Writers: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope (screenplay), Martin Sixsmith (book)
Stars: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sophie Kennedy Clark
Release date: December 26th, 2013
Distributors: The Weinstein Company, Pathe
Countries: UK, Ireland
Running time: 98 minutes
Best part: Coogan and Dench’s chemistry.
Worst part: The wavering messages.
From Philomena‘s opening frame, its pressing arguments and perspectives fascinated me. I’ll explain why, despite my obvious and enthusiastic subjectivity, by deliberating on journalism itself. As one of history’s most intriguing and necessary professions, great journalistic endeavours, as Philomena suggests, can destroy organisations, illuminate fascinating people, and build glorious monuments to human potential. However, as this dramedy proudly asserts, harmful preconceptions and controversial actions destroy journalism’s reputation. Despite Philomena‘s wavering viewpoints, journalism’s overwhelming power and influence turns this dramedy’s weakest aspects into intriguing intricacies.
To define this argument, I’ll deliberate upon the media’s involvement with Philomena‘s creation. In 2009, polarising British actor/comedian/ writer Steve Coogan looked through the Guardian Weekend Magazine’s online hub. While net surfing, he found one of notorious journalist Martin Sixsmith’s human-interest articles. The article, The Catholic Church Sold my Child, remarkably transfixed Coogan beyond online media’s boundaries. After reading Sixsmith’s book on the same subject, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, Coogan obtained the rights. Coogan’s immense pride and valour become cognitive to this adaptation’s production. Based on Sixsmith’s intensifying words, Philomena is an impactful, charming, and distinctive dramedy. The movie immediately solidifies this story’s emotional stranglehold. Sixsmith (Coogan), at his general practitioner’s office, delivers reasons for his significantly morose state. Fired from a Labour government adviser position, Sixsmith faces damaging legal issues. With government and media officials staring him down, his reputation needs a conquering boost. Conversing at a friend’s party, he discovers a meaningful article idea. The movie then leaps into Philomena Lee(Judi Dench)’s haunting life story. With flashbacks revealing her heart-aching journey, her elderly self is a repressed and stupefying individual. Conversing with Philomena and her daughter Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin), Sixsmith discovers this story’s glorious potential. Travelling across Britain, Ireland, and the USA, Sixsmith and Philomena become contrasting yet inseparable buddies.
Despite the tiresomely cliched premise, the movie examines the story’s punishing twists and turns. Receiving disgraceful condemnation from critics and the Catholic Church, Philomena organically shifts from comedically fruitful road-trip dramedy to heart-breaking mystery. Thankfully, it’s never afraid to be honest, thorough, and revelatory. The narrative, fuelled by comedic sensibilities, hurriedly delves into the story’s broadly accessible aspects. Certain scenes, peppered with awkward silences and cutting dialogue, establish this situation’s blatant absurdity. Here, Sixsmith’s perspective becomes a stable and likeable resource. Sixsmith’s motivations, turning friends into enemies, are presented as cynical and disenfranchising facets. In the first third, the story divulges into clues and characters important to Philomena’s horrifying ordeal. Handling unique characteristics, the narrative distorts and enhances road-trip comedy cliches. Replacing cars with planes, this journey turns into a haunting and expansive odyssey. Sixsmith and Philomena, divulging into deft exposition and thought-provoking revelations, bond over this expansive research project. Director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons) thoughtfully examines potent human connections whilst leaping between genres. With valuable docudramas, romantic adventures, and kinetic comedies outlining his filmography, Frears’ style combines range and intelligence. Here, he becomes startlingly infatuated with the main characters. Shifting gracefully from comedic hijinks to sickening darkness, his movie illuminates life’s most ingenious and refreshing moments. Surprisingly, this Best Picture nominee contains other contenders’ tropes. Featuring a discomforting road trip (Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis), wacky character relationships (Saving Mr Banks), and socio-political messages (Dallas Buyers Club), this entertaining concoction becomes the Weinstein Company’s pet project.
“But I don’t wanna hate people. I don’t wanna be like you. Look at you.” (Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), Philomena).
Our two plucky heroes.
