Long Shot

I’ll get two things out of the way before I start this review:

  1. I am a huge fan of Charlize Theron and she can pretty much do no wrong in my eyes (Yes, I even forgive her for the awful Aeon Flux)
  2. I think thought Seth Rogen is a bit of a one trick pony that can’t really act.

The pairing of these two struck me as rather odd, but then that’s the whole point of this film: two people from very disparate walks of life get together and find love. Yup, it’s a millennial version of Pretty Woman (but better and less sleazy).

This one of of those films that I figured they’d put all of the best bits in the trailer and the rest would be fluffy filler material that lead from one gag to the next.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This film is a laugh-riot from start to finish – I can’t remember the last film that had me chortling through the whole movie rather than just select parts.

The story revolves around journalist Fred Flarsky (Rogen) who quits his job after his newspaper his bought out by an aging Australian Media tycoon (remind you of anyone?) who’s got quite a close relationship with the President of the USA who used to star in a popular TV show (remind you of anyone?)

Theron plays Charlotte Field, the put-upon Secretary of State who has sacrificed her ideals and life in order to get to a position of power within the government. When the President announces to her that he won’t stand for a second term  as he wants to get into the movies (let’s hope life imitates art on this one) Field seizes the opportunity to stand for President.

A chance meeting with Flarsky at a benefit evening brings together the former babysitter with her ward and she signs him onto her team to pep up her speeches and comedy and romance ensue.

Now, as I said, Theron can do no wrong in my eyes and that’s certainly true with this role. She plays Field with a warmth and depth that really brings the character to life on the screen and her comic timing really shines through as well.

When I saw the trailer I thought “Here we go, Rogen does prat falls and that’s his role in the movie.” Well, I will freely admit that I sorely underestimated him and his acting ability.

Rogen plays Flarsky as a bristly but lovable character that likes to rail against big media and has deeply rooted principles. This causes him a few issues with not only his career but his relationships with friends too.

And, while there are a couple of hilarious prat falls from Rogen, the chemistry he has with Theron and the depth he brings to Flarsky really make you invested in his character and the relationship he has with Field. I have to say I was truly surprised at his acting in this film and will certainly look at him in a different light from now on.

While this film is a comedy there are some serious undertones to it. Sure, it doesn’t go into the depths of political manoeuvring that the excellent TV Series Madam Secretary does, but it does give insight into the types of sacrifices people in places of power have to make in order to achieve at least part of their goal – although I can’t imagine Hillary Clinton or Condoleezza Rice negotiating a terrorist deal while high on illegal substances!

It’s not often I say to people that they need to see a film but this is one of those rare films that you have to watch. If the preview audience I saw the film with is anything to go by you’ll love it – there was even clapping which I’ve only ever heard once before (and that was a Michael Moore documentary!)

Watch this film if you’re in need of a pick-me-up and fancy a romantic comedy that’s actually comedic and not as soppy as hell.

The Favourite

Well, this is a bit of an odd film! Part court drama, part politics of early 1700s England, part love story and part Machiavellian tale.

The Favourite centres around the court of Queen Anne, who was queen of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1702 to 1707 and Queen of England and Scotland until she died in 1714.

I have to admit, Anne is not a Queen we really covered in history class, and you don’t really see that many documentaries about her as she tends to be overshadowed by our more glamorous Queens – most notably Elizabeth I. Anne became Queen on the death of William III of Orange – the route of succession came to her thanks to James II being overthrown and Anne’s sister, Mary (married to William) having no children.

Anne cuts a very lonely figure: her husband George died in 1708 and she’s troubled by gout which leaves her bed-ridden or unable to walk most of the time, as a result much of the day-to-day running of the Court is left to her lady in waiting, Lady Marlborough – or Sarah Churchill to give her civvy name (yes, that Churchill family).

