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 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.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Film: 'Maudie'

It's been ever such a long time, and now the wait is over at last for a film which I can thoroughly recommend - and moreover, this time no problems with hearing the dialogue!

Set in Nova Scotia, starting in the 1930s (and based on true historical characters), the ever-watchable Sally Hawkins is the eponymous Maud, a middle-aged woman who displays an unseemly awkward walk because of her living continuously with arthritic pain. She lives with her unsympathetic aunt whose attitude is largely framed by disapproval towards her niece who'd become pregnant many years previously. The way Maud has to carry herself makes it appear that as well as her physical disadvantages she might also be mentally retarded, though she's not. Through circumstances she decides to leave her home and applies for a newly-advertised post as live-in cleaner and housekeeper to an emotionally constipated fish-deliverer (Ethan Hawke) who lives alone in a small isolated cottage with his two dogs. She's the only applicant and he reluctantly takes her on but makes it abundantly clear from the outset that he's the boss who expects to be obeyed. 
She starts to explore her talent at painting - on the cottage's inside walls and windows. Of course her action engenders conflict with her hirer. As the film progresses, her painting talents (mainly small pictures on cards) become known rather wider than the immediate locality, largely thanks to a kindly customer (Kari Matchett) of the Hawke character, and it's not long before he finds himself playing second fiddle to Maudie when she becomes something of a celebrity.
After their early mutual hostilities, it doesn't come as much of a surprise when witnessing how the relationship between the two main characters develops, but it's nicely portrayed, only once tipping over into outright sentimentality, so I can forgive the film that.

This is director Aisling Walsh's first major foray into the world of feature films, though she has already done considerable TV work. This project makes me hungry to see more of her cinema work. 

Photography (actually mainly shot in Newfoundland) is superb. Music is kept to a sensibly unobtrusive level and the whole of the small cast could not be better, though it's the truly wonderful and believable Sally Hawkins who carries the film. I hope she gets at least the Oscar nomination she deserves for her deeply affecting performance in this unassuming, yet quite remarkable, little film.....................7.5.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Film: 'Wind River'

Here we go again! Films where I would dearly have wished for subtitles are becoming ever more frequent; and this time it's not just for an actor or two but here almost the entire cast is given to unintelligible mutterings, at least for my ears. Granted that for the septuagenarian that I am it would only be expected that there'd be at least some degree of hearing loss, though if that's the case so I don't know why it doesn't also manifest in my everyday life. Either that or the cinemas which I patronise must all have very inferior sound systems. Whatever the root cause is I seriously think it's further reason to cast doubt on whether it's worth continuing my reviews, bound as they are to be, skewed in an unfavourable direction.

That aside, this film is set entirely in snowbound Wyoming (though actually filmed in Utah!) mainly on Indian reservation territory.
At the film's start we see a young woman running away from something, we don't know what, barefooted through the snowy landscape. Then a local tracker (Jeremy Renner) is seen shooting at jackals/wolves(?) in order to defend a vulnerable flock of sheep. He then discovers the frozen body of the fleeing young woman, the entire film from then on concerned with finding out what happened and what or who was pursuing her.
Characters are introduced, most significantly an FBI officer (Elisabeth Olsen) who arrives to do her investigation unsuitably clad for the environment. Others appear and I quickly got lost working out who was who and, as so much of the dialogue was lost on me, I was reduced to having to read their badges or uniform insignia for identification, though that was nowhere near satisfactory with which to follow exactly what was going on.

Towards the end of the film, more than three-quarters through, there is an extremely brutal scene when it's revealed what the dead woman was running away from. (Warning - it does go on a bit!)

If I knew what was happening I might have liked the film more. I'd be very interested to hear from anyone who has seen it and didn't have the problem that I had. There's no doubt that the photography of the snowy uplands is most impressive, and that must be mentioned.

It's Taylor Sheridan's second feature film as director, and in addition he wrote this one too. I think it was actually a more superior film than I'm able to credit it with being, but failing to grasp what the hell was happening, it's with regret that I can only score it with a................6.  

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Film: 'Detroit'

I really didn't want to see this, having heard that it made for gruelling viewing, which is precisely what it turned out to be in the central section at least. As for the lengthy opening section, I was getting close to being bored, and the concluding part was way too long as well. 

Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director Oscar for her 'Hurt Locker' in 2010, which also carried away that year's prize for 'Best Film'. This one made nowhere near the same favourable impression with me.

It tells of an incident which took place in a Detroit motel in 1967 during a period of racial unrest and riots when a sniper is believed to have shot at police from this building. The police force entry and several black men and two white women taken from rooms, abused and roughed up, three of them ending up dead. In charge is racist cop Will Poulter (very good indeed) who will stop at nothing to find out which of them was the alleged sniper, while the quieter side of reason is played by John Boyega as a security guard. His role doesn't call for much range of emotion other than displaying silent, passive disapproval at the cops' methods. 
The tension in this middle section is very effectively engineered and almost palpable, a sizable amount of blood being spilt.

