Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

mary queen of scots poster

At 18 years old, Mary Stuart’s marriage to the Dauphin of France ends with his death. Returning to Scotland to reclaim her throne, she has to cope with political machinations both at home and from neighbouring England. England has been in religious turmoil following the changes wrought by Henry VIII and his succession by his two daughters in turn, one fervently Catholic and the other Protestant. With Elizabeth on the throne, her courtiers are not best pleased to find a Catholic not only on the throne of Scotland, but with a valid claim on England’s, too.

But neither religion nor auld enmities can hold a candle to the outrage of 16th Century men being forced to obey a woman… o_O

I went into this movie with very low expectations, which worked in my favour: it wasn’t that bad at all. It also wasn’t great, but that was – in my view – more to do with the storytelling and odd editing choices, and nothing against any of the performances.

Accents first. Elizabeth is played by an Aussie (Margot Robbie), and Mary by an Irishwoman (Saoirse Ronan). Thankfully, both seem to manage very well, even if Saoirse does sound as putting-it-on as I do when I try to ape my Irish relatives ūüėČ It’s nicely not distracting, though, which is a relief.

Even with such momentous events across the two countries, the filmmakers have taken the understandable approach of making the story about the two women on a more personal level. They even fabricate a meeting between the two, which never happened.

However, I felt that somewhere in the quick-cuts between Mary standing down a belligerent Robert Knox (an almost unrecognisable David Tennant) and 30 seconds of Elizabeth throwing a strop over her paper quilling project, I somehow felt the film got a little lost between historical-ness and trying to make a point, and fell a bit short on both.

Overall: not awful, but not surprised it’s not up for Oscars. It was, in some ways, the opposite of¬†The Favourite (2018): that was a Very Good film but hard to watch; MQos was much easier to watch but overall close to just being popcorn fluff – and not on purpose, I imagine!

Released: 18th January 2019
Viewed: 23rd January 2019
Running time: 124 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6/10

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The Favourite (2018)

favourite poster

It’s the early 18th Century, and Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) deals with poor health and amuses herself as best she can, while close friend, Lady Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weiss), dictates governing policy on her behalf. The relationship between the two is more than friendship, but not always kind. When Sarah’s impoverished cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), comes to court begging for a job, there’s a space for her to show kindness to the poor Queen, and gain affection – to the detriment of Sarah’s position.

Thus we have a movie about rivalries and politics, wars of many kinds, double dealing and back stabbing – and, of course, rabbits. Wait, what?!

To say this is a strange movie is understating things. It’s purposefully a mix of period and modern anachronisms – some subtle, such as costuming, and others just downright bizarre, like a dance scene that looks like a spoof of Strictly Come Dancing, regency style. What?!

Undeniably, the performances are excellent. Olivia Coleman in particular is just fantastic. However, it’s not an easy film to watch. The music only adds to this: often discordant to the point of painful, doing a great job of setting an uncomfortable tone, but not particularly pleasant to sit through.

And so, while I’d be very happy to see this win a ton of awards, I can’t offer it a higher rating. While ‘good’, it wasn’t exactly enjoyable and not something I really want to see again – especially with such a ‘wait, what?!’ ending.

Released: 1st January 2019
Viewed: 11th January 2019
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Outlaw King (2018)

Outlaw King poster

Cinema and history do not always go well together, and if¬†Braveheart is your reference for Scottish history – oy! Let’s not start there. Going in to the story of Scotland’s other big historical hero, Robert the Bruce, I was then facing some trepidation.

From and Aussie William Wallace (was I the only one chuckling at the film’s passing reference to him being dead already? Maybe it wasn’t meant as a movie swipe, hmm!) to an American Bruce, let me first say that Chris Pine does surprisingly well on the accent (actually, Glaswegian Tony Curran’s attempt at an island dialect is far more distracting).

As for the rest of the movie… well, it’s no Braveheart (ironically, that title was more Robert’s than William’s) and I mean that in a good way – mostly. It’s still not 100% historically accurate (and as another aside, I’d suggest children in Scotland are shamefully not being taught most of this – our own history – out of, what? Anti-nationalism?), but it doesn’t take half as many liberties in the name of telling a more rousing story.

And that in itself is a bit of a problem. Bruce was not an immediate hero, but the film has to err on the side of likeability. To be honest, he’s not entirely charismatic, either: whether by design or not, there’s an attempt at a lot of ‘acting via long moody looks’ that has mixed success. Also, the story sort of muddies an attempt at an ending – which, historically, is sort of fair, but… hmm.

Best bit of the whole movie – no, not the blink and you’ll miss ‘full frontal’ that got so much press, for goodness sake! – is the absolutely stunning Scottish scenery. The movie set in it is decent if not as awe-inspiring. Take that as you will!

Released: 9th November 2018
Viewed: 11th November 2018
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 7/10

First Man (2018)

first man poster

First Man is a biopic of astronaut, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), detailing his time with NASA and becoming the first human to walk on another planetary body. It’s at once a deeply personal story, and yet captures one of the most monumental human achievements of all time.

There was nothing easy about the ‘space race’. Hurling oneself out of Earth’s atmosphere, at the speeds required to escape gravity, would be terrifying enough at any time, but limited to¬†1950s/60s technology it becomes an exercise in ambition over common sense, it seems! Certainly, the American programme is fraught with accidents, often deadly, and the movie uses those to ramp up the tension levels and really pull on the audience’s emotions.

