Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Film: 'Truth'


Another film about investigative journalism, and by no means the first to set blood pressures rising, particularly for those Americans of a Republican persuasion.
Based on a book by, and featuring as main character, Mary Mapes, a name I didn't know (Cate Blanchett - the acting range of this woman is extraordinary!), it also features CBS political commentator, Dan Rather (Robert Redford), a name I was aware of, but little more than that.

It concerns the 2004 rumoured story that George W. Bush, then on his campaign to attain a second term as President had, in the early 1970s, taken a safer alternative to doing active combat service in Viet Nam thanks to familial and political influences in Washington D.C., and even then he hadn't fulfilled the minimum requirements of attendance. Blanchett, as Mapes, gets her teeth into the story and sets about finding validation by interviewing those senior army personnel around at the time who can confirm what happened regarding Bush. She opens up this story with Dan Rather who is keen to run with it, reporting its progress on CBS's widely-viewed 'Sixty Minutes' TV programme. Then the 'other side' starts to claim that some key documents are forgeries and it helps even less when at least one strategic witness modifies his story. Was he leaned on for political reasons? Meanwhile the investigation is raising tensions within Mapes' own family life. Is she really after the truth or is she determined at any cost to discredit Bush in order to help the Democrats Presidential campaign for Kerry?

As the evidence is explained to us I felt in danger of becoming lost, though I wasn't completely. However, the case isn't as clear-cut as it was in the recent 'Spotlight'.

In the large cast (every single one a white face!) is also Dennis Quaid and they are all of a high standard, though once again it's Blanchett who carries the acting honours.

This seems to be James Vanderbilt's debut as feature film director and he manages a more than respectable achievement, as well as writing the screenplay from Mapes' book. The film is good and I'd recommend it, though not above some recent films of a similar genre of story...........................6.5.

Film: 'Hail, Caesar!'

I'd seen the trailer for this so many times that the initial excitement which I always feel when I learn that a Cohen Brothers film is on the way had dwindled close to apathy and was in danger of coming out the other side. But I retained hope that the actual film would fulfil my original hopes, my expectations boosted by numerous positive and very enthusiastic reviews (One critic on the radio said she "laughed like a drain all the way through!") So did it redeem itself for me? Alas, no. And I'd go further by saying that I rate this as one of their weakest efforts for some years. Such a let-down when it held great promise from that first view of the trailer, at least until I started growing weary of it.


Set in early 1950s Hollywood, a time when Biblical epics were 'big' in all senses, Josh Brolin is the professional 'go-to fixer' who learns that the super-star (George Clooney, playing an actor who can't remember his lines) of the current religioso screen extravaganza  has been kidnapped by a blacklisted Communist writers' collective for a ransom of $100,000. (Clooney wears the same Roman centurion costume in which he was abducted, throughout the film). 
Meanwhile English director Ralph Fiennes has had foisted on him as the star of his film, a young 'cowboy' who can't act (Alden Ehrenreich, a name I didn't know though now see that he featured in Woody Allen's excellent 'Blue Jasmine'). 
Then there's Scarlet Johannson  in an Esther Williams-like formation-swimming set piece, she herself having to display a happily beaming face while she's actually in stroppy mood, pregnant and husband-less, another situation that requires 'fixing' to avoid the curtains coming down on her career with all the consequent losses to Hollywood.. 
As yet another strand of this disparately focussed film is a sailors' dancing number in a bar - exhilaratingly choreographed, one of the film's true (and few) highlights - and featuring Channing Tatum, who has appeared in a number of significant films in recent years, most recently in Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight'. 
Amid all this, Tilda Swinton, as both of two rival gossip-writing sisters (Was having two of them really necessary? It didn't add anything.) has got scent of the Clooney kidnapping and threatening Brolin with exposure of the fact in her columns while he's already having to juggle with all the above elements and, most importantly of all, have the Clooney character released or rescued.
So, to say that there's a lot going on would be something of an understatement.  

I found it all a bit messy. No situation was held onto long enough to grab and hold my interest. If there's one central character it's Brolin who, for me, didn't exhibit quite enough of the haplessness and vulnerability such a figure ought to be to make the character convincing.

