Film Review: MARY SHELLEY (Luxembourg/Ireland/UK 2017)

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Mary Shelley Poster

The love affair between poet Percy Shelley and 18 year old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, which resulted in Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein.


Emma JensenHaifaa Al-Mansour (additional writing by)


“There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand,” so says Mary Shelley at the beginning of the film.  We take it that the filmmakers plan to shed some light on the topic of Mary Shelley’s troubled soul, which inevitably resulted in one of the most famous horror novels of all time – “Frankenstein”.

MARY SHELLY is a biographical drama of the famous author who wrote the book “Frankenstein” by the age of 18.  At the film’s start, the audience sees the younger Mary (Elle Fanning) reading and scribbling.  She has trouble at home, particularly in the relationship with her step-mother and sent to live with relatives in Scotland where she meets her suitor Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth).

However, 15 minutes into film after Mary meets Percy,  director Haifaa al-Mansour decides to concentrate her film on Mary Shelley’s first love and her romantic relationship with him (full name Percy Bysshe Shelley).  The story turns out to be less a biography of the author than a period love story.  Worse still, al-Mansour’s decision to have her film punctuated with Percy’s poetry distracts the fact that the film is about Mary and not about him or his writings.

The trouble with all this is that director al-Mansour is unable to sway the audience unto Mary’s side.  There is hint of the need for female independence in these times, which is emphasized at the end when she has trouble getting her novel published.  When told by her father (Stephen Dillan) that if she goes with Percy, she would lose the love of her father forever,” one is immediately not on her side, for Mary seems young, impetuous and impertinent.   When Percy finally flirts with the younger Claire (Bel Powley) , things become clear that Percy is not the man Mary had thought him to be.  It is too late as Mary is pregnant with his child.

Elle Fanning is convincing as the independent young lady who falls into hard times, due to her own fault.  Douglas Booth is terribly annoying as the handsome rogue, Percy – but I suppose the character of Percy is supposed to be annoying. Tom Sturridge goes over the top in his portrayal of the even more detestable Lord Byron.

The scene of Mary comforting Claire in the woods under rain and thunder shows the director at her worst, going for cheap theatrics.

Al-Mansour’s film is beautifully created and shot in terms of period atmosphere both in the interiors to the dimly lit cobblestone street and vast green Scottish landscape exteriors.  MARY SHELLEY is Saudi Arabian director Haifaa al-Mansour’s second feature after she became film society’s darling with her debut feature WADJDA.  WADJA was the first film made by a female director from Saudi Arabia and the first film from Saudi Arabia o be screened at Cannes.

` But MARY SHELLEY ends up a story without a strong direction with inspiration behind Mary for her books only hinted at.  One assumes it is due to her hardships – such as the haunting of her mother’s death, her distressful love affair and loss of her in infant child.  In the end, the audience is  still left in the dark as to the understanding of what was really at work in the soul of Mary Shelly. 



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Film Review: LOVING VINCENT (Poland /UK 2017) ***

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Loving Vincent Poster

The world’s first fully oil painted feature film, brings the artwork of Vincent van Gogh to life in an exploration of the complicated life and controversial death of one of history’s most celebrated artists.

A Polish English co-production, the film features Polish animators with voices from actors largely from the United Kingdom.  LOVING VINCENT boasts to be the first hand painted animated feature.  It examines the mysterious facts surrounding the death of the famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh.

It took more than 100 animators and them to be re-trained in animation for the film.  It shows.  The film is beautifully ‘painted’ in the style of the Master himself.  Each frame could very much be something Van Gogh himself might have painted.  The segments in the farm fields and the colours used are reminiscent of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings.

Audiences should be familiar with the particularities of Van Gogh’s life.  Among these facts are his suicide, his stay at a mental asylum, his cutting off of his ear in Arles and his relationship with his brother Theo.  LOVING VINCENT reveals more of the facts and details with some doubt given on the reasons behind Van Gogh’s death.  But many will not know that he wrapped the severed ear as a present to given to a whore or that Theo paid for most of Vincent’s art materials and lived poorly as a result.

All the incidents surrounding Van Gogh’s death are revealed through the excuse of the delivery of one last letter Vincent apparently wrote to his brother Theo.  This letter was undelivered by the postman Joseph Roulin (Chis O’Dowd), so he commission his son Armand (Douglas Booth), a hard drinker and scrapper to do the job  He reluctantly does.  When he discovers that Theo is also dead, he finds the good doctor who was Van Gogh’s good friend and mentor to give the letter to.  He then finds out the truth behind Van Gogh’s death.

Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman play their film like an investigational whodunit.  One segment has Armand explained that Van Gogh could not have shot himself in the stomach due to the impossibility of the gun’s angle.  Why too would Vincent ask for art supplies the next day from his brother if he was to commit suicide?  Doubts are also put about on Van Gogh’s flirting with whores and also at one point possible homosexuality at a possible gay encounter with the teen village idiot.

The film could do with a bit of humour even though the subject matter is serious.  I cannot recall a single bout of humour in the film.  The film also does not justify Armand’s motivation into wanting to know the truth of Vn Gogh’s death.  He does say at one point in he film: “I want to do more for the artist,” but why he feels that way is never dealt with.

But not all of the artist’s bad points are highlighted in a film that is affectionally called LOVING VINCENT, though moments that highlight the artists work are rare.  Van Gogh’s dream of showing the world that a nobody like him could have the world remember him forever is inspirational.  The film’s romanticizing of his death as a short cut to heaven instead of the slower route of a  normal death is cute. 

The coloured hand painted animation is well worth the price of the admission ticket of LOVING VINCENT, despite the events of its intriguing premise unfolding stoically. 


LUCKY (USA 2017)  ***1/2

Directed John Carroll Lynch

Harry Dean Stanton plays the character of LUCKY of the film title in a film that audiences recognize could be the real Harry Dean Stanton.  LUCKY is the nickname the ex-navy man earned after being designated the cook in the Navy while others were sent to fight and die during the War.  Lucky is 90, bitter, alone (but not lonely as he has a routine of chores to do each day), cynical, sickness free, and smokes a lot.

The audience sees Lucky doing the same things daily – visiting the grocery store with the Mexican cashier to get his cigarettes; having some drinks at the bar; having coffee at his dual diner; and watching his favourite quiz show – but with different reactions.  The soundtrack replays the tune of “Old River Valley’ on a harmonica.

The film contains a lot of musings like what realism (as explained by Lucky as real for one person but not necessarily in another occurs to another) is or even the friendship between man an animal as the latter discussion (it is apparently essential to the soul) starts.  Lucky’s friend, Howard (David Lynch) at the bar walk in to sadly announce the loss of President Roosevelt, his pet tortoise. (Lucky does not believe this….. not the statement but the existence of a soul.)  Though the latter statement seems inconsequential dialogue in the script, it is important in the way Lucky looks at life if he does not believe in the existence of a soul.

The film is directed by actor John Carroll base on the script by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja.  The film pays more attention to the character than to plotting.  The film is also wonderfully acted by Stanton.  Director David Lynch delivers a surprisingly moving speech defending his case of leaving his inheritance to his tortoise that has apparently escaped as does James Darren how a nothing person like him transformed to one who now has everything.

LUCKY the film can be best described as a cynical coming-of age movie of a 90-year old man who has almost given up on life.  It is quite an idea for a film which is likely the story got made.  It is a film about an old fart that is not the typical Hollywood old fart film like the fantasies of old people reminiscing on their youth or having sex one more time.  Lucky confesses in one scene that he can hardly get it up any more.  Here, Lucky says in the film’s most intimate scene where he reveals his deep secret to his friend, Loretta (Yvonne Huff): “I’m scared.”  It all happens when he falls down out of feeling faint, though doctor (Ed Begley Jr.) tells him that nothing major is wrong with him.

Harry Dean Stanton passed away this year (2017).  LUCKY is a worthy swan song of an actor that has surprised audiences many a time with his wide range of performances.


Happy Birthday: Douglas Booth

douglasboothHappy Birthday actor Douglas Booth

Born: July 9, 1992 in Greenwich, London, England, UK


I like to wake up late, around 11 A.M., especially if I have been out the night before. Then I go to brunch with either my friends or my girlfriend. I then like to just chill out: read the papers, read some scripts and then take it very easy. If it’s sunny, I go for a walk with my dog, Niles, in the countryside.

I fell in love at 14 and I remember that mad, tense feeling and all the mad things you do for the person – all those extremes and all the stuff you don’t mind putting up with.

dir. Carlo Carlei
Hailee Steinfeld
Douglas Booth