Book Review – Errol Flynn: Satan’s Angel by David Bret

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This biography of the suave swordsman Errol Flynn spans his life as a charming scoundrel. It doesn’t shy away from the realities of his numerous love affairs and it paints a picture of a man who moved through life pursuing his own desires at the expense of everything else. Sometimes callous, Bret paints Flynn as a tortured man who thought he was strong enough to withstand addiction to drugs and alcohol, and in some ways he did because he made it to 50 years of age when, given everything he put his body through, he should probably have been dead long before that.

It was a life lived without regret and he seemed to make the most of every moment. Definitely a poster boy for hedonism, this book is one of the better ones I’ve read as although a lot of it is devoted to Flynn’s sex life it doesn’t come across as salacious or tawdry. The writing style is readable and Flynn’s life is a real page-turner. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a film biography made of him yet, but if you’re interested in classic cinema then this is definitely a book that should be on your reading list.

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Movie Review – Jeune & Jolie (2013)

Director: Francois Ozon

Stars: Marin Vacth, Geraldine Pailhas, Frederic Pierrot, Fantin Ravat, Johan Leysen

Isabelle (Vacth) is a seventeen year old girl who loses her virginity to a German boy. However, the experience does not leave her fulfilled and when she starts to go to college she supplements her time by working as a prostitute, using a website to meet clients. One in particular is a much older man who she forms a connection with. The film is split into four seasons and a song marks the passing of each period of time.

This is a French film and it comes with the hallmark of French cinema. It feels very easygoing with a smooth pace that unfolds, and the French seem to make a lot of films dealing with young girls going into prostitution. The film doesn’t judge Isabelle, and it doesn’t really explain her actions. When the film jumps between the first two seasons she’s already in the world of prostitution so there’s no moment where we see her decide. But it’s clear she feels distant from the world, and her first experience held no pleasure for her.

And in my opinion the film is okay. It doesn’t offer much different to other films dealing with the same subject, and the ending didn’t have any great impact upon me. I initially liked the idea of having each season punctuated with a song, but I would have liked them to have gone further with this and have the film been more present in the season, because they actually felt largely the same.

So I don’t give this my full recommendation but it’s okay to watch on a late night. I’d recommend Elles over this one though.

Movie Review – Kissing Jessica Stein (2001)

Director: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld

Stars: Jennifer Westfeldt, Heather Juergensen, Scott Cohen, Jackie Hoffman

Jessica (Westfeldt) is a successful journalist but unsuccessful in her romantic life. Filled with quirks and hang-ups, she enters a new world when she finds herself involved with the owner of an art gallery, Helen, but this new relationship is fraught with uncertainty as she hides the true nature of her affection from everyone she knows.

People have different opinions about fluid sexuality. It’s not always handled with the most care in films, but in this one the lesbianism isn’t played gratuitously and the relationship does feel like a genuine one. The two people involved are different in many ways. Helen is a free spirit and has a string of lovers that satisfy different needs, while Jennifer is continually shooting people down for sometimes shallow reasons.

And this contrast is at the heart of the film. As their relationship develops Helen gets more frustrated with Jennifer, and the central message of the story is that sometimes it’s not enough to find someone else to fix you. Jennifer is constantly unable to accept certain parts of her personality, and because of this she isn’t capable of having a stable relationship. I’ve been single for a while as well, and I recognized a lot of the frustrations of the dating world, but knowing yourself before getting into a relationship is definitely something that’s good advice.

The film moves along briskly although the last part feels crammed with changes that could have been dealt out more gradually, but overall I enjoyed it. The actors were likeable and it’s a pretty decent film.

Movie Review – The Hunt (2012)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrom, Susse Wold, Alexandra Rapaport

A teacher who works at a primary school is dealing with some issues in his personal life, but just when things to be on an upswing his whole place in the community is threatened by an innocent lie.

Mads Mikkelsen gives another fantastic performance here as the beleaguered teacher who genuinely finds joy in his job, but undergoes scrutiny when a child accuses him of abusing her. It’s an issue that is a major concern and I liked the way the film handled it. Instead of having Mikkelsen’s intentions be ambiguous and the film be about the act of abusing a child, like say in Doubt, it’s clear that the child is lying and the film is more about the reactions of people and how the community responds to the accusations.

One of the main tenets of modern society is that people are innocent until proven guilty, but when it comes to crimes like this people are quick to condemn the accused. One of the main points in this movie is that people believe kids don’t lie. Well, I live with a mate and he has a four year old. Kids definitely lie! But I can understand how it can be a delicate scenario, and it’s clear that the people here are trying to work from the best of intentions.

The most emotional parts of the film come when the people closest to Lucas start to doubt him, and it throws his whole world into chaos. I can’t imagine what it would be like to see people you think know you intimately believe that you’re capable of such things. It’s a very dramatic and authentic look at how one man’s life can quickly unravel and I highly recommend The Hunt.

