Archive for Film & DVD Reviews

Yesterday (2019)

Yesterday_(2019_poster)

A feel-good movie 

PG-13 | 1h 56min
Dir: Danny Boyle. Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran (as himself), Joel Fry, Kate McKinnon, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal.

The basic plot is preposterous – a down-at-heel musician (Jack Malik) wakes up in an alternate reality where no one has heard of the Beatles. He sets about releasing their songs as his own to great acclaim.

Of course, the music is great (and reminds you just how versatile the Beatles were). There is a bit of a side-swipe at Oasis who don’t exist without The Beatles but other music exists unchanged. That’s a bit unfair on Oasis and also doesn’t give a true indication of how much of our modern music is Beatles influenced. The hole in our culture left by taking the Beatles out could have been explored more in the film and that’s really my only criticism.

At heart, though this is a RomCom about the relationship between Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) and Ellie Appleton (Lily James). Yesterday delivers a simple, upbeat message that love is all you need (where did they get that idea from?!). It does this in a very funny way. I loved Ed Sheeran (playing himself) and the hard-nosed Kate McKinnon as Jack’s manager. I found Kate (played by Kathryn McKinnon Berthold) very funny with her hard-nosed, unsentimental business viewpoint playing well off the increasingly doubting Jack. Her role hasn’t been mentioned much in reviews but, for me, it was one of the comedy highlights.

I couldn’t help but leave this film humming ‘Hey Jude’ and feeling a little more positive about the world. “Feel-good movie” is a cliche but also a very accurate description of Yesterday.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love

Director: Nick Broomfield

Runtime: 1hr 42mins

marianne and leonardNick Broomfield’s documentary opens with a BBC television news report from 2016 of Marianne Ihlen’s death and reports of a last email sent to her by her one-time lover, the Canadian singer Leonard Cohen; who was himself to die some three months later. These are the ‘words of love’ from the film’s title.

Nick Broomfield then tells the story of how Marianne and Leonard met on the paradise Greek island of Hydra when he was a struggling young Canadian poet and she was emerging from an abusive marriage.

Broomfield has crafted this compelling documentary from a lot of archive footage – including some of his own – and he’s made good use of interviews with friends and recorded recollections of Marianne and Leonard themselves.

Both Marianne and Leonard had a whole lot of love to give – in that brief period in the Sixties which was the era of hedonistic ‘free love’ and ‘open marriage’. The effects on the younger generation only emerged later. The Johnston family – who mentored Leonard when he arrived on Hydra – lost their mother and all but one of the children to mental illness and suicide when they left the island and tried to resume normal life back home in Australia.  Marianne’s son – ‘little Axel’ also developed a number of mental issues and had to be admitted into a mental institution in later life.

Both Marianne and Leonard also had to deal with depression. Both sought comfort in the arms of others: Leonard with Janis Joplin, his other muse Suzanne Elrod and others; and Marianne who had brief relationships with Nick Broomfield before remarrying and returning to Norway. It was her encouragement that persuaded Broomfield to make the first of many successful documentaries.

This is a revealing and passionate film. I reckon that two-thirds to three-quarters of the audience in my local cinema were women of a certain age; probably in their mid teens to early twenties around the time of the 1970 Isle of White festival when Cohen first came to prominence in Britain. He never lost that magnetic appeal to many women.

The ‘words of love’ in the title came from the email Leonard sent to Marianne in 2016 after hearing from their mutual friend, Jan Christian Mollestad that she was dying from cancer;

“Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.

“And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and for your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey.

“Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

This story became public shortly after Marianne’s death. Leonard died some three months later. What we didn’t know then was that she was filmed on her deathbed by Mollestad as he read Leonard’s final letter to her. I have never seen anything more moving in my life; what an emotional punch this film packs. The old cliché, ‘not a dry eye in the house’ was no exaggeration this time.

Circumstances and events drew Marianne and Leonard apart and into the arms of others for a while; but despite this, they had a deep bond that never entirely faded away. From her earlier recollections to footage of Marianne singing away to herself the familiar words of ‘her’ song, So Long, Marianne in her front row seat at his Olso concert in 2008, Broomfield faithfully documents their intertwined stories and their complicated lives. It’s powerful stuff.

