Tuesday, 13 November 2012

New film: 'KEEP THE LIGHTS ON'

After yesterday's high-value, heart-in-mouth entertainment, this one brings me down to earth with a hefty bump.
A largely sombre, totally humourless saga, set in New York, involving a 30s-something documentary film-maker (with a rather attractive, sweet face - here, the one on the left) in an on-off gay relationship with a vacillating young lawyer who can't bring himself to commit. Throw in a bit of casual sex, telephone sex, dope-smoking - and that's about the sum of it.

I think the trouble is that I just couldn't care much about this couple. There's nothing surprising about their difficulties - a lot of us have been through something very similar, maybe more than once. Nothing violent or spectacular happens, the film merely charts the ups and downs of their emotions, leaving me thinking "So what?".
  I was wondering if the whole thing could have been improved by shaving, say, 20 off from the film's 100 minutes, but I doubt if that would have made all that much of a difference.
    No doubt some will relate to the couple's difficulties more profoundly than I did. But, only able to speak of my own experience, I give 'Keep the Lights On' a one stage lower than unremarkable.............3/10.

Monday, 12 November 2012

New film: 'ARGO'

I thought this a cracking good film. It got my adrenalin pumping from early on and it doesn't really let-up until the big rescue is over. It's all the more remarkable in achieving that feat in view of the fact that we know beforehand how it will turn out. (The film 'Apollo 13' accomplished the same, and this is quite as successful in that respect as that film was.)

Those of us who lived through and remember the hideously prolonged American hostages incident in Iran in 1980 were never aware of this parallel drama being played out simultaneously. Actually, I don't even recall the lifting of the embargo on details of the affair in 1997. I suppose that by then it was regarded as a curious footnote to history, but the situation was no less harrowing.
  This film concerns the fate of six American embassy workers in Tehran escaping to take refuge in the Canadian embassy after the former premises is invaded and ransacked. By a ruse that is hardly credible it is decided to effect a rescue by flying them out of Iran using a pretence of their being a group of Canadian film-makers who had been looking for a suitable location to film their projected science-fiction production, entitled 'Argo'.
    Ben Affleck, as director as well as principal actor, really knows how to turn the screws. There are a few very brief moments of humour which are, very sensibly, kept in check - and being delivered by the ever-watchable John Goodman as well as the now-veteran Alan Arkin, the appearances of these two only add to the film's pluses.
   Incidentally, over the final credits, when we see photographs of the actual people who had been involved in the escape, the resemblances given to the actors playing them is quite uncanny - something that is usually not the case in dramatic reconstructions.
    This is without doubt the most sustainedly suspenseful film I've seen this year.

Thoroughly recommended, I give 'Argo' a score of 8/10.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

2011 film: 'UNTOUCHABLE'

This has been a massive domestic hit in its native France, and it was surely that which had given me high expectations.
    Not only is it the second successive film I've seen which is French but both films concern a chalk-and-cheese friendship between a wheelchair-bound individual and an unlikely helper. I'm not qualified to say which was the 'superior' film (if one can make such an absolutist value-judgment) but I know that I thought that this was better 'entertainment' than 'Rust and Bone' - though I do have reservations in making that claim.

   Out of an array of applicants for the post, a wealthy quadripligic, with high-brow tastes in art and music, chooses a street-wise, clownish, dope-smoking, rather rebellious job-seeker (who's also into 'Earth Wind and Fire' big time!) as his live-in assistant/helper/nurse. Although one can guess, early on, the trajectory arc this film will follow, it ought to be said that it purports to be based on a true story. In fact, at the film's close we actually see, for a few seconds, the real-life couple at the heart of the story.

At the very well-attended showing I went to at 11 o'clock this morning, there were raucous laughs from the audience at the helper character's antics almost from the word 'go'. I didn't think it was that funny. (Maybe the audience was playing up to its own expectations?). In fact I very soon found the character just plain annoying. Truth to tell, it took practically the first half of the film before I warmed to it at all.
   I did find his expoundings on classical music amusing - and his visit to the opera was genuinely very funny - as were some of his gauchely direct and tactless approaches to one or two of the women employed in the man's home. On the other side I was irritated at being shown the man's face so often trying to contain his laughter, as though we were being told "It's okay to laugh at this." I think that particular point was overdone.

I can just about see why it was such a success in France. It might be termed a 'feel-good' feature, and there's nothing wrong with that.
But when I balance up what were for me the good points against its negatives I cannot award 'Untouchable' more than.......................6/10. 