Movie Review – Maravilla (2014)

Director: Juan Cadaveira

Sergio ‘Maravilla’ Martinez had a title stripped from him by the powers that be. At 37, many think his best years are behind him but he’s determined to have a shot at the title again to make up for the injustice. With the help of his promoter and an iron will, Martinez begins the quest to get a rematch before it’s too late and he has to retire completely.

Maravilla is a wonderful documentary that has all the drama of the best Rocky films with an added condemnation of the politics that threaten to ruin the business. It all begins when the title gets stripped from Martinez because of a fighter that’s going to appear on HBO, and it’s clear that it’s not the best fighters that get the shots at the titles, but the ones who are going to bring in the advertising revenue. With contributions from experts and footage from press conferences, this documentary gives an interesting insight into machinations behind the scenes and really serves as an indictment to the powers that be as they seem to be completely opposed to giving Martinez his shot.

Martinez and his supporters never back down from the idea that an injustice was served, and the film follows his journey to try and improve his public image so that he is a marketable aim and the higher-ups have no justification to deny him his title shot. There’s plenty of boxing action, and the road to the title isn’t easy as the powers that be seek to put many obstacles in his way. Through the film I got a good sense of Martinez’s personality and admire him for his determination and willpower.

The tension surrounding whether he will get his shot is palpable, and as a laymen I didn’t know what the outcome would be. My only interest in boxing comes from movies and I don’t follow the sport at all, but everything is explained well and didn’t feel like there were too many things that needed clarification. It’s a powerful movie and one that I highly enjoyed.

Movie Review – Mr. Holmes (2015)

Director: Bill Condon

Stars: Sir Ian McKellan, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Hiroyuki Sanada

It’s been years since the famous consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes (McKellan), has left the business and retired to tend to his bees. However, as the past begins to fade from his aging mind he takes a trip to Japan in the hope of finding a rare herb to stimulate his mental faculties. While he remembers the past, he forms a bond with his housekeepers’ son Roger (Parker).

I’m a huge Holmes fan and I’ve been anticipating this movie since I first heard about it. Let me assure you, it doesn’t not disappoint. While it’s a far cry from the recent big screen efforts starring Robert Downey Jr., and the explosive BBC adaptation, Mr. Holmes offers a quiet, meditative look at the detective in an understated, yet powerful, character study.

It’s a period in Holmes’ life that hasn’t been covered much before, and this gives it more of a fresh feeling than some other adaptations. There’s no Watson, although he does play a large part in the story and we do get a sense of the strong friendship that existed between him and Holmes. There’s plenty of detective work but where the film shines is in the dynamic between Holmes, Roger, and Roger’s mother (Linney). Roger is fascinating by the eccentric Holmes, although his mother knows that Holmes is nearing death, and has to try and prepare for a future away from him. Holmes is a little embittered and keeps himself to himself, but through Roger he finds a kindred spirit and a chance to have the facsimile of the type of relationship that has eluded him.

While the movie is slow-paced at first, I found I was enraptured during the last third as it offered a meditation on loneliness and gave a glimpse into the emotional core of the character. It spoke to me on a deep level as I have struggled with loneliness too, and some regrets regarding relationships and how I have prioritised other things over them (as I’m sure most people have). Parker is charming as Holmes’ protege, and there is one scene in particular that is emotionally harrowing, as Holmes urges Roger to apologise to his mother over some unkind comments. McKellan really brings his A-game and as scandalous as this may be to fans of The Lord of the Rings, this is the role in which I have most enjoyed his performance.

There are some cute references to other parts of the Holmes mythos, including a pleasing cameo from Nicholas Rowe, who played Sherlock Holmes in Young Sherlock Holmes.

Mr. Holmes is a respectful look at a beloved character and offers something different than the other adaptations currently circling. While it is slow at first, this is actually to its benefit and the emotional payoff at the end lingered with me.

Movie Review – Birdman (2015)

Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu

Stars: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Gold

In this Best Picture winner, Keaton plays an aging actor whose career has stalled after his success as a cult superhero. In an effort to become relevant again he directs and produces the remake of a play, while also trying to repair his fragmented relationship with his daughter. However, the play spirals out of control and his mind struggles under the pressure.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went into Birdman because it had a lot of acclaim but the director had made some disparaging remarks about superhero films, and I wasn’t sure how much the superhero aspect would come into play. I knew that it would be somewhat offbeat, and the fact that they cast Michael Keaton, who obviously has a history with superheroes, broke the fourth wall a little bit, so I sat myself down and strapped in for the ride.

