Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Film: 'ELYSIUM'



Well, blow me down! At last a film without either Helena Bon-bon Carter or Kristin Scotch-egg Thomas! (That was for you, J.G.!)  Was beginning to surmise that it was obligatory to include one or t'other. But pray don't get me wrong. I do especially like.....well, one of them. 
Btw: Did you realise that if the former had a second given name of Susan, Sheila, Sandra etc - as she might well have, for all I know -her initials would be.....HSBC? - Surely an actress one could bank on to give a sterling performance.

Notwithstanding a fairly sniffy review on BBC Radio 4 a couple of nights ago, I enjoyed this.
One thing Jodie Foster could never be accused of is being over-exposed. It's always a particular pleasure to see her, made even moreso by her appearances being so relatively rare.
Here she is, in her trademark act of steely, blinkered determination, which she does so well. Pity that her on-screen time in total is not considerable - and she doesn't share any scene at all with Damon.

The story is set in mid-next century, the over-populated earth having become little more than a rubbish dump, with its inhabitants scrambling about like ants to survive and eke out a living, determined by those lucky enough to be living apart.
These very affluent people live outside this hell - by emigrating to a huge, earth-orbiting space-station (named 'Elysium') containing all the earth-known luxuries, with plenty of 'stretching space' to boot. (There's more than a slight resemblance to South African director Blomkamp's equally enjoyable 'District 9' of 4 years ago. Both feature parallel 'societies' as well as lots of robots. )
I found the visuals particularly impressive (I saw it on a BIG screen) with details reminscent of '2001 - A Space Odyssey' of nearly 50 years ago, when C.G.I. was still an impossible dream. The congested-earth scenes, shot from above, are also remarkably effective.

Matt Damon shows again why he's one of the very best actors of the currently middle-aged generation, though in this the emotion is almost exclusively angst-driven in him being a lone, self-sacrificing hero (with added physical features in the way of 'attachments') against a motley of villains, and culminating in the predictable climactic fist-fight with the arch-baddie. Of course if one strips away the science-fiction and the gadgetry it's a very formulaic story, but I was nontheless impressed. There's also an 'uplifting' sentimental coda. But apart from that it was pretty much action all the way.

I made my exit from the cinema feeling I'd got my money's worth....................7/10

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Film: 'CHERCHEZ HORTENSE / LOOKING FOR HORTENSE'


Can't help feeling that this ought to have been more absorbing than it was. All the ingredients are there, with Kristin Scott Thomas doing her increasingly frequent Gallic turn again.
In this Paris-based film, she plays half of a relationship which has gone stale, they having one foul-mouthed and cheeky brat of a young son, who is particularly concerned with his mother's heavy smoking. She then embarks, at first reluctantly, on an affair with with a much younger male member of her theatre group.

But the main focus of the film is on her partner, Jean-Pierre Bacri's lecturer on Oriental social attitudes and conventions to business men and women whose employment takes them eastwards. He has a prickly relationship with his father, an influential judge, whom he tries to persuade, or at least make time for, a case of a young lady he only knows by name but is in France illegally and at risk of being deported. He coincidentally meets a young 20-year old female on the street and is captivated by her. Need I say more? I think not.

I found it all a bit on the dull side. The best parts for me were the main character's continually frustrated attempts to reach his father and persuade him to give time to considering his 'case'. There is also a slight and sometimes amusing gay angle, but I wouldn't give that aspect undue importance.

An oddly leaden film, it's not one I'd readily recommend................4/10.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Film: 'THE LONE RANGER'




 





Epic in scale - including, unfortunately, length (two and half hours), this re-interpretation of a TV boyhood hero for many of those of my generation is totally different from the one I recall from the 1950s. Times and sensitivities have changed radically since then and I don't hold it as a criticism of the film in that it's far removed from the portrayal decades ago of white lawman being supported, loyally as a dog, by the compliant Tonto, who leaves all the initiative to his boss to call the shots. In those days we were all much more naive and uncritical of TV fodder presented to us - perhaps as much as perceptions of today's world will seem to those living half a century hence.

In this film it's Tonto, in the capable hands of Johnny Depp, who is the real star. I'd never heard of Armie Hammer (as the title character) before, though I see he did have a role in 'The Social Network'. He was okay, in fact not bad at all, though maybe a bit on the young side.

