Monday, 27 February 2017

Film: 'Hidden Figures'

When I first saw the trailer for this some weeks ago my reaction was "Aw, come off it! Really?" It then seemed so improbable that I thought it must be one of those made-up, feel-good stories fabricated to please a gullible audience. So I could only hang my head in shame when I found out that the basis of the story was indeed factual and that my own prejudices had made me reluctant to believe it. Having said that, I wonder if there are, even today, forces still at play to keep a lid on the events, for whatever reason. But there's no doubt in my mind that despite being so long after the time, it's yet something that needs to be recognised and celebrated.

It's 1961 and America is pulling out all the stops to be the first to get a man into space, and racing the USSR in particular. Three African-American women  - Kathleen Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson (played respectively by Tanaji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae - the latter looking very like Whitney Houston at times) with demonstrably superior intelligence, join NASA where they find their mental abilities are worse than doubted. It's assumed that because of their colour they are fit only for menial duties, certainly nothing that would put to use their formidable intellectual capacity in mathematics and astro-physics. Virtually all of the male-dominated staff are suspicious and even their female supervisor (Kirsten Dunst) makes hopelessly inadequate and baseless judgments on their mental prowess.  Only boss Kevin Costner doesn't see their colour, though he does display an initial degree of scepticism towards a woman's role in this heavily macho field. However, when he's brought to realise how the colour segregation still operates in Florida he wastes little time in demolishing what of it he can as it only gets in the way of NASA's more important aims of getting that first man into space.
Also in the cast is the recently-awarded for his commendable role in 'Moonlight', Mahershala Ali.

By and large I fund this quite an interesting film though I did keep getting a nagging feeling that the situations were being hyped up beyond the reality of what actually happened in order to make it entertaining. The frequent, startling displays of prejudice by the white staff is intermixed with occasional humour which usually worked, but for me this created a scenario whose message was "It'll turn out alright in the end" (from a twenty-first century persepective), and so inadvertently playing down the struggles of the central female trio against colour prejudice, almost as if trying to avoid confronting the racism issue full-frontal while the anti-female strand is shown in stronger light. 

At the end of this Theodore Melfi directed and co-scripted film, we learn that all three of the central characters portrayed are actually still alive and have been recognised in scientific circles, even if decades later their achievements are still barely acknowledged at all by the public. The oldest of them has now turned 97!

It's surely an important story that needs to be told and widely circulated. I'm just not as certain that this film, apart from giving it much-needed publicity, does it any favours more than that.............6.5.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Oscars Best Picture - oh dear!

When I heard on BBC News Channel (we didn't get a live visual feed) that 'La La Land' had won 'Best Picture', though I was pleased I was also sorry that 'Moonlight' had only the single, well-deserved award to Mahershala Ali as Best Supporting Actor to its credit - a tally which hardly reflected the impact that film had had on me. Then, after reporting of the chaotic correction, I was rather more pleased because 'La La' had already received several more awards, despite it not finally getting the biggest accolade of all. 

It's easy to play the blame game (and it's clearly unfair to target Warren B and Faye D) - there'll be more than enough who'll be doing just that with glee. Someone will have had a very red face and that head well may roll. Think of the gift that's been handed to anyone who has a beef about inaccuracies in the news - should there be any such person. It's such a shame that this fiasco will now overshadow the worth of two very high standard films at the very time when at least one of them will not yet have had the chance to have achieved maximum returns in its potential box-office takings. Nevertheless, I've got to be satisfied with the eventual outcome, -though how we got here........dear oh dear!

Hearty congratulations to 'Moonlight', a most remarkable achievement.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Film: 'Moonlight'

Once a year, or more rarely, comes a film which just blows me away - and this is one of them.
Being nominated for a mere four BAFTAs was measly recognition enough, but to come away from those awards completely empty-handed was little short of grotesque. I have to hold onto faith that this weekend's Oscars will be more forthcoming in recognising what an exceptional work this is.

A film in three sections, all set in Miami (from where director and screenplay writer Barry Jenkins himself hails), it chronicles the life in three stages of first, a schoolboy (then called 'Little'), then as a late-teenager (named 'Chiron') and finally as thirty-something 'Black'. 
Initially struggling against the verbal abuse of schoolkids because he's somehow 'different', his hiding from their taunts results in his being befriended by a drug-dealer with a heart of gold, or at least partly gold, (Maharshala Ali) who takes pity for the boy's isolation and loneliness, but whose presence is resented by the boy's drug-dependent, increasingly neglectful mother (Naomie Harris - in all three sections).
Then the story moves forward to the boy as a young man and his friendship with school-colleague Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), and his emotional self-realisation - with a particularly upsetting episode where Chiron is picked out to be a victim of assault.
Finally, the action moves ahead by some twenty years with 'Black' now looking in every way the part of a toughie drug-gang member, complete with gold teeth, pumped-up body and gun - and re-discovering former close friend Kevin (now played by Andre Holland).

If the first two parts contain the most physical 'action' it's the final section which has the dramatic and emotional weight. 
The acting of all the three players of the central character (successively Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevant Rhodes) is uniformly remarkable. Despite the character's foibles I was drawn into deep sympathy for him at all the stages - quite heartbreakingly, in fact.
Naomie Harris, as the mother who puts who her own wants ahead of her maternal duties, is no less brilliant.

I found the film well-nigh flawless. Perhaps the music choices were not quite of the best? Others might disagree. Anyway, none of them is over-long. Also, I wasn't quite sure if it was the cinema's own projection problem, but there were one or two moments when the visual focus seemed to be fuzzy. I'll give the film the benefit of the doubt and assume it was the cinema's own equipment. 
My only slightly nagging fear that the film's interest in the central character might have been flagging just a very little came in the final section, but if it did it was more than redeemed by the very brief concluding scene.

