REVIEW: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Directed by: Bryan Singer
Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Joseph Mazzello, Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee, Mike Myers, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander

Written by Cameron Frew

“Is this the real life, or is it just fantasy,” sings Freddie Mercury, opening not only the finest Queen song, but a ballad for the ages, a true Rhapsody that captures the very essence of the profound, ever-changing landscape of music and a pitch-perfect example of how mesmerising the British quartet were. How painful it is then that a biopic of the band that goes as far as to take that song’s title, is far from killer. In fact, its very nature as a stale piece of filmmaking would be enough to make the bold musicians scoff.

Bryan Singer’s (part Dexter Fletcher’s) ode to the band that truly changed the industry forever chronicles their humble beginnings in local pubs and clubs, to their time-stopping performance at Live Aid in 1985. Freddie says in the film, “We’re all legends”. But everyone knows he was the icon of the time, and the film gives a more directed look at his rise and subsequent falls from grace in his rock and roll tenure.

The film tries to assure you of its dedication to her royal majesty with a 20th Century Fox-cum-Queen riff at the start. As expected you’ll hear many of the band’s greatest hits throughout the biopic, often overlaying big transition scenes that show the passing of time. For example, ‘Somebody To Love’ pulls the curtains up as Freddie (played by Rami Malek) trims his moustache and makes his way to the Wembley stage for the famous charity gig. Sure it’s relatively jazzy, but the transitions are jarring, with ham-fisted editing and worst of all, Singer chose the most obvious way to open the picture – “here’s the moment right before the gig, and now we’ll flashback for the rest of the movie”. Nonetheless, this isn’t where the film falters the most.

We then see Malek’s Freddie working at Heathrow, the morning of the night he would fatefully meet his royal family. He’s taking suitcases off the plane and putting them onto a truck, when his superior shouts down, “You missed one, paki”. The use of racist language isn’t problematic in itself, as I’m sure the writing team of Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan know. But when you don’t use it to introduce a wider dialogue around the subject, when you don’t actually use it as a focal point during and simply just use it to rather distastefully remind us of the singer’s circumstances (there is way more than one use of “paki”), that’s an issue.

Here’s the thing; there’s the old maxims, “less is more” and “slow and steady wins the race”. Bohemian Rhapsody is a portrait of ignoring those age-old soundbites, a lavish display of extremist filmmaking. The transitions often remain questionable (apart from one absolutely inspired moment with a cockerel), the use of visual metaphors is amateurishly overegged and characters are written to the point of pantomime. Not that the latter is necessarily always a bad thing; Mike Myers’ music producer is hilariously cynical and Allen Leech’s villainous Paul Prenter is deliciously infuriating. But it all feels incredibly artificial.

Even the visual style, a mixture of a parody-esque look and smoky rooms despite absolutely no smoke add this layer that separates you from the band whose music is part of all of our lives. Thankfully though, Malek, despite being under pressure, is a marvellous Freddie. Not just cosmetically (although he is frighteningly uncanny), but his cocky mannerisms, assured attitude towards his talent and reluctance to take on any sort of label (as a hugely uncomfortable press conference scene illustrates) are true of the greatest showman to ever live himself, and it’s a crying shame that the film as a whole isn’t on par with a performance of such dedicated charisma. The other performances are a mixed bag, with his Queen-cohorts Roger Taylor and John Deacon (played by Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello respectively) either having not much to do or let-down by the writer’s incapability of nuance.

The exception is Gwilym Lee’s Brian May, who really exhibits the sort of compassionate, constantly admiring but utterly bemused relationship you would expect him to have with his lead singer. In portraying the twisted family dynamic the band famously had, the filmmakers and actors mostly succeed, if it weren’t for the haphazard pacing that completely botches the viewer’s sense of their efforts to go big.

A key part of Freddie’s story is his romantic life, and puzzlingly, the film portrays homosexuality like a forbidden fruit, accentuating the orientation to a point where it feels like Freddie is doing something incredibly wrong. But he wasn’t, and one scene with his former partner Mary (played by the terrific Lucy Boynton) really shows this to be painfully true, and if it weren’t for this melancholic moment, the film would have no sense of emotional grip.

The music is, naturally, enough to make anyone go “Ga Ga” and the gig sequences are shot with a poppy vibrancy and love for the band that really paints a rousing picture of the hysteria in the band’s heyday. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography (a frequent collaborator with Singer) though is mostly unspectacular, often framing corny theatrics with that aforementioned artificial aura.