On celluloid, Catholicism, journalism, and odd-couple relationships are meaningful and understandable subjects. This movie, righteously and ambitiously, delves into all three topics. From the hysterically witty opening, the movie states and examines its blunt agenda. Establishing its lead character as a brash and abrasive journalist, this docudrama almost delves into heavy-handedness and cynicism. Unafraid of criticism, the movie delivers vicious editors, scandals, and the ratings vs. integrity debate. Despite presenting multiple perspectives, the movie hurriedly changes its mind at opportune moments. Not to be outdone, the movie’s atheism vs. religion debate is an affectionate and thought-provoking strand. As this heart-breaking narrative’s twists are unveiled, religion’s pros and cons become vital to Philomena’s character arc. With the convent becoming a prison-like fortress, the nuns are necessarily depicted as horrific cretins. Shockingly, we become valuable witnesses to 50-year-old crimes. Ethics, principles, and convent rules are strictly enforced by Philomena’s church. Despite prejudices and cultural indifference, organised religionviciously clashes with modernity. Despite the rich subjectivity, the movie’s gripping conclusion allows for unique and dexterous interpretations. Despite its intelligent viewpoints and phenomenal plot-strands, the two lead actors heartily grapple this project. Drawing large audiences into this well-meaning dramedy, the two leads lend wit, charm, and malice to this unforgettable story. Coogan, a discomfortingly polarising comedic actor, becomes a delightfully brash presence here. As a writer, producer, and lead actor, Coogan’s intentions and verve are mercifully injected into the final product. Here, his sarcastic aura boosts this enjoyable narrative. Playing a psychologically and morally damaged character, Coogan elevates this familiar role. Alluding to the News of the World scandal, the character conveys Coogan’s agreeable viewpoints and forceful determination. Delivering another Oscar-worthy turn, Dench launches head-on into Philomena’s destructive journey. Dench, as this sympathetic character, lends tangibility and potency to confronting revelations. In addition, without being irritating, Philomena becomes a wide-eyed companion for the world-weary Sixsmith. Explaining tiny details about loveable novels, her optimism and glee deliver several hysterical moments. Like most travellers, Philomena’s curiosity pushes her through pressing situations.
Despite the wavering agenda and conventional road-trip narrative, Philomena contains enough charm, laugh-out-loud moments, and emotionally powerful surprises to elevate it above similarly light-hearted dramedies. Outdoing their previous performances and dramedies, Coogan and Dench become an intriguing, eclectic, and comedically savvy duo. This odd couple – arguing incessantly over politics, ethics, religion, and personality ticks – delivers understandable moments and heartening identities. As this Oscar race’s dark horse, Philomena is charming and appropriate enough to compete with its enrapturing competition.
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan (screenplay), Ian Fleming (books)
Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris
Release date: November 9th, 2012
Distributors: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures
Countries: UK, USA
Running time: 143 minutes
Best part: Roger Deakins’ cinematography.
Worst part: The underused Bond girls.
Celebrating 50 years of saluting Queen and country on the silver screen, the James Bond film series has capped off its anniversary in style. Continuing the rebooted timeline with the previous Daniel Craig led Bond films, Skyfall stands tall as a delicate yet authentic mix of old and new. In love with the ideology of the Bond series and Ian Fleming’s original material, the 23rd instalment may be looked back on as one of the greatest films in Bond history and one of the most enthralling action-dramas in recent memory. Skyfall is a smart, stylish and well-acted piece of true escapist entertainment.
Skyfallkicks off in beautiful fashion. After a chase through Istanbul streets leads to the loss of a valuable MI-6 hard drive and 007’s apparent death, M (Judi Dench) and fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) must take responsibility for MI-6’s regrettable actions. Bond (Daniel Craig), coming back from a well deserved holiday, is a ghost of his former self. Known to shoot first and sleep around later, his physicality and mental stability have been thrown off target. This couldn’t have come at a worse time for the British secret service, as M’s past comes back to haunt both her and the agency. The damaged yet protective Bond must now find the source of this harrowing terrorist threat, revealed in the form of former MI-6 agent turned intuitive computer hacker Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Between Shanghai, Macau and Scotland, MI-6 must stop Silva before his next horrifying act, while finding the psychological meanings behind Bond’s prickly demeanour.