I found the scene-setting of the first part far too extended, running to three-quarters of an hour, and involving a Motown male singing quartet, 'The Dramatics', which, though little more than incidental to the film's main focus, yet it ran on and on - and in the long epilogue the narrative pointlessly returns to the quartet, assuming that we'd be interested. Well I, for one, wasn't.

I'd been expecting Boyega and Poulter to be the dominating screen presences for most of the film but it was only in the middle section's police raid of the motel that they had much to do at all. It might also be argued that Poulter's retention of boyish looks in his face does not sit too convincingly with his role here of carrying respectful authority.

There's no doubt that the key central section of the film is powerful. A lot of what came before and after it was disposable, and made the film a needless close-on two and a half hours long. 
I could watch 'Hurt Locker' again, but not this.............5.5.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Film: 'The Limehouse Golem'

('Limehouse' = a locality in east London, 'Golem' = a certain magically-created, mythical creature)

A film based on a novel by the justifiably renowned Peter Ackroyd, it was to have had the late Alan Rickman in the lead as Scotland Yard detective (and whose premature departure still impoverishes the cinema world) but whose shoes are now more than ably filled by the marvellous Bill Nighy in a rare, non-comedic role.

It's a gory, late-Victorian tale of mysterious serial killings, all swirling London fog and gaslights, set against the music hall of the 1880s.  There seems to be no connection between the several victims - varying ages, occupations and sex. Four suspects come to the fore, two of whom are music hall star and female impersonator, Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), as well as none other than Karl Marx   (Henry Goodman) himself. As they are identified in turn, we see in imagined flashback each of them committing the murders.

Nighy has as his investigating sidekick an on-duty police constable in the capable form of Daniel Mays. 
The main female role is taken by Olivia Cooke, the wife of one of the chief suspects, but whom I was very disappointed to find was one of those mumble-mumble actresses who might as well have been speaking in an unfamiliar foreign tongue as far as I was concerned,  I could scarcely catch a word she uttered, especially in her dialogues with Nighy, whose own diction was crystal clear, even when spoken in an undertone.

It's all very atmospheric, though almost entirely dimly lit. The plot was somewhat too convoluted for simple minds like mine to grasp readily, though I did find the second hour was starting to make sense.
When the 'guilty' party was named I thought that it appeared almost too clear cut to turn out to be so, which turned out to be true, though I didn't guess the outcome which, on its disclosure, drew gasps of astonishment from the audience. It was a satisfying moment.

This is only American director Juan Carlos Medina's second full-length cinema feature, and on the strength of this he does hold out some promise. It's a shame that the female lead, here in a really major part with a great deal of on-screen time, and who I've little doubt may well have potential as a fine actress, lets the side down by her lazy articulation. Otherwise I'd have rated the film higher than............6.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Film: 'Final Portrait'

A rare event it is to see a film directed by Stanley Tucci, an actor I've long liked (he does 'camp' so well!). Sad that the result turned out to be this rather one-dimensional, over-prolonged tale which, despite its crisp 90 minutes' length, managed to outstay its welcome. 

It tells a story of Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush - almost unrecognisable with his rumpled, curly hair) in his final days attempting to complete a sitting portrait of James Lord (Armie Hammer), an American writer and art dilettante.
The screen caption tells us it's Paris 1964. As though that isn't sufficient to explain where we are we're serenaded by - guess what! - an accordian. (Good grief! Aren't we passed that cliche yet? Why not also have a moustachio-ed guy cycling along in a beret and horizontally-striped tee-shirt with a string of onions round his neck? - and with La Tour Eiffel in the background!)

Many of us will be familiar with pictures of Giacometti's sculptures of grotesquely(?) elongated figurines, perhaps less so with his paintings and portraits. 
He offers to paint a seated portrait of Lord, to which the latter is most pleased to sit for him, especially as he's told it won't take long at all, and he's due to return to New York imminently. One sitting expands to two, to three, several days.......more than two weeks. Lord is getting increasingly exasperated especially as he repeatedly has to keep re-booking his flight home - and he can hardly contain himself when, after well over a week of sittings, the artist in one of his fits of pique, paints over his work done so far and announces that he must start again. 

The dishevelled studio where the painting is done has an in-and-out traffic of a number of curious characters, some interesting, some irritating, but they just seemed to perform the function of padding out what would otherwise have been a slender story. If they were designed to hold the audience's attention, it only worked feebly.

