I’m not sitting on any Fences with this film

An African-American man in the 1950s tries to raise his family whilst coming to terms with the events of his life.

In 1950s Pittsburgh, Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) makes a living as a sanitation worker. He once dreamed of becoming a Major League Baseball player, but was passed over after deemed to be too old to be a serious competition. Troy has always suspected that the colour of his skin was to blame for his failure however, as has seemingly been the case for many of his other pitfalls in life. His bitterness towards how his own life has treated slowly begins to cause ructions within his family, especially when he quashes his son’s chances of becoming an football player.

Fences was one of this year’s most anticipated films for me. The Oscar nominations is received only made me want to see it even more, and now that I have finally seen it, I have to say that it fully delivered for me. The performances were show-stopping, and made the story that the film had to tell feel so real.

This is a film that really is for people who love actors. I’ve loved all the work I’ve seen from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, and this story was no exception. Washington is quite possibly at career best here as Troy, and that says a lot, especially if you take the time to look back at his filmography and see some of his other roles. He put on such a raw performance, and his scenes with both Davis and Mykelti Williamson were simply wonderful to watch.

Davis played Troy’s long-suffering wife Rose, and just so you can get a feel for what her performance did for me, I’ll let you know that you cannot begin to comprehend the roars that came from my living room when she won her BAFTA on Sunday. Troy may have been the main character here, but there is no doubt that this was Rose’s story. There was so much passion in Davis’ performance. You could tell that this film was a project that she felt deeply about, as was the case for everyone involved, but Davis’ energy just radiated around the room when I was watching her.

Someone who I think was hard done by when it came to awards nominations was Mykelti Williamson, who played Troy’s brother Gabriel. He gave such a touching and sensitive performance as the man who had such a great part of him stripped away during the war. His scenes with both Washington and Davis were something to behold, and added yet another layer of magic to a film that was already hitting all the right notes for me.

Washington not only played a blinder here – he also directed the film, which was adapted from the August Wilson play of the same name. I’ve just spoken about how this film was a labour of love for everyone involved, and none more so than Washington. He has had connections with the story for a number of years, and so I fail to think of someone better suited to head up the task of moving it from stage to screen than him. Beyond the fact I thought the run time was probably twenty minutes too long, I wouldn’t change a single thing about this film, and that’s the truth of it all.

All in all, I don’t know what more I can say about Fences. It is a very simple, yet realistic story made very special by the people that worked on it. It has so much heart, which is evident from what we see in each and every performance in the film itself, and also in what the cast and crew members have to say about the making of the project. No matter what else happens this year, I do not think for a second that we will see another film made with more love and devotion that this one.

I’ll lose no sleep after watching Nocturnal Animals


An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a sadistic revenge tail.
This story within a story follows art curator Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) as she works her way through a book written and sent to her by her ex-husband. The story follows Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he and his family set off on a road trip, but have their journey cut short by a bunch of psychotic rednecks who capture his wife and daughter. Tony escapes and spends a night in the desert before making his way to a police station. With Sheriff Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), Tony makes a grisly discovery, and between them the two get to work on bringing down the gang that hijacked his journey. As she works her way through the novel, Susan finds herself recalling her first marriage, and confronting some of her most deeply bruised demons.

After missing out on Nocturnal Animals in the cinema (don’t you just love limited release films?), I’ve only just gotten round to reviewing the film. Although it required a lot of thinking on my behalf, I did enjoy the film, and it wasn’t just the lead actor who swung it for me. There was handful of great performances to deliver the story to us, and director Tom Ford completely pulled off the ambitious narrative style the film opts for.

Amy Adams made her second major appearance of the last year with her performance as Susan. Straightaway, I will say that for me personally, she wasn’t as strong here as I thought she was in Arrival. For the most part of her time as Susan, Adams gave a brooding performance as her character reflected back on a former life. She was good, just not as good as I thought she was in her other film from 2016.

Jake Gyllenhaal was great as Tony Hastings, although let’s face it, I am slightly biased on this point. he played a desperate man and was really riveting to watch as he teamed up with Michael Shannon’s Bobby Andes to try to bring his wife and daughter’s killers to justice.

That brings me onto the two supporting performances nicely. Shannon was terrific as the sheriff. He practically stole every scene he was in, and I would say that he is fully deserving of the Oscar nomination he received for his work. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was also brilliant as Ray Marcus, but I don’t think he was quite the psychopath a lot of people made him out to be.

