Monday, 15 June 2015

Film: 'Danny Collins'

From the trailer this looked like it might be fun. Well, for some of it it was but, alas, it was stymied by a heavily sentimental strand at its heart, requiring the ever-interesting Al Pacino to perform a role that he's only very rarely touched on (if ever!) in previous performances and which, here, he looked less than convincing in, namely that of caring father to the family of his estranged and never-before-seen, now middle-aged, antagonistic son with an advanced-pregnant wife, not to mention their insufferably forward six-year old daughter whose annoying presence would have been immeasurably improved by the judicious application of a damn good slap.

I am, however, glad to report that the weighty proceedings are significantly lifted whenever the admirable Annette Bening appears on screen (which is often), as an hotel manager with whom Pacino flirts unashamedly. There's a significant amount of pleasing banter between them. Even when the conversations between these two get to more serious subjects it's still interesting, which is more than can be said for some of the other interchanges.
Pacino himself is a three-times married rock star of yesteryear, where drinks and drugs figured, and continues to cast shadows. He's still performing occasional public concerts singing his 'hits' of old, and he's still managed, forty years on, by Christopher Plummer. I wasn't quite sure how much of Plummer's doddery act was put on as being in the character of the man he was portraying, or was it part of Plummer the man as he's become? Of course I want to think it was the former.

Roughly based on a true story, it tells how, in 1971, John Lennon, whom Danny Collins (Pacino) worshipped, read an interview Collins had given and was impressed enough to write to him c/o the magazine in which it appeared, suggesting that they talk further, only Lennon's letter to have been withheld from the imterviewee's awareness, he now being told of it forty years later, to his dismay. This provides the excuse for nearly all the background music to the film being of Lennon (post-Beatles) songs. Unfortunately they are all only snippets, some very brief, which was a shame.

The cloyingly sentimental aspect I refer to at the start of this post is that there is a serious health issue affecting one of the members of Collins' son's family, and which the Pacino character takes an active part to try to alleviate. This tilted the film's whole centre of gravity to an ill-fitting seriousness, at least one that is at odds to what I was expecting.

This is writer Dan Fogelman's first film as director, which he achieves with fair enough results. Perhaps I should have been more open-minded to there being light and shade in the story. I was hoping for something enjoyably frothy throughout rather than it being so just in patches..........................5.5

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Film: 'Man Up'

I like Simon Pegg a lot. If he hadn't been the main player in this rom-com I would have let it pass by.
He's at his best when in rat-a-tat-tat delivery, and here he's allowed his head with a pretty good script (by Tess Morris) which sounds extemporised.

The premise of the film requires a considerable leap of faith. He mistakes a 30-something lady for his blind date of ten years younger (and this is only the beginning!) when she, unable to get a word in edgeways, decides to play along and makes out that, yes, she is indeed the very date he was supposed to meet - and that despite her having a speech prepared for a celebratory party she was due to attend that same evening, she goes off with this total stranger. Just imagine going with a man totally unknown to you who's making a strong come-on. Unthinkable isn't it? (Good job you can't see my blushes.) So here they are, visiting bars, a restaurant, bowling alley.........However, it's not too long before the unfortunate appearance of a former male school colleague of hers, and now with a disturbing fixation on her, makes her admit the truth of who she is to her 'date'. Arguments develop - but can you guess where it's going to end up? Yes, that's right - they find that they're mutually smitten. (Btw: This is not a plot-spoiler - as if it could be! - it's contained within the first sentence of the publicity blurb.) So - after the set-up idea the film follows a predictable path but it's kept interesting because of some lively acting and that script which fizzes along.

Simon Pegg's female foil is one Lake Bell, a name I didn't know though I see that she's appeared in a number of films (none of which I've seen) as well as quite a lot of TV work. Here she gives as good as she gets, at least when she's allowed to speak, which she certainly is after the opening scene. It's said that during filming the crew assumed that she was English and that only after shooting, when she reverted to her normal accent, did they discover that she was American. She is particularly good in this.

