PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN (USA/16/109mins)
Directed by Angela Robinson. Starring Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton, Oliver Platt
THE PLOT: Based on the true story of the life of Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), the film follows the unconventional relationship between Marston, his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their teaching assistant Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), and how these women ultimately influences Marston’s most lasting creation.
THE VERDICT: Written and directed by Angela Robinson, ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ has attracted the ire of the Marston family, who dispute the story told in the film, and has rather unfairly gone on to be one of the worst performing films of all time. Perhaps the public appetite for all things Wonder Woman is not as voracious as the filmmakers thought, but there is a lot to enjoy throughout ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’, even if some elements of the film end up being rather heavy-handed.
The cast do a great job of bringing the characters to life, and rightfully, the female leads – Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote – seem perhaps to be having all the more fun with their roles; Hall as the “Grade A bitch” Elizabeth, who is no nonsense and proud, and unafraid to speak her mind, and Heathcote as the stubborn but charming ingénue who throws the Marston’s world into chaos. Luke Evans does well as the titular Professor Marston, and the three lead actors have strong chemistry together, which helps to sell the rather unusual life that he family were living.
As writer, Angela Robinson frames the story of the film around Marston having to justify his character Wonder Woman to representatives of the Child Study Association of America in 1947, with much of the film’s story being then told in flashback. The testimony is an interesting hook for the film to hang on, and this allows Marston’s character, and the flow of the story to be dictated by the hearing. The story struggles from time to time, as reluctance and fear begin to slow the pacing of the film down, and there are some rather heavy handed elements throughout; such as the inspiration for Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, and her iconic bracelets. As well as this, the script spends much of the final act jumping through time, leaving the film feeling choppy and rather unfocused.
As director, Robinson coaxes strong performances from her actors, and it is clear that the three worked well together on set. It is this chemistry that carries much of the film, especially when other elements of the film begin to feel a little less than satisfactory. The film is well paced for the most part, but too much focus on fear and reluctance mean the film slows down from time to time, and the film struggles to recover from these missteps. As well as this, Marston’s invention the lie detector is often used as a form of foreplay throughout the first act of the film, which soon becomes tiresome and repetitive. That said, the film never casts judgement or a critical eye on the characters who live in a polyamorous relationship, and for that, it is to be praised.
In all, ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ feels a little like it is taking advantage of a current trend at the box office, and although the idea of three people living polyamorously in the 1930s and 1940s is fascinating, this is never truly explored in an emotionally satisfying way. As well as this, there are times when the use of Wonder Woman iconography feels a little obvious and heavy handed, but the chemistry between the three leads is wonderful, and it is clear they are enjoying telling this unconventional story. A stronger focus and a clearer idea of just what the film is trying to convey, however, would have led to a more satisfying film.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE FLORIDA PROJECT (USA / 15A / 111 mins)
Directed by Sean Baker. Starring Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto.
THE PLOT: It’s summer in Florida and 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is living at the Magic Castle Inn & Suites with her young mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). Not in Disneyworld, but just outside it. It’s a purple-painted budget motel run by gruff but kindly manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe). Moonee is very much her mother’s daughter. The two are as thick as thieves, always seeking out mischief at every opportunity. The darker side of this is that Halley is barely scraping an existence, flogging perfume and scammed Disneyworld tickets to tourists while Moonee hustles money off other families for ice cream. Moonee plays with her friends in and around the motel, all the time aware of what’s going on with her mother…
THE VERDICT: Sean Baker’s follow-up to his hilarious, heartfelt breakthrough film ‘Tangerine’ is equally intimate in its depiction of ordinary lives on the margins of society. Whereas Tangerine was shot on several iPhones and painted a hilarious portrait of trashy L.A. street life, ‘The Florida Project’ is on a bigger canvas and features a name actor but maintains a level of character authenticity that is second to none. It’s a real charmer from start to finish, but never loses focus in its depiction of a mother’s love for her child – and the importance of holding on to childhood innocence.
The casting process is intriguing here. With echoes of Sasha Lane in last year’s American Honey, Bria Vinaite had never acted before and was plucked from obscurity (Baker came across her on Instagram). She brings a chaotic but likeable naturalism to her performance, which belies her inexperience with a film camera. With no preconceived notions about where the character might go (imagine if Jennifer Lawrence had been cast), it’s easier to accept to Halley as a caring, loving mother – even if she doesn’t always do the right thing. Dafoe brings some sturdy reliability as well.
However, the real star of the show is young Prince. With only one other credit to her name, she acts everyone else off the screen. She’s able to maintain that childlike sense of fun and play, while being quite aware of what grown-ups are going through. That’s such a difficult thing to get across onscreen with a child actor, but Prince is a total natural. Baker’s camera just loves her and gets in close to her occasionally goofy face. It’s as if he just let her run loose on the film set and be herself, rather than try to be an actor pretending to be someone else.
The film is somewhat loosely structured, with no immediate destination or goal for the characters. It takes a while for the freestyle plot to reveal itself, so some patience is required. That’s a minor flaw though, as these characters are relatable. There’s an interesting parallel going on here in the film’s environment – that of harshly-tinged reality existing just outside a fantasy world for children. There’s a remarkable sequence later in the film which goes from intense sadness to intense joy in the blink of an eye. Experience will replace innocence in time. With a nod to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye, Baker is suggesting that kids should be allowed to be kids and not grow up too fast. ‘The Florida Project’ is a colourful, charming story of child’s play fronted by a star-is-born performance. Seek it out.
RATING: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Director : Paul King
Cast : Ben Wishaw, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville
Following on from the successful first outing Paddington Paddington 2 sees our heroic Peruvian bear (Ben Wishaw) wrongly accused of the theft of a stunning pop up book. In Paddington’s adventure to prove his innocence is a bevy of great actors turning in wonderfully charming performances including Brendan Gleeson, Hugh Grant and returning favourites Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville. Paddington 2 is an absolute joy to experience and simply thinking about it puts a smile on my face. From the lush and vibrant cinematography to the warm and cosy score everything about Paddington 2 welcomes you with open arms.
Once again Wishaw is the star with an infectiously positive attitude but not to be outshone is the villain of the piece Phoenix Buchanan played by Hugh Grant who plays the most buffoonish yet magnetic villain seen on cinema in a long time. Every scene he was in was pure comedic gold and I couldn’t get enough of him in this film.
Technically spectacular, with wit to match and a palpable sense of joy Paddington 2 is a sequel that does everything it needed to do and more to bring us back to the world of that marmalade loving bear and so much more.
Bring the whole family to Paddington 2 and be sure to bring some marmalade for your popcorn.
RATING : 5/5
Review by Graham Day