Wild Rose (2019)

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The lead in this musical drama has the words ‘three chords and the truth’ tattooed on her arm. Here are three words and nothing but the truth about ‘Wild Rose’; authentic meaningful satisfaction. And another word because I cannot contain myself – outstanding.

Freed from jail after 12 months, Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) returns to her mam and 2 children but the home sweet home life has never really suited her. She’s a boozer, a force that can’t be tamed and country music swells in her bloodstream. Rose-Lynn only wants to make a name for herself in Nashville but juggling a cleaning job and having a family brings up what really matters.

‘Wild Rose’ contains this inescapable family aspect and director Tom Harper ensures that the carefree Glaswegian antics never overshadow the true feeling of the story. Perhaps his work on shows like ‘This is England 86’ have helped him craft that narrowing in on struggling family units and it pays off wonderfully in this feature.

Rose-Lynn’s home life is engrossing in its richness and it serves as an ideal series of notes in her narrative songbook. By the time we reach the final showstopping moment, with the camera lingering on those closest to the aspirational singer, you’d have to possess no empathy to not be moved to tears by the destructive, yet beautiful smacks of power, heart and delight shown on screen.

In this movie, Glasgow itself becomes a character. It embodies life, entrapment, hope, pain and growth which Rose-Lynn mirrors in fine measure, this helps really make you understand her roots, so by the time she touches down in the shiny world of Nashville you cannot help but know this glittery city, overrun with similar dreamers may not be the oasis she yearned for after all.

Along the way, there are a few parts which sniff of almost whacking in obstacles every other scene, just to keep raising the stakes and adding weight to Rose-Lynn’s personal tug of war but the sheer majesty of her vocals instantly makes you forgive these minor broken strings, on an otherwise finely tuned film.

Jessie Buckley pours her absolute all into this role and therefore her character crackles with life and pure soul. She is wonderful at capturing a feisty energy and emoting Rose-Lynn’s struggles with heart-wrenching power. It’s not just running amok in Scotland and beyond that make her fun to watch, up on stage or on a webcam, Buckley is a firecracker with a voice which gives you goosebumps and can also soothe you with a twang of joy. Julie Walters is a marvellous treasure; her connection to Rose-Lynn and her children are magnificent and you utterly invest into every scene she appears in.

Music can be such a megaton of power and through the truth and storytelling qualities of the country scene, ‘Wild Rose’ is one of those musical gems with something to say and it’s leading lady is a rising star to be reckoned with.

8/10

 

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King of Thieves (2018)

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Starring a handful of British talents and directed by the man behind the moving ‘The Theory of Everything’, you’d think this film based on a massive heist in the diamond district of London would be better than it actually turns out to be.

After a personal tragedy, Brian Reader (Michael Caine) is roped back into the underworld of robberies. He brings a team together of former thieves and brings an alarm specialist and new face into the fold, in the shape of Basil (Charlie Cox). The six elderly gentlemen plan to break into a vault in Hatton Garden, which holds over £200 million in diamonds, cash and gold.

This is 100% one of those movies that fits into the mould of the real story being more interesting than the film itself. It’s such a shame because this could have been an interesting look into the men that committed this crime but it descends into a rough and often unfunny thread of bickering and gruff London blokes cracking nasty comments. ‘King of Thieves’ definitely outlives its early charm and whilst there are some doses of alright comedy, they are few and far between a heist that arrives too soon and isn’t as exciting as it deserved to be.

There are elements within the robbery which are playful and work on the humour revolving around their senior years and a couple of stronger moments utilise on the tension of them in the act and the possibility of being caught. A Tchaikovsky backed sequence of thieving is a stand out snippet with ‘Whiplash’ levels of editing and a burst of diamond hungry energy. This and the quality of the performers involved don’t outweigh the overly long run-time and a film that doesn’t seem to know what angle it’s going for.

James Marsh directs a bunch of recognisable faces and there certainly seems to be a gentle chemistry between them, the first stages of this film are breezy but then it goes on and on in a way where stylistic choices of gangsters in the past flit into proceedings, grey army treachery bogs down a script laden with tiresome expletives and a police-heavy third act which isn’t as riveting or tense as, again it deserved to be.

