Producers: Andrew Cohen, Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyerman
Writers: Chin-Chin Yap, Tim Finch, Boris Cheshirkov.
Human Flow is a visual experience to be endured. A journey for the soul. A glimpse into the duty of care, and lack thereof, affecting our societies.
Forgotten places and forgotten faces reach out and I struggle to remain seated. To comprehend the magnitude of what film director Ai Wei Wei intended. The camera remains. Lost souls stare onto it, onto the abyss. Dignified, proud, hopeful. Despite everything.
Statistics and news headlines appear. Foreign voices makeshift the background. Subtitles demand the attention of the viewer. Everyone must seat and watch. There is no easy way out for us as there is no easy way out for the millions of refugees stranded across the globe.
Oceans of humanity flow, stretching as far as the next border, people like waves reaching for the coast, seeking relief after a long journey. Aerial views of makeshift camps. Tents set along trains never to halt. People resting on the side of the road. On the verge of tears. Vulnerable to disease, under the elements, moving ever forward with their loved ones. All borders shutting down.
The system collapses, numbers increase and countries build fences and walls with money that could be used in so many other ways. No questions are asked or aid provided. Left behind, human beings facing the most inhuman conditions in the history of our race.
Those who are victims of the circumstances, run for fear of persecution. Those who pushed them into exile remain immune. Those who watch, what are we? What am I, but a privileged voyeur? A far removed entity able to switch off my screen at any given time. Sheltered, fed, safe. Free. Ashamed of myself as I type these words. Dreading the moment I move onto the next thing, and forget.
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.
Produced by: Bryan Unkeless, Steven Rogers, Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley
Screenplay by: Steven Rogers
Cinematography by: Nicolas Karakatsanis
Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Mckenna Grace.
‘I was loved for a minute, then I was hated – then I was a punchline.’
Based on one of the biggest scandals in sporting history, I, Tonya shows that truth can be fluid.
The film is structured around interviews with Tonya Harding (MARGOT ROBBIE), her now ex-husband, Jeff (SEBASTIAN STAN) and Tonya’s mother, Lavona (ALLISON JANNEY), when questioned about the surrounding circumstances that led to the knee-capping of rival ice skater, Nancy Kerrigan (CAITLIN CARVER).
What fascinated writer and producer, Steven Rogers about the project was just how different the stories told by Tonya versus Jeff were about the incident that ruined her career.
Tonya is candid in her re-telling of the events leading up to that fateful incident but with the contrasting perspective of Jeff, it’s hard not to question the truth of each story.
To demonstrate: the film makers show the continued falls of Tonya on the ice, her re-telling of the episodes making the excuse of her blade being incorrectly repaired and out of alignment to flash backs of her unhealthy lifestyle of smoking and downing shots.
Although it’s difficult not to question the truth of the story, what the film gives the audience is the circumstances Tonya overcame to become an ice skating phenomenon – to this day, one of only six women in the world to make the triple axel.
And she did it 25 years ago.
A feat the film makers had to use visual effects to achieve because of the immense difficulty.
Currently, there’s only two skaters in the world to have any hope of pulling off the triple axel but are unwilling to risk injury in the lead up to competing in the Olympics.
What makes Tonya’s success all the more amazing is her difficult upbringing, as she states, ‘I don’t have a wholesome American family’.
With a mother who strives to make her angry because Tonya skates better when she feels she needs to push back, Lavona is shown in interview with cigi and pet bird on her shoulder included.
The film shows Tonya suffering abuse from her mother, pushing her to the limit from four years of age, through to her teenage years where she met Jeff who continued the abuse with his fists.
When news broke world-wide of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, I remember thinking it was Tonya who did the deed. An incorrect assumption. And the film shows there’s so much more to the story than petty jealousy.
Oscar-nominated, Margot Robbie gives a gritty performance, digging deep to show the true nature and character of Tonya.
The highlight for me was Allison Janney as Tonya’s mother, Lavona – her performance had to be believable so the audience could digest her bizarre behaviour.
Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.
And the difficulties and destructive nature of Tonya’s relationships are the humour in the film – it’s just so bad, it’s funny.
