Quick Fire Review : Selma

Here’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

David “what do you mean there are no decent British roles for coloured actors” Oyelowo, Carmen “I’m not Tessa Thompson” Ejogo, Oprah “even I can’t get Ava DuVernay an Oscar Nomination” Winfrey, Tom & Tim “no Americans were harmed in the making of this film” Wilkinson & Roth, Lorraine “My glasses need their own Oscar” Toussaint, Dylan “always the creepiest dude in the room” Baker.

What is it about?

In the fight for Civil Rights, Martin Luther King takes the cause of the people of Selma to the US President. He highlights how Selma’s black citizens face enormous trials in registering for their legal right to vote and brutality at the hands of the authorities in the town.

Why did I want to watch it?

Black Woman director, check, Oscar baity biopic of an important political figure, check, Costume porn…

Did I like it?

The performances are majestic, the script is fabulous, it’s wonderfully paced and the scenery is beautifully shot. The dramatic tension is maintained throughout, whether the political standoffs or personal ones, and even though some serious injustices are given an airing, I didn’t feel bludgeoned by it (unlike Oprah).  The drama is excellently played and it felt like natural storytelling rather than historical lecturing.

I have always voted and this film reminded me why, even in the face of limited ideological differences between political parties, it is still important to try and have my say on things I care about, because people fought hard with their lives for that basic right.

It also reflects really well  how the Oscars voting system works, if you aren’t there to have a voice then you won’t be represented.

Should you watch it?

Absolutely. It has hit my top 3 of the Best Picture nominees – Birdman & Whiplash are the 2 others.

I also think it should be a stalwart of schools History lessons.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  http://bechdeltest.com/

It does, I only caught one scene, but it’s a great one with Coretta King discussing her role and struggles as Martin Luther King’s wife.

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

Spike Lee’s, Malcolm X, for another side of the story, Talk To Me for a more light hearted biopic directed by an overlooked woman director – it also touches on the death of Dr King.

ELC

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Quick Fire Review: The Theory of Everything

Who is in it?

Eddie “can you hear the people sing?” Redmayne, Felicity Jones and David “will always be Lupin in my eyes” Thewlis

What is it about?

The story of the genius physicist Stephen Hawking, his diagnosis of motor neurone disease and his relationship with his ex-wife, Jane. The film is an adaptation of her memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.

Why did I want to watch it?

I am always drawn to biopics and having recently seen and loved The Imitation Game, I wanted to once again, hear a relatively unknown  story of  someone extraordinary.

Did I like it?

I thought it was excellent! I had expected to cry and the film delivered on that level. Am I the only person who goes to the cinema wanting to cry? I heard that Stephen Hawking had an almost unrivalled sense of humour, but I hadn’t expected to laugh so much either! A very uplifting film which was very welcome in the post-Christmas gloom.

Should you watch it?

Yes, if you enjoy hearing remarkable stories. Don’t be put off though, by the “science bit” – certainly too much for an ex-Arts student like me! The period parts set at Cambridge are lovely and good viewing for anyone who wishes they could keep on learning and revisit campus days!

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  http://bechdeltest.com/

Once again, no. Although, I forgive Jane, she is after all,  remaining strong against remarkable odds.

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

Eddie Redmayne has thus far gone under my radar – he was ok in Les Mis, but his performance as Hawking was moving. Felicity Jones was divine! I shall now be looking at her filmography and maybe looking up The Invisible Woman from 2013 for which she was nominated for a BIFA Best Actress award and from 2011, Like Crazy.

Having said that, this is surely her best performance to date and I await a “Big O” nomination on January 15.

LB

Quick Fire Review: BiRDMAN

Birdman poster

Birdman poster

Here’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

Micheal “BatBirdman” Keaton, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Lindsay Duncan

What is it about?

An actor, known primarily for his role as a vigilante comic book film franchise tries to relaunch his career by directing and starring in a Broadway production, he encounters various demons along the way in his struggle to redefine his career.

Why did I want to watch it?

I actually didn’t know much about it except that the trailer is intriguing and Micheal Keaton as Beetlejuice is one of my favourite film characters so I reckoned it would be worth a punt.  I really loved Amores Perros, but found 21 Grams a bit hard going at the time, but knew that everything Alejandro González Iñárritu does is dramatic and interesting so thought it would be worth a look.