The film is an uneasy mix of comedy (quips, zany one-liners and a fair bit of slapstick) and the very serious observations of the plight of indigenous natives, slaughtered wholesale for being 'inconveniently' in the way of construction of a projected trans-continental railway (Tom Wilkinson leading at the helm), with the allure of silver mining to add to the merciless zeal of the 'white man'.

I don't think the film was helped one bit by having the resurrected (nonogenarian?) Tonto narrating the history to a boy visitor of a museum. It returns to this scenario rather too often, fragmenting the storyline.

The ubiquitous Helena B.C. (yes, yet again!) appears as a brothel madame, with a rather unusual weapon - but it's little more than a cameo role, so that wasn't too difficult to endure.

I did find the constant switching between moods light-hearted and desperately serious a bit rickety, but they're managed adeptly enough.

There's more than a strong whiff of the 'Pirates' franchise (I've only seen the first two). The brand of humour is exactly the same, as is the tenour of the script. It's enjoyable enough but lacks much originality. If it hadn't been for the 'Pirates' films it might have been more effective.

When the emblematic music of Rossini's 'William Tell' theme appears in all it's extendedly-composed glory in the final climactic sequence I must own to finding it quite exhilerating, but it was a long time to wait for it. (There's also a brief hint of this theme right near the film's start.)

I found it quite a tiring film, far too big and much too long for its own good, even though one must add a note of admiration for the spectacular scenery, sumptuously shot. But as to recommending it, to be honest, I think not - unless one is especially attracted by the stars or the film's concept.
I am aware of the hostile reviews this film has received in America. Depp maintains that even before the film was completed the critics had started to attack it, and this negativity had created its own momentum.

It's certainly not a bad film, but neither did I find it a very satisfactory one. So, sitting on the fence, I endow it with a balanced.............5.

Film: 'ALAN PARTRIDGE - ALPHA PAPA'


I got a lorra laughs from this one, more than any film of recent years.
I've been a huge fan of Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge character since he first appeared on radio 20 years ago, then shortly afterwards on TV, as the self-absorbed, gormless, foot-in-mouth, obnoxious chat-show host - whose world shrinks around him while his ego refuses to
 downsize accordingly.

Here he is back on original territory as a Norfolk Local Radio D.J. offering brief homilies and 'pearls of wisdom' to his listeners - until one of his broadcasting colleagues (Colm Meaney) is given the push, something he himself helped to bring about, only to find himself at the centre of a hostage siege when said victim decides to exact vengeance for his mistreatment.    

I'd already seen the trailer for this film several times before and must admit that my heart had sunk because it looked like another of those cases where, in transferring a TV character to the big screen, it was opened up to such an extent that the whole reason why the original had been so successful is lost. A bigger budget doesn't always result in bigger laughs - in fact it's quite the reverse more often than not - but not so here. Actually it did take me about a quarter of an hour to get 'warmed up', but from then on it was laughter just about all the way - and on at least two of the 'episodes' side-splittingly so.  The success of the film also gains from it being a neat 90 minutes long, thereby not outstaying its welcome.

I can't say how it will play to those who don't know the Alan Partridge character from TV or radio, but I'm reasonably sure that they will also be amused. Whether the film will carry well outside the U.K. is also open to question, though much of the humour is earthy and universal. It may help to have a prior favourable disposition to wanting to like it, which I certainly did have - and I was in no way disappointed.

I'm tempted to score this with an '8', but sitting back and looking at it detachedly, I wouldn't want my verdict to be disproportionate in relation to some of the other excellent offerings so far this year. I think it will still finish in my 2013 Top 10 even if I give it a .........7.5.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Film: 'ONLY GOD FORGIVES'

Set in Bangkok, involving drug gangs, prostitution and bent cops, this controversially received film at Cannes was apparently greeted with equally vociferous cheers and boos.
I think I'd more likely be falling into the former of these two camps, though I can see why it's been derided in some quarters.

Disturbingly violent in sudden flashes among long stretches of silence or very spare dialogue. Ryan Gosling in his 'buttoned-up-with-few-words' element here, as you can imagine. Kristin Scott Thomas as she's never been seen before - all icy determination in her single-minded pursuit of the killer of her son (Gosling's older brother). Not in the least interested in the circumstances of her son's death, whether or not there were any mitigations, she's venom-tongued in her spite for Gosling in not doing enough (so she thinks) in tracking down the killer and gets scarily animated in humiliatingly egging him on to exact revenge.

