Summerland – Review

Rating: PG Cast: Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Penelope Wilton, Lucas Bond and Tom Courtenay Directed by Jessica Swale Written by Jessica Swale Length: 99mins

Summerland is set during World War II and tells the story of writer Alice (Gemma Arterton), who’s surprised one day when discovering she is to provide housing for young London evacuee Frank (Lucas Bond). Though she had no intention to open her door to the boy, Alice eventually opens her heart, discovering that she shares more in common with Frank than she had initially anticipated. 

In Jessica Swale’s debut feature film, she manages to juggle the balance of storytelling between the relational journey of Alice and Frank as well as the romantic narrative that we experience through flashbacks. The flashbacks work really nicely; it’s clear when they’re happening, they aren’t dragged out and their purpose allows the story to progress and character to build rather than just ‘throwing them in’ to make the film more interesting. While elements of the script might be far-fetched, Swale (who wrote the film as well as directed it), was able to create such strong, realistic bonds between her characters which overrides any uncertainty with the action.

As soon as the movie started I wasn’t too concerned with the plot, straight away the ever-dependable Gemma Arterton created such an interesting character in Alice. You see that she’s a bit damaged and bitter but Arterton allows Alice to have a bit of a sense of humour in her own world – demonstrated perfectly when the surprised locals think she’s about to buy a child some chocolate, only to keep the sweet treat for herself and leave with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face. Lucas Bond did a great job as Frank as well, while there was a risk of his character becoming a little annoying, he managed to keep a steady mix of the child having fun with new friends and the child thrown into a strange new world with the dark shadow of a war-torn London hanging over him. He presented a real sense of maturity in his performance and it was a pleasure to watch.

Essentially Summerland is a film full of wit and charm, Swale knows how to create a smooth tone whilst slipping between the past and present, alternating between two sides of her focal character, the realist and the romantic. The film boasts real substance beneath the surface but keeps it’s feet on the ground. It’s a wonderful example of a great character based film – the story doesn’t matter, anything could have been written in around these characters and I would argue it would be just as captivating. There’s a wonderful sense of humanity to the story and the characters which is why it provides a sense of escapism whilst the world is in turmoil. Though many audiences might have missed its release, I highly recommend trying to watch this movie if you get chance.

Honest Thief – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney, Jeffrey Dovowan. Anthony Ramos and Robert Patrick
Directed by Mark Williams
Written by Steve Allrich and Mark Williams
Length: 99mins

Liam Neeson explodes back onto our screens in brand new release ‘Honest Thief’ just in time for cinemas, bringing the hope many movie theatres need to pull audiences in while the industry faces potential collapse amidst the shockwaves of Covid:19. Neeson stars as Tom, the honest thief of the title, also known – much to his irritation – as the In-and-Out Bandit. Tom’s late-in-life bank-robbing career has bagged him $9million, but upon meeting Annie (Kate Walsh) decides that an honest, simple life might be worth more than the money he’d acquired.

Built around a solid idea, a master criminal choosing to hand himself in, Honest Thief begins by spending time on it’s characters, giving the roles a chance to develop which is a rarity in most contemporary action movies. It’s nice to see how the key relationship of the story starts and watch as the relationship develops, but also to get a glimpse into the lives of the peripheral characters without dedicating the whole plot to characterisation. It’s clever, subtle work of Mark Williams and Steve Allrich to bulk out the story and allowing the audience to empathise with characters that they might not had the time not been taken to include these moments in the script.

Most audiences will know exactly what they’re going to when the sit down to watch Honest Thief. Liam Neeson almost has his own ‘brand’ of films – very similar to some of his earlier movies like Taken; you know that his work is reliable, if perhaps a little predicable. Despite the similar narrative to some of his earlier works, credit has to be given – he’s 68 years of age and is still spitting out these brilliantly entertaining films with as must gusto as he did 10 years ago.

What I really enjoyed about this film is the themes surrounding guilt and personal responsibility woven into the plot. Again, it’s subtle and if you are looking for a steady action film without having to think about it you can happily enjoy the film for what it is. But it’s nice that it carries some deeper themes as well for the viewers who enjoy looking into the plot a little more. All in all it’s just a steady watch, as previously mentioned its a real treat for any cinemas that are able to open to be able to show a film with such a prestigious name carrying the feature. I urge you to support your local cinemas if they’re open; if this film is showing and you enjoy a solid action film then it will definitely be up your street.

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.

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.

Finding Neverland – Review

Rating: PG
Cast: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman and Freddie Highmore
Directed by Marc Forster
Written by David Magee
Length: 106mins

Marc Forster’s ‘Finding Neverland’ follows the story of writer J.M Barrie (Depp) as he finds the inspiration for the characters that changed his life. Wrapped in moments of heightened joy, grief, frustration and imagination we find Barrie stuck in a rut as his latest play fails to impress an audience with whom Barrie struggles to relate as well as negotiating a cold, awkward relationship. A chance meeting with the Llewelyn Davies family; four young boys and their mother (Winslet) unshackles not only J.M Barrie’s creativity as a writer but also Marc Forster’s own visual ingenuity.