Did I like it?

I really did, it kept me intrigued with some pretty fabulous acting and unpredictable flights of fancy mixed with a very solid script which explored the nature of celebrity and acting, as well as the complicated relationships with families – real and constructed.  The entire cast was great,Michael Keaton was thoroughly dynamic  and Edward Norton brought something I’d never seen in him before and showed immense versatility veering between happy go lucky and morose, Naomi Watts was in equal turns sweet, vulnerable and alluring, Emma Stone personified angst, disdain and insecurity (also do any references to Spiderman in a film she’s in count as an ironic shoutout?)

Should you watch it?

As much as I enjoyed it, it isn’t for everyone.  It’s topics include substance abuse & depression, the narcissistic values of the acting profession and has a pretty abhorrent scene at one point, that might leave a bitter taste in your mouth. That said it’s very interesting and pretty unpredictable and in a sea of movies that don’t make you think, this one does.

If you want a more in depth opinion (it’s quite spoilery), this is an alternative review which presents a different take (referenced through the Bechdel test entry). http://www.forbes.com/sites/markhughes/2014/10/24/review-birdman-tries-too-hard-to-say-too-little/

Does it pass the Bechdel Test? http://bechdeltest.com/

This is an interesting debate.  There is a major conversation between 2 actresses borne out of the frustration with their respective partners, which contains a discussion of their careers and ambitions. I would say on balance no in the defense of it’s treatment of women, but there is a pleasing number and age range of actresses, of varying temepraments.

Other films it reminds me of:

Bullets Over Broadway.  Admittedly I rewatched it recently so it’s in my head, but the themes of a troubled theatrical production, the struggles and anxiety of reception and what it is to be “an artist”and what to do when you miscast someone, recur here.

Watch this before/as well/after:

I you’ve never seen Andrea Riseborough in The Devil’s Whore, you should and then you will ask the inevitable question, why isn’t Andrea Riseborough more famous.

Edward Norton as Mike in Birdman (I paraphrase): “Writing, directing and starring in your own play, that’s a bold move” Folks I present you with – Keeping The Faith, a comedy directed by and starring Edward Norton.  Talk about playing against type.

Do you really need me to tell you to rewatch Beetlejuice?

Amores Perros – Love is a bitch don’t you know!

ELC

Quick Fire Review: The Fault In Our Stars

TFIOS

Here’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort , Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe

What is it about?

2 teenagers meet at a cancer support group and fall in love. Hilarity ensues. Well more hilarity ensues than you would expect.

Why did I want to watch it?

John Green is an incredibly interesting person who vlogs to his brother once a week, does fabulous work for charity including projectforawesome , has a fan community called Nerdfighters (of which I am a part) and is also a very good, Forbes honoured, writer of fiction.  He wrote the book for the film I am reviewing here today. If he hadn’t done all the things I mentioned, I would never have been introduced to his writing, and subsequently this film.  The Green brothers’ motto is Don’t Forget To Be Awesome (DFTBA). He is frequently awesome and so since I enjoyed the book and knew of his involvement with the film, I had high expectations.

Did I like it?

The film plays around with the clichés around cancer stories and whilst not entirely schmaltz free, certainly has a discernible edge. This is not a predictable story. You may think you will be able to guess the ending but you won’t and hopefully, like me, you will be charmed by it, irrespective of if you are familiar with the book.

I found it refreshing and sweet and the casting choices are exceptional.  I am pretty sure there is no one else who could play Willem Defoe’s character and the other choices fit seamlessly into my head when reading the book (which I did the minute I finished the film).

It was one of the most interesting book adaptations I have encountered. I expected things to be cut out for the compressed timeframe of the film, however they have played fast and loose with the book’s timeline without losing the core integrity of the book or significantly changing the message…enjoy what life you have.

NB: This is a criticism of the film which is a comparison with the book which in no way detracts from the quality of the film.

The film loses almost all of the beautiful literary passages from the book, which I understand, but I missed them – not least the Shakespearian quote of the title – and am hoping for some on the dvd extras.

