Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 10 Films of 2014

As we say goodbye to 2014, it is time to reflect on the films we have seen and reviewed in the past twelve months. In this film year, we have seen and reviewed many of 2014's new releases and from those films we have compiled our list of the top ten films of the year. Each of these films were completely thrilling to watch as they are all examples of incredible and inspired film making and are all highly recommended. Please note that the top ten are based on the films which were part of the 2014 Australian release schedule.

10. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Release Date- 10th April 2014

 Wes Anderson's latest piece of cinema, The Grand Budapest Hotel is absolutely nothing short of grand itself. There is so much to marvel at during a viewing of this quirky but brilliant film. So much that you feel as though you need to watch it again just in case you missed something the first time around, and this is no bad thing. The whole film is a beautiful piece of art thanks to it's amazing visuals, extraordinary cinematography, interesting characters and wonderful screenplay.

9. Once My Mother
Release Date- 24th July 2014

Once My Mother is an incredibly generous offering from Sophia Turkiewicz, who shares her mother's extraordinary story in an extremely effective way by combining her and her family's personal experience with history and using a beautifully personal form of narrative.  Turkiewicz's ode to her mother is exceptionally well made and is as heartbreaking and shocking as it is loving and inspiring. It is a rare experience that opens the doors of an incredible family history and invites all in to witness their pain and triumph.

8. Only Lovers Left Alive
Release Date- 17th April 2014

Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive is a beautifully entrancing film like no other. It attempts the complex task of marrying the traditional with the modern in it's creative take on a popular cultural phenomenon and due to Jarmusch's incredible direction and vision results in something truly elegant. While there have been no lack of creature of the night films in recent times, Only Lovers Left Alive is not only an unique interpretation of how they live in today's society, but also a love story which is wonderfully portrayed by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston.

7. Nightcrawler
Release Date- 27th November 2014

Intriguing and incredibly unique, Nightcrawler is a brilliant portrait of the modern world of crime journalism and of a memorable but disturbing character by the name of Lou Bloom. With its highly intelligent and well written screenplay, Dan Gilroy's film is incredibly unpredictable and suspenseful and captures the atmosphere of the crime climate of Los Angeles, but still manages to do so in a tasteful and captivating fashion. Jake Gyllenhaal gives an absolutely superb performance of one of the unsettling characters you find creeping around Los Angeles in the night. Nightcrawler is clearly one of the best, if not the best psychological thriller of the year.

6. Saving Mr Banks
Release Date- 9th January 2014

Saving Mr Banks is complete and utter joy. This joy doesn't just stem from the fact that it is a beautiful film, but also from the revelation that this film isn't just for Disney fanatics. It is a film for all to enjoy and appreciate. In Saving Mr Banks Disney has made their best live action film in years. While many were worried that this would be a Disney film about Disney which means that it could have well turned into primarily a major marketing tool for the empire. Even though there are plenty of Mickey Mouse references in the film, there is a great deal more emotion than one could have ever expected thanks to an impressive screenplay and some truly wonderful performances, especially by Emma Thompson. In the film, P.L. Travers accuses Walt Disney of wanting to give Mary Poppins the Disney treatment and making her twinkle, yet Saving Mr Banks relies very little on sugar coating when creating a truly wonderful film.

5. Boyhood
Release Date- 4th September 2014

Richard Linklater's Boyhood is a beautiful and ground-breaking piece of cinema that's power lies in the subtlety of life's most meaningful moments. Twelve years in the making, Linklater's masterpiece is the true definition of a coming of age film and is revolutionary in it's production. Boyhood is made with a huge amount of love for life and for the process of growing up without any use of exaggeration. Mason is more than a character in a film, he is a boy you form an attachment to and cherish the opportunity to watch grow up.

4. The Wolf of Wall Street
Release Date- 23rd January 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street is another amazing piece of work by the dynamic duo that is Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. The story of the "Wolf" is intriguing and entertaining and keeps the viewer's undivided attention for the entirety of the film. The film is unexpectedly hilarious and pleasingly shocking at the same time, while also making you contemplate the ethics of the actions of Jordan Belfort. Leonardo DiCaprio is a force to be reckoned with in his fifth partnering with the great Martin Scorsese and the combination of these two proves once again to be a winner.

