Category Archives: Drama

Review – La La Land (12a) [2017]

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Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

Damien Chazelle announced himself to the world two years ago with aplomb. Since Whiplash left cinemas, viewers have waited patiently to see what he would do next. Well, now, Chazelle has returned with La La Land and it is another masterpiece.

Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, working as a barista in between auditions at a coffee shop along the Hollywood boulevard.

Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, working as a barista in between auditions at a coffee shop along the Hollywood boulevard.

La La Land is predominantly about Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Both live in Hollywood and are struggling to make their dreams come true. She is an aspiring actress, working as a barista to pay bills; and he is a jazz piano player, doing the odd gig here and there to make ends meet. They bump into each other a few times and a romantic relationship blossoms. But is their relationship compatible with their careers?

  La La Land is a delightful musical drama. It is an unashamed throwback to Hollywood’s lost golden era and it is full of radiant joy. Everyone is happy and they frequently break into song and dance to show the world how happy they are. (If anything, the characters are too happy and this grates on the nerves. Nothing is seriously wrong in their lives and money is never a problem, even though both of the main characters lack funds.)

Bill (JK Simmons), the owner of a restaurant, telling Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) to just play Christmas themed piano pieces and not the jazz tunes that Sebastian likes to play.

Bill (JK Simmons), the owner of a restaurant, telling Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) to just play Christmas themed piano pieces and not the jazz tunes that Sebastian likes to play.

In many ways, La La Land is the polar opposite of Whiplash. Whereas Whiplash was intense, with the passion and pace of a boxing thriller, La La Land is laid back and blissful. Yet, it shares the jazzy elements of Whiplash as well as the desire of its characters to fulfill their ambitions, regardless of the price. The issue of compromise is key throughout both films, and it is interesting to see which direction the characters decide to go in La La Land when they are confronted with the junction of their careers on the one hand and their relationship on the other.

The reasons we have no idea which way the characters will go is, one, because of the tone of the film; and, two, because of the acting and chemistry of the two main characters: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The good-looking pair have worked well together before in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad, but La La Land is undoubtedly their best collaboration to date. Their characters are clichéd, but Emma Stone shows a solid range of emotional skills and also that she can sing decently too (Gosling less so).

However, the two real stars of La La Land are Justin Hurwitz and Damien Chazelle. First, hats off to Hurwitz: his score is wondrous. The music he created for Whiplash was terrific, but this is another level; especially, as the range of jazz in La La Land is extraordinary. Even if one does not like jazz in general, one will love it in this film thanks to Hurwitz.

Sebastian and Mia happily dancing (as everyone is wont to do in La La Land), while looking lovingly into each other's eyes.

Sebastian and Mia happily dancing (as everyone is wont to do in La La Land), while looking lovingly into each other’s eyes.

And then there is director Chazelle. What can one say? He is proving himself to be quite a talent. His understanding of directing, editing, cinematography and choreography is exemplary. He also seems to love what he does and this shines through in every scene. Long may it continue!

Over-all, La La Land is a spell-binding musical drama. It is happy-clappy, but it is charming and its two leads perform really well together. Additionally, the music is gorgeous. Nevertheless, it is Damien Chazelle who steals the limelight. More than anything, he proves with La La Land that Whiplash was not a one-off marvel and that, at the tender age of 32, he is on the right road to a distinguished career.

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Review – A Monster Calls (12a) [2017]

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Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • JA Bayona – The Orphanage, The Impossible, Untitled Jurassic World Sequel

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Fernando Velázquez – The Orphanage, The Impossible, Mama, Crimson Peak, The Invisible Guest

In medieval and early modern times a series of fairy tales came to the fore in European folklore. Based on true or quasi-mythical events, fantastical stories like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Little Mermaid taught children simple, moral lessons that could be adapted to all eras to help them deal with their problems. JA Boyena’s brilliant, A Monster Calls has a similar moral to its tale.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) looking at the old yew tree in the distance, which is fabled to be a tree that can cure people.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) looking at the old yew tree in the distance, which is fabled to be a tree that can cure people.

