Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Deep Blue Sea

Love, some say it's a curse. Others call it a blessing. One thing I think most can agree on, it's one of the most powerful and mysterious forces in the universe. No more so is this enigmatic emotion shown than in Terrence Davies' homage to old school cinematic melodramas in the adaptation of Terrence Rattigan's stage play, The Deep Blue Sea. Not to be confused at all as a follow-up to the Samuel L Jackson shark gorefest, Deep Blue Sea. Got it? Good, let's move on...

The film tells the tale of Hester (Rachel Weisz) as she tries to re-evaluate her life after a failed suicide attempt. At the centre of it all is her undying almost destructive love for her current husband, Freddy (Tom Hiddleston) and the nostalgic, comforting, stable love from the man she left him for William (Simon Russell Beale).

I've always thought of Weisz as a charming and competent actress but in The Deep Blue Sea she has rarely ever been so alluring as well as being so passionate and at times so utterly unsympathetic. The sheer awkwardness of her initial attraction to Hiddleston adds to the incoherent mess she finds herself in, and makes for some brilliant car crash cinema.

Tom Hiddleston was rather marvellous as the obnoxious, stiff upper lip, working class ex-RAF Brit, Freddy. He enters the film as this suave, dapper male and once the initial primal instincts subside into reality, he's revealed to be nothing more than this petulant, childish, brattish man who never really recovered from the horrors of World War 2. While Simon Russell Beale's older, prouder more cultured William offers Ester what she can't get from Freddy; money, stability and far less drama.

They almost make up one complete male together, and you get that impression Ester makes that conclusion herself towards the latter end of the film, but ultimately the passion reins supreme. She can't explain why she's drawn to Freddy, she nearly kills herself because of it, but it's just there. Even if the message is a little muddled at times.

Visually though Davies has made a film which just oozes class. It sometimes does feel a little too much like a stage play rather than a film, but the cinematography was just beautiful on the eye. Especially in those long drawn out scenes of Weisz smoking a cigarette by the window, harking back to a forgotten era of cinema, and just letting the smoke linger for that second or two longer than needed.

Furthermore the stunning, if at times overly ostentatious, score featuring the at times moving, at times overly destructive Violin Concerto by Samuel Barber almost gives it a Hitchcockian undertone. This tense feeling something more profoundly sinister is just waiting to occur, when in reality it results in something simply quite tragic.

Final Thoughts
It doesn't always hit the mark of cinematic excellence with a disorientating narrative and some hammy, awkward scenes of drama. Nevertheless Rachel Weisz has excelled herself in her most sexy and at times unforgiving performance alongside an ever versatile Tom Hiddleston and accomplished Simon Russell Beale. Terrence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea is a film of pure indulgence on the eye even if beneath its glossy, smoke tinted surface leaves one feeling rather confused, disconnected and hollow. But hey that's love sometimes I guess... isn't it?


The Deep Blue Sea is in selected cinemas across the UK now. Belfast viewers can see it exclusively at the Queen's Film Theatre from Friday December 2nd, 2011.

Friday, 25 November 2011


Given the core subject of 50/50 I will admit I entered the cinema with a little trepidation. A film about dealing with cancer really isn't suppose to be funny. At least, in a slapstick context. However if done right with a stellar cast, some very balanced writing, and clean direction it can be one of the most life affirming films you'll see all year. Thankfully 50/50 did just that...

Starring the excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt the film tells the up/down tale of Adam, a young, successful, radio journalist who is tragically struck down with a tumour in his spine. Over the course of his treatment he deals with the flaky two-timing nature of his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), his estranged relationship emotionally suppressed mother (Angelica Huston) and the playful nature of his best friend (Seth Rogen) who just wants to play the sympathy card of his friend's awful situation to get himself laid. Frankly it's nothing new in the originality department, but combined together it results in a glorious little film.

