Oscar Week Film Review: Dunkirk

Nominated for 8 Oscars, can Chrstopher Nolan’s Dunkirk change my mind about war films…?

“The tide’s turning now.
‘How can you tell?’
The bodies are coming back.”

I’m not really a fan of war films, hence having avoided Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk until now. ‘It’s not a war film’ they said, tempting me to overcome my natural antipathy but they lied. It may not be a conventional war film but it remains a punishing film with a whole lot of war in it and so really not my thing at all.

Nolan is a bravura film-maker, that much is true. And this is an audacious take on a much-filmed, much-explored moment in world history. Free from context, meaningful dialogue, narrative thrust, this becomes a study in the desperate struggle for survival of the Allied forces on that beach in Northern France. And all the waiting they did. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Dunkirk”

Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’

“What in the hell is going on?” 

It could just be a matter of coincidence but it does rather seem that the deal with the devil in order to get the Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Award was to also play a camp villain in a middling sci-fi/fantasy film. Eddie Redmayne’s cape-swirling alien aristocrat Balem Abrasax threatens the earth’s very safety in Jupiter Ascending and in Seventh Son, Julianne Moore plays cape-swirling uber-witch Mother Malkin who probably also threatens the earth although I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what her endgame was. There’s something rather hilarious about watching these performances in light of the Oscar bait that was The Theory of Everything and Still Alice, which is kind of necessary as neither is particularly great shakes.

 

Jupiter Ascending sees the Wachowski siblings eschew the profundity of much of their oeuvre delve into the realm of the straight-up blockbuster or space opera, but without sacrificing any of the complexity of the cinematic universes they love to create. Problem is though, it’s all rather dense and dull despite the visual grandeur of the special effects – the Wachowskis’ screenplay is complex and unwieldy and frankly just not that interesting. The only thing that kept me going was the bizarrely theatre-friendly supporting cast and cameos – blink and miss Vanessa Kirby here, wonder if that is Tim Pigott-Smith there, ponder if Bryony Hannah’s presence is a nod to Call the Midwife and marvel too at the randomness of Samuel Barnett’s arresting turn(s).

And then there’s Redmayne, oh Eddie Redmaybe with your lovely Oscar. His villainous Balem is a bizarre confection and marked by a vocal delivery that sounds like he’s receiving a blowjob, all the time (or so I would imagine) it is hypnotically so-good-it’s-bad. But it’s not enough to save the film, which relishes its laborious set pieces far too much with over-extended chase sequences put in to show off the VFX rather than serve the story. For my money, Seventh Son was a more effective piece of fantasy storytelling, based as it is on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s The Wardstone Chronicles (retitled The Last Apprentice in the US) although Matt Greenberg, Charles Leavitt and Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay similarly turns its potential into tedium.

Continue reading “Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’”

DVD Review: Mansfield Park (2007)

“There’s something about Fanny I’ve often observed” 

This being my first experience with Mansfield Park, I can’t really talk about it as an adaptation (although it was impossible to avoid the opprobrium it seems to have evoked) but even as a standalone piece of drama, it can’t help but disappoint. Maggie Wadey’s writing lacks any real sense of the carefully constructed literary world of Jane Austen and Iain B MacDonald’s direction has a very loose sense of time and self, clearly straining for a connection with a contemporary audience but in doing so, losing sight of the story it is trying to tell.

Billie Piper’s Fanny, sent to live with her rich aunt (a distracted Jemma Redgrave) and uncle (a delightfully brusque Douglas Hodge) and whilst initially feeling out of place – “I was the poor relation and was made to feel it” – builds a place for herself as an indispensable member of the household. But with her tousled sun-bleached hair and entirely modern ways, she just doesn’t convince as a historical heroine. She’s not helped by a scarcely-there plot in which little of consequence seems to actually happen, it’s all just so uneventful. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mansfield Park (2007)”

Review: Dangerous Visions – Radio 4

“What would this devastated world be without us?”

Radio 4 recently put together a season of work entitled Dangerous Visions, inspired by JG Ballard’s dystopian take on the near future and featuring adaptations of two of his works – Concrete Island and The Drowned World – alongside the responses of five contemporary writers on a similar theme. My favourite of the pieces that I managed to listen to was Graham White’s adaptation of The Drowned World, a moody exploration of a world wracked by solar flares which have caused the flooding of some of the major cities of the world. Not only that, the ecological crisis has brought with it a new evolutionary shift, but one which is regressive as humanity is forced to change in order to survive, even if it means reverting to a more primitive state of being.

Not having read the book, I can’t comment on the adaptation but it felt like a slickly told story, motoring through its central premise of the world going backwards, in all senses. We see this primarily through the eyes of lovers Beatrice and Kerans, the ever-excellent Hattie Morahan and James D’Arcy both in glorious vocal form, as their passion becomes increasingly primal. But also through the experiences of the people around them as Kerans is part of a scientific expedition to explore one last time before the newly watery world is abandoned. And there we see human behaviour degenerating, especially in the shape of Tim McInnerny’s pirate-like Strangman, out for selfish gain no matter the consequences. A powerfully evocative reading of the story makes this a recommended listen. Continue reading “Review: Dangerous Visions – Radio 4”

DVD Review: Wilde

“It is monstrous how people say things behind one’s back that are perfectly true”

Based on Richard Ellman’s biography, Brian Gilbert’s 1997 film Wilde saw Stephen Fry take on the eponymous role in a sweeping biopic slash drama which stretches over the last 18 years of his life. Beginning with his return to London from a trip to America and ripping speedily through his marriage to Jennifer Ehle’s kindly Constance and the birth of their two children, it is his relationship with family friend Robbie Ross that leads him into a world of sexual discovery. He finds there Jude Law’s impossibly handsome Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas and falls head over heels into a tempestuous relationship, but in a society where homosexuality is illegal and propriety is everything, a happy ending is far from likely.

Fry makes an appealing Wilde, though one shorn of much of the acerbic nature one might imagine he had, he is a gentle father – telling his own story of The Selfish Giant acts as a clever layer of extra commentary – and he brings an almost avuncular warmth to the part. Jude Law’s Bosie is a revelation though, a serious reminder of his talents as an actor, with a capriciousness that is seductively alluring and yet criminally irresponsible. As Wilde seeks to lay the blame at the door of Bosie’s domineering father the Marquess of Queensbury, he ignores the knife-edge that their relationship is balanced on with devastating consequences. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wilde”

Radio Review: Possession, Radio 4

“It’s as if we’re waiting to be driven by their plot”

I’ve been something of a reluctant convert to radio drama, for every production I’ve enjoyed, there’s been one that has disappointed me, but if there is another that is as good as this version of Possession, then I will be a happy boy. Over the past three weekends, I have listened to the omnibus editions of this Radio 4 adaptation of AS Byatt’s novel by Timberlake Wertenbaker and have been utterly seduced by it. It was simply gorgeous, stunningly beautiful to listen to and deeply moving. I shall be investigating whether one can buy it as it really was that good.

Wertenbaker’s adaptation sees research assistant Roland Michell and literary scholar Maud Bailey recounting their quest to discover the secrets uncovered by two letters between Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash and a woman named Christabel Lamotte which threaten to upturn literary history with their revelations. They are pursued by other more nefarious sorts who also want the correspondence and so the race is on to be the first to discover the truth. This story is enhanced by the reciting of letters between Ash and Lamotte as we follow their story of an illicit yet all-consumingly passionate affair which is revealed at the same time. Continue reading “Radio Review: Possession, Radio 4”