Friday, 12 September 2014

Cinema Review - Pride

Following in the footsteps of its closest contemporaries, Billy Elliot and Brassed Off, Pride tackles the miner's strikes of the 1980s from a unique perspective, focusing on a group of newly formed activists based in London (LGSM - Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners) who are keen to join forces with the miners - another minority group persecuted by the government - to fight their shared enemies in Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative party. Told for the most part through the story arc of Joe, a young adult yet to come out to his family, we are gradually introduced to a colourful cast of characters from all walks of life when he ventures out into the gay community for the first time and becomes involved in the formation of LGSM.

Aiming to raise both awareness for the miners and money to provide for them during this difficult time, LGSM find it nigh on impossible to locate a group who would be willing to accept their support until a chance phone call sees them paired with a small village in the heart of Wales. At first they are greeted with near hostility from the miners, with their presence in the local community clearly being unwelcome despite the group's best intentions. Thankfully though, the liberal nature of a few key members of the village gradually brings about their acceptance, and it is not long before almost all of the villagers are backing the support of their generous and selfless guests, kick-starting a campaign that would eventually go on to change the lives of everyone involved.

A brilliant British cast including such acting luminaries as Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Paddy Considine (alongside a number of relative newcomers including the awe-inspiring Ben Schnetzer as the ring-leader of LGSM - Mike) give such irresistibly heartfelt performances that are likely to move even the most cynical of viewers. Empathising with their various predicaments comes naturally, and there are times when you will be fighting back the tears, particularly with a subplot about the outbreak of HIV+ that touches briefly on issues raised in the award-winning Dallas Buyers Club. It is refreshing to see that Pride doesn't skirt around these scenarios but balances them brilliantly with enough humour to counteract any impending heartbreak, with a number of scenes that are guaranteed to induce raucous laughter from the entire audience, just when the story has you on the verge of breaking into tears.

Whilst it is Joe (George MacKay) who offers an outsiders perspective for any audiences new to the history surrounding the miner's strikes, it is his mentor of sorts Mike who steals the show with his cocky but charismatic persona that inspires and charms in equal measures. Schnetzer's assured performance will undoubtedly thrust him into the spotlight, and could very well earn him a number of accolades come awards season, with MacKay's understated rendition acting as the perfect juxtaposition to the more flamboyant amongst the cast. These captivating performances add gravitas to the miners putting aside their initial prejudices; with such a passionate young group of people willing to put themselves on the line for complete strangers, it is easy to see why they succumb to the offer to forge a new friendship.

Director Matthew Warchus doesn't just tell an incredible true story but regales it with such overwhelming passion for the era that those who were there at the time will instantly be transported back to the unforgiving years of Thatcher's rule, which is certainly helped by the inclusion of a stirring punk rock soundtrack that embodies the circumstances prevalent at the time. This attention to detail and impressive authenticity will enable even those born after the 1980's to feel like they are part of the struggle, united by the vibrant energy of youth, and having the power to change the world for the better.

As hard hitting as This is England but more restrained in its depiction of prejudice against minority groups, Pride doesn't shy away from the difficult issues but demonstrates them in such a way as to not alienate viewers of a more sensitive nature. That Pride is a true story just adds to the poignancy of its exceptionally well-written screenplay, with certain emotional notes possessing a resonance rarely seen on the big screen, and it is a credit to both writer (Stephen Beresford) and director (Matthew Warchus) who manage to deliver a film that is likely to completely surpass all expectations.

Stirring, inspirational and ultimately life-affirming, Pride certainly deserves all of the praise that is being heaped upon it as it is, without a doubt, a firm contender for the best British film of the year. The only downside is that with a runtime of two hours it isn't long enough - that's right, I just didn't want such a wonderful film to end.

