Movie Review – Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool

There’s a new Mrs. Robinson in town – Annette Benning and Jamie Bell make for an unusual coupling, but they’re still one hundred times more convincing lovers than the Fifty Shades pair.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

Aspiring young actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) discovers that his former lover, fading and aging Academy Award-winning actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Benning) is back in his home town of Liverpool. He soon learns she’s hidden from him the fact that she’s become severely unwell, though Gloria herself can’t seem to come to terms with the reality that she may not have much longer to live. As Peter takes her into his family home to care for her, he reminisces on their relationship, from the rosy days of their meeting and falling in love, to the rougher patches that caused the two actors to split.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool represents a maturing and an unexpectedly serious turn for at least two of its main players. Director Paul McGuigan, who has previously worked on iffy fare such as Lucky Number Slevin (2006), Push (2009) and the dreadful Victor Frankenstein (2015), does a complete 180 to craft a slow, sophisticated and emotional acting showcase. It’s the stuff that award voters gush over.

The other revolutionary turn is Jamie Bell (The Eagle, Fantastic Four), who truly stuns in going against type. Abandoning the macho action brute he’s carved out for himself over the course of his career, his sensitive portrayal of the clucky, optimistic young man who falls head over heels for an older lady harkens way back to his breakout role in Billy Elliot nearly eighteen years ago. Bell completely sells the unconditional love Peter holds for Gloria, making the romance between a couple nearly thirty years apart in age feel unbelievably natural.

Matching him is the legendary Annette Benning, the lone American in a sea of Brits. She’s simply a joy to watch as the late, great femme fatale; dizzily optimistic and endearingly not-all-there as her vision of superstardom triumphs over all in her eyes. It’s tempting to think that Benning drew comparisons between the character and her own career, which was once very much in the limelight, but has faded somewhat as she’s aged. Like Gloria though, she’s gifted the opportunity to prove she still shines brightly in her twilight.

The crackling chemistry of the two leads carries the film and gives it great heft, as without these two brilliant performances McGuigan’s film is a fairly basic semi-biopic, with the material based on Peter Turner’s memoir. Even with its patches of greatness, there’s no escaping the somewhat lax story and its overly-sentimental overtones that don’t quite make this the tearjerker it is trying so hard to be. That said, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool handles its material with a great deal of respect and restraint, and is a commendably pleasant, funny and involving experience.

Films Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is available in Australian cinemas from March 1

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Does winning an Oscar actually matter?

Winning an Oscar is great and all, but is it really all that it’s cracked up to be?

 Rhys Graeme-Drury 

The annual awards circus is upon us once again. Numerous red carpets are being rolled out to receive reams of bedazzled famous faces, all of whom are hoping to drive home with a gilded statuette resting on their laps.

We place a lot of value on those who have walked away a winner on Oscar night – just ask Leonardo DiCaprio. For years the Internet yearned for Leo to finally nab one – and then he did in 2016 so we all collectively rejoiced and laid the dank memes to rest.

Apparently, an actor or filmmaker can’t claim to have truly arrived until they score an Oscar statue of some kind. Right? Eh, not exactly.

Even though it’s all very exciting and generates a lot of gossip, the Oscars aren’t actually good for all that much (and this is coming from someone who gets invested every year and is genuinely still upset that Eddie Redmayne beat Michael Keaton back in 2015).

Across its history, the Academy Awards have made a habit of routinely shunning some of the best and brightest talents and minds of the era – which sort of defeats the purpose of rewarding those who produce the best films, surely?

Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock have famously never won anything for their directorial efforts, with the latter losing out in the Best Director category on five separate occasions. Kubrick’s entire catalogue only took home a single Oscar win; 2001: A Space Odyssey won Best Visual Effects in 1969. For those of you playing along at home, that’s the same number of Oscars as Tim Burton’s 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland and Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. So it’s not like the Academy is a great barometer of quality and lasting legacy, huh?

The same could be said for actors; Bill Murray has never won an Oscar, but do we view his filmography with any less reverence? The same can be said for umpteen actors and actresses from across the decades. For many people, Harrison Ford is the literal embodiment of sharp and sophisticated Hollywood stars. He is Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan in the flesh – we don’t need the Academy to tell us Ford is a living legend, he has crafted that legacy without their adulation.

The same goes for Gary Oldman, Edward Norton or Joaquin Phoenix; they’re back catalogues speak for themselves. Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Annette Benning and Sigourney Weaver have all been denied Hollywood’s highest honour – but that hasn’t hindered their standing as some of the most talented actresses to grace our screens.

Some may think that winning an Oscar is also guaranteed to usher in a string of professional riches for the lucky winners, but too often that isn’t the case. Hunger Games sensation Jennifer Lawrence has racked up a surprising number of nominations (four) and one win at the tender age of 26 but it wasn’t until recently with Passengers that she was given a bigger slice of the pie than her male co-stars, financially speaking.

You only have to glance at the list of the highest paid actors across the industry today to see that those raking in the most cash aren’t necessarily those who took home the most awards. Robert Downey Jnr routinely makes in excess of $50 million for each Avengers performance whilst Johnny Depp is still throwing on funny hats and making bank despite never winning an Oscar. Meanwhile I don’t see Disney or Marvel throwing $10 million at Mark Rylance or JK Simmons, the two most recent winners in the Best Supporting Actors category.

Essentially, what I’m trying to say is, it doesn’t matter whether La La Land scored four, fourteen or zero nominations; what matters is how it is making audiences feel. The same goes for Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea or any of the other films nominated this year.  After the cameras inside the Dolby Theatre have gone out on February 26 and all the very famous people have gone home, regardless of who won or not, these films will continue to captivate and enthral audiences long afterward.

Films like Sing Street, The Witch, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Midnight Special all characterised my cinema experiences in 2016 but didn’t get a look in at the Oscars. Should I feel any less moved by their characters or narratives because they can’t claim to have been ‘Oscar nominated?’ No, of course not. Films mean so much more than just handing out trophies and racking up stats; we can leave that sort of thing to sports thank you very much.

Rather than taking a snub personally, just brush it off with a shrug. So what Amy Adams didn’t get nominated for Arrival? That doesn’t change how moving and powerful her performance was. Who cares that Sing Street didn’t get any love for Best Original Song? It doesn’t mean I don’t still love that soundtrack to pieces.

Don’t get me wrong; awards season is a lot of fun. But it’s also a lot of meaningless and banal bullshit that ultimately shouldn’t change how we view art or place value on what something made us think or feel.

Enjoy the Oscars, lap up the glamour and laugh at all the gaffes – but don’t forget that there is a whole myriad of wonderful films out there whose enduring qualities don’t change regardless of who wins or loses on the night.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films