Saturday 31 December 2016

My favourite films of 2016

As I saw only just over 10% of the films released in this country over the last twelve months, this can hardly claim to be a definitive list of the best films of the year. If I'd managed to see all those I'd wanted to see the list would certainly be looking very different. Be that as it may, here is my annual appraisal of the ten films out of the 83 which I did see and which I enjoyed the most, in approximate ascending order.

10. 10 Cloverfield Lane - Altogether unexpected, chilling, claustrophobic thriller with a dash of alien-type horrors.

9. Eye in the Sky  -  gripping and authentic-feeling terrorist saga set in Kenya

8. La Chambre Bleu - Another 'hemmed-in' piece leaving one gasping for air. Beautifully achieved with lingering questions tantalisingly left unanswered.

7. David Brent - Life on the Road - just had to include this somewhere, with Ricky Gervais on high form despite not having his familiar supporting cast, and yet delivering more (deliberate) laughs than I got from any other film this year.

6. Youth - remarkably watchable 'sunset' vehicle for Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel which I hadn't expected to enjoy even half as much as I did.

5. Nocturnal Animals
Cleverly constructed and realised thriller with a suspended ending which will frustrate some but which I loved. And Jake Gyllenhall - is he capable of making a film that's less than 'good'? Not so far.

4. Little Men

Near-perfect human interest drama with lovely ensemble casting, Greg Kinnear leading the honours, though only by a short nose. Managed to win me over quite easily despite the inclusion of two youngish boys among the major players, something which would normally have sounded warning bells.

3. Spotlight

Another 'ensemble' film with its entire cast on blazing form, dealing with the infuriating subject of R.C. Church cover-up of historic child abuse. The subject haunts one, just as it ought to, this film doing a tremendous service in keeping it in public consciousness.

2. I, Daniel Blake

Anyone who fails to be profoundly moved by this Ken Loach-directed saga of unemployment and the frustrations of officialese when trying to survive on state-handouts for the disabled can only be lacking a pulse in their arteries. Brought me closer to genuine tears than any other film I've seen this year - a once in several years rarity in any case.

1. Julieta

What can one say? Pedro Almodovar excels even himself, which alone is some achievement, in this flawless, mysterious tale with perfect casting. After seeing it I was, very unusually, totally lost for words to describe the experience. Quite took my breath away.

Finally, of course, we have to nominate the suppurating, pus-filled boil of the year. There were rich pickings indeed, but eventually I just could not avoid going for 'Batman vs Superman', a film which annoyed me to death from the moment I'd first heard of the concept of making these two heroes fight against each other. I'm by no means an avid comic-book hero fan, but even I knew that this was going to be nothing short of sacrilege. Such characters exist only in the hermetically-sealed environments which justifies them. They must be totally oblivious of each other. It just does not work any other way. Putting them together, and even worse, as foes, was unforgivable - and watching the whole sorry mess played out on screen only confirmed the blindingly obvious. Talk about scraping the barrel for a new 'gimmick' to draw in the crowds! Trouble is, to my regretful amazement, it worked for them, darn it - though taking less at box-office than anticipated. So a small mercy!

Wishing every single one of my readers the happiest of all New Years. See you in 2017!

Friday 30 December 2016

Harold Pinter's 'No Man's Land' - live relay from West End theatre into cinemas

A most agreeable afternoon spent in my local cinema watching a live relay from Wyndham's theatre in London's West End of this utterly marvellous Harold Pinter play (though which of his plays does not qualify for that adjective?) with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in the main roles. Totally mesmerising, this was being relayed live not only to cinemas throughout the country but also to various venues around the world, including New York (which would have meant an 8 a.m. start) and China. Attending it cost me nearly three times my usual cinema price, but taking the opportunity was totally justified.

I do so love practically anything by Pinter. His plays are so , angular, off-kilter and mystifying, yet engorged with some hilarious black humour - and this is one of his very best, a play I already knew quite well.
It was first produced in 1975 (the play being firmly set around that time) with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson,  a production that was later recorded for TV and which I watched twice. I also have a radio recording made in the early 1990s with Dirk Bogarde and Michael Horden.

Exactly what it's about is anyone's guess - and therein lies a large part of the attraction. Two ageing men are talking, drinking and reminiscing about their lives in the home of the more affluent one (in this case, Stewart) though exactly what their relationship is to each other is left up in the air. They banter and bait one another, occasionally getting quite nasty and bitchy - then suddenly Stewart will ask McKellen "Who are you?" There are long monologues (always riveting) from one and then the other while the other remains silent giving the occasional quizzical look.
There are, now and again, odd remarks, such as when McKellen asks Stewart, ""Did you ever hang around Hampstead Heath?" (an area in north London that was - and I think may still be - notorious for anonymous, quickie gay encounters). The non-committal response is left ambiguous. (The McKellen character, at least, is married with two adult daughters - and is shocked to hear that the other once seduced his wife.) 

Then there's the appearance of two mysteriously unexplained men, one middle aged - the older character's 'butler'? - the other shady one, a younger (here Owen Teale and Damien Maloney) both of whom have a threatening menace about them, verging on the bullying of the two older men, and certainly deliberately provoking them.

The play finishes unresolved, as do just about all of Pinter's works, and we are left wondering what it was all about - but in the most satisfying way.

At the end of this performance there was an audience Q & A session with the director and the four members of the cast. Ian McKellen said that a lot of people make the mistake of trying to read too much into and over-interpret Pinter's plays, and that we shouldn't try to think too hard about it but just take it as you experience it. Easier said than done. 
The very interesting comment was also made that the play is about something that was never discussed or hardly even recognised at the time it was written: viz the onset of dementia. I think this must be true.

All in all, a highly positive and rewarding afternoon's experience.

Thursday 29 December 2016

Film: 'Why Him?"

Now back in business following prolonged absence. I wish to express my gratitude once more to those of you enquiring after my welfare during my indisposition. Am 95% recovered now, thank you.