Tuesday, 6 November 2012

New film: 'RUST AND BONE'

If it were not for 'Oscar talk', I would have avoided this film. Two reasons :-
a) It features animals in a significant part  - even though in this case they are killer whales which, actually, turn out not to be on-screen for long.
b) Bare-knuckle fighting - again, not seen for long on the screen.
I always give a wide berth to films concerning boxing, which I find boring and completely without any attraction at all, even repulsive. Fighting as depicted here where nothing is barred (entirely illegal, naturally) is boxing times two.

She is a trainer of performing killer whales at a sea-life centre - he a bouncer (a single parent to an infant boy) at a night club where they encounter each other. He takes her back to her home after a certain incident, leaving his telephone number. She is involved in a major disastrous event - 'life-changing' is hardly adequate to describe it. (Anyone who has read reviews of this film will probably know what it was.)
    They arrange to meet up again. Friendship develops. Then a physical relationship, which is more functional than romantic. Inevitably, something deeper develops between them. He then suddenly has to leave where he's staying and goes away without telling her where he's gone. But following a further dramatic and shocking event a few minutes from the end of the film the two come together again.  
        Even if I try my best to put aside my prior unfavourable disposition towards the film, I fail to see what all the fuss is about. It strikes me as no more than an efficiently made film, with some necessarily clever filmic tricks revealing Mme Cotillard as having a particular physical condition.
 Assuming the film gets Oscar/ BAFTA nominations I can't imagine either body giving the award for 'Best Picture' to a French film for the second consecutive year (after this year's 'The Artist'). Perhaps she will get recognition for her role, but if she does I think it will be for the part she plays rather than the standard of the acting of it.

No real surprise that I was disappointed overall, but I'd actually been hoping to witness something really 'special' to justify all the buzz and the superlatives being lavished on this film. Reflecting my general downbeat assessment, 'Rust and Bone' earns a score of............3.5/10

    

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Re-released film: 'THE SHINING'

This Stanley Kubrick classic has been given a limited cinema re-release here - including, for the first time, an additional 20+ minutes which were cut from the European release in 1980. These deleted scenes had already been part of the American release earlier that same year, but which Kubrick then removed, having been stung by the unenthusiastic or even hostile American reviews. He actually came to prefer his own shorter version, which is also the one I have on video. I'd already seen the film at least three times in the cinema as well as twice or more on video so I did know the edited version quite well. The longer film has, I believe already been shown on TV here (probably late at night) but this was the first time I myself have seen it in this cut.
The restored scenes mainly come near the beginning of the story, relating to the Torrance family's background and a reference to their son Danny's being accidentally(?) injured by his father. There are also a couple of later short scenes involving Scatman Crothers' chief cook character's failed efforts to make contact with the snowbound hotel.
    I thought that the restored minutes, although not crucial, did assist in making a bit more sense to the tale and generally helped rather than hindered the depiction of the family's isolation in the hotel's inaccessible location. 
     On first seeing 'The Shining' 32 years ago I recall feeling some irritation about the film not following the book, with very significant departures in places. I'd only recently discovered Stephen King and I had just started devouring his works avidly. He could do no wrong for me at that time and for a few years still to come. But around that time I didn't appreciate, to the extent that I do now, the acceptability of a film-maker to alter a story from the printed page. I had been expecting a faithful and literal transposition from book to screen. That had been my major disappointment. But despite this major reservation, I was still quite overwhelmed by Kubrick's style and technique, and even now it leaves me full of admiration. But then Kubrick is probably my favourite director of all. However, one thing I would say, is that, as with another favourite director, Hitchcock, I sometimes find that there are wonderful 'set-pieces', but they add up to rather more than the film as a whole. In other words, the feeling of overall satisfaction with the film after it is over can be less than the memory of the depiction of certain key moments during its progress. This is actually less applicable to 'The Shining' than to certain of his other films such as his following 'Full Metal Jacket' and his final work, 'Eyes Wide Shut'.

When it comes to giving the film a score, I was tempted to duck out of it this time as it's difficult to judge a film anew which was already known well from an 'incomplete' version. But if a gun was to be depressed against my temple I'd feel compelled to offer a rating of..........................8/10


Btw: I did find myself paying more attention to background features this time round, looking for extra significances - pictures on walls, furniture arrangements and decor, labels on boxes and tins of food etc, but didn't find anything noteworthy.
This same cinema was also showing the new film 'Room 237' (referring to the mysterious hotel room to which Danny is inexorably drawn), a documentary about some whacky theories and observations about 'The Shining', with a number of over-zealous fans of the film mentioning arcane allusions they believe Kubrick had put into his film, playing with his audience. Would dearly love to have seen it, but the timing and further expense put it beyond me. Really must try to catch it when it comes on TV.
    