Then comes the show-stopping, stirringly powerful Live Aid sequence, and everything soars. Your heart races and the goosebumps wash across you as Freddie performs the eclectic mix of the heart-aching opening to the titular song, eventually reaching the fist-punching rendition of We Are The Champions. For a feature so scattershot and pitfall-ridden, it feels like a distant memory as you stand among Wembley’s crowd, simply in awe. If only the entire bloated runtime bottled the sensation of the phenomenal closing act.

Malek gives his undivided gusto, and the result is unforgettable. But for a man and a band that were so groundbreaking, so fixated on musical revolution, this is supremely cheap work.

Cameron’s Verdict:

2

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I, Tonya

Year: 2018
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Cast:  Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney

Written by Livia Peterson

Several forms of media have become an integral component of our lives. Television always seemingly provides negative stories of crime, illnesses, and depressing weather forecasts. Radio may regurgitate what we’ve seen via television, excluding music and sports stations. Motion pictures allow one to escape reality and immerse oneself into a fictional or nonfictional narrative.

It is difficult to distinguish between genuine, factual news and tabloid news, especially during the current “fake news” era. Tonya Harding’s attack on Nancy Kerrigan would be considered “fake news” and in consequence, we would either instantly read online articles or enjoy live television to learn about the news today. Believe it or not, this incident actually occurred. Thus, Craig Gillespie’s ‘I, Tonya’ could be considered Harding’s redemption story.

Young Tonya Harding (Mckenna Grace) competed in figure skating and meanwhile, the abusive mother LaVona (Academy Award winner Allison Janney, in this role) ensured her success. LaVona even forced Tonya to tinkle on the ice rink during one particular scene. As Tonya (Margot Robbie) matures and practices figure skating, she develops a relationship with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).

Numerous practice sessions occur prior to the 1994 United States Figure Skating Championships. Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) does not expect anything to happen, but Tonya may have a clue, regarding what could occur during a practice session. Yet, Jeff and the bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) hire Shane Stant (Ricky Russert) to injure Nancy’s leg to provide Tonya an advantage and the getaway driver Derrick Smith (Anthony Reynolds).

Most of us recognise the aftermath of this incident, Tonya was removed from the U.S. Figure Skating Association for life and divorced Jeff and of course, Nancy remains in figure skating.

The title ‘I, Tonya’ is derived from Robert Graves’ historical novel ‘, Claudius’, written as if it were an autobiography by the Roman Emperor Claudius. Just the title alone indicates ‘I, Tonya’ is an unconventional biopic, as the film is narrated via several fictional interviews with Tonya, Jeff, LaVona, and a few others. While the interwoven interviews enhance the narrative providing various angles to the story, it is still obvious to notice the traditional biopic beats.

‘I, Tonya’ is a captivating character study of a bad ass woman that may or may not deserve redemption, as it thoroughly depends on if one lived during this era. Both Robbie and Janney disappear into their respective characters. While Robbie demonstrates how Tonya evolves in to a pop culture icon, Janney provides annoying bitchy mother LaVona and consequently, no one would want to piss her off. LaVona is a one dimensional and stereotypical mother. One may question why Janney deserved the Academy Award in the first place. 2017 provided fearless mothers onscreen among Janney’s LaVona, Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, and Laurie Metcalf’s Marion McPherson in ‘Lady Bird’ to name a few. Janney ultimately deserved the Academy Award for a different role such as ‘The Help’ and therefore, this is considered her career achievement award. The respectable supporting cast is arguably underused during a few fundamental scenes. Shane and Derrick required some character development and accordingly, one may be able to justify their actions.

‘I, Tonya’ impeccably examines today’s pop culture through a different lens and how the media reports various events. The media is dependent upon how we perceive the information given and free press is indeed vital to ensure news is provided, regardless of one’s circumstances. Ultimately, ‘I, Tonya’ allows one to construct their opinions about the Tonya Harding controversy and the media as a whole.

Livia’s Rating: 8/10

12 Strong

Year: 2018
Directed by: Nicolai Fuglsig
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, William Fichtner, Rob Riggle

Written by Tom Sheffield

If you’ve read some of my reviews on here before, you’ll know I’m a sucker for films based on true events, such as ‘Deepwater Horizon‘, ‘The Founder‘, and ‘Jackie‘ to name just a few I’ve written about for JUMPCUT. So with ’12 Strong’ riding into cinemas recently I thought I’d add another under my belt!

Following the devastating 9/11 terror attacks, a highly trained team comprising of CIA paramilitary offices and US forces, ‘Operational Detachment Alpha 595’ (ODA 595) flew out to Afghanistan to begin a secret and highly dangerous mission to fight back against Taliban forces. Once there, the task force must work alongside General Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance to push the Taliban out of Mazar-e-Sharif for good.