Depp’s performance as J.M Barrie is so uniquely his own. The script allows for emotional jumps between sobering realities of ‘adulthood’ and expectation contrasted with the jovial encounters with the Llewelyn Davies children. It keeps the film moving at a decent pace whilst allowing space for the slower moving moments. Kate Winslet is just as brilliant as Depp in her role, yet both leads are arguably upstaged by Freddie Highmore. At just 11 years of age when he played Peter Llewelyn Davies he gave such a raw, emotional performance that connects the whole story and allows the audience to see how a character like Peter Pan could have been inspired.

The combination of the quaint Victorian setting and Barrie’s wonderful imagination allows Forster to conjure up a world where fantasy leaks into the everyday as fleeting moments; be it a tinkling bell or a brandished hook, Forster’s merging of reality and imagination is what really makes the film stand out. There’s something liberating about imagination being encouraged in such a film, particularly as the film is not explicitly for children.

Although rated a PG the film explores loss and grief quite significantly, it’s a true credit to David Magee for incorporating how both children and adults might cope with such emotional trials whilst still enabling a younger audience to watch should their parents deem it appropriate. Any themes that could be considered slightly more adult are discreetly woven into the script, subject to the viewer choosing to consider the parts of the story that aren’t told in the film. I love that they keep the storyline relatively simple, they don’t throw big dramatic moments into the plot just for the sake of it. The filmmakers trust their story and their actors to tell it.

It is worth noting that this film is not a biography, it’s classified as a ‘historical fantasy drama’ based on the 1988 play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by Allan Knee. It attempts to tell how biographical events inspired Barrie’s 1904 stage play; namely the relationships between the playwright and his lost boys…

“You find a glimmer of happiness in this world, there’s always someone who wants to destroy it”

La La Land – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K Simmons
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Written by Damien Chazelle
Length: 128mins

In 2016 Damien Chazelle brought the highly anticipated ‘old Hollywood’ style musical, La La Land, to the big screen. The film itself seems to have split audiences into passionate opinions of ‘love it or hate it’ and for that response in itself I think its worthy of comment. I have found it so interesting to enter into conversations with people who disagree with my own views; I would confidently say that this is one of my absolute favourite films.

Our story follows two artists in Hollywood – Sebastian, a hot headed but passionate pianist with a deep love for Jazz music and Mia, an actress, taking on the industry one audition, one rejection at a time. Their paths cross a couple of times before their conjoined story begins, but what seems to be key is that they are connected – both young people, with big, possibly unrealistic dreams. This story has a very raw feel, assisted of course by the cinematography and directorial choices, our main characters have such a normal feel about them. I find both Mia and Sebastian very easy to relate to, sharing explicit moments of vulnerability; weakness, frustration and emotion. All performed beautifully by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, both of whom received high accolades for their work including multiple nominations and awards. I feel that what this film has done so brilliantly is create something that people relate to. Mia and Sebastian express so much of human nature making it almost impossible to not connect with the characters on some level. This makes me question the impact that this level of empathy instills within it’s audience, perhaps some dislike the outcome of the story because choices made aren’t the ones they would have made? Maybe not, but it’s an interesting idea to consider.

In comparison to one of Chazelle’s previous hits, ‘Whiplash’, La La Land was an opportunity to show a whole different side to his vision and creativity. Where Whiplash is said to have been a very ‘tight’ production – heavily relying on editing with lots of shots, focussed on exact, predestined moments. La La Land was a much more ‘free’ production, relying on less shots than Whiplash but allowing time for rehearsal and regular retakes (to assist in the practicalities of syncing actors to playback etc…) I understand that there was plenty of opportunity for improvisation within the script – though the visuals were predesigned the key relationship needed a real casual essence as its driving force and so the relaxed atmosphere of two professionals, totally in character, improvising gave new layers of truth while keeping the relationship and story telling light. In considering the visual presentation on a whole you cannot miss the sheer attention to detail. Everything is so deliberate from the colour schemes, camera angles to moments of quiet and a small glance.

I’m not sure you can discuss La La Land without commenting on the music, another element that divides people. I for one was slightly confused at some peoples outrage at the use of seemingly ‘normal’ vocals. These vocals, though of an extremely high standard, rarely sound polished or like recording artists and perhaps it’s just not to some peoples taste, but I feel that, firstly; it was a deliberate choice and therefore was selected to allow for the tone of the overall story and, secondly; it still sounds great, it just doesn’t necessarily fit with the framework of modern day ‘moive-musicals’. For me, the music and the lyrics provide extra layers to the storytelling, layers that are perhaps unreachable through alternative methods. I feel like Justin Hurwitz, the films composer, has outdone himself. In the films that he’s worked on I always find myself paying attention to the music, not as a distraction, rather as another thread of the canvas so to speak. As someone without much musical knowledge I wasn’t sure i’d ever really have a ‘favourite’ composer, but I certainly do admire and respect Hurwitz’s ability to tell story through music. Each piece of music, each song is so deliberate and powerful.

