Category Archives: Drama

Review – The Falling (15) [2015]

The Falling - title banner

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.

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Review – Still Alice (12a) [2015]

Still Alice - titler banner

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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Review – Birdman (15) [2015]

Birdman - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu – 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, The Revenant

Cast:

  • Michael Keaton – Batman, Jackie Brown, Need For Speed, Spotlight
  • Noami Watts – The Ring, 21 Grams, Eastern Promises, Diana, While We’re Young
  • Andrea Riseborough – W.E., Shadow Dancer, Oblivion, Nocturnal Animals
  • Zach Galifianakis – Into The Wild, The Hangover I-III, Due Date, Tulip Forever
  • Emma Stone – Easy AFriends With Benefits, The Help, The Amazing Spiderman I-II, La La Land
  • Edward Norton – American History X, Fight Club, The Illusionist, Sausage Party
  • Amy Ryan – Gone Baby Gone, The Wire, Escape Plan, Goosebumps
  • Lindsay Duncan – Under The Tuscan Sun, Rome, About Time, Alice In Wonderland I & II

Music Composer:

  • Antonio Sanchez

Movie trailers are designed to give viewers a feel for the film and whet one’s appetite for the film. The trailers for Gone Girl and Whiplash were mouth-watering and suggested that those movies were of the highest quality and had to be watched. In contrast, Birdman’s trailer makes the film look unappetising, strange and worth skipping. But the film has been awarded with multiple Oscar nominations. So, is Birdman better than its trailer suggests? Is it deserving of its Oscar nominations?

Zach Galifianakis (Jake) reassuring Riggan (Michael Keaton) and Leslie (Naomi Watts) that the production is going well when it's not.

Zach Galifianakis (Jake) reassuring Riggan (Michael Keaton) and Lesley (Naomi Watts) that the production is going well when it’s not.

Birdman is about Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a former super-hero actor, whose career has been going downhill for two decades. Now, Riggan is trying to rejuvenate his career by writing, directing and acting in a Broadway adaptation of John Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The problem is that the show is a shambles, which puts untold pressure on Riggan, who is also battling his own, inner demons.

Birdman is an original film and something different. It may not entertain viewers for its entire 119-minute running time and vast swathes of the movie may seem purposeless. Additionally, some of the storylines go nowhere and the final scene is incongruent with the rest of the movie.

Nevertheless, Birdman is a unique film. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu deserves his Oscar nomination for best director due to his exceptional editing and choreography. He has made Birdman appear as if the whole movie has been filmed in one, super-long shot without any cuts. That is simply an amazing feat, especially as so much happens in each scene and the camera never keeps still. (Although, for viewers the editing feels strangely like being under water for too long. Before long, one is gagging for Iñarritu to make a cut so viewers can take a breath and relax in the knowledge that a scene has ended.)

Yet, Birdman has not been Oscar nominated solely for its directing. It has also been nominated in the cinematography, best actor in a leading role (Michael Keaton), best actor in a supporting role (Edward Norton), best actress in a supporting role (Emma Stone), and best original screenplay categories.

Riggan reading criticism of the production and ignoring the attentions of his sort of girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), much to her angst.

Riggan reading criticism of the production and ignoring the attentions of his sort of girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), much to her angst.

The cinematography is simple and apt. The movie is set predominantly in the (grotty) behind-the-scenes areas of the Broadway Theatre. It all looks plausible and builds on the shambolic atmosphere of the theatre production because it adds layers of insecurity and stress onto the characters; not least Michael Keaton’s Riggan.

Keaton is outstanding as the volatile, selfish and unstable Riggan. He fully deserves his Oscar nomination. Nonetheless, is Keaton not essentially playing himself in Birdman, the same way Matt Le Blanc did in Friends and Mickey Rourke did in The Wrestler? Riggan last played the fictional superhero Birdman in 1992 and has done little else of note since. How convenient that 1992 is the same year Keaton last played Batman in Batman Returns and has done little else of note since. No, it is not convenient. Yet, because one knows Keaton’s predicament going into Birdman, one genuinely pities Riggan’s situation and hopes that he (like Keaton) does something extraordinary to revitalise his (/their) floundering career(s).

But Keaton is not the only actor who seems to be playing himself in Birdman to acclaim. Edward Norton plays an arsehole with an inflated ego, and behaves in a manner that is difficult to work with. Funny that: Norton has a reputation for being arrogant and a difficult actor to work with. All the same, Norton is great in Birdman. He justifies his Oscar nomination and reminds viewers of his talents that have been lying dormant since his last Oscar nomination back in 1999 for American History X. That Norton plays himself is beside the point.