Hemsworth takes the lead as Captain Mitch Nelson, who was just about to start a role working behind the desk in an office rather than on the front lines before the terror attacks. It goes without saying that Michael Shannon gives another strong performance, despite his character getting less screen time than probably deserved. Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, Thad Luckinbill, and the rest of the squad also deliver believable and fantastic performances, often resorting to humour and wise cracks to lighten tense and serious situations, however these don’t feels shoehorned in and are delivered like genuine banter amongst brothers in arms. William Fichtner only appears briefly in a handful of scenes as Colonel Mulholland, but he certainly makes an impression as he sports a shiny bald head (which I found very distracting!).

Fuglsig may not be a director you recognise the name of, but there’s a very high chance you’ve seen some of his previous work, which has mostly been commercials. One that might ring a bell is for Sony Bravia in which 250,000 colourful bouncing balls were let loose on the largest hill in San Francisco. It would seem producer Jerry Bruckheimer took a risk offering the director’s chair to Fuglsig, given his lack of experience on feature films, but all in all I think he did a reasonably good job on such a demanding film. The direction is good and it has a familiar feel to war films we’ve seen before, which is by no means a bad thing.

Lorne Balfe provides the accompanying score for the film and does an incredible job of keeping you in the moment. There are some truly heart racing scenes in amongst some slower, and quite frankly boring, moments but Balfe’s score fits in so perfectly to whatever is going on that it keeps you engaged. Another winner from Balfe!

’12 Strong’ has got a lot of heart and, from what I’ve read, doesn’t steer too far from the truth for dramatic effect, unlike other films based on true events, and it’s the solid cast at the forefront of this film that really make it what it is. It’s a real slow burner that never really has it’s BIG moment, but it does well to deliver edge-of-your-seat tension. The big, slow build up to the third act is definitely worth it as we witness the events that lead to the mission’s conclusion. I highly recommend seeking this out at the cinema if it sounds like your kind of film.

Tom’s Rating: 6.5/10

Molly’s Game

Year: 2018
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong

Written by Jessica Peña

Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut boasts an excellent script that enables a stellar performance from Jessica Chastain. ‘Molly’s Game’ is a calculating, fast-paced film about the woman media outlets dubbed, “The Poker Princess,” Molly Bloom. A former Olympic level prospect, Bloom endured a devastating ski fall in the 2002 Winter Olympics qualifications that led her to rest that dream. Upon moving from Colorado to Los Angeles, she works at a bar, then soon gets offered to work as a secretary for a real estate developer, an arrogant  man who refuses to eat “poor people bagels,” when Molly is ordered to fetch him breakfast. Invited to help run his poker games, Molly is enthralled with the slopes of the game and the power to seize her life, getting into deep pockets of legal trouble and an eventual FBI investigation.

Sorkin has penned several iconic personalities into big screen scripts such as Charlie Wilson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs. There’s something captivating when it comes to his approach with his latest subject, Molly Bloom. Sorkin immediately fell in love with how competent and thrilling Bloom’s life story was. Based on the telling autobiographical memoir, ‘Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker’, Sorkin uses his penmanship to dramatize challenging situations in Bloom’s real life to fit a very smart plotline. The film tells of Bloom’s brushes with A-list actors, studio heads, politicians, and star athletes, as they gathered into her poker games to challenge their luck. From the first poker game with her boss, he clearly disapproves of her dress and it leads her to refresh her wardrobe with the hefty tips she begins to earn from the games. She gets a taste for the entrepreneurship influence and being her own boss. We start to see more dominance in Molly Bloom and she becomes an effective player herself.

Jessica Chastain delivers such a distinct and powerful performance that it completely blows you away. We see her utilize the lovely, but strong force of nature that enabled her past personas from ‘A Most Violent Year’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ Chastain is infectious as Molly Bloom. Even in a smoky room full of billionaire men playing poker, it is her that demands the most respect. Her role encapsulates a stunning reality to a woman’s perseverance and wit.

The men of the industry, the government, and from her own family, cripple Molly’s personal gain in more ways than one. It’s easy to notice how she’s come so far in her profession driven by the illusion of “power over powerful men,”  She doesn’t notice this until the end, though. Thing is, it’s not the sole purpose for her. This is a story about her taking control of her own life. Mistakes come back to haunt you and it’s not always an easy hurdle to get over. From an early life of being pushed too hard by her father, Bloom carries a weight on her that refuses to be seen. The dynamic she has with her estranged father, played respectively by Kevin Costner, plays a huge role in her life. Sorkin writes in aspects of gender politics that make for some good commentary on this. Bloom’s unlikely heroism in the film peeks through in moments of dignity and how true she is to not only the rules of the game, but those of her own.

