Tag: Annette Bening

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool DVD review

fsddihBased on Peter Turner’s memoirs, screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh has teamed up with director Paul McGuigan (Victor Frankenstein) to recount the unlikely, but true story of a romantic relationship between a Liverpudlian youngster and a Hollywood starlet twice his age. 

Matt Greenhalgh is no stranger to adapting true stories from entertainment’s yesteryear.  His profiling of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, Control (2007), was a stunning rendition of the band’s enigmatic lead vocalist.  However, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is quite a different beast.

It is 1979 and Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) is working a season on the stage in Liverpool when by chance she strikes up an amorous relationship with Peter. In the twilight of her career, the rather flighty Gloria (every inch as you’d imagine an ageing Marilyn Munro) maintains a superficial femme fatale demeanour which matches the films she was famous for. She is a product of Hollywood; flighty, conscious of her image, and very sensitive about her age.  Ironically, it is the many years between her and Peter that raise conjecture among the people around them. Peter (played by Jamie Bell) is a stage actor who naively falls for Gloria’s wily charm.  He is “the boy who just can’t say no” as she knowingly quips, and his doe-eyed innocence is luckily met by a woman who genuinely falls in love with him.

The film elides time beautifully as it employs a flashback structure to tell the backstory to their relationship. And although based on Peter’s memoirs it is appropriately sensitive to Gloria’s side of the story.  The result is a simple but reasonably compelling love story bolstered by the protagonists unlikely coupling and the intriguing factual examination of an Oscar-winning Hollywood star’s final years … you may have guessed from the title, but she doesn’t die in Liverpool. 

Topically some might find Film Stars a tad depressing. The dour Coro Street-like colour palette certainly doesn’t help matters—it is the kind of visually drab film that leans heavily on its cast. Thankfully, Bening and Bell do a fine job providing believable and touching performances that drip with genuine pathos and chemistry. Julie Walters also turns in a solid, if slightly predictable performance as Peter’s mother.

The DVD offers a special featurette on the method of back projection used to create the Californian portion of the film.  It is only a few minutes long but gives a welcome peek behind the curtain—the film’s slightly surreal quality eliciting a visual mix of fact and fantasy that links with Gloria’s film-noir background.   Other than the featurette, the DVD gives you the film rendered in 1080p with sound in Dolby Digital 5.1.  The sound, while not pushing any groundbreaking boundaries is accurately mixed and appropriate to the film’s tone.
 

See my reviews for Witchdoctor here.

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20th Century Women

txwAfter a well-received run at last year’s NZIFF, 20th Century Women finally gets some more big screen love. Brimming with warmth and wit, this enlightening if slightly meandering tale provides plenty of post-viewing conjecture to unpack.

Written and directed by Mike Mills (Beginners), one might ask how is it that a male is telling women’s stories—as the title suggests, this a film about 20th Century Women, right?  Well, not exclusively; it has a soft-natured feminist slant which develops further to show how female stories are often inextricably connected with male stories. 20th Century Women is loosely a biopic based on the real-life women who influenced Mills and is, in a sense, an ode to these women written by the man they helped shape.

Set in 1979, the film centres around a quintuplet of characters who all live in the same house. At the coalface of motherhood is Annette Bening who plays Dorothea; landlord, single mother, and compassionate matriarch who is struggling with what it means to bring up a son in a society bristling with cultural change. Likewise, her teenage son Jamie (played by Lucas Jade Zumann) has to endure the conflicting and bewildering world of advice and desires.

Dorothea’s large multi-story house is a do-up; boarder William (Billy Crudup) earns his keep by assisting with renovations. The other boarder is Abbie, played by the likeable Greta Gerwig whose free-spirited nature is pitted against her struggle with cancer.  And then there’s Julie (Elle Fanning), who doesn’t technically live in the house but comes and goes at her whim and sneaks in at night to sleep with Jamie. They don’t have sex, their relationship being purely platonic … at least according to her.

Despite being overly invested in life’s quandaries beyond its due, this earnest tale is liberally littered with enough existential insight and astute observations to be an enlightening and rewarding experience. And although it leans heavily on the performance of its superb ensemble cast there’s enough meat on its bones to be well-worth seeing on the big screen.
 

See my reviews for Witchdoctor here.