Film Review: Breathe

Breathe is a by-the-numbers period drama which offers few surprises. Andy Serkis directs well, but the film feels rather generic.

When Robin and Diana fall in love, Diana follows him and his job to Kenya. When Robin contracts polio, he thinks his life is over. The couple and their friends must find a way forward that gives Robin a chance to live normally…

Breathe is obviously a personal film; it tells the story of the parents of Serkis’ producing partner Jonathan Cavendish. It is a story which isn’t well known, but is important in the history of accessibility for the disabled. So it certainly is a worthy story to tell. The advances made by Robin and the people who worked with him undoubtedly have helped progress options and freedom for those with severe mobility issues.

Whether this worthiness translates into a compelling film is another matter. Breathe does not stagnate at any point, the narrative progression feels steady and expected. Serkis often uses close ups to convey intimacy with the characters and between Robin and Diana particularly. The score suits the setting and style of the film. Locations are beautifully shot by Serkis and cinematographer Robert Richardson. Andrew Garfield delivers a convincing performance as Robin. He is becoming quite the reliable actor in delivering strong, believable portrayals. Claire Foy and Stephen Mangan are also good.

The biggest detraction from the film is that it follows a well-worn template. The British period biopic has been successful in recent years, with The King’s Speech and The Theory of Everything, and perhaps Breathe hopes to emulate this. The result, however, is that there is nothing in the film that isn’t predictable. The tropes of this genre are all here, including the brand of humour, the triumph in adversity narrative, and even the plummy accents.

There is a disappointment in an actor and filmmaker as inventive as Serkis delivering such a safe film for his directorial debut. Breathe itself will no doubt satisfy fans of this brand of gentle British period drama.

Breathe is opening the BFI London Film Festival on 4th October 2017.

Film Review: Hyde Park on Hudson

Viewers that have seen the trailer for Hyde Park on Hudson will know exactly what to expect. Although the film boasts great costumes, art direction and performances, it lacks anything more substantial than this.

Margaret Suckley is invited to spend time with her distant relative, Franklin D Roosevelt, President of America. As their friendship develops, the President is engaged with the forthcoming visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England, who are due to spend the weekend at Hyde Park on Hudson…

Everything moves along pleasantly in Hyde Park on Hudson, but without any real purpose. There is some humour in Roger Michell’s film, but a lack of strong dramatic moments. This means the narrative plods along rather. The film takes a steady course, with no real change in emotion or tension. There is a distinct lack of peaks in the narrative. The problem with this is that the crux that the final third depends on goes with a whimper rather than a bang.

Hyde Park on Hudson functions as The King’s Speech 2. There is a surprising amount of time given to Bertie and Elizabeth, given that the focus of the film revolves around the relationship between Franklin and Margaret. Franklin D. Roosevelt is such an interesting character, but this film offers a snippet of a brief period in his life rather than a biopic.

Bill Murray, Laura Linney and Olivia Williams all offer great performances. The film has sumptuous visuals and the feel of a polished period piece. The score is entirely in keeping with the style of the film.

The film certainly looks the part, and the performances lead to the expectation of something more. Hyde Park on Hudson is let down by the absence of a gripping narrative.

Hyde Park on Hudson is being screened at the London Film Festival in October 2012.

10 Things To Be Grateful For In 2010

As with most years, 2010 has offered us the good, the bad and the ugly. The following is a highly subjective list of some of the best things to come out of cinema this year. Feel free to add your own entries in the comments below.

1. The Return Of Michael Keaton

Following appearances in such cinematic classics as First Daughter, Michael Keaton spent a number of years in the land successful wide releases forgot. That changed in 2010, with a memorable role voicing Ken in the hugely successful Toy Story 3, and scene-stealing as Captain Gene Mauch in The Other Guys. Although the latter was not exactly the film of the year, Keaton raised the bar with a fantastic comic performance reminiscent of his glory days. This served as a timely reminder of his charisma and aptitude for comedy in Night Shift and Beetlejuice among others. Welcome back, Mr Keaton!

