screenplay

FILM REVIEW: “WILD”

‘Wild’

Written by: Nick Hornby, Cheryl Strayed (novel),

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern

Story: Haunted by her past drug abuse, tragedy, and infidelity, Cheryl Strayed decides to walk the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail to heal her body, mind and soul.

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Wild is a film that has garnered a lot of attention over recent months, and has been on the campaign trail for some serious awards. Witherspoon missed out on the Golden Globe, but managed to secure herself an Oscar nomination. This makes for an interesting task in reviewing the film.

The story of ‘Wild’ is simple and director Jean-Marc Vallee really could of made either a beautiful or an abysmal film out of it. When you take such a simple story you run the risk of making either a boring film or a film that really tried too hard to be introverted or philosophical. Wild is neither. While it does get off to a relatively slow start, the film provides the perfect amount of philosophy to balance the technical ‘hiking’ aspects of the film.

Strayed, on her journey, faces a number of issues due to both the physically torturous nature of the hike, to struggling to deal with her own prior indiscretions. It would be easy to say that Strayed is not a likeable character, however within her ability to be self deprecating and at the same time inwardly optimistic, we find something undeniably relatable. Anyone who has ever done something that they’re not proud of that really stays with them is going to be able to understand at some level what it is that the protagonist is dealing with.

Witherspoon’s performance is strong, and perhaps the strongest we have seen from her to date: this is a considerable statement since Witherspoon has always been one of the most consistently reliable performers within her genre. Witherspoon gives Strayed a sense of humanity and a genuinely real nature which draws an investment out of the audience. While we can try to be critical of her performance (because this is what we do), there really isn’t much that we can fault.

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Jean-Marc Vallee has constructed a film that is stark: it contrasts so tightly the beauty of nature vs real life in quick cuts between Strayed’s heroin binges and her new life living on bare necessities. This contrast alone adds depth to the film and begs the viewer to notice the differences between fundamental need and desire. Where Cheryl may have made decisions in the past based on desire, as we all do, it was getting back to nature and the essentials of human life that made her human again.

Perhaps the most brilliant part of this film is the soundtrack. With artists such as Wings, Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Portishead to name a few, the score will bring any music lover to their knees. The songs are all emotional and are tracks that can hold personal interest to viewers, which only opens us up more to relate to the loneliness and isolation of the main character.

All in all, ‘Wild’ is well balanced, patient, and poetic. It really is a film that looks inwards and a film that will touch even the most insensitive soul. We will most definitely watch again.

Rating: 9.5/10

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FILM REVIEW: ‘BOYHOOD’

‘Boyhood’

Written by: Richard Linklater

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

Story: The journey of a young boy from ages 5 to 18.

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It is difficult to know where to begin talking about a movie like ‘Boyhood’. It is, in itself, an epic: a three hour journey from childhood to adulthood. It is epic in it’s running time, but it is also epic in the fact that it took Richard Linklater twelve years to make: the effect of this being that we experience this family and their growth in the closest way. We do not see a sudden change as the actor becomes someone we recognise: these are the people who have been on the journey with us all along, and it makes it all the more real.

The story itself is so beautifully simple. Linklater is simply inviting us to watch and observe a family grow up, grow together, and perhaps even grow apart. Somehow you can imagine that this is Linklater’s own coming of age after films like ‘Dazed and Confused’, and ‘School of Rock’.  ‘Boyhood’ follows Mason Jnr (Ellar Coltrane) from age 5 to age 18. We observe his struggles with his family – played out perfectly by Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater and Ethan Hawke – and observe almost perversely the way that Mason deals with every single little thing that we have all had to deal with, including talking to girls for the first time, and getting his heart broken. We see Mason literally grow up in this time capsule piece.

Spending so long making this film has allowed the cast to really melt into their roles, and invites the audience to become a fly on the wall in their lives. We are encouraged to become part of their family and part of their human experience. The film almost feeds the part of us that loves reality television in a stunning and really captivating way. Throughout the entire piece we feel enraged at poor parenting choices but also we feel so sorry and so awful for the fact that Arquette and Hawke seem completely aware of these choices and the impact they are having on their children. It could take some reminding too that Arquette and Hawke are not actually married, and we did not just watch a recap of their lives.

