Wednesday 26 December 2018

My Most-liked Films of 2018

I'm coughing, wheezing, spluttering and dribbling copiously as I write this, with the additional inconvenience of a fever I've had which suddenly came over me on Sunday, since when most of my time has been spent under the duvet, only getting up to feed the five pussycats (at latest count) who are relying on me to satisfy their appetites, something I don't possess myself under current conditions.

I haven't been in appropriate frame of mind to spend time anguishing over my choices this year or their respective placings in the list so here are the ones which leapt out for me. Both choices and positions may well change tomorrow. Too bad if they do 'cos there'll be no updates! 

10. The Wife - Glenn Close shows again why she deserves the accolade of 'star'.

 9. Widows - Steve McQueen pulls off a thoroughly enjoyable heist romp with a spectacular twist.

8. The Post - lucid account of struggle between American newspaper and government. With Streep and Hanks leading the cast it could hardly have been bettered.

7. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again - Many said that this was even  better than the original. I'll only say that it was at least as good, which is sufficiently handsome praise in itself.

6. A Quiet Place - one of those films, in this case a 'horror', which haunts the mind and will stay with me probably forever.

5. American Animals
Based on audac-ious, true story of stealing certain price-less library books, the film makes for a near-perfect entertainment which I wouldn't have thought could possibly have been real. Good stuff!

4. BlacKkKlansman
Spike Lee gives one of his punchiest films yet in this true tale of black American infiltrating the K.K.K.

3. Mary Poppins Returns
I reckon this might be my most contro-versial inclu-sion. I don't care, having had a whale of a time, and if I wasn't feeling so under the weather I'd have been to see it again. Still want to.

2. Three Billboards Ourside Ebbing Missouri
Profound, troubling story flawlessly brought to screen with casting that's perfection itself. 

And a drumroll, please, for...........

1. The Phantom Thread

Totally hypnotic from start to finish, though you do need to be a Daniel Day Lewis fan to appreciate it to its fullest. Even if this turns out not to have been his final screen appearance he's going to find it very hard indeed to top this. My idea of cinematic perfection.

My short list consisted of 32 films (out of 87, one less than 2017) but I don't have time nor inclination to argue why so many of them missed out on final inclusion. Gripe if you want to!

Oh, and my 'Turkey of the Year'? That goes to 'Stanley: Man of Variety' which you almost certainly won't recall or will ever have heard of, despite it virtually solely starring that dependable stalwart, Timothy Spall. But that's the way the cookie crumbles, is it not? 

Friday 21 December 2018

Film: 'Mary Poppins Returns'

Loved it - and I mean loved it! This had so much to live up to, being a sequel to one of the most iconic films of all time, one which everybody knows and knows well, yet it rose up to the bar and cleared it, pretty faultlessly re-creating the style, whimsy and exhilaration of the original, with fine casting, and embracing a clutch of big production numbers which I wished could have gone on and on. In fact none of the songs really outstays its welcome - music by Marc Shaimann [of 'Hairspray'] and lyrics by Scott Wittman with Shaimann - all uncannily close to the spirit of the Sherman brothers' creations, whether reflective ballads or infectious toe-tappers. (The surviving Sherman brother, Richard, is one of the consultants on this).
I'd been trying to avoid seeing or hearing any reviews of this but did accidentally catch a glance at one which carped that the film "never really takes off" (I beg to disagree) and that you won't come out humming the tunes (wrong again!). For the mountain of expectation it has to climb I'd say that it could hardly have been improved on.

Emily Blunt in the title role is a bit more convincingly stern and school-ma'amish than as portrayed by Julie Andrews. Her singing and dancing are not a jot less than impressive.
Lin-Manuel Miranda (whose name I hadn't known pre-'Hamilton'), in his first major film role, is a highly appealing lamplighter Jack, every bit as screen-stealing as Blunt, and enjoying with clear relish his song and dance numbers. To my ears he makes a good stab at a Cockney accent, not anything like as jarring as Dick Van Dyke's. Whenever the original Poppins film is mentioned it's been compulsory for the last fifty years, at least in this country, to mention Van Dyke's misfiring attempt at the accent. I trust that Miranda's much more honourable effort won't get the same laughing, dismissive reaction. 
Ben Whishaw plays (child) Michael of the earlier film a couple of decades further on, now widowed but with three young children, while Emily Mortimer plays his sister Jane who's moved in with her brother (subsequent correction: She's just popped in to help). - and Julie Walters as their maid appears again in one of those fill-in roles to which she seems to be consigned in her later years.
Whishaw (who actually has a song!) is a rather dour Mr Banks, not quite the martinet that David Tomlinson was as his father, but very staid, which is hardly surprising considering that he's only just lost his wife and discovers that he's about to lose his house, thanks to his deceptively evil bank boss Colin Firth. (Boo! Hiss!).
There's also David Warner as the Banks' neighbour, navy obsessed and roof cannon-firing on-the-hour - and in addition there are three other big names, only one of which appears in the opening credits. If you don't already know who these are (though I did) I'll hold it back as I wouldn't like to spoil the surprises.

Criticisms are few. The first song (from Miranda) appears before the opening credits and although it's fine in itself I think it might have done better by being an upbeat number to grab you by the lapels and draw you in. Then the second song is Whishaw's, rather nondescript and melancholy, especially when compared in hindsight with the jolly and fun moments to come. But once the film gets going there's no holding back, and it really is an unalloyed delight.

As in the first film, there are two musical sequences here where animation appears alongside live action, this time perhaps slightly less cross-involving than it was before, though nevertheless still immensely enjoyable.
Btw: There's no equivalent in this film of the 'Feed the Birds' song, which some may miss as I did, though that tune does appear briefly as background soundtrack towards the end.

Director is Rob Marshall ('Chicago', 'Into the Woods') who draws out perfection all round. I'm sure his contribution to the choreography was considerable and he does evince some breathtaking precision in some nifty movements, all completely in tune with the earlier film's conception.

If this is to be my final film of 2018, as looks possible right now, the year could hardly go out on a more positive note. A most happy experience which I'm delighted to push................8

(IMDb..................7.6 / Rott Toms...............7.3 )

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Film: 'Sorry to Bother You'

I found most of the first half of this really good, with a fair share of smiles raised plus a couple of chuckles. Unfortunately, somewhere towards the middle it all goes off-tangent bizarre, and, for some like me, very disturbing, as well as it floundering in a lack of directorial discipline.
There's also a strong resonance with one of my all-time 50 favourite films, viz Lindsay Anderson's 'O Lucky Man' (1973). Pity that though this present film has the aspiration and imagination to emulate it, it can't compete with the assured touch of the earlier, and it fatally lacks 'O Lucky Man's' neat (though admittedly over-self-referential) conclusion. 

