The Magnificent Seven

“What we lost in the fire, we found in the ashes.”

To begin with, a confession. I’ve not actually seen 1960 original of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (I type this whilst wearing an expression of utter chastisement)… So this review will be unique as I won’t be comparing the two films but writing about this version on its own merit (she types whilst hiding desperately in the hope of not losing her wannabe film critic status!) Now we can begin!

In 1870’s American corrupt industrialist and baron Bartholomew Bart (Sarsgaard) is determined to takeover the mining town of Rose Creek. An impromptu meeting results in the death of many town’s people, including the husband of Emma Cullen (Bennett). She’s determined to save her town and get revenge for her husband’s murder so calls upon the help of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington) who brings together a group of gunslingers to help him. 

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Where this film excels is in providing fun. Whilst utilising a diverse cast it still uses the cliches we’d expect from a Western and plays around with them. We’ve got the gambler, the sharpshooter, a knife-wielding assassin, a tracker, a warrior and an outlaw being fronted by an officer of the law. They all say and do the things we’d expect them to do, yet the film and the actors themselves do this so successfully that we end up being unable to resist the charm  of the whole affair. The cast are all fantastic and truly bring their characters to life.

Washington provides a winning performance as a man closed-off and haunted by his past, determined to get the revenge he has been seeking for decades.Hawke and Lee make for an excellent double act and have an instantaneously excellent rapport. Garcia-Rulfo has an intriguing charisma, although rarely at the centre front you are constantly aware of his presence. Sensmeier is superb as the Comanche warrior who says little but does a lot. D’ Onofrio ends up being very sweet as Jack Horne, a ‘bear in people’s clothes’. MVP has to be Chris Pratt providing another charmer you hate-to-love. He’s as watchable as ever (just look at that face and tell me otherwise) and provides some of the best gags.

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There’s something endearingly old-fashioned about the movie – the characterisation, the lack of any blood whatsoever and the representation of violence. Most exchanges end up with a lot of death which the film doesn’t ponder the morality of. In fact the film goes for the ‘guns are cool’ approach which somewhats conflicts with the more modern elements of the show.

Whether this remake ‘needed’ to happen is not being debated here (as I cannot do so due to my ineptitude as a film person!) However it’s a more than entertaining thriller and it’s a true pleasure to see some old-fashioned heroes on the big screen. There’s a whole lotta charm if not quite magnificence in this throwback to old school Hollywood.

3.4

Dir:Antoine Fuqua

Country:USA            Year: 2016               Run time: 132 minutes

Cast:Denzel WashingtonChris PrattEthan HawkeVincent D’OnofrioByung-hun LeeManuel Garcia-RulfoMartin SensmeierHaley BennettPeter SarsgaardCam Gigandet

The Magnificent Seven opened in UK cinemas on September 23rd.  

Julieta

Brooding, sentimental and utterly charming

I think I’ve only given five stars twice this year. This will now be the third as ‘Julieta‘ is unquestionably a five star movie. The entire film has an air of intrigue which smothers the viewer and draws them into a grief-tainted realm of love and loss. There’s much brooding meditation on universal themes such as fate and guilt – how yearning and regret can torture generations.

Julieta (Suárez) is about to move away from Madrid to Portugal with Lorenzo (Grandinetti). When she goes on her final errands she has a chance encounter with Beatriz (Jenner) who was the childhood best friend of Julieta’s daughter Antia. Beatriz tells Julieta about how she had bumped into Antia the week prior, about how well she was looking and how she meet Antia’s children. It’s a casual encounter and yet it forces Julieta to face her past. She tells Lorenzo that she will not be moving to Portugal with him but she doesn’t tell him the reason – that she needs to confront the events that led up to the decades-long estrangement of her and her daughter. 

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One of the film’s great successes it how it instantaneously hooks the viewer in whilst revelling very little. We can observe much about Julieta and her relationship with Lorenzo – we see how happy and doubt free she appears to be about the move- and how this shifts entirely by to what would appear to bystanders as smalltalk-laden chance encounter. We witness how her moving forward with her life is swiftly halted as she is ejected back into her past. Not only is she inevitably forced back to the past mentally and emotionally, she then returns to living in the apartment block she lived in with Antia in the hope of manifesting ghosts of her past into present figures. The letter she then begins to write to Antia serves as the frame of the story, the letter starts at the beginning and we are then placed their – in the 1980s with a twenty-something Julieta played by a different actress (Ugarte).

