Film Review: JUDY (UK 2019) ***

Judy Poster

Director: Rupert Goold


Tom Edge (screenplay by), Peter Quilter (based on the stageplay “End of the Rainbow” by)

Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival just last September to a standing ovation likely because Oscar Winner Renée Zellweger was present, JUDY makes its debut in theatres just two weeks after.   Oscar winner Renée Zellweger delivers a note-perfect performance (she reportedly sang all the songs herself) as Judy Garland during the last year of her life.   When one thinks of Judy Garland, one thinks good times like THE WIZARD OF OZ and the famous song “Over the Rainbow”, but those expecting a feel-good movie will be out of luck.  In fact, the first song sung by Garland occurs after 40 minutes of screen time.  The film is based on the Peter Quilter’s stage play “End of the Rainbow” which is pretty grim.

The film shifts to and fro, intercutting from Judy during the last year her life to the days where she was just 16 working at MGM Studios for MGM head, Louis B. Mayer.  Two aspects of Judy’s life are portrayed and both heavily involve performances.

For the 16-year old, Judy is shown to be raised on film sets and nearly every aspect of her life — from what she could eat to who she could date to what drugs she should take — was dictated by MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer.  Mayer is shown just short of being as nasty as Harvey Weinstein.  Judy became a wondrously gifted movie star who never learned to take care of herself.

When the film opens, the audience first sees Judy a middle-aged, homeless, broke, embroiled in a custody battle, and all but blacklisted in Hollywood.  She is kicked out of the hotel is is staying at and she is left homeless with two children.  She docks them off at her ex, Sid (Rufus Sewell).  In a bid to regain some control of her career, she accepts a residency at a London theatre. She refuses to rehearse and, crippled by anxiety, insomnia, and alcoholism, can barely make it to the stage opening night. But once there, in the spotlight, before an eager audience, microphone in hand and a crackerjack band at the ready, she’s suddenly at home. And it’s magic.  But not all the time.  One scene has her collapse on stage and another being heckled but the audience and then boo’ed off after she loses it and insults the audience.  These are not pleasant scenes to watch.

Though based on a play, the film does not feel like one, owing primarily to the frequent intercutting of Judy in her last year and Judy when young.  Unfortunately, the film falls into cliched territory with the expected manager that uses her, her bout with alcohol and her descent from fame.  There is little insight or background about Judy Garland that is provided.  JUDY can best be described as a play about Judy Garland than a biopic.

The film has a few solid moments.  The best of these is Judy’s chance encounter with a couple of gay admirers.  They sing with Judy and reminisce of the times when they were arrested for gay behaviour.  Judy Garland and her daughter Liza Minelli are gay icons.

JUDY is an ok watch aided by a solid performance by Renée Zellweger but do not expect too much and you will not be disappointed.


Film Review: WILD ROSE (UK 2018) ***1/2

Wild Rose Poster

A musician from Glasgow dreams of becoming a Nashville star.


Tom Harper


Nicole Taylor

Every decade or so, one film arrives that has the premise of some dreamer travelling to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee to make it big in country music.  Clint Eastwood and his son Kyle starred in his directed HONKYTONK MAN way back in 1982, a flop at the box-office that was actually an excellent film.  Also well remembered is the Australian entry, Chris Kennedy’s 1997 DOING TIME FOR PATSY CLINE, where an Aussie teen played by Matt Day leaves his Australian farm to travel to the United States for the Opry.   The latest has a Glaswegian single mum chasing her singing dreams.

Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) has always dreamt of becoming a country music star for as long as anyone can remember.  But she lives in Glasgow and has two kids.  Worst of all she is a convicted criminal, just released from prison and forced to wear an ankle bracelet for whereabouts reasons and curfew.

Jessie Buckley, Sophie Okonedo, and Julie Walters star in this inspiring comedy drama about a would-be country singer who dreams of leaving her dreary, workaday Glasgow life for the bright lights of Nashville.  After a tiff at Glasgow’s local bar, the Grand Ole Opry, she destroys any chance of returning to her job as the house-band singer.  Sporting her white cowboy hat and white leather cowboy boots, Rose-Lynn lands a new job as a housekeeper for the lovely, and very posh, Susannah (Sophie Okonedo).  After catching her singing on the job, Susannah’s kids quickly become Rose-Lynn’s biggest fans and Susannah her enthusiastic patron, determined to help her get to Nashville.  But Rose-Lynn’s dreams come at a cost. She has to leave her two kids to her reluctant mother (Julie Walters), who knows all about abandoning dreams.