The film is based on the book by Patrick Ness, which itself was inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd. The movie centres round lonely, 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall). His mother (Felicity Jones) is suffering from a terminal illness and he is being bullied at school. With so much going on in his life, Conor needs to find an outlet. One night, while at drawing at his desk, the old yew tree near his house comes alive (voiced by Liam Neeson) and advises him on how to deal with his problems.

A Monster Calls is a wonderful, yet heart-breaking fantasy drama. It is a folktale in all but name, since it handles very real issues and enables our protagonist to confront the unfairness of his situation in a constructive and tender way. Also, narratively, the movie links every element of the story together. By the end, viewers understand why Conor sees this particular monster, why the Monster has its voice, and the significance of the Monster’s advice, among others. This makes A Monster Calls all the more moving to watch.

Conor with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones), who is trying to reassure Conor that she will be all right.

Conor with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones), who is trying to reassure Conor that she will be all right.

The movie is delivered with great sensitivity. JA Bayona’s directing is top class and the fantasy parts of the film are always appropriate and never over the top. The script is down to earth and delivered with the right amount of anger, compassion, and bluntness, depending upon the scene. The cast must be commended for this; especially, young Lewis MacDougall. He spends much time on screen alone (or with a CGI monster) and he manages to hold the audience’s attention due to the strength of his acting. This is no easy feat (one need only watch Jayden Smith’s awful performance in After Earth to realise how talented an actor must be to keep viewers interested when he/she is alone on screen). If he continues to perform so well in the future, MacDougall will be a star.

But MacDougall is not the only one who shines. Felicity Jones gives a genuine and heart-felt performance, putting a good spin on her diagnosis for her son despite looking worryingly worse as the film progresses. Similarly, Sigourney Weaver performs splendidly as a grandmother locked in a bygone era, trying to come to terms with losing her daughter and having to look after her grandson. Toby Kebbell, too, does a good job as a man who is not the sharpest pencil in the packet academically, but has emotional intelligence and is trying to do his best for Conor, in spite of his character’s impossible predicament.

If the circumstances aren’t enough to touch people, Fernando Velázquez’s music will do enough to induce lumps in viewers’ throats. His score is subtle and tugs at the heart, thereby giving an added dimension to the pain that our protagonists are suffering, particularly Conor.

Conor facing the (Liam Neeson-voiced) Monster, which looks like a cross between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Arnie's terminator, urging it to save his mother.

Conor facing the (Liam Neeson-voiced) Monster, which looks like a cross between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, urging the Monster to save his mother.

Nevertheless, what is it that Conor is actually suffering from? If A Monster Calls has a flaw, it is that the film vocalises Conor’s pain. This comes across as tell-heavy and unnecessary. Just as the timeless fairy tales did not spell out the moral message of their stories, the movie would have been better served if it would have let audiences infer its message. Yet, this is nip-picking as the film should be enjoyed for the wonder that it is.

All-in-all, A Monster Calls is a fabulous, tear-jerking movie. It has a splendid plot, a cast that fulfil their roles superbly, and it finely blends reality and fantasy. What’s more, A Monster Calls has a strong moral message. This is what makes it a twenty-first century fairy tale, comparable to the classic folklore stories. The film offers children a coping mechanism for when they are confronted with a horrible reality.

PG’s Tips

Review – Arrival (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Denis Villeneuve – Prisoners, Sicario, Untitled Blade Runner film

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Johann Johannsson – Prisoners, The Theory of Everything, Sicario, The Mercy

Aliens invading Earth is not an original idea. Since 1996, there has been an overabundance of alien invasion movies. From the entertaining (Independence Day I and Men in Black I); to the risible (Mars Attacks! and Battlefield Earth); to the Tom Cruise saves the day flicks (War of the Worlds, Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow); to a board game adaptation (Battleship, starring deserved Golden Raspberry winner Rihanna); to comic book adaptations (The Avengers I and Man of Steel); to the dull (Battle: LA and Independence Day II), audiences have seemingly seen it all when it comes to this genre. So how can Arrival differentiate itself and stamp its own mark?

One of the twelve UFOs. This one has stopped in rural Montana, with beautiful fields and mountains for scenery.

