Thursday, 23 October 2014

Film: 'The Judge'

If I say I found this disappointing, overlong and lugubrious I'd once again be parting company with majority opinion (currently an average rating of 7.6 on IMDb).
Despite it having a cast of major stars, Duvall, Downey Jr, and B.B. Thornton, as well as Vincent D'Onofrio, all of whom I like, it wasn't a film that afforded me a pleasurable experience.

The cast was, effectively, the only 'plus' - after that there were several irritants, of which more in a minute.

Downey is a major lawyer who's long since fallen out with his veteran judge father (as well as his own wife) and only re-connects, albeit abrasively, on attending his mother's funeral. His two brothers are also there, D'Onofrio, his elder, and his home-movie obsessed, wimpy younger bro, Jeremy Strong. The relationships with his brothers is more equable than that between him and his recently-ailing, cantankerous father, Duvall, who, on the very day of the funeral appears to have killed in a driving 'accident', a recently-released man he'd put away in prison for 20 years for murder. Duvall claims lapse of memory over events around the ex-con's death. Downey, after overcoming obstacles, gets to defend his father on a charge of murder. Billy Bob Thornton plays the prosecutor, appearing only in the courtroom scenes during the ensuing drama of the actual trial.

Now for the negatives:-
Over-indulgent background music, sentimental throughout, treating the audience as though we were idiots and shouldn't be allowed to think for ourselves. After an early scene in which RDJ views his departed mater lying in an open coffin and he touches her folded hands, by then we all knew that this was going to be a film burdened with sentiment. We don't need additional help to tell us what we should be feeling, thank you.
The music rarely leaves off - and several times I found myself wishing "Oh, for goodness sake, give it a rest!"  And not only that, at one point there's an actual song on the soundtrack, presumably to provide extra emotional 'weight' - a feature that always gets my back up. And there's even a further song over the final, pre-credit scene. (Groan!)
The story of a familial patriarch gradually losing his mental (and, at one point, graphically, his physical) faculties was quite good, but I found the script largely uninspiring as it attempted, unsuccessfully at times, to be light and witty with Downey's romantic attachment (Vera Farmiga) and his little girl. 'Light' it never was, even though the circumstances might have required it.
Then there's the said 'little girl' - and, blow me down if she wasn't one of those single-digit-year, wise-ass, know-all-about-life infants whose attitudes and remarks would have been considered mature for someone three times her age or more. Clearly, we were supposed to think "Aw, how cute!" - and judging from most of the audience's reaction, they actually did. Luckily, she only had two scenes, neither very long, but that was two too many for me. I only wish there'd been a garotter at hand!

Direction, by one David Dobkin, was fairly conventional, with nothing standing out as particularly memorable.

This could have been a powerful vehicle for such a starry cast, and all the main players, Duvall especially, rose to it ably. But the film was also cliche-ridden. A bit of originality, aside from the premise of a son defending his father on a murder charge (though is that really original?) would not have come amiiss.

I think a lot of people's reactions to this lengthy (2 hrs 20mins) film will be more positive than mine was. In fact I know that already to be the case. However, I can only report honestly on my own feelings, that if it hadn't been for such an all-round good cast I would have scored 'The Judge' lower than..................4/10.





Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Film: ' '71 '

Very tense, very brutal thriller set at the height of the Northern Ireland troubles, the title referring to the year of this story.

Paris-born, London-raised director, Yann Demange, creates a highly impressive, nail-chewing drama in which, once the situational scenario has been set, never lets up on the suspense for an instant.

An English rookie soldier in the British army is sent to Belfast where, as  part of a unit trying to flush out IRA-supporting Republicans, he gets caught up in a local riot and, through a lapse on checking by his commanding officer before a hurried withdrawal, he finds himself left alone in a predominantly Catholic, and hence vehemently anti-British, area where he has no alternative but to try to survive by wits and subterfuge. This is a part of Belfast where everyone has to be on one of two sides. Violent hostility between the two communities rules, as well as full-on hostility against the British army from the Catholic side (of all ages), with swift 'justice' meted out where it's seen to be 'required'. Prevaricators are not tolerated, neither by Catholics nor Protestants. This film dwells mainly on the republicans' anti-British army stance.
The tension is immediately palpable after the initial scene-setting, when the terrified lone soldier (Jack O'Connelll - totally believable in the role) tries to find his way back to barracks without drawing attention to himself. There are several very violent scenes, including at least one extended and especially grisly section where I had to look away.

