Friday, 14 December 2012

Film: 'THE HOBBIT - AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY' (in 3D)

I see from the IMDb site that, as at now, over 60% of people who have seen this film give it a 'couldn't be better' score of 10/10. I wouldn't go that far by quite some way, but I certainly did enjoy it as superior entertainment.

I went to see this more as a 'dutiful' viewing rather than with great enthusiasm. Not that I dislike the books, far from it, but I don't belong to the hordes of avid fans of the characters as portrayed in both the four novels and on screen. Also, not being quite as familiar with the source material of this particular film than I was for the 'Rings' trilogy, it probably helped in that I hadn't a ready recollection of what was going to happen next - notwithstanding the fact that this film and its two forthcoming companions greatly expand the tale as written.

There was obvious padding out, unusually and needlessly, towards the start of the film. Of course the link with its sequels-in-time had to be done, but for some time after that the scene-setting did go on more than I needed to see. But, when that was over, I found the film getting progressively more interesting. The scenery throughout  is absolutely ravishing, I'd claim even more so than it looked in the 'Rings'. Perhaps C.G.I. was used for part of it, particularly in superimposing figures onto a particular landscape, but most of it looked authentic - and quite breathtaking too. 

The high point for me was, as it was in the previous films, the appearance of Gollum. What a magnificent job Andy Serkis and the computer chaps have done in creating one of the most memorable characters ever to appear on the cinema screen. His appearances alone (not very long in the totality of the film), were worth the price of the ticket. Compulsive viewing indeed.

I liked Martin Freeman as the young Bilbo Baggins (one can imagine easily him ageing into Ian Holm) - and just about all the other characters were well up to the demands. Particularly pleasing to see Christopher Lee back, even for just a very few minutes, after cruelly being excised out of 'Rings 3'.

I'm quite looking forward to the next part - something I wasn't expecting to be saying. Meantime my own rating for 'An Unexpected Journey' is a fine...............7/10


Thursday, 13 December 2012

Film: 'GREAT EXPECTATIONS'

I had to fight hard against a strong resistance to liking this film for the totally unfair reason that I've got Dickens overflowing out of every single orifice by now, having (yawn!) re-read all the novels in this bi-centennial anniversary year of his birth. (Sorry, but I promise not to mention it again - at least in 2012.) But, pleased to report, it won me over.

This is the celebrated tale of a boy being elevated from his menial life in a smithy by a mysterious benefactor, to be brought up in London as a 'gentleman', among a largely odious bunch of Hooray Henrys. His required attendance on the enigmatic and embittered Miss Havisham who entertains herself by making him associate with the snobbish and spoilt Estella to whom he finds himself increasingly attracted - unrequited love, his see-saw of fortunes, revealed identities - all these are the ingredients of a quite masterful story, certainly one of the author's very best - and that really is saying something!

The film has a good momentum, fine location shooting, very atmospheric and a good cast among whom I would single out Jason Flemyng, totally convincing as Pip's uneducated uncle Joe Gargery.
Now, as to the ubiquitous Helena Bonham Carter, whom even I thought was far too young for the role of Miss Havisham, a character I think we all see as a senile, wizened beldam (and made even more of a substantial part in this film than she is in the novel)  - I heard an interview with her only last week when that very point was put. She explained, quite convincingly, that if one worked out her age from what Dickens reveals about her late in the novel, she would be unlikely to have been aged mid-40s at most. I've checked this out and I'm inclined to agree. H.B.C. suggests that we have become so dependent on thinking of the character portrayed in visual representations, films and TV adaptations as a brittle and hardened old crone that we take this as Dickens' vision too. (Mind you, if the author had got his own calculations wrong, it would be by no means a unique case!) I'm prepared to accept that what she says is true, and next time I read 'Gt.Exp.' I'll bear it in mind.

My only real complaint (yet again) is the insistent music which tries to dictate the emotions we should be feeling at any given point. But it's not a serious blemish on an otherwise very worthy adaptation..............7/10 





Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Film: 'SIGHTSEERS'

The second comedy film in two days to feature a series of murders as the raison d'etre of its black humour. And not only that, but both films have a significant, though not central, canine element. I enjoyed this one more by some way.

'Sightseers' has a small cast (entirely unknown to me), a clearly much smaller budget than 'Seven Psychopaths', lower ambitions, more restrained in execution and shorter than yesterday's film by half an hour - and it all works a treat!