The script sparkled only periodically, though when it did it showed what it ought to have been like all the time, something which the Cohens have demonstrated that they are capable of doing. It's clear that others - most others, in fact - disagree with me and rate this film not only as a 'return to form' but one of their very best. I really do wish I was of the same mind.

I did smile a few times, 'few' being the salient word. But there were no wickedly funny situations, of which there are in so many of the brothers' earlier comedy-dramas. In fact the only extended piece of nonsense was the splendidly and joyously choreographed sailors' dance.

Even though I do consider this film a disappointment, it's a measure of my regard for the Cohens that I can yet rate this film as being a little above average...............................5.5.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Film: 'Youth'

Loved this to bits, though I regretfully doubt whether it will have very wide appeal.
After getting a paltry, restricted release some weeks ago I was pleased to have a chance to catch it at a one-off, belated, special screening this morning - and, boy, was I lucky!

Michael Caine, a retired classical conductor/composer, and Harvey Keitel, a continuingly active film director, have been close friends for decades, and are now together at a health resort in Switzerland catering for all ages with large staff contingent, therapists and assistants. Caine is accompanied by his daughter (Rachel Weisz) who has been dating Keitel's son.. Also staying as temporary resident is Paul Dano, star of Keitel's current film, as well as its team of scriptwriters.
In addition, there's a late appearance from Jane Fonda, whom I disgracefully failed to recognise until seeing her name in the final credits. Oh, and there's one Paloma Faith 'doing her thing', as well as a bit of acting too.
Most of the dialogue is discursive conversation between the two male leads, reflecting on the past, relationships and on life generally - as well as commentaries on the lives of their respective offspring. Their exchanges are sometimes amusing, sometimes poignant.

Knowing what this film was about, I had serious doubts that Caine could credibly pull off playing someone with such a sophisticated background, his characters more often than not seeming to be the antithesis of a sophisticate. But I have to admit that I was agreeably surprised to find that he nails it perfectly.

In some respects it's quite a stylised, 'arty-type' film - occasional statuesque poses, non-sequiturs, unexplained puzzling images, silences - but in no way did all that trouble me. It melded into a very satisfactory whole. Photography throughout, especially of the alpine scenery, is top-notch.  

Director/writer Paolo Sorrentino has had considerable experience in both these fields, though none of his previous projects have exactly set the film-world alight. This one deserves to set that right.

My only real reservation was that there were a few moments in the script where the obvious was needlessly stated, where I felt that a simple silence would have carried more weight. But that's a relatively minor quibble.

This is the first film I've seen this year for which I have reasonable confidence in its appearing in my ultimate Top 10 of 2015, and I accordingly award it a rather rare..............................8.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Film: 'Grimsby' / ('The Brothers Grimsby')


I thought that this latest Sacha Baron Cohen offering might engender at least a couple of laughs. I was wrong - by two.
There had been moments in both his previous 'Bruno' and his 'The Dictator' which made me chortle. Not so here. And yet he's frankly bigger than these wastes of time and money - though because of his fan-base I deem that this'll give him his invested monies back

So good in 'Sweeney Todd', where he was the only major cast member who wasn't miscast, good in Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo', (though bringing nothing special to 'Les Mis'), he here adds to his very own original compendium of outlandish characters using their 'oddness' as an excuse for vulgar-drenched 'humour' - and this one outdoes anything gone before. Trouble is, it just ain't funny, at least to me - and also to a substantial part of the audience I was watching this with, that I could discern.

Ought to explain at the outset that Grimsby is a smaller-than-medium-sized town on Lincolnshire's North Sea coast, and was once this country's primary fishing port. However, since the collapse of the fishing industry in the 1970s it now remains a sad relic of what was once a flourishing seaport, now a run-down town of high unemployment - or so we are given to believe. (Incidentally, the few short scenes supposedly to be taking place in Grimsby were actually shot in the East London docks area.)

