the friendship between Sophie and Claire is really lovely and makes for a very easy romantic watch. Where a realist might suggest that Sophie help Claire check out the possible Lorenzo by using her phone, Letters to Juliet sends the three of them to visit the candidates in person, leading to a series of false leads and at last, of course, to the real Lorenzo Bartolini. 

This has a very specific audience, the simplicity and predictability of the plot is clearly for a young romanticist. Hoping that the sweet warmth as everything comes together will distract from problems that would almost certainly exist in reality. I remember watching this as a young teenager and thinking it was one of the best films i’d ever seen, but having re-watched it, it seems it just was  a very satisfying entertainment where very little goes wrong. While ‘nice’, it doesn’t have the depth to be considered amongst the best in it’s genre. The characters are broad, comforting stereotypes that are played well – particularly by Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave but it almost seems a waste to have talent such as theirs crawling through a particularly cheesy plot. 

Letters to Juliet is definitely lacking in substance, but the idea at the core is a story of love lost and reunited. While a bit of a soppy melodrama where the ending is predestined from the setup, it’s a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, especially for a PG audience.

Darkest Hour – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ronald Pickup. Directed by Joe Wright Written by Anthony McCarten Length: 125mins

In 2017 Joe Wright directed this undeniably captivating account of Winston Churchill’s ‘darkest hour’ in 1940 as Hitlers forces were gathering across the channel, poised to invade. While the subject matter naturally prepares it’s audience for a tension-building portrayal of such an important period of Great British history, it’s not only the plot that is worthy of it’s audiences attention. This is not so much a period war drama, rather a detailed political thriller presenting a leader up against not only one of the sheer enormity of Hitlers Nazi Germany, but political swipes within his own Government.

While obviously the key plot points are guided by historical fact, it’s important to recognise that there are moments of fiction written into the film. It’s an interesting opportunity to remind a contemporary audience that big issues did not simply vanish the moment Churchill took over as Prime Minister, and with such a famous outcome it seemed to be a difficult challenge for the filmmakers to really paint the picture wherein the characters didn’t know the outcome of the events of the story. 

Darkest Hour collected a fantastic array of nominations and wins throughout the 2018 awards season, with Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill winning most of the prestigious ‘best actor’ awards. It’s clear that without Oldman this films success may not have been so prolific. He manages to demonstrate Churchill’s courage effortlessly while still presenting the ‘grumpy old man’ with glimpses of humour. While Oldman is the main draw of the film, his co-stars of Lily James and Kristen Scott-Thomas bring a really lovely balance to the other characters on screen throughout.

Joe Wright is a reliable filmmaker with a very impressive list of filmography. You can’t help but notice the large scale features on that list including Anna Karenina, Atonement and Pride & Prejudice, with Darkest Hour fitting in nicely with the aesthetic of some of his previous works. Darkest hour is  a crowd-pleasing historical epic that knows when to keep moving and when to dwell on a moment.

There seems to be a renewed appetite for wartime movies in recent times and this one is an important watch amongst the others. Darkest Hour manages to exhibit Churchill’s daring bravery while not fully absolving him nor idolising him, rather it humanises him. I would suggest that for the sake of history this film is a necessary watch, but even if you have no interest in history it is Gary Oldman giving a masterclass for over two hours and that alone is reason to watch Darkest Hour.

Sabrina (1954) – Review

Rating: U Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and John Williams Directed by Billy Wilder Written by Billy Wilder, Ernest Lehman and Samuel Taylor Length: 113mins

Sabrina is a somewhat archetypal romantic comedy. It tells the story of a young girl, the daughter of a chauffeur who has eyes for the youngest son of her fathers employer. While growing up on the extravagant grounds of the Larrabee family home, Sabrina (Hepburn) longs to gain the attention of  David Larrabee (Holden); the resident wild child and polar opposite of his older brother, Linus (Bogart), who’s focus is purely on maintaining and expanding the family business empire. Sabrina is sent to cookery school in Paris in the hopes that she’ll forget David, but returns an elegant young woman with the ability to turn heads and capture the attention she’s so longed for.

It is impossible to comment on this film without discussing the cast. Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart  are nothing short of phenomenal. Their characters are so wonderfully authentic, drifting through their story and switching between the more serious moments to the more comical  so smoothly. Holden’s portrayal of David matches up to his co-stars just as well, with the only slight blip being the staff at the Larrabee house were slightly heightened which distracts from the more naturalistic telling of the story.

