Tag Archives: Timothy Spall

Mr Turner

Mr Turner successfully captures the beauty of JMW Turner’s work whilst remaining itself a believable, entertaining, fascinating period piece full of natural wonder and intelligence.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

mr turner 2To anybody even remotely familiar with my writing in the past, or who knows the kinds of films I enjoy, I think it’s fair to say I would not take offence to anybody labelling me as a philistine.. within context, of course. I love a wide variety of movies. You know those annoying people you sometimes meet and when asked “so what kind of [music/film/novel/other-small-talk-related-topic] do you like?”, they rather indifferently respond “oh, anything really”. Well I apologise in advance because I do pretty much like anything when it comes to films. The only caveat being it has to be good.

And, 99% of the time, not a musical.

Of course, I don’t like every film I’ve seen. But  I like to think that I know a little bit about the films that I do like. Hell, even the books I’ve enjoyed and their authors I’d like to think I know a little bit about them too. However, when it comes to painters or other artists, I’m afraid I belong to the great unwashed masses. To coin a phrase (that Google is struggling to attribute to any particular individual,) “I may not know art, but I know what I like”. Similarly, I may not know JMW Turner, but I know that I like director Mike Leigh’s Palme d’Or nominated period drama based on the final 25 years of the titular character’s life.

‘Pointing out the obvious’ alert! There’ll be three main types of people who will go to see this film: those who know a lot about Turner and his incredible body of work, looking to make sure Leigh has done him justice; those who know a little about him, who he was, what he painted, the time he lived in, and this movie will fill in the gaps; and then there’s the ignorant fools like me who are basically seeing this because of either the cast, directors, or to see what all that fuss at the Cannes film festival was about. At a push I probably could’ve told you he was around in the Dickensian / Victorian era, painted landscapes, and that the Turner Prize is named after him. That’s about it. What’s great about this film then is how it immediately grabbed my attention and held it for virtually the entire 150 minute run time. It wasn’t dumbed down or patronising in the slightest, yet neither was it too high-brow nor intellectual. The balance was just about perfect.

Timothy Spall’s ‘Best Actor’ performance as ‘Billy’ Turner is a fitting tribute to a genius artist. As he grunts, groans and ‘harumph’s his way through a quarter of a century of Turner’s life, you really get a sense of who the man actually was beyond just a signature at the bottom of a painting of boats. What he was like in his private life, how he interacted with his peers and fellow painters, all of his flaws and traits that he possessed, they are all brought to life stunningly by a truly excellent performance. He wasn’t alone. Dorothy Atkinson, Paul Jesson, Marion Bailey and Martin Savage were all worthy of mention for the part they played in bringing this story to the silver screen.

Whilst that side of the film might not have been a problem for me personally, I can’t help thinking, if only I’d have known just a little bit more about him prior to sitting down in that uncomfortable cinema seat for two and a half hours, I’m sure I would have gotten a lot more out of it. If only I’d have known more about his paintings and art, then there’d have been a whole other dimension opened allowing me to enjoy the film on a completely separate level. All I could do in this regard is watch and listen to the cultured spiffing what-what professorial gentlemen types of Oxford who I happened to be sharing the cinema screen with. With my stereotyping of the kind of crowd there to see an art-house movie, I could hear audible gasps at times for (what I presume were) paintings that they recognised were being brought to life before our eyes. I wish I could tell you which paintings specifically, but even to a philistine like me, it looked breathtaking. And also painstakingly detailed.

Dick Pope was the cinematographer for the film and won the Vulcan prize for technical artist at Cannes – he’s also been nominated for a BIFA this week – and deservedly so because it is an absolutely gorgeous movie. Mike Leigh should almost definitely get credit too for that, but between them, they’ve made early 19th century Britain look beautiful. Well, between them pair and Turner, of course!

In a lot of ways actually it reminded me of last year’s The Great Beauty. Turner was just a larger than life man who had the extraordinary ability to observe the staggering beauty of the world around him, whilst also participating in it. He’s a ship being thrashed by the waves of one of his own seascapes. He’s not portrayed as a saint, nor is he particularly debauched. He’s just a man with his own issues, but that’s all he is. A man with a notepad and a pencil.