This film is truly a piece of art. By nature it wont be loved and adored by everyone, but it will speak to people in different ways. I encourage you to look at this film through a slightly different lens than just ‘popping something on the tv’. Consider the films intentions, the messages hiding in each detail, in each lyric. It might teach you something about yourself or encourage something in you that you had pushed aside.

“Here’s to the fools who dream”

Lady Bird – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet and Beanie Feldstein.
Directed by Greta Gerwig.
Written by Greta Gerwig.
Length: 94mins.

Lady Bird is the striking directorial debut by Greta Gerwig that is assured, singular and affecting. It tells a beautifully plain coming of age story following a teenage girl called Christine (who calls herself ‘Lady Bird’) as we explore the complexities of her relationships and trials of growing up. Though I describe the story as plain, it is certainly not boring and with the absolute powerhouse of Saoirse Ronan at the helm, supported by the outstanding talent of Laurie Metcalf, there is so much for the audience to be invested in.

The opening of the movie shows a very normal conversation between a mother and daughter in the car on the way home from a college trip – both moved by a series of cassette tapes that had just come to an end and quickly escalates into a spontaneous teenage tantrum propelled by a mother who is quick to take a pop at her daughter. Straight away the scene is set – we are introduced to one of the main themes considered throughout the film, the ever changing, volatile, ups and downs of the relationship between a seemingly ‘normal’ mother and daughter. A daughter with big dreams, lacking in patience and somewhat unaware of others while wrapped up in her own plans and a mother who wants the best for her daughter but knows her temperament and is frustrated by her ignorance and lack of understanding surrounding ‘grown up problems’. The scene ends with the unexpected but hilarious moment of Lady Bird opening the car door and throwing herself out of it while still driving along, followed by the horrified screams of her mother.

The script is just brilliant, it’s so authentic and conversational whilst flipping to either hilarious moments of quick comedy or deeply saddening moments. It keeps each scene moving along nicely while showing the audience more of each character with each sentence. One of the reasons I rate this film so highly is it’s impact on me; each time I watch it I seem to focus on a different theme that is subtly woven into the plot. Thanks to Ronan’s brilliant charm, the audience very quickly empathises with her character and is invested in each challenge that she faces on a day to day basis.

In what was the first in an undoubtably long run of films directed by Greta Gerwig, we get a glimpse at the type of stories she wants to tell. We see strong but imperfect female leads, a consideration of social and economical division and a focus on human relationships; all important issues with hundreds of stories to tell. This film is an easy watch, it’s not long but it has so much to say. Completely original, refreshingly honest.

“What I really want is to be on math olympiad”
“But math isn’t something you’re terribly strong in”
“That we know of, yet”

Misbehaviour – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Rhys Ifans and Greg Kinnear.
Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe
Written by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe
Length: 106mins

Philippa Lowthorpe’s ‘Misbehaviour’ documents the chaotic events surrounding the 1970 Miss Universe competition held in London. A fiercely important story for the Women’s Liberation Movement paralleled with a fight for racial equality. The audience follow two activists, Sally Alexander (Knightley) and Jo Robinson (Buckley) as they put their own differences aside to fight for the change they want to see; but we are also given insight to the the view of the competitors. Screenwriters Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe present a variety of “feminist” positions without confidently stating their own and though some have criticised this, I think that the film encourages it’s viewers to go on a journey with all of the characters and develop their own standpoint.

As is true with many films based on real events, it’s difficult to judge how much should have been included. To take on two (arguably three) main storylines does present challenges and I think it’s particularly difficult in this situation. There’s some brilliantly important moments in this story that highlight massive issues surrounding racism in 1970, not just in England but globally, and this movie draws some attention to this but due to the compact nature of focal events of the film, it feels like it gets sidelined. While the main narrative of the story focuses on the movements of Ms Alexander and Ms Robinson, we get that small glimpse inside the competition. To see the shift of allowing the first black South African contestant and, significantly, where 1970 also saw saw Grenada’s Jennifer Hosten (the formidable Gugu Mbatha-Raw) become the first black Miss World.

Generally I think this is an easy watch. It’s entertaining, it keeps moving and it highlights several important issues. The performances of Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley were great; although portraying very different people, they come across with a united strength which fits the narrative and I imagine the real life people behind their characters. Gugu Mbatha-Raw delivers a really strong performance, the quiet strength of her character, draped in the grace and elegance of a beauty queen is an enticing combination that really captures the audiences heart. She’s interesting to watch, the humanity of her situation, steely determination and utter desire to win this competition which was so important, not only to her but to a generation of young black girls, really stole the show for me.

Perhaps if it was a work of fiction some might find it a little dull, but in my opinion the truth behind the story keeps it interesting, particularly with the ending. It’s not a big blockbuster but an entertaining film with important truths behind the story.