My final film of the year, like 2016 itself (largely), is a stinker. Spectacularly unfunny, gross-out 'comedy' which only drew me because of the presence of James Franco - someone who, I'm quite aware, is a great turn-off for a lot of people but for some curious reason I continue to find fascinating.  
He plays a heavily tattooed, brash and potty-motormouthed billionaire with huge gadget- and computer-driven home complete with nerdy staff and an unfunny, slightly campy bodyguard character who tries to keep Franco alert by subjecting him to surprise combat attacks, as was meted out to Inspector Clouseau in the 'Pink Panther' films which, incidentally, had also left me unsmiling. 
Franco is dating the daughter (Zoey Deutch) of parents Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally - whom I've not seen since 'Will and Grace' and would not have recognised her if I'd not known. 
The Franco persona invites the family (including a 15-year old son), the members of which he's not yet met, to spend a few days at his home - an entirely 'paperless' environment, so it's hardly a surprise that there's an extended 'jokey' toilet section. (Ha ha ha! Laugh? I did not!)
Franco's language is liberally peppered with coarseness in words and expressions, much to the horror and disapproval of both parents - though once the mother takes a sample of 'grass' her personality alters and she gets all flirty. Cranston, as the father. is adamantly opposed to his daughter's choice, notwithstanding the fact that Franco is on the verge of actually proposing, and making his new wife a President in his company. 
All so drearily unimaginative. To make matters still worse, the whole boring business is wrapped up in the final scenes by Cranston giving sage, homely, paternal advice to his daughter and her intended. Oh, PLEEEZE!

Director and co-story- and screenplay writer, John Hamburg, who was involved in 'Meet the Parents/Fockers' and both 'Zoolanders' has hardly stretched himself with this material. It's one of those films that I think will only appeal to those who have a very limited acquaintance with such 'comedies' to date - very much a 1970-80s thing, I think, with the formula practically unchanged, only the language assuming that the cruder it gets (including here an explanation of 'bukkake') ergo it must be funner. Wrong!..............2.

Monday 5 December 2016

Film: 'Sully'

Film based around the January 2009 incident of plane making emergency landing on River Hudson, New York, with all 155 on board surviving - the achievement gaining the title 'Miracle on the Hudson' - which most of us ought to recall from news bulletins at the time. We all know the outcome from the word 'go'.

Tom Hanks plays chief pilot Chesley Sullenberger in this Clint Eastwood directed film, with Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot. Laura Linney is underused as Mrs Sullenberger (though it is based on fact) on the other side of the country when it happened, has a few shorts scenes communicating with husband by telephone.
From very near the start of the film we see 'Sully' commencing his being interrogated by the investigation committee, which almost immediately takes on an accusatory tone - why did he risk the lives of his passengers by attempting such a dangerous landing (following his plane being disabled by colliding with a flock of birds), when he could have made any of at least three alternative far safer landings, chief one being returning to La Guardia airport from whence it had taken off just a few minutes previously?

The actual incident only covers a couple of minutes so it might have been tempting for Eastwood to have built up to the crucial time with an excessive preamble. Happily, that doesn't happen. There are a few flashbacks to the critical moments, but not as many as I'd feared. 
Likewise, we see a few passengers before they actually board for what was going to be a routine flight. Once again, these are kept to a minimum, with no attempt to sentimentalise. So, Eastwood's restraint is to be commended.
With Sully's reputation on the line, and with the media starting to suggest that his decision and subsequent action, far from being brave, he'd actually been reckless, the film successfully explains how he was, in fact, deservedly accorded being dubbed 'hero'.

It's a good film, always interesting. However, as we know how it ends, it can hardly be wildly exciting, gripping though the depiction of the actual landing on water and the rescue are.  
Competent-double plus........................6.5.

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Film: 'Allied'

Conscious that in some circles this is being rated as a 'turkey', curiosity got the better of me. I was also aware of rumours rife, denied by Ms Cotillard (but she would deny it wouldn't she?) that this film played some part in the break up of the 'Brangelina' brand. 
I'd heard too that there were one or two clunky references to the Bogart film of 'Casablanca'. Added to which there's the rarity of Brad Pitt speaking French on several occasions during the film's course, and it's carrying quite a sum of qualities to make it intriguing - or might it turn out to be just plain daft?

Pitt plays a Canadian air force intelligence officer  
(a Quebecois, hence his 'proficiency' in the language) parachuted into Morocco in 1942. That country was French then but, as France had already fallen, it was now subject to Nazi occupation. As arranged, he meets up with underground resistance fighter Marion Cotillard where, for appearances sake, he's passed off as her Parisian husband. Then, before they've hardly had time to drop their underwear they've fallen in genuine love. (Sex in a car, and in a sandstorm, would you believe - with, despite the limited confines of that space, a camera circling their love-making - and all to swooning strings, just so we don't labour under a misapprehension that this isn't serious.) 
Having taken part together in an assassination at the French embassy in Casablanca in the middle of a Nazi social party (where a string quartet softly plays in the background 'Deutschland Uber Alles', for crying out loud!), the two of them flee to London, where they get married, she becoming dutiful housewife while he carries on his war contacts, now with the British, where everyone seems to talk in upper class, lah-di-dah accents. Soon a baby arrives. Immediately after the birth a nurse hands the naked newly-born to the mother with the helpfully informative remark "It's a girl!"

So that's the first hour of this two-hour film - and now it gets interesting. Pitt is summoned to be told that there's good reason to believe that his wife is.......a Nazi spy. (Yes!) His disbelief is understandable. Nevertheless, he is instructed to keep a strict eye on her. The next hour is quite successful in keeping us guessing - "Is she or not?"

I have to say that, despite some jaw-droppers, I was never bored throughout this film, not even in the long setting-up of the first half, though part of that was wondering what I could criticise next. The script was often flat.

Director Robert Zemeckis produces a work-a-day romantic thriller. I've seen worse, though many more that are better. This one just doesn't quite manage to get over the 'okay' line................4.

Monday 28 November 2016

Film: 'A United Kingdom'

There's no doubting the inspirational true story behind this, but I did find the film's treatment of it needlessly manipulative when it could just as easily, and more effectively, have been left to speak for itself.

It's London 1947 and Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana (David Oyelowo) is on the verge of returning to his home country as ruler, his uncle there having ruled as regent while the prince was growing up incognito in England. 
One evening at a dance he notices he's being eyed up by a young lady (Rosamund Pike) and he returns the favour, they dancing together. After a night of getting on famously (dancing and talking only) when he takes her back to her home he tells her that he can't see her again because of his circumstances which he explains. She refuses to accept that they can't go on despite who he is and so they carry on dating while they can, with her family's approval  (sister enthusiastically, mother tacitly) but not her father's - and also in the face of a warning from a supercilious British diplomacy, South Africa being next door to the prince's domain, and which has just implemented apartheid, it's vital to keep that country on-side for reasons of global relations. 
The young couple are soon married and she returns to Africa with him, where they have to cope with native hostility, led by his uncle, because of his bringing a white woman into the royal line meaning, of course, that any offspring will be mixed race. 

The two leading characters I found just too perfect to believe. They both seemed to lead exemplary flawless lives in terms of resolute determination in representing propriety in the face of hypocritical racist attitudes. Maybe they were so in reality, though I doubt that anyone could have had such saintly forbearance as this couple are shown to do in the face of the blatant prejudices (from both sides) that they come up against. I suppose it could have been that which bound them even closer together.