2. Warner Bros Greenlit Inception

Despite its box office success, Inception is a film that has divided critics and audiences. Love it or hate it, we should all be grateful that the studio greenlit the big-budget production in the first place. Based on an original screenplay, Inception was a refuge from the barrage of sequels, remakes, spin-offs and adaptations. Inception was a blockbuster that was engaging yet accessible. For the film, Warner Bros expended the kind of marketing strategy usually reserved for pre-sold entities. Given the healthy box office returns, the gamble certainly paid off. Hopefully Inception‘s success will give more studios the confidence to follow suit.

3. Disney Released A Traditionally Animated Feature

The Princess and the Frog (released in February 2010 in the UK) marked the first hand-drawn animation film from Disney since 2004. The past five years have seen no shortage in animated films; however these have tended to be of the computer generated variety. While features such as Up look fantastic, there is something quintessentially Disney about The Princess and the Frog. The beautiful animation harks back to the golden age of the early and mid-nineties, when each year would see a now classic Disney animated feature. Only time will tell whether The Princess and the Frog will be appraised in the same way as films such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. In the meantime, the film indicates at least some variety in Disney’s output.

4. Referencing The 1980s Is Still In Vogue

Certainly not a new trend for 2010, for a number of years now cinema has been harking back to the eighties. Be it long overdue sequels to 1980s hits (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), remakes or even choice of soundtrack, referencing that most magical of decades has been a fixture in Hollywood in recent years. 2010, however, may have pulled of a coup d’état with the gloriously nostalgic Hot Tub Time Machine. With an amazing soundtrack and a plethora of references to 1980s films, fashion and popular culture, Steve Pink’s film was the ultimate homage to the much-loved decade.

5. David Fincher Signed On To Direct A Film About Facebook

A film about the creation of social networking site Facebook sounded just about the most unappealing premise of the year. Interest was peaked when David Fincher was announced as director of the project in 2009, but many, like myself, remained unconvinced. All that changed when the film was released in October 2010. The Social Network was one of the most absorbing films of the year, brilliantly executed and visually handsome. A very welcome surprise.

6. Woody Allen Dusted Off A Script From The ’70s

Released in June 2010 in the UK, Whatever Works saw a return to form for prolific director Woody Allen. Based on his original script from the 1970s, Whatever Works featured all the hallmarks of a classic Allen feature; witty dialogue, well-written characters and the New York setting. The film served as a reminder of why Woody Allen is such a lauded filmmaker, and is reminiscent of some of his best-loved pictures of the 1970s and 1980s. Here’s hoping Allen has a few more scripts gathering dust in his attic.

7. Colin Firth Stepped Up His Game

A bastion of period drama and romantic comedies, in 2010 Colin Firth revealed his flair for more serious dramatic roles with two magnificent performances. Firth conveyed the aching tragedy of George in Tom Ford’s A Single Man (released in February 2010 in the UK), and was thoroughly convincing as George VI in The King’s Speech (screened at the London Film Festival in October 2010). Having won awards for A Single Man and already receiving nominations for The King’s Speech, these triumphs are almost enough for us to forget Mamma Mia. Almost.

8. Danny Boyle Produced One Of The Most Wince-Inducing Scenes In Film History

Collective squirming ensued in screenings throughout the world when Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours was released (screened at the London Film Festival in October 2010). Most viewers would have known what to expect, but the film excels in building tension right up until this point. The event itself was visceral enough to apparently induce vomiting and fainting amongst audience members. This may just have been good marketing, but what remains is one of the most memorable scenes of 2010.

9. The Bounty Hunter Was Released In March

Though it has faced some stiff competition, The Bounty Hunter was the worst film released this year. For an action comedy, The Bounty Hunter was painfully unfunny. Like a childhood trauma, time dulls the pain, although you never entirely forget.

10. Joe Dante Directed A ‘Family Horror’

The Hole (released September 2010 in the UK) may not be the greatest film of the year, but it was certainly one of the scariest. For a film with child protagonists and aimed at a family audience, the film was surprisingly frightening. The Hole played on the most primal of fears, which resulted in a film that was far more effective than many of the adult horrors released this year. Although The Hole has been rather overlooked in terms of critical acclaim, it is a must-see for horror aficionados.

