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 )


Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Film: 'Jojo Rabbit'

Here's a film like no other, no other that I've seen, anyway. Taking comedic potshots at wartime German Nazis has been old hat in films since, well, WWII itself, but here's one that not only looks at it from inside that organisation but has, as one of its main characters, Adolf himself (played by the film's own Kiwi director, Taika Waititi) and addressed as such on first name terms by the highly impressive Roman Griffin Davis (aged 12 when filmed - and living with his family not far from where I'm writing this, in fact), who's playing a member of the Hitler Youth whose imaginary friend this ludicrously camp figure of Adolf is.

Comparisons (all unfavourable, I think) have been made with Mel Brooks' 'The Producers' (1967) which now seems to have attained the status of being one of the funniest films of all time. Although I did/do find some of that quite amusing, as with all Brooks' films I find his scatter-gun method of comedy only partially successful and, ultimately, rather wearing. (Of course, with 'The Producers' a main target, as in 'Jojo', is the Nazi Party).

This new film is set in a smallish town in Germany towards the end of the Second World War (though actually filmed in the Czech Republic in quite stunning locations). 
Having failed to come up to the ideals of Hitler Youth practice (for which he earned the film title's demeaning nickname) with its obligatory sadistic aspects as tutored by instructor Sam Rockwell (assisted by a shamelessly complaisant Rebel Wilson), Jojo is beleagured with doubts as to his fitness, which is where the appearance of his muse, Adolf, comes in to reassure and comfort the boy. His mother (Scarlett Johannson) meanwhile, has complete faith in her son's abilities, refusing to listen to his reservations, while holding a secret of her own, namely that she has hiding in their home in a small concealed room, a teenage Jewish girl (Thomasin Mackenzie) - one whom Jojo accidentally discovers and befriends. 

I thought the film started very strongly indeed, with a fresh angle on what has turned out to be a tired-out topic. Though with me that feeling didn't last long especially when it got down to playing serious, mostly exemplified whenever the appearance of the hidden girl came about. There, I'm afraid, it gave out a leaden feeling which found me starting to doze off. However, it did pick up again quite considerably with the appearance just over half way through of a ten-minute scene with the menacingly lanky Stephen Merchant playing an investigative Nazi officer with half a dozen sinister cohorts all coming to examine the mother and boy's residence, looking for evidence of Jewish sympathies or anything more tangible.  From this point on I thought the film regained some of the oomph which it had started with.
There is, by the way, at least one particularly shocking scene  (apart, that is, from the killing of a rabbit) when one is least expecting it, to be referred to again towards the film's end. The in-town battle scenes at the conclusion are quite spectacular, it must be said. Well accomplished! 

If you are attracted to a film which takes on a touchy subject quite bravely and with originality, then you should be more than pleased with this. While finding that it had considerable merit, I did wonder even while it was playing that, though it's not over-long at 108 minutes, if the comic material it contained could stand up to it being stretched out to the extent it is - and which only served to emphasise the plodding nature of its serious stretches.  
But overall, not bad at all, no way!..............6.5.

(IMDb..................8 - Rott Toms.................4.8 / 5 )  

Friday, 3 January 2020

Film: ''Little Women'

Must be a very long time since I've seen such a disparity in numbers between the sexes in a cinema audience (here about 100). Reminded me of when I saw a staging of 'The Vagina Monologues', that being equally one-sided, and just as much a great shame.

I read the Louisa May Alcott book some decades ago but remember no events from it, bar one dramatic incident. No doubt I saw the 1994 film version as well - every bit as big-name studded as this latest is - but also can't recall it. 

