Philomena (2013)

Genre: Drama

Director: Stephen Frears

Writers: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope, Martin Sixsmith

Starring: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Sophie Kennedy Clark

Rating: ★★★★½

To my surprise this somewhat under the radar film is moving, sad and quite simply brilliant. Philomena a small British film has only recently been making the headlines and dominating conversations after receiving a handful of nominations for award season including an Oscar nomination for Best Motion Picture and Best Actress. It isn’t any surprise however why these nominations were given to Philomena as for me a mixture of a well-written emotional story and great acting by Coogan and Dench really make this release as enjoyable and entertaining as any other film causing hype at the moment.

Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is a journalist looking for a distraction after finding himself at a loss when dismissed by the Labour Party leaving his career as a member of the BBC a mere shameful memory. When approach by a young Irish woman Martin is intrigued by the story of her mother, Philomena (Judi Dench) who is on a search for her long lost son who was taken by Nuns when she was an inmate at a strict Catholic convent. Martin agrees to help Philomena with her search and with her story he will write and publish in a magazine; however their journey and her story is more than just a magazine article. On the hunt for Philomena’s lost Anthony they find themselves in America and discovering a shameful corruption and lie within the Catholic convent. However as much as they find out about the fate of Anthony Martin and Philomena find out a lot about each other forming a close friendship which causes even their basic beliefs to be changed.

The story which is based on a true story and adapted from Martin Sixsmith’s book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” is not only well-written but emotional containing witty British comedy to tearful moments of sadness. There’s a scene which takes place in a Harvester Restaurant which immediately brings laughs to the British audience, picking up a handful of croutons in her Irish accent Philomena says to Martin “Oh I do like these little bits of toast they have”.  It was only a simple moment and simple joke yet it was so effective and free-flowing and that was the case for the comedy throughout the film. In the complete contrary there are scenes where your heart drops, no matter how Philomena discovers her long lost son Anthony is was destined to be emotional and it truly was and was executed greatly and captured by Judi Dench equally as impressive.

Although at times it was a pleasant story and had moments of heart-warming bonding and comedy it did show the harsh truth and untold stories of what young Catholic women had to obey once upon time. How young-girls were shunned upon and disowned by their parents if they got pregnant is upsetting and more so was the idea that the only options they had were to have their baby die or to have it looked after by the Catholic Church whilst you repaid your debt.  It was a topic was upsetting that was very moving and touching to see but the way that everyone involved with the making and creation of Philomena did an excellent job.

The acting was another strong highlight which complemented the excellent writing, Judi Dench an actress who’s been giving brilliant performances for many decades now and has constantly contributed to British Film shines once more. Her portrayal of Philomena is excellent, the way in which Dench can show frailty, sadness and humour in such a quick mixture is incredible and something which obviously contributed to her deserved Oscar Nomination.  Steve Coogan as Martin Sixsmith is also great, the humour again is a highlight but so is how Coogan deals with the serious scenes and moments. Martin is a character that stands up for Philomena and due to that the audience encourages and sides with him throughout. An honorary mention and one which is probably not as frequent as it should be, but Sophie Kennedy Clark’s performance of a younger Philomena was brilliant. Responsible for the flashback scenes which complemented Philomena’s narration when telling her story Clark’s emotion was a real highlighting aspect.

Philomena is a film that thrives mainly from its acting and strong story, although there was nothing wrong with Frears direction it wasn’t eye-catching enough to be applauded likewise with the film’s score and music. Although elements were lacking you can’t deny that Philomena is a fantastic film which has undoubtedly made a huge impact on all its viewers and has done British Film proud. Entertaining and intriguing from start to finish the experience is easily enjoyable and definitely emotional but more importantly one that is very worth-while.

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The Way Way Back (2013)

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Starring: Steve Carell, Liam James, Toni Collette, Allison Janney

Rating:★★★★

The Way Way Back to my surprise was a film that I saw on a lot of lists come the end of 2013 but since watching I can certainly agree with its inclusion. Surprisingly warming, pleasant and funny it sways from the stereotypical “teen-comedy” and produces a refreshing much welcome change. Good solid performances from the whole cast along with a witty well-written script The Way Way Back is entertaining and defiantly deserves its praise.

Duncan (Liam James) is a shy, in-the-background 14 year old who doesn’t have a conventional lifestyle and is forced to go on summer vacation with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her horrible arrogant boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his equally annoying and spoilt daughter. Whilst his mum is busy putting herself “out there” meeting  Trent’s vacation friends Duncan finds himself left out and unable to fit in. Riding around on an a pink little girls bike he discovers the Water Wizz  Park and quickly forms a bond with manager Owen (Sam Rockwell), finding an unexpected friend in Owen, Duncan soon finds out how to enjoy his summer vacation but he still has to face is overbearing and disastrous family.