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

2011 film:'THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO'

(No, not a re-make en francais of the 1952 Gregory Peck/Ava Gardner version of the Ernest Hemingway novel).

Likeable, unassuming, family drama.
Set in Marseilles where local trade union boss at shipyard is made redundant, along with nineteen of his fellow-workers. As the propelling event of the film happens towards its start it doesn't give much away to say that shortly after his redundancy he and his wife become victims (with two visitors) of a somewhat violent masked robbery at their home. Soon, by one of those co-incidences that rather stretches credulity, he just happens to witness a thread that enables him to uncover the identity of one the perpetrators, which turns out to be someone with whom he'd been already acquainted. The main body of the film concerns the couple's attempts to come to terms with the criminal, the latter's family and his motivation - as well as the attitude of the their own children.
     It's a modest affair and all the better for it, though I personally could have done with an ending a bit more hard-edged than the touchy-feely one we are served up with. But, on the whole, it's a satisfying and good production.

   I've seen a few films recently which have featured one or two 'hotties' of whom I wasn't aware or knew only slightly - and here comes along another one. A cuddly 'Daddy-hottie' - who, I find, is actually seven years younger than I am! Never mind, I still find him beautiful. He is Jean-Pierre Daroussin, playing the male lead.

He really presses all the right buttons for me.

Btw: The misleading title refers to the projected holiday which the main pair were due to have but, due to the robbery, have to cancel. A different English title might have been helpful.

As I say, a good film, to which I award a score of......................6.5.

Monday, 29 October 2012

New film: 'THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER'

Wish I'd done homework before venturing out to see this one. As it was, I was swayed not just by generally favourable reviews and its getting surprisingly good British box office, but nearly half the voters on IMDb have given it a scarcely credible 10/10 - and the average to date is 8.5. "Why?" is the question!
     My jaw dropped when, within the first few minutes, I was assailed by a succession of some of my biggest film turn-offs - teenage angst, American high school lippy pupils, including the 'regulation' bully-figures, and an (American) football game, though the latter was mercifully short. Add to the mix a flamboyant gay character, so keen to define himself, practically exclusively, by his own sexuality, inter-teenage rivalries in 'romance' - and I'm just bored by talking any further about it. It did pick up a little for me after the first half hour, but that's not saying much.
    The most recognisable name to most people would be Emma Watson (Harry Potter's friend, Hermione) though there is also Paul Rudd - as well as Joan Cusack in a very minor role.
It's one of those films that most make me feel my age. I just cannot relate to anything here. Clearly, a lot of people think it to be a wonderful film. They are welcome to that opinion. They may well be right, though I can't for the life of me see why. Anyway, I'm more than three times as old as the target audience so I accept it wasn't made for the likes of me. My mistake in going.

   I give 'Perks' a miserable, very personal rating of..............3/10




Friday, 26 October 2012

'SKYFALL'

I don't think anyone who sees this would deny that this is one of the better of the series.
In the obligatory, pre-credit chase sequence I was initially a bit put out by the filmic cliches - fruit and veg from street market stalls being crashed into, with the produce flying all over the place (it is Istanbul, after all!), a gun having run out of bullets being thrown away with a mini-second of irritation....But these are minor nags in the overall scheme of the film.
  Positive aspects of this film for me was that the arch-villain (played with mincing, deliciously-campy malevolence by the excellent Javier Bardem) as well as Judi Dench's 'M', are given far more screen time than either of these roles have had in any previous Bond film, 'M''s considerably so. The new 'Q' was a brave and unexpected move too, and a good one. Also, I don't think a previous film of this series has been set so much in this country - London (a large part of it being underground - I say no more!) and in the remote Scottish highlands.  (I now don't give away any further 'spoilers'!)
       Actually, there's not much more to say. I found it quite exciting without it gripping me tautly. There's no doubt that after Dalton's Bond (who wasn't exactly bad) followed by Brosnan (who was actually pretty good), the series since Daniel Craig took over has been given a much needed shot in the arm - and all three of his films now have been of a superior standard (though some may disagree about 'Q of S').
      Yes, for a spy thriller this one is distinctly above par - though maybe it's just me in feeling more a detached observer of the on-screen antics rather than a sense of being really involved in them.
     I'd better not say more as many will be going to see this, surely the most eagerly anticipated film of 2012, and I don't want to risk marring anyone's enjoyment by my own personal opinions.

I give 'Skyfall' a.............7/10 - and would not remotely suggest that anyone should avoid seeing it. Go!
         

Thursday, 25 October 2012

New film: 'GINGER & ROSA'

A Sally Potter film is a rarity, not only because she makes them so infrequently, but when she does, they are hardly ever given the distribution they deserve. When one is caught it is always a worthwhile experience - as is this.

