*NEW* THE DANISH GIRL REVIEW *NEW*

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Two outstanding performances makes this intriguing little drama one to watch.

A fictitious love story inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander). Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.

I never expected The Danish Girl to be my cup of tea. The content at first glance didn’t really appeal to me BUT what did was the cast. I couldn’t pick a more perfect combination. Redmayne and Vikander were brilliant. They had fantastic chemistry and made an endearing couple. You really did care for them. We join the married couple of six years in 1920s Copenhagen. Happy and in love.

The slow burning pace allowed the transformation to happen more naturally. We follow Vikander’s Gerda as she struggles to make a career as a painter. Desperate to break free from the shadow of her renowned husband.

A simple problem with a model being late and a quick pose for a portrait and we slowly unearth something in the bashful and timid Einar Wegener. The dresses. The heels. The stockings. Appealing to a deeper part of him. Embraced as a little joke; the pair take it a step further. Desperate NOT to be seen at a party function, Einar creates the alter ego Lili.

The film chugged along at an easygoing pace as the pair messed around with the dresses and wigs. BUT while Gerda saw it as a little bit of fun, we notice a change in Einar. Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and writer Lucinda Coxon got the perfect balance. A chance encounter with Ben Whishaw’s (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) Henrik and Redmayne’s Lili could easily have played out like something out of Some Like It Hot.

BUT it wasn’t long before Lili overstayed her welcome. Redmayne proved once again why he deserved that Oscar gold last year. An excellent performance. The ego of Lili awoke something that had always been inside of Einar. It was an interesting insight into the transgender psyche. Einar’s treatment and transformation was something else.

His treatment in the 20s was baffling. I should have seen it coming BUT it still made for engaging viewing. Desperate to seek help for Gerda’s sake and to find answers, Einar faces charges of perversion, homosexuality and even has to evade capture from being committed to a mental hospital after being diagnosed a schizophrenic. The man even took radiation therapy to correct the “chemical imbalance”.

As much as you could feel for Einar’s inner turmoil and tried to understand what he was going through, you also felt for Gerda who faced losing the very person she fell in love with. Vikander was superb. A performance worthy of that BAFTA nod.

I wish more was made out of the supporting cast. Matthias Schoenaerts (Far From The Madding Crowd) did well with the small supporting role of Einar’s boyhood chum and even Amber Heard (The Rum Diary) managed to make a memorable impression in her frightfully miniscule role/cameo as Gerda’s friend Ulla. Regular Hooper stalwart Danny Cohen’s cinematography delivered yet again. Bringing life and colour to a rather dull looking Denmark.

However, it wasn’t all perfect. For all the drama, I was left wanting. The pace did test as the film passed the 90 minute marker. Two hours was too much. As the film drew to a close and Einar considered surgery, things picked up. BUT it seemed to rush after such a long build up and end a little too abruptly for my liking.

Despite a lumbering pace, two sterling turns helped make this engaging examination one to watch.

3/5

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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

A LITTLE CHAOS REVIEW

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Sorry, Mr Rickman. Your debut needed a little more chaos. A stellar cast fails to hide what is a dreadfully slow and meandering affair.

10 points from Slytherin!

Two talented landscape artists become romantically entangled while building a garden in King Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles.

I really wanted to like this but I was left wanting more by the time the credits rolled.

Period pieces are not my strong suit. But that’s not to say, I don’t enjoy them. I didn’t mind Downton Abbey (when it first came out). Remains of the Day and Sense and Sensibility (featuring Ms Winslet and Mr Rickman) were simply brilliant.

It made sense that Rickman would invest his directorial debut in a periodic love story. It’s just a shame that beneath its beautifully shot surface, there wasn’t much going on.

The rather bizarre opening didn’t really get things going or set the tone properly. It felt like something out of Blackadder. Louis’ youngest son announcing that he had soiled himself. A mistress ready to tear off her clothes to please her king in front of the children. No joke. This happened.