It feels like I’m nitpicking in talking about any negatives associated with this film. It’s a film that will take a while for you to digest everything that has occurred, mostly because through the course of the run time, a lot of subtle changes take place. One thing that I noticed immediately after leaving the cinema on my drive home was that I didn’t really get a sense that 25 years had passed. Obviously you can tell time is passing as events unfold, but how much time I was never certain. However, that didn’t effect the quality of the movie. It was inconsequential in the scheme of things.

Ultimately, it’s a moving, beautiful story that looks as good as you would hope. Fans of Turner will presumably enjoy it as much as, if not more so, than the layman like me who just wanted to see a good film. Which, it is.

Mr Turner is in cinemas right now. You can hear Owen review the film on the next episode of the Failed Critics podcast.

BFI London Film Festival 2014 Preview

It’s that time of year again – the bathroom light has to go on in the morning, loads of good American TV shows start again, and Christmas tat is starting to appear in the shops. Yes, autumn is on the way, and with it comes the 58th London Film Festival.

by Carole Petts (@DeathByJigsaws)

lff14My initial reaction to this year’s line-up – once I had grumbled about the member’s launch being a day later than the press launch, rendering it invalid for the most part – was how many big names are missing. No room for The Theory of Everything, St Vincent (the film, not the singer), or The Equalizer; all making their Toronto debuts this week. But scratching beneath the surface yields some treasure.

First up, let’s deal with the obvious contenders. I am looking forward to Foxcatcher very much – directed by Bennett Miller of Capote and Moneyball, the film stars Steve Carrell in a rare serious role alongside Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Loosely based on a true story, the film follows the struggle between two wrestling champion brothers (Tatum and Ruffalo) which takes a sinister turn with the arrival of a mysterious benefactor (Carrell). Foxcatcher received stellar notices when it premiered in Cannes earlier this year and has also been prominently mentioned in early Oscar buzz. Other big hitters include The Imitation Game, the long-awaited Alan Turing biopic which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the tortured mathematical genius, and Fury, a World War 2 film from David Ayer (End of Watch) starring Brad Pitt. These open and close the festival respectively, and will be shown at cinemas across the country in tandem with their gala screenings. Mr Turner features an already award-winning performance by Timothy Spall as the titular JMW Turner, and LFF also hosts the directorial debut of Jon Stewart – Rosewater is the story of an Iranian journalist covering the country’s political unrest in 2009 who gets on the wrong side of the establishment.

Gala screenings I am looking forward to include The Salvation, a Danish western (!) starring Mads Mikkelsen and, bizarrely, Eric Cantona; Whiplash, a story about the relationship between a musical prodigy and his virtuoso teacher which is audaciously structured like a thriller; and The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, a wuxia starring Fan Bingbing as a witch fighting to free people from tyranny during the end of the Ming Dynasty.

the immitation game

In the official competition, the film that stands out is Dearest – the story of a couple whose lives are turned upside down when their son goes missing. One of the most eagerly anticipated films in the first feature competition is ’71, set in the streets of Belfast during the titular year and starring Jack O’Connell (Starred Up) as a wet behind the ears squaddie dispatched to keep the peace.

The documentary strand has yielded some interesting prospects. There are familiar subjects in Hockey: A Life in Pictures, National Gallery, and The Possibilities Are Endless (the story of Edwyn Collins after his stroke), and a step into the unknown with In The Basement – a film about what Austrians do – yes! – in their basements. The love strand has one particular film of interest to me – Love is Strange, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a couple forced to leave their apartment separately. This film has gathered some notoriety in the States for being rated R for no apparent reason, apart from its central relationship being a homosexual one.night bus

1001 Grams is an intriguing-looking slice of dark humour, and Night Bus explores the sometimes intimate, sometimes scary, but always intriguing world of the London night bus (shout out to route N1). A Hard Day is described as a neo-noir slice of Korean cinema, following a policeman who is having a really bad day. The follow-up to Monsters, Monsters: Dark Continent, had more creatures in the trailer than in the whole of the previous film put together, so that bodes well. There are also restored classic films scattered throughout the programme, from Orwell’s Animal Farm to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Guys and Dolls. And of course, the legendary shorts programmes are back, spanning all strands and giving you plenty of bang for your buck.

