THE GOOD LIE REVIEW

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A good film.

A group of Sudanese refugees are given the chance to resettle in Kansas City, Missouri, where their encounter with an employment agency counsellor (Reese Witherspoon) forever changes their lives.

A wonderful little film that is certainly worth your attention. I originally watched this on a flight to America. I had no idea what it was about. Only that it featured Reese Witherspoon. I never expected to be rewarded with such an endearing and heart breaking story.

The opening half hour was riveting. It grabbed me from the get go. We watch in horror as a group of Sudanese children have their peaceful, tranquil village destroyed by rebel forces during the Second Sudanese Civil War in 1983.

Homes burned down and families massacred within a matter of minutes. It certainly made for sombre viewing as the children are forced to flee and attempt the walk to Kenya. Truly moving and tense as the children strive to survive the heat, the rebel forces and each other.

One child Theo (Femi Oguns) makes the ultimate sacrifice by offering himself as a recruit to the rebels while his siblings hide in a field. I only mention this little detail because it becomes part of an ongoing search for Mamere (Arnold Oceng – Adulthood).

Mamere and three other siblings- Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jal), and Abital (Kuoth Wiel) manage to reach safety in an Ethiopian refugee camp. They are forever known as The Lost Children. The film then skips forward to the early 2000s as the group are chosen to go to the United States.

Issues with social services soon throws a spanner in the works as the siblings are separated; the three men are sent to Kansas City while Abital is placed in Boston. The rest of the film follows the men as they struggle to adapt to their new lives in a different culture. As well as battling exposure to drugs and dangerous animals.

As soon as the three men meet their employment agency counsellor Carrie Davis, things take a lighter turn.

Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and the lads worked really well together. Their innocence and naivety may have been a little cliched. Come on, I’ve seen Cool Runnings and Million Dollar Arm but it still made for highly watchable viewing. The Lost Children still very much at heart as they try to adapt to television, drive-thrus and supermarkets.

Carrie’s stubbornness and initial reluctance to help may have been old hat but their relationship was still an endearing one. Witherspoon was very much in the background of this flick. Merely using her star profile to get some attention to this engaging story.

I don’t think people would even have given it a look in. A shame considering how poor films have been lately that this film only got a limited release.

The job scenarios made for interesting viewing. Mamere continues to appeal for Abital’s move as well as search for his lost brother. Jeremiah’s naivety and generosity inevitably causes issues with his job at the supermarket.

His confrontation with a manager after giving away expired food to the homeless really highlighted the ugly corporate greediness that the Lost Children have never seen before. All the man wanted to do was work with the church.

Paul earns a job at a factory after his natural talent for building things. However, it isn’t long before he falls into the wrong crowd and is introduced to drugs.

The pace did dip in parts and was a little slow burning but it still made for dramatic and uplifting viewing as the film drew to a close. Just when I started to feel a little fidgety, an interesting development involving Theo led to a suspenseful border patrol encounter as Mamere tries to bring him home.

I didn’t realise how the aftermath of 9/11 would make such an impact on the immigration laws. However after such a dramatic and tense scene. The film just ends. And quite abruptly. With just a few credits explaining what happened next.

I was a little disappointed. It would have been nice to see those little credit bits. Just to round off what had been an intriguing film.

Corey Stoll (The Strain) and Witherspoon’s meagre subplot suggested that something was going on between them but it never really went anywhere. Nor was it brought up for that matter. (Thinking back to it). It seemed like a desperate attempt to add a bit of depth to Witherspoon’s already rounded character. A bit sloppy.

The cast were fantastic. It made a change to see new or virtually unknown actors taking the meatier roles. An interesting fact that I only just discovered. Duany, Jal and Wiel were all children that survived the Second Sudanese Civil War.

God knows what it must have felt like to go through that experience again. Say what you will about whether they should have for a movie.

BUT despite it’s little flaws, I was pleasantly surprised and would recommend this to anyone who wants an endearing uplifting journey of one family’s struggle.

