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Southpaw

Life is pretty hard for boxer Billy Hope (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), but it’s pretty good too. He and his beautiful wife, Maureen (by Rachel McAdams) have a very happy marriage, they have a delightful and well-behaved daughter, Leila (by Oona Laurence) and Billy’s career is going from strength to strength. He works hard and he fights hard in the ring, but he’s the reigning Junior Middleweight Champion and he feels like he owns the world! One evening, the couple attend a special function to honour Billy and suddenly tragedy strikes. Billy’s world is rocked to the core and he loses all hope. Nothing makes sense to him anymore and as depression envelops him, he loses his grip on life. Soon, his career is in tatters, his finances are a mess and then comes the final brutal blow … he loses custody of Leila. He can’t seem to get out of it, until the day he meets Tick Wills (by Forest Whitaker), a retired boxer who now runs a training gym for young amateur boxers, most down on their luck. This man may just be the thing Billy needs – but he’s a tough disciplinarian, with scruples that won’t be challenged. Can down-trodden Billy convince Tick to take him on and re-train him back to where he once was? Can he find the strength to win back the trust of the people around him … and the custody of his daughter? ….

If you take out all the highly graphic physical fights, violence, injuries and workouts it has taken to create this movie, it’s really just an ordinary story. There’s no doubt that Jake Gyllenhaal has given everything to this role – it would have been physical torture and exhausting. However, the story itself is fairly standard – boxer in his prime, cut down by tragedy, loses everything, must regain the trust of those around him, works hard to get back to an even keel … there’s not really anything to add here. However, the performances are all great. Jake, as I said, is fully into this role and he wears it all over his face for much of the movie. Rachel McAdams is luminous – she is lovely and her character is very nice. Oona Laurence does very well as the “older than her years” daughter Leila. It’s good to see Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson in a dramatic role – it’s quite straightforward and he does well. As Tick Wills, Forest Whitaker is fine, but doesn’t do anything too extraordinary. The whole thing is fine, but I’d wait for television to see this.

Made in 2015. Directed by Antoine Fuqua

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Posted by on July 19, 2016 in Movies

 

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A Month of Sundays

Things are at a bit of a stand-still for real estate agent Frank Mollard (played by Anthony LaPaglia). He’s divorced, but still has constant contact with his ex-wife Wendy (by Justine Clark) and, of course, their son Frank Junior (by Indiana Crowther). His relationship with Frank Jr is a typically dysfunctional, arms-length, dad-teenage son type thing, that lumbers from failure to failure as Frank tries hard to connect with the young man. Professionally, he hasn’t sold a house in … who knows how long? … and his long-understanding boss, Phillip Lang (by John Clarke) is starting to get less entertained by Frank’s quirky nature and more impatient by his non-sales as the days go by. As he sits in his lonely, sparse, “bachelor” apartment one night, Frank gets a phone call from someone he’s sure is his mother – he chats with her for a while until she realises she has the wrong number and hangs up. Actually … Frank’s mother died last year – he just played along to have a conversation with someone who didn’t know all his baggage. Frank gets curious about the mystery caller and gets in touch with her again a few days later – she is Sarah (by Julia Blake), who has her own interesting life and issues. After his ex-wife Wendy’s constant commentary, Frank finds Sarah refreshingly non-judgemental and very easy to talk to. He discusses things about his life with her that he’s never been able to do with anyone before – so an unlikely friendship develops. Sarah has challenges with her own son, Stuart, so the friendship between them helps her too. Through this friendship they each find ways to repair broken relationships and achieve some balance and peace in their lives.

This is a very nice movie, but … you need to stick with it and not give up too soon.  At first, Frank seems bland and somewhat impenetrable, but this gets explained as he is revealed. Anthony LaPaglia portrays this very well – his deadpan expression and dull tone as he speaks with his clients are dead giveaways of his total disappointment with his life. His support stars, Justine Clarke, John Clarke and Indiana Crowther are perfect to unfold the story lines to reveal him. As Sarah, Julia Blake is excellent – she makes her character so authentic. The movie has a lot of points to make, some will resonate with you and others not – so it’s for you to take whatever you want from the film. It’s a subtle drama which will probably keep you thinking long after the credits roll. Well done.

Made in 2015. Directed by Matthew Saville.

