Sunday, 21 July 2019

Film: 'Apollo 11'

In other circumstances I would have given this a miss because, although I'm an Astronomy nerd and have been since a boy of nine (yes, I can date it that precisely, almost down to the actual day) I've really had more than my fill of programmes celebrating the event of 50 years ago this very day, having watched the landing live at my then age of 22, and seen so many replays of that truly momentous event over the decades that I've long since found the subject positively boring. I often still think that if I have to once more watch that "One small step for man......." clip I'll go mad! (It is, of course featured here too - but how could it not be?) 
But this was also an opportunity to try to wash away some of the diabolical effect of the cinematic experience I had four days ago, which was the subject of my previous posting. To expunge the memory entirely would be my earnest wish - it's still making mental waves in me (waves, note, not ripples!) both day and night - but as that's not going to be possible, I hope that this might at least dilute the horrible recollection of it. 

This film was much better than I thought it would be, with many as-it-happens shots I'd not seen before - and nor had most people it seems. It moves along at snappy pace, much of the 8-day mission telescoped considerably into digestible, yet flowing, segments, such that its 90-odd minutes fly by. Without complex scientific explanations, and with little pre-mission talk, it focuses on the visuals as well as personal interchanges of the crew of Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins with Houston control - and the entirely male team of scientists and operatives on the ground, at least I didn't see one single female among them (I believe this has been significantly 'corrected' since that time). The un-narrated film manages to be both moving and exciting despite our knowing what happens. The film footage is quite magnificent and I wish there'd be a convenient chance here to have watched it on IMAX screen.

Director Todd Douglas Miller has done a sterling job and this is a first class and convenient encapsulation of that wondrous venture............7.

(IMDB..................8.3 / Rott. Toms.......N/A )

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Film: 'Midsommar'

Every so often a film comes along of such disturbing effect that it shakes you to the core. Such was this for me - and I never want to see another which does the like. I'm sure there'd be those who can laugh it off and forget it. Lucky them, I say! For me, nightmare material!

So where to begin? 
I'll just set up the situation and say no more. Four American friends, including the only female (Florence Pugh) who has just lost her parents and tags along half-heartedly, fly to northern Sweden (though shot in Hungary) to visit a rural community, perhaps 70-80 strong, celebrating the Summer solstice in 'Midnight Sun' land where one of their brothers is a member. Everyone permanently dresses in white - dresses, robes etc, sometimes bedecked with flowers - and they engage in various rituals, occasionally involving singing and dancing. Communal meals are strictly programmed. At first this visiting group are just spectators, but they get drawn in and at least two of them get involved in serious infractions of the community rules, with consequences which are only fully horrifically demonstrated in the closing scenes. Can't go further - and anyway, I don't want to think about it.

There are clear resonances with the 1973 film 'The Wicker Man' which soon became and remains a cult favourite. (I saw that film in the days when there were two films on the programme, and it was the supporting film to the deservedly highly regarded 'Don't Look Now').
But this present film takes it well beyond 'Wicker Man' level - with several grisly and very powerful shocks, both unexpected and those you can see coming, yet I just had to keep my eyes on the screen, it really was that compelling, dammit!
There is, by the way, one particular bizarre episode (in an entire film of 'bizarres') approaching the conclusion which raised more than a few sniggers in the audience. But the building up of tension throughout the film was, I must admit, quite masterful - leading up to a predictably horrifying climax.

Words are not coming easy and I don't want to spoil things for anyone reading this and yet dares to see it, though everyone's reaction varies such that the effect it had on me won't be shared by others who do venture towards it. It really got under my skin. 

Director (and writer) is Ari Aster who was also responsible for the generally highly praised 'Hereditary' of last year for which I didn't much care. In my view 'Midsommar' is a much more 'successful' feature, if I may use that word.

To do my duty in awarding this a rating I've got to take a deep breath and stand back, judging what I've just seen as dispassionately as I can manage, though that is being a huge task. Okay, just to get it over with, and wishing I could scrub this infernal experience from my trembling memory...................7.

(IMDb.............7.7 / Rott.Toms..........3.4 / 5 )

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Film: 'Vita & Virginia'

Watching a close-on-two-hours arty/intellectual film sitting with just four others in a 500-seat cinema on a hot, cloudless-skied afternoon was not exactly conducive to appreciating or merely just enjoying this. However, I had a pre-booked ticket so go I went. It wasn't long after it began when I was struggling to keep my eyes from shutting.

Early 1920s, London - and Vita-Sackville West (member of the 'Bloomsbury set' of dilettantes - played here by Gemma Arterton) wishes to ingratiate herself with author Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki) and puts herself in the writer's presence. They hit it off and you don't have to wait that long before they're away together and engaging in some rumpy-pumpy, the suspecting Woolf husband aware of his wife's inclinations. while Vita has more of a carefree, butterfly persona. Social gatherings abound with much lah-di-dah talk, most of which I found quite uninteresting. The film leads up to Woolf's writing of what was to be regarded as her masterwork, 'Orlando', the gender-fluid title character being based on Vita, evincing disapproving noises from certain quarters. 
I think it helps maybe a bit if you're familiar with the novel 'Orlando' - there's also the 1992 film with Tilda Swinton in the title role. That book and 'To the Lighthouse' are the only novels of V.Woolf which I've read.

