The Greatest Showman (Cinema Review)

PG – 105mins – 2017


 

THE PRINCE OF HUMBUG

Eight years in the making, this original musical ring-mastered by Hugh “Wolverine” Jackman and directed by first-timer Michael Gracey is a spectacular if haphazard showpiece which often struggles to marry song and story with a true feeling of authenticity. Ironically for a film about a purveyor of hoaxes, The Greatest Showman has been criticised for taking giant liberties with its biographing of circus founder P.T. Barnum (Jackman) and his unconventional star attractions.

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A Quiet Passion (DVD Review)

12 – 120mins – 2017


 

THE LITERATURE OF MISERY

“Sometimes, Emily, you are as ugly as your poetry!”

Written and directed by Sunset Song‘s Terence Davies, A Quiet Passion is both a boldly compelling yet persistently frustrating portrait of a literary great: prolific 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson, whose unusual existence is chartered from youth to death by two actors: Emma Bell for the opening twenty minutes takes on Emily’s post-school days, morphing into Cynthia Nixon for the concluding hour and forty minutes

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The Big Sick (Cinema Review)

15 – 124mins – 2017


 

BEST SEEN COLD

While The Big Sick’s reputation precedes it, literally all I knew about this acclaimed indie rom-com prior to last night’s Cineworld Unlimited cardholder preview screening was that critics were raving about it Stateside, and it co-starred Ruby Sparks herself, quirky cutie Zoe Kazan.

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Jackie (DVD Review)

15 – 95mins – 2016


 

A MOTHER TO US ALL

“What did the bullet sound like?”

Set just one week after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) in 1963, Pablo Larrain’s Oscar-nominated biographical drama takes the form of a private press interview between Billy Cruddup’s unnamed journalist and the grieving, newly-widowed First Lady (Natalie Portman). Throughout their on-the-record discussion, Jacqueline Kennedy flashes back to times before, during and after Lee Harvey Oswald’s fateful motorcade shooting, and the burial of her husband.

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Diana (DVD Review)

12 – 108mins – 2013


 

QUEEN OF HEARTS

A few years ago, before I had watched The Queen, Stephen Frears’ Academy Award-winning film about the monarchy’s reaction to the death of Princess Diana, I tried to blag my way through a discussion about it with an acquaintance who I knew had a high-brow taste in films. “It’s a serviceable drama,” I blagged, “but it plays like a TV movie.” This fabricated nugget came from my vague memory of hearing a critic make a similar derogatory comment. Plus, I knew the Peter Morgan-scripted piece of speculative fiction was produced by Granada (A.K.A. ITV). “And what’s so wrong with a TV movie?” my acquaintance shot back. I was stumped; ruse unravelled.

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A Street Cat Named Bob (Cinema Review)

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12A – 103mins – 2016


A BUSKER’S BEST FRIEND

A drug addict shunned by his family and repelled by society, James Bowen’s inspirational transformation from homeless deadbeat to self-sufficient and employable home-owner is detailed in his bestselling 2012 biography, from which Tomorrow Never Dies director Roger Spottiswoode’s big screen adaptation gets its name.

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Miles Ahead (DVD Review)

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15 – 96mins – 2016


THE JUNKIE AND THE FLUNKIE

“Man, what a waste! He’s probably more profitable to us dead than alive now.”

Set in Manhattan in the late 1970s during the King of Cool’s wilderness years, Don Cheadle – the man many in this Marvel-dominated cine-scape will know predominantly as “War Machine” – excels himself as co-screenwriter, director and lead actor in this surprisingly unsycophantic passion project which drops the iconic and isolated “social music” pioneer into an impromptu  gangster flick of sorts.

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The Man Who Knew Infinity (DVD Review)

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PG – 108mins – 2016


GOOD WILL COUNTING

“Change, gentlemen, it’s a wonderful thing. Embrace it.”

Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel headlines this austere adaptation of Robert Kangiel’s 1991 biography of mathematical prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan, whose pioneering self taught prime number theories see him admitted into Cambridge University’s Trinity College after growing up underprivileged in Madras, India.

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Joy (DVD Review)

12 – 124mins – 2016 


 

THROUGH THE WRINGER

“You can’t let the practical get you down…”

Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell reunites his hot-right-now headliners Jennifer Hunger Games Lawrence and Bradley Burnt Cooper for the third time in this enlightening biographical drama about a struggling single mother who overcomes the obstacles of her humdrum domestic existence to become a self-made millionaire in command of her own business empire.

