Category Archives: Based on Real Events

Review – Churchill (PG) [2017]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Jonathan Teplitzky – Better Than Sex, Burning Man, The Railway Man

Cast:

  • Brian Cox – Bourne I & II, Coriolanus, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Her, Strange But True
  • Miranda Richardson – Empire of the Sun, The Hours, Harry Potter IV & VII(i), Belle, The Happy Prince
  • John Slattery – Madmen, Iron Man II, The Adjustment Bureau, Spotlight, Captain America III
  • Richard Durden – The Bill, Trial & Retribution, Agora, The Awakening, Dickensian
  • Julian Wadham – The English Patient, Exorcist: The Beginning, The Iron Lady, The Happy Prince
  • Danny Webb – Alien III, Valkyrie, The Bill, Locke, Pegasus Bridge
  • James Purefoy – A Knight’s Tale, Rome, Ironclad, High-Rise, Interlude In Prague
  • Ella Purnell – Never Let Me Go, Maleficent, Kick-Ass II, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, UFO

Music Composer:

  • Lorne Balfe – Ironclad, Terminator Genesys, The Lego Batman Movie, Ghost In The Shell, Horse Soldiers

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain 1940-45 & 51-55, has been mythologised. “History will be kind to me if I write,” Winston once said. Well, he did write it: a six volume series about World War II after it concluded. Unsurprisingly, history has been very kind to him ever since and Churchill has gone down as a legendary war hero that would fit right into Ancient Greek mythology. But what was he actually like as a person? Director Jonathan Teplitzky gives us an answer, but not without issue.

Winston Churchill (Brian Cox), smoking a Churchill cigar, contemplating events of two decades past as he walks along the beach.

Churchill is a drama centred round Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) in the days leading up to D-Day (6th June 1944). The movie opens with Winston walking along a beach, remembering the failed Gallipoli campaign during World War I, when he was responsible for the death of more than 150,000 Allied soldiers. Winston is tormented by these memories; the loss of life weighs heavily on his shoulders. This causes him to obstruct Operation Overlord, the proposed invasion of Normandy, as he does not want another slaughter on the beaches.

Churchill makes for interesting viewing. The film casts Winston not as the myth we know, but as the human being he was. He still has the haughty sense of humour that went hand-in-hand with his self-conceit, the great oratory skills, and the bulldog hunch of a man on a mission, plus he chews/smokes enough of his famously long cigars to get lip cancer by the end of the movie’s 105-minute running time. Yet, Churchill also portrays him as a ‘has been’ and deeply flawed. The Winston here cannot understand why people don’t listen to him; is an alcoholic after being worn down by four years of war; a bully to his secretary (Ella Purnell); a poor, inattentive husband to his wife, Clemmie (Miranda Richardson); and a pain in the backside to the British and American generals. (All the film-makers needed was to add Churchill’s racism and then it would have been complete.)

Winston, smoking a cigar, lectures an unimpressed-looking General Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery), who was the Supreme Head of the American (and Allied) forces in Europe during WWII. He clashed with Churchill often as the war went on.

The way Churchill is portrayed in the movie, though, is generally thought-provoking, and it is fascinating to see how his past experiences affect his decision-making. But when it comes to the preparations for Operation Overlord, Churchill takes events past the point of credulity (and probably historical accuracy too) by showing us that he was vehemently opposed to the D-Day plans, per se. It is true that in 1944 Winston had doubts over whether the Normandy landings would succeed (which could easily be coupled with how many men he feared would die in the operation, whether it succeeded or not). This is understandable (and moral), even without him being haunted by the events of 1915. Nevertheless, this is different from being categorically against even the idea of the operation. The academic, Nigel Hamilton, argues that the Prime Minister disagreed with the Normandy landings until he got an agreement from the Americans about working together on the nuclear bomb. This makes sense in the grander context of the era (which Churchill does not explain), and if the film would have gone down this route it would have demonstrated Winston’s political acumen. But it doesn’t. Instead, the movie has us believe that the Prime Minister prayed for God to unleash the heavens, biblical-style, so that D-Day would be called off. This does not seem to glove with Winston’s personality, and one wonders whether the film-makers had an ulterior motive for this perspective. (Anti-atomic weapons, anti-war, perhaps?)