A youngish London couple go off for a caravan (and 'bonking')  holiday to Yorkshire and the Lake District. Immediately on reaching their first destination they encounter a litter lout and, being given the finger, he silently snaps inside - running the chap over 'accidentally' and killing him. She is shocked and he feigns remorse - but he has now been bitten by the 'killing bug'. When he gets irritated by another couple's pretentiousness he disposes of the guy - and she steals their dog to replace her own pet, which had met its end in a brief, grisly flashback, by accident a year previously. But she has now also been 'infected' by the same murder bug. They continue on their travels, each of them now putting an end to those people to whom each takes a dislike. (There aren't, in fact, that many of them). A lot of the humour arises from their shared nonchalance at killing which was not at all premeditated when they'd embarked on their travels. They both retain a sense of detachment from the consequences of their killing spree though she develops an additional 'nasty streak' culminating in a slight twist in the very closing moments which, despite being not entirely surprising, leaves me with an uncomfortable after-taste. Unlike the film I saw yesterday, this one manages to maintain its darkly comic tone almost right through to the end.

The two main characters make an engaging couple who certainly have their laughs together. However, also with regular tiffs and sulks, we are still on their side from the very start, and can smile along at their outrageously criminal behaviour. (Shame on me!) Incidentally, the killings, though brutal, are not depicted quite so egregiously as in yesterdays '7 Psychos'.

It's a very 'English film' and I fear that there's a parochial appeal to it which may not find a ready market outside this country. But one never knows - such unexpected turn-outs have happened before. I certainly hope it does in this case.

No reservations at all in rating 'Sightseers' a .................7.5/10


Btw: I saw this film on my first visit to Brighton's newest cinema - a 2-screener above a theatre mainly for stand-up comics. This particular auditorium is a very plush and ultra-comfortable 90-seater with, proportionally, a huge screen. Pity that I was one of an audience of only five. But it was an 11.15 a.m. showing - and it's early days yet so here's hoping that word is yet to spread around. I do so want it to survive, despite the extra calls which will be made on my own wallet. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Film: 'SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS'

I had almost decided not to see this film, on the grounds that it featured the kidnapping of dogs in order to extract rewards from their owners. I was afraid we were going to be shown the depiction of animals in distress or suffering, even if they were not so in real life. In the event my concern was misplaced.

I was eventually drawn into going, not just by the high-quality cast list, but it also being director/writer Martin McDonagh's first film since the well-above-average 'In Bruges' of 2008.

Colin Farrell plays a heavy-drinking, Hollywood screenplay writer who already has the title of his next project, the name of this very film. All he's got to do now is to write a story to fit it. His live-in chum, Sam Rockwell, offers his own suggestions and more. They search out likely candidates to fit the bill - and unwittingly find themselves having got involved with the criminal underworld. Here the film deliberately (I assume) mixes fantasy with reality. We don't know if certain scenes, a lot of them extremely violent with bucketloads of gore (though none is lingered over), happen in reality or are part of his creative mind's invention.

I thought it all started splendidly and in highly original fashion. In fact for about the first hour it was, despite, the gruesomeness, very funny indeed, appealing to those who recognised its skewed sense of humour - which, I dare say, some will just not 'get' and may even find tasteless. But I liked it a lot.
    However, as the film progressed it got steadily heavier and more philosophical in tone, which I found a pity. By the final half hour it had all but shed the light and whimsical touch with which it had begun, descending into an unfocussed hodge-podge of ideas on death, vengeance and heaven knows what else. I don't know if this was the path the film maker wanted to take but that's the way it came over to this viewer. In a film shy of two hours length by just a few minutes some judicious editing, particularly in the second hour, could have paid dividends.

One particular issue troubled me - as it also did in 'In Bruges'. The homophobic use of language - the words 'fag', 'queer', 'homo',  even 'gay' - all applied as insults with the implication that the person being addressed will recognise them as hurtful epithets indicating inferiority. This was also the context of their use in 'In Bruges', my sole complaint about that particular film. However, they are not used here very often - maybe half a dozen times. (Just what is it with McDonagh that he feels the need to write these words into his scripts? )  Actually there is also in this latest film a pejorative single use of the 'n' word by the Woody Harrelson character - and the person he's addressing repeats it back to him, but with sarcasm.

Oh, and by the way, there was indeed a small number of dogs featured, though this is very much a lesser aspect of the tale. None of them were seen to be in any discomfort - and though one had a gun put to its head as a threat to its owner, it worked out okay - at least for the dog.