S.B.C. is a slovenly, big-mouthed, Grimsby man and football fanatic, living with his girlfriend (Rebel Wilson) and nine crudely sweary children (Ho ho ho! Such hilarity!). Twenty eight years previously he'd been separated from his brother (Mark Strong), now an MI6 agent and professional assassin, and during all this time he's been yearning for a reunion. Strong is already heavily involved in attempting to foil a world take-over through germ warfare by the depthlessly wicked Penelope Cruz, no less - she as unconvincing a villainess as one can imagine, though I suppose that's part of the film's intended 'fun'. 
S.B.C., having found Strong, hitches along with him, joining in his exploits and narrow escapes much to Strong's displeasure - taking them to South Africa and then (what passes for) Santiago, Chile. The 'jokes' maintain their crudeness throughout - in South Africa involving Gabourey Sibide as an hotel maid (the perspective taken here for the 'joke' making me feel particularly uncomfortable), as well as the two male leads at one point secreting themselves to hide from their pursuers by climbing intro the capacious vagina of an elephant, just prior to its being the recipient of multiple matings. (Laugh? I couldn't even start!).

There are a number of unfunny cameos from British comedy TV personalities (John Thomson, Johnny Vegas, Ricky Tomlinson and others) though I doubt if any of them would feel especially proud when they see the final product with which they've been involved.

Director Louis Leterrier (best well-known so far for the gritty and moderately enjoyable 'Transporter' and its sequel) doesn't add any specially distinctive touches to this product, but he does maintain its momentum - though to what end? 

It sounds like I was left completely unamused throughout but I must confess that I did manage to raise half a smile at one point when (spoiler alert!) in a health spa, S.B.C. sees one of the staff going about his business with the word 'Therapist' on the back of his work-coat - and he reads the word as 'The Rapist'. That was the only point when my straight-faced observance cracked a little. Otherwise I maintained a serious front with no effort at all.

If I were to rate this film solely on my amusement quotient it would be low indeed. In the end I've decided to award it with one point for its unflagging energy, and the remaining point for........for.......well, I dunno really.............2.


Monday, 29 February 2016

Film: 'Room'

I don't share the widely-held admiration for this. In fact, now having seen all eight of the films nominated for the 'Best Picture' Oscar, I rate this one as being the least satisfactory. 

My opinion largely stems from such an unlikely incident about half-way through, when the camera goes out of the titular room for the first time, and then suddenly things happen at such an incredible pace that for a long time into this second hour I thought "No way! This has just got to be in the mother's imagination - and soon it will all dissolve and we'll revert to seeing her once more being kept as a prisoner with her 5 year-old son." (Just as it happens in so many inferior horror films). But no. We're supposed to take this as an actual, reality stage of the denouement.
The first hour, entirely in that room, at least held the promise of extended suspense being wound up like a coiled clockwork spring, but after this 'event' it was dissipated.

Brie Larson has just taken the 'Best Actress' Oscar for her part here as the mother of young, luxuriantly long-haired, Jacob Tremblay. She's fine in the role, quite good in fact, though I didn't think anything in particular marked her out as more deserving of the award than the other nominees.
The circumstances of her imprisonment in this small but all-purpose room are not fully explained, the incarcerator bringing in regular supplies of food and other needs, including toys, and occasionally stays for the night, the boy watching him through the slats in the door of his 'sleeping-cupboard'. The only world he knows is that on TV (the room's sole window is a skylight) and he can't imagine anything other than that when his mother attempts to explain. His occasional yelling bouts (mercifully short), close to headache-inducing,  continue into the different setting of the second half of the film.

Apart from the full motivation of the perpetrator being left unexplained, other than his just being a sadist, there are other loose ends - such as what was the reason behind grandpa William H. Macy's perceived odd attitude to the boy? It was just left hanging in the air. Macy did say something to the effect of talking about it later, but he didn't - he just disappeared. Very odd. Did that part of the story end up on the cutting room floor?
Why wasn't the boy's very girlish-looking long hair mentioned by anyone until near the very end. It's true that on his first encounter outside he was mistaken for a member of the other sex, but after that no one seemed to be that bothered. I've never in my life seen an infant boy with such long hair. Any girl of similar age would have envied to have possessed such.

I'll give the film marks for being original - the author of the book on which this is based, Emma Donaghue, also wrote the screenplay here.
Director Lenny Abrahamson also directed the much better 'Frank' of 2014.

