Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Film: 'THE WAY WAY BACK'



I had little enthusiam for seeing this, knowing, as I did, that it dealt with that off-putting subject of teenage angst, yet again. Within five minutes I thought that it may not be quite the feared ordeal - and so that turned out to be the case, the situation rescued largely by the presences of Toni Collette and Steve Carell as mother and effectual step-father of the sullen, withdrawn, pubescent son at the core of the tale. 

The family (also including Carell's stuck-up teenage daughter to complete the quartet) drives out to their holiday home, where there's an outrageously loopy next-door neighbour with her own adolescent daughter. (Allison Janney as the mother is one of the features that made the film worth watching. I wish there'd been more scenes involving her.)
Close to the home is an amusement park with water features, to which the boy is drawn. He there encounters wise-cracking employee, Sam Rockwell, all mouth and baggy shorts, unable to complete a sentence without some sassy quip or ready bon mot. Rockwell takes him under his wing, prods the surly teenager out of his shell, getting him to go after a particular girl to whom he's taken an especial fancy (attaboy!) and enlists him onto the centre's workforce, all unbeknown to the boy's parents. Meanwhile Carell's wandering attentions, observed by his step-son, imperils the parents' relationship. When the boy opens up to Rockwell about his concerns, the latter drops his exasperatingly jokey facade and turns out to be (wouldn't you know it?) a genuinely sympathetic and comforting guy, providing exactly the supportive shoulder needed to cry on.
(In a small role, co-director and co-writer Jim Rash plays a wimpy, eyes-turned-upwards, rather effete booth worker - one who didn't have a mom but "had two dads".)

Both Toni Collette and Steve Carell starred in 'Little Miss Sunshine' (2006), of course, and there is a superficial resemblance to that film here, mainly in the angle of the humour, but also in showing a family of varied odd-ball strained relationships. I thought 'Sunshine' was the more entertaining of the two films, though not by a great deal.

If one doesn't share my aversion to schmaltz, which comes to the fore in the latter part of this film, you will probably enjoy this more than I did. With a different cast of lower quality it could have become an insufferably painful experience, but it didn't descend down to that level.
With no substantial regrets, then, I confer on it a score of......................5.5.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Film: 'AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS'

Hiatus over! First film for 2 1/2 weeks. (Blame the pussies.)

This oddly-titled film has been generally well received, very well in some cases. (Apparently the title, with no interrogation mark, and immaterial to the film's content, refers to director David Lowery's mishearing of a song lyric.)
Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play lovers who execute a robbery in Texas, the former burying their ill-gotten loot before there's a shoot-out with the law in which she wounds the sheriff, though he takes the rap for it and is sent to prison. He manages to escape, wanting only to reunite with her and their, by then, four year old daughter whom he's never seen. In the meantime she has struck up a sort of friendship, though not a romantic liaison. with the very lawman she wounded, the latter beng ignorant of the truth of what happened, who is hanging around waiting to see if the escaped convict tries to contact her.  Keith Carradine also appears, sage-like, emerging from the shadows every now and then. 'Shadows' is apt because for the most part this is a darkly-lit film, long sequences being nocturnal.
However, the main problem I had lay in a different direction. This is another of those films where so much of the dialogue (I'd say about 80% for me) is inaudible - "mumble mumble mumble". Not knowing what the characters are talking about is bound to mean that one loses a lot of the explanation of the situation they are in as well as missing the motivations for their behaviour. I think that what is at the root of this problem may be that cinemas have surround-sound speakers giving rise to a diffusion of the vocalisations, whereas if they'd been watched on TV or rented for computer play, the sound would be more focussed, even when heard in 2-speaker stereo. Recently there was the TV premier showing of 'The Social Network', another film where in the cinema I just couldn't make out what was being said. I watched the beginning of it on TV and this time didn't have that problem on that scale. (I concede that at my age there is bound to be some deterioration in hearing capacity, though I've yet to be affected by such in everyday situations, such as in face-to-face conversation.) 
  
To return to this film, for the most part its pace is unhurried. The few scenes of violence are short and snappy without undue lingerings. Comparisons have been made with Terence Malick's 'Badlands' (1973), one of the seminal films of this genre, though I don't recall it being recognised as such at that time. The comparison may stand up, but only partly. From what I could gather there's rather more 'joining up of the dots' required to be done in this new film - or was all that in the dialogue that I missed?
I didn't know the name of director David Lowery before now, though I see he's also edited the new film 'Upstream Colour' which has also had good reviews and which I've got pencilled in to see next month. Could be a name to watch. (Oops! I've just read that 'Colours' depicts the death and physical decay of animals, in this case a pig and its litter of piglets. That's a 'no-no', I'm afraid, so it's now off my intended list.) From his droopy-moustached looks in currently available photos, Lowery could have fitted with ease into a group shot of the 'Village People'. Interesting.

I've a nagging feeling that this is a better film than I'm able to give it credit for. It definitely isn't boring; in fact it's quite suspenseful at times. But with a large part of the means to fully appreciate it missing, possibly not due to the shooting of the film itself, (though it might have been), my final verdict score may be unjust. But as a cinematic experience I award it a......................6/10. 

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.