In this, Lakeith Stanfield (from 'Get Out', 'Selma') plays a rookie telephone salesman (in Oakland, Ca.), or telemarketer, as apparently they're now called, who only took the job as he was desperate for anything. Tessa Thompson, with ghastly over-sized ear-ornaments and a co-worker, supplies his bed-interest. (Who she? Precisely). Working alongside dozens of others in large open-plan office, Stanfeld soon finds out that he can't make any sales (was it of insurance?) because when his voice is heard it sets up a resistance in the person being cold-called who'll then hang up on him or argue into being incapable of concluding a deal. A sympathetic work colleague of relatively advanced age (Danny Glover) advises him that he'd have more success if he spoke with a 'white man's voice', and he finds he has a ready aptitude to do just that. (We can accept that when he mouths words in this film [actually he and one other] it's really another white actor's voice on the soundtrack, but one goes along with the conceit). It's odd that having been shown several instances of him having been cold-shouldered on early calls with his 'normal' voice we are not given any examples of when his luck turns around and he starts successfully closing sales. But we are told this is so and as a result of his effectiveness he gains promotion to the prestigious position of 'power caller' with pay and status of which he'd never dreamed. So up to this point it's all been quite entertaining. Then during an encounter with his ultimate boss (Armie Hammer) who offers him a line of coke, a jarring jolt of weirdness takes over. Was he hallucinating? This surreal backdrop dominates the remainder of the film (also taking in workers' militancy and demonstrations) when he finds out that the firm is engineering a most disturbing societal shift in its workers, with sights on wider application. A couple of audience members managed to continue laughing through this remainder of the film, which I think we were meant to. 
Additionally, there's a highly popular TV show which will raise a few eyebrows, in which contestants get humiliated by being physically beaten up. 

At least one magazine review calls the film "hilarious" but I wasn't anywhere near as amused. In fact the whole experience left me with an unwelcome aftertaste.  

This is Boots Riley's first full-length feature and he's also the writer of this. He's to be congratulated on his imagination without doubt. Although there is the evocation for me of that British film of 45 years ago, Riley himself may well not be aware of it, and even if he is this new one is not overly derivative. I'm sure that he's achieved in putting on the screen very much what he had in mind. 

The film has generally been well-received (just look at ratings below!), even rapturously in some quarters. My own failure to go along with it is very much a personal reaction, and your own take may be 180 degrees different to mine. If I'd never seen 'O Lucky Man' and consequently not had such a high regard for that film I might have been more amenable to having had a positive view on this new release. Sadly, it's not so..................5.

(IMDb.....................7.0 / Rott. Toms...............7.7 )

Monday 17 December 2018

Film: 'Disobedience'

There's been no lack of what I'd class as 'quality' films in 2018 - and here's another one. 

Rachel Weisz is the single, estranged, only child of her father, a recently deceased Chief Rabbi (Orthodox), and is recalled to London from New York by a best friend (Rachel McAdams) to pay her respects. It's not made clear what exactly had given rise to the split with her father. On arriving in London she finds that another childhood friend, Alessandro Nivola, now an aspiring rabbi himself (and desired successor to the deceased Chief Rabbi) and McAdams have, to her surprise, married. Weisz is, if not directly shunned by the Jewish community, made to feel uncomfortable in its presence, largely on the grounds of being seen as having deserted her father in his time of ill health. She is questioned about her being not yet married, and reminded of her 'duty' to raise a family.
One day when she and McAdams are out alone, a relationship between the two women which, one assumes, had been instigated some years previously, is resumed, to which, the husband, noticing his wife's absences grows suspicious, though unexpressed.

I found this an absorbing story, very well played by the three at the centre. There's much simmering emotion going on underneath for each of them so they have to show us what they're thinking through expressions and reactions. The services in the synagogue are also excellently handled.
As well as starting with questions that aren't answered the film ends on the same unresolved note, though I didn't find this in any way detracted from the overall satisfaction of the piece.

It's mainly filmed in Golders Green, the principal Jewish area of the capital.

I don't know much about Chilean Director (and co-writer of this) Sebasian Lelio's background, but he handles the subject matter with great sensitivity as well as sympathy for the situation in which the two women find themselves. I've no significant complaints there.

It's a story that drew me in and kept my attention throughout its close on two hours' length....................7.

(IMDb.................6.6 / Rott. Toms...........7.2 )

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Film: 'Three Identical Strangers'

I don't recall this story at all, but it was world news in 1980 when three 19-year old men in New York, looking uncannily alike, happened to discover each others' existence - and finding that they were triplets who'd been separated shortly after birth, each having been given to a different pair of foster parents to raise them with no knowledge of each other. After the joy of their simultaneous discovery they find they have, not only an extraordinary physical resemblance, but also matching traits, behaviour and mannerisms, and even history. They become national celebrities and they set up a restaurant business together. However, as one might suspect, it's too perfect to last. A cloud appears as they attempt to find their mother and to discover why they'd been treated so as babies. The story becomes unwholesome and bleak, though they themselves, it hardly needs saying, remain totally innocent. 

There's much archive footage of them appearing in TV chat shows, with present day interviews of friends and people who knew them both then and now, and talk with two of the triplets themselves. 

It's a fascinating, disturbing and unique(?) tale, some aspects scarcely credible, and rivetting throughout in its search for the answer to the question 'Why did it happen?'

This is director Tim Wardle's first cinema-screen release, though not his first documentary.  He puts the story together quite well in logical sequence though I did start getting the feeling of a few too many repetitions, not only of archive footage of both TV and domestic movie shooting (though I realise there'd be only a limited quantity available) but also in things that were said. Thus although the film is only 96 mins long I think there would have been no significant loss in having had it shorn by around 20 minutes. In fact it might have carried a greater punch by being slightly briefer.

A most interesting story which cries out to be better known - or maybe a lot of Americans in particular are already aware of it?..................6.

(IMDb.................7.8 / Rott.Toms................8.2 )

Monday 10 December 2018

Film: 'The Old Man & the Gun'

I was supremely impressed by the assuredly light touch of this film, not an easy thing to capture without conspicuous heavy-handedness,  but director and writer, David Lowery ('Ain't Them Bodies Saints?' of 2013 and the even more praiseworthy 'A Ghost Story' of 2017) has achieved just that with honours. 

Based on a true story (well, kind of!) of 70+ year old Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) robbing a succession of banks in which his trademark style is courtesy with a smile, and an equally formidable and audacious series of break-outs. initially from various institutions when he was young, and from prisons later.

As many will be aware, the 82-year old Redford has declared this to be his swansong front-of-camera appearance, and I must say he could have done a lot, lot worse than with playing this entertainingly rogueish character on which to bow out. 

Beginning and ending in Dallas, 1981, we see him executing one of his later heists and, while fleeing the scene in his car, he stops to help a lady (Cissy Spacek - exceptional, but when is she not?)) whose own car has broken down. Giving her a lift a bond develops and when the time soon comes when she asks him what he does for a living he tells her, leaving her both perplexed and curious. Not knowing whether or not he's joking she goes along with his story without much censure on her part, though ever uncertain.
He is part of a trio of aged bank robbers (the 'Over-the-Hill Mob') working directly together and splitting the loot, the other two being Tom Waits and Danny Glover both of whom have little to do in this film, with the latter hardly having to utter a word.
The main cop on their trail is Casey Affleck, dutiful husband and father of three youngsters, ever frustrated by being outfoxed by the gang, in particular Redford's character, the one who actually physically performs the bank robbery acts. 

I also very much liked the slow, lingering camera shots right through this, as though the characters had all the time in the world, though the film itself is a respectably tight and painless 93 mins.

Even better than I'd hoped for, if you want to see something unusual which will keep you both amused and in suspense (like wondering how on earth is it going to end?) I can't recommend this too highly.........................7.5

(IMDb...................7.3 / Rott. Toms..................7.5) 

Thursday 29 November 2018

Film: 'Fantastic Beasts - The Crimes of Grindelwald'.

There have been warnings galore that this was going to be a "What the dickens is going on?" film, which sums it up perfectly. I didn't even attempt to follow or comprehend all the maze of info and mumbo-jumbo designed to get you involved because, frankly, I couldn't care. I only went because I'd heard that the visuals were superlative, which is true. (Just where can they go from here? Surely the end of the road has been reached for this aspect!). But at 2.25 hours the film is far, far too long for its own good - and the final 40 mins or so is interminable, with an albino-ed Johnny Depp allowed to dominate proceedings as the titular and evil Grindelwald - something I'd assumed was a place
Btw: Why do captions always have to announce such as 'London, England' and 'Paris, France') Yet when it comes to American cities their country of location is not stated. Of course we all know of London, Ontario and Paris, Texas though those places can hardly be confused with the European metropolitans. I can't believe [most] Americans are that dumb!

Eddie Redmayne reprises his role as Newt Scamander (Saviour of the world!) - and has the heavyweight casting of Jude Law as the young Dumbledore in his early time at Hogwarts. 
The only other name in the cast I recognised was Hugh Quarshie, now an established TV regular, whom I regularly used to see on stage in a variety of roles at the Oxford Playhouse when I moved to that city, and when he was a mere stripling of 20 or so, 

To call the plot of this labyrinthine would not be unfair. How many of the audience who are not familiar with the J.K. Rowling books would be able to explain it? And how many who have read them could do likewise? Who other than keen Rowling aficianados would even care to spend time reading such? Not me! My time left may be too restricted to have the luxury of bothering with stuff like this. 

Director David Yates has already made four of the Harry Potters so there's no doubting that he knows his business - and he manages it all with the proficiency one would expect. However, I do wish he, and indeed Rowling herself, had created a product here where we are involved enough with what's going on so that we, at least speaking for myself, don't feel bored to tears.

I was going to rate this with a '3', but my kinder side is winning out, so I'd better post this quickly before I revert to my initial thoughts..........4.

(IMDb...................7.0 / Rott. Toms...............5.3 )  

Monday 26 November 2018

Film: 'The Girl in the Spider's Web'

Claire Foy, the ever-glum Mrs Neil Armstrong in the very recent 'First Man', here takes over the mantle of Lisbeth Salander in this latest addition to the 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' series of films - and she makes a fair stab at it without setting the world alight - though can'r say I relish the thought of having to sit through another of these with their trademark deeply unpleasant violence.

This time the film is based on a novel from David Lagercrantz using characters created by the late Stieg Larsson, the snow-laden Stockholm location once again providing the backdrop for the familiar topics of incest, vengeance, double-crossings, chases, gunfights (where all the  baddies are hopeless shots, unlike the female protagonist who's deadly accurate every time) with the usual workings 'outside the law' to the extreme displeasure of the police - and here also involving sibling rivalry/hostility and the targetting for kidnap of a young nerdy boy who's as proficient with computers (well, they can all operate at the speed of light!) as he is at chess.  
Despite being such a heady mix there's a pervading ho-hum feeling of deja vu throughout, which left me wanting something more and a bit different, and which it just doesn't deliver. 

Much of the cast, judging from their names, are probably Swedish. Apart from Foy herself, the only other name I recognised was Stephen Merchant (best known to British audiences as sidekick to Ricky Gervais in his TV series) here playing, for the first time in my seeing, a serious role.
Others include Sverrir Gudnason as journalist Mikael Blomkvist who played a major part in the original trilogy of books and their films - and Sylvia Hoeks as Salander's arch-nemesis sister.

Director is Uruguayan Fede Alvarez who does precisely what you expect him to with reasonable flair, though nothing more.

I've read the original Stieg Larsson trilogy and seen those three Swedish films as well as the American re-make of 'Dragon Tattoo', the latter though not having quite the bite of the European original version wasn't too bad either. This new one, which didn't engage me at anything like the level of those four films, I wouldn't put in quite the same class, though it's not totally dull either.....................5.5

(IMDb.......................6.1 / Rott. Toms.............5.1)


Saturday 17 November 2018

Film: 'Fahrenheit 11/9'

The film's title referring to the date of the last American Presidential election, this could well be the scariest film I've seen all year.

Now we all know that Michael Moore is a major scourge of the American right, but I'm also aware that he has significant enemies on the progressive/liberal side too, and in this documentary he pulls no punches when lashing out at whoever has riled or still riles him, including former Presidents Clinton and Obama. However, his general bete noire is, essentially, the entire political 'establishment' which is in hock to corporate money and thus having a widespread likelihood towards corruption. 
I will say this, even if there are no arguments stated here against Moore's own standpoints, he makes his reasons for targetting certain individuals so crystal clear that it's hard to resist cheering him on.   