Another problem with Churchill is that every line Winston delivers is spoken vociferously, as if to an auditorium (or history). This may have been what Churchill was like, but for a drama this should have been toned down. Before long, Winston’s need to practice his oratory for even the most banal of issues becomes tedious and risible. (It also makes viewers think that Teplitzky once read a book on Churchill’s hundred most famous quotes and tried to throw in as many as possible.)

Winston and Clemmie (Miranda Richardson) on the steps. Leading Britain and the Empire through the war takes its toll on Churchill and it is then that he needs his wife’s unfailing support. But only on his terms.

Otherwise, one can admire much about Churchill. The script is really good for what it aims to achieve, and it is humorous in the right places too. The cinematography of beaches, countryside manors, palaces and bunkers, is apt and gives viewers a decent taste of Churchill’s working environments during World War II. Furthermore, the actors all play their parts well, masterfully so in the cases of Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson. More than anything, it is through Richardson’s character/Clemmie that we see how difficult Churchill was as a person; that the gallant war hero of popular culture is just the myth that he created.

All-in-all, Churchill is a stimulating drama. It shows Winston Churchill as a man, plagued by the horrors of the Gallipoli disaster and intoxicated by whiskey and the paradox of his virtuoso and his doubts. However, one cannot escape the feeling that the film exaggerates the Prime Minister’s views on Operation Overlord at best, and gets them wrong at worst. To depict Churchill as utterly against the concept of an Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France seems implausible; especially, if we are to believe that this is the same man who was hell-bent on the obliteration of Hitler’s Germany.

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Review – Denial (12a) [2017]

denial-title-banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Mick Jackson – The Bodyguard, Volcano, Temple Grandin

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – The Lord of the Rings I-III, A History of Violence, The Departed, The Hobbit III & III, The Spider

If 2016 determined anything, it was that we now live in a Post-Truth era. In such an era, facts do not matter since there are ‘alternative facts’ that just have to sound real to be true. Yet, does that mean there are no incontrovertible facts at all? What about the existence of gravity, or that the Earth is round, or whether Henry VIII had six wives, or whether the Holocaust happened? In 2000, the High Court of England determined at least one of these facts. Director Mike Jackson’s Denial brings the libel case that the antisemitic, Neo-Nazi propagandist David Irving brought and lost against the American academic, Deborah Lipstadt, to the big screen.

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) addressing students on Holocaust denial in 1994, where she asserts that David Irving is a liar.

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) addressing students on Holocaust denial in 1994, where she ass that David Irving is a liar.

Denial is based on the case and the book, History On Trial, by Deborah Lipstadt. The film opens pretty much with the scene in the trailer where Deborah (Rachel Weisz) is addressing students about the Holocaust in 1994. No sooner does she say that David Irving is a liar and that she will never debate with Holocaust deniers, when Irving (Timothy Spall) stands up and mocks her. Deborah refuses to speak with him or deny her accusation. Subsequently, Irving takes legal action against her. Deborah responds by getting together a legal team, consisting predominantly of barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), and they set about uncovering Irving’s ‘facts’ for the lies they are.

Denial is a slick legal thriller. It goes through the different stages of the case very well, so that viewers understand the sheer amount of work the lawyers had to do at the pre-trial stages and during the trial itself. The movie shows all of this with efficiency, particularly from Lipstadt’s side; Irving’s less so, but that is because he did not have a lawyer to represent him in court. (Irving claimed that no-one could represent him better than himself. Lipstadt and her legal team believed that he could not afford the legal fees.)

David Irving (Timothy Spall) stands up to Deborah's accusation and urges her to argue with him on the 'facts' that the Holocaust did not happen.

David Irving (Timothy Spall) stands up to Deborah’s accusation and urges her to argue with him on the ‘facts’ that the Holocaust did not happen.

Irving is portrayed with relish by Timothy Spall as a vain, headline grabbing, publicity-seeker. At times, it is almost comical watching him pander to the cameras (or the cameras to him). Yet, at other times, one just wants to ask him: don’t you realise how stupid you are going to look at the end of this? And this is not just because we know he is going to lose the case. It is because, as is typical with bigots, antisemitic or otherwise, they let their prejudices distort their realities to the point where the differences between black and white, night and day, and fire and ice no longer exist. Regardless, Spall makes Irving entertaining to watch, which is quite an achievement since the man is a Hitler lover.