But this film, I felt, was at best, not much above run-of-the-mill stuff despite the promising premise, though I'll be surprised if anyone who's seen it agrees with me......................5.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Oscars 2016 - My Gripes

Well, my only really big peeve is Alicia Vikander (above, right) winning the 'Best Supporting Actress' award for 'The Danish Girl' - even though her nomination ought, by rights, to have been in the 'Best Actress' category if she were to be nominated at all. Not that I think that she's a particularly bad actress - she might be very good, as far as I know - but, hell's bells, I challenge anyone to watch that film and tell me all what she's saying 'cos most of what I hear is just inarticulate mumbles - and that characteristic of hers was underlined in she being my single complaint about my favourite film of 2015, 'Ex Machina', for precisely the same reason. As I say, it's not for the entire time that she falls into this 'can't-be-bothered' mode, but it certainly is for a considerable part of her on-screen appearances. It's just not good enough for one to have to try to catch a view of her moving lips in order to help decipher the meaning behind those hardly audible sounds. ('Helluva Bon-bon Carthorse' has precisely the same fault in nearly every film she's been in, except maybe for her shouty role as Red Queen in Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland'). 
However, with Vikander I'll concede that she emotes well even though her diction is just plain lazy. And before anyone says that it must be my hearing that's deteriorating because of my age, it would be fair enough comment if I was having the like problem in other areas of my life, such as in everyday conversation or watching TV, listening to radio etc, but it's just not the case. No, if she can't put in the effort to articulate properly then the film's director or the sound engineer ought to compensate for that in their microphone placings and settings. I suppose that they are already so familiar with the script that they are not so concerned - and anyway the chances are that they might have done several takes of any given scene and might be getting bored! 
Additionally, the ultimate vote for the Oscar winners is made by a significant number of members (average age of 63!) who must be around my own age in any case.
I'd most likely have given the award for 'Best Supporting Actress' to Rooney Mara for 'Carol' - or, as she's already won the BAFTA, to Winslet for an impressive role in 'Steve Jobs'. (Jennifer Jason Leigh had comparatively little to do in 'The Hateful Eight' and even less to say).

Other comments:-
It would have been nice if Eddie R. had managed to pull it off as 'Best Actor' for two years running, but everyone was saying it was going to be Leo's year, so can't do much about that - and anyway, his was a worthy enough performance, easily displaying the regulation amount of sufferings which are requisite to winning here. 

I'm sorry that Charlotte Rampling didn't get it for '45 Years', an astonishing, profound and heart-breaking star turn if ever there was one. But the outcome was not unexpected, Rampling's case not being helped by the taken-out-of-context quotes about lack of diversity for which I think she had a point - well, up to a point. (I'm going to see 'Room' later today so I'll be able to judge on Brie Larson's win for 'Best Actress')

Sam Smith winning for the 'Spectre' opening credits song, 'The Writing's on the Wall'? Well, I don't know the other nominated songs, and have only seen one of the other films. If 'Writing' is not the worst Bond song ever written it's certainly not one of the stand-out ones either, of which there have been half a dozen at the very least. I've heard it several times now and still, if I was asked to, couldn't whistle or hum the tune.

Other awards - well okay, we'll let them pass.


Thursday, 25 February 2016

Film: 'A Bigger Splash'

A mighty strange film, this - one that left me perplexed and dissatisfied.

I was looking forward to it, not only because of its attractive casting, but I was seriously expecting it to have some connection with David Hockney's most famous painting (and the 1974 film about the artist) with which it shares a title. Alas, no such luck. In the event the only thing, as far as I could see, that they have in common is that they both feature an outdoor, private swimming pool. So, why that curiously misleading title for this film? Why not have called it 'A Big Splash', or simply 'A Splash'? ( I shrug my shoulders and try to forget my having been led up the garden path).

On the small Mediterranean island of Pantelleria (No, me neither. I had to look it up and found it lies halfway between Sicily and Tunisia), former rock star (unlikely, but it's Tilda Swinton), having totally burnt out her vocal chords singing in huge stadia, and so now only communicating through signs and mimes, is sojourning here with her boyfriend of several years, Mathias Schoenaerts (looking as smoking hot as he ever has), when they are joined by a former long-term affair of hers, Ralph Fiennes, and his celebrity actress-daughter (Dakota Johnson). From his first appearance at the airport the Fiennes character is, and remains throughout, totally insufferable - a high energy motormouth who constitutes the most irritating adult character I've seen on screen in many moons. It's not what he says so much as his being unable to shut up or stop interfering. How Swinton could ever have fallen for him enough for them to have lived together for some years is a mystery - and furthermore, it's clear that she still retains marked affection for him.  