David Kerr

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The Upside (2019)

theupsidePG-13 | 2h 5min | Comedy, Drama | 11 January 2019 (USA and UK)
Director: Neil Burger
Writers: Jon Hartmere (screenplay by), Éric Toledano (based on the motion picture “Les Intouchables”)
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Golshifteh Farahani

I enjoyed this remake of the French film The Intouchables (2011). Both films are very good and The Upside follows the original pretty closely (with some notable exceptions). It’s good that the story will reach a wider audience as it is a very positive one. I know that many are put off foreign language films with subtitles and this story is certainly worth re-telling. It concerns the relationship between a wealthy man, Phillip (played by Bryan Cranston), with quadriplegia and an unemployed man with a criminal record, Dell (played by Kevin Hart), who’s fighting battles of his own. It’s based on a true story. If I had to choose I’d go with the original but both films are well worth watching. The story is full of humour and has some important messages about how people should respect and treat each other. At heart this film is about how people can help others see life differently and redeem themselves. The art in both films is that the story shows this without being preachy!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dt1EEV-Szu4

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 Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Freddie_Mercury_performing_in_New_Haven,_CT,_November_1977

Freddie Mercury:  a skilled performer with flair

PG-13 | 2h 14min | 2 November 2018 (USA)
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Anthony McCarten (story by), Peter Morgan (story by) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee

Wow! I loved this film. It transported me back to the 80s and reminded me what a great group Queen were and of the power of Rock music. 

The film tells us the story of Farrokh Bulsara (played superbly by Rami Malek) as he becomes Freddie Mercury. Bulsara is the son of immigrants from Zanzibar (now in Tanzania) who were Parsees, Zoroastrians who fled to India from Muslim persecution in Persia during the 7th–8th centuries. His family had moved to Zanzibar so that his father could continue his job as a cashier at the British Colonial Office. At the age of 17, Mercury and his family fled from Zanzibar because of the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution, in which thousands of Arabs and Indians were killed. To the credit of the film this is made clear (though not explained or emphasised).

I was intrigued by his family relationships. His father Bomi Bulsara (Ace Bhatti) was a conservative figure who had a portrait of our Queen on his wall and emphasised the three commandments preached by Zoroaster: good thoughts, good words and good actions repeatedly and sometimes critically to Freddie! His relationship with his Father, thankfully, improved over time. It can’t have been easy for either of them given their different natures. Brian May noted in 2016, “It’s probably true to say that Freddie’s father, strongly committed to the Parsee faith, didn’t find it easy that Freddie took the path he did, as a rock musician, and a fairly irreverent one, at that. Nevertheless the support was always there.”It’s one of the joys of this film that we see their understanding and acceptance of each other develop. His mother Jer Bulsara (Meneka Das) was more directly supportive.

We also see a young Freddie working as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport and experiencing the casual racism that was sadly the norm for many back then, there and on the street. Music was another side to his life. He was writing songs and watching local bands at small clubs. We see how Freddie first meets Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). Bohemian Rhapsody leads us through the history from the origins of Queen right up to Freddie’s tragic death (he died from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991).

There is so much of interest in Bohemian Rhapsody that it is only possible to mention some of it in any review. I loved to see Freddie’s relationship with his cats, his love of opera and his interest in fashion. His personal relationships with Kenny Everett and his manager (a devil figure in the film) and record companies are worthy of separate consideration. The effects of addiction to alcohol and drugs on his health and music and personal relationships are a darker theme.

The film doesn’t shy away from looking at Freddie’s sexuality. Freddie married Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). In one scene Freddie tells Mary “I think I’m bisexual.” She says: “No, Freddie. You’re gay.”

Some have called the film out on this. Billboard said: “For many out there, this particular moment almost rang too true to real life. Bisexual people face the reality of bi-erasure on a near-daily basis, being told that they’re either “too gay” or “not gay enough,” with little to no attention paid to their actual sexual identity. So it’s natural that many critics and Twitter users would call Bohemian Rhapsody out for attempting to erase Mercury’s bisexuality in this scene, especially in a film meant to celebrate him.”

I’m not sure about that. Freddie wanted his private life to be private. He wanted his fans and the press to focus on his music. He never publicly identified his sexuality. Should he have had to? Should anyone have to define their sexuality publicly? At the time Freddie was pressured by the media to do so, now some LGBT people take the view that he somehow let the side down. Freddie saw himself first and foremost as a performer who was there to entertain the public with great shows and music. That was his choice.

There is a harrowing press conference in the film where we see the gutter press try to pressure him to answer questions on his sexuality in the style of a baying mob.

This wasn’t a case of exaggeration the press had no shame. In December 1974, the New Musical Express asked him, “So how about being bent?”. Even his illness was seen as ‘fair play’ by the irresponsible media. In October 1986, the British press reported that Mercury had his blood tested for HIV/AIDS at a Harley Street clinic. A reporter for The Sun, Hugh Whittow, questioned him intrusively about this. Anyone whoever read the late and unlamented News of the World will know full well how the gutter press hypocrites tried to trash people. Yet who now remembers the low-lives of the British gutter press? Yet Freddie Mercury left a legacy of great shows and music behind him. His music continues to uplift people.