Irving’s opponents are played well too. Rachel Weisz turns in a (very) strong New York accent and portrays Lipstadt as passionate and uncompromising in her belief to take down an odious Holocaust denier. Andrew Scott illustrates Anthony Julius aptly as a cold and pugnacious borderline sociopath. And Tom Wilkinson does a good job as Richard Rampton, showing him to have a soul to go with his professional façade.

Denial is driven by its protagonists. It is just as well too, as the film does not have much else going for it. For one, one feels no tension as the case builds up to its verdict. Considering the protagonists keep stressing how massive the case is and that it will determine if the Holocaust happened (as absurd as that sounds), it is startling that one feels nothing. And before one argues that it is impossible to feel anything as viewers know the outcome before going into Denial, let us remind ourselves that we felt euphoric after King George VI gave his speech in The King’s Speech; that we felt endangered when Batman and Bane first went to blows in The Dark Knight Rises; and that we felt heart-broken when Alice gained Early-Onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice, despite knowing what would happen by the end in those movies. This indicates that director Mike Jackson’s sense of timing needs improvement.

The real Deborah Lipstadt with her legal team, back in 2000, after her victory.

The real Deborah Lipstadt with her legal team, back in 2000, after her victory.

Second, the film misses out a noteworthy (and hilarious) moment in the case, which is astonishing. And, three, Howard Shore’s music score is hugely disappointing. Like the film, his score becomes mawkish and sentimental when it needs to crank up the tension. For a man who once wrote the wondrous, engrossing music for The Lord of the Rings, one knows he can do better. Indeed, one knows that courtroom drama can be done better. Watch the recent National Treasure, starring Robbie Coltrane.

All-in-all, Denial is a nicely put together legal thriller. It has a good cast that perform well and it does a decent job at portraying the case that David Irving brought against Deborah Lipstadt. More significantly, though, the movie forensically examines the evidence we have to prove that the Holocaust happened and surgically debunks Holocaust denial. Thus, like gravity, like the Earth is round, and like Henry VIII having six wives, the Holocaust’s occurrence as a historical fact is incontestable. Bearing in mind the era we live in currently, that is vital.

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Review – The Big Short (15) [2016]

The Big Short - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director

  • Adam McKay – Step Brothers, The Other Guys, Anchorman I & II

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Nicholas Britell – Gimme The Loot, The Seventh Fire, A Tale of Love And Darkness, Tramps

In 2007, a financial crisis rocked the world. Akin to the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs and homes. Additionally, Lehman Brothers imploded, and the US Congress and the UK Parliament bailed out the rest of the big banks to (allegedly) ensure that the crisis did not worsen. How did it all happen? The Big Short highlights some of the factors.

Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), in his office, listening to music whilst working out that the US property market would collapse in 2007.

Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), in his office, listening to music whilst working out that the US property market would collapse in 2007.

The Big Short is a dark comedy based on the book with the same title by Michael Lewis. The film follows three separate but parallel stories which reveal the duplicity and the fraud of US bankers and brokers with regard to the US property market; in particular, to the business of subprime mortgages, to the buying and selling of (junk) BB ratings, and to schemes like collateral debt obligations (CDOs). However the film also shows us that were some people who predicted the collapse of the US property market several years in advance, such as Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale) and Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling). The movie is as much about them trying to take on the big banks (and make billions in the process), as it is about the general fraud that was (is) taking place at every level of the financial sector.

The Big Short is an interesting film. It impressively explains in simplistic terms why the US property and financial markets imploded so spectacularly in 2007/08. The film captures the horror of the upcoming catastrophe by, chiefly, showing us the mind-set and attitude of the people working in Wall Street at the time (and at the present too) in a non-flashy and unglamorous way.

Nevertheless, as interesting as that is (and it is genuinely interesting), the overwhelming majority of the characters in The Big Short are just horrible, greedy and selfish individuals with few (if any) redeeming traits. Of all the people in the film, Steve Carrell’s Mark Baum is the most empathetic and likeable as he has a conscience. Carrell plays well, but his character’s hot-headedness comes across as cartoonish and silly (like it did in Bruce Almighty) when it is supposed to be funny at times and serious at others. Similarly, Christian Bale plays very well and deserves his OSCAR nomination. Yet, his character is weird and socially awkward. This makes him/Michael Burry difficult to root for. (And it does not help that Bale looks miscast in the role. With his huge biceps, one does not expect him to behave weirdly, but rather to don the Bat-gear again and beat every banker and broker to a pulp.)

