Milk (2008) Film Review

Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) was a gay activist in San Francisco who ran numerous times for official position and once in, fought for the rights of the gay community until his life was cut tragically short.

As with all biopics, I’m aware that some license is taken with the telling of the story. But this is an important film which came at a time when same sex marriage was starting to be legalised across the Western world. None-the-less, there are still ongoing battles for the rights of our fellow humans, and while we may feel that things are mostly pretty good, it’s important to recognise and honour those who fought to gain these rights in the past. And to hope that these rights are not stripped away.

Milk won Oscars for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Sean Penn) and Best Writing Original Screenplay (Dustin Lance Black) and was nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Josh Brolin), Best Achievement in Directing (Gus Van Sant), Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Achievement in Costume Design and Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score.

I, Tonya (2017) Film Review

In 1994, ice skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked and injured, and it quickly emerged that Tonya Harding and her husband, Jeff Gillooly, were involved. This film tells the story from the fictional perspectives of Tonya (Margot Robbie) and Jeff (Sebastian Stan), with both relatively innocent, or unknowing, or fooled by Jeff’s mate, Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser). It’s a film with ambition, struggle against class and violence in many different ways. And it’s not real.

I enjoyed the film – the performances, the style, the fashion. And what a great true story – only this wasn’t the true story. I don’t think I’ve read as many articles about a film as I did after watching this. The more I read, the more issue I took with the film. I walked out feeling anger at the world which has some people starting so far behind others due to money, or location, or crappy family, or whatever. And then I found that several key scenes in the film, scenes that manipulated my feelings to have some empathy for Tonya and her situation, were totally made up.

Thinking back, I believe the film was pretty open about being a representation of the accounts of Tonya and Jeff, accounts which were inaccurate and, at times, plain lies. Why do I feel so grumpy that I was led astray even as I was told this was happening? I don’t know. I think it is a good film, so long as you don’t actually believe it.

I, Tonya won an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Allison Janney) and was nominated for Best Performance for an Actress in a Leading Role (Margot Robbie) and Best Achievement in Film Editing. It won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Allison Janney) and was nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) Film Review

Newt (Eddie Redmayne) is a wizard who works with fantastic beasts, and has come to New York in the 1920s. He discovers some strange happenings and accrues a small team of assistants to help him.

I loved seeing the magical world of Harry Potter put into New York in the twenties. Too much fun. And there were some great characters, and I loved the creatures. But I found the first half hour of the film really slow-moving and it was really hard for the rest of it to catch up. In addition to this, I’m not that much of a Potter fan, so any time there was a reference to something from the world of Potter, it went over my head, while I’m sure much of the intended audience would have been gasping and tittering with excitement. Also, I didn’t like the character that Redmayne was playing, and I think it’s pretty difficult to really enjoy a film when you are actively disliking the hero.

Fanastic Beasts and Where to Find Them won an Oscar for Best Achievement in Costume Design and was nominated for Best Achievement in Production Design. It won a BAFTA for Best Production Design and was nominated for Outstanding British Film of the Year, Best Costume Design, Best Sound and Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects.

The Aviator (2004) Film Review

What did I know about Howard Hughes? Only that he was famously germaphobic and reclusive and rich. In all honesty, I didn’t even know why I knew of him. In this biopic of his early life, Leonardo DiCaprio the playboy, the film producer and the aviation pioneer. And it’s fabulous. DiCaprio was fabulous, as was Cate Blanchette and Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Jude Law… the list goes on.

I shouldn’t be surprised at how good it is as it is a Scorsese film. He is a master, even though I often find that I don’t like his films. But this, to me, is really as good as a film can be. Great pacing, and the cinematography is brilliant, capturing that kind of technicolour look of films from this era. Just fabulous.

The Aviator won awards for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Cate Blanchett), Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Art Direction, Best Achievement in Costume Design and was nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Alan Alda), Best Achievement in Directing, Best Writing – Original Screenplay and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing.

Selma (2014) Film Review

Davie Oyelowo plays Dr Martin Luther King Jr in this depiction of historical events during the civil rights movement. African-American people were allowed to vote, but in the South it was nearly impossible for them to register – many impediments were put in their way from the racist bureaucracy, and in meetings with President Johnston (Tom Wilkinson), King was unable to get the president to act to overrule this appalling behaviour. Eventually, a large group were to walk from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, in a peaceful protest. And with opposition from the army, the police, the KKK and the white population of the state as a whole, things turned violent.

This is a very slow-moving film that shows King as human, with all his strengths and weaknesses. But when the action moves from the planning and discussions and meeting and gets down to the key events, it is truly horrific. I am a big crier in films, but this was absolutely heart-breaking. I cried because the events were terrible, but I also cried because this was happening, and I cried because so much progress was made during the civil rights movement and yet look at the world we live in. Things should be better. And we shouldn’t need horrors like this to change the world, should we?

Selma won an Oscar for Best Achievement in Music Written for the Motion Pictures  – Original Song (Glory) and was nominated for Best Picture.

Moonlight (2016) Film Review

Moonlight depicts a few different times during the life of Chiron, an African-American man who grew up surrounded by violence, drugs and poverty. It’s not exactly a linear story, but more a series of moments from his life. It’s rough and, at times, hard to watch. It raises the question of how can one person live their own truth when any sign of difference is seen as a weakness to be exploited and destroyed.

