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Film Review: Fallen Stars

A screenshot from the film

Screen shots copyright © 2017 El Camino Entertainment/Thousand Miles Entertainment.

I have an interest in small independent films, and whilst the trailer for Fallen Stars didn’t grab me, I thought I’d give it a go because it stars Michelle Ang whose work I like a lot. (She’s most well-known for playing Lori Lee in Neighbours, Akemi in Xena: Warrior Princess, and Kimmie in Top Of The Lake.) It turned out to be an incredibly good, bookish, watch.

The plot is as follows: A thirty-something year old man (Ryan O’Nan) who has a very mundane, routine life, starts to feel stifled by the bartender job he’s been doing for 10 years. When a new customer, Daisy (Ang) walks in with her book, few words, and sullen manner, he’s intrigued, but her mood remains. Meanwhile, Daisy is facing a monotonous life of her own. On her walks she goes to the dog shelter but although she becomes fond of one of the dogs, she won’t let herself adopt it.

A screenshot from the film

The film shows us the progression of the pair’s friendship day by day. It’s as slow as the blurb sounds but that is the point of it. It’s obvious that every little thing in this film has been thought through, from the same old takeaway menu that gets dropped through Cooper’s letterbox every day, to the plot that carries on with little change for quite some time. Cooper wakes up at 7, gets coffee, naps, goes to work, and returns home with little difference for days, the story unapologetically portraying aspects of regular life at the same time it shows how unexciting this particular one is.

As the film continues little changes start to be added and mount up – Cooper rises at 9 one day (you notice the alarm clock), he starts to meet up with Daisy, he sits in his garden to read the book she was reading at the bar. And along with this, the plot ekes out what Cooper and Daisy’s backgrounds are; ashamed of their lives, it takes events like bumping into old friends for their history to be revealed to the film-goer. The eking out also applies to the friendship, as the characters hold back their emotions from one another and mistakes are made.

A screenshot from the film

The whole is about how life is when you haven’t reached your potential and feel it keenly, as well as how life is when you’re overwhelmed by your work to the point of avoiding it. As the film continues it becomes particularly poignant and there is a big reveal about 2/3 of the way through that completely changes everything, not in a major shock-tactic manner, more in the way you’ve been viewing these people and their lives. It’s a surprise that will be welcomed by readers, in fact the film’s atmosphere as a whole is a sort of Groundhog Day/literary fiction mash up; Daisy uses books to halt conversation and Cooper to try and improve it; and then there’s the surprise.

When it comes to the dog shelter there’s an early punch, and this feeling extends for a while before reaching a better place, this is to say that if you’re an animal lover you’re potentially going to find it very emotional.

Restrained acting, storytelling, a dull pastel palette to work with – by description it’s boring. But if you’re prepared to give it time, it comes into its own, the character development, the acting, and the whole concept planned and executed to perfection. It’s available to watch on Amazon and iTunes and in some countries available to purchase on DVD.

 
Film Review: This Beautiful Fantastic

A screenshot from the film

Screen shots copyright © 2016 Ipso Facto Productions/Smudge Films.

This Beautiful Fantastic is only a couple of years old, a British production shot and released in 2016. I had never heard of it until I stumbled upon it on a catch-up service (it’s on iplayer for the next month). I enjoyed it so much I thought I’d write about it.

A screenshot from the film

The story centres on Bella (Jessica Brown Findley), a young woman with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – timing and organisation rituals, mostly – who lives in a basement flat in a nice area. As a baby she was left in a box in a park, found by an elderly gentleman who had gone for a swim in the lake. She went to a convent school. (The details here are vague, presumably to add to the fairy tale nature of it.) Now grown up, she lives an old-fashioned life, dressing in clothes from decades past and wearing an old digital watch, and works in a library that fits her lifestyle. The only thing about her world that isn’t tidy is her garden, a wild patch of ground that scares her. One day she injures herself; her curmudgeonly neighbour, Alfie (Tom Wilkinson) takes her in, where he proceeds to rant about dinner to his cook, Vernon (Andrew Scott), which leads to Bella offering Vernon a job with her. Annoyed, and with Vernon refusing to return, Alfie tells Bella’s letting agent about her garden, and the agent gives her one month to clear it up or leave her flat.

The above is about 1/3 of the story – the story is about more than the garden, but gardening and its benefits are what the film revolves around.

A screenshot from the film

Bella’s life story, told at the beginning of the film, includes more than a hint of magical realism, and there’s a strong literary atmosphere throughout that suggests you might be watching an adaptation of a wonderful novel, perhaps by Amy Bender or Frances Hodgson Burnett, the latter not simply because of the garden but because of the magic. There’s also some soft humour that suggests the writer was inspired by Alan Bennett. But the film isn’t an adaptation, it just feels like one, and it is this that makes it a good possibility for a book lover.

There is so much to this film: the look at mental illness and the way support can make a difference; the romance (Bella and Billy, played by Jeremy Irvine) that is very well done both in the script and by the actors. And there is the production itself: a slight bloom effect covers the picture for the entirety of the film; the colours are muted, often dark. The use of history in the eccentricities is weird and wonderful and confusing; you’ll likely continue to ponder on is exactly when the film is set, the story offering a mix of a present day background with people who run the gambit from tracksuits to steampunk.

A screenshot from the film

The literary quality of the film extends to Bella’s occupation – a librarian seeking to become a children’s author and illustrator. And Alfie’s book-like narration rounds it off.

Certainly you have to suspend reality in order to enjoy this film. As this is a book blog I’ll say that I think anyone who likes Austen, the Brontës, Dodie Smith, and magical realism, will at the very least appreciate it. It’s slow, full of feeling and fantasy.

