Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Film: 'Sorry We Missed You"

Scourge of Conservative British government policies, Ken Loach, now in his 84th year, comes up with another cracker, one which may well turn out to be his final film. A laughter-free zone, it's as intense and heart-rending as anything he's given us, on a par with his previous, widely well-regarded film, 'I Daniel Blake' (2016). And like that one, this is also set in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

It deals with a family struggling to survive in the era of the 'gig' economy. Where our current government regularly trumpets how it's bringing down unemployment, patting itself on the back with no mention as to how those 'in work' have to hold down two, sometimes three, jobs simultaneously because they are so poorly paid, with no job security at all, working on zero-hour 'contracts', and not knowing whether they'll be employed one hour to the next, never mind from day to day. And with millions countrywide, including some working, now having to rely on free hand-outs from food banks just to survive, that is the state we're now in.

In this film we see a family of four - parents (Kris Hitchin and Debbie Honeywood, both delivering most effecting performances) with their rebellious teenage son (Rhys Stone) and 11-year old daughter (Katie Proctor). The family is already heavily in debt to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds when the unemployed father takes on a job as parcel deliverer, having to buy a white van at his own expense, and any cases of deliveries not made on time (a schedule so tight that he has to wee into a plastic bottle so as not to lose one minute) and any damage or mishaps, even if not his own fault, to come out of his own modest pay. He has to work 14-hour days with no breaks, no days off - or he'll be sacked. Meanwhile, the mother is an itinerant social care worker, having had to surrender her necessary car so that her husband could buy the van, so she's reduced to having to use the bus to get from client to client, all of advanced age in various states of health deterioration. including dementia, some regularly soiling themselves - helping them eat, dress, wash, get to the toilet etc. 
While they're both trying to hold down their precarious jobs their son increases their worry load significantly - truancy from school, painting graffiti with pals, getting into fights, shoplifting.....But their little daughter, not yet at rebellious age, is sympathetic and supportive to her struggling parents.
It's the father, with the more risky employment, who is, perhaps understandably, the more volatile of the parents, while his wife is the solid, more reliable one, though she does 'lose it' at least once, and very publicly. 

It's a grim film with the family quartet at the centre hardly able to be bettered in acting terms. There's no resolution at the end, just fading from off the screen in an emotionally charged situation, which seems appropriate as we're in the thick of difficulties for many thousands, even millions, of families right now.  
I wish Ken Loach had yet a further 20 years or more in him. His films are always thought-provoking. However the legacy he is going to leave us with, especially in social commentary terms, will be hard to be rivalled. 
A very moving film, though maybe not one to be watched when you're feeling low and need your mood lifting!.............7.5.

(IMDb.............7.8 - Rott. Toms.......Not available ) 

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Film: 'The Good Liar'

Just as well for not taking any exalted hopes with me into this film because I derived rather more pleasure from certain stretches of it than perhaps it deserved, virtually all in the earlier parts. Starting out in something of a 'fun' style, even jaunty, it gets progressively bleaker until the final half hour or so when, for the big 'reveal(s)' it becomes very black indeed, even appallingly so - sitting most uncomfortably with what had gone before.

Professional con-man and septuagenarian Ian McKellan (thankfully with none at all of his trademark mumblings here) via a computer dating site meets well-off widow (Helen Mirren) of similar years to feign a romantic attraction, though actually to relieve her of her riches. Ostensibly she falls for his ruse - though if there's anyone who can't guess what's going to happen they can't have seen too many films. She has a near middle-aged grandson (Russell Tovey) who is immediately suspicious of McKellan's motives. The latter continues his deception while living a double life and with the assistance of a coterie of co-conspirators, principally Jim Carter as his (ahem!) 'Financial Adviser' cheats other wealthy 'clients' out of hundreds of thousands of pounds or more, they all taking a share in the proceeds of the scam.  
The film continues with increasing focus on the McKellan/Mirren relationship, spiralling down into big-scale serious drama until it reaches its climax, first in Berlin (such melodrama!) then for resolution back in London's wealthy and leafy suburbs. Although the presentation of details of the ultimate revelations may surprise one, the fact that they occur at all should not. 

It's a weird film, tonally uncertain, neither this nor that, yet I must confess to finding a degree of compulsion in its watchability, largely because of the dual presence of two who are considered to be among our very finest British actors, one on screen, the other in theatre, playing a 'double act', it's not to be sniffed at.

Director is Bill Condon ('Kinsey', 'Mr Holmes', 'Dreamgirls') who may have had some qualms about bringing this strange product to the screen, I don't know! - a product which may be described as an old-fashioned type 'pot-boiler', though with one or two violent and gory images, albeit very short. I'm sure he does as well as he could with the material he had.