What follows could then be categorised as a lengthy flashback and yet it doesn’t quite fit nor feel like that. Assigning that label makes it sound like a laborious or arduous watch – it wholeheartedly isn’t.  We, the viewer, live the memories just as Julieta is reliving them. We follow Julieta as she meets Antia’s father Xoan (Grao), her relationship with him, Antia’s birth and the seemingly fated separation that occurs with both of them. Julieta is a specialist in Classics and an air of Greek mythology lingers over the events – a prevailing sense of tragedy and predestiny, decision and consequence, fate and regret.

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As we face in our own lives some of the events in Julieta’s life come as a quick and devastating surprise whilst others are drawn out, almost suffocating in their inevitability. Both Ugarte and Suárez are truly excellent in their joint role – each providing so much depth to Julita, each equally and superbly moving as they endure unresolved personal heartbreak. This, of course, would not be possible were it not for the master behind the camera.  Almodóvar reminds us, were it needed, that he is one of cinema’s greatest living directors. He tells the story in a way that is both fractured yet whole- just like Julieta – muted yet melodramatic. Many moments within the film are gasp-inducing in their blend of beauty and tragedy, but none more so than the switch from younger to older Julieta. It’s a tradition that is the epitome of seamless yet utterly shattering. 

Extraordinarily stylish on the eye, food for your soul, heartbreaking yet heart-mending. Extraordinary.

five star

Dir:Pedro Almodóvar

Cast: Adriana UgarteRossy de PalmaEmma SuárezMichelle JennerInma CuestaDaniel GraoDarío Grandinetti.

 Country: Spain                                 Year: 2016                         Run time: 99 Minutes

Julieta is in UK cinemas now. 

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

Alternative Title: Reasonably Fabulous

Ab Fab first aired on the BBC in 1992 (ha, I’m the same age as the show!) until 1995, then show the show aired sporadically as series or special until 2012. Four years on, our ever-glamourous and self-indulgent duo has made it onto the big screen. Has the film broken to the small to big screen curse? Sort of. Whilst it’s no Bad Education movie (click here for review) it still doesn’t shake off the feeling this is little more than a bloated and extended episode.

Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) are still living the life of luxury, though the money is beginning to run out. Edina’s PR company is failing and her rival, Claudia Bing (Celia Imrie), is taking all the glory. Edina is in need of a miracle and one does arrive – Kate Moss is just fired her PR and is need of a replacement. The wooing of Kate goes wrong however, when Edina manages to push Kate Moss into the Thames. Kate is presumed dead and Edina becomes Britain’s enemy no.1, deciding escape is her only option she flees to France ,in the hope of finding fortune, taking granddaughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) and Patsy with her. The police are on the hunt, as are Edina’s daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha) and new boyfriend Nick (Robert Webb).

For fans of the show this film will either fill the void or slightly disappoint. Everything you loved about the tv series is present and correct – the humour and the characters are just how you remembered them. For those who are not so keen or aware of the show this will disappoint or even frustrate. For one thing, if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen most of the main gags.

Then there’s the fact the film takes the approach of adding in celebrities, loads of them – everywhere and in every scene there’s a cameo. Some of these work – Gwendoline ChristieRebel Wilson & Jon Hamm to name but three- and some just flopped – Jerry Hall and  Jean-Paul Gaultier displayed beyond awful ‘acting’ ability. However, instead of enhancing the story, they make-up the story. When watching it feels as if the celebrities were called in, or called in themselves asking for a role, and the storyline was manufactured from there. A join-the-dots approach to create a story with little substance.

What little there is of a story is archetypal for an extended sitcom episode- taking the characters we love to another country. Gasp! Let’s watch them engage in the customs of the land. Chuckle! Although it is evident the film was made with love for the characters, who we get to observe in their unabashedly badly behaved glory, it isn’t as funny as it could have been. At times it feels lazy and far too celebrity obsessed. Yes, this may be an accurate reflection of our main characters, but it also feels tired and out-dated. Like a relic from a past era it relies on in-jokes and cliches. And yet this didn’t bother me so much as my surroundings when watching the film were perfect for the occasion – 7pm at Picturehouse Central. The 90% capacity screen was made up with middle-aged amazonian women and groups of immaculately made-up men, this was clearly their show; laughs and cheers were constant throughout.