In the London scenes there is one instance shown of the couple being harangued and assaulted on the street because of their being black and white. In the 1950s when I was growing up such couples were absolutely never seen - whether because they were very rare or the pair were too afraid to be seen publicly together, I don't know. But in this film they are depicted openly in close loving contact without surrounding comment apart from this single incident. Perhaps around this time London had already progressed further than the north of England where I was.

The shots of African scenery are superb, fulfilling widescreen expectations. However, and as so often, I could have done with a lot less of the soundtrack music always pointing one in a certain emotional direction. Completely unnecessary when it was all in the story anyway. 

It's only the third film of director Amman Assante, her 'Belle' of 2013, I found a bit more interesting than this latest, though that also not quite satisfactory.

This film has had some very positive reviews which I can't share. If I wanted to see a hagiography then I'd prefer to have been warned it was to be so. On the other hand, it was quite educational to be told of a piece of history of which I hadn't been aware...................5.5.

Saturday 19 November 2016

Film: 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'.

This, the latest filmed project from the formidable imagination of J.K.Rowling, is the first of a projected series of five films. 

Set in 1926 New York (some 70 years before Harry Potter began his first term at Hogwarts) it has the likeable Eddie Redmayne as an itinerant globe-trotting magician carrying an old suitcase of live specimens of weird and wonderful beasts whose sizes vary all the way up to immense. When it's stolen by 'no-maj' (= 'muggle') Dan Fogler, the result is that all manner of its contents are freed with unintended consequences, creating havoc on the city and its residences, not the least being one of whom is Redmayne's nemesis in the form of Colin Farrell playing the anti-hero native magician. 
Redmayne is accompanied on his quests by the faithful but tested Katherine Waterston and is found in conflict with severely matriarchal Samantha Morton.

The film is directed by David Yates who also directed the final three Harry Potter filmed stories. Special effects abound all over the place, and are every bit as visually as impressive as one would expect. Those responsible for realising fertile Rowling's imagination on screen are to be congratulated.

I saw all the Potter films, of course (and read the first three books) and was troubled by finding every one of the former quite exhausting to watch (likewise those books to read) even though they were targeted as being, essentially, children's films. I could only assume that I was viewing them the wrong way - over-seriously, perhaps? So I did have a preconception that I would find this film likewise weighty. In the event I didn't find it quite as bad as all that, though I must say that the plot here was markedly more confusing than in the Potters. I was rapidly lost in the ins and outs of the exposition so just submitted to giving up and letting myself be taken where it wants to go. In doing that I did achieve a measure of being entertained, though I can hardly say that I'm especially keen on seeing the remainder of the series.

I think you'd have to be a Potter fan to get the maximum out of this film. I can't imagine many being disappointed by this if you'd been sad to see the Potter series finish. It's very much more of the same, though set decades earlier, and is sure to make admirers of H.P. feel satisfied that they'll continue to get their 'fix' in future planned productions of this franchise................6.

Thursday 17 November 2016

Film: 'Les Innocentes'

French-Polish film in those two languages (with some Russian), based on 1945 immediately post-war true story of aftermath of a Polish convent being pillaged by advancing Soviet soldiers, the 15 or so nuns therein having suffered rape, not just the once but also on two further 'visits' - with the consequence of half a dozen of them falling pregnant, their times of delivery being close together. 
As you can imagine, the story is unremittingly bleak - at least that is all apart from its conclusion which seemed to be tacked on to show that life after such a dark episode need not be entirely hopeless.

It begins in the convent with a girl in labour, who had been taken in by the nuns on account of her being rejected by her parents for having become pregnant. In need of help, one of the younger nuns sneaks out of the convent and seeks a French Red Cross nurse (Lou de Laage) working in a makeshift hospital which treats newly liberated French survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. After some persuasion she agrees to accompany the nun back, but without telling her Jewish boss (Vincent Macaigne), the head doctor-surgeon, with whom she's having an affair - he being the keener, she rather less passionate about the relationship. 
At the convent, and out of sight of the sternly inflexible mother-abbess (Agata Kulesza) - who herself carries consquences of the attack on the nuns, and who is determined to keep the entire episode as their own 'secret' so as to shield the convent's ordeal from the outside world - the nurse after delivering the baby, discovers the advanced state of pregnancy of one of the nuns and gets to know what had happened. She then examines all the nuns, to the horror of the mother-abbess who is afraid the nurse will leak out the story of what happened. On discovering the reality, the nurse has to perform a balancing act of concealment from her lover/boss in the hospital while assisting where she can with deliveries. The fate of the new-born babies might be regarded by those outside the church as heartless - at least one wretched case markedly so - whereas in the mind of the abbess the reputations of the convent and the Church are paramount.

There are crises of faith among the nuns while the mother-abbess clings rigidly to the notion that it's best all left to Providence and to an all-knowing God.

It hardly needs saying that the story is utterly horrifying, all set in a country at Winter-chill season with more than a fair dusting of snow on the rock-hardened earth. I dare suggest that the story is far from unique. Thankfully, we are spared any flashbacks of the original attacks on the nurses, which would have been horribly indulgent.

The only other film I've seen from director Anne Fontaine is 2009's 'Coco Before Chanel' to which I awarded a low '4' rating. 'The Innocents' is far better if only, by the very nature of what it relates, it's much more involving, though it has to be necessarily cold in illustration. And then there's the question of the positive ending. Whether that is also part of the true story or is simply put in to cast some much missed 'sunlight' onto all that's gone before, I have no idea.  Whatever, it's a story that needs to be told, and this film achieves it efficiently.................6.5.

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Film: 'Arrival'

Mine won't be a popular view of this largely praised science fiction film, but I really did find it to be bordering on the ponderous. It took too long to say what it wanted, and when it did it was too little, albeit that the 'little' was merely the future of mankind, wrapped up in a predictable cosy glow of hope and amity. Goodness me! How original!

Amy Adams. a linguistics expert is called in by a Colonel (Forest Whitaker) of the American military,  to help interpret sounds emanating from within one of twelve enormous pod-like space capsules hovering over widely dispersed locations around the globe. She, along with another expert, Jeremy Renner, and a small group of military enter the pod and start making contact with the alien 'crew' from behind a translucent screen on which the latter draw puzzling circle-shaped symbols.
Much time is spent interpreting these symbols, interspersed with many flashes (far too many) of Adams playing or talking to her little daughter. If these 'punctuations' were supposed to speed up the slow action then they spectacularly failed as to me they seemed mere padding - and dull padding at that. And the film is all capped with a needlessly sentimental final few minutes.
The body of the film is played against a backdrop of nervous foreign governments threatening to attack and destroy these pods, the Chinese being to the fore in their influence with other countries.

