Monday 26 February 2018

Film: 'Finding Your Feet'

Just as well that I wasn't expecting great things from this film, because no great things is precisely what it delivered. However, I was sorely in need of a cinematic experience to dilute the memory of 'The Shape of Water' which had so impressed me - not in a good way.  

A 'comedy-romance' (with weepie moments), this is another of those oldie-orientated British films that have become a bit of a vogue in recent years, though here it's more late-middle-age than 'oldie'. 
Imelda Staunton leads a cast of stalwart British actors as the wife of an affluent and titled husband (John Sessions) whom, she very publicly discovers, has been having an affair for five years. In a rowdy scene she ups and leaves him and their upper class life, moving in with her down-to-earth, substantially less well-off sister (Celia Imrie), living in a pokey, ramshackle, north London flat. Contrasts in attitude abound, Staunton finding it hard to shuffle off her airs and graces and condescending attitude to all and everyone around her - until she learns the 'correct' way to live through harsh yet loving words of advice from big sis. 
An acquaintance (Timothy Spall) lives on a canal boat adjoining that of his best friend (David Hayman), both of them attending adult dancing classes (hence the film's title) where Staunton is enticed to come along, and where she and Spall gradually melt towards each other. So far, so unoriginal! Also in the class is Joanna Lumley in a very bitty role - no more than the odd sentence or a few words now and again throughout the film. There are one or two pleasingly sharp exchanges in the script, I must admit.
It's curious, considering the film's release date here, that the central section of the film is set very prominently at Christmas time, giving it a slightly anachronistic quality, a bit odd for February.
One thread of the drama is that the dancing class is invited to do a public performance - in Rome, of all places! - though in this case at least they're not trying to win a competition.
The personal angle is mainly in the burgeoning relationship between Staunton and Spall - and there's also a very deeply emotional event which made me wince a little. 

I was surprised to find that the matinee screening I attended in a large cinema was almost packed out, mostly by the 'grey brigade' (amongst whom I'd count myself) - so word must be getting around. The general audience reaction seemed to be that they enjoyed the film a great deal more than I did. I think it needs one to be prepared to let go of one's expectations, hopes and inhibitions, and just go along with the flow, something I always find hard to do, especially when it's something as unashamedly sentimental as this. 

Director Richard Loncraine's only notable successes to date have been the indifferent 'Wimbledon' of 2004 and the rather better-received 'Richard III' (with Ian McKellan) in 1995. I can't see 'Finding Your Feet' adding much sparkle or longevity to his list of accomplishments..................5.

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Film: 'The Shape of Water'

I had apprehensions that this would be swirling in heavy sentiment, something I find hard to swallow in any film - and so it is to some extent. But I had no idea it would contain so much sheer nastiness of different types on several levels in a number of episodes throughout its two-hour length. There are tender moments, certainly, though for me they were eclipsed by a very dark element which made it almost unremittingly an extremely uncomfortable watch. In fact if I could have left without disturbing at least half a dozen others in the same row I might have made for the exit after the film's statutory two-thirds had been viewed - that being the minimum proportion I must attend in order to include it in my record as having been 'seen'. (Walking out before the end of any film is actually rarer than an annual happening for me).

Shot in Toronto and Hamilton (the latter being the home city of at least one of my esteemed blog-followers), Sally Hawkins, together with Octavia Spencer, (both very good indeed) is a mute cleaner in a government research centre where an amphibious, partly humanoid-looking creature, discovered in South America, is captured and brought to be experimented upon. She establishes a relationship with the 'creature' through sign language and the two of them develop a reciprocal infatuation.  
It's all spoilt by chief researcher Michael Shannon (appropriately repulsive) who gets a sadistic pleasure from inflicting pain on the being, causing Sally H. to want to give it back its freedom.
Richard Jenkins plays her gay and lonely, commercial-painter neighbour in the next-door flat - she being his sole friend - both living above a cinema.

Director Guillermo del Toro works suitable wonders with his vision where he needs to without overplaying his hand, though all the time I felt myself resisting against being so emotionally manipulated.

As I've emphasised a number of times in the past my verdict and rating is based not so much on the extent to which it is a 'good' film - and it is clearly a very accomplished one - but rather on the degree to which I enjoyed it as an 'entertainment' and it's only in that respect that I personally found it seriously wanting. Not to mince words, I thought it profoundly unpleasant. 

