Tuesday 28 February 2017

Film: 'Patriots Day'

For the most part I found this an impressive film, managing to create quite a degree of adrenalin-pumping suspense in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings of 2013, despite our knowing how it ends.
It's useful to see on film police tactics in trying to identify the culprits and their pursuit of the bombers, the two Tsarnaev brothers. It's all too recent in our memories for the film to have taken gross liberties with the facts.

I'm not an especial Mark Wahlberg fan, still carrying with him, as he does in my mind, all that Marky Mark baggage. Though he gets top billing here, his fictitious police officer character is not as omnipresent as that might suggest, his filmic function being to provide that personal  'common touch' of a police officer with a family, which none of the other characters do - apart from the bombers themselves. 
John Goodman, Kevin Bacon (too infrequent on our cinema screens) and J.K.Simmons give the film some necessary weight, and all perform their roles very well.

The re-creating of the actual marathon site with the runners before the bombs were detonated is thoroughly convincing, deadly explosions taking place just half an hour into the film. Thereafter it's the pursuit of those responsible including such policies of how far the public should be informed when the likely suspects are identified. All portrayed as gripping stuff, I felt, notwithstanding our knowing how things are going to play out. Especially tense is when the brothers take a hostage. 

I've really got no substantial criticism of the film. Director Peter Berg (who also directed last year's 'Deepwater Horizon', again with Wahlberg) kept my interest throughout, and managed to ratchet up the tension as required with unobtrusive rhythmic-pulsing background.

I got my two-hours worth of 'entertainment' in both time and money................7

Monday 27 February 2017

Film: 'Hidden Figures'

When I first saw the trailer for this some weeks ago my reaction was "Aw, come off it! Really?" It then seemed so improbable that I thought it must be one of those made-up, feel-good stories fabricated to please a gullible audience. So I could only hang my head in shame when I found out that the basis of the story was indeed factual and that my own prejudices had made me reluctant to believe it. Having said that, I wonder if there are, even today, forces still at play to keep a lid on the events, for whatever reason. But there's no doubt in my mind that despite being so long after the time, it's yet something that needs to be recognised and celebrated.

It's 1961 and America is pulling out all the stops to be the first to get a man into space, and racing the USSR in particular. Three African-American women  - Kathleen Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson (played respectively by Tanaji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae - the latter looking very like Whitney Houston at times) with demonstrably superior intelligence, join NASA where they find their mental abilities are worse than doubted. It's assumed that because of their colour they are fit only for menial duties, certainly nothing that would put to use their formidable intellectual capacity in mathematics and astro-physics. Virtually all of the male-dominated staff are suspicious and even their female supervisor (Kirsten Dunst) makes hopelessly inadequate and baseless judgments on their mental prowess.  Only boss Kevin Costner doesn't see their colour, though he does display an initial degree of scepticism towards a woman's role in this heavily macho field. However, when he's brought to realise how the colour segregation still operates in Florida he wastes little time in demolishing what of it he can as it only gets in the way of NASA's more important aims of getting that first man into space.
Also in the cast is the recently-awarded for his commendable role in 'Moonlight', Mahershala Ali.

By and large I fund this quite an interesting film though I did keep getting a nagging feeling that the situations were being hyped up beyond the reality of what actually happened in order to make it entertaining. The frequent, startling displays of prejudice by the white staff is intermixed with occasional humour which usually worked, but for me this created a scenario whose message was "It'll turn out alright in the end" (from a twenty-first century persepective), and so inadvertently playing down the struggles of the central female trio against colour prejudice, almost as if trying to avoid confronting the racism issue full-frontal while the anti-female strand is shown in stronger light. 

At the end of this Theodore Melfi directed and co-scripted film, we learn that all three of the central characters portrayed are actually still alive and have been recognised in scientific circles, even if decades later their achievements are still barely acknowledged at all by the public. The oldest of them has now turned 97!

It's surely an important story that needs to be told and widely circulated. I'm just not as certain that this film, apart from giving it much-needed publicity, does it any favours more than that.............6.5.

Sunday 26 February 2017

Oscars Best Picture - oh dear!