 

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2016 in Movies

 

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The Lady in the Van

Margaret Fairchild’s life is full and wonderfully varied – she loves the piano and is a gifted pianist. As a girl, her parents recognise her talent and she spends time under the tutelage of Alfred Cortot, one of the 20th century’s most renowned classical musicians. Young Margaret even plays Chopin in a promenade concert. As she grows up she hopes to become a nun, but it doesn’t eventuate and her brother commits her to an institution. She manages to escape, but later she’s driving along a country lane when her van is in a motor accident. The motorcyclist involved is badly injured and she believes she’s responsible. From that day onwards she lives in total fear of arrest and takes fright every time anyone approaches her. To “disappear”, she becomes Miss Mary Shepherd (played by Maggie Smith) – and lives in a Bedford van, moving from place to place around London each time the locals become suspicious or too close to her. One day she parks in the Camden street of writer, Allan Bennett (by Alex Jennings), who tolerates her, even when she regularly avails herself of his bathroom and moves her unsightly van into his driveway. He agrees that she can stay “temporarily”, which becomes fifteen years of Miss Shepherd and Mr Bennett barely enduring each other’s presence. This is a true story …

Whilst there is no doubting the strength of Maggie Smith’s performance as the belligerent and eccentric Miss Shepherd, I did find this movie hard going. She plays the ungrateful “Lady in the Van” very well and her character is fascinating, if not frustrating. Also, the script has its very witty moments, but overall the movie didn’t really grab me. Something’s not quite right with it. Alan Bennett’s narrative is told in a double-act – Allan Bennet the writer and Allan Bennet the man – who chat with each other of the frustrations of this woman and what they will do about it, also how writer Allan will develop his book based on the story. The neighbours are typical of the time (seemingly welcoming, but suspicious and eager for her to depart) and Allan’s interactions with the Social Worker, Lois (by Claire Foy) provide an interesting interlude. Miss Shepherd, aka Margaret Fairchild, died in 1989. Overall, the movie is okay, but I would wait until television to see it.

Made in 2015. Directed by Nicholas Hytner.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2016 in Movies

 

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Spotlight

Walter “Robby” Robinson (played by Michael Keaton) manages a special investigative branch of the Boston Globe. He and his team of skilled journalists focus on developing stories and spend several months in research, investigations and validation to create comprehensive coverage of issues in the lives of the Boston Community. One story begins to take real hold of the team. Under Robby’s leadership, investigators Mike Rezendes (by Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (by Rachel McAdams) and Marty Baron (by Live Schreiber) start to uncover the unbelievable and horrendous story if child abuse within their local Catholic Archdiocese. The story grows and becomes a significant scandal of molestation and cover-up that shakes the entire Catholic Church to its core.

This is an excellent movie. The story itself is horrendous but the movie makes compelling viewing. Well done to Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and everyone involved. It’s great to see Stanley Tucci in the key role as Mitchell Garabedian and also Len Cariou as Cardinal Law. Deservedly, the movie has received global acclaim – awarded an Academy Award (Oscar) for “Best Motion Picture of the Year” and “Best Writing, Original Screenplay”; Mark Ruffalo received a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor, the AFI awarded it “Movie of the Year”. The full cast were awarded with “Outstanding Performance” by the Screen Actors Guild. Well done everyone.

Made in 2015. Directed by Tom McCarthy.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2016 in Movies

 

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Suffragette

At the turn of the twentieth century, many women in England are frustrated at being constantly “invisible” or identified as only “his daughter …” or “his wife …” They see that their lives can be different – particularly if they’re allowed to vote – and many feel strongly enough to take action against the “establishment”. Maud Watts (played by Carey Mulligan) is one such woman. She’s been to the same workhouse every day since she was a child at her mother’s skirts. At thirteen, she started working there herself and she’s put up with constant sexual harassment by her cruel boss ever since. Women learn to “keep quiet and stay in their place”. Emmeline Pankhurst (by Meryl Streep), emerges as a leader of this ripple of discontent as women across the country start to publicly protest so the government will take notice of them. The “women’s suffrage” movement grows – women take part in secret, while men view the whole thing with disdain. Along with others from the area, Maud becomes a disciple of the women’s movement. She faces police brutality when she’s jailed and shame from her husband Sonny, (by Ben Whishaw) as he disowns her for taking a stand – isolating her from her son George (by Adam Michael Dodd). But she strongly believes in her quest for equality and “votes for women”. This story is based on true events during the early days of the feminist movement in England and demonstrates the lengths some women are prepared to go for the cause …

This is an effective and moving drama. As Maud, Carey Mulligan portrays the emotions and challenges of women’s lives during these turbulent times. She cares deeply for her son but the demand for women’s rights cuts deep too, so she struggles with her conflicting emotions and instincts. The hardship of their lives is clear and the ignorant hatred many (including women) in the community have for the suffragettes is palpable. The movie features several strong and entertaining performances – it’s great to see Helena Bonham Carter in the key role of Edith Ellyn. A particularly influential character at the time, she is very well supported here by her husband Hugh (by Finbar Lynch). The story features all the aspects of a good drama – high emotion, deep principles, poverty, hunger strikes, secrets, violence, sexual tension and political intrigue – all told well in a very watchable movie. It reaches its climax when the Suffragettes plan to take non-violent action at a race meeting. Here, the real life drama of 1913 plays out – when 40 year old Emily Davison (by Natalie Press) is tragically and inexplicably struck down by the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby. The movie has won several awards for best actor, supporting actors and characterisations.

