From Glasgow to the Grand Ole Opry, Wild Rose is a delight

Before going to see Wild Rose, I had seen a fair few posters and promotional materials which dared to compare it to A Star Is Born – for me that’s the kind of comparison that sets alarm bells ringing. Any film that has to market itself in direct comparison with an established hit is always going to set itself up for a fall, so I was naturally anxious going in.

I’m happy to report that my worries were dismissed within the first 10 minutes, and by the end I had fallen head-over-heels in love with this film.

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The story itself isn’t by any means groundbreaking: a young, talented singer goes on a journey to becoming a star. However, just as Wild Rose‘s protagonist Rose-Lynn defines country music – “three chords and the truth” – its success is so much more about how the story is told. Here, we don’t have a successful man with nothing to lose, plucking a bright-eyed ingenue from obscurity and pushing her into the limelight; Rose-Lynn is well aware of her talent and, while she certainly has some lucky breaks offered by her well-connected employer, the majority of the story is driven by her own ambition to “make it” as a singer.
This story is nobody’s but Rose-Lynn’s, and up-and-comer Jessie Buckley’s performance is astonishingly good. She’s funny, honest, and a damn good singer to boot. It’s everything that anyone could ask for in this sort of film, and like Rose-Lynn, Buckley is without doubt a superstar in the making.

Of course, a great singer needs a great accompaniment, and so it is with a performance as strong as Jessie Buckley’s. It seems only fitting then to give the bulk of the supporting weight to Julie Walters, who could give an outstanding performance just by reading the phonebook. Here she plays Rose-Lynn’s mother, and surrogate to her daughter’s two children for the duration of her daughter’s prison sentence.  Walters effortlessly nails the frustration of a woman forced to abandon her happiness and comfort for the sake of someone else’s happiness; while Jessie Buckley is without argument the star of the show, Walters’ understated performance is the film’s emotional core.
Sophie Okonedo’s role as Rose-Lynn’s employer/guardian angel Susannah is probably the closest person in the film to a friend for the main character, though she’s more or less sidelined once she’s gotten Rose-Lynn through the door. It’s a shame really.

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Most importantly though, a musical is only as good as its music. Thankfully Wild Rose more than delivers on that front, with a mixture of original songs and covers peppered throughout, all of which are brilliantly performed by Buckley. Honestly, this review would have been out sooner, but I’ve been so distracted by listening to the soundtrack that it’s taking all of my attention; with any justice the soundtrack album will be a hit.
Wild Rose is a tough act for the rest of the year to follow, and in all honesty I’d be surprised if there are many films this year that surpass it for me in the best films of the year. Yes, we’re barely 4 months into 2019, and along with UsWild Rose has cemented a place for me in my end-of-year list.

Turns out Shazam! was the magic word for DC to make something fun

It’s weird to think that this time last year, Warner Bros. and DC were seen as in crisis. The Justice League movie failed to capitalise on the goodwill of Wonder Woman before it, and there wasn’t really a clue of what DC would do next.
Of course, what ended up happening was them dialling back the whole cinematic universe, and focussing on solo movies instead. At the end of last year we had the first in this new run of DC movies: Aquaman. The end product was a beautiful mess, but it showed promise of Warner Bros. taking more risks, and having more fun with their properties.

Which brings us to Shazam!. This film’s been kicking around for a good while, but after years in development limbo, the finished product is finally in cinemas, and it’ll come to the filmmakers’ relief that the finished product is pretty good.
What’s most notable from the offset about Shazam! is that it’s unashamedly old-school. The story is presented without so much as a look sideways to the camera, and aside from the occasional reference to members of the current Justice League continuity, any trace of the trademark dourness and convoluted storytelling of the “Snyderverse” has been scrubbed away.

In fact, if it weren’t for the repeated Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. level references to the other DC movies, one could almost be forgiven for thinking this film had fallen through a time hole from the offices of Amblin Entertainment in the 1980s.
Our hero is Billy Batson, a 14 year old orphan in Philadelphia who, after being fostered by a family with 6 kids already, runs away after provoking some bullies and ends up being summoned by an old wizard via subway train. After being judged adequately pure of heart, Billy’s given the wizard’s power, which can transform him into a full-blown superhero just by saying the magic word: Shazam. Think Big with capes.

There’s even a kid best friend/sidekick who is GREAT.

From there, it’s mostly a standard – if exaggerated – origin story: Billy discovers what he can do with his newfound powers, the bad guy (played by Mark Strong, of course) is a twisted reflection of the hero, Billy learns his responsibility as a hero, and then it gets into an overlong third act punch-fest. It’s a formula for a reason, and Shazam! ticks off the checklist without breaking a sweat.
The exaggeration mentioned comes from the writers’ decision to make the film a throwback family comedy, though it’s one filled with some really disturbing characters. I mentioned Amblin before and the decision to invoke them was purely down to Shazam! sharing the same dynamic of that production company’s output in the 80s. It’s a film that knows who its audience is and what they’re expecting, and rather than condescending to or disregarding them, the film seems to be sitting right alongside its target demographic, popcorn in hand, loving every minute of it. Throughout the film, the warmth, joy and wit with which it was made absolutely shines off the screen, and as it runs, I couldn’t help but feel that this is the type of film that Warner Bros. and DC should have been making post-The Dark Knight Rises.

As the film draws to a close, its message is clear: it doesn’t take being rich, an alien, a Greek goddess or an underwater monarch to be a hero, sometimes just being a good person and doing the right thing is enough to be celebrated. We live in a world which gets crazier and more complex by the day – by the hour, sometimes – and so it’s great to see a straightforward, no nuance, good vs. evil tale play out for a couple of hours.

Jordan Peele’s horror masterpiece exposes the darkness inside Us

We’ve been blessed by the second film from writer and director Jordan Peele, and this one is something really rather special.
A little advice upfront: Us is best experienced knowing as little as possible, so definitely read this after you’ve seen the film if you want to go in completely blind.

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Fighting With My Family finds heart in the madness and glamour of wrestling

The first major post-awards-season release is out of the block, can Stephen Merchant’s wrestling movie win over the crowd or will it be left sprawling on the canvas?

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