Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Film: 'Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie'

I think I've seen every one of the TV episodes but can't claim to be one of the show's very many big-time, die-hard fans. I watched them because they were so compelling, though have to admit that although they usually brought up a fair number of smiles I never found them as hilarious as some did - and, indeed, still do. Trouble was, clever lines were coming so thick and fast that I couldn't keep up with them, so reckoned that I was just too slow-brained to properly appreciate.
Then when I saw some very indifferent reviews of this film, not one of which was especially enthusiastic, I was pretty sure that I was unlikely to feel favourably towards it. In the event, enjoyment was considerably more than I'd expected. 

Much of the film's criticism seems to stem from the material being too thin to sustain a full-length feature, though it's still just 90 minutes long. (One of the attractions of the TV shows was their densely-packed concision). However, I did think that it held interest pretty well.

The story is, basically, that Edina (Jennifer Saunders, also the film's writer) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley, particularly good as ever - complete with her trademark snarly put-downs), living the high-life on a continuous binge with no regard as to from where the money comes, go to a bling-bling fashion do on the banks of the Thames where, among many of the guests doing cameos is model Kate Moss chatting while perched on a wall, when Edina, anxious for her presence to be known, accidentally pushes her off and into the river, where it's assumed she's drowned.  This is the pretext for the pair of them to, first lie low, and then to flee the country, ending up on the French Riviera, their 'natural' comfort zone, mixing with the super-affluent, who may, with a bit of cunning, be able to assist them in sustaining their prodigious lifestyle.

There have also been complaints from reviewers about the inflated number of cameos, and there certainly are a lot of them - some delivering unfunny one-liners, some outstaying their welcome. But it didn't distract me as much as it might do for others. (The list of names contains almost a who's-who of gay men on current British television.) I recognised most but, sitting through the long end credits, there were quite a number of whom I'd not been aware when they were on-screen - such as, which one was Perez Hilton?

All the regulars from the TV show are here - including, of course, Julia Sawalha as E's sensible, level-headed daughter - and June Whitfield, as Edina's mother, now looking very frail, which is hardly a wonder some twenty-plus years on. Jane Horrocks is again 'Bubbles', the ditzy character still as silly and unfunny as she was on TV. 

Director Mandie Fletcher, who's done a great deal of TV work, also directed three of the original AbFab shows.

Some of the audience I was with thought the whole thing was riotously funny. I was far removed from that opinion yet was pleasantly surprised at how much pleasure I did, in fact, get out of it. A large part of it must be because I came to it with low expectations. So maybe if you're a fan of the originals you ought to try keeping a lid on your hopes, then perhaps you too will come out of the cinema feeling that you've had an enjoyable time....................7.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Film: 'Tale of Tales'

An odd film with curious structure, yet enjoyable to some extent.
This joint Italian/French/British production (in English) is based on three of the fairy/folklore tales of a Giamballista Basile of whom I, (like you?), had never heard.
Based in a medieval, mythical country of castles, royalty and peasant folk, monsters and sudden transformations, the three strands, essentially independent of one another, are told simultaneously, with frequent flitting between them without any warning or notice. Connections between them, if any, are very tenuous. As in children's fairy tales, there are regular moments of violence and gore, though their depiction is generally not without a certain restraint. But unlike, say, the Brothers Grimm's tales, which tend to be shortish and to the point, these three stories are considerably extended fables which, at the end of two hours plus, just stop in mid-air. If you're expecting happy-ever-after endings this film doesn't provide them.
You might find, as I did in two of them, faint echoes of 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'The Prince and the Pauper', though I wouldn't care to stress it.
Another story concerns a king who, by chance, hears a sweet voice singing and is enraptured by it, assuming it to be the song of a comely young maiden, though in fact it's from one of two old and wizened sisters. He is determined to meet with this 'delightful' creature, whom he eventually persuades, unseen, to be entertained in his bed, though she'll only agree if it's in total darkness. (That's a 'taster' for you!)

A competent cast includes Salma Hayak, Vincent Cassell and Toby Jones - and John C.Reilly also makes a brief appearance.

Photography is impressive and as sumptuous as one would expect for a fantasy setting. 
Director Matteo Garrone manages to hold our attention largely because, at least in my case, I was continually wondering what was happening in the two stories other to the one that was being played at any given moment. I never once yawned and only looked at my watch once or twice.

A film off the beaten track, then - and a film with some merit even if it hadn't been so unusual...............6.5.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Film: 'Elvis and Nixon'

You need to forget that Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey look nothing like the original figures they are portraying. What Spacey lacks in the actual President's physical stature he makes up in his voice and mannerisms, whereas I found Shannon's Presley voice more lightweight than I'd have expected though, it must be said, there is very little of the King's everyday speaking voice recorded for posterity, apart from that in his film acting roles. 
Having got over these hurdles, I found this a reasonably entertaining film, improving as it went along.