3. 12 Years A Slave
Release Date- 30th January 2014

!2 Years A Slave was without a doubt the most powerful feature film of the year. It has everything one would associate with a perfect film and Academy Award winner as it is completely unforgettable and immaculately made. As a result of it's perfect direction by Steve McQueen and incredible performances by all the actors involved as well as a wonderful adapted screenplay, the film is overwhelmingly emotionally powerful and honest in the most brutal way. It is a painful, but wonderful cinematic experience which consists of so many best achievements for the year in film.

2. The Immigrant
Release Date- 25th September 2014

James Gray's The Immigrant is a truly exquisite piece of work. Visually stunning and reminiscent of 1920's New York City, the tale of a woman's journey to a new and promising land which turns to disaster is extraordinarily tight knit and flows wonderfully without being clich├ęd or predictable. Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix are both superb as two strong characters with a great deal of complexity and depth. The Immigrant is as stunning on the surface as it is subtly complex.

1. Her
Release Date- 16th January 2014

Spike Jonze's Her is like no other. Cynical and thought provoking, yet incredibly sweet and romantic. Her is a scary reminder of how dependant we are becoming on technology and the future we are heading towards as a result of this dependence, yet it is also a reminder of how beautiful life is. A sweet but unconventional love story which see's Joaquin Phoenix give yet another incredible performance is a pleasure to behold on screen and is an absolute must see.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Big Hero 6 (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 108  minutes
Directors: Don Hall and Chris Williams
Writers: Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle (based on the comic by), Don Hall and Jordan Roberts (story), Paul Briggs (head of story), Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson and Jordan Roberts (screenplay)
Cast: (voices)Ryan Potter, Scott Adist, Daniel Henney, James Cromwell, Jamie Chung, T.J. Miller, Damon Wayans Jr., Maya Rudolph

Big Hero 6 will be released in Australia on December 26 and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios. To be released in the United States on November 6 and the United Kingdom on January 30.

Big Hero 6 takes the infamous Walt Disney animation charm and marries it with the high paced superhero thrills of Marvel films to create an incredible piece of cinematic art. Don Hall and Chris Williams' film takes a unique direction for an animated film as it has a firm grasp on raw human emotion while existing in a heightened reality. Big Hero 6 introduces the world to the incredibly lovable and unlikely hero, Baymax who earns his place in the realm of the most memorable and beloved Disney animated characters.

In the bustling metropolis of San Fransokyo, budding bot-fighter Hiro (Ryan Potter) has to constantly be rescued from trouble by his sensible older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), who is trying to convince his genius younger brother to use his intellect for something useful. When he takes Hiro to his research lab at San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, Hiro meets all Tadashi's friends as well as his idol, Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) and Tadashi's creation, Baymax (Scott Adsit), an inflatable health care companion robot. Hiro is then certain he must attend the same school as his older brother, but when a tragic accident takes place, Hiro's attention and goals shift to something far more vengeful.

One can only imagine that Disney must have had a feeling not unlike second album syndrome having to follow up the monster hit that was Frozen, which is now the highest grossing animated film of all time. However, as Disney has now made over 50 animated feature films and the studio is no stranger to the high expectations the public puts on their films, this would not be a notion they have not had to deal with before. Big Hero 6 will no doubt receive inevitable comparisons to Frozen due to it's incredible success, but it is a film vastly different from it's predecessor and incredibly comfortable in itself.

While Disney purchased Marvel Comics back in 2009, this is the first real evidence of this union as seen in feature film animation. The comic "Big Hero 6" by Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle was first published in 1998 with little fanfare. The film itself is more an adaptation of the comic as some of the characters and their situations are changed to allow for a larger audience and the creation of an original and relatable screenplay. Marvel superheroes are usually known for their superhuman powers which help them save the day and/or the world. The characters of Big Hero 6 may be animated, but the traits they possess are more realistic and relatable than those commonly associated with stereotypical superheroes. Along with their high level of intellect, all of the characters in the film who are part of group Hiro assembles to take on the mysterious masked villain do not have super powers as such, but instead take full advantage of their individual talents and do amazing things with them. Not one of them can take on the villain by themselves, but when they all come together they do amazing things. This is an inspirational thought for real life. There is nobody who can conquer the world by themselves, but when they are part of a group of people who share their talents, that is when change can be brought about. Nobody can be good at everything, but everyone has a talent for something and it's the ones who make the most of that talent that reach their true potential.