One of the twelve UFOs. This one has stopped in rural Montana, with beautiful fields and mountains for scenery.

Arrival is based on the short story by Ted Chiang. Twelve UFOs (shaped like giant contact-lenses) station themselves on random locations in the world. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) of the US military asks Louise (Amy Adams), an expert linguistics lecturer, to use her philological skills to help the US government. Louise agrees and together with Ian (Jeremy Renner), a scientist, they try to work out what the aliens are saying, why they have come, and what their intentions are.

Concurrently, Louise keeps thinking of her daughter, Hannah. Somehow, Louise’s interactions with Hannah have a link to the aliens. But what is it?

Arrival is an interesting and original sci-fi film. Unlike the movies listed above, this one has no action sequences. Indeed, it is anti-action and does not depend on mass special effects either. Rather, the movie stresses the need for dialogue between the humans and the great other. This is most refreshing as guns, explosions, and the annihilation of aliens has long since become a sci-fi trope.

The stress for dialogue also enables viewers to comprehend the nature of our own languages and how they have shaped societies, which is interesting. Furthermore, the film gives us insight into a lost past in which peoples who had no common language made peace and worked with one other: for example, when the Spanish and Portuguese invaded Latin America in the late-fifteen century, and when the British began forging an empire in India in the seventeenth century. (Granted, the Spanish, Portuguese and British killed their fair share of the indigenous populations. But they still had to communicate and work with those they didn’t kill.)

Louise (Amy Adams) looking up in awe at the aliens. Her big blue eyes are so expressive and hint at a plethora of emotions running through her to add depth to her character.

Louise (Amy Adams) looking up in awe at the aliens. Her big blue eyes are so expressive and hint at a plethora of emotions running through her to add depth to her character.

Yet, as interesting as it is watching humans trying to work a new language, it is not particularly stimulating. At times, it is like watching someone untie a bunch of tangled wires or put together a complex, multi-piece puzzle. Both of which are fascinating, but become tedious after a while. Arrival does, however, do its best to keep viewers attentive. Principally, this is done by Forest Whitaker’s character (repeatedly) urging Amy Adams/Louise and Jeremy Renner/Ian to find out the intentions of the aliens because the US, Chinese, Russian and Sudanese(?) governments are preparing to launch military assaults on the UFOs/aliens. It is a good method, but one that becomes cheap and wearisome after a while.

Moreover, Arrival’s ending has two elements: one is very clever and satisfying; the other, though, streams into wishful thinking. This leaves audiences with a peculiar feeling. One wants to praise the finale, yet one cannot help but feel that it weakens the film as most of mankind (realists) understand that international diplomacy does not work the way the movie illustrates; self-interest being one of the many reasons for this.

But for all the plot’s problems, the actors perform well; especially, Amy Adams. Her character is multifaceted since Louise is witty, successful and hardworking, but also insecure and in grief. The pressure of trying to understand the Alien’s language rapidly gets at her, as well, and the way it manifests itself makes for curious viewing.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) telling Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner) to find out why the aliens have come and what they want. And fast. Otherwise, there will be war.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) telling Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner) to find out why the aliens have come and what they want. And fast. Otherwise, there will be war.

Unusually, the male characters are marginalised. Normally in Hollywood, it is the other way round. But Arrival has smartly inverted this cliché. Renner’s character/Ian is a good support for Louise and they work well together. Whitaker’s character/Colonel Weber is less so. He has one purpose and it is a relief that his character does not stray into the puffed-up general bad-guy trope, like Steven Lang’s villainous army man in Avatar. This is a good thing too for two reasons: one, Whitaker/Weber is not a villain (on the contrary, he is just a man who is afraid of the unknown); and, two, it helps to make Arrival something different.

Arrival is a brave and admirable alien invasion drama. It is distinctive as it refuses to go down the action and CGI route. Instead, it relies on its characters and the quest for dialogue and peace. The movie achieves this with success. For sure, the movie has issues, notably its ending. Nevertheless, Arrival must be commended. It stamps its own mark in a genre that has otherwise become generic and braindead.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Light Between Oceans (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • Derek Cianfrance – Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond The Pines, Metalhead

Cast:

Music Composer:

There are some films that look like Oscar material. They have stellar actors in the main roles, a seemingly interesting plot, and wondrous cinematography. Yet, the film remains in post-production for longer than it should and, upon viewing, the movie simply does not work. 2014’s Serena was one such film. The Light Between Oceans (TLBO) is another.

