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Archive for the ‘Film Reviews’ Category

This little gem of a movie is unsurprisingly set in 1985, and revolves around a young man named Adrian Lester (Cory Michael Smith), who has been living in New York City for several years. He is returning to the small Texas town where he grew up to spend Christmas with his ultra conservative parents (Michael Chiklis and Virginia Madsen) and his younger brother (Aidan Langford). What Adrian hasn’t told them is that he is gay, or that he is HIV positive.

There’s not a lot of action in this film and in many ways not a lot actually happens. It is a careful study of an awkward and difficult relationship between a young man and his father (his mother is far more open and affectionate with Adrian). His father Dale is deeply religious and also extremely homophobic. It’s clear from the tension between them when Dale picks Adrian up from the airport, that they have little in common and don’t know how to be around each other.

The small main cast is rounded out by Jamie Chung as Carly, a childhood friend of Adrian, who his mother would like to see him have a relationship with. His father is not so keen as Carly is Korean, and along with his many prejudices, Dale is also racist. But Chiklis plays him as a multi-layered character, as distasteful as his attitudes definitely are. Smith is wonderful and heartbreaking as Adrian, and kudos to Langford for a sensitive portrayal as younger brother Andrew. Virginia Madsen straddles the line between sensitivity and love for her son, and the uncomfortable suspicion that his lifestyle might be one she cannot cope with.

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This film was something of a departure for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was previously always known as an action star with the occasional foray into daft comedy (Twins, Junior). This is a post apocalyptic horror, slow moving but thoughtful and poignant.

The world is consumed by the Nercoambulist virus which turns those afflicted into violent ‘zombies’ 6-8 weeks after infection. Wade’s (Schwarzenegger) daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has been infected but has not yet turned violent and he is determined to bring her home and look after her until such time as she turns violent and becomes a threat to their safety.

There are a few scary ‘made you jump’ moments, but this is not really that kind of a horror film. Instead, it’s more about watching someone die slowly, knowing that they will become a danger to their loved ones. It’s set in the present day, but the world has been ravaged by the virus. Wade loves his daughter but has to struggle with what he knows is to come.

I enjoyed the film, although it was by no means a relaxing watch. Schwarzenegger put to bed any suggestion that he can’t act – clearly he can, and while he might not be Oscar winning level, he is as good in this role as many other talented actors would be, and you can see the pain on his face.

My only complaint about the film is that it is just so dark. I don’t mean figuratively – it’s certainly that – I mean quite literally. A lot of the scenes are so dimly lit that it was sometimes difficult to make out what was happening. This reflected the tone of the film but at times became slightly frustrating. On the whole though, if you like a more thought provoking type of zombie movie, you might want to watch this.

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In 2005, 18 year old Anthony Walker was murdered in a racist attack in Liverpool. He had been a promising student, a well mannered young man, and had hoped to pursue a career in law, concentrating on civil rights.

His mother Gee Walker, who subsequently set up a foundation in her son’s name, to tackle racism, discrimination and hate crime, approached screenwriter and producer Jimmy McGovern, to make a television movie about the life that Anthony might have had if he had not been murdered.

It’s a difficult concept to wrap your head around in some ways because of course nobody knows what the future holds. However, McGovern’s approach to this story is compassionate and heartbreaking.

It starts with Anthony at 25, happily married with a child, at an awards show where his friend wins and presents the award to Anthony who his friend said is the real deserved winner.

It then tracks backward year by year, showing how Anthony met his future wife, how he helped a friend who had reached rock bottom, and how he started to realise his dream of becoming a lawyer. When the film reaches Anthony at age 18, tension sets in because of course we know as viewers what is going to happen. His murder is depicted brutally and made me furious at the injustice. I also sobbed uncontrollably for the last half an hour of the film.

Toheeb Jimoh played Anthony and conveyed the inherent goodness of this young man, who cared deeply for his mother and for those around him. Rakie Ayola played his mother Gee, in a simply outstanding performance.

This was not an easy watch, it made me sad and angry. But it’s an important watch, and extremely respectfully done. I urge you to watch it if you get the opportunity.

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The Stanford Prison Experiment is a film about an actual social psychological experiment conducted at Stanford University in 1971.

24 students out of a larger pool (one alternate ended up being used) were selected to take part in the experiment, which put half of them into a ‘prisoner’ group and half into a ‘guard’ group. They were then put into a makeshift prison and observed on camera by Professor Philip Zimbardo (played here by Billy Crudup), who was running the experiment, and his team. The idea behind it was to see the psychological effects of being in a particular role. The results were astonishing.

Almost immediately the guards, one in particular, began to display aggressive and sadistic tendencies, while the prisoners – now known only be numbers, instead of their names – started to get institutionalised, with some rebelling against the guards and others kowtowing to authority.

