Tag Archives: 2011

My Week with Marilyn (2011)

“People always see Marilyn Monroe. As soon as they realise I’m not her, they run”

Cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne and Kenneth Branagh

In the summer of 1956 Colin Clark set out to make his way in the film business, finding work as a lowly assistant on the set of ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’. During his time there Clark kept a diary, ‘The Prince, the Showgirl and Me’, which was published nearly 40 years after the film. One week was missing (though published a few years later), ‘My Week with Marilyn’ tells the story of that week.

While I’m way too young to have known Marilyn Monroe when she was around, she has always fascinated me. Her short-lived life was filled with drama and intrigue and has left her an icon among the people. Surprisingly Monroe hasn’t been portrayed in a full-length feature film before (apart from made-for-TV drama ‘Norma Jean & Marilyn’), so My Week with Marilyn is one to set the bar.

Initially, the biggest issue surrounding the film was who was playing Monroe. When Williams was cast though, there was no doubt in my mind she could pull it off. Her gritty, indie vibe really allows her to get into character and rather than portraying this bigger than life, blonde sex-kitten we are all too familiar with, we instead see a complex, layered and vulnerable woman who just wanted to be loved. Everything, from her mannerisms to her internal conflict and wants to be accepted, was spot on.

Redmayne was also very impressive. His character is arguably the heart of the film and as the timid, star-stuck Colin, his talents really shine. Spending a week with Monroe and showing her the beauties of England, he falls in love with her – not the showgirl who entertains but the woman beneath. This relationship is wonderful to watch blossom as in this time, Monroe is stripped of her fame and troubles and is just a regular woman – something the world often forgot she was.

We also see appearances from Judi Dench and Emma Watson, adding further dimensions to how Monroe was received by other people – naive, troubled, sexualised, promiscuous, renowned – and lessening the focus of Laurence Olivier’s volatile and strained attitude towards her, which at times was sad to watch.

My Week with Marilyn is a great watch. You won’t get the sexualised, blonde bombshell normally portrayed but you will see fragmented bits and pieces of the iconographic woman she became in the public eye. Portraying the woman behind the facade and giving more substance to Monroe than just the typical caricature the world likes to display, this film still only just scratches the surface. I have no doubt there will be more to come in the future, but My Week with Marilyn is the first film to show us the girl behind the name.

Star rating:  7/10

Directed by Simon Curtis.

Running time 99 minutes.

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The Help (2011)

“No one had ever asked me, what it felt like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.”

Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer

It really that wasn’t long ago.

When a young, white, wanna-be journalist decides to write a book about black maids from a notoriously dangerous and racist town, she doesn’t realise the real extent of what she’s getting herself into. Set in 1960s America when there were massive amounts of segregation, The Help is a beautiful story that deals with the hostility and unbearable strife that black people faced – especially that of the maids – in Jackson, Mississippi.

Having read the book I was really excited about watching the film, albeit a bit apprehensive. Films often tend to miss capturing the true emotion conveyed in a book but The Help was not a disappointment and with the amount of awards it has collected, I’m definitely not the only one who thinks this.

The first thing that has to be said about the film is how great the performances were. Viola Davis in particular was a favourite. Her portrayal of Aibileen, one of the main focuses, was really brilliant. It’s exactly how I imagined her to be and she really manages to convey some real heartfelt emotion. The next actor who had me really impressed was Emma Stone who plays Skeeter, the journalist who really wants to see a difference in society. Having been raised by her maid rather than her mother, Skeeter has a real care for these women and the way they are treated. She is a bit naive in terms of how serious the issue of writing the book is and how threatening the consequences will be if she’s discovered. Stone does a great job and it’s fantastic to see her in a more serious role rather than her usual comedic one – even though she does bring a few laughs with her.

There were other great performances from Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook and Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote. They all leave a lasting impression and really do manage to capture the feelings that were around in those times, although occasionally it seemed a bit lackluster or fickle. While in some cases they could have been stronger in their performances, it seemed the script was really holding them back. I have no doubt that they had it in them to play their roles more in line with the true mentality of white women at that time, but then it’s the director who really has the last say. Other notable roles came from Sissy Spacek as Mrs. Walters and Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan, their roles as older women meant their behaviour was more inclined to be racist and less open minded, they both did a great job with this.

