After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film version of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. First staged in 1983 (the Washington-Davis revival was in 2010), the story explores the experience of an African-American working class family in the 1950s. And its most powerful kick is in the balance of power between husband and wife, something that easily transcends the racial themes.
In Pittsburgh, trash collector Troy (Washington) is proud to be able to support his wife Rose (Davis) and teen son Cory (Jovan Adepo), who wants to attend university on a football scholarship. But Troy thinks this is unnecessary, forbidding him from playing on the team. Troy and Rose's other son Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) is disabled but living on his own, and Troy has an older son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), who regularly needs cash to top up his income as a musician. As he slowly builds a fence in the back yard, Troy is beginning to resent having to give in to all of these people, blaming his problems on white-majority culture. But Rose has had enough of his complaining.
Wilson's dialogue is heightened and gorgeous, with a poetic ring like modern-day Shakespeare as it explores enormous issues using clever wordplay and epic monologues. While Troy continually rants at how hard life is for a black man, the interaction points out that his main problem is actually his need to be in control of everyone around him. This makes Troy increasingly unlikeable, and Washington goes for broke in the performance. It often feels like he's playing to people sitting in the top of the theatre balcony, but it's impossible not to be moved by his words. By contrast, Davis' much more intimate Rose is the film's heart and soul. As the story progresses, she becomes the lead character, and Davis delivers a series of devastating scenes with raw power.
Continue reading: Fences Review
Sidestepping arguments about accuracy, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle take an artistic, impressionistic approach to this biopic about the iconic Apple founder. Using a structure that would work perfectly on stage, the film tells his story through just three extended scenes. In the process, it reveals even more about human nature than it does about Steve Jobs or the tech business.
The first segment is set in 1984, as Steve (Michael Fassbender) is about to launch the game-changing Macintosh computer with cofounder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), marketing expert Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) and developer Andy Hertsfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg). As he organises the launch event to within an inch of its life, he's interrupted by his ex-girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), but Steve still refuses to accept that her 5-year-old daughter is his. He also has an important conversation with the Apple chairman John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) just before going on-stage. This same scenario is repeated two more times, at the 1988 launch of NeXT and at the 1998 launch of the iMac, tracing Steve's fierce business acumen, complex interaction with his colleagues, and his evolving connection with his daughter.
Fassbender bravely never hedges his bets as Jobs, finding a tricky balance in an innovator who changed the world but never quite made sense of his personal or professional relationships. This is a man who is likeable and cruel at the same time, eliciting both laughter and gasps of horror from the audience. Fassbender's kinetic energy is hugely engaging, matched cleverly by Winslet's Hoffman, the only person with whom Jobs speaks about his own flaws. With both Rogen's generous Wozniak and Stuhlbarg's determined Hertzfeld, Jobs is much more dismissive, although there's respect under the surface. And its the literate banter with Daniels' thoughtful Sculley that gives the film its brainy kick, especially as it's so inventively written and directed to weave conversations right into flashbacks.
Continue reading: Steve Jobs Review
Chris Rock has essentially written and directed a film based on one of his own standup routines, and the result is as hilarious as we'd expect. It's also a clever skewering of show business, from the difficulty of changing a public image to the never-ending intrusion of the press. But while the film is consistently smart and funny, it's also a bit of an inside joke, taking on an industry that's so absurd that ridiculing it might be too easy.
Rock plays Andre Allen, a former comic who found international fame playing a furry police officer in three Hammy The Bear movies. But now he wants some respect as an actor, so he has produced a serious period drama called Uprize!, about the 18th century Haitian revolution. On the day of the film's gala premiere, Andre grants an interview to New York Times journalist Chelsea (Rosario Dawson), who follows him around town as he runs errands both promoting the film and preparing for his heavily publicised wedding to reality TV star Erica (Gabrielle Union). Against his better judgement, he begins to drop his guard with Chelsea, introducing her to members of his family and inviting her to his bachelor party, which is being staged for Erica's show.
The film's one false note is the whiff of a romantic-comedy as Andre and Chelsea begin to open up to each other. Fortunately, Rock allows this to merely simmer in the background as he gets on with his wicked commentary about life in the entertainment industry. The dialogue is packed with pithy observations, sarcastic gags and knowing jabs that could only come from someone who has lived (and survived) this crazy lifestyle. Even more interesting are the darker undercurrents. Andre is a recovering alcoholic who isn't sure he can still be funny now that he's sober.
Continue reading: Top Five Review
A harrowing true story infused with sharp humour and bristling intelligence, this riveting film is an auspicious writing-directing debut for TV news comic Jon Stewart. It's based on London-based journalist Maziar Bahari's book Then They Came for Me, a strikingly intimate memoir about being imprisoned in Iran. But the film never becomes a rant at an unjust society. Instead, it digs deep beneath the surface to find much more resonant, and more important, themes.