It's a film which starts out very well, and to which I thought I could be awarding a high mark. It certainly did have some marvellous comedic moments but which, unfortunately didn't sustain their initial frequency. As an entity, therefore, I really can't give it any more than a still reasonably respectable................6/10


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Film: 'AMOUR'

Michael Haneke is one of the small handful of directors whose every film nowadays is, for me, an 'event' - and this one is no exception. His recent films have included the chilling 'Hidden', 'The White Ribbon', 'The Piano Player' and, probably the most disturbing film I've seen in all the last 20 years, 'Funny Games' (I mean the Austrian version of 1997. Couldn't bring myself to see the recent American re-make. In any case, why did they feel the need to make one? Answer: Because a re-make in English would make more money!)

This new film, 'Amour', won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year. 'Entertaining' is not the right word for it; 'troubling' it most definitely is. I knew it was going to be a tough watch - and one certainly does have one's emotions put through the wringer

Near the start of the film we see a long-term married couple in their 80s having breakfast together, talking normally. Then, out of the blue, the husband discovers that his wife has gone into a sort of trance, totally frozen and unresponsive. He starts to dress himself, resignedly, to go for help - then, hearing sounds from the kitchen, finds that she has returned to 'normal' - and she doesn't believe it when told what had just happened. It had been her first stroke, of course. In the next scene we see her returning home from a stay in hospital, now in a wheelchair but still fully compos mentis. The film chronicles her deterioration both physical (she loses control of one side of her body) as well as her mental slide, while her husband tries to manage care for her at home, at first alone, then with a nurse. He resists, among arguments, their daughter's earnest and well-meaning calls for her mother to be put in a home in order to get professional round-the-clock care.
It's harrowing to watch the descent into advanced senility and helplessness, all captured so gradually, seamlessly and believably. There are no awkward jerks in time which might have made it look contrived. A lot of the scenes are filmed using a completely stationary camera, viewing what happens like a detached observer. Towards the end there's a shocking event which I hadn't expected - part of which is left unresolved at the film's  conclusion, something which tends to be a feature of Haneke's works. He is not one to tie up loose ends.

This film got under my skin for two particular reasons:-
I am nearer in age to the sad fate (if it is also to be mine) of the woman here than nearly all of my blog-readers.
Also, my own mother, at about the age that I am now, suffered her first stroke, with a very similar effect, when she was in a restaurant with my sister and her husband. An ambulance had to be called. And that event probably signalled the start of her own physical (though not mental) deterioration over the ensuing years.

It's not a film to see if you want a 'happy' experience. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend it. In fact I would do so, but only if you're prepared to steel yourself for a grimly moving, but also strangely satisfying, viewing. 7/10.



Why me? Why now? - a wallet double-whammy!

What have I done to deserve this?
Just a few weeks after having major computer problems here they are again - I can only load this posting slowly and trust to luck that it'll appear correctly.

But not only that, last night my TV went dead - as in 'doornail' - and it remains so this morning.
Of course both problems can be remedied - but they need an input of dosh, something I'm very far from being flushed with right now.

So, re the first one, if I  unaccountably 'disappear' from blogland for a few days you'll know the reason.
I'm still going to try to see a planned film this morning. If I don't go, as it's a one-off showing it's going to be missed forever. Can only keep my fingers crossed that on return I'll be able to post a review.

In addition, next week, a further two art-house cinema screens open in nearby Brighton, giving cause for concern that even if enough money was availble to see all that I want to see (which is extremely doubtful in any case) I'll be spending more time in the cinema than at home, thereby neglecting my pussies. (There was even a new pussy - number five! - at the window this frosty morning). Oh, will these problems never cease?
But at least this computer is still just about working, I think. Definitely going to have to get something done about the telly. Being a news-junkie if I don't hear and see what's going on in the world, gonna go bonkers!
Come on, you lottery - Look this way!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Film: 'THE MASTER'

Better say at the start that this film does NOT have anything at all to do with the founder of Scientology, one L. Ron Hubbard. No Sir-ee!!! Nichts, nada, rien! Right, having now got that out of the way......

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays an L. Ron Hubbard-type character, charismatic leader of a cult which believes in multiple past lives (over trillions of years!) and emotional cleansing and spiritual advancement by regressing the individual to these previous incarnations.
He takes Joaquin Phoenix's character (an ex-naval officer with mixed-up life and a very short fuse) under his wing. There's a strange mutual attraction between them, though no indication of anything even slightly sexual. Both are menacingly overbearing in their different ways and, of course, sparks fly. It seems that 'The Master' is almost grooming his new pupil to be an acolyte of his, though it doesn't actually develop this far.

