Tulip Fever (2018)

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In this film there is plenty of talk about rare flowers in Amsterdam, fetching a pretty price in auctions. Well, ‘Tulip Fever’ could be a similar rarity in terms of how late it’s been to blossom. Castings and production started back in 2014 and after being pushed back on more than one occasion, the film has finally sprung but is it a marvellous bloom or a wilting weed?

In 17th century Amsterdam, an orphan is purchased by rich and elderly Cornelius Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). Sophia (Alicia Vikander) hopes to bear her husband an heir but there is no such luck. As Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan); a struggling painter comes in by the request of Cornelius to capture the married couple, a mutual attraction burns between Sophia and Loos.

It’s not just a romantic yarn as the plot would suggest. Throughout the film there is a focus on the tulip market and the wealth certain marked flowers can bring to successful bidders. It is indeed a film boiling over with a duo of fevers that would have your local doctor reaching for aspirins and telling you to get some rest. It isn’t just the hot fever that boils over between the former orphan and the artist but the sweaty atmosphere with people from all walks of life crammed in a dingy auction hall is brilliantly captured and works in creating a fever of a financial kind, a swirling frantic environment which you may not have known about if not for this film.

In regards to the more romantic elements of the film, they are brought to life and detail by director Justin Chadwick, who has a background in corset drama, and the two young leads add further credibility to a pair heavy with arousal. Even though it is all convincing it doesn’t entirely prevent these characters’ desire to come across as melodramatic and there are character choices on route which feel annoyingly pushed, like contrivances just to solely push drama into the building climax when it could have been done more organically, it’s more of the roll your eyes stuff than it should be.

Considering the fires that burn in the loins of the cheating couple, the film doesn’t feel as passionate as it could, the story feels very safe and it doesn’t help that quite a fair portion of the dialogue isn’t exactly inspired or bursting with flair. Though saying that, the tricky games that Jan and Sophia play come with a good sense of doom, putting aside a cliched use of mistaken identity, a pregnancy becomes wrapped up in high stakes and this film neatly balances tension and humour within this scheme.

Dane DeHaan has the charm and smirk of a typically wistful artist always falling for his subjects. Alicia Vikander is as beautifully talented as ever, the emotive range she possesses in her magnetic eyes alone express the entrapping situation her character has put herself in. As she hopes to escape a stale world into a steamy affair, you truly buy into Vikander’s desire which make her final choices more captivating. But it is not really Sophia’s story to be spun, Holliday Granger as Maria is in fact the one whose tale is told. The actor finely sells her plight which runs through the house like a smartly drawn portrait as you feel her life getting caught up in the mix.

So while it may not have been altogether worth the wait, it’s not a dud bud to put on the manure pile either. If some lacklustre dialogue, twirl of many subplots and sappy endings were pruned away then this could have been a much more winning flower.

6/10

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Disobedience (2018)

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Love is an all consuming thing and this film goes some way in demonstrating the strength of that powerful four letter word. Anchored by two astonishing female leads, ‘Disobedience’ isn’t as resolute in the pursuit of its story and feels slightly lacking of consequence.

After a family tragedy, photographer Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) flies from New York to London to pay her respects. The world she returns to is of the strict Orthodox Jewish community of which she’d left behind. As she stays longer, her past is unbottled and Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams) is a reason for why she was estranged and distanced from her father and his religion.

What this film has going for it, is a good sense of tenderness. Sebastian Lelio ensures that the central pairing of his stars are the focus, their developing connection one that feels soft and lovely around the edges. There are some great moments in the opening scenes of the film with the setting up of characters and Ronit’s arrival back in London comes with traces of strained family humour and a tickling sense of intrigue to these furtive looks that occur between Ronit and Esti.

On the other hand, it is this tender quality that can make the film feel somewhat wishy-washy. The burning nature of love and passion should be unmistakable and though you can tell the two ladies want each other, it’s the aftermath of their connection that never really hits like you’d expect or want. Perhaps the setting of it within the Jewish faith is why the glances and silence are all you get but a darker kick-back to what they do and what happened in the past would make this film more engrossing to watch.