The structure of the film, with the narrative based on the interviews, to flash backs that either support or contradict what’s being said keeps the pace running – camera work of Tonya skating is used up close and personal giving a rawness and faster-paced action.
Yet, I felt I wanted just that little bit more from the script.
I was fascinated by the different perspectives and the perversion of truth. Yet, the incident of the knee-capping itself was down-played to the extent of a one-minute shot.
What’s a knee-capping compared to the abuse Tonya suffered her whole life?
The view taken was to show the other side of the story, not what was portrayed in the media.
The truth of the story? It’s all about perspective.
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, Lisa Bruce, Douglas Urbanski
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup and Ben Mendelsohn.
Set over the course of four weeks in 1940, Darkest Hour is based on the true story of Winston Churchill and the immense burden he carried as newly-appointed Prime Minister when Nazi Germany invaded Western Europe.
It’s a critical time in history. A decision must be made to either fight in another world war against all odds, the Germans surrounding the entire British army on the shores of Dunkirk – or to negotiate with a madman.
The fight on Dunkirk is fresh in the minds of film enthusiasts after the recent release of Christopher Nolan’s memorable, ‘not-a-war movie’, Dunkirk.
Darkest Hour shows a different version of WWII, focussing on the same time in history yet here the story unfolds not on the ground – the soldiers dodging bullets or falling into the icy waters – here, we follow the men making the decisions and observe the politics and strategies of war held behind closed doors. And with Churchill, sometimes the most important conversation taken on the telephone behind the door of the lavatory.
Darkest Hour is based on the beginnings of WWII, yes, but the story is about the man – Winston Churchill and all his flaws. A man who has never taken the tube (well, only once during the strikes), a man whose wife (Kristen Scott Thomas) finds him intolerable but loves him anyway. And no matter his power or position will always know him as, Piggy.
Churchill never gives up, and it’s precisely his flaws that give him the strength to succeed.
Gary Oldman is every bit deserving of his recent Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama. See his acceptance speech here.
As Winston Churchill, Oldman’s barely recognisable as he embraces the part and becomes every bit the British Prime Minister affecting all the required mannerisms of the mumbling, alcoholic, cigar smoking, yet brilliant mind and oration of the man.
Ben Mendelsohn finally gets to be the good guy, here as King George VI. Not the regal performance of Colin Firth in, The King’s Speech (2010) but suiting the tone of the film better with the gritty human nature of the characters used for amusement amongst all the seriousness of the story.
And there’s not many tricks here – director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna, Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina) keeping any effects subtle with a sometimes lofty birds-eye-view to convey the overall feeling of politicians seeing the population as small parts to be manuvered for the greater good.
Mostly, this is a character-driven film, focussing on the dialogue and emotion of those who discuss the fortunes of thousands of lives. We, as an audience, get a window into the world of Churchill as he weighs the cost; to ultimately decide no cost is too much – there is only perseverance to fight until the very end.
So, for all Churchill’s flaws, we are shown true grit and the character required when the world ceases to make sense. And can the man speak! The real pleasure of the film watching Churchill use his words to win over a nation, his famous speeches delivered by the believable performance of Gary Oldman.
Would I watch the film again? Probably not. This isn’t a thriller that keeps you on the edge, this is a stirring education and insight into just how close we came to losing our freedom.
Written by: David Scarpa based on the book by John Pearson
Produced by: Dan Friedkin, Bradley Thomas, Quentin Curtis, Chris Clark, Ridley Scott, Mark Huffam and Kevin J. Walsh
Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer and Mark Wahlberg.
When a movie such as this is labelled ‘Inspired by True Events’ I can’t stop my mind constantly evaluating which of the events portrayed are true and which are pure speculation.
In this case the basic facts are that Jean Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) is an American-born British industrialist who negotiated a series of lucrative oil leases with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and was declared the richest American in 1957.
On 10th July 1973, Paul, his grandson, (Charlie Plummer- no relation), then age 16, was kidnapped off the streets of Rome. Paul’s mother, Gail (Michelle Williams) spends the rest of the film negotiating with a grandfather reluctant to pay the demanded ransom.
