Tag Archives: Gemma Arterton


31 Oct



Director: Neil Jordan

Writer: Moira Buffini (play)

Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 118 minutes



Although film and TV vampire stories are being remodeled for younger viewers – Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries – one of the best remains Neil Jordan’s 1994 film Interview with the Vampire. That was an adult tale of two vampires in a very gothic 18th century New Orleans. With Byzantium the same director returns in subject matter and tone, but the two vampires are female and the setting is a distressed English seaside town.

Gemma Arterton is Clara, a streetwise exotic dancer and guardian to sensitive Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan). They wash up in a rundown coastal town after Clara has a violent encounter with a thug from their past. They are seemingly on the run, but it’s not clear from what. Their relationship is also ambiguous as the age gap makes them closer to sisters than mother and daughter. The 200 year back story is revealed slowly and in fragments. Their first encounters with vampires are explained and that past is carried as a burden.

The two women take refuge in a defunct boarding house called Byzantium. Clara meets the owner Noel (Daniel Mays) whilst turning tricks down by the pier. As the dancer / hooker Gemma Arterton is saddled with a shaky accent, but is effortlessly enticing. The harlot with a heart of gold is a bit of a cliché, but never has it been played with such sex appeal. Arterton does well, but is outperformed by Ronan who is typically captivating. At 19 she is already a mighty talent.

The look of Byzantium is washed out, distressed and grey. There are splashes of colour, such as the symbolic red cape that Eleanor wears, but mostly the aesthetic is reminiscent of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) by Tomas Alfredson. I like the production design in this, it suits the story and frankly most English seaside towns are shabby, dull and foreboding.

Those chasing Clara and Eleanor include Sam Riley as a shady policeman. He appears in present and in flash backs as part of some form of vampire secret society. Jonny Lee Miller also appears as a rotten naval officer. The centuries evolving plot is borderline ridiculous, but the actors commit to it and the slow reveal keeps it interesting. There is a nice modern day relationship, very much taken from Let the Right One in (2008, again Alfredson), involving Ronan and local teenager Frank (Caleb Landry Jones). Its youthful sweetness part balances the sourness of the adult liaisons.

There is a nice mix of serious and schlock in Byzantium and I enjoyed it. The film is sexy and scary at times and the cast is impressive and works hard throughout. It is not young and dumb like so much of the content in Twilight or True Blood and that’s one way to put some freshness back into the immortal bloodsuckers.

Lay the Favourite

3 Dec

lay the favourite


Director: Stephen Frears

Writers: Beth Raymer (memoir), D.V. DeVincentis (screenplay)

Stars: Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis and Vince Vaughn

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 94 minutes


British director Stephen Frears has had an interesting career. He has jumped around genres and locations and there have been excellent films such as Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity and Dirty Pretty Things, but also bombs such as Mary Reilly, Tamara Drewe and this latest film. In fact, this one might be the absolute low and in following on from Tamara Drewe it’s a truly awful sequence. In the former Gemma Arterton was strangely miscast and misused and in the latter it is Rebecca Hall, another very capable young British actress, that suffers.

The story of Lay the Favourite, possibly the worst film title of 2012, is that of Beth Raymer. It is her memoir of legal and illegal betting shenanigans on which the film is based. Rebecca Hall plays Beth and we first see her dancing privately for various unsavoury types in Florida. Almost, but not quite a call girl she leaves the state and heads to Las Vegas to find better work. There she hooks up with bookmaker Dink (Bruce Willis), his wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and with a collection of other bookies, gamblers, wannabe gangsters etc. Joshua Jackson becomes the new boyfriend and Vince Vaughn is a New York based bookie for who the naïve Beth also finds work.

There is so much wrong with this film it is difficult to know where to start. Rebecca Hall, a fantastic actress who was so good in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and in The Town, is hugely miscast and her girly Marilyn Monroe voice and kooky mannerisms are annoying. The other cast members are equally poor and mostly stand around looking uncomfortable. The script is dire, the direction is uninspired and one cringe-worthy scene follows another. The film has no redeeming qualities at all and director Frears is now on very thin ice indeed.

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