Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Film: 'Emma.'

On first becoming aware that this was being released, my reaction was one of "What! Do we really need yet another version so soon after the last successful one?" Then I was dismayed to find that the previous which I'd really liked was more than a generation ago - 1994! (You may recall it, starring Gwyneth the Goop herself in the title role, in those bygone days when she was yet a respected young actress with potential, before she started telling us all how to improve our lives). That aside, how does this newie compare? Rather unfavourably, I'd venture to suggest.

Based, of course, on the renowned Jane Austen novel (why the film's title has a full stop/period after the title name is unclear) which I've read two or three times and admire.
Set in the early 19th century, I found this version somewhat long-winded and occasionally even stagnant, though I must say that it really is sumptuous to look at throughout, costumes, scenery and landscapes (filmed in Gloucestershire) all beautifully delivered to screen.
The cast had only three names with which I was familiar, one of which is the ever-reliable Bill Nighy (yet again) as Emma Woodhouse's father. She herself is played by Anya Taylor-Joy  who actually does look the part of the snooty, interfering, superiority-complexed young lady whose own romantic intentions remain off-limits for everyone but her. Btw: Why is Nighy, in just about all the many films he's appeared in, only ever given 'bit' parts, of which this is another one? He's never given a chance to demonstrate his full potential, and he's always so watchable.
The male lead of George Knightley is played by one Johnny Flynn, another name new to me - hovering around, not making commitments, scorned by Emma herself (at least publicly) though anyone not familiar with the story can guess how it's going to end.
Flynn is an actor who mystifies me as to why he should make young ladies' hearts turn all a-flutter - despite us getting a full couple of seconds shot of his undraped entire rear side (Ooh! How daring!" - Pah!) On the other hand I can see why Anya Taylor-Joy would be alluring to a hetero-male gaze - a bit of a beauteous, emotionless 'challenge' wrapped up as she is in all that impervious 'ice' which needs chipping away!
Miranda Hart is a pleasure to watch as the talkative, middle-aged spinster acquaintance of Emma, while we all wait for the infamously cruel put-down of her by Emma herself in front of the picnic party, and whose execution is here handled very well, Hart herself heart-breaking in her crushed reaction to the callous public humiliation. 
The only other name I recognised in the cast was Rupert Graves, though on screen I have to admit that I barely recognised him.

Now I must reveal that for me one of the very worst aspects of this film is the mood-directing background score, telling you how to react - in just about every frigging scene! Right from the the very start we get these jaunty tunes under the dialogue, presumably meant to put - or to keep - a smile on your face. Hell's bells! I just wanted to yell STFU!!!   Let the words do the talking! To be fair there is, later, a little variety with a group singing a capella 'Steeleye Span' style. But, dearie me, all so extraneous!

Director Autumn de Wilde (now there's a name for you! And btw, it's a 'he') whose first full-length feature this happens to be (Gawd help us!) pulls out all the stops (too many!) to give this the treatment he feels it deserves. However gorgeous it is too look at - and it really is - it's all a bit laboured, the concluding half hour or so especially I thought really dragged, almost fatally. Oh, and there is, naturally, the 'regulation' period-piece dance scene!

Apart from two or three of the more mature cast members I think the film would be improved without any sound at all, maybe with just subtitles. Crucially however, I think this film is a mis-step - though it hardly needs stating that my opinion is that of just one individual. I feel we don't really need yet another cinema version of this tale - at least not yet..............5.

(IMDb...............6.9 - Rott Toms (critics only)...........89% [What?!!] )  

Monday, 17 February 2020

Film: 'Parasite'

Here it is - the current cinema phenomenon which picked up the 'Best Picture' Oscar the other day, the very first non-English-speaking film ever to do so.
Just about all the reviews I've heard and read are treading extremely carefully around not giving anything away, so I'll do the same and keep this extra-short. 

If you know anything at all about the film's 'plot' it'll be that it involves two South Korean families at opposite ends of the social/wealth divide, and their coming together by such means as simple as it is audacious - until there's discovered a mighty big spanner in the works, and it's not the first. 

I never saw director (and co-writer for this) Bong Joon-Ho's other film which got a wide release outside his home country, 'Mother' (2009) and also received even good reviews, but this one seems to have outstripped that one in plaudits. With 'Parasite' you get two-hours-plus of quality entertainment albeit containing moments which made me flinch, though it's a very long time since I saw any film where I went so long without looking at my watch once.

