Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Sprawling, epic length, ultra-violent, mid-19th century tale with 'western' backdrop, concerning black slavery and bounty-hunting. Tarantino is in his element here and succeeds in providing pretty high entertainment value. I was never bored during its 2 hrs 45 mins, though it might have benefited from some judicious cutting - even if that meant having to sacrifice one or two of the graphically bloody shoot-outs.

The four lead characters are all very charismatic in their parts so that one wonders whom to look at when two or more are on-screen simultaneously - and all of them act to perfection. I particularly liked Christoph Walz's foppish German (former dentist) bounty hunter with his flamboyantly circuitous manner of speaking. Jamie Foxx was perfectly cast as the film's focus -  while Samuel L. Jackson (almost unrecognisable to me) convincingly waddles about, emerging from the background every now and then, giving his entire 'slavish' allegiance to Di Caprio's heartless and scary plantation owner. 
  As with all many of this director's films there is a significant thread of humour running through much of the film which belies the extreme violence - of which there's quite a lot - and lending the horrific scenes a comic-book depiction. (There are also a few brief scenes, mainly towards the start, concerning the treatment of horses which made me wince a bit, but they were quick).

If you're a Tarantino fan I'm sure you'll like this film. He's never been one to short-change his audience - and in this film he delivers what he's renowned for. I enjoyed it enough to give it a.......7/10

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Wintertime pussy concerns spoil film-viewing.

This photo was taken from my window this morning. Maybe not much in terms of what Winter can be like elsewhere but enough to stall my plans for cinema visits until it gets less bone-chilling. Temps today have remained below freezing and are expected to dip to -4 Celsius tonight. There's a possibility of these teeth-chattering conditions ameliorating just a little on Tuesday but there's no significantly milder weather in the offing just yet.
Meantime I'm letting now four furry friends stay indoors and locking them in at night whilst keeping the heating on - necessitating my having to rise every morning around 2-3 a.m. to let them (or coax them) outside in order to fulfil their toilet requirements - and then wait for them to return, one by one, before I can try to get another couple of hours shut-eye.

The following 'choice' films, which I would otherwise have seen, are already in local cinemas or due to arrive soon, and there is considerable doubt if I can catch them all, or even perhaps any of them, as that would mean leaving the pussies alone here for up to 6 hours, with window open and heating turned off. Blackso, in particular, forgets that he can come inside via the back way and so he'll sit out in front on the low garden wall awaiting my return, where he'd be an inviting target for snowballs chucked by kids returning home from school. If I did go out I'd be worrying about him all the time.

These are the films I am missing as at now:-

The Impossible
Gangster Squad
Django Unchained
The Sapphires
False Trail

The third of these is 15 mins short of a whopping 3 hours in length. It's even longer than 'Les Mis', for crying out loud! (Concision has never been one of Tarantino's attributes).
So, if the weather doesn't quickly lighten up and warm up, even more films are going to come and go unseen. Too bad. Can't do anything about it when the pussies have got to come first!

(Taken 2 months ago)


Tuesday, 15 January 2013


My favourite musical - and it's been a very long time since I felt such anticipation to see a film as I did for this. Already several of the bloggers I follow have written their own reviews and much has been said in the media so I won't re-tread familiar ground.
On my way to the cinema I was musing on the hope that, just perhaps, I might be scoring this film with a rare, exalted  '8' - or even an unheard of '8.5'.

I'll attempt a different approach in reviewing it by listing in order what I consider its positives and negatives:-

The + s

The cast - I thought all the men were good or very good (bar one) - and with Hugh Jackman being quite perfect. Even Russell Crowe I didn't think was anywhere near as poor as some have said. By now we all know that he doesn't have a singing voice and the strain in it was conspicuous for almost all the time, although his final song was very well performed.

All the actresses (bar one) were excellent. Much has rightly been said about Anne Hathaway, but I thought Samantha Barks as Eponine was outstanding.

The contributions from the choruses were uniformly impressive.

The new, specially composed song, 'Suddenly', even on this, my first hearing, struck me as pretty good. It slotted in seamlessly.

The sets were spectacular (but I was surprised that the film wasn't in wide-screen format).

Direction, pretty good.