If you like this you will enjoy these:

Billy Elliot
The Full Monty
This is England

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Cinema Review - Untouchable (Intouchables)

There is something alluring about French cinema that tends to evade most film-makers in Hollywood; it is no surprise that one of the most prestigious film festivals takes place in Cannes, as the French have been a dominant force in world cinema since the inception of film. Untouchable is the latest French film to perform exceptionally well at the box office in a number of European countries and I have been awaiting its release ever since the day it creeped into the often derided but still fairly relevant IMDB Top 250. This list is not always indicative of a film's quality but I was fairly sure that its inclusion confirmed that Untouchable would be worth the wait.

Francois Cluzet, most known across the channel in England for his phenomenal performance in Tell No One, stars as a disabled aristocrat who is seeking a new live-in carer to move into his mansion. Frustrated by competent applicants that are perfect on paper but lack personality, Philippe takes a risk on Driss, an unemployed man who attends the interview purely to collect his benefit cheque and scoffs at any opportunity to hold down a job. At first Driss is reluctant but he is eventually convinced to take the job and begins a voyage of discovery that will have a huge impact on both Philippe's life and his own.

Omar Sy is sensational as Driss, who is certainly an actor to watch out for in the future, and the chemistry between the two leads is so natural that their ever growing friendship is wholly believable. Side stories that focus on Driss's humble beginnings and Philippe's assorted employees act as pleasant diversions from the main plot but all remain relevant to the overall story arc be it a younger brother in trouble with the law or an attractive maid resisting Driss's advances.

As Untouchable is based on a true story it certainly resonates far deeper than fictional films which tackle a similar subject but it does not have the emotional heft of films such as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly or My Left Foot. The tone of Untouchable is far more lighthearted and is similar in style to Inside I'm Dancing which managed to balance the seriousness of the subject matter with comic elements to create a touchingly humorous film. There are times when Untouchable does verge on the side of being overly sentimental, but that is only a slight criticism as it is refreshing to see a film tackling disability in such an uplifting way.

An audience united in laughter always enhances any viewing experience and it will be difficult for all but the most cynical viewers to hide their smiles during Untouchable. Not since Rain Man has the relationship between a mismatched pairing made for such compelling viewing and it is hard to deny Untouchable a place amongst the year's best so far. With a Hollywood remake already in the works, don't be lazy and wait for a version without subtitles, nothing beats the irresistible charm of French films, and Untouchable is worthy of your attention.


If you like this you will enjoy these:

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Rain Man
My Left Foot
Inside I'm Dancing

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Blu-Ray Review - La Gloire De Mon Pere & Le Chateau De Ma Mere Box Set

As a huge fan of Jean de Florette and Manon Des Sources, the epic French dramas that span generations in a heartbreaking tale of love, loss and family feuds, I could not wait to indulge myself in a set of films based on the memoirs of Marcel Pagnol, who wrote the aforementioned works of fiction. Much akin to the narration in Stand by Me, we are introduced to Marcel's childhood through his older self who looks back on his youth with a fondness and wit that fails to mask his desire to be back in the place and time he was happiest.

Marcel's parents are portrayed as loving individuals who are dedicated to family life and providing for their children whilst remaining respectable pillars of the community thanks to his father's work at the local school. It is not long before Marcel is joined by younger siblings and the main focus of his memories is the time they spend at his favourite location, a country house in the nearby hills which they share as a holiday home with his aunt's family. It is here that Marcel encounters new friends, begins to develop an affinity with nature and comes to question if his father really is as all-seeing as he once appeared to be, and it is a magical reminder of how blissful life as a child really was.

This is a set of films that will appeal to all ages; children will relish the sense of adventure that hangs over Marcel's exploration of the French countryside and adults will laugh at the wonderful innocence of children as it rekindles forgotten memories of their youth. It is hard to pinpoint the better of the two films as they are both exceptionally well made and very similar in tone and style, although Marcel's first encounter with a young girl in Le Chateau De Ma Mere that leaves him deeply infatuated is a personal highlight.

