Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Ciné File Vol. 17

I love being surprised by films. I like not quite knowing what to expect of the finished product even if I've read every article going about the film before settling down in my seat at the cinema.

Selma surprised me this week. Mainly because I didn't know I was seeing it - it turned out to be the third film in Odeon's Screen Unseen series, but also because such a poignant and important moment in history was so wonderfully made. It's beyond moving and proves vital viewing.

If you're looking to be inspired this week then head to the cinema to see Wild. The book is a must-read, and Reese Witherspoon does an excellent job of bringing Cheryl Strayed's memoir to life.

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Sky Movies // 2013 // DVD

"Author P.L. Travers reflects on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen."


Emma Thompson & Tom Hanks. Walt Disney & P. L. Travers. Seriously: what's not to like?! It's charming and utterly lovely on so many levels. I defy you not to hum "let's go fly a kite" on a constant loop for at least a week afterwards.

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Odeon Screen Unseen // 2015 // In U.K. cinemas 6th February 2015

"A chronicle of Martin Luther King's campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965."

In the third Odeon Screen Unseen event, Odeon continued a winning streak with this advanced screening of the sensational, astonishing and criminally snubbed Selma. The expectations were high - the last two films turned out to be Nightcrawler and Whiplash - and they did not disappoint again. Watching such a moving and significant film on Martin Luther King Day was a huge honour and really excellent timing on the programmer's part.

It takes a lot for a trailer to really excite me. I read about film all the time, and I'm constantly scanning articles about upcoming new releases, so by the time the trailers are released online or pop up in cinemas it's almost impossible to make me interested and excited from scratch. I knew a little about Selma before seeing the trailer, mainly in the context of being overlooked for awards, and I assumed it would be a very American film and thus wouldn't been too successful or relevant in Britain. Seeing it, therefore, definitely wasn't a top priority for me. However, when I saw the trailer for the first time two weeks ago, it gave me goosebumps, and watching the entire film this week left me shaken and open-mouthed. It's a brilliant trailer, fitting for a brilliant film.

British actor David Oyelowo is astounding as Dr. King. He settles into the leader's soul for two hours and produces a truly magnificent performance. Oyelowo soars, from electrifying the congregation in church, to approaching intimate scenes with Coretta King (Carmen Ejogo) with a subtle and muted intensity, and he deserves all the praise in the world. Although he perfectly captures the public persona of Dr. King during his rallying speeches (all rewritten by the director as they did not have the rights to the original text) it is the weariness and fatigue present in the smaller scenes that lift the film from purely an account of this specific moment in time during the civil rights movement to give a well-rounded picture. Dr. King was more than his speeches, and Selma reinforces that in spades.

Although Oyelowo is undoubtedly the star, director Ava DuVernay must not be overlooked. She makes no attempt to sugar coat the events surrounding the march, and from a shocking opening scene to hideous shots of marchers on the bridge under attack she makes it clear that this part of history should not be viewed through a filter. Somehow, she simultaneously paints the bigger picture - flitting between events on the ground and President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) in the White House - while also tracking individual characters: grounding the film in a wider context and adding a beating heart. As a result certain scenes were all the more upsetting, and even in moments of silence you could hear every single person in the audience flinch and hold their breath.

Selma is vivid, deeply moving, vitally important viewing and thus completely unmissable. Mark the 6th February in your diaries now.

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Sky Movies // 2012 // DVD

"Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse."

Given the fact that Merida is the first Pixar princess to be included in the roster of official Disney Princesses, she wields a bow and arrow like a boss, and she doesn't fit the conventional princess role of waiting for a prince to rescue her, I was expecting a lot from Brave. Don't get me wrong: it's a good, solid film. The animation is beautiful - as ever - and the mythology of the plot weaves perfectly into the idea of determining your own fate and breaking with ancient traditions. It's very original and is a lovely departure from the princess tales of old.

However, I was sadly underwhelmed. Maybe I'm missing something, but I just felt it was good, but not great, and I won't be in a hurry to watch it again any time soon.

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2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"A chronicle of one woman's 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe."