 Rory Kinnear is the obnoxious ex-chum who just doesn't get the message that the lady feels no attraction towards him. He just will not give up, even when knowing the circumstance she is in.

The entire action takes place during the one evening. We are, thankfully, spared any bedroom or sex scenes, which would have felt out of place here anyway. Unfortunately the film does end on a ghastly note of intense sentimentality, even with large numbers witnessing and applauding the couple's declared affection for each other - the classic 'feel-good' ending. But that was really my only major reservation, and director Ben Palmer keeps it all moving forward nicely.

When Simon Pegg plays these talkative characters I never tire of listening to him, though I can't pin down why. (Hugh Grant I also find a compelling watch for much the same reason.) Pegg's appearances in the 'Cornetto' comedy trilogy were similarly attractive to me - maybe less so when he plays in the 'Star Trek' and 'Mission Impossible' films.

If you share my liking for Simon Pegg my rating for this film will, I hope, make you interested enough to see it. If you are indifferent, or have an antipathy towards him, you will have to reduce my score accordingly......................6.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Film: 'Spy'

Quite a number of the audience were guffawing in states of high hilarity during this. Not so me - as you might have guessed. It wasn't totally mirthless, though. There were indeed three of four moments of mild drollery, but for me they really were as low-key and infrequent as that.

Melissa McCarthy (from the much better 'Bridesmaids') plays the unlikely F.B.I. agent hopping around Europe after volunteering for a job following the demise of an agent who was chasing illicit arms trading, where it's thought that her less obvious Junoesque figure may be an advantage.  Locations are Paris, Rome and Budapest, where the captions helpfully tell us in which countries these 'little-known' cities can be found. (Why is it that we see no films which say 'New York, U.S.A.', as also with Washington D.C., Los Angeles etc?)
Also on hand are suave and Bond-style Jude Law with (and much more interesting), Jason Statham, all overflowing anger, super-confident of his own abilities and contemptuous of others. It was he who was the saving grace of this film for me, with an impressive ability to deliver dry, silly lines while keeping totally straight-faced. Shame, then, that his screen time wasn't as extensive as I'd expected.
Miranda Hart is also there, and she just doesn't seem to fit comfortably in the plot both as a person and in the scheme of things. Another pity

It's a very physical film (a lot of it very violent) with McCarthy drawing on reserves of energy one would not have expected from someone with her physique. She also packs one hell of a punch and she has no mean accuracy when it comes to using her gun - but these are all part of the absurdities which are meant to define this as a comedy..
The 'jokes' are either slapstick-like or, verbally, based on the assumption that the cruder one is then the funnier it must be, which, as we all know, is simply not true. I think it betrays a lameness in the script, something which a lot of our present-day younger stand-up comedians also fail to recognise.

The world this film inhabits reminded me a lot of the 'Johnny English' films. Of course the Melissa McCarthy figure is miles apart from that played by Rowan Atkinson, but they share a gaucheness in both action and words of not realising the implication and consequences of what they are doing or saying, at least until it's too late and the action has accordingly moved on..

The two-hour film was too long by at least thirty minutes. It ought to have been sharper but the fights are over-prolonged and could have been cut back with improved effect.

Director (and writer of this) Paul Feig also directed 'Bridesmaids', which I found a much more satisfactory film, though also patchy in its comedic moments. I think Feig over-indulges himself here, which shows especially in the bone-crunching combat scenes.

'Spy' has had generally quite good reviews. I don't subscribe to them, but I've certainly seen worse, a lot worse. Besides, there's always the chance that you will be one of those roaring in mirth. From me it gets a humble........................4.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Film: 'Spooks - The Greater Good'

I'm not familiar with the popular TV series whose world this cinematic spin-off inhabits and, despite some reviews which have made unfavourable comparisons of this to the small-screen product, I thought the film fitted the bill nicely for quality, often gripping, entertainment.

