Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Film: 'CAPTAIN PHILLIPS"

If anyone goes to this hoping for two hours plus of highly charged excitement, I doubt if they'll be demanding a refund. By the time it finished I felt quite drained as director Paul Greengrass turns the screws real tight and keeps them in that position.

A lot of people have already seen this so I won't bother to repeat anything other than it's an essentially simple tale (claiming to be based on true story) of Somali pirates highjacking a container ship off the Kenyan coast for a several million dollar ransom. We are all familiar with the relatively new hazard of piracy in that area and though I'd have heard the news about this one I couldn't recall the details nor how it had ended. I also hadn't realised that this was the first major event of its kind.

Tom Hanks, as the captain, here and so often elsewhere, presents an all-round good guy (with family, of course, though it is based on fact), this admirable quality almost certainly spilling over from the persona he presents in real life which, I dare say, he could well be, and I would certainly like to think he is. However, I do tend to find this a bit of a problem in his films as I can't always get beyond the man who is acting - and he almost always plays a 'goody'. (That's why I thought it was a refreshing change to see him in a negative role in the excellent 'World Atlas' at the start of this year). But for this film he is ideally cast as the conscientious, no-nonsense man in charge.

Brakhad Abdi as the chief pirate is a revelation. Totally convincing, he shows us how terrifying such a figure can be, a man who refuses to recognise that he, along with everyone else, has feet of clay. Incidentally, I found it interesting that neither side at any time invoked the name of God/Allah. If they did I missed it. Or maybe it's a mistake to assume that pirates who also happen to be Islamic (I assume) are all religious zealots.   

It's a very loud film. Once the action starts in earnest there's hardly a break from the thumping soundtrack. Also, there's quite a bit of shouting. In fact the entire experience at the cinema I went to approached quite close to aural pain. (I'd forgotten to take my cotton wool ear plugs, which I would have used without doubt.) But I find sound turned up to max is a common feature of many cinemas nowadays, much more than it used to be. It's as though they want to make sure we don't doze off, which is hardly likely in a tense drama like this.

As entertainment this film is very high quality, superior to many other reconstructed real-event dramas I've seen. For that reason it would be unfair if I awarded it anything less than a well-deserved.......................7.5.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Film: 'ENOUGH SAID'

The predictable question to ask is: "Does knowing that this was James Gandolfini's last but one completed film make one more favourably disposed to it than would otherwise have been the case?" My answer is "Emphatically not!". I'd have found this screenplay to have the potential to be a delightful film with any cast - though here they are all uniformly excellent. Moreover, it's assuredly secured a place as one of my 'films of the year.' One of the 'invisible stars' was the script, which I found alert, intelligent and believable, without being too contrived or too glib.

I knew the names of neither main star Julia Louis-Dreyfus nor of director Nicole Holofcener before now, though I see they've both done substantial TV work. Toni Collette affords solid support as Louis-Dreyfus' friend.

The first of these plays a travelling masseuse, a divorced mother of a teenage daughter, with, among her clients, Catherine Keener, another divorcee (also with teenage daughter) and who, during her sessions, offloads her negative opinions about her ex. Keener listens sympathetically, not realising for quite some time that this 'ex'  also happens to be the guy (Gandolfini) whom she herself is currently dating, they having met up earlier at a social function and 'clicked'. (Okay, a co-incidence too far, maybe, but this is meant to be a light-hearted story.) When the revelation dawns on her she tries to juggle both her client-friend and her man-friend without wishing to betray what she's found out to either of them, probing each to elaborate on their opinions of the other.

It's a gentle rom-com, small-scale but very agreeable. Without any genuine laugh-aloud moments (at least for me, though there were some occasional guffaws among the audience), it's rather one of those aimiable, feel-good films, and on those terms alone it works a treat.

I find it hard to find fault with this film. I could have done without the insertion of a song on the soundtrack towards the end (but that's one of my perpetual bug-bears) and if the very close comes near to swimming in sentimentality it doesn't last so long as to drown in it.
If this had actually turned out to be Gandolfini's very final screen appearance it would surely have done him proud.

I was set on giving this a rating of 7.5 but now, three hours after it finished, I can still feel the after-glow, and for that reason I'm going to push it a notch further up to.........................8.




Monday, 14 October 2013

Many Happy Returns, Ray! Well, thank you, Raybeard. Very nice of you to have remembered.

