ALMOST in heaven: John Spencer (Donald Sutherland) and his wife Ella (Helen Mirren) on the trip of a lifetime. Photograph courtesy www.miamifilmfestival.com
LET’S FACE IT: our inimitable icons of stage and screen are aging. They’re still beautiful, they’re still sexy and they still have what it takes. Thank goodness the film industry is capable of recognising this and of granting performers such as Judi Dench, Meryl Streep, Annette Bening, Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave plum roles in which they can celebrate the inevitability of aging. The Leisure Seeker is another gem of this sort, giving voice to delicious performances by Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland as an elderly couple who go rogue on their children, for one last fling.
Ellen (Mirren) and John Spencer (Sutherland) have had a rich, full life. He was a teacher of English literature with a particular penchant for Ernest Hemingway. They’ve two adult children. And they have a 1975 RV which has seen many a holiday with them. But here they are. Neither are in the first flush of health, but life’s for the grabbing and they decide to do a drive from Boston to Florida Keys to see Hemingway’s house.
That’s a drive of nearly 2 500km for the pragmatic. If you’re elderly, with fading memories and bits and pieces that no longer work as they used to, that’s almost the recipe for catastrophe. And catastrophic this is, particularly from the other end of a cell phone like to their children, Jane (Janel Moloney) and William (Christian McKay).
But amid the realities of incontinence and fervour, knee-jerk responses and utter hilarity, this is by all accounts, the journey of a lifetime. Mirren and Sutherland sparkle unforgettably in this beautiful yet thoughtful celebration of what it takes to grow old. The dialogue is crisp and bristly and the context real in terms of how the power is inverted when the parents are old and the children, grown, putting the giggles on the side of grandparents, and the punitive frowns on the side of the kids.
Narratively, the plot wanes a bit in terms of it feeling like adventure upon adventure and reading like a bit of a shopping list, characterised by an “and then … and then … and then” rhythm, but by and large, it’s a laugh and a cry at every stop in the road.
Irresponsible? Absolutely! But life is short and it’s completely for the living. It’s a Thelma and Louise kind of a tale which ends as it must, leaving you with a wet face, but a smiling one.
The Leisure Seeker is directed by Paolo Virzi and is performed by a cast headed by Helen Abell, Nicholas Barrera, Lilia Pino Blouin, Carl Bradfield, Robert Walker Branchaud, Roger Bright, Andrea C. Brotherton, Gabriella Cila, Danielle Deadwyler, Adam Drescher, Marc Fajardo, Dick Gregory, Carlos Guerrero, Ryan Clay Gwaltney, Wayne Hall, Joe Hardy Jr, Lucy Catharine Haskill, Rusty Hodgdon, Joshua Hoover, Denitra Isler, Dana Ivey, Ariel R. Kaplan, Jessie Sasser Kloos, Ahmed Lucan, Burk Madison, Dov Mamann, Elijah Marcano, Christian McKay, Matt Mercurio, Joshua Mikel, Helen Mirren, Kirsty Mitchell, Janel Moloney, Lindsey Moser, Robert Pralgo, Chelle Ramos, Jerald Jay Savage, David Silverman, Mylie Stone, Leander Suleiman, Donald Sutherland, Karen Valero, Sean Michael Weber, Ben White and Geoffrey D. Williams. It is written by Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archbugi, Francesco Piccolo and Paolo Virzi, based on the eponymous novel by Michael Zadoorian. Produced by Marco Cohen, Fabrizio Donvito, Benedetto Habib and Bryan Thomas, it features creative input by Carlo Virzi (music), Luca Bigazzi (cinematography), Jacopo Quadri (editing), Ellen Jacoby (casting),Massimo Cantini Parrini (costumes) and Richard A. Wright (production). Release date: March 30 2018.
ROMEO and Juliet: Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) and Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) embrace their love, their lives and the Bard. Photograph courtesy www.austinchronicle.com
IT’S A GREAT rarity for a child actor who wows his audience to go away and come back to the industry all grown up and wow some more. This is exactly what you get in Paul McGuigan’s film Film stars don’t die in Liverpool, which features Jamie Bell as Peter Turner. This unique love story which is based on the true story of American film actress Gloria Grahame (1923-1981), penned by Turner himself, is the kind of film that will give you hope for the future of this society – and its filmmaking culture – it’s elegant and beautifully constructed with strong messages and gritty performances. And like any other love story, it’s about giving with a full heart and letting go, but there are so many delicate edges to it, you will want to watch this film over and over again. Forever.
Seventeen years ago, Jamie Bell was the child who defined Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliott (2000), a story about a Northern England boy, the son of a miner in the riotous 1980s who wanted to do ballet. Today, he’s an adult, but the maverick fire in his belly and his ability to embrace complex social issues is as refined and beautiful now as they were then.
Again, we’re in the 1980s, with all its dance moves and analogue culture, in this wild romance. And the girl in the love story? It’s none other than Annette Bening, who is magnificent as a Grahame in her fifties. The love is passionate and unconventional, and Peter’s mum is played by the inimitable Julie Walters. Indeed, with Vanessa Redgrave playing Grahame’s mother, this film offers a full house of fabulous actresses over 60 and it celebrates them in ways that make you value the elderly in your own community.