The pods and the aliens themselves are depicted impressively and interestingly I thought, eschewing previous ideas of what aliens might look like. Likewise the sounds they made.

Two of director Denis Villeneuve's more recent films, 'Sicario' and 'Prisoners', were well worth viewing. I don't consider 'Arrival' to be in the same class. 

Once again I'm going to be in a minority in my view, but I did find this film to be far too laboured to be of especial positive significance...................5.5.

Monday 14 November 2016

Film: 'Nocturnal Animals'

Intelligent, stylish, double-layered thriller with some harrowing moments - and a suspended ending which drew audible gasps of exasperation from the audience, which I can well understand without my sharing their sense of (presumably) feeling cheated.

This is only Tom Ford's second film as director/writer but is every bit as masterly as his 'A Single Man' of 2009.

Heading a terrific cast, Amy Adams is an art gallery owner which, it turns out, is illustrated by the film's opening credits which I can promise you is, erm, 'unforgettable'. (Tee hee!)
She receives a surprise package at home, a book written by her husband of 20 years previously (Jake Gyllenhall). dedicated to her with the same title of the film, which refers to a name he once affectionately called her. They have been out of touch with each other in the interim, her own present marriage now also falling apart, and this gift now causes her to wonder if she did the right thing in ending her first.
She begins reading and this story of fiction is shown in tandem with her current situation. 

In the story which she reads she sees herself in the part of Gyllenhall's wife again, these two characters now having an adolescent daughter. The three of them are driving on a lonely highway at night when they try to overtake another car which, apparently, won't let them pass. Eventually overtaking them, the girl makes a gesture to the car through the back window. Bad move. The other car contains three roughneck hill-billy types. The consequence is disturbing to say the least. 
Michael Shannon impressively plays an unrepentently heavy-smoking, phlegm-coughing. lung cancer-suffering state cop investigator.
There's also Michael Sheen and Laura Linney in the cast, the latter in just one scene practically unrecognisable as Adams' insufferably reactionary and unforgiving mother.

The film flits back and forth from the written story to real-life, Adams and Gyllenhall meeting up again after all these years, he keen to know what she thinks of his novel, she having previously dismissed his potential as a writer. Could there be a possibility of their getting back together again?

I found the film absorbing on both its independent strands, all beautifully photographed, some shots looking as though they would not be out of place mounted in Adams' own gallery. Background music was, very sensibly, not at all obtrusive.

I was thoroughly impressed with all aspects of this film. If there was any slight difficulty I could mention it's that one is regularly shown Amy Adams' silent face as she puts down the book having come to the end of a key episode or she is too upset by it to read on. Has she got too emotionally involved by getting drawn into the fictional situation? Is she trying to relate it to her present position? Exactly what is she thinking? We don't know, but one could argue that it's better left open for us to put our own interpretation on what her thoughts could be. I think it's a perfectly valid approach.

In summary, a fine cinematic experience - exactly what I was hankering after...........8.

Thursday 10 November 2016

Film: 'The Accountant'

Unexceptional, incoherent, violent 'thriller', Ben Affleck, being the eponymously nicknamed brain-on-legs. first working for criminal syndicates because of his head for figures and then, when taken on by State Department Treasury (boss, J.K.Simmons) finds that a goodly sum is disappearing from the Government's coffers and identifies the culprits. Stage is set for shoot-outs galore!

Affleck's role as a child, shows him as being autistic, some aspects of which carry over into adulthood. His father inculcated in him the need to stand up to anyone who sees him as a 'freak', first by fighting his similarly young brother (who also appears in adult guise elsewhere in the film). Never mind that they get bloodied, it's all part of the training! And then he gets further hardened by his father encouraging him by, in effect, emotional blackmail to stand up to juvenile gangs. (Far too many flashbacks to his childhood. They keep on coming long after we've got the message.)
Being autistic, he also possesses rare mental gifts - who would have thought it! - namely a photographic memory and a prodigious aptitude at mental arithmetic. So far, so dull. 

It's all plotted by-the-book - or, at least, I think it is as I very quickly got lost in the tortuous exposition. Not that it mattered too much. I just gave up and let it play on like a record that's finished and you can't be bother to get up to take it off the turntable.

Director is Gavin O'Connor who is yet to make his mark on film history, and he's not going to do it with this one.

It was only the illustrious presences of J.K.Simmons and John Lithgow who gave me anything like flickering enjoyment, resulting in its being rated higher than it might otherwise have been. However, in summary my recommendation is - forget it!...............4. 

Monday 7 November 2016

Film: 'The Light Between Oceans'

A fine story and some fine acting can't tip the balance against the negatives in this. The promise is all there but, alas, it's snookered by so much that's wrong with it.

Starting in 1918, Michael Fassbender, (who has never once disappointed me in the acting stakes), after serving in the Australian military, elects to go on a period of solitary seclusion by opting to man a lighthouse on a small offshore island. (Filmed in Tasmania). On a visit to the mainland he's taken by the sight of young, single Alicia Virkander - of whom more in a sec. Before very long they're married and start to live together on the island. Her failed experience(s) at giving birth leave them both feeling incomplete and deeply disappointed when, what should be seen drifting near their island? Only a rowing boat containing - yes, a baby, plus a dead man, presumably the baby's father. Seeing it as a 'sign' she takes the baby as her own, with him at first complicit, burying the man on the island and telling no one. They decide to pass the baby girl off as being their own child.
After a few years, with the girl now an infant, on a visit to the mainland again, and in one of those contrived coincidences used as a device to propel the story forward, he discovers the little girl's true mother, played by Rachel Weisz. He keeps this from his wife as long as he can though his inner conflict is apparent - until he starts making anonymous communication with the mother to assure her that her child is safe. Good story so far.

Now, that thorn-in-the-flesh that is Alicia Vikander. This is the fourth film I've seen her in the principal female starring role. In the first three I found that well over half her lines were so indecipherable as to make me wonder why she bothered to open her mouth at all. She obviously finds it too much effort to enunciate clearly - and so she is in this film. In fact, in just her first few lines of her initial appearance my heart sank in the realisation that she's learnt nothing. (In 'The Danish Girl', she might as well have been playing a mute as far as I was concerned!) It's a complete mystery to me as to why someone doesn't tell her. Are they afraid of her temper or what? Just because she became 'flavour of the month' a couple of years back does she think that she need not trouble herself with having respect for her audience? I'm sure she's pretty enough to look at, if you like that sort of thing, but I really do expect her to work for her money. I'd defy anyone to tell me what she's saying half the time or more. I can only assume that  everyone else is too embarrassed to say that they cannot catch her words for fear of other people thinking they might be going deaf. A case of 'The Emperor's New Clothes', I'd say.