    A small-scale, highly-charged family drama set in early 1960s England with, as backdrop, ban-the-bomb meetings, CND marches and the Cuban missile crisis.
     The titular teenage girls have been extremely close friends since birth. The marriage of Ginger's parents has turned sour and he (played by hottie, Alessandro Nivola - below) moves out to live alone, visited by both girls, Ginger being on better terms with him than her mother. We are given the hint early on that he is attracted to Rosa, and it's not very long before he draws her, to Ginger's horror, into an affair. The remainder of this film, sensibly at a modest 90 mins, is concerned with Ginger trying to keep hush about what she's aware is going on - until it all blows up in a climactic scene of high drama. (You might be surprised at the featuring of  two or three quite big-named actors in some of the minor roles. All in fine form.)
    I found this an affecting film, well acted, well scripted and unshowily directed.
    It's not a film for everybody - its current average score on IMDb site is just 5.8. There's very little in the way of 'action', if that's what you are looking for. But I did like it.

And here's the Alessandro Nivola I mentioned, whom I first became aware of in 'Mansfield Park' (1999), but seen all too rarely since:-

Not bad, eh?


I'm happy to give 'Ginger & Rosa' a score of................7/10

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

New film: 'THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES'

This is a really interesting documentary. I didn't know the name of one-time billionaire David Siegel until now, let alone that of his 20+ years younger, hugely bosom-enhanced, former beauty queen wife, Jaqueline. This riches-to-rags true story (his own words - 'rags' is a relative term!) is fascinating, and it may be a bit glib to take only pleasure from this parable-like tale, though that aspect is so much of the appeal.
    Near the beginning of this film, before things start going wrong big-style, the family patriarch claims credit for being the one person, more than anyone else, who had got George W. Bush elected to the presidency in 2000. At this stage he, Siegel, had been awash with dosh.
    He has a son from a previous marriage - and a further seven children (all within 10 years) with Jaqueline - also not her first marriage. This eldest son, older even than his stepmother, self-admittedly does not have a close relationship to his father, but he helps run the firm as a business partner. Of the three of them he seems the one who lives the most in reality, though there are still questions on his role - such as his mystifying continued loyalty to the firm even after the bubble burst when one would have thought he'd have wanted to seek gainful employment elsewhere.
    The Siegel fortune was founded on property and land and also, in particular, a time-share holiday apartment venture - that is, until the stock market crash of 2009. That event happens before the film is half-way through and the remainder of the documentary chronicles the family's life trying to cut corners to save on resources - or, at least, he does. She remains as dippy as ever, with her several all-white dogs and her brattish brood of spoilt kids who are used to getting anything they want, while she finds it a bit too much to be expected to cut back on her own lavish lifestyle.
     Before the crash they were in the process of constructing an addition to their 'collection' of homes - one that is modelled in scale, design, contents and sumptuousness on the royal palace at Versailles. Hearing her explain her astonishment, when told that this projected home of theirs was going to be the single largest one-family home in the entire United States, is alone worth the price of seeing the film. "We didn't mean it to be the largest - it just, you know.....'happened'!"  (Oh, how we all know how infuriating it is to be the victim of circumstance!).
    As they reduce the dimensions of their living space to something more financially viable for them, their children, their nannies and their dogs, Mr Siegel becomes more petulant in seeing that his family are not cutting back as much as he feels they should - evidenced towards the end by his explicit annoyance when his family continue to leave lights on, at which he threatens not to pay the bills and have their power cut off completely so they'd appreciate what having electricity means. She, meanwhile, goes Xmas shopping, filling up four large trolleys with gifts- including bicycles, of which the kids have a full fleet anyway! We also see the state their living areas have come down to - dog poo on the carpets and dozens of piles of the stuff on a polished floor (perhaps that was the purpose-equipped 'dogs room'?)
  The film is simultaneously both sad and funny - and with more than a dash of schadenfreude at those who, when they had untold riches, used it with such show-off profligacy, then getting their comeuppance.
    But, to be fair, David Siegel does say that he'd be okay if only someone would just give him $300 million. Meantime, the half-constructed 'palace' of Versailles remains a white elephant which no one is interested in buying while it's incomplete and also not least because the location is not necessarily where everyone else super-rich wishes to have their dream home.