So although at first glance the line-up looks a bit light, a proper dissection of the schedule reveals that there is something for everyone here. The beauty of LFF has always lain in taking a chance and seeing something you would never normally buy a ticket for. I think this year will see a return to that essence for many people.

We will of course be bringing you reviews and diary entries during the festival itself, so don’t forget to check back between 8-19 October 2014 for more articles! You can find a full line up of what’s showing at the LFF 2014 on the BFI website.

The Love Punch

The Love PunchIt may be definition of lightweight, but that turns out to be The Love Punch’s biggest strength, second only to the natural charisma and chemistry of leads Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

If you’ve been following along with the website this past week, you may have noticed that I went to the cinema a lot.  A total of six times, in fact, with five of those being turned into reviews (the fifth is the one you’re reading right now, in case you’re wondering, keep up).  You may have also noticed that a whole bunch of them sucked uncontrollably.  Divergent, unfathomably stupid and a seemingly endless slog.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2, permanent potential pulveriser that learnt absolutely nothing from its last attempt two years ago.  Khumba, earnest and full of heart but amateurishly made and majorly derivative.  Transcendence, “computers are scarwey and women should stay in the kitchen instead of science-ing because their emotions can’t make the tough decisions”.

In short, it’s been a bad week for movies.

I fully expected to continue regretting my voluntary decision to see and review all the recently released non-horror movies that I could in the last week as I sat down to watch The Love Punch.  I’d seen one truly good film all week up to that point (Richard Ayoade’s absolutely phenomenal The Double) and I wasn’t expecting a film whose trailer’s centrepiece gag was having its middle-aged cast all rush off to the toilets for a wee in quick succession to one another to suddenly turn around my fortunes.  But do you know what?  Perhaps it’s due to having been beaten down by incessantly bad films for the better part of a week, perhaps my standards have been sufficiently lowered as a result, perhaps they caused a desire in me to give a positive review to something, frickin’ anything, at this point, but I really enjoyed The Love Punch.

OK, before we move on, I should probably clarify that it’s not actually down to any of those things.  I may be human, but I can still tell a bad movie from a good one even when I’ve spent an extended period of time wading through the crap.  So, if The Love Punch did stink to high heaven, I’d still be capable enough to tell you that it did.  But it doesn’t, it’s actually really good.  Not spell-bindingly amazing, not “Best of the Year” and most certainly not flawless but far better than its title of “The Second-Best Film I’ve Seen This Past Week” would make it sound, considering the competition.

Our story revolves around Mr. and Mrs. Jones, both divorced and staring down old age like it’s the barrel of a gun.  Richard (Pierce Brosnan) is days away from retirement, has just broken up with yet another in an apparently lengthy line of young wives and is nursing feelings of loneliness and boredom.  Kate (Emma Thompson) is saying goodbye to her youngest daughter as she leaves for college, is facing life alone for the first time and has resorted to Internet dating to try and find love.  They’re brought back together when Richard’s company is liquidated of its assets by its new owner, taking with it everybody’s pensions but, most importantly, Richard and Kate’s which they’d stored away in order to pay off university fees, mortgages and basically everything that needs money these days.

In response, they both hop on over to France to confront the man personally responsible for the mess (Laurent Lafitte).  When he gloats about how he doesn’t have to give them jack as what he did was apparently totally legal, and he does so whilst all but twirling his non-existent moustache, the pair decide to get back at him another way: by stealing a diamond necklace from him valued at $10 million, recruiting their mutual married friends (Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie) to help out.  Does such a set-up lead to a lot of comical misunderstandings, testing of the married couple’s relationship, the possible romantic reconciliation of our two leads with one another and a whole bunch of things you have likely seen and promptly forgotten about before?  Why of course it does!

So, it’s silly and light.  There’s little depth here.  It’s not really got anything to say, it’s not pushing any boundaries and nobody in the story is ever in any real danger (not even during an Italian Job homage near the end).  Honestly, though, that’s actually one of the film’s biggest strengths.  There’s not a bad bone in its body, it’s all very pleasant and nice but it doesn’t feel patronisingly so or cynically calculated.  It feels genuine so it comes off more like a nice warm prolonged hug than an endless talking down to or insulting of my intelligence.  That’s a harder line to walk than one might think but The Love Punch pulls it off and that atmosphere is what helps propel the film through its very brisk 90 minute run time.