I've seen all Moore's theatrically-released (in the U.K.) documentaries going right back to 'Roger and Me' in (crikey!) 1989, followed by 'Bowling for Columbine', 'Fahrenheit 9/11' and 'Sicko'  - though not 'Michael Moore in Tr*mpland', which wasn't released here. Those I have seen were all eye-openers for me, and though this one didn't say much new in a generally-speaking sense, there is some newsreel footage I hadn't seen before, plus all the interviews he does. (Something I did learn was the origin of the word 'redneck').

The thrust of the film is to examine how it happened that the present White House incumbent managed to get there. and I think Moore makes a convincing stab to reveal just how he did, and the forces that worked in his favour when all pundits (apart from Moore himself) were saying that it wasn't going to happen.
He doesn't speak directly about the man himself through large parts of the film, major excursions from the main subject being the water-poisoning in Flint, Michigan (also the subject of his 'Roger and Me' film of almost 30 years ago) as well as the issue of gun-control, with the young kids, too young to vote, mobilising themselves to pile pressure on politicians for a tightening of gun legislation, and the gun lobby hell-bent on fighting any change. Both these issues can be guaranteed to want to make any reasonable person throw their hands up in despair that any meaningful change at all will come. 

He brings out the Hitler/Tr*mp analogy to chilling effect, to the extent that expecting political change, with the system that the U.S.A. has is, if not near hopeless, will be a super-Herculean task to achieve. It will need a will to do it and that, it seems, is manifestly lacking right now. 

This is a bleak film, very thought-provoking, and I do believe Moore has done a first-rate job in drawing disparate strands together to make a thoroughly convincing case for change.

It's well nigh impossible that many of Moore's innumerable detractors will watch this film, but I do wish they would, and I'd also like to see their replies to his attacks, with them sticking to the issues rather than resorting to demeaning him personally.

I was expecting that, now with the mid-term elections out of the way, this film might have lost some of its steam by now, but it hasn't. I was seriously toying with not bothering to go for that very reason, but pleased that I did. High recommendation..................7.

(IMDb.................5.8 / Rott. Toms...............7 )

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Film: 'Wildlife'

Actor Paul Dano, 34, debuts as director in this modestly scaled domestic tale, with the guaranteed high standard participation of Jake Gyllenhall and Carey Mulligan playing a married couple trying desperately to make ends meet whilst supporting their teenage son's education, the latter being played by Ed Oxenbould (who, incidentally shares little facial resemblance to either of his 'parents', but that's not a great distraction).   

Filmed in smalltown Montana (set in the 1960s?), the father is fired from his subservient job and, rather than re-taking his post when asked to return, follows his pride and takes another lowly one paying a pittance, as forest fire-extinguisher in a gang putting out those blazes purposely set off for environmental reasons, and which involves his staying away from home for days at a time. An unholy row ensues when he tells his wife, she because of the danger to him, but also for the fact that the family income will be significantly less than previous. To assist finances she takes up swimming instructions for adult classes. The son looks on bewildered, not sure where his own allegiance lies.

This occupies the first half of the film where, I must confess, I felt that its failure to arrest me sufficiently to the point where I'd be wondering what happens next, made me think it was all getting perilously inert. However, this changes considerably when the boy starts getting suspicions about his mother's attentions wandering towards one of the members of her swimming class, a quite significantly older, now single, man (Bill Camp), only to have his worst fears confirmed. 
Up to this point, the boy had been a somewhat peripheral character present during his parents' heated exchanges. Now he takes a central role, with at least equal screen time with the other two, perhaps even more, and he plays the part impressively.

The film didn't move me as much as it has many other reviewers (and audience, as evidenced from average ratings on two other sites, shown below), though I do think it's a more than respectable beginning if Paul Dano continues his directing, which I hope he does after this promising start. I can't imagine many classing it as a 'poor' film. It just isn't one that, despite the starry couple at the head of the cast, is going to linger in my memory for very long.............6.

(IMDb.....................7.3 / Rott. Toms................7.7.)

Monday 12 November 2018

Film: 'Peterloo'

There was a time when I eagerly looked forward to a Mike Leigh film, but this was way back in the era of 'High Hopes' and 'Life is Sweet' (1988, 1990 respectively). Latterly he's largely eschewed the small-scale domestic comedy-dramas he used to do so well, and turned to grimmer subjects ('Vera Drake') or those with a serious undertow ('Secrets and Lies'). I suppose 'Topsy-Turvy' and 'Mister Turner' were okay - just - though his only more recent film which I really enthused about was his 'Happy-Go-Lucky' of 2008. Now with this latest, and his biggest in scale to date, he's on a mission to give us a history lesson and, boy, it shows!
From what I've picked up he was (justifiably) disgruntled to find that what become known as 'The Peterloo Massacre' in Manchester 1819, has been virtually expunged from the school history curriculum, he being especially sore about it as his school was literally within yards of the site where it occurred. It involved a crowd of some 60,000 people, gathered to demand Parliamentary representation, being charged at by a sword-armed cavalry contingent which mowed them down, sending them fleeing in all directions, some being trapped. Casualties are disputed - fatalities being at least fifteen with several hundreds more being wounded, many grievously, victims including women and children. Taking place on St Peter's Field in that then growing cotton-industry metropolis in northern England (with as yet no one to represent it in Parliament), the event acquired the name as it did, alluding to the Battle of Waterloo of four years previously. Of course, it hardly needs pointing out that the number of casualties don't begin to compare with the momentous military event which finally defeated Napoleon, though that's not to belittle those who actually were killed and injured in Manchester. 

Peterloo was covered in my own history lessons (of 60 years ago!) though it wasn't examined in any depth. However, my recollection is that it was more then merely mentioned. If that has changed then it's a disservice to British history and Leigh has every right to feel aggrieved.

Having said all that we have here an epic-length film (actually 20 minutes longer than Sergei Bondarchuk's 1970 admirable, star-laden, true epic of 'Waterloo' - if my comparison is not too fatuous!) 

I found 'Peterloo' quickly got preachy and stodgy, with hardly any moment at all of anything remotely smile-raising. Leigh's earnestness in feeling that the tale needs to be told (and I can't think of any other film which has covered the events) overwhelms the slow build-up to the climactic occurrence such that I found myself nodding off at least twice.  But when it does finally come, the brutal put-down of the public gathering is expertly done and, indeed, quite distressing - and it goes on for rather longer than we might have come to expect.

The politics leading up to the 'massacre' is portrayed rather aridly - the ruling classes, including the future George IV (who was to ascend to the throne the following year) feeling that the demonstration needed to be put down forcefully for fear of it sparking the equivalent of the French Revolution which had begun 30 years before.

