Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Film: 'LOOPER'

(This has been round for a couple of weeks or more but I was waiting for a cheap showing to come along which, yesterday, it did.)

The consensus among the critics I read was that one shouldn't question the scenario about this story's basic concept (travelling back in time in order to change the past and hence to alter the future), but just to go open-minded and prepare to be entertained.  So that was the frame of mind I took along.

      Well, first of all, the initial half of this tale is taken up with setting the scene (yes, I get it - now move along, please!) and for me it only seems to acquire purpose and direction after nearly an hour when Emily Blunt appears - steely, sassy and with gun in hand - more than a match for any man! (Watch out, fellas, 'cos if you go on upsetting her she's gonna blast your balls off!)
   Well, you know that when said Blunt has a fiery and envenomed first encounter with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, it won't be long before they're in bed together, bonking merrily away to appropriately smoochy musical strains, and leaving me cringeing in my seat. But that was only one of the two major irritations which came about simultaneously. The other one being that there's also a young kid (let's just call him her 'son' for practical purposes) - and there are few things that rile me more on the cinema screen than a child talking with a wisdom and maturity way beyond his or her years. (It could be argued that in this case there was justification for this, but it still makes me wince.)  
     Then things get even weirder with telekinesis thrown into the already curious mix. Bruce Willis gets the film's star billing but he doesn't really have all that much to do - both in terms of screen time and acting, either enigmatically subdued or explosively angry, as he stalks his younger self (in the J.G-L in character) and goes little boy-hunting.
    I gave up on this film long before the end - and was looking at my watch more than I usually do, seriously considering walking out before it was over, but I did stay up to the final credits.
   It's a film that's doing well in the U.K. so I accept that it's probably yet another that reveals me as being well outside the range of its target audience. But I can only talk of my own personal reaction -


- which is to give 'Looper' an unimpressive score of.......3.5/10.
    
    

Sunday, 30 September 2012

New(ish) Film: 'HYSTERIA'


I loved this film!

Let's get a couple of things out of the way first.
It was actually completed in 2011 and is only now being given limited release in selected cinemas. Pity, because for me it was a tonic, and really deserves to have had a wider distribution.
.....and, yes, it features Rupert Everett - not exactly flavour of the month in the light of his recent comments opposing equal marriage. For that reason his fairly significant role here had, for me, a jarring effect which, I hope, will fade in time. (But only if he retracts and apologises).

But back to the film.
London - late 19th century. A doctor (the ever-admirable Jonathan Pryce, who always raises the standard of anything he appears in, be it on stage or on screen) runs a practice which helps its wealthy and mature lady clients (all middle-aged or more) to overcome and release their peculiarly female(!) condition of 'hysteria' due, so the theory goes, to the insufficient and too infrequent stimulation of the uterine tract. He personally employs his own manual method until, because of its popularity and with his services so much in demand, he takes on a young doctor as assistant.
With the help of his friend (Everett), the young doctor (Hugh Dancy - a bit of a hottie!) accidentally hits on the idea of turning the former's invention of an electrically-powered feather duster into (shhhhh! whisper it!) -  a VIBRATOR! The effect on the ladies is.....well, dramatic!
      The undoubted star of the film is Maggie Gyllenhall (who provides, later on, a romantic interest) as a teacher of working-class children who is also the wilful, energetic, feminist daughter of  the elder doctor. Her English accent is remarkable - upper class without being distractingly cut-glass. She holds her own with honours among a fine cast of stalwart British actors and actresses.
    The whole film is handsomely shot - and with a noticeably superior screenplay, to which I principally mean the vocabulary employed. It was a pleasure to listen to.

The film reminded me quite a bit of the 1994 Anthony Hopkins/Matthew Broderick film 'The Road to Wellville', also under-rated, I thought. (Broderick, in that, looking never hotter, before or since, with his whiskers!)

'Hysteria' encapsulates a lot of the attitudes towards women in the Victorian era (and later - even present-day), summarised neatly in a big speech by Dancy in a courtroom scene towards the end. But there were also more than a few LOL moments.
Here's just one:-
The Jonathan Pryce character is berating his young assistant about complaints he's been getting from the ladies about the latter's digital technique falling below the expected standard (due to over-use). Before actually giving him the push, he sternly admonishes him with the information.......

