Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MFilm Stars Don't Die In Liverpool

Director: Paul McGuigan

Screenplay: Matt Greenhalgh

Based on the memoir by: Peter Turner

Producers: Barbara Broccoli, Colin Vaines

Starring: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham, Frances Barber, Leanne Best.

When Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame won a Best Supporting Actress award at the 1953 Oscars for an eight-minute appearance in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), it must have seemed her future as an A-list actress was assured. Instead she was usually cast as a slightly trashy or seductive femme fatale in B-movies, aside from her memorable role as the irrepressible Ado Annie in the film version of Oklahoma! (1962).

In later years she was reduced to appearing in a number of stage productions in America and England, which is where she met the young Liverpudlian actor Peter Turner, half her age, in a boarding house in London during the 1970s. Their unusual romance was later documented in his memoir, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, which describes their initial romance as well as their reunion a few years later when both were older and a bit wiser.

The movie’s basic focus on the couple’s time together in Liverpool, where Peter lives with his parents and brother, and Gloria moves into one of their bedrooms while recovering from an illness, is fairly straight forward in a narrative sense. The film is shot on location in drab, wet Liverpool streets, often at night or dusk, in a grittily realistic way that reflects the once glamorous actress’s fading looks. Peter’s home and family are ordinary but comfortable, which juxtaposes with Gloria’s Hollywood lifestyle.

What lifts this movie out of the ordinary is Annette Bening’s depiction of a once-glamorous and increasingly insecure movie star, facing an uncertain future and battling to retain her looks that are all she believes she has to offer. She is wonderful in a role demanding someone who, despite being in her late fifties, has the allure and mystery required to catch the attention of a much younger man.

Bening is incredibly brave in letting the camera see her at her haggard worst, with unflattering lighting and no makeup. The flashback scenes set a mere handful of years earlier in the late 1970s show how attractive she was, and help explain why Peter fell for her despite her diva mood swings.

There were challenges adapting the book, particularly how to convey the shifts between the “present” 1980s Liverpool and the late 1970s London, New York and California, but these are effectively achieved through a traditional if old fashioned movie device of opening a door onto another time and place – also done to great effect in John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) and even briefly in a scene from Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).

The scenes set in California and New York have a radiant or hazy glow usually associated with a romanticised memory and work effectively, although the limited budget dictated these scenes had to be created using rear projection. This just adds to the sensation of watching a movie that Grahame might have acted in, so rather than being jarring, they add to the sensation of experiencing a movie-star romance.

This film is not an action blockbuster or CGI-laden extravaganza, just a slowly paced, gently depicted May-December romance with lots of quiet, dialogue-free moments that allow the characters’ emotions to breathe and fill the frame, while the final scenes showing the real Gloria Grahame in her prime let the audience appreciate what a loss this actress was to Hollywood.

Winchester

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MWinchester

Directed by: The Spierig Brothers

Written by: Tom Vaughan and The Spierig Brothers

Produced by: Tim McGahan, Brett Tomberlin

Starring: Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna-O’Prey, Jason Clarke, Angus Sampson, Eamon Farren.

Inspired by true events at the most haunted house in history.

Based on the true story of widower, Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), Winchester explores the haunting of a many-roomed house, seven stories high, comprising 500 rooms and stairs that lead to no-where: built, torn-down, to be built again; all orchestrated by the designs of the widower.

It’s enough to question her sanity.

Sarah communes with the dead to make their spirits grow stronger in the rooms she builds, under their instruction; through her visions; through her remorse – to then release them.

Many have died from the firing of a Winchester – the instrument of death the source of her fortune.  And the source of her guilt.

Being the majority holder of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, (and a multi-millionaire) the company employs a psychiatrist to assess Sarah’s mental capacity in the view of taking control of her share in the company.

A request agreed upon by Sarah’s niece Marion (Sarah Snook) but only if the psychiatrist conducting the assessment is Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke).

After Marion’s husband dies suddenly, she moves in with her aunt with her 8-year-old son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey) – an indication in Sarah’s mind that a curse is spreading through the family.

Dr. Price is also a grieving widow, addicted to Laudanum, amongst other substances; anything to numb the pain – and out of desperation and financial difficulty takes the job.  Only to question his own mind when he witnesses the spirits inhabiting this strange house.

All the elements of an interesting story but I didn’t find the film to be a poignant one.

The suspense was weak, left to fall flat off cliff hangers that felt more like an accidental step.