3.5/5

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SELMA REVIEW

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David Oyelowo delivers an outstanding performance in this highly watchable biopic.

So what is it about? Selma is a chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

I am a little ashamed to say that I knew nothing of the Selma March. I know who Martin Luther King is and what he stood for. BUT I didn’t really know the full extent of what the man accomplished. Other than deliver the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Farewell, Danny from Spooks. I was afraid that David Oyelowo would never be able to shake off that iconic TV role for me. BUT in the last two years, I have seen him popping up in films more and more with his performances getting better and better; Jack Reacher, Interstellar, The Butler.

I was waiting for him to get a meatier role to sink his teeth into and nothing could be bigger than the role of Dr King.

He was fantastic. I went back to watch the infamous speeches of Dr King and Oyelowo captures his posture, his voice, the little pauses and tone perfectly.

I am surprised that he didn’t at least receive a BAFTA nod for his performance.

I mean if Laura Dern could get a Best Supporting Actress nod for Wild, then the man definitely deserved one. No disrespect, Miss Dern.

The opening sequence surprised me in which we see Dr King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Another fact I did not know. This is soon followed by the unexpected (No, seriously. I jumped out of my seat) and harrowing 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

Director Ava DuVernay handled the material delicately. Four little girls killed through brutal ignorance. Subtle but tough viewing.

To be honest, Selma was a little slow to get going. Considering the powerful opening, the drama seemed to be put on the back burner. The back room politics was interesting enough with King attempting to peacefully negotiate the black vote.

BUT the constant flicking back and forth soon put me into a lull.

Tom Wilkinson played LDJ brilliantly. The very definition of a politican. Promising to do his utmost but afraid to make any drastic changes as *cough* another election *cough* is on the cards.

Giovanni Ribisi wasn’t bad. The only thing that was bad was his combover.

The conspiring between LDJ and Edgar Hoover was unsettling. It will always remain suspect what happened to Malcolm X and Dr King. Allowing Dr King to continue to be the face of black rights until he began to challenge everything.

While this is happening, we see the treatment of black voters in the southern states as they try and register.

Oprah Winfrey was very good as Annie Lee Cooper. She wasn’t in it enough to be frank. Her treatment was unnecessary. Having to learn and recite the constitution. Fill in every detail of her form. Quizzed on how many members in a particular state and their names. Doing everything within their power to stop her getting the register to vote.

King soon focuses his attention on Selma. A hot spot brewing with racial tension. The place where he will hold a peaceful march.

The fact he was put under heavy surveillance by the government was shocking stuff. Branded as an agitator for failing to listen to reason and disrupting the peace. A joke.

I thought King’s phone call with singer Mahalia Jackson was a little strange. Calling her in the middle of the night to hear a little gospel? BUT the stranger revelation out of the scene that it was logged in a surveillance report!

I always thought Malcolm X and Dr King were not just fighting for the same thing BUT fighting the same way.

I didn’t realise that King detested X’s violent methods and refused his help during the “peace” protests.

Mr X even tried to rationalize with King. Trying to offer his militant ways as a distraction. To stop the wrong attention being focused on King’s cause.

Tim Roth was very good as Governor George Wallace. He carried the accent well and brought a subtle menace to the role. Not enough of him to be honest.

BUT of course the real battlefield was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Truly horrific stuff. The riots that ensued before and after the incident were bad enough but the attack on the Bridge was tough viewing. The sequence meshed in actual footage which really brought it home. Knowing that this actually happened. Shot for shot.

However, in between these horrific moments, there wasn’t much else.

It felt like they tried to piece more around the events of Selma.

The dynamic with King and his wife wasn’t explored enough for me. The threatening phone calls and the constant fear of what would happen was certainly a catalyst.

BUT there was a scene in which the government are desperate to destabilise his marriage by sending a recording of King with another woman. He doesn’t deny it very well. A mild insinuation that I wanted explaining.

No one is perfect BUT was it mind games? Or did the government find something on the pastor?

It was great to see Cuba Gooding Jr. and Martin Sheen in this BUT the roles they took on were so unmemorable and small that anyone could have played them.

