Film Review: Hunky Dory

Hunky Dory is a sweet-natured film; a nostalgic nod to the 1970s. It is an enjoyable enough watch, but is unlikely to have any lasting effect.

Vivienne is a high school teacher in 1970s Wales. Unlike some of her colleagues, she hopes that the teenagers she teaches are able to express themselves. Organising the end of term play, a musical version of  The Tempest, Vivienne must contend with disapproving colleagues, rowing teens, high school crushes and an unpredictable headmaster…

Hunky Dory focuses on Vivienne and her relationship with the students. There are a number of strands present in Marc Evans’ film, some of which are more developed than others. The film retains the audience’s attention because of the sense of unpredictability. It is not easy to see what direction the film will actually take especially with Davey’s strand. The story concentrating on Angus flits in and out of the overarching narrative, without enough time or development to make it worthwhile. Other strands fair better, offering characters and issues that appear realistic.

Music plays an important role in Hunky Dory. No doubt many viewers who remember the period will find the songs featured reminiscent. The soundtrack conveys the era very well; at no time during the film does it feel unlike the 1970s. The performance of the show shifts back and forth in terms of focus, just as it should.

Hunky Dory features a strong central performance from Minnie Driver. The film is just the right length; a light comedy drama that fans of 1970s music should check out.

Hunky Dory was screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.

Film Review: Barney’s Version

Barney Panofsky is sometimes an abhorrent protagonist, but this does not make his story any less interesting. Barney’s Version is an intriguing drama brimmed with great performances.

Barney Panofsky is a hard-drinking television producer, who has led a rather interesting life. Despite only being in love once, Barney has been married three times. His tumultuous life has provided moments of happiness and regret…

Told through a series of flashbacks, Barney’s Version focuses on the significant events of the protagonist’s adult life. These are dominated by Barney’s three marriages, but also feature his relationship with family and friends. Richard J. Lewis directs Barney’s Version with equanimity. The film spends sufficient time exploring Barney’s character, yet never feels stagnant.

Barney’s Version effectively combines drama with comedy and romance, as well as a rather intriguing mystery. This amalgamation of genres allows the audience to experience an array of emotions, much like Barney himself. The film seems to slide effortlessly from comedy to drama, thanks to Michael Konyves screenplay, based on Mordecai Richler’s novel.

Barney Panofsky is not the average movie protagonist. For starters, he is not conventionally attractive, yet manages to attract beautiful women. He has his vices, yet has also carved out a successful career for himself. He acts rashly and incomprehensibly, yet is still loved by his wife. For the numerous mistakes Barney makes, he also elicits sympathy and laughter.

Barney’s Version‘s supporting characters are as well developed as the protagonist. Miriam may love Barney regardless of his flaws, but she is initially wary of his intentions, understandably so. Miriam is perhaps character most identified with in the film, sharing with the audience a dubiousness about the central character. Barney’s father Izzy is depicted as having similar flaws as his son. Nevertheless, Izzy seems to have a greater appreciation of family not fully realised by his son. It is through these characters that both the best and worst of Barney’s persona is revealed.

Paul Giamatti gives one of his finest performances as Barney. He is thoroughly convincing as the title character, and excellent in exuding both humour and sadness. Rosamund Pike is perfect as the soft-spoken Miriam, while Minnie Driver is feisty as the second Mrs Panofsky. Dustin Hoffman brings empathy and fragility as Izzy, and Scott Speedman is bright as Boogie.

The makeup department have done excellent work in Barney’s Version. Despite the film covering a period longer than thiry years, Barney and Miriam are always believable in their appearance.  Pasquale Catalano’s beautiful score is utilised effectively in the film.

Barney’s Version is a well-executed film, with Lewis getting the best out of his cast. A highly recommended film.

Report: London Film Festival Press Conferences – Week 1

Conviction

The press conference for Conviction was attended by Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver and Betty-Anne Waters. Betty-Anne commented that she was pleased with the movie, and that she thought her late brother Kenny would also be happy with it. She remarked: “It was my brother Kenny who wanted the film more than anything”.