Idris Elba gives us such a solid and consoling presence. We see him star alongside Chastain as her highly competent, and at first very reluctant, lawyer, Charlie Jaffey. He advises Bloom throughout her entire legal case, never straying away to tell her the realities of her situation. He encourages her to seek vindication with honesty- to be on open book to the feds with information. Nothing in the world, not even her cleared name, would convince Bloom to provide the identities of the big names who sat at her poker tables every week. Chaffey is at first very cautious in meeting her. He assumes she is a definite loss of a case, considering her implications with the Russian mob. His relationship with Bloom becomes confident as they deliver the best lines to the other and begin to establish trust. It makes for some entertaining discourse, thanks to Sorkin’s ability to single out tension and give it a spotlight.

‘Molly’s Game’ is a film that deals a lot with Bloom’s strength and resilience in a way that finishes with redeeming effect. The only disadvantage is its 140 minute runtime. Sometimes you feel as though Sorkin could have cut out a scene or two. It’s nonetheless gripping throughout. Sorkin’s first time feature helming the director’s chair is a solid and clever venture. In an interview, Sorkin himself called the project a “triumphant collaboration.” His dialogue leads its characters to take control completely, especially with Molly’s integrity at stake. Sorkin doesn’t disappoint in his debut. ‘Molly’s Game’ is a film that’s very self aware of its characters with clever plays in dialogue and a hefty payoff.

Jessica’s Rating: 7.5 out of 10

 

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Darkest Hour

Year: 2018
Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Winston Churchill is as famous a British Prime Minister as you can get. Taking control of the country in a time of grave need and facing imminent destruction, he had the unenviable task of inspiring his country into believing the war was not lost. What followed is a story of bravery and heroism on the part of the entire UK, who rallied behind Churchill and his unrivalled skill with language. As a character, Churchill is as alluring as any other. The task, this time, falls to Gary Oldman. To say Oldman gives a great performance in ‘Darkest Hour’ is the understatement of the century.

After being reluctantly placed in charge of the UK, succeeding the increasingly ineffectual Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill was given a war to win, in as literal a sense as you can get. As a man without the support of his party, he is left with only his desire and his commitment to serving his country at all costs. Spanning Churchill’s tumultuous first 9 days in office (yes, 9 days), ‘Darkest Hour’ shows even a man brimming with confidence can be brought to his knees.

Before addressing the obvious in greater detail, ‘Darkest Hour’ is a great film. I’m surprised I was as invested as I was. To be political for just a minute, I am phenomenally disenfranchised with the idea of Great British Values and how great this country is considering the UK is on the verge of irreversible self-destruction. And yet, ‘Darkest Hour’ is a film built on that; built on rallying the country to believe in itself, and I couldn’t help but be swept up in the commotion.

Joe Wright is a visual director with hits and very big misses (‘Atonement’ and ‘Pan’, respectively). I’m happy to report he has another hit with ‘Darkest Hour’. Using flashy camera movements, whether slow zooms or tracking shots or crane shots around the Houses of Parliament, ‘Darkest Hour’ is very enjoyable to watch. One particular shot made me audibly say ‘wow’ in the cinema, where the camera tracks along a bombing run and the destroyed ground before seamlessly transitioning to a dead soldier’s face covered in dirt. It’s the kind of shot that leaves an impression and won’t leave my mind for a while. There are some more creative shots that feel somewhat unnecessary (more than a few scenes of Churchill alone in a room surrounded by a frame of total darkness to convey his isolation within his party were slightly too blunt), but the effect of the film as a whole isn’t lost. Churchill faced war within his party as much as he did with Adolf Hitler, something Wright managed to very successfully portray.

Now, here comes the point that everyone knows is coming, but it needs to be discussed – Gary Oldman is a complete revelation. Someone could make the wild claim that Joe Wright and company literally reanimated Winston Churchill’s corpse and I’d genuinely think about it for a second. It’s a complete transformation visually, physically, and aurally. Admittedly, Churchill is a meaty character to take on and it demands someone going all-in on the performance to deliver it truthfully, and Oldman does that and then some.

Churchill’s famous speeches are treated like action set-pieces no matter where they’re delivered. Two speeches delivered in the Houses of Parliament, one delivered to a small group of politicians, one delivered to his war cabinet, and one on the radio that is bathed in the red glow of betrayal and fear. Every speech is accompanied by a score that only accentuates every speech’s intentions. Beyond his speeches, Oldman delivers every line with the same energy and vigour as a speech, a personal favourite of which is his cry “you cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!”