Tues 15th October

Three score and seven, not a particularly meaningful number per se, but another step on the way to either oblivion or immortality (I tend to favour the former.).

Three birthday cards. I expect just one more, from a 74 year old brother, who doesn't always remember, but it's not a big deal. One of the cards yesterday generously contained my only 'gift', a bit of money from a teacher friend in Munich. Very opportune it was too as I can now use it to get Noodles his long-overdue annual check-up, then use the remainder (if any) on more nutrition to continue keeping seven pussies happy, content and satisfied  - three or four times a day!.
But shan't neglect myself.  As a special treat I'm going to gorge on three fried egg sandwiches! And not only that - as I've been to the pictures the last seven days on the trot, I shall today spoil myself with the luxury of not going.

The most famous 'celebrity' who shares my birthday (actual, rather than anniversary) is Richard Carpenter,  half of one time world-renowned singing duo, who in his time has penned a number of high-quality ditties which will last much, much longer than either of us will, even if they've now practically been consigned to easy-listening 'armchair and slippers' music.


Here's a pic taken when I was still 66 - yesterday.



So, let 67 fire at me what it will. Bring it on!



Film: 'THE FIFTH ESTATE'

Julian Assange's condemnation of this film, based on two books which, he claims, are hostile to him, has been widely reported (I'm assuming that he's watched the film) - as has his refusal to meet Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrays him.

I liked it. Frenetically-paced, it tells the story of Wikileaks from its inception right up to almost today - though Assange's ongoing self-sought sanctuary in London's Ecuadorian Embassy, and his reasons for being there, are not addressed in the body of the film and only mentioned in the film's final captions.
It's true that the rapid-fire, consecutive, short scenes doesn't give much scope for arguing the rights and wrongs of making the leaks, but all the same I found it quite an adrenalin-pumping tale (assisted by Carter Burwell's insistent-beat background score). It was also good to have the back story of some of the leaks (which most of us are familiar with), fleshed out a bit more, and I did learn a little.
I knew hardly anything at all of Assange's colleague, Daniel Bruhl, author of one of the contentious books (played capably by Daniel Domscheit-Berg) and didn't realise the extent to which the two of them were working in tandem (or is that perhaps Bruhl's own self-serving gloss?). It's only towards the very end of the film that we are shown their rupture of their partnership and what caused it.
Director Bill Condon keeps the action tight and fast. There's hardly a let-up in it - hardly.

The supporting British cast includes David Thewlis (whom we don't see enough of, these days) as a reporter for 'The Guardian' and Peter Capaldi (the new Doctor Who) as that newspaper's editor.
The main American contributors, both as senior White House staff, are Laura Linney, who's fast becoming a stalwart of largely better-than-average films, and who always seems to raise the standard - as well as Stanley Tucci, who's already been a stalwart for some time.

It's really impossible to say if Assange's denouncement of the film is justified, for who knows where the truth lies? - and is there an absolute truth anyway? Of course there isn't. All I can say that the treatment here of him and his cause is not unsympathetic while not being defiantly 'pro' either. Speaking for myself, although my heart is supportive of his cause (Yeah - go for it!) my head is rather more equivocal.

I'm surprised to see that the average rating on IMDb as at now is as low as 5.8, so clearly my enjoyment isn't shared by most. But that doesn't alter the fact that I left the cinema feeling well-satisfied at having expended time, money and effort on this entertainment.................................7

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Film: 'THANKS FOR SHARING'

Despite a trio of quite starry actors in three of the main roles (Ruffalo, Paltrow, Robbins) to which one can add Joely Richardson and Pink (Alecia Moore), I found this borderline boring. Ennui set in early on, and at just shy of two hours it was rather too long.
Released last year in America (why do we get so many films so much later?) and classed as a drama/romantic comedy, evidence of the last word seldom shows.
One review on IMDb finds the script "incredible" and "not trite". I disagree, finding it uninspiring throughout.

Ruffalo (sadly for me, with a fur-less face this time) and Robbins meet up in a self-help group of compulsive sexual behaviour addicts. Hence the film's title. It's an unusually large group.
So far so good. Pretty sure I've not found this subject addressed on film before. Ruffalo meets up with Gwyneth at a social function and attraction is immediate. Unsurprisingly, he keeps his addiction from her - until she accidentally finds out about it after the bonking has started, leading to an off-on relationship for the remainder of the film.
Robbins, living with his wife, is visited by his long-since-left adult son and who both try to get over their past mutual hostilities, not entirely successfully.