Big Hero 6 also looks at the way people handle grief and the stages which they go through. While Hiro's friends and Aunt Cass (voiced by Maya Rudolph) mourn in their own controlled way, Hiro retreats into himself for a time period before seeking revenge. In his heart he knows revenge won't bring his loved one back, but in his grief he somehow believes it will bring on a change of some sort. These are feelings many who have experienced the same sort of loss will be familiar with and while they would not have gone to the same lengths as Hiro, will understand his actions.

Big Hero 6 is a rather emotional journey for this reason, but also because of the depth of the friendship developed between Hiro and Baymax. Baymax comes to Hiro when he most needs him and is incredibly endearing and wonderfully lovable. He is a character so simple in appearance yet complex in creation. He is first and foremost a health care companion, but becomes the best friend Hiro could ask for which stems largely from his inbuilt compassion and wish to fix anything that may be wrong. Baymax gives the film some of it's most tender moments and also some of the most amusing moments, such as when his battery running low resembles tipsiness. For the character's simplicity in design, the connection one feels to him by the end of the film is outstanding.

The animation employed in Big Hero 6 is truly outstanding. The world of San Fransokyo in which Hiro and his friends exist in is truly brilliant and completely intriguing. San Fransokyo is the mash of San Francisco and Tokyo and contains features from both cities, including several recognisable landmarks and landscapes. When the film begins, the city looks remarkably like San Francisco from the bay views, but as it zooms in on the city it resembles more the busy streets of Tokyo. An incredible amount of detail has gone into every visual aspect of the film and every passer on the streets in the film has their own individual genetic make-up.

However, coming out of Big Hero 6 one has the feeling that the film would lose something on it's second viewing. Like all good superhero films, there is an excitement to the first viewing and a thrill which isn't enjoyed as much the second time around. It isn't the fact that the unpredictability is gone with a second viewing, but more that the emotional impact and intrigue and excitement associated with the story itself doesn't transcend into future viewings. Yet, the appreciation for what the film is trying to say remains.

Big Hero 6 represents a successful union between Disney and Marvel and has something for both young and old and male and female audiences. As is expected from Marvel films, it is well worth staying till the end of the credits.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Annie (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 118 minutes
Director: Will Gluck
Writers: Harold Gray (comic "Little Orphan Annie"), Thomas Meehan (stage play book), Will Gluck and Aline Brosh McKenna (screenplay)
Cast: Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz, Bobby Cannavale, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Zayas

Annie opens in Australian cinemas on December 18 and is distributed by Roadshow Films. Opening in the United States on December 19 and the United Kingdom on December 26.

Bringing the beloved family musical Annie into 2014 is one of the few remakes of the year that actually makes sense. Although it is a film strictly for musical fans, Annie embraces it's new time period with an adapted story and screenplay that takes full advantage of it's shift in time period and still pays tribute to the original stage play and 1982 film. Although the music feels rather dated as a result of staying true to the original and in pure Annie fashion is as cheesy as can be, there is a wit and joy to the film that makes it entertaining and enjoyable for those who can handle breaking into song at the drop of a hat.

A child of the foster care system, Annie Bennett (Quvenzhane Wallis) lives in the care of the bitter and cynical Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), but never gives up hope that the parents who abandoned her when she was much younger will someday return for her. Her hard knock life experiences a major change in fortune when she is rescued by high flying businessman, William Stacks (Jamie Foxx) who is in the middle of a campaign to become mayor of New York. In a whirlwind turn of events, Stacks is advised by his campaign manager, Guy (Bobby Cannavale) to have Annie move in with him to give him a boost in the polls and it is then that Annie's life starts to turn into the fairy tale she always dreamed of.

Will Gluck's take on the traditional story about the orphan girl with flaming red curly hair is not as much a remake as it is an adaptation. While the basis between the original Annie and the 2014 film is technically the same, the screenplays are rather different due in large part to bringing Annie to the present day rather than revisiting her in the 1930's orphanage. The new screenplay is a reimagining of the traditional Annie and as a result does something which so many remakes/adaptations fail to do and that is to justify it's existence by bringing something new to the tale. At the same time, it also pays tribute to the past versions by featuring another Annie in Annie Bennett's classroom with bright red hair and naming Stack's opponent in the mayor election Harold Gray, the name of the man who wrote the original comic strip 'Little Orphan Annie".