Anyway, having got that off my chest, another major criticism I have of the film is that the background music is far too pervasive - it just can't shut up! Nearly all of it is sentimental slush, as though the story is incapable of speaking for itself. If you want to see how perfectly valid sentiment should be treated, I refer to the recently seen and superb 'I, Daniel Blake' directed by the veteran master, Ken Loach, someone who knows exactly how much to give it on screen - and then to just let go. Don't have it as a hovering background ghost for the entire rest of the film. 
The fairly unimaginative script too left something to be desired. 
Director (and writer) Derek Cianfrance draws excellent acting from at least Fassbender and Weisz, and virtually all the minor characters, but other than that it's a lacklustre affair, not helped by it being two and a quarter hours in length, which could easily have had 30 minutes lopped off, especially in the final scenes replete with implausibilities.

This could have been so much better, having, as it does, a really absorbing story. A finer director - and the replacement of the female lead - as well as some judicious editing, could have made it a superior experience to what it was..............5.

Thursday 3 November 2016

Film: 'Doctor Strange'

I wasn't familiar with this comic book character, but I don't think it's relevant. Word is that the main attraction is the special effects, taking this film onto quite another level. I agree, and that is after seeing it on a less-than-large screen and in 2D. It could well be visually mind-blowing in Imax and with 3D specs, in which format it is also released.  
As to the content of the storyline, well I thought it began in fairly interesting fashion and maintained its hold for the first half of its almost two hours. Thereafter it hit the formulaic buttons resulting in my soon becoming weary. 

Benedict Cumberbatch, leading a stellar quartet of actors, is an arrogant, cocksure, New York neurosurgeon, Dr Stephen Strange, tapping his foot to music whilst performing an intricate operation. While driving home he undergoes an horrific accident resulting in multiple injuries, most notably his hands, rendering him incapable of continuing his work, and which looks like pulling the curtains down on his career. He hears about a man who had similarly extensive neural injuries but was now re-functioning normally. On seeking him out he's told that he was put right by a visit to a place in Nepal. So Strange decides to go there himself (and why not?) and is there overheard making enquiries by Chiwetel Ejiofor who takes him to a building dedicated to esoteric arts presided over by Tilda Swinton as the mysterious and super-powerful 'Ancient One'. He gets a crash course from her on the development of these powers - powers of attack, defence, manipulating reality, time suspension, visiting other dimensions, and many more. He laps it all up and quickly becomes adept, avidly trying to achieve more than is normally allowed for a novice. 
Meanwhile, these forces for 'good' are being challenged by arch-villain Mads Mikkelsen and his gang. Cue many conflicts, fights between the positive and negative , both in the real world and in other dimensions where buildings are tipped and folded over onto themselves, as we saw in 'Inception', now achieved with even greater flawless proficiency. I was impressed.

However, the basic story is quite routine. We all know who is going to win so it's only a question of waiting for him to do it.

Director Scott Derrickson delivers the goods, though there's only limited scope for the cast to display any emotional interaction.

If it wasn't so spectacular and noisy I might have fallen asleep, though I do repeat that it must gain a lot by being seen in big, BIG screen - and additionally in 3D......................5.5

Film: 'I, Daniel Blake'

This is the most heart-rending film I've seen not just in this year but in several years. It's been much talked about in this country and has gained wide praise as being something quite exceptional, which is precisely what it turned about to be.

The film constitutes a howl of protest, desperation and frustration against a government-invoked system for claiming unemployment state benefits, describing itself as 'caring', in particular for those worst placed financially, even though all the evidence speaks otherwise. 

I knew it was going to be hard to watch, dealing as it does, with an ageing, widowed man, a former carpenter in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, still of working age but caught in a 'Catch 22' situation of having a heart condition for which his doctor classes him as being unfit for work, yet is deemed to be capable of working according to physical ability criteria set by the government. He is put in the position of having to look for and apply for work, and providing evidence that he's done so  - work which, if offered to him, he cannot accept. If he doesn't do this he's under threat of losing his benefits for a period, that length of time increasing on each occasion he fails to do what is required.   
In a visit to a Social Security office he witnesses an argument between a single mother of two small children who's just moved up to the north-east from London, and a claimants clerk who maintains that because she's a few minutes late for her appointment (a late bus to blame) she has to start the process again. The man intervenes on her behalf and, for his pains, gets ejected from the building with the family by cold, impersonal staff who are just "following the rules they are given". 
He strikes up a friendship with the young mother, modestly helping her out with his carpentry and other skills where he can. The film follows the rise and falls (nearly all 'falls') in the fortunes of these two, in similar circumstances though disparate as a pair. 

There are distressing moments, when they come up time and time again against the wall of officialdom which requires everybody to act 'just so', and if they fall short in any respect, if they don't tick the necessary boxes, they will suffer in consequence. Just too bad for them! How the young female is, during the film's course, reduced to particular states in two different senses, is frightening and troubling, to say the least.  

The man is played by Dave Johns (better known for his TV appearances here in a range of roles) and the young mother by Hayley Squires. who has made a number of films, though none quite as up-front as she is here.There's already talk of the two of them being certs for award nominations. They are both so outstandingly good in this film that if they don't get at least nods for the BAFTAs it would be a grave injustice - and Oscar nominations would also be well deserved.

It's a Ken Loach film. Loach, now 80 and a lifelong ardent socialist, has been, through his long line of politically-edged films, a thorn in the side of Conservative governments for over half a century - and this is surely his most polemical film of them all.

I've just two complaints about this otherwise excellent film. The first is my old bugbear of indistinct dialogue. Being set in Newcastle, many of the accents are Geordie  - a part of the country not far from where I myself hail, so I normally don't have any trouble with the dialect. But the delivery of the words here sometimes leaves something to be desired - most especially when there's a scene change and in this film, instead of the action moving in next shot straight to the new scene there's a slow fade-to-blank screen a number of times, giving the impression that what's just been said is of crucial importance. Sad, then, that on at least two occasions I couldn't make out what the final words of the most recent scene were when they were obviously material to the development.
The second reservation is that one of the children, the girl aged about 9-10(?), is so refined and speaks in such mature tones, unlike her mother and younger brother, that she is scarcely believable.

However, even with these two provisos it didn't shake me from my conclusion that this is indeed a remarkable film. I was deeply moved a number of times and, I'm not ashamed to say, actually came out of the cinema moist-eyed. I wouldn't be at all surprised to be told that quite a proportion of the always totally-attentive audience would have experienced a stage or two even beyond that condition............8.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Film: 'Jack Reacher - Never Go Back'.