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Credit must be given to those responsible for putting together the soundtrack. For anyone who grew up in the 90s, you will remember well most of the songs in this piece and you can trace them back to parts of your own childhood. This just makes the experience all the more powerful. It doesn’t feel like a movie. You don’t feel bad going to make yourself a cup of tea, or skipping out to the bathroom halfway though: these people will continue to develop around you: you are merely an observer.

Of course, there are some goofs. While her performance was fantastic, Lorelei Linklater seems a strange fit for Samantha, Mason’s sister. How is it that Arquette and Hawke, both fair skinned and blue eyed, could produce a brown eyed daughter? In fact, when researching more into this matter, you will find that Lorelei was actually born in Mexico. While this is not a total deal breaker for the film, it does remove some of the illusion of reality from the story.

All in all, Richard Linklater has produced a masterpiece of a film. It doesn’t feel like a film, nor does it feel like work to write or think about. It is the opportunity to spend three hours in the life of someone else: in their shoes and in their home. Such creative filmmaking should be rewarded, and turning something so simple into something so beautiful is a skill Linklater possesses that he has gifted to us here.

Rating: 9/10

FILM REVIEW: “LABOR DAY” (2013)

“Labor Day”

 

Written by: Jason Reitman, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard

Directed by: Jason Reitman

Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin

Story: When single mother Adele and her son Henry give a ride to fugitive Frank, they begin to learn more about his story and the truth behind his crime.

 

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Anyone familiar with Jason Reitman’s work might go into this film expecting a quirky and surprising comedy along the lines of ‘Juno’ or ‘Up In The Air’.  If this is, in fact what you are looking for, then give Labor Day a miss.

Jason Reitman has adapted Joyce Maynard’s novel almost to a tee, bringing to the screen the sentimentality and emotional vulnerability of each and every character. Kate Winslet once again proves she is one of the best actresses of this time, giving us an Adele who is all at once broken and very together. Her maturity is both impenetrable and very hard to ignore. Brolin compliments her nicely, though there is a chemistry between the two which is undoubtedly missing. 

What really lets this story down is the thin narrative, which offers the unnecessary subplot of Henry and his first love Eleanor, who seems to be somewhat of a lighthouse for abandoned and unstable children. The dialogue becomes dull at times, as if inserted to stretch the story. The film plays incredibly slowly: two hours almost feels like three or four when we are stuck with moments of silence, and a film that somehow never really builds but keeps steady momentum for it’s entirety. 

We cannot help but wonder if the whole thing would have been more enjoyable if the story had been somewhat remotely believable. The novel itself was indeed fiction, but it seems to test the realms of imagination when an escaped fugitive takes up home with a single mother and somehow a fierce love affair forms in the space of three days. Even watching this convicted murderer who suddenly turns handyman, sports coach, and master chef is enough to shake your head at. If you have a keen imagination and can let yourself fall into a story which plays very close to reality but with a few major flaws, this might be the right movie for you.

The cinematography is stunning, and is perfectly partnered with a soundtrack by Rolfe Kent (‘Up In The Air’). These two combined could perhaps generate a lump in the throat of those not completely distracted by the far too predictable ending to the story.

Labor Day is a very grown up story and can perhaps grasp a few of us for a second, but it is enjoyable at best and probably one of the least exciting films you will see this year.

 

Rating: 2.5/5

FILM REVIEW: “AMERICAN HUSTLE” (2013)

“American Hustle”

Written by: Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell

Directed by: David O. Russell

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence

Story: When their fraudulent schemes are uncovered by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper), Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his seductive partner Sydney Prosser (Adams) are forced to co-operate with him in a grand plan to expose a mafia ring in Jersey.

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David O. Russell is having a very good time. Just a year after winning countless awards and critical acclaim for ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, his Jersey based mafia comedy has been nominated for almost everything you can be nominated.

After seeing American Hustle, I wanted to review it straight away but instead I let it sit for a while in order to mull it over. My hope was that the film would appear more remarkable and have more of an affect on me as time passed. Now coming back to it, I had to sit and watch a few clips and trailers to actually remind myself of what I had seen. See where I’m going with this? There is nothing really too remarkable about American Hustle.