In fact, the film doesn’t totally sell us on the build up to their elicit rendezvous, there’s just a smidge enough to know there’s something going on but it doesn’t feel like the movie has enough gusto to sell us on the fact and suddenly what happens, happens. It’s the softly softly approach which makes for good detailed performances but doesn’t help the screenplay feel sparkling, in fact the film quickly loses dynamics and come the end, it feels vaguely like a quiet soap opera.

Weisz is superb and you can see it in her face and the way she fiddles with her hair or scarf that she’s juggling feelings of grief, annoyance and love. McAdams is just as sensational as her counterpart, if not more so. The complicated state of her marriage, the possible lack of love in her life and the reappearance of Ronit are all carefully balanced by the American actor, she is captivating to watch and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her up for an Oscar in 2019.

‘Disobedience’ has some nice qualities and the background of the Jewish community feels well handled, Weisz and McAdams are the perfect lovers. If only the film didn’t disobey it’s own powerful rules on love, when it should have instead, committed to a more vivid and less unsatisfying flow of tension in the relationship.

6/10

Wildlife (2018)

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‘Wildlife’ marks the directorial debut for actor Paul Dano and what an assured, quality debut it is. Dano and his partner; fellow actor and screenwriter Zoe Kazan, have joined as a force of talent to script this film, which delves into a family through beautiful crisis.

In Montana of 1960, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) has to find a new job and gets one working away from home, to control the fires in some mountains. Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) finds work of her own and it’s during this time when their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) has to become the man of the house and witness a shift in his parent’s relationship.

Paul Dano had stated that he always knew he wanted to make films about families and this is a look at one that disintegrates whilst you helplessly watch. Based on a 1990 novel of the same name, his screenplay was looked over by ‘Ruby Sparks’ writer and playwright Zoe Kazan who then helped as joint screenwriter and, together the pair have really nailed down on the personal, unflinching state of separation, explored through the 14 year old eyes of Joe, yet blisteringly sold by Mulligan’s performance.

It isn’t long until the strains of Jerry and Jeannette’s marriage take hold and once this happens the cracks can do little but get larger and larger. Through this slow-motion descent, Carey Mulligan trembles, spills tears and explodes with her affecting portrayal of a mother always asking what her son thinks and slowly taking her own route at whatever cost. She provides a fantastically haunting, mesmerising performance.

The cinematography from Diego Garcia is similarly mesmerising in a haunted, stunning way. Just from the opening shot, which sets the scene for it being a movie about house and home and the dysfunction that can happen within. Then you see the lovely bliss of this town and its peaked background reflecting the story of their apparently blissful marriage clouding over like the fire and smoke which is raging close by.

Dano and Kazan have ensured there’s a quiet burning which runs through the narrative, carrying a simmer of unease. You never truly know if something will boil over and on the occasion it might, the atmosphere slams with such a ferocity of family heartbreak, none more powerful than the silent and final image of this film. Paul Dano himself has seamlessly carried his remarkable magnetic talent from in front of the camera and neatly placed that skill behind it, ensuring there’s no need for showy tension to make a weighty drama and that’s what makes this film all the more important and brilliant.

‘Wildlife‘ is a carefully written work of art with its power buried from the inside out. As it slowly leaks out, the audience are in for a film that feels like theatre, this scenario of a family breakdown gorgeously acted by Mulligan and Gyllenhaal and wonderfully sold from Oxenbould’s Joe, as he and we too, can’t help but face this happen.

8/10

 

Juliet, Naked (2018)

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‘Juliet, Naked’ premiered in January this year at the Sundance Film Festival and it couldn’t be more of a Sundance flick; the charming aspects and the unlikely romance are right in the wheelhouse of indie darlings and on the most part, this Jesse Peretz feature works thanks to the effortless matching of its lead actors.

Annie Platt (Rose Byrne) is stuck in a seaside town thanks to boyfriend Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd), some of her resentment is due to her job but some boils down to Duncan’s love of a rock star named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), whose music Annie finds intolerable. One day she receives an email from the mysterious musician himself and they begin a 100/1 relationship.

Throughout this darling song of a movie there are a rare couple of comedic moments and though it’s not as outright funny as certain scenes had room to be, what works much better are the dramatic notes that are lyrically added to the appealing narrative. This is a film, almost like a melodic tale of love and regrets, parenting and loneliness and these themes are handled in a great heart-felt manner.

