FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD REVIEW

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An engaging and brilliantly acted drama.

In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Strurridge), a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) a prosperous and mature bachelor.

I’m not normally one for period dramas but somehow this one managed to keep my attention.

I haven’t read the classic novel nor have I seen the 1967 feature with Julie Christie so I can’t make comparisons.

Carey Mulligan was superb as Bathsheba (Such a strange name). Perfectly cast as the strong willed heroine. A different kind of beauty but still a pretty young lady.

A woman desperate not to be another man’s property. Defying type and “social standing” to be her own person.

The opening act may have been slow burning but I was happy to watch the blossoming romance between Gabriel and Bathsheba.

Matthias Schoenarts delivered a very good performance. I know people were sceptical about having a Belgian as the farm hand in something that should have been a quintessentially English affair but I thought he was charismatic and had fantastic chemistry with Mulligan.

By comparison, his performance in A Little Chaos was quite wooden.

As well as dealing with the ever-growing suitors, Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm and is determined to restore the place to its former glories. Her dealings in the markets and with her staff made for good viewing. Resourceful and resilient, but vulnerable and anxious.

Sheen delivered a fine turn as the strange and brooding Mr Boldwood. Hell, we even got a little sing song between him and Mulligan.

I knew Mulligan could sing after her turn in Shame but it was certainly unexpected from the Sheenster.

Tom Sturridge (The Boat That Rocked) played the slick solider Frank Troy well. A slimy charmster if ever there was one.

I couldn’t help but question why Bathsheba would be interested in such a tool.

Troy was certainly enigmatic and a sweet talker but his behaviour was so volatile. Their forest fling was a strange encounter. His OTT sword swinging foreplay was a little comical for me. It killed the brewing tension between them.

BUT I understood that the action was supposed to display a sense of danger and excitement that the other suitors weren’t offering.

Is that all they do in the countryside? Shear sheep and marriage, apparently.

It was obvious that the proposals would happen. But the timing was certainly unexpected. Boldwood’s proposal was too sudden.

Sparked by a Valentine card that Bathsheba had sent as a joke. His sudden infatuation and obsession with her seemed a little disjointed. Ridiculously extravagant in one exchange, then nothing the next.

Yet somehow you still felt sorry for the middle aged extrovert.

The cast couldn’t be faltered. Their performances were flawless and I actually cared what happened to the characters.

Each suitor offering something different for Bathsheba. Security, love and danger. But all to a woman who never promised anything and already expressed that she did not want to be “tamed”.

Every time I felt my interest dipping or the pace lulling, there would be a new development or twist that kept me going. Not that my interest dipped that much, to be honest.

A merciless sheepdog with a flock certainly delivered a unexpected cliffhanger.

Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography was superb. Despite its beautifully shot idyllic backdrop, horror and grief can still strike the countryside.

The only critique I can make about the casting was Juno Temple. She didn’t make as much of an impact as I expected. The role was still important to the story line but anyone could have played her.

The ending may have been a little predictable but I still came out smiling and impressed. Don’t say that often enough.

It was easygoing, engaging and wonderfully acted. One of the better films out there.

Highly recommend.

4/5

STILL ALICE REVIEW

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Julianne Moore’s still got it!

A stand out performance from a talented actress.

A linguistics professor (Julianne Moore) and her family find their bonds tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. I knew it would have to take something special to stop Pike or Jones taking the gold.

A heartrending, emotional drama on a disease that really needs looking at. I know Moore’s Oscar win caused a little stir back in the UK. That was mainly because it hadn’t been released at the time!

BUT here we are at last . . . and it’s good.

Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland allow for a slow burning piece as we join Alice celebrating her 50th birthday. It wasn’t long before you noticed her making little mistakes; answering the wrong question, forgetting words, etc.

At first glance, minor quibbles. Who hasn’t been guilty of mixing up the odd word or forgetting their train of thought? Innocently playing it down to age, Alice continues her work and enjoying time with her family.

There was a tense atmosphere around the film as the impending diagnosis lingered around the corner. Alice soon forgets where she is, people’s names, notes on her presentations. And the initial diagnosis came short and sharp.

Moore was perfect for the role and you really felt for Alice as she did everything she could to fight this challenging disease.

The range of emotions that she encapsulated were brilliant. Going from defiant to angry, confused to sad in a matter of a few frames. I couldn’t possibly imagine what that would feel like.

Alice was diagnosed with an incredibly rare stand of Alzheimers (I wasn’t even aware that were a variety of types). Her mental condition soon deteriorates much faster than she was prepared for. Or even ready to accept.

The original questions that Alice had to answer to test for Alzheimers threw me off. Something as simple as being told to remember a name and an address and being asked later about the details after a conversation was crazy.

The memory tests that Alice gave herself were quite interesting to watch. Writing three words on a chalkboard. Putting a timer on. And going back to write said words felt like a little game. I was trying to remember them as the family drama unfolded.

There was a talented cast involved in the family dynamic; Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart.

Their reactions to Alice’s diagnosis and inevitable deterioration were unexpected. The discovery that the condition can be passed on to your offspring was a daunting prospect. The probability of one of Alice’s children carrying the gene being incredibly high.

Kristen Stewart, where has she been? Still donning the tom boy look and mumbling away. Her performance perfectly suited the role of Alice’s younger daughter. She worked well with Moore and you really felt for their relationship.

Despite all that’s going on for Alice, she was still concerned for her daughter’s carefree attitude and refusal to accept her failing acting career. Mothers never stop caring. No matter what.