But more than all of this, Film stars don’t die in Liverpool offers the kind of perfection that very few films can. Featuring a mature understanding of silence and wall paper patterns, of subtlety and finesse, along the lines of Hal Ashby’s 1971 Harold and Maude, which remains arguably one of the finest Holocaust films ever; it’s about exploring your lover’s body and finding truths which she can never tell you. It’s about what happens when marriage doesn’t seal your love, giving your lover’s relatives priority over you when it comes to death.
You know how this film will end by the very virtue of its title, but the predictability of the work is not the point. This is a film that embraces the brevity of life with fierceness and verve. It heightens the bar for the possibility of telling a story of this nature, enormously. It’s a film that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back into the glamour and magic of 1950s Hollywood, with all its illusions of sincerity, its stars and its unbroken dreams.
Film stars don’t die in Liverpool is directed by Paul McGuigan and is performed by Lee Adach, Anna Afferr, Tim Ahern, Lasco Atkinds, Rick Bacon, Frances Barber, Joey Batey, Roy Beck, Gintare Beinoraviciute, Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Suzanne Bertish, Leanne Best, Michael Billington, James Bloor, Edward Bourne, Mark Braithwaite, Michael Brand, Tom Brittney, Joanna Brookes, Jade Clarke, Kenneth Cranham, Paul Dallison, David Decio, Stephanie Eccles, Karl Farrer, Helen Iesha Goldthorpe, Vaslov Goom, Stephen Graham, Leon Grant, Leila Gwynne, Alan Wyn Hughes, Alex Jaep, Bentley Kalu, John Kinory, Isabella Laughland, Adam Lazarus, Ify Mbaeliachi , Gemma Oaten, Luana Di Pasquale, Gino Picciano, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Redshaw, David Soffe, Alexandra Starkey, Asmeret Tesfagiorgis, Glynn Turner, Peter Turner, Jay Villiers, Julie Walters, Nicola-Jayne Wells, Susan Westbury, Patricia Winker and Charlotte Worwood. It is written by Matt Greenhalgh, based on the eponymous memoir by Peter Turner. Produced by Barbara Broccoli and Colin Vaines, it features creative input by J. Ralph (music), Urszula Pontikos (cinematography), Nick Emerson (editing), Debbie McWilliams (casting), Jany Temime (costumes) and Eve Stewart (production). Release date: March 22 2018.
US three. Billy Moon (aka Christopher Robin) played by Will Tilston with AA Milne, his dad, played by Domhnall Gleeson. Photograph courtesy www.filminquiry.com
IT TAKES A special kind of perspective and balance to be able to tell a story involving a child as adorable and articulate as young Will Tilston, without ramping up the cute factor and drowning in saccharine. Simon Curtis, director of Goodbye Christopher Robin achieves this significantly well, offering a sense of balance into a story that is as much about a bear named Winnie the Pooh, as it is about shell shock and the horror of fame, as it is about the way in which Edwardian society was so replete with euphemism that empathy was tossed by the wayside.
This film tells the story of the first children’s great classic in English literature which touched a nerve of real values for all children and became the world’s most popular classic for young readers. It presents Tilston as the five or six year old Christopher Robin opposite his dad played by Domhnall Gleeson who is weighed down with the horror of his World War One experience. The child articulates empathy in a way that gives the relationship between father and son the kind of authentic texture that is simply beautiful.
The child is also exposed to a mother played by Margot Robbie, who is almost a caricature of the classic stiff-upper-lip young woman whose everything is described in euphemism and who has no tolerance for anything that might digress and spill over, emotionally. It is the maid, Olive (Kelly Macdonald) who is capable of getting down to the level of this be-smocked tousle-haired child to give him succour and to protect him from the vagaries of becoming the boy whose name is on the lips of everyone.
The film focuses in great detail on the birth of Winnie the Pooh and all the family idiosyncrasies which make it happen. And then it pans to the horror of fame and the intrusiveness of fans and the media into Christopher Robin Milne’s life. Stitched up as it begins, around the spectre of World War, it’s a subtle tale which brings the most horrible of possible news on a bicycle. But there are twists in the material that make it an essay in gentle nostalgia.
It’s curious as to why it was been whipped off the Cinema Nouveau circuit within a few weeks of being released in South Africa. The good news is that it is already accessible as a DVD. A delicious slice of Edwardian life, it’s a film that may not change your life, but it will bring you a carefully crafted dollop of some extra special beauty.