Gary Oldman’s career is full of tremendous highs, and for my money, his Churchill may be the highest of the lot. It’s the performance of a lifetime from a true great, and he is deserving of every award he has already received and is sure to receive over the coming weeks.

‘Darkest Hour’ is a brilliant piece of rousing British cinema. For best results, watch it as a double bill with 2017’s ‘Dunkirk.’ ‘Darkest Hour’ works on so many levels from cinematography to screenplay to its performances (Kristin Scott Thomas is terrific as Churchill’s wife, Clementine), but a film like this lives and dies by its lead. Gary Oldman carries the film on his shoulders and marches it victoriously to its conclusion.

Rhys’ Rating: 8.5/10

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The Disaster Artist

Year: 2017
Directed by: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron. 

Written by Sarah Buddery

The concept for ‘The Disaster Artist’ isn’t exactly the easiest to explain, especially to those with no prior knowledge of the source material which inspired it, the best bad movie of all time, ‘The Room’. I count myself as one of the millions of diehard fans of ‘The Room’, being as vocal as I can be about how much I love it at every given opportunity. The short story is ‘The Disaster Artist’ is a film based on the book of the same name written by Greg Sestero, who starred in the “the ‘Citizen Kane of bad movies”, ‘The Room’, and who knows the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau better than anyone; Wiseau of course being the producer, director and star of ‘The Room’, brought to life in this film by James Franco.

Complicated spiel aside, it is worth mentioning that it is impossible to tackle this review without talking at least a little bit about what ‘The Room’ means to me; I am after all, the person who with all sincerity had this film higher than ‘The Last Jedi’ in terms of most anticipated!

The very fact that this film exists is a miracle. Considering ‘The Room’ made approximately $1800 on its opening weekend, and had it not been for the rabid group of fans who turned it into a genuine cult hit, it would’ve faded into nothingness. In many ways this feels like the culmination of everything Wiseau had wanted when he made his film. That money Tommy spent on keeping it in theatres long enough to qualify for the Academy Awards, might finally be about to pay off, in the weirdest, most wonderfully meta way possible; rather fitting for the incomparable Wiseau.

Pinpointing the moment in which ‘The Room’ went from woeful obscurity to genuine cult phenomenon isn’t easy, and it’s overwhelming popularity will undoubtedly baffle many. In fact, the reviews on Letterboxd are almost entirely an equal split between 1 stars and 5 stars, and I don’t doubt ‘The Disaster Artist’ will be divisive, although perhaps not so extreme.

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As the most biased person in the world, ‘The Disaster Artist’ is an absolute masterpiece; captivating and hilarious in the most unexpected of ways, and with a warmth and honesty that was not anticipated. Arguably as divisive a person as the man he is portraying, James Franco is the perfect person for this film, both in playing Tommy and in mirroring the “triple threat” of actor/producer/director. In real life, Franco’s recent films and projects have been experimental, and generally not too critically well-received. He is a man who plays by his own rules, and this is everything that Wiseau embodies as well.

The fact that Franco’s performance as Tommy is a thing of total and complete perfection, is really just the icing on the cake. The way Franco entirely disappears into the character is astonishing to watch; nailing Wiseau’s untraceable accent, and especially his monotone laugh, the transformation is eerily accurate. Whilst aided by some prosthetics, the physical transformation is just incredible; everything down to Tommy’s slightly squinted left eye is completely perfect. As someone who has met Tommy (an experience in itself!), the only person who could’ve been more Tommy, is Tommy himself and this is a real testament to Franco’s performance. What he manages in this film is nothing short of remarkable and it would be an incredibly unjust world if he didn’t see some awards attention.

Whilst he might not be in the conversation to receive the same accolades, Dave Franco also deserves praise for his performance as Greg Sestero; Tommy’s co-star in ‘The Room’, best friend, and of course the author of the ‘Disaster Artist’ book. He might not be the most physically accurate Greg Sestero, but he has the “babyface” charm and the undeniable chemistry with Wiseau that is essential for making the central relationship work. Undoubtedly helped by being brothers in real life, the pair light up the screen together and are a total joy to watch. Having read (and obsessed over) Greg’s book, some adjustments have been made, but the strongest theme from the book is more than evident in the film. At its core, this is a story about friendship, about aiming big, and striving to achieve your goals no matter how many people tell you “no”, and ‘The Disaster Artist’ manages to put this across in a way that is as charming as it is hilarious.  

