Tag Archives: C

FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL

Producer: Barbara Broccoli and Colin Vaines
Director: Paul McGuigan
Writer: Matt Greenhalgh
Stars: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Kenneth Granham, Stephen Graham, Vanessa Redgrave and Frances Barber
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

C

Annette Bening brings sauciness and pathos to her portrayal of fallen movie star Gloria Grahame in Paul McGuigan’s “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” but the film, based on the memoir by Peter Turner recounting his troubled romance with the actress in her twilight years, is sluggish and strangely unaffecting.

Though the script by Matt Greenhalgh switches between past and present throughout—not confusingly, thanks to Nick Emerson’s editing, which is ponderous but at least clear—the narrative effectively begins in 1978, when Turner (Jamie Bell), a wannabe actor from Liverpool, met Grahame in the London boarding house where they had both taken rooms while she performed on the stage. Though nearly three decades older, and a full twenty-seven years after winning her supporting actress Oscar for “The Bad and the Beautiful,” her still coquettishly sultry ways entranced the young man, and they began a passionate romance that even took the pair to America. (One of the few lightly amusing scenes in the picture comes when they go to “Alien” together, and while he’s horrified by the famous chest-bursting sequence, she giggles over it.)

The film barely touches on the actress’ checkered past—there’s no mention, for example, of her scandalous fourth marriage to Tony Ray, the stepson with whom she apparently had relations while he was in his teens and she was still married to his father, director Nicholas Ray—though it does contain a juicy scene in California where she introduces Turner to her gushing mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and her cynical, censorious sister (Frances Barber), who is ironically named Joy. It was when they were in New York that their relationship deteriorated, and Peter returned home to Liverpool.

A couple of years later, Graham returned to England, though quite ill with cancer, to act again on the stage. (By then she was, to quote the title of one of her best films, in a lonely place.) Unable to continue, she got in touch with Turner and asked to stay with his family—a request that his parents Bella (Julie Walters) and Joe (Kenneth Granham) readily agreed to, though his elder brother Joe Jr. (Stephen Graham) was doubtful. Through her visit Grahame grew sicker until her son arrived to take her back to the United States, where she died shortly afterward.

The centerpiece of the picture, naturally, is the relationship between Grahame and Turner, and Bening brings a mercurial quality to the once-famous star in the 1979 scenes and a touching vulnerability to her in the 1982 ones. The performance could be called showy, but in a good way. Unfortunately, she isn’t matched by Bell, whose dourly mechanical turn exhibits little nuance even when Peter fulfills, in a modest way, her dream of performing Shakespeare on the London stage. Walters, who played Bell’s teacher in “Billy Elliott,” is surprisingly unsubtle as Turner’s mother, and as his father Granham is distinguished mainly by the succession of colorful sweaters he wears as part of the ostentatious period style contrived by costumer Jany Jemime and production designer Eve Stewart. Redgrave and Barber add some much-needed snap to their single scene, however.

“Film Stars” does manage to be visually evocative, with atmospheric widescreen color cinematography by Urszula Pontikos that plays with light and shadow, especially in the morose final sequences. Its only truly outstanding element, however, is Bening’s performance, and even that can’t entirely escape a maudlin tone at the close. This is an essentially mediocre tearjerker that is nonetheless notable for showcasing yet another striking turn by a superb actress.

MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE

Producer: Ellen Goldsmith, Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen and Lee Stollman
Director: Wes Ball
Writer: T.S. Nowlin
Stars: Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Brodiangster, Dexter Darden, Kaya Scodelario, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosa Salazar, Aidan Gillen, Walton Goggins, Ki Hong Lee, Barry Pepper, Will Poulter, Jacob Lofland and Patricia Clarkson
Studio: 20th Century Fox

C

Sometimes running times can tell the story. The first episode in the “Maze Runner” trilogy, based on the YA novels by James Dashner, was 113 minutes, and while hardly a classic, it moved swiftly enough through the inanity to make it palatable. The second movie, “The Scorch Trials,” was longer at 131 minutes, but contained enough incident to support the increase. Now comes the final installment, “The Death Cure,” which, at 142 minutes, drags on repetitiously, its simple narrative unable to sustain the unconscionable length. Despite lots of bombastic action scenes, individual face-offs and self-sacrificial turns on the way to an idyllic conclusion, it lumbers rather than sprints to the finish line.