Report: London Film Festival Press Conferences – Week 2

The King’s Speech

Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter and director Tom Hooper attended the press conference for The King’s Speech. Helena commented that she was unaware of the extent of George VI’s speech impediment before coming to the project. She suggests that the film shows a “fresh angle on a very famous period of history, for us, the abdication. The abdication came very close to a proper crisis in the monarchy. So the pressure on him and, and the personal crisis – that was totally new to me”.

Helena also joked that she took the part so she indulge in being the queen. She states; “I’ve played a few queens lately and they are really enjoyable. I just do queens”. Geoffrey remarked that; “I’ve always had an intriguing, fascinating obsession with the whole dynasty of British royalty back a millennia and a bit… The House of Windsor, which is still with us, for me is the first sort of reality TV show”.

Colin mentioned that he had to do a lot of the research, even though it was the third time he had played someone with a stammer. He explained: “As anyone who has experienced it would probably have been able to tell me, it’s not going to be the same for everybody, it won’t feel the same. What you’re going every time, of course is, what you’re really playing is not stammering. That’s really what you’ve got to worry about, because that’s what the person is going through”.

Read the I Heart The Talkies review of The King’s Speech

Black Swan

The Black Swan press conference was attended by director Darren Aranofsky, producer Scott Franklin and stars Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel. Darren Aronofsky commented that it was difficult to penetrate the ballet world at the beginning of the project. He commented: “It took a very, very long time. And slowly but surely we met a few dancers that were interested in sharing their stories, and we did a lot of research”.

Darren explained that it was difficult to get parties interested in making Black Swan, despite his success with The Wrestler. “Because we had so little money” he states, “every single day was really difficult. There was never any easy days. Every day was like “Oh my gosh, we have to do all that today?””.

Vincent Cassel expressed that it was easy working with Natalie Portman. He explains; “She was very focused on the dancing, in a way – I have to say – that I was impressed with the amount of work that she put into the physical transformation”. Mila echoed these sentiments, saying Natalie was “fantastic to work with”.

Read the I Heart The Talkies review of Black Swan

Film Review: The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech has ‘Oscar contender’ written all over it. From the wonderful performances and Tom Hooper’s direction to the costuming and score, the film is sure to garner numerous nominations.

The Duke of York is crippled with a speech impediment that greatly hinders his public service. This is only an intermittent issue; as it is his brother Edward VIII who is due to assume the throne after the death of George V. As Bertie begins treatment with the unorthodox Lionel Logue, however, the need for public speaking becomes much for necessary…

The King’s Speech boasts a story that is unfamiliar, despite the fame of its protagonist. While most will be aware of the story of Edward VIII’s abdication of the throne, his brother’s speech impediment is a far less familiar tale. Furthermore, Lionel Logue is a little known name. The film sheds light on this interesting character, as well as depicting a side of George V seldom seen.

Screenwriter David Seidler does a great job of combining personal interaction with historical fact. The King’s Speech flows nicely from the momentous moments of early twentieth-century British history to the private sessions between Bertie and Lionel, and the conversations between the future king and Elizabeth. The film is peppered with humour, which often breaks more serious moments. The combination of comedy and drama works adeptly. The King’s Speech is serious enough that the decisive scenes retain poignancy, but funny enough to remain entertaining and enjoyable to watch.

Colin Firth gives an excellent performance as the Duke of York; his stammer is wholly convincing. The character demands sympathy for his obstacles, and Firth effectively achieves this. Geoffrey Rush is great as Lionel, bringing plenty of humour, as well as depth. Helena Bonham Carter conveys both strength and warmth in her role as Elizabeth.

The sets and costumes appear wholly authentic of the era. Tom Hooper shows a flair for lavish period drama with The King’s Speech. The camera work is faultless, and the tracking shots used in the film’s climax are a nice touch in particular. Alexandre Desplat’s score seems entirely in keeping with the tone of the film.

The King’s Speech is a wonderful rendering of an interesting real life tale. It is certainly worthy of the praise it will inevitably receive.

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