Philomena a touching film, but puzzling at the climax

A review by Brenda Daniels

Philomena, starring Dame Judi Dench in the title role, is a drama based on a true story. Its plot revolves around Irishwoman Philomena Lee’s search for her son, adopted when he was just four. Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former British Labour Party member, writes her story and helps her in her search.

The story was eventually published (in real life) and revealed the shocking practice of a Catholic convent’s cruelty towards unwed mothers and their babies during the 1950s.

Philomena is played by two actresses – Sophie Kennedy Clark as the young Philomena and Dench as the 70-year-old Philomena. Philomena, along with other young women like herself, was sent to a convent in Roscrea, Tipperary, as penance for falling pregnant out of wedlock. Here the girls are made to work hard and allowed to see their children for only an hour a day.

Gradually, the children mysteriously disappear, ostensibly adopted by wealthy couples, without the mothers’ permissions.

Having always longed to find her son, Philomena, now 70, accidentally comes across Sixsmith, who she enlists to write her story. Martin is a typically cynical journalist, more so because he was recently “given the sack”.

Philomena is a simple, forgiving Irish woman with a firm Catholic faith despite the startling cruelty the convent meted out to her. The two characters and their differing reactions to events create the tension – and humour – in the story.

The pair’s search takes them to the USA where they find traces of Anthony (Philomena’s name for her son) or Michael (as he was renamed). It is while in the USA that the story takes a revealing turn, sending Philomena and Sixsmith back to the Irish convent where their investigations first began.

Despite physically speaking to people in America, I thought Martin and Philomena’s visit to the States a bit unrealistic, given today’s worldwide web search capabilities. I also found the penultimate scene in the film a puzzling one. It at once reveals Philomena’s poignant grace and takes the oomph out of an otherwise beautifully told, very touching story.

Philomena is rated 13L, runs for one and a half hours and opened at NuMetro theatres in South Africa on 28 March.

Judi Dench plays the leading role in Philomena. Dench has been nominated for several awards for the role.

Judi Dench plays the leading role in Philomena. Dench has been nominated for several awards for the role.

 

Streep is brilliantly awful in August: Osage County

A review by Brenda Daniels

August: Osage County is a story about relationships. Relationships within a family and a group of close friends. It is set during a stiflingly hot August in Oklahoma. A hot, dark, airless house. A story of three parakeets, subtropical birds used to heat, who died in the house. Both house and birds are symbols of heat, a theme that pervades throughout the action.

The film, based on a play by the same name, stars Meryl Streep as Violet Weston, the powerful, unlikeable matriarch of the Weston family who is dying of cancer. Right near the beginning of the story Violet’s husband, Beverly (Sam Shepard), goes missing and is found dead, having committed suicide.

This precipitates a gathering of the family – three daughters and their families/partners – and close friends. The rest of the film depicts the characters’ faulty inter-relatedness and their dysfunctional lives.

Streep is brilliantly awful as the mother, wife and friend who proves to be the antithesis of what her role demands. She is harsh, confrontational, abusive and mean – the product of a hard life – exhibiting a toughness that has helped her survive thus far.

She turns that toughness onto her family, testing each one in turn to see if they can “stand the heat”.

All three daughters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) suffer their mother’s cruel tongue, but it’s Barbara who seems to be the strongest and therefore most able to withstand the barrage of abuse.

Roberts is good in this serious role, although there are times when her angry outbursts seem too staged.

As the action progresses family secrets spill out and each character’s struggles are revealed. This kept me engrossed and thinking right to the very end and beyond. More than that, it was the multi-layered, complex characters and how they related to one another that held my attention.

A meaty, thought-provoking film, August: Osage County releases at Ster Kinekor Classic Theatres countrywide in South Africa on Friday 14 March. It carries an age restriction of 16L.

Julia Roberts at the Torronto Film Festival opening of the film, 2013 (Source: Creative Commons)

Julia Roberts at the Torronto Film Festival opening of the film, 2013 (Source: Creative Commons)

A stage enactment of August: Osage County (Source: Creative Commons)

A stage enactment of August: Osage County (Source: Creative Commons)

 

Unbelievable Winter’s Tale is forgettable

A review by Brenda Daniels

Winter’s Tale is a fantasy romance set in a wintry New York. The action spans over a century with several characters appearing throughout the time without ageing. The tale is a circular battle between good and evil complete with a magic horse, a Judge with Satanic qualities (Will Smith) and a host of demons, the most determined one, Pearly Soames, played by Russell Crowe.

The centrepiece of the film is the love story of a seemingly common thief, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), and Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a rich but dying young woman.

A secondary love story is between the same Peter Lake many decades later and a little girl called Abby, who is dying of cancer. As Pearly tries to destroy any beauty in these relationships, Peter works to fulfil his destiny by helping Beverly and Abby avoid their mortality.

Farrell, who has starred in action films like In Bruges and London Boulevard, does well in this romantic role; the love scene between Peter and Beverly is particularly tender. He also seems to have a rapport with children, and his interactions, firstly with Beverly’s young sister Young Willa (Mckayla Twiggs), and then with Abby (Ripley Sobo), are lovely to watch.

Long after a gripping tale has finished, I may grapple with the story, delving into the characters’ traits, sometimes imagining myself living out their lives. I didn’t with Winter’s Tale. I couldn’t identify enough with the characters to care about them.

The fantasy elements, too, are just too unbelievable to be enjoyable. Despite some good relationship scenes, Winter’s Tale is a forgettable film that will not appeal enough to adults or children to be enjoyable for either audience.

Winter’s Tale opens at NuMetro Theatres in South Africa on Friday 28 February. It runs for 118 minutes and is rated 10DSV.

