My content lately has been somewhat sporadic, but fear not my fellow bloggers. In the new year, I have a plan devised as a rota to ensure I spend quality time blogging. This also gives me the opportunity to do other things outside of blogging. Just wanted to fill you all in.
2010's, Bryan Tyree Henry, Carrie Coon, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Drama, Elizabeth Debicki, Jacki Weaver, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert Duvall, Steve McQueen, Thriller, Viola Davis, Widows
- Viola Davis as Veronica Rawlings
- Michelle Rodriguez as Linda
- Elizabeth Debicki as Alice
- Cynthia Erivo as Belle
- Bryan Tyree Henry as Jamal Manning
- Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning
- Colin Farrell as Jack Mulligan
- Robert Duvall as Tom Mulligan
- Jacki Weaver as Agnieska
- Liam Neeson as Harry Rawlings
- Carrie Coon as Amanda
A reinterpretation of a Lynda La Plante novel that was also a television series in the 80’s, Widows, as directed by Steve McQueen is an enthralling and character driven slow burn of a heist thriller and drama with superb acting.
In Chicago, a heist that was organised by Harry Rawlings goes horribly wrong and results in his and the other members of the criminal group being killed. Following this, Harry’s widow Veronica is threatened by mob boss Jamal Manning , who Harry stole from and who wants money back to finance his campaign to run for alderman. He warns her to get $2 million to pay him back soon or suffer the consequence, which will most likely come in the form of his terrifying brother Jatemme . His rival for his desired position is Jack Mulligan, a slimy, spoilt politician who wants to step out of his father’s shadow who also will figure in a certain capacity of the story. After acquiring Harry’s notebook of plans for another heist, Veronica contacts the widows of the other dead men. Linda, who owns a dress shop is in a similar predicament as her husband sold her business without much thought for her and Alice is a battered young woman who is strapped for cash and harangued by a harridan of a mother. One widow isn’t interested in it, so Veronica enlists the help of the fierce Belle, who it just so happens to be Linda’s babysitter. She plans to relocate and could do with a chunk of money to help with this. The plans of the heist starts to form with the group, but various things throw up stumbling blocks and set in motion what could be deadly for the ladies if they don’t succeed.
Steve McQueen is already an established director who is on fire here, bringing his knack for looking at dramatic subject matter and blending it with some really tight tension. We get a plot that seems straightforward, but is actually very twisty and frequently takes you by surprise. We also get commentary on many themes such as racism, hypocrisy , sexism and crime, but thankfully they are given good rendering and not heavy-handed. McQueen clearly has something to say and his cinematic talents lend themselves well to his vision. One great example is Mulligan moving from an impoverished area to his plush house which is a minute away. The fact that the windows of his car are blacked out show how little he and sometimes others understand social divide. This is a heist thriller with a difference as the main characters are not professionals in the art of stealing and the heist itself is not the most important part of the film. Undoubtedly, it forms a ticking time bomb for the characters but it’s watching how these people react to the seemingly impossible task ahead that provides Widows with its biggest impact. We get to know these women and their lives and what ultimately brings them together. They don’t want to be friends or even know each other that well, but all are drawn into a certain sisterhood of unfortunate circumstance that leaves them with no choice but to resort to planning a heist. These are women who are realistic and not simply superheroes, a film like this is too good to go down that route to making it a matter of fluffy caper. There are real stakes here and ones dripping with double-crossing danger. Some may take issue with the gradual build up, but I thought it added more dimension to the film as we viewed growth within characters and their actions. McQueen should be commended for how he keeps all the stories and arcs spinning in tune and given time to breathe. It could have fell apart as there is sometimes a lot going on in Widows, but Steve McQueen and the screenplay from him and Gillian Flynn keep us firmly rooted and invested in the ways they link. The editing, which cuts back and forth in time at various intervals and can be choppy one minute and contemplative the next is something to admire. And set against a building and rumbling score from Hans Zimmer, Widows particularly soars.
A string in Widow’s ever impressive is the ensemble cast, which is simply to die for. Viola Davis heads proceedings with an intimidating and grim seriousness, that also allows for humanity and sadness emerging. Davis rocks the role of a woman who has lost everything and becomes an unlikely but indomitable presence in something she never thought she’d have to do. It’s when she doesn’t say anything that she truly comes alive; her face a canvas of subtle and nuanced emotion. It’s a very fine performance by an always impressive actress who it appears is incapable of disappointing. Michelle Rodriguez is a little softer here than the usual tough chick she plays and it works surprisingly well. I just wish she’d get more roles that blend her toughness with that something else like the one displayed here. Elizabeth Debicki is another standout as the often needy and almost childlike Alice, who it appears is incapable of having a relationship with anyone who won’t abuse or mistreat her. Debicki plays her like a broken down China doll, only later on she starts to harden herself and increasingly mature. Cynthia Erivo rounds out the main ladies with an abrasive attitude and no-nonsense visage that is palpable and strong from the moment we see her.
