A United Kingdom (2016)

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The captivating true-life romance that drew an English office clerk and the future King of Botswana into a future of rippling prosperity and incredible global influence. In a world of common interracial relationships, British filmmaker Amma Asante illustrates the remarkable history of two individuals who forged a difficult path to acceptance, love and unshaken equality for all.

A United Kingdom evolves from the very moment a simple insurance clerk, played by Rosamund Pike, and a nice African chap, David Oyelowo (who also happens to be the heir of the throne to Bechuanaland) meet at a London Missionary Society Dance. Following a secret year-long courtship, the couple marry in 1948, triggering an immediate and highly severe diplomatic fallout between Bechuanaland, London and South Africa. What unfolds is a long and treacherous battle for equality, for peace and for justice in a place where white women are buffeted and prodded.

One day things have to change and it has to start somewhere.

The film’s appeal undoubtedly lies in watching Ruth and Seretse together, while every force around them conspires to tear them apart. Pike and Oyelowo’s chemistry is truly sincere, elegant and awe-inspiring, remaining composed and full of strength in pressure that would destroy anything but wholehearted love and commitment. Oyelowo also brings to his role a stillness and poise reflective of Martin Luther King, in which his reticence and influence blossoms. This deep romance and commitment, painted on a backdrop of horror and destruction, draws out the very best in humanity’s ability to conquer all.

I think that A United Kingdom’s greatest strength in fact lies in its ability to showcase that love can conquer all, even in times of incredible heartache. Without the persistence to create change in a seemingly imperfect world, nothing worthwhile would ever come about.

I want to make pieces of entertainment and art that mean something,” director Amma Asante recently told the BBC, “I want to make movies that leave some kind of mark on you.” But A United Kingdom does more than just simply leave a mark, with its nicely paced and intelligent depiction of a story almost too good to be true. A chapter of heartstring jerking history that deserves a close reading.

★★★★★

Imdb – 6.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 89%

La La Land (2016)

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The seasons of a charming love affair are illustrated wonderfully in this captivating scope of colour, sweetness, sadness and song. From the newest creation of Damien Chazelle, who stole hearts in last years Whiplash, comes an unapologetic romantic homage to the Hollywood glamour of the 1940’s and 1950’s, splashing its poster-paint energy and optimism on the big screen.

Emma Stone is Mia, a barista at the lot of Warner Brothers Studio with big dreams to join the acting world. But like most aspiring actresses, Mia has suffered through endless humiliating auditions with little hope of reaching her dreams. Ryan Gosling, as Sebastian, joins the scene as a mesmerising pianist and a passionate jazz purist, who bristles at the increasing bastardisation of what is considered to be in his mind the highest musical form. Mia and Sebastian’s first encounter is a prickly bump in during peak traffic, but soon enough the two meet again and the inevitable and unexpected happens – they fall in love.

Chazelle explores priceless musical sequences as a continuation of La La Land’s limitless possibilities. The seamless moments of singing and dancing are woven into the ordinary, creating an intimate sense of excitement and intrigue. The film holds exceptional use of cinematography, and an exquisite display of colour and light. The vibrancy of the costumes and lighting creates a masterpiece of vibrancy, a bright canvas for the romance of Mia and Sebastian to evolve. In saying that, while the musical scores of Justin Hurwitz soared in the opening scenes, toward the end La La Land lacked the heart and soul of a musical and focused instead on almost monotonous themes that rocked me to sleep. But undeniably, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling carry the film with charm and grace, piercing emotional moments with gut and expressive honesty – and enough romance to create brilliance.

La La Land is a sweet film for those of us who love love, or for those of us with dreams that need a little cheering up. La La Land is a celebration of Hollywood’s Golden Age, of jazz and of course of romance, with its heart bound in deep connections and relentless regret. Here’s to the fools who dream.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 8.9/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 93%

Passengers (2016)

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Riding on the wave of its endless space film predecessors, Passengers is shaping up to be the most criticised film of this year thus far. Carried by its happier conception of human nature, Passengers builds on a lively journey of faith and determination but lacks the grit and heart.

Chris Pratt is Jim Preston, a completely ordinary engineer who is emigrating from Earth on a mega-spaceship, in order to start a new life on planet Homestead II – a pure and entirely empty new world. Like the 4,999 other passengers aboard the ship, Jim is sleeping in a suspended hibernation pod, awaiting the 130 year journey to deliver him to paradise. But after an unprecedented meteor whack, he is awake 90 years too early left to wander the spacecraft wide-eyed and panicked .. until (plot twist) he discovers the sparkling Aurora.

