Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Film: 'Burnt'

Oh dear! I did find this a bit of an endurance test - and none too surprised at that as I'm so out of sympathy with the subject matter - a sweary, prima donna-ish chef yelling at his staff in the kitchen of a swanky London restaurant which specialises in all this silly nouvelle cuisine stuff, producing dishes which guarantee that those leaving after their 'meal' will be at least as hungry as when they came in, though their wallets would have been considerably unburdened for the 'satisfaction' of the experience. 
He, predictably, is all hissy fits, hurling plates against the wall amid the constant clatter of kitchen utensils - while his disgruntled, humiliated, verbally abused staff work sullenly and slavishly like beavers. We've seen it all before on reality TV, even though I myself have never been able to sit through a single entire programme of the kind.

What really drew me to bother to see this was the magnetic presence of the star. (I wonder if the said Mr Cooper filmed this while over here appearing in 'The Elephant Man' on stage in the evenings?) Even when acting totally repulsive as here, B.C. continues to have something compelling about him. His main 'punch bag' is Sienna Miller who, while not quite giving back as good as she gets, certainly knows how to stand up to his very public put-downs. Both are undoubtedly on their top form, and I have no quibble at all about any of the acting from any quarters in a strong cast all-round.
He is on a journey of self-redemption after his experience at a restaurant in Paris where all went belly-up, involving drugs and his debauched lifestyle. His past follows him to London where, confident in his own self-esteem, he forces himself into a particular high-class restaurant to show them what's what and to promote their status by the acquisition of Michelin stars, something which had evaded him in France.

Daniel Bruhl is also good as head chef in a nearby rival restaurant. In a fleeting appearance there's Uma Thurman, whom I probably wouldn't have recognised had I not known it was her. In a slightly more substantial role is Emma Thompson as Cooper's sympathetic doctor-cum-confidante.

Director John Wells, whose first main feature film for the cinema this appears to be, fulfils expectations, so no complaints on that score.

There's no doubt that the camerawork captures the exquisite detail of the 'meals' produced - in effect, more 'works of art' for the eyes than satisfying quantity-wise for the stomach. (There are a number of shots of raw meat and fish being carved up for which I had to look away, though most won't be bothered by it.)

It was a personal irritation at what I see as the complete ridiculousness of these stratospherically overpriced 'meals' which prevented any real enjoyment of the film for me. If it's your 'thing' then you're welcome to it, though I see it at the heart of a not-so-interesting story of the Cooper character.

Opinions of the film have been varied but I think few have been overwhelmingly positive about it. Having put my own stance forward, that is the reason for my own rating of a lowly......................4.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Film: 'The Intern'

I thought that this would be just a bit of disposable fluff, and so it was - but also, for around three-quarters of its two hours I found it unexpectedly endearing too.

Robert de Niro is nowadays as invariably typecast as a respectable, ageing, worldy-wise, rather meek gent not given to great displays of emotion, as much as he used to be typecast as a toughie in his earlier violent mobster films. In this later guise I do find him still watchable, even though, as here, he has less to do despite being on-screen for a great deal of the film's length.

He plays a 70-yearold retired widower who finds life unfulfilling and takes up employment as a lowly intern (I had to look that word up as it wasn't in use for my generation) in an on-line fashion store firm which has rocketed to success in a short time and run with cold efficiency by human dynamo, Anne Hathaway. Their initial contacts, though not unfriendly, are formal - she hadn't wanted to take on staff of advanced age, but was obliged to do so. However, it's plain that she is the boss, which all her staff know, and which De Niro gets straight away. But, as you might guess, circumstances bring them closer together and she eventually melts towards him and exchanges confidences, though both keeping their proper emotional distances. She and her house-husband have one of those (ghastly) infant daughters at whom you're supposed to intone "Aw, how sweet!" - whereas some of you, like me, might prefer to retch.
Hovering around in the firm is in-house staff-relaxor and masseuse Rene Russo - De Niro and she making mutually admiring eyes from the off.
As the film progresses a domestic crisis appears for Hathaway, though luckily good old R.D.N. is on hand to offer words of sage advice - all so predictable from the very opening minutes, of course.

