Thursday 31 May 2012

New film - 'Moonrise Kingdom'

If I'd written this immediately after seeing it yesterday I might have been less kind, but following a night's sleep my feelings have mellowed a bit
It's a film I might otherwise have missed on purpose as I suspected that it was going to feature two of my pet aversions on film - not only a puppy-love liaison (here between a 12 year-old scout and his inamorata of similar age) but also I was dreading, having seen previews, a number of snotty-nosed little brats - here an entire scout troop of them. I was also expecting that as there were so many children featured we'd be subject to hearing ridiculously profound bon-mots tumbling out of the mouths of these emotionally precocious 'little dears', teaching their adult peers how life ought to be lived - something which gets my back up possibly more than anything else on film..
     As it turned out, I've got to give it its due and say that my fears went largely unrealised - though the romantic liaison between the two runaways at the centre of the film did, at times, make my toes curl. (Perhaps that's because of the depiction of something I never experienced myself and to which I can't relate).
   Other than the two young leads, it's a very 'bit-part' film. Among the adult players it's only Edward Norton who, as the earnest, put-upon scoutmaster, has a part he can get his teeth into. The others just drift in and out with hardly time to make an impression. I really wanted to see Frances McDormand in a bigger role - and, even moreso, Tilda Swinton, who up to now I've only seen in highly dramatic parts, though I doubt if she, in just two briefish scenes, was on-screen for more than a total of 3 or 4 minutes. I was also interested to see Bruce Willis in restrained fashion, which he largely was. I did laugh aloud at Harvey Keitel in brief appearances so uncharacteristic of his previous works - here all pomposity, moustache and short pants.
    It's meant to be a quirky film, and so it is up to a point - though not as much as I'd liked. (For sheer, exuberant quirkiness I think the Coen Brothers films up to around the year 2000 were pretty unbeatable - though, sadly, rather less so since then).
     'Moonrise Kingdom' is often a visual delight, parts of it quite stunningly filmed through yellow-tinted lens. I was also pleased with the use of the music of Benjamin Britten as soundtrack (a first in any feature film, as far as I know) mainly using his 'Noye's Fludde', a Biblical music drama written for performance by schoolchildren. It worked well.
     This is the fifth Wes Anderson film I've seen. I thought 'The Darjeeling Ltd' had been so-so. 'Rushmore' and 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' both left me somewhat baffled.  The one I actively disliked throughout was 'The Royal Tenenbaums'  - which is also, incidentally, often spoken of with high regard.

I would rate 'Moonrise Kingdom' as marginally the best of his films so far.  If there hadn't been so much attention given to the cringeing 'young love' angle I might have accorded it a higher score. But all in all, I now award it a score of  5.5/10

Tuesday 29 May 2012

New Film - 'Albert Nobbs'

You are probably not one of the few who doesn't know that the central idea of this film is that the main role played by Glenn Close is a female character passing off her life as being that of a man. This isn't a spoiler. It's revealed within the first few minutes - if you hadn't already guessed that the distinctly creepy-looking 'man' isn't what he seems, appearing more like an inexpertly-constructed waxwork come to life rather than a flesh and blood human - with face frozen, Botox-like, into uni-expression.
   ( I'm aware that some years ago Glenn Close played this same role on the stage to great acclaim.)
    Okay, I can take the conceit and look beyond that. But it requires a mighty heave of acceptance to find that early in the film she meets another 'woman' doing exactly the same thing (small world!) with whom she has to share a room in the hotel in which s/he works as butler-cum-waiter.
                    That's all I'll say about the plot. But I would have expected most of the tension to have arisen from the situation of the Mr Nobbs character trying to avoid discovery of her true identity. I found very little suspense in this direction, though that may have just been me sitting in an almost empty cinema while the hot sun was blazing down outside.
   To be fair, the film did pick up a bit in the final 20 minutes or so. There is a short scene when both 'Mr Nobbs' and the other female/male character (played in full super-butch mode - though I didn't find her male portrayal very convincing either) put on proper women's dresses - and, curiously, they look much more like men in drag than they did as men when wearing men's clothes.
   Didn't care either for the facile 'tying-up-the-loose-ends' final scene which was too predictable and easy.
Overall, then, a disappointment for me. Feel it ought to have been better - and maybe it was so when live on stage.