The film is shot in very muted colours, which rather suits the artist's work - many of which were left in an uncompleted state as he was never satisfied with his 'accomplishments'.

Tucci himself, to his credit, never appears in front of the camera. The film was actually mostly shot in London for reasons of cost, though it did, for the most part, look convincingly like its Parisienne setting. (Was that supposed to be Pere LaChaise? I used to know that Paris cemetery pretty well because of my searching out the many notables buried there. The scenes in this film looked more like Highgate cemetery to me.) 

I believe that Stanley Tucci has wanted to make this film for some years, declaring his own passion for the artist's work.  It's disappointing that even though it's another brilliant performance from Rush, with a lacklustre script to fight against, any passion that Tucci does have doesn't readily show on screen................5.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Film: 'Logan Lucky'

I'd been looking forward to this. Shame then that reality didn't meet hope. It came down to one thing - I couldn't work out what the blazes was going on!

The premise is simple enough - a heist involving cash theft from an auto stock-car racing event in Charlotte, North Carolina. But exactly who the characters were and their relationships to each other, as well as the motivations for the crime (apart from just wanting a lot of money) were lost on me - and throughout the film I found my viewing with no solid foundation to it. However, the actual execution of the theft, which only takes place a full hour into the two-hour film, was interesting enough with some mildly amusing moments.

Channing Tatum has just become unemployed and with his one-armed, bartender brother (Adam Driver) they work out a robbery plan which involves roping in the assistance of two other rednecks (exactly who were they supposed to be?) and, more bizarrely, jailbird Daniel Craig (showing, once again, his versatility, here a million miles from 007) whom they need for some unclear reason, and whom they have to smuggle out of prison, do the crime, and then smuggle back into jail without any of the prison guards having noticed his absence. It takes some swallowing! (Mind you, it is a comedy - kind of.)
Hilary Swank makes an appearance half an hour from the end in a couple of involvements which are little more than cameo appearances.

Director Steven Soderbergh (four years after announcing he was hanging up his boots as far as feature films were concerned) does his stuff here but, to my mind, far less coherently than we've come to expect from a director of such renown.
It may be that if you manage to follow it all (where I clearly failed), it would make sense - but even the ending seemed intended to wind it all up cut and dried, and including a revelation or two - though it merely intensified my confusion. 
During the film I tried to suspend any analysis of what was going on and just try to enjoy the ride - but I couldn't as there wasn't a solid enough base to support entertainment value for me. 

If you are able to fathom out what's happening you will surely rate it higher than I do. As it is, I'm regrettably unable to offer a stronger endorsement than............5.5

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Film: 'American Made'

Okay, okay, I know. Get the hisses and boos over with. I've just given a part of my money to a loathsome cult

I'd already semi-decided never to see another film featuring little Tom (Cruise) again, as several of my followers have long since done, but I chickened out of that soft resolution after becoming aware of some pretty good reviews about this one - so 'fraid that the call of 'duty' got the better of me. But this could be the last, I promise - well, semi-promise.

Entertaining enough as it plays along, slick, efficiently constructed and never boring - it's too snappily edited for that - but ultimately it's memory-disposable.

It's an interesting story (based on 'fact', as are seemingly the majority of films these days) with T.C. playing an airline pilot whose smuggling of cigars into the USA comes to the attention of the CIA which decides, under the temptation of non-prosecution, to utilise his expertise with aircraft to get him to take from a supplied small, purposely-equipped plane, surveillance photos of left-wing insurgents in vulnerable Central American countries fighting reactionary governments, an operation for which he is handsomely rewarded. In the process he comes across a smuggling operation to bring drugs from those countries into America and he complies, bringing even more ready cash for him - in total so much that he doesn't know where to put it. Then under Reagan's administration it's decided to support the Central American so-called 'freedom fighters' in their attacks on 'socialist' (at least nominally) rebels by covertly supplying the former with arms - eventually leading up to the Iran-Contra scandal and the uncovering of underhand tactics by an initially denying and then embarrassed U.S. Government, principally represented in the figure of Oliver North.

T.C. tries to perform a balancing act to keep the triangle of his personal active supports in operation, trickily trying to play one off against the others - and for much of the time he succeeds with his juggling, until........does it all comes crashing down? Shan't say.

He plays a character we've seen numerous times before, though with one major difference here as he's got different loyalties in a number of conflicting directions, and I must say that he does okay with it.
His wife, (Sarah White) suspicious as to from where he's getting all these riches beyond anyone's dreams, plays along reluctantly, he having to lie to her on the true nature of his 'business' - but what the hell does it matter when it's so much fun
Worthy of special mention is Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson ('Ex Machina' and 'The Revenant', son of Brendan G.) playing the anchor CIA operative trying to keep the entire operation, at least as he sees it, under wraps.