A stunning view of the lighthouse and the ocean from Janus Rock.

A stunning view of the lighthouse and the ocean from Janus Rock.

  TLBO is a film based on the novel with same title by ML Stedman. It is December 1918 and Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) has returned to Australia from the Western Front. World War I (WWI) has taken his toll on him. To recuperate, he applies for a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote Australian island, called Janus Rock.

After getting the job, he meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander). The two marry and go to live on the island. Life is going all right for the happy(ish) couple, until a baby and a dead man wash up on a lifeboat one day. Tom and Isabel are presented with a dilemma: one that will have consequences for the both of them.

Let’s deal with the good elements of TLBO first. The scenery is spectacular. The producers have chosen a beautiful island to represent Janus Rock and the cinematography captures the wonders (and dangers) of this isolated island. Enhancing the sense of isolation is Alexandre Desplat’s beautiful score. It tugs at the heart at times and makes us feel the eerie remoteness of the place at others.

Additionally, Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, with Rachel Weisz in the chief supporting role, are attractive and perform decently. But their Australian accents are glaringly non-existent and their characters are bafflingly boring.

The happy couple, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and Tom (Michael Fassbender), dancing at their wedding. This photo may be genuine show of affection from the two actors since they are a couple in real life as a result of this film.

The happy couple, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and Tom (Michael Fassbender), dancing at their wedding. This photo may be genuine show of affection from the two actors since they are a couple in real life as a result of this film.

Nevertheless, actors can only work with what they are given. Even the finest of our current crop of actors cannot make something out of a poor script and a frustratingly uninteresting plot. It does not help that at 140 minutes TLBO is a long film. Nothing of significance happens for the first 45 minutes when finally the moral dilemma (i.e. the turning point of the story) arrives. That is at least 30 minutes too late. And even when it does arrive, the conundrum is handled in a woefully sentimental manner, well beyond the point of incredulity. It could even be argued that TLBO trivialises child abduction and Stockholm Syndrome, since the former is dealt with as well-meaning and the latter as a non-issue. Director Derek Cianfrance really should have done more research into these highly sensitive subjects as then the reactions of the characters would not be perplexing. Either that, or Cianfrance got the wrong end of the stick, completely.

But these are merely the start of TLBO’s problems. The film feels badly disjointed. This is despite the director’s best efforts to stitch scenes together that bear no link, using the trick of fading one scene into the next. But it does not make the movie flow any easier and makes one realise that TLBO has some fundamental storyline issues. This could explain why the movie spent more time than it should have done (near two years) in post-production.

The issues regarding the storyline are not helped by the movie trying to cover a plethora of topics, including love, grief, trauma, moral dilemmas, and the consequences of one’s actions. All of these can make for fascinating viewing if they are done well. Yet, none of them are properly fleshed out and there is too much telling and not enough showing in the film. This all makes for a recipe of unsatisfying viewing.

The parallels with Serena could not be more apparent. That film had an attractive cast, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Toby Jones and Conleth Hill (better known as Lord Varys from Game of Thrones); it had gorgeous cinematography; and dealt with a lot of interesting subject matters, such as starting up one’s own business in North Carolina during the Great Depression, law enforcement, corruption, and mafia. But it was a mess of a movie. This led to questions of what director Susanne Bier had initially wanted from the film, what she had cut out in the editing room, and how she had come to release the final draft of the film because Serena was a muddle that did not know what story it was trying to tell.

A distraught Hannah (Rachel Weisz) looking for her husband and daughter. They disappeared at sea and no-one has seeing them since to her knowledge.

A distraught Hannah (Rachel Weisz) looking for her husband and daughter. They disappeared at sea and no-one has seeing them since to her knowledge.