It’s a film that should be a book.

 
First Half Of 2018 Film Round Up

On starting this post I was pleasantly surprised; I’d made my usual January film resolution to watch more films – with all the vagueness that implies – got through some films and then promptly put the big screen on the back-burner; I did better than I thought.

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Annie (USA, 2014) – Wasn’t feeling it; the casting was fine but the old songs were barely used and I love the original too much for that to work for me.

The Lady Vanishes (UK, 1938) – Loved this. A simple plot so well executed and the comic duo were a lot of fun with their cricket obsession.

The Last Jedi (USA, 2017) – The family thought this was better than The Force Awakens. I didn’t, but it’s still a very good film.

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Nut Job (USA/South Korea, 2014) – Quite good, but not as much as other CGI family films in recent years. The jokes very rarely worked.

Pretty Woman (USA, 1990) – Really enjoyed this; I’d actually grown up thinking Pretty Woman had the story of The Runaway Bride so it was good to put the real thing in perspective. I think I’d now better watch that second film.

Trainwreck (USA, 2015) – It took a (long) while of over the top swearing and not-funny funny stuff to show what this film was all about, and that’s a bit of a pity, because what it tries to do – reverse the stereotype of dating and relationships so that it’s the man that wants commitment – is interesting.

Well, Amazon’s put Bollywood on UK screens at a good time, which is about time. And there are some random New Zealand productions I’m interested in. But, most helpful of all, my mother’s had a DVD clear out so I picked up a few older classics. I may finally see The Shawshank Redemption…

What films have you recently seen and loved?

 
Second Half Of 2017 Film Round Up

In late November, I found out that Channel 5 was showing (and then, crucially, putting online) a large number of TV Christmas films. In addition to my decision to take advantage of that I thought it time I get out my Audrey Hepburn box set, which I’d been saving for that mythical perfect moment. Due to the number of Christmas films – admittedly not nearly as many as Channel 5 had available because I soon realised quality had nothing to do with their selection – I’ve split the films into two categories.

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Get Smart (USA, 2008) – A fun and silly spy movie.

Great Expectations (UK, 2012) – Lacking some of the book’s humour, but not bad overall.

He’s Just Not That Into You (USA, 2009) – I’d seen the so-so ratings but I’d wanted to see this for a few years and found it didn’t disappoint. Were the endings predictable and sometimes too sweet? Yes. But I liked the overall execution and the little things included, like the way the camera panned out from Bradley Cooper and Scarlet Johansson and they were standing on different sides of the line of a parking space.

Leap Year (USA/Ireland, 2010) – I was surprised to find out this is credited as half Irish because it felt very much like Ireland through Hollywood’s eyes.

Madagascar (USA, 2005) – Good.

Roman Holiday (USA, 1953) – Loved this. I wrote about it in November, so I’ve keep it short here.

Sabrina (USA, 1954) – That age difference and the lack of character development…

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Christmas Under Wraps (USA, 2014) – One of those average, overly sweet, films to have on in the background to help you feel festive.

A Prince For Christmas (USA, 2015) – Although this is what you expect – sickly sweet – the two leads are particularly good to the extent that it’s not a bad film at all. And the lack of any royal trappings, whilst almost certainly due to budget constraints, means it seems more realistic.

Family For Christmas (USA, 2015) – The makers of this film would like you to note that having children is better than a career in all circumstances. They also want to tell you that a woman who has had children must remain at home forever, and that if (spoiler following) you get a second chance with your ex-boyfriend, quitting your awesome job before the first date, so that you’re completely ready for the horse and carriage, is a very good idea. It’ll make the date incredibly awkward, but we’ll not mention that.

Cinderella Christmas (USA, 2016) – An interesting spin on the story, but there’s a lot of angst.

Four Christmases (USA, 2008) – Horrendous.

With 3 films on January’s list already and a couple I’m looking forward to, the new year is going well so far.

Do you like to watch holiday-themed films?

 
First Half Of 2017 Film Round-Up

These past months, I’ve spent most of my screen time watching TV shows, or, rather, one TV show. I’m loving Parks & Recreation but there is a lot of it to get through. The natural casualty has been films – I have been reading a good amount; screen time is pretty low overall. I’m on series 6 now and whilst there are some other shows I’m planning to watch they’re a lot shorter and, I expect, not as addictive. I will, however, not be setting any film goals. I’m wondering if saying, at year’s end, that my next year’s film resolution is to ‘watch as many as I comfortably can’, as I have in regards to reading and books, would be best.

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Independence Day: Resurgence (USA, 2016) – Is it really 20 years since Will Smith fought aliens? This follow up is good if technically unnecessary. It’s the only film other than the Hunger Games trilogy/quartet in which I’ve seen Liam Hemsworth, so I might have been watching Gale go after extraterrestrials…

Mirror Mirror (USA, 2011) – The second of the two Snow White movies of 2011; I’d wanted to see both and now have. This one’s a lot lighter than Snow White And The Huntsman, and the first half stays fairly closely to the storyline. It does lose its way in the second half, gets a bit too silly, but the Bollywood-esque item number at the end is awesome.

Some Like It Hot (USA, 1959) – One of the two remaining ‘big’ Monroe movies I had yet to see (the other is The Prince And The Showgirl). It was a hit with my family many moons ago so I’d seen various bits and pieces over the years but far from the whole thing. One I enjoyed – not a favourite, but a fun couple of hours.

So, no goals.

Which films have you seen recently that you’d recommend?

 

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