The film is based on a book on the Gettys written by John Pearson and this adaption from book to film does cause some narrative problems.
Although the kidnapping occurs very early in the film, a series of flashbacks quickly follow in succession, each dated to supply the necessary biographical information about the family’s background. I found this constant interruption of the main narrative quite disconcerting.
This is a film that moves slowly despite the potential for drama of a kidnapping. The tension is muted, crisscrossing between scenes of Paul and the kidnappers and his mother’s increasingly frustrated attempts to convince his grandfather to ‘pay up.’ It is only in the last half hour that the adrenalin really starts pumping.
Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams give solid if somewhat pallid performances with Williams reprising the mood of her role as Alma, wife of Ennis Del Mar, in Brokeback Mountain – all stoic endurance.
Surprisingly, moments of emotion are few and far between and unexpectedly more often between the young Paul and Cinquanta,one of the Calabrian captors (played convincingly by Romain Duris), who does what he can to make the captivity endurable.
What intrigued David Scarpa, the scriptwriter, about the story were the psychological aspects, how “the obstacle wasn’t paying the ransom and rescuing his grandson – the obstacle was psychological, he just couldn’t bear to part with his money.”
This is a visually beautiful film from Dariusz Wolski, (Director of Photography)renowned for each of the first four films in the record-breaking Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
The Italian landscapes fairly hum with an erotic energy and the lush interiors of the Getty mansions with their shadowy corners and opulent décor are more like scenes captured from the Old Masters that hang on the Getty walls.
The film however, exists in the shadow of that space where art and life often collide. Originally, Kevin Spacey, transformed by elaborate make-up and prosthetics, played the iconic tycoon. But when many men came forward alleging that the actor had sexually abused them, Christopher Plummer was hastily signed on as the replacement.
Many scenes had to be re-shot and interestingly Michelle Williams re-shot all her scenes with Plummer, refusing to accept recompense in solidarity with all those who had allegedly been abused by show business luminaries.
Perhaps this unfortunate interruption of reality goes part way to explain some of the film’s deficiencies and its rushed feeling. Sometimes the action verges on melodrama, especially in the several scenes where paparazzi on steroids surge like locusts around the Getty entourage or the one thousand newspapers delivered by Gail to Getty senior to capture his attention, swirl about him like snow. Nothing subtle here.
In the end Getty senior is a somewhat clichéd portrayal, the lonely old rich tycoon without no attempt to understand the causes of his rigid personality. There’s a deeper story here somewhere but unfortunately it’s tricky to find, much like the Getty ransom.
‘No question of the portrait ever been finish’, states Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush). As a portrait is never finished.
And it certainly begins to feel that way to James Lord (Armie Hammer) after agreeing to pose while on a short trip to Paris in 1964.
Based on James Lord’s memoir, ‘A Giacometti Portrait’, the film is written and directed by Stanley Tucci (also known for his acting and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in, The Lovely Bones (2009)), the film centres on the battle of wills between the two men: Alberto, the cantankerous genius, and the ever-tolerant James: forced to sit on a rickety wicker chair, day after day as Alberto paints and then repaints his portrait.
What began as flattery turns into a test of endurance as he bares the rantings of the aging Swiss-Italian. Alberto at one point telling James, ‘Don’t scratch’
‘I itch’, James replies.
Yet, through all his vitriol and terrible treatment of his ever-loving wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud), he shows warmth and love for his favourite model and prostitute, Caroline (Clémence Poésy).
Funnily enough, a film about an artist is shown in drab colours as most of the scenes were shot in Alberto’s destitute studio – filled with sculptures, finished and some just begun, with long faces resembling their maker.
But I couldn’t help smiling.
Geoffrey Rush is just so believable as this grumpy genius, embracing the artist’s technique of painting, speaking fluent French and Italian and most importantly showing the movement and attitude of the artist.
‘Have you ever wanted to be a tree?’ he asks James.
Alberto might be cranky, but there’s also vision. And we’re given a glimpse into the mindset of the man.
