Film Review: ‘Le Mans ’66’ ★★★★

Director: James Mangold
Screenplay: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe, Noah Jupe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas
Length: 152 minutes
Rating: 12A

You hear the race cars before you see them, the roaring vibrates from the screen and fades in and out from the opening to the end credits. Roaring into action with a literal road race, ‘Le Mans ‘66’ focuses on the 24 hours of Le Mans, the oldest active endurance sports car race in the world and the rivalry between Ford and Ferarri to win it. Indeed, the film is titled ‘Ford v Ferrari’ in almost every other territory. Brace yourself for a showdown of technical excellence in speed, skill and endurance as we go behind the scenes of the enduring annual endurance competition and the car manufacturers that vie for victory.

‘Le Mans ‘66’ (Ford v Ferrari in other territories) film poster

Introduced in quick succession are Carroll Shelby (Damon), an American car designer and engineer, and Ken Miles (Bale), a British professional race car driver whose relationship drives the film as much as the exceptionally mounted racing action sequences. Miles’ wife Mollie (Balfe) and son Peter (Jupe) are no mere background scenery characters, as can often happen in films anchored on two leading roles. Henry Ford II, CEO of Ford (Letts) and Leo Beebe, Senior Executive Vice President of Ford (Lucas) also get their moments to shine.

In an effort to rebrand its image for a new generation and become a car-maker of artistry instead of mere practicality, Ford attempts to buy a bankrupt Ferrari who have won the last four Le Mans events. But Ferrari choose Fiat, prompting Ford to challenge their racing dominance at Le Mans by designing, building and testing a car of their own in order to beat Ferrari at their own game. That’s the plan anyway. In ninety days, Shelby and Miles, backed by Ford, must fight the limits of automotive engineering, the corporate structure and occasionally each other (you won’t be disappointed).

Academy Award winners Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in ‘Le Mans ‘66’

Gorgeous cinematography presents the film as shot in a perpetual hot summer sunset, adding to the exotic nature of sports car racing and the people that make it happen. Shelby and Miles are heat stroked and grease oiled to within an inch of their lives, leaving only the overpowering petrol fumes to the imagination, especially while the racing game is underway at various events preceding, as well as, Le Mans.

Attention to minute details like these are representative of a data-focused yet mechanical industry where time, weight and size can mean the difference between success and failure, separating the winners from the losers, becoming legends or footnotes in history. Essentially a period film set over half a century ago, for all the time and effort spent in search of the perfect lap the passion for driving and love for machines is what envelops us most.

Surprisingly romantic and entertaining to a fault, the film benefits from well executed editing and dynamic sound design. Commanding monologues allow for a fireworks display of charismatic acting performances from Letts, Lucas, Damon and Bale. After four Oscar nominations this decade, will Bale finally win Best Actor next year? While his Dick Cheney in ‘Vice’ brought him close, ‘Les Mans ‘66’ could push him over the finish line.

Prepare for high stakes in the front seat as drama punctuates the levity to draw the film away from mere satisfactory viewing. A soundtrack of drums and guitars, acoustic and electric, with tyres screaming and engines revving pulsate through the film, instilling a genuine adrenaline rush for each characters’ destiny. Armed with a propulsive script and muscular production values, ‘Le Mans ‘66’ is quite simply a cinematic tour de force.

‘Le Mans ‘66’ is in cinemas now.
★★★★

Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s directorial debut brings us the inspiring story of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Written, directed by and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and based on the memoir of the same name, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind tells the true story of a young boy and his fight to save his village from a devastating famine.

Set in the early 2000s in Malawi, we meet William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba), a young boy living with his family near the rural village of Wimbe. The Kamkwambas are a family of farmers and it’s clear from the start that times are hard. William’s father, Trywell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) works tirelessly in the fields each day and the family are struggling to pay William’s school fees. However, things take a turn for the worse when the village crops fail due to a horrendous drought. Many are forced to leave to avoid starvation, and the Kamkwambas are left desperate after they are robbed of their remaining grain stores.

Although William gets banned from school because his parents have been unable to pay the sufficient fees, he persuades his science teacher (who is interested in William’s sister) to allow him access to the school library. Towards the beginning of the film, we learn that William runs a small business fixing radios for people in his village and has a keen interest in electronics, but it’s at the library he learns about energy and wind power. After reading in the library and rummaging in the local scrap yard, he soon becomes convinced that he can save his village from hunger by building a windmill to help power a water pump to support the crops.