The angle the film is aimed for is that the audience be willing the young soldier to survive, he being a reluctant pawn in the horrific situation he's found himself, not through his own fault. But even so, there are no 'goodies' and baddies' in this world. To cloud the issue even further, can we be absolutely sure of the loyalties of people claiming a particular allegiance?

I jumped in my seat once or twice at unexpected sudden events. It's all very skilfully managed, though with a bit of background music, which wasn't too obtrusive. There was also the obligatory, torrential downpour at one point, though in this case it did effectively underline the nervous tension.

Another thing in the film's favour is that it's a comfortable, mere 100 minutes long (always music to my ears).

A very taut thriller, expertly accomplished, and I'd defy anyone not to be gripped by it...................7.5.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Film: 'Effie Gray'

Fairly likeable Victorian drama documenting the inconsummated 'marriage' between teenager Euphemia Gray (played by American, Dakota Fanning) and artist John Ruskin (Greg Wise) - with his close friend and fellow-artist, Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge) hovering between them and falling for the luckless and loveless young 'wife'.

Supporting parts are played by a veritable roll-call of readily recognisable British actors, some with little more than a very few words to say, but the meatiest of these lesser roles are for David Suchet and Julie Walters (here playing aristocratic, against her usual type of part) as Ruskin's parents. Others include James Fox, Robbie Coltrane, Linda Bassett and Derek Jacobi - as well as Emma Thompson who wrote the screenplay. (There are also a couple of brief appearances of living legend, Claudia Cardinale).

The reason for the marriage's lack of relationship is not spelt out explicitly. We see Ruskin's rejection of his wife on their wedding night but not shown exactly why it happens, only from then on he treats her with disdain, put-downs and carelessness of feeling. Delicacy prevents me from enlarging on what's believed to have been the actual historical cause of why he should suddenly have felt this way, but rumours exist to this day which, for reasons of discretion, shall not be elaborated on here.

Richard Laxton directs this film. (He also directed 2009's 'An Englishman in New York - the latter years of Quentin Crisp, with John Hurt reprising the role).

'Effie Gray' is a stately-moving story - not boring, but also not one that gripped me very keenly. It's very well photographed indeed and all impressively acted. If you like period dramas I doubt that this will disappoint you. An agreeable way to occupy a couple of hours ...............6/10.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Another year notched up.

Yes, this is where I've arrived today - at a somewhat nondescript number with few associations (unlike next year's!). What first comes to mind for me was 1968, when I was 21/22, being such a tumultuous year in a number of ways, largely negative, though that was mostly only labelled so in hindsight.

Here is this year's portrait, taken yesterday in mood un poco serioso:-



And here's some recent pics of my two co-habitees as well as two of the most regular visitors.

My dear, sweet Blackso (at least 15 years old) enjoying late Summer sun.



Noodles (12 or 13), having recently had his annual check-up and jab.

Heckie (Hector), next door's pussy, who gets locked out so often that he seems to spend more time here, where there's always a welcome at the permanently open window. Not yet 2 years old, he hasn't been neutered, unfortunately, (despite my mentioning it to the owner) - and his behaviour is now showing that he hasn't been. A bit of a disruptive little scamp, but a sweetie nevertheless.

Patchy (about 7) whose home is round the corner, about 300 yards away, where he's one of a number of cats, but for well over a year he's been coming here at least twice a day, for 'breakfast' and 'dinner', and now started sleeping here overnight too. I could never turn him away, the big, plump 'cushion' that he is.



Blackso again, taking some 'Golden Slumbers'
So that's where things are at, dear people - surviving by toddling along from day to day, with some grand company of contented pussies. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

Film: 'The Maze Runner'

The premise of this film shares much the same territory as 'The Hunger Games' trilogy. In this case I don't have much enthusiasm for catching the further two projected episodes, though for the 'Hunger' series I did see them all..

Set in some vague future, a selected group of racially-diverse youngsters (here, all teenage boys/young men, some of whom look barely out of school) find themselves mysteriously appearing one by one at monthly intervals in an enclosed pasture and woodland enclosed by a massive circular maze whose walls change position daily and which appears to be the only means of escape. If anyone finds themselves trapped in the maze he is left to the mercy of large, semi-mechanical(?), spider-like creatures with voracious appetites. Then one day a young woman is delivered by the usual means, an elevator from below ground. Like all the others, she  doesn't remember why and how she arrived.
The reason for their being held captive in this way is only explained as the film reaches its conclusion. Meanwhile, with no idea as to what they are supposed to do they survive by living off the land in primitive fashion (shades of 'Lord of the Flies'?).

