1 hour ago
Thursday, 15 May 2014
I wasn't acquainted with the journalistic origin of the source idea for the film and its characters, which are apparently quite well known in music circles, so I came to it as an 'innocent'. I don't think that not knowing the background to its inception hinders its appreciation.
The film (Director: Lenny Abrahamson) does have its comedic moments but it also goes to some very dark places.
Only Gleeson's fresh-faced newcomer seems curious to find out the reasons why that head is being worn, the others either already knowing and won't tell as it doesn't matter any more or, more likely, it's unimportant. I was ready to go along with the latter viewpoint as part of that character's quirky personality. When they travel from their isolated Irish island recording 'hide-out' to attempt to hit it big in America, there the head is not commented on or even given a second glance by members of the public who are coming across the group for the first time. Still fair enough. But all this is undercut by the fact that, near the film's close, we are given an explanation-of-sorts for the head. (I shan't say whether or not we are ever given a view of the real Michael Fassbender underneath.)
I'm aware of my tendency to mark down a film where my expectations are confounded, even though it shouldn't necessarily be so, and one ought to treat elements of surprise as the positive attribute they can be. Having said that there was something about this that didn't really gell with me. It seemed to strive to be both ambitious yet small-scale but tripped over itself in its execution. I think the Coen brothers could have melded the moods more successfully with their ability to give a delicate touch to situations which, in other respects, could be seen as tragic.
A flawed film, then, though it certainly does have some entertainment value - and throughout one is always wondering about that massive head even though this particular viewer would have felt more satisfied if it had been left as unexplained..............................6.
Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Dealing with backing singers to world-famous celebrities from the 1960s up to date (here almost exclusively African-American and female) on both recordings and on stage, it's a series of talking heads, plus some live singing, by a few surviving singers themselves, most prominently Darlene Love (whose name was only on the margins of my awareness) and Merry Clayton (who wasn't). These are interjected by brief comments from the likes of Springsteen, Wonder, Jagger and Sting, all of whom basically say what marvellous voices these singers have. Hardly surprising.
There's some relating of failed attempts to achieve fame in their own right, only to be stymied by such powerful pop moguls as Phil Spector, determined that there were to be no rivals to Diana, Tina, Whitney, Mariah etc.
There were no great insights for me. I felt that all that needed to be said could have been achieved in twenty minutes instead of the ninety that this takes.
I think one needs to be keenly interested in the subject before making an effort to watch it. I thought I was but if I'd started to watch this on TV for the first time it wouldn't have been long before I'd be channel-flicking................................5/10.
Monday, 12 May 2014
Not even the likes of the wonderful Emma Thompson, plus Pierce Brosnan, the ever-watchable Timothy Spall with Celia Imrie can pull this together.
Brosnan and Thompson are divorced from each other but have to get together to save themselves from financial ruin when Brosnan's firm is bought out by a young and dastardly French magnate - who happens to have bought a multi-million dollar diamond for his new wife, something which Thompson, by chance, happens to catch on Sky News. They hatch a plan to steal same. Bickering, as only ex's can, they go to Paris to meet the villain (La Tour Eiffel - tick! L'Arc de Triomphe - tick! And oh, in the film's final shot, Notre Dame - tick!) How on earth will they manage to survive together while being forced to spend time in each other's company? (Don't hold your breath.) They then follow their target to, where else, but the south of France to accomplish their clever little scheme, reining in local friends Spall and Imrie for assistance. Oh, and one more thing, Thompson is allergic to flowers, Brosnan to cats. Wouldn't it be a hoot if they found themselves together in a room full of both (as one does), each of them trying to stifle sneezes?. Laugh? I almost cried!
I was yawning within 15 minutes of the start of this sorry feature. But I must say it just might have been my own lack of sense of humour that stopped me enjoying it. There was one single chap in the audience who was splitting his sides. I concluded that he was either high on something (though, being of my generation, that seemed unlikely, though not impossible) or he had a canister of nitrous oxide from which he was inhaling.
