Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool & Brakes – Film Reviews

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Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool

Dir: Paul McGuigan
Starring: Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Stephen Graham, Vanessa Redgrave, Leanne Best, Julie Walters, Gumuliauskas Vaclovas, Frances Barber & Kenneth Cranham.
105mins | Romance, Drama, Biography | 15

Romance is dead. A phrase passing many lips over the years. What does it mean to be in a relationship? How do you maintain being in one, whilst looking after your own self preservation? The two film in this review are about love, heartbreak, age and time.

I’ll confess, I’ve never heard of Gloria Grahame. I feel I should, since in the 50s she was a big star, even winning an Oscar and critical acclaim. Though her final few years are an odd encounter, personified in Peter Turner’s book Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, we get a glimpse of an actress who sadly became washed up (I’ve always hated that phrase), marrying four times and Peter being one of many lovers of both genders for her. Norma Desmond’s cutting remark about Hollywood said it best:

“I am big, it’s the pictures that got small.”

The film here is a pristine painting, a fleeting tale for the romance to unfold. Jamie Bell (best known for his first film Billy Elliot) is Peter and Annette Bening (from Bugsy & American Beauty) is Gloria, a couple which defies the ages and maintains steamy chemistry. Peter is also an actor and is surprised to have a living legend, just a few rooms down at his lodgings.

What starts as a not so innocent dance practice, swiftly becomes an intense partnership, with trips to America, receptions and some older elements of her career coming back to haunt her. They break up over a misunderstanding (as so many do), time passes and she has become unwell. She wishes to return to Liverpool so that she might be able to recover at home of Peter and his family. She has cancer and goes home with one of her sons. Peter never sees Gloria again, and his memory of her lives on in his autobiography and now this film.

It’s an accessible film which should attract a decent audience. Bell is all smouldering Scouse here. He is beyond sexy, acting with great conviction, patient to most of Gloria’s uncertain personality. Bening is a super force as Gloria, detailing all the flaws of the actress with tragic realism. So much is released in a scene in which she confesses she always wanted to play Juliet and Peter’s response is “Don’t you mean the Nurse?”.

Her age seemed to be a ropey subject, best left unremarked. During their final argument, he dubs her a “crazy, old lady”. Bening’s face twists into scrutiny, leading into fury and then conviction. All so note worth is Julie Walters (working again with Bell), as Peter’s mother Bella, who adores Gloria and is more than delighted to have her recuperate in her home. Her Liverpool accent is always on point and she is the type of mother you could only dream of.

Some memorable moments are the stunning segways into the past, through Peter’s memory. A door in a house can lead to a tranquil beachscape, the turning of a corner can reveal happier times in their relationship. It all sours because of her illness and the fact she doesn’t want to see a doctor, tantamount to her stubbornness as an individual.

Yet, the film is a remarkable vehicle to demonstrate the existence of love between the generations and also share with the audience a love of both theatre and cinema.

Tellingly romantic, a tragic Hollywood tale.


Brakes

Dir: Mercedes Grower
Starring: Julian Barrat, Kelly Campbell, Seb Cardinal, Juliet Cowan, Julia Davis, Noel Fielding, Jess-Luisa Flynn, Kerry Fox, Roland Gift, Salena Godden, Mercedes Grower & Paul McGann.
82 mins | Comedy, Drama, Romance | 15

From one relationship to many. Here is the first feature from Mercedes Grower, a London based filmmaker. Starring an array of British comedic talent, Brakes is about the beginnings and endings of several relationships. There should be some profound meaning in seeing all these couples come to an end, yet the film seems to rely massively on odd, student humour which is not to everyone’s taste.

Filmed on a microbudget, Brakes left wanting. Perhaps I craved more outrageous climaxes to these downfalls. The camera work needs vast improvement and we know these are funny actors, it’s the script which at times can let them down. Some of these characters are not remotely funny, others are crashing bores, adding little to the plot. It’s also interesting to note that like in Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, we have a scene in which an actress takes offence to remarks about her age when choosing a role for a new production. Is this becoming a theme, as always?

I sense a lot of effort went into this and the array of talent on screen is also respectable. However, like Bedroom Farce, we could perhaps have gotten to know better just three sets of couples, to understand more the breakdown in communication. We didn’t care for any of these people purely because we didn’t know whose side we were on. Was she in the wrong? Did he have an affair? These questions lingered and were stuck in my head, with no rest bite.

One wonders if this could have worked better as a play, such are the demands of having a large ensemble of actors. The cynical pang of the film exists in the Second Part, as we see people becoming divided and miserable. There is little hope in seeing the foundling friendships blossom since we know how they end and the little amount of time we get with each set is taxing.

Although this was not for me, Grower has much potential in future film work.

Ratings:
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool Rating: ****
Brakes Rating: **

Photo Credit: Chapter Arts Centre

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Photo Credit: Chapter Arts Centre Website


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