Coming off of the thrilling Casino Royale and the sorely underrated Quantum of Solace (although clearly the weakest of the three), Skyfall provides a greater insight into one of cinema’s greatest series’. Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) is the only Academy Award winning director to ever helm a Bond film. His signature gritty style and melancholic outlook on humanity is ever present in Skyfall, creating an interweaving look at the dark side of Bond’s existence. At one point, Ralph Fiennes’ Character Gareth Mallory asks Bond the simple question “Why not stay dead?”. From that point on Bond succinctly sets out to prove himself, portraying a cynical yet still effective anti-hero character. With everything the common film-goer knows about the Bond series, Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan develop a new perspective on the evolution of this ageing franchise. Bond’s existential outlook on technology, terrorism, corruption and human connection is the key to his successes. But to what extent is his professional side a positive? Craig proves to be the best 007 to date. His rugged features, cold tone and instant charisma deliver a necessarily harsh spy with a touch of heart. Dench continues her ever present fine form, delivering a strong performance as the out of time leader of MI-6. Credit also goes to Javier Bardem for his slimy turn as the homoerotic villain with a taste for revenge, continuing his run of villainous characters after No Country for Old Men and Collateral. A creepy mix of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Hannibal Lecter and the Joker, his frightening presence creates a sympathetic yet vicious Bond villain. The girls, though effective in shaking and stirring Bond’s psyche, are sorely underused.
Harris provides a dash of wit in a charming yet thankless role, while newcomer Berenice Marlohe simply stands around and looks pretty as a plot device. With the re-introduction of analyst and gadget-specialist Q, Ben Whishaw delivers a whimsical portrayal of one of Bond’s closest allies. The film is an eclectic mix of modernity and tradition. The Bond series strained with the silly yet occasionally enjoyable Moore, Dalton and Brosnan eras. Skyfall de-constructs the tongue-in-cheek elements of the previous Bond films such as the girls, guns, gadgets and globe-trotting. “What did you expect? an exploding pen?” Q says to Bond, as the witty banter throughout looks back at the notorious elements of an influential yet cyclical series. Constant references to other Bond films coupled with the Bourne series’ style of gritty-realism, Skyfall is a fitting entry into the already visceral and socially conscious Craig-Bond saga. The tragic aspects of Bond’s separation from a blood-stained yet seemingly enviable reality are similar to Mendes’ Road to Perdition and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga. Similarly to Bruce Wayne’s story of loss and redemption, Bond’s life as a troubled agent is expanded through his chilling and contemplative resurrection. The story deals with death and re-birth, symbolised imaginatively with a gothic and fluidly designed opening animated credit sequence. Bond and M are equally defining characters this time around, illustrating that both tradition and honour can have a relevant and unique impact in an advanced age of espionage. The mother/son relationship is defined to a greater extent, as their co-dependence gives them the motivation to complete this difficult assignment.
“Some men are coming to kill us. We’re going to kill them first.” (James Bond (Daniel Craig), Skyfall).
Craig & Bond’s signature Aston Martin.
The film serves to be a Rorschach painting for the audience, leaving everyone to create a new interpretation of cinema’s greatest spy. Continually changing the continuity of this franchise, the Craig-Bond era has created an earthy and vibrant re-iteration of a once declining series. Skyfall significantly benefits from Roger Deakins’ cinematography. A regular cinematographer for Mendes and the Coen brothers with such films as No Country for Old Men and Jarhead to his credit, Deakins creates a rich yet dulcet tone for each wildly different location across the globe. From the glowing neon lights of Shanghai’s cityscape to the concrete and maze-like exteriors of London, Bond’s mission is brought to life with a darkened touch. Deakins and Mendes also effectively capture the grisly identity of Bond. The use of both silhouettes and mirror images create an inner conflict within Bond himself; as a character establishing his own sense of place after previous failings. From the opening shot, Craig’s silhouette helps to create a truly imposing visage and charismatic presence. White the inventive silhouette covered fight atop Shanghai creates intense edge-of-your-seat thrills. The action sequences are effectively shot and choreographed, capturing several awe-inspiring moments within Bond’s dangerous missions. The exciting pre-credits chase through Istanbul creates a death-defying sense of scale fitting for its chilling resolution, while matching the intense Parkour chase in Casino Royale.
With Skyfall a worthy extension of the Bond universe, it should hopefully inspire the same level of ingenuity and depth in both future Bond instalments and modern action cinema. Thanks to the amicable cast and crew, this instalment stylishly honours the legacy.
Verdict: An affectionate and heart-thumping take on 007.