Friday, October 24, 2014

Pride

The 1980s were a stormy time throughout the world but especially in the United Kingdom. With Margaret Thatcher in power, many opposed her government's decisions and she made many enemies throughout her eleven-year reign (and up to her death last year). In a tumultuous time like the eighties, enemies are bound to be made.

One of Thatcher's enemies during this time was the National Union of Mineworkers, thanks to her government's decision to reduce the mining industry. Matthew Warchus' Pride focuses on a group of gay and lesbian activists who raise money to help the miners. Their efforts send them to a Welsh village, resulting in an unusual alliance.

Pride is one of those films that will clearly be called a crowd-pleaser. But unlike some other films that are called the same thing, Pride is actually that the whole time. From beginning to end, the film is an absolute delight. Even when the going gets rough, you're still rooting for them.

With any great British film, the cast is fantastic. The names are amongst the likes of the silver screen (Imelda Stauton, Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine), the TV screen (Dominic West, Joseph Gilgun, Andrew Scott) and all those in between. And every single one of them is great.

Pride is simply a film that everyone should see. Not just because of the quality writing and acting but also because of its depiction of people (well, most people) as open and accepting. It's also a world we should be living in rather than the hate-filled prejudicial society we live in now.

My Rating: *****

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Imitation Game

Ever since his big break in Sherlock four years ago (and once or twice before then), Benedict Cumberbatch has specialized a particular role: the flawed genius. The brilliant mind who earns equal praise and contempt from his peers for his intelligence and arrogance, the latter ultimately leading to his downfall. Is it typecasting? Perhaps, but you can't deny he's good at the role.

He continues this trend in Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game as Alan Turing, the mathematician who cracked Germany's enigma code during World War II. Like many of his other roles, Cumberbatch just radiates an energy unlike any other actor working today. You simply can't take your eyes off him when he's onscreen.

It wasn't arrogance that brought Turing down but rather his lifestyle. (Turing had the misfortune of living in a time where homosexuality was a criminal offence.) But the film doesn't dwell too much on Turing's private life as it does with his achievements, which is both a positive (one shouldn't be judged on their sexual preference) and a negative (opinions on sexuality were much different 60-70 years ago than they are now).

Like several of his last few films, Cumberbatch is alongside an impressive roster of actors. Among some of them are Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Charles Dance, Mark Strong and Rory Kinnear. They're all good, but Knightley's easily the best of them. Most of her past roles have her as only prim and genteel. Here, she has a much more well-rounded role. (And this is coming from someone not overly fond of her, mind you.)

Although cold in some scenes, The Imitation Game stays mostly consistent throughout. The acting and directing are very good, and Alexandre Desplat's score is simply gorgeous. (Very reminiscent of his work for Atonement.) Though flawed, the film shines a light on a man who was praised in secret and condemned for all to see.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bad Education

Lies, temptation and betrayal. These are the three things that make for any film noir. Then again, they could also be applied to any good drama. (Seriously, go watch Gone Girl if you don't think that's true.)

Pedro Almodovar often uses those elements for his films but none more so than Bad Education. A throwback to the noirs of days past, the film shows how even if you know someone, you don't really know them.

Like many of Almodovar's films, Bad Education features the occasional throwaway line that becomes crucial later on in the film. And with this being a tribute to film noirs, this Almodovar trademark becomes all the more relevant. It's a small detail, perhaps, but it's one worth mentioning.

And also like Almodovar's other work, Bad Education focuses on the powers of sex and cinema, To some, they're just casual hobbies. But to the characters of Bad Education, they have a form of healing. Strange forms of solace, perhaps, but they can work well to the right people.

Bad Education is definitely one of those films where the main theme is looks can be deceiving. Everyone wears a mask to those around them. It's only a matter of time before those masks begin to slip off.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, October 5, 2014

BOOK VS MOVIE: Gone Girl

If there's one thing that's never completely perfect, it's marriage. Sure, the early years might seem perfect, but it's never that way as time wears on. Because after all, who are you really married to?

That's a theme that's been in countless works of fiction, the most recent entry being Gone Girl. It's easily one of the acidic depictions of marriage ever captured. Seriously, you thought George and Martha form Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? had a toxic union.

Gillian Flynn's novel is just dripping with hatred and contempt. Usually that's a trait for perhaps either a lone scene or even a character. But for a whole novel? That is a daring move. (A Jane Austen quote comes to mind: "I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.")

Apart from a few tweaks here and there (some scenes/minor characters removed, minor details altered), Flynn keeps the viciousness very much alive in David Fincher's adaptation. And as expected from any Fincher film, the cast is sublime. Everything about the film is so deliciously wicked, but nothing can top Flynn's script. (Oh, and Rosamund Pike's performance.)

But which of the two reigns supreme? The novel is very good (even though some might think otherwise) though Flynn manages to improve it for the film. But both are fine works in their own right, so choosing is a bit hard. (Thankfully, not too hard.)

What's worth checking out?: I'd go with the movie.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Trip to Italy

There's a scene in Michael Winterbottom's The Trip to Italy where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (once again playing "themselves") discuss the disadvantages of doing a second restaurant review column. Coogan argues that a second anything isn't as great as the first. (Brydon only replies "The Godfather Part II.") An ironic discussion considering The Trip to Italy is just as good (if not better than) the first film.

It's true that sequels aren't usually as great as the original film, but what makes The Trip to Italy stand out is that it has the first film's charm. (Most sequels are absent of that.) It's a small detail but one that works in the long run.

Now this may be because I'm a bit of a film and literature snob, but the various references and discussions throughout the film were a nice touch. Whether it's discussing Lord Byron's own trip to Italy or reminiscing over Italy-set films like Contempt or La Dolce Vita, it's simply a detail that those who admire those things will like. (Again, it could just be me.)

Here's a detail that's worth bringing up: in the first film, there was a subplot of Coogan trying to further his own career and improve his personal life. This time around, it's Brydon facing dilemmas. And much like Coogan's work in the first film, Brydon provides some good dramatic moments as well as comedic.

The Trip to Italy is one of the rare instances where the sequel improves on the original. It's charming, funny and, all in all, very entertaining. And is there a better way to take your mind off your troubles than by watching a comedy?

My Rating: ****

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

People are complicated. Everyone knows that. We all have our ups and downs, our good days and bad days. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond were right when they said nobody was perfect.

That's the running theme throughout Ned Benson's The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them. Revolving around the strained marriage of a young couple, the film depicts how difficult life can become when something unexpected happens. (C'est la vie, after all.)

The film has an eclectic roster of supporting actors. Amongst them are the likes of Viola Davis, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert and Bill Hader. They all do well within their screentimes but Davis easily steal every scene she's in.

Now onto the leading actors. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, both of whom are fine actors, provide good performances in an otherwise decent film. Both have done their fair share of somber roles in the past and this film is no different. However, here there are simply the building blocks for what could have been great performances.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them works in some scenes but overall is lacking. (Oh, to have seen the original cut.) All of the actors do their best, but it doesn't feel like it's enough. Still the film does provide a nice glimpse into a certain kind of people. (All the lonely people, where do they all come from?/All the lonely people, where do they all belong?)

My Rating: ****

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Love Is Strange

Hollywood doesn't seem to understand how same-sex relationships should be depicted in films. Ever since Brokeback Mountain (and even before then), films revolving around such relationships are often lit in a melodramatic light. When will same-sex relationships be depicted the like any other relationship?

Thankfully, Ira Sachs' new film Love Is Strange has fulfilled that wish. The relationship depicted is not an angst-riddled one, not in the least. Instead, the bond between George (Alfred Molina) and Ben (John Lithgow) is much more subdued than what's usually depicted. (Not to mention they're adorable together.)

What's also worth mentioning about George and Ben is that their relationship isn't even the prime focus of the film. Instead, the film revolves around everyday life and those close to them. Again, this is a rarity amongst films with LGBT relationships but thanks to Sachs, he makes it work.

Molina and Lithgow, both fine actors, bring their roles to life. They're intimate without being too revealing. They're honest without being blunt. In short, they make their roles human.

Love Is Strange is a sweet little film. There's not a single false note at any point. To sum things up, this film is perhaps the most honest film you will see all year. (And yes, the R rating is stupid.)

My Rating: *****