It took a little while to get to the point. The point being Louis’s eccentric behaviour. He cues his own family members for applause after every little soliloquy. His speech about finding Heaven in a garden was well done if a little pretentious. His defense being that the Garden of Eden was where it all began for humanity.

I can remember from my old History lessons on the extravagance and financial ruin that Louis XIV went through to achieve this perfection. I expected to see this issue looked at or maybe even confronted. BUT tragically not. All we have is a couple of stiff upper lipped lords simply quibble that the King is spending beyond his means. That’s it.

Kate Winslet was very good and certainly carried the film. A strong leading woman if ever there was one.

A self-made woman renowned for her unique gardening designs and passion for chaos. We are fed little tidbits of her past. Figures running in the background, children laughing. Flickering images in dreams that soon get really annoying as the film continues to meander along. The supernatural element had my interest piqued.

Matthias Schoenaerts keeps popping up in films lately. With Far From The Madding Crowd due at your local cinema shortly, I’m getting fed up of seeing him but with performances like this, I can see why he keeps stealing all the parts.

Charismatic yet moody with a mysterious demeanour. He even has a little sing song!

His character, Andre Le Notre is a meticulous and stubborn garden designer renowned across France. It’s not long before he clashes with Winslet’s strong willed madame. His order and perfection disrupted by her random chaotic selection. Inevitably sparks fly.

The pair have good chemistry and certainly played the parts well. BUT in between the inevitable romance plot, there isn’t much else on offer. Merely moments.

Helen McCrory has been a favourite of mine for some time. Her turn in Peaky Blinders being a particular highlight. She played the manipulative house wife to perfection. Scowling and nasty one moment. Sleeping around with any man she can to bait a reaction from Notre’s frustrated gardener. Vulnerable and regretful the next.

I wanted a little more stoke thrown into the fire between her and Schoenaerts. Their fractious relationship had potential. The marriage merely a business arrangement.

Her jealousy of his brewing relationship with Winslet’s Sabine could have been so much more. It soon builds up to a tense sabotage attempt. However, the post-confrontation was well done but a little anti-climactic. Schoenaerts merely shares some harsh truths and walks away. Alas.

Stanley Tucci was superb as the scene stealing Duc D’Orleans. He instantly made an impression and injected a much needed frenetic energy to the incredibly serious leads. Overtly camp and funny. Not enough of his character. He made more of an impact in five minutes than most of his counterparts.

It was understandable that Rickman would take a step back on the acting front by taking a smaller role but when he did appear, he was brilliant.

I really wanted to see more of the King and Sabine’s relationship.  A humourous introduction between Sabine and the King as she mistook him for a normal gardener was just what the doctor ordered. Winslet and Rickman were fantastic together and it made for engaging viewing.

Rupert Penry Jones made an memorable cameo poncing about and educating Winslet’s befuddled madame of the inner workings of the French society rings. However, once he disappears, you suddenly realise how unnecessary his character actually was. So much so that IMDb have decided not to give him an acting credit. Bizarre. A silly role for a talented actor.

The pace didn’t justify the means. It tested me at times. We finally discover why Sabine lives alone and is working in France in a dramatic five minute reveal BUT it just wasn’t enough.

There were good moments and the cast certainly delivered with their performances. Ellen Kuras’ cinematography was superb. The closing panning shot of the Versailles garden landscape was a feast for the eyes alone.

But with so many films out there, this felt like nothing more than a periodic love story of Ground Force. I feel this one will soon fade into the back of people’s memories quicker than it entered.

Shame.

2/5

SUITE FRANCAISE REVIEW

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Zuts alors! I’ve seen more drama and heartbreak in an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo!

Two stars for two charismatic leads.

During the early years of German occupation of France in World War II, romance blooms between French villager Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams) and German soldier Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts).

Such a shame. I really wanted to like this. It’s not all bad. Just a little disappointing.

For all the hype, I expected something more hard hitting.

The opening 15 minutes were slow burning BUT engaging. The archive footage showing German bombers descending upon Paris. Evacuees fleeing to the countryside in fear and desperation.