TLBO is not on the same scale as Serena. But many of the questions that applied to Serena apply for TLBO. It would be nice if, one day, Cianfrance spoke about what he set out to achieve with TLBO, what he succeeded on, what he failed on, and why he failed on them. Ironically, that would make for a much more interesting tale than the one consisting of Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz.

Over-all, TLBO is a disappointing movie. It has the cast, the setting, and the ideas to be an Oscar contender. Yet, it is a dysfunctional tangle of half-baked plots that go in directions that aren’t plausible. If that does not vex viewers, the movie’s sentimentality will take them over the edge. Indeed, soppiness of the movie will make them wish that The Light Between Oceans had remained in post-production permanently.

PG’s Tips

Review – Creed (15) [2016]

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Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station

Cast:

  • Sylvester Stallone – Rocky I-VI, Judge Dread, Escape Plan, The Expendables I-IV
  • Michael B. Jordan – Chronicle, Fruitvale Station, That Awkward Moment, Fantastic Four
  • Tessa Thompson – Heroes, Periphery, Selma, Salt Water
  • Phylicia Rashad – Cosby, Just Wright, The Cleveland Show, Gods Behaving Badly
  • Graham McTavish – Secretariat, Colombiana, The Hobbit I, II & III, The Finest Hours
  • Tony Bellew

Music Composer:

  • Ludwig Göransson – Fruitvale Station, Community, We’re The Millers, New Girl

In recent weeks, there has been much controversy about the lack of diversity regarding the OSCAR nominations. Other than Alejandro Iñarritu (who is Mexican), not a single non-white person has been nominated for any of the major awards for the second year running. How was this possible when some fantastic work has been done by non-white people over the course of the last year? Creed is an excellent example of how wrong the OSCARs have got it this year.

Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, right), giving his pupil, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, left), some advice on how to defeat a foe in the ring.

Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, right), giving his pupil, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, left), some advice on how to defeat a foe in the ring.

Creed is the seventh film in the Rocky franchise and centres round Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan). Adonis is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who died in Rocky IV. After having a good education and holding down a solid job in the financial sector, Adonis wants a career change. He decides to take up professional boxing and follow in his illustrious father’s footsteps.

To reach those heights, Adonis needs a coach. So he turns to his father’s former rival-cum-friend, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), to train him. Despite being in his late-sixties and having quit boxing, Rocky agrees.

Creed is a very engaging film. It has nostalgic borrowings from previous Rocky films, but more importantly it is a thriller and a drama in its own right. Thus, it does not matter if one has watched the other Rocky films or not. One can greatly enjoy the movie due to the quality of the (often humorous) script, as well as the depth of the characters and the chemistry between them; principally, Rocky (Stallone), Adonis Creed (Jordan) and Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Adonis Creed out with Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Adonis Creed out with Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Stallone plays his joint-most iconic role (with Rambo) with tremendous nuance, charm and realism. He fully justifies his OSCAR nomination. This is not the egotistical Stallone/Rocky in his pomp, trying to take down all his foes to be the all-American hero. (Watch The Expendables franchise for that ludicrous nonsense.) No, time (and life) has taken its toll on Rocky and one feels this in every line he delivers (even when he is being funny). It remains to be seen if this performance is enough to win Stallone the OSCAR for Best Supporting Actor. But having won the Golden Globe for it, he stands a good chance.

Whether he wins it or not, at least Stallone has received OSCAR recognition for his efforts. The same cannot be said for Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and director Ryan Coogler. Jordan is terrific as the titular Creed and it is scandalous that he has not been nominated. His role is so demanding; yet, he handles it with aplomb, whether it is in the (gruelling) boxing ring, or in his relationships with his mentor or his love interest, Bianca. And in fairness to Bianca/Tessa Thompson, she holds her own against Creed/Jordan. She is not merely in the film for eye-candy or to advance Creed’s plot arc. Rather, Bianca exists in her own right, as a three-dimensional character and with a promising career to match, both of which make her very interesting to watch.

For all this, Ryan Coogler must be credited. He has done a superb job in reinvigorating a tired franchise and his directing is outstanding. He captures the upper- and lower-class areas from where boxers come from with class, and has managed to turn a (bog-standard) boxing training montage into something serious and amusing at the same time. Nevertheless, it is how Coogler has handled the boxing fights that highlight his skill as a director. He adopts close-up, continuous shots with no cuts, enabling viewers to feel as if they are part of the fights. That the fights are raw and brutal amplify this sensation.

