Thursday 31 August 2017

Film: 'Final Portrait'

A rare event it is to see a film directed by Stanley Tucci, an actor I've long liked (he does 'camp' so well!). Sad that the result turned out to be this rather one-dimensional, over-prolonged tale which, despite its crisp 90 minutes' length, managed to outstay its welcome. 

It tells a story of Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush - almost unrecognisable with his rumpled, curly hair) in his final days attempting to complete a sitting portrait of James Lord (Armie Hammer), an American writer and art dilettante.
The screen caption tells us it's Paris 1964. As though that isn't sufficient to explain where we are we're serenaded by - guess what! - an accordian. (Good grief! Aren't we passed that cliche yet? Why not also have a moustachio-ed guy cycling along in a beret and horizontally-striped tee-shirt with a string of onions round his neck? - and with La Tour Eiffel in the background!)

Many of us will be familiar with pictures of Giacometti's sculptures of grotesquely(?) elongated figurines, perhaps less so with his paintings and portraits. 
He offers to paint a seated portrait of Lord, to which the latter is most pleased to sit for him, especially as he's told it won't take long at all, and he's due to return to New York imminently. One sitting expands to two, to three, several days.......more than two weeks. Lord is getting increasingly exasperated especially as he repeatedly has to keep re-booking his flight home - and he can hardly contain himself when, after well over a week of sittings, the artist in one of his fits of pique, paints over his work done so far and announces that he must start again. 

The dishevelled studio where the painting is done has an in-and-out traffic of a number of curious characters, some interesting, some irritating, but they just seemed to perform the function of padding out what would otherwise have been a slender story. If they were designed to hold the audience's attention, it only worked feebly.

The film is shot in very muted colours, which rather suits the artist's work - many of which were left in an uncompleted state as he was never satisfied with his 'accomplishments'.

Tucci himself, to his credit, never appears in front of the camera. The film was actually mostly shot in London for reasons of cost, though it did, for the most part, look convincingly like its Parisienne setting. (Was that supposed to be Pere LaChaise? I used to know that Paris cemetery pretty well because of my searching out the many notables buried there. The scenes in this film looked more like Highgate cemetery to me.) 

I believe that Stanley Tucci has wanted to make this film for some years, declaring his own passion for the artist's work.  It's disappointing that even though it's another brilliant performance from Rush, with a lacklustre script to fight against, any passion that Tucci does have doesn't readily show on screen................5.

Wednesday 30 August 2017

Film: 'Logan Lucky'

I'd been looking forward to this. Shame then that reality didn't meet hope. It came down to one thing - I couldn't work out what the blazes was going on!

The premise is simple enough - a heist involving cash theft from an auto stock-car racing event in Charlotte, North Carolina. But exactly who the characters were and their relationships to each other, as well as the motivations for the crime (apart from just wanting a lot of money) were lost on me - and throughout the film I found my viewing with no solid foundation to it. However, the actual execution of the theft, which only takes place a full hour into the two-hour film, was interesting enough with some mildly amusing moments.

Channing Tatum has just become unemployed and with his one-armed, bartender brother (Adam Driver) they work out a robbery plan which involves roping in the assistance of two other rednecks (exactly who were they supposed to be?) and, more bizarrely, jailbird Daniel Craig (showing, once again, his versatility, here a million miles from 007) whom they need for some unclear reason, and whom they have to smuggle out of prison, do the crime, and then smuggle back into jail without any of the prison guards having noticed his absence. It takes some swallowing! (Mind you, it is a comedy - kind of.)
Hilary Swank makes an appearance half an hour from the end in a couple of involvements which are little more than cameo appearances.

Director Steven Soderbergh (four years after announcing he was hanging up his boots as far as feature films were concerned) does his stuff here but, to my mind, far less coherently than we've come to expect from a director of such renown.
It may be that if you manage to follow it all (where I clearly failed), it would make sense - but even the ending seemed intended to wind it all up cut and dried, and including a revelation or two - though it merely intensified my confusion. 
During the film I tried to suspend any analysis of what was going on and just try to enjoy the ride - but I couldn't as there wasn't a solid enough base to support entertainment value for me. 

If you are able to fathom out what's happening you will surely rate it higher than I do. As it is, I'm regrettably unable to offer a stronger endorsement than............5.5

Tuesday 29 August 2017

Film: 'American Made'

Okay, okay, I know. Get the hisses and boos over with. I've just given a part of my money to a loathsome cult

I'd already semi-decided never to see another film featuring little Tom (Cruise) again, as several of my followers have long since done, but I chickened out of that soft resolution after becoming aware of some pretty good reviews about this one - so 'fraid that the call of 'duty' got the better of me. But this could be the last, I promise - well, semi-promise.

Entertaining enough as it plays along, slick, efficiently constructed and never boring - it's too snappily edited for that - but ultimately it's memory-disposable.

It's an interesting story (based on 'fact', as are seemingly the majority of films these days) with T.C. playing an airline pilot whose smuggling of cigars into the USA comes to the attention of the CIA which decides, under the temptation of non-prosecution, to utilise his expertise with aircraft to get him to take from a supplied small, purposely-equipped plane, surveillance photos of left-wing insurgents in vulnerable Central American countries fighting reactionary governments, an operation for which he is handsomely rewarded. In the process he comes across a smuggling operation to bring drugs from those countries into America and he complies, bringing even more ready cash for him - in total so much that he doesn't know where to put it. Then under Reagan's administration it's decided to support the Central American so-called 'freedom fighters' in their attacks on 'socialist' (at least nominally) rebels by covertly supplying the former with arms - eventually leading up to the Iran-Contra scandal and the uncovering of underhand tactics by an initially denying and then embarrassed U.S. Government, principally represented in the figure of Oliver North.

T.C. tries to perform a balancing act to keep the triangle of his personal active supports in operation, trickily trying to play one off against the others - and for much of the time he succeeds with his juggling, until........does it all comes crashing down? Shan't say.

He plays a character we've seen numerous times before, though with one major difference here as he's got different loyalties in a number of conflicting directions, and I must say that he does okay with it.
His wife, (Sarah White) suspicious as to from where he's getting all these riches beyond anyone's dreams, plays along reluctantly, he having to lie to her on the true nature of his 'business' - but what the hell does it matter when it's so much fun
Worthy of special mention is Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson ('Ex Machina' and 'The Revenant', son of Brendan G.) playing the anchor CIA operative trying to keep the entire operation, at least as he sees it, under wraps.

Director is Doug Limon ('The Bourne Indentity' of 2002) who does pretty well with the rather good material's twists and turns.

Another interesting feature is that although the language is violent throughout, with many lurid threats flying this way and that, we never see any blood - or, in fact, any violent physical action at all that I can recall.

Not bad entertainment and unpredictable for the most part, but in the final analysis, once it's over it's unlikely to be a film which will linger in the mind for very long.....................6. 

Monday 21 August 2017

Film: 'Tommy's Honour'

There haven't been that many golfing films that I could name, so a further one hardly gluts the market.

This is the story of one Tom Morrison (the estimable Peter Cullan) and his son, Tommy (Jack Lowden), in 1860s-70s Scotland, who instigated the rules for modern-day golf, the father also designing golf courses in that country, an aspect which hardly gets a look-in during this rather stretched film which concentrates rather on the son's playing (and championship winning) whilst engaged in and marrying a slightly older young woman (Ophelia Lovibond). It transpires that she has a detail about her past which brings about the censure of his mother in particular, as well as that of the Church. Also in the cast is the familiar face of Sam Neill.

I hadn't heard of either man before, unsurprisingly. Not that I find watching golf boring. I'd rather watch it on TV than many, many other sports I could mention.

Director of this film is Jason Connery (yes, the son of - ). now 54, this being his fifth full-length feature as director.

Incidentally, the Scottish accents of some of the minor characters was so pronounced that for at least one scene I could have done with subtitles!

I found the actual golfing scenes the most watchable parts of this film - though they were nearly all at the closing stages of particular games. The Scottish scenery for these episodes was as impressive as one would like. 
I felt the romance of the younger man bordered on the tedious, and even though based on fact and intensely tragic in parts, it was with few, if any, totally unexpected events. That side seemed to get in the way of the more enjoyable golfing scenes.