Screenwriter Jon Spaihts appears with Passengers as first sole feature credit, after contributing to recent blockbusters Doctor Strange and Prometheus. Here, Spaihts borrows liberally from Kubrick, in their shared love of exploring large creepy interiors. But after exploring Jim’s outrageous ghost house situation, the film has to move on to an inevitable climax – and a rather underwhelming one at that. The glue of the film is undoubtedly in Jennifer Lawrence, as Aurora, who plants her roots cheerfully in her doom. This unfolding love story is credit to the exceptional chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence, thrown against a visually stylish backdrop of space.

Passengers grows on its audience – those of whom are inevitably captured by a large dose of romance and a small sprinkle of space dilemmas. Because of course, as we all know, what is a space film without a mysterious technical malfunction that shatters the very core of humanity. I definitely won’t be going to Earth V2 anytime soon.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 7.1/10 Rotten Tomatoes – 31%

Allied (2016)

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Right up to the most recent cinematic illustration of war, in the breathtaking Hacksaw Ridge, WWII films have gone to great lengths to stress the horror of war and its consequently intense physical and psychological dismay. In Allied, Robert Zemeckis takes a sharp turn toward Hollywood war films of the 1950’s – mixing together action, politics, drama, humour and romance to portray a world of heartbreak on a sparkling canvas.

As the film opens in 1942, Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan gracefully parachutes into North Africa, and the very heart of Casablanca. Paired with a mission to assassinate the German Ambassador, the wildly passionate French Resistance Fighter Marianne Beausejour appears as his partner in crime. Under threat from local Nazi bigwigs, they establish themselves as a loving married couple, to avoid arousing any local suspicion. Over the course of the following days, the make-believe marriage blossoms into an unprecedented attraction, setting the stage for intriguing love scenes and a spectacular escape. But the story really picks up when his now real wife Marianne is accused to be a German spy, and settling accusations against execution becomes Vatan’s most prominent battle yet.

Allied carries bold influences of its predecessors with impeccable style and remarkable cinematography. Written by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Knight, whose previous credits attain to romance-fuelled drama thrillers, Allied generates excitement with little attention to anything but the characters at the heart of the film. Over the years, Zemeckis has elicited some of the greatest film performances, not to mention Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Denzel Washington in Flight and Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. But Allied unfolds with characters who shine effortlessly throughout the film. In his third war appearance following Inglorious Bastards and Fury, Brad Pitt brings debonair and dignity to his seamless romance with dazzling Marianne Cotillard. Pitt and Cotillard bring such depth to their characterisation we become utterly enraptured with their identity and intentions as the story unfolds. (Cue sobs during credits)

Allied, for me, was a film that clicked in a precise and effective manner. Not to mention Alan Silvestri’s contribution of top notch compositions, that wove together scenes almost magically – and of course Joanna Johnston’s costume design, that delivered effortless style and charm. All in all, a homage to Hollywood war films that graced the screen long before my time, and a beautiful story of romance on the backdrop of war and destruction. Allied is a breath of fresh air.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.2/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 61%

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

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A quick review about this .. may I say .. hilarious idiotic comedy.

Forget what Mike and Dave need, if you need a blast of mad-raunchy summer fun then this baby comes damn close to filling the bill. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates has the jumpy exuberance of a puppy that won’t stop humping your leg, guaranteed to split your sides (sometimes). This marks the feature directing debut of Jake Szymanski, who previously directed a handful of segments for Saturday Night Live and online shorts. So rest assured this guy kinda knows what he’s doing when it comes to comedy.

Given its title, you may be surprised that the story stems from factual roots. Mike and Dave Stangle, two party-hard brothers from upstate New York who took an ad on Craiglist to find two nice girls to take to a cousin’s wedding. They appeared on The Wendy Williams Show and even wrote a 2015 memoir. Hollywood bravely takes this premise with a goofy grin. In their version of events, when their younger sister Jeanie announces that she’s getting married, the family insists the party boys discover dates for the wedding. After endless unsuitable candidates, Tatiana and Alice, former waitresses at a Hooter-ish bar, hatch a plan of transformation into nice, polished and selfie-ready girls. What follows is a ridiculous Hawaii vacay of limitless suprises.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is very much an ensemble comedy, but Audrey Plaza’s ineffable style of comedy suits the material so perfectly she leaves the others in the dust. Zac Efron provides the eye candy while Adam Devine provides the comedy-almost perfect brothers really. This film is hardly a masterpiece, but more a collection of set pieces, with some greater than others. I’ll leave it to you to root for any feminist messages. There’s certainly a theme of equality, demonstrating that Tatiana and Alice can be equally as revolting as Mike and Dave. But at the end of the day, this is just a fun flick. A little crude, a little over the top … but all in all, I loved it. We were chuckling from start to finish.

