Michael Collins is essential Paddy’s Day viewing for me

The story of the man who led a guerrilla war against the U.K, aided negotiations in the creation of the Irish Free State, and led the National Army in the Irish Civil War.
Following the massive defeat of Irish rebels in the 1916 Easter Rising, Michael Collins (Liam Neeson) decides new strategies are needed in order to gain Irish independence. He first begins to use what is now recognised as guerrilla tactics and the organised killings of Irish informants for the U.K. government, and then later on members of British intelligence. By 1921, the Brits are willing to negotiate a settlement, and Collins is reluctantly sent over for the talks by Sinn Fein president Eamonn DeValera (Alan Rickman), who knows full well that the agreement reached will disappoint some. He condemns Collins when he returns with a Treaty declaring an Irish Free State and not a Republic, and Collins’ longest friend Harry Borland (Aidan Quinn) rejects him following the emergence of his relationship with Kitty Kiernan (Julia Roberts). What unfolds following this landmark settlement is a civil war as Collins struggles against those who want complete and unconditional independence for the whole country.

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, so it seemed only right to take a look back on an Irish film, and what better than to watch a film that focuses on the fight for independence for the country. Now, of course this is a film that is a product of Hollywood, so with regard to historical accuracy there may be some discretions, however this a wonderful study of the man who I guess could be considered the Braveheart of Ireland and is a fine watch for anyone who would maybe like to get more of a feel for what actually went on in the build up to the declaration of the Irish Free State, and the the fall out that came from that.

Liam Neeson did a wonderful job of encapsulating all the different aspects of Collins in this film, however one thing that I feel was most important was the fact that he really managed to show that Collins didn’t want to cause so much violence, but that it was the only way. Collins was a very conflicted man with regards to both the methods he chose to deploy as a leader of the rebels, but he was also torn over the personal relationships he had with those who initially worked with him, but then went their separate ways and began to turn against him. This was something else that I believe to have been portrayed very well by Neeson.

This is quite a star-studded cast, however there is one member of the line-up that I can’t help but feel didn’t quite belong there, as much as I love her work. Julia Roberts really does seem quite out of place as Collins’ love interest, Kitty Kiernan. I also am unsure as to whether she was a real figure in this story, or whether she was introduced purely just for romantic interest. Either way, she just didn’t fit in there, and it pains me to say that about Roberts, but it is kind of true.

Now, I mentioned at the beginning that some of what is shown in the film may need to be taken with a pinch of salt. I can only assume this to be the case due the fact that when I was first shown the film by my parents a few years ago, key moments would often pass by only to be followed with, ‘…and that’s a load a shite,’ or, ‘…that never happened,’ from my dad, as if he was the fact checker for the film. It is common knowledge however that the Hollywood machine can twist things slightly for it’s own benefit, so if you do watch the film, or have watched it, expect only a feel for the period to come from it.

Overall, Michael Collins was a grand addition to my St. Patrick’s Day viewing this year. It is always a good film to watch, whoever watching it yesterday meant it had a greater sense of occasion for me. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, I would recommend it, and those of you who haven’t viewed it in a while might just fancy revisiting it again after reading this I hope.

Jackie is made great by one special performance

During the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, America’s First Lady battles through grief and trauma in order to prevent losing herself and maintain her husband’s legacy following his death.
After her husband’s assassination, Jackie Kennedy’s (Natalie Portman) world falls apart. Grieving and traumatised, she must tell her children that their daddy isn’t coming home, leave the White House and begin to plan his funeral, whilst also trying to ensure her husband’s legacy will be remembered, and leave her own mark in the history books.

So, I decided to watch Jackie, and going into the film, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to feel about it. A lover of historical events, the subject matter wasn’t really going to be the issue. But I just didn’t really know that much about the film – there weren’t really any stars that were a huge draw for me here. I watched this film purely because of what people had said about Natalie Portman’s performance, and for what it’s worth, I’m glad I listened to them.

