Friday 29 December 2017

Film: 'The Greatest Showman'

The trailer for this looked really fabulous so I had very high hopes for it. Then the reviews started coming in, most of them with identical so-so opinions, thus my expectations drooped. Then I saw the film was marvellous!

The story of P.T. Barnum, a name nearly everybody will know even if they have scant knowledge, as I had, of the truth behind his rise to celebrity through the 'invention' of the circus. Of course, we all accept that a film like this - even more especially since it's a musical - will play fast and loose with historical veracity, but once I got into the required mindset I thoroughly enjoyed the experience - and was quite overawed that it was young Aussie director's (Michael Gracey) very first full-length feature film - whom I suspect may have had generous helpful suggestions from his friend, the likewise Aussie main star.

Despite it being an 'original' true story, you can predict the trajectory that Barnum's (Hugh Jackman) fortunes will take, with all the usual ups and down, difficulties, successes and disaster - with a final flourish of a phoenix-like rising from the ashes (literally!).
Reviewers have said that the songs are indifferent and forgettable. I thought they were better than that - particularly the two or three upbeat numbers, infectiously toe-tapping stuff with precision-like and spectacular choreography very much in the pop video mould, but not at all worse for being that. I wasn't alone in the audience in being quite transported by the visual and aural spectacle of it all, with Jackman at the centre of several of the set pieces, showing off (as though we didn't already know) that he can sing, dance and move with aplomb and dexterity, like the very best of them. 
At the film's close it was one of those occasions when the audience applauded - and I dare say that many of them there had not realised that they were about to be subjected to that medium, so derided by some, of being a musical! (Credit due to song-composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul). 

The drama of this mid-19th century, New York story, after a brief, flashbacked childhood experience, starts with the jobless and  impecunious Barnum's marriage to the daughter (Michelle Williams) of disapproving, wealthy parents, when he has his brainwave of a show of what are, in effect, human 'freaks', he only getting financial backing for his plan by straight deceit. Now parents of two little girls, his wife, rather than offering unqualified support to him, holds back on her reservations as long as his venture brings in the money. He acquires a capable assistant - Zac Efron (also hoofing nimbly and singing ably) - but whose attraction to another young lady in the troupe brings displeasure down on him from his own parents. Then more fraught episodes take place with opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), the 'Swedish Nightingale', vastly famous in Europe whom, on a visit to London to perform for a youngish Queen Victoria, Barnum decides to take back to introduce her to American audiences, which he does with great success. Mrs Barnum, not best pleased with the development of his new 'acquaintanceship', has her suspicions.......

The energy and interest in the film kept me absorbed almost throughout. Only once did my attention come anywhere near to flagging  - in the song of the Bearded Lady - but that was exceptional.
Beforehand I'd had slight reservations about whether we were going to be shown performing animals, but they really only properly appear in the lavish final routine, and even then they are hardly 'performing' as such, being more background-like figures - and furthermore I wouldn't be at all surprised to be told that they were all CGI creations anyway. 

This was a goodie to end the year on. I can't agree with most of the reviews I've seen who are so forward with their 'so what?' indifference to it. I liked it much more. And it's a pity that, in error, I posted my Top 10 of the year before I saw it. When compiling my favourites I'd made the rash assumption that this wouldn't feature in it. Okay, it may not have actually made it into my ultimate ten choices, but I think it would have been on the shortlist as a real possible.  I'm not going back to change things now - it's not that make-or-break anyway. (Or is it?) Suffice to say that in my books 'The Greatest Showman' rates a solid.............8.

Wednesday 27 December 2017

My Ten Most Liked films of 2017

This year the vagaries of release dates has rather stolen the thunder from my list, especially its upper reaches - the top two of which had already been well garlanded (or at least forecast to being so) by the time I saw them. In fact my favourite three choices of the year seemed practically pre-ordained. But can't help that. Honesty is of the essence.