I've been trying to identify something original about this film. Anything! Still struggling. We've seen it all before numerous times.
Tom Cruise reprises his creation of Lee Child's invincible, hard-man, quick-thinking, violent character - righting wrongs and saving the world in the process. 

His earlier position as army major leads to his being a useful target for framing and put out of the way as part of a government conspiracy involving opium trading with fighters in Afghanistan. All too complex for me to want to remain engaged. It involves his freeing from detention of a female military general (Cobie Smulders - a name I'd never heard of, just like all the rest of the cast) and both go on the run as two wanted figures, along with a 15-year old girl (further complications I can't be bothered to explain - heigh ho!).  
Action starts in Washington then moves down to New Orleans, culminating in (guess what?) yes, fleeing during one of the city's grand costumed parades! 

Many fights both with fists and weapons with the couple's pursuers, all very violent, all very predictable.
Edward Zwick's film as director ought to be best appreciated by those who aren't familiar with this kind of film, and how many of those can there be?

Will there be a third Jack Reacher film? I do hope not, but if there is it had better have something more to say than this one............5. 

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Film: 'Valley of Love'

Very unusual, this. Despite its dreadful English title, which is apparently also used in France (director, Guillaume Lecloux) it's set in and around Death Valley, Calif., and stars Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu - their duologue (which comprises 95% of the film's talk) being entirely in French.

They play a long-divorced couple having been out of contact with one another for years (she, now re-married but in the throes of another divorce, he still single) brought together by each getting letters from their son some months previously, in which the son tells them that he has now killed himself, without proffering them any reason why. He'd become estranged from both of them years before, they not having concerned themselves too much with his withdrawal from their lives, though they know that he had gone to live in San Francisco with his male lover. But the most curious thing about the letter is that he says he will briefly re-appear to them on a day when they are at one of the seven official Death Valley view-sites at a certain time, meaning that at that particular hour for a week they must be at one of the locations. Of course, they have no idea about what he could mean, they having travelled from their homes in France, but now their meeting up again dredges up a range of recriminations on both sides about their past, though a residual affection between the two of them keeps resurfacing in spite of their bickering moments. It's Depardieu who is the more sceptical of the two of them by a long way - which begs the question as to why did he bother to come, though the son did stipulate that they must both be there together.

As you can surmise, very big, mysterious questions are raised from early on in the film. I can tell you now that those who demand resolutions are going to feel short-changed by the time of the final credits, which is very much the way with filmic riddles these days. I didn't feel dissatisfied at all. There were very faint echoes of one of my all-time favourite films, 'Picnic at Hanging Rock', which left its audience gasping for answers, yet was brilliantly effective. I don't class this new film anywhere near the exemplary exercise in mystery that was 'Picnic', though the conclusion of things left in the air was extremely similar.

I've also got to say that Depardieu (now 67) has become huge, with a belly as big as two barrels. (Luckily, the film is in widescreen!) His spending much of the time here without a shirt - because of the oppressive heat, even though it was supposed to be November! - is a less than savoury sight. 
Huppert at 53, manages to look younger than she actually is.

I thought both lead roles were marvellously acted - their showing in alternate fashion both tetchiness and mutual affection.

For myself, I found considerable satisfaction with the film, much more than some of the unenthusiastic reviews I've seen. I'd recommend it quite strongly, but with the sole proviso that you're prepared to come away from it with questions remaining unanswered.....................7.

On making an exit from the cinema this afternoon.........

.......I espied this pavement billboard outside one of the adjacent eateries:-

I don't know how widespread this can be viewed - and in particular, whether it's shown in the U.S.A. (if it is, then with one word spelt the American way, of course), but it gave me a chuckle. I hope that if you also haven't seen it before then it may do the same for you.

Friday 21 October 2016

Film: 'Swiss Army Man'

Completely preposterous story from beginning to end - as were also my last two films reviewed, 'Miss Peregrine' and 'Inferno' - though this was better than both, and certainly not having the over-serious pretensions of the latter.

For all but the final minutes of the film there are only two characters, played by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, but the story is so absurd, yet totally original, that it held my interest right through. I've never heard of anything like it either in literature or certainly not on film. Having said that, I was yet not spectacularly impressed, though it certainly had its moments.

Paul Dano, is about to hang himself, apparently having been living as a castaway on a deserted island, and grown tired of living alone. Dishevelled and bushy-bearded, he's just about to step off for the noose to tighten when he espies a body (Radcliffe, of course) washed up on the beach. Investigating that it really is a corpse, he's about to give up and return to the task of suicide when he's intrigued by the sound of built-up gases escaping from the deceased. (An oft-repeated but key 'joke' this, so if one finds farting funny, there'll be laughs galore throughout the film.)
Pulling the body onto dry land he tries to resuscitate life into it but gives up, though allowing it to keep him company in his lonely existence. To his utter amazement he finds that, despite its state of decomposing, the body starts to talk, initially in slurred, disjointed fashion, then sightly more coherently so that he can even have conversations with it.  
He also gradually discovers that the corpse has a number of features which he can use to his advantage, hence the film's title. Although it cannot move without his assistance, he gets it to use an astonishing inordinate physical strength in various activities, some of which involve using gas expulsion. In its talking, it seems the body has forgotten what life was like and Dano has to teach it/him the basics. In an old magazine, when Radcliffe sees a certain photograph of a beautiful girl he becomes aroused and prominently tumescent under his trousers, this seeming to be the only activity he can do himself, even though it's involuntary. (Very unrealistic depiction, this - at least in my experience I've never seen such an actively 'mobile' one! But so what? The entire story requires a complete suspension of disbelief!) 
Dano now has been given a direction to his life, his mission now to instruct Radcliffe on the art of courtship, and with makeshift skirt and wig he shows the corpse how to achieve success with the female sex. 
One of the numerous curious qualities which the Radcliffe corpse had was that he could belch up drinkable water for Dano. As Radcliffe had been drowned, why wasn't he bringing up sea-water? But this was just one of the countless holes in the story, which doesn't play well if one dwells too much on it. You just have to dismiss such nit-picking and let the story run on regardless.
Can't say too much more without spoiling it, and definitely not what the end comprises. 
I've been rather bemused by reading some of the 'interpretations' read into this film by some viewers, including those going to extraordinary lengths to rationalise the story, theorise on its meanings and to suggested 'symbolism'. I'll have no truck with that. It's just an entertainment, for heaven's sake, and I don't think it was intended to be any more than that. 

Both Dano and Radcliffe give spirited performances, one might say, - though in the case of the latter I think 'lifeless' would be a better description, here in the most appreciatively appropriate sense.