In essence the entire picture is about the efforts of the three remaining “Gladers” (survivors of the Big Maze from the first film) to rescue one of their own, Minho (Ki Hong Lee) from the clutches of WCKD, the sinister group using these immune youngsters to try to devise a cure for “The Flame,” an epidemic that is turning most of humanity into zombie-like flesh-eaters. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Frypan (Dexter Darden) are the trio, but they are aided by some outsiders, most notably Vince (Barry Pepper), Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar), in their mission, along with a surprise ally, a major character from the first picture who is effectively resurrected here but whose identity will not be revealed to avoid spoiling the surprise (though readers of the books will certainly know who it is—and a glance at the cast list provides an obvious clue).

After saving a train car full of young immunes from WCKD in dashed hopes of finding Minho among them, the trio set their sights on the walled city in which the evil operation has its laboratory and their friend is serving as a guinea pig. But to work their way into the lab, they will need the help of their erstwhile comrade Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), who has defected to WCKD, though of course she is conflicted about being in the employ of its boss Ava (Patricia Clarkson) and her nasty enforcer Janson (Aidan Gillen).

Much of “The Death Cure” is devoted to acts of derring-do and clashes with Janson and his army of storm troopers. Unfortunately, while the action is decently staged by director Wes Ball and his cohorts, and shot fairly nicely by cinematographer Gyula Pados, it becomes tiresomely repetitive. The train sequence, for example, involves a large grappling hook lowered from a futuristic plane, and it’s pretty exciting (even if the actions of the train’s protectors are typically inept). Ball apparently liked the idea so much that he repeats the same stunt toward the close, except that the vehicle being lifted is different. It’s not nearly as effective the second time around.

Then there are the repeated face-offs with Janson. People are constantly holding guns on one another, but rather than firing, they speechify until something happens to allow our heroes to get away for the next encounter. The number of close calls and hair’s-breadth escapes in the movie is astronomical, and frankly boring.

And there are plot points that seem insufficiently explained. One of the immunes suddenly begins to turn into a crank, as the infected undead are called, but there’s no clear reason why that should happen (and at the most inappropriate moment, though it does lead to an exhibit to self-sacrifice that’s one of the better elements of a very long climax). At the close Janson realizes that one person is the key to curing those afflicted with The Flame, but then tries to kill the person. (He’s already murdered somebody else for no discernible reason.)

The result of all this is that “The Death Cure” gets sillier and sillier as it draws to a conclusion all too slowly despite multiple riots, explosions, fights, bullet wounds and chases. Piling climax upon climax makes not for excitement but irritation.

That said, the movie is generally well-made from a technical standpoint, with the effects and stunt crews doing good work while editors Paul Harb and Dan Zimmerman do a good job livening up the action scenes even as they proliferate mindlessly in the last act.

The acting for the most part is serviceable, with O’Brien—who suffered a severe injury from an accident on the picture’s set, necessitating a substantial production delay—making a likable, if somewhat ineffectual hero and Scodelario okay as his emotional love interest. But Gillen is a smirking bore as Janson, Clarkson so underplays Ava that she practically disappears, Pepper is just conventionally gung-ho, and Walton Goggins, caked in makeup, is almost unrecognizable as the voluble leader of the city’s opposition to WCKD,. On the other hand Esposito has fun as Han Solo-esque Jorge, and Salazar is physically impressive as his protégé. Most of the others are okay but unremarkable.

The major exception is Brodie-Sangster, who gives what is certainly the best performance as the loyal Newt. He offers a degree of intensity that periodically rouses the picture to life when it threatens to sink into tedium.

This may be the last gasp in the genre of YA dystopian future movies—most of its competitors, save “The Hunger Games,” having collapsed after a single episode or expiring as a result of the long haul, like “Divergent.” It’s a pity that this final installment doesn’t measure up to the promise of the earlier ones, but we can at least be thankful that the makers of the “Maze Runner” franchise didn’t follow the example of many similar projects and divide the final part of the trilogy into two pictures. Given that the present movie suffers from a lack of complexity, that would have been a true travesty.

It’s also to be noted that despite its length, “The Death Cure” doesn’t bother to provide any background on what transpired in the previous two installments. Newcomers to the series will need to do a lot of guesswork to divine a lot of the plot points; on the other hand, there probably won’t be many of them.