Miss Sloane

Wednesday, 1 March, 2017

3 stars

The political lobbyist lives in a cut throat, dog eat dog, world. The stakes are high, and they have to keep to their eye on the ball at all times. They know the merest fumble will hand the advantage to their opponent. Even sleep can cost them the game, something Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) knows all too well.

Both revered and scorned, the Washington D.C. lobbyist is at the top of her game, and has just been handed the biggest challenge in her career to date, taking on the all powerful US gun lobby in Miss Sloane, trailer, a political thriller directed by British filmmaker John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”, “The Debt”).

Miss Sloane scene

Her team needs to secure a supermajority in the US senate so legislation their client is backing becomes law. Sloane takes to the task with her customary ruthlessness, and seems to be making progress. But has she underestimated her opponents this time, people bent on bringing her down, and who will stop at nothing to prevail?

“Miss Sloane” moves at break neck speed, and there’s nary a dull moment, as one twist follows another. But the deeper it takes us in, the less plausible it becomes. And as for Sloane, is she human, or a superhero we’ve not heard of before? But see this for Chastain’s performance, it’s something no one else could have pulled off.

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Live by Night

Tuesday, 31 January, 2017

2 and a half stars

At first glance, Live by Night, trailer, bears all the hallmarks of a great film. It is directed by accomplished US filmmaker Ben Affleck. His past features, including Argo, The Town, and Gone, Baby, Gone, were all well received. Further, the screenplay is based on US author Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel of the same name.

Several of Lehane’s books, Mystic River, and Shutter Island, have also been adapted into acclaimed films. Together with the aforementioned Gone, Baby, Gone, which was also directed by Affleck. Then add to the mix gangsters, the roaring twenties, and prohibition rackets. Surely the recipe for a great flick, right?

Joe (Ben Affleck), finds himself displaced after returning to Boston at the end of the first world war. A life of crime – much to the chagrin of his father, Thomas (Brendan Gleeson), a police officer – seems to be the only tonic. After a stint in jail, following a botched bank robbery, Joe decides to relocate to Florida.

There he heads up a rum racketeering operation for Italian mobster Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone), along with Dion (Chris Messina). Joe also looks for a way to hit back at Albert White (Robert Glenister), a rival of Pescatore, who was also responsible for the death of his Irish girlfriend, Emma (Sienna Miller).

For all its promise though, “Live by Night” ends up sleep-walking from one scene to the next. Sure, it is beautifully filmed, and much care was taken in recreating the United States of the 1920s. But what’s missing is the essence of Affleck’s earlier works. The tension of “The Town”? The drama of “Argo”? All missing here, I’m afraid.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Thursday, 17 November, 2016

3 stars
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them scene

It was November 2010, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 had just been released, and Daniel Radcliffe, who portrayed the franchise’s title character, was looking forward to handing in his wizard paraphernalia upon the release of the film’s second installment in 2011. It was time for him to move on. It was time to find new roles to play.

Word then that British author JK Rowling was considering adding to her iconic book series, was not what he wanted to hear. Mortified at the possibility of having to act the school-boy caster of spells indefinitely, Radcliffe sought clarification from Rowling as to her intentions. Not to worry she told him by text message, no more books were planned.

While Radcliffe was relieved, at least for a while, the undertaking may have left Rowling feeling as if she had painted herself into a corner. What to do then, when the urge to write more stories in the Harry Potter realm manifests itself, but the central character of the story has now become he who cannot be included?

The answer was simple. Do what any other creator of fiction and fantasy does; write a spin-off story. And the best part here, so far as Rowling was concerned, she had already written it. In a way. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, had been featured as a textbook, owned by Potter, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them scene

Set seventy years before events of the original Harry Potter books, Fantastic Beasts (trailer), tells the story of the would-be textbook’s author, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a British magizoologist, who has travelled to 1920s New York, at the behest of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, to research the yet to be written textbook.

Scamander has however misplaced his suitcase, or what appears to be a suitcase. Its interior is in fact of infinite proportions, and had housed an array of weird and wonderful creatures, until they escaped. Eventually Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), of the local secret society of witches and wizards, decides to comes to his aid.

Teaming up with a couple of other locals, Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), they go about the task of rounding up the trouble making beasts. In doing so, they are trailed by Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), another local wizard. The senior ranking Graves, however, is not all that he seems to be.

While long time Potter director David Yates returns to helm this prequel, it’s nothing like the days of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. For those other than Potter fans, the story may be a little too slight. And those fantastic creatures, as marvellous as they are, they’re not quite enough to carry things through. Redmayne’s performance is a plus though.

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Queen of the Desert

Wednesday, 1 June, 2016

2 stars
Queen of the Desert scene

Born in England in 1868, Gertrude Bell spent the early decades of the twentieth century travelling across the Middle East, in what is now Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Iran, and Jordan. She was a writer, archaeologist, and explorer, and was much respected by both the British, and the peoples of the region. She also played a part in establishing latter day Iraq and Jordan.