            My score for 'Mr Nobbs'..................4/10.

Monday 28 May 2012

Recent film releases - catch-up

As my good and loyal blog-follower, Paul, has suggested, in future I'll try to post my personal reviews on recent cinema-viewed films shortly after I see them, rather than cover them all together in a monthly blog - by which time they could well have disappeared from the cinema circuit. So I've already got a fair number to talk about since I last wrote.

This one was, for me, the best of the most recent bunch:-

My ratings, out of 10 (which, by the way, no film has EVER got!) in order of seeing:-

The Avengers/Marvel Avengers Assemble.................4.5

Monsieur Lazhar........................................................6.5

Beloved (Les Bien-Aimes)............................................2                        (for which I did an extensive blog on 16th May)

La Soeur de Mozart.....................................................5

John Who Lives at Home............................................5


The Dictator...............................................................5.5 

The Avengers - (Given the longer, clumsy title, above, in the U.K. to avoid confusion with the marvellous 1960s TV series - and the much-belated offshoot and critics/public-panned feature film of 1998 - despite which, I actually quite liked - with Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman and Sean Connery.)
    I'm not the best person to ask about films featuring comic book heroes. It's a speciality into which I can't tune - well, apart from Batman and, maybe, Superman. Having said that, I thought the script quite sharp with some dry wit, the fights were good - and the appearances of Robert D. Jnr and Mark ('Woofy') Ruffalo kept me awake. On a relatively minor point,  there did come a point when I was saying to myself "If I once more hear that word 'Tesseract'  then I'm-a-gonna walk out!"  However, I remained in my seat.
On the whole,  just passable entertainment for me - though after the experience, easily forgotten.

Monsieur Lazhar- Unassuming school drama set in French-speaking Montreal involving Algerian refugee, fleeing persecution in his home country, taking over class following suicide of its previous female teachers. Politically astute and doesn't pull any punches - especially concerning immigration - and with recognition of today's knotty problem of non-familial adults prohibited from touching children, even just to give comfort. Held my interest throughout.

Mozart's Sister - (My third French language film in succession - including 'Les Bien-Aimes).
Story which fleshes out and considerably adds to the known facts about Mozart's performing and composing sibling, elder than 10-year-old Wolfy by 5/6 years but her having to give way to her father's preference, because of her sex, in focussing on exhibiting the talents of her brattish (only slightly in this film) and precocious younger brother rather than showing off her own abilities. Mainly concerns part of a performing tour, visiting the Royal Court at Versailles, using the preposterous but intriguing notion that the Dauphin (the future Louis XVI) finding out that, unknown to her parents, she is masquerading as a young man for her talents to be better appreciated, who then connives with her cross-dressing. Quite liked it but all the time felt that it was done with a too-heavy touch. The costumes and locations are, as one might expect, magnificent.

John Who Lives At Home - Involving two disparate 30-something brothers, starting amiable enough with at least a couple of laugh-out-loud moments. But then around 2/3 through something melodramatic happens and it turns all serious - and ends with a cloying cosiness where everyone is reconciled and happy. Includes a conspicuously imported, though not-too-overplayed Lesbian dimension for a couple of characters. One of the best features is that the film plays at a crisp under-80 minutes - and it passed that time fairly nicely.

Blackthorn - This was a surprise for me, moreso because I'm not a great fan of the Western genre - if one counts Bolivia in the early 20th century as being included in that category. Taking as its premise that Butch Cassidy survived the shoot-out - which was depicted at the end of the 1969 Newman/Redford film - and survived in South America as a horse-trader. It follows him in his final years (with rather too many unnecessary flashbacks?) in league with, and falling out with, a bounty-hunter (Eduardo Noriega looking so damn sexy!). Before I went to the cinema I was concerned about the use of horses and seeing their suffering. But nearly all of it (and there isn't too much) is off-screen. (Just how do they obtain a carcase when they want to show a dead horse, especially if we've seen what looks to be like that same horse previously alive? Sorry, I'm not going to go there!) Glorious scenery, lavishly and stunningly photographed. Acting pretty good throughout. But I'm mystified and dismayed that this film has obtained an average score on IMDb site of only 6.6 as I write this. And there are unkind comments there too on the storyline and the film itself. But all I can say is that I liked it. In fact it's my best film of the last few weeks.

