Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Ciné File Vol. 15

This week has been full of trips to the cinema (Vue Super Saver Tuesdays are a life-saver…), as well as reminding myself that the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man sequel really was as bad as I remembered, and Philomena was actually even better finally following a second viewing.

It's also been the first time in a while that I've had to seriously try and convince myself that I actually liked a film, something I'm not comfortable doing at all and makes writing a review more difficult than I think it should be. Foxcatcher, I'm looking at you...

* * *
2014 // In U.K. cinemas now

"A drama about the awakening of the painter Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s, and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s."


Boasting the incredible acting talent of Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, and directed by Tim Burton, Big Eyes had high expectations to live up to, but unfortunately the film falls a little flat and sadly ends up being rather average. Adams and Waltz never quite attain the calibre of acting audiences are used to from them: maybe it's because they make a weird pair or maybe it's their individually odd accents in the film, but something just don't work between the two actors. Waltz is yet again the villain of the piece but he's never allowed to be truly villainous - a manic scene with a box of matches aside, he's pretty tame, and his character could definitely have done with being more manipulative or emotionally abusive in order to give the ending more of a punch. Not knowing much about the original story, such a character development may have deviated from the truth too much - I don't know - but the result in the film is a truly forgettable man who just seems mildly unhinged albeit extremely greedy.

The costumes, however, are beautiful and Colleen Atwood perfectly captures the 1950s in the most wonderful way. Every colour on screen vibrantly pops, but nothing draws your attention quite like the big eyes of the paintings: they're almost like another silent character, haunting and incredibly sad in the background. The unusual nature of the artwork seems very Tim Burton, providing a moment of madness in amongst an uncharacteristically 'normal' film for him.

It's an incredibly interesting story and one that wholeheartedly deserved a film adaptation (any legal dispute settled by a paint-off in a courtroom needs to be explored cinematically!), but the move to the big screen of such a sensational scandal that gripped the art world ultimately deserved a better film.

* * * * *
2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory."

I've written about Birdman before having seen it at the London Film Festival last year, but after watching it again this week I stand by everything I said a few months ago and wish I could give it more than 5 stars.

It's a bizarre, astute, and witty concoction that has the cleverest and most ingenious editing of any film I've ever seen. The whole film is utterly remarkable on so many levels, and will impress fans of both film and theatre alike. The ensemble cast is wonderful but Emma Stone really does shine the brightest, particularly delivering a specific, highly charged speech to her father (Michael Keaton) that I wish would earn her every supporting actress award going this season (even though I think she may be defeated by Patricia Arquette for Boyhood...).

Do yourself a favour and go and see Birdman - it truly lives up to the hype.

* *
Sky Movies // 2014 // DVD

"When New York is put under siege by Oscorp, it is up to Spider-Man to save the city he swore to protect as well as his loved ones."

Oh god, it's just awful. I want to like it so, so much but it's terrible. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are wonderful together, and there are the odd moments with excellent special effects and electrifying fight scenes. However it's a flimsy script that makes poor use of good actors (Jamie Foxx, Felicity Jones and Paul Giamatti come to mind here) and ensures Spider-Man is an unlikeable superhero. I hate how much I don't like this, but there's only so many times you can try something before admitting defeat. I just hope they don't decide to make a third one...

* * * *
2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul - a union that leads to unlikely circumstances."

Over the last few days I've read everything I could get my hands on with regards to Foxcatcher, John E. du Pont, the Schultz brothers, and wrestling in the 1980s in order to try and work out exactly what I thought of the film. I've been looking forward to it for ages - all reviews I read prior to going into the cinema were glowing, praising Carell's performance in particular, and I figured given the critical reception it must be good. Therefore I was beyond shocked that my first thought as the credits began to roll was "it that it?". I expected so much more and assumed I must have missed something or have had an off-day as the film I saw was nothing like the one I'd read a little about before I took my seat in the cinema.