Goodbye Christopher Robin is directed by Simon Curtis and features a cast headed by Sam Barnes, Amber Batty, Victoria Bavister, Rolan Bell, Nick Blakeley, Sarah Jayne Butler, Stephen Campbell Moore, Jim Cartwright, Richard Clifford, Simon Connolly, Grace Curtis, Matilda Curtis, Shaun Dingwall, Richard Dixon, Vincent Finch, Lance C. Fuller, Domhnall Gleeson, Harper Gray, Stanley Hamlin, Louis Harrison, Dexter Hyman, Sonny Hyman, Cameron Lane, Phoebe Lyons, Alex Lawther, Kelly Macdonald, Allegra Marland, Richard McCabe, Mark McKerracher, Kevin Millington, Vicki Pepperdine, Robert Portal, Nicholas Richardson, Margot Robbie, Tommy Rodger, Mossie Smith, Geraldine Somerville, Mark Tandy, Ann Thwaite, Will Tilston, Phoebe Wallter-Bridge and Simon Williams. It is written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan. Produced by Steve Christian and Damian Jones, it features creative input by Carter Burwell (music), Ben Smithard (cinematography), Victoria Boydell (editing), Alex Johnson (casting) and David Roger (production). Release date: March 15 2018.
PRETTY boys, stolen moment. Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer). Photograph courtesy vox.com
THE FACT THAT James Ivory’s screenplay for Call Me By Your Name got this year’s Oscar nod seems like the Academy Awards was trying to bend over backwards for LGBTI issues. The irony is that this pretty, pretty film, which goes under the guise of being LGBTI-sensitive, nay erotic, is about nothing more than a gay relationship seen through a cisgender prism. And instead of a message about happy, valiant love, in a world where it’s all taboo, you get one about dishonesty and stealth, punting the women in the tale as foils for sexual frustration rather than real characters.
When you see the trailer of the work, you may believe that this is the most perfect, idiosyncratic little maverick piece of filmography ever. And set in some Italian village in the 1980s, it bears the kind of quirky rural iridescence that is present in The Durrells, a 2017 British series set on the island of Corfu, all replete as it is with ripe fruit and growing olives. But as the plot unfolds, red herrings sprout up from all corners of the narrative tossing Greek sculptures from Antiquity to the wind and leaving you primarily with a story about lust in its most direct reflection, even sweeping aside issues of sexuality.
A sultry, sulky, beautiful 17-year-old named Elio (Timothée Chalamet) gets all itchy with lust for a person at least 10 years older than him (Armie Hammer), Oliver, who has come to work as a research assistant with Elio’s dad (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archaeology. It takes a while for Elio to get his leg over, but then there’s no turning back. And indeed, had this couple been heterosexual, the plot would not have shifted.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the beauty of sex being represented on screen, but once the sex in this film begins, all else collapses by way of character definition, plot, pragmatic constants or anything else, and you find yourself between the penises, the hands and the mouths of exquisite young men, over and over and over again. It’s not explicit in the crass sense, but much of the work is sacrificed in the name of delicate, urgent whispers cast over sweaty sheets.
It’s lust so direct and unsubtle that the story cannot but end tragically, but you’re not equipped for the hairpin bend that brings confessions of the father’s personal failures into the mix. When you’re 17, are you fully formed enough to understand the complexities of “being in love” or is it just about jerking off into a nectarine? When you’re 17, how do issues of ultimate betrayal look? Which brings you to puzzle the value of this film.
From another angle, when you’re telling a story and your central protagonist is 17 and gay and it’s the horrendous 1980s where Aids is a thing and the world still reels with shards and secrets and threats of homophobia, is it sensible to toss all that context in the bin and just focus on some pretty screwing?
Call Me By Your Name pretends to be a sweet love story with a gay twist, but it leaves you perplexed about issues of wholeness and pain, bias and lessons that get left abandoned in the premises of the tale. Is it about the promiscuity of Greeks from Antiquity? Is it about the loneliness of being Jewish in a city that is Catholic? Neither, it seems. This is a film about sex, plain and simple. But is sex ever plain and simple? This is not a foray into pornography, but it might leave you feeling grubby and unsatisfied.
Call Me By Your Name is directed by Luca Guadagnino and features a cast headed by André Aciman, Elena Bucci, Vanda Capriolo, Amira Casar, Timothée Chalamet, Victoire du Bois, Esther Garrel, Armie Hammer, Antonio Rimoldi, Marco Sgrosso, Peter Spears and Michael Stuhlbarg. It is written by James Ivory based on the novel by André Aciman. Produced by Emilie Georges, Luca Guadagnino, James Ivory, Marco Morabito, Howard Rosenman, Peter Spears and Rodrigo Teixeira, it features creative input by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (cinematography), Walter Fasano (editing), Stella Savino (casting), Samuel Deshors (production design) and Guilia Piersanti (costumes). Release date: February 23 2018.
VAN Gogh’s portrait of Pere Tanguy (played by John Sessions) corrupted into life. Photograph courtesy maturetimes.co.uk
VINCENT VAN GOGH spent 37 tortured years on this planet. He was easily one of the most prolific artists the modern world has seen, but he’s also a key figure in visual culture because he has become emblematic of the popular cliché which reflects on a poor man with oodles of talent holed up in a freezing garret with just his absinthe and his unsellable paintings to keep him company. The story follows the chap to his early sad grave, and then sees his work exploding in value on the commercial sphere. It’s an old story, but it’s also van Gogh’s.
