FILM REVIEW: LEGEND

Legend‘s premise is very clear – blood is thicker than water and no matter the persuasiveness or intensity of external stimuli, nothing is going to change that.
It’s a biopic of sorts, chronicling the rise to prominence and thereafter, notoriety, of Ronnie and Reggie, the infamous Kray twins.
First things first, the extraordinary double lead performance from Tom Hardy, who, thanks to camera trickery and special effects, portrays both Ron and Reggie.
Director Brian Helgeland has done an admirable job to ensure that despite casting Hardy in both roles, we’re not overly fixated on this fact, constantly looking for the joins in the edits or points of obvious green screen activity. It’s not 100% perfect, but it’s the sort of trick that simply wouldn’t have even been thinkable 10 years ago, so plaudits where they’re due.
You’d also be forgiven for worrying that Legend may suffer therefore from being all style over substance / gimmickry at the expense of a coherent, engaging narrative. It’s certainly a USP and talking point but thankfully Legend, although perhaps a little guilty of selective story telling, does deliver well on that front too.
The Kray twins were certainly chalk and cheese. Reggie – the tough, yet suave and charming type and Ron, a crazed, borderline paranoid schizophrenic. Tom Hardy portrays each with aplomb, infusing both parts with a sense of dark humour; drawing nervous laughter from an audience before the inevitable ‘hit down’ with scenes of spontaneous and gratuitous violence. That said, it’s not relentless and always could be argued as central to the context of the plot.
Right from the outset, we’re made aware that the ascent of the Krays was not something that happened quietly under the radar. Under constant police surveillance, remaining one step ahead of the law was essential, but this is no conventional cops and robbers chase movie. Helgeland approaches the story from an emotional angle, namely Reggie’s struggle to balance private, matters of the heart (Emily Browning is  excellent as Reggie’s long-suffering sweetheart, Frances), with his ‘professional’ misdemeanors. It’s a balancing act made all the harder by the ongoing battle to rein in his loose cannon of a brother, Ronnie. ‘Ron’ as he is referred to, is a man who lives in a world of delusion and far-fetched dreams, bordering on the absurd, yet is clearly massively unhinged and yearns for the simple, low-down gangster lifestyle, something that, with the brothers’ star in its ascendancy and the ‘oyster’ that is London town, beginning to open up before them, he and Reggie frequently come to loggerheads about.
Whether it’s a softening of the facts with the passing of the years, or a rose-tinted affection for times gone by, it seems that Krays twins biopics and documentaries tend to gravitate toward a more favourable depiction of their deeds; often seen as loveable rogues who looked after their dear old mum. Indeed, Legend makes no secret of Ron’s love for his mother; on one occasion retreating to the safety of her little terraced house for a slice of cake and a nice cup of ‘post wrong-doings’ tea.
No questions asked.
Legend boasts a stellar support cast including David Thewlis, Chazz Palminteri, Paul Bettany, Tara Fitzgerald, Christopher Eccleston, even a cameo for an at first unrecognisable John Sessions, but all of whom make telling contributions to this rather glamorous recollection of London’s gang land in the swinging 60s.
Set to a choice soundtrack of the era, Helgeland tips his hat to Scorcese’s Goodfellas, perhaps also a little to the grandeur of Sergio Leone’s sublime Once Upon a Time In America and there’s maybe even a nod of recognition to some of Guy Ritchie’s earlier work. It all fairly whistles along; a good sign for a film clocking in at well over two hours.
Yes, it’s a selective memory of what was essentially a reign of fear and intimidation by a couple of vicious London gangsters and I’d imagine there’s been a fair bit of artistic licence taken with the facts, but as a film, it works and it works well.
A slick and punchy (no pun intended) re-telling of the story of East London’s favourite sons.

GUEST FILM REVIEW: Antman: (By Parvez Siddiqui)

Time is infinite, as is space, and the universe. As we all know, there’s also the Marvel Universe, DC universe, and all the other universes that seem to be invading the one we currently live in.