I was hoping I'd like this film more. I didn't think the Paltrow/Ruffalo relationship looked convincing on screen and though Tim Robbins in particular was good, as he just about always is, it wasn't sufficient to rescue this.
There are also a few glaring lapses of continuity.

Btw: They keep referring to sexual addiction as a 'disease'. Thinking about that word, I'd assumed that a 'disease' was a physical illness, set off at a micro level with a virus, germ, bacterium etc. I could be wrong, or it may be that it's one of those words applied differently in American English and British English.
Also, in a hospital, would one ever really find a female, white-coated doctor, visiting patients wearing six-inch stilettos? I would have thought that they weren't the most practical shoes when she has to make an emergency bee-line, and I should have expected health regulations to demand more functionally appropriate footwear. But again, I'm ready to accept that it may happen.

A strangely unmemorable film, and therefore not one I'd recommend, except to wile away a couple of hours, perhaps awaiting something more interesting to do...........................5.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Film: 'FILTH'

The second Edinburgh-located film in less than a week. That's not too many, though in this one there's hardly anything to see that most might recognise.
Very violent, abounding in swearing, loads of cross-cutting with very few scenes lasting longer than two minutes, this wild and busy film has so many times been compared with 'Trainspotting' (like this film,  from author Irvine Welsh), and always unfavourably, as far as I've seen. But it would be mistaken to dismiss 'Filth' completely, in my opinion.

James McAvoy plays a coke-snorting, pill-popping, heavy drinking, thieving, lying, cheating detective-sergeant who's been separated from his wife and child and who's hell bent on achieving promotion above his rivals. He's one who gives 'corruption' a bad name. He'll stop at absolutely nothing to procure his rise. From the outset he plans to discredit the other potentials by any foul means he can devise, including, in one case, constructing a multi-layered scenario to make the others think that one of them is gay, a big no-no for his more mature, but just as homophobic boss (played, interestingly, by openly gay Scottish actor, John Sessions) who regards with horror the thought of one of his senior officers possessing 'non-traditional' values.
By McAvoy's similar blatant lying to the others he gets them to gang up on each in turn, and in the process has illicit and rampant sex (including a bit of S/M) not just with some of their partners but also with the wife of his (non-police) best friend, the impressively versatile Eddie Marsan, for whom he puts on a show of looking for the mystery man who's been making obscene phone calls to her. He's that very same man.
I should have said that in addition to being virulently homophobic he's also racist and rabidly mysogonistic into the bargain - but you probably guessed that that comes with the territory he inhabits.
His only moments of lucidity are when he keeps bumping into his wife and kid, yearning to be back with them again. But these intervals don't last long before he's ingesting the hallucination-inducers again.
Saying more about the story is pointless. It's all high-energy, fantasy-driven stuff, reflecting the effect on his mind of drugs and drink
Others in the cast include Jamie Bell as his close work colleague, who thinks that he's getting McAvoy's confidences, but doesn't know that he's also being duped - and Jim Broadbent in full nutty professor mode as his medical consultant. If you don't know that there's a shortish, out-of-the-blue appearance of a famous face then it's better not to spoil the surprise. (I did know, so I was looking out for him.)

Music soundtrack is incongruous throughout - Golden Oldie pop hits spanning the decades plus some very well known classical pieces, all seeming to have no connection with the action going on ('Trainspotting' had a similar feature.).

There are a number of nods to 'A Clockwork Orange', in fact so many that I was starting to count them, which became a distraction. As well as the conspicuous poster of '2001' on the boss' office wall I wondered if the film contained a general homage to Kubrick, as it also crossed my mind whether the Christmas tree was a pointer to 'Eyes Wide Shut', though maybe not. I don't see why the Kubrick connections were made. I don't imagine it's part of Welsh's source book.

Btw: I wasn't aware that the film's title is just one of the many nicknames the criminal world bestows on the police force generally, though it's hardly surprising to learn it.

I wasn't bored for an instant during this film - there's hardly any opportunity for that. Pleased I saw it but, unlike 'Trainspotting', 'Filth' (Director: Jon S. Baird) is one I'd not rush to see again nor to recommend with enthusiasm - and it's definitely not one for the faint-hearted...............6.