Director is Doug Limon ('The Bourne Indentity' of 2002) who does pretty well with the rather good material's twists and turns.

Another interesting feature is that although the language is violent throughout, with many lurid threats flying this way and that, we never see any blood - or, in fact, any violent physical action at all that I can recall.

Not bad entertainment and unpredictable for the most part, but in the final analysis, once it's over it's unlikely to be a film which will linger in the mind for very long.....................6. 

Monday, 21 August 2017

Film: 'Tommy's Honour'

There haven't been that many golfing films that I could name, so a further one hardly gluts the market.

This is the story of one Tom Morrison (the estimable Peter Cullan) and his son, Tommy (Jack Lowden), in 1860s-70s Scotland, who instigated the rules for modern-day golf, the father also designing golf courses in that country, an aspect which hardly gets a look-in during this rather stretched film which concentrates rather on the son's playing (and championship winning) whilst engaged in and marrying a slightly older young woman (Ophelia Lovibond). It transpires that she has a detail about her past which brings about the censure of his mother in particular, as well as that of the Church. Also in the cast is the familiar face of Sam Neill.

I hadn't heard of either man before, unsurprisingly. Not that I find watching golf boring. I'd rather watch it on TV than many, many other sports I could mention.

Director of this film is Jason Connery (yes, the son of - ). now 54, this being his fifth full-length feature as director.

Incidentally, the Scottish accents of some of the minor characters was so pronounced that for at least one scene I could have done with subtitles!

I found the actual golfing scenes the most watchable parts of this film - though they were nearly all at the closing stages of particular games. The Scottish scenery for these episodes was as impressive as one would like. 
I felt the romance of the younger man bordered on the tedious, and even though based on fact and intensely tragic in parts, it was with few, if any, totally unexpected events. That side seemed to get in the way of the more enjoyable golfing scenes.

It's an 'okay' film, though not exceptional enough to qualify as an outright recommendation..................5.5.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Film: 'A Ghost Story'

If you prefer films which finish with a sort of explanation, even if inadequate, as to what you've just watched, you may as well give up on this one. It'll leave you baffled beyond measure. Open questions are left to dangle tantalisingly in the wind, strands which I suspect (hottie) writer and director David Lowery himself didn't know how to tie up, even if he'd wanted to, which I very much doubt.  And yet - I liked it!

Lowery reunites the main actors of his equally likable 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints?' of 2013, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.
It's a slow-burn film with long silences amid sparse dialogue, Affleck and Mara being a couple living contentedly in a rural bungalow (filmed in Texas, but it could be located anywhere) when mysterious things begin to happen - and then an earth-shattering event for at least one of them, or probably both. Hard to give away much more without compromising the main 'surprise' taking place just a few minutes into the film. 
Most will know from previews, reviews and trailers that Affleck spends most of the film walking around entirely draped in a white sheet with two peep-holes to see through - though as we don't ever see his eyes or hear him speak, one has to wonder whether it really is him under there? - or is it a stand-in so that an expensive-to-hire star doesn't have to spend so much time on the film-set being unrecognisable, when it could have been someone who'd be far cheaper to employ. Be that as it may, it's supposed to be Affleck's character. 

I was prepared to jump in my seat at certain points when, following a long silence, I thought we'd be startled by a fortissimo 'thud' on the soundtrack, though I don't think there were any such moments. And visually there were few, if any, such 'shock' equivalents.  It wasn't exactly a 'scary' film as such, anyway.

Although its title claims it as a 'ghost' story, it's not really that spooky, and I don't think it was meant to be. It's more, well, odd! 
One of the film's most attractive features was that it was impossible to out-guess which direction it was going to take next, implausibility being as rife as unexpectedness, never with any attempt to rationalise what the hell was going on! I liked this daring, which some may rather describe as 'cheekiness'. Others may argue that the film takes the audience as just a gullible bunch of suckers, too ready to lap up anything at all which is served to them under the heading of 'art'. That may be so, but if that's the case I applaud it's chutzpah, and I readily buy into it. 

Good, reasonably solid, if puzzling, entertainment.............7

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Film: 'Tom of Finland'

What a let-down I found this! I don't know what led me to think that this would be a semi-documentary of the justifiably revered artist (real name, Touko Laaksonen) whose utterly brilliant cartoon creations played such a major part in my (then closeted) gay development and awareness, and through a lot of my later life. I thought it might include some real film footage of the artist at work in addition to, perhaps, a few reconstructed acted episodes. 
The film turns out to be a straightforward depiction of his life from fighting for Finland in World War Two up to his achieving international fame and adulation in the 1980s (he died in 1991, from emphysema) - and most disappointingly, it's all rather dull. However, if I'd realised it was just his acted-out story I still would have wanted to see it - and would have been just as underwhelmed.