The Disappointments

Helena Bonham Carter (doing her slutty act yet again) who might as well have been singing in Czech as far as I was concerned. She seems to think that using a mike dispels any necessity to project. Her mixture of cod- cockney with a twist of caricature French lost most of her words to me, something I didn't find with the rest of the cast. Sacha Baron Cohen was better, but not by very much. I think both these were miscast - (both too young perhaps? - though one hardly demands authenticity, and in a musical of all things!) Sacha B.C. has shown that he can be very good, as he was in 'Sweeney Todd' , which was another film in which Helena B.C. once again mumbled and whispered her way through, paying scant attention to Sondheim's gloriously inventive lyrics. (Sacrilege!)

The whole 'Master of the House' sequence seemed a bit of a mess (too much cross-cutting?), providing nowhere near the uplift that it should as an 'oasis' amidst the ultra-seriousness of the rest of the show.

What the film gained in being opened up for the screen it seemed to lose in the taut excitement I experience in the theatre. In the latter it moved along with a keen, self-generated momentum whereas in this film it almost seems to have acquired excessive 'fat'. Not only did I look at my watch several times, I actually found myself yawning - at two separate moments!
There were a few points of high emotion where I thought the tear ducts might kick in, but the emotional intensity was not sustained for as long as it had been when watching the show live. I'd experienced more prolonged 'highs' when watching on film 'Mamma Mia' for the first time, as well as 'Chicago'. (It might be significant to mention that I've never seen these last two on the stage - though when watching these films I was aware of the songs that had been edited out.)


So, on the whole, a bit of a disappointment. Whereas I long to get the chance to see 'Les Mis' on stage for a fourth time, I don't think I'll be paying to see it in the cinema again, though when it comes on the telly I will be watching it then.

In no way a bad film then, but falling significantly below what I'd been hoping for. I give it a .................6.5/10

Monday, 14 January 2013

Film: 'LIFE OF PI' (in 3D)

Way back in 1974, watching the Mike Nichols/George C. Scott film 'The Day of the Dolphin' got me so upset that I decided not to pay money to see another film which has any animal in a major 'role', or the depiction of any animal physically suffering, terrorised or merely in a state of anxiety - even when, nowadays, and markedly so in this particular film, many of the visuals are computer-generated. I've largely kept to that self-imposed rule in all years since then - until now.

I found watching 'Life of Pi' such an ordeal that I cannot remember how many times I averted my eyes. The only things that prevented me from leaving were that (a) this is undoubtedly a 'significant' film which really ought to be seen by any serious-minded cineaste and (b) having paid more than twice the admission fee I normally pay, in order to watch this in 3D format, I wanted to be present for at least enough of it to be able to register it as having been 'seen'. In the event I did manage to last out until the final credits.

When I did peep through my fingers (I don't mean that literally) there were moments when the imagery was simply ravishing and breath-taking. The 3D format was at least as good as it was in last year's 'Hugo', some may say even superior as in that masterpiece. There is no doubt in my mind that this film reaches the zenith of the method .
No complaints either about the acting strength of Suraj Sharma who takes the lion's(!) share of screen time - marooned alone with the tiger for most of that time. He fulfilled the role admirably.  

Unfortunately the emotional intensity I felt during this film renders me pretty well incapable of making a reasonable value-judgment. If I did it would be an unfair verdict, one terribly biased by my own personal foibles. So, bearing in mind that my scores reflect not whether I considered a given film 'good', 'bad' or 'indifferent', but the extent to which I derived personal enjoyment and satisfaction from the experience, for the first time in these blogs I'm going to decline offering a rating at all. Sorry!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


Efficient enough thriller delivering its quota of fights (both with and without guns), chases, twisty plot devices, red herrings - and all needing Tom Cruise in super-sleuth mode to solve  the mystery with jaw-dropping intuition and truly amazing powers of deduction.

Beginning with an apparently random shooting of five members of the public, this scene has acquired a heavy significance because of recent events in the U.S.A. The suspect for the shootings, in an apparently open and shut case, is soon arrested and during questioning enigmatically calls for the title character. So enters T.C. with a blurry past, which just begs for him to be distrusted. But does his being called out from obscurity deter him from trying to fathom out what exactly did happen - and to uncover the killer's motivation? No, it jolly well does not! His unerring ability to suss out the odd suspicious word, which to us mere mortals might have gone unnoticed, pays dividends - allowing him to get to the heart of the matter in time.
Stalwart actors such as Robert Duvall and Richard Jenkins add watchability to the proceedings - and it was good to see British actor David Oyelowo in a major role. Rosamund Pike acquits herself well too. And it would be perverse not to mention the curious, though welcome, brooding and powerful presence of famed director Werner Herzog who doesn't have many lines, but then he doesn't need them.