Benjamin Wallfisch’s music, at points echoes the bouncy yet dramatic score which BBC’s ‘Hustle’ used so well and in fact this film does have some of the pre-swindling set up and snappy edits of the con itself, which mirrors the lighthearted entertainment of the Adrian Lester TV series but it doesn’t keep to this warmness. That would be fine if the eventual darker notes and masculine aggression weren’t so mishandled, becoming cringey character traits losing all the charm of the film.

‘King of Thieves’ may have acting royalty involved from Caine to Jim Broadbent but that doesn’t keep its crown from slipping away from meaty real events into a doddery, average retelling.

5.5/10

The Happy Prince (2018)

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Titled from a tale within a collection of short stories by the famous Oscar Wilde; this film mirrors the tragic beauty of the swallow and statue. A poet, playwright and author is accounted in his later years and comes across like a touching tribute to the man.

Residing in Paris after being imprisoned for sodomy, Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett) is a penniless man but still has friends he can depend on. The film then looks back at how Wilde came to this point and the loves and lusts he fell into along the way, none more so than with Alfred Douglas (Colin Morgan).

It’s a remarkably interesting biopic with a remarkable figure at the centre. I’ve read and studied Wilde’s plays through university and his talent is incredible, the film furthers his character and provides depth to a troubled man, pretty much ruined by society. Rupert Everett’s direction and screenplay doesn’t shy away from the grim side of destitution but revels in the lavish nature of Oscar’s behaviours too.

This makes for a mighty kind of film to watch, there are fun moments to be had but it’s quite a heavy going watch because Everett really makes us see how tough the Irish writer had it in the latter stages of his life. Some of the heavier moments make the biographical journey almost on the nose, of filling out criteria you come to expect from a film like this, plus there’s a couple of points where the film starts feeling long; the back and forth and trotting of the globe with Wilde’s past becoming a vague strain.

A stand out moment with Everett providing stand up singing prowess is a sparkling gem, gilding Wilde with the undeniable talent and attention-grabbing ease he possessed. A couple of throwbacks to a bleak time on a platform at Clapham Junction are washed out of colour, grey and therefore work in showcasing the nastier times in his existence when the people had turned on him. It’s not exactly a film constantly keeping up engagement but there’s a showy, absorbing quality to the most part.

Rupert Everett makes the playwright come alive with vivid intrigue and a Brando like touch of greatness to a role he totally inhabits. He provides a balance of desperate scrapings for love and money with Wilde’s whip smart wordsmith wizardry. Colin Morgan is very good in a role that shows off his spoilt and money orientated manner, he does well as a man almost like the villain of the play.

Oscar Wilde’s later years are documented with great care in a clear passion project from Rupert Everett. The film is also being smart in a late US release because I can see award potential from his turn as the Dublin born figure. We may know of the man and his work but this film proves there’s more to learn and feel.

6.5/10

On Chesil Beach (2018)

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Here is a reunion of sorts, as ‘Atonement’ star Saoirse Ronan and its author team up to tell the story of a young married couple. It’s a small scale tale and one that’s excellently performed, but it’s a film that comes across as quite bland.

Spending their wedding night at a hotel near Chesil Beach; are classical music player Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and country romantic Edward (Billy Howle). As they near the consummation of their marriage, it becomes clear that something could stand in their way.

The 1962 period and quintessential Britishness of the Dorset locations are prettily shot. Sean Bobbitt certainly gives the stretch of uncomfortable looking shingle a vague haunting quality. It also is a place of quiet yet heated reflection which becomes the setting of the revelation that stirs the pot and helps step the film narrative up.

Before this moment, I have to say the movie is quite a slow and dragging affair. There are some humorous moments and within the flashbacks of their courtship, it’s clear to see their adoration but they’re never totally interesting. There’s also the matter, that after the big moment, there’s two points in the plot that are so predictable. Luckily, I can forgive the expect record shop moment and the ending because they’re performed so well that my gut was punched and my eyes almost welled with tears.

Ronan is always an sensational actor to watch and that doesn’t change here. The way she plays the upper class and more stuffy frigid nature of her character is superb, you always buy into Florence’s pained fears of commitment. Howle, surprisingly, stole the film for me. I love Ronan as an actor but I was enthralled by his turn as Edward and especially in the later stages of the film I felt for him.