A bit of an odd-ball film which I'd recommend it if you want to watch a reasonably entertaining curiosity. I do think, however, that without its two stars (plus the commendable Russell Tovey) it might have fallen yet flatter than it actually does.............5.5.

(IMDb...............6.4 - Rott.Toms [critics only] ......6.3 ).

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Film: 'Doctor Sleep'

Sequel to Stephen King's 1977 novel 'The Shining' and the Stanley Kubrick film of three years after (which King himself famously disliked), this one I found mediocre in comparison, director Mike Flanagan in no way being another Kubrick. 

I've read the novel twice and liked the 1980 film a lot (aside from a couple of quibbles, virtually all in the very final minutes), though haven't read this newer novel. 
Back in the late 70s and into the 80s I was a major fan of King's works and could hardly wait to read his latest published novel as they came out, but found that at the end of that very decade he went off the boil quite significantly, though with the odd exception - 'Misery', both book and film being a major comeback, the latter not quite as successfully realised as the book, yet still a most satisfying accomplishment.  

I don't know to what extent this new film is a faithful translation of the written word to the screen but one of the merits of the original film is that it had a very simple storyline with a cast of, basically, four - apart from excursions at the start and a certain scene in the middle. This sequel has a cast approaching a dozen with some weird off-piste additions to the continued story, so reducing the special impact of the original's claustrophobic, cut-off-from-the-world location,

Ewan McGregor is now the alcoholic adult persona of the corridor-tricycling Danny of the original, thirty-plus years later, now driven to drink and getting into fist fights because of unresolved issues brought about by what happened to him and his parents and his own 'talent' of being able to exercise 'The Shining', a rare psychic ability to connect with others possessing the same, and to recognise and sometimes see 'evil', appearing to him by both hallucinatory and reality means. I didn't feel that McGregor acted his part with quite the conviction the role demands. He didn't strike me as comfortable playing the mental-problem ridden and drink-addled struggler. 
This film rather muddies the comparatively simple concept of the original story by introducing a gang of ten or so odd-bods (vagrants?), superficially trustworthy men and women, led by 'Rose the Hat' (Rebecca Ferguson) but whose real intent is to search out and prey on children who have this 'shining' quality, kidnapping them, then murdering them in slow fashion so as to inhale the vapours which arise from the children's tortured bodies as they slowly expire. (There's one particularly harrowing scene showing the gang doing this to a captured boy).
Meanwhile the adult Danny receives a mental connection to teenage girl 'Abra' (Kyliegh Curran) who warns him of the threats from the group, the remainder of the film being a quest to find and destroy them which is exactly what Rose the Hat wants them to try. I have to say I found the appearances of this Rose more irritating than being the creepy and menacing figure we're supposed to see.

Throughout the film there are a lot of the 'Quiet.....quiet......BANG!" type of 'shocks' which always strike me as lazy and unimaginative. It's a film too full of such feeble attempts to make one jump a feature which rather detracts from the far fewer genuinely scary moments.   

I was, frankly, getting rather bored with the whole thing, something which could never be said of the 1980 film - this new one being  five minutes longer than the original at two and a half hours. It only picked up for me towards the end when Danny and Abra go to the 'Overlook Hotel' for the final great confrontation and we see some of the same rooms with which we've become familiar, including the ballroom with its bar, the hall, staircase, boiler room as well as the snow-covered maze. There are also split-second interpolations from the Kubrick film of Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. It says a lot that it needed these reminders of the original to make me sit up and get interested. 

I'm out on a limb (again!) in finding this film something less than a number of reviews give it credit for. If I hadn't been so familiar with the original book and film I might have had a higher opinion, but as it is I found this a marked disappointment, though following in Kubrick's footsteps was always going to be a high bar to clear.........4.

(IMDb.......................7.5 - Rott.Toms........4.5/5 ) 

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Film: 'The Aeronauts'

I was expecting this to be a reasonably exciting film with some gripping sequences, though in the event, apart from just one really heart-in-mouth episode, found it curiously flaccid in suspense and, frankly, maybe not as interesting as it deserves to be, but that may have been just me. Despite this I have to acknowledge that the photography, particularly when the intrepid balloon-travelling couple, scientist (Eddie Redmayne) and his pilot (Felicity Jones), are airborne at prodigious heights, is extraordinary. 

