Saturday, 11 July 2015

Amy (15)

It's a funny feeling, going in to a film when you already know the ending.

Yet, just like with Senna, director Asif Kapadia constructs an enthralling narrative, building the tension as the inevitable conclusion looms.

It helps, of course, if you can't remember the actual all-important date. And if you can't, don't go looking it up before you go.

Compiled through home-filmed footage, YouTube clips, news bulletins and other documentaries, Amy delivers a raw and brutally honest portrayal of a woman never built to be the huge star she became.

Starting in 2001, we are guided through her early career, the highs, lows and creative inspiration as Amy builds towards her debut album.

What becomes immediately apparent is that this is someone with good friends, who care for her as much as she cares for them.

What also shines through is her talent.

Sure, we've all got the albums, we've all heard the singles, we all know she could sing - but when, in the opening minutes, you see her sing Happy Birthday to her friend, you are mesmerised.

This isn't a Britney wannabe. This is someone with a gift.

As the story unfolds, Kapadia does an excellent job in apportioning blame.

Father Mitch - never a stranger to the media spotlight - has already spoken out about how he is portrayed in this film, and he's right.

He doesn't come out of it well.

But it's not anything to do with the editing or a pre-determined narrative.

It's from the horses mouth.

Well, actually several horses.

By using interviews with everyone involved at the various stages of Amy's life and career, points when people should have intervened are flagged up and allowed to just sit with the audience.

You are left to make your own mind up.

But it's fair to say sympathy for a man who had the power to send her to rehab and didn't is hard to find.

But, much as I'm sure he'd like it to be, this isn't a film about Mitch.

No, it's a touching, engaging and emotive story of a woman who just wanted to sing, but became too famous for her own good.

Insights from doctors and rehab practitioners allow you to judge what went wrong, with whom and when, but again Kapadia is not directing the audience.

Although how anyone could walk away thinking well of her manager is beyond me.

No, Kapadia is just telling the story in a warm, sensitive way.

And the thing he captures perfectly is the vulnerability and beauty the tabloid tales chose to ignore.

As the collage of clips is assembled, you fall for the future jazz star. You're enthralled by her.

Actually putting her lyrics on screen as she sings goes a long way to enforcing this as well.

And when it all starts to crumble, you just want to reach out and help, or shout at someone else to do something.

In fact, you're so wrapped up in the tale, that the final chapter has huge emotional weight.

You are almost shocked, but you are also left feeling angry that those best placed to save her let her down.

This is not a conventional documentary by any stretch, but then Amy Winehouse was never a conventional artist.

But by combining such different footage - and adding a certain pop video sensibility to some of the proceedings - Kapadia has proven himself to be a master of the genre.

There will be those who don't think they need to see Amy because the tabloids told them everything, but that misses both the point of this film and the chance to see a true star in action.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Mr. Holmes (PG)

Sometimes the universe is a kind and generous place.

For weeks I have been hoping to find the time to get to see Mr Holmes. After all, it wasn't going to be a big box office hit so I had to be quick.

Fate conspired against me again and again, and yet Mr. Holmes kept being around. Clearly this was proving to be a bigger hit than first seemed possible.

And finally, the sun shone down.

Literally and figuratively.

And as an added bonus, it was every bit as good as I hoped.

Based on the book A Slight Trick Of The Mind by Mitch Cullin (which seems to have been repackaged as Mr. Holmes), the story centres on the world famous Sherlock thirty years after he retired from active duty.

Through flashbacks and "current day" musings, we see Sherlock piece together his final case while fighting the ageing process and the onslaught of Alzheimer's.

Taking centre stage with what should become one of his defining roles is Sir Ian McKellen, who captures the old man perfectly while also bringing the classic character to life in his prime.

And it's this balance that helps make the film what it is.

It would be easy to use make-up and prosthetics to show the aged Holmes, but McKellen uses something known as acting instead.

His physical changes and the mannerisms he employs capture perfectly a man no longer at home in his body and mind.

It's the subtlety of his performance that makes the role of Holmes - and the film as a whole - the modern classic it will surely become.

But he doesn't carry this film on his own.

Oh no.

By his side is one Milo Parker.

Now, if you haven't heard of this kid don't be surprised, as this is only his second film project, but for a young boy he delivers a performance of depth and control that should be way beyond his years.