In Queen of the Desert, trailer, the Werner Herzog (“Invincible”, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”) made depiction of her life, she is portrayed by Nicole Kidman. Bell is desperate to flee the clutches of her stifled upper class life, and leaps at the opportunity to leave, when her father (David Calder) offers to send her to stay in Tehran with her uncle, the British ambassador.

Upon arriving, Bell is soon enamoured by the free-spirited way of life in the Middle East, and sets her sights on seeing as much of the area as possible, plus meeting the local inhabitants, and their tribal leaders. She also catches the eye of several British military and diplomatic personnel, including Henry Cadogan (James Franco), and T.E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson).

Despite the enthralling subject matter, Queen of the Desert fails to excite, and is little more than a perfunctory re-counting of Bell’s exploits in the Middle East. Kidman’s performance is competent, as is Pattinson’s small turn as Lawrence of Arabia. In the end though, audiences will find themselves uncertain as to what sort of film Herzog was trying to make.

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Marguerite

Tuesday, 19 April, 2016

3 and a half stars

Some people work hard to bring their dreams to fruition. Others may be able to call in a few favours to help get to where they’re going, if they know the right people. Then there are the select few who are well off enough to, in a sense, pay others to accept them for who they would like to be. Marguerite Dumont (Catherine Frot), a wealthy Parisian, is one such person.

To her mind, she is an opera singer, and a gifted one at that. To those around her, including husband Georges (André Marcon), she is anything but. Nonetheless they endure her private performances, mainly because they find her out of tune singing, and that she is blissfully ignorant of the fact, a form of entertainment, and mirth, in itself, in Marguerite, trailer.

After an opportunist journalist, Lucien Beaumont (Sylvain Dieuaide), writes a rave review about one of her recitals, Marguerite decides she would like to sing publicly, and in the belief she only needs a few pointers, hires the demanding Atos Pezzini (Michel Fau), a once renown singer who has fallen on hard times, to help prepare her.

Set in the 1920s, and directed by Xavier Giannoli (“Eager Bodies”, “In the Beginning”), “Marguerite” is inspired by the life of Florence Foster Jenkins, an American woman, and incidentally the subject of another film, who believed she was a talented opera singer. Here it is Frot’s touching performance of someone chasing an impossible dream, that gives this story an affecting charm.

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Sherpa

Friday, 18 March, 2016

4 and a half stars

To many people Everest is a mountain to be climbed because it is there, Napal is the country one must travel to in which to do so, and the Sherpas, who everyone has heard of, are there to carry everyone’s gear up and down its slopes. It is the misconceptions surrounding these people that Jennifer Peedom aims to counter in her latest documentary, Sherpa, trailer.

Indeed Sherpa is not some sort of mountain climbers lingo for baggage carrier, it is a name for an ethnic group of people, who refer to the mountain, that they consider to be a deity, as Chomolungma. The Sherpas involvement with the foreign climbers is the source of much contention within their community however, something Phurba Tashi Sherpa can attest to.

Phurba is a veteran who has scaled the mountain more than twenty times. He recognises the necessity of the Sherpas’ work, and importance of the overseas climbers to the local economy. His wife, Karma Doma Sherpa, is more than mindful of the dangers associated with his work though, and hopes he will find another job, especially as her brother died on the mountain.

Sherpas work in what is regarded as the world’s most dangerous service industry, and Peedom’s spectacular documentary brings the risks of the job to the fore. They are exploited, and often shown little regard, by those intent only on reaching the top. “Sherpa” not only shows us unseen aspects of climbing Everest, but also accords the Sherpas with the respect they deserve.

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Brooklyn

Monday, 8 February, 2016

4 stars

Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish woman, seems set to live an ordinary life in Enniscorthy, on the south east coast of Ireland. Aware of Eilis’ potential, and the lack of opportunities in the country in the 1950s, older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), arranges for her to emigrate to New York, in Brooklyn, trailer, the latest feature of John Crowley (“Boy A”, “Closed Circuit”).

Eilis is all too happy to farewell her routine job, and spiteful boss, Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan), at a local bakery, and leap into the unknown. What she doesn’t at first count on is debilitating home sickness, and a way of life little different to the one she left behind. Even the support of kindly Irish priest, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), seems to be of little consolation.

Things change when Eilis falls in love with young Italian-American plumber, Tony (Emory Cohen), and finally she begins to feel that she belongs in New York. A family tragedy however sees her return to Ireland, where her mother, and friends, pressure her to remain, forcing Eilis to make a difficult choice between her old life, or a future with Tony, in her adopted homeland.

Based on the 2009 book of the same name, by Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn is an engaging, albeit mildly predictable, tale of the struggles of an immigrant making a new life for themselves, far from home. This might have been a lesser story, if it were not for Ronan’s thoroughly convincing portrayal of a person who has to decide which side of the fence the grass is greener on.

