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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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5 Flights Up

It’s the mid 1970’s … Alex Carver (played by Morgan Freeman) carries his new wife Ruth (by Diane Keaton) over the threshold of their new apartment. It’s in a dodgy part of Brooklyn, it’s run-down and up five flights of stairs with no elevator, but it’s home. Alex, an artist, makes himself a perfect studio in the bright spare bedroom and Ruth, a teacher, fills the rest of their living space with books. Since then, they’ve made a very happy and settled life for themselves and love the neighbourhood. These days, it’s starting to get very trendy to live in Brooklyn and Alex and Ruth realise their lovely apartment may be an attractive investment for young buyers wanting to move into the area. Besides, time is marching on and those five flights of stairs are a challenge for them both these days – as well as their little dog, Dorothy. Although they are now both retired, Ruth and Alex still love their life together – Alex has his art and still actively paints, while Ruth loves her books. They are still deeply love with each other too. Ruth’s sister had some health problems last year and her real estate agent niece, Lily Portman (by Cynthia Nixon), has since taken on the task to list Alex and Ruth’s property to remove them from the “five flights of stairs”. Alex and Ruth are interested to see what their property might be worth on the market so they go along with Lily’s plans. They open their beloved home to interested buyers and watch with dismay as strangers trudge critically through their apartment. At the same time, Dorothy undergoes some expensive surgery at the animal hospital. Ruth and Alex go apartment hunting in Manhattan, where they actually find something they like and can afford. Maybe a move isn’t such a bad idea after all?

This is a very sweet movie. As artist Alex, Morgan Freeman is strong and thoughtful – which makes him a very interesting character. As young Alex, Korey Jackson is very nice. Similarly, Diane Keaton brings her best quirky and lovable performance to the role of Ruth – she has marvellous style and is a sweet caring person. The “nerdy” young Ruth is very well portrayed by Claire van der Boom. It is also great to see both Cynthia Nixon and Carrie Preston here. Nixon has the relentlessly positive real estate agent Lily, down to a tee – she’s perfect for it. For me, Carrie Preston has most recently been seen in television’s “The Good Wife”, and she is just as likeable here as Miriam Carswell, Lily’s peer and would-be competitor in the New York City real estate game. The movie has been released in the UK as “Ruth and Alex” – it’s based on the novel Heroic Measures by Jill Ciment. It’s not deep or terribly meaningful, but it’s a good movie. It has been awarded in the 2016 AARP Movies for Grownups Awards as the Best Grownup Love Story and that’s true. I enjoyed it.

Made in 2014. Directed by Richard Loncraine.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2016 in Movies

 

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The First Monday in May

Every year, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is the venue for the Costume Institute Gala (usually known as the “Met Gala” or the “Met Ball”). It’s an annual fundraising gala for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The Gala has become one of the biggest global fashion events and it marks the grand opening of the Institute’s annual fashion exhibit, with a specific theme each year. The theme becomes the formal dress code for the Gala evening and guests interpret it to dress accordingly.

This movie follows curator Andrew Bolton’s creation of the 2015 theme “China: Through the Looking Glass”. He collaborates with Vogue Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour, as he sets out to design an exhibit that’s even more stunning than the benchmark he set with his Alexander McQueen exhibit “Savage Beauty” several years earlier. The movie includes appearances by filmmaker Kar-Wai Wong and fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano.  Several contemporary stars also appear (such as Rihanna) as the Gala is attended by anyone who’s anyone. It’s an interesting documentary and if you liked The September Issue or Valentino: The Last Emperor you’ll like this one too.

Made in 2016. Directed by Andrew Rossi.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2016 in Movies

 

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Irrational Man

The small college campus in Newport, Rhode Island, goes along pretty much as usual – until the day a new philosophy Professor starts. His reputation arrives before he does – he’s a brilliant thinker, but a womaniser and an alcoholic. He’s Abe Lucas (played by Joaquin Phoenix). His arrival is much heralded, but the reality is a little different. In class, Abe is as expected – a reliable, fascinating teacher. But in his personal life, he’s jaded, burnt out, negative, drinking too much and seeking something more. A fellow professor, Rita Richards (by Parker Posey) is fascinated by him and doesn’t hide the fact she’s attracted to him, but this washes over him. However, his student, Jill Pollard (by Emma Stone) sparks his interest. She’s smart and unknowingly beautiful – a relationship starts and Jill quickly gets serious about it, but Abe is not committed. One day they are out having coffee when they overhear a conversation in the diner. Abe is captivated and suddenly decides this is a sign, it’s why he was put on the planet in the first place – he must take some action. But what he’s set on doing, whilst straightforward and obvious to him, will change the course of many people’s lives …