Gluck's film is in the minority of adaptations that actually do this and even though the screenplay isn't particularly strong, it is still entertaining and is so particularly for younger audiences who will appreciate it's cheesy nature and tendency for over-exaggeration. Adults that come to expect this from the film will enjoy it more than those who are not fans of musicals that feature bursting into song mid-sentence, yet the film must be commended as it also makes fun of itself for doing this. The dialogue spoken by the characters at times is extremely witty with some very clever one liners and some of the scenarios they find themselves in are hilarious, such as Stacks and the mashed potato incident.

One of the reasons Annie has remained so loved over the years is because of the catchy and memorable songs. The new film reprises many of the songs in the original songbook including "Tomorrow", "Maybe", "It's A Hard Knock Life" and "Little Girls". Yet, unlike the screenplay, these songs feel rather dated in a modern film. Again, Gluck has tried hard to make sure his film pays respect to the original and this is sure to be one of the ways he has done this, but the mentioned songs would have benefit from a remastering to have a better fit in the film. There is the inclusion of original pieces of music, including the now Golden Globe nominated "Opportunity" performed by Wallis and written by Sia, which is a truly lovely song.

Quvenzhane Wallis does wonderfully as Annie Bennett. She is completely endearing, wonderfully charismatic and has the rare ability to appear so natural in the cheesiest of situations. Wallis also has a particularly beautiful singing voice. There is a great amount of on screen chemistry between her and Jamie Foxx that provides the film with warmth and emotion. Foxx does rather well and is likable and comical, but has moments where his character of Stacks starts to blend into his real life persona whether intended or not.

Rose Byrne is lovely and like Wallis and Foxx, completely likable and has great chemistry with Wallis. Cameron Diaz would have benefit greatly if she had toned her character of Colleen Hannigan down a few notches as she is so incredibly over the top that she becomes more forced than comical. However, she must be commended for taking the risk as she hasn't taken part and sung in a film musical until now and as exaggerated as her character may be, Diaz does look like she is having fun in the film.

The attraction one has to Annie will vary depending on their appreciation of musicals. However, it is a family film that will delight younger viewers and is a film that will make the conversion to DVD with success.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Best Christmas Songs From Movies

Once again, that time of the year is upon us. The holiday season is a joyous time for many of us as it means getting together with family and friends, the anticipation of Santa Claus making his way down the chimney and decorating your house with as many Christmas lights as it takes to see it from outer space. On the other hand, there are those who are not the biggest fans of the holiday season and one of the reasons for this is more than likely the guarantee that you will not be able to go anywhere without hearing another freaking Christmas carol.
As you are walking through the mall putting yourself through the torture that is Christmas shopping, there will always be a certain Christmas song will come on that will instantly make you think of the movie which it is featured in. You hear the song and into your mind comes the visual of an actor or group of actors singing and dancing to it in a particular film. There are some Christmas songs that just cannot be separated from the movie which they appear in and that really isn't a bad thing.
Here in no particular order are some of the most memorable Christmas songs from movies and the clips of those songs in their respective movies.
"White Christmas" from Holiday Inn (1942)

Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" is without a doubt the best Christmas song from a film of all time. The song has also been hailed by many as one of the best movie songs of all time and one of the best Christmas songs of all time, as well as being one of the only Christmas songs to have won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. The song originally appeared in Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn, but also appeared 12 years later in White Christmas which once again starred Crosby. "White Christmas" is a song you will no doubt hear dozens of times over Christmas and every time you hear it, you picture Crosby crooning.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

No doubt over the holiday season you will hear "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" countless times and there is no element of surprise anymore when it is the last song at a carols service. However, Judy Garland's original version as sung in Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St Louis will always be the greatest rendition and it is impossible for any other version to capture as much emotion as Garland singing to a young Margaret O'Brien. It is a song which is nowadays sung as a celebration, but in the film is a heartbreaking ballad sung to perfection by Garland and was also sung during war time in the same melancholy fashion.

"All I Want for Christmas is You" from Love, Actually (2003)

It is inevitable that when you hear the song "All I Want for Christmas is You", you are more than likely hearing the Mariah Carey hit the high notes. However, the sequence in Love, Actually when the love of young Sam's (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) life, Joanna (played by Olive Olson) sings "All I Want for Christmas is You" at the school's Christmas concert is what you will more than likely visualise. Olson was only eleven years old when she worked her way into Christmas movie song history and although being in the film a short time, she is the reason for one of the most memorable scenes in the film and her singing of the song made popular by Mariah Carey was flawless. It is such a joyous scene in the film that it is talked about so often around Christmas and when speaking of the film.