Credit must go to director Bill Condon, a man who's CV (The Fifth Estate and the last two Twilight films among others) far from suggested he could produce a film so gentle and delicate.

Yet, somehow, he pulls stellar performances from the entire cast, while making a film that evokes memories of a bygone age (think 80s Marple mixed with a smidge of Downton).

But this isn't just a nostalgia piece.

Amidst the mystery - which adheres to the traditional tropes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - is a story about grief and loss, age and friendship, with emotional punch and weight.

And it's this that makes the film what it is.

It could have been fluffy, it could have been a simple homage to a literary legend, but instead you get a serious drama - with laughs - made with warmth and humanity that is attracting audiences of all ages (at least going by my screening).

In an age where the fifth Terminator movie is with us, a fourth Jurassic Park is still there and a fifth Mission:Impossible is looming large (not to mention the ever-rolling Marvel juggernaut), to see a simple story prove such a success is heart warming.

There's no gimmicks here, no tricks. Sure it pulls at the heart strings, but that's down to the characters and the actors portraying them.

Without any flash or bang, Mr. Holmes lives long in the memory, reminding you of a time when the story was what really mattered.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Longest Ride (12A)

I have never knowingly watched a film based on a Nicholas Sparks book, and this is something I've been quietly very proud of.

And it seems I've accidentally proved myself right, because despite seeing the trailer and thinking it looked pants I found myself sat in front of his latest offering today.

I'd quite forgotten what the trailer had featured, such was its impact, and I'd either missed or forgotten that Sparks (he of The Notebook, Dear John etc) was ultimately to blame.

The story, such as it is, follows the path of true love with student and future art-loving intern Sophia (Britt Robertson) and bull-riding bare-buttocked man hunk Luke (Scott Eastwood), who throw themselves together after pulling Ira (Alan Alder) from a burning car.

And rescuing his box of letters. These are vital to everything.

From here, and having previously agreed that they couldn't be together what with her moving to Manhattan n all, our loving couple set about being a couple while Sophia spends the hours she's not studying or smooching visiting her new hospitalised friend.

Contrived would be an understatement.

Through these hospital chats, however, Ira (I'm pretty sure Alder only took this part because he wouldn't have to stand or try to actually act) tells the story of how love conquered all for him and his beloved way back in '41.

There are subtle parallels being drawn between the two relationships, which could pass you by if you're not paying full attention.

By that I mean not fall asleep.

Because if there's one thing this film doesn't do, it's subtle.

The dialogue is weighty and meaningful to the point of making you laugh out loud, scenes of longing stares and love-filled smiles smack you between the eyes on a regular basis, while the product placement around the bull riding sequences would give the Bond team food for thought.

Basically, if this was on the Hallmark channel on a Sunday afternoon you'd think it a bit OTT. It's so sweet and sugary it should come with a health warning for diabetics.

And you'd really better love Country. And not just the music. Everything that's Country.

You get line dancing, the bull thing, more Nashville ballads than Dolly's managed in her entire career, boots and hats for all, and a massive ranch.


In fact, this film is so full of people looking longingly at each other in a Country way that bits of the plot seem to have dropped out.

It's the only explanation I can find for the number of times things are mentioned - and accepted as fact - despite never having been mentioned before.

It's like whole other conversations have gone on behind closed doors.

Or maybe while Ira's banging on about life and love in a bygone age.

And the damn thing is so polished you almost need shades to watch it. Even the nostalgia scenes have the same sheen.

Even the bit of war action is bloody polished! It's the best looking muddy field you'll ever see.

And it's long. So so long.

It's actually only two hours, but it feels like twice that. At least.

Which is hugely ironic given you only have to hang on to that bull for eight seconds. It takes skill to make eight seconds feel like a lifetime, but somehow director George Tillman Jr has mastered it.

His other half must be delighted.

All of this pales into insignificance, though, because what has annoyed me most about this film - more than the smouldering looks, the clear use of beefcake to appeal to a certain graphic, the slow-motion horse riding and the appalling dialogue - is that it made me laugh.

Just once, right at the end, and with a "twist" so cliched and obvious I'm ashamed by my own reaction, but sadly laugh I did.

That doesn't make up for the previous 115 minutes, though, even if it was a good laugh.