Biography

FINAL PORTRAIT

Writer & Director / Stanley Tucci (BIG NIGHT, THE IMPOSTORS)
Stars/ Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Sylvie Testud, Clémence Poésy and Tony Shalhoub

FINAL PORTRAIT is an enlightening retelling of Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s (Geoffrey Rush) numerous attempts to complete his portrait of young American writer and art admirer James Lord (Armie Hammer). It is 1964 in Paris when Alberto makes the flattering offer to draw his friend James, who is spending a few days traveling the French capital. Told from James’s perspective, FINAL PORTRAIT follows the trials and tribulations of both men as the neurotic artist battles both artistic and personal problems in this biographical comedic drama.

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From even his childhood years during the early 1900’s, Alberto Giacometti showed a keen interest in art. The life events of this post-impressionist artist that occurred from then to the timeline depicted here have surprisingly never been told in a feature length picture. However, they certainly deserve to be (and hopefully will be) someday.

Better known for his on-screen work, writer/director Stanley Tucci focuses on several days in the latter part of Giacometti’s life, in this moderate yet finely made film. Content with regularly and casually observing rather deeply exploring any of its themes and characterisations, FINAL PORTRAIT is an undeniably lightweight film that has tendencies to sometimes meander and linger in repetitiveness. Nevertheless, those who fancy this edited snapshot will take a liking to Tucci’s piece of work courtesy of the director’s firm handling of a basic story and peculiar characters, the reasonable pace over a short duration that has been applied and a terrific performance from Geoffrey Rush (who knew he could speak French!?). These aspects of the film keep this UK production a serviceable one.

3 stars 

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Viewer Discretion/ M (Mature themes, coarse language and nudity)

Trailer / FINAL PORTRAIT

Moviedoc thanks Transmission Films for the screening invite to this film.

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VICTORIA & ABDUL

Director/ Stephen Frears (FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, PHILOMENA, THE QUEEN)
Stars/ Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Michael Gambon, Tim Pigott-Smith and Eddie Izzard

It took over one hundred years from its occurrence for this true story to be publicly told. Based on the 2010 novel of the same name by Shrabani Basu, VICTORIA & ABDUL is a comedic drama about an unlikely friendship that came to fruition.

Reprising the role she previously played in the 1997 biographical drama MRS BROWN, Judi Dench again reigns supreme as Queen Victoria during the late 1800s. Bored and disinterested in her daily affairs, her Royal Majesty takes an instant liking to a tall, dark and handsome servant named Abdul (played by Ali Fazal), who broke the number one rule to not make eye contact with his Queen. Over several years, Abdul, who is a Muslim Indian, and Queen Victoria, begin to form a close bond, which causes quite a stir among her family members and close associates. 


The honest story of a genuinely remarkable and beautiful friendship is tarnished by the intrusion of an unnecessarily high supply of seemingly fabricated and overplayed farce.

Right from her opening scenes, where her Royal Majesty is having a royal snore before sloppily dining a meal fit for a king, VICTORIA & ABDUL deliberately enforces an undeniably featherweight tone. These frequently occurring, yet infrequently funny scenes go too strong on the slapstick, diminishing much of the inherent class and worthiness befitting of the film. Its misguided attempts to be too comedic become less of a problem as the developing friendship gains the traction it deserves. The screenplay’s realisation and revelation of the value that Abdul is bringing to his Queen’s life, who is having her mind opened just as much as her heart, and Judi Dench’s excellent performance do keep VICTORIA & ABDUL as close to the film experience it ought to be, even if sometimes the trajectory of their friendship is a little unclear, and even rather uncomfortable. As they grow closer, the nature of this film transitions to become a more poignant one, yet without much of the effect intended.

Though undoubtedly let down by its screenplay written by Lee Hall (writer of BILLY ELLIOT and WAR HORSE), VICTORIA & ABDUL is also a major disappointment from an experienced director who has previously handled a regally depicted movie with sophistication and class in the past.

2 ½ stars


Viewer Discretion/ PG (mild themes and coarse language)

Trailer / VICTORIA & ABDUL

Moviedoc thanks Universal Pictures for the pass to watch and review this film.

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MAUDIE

Director / Aisling Walsh (SONG FOR A RAGGY BOY)
Stars/ Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett and Gabrielle Rose

MAUDIE paints an intimate portrait of a 1930’s Nova Scotia woman who was born with a severe form of arthritis that increasingly limits her physical abilities. Residing with an over-protective Aunt (Gabrielle Rose), Maudie (portrayed by Sally Hawkins from BLUE JASMINE and HAPPY GO-LUCKY) is determined to move out and live an independent life. An opportunity to do so arrives in the form of a reclusive and gruff man named Everett (Ethan Hawke), who needs a housekeeper. As Everett reluctantly hires Maudie, he finds himself developing feelings for her while Maudie discovers her love of and talent for painting, which begins to catapult her to fame within the small community.


There really is only one actress who was ever truly destined to portray Maudie Lewis as genuinely and affectionately as this. That is of course Sally Hawkins, who gives an Oscar-worthy and utterly brilliant performance. Director Aisling Walsh, who previously worked with Hawkins in 2005 TV Mini-Series Fingersmith, clearly knows this too, having confirmed that Sally Hawkins was the first name that she had penned for the lead role. She is indeed the bee’s knees of this Irish/Canadian co-production.

