Category Archives: Based on Real Events

Review – Exodus: Gods And Kings (12a) [2014]

Exodus - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

Cast:

  • Christian Bale – The Machinist, The Fighter, The Dark Knight I-III, American Hustle, The Big Short
  • Joel Edgerton – Smokin’ Aces, Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty, The Gift
  • John Turturro – Anger Management, Transformers I-III, The Taking of Pelham 123, Hands of Stone
  • Aaron Paul – Mission: Impossible III, The Last House On The Left, Breaking Bad, Need For Speed, Eye In The Sky
  • Sigourney Weaver – Alien I-V, Ghostbusters I & II, Paul, The Cabin In The Woods, A Monster Calls
  • Ben Mendelsohn – The New World, Killing Them Softly, The Dark Knight Rises, Mississippi Grind
  • María Valverde – Body Confusion, The Anarchist’s Wife, The Liberator, Broken Horses
  • Ben Kingsley – Schindler’s List, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Hugo, Iron Man III, The DictatorKnight of Cups
  • Indira Varma – Rome, Basic Instinct II, Silk, Game of Thrones, Caesar
  • Hiam Abbass – Munich, Lemon Tree, A Bottle In The Gaza Sea, Nothing Escapes My Eyes

Music Composer:

In my review of Prometheus in 2012, I wrote that since Gladiator came out in 2000 all of Ridley Scott’s films have not been good enough for a director who once made Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator. Since 2000, Scott has consistently made disappointing films like Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood and Prometheus, while 2013’s The Counsellor was rotten to the core. So bearing in mind Scott’s portfolio over the last fourteen years, what could one expect with Exodus: Gods And Kings?

Pharaoh Rameses II (Joel Edgerton), the villain of the Exodus story, looking splendid and glorious.

Pharaoh Rameses II (Joel Edgerton), the villain of the Exodus story, looking splendid and glorious.

The film starts with (the anachronistic method) of a transcript, giving viewers the political context of the movie, as well as Moses’ position in Ancient Egypt. Subsequently, the film centres round Moses of the Torah and we follow him (Christian Bale) as a young adult living among the elites in Cairo; through his exile and marriage to Zipporah (María Valverde); to finally taking his place as the first leader of the enslaved Israelite/Jewish people and leading them out of Ancient Egypt via the Red Sea.

Exodus: Gods And Kings is a lively adaptation of the famous Biblical tale. The film is not absolutely historically accurate (especially if one swears by the Quran) and contains much artistic license. Some of the inaccuracies are avoidable, for example the number of years that the Israelites were enslaved for. But others inaccuracies are unavoidable and require the artistic license that Scott employs because there is no historical record of it; for example, where and what Moses did in exile.

If one can overcome these inaccuracies, one can appreciate many of the enjoyable elements of the movie. Scott impressively designs Ancient Egypt to give viewers a feel for how ancient Cairo and the slave city of Piton probably looked like; the battle at the start of the film is really good (although, strikingly similar to the battle in the opening scenes of Gladiator); the splitting of the Red Sea is refreshingly different from the conventional story (although, one recently saw a better example of what the film achieves in Interstellar); and the CGI plagues and godly miracles are emphatic and vividly memorable.

Moses (Christian Bale) speaking with Nun (Ben Kingsley), one of the enslaved leaders of the Jewish tribes in Piton, about the need to escape Egypt.

Moses (Christian Bale) speaking with Nun (Ben Kingsley), one of the enslaved leaders of the Jewish tribes in Piton, about the need to escape Egypt.

Furthermore, Exodus depicts Moses in an innovative and interesting way that is seldom discussed. This is important as Moses was a human being (who we know little about), so his (real or possible) flaws should be laid bare for us so we can assess what sort of a man he was. Exodus does this in a pseudo-intelligent manner and Scott should rightly be recognised for trying to do something different.

However, sadly, Scott undermines his idea of Moses, as well as the other key individuals from this period, with his poor choice of casting. Forget the racism issue (which Scott daftly fuelled with his lamentable responses); none of the actors in the main roles look their part. Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul and Sigourney Weaver do not look like they are Ancient Egyptian or Mediterranean, and no amount of spray tan and make-up can change that. And, also, what was Scott thinking when he chose Christian Bale to be Moses? How can Batman be Moses? It just isn’t believable, and if viewers cannot believe in the characters, it is an uphill struggle for the cast to come across convincingly.