And the over-editing of characters such as builder, John Hansen (Angus Sampson), to the extent of what sounded like dubbing over what was once comic, to be diluted to suit the tone of the film added to the quiet and dry dead like the musty smell in old houses.

All old houses have a presence, particularly those inhabited by the grieving.

When Dr. Price enters the house it just adds another unstable element, throwing doubt on the truth of the story as Dr. Price is also a grieving man, self-medicating and taken from the depths of a sabbatical dedicated to a life of hedonism and clearly desiring anything but clarity: is it any wonder he sees ghosts too?

The flash of spectres was well spliced into the dark recesses of shadows and reflections of mirrors.  But the build of suspense and meat of the story lacked substance so rather than inspiring belief in the supernatural, the film became more a story of a 19th century larrikin sobering up to insanity.

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Game Night

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MA15+Game Night

Directed by: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein

Written by: Mark Perez

Produced by: John Davis, Jason Bateman, John Fox and James Garavente

Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Danny Huston, Chelsea Peretti, with Michael C. Hall and Kyle Chandler.

What makes Jason Bateman such a good comedian is not what he does but the ridiculous that happens to him and how he takes it on the chin because what else is he supposed to do?  He’s relatable and a crack-up with no exception here as Max teamed up with his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams): it’s all about winning the game for this couple.

Except when it comes to playing against their neighbour Gary (Jesse Plemons): they were friends with his recently divorced wife, not creepy Gary.

Obsessed, the team/couple host a weekly game night with friends each with their unique relationship issues (bar Gary: not that he doesn’t have issues but because he’s not invited), each unaware that when Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) decides to host a Murder Mystery party, it’s not a game but a real kidnapping.

Brooks isn’t just the competitive and ‘most likely to succeed’ brother, he’s also a bad boy.

There’s always a feeling of a formula at play with these heart-felt, comedy, throw-a-bit-of-action-in-the-mix, movies.  Here, we have sibling rivalry, couple issues, the bond of friendship; conflicts overcome by the common goal of winning the game and saving the brother.

Directors John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein have teamed up before, Game Night being their second film as co-directors, following the comedy, Vacation (2015).   And like Vacation, there are some genuinely funny moments.

Gary-the-creepy-neighbour is a highlight and point of difference with his death stare and continued patting of his white fluffy dog reminiscent of the villain, Dr Claw petting his white fluffy cat in Inspector Gadget.

It’s the extra effort and detail that tickles.

And Max being the normal guy in such silly situations grounds the story while also making the film funnier.

Rachel McAdams can be hit and miss for me.  She plays such a wide variety of roles, from Spotlight to Dr Strange to True Detective 2 – an impressive performance of a dark and tortured cop  – to her role here, as the innocent, game-obsessed suburban wife; her character not the funniest but adding the cutesy aspect, provoking the required, Aww, response.

So, there’s attention to detail from a clever script with lines like, ‘You got the knife right in the bullet hole’ (ha, ha, cracks me up), a techno 80s-style synthesiser soundtrack to combine that action/comic flavour with a bit of added romance.

 

 

Black Panther

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MBlack Panther

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Written by: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole

Based on the Marvel Comics by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Produced by: Kevin Feige p.g.a

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis.

Growing up, black panthers were my favourite animal.  I remember whispering to my cat, asking to bring one of their cousins home for a visit.  Probably a good thing the wish never came true as a super hero I am not.  Nor have I been a big fan of super hero movies.  But Black Panther is a powerful and rich story that is beautiful and unique.

And yeah, there’s some pretty cool action as well.

The character, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) made his debut on film in, Captain America: Civil War (2016).

Well received, we now have the story of the Black Panther; a script based on the Marvel comics written by Stan Lee (who’s making a habit of popping up in films based on his characters) and Jack Kirby.

This is a story of T’Challa, the son of the African King of Wakanda who becomes the Black Panther after his father is murdered by Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis).

It’s a unique tale of the tribal nature of Africa combined with futuristic technology made from the hardest metal on Earth – Vibranium.  There’s also the mystical here with a black panther showing the Wakanda ancestors where to find the Vibranium, and how eating an herb of blue flowers enhances abilities making the Black Panther super-human.

See an informative and interesting article here describing the history of the comic of Black Panther written by: David Roach and Peter Sanderson.

Directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed 2015), Black Panther the movie is filled with colour, expansive landscapes (Rachel Morrison) and strong, layered characters.

There’s a lot of elements brought together by an emotive soundtrack (Ludwig Göransson) that soars and causes that swelling in the chest you get when the characters are doing right no matter what the cost.

It’s not often you get such a visual, action-packed sci-fi that causes such an emotional response.