As already shown in the similarly inventive twist on the indie comedy genre, 500 Days of Summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a terrific, relatable and honest leading man. He manages to make it all look so natural on screen, very likeable, great presence and very much a delightful underdog you can't help but root for. More significant however was how sincerely moving the more emotional scenes he was in were. I'm not saying it's by any means the biggest tear-jeaker in cinematic history, but you'll definitely need a moment to compose yourself at times.

The supporting performances though competent and at times highly entertaining, felt slightly more phoned in compared to Gordon-Levitt's contribution because all the characters fitted the archetypes they're all famous for by now. Seth Rogen was just as in the audience's face with his usual obnoxious, horny stoner routine as he has been in Superbad, Pineapple Express, hell even The Green Hornet.

Bryce Dallas Howard channelled the petulant, spoiled brat that seen her through, quite recently, the adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's novel, The Help. As always Angelica Huston was wonderful in the motherly role which has served her so well her collaborations with Wes Anderson over the years. And finally Anna Kendrick as Adam's overeager and sometimes overbearing psychiatrist not too dissimilar to her terrific turn in Up in the Air.

I don't want to seem like I'm damning with faint praise, because 50/50 was one of the most joyful and moving films I've seen in a mainstream multiplex this year. Director John Levine managed to balance the brilliant screenplay from Will Reiser - who used his own personal experiences battling cancer to write the script - in such an accomplished manner.

That delicate blend of harrowing emotion and deafening feeling death could happen at any moment to this man, with those rather sweet beautiful moments which celebrate life, friendship, family and love. You'd be hard pressed, or perhaps just made of stone, if you went in and couldn't take something away from it.

Final Thoughts
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's baby face innocence doesn't disguise the fact the actor is currently leaps ahead of a lot of his contemporaries. 50/50 is cinema at its most basic but most brilliant. An execution which could quite easily be forgettable or extremely haphazard in lesser hands. With enjoyable performances, emotional crescendos, a delightful score from Michael Giacchino, 50/50 is not an easy journey at times but hopefully upon leaving the cinema you'll be thankful you did it. I know I did...


50/50 is in cinemas across the UK now.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Wuthering Heights

Any visitors to the blog will remember I reviewed - and surprisingly enjoyed - the latest adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's timeless gothic masterpiece, Jane Eyre. It's perhaps unusual however within two months to see a new big screen version of her sister, Emily Bronte's own masterpiece, Wuthering Heights arrive in arthouse cinemas around the nation also. Does it match the dark, brooding, horrific spin on the costume drama genre Jane Eyre presented? No, it doesn't. Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold instead decides takes the rulebook for period costume dramas and tears it up and throws it out the window, to quite striking results...

The whole narrative of the film is told from the perspective of the troubled boy of few words known as Heathcliff. It charts his arrival to the Earnshaw family who reluctantly raise them as their own, in their good Christian household, all the while young Heathcliff strikes up a close relationship with the youngest daughter of the family, Catherine. Any fans of the novel will know this budding love story is ultimately doomed to fail in the harshest of circumstances.

Wuthering Heights managed to do something quite remarkable. It managed to make this genre feel fresh and interesting. Arnold's presentation, from the first person perspectives, the old school 4.3 camera perspective, the abstract symbolic imagery in between scenes, the lack of any notable score preferring to rely on the natural sounds of the harsh English countryside, the almost music video-esque dreamy camera work was so unique and intoxicating it was truly hard to resist. Even if it's not always the most widely accessible adaptation seen on the big screen.

For both leading roles of Catherine and Heathcliff, the four actors involved were tremendous. Though Arnold should be credited for creating a screenplay which let the intimate, yet powerful, imagery carry the film as oppose to the dialogue which was kept to the absolute minimum - especially for James Howson and Solomon Glave's excellent portrayal of Heathcliff. Having not read the book I'd be interested to know if the perception of Catherine is a bit more glorified in the source material. In the film she was just as manipulative, cunning and unforgiving as the tortured Heathcliff, and especially in the scenes involving Kaya Scodelario (of Skins fame). The chemistry and relationships shown were for the large part quite moving, but their love was never entirely justified through these eyes.