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Maxwell Simba plays William Kamkwamba in new Netflix release, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. (Credit: Netflix)

The film is a fantastic directorial debut from Chiwetel Ejiofor. It is visually stunning and succeeds in immersing the audience into the lives of the struggling Wimbe villagers. Ejiofor’s performance as William’s father is just as impressive. Although he has nasty traits, his facial expressions and the emotion in his eyes helps the audience connect with the character. You grow to care about Trywell and understand he is under a tremendous amount of strain to try to provide for his family.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is fantastic, but the standout performance comes from Maxwell Simba’s portrayal of William. Simba shows just as much raw emotion as veteran actor Ejiofor’s character, and this is Simba’s film debut. Apart from a few short scenes, the movie is essentially told from William’s perspective, giving Simba a tremendous task of guiding the audience through the narrative, but he executes this perfectly. In each and every scene, you can sense William’s drive and passion, even when those around him don’t necessarily believe in his ambition. It’s truly inspiring: you want to see him succeed and prove everyone wrong.

Despite the convincing performances from the cast, the film does have a pacing issue. There are several scenes and plot points that could have been shortened or left out entirely. For example, William’s sister and her ongoing relationship with William’s teacher features quite heavily but there isn’t much of a pay-off. It may have been more interesting to see this plot line replaced with additional scenes with the village chief, Chief Wimbe, played by Joseph Marcell (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). However, since the film is based on a true story, it’s difficult to comment on what should and shouldn’t have been included.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is by no means a perfect film and it’s not one I will be rushing back to watch immediately. But the emotional performances from the cast make it memorable and Chiwetel Ejiofor has triumphed with his directorial debut.

You can check out the trailer for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind below.

Read more of Olivia’s film reviews here:

Paddleton

Vice

 

Review: Weezer (Black Album)

California kings Weezer return this week with their thirteenth and eagerly awaited new release Weezer (Black Album).

This is the sixth self titled/coloured album released by Rivers and the gang. Blue, Green, Red, White and most recently Teal have all come before. Teal in particular had the music world talking: dropped from out of nowhere with zero hype back in January, an album of retro covers to keep fans content whilst they wait for new music, and a friendly reminder that Weezer have always been good to their fans.

 It can’t be helped but to compare all of these colours, and in doing so the listener can really hear the evolution of a band 23 years into their career. 2019’s Black is worlds apart from 1995’s Blue, as even the idea of drum samples and trumpets would make a mid 90s Weezer fan shudder. This latest album features all of the above, a comfortable next step on the Weezer journey, but also another step toward the mainstream that the band were once so shunned from.

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(Credit: Atlantic Records)

 Songs like Can’t Knock the Hustle and Byzantine wouldn’t sound out of place on a mainstream radio show, but certainly wouldn’t belong on a classic Weezer playlist. However, it has to be said that the Rivers Cuomo of old shines through in tunes like High as a Kite, and particularly The Prince who Wanted Everything. It’s songs like these that remind fans why they’ve remained with the band through the good times (Pinkerton) and bad times (Raditude)

 It seems that more and more with each release, Weezer divide their fans: the purists who claim they lost it years ago, and the die-hards who stick with them through every track (Saturday Night Live even referenced this in a sketch featuring Matt Damon). But Weezer (Black Album) is a comfortable reminder that the LA band have still got it, and there is enough material here to keep both sides of the argument happy.

 

 

Review: Derry Girls

The girls from Derry are back, and they might be even better than the first time around.

This week, over a year from when it first appeared on our screens, saw Lisa McGee‘s Derry Girls return to Channel 4.

Set in 1995, the Troubles serve as a grim background to the girls’ – and James’ – antics as they navigate their teenage years. Reintroducing Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), our narrator, as she lies in the bathtub revives the comedic value these characters created in the previous season. Orla (Louisa Harland) walking in, and interrupting Erin’s imaginary interview with Terry Wogan, mirrors the first glimpse we had of Derry Girls – Orla reading Erin’s diary.

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The girls and James set off on an outward-bound weekend with the Londonderry Boys Academy (Credit: Channel 4)

The rest of the group – Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), and their wee English fella, James (Dylan Llewellyn) – turn up before they all head out on their trip to “make friends across the barricade” with the Londonderry Boys Academy. Despite claims that the weekend away is all about “doing it for peace”, they all have their own motivations for bonding with the Protestant boys. Erin and Michelle want to experience the “moves” of boys who aren’t James – and James just wants friends who aren’t girls.

The outward-bound weekend gets off to a rocky start with the return of Father Peter (and his beautiful hair) who’s all too keen to lead a few workshops. He asks the group, “What do Protestants and Catholics have in common?” Obviously, he isn’t expecting differences – and only differences – to be shouted by the teens.