In summation, I thought this an extraordinary film. If I see a finer one in 2017 it will have been a truly exceptional year................8.5.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Done it - and now I'm a happy chappy!

Solution achieved! The problem was that my archive configuration was set on 'daily' when it should have been 'monthly' - as ridiculously simple as that! Now my blogs show as I want them to, which should also make it easier for my followers to refer back to previous film reviews - and I'm happy as Larry. Grateful thanks to Sadie, Bob, Mitch and Jon especially for offering their thoughts and suggestions. Having put the problem out there it gave me the extra incentive to find the answer.
Thanks again for everyone's time.

Can anyone help, please?

(This blog-post been superceded by success as reported in my subsequent posting).

Most other bloggers have managed this so why can't I?
I want my 'blog archive list' to the right of my postings to show the title of each blog entry - at least for the current month. For weeks I've been trying to achieve this by searching on google how to do it, but whenever I try the result is always :-

 Anyone who can assist will be in receipt of my undying gratitude in the form of an enormous bundle of positive vibes!  Thanks - to whomever!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Film: '20th Century Women'

I'd been lured into thinking that this might be a film of real 'quality', and the further enticement of Annette Bening as its main star made it pretty well irresistible. 
Perhaps I didn't dig deep enough to reach the quality 'seam' because it struck me as being one of those lofty 'art-house' films which hoodwinks the audience into believing they are watching something truly exceptional, and those who do not appreciate it are too scared of saying so for fear of being categorised as intellectually wanting. Maybe I lack the necessary quality of aestheticism which one needs to understand its profundity? 
However, I don't mean to make it sound like an out-and-out dud. It's very far from being that.

Santa Barbara 1979. Divorced, chain-smoking, 55-year old Dorothea (Bening) is bringing up her 15 year old son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) in a sort of commune - though each with their own separate sleeping areas - with two other young women, a budding photographer (Greta Gerwig) who wants to capture her life in pictures by irritatingly aiming her camera at everything she sees, and a messed-up, promiscuous, younger know-it-all (Elle Fanning) who regularly sleeps with Jamie though they purposely don't engage in any sexual activity. There's also a lodger/general handyman and ex-hippie (Billy Crudup).
Dorothea has concerns for her son's development, not because he's living in such a predominantly female household but because she feels he's alienating himself in his interests, such as his liking of the then fashionable 'punk' which she's unable to grasp, making him appear an increasing riddle to her. 
The film covers only a short period, showing the various social activities of and interchanges between, mainly, the three women and the son. There's little progress or development in any of the characters during the film's two hours. At the end they're all very much at the same point as they were at the start. 

Annette Bening, despite spending much of her screen time without make-up and with hair dishevelled, is still a magnetic presence, easily dominating the rest of this ensemble cast. But what was it all for? I ask myself. There were only a couple of really dramatic events, but they soon passed without casting a shadow. It was all a bit inconsequential to my way of thinking.

Director Mike Mills is best known for having made 'Beginners' (2010) in which Christopher Plummer won an Oscar (as an aged father very belatedly coming out as gay). I thought this latest film of his nowhere near as interesting, though it's generally receiving reviews for which many other films must long. The reasons for this evade me.............5.5

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Film: 'Lion'

Most of those who were attracted to this film will probably have seen it by now. Being a Johnny-come-lately on this one, I'd already seen and heard more than a few reviews which, to my disadvantage, nearly all led me to expect something really special. And so the first section indeed turned out to be. However, even though just about everyone is saying how the second (and longer) part falls a little bit below the standard of what came before it, I'd go further and state that, for me at least, this final section dragged almost fatally. Could it have anything to do with this part, in contrast to the first, containing the performances of at least two big-name stars, Dev Patel and Rooney Mara, as well the internationally known and generally admired Nicole Kidman (count me as a fan!), it overbalanced the production? That's how I was feeling as it was playing.

The film begins with five-year old Indian boy Saroo (Sunny Pawar - extraordinary) being separated from his older brother and, sleeping on a stationary train, finds himself being carried some 1500 miles to Kolkatta, where he has to survive alone in this huge, unknown and crowded city, fending for himself, joining street children, and chillingly escaping from the clutches of those who are bent on exploiting any homeless child, This first part is necessarily very episodic but no less horrifying and suspenseful for that. Little Saroo, heartbreakingly calling for his mother and brother, gets taken to an orphanage where, eventually, through press announcements containing his photograph, lead to his being offered a home in Tasmania by a childless couple (David Wenham and Kidman). On arriving in Australia he makes a good impression even though he himself is rather lost. Things take a dramatic turn when a little later, another similar-aged, orphan Indian boy joins the family, a boy with mental health difficulties.
Jump forward twenty years and the former boy (now played by Dev Patel) is seen almost from the start, pining over his lost home and mother and brother. His foster parents are aware of this and are understanding, but his mood is rather hammered home long after we've got the message (a number of brief flashbacks shown). He finds a girlfriend in Rooney Mara, but time and again he's sidetracked into searching for his roots (and causing some friction), now with the help of Google-earth.
After the high activity of the film's first part this following section seems relatively static in comparison - too long, I thought, for balance. I'd have been happier with the first part being extended or, better, the second being edited down.
I must say, though, that I did find Saroo's inevitable return to his home in India near-tearfully moving. 

This seems to be director Garth Davis' first feature film, and there's little doubt that it's an auspicious start.  
Photography throughout is first-class though several times the background soundtrack music teetered on becoming overbearing. 
However, finally and crucially, I did feel that the film was needlessly weighted down by the over-stated Tasmanian section.................6.5