                    ".....and Mrs Parsons has stopped coming altogether!"


I'm happy to award 'Hysteria' a score of..............8/10.


Friday, 28 September 2012

New Film: 'HOLY MOTORS'

Kylie's appearances on the big screen are such a rarity that I don't know if I'll be around the next time it happens.
That was one of two reasons I wanted to see this. The other one being was that the premise seemed fascinatingly imaginative and bizarre.

This French language film features a Monsieur Oscar being driven around Paris in a stretch limousine, mostly during the course of one night. Every so often his elegantly but severely be-suited, more-than-middle-aged chauffeuse tells him of his next 'appointment' - at which he changes his identity with the help of all the make-up paraphernalia at hand in the vehicle - and he drops into the middle of each of a sequence of nine or ten stories. One doesn't know the whys and wherefores which led up to the situation as it is when he joins the story, all of which are also left unresolved. The stories are of varying length, one or two having a few, but not too many, chuckles - and most with a touch or rather more than a touch of the surreal. After a while I just decided to sit back and go with the flow - and to stop my mind asking questions.

Some segments worked quite well for me while others were less successful. One that stays in my mind is when Eva Mendes (wordless) is featured in a kind of 'Beauty and the Beast' story-let - and it's every bit as puzzling as the others.

Kylie appears about 2/3 through in one of the more substantial segments, lasting about 15 mins, speaking in French - except for a very downbeat song in English. It's a rather grim little tale.

I'd like to be kinder to the film. While I do like the bizarre and for that reason will often be keen to see such films twice in order to understand a bit more which I didn't get the first time round (e.g. the films of David Lynch), I have to say that this film as a whole didn't endear itself to me so much that I'd be eager to sit through it again.

Btw: We get to know at the end that the film's title refers to the name of the company owning a whole fleet of these limousines - presumably each one containing identity-changing passengers? Maybe, maybe not.

Although my instinct tells me that many film aficianados may well have a much higher opinion of this film than I have, the score it receives on my blog is a just-about-thumbs-up..............................6/10

Thursday, 27 September 2012

New Film: 'KILLING THEM SOFTLY'

An oddity of a film, this. The story involves robbery, crime syndicates, hired killings, gang solidarity.......you get the picture. Every single character seems devoid of any redeeming qualities, so there's no one with whom to empathise.
It's 'odd' because it's a very 'talky' film. High-density dialogue making it seem longer than its 97 mins.
Two major departures from all the talk - the first an extremely violent and extended beating-up, the second a shooting in balletic ultra slow-motion looking, actually, quite beautiful - set to the strains of Ketty Lester's excellent 'Love Letters' .(At least they didn't choose the far inferior and unimaginative attempt by Elvis, a few years later, to carbon-copy it. In fact all the songs used as soundtrack to this film, set around the time of Obama's inauguration, are anachronistic with ironic effect)
The Brad P. character has, especially at the film's end, some very unflattering things to say about the new President's vision of America. I suppose that Brad the person put that down to 'playing against expectations'.  
Much has already been said by critics about the misogynistic dismissal of women as their being no more than sex objects - all of them off-screen apart from the James Gandolfini character's hooker, who is likewise disdainfully dismissed in a scene where she is permitted to utter a few less-than-weighty lines.
I did, however, think the build-up and maintaining of tension through most of the film was successful, with all acting of a high order.

In terms of my own personal experience and enjoyment (if any) I award 'Killing Them Softly' an equivocal........5/10

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Salt no more!

This morning I attended the second of two half-day workshops providing information for people like me who've been recently diagnosed as Type 2 diabetic.
Around 16-17 attending with none younger than, I'd guess, around 50 - and all very cheerful, with many laughs throughout, which I suppose is a reaction against thinking about a condition which, if neglected to control, has the potential to develop into something really serious.
I don't think there's a great chance of that happening with me as I've already altered my lifestyle in certain positive ways and will now take further steps.