Not all of the cast, though, play themselves in Birdman. Emma Stone doesn’t. Stone seems like a balanced person in real life. But, in Sam, Stone plays Riggan’s messed up, unstable daughter in terrific and passionate fashion. The scene (part of which can be seen in the trailer) where she vents her frustrations at Riggan earns her her Oscar nomination as audiences feel her pain, the pain she inflicts on Riggan, as well as the guilt she feels afterward for what she says. That is quite an achievement. It also helps that her character is multifaceted and Stone demonstrates this throughout the movie.

Sam (Emma Stone) exploding at her father, Riggan, for being a useless dad. But is this true?

Sam (Emma Stone) exploding at her father, Riggan, for being a useless dad. But is this true?

Alas, the other two main female characters, played by Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts, are not as properly fleshed out. It is a shame as both actresses are talented. Moreover, they are not assisted by their storylines being as messy as their changing rooms, which is strange considering how well Birdman is written and choreographed. Yet, if this is Birdman’s major glitch (after the ending), it should be somewhat overlooked. The film deserves its Oscar nomination for best original screenplay as its script is, in the main, highly impressive.

All-in-all, Birdman is a quirky film. It is not the most enamouring of movies and some of the plots go unfulfilled. However, Iñarritu’s style of editing is distinctive and innovative. This, in addition to the exceptional cinematography, acting and script illustrate that Birdman’s trailer is, to some extent, misleadingly unappetising and that the film is worthy of its Oscar nominations.

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Review – Whiplash (15) [2015]

Whiplash - title banner2

Star Rating: 5/5

Director:

  • Damien Chazelle – Guy And Madeleine On A Park Bench, La La Land

Cast:

  • Miles Teller – Project X, 21 & Over, Divergent, La La Land
  • JK Simmons – Spiderman I-III, Harsh Times, Up In The Air, Terminator GenisysLa La Land
  • Paul Reiser – Aliens, Purpose, Life After Beth, 6 Miranda Drive
  • Melissa Benoist – Glee, Danny Collins, Billy Boyd
  • Austin Stowell – Dolphin Tale I & II, Love And Honour, Behaving Badly, Higher Power

Music Composer:

  • Juston Hurwitz – Guy And Madeleine On A Park Bench, La La Land

When one sees artistic greatness, whether it is in drawings, music, film, theatre, sport or otherwise, it is natural to gawp and marvel. Great artists, irrespective of their medium, always have stood and always will stand head and shoulders above their competitors. But what does it take to be an artistic great? How does one become a great in their respective field? Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s absolutely brilliant film, may answer those questions.

Andrew (Miles Teller) looking and listening to his mentor, the conductor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) as Fetcher gives him some advice.

Andrew (Miles Teller) looking and listening to his mentor, the conductor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) as Fetcher gives him some advice.

Whiplash is a drama, centred completely round Andrew (Miles Teller), a nineteen year old jazz-drummer who goes to Shaffer Conservatory, the best music school in America. There, he comes under the tutorship of conductor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), who pushes him hard, first, to enable Andrew to enter into his band, wherein they play a piece called ‘Whiplash’; and, second, in his attempts to make Andrew an artistic great.

Whiplash is an entertaining and pulsating film, with some exceptional performances. In an interview, Miles Teller spoke about the energy coming off the screen throughout the movie. And he’s right, although he also modestly downplayed his own role in making Whiplash come alive because Teller is superb as Andrew.

Samuel Delaney in About Writing explains that for one to achieve artistic excellence one must (metaphorically) punish oneself, make sacrifices, and suffer. In Whiplash, viewers witness Andrew punish himself, make sacrifices, and suffer as he pushes himself to breaking point to have a chance at becoming a great drummer. Better still, though, viewers feel Andrew’s agony as well as the sweat and blood dripping off him. It may have helped Teller that Whiplash was shot over nineteen (uber-intense) days, with him working eighteen to twenty hours under the camera’s gaze. When Andrew is exhausted and feeling the pressure it is probably genuine. At the same time, the intensity of the filming schedule could have hindered Teller. So, it is to Teller’s credit that he is able to perform to such a high standard under exhausting circumstances. He deserves his BAFTA nomination in the Rising Star category as, in part, he provides the energy that radiates from the screen during Whiplash.