I found the film, notwithstanding the inauspicious conditions I watched it in, quite non-captivating, even boring. It took all my effort to keep my eyelids up.
A curious, rather exasperating, feature is that most of the indoor scenes (very little shot outside) are dimly lit (often candlelight), washing out what little colour there is. That also didn't help much in maintaining interest. 

I've no doubt that the intentions of the film (director Chanya Button) were honourable, but dear me, it was a slog! However, as I infer, I might have had a higher opinion of it had I watched it in better circumstances where attention to the screen was not distracted by the unfavourable conditions. I think it's really one for fans of that period and of Virginia Woolf in particular.............4.5.

(IMDb..............5.3 - Rott.Toms (critics only)................5.42/10)

Film: 'The Dead Don't Die'

Jim Jarmush is one of a small, select number of directors whose films I'll go out of my way to see - though in his case there are not nearly enough of them. With an ultra-dry sense of humour which accords well with what I've been told is my own, you either 'get him' or you don't - and the audience I saw this with clearly did, I'm happy to say. Bit disappointing, then, that although this film did have its moments (at least two LOLs for me) I wouldn't class this as one of his more successful efforts.

The Earth's axis has tilted a bit further on its side due to man's polar fracking, which plays havoc with daylight hours. This causes the buried dead to resurrect out of their graves as human-flesh eating zombies (but of course!) - actually globally, though here we're just seeing the first manifestations of the phenomenon in small town Centerville (filmed in NY state) where Bill Murray and Adam Driver are peacefully cruising around looking for signs of trouble in Sleepytown, first encountering a forest-dwelling, luxuriantly bearded hermit (Tom Waits - dreadfully underused) whose hostile reception convinces them to leave him alone to his own devices.  The third member of the town's entire police team is Chloe Sevigny, holed up in the offices looking after communications. Other miscellaneous residents include Steve Buscemi (wearing a "Make America White Again" cap) and Danny Glover, meeting up for coffee in the only cafe for miles around - and Tilda Swinton as a Scottish, Buddhist-meditating, sword-wielding, funeral parlour owner.

When the (un)dead start making their presences known in grisly fashion the three cops are totally at a loss to know how to deal with this situation, phone and radio reception to the outside world being made unreliable by the new global conditions. Having ascertained how to dispose of the unwelcome resurrected invaders ("Kill the head!") they are soon overwhelmed by the numbers involved while wood-hermit Tom Waits has little else to do but watch unfolding events from afar, usually through binoculars. Incidentally, it's curious that very nearly all the zombies are middle aged at oldest, a strangely high proportion being young adults, adolescents or even children. So why did they all die so young in the first place? Won't spend any more time thinking about that.

There are some of Jarmush's trademark deadpan deliveries and exchanges to keep us amused, with Bill Murray getting increasingly frustrated at Adam Driver's pearls of wisdom being plucked out of nowhere - and a bizarre episode near the end when the Tilda Swinton character is.....erm....'taken away'. 

It's fairly enjoyable stuff, but I did leave wanting more. I needed an 'oomph' factor which never really came. However, as an unusual diversion from standard fayre I'd rate it as just about passing muster............6.5.

(IMDb......................6 / Rott. Toms..............2.61/5 )


Monday, 8 July 2019

Film: 'Yesterday'

To enjoy this to the utmost it will help enormously if you're an admirer of Beatles' songs. 
In an original and very good idea with plenty of mileage in it, Himesh Patel (in his first cinema feature) plays a supermarket worker on the East Anglian coast. He's an aspiring solo rock singer in his own time, unappreciated and downcast, when he has a traffic accident at the exact same moment that there's a global power shutdown, waking up in hospital to be supported by his girlfriend (Lily James) and much all-round sympathy. Resuming his role as guitar-playing singer he's astonished to find out that through some worldwide time quirk the existence of the Beatles and all their output has been erased from history. (Lest you think as I did, why just the Beatles?, I must reveal that though the film turns on this singular omission there are other features of the past that have also vanished from collective memory). So, on realising this particular absence, he starts playing that group's repertoire, passing the songs off as his own compositions, and he quickly gets noticed and lauded, first locally, then nationally and very soon worldwide. One of his early noticers and admirers is Ed Sheeran in a 'jolly good sport' cameo - quite effective actually - guiding him into recording studio. His fame takes him to L.A. with appearances on T.V. and live on stage in front of many thousands, all in tune with his status of overnight international sensation. Meanwhile his girlfriend becomes ever more bewildered by his experience and understandably feels a significant alienation between the two of them. I'd thought that he might get increasingly disillusioned by the fraud he was perpetrating, known only to himself (or was it?) and decide to own up and.......  
But not knowing for sure how this tale could end, my guess being that another global power shutdown would revert the world to a Beatles-awareness state with its universal amnesia now transferred to Patel's bogus claims, while he returned to his independent struggles as before. That a rather cheesily predictable final act takes place may have been a bit of a let-down, which was preceded by a couple of unexpected.....insertions, rather than 'turns', one of them bordering on the outrageous. But so what - it's a fantasy film!