London 1862, and the pair have set themselves the task of beating the world record (23,000 feet) for height achievement in a hot air balloon, held by the French. They are a chalk-and-cheese couple, he being the more taciturn of the two, seriously intent on taking down meteorological data, while she is a wealthy and extrovert widow with ballooning experience, larking around and looking on the task as a great adventure, extracting the maximum fun from it.  (Incidentally we saw Redmayne and Jones together in 'The Theory of Everything' [2014], he playing Stephen Hawking - and for which he won an Oscar - and she the latter's first wife). Although the two of them get equal billing in this it's essentially her film, she being the one who, by her loud manner and devil-may-care bravura, pulls all the attention.

Once on their ascent they have to cope with a number of difficulties and hurdles culminating in a frozen climax as they reach height of 37,000 feet - including that heart-stopping section I mention, where she is trying to save their mission from disaster and certain death for both while he is lying frozen into a comatose condition. How they managed to replicate her efforts clambering up onto the ice-covered surface of a huge balloon is itself remarkable. (Btw: Why is it that in these ultra-cold situations we never see the breath of the actors coming out of their mouths like steam? Can't they CGI it so it looks authentic?)
During the flight there are a number of flashbacks over the previous two years showing incidents involving both main characters, including a distressing one on how she became a widow - though it struck me that these episodes in general were little more than unnecessary padding to make the film longer, even though at 1.40 it's not exactly excessive in length.

Director Tom Harper, who's done mainly TV work up to now, is also this story's co-writer (based on 'true events', as seems to be the case with so many films nowadays). As director he fulfils the requirements adequately, with some rather tricky and impressive accomplishments on the flight climaxes.

In no sense can this be called a 'poor' film. For me it just lacked that extra something to make it more memorable than what I experienced........6.

(IMDb....................6.4  /Rott Toms (critics only)............6.4 )

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Film: 'Official Secrets'

This had all the potential to be a cracking, good film, and it probably is were it not for one single fault in my viewing of it that was probably not due to the film itself, namely, the screen it was played on had its volume so low that 90% of the dialogue was indecipherable - a rare fault when the more usual complaint is that too many films are played so ear-splittingly loud so as to be on the verge of being unbearable. (You may have read of Hugh Grant's recent unhappy experience when he went to see 'Joker' - "unendurable!") It didn't help that 'Official Secrets' is such a talk-heavy film while the subject matter is a secretive one so that most of the dialogue anyway is delivered in hushed or whispered tones. When I'm unhappy about indistinct delivery of lines (which I regularly am) it almost always is because of one prominent member of the cast. But here it's the entire cast that one is straining one ears at so it's clearly not a fault of general poor diction. Great shame. I was in an audience of, perhaps, fifty, but at the end of a row where, if I'd got up to ask for the sound volume to be increased I'd have had to disturb quite a number - twice! No one else was doing it so I let it go. Only wish I'd gone to the usual single subtitled screening, but I'd missed that.

The film is based on the true story starting in 2003 in the run-up to the (Second) Iraq war, a story that was probably bigger in Britain than elsewhere, of an operative for British Intelligence at GCHQ in London - played by Keira Knightly, who can always be relied on to provide a sterling performance. She received surreptitious information from America that President 'Dubya' Bush & Co, with the connivance of Tony Blair and his cronies, are engaged in a secret campaign to gather incriminating evidence about some of the smaller United Nations Security Council members so as to blackmail the latter into coercing them to vote for a western invasion of Iraq in the wake of well-publicised and, as it turned out, fake stories about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction. The anti-war woman Knightly plays is married to and lives with an Iraqi Kurd (Adam Bakri). (Bakri is strangely placed well down in the cast list order although he occupies more on-screen acting time than most of the other characters). She decides to turn whistleblower and anonymously passes her information to 'The Observer' Sunday newspaper. The rest of the film relates to the attempt by British Intelligence to find out who leaked the story, her eventually admitting to it followed by the shameful threat of her husband being deported, and her being charged with breach of the 'Official Secrets Act', where she's defended by Ralph Fiennes. The principal reporters on the story at 'The Observer' are played by Matthew Goode, Matt Smith and Rhys Ifans. It's a very strong cast overall and they all grab and hold onto one's attention in turns, even if I couldn't always work out what they were saying.  

South African director (and actor) Gavin Hood does a really fine job with his material here - he already directed the excellent 'Eye in the Sky' (2015). I don't agree with several reviews I've seen which have found this film wanting in suspense. I thought it turned up the tension most successfully in a broodily atmospheric setting, remarkable moreso when most of us who remember the story as it developed in the news knew of its eventual outcome. 

I'll finish by rating this with a score much better than simply 'fair'. If I'd seen it and caught all the dialogue, or seen a subtitled version, I dare say it might well have ended up in my Top Ten Films of this year. However, as it is..............7.

(IMDb............7.4 / Rott.Toms.........4.3 out of 5 )

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

One more year achieved, one less to go.