In fairness to the cast, they are handicapped by the wretchedly written script that relegates all, but Moses, to one-dimensional characters. The biggest victim of the script is the main villain: Pharaoh Rameses II, played by Joel Edgerton. If Scott’s intention had been to make Rameses be Exodus’s Commodus, Scott fails miserably. One may have loathed Commodus by the end of Gladiator, but that was only because Scott gave him/Joaquin Phoenix the chance to be loathed. Scott does not give Rameses/Edgerton such a chance, consigning Rameses to a pathetic, ranting idiot, who is unfit to rule. This is a shame (and gratingly frustrating) because it is a waste of a talent like Edgerton, because it is contrary to history, and most significantly because one feels nothing towards Rameses by the end.

The plague of hail. This is one of the ten plagues that rains down on Egypt after Rameses refuses Moses' request to let his people go.

The plague of hail. This is one of the ten plagues that rains down on Egypt after Rameses refuses Moses’ request to let his people go.

Speaking of the end, it takes an Earth’s turn to get there. One cares so little for the characters in Exodus that the movie’s 150-minutes running-time feels like double that. To think that Gladiator, at 155-minutes, was longer than Exodus, is surprising as it felt shorter. This speaks volumes for just how much of a masterpiece Gladiator was, and how far Scott’s stock has fallen as a director since 2000.

Overall, Exodus: Gods And Kings is not a terrible film. One may object to the historical inaccuracies within the film, yet this cannot be helped due to the limited amount of source material available on the subject. Instead, one should enjoy the aspects of the movie that have been done well. That is, if one can overcome Scott’s glaring casting errors and the poverty of the script that leaves even Christian Bale, one of the most talented actors of the current era, struggling for conviction. But, then again, what did one expect from Exodus? Another film of Gladiator’s quality? Don’t be ridiculous! Just be grateful that Exodus is not another Prometheus.

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Review – Big Eyes (15) [2014]

Big Eyes - title banner3

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Tim Burton – Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks!, Corpse Bride, Alice In Wonderland I & II

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Danny Elfman – The Simpson’s, Spiderman I & II, Corpse Bride, The Next Three Days, Fifty Shades of Grey

When it comes to predatory animals, one knows to stay well away. Yet, when it comes to predatory people, for one reason or another, one does not always act with the same haste or caution. The consequences of this lack of haste or caution can be damaging to the predator’s prey. Tim Burton, back to his best with Big Eyes, shows what can happen to an individual who falls prey to a person with a predatory nature.

Walter (Christoph Waltz) standing over Margaret (Amy Adams) and admiring her work.

Walter (Christoph Waltz) standing over Margaret (Amy Adams) and admiring her work.

Big Eyes is a true story based on what happened to the artist Margaret Keane in America, in the 1950s and early-1960s. Margaret (Amy Adams), is a single mother to Jane (when small played by Delaney Raye; when older played by Madeleine Arthur), who draws children with unusually large eyes as a hobby to earn a bit of money.

At an art fair one day, Margaret meets the smooth-talking Walter (Christoph Waltz), another artist who claims that she has talent and that she could make fortunes from her work. Margaret becomes enchanted by Walter. Soon, they are married and work together to make serious amounts of money. But the more time Margaret spends with Walter, the more it becomes apparent that Walter is not all that he seems. Eventually, this leads to a courtroom battle over royalty fees for the drawings.

Big Eyes is a really enjoyable film. It has a well written script that is surprisingly humorous, and the two lead actors play their parts brilliantly. Amy Adams (as ever) plays her role convincingly; this time as a callow woman with low self-esteem, who is pressured into a situation whereby she allows herself to be downtrodden by her husband. Similarly, Christoph Waltz (as ever) is a joy to watch, despite being a domineering husband who takes advantage of a vulnerable woman for the sake of making a waterfall of money. The leering, Cheshire cat-like grin never leaves his face and the words that roll off his silver-tongue underlie why predatory people are as dangerous as their beastly cousins in the wild. (Both devour their prey, just in different ways.)

An example of the sort of drawings Margaret draws.

An example of the sort of pictures Margaret draws.

Nevertheless, it is not just the two lead actors that make Big Eyes so watchable. The film has the feel of a director who loved creating it. The topic of the movie is the perfect fit for Tim Burton. Several of his films, like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mars Attacks!, James And The Giant Peach, Corpse Bride and Alice In Wonderland, all consist of characters with unusually (and creepily) big eyes. Consequently, Burton’s passion radiates from the screen, elevating Big Eyes to make it a more pleasurable.