Should you watch it?

What is your tolerance for tearjerkers?  Anywhere form moderate to high – this is a must see.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  http://bechdeltest.com/

Yep, plenty of lovely mother and daughter chats. The named female characters barely talk about men at all (they are preoccupied with higher concerns). On a side note – the father-daughter chats are also lovely.

Other films it DOSEN’T remind me of:

Sweet November, 50/50, Steel Magnolias, Love and Other Drugs.  They all have a place in my heart (well not 50/50) but this film carves its own bittersweet tale.

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

Read the book.  It is worth your time.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower, another interesting book adaptation featuring young people dealing with life and the myriad challenges it presents.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries webseries created by John Green’s brother, Hank. Pride & Prejudice as a youtube blog.  It really works.

The  Vlogbrothers videos – example https://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers?hl=en-GB&gl=GB

ELC

Quick Fire Review: Belle

Belle

Here’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Sam Reid, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Penelope Wilton.

What is it about?

One those “we’ll flesh out the life of a real person” period dramas.

Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay was the daughter of a naval officer and a slave, making her upbringing amongst the aristocracy somewhat complicated.  Wealthy but  illegitimate she needs to navigate a society not wholly comfortable with her race.

Why did I want to watch it?

I really really like the fact that someone made a period drama about a feisty young black woman.  This ticks my romcom, period drama and representation boxes.  Also I saw a film by Amma Asante  called “A Way Of Life” a few years back and it allowed me to answer the question “so how many black, british, female directors can you name?” with “2” (thank you too Gurinder Chanda)

Did I like it?

It was stylishly shot and the performances are first rate across the board, which is only to be expected from such a classy cast.  Its themes are straight out of Austen – Love vs Money, can a woman choose who she marries,  as you grow how do you learn to define and identify yourself in spite of how others define you.  It also tackles Britain’s tricky relationship with slavery.

There is a slight imbalance in that all the characters who are outright horrible to Dido are screamingly racist, whereas their views would have been pretty popular in that society, but Emily Watson’s character straddles the line of discussing how far society is willing to tolerate Dido, as opposed to accept her.

Should you watch it?

I can’t recommend it enough, although, obviously if you hate period dramas then this won’t be your thing and the legal bits are a tad on the dry side.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  http://bechdeltest.com/

It passes both the Bechdel and Racial Bechdel tests. In one scene it passes them both at the same time, which is pretty sweet.  This is balanced of course by the fact that after race, the key theme is the fact that women are given a value based both on wealth and status in regards to family or any taints that might be associated with their birth.

Other films it reminds me of:

The Young Victoria, The Duchess, Sense and Sensibility, Amistad

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:   

Lost In Austen, another period drama featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (although not in period garb), The Good Wife, because really you need to see a bit more of Mathew Goode, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, because Tom Wilkinson is always delightful and Blackadder to ask why Miranda Richardson isn’t working more.

Also A Way of Life to see Amma Asante’s earlier film, although definitely have a Disney film cued up to follow it.

 

ELC

Quick Fire Review: X-Men Days Of Future Past

X Men days of Future Past Poster

X Men Days of Future Past

Here’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

The gang’s all here and then some – James McStewart, Ian McFassbender, HughMcJackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter (wasn’t he Black before?) Dinklage, Nicholas McFrasier and starring Anna Paquin in billing displacement.

What is it about?

Call that a last stand – this is a last stand!  In the future the world has destroyed and enslaved its citizens using super machines – born of an idea spawned in the 70s.  Can the X-Men change the past and avoid the extinsticon of both mutants and humans…?

Why did I want to watch it?

At this point if you aren’t expecting me to review this, you don’t know me very well Internet.

Did I like it?

I preferred X Men First Class, but this is an enjoyable addition to an, at times very rocky, franchise.  It unites some fabulous actors but also sacrifices screen time for some of my favourites.  Overall though it has some excellent moments and does something wonderful for thefuture of the film series which I won’t spoiler.  

Should you watch it?

