Their Finest – Film Review

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It is 1940 and Britain is once again at war. With air raid sirens becoming a part of their daily lives, the ordinary men and women on the home front seek escape from reality on the big screen. The Ministry of Information, headed by Roger Swain (Richard E. Grant) is tasked by the Secretary of War (Jeremy Irons) with the job of spreading propaganda stories of positivity and optimism to garner support for the war effort.

Their FinestIn an era when women are treated as second-class citizens, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), a former secretary, is brought in to help scriptwriter, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), write the female voice – a.k.a. the “slop” – in a film about a rescue at Dunkirk.

Since the war effort has taken away Britain’s biggest stars, casting becomes a difficult task. Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), once Britain’s third-most-popular star in the 1920s, struggles to stay relevant. His lunch meetings with his agent, Sammy Smith (Eddie Marsan), are comical until even those precious moments are taken away from him. Hilliard gets a new lease of life when Smith’s sister, Sophie (Helen McCrory) takes over managing his career.

Based on the novel by Lissa Evans, originally titled Their Finest Hour and a Half , Their Finest has been described as a feminist dramedy war story. With the female voice very much at the heart of this film, we see the struggles faced by an intelligent woman who is not trying to be “better than” her male colleagues, but simply to fit into a male-dominated world. She is not paid as much as her colleagues, and even as she enters the office she shares with her colleagues, she is relegated to a cramped corner, not so much because she is being bullied, but because she is not given the kind of respect one would expect of colleagues. Continue reading

The Search for Life

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LifeMan’s obsession and curiosity with life beyond our tiny part of the universe keeps growing stronger with every new discovery. Sending scientists out to live on the International Space Station (ISS) for months on end is part of our everyday life now. And so it is likewise on screen and in books.

Each year we are presented with new imaginings of what lives beyond our planet and what those extra-terrestrial beings might think of us should we ever meet. Are they trying to explore our world just as we are exploring theirs? What do they look like? How do they communicate?

When a six-member crew of international astronauts – Russian Commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), American engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), British biologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), Japanese pilot Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), American crew doctor David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), and British quarantine officer Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) – on the ISS retrieves what they believe to be a soil sample on Mars, the smartest decision they make is to not bring it back to Earth. Continue reading

Beauty and the Beast Is Still A Feast For the Senses

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IMG_1326The first time I saw the 1991 animated Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast, I was already a grown-up, but I remember crying at the scene when the Beast is beset by Gaston and the villagers trying to kill him. The little girls in the row in front of mine turned around to see why these crazy grown-ups were sobbing behind them.  Those same little girls would be all grown up now, and perhaps taking their own children to see the updated, live action big screen version of this tale as old as time.

I rarely get excited about news of “reboots”, “remakes” or sequels of classics. But when casting news for this 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast was announced back in 2015, I could not have been more excited. And thankfully, I have not been disappointed.

IMG_1325As a United Nations Ambassador on women’s issues and outspoken feminist, there could never have been any doubt that Emma Watson was destined to be the 21st century Belle. Not only is this updated version of the beautiful farm girl a bookworm – just as Watson is in real life, but she is also an independent thinker and an educator, happily teaching other girls to read. In 1991, it is Belle’s father, Maurice (played now by Kevin Kline), who is the inventor but now, we know the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

With a widened mythology, we now have a better understanding of what happened to Belle’s mother and an explanation of how the Beast (Dan Stevens) came to be such a spoilt brat in his youth and the part the castle staff played in this.

Living in the small French village of Villeneuve is returned soldier and self-proclaimed “most beautiful” Gaston (Luke Evans) and his right-hand man, LeFou (Josh Gad) who is somewhere between wanting to be Gaston and wanting to be with him. With both Evans and Gad coming from a successful musical theatre background, the Gaston-LeFou pairing is perhaps the strongest in the film. The song-and-dance sequence in the tavern is one of my favourites in the live action transformation. There is no doubt that Gaston is as bad a villain as they come, thanks to the wonderful performance by Evans. Continue reading

Before I Fall

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Before I FallIt’s Cupid Day and high school senior, Samantha (Zoey Deutch) is getting ready to celebrate it in a life-changing way with her boyfriend, Rob (Kian Lawley). She wakes up like she does everyday – sassy and mean to her parents (Nicholas Lea and Jennifer Beals) and little sister (Erica Tremblay). She is picked up for school by her best friend Lindsay (Halston Sage). Ally (Cynthy Wu) and Elody (Medalion Rahimi) complete their inseparable foursome.

Though technically a school day, classes are nevertheless interrupted by special “cupids” distributing long-stemmed roses to the girls and boys from their boy/girlfriends and assorted admirers, which can be a special kind of Hell for those less popular.