To have as director none other than Danny Boyle himself, whose films, even the less successful ones, can never be ignored, is a fine capture, and he rarely reaches for the obvious, keeping up a cracking pace all through. And to complete the twin behind-the-camera achievement, it's a screenplay (and story co-author) by the one and only Richard Curtis ('Notting Hill', 'Four Weddings' 'Love Actually') who only betrays here his sometimes tendency to reach for cloying sentiment in the final minutes.

If you're not as enamoured of Beatles' songs as some of us are I can offer you the slight comfort that none are performed entirely, while many of them are in mere snatches.  

I enjoyed this a lot, its close on two-hours length flying by, largely because we didn't know what would happen next - and we cared!
A nifty and satisfying piece of cinema................7.5.

(IMDb.............7.1 / Rott. Toms...........4.33/5 )

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Film: 'Sometimes, Always, Never'

How long can I prevail before having to resort to the word 'quirky'? Not long at all, it seems.

A riddle of a film, highly stylised in parts - purposeful back projections as well as unexpected camera angles and lighting - all of which I could buy into, not without some degree of pleasure, though I feel it could well drive some people up the wall.

Stalwart of British films (usually rom-coms), Bill Nighy, is a shop-owning tailor with a mania for playing Scrabble, now reflecting on his missing elder son who'd disappeared some years previously after walking out of the house in a huff following an argument over a game of such with his father. Having ascertained near the film's start that a body he's been called to identify is, after all, not that of his errant son, during a Scrabble game he's currently playing on his phone it suddenly dawns on him that this one of his internet opponents could be that very same vanished family member. He visits his other son, also a mature adult (Sam Riley), who likewise wants to know what became of his brother, though there's an emotional distance between father and this younger son.
Another couple (Jenny Agutter and Tim McInnerny) also have a body to identify, and they pop up every now and again with an incidental connection to the Nighy character.

The film's strange title refers to suit-wearing dress etiquette relating to the standard three jacket buttons and, top to bottom, whether they should be buttoned or no. (News to me too!)  

One can't deny that it's a strange kind of film, quite unusual, though none the worse for being so. Nighy himself untypically plays a rather introverted, restrained and pensive character, and is as good as he always is. 

This is director Carl Hunter's first full length feature film (though he's in his 50s), and could well be a foretaste of more films to come in this genre of curiosity. I hope so. Though I did indeed enjoy it to a degree, I'd only watch it again in order to fill in some of the several holes in the story with which I was puzzled. 
The film was shot, apparently. on the Irish Sea coast of Lancashire and around York.

Something a bit different. then, which will give adequate satisfaction to some, though others may well be inclined towards being dismissive of it................6.5.

(IMDb..........7.1 / Rott. Toms (critics only).........also 7.1 ) 

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Film: 'Late Night'

I thought this had some possibilities. It definitely had its moments, though not too many, but it did get bogged down in treacle just once too often, nearly all in the latter half.

In New York, Emma Thompson is the host of a late night TV talk show of some years standing, though now in a rut, as the ratings show. It's only just dawned on her(!) that her writing team consists of eight or so white men, all at or near middle age, so she decides to shake things up by employing a woman, any woman, to join the team (cue Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the screenplay) whose arrival is the opportunity for some rather predictable and lame jokes in the way of her initially assumed, being female, to be a low-level office worker. She has next to no experience of comedy writing though she does possess a fertile mind and imagination, and before very long she creates a favourable impression with the TV host. Thompson is something of a cold-hearted despot, firing members of her team almost on a whim, but her own vulnerability comes to the fore when she's told that she is to be replaced on her own show - and this affects her deeply and the only one she can really lean on is Kaling, who suggests what she might do to counter the replacement threat. Although Thompson herself is too elevated to realise it she needs the help of this confidante and only appreciates Kaling's true value at a late stage.  
Thompson's own understanding husband (John Lithgow) now retired and suffering the onset of Parkinson's, remains at home watching his wife's changing TV persona.

I'd not heard of Canadian Mindy Kaling before and I don't think she'd be widely recognised on this side. Her script is functional enough without setting the world alight, but what I did find with her is that she has a tendency to garble her self-penned lines - often starting a sentence at comprehensible pace and then accelerating as though she can't wait to get all her words out, resulting in my thinking "What?". The contrast with Emma Thompson's speech is extraordinary, where every syllable is clear is a bell whether loud or soft, high or low - a lesson in how it should be done. 

As I say at the start, it does get sentimental at times though those episodes are not as overbearing as they might have been.
Director Nisha Ganatra has a lot of television to her name as well as a little work on short features, a few of which might have been seen in the odd cinema. This appears to be her first major cinema
feature and it's not in any way a poor contribution - though I do get the sensation that it didn't quite hit home in the punchy way for which I was hoping................6.

(IMDb................6.4 / Rott.Toms............3.98/5 )