          Enjoyable, I give 'The Queen of Versailles' a...........6.5/10

Monday, 22 October 2012

New film: 'ON THE ROAD'

For the most part I didn't find this very engaging. I haven't read the novel but the film was pretty much what I expected - marijuana/alcohol-induced hedonism with occasional excursions into polysexuality, constantly driving above the speed limit, and the usual 'what-a-lark!' adventures of stealing from stores. The men never really argue among themselves, unlike the women who, after being 'used' tend to be cast off with little ceremony.
    Although I did feel like nodding off now and again,  there were a few moments where it livened up, though it sometimes had nothing to do with the film - as in the brief appearances of Viggo Mortensen and the even more fleeting Steve Buscemi.
    I missed being a contemporary of the 'beat generation' by about 15 years, but even if I had been I would never have got onto that particular wavelength. It was probably being well into my 30s when I even first registered the name of Jack Kerouac. Even now it all seems a bit alien to me. Perhaps others who were rather more rebellious in their own young adulthood can identify more with the characters portrayed here, and hence appreciate the film more.

As it is, 'On the Road' gets from me a turned-down thumb score of..................4/10
  

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

New film: 'LIBERAL ARTS'

It's difficult for me to be objective. The reason being that I'm absolutely smitten with the looks of this man, Josh Radnor, of whom I'd never heard until this film.
When one person not only writes, produces and directs a film, but is also the main actor who is rarely off-screen during its entire 97 minutes, it may be forgiveable to think of this as a 'vanity project' on that person's part.
But, trying to put my personal feelings aside by imagining someone in the leading role whom I did not find physically attractive at all, I think I'd still find it a charming film, but can't be absolutely sure.
Radnor plays a mid-30s academically-inclined (but temporarily unemployed?) man falling for a student only a little more than half his age. A platonic friendship develops to the point where she wishes to take it further, but he is reluctant to go there because of their age difference. That's really all one needs to know. There are a couple of quite engaging lesser characters - one, a free-spirited hippy-type guy, especially so, turning up like a benevolent genie on the college campus where much of the story takes place. 

But, doing my level best to be dispassionate about the merits of this film, like the one I saw yesterday, I will also give 'Liberal Arts' a score of .....................7/10


I had a very similar reaction of distracting infatuation when I saw the actor Tom Cullen in the film 'Weekend' (which I wrote about in my blog of 22nd Nov 2011) - but at least Josh R. is a few years older than Mr Cullen, even though the former is in the same age ratio to me (just over half my age) as he is in this film to the girl. So, like him, I'd better not think about taking our 'relationship' any further.  ;-)

Here, for anyone who also didn't know of Mr Radnor, are a few more shots of him. I wish I'd had his looks when I was in my 30s. Maybe he doesn't do anything for you. If so, that's okay. I give you permission not to feel the same 'excitement' as I do.


Monday, 15 October 2012

New film: 'RUBY SPARKS'

I wasn't sure about paying good money to see this. What I'd read about it, coupled with some negative reviews, didn't enthuse. But go I did - and, to my surprise, I actually liked it.

The idea is that a young nerdy-looking writer, after producing a hugely successful first novel, gets writer's block. He starts to dream about a 'perfect' young lady (the eponym of the film's title) which he befriends in these dreams - and he then decides to make her the subject of his next book. Soon after he starts writing about her she suddenly materialises in physical form, as someone already living with him as partner. After his initial astonishment he soon discovers that whatever qualities he writes about her she then manifests. There would have been scope here for sexual exploitation of her by his using imagination when anything he wants comes true. But though there certainly is exploitation (which is really the heart of the story), that's not quite the way it develops.

It's a good, original film (at least I hadn't met this situation before) and it has a pleasingly sharp script. There are a couple of mushy sentimental moments but they aren't lingered over, apart from the very end with a weak 'tidy-up' epilogue which, for me, diminished a bit of what had gone before.
    The cast was good - with a number of bonuses I hadn't expected. I hadn't realised that the wonderful Annette Bening would have a modest part as the writer's mother. Antonia Banderas, as the father sporting a grizzled beard, looked hotter as a 'Daddy'  than I've ever seen him. In fact I didn't realise it was him until I got back home to record my vote on IMDb site and I saw the cast list. But even hotter still, Chris Messina, who looked only slightly familiar to me, playing the film's third major character as the writer's (unlikely) married brother with a 'playboy' mentality. Two more dissimilar-looking bros it would be hard to find - he replete with sizzling male sexiness, his brother writer with all the forceful appeal of the colour beige.

           I did enjoy this film and award it a worthy........7/10

Sunday, 14 October 2012

I've now reached "All the sixes" !

      Yes, I'm clickety-click today!


Two pictures to represent my life so far. One taken recently, one a bit further back in my past. Now the question is - can you tell which is which? 





Okay, this is the answer. This one was taken yesterday...
........and this was NOT taken yesterday.