Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Film: 'Brigsby Bear'

Were it not that I thought this original story had some potential, I might have otherwise given this a miss. Bit of a let-down then, that despite starting well, I felt any sustaining interest was largely squandered, most notably in an unashamedly crowd-pleasing finale.

Kyle Mooney (also one of the co-writers) stars as a twenty-something kidnap victim who was taken as an infant by a married couple (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) who raise him as their captive son. One presumes that they took him because they couldn't have children of their own - it's not explained. He's brought up to think that the air outside their isolated home (filmed in Utah) is toxic, he only being allowed out to go and sit on the roof staring in the night at stars and surrounding mountains while wearing a gas mask. His only window onto the 'world' is a contrived one that his 'parents' have made for him in their own warehouse by creating, with volunteer 'actors', a TV show, 'Brigsby Bear's Adventures', which he replays over and over on VHS video tapes - with the 'Bear' being a kind of Superman figure battling on behalf of the planet against an evil face-in-the-sun - with grottily primitive (and laughable) special effects - very 1950s - all of which he laps up with unconditional belief in its veracity! Then the police (led by Greg Kinnear) track him down, return him to his true parents (Matt Walsh, Michaela Wilkins) with his never-seen teenage sister (Ryan Simpkins) now 25 years later, and his kidnappers are clapped in prison.
The story is a tale of how he copes in adjusting to realising that what he'd been told about the world was a lie, and his utter incomprehension that others did not know of this Brigsby Bear TV programme. His social awkwardness on encountering others is evident and understandable, though everyone is aware of him through his release from his captors having been shown widely on TV news. This also makes others feel sympathetic towards him and his clumsiness in etiquette is never a cause for outright hostility, more one of curiosity, some amusement, and tolerance. His status as adult virgin is also, rather predictably, explored.

With that big papier-mache bear head (just one of a large number of the TV shows' props), I thought there might be some echoes of 2014's 'Frank' (Michael Fassbender) - but that earlier film was far superior to this.

This seems to be director Dave McCary's first feature film. I kept thinking that he was going out of his way to take the easy route and avoid challenges, particularly with that ending which I've mentioned.

Though occasionally silly, it's not a poor film by any means, though it does come within a whisper of being cloyingly sentimental, without actually falling right into it. I only wish it had been better than it's turned out...............5.5.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Film: 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer'

I'd been greatly regretting having missed this film through circum-stances on its original screen distribution six weeks ago. But then a Heaven-sent, belated, additional opportunity came my way and I seized it.

It's one of those profoundly disturbing films where I wished I'd seen it in the comfort of company and been able to discuss it afterwards. (The film's title becomes clear as it progresses - no animals are involved, only peripheral glimpses of a family dog, unharmed.)

Director Yorgos Lanthimos was responsible for last year's compelling 'The Lobster' (also starring Colin Farrell) and he's here pulled off another haunting feature, though much, much darker.

Filmed in Cincinatti, Farrell is a hospital surgeon, leading invasive operations, the film commencing with close view of two minutes of open-heart surgery (forewarned, I could avert my eyes for the duration) with a seemingly idyllic family life - wife (Nicole Kidman) plus teenage daughter and younger son. (We saw Farrell and Kidman together as recently as in this year's 'The Beguiled'). 
The surgeon has struck up a cordial but matter-of-fact relationship with a teenage boy (Barry Keoghan - creepily convincing), the son of a man he'd operated on previously (the subject of the open-heart surgery at the start). At first we wonder who this boy actually is and what is he doing being so friendly with Farrell - and why, indeed, is the latter letting him get so close at all. Slowly as things reveal it becomes creepier and things start to impinge on the surgeon's life and, crucially, on his family. It would be a spoiler to give any more away but, boy oh boy, it does venture into very dark territory! I was drawn in almost against my will but felt forced to keep watching, dreading the next turn, which only realised my worst fears. The tension is screwed up extremely tightly, it being clear that I wasn't the only audience member who was transfixed.

I must admit to some relief when it was over. Being put through an emotional wringer can leave ones nerves in shreds as well as being thoroughly satisfying. 

Farrell is excellent - this film confirms yet again that he can play vulnerable and fragile as effectively as hard-man or criminal. Kidman is also as good as she always is, though I felt that her role here was slightly underwritten, particulatly as compared with Farrell's.

Lanthimos' directing (he's also the co-writer) is exemplary throughout, could hardly be bettered, in fact. Time and again I was reminded of Kubrick (as well as some Hitchcock) in the roving camera work, up and down lengthy hospital corridors, with occasional long-shots, sometimes in silence.

A film that well paid off my yearning to catch it. Not a film for the faint-hearted or for those of a nervous disposition, but there's no doubt it's a film of disturbing (and grisly) 'significance'............8.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Film: 'Happy End'

You know that with a Michael Haneke film, if it has an up-beat title it's going to be heavily ironic. And so here too - though it's not so much a case of there being an  'end' as we being left to ask "So what happened next?"

The Austrian Haneke is one of the small handful of directors whose films I'd actively go out of my way to see, though we don't always get the chance to view his creations. Those we do have an opportunity at are tantalisingly enigmatic, usually deeply unsettling on some level, and always significant. Those films of his that I have seen - 'Cache', 'The Piano Teacher', 'The White Ribbon', 'Amour' - linger in my mind more than those of just about all other contemporary directors. However, his 'Funny Games' (1997) has seared itself in my consciousness as one of the most disturbingly horrifying films I've ever seen, though with all the violence (and there's a fair bit of it) taking place off-screen! (I refer to the original German-language version, not the American re-make of ten years later, also directed by Haneke, which I haven't seen). Twenty years later, 'Funny Games' still haunts me.

Back to 'Happy End' which is set in Calais, on the northernmost French coast (the location is significant). 
A multi-generational upper-class family is drawn through various circumstances to live together uneasily, prominent among which is Isabelle Huppert as a divorced, businesswoman-owner of a construction company, with troubled 13-year old daughter (correction: the girl is actually Huppert's neice. Thanks due to Rachel for her comment below) who has hacked into her father's computer account and is reading sexually- charged exchanges he's having with his new lover. Several members of this extended family make suicide attempts for varying reasons, not all having the same level of 'success'. One of them is the advance-aged grandfather who feels his time is up and wants to end his life, despite his family thwarting his attempts. Other family members have their own secrets and inter-familial frictions. So far so jolly!  The only non-French member of the cast is Toby Jones as an English family acquaintance, he also being the only one whose few scenes are in English, the rest of the film being, of course, in the Gallic tongue.

For some episodes, Haneke employs his trademark technique of showing a scene between players from a distance, out of ear-shot, we only being aware of the gestures of the actors, some of it argumentative, confrontational and, in one case here, violent. We don't know why or what was said - and it's often left unexplained. We are left to join the dots ourselves. But the method is always intriguing and it kept me hooked.

I ought also to mention that if there are any viewers of this as hyper-sensitive to the suffering of animals as I am, the film is preceded by a 10-min 'essay' on Haneke's methods, which includes brief shots of a few animals being killed, and though lasting maybe just one minute, I had to look away. When the film 'proper' starts the very opening shot is of a harmless little hamster being deliberately poisoned. Nothing else similar happens in the rest of the film. Hardly worth mentioning for some, I'm sure, but it did start me off on an uncomfortable footing.

I think the general consensus is that  'Happy End' may ultimately be not quite as remarkable as some of the director's other films. Nevertheless, despite my accepting that its lack of a clear conclusion might well infuriate some of its audience, as is the case with all the rest of Haneke's films which I've seen, I always feel that he delivers ones money's worth, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of other directors around today..................7.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Film: 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'

There have been more than one or two damning critiques of this festive-sounding film, and I'm not totally out of sympathy with them. The title ought to have been more accurately - 'The Man Who Wrote 'A Christmas Carol', which helped consolidate some of the Yuletide traditions which are still prevalent today.', but the ambitious title it's been given will just about do for shorthand purposes. 
I know a fair bit about Dickens' life (Peter Ackroyd's massive biography is a must-read for the writer's admirers) but I couldn't recall the true circumstances of his penning of this justly well-loved tale. However, I'm told that enormous liberties have been taken here with the historical facts. No surprise there then!

It's 1843 and Charles Dickens, feted after huge initial success, has seen his fortunes slump in the wake of three consecutive unsuccessful novels, and now he badly needs another 'hit' to come to his financial rescue. 
The young Dickens (must be about the first time I've seen him portrayed as clean-shaven) played by Dan Stevens in quasi-histrionic mode, and best known as 'Beast' in 2014's 'Beauty and....', is feverishly trying to come up with a workable idea in the weeks leading up to Xmas and (would you believe it?) fate comes to his aid in the form of people in his life dropping phrases, hints and usable names which his mind garners and puts together as a kernel of an idea for a shortish story appropriate to the season, he having little time available to come up with a viable plot on which to write and get it published while Christmas is still in the offing. 
His family of young wife (Morfydd Clark) and three little children get an unexpected visit from his father (Jonathan Pryce) and mother - which allows for the (too many) interruptions of heavy, miserable flashbacks of when his father (and rest of family) was taken away for debt while he, as eldest child though yet a young boy, had to work in a blacking factory with other similar-aged children.    
There's also the dour, real-life Mr Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) with all the characteristics of the book personage, who keeps popping up not just as an acquaintance but in his imagined fantasies too, acting out scenes from the eventual tale which Dickens then quickly commits to paper, the story being written for him rather than he having to work it out. He additionally meets in his imaginings, Marley, as well as the three ghosts, their appearances he similarly hurriedly has to write down.

The film seems to rely on the audience having more than a passing knowledge of the finished work, and perhaps they will. If they don't, then a lot of the references will have been wasted. (I've read 'Carol' more than any other Dickens work, perhaps around 20 times - though it is, to be fair, just a short story, excellent as it is).

The look of the film is perfect for what it is, but otherwise I found the product tedious with an unexceptional script, and an exceptionally mannered Dan Stevens in the Dickens role. Plummer's appearances as Scrooge, both in life and in imagination, are too frequent and overplayed, and even Jonathan Pryce as Charles Dickens Senior outstays his welcome, something I thought I'd never say about that actor.

I didn't find the Christmas mood particularly effectively captured. All those gloomy flashbacks and the quarrels with his printer and publisher as he comes right up to the deadline knocked the stuffing out of the turkey for me (the fact that I don't eat turkey is neither here nor there!) - though, mind you, the finished tale itself is likewise written with much sobering, thoughtful life-messages.  

Indian director Bharat Nalluri does what he can with the, to me, misguided material, though I felt his heart wasn't in it and it shows. I can't see this being added to the considerable pantheon of worthy Christmas films to be watched annually on Xmas Eve or on the afternoon of that very day. A Christmas cracker which lacks the crucial 'bang'...................4.5.  

Film: 'Beach Rats'

Largely unconvincing story of unemployed New York teenager (Harris Dickinson), one of a gang with another three similar youths, hanging around the beach and funfair looking for girls and smoking weed, getting by through pick-pocketing, and the occasional 'kindness' of strangers - only this particular young guy is leading a double life, at night hooking up on his p.c. with older men (not elderly) on gay websites for online 'chatting' and occasional meet-ups for quick sex. He hangs onto a girl who'd picked him up, thinking him sexy (which I couldn't see at all, though we'll let that pass - 'Beauty in the eye of.....' etc) and he indulges in a hot-cold relationship with her, while leading this private double life, even taking her home to stay overnight in full view of his quietly 'understanding' and protective mother (Kate Hodge) who doesn't approve of his male friends, and his stroppy little sister who's also engaged in a physical relationship. 
After maintaining this deception to his mates for much of the film, he opens up to them and tells them what he's been doing. Instead of asserting their 'macho' credentials by seeing who could outdo the others in homophobic put-downs, as I'd have expected to happen, their reaction is unbelievably relaxed about it, displaying little more than mild amusement - never mind that up till then he'd been like the rest of them, wanting "women, women, women!" He explains his conduct by saying that this is how he manages to obtain a reliable source of weed, and he'll do what it takes to get it, which they accept.
I can't deny that the film captures well the double-life that a lot of us have gone through to maintain a veneer of 'respectability' with our peers and equals by talking about relationships with girls either completely fictitious or, if the girls existed at all, inwardly praying that they weren't tracked down and interrogated so as to reveal the lie we had spun of a 'relationship'. I know it well, I've been there - growing up at a time when all gay acts were criminal, even in private, when as little as a misjudged touch on a knee could result in the loss of one's job, or much, much worse. But as far as this gang of four are concerned their only constraint is, as far as I could tell, their own opinions of each other - and, of course, there was no need for Dickinson's character to lie about the real person he's seeing.
Throughout the film I was expecting a sudden burst of violence to break out, and to that extent it did keep me tensed up.

This is director Eliza Hittman's only second feature film. She's still young and I'm assuming that this is one of the misfires that she'll encounter on her way to establishing her reputation as someone to be reckoned with - though it won't be with this...............4.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Film: 'Suburbicon'

The most uncomfort-able film I've seen in quite some years. I've yet to read a review that is defiantly 'kind' to it, and following a disastrous opening in America where it's quickly been withdrawn from cinemas, it gets a more limited screening here. All this despite it being directed by George Clooney, no less, and starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac. It did look really great from the trailer, I must say - more than interesting enough to entice me in to satisfy my curiosity.
All the negativities spouted about it seem to centre on its uneven-ness of tone and having too many strands - even a 'mess', some say. But it's not that at all. Disorientating it most certainly is.

Clooney has taken an early, late 1980s, script of the Coen brothers and (together with one Grant Heslov) has extended it and added layers - and this is where I think most critics judge that it misfires.

Set at the end of the 1950s, Damon plays a successful businessman living with his wife and 10 year-old son, and his sister-in-law, in a pristine, idyllic, storybook-like, small town enclosing a dream-creation of a perfect society. It starts off in a light tone but within five minutes something takes place which challenges the inhabitants' peace of mind, and within a further five minutes an event happens which hurtles us down to a very dark place.  One cannot say much more because the surprises come tumbling on top of each other. The initial levity tries to return now and again but now that we've seen the dark underbelly, from about halfway it's futile to pretend that it's not there and so the darkness is left just to rip its way to the end. Some of the unexpectedness is very unpleasant indeed, with some violence and blood - while the several suspenseful moments are handled with great expertise, with tension screwed up tight almost to screaming point.  
During the exposition we learn revelations about the central family, the attitudes of some of them - and far from questions being answered, the film concludes with more queries and imponderables hanging in the air than those with which we'd started - so not a film for those who like clean-cut endings.

It's a film that's going to haunt me for quite some time, so unsettling I found it. It clearly won't appeal to everyone and I can appreciate why it's engendered some of its hostility. But if you like a challenge and something to think about, even though having seen it you may be wishing you could get it out of your mind but can't, this is a film for you. Do I regret having taken the chance? Not at all...................7

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Film: Battle of the Sexes'

I truly loved this, and it's an emotion for which you don't have to be an ardent tennis fan (which I'm not, anymore) to share. Furthermore, being so hardly even helps, the essential drama being played out, not so much in the climactic tennis game, than in the battle of wills between superstar Billie-Jean King (ladies' championship credentials newly eclipsed by Aussie, Margaret Court) and her challenger, Bobby Riggs in 1973. 

I was a keen tennis watcher (and hopeless player) back in the 1960s when this spoilt teenage kid, a brattish upstart named Billie-Jean Moffat, came on the scene, the enfant terrible of the time, yelling her way to victory ("Oh NOOOOO!") through temper tantrums and unsportsman(/woman)like, immature behaviour, drawing boos from the spectators for her loutish, non-existent 'gamesmanship' - and paving the way for the yet more outrageously behaved John McEnroe. But it was she who had by then killed off any interest I had in watching the sport, something from which I have never recovered. (Incidentally, in this film nothing at all is shown of her displaying the childish playing antics which were then as much her trademark as her excellence at tennis).
Of course, everyone knows what a lovely LGBTQ icon King has now become - as well as being a personal friend of Elton, no less! (I take it that the brief inclusion of his 'Rocket Man' on the soundtrack is an acknowledgment of that fact.) 

I must confess to not having become aware of the subject at the heart of this film until some 20 years after it had happened. Apparently the ultimate game was televised live around the world at the time though I don't recall it. I dare say it must have featured in news programmes, though low-down on the list of matters of significant import.

The film starts with B-J.K. (Emma Stone) expressing disapproval that in an American tournament, the men victors will earn a prize eight times that of the women, on the grounds that male players are a 'better watch' and generate more public interest - despite the fact that ticket sales for both games are in about equal demand. King pulls herself, along with other female player-supporters, out of the tournament until this injustice is rectified. Now national news, it comes to the attention of former champion, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell), who immediately gets a bee in his bonnet about men being the better players and therefore deserve a higher scale of prizes. He is so incensed that he issues a challenge that he will play and beat any woman, putting up $100,000 of his own money as stake.  Newly-crowned women's champion, Margaret Court, takes up the challenge. (I wasn't aware of this at all until this film).

But while this is going on, the married, 28-year old King, finds, much to her own surprise, that she is quite suddenly attracted to her new hairdresser, Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) - their initial encounter while she is getting her hair done being quite beautifully realised. The  slow dawning on Emma Stone's face of her being attracted to another woman is something to behold.
The realisation of King's husband (Austin Stowell) that something is going on which he didn't foresee is excellently and sensitively portrayed, capturing the confusion and emotional turmoil as he doesn't know how to express his feelings, yet not wishing to give up on loyalty to his wife. I found this aspect particularly moving.

I must also register that Emma Stone's bespectacled likeness to whom she plays is quite remarkable, her smile having a particularly uncanny resemblance.

Then there's Steve Carrell, whom I only first noticed when he was playing second fiddle to Jim Carrey in 'Bruce Almighty' (2003). I'd never been a great fan of his, at least not until his extraordinary appearance in 'Foxcatcher' (2014) where he totally subsumed his scarily domineering role - and since then I recognise that he is indeed an actor of astonishing versatility. 
This role as Bobby Riggs is a tricky one to pull off successfully without it descending into cartoon-like silliness, looking back on it from over 40 years down the line, voicing male attitudes towards women which were very prevalent at the time - and which I can verify, some of it much to my own shame! Riggs wears the soubriquet of 'Male Chauvinist Pig' proudly on his sleeve, a 'badge of honour', opining that women belong in the kitchen and should give their energies to raising families. His own wife (Elizabeth Shue) can only take so much from him, more for his own pig-headedness than his general m.c.p. attitudes. 
His contention, frequently aired on radio, includes the belief that men being (generally) the stronger sex in muscle terms, it stands to reason that they will outclass women on the tennis court - and besides, women can't handle the mental pressure of it all! Of course, all this to King is like showing a red rag to a bull - and so she decides to take up the challenge.

Always hovering in the background is the watchful (baleful?) presence of the 'wholesome', baby-carrying Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), who is quick to pick up on King's infatuation (and more) with Marilyn, and she doesn't waste any time in not-so-subtly making her displeasure at their relationship known.
If this is an accurate depiction of Court's attitudes back in the 1970s, she certainly hasn't advanced at all since those days, as evidenced in her prominent opposition to equal marriage in Australia's recent referendum 'debate'.  

It's a busy film on the whole, thanks to some snappy editing - though the few scenes of genuine intimacy between King and her lover do threaten to develop into longueurs, which they thankfully don''t. The film gallops along pleasurably, feeling nothing like the two hours of its actual length.
I must also add that there aren't any overlong tennis-playing sequences. Even the climactic match is shrewdly put together with only a few of the salient shots shown - and excellently edited too.
The film also demonstrates that, despite their polarised views, King and Riggs had a surprisingly respectful and playful regard for each other.

Screenplay is by Simon Beaufoy, best known for the original 'The Full Monty', and it's a good, sharp script with scarcely a word too many. 

If I have one major qualification it's the character of Marilyn, King's lover. In many reviews I've seen Andrea Riseborough is given credit for her part in this role. I found the character insipid, such that I was confused as to why King would have been attracted to such a colourless personality. Though Emma Stone's high quality acting did bring me to the belief that she was, against the odds as I saw it, really attracted to this Marilyn, I found little emotional chemistry between the two of them. But obviously I'm out on a limb in thinking this. That was the only major defect for me in this film. 

The regular two-person team of directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (both also directing the rather fine 'Little Miss Sunshine' of 2006) take the helm here and I have no quarrel at all with their finished work. It's hard to see how it could have been improved, apart from my one personal reservation above.

All in all, then, a thoroughly enjoyable experience which I've no doubt will be shared by many................8.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Film: 'Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool'

When I first read about this story (which I hadn't known until a few weeks ago) I thought that it could make for a terrific film. I'm afraid that except for the final intensely moving minutes, it largely left me uninvolved, even rather cold.

The true story is of one-time, big screen star, Gloria Grahame (played by the wonderful Annette Bening - not looking much like the original, though that shouldn't get in the way) in her late 50s and towards the end of her life, falling for an amateur English stage actor of half her age, well played by Jamie Bell. Their romance begins in California 1979 and two years later she, while on an acting engagement in England, rather than stay in a hotel, decides to move in with Bell's family in Liverpool - a family including the conspicuously bewigged Julie Walters, who is required to give not much more than a one-note performance as the mother. (We recall Bell and Walters appeared together in the original 'Billy Elliott', the film on which the musical was later based). The action here keeps shifting (a little annoyingly for me) between 1981 and 1979 and back again numerous times.

You might guess that tender moments of love-making between the two main characters are interspersed with tumultuous rows, she taking repeated umbrage at any slight hint of his, however innocently expressed, that she might be a bit on the old side. She is clearly mentally fragile - and, as it turns out, not just mentally.

The whole viewing experience felt a bit constrained for me, despite the range of emotions demonstrated, particularly by Bening. It just didn't grip me to the extent I'd hoped. It's also one of those annoying films where much is spoken so sotto voce that I didn't have a clue what they were talking about - and when that goes for the two main actors it doubly surprised and disappointed me.

I've not seen any of director Kevin McGuigan's previous films, and after this one his is not a name which will by itself entice me to see further productions of his. 

I only first became aware of Gloria Grahame herself on seeing 'Oklahoma' (1955) in which she hopelessly 'over-cookied' her character. Later I caught up on some of her previous more famous b/w films from an era when she was rightfully feted. But after the 1950s her significant film parts were few, and her rather more numerous bit-parts in numerous TV roles were not solid enough to make a lasting impression.

As I say, I wasn't aware of this particular story being played out at the beginning of the 1980s, though I suppose that by then Grahame's name had so faded from public consciousness that it wouldn't have been a major news item to generate more than a modicum of interest.

I feel I ought to point my rating of the film upwards for the single reason that Annette Bening really does give it her all............6.5.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Film: 'Paddington 2'

I'd thought the first 'Paddington Bear' film (2014) just okay, though nothing to get really excited about. No such indifference with this sequel - I absolutely loved it! The visuals and the storyline inventiveness are astonishing, all the way through with minimal lapses. And I haven't laughed so much at a film comedy in a long, long time. It wasn't just me, the entire audience seemed to be in uproarious mood. A sheer pick-you-up tonic to counter the blues!

We once again find Paddington (created by the recently-deceased Michael Bond - and voiced magnificently spot-on by Ben Whishaw) still living in an affluent London suburb with the same family (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters) and with the neighbours familiar from last time, plus a number of new additions. In minor or cameo roles there is a veritable roll-call of British actors of film, theatre and TV over several generations - plus Brendan Gleeson as the scary, hard-man prison chef who makes all the other inmates cower with a mere glance. 
Sometimes adding so many recognisable faces to a film betrays a sense of desperation in wanting to hold the audience's attention when the material is too weak or not funny enough to do the job. Not so here. It's a non-stop delight from beginning to end.
The plum acting bonus present in this is Hugh Grant (and what a hoot he is!) playing the dastardly villain - a pantomime villain, true, but perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the film.

The plot is simple enough, Paddington finding that an antiques shop has a pop-up book about London which he's set his heart on to buy  and send to his Auntie back in Peru, but he can't afford it yet. While it's being kept for him, Hugh Grant, playing a former big-name actor now reduced to appearing in dog-food commercials, hears about the pop-up book, knowing that it uniquely contains the clues to the location of a literal treasure chest, so he has to get hold of it himself. It's then a matter of Hugh Grant attaining ownership of the book by devious means and Paddington trying to get it back to send his Auntie.

Director Paul King, who also directed the first film of three years ago, directs this with considerable panache, not slacking his grip for one moment and coming up with surprise on surprise.

Please don't let the presence of Hugh Grant put you off. I know some actively dislike him (I've always found him quite endearing) but in this, as in his marvellous portrayal in 'Florence Foster Jenkins', he goes well outside the former same foppish, bumbling character he always seemed to play in films up until a few years ago - and which I also liked, by the way. But how many times has he played a 'nasty'? Rarely, if ever. But here he seizes the chance with relish and with both hands, he being possibly the most memorable aspect, among many others, of the entire film!

Btw: I must implore anyone who sees this not to exit the cinema before the final credits. You don't have to wait long for a killer of a surprise during those end credits which I can practically guarantee will send you home with a mile-wide grin on your face. 

I liked this so much that it had actually crossed my mind to award it an '8', but an inner voice started to nag at me, -"That would be just silly!" It may not be so silly when I say that this film could well end up in my Top 10 of 2017. So far it's probably the surprise of the year!...............7.5


Saturday, 11 November 2017

Does anyone else watch 'The Young Turks'?

For the last few years I've been getting a lot of my American political input from YouTube - a daily dose of satire and sarcasm from the likes of Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah. But for some months now, for more straight 'objective' (I know some will scoff at the use of the word) reporting I've been increasingly turning to 'The Young Turks'. I'm just curious as to why I don't think I've ever seen TYT mentioned in anyone's blogs. Is there some reason why I ought to be cautious about them? - 'cos from what I see they look pretty darned 'good' as well as entertaining. Is someone about to shatter my positive opinion?  If so, can anyone suggest an even better source available to non-American audiences for news fitting for an ageing, politico-minded progressive?   

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Film: Murder on the Orient Express'

In the Summer when I first heard about this film I was aghast. "Oh NO!", I thought. "Did this film really have to be re-made when Sidney Lumet made such a wonderful job of it in 1974?" And then finding out that it was Kenneth Branagh's brainchild to re-do Agatha Christie's classic novel, I dismissed it as being one of his 'vanity projects', though I knew I'd still have to see it.

It's clear that anybody who is not familiar with the original film version will enjoy this more by not automatically making mental comparisons which, I found, in virtually all respects, favour the earlier one. I do retain a particular affection for the Lumet, having seen that original at least three times on the cinema screen shortly after its release, and maybe half a dozen times since on video. In fact I'll declare more than that. When I last compiled a Top 50 list of my all-time favourite films (admittedly over 20 years ago), the 1974 version featured on it. I'm inclined to think that were I to update that list now it could yet maintain its place there.

That is not to say that this new version doesn't have its merits. Far from it. On the whole I was quite impressed by what Branagh's done, changing details - such as having more scenes enacted outside the train. However, the downside of that is that it loses the trapped-in, claustrophobic atmosphere which pervaded the earlier film.

Now a brief mention of the stars, too many to single out apart from Kenneth B. himself (director of this film, too) presiding over all with his circus-ringmaster (and scarcely believable) distractingly extravagant moustache. I felt Albert Finney as Poirot in 1974 was astonishing and remarkable, not adjectives I'd apply to Branagh in the same role, though he doesn't do at all badly either.

This new film has a galaxy mixture of big and middle-ranking stars, maybe not quite as many names of the then first rank that the 1974 film boasted, but nevertheless, this must be the most notable ensemble of big names appearing in one film since........well, since 1974. (Afterthought: Perhaps Branagh's own 'Hamlet' of 1997 runs it close for star-heavy appearances.)

I felt the screenplay was not as lucid as in the earlier film, the interviews which Poirot has with each of the suspects in turn being patchier and of unequal weight, and a bit more confusing too.

I simply cannot omit mentioning the soundtrack. The 1974's music is one of that film's true 'stars', tracks that have rightly become classics and occasionally feature in concert programmes, particularly the title credit music and waltz. When I hear them they still give me the goose-bumps. Written by the late (and gay) classical composer, Richard Rodney Bennett, I think it's one of the most truly marvellous film soundtracks of the last 50 years or more.
Now for this new version, Branagh has turned to his regular composer-collaborator, Patrick Doyle, whose music, I'm afraid, I've never thought that much of - and here what he's written is nothing like as memorable as is Bennett's.

Despite my qualified verdict I did like this film more than I thought I would. I'm sure it'll cause raised eyebrows when I award it a higher rating than I did for yesterday's 'Call Me by Your Name'. But so what? Too bad. I enjoyed it more...........7.

Film: 'Call Me by Your Name'

What on earth is wrong with me? Why is so much lavish praise being heaped on this? One recent reviewer on IMDb has described this as the best film he has ever seen! The highest commendation I can come up with is that it could well be in my Top 1,000 films - which itself is hardly 'poor' status, indicating that I rate it higher than at least 80% of my viewings. 

Set in Northern Italy, 1983, Armie Hammer plays an American research assistant on a visit to a professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) in Greco-Roman history, who lives with his translator wife (Amira Casar) and 17-year old son, Elio (Timothee Chalamet) in a large country house surrounded by orchards and vineyards. The young one has a hot-cold relationship with his girlfriend (Esther Garel).
After Hammer arrives there's a very slow-burn awareness of mutual attraction between him and the son, something the older man is the more reluctant to acknowledge at first. In fact the very first contact between them which is more than just a casual fleeting one, doesn't arrive until halfway through the film.  
I think the general tenor of film was purporting to conjure up a feeling of langour, reflecting the geographical location in Summer season. I think of Bertolucci and Antonioni in particular, as well as Pasolini, who succeeded in capturing that lazy, sun-drenched ambience so unique to Italy. If that was what director Luca Guadagnino was aiming at I'm not sure he got quite there, though it's true that he has caught well the underlying restlessness of the younger male's burgeoning sexuality. If his aim had been to put that latter aspect centre-stage, then I have to admit that he achieved it.

I didn't find the story all that interesting. Maybe I felt a bit unsettled at seeing the attraction played out between a 17-year old, appearing every bit as young as his character, and a man looking at least twice the younger one's age (though Hammer is actually only 31!). Perhaps it's my own ultra-conventional upbringing which needs to be revised in the head.

Screenplay (based on novel by one Andre Aciman) is by none other than the revered James Ivory himself - and who, it's been mooted, wanted to direct, or at least to part-direct, the film itself. If he had done so I would have expected him to have injected it with a touch of the magic which, I sadly feel, it lacks.

I can't imagine this film enjoying a long-life in my memory bank. In fact, now the morning after, it's already beginning to fade a bit.
Yesterday I'd settled on giving it a rating of '6', but now realising what a rarely-heard story we see on film which it is, I'll nod to that aspect and push it up a semi-notch...............6.5.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Fondest of farewells to my most beloved Noodles

Taken 6th Oct 2017
Just returned from having had my lovely little Noodles put to sleep. Aged 15, he'd been having trouble with horribly distended tummy since July. Vet told me 6 weeks ago that little, if anything, could be done for him. So this dreadful day had to arise sooner rather than later.
He'd hardly eaten or drunk anything for 3 days and, as far as I could see, had done no wees or stinkies for even longer. Then today he started making a wailing noise every so often, clearly being in pain or at least quite some discomfort. Must have been blocked up at his back end. Tried washing him there with a warm, wet cloth, hoping that he'd be able to release something, but to no avail.

Vet examined him and she gave the verdict that the kindest thing I could do would be to let him go. Although in my heart I knew that is what would be said, when I heard it I started weeping freely. 
I was allowed to hold him as he was injected in a foreleg. He was quiet, no struggle. He went cold very quickly, and after listening for a heartbeat she whispered "He's gone". I stroked him, kissed the top of his little head, and thanked him.  

I'm numb.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Worry time with Noodles

Just three and a half months since losing my very dear, still daily missed Blackso:-

I've great concern now for Noodles, 15 years old (above pic taken six years ago). His tummy suddenly ballooned in July after untypically drinking a lot of water, and it's not going down. He can only carry himself with great difficulty, having to lug around all that weight. Vet says that at his age there's little that can be done for him. They did give me a week's supply of tablets but it made no difference. He's unable to jump more than a few inches and yesterday got stranded on the sloping roof outside, not being able to jump back up onto the kitchen windowsill to make his habitual window entrance. With the aid of a set of steps outside I managed to get hold of him and bring him back in through the downstairs door. His crying when he found he'd been stuck out on the roof had been pitiful. 
I dare not leave the kitchen window open now, day or night, even though it's also used by Patchie, my other remaining cat, for going in and out as he wants. This situation is also starting to disrupt my cinema-going plans, so I'm not able to view all I want to in good time to post a review before it gets stale. 
I'm having to play it one day at a time until the situation resolves itself. Noodles gives an alarming and sudden cry every so often indicating that he could well be in pain. Looks like this can only end one way. Troubling times.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Film: 'The Death of Stalin'

Another of those films I hoped I'd like more than it turned out to be. A reputedly 'biting' comedy which did manage to draw maybe four or five laughs from me despite my not finding it anything like as funny as many of the large audience did.

Director Armando Ianucci (and co-writer, along with David Schneider) is one of this country's foremost and well-regarded satirists, though apart from his 'Alan Partridge' radio and TV shows and one feature film (all of which I found immensely amusing), I've never quite managed to get onto the same wavelength with his other creations. Even his well-received, sardonically political feature film 'In the Loop' (2009) left me largely unmoved.

Here he's come up with a comedy around the sudden death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 and its immediate aftermath, with the undignified shambles of leading Russian politicians jockeying for power and influence in the continuing Communist administration.
He brings together a host of (mostly) established British actors - Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs, Rupert Friend, Paddy Considine, Paul Whitehouse - all speaking in a range of British accents, reflecting the fact that Russian accents too are multifarious. All these are near-eclipsed by the clownish presence of Steve Buscemi, here playing Nikita Krushchev who, despite haplessly floundering, is still very much his own man, and who would three years later, succeed to the topmost 'job'.

It's largely a farce - verbal joshing and needling and some knockabout stuff - but what makes this very different is that it's set against the horrors of Stalin-era brutality - torture, imprisonment, summary 'justice' with immediate executions. We see some grisly scenes though they are not quite overplayed, being merely sufficient to give an idea (if we hadn't already guessed) of the sort of things that did go on. 

The film is a tightrope act between humour and horror, the latter clearly intended to 'point up' the other. For some it seems to have worked. I only wish it had done so for me, the nasty taste left in the mouth lingering just too ominously for me to fully appreciate the surrounding lighter moments.

Female presence is thin - Andrea Riseborough as Stalin's daughter showing some dignity up against Rupert Friend as her drunken, megalomaniac and living embarrassment of a brother.
Then there's Olga Kurylenko as Stalin foe and concert pianist. But neither of these have anything like as much to do as the men.

Among the motley of undesirable characters it's Simon Russell Beale's 'Lavrentiy Beria' who carries the most weight and authority and is the most terrifying, someone whose mere slight nod can signal the end of a foe. 