Director (and this film's writer), Nancy Meyers, is in her element here and is clearly comfortable with her story and her actors (the two leading roles are never uninteresting), and she achieves her aimed-for film practically unblemished, though it is really too long by at least 30 mins for its relatively shallow subject matter.
However, I must say I did enjoy it more than I thought I would, and for that reason I allow it an above par...............6.5.


Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Film: 'Do I Sound Gay?'

On the slow, laborious ascent of recovery from a miserable, largely bed-ridden week of having succumbed to the seasonal bug (the worst attack in several years this time), I wanted something none too serious and, maybe, a little uplifting for my mood. And this fitted the bill quite nicely, showing at a single-day screening, with the added attraction of being barely one and a quarter hours long. Were I to be subject to a fit of the coughs, sneezes and snifflings which I'm still getting (though decreasing in frequency), in a documentary-type film it I wouldn't matter too much if a temporary absence had been necessary, which it wasn't.

Director David Thorpe (above, with George Takei) having lately split with his boyfriend, finds himself living as a single man with two cats - and, moreover, is now in his forties (Oh, horror of horrors, David! Do tell me what that's like.) With time to muse on his life, which he does extensively to camera, though always interesting, he focuses on one particular aspect of his life, viz his 'gay-sounding voice'. These days one would like to think that it's not a big deal if ones manner of speaking gives an indication of ones sexuality, whether that impression is erroneous or not, though it is a thought-provoking subject. I don't recall myself being concerned about sounding gay in my teenage and later years before I came out of the closet. I didn't think I did anyway - though on hindsight I think I was mistaken. I was more concerned then about giving away my sexuality in how I dressed, walked and unintentionally revealing myself through stereotypically 'campy' body language - that was what I was most nervous of. Of course I'm talking about a time when being known to be gay was about as undesirable as being a known paedophile is now. Everyone will have their own stories of experiences on the subject.

Thorpe interviews relatives, friends and more celebrated personages on their own thoughts, and tries to find out whether his own manner of speaking as a youngster had given himself away before he himself had realised it. There are some very interesting responses from those who grew up close to him.
I was familiar with at least the names of nearly every one of his 'celebrities' (all American), prominent among whom is David Sedaris. He also conducts street interviews in New York and London.

However, lurking behind it all is a feeling of 'so what?' as regards the subject matter. I can see some taking issue with his attempt to eliminate any gay traces in his voice by undergoing sessions with a voice coach. It's not quite clear why he feels he needs to do it. Is he afraid of turning off any new potential partners? Does he fear for future employment prospects? It all seems to be left up in the air and unresolved, but yet his exploring the matter remains entertaining throughout. (A few laughs there were, though not that many - also a couple of brief video extracts showing kids being beaten up just for sounding 'faggoty'.)
He also touches on when films in the 1940s and for several decades onwards used gay-sounding voices as a shorthand for 'evil' (often along with effeminate physical mannerisms - looking more pantomimic than reality). There's also a reference to the way that in Disney animations the same technique is used - hardly conducive to giving children a healthy attitude towards what might be considered to be gay 'mannerisms'. However, this very interesting aspect is not treated with any real depth in this short, snappy film, but it just being addressed at all makes it worthwhile..

Now something very curious has happened on the IMDb site for this film. As I write this, 430 site users have given it an average rating of a mere 4/10, but this is because 47% of these have, apparently, given it a score of just '1', which is patently absurd. (A fairer average would, I think, be around 7 - 7.5). I surmise that someone has picked up on the word 'gay' in the title and tried to sabotage others from supporting the film by, in some little known way, submitting this ridiculous score repeatedly. Another scenario is that a gay person has taken exception with Thorpe for treating this as a worthy subject anyway, and has similarly found a way to blow his particular own opinion out of all statistical proportion. I think if either of these two possibilities has happened, the first is the more likely.
But, I did like it and the score I have submitted on IMDb is........................7.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Film: 'Spectre'

So, was it worth all the fuss and the wait? I regret to say "No", and that being by quite some way.


First, some things I did like about it:-
Christoph Walz makes for a credibly creepy, psychopathic, interesting villain as head of the nefarious, acrostically-named organisation bent on world domination (ho-hum!) which gives the film its title.
Ralph Fiennes as 'M' and Ben Whishaw's 'Q' play more participatory roles than previously.
Daniel Craig is as good a Bond as ever, though for the first time here I had the niggling feeling now and again that he was starting to act on auto.
The most spectacular sequence is the pre-title opening set in Mexico City. Nothing in the body of the film comes even close to it.
There's not much else that I felt really positive about.