This gently paced and tenderly rendered biography film dedicates virtually all of its duration to the journey and the battles experienced by its titular character. Maudie is an admirable woman who is content in appreciating life’s most simple necessities, with an adorable sense of humour and a warm smile always in tact. As such, the ability for audiences to grow affection for her requires zero effort. It is here though it should be mentioned that the same cannot be applied to any other character in this film. Everett isn’t a character that will win many people over. He isn’t just rude and nasty, he’s also a chauvinist. The script does clarify why Maudie cares to be with him, however it doesn’t fully form Ethan Hawke’s character enough to justify his (sometimes extreme) temperament and behaviour. Furthermore, several other supporting characters are too one-dimensionally conceived and woodenly acted. Even a few sub-plots don’t entirely convince as a result of the screenplay’s tendency to avoid certain details that are essential to know.

Picturesquely filmed in Newfoundland and Labrador, MAUDIE remains absolutely worth watching for Sally Hawkins’ performance alone. She committed to several weeks of physically and mentally tiring training in order to transform herself. A sure bet to be an Oscar-nominee in February 2018!

3 stars

Viewer Discretion/ PG (Mild themes and sexual references) 

Trailer / MAUDIE

Moviedoc thanks Transmission Films for the invite to the screening of this film.

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CHOCOLAT

Director / Roschdy Zem (OMAR KILLED ME/OMAR M’A TUER)
Stars/ Omar Sy, James Thierrée, Clotilde Hesme, Frédéric Pierrot and Noémie Lvovsky

In the late 1800’s, former Afro-Cuban slave turned circus performer Rafael Padilla, aka Chocolat (Omar Sy), entertains moderate sized audiences in the Northern parts of France. He earns his living playing a cannibal on stage, much to the amusement of a crowd who have never seen a man of colour before! During one of his routine yet lively performances, Chocolat is discovered by a reputable circus artist named Georges Footit (real-life circus performer and grandson of Charlie Chaplin, James Thierrée), who sees potential for success by forming a duo act to perform during the Belle Époque period in Paris.

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There is both a triumph and a tragedy to be shared in this biographical film that chronicles the life story of the first-ever successful black circus artist in France. The true story of a man who broke a barrier that needed to be broken for generations to follow, even if it had to be at his own expense.

As an entertainer and a man of colour, Chocolat’s success always had its limitations. Given the time and place he is situated, the willingness to play the submissive half of a duo slapstick routine intended to be of comedic nature to its audience was the only option he had at making ends meet. Unfortunately, this shameful and derogatory treatment was not restricted to the stage alone. When not in character, Rafael’s vulnerabilities would subject him to manipulation by colleagues and employers. What must be emphasised to this point regarding this French drama is the fact it is not depressing to watch at all. Actually, it is often delightful viewing and the story is consistently engaging. This is largely due to the superb performance from Omar Sy and the characterisation of who he portrays. Chocolat, quite admirably, never truly succumbs to playing the victim. He adds value to his choice of employment that rewards him and even enjoys life by pursuing some romance. Therefore, witnessing Chocolat’s growth as a performer and as a person does bring a sense of joy, as does Omar Sy’s best role and performance since 2011’s THE INTOUCHABLES.

3 ½ stars


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Viewer Discretion/ M (Mature themes, violence and coarse language) 

Trailer / CHOCOLAT

Moviedoc thanks Transmission Films for the invite to the screening of this film.

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CHURCHILL

Director / Jonathan Teplitzky (THE RAILWAY MAN, BURNING MAN, GETTIN’ SQUARE)
Stars/ Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, Ella Purnell and James Purefoy

CHURCHILL is the first of two films that dramatise one of the most defining moments in the career of United Kingdom Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The other film to be released later in the year will be DARKEST HOUR, starring Gary Oldman.

Directed by Australian filmmaker Jonathan Teplitzky, CHURCHILL revolves around a tense four day period that happened during the first of two terms that Churchill served as Prime Minister. In June, 1944, the Allied forces are ready to make their move on unsuspecting Nazi Germans, who are occupying territory in north-western Europe. The only person opposed to the invasion is Churchill himself, who is still heavily traumatised by the consequences of similar plans that were carried out during the First World War, fearing that history will repeat.

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CHURCHILL is an intimately shot and gently scored portrait of a dreadfully important and volatile short period of time in the life of the iconic PM, who was best known for his rousing speeches.

Alex von Tunzelmann’s screenplay ostensibly renders an accurate portrayal of the inner demons that Churchill grappled with and the pressures and frustrations he endured. Another side explored in this fact-based story surrounds the relationship that Winston shared with his wife, Clementine (Miranda Richardson) and the support that she provided to her husband. This component of the script is less convincing due to the rather one-dimensional observation it makes, which I doubt is the real intention here. Questions pertaining to the truthfulness and fairness of its construction and development do remain. While the story may not offer most viewers many new insights, CHURCHILL does offer Brian Cox one his most significant roles yet and he makes his performance a career-best one that is reminiscent of Bryan Cranston’s Oscar-nominated work in TRUMBO.