It's an odd film, alternately fascinating, puzzling and frustrating - but certainly never dull.
Both the lead actors produce tour-de-force performances (with an Oscar tag?), each larger than life but still on the safe side of believable. I think Hoffman nails his character the more successfully, though they are both very good indeed (When has P.S. Hoffman ever been less than very good?).
One complaint which I do have is that the Phoenix role is played with a slight facial deformity which makes him slur words out through the side of his mouth. There were times when I just couldn't decipher what he was saying while being able to follow the person he was conversing with.
Also, I was confused by the opening scenes where there isn't a linear progression from one scene to the next, leaving me feeling like it was a jigsaw one was supposed to arrange oneself, though I found that more confusing than interesting. However, as the film goes on it becomes less of a problem.
Further still, a number of scenes have tension worked up or a conflict begun only to have that scene suddenly stop, leaving me wondering about any resolution, if there was one.
On the plus side I ought to say that in my opinion the background score of original music was of unusually high quality. 

On the whole, it's an intriguing film concerning an unusual subject. Bearing in mind that it's well over 2 hours long and I'd gone to it having suffered minimal sleep last night (pussy-care problems) it did hold my attention throughout.
So just on that factor alone, I think a fair score for 'The Master' would be........6.5/10

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Film: 'SISTER' ('L'ENFANT D'EN HAUT')

I've just read that this Franco-Swiss film is to be submitted by Switzerland to the Academy Awards as 'Best Foreign Film'. Well, that just about beats everything!

I was going to start this post by saying "Why did they even bother to make this?"
If there was supposed to be some entertainment value, then it must have been so negligible as to have missed me.

In a ski resort, a spoilt twelve year old boy (who can barely construct a single sentence without inserting an obscenity) 'earns' money for himself and the one he passes off as his sister (warning: spoiler coming up!) by stealing ski equipment and clothing (and contents of wallets and purses) from skiers who are out on the slopes or elsewhere engaged, and sells them off to other skiers (yes!) on the pretext of having acquired them through clearance sales. He gives the newer items marks of wear and tear to give a more authentic appearance of being second hand. He must have been doing this for some years as he's got such expertise in this, as well as having an ability to lie with ease and to drive a hard sell - yet somehow his 'sister' hasn't cottoned on to what he's been doing until he shows her - and yet all the while he's been providing her with money with which to go on dates.
    The only real 'event' in the entire film is when it's revealed, two-thirds through, that she is not his sister at all, though I thought that (visually) their ages didn't compute. She was acting like an immature and irresponsible adolescent having casual affairs, but she would have had to have been at least 24 if there had been the relationship between the two of them as is now revealed. (I've also just seen that the actress' true age is 27.)  But if my own perception was at fault in that respect it certainly wasn't in wondering how the kid had got away with his crimes for so long without having faced the law. Are we to believe that not a single victim of these thefts reported it to the resort's authorities? - or not enough of them reported and caused a tightening of security and increased vigilance for suspicious activity? e.g. a boy wandering around alone carrying more than one pair of skis and other what-nots?  Did not even one of his buyers find that he was trying to sell to them the very equipment that they themselves had just lost? Apparently not.
    It's a very static film - mirthless from start to finish, with no redemptive path beckoning to either the boy or girl. It finishes with the boy sitting alone, forlornly on the hillside, amid melting snow just after the ski season has come to an end and all skiers and workers have departed. I take it that we are to feel sorry for him, now facing the Summer months without his regular means of income! (Sniffle sniffle!)

For me the film's only saving grace was the welcome, but short, appearances of Gillian Anderson as a tourist who innocently befriends the boy, falling for his untruths. But she doesn't have a significant part to play.

This film is a hot contender for my 'Turkey of the Year'. If it wins the Oscar for 'Best Foreign Film' I shall stick a very large plume of feathers up my arse, photograph it, and post the result on this very blog!
But while you're waiting for that to happen I award 'Sister' a score of....................2/10 (and Ms Anderson is responsible for three of those points!)


