Monday, 20 August 2018

Film: 'Christopher Robin'

Hadn't particularly wanted to see this on first viewing the trailer, only to be later underlined by almost unanimous tepid reviews. However, wanting to break a three-week hiatus of a Summer menu of kiddie films and inane blockbusters, decided to chance it. Bad move - and not solely because of this feature.

I never read the Winnie the Pooh stories as a boy or afterwards though was aware of the characters. (There was, of course, last year's release of 'Goodbye, Christopher Robin' which I saw and rated with a '5')

The augurs of an unfortunate experience were quickly evident in the large audience containing a high proportion of children aged 10 or under, mostly with their parents - including at least two babies-in-arms I saw. Annoyances grew when immediately in front of my designated seat sat a family of four, consisting of two boys with a mother who was, one might say, on the large side, holding in one hand a giant tub of popcorn to chomp on, phone in the other, she squeeeeeeeezed herself into the seat, while the boys shared a large vessel of coke (one assumes) - two straws, one vessel. Despite the request on screen to turn off phones, this 'lady' didn't - and every few minutes the blue light was being switched on and off - and she was far from alone in doing it. Then the younger of the boys, about 6 or 7, kept standing up for no apparent reason, making the seat go back with a clatter. And how many times in a one and three-quarter hour film does one need to have a wee? Three times? I kid you not. There may well have been a fourth, far as I know, as I left with maybe ten minutes to go, wanting to avoid the crush. (If I can manage to survive six hours or more with no discomfort, why can't others?)
All through the film, significant sections of which were hardly attention-holding for an audience of children, there was talking (not even whispered mutterings!) and, naturally, babies crying. And then there was the film itself..........

It's an odd story (this one not by A.A.Milne), centring on Ewan McGregor as the adult C. Robin having (so the blurb goes) a 'mid-life crisis' relating to his employment and his marriage (to Hayley Atwell - underused) and his young, but (oh, so wise) brat of a young daughter - one of those kids who, you feel, would feel the benefit of a hearty slap.
The appearances of Pooh (with a most annoying, unvarying, 'poor me' voice) and his other creature friends (some exhibiting, very oddly, American accents) seemed to entertain most of the audience, but left me coldly unmoved. Plenty of rushing hither and thither didn't up the low excitement factor. I kept looking at my watch more times than probably for any other film this year. 

Director Marc Forster ('Monster's Ball', 'The Kite Runner', 'Finding Neverland', 'Quantum of Solace') does what he has to do as though it's all rollicking good-natured fun. If that's what it was meant to be it missed me.
Animations are pretty good, I must say, Didn't notice anything visually that looked 'false'.

If I hadn't had the irritations and distractions around me would I have appreciated the film more? I honestly think not. Shan't be wanting to see it again and I'm not in the slightest bit curious as to how it ended in those final missed minutes......................3

(IMDb...........7.8 / Rott. Toms..............6.1)

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Who Is America | Building a Mosque in Kingman Arizona | Sacha Baron Cohen

I wonder if any of you have seen this. I know that S,B.C. is not to everyone's taste, but this excerpt from his current TV show must be the funniest thing I've seen all year. I hope some of you will enjoy it as much as I did. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Film: 'Mission Impossible - Fallout'

Tom Cruise (as Ethan Hunt) saves the world one more time, and it won't be the last, I can guarantee it!
In this sixth instalment of the 'Miss. Imp.' series the implausible and needlessly convoluted storyline is again the 'hook' of an excuse on which to stage spectacular, prolonged chases, interspersed with fights - fists, sharp implements, guns - in which Cruise never has to pause to take a breather, his shots are bang on target while his adversaries always seem to miss, and any injuries are shrugged off as not consequential enough to slow him down. It's the same scenario in every one of this series, which is not to say that it's less than thrilling because I can't imagine that anyone demanding 'action' will feel let down.  

Locations are (mainly) Paris, London and Kashmir, where Cruise is out to find and render useless three plutonium bombs(!) which have been masterminded by a crazed anarchist (Sean Harris) who is already set on destroying three of the world's 'holy' cities - Rome, Jerusalem and - was it Mecca? There's considerable argy-bargy between the American CIA (represented by Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett) and British MI6 which got me lost very quickly, and is why Simon Pegg is on board (for 4th time) to assist Cruise on his mission - he and Ving Rhames (again, his 5th appearance) have now become regulars in the series, though the latter doesn't have that much to do or say other than loom in the background as a reassuring presence, Pegg having the more substantial role.

Once again we have the device of facial masks being removed to reveal that the character we thought it was turning out to be someone else. This is getting a bit tired now, I feel. Also, all those regulation injections in the neck - truth serums and God knows what else. Oh dear! And in the mix now there's Henry Cavill whom Cruise tows along on his mission with some reluctance.