     Talk got round to related conditions and their knock-on dangers, one of which is high blood pressure which I also have, and several of those attending also suffer from. Relating to this there was long discussion about food and diet - and what one should avoid.
     One thing I've always done is, although giving up sugar about 30 years ago, as well as refraining from putting salt on my food once it's on the plate (but with the single exception of fried potatoes), when I boil vegetables I've always added salt to the water - quite a lot of it, in fact. I was brought up to believe that adding salt at this stage helps to bring out the flavour of the vegetable. Now I learn from at least two members of the group that not adding salt to the water actually enhances the flavour. Furthermore, both the nurses who were running the class say that they gave up salt entirely years ago and one of them says that it now tastes foul to her. Seems that, like doing without sugar, it's a matter of acclimatising oneself to it. When I first gave up taking sugar in tea and coffee it took perhaps a fortnight of the beverage tasting odd and insipid until my tongue adjusted to it. But after that was over, and since then, I've never had a yearning for sugar again. So I imagine the same thing will happen if I give up adding salt when preparing veg. (As everyone knows, there's usually more than enough of both salt and sugar already in the ingredients of bought foodstuffs anyway to fulfil the body's needs. It's even excessive to an unhealthy extent in many cases).
     I do tend to find it easier than some people do to alter life habits so I don't expect any relapses in this direction either.

                 So from now, even on chips (fried potatoes), salt is henceforward O-U-T!
     . 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

New film: 'HOPE SPRINGS'

Just as for yesterday's film, I approached this one favourably disposed. But unlike Woody Allen, Meryl Streep has never disappointed me - and I've seen every film of hers which has been granted a cinema release. This one continues the line.
It said in a review I read this morning that her acting was 'mannered'. I disagree. There are certainly moments when full-on high emotion is required, though she is still always credible to me. Outside these occasions her acting is as highly and subtly nuanced as it ever is.

Very much a three-person film, which would work admirably as a stage play, this is what we used to dismiss, pejoratively, as a "lady's film", meaning that there are no big-set action sequences and that the story is, essentially, grounded on a story of the 'love emotion'. There's lots of conversation, and the entire 'plot-line' has a trajectory where one can predict the destination, though not without a number of delights and laughs on the way.
     Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, are in a congealedly-cold 31-year marriage which she wants to re-ignite with a spark through the services of marriage counsellor Steve Carell. And such is the entire denouement. 
Both Jones and Carell are first-rate - the former, playing an unwillingly dragged-along sour-puss, I don't think I've ever seen in any domestic situation film before.
    My only real carp is that there are a few shocking lapses of continuity, though I have seen a lot worse. I think it's one of the negatives of seeing a lot of films. One becomes more observant of such errors, wondering why none of the team took the trouble to notice it and have the scene re-shot - or was that just too much trouble? Or were they hoping that no one would pick up on it? However within the totality of things it's not worth dwelling on.

   For close to a couple of hours of pleasing entertainment, I score 'Hope Springs'.........7/10.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

New Film - 'TO ROME WITH LOVE'

For over 40 years the release of any new Woody Allen film has been an event for me, despite his 'hits' in recent years being outnumbered by those which many regard as failures, although even several of the latter I've liked. Because of a few reviews which I'd heard and read, had high hopes for this. Sorry to say I don't think it reaches my required standard. A shame since this is his first film for quite a few years in which he himself actually appears.

The film consists of a quartet of stories (one of which itself splits into two), running concurrently, each going its own independent way, only joined together by being set in Roma. (Cue the usual touristy, but still ravishing, views.).
Funniest by far is the one in which Allen stars (with the wonderful Judy Davis) though even this strand is of diminishing returns, failing later to deliver the fabulous one-liners with which it begins so promisingly.
The second most interesting one is marred by the presence of Alec Baldwin who, after a promising opening appearance, develops into a muse-like figure, generously ladling out advice concerning romance and life to a new young male acquaintance who is hovering between keeping the affections of his current girl-friend and directing his attentions towards a new one with the arrival of his partner's friend (Ellen Page in fine, entertaining form here as the self-fixated Monica). It would have been better if the Baldwin character had just stopped interrupting an already interesting situation with his bon-mots and saws, which made me progressively more exasperated. (Allen again betrays his weakness for name-dropping high-cultural references - Kierkegaard, Rilke, Bartok, Strindberg, Yeats....... you know, the sort of names which pepper all our workaday conversations!)
    The other two stories are much slighter - the one with Roberto Benigni essentially being a one-joke vignette which long outstays its welcome - and the final bi-furcated strand just left me baffled so that I wanted to re-wind to see again how each thread had started from the situation it was now in. With Penelope Cruz dazzling as a high-class prostitute there were some good moments, but not too many.