The politics and message of the film could have turned the tone saccharine, but the careful handling of director Coogler and strong acting from the cast made the message poignant and thought-provoking.

It was a pleasure to embrace the beauty of the colourful nation of Wakanda – the costuming (Ruth E. Carter) of the inhabitants also a standout.

And the layering of characters with good and bad in all; where people can be the products of circumstance, allowing an understanding of why people behave the way they do.  Where integrity and the strength and clarity to make the right choices are needed to make any change worthwhile.

There’s a reason this film has been so successful as the appeal is wide and the message runs deep.

What a fantastic story and what a successful adaptation to the big screen.

Black Panther is not only exciting and beautiful to watch, an emotional chord is struck, provoking thought of what it is to be human.

 

Den Of Thieves

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MA 15+Den Of Thieves

Directed By: Christian Gudegast

Screenplay By: Christian Gudegast

Story By: Christian Gudegast & Paul Scheuring

Produced By: Mark Canton, p.g.a Tucker Tooley, p.g.a.

Produced By: Gerard Butler Alan Siegel

Starring: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, Meadow Williams, Maurice Compte, Brian Van Holt, Evan Jones, Mo McRae, Kaiwi Lyman, Dawn Olivieri, Eric Braede, Jordan Bridges, Lewis Tan, Cooper Andrews, Nate Boyer, John Lewis.

I’m a huge fan of Heat (1995) – a crime thriller that graces my ‘Best of the Thrillers’ list and I’ll go there and state one of the best crime thrillers ever made.

In the same vein of Heat, Den of Thieves shows an armed robbery with machine guns and ski masks: these guys are ex-military and they handle their hard-wear like they’re still on the field of battle.

Led by special forces-trained and recently paroled, Ray Merriman (Pablo Schreiber), meet the Outlaws.

But when a robbery goes wrong and cops are killed, the Major Crimes Unit gets involved.  These guys are like a gang with tats included.  Add a badge and you’ve got the Regulators.

As the leader, ‘Big’ Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) says, they literally take no prisoners.

So, you get the tone of the film from the start with a familiar storyline where two crews face-off in a male-dominated pissing competition to see who can be the grande of men.

And I was dubious about rapper, Curtis James Jackson III, AKA 50 Cent, playing a major role as Enson Levoux; part of the Outlaws crew.  But hats off – 50 Cent can act as one big, scary robber/family man.

Talking of big scary dudes, it was cool to see some Pacific Islanders as part of the Outlaws crew; the effort made to authentically show Los Angeles’ southern-most neighbourhoods and one of many differences between Den of Thieves and its crime thriller predecessors.

The macho element pushed to its limit aside, there’s a point in the film where the script makes light of this brute male force with 50 Cent as Enson Levoux scaring the be-Jesus out of his daughter’s prom date by ushering him into a room full of his crew to confirm that yes, he’ll take care of his daughter, and yes, he promises to get her home by 11.30pm.

And the humanisation of these scary guys breaks the tension and leads to a more complicated and layered film with a high stakes play made by the Outlaws to rob the Federal Reserve Bank; a feat never successfully achieved and all the while under the surveillance of the Regulators leading to each crew trying to out-smart the other: showing brain more than brawn wins the game.

There’s clever building of tension with screenwriter and first-time director Christian Gudegast creating a film made of rapid gun fire and bullet casings spilling across the hood of cars, the soundtrack heaving with each impeding battle.

One notable scene with Big Nick and Ray Merriman shooting at a firing range – no words needed, just a show of skill and the double tap as ‘silver back’ Merriman shows his special ops training with a perfect configuration of shots through the target’s heart.

But a few holes in the story let down the believability.

Big Nick asks the question himself in the film, why did the Regulators go so bad?

And would police, even American, L.A. Major Crime Unit cops, open machine gun fire in a traffic jam?

And a few other bits (don’t want to give away too much of the story) that dent the cleverness of this multi-layered plot.

Overall, I was impressed with this film.  Even if Gerard Butler (and yes, I’m going to say it, Al Pacino did the same in Heat) overplays his role, just that little bit.

Yes, there’s echoes of Heat here, but there’s also a nod to other classics such as, The Usual Suspects.

Although a missed opportunity to make a unique classic itself, Den of Thieves evolves from a pissing contest into a layered absorbing entertainer ending with a knock of my knuckle-duster on the cinema cup holder in salute.

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Lady Bird

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MA15+Lady Bird

Directed and Written by: Greta Gerwig

Produced by: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neil

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges.