It's an 'okay' film, though not exceptional enough to qualify as an outright recommendation..................5.5.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Film: 'A Ghost Story'

If you prefer films which finish with a sort of explanation, even if inadequate, as to what you've just watched, you may as well give up on this one. It'll leave you baffled beyond measure. Open questions are left to dangle tantalisingly in the wind, strands which I suspect (hottie) writer and director David Lowery himself didn't know how to tie up, even if he'd wanted to, which I very much doubt.  And yet - I liked it!

Lowery reunites the main actors of his equally likable 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints?' of 2013, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.
It's a slow-burn film with long silences amid sparse dialogue, Affleck and Mara being a couple living contentedly in a rural bungalow (filmed in Texas, but it could be located anywhere) when mysterious things begin to happen - and then an earth-shattering event for at least one of them, or probably both. Hard to give away much more without compromising the main 'surprise' taking place just a few minutes into the film. 
Most will know from previews, reviews and trailers that Affleck spends most of the film walking around entirely draped in a white sheet with two peep-holes to see through - though as we don't ever see his eyes or hear him speak, one has to wonder whether it really is him under there? - or is it a stand-in so that an expensive-to-hire star doesn't have to spend so much time on the film-set being unrecognisable, when it could have been someone who'd be far cheaper to employ. Be that as it may, it's supposed to be Affleck's character. 

I was prepared to jump in my seat at certain points when, following a long silence, I thought we'd be startled by a fortissimo 'thud' on the soundtrack, though I don't think there were any such moments. And visually there were few, if any, such 'shock' equivalents.  It wasn't exactly a 'scary' film as such, anyway.

Although its title claims it as a 'ghost' story, it's not really that spooky, and I don't think it was meant to be. It's more, well, odd! 
One of the film's most attractive features was that it was impossible to out-guess which direction it was going to take next, implausibility being as rife as unexpectedness, never with any attempt to rationalise what the hell was going on! I liked this daring, which some may rather describe as 'cheekiness'. Others may argue that the film takes the audience as just a gullible bunch of suckers, too ready to lap up anything at all which is served to them under the heading of 'art'. That may be so, but if that's the case I applaud it's chutzpah, and I readily buy into it. 

Good, reasonably solid, if puzzling, entertainment.............7

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Film: 'Tom of Finland'

What a let-down I found this! I don't know what led me to think that this would be a semi-documentary of the justifiably revered artist (real name, Touko Laaksonen) whose utterly brilliant cartoon creations played such a major part in my (then closeted) gay development and awareness, and through a lot of my later life. I thought it might include some real film footage of the artist at work in addition to, perhaps, a few reconstructed acted episodes. 
The film turns out to be a straightforward depiction of his life from fighting for Finland in World War Two up to his achieving international fame and adulation in the 1980s (he died in 1991, from emphysema) - and most disappointingly, it's all rather dull. However, if I'd realised it was just his acted-out story I still would have wanted to see it - and would have been just as underwhelmed.

The title role in this Finnish film (nearly all in that language, of course) is played by Pekka Strang (left in above pic) who, like the man in real life, looks nothing like his fantasy creations and, also like the real man, hasn't the kind of face or figure to turn most(?) heads. He doesn't suit the leathers either, which he dons in the film's final part.

I'm not sure what the trouble with this film is, there being enough incidents in his life before he became a world-renowned figure to make a reasonably interesting story - after the war his night-time cruising in a Helsinki public park with the attempts of the oppressive Finnish police trying to stamp out homosexuality by catching, arresting and imprisoning the men engaging in gay activity, every bit as homophobic as all the rest of Europe was in the 1950s. 
Then we see his travels to Berlin and attempts to get his drawings published there - and meeting similar discouraging attitudes, as well as further conflict with the equally anti-gay German police. 

He lives in Helsinki with his slightly younger sister who, belatedly and reluctantly acknowledging his tastes, makes disapproving noises, though falling short of outright hostility. 
He then takes on and lives with a younger and nicer-looking lover, though there didn't seem to me to be much significant emotional chemistry between the actors.
The film for me only came alive - and that only patchily - in the final half hour (including the onset of the AIDS crisis) when his fame, broadcast initially from California, was assured. It ends with his receiving due worshipful adulation from an adoring audience of American leather fraternity.