We only see Swinton's rock career in brief flashbacks when she appears on-stage at an open-air rock concert in Bowie-esque glittery attire, though we never actually hear her singing. During the course of the film her speaking voice only very gradually recovers, until by the end she manages barely audible forced whispers.

The first half of this two hour film carries its own problem in that very little happens to excite our interest - aside from the stunning shots of the little island. Our focus of attention is diffused, though if it's on any one of the quartet at all it's on Fiennes who loves to hog the limelight (singing along with, mugging and 'dancing' in Jagger-like strutting fashion, to the Rolling Stones' 'Emotional Rescue' being just one of his, er, 'highlights'). I've never seen Fiennes in any film let his hair down as much as he does here, and in this film it's not only his hair that he lets down - we've got fleeting full-frontals several times. I had to keep telling myself that it's only the intensely annoying character that he's playing in order to prevent myself wanting to walk out of the cinema! 
Schoenaerts manages to keep his cool for most of the time and remains a brooding, comparatively economically-spoken figure. (Btw: Such a cinematic cliche here. If anyone in a film insists that they don't want a cigarette because they are a non-smoker, you can be sure as anything that later on in the film you will see them smoking. Much the same happens with films where there's the rarer appearance of a vegetarian who, you can be certain, will later be seen scoffing on meat.)

After this non-eventful first hour the film does pick up a bit when relationships among members of this central foursome start getting, shall we say, tangled - but it took an awful long time getting to this point. Then an event happens involving two of them which spectacularly changes circumstances for all.

Director Luca Guadagnino has already established a fair career in film, including a few involvements with Tilda Swinton, their 'I Am Love' (2009) notably being, in my opinion, far, far superior to this curiosity.

If this film was aiming to be attractive by qualifying as an 'arty' film I'm afraid it missed me by a mile, though I've no doubt that there will be quite a number who are indeed captivated by it. You might be tempted to see it, as I was, because of the cast, and if you are, then that's fair enough - though if you thought there'd be any echoes of Hockney, I'll consider to have done you a favour by dispelling any such notion beforehand. If you do see it I'd be most interested to learn your own thoughts. Meanwhile, I can't rate 'A Bigger Splash' any more than.....................4.5.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Film: 'Trumbo'


A film of 'quality'!

The story of Dalton Trumbo, Hollywood screenplay and script writer (mainly in the 1950s), and his struggle with the film industry, through the McCarthy 'witch-hunt trials', trying to blacklist and ostracize him for his membership of the Communist party.

Bryan Cranston, a name I didn't know (I see he's done a lot of TV work), plays the title character - and Diana Lane plays his wife, another name I was unfamiliar with though I see that she has appeared in a number of films I've seen in less up-front roles. Helen Mirren is the obnoxious and viperish (under a velvet glove), reactionary and flamboyantly fashion-conscious gossip writer, Hedda Hopper, all-powerful with her ability to influence public opinion through her bitchy magazine columns, which can determine the fate of anyone to whom she takes exception, especially political opponents. (She'd have been a shoo-in for 'Fox News' these days!)

It's a rivetting sweep of a story even though I knew where it was going. Although I was too young myself at the time to be aware of the trials, a number of well-known names are depicted here which show with clear effect which side they were on (if anyone didn't already know) - John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Otto Preminger - and, most significantly, here in the earlier portion of the film Edward G.Robinson, and, in the latter part, Kirk Douglas.
If the film does momentarily run low on steam in the final third it does pick up speed again effectively. I could have done without the long concluding speech where we might have made our own identical conclusions through all that's gone before, but I suppose it wraps it up neatly (maybe too neatly?)
I must also mention with some regret that there were some howlers of continuity lapses. Why do they let these get through? Do they really think we wouldn't notice? Unfortunate - as well as being distracting! 

Director is Jay Roach, that same director of the Austin Powers films, who demonstrates that he can manage high drama every bit as successfully as he can do comedy.