"Christmas Is All Around" from Love, Actually (2003)

OK, so this isn't actually a traditional Christmas song and there isn't as much a chance of hearing this on a Christmas mix as other songs on this list, but anyone who has seen Love, Actually will find themselves singing "Christmas Is All Around" at some point in time over the holiday season. Even when you hear "Love Is All Around", it is easy to suddenly break into the Billy Mack (as played by Bill Nighy) adapted version, which even he admits is "utter s**t". So bad that it is fantastic.

"Auld Lang Syne" from It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

Arguably the greatest Christmas movie of all time, Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life closes in spectacular fashion leaving not a dry eye in the house. As George Bailey (James Stewart) is helped and embraced by the town he has done so much for when he is in a time of need, all those who love him sing "Auld Lang Syne" to close the film in a rendition that is like no other. It is filled with jubilation and a feeling of togetherness that makes you want to throw you arms around those near you and sing.

"Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" from Home Alone (1990)

(Please note: no video is available of the scene the song is featured in)

When one hears "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree", Home Alone is the movie that comes to mind. One of Kevin McCallister's (Macaulay Culkin) clever methods of fooling the two criminals who have his house in their sights, is to stage a party to make them believe that his family haven't gone on holidays. "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" by Brenda Lee is playing as mannequins dance, chat and pace around behind the curtain giving the impression of a raging party and the song is the perfect Christmas party songs.

"Jingle Bell Rock" from Mean Girls (2004)

Despite the fact that the Plastics give a wildly inappropriate performance for the schools Winter Talent Show in Mean Girls, you can't help but picture Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried and Lacey Chabert doing their raunchy dance in their sexy Santa costumes whenever you hear "Jingle Bell Rock". While the dance moves done by the girls are not what many of us would dare to do in public (besides Amy Poehler's "mum" moves), they are easily memorised and rerun in your mind when hearing the song.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Paddington (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Paul King
Writers: Michael Bond ("Paddington Bear" created by), Hamish McColl (story) and Paul King (story and screenplay)
Cast: Ben Whishaw (voice), John Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman, Julie Walters, Samuel Joslin, Madeleine Harris, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon (voice), Imelda Staunton (voice)

Paddington will be released in Australian cinemas on December 11 and is distributed by Studiocanal. Now showing in the United Kingdom and to be released in the United States on January 15.

More than sixty years after he first appeared in childrens storybooks, Michael Bond's beloved Paddington Bear finally makes his first appearance on the big screen in Paddington. Paul King's take on the endearing character is a family film which ticks all the boxes of its genre, but has a screenplay and sense of humour that is certainly more appealing to younger audience members. Despite it's extreme predictability and simplistic comedy, the film is redeemed by it's ability to embrace the atmosphere of the London the characters dwell in and by the warmth of it's incredibly lovable leading bear.

Forty years ago, British explorer Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie) ventured into the Peruvian jungle and was the first to discover a new species of bear who have the gift of speech and an intense love of marmalade. The nephew of the pair of bears who Clyde bonded with travels to London after a horrible accident in search of a new home, but finds that the city he has been told so much about by his auntie and uncle is not the warm and welcoming place he believed it to be. While he is seeking the explorer Clyde and unknowingly being hunted by taxidermist, Millicent (Nicole Kidman), he is taken in by the Browns, a family who may need him just as much as he needs them.

Paddington is a completely entertaining and charming family film. For those familiar with the "Paddington Bear" books and animated television show, the film attempts to bring Paddington to the realm of live action by embracing the nostalgic world tinged with magic that he has always belonged to. The London which Paddington lives in is considerably charming with it's polished streets and houses and emphasis on a society that values all things nostalgic. The production design is particularly exquisite as it's slight surrealism adds towards the magical atmosphere of the film.

However, Paul King has also attempted to stay true to past Paddington Bear stories by ensuring that his screenplay and direction too have an old fashioned air about them. This is not in itself problematic, but the result is a story which will be of greater interest to younger family members. The film starts off strong with some hilarious moments in it's first ten minutes, but after awhile the dialogue seems rather unoriginal and humour is either too simple or too exaggerated. It is obvious that what King is trying to do is make a film which the whole family can enjoy which stays true to the world of Paddington Bear that Michael Bond created in the 1950's. He does do this to an extent, yet children will enjoy the film as a whole more than adults, as the story and characters will be of greater interest to the young. This is not surprising as Paddington Bear is a character aimed at children, but it is clear that King is also trying to make this film enjoyable for older audiences too. Adults will find the visual aspect of the film more intriguing than the actual story, but many will still find the story enjoyable in it's simplicity and charm.

