Endless Love ***


Never mind the original 1981 film starring Brooke Shields by the open fire, Endless Love (2014) rebooted peddles out the age-old issue of good girls liking bad boys. It’s forbidden love for teens, like Mills & Boon sanitised. It also has two highly attractive Brit stars at its helm in Carrie’s Gabriella Wilde and Beastly’s Alex Pettyfer. As for anything of consequence, it’s pure easy watching and inoffensive, a youth swoon fest, and cannot be taken as anything more. It ticks a Valentine’s Day’s girlie night out box too – and it does help if you are Pettyfer obsessed. If not, the square-jawed, mop-haired actor will get young hearts racing. Acting plays second fiddle. It’s all about the looks.

Jade Butterfield (Wilde) is a studious, privileged girl who has never had any friends at school and is on her way to following in her father’s footsteps and studying to become a doctor. David Elliot (Pettyfer) is a popular and charismatic student with no big plans for life. But David has always held a torch for Jade, and on the day of their graduation, their worlds collide, resulting in a forbidden and endless love that Jade’s father Hugh (Bruce Greenwood) tries to put a stop to.

Pettyfer needed a pick-me-up after Beastly (2011)’s lukewarm response, and although Magic Mike (2012) reinforced his pretty boy appeal, Endless Love sends it sky high. Twihards need a new RPatz. Pettyfer just broods, pines and gets cross at certain situations; the perfect ‘non-ideal boyfriend’ material to daydream about is served up in dreamy David. Any acting (as such) only steps up a notch when opposite Greenwood who is quite menacing in a subtle way in this.

Pettyfer’s co-star Wilde fares less well in the acting stakes and merely portrays Jade as that all-American caricature of pert, tanned blondeness and nicety that comfortably fits into all the obvious clichés this film religiously follows. Her gangly ‘dance’ moves further heighten the awkwardness of the whole affair, but it’s the less than believable undying love that the pair has for each other that is a tad worrying. Wilde throws herself at her co-star like an excitable, licking puppy rather than a girl in heart-bursting torment. Still, Pettyfer pouts and all is forgiven for a split second. For starters, the really concerning thing is how a girl like Jade doesn’t have any friends for an entire school period when her popular brother does? And how ‘acceptable’ David’s ‘stalker-ish’ intentions are – the staple diet of many a romance novel it seems…

That said Endless Love serves a purpose and a storybook escape for the teen market this Valentine’s Day. It totally relies on its good-looking cast and post-viewing, word-of-mouth recommendations from a growing army of Pettyfer fans (guaranteed). Its basic premise of boy meets girl, Grease style, devoid of any ‘tricky’ adult subjects means no parental guidance necessary for 13-year-olds+ – a chance for the oldies to grab some quality romance time perhaps?

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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LFF 2013: The Invisible Woman ****


Ralph Fiennes makes each new directorial project feel like a burning passion, a chance to reveal new elements to an infamous character. His Charles Dickens in The Invisible Woman sheds new light on a renowned author not so famed for his private life. In the title role, Fiennes strips down the celebrity into a humble, creative man full of flaws and temptation, throwing the full weight of his acting expertise behind the character. He does this with due care not to upstage the main subject, Nelly (played by Felicity Jones), and her harrowing life story. Fiennes’ Dickens merely illustrates the journey of one independent woman’s life but his huge influence on that trajectory.

The story is told from the perspective of Nelly, an educated young woman from a travelling, all-female family of actors who meets and forms a relationship with a married Dickens at the height of his blossoming career in both theatre and writing. She becomes his secret lover until his death.

Fiennes does well to establish his heroine in a scene from the offset, reminiscent of Jane Campion’s Ada from The Piano in her striding figure across a beach. This image alone tells us all we need to know about Nelly and her fiercely protective nature over her background. Jones is fully believable in the role, adding poise, elegance and a flicker of fragility to Nelly. The wooing game is gradually played out as we watch the standard confinements by the etiquette of the time saddled on Nelly’s young shoulders while Dickens reels her in with his carefree spirit and easy affability. It makes for an intense mating dance that feels as dangerous as it is rousing; like a moth to a flame. There does seem some lag before the consequences to the Dickens family are felt though.

Fiennes deliciously portrays Dickens, warts and all, forever toying with our opinion as Dickens moves between perfect host and brilliant writer and callous cad and adulterer. However, these different personas are skilfully blurred as Dickens retains our empathy at his own restrictions in then-society. The result is a love tragedy that feels out of control but ultimately ironic as both are victims and successors at different times. Abi Morgan’s screenplay accentuates this equilibrium, as Rob Hardy’s (A Boy) cinematography creates the right ambiance in the more intimate moments.

The Invisible Woman feels like a more approachable and mainstream offering than Fiennes’s art-house and theatrical Coriolanus. It is a true and solidly acted period love drama that British filmmaking is so skilled in effortlessly delivering. It is compelling as the characters flex their muscles in a constrained environment full of creative passion. It serves its purpose in exposing new intrigue in one of Britain’s great literary authorities too. Fiennes knows his strengths and returns to them full flow.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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RoboCop ****


Reboots are often cynically dismissed before sampling the new deal, and 2014’s RoboCop is one such example. However, director José Padilha’s film takes the bare bones of the 1987 original, starring Peter Weller in the title role, and makes the sense of sci-fi future prediction into a possible parallel ‘present day’ reality. With the advancement of robotic technology nowadays, this film just expands the imagination, adding more organic matter and familiar relationship values to the equation.