So, is all the hype and praise deserved? The answer is..............8.

(IMDb.......................8.8 - Rott.Toms....................4.6/5 )

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Film: 'The Lighthouse'

I'd already gathered that watching this was going to be quite a severe test, but on discovering just how deeply unpleasant it turned out to be, I now wish I'd given it a miss. 
I could have done without seeing yet another film which ranks almost down there with a particular one I saw last July (one which I refuse to name again), one which had got so far under my skin right down to the bone, haunting my mind every single day since then (no exaggeration!). If 'The Lighthouse'  doesn't go quite as deep as that it's certainly not far from it. 

Shot in black and white, in almost square-screen ratio, it's a virtual two-actor piece - there are a few very brief shots of a third, which I shan't give away. 
Robert Pattinson is the younger of a pair of lighthouse keepers necessarily stranded in each other's company off the New England coast (shot actually in Nova Scotia) at the end of the 19th century (I hadn't picked up that it was set as far back as that) and his freely-farting senior companion, the experienced and wizenedly bearded  Willem Dafoe, You might guess that their close proximity for most of every day drives each of them to near madness, getting on each other's nerves, the latter ordering the other about while the younger is forced to obey albeit with seething reluctance. 
There's hardly any let-up in the tension between the two, only a few lighter moments when they get drunk a couple of times though these moments don't last, always quickly descending into not mere squabbling but actual fist-fights, and worse. The film's final confrontation found me acutely dismayed, near sickened, at the happenings. 
There are bloody scenes - including an especially horrific killing of a seagull whose ever-returning presence so maddened one of the men that he totally loses it. I had to avert my eyes at the playing out of this episode. Hideous.   

Since the beginning of cinema there have always been the depiction of moments of horror which turn out to be merely a dream or the product of a fevered imagination, and this film contains a number of them. Once one knows what to expect it rather drains the tension and one waits for the inevitable explanation/resolution.
I suppose it's something of which one becomes increasingly aware the more films one sees. It's a bit of a tired technique, though.

This is only director Robert Eggers' second full-length feature as director, he also being its co-writer, and I must say he delivers exactly what the story demands - tension by the bucketload with virtually no interludes of light relief, all shot in appropriate mentally-claustrophobic manner. (I gave his previous cinema feature, 'The Witch' of 2015, a rating of 3/10). As you'd expect, much of the 'action' such as it is, is set against a background of wild seas, winds, pelting rain and storms. It demands no less and t's all here.

I feel it's a film most to be appreciated if one has the 'cushion' of being in a buoyant mood when viewed. I was, in the circumstances, not in that frame of mind and was perfect material to be dragged down further to a most uncomfortable place.  However, if you want something gritty to get your teeth into, and feel that seeing unpleasant happenings such as are portrayed here is merely something you can easily shrug off, then this may well be for you.

I rate this film, not in terms of my 'enjoyment' (virtually non-existent!) but on the professionalism and success in delivering what it set out to do. Thus.............7.

(IMDb...............7.7 - Rott, Toms..............3.8/5 )

Monday, 3 February 2020

Film: 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighbo(u)rhood'.

If this film was trying to replicate the amiability of the American TV personality it features, one Mr Rogers (played by Mr Nice-Guy himself, Tom Hanks - perfect casting!) then there's little doubt that by and large it succeeds. However, I'll be one of the overwhelming majority of non-Americans who've never even heard of the person or his half-hour children's TV programme (broadcast 1968-2001) in which he explains life and its problems (and solutions) in easy, non-preachy, laid-back style to children towards younger ages, with the aid of models of a miniature town and glove puppets. However, I can't help feeling that being familiar with the original personality would be a marked advantage in appreciating this film. 