I baulked at the horrendously slap-dash DVD cover when I first saw it on Amazon. For an Academy Award nominated film – for which J-Law won a Golden Globe for Best Actress – of this calibre to receive such a sloppy, lacklustre third-rate effort (it honestly looks like it was flung together in MS Paint in five minutes) scrambled my mind. However, such a cheap, no-nonsense aesthetic does in fact – whether coincidentally or not – perfectly reflect the humble homemade beginnings of Joy Mangano’s (Lawrence) Miracle Mop invention.

“I don’t want to end up like my family.”

But as inspirational as Joy’s determination to succeed in the face of constant upheaval, rejection and negativity is, Joy tries almost too hard to glamorise this very everyday industry success story. This is the “true story of a daring woman,” but Russell and fellow story-writer Annie Mumolo consistently inject Hollywood conventions into the narrative to spruce things up. So we have narration from Joy’s deceased grandmother (Diane Ladd), a non-linear plot structure (“Time moves forward, time moves backwards, time stands still”) and surreal soap-opera induced nightmare sequences.

While the road to commerce Queen is rocky, including back-stabbing, a personal meltdown and bankruptcy (“The world destroys your opportunity and breaks your heart”), the end result is a happy one. However the film delays its happily ever after until a brief epilogue reveal, instead choosing to focus on the negative, with the downtrodden mop-maker forced to reinvent herself like a phoenix from the flames following her lowest ebb.

“When you’re hiding you’re safe, because people can’t see you… But you’re also hiding from yourself.”

In outgrowing commerce giant QVC, Ms Mangano’s journey is certainly a motivational kick-up-the-arse for all those moaning layabouts who blame the world for their woes while sponging off of it. And yet, I still can’t completely scrub away the niggling smudge of doubt in my mind that maybe such a humble story isn’t powerful or dramatic enough to justify such sparkling, A-list treatment? It sounds harsh, I grant you, but then as Joy teaches us: so is business.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Steve Jobs (DVD Review)

15 – 117mins – 2015


THREE BYTES OF THE APPLE

“No-one sees the world the same way you do.”

Following his 2011 death from pancreatic cancer, Apple CEO and business icon Steve Jobs has already had his life put under the microscope in 2013’s middling Jobs, with Ashton Kutcher playing the divisive genius. Just three years later and Michael Fassbender is putting his toilet-rinsed feet into the quirky genius’s shoes in this adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s biography, directed by Slumdog Millionaire’s Danny Boyle and scripted by The West Wing supremo Aaron Sorkin.

Set backstage in the minutes before the launch of pivotal, potentially world-affecting products (Microsoft in 1984, the NeXT Black Cube in 1988 and the iMac 3 in 1998), Sorkin’s structure bravely chronicles Jobs’ incredible decades-spanning career in just three acts (interspersed with graphic-heavy infomercial-esque montages), while his verbose script pulls no punches in presenting an intimate portrayal of a man who put his striving for success above everything – and everyone.

“I don’t want people to dislike me; I’m indifferent to whether they dislike me.”

There’s no disputing Sorkin succeeds in crafting an inspiring and dramatic character study (even if questions have since been raised about the accuracy of his portrayal of Jobs’ insufferable personality), however despite a ramping up of the human drama in act three, my attention was waning due to the repetitive nature of all the seemingly life-long dramas somehow still raging.

“It’s like five minutes before every launch, people go to the bar, get drunk, then tell me what they REALLY think.”

By this final scene we are fourteen years on from the beginning of the film, yet the same jokes are still being told (“Andy? Which one?!”), the same magazine articles are still being referenced and the same faces still keep popping up with the same bitter gripes. Even Steve comments that the mother of his child has “had the same sinus infection since 1988!”

The phrase “reality distortion” is used in the film. Rather aptly, that’s exactly what Steve Jobs feels like – everything feels so convenient, so stagey and so precisely scripted. Its attention to callbacks is commendable, but it doesn’t feel at all realistic or progressive, and it begins to feel overtly reliant on nifty, back-slapping script conventions.

Despite being guilty of over-egging the man’s futile exasperation at living in Steve’s shadow, Seth Rogen (The Night Before) nonetheless delivers quite possibly his most emotionally-diverse performance to date as Apple co-founder and Apple II creator Steve “Woz” Wozniak, while Kate Winslet is next-to-unrecognisable as marketing exec and Jobs’ confidant, Joanna Hoffman.

As Steve steps out on stage to launch the iMac 3 in the films’ final moments, Boyle basks his leading man in a rousing, emphatic and messiah-like slow-mo eruption of applause and adoration, coercing the viewer to congratulate a man we have spent two hours being shown to be a flawed father, friend and business partner. Its at odds with what preceded it, sending out a muddy final message. He might well be a brilliant and accomplished genius, but “things don’t become so just because [Steve Jobs] say[s] so.”

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars