Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Film: 'Inferno'

Oh dear, I do find these Dan Brown screen adaptations every bit as exhausting as reading his books, and this one is no exception, though here not being quite the marathon that 'Da Vinci' was, both on screen and in print.
I've read five of Brown's novels out of the six he's written to date, 'Inferno', another in The Robert Langdon series of extravaganzas, being my only unread one. Can't say I'll be rushing to complete the set.

A familiar set-up, early history clues left around (helpfully in English) as Tom Hanks, playing Langdon again, wakes up in a Florence hospital with various non-life-threatening injuries, having lapsed memory (doesn't know how he got there nor what he's doing in Florence) and subject to bad hallucinatory visions of plagues, people with heads turned backwards, Hell itself and God knows what else, but that's enough to be getting on with. Attended in his hospital bed by an English doctor (Felicity Jones, whom we saw two years ago as Mrs Stephen Hawking in 'The Theory of Everything) he's suddenly under attack from unknown human forces, including police, with unclear motivation, and the two of them flee to lose themselves in the city. The first half of the film, set entirely in photogenic Florence is basically a chase, with Hanks filling in the blanks in his memory and trying to make sense of a projection device mysteriously found in his pocket which refers him to Dante's Inferno and a mighty plague. Being the walking encyclopedia that he is, he makes connections and works out that there's an apocalyptic event in the offing in the form of the aforementioned worldwide plague to be deliberately unleashed in order to reduce the human population by several billions down to a manageable level.
The World Health Organisation is on his track and determined to stop him by whatever means from frustrating their plans. I got a bit lost here - as I did in several other places - with so much pseudo-scientific and cryptic gobbledygook. In fact, despite virtually non-stop action this is also a very 'talkie' film. In addition to all this rigmarole there's a quest for Dante's death mask, apparently forming an intrinsic part of the puzzle. All very confusing.
After Florence the scene shifts to Venice and then to Istanbul.
Predictably, the plot involves those considered as allies turning out to be his enemies and vice versa. I hardly think that with Dan Brown that can be considered a spoiler as it's a device he likes to use over and over again.

Director of this serving of, frankly, heavy stuff is none other than Ron Howard. I doubt if this film will be considered one of his prouder achievements. Even most of the cast seem, at times, to be half-hearted about the whole fantastic caper Was Felicity Jones purposely under-acting? She never seemed to be terribly emotionally involved even when on the run with Hanks with her very own life at stake. In contrast, though, I have to say that Tom Hanks gives it his all - showing confusion and desperation on his face (just like I had with the story) without having to say a word, and in this film he is as good as he just about always is.

'Inferno' does have its moments of tension and excitement but it also requires a fair bit of concentration to follow which, ultimately, works against it providing a satisfactory level of entertainment in terms of relaxation. So if you want a film just to wash over you without you having to do much work this would not be an ideal choice. Great for Dan Brown fans, certainly, as well as for conspiracy-theorists. Not one I'd care to sit through again, though......................5.5.


      

Friday, 14 October 2016

Cor, stone the crows! I'm a septuagenarian!

 

Yes, three score and ten today (15th) - the first age which my father never reached (as also didn't an elder brother), so I ought to feel privileged. What have I done to deserve this honour? It's a dubious achievement, especially when there's been so little to show for it. However, I'd much rather be here than not, so I'll get on with life unmoaning.

Here's some recent pictures of my triumvirate of 'masters' who expect me, their long-suffering slave, to be at their beck and call 24/7.


Blackso must be getting on for 18 now. Getting rather wobbly on his legs, sleeping about 23 hours a day, only waking to eat and my putting him out twice a day to do his business, after which he's waiting to come straight in again. As sweet as ever, purring and rubbing my face whenever I pick him up and always wanting to get on my lap. May he still have a long, healthy life yet to come.


Noodles, probably around 13 now, is the 'nuisance' of the household, never ceasing to cry for food - just pecking at what he's given, then leaving most of it. Of the three he's the least demonstrative with his affection (what affection?), only purring when I'm giving him his breakfast, which he'll mostly waste anyway. Won't let me pick him up, never jumps in lap, he lives in his own world, using me solely as a means to help him survive. Can only think that he must have gone through some tribulations as a kitten which he's never forgotten. 


Patchie, the latest arrival since around 3 years ago, will now be about eight yeaars old, according to his one-time owners. Like the other two, he left his own home to come and live with me. Notwithstanding his relative youth, he tends to bully the other two and he's become self-appointed 'sentry' at the kitchen window, vetting those who want to come in, and refusing entry in particular to one tortie with long bushy tail who likes to come in and pick at the leftover food  of which there's always plenty. (She came in this very morning, a fish-morning, something which she won't eat, so had to open some meaty for her). She only comes in when Patchie's elsewhere, he currently liking to sleep on my bed, daytime, as well as at night with me - and gets really annoyed when, in order to get into bed myself, I have to disturb him. But he will insist on sleeping in dead-centre of bed, leaving me with just the choice of margins, struggling to cover myself with duvet and trying not to fall out. 


And here's me at the youthful age of 69 - yesterday.  'Scuse me for not giving a toothy smile ('toothy' being the operative word!) as you'd be getting more than you'd bargain for.

So come on the 70s! Do your worst! - or maybe, on second thoughts, be gentle, please.






Film: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'

Really oughtn't to have exerted myself to see this Tim Burton latest, based on contemporary writing by one Ransom Riggs. 

Aware that it was well outside of my usual kind of film, I thought that it might make for a pleasant change. Well, if any change there was, it wasn't in providing entertainment which someone of my age and tastes can appreciate.   

19 year-old Asa Butterfield (he of 'Hugo', 'The Boy in Striped Pajamas', 'Son of Rambow' - and here playing five or six years younger than he actually is), lives in Florida with parents and grandfather (father, Chris O'Dowd and grandpa Terence Stamp), where the latter intrigues him with stories about a large house in Wales where mysterious forces are at work.  So, father being an ornithologist, both go off to visit the place, his dad ostensibly going on a bird-watching expedition.
By himself, the boy looks for the house, only to find it a crumbling, overgrown ruin. On entering the derelict he finds himself being spied upon by a number of mysterious children and, eventually getting to talk to one of them, finds out that the entire building is now preserved in original condition within a time-loop of repeating one single day in 1943 (German bombers overhead) in 'Groundhog Day' style, managed by the pipe-smoking lady owner of this 'home', (Eva Green) who winds back the portable master clock daily at a specific time so the day can run again and again, though in this case they're not tied to having to repeat the same actions ad infinitum
There are ten resident children, each with unique powers or characteristics, such as one boy being invisible (only seen by his moving, apparently empty, clothes), another a young girl with super-human strength, another being an older girl who's so light that she'd float away were it not for the heavy shoes she has to wear to anchor her to earth. Then there's a boy whose body is inhabited by a swarm of bees which he can let out orally at will to cause havoc, and so on.  
The idyllic existence of the children is threatened by  a group of metamorphosing, tentacled monsters led by Samuel L. Jackson. In fact it's the guest appearances in this film that helped to engender the minimal interest I had in it . In addition to the aforementioned Terence Stamp there's Rupert Everett and, in a brief contribution that she probably knocked off in an hour or less, Judi Dench.

The final special effects-laden confrontation in which Samuel L. Jackson dominates as arch-enemy, takes place in a funfair at the end of a Blackpool pier. One can guess beforehand that all of the children will, in turn, get to use the particular power which each possesses.

This is clearly intended as a kids' film, though maybe not for those under, say, ten, as some of the scenes are graphic and gory., while the older ones will just lap it up. I found it pretty standard fayre for this kind of film. Tim Burton's trademark visions are here though perhaps slightly more muted than one usually expects from him. 
Oh, there is one bonus. Unlike Mr Burton's recent projects, this one does not feature wifey, Helluva Bon-bon Carthorse!

For its target audience I should have thought that going over two hours was pushing it a bit. It tired me out somewhat. But I think that if it's the kind of film you're inclined to feel favourably towards, then you're probably going to be rather more impressed than I was...............5.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Film: 'War on Everyone'

The big mystery is how director and writer, Michael McDonagh, responsible for such a fine, must-see production as 'Calvary' (one of my top films of 2014), could have come up with this unimpressive, predictable mush of violent tedium, where the 'humour' (if that's what it's intended to be) is almost entirely based on using ripe, swear-laden, un-p.c. language masquerading as 'wit'. (Ho ho!) I was left virtually unmoved by the whole sorry feature, as was also the rest of the audience, as far as I could determine from their impassive non-reactions.  

Two New Mexico bent cops (Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Pena) form a 'double act' (yawn!) in intimidating just about everybody to whom they take a dislike, criminal or not, and squeezing out a tidy profit for themselves - a little of the old blackmail is jolly good fun, after all! Then they find they've bitten off more than they can chew in the form of a young, influential Englishman (Theo James) who doesn't take kindly to having the pair interfere in his own corrupt domain, which includes horse racing, night clubs, porn - while he himself is surrounded by a phalanx of loyal, toughie bodyguards.

Can't be bothered to say much else about it. I've been searching my mind for something positive to mention. Well, I suppose the film does have energy, but even that's only apparent sporadically. There are no moments of suspense sustained over a number of minutes, not helped by the fact that personal interest in or sympathy with any of the characters is remarkably low. But I did like their visit to Iceland, though far too short, in which I could wonder at the fabulous, snowbound scenery. There was also a short pursuit down an Icelandic street (can only be in Reykjavik, can't it?). I think it must be the first time I've seen a view of any street in that country on screen. Additional to these rare delights, there's also a pleasing soundtrack including two or three of Glen Campbell's well-known hits.
As to the storyline, just about everything is what we've already seen before, and done better - though one particular method of a certain person's demise has only been rarely depicted (usually confined to 'oriental' films) though it's only a minor detail. 

I'll be generous with my rating, but only because if I scored it any lower it might come into the category of looking so bad that it might be thought to be just worth seeing. It's not!................4

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Film: 'The Girl on the Train'

Based on "the book that shocked the world" (by Paula Hawkins) trumpets the trailer. Is that so? I'd never heard of it.
I'd seen this trailer so many times over the last few weeks that it had just about killed off any curiosity I had about seeing the film. But rather half-heartedly, I went.

The plot is basically a 'whodunit?' - or, more precisely, what happened to her and was anyone else involved? But there is an unusual added dimension to this story viz. the narrator is a self-aware, struggling alcoholic, and Emily Blunt captures the character utterly magnificently. Rarely have I seen on screen so realistically displayed all the nuances of someone with a drink problem - every shade from slightly tipsy, to merry (with an underlying menace), through to being sozzled and violent with it. We also see her fully sober yet dying to have that drink, resisting even when she's offered one, as well as her first visit to an A.A. session. It was a remarkable performance which I really do think is worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Divorcee (and childless) Blunt travels daily from Washington to New York on a train which takes her past her former house where her ex-husband (Justin Theroux) still lives with his new wife (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby daughter. Quite close to this house is another which she gets fascinated by because she can see a couple there through the windows or on their balcony (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett) who seem to be very much in love. It seems they represent the ideal relationship which the Blunt character wishes she could have had. All the while on the train she is sipping from what looks like a transparent water bottle, but which she has had filled with vodka. During her journeys her mind wanders to the past and therein, I think, is the weakness of the film. There are far too many flashbacks, not necessarily in chronological order, leaving me confused several times as to what was happening - and in addition, was this real or is it part of her alcohol-befuddled fantasies? The problem is further exacerbated by having the two women already mentioned having very similar long, blonde, wavy hair. Because I didn't know the two actresses involved I did now and again get confused as to which was which. But as I already do have a particular problem in recognising and remembering faces in real life, others may not have the same difficulty.
There is a third man involved, a counselling psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez).
The Blunt character, having built up a picture of an ideal relationship for this couple which she notices daily, one day witnesses something that jars on her vision of presumed marital bliss. And, no doubt fuelled by alcohol, she can't keep her mouth shut, even though it's nothing to do with her. Then someone goes missing. The police are called in and, due to the drink, she has difficulty in recalling her own movements on the day of the woman's disappearance.

We do finally get to see what happened, and since the number of suspects is very limited - only the three men plus two women, one of whom is Blunt herself. (Was she herself involved during one of her regular blanked-out periods?) When the solution of the mystery is revealed it's hardly a shocker, though it is gruesome.

I don't know if the book contained as many flashbacks as are in the film, but I think the latter was weakened by having so many as to approach being exasperating, particularly as I found some of them quite confusing. 
Director Tate Taylor ('The Help', 'Winter's Bone') builds up tension well at a number of points. It's one of those films with cumulative suspense and it is achieved pretty well.
The major part of the honours for the film really must go to Emily Blunt though, in a role which marks her out as a really remarkable actress with great potential. I think she lifted this film, without which it would have been a  significantly less successful product...............6.5.   

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Film: 'Deepwater Horizon"

Based on a true event of the catastrophic destruction of a floating B.P. oil rig off the Louisiana coast in 2010 (which, I must confess was only very vague in my own memory) resulting in the loss of 11 men as well as extensive pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, this film centres around the part paid by the hero of the hour, Mike Williams, who actually was an on-location adviser as the film was being made. And who better to play such an everyman-hero than Marky Wahlberg? Could anyone else possibly have been more appropriate? As a special visual treat he generously bares his torso more than once during the course of the film for us to ogle at. So considerate!

First of all it has to be established that Williams is a regular family man, with lovey-dovey wife (played by Kate Hudson) and a wise-ass 10-year old daughter, so sweet I could have just scooped her up and barfed all over her, her parents making knowing smiles at each other as she spouts forth her precocious pearls of wisdom. So we're on the man's side right from the start, are we not? 
Williams is an electronic technician working on the rig, also with Kurt Russell, installation engineer among the hundred or so men. Also present, for me there is the film's saving grace, John Malkovich, sneeringly supercilious, larger-than-life and as watchable as he always is. Unfortunately, only appearing in the film's first half,  he doesn't have anything like as much to do as I would have wanted.

At the instigation of the Malkovich figure, testing the drilling is carried out  (Were we seriously expected to follow all those technicalities? I hadn't a clue what was going on!) 
Things turn awry, first quietly, then in spectacular fashion - and I have to say the effects really are impressive, with nearly everyone coated, first in oily mud (rendering some of the cast hard to recognise) - and then an all-consuming fire breaks out. At the key moment St Mark is on visi-phone to wifey making coochy-coo small-talk. He hears a strange noise but dismisses it. Then as things get serious the screen blanks out - and of course Mrs Williams gets rather concerned. After a phone call or two when she hears what's happened she becomes distraught, just as a faithful, dutiful wife ought to do.   
Emergency services are alerted and come to the rescue, or at least to rescue whoever they can, St Mark playing a key role in raising the number of survivors.

The film reminded me very much of the spate of disaster films made in the 1970s, though rather less interesting than some of them, notwithstanding that this one is based on fact rather than fantasy. Also, it hardly needs saying that the effects here are quite staggeringly realistic - or so one imagines they are.

Director Peter Berg has 20 films as director to his credit, though none of them in the 'outstanding' bracket as far as I can see, and I doubt if this film will change that. He does what is required here. If this story hadn't been true I might have described the film as formulaic. It certainly follows all the 'rules' one might expect so I can't see anyone coming out feeling cheated. 
In the final analysis I suppose the film's chief value is to demonstrate a lesson in how an organisation's (B.P.) neglect in order to cut costs can get away scot-free after contributing to such a large-scale human and environmental disaster, and that truly is a message of despair.................6.



Monday, 3 October 2016

Film: 'The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years'

I'd guess that only true fans of the 'Fab Four' will want to watch this Ron Howard-directed film. My having lived through their times, seen innumerable TV programmes and read extensively on the subject, there was little here, if anything at all, which I hadn't already known. Nevertheless, the majority of the footage used is newly aired, and coupled with recent interviews with Paul and Ringo, into which is spliced archive footage of George and John (the latter virtually only in sound) - as well as with long-term fans such as Whoopi Goldberg, Sigourney Weaver, Elvis Costello and Eddie Izzard - it all makes for an interesting compendium of the 1963-66 history of the most famous group the world has ever known.  

Excerpts from their first live performances in the U.K. are shown, as also in the U.S.A., including their TV appearances, and other concerts from around the globe. But rarely is a complete song shown being performed before it's faded out to give way to a voice-over.
This was a period when the group was as close-knit as they ever would be, with their manager, Brian Epstein who was the 'glue' who held it all together. The four of them got on very well with each other, so that these three years is, in a sense, also the most uninteresting time that they ever went through. It was only when the cracks of disagreements began to appear in the wake of Epstein's untimely death (not mentioned here) that the group's own story started being enthralling - and later accelerated by Yoko's intrusive presence (also outside the film's scope, going only so far as 'Sergeant Pepper').  
Due credit is given to the recently-deceased George Martin, the brain who enabled Paul and John, and later George, to really take off, fly and soar with their own compositions far higher than they otherwise might have managed alone.

Because there weren't any revelatory moments in the film for me, I did start to get a bit fatigued. Predictably, the group's live performances, even with enhanced sound quality, audibly fell below the standard of the studio recordings of releases we have grown up with, so that was no surprise.

After the end of the 90-minute 'main feature' there's a further half-hour taken from their live concert in Shea Stadium, the fan-girls' continuous screaming becoming near-overbearing.
I was less interested in their renditions of old rock 'n roll standards like 'Long Tall Sally', 'Roll Over Beethoven' etc than I was in wanting to hear them performing songs they had penned themselves - incidentally here with a strong bias in favour of Lennon-composed numbers. But that's because my admiration for them has, right from the start, being essentially based on the incredibly high standard of their songwriting capabilities than that of their performances as a group.

I think that those who are less familiar with the Beatles story will get a lot more out of this film than I did. Rather than watch it again, I'd rather sit myself down. close my eyes and wrap myself in the sheer sublimity of half a dozen or more of the Beatles' albums, a standard which I think, though may have been approached by other artistes, both contemporary with them and in all the decades since, has never been surpassed.................6. 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Film: 'The Magnificent Seven'

Though I've seen just about all the 'classic' westerns since the 1960s in the cinema, I've never been an aficianado of the genre.
I caught the 1960 version (itself based on idea from Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai', of course) on its second time around, being too young to see it in its original year of release. (This was in an era when 'major' films appeared in cinemas for two or more runs, and when there was an embargo on their appearing on TV for a number of years - which I believe in the U.K. at this time was the 12 years following release).
I've never seen that film since and all I recall about it was the brooding presence of Yul B., thinking that Robert Vaughan looked attractively dapper (then not yet a household name via 'the Man from UNCLE' - and now the only surviving cast member of that film) - and Charles Bronson somewhere on the mix. Beyond those three I'd be hard pressed to name the other members of the seven. (I've just seen that Steve McQueen was also part of the gang but I can't envisage him in there among them even now that I'm reminded.) 
And I recall even less about the story, save that they were a motley band of 'goodies' putting right some great wrong.

The names that most will (or may) recognise in this new version is Denzel Washington as the Seven's leader, plus Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio. Then as arch-villain is Peter Sarsgaard, complete with 'tache and goatee, looking every inch the hard-boiled embodiment of evil, not giving away anything for his demand to mine where he wants, even if it means flattening a small God-fearing town which is inconveniently in his way. 
Set in California in the late 1870s (though shot in Arizona and Louisiana), Denzel Washington makes his first appearance as though in a cartoon (I could only laugh, though I don't think that was the intended reaction) - a shootout in a saloon (where else?) in which he exhibits his skill in having not only impeccable aim to kill or disarm several threats, but seems to have eyes in the back of his head as well as in its sides and in his crown! 
When told by an aggrieved mother who recognises his useful potential to avenge the horrible injustice done to the town, Washington is easily persuaded to assist as deliverer of justice and rides to the rescue, first going on a mission to round up his gang of various misfits who are also ace fighters. When that is achieved the gang's fierce loyalty to the group is in contrast to the fragile friendships they have to each other as individuals, friction occasionally coming to the surface. But, hang it all, they have a job to do! - viz to eliminate Mr Evil and his considerable clique of helpers. The seven have the town's entire population on their side, whom they train in marksmanship. 

The two sides in the final 'battle' are both large in number, and it occupies the film's final half-hour. There's much tumbling of horses, though I was relieved to see that after it was all over, with the ground littered with corpses belonging to both sides, all the horses seem to have miraculously escaped. That made me feel much better.

Western film releases are as rare as hens' teeth these days, something like one or two per decade it seems, whereas in my time there were often several per year. So, for most of today's audience this film could well be received as a bit of a novelty, thereby being considered more favourably than I felt towards it.  Context is everything, and many will have little with which to compare this if they haven't seen the 1960 version, so these same people might regard this as a refreshing change. Not so myself, I'm afraid. 

Director Francoise Fuqua makes a decent enough effort but it didn't set my mind alight in such a way as to be marked as a 'watch again!' in my memory banks.

Btw: The soundtrack regularly threatens to burst into the iconic Elmer Bernstein theme from the 1960 film which surely nearly everyone will recognise, obviously purposely - and it finally actually does do briefly at the start of the closing credits. No complaints about that.

Not a bad film and, quite honestly, it could have been a lot worse. But I wouldn't go out of my way to give it more than a mild recommendation...........................6.


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Film: 'Little Men'

This was just what I needed to counterpoise yesterday's unsatisfactory cinema experience - and it's a mini-gem of a picture. As if seeing one boy in his early teens yesterday wasn't enough, here we have two of them! There any similarity ceases.

In Brooklyn, Greg Kinnear plays a theatre actor, and is moving in to his recently deceased father's apartment with his wife, (Jennifer Ehle who actually doesn't have all that much to do in this film) and his 13-year old son (Theo Taplitz). The flat is above a ground floor leased to a woman's boutique/dress shop managed by an English/Spanish-speaking woman (Paulina Garcia) who lives there with her own son of similar age (Michael Barbieri). 
Also in the background, appearing in just two short scenes, is Alfred Molina, speaking almost entirely in Spanish.  
Kinnear's father has bequeathed the flat to Kinnear and his married sister, living elsewhere, as well as the lease of the downstairs, that being at a specially favourable reduced rent as he'd had an amicable relationship with the woman as tenant.
Kinnear's modest income means that his family have to struggle to survive so they have no choice but to put up the rent for the woman below. She can't what they are asking and she digs her heels in regarding the only alternative, which is to close the shop and move out.
Meantime the two boys have got on well with each other from the word 'go' - freely sharing each other's possessions and rooms and going around together. They are dismayed when they hear about the friction that has arisen between the two households, which would entail one of them moving away. They decide on their own tactics to express to their respective parents their displeasure at what has happened.

The focus of the film is more or less equally shared between the two boys and the conflict between their parents. The story could easily have tipped over into predictable sentimentality but it skilfully avoids that. However, it's not a film for those who like their endings to be neatly cut and dried, a feature which is to no detriment at all to this under-90-minute production .

Director Ira Levin's last film was the impressive 'Love is Strange' (featuring Alfred Molina again, in one of the lead roles) and this well maintains that standard. Levin also co-wrote this one. I look forward to what he does next, but this one is most satisfying.......................7.5.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Film: 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'

('Wilder' to rhyme with 'builder'. No, I don't know what it means.)

I wouldn't have seen this had it not been so garlanded with praise from many quarters - and it's currently enjoying a mighty high IMDb average rating of 8.2. Wish I hadn't bothered.

A New Zealand film with a good clutch of native Kiwi actors in the minor roles, it shows off to superb advantage the quite exceptional landscape of that country, an inexplicably rare event outside the 'LOTR' and 'Hobbit' trilogies of films.