The way forward in law enforcement in 2028 is machine rather than man keeping order on the streets, the ambition of multinational conglomerate OmniCorp’s head Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton). However, Congress still has doubts that machines will make the right emotional judgement call in tricky situations. After loving husband, father and good Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is injured in the line of duty, Sellars gets his possible answer: a part-man, part-robot police officer to be ‘built’ by Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman). However, ethics and compassion begin to surface, especially after Murphy’s wife and small child (played by Abbie Cornish and John Paul Ruttan) are denied access to the RoboCop, and subsequent corruption is uncovered by the man-machine.

The film does not attempt to reinvent the wheel, but just ‘updates’ the technology (and the special effects) for the Noughties audience, so much so that if could be very believable as happening right now, rather than in 14 years time. There is a very topical austerity undercurrent about social factors being affected, such as man being replaced by machines in the work place, and so jobs being lost. Hence, RoboCop (2014) feels very current indeed that authorities could be working on such a model right as we read. This concept is the power behind Padilha’s reboot. On the downside, there is very little that feels ‘unique’ in futuristic concept to offer that the 1987 film ignited.

Another thing in the film’s favour is some great casting in Keaton, Oldman and little-known actor Kinnaman – the latter of whom now has a promising franchise role to look forward to (as the ending would suggest). Keaton is as brilliantly maniacal and on edge as ever as Sellars, opposite Oldman’s seasoned reasoning and accepted wisdom as Norton. Kinnaman does not just provide the face (and chiselled chin under the visor) for RoboCop but gets the chance to ‘flesh him out’ and make a more empathetic character. This is partly due to a greater portrayal of organics fusing with manmade material as we witness the creation of the new law enforcer. There is even a Batman-esque feel to the whole film, as RoboCop/Murphy blasts around on a matte-black motorbike that would make any petrol-head jealous.

The 2014 film has up-to-date action sequences that involve exhilarating, video-gaming-styled war combat with mechanical soldiers, as well as old-styled shoot-em-ups with crooked cops, drug barons and unscrupulous corporate men: There is even a highly topical beginning scene set in Tehran, Iran involving suicide bombing that brings home the ever-present threat of insurgent troubles globally and the ‘new, faceless terror’.

Final word goes to Pat Novak, the film’s flamboyant TV show host and our social commentator, camply played with relish by a toupee-wearing Samuel L. Jackson, who is like a public-opinion gauge throughout and openly ratings-obsessed. It’s hilarious to watch him chop and change his views depending on what gets him the greater viewer figures. Overall, there is a clear sense of marketing in the driving seat in this film too that enhances the overall stench of manipulation by those in power. RoboCop (2014) taps into our fears and technological dreams, blurring the then and now with chilling ease, and is all-round entertainment without disrespecting its groundbreaking predecessor.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Dallas Buyers Club *****


Any film relating to AIDS automatically focuses the attention and fuels expectation of a standout performance from the lead. As such, awards recognition is naturally on the cards, cynically so some might say. But director Jean-Marc Vallée’s (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria) Dallas Buyers Club offers the career-defining role for stars Matthew McConaughey as well as an acting-career-rejuvenating part for rocker Jared Leto.

Based on a true story, it’s 1985 in Dallas, Texas, and electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof lives the wild, carefree life, partying, riding rodeo and having his pick of women. After collapsing, he is hospitalised and told he has AIDS but is in denial because he is ‘not gay’. Local homophobic taunts and panic sets in, leading Woodroof to sign up to an experimental drug program of AZT-testing, which wreaks havoc with his white blood cell count.

Seeking alternative methods, he discovers there are combinations of drugs, including vitamins that he can take to put the disease at bay, much to the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration)’s disapproval. Woodroof sets up a lucrative business helping others like him, supported by unlikely new friend, transvestite Rayon (Leto), and privately supported by Doctor Eve Saks (well-played by Jennifer Garner).

McConaughey is absolutely fascinating to watch in this – rightfully acknowledged at the Golden Globes recently, winning Best Actor. It will be surprising if we don’t see an Academy Awards repeat of 1994, where Tom Hanks won for Philadelphia with his portrayal of Andrew Beckett, a lawyer with AIDS. This film is far from awards-baiting though; it really is a complete physical and mental transformation by an actor that truly warrants recognition.

Renowned for being cocksure on screen, McConaughey has turned his back on his romcom fraternity-boy persona in recent times, with the likes of indies like Mud (2012). As Woodroof, he has the chance to cement his astonishing talents that seem to be unstoppable and criminally hidden all these years from mainstream audiences. As Woodroof, he portrays the full spectrum of emotions as his life is turned upside down, still relying on that ‘arrogance’ of former roles to take control of the situation.

You would be forgiven for thinking this film is led by one performance. The supporting roles are just a memorable, with Leto as a frightened cross dresser who feeds off the defiance and sense of hope that Woodroof creates, but who is not as strong in belief as his business-savvy friend. Rayon is the only fictional character in the real-life story but Leto makes her believable, swinging from damaged to defiant at any moment and managing to give a fully rounded character that you cannot help but believe was real. The story’s compelling sub-plot is Woodroof’s change in attitude towards the gay community with Rayon’s help, but without Vallée’s film turning to cliché. What is portrayed is very real process indeed rather than sympathy-seeking schmaltz, making it even more impacting.

Do not miss seeing McConaughey at his finest in Dallas Buyers Club; it really is the ultimate in dedication to ones art, plus a chance to see Leto return with a tour de force to the big screen in a small indie way.

5/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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