It’s not spoilerish to say that things got out of hand quickly and shockingly, but even knowing this going in, I was stunned to see how quickly people took on a new mantle and attitude due to the role they had been given. It’s worth bearing in mind that all of these subjects were students at Stanford University, with no criminal record or known psychological issues. They were all deemed to be stable and healthy. They all knew that it wasn’t an actual prison, yet they were all affected badly by what happened to them. It makes me shudder to think how someone with emotional or psychological issues could be affected.

This is certainly not an easy film to watch, but it was certainly difficult for me to tear my eyes away from the screen. Utterly compelling and unforgettable. I definitely recommend this film.

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Walk, Don’t Run was Cary Grant’s last film, and (unbeknown to me prior to watching) is a remake of an earlier film The More The Merrier.

Grant is William Rutland, a British businessman who arrives in Tokyo during the 1964 Olympics and is unable to find a room to stay. He has arrived two days early, meaning that the hotel room he had booked is not yet available. He finds a room to let in the apartment of a young woman named Christine Eaton (Samantha Eggar). Christine had advertised for a female flatmate but reluctantly agrees to let Rutland stay as she feels it is her patriotic duty. Rutland then invites a young athlete named Steve Davis (Jim Hutton) to also stay at the apartment, in the hope of playing cupid for Christine and Steve.

The two youngsters are very different people but eventually start to get along fairly well. However there are obstacles to their romance, not least Christine’s stuffy diplomat boyfriend Julius Haversack (John Standing).

This film has one major point in it’s favour, that is Cary Grant. Grant himself declined to play a romantic lead at this point in his career as he felt that he was too old to be believable in such a role. He subsequently retired from acting to raise his daughter. In all fairness, Samantha Eggar and Jim Hutton are also both very good in their roles. The film itself though is ultimately something of a let-down. It’s not bad, but it starts with a bang and ends with a whimper.

Still, as a fan of Cary Grant, that alone makes it worth the watch, so while I wouldn’t recommend it necessarily, I wouldn’t mind if I had to sit down and watch it again.

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In February 2020, a month before the lockdown due to Covid-19, I went to the theatre to see a live performance of The History Boys. I had never seen the film but the live show captivated me so much that I decided I must see the film as soon as I got chance. Being in lockdown for several months certainly gave me that chance!

Set in 1983, the film revolves a group of working class, high achieving schoolboys who have stayed on an extra term at their grammar school in Yorkshire, in order to be coached for the Oxford/Cambridge entrance exams. Their teacher, Hector (Richard Griffiths) has some unorthodox teaching methods, but the boys enjoy his classes. He also gives the boys lifts home on his motorbike, and touches them sexually, but despite this the boys like and respect him. However, the headmaster (Clive Merrison) doesn’t like Hector’s methods, and his suspicions about Hector’s behaviour leads him to employ a young teacher named Mr Irving (Stephen Campbell Moore) to tutor the boys instead. Mr Irving is less about educating the boys academically and more about teaching them how to present themselves and interview well, so that they stand out among other candidates. The two different teaching methods clash, and the boys are caught in the middle, although the teachers do learn to respect each other.

This is a play charged with sexual tension – not just in the case of Hector as outlined above, but also with one of the boys having unrequited feelings for another, and another of the boys feeling curious about his feelings for Mr Irving.

To put it bluntly, this film is brilliant and far better than I expected it to be, even though I went in with high expectations. It’s an interesting film, because it refuses to cast Hector as a villain, despite his sexual touching of the boys in his charge. His behaviour is obviously inexcusable and completely wrong, but what this play does is show it as part of Hector’s character, rather than the entirety of his character. (Please don’t misunderstand, I am in no way defending what he does, but I do think that this portrayal is brave and unusual.)

Griffiths and Moore are both excellent. Unsurprisingly, so is Frances De La Tour as the only main female role – an intelligent teacher annoyed at being sidelined by her male counterparts, and probably the most clear headed of the teaching staff.

The boys are played by Samuel Anderson, James Corden, Dominic Cooper, Andrew Knott, Russell Tovey, Jamie Parker, Samuel Barnett and Sacha Darwan, and each brought a distinctive and relevant character to the screen.

One of my favourite films of the year, and highly recommended.

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A film about the spelling bee contest does not sound like it should be exciting or compelling, but Akeelah and the Bee manages to be both.

Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is a young girl living in an LA ghetto, attending an underfunded school where education is not a priority for most of the students. But Akeelah is intelligent and has a talent – she can spell. She can spell tough, complicated words that many of us haven’t even heard before. Her teacher wants her to enter the school spelling bee and see if she can’t make it all the way to the national bee.