I will give the film one thing - it's very different from anything else I've seen, so it scores well for originality. But whether it all comes together as a cohesive, satisfying entertainment I'd find more problematic to maintain. A lot of it does work. For me just as much of it didn't - which doesn't mean that you'd agree.................6.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Film: 'The Party'

Loved this! Don't know why I should be attracted to films which feature a brace of squabbling individuals, particularly those superficially maintaining a strong, loving relationship but, once what is under the surface is revealed, they demonstrate themselves to be people who will readily 'scratch the eyes out' of  their partners as well as of all those around. I find it most entertaining to witness, often hilariously so. Perhaps it might have something to do with my never having been in such a position myself, and if I had experienced it I would find it more painful.  

Sally Potter, a director/writer never to be ignored ('Orlando', 'The Tango Lesson') comes up trumps again with this latest which, at a mere one hour ten minutes, must be about the shortest main feature I have ever seen. If I wish it had been just a little bit longer, even just by a quarter hour (and how often do I say that?) I have to admit that it finishes at just the right moment. 

Set in real, continuous time, and filmed in b/w, it features just seven players in the single setting of the home of married Kristen Scott Thomas with hubby Timothy Spall, the latter silently morose, drinking and playing jazz records, while she is single-handedly making preparations for the expected gathering to celebrate her elevation to the post of government minister. The invited guests start to arrive - a marvellously acid-tongued Patricia Clarkson, with husband Bruno Ganz who keeps inappropriately spouting New Age aphorisms which she wearily dismisses as claptrap - their relationship is clearly already well withering. Then a lesbian couple, Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer, the former expecting triplets (!) - and then finally, a nervy, coke-snorting Cillian Murphy, arrives, apologising for the delayed arrival of his wife. 

Formal courtesies are exchanged and social dignities are aimed at -  until Timothy Spall makes a disclosure which may explain his taciturnity - and then things rapidly begin to unravel, not just for him but impacting on every one of the group - and fur starts to fly!

It took about 15 minutes for my first smile to arrive, and a few minutes later came the first of my many laughs - and they then came thick and fast. (I have to say that a good number of the large audience were well ahead of me in this respect). I was thoroughly entertained by watching these characters haplessly trying to maintain composure, though with futility. I thought the script was strong, the acting as near-perfection as one could wish - I'd single out both Kristen S.T. and Patricia Clarkson in particular - but, oh, I do wish it had gone on just a little bit longer. 
It's one of those very rare films that left me longing for more, (which itself must be a first!). Having said that, I did make a well-satisfied, smiling exit......................8.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Film: 'Loving Vincent'

I so much regret struggling to keep awake during this - though I must stress that it had nothing at all to do with the film itself, rather due to my body-clock which has gone totally haywire on my sleep patterns recently. If I'd maintained the desired alertness there's little doubt that I'd be rating it higher than I have.

A joint Polish/British film (in English), this is a visually unique experience - yes, it really is exactly that. Set one year after the death, a suspected suicide, of Vincent Van Gogh in 1891, a young man (Douglas Booth) has been given a sealed letter written by the late artist (Robert Gulaczyk) addressed to his younger brother, Theo, the carrier wishing to deliver it to its addressee in person, not realising that Theo Van Gogh had himself died a few months earlier. When discovering this he uses the letter as a pretext to investigate the circumstances of Vincent's demise, and in particular, the reason for the suicide, mysterious in it having taken place when witnesses say that he'd been in high spirits just before the event. He talks to a number of people who knew him or had a fleeting acquaintance.

A number of familiar names appear in the cast, among them Jerome Flynn, Chris O'Dowd, Saoirse Ronan, John Sessions - all featuring in supporting roles without major significant screen time. 

Now for the unique aspect. Most of the film consists of animated sequences, close to the painting style of Van Gogh, achieved through the hand-painting in oils of some 65,000 frames by a veritable army of film artists. The results are most impressive. These sequences are interspersed with black and white nearer-reality sections which are still given an artificial hand-drawn quality. In both types of creation the identity of the actor portraying the particular character depicted wasn't always straight-forward, but that was no great loss.

The story itself is simple enough, the investigation into what caused Van Gogh to take his own life - if indeed he did. 

It's a good film, I did recognise that, at least. It also doesn't require great knowledge of the artist and his life, or indeed of his works - though the latter would help in appreciating the animations.

I think that if I'd managed to hold my attention without it flagging I may have given this film a rating of perhaps '7', but I've got to judge it through my own flawed receptivity. I'm pretty sure that in any case I wouldn't have awarded it less than..................6.5.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Another year - and I'm still standing! (Yeah, yeah, yeah!)

Yes, one more lap of life's circuit achieved, and no sign of any bell indicating last lap - or did I miss it?

Sharing this date (Sun, 15th) with the excellent, younger blogger, RTG, ( I wish him lots and lots of happy returns for today, with a fervent wish for some alleviation of his health trials - and ditto for the latter directed towards his very own great and good wifey, Anne-Marie ('Warrior Queen') too. (

I have my own health issues, of course - who doesn't? - but must be thankful that mine are not as incapacitating as those of many are, particularly for others around my age. So, praise be to the 'gods' for that, at least so far.

Advancing into Shakespeare's sixth of life's seven ages ("the lean and slipper'd pantaloon"), I'm managing to keep body in reasonable shape and, even though saying it myself, think I look a little younger than my actual age. However, there are still the visible effects of the tripping accident, now all of 15 months ago, when I went down and bit the concrete, 're-arranging' front teeth. 
My dentist has done all she can within the National Health Service range i.e. all that is required for health reasons, but what remains yet undone is still conspicuous each time I open my mouth. Apparently, because further correction would be required purely for 'cosmetic' reasons of appearance it can only be done privately - and the cost of repairing just the one main front tooth is prohibitive, for the moment at least. 
I only mention it to excuse my failure to show my 'gnashers' in the latest pics - something I have to remember daily not to reveal whenever I'm talking to others - or just smiling. Not a pretty sight! - and so distracting for the person I'm addressing.

The pussies below are, of course, Noodles and Patchie - Noodles , the upper one in the middle pic, is causing me particular concern in that his tummy has ballooned since he took to drinking a lot of water and milk quite suddenly a couple of months ago, almost certainly due to kidney trouble. (His condition doesn't really show up in the photo.) The vet says that at his age of 15, little can be done for him. However, he doesn't appear to be suffering unduly even though when he wants to move he now has to waddle like a duck, carrying all that hog-like weight - and he's unable to jump up to anywhere, even just a foot or so, sleeping most of the day on the carpet.

These were taken just a few days ago, with apologies that they seem to be a bit fuzzy:-


So, see you again on my 72nd - though in the interim there ought also to be quite a few more film and misc blog postings. 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Film: 'Blade Runner - 2049'

My verdict - overblown and, plotwise, quite dull frankly.
Laying cards on table, I do recall rather liking the 1982 original, and seeing it again some years later on TV. I liked the original Philip K. Dick novel still more. 
I'd go out of my way to see the recently released 'director's cut'  of that original version, which everyone seems to be saying is even superior to what was originally released to cinemas. 
However, this sequel I wouldn't bother with sitting through a second time, not least because at over 2.5 hours. I found myself close to nodding off more than once, and would have done were it not for the racket on the soundtrack. The final 30 mins upped still further the tedium factor for me. (Co-star Harrison Ford, reprising his character of the original, only appears 3/4 hour from the finish, otherwise it's Ryan Gosling all the way with virtually no distractions). 