What? you exclaim!  No 'Dunkirk' (likely to scoop up several of the upcoming Oscars), no 'Call Me By Your Name' (nominated as 'Film of the Year' by at least one of our national newspapers), no 'Manchester-by-the-Sea' nor 'Mother!', 'Maudie', 'Ghost Story' - and no 'God's Own Country'? (This last I didn't see on purpose) And what the blazes is 'Paddington 2' doing on the list, inferring that this kiddie-pleaser was superior to many more worthy and weightier films. Well, if that's what you're asking, tough titty!  

This year's final tally of films seen (in cinema only) was 88, one more than 2016 (I've gone and mistakenly posted this before tomorrow's intended visit, assuming that one won't make the list) and my highest score since 2011, though still well below a quarter of all the films released in the U.K. over the period.
If selecting a short list of 18 was painful, extracting just 10 of them made me almost pour with sweat. However, having achieved it (and, unusually, all of them this year are English-language films) I employed my usual method of juggling around an order until I came up with something that felt about right - and here's the list, ascending:-

10)  The Party
A mere 70 mins in length, and director Sally Potter creates a miniature incendiary bomb - helped in large part by featuring the ever-so watchable Kristen Scott Thomas.

9) Baby Driver
Should the inclusion of one K.Spacey in a major role now disqualify this from being appreciated? - or, in fact, any film in which he's made an appearance? Well, that's too bad! 
This one is that true cinema rarity, an original! Synchronising sound and vision as never seen before, A crime film with real energy and pezzaz!  

8) Paddington
A tonic of a film, in my opinion outdoing the original of last year by far. It's a very long time since I left a cinema with such a beaming smile. Glorious, completely undemanding, sheer fun -  with Hugh Grant tickling the funny bone as never before.

7) Passengers
The very first film I saw this year, a most accomplished sci-fi (not my favourite of genres) and, despite one being able to see the ending coming well beforehand, ("Please, don't let it be that!), its replay in my mind is still chilling as hell. 

6) Lady Macbeth
A quite unexpected, sometimes grisly, gem leaving me with unanswered questions to ponder on. Very satisfying.

5) The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Farrell and Kidman delivering the goods, just as they never fail to do, in this bleak, disturbing story with considerable 'edge' which lingers on and on in the mind.

4) The Battle of the Sexes

I never saw this one coming. and when it did it was a joy. Emma Stone and Steve Carrell playing out the 1973 challenge one Bobby Riggs doles out to any woman on Earth- that he can beat her at tennis because "Men are stronger!" - and which Billie Jean King takes up with a steely determination to prove him wrong. Very strong screenplay with exceptional performances, from the two leads especially.

3) Get Out

A film that dares to make you ask "What the hell is going on?" - and though I did suss out the general direction it might be going in, my underlying unease at what I suspected got me fidgetting nervously as the alarming scenario revealed itself. This is what good cinema should be about - challenging, rivetting, intelligent, and not in the least bit lazy. A remarkable film. 

2) La La Land

A toy-box of delights. Does anything else need be said? A film particularly for those who say "They don't make them like they used to any more." Well, here's one which shows that they can and, just occasionally, do!

1) Moonlight

I can't add to what so many have already said about this extraordinary film. If my ultimate choice is predictable, I make no apology for it, suffice to say that I cannot imagine any other film beating it. A landmark and a triumph - ALL HAIL!


And, as per convention, my nomination for 'waste of time, money and everything else' of 2017 goes  to.............The Shack

- despite its morally neutral and slightly intriguing start, it becomes so heavily steeped in a message of 'Have Faith and Jesus Will Save You' it'll be mother's milk to the Xtian right. I saw it in error, thinking it would be something other than this proselytising claptrap. I'll readily concede that my verdict is based less on whether or not it's a 'good' film as on the pushing of its content. If it had been more generally spiritual rather than definably mainstream Christian, then I might have felt kinder. As it was, afterwards I felt soiled all over, necessitating my returning home and jumping straight under the shower, crying "AAAAAAAAARGH!!!" 


So what will 2018 hold, as I approach ever closer to my 5,000th film, after which I still intend to think seriously about ceasing these film posts - though at current rate that won't happen until 2019 at the earliest. 
Looks like some goodies are coming up early in the new year - but one never knows for sure until one experiences them.