Set mostly in London (regular aerial panoramic  shots including the usual landmarks, helpfully reminding us just in case we've forgotten where we are) as well as shorter episodes in Berlin and Moscow, it's the world of espionage and 'guess-the-traitor' when a terrorist suspect (clearly Islamist, but not stated) flees captivity in transit, whose 'rescuers' have been fed knowledge from an unknown person in the Secret Service.
Peter Firth, now with a C.V. as long as your arm, is the MI5 boss who disappears after the incident and it's up to earnest, but still wet-behind-the ears, agent Kit Harington to trace him and wheedle out information as to what's going on, and what's his connection with the escape - not to also mention forestalling further expected imminent attacks.
I understand that young Mr Harington, in his role in 'Game of Thrones', has set many a heart a-flutter. This is the first time I've seen him in any substantial part and he's not bad at all.
Also, as one of the Service's senior officers is Jennifer Ehle, whose English accent very occasionally falters, though not so as to be too distracting - as well as the estimable David Hammond.

There's lots of action, several nail-biting moments and, very commendably, a plot that is not so over-complex as to bewilder one. Sometimes these scenarios that owe a lot to John Le Carre are so labyrinthine that I give up trying to follow them and just try to enjoy the ride. Not so here, remaining simple enough even for me to follow.

In a sense it's an old-fashioned kind of film, but India-born director Bharat Nallun brings a certain flair to proceedings, such that I wasn't bored at all - and it's a sensible hour-and-three-quarters in length, another 'plus'.

Enjoyable enough to search out, it may not linger in the memory for very long, but while it's playing it's pretty good value for your money................................6.5.

Btw: Such is the pitifully deteriorated state of my computer now, it's taken me a full four hours to type and post the above, due to very frequent screen-freezes. Been reading Sherlock Holmes story 'Valley of Fear' in the stretches waiting for it to unfreeze itself, so not quite a total waste of time. Still infuriating as hell, though!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Film: 'Tomorrowland'

I  want to use this opportunity to point out to my revered blog-followers that once again my computer is stuttering and spluttering to a halting destination, I fear, with frequent freezes and 'unresponsive message' alerts, taking me about six hours (or more) to achieve what ought to be managed in less than one. Commenting on some of your own blogs has become near-impossibly arduous. Even my e-mail account, where I can send missives without trouble, has got the inbox jammed up, taking a full week for me to see any individual message as they dribble through at the rate of about one per day. If I had the money I'd get the whole apparatus rectified without delay, or, far better, get a brand new up-to-date computer, but as I haven't I'll have to struggle along as best I can. So please bear with me if you've written something I would otherwise have liked to comment on and which you might have expected. Sometimes just getting your own blog on screen can freeze up the whole works for maybe an hour (It happens with some, but not for others.)  I'll continue trying to respond where I can, but if you don't hear from me for a while I will still be here, hoping for better times shortly.  

This bored me to distraction. I do believe that about two-thirds through I did actually momentarily nod off. Not even the on-screen ruckus of explosions, fights with lethal ray guns, humanoid robots, high-speed aerial vehicles - you know, all the usual stuff - could prevent my dozing.
It may actually be a good film for all I know, but I'm clearly as far removed from the audience this is aimed at as it's possible to be, and only went because there was a chance to see it for £3 (American about $4.60 ), it not being on my 'must see' list.

Where to start? I'll give it short shrift, but this idea of averting global catastrophe has become so banal now.  We've seen it done to death that it's become like 'crying wolf'. It just doesn't engage any more - at least not for this viewer.
George Clooney, looking far from comfortable in his role, is a life-long inventor since being a little boy and, playing around with glimpsing into the future, sees an apocalypse coming, and even has a countdown apparatus to zero hour. But his vision of total annihilation is questioned by a bright young girl who joins him (plus a human-replicant younger girl-robot), she having acquired a 'key' to actually travel to the future. However, she is also armed with that highly desirable quality, 'optimism', which he lacks. Also hopping between present day and future is shady character Hugh Laurie, looking almost as uncomfortable in the wrong part as Clooney. Fights develop involving gangs of human-like robots, but it all left me cold and wanting it to end (The film, not the world - though having said that......). Do Clooney and the girl save the entire planet from its likely dire fate? I was past caring, though I'm not going to 'spoil' it for you.