Superhero bandwagons keep rolling on, and with Antman, we’re treated to a new kind of hero! I’m like you, prior to a year ago, I’d never heard of him either. I’m sure Marvel aficionados will be able to tell you about the origins of how Antman came about and how he’s a flawed character yadda yadda yadda, but this is my first encounter with our new insect friend.

From the first trailer I saw, one of Antmans powers would be to be able to use ants as his allies. I did wonder what use could an army of single file, sugar carrying, marching minions be for anyone. But I was pleasantly surprised during the movie to watch them assist in making a hot beverage! I thought that we can now stop inventing things, as we are now living in the future!

This movie is a lot of fun. I went in to see this with no pre conceptions of a dark anti-hero (pun intended) struggling with self-existence, or some over scientific complex movie that needed explaining to the audience every 10 minutes. Basically, the guy wears a suit that makes him the size of an ant, and gets into little spaces, and can then make himself full sized again.

I like Paul Rudd as an actor, and this is a perfect more mainstream role for him. He can basically be his funny self, and be a hero that we all like too. The supporting cast of Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas too are really good. They support Rudd perfectly as his allies, along with a cast of ants too numerous to mention.

I really like Corey Stoll too as the villain. I first really saw him in House Of Cards, when he played a vulnerable US Senator, who I really sympathised with.  In this movie, I liked his power hungry and evil side.  I do think he’s going to be a big actor, and working with Kevin Spacey has only pushed him into better things. Long may it continue as I would consider watching any movie with Stoll.

As for Antman as a whole, I liked it. It won’t win any Oscars, but there is a place for movies where you can check in your brain at the door, and ask to be entertained for 90 minutes.

Parvez Siddiqui

FILM REVIEW: A Walk In The Woods

Whatever happened to Nick Nolte?

The words of a Johnny-come-lately film reviewer if ever there were some.

Bill Bryson, as far as I can tell from my own limited exposure to his books, writes fun, light-hearted content, focusing on the amusing quirks and idiosyncrasies of people and the lands in which they live.
It’s this sense of light-hearted fun that would appear to have been quite successfully harnessed by Director Ken Kwapis, in the big screen adaptation of Bryson’s, A Walk In The Woods.
Bill Bryson (played with a certain air of aloofness by Robert Redford), has reached a point in his life where he senses there’s something missing, and as he seems to be constantly and effortlessly sliding into the role of social leper, decides to stop the ride, get off and do something a little less human contact-oriented instead.
The Appalachian Trail stretches for almost 2,000 miles and statistics suggest that less than 10% of those that attempt to walk it, ever complete it; just the ticket for a man of dubious fitness, in the latter part of middle age and naturally a prospect that deters any of Bryson’s circle of friends from accompanying him on the journey – bar one…
Enter Nick Nolte…
Nolte plays Stephen Katz, an ex-alcoholic, grizzly bear-like mess of a man and an ex ‘friend’ of Bryson’s. He’s been off the radar for some time and although not specifically invited, he’s somehow heard about the trek and insists upon tagging along.
There are no other takers, so Bryson, against his better judgement, agrees to his offer, much to the disapproval of his wife Catherine, (played by Emma Thompson).
With neither man in any fit shape to trek 20 miles, let alone 2,000 miles of unforgiving terrain, you can guess where this is all heading and off they set with much japery and hilarity all set to ensue.
It’s all quite jolly, if a little too often resorting to the predictable. I’d wager that there’s certainly at least some extra content that’s been added for dramatic effect into what is, after all, not exactly edge-of -the -seat cinema.
The true thrust of the film lies though in Bryson and Katz’s frequently comical interactions, both with one another and with the world at large on a journey that gradually leads them to the realisation and acceptance of who they are and what ultimately is important to them.
Does it all stay faithful to the book? This I couldn’t say having not read it, but as an occasionally thought-provoking bit of fun that raises some chuckles and more or less sustains the interest throughout, A Walk In The Woods just about hits the mark.