Maziar (Gael Garcia Bernal) left his pregnant wife (Claire Foy) at home in Britain to travel to Tehran to cover the contentious 2009 elections, after which the streets broke out in protests at what people saw as a rigged victory for Ahmadinejad. Maziar stays to report on this, and does a comical interview with a member of Stewart's team at The Daily Show. But the regime sees this as cooperation with an enemy, and arrests Maziar in his mother's (Shohreh Aghdashloo) home, charging him with espionage. While held in the notorious Evin Prison for nearly four months, Maziar is subjected to psychological torture at the hands of an interrogator (Kim Bodnia) he names "Rosewater" because of his scent. And the memories of similar experiences endured by his father and sister (Haluk Bilginer and Golshifteh Farahani) help Maziar survive his ordeal.
As a director, Stewart continually finds clever ways of revealing the inner workings of Maziar's mind, revealing his thoughts in inventive imagery and sounds. For example, one sequence beautifully weaves in Leonard Cohen's Dance Me to the Edge of Love, which holds a powerful memory for Maziar and also echoes the music and movies Iran's religious regime has strictly forbidden. Even the ghostly appearances of Maziar's father and sister are seamlessly integrated into the story. And the other significant achievement here is a refusal to make anyone a villain. As played by Bodnia, Rosewater is a man doing what he believes to be right, with pangs of conscience that eerily echo the news headlines about how American interrogators mistreated prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Bagram.
Continue reading: Rosewater Review
Writer-director Noah Baumbach once again taps into a specific point in life with astute observational skill, even if the plot feels oddly forced. The vividly defined characters continually surprise with their awkward honesty, although this comedy-drama suffers from the contrived plotting of Greenberg (2010) rather than the free-spirited joy of Frances Ha (2012). Still, people on the cusp of middle age will find it hilariously, and worryingly, resonant.
In their early 40s, Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) feel like everyone is judging them for not having children. And Josh has the additional pressure that his filmmaking career has stalled: he has nothing to show for eight years spent on his latest documentary. Then they meet 25-year-old aspiring filmmaker Jamie (Adam Driver) and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who inspire them to recapture their youthful interests in art and culture. Even their sex life begins to perk up. And Jamie encourages Josh to make progress on his movie, just as Jamie gets his own project underway, consulting with Cornelia's well-established filmmaker dad (Charles Grodin). But is this trans-generational friendship appropriate?
The fact that they even wonder that gives away Baumbach's own perspective, especially as he fills the film with witty contrasts that work a little too hard to make the point. For example, Josh collects CDs and DVDs while Jamie collects LPs and VHS tapes. Continual touches like this add lots of clever observational humour, although they also make everything feel a bit cartoonish and over-constructed. Plus of course the nagging sense that there's a right and wrong way these kinds of things should play out. Thankfully the dialogue is fiendishly smart, delivered to perfection by the gifted cast. And it helps that each of the actors are willing to be fairly unlikeable in his or her role, although Stiller is sometimes sent over the top with Josh's inexplicably harsh reactions to everyone around him.
Continue reading: While We're Young Review
Scott Rudin was furious with Angelina Jolie's attempt to have David Fincher direct 'Cleopatra'.
So at first all we got from the Sony leak was a couple of decent reviewed movies. But now? Now, we've got all the juicy stuff, including a ferocious exchange between studio co-chair Amy Pascal and produce Scott Rudin. We also got some pretty heated passages about Angelina Jolie and Megan Ellison.
Amy Pascal had an explosive email conversation with producer Scott Rudin
The focus of the fiery exchange was a back-and-forth between Pascal and Rudin concerning the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic. Now, we already know that this project has been blighted by various drop-outs and casting problems, though it seems that David Fincher's departure may have been down to more than just money.
Continue reading: Sony Leak: Scott Rudin And Amy Pascal's Fiery Exchange On Angelina
Wes Anderson's entertaining filmmaking style clicks beautifully into focus for this comical adventure. Films like The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom are packed with amazing detail and terrific characters, but this movie is on another level entirely: fast, smart and engaging, packed with both silly slapstick and intelligent gags. And the sprawling cast is simply wonderful.
It's a story within a story within a story, as an author (Wilkinson) narrates the tale of his 1968 conversation as a young writer (Law) with ageing hotelier Zero (Abraham), who in turn recounts his life as a lobby boy in 1932. Young Zero (Revolori) learned his craft alongside legendary concierge Gustave (Fiennes) at the Grand Budapest Hotel somewhere in Middle Europe, and stuck by Gustave's side when he became embroiled in an inheritance battle with a spoiled heir (Brody) and his evil henchman (Dafoe). As things get increasingly nasty, Zero and his baker girlfriend (Ronan) help Gustave fight for justice, and when that doesn't work he helps orchestrate an elaborate prison escape. Meanwhile, war breaks out twice across Europe.
The double flashback structure makes this a film about the power of storytelling itself, and even more potent is the reminder that we need to remember the old ways, especially as the world changes around us. This simple idea is woven so cleverly into the DNA of the script that it continually takes our breath away, conveying the true importance of history and nostalgia. At the centre, Fiennes gives his best-ever performance, showing a real gift for comedy (who knew?) as he makes the bristly Gustave deeply likeable. His camaraderie with newcomer Revolori is priceless, as are the cameos from an array of Anderson veterans including Murray, Wilson and the always astonishing Swinton.
