Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Film: 'WE'RE THE MILLERS'

I probably wouldn't have bothered with this had I not noticed on the IMDb site that it had accumulated quite a high average vote. To be fair, I did get quite a few chuckles from this rather over-stretched film, just about all of them coming in the first two-thirds - as well as exclusively arising from some rather sharp one-liners rather than the situation in hand.

I only knew the one name from the cast though Jason Sudeikis did look slightly familiar. Referring to his filmography I see that I last saw him in the rather more entertaining 'Horrible Bosses' of 2011.

He plays a drug dealer, said 'recreational drug' being, arguably, the least controversial one, marijuana. He's fallen into debt with his spivvy supplier to the tune of thousands of dollars, and in order to have the debt expunged he's given the 'choice' of collecting just a "smidgeon and a half" of grass from Mexico and smuggling it over the border, and be paid for his 'trouble' - or be killed. He gets the idea, to give the appearance of credibility, of creating a 'family' by coercing his squabbling neighbour as his wife (Jennifer Aniston stretching all belief as a professional stripper) a nearby nerdy kid and a female juvenile thief as his children. So they all go off together, expecting to get a share of the fee on successful return. When they reach their destination the quantity of grass turns out to be enough to load a lorry - so it's just as well that he'd had the idea of taking his 'family' in a virtual home-on-wheels. On the way they fall in with an odd couple and their daughter whose attitudes swing between 'free-love' and law-abiding censoriousness.

The film did have its moments and I did laugh out loud at a couple of points. But when one sees at the start a couple arguing like hell, one already knows how they are going to end up - and that is precisely what happens in a bit of a treacly finish, though I have seen worse.
There's a few blooper out-takes at the end, actually this time placed before the final credits, so you're less likely to walk out and miss them, though they are hardly anything special. When I say that the final one is a prank involving the car radio and refers to one of the cast's TV past you can guess where it goes.

I thought the film was fair enough. As I say, I got a few laughs and that made it worthwhile, but only just. I give it.................5.5/10

Monday, 26 August 2013

Film: 'WHAT MAISIE KNEW'

Strong and impressive modern take on Henry James' 1897 novel of the same name (of which I hadn't heard!).



In New York, Julianne Moore (in blistering form) and Steve Coogan (also good, in a straight role after his recent very funny 'Alan Partridge' film), are the viciously bickering parents of 6 year-old Maisie, who witnesses their sweary squabbles and is understandably confused about her divided loyalties as she's fond of them both. The Court orders her to be shared between them - each of them having other relationships and, after the divorce, neither of them wastes any time in getting married again, each to someone quite a few years younger than themselves.

Moore's mother-figure is a fading rock singer, way past the time of her high appeal, and Coogan plays an art-dealer father, like Moore often away 'on business' and both therefore only able to give limited time to their daughter. It's evident that they both have qualms of conscience but are unable or unwilling to alter their routine to give her more attention. So, it's left to the new spouses to take the lion's share of the caring - and it's clear that each of them separately is much better at that function than Maisie's true father and mother - and she warmly takes to them both.

The 'substitute' parents are Joanna Vanderham and Alexander Skarsgard, both of whom are new names to me. I'd guessed the latter must have been a son of Swedish actor Stellan S. - and a very nice 'bit of rough' he is too, with an endearing smile. She is very good as well. In fact the entire quartet of adults here all play their parts excellently.

And to bind it all together is little Opata Aprile, who could so easily have been portrayed as a twee little child, who is used in the film as the instrument to drag the whole thing down to mawkishness. But co-directors McGehee and Siegel deftly avoid that. I know that it's been avoided because I have a particular aversion to seeing little kids on screen displaying a wisdom way beyond their years. That's not the case here. Maisie doesn't have a great deal to say about the adult relationships, conveying her perplexity at what's going on mainly through silent looks.

I must also mention that Julianne Moore (one of my very favourite actresses) plays her role as someone who has little regard for her appearance - as far as I can see, largely without make-up and almost looking her true age. When it comes to her confrontations the hatred that spews out of her mouth towards her former husband is almost palpable.
A thoroughly convincing and remarkable performance.
A film of fine achievement, and something I wasn't expecting............7.5

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.