Director Wes Ball manages the action sequences fairly enough with some reasonably impressive CGI work, though throughout the film the dialogue doesn't rise to any inspiring level to reflect the desperate situation of the 'prisoners' as they try to discover an escape route.

It's a noisy film and it's largely derivative, plot-wise. Will Poulter plays the most interesting character, the one who doubts the sincerity of the latest arrival (Dylan O'Brien) who seems most intent on getting to the bottom of what's going on. Poulter suspects that he must be part of the overall plan to test them somehow, whatever that plan is.
I found it quite easy to identify which ones in this group would not survive into the next episode, having enough leisure-time to guess - and I was correct.

I'll only go to see the sequels if there's nothing of more interest playing. As for this one.................5/10.



Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Film: 'Maps to the Stars'

This is an oddity - too weird and insufficiently endearing to be considered as quirky. But that's David Cronenburg's films for you - mentally challenging, rarely dull, but when it's over I find myself asking "What was that all about?"

Set in Hollywood (cue celebrity name-dropping - hence the film's title - and a brief cameo appearance from one of the younger big names of today), John Cusack plays some kind of New Age guru who writes on self-improvement, and is the father of an obnoxious, wise-ass, spoilt brat of a boy actor who, despite being all of 13, appears to be totally clued up on drugs and sex. His once-institutionalised (for starting a life-threatening fire) and estranged older sister (Mia Wasikowska) travels from Florida to re-connect with her family who are far from happy to see her.  Mother (Olivia Williams) plays a bundle of nerves - but overshadowing them all is Julianne Moore as a client of Cusack, a seriously dotty woman intent on making a film of her deceased mother, whose role she wants to play herself. Both she and little brat actor keep having disturbing visions of departed ones

As she always does, Julianne Moore gives the film dramatic weight. Without her it would have been a much slighter affair. However, as it turns out the film isn't one I'll remember for long, because apart from the latter's episodes of crazy behaviour and intensive emoting (which are, admittedly, a good watch) there's little to latch onto and really no one on whom to pin ones sympathies.
The film is well shot though with nothing much to retain in the mind.

There is at least one extremely brutal and gory scene, plus a couple more which some may flinch at.

Reasonable enough entertainment while it's running, but for this viewer it seemed vacuous at heart.................5.5

Monday, 6 October 2014

Film: 'Gone Girl'

When I see that a film is going to be two hours long I groan. When it's two and a half hours it had better be good! Reviews have largely said that this film is so - and I can now confirm that in my opinion, it's far better than just 'good', it's mightily impressive.

A thriller that wrong-foots the audience time and time again, helped enormously by the fact that Gillian Flynn, the writer of the popular novel (not read by me, yet) has also written the screenplay. The story reminded me of the first time I read John Fowles' 'The Magus', when I could never be certain that by turning the next page all that had gone before wouldn't be demolished for the umpteenth time, leaving the reader having to make a corresponding mental adjustment.

Gillian Flynn has produced a superior script that crackles along and left me breathless trying to anticipate what comes next. Director David Fincher has the two spotlit main parts played excellently by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. I can't imagine either roles could have been done better. (I ought to report that I couldn't quite catch some of the early exchanges, the same fault which ruined Fincher's recent success for me, the entire film of 'The Social Network'. But any dialogue I missed here was nowhere near as extensive as in that film, and there wasn't anything I felt which I ought to have heard but didn't).

As for a precis of what happens, I can only say that Affleck returns to his Missouri home one day to find that his wife of five years (Pike) is missing, there being signs of a struggle. He then calls in the police - and the roller-coaster ride begins. Assumptions one has made of the situation start being subverted only for the then revised situation to be similarly dismantled, and so it continues till one never knows where one's sympathies are or should be. Twists and turns come thick and fast and by the time the end had been reached I felt giddy without having a solid, reliable base on which to stand.

Mention must be made of Kim Dickens as the chief detective assigned to solving the disappearance, with Patrick Fugit as her police officer 'sidekick. They make a fine 'double-act'. In fact, throughout the film I found that humour is not far below the surface, occasionally popping up right up into view. It works well.
Another most interesting feature is the gullibility of the general public tuning into TV News and chat-show programmes, shifting their allegiances according to the 'requirements' of the TV producers. (If I may be allowed another reminder of a parallel situation, I thought of  'Julius Caesar' and Mark Antony's funeral oration, where the crowd's sympathies are played like a musical instrument).

If you like films that require one's attention throughout (which this holds without any difficulty at all, it so pulls you in) and you enjoy a mental fun-ride, this will suit you down to the ground. A major achievement in all respects, I find very little to criticise about it..............................8