Rare Beasts: Film Review

Rare Beasts

Billie Piper has come a long way since her days of being a pop star and Doctor Who’s assistant. She has proved herself as a phenomenal actress on the stage and now she’s made her directorial debut with Rare Beasts, which she also wrote and stars in.

Piper plays Mandy, a single mother who lives with her mum and son Larch (Toby Woolf) and works at a production company. She starts dating her colleague Pete (Leo Bill) and the film basically charts the highs and lows of their odd and tumultuous relationship.

I had assumed Rare Beasts was going to be a straightforward romantic comedy but it contains a lot of surreal and experimental elements which were bold and intriguing – like the sound design – but they didn’t always work and removed me from the story. The script started off really strong – the dialogue of the opening scene gave me such hope – but then it loses its way, loses momentum and just gets quite chaotic and messy.

The big issue was that I didn’t care about the central relationship. From the opening scene you knew they were going to be an awful couple and I never once believed they loved each other so I didn’t invest in their relationship. I was rooting for her to grow up, ditch the drink and drugs, dump Pete and pay attention to her son, who has anxiety and a nervous tic.

Anyone who saw Piper onstage in the completely devastating Yerma will know she can act, oh boy, can she act. She gives a good, captivating performance here but it just wasn’t enough to hold it all together. David Thewlis also pops up as her troubled father and Lily James has a small part as a bride.

There were some stellar scenes with ace dialogue and it had some good ideas but it ran out of steam quickly and felt long even when it was only 87 minutes. I give kudos to Piper for being bold and creative with her storytelling and going to unexpected places with the character but they weren’t executed well enough to achieve any lasting impact.

Originally seen during the 2019 London Film Festival. In cinemas and on digital platforms from Friday 21st May.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Dig: Netflix Film Review

The Dig

Admittedly there’s another Carey Mulligan film that I’d rather be watching, but The Dig is a decent consolation prize.

The Dig is based on John Preston‘s novel, which reimagines the events surrounding the real-life excavation of the Sutton Hoo burial site in Suffolk, England in 1939. Mulligan stars as Edith Pretty, a widower who hires self-taught excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to dig up the mysterious mounds in her fields. Once they uncover an Anglo-Saxon ship, the discovery becomes big news and archaeologists descend upon the site, hoping to claim it for either the British Museum or the Ipswich Museum. These include married couple Stuart and Peggy Piggott (Ben Chaplin and Lily James), while Edith calls up her cousin Rory (Johnny Flynn) to help.

Watching people dig up dirt and meticulously move soil around to find long-buried artefacts is painfully dull and slow so Simon Stone has brought some excitement with the characters, from Edith’s secret illness, Stuart and Peggy’s troubled marriage, to Basil’s fight to lead the dig when the academic archaeologists want to take over, not to mention the threat of World War II looming in the background.

Even still, The Dig is still just a simple, gentle and pleasant affair. It looks gorgeous, with some stunning cinematography depicting the English countryside and the dig site, which is amazing to look at when it’s finished, but there’s not enough substance to grab onto, hook us in, and make us really care about the story. Not every film needs high-stakes drama to work, but this needed a little more oomph.

Mulligan is no stranger to period dramas and she is a strong lead as the refined and outwardly stoic Edith, who tries to keep up appearances despite her illness, while Fiennes was an interesting choice for the unorthodox local man. I wasn’t totally convinced by his accent but Brown, despite his seemingly grouchy nature at first, becomes the most likeable towards the end. I liked how his friendship developed with Edith and how he provided a father-type figure for her son Robert (Archie Barnes). James and Flynn’s storyline was too obvious to really work but they did a fine enough job.

The Dig is an easy Sunday afternoon type of film. It’s harmless, inoffensive and pleasant, but it’s just missing a bit of excitement.

On Netflix from Friday 29th January

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Rebecca: Netflix Film Review

Rebecca

Daphne du Maurier‘s famed 1938 Gothic novel Rebecca has been adapted for the screen many times, most notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940, and now Ben Wheatley tries to put his own spin on the well-known story in this latest adaptation for Netflix.

The film begins in Monte Carlo, with the unnamed narrator (played by Lily James) serving as a companion/assistant to the rich Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd). Van Hopper fancies the wealthy widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer) and sees herself as the next lady of Manderley, his sprawling estate on the English coast, but he falls for her companion instead. After a brief courtship, the duo gets married and head home. The new Mrs. de Winter realises that Manderley is haunted by the memory of his first wife Rebecca, who died a year before, and the sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas) likes to make sure she never escapes Rebecca’s shadow.

I was really surprised when Wheatley signed up for this. He has directed a novel adaptation before (with High-Rise) but that was still quite oddball, quirky and indie, so I wouldn’t have expected a new version of Rebecca – a Gothic romance thriller which is incredibly well-known – would have appealed to him as there is little room to put his own stamp on it. And there isn’t much sign of him here at all – Rebecca (adapted here by Jane Goldman) is classic, inoffensive, mainstream, and very loyal to the novel. It’s miles away from Free Fire, that’s for sure. And I LOVED Free Fire.

Wheatley has reunited with his Free Fire co-star Hammer for Rebecca and I was very impressed with his convincing British accent. He has such a distinct voice I just assumed it wouldn’t be good or consistent or it would have felt put-on, but no, it was a decent, natural-sounding British accent. He fits the bill as Maxim, as does James as the lead. She does well going from naive and timid in the beginning to strong and assertive nearer the end, but this isn’t one of her more impressive performances. The star of the show is, of course, Scott Thomas as the cold and calculating Mrs. Danvers, who had been devoted to Rebecca since she was a child and cannot stand this new replacement. She was perfectly cast in the role. There is also great support from Sam Riley as Rebecca’s cousin Jack Favell, Keeley Hawes as Maxim’s sister, and Tom Goodman-Hill as his estate manager Frank.

I’m assuming this is designed to entertain a new generation that is less familiar with du Maurier’s work, as I’m damn sure that knowing the ending will remove any sense of intrigue or excitement watching this. I must admit that I have neither read the novel nor watched an adaptation, so I cannot say if it brings anything fresh to the table compared with its predecessors, but I can give a newcomer’s perspective. Some revelations seemed obvious to me, while others – particularly about Rebecca’s past – took me by surprise. I was interested watching the twists and turns play out but I wouldn’t go as far to say I was gripped or hooked. I started to get into it more towards the end and then it was all over!

Rebecca is a beautiful film to look at, with stunning European locations, English coastline landscapes and costumes, but it didn’t make me feel very much.

In selected cinemas from Friday 16th October and on Netflix from 21st October

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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It’s the start of a new month so it’s time for my monthly movie preview once again.

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Rare Beasts: LFF Film Review

Billie Piper has come a long way since her days of being a pop star and Doctor Who’s assistant. She has proved herself as a phenomenal actress on the stage and now she’s made her directorial debut with Rare Beasts, which she also wrote and stars in.

[Read more…]

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I was so excited to see Sorry to Bother You and I’m glad it’s finally been given a UK release, but it is very, very odd. The first half is absolutely brilliant and I loved it so, so much, but it totally lost me towards the end when it got too weird.

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Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: Film Review

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