The things that I felt could have been changed to increase the quality of the film are probably what Hollywood voted against. Even though it is a whopping 2 hours 20 minutes, I felt they missed out some of the story or glossed over some of the more tackling issues. Some of its racial themes were merely brushed at surface level and in some cases, not given the attention they should have been. It’s things like this that needed attention to really secure it as a serious film that dealt with racial issues. Instead I think they were trying too hard to make it a commercial success. So either it could have been longer to fit in these qualities and risked becoming too lengthy, or it could have been tighter and more concise in its script. However the length it sits as was good in terms of the audiences attention span and interest, my minor annoyance isn’t really about the length, it’s really to do with overall content.

The Help is a great film that tries to show its audience the other side of things. While it seems to care more about commercial success rather than content in some cases, this, just like the amount of attention given to its more serious racial themes, can be looked over. Davis and Stone are fantastic and if you’re given the opportunity to watch it, I’d say don’t miss it.

Star rating:  7/10

Directed by Tate Taylor.

Running time 137 minutes.

In Time (2011)

“How can you live with yourself watching people die right next to you?”

Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried and Cillian Murphy

This is a world where the rich live forever and the poor must do whatever means necessary to live a day longer.

In this futuristic dystopia, time is literally money. At 25 people stop ageing and are given just one more year to live. Will, being poor (or you could say being one of the 99%) is just trying to get through each day as it comes..

When Will is gifted one hundred years by a rich, old man though, the timekeepers (aka the authoritarians) suspect foul play and set off after Will, who they accuse of murder. Wanting to rebel against the system that favours the rich and neglects the poor, Will finds an unlikely alliance with Sylvia, daughter to tycoon Philippe Weis, and works his way to becoming a modern day Robin Hood/ Bonnie and Clyde.

Niccol’s an anti-capitalist allegory, while maybe seeming promising, turns out to be a bit heavy handed and clunky. We never are told why everybody is living by this time constraint device or as to who is in charge, so to speak.

The acting is okay, but nothing Oscar worthy. Justin Timberlake is certainly establishing his name in the acting industry rather than being the kid who sings, and he does seem to have developed from his early days. He was actually alright in the film. But seeing Olivia Wilde as his mother really freaked me out. I thought they were gonna get it on when I initially saw the two of them together. And then I couldn’t concentrate.

Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser also made an appearance as a time-tycoon. I think he should stick to 60s America though, he didn’t seem too motivated or emotional in any of the ‘distressing’ scenes. Amanda Seyfried was a bit boring for me too. The ginger wig is plain awful and if the people of this dystopian future are really in a literal race against time, why is she still wearing 6 inch heels?

Good concept, well executed, but it lacked in character development and overall roundness, there was no real foundation for the film to be built on. Just a bit meh.

Star rating:  5/10

Directed by Andrew Niccol.

Running time 109 minutes.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

“Just because you are used to something doesn’t mean you like it.”

Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller.

Even Supernanny couldn’t fix this child.

After her son goes on a killing spree, Eva tries to come to terms with her grief in this harrowing psychological thriller. For 15 years Eva has tried to relate to Kevin, yet he seems to grow ever more malevolent while playing his parents off of each other. We Need To Talk About Kevin is a truely gripping tale based on the novel by Lionel Shriver.

All the performances in this film are superb. I couldn’t fault them. The best coming from Swinton though who was a real tour-de-force amongst the rest. The way she conveys the mother really has the audience feeling for her, from her plain frustration to denial and helplessness, there is no doubt in my mind that she was perfectly cast. Eva loves her son, despite all the terrible and truly sadistic things he has done, because a mother’s love is unconditional and Swinton really captures this conflicting emotion.

Miller is brilliant in his role as Kevin. He has you hating him from the beginning thanks to some equally brilliant performances by Rock Duer and Jasper Newell in his earlier years. Rather than be a cliched evil child, Miller takes each action of Kevin’s and managaes to portray it with disturbing and truly hateful emotions. Kevin is downright evil and enjoys being so. It will honestly terrify you to see this child do sickening things without any remorse, because as we have come to learn, kids can be like this.

The use of sound and visuals really was great. It gives the movie that bit more of an edge and although this is Ramsay’s first film in over 9 years, it doesn’t show. She has slipped right back into the director’s chair without any difficulty.