And in being so, has become grist for the commercial mill, which has ground out yet another cliché-ridden, disrespectful extrapolation on van Gogh’s life in the form of Loving Vincent. It clearly did have good intentions, which feel from the outset like a vanity project: but what you see on the big screen is precious and cute; it’s hard on the eye and overall wooden in its narrative.
The story focuses on the possible causes of Van Gogh’s suicide in 1890 and, armed with letter written to his brother Theo, the piece casts a faux historical narrative around a quest for the truth. On a level, it’s like a thriller. Or at least, on paper, it might have read as such. But for a full length movie to feature jagged stop-frame-animation, is a hell of a thing. It’s a migraine-inducing thing which causes you to have to rest your eyes much of the time.
And it’s a total mystery why the makers of Loving Vincent didn’t knock on the door of more seasoned animators. Animation isn’t, after all, a new medium in this world. So what you get is a bumpy, self-consciously artsy ride which makes the actors’ voices feel like voice-overs and which separates character from performance, from spoken words in a way which blatantly bruises the fluidity of the story.
But there’s more. The act of taking a painting and reducing it to a milli-second of filmed time in the name of the telling of an animated story is outrageously disrespectful. For several tiny seconds in this much-too-long film, you get a glimpse of images of the paintings themselves before they were corrupted by this animation project. And the biggest casualty in this is that the work is not about the art. It’s about hypotheses as to why one disturbed man kills himself. The art just becomes an incidental novelty. A crass little cherry on top of a big budget project.
And while we’re talking crass, let’s not forget that the title of the thing is a derivation from how Vincent signed his letters to his brother Theo: Your loving Vincent. The makers of this film could not even respect the intimacy of this complex brotherly love and felt the need to interject their commercial presence in even this.
Vincent van Gogh was the father of a certain type of visual expression. He was not an Englishman. None of the people with whom he fraternised or fought, were English. His is not an English story. And yes, perhaps this film is made for an English speaking audience, but seriously? The range of distinct English accents in this film further blurs over historical veracity or any pretense of it. Had this been in Dutch with English sub-titles, it might have held a modicum of value. Had it even been in English with Dutch and French accents, similarly so. But here, you get nothing.
And as you sit there, feeling irritated by the cloying van Gogh clichés which wash over you with a slick and supercilious resonance, you quietly think, at least they’re not touting that 1971 Don McLean song, Starry Starry Night. But stop right there: it’s there, too, in all its syrupy sentimentality, interpreted by Lianne La Havas in this iteration.
This morass of sickly and superficial Van Gogh adulation does little for an understanding of the artist, his work and his desperate illness which led to his death. And above all, it’s a chore to watch – with an entertainment factor standing way under par.
Loving Vincent is directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman and features a cast headed by Bozena Berlinska-Bryzek, Douglas Booth, Josh Burdett, Borys Dominiuk, Kamila Dyoubari, Holly Earl, Jerome Flynn, Przemyslaw Furdak, James Greene, Robert Gulaczyk, Keith Heppenstall, Martin Herdman, Robin Hodges, Cezary Lukaszewicz, Helen McCrory, Chris O’Dowd, Adam Pabudzinski, Piotr Pamula, Graham Pavey, Saoirse Ronan, John Sessions, Anastazja Seweryn, Marcin Sosinski, Bertlomiej Sroka, Joe Stuckey, Nina Supranionek, Bill Thomas, Eleanor Tomlinson and Aidan Turner. It is written by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Jacek Dehnel. Produced by Ivan Mactaggart, it features creative input by Clint Mansell (music), Tristan Oliver and Lukasz Zal (cinematography), Dorota Kobiela and Justyna Wierszynska (editing), Jennifer Duffy (casting) and Dorota Roqueplo (costumes). Release date: February 23 2018.
I see you: Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) opposite the creature (Doug Jones). Photograph courtesy www.indiewire.com
YOU MIGHT SIT there in the auditorium watching Guillermo del Toro’s film The Shape of Water, and quietly begin to think you’ve stepped into a time-zone. This beautifully crafted fantasy love story is like a rendition of 1950s schlock horror tradition ramped up all the way. It’s a delight to watch from beginning to end and contains all the fabulously one-dimensional stereotypes that leave you in no doubt as to who the good guys and the baddies are.
Set in the early 1960s in the mad little heart of the Cold War, the piece presents the American guys opposite the Russians in a quest for scientific advancement. At the heart of all of it, is a kind of amphibious beast with an utterly beautiful texture and a guileless face. Played by Doug Jones, he’s the quintessential colonialist’s dream: exotic and unknown, he’s kept as a government secret and both sides want to do a spot of vivisection to see what he’s made of.
That is, until Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) discovers him.
Endowed with a peculiarly self-deprecating physicality, fitting a mute, damaged and introverted young woman who is almost completely alone, and works a strange routine, where her job, alongside her pal Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is to clean the latrines of the facility, Elisa is the “Fay Wray” in this quirky love story. And it will wring your heart in the finest of ways.
