Biography

LOVING VINCENT

Directors / Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman (THE FLYING MACHINE and feature film debut, respectively)
Stars/ Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Eleanor Tomlinson and Chris O’Dowd

Almost every review of LOVING VINCENT you’ll read will begin by informing you that this is the first-ever oil painted feature film to be produced. This beautiful and befitting testament to the troubled yet supremely talented artist, Vincent van Gogh, was always going to be a unique film experience. Now, it is also certified brilliant.

Taking place one year after the death of van Gogh, Armand Roulin (Booth), the young son of a postman, is tasked by his father (O’Dowd) to personally deliver a letter to Theo van Gogh, brother of Vincent. Once Armand arrives in a small town outside of Paris, he begins to speak with several of the locals who share conflicting stories of their involvement and views of the famed artist. As Armand continues to learn about the truncated life and fascinating background of Vincent van Gogh, his curiosity to discover the truth behind the artist’s mysterious death deepens.

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Using the same technique as Vincent van Gogh himself, over 100 artists have contributed to the 65,000 frames of oil painting on canvas that have been captured in the final cut of this film. To say that LOVING VINCENT is worthy of our appreciation, as we sit down and absorb what must have been a most time-consuming and extremely meticulous method of movie making, is a gross understatement. It is deserving of utmost praise. First shot as a live-action film with actors then hand-painted over frame-by-frame in oils, LOVING VINCENT is striking to view with its dazzling paint job of a vast array of characters performed on-screen by a recognisable and predominantly UK cast.

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The extent of its guarantee to mesmerise is never solely limited to its visual capabilities. An utterly engrossing storyline prods and probes into the possible and probable contributors that may have caused the ultimate and untimely death of Vincent van Gogh. The clearly articulated screenplay, which questions the doubt that is exposed behind potentially false claims, holds every statement accountable to the truth. As its lead character searches for honesty, the writing offers precise education of biographical events with grounded reasoning in its examinations. Minimal but sufficient background concerning Vincent’s childhood and family members is shared and forms a critical part of comprehending the mystery behind his psychological imbalance and final decline. Furthermore, LOVING VINCENT emphatically closes all trains of thought it justifiably opens. A sublime film.

4 ½ stars

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Viewer Discretion/ M (Mature Themes)

Trailer / LOVING VINCENT

Moviedoc thanks Madman for the invite to the screening of this film.

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BREATHE

Director / Andy Serkis (Feature film debut)
Stars/ Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander and Hugh Bonneville

The name Andy Serkis is most recognised for portraying on-screen characters Caesar and Gollum in the fantasy adventure franchises PLANET OF THE APES and LORD OF THE RINGS, respectively. Now, Serkis makes his first foray into the business of movie directing with UK romance drama BREATHE

Based on a true story, it is 1958 when Robin Cavendish (Oscar nominee Andrew Garfield) is managing his tea-broking business in Kenya and is suddenly paralysed from the neck down after being diagnosed with polio. Advised that he has just three months left to live, which he’ll need to do within the confines of a hospital bed with wife Diana (Claire Foy) and newborn son Jonathan by his side, Robin defies all medical odds by exceeding his given life expectancy and becoming a pioneer for the disabled in the process.

Once its obligatory background formalities are ticked off its checklist in a hurried first act, the screenplay by William Nicholson (writer of GLADIATOR, LES MISÉRABLES and EVEREST) hones in on the period of Robin’s ailment that most mentally and physically challenges him. Quite pleasingly, audiences never become too burdened or bogged down by the suffering being endured daily by Robin. Instead, more emphasis is devoted to the friendly banter shared among Robin and Diana’s close family and friends. Although it might be somewhat of a relief that BREATHE is not the heavy film it could have been, it is still a disappointingly laborious one that will take much longer to find your sympathy than you would like. In all honesty, its touches of levity can be quite a bore to sit through. Moreover, the true worth of Robin and Diana’s story is being unnecessarily delayed. While Andy Serkis shows good intent in his aspirations to bring a more cheerful ring to the saddening elements of Robin’s story, he does struggle with the meandering writing and getting their combined execution right.

Thankfully, at roughly the mid-way mark of this two-hour movie, the real inspiration to be told in this story finally surfaces. Once at the fore, BREATHE makes a significant improvement that you will hopefully be willing to hold your breath for.

3 stars

On a special side note, the real-life Jonathan Cavendish is one of several producers working on BREATHE.

Viewer Discretion/ M (Mature themes)

Trailer / BREATHE

Moviedoc thanks Asha Holmes Publicity for the invite to the screening of this film.

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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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