WILD ROSE also plays as a coming-of-age story of an overgrown kid still chasing her dreams.  But what distinguishes WILD ROSE from the ordinary feel-good chasing ones dreams story is its insistence of dealing with reality.

The film is slightly marred by the songs sung with the lyrics that over explain what has happened, plot-wise.  For example when Rose-Lynne returns back to Glasgow, the lyrics “There’s no place like home” can be heard in the song that she sings.

The drama is aided by two excellent performances, one by Buckley as Rose-Lynne and the other by Julie Walters as her mother who proves that acting can all be done with the eyes.  Her character does not have long monologues or speeches and neither does her character need to indulge in cheap theatrics.

The film’s greatest pleasure is its rooting in reality.  The decision on whether to put family or career (singing in the Opry) first is crucial and the script by Nicole Taylor never fails to remind audiences of the fact.  And the obvious message is the one on where it is to find ones dreams.  To elaborate more would spoil the film’s ending, so it is best to see the film oneself.


Film Review: BEAST (UK 2017) ***

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Beast Poster

A troubled woman living in an isolated community finds herself pulled between the control of her oppressive family and the allure of a secretive outsider suspected of a series of brutal murders.


Michael Pearce


BEAST is a British psychological thriver set in the small community of Jersey Island where the population are stuck and have nowhere to go unless they leave the island.

It is beneficial to know a bit about Jersey Island in order to appreciate writer/director Michael Pearce’s film.  The island is not part of the United Kingdom though the populace share a lot in common with the British including the currency of pound sterling  The island is self governing though protected by Britain’s Military.  The island lies between Britain and France close to Normandy.  The island’s landscape is stunning, especially the beaches and rocky cliffs, much like Wales, west of Britain.  Pearce’s plays his setting as a western, but a non-typical one.   There is a scene where the local folks line dance.

The film’s main actress is Irish and the actor South African.

The story revives around Moll (Jessie Buckley), who is 27 and still living at home, stifled by the small island community around her and too beholden to her family to break away.  Her over-bearing mother (Geraldine James) does not help Moll’s situation either.  When she meets Pascal (Johnny Flynn), a free-spirited stranger, a whole new world opens up to her and she begins to feel alive for the first time, falling madly in love.  Finally breaking free from her family, Moll moves in with Pascal to start a new life.  But when he is arrested as the key suspect in a series of brutal murders, she is left isolated and afraid.  Choosing to stand with him against the suspicions of the community, Moll finds herself forced to make choices that will impact her life forever.

So far so good and the film works extremely well up to this point.  It is the last third that Pearce’s film starts to fall apart, starting from the plot becoming too convoluted with a need for a plot twist, which does not take a genus to predict.  If the last 10 minutes were removed and the film ended there, BEAST would have resulted in a much better film.

The film benefits mainly from both the performances and chemistry between the two leads,  Buckley and Flynn.  Director Pearce makes good use of the film’s island setting with many of the key scenes shot on the beaches and cliffs.  Geraldine James is also excellent as the overbearing mother.  “Maybe I have been too soft on you.”  She says.  Or “Let’s be friends again,” after she gives Moll a good scolding.

It is clear that Pearce intends to show that a beast exists in every one of us, as in each of his characters.   Moll has a secret past involving her stabbing a classmate with a pair of scissors.  Pascal has quite the temper.  When he shouts at the top of his voice to Moll: “I love you.”, one can tell that is a sure sign of an abusive relationship leading to domestic violence.  Mother is beasty over-bearing and the cop who has a thing for Moll turns out quite nasty as well.  The woman cop interrogator in the film’s best scene shows her true colours suddenly coming down on Moll during a questioning: “Are you protecting the innocent or taking revenge on the world?”

Besides its flaws, BEAST is a gripping film from start to end aided by the fact that it is true that everyone (in the film and in the real world) has a hidden beast on their inside.


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