We’ll get down to business and start straightaway with Portman’s portrayal of Jackie. She is easily the greatest thing about this film, elevating it from something that would otherwise have been possibly average at best. She completely embodied the real Jacqueline Kennedy, making it easy to believe that that was who you were really watching. I loved how she got to show the whole range of emotions experienced by this woman on that day and in the days after it. We got to see that initial shock and hysteria, and then the strength that she had to take forwards from those moments for her family. There was terrific range displayed by Portman in this role, and deep down, I think I would love it if she won the Best Actress Oscar for her work here.

I can’t really pass comment on many of the other performances in here as it really was Portman’s film. There were a few surprise cast members however, although they had very minor roles. It actually amazed me how many stars from British TV made an appearance. The biggest shock was David Caves from Silent Witness as Clint Hill – I’ve never seen him in anything else before, and so I had to proceed to tell everyone that he had just showed up in the film I was watching. Needless to say his is a name I shall be storing in the memory banks for any future episodes of Pointless.

I really liked the way Jackie Kennedy was portrayed in the film, and I think she is a woman history should never be allowed to forget. She got bit of a rough deal when her husband was killed, and the way she was shown to deal with all of this in the film was sometimes upsetting to see, but showed all of her strength and character, and that she was her own woman, even without her husband.

Overall, I found Jackie to be a very enjoyable watch that I would recommend to people. Portman gives a masterclass in acting, and from what I’ve heard from a few of my U.S. counterparts, she absolutely nails the part she plays. She lifts the film to great heights and makes it a very compelling watch. I think it is a project that was very well made, and well worth seeing by everyone. 

The Long Riders (my Genre Grandeur entry)

The tale of the Jesse James gang members, their numerous exploits and their individual fates.
The Long Riders is a sympathetic portrayal of the story of the James-Younger gang that undertook a number of legendary bank robberies as way of revenge. The group, headed up by none other than Jesse James (James Keach), had their share of excitement during their time together, and went down in a blaze of glory when some plucky townspeople call time on their raids.

I’ve always been a fan of westerns – I kind of have to be given that my dad is too. I think it’s fair to say that for an 18-year-old girl, I’ve seen quite a few new and old, traditional and contemporary westerns and have enjoyed most of them. When this month’s Genre Grandeur came up, I thought it was right up my street. I had initially thought about watching something with John Wayne or Robert Mitchum in, but decided to venture a little further out in the end. The Long Riders was a decent western, but not one of my favourites, and here’s why.

The cast of this film is quite an ensemble. You have the two Keach brothers, both Quaids and three of the Carradine clan – more than fitting for a film about a gang that is made up of brothers wouldn’t you say? This benefitted the performances so much as there was a lot of real family ties that already existed. The bonds portrayed on screen just felt so genuine, and I think this made the telling of the story so much more enjoyable to watch.

There was plenty of action in this film, especially in the last half an hour or so. While I am a fan of both slow burners and fast paced movies, I perhaps edge slightly further towards the more high-octane westerns. It was really fun to watch when all the shots were being fired, and it let you see the Jesse James gang in all their glory. One of my favourite scenes in the film was when the men were trapped in a cabin by the Pinkertons chasing them, and they had to break their way through the panelling in the back and take a back route to escape. For me, it’s scenes like that that encapsulate the old west – big shoot-outs and the heroes escaping by the skin of their teeth.

I do have one big issue with the film, however, and while it may seem like a minor detail, it was a big issue for me. Some of the transitions from scene to scene were a bit rushed. the biggest example I can give you of this is at the end of the film when Jesse meets his maker. The big moment happens, and then straightaway the shot cut to the scene of Frank James, played by Stacy Keach, handing himself over to the authorities. This took away so much of the impact of what was one of the biggest blows the film dealt in my opinion, and I really wish that more time had been spent of making the change more meaningful.