Several of the set pieces are derivative - situations and locations straight out of previous Bond films. One gets all the expected chases and fights - cars, helicopters, train - as well as the climactic confrontation (with obligatory torture) between Bond and his nemesis in (where else?) but in the latter's secret, secluded lair - lavishly furbished and equipped as always..
The main romantic interest is provided by Lea Seydoux whose character observes the standard formula of initial mistrust, even deep antipathy, being transformed to a realisatory enlightening that Bond and she are on the same side.
I felt that the encounters between the two of them significantly slowed the action down, such that there were several points at which I found myself stifling yawns. The film is close on two-and-a-half hours long, the longest Bond to date, and at times it felt like it.

If Sam Mendes's direction is efficient enough for the purpose (he also directed the superior 'Skyfall') the story could have done with a strong injection of imagination and originiality.
Apart from Mexico City (and London) other locations are Rome, the Austrian Tyrol and Tunisia.

And then, as a post-script, there's the indifferent (to my ears) title song by Sam Smith - not quite the worst ever (which honour surely belongs to Madonna for her utterly dismal 'Die Another Day') - but nowhere near as memorable as some that the series has produced. And I hadn't a clue what on earth he was singing about. When he goes into falsetto mode his consonants disappear like Adele's do in her 'Skyfall', leaving me tantalisingly in Limbo until I look up the lyrics, though Adele did have a stronger melody.

The first Bond film I ever saw was the fourth in the series, 'Thunderball', in 1965 (it was also the very first time that I went to a cinema alone) and caught up with the earlier ones shortly afterwards. By then I'd have read most, or perhaps all, of the Bond novels - a series which I've now read half a dozen times. I still remember watching the film of 'Thunderball' and marvelling at how exciting it was. I was practically gripping the arm-rests! Since that time, of course, we've all grown wiser and more demanding in our entertainment requirements. We can all spot a ropey back projection now, for example. But I think all those early Bond films of the 60s, 70s and some into the 80s, plus maybe two or three of them since then merit a second or even multiple viewings. Regrettably, I do not think that 'Spectre' deserves to be on that select list of mine.................................6.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Film: 'Pan'

 I'd have by-passed this were it not that I've got the hots for the HUGE Jackman. It unexpectedly turned out to be a veritable visual feast, and I'm not only referring to the aforementioned star. Director Joe Wright ('Atonement', 'Anna Karenina') proves without doubt that he has a remarkable flair for visual imagination - and he's still only in his early 40s. This is an almost non-stop extravaganza for the eyes, reminding me frequently of the fertile mind of Terry Gilliam, and 'Baron Munchausen' in particular.

It's been noted that the chronology is all to pot, this story being a prequel to that of the Peter Pan novel which the whole world knows, yet the framing story-device of the baby growing up to be a boy (abandoned by his mother, in an orphanage run by hideous tyrant-nun Kathy Burke) is set in WWII London, i.e. several decades after the original tale. Okay, as the entire saga is a flight of fantasy I suppose we can go along without thinking too much about it.
The story here is 12-year-old Peter (Levi Miller, rather colourless, if you ask me) and other boys in the establishment are abducted by the crew of a flying pirate ship captained by the villainous Blackbeard. Jackman, even when playing evil can't but help charisma oozing from his every pore. (It got me wondering what a terrific Satan he'd be in, say, 'Jerry Springer - the Opera'!). Peter discovers his talent for flying which he has to practice at in order to perfect it, meanwhile striking up a friendship with one James Hook, (the future 'Captain H.') in the person of Scandinavian-American actor, Garrett Hedlund, at this stage still possessing both his hands (strange that his name should be so prescient of his hook-wearing future), he being a 'goody' character, sympathetic right to the film's end. There's also Amanda Seyfried and Rooney Mara providing some feminine allure to what otherwise would have been a heavily male 'boy's own adventure' (There's no Wendy here!).
Peter's main driving force is to find out who is mother was who'd given him up and what had become of her. (Blackbeard is involved, if it's not giving too much away).