It centres on Elvis' wish to meet with the President in 1970 in order to offer his 'services' as an undercover agent(!) to assist with the fight against drugs which he sees as part of an endemic wholesale corruption of the young. When Nixon first hears of the attempt to meet him he laughs it off, showing no interest at all, but then it's put to him that it could be played to political advantage. So Presley's persistence eventually pays off with a reluctant President allowing him an audience of five minutes max. 
One of the things we surmise about the meeting (no records were kept) was that it lasted significantly longer. The absence of any record of the conversation between the two men allows the film's storytellers to create a scenario in which the singer wins the politician over, and achieves - though there's considerable doubt about it - most of his desire. This is a fiction rather than an attempt at historical accuracy, and we can go along with that. 
We see little of Nixon in the film's first half - he features in a brief opening scene. The remainder of this under-90 minute film is all about the meeting, the humour arising from Elvis' ignoring or forgetting to observe the instructions of dos-and-don'ts on acceptable behaviour given to him before being ushered into the Oval Office, and then Nixon being confused and put out by his guest's bold conduct, together with his own gaucheness regarding social etiquette in a situation outside his experience.

Both stars do well with the material they are given, which is quite strong. It's a pleasant little diversion, hardly earth-shattering, but director Liza Johnson hadn't intended that it should be.
A fair recommendation........................6.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

European Union - Bye, bye! (while holding back tears).

Still heavy-hearted after yesterday's result, but I'm trying to put a brave face on it and move on. I'll almost certainly not be around long enough to see the U.K. re-apply to join (if we'd even be accepted back) after realising what a ghastly error it's just made. But, hey, let's hope I'm wrong about it being a 'mistake'.

It wasn't long after the official campaign officially began a few weeks ago that I began to feel uneasy that it was all going to turn on immigration - and so it was to be, despite best efforts on both sides to talk about the economy, a subject which, to our cost, goes over the heads of too many people. It's the simpler things like foreigners - 'us' and 'them' - that people seem to want to talk about, but carefully couched in terms not that far removed from "Some of my best friends are black but........."  Some were disconcertingly frank - "Our British culture is disappearing!", "We're getting taken over!" "We can't recognise our town any more!" And for one of the 'Leave' posters to display a seemingly endless queue of Syrian migrants fleeing for their lives, crossing the border from Turkey as though they were all hell-bent on coming over to Great Britain, that really was the pits! I felt just sick to my stomach. The tragedy now is that such tactics seem to have worked.

Of course I can't deny that some on the 'Leave' side were every bit as sincere as those in the 'Remain' camp though, very strangely, I did find that when it came to their nailing colours to their mast, there wasn't a single one politician of the former group whom I admired or even liked. (There were plenty on the 'Remain' side whom I disliked as well, but they were a much more balanced, motley collection.)

I feel particularly aggrieved for the younger generations, many of whom didn't even have the right to vote, whose future has now been determined largely by a section of the electorate (i.e. my generation and older) who won't even be alive to see the effect they've made on those surviving after them. If those presently younger ones wanted to remove themselves from the European Union at a later date then that would be up to them, and good luck with that!

Anyway, can't do anything about it now. A result is exactly that and we have got to live with it for better or worse. However, one Mr D. Trump hails it as a 'great' decision - so that's all right then! May the gods help us!


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Film: 'Chicken'

With no exaggeration, this is probably the most most unpleasant and gruelling film I've seen in years, and only wish that I hadn't put myself through it.
I was attracted by the high IMDb rating (currently 7.8) as well as very positive reviews, including a rapturous endorsement from Sir Ian McKellan, no less.
It's relentlessly bleak, a story from which all moments of levity have been vanquished. I just can't imagine anyone coming out after a viewing and feeling well-satisfied that they've just had an 'enjoyable' experience.

As for the story itself, a British film set in southern East Anglia, it centres on two brothers living in a dilapidated caravan in an open field - the younger one, fifteen years old (Scott Chambers), is what in my day used to be referred to as being "a bit simple". He has a pet hen which he dotes on and talks to, either in its ramshackle 'coup', or carrying it about under his arm.  He alternately worships and fears his domineering and irascible brother of twice his age (Morgan Watkins), who drifts from job to job, picking up any work he can in order to keep them both surviving, though it's clear that the elder is tired of having the burden of the other, and always puts himself first. There are heated exchanges between them, culminating in an horrific assault on the younger - one of several points in the film where I just had to look away.
Meantime (and I did find this questioned the plausibility of the story) there's a chance encounter between the younger man and a well-to-do young lady of twenty-one (Yasmin Paige) who lives nearby with her mother, and she befriends him.
There is a slight condescension in her attitude but it's not without sympathy to both his plight and his 'condition'. They start seeing each other occasionally, his behaviour trying her to the limits.