Adonis Creed in the ring, still standing, despite having taken a battering from his opponent.

Adonis Creed in the ring, still standing, despite having taken a battering from his opponent.

If Coogler can be criticised at all for Creed, it is that the film has some predictable and cliché scenes. Some of these scenes, the movie would have been (marginally) better off without because they are a mixture of rehashing of old Rocky territory and because other boxing films (such as The Fighter, Warrior and Southpaw to name three) have covered similar ground. Then again, if these are the only problems with Creed, they should be mostly overlooked.

All-in-all, Creed is a fantastic boxing thriller and drama. It has a great and funny script, some brutal boxing fights, and some OSCAR-worthy performances. Stallone is a joy to watch in this older, more-nuanced version of his familiar character. He is deserving of his OSCAR-nomination and it would not be a shock if he were to win the OSCAR next month. No, the real shock is that Stallone is the only person nominated from this film. For their parts, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Ryan Coogler should also have been nominated, if not at the head of the queue to win OSCARs themselves. One can only hope that it was not because of the colour of their skins that they did not make the shortlist.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Falling (15) [2015]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Carol Morley – The Alcohol Years, Edge, Dreams Of A Life

Cast:

  • Maisie Williams – Game of Thrones, Heatsroke, The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
  • Maxine Peake – Shameless, Edge, The Theory Of Everything, Hamlet
  • Florence Pugh
  • Anna Burnett – Ripper Street
  • Greta Scacchi – Baltic Storm, Ways To Live Forever, AD The Bible Continues, War and Peace
  • Morfydd Clark – Madame Bovary, The Call Up, Love & Friendship
  • Joe Cole – Now Is Good, A Long Way Down, Pressure, Callow In Their Eyes
  • Rose Caton – Last Knights
  • Monica Dolan – Eye In The Sky
  • Ellie Bamber – Nocturnal Animals

Music Composer:

  • Tracy Thorn

Adolescence is a tricky period in one’s life. One experiences changes in the body while having to deal with the stresses of trying to achieve good grades at school and appeasing one’s peers who may (or may not) be at a more advanced stage in their hormonal growth. Carol Morley’s The Falling deals with some of the issues that many girls go through as part of their adolescence.

Best friends, Abby (Florence Pugh) and Lydia (Maisie Williams) lying on the grass in their school uniforms, drawing a tree.

Best friends, Abby (Florence Pugh) and Lydia (Maisie Williams) lying on the grass in their school uniforms, drawing a tree for their art class.

The film is based in a village in England in 1969 and centres round Lydia (Maisie Williams). She lives with her agoraphobic mother (Maxine Peake) and her ill-educated brother (Joe Cole) in a small, rundown house. While Lydia’s life is not great, she has a good group of friends at a private, all-girls school. One of whom, Abby (Florence Pugh), is exploring her sexuality.

However, as Lydia is coming to terms with her developing body, she begins fainting inexplicitly. Soon, Lydia’s friends start fainting too. But the school administration does not take the matter seriously, not believing that it is an epidemic. Lydia tries her hardest to convince the administration that something is wrong with her and her friends.

The Falling is an innovative and interesting movie that has been well directed by Carol Morley. On a small budget, she has put together a solid film with a fine balance of charm and sincerity. Devoid of special-effects en masse, Morley relies on cinematography to create the wonderful ambiance of a repressive all-girls high school in a small, provincial area, with some odd sorts of people (and behaviour) that can be the norm in such communities in 1960s England or even today.

Eileen (Maxine Peake) smoking. She is Lydia's hair-dresser mother who suffers from Agorophobia.

Eileen (Maxine Peake) smoking. She is Lydia’s hair-dresser mother who suffers from Agorophobia.