“Protestants keep toasters in cupboards.” “Protestants are taller.” “Catholics have more freckles.” And of course, Orla’s contribution into the chaos: “Protestants hate Abba.”

It’s not long before the Differences board is crammed full with many more of these quirky accusations. This scene is a hilarious. It’s absurd and witty, but there’s a few true issues hiding in there. McGee does something amazing with the humour of Derry Girls – she shows the Troubles through the lighter, and almost naive, perspective of teenagers.

Of course, it is only when darkness falls that the true motivation behind the girls’ decision to “make friends across the barricade” comes out in full force. They, and James, ambush the dormitory of a Londonderry group with music, drinks and that keen teenager’s belief that an epic party is about to take place.

It’s predictable that things do not go to plan. Orla and James end up overly latching on to their buddy, Clare tries to one-up goody-goody Jenny Joyce by going from workshop buddy to fully fledged Catholic-Protestant friends, Michelle finds out what her Londonderry boy’s bracelet means, and Erin…

Well, Erin fails at flirting with Dee, her Londonderry buddy – so much so that he thinks she was having a breakdown. It’s clear Erin still has a lot to learn.

The morning after the night before sees Clare dangling off a cliff edge, screaming that her buddy is “a fenian-hating madman”. As it turns out, the boy is deaf in one ear – and it isn’t Catholics he hates, it’s athletes. This causes a full-on fist fight between the boys and the girls, with Our Lady’s Sister Michael and Londonderry Academy’s Ms Taylor watching on as Father Peter tries to break the fight up. Only when the parents are called does Erin finally realise what they all have in common, and adds it to the Similarities board – they all have interfering parents.

And this is only the comeback from our favourite girls (and James – is it wrong if I just group him in with the girls?). Season two, if episode one is anything to go by, will be the craic.

Episode two will be aired on Channel 4 Tuesday at 21:15, and you can catch up on season one and the first episode of season two here.

EN4 News Movie and TV Round-up

Liam Mackay and Olivia Hill round up this week’s entertainment news. Topics include the Oscars and the latest movie releases.

For more discussion on the Oscars, check out our Oscars reflection podcast here.

You can also check out Michaella Wheatley’s review of Fighting with my Family, or Olivia Hill’s review of Netflix’s Paddleton.

Book Review: Limmy’s ‘Surprisingly Down To Earth, and Very Funny’

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Limmy: Surprisingly Down To Earth and Very Funny. (Credit: Chortle)

You might know comedian Brian Limond, aka Limmy, for his surreal sense of humour and sometimes inflammatory tweets.

Every time a celebrity dies, Limmy will tweet, without fail, ‘Had the pleasure of meeting … at a charity do once. He was surprisingly down to earth, and VERY funny.’ I can’t think of a more fitting title for his autobiography, which made it a book that made me laugh before even getting past the front cover.

I had never read an autobiography before so I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew what Limmy’s humour was like: weird, confusing, but utterly hilarious. I know Limmy to be a natural storyteller from his improvised stories that he live-streams on Twitch, and reckoned I’d enjoy his writing too. But it’s not always just what Limmy says that’s amusing, but the way he says it. I knew an audiobook was the way to go to get the full experience out of Limmy telling his life story. I never would have expected that I’d ever laugh out loud at the way a man is describing his suicidal thoughts, but it happened.

Mental health is the ongoing theme of the book, a topic Limmy has discussed often on Twitter and in interviews. He was asked to write a book on mental health, but it ended up taking the form of an autobiography. He’s brutally honest in his descriptions of his mental state, talking about his alcoholism, experiences using antidepressants and the few times that he has contemplated suicide, starting with him trying to drunkenly slash his wrists when he was fifteen. That was tough to listen to.

But in the darkness is a lot of humour. Not so much in the topic of discussion, but the way it’s written. Even when talking about some of the darkest moments of his life, he adds comedy. It doesn’t feel like comedy in its traditional sense: it’s morbid, but it’s natural, and his strange outlook on life is as compelling as it is hilarious.

The book begins at his first memory, and goes all the way to where he’s at in his life now. He goes on about how he was arrested for car theft when he was a teenager, and how he gained the nickname ‘Limmy the Tripper’ because he took so much acid. It was surreal getting such a deep look into the past of someone who I’m a big fan of. I wasn’t particularly surprised about what he got up to, but it was strange nonetheless. Most fascinating is his journey from a layabout, often in trouble with the police, to the person he is today: a successful comedian and father.

I’d absolutely recommend getting the audiobook version of Surprisingly Down To Earth, and Very Funny. His own narration compliments his humour wonderfully, and even adds more humour to some bits that aren’t meant to be funny (such as his questionable impression of an English accent, and the subsequent apology). Although it might not be what was intended, the telling of Limmy’s life is an excellent underdog story, one that I found difficult to stop listening to.