When comparing this biopic to other politically-themed films, CHURCHILL isn’t of the same high quality as THE KING’S SPEECH or FROST/NIXON. Nor is it produced with the artistic integrity that made JACKIE such a hit with critics. Nevertheless, its matter-of-fact style and concise writing on the focal subject matter should not be mistaken for blandness.

3 ½ stars

© Graeme Hunter Pictures

Viewer Discretion/ M (mature themes)

Trailer / CHURCHILL

Moviedoc thanks Transmission Films for the invite to the screening of this film..

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NERUDA

Director / Pablo Larraín (JACKIE, NO)
Stars/ Luis Gnecco, Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro and Mercedes Morán

The Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Film is a fascinating pursuit story set in Chile during the 1948 Cold War that is narrated via poetically written dialogue.

The President of Chile, Gabriel González Videla (Castro) has just outlawed communism, which has forced famous poet, Pablo Neruda (Gnecco) and his wife Delia (Morán) to go into hiding. Using the situation to inspire further writing, Pablo becomes a wanted fugitive in his own country when President Videla assigns police inspector Óscar Peluchonneau (Bernal) to arrest him.

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In rather similar fashion to his previous work JACKIE, Pablo Larraín’s film renders a captivating story with a spotlight cast upon a real-life and famous personality that has a strong political connection to their position. Only here, the screenplay by Guillermo Caulderón is restrictive in its comprehension and therefore suited to more of an acquired taste.

Although much of the dialogue spoken in this film is heavily poetic in style, the plot developments made as Óscar Peluchonneau goes in search of the elusive Pablo Neruda remain clearly visible. In fact, the script gets extremely wordy at times during its narration. So as a tip, if you are struggling to keep up with the heavy reading of subtitles or deciphering the poetic wording, then keep your focus more on the visual storytelling. This aspect of the film is really beautiful to watch and features terrific acting from Luis Gnecco and Gael García Bernal. NERUDA really hits its peak during the final chapter as Peluchonneau seems to be closing in on his fugitive, but Neruda might just be writing another story that Peluchonneau is the subject of. These scenes also feature a stunning location to shoot, which the cinematography profoundly caresses.

NERUDA is quite an esteemed picture and a fitting retelling of a critical time in the life of the Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet and political icon.

3 ½ stars

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Viewer Discretion/ MA15+ (strong sex scenes and nudity)

Trailer / NERUDA

Moviedoc thanks Palace Films and The Backlot Studios for the invite to the screening of this film.

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VICEROY’S HOUSE

Director / Gurinder Chadha (BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, BRIDE & PREJUDICE, ANGUS THONGS & PERFECT SNOGGING)
Stars/ Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi and Michael Gambon

For three hundred years, Viceroy’s House in Delhi has been home to British rulers in India. But in 1947, that ruling is officially coming to its end. The historical events depicted in VICEROY’S HOUSE are close to the heart of its director Gurinder Chadha, who is also one of several writers and producers of this film. Chadha’s own family were caught up in the tragedy that unfolded.

Tasked with overseeing India’s transition to independence is Lord Mountbatten (Bonneville), great-grandson of Queen Victoria. Moving into Viceroy’s House for six months with his wife Edwina (Anderson) and daughter, violence begins to erupt between the Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs as plans to divide the country become public. Caught up in the conflict is Jeet Kumar (Dayal) a young Hindu and manservant to Mountbatten who has fallen in love with a young Muslim working at Viceroy’s House, Aalia (Qureshi).

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VICEROY’S HOUSE provides viewers with an insightful examination of the conversations that took place behind closed doors at the grand abode and an all-round understanding of the complications that followed. These sweeping and monumental changes, which led to the partition of India, had a devastating impact on its people. All of which will be told throughout this motion picture. With so much political conversation on its agenda to cover, the aforementioned fictional sub-plot has been scripted to humanise the film and to extend the dramatic impact that these changes had.

Jeet and Aalia’s romance is an acceptable and relevant addition to the films factual premise, despite its not always convincing development and taking too much of the spotlight toward the end of the film. As an entire movie, VICEROY’S HOUSE doesn’t captivate the emotions quite like it is very much capable of. It is a film to be watched rather than one to become involved in. Although it does not fulfill its own potential, VICEROY’S HOUSE is kept from any further disappointment thanks to a handful of facets that earn the film appreciation.

There is some subtext and dialogue that has been thoughtfully incorporated into the script, which is of complete relevance and serves as a message to the rapidly changing landscape of today’s world politics. The music score from Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) and some variety in visual filmmaking from Gurinder Chadha both serve the film very well indeed. And lastly, acting performances are mixed throughout VICEROY’S HOUSE, however the two strongest contributions from TV Series The X Files star Gillian Anderson and Manish Dayal (THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY) leave a lasting impression.

3 stars 

Viewer Discretion/ TBC (PG – Mild themes)

Trailer / VICEROY’S HOUSE

Moviedoc thanks Transmission Films for the invite to the screening of this film.

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