One of the more understated wonders of this film is the script; based upon the play ‘Sabrina Fair’ written by Samuel Taylor in 1953 and adapted for screen by Billy Wilder, Samuel Taylor and Ernest Lehman. While eloquently telling the story there is a brilliant amount of dry humour – one liners woven into the script that I hadn’t noticed when watching the film a few years ago, it’s brilliantly funny without the actors making the humour loud or extravagant. A feat that, to me, shows how deeply Wilder trusted both his material and his actors to tell the story and allow the dialogue to land with its audiences. 

On the surface, I’m not sure it’s even possible to mix the likes of Billy Wilder, it’s cast and this script without creating a timeless classic. Everything about it is so watchable. I highly recommend ‘Sabrina’, especially if you would usually write off black and white films; this was the first film I ever saw that wasn’t in colour and it really changed my mind. I had a completely unfounded hesitancy to watch B+W films because I thought I would get bored – if anything, they have to do more to keep a modern audiences attention and in my experience, they do just that!

I would also just add that although this is certified ‘U’ – one of the early scenes is an attempted suicide and, although nothing shocking or graphic it’s worth bearing in mind if you are watching with younger children. 

The Holiday – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Jack Black and Rufus Sewell Directed by Nancy Meyers Written by Nancy Meyers  Length: 136mins

In 2006 Nancy Meyers, who previously directed What Women Want,  gave us ‘The Holiday’. Another light-hearted romantic comedy, telling the story of four people who are all dissatisfied with elements of their lives until some timely choices lead to a clash of lives which changes each of them for the better during the Christmas holidays. Amanda (Diaz), a movie-trailer maker from Los Angeles, breaks up with her cheating boyfriend (Ed Burns) and is obsessed with the fact that she can’t cry — and finds herself in need of a break. Over in London, Iris (Winslet) needs a break from old flame Jasper and his new engagement. So, after a very brief internet interaction, Amanda ends up in Iris’ picturesque cottage in Surrey, while the latter sets off for Amanda’s Beverly Hills mansion.

Though the plot isn’t particularly complex it is comfortable to watch. We see the issues for our two leading ladies laid out before us and can totally understand the need to escape and take some time for themselves. While the idea of a house and car swap being simple enough to organise in one evening ready to catch flights the following day is somewhat unbelievable, we as an audience are happily swept away with the romance and excitement of watching these women take control of their situation and find something fresh. What makes this film particularly interesting is that unlike most ‘Christmas’ movies, it encourages it’s viewer to take time for themselves, not just others. It highlights self care as a priority in a season that, quite rightly so, often focusses on kindness towards other people and reminds us that we need to look after ourselves as well as others.

What keeps this film moving is the multiple storylines. The main two, clearly between Amanda and Graham; the tug between a whirlwind romance and her high powered job and Iris trying to move past her feelings for Jasper. But throw in two children who have experienced loss at such a young age, a happy go lucky film composer who thinks he’s punching above his weight and a retired screenwriter and suddenly you have some layers that weave so wonderfully together. Whose arc the audience cares about more shifts depending on their own situation and experiences, it’s very clever really, it allows the film to remain relevant to it’s audiences over the years on one level, while continually giving that warm festive feel that brings it’s audiences back to re-watch year after year.

The Holiday is an appealing escapist rom-com that is actually about escaping one’s reality, a film where the core message is for women to learn to love themselves, with an added bonus of romantic happy endings for all. It’s a modern staple of the festive period, it’s familiar and easy to watch but with the opportunity to pull more from the underlying themes if you so chose. 

Notting Hill – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Rhys Ifans, Tim McInnery, Gina McKee, Emma Chambers and Hugh Bonneville Directed by Roger Michell Written by Richard Curtis Length: 124mins

Notting Hill, starring a phenomenal cast head up by Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, introduces us to William Thacker (Grant). He owns a relatively unsuccessful travel book shop in Notting Hill; divorced and living in his ex marital home with his wacky tenant he is seemingly content to just bumble through life. That is until Hollywood Actress Anna Scott walks into his bookshop and subsequently his life. What follows is a love story with ups and downs, laced with good humour and undeniable charm.

Notting Hill is somewhat of an archetypal love story, it’s a fairly basic formula but it satisfies the hopes and expectations of it’s audience. Richard Curtis’ script is full of meet cutes, moments, disappointment and hope whilst being skilfully dispersed with brilliantly witty humour. I found the array of characters a really interesting element in this film, it feels like Curtis has pulled out his favourite stereotypes, fleshed them out a bit and enjoyed creating a world that they could all wander in and out of. The different characters do work for the story and definitely help with the humour; in particular Rhys Ifans as Spike and Emma Chambers as Honey but it’s the inclusion of characters like Bernie (Bonneville), Bella (McKee) and Max (McInnery) that captured my attention. While considering the peripheral characters it’s easy to be distracted by the loud presence of Spike and the kookie quirks of Honey; but having contrasting characters that seem very normal with very normal lives and situations alerted me to something a little deeper that Curtis was bringing attention to.