I don't think anyone could disagree that, visually, it's a beautiful-looking film, mainly shot at night, with red being the predominant colour.  It's a relatively simple story which ekes out the long, slow sequences and gives them even further tension the situation already had. Throughout the experience my nerves were on edge as I didn't know when the sudden ultra-violent acts would come. (There is one particularly nasty execution, the only really prolonged violent scene, in which someone is painfully despatched by the use of 'food utensils'.)

I suppose those critical of the film see it as all show and little substance. (After the final credits there was one cry of "Rubbish!" from a member of the audience when I went - though it must be said that he'd thought it worthwhile staying until all the credits had played out.) However, I do think it's a film of some depth. Certainly not for the squeamish, but I would recommend it as a fine cinematic experience, for which reason I offer a score of.............7.

I'm back - with a big "phew!", but also some "oh dear"s.

Computer returned couple of hours ago, but in not quite the improved state for which I'd hoped - and paid.
Won't bore you with all the details, but chappie thought he'd recovered all my missing docs and pics (he'd had it plugged in in his place for 6 hours continuously to transfer all my files), only to find that once again, when he set it up here, he couldn't find them. Eventually could only pinpoint some of them by putting on a 'search', which I can now also do myself - but it'll take ages to copy them one by one into files again.

Hope that I'll now be able to look at all your blogs, including those particular ones which I always had trouble with to open up. Will have to see.

The big 'plus' is that he's now fitted in a CD/DVD player, which had been removed previously. But that's for the future.

Another downer is that for some reason typing this blog is giving trouble. I can't use the cursor to, for example, jump back to correct mis-types, but have to use the arrows. A small nuisance, but it surely shouldn't have been worse than before.

Anyway, what you'll be interested in is some film reviews. Just got the one to do -  'Only God Forgives', which I'll do either later today or tomorrow, when I also hope to be seeing the Alan Partridge film, which ought to cheer me up a lot, if the reviews are anything to go by.

Meanwhile, until I get back to my routine I must just say 'thank you's especially to J.G., Bob S., Sol, Craig, Dr Spo & H.K. for their kind words of concern. Hope I'll be back in running order pretty soon..,

Thursday, 8 August 2013

I'm still here!

Just to let anyone know who's interested - This computer of mine was taken away for repairs couple of days ago. It just came this this morning but I've found that all my saved documents and pictures are missing. Chap is coming to collect it again shortly to see if they can be recovered, though with no guarantee, which would be very disappointing. He doesn't have time to complete process until early next week. So, no matter what the outcome, I'll be out of commission for at least a few more days. Then I'm going to have a lot of catching up to do - not to mention the two more film reviews I'll have by then.
      With fingers crossed that all my savings for the last eight years can be recovered - and hoping that you all are well.
                                              Till later,
                                                     Ray.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Film: 'FRANCES HA'

(The film's rather odd title is only made clear in the very final shot, but it's not material to the content.)

I was moderately entertained by this New York-set (in b/w), crisp (86 mins) tale of a 27 year-old, apartment-flitting, aspiring-to-be-professional dancer (refusing to read the contrary signs), whose only constant is her female friend (deeper than her matter-of-fact male relationships), at least that's what she thought until friend Sophie makes a life-changing decision without telling Frances, whose sense of betrayal leaves her temporarily stunned. (Btw: Quite a lot of smoking going on this film, by an almost uniformly young cast.)

In the title role Greta Gerwig, whose name I didn't know (and looking remarkably facially similar at times to Chloe Sevigny) does a pretty good job.

Comparisons have been made with some of Woody Allen's films, but I think that's unfair as it then becomes a judgment of the success, or otherwise, of emulation. However, when it comes to entertainment value there's no doubt in my mind that Allen, at his best, is way superior to this particular film. Even when Allen is not on his best form, his dialogues have a quality of hooking me early on. They have an intellectual 'clout', even when largely improvised, which this film lacked. The script here, though hardly vacuous, had only occasional flashes of memorable character interchange.  
   Another comparison I've heard mentioned is with Mike Leigh's hugely enjoyable 'Happy-Go-Lucky' in which the marvellous Sally Hawkins plays the irrepressibly optimistic (some might say "maddening"), giggly lead. That was a film I really warmed to and loved. Not so much here. There is a slight resemblance of that film's main role to this Frances' character but it's only a passing one. (I'm not even sure if director/writer Noah Baumbach would even have been aware of Leigh's film.)