Julian Dennison, a seriously overweight, orphaned teenage delinquent, already with a long small-time criminal record, is given over by the childcare authorities to foster parents living in the mountain forests - she, a garrulous middle-aged woman who kills, skins, prepares and cooks wild animals for meals, and who doesn't survive long after the boy arrives - and Sam Neill, her grizzled, grumbling (and illiterate) husband. When the care supervisors hear about the wife's decease they tell the husband they will collect the boy until they can decide on his next home. The two of them, now with one of those mutual-enmity bonds between them with which we are so familiar, leave their ramshackle forest residence and go on the run in the wild.
As they roam around aimlessly they come across a handful of oddball characters, including three youngish, hostile trappers - and an intensely irritatingly dotty 'man of the mountains' - at whom we're supposed to be amused, I take it. 
The film throughout has several encounters with forest beasts, both tame and fierce, resulting in a (small) number of violent animal deaths - as well as that of one of the couple's two dogs. I won't pretend that I didn't find all these few incidents very uncomfortable to watch. I hope they didn't influence my final verdict but they undoubtedly did cloud any 'enjoyment' I might otherwise have experienced. 
While the two are on the run the publicity of their disappearance grows until they are pursued by full-scale police and military forces, it being believed that the Sam Neill character has kidnapped the boy for nefarious purposes.

I found the film fatally self-regarding. It's as though someone, the director Taika Waititi (also the screenplay writer from another source) said "Right everybody. Let's make an 'entertainment'!" The result being that  much of the cast of lesser characters seem to be acting their heads off in a conscious effort to be funny or profound - and they were neither! The badly behaved boy, Julian Dennison, composes haikus, would you believe? Needless to say he's also overflowing with wise-ass aphorisms, displaying a wisdom way beyond his years, something I just cannot abide in films. The female senior childcare officer was another one who mugged her lines wholesale, expecting us to laugh at her exasperations. Only Sam Neill comes out of the project with any significant dignity, but even he is served with a script that hardly ever shines.

Anyway, what do I know? It's a film that's been fantastically well received in many quarters, even applauded in places. I can only report on my own reaction, which corresponds to a score of...........5.
  

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Film: 'La Chambre Bleue' / 'The Blue Room'

I never looked up the details of this beforehand, erroneously assuming that it would be based on the play of exactly the same name and adapted by David Hare, where Nicole Kidman created a stir on the London stage (and later on Broadway) by appearing eight years ago completely nude in a small, intimate theatre. (Unsurprisingly ,the entire run was a sell-out!)
Anyway, it turned out not to be that, but rather an adaptation by its main star, Mathieu Amalric (that hottie, who also directs this film) of a Georges Simenon novel. As it transpired, I had no cause to be disappointed as the film is a goodie, though in saying that I am at variance with quite a number of reviews I've only just now read.

It's a crime drama (entirely in French), but what's unusual about this is that near the start we see Amalric under police interrogation, but it's not until right towards the the end of the film that we eventually discover what the actual crime was. By a series of flashbacks from interrogation, we see Amalric in a series of amorous assignations - complete with brief, full-frontals of both parties - in an hotel room with a married lover (Stephanie Cleau). During the police questioning we get to know more and more of what has happened through further flashbacks as if peeling back a series of layers, including his own life with wife (Lea Drucker) and their 10-year old daughter. Although we can see that he's obviously under arrest, we are left in the dark for a considerable while as to knowing what the precise charge is. Has someone been killed or has disappeared? - his lover.....her husband.... his own wife? Has the alleged crime even got anything to do with his illicit affair? It actually goes considerably deeper than that.
The film is at an agreeably slender 75 minutes, a brevity to which many much longer films ought to have aspired. (Do you hear that, Bridget J?) It doesn't have a chance to get boring at any point and never even approaches it because the level of intrigue regarding unanswered questions from the audience keeps us keenly absorbed.

Acting and direction I have no complaints about. I thought the superficial warmth between Amalric and his wife was particularly well observed, they both recognising that it concealed a mutual emotional estrangement without putting it into words.