The only cast members whose names I was familiar with were Rory Kinnear. who plays a charismatic speaker whose presence in Manchester drew the welcoming crowd, and Maxine Peake - but I think the entire cast was struggling with a script which wasn't particularly inspiring.

It's clear that Mike Leigh feels a passion about the subject matter - and he has every right to do so. But in the final analysis I do think he hasn't manage to transfer that fervour to the screen. Other than the 'massacre' itself, I found it all a bit flat - and overlong............5.

(IMDb.................6,5 / Rott. Toms..........6.2 )

Tuesday 6 November 2018

Film: 'Widows'

Highly effective and tense heist thriller directed by the now justifiably renowned Steve McQueen, each of whose past full-length features (and there have only been three of them to date), have been remarkable in their own ways - '12 Years a Slave', 'Hunger' &  'Shame'. Now here, with his fourth, he does it again.  

Based on (so I read) a late-1970s British TV serial by Lynda La Plante set in London, the action is here transferred to present day Chicago. 
In the opening minutes we see a robbery in its late stages with four criminals led by Liam Neeson attempting a getaway, only to be confronted by police forces awaiting them, and perishing when their van, with the loot in back, goes up in flames, destroying everything inside.
Viola Davis, playing Neeson's widow, innocent of all knowledge of the robbery - and nearly always carrying around or has on a lead a small, white Scottish Terrier  (No, it was actually a West Highland terrier, as pointed out by JayGee in comments below!) - she is 'visited' by a stranger who menaces her by giving her one month to make up the money his gang has lost. Quite why the robbery was enacted in the first place is not clear, suffice to say that the money route leads back to a corrupt mayor (Colin Farrell) on the eve of what he hopes is his re-election as the latest in a dynasty of mayors, with his ageing and disapproving father (Robert Duvall) ever hovering over. 
One of the pieces that Davis' husband had left behind was details of another planned heist, and Davis has to convince two of the other widows (Michelle Rodriguez,  Molly Kunz) following the same tragedy, to join her in saving her skin by acquiring money to give to the gang, whose leader (Daniel Kaluuya ('Get Out', 'Black Panther') is particularly terrifying. She ropes in a fourth, Elizabeth Debicki, as driver to complete the all-female criminal quartet.

The premise of the film is a good, unusual one which could have gone cheesy, but it doesn't. Likewise one might expect there to have been some scope for a few grim laughs, but there's none. 

What needs must be mentioned is that there's quite a degree of sudden, heightened violence throughout the film which made me wince on each occasion, those moments coming as they do so unexpectedly. Also, about two-thirds through there's a breathtaking twist in the tale.

Although it's a very tense film I was put on further edge worrying about the fate of the dog which appears in a number of scenes, especially since the owner, Viola Davis, is being pressured to produce the money. For those who share my nervousness regarding animals on screen I can report that, apart from a brief moment when the dog is roughly lifted by the scruff of the neck, it doesn't come to any harm. 

This film may turn out to be slightly less well regarded than McQueen's other works but it's far better than most in this genre. A rather strong stomach may be needed for some scenes though there's little over-dwelling on the bloody episodes. If you think you can handle it, it gets my clear thumbs-up.................7.

( IMDb.................6.9 / Rott Toms...............8.5 )

Thursday 1 November 2018

Film: 'Visages Villages' ('Faces Places')

Quaintly likeable, oddball French document-ary in which an unlikely pair - muralist and photographer known as J.R. with veteran Belgian film director Agnes Varda - travel around to various locations in  (northern only?) France together, pasting up giant photos of people on the exterior walls of buildings (some due for demolition, others still inhabited), ship containers, railway tanks and so on. He is mid-30s, she now 90 and relatively spry for her age despite showing unsurprising signs of tiring (the film was completed 18 months ago).

It's not so much a documentary as a recording of their verbal exchanges, arguing lightly about the artwork they are trying to create and she briefly reminiscing about her film career, he giving little away of himself and tetchily refusing to take off his dark glasses so that she can see his eyes through her own progressively blurring vision.
They go to a small town, a farm (specifically a goat farm), a deserted and crumbling half-built small village, a deserted beach, and the docks of Le Havre where photos of willing people living nearby are taken in J.R.s van/photo booth when he then massively enlarges the images to plaster on the sides of chosen walls as their uncredited piece of art - with a vaguely similar motivation to Banksy, I suppose, though here without any political dimension. 

The two of them share the film's directing honours and have created an interesting piece of work which, though hardly a 'trailblazer'.  and is not likely to be seen by many, nevertheless manages to secure a pleasant enough way to spend an hour and a half of your time..............6.

(IMDb.................7.9 / Rott. Toms............8.8 )

Wednesday 31 October 2018

Film: 'First Man'

By now, most who wanted to see this film will have done so. I've had to wait all this time for a convenient screening. 

It's a film of two parts, running in tandem - first, and for me the far more interesting one (I'm a lifelong avid space nerd) being the selection and training of Neil Armstrong, played by Ryan Gosling, in the run up to the moon landing in 1969, with some extraordinary re-creations. The other is the domestic, familial setting of the Armstrong family with his wife (Claire Foy) so concerned about the risks her husband is taking that her every appearance for me dragged the film down, being the irritant that she was in her perennially dour mood, worried about him leaving their children fatherless, they having seen their near neighbour lose his life in a malfunction which had turned the space capsule into a fireball. killing all three astronauts on board - an horrifying event which those of my age will recall in the news of the time. 

I realise that the purpose of the film was to depict the human element of the story with more emphasis than such films generally do, and to that extent it was triumphant. However, such a constant juxtaposition of moods between the excitement and headiness of the venture itself and the lowly humdrum of down-to-earth life vexed me somewhat in this long film. I could have done with far less of the latter in a much truncated film. 
As I say, the training routines for Armstrong (and his colleagues Aldrin and Collins) are spectacularly brought to life, and the space images themselves are extraordinary, though condensed, of course, from hours and even days down to a very few minutes. Highly impressive nonetheless.

Director Damien Chazelle was already a name to be reckoned with with, among his very few directing projects to date are included 'La La Land'  and 'Whiplash'. This latest film can only add to his notable achievements.

I might have rated this film higher if it had concentrated more on the space aspect rather than give equal time to the human story. I could have lived better with a 70;30 ratio, but that's a very personal opinion. Nevertheless, still a rare good watch................7.