Mark Baum (Steve Carrell, sitting down in the centre), contemplating the horror about to unravel, as his associates shout at Jared Vallett (Ryan Gosling, sitting down, right).

Mark Baum (Steve Carrell, sitting down in the centre), contemplating the horror about to unravel, as his associates shout at Jared Vallett (Ryan Gosling, sitting down, right).

As for the rest of the cast, their crassness guarantees that bankers and brokers are going to be hated for some time to come yet. Even if one can admire one or two of them for their foresight and intelligence, e.g. Jared Vallett and Charlie Geller (John Magaro), one is almost certainly going to be put off by their arrogance, rudeness and avarice. There is only so much one can endure of watching arseholes behaving so unscrupulously. One becomes bored by it and disinterested in the film’s subject matter; and 130 minutes of it is just too much. That one has seen deplorable bankers and brokers behaving in such an amoral manner before (Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps, Margin Call and The Wolf of Wall Street) adds to the boredom and disinterest.

Yet, what is worse is the frustration one feels with The Big Short. The film has been billed as a satirical comedy, but to smile wryly only twice throughout the movie is not enough to justify such a billing. Plus, some of the movie’s (alleged) humour is just downright misogynistic. How is a cameo of Margot Robbie (as herself!) naked and in a bathtub explaining subprime mortgages funny? How is having a female stripper explaining the hazards of having loans on multiple houses, whilst lap-dancing, funny? Both just seem wrong in so many ways and not funny.

Charlie Geller (John Megaro, left) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock, right) speaking with Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) about making investments.

Charlie Geller (John Megaro, left) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock, right) speaking with Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) about making investments.

The sense that the film seems wrong is not just limited to its humour. The directing is extremely ill-disciplined. At certain points, the movie is linear; at other points, it is a music video; at others, the scenes change so suddenly and often, one can get a seizure; and, randomly, the film stops, so we can see a profile of a character or so that a character can face the audience and explain something. All of this makes for quirky viewing at best and ADD at worst. It also begs the question why Adam McKay has been nominated for an OSCAR in the Best Director category, considering that Ryan Coogler has not when the latter directed Creed so much better.

Over-all, The Big Short is a frustrating film. It is not particularly funny and it lacks focus in numerous ways. Yes, the movie successfully elucidates upon why the US property market and the world economy collapsed in 2007-08, which is no mean feat. But by The Big Short merely shouting at its viewers that it all happened because bankers and brokers are two-faced wankers is not only going down a well-trodden path, it also makes for repellent viewing.

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Review – The Revenant (15) [2016]

The Revenant - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alejandro Iñárritu – 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, Birdman

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Carsten Nicolai
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto – The Last Emperor, Snake Eyes

With the awards season under way and, in particular, with the OSCARs coming up, one invariably asks: what does it take to win the most prestigious award in the film industry? An exceptional performance is unquestionably a prerequisite. But what differentiates one exceptional performance from another? Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant gives a compelling answer.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) being mauled by a bear during the expedition.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) being mauled by a bear during the expedition.

The Revenant is (loosely) inspired by the real-life story of Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). While on a hunting expedition in midwest America in the 1820s, Glass is mauled by a bear. Injured and, after having watched the murder of his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), Glass is left for dead by his fellow expeditioners. Thirsty for revenge, Glass treks through the wilderness to get back to his base to seek his vengeance.

The Revenant is an astonishing tale of survival. The film cuts no corners and shows mother-nature in all her brutal severity. From the grisly effects of an attack by a wild animal, to putting men in situations wherein their worst personality traits thrive, to fearsome wintry weather, to harsh and seemingly endless terrain, to hunting for food without strength, The Revenant makes one suffer and tests a one’s endurance to the limit.

Certainly, our central protagonist, Hugh Glass/Leonardo Dicaprio, is tested to the limit and made to suffer. He suffers unimaginable physical and emotional pain throughout the movie, and it is for this that DiCaprio is the front-runner to win the OSCAR for Best Actor in a Leading Role. If there is a formula to win an OSCAR, it is that an actor/actress must suffer. In 2011, Natalie Portman, Colin Firth and Christian Bale won their respective OSCARs by suffering; in 2013, Anne Hathaway won hers for suffering; and, in 2014, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won their OSCARs for the same reason in Dallas Buyer’s Club. Now that DiCaprio has (sufficiently) suffered, he will almost certainly win his first OSCAR; especially, as he has suffered years of being over-looked (Saving Gilbert Grapes, The Aviator, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street to name but five), and because none of his rivals for the fabled prize (Bryan Cranston, Michael Fassbender, Matt Damon and Eddie Redmayne) appear to have suffered much (if at all) in their respective roles, despite their respective performances.

