While Wonder Wheel bears a lot of writer-director Woody Allen’s finger-smudges – from the plain and simple opening credits, and the use of old songs on the soundtrack, to the featuring of big-name Hollywood actors – it’s unfortunately one of his middling works to be parked under those Woody Allen films that are more cursory than noteworthy.
If you’ve been noticing Australian bombshell Margot Robbie since her appearance in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and, more recently, her show-stealing portrayal of Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad (2016), this new biopic brings her up to another level in her acting career.
First of all, a declaration: I might have been slightly in love with Eva Green ever since she graced the big screen as Bond girl Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (2006). So despite some bad reviews plaguing Based on a True Story, I decided to watch this latest film of hers, which is billed as a psychological thriller and directed by Roman Polanski (perhaps a name you’d resist, given the current #MeToo climate). Oh, and it’s in French too, so you’ll get the chance to watch Green act in her native tongue.
As Oscar bait to showcase American actress Jessica Chastain’s prowess (and hopefully add a golden statuette to the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress she’s already won for her CIA agent role in 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty), this new biopic Molly’s Game squarely delivers the goods.
The first two seasons of the Netflix Crime drama Narcos centred around the infamous Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his powerful Medellin cartel, told through the perspective of US DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook).
Wonder Boy is a biopic of the Singapore music icon Dick Lee, directed and written by Lee himself with co-director Daniel Yam and co-writer Wang Guo Shen. The film stars popular local musician Benjamin Kheng as Lee.
Synopsis A 2015 American coming-of-age drama written and directed by Marielle Heller, based on the graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures by Phoebe Gloeckner. The film stars Bel Powley as a 15-year-old girl (Minnie) who becomes sexually active by starting a relationship with her mother’s boyfriend (played by Alexander Skarsgård).
Film-maker Alejandro G. Iñárritu deservedly won the Best Directing Oscar for the innovative narrative on the critically acclaimed Birdman. It’s fair to say that Iñárritu has not rested on his laurels with The Revenant.
Apart from writer-director Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa being animated from stop-motion puppetry, there is initially nothing too different about the film. But knowing Kaufman’s reputation for weird story-telling (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), that normalcy does not last for too long.
Despite its title, Youth is really about aging. Or perhaps a surreal examination of the meaning of youth. For this reason, Youth has been compared to Birdman, apart from the fact that the innovative cinematography in both movies clearly marks them out as distinctive.
The late Arthur Lee and Love (the band Lee led & fronted) remains one of the most under-rated bands from the 60s/70s. Well, at least compared to their peers. Already well-documented is the fact that the likes of Jim Morrison (The Doors), Jimi Hendrix and Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin) were massive fans of this ground-breaking iconoclastic band. Certainly, the backward gazing bands of the 90s British indie scene owed a thing or two to Love.
One of the most freewheeling eclectic 60s bands, Love (which also included guitarist-songwriter Bryan Maclean, lead guitarist Johnny Echols, bassist Ken Forssi & drummer Michael Stuart) were never constrained by genres or styles and dabbled in folk, baroque pop, psychedelia, acid rock and even proto-punk (check out “7 and 7 Is” is below).
Not only that but the band can lay claim to producing one of the bona fide rock masterpieces of all time – the magnificent Love Changes.
However, due to drug problems and internal disagreements, the band’s commercial success dissipated in the late 60s, with Lee fronting a new set of musicians, but this incarnation of Love never garnered the widespread acceptance or acclaim of the original group.
Reel to Real was Love’s final official album and until now, has never been issued on CD! By the recording and release of this album, Love was essentially Lee with an assortment of session musicians but despite its marginalisation in rock history, deserves serious re-examination.
Not least for its daring coverage of a multitude of styles, despite its primary focus being on soul, R&B and blues-rock, one could imagine the young Prince, Lenny Kravitz or Terence Trent D’Arby listening to Reel to Real and copping one or two musical ideas.
