Both Mike Leigh and Timothy Spall really should have been added to the list of Oscar nominations for this excellent biopic of the great painter JMW Turner. Mike Leigh, now firmly entrenched as Britain’s greatest living filmmaker, delivers his best film since Topsy-Turvy and Spall is absolutely unmissable in a performance that dominates nearly every frame of this film. Don’t be fooled by the beautiful period setting, Spall’s Turner is gruff, crude and guttural, an image equal parts at odds with the majesty of his paintings and intimately related to them, while Mike Leigh directs with characteristic emotional frankness and muddy English beauty. A cast of Leigh regulars completes this look at a great artist and his relationships with women, his father and his creative impulse.
Surely 2014’s outstanding directorial debut from Dan Gilroy (brother of Michael Clayton helmer Tony), Nightcrawler is a genuine 21st century masterpiece. Jake Gyllenhaal continues to prove that he is Hollywood’s most uncompromising and unconventional leading man (and handsome, did I say handsome? I mean DAYUM that man is fine, I’m not afraid to- okay never mind) as Louis Bloom, a borderline sociopathic young man who finds both exciting and lucrative business as a cameraman who films the sites of grisly accidents and murders and sells the footage to TV newscasters. The film is never afraid to take a turn towards the dark or ugly side of both its characters and subject matter and is a savage takedown of the reality TV era. Although this is Gyllenhaal’s movie, Rene Russo deserves a mention as the TV producer who employs this young rogue.
SET FIRE TO THE STARS:
Writer/star Celyn Jones impresses as the great Dylan Thomas in this slight but enjoyable biopic. Elijah Wood (I maintain, an underrated American treasure) stars as an aspiring poet who is tasked with reining in his hero, the hell-raising Thomas. TV director Andy Goddard directs in handsome black-and-white and the film is well-crafted in a distracting, occasionally interesting but never truly compelling way. Fans of Thomas’s poetry will find some nice selections to give them ideas for sweet nothings to whisper in someone’s ear, but like those sections of the film, there’s an interested distance rather than emotional intimacy on show here. Still, worth a watch for some good performances, especially from the two leads and the ever-lovely Shirley Henderson.
The latest sure-fire feel-good British hit in the vein of Made in Dagenham or literally anything by Richard Curtis, Pride is the true-life story of a group of gay-rights activists in Thatcherite Britain that take it upon themselves to come to the aid of a village of striking miners in Wales. They are initially met with bigotry and hostility but of course the film is a heartwarming story of two very different groups of people overcoming differences. To Pride‘s great credit, it rarely resorts to overly sentimental tearjerking and earns all of its gooey moments with some strong, emotionally weighty drama and a really excellent ensemble cast including a hilarious Bill Nighy, dramatic lead George Mackay (surely the next big British star?) and ever-reliable stalwarts like Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine and Dominic West.
If there’s anything about The Judge that we can be thankful for, it’s that it gave us the most memorable part of this year’s Oscars: Robert Duvall steadfastly refusing to find literally anything funny. Downey is a big city lawyer who returns to his hometown to help out his father, a prominent judge accused of murder. Back home, the life he left behind comes to the surface once more. A formulaic and cliched script really hampers this one, but two meaty performances from big name actors in search of Oscar nominations elevate the material, and its always great to see a legend like Duvall flex his acting muscles once again. If you’re looking for some strong, not necessarily taxing watching, then give The Judge a go, after all, it is from the director of the illustrious Shanghai Knights.
It’s medieval England, and Henry VIII still has no male heir. He desperately wants to annul his marriage of 20 years and marry tasty bit of brisket Anne Boleyn. Naturally, he faces stiff opposition from the Church and Pope, but enter Thomas Cromwell, who takes it upon himself to make this desired marriage happen. Mark Rylance as Cromwell and Damian Lewis as the famous king own this gritty web of period politicking fresh from the rarefied world of BBC Two. A dirtier, more combative treatment of medieval England than the glossy The Tudors, this is sure to impress any fans of the era, Hilary Mantel, or quality British TV. Think David Cameron in Game of Thrones.
The gulf between Love, Rosie‘s ratings on IMDB (voted for by the general public) and Rotten Tomatoes (voted for by critics) speaks volumes for whether or not anyone is likely to be on-board with this story that reminds us all that sexy people can get sexy careers by being sexy. On IMDB the film has a strong rating of 7.4; on Rotten Tomatoes it currently sits at a disastrous 21% approval rating. Cliched and formulaic yes, but the two leads do have good chemistry together and anyone looking for an evening of zero thinking and 100% schmaltz should find little to complain about here. Not quite the zinging dialogue or romantic spark of What If? but this long-distance relationship rom-com is at least as good as a long-distance relationship: every now and then there’s a good moment but really you’re just suffering through it wondering how your time could be better spent.
AND SO IT GOES:
Okay, Rob Reiner, it’s enough now, it really is. Michael Douglas is a misanthropic jackass who is unable to relate to a grandchild that arrives on his doorstep. His neighbour, who cannot stand him, forms a bond with said grandchild and of course everybody learns the meaning of love. The presence of these two legends is not quite enough to elevate the material, but it may just be enough to justify giving this a watch. I mean, does this film feature the director and stars of When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall and Wall Street? Yes. Would you know that by watching it? Just no. Though this will make you wish these two actors were given more meaty lead roles, because they use all their considerable charm to work with what they’re given, it will also make you wish you were being battered about the face with a dead halibut rather than watching this film.
SONS OF ANARCHY SEASON 7:
If by now you are not already hooked on Sons of Anarchy, I don’t know if you ever will be, but it remains one of the most loyally followed shows around. The ab-tastic Jax’s story continues in this final season to the bloody and gritty biker conflict. I don’t want to say too much here, but if you aren’t familiar with this series, get started at Season 1, and meet me at Season 7 when you’re done. Those of you eagerly waiting for it, please, enjoy…