Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

quad_aw_31162-film-stars-dont-die-in-liverpool-1068x801-1024x768-700x525

This was a film that likely would have passed be my; I hadn’t seen a trailer or knew anything about this, but I’d call it a hidden gem because it’s just wonderfully made harking to the Hollywood of old.

After falling ill before a stage performance, former silver screen actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) wishes to stay at the house of Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) and his kin. Turner and Grahame had been in a relationship for the last two years or so and we see their up and down romance throughout the movie.

Based on a memoir from Peter Turner himself, this romantically themed drama is extremely engaging. Firstly I must comment on the utterly believable relationship between Bening and Bell. This old/young romance never feels wrong, strange or make believe, there’s a genuine affection and attraction built between the actors that helps the film along. The film delves back and forth between her at the house in 1981 and her meeting Turner in 1979, the transitions to and from these moments in time are quite clever and give it an almost one take theatrical vibe as if moving scenes forward on a stage.

For my sins, I had no clue that the glamorous performer in question was actually based on a real actress from the heyday of Hollywood. This only made the story more impacting as I came to realise the true account running through the narrative. I liked to think I know Oscars and actors but I obviously need to brush up on the glitz of 40’s/50’s stardom. It’s this pizzazz and studio based ideal of talent and fitting into a mould to sell pictures that gives Gloria real depth and vulnerability as you see her clinging on to youth and wanting to be loved.

There are some aspects in the film that are predictable and you know what someone may say or what characters will do and a sequence you see from one perspective gets re-shown from the other side with a healthy dose of melodramatic strings rising and clear emphasis on trying to make you emotional, almost cheesy I could say. There’s clear green screen in use for places like New York and beaches of California but they’re apt in a way for this film about acting, gifting the whole feature a movie look as if we’re seeing their memories as glances on a film reel.

Annette Bening better get recognised come awards season, if she’s not up for an Oscar then a Golden Globe at least because she is sublime in this. The mannerisms and the way she talks are an almost sweetly yet seductive Marilyn Monroe quality and she carries confidence and false confidence in equal measure. She completely buries herself into the role and I bought her turn as Grahame hook line and sinker. Jamie Bell gives Turner great care and love, you buy into this man that isn’t much of anything, a success or triumph but a funny, interesting and kind guy who cares deeply for this enigmatic presence in his life. He plays opposite Bening with convincing ease and they’re both fantastic together. It’s great seeing Bell reunite with Julie Walters who dons a Scouse accent rather well and brings that expected and needed heart and comedic touch. I also want to comment on the much too short but almost scene-stealing turn from Frances Barber who plays Gloria’s sister. The icy stares and sharp tongue were brilliant.

This is a film that doesn’t seem to acknowledge the intelligence of its audience with predictable moments and repeated scenes driving home points we’d already gathered but it’s a special movie with a fragile soul beautifully illustrated by the exceptional performances from Bening and Bell.

7/10

Advertisements

Paddington 2 (2017)

p2_1_sandwichhat_lr_-600x886

Hurrah! A sequel that’s just as wonderful as the first time around. Peruvian bear Paddington is back for some more misadventures in this great family friendly film that cleverly mixes fun, heart and a sweet marmalade helping of entertainment.

Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is used to his Windsor Garden lifestyle at home with the nicer than nice Browns but his Aunt Lucy’s (voiced by Imelda Staunton) birthday is imminent and he’d like to earn enough money to get her a special pop up book of London. This same book gains the attention of actor and thief Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) who wants it for his own greedy gain.

This film isn’t just about the delightfully British storytelling that leaves you with a glow in your heart, there’s plenty of splendid visual glory to aid this narrative along. One example of this brilliance is within the section where the pop up book becomes a fully realised London and we swoop through the 3D paper landmarks, it’s just beautiful. There is an evidently Wes Anderson-esque style to some of the movie, but it isn’t a cheap copy and within the very ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ prison scenes there’s a delightful quirkiness to the plot development emphasised by the similar way in which the 1st Paddington flick opened up a dolls house like building to peer through.

The microcosm of the street that the Browns live on, surviving and flourishing due to the kindness and politeness of Paddington is a great example of his lovely influence for the rest of London and beyond. The family are still a wonderful dynamic each with their characteristics that are nicely set up in the opening narration by Pad-Bear. It’s a funny and yet warming touch as we catch up with how the family is doing since last time we saw them.

As villains go, Hugh Grant’s turn as the dastardly fading actor clinging to any spotlight he can is a marvellous one. The writers Paul King and Simon Farnaby have ensured that his drive propels the plot along but they don’t neglect the humour in setting up wickedly barmy antics of a self indulgent actor. On the slightly poorer side I was hoping the clue hunt idea could have been fleshed out more and been more engaging but they spent more time obviously on Paddington and his hipster prison which I’m sure many would try and break into to experience!