When I heard on BBC News Channel (we didn't get a live visual feed) that 'La La Land' had won 'Best Picture', though I was pleased I was also sorry that 'Moonlight' had only the single, well-deserved award to Mahershala Ali as Best Supporting Actor to its credit - a tally which hardly reflected the impact that film had had on me. Then, after reporting of the chaotic correction, I was rather more pleased because 'La La' had already received several more awards, despite it not finally getting the biggest accolade of all. 

It's easy to play the blame game (and it's clearly unfair to target Warren B and Faye D) - there'll be more than enough who'll be doing just that with glee. Someone will have had a very red face and that head well may roll. Think of the gift that's been handed to anyone who has a beef about inaccuracies in the news - should there be any such person. It's such a shame that this fiasco will now overshadow the worth of two very high standard films at the very time when at least one of them will not yet have had the chance to have achieved maximum returns in its potential box-office takings. Nevertheless, I've got to be satisfied with the eventual outcome, -though how we got here........dear oh dear!

Hearty congratulations to 'Moonlight', a most remarkable achievement.

Thursday 23 February 2017

Film: 'Moonlight'

Once a year, or more rarely, comes a film which just blows me away - and this is one of them.
Being nominated for a mere four BAFTAs was measly recognition enough, but to come away from those awards completely empty-handed was little short of grotesque. I have to hold onto faith that this weekend's Oscars will be more forthcoming in recognising what an exceptional work this is.

A film in three sections, all set in Miami (from where director and screenplay writer Barry Jenkins himself hails), it chronicles the life in three stages of first, a schoolboy (then called 'Little'), then as a late-teenager (named 'Chiron') and finally as thirty-something 'Black'. 
Initially struggling against the verbal abuse of schoolkids because he's somehow 'different', his hiding from their taunts results in his being befriended by a drug-dealer with a heart of gold, or at least partly gold, (Maharshala Ali) who takes pity for the boy's isolation and loneliness, but whose presence is resented by the boy's drug-dependent, increasingly neglectful mother (Naomie Harris - in all three sections).
Then the story moves forward to the boy as a young man and his friendship with school-colleague Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), and his emotional self-realisation - with a particularly upsetting episode where Chiron is picked out to be a victim of assault.
Finally, the action moves ahead by some twenty years with 'Black' now looking in every way the part of a toughie drug-gang member, complete with gold teeth, pumped-up body and gun - and re-discovering former close friend Kevin (now played by Andre Holland).

If the first two parts contain the most physical 'action' it's the final section which has the dramatic and emotional weight. 
The acting of all the three players of the central character (successively Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevant Rhodes) is uniformly remarkable. Despite the character's foibles I was drawn into deep sympathy for him at all the stages - quite heartbreakingly, in fact.
Naomie Harris, as the mother who puts who her own wants ahead of her maternal duties, is no less brilliant.

I found the film well-nigh flawless. Perhaps the music choices were not quite of the best? Others might disagree. Anyway, none of them is over-long. Also, I wasn't quite sure if it was the cinema's own projection problem, but there were one or two moments when the visual focus seemed to be fuzzy. I'll give the film the benefit of the doubt and assume it was the cinema's own equipment. 
My only slightly nagging fear that the film's interest in the central character might have been flagging just a very little came in the final section, but if it did it was more than redeemed by the very brief concluding scene.

In summation, I thought this an extraordinary film. If I see a finer one in 2017 it will have been a truly exceptional year................8.5.

Saturday 18 February 2017

Done it - and now I'm a happy chappy!

Solution achieved! The problem was that my archive configuration was set on 'daily' when it should have been 'monthly' - as ridiculously simple as that! Now my blogs show as I want them to, which should also make it easier for my followers to refer back to previous film reviews - and I'm happy as Larry. Grateful thanks to Sadie, Bob, Mitch and Jon especially for offering their thoughts and suggestions. Having put the problem out there it gave me the extra incentive to find the answer.
Thanks again for everyone's time.

Can anyone help, please?

(This blog-post been superceded by success as reported in my subsequent posting).

Most other bloggers have managed this so why can't I?
I want my 'blog archive list' to the right of my postings to show the title of each blog entry - at least for the current month. For weeks I've been trying to achieve this by searching on google how to do it, but whenever I try the result is always :-

 Anyone who can assist will be in receipt of my undying gratitude in the form of an enormous bundle of positive vibes!  Thanks - to whomever!