I didn't know of writer/director Joel Hopkins. Including this one I see he's directed only four films to date, all of which he's written himself. If this is anything to go by I shan't be looking forward with any measure of eagerness to his next feature.
The only thing that makes me give this as 'high' a mark as I do is because I don't want it to be any lower than the score I gave to 'Labor Day'. At least the latter wasn't boring - and it was funnier.........2/10
Sunday, 11 May 2014
The sole night of the year when I stay up beyond 11 p.m. - and it wasn't without its usual quota of excitements and controversy, especially the latter, this year in Copenhagen. Lots of it like a circus - we had a trapeze, a trampoline, a see-saw, skating, 'rain', a man-sized hamster-wheel and a circular keyboard to boot! But, hey, what else did you expect?
Biggest talking point was participation of bearded drag queen, Conchita Wurst (real name: Tom Neuwirth) performing for Austria - and coming first (not entirely unsurprisingly), becoming that country's first win since 1966. Since her participation became known certain bodies, particularly in Russia and Belarus - as well as Austria's own extreme right - have been dismayed and, spluttering with rage, petitioned the Eurovision authorities to exclude her from the competition or, if not, not to screen her performance on grounds of it being 'perverted' and having a 'corrupting influence'. Of course such requests were quite rightly given short shrift. Russia's opposition to Conchita no doubt boosted her chances to win with her over-earnest, power-ballad, 'Rise Like a Phoenix' which in my own ratings wouldn't have made it into the top half of the 26 participants. But it was satisfying for Russia to be given two fingers (non-British readers read 'one finger'). The final winner appeared to be likely early on with only one or two other countries coming even close. At the very least it was good to have a country winning again which had had to wait for nearly half a century.
Not only was Russia's own entry (two sisters joined by their hair, at least at the start, but coming a respectable seventh) unfairly booed for, no doubt, this very reason, but in the voting section every time another country gave a substantial number of votes to Russia that got booed too. Not very pleasant and not at all fair on their act, even though I didn't think much of their song.
My own telephone vote went to Belarus, hottie Teo singing 'Cheesecake' with four backing male dancers/singers - a perky number performed with some nifty little snake-hip moves. A happy song, which is always a plus for me.
Sad to say, sassy little Teo only came in 16th place, one place above the uninspiring (though a lot liked it) UK entry of Molly Smitten-Downes and her self-penned (We are) 'Children of the Universe.' - which, I suppose is an advance on the Bee Gees singing that "We are children of the world." - and including 'aspiring' lyrics like "Power to the people!" (Oh dear! Straight out of John Lennon/Vietnam War days!) Still, we managed to finish two places higher than last year's Bonnie Tyler effort, though I think in this case 17th was about its deserved slot even though the bookies had placed it Top 5.
My second favourite, from host nation Denmark, Basim singing 'Cliche Love song' had quite a bit in common with my first choice of Belarus, another chirpy, toe-tapping, smiley number with front man and four backing singer/dancers. Unfairly finishing in 9th place. (Dooby-dooby-dup-dup).
My number three choice was the Netherlands with an attractive, unassuming, c/w duet, 'Calm After the Storm'. This was the only highly placed of my own choices, coming in at a good second.
My fourth was Switzerland (actually finishing 13th) with whistling and violin playing, another up-beat entry, and my fifth, above, would have been Rumania (ending up in 12th), a duet with the guy rather like a good-looking David Gest, not everybody's definition of handsome though, despite an alarming haircut (clump on top) I found him attractive.
Two acts stood out from the rest for being 'different'. One was Netherlands (above), the other was Iceland, 'Pollaponk', a (mostly) bearded sextet decked out in their regular, trademark, cartoon colours, brash, loud and crazy, just like their song. (I thought red and pink were the hottest). The song itself was a little better than okay. It finished 15th though felt it maybe ought have scraped the Top 10, just.