Other elements of The Falling that work in Morley’s favour are the dialogue and the acting. Both are very good, honest and plausible. One can imagine (in the main) adolescent girls, and the adults that surround them, behaving in the manner that the film portrays. In the lead role, Maisie Williams is terrific and captivating to watch. Like Arya Stark, her character in Game of Thrones, her character in The Falling is strong-willed and tenacious (if more vulnerable, messed up and curious). But Williams, here, gives a more rounded performance as Lydia is more vulnerable, messed up and curious than Arya Stark is ever likely to be.

The rest of the cast are not given the time or detail afforded to Lydia/Williams’s character. Nonetheless, they all play their roles strongly and with a genuine naturalness that is highly believable.

Yet, for all The Falling’s genuineness and believability, it is a strange film. Its central premise has echoes of the hysterical contagion/the June Bug Epidemic that affected an American textiles factory in 1962; only, The Falling probably exaggerates the issue. Curiously, the fainting syndrome in the movie becomes so normal (and repetitive) that characters and audiences alike fail to bat an eyelid after a while. This is an abnormal reaction because the normal response to seeing someone faint is either to run over to the person who has fainted, or to call for help/an ambulance.

Lydia looking terrible, haunted even, as she tries to convince her teachers that the fainting epidemic is real and that she and her friends are not making it up.

Lydia looking terrible, haunted even, as she tries to convince her teachers that the fainting epidemic is real and that she and her friends are not making it up.

This leads on to the main issue at the heart of the film: is the fainting an epidemic among the girls? Is it something celestial or paranormal? Or is it just frustrated, adolescent girls crying out for attention (and an outlet) in a repressive environment? These questions are very pertinent as they can give viewers an insight into the stresses that adolescent girls often endure in high school. That is if one does not focus too much on certain, side-matters in the film that are remain ambiguous right to the end. Or if one can get past the perplexing, out of sync music. Or if one does not get an epileptic fit from the fast-flicking flashbacks that are unfathomable and add nothing to the plot. Nevertheless, if one can ignore these issues, one can greatly enjoy The Falling.

All-in-all, The Falling is an entertaining film in a stimulating and peculiar way. The movie may not resolve all its issues. But it is well-shot, has wonderful cinematography, and has marvellous acting to go with a good, solid script that brings out the best in Maisie Williams. Where The Falling succeeds most is in showing viewers the problems and pressures that most teenage school-girls face, even if it is in an environment and in a time slightly removed from conventional stories on the subject. Carol Morley must be credited for this because her film is original and demonstrates the dangers of repressing adolescent girls too much.

PG’s Tips

Review – Still Alice (12a) [2015]

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Star Rating: 4.5/5

Directors:

  • Richard Glatzer – Grief, The Fluffer, The Last of Robin Hood
  • Wash Westmoreland – The Fluffer, Totally Gay!, The Last of Robin Hood

Cast:

  • Julianne Moore – Nine Months, Children of Men, The Kids Are Alright, Seventh Son
  • Alec Baldwin – Pearl Harbour, The Aviator, Blue Jasmine, Mission: Impossible V
  • Kristen Stewart – Jumper, Twilight I-V, Snow White and The Huntsman, Clouds of Sils Maria
  • Kate Bosworth – Remember The Titans, 21, Straw Dogs, Before I Wake
  • Shane McRae – All Over Again, Killer Pad, The Help, Stereotypically You
  • Hunter Parrish – Steal Me, Freedom Writers, It’s Complicated, Hell Of A View
  • Stephen Kunken – The Girl In The Park, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Wolf of Wall Street, Bridge Of Spies

Music Composer:

  • Ilan Eshkeri – Layer Cake, Kick-Ass, Coriolanus, Black Sea, Don Verdean

Some films have scenes that are genuinely heart-breaking. When Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore) hangs himself in The Shawkshank Redemption, when Oscar Schindler breaks down in Schindler’s List, and when Simba tries to awaken his fallen father in The Lion King, viewers cannot help but weep at the poignancy of the scenes. Yet, these are only particular scenes that last so long. Still Alice, on the other hand, makes one feel like weeping for pretty much the movie’s entire run time as it is so heart-breaking.

Professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) lecturing  her students at the start of the film.

Professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) lecturing her students at the start of the film.