Anyway, for now, thank you each and every one for even bothering to read my posts this year, and I do most sincerely wish all of you the very best for the New Year - especially, if like me, you turned out wishing that some major elements of the last twelve months had never happened. 

See you in MMXVIII.

Thursday 21 December 2017

Film: 'The Disaster Artist'

I'd not known of the film 'The Room', the making of which this current film is based - a film reputedly so 'bad' that it's acquired a cult status as being good entertainment for all the reasons it wasn't intended to have. I think having prior knowledge, and preferably having seen, that original film would have been an immense advantage to appreciating 'The Disaster Artist', as evidenced by at least a couple of the audience I was with being in such high hysterics at every turn that they were broadcasting in their laughter an element of  "We know why its funny!" so as to be madly irritating and making me, for one, more determined than ever to keep a straight face - which, as it turned out, wasn't so hard anyway.

James Franco (a poisonous presence to some, I'm well aware) directs this film and plays the off-puttingly ambitious and over-earnest, long-haired director, Tommy Wiseau, possessing a fortune whose origins are unexplained just as his own age is unclear, meeting in San Francisco, late 1990s, with aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Franco's younger brother, Dave - looking more like James F. than James F. himself - and nicer looking!). 
The two of them going to L.A., after some false starts in which Wiseau's self-confidence over-reaches himself and he's firmly put in his place, he decides to create his own film, writes the script, which immediately gets Sestero on board, and with money no object, buys all the equipment necessary and hires all the needed crew and players, he and Sestero taking the plum roles.   
The film then follows a rather predictable path - scenes where lines are fluffed or forgotten, OTT acting, clumsy and non-intended actions, conflicts and arguments between characters both in front of and behind cameras - if it hadn't been based on what had really happened you could have guessed much of it anyway. 

When the film is completed, well over schedule, it gets its first public airing - and the audience's reaction is.......well, you can guess that too.

The film contains fleeting appearances of a few equally-statured names as Franco J., though I did miss most of them. I was also particularly disappointed not to have recognised Megan Mullally as Sestero's mother, in just the one scene. 

The film did raise in me a couple of glimmers of smiles, but no more than that. I think that not having been even aware of  the original 'The Room' played against my ability to appreciate this particular film. 
Incidentally, over the final credits there are parallel shots shown in split-screen, of scenes from the original 'The Room' and the equivalent scenes recreated for this film, showing the pain-staking attempt Franco has made to duplicate the original, and I have to say that he's done a remarkable job.  

I didn't know James Franco already has such a full body of directing experience, and here his expertise is fully evident, particularly as he takes one of the two central roles as well.
I also wasn't aware of his brother, Dave, as being an actor, though I see that he too has quite a substantial history, and this will possibly be his most central part to date.

I'm not sure how well-known 'The Room' is outside the U.S.A. (or even to what extent it's known at all there!) but I think knowing about it beforehand would be a prerequisite to giving 'The Disaster Artist' some traction in order to enjoy it fully.  As it was, despite having some mildly amusing moments, my overall feeling was that I ought to have been entertained more..................6.

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Film: 'Star Wars - The Last Jedi'

It would be wrong to say that I've despised the 'Star Wars' films. I've just never been moved by them. Having seen them all on the cinema screen, my feelings are still very much the same as when I watched that first one back in 1977 - some disappointment, rather more boredom, and even more confusion - plus the questioning "Why all the fuss?" However, I do recognise that a sizeable proportion of cinema-goers are in thrall to the series and it's as though treading on sacred ground to voice the slightest criticism of new releases.  
Having said that, I will admit that this latest has rather more substance than most of its predecessors, though it could have been mightily improved by being shorn of at least 30 mins. Two hours and a half is bloating it beyond what it will take, at least to hold my interest for all that period.