Saunders and Lumley play their characters with perfection but the written material isn’t there to make this a swansong that is absolute or fabulous. It’s not vintage Bolly but it will be a respite for the sport-weary and a reunion with old friends for those who loved the show.

2 stars

Money Monster

A solid and enjoyable suspense-thriller

There is a tiny, nasty part of me that wants to use the Valley Girl-esque phrase of ‘Hello, Money Monster? 2002 called and it wants its movie back!” as there is something rather dated about this film. However, after seeing Neon Demon at a preview screening last night (click here for my review) there was actually something rather comforting about seeing a good old-fashioned topical thriller that clocks in at the good ol’ standard 90 minutes. And it’s actually pretty good.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of cable network show ‘Money Monster’ , providing gives the nation stock market tips and tricks. To him the programme is the chance to talk about his favourite thing, money, and have fun – this includes props, sound effects, visual aids and dancers. He seems blissfully unaware of just how important his guidance is to some people, that he is dealing with the livelihoods of millions of people – at least he was unaware until Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) entered the studio during a live broadcast, brandishing a gun and forcing Lee to wear a vest laden with explosives. It’s up to the show’s executive producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to help Lee get out alive, and that means locating business CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) . His company lost $880 million due to a ‘Glitch’, $60,000 of which was Kyle’s. But is there more truth to this ‘Glitch’ than Walt is letting on? 

Money Monster is a bit of a superlative-free zone. It’s not the world’s greatest film relating to the economy, nor is it the worst. Director Jodie Foster does a great job in articulating what is universal anger borne out of confusion over the nature of banking and financial crashes. Whilst the film is not developed enough to serve as a deep socio-economic or political statement is does allow for reflection on how little we know about what men in suits are doing with our money. Unlike the equally enjoyable The Big Short  (click here for my review) it doesn’t focus on an entire recession, but on how the crash of just one company can have devastating consequences.

O’Connell is superb channeling power and rage into his performance, one which has thematic similarities to Daniel Kaluuya in an episode of Black Mirror entitled ‘Fifteen Million Merits‘.  Clooney offers a solid performance as an arrogant arsehole with a heart of gold (pretty much his standard M.O). Roberts is fine as a desperate producer keeping her head when all around her are losing there’s. West is the required level of swarmy to create a villainous figure. Caitriona Balfe (playing Diane Lester) is an actress I had not come across before but was a pleasant surprise with a crucial yet understated performance.

Money Monster provides just what the trailer offers. No need to read the small print here: it’s solid entertainment that will engage for the entirety of its running time and may even make you think.

stars

 

Florence Foster Jenkins

Further proof that films are like buses

Occasionally, more frequently than a blue moon but not as often as a full moon, two films about the same topic will come out at around the same time. The most famous example would be 1998’s apocalyptic clash between Michael Bay’s Armageddon and Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact (to save you from speculating, I prefer the latter). And now, in 2016, we have two films about ‘the world’s worst opera singer’ Florence Foster Jenkins. Mme Jenkins was born in 1868 and spent many of the latter years of her life as part of New York’s aristocratic music scene. Renowned for being a very generous benefactor of ‘struggling’ artists she was unsurprisingly popular, so much so her inner circle were able to put up with her recitals – recitals which recordings prove were devoid of tone, rhythm, pitch and sustainment of a single note.  Last month’s magnificent Marguerite was inspired by Florence Foster Jenkins infamous legend – transplanting the character to 1920s France. Now we have one of the grand dames of acting playing her in a biopic of her life in a production that is difficult to avoid comparison to its wonderful European spiritual counterpart

.After an incredibly well-received production in front of a gathering of her various women’s groups, most of which she chairs, Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) decides she wants to get back into the swing of regular rehearsing again – ideally culminating in a grand performance. She sets her loving husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) on the case. During auditions they find the perfect candidate in the form of Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg). McMoon rehearses with Florence daily and swiftly becomes part of the furniture for Florence. Things aren’t as easy for McMoon as he must deal with the fact that he employer is the worst singer he has ever heard, something Florence’s British ex-thespian husband does not appear to acknowledge. Then again neither of them acknowledge the fact he lives in an apartment in the city with his mistress Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson)…

As I have stated previously it is very hard to separate this from Marguerite which I enjoyed tremendously. It seems bitterly unfair to draw a comparison between two films that, subject matter aside, would never have been compared in terms of place of origin, cast or budget. However, and I have no qualms in admitting this,  I think Marguerite is the superior of the two. I really struggled when watching Florence Foster Jenkins for a multitude of reasons, reasons which have not really been addressed by the majority of reviews which shine the film’s praises.