There follows a delicious tale of discovery and boiled eggs, of explicit white male malevolence, homophobia and racism, and a rip-roaring adventure which sees rotten fingers tossed on the lounge carpet, a smashed up teal Cadillac which will make you roar with schadenfreude and some monster sex, not to mention the seductive use of Glenn Miller’s wonderful swing standard I know why. Oh, and water, there’s lots of water.
It’s as poetic an extrapolation of the genre as you can imagine and the sentiments sing with the kind of monster narrative that saw Wray in the arms of King Kong more than 80 years ago, and left audience members weeping. Replete with the dark green Art Deco tiles on the walls everywhere, and the insane nuances of Hawkins with her other friend in all the world, Giles (Richard Jenkins) a gay graphic designer who mourns his lost hair, the work is completely delicious, offering as it does, insight into the complexities of Cold War society with all its crude and petty races for new technology, and its deep biases and tendency toward social violence.
Featuring a lovely little cameo with Michael Stuhlbarg (of A Serious Man fame), as the Russian Dr Robert Hoffstetler, aka “Dimitri”, who recognises the ability of the monster to communicate and indeed to love, it’s the kind of film that will leave your heart dancing with a mix of nostalgia for comics and how stories were told, and a love of the underdog monster who is neglected or ousted by social etiquette.
The Shape of Water is directed by Guillermo del Toro and features a cast headed by Evgeny Akimov, Stewart Arnott, Nigel Bennett, Shaila D’Onofrio, Madison Ferguson, Deney Forrest, Diego Fuentes, Allegra Fulton, Karen Glave, Jayden Greig, Jonelle Gunderson, Sally Hawkins, David Hewlett, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, John Kapelos, Marvin Kaye, Morgan Kelly, Cameron Laurie, Dan Lett, Wendy Lyon, Brandon McKnight, Sergey Nikonov, Vanessa Oude-Reimerink, Alexey Pankratov, Martin Roach, Nick Searcy, Michael Shannon, Lauren Lee Smith, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Cody Ray Thompson, Edward Tracz, Dru Viergever, Danny Waugh and Clyde Whitham. Featuring a screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, it is produced by J Miles Dale and Guillermo del Toro and features creative input by Alexandre Desplat (music), Dan Laustsen (cinematography), Sidney Wolinsky (editing), Robin D Cook (casting), Paul D Austerberry (production design) and Luis Sequiera (costumes). Release date: January 19 2018.
WAITING to hear what’s what: Newsroom dynamics with the cast of The Post. Photograph courtesy foxmovies.com
THE MESSY BEAST of the print media, in all its procedural glory and inky mechanisms comes under scrutiny in this completely magnificent Steven Spielberg film that deals with the notorious Pentagon papers. Featuring Meryl Streep opposite Tom Hanks in the leads, it tells the story of the Washington Post, a family-run paper, which finds itself fighting beyond its size for national credibility in the face of secret government documents that contradict the need for the longevity of the Vietnam War.
And of course, you know how the film will end, but getting from point A to point B is not the primary point of the work. It’s a story about the early 1970s with all its sexism and women’s big hairdos, about the values that are projected by the media and about the need in the world for a free press. More than all of this, it’s a work that grants you gritty and wonderful insight into the pre-computer era energy of a newspaper newsroom, where the need for accuracy is tantamount and the smoke and stress of the pooled environment of committed professionals attests to the collaborative passion that made a print newspaper the beautiful thing it was.
Streep utterly shines in this complex role – Katharine Graham inherited her role as publisher of The Post when her husband, Phillip committed suicide in 1963. Armed with a fierce belief in the value of the paper and great loyalty to its heritage, she steered it through the muddy and oft bloody waters of the Pentagon papers to a victory that changed the nature of the media and government secrets, going forward. Streep embodies this woman who teeters between the cultural imperatives of men and women in a world run by men in suits and ties, with characteristic grace and elegance.
You will see interesting cameos by the likes of Michael Stuhlbarg – who you might recognise from the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man – in the role of Abe Rosenthal, the editor of the New York Times, as you will see beautiful reflections of the nub and texture of 1970s American social protocol. It’s a true tale of the meaning of integrity in a world on the cusp of madness, and is the kind of film you need to buy and keep in your repertoire of great classics.
Similar, in a sense, to the 1976 film The Network, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, The Post offers astute insights into the value of the media in society. There are caveats enfolded into its nuances that point to the way in which society is broken or kept whole by the pen and opinion of the team of journalist, sub-editor and editor, who bring their readers what matters.