One may feel Burton’s passion throughout the film, but that does not mean it is flawless, sadly. First, Burton uses the (jarringly) antiquated technique of a narrator at the beginning of the movie and at random points throughout it, to put forward information to the viewers. (If these pieces of information said by the voiceover are so critical to the story, why couldn’t they have been incorporated into the dialogue like everything else?) Second, certain elements of Walter’s life are never properly explored and are dropped as quickly as they are brought up. This is brow-raising to say the least.

Margaret, who by this point has drawn so many pictures with abnormally big eyes that she is beginning to them (maddeningly) in her own reflection.

Margaret, who by this point has drawn so many pictures with abnormally big eyes that she is beginning to them (maddeningly) in her own reflection.

And, third, although Big Eyes is based on a true story, there is no way that the scenes in the courtroom are what truly happened. The courtroom scenes are too ludicrous and too camp to have been true. But, in fairness to Burton, they are absolutely hilarious. And while one cannot ignore the unreality of the scenes, one must applaud Burton for his alterations as they enhance the scenes and the film’s enjoyment factor.

All-in-all, Big Eyes is a very entertaining and satisfying film. The movie is funny, has a good script, an even better cast, and a director who is in love with the subject-matter at the heart of the tale. Burton could have neatened Big Eyes further by using some more modern techniques to convey information, by tying up some of the movie’s loose ends, and by not making the film camp enough to slot into the 1980s.

But to focus on these matters too much is to do the film a disservice. Instead, one should focus on the primary moral of the story: notably, to stay away from predatory people because they can only have a detrimental impact on one’s confidence, one one’s self-esteem, and on one’s life in general, as Margaret Keane found.

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Review – The Wolf of Wall Street (18) [2014]

The Wolf of Wall Street - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Martin Scorsese – Goodfellas, The Departed, Shutter Island, Sinatra

Cast:

  • Leonardo DiCaprio – Titanic, The Departed, Inception, The Revenant
  • Jonah Hill – Superbad, Moneyball, 21 & 22 Jump Street
  • Margot Robbie – Neighbours, About Time, Focus, The Big Short
  • Matthew McConaughey – Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, The Lincoln Lawyer, MudInterstellar
  • Jean Dujardin – The Clink of Ice, A View of Love, The Artist, The Monuments Men
  • Kyle Chandler – King Kong, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Zero Dark Thirty, Carol
  • Rob Reiner – Sleepless In Seattle, Mad Dog Time, New Girl
  • Joanna Lumley – James And The Giant Peach, Ella Enchanted, Corpse Bride, Squirrels To The Nuts
  • Cristin Milioti – The Sopranos, I Am Ben, How I Met Your Mother, The Occupants
  • Jon Bernthal – Fury
  • Stephen Kunken – Still Alice
  • PJ Byrne – The Gift

Since the financial collapse in the autumn of 2007, there has been almost universal contempt, if not outright hatred for bankers, stockbrokers and anyone involved in high-risk finance-related jobs. The vitriol aimed at such people, as they have taken home huge paycheques and bonuses, has resulted in greater financial regulations. Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street illustrates through Jordan Belfort how crooked the financial system can be without such regulations.

Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) advising the unknowing Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) on what one has to do to thrive in the industry.

Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) advising the unknowing Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) on what one has to do to thrive in the industry.

The film is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, the titular character of the movie, and the book written by Belfort while he was in prison. The movie begins with the young, ambitious Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) getting a job as a stockbroker at Rothschild in the late 1980s. Shortly after joining the bank, his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), takes him for lunch and gives him some (un-)sage advice in how to survive in the industry.

Skip forward a few years, and Jordan has founded his own stockbroking company, Stratton Oakmont, with his friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). But Belfort has also taken on board all that his former boss once told him, and lives the fast-life snorting cocaine, paying prostitutes for all kinds of sex, and making fortunes… until the authorities start chasing him and his company for their criminal wrongdoings.

The Wolf of Wall Street is an energetic, chauvinistic and engaging film. Despite its three-hour running time, the movie does not drag, which is extraordinary considering its length, the amount of swearing, and the vulgarity of the central characters involved, chiefly the Wolf, himself.