When asked what stood out about the script for the actors, Hilary responded; “For me it was such a beautiful love story between a brother and a sister, one that was so compelling. I don’t actually remember seeing a love story this beautiful in I can’t even remember when. For me, the idea that someone can be so selfless – Betty-Anne is my hero, she’s my real-life hero”.

Betty-Anne praised Sam’s performance in the film, stating; “Sam was my brother on that screen, he really got the different dimensions of Kenny”. Sam lamented on the great crew and supporting actors, nevertheless he affirmed; “Hilary really had to carry this movie, and it takes a special woman to do that. Hilary is a fierce actress, and there’s not a lot of people who can do that”.

Read the I Heart The Talkies review of Conviction

Never Let Me Go

The Never Let Me Go conference was attended by actors Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Isobel Meikle-Small and Ella Purnell, writer Kazuo Ishiguro, director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland. Carey remarked that she was a big fan of Ishiguro’s novel before she was approached for the film. The cast and Mark often referred back to the book during the filming process. Carey relayed: “We had a brilliant script, but especially for me I had the whole book narrated by my character – it would have been remiss of me not to refer to it. And also, it’s great to go back to it for ideas… I was with the book most of the time”.

Andrew suggested Kazuo may have got sick of how reverent the cast were to the source material, joking; “We’d bow as he entered a room and he’d get very uncomfortable – and it’s fun to watch”. Mark commented that he had the same “emotional reaction” to the script as he did to the book. He decided to immerse himself in Japanese cinema and ideas of aesthetics, having read in an interview that Kazuo felt influenced by this.

Keira was fascinated by her character Ruth, explaining; “I didn’t like her, and it’s tricky playing people you don’t like”. When writing the story, Kazuo was “interested in something that paralleled the human lifespan”. He stated: “And the question is, what’s most important to human beings when they realise time is running out”.

Read the I Heart The Talkies review of Never Let Me Go

Film Review: Conviction

Based on real events, Conviction could have played out like a made-for-television movie. Thanks to some superlative performances and good production values, however, Conviction is a worthy rendering of an incredible story.

After her brother Kenny is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, his sister Betty-Anne Waters vows to clear his name. She begins to study law, and along with pal Abra, Betty-Anne never gives up fighting for justice…

Conviction works well because it effectively conveys the emotional rationale behind Betty-Anne’s decisions. Director Tony Goldwyn interlaces the forward-moving narrative with flashbacks of different periods in the life of the siblings. It is the sequences of Betty-Anne and Kenny as children that do most to cement their bond. The strong relationship between the siblings offers the justification for Betty-Anne to dedicate her life to Kenny’s cause.

Betty-Anne Waters is an amazing character. Her dedication to fighting for her brother’s sibling is unwavering; she is an incredibly strong individual. On one level, most will be able to empathise with Betty in her desire to help her family and fight injustice. On another level, her selflessness in spending most of her life working to free Kenny is something that is difficult to contemplate.

Writer Pamela Gray does not shy away from depicting more negative aspects of the protagonists. As well as Betty-Anne’s achievements, her concern over neglecting her sons is also displayed. While Kenny is portrayed as a lively character, he is also a bit of a loose cannon. Given his history, it is not a great surprise that he was initially spoken to about the murder.

One character who is not explored in much detail is Nancy Taylor, the officer responsible for putting Kenny behind bars. Conviction does not really examine why she persecutes Kenny; it would have been illuminating to delve into her character a little more. Nevertheless, the film focuses its concentration of Betty-Anne’s journey, so perhaps this would have been too much of a digression from the aim of Conviction.

Hilary Swank is excellent as Betty-Anne. She is entirely believable in the role; from the emotion she brings to her faultless accent. Sam Rockwell gives a great performance as Kenny, conveying both the energy and the frustration of the character. Minnie Driver brings some light relief as best friend Abra, while Juliette Lewis is a scene-stealer in her small but critical role.

Betty-Anne Waters’ story is unquestionably a remarkable one. However, it is a tale that could easily have been relegated to TV movie status. Thanks to the performances of the leads and the chemistry between Swank and Rockwell particularly, it is rightly elevated to big-screen calibre. Not the best film of the year, but certainly worth seeing.

Conviction is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.