2 hours ago
Thursday, 7 November 2013
It is based on the true story of an Irish woman, Philomena Lee, as recorded by Martin Sixsmith, his being a household name in the 1980s and 90s for us news-junkies as, among other things he was, for a time, chief BBC correspondent in Moscow and in Washington - before joining Tony Blair's government as adviser, only to later fall out with them.
This film concerns Philomena's (Dench) 50-year search for the child she had to give up (actually sold!) for adoption, by the nuns of the institution she attended (one of the notorious 'Magdelene Laundries' for orphaned and disowned girls run in Ireland by the 'Sisters of Mercy'), because it was born illegitimate to her when she had barely entered her teenage years. Coogan, as Sixsmith, is the writer who, initially reluctant to take up the story, becomes driven by a curiosity followed by a steely determination to assist, then taking her to America where the track leads.
I was aware of the vague outline of the story but I was totally unprepared for a certain most interesting dimension to develop, which I shan't disclose here.
The film contains a strong indictment of the Catholic Church's attitude of the time (and still continuing in places) regarding the 'heinousness' of extra-marital sex. Any consequent birth, attended by the nuns, has all anaesthetics and pain relief withheld, in order that the young mother experiences the excruciating pain brought about by her grievous 'sin'.
The Sixsmith character is a former Catholic, now atheist (rather like me, in that respect) who articulates condemnations of the Church on this issue with words which, I'm sure, a lot of us would wish to have delivered ourselves. In fact in the climactic final confrontation I was half-inclined to cheer him on. Philomena, meanwhile, retains her faith despite the lifetime of hurt that the Church has done to her.
Coogan is also one of the script's two co-writers - and it's a magnificent one, concentrated significance with hardly an extraneous word. Most satisfying to listen to.
It's incredible to think that Dench is only one month away from turning 79. Whenever she decides to retire, which surely can't be far away now, she'll have left us a body of work which any other respectable actor would die for. If she has been somewhat over-frequent on screen in recent years I don't mind that in the least. My attitude is to treasure her while we've got her. Besides, she never delivers a dud. (If you haven't yet seen her in 'Notes on a Scandal' , I'd urge all serious cineastes to catch it. It's a performance that left me transfixed with admiration.)
'Philomena' is a wonderful film. Sentimental, yes, but it's not a contrived sentiment created to get the audience's sympathy. That's already there under the cruelty to which she was subjected.
In the remainder of this year if I see another film as fine as this one then I'll have been very lucky. As at now there is a good handful of films already jostling for my title of 'Film of 2013'. This is another one............8.
Wednesday, 6 November 2013
I'd assumed that this present film was going to be a bit of an oddity, especially for someone like me whose knowledge of the central personality being portrayed is seriously wanting.
It claims to be based on the true story of one Paul Potts, a sort of male equivalent of Susan Boyle, who found fame by winning a T.V. talent show, in this case, 'Britain's Got Talent', with panel of judges led by Simon Cowell who appears as himself in this film, and is also one of its producers. (I've only ever seen this T.V. programme 'accidentally' when switching channels, and never been able to endure it for many minutes longer).
James Corden plays Potts very well, I thought. (His singing voice is dubbed by Potts himself) He's an untrained, opera-obsessed amateur tenor who has to be pushed to jump through hoops to get the acknowledgement he yearns. He seems to have led a very eventful life. I'm willing to believe that no fictional events were added, but no doubt some of it was hyped up to make it more interesting as a film. If it was then that is fair enough too.
His pre-fame life in Port Talbot (South Wales, look you) living with his doubting and confrontational father (Colm Meaney) and his sympathetic mother (Julie Walters) is well caught - as is his romantic interest and subsequent marriage. Trouble is, notwithstanding the reality of events depicted, the film piles cliche on cliche, non-stop. One can guess the graph of his progress - but one knows where it's going to end anyway.
I hadn't realised, until I looked it up, that Potts has found a degree of international fame, though for an outsider like me it's nowhere near as high profile as Susan Boyle's. But, unlike the latter, he is strictly classical. (The standard gamut of well-known tenor arias is run through - nothing unfaniliar).
I've only noticed Corden on film in the marvellous 'The History Boys' (of Alan Bennett, 2007), but I see he has had small roles in quite a number of films of recent years - and will be part of the cast in the much anticipated screen version of Sondheim's 'Into the Woods'. He's been a regular face on British TV for a number of years and is now particularly well known for his highly-praised starring role on stage in 'One Man Two Guvnors' in both the West End and on Broadway.
I'd also mention in the cast of this film Alexandra Roach as Potts' down-to-earth love interest, and Mackenzie Crook as his hyperactive and scene-stealing best pal.
I enjoyed this film rather more than I expected, but it's all very light, easily disposable viewing. Worth a watch but nothing to shout loudly about....................................6.
(Coming soon: 'Philomena')
Tuesday, 22 October 2013
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
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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.