While it is the ladies of the ensemble who take the lion’s share of screen time, the men also show they are no slouches. Particularly of note is rising star Daniel Kaluuya who bristles with an unnerving swagger and alarming intensity. He puts you on edge throughout Widows and it’s a big credit to him that you feel that way. Bryan Tyree Henry also has an intimidating nature, but one that is tempered with shrewd smarts. Colin Farrell is really fleshed out as a conflicted politician who almost expects everything simply because of standing but also a desire to escape the way his father thinks. It’s a fine balancing act and one that is played well opposite the always watchable Robert Duvall. Liam Neeson, mostly seen in flashback, is like a spectre on proceedings as he is the one who instigated everything and has his fingers over all. Also here is Jacki Weaver, who plays in a short but memorable time the vile and suffocating mother of Alice, whose idea of trying to help is by attempting to coerce her into prostitution. Carrie Coon may be given the least amount of screen time but from what we see, her presence figures unexpectedly into things.
With a focus on characters and depth, Widows earns high points and is simply put, a very well made film with heart and tension. Steve McQueen crafts this engaging and twisty thriller drama that must be seen.
I’ve always been a lover of crime shows and those of a procedural nature. When I was in high school, I religiously watched NCIS and CSI. Recently, I’ve seen quite a bit of Law and Order and it’s many spin off. It appears that there’s no stopping the success of such shows. But do you have any love for them?
- Catherine Deneuve as Geneviève Emery
- Nino Castelnuovo as Guy Foucher
- Anne Vernon as Madame Emery
- Marc Michel as Roland Cassard
A colourful but also melancholy musical of love and circumstances changing it, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is if nothing else an experience from beginning to end. This is largely down to the tribute to old musicals and the undercutting of it with an aching sadness not often seen in films of that nature.
In the French town of Cherbourg, 1957, where it seems to rain almost constantly, a passionate love is at play between 17-year-old Geneviève Emery and mechanic Guy Foucher. Geneviève works in her mother’s umbrella shop that is about to go into financial dire straits. The love shared between Geneviève and Guy is intense and idealistic with them hardly going a minute without thinking of the other. But, the mother of Geneviève disapproves of the relationship and wants her daughter to marry for security. Guy and Geneviève plan to marry and have a daughter, but fate has different plans. Around this time, Guy is drafted to serve in the Algerian War, meaning that he will be separated from his beloved for a long time. After a farewell of spending the night together and saying goodbye at the train station, Geneviève learns she is pregnant and is left in a predicament. Her mother has the idea to marry diamond merchant Roland Cassard, who is entranced by Geneviève. The marriage is to be one of convenience and after hearing only once from Guy, Geneviève makes her decision. Her decision in the end has far-reaching consequences and a different outcome than expected for her and Guy.
Jacques Demy was clearly a man with a vision to use certain tropes from classic Hollywood and mould them into something different and beguiling for us all. His eye for colours and unorthodox approach present his vision to us in a glorious way. His prowess crafts a story that’s enchanting as it is tragic and totally spellbinding. Moments really stick with you from this film. The collection of colourful umbrellas that cover the titles, the love shared between the lovers at the heart of things and a really tear inducing farewell at the train station. As the lovers are parted and the camera pulls away from their embrace, leaving Geneviève alone, the music swells to heavenly heights and shows the power of cinema over emotions .While a musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is anything but traditional. For starters, every word is sung, no matter if it’s just something mundane. This brings with it a level of fantasy, that is counteracted by the seriousness of subject matter and the ultimate tragedy of it all. We really feel every word sung because of its intensity and sincerity on show. The colour design that really pops with candy and pastel shades in every lovingly rendered frame also acts as a juxtaposition to the sadness of the central love story and the way life doesn’t always work out for us. The main story is quite simple when you look at it, but it’s the telling of it that truly makes it the classic it is revered as. It’s a boy meets girl situation told with sophistication and something that alternates between nostalgic romance and heartfelt loss. It may look like the kind of Technicolor extravaganza that MGM where so good at making back in the day, but under the surface is a real feeling of something bittersweet. This adds to the beauty of the film as it isn’t part and parcel and here’s your happy ending, it goes down another path that I respect. Cherbourg is not afraid to defy convention in its own way. Now no mention of this film would be complete without mentioning the ever-present score from Michel Legrand. As every line of dialogue is sung, a nice rhythm is established in proceedings. The most haunting refrain that translates into English as ‘I Will Wait For You’ is the music you’ll remember the most for its romanticism and ambience. Believe me, it will take a while to shake.
This is the film that introduced the world to Catherine Deneuve and what an introduction. She gives a gentle, charming and melancholy performance that really touches you. It’s all in her angelic face and soulful eyes as she goes through the pain of love and circumstance. Nino Castelnuovo is equally as good, finding hopes and dreams in Guy’s face and his outlook, which eventually gets changed over the years. The two really sell the romance and idealism of the couple, which says a lot considering that they spend large stretches of the film apart. Their first interactions are gorgeously played, while there is a more serious tone when they meet years later. It’s the kind of chemistry many movies dream of having between a romantic pair. Anne Vernon and Marc Michel round out the cast, but it’s the romantic two at heart of the movie that you’ll remember.