(IMDb..................7.7 / Rott. Toms.............8.1 ) 

Tuesday 30 October 2018

Film: 'Halloween' (2018)

I've never got it why so many still regard the 1978 John Carpen-ter original as such a benchmark of horror films. I saw it on first release and even then thought it no better than 'okay'. Inexplicably, its reputation has grown further over the decades and though I've seen it a couple of times more over the interim, I don't regard it as anything like the masterpiece that some do. (Of all the 11 sequels I only ever saw the forgettable 'Halloween II' of 1982 - plus now this one).  

Jamie Lee Curtis, reprising her Laurie character of 40 years ago, is now a grandmother in her reinforced fortress of a home, renewing her battling to survive the one-man slaughter machine of skin-masked, wordless psycho Mike Myers, just escaped from a psychiatric institution. The back story of this situation is as threadbare as the imagination of the writers, seeking to find something, anything, on which to hang an excuse for a parade of grisly killings - all, of course, to the background of Halloween revels with its handy excuse of lots of teenage kids in 'scary' costumes to fall prey to the blood-curdling and blood-letting whims of the prowling killer.  It hardly needs saying that the final confrontation is between Curtis and Myers. If he resurrects after this one - oops, plot spoiler! - to appear in yet another sequel (please, no!), it will by no means be the first time he's done so.

Filmed in South Carolina, it felt very much to me a dated affair, like the horror gore-fests of  the 60s and 70s only with the 'yuk' factor dialled so far up to max that it's numbingly boring, yet with absolutely nil trace of any humour underneath, which used to be the saving grace of so many of those tacky, creaky Hammer films of old.

Apart from Jamie L.C. the only cast member whose name I recognised was Will Patton as the senior police figure in charge. They all do their best with an undemanding script and storyline. The characters who are bumped off (I lost count but the number was somewhere around eight or nine) are given little chance to establish themselves and so lack much of our sympathies other than for us to think "Well, there goes another one - Next!" There are the usual jump-scares when you're meant to be surprised at a sudden appearance accompanied by a loud thump on the soundtrack, and which turns out to be perfectly innocent or a false alarm - but you know that it will very shortly afterwards be followed by the real thing -  the same old, old formula.  

Director David Gordon Green is also a name I didn't know, having worked a considerable amount on TV productions. He brings very little new to this film - well, nothing at all, in fact.

I have seen worse horror films but I dare say that a large part of the audience will not be familiar with the tricks of the genre, and so may well be more satisfied with this product. Horror films were much more a staple of the cinema in my day than they are now, so there well might be a novelty angle than anything I felt.

People are comparing this favourably with the John Carpenter original of 40 years back. As I wasn't and still am not such an admirer of that work I'm able to say that the comparison may well be a fair one...............4.5

(IMDb.................7.3 / Rott. Toms..............6.8 )

Friday 26 October 2018

Film: 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

Goodness me! - but hasn't this had a chequered history! I'll say straight out that some of my misgivings (based entirely on early mixed reviews) were largely unfounded - and I liked this more than I was expecting to. 
Btw: I'd better add that I've been a 'Queen' fan ever since first becoming aware of them. 

There was the matter of Sacha Baron Cohen pulling out over 'creative differences' with original Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor (who remain as Executive Producers of this final product) , Cohen wanting to make it 'edgier' and focussing on Freddy Mercury's story, the other two wishing it to be more encompassing of the whole group.  
Then there was the matter of director Bryan Singer being sacked over his rows, particularly with Rami Malek (playing Freddy M., of course), and Dexter Fletcher taking over for the final couple of weeks' shooting. It's Singer who actually gets the sole directing on-screen credit. There are also, just to mention in passing, the sexual misconduct allegations against Singer still unresolved - nothing to do with this present film.

Some are complaining that this film version has been sanitised with regard to Mercury's sexual proclivities, so I was surprised that even though there's nothing explicit shown (just a couple of full-on male-male kisses, though facially obscured), his sexuality wasn't in any sense skated over or downplayed. Even the dullest viewer would have picked up the inferences - the first being when looks are exchanged between him and a bear of a guy going into the men's toilets, leaving the former with a hankering look on his face, as though bewildered on discovering his feelings for the first time in that direction. Later on Freddy M. confesses to his close girlfriend, Mary Austin (played by Lucy Boynton) whom he had previously proposed to and been accepted, "I think I'm bisexual!" 

More problematic for me was that Malek does such an astonishing imitation of Mercury, sweeping all other characters aside with the result that while his persona is lit up in blazing technicolour practically everybody else seems anodyne in comparison - and I include the other Queen members, played by Gwilyn Lee and Ben Hardy (as May and Taylor, respectively) as well as Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon. Also, regarding the aforementioned Mary Boynton as his one-time fiancee, and Aaron McCutcheon as his male lover, Jim Hutton - just what did Mercury see in either of those? I didn't detect much emotional fizz at anytime between the two of them and Mercury. Also, Freddy's strait-laced parents seemed to be little more than ciphers. 
The short impersonation of Kenny Everett I thought pretty well spot-on, and the almost unrecognisable Mike Myers steals his single extended scene as record producer with a self-referential one-liner regarding his conviction that 'Rhapsody' would never be played on the radio.  

As for Rami Malek, only one word will do - amazing! His transformation into Mercury's strutting peacock is totally credible. Some are saying that his singing voice and his appearance aren't quite right. In my book, they are both close enough as makes no difference that matters. His singing has equal power to the original - and even the latter when singing the group's well-known hits would, like all sensible artistes, make small variations in emphasis for each performance. But for me his clear-cut, almost upper-class speaking voice was right on target, as judged against the voice we know from Mercury's interviews. No, I've no serious criticism at all of Malek.

As May and Taylor had sufficient influence to reject Sacha Baron Cohen's ideas it begs the question as to how much influence they had in shaping this final product. I'd suggest a lot, as there's little here for those two and Deacon to complain about in their portrayals. Apart from the very sparse bitchy remark, the furious rows are all with Mercury, the other three being of one unified mind. They'd have nothing here for their children and spouses to be ashamed to witness. All the accusations and regrets about Mercury's conduct would be due to the fault of his own temperament. I've little doubt that this may be closer to the truth than the converse, though this constant three-against one does appear to my mind to be terribly one-sided. Maybe it is accurate after all, who knows for sure other than the surviving Queen members? 

The story takes one from Farrokh Bulsara joining the struggling group 'Smile' playing in small local night clubs up to the historic 20-minute set at Wembley Stadium for Live Aid 1985, the latter reincarnation being absolutely magnificent, I feeling the selfsame thrill when watching it live on T.V. all those years ago - as a middle-aged bopper (!).  Got my adrenalin pumping all over again.
The start of Mercury's physical decline with the onset of AIDS is sensitively depicted, and I've no moans to make there either.

