Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Film: 'THE CALL'


The first hour of this 94 minute film is terrific - as tautly suspenseful as a thriller ought to be. After the first few minutes the tension starts and hardly lets up. Pity, then, that the final section veers off into grisly Grand Guignol territory, though still with enough 'oomph' for me as not entirely to capsize the whole venture.

Halle Berry (in a 'good' film for a change), plays one of the operators in an emergency call centre. She is knocked mentally sideways by having to live with her failure, (though not her fault), to be able to save a teenage girl from being the victim of a murderous burglar. Despite trying to live with this burden she decides to get back to work only to get a call from another girl of similar age locked inside the boot of a driven car, in the process of being abducted. The chase is then on to identify the kidnapper and/or the car, and to frustrate his unknown intentions, whatever they are. The action is well executed, directed and acted. Edge-of-the-seat stuff.

The final play-out reveals the motivations of the perpetrator for the abduction in a scenario that would have given Norman Bates himself a decent run for his money. And I didn't see the ultimate pay-off coming.

Overall, a superior film. If it had maintained the momentum it achieves for more than the first half I might have been tempted to mark it a notch higher even than the score I've settled on...........7.5.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Film: 'LA GRANDE BELLEZZA' ('THE GREAT BEAUTY')

All the reviews of this Italian film which I've seen make reference to Fellini, and though that esteemed director's style is written all over this one it's a very high bar to reach in terms of quality, and for that reason I was constantly wanting it to be more enjoyable than I actually found it.

Sorrentino's film concerns an old writer, partly reminiscing on his past as well as experiencing varied aspects of present-day Rome, while he puts on a show of, despite his age, still being 'with it' as regards younger generations (attending parties, dancing etc).
This film is every bit as discursive as Fellini, yet somehow managing to lack the cohesion which that master achieved with such ease, despite it having the one strong central focus in the writer.
It's episodic throughout, with some bizarre characters, including at the end (the most successful part for me) a gently amusing depiction of some clergy of the Catholic Church and, in particular, a 104-year old nun (whom people refer to as 'The Saint') and who is a general object of reverence despite her being, understandably, in an advanced stage of almost totally silent and unreactive senility. Religion and its quirks was an area Fellini was especially good at evoking with his peculiarly angular viewpoint. (What he would have made of the scandals of recent years one can only surmise.)
Comparisons have been made with 'La Dolce Vita' (it's easy to name the 'winner' between them) but there is also a strong whiff of another of my 50 all-time favourite films, 'Roma', in which the episodes also traverse the title city, depicting various characters, some of them distinctly oddball. But that was a masterpiece, a description it would be hard-pressed to bestow on this film, notwithstanding a few of the pleasures it does afford........6/10. 

Monday, 23 September 2013

Film: 'ABOUT TIME'

"I just don't understand how people are not liking this film. It is just perfect!!!" So reads the first review on the IMDb site I come across. The writer is, presumably, referring to the likes of me.

I was so wanting to not see this film. I thought I'd managed it but, because there was one final cheapo showing, I swallowed my pride and went. Silly me!
What did I have against it? Richard Curtis' (screenplay & director) cloying sentimentality which, on previous form, he's most adept at portraying. And when I heard that adult men were coming out of this one with tears in their eyes that was too much. Or it ought to have been.
After the masterpiece that was 'Four Weddings' in 1994, which I've watched over and over again and which doesn't pall for me, Curtis has been taking gradual downward steps. 'Notting Hill' (1999) wasn't actually too bad. Neither was 'Bridget Jones's Diary' (2001). But 'Love Actually' (2003), though having its moments was, for me, a sign of things definitely going awry - especially in the almost unwatchable, sickly 'Liam Neeson and his son' segment. Then came 'The Boat That Rocked', an unbelievable turkey of a film which even the formidable presence of Philip Seymour Hoffman couldn't save. I rate it as one of the biggest clunkers of recent years.

'About Time' concerns a 21-year old (the only slightly charismatic Domhall Gleeson) who learns from his father (the excellent Bill Nighy) that he has the ability to travel in time within his own lifetime. Having been told of this latent talent he uses it to do nothing other than pursue the girl he's fallen for (the rather more endearing Rachel McAdams) - exactly as one would do, right?
I don't have any difficulty in accepting this preposterous, but potentially entertaining, notion within the confines of a zany comedy - or even the rom-com which this film purports to be - but the concept is handled here very leadenly with an over-earnestness exemplified in the incredibly obvious 'message' of "appreciate each moment of one's life!" I got that within the first 20 minutes, so the repetition became just tiresome.
The 'fun' of the film is to be derived in watching the young man using his newly uncovered ability to repeat experiences with his female 'conquest' but ironing out his gaucheries second time around so as to be thought more of, as well as to prevent undesirable circumstances happening to not just himself but also to other members of his family. (You'll understand why one shouldn't think too hard about this, because if you do, the idea falls to pieces.)

It's a hopelessly bloated film. At two hours long it would have been far more effective with a good half hour lopped off. In fact in what I thought were the final stages of the film Curtis keeps unnecessarily adding on scene after scene, unwilling to let go, like a dog wanting to retain possession of a ball. Oh, what an endurance test!

Despite all this, it was not entirely negative. I've already mentioned Bill Nighy who, though he always seems to be playing the same character, is never less than watchable. Likewise Lindsay Duncan as the mother, though she has no real extended scenes. Tom Hollander, now almost a 'daddy' with his slightly unkempt, grizzled beard, looks hotter than I've ever seen him before.
I ought also to mention that, in a tiny appearance, it was especially poignant to see the wonderful, sadly recently deceased, Richard Griffiths. He must have died only very shortly before this film was released. (I saw him way back in 1977 as a youngish man playing 'Bottom' in a Royal Shakespeare Company's production of 'Dream'. I never saw a more memorable or funnier one.)

IMDb's rating to date tell me that my unspectacular view of 'About Time' is clearly a minority one. But I can only report how I felt, and which is why I now give it an appropriately humble rating of..............3.5.

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