The whole film is about us and them. The audience likely to relate to William; a normal guy. He works a ‘normal’ job, has to clear up after his ridiculous housemate and spends time with his friends. Our leading lady is this gorgeous, glamorous super star. We see this life that very few people actually understand the pressures of and it grabs our attention when the two are thrown together in this quirky little story. Honey’s birthday meal is an integral piece of the film, we see the majority of our characters volunteering what makes them the saddest act at the table all for the last brownie. As we jump around the table learning a bit more about each character, we see a group of people, sitting around a table as we all have, sharing vulnerable parts of their lives. Whether people notice it or not, Curtis pulls down the barrier between us and them. A lesson that we don’t know what is going on with other people and accepting that although the struggles are very different, that everyone faces them at some point. 

The soundtrack is something that stood out while watching this film for what must be the hundredth time. This time I became aware that the music gives a real running commentary of the emotion of our focal pair. The lyrics of each song explain everything that we’re watching and it is arguably a bit sloppy. It’s not necessarily a problem, but I can’t help but think that more subtle choice might allow the audience to experience the action for themselves rather than being steered to how they should be feeling with a blast of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’.

In his role as William Thacker we see Hugh Grant as his perfected ‘awkward, witty, romantic lead’ and the truth is that he’s just brilliant at that role. It’s no wonder we’ve seen him take on so many similar roles in his career. Simply, he’s one of very few people that could do that part justice. Roberts is just sensational. She really seems to shine in her role as Anna, each scene seems to reveal layers of her work which ties together during that famous moment where she’s “just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her”.

This movie is bright. It’s full of wit, intelligence and charm. It’s such an easy watch and if you haven’t seen it yet, I really recommend that you give it a go. It’s a classic feel good movie that oozes romance. Arguably one of the best movies ever made in the genre of romantic comedy, thanks to the incredible performances, flawless writing and wonderful direction.

Yesterday – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Joel Fry, Kate McKinnon and Ed Sheeran
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Jack Barth and Richard Curtis
Length: 116mins

In Danny Boyle’s 2019 musical comedy Himesh Patel plays Jack, a very normal guy from Lowestoft with big dreams of making it as a singer-songwriter. On evenings and weekends he plays small gigs arranged by his biggest fan and make shift manager, Ellie (Lily James) who has believed in him since hearing his rendition of ‘Wonderwall’ when they were both still in school.But then one night, at the same moment that Jack loses consciousness due to a road accident, a gigantic electrical storm hits earth and, after a brief power cut, the unimaginable happened – The Beatles are erased from history. Jack realises that he is the only person with any memory of the band and that he is the only one who remembers the Beatles songs; thus begins the journey to see if he can pass them off as his own.

An ambitious storyline to say the least, but Curtis and Barth attacked their wonderfully kookie idea and managed to create something truly unique and uplifting. Himesh Patel steps confidently into his role as the classic Richard Curtis ‘lovably hopeless’ character, though some Brits might know Patel from his role in Eastenders, the fact that he was relatively unknown was one of the elements that attracted Danny Boyle to him during casting. Lily James is just as charming as ever, the likeable force that she brings into any of her projects just makes this film more well rounded. Her character is the most relatable, arguably the most ‘normal, in the story, surrounded by either heightened characters like Rocky or Jacks parents yet left on the sidelines for the big leap to stardom and keeping her feet firmly on the ground.

The way that they made this bizarre story work is through having the actors play it really straight, allowing the comedy to flow out of the train of ridiculous circumstances and not overly pushing the funny moments. Boyle really managed to create a world where Jack believes his plan will work, a situation where the audience empathises with the normality of the focal characters and find themselves rooting for their successes.

There was always going to be some slight concern when you hear that anyone other than The Beatles is performing their songs, but Patel brings a really nice balance of his own voice and interpretation of the stories being told through them with the familiarity of the famous music. The way the songs are woven into the story and paced throughout the film helps with the progression of the timeline. Danny Boyle has commented while being interviewed that Himesh Patel sang Yesterday in one of his auditions and was one of the few actors who managed to connect with the song on a level that made it not sound like karaoke.

A film made purely for entertainment and it so committed to it’s storyline is such a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong I love a film with all sorts of underlying themes and questions but this film is just brilliantly likeable. It’s a real family film with a whole range of humour, jam packed with wonderful songs in amongst a fully unrealistic, yet entertaining story. There’s very little with which to find in fault Yesterday, it’s absolutely my go to feel good film.