A former spelling bee winner, Dr Larabee (Laurence Fishburne) agrees to coach Akeelah, and together they embark on a journey that metaphorically takes them much further than either could have imagined. Akeelah herself becomes a symbol of hope for the people in her neighbourhood, who rarely have much to celebrate.

I was surprised by how much this film drew me in. I do love words and spelling, but I wasn’t sure how it would work in a film. Keke Palmer, who was just 13 when this film was made (Akeelah is 11) showed a real talent and I loved her. Fishburne was his usual reliable self in a layered portrait of a man trying to help someone achieve something which seemed out of reach. Angela Bassett is always, always brilliant, and certainly was here as Akeelah’s mother, initially resistant to her daughter taking part in the bee.

The ending genuinely did have me shouting at the TV! I won’t spoilt it, but I thought it did finish on a perfect note. If you are thinking that a film about a spelling bee does not sound like your kind of thing, give this a try…you might be pleasantly surprised.

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One Touch of Venus is a lighthearted romantic comedy starring Robert Walker and Ava Gardner, with support from Eve Arden, Tom Conway, Dick Hayes and Olga San Juan.

Walker is Eddie Hatch, a worker in a posh department store who is asked to fix a curtain behind which is a statue of Venus (Gardner). He impulsively kisses the statue and is astonished when Venus comes to life and starts to follow him round. Hatch is already in a relationship with Gloria (San Juan) so chaos and comedy ensue when he tries to keep Gloria and Venus from meeting, while also coming under suspicion from his boss Mr Savory (Conway) who believes that Hatch has stolen the now missing statue.

The 1980s film Mannequin clearly borrowed heavily from this film, and while I enjoyed Mannequin, I think One Touch of Venus is superior. Ava Gardner certainly is goddess-like, and Walker has a gift for physical comedy and they carry the film well together.

San Juan was great supporters were Conway and Dick Hayes (as Hatch’s friend Joe). However Eve Arden, as Mr Savory’s personal assistant stole most of the scenes she was in, with her acerbic and witty comments.

This film had slipped under my radar and I only spotted it by accident. I’m glad I did though, and would recommend it to fans of classic old movies.

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As it turns out, this oddly titled movie is in fact perfectly titled, because this little gem is both beautiful and fantastic.

Jessica Brown Findlay is perfect as Bella Brown, a young woman who started life as a foundling baby, raised in a strict Catholic orphanage, and now lives a reclusive life, working in a library, and apparently having no non-essential contact with anyone else.

She very obviously has OCD although this is not specifically stated. But while her house is completely ordered and everything is in exactly it’s right place, the same does not apply to the garden – in fact, so unruly and overgrown has she allowed the garden to become, that she is threatened with eviction if she cannot get it sorted out within a month.

Her curmudgeonly neighbour Alfie (the always brilliant Tom Wilkinson) begrudgingly gets involved, and his former cook the widowed Vernon (Andrew Scott), who leaves Alfie’s employ after one too many insults, starts working for Bella. Alfie and Vernon become the first real friends Bella has ever had, and as the garden takes bloom, so indeed does Bella – but I won’t say more, as I think anyone watching this should see the story unfold and be as captivated by it as I was.

There is something quite magical about this film; it’s whimsical and sweet, and I ended up loving every character. The three main cast members could not be bettered, and there is a small but excellent supporting cast including Anna Chancellor as Bella’s exasperated – and exasperating boss. It left me smiling and I would honestly recommend this film to anyone who wants a film that will make your day better.

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Vivacious Lady stars a young James Stewart as botany professor Peter Morgan and Ginger Rogers as the title character – a nightclub singer named Francey. When Peter and Francey meet, it’s love and first sight and they impulsively get married. However, Peter is then faced with the prospect of telling his conservative parents – not to mention his fiancee Helen! – what he has done. Lots of comedy ensues as he struggles to find the right time, and the couple have to hide their romance.

This film is a sparkling delight from start to finish. James Stewart is just so bloody likeable and sincere in everything he ever did, and Ginger Rogers had perfect comic timing, which made her shine in a hilarious fight scene. Not that she has the monopoly on physical comedy in this film – Stewart’s character getting drunk is terrific (he does a splendid drunken scene two years later in The Philadelphia Story) and there is a wonderful dance scene with Rogers, James Ellison as Peter’s cousin Frank, and Beulah Bondi as Peter’s mother Martha.

With Charles Coburn playing Peter’s father, who takes an instant dislike to Francey, and great turns from Frances Mercer as Helen, this is a great cast who all seem to be enjoying themselves. And this certainly translates to the viewer, because I can’t imagine anyone finishing this film without a smile on their face.

In short, this is called a classic for a very valid reason. If you like films from this genre, then don’t miss this one!

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