Btw: I wonder why they English title is 'Sister' (well, okay, because that is not the relationship we start by thinking it is) - rather than something like 'The Child (Boy?) From Above', which, I suppose, in this context would be the mountainside. Anyway, who cares now? I don't!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Film: 'SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK'

I was impressed by this. The pivotal characteristic for the central role - played by dishy Bradley Cooper (Man, this guy gets sexier by the day!) - is bipolar disorder, a subject rarely treated on film and, as far as I know, never a feature assigned to a sympathetic role as this is.

   He has just emerged from months in a mental institution, subject to restraining orders, and returns to his parents (Robert de Niro in fine, mellow form) and is set on rebuilding his marriage with his estranged, unfaithful wife.

 I was aware of some of the criticism of cliched portrayal of a character with bipolar condition - erratic behaviour, mood swings, propensity towards violence which sometimes turns on the use of a single word - all that is here, it's true. I have, in my own volunteering work come across a few people with this condition (not wishing to come over as 'superior', I own that I do have my own issues as well!) and, from my own experience, there may be some truth in the criticism, though I don't think it's overplayed here.
   He happens to meet a pushy and disdainful female with such an unattractive personality that I just couldn't see why he wants to cling to her like a leech. In addition, she has her own bagful of mental health problems. I suppose it must be a tribute to the acting skills of Jennifer Lawrence which made me feel so strongly negative about her from very first appearance. But see a lot of her he does.

     The screenplay is sharp, the acting and direction consistently well-observed. My only major reservation is in the ending - one that neatly ties up the loose ends with everyone happy, just like a fairy-tale. I've just read a review on IMDb which praises the ending in avoiding cliche. I disagree totally. That is precisely what it is. I can hardly imagine an ending which could be better designed to give everybody a 'feel-good' as they leave the cinema. But in the totality of this two-hour film, the complaint is relatively minor.

Were it not for the final few minutes I might have scored this film a bit higher, but even as it is I'm happy to give 'Silver Linings Playbook'  a well-earned........................7.5/10.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

New film: 'GAMBIT'

This is a 'sort of' re-make of the 1966 Shirley Maclaine/Michael Caine/Herbert Lom feature, which I did see very many moons ago but have now completely forgotten. So I come to this re-filming, like most people will,  virtually 'new', unable to make a comparison. (My film reference books tell me the original was well-regarded).
     I suppose it purports to belong to the category which we used to call 'sophisticated comedy' - and which can only necessarily work when given a light and deft touch. That is a quality which this film lacks.

Colin Firth plays his familiar, straight-faced, shoulder-shrugging character which we are getting to know so well. Alan Rickman, in mood either exaggeratedly histrionic or with buttoned-up menace (the latter always works well from him - most recently, of course, in the Harry Potters) - and Cameron Diaz in full-throttled Texan drawl and cowgirl sass. (I was only waiting for her to slap her thighs - "Yee-HAH!"). Oh, and Stanley Tucci, in three shortish scenes, pulls from off the conveyor belt another of his fey eccentrics.
     A simple plot involves forgery of a Monet which Firth, as an act of vengeance, attempts to sell to Rickman at a price the genuine article would have commanded. Add in a sprinkling of swear words which have long since lost the power to shock.....and there you are.
    I really didn't expect to find it the bore that I did. It felt longer than it's just-under-90 mins. It's a shame because it did have a lot going for it - a good, starry cast (Tom Courtenay's in there too), easy to understand storyline and a script by the brothers Coen. But for me it failed to work - and ultimately it just didn't engross.

I'm afraid that with a film devoid of LOL moments, just a very few half-smiles cannot rescue 'Gambit' from a .......3/10


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

New (German) film: 'BARBARA'

Sombre, unassuming, rather slow-paced, but not ineffectual drama set in 1980s East Germany involving a nurse 'exiled' to work in a small rural hospital because of her desire to leave the country in order to live with her lover who is resident in the west. She has understandable suspicions of whom, if anyone, she can trust, and she has her apartment subjected to random spot checks by the Stasi, as well as having to undergo intimate body-searches. During clandestine 'conjugal' visits by her partner plans are made for her to escape the country under subterfuge, but all the while she feels increasing responsibility not to desert the patients at the hospital - and one girl in particular - while she entertains an ambivalence towards her supervising doctor who feels a growing attraction towards her.
     All this sounds more eventful than what actually plays out before our eyes on screen.

It's an efficiently-made film, though hardly one I'm going to remember for more than a few days.

I grant 'Barbara' a rating of.......................6/10..... (though now, one day later, this feels a bit on the high side and I want to take it down a notch to 5.5)