Throughout the film is difficult to tell who Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is actually serving; is she helping an ailing Queen keep hold of her throne? Is she making sure her own position at court is safe? Is she trying to give her husband fame, fortune and glory in his war in Spain? Is she doing this for the good of the country because the Queen is incompetent? Who knows as Sarah’s motivation is never overtly stated, which I think is a refreshing take on a film of this nature. Usually it’s pretty clear who you should be rooting for but the arrival of Abigail (Emma Stone), Sarah’s downtrodden cousin, muddies the waters quite a bit.

At first we’re left feeling sorry for Abigail – she was lost by her father to a fat German in a card game after all – but as the film progresses and Abigail starts playing Sarah at her own game in order to gain the Queen’s affections and ear, and as a result any sympathy originally felt starts to wear off.

The film is written in a way to make it accessible to modern audiences – there’s no flowery language but there is a prodigious amount of swearing (which makes me surprised at the 15 certificate). While using period-style dress (even if some of it is denim) it feels contemporary, and it’s shot very well, however there’s occasional use of a fish-eye lens which I found quite jarring. I think this is due to shooting on location at Hatfield House and Hampton Court Palace – obviously you can’t knock walls down in order to get a wide angle shot, however these fisheye views are at odds with the way the rest of the film is shot – if they were black and white they would look almost like CCTV footage and I feel they could have been left out with no loss to the plot.

Another bug-bear I have are the captions between scenes. They contain an out-of-context quote which, while amusing, are formatted in such a way to make them almost unreadable. Maybe it’s the print designer in me but I’m afraid have the word “I” alone on its own line just really irks me (and don’t get me started on the end credit formatting – someone went rather mad with text-justification).

Two standouts for me (excluding the performances) were the music and lighting. The film is lit pretty much by natural light during the day and candles at night and it gives the film a fantastic warm quality and really makes you feel as though you are being drawn into the dark hallways with the actors or are there in the rooms of the Palace.

The music is brilliant, it’s amazing how much tension can be created with a single string of an instrument, you can almost feel the heart rates of the characters increasing with the music as the anxiety rises.

Performance wise, what I can say? Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne is pathetic and yet harsh, needy and yet aloof and to see her towards the end of the film as an almost broken and still powerful queen was a masterful performance.

Rachel Weisz perfectly balances the role of master and servant – it’s hard to tell who is the real Queen sometimes and Emma Stone’s Abigail oozes naivety at first but you can see that there’s always something going on behind those eyes and I’m pleased to say her English accent holds up pretty well too.

I gave this film 7 out of 10. While it is good, I felt we could have seen a little more of Queen Anne – firstly because Colman is a fantastic actress and secondly because we could have done with a bit more background without me having to spend a few hours reading up on her – was she really useless and just a puppet? Was she just in the complete thrall of her lover(s)? Also, a point was docked for the crappy formatting of the intertitles and credits – call me petty but sometimes it’s the only way people learn!

I usually would give you a piece of “watch this when…” advice at this point however I think the following warning is in order: Don’t watch this film with your Granny or parents unless they’re super cool, there’s far too much lady sexy times and C-words if they’re not and you’ll just end up feeling rather awkward and uncomfortable!

A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born is the tale of musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), an artist who’s seen better days, and Ally (Lady Gaga) a shy waitress who is in need of some self-belief (unless she’s singing in a drag bar then she’s a musical harlot).

Maine’s search for post-concert booze sees him rock up (rock, geddit?!) at a random bar just in time to catch Ally sing and he’s bowled over by her performance – well, I’m assuming he was wowed by her voice as he was so shit-faced I doubt he could have translated the song from French in order to understand the words. They spend the rest of the night together talking about music, punching cops – you know, a standard night with a total stranger – and a bond begins to form over a bag of frozen peas.

Ally confesses that she writes her own songs but won’t sing them as she’s been knocked back too many times, just before singing one of the songs she’s written. Despite the hypocrisy, this scene is really touching and it feels that the emotion of the scene was driven very much by Lady Gaga’s own experiences of the music industry – and there-in lies one of the main problems with the film: I felt as though we were watching a dramatisation of Gaga’s career from being a “serious” musician to moving into pop as that’s what sells.