All in all, as much as I enjoyed The Long Riders, it didn’t make enough of an impression on me to be amongst my favourite westerns. There were some rip-roaring shoot-outs and I loved the family dynamic that was made so wonderful by the fact that the cast consisted of so many brothers. What damaged the film so much in my eyes was some of the dodgy transitions between scenes. It really impacted some of the biggest moments in the film for me, which is why I cannot place it amongst the ranks of El Dorado or The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Nonetheless, it was worth seeing, and was an hour and a half of my time well spent.

You Don’t Know Jack provides plenty to think about 

A look at the lives and deaths of assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian.

Throughout the 1990s, Dr Jack Kevorkian’s (Al Pacino) mission in life was to bring peace to those who needed it most. After seeing his mother die a slow, drawn out death, and after hearing endless stories of what she and his father had bore witness to during the Armenian genocide, Jack decided that those who faced death without dignity should have the right to euthanasia. He would interview candidates to determine their suitability and have these taped by his sister, Margot (Ronda Vaccaro). When he finds his first candidate, Jack turns to the Hemlock Society president (Susan Sarandon) for help. Between the three of them and their lawyer, they keep a pretty tidy operation and for years, Jack manages to evade the law via loophole after loophole. However, eventually he goes a step that the law deems too far and it’s a fight he cannot win. Was it heroism or hubris that was Jack’s downfall?

You Don’t Know Jack is the 2010 HBO-produced TV movie that tells the story of Dr Death himself, Jack Kevorkian. It is a fairly in-depth look at what the man did and also the reactions he got across America for his work. I, for one, rather enjoyed the film – it was darkly funny, had Al in it and centred around a very volatile subject I think just about everyone has an opinion on, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it would something for everyone…

Pacino is on top form in a role I doubt too many people would associate him with considering he rose to fame as infamous gangster Michael Corleone, and stayed at the top for a long time with roles in similar genres. The best way i can describe him as Jack is that you should just probably just imagine Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom from Nightcrawler in retirement. Jack was an odd-ball with few friends and a real obsession. I don’t know if i should have done, but there were many times when i had a good old giggle to myself at some of the things he did. In a way, it’s a good job he only dealt with the dying the man’s social skills were awful. Nonetheless, Pacino was terrific – his mannerisms truly fitted the character of Jack and there was still a scene where one of those rants crept in.

You Don’t Know Jack also sees a reunion between Pacino and his Sea Of Love co-star John Goodman who plays Neal Nicol, Jack’s longtime friend who gets him all the supplies he needs. I really liked the pairing in the 1989 film and so I looked forward to seeing them both again here, as I knew despite some of the fairly heavy subject matter, there could very well have been some hilarious exchanges between Goodman and Pacino. I wasn’t wrong, and actually nearly cried at one point near the start when Neal paid Jack a visit to congratulate him on making the cover of a magazine and Jack suggested they both had a glass of water to celebrate. That alone was funny for me, but Goodman’s facial expressions at that point set the standard for the rest of the film and I loved it.

Now. Whilst I found the film to be very comical in places, we mustn’t forget that the real point of the film is to ask audiences whether or not assisted suicide should be legalised. It is a sensitive subject, and the film is based on real events which or course means that the people who go to see Jack in the film represent real people who went to see Jack in real life. It is this reason why I think the film may not quite be for everyone.

I found You Don’t Know Jack to be a decent film that perhaps was worthy of a cinema release but unfortunately didn’t quite make it. It makes bit of a statement that certainly made me think a little bit about the way things are, and whether it would be better or worse if they changed, and revolves around an issue that so many people have views on for so many reasons. I highly recommend you see it if you can, but it covers a serious moral issue, and I think it’s your stance on this issue that could make or break the film for you.

Why Serpico is the reason Pacino stayed famous

To celebrate his 76th birthday, I’ve reviewed Serpico – one of my favourite films of his, although I find it very hard to choose!

The true story of a New York policeman who discovers that honesty is not a job requirement.

Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) joined the NYPD a fresh-faced beat cop straight out of the academy. He never really liked the way things worked whilst he was out on the streets and so asked to be transferred to a department that working in identifying criminals. When it turns out Frank’s boss doesn’t like him much, he asks again to be moved elsewhere. Frank soon finds himself to be working undercover, taking down some very unsuspecting criminals, however he discovers that some of his colleagues are struggling to stay on the right side of the law themselves. What’s worse is the fact that Frank is also expected to join in on the corruption that has riddled the force for so long, but Frank is a man of integrity and refuses to take the bribes. He goes to higher powers, wanting to expose the situation but knows that he’s a dead man walking if he gets found out. However, as clever and as careful as he is, someone sees Frank for what he really is – an honest man – and his life is placed in jeopardy at the hands of his colleagues.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve fallen slightly in love with Al Pacino and his work over the last year, so it was only a matter of time before I got my hands on Serpico. I really enjoyed this one, and apparently good ol’ Al did as well. He has said many a time that he loved playing Frank Serpico as he was a real person and he could embody him. Serpico is a wonderful character study, plus it has quite a statement to make about the way the government forces work, despite what they may want us to think.

Obviously the whole reason Serpico is such an awe-inspiring film is solely thanks to Pacino’s powerhouse performance as Frank himself. After watching this, I read somewhere that The Godfather made Pacino a star, but Serpico made sure he stayed one. Well, I can’t argue with that. He is quite simply astonishing, although I’ve come to expect nothing less from him. You could really understand the way that Frank must have felt, and you couldn’t help but admire the courage the man showed despite the tight corner he was in. There was, of course, that part of the performance where Pacino just suddenly flew off the handle – the thing that drew my attention to him when watching him as Michael Corleone; the unpredictability that meant no other characters or the audience could ever feel too comfortable in his presence. In everything I’ve seen him in, that wildness has appeared, and I think that is what I love most about his work.

The story follows Frank from when he first joins the police force up until he finally gets the court case he pushed so hard for and nearly died fighting for. It is a very thought-provoking chain of real events that questions the ethics behind law enforcement. Yes, this was from a long time ago, but it is still an issue that I don’t think has been fully dealt with anywhere.

Now, it was always a dead certainty that I was going to say that Serpico is a fantastic film due to the fact that Pacino is in it. After watching it a couple or three times, I strongly believe it is a must-see due to the heavy but very real issues it deals with, and the light in which it portrays government institutions.  

Good, but not quite the howler it intended to be…

The story of a Wall Street stockbroker on his rise through the ranks, and, of course, the fall…

In 1987, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) began his career as a stockbroker on Wall Street. He started working for Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) and saw the life he could be living. However, just as he started to settle into his new role, the Crash of ’87 happened, and Jordan lost his job. He later found worker as a penny stockbroker, and soon discovered ways to make big money. He created Stratton-Oakmont with a staff of twenty, and their staff and status on Wall Street grew exponentially very quickly indeed. Jordan got a taste for the high life; marrying a beautiful wife, buying a dream house and throwing lavish parties. The flamboyant behaviour soon had the FBI watching him like a hawk, and we all know that what goes up must, inevitably, come down.

The Wolf Of Wall Street is the latest film from epic director Martin Scorsese. He has made quite a name for himself with films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Casino, and so expectations for his films have been set high for a very long time. To be completely truthful, I was a bit disappointed with this film. It wasn’t anywhere near as good as I thought it might be. Part of me thinks that this is down to the astonishing run time – at 172 minutes, it was a bit long for a comedy where the main subject matter included many ugly men getting off their faces on whatever drugs they could find and boob being shoved in your face left, right and centre. Whilst there were parts where I had tears in my eyes from laughing, it did get a bit tiresome where some of the jokes weren’t as funny as they were, perhaps, supposed to be. 