So this year we had it all - controversy, the good, the bad and the boring. I always mark the entries on a list as the contest progresses. Until this week I hadn't heard any of the songs, not even the U.K. entry. I didn't think the overall standard this year was quite as high as 2013. In fact my scores for 8 of the 26 entries was a big fat '0'. - only Belarus getting my max of '5' and Denmark being the only one to which I accorded a '4'.
But all in all it was good fun - and one can't help but be thankful for that poke in the eye from Austria and supporters for Putin and his thuggish friends. Good on ya!
Wednesday, 7 May 2014
I'd heard of neither director/writer Jeremy Saulnier nor of principal actor Macon Blair who carries the entire weight of the film and is, in fact, hardly off-screen at all.
Little, if any, background information is provided when we see the unkempt and straggly-bearded Blair at the start, apparently a hobo leading an aimless life in small-town Virginia. When he learns that someone who killed both his parents is about to be released from prison he's determined to exact revenge, which he does but without thought that he himself would then become a target as a consequence. Undergoing a radical transformation by having a shave and tidy-up, it's then a matter of his awaiting and being prepared for his pursuers before he becomes their victim, while also attempting to secure the safety of those near him who could additionally be targeted for further vengeance
It's a simple but suspenseful tale. He learns, as do we, of the motive behind the murders which started off this chain of events. There were at least two points in the story where I was reminded, bizarrely, of 'Home Alone' and, more pertinently, 'Straw Dogs'.
Macon Blair takes on the central role brilliantly and credibly, conveying well his internal struggles between self-preservation and the utter distaste for his necessary actions.
At a sensible ninety minutes this film shows yet again that one doesn't need a sprawling discourse of epic length nor a bank-busting budget to deliver good quality entertainment. Well recommended, though one does need to have a strong stomach for more than one of the happenings............................7.5.
Wednesday, 30 April 2014
It wasn't long into the film before I was struggling to evince some sense out of what was going on, the reason being that much of the expository scene-setting dialogue is delivered in dialogue that's little more than mumble-talk. More on this later.
Johnny Depp is joined by a trio of British stalwarts, Rebecca Hall, Cillian Murphy and Paul Bettany, with Morgan Freeman also along for the ride.
Wally Pfister take's the director's helm, having past form on contributions as Director of Photography on such fine films as 'Inception' and 'Memento' among others.
Depp is a leading scientist in the subject of artificial intelligence, with ambitions to create a virtual brainless mind without limits on knowledge and mental capabilities. He's shot by.....who? Religious fanatic? Luddite? Political enemy? Science rival? All becomes clear in time......or it ought to have done. The good doctor dies shortly after, but not before his wife, Hall, downloads all that's in his conscious and subconscious mind. For the major part of the film Depp only appears on computer screens as his consciousness is resurrected and he's once again able to communicate with the physical world, despite the fact that his body has been cremated, giving instructions as to what to do next to further his wishes. (We'll gloss over the question of the whereabouts of the camera which shows his talking, after-life face.)
The plot goes into lengthy development of an idea to regenerate physical injuries, which confused me. And who exactly is this mysterious gang kidnapping Depp's colleague (Bettany), and trying to find out all about the project? Do they want the secrets for themselves or to destroy it all? Search me! There's some, what I take to be, unexpected changes of allegiance between the main players but by then I'd given up caring.
Freeman (not playing God) is always a significant presence on screen, but doesn't really have much to do here. Maybe they wanted to give the film some added weight, which on the whole he does supply.
There's quite a bit of computer-image trickery during the entire course of the film, but nothing that we haven't seen before.
Yes, while the film was playing I was wondering when this now common practice of indecipherable mumbling began. I think it was about 20 years ago. In films up to then it was a rarity to have an actor mouthing incomprehensible words. Now it seems like they are being told "Don't worry. Just say the line any old way and the mike will pick it up." They are wrong. It's just total indolence on the part of actor, director, sound engineer et al.
