Stephen Woolley

Stephen Woolley

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Carol Review


As in his gorgeous film Far From Heaven and TV series Mildred Pierce, filmmaker Todd Haynes tells a simple story with visual impact and thematic resonance. All three of these projects centre on characters who feel like outsiders in their societies, offering staggeringly complex roles for Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet and now Cate Blanchett. This one is also based on a Patricia Highsmith novel (published originally as The Price of Salt), so it has an added layer of underlying intensity.

The story is set in the run-up to Christmas 1952, as New York department store clerk Therese (Rooney Mara) becomes intrigued by Carol (Blanchett), a glamorous customer who seems unusually attentive. Therese finds a reason to contact her, and the two become friends despite the difference in age and class. Meanwhile, Carol is trying to extricate herself from her marriage to Harge (Kyle Chandler), who is still feeling wounded by Carol's relationship with another woman (Sarah Paulson) and threatens to use her friendship with Therese to deny custody of their young daughter. And Therese also has a nice-guy suitor in Richard (Jake Lacy), who is becoming increasingly suspicious. With all of this pressure on them, Carol and Therese make an impulsive decision to take a road trip together.

The events unfold with delicate precision, as Phyllis Nagy's script smartly allows these woman to circle around each other trying to work out how they feel. There's a gun-in-the-suitcase element that adds a bit of spark, but the real story here plays out between the lines in exquisite performances from Blanchett and Mara, who convey most of their feelings through offhanded glances and subtle gestures. This adds beautifully to the depiction of the period's repressive attitudes without ever being obvious about it, and it also reveals the deep emotions that come with feeling like you don't fit in with what society expects of you.

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Byzantium Review


Nearly 20 years after Interview With the Vampire, Neil Jordan returns to the genre to breath some new life into a mythology that has grown stale, predictable and rather mopey  (see Twilight). With a lively script by Buffini, Jordan creates a lushly stylish dramatic thriller that continually takes us aback with off-beat storytelling and complex characters who don't always do what we expect them to.

The story centres on mother-daughter immortals Clara and Eleanor (Arterton and Ronan), who are on the run when they arrive in a fading British seaside town. The resourceful Clara seduces the nervous Noel (Mays) so they can stay in his dilapidated Byzantium guesthouse. To earn some cash, the always resourceful Clara turns the empty rooms into a brothel. Meanwhile, Eleanor befriends the fragile young Frank (Jones) and reveals the fact that she and her mother are actually more than 200 years old and need human blood to survive. Through all of this, they're being chased by two elder vampires, the ruthless Ruthven (Miller) and the more sympathetic Darvell (Riley), both of whom share a tangled romantic past with Clara.

Unusually intelligent, the film holds our interest with an astonishing series of twists and turns plus an array of colourful characters that play on stereotypes. Holding it all together is a fairly simple plot that reveals itself in bits and pieces until the full picture comes into focus. From this point, we pretty much know what has to happen in the big finale, but watching events unfold is satisfying and sometimes both thrilling and moving.

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Byzantium Premiere

Jim Sheridan and Stephen Woolley - Premiere of 'Byzantium' held at the IFI at Temple Bar - Dublin, Ireland - Sunday 28th April 2013

Jim Sheridan and Stephen Woolley
Jim Sheridan and Stephen Wooley
Jim Sheridan

Great Expectations Review


Even though Charles Dickens' oft-told story is livened up with a terrific cast and sharp script, it's difficult to see anything terribly new about this BBC-produced version. Especially since it comes less than a year after their previous lavish TV production. But there are plenty of elements in this film that make it worth seeing, as the soap-style plot twists and turns through comedy and romance to its action-thriller climax.

After growing up as an orphan with his blacksmith uncle (Flemyng) and high-strung aunt (Hawkins), Pip (Irvine) is given the chance to live as a London gentleman. He's sure that his anonymous benefactor is the barmy Miss Havisham (Bonham Carter), a broken-hearted hermit he worked for as a child. And since he's still in love with her adopted daughter Estella (Grainger), he decides to use his new position in society to court her. But things don't quite go as expected, and his life takes a surprising turn when scary prison escapee Magwitch (Fiennes) latches onto Pip and begins revealing some surprising connections between all of these people.

This faithful retelling of Dickens' novel is packed with coincidences and revelations, as well as the kind of gleefully thorny rivalries that would be expected on Dallas or Downton Abbey. Overloaded with blackly comical intrigue, it's a compulsively enjoyable film that entertains us on a variety of levels as the story develops. Although director Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) never tries anything too flashy. Which means that despite the high quality, the film is straightforward and perhaps unnecessary.

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Made In Dagenham Review

This engaging, warm British comedy-drama not only features extremely vivid characters but also traces the real events that led to the law requiring equal pay for women. And it's also a lot of fun.

In 1968, Rita (Hawkins) works in the Ford plant in Dagenham. She quickly rises to a leadership role on the shopfloor where 187 women work on upholstery. But they earn a fraction of their male counterparts' wages, and their jobs are being reclassified as "unskilled". So Rita and her colleagues (including James, Winstone and Riseborough) team up with their union rep (Hoskins) to demand equality from the Ford execs (including Graves and Schiff). But their strike action has repercussions, catching the attention of government minister Barbara Castle (Richardson).