Purely in terms of relating to what I consider entertains me, I give it a better-to-avoid mark of..........3 (out of 10).


Sunday, 24 May 2015

Eurovision Song Contest from Vienna - Sweden triumphs (again) as U.K. gets trodden on (again).

Well, at least Russia didn't win, though for a time it came awfully close to it. That was my main consolation of the night.
The actual winning song, 'Heroes', performed by very good-looking Mans Zelmerlow, had been the bookies' favourite for weeks, though I would have ranked it in about 10th place (I'd have placed Russia around 6th or 7th).

I think what helped him one was the sometimes remarkable backscreen effects, so one was distracted from what I felt was a little more than ordinary song.
This was Sweden's sixth win in the 60 years of the event's history, one better than the U.K's achievement so far, and one short of Ireland's record-holding seven wins to date.

 Conchita Wurst, bearded drag-queen winner for Austria in 2014, made multiple (too many, for me) appearances in the roles of presenter, interviewer and performer during the nearly four hour-long show, supplementing the already three-woman-strong presenting team. He was so ridiculously over-lauded throughout, that one might have thought he was the Second Coming incarnate! 

Despite Russia's entry, 'A Million Voices', being one of the better songs, its message of unity, hope, love and tolerance was so at variance from the political workings of the current ruling class in that country with their odious domestic policies and their supine support of the repressive Russian Orthodox Church, that it seemed a joke to their ever having approved the song, affectingly performed by a sweet young thing, Polina Gagarina (containing in her name echoes of both Lady G. and the first man in space) who sang her heart out - and who cried when the voting was half way through when it looked like she was the most likely to win. (Of course the message of the song is the image the Russian rulers want to project, as though we were all totally stupid). Comforted by the ubiquitous Conchita, she was careful this time not to be seen getting too pally as, according to commentator Graham Norton, she was reprimanded by her Russian overseers at the semi-finals for exchanging pecks on the cheek with him. ("Euro-pervs!") 

Another very satisfying moment was seeing the first-ever Australian entry, 'Tonight Again', with their happy, baby-faced smiler, Guy Sebastian, finishing in an unexpected and extremely creditable fifth place - and looking every bit that he was thoroughly enjoying himself. It was an mood-uplifting performance. Give that Guy a hug!

Apart from that it was a long night of groans and incomprehension - in other words, much as it's been in previous years. With more countries (27) participating than ever before, the extended running time itself over-ran by half an hour, finishing close on midnight.

My championing from the start of the upbeat, chirpy and risk-taking British entry, the 1920s pastiche 'Still in Love with You',  from duo 'Electro Velvet' (Bianca Nicholas and Alex Clarke, he of the disarming smile), turned to dust as we limped into 24th place with an aggregate of just 5 points (as against Sweden's 365 and Russia's 303 ), and those points from only two of the other 39 voting countries. (Craig, in comments below, says he thinks three countries gave us some minimal support). I still like the song.

My own top choice, Estonia, (Elina Born & Stig Rasta with 'Goodbye to Yesterday') finished in 7th place:-

However, my runner-up choice, Austria, (the 'Makemakes' with 'I Am Yours') was spoilt by the gimmick of a piano on fire - part of the 'act') and finished joint last with Germany, both countries picking up zero points!

Cyprus I liked too, with an unpretentious, simple song performed with modest resources - and I gave nods to Hungary and Romania as well.

Actual third place was the well-received Italian entry, 'Grande Amore', performed last, with a young version of 'The Three Tenors' doing a reasonably attractive, though not very memorable, song.
Belgium came in fourth place, their highest finishing position for as long as I can recall.

However, for very nearly all the voting time it was clear that the real competition was going to be between Sweden and Russia until, even before all the votes had been declared, it was announced that Sweden was going to be the winner as by then it was clear that it couldn't be caught.