I found the tone rather one-note (ironic considering the focus of the film!) with a plot that meandered between events and scenes. Streep’s characterisation at times bordered on pastiche. Could it be that Streep prefered to let her character reach for the high notes without providing the filler? However during the film’s quieter moments Streep really brings the character to life with some much needed depth with a revelation about 30 minutes in that does provoke a much-needed shift in tone. Admittedly this can be a common problem with ‘true story’ films as often truth can be stranger than fiction, making the truth rather difficult to believe. And yes, in case you were wondering, the singing is as bad as you’d think it would be. How the film portrays this singing is another aspect I found quite bristling when watching as I felt that the audience are called on more frequently to laugh at her rather than with her. As opposed to presenting her as a woman with a passion that truly gave her a purpose for living (*ahem* Marguerite) the film has would could almost be perceived as a mean streak as it laughs at her delusions instead.

This is not helped by the rather hollow archetype Grant portrays as her husband who spends most of his time maintaining Florence’s facade – that’s when he’s not entertaining his mistress. The reasoning for her presence is scarcely explained and results in Ferguson being vastly underused. Helberg (best known for playing Howard in The Big Bang Theorygrates profoundly as a camp closeted wannabe man about town.  The fact he spends the majority of the film with a fixed expression of embarrassed bewilderment only reinforces the sentiment that Florence is a figure of fun as opposed to one who requires understanding.

The film’s message is decidedly unclear.Many reviews refer to the affectionate and heartfelt treatment the film gives its title character. Instead the film feels light on charm, instead possessing a simplistic plot that is full of encouragement to point and laugh at a rather vulnerable figure.

2 stars

Disorder

An intense and intimate voyeuristic thriller

How many films are there that feature a character with PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder)? Then, let’s narrow it down, how many of the those films are about PTSD sufferers who fought in Afghanistan?  Finally, how many of those films use the PTSD to shape the storytelling process, making the story as unreliable as it’s narrator? I suspect that Disorder may be alone in this regard which makes for a mostly refreshing if at times nerve-splintering film-watching experience.

Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts ) is a French Special Forces soldier who is currently back from a tour of Afghanistan. His latest health check-up indicates that it will be his last as due to his various  health problems his doctor will not be recommending him for service, something that he appears to be in denial about. He and a group of his friends are hired by Jessie (Diane Kruger), the wife of a rich Lebanese  businessman, to provide security at a party they are holding at her villa. Vincent starts to develop a strange fascination with Jessie, whilst at the same time starting to suspect a dangerous threat is going to target her and her young son, and he begins to be consumed by paranoia. Is there really a threat, or is it a result of his disorder?

A month ago, in my review for A Bigger Splash I talked about Matthias Schoenaerts and said “He is currently one of the most interesting and underappreciated supporting actors in cinema at the moment, and I greatly look forward to seeing more of his (admittedly rather beautiful) self.” After seeing Disorder, I stand by what I said. Schoenaerts carries this movie, his scowl/brooding combination is utilized to excellent effect. His mannerisms subtly display his inner turmoil, he never needs to clearly state ‘I am suffering from PTSD’ (in fact that is something his character who never admit) but it’s clear from every single scene that this is a man who is suffering. Vincent’s innate paranoia served with a side of voyeurism makes for an unnerving central character who is haunted but hunky. In fact whilst watching his performance I remembered some of the minor backlash that James Norton received for Happy Valley with a (thankfully small  minority) saying that he was ‘too good-looking to be a murderer’. It’s a stupendously flawed logic to have, implying that attractiveness and committing crime share a correlation. Yes Schoenaerts is attractive, but that does not enhance nor detract from his performance here. His performance is wonderful, if that adjective can be used to describe something so unsettling, and the best thing about the film.