Friday, 11 October 2013

Film: 'LE WEEK-END'

After yesterday's raspberry of a film I was counting on a feature to redeem my belief in good cinema - and, happy to report, this largely fulfils that need.

Virtually a two-actor piece, Jim Broadbent as college professor and his teacher wife, Lindsay Duncan, go off to Paris to mark their 30th wedding anniversary, though their relationship has long gone off the boil. They live together alone, their children having grown up and flown the nest.
While Broadbent's mental state is essentially one of sexual frustration, as Duncan has put her body more or less off-limits to his advances, her attitude to him is one of barely concealed loathing, only broken by the occasional superficial frolicking and lovey-doveyness, as it's plain that she longs after something more to their marriage. Her put-downs and teasing of Broadbent are horribly cruel.
In Paris they fortuitously bump into successful author, Jeff Goldblum, a former colleague of Broadbent, who invites them to a social gathering in his plush flat, which occasions a devastatingly honest climactic scene involving the married couple.

One of the things I most like about this is that those films which have a bickering married couple at the centre of attention are quite rare for a serious film. There are certainly plenty of comedies where a fractious relationship is the main focus, but not so many husband-wife dramas as a feature film - and, even rarer to see, is the portrayal of a couple who are approaching old age. What is more, this pair is interesting. I never knew what they were going to say to one another next, just waiting for a snappish remark to give away the underlying truth of their stale relationship.
Which leads me to give well-deserved praise to writer Hanif Kureishi ('My Beautiful Laundrette' [Goodness, all of 28 years ago!],  'The Buddha of Suburbia' and 'Venus'). All the dialogue, at least that which I could hear, had significance, something many screenplay writers would do well to note.
Director Roger Michell ('Notting Hill'. 'Venus' [again] and a recent one [best left forgotten, maybe] 'Hyde Park on Hudson') coaxes a very fine performance from Broadbent, but Duncan is just extraordinary. I've never seen her till now in such a central role and this is really her film.

But now for the quibbles. As I hint above, the most serious one is in the dialogue. Duncan delivers a significant number of her lines not just under-the-breath but a few of them are merely mouthed without any vocalisation at all. This is a shame as everything that I can hear is essential to depicting the truth of the relationship. I don't want to be left guessing as to what it is that Broadbent is reacting to. Sorry, but we're not all so adept at lip-reading.
Another pity, though less of a deep trouble, was the film's falling into the trap of cliche on the soundtrack. I'd have expected something more than banalities from Michell. We get not only accordian music, for heaven's sake, but also a couple of snatches from 'Clair de Lune' as well. However, for the most part it's jazz - because, you see, Paris = cool sophistication (just in case you didn't know).
There are, mainly near the start, very short views of touristy attractions - L'Arc, L'Opera, Place de le Concorde - and (would you credit it?), yes - La Tour itself! (Actually the couple's hotel balcony view.).
The photography is done throughout in very subdued colours. At no time do we see anything garish. In fact much of the film is set at night.

I liked this film a lot, but feel it ought to have been even better. And that could easily have been achieved by the little tweak of increasing the audibilty of Duncan's words. Great pity that.

However, my faith in cinema has indeed been restored and I'm pleased to award 'Le Week-End' a fine...................7.5






Thursday, 10 October 2013

Film: 'HOW I LIVE NOW'

I'd been put in a sour mood even before this film started on discovering at the box office that it was going to cost me 40% more than anticipated. So there was a lot riding on it being good enough to warrant the twelve mile journey plus the additional expense.
I'd already been aware that it had got a range of reviews, none wildly enthusiastic - but 20% of those voting on IMDb had scored it with the max of 10, so it couldn't be really that bad, could it?  Read on - though it may contain what some consider as 'spoilers'. (But you've already had a sneaky peek at my last line, haven't you?)

Saoirse Ronan ('The Lovely Bones', 'Atonement') takes on a more 'mature' (relatively) role as an unlikeable, lippy 16 year old American who hears voices in her head, coming to England to live for a while with her cousins in their country home, having (one assumes) fled from her unloving father in New York. The family she stays with consists of four kids, straddling both sides of puberty, plus their mother who has to suddenly leave for Switzerland leaving them to cope for themselves. My negative mood took a further dive on finding that they had as pets, two dogs and two cats - plus a goat! My concern was what was to happen to these, since I knew that this was to be one of those 'apocalyptic' films. However, of worry there was no real need, as soon into the film we see no more of the animals - with a single brief, not over-upsetting exception.