Williams’ shy protagonist and her uptight mother in law (Kristin Scott Thomas) trying to stick to their daily routine of collecting rent from their tenants. The tenants including several rather talented actors. Shame they weren’t used to their full potential.

Thomas (The English Patient) was good as the snobby sour faced mother-in-law. Stuck with a daughter who wasn’t fit to marry her valiant son and despised by the tenants for her ever-inflating rates.

However, there is also a little respect for her refusal to accept that the advancing Nazis are encroaching upon their village.

Williams (My Week With Marilyn) was excellent. She played the naive Lucile perfectly. Desperate to have a friend. Reduced to playing for a few minutes on the piano for leisure.

A harrowing bombing sequence in the countryside was unexpected and heart in mouth stuff. Villagers running for their lives. The Nazis showing no mercy. The silence through the aftermath was unsettling.

However, it seemed to take some time for the Nazi regiment to turn up. Despite the radio broadcast declaring France’s surrender. We are left with mindless chatter with the villagers about what the Germans might do.

The sound of the tanks and footsteps from the soldiers was brilliantly juxtaposed against the church singing as the regiment finally arrive.

Schonaerts (The Drop) made an instant impression. A well mannered officer who only wants a room to sleep and the key to the piano.

I expected the inevitable relationship between Williams and Schoenarts to take some time. BUT there wasn’t much else going on in the hour while this innocent encounter blossomed.

The leads had great chemistry and certainly kept me watching.

That’s not to say there wasn’t things going on BUT I couldn’t help question a few of them.

I felt the mish mesh of accents a little off putting. Considering Thomas is fluent in French, I expected her to see to speak a little of it. The only actor who did speak another language other than the Nazis was Lambert Wilson’s (The Matrix Reloaded) Viscount.

Ruth Wilson’s (Luther) broad English and Margot Robbie’s Aussie-Brit accent were a little annoying but alas, that’s Hollywood for you.

Speaking of which, Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street). I couldn’t help but question her relevance by the end of the film. Other than modelling a fetching set of silk stockings that every villager commented on and scowling, she doesn’t actually do anything or contribute to the story in any capacity.

There were a couple of interesting turns. The bureaucracy jibes being one particular highlight. Wilson’s snobby Viscount desperately bribing the Nazi commander just so his wife doesn’t have to keep an officer at their home.

The letters of gossip that were sent to the Nazis to settle old scores among the villagers was an eye opener. Accusing neighbours of being homosexuals, Jews and thieves. Shocking.

Tom Schilling’s introduction as Lieutenant Kurt Bonnet certainly picked things up. His presence soon becomes a problem for Wilson and Sam Riley’s (Control) family. Riley was quite good as Benoit Labarie.

The inevitable tension between him and Bonnet brewing up to a riveting if highly predictable finale.

But for the 107 minute running length, I felt myself wanting more.

Lucile and Bruno’s relationship was dealt with tactfully. Their brewing romance bubbling over music. Lucille’s loyalties soon torn as she finds herself in a position of power to help the community by using Bruno’s feelings for her.

That dynamic was quite interesting BUT not a lot was made of it. Some of the villagers respecting her for the help. Others disgusted for her affiliation with the enemy.

It certainly captures the humanity behind a brutal war and their relationship certainly carried the film.

BUT it seemed to build to a frantic finale after such a juddery pace. Only for it to end so abruptly with Lucile providing a voiceover summarizing what happened after the war.

Thomas was pushed further and further into the background despite being one of the more interesting characters in the piece.

The ending was quite pessimistic without spoiling too much. I understand that there are no happy endings when it comes to war. BUT it was too open ended for my liking.

Arguably, it was as poignant a statement for the time but when you have invested your time into these characters, a little closure (no matter how open or ridiculous) would have been nice.

It was tough not to make comparisons to other war dramas. I still find The Book Thief one of the better war dramas that I have seen in the last few years.

I kept expecting something more to happen. A bigger impact. Anything.

It was all left until the final 15 minutes and then didn’t wrap up well enough.