John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), on the expedition with Hugh Glass.

John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), on the expedition with Hugh Glass.

DiCaprio undoubtedly suffers considerably in his role in The Revenant and will deserve his OSCAR if he wins it. Ironically, though, he is outshone by his co-star Tom Hardy; yet, it is not a given that Hardy will win the OSCAR for the Best Supporting Actor. Hardy, as John Fitzgerald, has a much meatier role than DiCaprio. DiCaprio spends much of his screen-time grunting, walking, falling or crawling (oh, and surviving); while Hardy devours the screen with his (incomprehensible) southern accent and his amoral nature. Even if one disagrees with Fitzgerald’s sociopathy, one can understand why he behaves in the manner he does under the circumstances. This is testament to Hardy’s ability to convey Fitzgerald as a human being. Whether it will be enough for Hardy to win the OSCAR, though, is another matter.

DiCaprio and Hardy are not the only ones nominated for OSCARs for this film. Director Alejandro Iñárritu has been nominated in the Best Director category. No-one will argue if he wins that OSCAR for the second year running, following Birdman. The directing in The Revenant is spectacular. The opening melee is filmed so well, viewers feel part of the skirmish. Similarly, the way the bear attack is shot is so well (and raw) it induces tension into the audience; plus, the way the landscapes and the north American winter are captured, shows their beauty and brutality in equal measure (even if the filming was done in Canada and Argentina).

Glass trekking through the stunning (and unforgiving) terrain in order to make it back to base and get his revenge.

Glass trekking through the stunning (and unforgiving) terrain in order to make it back to base and get his revenge.

Nevertheless, the fact that one spends much of The Revenant admiring the cinematography highlights one of its problems. One, the film is not particularly engaging. It lacks humour and a character to root for (or against). Two, at 156 minutes, it is a long movie. Maybe that is the film’s point: to make audiences feel as if they are trekking across the endless wilderness with Glass/DiCaprio. If so, it succeeds. But the movie also makes for tedious and repetitive viewing.

Over-all, The Revenant is a masterfully-designed examination of endurance. It may not be the most enjoyable film to sit through. Yet, the acting, the directing and the cinematography are outstanding and worth the watch in and of themselves. They give one a true appreciation for how tough it must be to survive the harshest of conditions, and hints at the types of characters required to survive them. Seeing actors/actresses go through such conditions and suffering is what sways OSCAR judges into handing out the much-coveted award. Leonardo DiCaprio: you have suffered; you have earned your OSCAR.

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Review – The Danish Girl (15) [2016]

The Danish Girl - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

2015 was the year that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) movement took on global significance. Thanks to Bruce Jenner’s successful transition into Caitlyn, the world took note of the LGBT movement and the problems that many transgender people sadly face. The release of Director Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, therefore, could not have come at a more opportune moment. But does the film grab the moment with both hands?

Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), before his transformation, painting a view of his small hometown area.

Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), before his transformation, painting a view of his small hometown area.

The Danish Girl is a biopic based on a true story about Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne). Einar is a talented artist living with his artist wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), in Copenhagen in 1926. One day, Gerda asks Einar to put on women’s shoes and a dress so she can paint him as a woman called Lili Elbe. This awakens another side of Einar. Within five years, Einar decides to be the first known man to undergo transgender surgery.

The Danish Girl begins in engaging fashion. Eddie Redmayne’s and Alicia Vikander’s characters have excellent on-screen chemistry. They enjoy witty, provocative conversations that show how much they are in love with one another. Indeed, the dialogue throughout the first thirty minutes of the film is filled with sexually tantalising lines that will enable audiences to warm to the characters.