 

 

Film Review: Fighting with my Family

 

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Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh) fights to become a wrestler in Fighting with my Family (Credit: IMDb)

It’s not surprising that this underdog story is a bit wobbly on the ropes, but the cast of Fighting with my Family pack a mean punch.

Straight off the bat, or should it be “straight after the bell”, wrestling is centre stage. The pros – The Rock, Hulk Hogan and John Cena – are seen in action on a TV screen. A young boy replicates their moves until the channel is suddenly changed by his younger sister.

In retaliation, the boy attempts to get his sister in a headlock. His actions are fumbled, but he is quickly corrected when his dad enters the living room. The girl is then challenged to get out of her brother’s hold when their mum follows through the door.

This is the Knight family.

Saraya Knight, played by Outlaw King’s Florence Pugh, is the only daughter of a wrestling-obsessed family from Norwich, England. The movie follows Saraya through her fight to become a wrestler for the WWE, where she becomes ‘Paige’ in the ring (spoiler: she’s a massive fan of the programme Charmed).

The film passes as a sports movie, but the quirky theatrics that come with professional wrestling – otherwise referred to as “soap opera in spandex” – puts a new spin on the somewhat overplayed underdog plot.

Throughout the film, the audience constantly question whether Saraya truly does want to become a wrestler, or if she is just following the dreams of her parents (played by Nick Frost and Lena Headey) and brother (Jack Lowden). Her training is definitely tough – 4,000 miles from home in America, with no friends and no family around – but the Knight’s close-knit bond puts up a fight to see Saraya through.

The heartwarming family-feel to the film is even more apparent in the closing credits featuring home videos of the Knight family. It becomes clear that Stephen Merchant, who wrote and directed the movie, did not create this energetic ensemble in his mind and that it is reflective of a true story.

Fighting with my Family is in cinemas now – find a showing near you here.

 

Film Review: Paddleton

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Mark Duplass and Ray Romano bond over a game of ‘paddleton’ in new Netflix drama (Credit: Patrick Wymore/Netflix)

Netflix’s new bromance drama, Paddleton, will have you chuckling and reaching for the tissues at the same time.

Recently released on Netflix following its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of the month, Paddleton follows best friends Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano). The two face significant changes in their lives when they find out Michael has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The two embark on a journey together after Michael decides he wants to take life-ending drugs before his illness becomes too painful, and asks Andy to join him on a ‘road trip’ to purchase the medication to help him end his life. Although Andy is hesitant at first and continues to struggle to come to terms with Michael’s decision throughout the film, he accepts his friend’s choice and the two go on a strange, yet sort of beautiful journey.

Directed by Alex Lehmann (Blue Jay), Paddleton provides us with a refreshing take on ‘bromances’. We are often led to believe in film and television there is something funny or amusing about two men having a bromance. That there is something weird or abnormal about grown men having close platonic friendships. But Paddleton debunks this idea and shows us it is completely normal and healthy for two grown men to have a close, meaningful friendship with one another.

In Paddleton, Michael and Andy are essentially the most important people in each other’s lives. They’re neighbours, they eat together, they talk about work, they bond over watching kung fu movies every night and they play ‘paddleton’ with together. (Paddleton is similar to squash, but the ball has to bounce off the wall and land in a barrel).

But despite the pleasing friendship between the two leads, there is no escaping the serious subject matter explored in the film. The concept of ‘assisted dying’ has been examined a number of times in film and television over the years; perhaps most recently in Louis Theroux’s Altered States documentary, Choosing Death which sparked a lot of conversations online. It’s not an easy topic to digest and many people have conflicted feelings about the matter, but Paddleton manages to tackle the upsetting elements of the film in a sensitive manner and the interjections of comedy between Duplass and Romano ensure the narrative isn’t too heavy.

Ray Romano and Mark Duplass complement each other perfectly. Although neither character is particularly talkative, the dialogue is engaging and their conversations are amusing and believable. The level of comedy fades appropriately as the movie goes on, and towards the end of the film the interactions between Michael and Andy are raw and emotional.

The performances by both leads were exceptional but I was particularly impressed with Romano. We may perhaps be used to seeing Ray Romano in comedic roles. I for one remember watching Everybody Loves Raymond every morning before school. But Romano has shown more and more he is an actor with range. His performance in Michael Showalter’s Academy Award winning 2017 film, The Big Sickwas touching, memorable and entirely believable, so it’s exciting to see him take on a similar role in Paddleton.

