JUSTICE LEAGUE

Directed by Zack Snyder; stars Ben Affleck, Gil Gadot, Henry Cavill, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane. 120 mins. Cert 12A.

The long awaited Justice League pulls together the biggest stars of the DC universe into one film. Batman enlists the help of new found ally Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aqua Man, Cyborg and a reincarnated Superman to defeat an even greater enemy intent on (predictably) destroying the world. With an assemblage of powered-up superheroes, a Marvel addicts dream line-up, you would expect this to be one hell of a thrill ride. Surprisingly it is not.

Throughout the first half continuity is very haphazard. Director Snyder attempts to cobble together characters back stories with dis-engaged sequences that appear to be out-takes from earlier movies. This is like watching a Marvel compilation movie of ‘best bits’! A little more creative editing and plausible links would have helped  to provide a smooth transition between each narrative.

As to the characters, Ben Affleck appears jaded and uninterested being Batman (again). His only superpower, he tells Flash, is being rich! In Gil Gadot’s shoes Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, was hailed a feminist icon. In terms of exhibiting determination and warrior like prowess maybe so but I find Gadot’s portrayal insipid and weak. Ezra Miller’s  Flash brings some well-needed light relief juxtaposed against the angst of Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. The beefcake award goes to Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, who strips at every available opportunity to display his tatooed, muscular body. The arrival of a reincarnated Superman brings some much needed energy to a movie that seems mired in doom and despondency.

Chris Terrio and Josh Weddon attempt to litter their uninspired screenplay with an element of humour that falls flat. This made me wonder, if for now, the Marvel franchise has run its course? Justice League is the equivalent of taking the ingredients for a lavish three course meal, throwing into a blender and serving as a mashed up mess. Ugh!

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FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Paul McGuigan; stars Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Vanessa Redgrave. 105 mins. Cert 15.

Hollywood star Gloria Grahame enjoyed a colourful and at times scandalous life and career. Her name may not immediately spring to mind when recalling the pantheon of major movie stars but Grahame was no small-time star. She epitomised the stereotypical femme-fatale in black and white gangster movies of the 1940’s and 50’s – a genre now referred to as film noir. Throughout her career she remained sultry, seductive, beautiful, a hip-swing to die for and a breathless, husky voice.

Grahame was known as being ‘The Girl Who Can’t Say No’, ‘sexually insatiable’ and ‘man-hungry’. Her break came in the classic 1946 Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life opposite James Stewart. Director Frank Capra was having difficulty casting the ‘flirt’, Ivy, and approached casting director Billy O’Grady at MGM for suggestions. O’Grady pointed out Grahame telling Capra ‘she’s a star but no one takes her seriously. You can have her for a cup of coffee’. Capra cast Grahame who soon discovered a hint of sex and sin is an irresistible mix.

Grahame with Humphrey Bogart in the 1950 film In a Lonely Place. Photograph: Allstar/Columbia Pictures

Talented director Nicholas Ray starred her opposite Humphrey Bogart in In A Lonely Place (1950) and later became husband number two. In a plot twist worthy of a Hollywood melodrama the marriage ended after Ray returned home to find Grahame seducing her 13-year-old stepson. Hollywood was scandalized but this didn’t stop producers rushing to procure the actress roles or famous restaurants seating her at their best table.

She then married scriptwriter Cy Howard, lived in his ranch style home high above Sunset Boulevard, had Bogart as a neighbour and Hitchcock living across the way. The marriage in trouble Cy brought Gloria to London, staying at the Savoy Hotel. He walked out after she scrawled the names of her past husbands and lovers on the bedsheets to infuriate him.

Her fourth, and most controversial marriage, was to Tony Ray, the stepson she had earlier seduced when he was 13, a fact referred to in Paul McGuigan’s Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool. The biopic, based on the memoirs of the same name by Peter Turner,  foregoes Gloria’s Hollywood career to focus on her two-year relationship with the young Liverpudlian actor at the end of her life.

Stepping into Gloria’s shoes is talented Annette Bening who, along with a very sweet and natural Jamie Bell as Peter breathe life, warmth and tenderness into this sad love story. While much of the focus is on Bening periodically being haughty, aloof and imperious it is Bell who is the revelation. Bening has the look and moves of Gloria and more importantly shows her vulnerability in refusing to accept the reality of her situation. In her own mind Grahame believes she is still the young, vibrant actress able to overcome all adversity. Her ambition is to play Shakespeare’s Juliet and she flies into a rage when Peter, even jokingly, suggests she is too old to play the younger woman. Vanessa Redgrave as Gloria’s mother, Jeanne McDougall, compares her daughter to ‘that other blonde actress’, referring to Marilyn Monroe and it is the likes of Marilyn and Judy Garland that Gloria so closely resembles, tragic women tainted by the Hollywood machine, devoured by the fear of loneliness, rejection and old age.