The story is pleasant, although at first it looks to be the typical comedy of the neglected family member getting revenge or becoming a hero or a romanticist it changes and somewhat becomes more serious. Duncan’s relationship with Owen is hilarious and obviously the highlight, he is given power and earns a reputation at Water Wizz and with that Duncan comes out of his shell and turns out to be a funny and “cool” kid. The relationship though is also pleasant as it is obvious that the two have a bond and Duncan looks up to Owen as a role model in ways, the way that the Owen looks out for Duncan is very warming too. The other relationship storylines in the film are not as good but decent, Duncan and his mother obviously need to repair their broken relationship so we follow that throughout, whilst Pam actually has her own problems with the very easily dislikeable Trent and finally a small subplot follows Duncan having a romance with his neighbour however it is very cheesy and for me unnecessary.

Liam James plays Duncan very well, he is easily likeable and we route for him throughout and he provides plenty of laughs, one very memorable scene is when Duncan is made to dance (including the classic robot) in front of a huge crowd at the water park. Rockwell’s Owen however is my favourite character; he provides the main comedy and in a way makes this film very easily watchable.  Steve Carrel also deserves credit for his role as obnoxious Trent and likewise for Collette’s Pam.  Although small characters in the film, neighbours Betty and (eye-patch) Peter are absolutely hilarious and provide even more likability to The Way Way Back so they deserve a mention.

The ending to The Way Way Back is very warming and wraps up the film nicely however for me there are still picky criticisms. I would have liked to see a quicker start, although it opens with great introductions it attempts to trick us with Duncan’s romance whereas I would have liked to seen Owen introduced much more quickly, and on the note of the romance I would have scrapped it all together as it isn’t “Duncan”.

In a whole The Way Way Back is a bundle of laughs and fantastic comical moments, with a well-written script and characters it makes for a surprisingly great watch. Standout performances from Liam James and Sam Rockwell add to the entertainment and create a pleasant feel to balance out the comedy. The Way Way Back is a worth-while experience that is easily watchable and enjoyable.

Dallas Buyers Club (2014)

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writers: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto

Rating: ★★★★½

Dallas Buyers Club is possibly one of the most touching films ever made that discus the topic of AIDS, with a powerful excellently-written story and a master-class in acting it makes for a fantastic watch and final end product. Visually appealing as well, it has racked up an impressive six Oscar Nominations and that’s not surprising as I’m sure this film will be regarded as one of the best come the ceremony and end of the year.

Dallas Buyers Club revolves around the life of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a “trash park” hustler and electrician. Addicted to sex, drugs and alcohol his life is anything but serious however it all soon changes when he is diagnosed as being HIV positive. Fighting for his life he is told he has only thirty days to live but Ron’s responds “Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill fuckin’ Ron Woodroof in 30 days”.  Diving into research about various drugs and trials he eventually discovers a new and illegal form of life-saving medication.  Inventing the “Dallas buyers’ club” he medicates those with AIDS across the country working his way around the system. On his journey not only does his life change but his view of the world and people, meeting extraordinary characters and forming extraordinary bonds, especially with fellow sufferer Rayon (Jared Leto). His fight with AIDS soon becomes a fight with the government, but Ron doesn’t give up on anything.

The story of Ron Woodroof is emotionally powerful, his change of attitude throughout is touching and warming. Writer’s Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack deserve much praise alongside their nomination of best original screenplay. When Ron first gets diagnosed it comes from out the blue after doctors ran blood tests due to a simple work-related injury, in denial the typical “redneck” screams “you calling me a fucking faggot”. However by the end of the film he is no longer a homophobic racist, or ashamed of his disease but a lead campaigner for AIDS working alongside those once called “faggot” sufferers to overthrow the government. The story is much different to other films, as much as it is about AIDS as a killer disease and how it struck 80’s America, it’s about how people first viewed the outburst and how those views and attitudes had to change.

An amazing cast give a somewhat master-class in acting that portrays this story to its full potential and establishes some heart-felt memorable relationships. Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof is surely an award-winner, not only is his portrayal brilliant but the dedication to meet physical requirements is astonishing as he lost 47 pounds. Jared Leto an actor who knows a lot about changing physical condition for the big screen saw history repeat itself  as he lost 30 pounds alongside an amazing performance as Rayon a transsexual with AIDS, who soon becomes a business partner and good friend of Ron’s. The make-up department who have been nominated for an Oscar really does deserve a huge amount of credit for the transformation of the two main characters.

My only criticisms is the underdevelopment of certain characters especially Eve (Jennifer Garner), a doctor who treats both main characters in the film. I personally would have liked to see a more finalised ending instead of a list of facts and dates before the final credits too. Nevertheless Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club is an astonishing film, somewhat brilliant in many aspects this is a release that will win many awards, becoming a huge success for sure. Visually entertaining, remarkable acting and an excellent story make for a great film that is both touching, powerful and pleasant to watch. Dallas Buyers Club is a memorable release that should definitely be a must-see.