Slapstick is just as present a tool within this movie and it’s not entirely grating like it can so often be. It is admittedly the weaker side of the film aimed at the younger audience goers and yet all the excessive falling doesn’t take the front seat which is a relief. It’s gladly a movie directed with such care and attention, to making a wonderfully cosy feature fun for every age and author Michael Bond’s grizzly creation comes back to the big screen and Blighty’s capital in such a way that you don’t want him to ever leave it.

Whishaw is just as innocently naive yet comfortably good natured as he was before. He brings emotive realness to a bear that you’d be happy to bear in your home. Grant as Buchanan is amazing, his thespian theatrics are turned up to 11 for OTT heaven and stay tuned during the credits for some am dram campy goodness. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are just as nice as ever, there continual care to be there for Pad-Bear is believably felt. Julie Walters gets more time to shine this time which is good and she delivers an amazing line about the evilness of acting as a profession. Peter Capaldi is a great grouch assigning himself undeserved power in the street. Both Richard Ayoade and Farnaby threaten to steal the show in their cameo roles, the latter back again as Barry; the amusing and mildly sleazy guard.

‘Paddington 2’ splash lands with a window cleaning bucket of charm, leaves you smiling and perhaps teary eyed at times. It’s an adorable and lovely family treat, that I found as enjoyable as Paddington likes the orange stuff.

8.5/10

Brooklyn (2015)

brooklyn_ver2_xlg

Now usually period dramas are not my go to film, not even remotely, but this looked like a film with a tenderness and character based interest. Perhaps coming back from New York itself helped that interest factor along slightly but upon viewing this film I can say I liked it, it’s rich and acted really well throughout.

Irish shop worker Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is funded a move to New York from the church. She says goodbye to her sister and their ill mother and finds herself getting accustomed to Brooklyn life, weather and boys as she falls in love with Italian charmer Tony (Emory Cohen). After a tragedy strikes back in Ireland, Eilis comes back and then has to face the tough choice of a new romance at home or shipping back to America for the life she’s come to know.

The look of this historical drama set in the 1950’s is quality. The costuming is marvellous with each character fitting into the time and truly selling the period of this piece. I know all period films do this but something about the change from the Emerald Isle to our cousins across the Pond felt amazingly authentic. As we wash over to the shores of the US, Brooklyn’s setting feels magical in a way; the lush greens and busier atmosphere making the 50’s feel like their livelier selves and giving us reason to why at first Eilis is overwhelmed, but then agreeable to this change of pace and lifestyle.

Nick Hornby’s screenplay is layered with emotion. Adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel the family angle is soaring from the lead’s predicament alone, then there’s the family-esque set up in the boarding house to Tony’s Italian American family home. That strong sense of togetherness and theme of home where the heart is stays ever present becoming the shaky decision for Eilis to land on. Of course, there’s romance here and normally that’s what makes me stray away from these movies but it’s well done here, enough to make look past some of the soppier obvious writing moments. Tony is a likable and smooth character with a fun and engaging family. Jim from Ireland may have little screen time to win the central character over, but he too is nice and genuine which gives us reason to why she finds it hard making that ol’ love triangle routine less cliched.

The main feeling I got was of a bittersweet one, which mixed with memories and new chapters gives this film a satisfying tinge. It honestly is a film that feels like life, as we make decisions, something else could happen that may have been affected by that. It also pulls deep at the heart, maybe more people will weep at more points but even I had to suffer a choking throat and wet eyes as Eilis hears of the tragic news thousands of miles away. The only problem the film had was becoming duller as it got nearer the end, a blackmailing revelation is squashed before getting in any way dramatic and the romantic choice is obvious from the halfway point, meaning the closing minutes of the movie were expected and less impacting, sort of tainting the beautiful moments that had been seen up until that point.

Saoirse Ronan is absolutely splendid, delightful and subtle in this dramatic narrative. She must be in regards for the awards season coming sooner than we always expect. I don’t know if it’s golden statue material but her understated emotion from top to bottom is utterly convincing and she’s a pure pleasure to watch. Julie Walters is merely a name and cameo but acts her socks off as the light material to balance the more heart tearing moments. Emory Cohen gets a bigger break than in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ and proves to be an assured leading man as he cozies up to Ronan and bewitches us with the gentleman routine. Domhnall Gleeson doesn’t have much to do but it shows what a capable actor he is that with such little run time he can show just why his character is so big of a obstacle option for Eilis to come to terms with. It’s a fantastically performed treat from everyone, that Irish and American mash of cultures giving it enhanced delight.

The weaker end aside, this film triumphs for the acting and beauty of life story. It’s something that comes across like a deeply resonating movie for so many people, that inescapable pull of home and family being something personal and different to us all. It’s dealt with by director John Crowley and Nick Hornby in such nostalgic vision.

7.5/10