Yes. it is good fun, and could stand with First Class without needed to see other films in the Xmen canon if you chose not to.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  http://bechdeltest.com/

Nope, given that actually there are several named female characters  (Storm, Blink, Kitty Pryde, Jean Grey, Rogue, Raven/Mystique) you’d think they’d talk to each other.  In the absence of a pass – Raven/Mystique is wonderfully realised and kicks more ass than any of the other characters combined.

Other films it reminds me of:

Bryan Singer has a distinctive style and it harks back to the best of the first 2 X Men films

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

I would definitely watch First Class. As a series I would watch : XMen 1, Xmen 2, 1st class and this and skip XMen 3 and the Wolverine films.

ELC

Quick Fire Review: Her

HER

Here’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

Joaquin (if there is a Magnum PI remake he’ll be first in line) Phoenix, Amy (where’s my Oscar already) Adams, Scarlett (just the right amount of sweet and sexy) Johansson.

What is it about?

Lonely dude falls in love with his self aware Siri.

Why did I want to watch it?

Spike Jonze is the man behind the Praise You & Weapon of Choice music videos, so he has a great creative vision. The festival reviews had been pretty encouraging. Oh and the Oscar nomination.

Did I like it?

I thought it was great. You have to worry that the idea is a little creepy, but even at its oddest points, the film does a great job of portraying the humanity of loneliness and looking for an ideal companion.

Should you watch it?

There is a good deal of quirk here, so if you like that kind of thing, the acting is top notch so definitely give it a watch.  Joaquin Phoenix is a very sweet romantic lead and Amy Adams balances looking simultaneously normal and adorable.  And who wouldn’t fall in love with the light-hearted whimsy of ScarJo’s voice?

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?

Beats me.  I will say that there are a variety of interesting named female characters, who are people with well defined jobs and lives.  The problem lies with the fact that they don’t talk to each other, defeating the test.  That said there are named OSs with female personas, so it could be argued that they interact with women.  I would say it fails, but raises interesting questions and the female characters are nonetheless well rounded.

Some interesting discussions can be found here : http://bechdeltest.com/view/4860/her/

Other films it reminds me of:

Michel Gondry’s Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind would fit in nicely into this universe.

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

The Master .  Not only a thoroughly bizarre film sharing Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams in prominent roles, its lead is the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

ELC

Quick Fire Review: Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club ImageHere’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

Mathew “one day I’m an oiled up stripper in Florida, next I’m a homophobic Texan” McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto

What is it about?

Ron Woodruff is diagnosed with HIV in the 80s when treatments were few and far between and experimental.  He begins a self-serving crusade to prolong his life by any means necessary and as he learns more about his disease and sees a chance at finding a better treatment he meets bureaucracy and opposition.  He begins to draw scrutiny on the drugs companies bad practices as well as offering hope to fellow sufferers.

Why did I want to watch it?

To give a new answer – this is the kind of Indie film I find intriguing, based on a true story, the little man fighting a big corporation rather than submitting quietly to his fate. Old answer – because I try and watch as many Oscar nominated films as possible, like a crazy obsessed fiend.

Did I like it?

Yes.  It was nicely done, not too overblown with the dramatic aspects of the plot, non-judgmental about how the characters came to be HIV sufferers and felt very real.  In particular the way Ron reacts to his condition and the reactions of his friends is portrayed incredibly movingly.

Can we talk about Jennifer Garner for a little while? She isn’t getting any of the plaudits but her sedate, serious performance was utterly charming.  Jared Leto is also fascinating as Ray, completely self possessed but utterly vulnerable.

Should you watch it?

It’s a touching character portrait, I would definitely recommend it on dvd if you don’t get a chance to catch it at the cinema.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?

I say yes. There are some interesting comments on the site: http://bechdeltest.com/view/4660/dallas_buyers_club/

My view is that Ray is a woman, as this is the gender she self identifies with.  There is a line at one point which suggests she is a pre op transexual, but since she has clearly begun the transgender process she passes the test on all 3 criteria.

Other films it reminds me of:

Philadelphia meets Brokeback Mountain meets Magic Mike!

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

Mathew McConnaghey’s SAG and golden Globes acceptance speeches. They are hilariously random.

ELC

Quick Fire Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Wolf-of-Wall-Street-Header1

Who is in it?

Leonardo DiCaprio leads, Jonah Hill showing us his versatility, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley.