Thursday 16 February 2017

Film: '20th Century Women'

I'd been lured into thinking that this might be a film of real 'quality', and the further enticement of Annette Bening as its main star made it pretty well irresistible. 
Perhaps I didn't dig deep enough to reach the quality 'seam' because it struck me as being one of those lofty 'art-house' films which hoodwinks the audience into believing they are watching something truly exceptional, and those who do not appreciate it are too scared of saying so for fear of being categorised as intellectually wanting. Maybe I lack the necessary quality of aestheticism which one needs to understand its profundity? 
However, I don't mean to make it sound like an out-and-out dud. It's very far from being that.

Santa Barbara 1979. Divorced, chain-smoking, 55-year old Dorothea (Bening) is bringing up her 15 year old son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) in a sort of commune - though each with their own separate sleeping areas - with two other young women, a budding photographer (Greta Gerwig) who wants to capture her life in pictures by irritatingly aiming her camera at everything she sees, and a messed-up, promiscuous, younger know-it-all (Elle Fanning) who regularly sleeps with Jamie though they purposely don't engage in any sexual activity. There's also a lodger/general handyman and ex-hippie (Billy Crudup).
Dorothea has concerns for her son's development, not because he's living in such a predominantly female household but because she feels he's alienating himself in his interests, such as his liking of the then fashionable 'punk' which she's unable to grasp, making him appear an increasing riddle to her. 
The film covers only a short period, showing the various social activities of and interchanges between, mainly, the three women and the son. There's little progress or development in any of the characters during the film's two hours. At the end they're all very much at the same point as they were at the start. 

Annette Bening, despite spending much of her screen time without make-up and with hair dishevelled, is still a magnetic presence, easily dominating the rest of this ensemble cast. But what was it all for? I ask myself. There were only a couple of really dramatic events, but they soon passed without casting a shadow. It was all a bit inconsequential to my way of thinking.

Director Mike Mills is best known for having made 'Beginners' (2010) in which Christopher Plummer won an Oscar (as an aged father very belatedly coming out as gay). I thought this latest film of his nowhere near as interesting, though it's generally receiving reviews for which many other films must long. The reasons for this evade me.............5.5

Wednesday 15 February 2017

Film: 'Lion'

Most of those who were attracted to this film will probably have seen it by now. Being a Johnny-come-lately on this one, I'd already seen and heard more than a few reviews which, to my disadvantage, nearly all led me to expect something really special. And so the first section indeed turned out to be. However, even though just about everyone is saying how the second (and longer) part falls a little bit below the standard of what came before it, I'd go further and state that, for me at least, this final section dragged almost fatally. Could it have anything to do with this part, in contrast to the first, containing the performances of at least two big-name stars, Dev Patel and Rooney Mara, as well the internationally known and generally admired Nicole Kidman (count me as a fan!), it overbalanced the production? That's how I was feeling as it was playing.

The film begins with five-year old Indian boy Saroo (Sunny Pawar - extraordinary) being separated from his older brother and, sleeping on a stationary train, finds himself being carried some 1500 miles to Kolkatta, where he has to survive alone in this huge, unknown and crowded city, fending for himself, joining street children, and chillingly escaping from the clutches of those who are bent on exploiting any homeless child, This first part is necessarily very episodic but no less horrifying and suspenseful for that. Little Saroo, heartbreakingly calling for his mother and brother, gets taken to an orphanage where, eventually, through press announcements containing his photograph, lead to his being offered a home in Tasmania by a childless couple (David Wenham and Kidman). On arriving in Australia he makes a good impression even though he himself is rather lost. Things take a dramatic turn when a little later, another similar-aged, orphan Indian boy joins the family, a boy with mental health difficulties.
Jump forward twenty years and the former boy (now played by Dev Patel) is seen almost from the start, pining over his lost home and mother and brother. His foster parents are aware of this and are understanding, but his mood is rather hammered home long after we've got the message (a number of brief flashbacks shown). He finds a girlfriend in Rooney Mara, but time and again he's sidetracked into searching for his roots (and causing some friction), now with the help of Google-earth.
After the high activity of the film's first part this following section seems relatively static in comparison - too long, I thought, for balance. I'd have been happier with the first part being extended or, better, the second being edited down.
I must say, though, that I did find Saroo's inevitable return to his home in India near-tearfully moving. 