As news about the film and its imminent release began to gather steam towards the end of last year, stacks of Cheryl Strayed's best-selling memoir started to pop up all over my favourite bookshops such that it became impossible to ignore. When I finally took the plunge and bought it the reaction from the shop assistant at the till confirmed for me that I'd made the right choice: she couldn't stop gushing about how incredible it was and how excited she was for Reese Witherspoon to be stepping into Cheryl's boots on the big screen. Admittedly, I was a little sceptical at first (was it really going to be that good?) but a couple of chapters in I was hooked, and half way through I decided to either tell everyone about it or buy it as Christmas presents and force people to read it. It's an exhausting, heartbreaking and immensely inspiring book that I literally cannot recommend enough, and luckily the film proved to be a worthy adaptation that really captures the spirit of Cheryl's hike.

Witherspoon is the best she's ever been on screen. In what's essentially a one woman film (she's not quite as isolated as Sandra Bullock in Gravity, but it's pretty close…) she delivers a truly raw performance, from scenes as a young Cheryl dealing with her mother's death, to her wayward months taking heroin and destroying her marriage, to her gruelling 1100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. She never holds back and often you can almost feel her pain, at times actually feeling suffocated by her grief and constantly wincing in sympathy at the weight of her pack and the effect of her ill-fitting boots. She cuts a lonely figure in beautiful sweeping shots of the trail, dwarfed by her enormous backpack, but Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornby ensure you're routing for Cheryl from the beginning, willing her to not only overcome the difficulties of the trail but to come to terms with the demons in her head that led her to the PCT in the first place.

It's weirdly surprising to see Witherspoon produce a performance like this, but in a year saturated by men on screen it's really wonderful to see her so boldly putting a woman's personal tale of sacrifice and resilience front and centre in cinemas. She deserves a medal for championing strong, complicated women in film this year (she also produced Gone Girl) when the overwhelming majority have sought to ignore or continue to reduce them to wives or mothers with minimal screen time.

For me, Wild is a triumph in many ways, just make sure you read the book too!

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Sky Movies // 2014 // DVD

"A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive partner Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia."

Where to begin? As far as I'm concerned American Hustle was 2013's Under the Skin - the film that was massively overhyped by critics and bestowed with a bonkers amount of praise for what's actually a confusing, strange and arguably dull movie.

The cast is utterly spectacular. Once again director David O'Russell has shown his talent for cherry-picking a selection of the best actors in the business - often working with the same ones - and allowing them the creative freedom to embrace a weird and wonderful character and just run with it. As bizarre as the overall film is, there's no denying that all four leads - Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence - deserve all of their awards nominations as they inhibit their characters perfectly and really bring the film to life. When coupled with genuinely incredible hair and makeup and beautiful costumes, the effect is visually very impressive.

Unfortunately American Hustle is let down by a plot that is a little confusing unless you're concentrating rather hard throughout the entire 138 minutes. If your mind wanders at any point, keeping track of who's hustling who can wrap you up in knots if you're not careful. It all makes sense in the end and is actually quite clever, it's just the journey to get to that point is so involved, and it's easy to be distracted by all the perms, fake British accents and obvious chunks of improvisation.

I've now seen American Hustle a couple of times and it's growing on me, but I don't think it should take this long for a film to leave a lasting positive impression...

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Sky Movies // 2013 // DVD

"When one of their own is kidnapped by an angry gangster, the Wolf Pack must track down Mr. Chow, who has escaped from prison and is on the lam."

I love The Hangover. I like The Hangover Part II. I can't believe I wasted my time on The Hangover Part III.

Apart from having the same characters and vague connections with the plot, it seems completely independent of what came before it. Part III doesn't even follow the same format of the two films that preceded it - i.e. there is no wild night and ensuing chaos the next day - so the fundamental concept that drew audiences in in the first place isn't present here, and it's certainly not good enough to make up for that. It's unfunny and disappointingly boring: I expected much, much more from the Wolfpack.

So what have you seen this week? Are there any new releases you'd recommend? Do let me know in the comments below!

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