Leonardo DiCaprio is brilliant as the dishonest Belfort. DiCaprio’s character brings to mind another corrupt financier: the fictional Gordon Gekko of Wall Street (who Belfort claimed was his inspiration). But while Gekko enjoyed the banking industry and making money for money’s sake, Belfort made money to live up the fast-life, and DiCaprio’s eccentric performance demonstrates this. For the vast majority of the film, DiCaprio has his foot on the accelerator, unable to slow down his obsessive greed for more money, drugs, cars, yachts and prostitutes (no wonder DiCaprio needed a break from acting after this).

A drugged-up Belfort having some non-work related fun with his equally drugged-up friend and business partner, Donnie (Jonah Hill).

A drugged-up Belfort having some non-work related fun with his equally drugged-up friend and business partner, Donnie (Jonah Hill).

Yet, for all his (many) flaws, DiCaprio’s character at least has some redeeming qualities; notably, loyalty to his friends. The same, however, cannot be said for Belfort’s repulsive friend Donnie, played by Jonah Hill. Hill’s character is Hill’s archetypal type-cast, since Donnie is foul mannered, foul speaking, grob, misogynistic, and without a compensatory feature in his bones. Hill has seemingly spent his whole career (with the exception of his excellent performance in Moneyball) playing roles that have been building up to this one in The Wolf of Wall Street since the crass and juvenile Superbad was released in 2007. It is no surprise, therefore, that Hill metamorphosis’s into Donnie with gusto and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, Hill’s talents do not mean one can empathise with the disgusting Donnie as a person.

Viewers may, to a much lesser extent, have a similar problem finding a way into Jordan’s wife, Naomi, played well enough by the strikingly attractive Margot Robbie. The Australian Robbie puts on a faultless Brooklyn accent to her credit, but that is the most noteworthy part of her performance (other than her physical beauty) because her role in The Wolf of Wall Street is not taxing. She mainly has to be Belfort’s eye-candy plaything, and her mercenary nature ensures that audiences feel increasingly less empathic towards her whilst Jordan messes about with prostitutes. Still, Robbie does a decent job with what she is given.

Where the film falls is on its moral stance towards Belfort’s practices. It is one thing if the film maturely takes a neutral stance on a subject-matter, as Zero Dark Thirty and Prisoners did on the matter of whether torturing suspects is ever permissible under certain circumstances. But by Scorsese failing to show the effects that Belfort’s unlawful schemes had on his victims, The Wolf of Wall Street unintentionally glorifies Belfort.

Three of the many instances of the stunning Naomi Belfort (Margot Robbie). What would possess a man to pay for prostitutes if he has her to come home to?

Three of the many instances of the stunning Naomi Belfort (Margot Robbie). What would possess a man to pay for prostitutes if he has her to come home to?

In addition, Scorsese’s style of directing is ill-disciplined. At times, the movie relays events in chronological order; at other times, we see flashbacks; at other times, we hear Belfort’s and other characters’ thoughts; at other times, the film is an advert for Belfort with him speaking directly into the camera; and at other times, we see events through Belfort’s eyes, rather than how they really were (which can be remarkably and hilariously different). The result of this inconsistent approach is that one leaves the film unsure as to what Scorsese wanted to achieve.

Over-all, The Wolf of Wall Street is a fantastic and enjoyable film, despite the rampant misogyny and the repugnant characters one endures for three hours. At the centre of it all is the immoral Jordan Belfort, who is played with great vigour and charisma by Leonardo DiCaprio. The film has its flaws in the directing and the stance it takes towards Belfort. Nevertheless, The Wolf of Wall Street demonstrates that people like Belfort, with his life of drugs, debauchery and fraudulent practices, are the reason for why banks, stockbroking agencies and the financial sector in general needed the regulations that are now in force. Now, future-Belforts will be prevented from repeating the Wolf’s ways and that is a positive.

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Review – 12 Years A Slave (15) [2014]

12 Years a Slave - header2

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Steve McQueen – Hunger, Shame

Cast:

Music Composer:

It is with great relief and pride that state-sponsored slavery has been consigned to history in the West and in most other parts of the world. From ancient times through to the mid-20th century, enforcers of slave-based systems at times demonstrated the worst aspects of human nature. Despite America’s ideology of freedom and democracy for all peoples, the country started off with a terrible stain on its record due to the racially-aggravated slave-based system that was predominantly practised in the South of the country. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave brilliantly gives us a window into the harrowing world of the treatment black people suffered at the hands of white slave masters in the South before the Thirteenth Amendment came into force in 1865.