We’ve all been there – growing up, becoming a teenager, trying to find your own identity whilst also trying to deal with so many pressures that seem insurmountable when you’re only 17. It’s the age when events conspire to seem like the biggest tragedy, provoke the most embarrassment or the deepest emotion, without any sign of how to get beyond them.

So it is for Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played with intense believability by Saoirse Ronan, who is trying to find her sense of self while living in Sacramento, California during 2002.

She constantly clashes with her mother Marion (the outstanding Laurie Metcalf), who is a prickly, bossy woman with a life full of pressures and stresses her daughter barely glimpses or understands.

These two are so alike yet they can’t see it: opinionated, emotional and yearning for something beyond their ordinary existence.

Writer Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut said that this mother-daughter relationship is the love story of the film, and this relationship is what resonates far more deeply than the daughter’s awkward dalliances with two boys.

The opening scene shows us Lady Bird and Marion both sighing with deeply shared emotion after listening to an audio book during a long car ride, an experience that draws them closer together, yet within moments a carelessly expressed comment leads to a huge misunderstanding and a reckless reaction.

This scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with numerous situations between the mother who loves but cannot communicate with her daughter without provoking a backlash, and the daughter who in her turn feels misunderstood and unwanted.

The director aimed to have each of these people be “painfully failing to reach each other”, an aim that is convincingly and realistically achieved.

Gerwig’s skill allows the audience to cringe in shared dismay at each new outburst, seeing it coming and wondering why Lady Bird and her mother can’t help themselves or learn from their earlier mistakes.

The director succeeds in making the film “frothy and exciting like waves breaking on a beach”, followed closely by “a sudden undertow…and before you know it, you are in much deeper waters than you expected.”

This is exactly how it felt watching “Lady Bird” – one moment you’re laughing at the silly things and situations the main character experiences, and then the whole mood changes and things get serious when moments of amity are quickly shattered by a thoughtless or misconstrued comment.

Lady Bird also struggles to be one of the cool, sophisticated kids at school, ashamed of her family’s working class roots.

She falls madly in love with boys because she hungers to be in love more so than with an actual person.

She lies to find acceptance with the cool gang at school.

Her experiments with fashion, alcohol, drugs and music all reflect her constant drive to discover who she is (hence her rejection of her birth name in favour of the more exotic “Lady Bird”).

Her struggles and relationships with her family, best friend and assorted acquaintances are often depicted with humour, reflected by the audience’s gentle laughter at her predictable reactions, behaviour and affectations.

Her friendship with a girl at her school (Julie, played by Beanie Feldstein) is particularly sweet, showing how teenagers often view the world naïvely.

What was particularly moving about this film was how little people learn from their mistakes, repeating them in astonishing variations even when they gain some wisdom.

There is no happy ending, no neat resolution with all forgiven, just an ever-evolving awareness, hard-won maturity and an appreciation of one’s childhood home and family, just like real life.

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Fifty Shades Freed

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MA15+Fifty Shades Freed

Directored by: James Foley

Screenplay by: Niall Leonard

Based on the book by: E L James

Produced by: Michael de Luca, E L James, Dana Brunetti, Marcus Viscidi

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden.

If you have read any of the books in the Fifty Shades trilogy or seen either of the previous two film adaptations, chances are you will probably want to see the concluding film just out of curiosity or in order to feel complete.

Originally inspired by the Twilight saga, Fifty Shades Freed continues the Mills’n’Boon-style story of the ludicrously wealthy yet brooding and mysterious mega-squillionaire Christian Grey and his icky obsession with the dewy-eyed yet incredibly sexy Anastasia Steele.

Fifty Shades Freed was filmed around the same time as Fifty Shades Darker, helmed by the same director, James Foley, and with many of the same production crew, which lends this film a consistent look and feel, although it isn’t as dark cinematographically as its predecessor. The highlight this time is the use of lots of pounding or atmospheric songs, particularly a re-working of the classic INXS “Never tear us apart” warbled moodily by Bishop Briggs. There is also some occasionally humorous dialogue that helps lighten the mood and makes the main characters seem almost three-dimensional.

The main advantage of the film adaptations is being spared the dire writing style of E L James, with her grating descriptions of Ana’s “inner goddess” and coy references to her genitals. The plot and situations remain incredibly predictable and unoriginal, the dialogue is often trite and cringe-inducing, and actors such as Marcia Gay Harden and Jennifer Ehle are wasted in blink and you’ll miss them roles.