FILM REVIEW: Me and Earl and the dying girl

If there’s one thing that the passing of time has taught me, and this is very much flying in the face of popular opinion and accepted wisdom, it’s to never trust my first impression of anything…
The opening scenes from Me and Earl and the dying girl (MEDG) briefly reminded me of the opening exchanges from another ‘kooky’ indie offering, Juno, and much like my early reaction to Juno, I feared my toes may never fully uncurl again.
I don’t do ‘kooky’ well.
Smart-ass kids with their overly world-savvy, sharp and deeply unrealistic dialogue. It just doesn’t sit well.
MEDG falls into this category, at least initially. Split into sections, each pre-empted with an on-screen ‘the part where {such and such happens}…’ text moniker, I’m suddenly watching Friends again and although Friends was admittedly well written and witty, there were aspects of its overall aura that, in the words of Friends’ own Joey Tribbiani, “made me want to rip my own arm off and hit myself with it.”
But, in the spirit of humble pie and with arms thrown aloft, conceding defeat, this is the part where I give in to the kookiness and reveal that MEDG is actually a slick, emotional and above all very poignant piece of film making; a film that has stayed with me long since the final credits rolled.
Greg (Thomas Mann) is our lead; all gangly awkwardness and self deprecation, coasting through life, shying away from interaction, genuine friendship and going to great lengths  to ensure that he remains on the path of least resistance in whatever he does. A sort of survival for the relatively anonymous.
On hearing that one of the pupils at Greg’s school, Rachel, has been diagnosed with cancer, Greg’s mother and  ‘man of the world’ father (Nick Offerman) agree that Greg, despite his reluctance to do so, should spend some time with her.
Rachel (a perfect casting for Olivia Locke), if nothing else, is surprisingly receptive of Greg’s own particular brand of clumsy, nerdish humour, perhaps offering a welcome distraction to her own problems, and despite a most inauspicious of starts, a hesitant yet tender friendship somehow begins to blossom.
Earl (RJ Cyler) is, in Greg’s own words, not his friend but his his ‘co-worker’; a straight talking kind of fella whose no nonsense approach to things often shakes Greg from his insular existence, forcing him to face up to life and his own responsibilities within it. They’re an unlikely, seemingly mismatched pairing, but through their appreciation of cult and classic movies, and more importantly their own kooky (there’s that word again) B-movie re-imagining of them, each seems to get what they need from the other in their partnership.
Together they share their creative exploits with Rachel and importantly, she seems to ‘get’ the pair of them.
In light of Rachel’s worsening health, it’s perhaps left to Greg’s tutor, Mr McCarthy, (Jon Bernthal of The Walking Dead fame), to impart the film’s core message, pointing out to Greg that sometimes it’s often only after someone’s gone that we truly learn about them, who they were and crucially, how they’ve shaped and will continue to shape our own lives, helping us to overcome our inadequacies and to become the person that we have the potential to be.
Although Greg is quick to dismiss this as some kind of unnecessary life lesson, these are words that might prove to be strangely prophetic.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon judges the mood of MEDG superbly. It’s sweet, not saccharine, sad, yet not overly melancholic and amusing yet never really resorting to cheap laughs.
Enhanced by an excellent, Brian Eno-infused and predictably indie soundtrack, you could say that MEDG strikes just the right balance, exuding both warmth and charm and I suspect a longevity that perhaps wouldn’t be expected from a film within the ‘teen’ genre.
A kooky, indie gem.

FILM REVIEW: Alive Inside

The sight of Henry scatting along to the music of Cab Calloway, eyes bulging, alert and animated, is in stark contrast to the same Henry, head bowed and totally unresponsive to a set of simple questions, not two minutes earlier.

Music has the power to do that.

It’s particularly remarkable considering Henry is in a very advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease and so far as we can make out, can barely tell whether it’s night or day.

In Alive Inside, time and again, patients of a similar condition are ‘revived’ through the music of their choice, providing strong evidence that the area of the brain that processes ‘music’ is one of the very last to be affected by the ravages of progressive memory loss.

It’s a documentary focusing on Dan Cohen, a man who whilst volunteering to work in a U.S care home, attempted to ascertain the therapeutic powers and benefits of music on its inhabitants.

This in turn led to the creation of ‘Music & Memory,’ a movement attempting to convince the powers that be that for a small financial outlay, a simple iPod and headphones could be allocated to those affected by Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and other serious, degenerative brain conditions and make a real difference to their lives.