A corniness sets in early on. As soon as the newcomer sees her slightly older, hitherto unknown, 'cousin' (?) her hostility to all and sundry starts to melt in the presence of this imposing figure (though he didn't do much for me, as well as being far too young anyway) and before you can shout "Get 'em off!" the two of them are engaged in some vigorous rumpy-pumpy. (Apparently consanguinity is not an issue.)
Near the film's start there's a puzzling meteorological event in the open fields which, we're soon to learn, is the effect of a terrorist-instigated nuclear explosion in the capital. Exactly who the terrorists are is not revealed. The only time we see them is much later as some balaclava'd men in combat gear, so it's unlikely to have been the obvious suspects.
The children are forcibly evacuated, separated into M and F, with the 16 year old and her little cousin taken to a house, where they don't remain long. After that it's a cat and mouse game with the two of them trying to survive while attempting to reunite with the three boys. Enough said of the plot.

There are a couple of disturbing scenes including a bit of violence, but nothing like as bad as has been seen many times before.

I must say the banal script throughout had to be heard to be believed. Imagination had clearly taken a holiday. The storyline had potential to be at least superficially interesting, but we don't want it padded out with everyone continually stating the obvious. Large parts of it would have benefited by being in total silence, with the characters merely exchanging glances implying approval, disagreement or whatever.
And another thing. One of my major irritations is for those films when we have to have a song on the soundtrack to accompany actions which are of no great consequence to the plot, to supposedly set the mood. As if once isn't bad enough, here we're subjected to this silliness twice. Twice! And then there are several moments when, instead of a song we get a tinkling piano in the manner of one of those relaxation/easy listening recordings. Oh, per-leeeeeeze!

If, after all this, you think I don't have a particularly high opinion of this film, well, you'd be right. It's difficult to pick out something positive to say about it. Oh yes, there is one thing - the landscape photography was impressive.
And is this the same director, Kevin Macdonald, who gave us 'The Last King of Scotland' in 2006? Too true it is, though that film itself, while pretty good, was hardly an earth-shaker.

But must do my duty. In a part-forgiving frame of mind (because I'm hoping that tomorrow I can see a film which I'm simply bound to like a lot more, and so dilute the memory of this unpleasant experience) I'll give this one a generous, though still thumbs down...............................3. 







Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Film: 'GIRL MOST LIKELY'

I might have disregarded this one ( USA release in 2012) were it not that it features Annette Bening in one of the main  roles.
Confession time: Ever since she first caught my attention in 'Valmont' (1989) I've had a sort of 'filial crush' on her, even though she's actually 12 years younger than me. Hope that that doesn't sound too creepy but it's only a fantasy to see her as a mother-figure. Anyway, wouldn't want anyone to get the idea that she 'puts lead in my pencil.'

This film almost turned into a happy discovery - almost!
Kirsten Wiig, so good and funny in 'Bridesmaids' two years ago, more or less reprises that Jennifer Aniston-like persona, down to the latter's mannerisms and even her voice.
She plays an unsuccessful writer spurned by her magazine employer despite winning approvals in writing circles. Circumstances compel her to return to living with her mother and younger brother, she and her crustacean-obsessed bro believing the lie that their father had died. Moving in she finds her slightly dotty, gambling-addicted mum (Bening) having not only let out her room to a male lodger but the mother has also taken in her younger new boyfriend (Matt Dillon, who doesn't have that much to do in the film.)

I really laughed a lot during this first part. The humour may be somewhat self-regarding but I was still amused. I was just thinking that some might think this film rather like an extended episode of one of the classic American TV comedy series, when up pops Wiig in her F.R.I.E.N.D.S. sports shirt.
Up to this point I was seriously thinking that I might end up by marking this film higher than yesterday's. Then comedy started to take a back seat and Wiig's romantic interest came to the fore - and Bening virtually drops out for going on hour. The story also follows Wiig and her brother's search for their father, whom they now know to be alive. (The veteran Bob Balaban, always a pleasure to see. Did you know that in 1969's 'Midnight Cowboy', he played the tiny role of the gay student who sucks impecunious [and now anti-equal marriage] Jon Voight in a cinema?)