The 'March' sisters central to the story are played here by Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen, with Laura Dern as their mother. It follows the trials and fluctuations of affection and rivalries between the four younger characters and their romantic interests, though in the latter case it's writer Jo (Ronan) whose main motive for living lies more in getting her novel published than engaging in romantic liaisons. Timothee Chalamet is the principal 'beau' in various entanglements while the girls' ageing aunt is played in a few slightly comedic scenes by Meryl Streep and which, I must say, did play a part in maintaining my interest, though not that I was especially bored. The sisters' struggles to find their own particular niches in life while maintaining their sisterly bond is the engine which drives the story right up to its satisfying, if implausible in some respects, conclusion.

Director and adaptor from the novel, Greta Gerwig, (this being only her third as director), adds a few modern touches especially in the script to a film which, visually at least, looks as authentically old-fashioned as its mid-19th century setting, and I've no quibble at all with that. Colours are mostly subdued with occasional splashes for ball gowns etc. 

All in all, pretty good I'd say, without especially blazing any trails, which it probably hadn't intended to anyway. If you want to watch a pleasurable, laid-back version of a literature classic, this should more than do the job................7.

( IMDb.................8.3 - Rott.Toms..........4.6/5 )  

Saturday, 21 December 2019

My Favourite Films of 2019

Now that I've reduced the frequency of my cinema-going, this year's tally ending at a paltry 68 (unless I go to the latest and final 'Star Wars' - unlikely) and my lowest count since 1974, instead of listing a Top 10 as I've done previously, I'll now confine it to just my favourite five.  So, in ascending order of 'likeability':-

5. Rocketman -
Caught me by surprise, this did. Though I also liked  'Bohemian Rhapsody', when it came to hitting the target dead centre this one was it.
4. Greta
Unfairly overlooked at the time, or, if not, mystifyingly unappreciated. Boy, I sure did find this tale of woman/woman stalking spooky and unnerving.

3. Knives Out
A contemporary take on 'Cluedo' to keep one guessing with a cast to die for. Just plain good fun.

2. If Beale Street Could Talk
Another one given scant attention when it came out in Feb. Glorious rendition of James Baldwin novel, I finding it haunting and unforgettable.

..........and the top 'prize' goes to -

1. Dolor y Gloria / Pain and Glory   
No question but that Pedro Almodovar takes the crown this year with this piece of autobiography. The man just keeps getting better and better. I assume he can't help it.✌

........and not forgetting my personal Godawful worst of the year, it gives me huge pleasure to dole the award out to ........

A tawdry tale of two teenage girls deciding to spend a few hours really living! - as though anyone could care! Probably the film where I most wanted to get a refund on my ticket.


So, until 12 months hence -
Wishing each and every one of you - plus the others - a better 2020 than 2019 was - which, in my case, it doesn't have to strive very hard to be.

                That's all for now, folks!

Friday, 20 December 2019

Film: 'Cats'

After the most unappealing of trailers, followed by a glut of negative, even atrocious reviews, I was bracing myself to hate this. (I know you'll have already glanced forward to my rating score, haven't you?)

I must put my cards on the table. The theatrical experience(s) of seeing this Andrew Lloyd Webber-composed musical (based on poems from T.S.Eliot's 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats) is one of the highlights of my theatre-going life. I saw it three times, first in a London pre-run, pre-press performance in 1981 with original cast of Paul Nicholas, Elaine Paige, Wayne Sleep and, as Old Deuteronomy, Brian Blessed. Elaine Paige had just been shipped in at very short notice to replace Judi Dench as Grizabella who, in rehearsals, had snapped her Achilles. Also in the cast was a then largely unknown name, one Sarah Brightman, whom Webber met for the first time in rehearsal, resulting in divorce to his then wife and marriage to her - and raising his 'new' wife, for a while, to such a stratospheric level of fame that I myself did not think her 'talents' justified, Brightman in addition being the inspiration for his 'Phantom'. which I also saw (with Michael Crawford) early in its lengthy run.  
As for 'Cats' on stage, I was so overwhelmed the first time that I went to see it again - and then once more towards the end of that decade in a quite spectacular production in Amsterdam (also in English).
I know it's 'fashionable' to sneer at and belittle Andrew Lloyd Webber's music, but I've never been one of those who do. I still think that his very best were the three early musicals he wrote with Tim Rice ('Joseph', 'Superstar' and 'Evita') but his subsequent efforts have virtually all been worthily notable (I'd especially cite 'Sunset Boulevard') and 'Cats' is very nearly also in the top flight.