The Equalizer – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz and David Harbour
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Written by Richard Wenk
Length: 132mins

Robert McCall (Washington) is a former special service commando who faked his own death in the hopes of living out a quiet life. Instead, he comes out of a self-imposed retirement to save a young girl (Moretz) and finds his desire for justice reawakened after coming face to face with members of a brutal Russian gang…

Antoine Fuqua does a brilliant job of telling the story – it doesn’t span over a great length of time yet a lot happens. I really appreciate how he manages to successfully illustrate Robert’s day to day experiences in just a few scenes without using an arty montage or other more suggestive techniques. He had a real confidence in Washington’s ability and you can see it translate to screen. What is fantastic is to watch a film that has a deep consideration of ‘character’ whilst also being able to pull off some amazing action sequences.

Denzel Washington is an absolute powerhouse, I don’t think anyone would argue that his skill is just phenomenal and it’s pretty much a given that he’ll be great in whatever role he undertakes. What is really interesting with the role of Robert is that they needed to cast someone who you can believe to be such a kindhearted, selfless individual who could be equally as convincing as a brutal, determined weapon – both in appearance and in build. Denzel was the perfect fit and it’s such a pleasure to watch him work, particularly in the first half of the film where he is interacting with the peripheral characters and taking situations in as they happen. Although all of the performances are strong in this film, Chloe Grace Moretz is also worth mentioning. Her part is not enormous but she manages to create a really likeable character who the audience empathises with; thus making Roberts reaction to her story much more acceptable to an audience who cares for her.

The film feels complete, which is quite refreshing. Though a sequel was released in 2018 I don’t believe this film was created with the intention of dragging the story and characters out. The story is wrapped up nicely and by the end of the story it leaves it’s audience with very few questions. Real credit to the writer, Richard Wenk, who creates a story where it’s a very natural start to the action – of course bits and pieces about the past come out throughout the film but there’s no confusion from the moment the film starts, right through the action to a solid ending.

Though the violence and, shall we say, ‘creative’ methods that Robert uses to dispatch the bad guys is pretty brutal, the film is only rated 15 so it gives you an indication of the intensity before you watch. If you can stomach a bit of violence I really recommend giving it a watch. It truly holds its own as and action/thriller and is a really brilliant watch with some stellar performances.

The Fugitive – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward and Julianne Moore
Written by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy
Directed by Andrew Davis
Length: 130mins

When the wife of a loving surgeon (Ford) is killed, her husband is arrested and sent to death row. During a bus crash en route to prison he escapes and the game of cat and mouse begins. A police detective (Jones) determined to catch his fugitive, and the fugitive determined catch his wife’s murderer whilst clearing his name. This film was not predicted to carry the success that it did, it was even rumoured that the actors believed the film could have damaged their careers. But with the clear, brilliant vision of Andrew Davis at the helm, a potential box office flop, turned into a smash hit and highly accoladed movie that would be considered a true classic.

The Fugitive’s success relies significantly on how plausible the action feels; though not something that you would hear in the news every day it feels realistic that the husband of a murder victim would be seriously investigated and, dependent on evidence (or lack thereof) charged. Also the fact that his ‘escape’ wasn’t a spontaneous, highly skilled prison break, but more of a grief stricken man making the most of an opportunity and driven by injustice. It’s refreshing and interesting to see an action based thriller with focal characters who are more ordinary, intelligent and successful, but still normal. It really opens up the opportunity for the audience to empathise with the situation.

The brilliance of this movie is a combination of the performances, direction and the clever editing. Harrison Ford’s character, Dr Kimble, is so interesting. Most of his performance is with just a small amount dialogue, meaning the bulk of his action is so heavily reliant on the physical transformation and portrayal, Dr Kimble speaks through his actions. Tommy Lee Jones earned an Academy Award for his work as Samuel Gerard. He is just outstanding, the audience really gets to walk through the whole situation with Gerard and it’s a fascinating watch, to have the two sides of this chase just enhances the build in suspense. The relationship between the characters is enunciated by the brilliant editing team (who also achieved Oscar nominations), the chase scenes cut between the two characters and you find that there are parallels between the two characters, making it wonderfully symmetrical. Andrew Davis, who had previously worked with Tommy Lee Jones, managed to turn a plot that could have easily ended up boring and predictable into a canvas for the two leading actors to play and push their characters, with brilliant results.

After it’s unexpected but well deserved box office success, The Fugitive has gone on to be considered a front to back classic and is timeless in it’s brilliance. It’s an exciting experience full of really brilliant moments and is well worth a watch.

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.