There's little doubt that Rami Malek carries the film. Anyone else failing to come up to his standard would have let down the entire venture - and he manifestly does not.  
For those who are not fans of the group, their appreciation of the film might well be more restrained.
If this doesn't quite qualify as one of my 'Best Films of 2018', it sure is one of my 'better' ones...................7.

(IMDb.................8.5 / Rott. Toms...............5.7! - bound to rise later)

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Film: 'Bad Times at the El Royale'

With my penchant for 'strange' films, I didn't want to miss out on the chance of seeing this, even if it meant going to one of the just three evening screenings and returning home well after dark and within an hour of my usual bed-time, such a rare event for me. It turned out not to have been very wise as I found it deeply unpleasant, with much blood-letting - and yet....and yet.....somehow oddly compelling, almost hypnotically so.
It's one of those storylines where nothing is as it seems on the surface, leaving one questioning at every one of the many twists and turns, exactly what is going on?  

It's the late 1960s. In a secluded, empty hotel, located exactly on the California/Nevada border in the off-season, (raining like hell all the time, of course!) a small group of oddball characters appear singly, each to book a room - an ageing priest (Jeff Bridges), a black, struggling, session backing singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum-cleaner salesman (John Hamm) and a mysterious, unfriendly young woman (Dakota Johnson) carrying something unexpected in her car. All are seen to by the single staff member present on duty (Lewis Pullman) who seems to be little more than a bellboy in an hotel which hides its own secrets.
There's a strange and violent pre-title prologue to the story proper before the film starts filling in the banks with tantalising clues as to what it's about. Focus keeps shifting from one character to another, fleetingly going back in time then jumping forward to the present. Are their stories linked? We're left guessing until the final stages (too drawn out!) when a new, cultish, quasi-messianic, criminal character (Chris Emsworth) turns up to dominate the entire proceedings, someone whose existence had only been hinted at briefly in an earlier scene. This final section of a 2hr 20 mins film, is the most violent of all (mostly guns) as well as being the longest - also, disappointingly, the least quirky as it attempts to tie the strands together of a, by then, complicated plot, and goes for the predictable, lazy finish. An unresolved, up-in-the-air ending would have been closer to the film's spirit.

I don't think the film had the courage of its convictions in keeping up the strangeness and odd attraction of its initial three-quarters. Director Drew Goddard ('Cabin in the Woods' of 2012) tries, mainly successfully, to tease us by keeping back information in the film's earlier moments but it stretches ones credence a bit too far when the final, supposedly revelatory, scenes are played out.

On the whole I did quite like it, though felt a little short-changed despite its length. I'd recommend it for those who are drawn to strange stories, not minding too much if it's hard to fathom, but not for those who demand satisfactory answers as part of their 'entertainment'. I'd also suggest that if you are going to see it, try and attend a screening where you don't come out of the cinema into the dark................7

(IMDb....................7.5 / Rott. Toms................6.5)

Sunday 14 October 2018

I've reached half a gross!

Yes, this is where I'm at today (15th) - and congratulations (commiserations?) to RTG with whom I share this date (anniversary only, as he is by a significant margin the younger one). I'll later be raising and downing a swig or two of peach-flavoured, fizzy mineral water as celebration to the both of us, but specifically in hope for the alleviation of RTG's recent troubling health issues. If sometimes wishing my own complaints were less, it's reading about the trials of others which throws into relief the fact that mine could be so much worse, so got to be grateful for that, at least. 

Here's a photo from three weeks ago when I'd just returned from having had a haircut, there being a much greater quantity of chin-hair than that on top:-

And here's my two co-residents, Patchie (12 years old) and Blackso (actually Blackso II), age and owner unknown to me. though he's clearly an adult. He seems to have decided to move in, sleeping and taking his eats here - and, much to Patchie's evident displeasure, has established himself as the dominant one, having taken over the kitchen where Patchie will now no longer go. Unfortunately Blackso's been drinking a lot of water daily, a worrying sign.

I'll give them both a pat and gentle strokes from all you many cat-lovers out there.

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Film: 'The Wife'

I'd been looking forward to this enormously - and wasn't let down in the least. It's a searing piece of family melodrama, played to perfection by Jonathan Pryce and Glenn Close (whose film this really is, as the title infers) as a long-married couple, and Max Irons (son of Jeremy I.) playing their son - with Christian Slater as a smarmy reporter who captures a character somewhere midway between plain annoying and obnoxious.

It's set almost entirely in Stockholm in a plush hotel where Pryce, a successful author, is there with his wife and son to collect his newly awarded Nobel Prize for Literature. In a brief prologue to their journey to Sweden, set in their Connecticut home in 1992, we see Pryce getting the phone call telling him of his award, with Close joining in his celebratory mood. However, there's the occasional subtle look on her face hinting that there's something flickering underneath her going along with his jubilant mood. Their son is also an aspiring writer, though he feels that, unlike his mother, his father is holding back on the effusive praise he'd been looking for. All the submerged feelings come out in the ensuing days. Flashbacks to the older couple's early days of acquaintanceship and relationship, culminating in their marriage are depicted (their younger selves played by Harry Lloyd and Annie Stark).  
As pent-up truths and repressed feelings come to the surface in Sweden, blazing rows ensue between Close and Pryce as well as a major confrontation with the son - such anger and venom reminding me strongly of Burton and Taylor in 'Who's Afraid.....', though in the latters' case it's been said that they were just playing out the hideous vituperation which regularly came between them in real life (so if that was true, they didn't have much acting to do!?)  In the case of Close and Pryce, though, they really have to go for it hammer and tongs, and that they most certainly do!

If Jonathan Pryce is good (which he definitely is) Glenn Close is an absolute marvel - easily one of her best ever performances on screen, if not the best. She can capture the most nuanced change of mood in her features without saying a word, and it's a treat to watch. She's definitely one of my very favourite of the more 'mature' actresses currently around.

Director is Swede Bjorn Runge, who creates a practically flawless piece within a manageable slightly over 90 mins, based on book by Meg Walitzer and screenplay by Jane Anderson. 

If you like the idea of a small-scale, family drama with home truths exploding, their having been kept a lid on for decades, I cannot recommend this highly enough - and if you're as much a fan of Glenn Close as I am, well, that ought to clinch it. Bliss!...............8

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Film: 'A Star is Born'

Bradley Cooper had considerable guts and nerve to take on such an iconic and multi-time filmed story as this, not only as his directing debut but to play the more onerous of the star parts - novice-to-film Lady Gaga taking the co-star role. And guess what? He pulls it off with some distinction. Regret to say, however, that if one is familiar with all or just one of the three previous versions (1937, 1954 with Judy Garland, and 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson) one already knows that there isn't much scope for any startling imaginative variation from the story of two intertwining lives, her career rising to super-stardom while his tanks under the influence (in this film) of both drugs and alcohol.