Bohemian Rhapsody ends with Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985. I remember watching this at the time. To be frank to that point Live Aid wasn’t matching the hype. The performance from Queen changed that. It was electric. It’s given an incredible poignancy in the film by the knowledge that Freddie is doomed. Bittersweet and emotionally moving. Freddie knew how to deliver to his audience. He went out on a high note with a strutting, high energy and also nuanced performance as he was determined to do. True to his art and his fans to the very end.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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The Children Act (2017)

thechildrenactUK Release 24 August 2018| 1h 45min | Drama |Director: Richard Eyre
Writers: Ian McEwan (screenplay by), Ian McEwan (based on the novel by)
Stars: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead

The Children Act is centred on Finona Maye (Emma Thompson), a High Court judge in the Family Division. Her work is taking a heavy toll on her marriage to Jack (Stanly Tucci) and other social relationships. She is consumed by it and the incredible responsibility of that role has forced out all consideration of other duties and obligations.

There is a sensitive depiction of what happens when overwork and middle age start to disrupt a loving relationship.

The plot revolves around the case of Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead), a young Jehovah’s Witness refusing a life-saving blood transfusion on religious grounds. Yet the film is really about professional boundaries, relationships and dealing with buried emotions. It explores the potential conflict between a professional role and feelings of empathy and sympathy. How far does a natural instinct of kindness undermine the need for professional distance? How can that be communicated without appearing heartless and cold or shutting ourselves down emotionally? It’s all done with very fine acting and in a understated way.

It’s great to see such a fascinating female protagonist and to get a glimpse of the work and challenges of our High court judges. This movie is both thought-provoking and engaging. Go see it!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKQkUcJioxU

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Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

filmstarsdontdieinliverpool
1h 45min | Biography, Drama, Romance | 16 November 2017 (UK)
Actors: Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave, Stephen Graham
Directors: Paul McGuigan
Writers: Matt Greenhalgh, Peter Turner (based on the memoir by)
Producers: Barbara Broccoli, Colin Vaines

This touching and sensitive film is based on the real life memoir of Peter Turner. It covers the years 1979-1981 starting with Turner meeting Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening). Although not well remembered Gloria was a big star in the 1940’s and 50’s. You may know her as Violet in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, or recall that she was an Oscar winner for THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952), and had standout roles in OKLAHOMA! (1955), THE BIG HEAT (1953), and IN A LONELY PLACE (1950). By 1979 those glory days are gone. Gloria is in England starring on stage in The Glass Menagerie.

She meets Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), a bisexual young actor who falls in love with her despite the significant age difference. He was 28 and she was twice that age. The affair is passionate and tender. Even when the affair has ended Peter still cares about Gloria. It is to him and his family in Liverpool that she turns to for care as her health deteriorates. It’s a sad story but also speaks to a loyal and lasting love.

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell are outstanding. There are also some fine supporting roles including Julie Walters as Peters’s mum and Vanessa Redgrave as Glorias.

The movie’s set production (recreating the late 70s/early 80s) is evocative of the time and place. Right down to the political posters in the background at the Working Men’s club. There is also a lot of great music in the film, including a specially composed piece by Elvis Costello.

An understated gem.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

 

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Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

solo-a-star-wars-story-uk-poster12A | 2h 15min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy | 24 May 2018 (UK)
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan | 1 more credit »
Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke

I hadn’t realised how hated Disney were by some till I started reading the reviews for Solo! Whilst this movie has its flaws I found it entertaining.

The plot is simple and straighforward. A young Han Solo joins a gang of galactic smugglers and travel to the mining planet Kessel to steal valuable coaxium (used to make fuel). Alden Ehrenreich as the young Solo isn’t as rugged or cynical as Harrison Ford’s version. That’s part of the problem. Many Star Wars fans found they young Solo unconvincing. Could this “pretty boy” really survive amongst the scum of the universe and become the older Solo? A man who seems to owe all the most dangerous people in the Universe money and lives on the edge and on the run. The answer for many was a resounding “No!”. Yet this is a younger Solo, setting out, learning lessons and becoming a man.

The film also has to tick some boxes along the way. He has to get his ship the Millennium Falcon. He must meet a certain Wookie etc. This is all weaved in fairly convincingly though.

Great action scenes and an interesting love interest in the form of eye-candy and great actor Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra. The dynamic of the relationship between Han and Qi’ra is fascinating. As Emillia said: “They grew up as comrades, essentially. They grew up as pals, as partners in crime. There is obviously the romantic side of things. But they grew up together. So they were kids together.”

There are some great supporting actors too, Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos, Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett (to name just a few).

Go with an open mind and you may enjoy it!

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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