The Dictator - Return to outright comedy of Sacha Baron Cohen, so good in 'Sweeney Todd' and 'Hugo', though this time, with the film being fully scripted, without the sense of danger that characterised his previous incarnations featuring extemporised situations with real-life gullible dupes. (Yes, I dare say that I myself would probably have been taken in too.)
      I found at least the first 20 minutes of this film so barren of laughs that I thought it was going nowhere fast. "More bite!" I wanted to shout. But then I started to sit up in the manner of - "Did he really  say what I thought he said?" Subsequently there were more more moments like that. In fact the film improved as it went on - a film in which double-entendres are banished, but the character just comes out and 'unintentionally', or on purpose, says it full-on . (What we might, in a bygone day, have termed 'Smut'!). But I regularly did find some of the lines funny. Of course it's all a huge piss-take, most of it at the expense of conservative attitudes and hypocrisies, inconsistencies and double standards. But it was fair enough. I get the feeling that when it comes on TV and I watch it again I'll get more out of it the second time round.


Right, that's got my films up-to-date. Let's see if I can manage in future to write my views as I see them, ideally one at a time, but no more than a couple together. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Eurovision........Oh well. Maybe NEXT year!

Once again the winner was a song and act for which I just cannot fathom the reason why it won. But win it did - and a runaway victory too, given maximum points by the majority of the 42 participating countries.
    The singer, Loreen, with her song 'Euphoria', sounding every bit the electro-pop we heard so much of in the early 1980s, wasn't exactly bad, but I would have placed it in about 10th place out of the 26 finalists. I'm a great fan of retro-pop, but if attempted in an after-era it's got to be done with a twinkle and a wink. It's killed by over-earnestness as, in my opinion, this was. However, it has already been a big hit in a great part of Europe so what do I know?

  My own telephone-vote was for Italy - an up-beat Amy Winehouse/Lily Allen-type number with a conspicuous nod to jazz. It came 10th. My second choice would have been Moldova (actually coming 11th) and then my number three, Malta, to my intense displeasure, only finished 21st!

    The final results:-
     1. Sweden
     2. Russia (the 'grannies!)
     3. Serbia (another song which I didn't rate at all.)
     4. Azerbaijan (ditto)
     5. Albania (ditto)

And the British entry, sung by 'The Hump'? It came second from last, just above Norway. I thought it deserved better but it was stymied from the start by drawing the short straw and having to appear first. I won't row back from my opinion that it had a fair chance of even winning, or at least of getting a good position. I still maintain it was a brave and imaginative choice of singer. It ought to have come in the top half at least, I reckon. But still, we did better than in some recent years. In 3 of the last 10 contests we have actually come last!
     Anyway, it's some relief that it's now all over - and next year we will have it coming from a much less contentious location.

   Now better get down to those film blogs again. I've got quite a number to write about.

Friday 25 May 2012

Eurovision Semi-Final 2 - Another rebuff for my choice of winner

Well, it happened again. Last night I voted for the Netherlands and, like my choice of Israel on the previous round, it failed to make it to the final. What is it with these other viewers?  Don't they have taste! ;-)

The Dutch entry sung by a Joan Franko, very strangely attired in wonderful American Native Indian Chieftain head-dress gave us a cheerful, bouncy number. I think she and her gleeful toy-boy backing group thought that they had it in the bag - as I did. Oh, how wrong we were! Another loss for tomorrow night's entertainment.

What would have been my second choice, the dishy Kurt Colleja here, singing for Malta, did get through - and it's not a bad song either. So at least there's something else to look forward to.

My nomination for the title of  'Campest Act of the Night' goes to Turkey for its act of Can Bonomo, an elfinesque singer with an unlikely backing of macho, cloak-swirling, amazing dancing hottie-bears  They also got through - and with another song that was one of the better ones of last night. Looking forward to another view. Great stuff!