Still Alice is based on the book with the same title by Lisa Genova. The movie revolves round Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), a phenomenally intelligent and knowledgeable linguistics professor at Columbia University. She is happily married to John (Alec Baldwin), and between them they have three children: Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart). They live in a nice house in a good suburb in New York and they have a summer beach house too. Then, at the age of fifty, Alice is diagnosed with Early On-set Alzheimer’s Disease and her world rapidly falls apart.

Still Alice has a simple plot that is expressed exceptionally well. Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland have uniquely concentrated (with the exception of one scene) on how the disease affects the victim from the victim’s point of view. To illustrate the moments when the Alzheimer’s is hitting Alice, the world around her fades into fuzziness and she forgets where she is and who she is talking to. This makes for painful viewing as Alice was once an intelligent woman. And the pain viewers feel is enhanced by the superb dialogue that explains what Alice is going through in her (failing) mind. More often than not, the dialogue is so painful, one cries as hard as one did in The Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List and The Lion King. Indeed, somehow, every time the word ‘Alzheimer’s’ is mentioned, it feels like a blow to the heart, and the blows hurt even more when we learn that the disease is hereditary.

Alice and John (Alec Baldwin) trying to enjoy some good time together whilst Alice is still herself.

Alice and John (Alec Baldwin) trying to enjoy some good time together whilst Alice is still herself.

Undoubtedly, the key to why Still Alice hurts so much is because of Julianne Moore as the titular Alice. Moore has a rare, graceful beauty which works in her favour in, arguably, the performance of her career. (And that is saying something coming from her extraordinary portfolio). Suffice to say, Moore is fully deserving of her triumphs at the Golden Globes, the Baftas, the Screen Writer’s Guild Awards, and the Oscars because she stunningly encapsulates the problems facing a person with Alzheimer’s. Anyone who has seen a relative, friend or family friend suffer from Alzheimer’s (or Dementia or Parkinson’s) knows what is coming for Moore’s character, and one watches with horror as the disease rapidly robs Alice of her memory, her intelligence, her grace and her dignity. Toward the end of the film, there is a scene wherein one can see the contrast between Alice’s/Moore’s graceful appearance at the beginning of the movie and her appearance toward the end of it. Again, it makes for painful viewing and highlights why Moore was the perfect person for the role.

The rest of the cast take on a supporting role (quite literally) throughout the film. Of all the supporting cast, Kristen Stewart is given the most screen-time and exposition. It is easy to sneer at Stewart due to her numerous Golden Raspberry nominations and victories, her terrible acting in the Twilight Saga and Snow White and The Huntsman, and her affair with Rupert Sanders whilst dating Robert Pattinson (and on top of that she plays a failing actress in Still Alice). Nevertheless, Stewart actually plays her role in Still Alice really well and with enough subtlety and nuance to hint that critics may not always have a field day with her in the future.

Stewart might be the most noteworthy member of the supporting cast, but she is not the only one to play with subtlety and nuance. Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish all play their parts with equal skill too, to portray the Howlands as a normal, (dys)functioning family. Their character’s, like Stewart’s, may not have anything of note to say, and nor do they add much to the story. But this is not a problem because Still Alice is about how the disease impacts upon Alice, and not how it impacts upon her family.

Alice explaining to Lydia (Kristen Stewart) what it is like for her to have Alzheimer's.

Alice explaining to Lydia (Kristen Stewart) what it is like for her to have Alzheimer’s.

No, the movie’s biggest problem is its ending. The final scene just ends anti-climactically, as if Glatzer and Westmoreland ran out of ideas and decided enough was enough. (One hopes that that was not the case, but it feels like it.) Another issue, perhaps, is that the film’s music is unmemorable and that it has been heard before in other films. However, these are relatively small matters, and backhandedly highlight the brilliance of Still Alice.

Over-all, Still Alice is a poignant film that makes for heart-breaking and teary viewing. Due to the acting and the dialogue, the movie superbly demonstrates and elucidates upon how a person with Alzheimer’s Disease sees the world. Central to the film, is Julianne Moore’s incredible performance as the eponymous Alice as it enables viewers to feel the pain that a victim of the disease goes through. In turn, this leaves viewers devastated long after Still Alice concludes.

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