I do think the film would have been vastly improved by dropping the Benigni story completely, as well as Alec Baldwin's wise man act. It would have been a much sharper and, probably, funnier film. As it is the film's length is already 15 mins longer than Allen's usual crisp 90 minutes.
An even better idea might have been to have made a half-hour tale of just the Woody Allen episode - but, of course, there'd be no cinema market for that, even though it would undoubtedly have been more effective.

I tend to go into an Allen film with an at-the-ready smile on my face which, more often than not, delivers at least part of the promise. This does too, but not quite as much as I'd been hoping for. 
If I was to be offered a gift of a boxed set of 20 Woody Allen films of my own choice (out of a current 45 to date, I believe), sorry to say that, despite some cracking lines, especially towards the beginning, this film would almost certainly not be on that list.

Verdict, (to be generous because, after all, it is Woody)......6.5/10





Friday, 14 September 2012

New film: 'LAWLESS'

I felt some apprehension about going to see this film. It has been described (quite justifiably) as 'extremely violent'. Normally when such a reputation precedes a film it usually takes it to be something especially significant and/or notorious for me to fork out money to satisfy my curiosity. But in this case it was the starry cast, featuring some of my favourite present-day actors, which I couldn't resist.
But what a disappointment in seeing the chamelionic Gary Oldman given star billing when he has barely two minutes of on-screen time. What happened? Did most of his contribution end up on the cutting-room floor? Very good though he was, his part would hardly have been worth a credit as a cameo appearance!
The always-better-than-good Guy Pearce is first class here too, playing cold, heartless and demented right up to the hilt. A truly scary portrayal.
Tom Hardy, fast gaining a reputation as being a significant positive contribution to every film he appears in, didn't let me down either.
On the other side of the reputation scale, Shia LaBoeuf (here, disconcertingly resembling John Cusack now and again) is often dismissed as bland and uninspiring. To give him his due, I thought in this film he was a bit better than that.

The film itself, I found, reasonable enough, though I did have to look away from the screen a few times, being forewarned about certain scenes and my mentally tricking them off on a list.
This story of fraternal boot-legging and their clash with the corrupt law in the American depression period is sufficently absorbing  - and superbly photographed - though I did feel the family tale and a concurrent running romance were rather over-balanced by the several violent scenes. Those audience members who are more inured against the depiction of violence than I am may not have found it so.

When I see a film, on coming out, I ask myself if I regret having spent money, time and effort in having done so. An opinion of 'maybe/maybe not'  earns, predictably, a mark of 5/10. This is definitely on one side of it, though I do think that others may give it a higher score. However, in terms of the degree of my own personal enjoyment, I award 'LAWLESS'  a fairly comfortable ...............6/10.


Thursday, 13 September 2012

New film: 'ANNA KARENINA'

(Better get this posting done quickly as, if I manage to see all the films I want to see in the next few days, then a log-jam on postings could arise. I saw this film on Monday afternoon, then blissfully unaware that when I got back home I was to be engulfed by computer troubles yet again.)

Straight to the point - I found this a splendid, bewitching film.
True, it doesn't have the visually epic scale of, say, David Lean's 'Doctor Zhivago', but the conceit of framing it in a live theatre (with occasional, very effective, 'openings-out') worked magically for me. Comparisons have been made with Baz Luhrmanns 'Moulin Rouge', (another film I loved) and I think they are justified to some extent, though that in no way detracts from this particular interpretation of a singularly weighty novel.
Some who know the original work might be put out by the whimsical manner in which the film opens. (The book is virtually devoid of any humour at all in its relentlessly serious 800+ pages!) But this is an interpretation - not a translation, and, even as an unashamed worshipper of the book, I found this angular perspective wasn't so misplaced as to jar.