The Post is directed by Steven Spielberg and features a cast headed by Saul Alvarez, Celeste Arias, Kelly AuCoin, Tom Bair, Estelle Bajou, David Aaron Baker, Jordan Baker, Seth Barrish, David Beach, Will Blomker, Walter Brandes, Alison Brie, Dan Bittner, Susan Blackwell, Annika Boras, Dan Bucatinsky, Brendan Burke, Brian Burton, Philip Casnoff, Carrie Coon, Lilli Cooper, David Costable, John Henry Cox, Michael Cyril Creighton, Rick Crom, David Cross, Thaddeus Daniels, Juliana Davies, Johanna Day, Will Denton, Michael Devine, Brett Diggs, Curzon Dobell, Jon Donahue, Francis Dumaurier, Jennifer Dundas, Caleb Eberhardt, Gary Galone, Odiseas Georgiadis, Deborah Green, Bruce Greenwood, Tom Hanks, Pat Healy, Angus Hepburn, Rick Holmes, Christopher Innvar, Lauren Lim Jackson, Mark Jacoby, Austyn Johnson, Brittney Johnson, Cullen Oliver Johnson, Steven Kearney, JaQwan J Kelly, Leslie Kujo, Tracy Letts, Brent Langdon, Fenton Lawless, Ben Livingston, Jerry Lobrow, Kevin Loreque, Deirdre Lovejoy, Stephen Mailer, Ginger Mason, Hazel Mason, Don McCloskey, Carolyn McCormick, Gannon McHale, Robert McKay, Shawn Allen McLaughlin, Sean Meehan, Kelly Miller, Jessie Mueller, Joel Nagle, Patrick Noonan, Ned Noyes, Shaun O’Hagan, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Sage Oyen, Sarah Paulson, Coral Peña, Matthew Piazzi, Mark Pinelli, Jesse Plemons, Frank Ridley, James Riordan, Matthew Rhys, Stephen Rowe, John Rue, Amy Russ, Stark Sands, Kaylyn Scardefield, Armand Schultz, Luke Slattery, Brett G Smith, Cotter Smith, Sasha Spielberg, Sawyer Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Michael Stuhlbarg, Justin Swain, Clarke Thorell, Kenneth Tigar, Joseph Tudisco, Sonny Valicenti, Anthony M Walker, Peter Van Wagner, Theis Weckesser, Aaron Roman Weiner, Jeremiah Wiggins, Steve Witting, Bradley Whitford, Gary Wilmes, Catherine Wolf and Zach Woods. It is written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, and produced by Kristie Macosko Krieger, it features creative input by John Williams (music), Janusz Kaminski (cinematography), Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn (editing), Ellen Lewis (casting) Rick Carter (production design), and Ann Roth (costumes). Release date: January 26 2018.
TAKING the world on with integrity: Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) and Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), her lawyer. Photograph courtesy www.theverge.com
THE CHALLENGE OF telling a complicated story in bold brush strokes in such a way that detail and nuance are not part of the casualties is a stiff one. The creative team behind Molly’s Game has achieved almost the impossible with this finely honed piece of filmography that is at once beautiful and sexy, intelligent and thought-provoking. It is informative and has a moral core; it’s magnificent to look at and will keep your conversations for weeks after you’ve seen it, peppered with suppositions and reminiscences.
On one level, it’s a poker movie. But if you’re not a poker buff, it doesn’t matter. The game and its morality, the energy behind its allure, are portrayed with a slick suaveness that never becomes self-indulgent. Indeed, there are explanatory overlays that speak of the potency of different hands, and it’s a directorial feat achieved with balance.
Similarly, the story is told on an almost documentary level. There’s a narrator to the work which fills in the narrative interstices and lends the story historical flow without dumbing down the performances or making them illustrative.
And then, there is Jessica Chastain in the leading role. She’s beautiful in the sense that LA-film critic Mick La Salle describes French actresses: there’s a realness, an almost harshness, to her which lifts her stature beyond that of bimbo and into the messy realm of high-end gambling behind closed doors. She really looks at the characters she interfaces with, and she embodies her character with a wrenching earnestness that never feels forced.
As the trailer will show you, there’s lots of high velocity gambling, with the lights, the bling, the revealing dresses and the dodgy rich men. But what the trailer doesn’t show you is the deeply intellectual soul of the story.
It’s the true tale of Olympic skier Molly Bloom, who is shaped by the urge to conquer the most difficult challenges, an urge which takes her in a completely different direction to what any of her fans or enemies might have imagined. It’s a tale with heart and soul, blending and twisting James Joyce’s Ulysses and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible deliciously into its narrative and its screenplay.
With honed and strong performances by Idris Elba and Kevin Costner, it’s a work that foregrounds a young woman’s relationship to men in power, and there are psychological themes and intellectual choruses in the work which are allowed to develop in strata.
In short, this yarn, which touches all mythologist Joseph Campbell’s values about the way in which a hero’s life story is constructed, is tight and intelligently made. There are simply no flaws in it. And you will not be satisfied with a single watching of it. This is one of those films that slides into classic status automatically.