Andrew taking out Nicole (Melissa Benoist), and they discuss their respective ambitions in life

Andrew taking out Nicole (Melissa Benoist), and they discuss their respective ambitions in life

Yet, as good as Teller is, it is his character’s mentor who steals the limelight. JK Simmons is terrific as Terence Fletcher and it is no surprise that Simmons has been Oscar nominated for his performance as Fletcher. Fletcher is intelligent and passionate, yet he is also manipulative, nasty, vicious and utterly ruthless. When he walks into a room, one senses the fear he induces into his students. But is Fletcher a sadistic prick and a bully? Or is he a good mentor and an effective motivator? It would be easy to answer in the former. But Niccolo Machiavelli writes in The Prince that it is better for a leader to be feared than loved because fear forces people to go the extra mile when they wouldn’t otherwise. Additionally, one could believe that the motivational methods of Sir Alex Ferguson, the former Manager of Manchester United Football Club (MUFC), were not always too dissimilar to Fletcher’s, and the success Sir Alex achieved at MUFC between 1986-2013 was extraordinary. Therefore, one should bear in mind the writings of Machiavelli and the feats of Sir Alex before criticising Fletcher. There is logic behind his methods.

However, whatever one may think of Fletcher and his methods, it is worth noting that audiences only see him through Andrew’s eyes. In an interview, Simmons said that there were some scenes of Fletcher filmed without Andrew present. These (apparently) would have given audiences another perspective on Fletcher’s personality, but the scenes were cut from the movie so as to preserve Whiplash as solely Andrew’s story. Simmons suggests that the lack of these scenes does not detract from the film and even enhances it. This probably means that the scenes would not have significantly altered our understanding of Fletcher, so instead of wondering what these scenes beheld we should commend Damien Chazelle for having the resolve to take them out of the final cut of the movie.

The price Andrew pays in his attempts to make it to being a drummer of noteworthy repute: sweat and blood.

The price Andrew pays in his attempts to make it to being a drummer of noteworthy repute: sweat and blood.

Nevertheless, it is not just for taking those scenes out that Chazelle should be commended. He should also be applauded for writing vivid dialogue and for giving the actors room to improvise in scenes to make the scenes more realistic. Similarly, Justin Hurwitz should be clapped for writing some wonderful music that builds on the tension that Andrew (and the audience) endures in Andrew’s attempts to reach the dizzying heights of artistic greatness.

All-in-all, Whiplash is a flawless and exhilarating film, with two phenomenal stand-out performers. On the surface, the movie is about the relationship between a pupil and his mentor, seen exclusively from the pupil’s angle. Yet, Whiplash has a deeper layer. It illustrates the level of dedication and self-torture one must go through to become a great in one’s artistic field and the type of mentor that may be required to attain artistic superiority over one’s rivals.

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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.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Judge (15) [2014]

The Judge - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • David Dobkin – Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus, The Change-Up

Cast:

  • Robert Duvall – The Godfather I-II, Deep Impact, Jack Reacher, Racing Legacy
  • Robert Downey Jr – Chaplin, Zodiac, Iron Man I-III, The SoloistThe Avengers Assemble I & II, Captain America III
  • Vera Farmiga – Dust, Source Code, Safe House, The Conjuring I-II
  • Billy Bob Thornton – Armageddon, Monster’s Ball, Eagle Eye, London Fields
  • Leighton Meester – Gossip Girl, Date Night, The Roommate, By The Gym
  • Vincent D’Onofrio – Guy, Men In Black, Escape Plan, Jurassic World
  • Jeremy Strong – The Happening, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Selma
  • Ken Howard – Melrose Place, Michael Clayton, Rambo, The Wedding Ringer
  • Emma Tremblay – Elysium, The Giver, Santa’s Little Ferrets
  • Sarah Lancaster – Saved By The Bell: New Class, Everwood, Dr Vegas, The Good Doctor
  • David Krumholtz – Sausage Party

Music Composer:

All parent-child relationships are fraught with layers and complexities. Regardless of whether a parent and child have a good, bad or ambivalent relationship, the relationship is always coloured by past events and the personalities of the individuals involved. Despite The Judge being ostensibly about a judge in the docks, the film interestingly tells us more about a difficult father-son relationship than about being a judge.

Hank (Robert Downey Jr) reunites with his father, Judge Joseph (Robert Duvall), who virtually shuns him.

Hank (Robert Downey Jr) reunites with his father, Judge Joseph (Robert Duvall), who virtually shuns him.

The Judge begins with Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr), a defence barrister in Chicago, learning that his mother has died and that he must return to Calinville, a small town in Indiana, for the funeral. In Calinville, Hank reunites with his brothers, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong), as well as his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Rubert Duvall), whom Hank has a problematic relationship with, and vice-versa.