Disappointing.

2.5/5

THE DROP REVIEW

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Tom Hardy’s performance certainly got the drop on me.

He proves yet again why he is one of the most versatile actors going.

So what’s it all about? Bob Saginowski (Hardy) finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighbourhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living. No matter the cost.

Penned and adapted from a short by Dennis Lehane, I knew I was in for a treat. Lehane has been responsible for some of the better crime dramas and thrillers of the last few years; Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island.

It was also a fantastic and fitting endnote for the career of another talented actor who left us too soon. I’m looking at you, Big T. Mr Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.

BUT despite the fantastic casting, the pace leaves a little to be desired and the story? Considering the hype about killer twists. I found it all a little too simple and predictable.

Lehane’s work us very much in touch with my favourite genre, the film noir. The characters and seedy underworld were certainly captured perfectly by director Michael R. Roskam. Complimented by the grainy cinematography of Nicolas Karakatsanis.

BUT the convoluted, multi-layered story line? Not so much.

It did leave me wanting a little afterwards. All that promise and a twist that I saw coming a mile off. A shame.

BUT that’s not to say it isn’t worth checking out. Hardy is a charismatic lead, who has great chemistry with the equally talented Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).

Rapace played the anxious and hesitant Nadia perfectly. Her role and motive questionable throughout.

The pair worked well together and I didn’t mind following them as their relationship inevitably blossomed.

Their bonding was helped by the discovery of an abused puppy that Bob finds in a trash can.

Rocco the puppy was adorable (What? He was. Losing man points like crazy). It lightened up the dark, gritty undertones bubbling beneath the surface which killed the atmosphere a little bit.

BUT if the little pup didn’t appear, there wasn’t much else going on to begin with.

It also allowed for Bob to break his shy demeanour and pry into his background a little.

Oh! James Gandolfini was superb. To be honest, there wasn’t enough of him. I couldn’t help but feel that his character Cousin Marv was nothing more than a “What If . . . Tony Soprano went in Witness Protection and became a bar owner”.

His presence and delivery stole every frame. No, not like that. His one liners just made me want to go back and watch The Sopranos all over again. Marv’s fractious relationship with Bob was an interesting one to watch.

The tension slowly building as tempers rose. The pressure mounting from their business interests under the vague title of “The Armenian Mob”.

However, as the mayhem ensued, I felt Gandolfini’s character took a back seat. Understandably to an extent, without spoiling any content BUT still a little disappointing.

Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead) was also fantastic. A nasty piece of work. Chewing up every bit of suspense. A ticking time bomb. His predatory stalking was a masterclass in suspense.

First toying with Bob by asking for an umbrella and gradually making his presence known more and more. The kitchen scene with Rapace was nail biting stuff.

Morgan Spector and Michael Aronov played the roles of the Armenians quite well. BUT at the same time, despite putting pressure on our sparring bartenders, I felt they were a little wooden and by the end, nothing more than stereotypical foreign mafia guys. Shame.

The closing 20 minutes HOWEVER were tense, suspenseful and brilliant. Double crossing and backstabbing galore. I just wish there was more of this throughout.

I won’t divulge too much information but perceptions are changed. The slow burning tension did meander and sizzle a little too much for the 106 minute running time.

I felt John Ortiz’s (Silver Linings Playbook) role was completely unnecessary. Nothing more than a suspense catalyst. And a poor one at that.

Re-appearing when the film seemed to lull or asking rather mundane questions after a nasty bit of business had gone down. Even his covert dark alleyway rendezvouses with fellow officers led nowhere.

Merely relaying information we already knew from Big T but with a much flatter and duller delivery.

I kept hoping his character would go somewhere (Preferably out of this movie). BUT nope! Not even the final exchanges in the closing minutes were revelatory or needed. Weak.

Suspenseful, tense and brutal (in parts) but also a little predictable and long at the tooth. However, Hardy has certainly established himself in the big leagues and with performances like these, he will continue to do so.

And farewell Big T. One final – CUT TO BLACK.

3/5