I can't be bothered to summarise the plot, save that in a future L.A. Ryan Gosling is searching for a certain female who mysteriously disappeared some decades previously, and who carries with her the key to the survival of humanity. As in the first film, there's also play with the notion of which characters are truly human and which of them are mere replicants.

Many reviews comment on the visual effects, and there's no denying that they are quite spectacular, as efficiently realised as we've all come to expect nowadays. I remember the visuals of the 1982 film leaving me open-mouthed in admiration. In this new film there was no similar reaction on my part, surely a symptom of what has now become somewhat work-a-day. In fact now we more readily pick up on poor effects rather than feeling astonishment at especially good ones. 

French-Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve, has made some high standard films in recent years - most notably for me 'Sicario' and 'Prisoners'. Perhaps it's something of a generation thing, but despite some superlative opinions on this latest offering, I can't put it in anything like the same class.

I'd been toying with the idea of going to see this in IMAX-3D, such was its hype, but eventually opted for the regular-sized 2D screening at a local cinema - and at less than one sixth of the combined cost of travelling to the closest Imax plus admission price. I've no regrets at having done so.................4.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Film: 'Goodbye, Christopher Robin'

First, the positive. Just about every frame is visually sumptuous. So much for that!

I never read 'Winnie the Pooh' when young and have never felt any yearning to catch up on it since. 

The biggest downside of this film for me was the little twerp of a kid (Will Tilston) playing the 8-year old title character. If a boy whose every appearance (many of them) was calculated to annoy, then a better choice could not have been made. Although it might be thought unfair to judge the acting of a kid of that age against the experienced adult actors he's working with, I'll do it anyway. I didn't think he was all that good - at least judging between the display of emotions and the words he's got to utter. I kept being conscious of a disparity between the two - with a lot of too-rapid changes from sullen moodiness to beaming smile. Oh, for pity's sake! As for the obnoxious child he was playing, well he undoubtedly fitted that to a tee. I could only marvel as to why his parents didn't take him back as being emotionally 'defective' and demand a replacement - or, far better, ask for a refund!

Current flavour-of-the-month Dohmnall Gleeson (we've just seen him briefly in 'Mother!', as well as in 'American Made') plays the young First World War- shocked A(lan).A.Milne, who's subject to debilitating flashbacks whenever there's a sudden loud report. His harsh-judging wife (Margot Robbie) is impatient for him to get on with writing, and creating something at least as remunerative as the plays he's used to writing. The arrival of their (only) child, Christopher Robin, gives his imagination a slow-burn impetus when the boy becomes old enough to start playing with his toys, a teddy bear above all, which he takes everywhere - particularly when they take walks in the woods (actually filmed in the very area of Sussex where the stories were devised, not very far from where I'm writing this) and the writer starts creating situations bringing in actual animals espied as well as made-up ones. The game of 'pooh-sticks' is invented on a wooden bridge spanning a stream. 
The boy forms a particular bond with his nanny (Kelly Macdonald) who supplies much of the warmth towards him which his mother failed to do. On a visit to London Zoo, the sight of a male bear named 'Winnie' makes a particular attraction for the boy, the personality of which the father takes up and weaves into a the world-famous story.
In the film's final 20 minutes we see the boy ten years older (Alex Lawther, a much better actor than his younger character, which is hardly surprising) and his attempt to get signed up to fight in WWII, much to his father's great consternation. 

Director Simon Curtis (who did 'My Week with Marilyn' in 2011) manages fine with material with which he obviously feel an affinity, though which is more than some of us can say.

I suppose I might have been more favourably disposed towards the film had I felt a kinship with A.A.Milne's works, but they are a foreign country to me, and are most likely to remain so. This film doesn't kindle any desire to fill the gap of my experience. 
So there you are - seen it and job done! Now then, what's next?.................5.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Film: 'Mother!'

Holy cow! A film for which the word 'excess' is not nearly big enough!
Reviews I've heard and read are being very guarded about what happens, and very rightly so. I'll follow in their wise footsteps.  

I knew that Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem (a writer experiencing a 'block') play a couple in a stable relationship living in an isolated large rural house (filmed in Canada) when they have an unexpected visitor (Ed Harris) who, it's slowly revealed, has an admiration for him. He's then invited by Bardem to stay a while, much to Lawrence's reservations in allowing hospitality so readily to a total stranger. The next day and equally unexpectedly, the man's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up, and is soon pushing her opinions onto Lawrence regarding the house, which she's in the process of decorating, but more disturbingly, enquiring about the couple's childlessness. She's soon talking as though she owns the place and has no compunctions about delving into the couple's personal lives. Jennifer Lawrence is completely confused about their visitors, especially the woman's unwelcome forwardness, and keeps imploring Javier Bardem to get them to leave - but for a reason she can't quite account for, he's not keen to do so. To say that things then get 'out of control' would be a bit of an understatement, so I'll reveal no more.

I was thinking that the film might turn into a four-persons chamber drama, whilst being aware that there were certain horror elements attached. Let's just say that it develops into something rather more than that!

I thought the several suspenseful sequences were exceptionally well achieved. (Down in a darkened basement with torch, alone - again!) It's a long time since I've seen a film where so many times I hardly dared keep looking at the screen, such was the extremely tense, nail-biting effect.

There have been vastly diverse opinions on the film - about equally divided between enthusiastic cheers and thumbs-down boos, the latter accompanied by some considerable laughter, which I can understand. It walks a very delicate line between serious, straight-faced horror and vastly O.T.T. effects thrown on screen, some near-comedic. Views have been expressed that it falls down badly on the side of 'tosh', which I don't really share. Echoes of the film 'Rosemary's Baby' come over loud and clear - as also Ken Russell's 'Tommy', perhaps not quite as marked.

Jennifer Lawrence carries the film with her inner conflicts and suspicions and does remarkably well in a difficult role which demands some scenes of sustained hysteria. Javier Bardem I couldn't always make out what he was saying, though I think he performed adequately in a more enigmatic part.

Director Darren Aronofsky has already made a name for himself, principally through 'Black Swan' but also 'The Wrestler', 'Requiem for a Dream' and 'Pi'. This film will further reinforce his name as being one deserving to be noticed - not always in a positive sense with this latest, it's true - but he is one it's getting impossible to ignore.

I find it impossible to dismiss this film as codswallop, as some have done, so it's clear which side of the fence I'll come down on, even though I'm unable to satisfactorily explain what on earth it's all about........................7.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Film: 'Kingsman - The Golden Circle'

On one level this is a monumentally daft film of the third in the 'Kingsman' sequence of comic-book originals - and yet I didn't find it quite the dud that many have done, my being mentally engaged for much of its extra-long 2 hours 20, which would have benefitted by being shorn of a good 50 mins. Nevertheless, it maintained what I assume is the simple and silly child-like atmosphere of its source material - namely set piece of conflict after set piece, the protagonists always ending up without a scratch against a multiple onslaught of weapons, both from humans and robots, as well as fists - and all with barely enough time in between in which to take a breath.