However, the rest of the film’s two-hour runtime is not half as engaging. Tom Hooper does not have much story to work with and (unbelievably) it is when Redmayne/Einar starts to cross-dress that the problems with the movie begin. Problem one is that the provocative dialogue comes to an abrupt halt. This means that everything one came to love about the characters ends at once. That the dialogue turns soppy makes one want to cry with despair. (Some of what is said in the film is allegedly true, but it is still awfully slushy. Also, Hooper adjusts the story to suit his ends, so couldn’t he have at least kept the provocative dialogue?)

Einar holding a dress as his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), draws him as a woman. Holding the dress, however, awakens Lili.

Einar holding a dress as his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), draws him as a woman. Holding the dress, however, awakens Lili.

Problem two with the movie is that Eddie Redmayne starts over-acting. This makes it look like lunacy is taking hold of him; yet, this same over-acting also makes him look noticeably wooden, especially when he transforms into Lili.

And problem three is that Redmayne’s Lili is not a particularly likeable or sympathetic person. She becomes totally self-absorbed, selfish and utterly uncaring for the hurt she causes Gerda, despite having been married to her for many years. Lili’s behaviour has the effect of pushing viewers away from her and the issues she embodies. (Seriously, if a normal man behaved as Lili does, he would be deemed a selfish prick and rightly so; and if a normal woman behaved like that, she would be called a horrible bitch and rightly so. Just because Lili is a transgender person does not exempt her from behaving in a considerate manner.) At a time when the LGBT movement is trying to gain steam to diminish the discrimination and violence that transgender people unfortunately suffer, Lili’s behaviour could be detrimental to the movement’s cause.

Lili’s behaviour also raises another matter unwittingly: the effect that changing gender can have on those whom the transgender person loves. Whether it be a parent or sibling (as was the case for Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner), or a partner (as it was for Gerda), the effects can be emotionally tough, if not crushing. For Gerda, as portrayed in the movie, it is heart-breaking as she loses the man she loves. Alicia Vikander portrays the hurt that Gerda must have felt with raw force. Surprisingly, it is her and Gerda who come out with the most credit from this movie. Thanks to Vikander, Gerda’s pain is real and understandable; whereas Redmayne cannot convincingly convey Lili’s pain, since her emotional pain seems contrived and unnecessary by comparison, like the stroppiness of an adolescent youth.

On the left, Eddie Redmayne's Lili as seen in the film; and on the right, the real Lili Elbe.

On the left, Eddie Redmayne’s Lili as seen in the film; and on the right, the real Lili Elbe.

How much one can blame Redmayne for this is debatable. He is, after-all, being directed by Tom Hooper and this is not Hooper’s finest film. Yes, it is shot decently, but the stance the film takes toward Lili is confusing. Is The Danish Girl supposed to be a sympathetic, objective, positive or critical portrayal of Lili (and of transgender people on the whole by extension)? If it is trying to achieve all four, Hooper can claim mediocre success at best and a mediocre mawkish muddle at worst.

Over-all, The Danish Girl is a disappointing film. Alicia Vikander is brilliant and the movie starts off in promising fashion with exceptional dialogue. But before long, the film loses its way and turns into a pitiful sop story; one that is enough to test the patience of even the most tolerant of viewers.

Central to the testing nature of the film is the titular Danish girl, herself: Lili Elbe. She might have been the first man to undergo transgender surgery and she might be a pioneer for the LGBT movement today. But she was neither a nice nor considerate person in real life. It can only be hoped that most transgender people are not like her. Otherwise, the momentum that Caitlyn Jenner and the LGBT movement have gathered over the last year will be undone and smothered for a generation.

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Review – Steve Jobs (15) [2015]

Steve Jobs - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Writer:

  • Aaron Sorkin – The American President, The West Wing, The Social Network, The Newsroom

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Daniel Pemberton – Big Kiss, The Awakening, The Counsellor, The Man From UNCLE

In 2011, Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. At the time of his death, he was hailed as a great man, a genius, an innovator, and a man who had stayed loyal to his dreams and fulfilled them. Yet, there was another side to Steve Jobs that was largely ignored in the obituaries. Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs focusses on this side of the man to paint a very different portrait of him.

Young Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, left) talking through his business plans with his friend and co-founder, Steve 'Waz' Wazniak (Seth Rogen, right, playing decently and in a non-comedic role for a change).

Young Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, left) talking through his business plans with his friend and co-founder, Steve ‘Waz’ Wazniak (Seth Rogen, right, playing decently and in a non-comedic role for a change).