Colin Farrell, leadin man in Winter's Tale (Source: creative commons)

Colin Farrell, leadin man in Winter’s Tale (Source: creative commons)

 

Hairstyles show deeper meaning in American Hustle

A review by Brenda Daniels

American Hustle has been nominated for Best Picture and various other awards for the upcoming Oscar ceremony on 3 March, so I went along to the South African preview to see what all the fuss was about.

The film, set in New Jersey in the 1970s, tells the story of con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), and his partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two meet and become lovers and then, posing as a Briton with “banking connections”, Sydney helps Irving take his underhand dealings to a new level. Caught out by FBI agent, Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper), they are lured into an even bigger world of crime in an effort to catch dirty politicians and the mafia red-handed.

Cooper brought a certain manic amusement to his role as an agent determined to make it big and I enjoyed this. The hoodwinked politician, Mayor Carmine Polito, played by Jeremy Renner, had a certain endearing vulnerability to him, and Irving, convincingly played by Bale, had a soft side to him, exhibiting patience with his dumb wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), and affection for his young son.

The film opens with Irving working on an elaborate “comb-over” hairdo, and most of the characters sported hairstyles that required some work. This aspect seemed to mirror the characters’ fake lifestyles, and highlighted their weak efforts at, now and then, wanting to “be real” with each other.

Apart from these mildly redeeming qualities the characters and action in American Hustle are relentlessly seedy.

It was hard, and in fact quite boring, to enjoy a two-hour film that gave no interesting message, showed no characters I could identify with enough to care about, and provided no relief from the dirt. Whilst I don’t like the 70s era with its iconic clothing, music, coiffeurs and American mobsters, there are viewers who do. They’ll get plenty in this film.

American Hustle opens at Ster Kinekor in South Africa on 28 February. It carries an age restriction of 16LS.

Jennifer Lawrence (left) and Amy Adams in a scene of American Hustle (Source: Creative Commons)

Jennifer Lawrence (left) and Amy Adams in a scene of American Hustle (Source: Creative Commons)

Lead up to the award ceremony: Cinema Nouveau Announces Pre-Release Screenings of Three Multi-Nominated Oscar Contenders

Each of the three pre-release titles, August: Osage County, Nebraska and Philomena, will have one screening each at 8pm on 24, 26 and 27 February respectively, at the four Cinema Nouveau theatres at Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg, Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria, Gateway in Durban and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Bookings are now open for these three special pre-Oscar screenings.

The talented Meryl Streep, who is no stranger to the Best Actress category, is once again nominated in this category for her role in August: Osage County, which will be pre-released at the four Cinema Nouveau theatres on Monday, 24 February at 8pm. Another big Hollywood name, Julia Roberts, shares the screen with her in this film and is up for Best Supporting Actress.

On Wednesday, 26 February at 8pm, Cinema Nouveau audiences are transported to another American state with the pre-release of Nebraska. With an impressive six Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Best Actor – Bruce Dern, Best Supporting Actress – June Squibb, Cinematography, Best Director – Alexander Payne, and Original Screenplay, this black-and-white masterpiece explores another complex family relationship.

With four Oscar nominations – Best Picture, Best Actress – Judi Dench, Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay – Philomena plays on the Cinema Nouveau circuit at 8pm on Thursday, 27 February. It releases nationally on 28 March.

When former journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace, he is at a loss as to what to do. All that changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena (Judi Dench), who had her son taken away when she was a teenage inmate of a Catholic convent. Martin arranges a magazine assignment about Philomena’s search for her son that eventually leads to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena discover as much about each other as about her son’s fate, as their basic beliefs are challenged.

Cinema Nouveau audiences can watch these films and make their predictions before the winner of “Best Picture is announced during the early hours of 3 March.

The full list of nominees vying for this prestigious award are: Gravity; Captain Phillips; American Hustle; Dallas Buyers Club; Her; Nebraska; Philomena; 12 Years a Slave; and The Wolf of Wall Street.

For more information and to make a booking, visit www.sterkinekor.com or www.cinemanouveau.co.za. Call Ticketline on 082 16789.

The 2009 Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

The 2009 Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

The 31st Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

The 31st Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

HER – will not appeal to everyone

A review by Brenda Daniels

Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johanson, is a Cinema Nouveau film which opens on Valentine’s Day. Billed as a romance, Her is the story of how writer, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix), recovers from the loss of a previous relationship by meeting someone else. The someone else turns out to be Samantha (Johanson), a, wait for it, OS (computer operating system).

Theodore’s OS is an intelligent programme that learns as she goes along and forms a close relationship with Theodore, talking to him through an earpiece, initiating calls and even performing some heavy breathing during intimate moments.

Theodore’s few friends don’t find it strange that he’s dating an OS – partly because many of them are too. Set in a futuristic Los Angeles, people are seen walking the streets and corridors with microphones in their ears talking animatedly with disembodied “people”, not unlike they do today. And this is where I think director, Spike Jonze, means us to see the absurdity of their (and our) disconnected lives. Lives in which we seem to bond more over devices than we do face to face. Lives in which a computer, not a person, is able to meet our need for friendship and worth and help us in turn to negotiate the world.

Although Her’s premise is an interesting one, the action drags. I found the characters’ constant self-absorption and the lack of humour in this two-hour movie tiresome after a while. An interesting idea, but boring in parts, Her will not appeal to everyone.

Her releases at Cinema Nouveau Theatres on 14 February.

Scarlett Johansson, a digital painting by Marco nl

Scarlett Johansson, a digital painting by Marco nl (source: Creative Commons)