If anything, that need to constantly try to pull on the heartstrings is my only complaint about the movie. We’re shown a lot of Armstrong’s personal life, and in doing so it slants the whole achievement to being connected to the death of his daughter. Wouldn’t it be enough just for its own sake?

That said, the story is incredible and the performances are amazing. One complaint I heard was a dislike of how cold and distant Armstrong is portrayed – although, his living children have reportedly said this is the best representation they’ve seen on screen of their father. Personally, I found the personality very relatable: I do think men of that era would be cold rather than show emotions, and Neil was very much an engineer and physicist, given to logic thought.

I do with the climatic events were allowed to be a little more wow. The film makers have gone for downplaying this absolutely remarkable thing, and given how in awe I am of the reality, the movie didn’t quite capture that for me.

Still. Wow. And the film’s not half bad either ūüėČ

Released: 12th October 2018
Viewed: 9th November 2018
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

bohemian rhapsody poster

The first proper album I ever bought was Queen’s¬†A Kind of Magic. I sort of remember the Live Aid concert (I was a little young!) which forms the framework for this bio-pic of, if not the band, certainly lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

I’m still struggling to completely have an opinion on the movie. I *loved* the 2+ hours in the cinema – I laughed, I sniffled, and I could not sit still with the fabulous music. Is it a good movie? I dunno, but it was fun. Is it an accurate biography? I have no idea – certainly the timelines are messed about a little for dramatic effect, but I have to assume that band mates and producers, Brian May and Roger Taylor, weren’t going to let anyone be too mean to the late, great Freddie.

Certainly it all starts well. Moving away from his parents’ traditional family life, Farouk Bulsara offers to replace the singer in Brian and Roger’s band. From the first moment, his showmanship starts to grow and we get a super-speed through Queen’s creation and rise to mega-stardom, with some nice scenes of certain songs being crafted.

The real focus of the plot, however, isn’t the band but the frontman. Freddie has to come to terms with fame, his family’s disapproval of his lifestyle choices, his sexuality, and how these things collide. Fame and fortune aren’t guards against loneliness. Adrift in his own life, he’s easy pickings for the unscrupulous. He does come across a little as a victim, with perhaps hints that the ‘scandalous’ lifestyle was more association and gossip than reality, which may or may not be true.

You can’t review¬†Bohemian Rhapsody¬†without heaping praise on Rami Malek. The climax of the movie – that¬†Live Aid set – is played almost in full. As the camera pulls out over the massive audience, I actually wondered if the big screens at the side of the stage were playing the real footage, so spot-on is Malek’s physical performance.

Absolutely recommended. Make up your own mind on how well it all fits together, but you are guaranteed a foot-stompingly great soundtrack along the way.

Released: 24th October 2018
Viewed: 26th October 2018
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8.5/10

A Star Is Born (2018)

a star is born poster

There are films that no one should ever, EVER attempt to remake (ahem¬†Princess Bride¬†ahem) and then there are movies on their fifth version and (apparently) stronger than ever. Having only seen this latest version, I’ll take someone’s word for it – because this is a very strong movie, remake or not.

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a successful singer/guitarist, but fame has brought issues. Tormented by tinnitus, he’s increasingly drunk and/or high. By chance he stumbles across Ally (Lady Gaga), who is all talent and little confidence. The pair are drawn to each other, and the movie charts her rise, his fall, and the tumultuous relationship between them as their positions switch.

I was utterly impressed by this movie. I went in relatively blind, and not expecting much – I’m not a fan of romances, or real life type dramas, and this offered plenty of both. But, oy, does it do them well.

I’m not a huge fan of Lady Gaga, and she was the weak point for me – not always, but just occasionally she can’t hide her talent and confidence when she’s playing a shy little thing. Still, her voice is amazing. And to be fair, Bradley Cooper holds his own – that was a surprise and a half! It doesn’t overshadow the amazing job he does acting, though, which was also something of a surprise given he more or less started as the ‘pretty one’ from the Hangover franchise.

Reader, I confess I sniffled rather a lot through this. The music is great, but the story is heartbreaking. Take tissues, but do see it.

Released: 5th October 2018
Viewed: 13th October 2018
Running time: 136 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

The Hate U Give (2018)

hate u give poster

When Starr witnesses a cop shooting of her best friend after a random traffic stop, her already less than simple life only gets more complicated. One of the few non-white faces at her private school, should she choose to hide her involvement in the tragedy or risk being tagged ‘ghetto’? As she faces pressure to stand up for her community, she will also discover that her friends are not immune to racism, on either side.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen to go see this film, which made it a very good choice – for me – for the Cineworld Secret Screening 9. I’d never heard of the book it’s adapted from, either, although the story is all too familiar, from newspapers and real life.

The drama here is done well. By pitching the story from the angle it does, it’s not just about racism – which makes the message there all the more powerful. Subtly, we’re (I speak as a pasty white Scot, and the audience at my screening was much the same) forced to confront that even trying to be overtly not racist doesn’t deal with the underlying biases in society – and that’s from both the white and black characters in this movie. I particularly liked the response to the common comment, “I don’t see colour” – wow.

The reason I generally avoid dramas like this is that life is hard enough and I prefer my cinema to provide escapism. This is a little too intense for my tastes, and perhaps a little bit over-earnest. Still, valid message and done well.

Released: 22nd October 2018
Viewed: 8th October 2018
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10