'Girl' is a good-natured film. However, as so often, I found it yet another in which the promise of the start isn't fulfilled or even maintained. Still, it's by no means a waste of time and money and I'll award it a................6.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Film: 'SUNSHINE ON LEITH'

Based on songs of the singing Reid twins, 'The Proclaimers', I wasn't even aware that this had already been a 'successful' stage musical. Also, as having known only three or four of the songs, the ones that were the duo's most famous hits, maybe I'm not best placed to call judgment. However, I offer my reaction to 'Leith' as a film.

Mention has to be made of the photography. I don't think I've ever seen Edinburgh look so glorious, both by day and by night. Rather than fleeting glimpses, I wish there'd been one or two more longer scenes with a panoramic city backdrop on which one could feast one's eyes. (I've been there just twice, the last being way back in 1981, and both times were for the Festival, hardly ideal for seeing it at its best or most everyday typical.)

This story involves two young army buddies returning home to Edinburgh after a stint of duty in Afghanistan. They return to their respective fiancees, one of them living again with his parents, the always dependable Peter Mullen and Jane Horrocks (the latter's Scottish accent sounding uncannily dead on target - but then ever since 'Little Voice' we've known that she can work miracles with that voice of hers.)
Director, Felix Dexter, whom I've known mainly as an actor for decades, does a good job behind the camera. (Early screen appearances include 'Baby Face' in Alan Parker's 'Bugsy Malone' [1976] as well as  in Derek Jarman's 'Caravaggio' [1986] )  I'm told that it was he making a brief, dimly-lit appearance as an inebriated pub customer exiting onto the street, glass in hand, and making his presence.....'heard'.
Oh, and near the start of the film, if you blink you may well miss the composing brothers themselves coming out of the same pub, in daylight this time.

All the upbeat songs are great fun and choreographed with a big heart - and that is the way the film itself is for the first half. A couple of the earlier songs are set in a pub - 'Let's Get Married' is particularly well accomplished, with one Michael Keat almost stealing the show as the barman. A later one with Jason Flemyng, surprisingly good at singing and dancing (well, a bit), was nearly another show-stopper.

But it takes an emotional dive into ultra-seriousness half-way, for both the young couples as well as for the parents, each with their own issues to resolve or overcome (I didn't quite get what had happened between the older pair). Here I found it did start to drag, providing longueurs which left me craving for another chirpy song and dance, though having to wait it out right until the kind of flash-mob finale arrived. But when it did come it was certainly very exhilarating.

I felt the film was a mixed success. All the acting could hardly be faulted. Most of the singing was high standard too, and most of the songs held their own. I was half-expecting Peter Mullen to growl through his lyrics but he managed quite a creditable effort. I think I was most uneasy with the great gulf of contrast between high-spirits and emotional lows. I realise that stories do need some grit to keep the audience interested but it didn't quite gell for me here. But that's my only really serious quibble, otherwise it's pretty good fun, on the whole.
Having thought about it overnight, I can't quite explain why, in view of the positive things I say about the film, I haven't given it a higher rating. The failure to meld the happy and the downbeat is, for me, the heart of the difficulty. I think other musicals manage it better, though that's not to say that there isn't a lot to enjoy here.
I think in terms of overall satisfaction a fair rating would be.............................6.5

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Film: 'RUNNER RUNNER'

Run-of-the-mill, lazily scripted, indifferently acted 'thriller' featuring Justin Timberlake as hard-done-by, on-line student gambler who loses lots of money in one go to Costa Rica-based casino king Ben Affleck. Convinced that he was cheated, he decides to go and face down the latter himself. Bringing Affleck to justice gets him involved in shady shenanigans, playing the law (with a good dose of predictable corruption) against the casino world.
Gemma Arterton provides the regulation female 'decoration'.

Can't really be bothered to put in the effort say much more (rather like the film-makers), except to mention that we've seen it all before, but handled with more imagination and aplomb. Yet there's also nothing here to take really exceptional dislike to either,..............4/10.

Film:'BLUE JASMINE'

This will be a very strong contender for my 'film of the year'. It not only slips with ease into a list of Woody Allen's best ever but it surely finds its place among the top reaches of those select choices. I can't imagine many of his fans being disappointed, and it should well please a goodly number of those who are less enthusiastic about his works.