Nonetheless, I did think the cast and performances were great. There were quite a few big names dotted throughout; Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler and Joanna Lumley, and they all played their respective roles very well. Of course, there is no doubt the main man of the film was DiCaprio. He played the title character, Jordan Belfort, so he needed to be good, although with DiCaprio, is there ever a time he is not? The way he portrayed Jordan (which was as a complete jackass, by the way) was so believable, and all the while you were watching, you could only imagine the size of the ego this guy had. The richer he got, the more of a dick he became. The funny thing was that as soon as Jordan’s downfall started, he suddenly remember reed how to treat people again. DiCaprio did a wonderful job, and I’m starting to feel for him over that Oscar win that keeps evading him.

As I’ve said, I do think the film was too long, but despite the odd gag not quite working out, the story was adapted for the screen very well from the book by the real Jordan Belfort, and if anyone was to make such an outrageous tale viewable on our screens, it would be Mr Scorsese, so I do think it fell into the right hands. It just didn’t grab me in the way I thought it would for some reason.

Overall, I wouldn’t say The Wolf Of Wall Street is an absolute must-watch because there are better ways to spend nearly three hours of your time. However, with the hype this film got, many of you wont listen, will go onto watch The Wolf Of Wall Street and then proceed to prove me wrong and say you loved it. Leave your comments below – I’m interested to hear what you’ve got to say on this one. 

Milk is the cream of the crop

The story of Harvey Milk – a gay activist who fought for gay rights, and who became became California’s first openly gay elected official.

Shortly after moving to San Francisco from New York City, forty-year-old Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) finds his purpose as a gay activist in the city’s Castro district. Rights activism soon becomes political activism as Milk decides his work could be more effective as a politician, whether he is elected or not. Through several elections and losses of both city and state seats, Milk becomes the first openly gay man in the U.S. to be elected into political power when he wins a supervisor seat in 1977. Throughout his journey, Milk’s many political battle fronts include one with the national anti-gay Save The Children crusades led by singer Anita Bryant, whilst also fighting many demons in his personal life as well. Milk’s entire political career is covered here, from the moment he first decided to take charge of changing his life, and many others, right until the man’s tragic death.

Milk is the wonderful account of Harvey Milk’s political career and the many ups and downs it had over the years. It is a film full of brilliant characters and is a very insightful retelling of the events that took place during what I suppose you could call the man’s rise to fame.

The performance we should all be talking about here is that of the amazing Mr Sean Penn. He was extraordinary as the title character in this film, and I greatly admire him for taking the role. If you didn’t know any better, you would’ve thought the actor was gay. I really liked the fact that Penn is someone who has played quite a variety of different characters throughout his career, and in recent years, roles such as those he has played in Gangster Squad and The Gunman have earned him a fairly respectable Hollywood hard man title. To see him in this was very refreshing, and I would imagine that it was a big boost for gay rights campaigners when he got on-board with this project. And it would’ve been an even bigger boost when he won an Oscar for his portrayal of the politician. He really was magnificent, and the passion with which he delivered his lines and the whole speeches was spine-tingling. Penn sincerely meant his performance, and as a result, you fully believed in him. 

Josh Brolin starred alongside Penn as Harvey’s opposition, Dan White. I’ve always said that I think Brolin is an incredibly underrated actor, and he proved here again why I think more people should know his name. Dan was the man who assassinated Harvey, and so I think that the idea that he was actually playing a bad guy meant that Brolin was harder to swallow, but it did prove his versatility, and why I am quite a fan of his performances. It was also because of him that I decided to watch Milk, as I saw Brolin on Inside The Actor’s Studio and he spoke very highly of Penn and his other fellow actors performances.

I really liked the way the story was done. The story was told as Harvey sat at his kitchen table recording a message to be released in the event of his murder which, sadly, did happen. It’s not something I’ve seen before in a biopic and it just impressed me because of its creativity.

On the whole, I would say that Milk is a film that you need to see. The struggles these people faced and overcame are enough to impress anyone, and they perhaps prove to us all that if you believe in something strongly enough, you can achieve it.