The film takes us on an interesting journey through the history of the care home from their inception when they were more like actual homes through to their present day incarnations, sanitised medical facilities, full of overly-medicated patients, who, suppressed by this medication and their clinical surroundings, retreat into their shells, no longer able to express themselves or indeed have their voices heard.

I suppose that’s probably the point though?

Predictably, an archaic, inward-looking American healthcare system, so dominated by the synthetic world of pharmaceuticals and pill popping and the various vested interests that go with it, failed to grasp the true value of Cohen’s work which was consequently shunned. Pleasingly, through perseverance, Cohen has made notable strides and inroads since.

Interspersed by snippets of the wonderful Bobby McFerrin, demonstrating the innate musical ability that lies within each and every one of us, and the remarkable powers and healing properties of music therapy, Alive Inside is a truly powerful piece.

There are strong parallels with the film Awakenings and the work of Doctor Oliver Sacks (although admittedly his most notable work was based more upon the administering of experimental drugs than therapy), as we watch stuporous patients suddenly regain both their agility and joix de vivre. It is though perhaps the heartfelt reactions of family and friends witnessing the loved ones they thought they had lost forever, return to this world once again, albeit briefly, albeit temporarily, that lives longest in the memory.

With a little luck, many more unfortunate souls will benefit from the exposure that Alive Inside could and should get from this cinematic release.

An important and life affirming piece.

FILM REVIEW: Mistress America

“Being a beacon of hope for lesser people can be a lonely business…”

Such is the mantra of ‘Mistress America,’ or at least something to that effect.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and when 18 year old college misfit Tracy (Lola Kirke) contacts her half sister-to-be and fellow NYC resident, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), she hopes that this will offer the solution to her on-going feelings of social alienation.

Little does she know that it will be a decision that is both the making and breaking of her.

Sounds like a cheesy, 80s coming of age movie, doesn’t it? Well, funny you should think that…

Mistress America displays that bubblegum innocence and slight naivety of many an 80s brat-pack film, yet it’s set in the present day. It is however jollied along by a choice 80s soundtrack of vintage OMD and Toto songs, amongst others.
It’s also a film whose direction is left in the capable hands of Noah Baumbach; it’s a given therefore that there will be quirky characterisation, with sharp and witty dialogue.

Tracy has aspirations of being a writer but her written attempts to impress the literary set of The Mobius Society at college frequently fall on deaf ears, or should that be blind eyes?

Either way, it’s not until the self-absorbed, yet strangely hypnotic presence of Brooke enters her life that Tracy finally seems capable of writing anything of worth.

Detailing a new friend’s foibles however, in a warts and all expose, no matter how well intentioned and how convincingly it’s dressed up to be merely a work of fiction, is a dangerous game and there’s a certain inevitability to the outcome.

Mistress America works well on a number of levels. It’s well cast and the script is, as already mentioned, sharp and witty – though its delivery borders on the unbelievable at times. Many a scene could comfortably have been lifted from a play and adapted for the big screen; not a criticism as such, more a stylistic approach and observation.

The influence of such luminaries as Woody Allen and The Cohen Brothers is in evidence throughout, but the overriding style is very definitely Baumbach’s and in this instance, Gerwig’s too.

It’s good and certainly can be notched up as another clever, intelligent comedy for Baumbach, but for me, he can have a habit of pushing the sense of quirkiness to the point of irritation, yet never quite crossing that boundary. Mistress America comes very close to crossing it. Whether that’s a deliberate thing or just the way I perceive it, it’s hard to say.

What I will say though is that I didn’t want Mistress America to end and that, to me, is usually a pretty conclusive sign that a film’s done something right.

I’m just not entirely sure that it does everything right.

FILM REVIEW: American Ultra

In the mid-twentieth century, the MK Ultra project was started in the United States. It was a sinister project of disturbing and very often illegal mind control techniques over, almost exclusively, unwilling victims – a process the CIA dubiously described as crucial for confidential security purposes. It was a scenario that, to some extent, had its roots in historic Nazi experimentation techniques. It has since been brought into the public realm, but one senses that there is an awful lot left to be uncovered and a strong suggestion too that such techniques almost certainly exist to this day.