A close-tied second place would be the soundtrack and the cinematography. The former is throbbing, jarring and frequently atonal (like Vincent’s mental state) whilst the latter is ambiguous, swamped by shadows and at times unhinged (again like Vincent’s mental state). Aside from these aspects, the film itself is rather slow with a rather porous plot that fizzles out. Worth seeing for Schoenaerts latest in an uninterrupted run of solid and charismatic performances, but rather forgettable.

An outstanding central performance in a good/mediocre film. Don’t put it too high on your ‘must-see list’ but worth a try.

 

The Witch

Moral of my story: Don’t go see this on your own in an empty cinema.

What makes a horror film a horror film? In the past week or so I’ve heard both praise for this film and a good degree of backlash. Many felt that it wasn’t a horror film, that it wasn’t scary enough and that it was too slow. As a dedicated Wittertainee I’d heard Mark Kermode champion the film stating that ‘the greatest strength of The Witch –that the audience will see in what they want to see, or believe’  So, when a bit of free time opened up in my schedule I thought ‘why not?’ Even after three nights where by sleep has been haunted by a goat called Black Phillip I do not regret my decision, as The Witch is an immensely rich watch and an outstanding debut from its director and writer Robert Eggers.

In 1630 a farmer called William (Ralph Ineson) and his family are excommunicated from their New England community due to the crime of “prideful conceit”. He and wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) must raise their children away from the community they came with when they left England and now live in exile in a forest. They have five children – teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), on the cusp of adolescence Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), fraternal twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) and new-born Samuel.  One day, when Thomasin is looking after ber youngest sibling and playing a round of peek-a-boo, Samuel disappears. The family is utterly devastated and grief takes its toll, bringing tensions to the surface and testing both the love and loyalty of each of the family members. Is a supernatural force of evil haunting them or is it all imagined?

The greatest choice, of many, that this film makes is to show Samuel’s disappearance to the audience. The audience gets to see a witch, possibly the witch of the title or possibly not, drag poor little baby Samuel into the forest with her. The characters, however, do not get to see this. It’s a classic case of dramatic tension that is oh so effective – this comparatively small piece of information alters how we view the characters and makes us assess then repeatedly reassess what we are seeing. The knowing what actually happened to Samuel lets us watch the consequences with a layer of cynicism, as the family falls apart at the seams. How the dynamics of the family shift and tear creates a deeper level of both atmosphere and tension as we know something they do not. When the blame shifts to teenager Thomasin we automatically defend her. For her family she is the obvious target of blame, after all she was watching him when he disappeared, yet we know that she isn’t. Or is she? As the film plays out the audience is forced to question what they actually know, or if what they actually know is not the whole story.

All of the cast are fantastic, not a single weak link. Ineson is solid as the righteous father who may have let his ego take his family onto a path of destruction. Dickie is wonderful as the grieving mother who doesn’t know where to turn. Taylor-Joy is an extraordinary presence as a girl who has come of age, and how this very fact will change her life. The Witch is rich for cinematic analysis, most obviously the treatment young women which is seemingly reflective of how life would have been for someone of her age in 1630. Scrimshaw possess the kind of face and aura of someone who has lived a thousand lives, a real one-to-watch. The twins are as creepy as you would expect from a film of this sort. That just leaves us with the aforementioned Black Phillip. I’m even going to add a picture here of the beast, just to prove my point.

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Look at him. Just look at him! I genuinely believe there should be a category added to the award ceremonies next year for, ‘scariest performance by an animal’ as Black Phillip would be a solid contender. At this point I’m not even going to tell you what he does, nor will I hint. I don’t think I could even describe it in a manner that would reflect in a  succinct enough manner the terror this beast is capable of. Just like the rest of the film, he gets under-your-skin and into-your-brain.

The Witch is a spooky, slow-release terror that is well worth seeing. Few newcomers could create a film with this depth of atmosphere and tension. I already look forward to what Robert Eggers has to offer us next.

The 5th Wave

The worst film of 2016 (well, 23 days in at least…)

Did you know that discount retailer Poundland (for those outside the UK it’s a shop where everything costs £1, which is roughly 1.32 euro or 1.43 dollars) stocks its own brand of Lego Star Wars? It’s called Battle of the Galactic. It’s an incredibly cheap and tacky-looking rip off of the original. That is what ‘The 5th Wave’ is to franchises like ‘The Hunger Games’ or even ‘Maze Runner’ and ‘Divergent’. It’s cheapily made, poorly constructed and steals the best bits from other films/books then regurgitates them into a mediocre mess. What makes this film even more ‘impressive’ is that it is not even ‘so bad it’s good’. It’s just really really bad and remarkably boring.

Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz) was a ‘super normal teenage girl’. She had friends, went to parties, had a 2.2 family and had a crush called Ben Parish (Nick Robinson) who she spent most of her time day-dreaming about. But then… ‘it’ appeared. Some sort of alien space ship came from nowhere and started hovering above America. For ten days nothing happened. On the tenth day the first attack happened (the 1st wave) and destroyed all electric currents, followed shortly after by waves 2, 3 and 4. Most of the Earth’s population has been killed, with Cassie going with her family to a refugee camp. It’s at the camp that she is separated from her young brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur).  Nobody knows when the Fifth Wave will strike, or in what from it will strike, but it will happen. Against a backdrop of mistrust and fear Cassie makes a desperate journey to find her little brother, on the way meeting mysterious stranger Evan (Alex Roe) who may just be her only hope.

I would like to apologise in advance if, when you read that plot summary above you thought ‘Hey! This doesn’t sound quite so bad!’ Upon rereading it I have made the film sound far more interesting than it actually is. Between each of those events there is so much talking, needless and endless mundane talking, and dire reflecting. Whenever the action picks up it’s then forced to slow again by some pitifully-lacking, poorly-scripted, cliche-ridden sentiments.  For a film that is supposedly the end of the world, the world it features is so dreary and mind-numbingly boring that you do end up wishing for armageddon to happen so the film will end and you can go home.

Considering this film is a 15 (Hunger Games interestingly is a 12A) there is little to warrant it. The action here is so minimal, so bland and lacking in emotion compared to the superior franchise. The set pieces the film possess are so ineffective, clunky and predictable that there is little chance for escapism. The film becomes more and more absurd with each mind-numbingly boring sequence, yet remains utterly lacking in enjoyment. There is an occasional some-what amusing joke that gets shoe-horned into the narrative, but these moments are few and far between.

However, there was one factor about this film that was really reassuring – that will allow me to sleep a little lighter at night. The one thing I did learn from this film was that no matter how bad the alien apocalypse gets, I can still get my beauty products. There’s Moretz’s survivalist with the perfect hair, the sergeant (Maria Bello) with the perfect lipstick/foundation combo, and the smoky kohl-rimmed eyes (a pretty bad-ass Maika Monroe). It’s immensely reassuring to know that no-matter how desperate my battle for survival may get, my look will still be on-point. 

This film is not entertaining enough to hate-watch, or to watch ironically. There’s not even enough to make a drinking game out of it. I can’t even be bothered to turn this into a film rant. It’s just bad. It’s cheapily made, lazily shot with adequate-enough acting. The obvious intention is for this to be the start of a new franchise, one which nobody will want. In a week where I got to see ‘The Revenant’, a film which proved the potential power that film can have, I endured this film which shows that not everyone can handle the responsibility that the great power of cinema can have.

Watch it. Or don’t. Either way – it’s bad.

 

Miss You Already

An unsentimental yet sincere depiction of illness and friendship

It may not have a particularly original plot and may be presented in a way that is ultimately wildly manipulative (read as: you will cry) the film itself is admirable in what it, mostly, achieves. It presents a relatively honest depiction of breast cancer; the impact it places upon relationships both platonic and romantic along with the physical toll it takes. Whilst that alone is immensely refreshing, this is furthered by the presentation of a friendship that will resonate with audiences’.

Millie (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) have been best friends since childhood. They have experienced every first together, everything from first kiss to first child, with their polar opposite personalities allowing them to bring out the best in each other. Whilst Jess is more conservative and stable, Millie is the overconfident and glamourous wild-child yet they are totally and completely inseparable. Both are happily married, yet rather than this separating them their respective husbands (Millie is married to Dominic Cooper’s Kit with Jess married to Paddy Considine’s Jago) and Millie’s two children instead make up one big family. But the family is rocked by Millie’s life-altering diagnosis of breast cancer, just as Jess finds out that she is pregnant with her much-longed for first child, which will put their friendship and their makeshift family to the ultimate test.

