Sunday, February 4, 2018

End-of-year don't-miss movie: Paul McGuigan's lovely FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL

Just how talented is Annette Bening? This actress -- who seems, so far as movies are concerned, about as good as it gets but has never yet won an Oscar, though she's been nominated four times -- keeps surprising us with each new role. Now, playing Gloria Grahame (an actress who did win an Oscar) in the new movie, FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL, she does it all over again, capturing not only Grahame's appearance but also that sweet, girlish quality that lent her performances, even as "bad girls," an extra oddball oomph.

As directed by Scotland's Paul McGuigan (shown at right), and adapted for the screen by Matt Greenhalgh from the memoir by Peter Turner (played in the film, and very well by Jamie Bell) that details his romantic relationship with Grahame during her last years, the movie manages quite surprisingly to be charming, funny, romantic and supremely moving -- even as it encompasses our heroine's terminal sickness and death.

McGuigan, TrustMovies believes, is an under-rated fiilmmaker whose skills are on display in quite a number of genres. His beginnings tended toward gangster/mystery films (the excellent Gangster #1 and Lucky Number Slevin) before moving on to a lot of TV and cable work, the under-appreciated "monster" movie, Victor Frankenstein, and now this little gem that's a wonderful combo of romance, nostalgia, joy and sadness.

Note, if nothing else, the lovely manner in which the filmmaker handles flashbacks -- opening them up into moments of surprise and often delight as the movie moves forward and backward, filling in so many of the details of this May/September affair between a still-glamorous American star touring in Britain and the young and smitten actor who becomes her paramour.

Along the way we meet his marvelous and generous family -- mom (Julie Walters, above), dad (Kenneth Cranham, below, left) and older brother (Stephen Graham) --

along with Gloria's mom (Vanessa Redgrave, below, right, and incandescent as ever) and her hurt and angry sister (Frances Barber).

At center and always present is the relationship between Grahame and Turner -- up, down, angry, joyful, hugely sexual and finally that of care-giving. In between times we come to understand both of these characters' feelings about performing (on stage and film) and, especially where Grahame is concerned, about fame. (The movie's ending is spot-on.)

There's a wonderful scene late in the film (shown below) involving the RSC and Romeo and Juliet that McGuigan and his actors render with such tender skill you'll be holding your breath.

Both Bening and Bell, the latter of whom most of us remember best as Billy Elliot, have rarely seemed more perfect, with Bell especially coming into his own as a marvelous leading man -- as kind & loving as he is sexy & manly.

Yet another film that seems to have gotten lost in the year-end, last-minute, would-be Oscar sweeps, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool should be on everyone's must-see list -- everyone, at least, who appreciates a first-rate love-and-family story.

From Sony Pictures Classics and running a just-right 105 minutes, after opening on the coasts at the end of last year, it appears here in South Florida this Friday, February 9, in the Miami area at the AMC Aventura 24 and Regal's South Beach 18; in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters, Cinemark Palace 20 and Regal Shadowood 16; in Boynton Beach at the Cinemark 14; in Davie at the Cinemark Paradise 24; and at the Movies of Delray and Lake Worth.  Elsewhere around the country? Click here and then click on GET TICKETS to view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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