The thing that stuns me the most about this film is that it is billed as a comedy. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few laughs all of which come from Jennifer Lawrence’s devilishly clumsy (but secretly brilliant) Rosalyn. Other than that, I found the excessive out of place dialogue to be boring and disjointed which made the whole pace of the film perhaps three times slower than it should of been for such a plot.

Amy Adams is shockingly forgettable as Sydney Prosser. The character was originally supposed to be irresistible and seductive, but Adams has somehow taken this and turned it into awkward and uncomfortable to watch. Given that the realism of the story revolved around her sex appeal, she perhaps should of taken a few lessons from Margot Robbie’s ‘Naomi’ in The Wolf Of Wall Street. Of course, Adams has been told that it is sexy to not wear a bra (at all, ever…) however her attractiveness in this film begins and ends with her oh-so-visible nipples.

I have heard time and time again that the key to an enjoyable film is a protagonist that you can understand on some level, and with whom you can empathise. In American Hustle, we are given two protagonists: Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale. Though costuming, makeup and lighting have done an excellent job with these two, what we are faced with is two characters who are distinctly impossible to like. Cooper is incessantly annoying: his character comes across as stupid and spoon fed; where Bale’s Rosenfeld is almost worse. Rosenfeld is not only stupid, but he is aggravatingly ignorant. Pitch them against each other fighting for Sydney Prosser’s affections (we still don’t understand why) and you’re left sitting in the cinema checking your watch and wondering when things are going to start happening.

The film turns out to be somewhat enjoyable: it isn’t all bad. Hair, makeup and costuming are particular highlights, and the music is enough to make anyone crack a smile.

Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence are right to be recognised for their acting chops in taking this blithering train wreck of a script and turning it into something watchable, but I would probably rather save my money than try and watch this again. Maybe buy the soundtrack instead…

Rating 3/5

Photo Credit: imdb.com

FILM REVIEW: ‘DALLAS BUYERS CLUB’ (2013

“Dallas Buyers Club”

Written by: Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner

Story: In 1985, drug, sex and alcohol addict Ron Woodroof is diagnosed with AIDS and sets out to make medication readily available for those in the same position.

 

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This year’s awards season is jammed packed with films looking at socially and culturally sensitive issues. Where there is ’12 Years A Slave’ giving us an extremely graphic and difficult to watch vision of racism and slavery in the pre-civil war United States, Jean-Marc Vallee gives us ‘Dallas Buyers Club’: an almost punishing look at the treatment of AIDS victims during the epidemic of the 1980s and 90s.
 
The film opens the way it means to continue, with graphic use if sex, drugs and alcohol to paint the picture of Ron Woodroof. It becomes evident that we are not supposed to like this man: his enormous disrespect for other people is on show. He is a violent homophobic which becomes the most ironic part of his situation. Looking at McConaughey on screen he is shockingly thin (the actor lost 47 pounds for the role) and his face is gaunt and almost lifeless. It is not uncommon for an actor to change their appearance for a role, we could name multiple examples, however it is rare that this transformation leads to such a fascinatingly good performance. In Dallas Buyers Club we get two of these. Jared Leto is remarkable in his role as Rayon, a transgender AIDS victim. His appearance will startle you more than once as he seems more cheekbones and hips than anything else: but where his body lacks, his acting is of huge substance. Rayon befriends the homophobic Woodroof and in it we begin to see a truly touching friendship form.
 
The film is heavy hitting in it’s deep evaluation of the subject matter. Aside from demonstrations such as ‘Rent’, ‘Philadelphia’ or perhaps even ‘Precious’, we have not really seen a really deep exploration of AIDS and the social and political consequences it can have. The film itself is driven towards the way in which AIDS victims were treated both by peers, hospitals, and the FDA. Woodroof’s battle to make medicine accessible not just for himself is inspiring and within twenty minutes we find ourselves rooting for him even though his character does remain genuinely unlikeable.. We are even exposed to some arguments that are still present in modern America. Against the backdrop of the Obamacare scandal, and the everlasting ‘wealth vs health’ argument presented oh so eloquently in documentaries such as Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ – Dallas Buyers Club not only makes us consider the actions of the past, but also the present. The multi-faceted characters express more than one purpose but somehow all seem relevant here.
 