There are no explicit depictions of real-life sex in the film, only a few fleeting glimpses of some drawings.

Incidentally, it's a very, very long time since I've seen another film - if indeed I ever have - where everybody is continually smoking (a reflection of those times, of course, particularly the 1950s-70s). It was such a prevailing sight that I was beginning to think it must have been compulsory to have a fag in one's mouth. (Now there's a thought!) 

I don't know if half-Finnish director Dome Karukoski is gay or not, and it ought not to matter, but if he has any enthusiasm for the subject and his creations it didn't translate onto screen for me. 

On IMDb I'm in a minority  - yet again! - where there's a current high average rating of 7.4. (6.5 on 'Rotten Tomatoes'). Frankly, I found it all a bit of a drag...............3.5.

Film: 'Atomic Blonde'

I came out of this totally fatigued after having my senses pummeled into almost giving up - specifically eyes and ears, though also my poor brain! They still hurt on the morning after.
Merciless violence which would have been understandable were it played as comic-book farce with an underlying charm or irony, only this full-frontal assault was bereft of all humour that I could trace. All so damned serious!

It's Berlin, 1989, just a few days before the wall was knocked down. (Good to see the then-divided city as the location, both East and West, for more than 90% of this film - even though for much of the location work, in reality Budapest was used). 

All the action takes place entirely in flashback from an interrogation in London of British secret agent, Charlize Theron, by her boss (Toby Jones) with CIA in attendance (John Goodman) - both Jones and Goodman having little otherwise to do. 
Theron had been sent to Berlin on a mission to recover a list of names of double-agent operatives which the nasty Russians have got wind of and whose possession of same could bring the whole of western intelligence crashing down. One man (Eddie Marsan) there has got the entire list committed to memory and so has to be got out and brought back to London. 
Assisting the operation (or is he?) and already there is crew-cutted James McAvoy, another British agent, who fires on all cylinders when it's called for when he lets rip like there's no tomorrow. But it's Theron who delivers most of the full-throttle, physical action, single-handedly despatching countless numbers of police, armed agents and assorted anti-Western rotters, coming at her in groups rather than singly. However, that's no problem for her many efficient talents, even if she has to use her hands as weapons with unerring aim and against their firearms. Spurting and splashing blood and cracking bones abound. 
Nonetheless, it's not relentlessly uninterrupted noisy combat. The many fights are interspersed with periods of repose, mainly during Theron's interview, heavy with long silences and sarcastic responses. There is also a certain romance which Theron engages in to achieve her aim (all in the cause of duty, you understand) while on her Berlin mission. 

The many twists (double and triple) really started to leave me breathless, particularly when the final scenes came about. It was all so much to take in that by the time the final credits appeared my head hurt! Trying to play it back in my mind afterwards - was this character really working for this side all along? - was futile so I gave up and consigned it to the out-tray of give-up-on-it confusion. I don't know if it was supposed to all tie up neatly and make sense, but if that was the case it was lost on me.

This is only director David Leitch's second full-length feature (after 2014's 'John Wick' with Keanu Reeves, unseen by me), and he does invest some most effective work in the many well-executed combats here, though in the final analysis it's all adrenalin-pumping, superficial excitement.

I did like the film's energy but felt the overall cold, gloom-ridden seriousness of the whole enterprise played against making it completely satisfactory 'entertainment' for me. 
There's an impressive soundtrack of hits and electro-pop of that time.

There has been a dichotomy of views on this film. From what I've seen, the majority have liked it, and many of these by a lot. However, there is sizable and vocal opposing opinion, including some outright detestation. I certainly wouldn't go so far as the latter. While not quite sitting on the fence, I'll start slipping down on one side.................6.

Monday 14 August 2017

Film: 'The Last Word'

Increasingly guilty of starting my reviews by justifying why I bothered to see a particular film, here's another one. It has as 'one of' its main stars Shirley MacLaine - and I do like to see our Shirl! 
I put 'one of' in apostrophes because in the opening credits both she and Amanda Seyfried are given equal prominence - the latter name placed second in the same frame but positioned higher. (Dear me! - Amanda who?) However, I suppose for much of today's audience Shirley MacLaine won't be well known - if she's even recognised at all!  