The filmed story told, with liberties taken to simplify, has a lot going for it and I left the cinema feeling well-satisfied, though also aware that it's a story still being played out in Hollywood - not now with a campaign against card-carrying 'reds' of course, who'd be every bit as much of pariah status as before (their number must now be down to minuscule, almost non-existence levels anyway) - but the saga continues. As we are all currently reading, where money talks, the spotlight right now has settled on 'minorities' (including women) represented on screen. So in that sense, the general air of self-congratulation in eliminating the Communist hunt that this film ends with is now transferred to other areas not mentioned, though naturally without such penalties and the threats/realities of unemployment that were utilised in the case of McCarthyism.  

I've heard unfavourable comparison being made of this with another film concerning the same issue of blacklisting at the same period, namely Martin Ritt's 'The Front' of 1976 (with Woody Allen in a non-comedic role). I liked that earlier film a lot too but this new one takes a different slant, concentrating on Trumbo's personal struggle with others of his ilk and amongst members of his own family. If the earlier one did carry a bit more punch, it's only by a slight margin.

In the final analysis, though, this one did leave me feeling it was a well-spent couple of hours of entertainment..............7.5.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Film: 'Triple 9'

Brutal, frequently grisly, but also a trifle tedious, Atlanta-set tale of double-faced police corruption and its involvement with the Russian 'Mafia', a film peopled with unlikeable characters in a sequence of set shoot-out pieces, which includes 'good cop' Woody Harrelson. Then there's Casey Affleck and Chiwetel Ejiofor (the latter good to see in any role) filling the main male leads while Kate Winslet is a Russian matriarchal and chief-villainess figure.

It's okay, on the whole, but little more than that. I've seen this sort of drama done better and more excitingly, and there's not much here that is genuinely new. I wasn't really rooting for anyone - and when the guilty parties did meet their just terminations in one form or the other I couldn't have much cared, with some of the developments being pretty predictable. It's all forgettable fodder though will probably fulfil the needs of anyone demanding diversion for a couple of hours, then for them to to file it away in the 'seen' folder. 

Director John Coathill achieved a much more satisfying film with his 'The Road' of 2009. Here he proves he's one of the 'lads' with a 'thriller' of all guns and bluster but little underneath.

Nothing too special, then - it just about fits the bill, but only just...........................5.

(Following day - I'm wondering if my rating is just a wee bit on the generous side.)

Friday, 19 February 2016

Film: 'Deadpool'

Lively, violent in extremis - and quite amusing, this comic book caper of a completely costumed protagonist with super-human powers presents a moving version of a comic magazine strip, with all the bone-crunching confrontations one would expect to be depicted in that format, only here blown up into forensic, microscopic detail, complete with slo-mos and freeze-frames to enable us to savour to the fullest the gory physical details of the numerous combats. If it has one saving grace (though it's not the sole one), it's in having a sharp, witty, self-knowing script, containing frequent references to other films and various aspects of modern 'culture', mostly delivered direct to camera by Mr Dead Pool - the name adopted by the principal, Wade Wilson, and confidently played by Ryan Reynolds -  in very dry humour style. Some of these 'asides' I got; at other times the audience laughed though I wasn't sure for why. Reynolds' character's  manner regularly reminded me of Jim Carrey when being one of his manic characters (i.e. most of them) - physically hyperactive and ever-zany in talk. 
I must admit to gritting my teeth a little at the wise-guy opening credits, which looked as though it was straining for forced comic effect. However, it wasn't too far into the film itself that I was chuckling, and indeed laughing, along with the audience with no assistance.

The story is a slender one. Set in a nameless American(?) city (actually shot in Vancouver, that increasingly frequent stand-in for an anonymous North American metropolis - and even London recently), a government law enforcer (I think) is abducted and subject to gut-churning surgical procedures by a crazed English surgeon-scientist, 'Warlord', (Canadian Michael Benyaer) to transform him into being his slave with super-human capacities and self-repairing invulnerability, through operations which turn his skin hideously pock-marked, hence the head-to-toe costume, he covering his face in Spiderman fashion. Before this happens the 'Pool' figure had started a relationship with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and is, understandably,  now rather peeved that his physical transformation has made him unattractive to her, so he keeps himself back from revealing himself to her. The entire film concerns Mr Pool seeking revenge on the one who enacted his metamorphosis, a mission in which he gets assistance from a metal giant(!) and a miniature flame-weapon of a young female, to fight against Warlord and his seemingly inexhaustible human resources. .