The sermons, although brilliantly executed by Oyelowo, were a little long at the tooth for me and didn’t hit home as much as I had wanted.

Don’t get me wrong. Selma is still worth investing.

There were some interesting developments that I didn’t know about. The constant mind changing of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who supported the cause when the odds looked good. Only to pull out when King and the protestors decided to take on the Bridge a second time.

The closing credits around particular protestors had some shocking revelations that I did not anticipate.

The march itself was tense to watch. BUT it just wasn’t quite as hard-hitting as it could have been. I understand that it is based on true events.

BUT it felt like something was missing. The length was a little long for my liking. The politics and sermons seem to kill the tension and pace that was spurning Selma on for me.

However, that doesn’t stop a sterling performance and interesting if (in parts) brutal re-telling of a crucial moment in history.

3/5

WILD REVIEW

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Did Reese Witherspoon’s performance drive me wild with praise or RAGE?

The director of Dallas Buyers Club returns with another Oscar contender but can lightning strike twice?

Right, enough questions.

Not bad at all.

I had mixed feelings about Reese Witherspoon. I mean, Legally Blonde? No, no, no.

That was until her Oscar winning turn in Walk The Line. A complete transformation. And she delivers yet again with another solid performance.

So what’s it all about? Wild is basically a chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike (Short and sweet. Hey, no spoilers here).

Jean-Marc Vallee takes on another biopic but this time it just doesn’t quite feel as polished off as Dallas Buyers Club.

Understandably, they are completely different films BUT I found DBC had a lot more story and depth. This is a certainly an engaging if slow burning journey of one woman trying to find herself BUT it just doesn’t quite reach the heights that you expect.

Yves Belanger returns to deliver a visual masterpiece. The cinematography really made use of the locations.  A beautiful backdrop full of life and colour in one shot, desolate and dreary the next.

Witherspoon has more than enough screen presence to keep the film going. Crucial when she’s the main character that we are following for the next two hours!

The film flicks back and forth through Cheryl Strayed’s past as she embarks on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Vallee and Hornby cleverly juxtapose the flashbacks with the past and present well. Revealing Strayed’s demons and darker moments as the journey becomes more strenuous. The challenge continuing to test her by the day.

The inner monologues from Strayed were a nice touch. Some of her one liners were quite funny; “Morning. Cold mush. Afternoon. Cold mush. Evening. Cold mush. I love cold mush.”

Her initial struggle was quite humourous for any amateur hiker (*Cough* Me* Cough*). Wrestling with her monster backpack, failing to set up her tent, buying the wrong gas canister for her cooker.

The pace worked for the majority of the film as Strayed dealt with the ever-changing temperatures; searing heat in the desert to the sub-zero temperatures of the snowfall that was never supposed to hit.

There were some interesting revelations. Some that did surprise me. Others you could suss. As Cheryl delved further into the wild, you couldn’t help but feel an air of unease and suspense. The wildlife creeping in the dark.

The paranoia of the unknown made for a funny incident involving a caterpillar and a sleeping bag. BUT it also made for a tense one. A pair of hunters make an unpleasant and unwelcome appearance.

I loved some of the metaphorical imagery. The fact Cheryl is literally standing in the middle of a crossroads as she debates hitching a ride all the way back home was hardly subtle but nicely done.

The CGI fox was a little irritating. I mean, it was a nice moment when it first appeared but when it kept popping up, it was irritating and the CGI seemed to get worse.

Strayed certainly meets a strange bunch of characters. The only problem is that they aren’t quite as memorable as you hope them to be.

I actually had to do a quick recap by looking at the cast list. A shame.

Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom) was very good as Paul (Cheryl’s estranged partner). I thought Sadoksi and Witherspoon had great chemistry. It would have been nice to see more of their relationship. I mean the flashbacks zip through the life cycle of the relationship quite well but a little too quickly for my liking.

Laura Dern did a good performance as Strayed’s mum, Bobbi but Oscar worthy? I’m not so sure.