The quietly knowing brother, Diego (Tony Shalhoub) balances the tone of the film, lightening the mood as he’s well aware of Alberto’s moods. And still loves him in spite of it.
Set over two weeks, the idea of showing a character through the process of painting a portrait simplifies the peeling away of layers.
The film is really, a character study.
I was surprised when the film finished as I was happy to stay in the wry, exasperating yet thoughtful space.
And the clever way of showing Alberto’s personality was a pleasure to watch.
Based on journalist Shrabani Basu’s book:Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant,
Screenplay by: Lee Hall
Casting Directors, Leo Davis & Lissy Holm. Casting Director – India, Nandini Shrikent. Music by Thomas Newman. Make-up and Hair Designer, Daniel Phillips. Costume Designer, Consolata Boyle. Production Designer, Alan Macdonald. Editor, Melanie Ann Oliver, ACE. Director of Photography, Danny Cohen, BSC.
Produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Beeban Kidron, Tracey Seaward.
Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Tim Pigott-Smith, Olivia Williams, Fenella Woolgar, Paul Higgins, Robin Soans, Julian Wadham, Simon Callow and Michael Gambon.
In 1887, Abdul travels from India to present a ceremonial medal as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
As the title suggests, Victoria & Abdul is a film based on the (mostly) true events of a previously unheard of close friendship between Queen Victoria and a Muslim Indian, Abdul Karim.
The film opens on a caricature portrait of the queen: an elderly, overweight woman, bored and cantankerous as she attends seemingly endless engagements to celebrate her 50 years on the throne. Until a tall, handsome ‘Hindu’ catches her eye.
Aside from the difference in age and race, Queen Victoria blossoms under the attention of this most attractive, warm-hearted man. And you can see the romantic overtures of the relationship as the elderly monarch falls in love with Abdul’s (Ali Fazal) bright eyes and unique perspective of the world.
Although not a physical relationship, Abdul becomes her close confident and Munshi, a spiritual advisor and teacher – completely unheard of in 17th century England.
She persists in keeping Abdul by her side against the pressure and ultimate rebellion of her Court and family, demanding she stop keeping the Indian man’s company, let alone promote him.
And it’s fascinating to watch the iron will of the Queen as she insists – because, after all, isn’t she the Empress of India?
In 2001, journalist Shrabani Basu, while researching the origins of curry, discovered not only Queen Victoria’s love of curries but also a portrait and bronze bust made of an Indian gentleman. After further investigation, 13 volumes of Queen Victoria’s diaries were found, previously unread because they were written in Urdu (a Persianised and standardised register language of the Hindustani language).
After translating the diaries, Basu discovered the unconventional relationship between the Queen and a young clerk, Abdul.
The book has been adapted for the screen by writer, Lee Hall (who also wrote the beloved, Billy Elliot (2000)), changing the journalistic style of the book into a drama more suited to a wider audience.
The setting and costuming were carefully crafted, showing the extravagance of royalty while also showing the silliness of ceremony.
Victoria and Abdul is a period drama, which isn’t really my cup-of-tea, but there’s true brilliance in casting Dame Judi Dench as Queen Victoria (again) – Dench depicting the Queen’s grit beautifully with guidance from director, Stephen Frears (both Frears and Dench having experience portraying Queen Victoria with Frears directing The Queen back in 2006 and Dench cast as Queen Victoria in, Mrs Brown (1997)).
Victoria & Abdul gives a glimpse into the personality of the woman, her iron will and the simplicity of her nature; the drawing reflected so well in Abdul’s eyes.
It was like watching an elderly, sick woman come to life.
And inspiring to see one so sure of her wants and needs against all other opinions, even those of her son.
Fan’s of Judi Dench you will enjoy seeing her play the borderline dirty old woman cradle snatching a younger man (Abdul, 24 when he first arrived in England and the Queen, in her 80s), and to admire her strength of character while surrounded by pompous idiots.
So, an enjoyable watch with highlights of humour and emotional undertones – a chance to look behind the curtain of English Royalty, to glimpse a remarkable woman who, against all odds and so late in life, found love and friendship in the most unlikely person, her Munshi, Abdul.