The standout quality of this film lies in the editing and direction. An eerie whistle fills the audience’s ears to haunt us with the repercussions of Woodroof’s disease and to fill in parts of the story that are rightfully left vague. The film plays slow, but never drops the level of tension presented. Jennifer Garner’s character Eve Saks serves as a barometer for how we should relate emotionally to these characters, but serves no other real purpose in the film but to take up screen time. Yves Belanger (Director of Photography) should be commended on his collaborative work with Director Vallee in using light and shadows to create visually stunning sequences.
 
The screenplay is well put together and the dialogue is oftentimes touching. When watching the film I was under the impression that the story was based on a magazine article (as it claims to be ‘based on true events’) so I was confused to hear that Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack were nominated by the Academy for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ rather than ‘Best Adapted’: I am sure they have their reasons.
 
All in all, one might feel that Dallas Buyers Club overreaches on it’s plea for sympathy, only to be grounded by Jared Leto’s Rayon who is the only really likable character portrayed here. When faced with Garner and McConaughey in endless sequences, it starts to feel a little forced, like too much has gone into making sure the audience is feeling appropriately compassionate. 
 
Dallas Buyers Club is a movie that is certainly worth watching, but one must remain open minded to the real message. This is a movie about respect, forgiveness, and hope. Not survival. 
 

Rating: 4/5

 

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Photo Credit: imdb.com

FILM REVIEW: ‘AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY’ (2014)

“August: Osage County”

Written by: Tracey Letts

Directed by: John Wells

Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin…

Story: A dysfunctional family is brought together after a family tragedy, and is forced to deal with family truths about the home they grew up in and the strong willed woman who raised them.

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Tracey Letts is the man behind ‘August: Osage County’. The film was originally a play, which gifted Letts with both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. The film adaptation drew a strong cast, who have been nominated over and over, namely Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, for their portrayals of mother and daughter Violet and Barbara Weston. Given that the film has received such attention for the cast, we have to wonder where the rest of the recognition fell off. Very few nominations for the screenplay, and John Wells has received little recognition for his Directing, we approach this film with curiosity.

The answer to this becomes apparent as soon as you begin watching. The cast itself are spectacular: Meryl Streep is both hilarious and worrying as the drug addled mother trying to cope with the loss of her husband, and Julia Roberts gives her best performance since Erin Brockovich. It seems almost a shame that awards season is so competitive this year. Were it not for Cate Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine, Streep would be a shoe in for any and every trophy. With strong performances from Ewan McGregor and Chris Cooper serving as the voice of reason against these hot headed women, the interactions are an absolute joy to watch.

Unfortunately, the glory of the film begins and ends with the performances.

While the dialogue (which is alive with profanity) is both captivating and at times shockingly good, the story itself is convoluted with multiple subplots that are left underdeveloped and unresolved. From drugs, abuse, incest, and even touching on statutory rape, one starts to feel pulled in different directions and unsure where to invest. While we want to follow the story of the relationship between Roberts and Streep (as this is by far the most interesting) we are consistently distracted by an onslaught of extremely sensitive issues which are brushed past and never fully explored.

Indeed, aside from the dialogue the film itself is dull. Perhaps this dullness is to serve as a metaphor for the lives of those stuck in Osage County, however it does not serve well for viewing. We are offered a few pretty landscapes (which the characters are quick to complain about) but most of the film is shot inside a dark and dreary house. The lighting is dim and the film moves slowly. There is no respite from the misery that August: Osage County has to offer.

There are a few comedic moments but not enough to carry the film to where you want it to go. In the end we are left with minimal resolution: a ‘driving off into the sunset’ moment simply does not justify the reality of the rest of the film.

With such strong performances from every single cast member, you really really want to enjoy August: Osage County, and indeed I would never discourage anybody from watching it: when you can get to grips with the main story of family it does resonate. However, the lack of nominations in any other category aside from acting is plainly evidenced and supported when you watch this in it’s entirety.