It would be easy to make Tommy a figure for mockery and ridicule, but the film manages to capture that naivety that makes him so genuinely endearing, which ensures we’re almost constantly laughing with him and not at him. It is admirable also that the film doesn’t shy away from the complicated facets of Tommy’s personality. In a film where there is obvious and genuine admiration for the source material, it would have been natural to place him on some kind of pedestal, but whilst Tommy does come off well in the end, it equally doesn’t hide from the crazy and downright outrageous behaviour, and the notoriety Wiseau gained from his cast and crew in the disastrous filming of ‘The Room’.

Of course, it would be a catastrophic failure if this film wasn’t also totally hilarious, but the laughs come thick, fast and consistently, particularly as the film shifts into the actual making of ‘The Room’. The painstakingly accurate recreations of its well-loved scenes and moments are especially entertaining, and it is also in these moments that the supporting cast really shine. Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer are particularly excellent as the suffering crew members dealing with Tommy, and Zac Efron arguably steals the entire show as bit-part Chris R.

The phenomenon of ‘The Room’ might still be a mystery to many, and whilst ‘The Disaster Artist’ probably won’t change that viewpoint, it is still the most perfect and unexpected surprise in this unbelievable Hollywood fairytale. This is in so many ways everything that Tommy had wanted. He was the man with the big dreams, who made a terrible movie, which then captured the hearts of millions and was deemed a story incredible enough to become its own book and subsequent movie. Now genuinely poised for awards success, and with Wiseau and Sestero slowly becoming household names, the dream is coming true. The power of ‘The Room’ lives on, against all odds, and the story of a film considered a masterpiece of bad-filmmaking, is a masterpiece all on its own.

Oh hai Oscars.

SARAH’S RATING: 10/10

(and be sure to check out Sarah’s review of Tommy and Greg’s latest film ‘Best F(r)iends‘)

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Goodbye Christopher Robin

Year: 2017
Director: Simon Curtis
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tiltson, Alex Lawther. 

WRITTEN BY RHYS BOWEN JONES

Winnie The Pooh, I’m sure, is a staple of almost everyone’s childhood post-1924. Everyone knows Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore. Everyone knows Christopher Robin. Finding successes as books, TV shows, and films, Winnie The Pooh is as famous a character as you’ll find in popular culture. To explore the characters’ inception is to explore deep into the childhood of everyone watching, which is what Simon Curtis set out to do with ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’; the untold story of Winnie The Pooh. A behind the scenes look at how the character came to be and what happened next. ‘Goodbye’ provides interesting insights into AA Milne and his creation, but sadly falls short as the film reaches its climax.

Domnhall Gleeson stars as AA Milne, the creator of Winnie The Pooh, and the film follows his life with his wife, Daphne (Robbie) and child, Christopher Robin (Tiltson). Milne is struggling with writers block and hasn’t had a success in a long while, thus he and his family move out of London to the country in order to focus on his next project, a treatise against war. There, Milne spends more time with his now 5-year-old child, and his child’s imagination with his toys is the spark he needs to write Winnie The Pooh, starring his own son. What follows is a look into a life suddenly thrown into fame and stardom as Winnie The Pooh becomes a phenomenon, and the film tackles how well the Milne family respond to new found fame.

Beginning with the positives, I found the performances to be good across the board. Gleeson is reliable if unspectacular in a very softly spoken role. He isn’t given too much heavy lifting to do, but he sells the fish-out-of-water role well as he is forced to be a father more than he ever had been before. Robbie arguably places too much faith in her supremely posh London accent but manages to still portray a conflicted character who desires the fame she has been given potentially more than she desires her own family. The stars of the film are, by a distance, Kelly Macdonald and Will Tiltson, playing Olive (Christopher’s nanny) and Christopher himself respectively.

It stands to reason that these two characters are the most well-realised as they are the two human characters in the Winnie The Pooh series itself. I found Macdonald to be particularly captivating as a Nanny out of her depth, having to be a mother and father to a child that isn’t hers despite wanting a family of her own. Balancing looking after Christopher with effectively being Milne’s personal assistant, and family chef is sure to be difficult, and the strain on Olive’s face becomes more and more apparent as the film progresses. In spending so much time with Christopher, he becomes overly attached, which presents another problem onto her ever-growing list of them.