An unusual but wholly engaging and moving undertaking by the talented Jacques Demy and his visual(not to mention musical team), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is classic movie watching for all.
- Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine
- Lady Gaga as Ally
- Sam Elliott as Bobby Maine
The fourth version of a classic story of two careers in opposite directions, A Star Is Born certainly has pedigree. And though some may have scratched their heads at why another remake should be done, I’m sure they’d agree that this version sits up there with the best of them, thanks to what Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga do with it.
Jackson Maine is a country rock star who has seen better days. Plagued by tinnitus and an addiction to booze and pills, his life is going through the motions. Drunk and in the middle of touring, Jackson stops in a drag bar. It is here he encounters Ally; a young woman in a dead-end job with dreams of being someone. She’s a talented singer and has a tough personality but is crippled with insecurity over the shallow people in the music industry who have dismissed her appearance in the past. Jackson is immediately struck by her and she is curious too. They grow closer to each other and Jackson helps Ally make a leap for stardom. They fall in love and marry, with Ally being a good influence on Jackson. She eventually becomes famous after Jackson invites her on stage to perform. Despite her initial nerves, she blows everyone away with her voice. Yet as stardom beckons, people want to mould her into something else and as her success soars, Jackson’s falls. Ally tries to retain her individuality, but her pushy manager has her switch her act and lose herself more and more. This causes an immense feeling of jealousy and resentment that has Jackson reaching for the booze and pills again. All of it hurtles towards tragedy for the couple as one career rises and the other inevitably falls.
Bradley Cooper makes a remarkably involving and emotional movie with A Star Is Born. He gets straight to the heart of the material and the themes of celebrity and tragedy with cracking results. It’s hard to believe that this is his directing debut, as he displays a deft understanding of film making and how to bring us close to the story in many ways. This version feels a bit more gritty, raw and stripped back and is all the better for that. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its nice and quiet moments though and many of this scenes stand out for their impact that has darkness but some lighter touches too. But where the film shines brightest is in the performance numbers. With a soundtrack written predominately by the two leads, A Star Is Born is brimming with show stopping tunes with a deeply personal undertone. One of the best is ‘Shallow’, a duet between Cooper and Gaga where both give it their all and Gaga telegraphs Ally’s burgeoning belief in herself. This song that packs the biggest emotional wallop however is ‘I’ll Never Love Again’. Seriously if you aren’t weeping during that sequence, you’ve obviously taken leave over your heart. a restless camera that often has extreme close-ups of faces and actions is employed throughout A Star Is Born. We are put into the action as love blooms for Ally and Jackson, but resentment grows as Ally’s career takes off and Jackson spirals further out of control. The story of A Star Is Born is familiar to most of us, but the new flourishes show it’s a tale that can be very timeless and take on many guises. It’s been told many times but when done right, like it is here, it really soars.a restless camera that often has extreme close-ups of faces and actions. We are put into the action as love blooms but so does resentment and addiction which spiral out of control. Some may find it to up close in the way it’s shot and that time flies a bit too quickly sometimes , but it’s still mightily effective storytelling despite some minor quibbles. The story of A Star Is Born is familiar to most of us, but the new flourishes show it’s a tale that can be very timeless and take on many guises. At the centre is a tragic love story that is strongly told and fraught with melancholy. It’s been told many times but when done right, like it is here, it really goes to new heights.
Bradley Cooper turns in one of his strongest performances in his career. Over the last few years, Cooper has steadily become a very reliable actor and a versatile one. Here, with his usually amiable voiced lowered considerably to a growl( and surprising musical chops), he displays such raw anger, sadness and tiredness that is very believable. Jackson is someone who has success but usually doesn’t see it and instead drowns in pity. Ally may represent the light for his safety, but Cooper finds that Jackson is so wound up and dependent on addiction that the once bright spark will eventually go out. Cooper is nothing short of a knockout here and this is extremely excellent work from him. Any worries that Lady Gaga’s image as a pop star will overshadow her performance are put to rest immediately as we witness her immense talent for acting by drawing on some of her own experiences. We all know she can sing, but here she takes it to another level and rocks us to the core. And her acting is one of the biggest assets of this movie. With personality, strength and vulnerability, she plays Ally tremendously as he feels so real and natural in this film, signifying her skill in this arena. We observe someone growing in confidence but being faced by many trials along the way and it’s played with an authentic and engaging edge. Gaga is at the top of her game with a compelling and sympathetic turn that announces great promise in an acting career. Cooper and Lady Gaga make for an incredible couple as their chemistry is immediate and extremely genuine that we feel the emotional highs and lows of their lives. Sam Elliott, of the moustache and grizzled, deep voice, steals whatever scenes he appears in as Jackson’s aggrieved brother. He’s been there for his brother but has a very fractious relationship with him. Elliott shows him to be the person who says it like it is often bluntly, but ultimately wanting to help his brother in the long run.
An excellent version of a classic story with two amazing central performances and emotional material, A Star Is Born is strong movie making that has an impact on you. And after watching this excellent version, I’m very tempted to see the other interpretations again.