When you have source material from Nick Hornby; novelist of High Fidelity and About a Boy and screenwriter of ‘Brooklyn’ then you know to expect a romantic tale with plenty to say and thematic weight to keep the characters going to their end goals. This adaptation from the 2009 book of the same name works in the sense that you feel a faint smile on your face appear as you watch the relationship of Tucker and Annie grow. The warming sensation of a feel-good film can’t be beaten.

Here is perhaps where I am being critically unfair but the similarly driven ‘Hearts Beat Loud’, also premiering at the same Sundance, managed to capture a great mix of light comedy, fantastic songs, romance and family emotion whereas this more recent release doesn’t quite. There’s something not entirely perfect about this film which I felt the Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons music based movie reached closer to.

Rose Byrne is utterly sensational as Annie; the emotive range is great and she really makes us like her character. She lovingly handles every beat of the journey Annie goes on and the way she performs the disappointments of her life and love for 15 years are really believable. Ethan Hawke as this apparently seminal music star, gives grit and reflective thought to a man clearly unused to the extended family he has and the role as a father he’s meant to live up to. The moments between him and Byrne, whether through email voice-over or in person are touching and yes that word again, charming.

So whilst ‘Juliet, Naked’ might not be as endearing as other rom-coms, there’s a strong character duo to watch and the bittersweet indie aspect of their connection more than make up for the likelihood of its forgettable nature.

6.5/10

A Star is Born (2018)

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From comedy star in ‘The Hangover’ to more dramatic turns in films like ‘American Sniper’, Bradley Cooper has certainly been down many avenues and now he throws his stetson behind the camera for his directorial debut; a musical romance and fourth remake of the ‘A Star is Born’ brand.

Hugely famous country star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) seriously struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. On a desperate trawl to find a bar, Maine staggers into one where waitress by day-singer by night Ally (Lady Gaga) is performing. He quickly falls for her looks and talent and they begin a whirlwind relationship that sees Ally become a singer/songwriter idol.

In the 1950’s Judy Garland headlined the first remake and the 70’s saw Barbra Streisand take the lead in a rock and roll setting, one Bollywood film later and now it’s mega popstar Lady Gaga’s turn to take the cinematic stage. There’s no doubt that she’ll be up for an Oscar nomination because her performance is sensational and she makes the film what it is. The road to success with tricky obstacles and media manipulation is ripe for the times currently in Hollywood and the music perfectly encapsulates Ally and Jackson’s rocky relationship.

This movie is like a biopic of Gaga’s career, you can just see how the films’ content of moulding someone to how the management want them to be, mirrors her Poker Face days, before her songwriting and more heartfelt tunes took flight. The pop music side of Ally’s journey and the SNL showbiz aspect are necessary attributes in showing how the industry works and really demonstrates Ally as a strong individual to stick with all these changes in the dream of being recognised for her talent. She also sticks with Maine because he saw that spark within her, their relationship may be odd and harbour some cheesy moments but it feels real and the pair work beautifully together.

At a certain point it does feel like the film stretches ever so slightly and you could almost check out of the plot but thanks to the music you get drawn back in. Also, there is a very predictable narrative to follow but there’s some stunning cinematography from Matthew Libatique which goes from a pristine bathroom to a gorgeously crimson tinged drag club and the films final shot rests on a powerful, stunning image and though it is silent it sings a thousand words. On top of the great DoP work, the musical numbers themselves are toe-tappingly heartfelt and ‘Shallow’; a song penned by Gaga and Mark Ronson is gunning for an Oscar nom as well and rightly so because it screams with drama.

Cooper, with his flushed red cheeks and slurring Western drawl embodies the stereotypical drunken cowboy singer but softens this rough edges with a clear love for his Ally rose. Gaga is incredible throughout, her voice is a God given gift that fills the heart and the speakers with power. It isn’t just her singing talents that sell the film, she makes Ally a fully rounded character and you truly buy into her rise to stardom with a difficult romance aiding the way.

‘A Star is Born’ is a country and western musical for modern times and like TV show ‘Nashville’, it hits with lyrical gems and dramatic characters to soar to the top of the charts.

7/10

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

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So, normally I’m not a fan of rom-coms; the calculable nature of them and how cheesy the dialogue can often be, puts me off them. Surprisingly this film won me over, sure there are cheesier moments but there’s smart writing and spectacular production quality which made it a more satisfying example to come out of the genre.