Cardiff born Matthew Rhys plays an investigative reporter working for 'Esquire' magazine. with troubles in his own life, particularly with his hovering, loutish father (Chris Cooper) from whom he seems to have inherited some violent traits. He's only recently become a father himself and his fractious relationship with his parent (mother deceased) threatens to disrupt the loving and mutually respectful situation between him and his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson).  It's at such a turbulent point in his life that he's given the assignment of writing a profile of Mister Rogers, a task he's reluctant to take on, entailing, as it must, meeting the said TV personality on several occasions, meetings which turn out to be more about the ultra-clean Rogers questioning him about his, the reporter's, own life rather than him finding anything of interest (no 'dirt' found) to write about the famous man.
It'll come as no surprise to learn that Mister Rogers helps Rhys' reporter character to learn about himself, strengthening his marriage bond which threatens at times to become argumentative, and bringing him closer to his ailing father. 
Given the tensions which need resolving (the story is 'inspired' by actual events) there's a fair helping of sentiment to be displayed, though I was relieved to find that it just managed to keep on the right side of being too cloying. This is helped by not having one's emotions directed by too much background music - though there is one point where an unnecessary song appears, a ploy I just cannot abide!
Hanks' portrayal is very much a one-note depiction, the man is the same both on the television set when acting and in his own personal life (wife played by Maryann Punkett) which, I take it is what the original Mister Rogers was like. I found there was just a suggestion that the whole proceedings might start to drag a little, though it really doesn't to any serious extent. But there is one shortish, noteworthy scene in a restaurant between Hanks and Rhys which I found quite magical, almost hypnotic, in fact.

The film was shot in Pittsburgh (standing in for New York) and is rather good to look at.

Marielle Heller, in this her third cinema feature as director, executes this unusual, quirky tale most satisfactorily. Difficult to say how it could have been improved. I liked it...............6.5.

(IMDb...........7.6 - Rott.Toms............4.5/5 )

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Film: 'The Personal History of David Copperfield'.

I thought I might like this. It achieved that and more. 
Armando Ianucci here directs his third major cinema feature and they are, for me, getting progressively better. I found 'In the Loop' (2009) rather baffling in that much of the dialogue was delivered so rapidly as to be largely indecipherable. His 'The Death of Stalin' (2017) a great improvement - and with 'Copperfield' here, which he co-writes, he hits a new high. 

It is, of course, based on Dickens' voluminous novel, which I must have read about half a dozen times (having read all his books at least three times each). This film is not one that will delight Dickens purists. I enjoyed it as there's enough to be able to easily relate to the original. All the 'contours' of David C's rise-and-fall life are here, together with most of the major characters - though if you watch while waiting for the famous lines Dickens put into their mouths you're likely to feel disappointed.

Set in mid-19th century London, the film boasts a quite remarkable large cast (entirely British, I think) ranging from well-known names to those I don't recall encountering before. But the very satisfying and most conspicuous feature of the cast is that no attempt is made to reflect what was surely Dickens' intention of having, as would have been assumed by all of his readers at that time, exclusively white-skinned characters. In this film a spectrum of complexions and racial ancestries is included, and most refreshing to see it is too. 
Though this might be the most visually obvious feature, each member of the cast was in some way different from the way I'd built a mental picture of them, not only in appearance but mannerisms too, though in no case straying too far outside the author's own character sketches. 

Stealing the film is Dev Patel as the (adult) title character in a role which fits him like a glove. In fact in every film he's appeared in to date he always seems at ease with the person he's creating, one of those rare chameleon-like actors who looks visibly comfortable no matter who he's playing - and he's not yet even 30!
The rest of the cast doesn't have a single weak ingredient - Tilda Swinton as David's hyperactive, fussy and garrulous aunt Betsy Trotwood, Hugh Laurie as the kite-flying Mr Dick, Peter Capaldi the eternal against-the-odds optimist Mr Micawber, Paul Whitehouse as Mr Peggoty (though there's no Barkis!) - then there's the sadistic, cane-wielding stepfather Mr Murdstone when David was a young boy (here played by Jairaj Varsani - wonderful) and his later best friend, Steerforth, a turncoat-to-be, he and Murdstone played by actors I didn't know -  and one of the most remarkable, Ben Whishaw (sporting a Beatles haircut!) as the schemingly unreliable Uriah Heep. Every one of them endlessly watchable.

Ianucci's direction is imaginative, his originality occasionally taking my breath away - in some respects reminding me of Monty Python's Terry Gilliam. There were moments to make me audibly laugh and even more which raised a smile.

I don't think it's a film for everyone. However, if you're one of those who finds Dickens 'stuffy', or the idea of any film of one of his books turns you off, this just may help you see delights in the writer's imaginations, even if liberties (some of them admittedly quite outlandish) have been taken with the original text. 
It would, I think, be unfair not to recognise that Ianuccui has here created something quite special..............7.5

(IMDb............6.4 - Rott.Toms........not available )

Friday, 17 January 2020

Film: 'The Gentlemen"

One of those films with very high violence level and more than a few deaths  (but what else does one expect from Guy Ritchie?) where I feel just a tad guilty at having enjoyed so much, not to mention the several LOL moments. With a big name trio in the cast it promised a lot - and I think it delivers. 

Dealing with criminal activity and gang rivalries (including Chinese gangsters and Russian oligarchs) around cannabis farming and production throughout the U.K. on a huge scale, it centres on a corrupt private investigator, played by Hugh Grant (in above photo, in case you don't recognise him, and as you've never seen, or heard, him before) using blackmail tactics against Charlie Hunnam who works for a powerful mobster (Matthew McConaughey) in order to make a film based on the latter's nefarious activities. Gets very involved and being so fast-paced (and fast spoken) I could follow only part of what was going on, which didn't really matter too much as the film is largely a sequence of set pieces involving confrontations - guns, knives or fists. Colin Farrell (like Grant, quite different in appearance) is also in there, stealing outright the few scenes in which he appears (Grant and Hunnam have, along with McConaughy the most screen time) - as well as Eddie Marsan as a particularly repulsive newspaper owner.  

It may be ill-advised to describe the film as 'fun' but it certainly is a white-knuckle ride.  Lots of high-energy activity with no real 'slow bits', it should keep you awake for its entire length.

After an extended arid period in which he's made a number of ineffective films (of which I only saw his Sherlock Holmes) director Guy Ritchie - also story originator and co-writer - here returns to territory he's best known for, after some 20 years, and in which he appears to be most comfortable.  If the thought of a bucketful of bloody violence doesn't put you off, this gets my clear recommendation...............7.

(IMDb....................8.1 - Rott.Toms [critics only]..........6.3 ).   

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Film: '1917'

This is an extraordinary achievement, its principal characteristic of something remarkable being that it gives the impression of being shot by a single camera in one continuous, uninterrupted take in real time.  It's not easy to detect the 'joins' (though why should one want to?) except for one point in the story when the screen necessarily fades to blank for a few seconds. And the 'real time' concept doesn't work for a film fractionally under two hours long, when it shows daytime then night, followed by dawn arising back to full daylight. But these points are minor distractions in what is a gripping, high-tension drama from first to last.

Story is set near start of final stages of First World War in northern France, though the outcome and its timing is as yet far from clear. As part of a scenario which appears to reveal the German army may be starting to retreat, it seems that an entire contingent of 1,600 British troops could be walking into a trap devised by the enemy, lured into thinking that the Germans are retreating from a particular site, when the plan is actually to ambush the British into wholesale slaughter. There is no available means to convey this intelligence to the commander of the intended victims other than to take a hand-written order to halt the projected British advance. Two lowly lance-corporals (Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay) are selected (volunteered?) to carry this written order through a route of many hazards, including enemy fire, in order to prevent the massacre just a few hours hence - among whose men would be the brother of one of these messengers..  

Their mission is gripping from the very start - assisted by a most effective, insistently pounding, barely conscious, background score - traversing obstacle after obstacle, never knowing if there'll be an enemy gunman or sniper just over the next rise or hiding in a bombed-out ruin - and there are.   

I was steeling myself for the sight of dead horses in this - and so there are two or three near the start of the mission (and one dead dog later) - as well as quite a number of human corpses in various states of putrefaction, including swollen up bodies of the drowned. But of course such is the brutal and hideous reality of war.

Director Sam Mendes (who earned an Oscar in 1999 for 'American Beauty) is again short-listed for this, and he may well get it, though smart money seems to be on this being Tarantino's year. Mendes has made a film here which really does take the breath away. He also gets terrific performances from his entire cast, which include briefish appearances from Colin Firth and Benedict you-know-the-rest. 

It's one of those films that puts one through the wringer, a perfect antidote to any who may still be looking on war as somehow glorious and brave - not individual soldiers, I mean, but the concept of war solving anything at all. It truly knocked the socks off me..............8.

(IMDb.................8.7 - Rott.Toms.........4.5/5 )