We soon find out that, behind their pretty faces and friendly demeanour, the popular foursome are not much more than a group of mean girls. They take immense joy in bullying and terrorising the class loner, Juliet  (Elena Kampouris) and deliberately ruin the relationship between Anna (Liv Hewson) and her girlfriend. When Sam receives a surprise rose from Kent (Logan Miller) who is hosting a Cupid Day party that night, she rejects his attention as well. Continue reading

Hugh Jackman Gives One Of His Best Performances in Logan

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loganIn the year 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman), a.k.a. “Wolverine”, is working as a limousine driver and hiding out in the Mexican desert with an ageing Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant). The once-powerful Charles is losing his memory and no longer able to control his powers without the help of drugs. The mutant population is virtually extinct. Charles and Logan have dreams of buying a boat and living out their days in the open ocean where the world would be safe from their powers.

When a mysterious woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), begs Logan to take her and her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), to North Dakota, he rejects her. He changes his mind when a wad of much-needed cash is offered, but it is already too late for Gabriela.

Logan soon learns that a group of mercenaries led by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) working for “scientific researcher” Dr. Xander Rice (Richard E. Grant) at Transigen, have been breeding a new generation of children to become mutants and training them to be super-soldiers. When the nurses at Transigen discovered the true purpose of the children they have been nurturing, they helped the children escape, with the aim of getting them across the US border where Eden awaits. Continue reading

Exploring the World with Levison Wood (Part 3): Walking the Americas

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Twelve months ago, I sat in my living room in Sydney, staring at the messy and unco-ordinated furniture around me. They were assorted mismatched bookcases and shelves that I had collected over the years from various friends and family who no longer had use for them. Then I looked at the rest of my flat and wondered if I had the patience for home renovations (I don’t). In the end, I settled for new bookcases to replace old sagging ones that were struggling with the weight of their loads and a new double recliner (by the way, it was a very comfortable spot from which my best friend and I watched Walking the Nile together).

img_0898At about the same time, on a continent far, far away, British explorer Levison Wood was dealing with his own renovations of the seventeenth-century house in Hampton Court he had bought after returning from the Himalayas. Escaping from the sounds of hammer and drill, Wood went for a stroll in the Hampton Court Palace gardens (personally, I rather enjoyed the Palace Maze). From his telling of the history of the architecture of the Palace, Wood segued into the stories of seventeenth-century Scots trying to build an empire of their own and finding the region we now know as Central America. Imagine for a moment if the Scots hadn’t given up the jungle four hundred years ago – we might find some colourful kilts instead of huipils!

So, while a team of workmen were pulling apart and reconstructing his house, Wood plotted his next adventure. And thus, Walking the Americas was born. Off to Mexico he went, joined by an old friend, Alberto Caceres – a fashion photographer he had met some years earlier. A fashion photographer? Knowing how to use the right f-stops and applying the rule-of-thirds for perfect composition were not going to save you from poisonous snakes, tarantulas and crocodiles, not to mention the long list of tropical diseases that could kill you in the most excruciating and disgusting way.

Continue reading

Fences Film Review

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Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.

fencesTo the outside world, the Maxsons live contented lives: Troy (Denzel Washington) has just won the right to become the city’s first non-white driver in the sanitation department; his wife of seventeen years, Rose (Viola Davis), looks after the family home, keeping it spotless and always ready with a good hot meal while looking after the finances; and a teenage son, Cory (Jovan Adepo) who is doing well enough in the school football team that college talent scouts are considering giving him a place.

 

A couple of decades after his own dreams of joining major league baseball because he was deemed too old by the time African-American players are admitted, Troy is still bitter about the path that “could have been” and takes out his resentment on Cory. He refuses to let Cory play football and insists he spend his “spare” time working to support the family. Continue reading

Manchester By The Sea Film Review

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manchester-by-the-seaIn the idyllic, seaside town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, once lived Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) with his wife, Randi (Michelle Williams) and their three young children. He sometimes hangs out with his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler) and his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges) on Joe’s boat, the Claudia Marie – named after their mother. It is clear from the outset that Lee and his family are close.

Following a family tragedy, Lee moves away and is working as a handyman who keeps mostly to himself. His quiet existence is turned upside down when his brother dies suddenly of a heart attack, leaving him the sole guardian for 16-year-old nephew – Patrick’s mother, Elise (Gretchen Mol) having left the family many years earlier.

When Lee returns to Manchester, he is confronted by not only the sad realities of death – arranging for the funeral, the burial and all the legal ramifications – but also all the ghosts of his own past that he has never forgiven himself for. Continue reading