Reasonable enough entertainment, though ultimately lacking that 'something' to make it special...................6/10

Monday, 7 January 2013


This was an unanticipated pleasure. A film of which I hadn't heard and one which gets, as at today, an average rating of just 5.4 on the IMDb site, by just 22 viewers. I would not concur!

Apparently based on a story by Tolstoy, it tells of an increasingly fractious few hours between the Danny Huston character (who earns a living profiteering from purchasing repossessed, occupier-evicted properties at knock-down prices and re-selling them on) and his English driver-companion (Matthew Jacobs - a name with which I'm unfamiliar).
   The bulk of the slightly over 90 mins deals with these two characters alone, who take an unstated dislike to each other almost instantly on their initial meeting (when the driver cannot get his car's SatNav started), their subsequent needling each other constantly while trying to keep a lid on their antagonism, with real feelings seething underneath. When his driver discovers what his 'boss' does for a living he cannot restrain himself from voicing his disapproval. Their enforced reluctant companionship culminates in their being stranded together at night in the snowy peaks of Colorado in the depths of Winter.
I thought it was well-acted (particularly Huston), beautifully photographed, finely observed, a strong script and some very funny moments - even though, all in all, it's not really a full-out 'comedy' as such. The ending too was unexpected. It gets from me a well-deserved.................7/10

Thursday, 3 January 2013


I might have given this film a wide berth had it not been for reviews talking about an oblique kind of humour, and that was enough to sell it to me. As it turned out, it wasn't quite as edgy or as quirky as I'd hoped, though it was by no means a waste of time and money.

It concerns an a capella female group at an American university aiming for an annual title, their previous year's attempt having been thwarted by a gross-out, mid-performance 'accident' by one of their members. Their main rivals are a similarly-numbered male group. (Cue - M/F rivalries, romantic links, suspicions of 'betrayals' and so on.) All the musical stagings are done with distinct verve, even exhileratingly so, though it's not until the very end in the final competition that we get to see a number performed complete and without interruption. Throughout the film all the acts (and there a satisfying number of them) consist of medleys of pop hits of very recent decades.

I don't think I winced at the antics on screen even once, which is really saying something, considering the ages of the main characters. The musical numbers certainly gave the film a lift, but in between them, the storyline was of no more than very moderate interest, though not being exactly vacuous either.

Not greatly disappointing then, though maybe my hopes had been just a wee bit too high........6/10 would be fair.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013


This was a most agreeable start to my film-viewing year - something I wasn't expecting one little bit! It's Dustin Hoffman's first venture into feature film directing, and one of which he has every right to be pleased, even proud.

A quintessentially English tale (though the subject could be pretty well universal) by the veteran British playwright, Ronald Harwood and based on his stage play, performed with a stalwart, stellar, and entirely British cast.
The 'quartet' of the title refers to four former opera-singer residents of a largish home for retired musicians, while the impetus of the story arises from their wishing (or otherwise) to perform together a quartet from 'Rigoletto' in a small-scale concert at the home to commemorate Verdi's birthday.

The cast is uniformly first-class, as one might expect, but Billy Connolly deserves special mention for his mischievous twinkling and impish humour - while Maggie Smith (is there no getting away from that woman?), as the 'fly-in-the-ointment' late arrival at the home, shows just why she is such a very good actress, conveying both depths and subtle switches of emotion with no more than a pursed lip, or the raising of an eyebrow or a slightly altered tone of voice.

I was dreading all the 'old people' cliches - bitching among themselves, cantankerous exchanges, toilet functions, the residents being patronised by the younger members of staff etc. There is certainly the first three of these but it's all carried off without appearing over-hackneyed. Must confess that I wasn't particularly looking forward to this film, being one of several in recent months which has had aged people in central roles. Given my own years it's a subject I don't want to have my nose rubbed into, so it was with some surprise to find that I was enjoying it so much. (The dialogue in particular needs commending. It's a first-rate screenplay.)
An added bonus for me was that I hadn't realise that one of the smaller roles is taken by none other than the Dame Gwyneth Jones, whom I've seen a few times on the operatic stage, the last occasion being when she sang the title role in 'Turandot' at Covent Garden in the early 90's. Although I've never actually met her in person, she is, or was, an acquaintance of a gay friend with whom I still have contact. Must ask him if he knew that she was going to be in this film. She has a small speaking role but near the end of the film, at this concert, she's allowed to sing a truncated version of a particular well-known aria (I'm not saying which!)