At the start of  the film, successful singer Cooper, already heavily into drugs and booze, happens to wander into a drag bar where small-time, local turn, played by Lady Gaga, impresses him with her rendition of 'La Vie en Rose'. For him it's pretty well love at first sight, while she's more circumspect, especially attracting the attentions of someone so famous, but she goes along with his not-so-furtive flirt until at a major music festival he coaxes her onstage to perform a song with him. From then on the die is cast and it's upwards for her, descent for him. 
The ever-reliable Sam Elliott (what a voice!) plays Cooper's character's hovering-in-the-background, elder brother, frequently exasperated at his sibling's antics and failed struggles with his inner demons, but despite all, still doggedly faithful.

Most of the songs - and all the new ones - were especially written by Lady Gaga with Lucas (son of Willie) Nelson - with some by Mr Cooper too (I've just heard from the radio). They may well require repeated hearing as for me, now just two hours later, I can't recall a single one of them. 

With regards to acting, Lady Gaga was remarkable, displaying a wide spectrum of moods and emotions in her debut role, all convincing - and Cooper as good as he's ever been, possibly his best ever in his grungy character. How he made such a good job of directing the whole enterprise at the same time is itself extraordinary.

I think the film will work best of all with those who don't know much about the story - and by now this could well be the majority of cinema-goers. Speaking for myself, although of course details varied from previous incarnations, the essential story is predictable, there being no notable material differences in the two characters'  trajectories as previously portrayed, with the result that I found it all a bit tiring (two and quarter hours) to get to the destination which I knew, in a general sort of way, was coming. 

This vehicle is sure to attract a number of Oscar nominations and will almost certainly pick up some strategic ones. My single regret as previously stated, was the feeling, details aside, of having seen it all before - which many of us will have done - and inwardly wishing Cooper had chosen something original for his directing debut. Nevertheless, what he does give us is a film of some significance all round..................7.

( IMDB.........8.6 / Rott. Toms................8.1 )

Monday 1 October 2018

Film: 'Black '47'

I so did not want to see this. From the trailer it looked ultra-bleak and violent, confirmed by the reviews - and so it turned out to be. On my way to the cinema, not being in the mood for anything heavy, I'd thought of walking straight past and returning home. However, ultimately a sense of duty prevailed, so in I went.

The title refers to the year 1847 when Protestant Britain occupied and lorded over fiercely Catholic Eire, and the onset of famine was ravaging that island. (Incidentally, in my day it was called 'The Great Potato Famine' but the 'p' word now seems to have been expunged - perhaps to take out any mockery which could belittle the dire fate of the literally millions who starved to death when potato crops were blighted and failed in successive years.)

A visual feature of this grim film is that, appropriately, nearly all the colours have been washed out of it - though most startlingly not the redcoats of the British occupying army. 

Australian James Frecheville plays a deserter from the British army returning home to find that his entire family has been killed or let die by the unfeeling landlord and his minions, and he goes on a revenge mission to mete out summary justice to those responsible, as well as anyone who gets in his way, occupying army included. Meanwhile, a disgraced soldier (Hugo Weaving) with tracking skills and on a charge which may get him executed, is given the chance to redeem himself by assisting in the chase to find this killer. 
Stephen Rea is roped in as guide and Jim Broadbent makes a late appearance as the loathsome and arrogant British government representative supremo.

There are a number of subtitled scenes in the film (not very long, any of them) where Erse, or Irish Gaelic, is spoken.

We've seen the basic plot of this film multiple times before, most notably in Westerns - with a seriously wronged character in an 'avenging angel' role - and there's little that's original about this one apart from its location and political backdrop.
The violent scenes, of which there are quite a few, are all really too short to register as deeply troubling - and one can easily see when they are coming. 

Filmed in Co. Galway, director Lance Daly (who also co-wrote the story) has delivered quite an effective piece, by no means overlong at 94 minutes. But overall it may well appeal more to those who haven't seen this much-used plot up to now. I have to say, however, that if you're looking for an uplifting experience you won't find much to laugh at, or even give a glimmering smile at, here..................6.

(IMDb...............7.1 / Rott. Toms...............6.8 )


Tuesday 25 September 2018

Film: 'A Simple Favo(u)r'

This is more like it! It's a cracker!
I've a keen liking for quirky films and this is full of quirks, especially in the opening scenes as well as those concluding. In between it gets quite serious-strange and unsettling. 

Filmed in Ontario (standing in for U.S.A. - I think), Anna Kendrick is a widowed mum of a six-year old son who meets the stuck-up, bristling with self-assuredness, mother (Blake Lively) of another boy in the same class, who invites her to her home where she meets the husband (Henry Golding), a one-hit-wonder writer.  The two women, through their sons' close friendship, themselves form an attachment which quickly embraces an intimacy - at least verbally - exchanging secrets and confidentialities. Then, out of the blue, while Kendrick is waiting for Lively to collect her son after school, she vanishes. Finding out that she's gone to Miami "for a few days" which her husband apparently didn't know about, though he gives the impression that she's done similar disappearing tricks before with no warning. 
To say much more is difficult as it would spoil the many twists and turns (twists within twists), quite enough to leave one giddy - yet totally intrigued as to what actually is going on and how it's going to develop.

The script is sharp and smart throughout, the story inventive - well, apart from one moment when someone 'known' to be dead re-appears, the explanation for which harks back to those films of old when what seems impossible is too neatly disposed of by resorting to an unlikely reveal which we hadn't known until then. But this happens halfway through the film and once accepted, the film carries on with its maze of revelations, so it didn't worry me too much.

The extended 'solution' scenes at the end, which attempt to tie up the loose ends, I must confess I couldn't follow entirely. However, it didn't matter as the theatricality of the situation the characters find themselves in carries it all through to a most satisfying climax.

Director Paul Feig, probably best known for the entertaining 'Bridesmaids' (2011), does sterling work with this tale. for which he surely owes a great debt of gratitude to Jessica Sharzer for the highly pointed screenplay, based on novel by Darcey Bell.  

I was starting to wonder when I would see another good, 'quality' film again. Why, it's been a full two weeks! Now this one comes along and I must say it fitted the bill very nicely, thank you.............7.5.

(IMDb............7.2 / Rott. Toms..........7.0 )