Not a fat lot of Room for improvement with this one


After spending the past five years locked away in a kidnapper’s shed, a little boy and his mother finally get out and are able to reacquaint themselves with the world.
When she was seventeen, Joy Newson (Brie Larson) was kidnapped on her way home from school. For seven years she was held hostage by her kidnapper in his garden shed, and gave birth to his child, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), after two years in captivity. Joy and Jack survived together for five years in the shed, until one day Joy decided the time had come where they had an opportunity to get out. She constructs an escape plan which heavily involves her son, and when the mission is completed, the two, especially Jack, find that things on the outside are more different than they expected. 

I’d heard that Room was supposed to be a phenomenal watch, and I had also heard that it had brought a tear to the eyes of many viewers. To be honest, I’m surprised that it has taken me until now to see the film, but I will say that after finally seeing it, that wait has been well worth it. I will also say that the film manage to stir up emotions within myself that I was not even sure existed. If you’re in the mood for a full on ugly cry, this is probably a film you should consider.

There are some incredibly powerful performances in Room, brought to you by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. The two of them got the whole mother/son dynamic perfect, and it felt like a really authentic relationship for the entire time you were watching them. Larson nailed the patience needed by Joy whilst she was locked in the shed, and the innocence shown by Jacob Tremblay as Jack towards the idea of a huge world outside of his own existence was clear to see. I found that it was Tremblay’s performance that provoked the greatest reaction from me at various points throughout the film (one such point was when he set eyes on a real dog for the first time, I’m still not over it). However, the scene where Joy was reunited with her father for the first time since she disappeared was also a significant one for me, and once again, tissues were needed.

I have to whole-heartedly praise Emma Donoghue for her writing of both the novel and the screenplay, and with that I also take my hat off to whoever had the idea of keeping the same writer for both. The emotions that are brought to the surface by the characters she created are like a punch in the face. There is no escaping them, meaning even the most hardened non-criers such as myself find themselves reduced to tear stained ruins by the end of the film.

Director Lenny Abrahamson did a fantastic job with the making of this film. I’ve read about all the struggles that were presented to the cast and crew by the task of filming such a huge proportion of the film in the confines of the shed that Joy and Jack were kept in. It does not sound as though the first month of filming was a breeze. However, I think Abrahamson’s belief in the story was shown by his persistence and determination that they would succeed in filming those scenes within those four walls, which, if you are aware of it, I think gives you even greater faith in the film as you watch it.

So, would I recommend Room? Well, it’s not remotely like anything that I’ve personally watched before, nor has any other film made me such an emotional wreck on numerous occasions before. The performances are on a new level altogether (I forgot to mention it, but Larson won a Best Actress Oscar for her part, although I’m sure you already knew that), and really work to bring to life the feelings that the script is absolutely sodden with. I’ve already been recommending it to people, and I wouldn’t think twice about sitting down to watch it again myself. 

Andrew’s Entry For The Play To The Whistle Blogathon


This post comes from Andrew of The Stop Button blog. Thank you so much Andrew for getting involved!

Million Dollar Baby


Million Dollar Baby has a somewhat significant plot twist.
Well, it actually has a couple of them. And neither comes with much
foreshadowing. A little in Paul Haggis’s script, which director
Eastwood visualizes appropriately, but they’re in the
background. The film has its larger than life story to worry
about–Clint Eastwood as a stogy old boxing trainer taking on a
female boxer, played by Hilary Swank. Except she’s not a kid.
She’s a grown woman.

The film opens without cast title cards. Immediately, it’s
very smooth. Eastwood has a gym, Morgan Freeman runs it for him. There
are assorted goings-on at the gym involving the guys training there.
It’s a great supporting cast at the gym–Jay Baruchel, Mike
Colter, Anthony Mackie–but the gym is initially just where
Eastwood hangs out, not where he interacts. So instead Freeman is
telling him the goings-on, which does fantastic setup for their
relationship throughout the film. Only when Swank arrives does
Eastwood get forced to participate and only after prodding from
Freeman.

It’s great character development, funny, sweet, sincere.
Eastwood’s very careful not to push too hard on any emotional
buttons. He makes sure the actors’ emotions are authentic and
doesn’t lay it on with the filmmaking. Tom Stern shoots
Million Dollar Baby with crispness for the daytime scenes and
sharpness with the nighttime. It works as to how the performances come
across, how Joel Cox edits them. If it weren’t for how well
Haggis’s script works, especially how it integrates
Freeman’s narration, Million Dollar Baby might just be
one of film’s finest melodramas. Well, if Eastwood–who
does a lot in Million Dollar Baby as an actor and a
director–wanted to make a melodrama.