However, it is the furry protagonist who wins the audience over. Paddington Bear is completely lovable and exceptionally endearing. While he isn't overly visually adorable, he has a quality that makes one sympathetic towards him. The performances of the live action actors are ones that very much belong primarily in children's entertainment as they are exaggerated and one-dimensional. Paddington is Paddington Bear's first live action feature, yet the performances in the film are almost cartoonish, particularly those of Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins and Nicole Kidman. All the emotion comes from the Ben Whishaw voiced Paddington and although the film calls for some special family moments from the Browns, there are none to be found.

Paddington serves it's purpose as a family holiday film perfectly well, but struggles to find a balance between being a live action film and staying true to the Paddington Bear that has been loved for generations. Light and sweet, but not without it's flaws.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Yesterday,Today,Tomorrow: My Life" by Sophia Loren book review

Author: Sophia Loren
Publication Year: 2014
Pages: 352
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

If you would like to purchase Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life and are in Australia, please visit the Simon & Schuster website. If not, please visit Amazon.

Despite being arguably the most successful and recognisable Italian film beauty of all time, screen legend Sophia Loren has always valued and maintained a high level of privacy, reserving stories of her past and inner thoughts only for those close to her. In Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life , Loren opens up as never before and writes with complete honesty about the hardships of her childhood, her personal relationships and impressive career that has spanned over six decades. Her memoirs offer insight not just into the career of one of the true screen legends who was able to find success in both Europe and Hollywood, but also an incredibly strong and loyal woman who wins admirers with her story.

Sophia Loren's name is synonymous with all that is glamorous and sensual in the later years of the golden age of Hollywood and Italian cinema, but her life was not always one of advantage. As she works her way through her treasure trove of memories, Loren writes of her childhood in war torn Naples where she and her family often went without food and spent their nights sleeping in a train tunnel to escape the threat of bombs through the night and of her escape from a life of disadvantage by moving to Rome and entering beauty pageants. At 17, she met Carlo Ponti, the man who would be instrumental in beginning her film career and become her husband of over forty years, but their union caused a tremendous amount of controversy before they were officially wed. Over her impressive career, Loren has starred in a wide variety of films showing her incredible versatility and received the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1962 and an Honorary Academy Award in 1991. In Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life , her memories are accompanied by the visual aid of photos and copies of letters from friends and family which she has kept in her collection of keepsakes over the years and gives the reader real insight into the life of Sophia Loren.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life will be a thing of beauty for fans of Loren, but her words have the power to draw in more potential admirers who will no doubt find her story inspiring and her inner spirit tremendously likable and admirable. Loren's autobiography does what so many others fail to do and that is to make the reader understand who they truly are while telling their story. Loren has a particularly strong sense of self, which is something that she shares with a small number of people and to these people she is an extremely committed, loyal and loving friend. This comes across in her writing and her warmth and maternal instinct is felt in her words, something which makes reading Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life feel incredibly comfortable and also a true privilege.

While Loren did indeed star in several Hollywood features in the 1950's and 60's, the majority of her body of work has been undertaken in Europe. Those who are familiar with and lovers of Italian cinema will relish in her vivid memories of working with Marcello Mastroianni and Vittorio De Sica and her insight into the special friendships she had with both. However, those who read Loren's book with the expectation of it being an old Hollywood memoir may be disappointed. Loren does write of her friendships with other Hollywood greats including Cary Grant (who was at one time in love with her) and Audrey Hepburn and her experiences working with Mervyn LeRoy, Frank Sinatra, Charles Chaplin and Marlon Brando, but more of the book is dedicated to her Italian films as it should be.

As Loren has never been particularly open about her private life, the book is an opportunity to understand the emotion behind her public persona. She writes openly of her strained relationship with her father, the hardships, her 30 day prison sentence for tax evasion in 1982 and her struggle to have a family. She also chooses to set the record straight about what was going through her mind when THAT photo of her and Jayne Mansfield was taken when she first came to Hollywood and expresses her dislike of being asked to autograph the infamous photo. Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life is not a scandalous book by any means and does not reveal anything fans of hers would be shocked to discover, but it is a chance for the woman behind the legend to allow the public to understand the reasons and thoughts behind the main events in her life.