The title role in this Finnish film (nearly all in that language, of course) is played by Pekka Strang (left in above pic) who, like the man in real life, looks nothing like his fantasy creations and, also like the real man, hasn't the kind of face or figure to turn most(?) heads. He doesn't suit the leathers either, which he dons in the film's final part.

I'm not sure what the trouble with this film is, there being enough incidents in his life before he became a world-renowned figure to make a reasonably interesting story - after the war his night-time cruising in a Helsinki public park with the attempts of the oppressive Finnish police trying to stamp out homosexuality by catching, arresting and imprisoning the men engaging in gay activity, every bit as homophobic as all the rest of Europe was in the 1950s. 
Then we see his travels to Berlin and attempts to get his drawings published there - and meeting similar discouraging attitudes, as well as further conflict with the equally anti-gay German police. 

He lives in Helsinki with his slightly younger sister who, belatedly and reluctantly acknowledging his tastes, makes disapproving noises, though falling short of outright hostility. 
He then takes on and lives with a younger and nicer-looking lover, though there didn't seem to me to be much significant emotional chemistry between the actors.
The film for me only came alive - and that only patchily - in the final half hour (including the onset of the AIDS crisis) when his fame, broadcast initially from California, was assured. It ends with his receiving due worshipful adulation from an adoring audience of American leather fraternity.

There are no explicit depictions of real-life sex in the film, only a few fleeting glimpses of some drawings.

Incidentally, it's a very, very long time since I've seen another film - if indeed I ever have - where everybody is continually smoking (a reflection of those times, of course, particularly the 1950s-70s). It was such a prevailing sight that I was beginning to think it must have been compulsory to have a fag in one's mouth. (Now there's a thought!) 

I don't know if half-Finnish director Dome Karukoski is gay or not, and it ought not to matter, but if he has any enthusiasm for the subject and his creations it didn't translate onto screen for me. 

On IMDb I'm in a minority  - yet again! - where there's a current high average rating of 7.4. (6.5 on 'Rotten Tomatoes'). Frankly, I found it all a bit of a drag...............3.5.

Film: 'Atomic Blonde'

I came out of this totally fatigued after having my senses pummeled into almost giving up - specifically eyes and ears, though also my poor brain! They still hurt on the morning after.
Merciless violence which would have been understandable were it played as comic-book farce with an underlying charm or irony, only this full-frontal assault was bereft of all humour that I could trace. All so damned serious!

It's Berlin, 1989, just a few days before the wall was knocked down. (Good to see the then-divided city as the location, both East and West, for more than 90% of this film - even though for much of the location work, in reality Budapest was used). 

All the action takes place entirely in flashback from an interrogation in London of British secret agent, Charlize Theron, by her boss (Toby Jones) with CIA in attendance (John Goodman) - both Jones and Goodman having little otherwise to do. 
Theron had been sent to Berlin on a mission to recover a list of names of double-agent operatives which the nasty Russians have got wind of and whose possession of same could bring the whole of western intelligence crashing down. One man (Eddie Marsan) there has got the entire list committed to memory and so has to be got out and brought back to London. 
Assisting the operation (or is he?) and already there is crew-cutted James McAvoy, another British agent, who fires on all cylinders when it's called for when he lets rip like there's no tomorrow. But it's Theron who delivers most of the full-throttle, physical action, single-handedly despatching countless numbers of police, armed agents and assorted anti-Western rotters, coming at her in groups rather than singly. However, that's no problem for her many efficient talents, even if she has to use her hands as weapons with unerring aim and against their firearms. Spurting and splashing blood and cracking bones abound. 
Nonetheless, it's not relentlessly uninterrupted noisy combat. The many fights are interspersed with periods of repose, mainly during Theron's interview, heavy with long silences and sarcastic responses. There is also a certain romance which Theron engages in to achieve her aim (all in the cause of duty, you understand) while on her Berlin mission. 

The many twists (double and triple) really started to leave me breathless, particularly when the final scenes came about. It was all so much to take in that by the time the final credits appeared my head hurt! Trying to play it back in my mind afterwards - was this character really working for this side all along? - was futile so I gave up and consigned it to the out-tray of give-up-on-it confusion. I don't know if it was supposed to all tie up neatly and make sense, but if that was the case it was lost on me.

This is only director David Leitch's second full-length feature (after 2014's 'John Wick' with Keanu Reeves, unseen by me), and he does invest some most effective work in the many well-executed combats here, though in the final analysis it's all adrenalin-pumping, superficial excitement.

I did like the film's energy but felt the overall cold, gloom-ridden seriousness of the whole enterprise played against making it completely satisfactory 'entertainment' for me. 
There's an impressive soundtrack of hits and electro-pop of that time.