At a first glance, it is quite difficult to see where the two different elements of this film fit together. However, after thinking about it for a while, there are so many ways the two halves can be joined up. The whole film is very open to individual interpretation, and I have no doubt that if I were to watch the film again and again, each time I would find a different way to pick everything apart.

Director Tom Ford has done a wonderful job with this film. I’ve not seen A Single Man, but from what I’ve heard, it would seem that this second film was a fine second project. His fashion designer influence was evident with so many of the shots throughout the film. I may have to sit down and watch his first film after seeing this.

On the whole, Nocturnal Animals is a magnificently dark thriller that I think deserved more recognition than it has received. Due to the nature of it’s non-linear narrative, you do need to watch it with an open mind, but if you do this, I’m pretty certain you will enjoy it.

Manchester By The Sea went swimmingly for me


Following the death of his brother, a man returns to his home town and discovers he has been made the legal guardian of his nephew.
Angry, antisocial Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) works as a janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts. One grey winter day, he gets a phone call to say that his brother is in hospital, and that he should make his way back to the hometown he left behind him years ago as soon as he can as he’s in a bad way. When Lee reaches the hospital, he is greeted with the sad news that he is too late, and that his brother has passed away. As his next of kin, it becomes Lee’s job to sort out his brother’s affairs and tell his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) about his dad. The two try to adjust to life without the missing member of their family, attempting to deal with their own issues whilst looking after each other. Lee discovers that his brother has outlined that he is to become Patrick’s guardian, and struggles to decide what to do about the situation.

One of my most anticipated films of this year was Manchester By The Sea, and I feel like I had some good foresight by choosing it as one of the films I was most looking forward to. I had high hopes for the performances that were to make up the foundations of the film, and I was not let down. Enjoyable probably isn’t the right word to describe the film, but enjoy watching it is what I did. It isn’t an uplifting watch, but it has some very funny moments dotted throughout, making the whole thing very true to real life.

Casey Affleck is the person I am currently hoping wins the Best Actor award for this year. He gave a brilliant performance as Lee. it was very understated, and most of the emotion he conveyed was done so through his subtle facial expressions. For the most part, he had his hands in his pockets and did a lot of shoulder shrugging, but it was so fitting for his character to do this. Lee had a past that he has constantly tried to escape form, and we find out what it is that haunts him about halfway through the film. Affleck played the part wonderfully, and reminded me of exactly why I think he is one of the most underrated actors working today.

His co-star Lucas Hedges, who is up for Best Supporting Actor alongside him, was equally as good. In his solo scenes, he did a grand job of showing the usual struggles of a teenage kid whilst also trying to deal with the fact that he had just lost his father too. However, he really shone in each scene he had with Affleck. They both nailed the uncle-nephew dynamic they had going on, and this was what led to some of the funniest moments in the film, which were needed otherwise you’d have been seriously depressed by the end of the film.

the only criticism I’d have if you made me pick one was that the film did feel like it had a few pacing issues at times, but given the sheer quality of the performances, I can let this slide. the other question I have to raise is why was Michelle Williams nominated for an Oscar for her performance? She was very good, don’t get me wrong, but she simply was not on-screen long enough to have that sort of an impact on the film in my opinion. 

Overall, Manchester By The Sea is one of my favourites of the nominees I have seen so far this year. It does the simple things unbelievably well, and whilst at times it may feel a bit slow, the top drawer performances from the duo at the centre of this story make it worth staying right until the very end. For me, it was a very touching film that stays very true to how situations like this often play out in real life and it was a joy to watch the other day. I would highly recommend it. 

La La Land, whilst not what I expected, is 100% for the dreamers


An aspiring actress and jazz pianist fall for each other in Los Angeles as they pursue their dreams.Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) moved to L.A. from Nevada after dropping out of college in a bid to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. There, she meets Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a guy who wants to one day open his own jazz club to prevent the music style dying out. Both are brought together by their passions, but as they start to get where they’re going, the two are ultimately driven apart by long hours and the miles between them, proving that success doesn’t come without great sacrifice.

So, I got round to seeing La La Land yesterday, and I have to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what all the fuss is about. It wasn’t a bad film, don’t think that for a second, but compared to the films I saw that had been Oscar nominated last year, it wasn’t as good as those.