Will Tiltson, meanwhile, is impossibly adorable as Christopher Robin. Trying to find time to just be a kid among the hullabaloo of paparazzi and visits to New York would be a challenge to anyone, and Tiltson plays this so impressively. When Christopher simply wants to spend time running around the forest near his house with his Dad and his Nanny, Tiltson shines. He has that wide-eyed enthusiasm that comes with having your own, enormous playground, but the more fame becomes a reality to him, the less freedom he has, and his personal playground becomes a genuine tourist and paparazzi spot. ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ is, above anything, a story about a lost childhood. Simon Curtis found a child actor able to convey happiness and loss at the drop of a hat. One scene that stands out is his joy at Nanny reading him a bedtime story, that quickly snaps into sadness as she tells him she’s going away for a while. When Olive and Christopher are on screen, the film is at its best.

When the film works as a somewhat origin story, it works really well. It builds its characters well, establishes life changes effectively, and had me mostly engrossed. When the film has a time jump and Will Tiltson leaves us to be replaced by Alex Lawther as an 18-year-old Christopher Robin, the film loses something. Whether down to Lawther not being as convincing an actor as Tiltson was, or the story simply being less interesting, ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ loses its way.

As Christopher grows up, it becomes apparent that the fame he had as a child had a deep impact on him as a person. Christopher struggled through boarding school as he was bullied for being “that boy from that children’s book,” he laments the childhood he so desired. With better execution, this could have been an emotional knockout, particularly in a late scene where Milne and Christopher argue heatedly about Christopher’s youth and how Milne took it from him. On paper, it’s a powerful scene, but in reality, it’s rushed. Spending so much time on the childhood itself and so little on its effect later in life doesn’t allow the emotion to truly develop.

It’s a real shame. The pieces are all there for ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ to work. It has the set up, but it doesn’t have the execution. It has the ensemble, but only two of them truly shine. It should have packed an emotional punch, but it didn’t. I can imagine seeing this film on a Sunday afternoon on BBC, early in its Christmas schedule. It’s watchable and mostly entertaining, it just doesn’t go that extra mile to make it work. ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ almost worked. Almost.

RHYS’ RATING: 6.2 OUT OF 10

 

Only The Brave

Year: 2017
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly, James Badge Dale

Written by Jessica Peña

‘Only the Brave’ is the biographical drama that tells the fateful true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a unit of trained wildfire control men who lost their lives during the Yarnell Hill Fire in Yarnell, Arizona back in 2013. It is the second greatest loss of firefighter life in the United States since the attacks of 9/11. With a film of this nature, it can be an easy mistake to misinterpret real life people, and even come off as exploitative as a Hollywood project. Director Joseph Kosinski keeps a sensitive dedication to the story that runs deep through its characters and its heart.

The story begins in Prescott, Arizona where a team of forest firefighters are training under the wing of their chief, Eric Marsh, played magnificently by Josh Brolin. The team work hard to get certified to become the country’s first municipal hotshot crew. The term ‘hotshot’ refers to the crew first in line to stabilize forest areas that are on fire. With the inevitable event that this film was based on, the film decides to spend its time capturing our hearts through the stories of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

The film is in no way manipulative of its true events, and I loved that. Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer wrote the script with real life emotions in mind. It was careful to let the characters strengthen the film. Miles Teller embodies Brendan McDonough, the lone survivor of the Yarnell Hill Fire. We follow Brendan through the first part of the film getting to know his struggles with addiction and the sudden news that he’s going to have a daughter. He decides to turn his life around and join the firefighter crew to the doubt of Chief Eric Marsh. Teller proves to be one of Hollywood’s promising young actors. Could the man be in his prime? It’s safe to say so. He just doesn’t quit. Through Brolin’s performance as Marsh, and Jennifer Connelly’s performance as his wife and widow Amanda Marsh, it took the film to a whole new level. Passing its halfway point, we begin to see and understand the character arcs even better. Connelly gives an outstanding and heart breaking act during a scene where Eric and Amanda have a sudden fallout argument in their truck one night. You can feel just how much of it is character driven. Sure, the pace of the story was a tad bit slow in the beginning of the film, but later redeems itself full heartedly.

The cast and crew worked closely with Brendan McDonough as a direct source. In interviews promoting the film, McDonough no longer expresses guilt for not being with his brothers, but gratitude for what can come out of things. ‘Only the Brave’ allowed for a spotlight on forest firefighters and those who put their safety on the line in order to secure that of their community’s. The cast was able to shed a lot of weight and be empowered through the performance in remembrance of the fallen. With the blessing of the families involved, the film was able to exemplify true heroism in light of these real personalities who were truly unforgettable. With excellent portrayals we also see the wildfires come to cinematic life with beautiful aerial cinematography by Claudio Miranda. His past work in ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Oblivion’ have made him a dominant and worthy director of photography for this project. ‘Only the Brave’ shows us gorgeous mountain tops and a particularly scathing, but beautiful, side to Mother Nature. The environment within the film is warm, it’s dirty, and it’s raw.