So, that was a happy start to 2013. May it continue in this vein. Meantime I'm more than pleased to award 'Quartet' a.......7.5/10

Monday, 31 December 2012


Based on his book, which I read many moons ago, Rushdie both adapts it for the screen and he himself provides the voice-over narration. So one has to assume that he is satisfied with the result.

It chronicles the life of a baby boy born to a poor couple, who is the victim, shortly after birth, of a hopelessly misguided, though well-meaning, baby-swap in a maternity ward into an affluent household. (A sort of 'Prince and the Pauper' scenario). We see the boy growing up right into his 30s - all against a backdrop of Indian independence in 1947, war with, and separation, of Pakistan and the secession from the latter of Bangladesh in the 1970s. The boy, then man, with whom he was swapped becomes his rival - the secret kept by the woman who did the swap becomes his (the upper class one's) ayah or nanny, until when he's a young man, conscience-stricken, she blurts out to his purported 'parents' what she did.

I found the whole film a very heavy experience. It's of almost epic-length (very nearly 2 1/2 hours) and is virtually entirely humourless from start to finish. I don't recall one single, fleeting, smile-worthy moment. Even the festivities of wedding celebrations are comparatively staid.
Naturally, to cover some 60 years (it starts with the main character's grandfather in 1917) it must necessarily be episodic, but the jumps in time were not handled any more than perfunctorily.
I would single out for acting honours Satya Bhabha playing the main character, Saleem, as adult - but even moreso, Seema Biswas as the ayah harbouring her dreadful guilty secret. 

It's by no means a bad film - but neither is it one to remember for long afterwards. It's failure to set my interest alight compels me to score it no more than a...................5/10

Monday, 24 December 2012

My TEN most enjoyed films of 2012

A prime example of what cinema can do best. Near-faultless, fantastical tale of human emotions, adventure, whimsy and suspense. Scorsese continues to surprise us with the astonishing range of his cinematic artistry. A stand-out production in all respects.

An object lesson in how to adapt from one medium to another with imagination, confidence and panache. It mightn't have worked - indeed, for some, it didn't - but I find it hard to point to anything here I'd like to have changed. Even its modest and digestible length, compared to what the original source might have demanded, was one of its strengths - and that, coupled with acting of a uniformly high order, made it a peak of my cinema-going this year.

Possibly my most controversial choice for inclusion here. Relentlessly funny, though many didn't see it as such. I was on the required wavelength from the word 'go' - watching with delight as those four masks slipped and poses cracked. It's the old cliche about being on a roller-coaster and can't get off, but this is exactly where this quartet finds itself. The trajectory they must follow is advance-determined. Terrific entertainment.

Another funny one, but with more light and shade. Humour concerning manual manipulation of the female leading to the invention of the vibrator. Exceedingly amusing without being overly vulgar. All coupled with top-notch acting equals high entertainment value.

One of the true surprises of the year. A real achievement to make such a suspenseful film out of a fact-based story whose outcome is known, even if the final escape as depicted was somewhat engineered for filmic ends. A hugely significant contribution from Affleck and his team.

Original (to me) story and a gripping family drama. Clooney proves again that he can really pull something out of the hat.

Corrupt police, drug dealing, characters scarily unhinged, bloody violence - what's not to like? Effective drama. A surprise.

Modest, British crime caper involving two caravanners who inadvertantly become serial killers. Despite the sombre subject, some funny moments and, though only seen a couple of weeks ago, I already want to see again. It got under my skin.

I'd have to include this somewhere, though in many people's lists it might be higher than this position. It earns its place for me by being an original concept (at least for these days) and, despite its flimsy storyline, still being compelling entertainment.

Norwegian thriller, twisting and turning with such effectiveness as is rarely seen. Keeps one on one's toes right to the end - and beyond!

And the films I saw which, though well-deserving of a place, didn't quite make the final cut:-

The Iron Lady
The Deep Blue Sea
The Hunger Games
Woody Allen - a Documentary
The Imposter

Films I really badly wanted to see but couldn't or wouldn't - 'Martha Marcy May Marlene', 'End of Watch' and 'Tyrannosaur', the last one I deliberately missed because it starts with the kicking to death of a dog. Pity, as it had everything else going for it.

It's been, on the whole, an exceptionally good year, with real clunkers being less in evidence than at other times. Here's hoping that 2013 follows the pattern!