What is it about?

Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, the film follows Belfort from humble beginnings selling penny shares to his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life. To say Belfort lives life in the fast lane is somewhat an understatement. He takes us with him on a non-stop debauched orgy of alcohol, drugs and sex which leads ultimately to his fall at the hands of the FBI.

Why did I want to watch it?

Two reasons, Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese. If you’ve read my post from May 2013 “Why doesn’t Leonardo DiCaprio have an Oscar” you’ll know that LDC is my all-time favourite actor and I was excited to see him in what I think is his best shot yet at Oscar glory. Scorsese is a fabulous auteur and so I assumed Wolf had to be an excellent product of such great talents.

Did I like it?

Yes. Not as much as I wanted to, admittedly, but I enjoyed the film and I was entertained for the whole of the 3 hours of the film’s duration. I laughed much more than I had expected to and Leonardo was fabulous in the leading role – portraying Belfort as a charismatic, greedy self-serving slime ball. The sort of character that you love to hate. To be fair, it could have lost some of the drugs or sex scenes though and overuse of the “f word” became a little much – there’s more than 500 uses apparently!

Should you watch it?

Watch it if you love Scorsese, definitely watch it if you love Leo, watch if you are…. a lad?!? It’s a proper lads film and the cinema I went to watch it in was absolutely packed with groups of men!

Other films it reminds me of:

Goodfellas, or other films about money men – Wall Street (of course), Trading Places, Rogue Trader.

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

Any other Scorsese or Leonardo offering, why not The Departed?
LB

Quick Fire Review: American Hustle

American HustleHere’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper Aka Batman, Lois Lane, Mystique, Hawkeye and The Face (I watch too many fantasy franchises)

There is also fantastic cameo which I won’t spoil but mob bosses don’t come better or scarier.

What is it about?

2 con artists get caught and have to help the FBI to buy their freedom.  An elaborate plot is formed to trap some corrupt politicians, involving an erratic FBI officer, an idealistic mayor, the thief, his lover, his wife and a science oven.

As the film happily declares at the start “some of this actually happened”

Why did I want to watch it?

I’m a sucker for awards bait movies and it’s directed by David “Silver Linings Playbook” O’Russell with a fabulous cast of previous (deserved) Oscar nominees and winners.

Did I like it?

The tone of the film is fun but the story is pretty uneven and I left unsatisfied by the ending.

As expected it was very well acted.  In particular the three male leads, Bale, Renner and Cooper are hilarious in their roles and incredibly entertaining to watch.  Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic and whilst Amy Adams is great as always, but this is not one of my favourite roles for her.

 The soundtrack is notably bizarre but helps with the wacky tone of the movie as do the fantastic costumes.

Should you watch it?

Christian Bale herniated 2 discs slouching for the performance and Jennifer Lawrence immerses herself into her erratic character with sublime skill, continuing her talents .  They alone are worth the price of admission; everything is else is nice dressing.  I wouldn’t call it unmissable, but if you’re a fan of any of the leads you’ll spend a pleasing couple of hours.  Also unlike most Oscar contenders, it is has funny as it is dramatic but is taken incredibly seriously by the industry – not in small part due to the fabulous cast-  which is a fantastic balance to achieve.

 Does it pass the Bechdel Test

Whilst there are several well rounded, feisty characters it only passes the test based on 2 pretty peripheral scenes (2 wives talk about nail polish and Amy Adams talks to a character about her cats).  It’s definitely a case where women are well represented as human beings with their own identities and ambitions, but on the letter of the test it just scrapes through.

Other films it reminds me of:

A hard one, there are many reluctant grifter films, and Irving’s misgivings remind me of the constant feeling of dread of George Clooney’s character in Out of Sight, going along with someone else’s flawed plan but stuck and having to find a way out.  Also Jeremy Renner channels Sean Penn in Milk (without the voice), but I’ll go with Boogie Nights, which in a similar vein, made the 70s look so much cooler than I suspect they actually were.

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

Revisit Junebug for a truly fine Amy Adams performance with American Hustle co-star Alessandro Nivola, Silver Linings for Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence with superb chemistry and The Machinist to see the other end of Christian Bale’s weight spectrum.

ELC