Monday, 18 March 2013

Film: 'OZ - THE GREAT AND POWERFUL' (in 3D)

Feared I'd be giving this the thumbs down but it turned out that I really liked it.
Probably wouldn't have bothered if it hadn't been for the presence of James Franco who, though not everyone's idea of eye-candy, in my books works an alluring presence in any film - and he has such a beguiling smile too. 

A supposed prequel to you-know-what (which has, incidentally, never had particularly great appeal for me) this film depicts the arrival of the self-absorbed Wizard in that land - which has been long anticipated by its inhabitants - and the meeting and confrontation with three sister-witches, one of whom is transformed into the Wicked Witch of the West in the story that we all know. Through his battles the Wizard is torn between revealing that he is, in reality, not the omnipotent figure everyone expects him to be, and trying to maintain the illusion that he is indeed this all-powerful figure for as long as possible. The film only gets saccharine-heavy at two or three points, notably in the closing moments, but pleased to say that otherwise sentiment is kept largely at bay.  

I thought the 3D special effects were outstanding and are exactly what a fantasy like this needs. Performances were all good. Story also pretty good but the biggest let-down for me was the utterly banal script. Not one single witticism and not one memorable line. I'd have thought that the premise of this film would have cried out for self-regarding comments or (implied) winks at the camera  - particularly for the delectation of adults who are familiar with the 1939 film, though I am aware that for copyright reasons these film-makers had to tread very carefully in avoiding overt reference to the much earlier work (though we do get the Munchkins, flying monkeys - well, at least one of them - the Yellow Brick Road, the Emerald City as well as the aforementioned Wicked Witch). But I'd have thought there'd have been enough writers around to have come up with something to raise a knowing smile every now and then. If there were any, I missed them.

On the whole I certainly did enjoy it. Whether I'd feel the same if it were not for Franco's starring role or, even moreso, if I'd seen it in flat 2D, I can't say. All I can report is that in terms of my own satisfaction it earns a good ................7/10

Friday, 15 March 2013

Film: 'SIDE EFFECTS'

I was hoping for rather more than this film delivered, as director Soderbergh has said that this will be his final feature film - though he's only 50 years old and few people really believe him.
(I hear that his yet-to-be-released American TV film on Liberace, 'Behind the Candelabra', may be given a theatrical release in Britain. I do hope it does.)
'Side Effects' is especially regrettable coming, as it does, from the same director as his brilliant 'Traffic' (2000).

 
Jude Law plays a doctor who takes as his patient a depression-prone young married woman who has apparently just made a suicide attempt.  The drug he prescribes her seems to have an unforeseen catastrophic consequence in causing her to carry out an horrific, sudden killing which she doesn't recall doing. Court case ensues revolving around whether or not she was of sound mind, which reveals Law's part in providing her with the causal drug after which, because of publicity, his reputation becomes toxic and his partners wish to disassociate themselves from him to save themselves from also going under. He, meanwhile, is determined to satisfy himself as to the 'true' cause of his patient's horrific action and to prove his innocence, while all the while his own marriage cracks up under the pressure.
Jude Law is competent enough while Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the patient's former doctor, does her steely-resolved, duplicitous, ice-queen act again - which, I find, is always a pleasure to watch.

While I can accept the almost constant sepia-tinted look of the film I don't know why it was necessary to make nearly all the indoor scenes so dimly lit, giving it an air of melodrama, enough of which was already in the script.
But the really big downer for me was, about three-quarters way through, there's an interesting twist which sheds a new perspective on all what has gone before. But, instead of just going along with this the film meanders further into increasingly unlikely plot development to the point where, for me, all credibility finally snapped. It became almost risible whereas, truth to tell, up to that point it had been pretty good - and the aforementioned 'twist' was a promising and intriguing one - though for some reason the scriptwriter thought that that wasn't sufficient even though it had been.

It's a film of miscalculation and missed opportunity. As I say, 75% of it is worth watching but I do think that the last half hour or so devalues what we'd seen up to that point.

Overall, then, for 'curiosity value' it earns from me a.......5.5



Monday, 11 March 2013

Film: 'ARBITRAGE'


Reasonably absorbing tale of high-finance shenanigans coupled with the attempted cover up of an accidental death - made more watchable by the rare big-screen presence of Richard Gere (a late substitute for Al Pacino, I read) and the even rarer and doubly welcome appearance of Tim Roth who does his slovenly act so well. Add to these two the marvellous Susan Sarandon and it's a strong cast.





Gere plays a smooth-veneered, commercial big-flyer, owning a business in which he's done some shady dealings. Not only is this his big secret which he needs to keep a lid on but a huge complication arises when, driving his young affair, the car overturns and she is killed. (This is not really a 'spoiler' as it happens early on in the film)  He now finds himself in the double bind of additionally needing to keep the fact of his having been the driver from his deceived wife, and this provides the momentum for much of the film's subsequent developments. Tim Roth, excellent as always (those hang-dog eyes!), plays the detective who suspects the truth, trying to nail the slippery Gere character.

