The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey, 2017) 4/5

Contemporary musicals are essentially the rarest of filmic breeds. They are either reboots of older classics or adaptations of great stage productions from around the world. What is more common is when these are fused with popular historic figures and this fusion works well when that person was linked with show business. Michael Gracey’s directorial debut is a show stopping adventure through tposter-largehe weird and wonderful eyes of P.T Barnum and his eclectic mix of performers.

Scepticism did almost overtake me prior to watching this Hugh Jackman star vehicle, but I persisted, and I’m very glad that I did. From the cinematography, acting, editing, and performances everything here works so well that it is seamless in the action. Jackman is no stranger to the spotlight of the stage and thrives her as the protagonist as through dance numbers, all of his skills as a performer are brought out in full force. He carries this movie with aplomb (I love that word!) and bringing Zac Efron onboard to entice a younger crowd (clever marketing), plus throwing the added class of Michelle Williams adds another dimension to this already celebrated canon.

In essence, this film is about inclusivity and diversity, which is a little more than topical at the moment in time. I won’t go into that too much (*ahem* Trump, *ahem* Harvey Weinstein) and the songs show a very strong reflection of this zeitgeist. Fox made a very clever hire of Pasek and Paul, who are fresh off their win for the – dare I say it, slightly dull – La La Land at last years Oscars. Their songs are simply infectious and you will be singing all of the way home. Of course, it does help that the screenplay is also written by Jenny Bicks (Sex and the City vet) and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls and Chicago).

Of course, it can be very difficult to balance the gritty reality of the actual figure and the glitz of movie musical. Sure, some bits are glossed over with glitter, but this movie is all about escapism. If you’d like a more pronounced musical biopic, I’d direct you to ‘Walk the Line’ for example.

There are shades of Baz Luhrmann here too and Moulin Rouge is clearly something they wanted to emulate, not just with the rooftop dancing, but also with it’s feverish pace and fast editing.

In sum, whilst The Greatest Showman might lean a little too much on the ‘show’ aspects and not on the murkier sides of Barnum. This movie is an escapists dream with a very powerful message of inclusion in a time where not everybody is getting the representation or safety they deserve.

The Paperboy

The Paperboy (Lee Daniels, 2012) 3/5

Lee Daniels follow up to his heart wrenching Precious will make you feel dirty. In fact, therethe paperboy are times where you just feel the need to scrub yourself incessantly so you can cope with what is occurring on screen! Based on Peter Dexter’s novel of the same name and true story, the narrative follows two investigative journalists – Yardley Acheman and Ward Jansen – who aim to write a story to release convicted murderer Hillary Van Wetter. With the help of nymphomaniac Charlotte Bless, who corresponds with Wetter in prison and Ward’s younger brother Jack they soon uncover not everything is what it seems in the sticky heat of the South.

The best way to get your head around is by remembering the exploitation films of the 1970’s, where sex, drugs and violence were a staple. If you do this, then you can appreciate what Daniels and his producers were trying to achieve. Indeed, this is one of the films strengths as it pulls no punches at being explicit wherever possible, which garnered extremely mixed reviews when it was screened at Cannes last year.

The acting pedigree of the film is high with Matthew McConaughey and Zac Effron playing the two brothers, with Nicole Kidman excelling in her role as the troubled Miss Bless. However what damages the film is the slow pace and the lack of a proper twist. Generally speaking death-row thrillers have a big reveal at the end or a taut emotional climax. For example A Time to Kill (1996), The Life of David Gale (2003) and Dead Man Waking (1995) all succeeded because they took the audience right through the investigation. The Paperboy does this to an certain extent; however it glosses over a majority of this in favour of highlighting the sweaty atmosphere of the inhabitants. At times, this becomes so overwhelming that it is difficult to think of anything else, let alone follow the characters as they reveal their dark sides and personal demons. Another issue is casting Macy Gray as the narrator. She might be one of the most annoying maids in film history and, unfortunately, you are stuck with her voiceover for the entire proceedings.

The cinematography is excellent as Roberto Schaefer’s camera gets so close to the characters that you can almost smell their body odour in the immense heat. Yes, I told you this film would make you feel dirty. A great example of this is where Charlotte meets Wetter for the first time. They are sat apart in the prison meeting room; Charlotte spread her legs and begins to masturbate. This scene wouldn’t have been so bad if they were alone, but Yardley, Ward and Jack are also in the room. Take that as you will…

Even though The Paperboy is an uneven thriller, what it excels in is placing the audience in uncomfortable positions. A Haneke film this is not, but by doing this the whole issue of morality and senses in the cinema is raised. As such, Daniels new feature is a sweaty, sexy and visceral experience, which needed to take some more pointers from other more complete films. All in all, you may have to scrub yourself clean, but you won’t forget this film for quite some time.