Both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have been nominated for acting gongs at the Academy Awards, and Stone has already won a Golden Globe for her performance. Once again, if I’m completely open with you, I don’t think these were especially memorable performances. They weren’t bad, but they just weren’t particularly memorable characters. I did like the chemistry that was very evident between Stone and Gosling, especially during some of their dance numbers. I am also very happy that director Damien Chazelle decided to make use of Gosling’s comedic capabilities that we got to see previously in The Nice Guys. Both worked together very well and put on quite a show, but personally I feel as though I’ve seen more Oscar-worthy performances from each of them.

The music featured throughout was good, but (and hear I go, moaning yet again) for a musical, there wasn’t a stand-out feel-good sing-along track that I’ll be serenading people with for weeks to come. City Of Stars was by far my favourite song of them all, but this wasn’t exactly what I’d call the catchy anthem that La La Land will be remembered for. I think I had been expecting lively songs with vibes similar to those given to us by The Blues Brothers and The Commitments, but instead I got quite a lot of stuff that was far more melancholy than that.

Stone said in her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes that this is a film for dreamers, and that is one thing that I can still say is definitely true after seeing it. You do leave the cinema feeling that what you want to achieve in life is possible, however, the film also does well to point out that you may have to put in long hours in order to do so. This aspect of the film was something that really hit home with me, and if nothing else, I am happy that it sort of offered an encouraging kick up the arse by showing that anything is possible, even when you think you’re down and out.

On the whole, I would say that La La Land is an enjoyable film that most people will like. With regards to the number of Oscars it has been nominated for, I have to say I don’t quite agree with whoever makes these decisions, but I do understand why it has received the critical recognition it has. The film pays tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood through modern day cinema. It’s a nostalgic homage to days gone by that looks to revive the magic of the past, but in my eyes at least, falls short of greatness.

April Flowers is not quite the pick of the bunch, but still worth seeing


After finding a journal, a young woman embarks on a quest to find it’s owner, but becomes hopeful that she may also find something else along the way.When April (Celina Jade) discovers a lost journal on the subway, she has a flick through the pages in the hope it provides her with some clue as to who the owner is. She gets more than she bargained for, however, as she realises that the owner of the book is a fantastic but perhaps troubled writer. She very quickly becomes obsessed with the book, it’s contents and her visions of the owner, and is intent on returning the journal to the person it belongs to. As the the search unfolds, April continues to build up the fantasy in her head, to an extent that may jeopardise very real relationships that already exist in her own life.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of April Flowers. It certainly isn’t the type of film I would usually go in for, and there were elements of it that I definitely wasn’t a fan of. That being said, however, there were aspects of the film that I thought were interesting and brought up questions about human nature and how we define things in life.

The lead performance here massively helped the film in getting it’s ideas across. Celina Jade portrayed April with an air of uncertainly that I think is within all of us to an extent. She was torn between the relationship she had with Jared, played by Jon Fletcher, and what could have been with the journal’s owner. It was a performance that everyone can relate to in some way or another, and this made it very easy to get on the same level as Jade’s character.

Perhaps my favourite performance in this film came from the actress playing April’s best friend, Laura. She may not have had the largest role in the story, but when she did make an appearance, it flowed very well. She is a very natural actress, and her character had a vital part in providing April with perspective on the situation she found herself in. 

I have to admit that I wasn’t the greatest fan of the style of this film. The narration provided by Helen Stern didn’t feel necessary. This would have been something that worked far better for me had the narration been done by the same person playing the protagonist here i.e. Celina Jade. I just didn’t really know who the narrator was supposed to represent. If it were up to me, I’d have preferred that April narrated her own story as if she were writing in her own journal as it would have fitted in better with the framework of the film.

I mentioned at the beginning that the film raised a number of questions about many things that we’re all quite familiar with. The way it drew attention to the way we view decision-making, especially when it comes to relationships and strong emotions, was something that really resonated with me. We’ve all been in situations where we could go either way and still worry about what the outcome could mean for us, and this film just seemed to capture the difficulties that surround these moments with ease.

All in all, April Flowers was not my type of film, but when I looked at what it was trying to say, I found a lot that I could relate to, which did it a lot of favours. There are performances here by actors who I think show a lot of potential, and the same thing can be said for the film’s writer and director, Christopher Tedrick, as he did such a great job of exploring something that is a complex part of human nature.

Rear Window was a nice introduction to Hitchcock films

A wheelchair bound photographer has only the rear window of his apartment to fill his time while he recovers form a broken leg, and believes he may have witnessed a murder taking place during his recuperation period.