This movie promises much, but leaves me a little cold. As usual with Woody Allen movies, you never quite know what you’re going to get – sometimes they are delightfully entertaining, other times they’re a bit drab and uninspiring. This is one of the latter types, but I’m not sure why – the plot has interesting points and both Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone are good, but that’s it. Parker Posey’s role is underdone and I get the feeling nobody is really trying too hard in this movie. Wait for this to come on television – and then only if you’ve got nothing better to do.

Made in 2015. Directed by Woody Allen

 

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2016 in Movies

 

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The Dressmaker

Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage (played by Kate Winslet) is a slave to glamour. She’s besotted with expensive fabrics and stylish textiles and her haute couture creations have established her as a big name in the society design salons of Paris. But now, with her sewing machine under her arm, she’s come back to her small home town in rural Australia. Her memories have drawn her back as there are things she must put right. She trudges up the dirt track to her childhood home and finds her mother, Molly (by Judy Davis), dishevelled, down on her luck and in poor health. The house itself is in a sorry state of repair too. But the town hasn’t changed – the residents are all just as eccentric, judgmental and hypocritical as they always were. With long memories and holding their grudges forever, these people just never change. But they all have secrets too – and Tilly’s determined to right the wrongs of the past one way or another. One by one, she reconnects with her ex-neighbours – the effeminate Sergeant Farrat (by Hugo Weaving), the storekeepers – Alvin Pratt (by Shane Jacobson) and his wife Muriel (by Rebecca Gibney), their daughter Gertrude (by Sarah Snook) and the town simpleton – Barney McSwiney (by Gyton Grantley). The people do their best to go about their daily drudgery, but Tilly’s created a literally “colourful” distraction and it’s hard to ignore her. When she is courted by Barney’s brother, Teddy McSwiney (by Liam Hemsworth), Tilly is taken by surprise when she discovers feelings she thought were long buried beneath her guilt and shame. What was once a town scandal is slowly starting to unravel and the truth is coming out, once and for all, with all the people who told all the lies being found out along the way …

This is a delightful and entertaining movie. It’s a gentle comedy that offers several wonderful cameo performances by people who’ve been in much higher bankrolled films than this. Every character is unique and portrayed wonderfully by a member of the very strong ensemble cast – it’s full of surprises. Several notables are almost unrecognisable in these roles and they don’t seem to care – as Tilly’s mother, Molly, Judy Davis is wrinkled and downright grouchy for most of the movie; Gyton Grantley is endearing and heart-warming as Barney; Hugo Weaving plays the cross-dressing policeman to perfection and Shane Jacobsen’s absolutely made to play Alvin Pratt. I can’t go past the total eye-candy Liam Hemsworth provides either … just saying. There’s so many great performances amongst the cast it’s really unfair to pick out only a few. It’s a bit like “Under Milkwood” where the town boasts so many fascinating characters, each with a curious story in their own right. You will no doubt enjoy the Pettymans – Evan (by Shane Bourne) and Marigold (by Alison Whyte), along with the wonderful characters presented by Barry Otto, Sarah Snook, Julia Blake and Kerry Fox. It is based on the best-selling novel by Rosalie Ham , “The Dressmaker”. Rightly so, during the 2015-16 award season the movie has been recognised by the Australian Film Critics Association with a People’s Choice Award for Favourite Australian Film and gives individual awards for best Actress (Kate Winslet), Supporting Actor (Hugo Weaving), Supporting Actress (Judy Davis) and Screenplay (Jocelyn Moorhouse and PJ Hogan); the Australian Film Institute gives best Lead Actress (Kate Winslet), Supporting Actress (Judy Davis) Supporting Actor (Hugo Weaving) and Costume Design (Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson). The Australian Screen Sound Guild recognises it for best achievement in Sound Mixing and the Film Critics Circle of Australia awards Judy Davis with Best Actress – Supporting Role; along with Kate Winslet for Best Actress. Just enjoy it.

Made in 2015. Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse

 

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2016 in Movies

 

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