The book also has a slight comical edge to it, particularly when speaking of her beloved grandchildren who seem to be more impressed by the fact that their grandmother loaned her voice to Cars 2 than any other part of her career. It is a beautiful touch that instead of concluding the extensive photo section with a final shot of herself, she ends with her favourite portrait which is a drawing from one of her grandchildren entitled "Nonna". There is a generous offering of over 60 pages of photographs and all of which project the joy and amusement on set she has experienced over her career.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life is a chance for all to fall in love with Sophia Loren the person, not just the screen beauty. Not a book of scandalous proportions, but rather one which makes one admire Loren for her attitude and her strength.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

When The Queen Came To Town (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 78 minutes
Director/ Writer: Maurice Murphy
Narrator: Bert Newton

When The Queen Came To Town is now showing at selected Australian cinemas and is distributed by Umbrella Entertainment. For a list of participating cinemas, please see the official site and local guides for show times.

When Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh toured Australia in 1954, it was the biggest event the country had ever seen. Even today, it is still the biggest non-sport related event Australia has ever seen and involved more people than both the Melbourne and Sydney Olympics. Maurice Murphy's wonderful documentary, When The Queen Came To Town captures the jubilation that the country felt 60 years ago and gives the people of today a chance to understand what it meant and for the people who were there to reminisce a time of pure happiness. The film does a superb job at reminding one that despite a great deal changing since that time, some things manage to remain the same.

In 1952, Princess Elizabeth was in Kenya on her way to tour Australia with her husband, Prince Philip when she received the tragic news that her father, King George VI had passed away. Two years later and now as Queen Elizabeth II, she honoured the trip she had once planned and toured Australia and the South Pacific. The monarch was in Australia for nearly two months and travelled to not only the major cities including Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, but also several regional towns such as Newcastle, Wollongong, Wagga Wagga and Cairns. Three quarters of the population had turned out to witness the young queen and she was greeted by many young Australian children wherever she went. During this film, several of the people who were able to see the queen and also some who were able to have direct contact with her are interviewed and all reinforce how incredible the event was and how the queen left such a lasting impression on the country.

When The Queen Came To Town is a beautiful documentary made with pure love and affection for the Queen herself and for Australia. Narrated by Bert Newton, it is a memory of an exceptionally joyous occasion in Australia's history and the film is a 78 minute celebration accompanied by bright, uplifting colours to reinforce this. It is an extremely well researched piece of work that isn't just a travel diary of the royal couple, but looks at Australia in the 1950's and also looks at what this royal tour meant to the people on a cultural level. The extensive actual colour footage of the royal couple is exquisite and if it wasn't for the obvious differences in landscape, could well be mistaken for recently filmed footage. This accompanied by the interviews with over forty Australians who were actually there to see the Queen provides an understanding of what life was really like and how the tour impacted Australia. It is said during the film that the tour made Australia feel like they were no longer a faraway land, but that the country mattered on a global scale.

It is interesting to note that although Australia has changed a great deal since the 1950's, the way which people reacted to Queen Elizabeth II when she was 26 years old and Prince Philip was 33 is not unlike the way people relate to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. For the younger generation, it may be hard to envision how the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were ever looked at in the same way as William and Kate, but this film is a snapshot of a time when the similarities are striking. It is not a comparison that is spoken of, but one that is impossible to ignore. The royal couple represented a marriage which many aspired to have which is one based on love, respect and commitment. At 26, Queen Elizabeth was young and beautiful, which inevitably led to her being a fashion icon. Her wardrobe was a talking point wherever she went and for two months she graced the cover of every women's magazine in the country. She arrived in Australia at a time when Australian women were wearing rather drab colours and her style of pastel and bright coloured dresses were immediately mimicked. Although royalty has always played a part in influencing culture and fashion abroad, the young Queen was the first British monarch to ever visit Australia and this started the continents obsession with royalty which is not unlike celebrity obsession. People looked up to the Queen and her husband the way people look up to William and Kate. As this young royal couple visited Australian shores in the past year, the event itself was not on the same scale yet the interest in them as people is the same as it was sixty years ago.

When The Queen Came To Town has been described as a film about the celebration of the British monarchy not just for royalists, just as the tour itself was embraced by royalists and non-royalists alike. The royal tour was an important and joyous event in Australian history and should be celebrated as it is in this film. When The Queen Came To Town is a culturally significant documentary which should be shown in all schools as a celebration of Australia's history.