I shan't attempt to precis the story for the very good reason that I couldn't follow it beyond 'goodies' v 'baddies' with, inevitably, characters masquerading as the former turning out to be on the other side and v.v. 
The cast here is more interesting than, perhaps, it's ever been. Aside from the poignant and quite substantial role for the late Carrie Fisher (going out on something of a deserved 'high'!), there are major parts for Oscar Isaac, and (I didn't know he was in it) Benicio Del Toro, as well as Laura Dern (mercifully here not screwing up her face at any point into a 'gurn'!) Then there's now-regular John Boyega (why did he have to speak with an American accent when others in cast spoke with clipped 'received' English pronounciation?) - as well as British stalwarts Andy Serkis and Warwick Davis. 
Major female role is taken by Daisy Ridley, reprising her part in the previous film, as also is Adam Driver.
Presiding over all, however, is the irreplaceable and statesman-like presence of good ol' Mark Hamill.

This is director Rian Johnson's first feature film that I have seen, and there's no denying that he handles it all with the assurance of someone more experienced - but, Jeez, what a racket for a goodly proportion of the film!    

I said last time that I was giving up on the series as they don't bring me anything special enough to justify the investment of time and money. This film doesn't change my attitude, though I do rather wish the series would now lie down and go to sleep - permanently............4.

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Film: 'Brigsby Bear'

Were it not that I thought this original story had some potential, I might have otherwise given this a miss. Bit of a let-down then, that despite starting well, I felt any sustaining interest was largely squandered, most notably in an unashamedly crowd-pleasing finale.

Kyle Mooney (also one of the co-writers) stars as a twenty-something kidnap victim who was taken as an infant by a married couple (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) who raise him as their captive son. One presumes that they took him because they couldn't have children of their own - it's not explained. He's brought up to think that the air outside their isolated home (filmed in Utah) is toxic, he only being allowed out to go and sit on the roof staring in the night at stars and surrounding mountains while wearing a gas mask. His only window onto the 'world' is a contrived one that his 'parents' have made for him in their own warehouse by creating, with volunteer 'actors', a TV show, 'Brigsby Bear's Adventures', which he replays over and over on VHS video tapes - with the 'Bear' being a kind of Superman figure battling on behalf of the planet against an evil face-in-the-sun - with grottily primitive (and laughable) special effects - very 1950s - all of which he laps up with unconditional belief in its veracity! Then the police (led by Greg Kinnear) track him down, return him to his true parents (Matt Walsh, Michaela Wilkins) with his never-seen teenage sister (Ryan Simpkins) now 25 years later, and his kidnappers are clapped in prison.
The story is a tale of how he copes in adjusting to realising that what he'd been told about the world was a lie, and his utter incomprehension that others did not know of this Brigsby Bear TV programme. His social awkwardness on encountering others is evident and understandable, though everyone is aware of him through his release from his captors having been shown widely on TV news. This also makes others feel sympathetic towards him and his clumsiness in etiquette is never a cause for outright hostility, more one of curiosity, some amusement, and tolerance. His status as adult virgin is also, rather predictably, explored.

With that big papier-mache bear head (just one of a large number of the TV shows' props), I thought there might be some echoes of 2014's 'Frank' (Michael Fassbender) - but that earlier film was far superior to this.

This seems to be director Dave McCary's first feature film. I kept thinking that he was going out of his way to take the easy route and avoid challenges, particularly with that ending which I've mentioned.

Though occasionally silly, it's not a poor film by any means, though it does come within a whisper of being cloyingly sentimental, without actually falling right into it. I only wish it had been better than it's turned out...............5.5.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Film: 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer'

I'd been greatly regretting having missed this film through circum-stances on its original screen distribution six weeks ago. But then a Heaven-sent, belated, additional opportunity came my way and I seized it.

It's one of those profoundly disturbing films where I wished I'd seen it in the comfort of company and been able to discuss it afterwards. (The film's title becomes clear as it progresses - no animals are involved, only peripheral glimpses of a family dog, unharmed.)

Director Yorgos Lanthimos was responsible for last year's compelling 'The Lobster' (also starring Colin Farrell) and he's here pulled off another haunting feature, though much, much darker.