This seems to be director Garth Davis' first feature film, and there's little doubt that it's an auspicious start.  
Photography throughout is first-class though several times the background soundtrack music teetered on becoming overbearing. 
However, finally and crucially, I did feel that the film was needlessly weighted down by the over-stated Tasmanian section.................6.5

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Film: 'Fifty Shades Darker'

Why did I bother? Certainly no improvement at all on the 2015 original which started off the saga of Seattle-based, multi-billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), with a penchant for S/M, pursuing unattached and reluctant Anastasia (Dakota Fanning) - or is it she who's after him by playing hard to get? And would it matter? Their several amatory conjugations (which nowadays would hardly qualify even as 'soft' porn, always performed to a tiresome, unimaginative background blast of some bland, unfamiliar song) doesn't resolve matters, at least until the end of the film. However, fret ye not as there's the teasing 'promise' of a yet further sequel.  

I didn't think the original film, though on a similar level as this one, was quite as dire as some critics have suggested - the same way I felt about the E.L.James novel. But this new one, likewise based on James' writings, is hardly an improvement. I'll end up giving this film the same rating as I gave the first.

The moments of drama, such as they are, are when one of Grey's former affairs turns up as a stalker, and also when Anastasia's boss grows jealous of her infatuation. In addition, an early older-partner affair (Kim Basinger) warns Anastasia that Grey will tire of her and cast her aside - just as she warned in the original. The screen only comes alive when she and Marcia Gay Harden (as Christian's mother) appear, 

James Foley does the directing honours here, taking over from Sam Taylor-Wood, though their styles are much of a muchness.

I couldn''t understand at all what Anastasia saw in this Christian character - or could it have something to do with his being as rich as Trump? In the same way I didn't appreciate why he wouldn't give up the hopeless pursuit of the reluctant Anastasia when the entire world was his for the choosing. But what do I know of the vagaries of love, never having experienced it?............3.

Monday 13 February 2017

Film: 'Denial'

On the whole, I found this rather heavy-going. Based on the real-life episode of Hitler-fan and holocaust-denier, David Irving (Timothy Spall, looking alarmingly gaunt - due, I hope, merely to his slimming down for the part) suing American historian and lecturer Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) for libel (and slander?) in the British high court after she had called him a 'liar'. 
I recall this case (recent as the year 2000) as being a running news item, though couldn't recite the details, nor even wasn't sure how it had ended. It hinges on Weisz's defence lawyer (Tom Wilkinson) proving to the judge's satisfaction  in this jury-less case (because it was considered too complicated) that the holocaust did in fact occur.  

Early on in the film I found myself musing that the piece might work better as a stage play. The film early on revealed itself as stodgily talky, and then I remembered that the screenplay was by none other than renowned playwright David Hare, so that seemed to make sense.

Most of the 'action' if you can call it that, takes place in the courtroom, where Lipstadt has been strongly advised not to put herself forward as a witness. She's highly perplexed at the English legal system, so while the two protagonists engage in their verbal duelling, she is reduced to sitting there, silently fuming and giving appropriately expressive looks.  
Before the case opens there is a visit to the remains of the Auschwitz camp, preserved as a moving memorial to those who perished.

The film is not without interest, and was useful in reminding me of the details of the case, though hardly with much illuminating insight. It was nearer to a handy historical reconstruction, and if that was what it was intended to be, then it succeeded.

I couldn't place the name of English director Mick Jackson, but I now see that it was he who directed 'The Bodyguard' of 1992 and 'L.A. Story' of the previous year with Steve Martin - and has done mainly TV work since then.

I'd put this film in the 'interesting' category, one that's more likely to satisfy the curious when they know what the story refers to, rather than it being an out-and-out 'must-see'.................6.