If you are one for stark, witty dialogue and a stellar ensemble cast then definitely watch August: Osage County. If not, then perhaps give it a miss.

 

Rating: 3/5

 

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*Image Credit: imdb.com

FILM REVIEW: “PHILOMENA” (2013)

“Philomena”

Written by: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (adapted from the book ‘The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee’ by Martin Sixsmith)

Directed by: Stephen Frears

Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan

Story: Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) is a journalist pursuing a human interest piece based on Philomena Lee, who was induced into giving her first child up to Irish nuns.

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Directed by Stephen Frears, who has earned acclaim for films such as ‘The Queen’, ‘Philomena’ is a rich, witty drama which will resonate with anybody who has a social conscience.

When you take a book like ‘The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee’ and attempt to turn it into a movie, it would be very easy to fall into a Nicholas Sparks type trap of creating something soaked in apathy and desperate for tears. This is not the case with Philomena, which draws brilliantly on the comedic talents of both Steve Coogan and Judi Dench to master the fine balance between laughing and crying.

The story is not too simple, but not complex enough to drown out the true emotion of the matter at hand. I have heard people say that this film serves to only bastardise the Catholic Church, however when one actually takes the time to watch this movie from start to finish, something different starts to permeate your mind.

Judi Dench plays the role of Philomena to absolute perfection, and one may indeed find themselves hanging on to every single word she says until the credits begin to roll. Joining on her journey to find her long lost son, who she finds was actually sold for adoption in the United States, Steve Coogan gives us Martin Sixsmith in all his glory. This totally mismatched pair have an incredible mother/son chemistry on screen and their opposing views provoke even more thought in the audience: Where Sixsmith builds increasing resentment towards the Catholic Church, Philomena possesses an impenetrable capacity to forgive and live on. It is impossible to take sides.

Frears is not fussy in his direction, instead choosing to play his part minimally and leave the rest to the script which was masterfully written by Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan. The movie plays out quickly, and doesn’t mess about with unnecessary characters or detail.

All in all, those who watch will find themselves captivated by an unavoidable “PhiloMania”: an attachment to this story which perhaps has different significance for each and every individual.

Rating: 5/5

**Photo Credit: http://www.200movies1woman.com

FILM REVIEW: “HER” (2013)

“Her”

Written and Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson.
Story: Left emotionally vulnerable when his wife leaves him, writer Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) develops an emotional attachment to his operating system, Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

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Famous for films such as Adaptation and Where The Wild Things Are, “Her” is the first completely original offering from Spike Jonze where he has both written and directed. As such, we have to enter the theater with the distinct impression that this film is going to be one thing: different.

The concept of the film is beautifully original, and hopes to serve as a warning to us all about our reliance on technology. With a very basic plot, Jonze is able to take us through a head spin of action and consequence as Theodore falls more and more in love with his computer operating system. Phoenix is predictably enjoyable, and Johansson does well to demonstrate that acting is not purely physical, but can be done extremely well with just a voice, however, there is a lot missing from this film.

For starters, Jonze manages to make his script so simple (perhaps hoping for quirky and easy to watch) it leaves gaping holes in the realism of the whole film. While he tries to portray the story as something that could be easily achievable in the not too distant future, it is far too easy for a viewer to become too distracted trying to figure out the technology and lose track of the plot. Indeed, watching the film I found myself becoming increasingly bored of the story line because it just didn’t make sense. With often choppy and inexplicable dialogue, the film attempts to be profound but falls short due to it’s lack of energy. From around half an hour in, you may start to think that this is simply Spike Jonze show-ponying his pretentiousness and existentialism.

The film should scoop some sort of recognition for Best Original Song: The Moon Song, by Karen O being one of the more enjoyable parts of the film. Noteable too, is the cinematography. Hoyte Van Hoytema of ‘Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy’ fame does an exceptional job of achieving what the script couldn’t: true beauty. I would perhaps go so far as to say that this film is worth seeing for the visual beauty of it. The shots are intriguing, quirky, and sometimes even breathtaking.

Between the cinematography and the performances by Phoenix and Johansson, the film is enjoyable, but anyone with a keen mind for a story will be left underwhelmed.

Rating: 3/5

 

 

*Photo Credit: pghcitypaper.com