He doesn’t though. Instead, he makes this strangely small,
while still big, character study of three people and a location and
shared experiences. Most of the film takes place in the gym.
It’s the touchstone for the characters and the audience.
Eastwood and Haggis never wax on about the hopes and dreams of the
boxers at the gym–or even Swank’s. It’s not a
meditation on the sport of boxing. It’s this devastating human
condition piece, with characters revealing depths the entire length of
the film, both through scripted dialogue and the actors’
performances. All of the acting is great; Swank is the best, but
Eastwood’s the most surprising. You never once get the feeling
Eastwood ever has an idea of what he’s going to say to
Swank.

Freeman is great too, in the film’s most “of
course” sort of way. He gets to be a bit of a mystery and has
some fun with it. He narrates and he’s never untrustworthy or
anything, he just isn’t telling his own story and it turns
out–thanks to Freeman and Haggis–it adds to the film.

Eastwood also did the music, which is sort of unsurprising and also
fantastic. The music is perfect. It’s such a strange film, this
gentle American Dream rumination, celebration, and condemnation.
It’s always sincere, never cynical, never defeatist, but never
hopeful either. Eastwood’s filmmaking is focused character
study. The music is restrained and minimal.

So many different things are going on in the film at any
moment–whether it’s Swank’s Rocky story,
Eastwood’s aging one, Freeman’s supporting mostly wry one,
Eastwood and Haggis rely heavily on that Freeman narration. He never
disappoints. Million Dollar Baby is kind of a love letter;
all of a sudden I’m wondering how the script was written with
the narration or if it was cut together later.

Eastwood, Swank, and Freeman don’t reinvent the melodrama;
they just perfect the melodramatic character study. Ably assisted by
Haggis, Stern, and Cox. Million Dollar Baby is
phenomenal.

No Shame in admitting this is a very interesting film


A man with a carefully managed private life has everything thrown into disarray when his sister stops with him for an indefinite stay.
Sex-dependent Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a functioning addict. He hides behind the facade of a good job and swanky apartment doing whatever he has to to manage his addiction in between frequent hook-ups with women he often just picks out during his commute on the subway. However, one evening he arrives home to find his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), has taken up residence in his apartment, and suddenly the micro-managed life he has worked so hard to maintain comes crashing down. His private life and work life begin to blur into one another, and slowly but surely Brandon begins to lose the little bit of control he had.

So, I watched Shame. I’m a fan of Michael Fassbender, so it was only a matter of time before I saw it. It’s a, shall we say, interesting film, there’s no denying that. I don’t really know what I was expecting to be completely honest – it’s not like it said in the film’s description that it was about a sex addict or anything like that. 

No matter what the film’s subject matter was though, I knew that with Fassbender heading up the cast I was in safe hands. Does he ever give a bad performance? There were times I found him quite uncomfortable to watch, although I have to admit I’d imagine this would have been far worse had I decided to watch the film with my parents. I feel as though Fassbender really captured the desperation that comes with any addition very well indeed, and the reason it was perhaps so hard to watch at times was because it felt so realistic. Maybe my blushes were a sign of a good job on his part.

Carey Mulligan was just as good as Fassbender, and is probably the unsung hero of the whole film. She plays the one person who Brandon manages to have a serious relationship with (not THAT kind of relationship though, I am talking purely brother and sister, no more than that). She is the only person who really seems able to humanise him in any way, which I think is important because otherwise it would be all too easy to view him with disgust. Her and Fassbender share one scene in particular in the film that is absolutely tremendous. It was shot in one take and I think epitomises the way things are between the two of them.

There wasn’t a storyline as such as this was more of a character study than anything else. There was no major antagonist in the film at all, it was just a case of Brandon being his own worst enemy. It was a very intriguing study if I’m honest, I don’t recall ever having watched a film centred around addiction like this before. In my eyes, it was very original.

The writing behind it was also… I’d say good, but for how it left me feeling about Fassbender afterwards, I’m not entirely sure that would be the right word. All I’ll say is I’m going to have to go to church a few times after what he said. I did cringe a bit, but I guess that’s just a sign of how impactful writer and director Steve McQueen’s work was.

While I might not be overly certain about what to make of Shame, I can’t deny that it had quite a handful of positives going for it, and I’d say that my uncertainty about my feelings towards the film is probably a sign of how successful it was in gaining a reaction from audiences. It isn’t a film I’ll be recommending to my parents to watch, so that should be reasonably indicative of the content to be found here, but it does shed a light on human nature, whilst also proving that Michael Fassbender is a gifted man in more ways than one.