It's jointly written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, both of whom played parts, most notably, in the 'My Best Friend's Wedding' project with Julia Roberts.

I give the film very high marks for originality and cheeky daring, though the final result left me feeling just a bit short of what it could have been. Its being very slightly over 90 minutes in length is another point in its favour. If you're particularly fond of fart jokes you might think it of greater worth than my own.................6.5.

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Film: 'Inferno'

Oh dear, I do find these Dan Brown screen adaptations every bit as exhausting as reading his books, and this one is no exception, though here not being quite the marathon that 'Da Vinci' was, both on screen and in print.
I've read five of Brown's novels out of the six he's written to date, 'Inferno', another in The Robert Langdon series of extravaganzas, being my only unread one. Can't say I'll be rushing to complete the set.

A familiar set-up, early history clues left around (helpfully in English) as Tom Hanks, playing Langdon again, wakes up in a Florence hospital with various non-life-threatening injuries, having lapsed memory (doesn't know how he got there nor what he's doing in Florence) and subject to bad hallucinatory visions of plagues, people with heads turned backwards, Hell itself and God knows what else, but that's enough to be getting on with. Attended in his hospital bed by an English doctor (Felicity Jones, whom we saw two years ago as Mrs Stephen Hawking in 'The Theory of Everything) he's suddenly under attack from unknown human forces, including police, with unclear motivation, and the two of them flee to lose themselves in the city. The first half of the film, set entirely in photogenic Florence is basically a chase, with Hanks filling in the blanks in his memory and trying to make sense of a projection device mysteriously found in his pocket which refers him to Dante's Inferno and a mighty plague. Being the walking encyclopedia that he is, he makes connections and works out that there's an apocalyptic event in the offing in the form of the aforementioned worldwide plague to be deliberately unleashed in order to reduce the human population by several billions down to a manageable level.
The World Health Organisation is on his track and determined to stop him by whatever means from frustrating their plans. I got a bit lost here - as I did in several other places - with so much pseudo-scientific and cryptic gobbledygook. In fact, despite virtually non-stop action this is also a very 'talkie' film. In addition to all this rigmarole there's a quest for Dante's death mask, apparently forming an intrinsic part of the puzzle. All very confusing.
After Florence the scene shifts to Venice and then to Istanbul.
Predictably, the plot involves those considered as allies turning out to be his enemies and vice versa. I hardly think that with Dan Brown that can be considered a spoiler as it's a device he likes to use over and over again.

Director of this serving of, frankly, heavy stuff is none other than Ron Howard. I doubt if this film will be considered one of his prouder achievements. Even most of the cast seem, at times, to be half-hearted about the whole fantastic caper Was Felicity Jones purposely under-acting? She never seemed to be terribly emotionally involved even when on the run with Hanks with her very own life at stake. In contrast, though, I have to say that Tom Hanks gives it his all - showing confusion and desperation on his face (just like I had with the story) without having to say a word, and in this film he is as good as he just about always is.

'Inferno' does have its moments of tension and excitement but it also requires a fair bit of concentration to follow which, ultimately, works against it providing a satisfactory level of entertainment in terms of relaxation. So if you want a film just to wash over you without you having to do much work this would not be an ideal choice. Great for Dan Brown fans, certainly, as well as for conspiracy-theorists. Not one I'd care to sit through again, though......................5.5.


Friday 14 October 2016

Cor, stone the crows! I'm a septuagenarian!


Yes, three score and ten today (15th) - the first age which my father never reached (as also didn't an elder brother), so I ought to feel privileged. What have I done to deserve this honour? It's a dubious achievement, especially when there's been so little to show for it. However, I'd much rather be here than not, so I'll get on with life unmoaning.

Here's some recent pictures of my triumvirate of 'masters' who expect me, their long-suffering slave, to be at their beck and call 24/7.

Blackso must be getting on for 18 now. Getting rather wobbly on his legs, sleeping about 23 hours a day, only waking to eat and my putting him out twice a day to do his business, after which he's waiting to come straight in again. As sweet as ever, purring and rubbing my face whenever I pick him up and always wanting to get on my lap. May he still have a long, healthy life yet to come.

Noodles, probably around 13 now, is the 'nuisance' of the household, never ceasing to cry for food - just pecking at what he's given, then leaving most of it. Of the three he's the least demonstrative with his affection (what affection?), only purring when I'm giving him his breakfast, which he'll mostly waste anyway. Won't let me pick him up, never jumps in lap, he lives in his own world, using me solely as a means to help him survive. Can only think that he must have gone through some tribulations as a kitten which he's never forgotten. 

Patchie, the latest arrival since around 3 years ago, will now be about eight yeaars old, according to his one-time owners. Like the other two, he left his own home to come and live with me. Notwithstanding his relative youth, he tends to bully the other two and he's become self-appointed 'sentry' at the kitchen window, vetting those who want to come in, and refusing entry in particular to one tortie with long bushy tail who likes to come in and pick at the leftover food  of which there's always plenty. (She came in this very morning, a fish-morning, something which she won't eat, so had to open some meaty for her). She only comes in when Patchie's elsewhere, he currently liking to sleep on my bed, daytime, as well as at night with me - and gets really annoyed when, in order to get into bed myself, I have to disturb him. But he will insist on sleeping in dead-centre of bed, leaving me with just the choice of margins, struggling to cover myself with duvet and trying not to fall out. 

And here's me at the youthful age of 69 - yesterday.  'Scuse me for not giving a toothy smile ('toothy' being the operative word!) as you'd be getting more than you'd bargain for.

So come on the 70s! Do your worst! - or maybe, on second thoughts, be gentle, please.

Film: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'

Really oughtn't to have exerted myself to see this Tim Burton latest, based on contemporary writing by one Ransom Riggs. 

Aware that it was well outside of my usual kind of film, I thought that it might make for a pleasant change. Well, if any change there was, it wasn't in providing entertainment which someone of my age and tastes can appreciate.   