It might be thought that at my age (67) my hearing will be failing and giving me a problem that younger people may not have. That may well be true to some extent, though it doesn't explain why it's only in the cinema that I have problems in deciphering conversations at all. In everyday life, never. If in reality people talked to me at the sound level I experience in contemporary films I'd be saying "Eh? What did you say?" all the time. But I never have to.
So I may be misjudging this by not having taken on board all one had been intended to take. But whereas yesterday's film was just plain daft and justified the low rating I gave it, with 'Transcendence' I'm willing to concede that at least part of the 'fault' may have been my own and that it's really a better film than I give it credit for. Having said that, it's still the case that a fair score which reflects my own level of 'enjoyment' would be..............3.5/10
Tuesday, 29 April 2014
This film was actually released here a few weeks ago but I'd forgotten about the risibly absurd premise that the story is based on. If I'd recalled what had been said I'd probably have thought twice, but I caught it today on a screening obviously intended to mop up mugs like me who hadn't seen it up to now. And - oh dear!
Kate Winslet, divorced mother of a 12(?)-year-old son, on a routine shopping trip is approached by escaped convict Josh Brolin in a store. (Cue a bit of 'regulation' shop-lifting!) He, bleeding a bit and with leg injured by his escape jump out of a window, implies threat to her accompanying son if she doesn't drive him away (to her house!) in order to rest his leg "just for a few hours". To be fair, she puts on all the concern, apprehension and fear which the script calls for, especially when he discloses that he's on the run from a sentence for murder. All this happens in the first ten minutes.
Well, I was going to say "to cut a long story short" but you don't really have to wait that long before he's moved in, helping around the house, mending the car, giving the son baseball tips - even ironing, for goodness sake! But all that's as nothing compared with his showing both mother and son how to make........a peach pie! So is that the apex of his talents? Not by a long chalk! Before you can say "Bossa Nova!", gammy leg notwithstanding ('scuse the pun), he's teaching her how to dance! You'll have gathered that by now the scales have long since fallen from her eyes and she sees him for the fine and caring specimen of manhood that he is. One assumes that by now or very soon they are bonking with gay abandon. (True love sure works in mysterious ways!) Thankfully we are spared the sight of any such bed scene, which would surely have been accompanied by sultry, sexy, saxophone sounds, though I'd bet such a scene finished up on the cutting room floor - where nearly all the rest of this shameless farrago deserved to be. While they're watching TV there's a flash warning about her 'guest', telling all to be alert to this convict who's escaped from an 18-year murder sentence. But is she deterred while she lovingly rests her head on his shoulder. Not a bit of it! (What's the odd murder between friends?) How about another dance?
Of course his presence in the house has to be kept scrupulously under wraps, with police on the streets and his mug-shot nailed to trees - while all the while the son is, understandably, far from happy at the developing relationship.
I must, however, give due positive regard to a few minutes towards the end of the film where director Ivan Reitman (the good 'Juno' + 'Thank You For Smoking' among his worthier credits) really cranks up the suspense most effectively. Unfortunately, this is soon dissipated in an extended epilogue over several scenes, long outstaying its welcome. I wanted to scream "Yes, we get it. Now let it GO!!!"
It would have been nice to say that one could just forget the ludicrous notion that the Winslet character would so easily fall for a sinister, convicted murderer to the extent of 'shielding' him from due justice, and just get on with enjoying the rest of the film. But there's no getting away from it. Their situation looms large in every single scene so you're not allowed to forget it.
Nothing else to say, really. Don't know why I'm giving it this score - let's just say it's for those suspenseful few minutes near the close ....................................2/10
Monday, 28 April 2014
I knew next to nothing of the person behind the universally-recognised name in the world of fashion so, gleaning from some reviews of this film (none of which seemed to be positively glowing with praise - at least the ones I read) it was largely an education for me.