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Film: 'Loving'

Virginia 1958. Mixed-race couple Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a bricklayer in an all-white gang of builders, and Mildred (Ruth Negga) are deeply in love and decide to get married following her becoming pregnant. Because such inter-racial marriages are not recognised in their state they go to Washington D.C. to have their very modest ceremony. Returning home, one night their house is invaded by police, they are dragged from bed and carted off to police cells where he is temporarily released the following morning, she remaining imprisoned until the magistrate can hear their case a few days later. Obviously he is distraught at having had to leave her in police custody. When the case is heard they are each given a one year prison sentence, suspended provided that they leave Va. and do not return together or see each other again in the state for 25 years. They move to Washington D.C. to live. She has the baby - then the story jumps five years and another two babies later. They both long to return home and it's suggested that she writes to Attorney General Robert Kennedy about her case, which she does, and the matter gets passed on to the American Civil Liberties Union to pursue, first in Virginia itself and then, if necessary all the way up to the Supreme Court - which, of course, happens.

There's no doubt that the real-life subject matter is powerful and, indeed, distressing, though I did find the film for at least the first half a little understated. There were no real surprises and it seemed pretty standard stuff, upsetting though some of it is. However, in the second half I did find myself gradually warming to the film.

Ruth Negga has been nominated for 'Best Actress' Oscar and although she was good, I found the un-nominated Joel Edgerton in the role of her blond, crew-cutted, hunky, quiet husband as the one who made the greater impression. Although he's a man of few words and he keeps his understandable anger internalised, he appears in more scenes than she does and one never knows what he's going to do next, whereas her actions and emotions are fairly by-the-book predictable.  

Another thing I liked, which some may see as a weakness, was that there was no grandstanding or triumphalism at the Supreme Court verdict - which you can guess at if, like me, you didn't know about this case.

It's an unassuming film, not at all preachy, and left to speak for itself - though some may feel that it missed a chance in not pushing it, especially when such reactionary attitudes which were relatively widespread in the middle of last century are, very regrettably, worryingly and horribly, becoming more 'acceptable' again, even if it's only occurring in pockets. 

I didn't know the name of director and writer Jeff Nichols at all, this being just his fifth film to date, but he did enough here to keep me interested - even if in the end it wasn't a particularly exceptional cinematic experience.......................6.5.

Monday 6 February 2017

Film: 'Jackie'

Jacqueline Kennedy is the subject (played by Natalie Portman), interviewed a few days after the funeral of President J.F.K. by a nameless newspaper reporter  (Billy Crudup), and now revealing a very different persona to the manufactured one that she'd displayed to the world up to just a few days before. 
The film concentrates on two aspects - viz. the period between the assassination in 1963 and the burial in Arlington National Cemetery - and the televised 'tour' of the White House that Mrs Kennedy filmed in 1961, a few months after her husband's inauguration.

Even though the film, when shorn of the opening titles and end credits, is only a little over an hour and half long, I did find the material rather thin to be stretched over that time, with the result that it seemed needlessly attenuated now and then.
But even more importantly, as one who still vividly remembers those earth-shaking days, as well as the earlier TV programme, I did find myself constantly struggling to see Natalie Portman as the (former) First Lady. Hair style and clothing is, of course, presented to perfection, but I think that facially she only resembles her very, very approximately. I had to keep reminding myself that Portman was doing a portrayal rather than an impersonation but I did find the lack of close resemblance off-putting. (I am perfectly aware that Portman has received an Oscar nomination for the part). I'm sure that those younger viewers for whom the image of Mrs K was not an intrinsic part of their lives will be able to accept Portman's role easier than I could.
Robert Kennedy, J.F.K.'s brother, is played by Peter Sasgaard (also not looking very like the original) and Jackie's female assistant and confidante is Greta Gerwig, whom it is always good to see. A more poignant note is struck by seeing John Hurt, who died only a few days ago, here in his final role, as Jackie's wise old priest, one of the few to whom she can open up her mind.

The interview which frames the film, as well as frequent returns to it, shows Jackie taking absolute control, demanding complete editing rights - a steely side which we weren't aware of at the time. On the other hand, in the White House tour she is portrayed as unsure, a bit shaky and nervous, and having to look to the side for prompts, aspects which I don't recall picking up from the actual programme at the time. But then I haven't seen it since then. Maybe I'd notice such things if I saw it again.