It’s also unclear what Maine’s role is in all of this. I got the impression he was supposed to be some washed-up musician that takes Ally under his wing and gets jealous of her success but over the course of the film he’s touring and has songs on a juke box so he’s very much in the public eye still – and that’s another flaw in the film: Ally asks him why he’s jealous but I don’t think he is, he just wants her to avoid the mistakes he’s made and stay true to her music. The thing is she is kind of staying true to it, she knows the popular stuff sells and seems to be having fun doing it so what’s the harm? I was hoping to see her go full-blown diva which would have explained a lot of the tension between Jackson and Ally but that never really came across.

The script is very loosely written, it feels as though most of the film was improvised and that the only bits that were scripted were the concert scenes and that was purely because they filmed at real concerts so only had limited time. I’m not sure about the directing either – it’s not bad for a directorial debut (it’s Cooper’s first directing gig) but there’s just something missing that doesn’t allow the full emotions of the characters to come across and as a result I was left not really feeling for either of them.

Cooper plays a boozed up Maine very well, the scene that takes place at the Grammy Awards is certainly worthy of an Oscar nomination, and even though there is eventually some backstory about why he drinks and takes drugs it happens so late on in the film I don’t really care any more (and its just serves to set something up later rather than being proper exposition).

Lady Gaga is excellent as Ally, in fact I can’t think of anyone else who could have played the role (although apparently Beyonce was linked to the script at one point), and she will certainly be a strong contender for Best Actress at all the major awards.

I haven’t seen the 1970’s version of A Star Is Born (or the 1950’s or the 1930’s – yes this is like the 4th version) so I don’t have anything to directly compare this version to (although I did watch the trailer and was completely fascinated by Barbara Streisand’s perm) but I was left feeling a little flat – as was the rest of the audience at our preview screening. I’ve been to films where they’ve clapped at the end and cheered but never had I heard an entire audience audibly go “Oh…..” at the end of a film – until now.

I can see why people are raving about it –  I think that’s only because there’s not been another film of this type released (it feels like it’s all been Superheroes) but it’s a shame it couldn’t have gone that little step further to stop me feeling rather deflated at the end.

Fair warning: There’s alcohol and drug abuse, references to suicide, flashing lights and a flash of a naked Gaga so it’s certainly not suitable for everyone.

Watch this if you’d like something that’s not a superhero movie and want to punish your boyfriend for making you watch Ant-Man And The Wasp

To cheer you up after seeing this, check out Bab’s hair

Crazy Rich Asians

I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed with this film. From the trailer I thought that there was going to be a lot more humour than there was, instead the plot was rather heavy going and plodded along.

Crazy Rich Asians centres around the relationship between Nick Young (Henry Golding) and Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) who have been dating for a year in New York. Young’s best friend is getting married and he asks Rachel to accompany him back home to attend the wedding and meet his family.

Part of the problem with this film is that I didn’t feel any sympathy towards the characters. Nick Young acts like his family having a load of money is a massive burden, and Rachel Chu deserves all she gets for not doing some research on Nick’s background – she’s not met his friends or family? Doesn’t this guy have a Facebook profile?

There are two standout performances in this film that save it from going totally down the drain. The first is by the ever-magnificent Michelle Yeoh (Young’s mother) who carries herself with elegance and poise, she was the one character that I felt any sympathy for and through her great acting you really feel for her character and why she is acting the way she is to protect her son.

The other great performance is by Awkwafina who plays Rachel’s friend and advisor to the world of the rich Peik Lin Goh. She brings much needed comedic relief to an otherwise heavy script and lights up all of the scenes that she’s in.

I don’t know if I went into this film with my expectations set too high, but I was rather disappointed with the lacklustre storyline and  character development. I think this film is one to miss.