Collette does any amazing job (as is to be expected) playing Millie. Her acting, along with the screenplay and the film’s direction avoid what many similar films have done in the past, of making the person suffering from cancer into some sort of saint or martyr. Instead Millie stays the same as it is implied she always was – a mostly well-meaning but often not very nice person. This feature is really the film’s only comparatively unique feature. This, along with the portrayal of her treatment, make the film feel more honest and in a sense more brutal than others of this kind. Millie starts the film loud and vulgar, and although she spends the majority of the film in an oncology unit, she still stays the same person. Cancer doesn’t ‘fix’ her personalities ‘faults’, at times it only exacerbates them, consequently making her more relatable than many other presentations of the disease. It’s a reminder that cancer can, and with the current odds will, affect all of us whether we are good, bad or, like Millie, the grey area in-between.

However, it would be wrong to say this film is truly great or fully lives up to its potential. As we only see Jess and Millie’s friendship through flashback or montage, we are unable to fully latch onto their story. Aside from their respective health concerns, and a few references to a shared love of Wuthering Heights and R.E.M’s Losing My Religion, we aren’t really given enough about what makes them such good friends. The film constantly tells us this, but never shows us quite enough to engage us fully with their bond and ultimately does not earn the empathy it had the potential to do so.

Nevertheless, the ensemble cast, with Collette at the forefront, are all reliable and supply solid performances. Jacqueline Bisset is fantastic as Millie’s actress mother, Frances de la Tour momentarily steals the show in her short appearance as a wig-maker and Tyson Ritter (lead singer of All American Rejects) pops up as a swaggering barman.

From the opening of the film the inevitable outcome is presented, yet it will withhold interest and induce multiple bursts of tears throughout.

Bill

William Shakespeare: The Lost Years

Suffice to say, this is not another Bad Education Movie-style television to big screen disappointment of an adaptation. The team behind Horrible Histories have succeeded in translating their unique combination of historical-informed humour and slapstick. In fact Bill, along with Horrible Histories and their fantastical series Yonderland, has secured their place as natural successors to Monty Python and Blackadder.

Bill Shakespeare (Matthew Baynton) is a family man. He lives with his wife, Anne Hathaway (Martha Howe-Douglas), and their three children. Bill plays lute in a band called ‘Mortal Coil’, but after one concert where he tries to steal the spotlight he is told to ‘shuffle on’. It’s not us it’s you, they tell him. So Bill moves onto his next dream, being a playwright. As Stratford-Upon-Avon doesn’t actually have any theatres, he leaves his family to go and achieve his dream. In the process he befriends Christopher Marlowe and becomes embroiled in King Phillip II of Spain’s devious plot to murder Queen Elizabeth at a theatre production she is hosting.

The results are properly hilarious. The gag rate is so high, with most of it landing, that whilst laughing at one joke you may end up missing the next.  Of all the genres it is arguably comedy that is the hardest to do well. Aim too broad and you please no-one, aim too niche and you end up pleasing a minimal market. This irreverent biopic carefully, and to great effect, utilises modern references and a panto-esque tone to keep the audience tittering from start to finish. There are a few that are groan-worthy gags, a couple which are smirk-creating, many that are chuckle-inducing and a good handful of proper belly laughs. The team are not limited by their obligation to educate, as they were with the excellent Horrible Histories, and use that freedom to great effect. Considering we do not know what actually happened to Bill during the years between his abandoning his family in Stratford and emerging as royal playwright William Shakespeare, the events of this film are entirely plausible… well unlikely but possible.

One can only hope that situations such as Shakespeare educating Christopher Marlowe in ‘your mum’ jokes did in fact occur. If only because it leads to an immensely funny recurring gag within the film, that is seconded only by a henchman’s inability to understand the concept of a Trojan Horse. Other highlights include Helen McCory’s toothy and worn portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, some lovely throwaways about funding of the arts and a hilarious reference to ‘clunky exposition’. Baynton is excellent and rather endearing as an idealist and optimistic Shakespeare, as is Howe-Douglas as his under-appreciated wife.

Bill has a relatively taunt and witty script that has a joke for everyone. As expected the chemistry between the cast is electric, the gags reliably brilliant and the timing of them is spot-on. Well worth a watch.