It’s not a clumsy film but it’s not exactly a serene picture-perfect one either. The acting from the two lovers are what keep the interests just above nap-mode. ‘On Chesil Beach’ comes across like a great Sunday afternoon watch, to have on whilst you’re enjoying a solid British roast dinner.

6/10

Beast (2018)

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Stalking the screen with effective tension is this beastly feature. It certainly has bark and bite, as we see this dark thriller take hold and swallow you up, in a dangerously palpable mystery.

Celebrating her birthday is Moll (Jessie Buckley), who ends up dancing the night away before crossing paths with the possibly shady Pascal (Johnny Flynn), the next morning. There have been a series of grim murders plaguing the island and it isn’t long until people suspect Moll’s new connection, as the man behind the disappearances.

This is a debut work from Michael Pearce; who unarguably knows how to layer on the tension. The film almost sweats out a deep and engaging psychological tale, as if Pearce is allowing us to peer through a magnifying glass at all the worrying little details possessed by Moll and Pascal, details that keep us questioning their relationship and the trail of murders.

Coinciding with Pearce’s fantastically hypnotic visuals is a score from Jim Williams that drips with almost spine-chilling strength. The entire look of this movie is that of a frightening British drama, with a cold dirtiness and a somewhat fun immersion into thriller territory that is enhanced by the plot. The narrative is one that definitely kept me guessing and the end is one I could talk about for some time yet, it’s visceral, unexpected and almost reaches the realm of being powerful.

Saying all of this, I don’t know whether it’s a film I’d watch again and it’s a story that I was a little disappointed didn’t end up being darker or more twisted. The film also slightly suffers from feeling like a slow tick-tock aspect, which does make it feel a little bit long. I’d definitely say the film is strongest in the first two thirds.

The acting is blindingly great, some of the most captivating performances I’ve ever seen. Flynn excels at playing this secretive, maybe dodgy character that turns up in Moll’s life. There’s a great balance of masculinity and softer love he portrays as he gets wrapped up in the whirlwind of the flame haired Buckley. She is incredible, the emotions she goes through are numerous and each one is carefully performed, drawing you into her as a character. It’s almost a tour de force show that she puts on and Moll comes to vivid and horrific life thanks to this.

This could be bad or good but I still don’t really know how I feel with ‘Beast’ and perhaps that’s testament to how fearless and different it is. The movie is rife with tension and I can at least safely say that it’s two leading stars ensure you cannot look away.

7/10

Our Kind of Traitor (2016)

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From the thrilling mind of John le Carre, this film adaptation takes his novel and transfers it to the big screen with enough enjoyable thrills, questions and definite stellar performances. It may not be 100% gripping or perfect but it’s well made.

Whilst dealing with their relationship issues on a holiday in Morocco, Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris) have a chance meeting with Dima (Stellan Skarsgard). He’s a Russian figure in the Mafia but fears his life with an imminent money transfer on the horizon that could endanger him and his family. Dima entrusts Perry with some information to hand to MI6 man Hector (Damian Lewis).

First of all, I have to comment on the look of the film, the way it’s shot and also directed does work really well. There’s a cold blue tone to the film and frequent mirrored fractures of faces creates that dodgy spy world. As if the blur of trust is leaking out to the way the movie is filmed. It’s a beautiful film at times, from the magical white of the opening scene to the way London even looks sleek and captivating.

Based on a book, this film by Susanna White captures the le Carre spy genre very well. That mystery of government and human interaction, who to trust, death and danger all come together in a solid blend to make this a suspenseful watch on the most part. I must admit that at one point; end of second act and going into the third act as they venture to a safe house, the movie begins lagging and the tension that had come before disappears like a ghost. Also, for a story of this bubbling intensity it feels like the movie could have dealt with the delicate nature of involving an every-man in something so big in a better, perhaps more convincing way.

Marcelo Zarvos’ score is a big highlight though and fits the thriller market very very well. The Brazilian composer builds a rostra of music that compliments the tension of the narrative, it never sinks unheard but it never overshadows either. It’s a perfect pitch that tries immersing us into this glossy feature. The plot may not always be outstanding, it has a somewhat generic feel but with the acting, music and cinematography you can’t help but mostly get on board with the entire product.