Not exactly a number to play and have fun with but when you've got so far it doesn't seem to matter so much.
With photos all taken this very morn you see me not quite at my sparkling best, still trying to shake off the remnants of la grippe, but what can one do when it's merely a waiting game?

And here's the rest of the 'clan':-

My only 'official lodger' - Patchie, coming up to 14 years, and a 'lap-cat' if ever there was one.. Mostly sweetly behaved though he will hiss at me if I make him go out to do his business when he prefers to stay in the warm:-
I didn't place him here for this pic. He was just perched there when I went to take his photo. Obviously trying to show off just what a clever, multi-lingual boy he is! 

Bobby - moved in 11 months ago (from God knows where) without asking if it was okay. Very much a house cat who assumes that he can boss everyone round, including me. No idea how old he is, pretty advanced I'd say, and alarmingly fat (which doesn't show up in this pic).

Snowball (I'll have to think of a better name for him) who arrived with Bobby on the very same day last November, so whether they had the same previous home it's quite possible, though he's clearly far younger. Affectionate, but it soon goes to his head and he'll give me a sudden nip with no excuse. And he terrorises Patchie for some reason - have to be always vigilant in keeping them apart.

And lastly the meek and loving Blackso (the Second!). Been coming through the window daily for something like three years. No idea where his real home is, though he seems to have made it here now. However, he's the only one who never ventures inside beyond the kitchen. A real sweetie, quite old too, I imagine.

So that's my current 'family'. Will there have been any changes when I turn 74? Who can say? 
Now let's get back to working off the vestiges of this pesky flu......

Oh, and I simply must mention that RTG (arteejee.blogspot.com) shares this day with me (anniversary only, not year - he's a mere stripling in comparison) - so I'm happy to send felicitations in a Philly-ward direction for that purpose.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Film: 'Joker'

Just coming up from having been laid low with flu (bucket-beside-bed situation, where one entire day was spent with no eating nor drinking at all, only rising to feed the pussies) - and this was just 16 days after having had my annual flu jab, so don't anyone tell me that this was mere 'coincidence', I ventured out to catch this must-see feature. 
It's courted controversy in that there is significant violence, much of it gun-related, though hardly much more than is seen in your average crime thriller. Also it meant visiting the particular screen where I haven't been since seeing there what is surely going to turn out to have been the most discomfiting film of my entire life - 'Midsommar' - which has invaded my mind for each and every day since I saw it three months ago - and, of course, I was sitting today in my very same regular seat. So all in all, not the ideal venue to have gone to in a still queasy state. 

'Joker' wasn't even slightly the film I was expecting, involving the fleshing out in some detail of the background story to the villain who was to become one of Batman's arch-nemeses. Apart from a couple of mentions of Gotham City and none at all of Batman himself who, presumably, was yet to arrive on the scene as saviour, it might as well have been anywhere. Despite the name he adopts there is nothing amusing in the film from beginning to end, being solidily dark.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) takes the title role with abundant flair, a professional, public clown in painted face and traditional outsize costume, first seen gyrating to music on the busy streets in order to attract attention to a certain store, during which he is set upon by a group of youths. It seems that this is just a routine part of his life, though other aspects are not so usual, in particular a 'condition' he has of letting out a piercing laugh at the most inappropriate moments. Once in the studio audience for a televising of a regular talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert de Niro), his laugh attracts the attention of the host who calls him onto the stage, which gives him a taste of celebrity status, for which he soon craves more. Meanwhile, living alone with his aged and ailing mother (Frances Conroy) he embarks upon a romantically-inclined friendship with a near-neighbour (Zazie Beetz) in the same apartment block. 
There are violent scenes and killings throughout, some forewarned, others not, yet the film manages to still make the title character one might have sympathy for - though if that is there it certainly wears thin or vanishes completely by the time the final half-hour comes round.

Praise has been forthcoming for the brooding, menacing background music of the Icelandic Hildur Guonadottir and I endorse it fully. 

Director and co-writer Todd Phillips has best been known up to now for his three 'Hangover' films, none of which I saw, but I have little doubt that with 'Joker' he's reached his zenith, at least for now, though I hope he manages to go onto even greater accomplishments.

I'd find it hard to fault this film in any respect really - except that, at just over two hours in length, it does tend to show what a heavyweight it is, with no relief - and when was the last time that Joaquin Phoenix did not deliver an exceptional performance? I can't remember.   

It's a film of considerable depth. If you go by first erasing all thoughts of Batman, I'm pretty sure you'll find it a rich and rewarding experience.......7.5.

(IMDb...........9.0 - Rott.Toms...........4.5/5 )