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as a free man, with his family in New York.

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as a free man, with his family in New York.

12 Years A Slave is based on the true story and memoirs of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Born and raised in New York as a free man, Solomon is invited by two ‘artists’ to share his skills with the violin and make some good money by playing in Washington DC.

But after making some money in the capital, Solomon is drugged one night and wakes up in chains in a dank underground cell. Despite his protestations of being a free man, Solomon is shipped to the South and sold into slavery.

Somehow, Solomon must stay alive, maintain his dignity, and return to New York to see his wife and two children again.

12 Years A Slave is a powerful, tear-jerking and distressing film from the off. Nothing by way of raw brutality is left out to illustrate how badly black people were treated under slavery. By starting the film with Solomon in slavery, having all his moments as a free man via flashbacks, Steve McQueen immediately enables audiences to sympathise and pity Solomon’s situation.

Sometimes (to be really pedantic) in order to rub salt into Solomon’s sorrowful predicament, the film indulges itself a little. This has the dual effect of giving Solomon so much screen time that it is as if the world revolves around him (especially due to the fairly long scene sequences that McQueen favours); and it pads out the movie’s running time to 134 minutes by putting in scenes that have no material effect on the plot. But these minor criticisms should not undermine the effectiveness of 12 Years A Slave.

Epps (Michael Fassbender), the nastiest of all the slave owners, shouting crazily at an enslaved Solomon, tormenting him.

Epps (Michael Fassbender), the nastiest of all the slave owners, shouting crazily at an enslaved Solomon, tormenting him.

The movie, however, would only be half as potent if it were not for the great performances from all the cast members, but in particular from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender. Ejiofor captures the anger and the despair of his character. Moreover, he portrays the sheer willpower of Solomon to survive with (some of) his dignity intact splendidly. Whenever Solomon looks back at the life that was taken from him, viewers cannot help but feel Solomon’s pain, and credit must be given to Ejiofor for enabling audiences to feel such strong emotions.

On the flip side, Fassbender also makes viewers feel strong sentiments with his performance as Edwin Epps, the ‘N*****-Breaker’ as his character is proudly nicknamed. It would have been easy for Fassbender to fall into the trap of a pornographic nastiness (as Ramsey Snow from Game of Thrones and the villains in Hostel and The Human Centipede all gleefully jump into). But by Fassbender playing Epps as an eccentric and quasi-comical human being, with problems of his own, Fassbender provides us with a powerful performance of a sadistic, yet troubled soul that feels entirely natural under the circumstances.

Fassbender can be seen to represent some of the worst facets of slave owners (and humanity in general when given licence). Nevertheless, 12 Years A Slave makes a point to show audiences that some slave owners were not as bad as Epps, and that they lived in fear of men like Epps and their own henchmen because of it.

Black slaves hung for the crime of running away from their cruel masters, and to deter others from trying to do the same.

Black slaves hung for the crime of running away from their cruel masters, and to deter others from trying to do the same.

Being afraid, of course, does not excuse keeping slaves or their actions. But as honest as the film is regarding the cruelty of the slave-system in the South, it is equally honest about why some people, who would have probably been good citizens in the free North, perhaps did not do enough (or anything at all) to help bring down the system. Steve McQueen must be applauded for this, like he should be for virtually everything else in this movie, as it would have been easy to inaccurately portray all slave owners as the Devil incarnate.

Over-all, 12 Years A Slave can be best summed up in the words of one of the actors in the film: “amazing… and none of it good.” Through outstanding performances from the cast, the film powerfully reveals the horrors and brutality of the slave-based system in the South of America in the mid-nineteenth century. One is likely to leave the film feeling numb and distressed, but also with the knowledge that not all the slave owners were wicked and that good men like President Abraham Lincoln put an end to the reprehensible system almost 150 years ago.

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Review – Philomena (12a) [2013]

Philomena - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Stephen Frears – The Queen, Tamara Drewe, Untitled Lance Armstrong Biopic

Cast:

  • Judi Dench – Shakespeare In LoveMy Week With Marilyn, Skyfall, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel I & IISpectre
  • Michelle Fairley – The Others, Harry Potter VII(i), Game of Thrones, Ironclad II
  • Steve Coogan – Tropic Thunder, What Maisie Knew, Northern Soul
  • Sophie Kennedy Clark – Dark Shadows, Nymphomaniac
  • Sean Mahon – Line of Fire, Reign of the Gargoyles, Dark Shadows
  • Charlie Murphy – Love/Hate, 71, Northmen: A Viking Saga

Music Composer:

Take Shelter, My Week With Marilyn and Shadow Dancer had solid premises and the potential to be very good films. Alas, they all shared the characteristics of being flat, lacking in character development, and running out of steam long before the end. It resulted in their latter scenes being overly predictable or trite, or both. Similarly, despite being a decent film, Philomena suffers from the same traits.