Continue reading: The Grand Budapest Hotel Review
The Coen brothers have a wry twinkle in their eyes as they take us on a lyrical journey with a hugely likeable musician for whom success is only barely out of reach. It's also an engaging exploration of both the the early 1960s New York folk music scene that gave us Bob Dylan and the tenacity it takes to make your dreams come true.
It's 1961, and Llewyn Davis (Isaac) isn't sure he wants to fight anymore. His career has stalled, and he's moving from couch to couch trying to pick up gigs. But he doesn't have anything to lose, and when he inadvertently acquires a pet cat he has a bit of purpose for a change. On the other hand, his longtime friendship with husband-and-wife folk duo Jim and Jean (Timberlake and Mulligan) is strained when Jean tells him she's pregnant with a child that might be his. In need of cash, he takes a job in Chicago, taking a long road-trip with two nutcases (Hedlund and Goodman). And he even considers re-enlisting in the Merchant Marines.
Despite Llewyn's quiet desperation, the Coens keep the film's tone light and endearing, with constant comical touches that keep us smiling right to the cleverly elliptical ending. They also pack the movie with folk music that's gorgeously produced by T Bone Burnett, offering emotive counterpoints to Llewyn's sardonic sense of humour. His snappy wit often gets him into trouble, but we can immediately see his depth of character as well, and Isaac is terrific in the role, the kind of guy we would happily spend a lot more time with.
Continue reading: Inside Llewyn Davis Review
With an attention to documentary detail that makes everything viscerally realistic, this film grabs hold and never lets go, cranking the suspense to nearly unbearable levels and then tightening its grip even further. Like director Greengrass' United 93, this is a film that makes us forget our daily routine, sending us on a harrowing journey that feels more like a life experience than watching a movie.
It's based on true events from March 2009, when Richard Phillips (Hanks) took a routine job captaining a cargo ship filled with food aid from Oman to Kenya. Then off the coast of Somalia, they're attacked by the tenacious pirate Muse (Abdi) and his three cohorts (Abdirahman, Ahmed and Ali). These aren't terrorists, they're desperate young men who take violent action only because they have to. But their demands for money go unmet, and the stand-off escalates as Phillips' crew fights back against the armed intruders. Then the American Navy responds with overwhelming force, trying to calm the situation without getting Phillips killed.
Aside from one background sequence in Somalia, we watch the entire story through Phillips' eyes, which makes us feel like we are right in the middle of it. Greengrass insists on realism, refusing to indulge in digital trickery when he can get real ships and helicopters out on the ocean instead. This gives the film a jolt of authenticity that's impossible to re-create in a studio, as we can feel the isolation of the expansive sea as well as the dangerous claustrophobia in the pod-like lifeboat where the climactic scenes play out. And there isn't a false note. Even with a well-known actor like Hanks in the central role, we are completely drawn in.
Continue reading: Captain Phillips Review
This film may look like one of those annoyingly mannered independent films, with its wacky young cast and arty-farty black and white photography, but it's actually a fresh, smart and very funny comedy. It also features one of the most honest female characters in recent memory: Frances is a true original who is awash in optimism as she tries to navigate the obstacles in her life.
Gerwig has made a career of playing quirky goofballs (see Damsels in Distress), and Frances is definitely offbeat. But she's also likeable and real. She lives in New York with her best pal Sophie (Sumner). But their close bond is strained when Frances' romance with her boyfriend (Esper) collapses while Sophie moves forward with her partner Patch (Heusinger). Now Frances needs to find a new place to live, so she moves in with Lev and Benji (Driver and Zegen). She's also pushing her dance company director (d'Amboise) for more work. While everyone around her is growing up and building their lives, she seems to be going backwards. But she never lets that get her down.
Frances is such an engaging character that we can't help but fall for her. Her relentlessly positive approach to life may seem corny, but she also insists on achieving her goals on her own terms. This may make her progress more difficult, such as when she takes a humiliating job at her old university, but at least she has her integrity. Sort of. Meanwhile the film is punctuated with moments of hilarious slapstick, sarcasm and relationships that ring sometimes painfully true. And at the centre is her strained but unshakable bond with Sophie.
Continue reading: Frances Ha Review
After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...
With virtually the same blend of wit and idiocy as the 2001 original, this fashion-scene...
Sidestepping arguments about accuracy, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle take an artistic, impressionistic...
Chris Rock has essentially written and directed a film based on one of his own...
A harrowing true story infused with sharp humour and bristling intelligence, this riveting film is...
Writer-director Noah Baumbach once again taps into a specific point in life with astute observational...
Wes Anderson's entertaining filmmaking style clicks beautifully into focus for this comical adventure. Films like...
The Coen brothers have a wry twinkle in their eyes as they take us on...
With an attention to documentary detail that makes everything viscerally realistic, this film grabs hold...
This film may look like one of those annoyingly mannered independent films, with its wacky...
This may look like a wildly irreverent satire about a North African despot, but it...
Anderson's films definitely aren't to everyone's taste, with his quirky approach to direction, character and...
Based on the Jonathan Safran Foer novel, this film holds its heavy emotional weight in...