So it was going to be a tall order for the film to please me. However, against the odds it managed it. Several times the thrill of the music got my adrenalin pumping, and even got my eyes more than a little wet. Of course it helps in being familiar with the music, both those sung and the uniformly exhilarating and splendid dance numbers. If you're not familiar or simply dislike A.L.W. full stop, then this film isn't going to convert you.  
I thought the cast almost uniformly good, Idris Elba (as Macavity) most of all. He and Judi Dench (as a sex-shifted Deuteronomy), together with Taylor Swift as Bombalurina share longest screen time. (Subsequent correction: It is, in fact, Royal Ballet member Francesca Hayward as 'Victoria' whom I should have named here as having extended screen presence and not Taylor Swift's Bombalurina, who's actually on-screen for only a few minutes quite well into the film when introducing Macavity). Other well-known names have little more than cameo appearances with one song each (James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellan) - and, of course, Jennifer Hudson with that song, one which was done to death through the 1980s, but I still think is a really wonderful number. Pity that Ray Winstone's gangster-cat appearance is so short when he's about the funniest thing in the film.

Prominent comments have been made about the fur-covered bodies of the cast - the stage version eschewed the obvious feline characteristics of fur and whiskers but went instead for smooth sleekness, and that worked. Some say that this film's cast just don't look like anything like real cats and, frankly, I agree that they don't very much, but then in the theatre the fur-less 'cats' looked even less so and no one complained about it. I got around this by taking on the conceit one adopts in the theatre - one of accepting make-believe. Film demands a more literal look than what is considered acceptable on the stage. I gather that in this film much of the fur is CGI-d. It could have been distracting but although it was a little, by doing what I did it wasn't such a enormous put-off. I've also seen mention that the mostly erect tails in the film (surely also CGI) seem to protrude from the cats' anuses. I looked carefully and it's simply not true. Were they looking for things to criticise?

Director Tom Hooper (who also did the even more successfully realised screen version of 'Les Mis') was stung by hostile reaction to the trailer and has made some adjustments to the visuals of the released version. One in particular was the alarmingly changing differences in the scale of the cats' sizes when seen against their domestic surroundings. This hasn't been entirely removed but being prepared for it helped me to dismiss it without dwelling on it. But other than that I think Hooper's done well for a difficult job despite not quite succeeding in imposing a cohesion to the film's story when the original stage show's weakish continuity presents us with little more than a succession of musical presentations. 

If you wanted to see this but have been put off as I had been by the damning reviews (or if you're taking notice of one of the current average ratings I quote below) I would suggest that you still go with an open mind and, hopefully, you might, despite what's been said, enjoy it as much as I did, or perhaps nearly so.............7.5.

(IMDb.................3.2 - Rott.Toms..........3.8/5 )

Friday, 13 December 2019

The five-year (at least) nightmare begins........

😢 Yes, the biggest pantaloon in British politics (and Trump favourite), BoJo, is now ensconced as our esteemed (though not by me) Prime Minister till at least 2024, comfortably cushioned by the biggest majority since Mrs Thatcher, allowing him to do what the hell he likes - with, at the top of his 'to do' list, 'delivering' Brexit even though it'll take possibly another decade to see it through completely, and without any of the economic advantages we had in being part of the world's largest trading bloc. At my age it could well mean that I'll not see another non-Conservative government for the rest of my life. On this matter at least, I'm depressed beyond words. I weep for my country. Boo-hoo! - and signal two fingers to BoJo! (For non-Brits that translates as one finger) .