Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a small story. It’s about an ageing actress, her VERY young boyfriend, Peter Turner, and Gloria’s final grasp at life before dying of cancer in 1981. Gloria (played by Annette Bening), was a real-life person, well-known as an actress in the 1950s. In the present day 1970s/1980s of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, she visits her old flame Peter (played by Jamie Bell) and ‘plays’ out her last days in Peter’s family home in the UK, before being forced to return to the USA.

I say ‘plays’ because the film feels like a play. It opens with Gloria applying make-up, and refers several times to Tenessee Williams’s plays The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. Similar to the feel of Williams’s plays, Gloria’s character is one of dreary self-absorption and histrionics. The viewer is drawn into this slow-moving, depressing atmosphere, and then buoyed up again as it becomes evident that Gloria’s behaviour masks a less selfish agenda. Even the flashbacks are presented theatrically with actors pausing at doorways before whooshing into past memories.

Despite how the film improves towards the end, the empty atmosphere created by Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, together with its colourless setting, make the film drag. Being cut by half-an-hour would have improved what is essentially a small story drawn out over one hour and forty-seven minutes. Both Gloria’s and Peter’s character are sombre ones, with Gloria’s being particularly fragile, and Peter ‘s a little too sweet. The quirkiest character and best performance is carried by Julie Walters who plays Peter’s realistic, kind-hearted mum, Bella Turner.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool opens at Ster Kinekor theatres in South Africa on 23 March 2018.

The Big Sick Majors on Relationships

The Big Sick is a partially biographic drama about a relationship across cultural

barriers. Kumail (played by himself, Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani Muslim living in the USA. He is a taxi driver and aspiring comedian whose family expects him to become a lawyer and marry a good Pakistani girl. But Kumail continues to pursue stand-up comedy, and he starts a romantic relationship with Emily (Zoe Kazan), a white American girl from a fairly traditional family. Conflict ensues.

On the one hand it is Kumail’s own ‘Americanisation’ that clashes with his family’s traditional demands regarding culture, profession and religion. On the other, when Emily becomes gravely ill and is put into an induced coma, the battle moves to that between Kumail and Emily’s parents. In the latter scenario the white American prejudice against Middle Eastern Muslim is brought to the fore.

The Big Sick is told from an American perspective. It is free choice and self-actualisation that wins out in the end. Score for Westernisation. But, equally, in this film shallow American prejudice against ‘the other’ is subverted. A typical view of fanatic Muslims is undermined, mostly through the use of humour. For example, when Kumail is sent to the basement to do his ritual prayers he watches videos instead. And when Kumail’s mother banishes him from the family for pursuing a forbidden relationship, she struggles to keep up her angry façade, sending him cookies while at the same time refusing to speak to him.

The best part about The Big Sick is the relationships. That between Kumail and his family (which remains loving and gentle despite the differences), between Kumail and Emily (which is a bantering, natural relationship), and between Kumail and Emily’s parents (in which humour breaks down the barriers). The real feel of the Kumail/Emily romance may be because the story is biographical.

The Big Sick is a warm, funny, humanly complex and very watchable film. It opens at cinemas in South Africa on 6 October 2017.

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)

 

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)