Economics professor and New York resident Rachel (Constance Wu) is invited to her boyfriend’s best friends wedding. Nick (Henry Golding), the best man, hopes that his large family will love Rachel as much as he does. As the celebrations get under way in Singapore, Rachel faces difficulties living up to the high hopes of Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ brings together a massive cast of talented actors who offer comedy and emotion to a rich story adapted from Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel. This tale of romance and acceptance may have slight touches of being over-sentimental but that in no way jolts us from the dazzling charm, which the stars and story convey. The screenplay also ends down familiar territory but there’s so much to cheer on in this picture, that the predictability becomes a muted backseat passenger in a joyful experience.

This is an extremely extravagant and beautiful movie. A wedding sequence is torn straight out of a jungle and is perhaps one of the most ridiculously over the top ceremonies but it fills the heart and it’ll likely fill some eyes with tears. The many lush settings and cinematography are crackling with a luxury that will do wonders for the tourism board of Singapore.

On the flip side of the romantic coin is the comedy sparkle, which does work well throughout. It is not solely ‘Community’ alumni Ken Jeong that gifts some funny to the movie; but a gay fashionista, a snap-happy single lad and Awkwafina’s Goh Peik Lin all bring a delicious amount of humour to the table. The latter is bursting with a comic energy that lifts the film even higher than it already is.

Constance Wu is the bridge to the audience; she grounds us to the glittering, affluent world we’re stepping into. She makes her fish out of water character a heart-warming and believable figure to follow. Wu isn’t just stunning and likable but she’s headstrong and smart too which make her moments facing adversity a strong example of women standing strong and proud. Henry Golding is the handsome and charming boyfriend but isn’t the lead usual movies would stumble to. The actor is confident in playing this caring man but doesn’t ever overshadow the brilliance of his leading lady. This movie features the incredible Gemma Chan and unlike her synth days from ‘Humans’, she demonstrates a wealth of touching emotion as Astrid.

Like the dumplings that a family make within the plot, this film is a sweet and often loving romantic filling wrapped up with fluffy comedy and pinched together with a stroke of drama and judgement. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ has blown the box office apart and with it’s affable cast and elegant, delightful storytelling it’s not hard to see why.

7.5/10

 

The Children Act (2018)

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This is a drama with a profound core revolving around a quandary of life and death. It’s very easy to say that Emma Thompson is the crowning aspect within ‘The Children Act’. There is a lot of weighty material going on in this plot and not all of it is as stirring as the film would believe it is.

The Honorable Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is a well respected judge but away from the courts she’s facing a communication breakdown with her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci). On top of this she is given a case about a 17 year old with leukaemia; his parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses and are refusing a blood transfusion which leaves Maye to make an informed choice on the teenagers welfare.

Richard Eyre; with a sturdy background in theatre and directing play adaptations for TV certainly knows how to facilitate strong performances for this thought-provoking story. It’s a shame then that he overdoes the melodrama and thrusts too much emotional manipulation onto the audience come the final minutes of this film.

Before that point, the first two acts are solid and methodically attentive to both the trials of court room lore and her marriage behind closed doors. The High Court of Justice scenes are gripping and tackle tricky issues of law and morals, family and love, death and life which are beautifully explored in Ian McEwan’s script. This sensitive development of healthcare versus dignity never backs down by taking one side and that makes the dialogue based within the court rooms very interesting to hear.

After the verdict is decided, it isn’t only the melodramatic nature that spoils the film but the scripted behaviour and actions of one character are apparently signs of a forced upbringing but are just strange and make the story a surreal ache to get through. I was totally out of the film by the midst of the third act and any chance of evoking a sad reaction from me was utterly in the wind.

Thompson is as sensational as you’d expect, she has such a great emotive range which is second to none. In her eyes, a thousand words are spoken even when she is just silently listening or contemplating. Tucci doesn’t have a large role but brings a subtlety to his turn as Jack, there’s definitely an interest he portrays of quiet, honest conflict for Fiona’s personal life.

‘The Children Act’ has a lot going for it and with a powerful duo of performances, the story especially in the first stages is dignified and absorbing but after a while, it views like a train coming to a halt but still with a mile of track left to go.

5.5/10