Loving Vincent

Year: 2017
Directed By: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman
Cast: Chris O’Dowd, Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk, Aidan Turner, Holly Earl

Written by Tom Sheffield

If you asked someone to name a famous painter off the top of their head, there’s  very high probability the name they’ll say is that of Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch post-impressionist painter who is one of the most famous and influential artists. Sadly, Van Gogh took his own life at the age of 37 after years of suffering with mental illness, poverty, and being shunned by the people in his local community.

‘Loving Vincent’ takes place a year after Vincent’s death, and follows Armand (Douglas Booth), the son of one of Vincent’s friend, Roulin the Postman (Chris O’Dowd). Vincent’s landlord hands Roulin a letter Vincent had written before his death, which is addressed to his brother, Theo, and Roulin asks that his son delivers it for him. Armand hesitantly accepts and heads to Paris to find Theo van Gogh, but after discovering that he died shortly after his brother committed suicide, Armand travels to Auvers-sur-Oise to learn more about the days leading up to Vincent’s suicide and talk to people who knew and were around him at the time.

This film is nothing short of astonishing. Each and every single frame is an individual painting that was created using the same technique as Van Gogh himself, by a team of 115 artists. – in total there were around 65,000 paintings created for the film – and it’s the world’s first fully painted feature film. During ‘Loving Vincent’ I was in absolute awe watching each and every frame appear on screen. My eyes darted around the screen watching even the smallest little details change with every frame.

When Armand is in conversation with some of the many characters we meet, the film often goes into flashbacks and witness the events that are being discussed. These paintings are a lot different to the ones used during the modern day scenes, they’re also in black and white and they absolutely blew me away with the level of detail that each painting had. The transitions that take place when the paintings go from modern day to flashback were absolutely stunning, often with colours sweeping across the canvases. It’s easy to forget you’re watching individual paintings, especially when the framing changes and the paintings slowly zoom in on a character, changes focus, or widens the background, as you see in normal shot films.

 

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Modern Day

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Flashback

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going into the film, I wasn’t really aware of who would be the faces and voices of some of the characters, but I was very surprised to spot Chris O’Dowd. Aidan Turner and Jerome Flynn come to life in the paintings. It was frankly quite surreal seeing these stars  depicted as Van Gogh paintings, but that just added to whole wonderful experience. What was truly unique about this film too is that we are introduced to some of the characters and places in the film. New faces and places often had an  opening/introductory shot that is exactly the same as some of the famous paintings that hang in museums today and have been seen by millions of people, making them instantly recognisable.

There was a whole range of emotions conveyed in this film by all the characters, and each and every painting portrayed them perfectly, whether it was little gestures, eye movements, creases in the forehead, and subtle mannerisms. Again, seeing how even the smallest of details were painted to convey a person’s emotions made it even easier to forget that these are paintings you’re watching and not actors in front of a camera with some sort of CGI or filter over them. Even in the background, there were lights subtly flickering, birds flying in the distance, water flowing down the river, and reflections in windows characters passed.

At just 90 minutes long, there’s a lot of story being told in a short amount of run time – although the short runtime can be forgiven, given the fact this film has been years in the making, with lots of hard work going into each and every painting. Some scenes feel like they just needed a few more lines of dialogue to feel a bit more genuine and less rushed, but all-in-all I can’t really fault this film. You’ll want to stay seated for the credits too as the characters and actors are shown side by side, along with the paintings they are based on. A lovely ending to this unique film.

It’s clear to see why ‘Loving Vincent’ has been getting a lot of love on the festival scene, but it’s a mighty shame that it has such a limited release here in the UK. It’s truly a cinematic experience like no other. If you can, I highly recommend you try to catch it in the cinema before it quietly leaves for good. One of the most beautiful films this year, hands down. You can learn more about the love, hard word, and dedication that went into this film right here. 

Tom’s Rating: 9.0/10

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Battle of the Sexes

Year: 2017
Directed By: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming

Written by Fiona Underhill

Co-directed by the ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ helmers Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, ‘Battle of the Sexes’ has come out of the festival circuit and probably has hopes of Oscar potential. This film tells the true story of Billie-Jean King (played by Emma Stone here), the Number 1 women’s tennis player of the early 1970s and a washed-up, has-been male tennis player, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) pitted together in a ridiculous rivalry that questioned whether a female athlete could rival a male one. It is set during the burgeoning ‘women’s lib’ movement, but of course still resonates today, not least in the world of tennis itself where the likes of Andy Murray has to constantly remind the media of Serena Williams’ achievements. I confess I was unaware of this event until the film came about, but it had a huge impact at the time. It was one of the biggest televised sporting events ever, with 90 million viewers and made a significant difference to the feelings of women who still struggled to get credit cards in their own names.