    Turning to the cast, I've read and heard that some reviews said that Keira Knightly misses the title character by a mile, and another which said that she got it exactly right. I concur with the latter view. She nails the flighty, adventurous yet guilt-ridden adulterous wife just as I see Anna.
    Jude Law could not be improved on as the cuckolded husband. I don't think he's done better work on film. Here he gets to the essence of the character, with whom we can sympathise as the God-fearing, injured party, yet he also manages to bring a priggishness to his role that is spot-on with how Tolstoy sees him,  resentfully smouldering to perfection. A marvellous portrayal!
     Aaron Taylor-Johson (whose recent roles included the part of John Lennon in 'Nowhere Boy') plays Anna's lover, Vronsky, to my mind the least interesting of the book's half dozen or so main characters. Despite his dandyish portrayal I  found the character on film also quite uninteresting, and one can only wonder what Anna saw in him to risk so much. But that too accords with my reading of Tolstoy's original.

    Of course, a film of a mere two-hours must sacrifice the sweep of the book, but I think the heart and spirit of it has been admirably caught here.
   Top marks go to screenplay-writer Tom Stoppard who accepts the challenge of condensing down this hefty tome, and he rises to the occasion with relish - and pulls it off with honours! 
   It would be invidious to neglect mentioning another source of my joy in this film, viz the music score of Dario Marianelli. Much above the plane of what we are so often served as background to historical dramas, it sounded very good and authentic without being over-distracting.
    All this is not to say that the film is without faults. I think, for instance, director Joe Wright slightly over-plays the frequency of his requirement of background characters to 'freeze' their actions in statuesque poses, though it's not a major point of criticism.

    Not everybody will like this film. Some may well detest it, especially those who have a reverence for its source material. But I'm among those who have the novel as one of their very favourite books of all time, and I found this project worked well-nigh perfectly in purely cinematic terms.
   On the IMDb site, where 1/2 points are not permitted, I've given it a '9' - rare indeed for me.
If I score it half a point lower here that doesn't reflect any dissatisfaction at all - only that I allow myself the luxury of half-points - and out of the nearly 4.500 films I've seen to date, only a very tiny handful have scored that elusive, full 9 (and none have ever earned even a 9.5, let alone a perfect 10).

          So, I'm more than  pleased to award this 'Anna Karenina' an exceptionally worthy.............8.5/10.
  

The computer problems were NOT over - and still aren't.

My last blog was wrong. - P.C. troubles were nowhere near at an end. Just had another three days of continuous living nightmare, with hopelessly inadequate sleep, and out-of-pocket so far by over £130 to date ($210 Am.) - money which I can ill afford. All in all, a situation not to be wished on anyone who's reading this. And my troubles may still not be over yet.
   Long story which I won't bore you with, but got back on Mon evening after seeing 'Anna Karenina', all primed and ready to write a review (which will now be in my next blog, maybe later today or, possibly, tomorrow) when, sitting down at the computer, found it wouldn't connect to the Internet. The modem (router?) was dead. Then the 'fun' really started. Telephone help from two sources (one of them giving a false diagnosis, making me spend £30 needlessly on a new modem when the present one is now working again!) and a chap (very helpful and sympathetic, though at a price, of course) coming round yesterday. But after he'd done all he could I still had to get some on-line help .
     A remote-control technician started yesterday evening at 7.30 - and didn't finish until 11.05. All that time I was watching the cursor zinging here and there across the screen, interrupted by my being asked questions. Totally exhausted when it was all over, and with no guarantee that it was 'cured', I went to bed, Blackso already there, lying awake, impatient and annoyed at having to wait for me to tuck myself in so that  he could sleep across my arm, using me as an 'electric blanket' while snoring loudly just a few inches from my ear. There was little sleep for self. Up at 5.30. Switched on computer. Well, the major problem seems to be over for now but there are still other ones which are present and niggling, threatening to grow in size. But so far the situation is being contained and I can once again try to get back to a semblance of normality, though don't know how long it will last this time.
    To add to the woes, feeling guilty as hell at not having been able to read the recent postings of my blog-land buddies, which I shall try to remedy very soon. Because of all this ruckus, also missed another film which I so much wanted to see - and there's at least another three (including the latest Woody Allen) which I'd have to see in the next 3 or 4 days to catch them before before they disappear too, all of which costs even more money. But it's got to be done. No two ways about it. Oh dear! What a hard life this is. Never a dull moment - though I now do so crave one!