Legendary photographer L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies (James Stewart) has been confined to barracks after getting a little too close to the action at his last job and breaking his leg. Between visits from his nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) and lover, Lisa (Grace Kelly), all he has to do is stare out of the window of his apartment at what his neighbours are doing. Before long, however, the mundane goings-on take a more sinister turn, or at least Jeff thinks so when he spies activities that only point towards murder in his eyes. He has a hard time convincing his friends and associates of what he’s seen, which leaves everyone wondering what really happened between two of the neighbours.

The Talking Stars podcast recently did an episode focusing on the films of Alfred Hitchcock – a director whose work I had seen next to nothing of when I heard news of this special episode we were doing on his films. This meant I had homework to do. The Hitchcock film with which I made my maiden voyage was Rear Window, and here’s what I thought…

I quite enjoyed James Stewart in his role. His performance was typical of what I’d imagine men were like during this time, and in a way, was quite true to what many men would be like today. I could feel his frustration as he tried to convince those around him of what he believed he had seen, although I needed some convincing myself as to whether or not a murder had taken place.

The main female performances here were one of the things I liked most about the whole film. In my eyes, Thelma Ritter and Grace Kelly didn’t play women that would have been most in line with the period. Both had a rebellious streak, evident in the scenes where they went to investigate one of Jeff’s neighbours’ apartments. This was nice to see as Rear Window was created in a time when women were very much expected to know their place and stay there. For them to be the ones who carried out Jeff’s dirty work for him was good to see.

This film’s subject matter is what I would say has secured it’s place in history. Looking out of windows is something that we all do, especially when we think something of interest is going on outside. Hitchcock captured the element of human curiosity terrifically well within this setting, and such elements have never changed, and perhaps never will. On the face of it, it is such a simple area to explore, but evidently there is so much to be gained from it as the film has stood, and continues to stand, the test of time.

On the whole, Rear Window was a nice introduction to the films of Alfred Hitchcock for me. I liked the main characters, and found some scenes to be very funny. It has certainly developed for me an interest in films from the master of suspense, and so I am eager to watch more from him. 

Good Will Hunting is a genius film


A boy genius requires help from a therapist in order to overcome his personal challenges and realise his potential.Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) and his students are left baffled when a tricky formula set up as a challenge is solved and no one comes forward. It is later revealed that the person to solve the equation is the college janitor, Will Hunting (Matt Damon) – an unsung boy genius. When Will gets into trouble with the law, the professor intervenes and takes him under his wing in order to stop him going to prison. To remain a free man, Will must attend counselling sessions to address the issues stemming from his past. After a series of failed visits to various different psychologists, Gerald calls upon the help of an old friend, Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), who he feels will be able to get through to Will. Together Will and Sean work through his problems and learn just what life still has to offer both of them.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen Good Will Hunting, but one thing I do know is that no matter how many times I see this film, it never loses its touch with me. As you can probably tell, it’s going to get a glowing review now.

There are two fantastic lead performances here, and neither are about to go unnoticed. Matt Damon gives what is still perhaps one of the best performances of his career here. He was brilliant as Will, providing us with a very realistic character. I loved how he wrapped up Will’s vulnerability in some kind of arrogance as it echoed what so often happens in real life. There was such an air of authenticity about him that I just have to give him full credit for.

And now we move onto Robin Williams who gives an absolute powerhouse performance here as Sean. He was a fantastic father figure to Will and deserved every bit of his Best Acting Oscar. It is definitely one of his best performances, if not the best. Of course, each time I see him in this, it is a stark reminder of the talent that we lost when Williams died back in 2014 as it shows us the true extent of what he was capable of as an actor. However, it is a fine legacy to leave behind.

There is something magical about Good Will Hunting that I can’t quite seem to put a finger on. I think all elements of the film combine to form something that will for a long time mean it is one of the greats. It certainly has a lot of plus points; the performances from more or less all of the main cast members, some beautifully memorable scenes and some wonderful undertones about friendship and other things. I’ve seen a few pieces of work from director Gus Van Sant and, as far as I’m aware, I’ve fully enjoyed all of them. This has to be his crowning glory so far though. As I said at the beginning, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this film, but that makes no difference to how I view it – a sign of a classic, I believe.

Overall I’ll say that if you haven’t seen Good Will Hunting yet, you should. It is a prime example of what can be achieved by solid writing and matching performances, and it will continue to remain so for years to come, I’m sure.
Keep an eye out for Talking Stars’ ‘Good Will Hunting’ podcast in the New Year – it will be the first instalment in our new ‘Film Club’ series starting in January.