Ewan McGregor plays the average Joe not called Joe with suitable frowns, worried looks and interchanging cardigans. He is the character we’re meant to get into the film with because he’s like us, an every day normal guy thrown into turmoil, threat and terrific parties and on the whole he acts well. Stellan Skarsgard is the selling point, he brings buckets of charisma to the role and exudes a masculine dominance over proceedings. Damian Lewis is an actor I love watching, there’s something about the careful yet carefree way he delivers lines that makes his characters, this film included, come alive. Naomie Harris does more of worth than the trailer makes you think and helps the narrative with another side of the human eye looking over the world of gangs and crime.

Our Kind of Traitor isn’t an out and out thriller to remember but it certainly looks good and is backed by superb acting and fine tension.

7/10

Dad’s Army (2016)

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Don’t Panic…this movie remake of the well loved and still well shown TV sitcom isn’t as bad as some reviews may be saying. At least, I enjoyed the quaint nature and rather twee approach it had, granted the comedy never takes off and the stars listed feel under used but aside from this and its predictability, it’s nevertheless a fine call to attention for the appreciated BBC show.

In 1944 Walmington-on-Sea, the Home Guard led by blustering Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) may finally get the chance to prove themselves as fit and necessary men for the war. MI5 believe the Germans have a spy in the midst of this seaside resort and hope that the Captain and his army can find the sneaky culprit and save the day.

Taking on such a popular and adored sitcom from the hallowed halls of British television is no mean feat and director Oliver Parker has his work cut out for him just by using the name and trying to tread in the much respected footsteps taken by the likes of Arthur Lowe, Clive Dunn and John Laurie. He does have a background in tackling British brands of the past, with ‘St. Trinian’s’ and’ Johnny English Reborn’ to his name. This feels the same as the latter with a big sweeping feel to the piece but not much behind it. It looks good and we see more of the town, the people and even Germany but without the needed ingredients of substance or point to make us wish to see that.

I kind of agree with a lot of online views stating that this film is pointless. It’s not like anyone massively called out for this movie to be rolled into production, the show is always on air and will always be remembered so having a whole new bunch of faces and a now bigger set piece cinema scaled vision to the characters and location feels forced and unwanted. On the other hand, I am happy to see it get the silver screen treatment because it heightens on drama and doesn’t tarnish ‘Dad’s Army’, in fact this feels like a weak yet satisfying salute to the original.

Of course throughout this 2016 release, watching Jones or Bill Nighy comes with a set of expectations and it’s odd seeing them try to look and act in a similar fashion to the actors from the TV show. There’s a strained factor at times with some of the jokes or skewed references to the show, as if they know we’re hopeful to hear catchphrases ring out for us to enjoy. Also the story about a spy is boringly approached being obvious, the set-ups the Home Guard face are never subtle and maybe things get a little to historically serious for these bumbling older men to handle. It’s fun in the show seeing them verge on doing something but never really finding their place to help the war efforts.

Comedy wise; there are some good laugh out loud moments from the Carry On style word play and general innuendo or the prat falling movements from Mainwaring. The scene in a cottage as he and Wilson hope to win the admiration and passion of new figure Rose Winters is really well done. There’s a weird yet humorous angle in Pike’s attempt to be dashing like a cinematic idol and the lucid thoughts of German looks invading the usually placid town are over the top but played greatly.

Toby Jones looks the part and really steals the film when squinting his eyes and looking like a puffy Churchill. Bill Nighy isn’t a great Wilson being more like he is in rom-coms with the usual Nighy snort and swagger. Michael Gambon delights as the dim-witted yet cheery Godfrey. Catherine Zeta-Jones looks like she’s enjoying her turn as the new character, lapping up the irony of us knowing her part and the men in uniform not having a clue. Daniel Mays with swindler voice and all is a fine casting choice for the scheming wise-cracking Walker. Blake Harrison is goofy, lanky, kind and molly-coddled to almost Ian Lavender levels. Tom Courtenay is perhaps the closest to his tube character after Jones, his movements and voice being near uncanny. Bill Paterson gives fun barrel shot dead pan tones to his turn as Scottish Frazer. It’s also good to see a whole new army come in as the females show up to help in a large way, this plus a couple of cameos make it a fine ensemble piece just not as magical as they could have been.

There’s no fraud on show here as this movie is clearly trying to be a solid love letter to the television sitcom but it doesn’t fully succeed. There is comedy, there is imitation and there’s a good aim at being bigger but the tame factor cannot be denied.

5.5/10