Just the kind of light-hearted fun and games on which to base a goofball, tongue-in-cheek comedy!

In fairness, generally speaking, American Ultra doesn’t take itself too seriously or have any particular pretentions to be a historical record of dark doings and deeds by the special security services of the USA.

American Ultra is essentially a dark comedy; a sort of comic book caper about ‘stoner’ Mike Howell (played by Jesse Eisenberg) whose existence revolves around a dead end job, fanciful comic book scribblings and getting high, all of which he shares with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), with whom he has a sweet, yet rather shambolic relationship.

Things are set to get interesting though when power crazed, yet cowardly CIA operative Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) orders Mike’s assassination. Seems a little harsh? Maybe, but Mike is not what he seems (or indeed what he realises), for he is in fact a once CIA ‘Ultra’ asset that has, for one reason or another, now outstayed his welcome in Yates’ eyes.

So begins an unlikely sequence of events as Yates and his assortment of Ultra ‘goons’ attempt to terminate Mike’s existence through any means necessary. Mike has an allie though in the shape of Victoria Lasseter, also a member of the CIA (played by Connie Britton), who is determined not to let Yates conclude his murderous masterplan.

At times it’s dark and macabre – think Natural Born Killers meets  Tarantino – then reverting to farce, going all ‘keystone cops’ on us, but there are also fleeting tips of the hat to the serious nature of ‘Ultra’ experimentation and its affects on its victims.

It’s debatable whether such a scatter gun approach to the direction of the subject matter ultimately works, but director Nima Nourizadeh should be commended for not steering this erratic, yet very watchable film too far down any cliched cul-de-sacs, instead keeping it a little surreal and all rather cartoonish.

There are genuine laugh out loud moments, including a massively out of place, yet genuinely tremendous proposal scene.

It’s fairly predictable fair, that much is true, but there’s certainly enough about American Ultra to make it stand out from the crowd within its genre.

FILM REVIEW: 45 Years

Behind every great man there’s a great woman we are told. The same female support system would seem to be in place to the rear of the occasional silly old fool too.

Geoff, a dithering and rather vulnerable character (played  by Tom Courtenay), on receiving some sad news concerning a past flame, is suddenly vaulted emotionally backwards in time, rekindling in his mind at least, a long since past dalliance with a German sweetheart from his youth, by the name of Katia.

The two of them we are informed were care free and adventurous; full of, in Geoff’s own words, the purposefulness of youth.

Geoff now lives out his retirement years with Kate (played with immense stoicism by the excellent Charlotte Rampling), his wife of 45 years.

Director Andrew Haigh emphasises this contrast through historic references to Geoff’s mountainous exploration with Katia in the Swiss Alps, whereas these days he spends his time peacefully with Kate in the gentle countryside of Norfolk.

The timing of Geoff’s cerebral upheaval could not be any worse with only one week to go until he and his ever supportive wife are due to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary by throwing a lavish party for friends and family.

Geoff, it’s fair to say, is reluctant to attend, but as Kate’s friend is keen to point out; no men really ever look forward to such events, yet they’re always the first to break down through the emotion of such occasions and this is why it’s so important that women ensure that they actually take place. It’s a way of showing men just how lucky they in fact are.

The scenario is one that is eating away at the very fabric of the couple’s marriage, putting into question whether Kate has in fact ever been enough in Geoff’s life, or whether she’s been playing second fiddle all these years to a girl that Geoff only ever knew for a fraction of the time?

45 Years brought to mind one of Neil Hannon’s Divine Comedy lyrics… “I fall in love with someone new practically every day, but that’s ok, it’s just the price I pay for being a man…” – A male truism if ever there was one.

It’s a film that lays bare men’s fickle nature and frequent follies; those that test the resilience of the women that live with them and indeed stand by their men.

Andrew Haigh’s handling of David Constantine’s short story is both sensitively and subtlety done, producing what is an expertly realised, poignant drama.