The glorious truth about Big Little Lies

The perfect lives of three mothers of first graders unravel, resulting in murder.

When Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) moves to Monterey with her son Ziggy to escape her past, she is quickly befriended by Madeleine Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon), who introduces her to Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman). Together, the three become a formidable trio amongst the rest of the mums at their kids’ school, especially in the wake of a playground incident after which, Ziggy is witch hunted by the other children and parents. What unfolds is a tale of ex-husbands, second wives and school yard scandals, all in between the little white lies that they all tell to uphold the fronts each of these women present to the world.

I’d heard a lot about Big Little Lies following it’s premier in the U.S. a couple of months ago, and seeing it would be shown soon after on Sky Atlantic, I thought I too would give it a spin, although I hadn’t expected it to be my thing at all. I was, however, proven wrong, and thankfully so, because here I am now sharing what a wonderful show it was with you.

The three lead performances here were tremendous. Woodley, Witherspoon and Kidman were all as brilliant as each other in their own special ways, but I have to say that the latter name mentioned just pipped the other two for the title of best performance in this series. If there is a god, or any sort of higher power in existence, Kidman will be nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Celeste Wright. Celeste was such a complex character, and in each of the seven episodes that made up this mini-series more and more was revealed about her. There were so, so many layers to this particular character, and for her alone I was willing to return for the next instalment each week.

The story was very simple, yet also very complex, if that makes any sense at all. If you strip the story back to the very basics, it is essentially a whodunnit, only the thing here is we don’t know a) who the killer is or b) who the victim is, so already it’s a small twist on the traditional. Add then the numerous points of conflict that arise throughout the course of the seven episodes and you struggle to come to a definitive conclusion on what the motive might be as well, which scuppers any chance of you being able to come up with a very shortlist of suspects. It was very refreshing to see the story told in this way, and while I had my guesses at who had ended up dead as a result of the many chains of events shown in the series, I was never exactly sure of who, how or why until the dying moments of the finale.

So, despite my initial scepticism, I have to say that Big Little Lies may very well be one of the best new shows of 2017, if not the best. I am going to be keeping my eye out for the book from which the story was adapted for the screen, because while I was very impressed by this series, I have an inkling that there is even more to be taken from the book, which is the case more often than not. What makes this so intriguing is the way the story is told, but just as important are the performances that deliver us this story. If you’ve not seen Big Little Lies, I would urge you to watch it, as it may very well be one of the greatest things you’ll watch this year.

Winter’s Bone gives you plenty to chew on


An Ozark mountain girl is forced to go in search of her drug-dealing father when the safety of her family is threatened.In the Ozark mountain community, Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) has to raise her younger brother and sister and care for her mentally-ill mother. All she has to help her is the house she lives in, and when her drug-dealing father fails to show in court, her and her family risk losing it. The only way to prevent the imminent seizure of assets is if Ree can find her father. She embarks on her search, but encounters much resistance from the community, amongst which Ree’s father had made a lot of enemies, meaning that her quest for the survival of her family may not be an easy one.

I’d heard a lot of good things about Winter’s Bone prior to watching it. Some people say that it is the one Oscar nomination Jennifer Lawrence has received that nobody can argue with, and that the story is a very gritty, realistic one. After watching the film, I have to say I completely agree with both of the above statements.

At the age of nineteen, Lawrence did a wonderful job as Ree. I am a fan of her work, and I do think that we will see a lot of very impressive performances from her for years to come, but this was a very good (I guess you could say breakout?) role. Part of me wishes that this had been the first film of hers that I had seen just because the element of anonymity would have increased the overall authenticity of her character, but I can’t say really that my prior knowledge of Lawrence’s work detracted very much at all. She completely captured the grit, determination and also desperation of Ree, who ultimately was just trying to keep her family together. 

John Hawkins (who I’m currently enjoying in the very early episodes of Deadwood) played Ree’s uncle, Teardrop. I loved his performance because, although he was a hard man, he had his priorities right and did what he had to do in order to protect his family. There was something quite lovely about the bond that became evident between him and Ree as the film progressed, which added buckets to the film.

What really caught my eye whilst watching this film was the cinematography and the colours within the shots. The landscapes that were captured were beautiful, yet the lack of bright colours conveyed the bleakness that was such a huge part of life for these people. I also feel like the two together also said something far more profound than what I can find words for about the story, which was rather straightforward, but told incredibly well. The characters were all very realistic, and the whole thing reflected the harshness of life, regardless of whether its in the mountains or not, very well indeed. There was just such a great sense of realism surrounding the piece that there were times I found myself thinking that the whole thing could actually have been based on actually events because it was nothing out of the ordinary, yet very riveting to watch.

