Beyond the Lights – 116 min, drama

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Nate Parker and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights

You may have noticed that when I write about films I don’t generally say too much about what they are about. The obvious conclusion is I just don’t want to spoil the movie before people have seen it, and it’s true I like to let people experience the film as it happens, but the main reason I don’t talk too much about the plot is that I actually believe that in the end it doesn’t really matter. Any story can be done well, and any story can be bad; it is the execution that makes or breaks it. Obviously some stories are more intrinsically interesting than others, but without good writing, without a well-chosen cast, and without a director who can capture the subtleties, you aren’t going to enjoy the ride. On the surface Beyond the Lights is the stuff of melodrama, a depressed pop star falls for the cop that saved her life, but in the hands of the writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood and her two stars, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker, it becomes a nuanced exploration of relationships and identity. Continue reading

Across the Universe – 133 min, musical

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Jim Sturgess in Across the Universe

The movie musical is a strange beast, you can’t linger on the shore, you can’t just dip a toe in, you have to dive in head-first and hope you don’t give yourself a concussion. Reserved detachment is not an option. Now this can be scary, there are a whole lot of bad movie musicals out there (I’m still recovering from the tongue lashing I got from Tom Hooper’s rendition of Les Misérables), but there is also something beautiful about surrendering yourself to a world so completely separate from your day-to-day existence. If the movie musical is a strange beast then the rock opera can be a monster; stringing unrelated songs together to form a narrative usually results in a nostalgic patchwork, doing justice to neither the story nor the source material. But against all odds Across the Universe is something special. Continue reading

How To Steal a Million – 123 min, comedy

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When I was 11 I caught a tantalizing glimpse of Audrey Hepburn in a pink nightie, a dish towel tied incongruously round her waist, bandaging the arm of a “tall, blue-eyed, slim, quite good-looking” man in evening clothes. By the time she applied iodine to her wincing patient with “Don’t be such a baby, it’s only flesh wound,” and he drawled back “Happens to be my flesh,” I was in love with all three of them: Audrey, the tall blue-eyed Peter O’Toole, and the film. Sadly my delight was rather abruptly cut short when the whole thing turned into a Ronald Reagan speech at the White House. The copy of How To Steal a Million my mother, my great aunt (whose son was a presidential speechwriter in the 80s) and I were watching had been poorly taped off of television (the scene we watched is twenty minutes into the film) and then equally poorly taped over. Still my appetite was whetted, I was going to hunt down this film even if I had to go to all the video stores in Berkshire County. Continue reading