Reviewed by
Tricia Youlden

Pride ★★★★★ M

Based on the true story of the unlikely alliance formed between a group of gay and lesbian activists (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) and the small Welsh mining community of Dulais during the 1984 miners’ strike, Pride also touches on the early days of HIV/AIDS and its devastating effect upon the gay community in particular.

Because of the reluctance of the National Union of Mineworkers to speak to them, let alone accept the “pink pounds” they have raised, the LGSM members decide to directly contact a randomly chosen village.

After a rocky start, they establish a firm bond with the Dulais community, culminating in the miners arriving en masse in a reciprocal show of support for the Gay Pride march of 1985.

While Ben Shnetzer is outstanding in the lead role, all the actors do a splendid job, especially Andrew Scott, Joseph Gilgun, George Mackay, Freddie Fox, Faye Marsay, Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton.

Special mention must be made of Dominic West’s portrayal of the flamboyant actor/tailor, Jonathan Blake. West’s dance in the Dulais community hall is a show-stopper. Although Jonathan Blake was the second person to be diagnosed HIV in the UK, he recently celebrated his 65th birthday and, with other surviving members of LGSM and the Dulais miners, advised the actors and took part in the recreation of the 1985 march.

Directed by Matthew Warchus, written by Stephen Beresford and designed by Simon Bowles, Pride is a fine film. It is also a timely reminder of how vital solidarity is in the face of oppression. United we stand, divided we fall — and Thatcher clones like Abbott and Pyne will triumph. Trailer

Finding Vivian Maier ★★★★ PG

In 2007, several boxes of photographic negatives were auctioned in New York. Writer and collector John Maloof bought one of these boxes. When he saw some of the developed photographs, he sought out and bought the other cases, ending up with over 100,000 negatives, 700 rolls of undeveloped colour film and 200 rolls of black and white.

Fascinated by the quality of the work, Maloof and his collaborator Charlie Siskel set out to discover as much as they can about the woman who had so artfully captured the humour and tragedy of everyday life. Finding Vivian Maier documents this quest.

The photographer was Vivian Maier, whose principal source of employment was as a nanny. Even though Maloof briefly queries the ethics of exposing a person who apparently wished to remain anonymous, he finds her story as irresistibly fascinating as her photographs.

Having identified her subjects by their surroundings, he tracks them down and interviews those who are willing to talk. What they recount about their former nanny and her Rolleiflex camera allows Maloof to piece together a complex picture of this intriguing individual.

In one scene we see a pompous linguist asserting that Vivian’s French accent was phony. Later it is revealed that, although Vivian was born in New York, her mother came from a small French alpine village that Vivian visited several times. A particularly touching scene shows the emotional reactions of the villagers to an exhibition of the photos that Vivian had taken of them during her time there.

Enthralling though the story of her life is, it is Maier’s photographs that are most remarkable. Exhibitions of her work have been shown in New York, Los Angeles, London, Germany, Denmark and, most recently, in Melbourne. Until you are able to see one such exhibition, do treat yourself to this meticulously made documentary. Trailer

Whiplash ★★★ MA

J.K. Simmons as music teacher Fletcher in Whiplash.

This disturbing film is set in a music conservatorium where tyrannical teacher Fletcher (JK Simmons) reigns supreme. A sadistic egotist, he throws tantrums, furniture and punches as he pushes young musicians to achieve their potential. Andrew (Miles Teller) is a gifted drummer who falls prey to Fletcher’s manipulative machinations.

One assumes that writer-director Damien Chazelle intends to make the audience question whether the end justifies the means. Fletcher’s bullying of his students is so loathsome that there is no argument that what he does is wrong.

Even so, one must admit that Simmons’ portrayal of the monstrous Fletcher is a tour de force and Justin Hurwitz’s music score is superb; ditto Sharone Meir’s cinematography. Trailer

Hector and the Search for Happiness ★★★★ M

When he realises that he is no more able to make his patients happy than he is to make himself happy, London psychiatrist Hector (Simon Pegg) leaves behind his partner Clara (Rosamund Pike) and sets out to experience life.

As he travels in China, Africa and finally Los Angeles, Hector meets a wide variety of people, all of whom have a different take on the elusive nature of happiness.

For businessman Edward (Stellan Skarsgard), the secret is to avoid retirement; for Ying Li (Ming Zhao) it is self-respect; for gangster Diego (Jean Reno) happiness is a happy wife; for Hector’s old friends Michael ( Barry Atsma) and Agnes (Toni Colette) the secret lies in achieving personal and professional fulfilment; for Professor Coreman (Christopher Plummer) it is living every moment to the full. And so on.

Adapted from the novel by Francois Lelord by director Peter Chelsom, Hector and the Search for Happiness is funny, moving, scary and poignant — often all in the same scene. Filmed by Kolja Brandt on location in various countries, the film looks spectacular. Coupled with its life-affirming theme, it leaves one smiling inside and out. Trailer

Living is easy with eyes closed ★★★★ M

It is 1966 in Franco’s Spain. While an elderly cleric brutally beats a cringing boy outside his classroom, Antonio (Javier Camara) uses the lyrics of John Lennon’s “Help!” to teach English to his students.

Despite his conservative appearance Antonio is an ardent Beatles fan. When he learns that John Lennon is in Spain to film Richard Lester’s How I Won the War, Antonio sets off in his little old Fiat to meet his hero. En route to the film location at Almeria, he gives a lift to 16-year-old runaway, Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), and to Belen (Natalia de Molina), a pregnant 20-year-old.

Over the course of the next few days, this accidental family lives in a rustic seaside bar, run by Ramon (Ramon Fontsere), who espouses the philosophy that, “Life is like a dog. If it smells your fear it bites you.” After several attempts Antonio finally achieves his goal and meets John Lennon. Mission accomplished, he can return home.

During the time they have spent amongst the strawberry fields of Almeria, Juanjo and Belen have both had time to reconsider the direction their lives are taking. And John Lennon has penned the words of his hit song, “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Written and directed by David Trueba with a great score by Pat Metheny, Living is easy with eyes closed won five Spanish Goya Awards in 2014. It has been selected as Spain’s official nomination for the Best Foreign Film category at the 2015 American Academy Awards.

A gently joyous film. Trailer

Tricia Youlden teaches drama at Willoughby GHS.