★★☆☆☆

Me Before You (2016)

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Pairing a working-class British lass with an icy quadriplegic aristocrat whose heart she’s been hired to melt, Me Before You seems to boast a can’t-miss premise – class division and medical misfortune forming the peanut butter and jelly of this tear jerking romance. Considering the immense popularity of Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel, from which she adapts the screenplay, and the amiable power of British realism, Me Before You is virtually a recipe for success.

Me Before You follows the story of Lou Clark, played by Emilia Clarke; guileless, naïve and accident prone – Lou radiates a delightful cheeriness through her quirky manner and wild fashion sense. Desperate to support her family, Lou presents herself at the door of a local castle hoping to become a potential carer for reclusive heir Will Trainor, played by Sam Clafin. Expected to discover an elderly invalid, Lou is astonished when she finds a handsome, debonair young man of previously high-flying banker rendered quadriplegic by a motorbike crash. A friendship begins to unravel, enhanced by Lou’s sunny nature and a collection of enthralling adventures in hopes of persuading Will to keep on living.

Emilia Clarke’s performance as Lou is winningly immersed in charming gawkiness and heartfelt sincerity, all while parading a deliriously cheesy grandma wardrobe heavy on eye-popping colours and prints. So much so, it might prompt reminiscence of when you first encountered the blinding incandescence of Julia Roberts’ wide-screen ready smile or the delicate allure of Kiera Knightley’s cameo-locket features. Emilia Clarke is undeniably loveable, especially when she is matched with toxic, resentful and bitter Sam Clafin. His performance fails to shy away from the hopeless agenda of his case, but keeps us mercilessly invested in the effortless appeal of the pairs’ punching emotions, set against a backdrop of tear jerking Ed Sheeran tunes.

However, despite its appeal as a quirky loveable romance, Me Before You caresses deep complicated issues with little regard for the politics of euthanasia. The films admirable presentation of a disabled man as a swoon-worthy romantic lead collides with the implicit suggestion that perhaps such a hopeless life isn’t worth living, so the undercurrents of wish-fulfilment leave a sour taste. The skittish delicacy with which Me Before You explores quadriplegia draws few parallels with counterpart love story The Fault in Our Stars 2014, a far bolder and more honest portrayal of life with serious medical difficulties.

First-time filmmaker Thea Sharrock certainly maintains an air of sweetness throughout the film, immersing us in her loveable main characters, but Me Before You lacks a real romantic charge. Given the catchphrase “Live Boldly!”, it’s a shame that the film didn’t take a bolder and more honest route in this adaptation, considering the extent of the underlying ideas of disability. The seriousness of euthanasia was sadly underplayed, but this flick is still entertaining, engaging and heart-warming, overall a small win for romance.

★★★☆☆

The Immigrant (2013)

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The Immigrant isn’t just set in the past, but feels like it’s been rediscovered from another time. The latest film from award-winning director James Gray ignites outdated modes of film making and highlights the perfect details behind a luckless Polish woman’s difficulty in attaining the American dream. The intelligence, maturity and honesty of this work is outstanding and a little bewildering to say the least.

Upon arrival at Ellis Island, Ewa is immediately separated from her beloved sister Magda, ignored by her uncle and threatened with deportation back to Poland. All seems hopeless for Ewa until Bruno comes along with the promise of boarding and work at his theatre, which quickly proves as nothing more than a high-class brothel. However kindness arrives in the form of a charming travelling magician who falls for Ewa, meanwhile causing Bruno to become immensely jealous.

The Immigrant has a melodramatic edge to it, but there remains something too fragile and tense about the actress in the role. The film delivers a performance that’s quite integral and charming, but also surprisingly forceful. You can never predict the behaviour and emotions of characters intertwined in the thick plot. The immigrant is almost a fatuous love story in a world haunted by fear. Bruno and Orlando are grown men with weapons, but their devotion to Ewa doesn’t make their actions feel any less immature. For such a gorgeous, thoughtful film, The Immigrant is more of an intellectual experience than an emotional one – mainly as a result of Ewa’s commiserating but never quite heartbreaking problems.

The Immigrant is a simple love story in an undoubtedly terrifying adult world of hate, fear and abandonment. The film unfolds at its own pace, building slowly, perhaps even tediously towards its emotionally relieving conclusion.  Such an incredible movie – and so cold too.

★★★★☆