The main theme of the third film is revenge, with disgraced ex-publishing boss Jack Hyde (Jekyll and Hyde, get it?) hovering menacingly in the background plotting moustache-twirling vengeance against Christian Grey for being a successful businessman with much nicer suits, to say nothing of having snared the bootilicious Ana, whose penchant for wearing gossamer-thin yet uncomfortable looking underwear makes me long for a return to Bridget Jones’ more sensible grannie undies.

Newlyweds Christian and Ana delight in lots of would-be kinky (but actually rather boring) sexual escapades in exotic locations, with the threat from villainous Jack kept a secret by Christian, who is a bit slow appreciating that Ana is a modern woman who can actually look after herself. The biggest issue this photogenic couple faces aside from Jack’s threatening behaviour is Ana becoming pregnant, and Christian’s horror because he believes he is incapable of being a good father based on his own horrendous upbringing by his “crack whore mother”.

There is a reasonable amount of tension due to Jack’s escalating threats and extortion that force Ana to be secretively heroic and take matters into her own hands. The ironically annoying aspect of this film (given the series is known for its soft porn sex scenes) is the constant interruptions so that the overly horny couple can have lots of sex – in a car, the shower, a bath, on a table, etcetera, etcetera, always ending in such unrealistically excessive orgasmic ecstasy, which tends to dissipate whatever tension has been building in other scenes.

Christian’s continued bossiness and domineering ways have worn really thin by now, and I almost cheered when Ana told him off during a key scene to grow up. Her spurt of assertiveness endowed their confrontation with the closest thing to true, adult drama this series has ever depicted.

Definitely a film for Fifty Shades fans only.

Insidious: The Last Key

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MInsidious: The Final Key

Directed by: Adam Robitel

Based on Characters Created by: Leigh Whannell

Written by: Leigh Whannell

Produced by: Jason Blum, Oren Peli, James Wan

Starring: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer, Aleque Reid, Ava Kolker, Pierce Pope, Bruce Davison, Javier Botet.

Set as a prequel to the original, Insidious: The Last Key begins with parapsychologist, Dr. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) growing up in 1954, living in an abusive home: 413 Apple Tree Lane in Five Keys.

Elise has the gift, she was born with the gift.  And her father hates her for it.

She lives with her brother, Christian (Pierce Pope) who’s understandably afraid of the dark, and is given a silver whistle to call his mother if he ever feels scared.

But when their mother dies, Elise finally leaves home at 16, leaving her little brother and the terrors of her childhood behind, including Key Face (Javier Botet), a demon who convinced her that setting it free would bring her more light.  Key Face wants Elise to set them all free from The Further, because she’s the only one who can.

A phone call from Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo), the current inhabitant of her childhood house, brings her back to all those bad memories.  Haunted, Ted asks for help.  And reluctantly, Elise returns with her new family, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson): The Spectral Sightings crew.

There’s a different feel to this fourth instalment, with new director, Adam Robitel bringing a more human drama to this otherwise suspenseful, supernatural franchise.

There’s less reliance on the soundtrack, the suspense built on silence broken by footsteps on floorboards and the squeaking turn and fixing of a light bulb.  It’s a slow burn that builds into a surprisingly sinister tale.

But I had trouble with holes in the script – OK, maybe not holes.  Everything was there, but there wasn’t enough weight given to the why and backstory of Key Face.  I don’t want to give too much away, but the death of Elise’s mother felt superficial to me, not supernatural.

And her death is an important part of the film as the story relies on this essential part of the fable and the power of Key Face.

The object of the whistle gives the supernatural a touch-stone of reality.  And restraint makes the ghosts from The Further all the more believable.

So, there’s thought about the detail here which makes the glossing over the essential annoying.

Lin Shaye as Dr. Elise Rainier continues to bring authenticity to the difficult role of a parapsychologist who can commune and see ghosts.  And the humour of Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson as Specs and Tucker works in this instalment; the humour given more time to work unlike the over-editing in Chapter 3 (where Leigh Whannell was also the writer), which rendered the jokes mis-timed and inconsequential.

As producer Blum says of writer Leigh Whannell: “There is a real relationship that has evolved between the audience and the characters in the movie.  Leigh understands that what makes a good scary movie is not the scares, but what comes in between them.”

And seeing Spectural Sightings together in their van, AKA, The Winnebaghost, with Tucker sporting an impressive mullet, was a definite highlight.

Insidious: The Last Key manages to create a unique tone and story to the previous instalments.  A more adult and suspenseful drama with some good humour to break the tension with a few scares that could have been so much stronger with better understanding of the Key Man and his power.