There’s a strong sense of community and brotherhood tied into the film. These men were a family. With promising performances from James Badge Dale and Taylor Kitsch, we can feel the bonds get stronger as they spend more time in harm’s way. There was some shortage of performances of the crew that I’m not sure is too inexcusable. With a runtime of 133 minutes, the film remained in focus and was never truly dull for a moment.

‘Only the Brave’ is a well-driven salute to what real world heroism looks like. It is humbling and honest. The stories of these real heroes never miss a beat to tell it straight. It is not a story about chaotic wildfires, it is the incredible collective story of brotherhood and what it was to be one of the Hotshots. As the tagline reads, ‘It’s not what stands in front of you, it’s who stands beside you.’

Jessica’s Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Year: 2017
Directed by: Angela Robinson
Cast: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton

Written by Fiona Underhill

To be honest, the title of this film almost put me off this film altogether and having seen it, I still think  the title is pretty awful. However, I’m glad I paid more attention to the film as the release date drew near and I started hearing very positive things about it on Twitter. I am not sure to what extent this was planned and designed, but I’m extremely thankful that this story has come out in the same year as Patty Jenkins’ ‘Wonder Woman‘. I had no idea about this back-story to the creation of the character and the reception to the first comics and it is a fascinating story indeed.

The story is framed by the titular Professor Marston (Luke Evans) having to account for himself before Josette Frank (Connie Britton), a Mary Whitehouse-type figure with a moral crusade against inappropriate material in children’s literature, including comics. He then tells the story of his work as a Harvard psychologist, or more specifically, a Professor at Radcliffe college, a women-only ‘wing’ of Harvard. He is married to Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), also a psychologist, working on her PhD and fighting to have it recognised by Harvard (instead of just Radcliffe, which is looked down upon). This is perhaps my issue with the title; William Moulton Marston is not the only ‘professor’ Marston and it is phrased as if the two ‘wonder women’ belong to him. The Marstons have an interesting side-line in inventing the lie detector test, using the subject’s heart rate as its prime indicator. Professor Marston becomes interested in one of his students, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote, who made an impression in ‘Neon Demon’) and she starts working for the Marstons as an assistant. Gradually it becomes apparent that there is a strong attraction between the three and they start an affair.

As always, Rebecca Hall is fantastic as the sweary, honest and extremely frank Elizabeth. Luke Evans is at his most attractive in the period suits and hats and Heathcote is also impressive after a strong couple of years for her (‘Pride, Prejudice & Zombies’, ‘The Man in the High Castle’, ‘Fifty Shades Darker’). Although it starts off as witnessing a man’s dreams come true (his wife encouraging an affair and a threesome, no less), it becomes apparent that this is not, for once, told from the male gaze. The writer-director Angela Robinson gives equal weight to the two women and their relationship with each other, as well as with William. You genuinely get the impression that all three are in love with one another. Of course, the relationship would be considered unconventional today, let alone in the 1950s and the ‘thruple’ obviously come up against many obstacles. Firstly, both Marstons’ careers are put on the line (forcing Elizabeth to become a secretary), then (after they have moved in together and started having children) there are problems with the neighbours and the children’s school friends.

Professor Marston stumbles across a shop selling lingerie and pornography which has a room in the back for bondage demonstrations. Marston takes a ‘scholarly’ interest in all of this (purely for research purposes, of course) and invites the two ladies to participate. It is portrayed in the film that this has a direct correlation to the inspiration for the character of Wonder Woman. Her Lasso of Truth (harking back to the lie detector test) and various depictions of people tied up in the comics are said to have been sparked by Marston’s interest in bondage. This is what triggers Josette Frank’s outrage and leads to copies of the comic being burned. You definitely get the the impression that William Marston was an enlightened feminist and that he channels this into the comics, but you don’t really see the process that takes him from psychologist to comic-book writer.

To the extent to which this story is entirely factual, I’m not sure. However, this film must be praised for its mostly positive depiction of a polygamous relationship and for exploring aspects of Wonder Woman that I certainly wasn’t aware of. The costumes, hair and make up are, of course, to die for and the acting is exemplary. It makes a great companion piece to the Jenkins film and it is fantastic to see a woman of colour being given an opportunity to make a film with themes such as this. It is worth your support for many reasons, so go see it!

Fiona’s Rating: 8.0/10

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