As told in this film, the match came about because King dared to challenge the huge imbalance between prize-money for male and female tennis players. When she was met with derision from the Association of Tennis Professionals, headed by Jack Kramer (slightly shocking to see Bill Pullman in an elder statesman role), she decided to ‘go it alone’, finding a group of fellow women tennis players to form the Women’s Tennis Association. Bobby Riggs, a successful player in the 30s and 40s,  had fallen on hard times due to a gambling problem and marital problems (his wife Priscilla is played by Elisabeth Shue). So he comes up with the wheeze to challenge a female player to a match, first he persuades Margaret Court (who had recently had a baby), then he finally manages to ‘bag’ Bille-Jean King.

The performances in ‘Battle of the Sexes’ are astonishing across the board. I truly believe Steve Carell is one of the best actors we have working today and he should have received more attention for ‘The Big Short’ last year. The supporting cast is also exemplary; of course Andrea Risborough is the stand-out, as she is in anything. Risborough plays Marilyn, a hairdresser who goes on tour with the women and who starts an affair with Billie-Jean. Sarah Silverman is also fantastic as King’s agent and Austin Stowell sports the finest head of hair I’ve seen since Robert Redford’s heyday (whilst portraying King’s husband, Larry).

Frustratingly, although written by Simon Beaufoy, whose work I have enjoyed, the script didn’t really stack up for me. It’s also disappointing after ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ (in which you felt like you knew and understood each member of that family) and ‘Ruby Sparks’ (a really great rom-com directed by Faris) that ‘Battle of the Sexes’ doesn’t quite work. For me, the main failing comes from the character of Riggs and his motivation. He is portrayed as a buffoon, doing anything gimmicky (playing tennis with sheep and in a variety of costumes) for publicity and money. This ‘challenge’ is just another extension of that, you certainly don’t get the impression that he was truly a vehement chauvinist – out to put women back in their place. He seems to be acting that role and playing it up for the cameras, but this disconnect isn’t made explicit or explored in enough depth. It’s also unclear whether King really believed or understood why he was doing it. Although reluctant, King allows herself to become part of this circus, during the peak of her career and I’m not sure I fully understood why. It didn’t allow her to be open about her sexuality, for example.

Alan Cumming’s character, Ted Tinling, who designs and makes the women’s tennis dresses also didn’t quite work for me. He is portrayed as stereotypically camp but is also shown trying to share a tender (actually cheesy and sentimental) moment with King in ‘solidarity’. Although all of the performances were excellent (I don’t want to get into a debate about whether Stone deserves the Oscar for this more than ‘La La Land’), ‘Battle of the Sexes’ did fall short, for me. I’m glad I got to see groups of middle-aged women clapping and whooping in the showing I saw and I was affected by an article about how important this real-life event was to a woman who was a young girl with an abusive father at the time. However, I feel that they deserved a better film than this – one that really got to grips with the motivations of the characters. And one that perhaps put the event more firmly in the context of the women’s lib movement of the time. Ultimately; great performances, shame about the script.

Full disclosure: I am adding 2 points to my rating for Andrea Risborough alone.

Fiona’s Rating: 7.0/10

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The Glass Castle

Year: 2017
Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Sarah Snook, Max Greenfield

Written by Jo Craig

We all recall those hazy, adolescent memories of a family outing that stretched until sunset, laced with heated moments and inevitable bickering but ultimately transpired as one of those nostalgic recollections that tugs on our laughter lines. Pushing that sentiment further is Hawaiian born filmmaker, Destin Daniel Cretton, who effectively acknowledges the repercussions of a bittersweet childhood in his latest biographical drama ‘The Glass Castle’, narrating the true life of the bohemian Walls family.

Based on an autobiography of the same name, Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) leads a precarious life caused by the unethical upbringing from her non-conformist parents, Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts). As a travelling family of six, The Walls search for the perfect location to build their “glass castle”; a paradise residence that symbolises hope for a family struggling to adapt within society.

Told through a present-day timeline with a series of flashbacks, Cretton’s coming-of-age drama focuses on protagonist Jeannette, depicting “a day in the life of” the Walls family as they scurry from location to location. Whilst viewing Rex and Rose Mary’s actions from a child’s perspective, a thin line between tough love and abuse emerges as a theme that’s established early on and features abruptly and sporadically throughout, thus causing a constant duality between love and control that leaves the audience pondering over their questionable nurturing skills. This arduous conflict becomes one of the strongest components to ‘The Glass Castle’, exposing a very delicate balance between affection and psychological maltreatment.

Further highlights of this weighty biography are potent artists Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts, uniting as a vigorous trivium that passes most of the film as captivating. With Jennifer Lawrence previously tied to the role of Jeannette, Cretton made a favourable choice in collaborating with Larson after working with her on the critically acclaimed, ‘Short Term 12’, showcasing her Oscar-winning talents alongside her raw and ‘Rampart’ co-star, Woody Harrelson. The electric relationship between Rex and Jeannette demanded a sturdy conjunction between character and actor, which was essential to the storyline’s development and maintained from start to finish in a wonderful display of passion and intellect. Naomi Watts’ performance of Rose Mary was somewhat of a stand-out display of experienced acting in a modest supporting role, detaching from her accustomed sun-kissed roles of playing mothers and alluring psychologists, to a role of great substance that left a gleaming impression. Using three actors per Walls sibling established an efficient progress in age and another nod to conveying the biography’s authenticity, with the added bonus of using second time on-screen siblings Shree Crooks and Charlie Shotwell from 2016’s ‘Captain Fantastic’.