Even though my own qualification is in finance (though not commercial) and I used to be accountant, I was quickly lost on the intricacies of the financial dealings but I didn't feel it was a great loss. (Yes, I too had to look up the film's probably unwise title in the dictionary.)

Not bad entertainment all round and by no means a waste of time, especially with these players in the three leading roles.................6.5











Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Film: 'MEA MAXIMA CULPA - Silence in the House of God'

A documentary reporting the Roman Catholic Church's record of not bringing child-abusing priests to account, both within the Church itself as well as its failure and reluctance to notify national and local police and judicial authorities.
It's a film to make any reasonable-minded person yell with anger, weep with frustration and, more than once, just laugh aloud at the sheer pig-headed stubborness at Church authorities preferring to turn a blind eye, particularly in the Vatican itself - not to mention the personal connivances of Popes John Paul II (shortly to be elevated to 'sainthood', should he work the necessary single miracle required - but I'm quite confident he'll oblige. This requirement has probably already been achieved many times over!) ) as well as the collusion of Benedict XVI who, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was appointed as 'paedophile-investigator-in-chief '.


It's only a few days since I became aware of this film and immediately wanted to see it, but knowing that it would never get a nationwide release, had resigned myself to its being shown on a single screen somewhere unreachable in London, after which it would probably disappear - and perhaps show up in the middle of the night on some satellite TV channel. So you can imagine my surprise on finding that it had been booked for just two screenings in nearby Brighton. So today I went, and was reassured to see that it was well-attended too.




The principal focus of this documentary is on St John's School for Deaf Boys, Milwaukee, and the abuse of around 200 boys by just one resident priest, Father Lawrence Murphy (above), starting in the 1950s and continuing at least up to the 1970s. A few of the surviving boys (now, of course, considerably advanced in years) tell of their experiences in sign-language (voiced over by some celebrities -  Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper and others) such as when Murphy used to regularly creep into the dormitory at night and select a boy to masturbate. During daylight hours he'd even commit the act in the confessional during confession - the partition 'window' being usefully wider than normal so that he could read their sign-language - or, later, in a closet, which he kept especially for that purpose. (Many years later, after admitting his behaviour, he justified his conduct as 'helping' the boys by getting them to manifest their natural urges! - "All boys do it!") His victims talk of their exasperation at their failure in getting nuns (working at the school at the time), other priests there, and even their own parents to believe them. On those very rare occasions where Murphy was confronted his vociferous denials were accepted as sufficiently incontrovertible proof that the boys must have been inventing malicious stories about him.

Then the film widens out into child abuse by R.C. priests generally, the dragging of feet by cardinals (if they do anything at all) when told of certain of their number - while the number of targets of complaints grows and grows - and of the Church authorities doing all they can to prevent such stories getting out, requiring victims to sign legal documents that they will never again accuse the perpetrators or defame the Church's hierarchy , on pain of excommunication - which used to be a really big deal in former days, thankfully much less so now.

It details how corruption in this respect goes all the way up to the Papal institution itself and with at least one paedophile cardinal within the then Cardinal Ratzinger's own circle. When challenged about this cardinal's employment, as Ratzinger is about to get into his limousine, his benign, avuncular mask slips, his smile rapidly fading as he tetchily tells off the reporter that he can't talk about it now - while his furious face says "How dare you mention it!"  So when then? .......

One of the things that constantly baffles me is seeing the many thousands of pilgrims and worshipers in St Peter's Square, ecstatic tears of devotion running down their cheeks at being in the presence of such a 'Holy Man of God'. I can't help wondering if their faith would be as unstinting if one of their own young relatives, perhaps their very own child, had been abused by a priest, and the offender then allowed to slip, scot-free, into obscurity or, worse, continue as before as though nothing had happened. I can only think that they are incapable of contemplating the dreadful possibility that their Church could ever do anything wrong. That would call into question their whole belief structure and mean that they themselves had been mistaken, for probably their entire lives - just too awful to think about!

One of the most nauseating facts in this film was hearing that when the above Fr Murphy, ailing and inconspicuously retired by the Church into a remote country location, with one faithful female housekeeper (from that same deaf school), he hears that finally and unbelieveably he might actually be called to give an account of his conduct by the Vatican (due to unceasing pressure and publicity) he writes Ratzinger an obsequious letter pleading to be allowed to live out the remaining time of his priesthood quietly and with dignity(!) - and, hey presto, the case against him is dropped - another miracle!. He drops dead shortly afterwards - in a gambling casino.