19 year-old Asa Butterfield (he of 'Hugo', 'The Boy in Striped Pajamas', 'Son of Rambow' - and here playing five or six years younger than he actually is), lives in Florida with parents and grandfather (father, Chris O'Dowd and grandpa Terence Stamp), where the latter intrigues him with stories about a large house in Wales where mysterious forces are at work.  So, father being an ornithologist, both go off to visit the place, his dad ostensibly going on a bird-watching expedition.
By himself, the boy looks for the house, only to find it a crumbling, overgrown ruin. On entering the derelict he finds himself being spied upon by a number of mysterious children and, eventually getting to talk to one of them, finds out that the entire building is now preserved in original condition within a time-loop of repeating one single day in 1943 (German bombers overhead) in 'Groundhog Day' style, managed by the pipe-smoking lady owner of this 'home', (Eva Green) who winds back the portable master clock daily at a specific time so the day can run again and again, though in this case they're not tied to having to repeat the same actions ad infinitum
There are ten resident children, each with unique powers or characteristics, such as one boy being invisible (only seen by his moving, apparently empty, clothes), another a young girl with super-human strength, another being an older girl who's so light that she'd float away were it not for the heavy shoes she has to wear to anchor her to earth. Then there's a boy whose body is inhabited by a swarm of bees which he can let out orally at will to cause havoc, and so on.  
The idyllic existence of the children is threatened by  a group of metamorphosing, tentacled monsters led by Samuel L. Jackson. In fact it's the guest appearances in this film that helped to engender the minimal interest I had in it . In addition to the aforementioned Terence Stamp there's Rupert Everett and, in a brief contribution that she probably knocked off in an hour or less, Judi Dench.

The final special effects-laden confrontation in which Samuel L. Jackson dominates as arch-enemy, takes place in a funfair at the end of a Blackpool pier. One can guess beforehand that all of the children will, in turn, get to use the particular power which each possesses.

This is clearly intended as a kids' film, though maybe not for those under, say, ten, as some of the scenes are graphic and gory., while the older ones will just lap it up. I found it pretty standard fayre for this kind of film. Tim Burton's trademark visions are here though perhaps slightly more muted than one usually expects from him. 
Oh, there is one bonus. Unlike Mr Burton's recent projects, this one does not feature wifey, Helluva Bon-bon Carthorse!

For its target audience I should have thought that going over two hours was pushing it a bit. It tired me out somewhat. But I think that if it's the kind of film you're inclined to feel favourably towards, then you're probably going to be rather more impressed than I was...............5.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Film: 'War on Everyone'

The big mystery is how director and writer, Michael McDonagh, responsible for such a fine, must-see production as 'Calvary' (one of my top films of 2014), could have come up with this unimpressive, predictable mush of violent tedium, where the 'humour' (if that's what it's intended to be) is almost entirely based on using ripe, swear-laden, un-p.c. language masquerading as 'wit'. (Ho ho!) I was left virtually unmoved by the whole sorry feature, as was also the rest of the audience, as far as I could determine from their impassive non-reactions.  

Two New Mexico bent cops (Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Pena) form a 'double act' (yawn!) in intimidating just about everybody to whom they take a dislike, criminal or not, and squeezing out a tidy profit for themselves - a little of the old blackmail is jolly good fun, after all! Then they find they've bitten off more than they can chew in the form of a young, influential Englishman (Theo James) who doesn't take kindly to having the pair interfere in his own corrupt domain, which includes horse racing, night clubs, porn - while he himself is surrounded by a phalanx of loyal, toughie bodyguards.

Can't be bothered to say much else about it. I've been searching my mind for something positive to mention. Well, I suppose the film does have energy, but even that's only apparent sporadically. There are no moments of suspense sustained over a number of minutes, not helped by the fact that personal interest in or sympathy with any of the characters is remarkably low. But I did like their visit to Iceland, though far too short, in which I could wonder at the fabulous, snowbound scenery. There was also a short pursuit down an Icelandic street (can only be in Reykjavik, can't it?). I think it must be the first time I've seen a view of any street in that country on screen. Additional to these rare delights, there's also a pleasing soundtrack including two or three of Glen Campbell's well-known hits.
As to the storyline, just about everything is what we've already seen before, and done better - though one particular method of a certain person's demise has only been rarely depicted (usually confined to 'oriental' films) though it's only a minor detail. 

I'll be generous with my rating, but only because if I scored it any lower it might come into the category of looking so bad that it might be thought to be just worth seeing. It's not!................4

Thursday 6 October 2016

Film: 'The Girl on the Train'

Based on "the book that shocked the world" (by Paula Hawkins) trumpets the trailer. Is that so? I'd never heard of it.
I'd seen this trailer so many times over the last few weeks that it had just about killed off any curiosity I had about seeing the film. But rather half-heartedly, I went.

The plot is basically a 'whodunit?' - or, more precisely, what happened to her and was anyone else involved? But there is an unusual added dimension to this story viz. the narrator is a self-aware, struggling alcoholic, and Emily Blunt captures the character utterly magnificently. Rarely have I seen on screen so realistically displayed all the nuances of someone with a drink problem - every shade from slightly tipsy, to merry (with an underlying menace), through to being sozzled and violent with it. We also see her fully sober yet dying to have that drink, resisting even when she's offered one, as well as her first visit to an A.A. session. It was a remarkable performance which I really do think is worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Divorcee (and childless) Blunt travels daily from Washington to New York on a train which takes her past her former house where her ex-husband (Justin Theroux) still lives with his new wife (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby daughter. Quite close to this house is another which she gets fascinated by because she can see a couple there through the windows or on their balcony (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett) who seem to be very much in love. It seems they represent the ideal relationship which the Blunt character wishes she could have had. All the while on the train she is sipping from what looks like a transparent water bottle, but which she has had filled with vodka. During her journeys her mind wanders to the past and therein, I think, is the weakness of the film. There are far too many flashbacks, not necessarily in chronological order, leaving me confused several times as to what was happening - and in addition, was this real or is it part of her alcohol-befuddled fantasies? The problem is further exacerbated by having the two women already mentioned having very similar long, blonde, wavy hair. Because I didn't know the two actresses involved I did now and again get confused as to which was which. But as I already do have a particular problem in recognising and remembering faces in real life, others may not have the same difficulty.
There is a third man involved, a counselling psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez).
The Blunt character, having built up a picture of an ideal relationship for this couple which she notices daily, one day witnesses something that jars on her vision of presumed marital bliss. And, no doubt fuelled by alcohol, she can't keep her mouth shut, even though it's nothing to do with her. Then someone goes missing. The police are called in and, due to the drink, she has difficulty in recalling her own movements on the day of the woman's disappearance.

We do finally get to see what happened, and since the number of suspects is very limited - only the three men plus two women, one of whom is Blunt herself. (Was she herself involved during one of her regular blanked-out periods?) When the solution of the mystery is revealed it's hardly a shocker, though it is gruesome.

I don't know if the book contained as many flashbacks as are in the film, but I think the latter was weakened by having so many as to approach being exasperating, particularly as I found some of them quite confusing. 
Director Tate Taylor ('The Help', 'Winter's Bone') builds up tension well at a number of points. It's one of those films with cumulative suspense and it is achieved pretty well.
The major part of the honours for the film really must go to Emily Blunt though, in a role which marks her out as a really remarkable actress with great potential. I think she lifted this film, without which it would have been a  significantly less successful product...............6.5.