This is a pic of the Israeli act, Izala, my choice but who failed to get through on Tuesday (sigh!). Very interesting photo, don't you think? I want to join them under the sheets.

And finally, in case you didn't know, there are still the Russian grannies who, if they don't win tomorrow night, certainly deserve to be highly placed - though I don't want another country on the far-eastern edge of Europe to win yet again! However, 'Good Luck' to them - but even more luck to our own Brit entry, the 'Hump'!

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Eurovision 2012 - It's started!

Last night was the first semi-final in what is the biggest of all international camp-fests - though also probably the only one!
Eurovision Song Contest 2012 got off to a flying start with some gloriously O.T.T. acts - and a high proportion of the songs were pretty good too, a welcome change from recent years.
Twenty countries participated and ten were chosen by viewer votes to go onto Saturday's final. Semi-final Part Two will take place tomorrow night.
The U.K., along with France, Germany, Italy and Spain, are automatic qualifiers for the final in recognition of their being the main financial contributors to the event. The U.K. entry will be the bravely and imaginatively chosen, 76-year-old crooner, Engelbert Humperdinck, who had several monster hits in the late 1960s, and 'notorious' at having been the first artiste to have kept the all-conquering Beatles from off the British Number 1 in 1967 (with 'Release Me' blocking 'Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever'. I remember it well.) His ballad this year is, to my mind, not bad at all and certainly in with a fair chance.
             My major disappointment last night was that the country I would have voted for, Israel, did not make it into the final ten. I find it hard to think why - they had, probably, the campest of all acts  (and that really is saying something!) with a conspicuously hottie (for me) backing singer, not to mention the hairy, yummy drummer, and with their lead singer sporting a single outsize ear-ring, more of a chain-link pendant - and all with a  darned catchy, jolly song that could have come straight out of a 1950s Hit Parade - and I loved it! Shame on you, Eurovision viewers, for not recognising 'quality camp'!
   However, at least two of my other choices, Moldova and Latvia did get through, as well as, very pleasingly, from Russia the group of peasant 'grannies', as they are described, though I would have thought 'great-grannies' would have been nearer the mark. Good, folksy, up-beat song though.

All this takes place in Baku, Azerbaijan, under the politically-ghastly regime of President Aliyev, that country having earned its host status after winning the contest last year. The president and his family-loyal coterie of stupendously oil-rich hacks are squeezing the event for all its propaganda worth. It remains to be seen if any of the expected demonstrations against his cast-iron grip on power and his appalling crushing of all dissent will be manifested at any time in the next few days. His totalitarian style would have made Stalin himself green with envy. Aliyev's glamorous wife, who could give Carla Bruni a run for her money - though she, Mrs Aliyev,  would have lost - is herself in charge of television coverage. Last year, Azerbaijan, at enmity with neighbouring Armenia , not only pettily blacked out its TV screens when the latter country's entry was performing, but the police after investigation of the state's telephone records, hauled in for questioning, with physical force, anyone who had voted for Armenia as a form of protest.
    Aliyev's family, including his three teenage children, are living in such unimaginable luxury beyond the comprehension of the huge majority of Azerbaijani's fantasies, to which our own British Royal Family can hardly hold a candle. 'Filthy rich' doesn't even begin to describe it. At least we can say what we like about our Elizabeth and her dysfunctional family circle - and, indeed, we do!

  So all that leaves a sour undertaste. So many of the winners in recent years have been from politically repressive regimes that it'll be a pleasant change to have it held next year in a location we have less concern about. Though having said that, I'm still very disappointed that we won't be seeing the Israeli act again on Saturday night.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Film '(The) Beloved' - my nomination for 'Turkey of the Year' (so far)

(No, not the Oprah Winfrey 1998 film of the Toni Morrison novel.)

Once in a while I'll leave the cinema before a film has ended because I just can't take any more. With 'Beloved' it's the first time I've done it in well over a year.
As you see on the left, it's a French film, similar to the 1964 'Les Parapluies de Cherbourg' in having songs (not too many), performed/mimed by the actors, punctuating the dialogue. The wonderful Catherine Deneuve actually plays a lead role in both films, but this later feature has absolutely nothing of the whimsical charm the earlier film had, which made it such a pleasant, if slightly shallow, experience.