However, one night, Judge Joseph comes home with the side of his car damaged with blood stains on it. Soon, the police come round and question him about a dead body. Then, they charge Judge Joseph with murder. That is when Hank steps in to defend his father.

The Judge is a stimulating film with much going for it. The dialogue is well written and the acting is brilliant across the board; especially, Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall. Both are fantastic and the two men have a great, if challenging, rapport. Downey Jr may (inevitably) dominate the film with his trademark fast-talk and arrogance. But unlike his (pathetic) attempts at giving himself a weakness in Iron Man III, in The Judge he genuinely shows audiences vulnerability in his character; not least in his fractured relationship with his on-screen father. Reflexively, Duvall gives viewers an interesting take on the difference in being a good judge and a good father due to Judge Joseph’s relationship with Hank.

Hanks meets Samantha (Vera Farmiga) for the first time in two decades, to put some spark back into their long lost romance.

Hanks meets Samantha (Vera Farmiga) for the first time in two decades, to put some spark back into their long lost romance.

Downey Jr and Duvall aside, the rest of the cast all play their roles decently. However, there are too many extraneous characters that add little to the storyline, or rather the storylines because The Judge tries to be three films in one. That The Judge cannot determine what sort of film it wishes to be is the root of its problems.

Predominately, it is a family drama. This plot is the strongest of the plots and the one with the most detail. Arguably, if the movie had just stuck to being about the Palmer family (and its dynamics) it would have made for a fascinating (and succinct) hundred minutes. But instead, The Judge has elements of a legal thriller and a romantic comedy about it, which bloat the movie’s running time to 141 minutes.

The legal thriller storyline feels like a side issue throughout the film, which is odd considering the movie’s title. Relatively little time is given to this particular plot, but all the same it is an intriguing and worthwhile storyline; it gives one an insight into how difficult it must be for a judge to work out what is (and what is not) the truth of a case (which holds great significance currently in light of the conclusion of the Oscar Pistorius sentencing); and, moreover, some of the courtroom duels between Hank and Prosecutor Dwight Dickman (Billy Bob Thornton) are highly entertaining. Credit must also be given to Director David Dobkin for giving the central protagonist a worthy adversary and not a second-rate nitwit, like in other legal thrillers, such as The Lincoln Lawyer.

Judge Joseph, in the unfamiliar position of being on the receiving end of questions while in the dock.

Judge Joseph, in the unfamiliar position of being on the receiving end of questions while in the dock.

Nevertheless, if the legal thriller elements of the film feel like a sideshow, the romantic comedy sub-plots feel pointless and often inappropriately timed. Sarah Lancaster’s, Vera Farmiga’s and Leighton Meester’s characters add an (inane) contrivance that The Judge would have been better without, while some of the (otherwise brilliant) exchanges between Hank and Judge Joseph should have occurred at more suitable times and places. Inane contrivances and revelations at unsuitable times are clichés that romantic comedies regularly adopt to make their stories more interesting than they really are, and Dobkin knows this all too well from having directed 2011’s (the forgettable) The Change-Up. The Judge would have made for a far more realistic film, with a more consistent tone, if Dobkin had focussed the film on the family drama and added more to the legal thriller elements, and not felt the need to dabble again in the mire of a romantic comedy.

All-in-all, The Judge is a very good film. It has been well directed, written and acted; the handicap is that Dobkin could not make up his mind as to what genre of film he wanted to make. Otherwise, the movie would have been among the best of 2014. Despite that, The Judge gives audiences some terrific performances and scenes, as well as an appreciation for a complex and layered father-son relationship. Above-all, The Judge illustrates that one can be a don in their profession, but that does not necessarily make one a good mother/father, and that past experiences with one’s kids can have a great impact on one’s personal and professional career.

PG’s Tips

Review – Joe (15) [2014]

Joe - title banner2

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • David Gordon Green – George Washington, Pineapple Express, Your Highness, Manglehorn

Cast:

  • Nicolas Cage – Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off, Season of the Witch, Left Behind
  • Tye Sheridan – The Tree of Life, Mud, Dark Places
  • Gary Poulter
  • Ronnie Gene Blevins – A Beautiful Life, Kiss the Abyss, The Dark Knight Rises, Then There Was
  • Anna Niemtschk

Music Composer:

  • Jeff McIlwain – Snow Angels, The Sitter
  • David Wingo – George Washington, Take Shelter, The Sitter, Mangelhorn

Whatever happened to the acting career of Nicolas Cage? In 1996, he won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas and in 2003 he was nominated for an Oscar for Adaptation., so Cage clearly can act. But since starring in the reboot of The Wickerman in 2006, Cage seemingly set his career on fire with laughable performances in critic kick-bags, such as Ghost Rider I & II, Knowing, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Season of the Witch and Drive Angry, to name six from the catalogue. Therefore, upon Joe, the question was: could Cage’s career sink any lower or was going to (finally) rise from the ashes?