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Perrier's Bounty Review

Lively and rude, this comical crime thriller keeps us engaged with its likeable characters even when the plot begins to feel pointless. In the end, there's not much to the film, but it's enjoyable while it lasts.

Michael (Murphy) is a slacker who has four hours to pay back his loan shark Perrier (Gleeson) before a bounty is put out on him. On this fateful day, he teams up with his dying father Jim (Broadbent) and his neighbour Brenda (Whittaker), who accidentally gets involved in his mess. As they run around Dublin trying to stay one step ahead of the goons, as well as a couple of zealous traffic wardens, this trio is forced to examine their lives and relationships, often in the face of imminent injury.

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How To Lose Friends & Alienate People Review

A comedy that misfires is not a catastrophe. After all, being unfunny is not the worst cinematic crime. Wasting the talents of Simon Pegg, however, surely mandates some kind of conference with the World Court in The Hague. From his cult TV series Spaced to the brilliance that is Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, this British actor is wit incarnate. But put him in projects outside his partners in satire (Edgar Wright and Nick Frost), and he flails like a fat boy running. Now comes How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, a worthless excuse for a laugh-a-thon that elicits more groans than giggles.

UK journalist Sidney Young (Pegg) is desperate to make it big. He will do anything to crash celebrity parties and get a scoop. His hijinks grab the attention of Sharps magazine publisher Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), and soon, the Brit finds himself in New York, working at the influential rag. Under the editorship of Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston) and with the help of fellow reporter Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst) he soon discovers that a life covering the limelight isn't all its cracked up to be. As a matter of fact, it turns out that power-mad publicist Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson) controls most of the magazine's celebrity content, and if Sidney wants to succeed -- and get to date her sexy star client Sophie Maes (Megan Fox) -- he better learn how to make her happy.

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Interview With The Vampire Review

I suppose you're either an Anne Rice fan or you're not. I, for what it's worth, am not, and the first movie to be ground out from one of her little vampire books was such a snoozer it knocked me unconscious. While vampire stories tend to be either scary or campy, Interview somehow manages to be neither, telling an overwrought tale of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and other hunks of yesteryear as bloodsuckers through the ages. Not enough originality to make me care about it one way or the other.

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Stoned Review

The Rolling Stones' founder Brian Jones' drowning death in 1969 is another check mark in that long list of rock 'n' roll artists who died early and in their prime. His legacy as a musical genius aside, Jones is also remembered for his sartorial flamboyance and for his quintessential rocker's lifestyle of drugs, booze, and sex, all in big gulps.

It's at the shit end of excess that we find Jones (Leo Gregory) in Stephen Woolley's directorial debut, Stoned, which explores the rocker's final days, after he's alienated himself from his band, leading up to his mysterious drowning in the swimming pool of his country estate. Officially, the death was ruled an accident, but loose ends linger off the record, particularly with regard to Jones's relationship with Stones' manager, Tom Keylock (David Morrissey), and Frank Thorogood (Paddy Considine), a builder contracted to remodel Jones's estate. Woolley's movie runs on the notion that Thorogood was no mere working-class lackey, but a mole of sorts, employed by the Stones organization to keep daily tabs on Jones's erratic behavior.

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Mona Lisa Review

Neil Jordan knows movies are a form of art. While much of his work carries a distinctive artistic style, his involving 1986 drama Mona Lisa even carries the title of the famous painting of a dark, serene, mysterious woman with a slight grin on her face -- the Mona Lisa.

Mona Lisa shares much in common with that painting. The film contains a female character who is serene, dark, and mysterious. It doesn't take a genius, however, to comprehend that the leading actress here is a lot sexier than the woman in the painting.

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In Dreams Review

Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) just keeps going down down down. This time, it's a "thriller" about a loony who controls the dreams of Bening, making her loony as well. The loony (I'll kill the "suspense"--it's Downey) also kills her daughter and husband, you know, just for kicks. And there's apples apples apples galore! You know, for symbolism. I think.

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Interview With The Vampire Review

I suppose you're either an Anne Rice fan or you're not. I, for what it's worth, am not, and the first movie to be ground out from one of her little vampire books was such a snoozer it knocked me unconscious. While vampire stories tend to be either scary or campy, Interview somehow manages to be neither, telling an overwrought tale of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and other hunks of yesteryear as bloodsuckers through the ages. Not enough originality to make me care about it one way or the other.

High Spirits Review

Steve Guttenberg falls in love with a ghost. Sounds about right.

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The Crying Game Review

Years ago on David Spade's "Hollywood Minute" segment on Saturday Night Live, the comedian offered his take on The Crying Game's big secret. "Sssh," he said. "It's overrated." Sarcasm aside, I have to agree with Spade.

Is it a good secret? Sure. Is it one of the most memorable in cinema's last 15 years? Possibly. But one good surprise/twist does not make a great movie, and there's very little else in director/writer Neil Jordan's drama to deserve such lavish wide-eyed acclaim. It's a solid, well-acted character study. That's it, I'm afraid.

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