Molly’s Game is directed by Aaron Sorkin and features a cast headed by Gurdeep Ahluwalla, Mary Ashton, Nicholas Banks, Jon Bass, Tom Black, Jacob Blair, Chris Boyle, Steve Brandes, Gary Brennan, Joey Brooks, Catherine Burdon, Bill Camp, Jessica Chastain, Michael Cera, Laura Cilevitz, Ari Cohen, Michael Cohen, Kevin Costner, Brian d’Arcy James, Karl Danhoffer, Todd Thomas Dark, Lizzy DeClement, Linette Doherty, Dennis Drummond, Dan Duran, Idris Elba, Frank Falcone, David Gingrich, Jake Goldsbie, Zachary Goodbaum, Angela Gots, Graham Greene, Shane Harbinson, Thomas Hauff, Daoud Heidami, Stephanie Herfield, Kjartan Hewitt, Chris Hoffman, Piper Howell, James Hurlburg, Samantha Isler, Morgan David Jones, Tommy Julien, Jeff Kassel, Joe Keery, Robert B Kennedy, Justine Kirk, Khalid Klein, Michael Kostroff, Natalie Krill, John Krpan, David Lafontaine, Maria Lerinman, Dan Lett, Ken Linton, Alanna Macaulay, JC MacKenzie, Bo Martyn, Matthew D Matteo, Madison McKinley, Elisa Moolecherry, Timothy Mooney, Duane Murray, John Nelles, Randy Noojin, Chris O’Dowd, Chris Owens, Vasilios Pappas, Jeffrey Parazzo, Whitney Peak, AC Peterson, Jason Pithawalla, Phil Primmer, Jonathan Purdon, Claire Rankin, Robin Read, David Reale, Amy Rutherford, Victor Serfaty, Chris Siddiqi, Rachel Skartsten, Tony Stellisano, Amy Stewart, Rae Anne Stroeder, Jeremy Strong, George Tchortov, Dov Tiefenbach, Vladimir Tsyglian, Rico Tudico, Alyssa Veniece, Bruno Verdoni, Leo Vernik, Jason Weinberg and Moti Yona. It is written by Aaron Sorkin, based on Molly Bloom’s autobiography. Produced by Mark Gordon, Matt Jackson and Amy Pascal, it features creative input by Daniel Pemberton (music), Charlotte Bruus Christensen (cinematography), Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham and Josh Schaeffer (editing), Francine Maisler (casting), David Wasco (production design) and Susan Lyall (costume design). Release date: January 12 2018.
VILLAIN in a steam train: Johnny Depp plays the wicked Mr Ratchett. Photograph courtesy www.variety.com
THERE’S SOMETHING IRREVOCABLY escapist in an Agatha Christie murder mystery. Not for moral reasons, but for the sleight of hand, the twist in the tale and the characters that populate her stories. This remake of the 1974 classic film, featuring a host of enormous names, from Sean Connery to Ingrid Bergman, with David Suchet in the role of the inimitable Hercules Poirot, the greatest detective in the world, at the right place, at the right time, is delightful. It’s not without its flaws, but it is eye candy in the most lovely of ways.
Put a bunch of prominent and distinctive strangers together on a train en route to Istanbul from Jerusalem, with all its Art Deco detail and wood panelling. Pop off one of them, in a sufficiently violent way. And then derail the train, thus trapping all of them, including the killer, whoever he or she may be, in a context where all must be revealed. And there you have the plot, which grows with abandon in curious directions.
But it’s not for the plot that you watch and are seduced by a yarn of this nature. It’s for the characters. Christie’s writing genius was more about her ability to envelop a character in the round, with all his or her idiosyncrasies and hilarious quirks, with all his or her vulnerabilities and hard core beliefs. And she does this in a couple of sentences, a throwaway line or two.
The filmed version of this pays critical attention to detail, in terms of poise and costume, gesture and mien of each of the characters. And while at times you feel that these are constructed and highly polished simulacra rather than characters, as such, each is completely delicious. The work is replete with an unabashed colonialist fascination with Israel – it’s set in 1934 – and a whole range of racist and sexist barbs which need to be understood in the context of the time, but it’s lively and fine entertainment.
To its disservice, however, several of the cast members, including Michelle Pfeiffer as Mrs Hubbard and Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham are seemingly far too young for the roles they embrace. Is it a flaw of make-up and directed performance? Are they really too young? This is a moot point, but as the plot unfolds, and all is revealed, there are generational connections between the cast and these two stick out as anomalies.
Other silly events such as a stabbing which is so lacking in credulity, it is laughable, pepper this work, but they’re events in which all can be forgiven. This rip-roaring and fabulous mystery and its resolution, will cast you in beautiful geographies and exciting climes. The work is generously sprinkled with magnificent cameos which make it happen – from Judi Dench to Johnny Depp, with a soupçon of Penélope Cruz and Derek Jacobi, this is a treat. Kenneth Branagh ably balances his role as Poirot, director and one of the producers of this film, but it does make you wonder what kind of a collaborator he may be in a project of this nature.
And finally a word must be added for Poirot’s moustache which is the main character in many stills. It’s so fabulous, it deserves a credit all of its own.