A bit better than just 'fair enough', and maybe an undemanding film to wile away part of an afternoon, I award it a.........................6.


Monday, 29 July 2013

Film: 'THE WOLVERINE' (in 2D)

I haven't seen my favourite-looking actor of the present generation playing this role since I saw the original 'X-Men' film in 2000. I would have given this one a miss too but was smitten by seeing clips of him in the trailer and on TV, sporting those fabulous mutton-chop whiskers, which give him a more feline than a lupine appearance. I don't think H.J. has EVER looked as scintillatingly hot as he does in this. On the other hand, I don't recall seeing his engaging and totally disarming smile even just once during the entire two hours plus.

But that aside, this Japan-based, relentlessly serious, dull film was a waste of time for this cineaste. Loud sounds and visual tricks with the lavish use of computer effects do not an interesting film make.
We get an awful lot of seeing Jackman acting with all the stops out, showing his anguish and inner conflicts. I found it easy to empathise with his struggles but that was probably only because I like him so much. Otherwise I didn't find the story in the slightest way remarkable - though most of it being set in Japan was a further slight point in its favour.

Btw: I'd read a hint to stay for the final credits, which I did - unlike the rest of the audience, bar three or four. After all the acknowledgments have appeared, and rather oddly placed, there is a further couple of minutes of film of H.J. meeting up with two very familiar faces (you can probably guess who they are), which will be cause for diehard fans of the series to rejoice, though hardly for me.

Not much else to say. If the lead had been played by another actor I would probably have scored it by 2 points less than I'm going to - but in that case I wouldn't have bothered seeing it at all.................3/10

Friday, 26 July 2013

Film: 'THE WORLD'S END'

This is the final instalment of the so-called 'Cornetto Trilogy'.
I liked 'Shaun of the Dead' - and 'Hot Fuzz' a bit more than 'Shaun' (unlike some viewers). So I was agreeably disposed to watching this one - and, by and large, it delivered, though without quite eclipsing the earlier two .

Simon Pegg (whom I've always found particularly watchable) plays his most obnoxious character to date - a loud-mouthed, manipulative, heavy-smoking, me-first liar and general slob (and with hair dyed black into the bargain!) He rounds up four of his former teenage chums to complete again the pub-crawl they had started when celebrating their leaving school, they having lost touch with each other since then. The other members of this now middle-aged quintet are all names which aficianados of British film (and TV) will recognise - Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Nick Frost and Eddie Marsan. It's Pegg, of course who calls the tune and they go along with him, mainly for old time's sake rather than with any obvious enthusiasm. (The film's title is also the name of the final pub on their 'itinerary' - a double meaning with a hint of things to come!)
   They start on their 'liquid journey' as intended but very soon it all takes a most bizarre turn. It's difficult to know how much more to say without giving away the direction the rest of the film takes. I was vaguely aware that something very strange would happen without knowing exactly what, and will confess that I was pleasingly surprised (well, a bit) when it did. As the film's still pretty new I'd better leave it at that - though very soon everyone will know, even those who don't see it.
      For me, Freeman and Considine, though good actors, didn't seem entirely comfortable in their roles, but not to the extent of detracting from the fun. The major downer for me was the length - just 10 minutes short of two hours. Comedy, more than most other genres, should not overstay its welcome. It's more effective when closed down while leaving people wanting more, than to unnecessarily prolong its stay by engaging in an attempt to rationalise all what's been happening - especially when it culminates, as it does here, in the expected firework display of special effects. It's the old saying about the length of a film and diminishing returns.
    But on the way there were definitely LOL moments and I did enjoy the start and, even moreso, the middle of the film.

      A respectable comedy, then - fast-talking, generally sharp-scripted and slickly edited - but more than a mite too long. I had been half-minded to give it a '7' but now, on the morning after, I think nearer the mark would be.....................6.5