There has been a dichotomy of views on this film. From what I've seen, the majority have liked it, and many of these by a lot. However, there is sizable and vocal opposing opinion, including some outright detestation. I certainly wouldn't go so far as the latter. While not quite sitting on the fence, I'll start slipping down on one side.................6.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Film: 'The Last Word'

Increasingly guilty of starting my reviews by justifying why I bothered to see a particular film, here's another one. It has as 'one of' its main stars Shirley MacLaine - and I do like to see our Shirl! 
I put 'one of' in apostrophes because in the opening credits both she and Amanda Seyfried are given equal prominence - the latter name placed second in the same frame but positioned higher. (Dear me! - Amanda who?) However, I suppose for much of today's audience Shirley MacLaine won't be well known - if she's even recognised at all!  

MacLaine plays an octogenarian, divorced and long-since retired businesswoman living alone in a massive Californian mansion. She has one daughter, Anne Heche, who appears only in a single speaking scene, not much over five minutes long. 
MacLaine, feeling that her end is approaching, and not only on account of her advanced age, hires Seyfried, the obituary writer of the local regional newspaper, to write a flattering obituary of herself in double-quick time so that she herself can sanction it. Their initial meeting is tetchy, each taking an instant dislike to the other, with Maclaine being odiously bossy from the start, though she is paying good money for the job to be done properly. She gives Seyfried a long list of people she has known, only for it to be found that when approached, none of them have a good word to say about MacLaine, that is if they are even prepared to talk about her.

Predictable as sunrise - and such as happens time and time again in the film world - the initially hostile relationship between the two women mellows and burgeons into, by the end, a strong friendship with reciprocal respect. No surprise there then.

One additional irritating aspect of the film is the inclusion of a worldly-wise, potty-mouthed little brat of a black kid, female (though for a long time I wasn't sure), about 10 years old, whom MacLaine befriends to make up a trio with the other two women - and whose presence, in my view, would be improved no end by being delivered of a damn good slap.

Also, MacLaine becomes a DJ on local radio (yes!) playing her old vinyl LPs - she never having really caught up with CDs.
(Was 'The Kinks' really the most under-rated pop group of all time? I hardly think so.)

It's also hardly a revelation for the film to reveal that the MacLaine character was not, in fact, as dire as she'd been painted, and that there were (unfair) reasons as to why she'd made so many enemies. 

Director Mark Pellington, whom I only remember through the rather good 'Arlington Road' (1999), does reasonably enough with this, but there's nothing extra-special to make it stand out. And this is yet another film which would have benefited from being shorn of at least twenty minutes. 

Not quite as dire as it might have been, but it may well have gone lower in my rating if someone other than Shirley MacLaine had starred..........4.


Thursday, 10 August 2017

Film: 'The Big Sick'

The hiatus in my cinema-going was not caused by the continuing tumult in my life, but rather by there being little showing that I fancied. This one has generally had above-average reviews so, despite thinking that it wasn't 'my kind' of film, thought I'd give it a go. Verdict: a little above so-so.

I didn't know the name of any of the participants save one, nor of director Michael Showalter. 
Pakistani-born actor Kumail Nanjiani plays himself in this film which he's co-written with his real-life wife, Emily V. Gordon. 
He's an aspiring stand-up comedian playing a small club in Chicago when one of the audience (Zoe Kazan) attracts his attention and romance ensues. It's awkward because his family, particularly his mother, but father as well, is determined to see an arranged marriage for him, she calling in a succession of marriageable young Pakistani ladies to 'drop by' during their family dinners, hoping that he'll take enough of a fancy to one of them to pursue a romance. Meanwhile he keeps his involvement with the American young woman secret for fear of his family's hostility. Then suddenly she's struck down by a virulent infection and placed in a medically-induced coma so she can be subjected to surgery. Her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, both exceptionally fine) not knowing of her romance, are initially cold towards Nanjiani as they don't recognise his concern. However, and as you might guess, the ice between them melts and in time they are as close as the younger man could wish. 
For half of the film, the Zoe Kazan daughter character is in this coma while the predicament of Nanjiani is played out, he having to walk a tightrope between his very real worry for her and keeping their affair from his family. 

I was disappointed that the final half hour of this two-hour film is awash with heavy, unrelieved sentiment, something I find very hard to take in large doses like this. (I appreciate that others do not share my resistance). 
Also, there is a disturbing number of lapses of continuity. Don't they watch the rushes or don't they care? They are so glaring as to be distracting that I was actively looking for the next one for much of the film's length. 