The French countryside has never looked so appealing, as this Blu-ray transfer highlights the lush rolling hills and the stunning vistas with an awe-inspiring clarity, and is easily enough to make viewers forgive the grain which remains in some of the internal shots. Combined with the sweeping classical music that accompanies the more poignant scenes, this makes for a very moving and involving set of films that are guaranteed to remain with you long after the first viewing and will draw you back for repeat viewings time and time again.

Both discs feature extensive documentaries which detail the making of these French classics alongside interviews with cast and crew that expand on the wonderful tale of Marcel Pagnol's youth. It would have been nice to see the Blu-rays crammed with more features such as trailers or commentaries given the space available but you really cannot complain about the lavish treatment that has been applied to this Box set.

A pair of classic films, a wonderfully put together boxset and almost four hours of cinematic bliss mean that this is an essential purchase. As we are nearing winter, I cannot think of a better way to spend a day than curled up in your duvet and escaping into the mind of Marcel Pagnol to experience the nostalgia and joy that goes hand in hand with these unmissable pictures.

Bottom Line - Drenched in nostalgia and memories of bygone days, both films in this boxset are capable of transporting you back to the happiest memories of your childhood and come highly recommended - 9/10

Positives - One of the most charming and magical portrayals of childhood I have ever seen
Negatives - There are only two films, I would have happily watched more!

If you like this you will enjoy these:

Jean de Florette
Manon Des Sources
My Life as a Dog
Le Diner de Cons

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Cinema Review - Belle

With the phenomenal success of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave earlier this year, it is not surprising to see another film tackling the important issues of race and slavery, and although Belle doesn’t quite reach for the jugular with its depiction of a troubled time in English history, it is equally relevant as a reminder of our heritage and the difficulties faced by those on the receiving end of such prejudiced views.

As the illegitimate child of a navy admiral whose duty requires his presence at sea, Belle is plunged into a foreign world when she is reluctantly left in the care of her aristocratic great-uncle. Motherless, and unaware that her mixed race origins are viewed unfavourably, she is compelled to bond with her new family who regard her with a higher standing than that of their slaves but not with the same respect and privileges afforded to their own.

Set against the backdrop of a testing lawsuit involving the deaths of numerous slaves, Belle’s emotional journey is both captivating and inspirational to behold as she grows into a young woman who gains affection from a number of suitors, one of which has a particular interest in the aforementioned anti-slavery case, and just so happens to be her great-uncle’s understudy. Other legible bachelors she encounters are entranced by her exotic looks, and an equally attractive dowry that is left to her by her father, but some are less forgiving of her origins. Torn between true love, the limits of social acceptance, and in competition with her closest friend and confidant - her cousin, Elizabeth Murray - Belle's choices are fraught with heartache.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw displays the perfect combination of innocence, curiosity and also courage in her portrayal of Belle, and her irresistible charm is the heart that drives the story forward; only the most cynical of audiences will be able to resist becoming emotionally involved with her plight. A fairly stiff supporting cast (some of which appear to be merely going through the motions rather than acting) cannot compete with Mbatha-Raw’s impressive performance, although Tom Wilkinson and Miranda Richardson are particularly enjoyable to watch as Belle’s great-uncle, Lord Murray, and the mother of a potential suitor.

Both the grandiose set design and lavish costumes do a superb job of transporting the audience back to the 1700’s, even if some of the language used seems slightly out of place for the era. Director Amma Asante has done a commendable job of bringing this remarkable tale to the big screen, and it is a shame that her writing credit was removed by the Writer’s guild because she reworked a previous adaptation of the screenplay, even though the majority of dialogue in the script is said to be Asante’s original work.

Not only is Belle one of the better period dramas of recent years, but it also a moving morality tale that will undoubtedly reverberate with audiences regardless of their familiarity with this era of history. There may be a few missteps in the romantic subplots but those with even just a passing interest in period films are sure to look past these shortcomings to find a heartwarming and inspirational tale.


If you like this you will enjoy these:

Immortal Beloved
Bel Ami
Summer in February