Made in 2015. Directed by Sarah Gavron.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2016 in Movies

 

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Serena

It’s 1929, and George Pemberton (played by Bradley Cooper) is ambitious, but he’s a risk taker in business – he’ll do anything for money. He sets his sights on making a fortune and invests in plantations and saw-milling. He invests his mounting wealth in a venture in South America. His plan is firmly on track until the day his world turns upside down … he’s in Boston when he meets Serena (by Jennifer Lawrence). She is like no other woman he’s ever seen – beautiful, charming, impeccably stylish and aptly named … she is truly serene. They are instantly attracted, so the pair quickly marry and head back to his plantation in the mountains of North Carolina. Serena has sawmilling in her blood, her father ran his own lumber company and she knows how things are done – they both dream of building a logging empire. But they both have history too – George is no sooner back in town than he discovers he’s fathered a son with another woman in town. Although he never says so, Serena can sense it and it’s a growing irritation for her. She puts it aside and follows her ambition, quickly becoming a powerful leader of the logging crews – female notwithstanding, she’s good and the men come to respect her. Try as they might, the couple can’t seem to have their own child and this is a growing problem between them. It turns their blissful insular world into a crazy, unpredictable nightmare. Can they get things back together, or will it run totally off the rails …..?

This movie starts very strongly. As George Pemberton, Bradley Cooper is well cast – he’s moody, intense and deliberate in his movements and demeanour. He does this well. As Serena, Jennifer Lawrence is like I have never seen her before. She’s totally luminous – she shines out of every scene and she is styled marvellously. Even though her hair and clothes are totally misplaced in the timber settlement, this doesn’t seem wrong as her character is just to enigmatic. However, as the movie progresses her strong character slowly dishevels into almost a circus freak, which is disappointing. However, there are several strong other roles in this that are worth seeing – Rhys Iffans is marvellous as the brooding and frightening Galloway. Also, Toby Jones makes a great Sheriff McDowell. The movie is fine to pass the time – but it doesn’t maintain its intensity and momentum to the end unfortunately.

Made in 2014. Directed by Susanne Bier.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2016 in Movies

 

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Black Mass

If there’s anything young Bostonians learn, it’s that “mates stick together, no matter what …”.  It’s no different for John Connolly (played by Joel Edgerton) and James “Whitey” Bulger (by Johnny Depp) who grow up together on the streets of South Boston. They stay in touch, but their paths go separate ways. Years later, in the late 1970s, Connolly and “Whitey” meet again as adults. Connolly’s already made a name for himself in the FBI – and Whitey’s become a notorious Irish Mobster across South Boston. When the Italian Mob start to gain power in the area, Whitey and Connolly do everything they can to fight back and retain the turf. They form a strong alliance and resist the Italian Mob. Their loyalty knows no bounds – it’s stronger than geographic and legal limits and involves them in a downward spiral of crime, murder, drugs and power. Connolly navigates the fine line between keeping his career intact and living with his long-held loyalty, while Bulger’s double-life gets complex – at home he’s a calm and caring family man while at work his activities get more and more violent, eventually landing him on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list.

This is your run-of-the-mill “notorious gangster versus FBI” movie – but with two key features … first, Whitey Bulger is played by a totally unrecognisable Johnny Depp – it’s remarkable and you’d never really know it’s Depp. There’s something weirdly artificial about his performance too – it’s not the makeup, it’s about his behaviour, he’s often like a cold, clinical robot. Second, this frightening story is true – the guy brutally and violently operated in South Boston for decades. Joel Edgerton’s performance is very strong – he really deserves the Hollywood Film Award for Breakthrough Actor and the Virtuoso Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2016. The movie also received the Hollywood Film Editor of the Year Award. Johnny Depps’ portrayal of Bulger is magnificent. He’s totally believable and thoroughly deserves the Palm Springs International Film Festival Palm Achievement Award and the People’s Choice Award for Favourite Dramatic Movie Actor – also much more. Benedict Cumberbatch’s role as Billy Bulger, Whitey’s brother, doesn’t add a whole lot to it.  As a story, it’s just average – but the performances are great.

Made in 2015. Directed by Scott Cooper.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2016 in Movies

 

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