Filmed in Cincinatti, Farrell is a hospital surgeon, leading invasive operations, the film commencing with close view of two minutes of open-heart surgery (forewarned, I could avert my eyes for the duration) with a seemingly idyllic family life - wife (Nicole Kidman) plus teenage daughter and younger son. (We saw Farrell and Kidman together as recently as in this year's 'The Beguiled'). 
The surgeon has struck up a cordial but matter-of-fact relationship with a teenage boy (Barry Keoghan - creepily convincing), the son of a man he'd operated on previously (the subject of the open-heart surgery at the start). At first we wonder who this boy actually is and what is he doing being so friendly with Farrell - and why, indeed, is the latter letting him get so close at all. Slowly as things reveal it becomes creepier and things start to impinge on the surgeon's life and, crucially, on his family. It would be a spoiler to give any more away but, boy oh boy, it does venture into very dark territory! I was drawn in almost against my will but felt forced to keep watching, dreading the next turn, which only realised my worst fears. The tension is screwed up extremely tightly, it being clear that I wasn't the only audience member who was transfixed.

I must admit to some relief when it was over. Being put through an emotional wringer can leave ones nerves in shreds as well as being thoroughly satisfying. 

Farrell is excellent - this film confirms yet again that he can play vulnerable and fragile as effectively as hard-man or criminal. Kidman is also as good as she always is, though I felt that her role here was slightly underwritten, particulatly as compared with Farrell's.

Lanthimos' directing (he's also the co-writer) is exemplary throughout, could hardly be bettered, in fact. Time and again I was reminded of Kubrick (as well as some Hitchcock) in the roving camera work, up and down lengthy hospital corridors, with occasional long-shots, sometimes in silence.

A film that well paid off my yearning to catch it. Not a film for the faint-hearted or for those of a nervous disposition, but there's no doubt it's a film of disturbing (and grisly) 'significance'............8.

Wednesday 6 December 2017

Film: 'Happy End'

You know that with a Michael Haneke film, if it has an up-beat title it's going to be heavily ironic. And so here too - though it's not so much a case of there being an  'end' as we being left to ask "So what happened next?"

The Austrian Haneke is one of the small handful of directors whose films I'd actively go out of my way to see, though we don't always get the chance to view his creations. Those we do have an opportunity at are tantalisingly enigmatic, usually deeply unsettling on some level, and always significant. Those films of his that I have seen - 'Cache', 'The Piano Teacher', 'The White Ribbon', 'Amour' - linger in my mind more than those of just about all other contemporary directors. However, his 'Funny Games' (1997) has seared itself in my consciousness as one of the most disturbingly horrifying films I've ever seen, though with all the violence (and there's a fair bit of it) taking place off-screen! (I refer to the original German-language version, not the American re-make of ten years later, also directed by Haneke, which I haven't seen). Twenty years later, 'Funny Games' still haunts me.

Back to 'Happy End' which is set in Calais, on the northernmost French coast (the location is significant). 
A multi-generational upper-class family is drawn through various circumstances to live together uneasily, prominent among which is Isabelle Huppert as a divorced, businesswoman-owner of a construction company, with troubled 13-year old daughter (correction: the girl is actually Huppert's neice. Thanks due to Rachel for her comment below) who has hacked into her father's computer account and is reading sexually- charged exchanges he's having with his new lover. Several members of this extended family make suicide attempts for varying reasons, not all having the same level of 'success'. One of them is the advance-aged grandfather who feels his time is up and wants to end his life, despite his family thwarting his attempts. Other family members have their own secrets and inter-familial frictions. So far so jolly!  The only non-French member of the cast is Toby Jones as an English family acquaintance, he also being the only one whose few scenes are in English, the rest of the film being, of course, in the Gallic tongue.

For some episodes, Haneke employs his trademark technique of showing a scene between players from a distance, out of ear-shot, we only being aware of the gestures of the actors, some of it argumentative, confrontational and, in one case here, violent. We don't know why or what was said - and it's often left unexplained. We are left to join the dots ourselves. But the method is always intriguing and it kept me hooked.