Having said that, I have to say that I found the script a superior one. Although I started out by feeling a degree of irritation towards the main characters, I did quite soon warm to them, such that I was curious as to how the story - commendably original - would develop. 
Direction was okay, I suppose, but director Showalter ought to have been more attentive to avoiding those visual continuity clangers (which perhaps most people wouldn't notice).

I reckon that most people will like this enough to recommend it, and if my 'enthusiasm' is lukewarm at max, I'd just about go along with that...................6.

Monday, 31 July 2017

I gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing I ever do! (And it might well be!)

Yet another major, ugly confrontation with Mr Nasty from downstairs yesterday. Details are immaterial but I've got to find somewhere else to live otherwise I'll go out right of my mind - or he's going to kill me.

Out of the 14 addresses I've lived at, both in this country and in Germany, I've never had a neighbour who comes anything like what I have to put with in this Mr Nasty. Nobody has gotten even close. Living here is like sitting on a dormant volcano, never knowing when it's going to erupt again.

His 16-year old daughter is coming to live with him in a few weeks time (in the flat below) and I can only imagine what tales he's telling her about me. If they're going to gang up together against me - or they have major fights between themselves, which is very likely given her age of maximum rebelliousness - life here will have tipped right over into an intolerable un-livability.

Started investigating whether I can get accommodation in a retired persons block in either Brighton (where I lived 1992-2000) or Oxford (1975-88). The latter would be my preference, there being where I was happiest with such a range of cultural activities going on around, all within walking distance. I'd be satisfied to see out my remaining time there. 
A particular difficulty would be my two cats, but I'll have to resolve that when a decision is needed, if and when it comes.

I'll be posting on my progress.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Teeth, teeth, teeth

Just to make it clear, this is not - repeat, not - me! But as everyone, plus their step-uncle, is suddenly blogging about dental visits (specifically, Dr Spo @ 'Spo-reflections' and Mitch @ 'Mitchell is Moving') I don't see why I should be left out.

It may be recalled (or perhaps not) that a year ago I had a tripping accident when I went right down on the pavement and bit the concrete, a happening which all-too visibly rearranged my upper front teeth, and not in a 'prettifying' way. (In fact yesterday was the first anniversary of that fateful occurence, though I thought better than to 'celebrate' it). Since that event I've learnt to talk like a ventriloquist when face-to-face with another personage, so that my upper lip movement is minimal, thus largely concealing the distracting, visible signs of that mini-disaster. 
It took six months to get to attend a thorough (and boy, was it just!) examination at the country's main specialist hospital (handily only a short train journey away) dealing with maxillary injuries. Since then I've now had five sessions with my regular dentist who got the specialist's report to work with and be guided by. She (the dentist) has now completed work on the back teeth, including root canal work, and has now started working on the visible bits, starting with shaving down one of the front side teeth so that a cap can be fitted. Next week she'll begin on the all-important front ones - and she hopes it'll all be finished in just a couple more sessions. I hope she's right, though from a mirror-view there's still an awful lot still to do before I can open my mouth when speaking and not have the other person being distracted by the 'orrible sight of my damaged cake-hole.  
Anyway, however long it takes it'll be good to be able to smile freely again - and if it can happen before my next birthday in 2.5 months time, when I always update my profile photo, it'll be good if it can show me flashing my gnashers once more. 
So, roll on that time! - meanwhile can't afford to take any more trips.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Film: 'Dunkirk'

Now that my dear, desperate-ly missed Blackso is no longer (I think of him a hundred times a day), I don't have to arrange my 'away' times so that I'm back to bring him inside before the nearby school is out, when he might get taunted or scared by passing kids, though most of them loved him. I could always count on his waiting outside at front for my return. When I came within sight, about 250 yards away he'd recognise me no matter what I was wearing, and I'd see a little pink area appearing on his face as he gave me a welcoming 'miaow' right over all that distance. (Noodles and Patchie use the open kitchen window so I don't have the worry about them in the same way.) 

Anyway, I decided to use the opportunity to travel west 20 miles to Chichester, to see this hyper-praised film on the nearest Imax screen - the combined cost of rail fare plus inflated cinema admission for the Imax experience costing more than six times what I would have paid had I stayed in this town and seen it on a small screen just five minutes away. I'm satisfied that it was an experience that justified the cost.  