Steve Jobs is a dramatised biopic of the titular character (played by Michael Fassbender). It centres round events behind the scenes at the launch of the Apple Macintosh in 1984; at the launch of NeXT in 1988; and at the launch of the iMac in 1998. With each launch, we get to see Jobs’ true nature, and the changes in his relationships with his assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet); with his friend and fellow co-founder Steve ‘Waz’ Wazniak (Seth Rogen); with the original CEO of Apple, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels); as well as with his former girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), and their daughter, Lisa (played by Mackenzie Moss at five, Ripley Sobo at nine, and Perla Haney-Jardine at nineteen).

Steve Jobs is a neat and engaging film about the man Steve Jobs actually was as opposed to the myth many believe in. The movie is told via three separate acts that are more theatrical in tone than cinematic. Between Danny Boyle’s excellent directing and Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant fast and witty dialogue, the movie is delivered via long expositions with few editing cuts. This gives the film a genuine feel of continuity and realism that is typical of other films Sorkin has worked on e.g. The Social Network.

Through the three acts, we learn about the sort of man that Steve Jobs was in real life. Yes, he was ambitious and a great innovator. But he was also unreasonable; treated his staff appallingly (with the possible exception of Joanna Hoffman); alienated his friends and colleagues without remorse; denied paternity to his daughter, Lisa; and did not give a cent to his ex-girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan, for child maintenance for Lisa without a court order forcing him to do so (and even then, Jobs only gave the minimal amount; a pittance of what he was earning).

Steve Jobs playing on the Apple Macintosh with his daughter, Lisa (at aged five, played by Makenzie Moss).

Steve Jobs playing on the Apple Macintosh with his daughter, Lisa (at aged five, played by Makenzie Moss).

Why was Jobs like this? God only knows. But Steve Jobs at least attempts to explain the unexplainable. It does this in two different ways: one is by a telling us about an event in Jobs’ early childhood and the effect this had on him; and the other is through Michael Fassbender’s terrific acting. Indeed, the former goes hand-in-hand with the latter. Fassbender’s tight-faced rage, his acerbic belittling of others, and his pathological drive to create better, awe-inspiring products illustrates how hurt (damaged) Jobs was by his childhood.

How true this explanation is (in respect of Jobs’ behaviour) is contentious. Several people who knew him well claim that the film is inaccurate, including Edwin Catmull, the head of Pixar (a company that Jobs was a board member of); Tim Cook, the current Apple CEO; and Waz, himself. Catmull claims that the film’s story is ‘wrong’ (although he does not give a reason for this), and Waz has said that ‘everything in the movie did not happen’ since he never spoke to Jobs before the events that the film portrays. Now, granted, Danny Boyle’s movie does take (considerable) artistic licence. One could never believe that the events happened in real life as they are portrayed in the film because that would have been unrealistic and impossible. But that does not mean that the events did not happen; they just happened at different times and Boyle has put them into his film at certain points to give the movie a solid and satisfying narrative arch.

An older Steve Jobs talking with his long-time business assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, with a decent if at times dodgy eastern European, New York accent). Joanna was known as the only person to ever stand up to Jobs and he respected her for it.

An older Steve Jobs talking with his long-time business assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, with a decent if at times dodgy eastern European, New York accent). Joanna was known as the only person to ever stand up to Jobs and he respected her for it.

Nevertheless, the film’s tight, solid and satisfying arch comes at a cost. In some respects it is too tight. Boyle misses out plenty of moments and events in Jobs’ life that could have altered the perceptions of Jobs. Adding a couple of key moments/events (or even mentioning them) about his family and about the long, protracted manner of his death could have given the film a more complete feeling and enabled viewers to make better informed judgements on Jobs. Yet, even without these moments, one can still form strong conclusions on the man.

Over-all, Steve Jobs is an enjoyable and interesting film about an almost mythical man. In an objective manner, with superb acting, dialogue and directing, we see Steve Jobs for what he was like as a person, how he changed over the years, and the events that shaped him into the man he became, for better and for worse. It is debatable how close to the truth this film is to reality. More than anything, though, Steve Jobs highlights that a person can be a genius and create phenomenal products, but that his/her products can be greater than the person who created them.