The special-effect pyrotechnics throughout this extremely busy film are jaw-droppingly good - probably the best I've seen in any film to date - and I saw it in only the 2D version, wishing I'd gone for the other. Otherwise the story is not very substantial though it's largely aimed at a kids audience, so that won't matter too much. I wasn't actually bored at any time despite it's nearly two hours length.

A pleasant surprise, then, though it really does need to be seen on the big screen. Other than the presence of our Hugh - who, I know, isn't appreciated by everyone - its saving grace is those most astonishingly impressive CGI effects........................6.


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Film: 'Sicario'

Few could deny that this film is a cut above most, though I don't go all the way with the many adulatory opinions being heaped upon it, which was the chief reason for me going out of my way to catch it.

Grim throughout with highly suspenseful episodes and graphic violence at several points (much of which is actually off-screen or in long-shot, though not all), we have Emily Blunt as an FBI agent seconded onto a military squad trying to wipe out a long-standing  drug-smuggling operation from over the Mexican border. She represents, in effect, the film's 'conscience' working with (or fighting against?) the seemingly callous attitudes and conduct of her all-male colleagues, chief amongst whom is Josh Brolin. Riding along with them is the mysterious and taciturn Benicio Del Toro participating in the operations but holding himself at a distance at key moments, and whose real aims are revealed later in the film. No real surprise at that.

Their are a few grisly sights, particularly near the start, after which the the film concentrates on the mechanics of the operation to obliterate the drug-smuggling route and finding and disposing of the gang leader(s) operating it.

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve keeps the screws tightened for virtually the whole film, though it's clear that any moments of relaxation from the suspense will follow the well-tried formula of being followed by a sudden, highly-charged event, or a tense sequence complete with thrumming, menacing bass music background.
One reviewer in particular has made much of a traffic jam episode which, though effective, found left me expecting something rather more exciting than I found it.

One of the personal difficulties I had with it, which many will not share, is the casting of Emily Blunt. Fine actress though she undoubtedly is, in my mind she carries the 'baggage' of earlier successful films she's made, most notably 'Young Victoria', and all through this film my mind kept nudging me that this was that youthful queen. Not her fault, I know. That film was six years ago, and she's made quite a number since then, including 'Into the Woods'. But I found myself unable to dismiss the constantly recurring thought of her portraying royalty, such that whenever she swore in 'Sicario' it sounded more outlandish than it ought to have done. I'll agree to put this down to my own little, though unfortunate, quirk. 

I did think this was a powerful film overall but it's not one that will ingrain itself on my memory as much as some other recent thrillers have done...............................6.5.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Film: 'The Lobster'


Way beyond being merely 'odd', this is the most bizarre film I've seen in quite some years.
It's the world the characters inhabit rather than the goings-on themselves that makes it strange. Very funny in patches (particularly in the first half as we learn how this 'world' operates), it won't carry everyone along with it, but I liked it on the whole.

Some critics have described this British-Irish production as being set in a dystopian future but I think it's more in an alternative social setting in which the rules of living have been shifted sideways, rather than it being science-fiction futuristic.

Colin Farrell (right, above - almost unrecognisable, having also put on weight for the part), is a recently widowed, rather timid, man who, now being single, has to attend a strange hotel (managed by a steely Olivia Colman) and given 45 days to form a genuine relationship with another of the attendees (bisexuality is not recognised. You're either hetero- or homo-) or he'll be classed as an undesirable 'loner' and turned out into the woods to become one of those hunted down by those still in their trial period, and eventually be changed into any animal of his choice - in his case this being a lobster. (He gives the reason for opting for this creature early in the film) The drive behind the first part of the film is his attempt to avoid the fate of becoming one of these dreaded loners.
In the hotel, two of his 'co-guests' are Ben Whishaw (who seems to be in every second film these days, and with 'Spectre' just coming up as well. I'm not complaining.) and John C. Reilly, here disappointingly under-used. Then the action moves to the woods where he meets up with Rachel Weisz, also attempting to survive as a prey-target of the regular hunts.

This film, stretched a bit too long at close on two hours, has a number of disturbing moments and  gets bleaker towards the end. Throughout, though, there are peculiar and unexpected one-liners which, when funny are really so, that I was wondering how the actors could keep a straight face while delivering them. (I ought to mention also that there are two or three instances of deaths of animals that made me flinch, the first occurring within the very first minute, though none of them are prolonged.)