Young Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark) holding her son tightly in the sole hour a day that she is given free time at the nunnery.

Young Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark) holding her son tightly in the sole hour a day that she is given free time at the nunnery.

Philomena is a British drama set in 2003. The movie is based on the true story of how an elderly Irish lady, Philomena Lee (when young, played by Sophie Kennedy Clark; when old, by Judy Dench), came to find her son, Anthony (when adult, played by Sean Mahon).

Anthony was taken away from Philomena in the 1950s when he was a toddler by the nuns at a Catholic nunnery, while Philomena lived there as punishment for her sin of becoming pregnant outside of wedlock. But now she has the help of a journalist in Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who has just lost his job as a Labour government advisor and a BBC reporter. He wants to write a story that will reinvigorate his career (as a Russian history author of all things) and helps Philomena to find out what happened to her son.

Philomena’s storyline is straightforward, logical and saddening, yet done with wittiness and dignity. The film wastes little time in getting the two main actors on screen together and moving them in the right direction, which is positive. Quaint Ireland is portrayed in a genial, green way, with cheerful locals down at the local pubbie, while a nasty side of the country is shed light upon by revealing some of the crimes of Catholic nunneries. (Naturally, the particular nunnery involved claim that Philomena distorts the truth and is misleading. As they would.)

Yet, Philomena rapidly feels tired, which is disappointing as one expects more from it. The movie is only 98 minutes long, but it feels longer. All the best jokes are in the trailer, so they lose their panache when said in the film. But in general the humour, which is far from dumb or slapstick, lacks the cutting edge of Woody Allen’s recent Blue Jasmine.

Philomena in her senior years (played by Judi Dench) talking about her past with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) in the Irish countryside.

Philomena in her senior years (played by Judi Dench) talking about her past with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) in the Irish countryside.

Moreover, Philomena has little character development and, like My Week With Marilyn, none of the characters seem to go anywhere either. This is despite the characters and the movie taking the correct (and predictable) steps towards the film’s (inevitable) conclusion, which is a strange and an unrewarding sensation as a viewer.

The lack of character arches is a real pity as some of the characters had the potential to be very interesting. Consequently, the acting lacks meat, even though all of the performances are good. Judi Dench is fine as the quirkily charming, if socially odd Philomena in her old age. But Dench’s performance is undermined by the fact that no-one believes she’s Irish. It does not help that Dench’s accent in the film flips between that of a Dubliner and the Queen’s English. In addition, as Dench is playing a role not too dissimilar to many of her past performances, audiences are invariably reminded that she’s English (in case they needed any reminding).

Steve Coogan plays decently as the disillusioned (and discourteous) man trying to find his way again after becoming unemployed in middle age. And Michelle Fairley, playing in a very different role to the dutiful Lady Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones, gives a good and amusing performance (with the little screen time she has) in her native Irish accent as the ruthless editor, manipulating all the facts that Martin Sixsmiths relays to her in order to create a more enticing story for her newspaper.

Judi Dench (left) with the real Philomena Lee (right) at the premier.

Judi Dench (left) with the real Philomena Lee (right) at the premier.

However, arguably the best performance of the film is from Sophie Kennedy Clark, as the young Philomena. In spite of the harsh living conditions in the nunnery, Clark demonstrates a mother’s true happiness when she holds her young son in her arms, as well as a mother’s brokenness when her son is taken away. Like Fairley, Clark is not in the film for very long. But the scenes with her on screen are the only emotional ones in this otherwise quite dull movie.

All-in-all, Philomena is a fine film. The movie provides audiences with a decent insight into the mean, inner workings of Catholic nunneries in Ireland in the 1950s, and has a good cast that deliver their lines well enough. Yet, Philomena lacks energy and runs out of puff long before its running time is over. Likewise, the film’s humour, general flatness, and lack of character development makes viewers feel like they’re cutting meat with a blunt knife. All the key ingredients to Philomena should have been sharper and more engaging as the film’s premise is a fascinating one.