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Review – Suffragette (12a) [2015]

Suffragette - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Sarah Gavron – Brick Lane, Village At The End Of The World

Writer:

Cast:

Music Composer:

The right to vote is an emotionally charged subject. In the UK, the right to vote is a birth-right for citizens of eighteen and above. But we must not forget that this was not always the case, and women had to fight harder to acquire this right.

Suffragette - Maud and her husband in the factory

Maud (Carey Mulligan) working in the grimy laundry factory with her husband, Sonny (Ben Whishaw).

At the turn of the twentieth-century, most men could vote in the UK but women could not. Rightly, this caused tension and gave rise to the Suffragette movement, headed by Emmeline Pankhurst. The Suffragettes used ‘direct action’ to bring attention to the injustice of women being unable to vote. Suffragette focuses on this movement, and the consequences these women suffered to bring the injustice of women being denied the right to vote to the forefront of the world’s attention. But, sadly, none of it is done particularly well.

Suffragette is set in London between 1912-13. It is based around real events but our protagonist, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), is fictional. Maud works in a laundry factory, struggling to make ends meet. Appalled at the working conditions and the treatment of women by her boss, Norman Taylor (Geoff Bell), Maud joins the Suffragettes and gradually becomes more and more involved in the movement, despite the consequences of doing so.

Suffragette is a surprisingly bland and uninteresting film. The movie starts off with a funereal drum beat, plus some misogynistic quotes from British politicians taken out of context. This sets the tone for a highly unsophisticated, puerile and uneventful outlook of the era and the movement. Alas, the film does not improve as it goes on. Worse, the film becomes sterile, making its 106-minute run time seem considerably longer.

Maud at a demonstration for women's right to vote with Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff, left) and Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter, right).

Maud at a demonstration for women’s right to vote with Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff, left) and Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter, right).

For all the film’s sterility, Suffragette grapples well (and not so well) with some of the issues plaguing the era. The film successfully shows us that conditions in factories were horrible back then; that people were much more patriotic back then toward the monarchy and the country compared to nowadays; that women, their offspring and their properties were controlled by their (abusive) husbands; that the Suffragettes adopted dubious, violent, and borderline-terrorist methods to get their message heard; and that the Suffragettes were treated harshly in prison. This gives us some insight into the mindset and workings of pre-World War I British society, which is interesting.

But, alas, all of the above is tackled only at a shallow level in the film. Moreover, by the end of Suffragette, one learns little else about the era, other than that all the men were ignorant, misogynistic, lying, woman-beaters, and that all the women were heroines monolithically united in their struggle to get the vote. This is woefully unrepresentative of the era and unacceptably simplistic. If anything, this tells us more about script-writer Abi Morgan than about the era she wishes to portray. It is almost as if Morgan is more interested in imposing her opinions (propaganda) upon her audiences than portraying history fairly. Then again, this is not the first time that Morgan has imposed her views on viewers and portrayed history unfairly. She did it in The Iron Lady by riding roughshod over Margaret Thatcher. So should viewers really have gone into Suffragette expecting an honest portrayal of the Suffragette movement and the era, with Morgan having written the movie?

The lack of objectivity in the film means that the cast of Suffragette have one hand tied behind their backs from the outset. In spite of this, however, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff and Natalie Press (who plays Emily Davison) all perform decently. Also, Meryl Streep puts in a solid cameo as the fire-brand Emmeline Pankhurst.

Maud being counselled in custody by Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson).

Maud being counselled in custody by Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson).

Nevertheless, the cast are further let down by clunky dialogue and by the lack of depth in their characters. Both of these have the knock-on effect of rendering the cast unsympathetic and lifeless. And when a predominantly female cast comes across as unsympathetic and lifeless about a subject as emotive and justifiable as the right for women to vote, something is seriously wrong with the film.

Over-all, Suffragette is a very disappointing movie. Yes, the film effectively highlights that women in the UK did not have the right to vote at the turn of the twentieth-century and that the Suffragettes brought the issue to the world’s attention with their antics. All the same, though, the film portrays the era and the Suffragette movement in an inexcusably one-dimensional, immature manner. Consequently, the movie is dull and if it wasn’t for the cast, the movie would have been duller still.

Considering that the issue Suffragette deals with has such emotion behind it, it is stunning how little emotion Suffragette evokes. This is an injustice to the women (Suffragette or otherwise) who put their lives on the line back then to win the right to vote in the UK; and it is an injustice to all women in the world who still put their lives on the line to win such rights today.

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