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.

Come Away – Review

Rating: PG Cast: Keira Chansa, Jordan A. Nash, David Oyelowo, Angelina Jolie, Reece Yates and Gugu Mbatha-Raw Directed by Brenda Chapman Written by Marissa Kate Goodhill Length: 94mins

Another 2020 release that went largely unnoticed was Brenda Chapman’s ‘Come Away’. A tale that imagines Peter Pan and Alice (of Wonderland) as siblings which mixes the excitement of childhood imagination with the darker issues of loss, family feud and addiction. An unusual combination for a storyline primarily aimed at children. 

It was the trailer that initially grabbed my attention. On the surface it looked like a lovely escapism piece, allowing the familiar fictional characters to be placed in a new situation and using the medium of film to open up the imaginative worlds of these characters. Unfortunately the heavy counter balance of the children’s reality made it feel a bit clunky. While aesthetically it felt like a family film, the deep sadness when a character dies followed by the, relatively realistic, reactions of the others just didn’t fit the ‘magic’ that was set up in the earlier scenes.

The cast were solid, Oyelowo and Jolie played their parental roles well; creating an authentic feel of family and the children were seemingly uninhibited by the A-list actors that surrounded them. 

While in general the plot didn’t work for me; I commend the intentions of the filmmakers. They didn’t fall into the trap of remaking old stories and you can see the heart behind a film that is clearly commenting on childhood imagination and it’s importance no matter what is going on in the real world – the trouble seems to be that other themes and issues were thrown into the mix and it got messy.

I find this film in particular really frustrating to consider, perhaps I had specific expectations when I went to watch it and they weren’t reached but I just hoped for so much more from this film. Instead of escaping from the pandemic during which it was released, I came away feeling a bit deflated. While unusual for me, I wouldn’t actually recommend this film to many people. It’s probably fine to have on in the background but the more serious topics aren’t really dealt with and the prequel elements of Peter Pan and Alice aren’t fleshed out, leaving the film as a whole feeling like it missed the mark. 

Lovers Rock – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Amarah-Jae St Aubyn, Micheal Ward, Shaniqua Okwok, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Ellis George
Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Steve McQueen and Courttia Newland
Length: 70mins

The first of Steve McQueen’s ‘Small Axe’ series – an anthology of films released through the BBC at the tail end of last year – ‘Lovers Rock’ is probably the closest anyones going to get to a party for the next few months. Set in London during the early 1980’s, for the entire seventy minutes of the film’s runtime, you become completely engrossed in the celebrations as they play out on screen, feeling every change in rhythm and song.

The story’s concept is fairly simple – following a few key characters as they enjoy their night out. However, the execution is entirely different, with moments of joy and intrigue being portrayed through a wide variety of film and story devices. McQueen knows exactly when to draw back from the high intensity of the party and allow characters to have more intimate moments, before bringing the sound and movement back together in a crashing wave of energy. 

McQueen has clearly shown himself as the master of either celebrating or highlighting the stories of people of colour in cinema, particularly in his 2012 release, ‘12 Years a Slave.’ The ‘Small Axe’ series looks to further explore and celebrate black culture, and whilst this will mean delving into stories of prejudice and hatred, ‘Lovers Rock’ feels like the perfect way to begin the anthology. It’s a film of pure joy and energy, and whilst there are a few cracks that show moments of bigotry and hate, for almost the entire runtime the viewer is drawn into a world of celebration. 

Everything in this film works to immerse the viewer in the party that’s taking place, with the camera gliding effortlessly from one character to the next, and the soundtrack playing one great song after another. Despite there not being too much time for overt character development, you still feel engaged in the stories of those at the party, with particular traits being shown within different people, allowing the story to feel believable throughout and preventing the audience from ever feeling as if the energy of the party has lost its momentum.

Overall, I would definitely recommend ‘Lovers Rock’ to anyone looking for something to watch. With its short runtime and joyful, high-energy story making it less of a film and more of a party in your living room – exactly the kind of thing that’s needed during a global lockdown.  

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.