I liked this a lot, and have no regrets about seeing it even if I was in error regarding expectations. If I'd known that it had nothing to do with what I'd thought it was I might well not have bothered, and that would have been a pity...............7.5





Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Film: 'Bridget Jones' Baby'

The third in the series and not the best, that place going to the first one in my opinion.
This does have quite a number of endearingly humorous moments but the film really could have done with some drastic clipping. Two hours long is too much to hold up the subject's original frothy attraction, and which is further weighted down by several more serious and reflective sections, which only seemed to pad it out without justification for doing so, whereas the film really needed to be sharp and concise to work at its best.

Renee Zellwegger reprises her role as the eponymous Londoner, Bridget, and virtually the entire film after setting up the premise, is which of two possibilities is the one-night-stand father of her expected baby - Colin Firth, with whom she willingly tumbles into bed after meeting up years later as he's going through a messy divorce, or American Patrick Dempsey, glitzy and hokey relationship adviser on TV, whom she meets at a rock music festival in circumstances which only happens in films.  The single Ms Jones herself works as news supervisor on 'Hard News' TV channel, under an unsympathetic harridan of a female boss (hopelessly over-acting).
Emma Thompson (who also worked on the screenplay, along with Bridget Jones' creator, Helen Fielding) is the hospital obstetrician monitoring progress of the foetus.

I found this a rather tiring film to watch, with rather less sparkle than I'd been hoping for. It just about held my interest but I'm not sure the casts own hearts were in it that much.
Director Sharon Maguire, who did the first of this series, ('B. J.'s Diary') but not the second, seems rather reluctant during this film to let things go and leave it to our imagination to fill in the blanks. We don't need the reassurance of seeing it all on screen.
Incidentally, there was also a number of careless continuity errors I perceived, as well as the film having had a trailer containing a number of moments that were not in, presumably edited out of, the end product. I don't think I've seen so many - it almost seemed to be advertising on false pretenses. 

This film certainly contains minutes of enjoyable entertainment, with a couple or more of LOL moments. It also fulfils its function in taking B.J.s story further, though not to a point where I'm especially eager to find out what happens next. A distinctly muted recommendation.................5.5




Monday, 19 September 2016

Film: 'Anthropoid'

Before I saw the 1975 film 'Operation Daybreak' (which I liked), I'd had little or no idea about the plot to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the 'Butcher of Prague'. 
The film's title is the code name for this plot, Heydrich being Hitler's rep in Czechoslovakia following its 1938 invasion and occupation, and third in command in Nazi Germany after 'Der Fuhrer' himself and Himmler. This significant, brave and sad episode, with its miserable and horrific consequences, has been rather eclipsed by other WWII events, campaigns and battles, but surely needs to be told and remembered.  

I'm not sure if this film is a major improvement on the earlier, but it's absolutely in no way inferior, as well as being considerably more brutal, particularly in the violent interrogation scenes under torture, graphically realised on screen, and the culminating shoot-out in a church where the plotters are holed up, this latter episode taking up a third of the entire film - and most effective it is too. 

Jamie Dornan ('Fifty Shades of Grey') and Cillian Murphy (of too many films to mention) are, respectively, the Czech and Slovak leaders of the assassination enterprise, meeting up with other resistance sympathisers in Prague, to bring their plot to fruition, the latter including the ever-reliable Toby Jones.
Especially noteworthy is that this film is shot (in very subdued colours) in Prague at some of the actual locations where the incidents took place.

English Director Sean Ellis does a sterling job with a good script and a uniformly high acting standard from a cast which also includes a high proportion of Czechs and Slovaks.

Even though one knows the tragic outcome I did find it exciting with virtually no longueurs. 
I didn't mind English being used throughout by the cast (apart from the German of the Nazi officers) even though there were historically no English characters in this episode. However, some of the cod-foreign accents when using the English I could have done without.

It's a good film, being nowhere near the 'boring' that I've seen suggested in some reviews. It's a story that has too infrequently been brought to the screen, large or small, and I'm content in giving this version a thumbs-up........6.5.