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Review – Captain Phillips (12a) [2013]

Captain Phillips - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Paul Greengrass – Resurrected, Green Zone, Bourne II-III & V

Cast:

  • Tom Hanks – Philadelphia, Toy Story I-III, Saving Mr Banks
  • Catherine Keener – The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Into The Wild, Nailed
  • Barkhad Abdi – Eye In The Sky
  • Barkhad Abdirahman
  • Faysal Ahmed
  • Mahat M Ali
  • Michael Churnus – Love & Other Drugs, Men In Black III, Glass Chin
  • David Warshofsky – Public Enemies, Unstoppable, Now You See Me
  • John Megaro – The Big Short

Music Composer:

Piracy at sea is nothing new. Ships have been hijacked since the dawn of time and the problem is still rife in many parts of the world today. Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips shows us superbly what it can feel like when a ship gets taken over by a gang with guns.

Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) on the look out for pirates... and worried by how quickly they're advancing toward his ship.

Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) on the look out for pirates… and worried by how quickly they’re advancing toward his ship.

Captain Phillips is based on the true story which occurred in 2009 and the book, which came out the following year called A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, NAVY seals, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Captain Richard Phillips, himself. The film is about when the Maersk Alabama, a large cargo ship, is seized by Somali pirates near the Horn of Africa, and the crew are taken hostage.

The plot for Captain Phillips is straightforward, grounded and gets to the crux within 20 of its 134 minute running time. From them on the film is tense; so tense, one’s heart pounds in sync with the background beats, and one’s arms shake almost as much. Also, as the film is long, one feels as if the situation is being drawn out in real time. This is despite no lawyers appearing in the film, and little attention given to events behind the scenes in instances of hostages at sea (unlike the very good Danish film, A Hijacking).

The pirates on their little speed boat, eager to seize Maersk Alabama and gain a reward for it back in Somalia.

The pirates on their little speed boat, eager to seize Maersk Alabama and gain a reward for it back in Somalia.

That Somali piracy is a current and serious issue enhances the horror of the situation for Captain Rich Phillips and his crew, and the close up shots (Greengrass’ trademark) enable viewers to see the fear of captain and crew at hand. Although, there is a law suit presently being waged against Captain Phillips, claiming that the movie does not portray events aboard the Maersk Alabama in the run up and during the hijacking truthfully, the film feels (for the most part) chillingly realistic. Some may argue that the realism becomes less convincing as the movie goes on; for example, neither captain nor crew complain of hunger throughout the ordeal. But in the main, Captain Phillips seems sincere, irrespective of the outcome of the lawsuit.

Captain Phillips’ genuineness is helped by the pirates looking bloody scary and behaving in a frenzied fashion. Tom Hanks is likely to gain much of the plaudits come Oscar season, and his display is absolutely brilliant as the heroic (though this point is legally being disputed) and beleaguered captain; indeed, the grimmer the situation becomes, the better Hanks performs. However, the actors playing the pirates do just as much, if not more, to make the film as thrilling (stressful) as it is, since viewers are never sure how the pirates are going to react to movement on the ship, or outside of it.

The pirates, having taken the ship and Captain Phillips hostage, telling the captain that they're in charge.

The pirates, having taken the ship and Captain Phillips hostage, telling the captain that they’re in charge.

What is quite remarkable is that the film makes us empathise with the pirates’ predicament. Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M Ali, the four men playing the pirates (lacking all the glamour and savvy of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow or Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean I-IV), show us why some Somalis turn to piracy, as well as the problems that await them should they return home without large sums of money, or at least with a great bargaining chip to acquire large amounts of money. One almost comes to pity the pirates’ plight… but for the small matter of them holding a crew (and Tom Hanks) hostage.

All-in-all, Captain Phillips is a nerve-shredding, finger-biting thriller. Granted, the film almost exclusively focusses upon events on the ship and little else. But the movie is grounded and, regardless of its factual accuracy, it feels honest in every respect. Furthermore, Captain Phillips makes viewers experience the terror of modern-day pirates seizing a vessel at sea.

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Review – Gilad Shalit: The Interview (N/A) [2013]

Gilad Shalit interview title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Cast:

  • Gilad Shalit (himself)
  • Noam Shalit (himself)
  • Aviva Shalit (herself)
  • Hadas Shalit (herself)
  • Yoel Shalit (himself)

(This is documentary was shown at an exclusive showing in accordance with an event. It has not been widely released or given a rating by the BBFC.)