The funeral arrangements are laboriously drawn out, with Mrs K changing her mind, arguing with others of different opinions such as whether to follow the hearse in a closed car or to walk behind it, leading all the foreign dignitaries, and thus risk another assassination attempt, not least to herself and her two young children.
The showing of the actual assassination is held back until near the end of the film, and it is rather bloody (though brief), resulting in her iconic, pink two-piece being blood- and brain-spattered, an image we see a number of times earlier in the film.

I thought the film was okay, but not special enough to be as memorable as I'd been banking on. Chilean director Pablo Larrain manages fair enough with his material, but there weren't any moments which made me sit up and think "This is good!" It was useful in finding out things which I didn't know, such as that she was a heavy smoker, something which had been kept from the public. I wasn't even aware that the president himself smoked - and of course it was only years later that we got to know of his serious physical ailments, details of which, nowadays, it would be impossible to keep out of the media.

It's not a bad film, but it's not one that I'd urge people to see unless, like me, you are curious about filling in the gaps of your knowledge around this momentous, tragic event..........6.

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Film: 'T2 Trainspotting'

Oh, how I really do wish I could have rated this even higher than I have. But although I can recall only a little of the original film, to which this is a 20-years-later sequel, I do remember experiencing the extraordinary adrenalin rush the 1996 release had given me. I didn't quite get that here, though part of the reason for that could well be how I (along with everyone else, naturally) have aged since.

Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner and Johnny Lee Miller reprise their much younger characters, meeting up again (or re-confronting each other) in Edinburgh after a couple of decades of prison, criminal activities, debauchery, marriages and separations, fathering children, drug involvement etc etc - you get the picture. They've learnt little from mistakes of the past - though its Begbie (Carlyle's completely crazed character) who is the one who's least reformed, angry as hell about everyone else rather than himself, now with a son in teenage years whom he derides as the boy tries to make himself respectable, something his father has never even attempted. Meanwhile Renton (McGregor - as the most matured of the four, at least up to a point) comes on the scene, having run off in the earlier film with everbody else's share of ill-gotten cash, and Begbie is the last person in the world who knows forgiveness, out to wreak revenge and demand atonement. Johnny Lee Miller and Ewen Bremner show few occasional flashes of maturity but are liable at any time to return to former ways - and then there's younger, east European Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova) hovering around them with knowing silences and sober platitudes. 
There are some impressive set-pieces, such as Renton's (McGregor) 'Choose Life' soliloquy. Quickfire verbal exchanges and arguments can turn in a split-second into horrific punch-ups, and not just with fists but with anything that's near at hand - though, curiously, with mostly blood-free results. 
Soundtrack pieces chosen often refer back to the earlier film, as well as there being quite a number of short, visual extracts from T1.

As in 1996, this film is based on writings of Irvine Welsh. Director Danny Boyle, along with his quartet of actors, has well re-caught the spirit of his earlier effort and he doesn't try to make them overdo physically what their decades-younger selves could easily accomplish with their then much suppler and stamina-fuelled bodies, although there are echoes of their attempting to emulate those earlier young men, especially in at least one long, running pursuit. 
Boyle also delivers his expected full panoply of mind-dizzying, arresting images, often in heady, quick succession. I couldn't help being reminded of Ken Russell at his most manic - which I intend as a compliment.

Although set in Edinburgh - and we do see some good exterior shots of that most photogenic of cities, including a climb right up to the summit of  'Arthur's Seat' (the prominent high 'hill' which overlooks the capital with a fabulous view) - most of the film, including all the interiors, was actually filmed in Glasgow.

Though I did find this film very entertaining indeed, it ultimately lacked for me that final 'kick' which so marked out the earlier film as being something exceptional. Nevertheless, I still would thoroughly recommend it, especially to fans of the first. If you're not familiar with the original (which I've not seen again since that 1996 release) then I would recommend this even more as you'll probably be in for a terrific surprise, though you may well be shocked as well, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

If this film hadn't been a sequel, having an original with which to compare it, I may have been even more impressed than I was, and which I'd been dearly hoping to have been. But even so, I have no hesitation in giving it, in my terms, a hefty score of..........7.5.