Kate Bosworth was good as her snobby older daughter. An early revelation certainly spiked the tension BUT as the film progressed, her character seemed to disappear into the background.

Alec Baldwin didn’t seem to be in this as much as I thought. Obviously, the film was always going to be revolved around Alice BUT his constant disappearing act was a little irritating. Thankfully, there was a reason for this, which led to sombre viewing.

Despite a stellar performance on a serious condition and for all the hype, the film left me wanting.

I don’t think it helped that the ending was quite odd. I could see what the writers were trying to do BUT it came off a little abrupt and long at the tooth with Kristen Stewart mumbling away about looking down from the sky to her bemused mother.

It just seemed a little pretentious and fizzled out what had been an engaging story of one woman’s struggle.

It was still heartbreaking, dramatic and tough to watch. A scene involving a video message from a recently diagnosed Alice to an ailing ageing Alice certainly hit home.

Alzheimer’s Disease still needs to be looked into and I’m glad that films like these are getting made. The only other film that I could recall was the underrated Away From Her with Julie Christie.

This could happen to anyone. Worth a watch.

3/5

As a little side note for any Walking Dead fans; Seth Gilliam played yet another pointless role. Yes! Even more useless than Father Gabriel Stokes. I know. I didn’t think it was possible.

THE RAID 2 REVIEW

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The Dark Knight of Action Movies? Sorry guys not for me. The woes of hype and the dreaded sequelitis hinder a brutal tour de force of bone crushing awesomeness. By all means, it’s still one of the better films out there at the moment but at a whopping 2 and a half hours, some might feel they didn’t get enough blood for their buck.

Now, I loved the Raid. A friend recommended it. The premise was nothing special. Sounded like Dredd. A swat team hunt down a dealer in a tower block but what came next was something fast, frantic, furious and f- flipping awesome. The Raid knew what it was. Didn’t mess around. Quick set up of who is who. Bad guy. Good guy. Let the mayhem ensue. Leading to one of the best action films I have seen and no wonder it became a cult hit and no wonder that there would be a sequel.

Now finally getting the attention it deserves and a wider release, hype spreading like wild fire, the anticipated second serving is unleashed and unfortunately for me, it was a mixed bag. Now it would help to have watched the first installment and ideally quite recently as well; as I struggled in the opening 20 minutes to remember who was who. Kudos to Gareth Evans for actually attempting to tell a story and set up a plot. The flicking back and forth and a shocking opener had me amped up and ready. The general gist is that only a short time after the first raid, Rama (Iko Uwais) goes undercover with the thugs of Jakarta in an attempt to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his police force.

Once the flicking back and forth is dealt with and the premise set up, it does burn on the Bunsen at a low flicker which, to start with, works to its strengths. The plot set up juxtaposed between a worn Rama prepping for an intense prison punch up, delicately teases your blood lust and tests your patience. However, after a while, that latter part of the sentence soon grates on you as my eyes starting to wonder at the little hands on my watch. Evans is a maestro with the camera filming the fight sequences and like most big action movies, he wants you to wait. Feeding your action movie palette with little blood-curdling adrenaline pumped tidbits until that macho main course finale. However, what I liked about the first Raid. There was no need for that wait. I would happily wait if the story warranted the time. But for me, it didn’t.

The first half an hour in which Rama’s cover is set up was well worked and the prison sequences were fantastic. Tense, violent and brilliantly choreographed as Rama must earn the trust of the son of a kingpin, Uco (Arifin Putra) in order to work his way up the chain of command. Unfortunately, I have seen this premise done a lot better and a lot quicker. At first, endearing as Rama must distance himself from his family for their protection soon drags on and the next hour or so, is endless slow paced exposition with an intense five minute punch up or shoot em up, followed by more predictable back stabbing and droll exposition. A few twists pick up the pace, some unexpected, others blatantly obvious.

However, the final forty minutes. Now that is what I waited for. Bold, brash, brutal, gory, violent, breathtaking. The Bunsen is soon obliterated in a fierce finale with kick ass kitchen kick offs, crazy car chases and mindless violence. Check, check and hell yes! The car chase sequence was one of the best I have seen in a long time. Intense fighting and crazy driving surpassed the relentless CGI and intensity of the Matrix Reloaded by miles. Within the fight sequences, Evans created three memorable and soon to be cult classic characters that make worthy foes for our powerless protagonist. In the red corner, the shade wearing, hammer welding, alluring deaf assassin, Alicia or the appropriate named Hammer Girl (Julie Christie) and her baseball carrying nutter of a helper, the . . .  Baseball Bat Man (no, seriously, that is his credited name – played by Very Tri Yulisman) and in the blue corner, the double bladed bearing badass The Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman).

It may drag with predictable climbing through the ranks exposition at a questionable length but when it unleashes the action, this is where it excels. Evans still recruits a strong Indonesian cast and hasn’t tainted or given in to Hollywood pressures, except for one minor scene in which they unexpectedly speak English. The cinematography gives off a more polished look to its predecessor which makes it stand out so much more. So well done, Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono. The real wizards are the stunt teams and the cast who perform them. So in all in all, not bad. Bigger? By the end, definitely. Badder? The foes? Definitely. But better? Not to me. Slow, meandering, the film could have been cut by an hour and been so much better for it. Invest by all means just be patient and the pay off will be worth it. If you want it fast, furious and constant, then go back to the first. 3.5/5

Currently ranks #22 out of 165!