Just in case there are people who don't know what this is about (and there will be some!) it concerns the short period in 1940 when allied troops in France (about 400,000 men, mostly British) found themselves entrapped and encircled on the north French coast by Nazi forces, almost within sight of England - and the attempt to evacuate as many of them quickly before they were overwhelmed by the enemy. 
This is certainly a harrowing film, though not quite as extreme as I'd been led to believe. I don't think there was any point where I couldn't bear to look. It's going to be the opening scenes of Spielberg's 'Saving Private Ryan' which are seared in my mind deeper than the scenes in 'Dunkirk' are likely to be, even though in the Spielberg it's just that opening sequence whilst in this the distressing scenes go on throughout the entire length of the film.
It's a bitty film, running three threads together, one covering a week on land (on the Dunkirk beaches awaiting rescue), a second covering one day at sea (one small boat focussed on to represent the many, many such vessels sailing as fast as they can over the English Channel to assist with the evacuation) and the final thread covering one hour in the air - two particular air force fighter planes trying to keep the enemy bombers at bay and prevent their attack on the hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers, waiting for rescue like sitting ducks on the Dunkirk shore while the enemy keep trying, and sometimes succeeding, to sink the ships moored close to, but frustratingly only just out of reach, for the stranded men. 

The 'biggish' names in this film include Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy. It's Rylance who has the meatiest role though even his is a part that requires uttering little more than a few sentences - often with Cillian Murphy as a shell-shocked soldier picked up from the sea - then the scene changes to one of the other threads. Branagh has little to do other than to stand around with a suggestion of a half-smile on his face, suggesting that he knows something that we don't - even though he doesn't. Tom Hardy is the principal fighter pilot, unrecognisable for most of the time, as are some of his words, by his wearing a pilot's mask.
But if there's no really extended scenes for any of the actors to really get their teeth into by displaying a range of emotions, that's okay because it isn't the kind of film that would entail such. 

If there is one 'star' of the film it's just got to be the sound in the shape of Hans Zimmer's astonishing chug-a-chug score. It really keeps the tension up at a very high level from first to last - and without being overly distracting. It's a marvel, and if he doesn't get an Oscar for it I'd love to hear what beats it.   

The scenes of bombing and air-fights are totally spectacular, both in those requiring a panoramic scale and in those reduced to individual human reactions. 

Christopher Nolan works miracles yet again, and with this film he surely confirms that he's got to be in the world's Top 5 of current film directors. 

I really do wish I could this film a higher rating - I was fully expecting to - but I have to admit that seen on any screen smaller than Imax I think it's effect, drama-wise as well as in visuals and sound, it would have a correspondingly reduced 'punch', and might, for that reason, not be as highly valued as some are suggesting it ought to be. Nevertheless, it still remains a remarkable achievement.....................7.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Film: 'The Beguiled'

Never having seen the 1970 Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood film of this title  - my recollection is that although I was aware of it coming out at the time, it didn't get a wide general release - I didn't have any preconceptions about this new version, which is partly based on that earlier film as well as on the original novel by Thomas Culinnan. Director of this new version, Sofia Coppola, has taken both sources and fashioned, in my view, a product of some distinction.
In any case, with two of my current favourite actors, Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman as the leads (both as good as one could hope), I would never have resisted seeing this, and I'm glad it turned out as pleasing as it did. (Quite a number of reviews I've seen are damning, on the "boring!" line). It's true that there's little dramatic action for the first two thirds of its 90 minutes, an hour that is completely devoid of any music (apart from a couple of songs in subdued fashion) and with no sound effects. When they come it's all sensibly understated as to be hardly noticeable.

It's a couple of years after the start of the American Civil War, and Colin Farrell, a Unionist corporal, is found wounded in the woods by one of the half-dozen pupils of a small residential girls' school in Virginia (actually shot in Louisiana). He is taken in by the girls under the instruction of head Nicole Kidman who nurses his leg wound and keeps his location secret to the outside world (a passing troop of soldiers). Among the school staff is also Kirsten Dunst. There's much submerged sexual feelings among both the elder female players and Farrell, but it's not over-played at all - only the occasional very slight suggestion of a smile. Kidman, all the while, tries to maintain a starchy, governess-like, no-nonsense mien. 
One can imagine jealousies arising among the females, with their hopes and expectations of being the object of Farrell's attentions - and resentments when it's discovered where they actually are directed.  
Photography is just stunning - nearly all in whites, ochres, sepias and browns - sun's rays filtered through leafy tree branches (which was the sort of scene one saw a lot in photographs which used to grace L.P. sleeves - e.g. 'Pastoral Symphony'), but it's not out of keeping with the sultry, pent-up mood of the first hour or so.
Criticism has been made of Coppola's decision to excise out of the story a significant, and the only, non-white character. All the participants in this film are white. That complaint may well be justified - this is, after all, the Civil War! But I didn't find the omission distracting.

The film for me was engaging throughout, including the first hour where very little happens. It's beautiful to look at and, not knowing the story, I was intrigued as to where it would go next and how it would end.
This is the fifth of Sofia Coppola's films that I've seen, 'Lost in Translation' included, of course. But I do think that 'The Beguiled' is her best to date.......................7.5.