127 Hours was not what I had hoped it would be


When an avid climber and canyon wanderer gets trapped by a rock, he quite literally has to cut himself loose.
Back in April 2003, climber and canyoneer Aron Rolston (James Franco) headed off down the Blue John Canyon without telling anyone. The trip was going well, and he got himself invited to a party, but when a huge rock fell on him, trapping his right arm, things took a rough turn. As the hours turned into days, and the rock didn’t budge, Aron’s mind began to play games with him. In a moment of clarity, however, he realised what he had to do, and after seeing his tale of survival, we can all learn something.

127 Hours is one of the many films that I have wanted to see for a long time, and is now another that I can cross off my list. I have to be honest and say that unlike some of my other long-awaited watches I have seen recently, this one wasn’t as worth the build-up. Yes, it is an amazing story it has to tell, but it had some serious pacing issues that stopped me enjoying it as much as I potentially could have done.

The film was nominated for six Oscars, and one of the people included in these nominations was James Franco for his portrayal of Aron throughout this journey. I don’t know whether this will be an unpopular opinion or not, but I didn’t think his performance was all that special. That’s not saying it was bad, not at all, but it just didn’t grab me in the way I’d have liked it to. He had some stand out moments though, mainly during the scenes where he recorded the video messages that the real Aron did throughout the ordeal. These moments were spread too thinly for my liking however – had there have been more of them I may have stayed more in touch with the film. Unfortunately, this just wasn’t the case.

There is no denying that this is an extraordinary story, but again, it wasn’t told in a way that really took hold of me and refused to let go until it was over. I struggled with the sequences where Aron’s insanity took over. They made the film feel very choppy if you ask me, making it hard for me to focus on the main part of the narrative.

On the whole, while I appreciate what everyone was trying to do when making 127 Hours, their efforts were kind of lost on me. I just really struggled sticking with it, evident in the number of times I kept checking how long was left to run. Perhaps the film’s chances were plighted by the troubles I had with Netflix whilst trying to watch the film – maybe this played some part in it, but somehow I think not all the issues I had with 127 Hours could be put down to this. I watched it to the end, but it’s not something I could personally recommend. 

Danny Collins was music to my ears


An ageing musician receives a letter that was written to him by John Lennon 40 years ago and embarks on a mission to find himself.
Danny Collins (Al Pacino), a rocker in his twilight years, is living it up and struggling to veer away from his life of chaos and luxury, although it is clear to see that he is fundamentally unhappy. When his manager, Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) hands him a letter that was written 40 years prior by the one and only John Lennon, Danny takes a long hard look at the position he’s in and decides to change his ways… or at least try to. He tracks down his long-lost son Tommy (Bobby Cannavale) and discovers he has a whole family he didn’t know about. Danny is determined to be a part of their lives, but can he keep his feet on the ground long enough to do this?

The Easter holidays seem to have consisted of revision and catching up with a number of films that I have been meaning to watch for a long time. Another film that I managed to get crossed off the list was Danny Collins, one of Al Pacino’s most recent works (is there any need for me to explain why I wanted to watch this?). I found it to be a really warm, and at times, very funny story based on events that actually kind of happened!

In recent years, we’ve had to get used to some rather mediocre performances in some pretty mid-range films from Pacino. It pains me to say that because he is a favourite of mine after all. I had, however, heard positive things about about is performance at the time of this film’s release, so I had hope for this. I totally enjoyed seeing Pacino in this role. As Danny, he gave such a heart-warming performance for us, and was such a treat to watch. There was so much charisma on display here and it was wonderful to see.

Annette Bening was every part Pacino’s equal in the film as well. She was brilliant as Hilton hotel manager Mary Sinclair who taught Danny about the simpler things in life. The scenes she shared with Pacino were phenomenal, and the film was helped along by a huge lift whenever these unfolded. Bening also gave a charming performance, and was quite literally a joy to watch.

I have to be honest and say that the story is nothing ground-breaking, in fact, you might go as far as to say that it was actually quite generic. For me though, that made no difference. It was just one of those films that I could sit back and enjoy without burning out the ol’ brain cells. There were some very comical moments, but also some very touching ones too. I’d say the best way to describe it is that it’s bit of a crowd pleaser as there is something here that will suit the majority of audiences.

Overall, I can’t not recommend Danny Collins to you. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and admit without a shred of guilt whatsoever that it was well worth the amount of time I waited to see it. It’s a film that was so easy-going, but at the same time managed to say something rather profound without forcing the message down your throat. It would never have won any Oscars, but more often than not, the prestigious awards are not the only signs of a worthwhile film, as seems to be the case here.