This is Greek director and joint writer, Yorgos Lanthimos', first English-language film and he makes a good job of it. If there are a few moments of ennui they all come in the second half but otherwise he keep a tight rein.The first hour or so is excellent.

If you like to see a film that's a bit strange and more than being just quirky, I'm sure you'll like this one....................7.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Soixante-neuf today! (15th)







Oh well, another one down = one less to go (to oblivion - and beyond?).

Don't know why I'm smiling so smugly above. It was taken yesterday when I'd just got home from doctor following my regular six-monthly diabetes (type 2) check, and where I'd learnt that my constantly high blood-sugar level was giving rise to concern. So now got to do a daily self-administered blood check - and this for someone who feels like flaking out at the mere sight of the red stuff. That's one prezzie I could have done without. Bad enough when it's someone else's blood but when it's your own.......! I'll try hard not to swoon away, though should I do so it will be in most demure and maiden-like fashion. True that the procedure only involves a little pin-prick but, as some of you are well aware from experience, even the tiniest of pricks can be very uncomfortable too. Let's hope I can avoid having a spell of the screaming(-queen) habdabs.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Film: 'Suffragette'

Another film where my verdict is at odds with most peoples. No big surprise there then. What may be less expected is that I thought it merited considerably more praise than IMDb's current low average rating of 5.9 would suggest (from over 900 viewers). 
It concerns events of the female emancipation struggle and campaign in Great Britain, specifically in London, in the pre-WWI years. (Complete voting equality with men was not achieved until 1928. This film deals with a time when women were not allowed to vote at all.)

I feared that the film might drown in its own proud sense of righteousness, but it doesn't come anywhere near doing that. I found it intensely moving throughout, and I can't imagine anyone with a social conscience not being stirred to anger at how long we tolerated this hopelessly unjust situation, some of it actually defended by some women themselves, such had been the effectiveness of 'brainwashing' over our history.
Incidentally, it got me wondering why I cannot think of another film (aside, of course, from 'Mary Poppins') which mentions the subject of women's voting rights, let alone treat it as a serious subject. It strikes me as fertile, unutilised ground for a film subject.
The story told here does demand sentimentality in parts, but it's not a cloying sentiment merely added in for dramatic purposes. Director Sarah Gavron keeps the emotions in sensible proportion.

Carey Mulligan is a laundry (entirely manual) worker, having to work more hours than men employed there but for less money than the men earn. Doing a delivery one day she witnesses a group of women protesting for the right to vote by turning, for the first time, to violence against property, in this case, breaking store display windows. Although initially cautious with her sympathies, this event turns out to be the catalyst in her involvement with the campaigning movement, but spurred further on by the demeaning attitude of her male boss towards her and her female co-workers. Meanwhile, her suspicious, unsympathetic husband (Ben Whishaw), assured of a husband's superiority, becomes more hostile towards her activities, particularly when her agitations lead to her spending time in prison. To punish her he eventually descends to using prohibition of her seeing their young son. 
She also befriends doctor and activist Helena Bonham Carter in a refreshingly unhistrionic role, and with whom she becomes bosom friends. Then there's Brendan Gleeson as a gruff, disapproving police detective determined to defeat this movement, using the police force and whatever means is necessary to stop the women - though there's a sense that he's reluctantly letting his heart be ruled by his head.
And we get a fleeting appearance from Meryl Streep as the movement's leading light, Emmeline Pankhurst. Her total on-screen time must be no more than two minutes, but she does make an indelible impression.

It's all shot in sober colours, as befits its constant serious mood, much of it shot at night-time. Director Sarah Gavron does a magnificent job holding it all together tightly, and with Abi Morgan's script too (she who also wrote 'Shame' and 'The Iron Lady'). The entire cast, female and male, is first rate.
If I do have any complaints at all it's the old bugbear of inaudible dialogue. In fact there were a number of short scenes where I could hardly catch a single word said, making me seriously wonder if it's my hearing that's getting defective. I did so badly want to hear everything as it's so important to the story.
But apart from that I was mightily impressed with this whole project.

A very good film in my books, without any doubt...........................8.