While ‘The Glass Castle’ excels in cast and credible material, the consistency in tone between the current day and the reminiscent flashbacks causes a stalling effect between the two that interrupts its immersive quality. Larson’s Jeannette remains relatively subdued throughout the drama, causing points of frustration and a general need for relief with the exception of one incredibly satisfying scene. With the production addressing hard topics of this calibre, we search for alleviation that rarely comes to aid, and when it does it comes at a fleeting moment drowning in anguish, where a nervous giggle is all we have to muster.

Undeterred by these undermining bumps in the road, Cretton’s first mainstream feature film shows his skill to target a story with provocative messages and immerse his production into disclosing the important principles. The script being penned by Cretton, Jeannette Walls and Andrew Lanham, who composed the playbook for The Shack, all added credence to the validity of the true accounts being recreated on screen. Cinematographer Brett Pawlak, also from ‘Short Term 12’, has a charming ability to capture a family’s sincerity and strength in unity through warm-toned colour grading and expressive wide angles. Cretton has shrewdly resided with a team he trusts to deliver this level of poignancy, and shows great prospect for any promising director.

With some informative post-credit scenes with the real Walls family, that acts as testament to a wonderfully selected cast, ‘The Glass Castle’ provides some incredibly touching moments depicting a troubled yet loving father and daughter relationship, perfect at delivering those nostalgic moments. Cretton provides a clever link between imagination and harsh realism whilst tying in the audience’s personal memories of family life, despite the tone becoming redundant. The morals of Jeannette Walls’ adaptation proves how the complexity of our psyche can cause our love to be expressed in various manners, but still exists no matter how unnaturally it’s given. A powerful family tale that proves home goes wherever the family goes, and a title that sounds magical in Spanish: ‘El Castillo de Cristal’.

Jo’s Rating: 7.0 out of 10
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Churchill

Year: 2017
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, Ella Purnell
Written by Tom Sheffield

Often referred to as “the greatest Briton ever”, it’s no surprise that there have already been a number of films and documentaries centred around the life of Winston Churchill, with this latest film about the former Prime Minister coming from director Jonathan Teplitzky (‘The Railway Man’, ‘Broadchurch’).

This whole biopic centres around Churchill (Brian Cox) in the 96 hours before the D-Day landings in Normandy, 1944. Churchill is haunted by his past experience of war, obsessively worrying about what the public will think of him, whatever the outcome of this plan, and filled with fear by the sheer number of young men’s lives at stake if he makes the wrong call. Trying to support her husband the best she can, Clementine Churchill (Miranda Richardson)  must make Winston see that his self-pity will not win the war, and it certainly isn’t how a leader should act.

First and foremost, my favourite thing about this film was easily the cinematography, courtesy of David Higgs (‘RocknRolla’, ‘Lesbian Vampire Killers’). Some of the scenes were so beautifully shot that even the dull, and often tiresome dialogue managed to keep my attention. The film kicks off with shots of Winston on a beach, the seas red with blood, and as he walks away the colour fades to black and white and the empty beach is now filled with the bodies of young soldiers. This harrowing shot sets us up for Winston’s state of mind for the rest of the film and a visual representation of what he fears may happen.

Alongside the superb cinematography, Cox and Richardson’s performances are the only other saving graces of this film. The way in which they deliver their lines during some of the most intense and emotional scenes really capture your attention. The hour and forty-five minute run time feels seemed to drag in places and I think a ninety minute run time would have sufficed. A number of shots throughout the film are Winston staring into the distance, cigar in his mouth, with his facial expressions giving clear indication there is a lot running through his mind. The silence is often broken with Clementine entering the room and speaking a lot of sense and often reminding Winston to act like the leader he wants to be remembered for being.

The film focused on Churchill’s demons and his on-going fight against them, and because of this I think this film focused on the wrong Churchill. Had the film centred around the same 96 hours but from Clementine’s point of view and her struggle to support her husband, I think that would have made for a much more intense and ‘thriller’ like film. I left the cinema wishing I’d seen more of her and what she was doing whilst Winston was out butting heads with his American allies about the plans for D-Day.

I can’t say I’d recommend giving this a watch whilst it’s in the cinemas, but if you’re interested in films about World War II or Churchill then you’ll probably want to pick this up when it comes out on DVD. There’s certainly a lot of comments online about the films historical accuracy, but I’ve avoided going into detail on this in my review as biopics tend to be flexible with truth behind the stories they’re trying to tell. But with solid leads and some beautiful shots, ‘Churchill’ would be a film I recommend for one of those days where you’re just not quite sure what to watch.

Tom’s rating: 4.5 out of 10