Murder on the Orient Express is directed by Kenneth Branagh and performed by a cast headed by Ziad Abaza, David Annen, Andy Apollo, Tom Bateman, Nari Blair-Mangat, Todd Boyce, Lucy Boynton, Luke Brady, Kenneth Branagh, Darryl Clark, Richard Clifford, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Phil Dunster, Paapa Essiedu, Hadley Fraser, Josh Gad, Adam Garcia, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Tom Hanson, Yasmin Harrison, Matthew Hawksley, Gerard Horan, Derek Jacobi, Pip Jordan, Ansu Kabia, Hayat Kamille, Marwan Kenzari, Joshua Lacey, Crispin Letts, Elliot Levey, Joseph Long, Anoushka Lucas, Rami Nasr, Asan N’Jie, Leslie Odom Jr, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sergei Polunin, Chris Porter, Miranda Raison, Jack Riddiford, Daisy Ridley, Michael Rouse, Sid Sagar, Irfan Shamji, Harry Lister Smith, Kate Tydman, Kathryn Wilder, Miltos Yerolemou and Yassine Zeroual. It is written by Michael Green based on the eponymous book by Agatha Christie. Produced by Kenneth Branagh, Mark Gordon, Judy Hoffland, Simon Kinberg, Michael Schaefer and Ridley Scott, it features creative input by Patrick Doyle (music), Haris Zambarioukos (cinematography), Mick Audsley (editing), Lucy Bevan (casting), Jim Clay (production design), Rebecca Alleway (set) and Alexandra Byrne (costumes). Release date: November 24 2017.
OPENING cans of worms for dinner: Kathy (Connie Britton), Beatriz (Salma Hayek) and Doug (John Lithgow). Photograph courtesy imdb.com
CRUELTY, HUNTING, MAKING money and having fun at anyone’s expense are some of the values central to Beatriz at Dinner. Others take a holistic, meditative line. Told with clarity, it is a film that is grown up in sense of balance and of narrative. Astonishingly fine performances by Salma Hayek opposite John Lithgow are the cherry on top – but be warned: there are no clear answers in this battle of values, and you will be discussing the nuances of the film itself for weeks.
Beatriz (Hayek) is a healer. But she’s a woman who carries with her a history of great suffering. Born in a small village in Mexico, she lives in suburban America. She meditates. She keeps goats. She’s a vegan. She drives a beat up old Volkswagen. And she dispenses alternative healing to people with cancer at a healing centre.
Enter Kathy (Connie Britton). Living in an exclusive, gated suburb with her husband and much wealth, Kathy is the mother of a young woman who conquered Hodgkin’s Disease with the therapeutic and holistic assistance of Beatriz. The women consider themselves friends.
But there’s a glitch. Beatriz is not white. And there’s a missing beat in how much the two women are able to share, given politics, prejudice and everything in between. A flat car battery forces the hand of fate and finds Beatriz at dinner with Kathy and her husband (David Warshofsky) together with two couples. It’s a formal dinner and a “work related” one, in which Beatriz has no real place.
There follows a deeply cringeworthy set of exchanges in which values come clashing at one another from developed perspectives. The three white couples are honed stereotypes, very well moulded on convention. Beatriz stands out like a sore thumb with her jeans and running shoes, her un-made up face and her unapologetic beliefs, which the long-haired, heavily done up women can only relate to with shallow expletives and gentle faux sympathetic titters.
Doug Strutt (Lithgow) is the mogul they all want to impress. He’s big, loud and unambiguously bombastic and egocentric. He gets his thrills from canned hunting. To him, wives are a thing about acquisition – he’s currently on number three (Amy Landecker). In short, by conventional accounts, this is a hideous character. He cares more for the sating of his hedonistic character’s whims than for the sanctity of other people’s lives – let alone the trees and birdlife his very many projects will destroy in the process. It’s all about him.
And thus Beatriz meets Doug. She’s earnest and shocked. He’s patronising and smarmy. But wait: you may think this is a tale of good versus evil. You may think you know which values are represented by which character. You may think this is all cut and dried. To the film-makers’ credit, Beatriz at Dinner presents both sides of the argument with nuance and complexity. Bringing in a touch of magic realism, the work is a parable and features an ending that perplexes you into thinking about the parameters of victory and defeat.
On paper, the character of Beatriz seems a naive bleeding heart liberal, a crackpot with values that have no place in the real world. Strutt seems a cardboard cut-out, beating the proverbial drum for jobs, wealth and a western sense of nakedly acquisitive progress, where blood can be found beneath anything beautiful. On screen, Hayek and Lithgow lend these roles an unequivocal three-dimensionality, allowing the work to sizzle and haunt.
Beatriz at Dinner is directed by Miguel Arteta and is performed by Natalia Abelleyra, Amanda Borella, Connie Britton, Enrique Castillo, Jay Duplass, John Early, Salma Hayek, Amy Landecker, John Lithgow, Sean O’Bryan, Chloë Sevigny, Soledad St Hilaire and David Warshofsky. It is written by Mike White. Produced by Aaron L. Gilbert, David Hinojosa, Pamela Koffler and Christine Vachon, it features creative input by Mark Mothersbaugh (music), Wyatt Garfield (cinematography), Jay Deuby (editing), Joanna Colbert and Meredith Tucker (casting), Ashley Fenton (production design), Madelaine Frezza (set) and Christina Blackaller (costumes). Release date: November 29 2017.