And how can we omit mentioning Lithuania's full-on gay kisses? - the 'shock' of the night if one wasn't expecting it. Several national governments will have been outraged, including China that was broadcasting the contest live for the first time. Good :-

A reasonable event for 2015, then, though I think not the most entertaining of recent years.

So, the question for us, as it seems it's been forever is - Will the U.K next year finally break the jinx? (Even a top five placing would be refreshing and reassuring) - or are we so disliked in so many countries that the question contains its own answer?.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Film: 'Mad Max - Fury Road' (in 2D)

Being led to believe that this would be a virtually non-stop din plus a fair helping of spectacle and little else, I went along armed with cotton wool balls to plug my auricular orifices should it have been necessary. In the event I didn't use them. The film wasn't quite as totally vacuous as my expectation of it, though in terms of entertaining me it did leave much to be desired.

Tom Hardy is now in the role previously occupied by the career self-destroying Mel Gibson in the 1979 original version of this basic plot (such as there is) followed by its less satisfactory sequels. I like Hardy a lot but didn't find it so easy to accept him as the title character, a man with no compunction about killing left, right and centre. Admittedly. he was fleeing for his life from his foes, barbarian grotesques who'd themselves think nothing of wholesale slaughter to achieve their purpose. Yet under this tough-man exterior, evolved through a lifetime of being forced to survive by any means, Max can melt to reveal that he has a cream-puff interior. I suppose the unbelievablity of the character itself has more to do with it than the actor playing the part. I dare say that in the original (seen when it was first released and never again since) I must have felt the same way about the then unknown Gibson.
On the other hand we have Charlize Theron as the softly-spoken, one-handed Furiosa with whom Max hitches an escaping lift - but by golly, underneath she's as tough as old boots! She has in tow a bevy of (initially) five beauties, forced wives of the dastardly chief villain from whom they have been rescued. They are wearing little more than semi-diaphanous white shifts. But additional protection is unnecessary as their faces and exposed body parts manage to escape the slightest graze or mark despite a max-voltage chase through the wilds of the Australian deserts with bullets, shrapnel, missiles, fire and God-knows what else zinging past them by millimeters - though, it must be said that as a concession, some of their hairstyles do get rather mussed. (Must have been such a nuisance!)
The Furiosa character is very much one-dimensional - though there are hints that (surprise, surprise!) she too has a heart of gold. If it wasn't for the frequent cacophonous noise level around her voice might have the property of sending one into slumber.
Apart for the two main characters the film is peopled with deformed and/or painted minor characters, some hideously so, their bodies either deliberately shaped or adorned with ornamental metals, tattoos, survival paraphernalia and this and that, all calculated to heighten ones feeling of revulsion.

One accepts, these days, that much of the long-shot fight scenes and views of crowds is achieved by CGI, a technique which, if it impresses at all, still manages to detract from taking ones breath away. I understand that Hardy did all his stunts himself and there's certainly no shortage of on-screen acrobatics and contortions here, yet hardly anything that we haven't seen before even though it is sustained for unusually long sequences in this film.
I also hear that it was shot in 2D and only later 'enhanced' in the workshops for 3D 'depth'. I doubt if the extra dimension was more than an improvement than a distraction.

Director George Miller manages to keep the action sections moving along at a cracking pace, with exceptionally fine editing. There were hardly any times I noticed where the 'joins' showed.

However, I must own that the whole enterprise soon began trying my patience. The first time I looked at my watch it was just twenty minutes in, and it's a two-hour film. I did think that I might well leave before the finish though I managed to stay the course, largely due by my getting more drawn in by the second half than I'd been feeling in the first hour.

Overall, I found it an 'okay' sort of film. It did what it was required to do, and that rather well, it must be said. But it was all very superficial - delivering thrills galore if that's what you're after though with nothing underneath. However, it's not exactly the kind of film where one would search for profundities, and nor does it purport to be.
Anyway, after due consideration I'll opt for giving it a rating of....................5.5