Lest it be thought that my overall opinion was clouded by what happens well into the film (around 50 minutes, in fact), I was starting to get irritated within the first 10 minutes. The self-obsession of the leading female character was already riling me. After another 10 mins I was beginning to wonder whether it would really improve. By the time half an hour was up the thought had drifted across my mind whether I should walk out. (According to an arbitrary self-ordained rule I set myself way back in the 1960s, I cannot include a film in my 'register' as having been seen unless I'm present for at least 2/3 of it)  So, notwithstanding the fact of wanting to leave there and then, I'd been confined  by my own strictures to endure at least another hour and a quarter of it if it was to be entered as a filmic experience.

It didn't start well when the said leading female character, working in a shoe shop, steals a pair of shoes for herself. Okay, it's such a film cliche to have a shop-lifter stealing and, naturally, getting away with it (Ha ha! - what a lark!). It's as much a hackneyed situation as it is to have a peal of thunder followed within seconds by rain coming down in torrents (Btw: when was the last film in which it rained moderately - or, even rarer, if ever, it just drizzled?). But I can accept the shoe-stealing start as being merely formulaic, even though it always irritates me intensely.
   I'll jump the next tedious 3/4 hour until the young female goes to a live music club and finds herself attracted to the performing group's drummer, a Canadian. Their eyes meet and a spark is struck. They encounter each other again outside. He invites her back to his place for a drink where she starts making advances to him. He (with some regret?) explains that he is gay. She, profusely apologising for not realising it, hurriedly leaves - though, he tries to follow, unsuccessfully. (However, you see, his passion has now been fired!) He seeks her out the next day and - before you can say "ex-gay", he's dragged her into a male toilet and is passionately and, very 'cunningly', pleasuring her with his tongue. (So, if only he'd met the 'right' woman before, he might have been 'cured'!  But why did he say he was gay if he'd actually been bi-sexual, when he could have got straight on to to screwing her? Or was it her overwhelmingly attractive presence which brought on this self-revelation that he was sexually attracted to women after all?)
   After this blistering encounter, they go their own ways - she, having several one-night stands with a number of different men - he, presumably, returning to his boyfriend. But then they meet up again. By now my 'allotted time' to remain watching the film was coming to an end. I left the cinema just as these two were renewing their yearned-for re-acquaintance (they both being unable to forget the other, of course!) - but he warns her that he doesn't think he can supply what she wants as he suspects that he might have AIDS after having experienced a wild time in New York, though he hadn't actually been for a test. (Why say "AIDS"? Why not "HIV"? But, as I didn't catch the precise French words, one can at least blame the subtitles.) But, oh, if only he'd found her earlier - then he might not have been infected! And that was when I left the cinema.
            Must admit I did wonder how the film would end. Would he find that his suspicions about carrying the virus were misplaced and that the two of them could live together - Hap.Ev.Aft.? Or would it twist around and reveal that while he turned out to be clear, she was the one with HIV after all those turns with strangers?  I've looked up the synopsis on the web and found that the ending was neither of those - and quite surprising, at least as far as she was concerned. But I'm now past caring.

      Oh, and on a general point, why is it that in nearly every single French film all the adult characters smoke like chimneys? Far more than in American and British films, where, I think, smoking is already shown with greater frequency than one encounters in real life anyway.

I would normally have included my thoughts on 'Beloved' in my upcoming blog on films seen during May which I'll do in a couple of weeks.  But I had a relatively lot to say on this one, and anyway, it gets it off my chest by devoting an entire blog to it now.

   My irritations with this film are very personal - and some who have seen it may take issue with what I've said. On IMDb site a guy who uses 'gay' as part of his blog-name thought that the film was pretty good, so it's an individual reaction.
But leaving aside the gay element (which was only one strand of the film in any case) I was felt so antagonised  from the very outset that it becomes a self-vindication in knowing that it will certainly contend to be my own 'Clunker of 2012'.