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Tully

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Director: Jason Reitman

Stars: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Emily Haine, Elaine Tan

Released: 4th May 2018 (UK)

Reviewer: Ren Zelen

In Tully, the third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, (Juno, 2007, Young Adult, 2011) Charlize Theron plays Marlo, a suburban mom with two young kids who is about to give birth to her third.

Marlo isn’t just struggling with the imminent birth and demands of another new-born – she has a difficult young son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), whose behavioural issues mean he’s about to be ejected from his classy elementary school by its politically-correct but unfeeling bureaucrats, who label him as ‘quirky’, while his autistic symptoms are never honestly addressed by staff or parents.

Marlo also has a nine-year-old daughter, Sarah (Lia Frankland), to whom she can accord little attention, and Drew, (Ron Livingston), her well-meaning, but domestically ineffectual husband.

After the birth of her new daughter, Mia, Marlo tries to cope with the recovery of her body, the insistent, and sometimes painful, production of breast milk and the challenge of shedding her baby weight (realities which we rarely see mothers in movies having to deal with).

Director Jason Reitman presents an extended montage of the repetitive daily grind of caring for a new-born baby – the wakeful nights, the rota of feeding and changing of nappies, the school runs, teacher meetings and meal preparation undertaken under the constant fog of sleep deprivation.

Meanwhile, husband Drew works hard at his career, comes home, briefly helps the older children with their homework, and then spends the evening upstairs playing video games, or is literally absent, traveling for his business. He is often emotionally oblivious to the increasing pressures building to a crisis in his wife’s daily life.

It’s Marlo’s rich brother Craig (Mark Duplass), whose smug wife (Elaine Tan) and three children have had the luxury of all the childcare money can buy, who comes up with a suggestion: as a gift to his sister, he offers to pay for a ‘night nanny’ – a ‘mothers’-helper’ who arrives after dark to look after the baby throughout the night. This will allow the mother to catch up on sleep and, when required, the night nanny will bring the infant to feed in bed at its mother’s breast.

Marlo resists the idea until her body is exhausted and her wits are at an end, then she calls the number Craig has given her. The young woman who shows up at the door that evening is called Tully (Mackenzie Davis), and is a caring, vivacious, 26-year-old, who seems wise beyond her years. Reluctant at first, Marlo soon finds herself succumbing to the amity, charm and calm her new friend brings to her life, and she forms an unusual bond with the friendly, free-spirited young woman.

Theron gives a powerful performance, emotionally raw, unglamorous, physically intense – the picture of a beautiful woman who has lost control of her body and her life, battling with exhaustion and anger, overcome by the demands of motherhood.

Mackenzie Davis plays a counterpoint to this beautifully. As she has proved in the excellent TV series Halt and Catch Fire, Davis is a fearless actress, attentive and generous to her fellow actors. Theron responds in kind and their relationship becomes an intriguing exercise in a kind of emotional seduction. Although she often finds Tully’s questioning rather personal, Marlo begins to undergo a poignant examination of her past, her unfulfilled dreams and expectations, and her current place in life, and so to settle.

The climax comes when Tully persuades Marlo to sneak off for one night, leaving the sleeping baby in the house with unsuspecting husband Drew. They drive to Marlo’s funky old neighbourhood where she was single, for a girls’ night out. There they drink bourbon in bars, head bang at a black metal gig, and wind up in a grim, graffitied bathroom trying to drain Marlo’s breasts of the milk that is painfully engorging them, (I don’t think anyone else has yet been brave enough to feature a scene with a woman squirting her troublesome breast milk into a toilet bowl in a dingy bar!).

Although writer Diablo Cody portrays Tully’s arrivals under cover of darkness as somewhat akin to the visits of the mysterious and winsome mermaid who regularly appears in Marlo’s dreams, director Reitman cleverly balances this by framing the scenes between the two actresses in entirely mundane, realistic circumstances and then just letting the two excellent leads do their job.

Tully is an unusual film, as Reitman and Cody unflinchingly, yet engagingly and compassionately, portray some of the more difficult realities of motherhood, when, challenged by sleep deprivation, the complications of the post-natal body and the grind of constant physical demands, some mothers might feel that they are close to losing their minds. Perhaps then, like Marlo, they might be forgiven for finding their own individual method to diffuse their struggles, in order to avoid being utterly overcome by them.

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – If Beale Street Could Talk

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Beale Street Movie Marker

Released: 8th February 2019

Directed By: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

In his entrancing and eventual Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’, it was the longing to be authentic. To be accepted in an often volatile environment that powered its narrative.

Clearly in this pitch-perfect adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, director Barry Jenkins is consumed with longing of a different kind that is just as potent. Justice. An eradication of the infuriating systemic abuse of law and power against black people in America, that sees this luminous love story in 1970’s Harlem, strike modern-day parallels with our own divided, morally skewed society.