For anyone Jewish, Israeli, or otherwise who followed the Gilad Shalit situation, 18th October 2011 was an emotional day. In Israel, it is said that no-one worked and the entire population was glued to the TV. For after almost five and a half years in Hamas captivity, following his abduction in June 2006, an asserted international campaign led by his father, and hard negotiations, Private Gilad Shalit became the first Israeli soldier to return home pale, skinny and alive in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. This low-budget Israeli documentary, produced and aired almost exclusively for Israeli TV, gives us an insight into Gilad’s life during his illegal incarceration and how he is getting on with life since being released.

Gilad Shalit, looking pale and gaunt whilst in captivity, wherein he was not allowed to go outside for five and a half years.

Gilad Shalit, looking pale and gaunt whilst in captivity, wherein he was not allowed to go outside for five and a half years.

The documentary is only 40-45 minutes long and skips back and forth between Gilad’s time in captivity and events subsequently. Since there is no footage of Gilad’s day to day life in the hell-hole underground cell that he was forbidden to leave whilst in captivity, interviews with Gilad since returning home (smiling and with the colour having returned to his face) are our only insight into what his life was like.

The empathy one feels for Gilad is heart-breaking as he tells us his monotonous life in the lonely cell. He kept to a schedule and refused to let himself lie on his bed and just think, since that filled him with despair. The schedule often comprised of playing games with himself, such as bundling up shirts/socks into a ball and seeing how many times he could throw it into a basket/bin in a row.

However, as Gilad’s time in captivity went on, he tells us that his captors gave him a TV and a radio (how nice of them), watched games of sport with him, and played chess with him, which all helped to make the time go a little faster. Furthermore, Gilad says that occasionally Hamas broke the monotony by making him record a video or write a letter. Sometimes these were released, as the video in September 2009 testifies, and on other occasions they were not; although, his captors never told him either way.

Gilad Shalit on the day of his release, walking alongside his relieved father, Noam (right), and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu (left).

Gilad Shalit on the day of his release, walking alongside his relieved father, Noam (right), and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu (left).

Yet, it is not just Gilad’s time in captivity that is touching, but how he felt in the days leading up to his release, wherein he says (with some humour) that he hardly slept because he was so nervous, fearing it would all go wrong; and how he has fared in trying to rebuild himself since coming home. After rarely speaking to anyone regularly for years, one can only imagine how hard it must have been for him to re-adapt into a social scene again. Interestingly, Gilad claims that one of the worst aspects of coming out is that he feels left behind since his friends and family had moved on with their lives, whilst he hadn’t.

Moreover, Gilad talks fondly of when he went to New York and saw the Statue of Liberty, the symbol of freedom personified, which he believes is symbolic of his life. But his trip also revealed another side of him: a desire to lead a normal life. Gilad is a painfully shy person and being a celebrity sits uncomfortably with his character, even though he knows it is something he has to live with.

Simultaneously throughout the documentary, we are given the perspective of Gilad’s mother and father, Aviva and Noam. Noam appears stern before the cameras. He says little but his determination to bring his son home is evident in his expression, as is his relief on the day of Gilad’s return. Gilad’s mother, though, is different. She weeps and prays for him while in captivity, and cries with joy afterward when he is home and returning to good health.

Gilad Shalit, as he looks today. Although skinny, he looks happy and healthy.

Gilad Shalit, as he looks today. Although skinny, he looks happy and healthy.

Over-all, the documentary is simple, short, and moving. The film covers many fascinating areas about Gilad before and after the events of 18th October 2011 from his angle and that of other members of the Shalit family. The documentary does not discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or re-open the debate about whether the price paid for Gilad’s release was worth it. Nor does it deal with any Post Traumatic Stress Disorders that Gilad may suffer from, or how Gilad feels toward his captors. This is understandable. The first is not something Gilad can answer objectively, and the latter two are personal matters and would be insensitive to ask. (And even if the issues were raised, they most probably could not be aired for political reasons.) In some ways, it is a shame that these topics are not raised. Arguably, they would have made the documentary more interesting.

Nevertheless, the documentary deals with almost all other issues and makes one’s eyes well with water. This is because the story of Gilad Shalit is such an affecting one. It’s a miracle he returned home alive. Two years have passed since his release and he seems to be making the right steps toward a full recovery. Please God he can go on to fulfil his potential. He deserves it!

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