FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL: 4 STARS
By the time actress Gloria Grahame passed away in 1981 at age 57 she was largely forgotten. A new film, “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” aims to remind of us of the Oscar winner’s—she won the Best Supporting Actress award in 1952 for The Bad and the Beautiful—life, legacy and love.
When we meet Grahame (Annette Bening) she’s in the “whatever happened to” phase of her career. Hollywood is a distant memory and she’s now trading on whatever cachet her name still holds, performing “The Glass Menagerie” in English regional theatres. Ailing, she calls on Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), a former lover and much younger man who once moved to New York to be with her. He’s now back at home in working-class Liverpool, struggling to make it as an actor.
As Grahame becomes sicker and sicker the movie moves along a fractured timeline to tell the story of their love affair and how sickness shattered their bliss and eventually brought them together again.
Director Paul McGuigan uses some slick camera tricks to jump around in time from the first blush of their relationship to the end and every point in between. Doors open in the present to reveal a scene in the past. It’s showy but dreamy, as though we are hopscotching through Peter’s memory.
Bell is a sweet, sensitive and thoughtful boy-toy who sparks with Bening. He’s very good but this is Bening’s movie. Her Grahame is a wonder, effervescently flirty one second, frail the next. She is the keeper of a heartbreaking secret agenda and a vain woman facing the abyss. It’s remarkable stuff that sits comfortably alongside her stellar recent work in “The Face of Love,” “20th Century Woman” and “Rules Don’t Apply.”
“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” is a three Kleenex film that will make you want to go back and check out Grahame’s real-life movies. If you haven’t already, check her out as the temptress with an eye for James Stewart in “It's a Wonderful Life” or as Ado Annie in Oklahoma! She was a great talent and Bening does her justice.
MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE: 1 STAR
You may be forgiven if you, like me, thought about going to see “The Maze Runner: The Death Cure” to catch up on what happened to Shailene Woodley’s character Tris Prior.
Please be advised you have the wrong franchise.
Back in the day of the young-adult-in-peril dystopian trilogies, screens were filled with good looking young actors fighting for survival in movies like “The Maze Runner” and “The Divergent Series.” Of the bunch of them, only “The Hunger Games” distinguished itself as a go-to movie. The others kind of blended together to form one long post apocalyptic action series that resembled an anti-utopian Guess ad with automatic weapons and artfully tousled hair.
Since the new film, “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” assumes you’re up to speed with the story I’ll save you the trouble of having to binge watch the first two movies.
Here’s the catch-up:
Based on a series of wildly popular YA books, 2014's “The Maze Runner” sees Thomas, played by “Teen Wolf’s” Dylan O’Brien, plopped into a community of young men surrounded by a labyrinth. The rebellious Thomas wants to see if there is a way to navigate through the ever-changing maze that stands between the boys and whatever is happening in the outside world.
The following year “The Scorch Trials” saw the virtuous Thomas and his gang take on the worst people in the world, W.C.K.D., a group of evildoers that appear to use an Instagram acronym as their name.
After a three-year wait Thomas is back with his stylishly dishevelled hair and chiselled face to break into The Last City, a fortified town where doctors work to find a cure for a plague that turns people into snarling zombies. The good doctors, including Thomas’s former flame Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), are experimenting on the Maze Runners who are immune to the disease. In particular Thomas wants to rescue Minho (Ki Hong Lee), a pal being mercilessly poked with needles in search of a cure.
“Maze Runner: The Death Cure” features lots of ominous music, attractive stars in motion, dusty dystopian landscapes and something gets blown up or shot at every 10 minutes or so. What’s missing is the emotional content that might make you care about Thomas and company. The movie really wants you to love the characters. The camera endlessly caresses their determined and often tearstained faces but the ham fisted big emotional moments are as empty as the jars of gel thrown in the trash after being used to poof up the cast’s hair. The characters are mannequins mouthing generic dialogue—speeches begin with, “I know you have no reason to trust me,” and every few minutes someone says, “We have to get out of here!”—for two hours and twenty minutes. Think what else you could do with that time!
HOLLOW IN THE LAND: 2 ½ STARS
Look the word hardscrabble up in the dictionary and you’re likely to find a picture of “Hollow in the Land’s” Alison Miller (Dianna Agron). She lives in the kind of backwater industrial town where everyone knows her business. And there’s a lot to talk about. Her father is locked up, jailed for an alcohol fuelled crime spree that ended in the death of the son of the local mill owner.
Mom is a long distant memory, having run off, leaving Alison to care for her teenage brother Brandon (Jared Abrahamson). He’s a handful. “You know one of these days you’re going to do some real damage, smart ass,” a local cop (Michael Rogers) tells him when he’s picked up for fighting, “and you’ll have bigger problems than some paperwork. You’ll be sharing a cell with your old man in no time.”
When the neighbours aren’t talking about the Miller’s troubled family history they’re gossiping about Alison and her girlfriend Charlene (Rachelle Lefevre).
Alison’s life is further scrutinized when Brandon lands in deep trouble. The day after his girlfriend Sophie’s violent, drunken father (John Sampson) walked in on them having sex, the old man winds up dead and Brandon is the chief suspect. Convinced of his innocence she launches her own investigation only to wind up under the microscope herself.
“Hollow in the Land” is more of a snapshot of life in a small town than it is a murder mystery. The procedural aspects of the story are less interesting than the characters, which are brought to vivid, scrappy life. Argon, best known as high school cheerleader Quinn Fabray on “Glee,” brings grit to Alison, playing her as determined yet emotionally damaged.
“Hollow in the Land” will be compared to the equally grungy “Winter’s Bone.” Like that movie, writer-director Scooter Corkle paints a drab picture of life in this town, creating a backwoods neo-noir with some nice details, but never really satisfies narratively.