It seems the only thing that gets the Vatican moving to bring the perpetrators to justice (though only before the Church's own canon law) is not so much sympathy for the victims of abuse, despite their maintaining it, but the fact of the crippling expense of having to settle so many claims for damages with all its related dire publicity. It's crystal-clear that the Church authorities have far, far more compassion for the abusers than the victims. In fact their whole attitude is that though such happenings were 'regrettable', it really is time to move on now, and as quickly and quietly as possible - while keeping fingers crossed that both victims and abusers will speedily die off (though I think it be wishful thinking to suppose that it's not still going on right now).
The comment is made that those parts of the globe where the R.C. Church is currently growing strongest is in the developing regions of Africa and Latin America, societies which would find it hard to accept that such activity could ever take place, but even if it does it's more of an American and European phenomenon. If the next Pope comes from one of these third-world areas I shouldn't be at all surprised to see that same attitude reflected among his first pronouncements and instalments of Papal Bull

I can actually still see and comprehend the mindset of the Church in refusing to accept that its own institution could possibly be at fault in having given arise to these sets of circumstances. Certainly when I was being educated in the 1950s and 60s, criticism of the Church was considered to be absolutely beyond the pale. Stealing, adultery, even murder, could all be forgiven through sincere repentance of the 'sinner' - but to attack the Holy Mother Church was a wanton, violent act against the body of Jesus Christ himself! There could hardly be anything more serious, short of assassinating His one true representative on earth, the Holy Father.  

This is a film which is maddening, sickening and yet sometimes bleakly funny. Would that everyone could see it - though I fear that the vast majority of the audience will already be among the 'converted' (if I may use that word in this context). For those who find the very thought of the R.C. Church ever being in error as too horrific, well, they aren't even going to give this film the slightest chance of being heard. Great pity.

(Because of the nature of this film, which is hardly an 'entertainment', I'll refrain from giving it any score).






Thursday, 28 February 2013

Film: 'SONG FOR MARION'

Yesterday I saw a film which has a very high chance of finishing up as my favourite of this year. Today I've just seen one which would take a near-miracle to dislodge it from its potential of being my single worst cinematic experience of 2013.
When I first saw the trailer of this some weeks ago I was groaning in the expectation that this was going to be the latest in a number of recent films which could justifiably have had a subtitle of 'Old people are ever so funny!' I've had to sit through the trailer four or five times since seeing it initially, and I've cringed every time.

So what possessed me to go? (I'm still asking myself.) There was, I thought, a chance that I could see it at half-price at a morning parent-and-baby screening - and besides, it just couldn't be all that bad, could it?. When I got there, to my chagrin, discovered that it not only was full price but if I'd waited until tomorrow I could have seen it much cheaper at a Senior Citizens showing. But I'd already travelled twelve miles and I didn't want to do it all again on the morrow so I gulped, paid up and took my seat, fuming inwardly at the needless extra expense, entirely due to my own folly.

The film concerns the advanced cancer-suffering Vanessa Redgrave character, beyond medical treatment and trying to get the most out of life before she dies, by her participation in an oldies singing group - the O.A.P.'Z (complete with redundant apostrophe!). Terence Stamp plays her scowling, incommunicative husband, only happy when playing dominoes in the pub with his mates. When she eventually departs he tries to patch up a frosty relationship with his neglected and alienated middle-aged son (Christopher Eccleston in good form), single parent to an eight-year old daughter. Add in the wife's pressure on hubby to join the O.A.P.'Z  (coached by a chirpy, 20-something Gemma Arterton) - and, yes, there's a choir competition (oh goody! who would have believed it!) - and you need to know nothing else to mark out the film's trajectory with a blindfold on.

If there were prizes for total lack of imagination this film would win hands down! I really longed, nay prayed, for something unexpected to happen - but all in vain. And as for the members of this oldies group themselves, what a hoot they were! Over-acting their little grey-topped heads off. Nothing on earth is as funny as seeing old people acting like teenagers, there really isn't! - singing 'Let's talk about sex, baby!", jiving like billy-o, doing an hilarious 'robot-dance', old men wearing studded leather biker jackets - ho ho ho! Laugh? I could have died! (And even wished I had! It would probably have been more fun and definitely more interesting.)

I haven't yet mentioned the amount of glutinous sentiment in the film. If you like treacle, you've got it by the bucket-load here. Nothing wrong with a bit of sentiment per se, but it has to be done artfully and with discretion to avoid it being cloying, not dished out by the ladle. I appreciate that I've got an inbuilt resistance to contrived sentimental situations, and am especially conscious of when a film is going all-out to manipulate one. Some people can take it. Some even like it. If that's your bag then you're welcome to it.

To summarise then, in terms of my own total absence of enjoyment I give the film nul point. However, it does earn one point for Eccleston, and a sympathetic half point each for Redgrave and Stamp who both deserve far better material than this - making a grand total of.......2/10 - Watch it if you dare!