Pierre Niney plays the bespectacled eponymous role, a spoilt kid with a short fuse from the very start. Guillaume Gallienne is his lover/assistant-cum-manager who, for me, had much more on-screen magnetism than Niney. This created a void at the film's heart which I felt - the question as to why so many, male and female alike, found YSL so fascinating and, indeed, attractive? Surely not just because of his rapidly-acquired wealth? Can only have been his artistic talent, then.
The pair of them get hitched up very near the beginning and from there on it's a chain of tiffs and fights, some of it physical, arising from their jealousies and infidelities (both sides).
It took me a bit aback to see it, but I suppose the very matter-of-fact acceptance of homosexuality in that milieu in late 1950s/60s Paris would be well documented. Apart from YSL relating how he was beaten up over being gay (which we don't see) and which contributed to his emotional fragility and volatility, there is no open hostility to him for that reason in the fashion world he inhabits. In fact there seems to be an all-pervading air of poly-sexuality!
We see some of his fashion shows, given with sumptuosity and flair. For me these were actually more interesting and watchable than the story of his life. Paris itself, and the Ile Saint-Louis in particular, looks lovely.
Btw: Though knowing hardly anything about fashion myself I do like to watch designers in action - as in the TV shows of Gok Wan, Trinny and Susannah (alas, gone from our TV screens) - and, oh, how I miss 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy'! It's the utter confidence displayed in decisions that just floors me every time, not giving a fig as to what others think. Especially with 'Queer Eye', I was just amazed at the certitude of their opinions while they were yet so young. I wouldn't have had the guts to openly disagree! There's a touch of that particular aspect in this film too. But I digress. (A bit of daydreaming!)
I reckon that YSL delivers what it was intended to but I shouldn't imagine it will be active in my memory for very long. But I never really got bored - I was just waiting for the next fashion show............5.5
Wednesday, 23 April 2014
There's only the one on-screen character and soon after the start he is driving for the entire time in this admirably concise 85 min film. Some have said that it wasn't as involving as it ought to have been, though I was totally engrossed.
In this film by director/writer Steven Knight (previous writing includes the high standard 'Dirty Pretty Things') the ever-dependable Tom Hardy is construction manager Ivan Locke travelling from his workplace in Birmingham to London in order to be with a woman at a crisis and to whom he feels he owes his presence, this despite the fact that he's needed at work in a few hours where there's to be an epic-scale, multi-lorry delivery of cement mix and where his attendance is absolutely crucial. Added to this, his wife and two sons are eagerly expecting him home, particularly this evening. The film shows his juggling with these three allegiances through a hands-free phone and trying, with great difficulty, to smooth the reactions of utter disbelief and horror from his work colleagues and wife when he reveals that he won't be with them. All the attention is on the behind-the wheel Locke and his mental struggles and frustration, while the woman in London (of whom his wife did not know anything) also keeps ringing him to plead his attendance. It's gripping drama. I didn't look at my watch once.
I've just two cavils about this film, neither of them too serious. The first is that his occasional talking to an invisible and silent hallucinatory figure of his late father sitting in a back seat of the car doesn't quite work as well as the phone calls, perhaps because he's essentially talking to himself, whereas on the phone it's obviously all dialogues. But these occasions aren't many and none of them are extended. And they do give a kind of context to the situation he finds himself in.
Then also, I'm not quite sure why it was decided to make the film in widescreen. I think a screen of regular, 'normal' ratio might have worked better, highlighting the claustrophobic aspect of being in the enclosed and inescapable space of a car the whole time. (There are just occasional glimpses of other motorway traffic).
I might add that by the end of the film not all threads have been tied up. The film takes place, more or less, in 'real time' or near enough - and anyway, life is never such that clear-cut endings all occur simultaneously.