The only bad thing I can detract from the film was Franklin, the father, who was played by Reilly. Reilly was good in his role, yet I hated his character. It seemed like Franklin wasn’t quite the father you would come to recognise in the real world. He didn’t seem to care for Eva’s worries or even consolidate her when she was going through a depressive state, which isn’t what you’d expect from a husband or father. While Reilly pulled off his part well, I felt like his character was the biggest flaw of the film.

Excellent performances all round, a truly gripping and terrifying story that is bound to have the audience in the palms of its hands.

Star rating: 8/10

Directed by Lynne Ramsay.

Running time 112 minutes.

50/50 (2011)

“You can’t change your situation. The only thing that you can change is how you choose to deal with it.”

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick.

It has just the right balance. 50/50 manages to tackle the touchy subject of cancer in a light and occasional humorous matter. Never detracting from the devastating facts or true emotions that follow a diagnosis, this film is just right in every way.

Loosely based on a true story (a real-life friend of script writer, Will Reiser) 50/50 follows the life of 27 year old Adam when he’s diagnosed with spinal cancer. From his own journey to his friend’s and family’s, this well rounded story is told with a truth and bluntness that really allows it to be grounded, relatable and very accessible.

It’s fair to say most people will have been affected by cancer, not necessarily first hand, but perhaps by a family member or friend. Therefore this type of film has a big potential with its audience. Never shying away from being too out there or controversial, the characters smoke ‘medicinal’ marijuana and joke about their illnesses. While this may be met with a look of contempt, the ability for it to be so completely harmless mean the audience can’t really judge. This side of the film, a more lightweight account of having cancer, does give a life and hope to the film that you can’t help but hold on to. However this fluffiness is met with a harsh reality. Hair loss, ill health, a failing relationship, heart broken parents and a 50% chance of dying.

50/50 works so well because it is a real story for so many people. With the out of the blue diagnosis a numbness is met, pulled off fantastically by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He can’t even fathom this diagnosis – he doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink and actually recycles. While I worried with Levitt about slipping into Tom mode (500 Days of Summer), he manages to break this typecast and pave the way for a new character. The reactions of his loved ones, close friends and work mates is also completely true to form, at no time does the film feel anything less than an accurate account of a cancer patient.

Seth Rogan plays his part very well, a guy who doesn’t really get how serious this is from the off but eventually comes to terms with the potential result. Anna Kendrick was great as Katie, Adam’s therapist, much better than her Twilight role – she actually spurred a reaction out of me (along the lines of “Awww!”). The only actor I wasn’t that impressed by was Bryce Dallas Howard who plays Adam’s girlfriend. I didn’t feel she added much to the script and was maybe used as a prop for something else Adam has to overcome. The film could have survived without her, but she did okay in her role as the super-bitch.

Not something that you would immediately think could be viably successful, 50/50 is actually impressive in that it manages to humour its audience yet not detract anything in terms of emotion or the realism needed when tackling the cancer subject. A great film that is packed full of emotion, 50/50 should be watched 100%.

Star rating: 8/10

Directed by Jonathan Levine.

Running time 100 minutes.

Like Crazy (2011)

“I thought I understood it. But I didn’t. I knew the smudgeness of it. The eagerness of it. The idea of it. Of you and me.”

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence

Anna (Jones) meets Jacob (Yelchin) when she takes a year abroad as an exchange student to study journalism in Los Angeles. Young and in love, the two are faced with the troubling aspect of maintaining a long distance relationship when she is denied entry back into the USA, after returning home to attend a family obligation. Due to overstaying her original visa, the LA immigration authorities turn her away and send her back to England.

Like Crazy explores the strained relationship of Anna and Jacob who have this amazing connection and love for one another, but when put under pressure by living thousands of miles apart, see cracks and an unfortunate deterioration in their relationship.

A surprising but lovely feature of the film was that the dialogue was mostly improvised, the cast only had a 50 page outline to work with. Adding more personality to the characters and having a more relatable feel, it also demonstrates the young cast’s talents. As an independent production, Like Crazy also had a small budget that didn’t exceed $250,000, with Jones even doing her own hair and makeup.