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Carol

Tuesday, 12 January, 2016

4 stars

Carol is an exquisitely crafted glimpse into a world that is virtually alien to the one we live in today. At least at first glance, that is. But ironically it is US director Todd Haynes’ (“I’m Not There”, “Far from Heaven”) breathtakingly authentic recreation of mid-twentieth century New York, that may leave latter day audiences feeling that something is missing from this love story.

Carol (Cate Blanchett) is a well off thirty-something woman, who is in the process of divorcing her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler). By chance she meets Therese (Rooney Mara), a disenchanted young store assistant, who aspires to be a photographer, while shopping for a Christmas gift for her daughter, Rindy (Sadie Heim), and the two are immediately attracted to each other.

Theirs is a love however that the world refuses to tolerate, or even recognise. Carol is under immense pressure from Harge to abandon the divorce proceedings. Therese meanwhile is expected to travel overseas with her boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy). Despite the stresses both women are under, they nonetheless decide to slip away on a cross country road trip together.

Here then is a love story where love, and its accompanying joy – to the possible chagrin of viewers from a more progressive age – makes only fleeting appearances. But like its characters, the story, based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price of Salt, is a product of its time. Sensuously filmed, and impeccably acted, “Carol” is a rare gem of a love story nonetheless.

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The Crow’s Egg

Monday, 16 November, 2015

4 stars

The promise of better things, in this case some especially cheesy pizza, is all that it takes to turn a family’s world upside down, in The Crow’s Egg, trailer, the debut feature of Indian filmmaker M. Manikandan, when two brothers, who go by the nicknames Big Crow’s Egg (J. Vignesh), and Little Crow’s Egg (Ramesh Thilaganathan), find they cannot resist its temptation.

The Crow's Egg scene

The boys live in a shantytown in Chennai, sharing a one room shack that’s as spacious as a garden shed, with their mother (Iyshwarya Rajesh), and grandmother (Shanthi Mani). Their father (Nivas Adithan) languishes in a nearby jail, for reasons unknown, as his case for release on bail goes nowhere, on account of the ineffective lawyer acting for the family.

The resourceful brothers meanwhile, trying to help their mother make ends meet, pace local train lines by day, picking up loose lumps of coal that have fallen from passing freight trains. Their toils yield little more than pocket money, but another endeavour, seeking out the eggs of nesting crows, which they regard as a delicacy, is contentment enough.

The Crow's Egg scene

Until, that is, a global pizza restaurant chain opens an outlet nearby. Sadly for the boys though, the asking price of even the smallest offering is well beyond their modest means. The obstacle of course is momentary, as they go into overdrive to raise the required cash. Placing an order however proves to be another matter, and has all sorts of surprising consequences.

The Crow’s Egg is an entertaining, heart warming film, and a slow start is tempered by strong performances and clever writing. Through his characters, and what, on the surface, appears to be a simple story, Manikandan makes blunt points about the injustices of class systems, globalism, rampant political opportunism, and the double edge sword that is social media.

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Foodies: The Culinary Jet Set

Monday, 26 October, 2015

3 and a half stars

The entry requirements for many forms of blogging, or self publishing, are relatively low. A computer, a website, and perhaps a camera, a good smartphone camera will suffice, is about all that’s needed. And of course something to write about. It’s little surprise that food is a popular topic in this regard, after all, we have to eat sooner or later, so why not write about it?

Foodies: The Culinary Jet Set scene

Like anything though, to blog is one thing, to excel however, is another. Foodies: The Culinary Jet Set, trailer, a documentary co-directed by Thomas Jackson, Charlotte Landelius, and Henrik Stockare, casts the spotlight on five food bloggers, or foodies, at the top of their game, or on the way up, who travel the globe, to dine at the world’s finest restaurants.

This is a varied group of people. Andy Hayler is a former enterprise software developer, Aiste Miseviciute a former model, Perm Paitayawat is heir to a family company, Steven Plotnicki once owned a record label, while Hong Kong based Katie Keiko, has the least profile of their number, and is having to work her way up from the bottom rung of the ladder.

Foodies: The Culinary Jet Set scene

While some appear to pay for their own meals, so they can write objectively later, many chefs remain indignant, and struggle to understand what integrity seemingly self-anointed food critics really have. Others however embrace their work, and understand that their influence, and the reach of their readership, is something that is not to be trifled with.

“Foodies” poses a number of questions. Does influence trump one’s integrity as a critic? Is the fare produced by fine dining establishments to be considered an artform, rather than a meal? If so, how to assess it? And from an aspiring writer’s perspective, what does it take to succeed? Privilege, profile, or passion and much hard work? All help, but the latter is what matters.

Foodies: The Culinary Jet Set is available on digital from 28 October 2015.

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