All in all a fine, satisfying achievement...................8
Tuesday, 22 April 2014
Based on a Dostoyevsky short story, it tells of a meek, mild-mannered, compliant, put-upon employee in a government office, Simon James, who suddenly finds that his doppelganger, named James Simon, has started working in the same establishment - physically identical, even wearing the same clothes. However, the new arrival owns a totally opposite personality - assertive, extrovert, super-confident - and, unlike himself, knows and demonstrates what it takes to wow the women, including the young co-worker with whom S.J. is infatuated though he's hopelessly unsuccessful in his attentions. J.S. shows how it's done.
Although variations on this idea have been seen on film before what I don't think I've seen until now is that the major conceit here is that no one else mentions or perceives the fact that the two are identical, even when they appear together. Each of them is treated by other staff members according to his own manner and expectations, one admired and accommodated, the other slighted and ignored. It's an interesting and insightful notion, namely that one's demeanour invites reactions appropriate to it, be it deference, admiration, rudeness, curt dismissal or whatever.
Set in a world not far removed from that of Terry Gilliam's accomplished 'Brazil' (1985), it all takes place at night in artificial light, mainly in sepia tint with occasional flashes of blue. The whole appearance is sombre which befits its going to some very dark places, a major area visited being that of suicide, though there are also brief instances of comedy to lighten the mood. The drama hinges on the rivalry between the two with S.J's growing envy and exasperation with J.S's easy manner, provoking him into drastic action. However, it's not a story with simple resolutions. Questions are purposely left hanging on the air which suits the cryptic narrative.
Jesse Eisenberg plays the two leads. The impish Wallace Shawn is S.J.'s office superior and there's a sprinkling of fairly well-known British actors in lesser roles. (I didn't recognise Sally Hawkins.)
Director and co-writer Richard Ayoade who has worked both on-screen on British TV for some years now as well as having a string of writing and directing credits to his name, now adds a significant entry to his record.
If I'd been of more receptive frame of mind I might have given this a higher score but, even so, I do recognise that this is solid piece of entertainment.................................7.
Wednesday, 16 April 2014
I went to see the film because I understand that the book by Veronica Roth is of some significance in contemporary fiction, though I haven't read it.
Something in the film's favour is that among director Neil Burger's credits is his accomplishment of the rewarding 'Limitless' (2011) as well as the reasonable 'The Illusionist' of five years prior to that.
A Shailene Woodley (new name to me) plays the lead, the 'Divergent' of the title, who discovers in the initial categorising of recruits (much less fun than Hogwart's 'Sorting Hat') that she doesn't fall naturally into any of the categories, though after the initial procedure they are allowed to choose their group themselves, disregarding their test results if they wish. However, once a decision is made it is irreversible. She chooses the 'Dauntless' group, in charge of law enforcement with a training programme full of derring-do tasks. However, anyone known to be 'divergent' in any faction is regarded as a threat to order and society and must be eliminated. So, wise girl, she keeps her self-discovery to herself. She has to prove to others in her group that she has cojones. Anyone who doesn't come up to scratch in training and the obstacle-course of tests and trials is dismissed from the group, cast out with uncertain and unpleasant fate. So does she pass muster and give 'em hell? By golly she does!
There's familial loyalties to consider (both her parents and a brother), and within her group, female friendship and a smattering of (inconsummated) romance.
Kate Winslet makes occasional briefish appearances as some kind of high-ranking supervisor/manageress, steely ice-queen at times but also with a caring heart, at least as long as it doesn't interfere with her duties. She's very strict about rooting out 'divergents' but doesn't suss out that she spends a lot of her limited time on screen talking to one.
In spite of what I've just said I didn't find this rather over-long film completely devoid of entertainment value. It was a bit better than I expected, though ultimately a shallow experience which I'll be forgetting in a trice. I don't know if it does justice to the source book. If it does it doesn't exactly make me want to read it - and I shan't be first in the queue to see any film sequels....................................5/10.