As Peter, Bell cockily struts into Gloria’s life through a chance meeting while both are staying at a boarding house in Primrose Hill, London. Gloria asks Peter to hustle with her in exchange for a drink, Peter cheekily replies ‘You fix me a drink, I’ll come in and clean your bathroom’. Bening’s Gloria dances gracefully around the apartment while Bell re-engages his Billy Elliott moves to gradually match her rhythm. It’s not just that Bell is sweet and charming but, in the more emotional scenes, he really digs deep to display real and tender emotion and prove what a talented actor he is. Julie Walters, as Peter’s mother Bella, for once dispels with her usual comic mannerisms and asides and her performance is all the better for it. Here she brings both drama and gravitas to proceedings aided by Kenneth Cranham as husband Joe.

McGuigan intercuts the narrative between the past and the present, using an interesting construct whereby a door opens to the past or as the camera pans around the room to swing back to the present giving a seamless switch between the two. Information is occasionally transmitted via the dialogue as when Peter and his father Joe are drinking together. Joe tells Peter he thought he was bringing home little Gloria from the garage on the corner and never expected to have Gloria Grahame from the movies making a bacon butty in their kitchen. We are left to imagine how this first meeting between the family and the star unfolded.

A toe-tapping soundtrack is littered with disco and romantic floor fillers from the 70’s and as the locations switch between Hollywood, LA and Liverpool we have a glimpse of the life Gloria has that is far removed from the glamorous movie star lifestyle. This is also the age before social media when celebrities and even major stars could visit their local pub for a few drinks without media intrusion.

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is a remarkable love story of two people who meet by chance but at heart the film draws comparisons between people. The glamorous Grahame ends her days surrounded by a working class, Liverpool family and Peter’s family, even though they have little, display their common decency in caring for a woman in need and not allowing her to struggle and die alone. Brilliant performances and well worth seeing.

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BREATHE

Breathe (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Andy Serkis; stars Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Hugh Bonneville, Emily Bevan, Amit Shah, Tom Hollander, Stephen Mangan, Diana Rigg. 118 mins. Cert 12A.

Having recently married Diana and settled down to married life, Robin Cavendish is struck down by polio and given a few months to live. Paralysed from the neck down, 28 year old Robin has to come to terms with the prospect of the remainder of his life being confined to a hospital bed. As Robin’s condition improves he seeks, with the aid of his wife, to escape the confines of the hospital ward and seek out a full and rewarding life. Continue reading

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THOR: RAGNAROK

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Taila Waititi; stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch. 130 mins. Cert 12A

Thor has been captured and dragged to the far side of the galaxy, leaving his huge hammer behind. Held captive by the Grandmaster (a camp and colourful Jeff Goldblum) Thor must enter the arena to face an undefeated warrior to gain his freedom. In his absence Continue reading

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6 DAYS

6 Days (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Toa Fraser; stars Jamie Bell, Abbie Cornish, Mark Strong, Tim-Piggott Smith. 95 mins. Cert. 15. Streaming on Netflix

April 1980, six armed men storm the Iranian Embassy in Knightsbridge taking 26 people hostage. The siege lasts six days while negotiations with the gunmen take place as the SAS prepare an assault on the embassy to save the hostages. Continue reading

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THE PARTY

The Party (2017) on IMDb
Directed and written by Sally Potter; stars Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall. 71 mins. Cert 15.

Janet, newly appointed Minister for Health in the shadow cabinet, invites a group of friends to dinner to celebrate her appointment. Morose husband Bill, an acclaimed academic, sits alone in the living room listening to vinyl as Janet takes congratulatory calls in the kitchen. As the guests arrive the champagne cork pops, smashing a glass panel. When all are assembled Bill makes an announcement which throws the party into chaos. Continue reading

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THE SNOWMAN

The Snowman (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Tomas Alfredson; stars Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, Toby Jones, James D’Arcy, Adrian Dunbar, Chloe Sevigny. 119 mins. Cert 15.

Film finance is a costly business with studios spending millions to hire the biggest stars and directors, the most talented screenwriters and obtain the rights to the latest blockbuster novel. With this kind of outlay it would be expected that anyone financing a movie project would want the end product to be as perfectly honed as possible. With this in mind I was surprised to read director Tomas Alfredson’s comment that the shoot time Continue reading

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BLADE RUNNER 2049

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) on IMDb
Director Denis Villeneuve; stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Sean Young, Barkhad Abdi, Edward James Olmos, Mackenzie Davis. 164 mins. Cert 15

Over the past 35 years Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has achieved iconic status. Now viewed as one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time it was widely regarded that a sequel able to mirror the vision and brilliance of Scott’s 1982 original almost impossible. With Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve has proved the celluloid doubters wrong. Continue reading

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WONDERSTRUCK

Can’t wait to see Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Carol) new film, Wonderstruck.

Based on Brian Selznick’s critically acclaimed novel Ben and Rose are children from two different eras who secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known, while Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his home and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out on quests to find what they are missing that unfold with mesmerizing symmetry.

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THE KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Matthew Vaughn; stars Taron Edgerton, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Colin Firth, Michael Gamdon, Halle Berry, Elton John, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alstrom, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum. 141 mins. Cert. 15.

Taron Egerton, brightly suited and booted, leads the Kingsmen in this second slice of tongue-in-cheek mayhem. When their headquarters is destroyed and most of Kingsman high command assassinated, Eggsy and Merlin uncover an allied spy organisation in the US. The two elite organisations band together to defeat a common enemy – deranged, Continue reading

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