Cate Blanchett is absolutely extraordinary in the title role. I've always liked her but found something just a little bit held back in her appearances so far. Here she lets rip devastatingly as the high-flying, New York socialite who comes down with a bump when her affluent husband, who denies her nothing (Alec Baldwin, very good), is finally called to account for his embezzlements and tax evasions, the source of his wealth.  She then goes west to stay with her adoptive sister - who has also lost money in investing in one of the husband's criminal schemes - (Sally Hawkins, also in superb, convincing form) - but she cannot, and is unwilling to, shed her snobbery, including a disdain for having to work to earn her living. With frequent use of tranquillisers and alcohol as props, it's not long before she's expressing a barely-veiled snootiness towards Hawkins' more lowly, working-class lifestyle, with a reluctant, gritted-teeth tolerance of her two young sons, as well as downright disapproval for her sister's choice in men. Her regular tendency to talk aloud to herself in public is one of her more disturbing characteristics - but that's something we've all found ourselves doing now and again, right?.
The action flits back and forth between New York in the past when everything was going swimmingly and Hawkins and her then partner were visiting, they having to endure a conspicuous lack of warmth in their welcome there from the wealthy pair - and San Francisco in the present, with Blanchett still not relinquishing  her haughty, pre-'crash' social attitudes.
When Blanchett starts receiving the flattering attentions of well-monied Peter Sarsgaard she espies a possibility of release from her financial woes and weaves a web of outrageously blatant lies regarding her present situation in order to entrap him, including hiding her estrangement with her own grown-up son.
Sexual infidelities on a number of sides also figure up-front in this tale, all depicted totally convincingly. 

Never dull for one moment, the film fairly zips along. One doesn't know what's coming next and I was more than eager to find out. In the script there are a few very funny, pure Woody Allen one-liners, but it's basically a 'serious' film.
Near the start I was at first a bit anxious about the constant unannounced flicking between past and present, but not for long. Even though the chronology changes are not signalled  it's quite easy to determine where we are. Besides the visual contrast between N.Y. and S.F. offers its own elucidation.
Apart from the director/writer, most of the plaudits ought to go to Cate Blanchett in a role that must have been truly exhausting to perform. She's never been better.

As you can see I have a tremendous regard for this film and I accordingly reflect it in my rating. So, for only the second time this year, I register a gratifyingly high ......................8.5

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Film: 'PRISONERS'

If I'd known that this was going to be as harrowing as I actually found it I might well have had second thoughts about going. I guessed that it wasn't going to be comfortable viewing but after two and a half hours it felt like having been put emotionally through the wringer.
My receptivity wasn't helped one bit by the very opening scene, being the clearly real shooting of a deer in a wood, and then a bit later by seeing a dog hoisted up by its collar and allowed to dangle, though only for a few seconds, but obviously in distress. Neither of these acts was absolutely essential to the film. So anyone who shares my sensitivities in this area might care to take note. (Coincidentally, just before going into the cinema, I witnessed a scruffy-looking chap, who may well have been the worse for drink, wth a dog on a string walking in front of him, which he yanked violently back, shouting at it, making the dog cower and look up to its master with frightened eyes. {Of course, as we all know, dogs can understand every word of their master's language!} I do so hate to see that. I always want to go up to the abusive person and ask if I can have the poor creature to bring home with me. So that put me in an unfortunate state of mind before the film even began.)

The story concerns the baffling disappearance of two girls, one six years old, the other slightly older, while playing together outside during the visit of one pair of parents (father, Hugh Jackman, a religious-orientated being with a most unfetching beard) to their friends.
Jake Gyllenhall is the detective who takes the case. When the chief suspect is released because of lack of evidence (this is near the start of the film so, hopefully, not a spoiler) Jackman, on a short fuse (understandably in the circumstances) decides to act on his own. Revealing further than that would be a spoiler.
Gyllenhall appears to be more level-headed but. as his frustration mounts, he turns out to be something of a simmering volcano. Both these main stars are in superb form. I've never seen Jackman 'losing it' to the extent that he does here.

There are a number of effective suspenseful moments, some very violent scenes with a grisly measure of gore - and, while we were being kept in the dark as to what actually did happen to the girls for almost the entire time, I didn't foresee the solution to the conundrum.

Even more than with some of the films I evaluate I think my rating for this film will reflect my own reaction which included a fair degree of discomfort - generally rather than relating to the specific instances I've mentioned, which are individual and personal. As a thriller delivering the goods it certainly passes muster. I'll give it............7/10.

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.