For large portions the love story played second fiddle to some of the other issues the film tried to get across. This wasn't just a timeless love story of two extremely flawed human beings, but also an examination of social class, racial antagonism and religious apathy. It was sometimes cold, sometimes brutally harsh but it was hard to tear your eyes away from it at times. Almost how one would imagine a costume drama would feel if Lars Von Trier decided to make one - especially in the questionable treatment of the animal kingdom in certain scenes.

Nevertheless the film did suffered from a prolonged running time which could have easily been 20 minutes shorter had Arnold cut a few solitary shots of rotting fruit and dead animals which looked more at home in a David Attenborough documentary than a seasoned costumed affair.

Final Thoughts
Andrea Arnold's inventive spin on an age old classic may detract purists of the source material, but has almost certainly rejuvenated a somewhat frail genre for a new generation with powerful star-turning performances from its four leads along with the brutal imagery and undeniably provocative themes hidden in the undergrowth. Gorgeous film-making.


Wuthering Heights is in selected cinemas throughout the U.K. now. Northern Irish visitors can view it in Belfast's Queens Film Theatre from Friday November 18th 2011.


The Queen's Film Theatre have put together a competition for devoted fans to visit 'Bronte Country'. Details here ::

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Awakening

As it's been well documented on this blog for nearly three years, horror films are probably my least favourite genre. Being scared for the sake of it just isn't my idea of entertainment. However now and again you get a gem of a film full of atmosphere, frights but also (heaven forbid) a good cast with good acting and a mildly interesting plot. With Nick Murphy's The Awakening, we just about get all of this.

Starring the wonderful Rebecca Hall the film tells the tale of young ghost hunter, come writer, Florence Cathcart. After a series of debunking the world of the paranormal in a very Miss Marple/Sherlock Holmes fashion, her journey leads her to an inevitably creepy and isolated boarding school which unearths something ghostly and reveals more secrets than the woman is ever willing to admit about her past. It very much conjures memories of the brilliant Spanish horror film, The Orphanage.

Personally Rebecca Hall's Florence Cathcart was a delightful character to see develop on screen. If the BBC (who co-produced the film) wanted to create a new female equivalent of Sherlock Holmes I honestly believe this blunt, over analysing, flawed, intelligent protagonist could work so amazingly well in her own TV series in similar situations. This almost primal need to seek out the truth of the unknown, all the while secretly wanting for it all to be real. Though her backstory turns into a bit of an inconsistent muddle towards the end overall it was truly enjoyable experience - if not the most terrifying one I've ever witnessed.

The Wire's Dominic West was his usual best and provided the perfect companion to Hall's quest, while also dealing with his own psychological ghosts from The Great War. Again not surprising given her own pedigree, Imelda Staunton channelled her brilliance from Mike Leigh and Harry Potter films past with an elusive, strange and at times mentally disturbed performance as the mysterious maid of the house.

Visually from beginning to end it almost felt like Tim Burton got his hands on Downton Abbey for one week and decided to run riot with it - especially in the opening scene involving a seance. Nick Murphy and his crew did a brilliant job of taking the tired, albeit tried and tested, haunted house routine and gave it some urgency and an interesting psychological edge. Unfortunately for the abundance of atmosphere the film contained it sorely lacked, for the most part, any genuine scares. So anybody looking for a repeat of their Halloween ventures to the cinema of Paranormal Activity 3 might be in for a disappointment.

Final Thoughts
In the hands of lesser acting talent or creative team The Awakening could have easily been a torrid unmemorable affair. Nevertheless Rebecca Hall gives an exciting performance with a character she could easily make her own if Nick Murphy ever decided to develop her adventures further. If you can forgive the muddled ending and somewhat convoluted twist, the film itself is a fun night out at the cinema for people, like me, who just want a good movie instead of a good scare.


The Awakening is in selected cinemas throughout the UK from November 11th 2011.