I ought also to mention that if there are any viewers of this as hyper-sensitive to the suffering of animals as I am, the film is preceded by a 10-min 'essay' on Haneke's methods, which includes brief shots of a few animals being killed, and though lasting maybe just one minute, I had to look away. When the film 'proper' starts the very opening shot is of a harmless little hamster being deliberately poisoned. Nothing else similar happens in the rest of the film. Hardly worth mentioning for some, I'm sure, but it did start me off on an uncomfortable footing.

I think the general consensus is that  'Happy End' may ultimately be not quite as remarkable as some of the director's other films. Nevertheless, despite my accepting that its lack of a clear conclusion might well infuriate some of its audience, as is the case with all the rest of Haneke's films which I've seen, I always feel that he delivers ones money's worth, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of other directors around today..................7.

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Film: 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'

There have been more than one or two damning critiques of this festive-sounding film, and I'm not totally out of sympathy with them. The title ought to have been more accurately - 'The Man Who Wrote 'A Christmas Carol', which helped consolidate some of the Yuletide traditions which are still prevalent today.', but the ambitious title it's been given will just about do for shorthand purposes. 
I know a fair bit about Dickens' life (Peter Ackroyd's massive biography is a must-read for the writer's admirers) but I couldn't recall the true circumstances of his penning of this justly well-loved tale. However, I'm told that enormous liberties have been taken here with the historical facts. No surprise there then!

It's 1843 and Charles Dickens, feted after huge initial success, has seen his fortunes slump in the wake of three consecutive unsuccessful novels, and now he badly needs another 'hit' to come to his financial rescue. 
The young Dickens (must be about the first time I've seen him portrayed as clean-shaven) played by Dan Stevens in quasi-histrionic mode, and best known as 'Beast' in 2014's 'Beauty and....', is feverishly trying to come up with a workable idea in the weeks leading up to Xmas and (would you believe it?) fate comes to his aid in the form of people in his life dropping phrases, hints and usable names which his mind garners and puts together as a kernel of an idea for a shortish story appropriate to the season, he having little time available to come up with a viable plot on which to write and get it published while Christmas is still in the offing. 
His family of young wife (Morfydd Clark) and three little children get an unexpected visit from his father (Jonathan Pryce) and mother - which allows for the (too many) interruptions of heavy, miserable flashbacks of when his father (and rest of family) was taken away for debt while he, as eldest child though yet a young boy, had to work in a blacking factory with other similar-aged children.    
There's also the dour, real-life Mr Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) with all the characteristics of the book personage, who keeps popping up not just as an acquaintance but in his imagined fantasies too, acting out scenes from the eventual tale which Dickens then quickly commits to paper, the story being written for him rather than he having to work it out. He additionally meets in his imaginings, Marley, as well as the three ghosts, their appearances he similarly hurriedly has to write down.

The film seems to rely on the audience having more than a passing knowledge of the finished work, and perhaps they will. If they don't, then a lot of the references will have been wasted. (I've read 'Carol' more than any other Dickens work, perhaps around 20 times - though it is, to be fair, just a short story, excellent as it is).

The look of the film is perfect for what it is, but otherwise I found the product tedious with an unexceptional script, and an exceptionally mannered Dan Stevens in the Dickens role. Plummer's appearances as Scrooge, both in life and in imagination, are too frequent and overplayed, and even Jonathan Pryce as Charles Dickens Senior outstays his welcome, something I thought I'd never say about that actor.

I didn't find the Christmas mood particularly effectively captured. All those gloomy flashbacks and the quarrels with his printer and publisher as he comes right up to the deadline knocked the stuffing out of the turkey for me (the fact that I don't eat turkey is neither here nor there!) - though, mind you, the finished tale itself is likewise written with much sobering, thoughtful life-messages.  

Indian director Bharat Nalluri does what he can with the, to me, misguided material, though I felt his heart wasn't in it and it shows. I can't see this being added to the considerable pantheon of worthy Christmas films to be watched annually on Xmas Eve or on the afternoon of that very day. A Christmas cracker which lacks the crucial 'bang'...................4.5.  