This is Christopher McQuarrie's fourth feature film as director, he also having directed the previous M.I. - he's also the writer. He does fill in all the boxes as required, even if coherence in this two and a half hour film may not be its strongest suit.

I did feel quite caught up by all three big chases which did get my pulse racing at times, though not all the time. The challenge for McQuarrie was to do something a bit different from what we've seen before in countless thrillers like this. The actual mechanics of the chases may have a couple of original touches here but the formula is the same as it's always been - only with Lalo Schifrin's unexceptional motto theme blasting out every few seconds to pin it down to Miss. Imp. in case we forget. And as for Cruise doing all his own stunts (and breaking an ankle in the process - a moment at which I cringed) it really was an astonishing achievement for him.

I don't think I got as much out of this as for some of the previous M.I.s, though all the others have more or less merged into one in my memory. I know I liked the first (1996) but as to putting the rest in order of liking I'd need a refresher, though wouldn't be keen on seeing any of them for a second time.  

This film does what you'd expect and it can't be faulted on those grounds. Whether you'd class it as superior, solid entertainment would depend on what gives you a buzz. My own rating speaks for itself..............6

(IMDb.................8.4 / Rotten Tomatoes.........also 8.4)

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Trelawnyd Male Voice Choir singing Calon Lan at Parish Church, Prestatyn

Here you are, JayGee.  I took it down shortly after posting it, assuming that you must have already  seen it through another source. If you hadn't I hope it pleases you, Perhaps there might be a few faces you recognise, even if it is four years later (I think that a few may well have 'dropped off the perch' by now!) Pleasant viewing and listening.


Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Film: 'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again'

Well, what can one say? If it didn't quite come up to my hopes and expectations it was only by the slenderest of margins. The reasons why it was so, I think, was that despite this sequel/prequel boasting the wry verbal dexterity of Richard ('Four Weddings') Curtis who here is co-screenplay writer as well as co-story creator, it does try to fit an awful lot of story in. (Too much?). 

The young Donna (Meryl Streep's character in MM1.) is played by Lily James. We see her showing how she met each of the three possible fathers of her child, bedding each of them in turn. All the while in this flashback/fast forward scenario, the grown-up baby played, as in the original, by Amanda Seyfried, is moaning the absence of her now deceased mother from the party she's holding marking the christening of her own baby (husband,  Dominic Cooper once again). The story does attempt to give plausibility to the unlikely, though I did find it getting in the way of the songs, and it was the songs more than anything else which was why I'd wanted so much to see the film in the first place - as it was, presumably, also for just about everyone else. I didn't find the 'fault' of being overloaded so much in the first film, with the consequence that the songs there showed up in relief with greater ease. Of course it has to be the songs which carry the whole project - and what songs!

I acquired all the ABBA albums at the time they were released and so I was familiar with all the songs chosen for both films, a few of which here make a re-appearance despite having featured in the original, and it's always good to re-hear them no matter how many times. I did like the inclusion of less familiar numbers which hadn't been released as singles - in this new film we get the lovely 'Andante, andante' just as in the first film we had the marvellously evocative 'Our Last Summer', which always gets me to the verge of blubbing as I can readily associate it with my own 'discovery' of Paris in the early 1980s. (These two songs both appear on the 'Super Trouper' album, consecutively, I think.) 

Each of the younger versions of Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard (all present here to reprise their roles, of course) have their own songs, as do the younger Julie Walters and Christine Baranski characters.
Apart from the 'regular' cast (including a cameo appearance for a devastatingly beautiful song by Meryl Streep right near the end) there's Andy Garcia and - as you all know - one Cherilyn Sarkisian. (I was also pleased to see small roles for Celia Imrie and Omid Djalili).

The choreography is tight and the visual staging of the numbers, with their delivery, are perfection itself. I couldn't stop my legs from jumping to the beat, and I'm sure my heartbeat was dead-on synchronised too! Glorious stuff!

This is only Ol Parker's fourth feature film as director, his earlier efforts having failed to make significant impact. He was also co-writer of both 'Marigold Hotel' films. He does a good job in this film but I did find it ever so slightly more leaden than the first, which was directed by Phyllida Lloyd who'd made that one light and frothy almost right the way through (well, other than a couple of more serious interludes to provide 'shade' to the 'light'). Maybe it was due to this new one having a more explanatory story spelt out - though I think that for a musical we hardly expect realism and rationality down the nth degree.

Every few years comes along a film which I so enjoy that I pay good money to see it again in a cinema just a few days later. I did that for 'Mamma Mia 1', and the last time I did so was for 'Les Mis' in 2013. I will be seeing this one again, no doubt, though I'm not sure I'll be rushing back to buy another ticket so soon as I did before.

I rated the original film with an '8'. Ask me again in a few weeks time but to this one I'm going to give a slightly more qualified..............7.5. (Still wonderful, note!)

(IMDb.................7.3 / Rotten Tomatoes.........6.3 Boo hiss!)

Monday, 23 July 2018

Film: 'First Reformed'

I can see why some might take against this film as being ponderous, over-solemn and with perhaps some gaps in the narrative. Comparisons have been made with Bergman and I think that's fair. I have to say that I was impressed while readily accepting that perhaps it caters for a niche taste, though there has been a welcome wide approval for it.

Ethan Hawke is a minister in an historic, smallish church of First Reformed (Calvinist) denomination somewhere in New York state, He has a sparse congregation of worshippers while his church is supervised by the nearby, much larger. well-attended church run by 'Abundant Life' organisation whose minister (Cedric Antonio Kyles) has concerns about the Hawke character's welfare, both mental and physical, mightily aggravated when he discovers that the latter has potentially serious body health issues.

But before all this is revealed Hawke has had a request from one of his small congregation (Amanda Seyfried - whom I'll be seeing shortly in 'Mamma Mia 2') to have a word with her husband who is unhappy about her pregnancy. When he does, the husband (Philip Ettinger) opens up about his environmentalist activism, having moved from Canada where he served time in prison for his campaigning. All this comes on top of Hawke's own buried uncertainties regarding his own internal struggles, and out of interest he makes a deeper investigation into the environment aspect himself, it eventually becoming almost obsessive, especially when he discovers that the boss of one of the area's leading industrial polluters is also a major donor towards 'Abundant Life' and through it, a supporter of his own church.

Much of the film deals with 'below-the-surface' emotions. Hawke has not only concerns about his own health but has surviving guilt about the failure of his marriage which had collapsed some time before.   

There is quite a lot of tension throughout the film (and my God, it really does take two or three extremely bleak turns) which includes a couple of brief but graphically violent scenes. In fact the suspense keeps on building until the final quarter hour or so when the tautness reaches well-near snapping point. Just before this happens there's a rather bizarre sequence, almost hallucinatory, which some may consider out of character with the rest of the film. If people can't make head nor tail of that short section they are yet more likely to feel unsatisfied with the manner of the film's actual ending, of which I'll say no more! 

It's a totally different kind of role for Ethan Hawke, here playing a man with internal struggles on several levels, a part in which I think he manages to convince. Amanda Seyfried was, in my opinion, exceptional in her smaller yet quite substantial role.

Although I knew the name of director Paul Shrader I was most surprised to find that I've seen none of his films since 'The Company of Strangers' of 1990. Before that he made 'American Gigolo' and 'Cat People'.

It's a film rather out of the ordinary - intriguing (though not without one or two exasperations) - one to linger in the memory more than most films, and definitely well executed overall.................7.

(IMDb................7.7 / Rotten Tomatoes............8.4)


Thursday, 19 July 2018

Film:'The Bookshop'

In view of the preponderance of  unfavourable opinions of this film I had given up on thoughts of bothering to see it. Then today, with the final screening in this area, I spontaneously thought "Well, why the hell not?" I'm pleased I went as for me it wasn't anything near as unlikeable as others have found it. 

Based on the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, who co-wrote the screenplay with the film's Spanish director, Isabel Coixet, it's set in 1959 in the fictitious, attractive, small English coastal town of Hardborough (exteriors actually filmed in Northern Ireland) where middle-aged widow (Emily Mortimer) wishes to open a bookshop using the premises of an old house which has a well-regarded and established history in the town. There's strong opposition to her plan, particularly from a wealthy, ageing, married lady (Patricia Clarkson) who fears the opening up of such a business will harm the character of the locality, and even when the shop opens to some success she'll not shrink from using her influence to have it closed down.
Meanwhile, a book-loving, single recluse (Bill Nighy) starts a correspondence with the shop owner, requesting particular books while she sends him works which she feels he may like or wants his opinion on them, which he's contented to do for her. Although their relationship doesn't go as far as a romantic one (they only meet a couple of times) it does skate on thin ice as regards sentiment, though remaining on the (for me) acceptably non-indulgent side - just.  

In the opening scenes I was thinking that the film was curiously static. Then, because of what I'd heard, I had to pull myself up as I realised I'd unconsciously been looking for 'faults' as if to confirm that it really was a 'poor' film. The penny dropped and I started looking on it as a gentle, unassuming film, and from that p.o.v. it worked much better.

Unfavourable comparisons have been made with 'Chocolat' and there are certainly a number of plot similarities. I couldn't claim that 'Bookshop' is superior or even the earlier film's equal but I do think it stands up well on its own. I'm happy to have made the effort.............6.5

(IMDb.................6.5 / Rotten Tomatoes.............4.9)