An incandescent portrayal of young romance. The tenderness, respect and sheer revolve that underpins the relationship between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) will leave you spellbound from the outset, as their lives are soon mired in despair. The rapturous joy of new life as Tish falls pregnant, backed up by the triple threat of mom Sharon (Regina King), dad Joseph (Colman Domingo) and sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris). Quickly cancelled out by the malice of Fonny’s staunchly religious family and a false yet potentially devastating rape allegation made against him, as they scramble to prove his innocence.

Punctuated by Kiki Layne’s wholesome narration and an overwhelmingly beautiful Nicholas Brittell score that i would be content listening to for days on end. Jenkins exchanges the melancholic blues of his previous effort for a broader but no less lush visual palette, with its exquisite interiors and classy costume design almost serving as a rainbow for the tears that have streamed down their faces through such hardship, but their spirit and love continues to illuminate their gritty surroundings. Whether it be lingering close-ups of sweet embrace or deep sorrow. Its director doesn’t flinch for a second in conveying the simmering emotions on display and in doing so, leaves you completely transfixed by his tactful approach to the source material.

There is a raw resilient energy that permeates throughout its central romance. Kiki Layne’s Tish serves as the remarkably understated, calming influence to Stephan James’ broken-hearted prisoner, a slave to a corrupt system with a searing monologue by Fonny’s dear friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) reinforcing the pain inflicted. Through it all, their hopeful adoring looks and stifling intimacy simply captivate. In Regina King’s marvellous mother figure, she peppers the film with considerable candour, armed with dialogue that pierces your soul. Whilst Jenkins leaves enough room for inspired cameos that are best left a secret, which gorgeously represent a sense of community and a progression in attitude, that defies the period.

A steady panning shot as Fonny smokes may seem throwaway. In this case, it is awfully fitting to articulate the finesse of its director. Lose yourself in the mesmeric haze of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’.

A lyrical experience that reminds you of the poetic power cinema can truly possess. His love for the art form brought him here. On this form. Trust Barry Jenkins to go all the way.

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LFF 2018 Review – Stan & Ollie

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Stan and Ollie Rating Movie Marker

Released: 11th January 2019

Directed By: Jon S Baird

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C.Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Products of classic Hollywood whose superior slapstick routines triggered endless laughter from their legion of fans, propelling them to legendary status. The sheer physicality and comedic prowess displayed by the English/American duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, still puts many modern-day efforts to shame.

But like so many comedians, there is a tragic element to their careers that contradicts their profession. Through this solid biopic by Filth director Jon S. Baird, it looks to give us a poignant insight into the duo’s grueling twilight years.

Their popularity slowly dwindling. Their bones creaking. Whether on the big screen or the stage, Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C.Reilly) are suddenly not the hottest ticket in town in the early 1950’s. Lumbered with Rufus Jones’ Bernard Delfont, a wisecracking promoter who seems more invested in the likes of Norman Wisdom, they look to reignite interest with a lengthy theatre tour and a long-gestating film project. Yet with audiences middling, contract negotiations stalling and the workload far beyond what was expected, it puts a significant strain on the health and friendship of these two towering talents.

Inevitably with its story, you would expect ‘Stan & Ollie’ to be assured in its abilities to make you laugh. However much of the first half feels surprisingly stilted as Coogan and C.Reilly throw themselves into the pair’s much-beloved routines, with regular cutbacks to their adoring audiences. For the uninitiated, it may initially make you wonder what the fuss was about. Thankfully as the film’s supporting players are introduced to spar with our central characters, it finds a more consistent comedic rhythm, neatly intertwining with the film’s simmering emotion.

Whilst it’s undoubtedly a few visual flourishes away from being a formulaic BBC Christmas special. The admiration of S.Baird for Laurel & Hardy certainly shines through in its refined production, beginning with an exquisite tracking shot on a studio lot as he works his way through the duo’s masterful mischief with fondness.

The rapport between John C.Reilly and Steve Coogan anchors proceedings wonderfully, skilfully capturing the mannerisms and effectively articulating how dependent they are of each other, despite their ongoing disputes. In C.Reilly’s Ollie, his fully-fleshed turn pierces through the fat suit he wears, whose willingness to perform despite failing health is soul-stirring. Whilst the relentless nature of Coogan’s Stan, as he looks to churn out the material strong enough to breathe new life into their double act, makes for compelling viewing. The real danger posed however, is that the film’s main attraction are nearly upstaged by their witty wives, with Shirley Henderson’s Lucille and Nina Arianda’s Ida threatening to steal every scene they grace.

Entertaining enough to gently applaud. Yet perhaps not an act that quite raises the roof. ‘Stan and Ollie’ coasts by on its endearing nostalgic charm and committed performances.

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