And what a disappointing ride it was. I honestly can’t see what the Academy saw in this movie, and it’s the second best picture winner in a row that bored me to tears. There were moments of energy and the cast certainly gave themselves to the parts but I left the film feeling empty. I didn’t feel invested in the characters or the situation. I get that it’s an exploration of the psyche of actors and how they sacrifice a lot including their family…and their dignity to stay relevant, but it’s not untrodden ground and there are loads of other films that put Hollywood under the microscope.

I get the feeling that Birdman is saying something it thinks is revolutionary and then pats itself on the back for doing so. And if there is a deeper meaning then it’s cloaked behind some substance that just isn’t enthralling. I’ve read a few posts on IMDB about how there’s layers to the film, but there’s no way I’m putting myself through it to try and see them. The film isn’t a rewarding experience and it didn’t stimulate me on an emotional or intellectual level so for that reason I would recommend that you ignore the hype and avoid the film. Go watch its competitor, Whiplash, instead.

MARVEL has found its Peter Parker

My Tiny Obsessions

It’s done. After months of rumors and castings, MARVEL has finally announced that 19 year old Tom Holland will be the next Spider-Man.

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A lot of people seem to not be happy about this casting, either because Tom looks so young, or because they feel a reboot wasn’t necessary, or just because he’s unknown…

I have to be honest, I didn’t want a reboot, I loved Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, and I’m super sad to see him go. That said, Marvel had announced a while back that they wanted a younger Spider-Man, so the reboot kind of makes sense. I foolishly hoped that they would opt for Miles Morales as Spidey and not Peter Parker, but my hope went away as soon as they released the frontrunners for the role…

Then from that list I was kind of hoping for Charlie Rowe, because I love him to bits, but I…

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Movie Review – Hot Girls Wanted (2015)

Directors: Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus

Hot Girls Wanted is a documentary about young women who enter the amateur porn industry in the hopes of finding fame and fortune.

Some documentaries try and provide an objective look at their subject while some try to fit the contents of their film around a central point its trying to make. Hot Girls Wanted falls into the latter category. The film takes the position that these girls are being exploited, yet the actual content of the film makes it clear that these girls express their own agency and none of them were forced into this lifestyle. It’s actually a pitying look at these people who think judge their success in the world by how much attention they get on social media.

Many of them admit to doing this to live the high life, and they claim to be living large but the reality is depressing, for they are living in a house that’s hardly the playboy mansion and the turnaround of girls is so great that a career in amateur porn lasts for a matter of months. The girls end up doing some degrading things, as it’s stated that if they want to stay successful in the business they’re going to have to perform in more niche topics.

It touches on a number of difficulties these girls face. One of them, while at a party with her boyfriend, finds that a number of the guests want to put her clips up on the widescreen television. It’s clear that there were many consequences of being an amateur porn star that these girls did not think about. And I do feel pity for them because they’re young and they see a way to escape their boring lives and get a chance at some fame, and to travel all over the country etc, but at the same time a lot of them seemed to be deluding themselves.

And this is where the documentary I think falls in its aim. It seems to want to paint these girls as innocents who were manipulated into doing this, but what I saw was a group of self-absorbed people, and it may sound harsh and I might get some hate for it, but that’s the impression I was left with.

It did shed light on the industry though, and there were some surprising statistics. Some things shocked me as well, like some of the things the girls ended up doing to keep their career going. Overall I think it’s let down by not letting the footage speak for itself, and it’s not going to be a subject that everyone is going to enjoy watching but for all its faults I thought it was a good film to watch.

Movie Review – The Final Cut (2004)

Director: Omar Naim

Stars: Robin Williams, Mira Sorvino, Stephanie Romanov, Jim Caviezel

Implanted microchips record a person’s life, and upon death a cutter takes the footage and edits a movie for rememory services, this world’s version of funerals. There’s an organization that opposes this though, and target expert cutter Alan Hakman (Williams) as he receives high-profile footage.

I loved the concept of The Final Cut. Having a service where you watch a film of someone’s life from their perspective, albeit without their preconceptions, is a fascinating one and it made me think about what a rememory service for me would be like. Of course, I had to suspend my disbelief quite a bit because I can’t imagine how arduous a task it would be to go through all this footage and edit a two hour length movie out of sometimes 80+ years.

Although this premise is interesting I found the execution somewhat lacking and muddled. There were a few plot threads going on – Alan was struggling with his own memories and found it difficult to have a life of his own when he witnessed so much of other people’s, the footage he was editing could have clues to child abuse and subsequently bring down the main corporation, and the organization was trying to hunt Alan for this footage. There were other little hints at the way this technology had caused a shift in society as well, but with its short runtime the film never felt like it had the room to develop these stories in the way they needed, and as such it feels like there are a lot of good ideas but the end result is ultimately unsatisfying.

It’s a shame because there’s definitely a good premise here, it just needed streamlining. This is one film that I’d be glad to see a remake of because there’s definitely a good story in there.