Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

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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

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Foxcatcher (2015)

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Now then, aside from the tonally grey look and non stop chilling aspects, I found this film rather disappointing. It’s not a victim of over hype, though I was really looking forward to its release, it just chugs away pretty slowly to an unsatisfying end. The acting is quality, the mood set up is bang on but something didn’t strike with me and I didn’t overly like it.

This, another bio-pic in the run up to tonight’s Golden Globes and the soon to be announced Oscars, sees Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), an Olympic wrestler moving in to Foxcatcher Farm under the growing coach and father mentoring of wealthy philanthropist John du Pont (Steve Carell). There they both work hard to try and gain glory for their country but it’s not enough for du Pont who wants Marks more acclaimed brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) leaving tensions to grow on du Pont’s estate.

Perhaps in my lack of seeing previous Bennett Miller films, I don’t get the style of the slow paced movie. Though of course I’ve heard masterful things about ‘Capote’ and ‘Moneyball’ and both centre on real life figures and draw out fantastic performances from his stars. It could also be that I’m growing tired of biographical films in the lead up to awards time, though I don’t think that’s correct because if they’re done well then I really invest in them. There’s just a slight niggle throughout watching this movie that it’s boring and I didn’t want to use that word but alas I just did.

The crime of the story is shocking and the petulant childlike behaviour of this money throwing Golden Eagle (du Pont) is chilling to the bone, but knowing where this film is heading to, at least in some direction if you’ve seen the trailer or know of the event leads it to ticking away very slowly for a long time. It sounds bad, but you’re just waiting for it to happen already. The film is over two hours and in my opinion it felt that way and some.

The music tinkles away with dread and the piano score racks up that unpleasant vibe, making the screen you’re sat in feel colder and nightmarish, but the music and the subject matter are just obvious ways to illicit feelings of the directors wish. It’s nothing groundbreaking or unique in bio-pic terms, just done quite generically knowing that simple chills and thrills can do enough for award voters.

I did really like the commitment of the actors, Ruffalo and Tatum training and bulking up to bring presence to the Schultz brothers and then Carell who drops his comedy stereotype like he never had it. The body control he has to make John feel still and predator like is fantastic and his voice is twisted to stuttering levels making you hardly recognise Brick Tamland under that prosthetic nose. Steve Carell deserves his nods, it’s an attention worthy role and he brings about the best qualities of the film as you begin getting lost in this uncomfortable yet somehow inviting gentleman. I don’t think he’ll win but the recognition enough is brilliant and hopefully he’ll tread down the serious route more often. Channing Tatum is of course convincing as wrestler Mark but that’s no stretch for him and most of the time it’s a case of pulling dumb faces to make Mark seem stupid or hulky and nothing else. Mark Ruffalo who I like a lot doesn’t have a defining moment that made me understand his supporting actor nod, Ruffalo is always good as he is in this film but nothing leapt out making me go, “oh, that’s the Golden Globe nod right there.” Sienna Miller is sidelined massively making emotional connection all but lost, they could have utilised more family time bringing more heart to the sport heavy film.

In some similar aspects to ‘Unbroken’ this film feels as if it’s trying a little too much to gain gravitas in the world of nominated movies, it’s got a career defining shine for Steve Carell and the constant chill factor is undeniably well constructed but apart from that, it didn’t grab me in the way it’s loved by others.

5.5/10