The other thing that helps make The Love Punch a very recommendable experience?  Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan and the chemistry they have.  OK, maybe that’s three things, but they are all great here.  Thompson and Brosnan are, in fairness, very charming and likable actors who could coast their way through roles without even trying and probably get away with it (let’s face it, Brosnan did for four straight Bond films) but they’re on fine form here.  Both understand that this isn’t the next Schindler’s List but that such a fact doesn’t give them carte blanche to sleepwalk through the movie.  They strike up a great chemistry together, rattling off witty dialogue and fast-paced bickering so naturally it almost seems second nature to them, and that chemistry helps sell the romance at the centre so that I actually felt super warm inside at the finale.  They’re clearly having a lot of fun, too, which again helps with the enjoyably breezy and light nature of the film.

Joke-wise, this is supposed to be a comedy after all, much like the rest of the film, no ground is being broken and you probably won’t remember any of them or be quoting anything from it in several months’ time.  They are often funny though and this is because, and this is why The Love Punch often gets away with things that the similarly “let’s watch some aging and otherwise classy actors go have a fun holiday somewhere and be all silly”-themed Last Vegas doesn’t, the jokes are based on the film being aware of how silly it is and are based on the characters, not the actors.  Most of the time.  For example, there’s a section where our four actors put on some scuba gear and ridiculously go paddling out into the sea in order to break into their mark’s cliff-side mansion.  Despite how that may read, the film doesn’t play it as “Look!  It’s James Bond and Emma Thompson in scuba-diving gear!  That’s inherently funny!  Laugh!”  Instead, it goes for “Look!  Kate and Richard’s plan involves them having to get into scuba gear that makes them look rather stupid!  Isn’t this whole thing rather silly and unbelievable?”  And it is, so I laughed.

An earlier example involves Kate having to go undercover by pathetically passing herself off as a relative of the bad guy’s bride-to-be at her beach-based hen party; cue a montage of Kate partaking in volleyball, jet-skis and parasailing whilst attached to a speedboat.  Once again, the film doesn’t treat the joke as “Look!  It’s Emma Thompson in a 50s-style bathing suit partaking in young people’s activities!  You wouldn’t have expected her to do that, would you?  LAUGH!!”  Instead playing it as “Look at what Kate’s gotten herself into, now!” and that’s a key distinction because these don’t just feel like an endless series of one-note “Look how we managed to get [x] actor to debase themselves for your entertainment now!” scenarios, they instead feel grounded in actual characters, like there’s a reason for their existence.

I did specify “most of the time” for a reason though and that’s because, yes, sometimes the film does cross the line and ask us to laugh because “it’s [y] actor doing a wacky thing that you wouldn’t have expected because THEY’RE GETTING OLD!” and you can tell when it’s crossed that line because it will bust out the super slo-mo camera and back the scene with hip-hop for ‘ironic’ effect.  These only stick out because they’re so lazy and they betray the effort that’s gone into crafting the better jokes.  Like the way that Kate and Richard will both enter into a very quick diatrabe argument whenever one forgets to use the term “ex” when explaining their relationship to people before snapping back like nothing had ever happened, or their brief interactions with their university-based hacker son and his criminally unlucky roommate, or the utterly paper-thin nature of their heist plan, or what happens when the bride-to-be starts having a public crisis of conscience, or when Jerry, the husband friend, buys a gun.  They’re often easy, but there’s effort put into that easiness, a choice to try and make funny jokes that don’t offend anyone or have much teeth but are still funny, which is something that lesser comedies can’t seem to pull off.

So, yeah, it’s lightweight but when has that necessarily been an automatically bad thing?  Something nice and light can be appealing comfort food, a nice time at the cinema to escape from life’s troubles for a while, that’s trying very hard to not try hard in a way that isn’t immensely loathsome.  The Love Punch, then, is the film equivalent of a slice of trifle and I very much love a nice slice of trifle every now and again.  It’s very British, smooth, lacking in edge but leaves you feeling all nice and warm and fuzzy for a very good while after digesting it.  Of course, trifle doesn’t have a very enjoyable to watch Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson, so I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should check out The Love Punch because it’s better than trifle.  Or something.

Callum Petch took her home to his place, watchin’ every move on her face.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!