Colin Firth leads a roll-call of well-known names  - Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum - with a thoroughly embarrassing Elton John where, for some reason, a large part of the audience when I attended, found every one of his too many appearances super-hilarious! 
In this yarn of London-based, Secret Service, dapper men-in-suits (Taron Egerton, with Firth and Strong) are armed with a range of gadgets, which would have turned even 007 green with envy, and are struggling against nasty world-threatening drugs trader-baroness (Moore) who, from her headquarters in South America, has infected internationally, widely-used 'recreational' drugs with fatal consequences, except that she alone has enormous supplies of the antidote, the release of which depends on the American President agreeing to her wicked demands.  
The basically simple plot had a lot of heavy weather made out of it. I felt that the explanation of how Firth, after being killed off in the previous film, is 'resurrected' with this being depicted in such a fashion as though the film-makers themselves were far from convinced that it would work. Also, his regaining of his former personality was over-extended, and hence just starting to get boring.  

The CGI chaps must have had a field day in their creation of the many fights, most of which come up to the expected standard for films of today.  

This is director and writer Matthew Vaughn's second 'Kingsman' film though I did prefer his previous effort ('The Secret Service' of 2014), the second in this series, this latest one following the expected pattern. I can't see any fans of the series being especially disappointed by what he does here.

Not much else to say. Further analysis would imply that the film deserves more weighty significance than it actually does. I gave the previous 'Kingsman' feature a rating of '7'. I accord this with a .............5.5.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

It damn well IRKS me!

Why this newish craze, when asked a question to prefix every flaming answer with the word "So......"? As far as I'm aware it wasn't done even just a couple of years ago, but nowadays it seems like it's spreading like a flu virus. It happened on Radio 4's 'Today' programme this morning (on just the section I listened to) and again just now when I did a TV catch-up on the Cassini mission - and with two of the scientists involved.  Basta! Enough! Will you just CEASE! If you carry on with this nonsense I'll.......,I'll.......ooooooh! I don't know what I'm going to do! Just quit, will you! - STOP IT RIGHT NOW!!!!!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Film: 'Victoria & Abdul'

Okay, so I enjoyed this more than some viewers did. 
There haven't been that many films featuring this monarch when so advanced in years (in fact I can't think of any!) as compared to the numerous portrayals of the young Victoria's courtship with, and marriage to, Albert, so I found it refreshing from that viewpoint. Furthermore, director Stephen Frears is a name never to be lightly dismissed and he shows his expert hand throughout this depiction of a 'mostly' factual period in late 19th century British royal history.

The now aged Queen (Judi Dench, of course) is weary with life and tired of the daily royal protocols she must adopt as head of state, when she is unexpectedly visited by Abdul (Ali Fazal), chosen for his height, who comes all the way from India, bearing a newly- pressed medal signifying the Queen's recently bestowed honour of being recognised as Empress of India. She is immediately smitten by the young Indian's looks, despite his being half a century younger than herself, and by his unfussily forthright manner of talking to her. Soon she gets him to start teaching her the Urdu language, a study to which she applies herself with assiduity and enthusiasm. The entire royal household, both dignitaries and staff, and including Bertie, the future Edward VII (Eddie Izzard), are all to a man and woman horrified at the pair's closeness and the way events have turned, and they make no secret to her of their disapproval. But she's having none of it and is determined to carry on the relationship with Abdul as before.

The depiction of the period is very well shown though the Queen's ignorance of some aspects of India's troubled history seemed a little stretched to me. (Perhaps the truth was deliberately being withheld from her?) Although I knew the way the story turns out with its shameful ending, Stephen Frears kept me interested enough to want to see how it would be shown.
There is one episode of heavy sentiment but the film can be forgiven considering what gave rise to it.

Judi Dench is every bit as good as expected, and I did like Ali Fazal's Abdul too despite there being a bit of carping that it was a rather shallow depiction, though which I didn't find. (Incidentally, looking up his name I see that he and I share the same birthday, he being exactly 40 years my junior. Just saying.) 
The cast also includes the late, lamented, Tim Piggott-Smith in his final role.

It's hardly a film to set the cinema world alight, but it wasn't trying to be. It serves its purpose well in being a nice, entertaining piece of work which deserves to engender high enough satisfaction for all those involved in its production...............6.5.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Film: 'It'

Through all the 1980s I was a huge fan of Stephen King, avidly gobbling up everything of his that I could get my hands on - the paperbacks just couldn't come out fast enough! It was only in the ensuing years that I realised that there was a correlation between his most effective and memorable stories and the length of his novels, viz that the shorter the work the better it was - more effectively chilling and much more mind-retentive. 
'It' is one of his really looooooooong books. Furthermore, in this story the malignant force is a shape-changing entity, and whenever anything of this kind is used I always think it blurs the focus too much. However, the novel does have an absolute cracker of an opening, one of his very best - and I clearly recall when reading it being disappointed that nothing else in this voluminous work comes anywhere near the shock of that start.  

I've seen probably all the cinema adaptations of King's works, though none of those made for TV (thus never having seen 'Salem's Lot', which is regarded by many as having been the best adaptation of them all). I did like the feature film of 'Carrie' though not so keen on 'The Shining', revered by some and which did have some outstanding moments but for me was badly let down by its dullish final pursuit of the boy and its tacked-on concluding shot, even though Stanley Kubrick was and remains one of my two or three all-time favourite directors.

Set in Maine, though largely shot in Canada, this film version of 'It' splits off that part of the story dealing with half a dozen schoolkids, holding out the expectation that there'll be an 'It - Part 2' featuring these same characters some 30 years on. Probably a wise move, methinks.

These brattish kids, early teens at most, all boys but soon joined by an older girl with an incest-inclined father, are quite unable to compose a sentence without describing something as "shit" or "f*ckin' this"/"f*ckin' that". (In addition, being boys of that age in a gang there must, of course, be the 'regulation' scene of shoplifting!) As you'd expect, these boys, including the usual overweight one, are taunted and threatened, sometimes assaulted, by an older gang of even more repugnant youths.
One of the younger clan had a little brother who had disappeared the previous year, now presumed dead, and it was his disappearance to which I referred as being the stunning opening of the novel. One by one the boys (plus the girl) get visitations from a malignant force, personified by a circus clown named 'Pennywise' (Bill Skarsgard - the film's only name I recognised, at least through his surname being one, another one, of Stellan's sons). The clown sometimes changes into other figures either as an individual or in multiplicity, but always reverting back to its original guise in the clown figure - fairly creepy, but I have seen scarier clowns, like in a real circus when I was a kid. 
The appearances with changes of manifestation is the excuse for a range of special effects, which I thought were okay, sometimes actually rather good, though where this film has been criticised it's often been on the inferior standard of these effects. As I say, I found they passed muster.

Some of the film's many 'shocks' are down to no more than a loud report or thud on the soundtrack, which I regard as cheating - though most of them accompanied sudden unexpected visuals or frenzied action. Even if I did jump at times it was all pretty formulaic.  

I thought at two and a quarter hours the film is far too long for its own good. I caught myself yawning after the first hour. I dare say that I will be going along to see any sequel that comes out, though with no great sense of anticipation.

Argentinian director Andy Muschietti does a reasonable job with his material, though there isn't really much scope to do anything far removed from the story as written. That would have outraged too many King fans who must number in the scores of millions. 

The film was to a large measure what I'd been expecting. For lovers of horror it ought to fill the bill, but for me it was no great shakes...............5.