This is one of those slow-moving films that I find I either love or very much dislike. Moonlight is one which I loved despite the sadness it brings. It’s a tough film, it’s hard to watch characters get damaged and have so much pain, both inside and out. One of my favourite scenes in the film is when Chiron is making a bed with Teresa, pretty much the only person in his life that he truly trusts. She manages to get him to smile, and there is a moment of hope. Just a moment.

Moonlight won Oscars for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali), Best Adapated Screenplay and was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Naomie Harris), Best Achievement in Directing (Barry Jenkins), Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Film Editing and Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score). It won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama and was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Naomie Harris), Best Direct – Motion Picture (Barry Jenkins), Best Screenplay (Barry Jenkins) and Best Original Score – Motion Picture. It was nominated for BAFTAs for Best Film, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris) and Best Screenplay (Original) (Barry Jenkins).

Zootopia (2016) Film Review

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a rabbit who wants to be a cop – the tradition domain of much larger animals with more aggressive natures. And she hates sneaky foxes – until she meets Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) a fox that is more than he appears. Or is he?

It’s a film that explores whether we can change our nature, or whether we should find ways to work within our nature. And I feel like I really should have liked this film. But I found it overly cheesey and annoying, and overall, just a bit crap. Apart from the sloth. He was brilliant.

Zootopia won the Oscar for Best Animated Film of Year.

Fences (2016) Film Review

Based on the award wining stage play, Fences follows the lives of Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) and his wife Rose (Viola Davis) in their working class existence of 1950s Pittsburgh. They have to deal with the changing world, along with Troy being the most annoying character – and by this, I mean that he feels that the world has treated him bad and will not allow himself to see anyone elses point of view.

I think it would have been an amazing play. I think all of the actors in this film would have been incredible onstage in these roles – looking at Wikipedia, Washington and Davis starred in the remake of the 1983 play on Broadway in 2010 and both won Tonys for their performances. For me, the film does work, but really as a filmed version of the play – which is wonderful for all of us who didn’t get to Broadway to see the remake.

Viola Davis won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Fences, and the film was nominated for Oscars Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Denzel Washington) and Best Adapted Screenplay (August Wilson, nominated posthumously). It was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama (Denzel Washington) and won the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress for Viola Davis.

Manchester by The Sea (2016) Film Review *Spoiler alerts*

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a loser, living a life in a small town that involves being a half-arsed handyman and getting into bar fights. Then his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies and he has to try to pull himself together because his brother has left Lee as guardian of teenager Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Then, it is revealed that Lee drunkenly put a log on the fire in his house while his wife and two or three children slept, then went out. When he came back, the log had rolled off the fire and his house was burnt down, with his children in it. His wife, Randi (Michelle Williams) survived, but their relationship didn’t. He was cleared of fault, but has never got over the guilt.

I really disliked this film. It was told through a series of flashbacks that were so unclear that it took time to figure out what was current and what was in the past – so much so that while I thought Joe was dead, the next thing he was on-screen and I was confused. I didn’t like any of the characters. Yes, I felt terrible when Lee returned to the house to find the tragedy, but not enough to care about what happened to him. I found little to appreciate in the film, but clearly I’m not speaking for everyone because it was nominated for loads of awards and even won some. Oh, dear, Casey Affleck won Best Actor? Well, there you go.

Manchester by the Sea won Oscars for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Casey Affleck) and Best Original Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan) and nominations for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Lucas Hedges), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Michelle Williams) and Best Achievement in Directing (Kenneth Lonergan). It also won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama and was nominated for Best Motion Picture- Drama, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Michelle Williams), Best Director – Motion Picture (Kenneth Lonergan) and Best Screenplay – Motion Picture (Kenneth Lonergan). It won BAFTAs for Best Leading Actor (Casey Affleck) and Best Screenplay (Original) (Kenneth Lonergan) and was nominated for Best Film, Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams) and Best Editing).

Spotlight (2015) Film Review

Based on a true story from 2003, Spotlight follows a newspaper investigation unit in Boston who are investigating the cover up of sex crimes by the Catholic Church, moving offending priests around rather than allowing them to be charged officially. It’s something that we take for granted now – this happened by the Catholic Church across the world and is still continuing to be investigated, and new allegations seem to constantly being revealed. What is fascinating is that the church had been able to get away with it for so long without it coming out, and that it was revealed in Boston, a very heavily Catholic City which raised its own difficulties in the investigation.

This was a fascinating film. It’s important to remember that it is a dramatisation, so it’s not necessarily all factual. However, it is a great story. I think while you wouldn’t want to use this film as a basis for an argument on the cover up of such behaviour, it isn’t the worst place to start, and then go an investigate the actual facts. It also didn’t shy away from the fact that mistakes were made, people were hurt, and that there are so many bad things that should not be covered up by money or power.

Spotlight won Oscars for Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Writing, Original Screenplay and was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mark Ruffalo), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Rachel McAdams), Best Achievement in Directing (Tom McCarthy), Best Achievement in Film Editing. It was nominated for Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director – Motion Picture, Best Screenplay – Motion Picture. It won a BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rufalo) and Best Film.