Tim Miller's film (this being his first feature as director),  has a number of lapses of logic and continuity that I picked up on but, of course, one overlooks these in a comic-style production, and I certainly don't hold such lapses against it.  
If it wasn't for the incisive script - many of the best bits being addressed  to the audience, and much of it sexual, I wouldn't have rated the film that high. But it's that factor more than any other that distinguishes it.

Usually I write my reviews immediately on my return home from the cinema, so that you get a spontaneous reaction which may change with time, and regularly does. In this case I made a rare evening-venture out so have had nearly a full day to reflect on what I've seen. 

'Deadpool' fulfilled its mission to divert and gave me some genuine laughs, though in the final analysis it wasn't intended to be any more profound than the forgettable 'popcorn' entertainment which it comprises. So all in all, I think a fair rating would be a reasonably wholesome...................6.

   

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Film: 'Dad's Army'.

When I first heard about this film being made my reaction was simply "Why?"

Taking the characters from one of Britain's most successful and popular TV situation comedies (9 series starting in 1968 - nearly all the original actors now being deceased; the two surviving ones having short cameo roles here), a clutch of currently moderately well-known names, some of whose faces will be familiar even if their names are not, with general physical approximations to the original actors are allotted their parts. Less an exercise in attempting authentic imitation they do their best to give a vague idea of the original players - some quite successfully, it must be said - with the original characters' individual catch-phrases inserted, though with variable effect.

This film and the TV series was set in 1944, telling of the Home Guard, the body of British men (and some women) who were not conscripted into the fighting forces due to age, disability or other reasons, and who were on ever-ready guard to defend the country in the event of a Nazi invasion. (I recall in the 60s when the idea of the series was first being mooted there was significant concern that it would be an irreverent and mocking take on the brave souls who had actually given up their time ready to defend the country - to the death, if need be. But it was accepted by viewers more in affection than ridicule).

I was uncertain of the wisdom of making this film though, of course, the motivation is to make money. At the time of the original series there was another feature film made which was moderately well-received but I found it rather flat - and, as in the case of nearly all full-length films made from a TV series, it hopelessly outstretched itself beyond any of the TV programmes' original attraction - the latter being, in effect, a series of extended vignettes, each half-hour independent of the other.. The experience always seems to be that bigger budgets emphatically do not mean funnier. In fact it's almost always the case that 'more equals less'. And so I found it with this film - a so-so product to which the large audience with which I attended reacted with polite chuckles of moderate amusement now and again (and in which I joined) but there was nothing approaching the hilarity which sometimes showed itself in the original TV programmes. (Incidentally, I don't think the BBC has ever stopped repeating the originals - and always on one of their two main channels too, and in peak-viewing time. It seems to be on some kind of permanent 'loop'.)

Now the names. The most internationally well known will be Tom Courtenay, with Bill Nighy also probably being well-recognised. Then, as the south coast's platoon's (actually filmed in Yorkshire) bumbling, self-important captain is Toby Jones. Other reasonably well-known names are Michael Gambon and Bill Patterson.

There is one major difference to the original series on which it's based. At that time, women, if they were present at all, were effectively sidelined as very minor players, many of the shows having no female appearances whatsoever. Not so here. To its credit it has one woman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, at centre-stage, as an undercover German spy, her true nature being revealed very early on in the film.
Then, also important is the Captain's wife, here (played by Felicity Montagu) a true Amazon of a figure whereas in the TV series Mrs Mainwaring, as she was, was regularly mentioned but never seen. There's also the redoubtable Alison Steadman and some other female names I recognised, all to the film's advantage, opening out the situations to beneficial effect. 
But even that can't disguise the fact that it's not a very good film - though certainly not exactly 'bad' either - which doesn't serve the original series that well. The script, lacking the inventiveness of its original writers (one of them yet survives) is clunky, especially when well-known phrases are crowbarred in - "They don't like it up 'em", "We're doomed!", "Stupid boy!" etc - and only underlines how far this film comes short of the original TV series.

Btw: This is a current British film without Ben Whishaw. Wasn't he available? A rarity indeed!

However, it's an honest effort. Director is Oliver Parker who, in recent years, has directed three of Oscar Wilde's works on film. As might be guessed, this one is too long by a good way, despite my liking for the conspicuous female presences, particularly that of Ms Z-J. But overall I must give a score that reflects it being a so-so accomplishment......................5.