Film Reviews by The Millbrooker

Welcome to The Millbrooker's film reviews page. The Millbrooker has written 3 reviews and rated 525 films.

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Happy-Go-Lucky

An object lesson in character study

(Edit) 02/04/2009

Mike Leigh is almost always associated with gritty (and, frankly, not very uplifting) dramas and uses highly unusual production methods; principally avoiding having anything resembling an actual script and just allowing the story to more or less develop as the cast live out their roles in front of the cameras.

Happy Go Lucky could be seen as Leigh's lighter side, offering humour aplenty as the central character, Poppy (Sally Hawkins), stumbles through life in a permanent state of supposed optimism and perkiness. Poppy lives in Camden in a candid and exceptionally close relationship with her long-time best mate, Zoe (Alexis Zegerman), and we are treated to what amounts to a series of vignettes from her life. Poppy is both endearing and exasperating; as an audience we find ourselves both loving her and thinking "I'm so glad she's not actually my friend" or perhaps more correctly "I'm glad she's not my responsibility". Inevitably we gain an awareness of the innate lack of depth to Poppy's stream-of-consciousness chatter, and are drawn to the profoundly insecure, frightened, childlike nature beneath the "bubbly" surface; this has been used as a negative critique by some, as if Poppy were intended to be a lesson to us all in how to be happy - this is nonsense. I found it to be an object lesson in character study. This is beautifully brought to the fore as the fraught relationship that Poppy has with her clearly unhinged driving instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan) disintegrates to the extent that he physically assaults her. There's no doubt that Scott is disturbed and has disturbing views, but he is also the only person in the film to clearly show that endless babble and meaningless chatter do not constitute "happiness". We are. alas, never given the answer to what does actually constitute happiness, but that's probably beyond even Mike Leigh's outstanding talents. The film doesn't tell a story in the narrative sense, it simply immerses the viewer in someone else's life and surroundings, leaving you to take whatever "message" you might want from it. This seeming lack of direction is its true strength.

The performances are, without exception, fully rounded and as utterly convincing as I've ever seen. Mike Leigh's modus operandi certainly brings out the best in an actor sufficiently confident and talented to explore their character to the full. Highly recommended.

5 out of 6 members found this review helpful.

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Man on Wire

Gripping Stuff

(Edit) 02/04/2009

What to say about James Marsh's 2008 telling of Phillipe Petit's derring-do in the high wire "Man on Wire"? I guess that almost everyone will be aware (thanks to massive publicity) that the film documents the illegal wire-walk undertaken by Petit between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York in August 1974.

It's received widespread critical acclaim, and deservedly so. But is it cinema? I rather thought not; it's great TV and a thoroughly entertaining documentary, but I didn't reckon it was great cinema. Let's put that minor gripe aside, and look at what the film tries to achieve.

As with most documentaries that I've seen, there are plenty of people talking to camera; some engagingly and some rather less charismatic. The principal protagonist in the escapade being commemorated - Monsieur Petit himself - is lively, entertaining and utterly barking. He was quite evidently an intense young man back in the 60s and 70s, with the drive, skill and creativity to realise his dreams of performing in the most outrageous spaces.

Before the twin towers "walk" he had performed similar stunts on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and between the bell towers of Notre Dame in Paris; both of these walks are shown as part of the film and drew plenty of comment from one of the friends with whom I watched along the lines of "I couldn't do that". How true.

We are led through the planning stages of the feat over New York; how to gain access to the site, how to set up a wire upon which to walk - all of which resembles nothing so much as a heist plot.

Eventually Petit ventures out with nothing between himself and the plaza beneath but 1350 feet of air. Sadly there is no film coverage of the event within the documentary only still photography, but the sense of wonder and enchantment is almost palpable nonetheless.

Petit spent about 45 minutes between the towers, walking, dancing, lying down, kneeling on the wire. The one place in the world where no one could reach him or touch him. The police waited on either side, but whilst he remained on the wire he was the most free man on the planet. Even without moving images, that sense of pure and unadulterated freedom is an awesome thing to watch.

After the walk, Petit is led away in handcuffs which he describes as the most dangerous part of the whole exercise (and possibly with good reason).

The film manages to work on another level altogether as well. Not only do we get entertained and awed by the spectacle, but we get a subtle and fascinating insight into one man's psyche. How his obsession and, let's be frank, self-centred nature both freed him to achieve his dreams and drove his friends and associates to eventually withdraw from him.

So a definite recommendation. It's not cinema per se, in my 'umble, but it is a tremendous ride.

3 out of 3 members found this review helpful.

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Cyrano De Bergerac

The Test of Time Has Not Been Kind

(Edit) 02/04/2009

I invited a friend over to watch this; he couldn't make it but said he'd seen this 1950 version of Cyrano de Bergerac as a boy and remembered it being a good 'un.

Having now watched it, I can quite understand how a small boy would be enthralled by lots of sword fighting and plenty of theatrical action scenes. I have my suspicions that the more-or-less adult version of my friend that we know and love today might be a little less impressed.

Sadly the almost pantomimic qualities of 1940s and 50s Hollywood family fare haven't really stood the test time in this one. Jose Ferrer won a Best Actor Oscar for this performance; I can only guess that they gave them out then for anyone who could remember lots of lines and didn't bump into the furniture too much (copyright Noel Coward).

This really is, nowadays, Sunday afternoon fare; perfect for falling asleep in front of after a good roast and perhaps a pint or two down the local. Otherwise it's only suitable for watching with maiden aunts when there's little else to do.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.