The naturalness of the film is what I love most about it. Nothing is forced and this relationship seems genuine. You can relate to both Anna and Jacob and really feel for their unfortunate situation. There are plenty of handheld camera shots (the whole film was shot with a Canon EOS 7D) where we are shown just how well the two fit together. Even when there is no dialogue, just certain looks and touches, the chemistry between Jones and Yelchin was spot on and should see the pair be sprung into stardom soon enough.

Though I did feel there were a few faults with the film. Firstly the whole visa thing. Even though Anna is a romantic and might feel that love can conquer all, living in a post 9/11 world is not something that can be ignored. Yeah she’s not a terrorist, but she broke the rules! That’s either due to her being really naive or just a plain stupid.

Another thing about the film that I found a bit frustrating was was how easy it appeared for the two to just give up on their relationship when they became separated. They occasionally sent texts but always seemed to miss each other’s phone calls, even finding replacements for one another. They couldn’t even be bothered to Skype, so was this even love to begin with? Perhaps it was just some young infatuation, distraction or hobby. I guess it was trying to show that life keeps going, people move on. But seriously, if you love each other, like crazy, wouldn’t you show a bit more umph in being together? That’s where I think it falls down the most.

Ending on a poignant note that doesn’t suggest a happy ever after but leaves you to search for a conclusion, Like Crazy is like a much sweeter and adolescent version of Blue Valentine. With two rising stars and a lot of talent, it’s obvious as to why it won 2 awards at Sundance and received praise from the critics.

Star rating:  6/10

Directed by Drake Doremus.

Running time 90 minutes.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (2011)

“Let’s start with forever.”

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner

I love it and I hate it. Simply because I read all the books before I saw any of the films, and I was a massive fan immediately, I feel my review may be a bit biased. So, I’ll do it purely from an objective angle and try and be less of a Twilight geek for the next 5 minutes.

Breaking Dawn opens as the final touches of Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward’s (Robert Pattinson) wedding is being put together. While Jacob (Taylor Lautner), shirtless and broody as always, receives an invitation from the happy couple and runs away in a strop all werewolf like. With the lucky girl that Bella is, Edward treats her to a honeymoon on Isle Esme, a private island just off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Bella – having decided she wanted to remain human to experience her wedding night just like everyone else – soon finds herself in a dangerous and what she believed, impossible situation. She thinks she’s pregnant.

The remainder of the film is largely made up of baby bump, vampire vs werewolf, what’s going to happen to Bella? territory. Very typical of Twilight, though it seems the love triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob has been toned down and replaced by a vamp-baby conundrum. At least the story actually moves forward and we get to get past all of this “I love her more” nonsense that we had to endure in Eclipse. Though it lingers on the pregnancy throughout, having nothing else to really clutch at.

The acting in the film is very average, though it seemed that Lautner was just that bit better than the rest, mainly because he actually conveyed emotion, even if it was just that of an angry kid. Stewart’s efforts at a withdrawn and anxious teen see her fall a little short in the acting department, and Pattinson doesn’t have that many lines, he just looks pretty and manages to drop his English accent and adopt an American one.

If you’re not already a fan of the franchise or on Team Edward or Team Jacob, the chances you will enjoy this film are slim. Because it’s pretty flimsy and involves a lot of close up glances, sideways smouldering looks and awkward exchanges, it doesn’t stand alone as a great film. There are also quite a lot of awkward visuals in the film. Ranging from a montage of flashing bright lights as werewolf Jacob runs through the woods, to flashbacks of previous films that don’t really add anything to the story. Then there’s a conversation between the pack of werewolves, which although much more visually improved, is just awkward and cringy – their mouths don’t move and their voices very suddenly become coarse and angry. It doesn’t fit with how we’ve seen them previously and interrupts the flow (if it can even be called that) of the film.

Breaking Dawn does get a bit more exciting towards the end of the film though; Bella goes into labour, the werewolves and vamps prepare for a fight and just as it reaches this point, the film stops, making way for the next instalment. Typical of a franchise, especially a teen franchise, but then this is how they’re going to cash in massively. Breaking Dawn raked up an estimated $138 million around the globe on its opening night alone, so there is no doubt that even if the film is crap (which it kinda is), those dedicated Twi-hards – including me – will always be there to watch it.

Star rating: 4/10

Directed by Bill Condon.

Running time 117 minutes.