It's been on my mind since Friday, and as a result I've been spending every spare minute researching the film and trying to sort through my thoughts to write something coherent for this post. From what I can tell my opinion on Foxcatcher is well and truly in the minority - I'm not alone but still outnumbered - so I'd take my views on it with a pinch of salt if you're still interested in seeing it.

Personally, I didn't like it. I was horrendously underwhelmed and still - even upon reflection - can't see how the brilliantly tense film presented by the excellent marketing is related to the bloated, overly long and hideously slow movie I ended up seeing. I've seen posters and trailers that call it a "shocking true story" but by the time the climatic 'shock' actually arrives it'd been building for so long that it was a relief for it finally happen as it signified the film was almost over. I thought Carell gave a good performance but it was no-where near as groundbreaking and creepy as I'd been led to believe. There's no getting away from the fact that I was completely disappointed.

However, even immediately after leaving the cinema and confused by what I'd seen I knew deep down it wasn't a fundamentally bad film. Channing Tatum was sensational; the wrestling scenes were highly charged; and when I took a step back from it all the slow-build of tension was actually masterfully done by director Bennett Miller. He dragged it out unnecessarily (I stand by my criticism of the length) but looking at it critically it's hard to find fault in that particular aspect of the production. Initially I wasn't blown away by Carell, but I've now watched footage of the real John du Pont on YouTube and can admit Carell's transformation is pretty wonderful when you compare the actor with the man himself.

I feel uneasy coming to a definite conclusion about the film, mainly as I'm wrestling (no pun intended) with my personal opinion and desperate need to be objective. I've chosen to give to 4*, only because when looking at all the individual components it is admittedly well made and features great performances from unexpected actors. If I was going on personal opinion alone it'd be awarded fewer stars, but honestly I think that would be doing the film a disservice. I truly hate how contradictory and inconclusive my opinion on this film is.

If you still fancy seeing it then I'd recommend reading up on the story before you go to the cinema. I'd never heard of any of this before (funnily enough I'm not well versed in Olympic wrestling or the du Pont family…) so found it all confusing and underwhelming. Maybe if I'd have known the basics before going in I wouldn't have had such a negative experience. However, any film that requires prior research and days of convincing yourself you liked it afterwards doesn't have my vote I'm afraid...

* * * * *
Sky Movies // 2014 // DVD

"A troubled and explosively violent teenager is transferred to adult prison where he finally meets his match - a man who also happens to be his father."

Starred Up is an explosive, violent and gripping prison drama that is showcases an utterly exceptional powerhouse performance from Jack O'Connell. His multi-layered performance is one of the most underrated of 2014 and he gives a complexity and sensitivity to a brutal and dangerously angry teenager in the most hopeless of situations. It's an example of astonishing film-making, with director David Mackenzie using a talented ensemble cast in a claustrophobic and highly tense environment to an excellent effect. It stays with you long after the credits have rolled, and with good reason. Starred Up isn't for everyone - the content doesn't exactly make for light viewing - but it's undeniably technically brilliant.

* * * * *
Sky Movies // 2013 // DVD

"A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent."

Thanks to an excellent script from Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (an adaptation of Martin Sixsmith's book) Philomena succeeds in ensuring that the heartbreaking true story has significant emotional clout and drama while simultaneously being surprisingly funny and charming. The seriousness of the plot is handled with an expert lightness of touch, guaranteeing that although it has the potential to devastate the audience - it's upsetting enough as it is without adding the gut-wrenching twists towards the end - you leave uplifted and inspired. The casting of Coogan and Judi Dench as the unlikely pair of journalist Martin Sixsmith and Irish woman searching for her lost son Philomena Lee is genius, and the two deftly combine perfect comedic timing with a warm, convincing chemistry.

It's a sophisticated comedy that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure - Philomena is definitely worth a watch!

Have you seen any of these films? What did you think of them? I'm particularly interested in hearing your thoughts on Foxcatcher - as you can tell it has me tied up in knots so I'm dying to discuss it with more people! Do let me know any thoughts in the comments below!

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