Whilst modern pop fans would probably find themselves grooving to soulful gems like “Time is Like a River” and “Stop the Music”, alternative rockers might take a shine to off-beat numbers like “Singing Cowboy” and “You Said You Would”, which sound like Hendrix channeling Buck Owens! And that last song – “Everybody’s Gotta Live” – is the Lennonesque anthem Noel Gallagher wished he was smart enough to rip off!
The new reissue has rather illuminating outtakes which on occasion outshine the original tracks with their spontaneity and raw energy. There’s also a sloppy studio rehearsal of that classic Forever Changes outtake “Wonder People” for all your Love completists out there.
So… February was largely disappointing for new movies. Kingsman: The Secret Service was alright but Jupiter Ascending was abysmal. Sigh. Pray March will be better.
CHAPPIE Directed by Neill Blomkamp. Starring Hugh Jackman and Dev Patel.
Getting somewhat nervous about this one. Blomkamp did not do too well with Elysium and the idea of sentient robot is not exactly original, is it? Jackman is in it as well, as I generally do not like any movie he’s in. Ah well.
Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Jason Hall. Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller.
So will the real American Sniper please stand up? The film, a biographical account of Navy SEALs sharpshooter Chris Kyle – deadliest marksman in U.S. military history – has split US audiences down the middle. From liberals decrying it as jingoistic propaganda to conservatives hailing it as a tribute to a deserving war hero.
Written & directed by Damien Chazelle Starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons & Paul Reiser.
Whiplash – the story of Andrew Neiman (Teller), a young jazz drummer who attends one of the best music schools in the country under the tutelage of Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), the school’s fearsome maestro of jazz – has been the surprise package for the Academy Awards, garnering Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons.
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr & Armando Bo. Starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts.
Nominated for a total of nine Oscars, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is surrealist black comedy at its best. Mocking the artifice of celebrity and the entertainment industry, Birdman is a fascinating inside look into the absurd insanity of entertainment world as perceived by its protagonist, Riggan Thomson.
Directed by James Marsh. Written by Anthony McCarten. Starring Eddie Redmayne & Felicity Jones.
The Theory of Everything is a beautiful film. Beautifully shot, beautifully scored but ultimately, it is a story about two beautiful people who had to reinvent themselves and their relationship constantly in the face of challenging life circumstances.
The acclaimed theoretical physicist Stephen J Hawking (Redmayne) is by now quite well-known even in pop culture circles. What is less known perhaps is the journey that both Hawking and his former wife Jane Wilde Hawking (Jones) took to make him the icon that he became despite suffering from debilitating motor neuron disease.
Director Marsh treats both sides of the story diplomatically and sympathetically, although perhaps – especially in the third act – at the expense of narrative clarity. Events are rushed somewhat and real life details are fudged to keep the characters on the good side of the audience.
Whilst Redmayne’s stellar performance is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime distinction, equal credit must go to Jones for portraying Jane’s stoic determination to support her husband. Which is fitting, considering screenwriter McCarten based his screenplay on Jane’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.
In the final analysis, it is clear that the film is as much about her as it is about him and the message of the movie is summed up in Hawking’s quote – “Where there’s life, there’s hope….”
The Theory of Everything is playing in the cinemas now.
Written & directed by Mike Leigh. Starring Timothy Spall.
Premiering at Cannes last year, Leigh’s biopic of famed English painter JMW Turner has already garnered a Best Actor award for Spall’s performance in the lead role and a special jury prize for the film’s cinematography for Dick Pope.
That just about sums it up really. Spall plays Turner as a brutish flawed man who had an unique ability to produce epic, awe-inspiring work which was extremely radical in its day. Pope manages to make virtually every outdoor shot a Turner painting and it is a wonder to behold! Check out the amazing of re-creation of The Fighting Temeraire (1839) below.
Leigh’s triumph with Mr. Turner is stringing together a loose collection of slice of life vignettes and filling them with all the relevant details to make that time and place come alive. The pacing is a little slow and nothing overtly dramatic happens but that’s the whole point of the exercise.
In the right hands, such evocative cinema is stirring and inspiring – Leigh and his heart-felt tribute deserves recognition as one of the best movies of 2014. Absolutely essential for art lovers everywhere.