MacLaine plays an octogenarian, divorced and long-since retired businesswoman living alone in a massive Californian mansion. She has one daughter, Anne Heche, who appears only in a single speaking scene, not much over five minutes long. 
MacLaine, feeling that her end is approaching, and not only on account of her advanced age, hires Seyfried, the obituary writer of the local regional newspaper, to write a flattering obituary of herself in double-quick time so that she herself can sanction it. Their initial meeting is tetchy, each taking an instant dislike to the other, with Maclaine being odiously bossy from the start, though she is paying good money for the job to be done properly. She gives Seyfried a long list of people she has known, only for it to be found that when approached, none of them have a good word to say about MacLaine, that is if they are even prepared to talk about her.

Predictable as sunrise - and such as happens time and time again in the film world - the initially hostile relationship between the two women mellows and burgeons into, by the end, a strong friendship with reciprocal respect. No surprise there then.

One additional irritating aspect of the film is the inclusion of a worldly-wise, potty-mouthed little brat of a black kid, female (though for a long time I wasn't sure), about 10 years old, whom MacLaine befriends to make up a trio with the other two women - and whose presence, in my view, would be improved no end by being delivered of a damn good slap.

Also, MacLaine becomes a DJ on local radio (yes!) playing her old vinyl LPs - she never having really caught up with CDs.
(Was 'The Kinks' really the most under-rated pop group of all time? I hardly think so.)

It's also hardly a revelation for the film to reveal that the MacLaine character was not, in fact, as dire as she'd been painted, and that there were (unfair) reasons as to why she'd made so many enemies. 

Director Mark Pellington, whom I only remember through the rather good 'Arlington Road' (1999), does reasonably enough with this, but there's nothing extra-special to make it stand out. And this is yet another film which would have benefited from being shorn of at least twenty minutes. 

Not quite as dire as it might have been, but it may well have gone lower in my rating if someone other than Shirley MacLaine had starred..........4.


Thursday 10 August 2017

Film: 'The Big Sick'

The hiatus in my cinema-going was not caused by the continuing tumult in my life, but rather by there being little showing that I fancied. This one has generally had above-average reviews so, despite thinking that it wasn't 'my kind' of film, thought I'd give it a go. Verdict: a little above so-so.

I didn't know the name of any of the participants save one, nor of director Michael Showalter. 
Pakistani-born actor Kumail Nanjiani plays himself in this film which he's co-written with his real-life wife, Emily V. Gordon. 
He's an aspiring stand-up comedian playing a small club in Chicago when one of the audience (Zoe Kazan) attracts his attention and romance ensues. It's awkward because his family, particularly his mother, but father as well, is determined to see an arranged marriage for him, she calling in a succession of marriageable young Pakistani ladies to 'drop by' during their family dinners, hoping that he'll take enough of a fancy to one of them to pursue a romance. Meanwhile he keeps his involvement with the American young woman secret for fear of his family's hostility. Then suddenly she's struck down by a virulent infection and placed in a medically-induced coma so she can be subjected to surgery. Her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, both exceptionally fine) not knowing of her romance, are initially cold towards Nanjiani as they don't recognise his concern. However, and as you might guess, the ice between them melts and in time they are as close as the younger man could wish. 
For half of the film, the Zoe Kazan daughter character is in this coma while the predicament of Nanjiani is played out, he having to walk a tightrope between his very real worry for her and keeping their affair from his family. 

I was disappointed that the final half hour of this two-hour film is awash with heavy, unrelieved sentiment, something I find very hard to take in large doses like this. (I appreciate that others do not share my resistance). 
Also, there is a disturbing number of lapses of continuity. Don't they watch the rushes or don't they care? They are so glaring as to be distracting that I was actively looking for the next one for much of the film's length. 

Having said that, I have to say that I found the script a superior one. Although I started out by feeling a degree of irritation towards the main characters, I did quite soon warm to them, such that I was curious as to how the story - commendably original - would develop. 
Direction was okay, I suppose, but director Showalter ought to have been more attentive to avoiding those visual continuity clangers (which perhaps most people wouldn't notice).

I reckon that most people will like this enough to recommend it, and if my 'enthusiasm' is lukewarm at max, I'd just about go along with that...................6.