Something I haven't mentioned yet which, as many will know, is a big thing with me though less so with most others. (I don't think that this aspect - animals - has affected my final verdict on the film).
Within the first few minutes we see a slaughtered pig close-up, hung up by its hind legs. Then immediately after that we see a run-over rabbit which the younger man picks up and takes back where he has a small shed of such recovered animal corpses which he places in various poses and makes clothes for them. (I shan't say what happens to the hen.)
It took some mental effort but I do think I managed to put all that aside and concentrate on the story of the two men and the young woman.

One major criticism I have of Joe Stephenson's debut feature film (he's also done a bit for TV) is that there's far too much mood-setting background music - and what I objected to particularly is that on a number of times when the younger brother is seen, we have underlining pizzicato strings as if to emphasise the character's playfully child-like quality. Totally unnecessary, I felt. Why not just let the person and the situation speak for themselves?

One good thing going for it is that it's under 90 minutes in length, even though it felt longer.

If the film hadn't ended on just a glimmer of hope, albeit fragile and just passing, I would have found the entire venture so depressingly downbeat that I'd have needed a stiff drink immediately on my return an hour ago - which is actually quite a good idea right now, anyway.

Most will call this a 'powerful' film, and there's no doubt that it does pack quite a punch (oops, sorry!). All the acting is top drawer stuff - and I'm sure the director is pleased with achieving what he aimed for. As for 'entertainment', in my books I'd call it as being one for the die-hard masochists. Now, where's that whisky? - Neat!....................3.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Film: 'The Measure of a Man' ('La Loi du Marche')

Low budget and modest film, this 'human interest' story easily held my attention - the focus being on a slice of the life of a 50-something husband - and father to a special-needs, late-teenage son. Set in an unnamed French town, he was a factory worker until the firm closed down, so he's then looking for a new job at a late stage of life, with especial reasons for needing one that pays adequately enough for him to finance the care work needed and ambitions of his limited-ability son. With his wife, with whom he has a still affectionate relationship (even though when we see them together, they hardly once speak directly to each other) the three of them get by, if only just, taking some recreation time in an adult dancing class. However, through their newly straitened circumstances, sale of their mobile home is necessary - in course of which, during one episode, a gradually heated exchange takes place between him with his wife and the prospective buyers. His new job, after some painfully humiliating experiences in being recruited, is to be a security officer in a supermarket, involving looking out for, and intercepting, shoplifters, as well as spying, through CCTV cameras, on dishonest staff at check-out tills.

What is unusual about this film is that the man (Vincent Lindon) is a man of very few words, and of whom we know little of what he's thinking, except for seeing shots of his face, usually impassive, though clearly bearing a burden of pain underneath. The verbal interactions that he does have relate almost entirely to the situations arising at work rather than revealing anything of what's going on inside his mind regarding his own life, personal and familial. Nevertheless, he is the film's sole pivot.

Director Stephane Brize's work may well leave some feeling frustrated that it doesn't delve deeper into the central character's psyche, neither adding to nor taking away from what we can see with our own eyes. It may also disappoint in not closing off the story in a conclusive way, but rather just leaving it hanging. Some would be asking "So what happened next?" I see it more as an observational film, as though we are mere witnesses with no personal involvement, and on that level alone I found the film more than satisfactory......................6.5.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Film: 'Love and Friendship'

I'd thought there might be a good chance that I'd be singing the praises of this - and that would have made a refreshing and welcome change. Alas, it was not to be; main reason being that I just couldn't follow what on earth was going on!

Set in London and the Home Counties it's a romantic comedy of the Regency period based on the novella 'Lady Susan' by Jane Austen. Although I've read each of Austen's full length novels several times, this particular work has passed me by. It would have helped enormously if I'd been familiar with it - though clearly it hadn't mattered for other members of the audience who lapped up this film with appropriate responses.

Starring Kate Beckinsdale and Chloe Sevigny (the latter being seen far too rarely on the cinema screen, though I see that she's done considerable TV work) it involves a widow who's after a desirable second husband - while there are other pairings, some agreeable, others not quite so, among her friends and relations, along with the complication of a daughter who's been expelled from school. I can't go into more detail because I just didn't get it. I don't know whether it's because I didn't pay sufficient attention to the exposition scenes, or missed some of the early essential dialogue, but whatever the cause it was very frustrating, leaving much of the film a curious mystery.
The principal male love interest comes from one Xavier Samuel, an Australian actor whose name is new to me. Among the several minor characters are Jemma Redgrave, James Fleet and Stephen Fry.
Female fashion of the time is lavish and delightful to look at. Location settings are likewise convincing. The background score is mainly edited arrangements of classical pieces, sometimes a little distracting though not to any great degree.

Director (and writer, using some of Austen's own elevated dialogue) is Wit Stillman, whose 'Metropolitan' and 'Barcelona' of the 1990s I still recall with affection.

I'm still feeling strangely unsatisfied in having been unable to appreciate this film to the fullest, especially as some of the reviews I've seen have been very positive indeed. However, I can only tell of my own experience which, with great regret, cannot endow it with a rating higher than...............5.5.