This film is in no way revolutionary and it is not something I could watch again and again. The pacing is slow at times and nothing particularly special happens until the very end of the film. In fact, some may argue that the majority of the movie is largely insignificant. But Paddleton is a film I would recommend. It’s simple, but has a powerful message about the importance of friendship that we can all relate to.

You can watch the trailer for Paddleton below.

To read another of Olivia’s Netflix reviews, click here.

Series Review: Russian Doll

 

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Natasha Lyonne has to live the same day over and over in Netflix’s Russian Doll (Credit: imdb.com)

The Groundhog Day theme has been done way too many times in film and television right? Wrong. Netflix’s new binge-worthy series, Russian Doll, provides audiences with a brand new take on the concept.

Created and produced by Natasha Lyonne (American Pie, Orange Is the New Black), Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation) and Leslye Headland (Bachelorette), Russian Doll introduces us to Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) as she tries to escape from a 36th birthday party thrown for her by her friends in New York City.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t get very far. After running into the road to try to catch her missing cat, Oatmeal, Nadia is hit and killed by a taxi before finding herself back in the bathroom at her birthday party where she was at the beginning of the episode.

Throughout the following episodes, we see Nadia die in a variety of ways including falling down the stairs (multiple times), drowning and getting caught up in an elevator accident. Each time she returns to the same bathroom and the same song (you will either love or hate Gotta Get Up by Harry Nilsson by the end of the series) to repeat the same day over and over again.

As the show progresses, we see Nadia try to navigate her way through the situation and Natasha Lyonne is a joy to watch. Her character is quirky, she speaks her mind and she is incredibly funny. Even during her worst meltdowns, she manages to come out with some memorable one-liners. This makes her actions and interactions with other characters interesting yet Nadia is still level-headed enough that the audience can relate to her and care about her as she goes through this journey.

Although Natasha Lyonee’s performance as Nadia is engaging enough on its own to keep you interested, the show’s storyline takes an unexpected twist several episodes in, which totally changes the way you believe things might go, in fact, it changes the whole structure of the show. It becomes much more complex than someone just repeating the same day over and over and I guarantee you won’t be able to stop watching at this point.

Yes, Natasha Lyonne is fantastic and the twists and turns in the narrative do well at keeping the audience enagaged, but the best thing about Russian Doll is that the show doesn’t just focus on the groundhog day element, it explores the traumas haunting the main character and how she deals with this throughout the whole experience. The looping of each death could be a symbol of the fact that Nadia must learn that she has to face her demons, or she will keep facing the same issues over and over again, just like she keeps having to face the same day.

Natasha Lyonne has described the show as a “bizarre version of an autobiography” as the series touches on some issues she has faced throughout her life. This makes sense as her performance and the lines she delivers are entirely believable. You can tell this is a series that means something to her and that she and the other creators have tried hard to ensure the show has heart and will draw people in.

There are so many layers to Russian Doll and it’s a pleasure to watch as they are peeled back as the show progresses. Each episode is only 24 to 30 minutes long, which you wouldn’t think was long enough to become so engaged with characters in a show. But the perfect combination of clever writing and sharp, interesting dialogue, as well as the unique interactions between the characters, makes it possible.

You can watch the trailer for Russian Doll below.

WARNING: This trailer contains bad language which may be unsuitable for younger viewers.

 

 

Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

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Melissa McCarthy & Richard E. Grant. (Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

As the snow falls heavily on the skyscrapers and streets of New York City, writer Lee Israel suddenly finds herself without any financial security when she is fired from her job. Israel has talent but finds it impossible to make money from it, which pushes her towards the criminal activity of fabricating celebrity letters. The film is based on Israel’s 2008 memoir with the same name, in which she explained more about her path towards literary forgery.

Israel’s arrogance is palpable from the very start of the film, something actress Melissa McCarthy portrays genuinely. She doesn’t like anyone except her cat, who she seems to have great affection for. The love of her life. Although she appears in almost every scene of the film, it never gets boring. Her character is fascinating, even more so as it is based on a real writer. Israel doesn’t care about what others think of her, not in the slightest. She is fully herself. As she meets her extravagant drinking partner Jack Hock, played by Richard E. Grant, they explore the world of fabrication together. Grant is very convincing and entertaining and I specifically like their growing friendship that seems to make Israel find a little bit of joy in a world that she normally despises.

The director, Marielle Heller, managed to demonstrate Israel’s journey well – from the moment the downward spiral began with her money issues, all the way to her criminal career’s downfall. Despite its sadness, the film has many humorous moments. I found myself laughing out loud together with other viewers at the cinema at several parts. It was a very enjoyable watch and made me interested in reading the book. I think I will.

Watch the trailer below.

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