She certainly played the part well and I felt for her character in the small flashbacks she appeared in BUT then again let’s not forget that Dame Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love and she was only in that for 8 minutes!

However, there was one scene in which Bobbi just breaks down after hiding behind her scatty, smiley mask for so long and Dern was outstanding. But I wanted more. There just wasn’t enough of that in the film for me.

The more I thought about the story line and the characters Strayed came across, it reminded me a little too much of Sean Penn’s brilliant travel biopic (coincidentally titled) Into the Wild. The beautiful landscapes, the flashbacks, a likeable lead (in Emile Hirsch).

I mean, even the whole “meeting different people who share their stories” spiel bared a striking resemblance (but with more memorable characters). If you were unlucky not to see this; first go see it and second, Wild may fare a bit better for you than it did for me.

BUT to those who have seen the Penn pic, you may find it hard not to make comparisons which Wild falls just a little bit short.

My main qualm about the film was that despite dipping in pace, it just ended so abruptly.

A quick quote and a summary of what happened next. That’s it?! We didn’t even get to see Strayed finish the trail properly.

I just felt after all that time, it would have been nice to have a few more minutes flashing through Strayed’s life after this spiritual journey to let it come full circle.

I won’t spoil anything but as Strayed explains her life in the closing speech, I couldn’t help but notice a massive continuity error with the time frame in which the events leading up and after her trail were supposed to have happened. It just didn’t add up.

It was a bum note on a well acted and highly watchable drama.

Witherspoon certainly does enough to warrant that Oscar nod but Best Actress? I don’t know.

But if you want a well acted spiritual journey flick to break up the hum drum heading our way, then invest.

3/5

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB REVIEW

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Alright, alright, alright.

In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is diagnosed with the disease.

An engrossing (and gritty) tale of one’s man fight for survival. I can’t believe this was a true story. McConaughey provided a stellar performance. Worthy of that Oscar gold.

What made this story more interesting was the fact that Woodroof was a homophobic redneck who had unprotected sex with drug users. The moment he revealed his diagnosis, he was soon ostracized by his friends and evicted from the trailer park. A somewhat darker Southern take on Philadelphia.

Woodroof was very much a man on the path to destruction. At first, it was quite difficult to empathise with him. His drug and alcohol abuse merely making his condition worse. He even stole the only FDA approved drug AZT.

“Screw the FDA, I’m gonna be DOA”.

BUT as his condition deteriorates, Woodroof has to deal with the bureaucracy of the US healthcare system and the FDA as he buys and sells unapproved FDA pills. Unapproved pills that are proving more successful in their trails than AZT.

Woodroof strikes up a business opportunity. Establishing a drugs membership, The Dallas Buyers Club, for struggling AIDS sufferers who aren’t getting the proper treatment. With his partner in crime, the transsexual Rayon (the Oscar wining Jared Leto), the pair work together to fight against the system and their expiry dates.

It was incredible watching the lengths that Woodroof went to. An unbelievable story. Yves Belanger’s cinematography created a gritty look that fitted the tone and mood of the piece. Great direction by Jean-Marc Vallee (Wild), a well written script adapted from an in-depth interview with Woodroof himself by Craig Borten and a superb cast consisting of Jennifer Garner (Alias) as the conflicted Dr Eve Saks, Dennis O’Hare (True Blood) and Steve Zahn (in a surprisingly straight faced role) made this one to watch.

The pace was slow burning BUT allowed everything to bubble along perfectly. Leto and McConaughey were a fantastic duo. I couldn’t believe Leto was in this. He was on scene stealing form. The pair really put their bodies on the line for the roles. They looked ill. It did ponder the question on how far actors should go for a role. McConaughey lost over 3 stone. Crazy.

Dallas Buyers Club marked a resurgent return for the man and he hasn’t looked back since with True Detective, Wolf of Wall Street and Interstellar filling his filmography, I think there will be more to come.

Endearing, intriguing, emotional, gritty. Not what I expected at all. BUT all the better for it. Definitely worth your time.

4/5