Film: 'Beach Rats'

Largely unconvincing story of unemployed New York teenager (Harris Dickinson), one of a gang with another three similar youths, hanging around the beach and funfair looking for girls and smoking weed, getting by through pick-pocketing, and the occasional 'kindness' of strangers - only this particular young guy is leading a double life, at night hooking up on his p.c. with older men (not elderly) on gay websites for online 'chatting' and occasional meet-ups for quick sex. He hangs onto a girl who'd picked him up, thinking him sexy (which I couldn't see at all, though we'll let that pass - 'Beauty in the eye of.....' etc) and he indulges in a hot-cold relationship with her, while leading this private double life, even taking her home to stay overnight in full view of his quietly 'understanding' and protective mother (Kate Hodge) who doesn't approve of his male friends, and his stroppy little sister who's also engaged in a physical relationship. 
After maintaining this deception to his mates for much of the film, he opens up to them and tells them what he's been doing. Instead of asserting their 'macho' credentials by seeing who could outdo the others in homophobic put-downs, as I'd have expected to happen, their reaction is unbelievably relaxed about it, displaying little more than mild amusement - never mind that up till then he'd been like the rest of them, wanting "women, women, women!" He explains his conduct by saying that this is how he manages to obtain a reliable source of weed, and he'll do what it takes to get it, which they accept.
I can't deny that the film captures well the double-life that a lot of us have gone through to maintain a veneer of 'respectability' with our peers and equals by talking about relationships with girls either completely fictitious or, if the girls existed at all, inwardly praying that they weren't tracked down and interrogated so as to reveal the lie we had spun of a 'relationship'. I know it well, I've been there - growing up at a time when all gay acts were criminal, even in private, when as little as a misjudged touch on a knee could result in the loss of one's job, or much, much worse. But as far as this gang of four are concerned their only constraint is, as far as I could tell, their own opinions of each other - and, of course, there was no need for Dickinson's character to lie about the real person he's seeing.
Throughout the film I was expecting a sudden burst of violence to break out, and to that extent it did keep me tensed up.

This is director Eliza Hittman's only second feature film. She's still young and I'm assuming that this is one of the misfires that she'll encounter on her way to establishing her reputation as someone to be reckoned with - though it won't be with this...............4.

Saturday 2 December 2017

Film: 'Suburbicon'

The most uncomfort-able film I've seen in quite some years. I've yet to read a review that is defiantly 'kind' to it, and following a disastrous opening in America where it's quickly been withdrawn from cinemas, it gets a more limited screening here. All this despite it being directed by George Clooney, no less, and starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac. It did look really great from the trailer, I must say - more than interesting enough to entice me in to satisfy my curiosity.
All the negativities spouted about it seem to centre on its uneven-ness of tone and having too many strands - even a 'mess', some say. But it's not that at all. Disorientating it most certainly is.

Clooney has taken an early, late 1980s, script of the Coen brothers and (together with one Grant Heslov) has extended it and added layers - and this is where I think most critics judge that it misfires.

Set at the end of the 1950s, Damon plays a successful businessman living with his wife and 10 year-old son, and his sister-in-law, in a pristine, idyllic, storybook-like, small town enclosing a dream-creation of a perfect society. It starts off in a light tone but within five minutes something takes place which challenges the inhabitants' peace of mind, and within a further five minutes an event happens which hurtles us down to a very dark place.  One cannot say much more because the surprises come tumbling on top of each other. The initial levity tries to return now and again but now that we've seen the dark underbelly, from about halfway it's futile to pretend that it's not there and so the darkness is left just to rip its way to the end. Some of the unexpectedness is very unpleasant indeed, with some violence and blood - while the several suspenseful moments are handled with great expertise, with tension screwed up tight almost to screaming point.  
During the exposition we learn revelations about the central family, the attitudes of some of them - and far from questions being answered, the film concludes with more queries and imponderables hanging in the air than those with which we'd started - so not a film for those who like clean-cut endings.

It's a film that's going to haunt me for quite some time, so unsettling I found it. It clearly won't appeal to everyone and I can appreciate why it's engendered some of its hostility. But if you like a challenge and something to think about, even though having seen it you may be wishing you could get it out of your mind but can't, this is a film for you. Do I regret having taken the chance? Not at all...................7