Joe (Nicolas Cage) giving some good, worldly advice to young Gary (Tye Sheridan).

Joe (Nicolas Cage) giving some good, worldly advice to young Gary (Tye Sheridan).

Joe is an indie drama set in the rural, Deep South of America, and is an adaptation of Larry Brown’s 1991 novel of the same title. The film predominantly centres round Joe (Nicolas cage), an ex-convict who runs a business demolishing trees for development sites. One day, Gary (Tye Sheridan), a teenager new to the area, finds Joe and asks if he and his father, Wade (Gary Poulter), can work for him as they need money. Joe agrees, but soon discovers that Wade is an alcoholic with a dreadful character. Upon realising Wade’s ways, Joe takes on the mantle of a father figure for Gary.

Joe is a very decent raw and grisly film about poverty in the Deep South, and about ruin and redemption in general. In a similar way to Mud (also starring Tye Sheridan, plus the reborn Matthew McConaughey), not a lot happens (and what does happen is a tad predictable). But the dialogue in Joe is fantastic and the acting is superb across the board.

Wade (Gary Poulter), Gary's alcoholic father, looking like the homeless man he was in real life (until it was sadly cut short a few months after filming ended).

Wade (Gary Poulter), Gary’s alcoholic father, looking like the homeless man he was in real life (until it was sadly cut short a few months after filming ended).

Nicolas Cage shows us that he is more than just a mercenary willing to cash in on his name. For once, Cage looks like he actually wanted to get up in the morning for filming, as there is more to him in a role than merely a bland expression, a monotone for a voice, and an occasional half-hearted smile to make him your average, likeable guy (as if anyone was going to believe that Nicolas Cage was your ‘average Joe’). In Joe, Cage’s southern accent is refreshingly real, and his grizzled face reflects a man constantly holding back his pent up rage in order to stay on the right side of the law. Moreover, the way Cage’s character takes Gary under his wing is wonderful to watch and enables viewers to empathise with Joe, despite Joe otherwise being rough-around-the-edges, with a drink-driving habit and a history of violence. (If anything, it would have been nice to learn where this violent streak comes from and to find out more about Joe’s background.)

But it is not just Cage that is wonderful to behold in Joe. Like in Mud, Tye Sheridan again demonstrates that he has a long acting career ahead of him. Here, Sheridan performs magnificently as a teenager willing to work hard to put bread on the table for his family, since his father won’t do it. And, speaking of his father in the film, Gary Poulter’s performance, as the horrible alcoholic family-beater, is brilliant and worryingly realistic. What makes Poulter’s performance even more remarkable is that he was not even an actor by trade: he was a hobo! (The casting of a non-actor is not surprising for a David Gordon Green film as the director regularly picks locals for roles in his movies.)

Gary speaking with Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins). There is a reason why he has a scar under his right eye and Willie-Russell wants revenge against the man who did it.

Gary speaking with Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins). There is a reason why he has a scar under his right eye and Willie-Russell wants revenge against the man who did it.

However, it is not just the acting and dialogue that is fantastic in Joe, since the cinematography is equally good and fitting. From the broken homes (metaphorically and literally); to the trucks people drive; to the dirtiness and dusty nature of the region, the rural poverty of the Deep South and the type of people who inhabit it are well depicted. No-one in Joe personifies the place and the complexities of living in such a place more than Nicolas Cage’s character.

Over-all, Joe is a solid film that is very realistic representation of the Deep South of America. The movie may have little by way of action and plot-twists. Nevertheless, one can easily engage with the characters in the film, not least due to the dialogue and the vivid performances from the cast. Surprisingly, this includes Nicolas Cage; for in Joe he reminds us that his Oscar win and nomination, all those (many) years ago, were no flukes and that truly he can act. It might be a little early to say that Cage’s renaissance has begun. But maybe, just maybe, Cage will use Joe (as Matthew McConaughey did with The Lincoln Lawyer and Mud) as a springboard to re-launch his career.

PG’s Tips