The film has now been lauded across the world. Just why the U.K. is one of the last to get to see it is a complete mystery to me. Now that I have witnessed what all the fuss has been about, I will say that it's a film which, once seen, won't be forgotten in a hurry - but I wish it had been.......................3.

Monday 19 February 2018

Last night's BAFTA awards

Yesterday was one of only two nights in the year when I stay up well beyond 9 p.m. - the other being the Eurovision Song Contest, usually in May.
In the event I got much satisfaction from the awards, and hardly any disappointment - even if most of the awards came out as predicted. 

Won't argue about 'Three Billboards' getting 'Best Picture' - as well as 'Best British Film' (Yes! - qualifying as such because its director and most of its financing came from this country). I'd have probably given 'Best Picture' to 'Phantom Thread', though only by the slenderest of whiskers.

Few could seriously complain about Frances McDormand scooping 'Best Actress' - and anyone who did complain would be simply wrong! (Sally Hawkins, your time will yet come, darling! - I've yet to see 'Shape/Water'.) 
I was equally happy to see Sam Rockwell taking 'Best Supporting Actor' for that same film, which didn't have quite the same certainty.

Daniel Kaluuya was a good choice for 'Rising Star' in the very disturbing 'Get Out'  - but the tightest competition for the males was surely in the 'Best Actor' category. Although I'd have given it to Daniel Day Lewis, again by just a (phantom) thread, so that he could ride off into retirement sunset in full glory. Nevertheless, I'm not in the least disappointed that the no less deserving Gary Oldman was the actual winner.  

And to finish the evening with that looooooooong speech of overflowing, cringeworthy 'appreciation' from Ridley Scott for being awarded the BAFTA Fellowship - oh, put a sock in it, Rid! Couldn't you see that after three hours continuous (as unedited), everyone was shifting about in their seats, with some absolutely dying for a wee! It was too much for me and I went to bed while he was still in mid-flow.

Joanna Lumley did very well for her first stint as EmCee, apparently without the same level of nervousness which Stephen Fry had often (very understandably) been subject to in previous years, even if she didn't have the same flashes of humour and wit that he always seemed to come up with. 

Btw: On the review of those in the industry who'd passed on over the last twelve months, did I blink or did they really forget to mention the late, incomparable John Hurt?

This morning one of the right-wing tabloids has gone to town complaining that Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was the only female there (apart from Frances McDormand!) not to be wearing a black dress. To which I can only say "Oh, piss off, you scummy rag!" 

Over to you, Oscars!

Wednesday 14 February 2018

Film: 'The Mercy'

The story of one Donald Crowhurst's brave but foolhardy (only on hindsight?) attempt in 1968 to become, in a race, the first person to sail around the world non-stop and solo, when up to then his sailing experience had been little more than localised boat trips. I can just about recall the news at the time on his having been found to have falsified his submitted locations in order to mislead the public and media back home into thinking that he was making spectacular progress on his venture, but I couldn't remember how it had ended. 
It's this cheating aspect that gives this otherwise 'not another!' story its unusual, more interesting angle. If it had not been based on fact we might have seen the intrepid, would-be hero courageously taking to the high seas and battling the elements, all with a cat on board which would have come to a nasty end. Thankfully there's none of that here.  

Colin Firth, in a role that seems to fit him like a glove, plays Crowhurst, who leaves his wife (Rachel Weisz) and two young children behind in Devon (the film's director, James Marsh - who also did 'The Theory of Everything' - hails from next-door Cornwall), to enter a round-the-world race, he having staked his house as security for financing the building of his trimaran vessel and his attempt, success in coming first would guarantee him fame and riches. Local interest is fierce, played out foremost by local newspaper reporter, David Thewlis (too little seen on screen these days).
It's not long after his feted departure that Crowhurst's problems start appearing and mounting up, making him quickly aware how ill-equipped he is, both in terms of his own expertise and the dubious reliability through ill-construction of his boat - not to mention the mental capacity he requires to see his difficulties through. His near despair at lack of meaningful progress takes him to the fateful decision to phone in fictitious locations to give the lie that his speed is surpassing all expectations. (I suppose that nowadays there'd be some means of satellite tracking to verify where the person actually is?) And the outcome? As you almost certainly won't know the story you'll just have to see it.

I felt it was a reasonable enough film. It's hard to see how else they could have played it out, being tied to the facts as we now know them looking back. There's little room for imagination, though all the players come out of it with heads held fairly high - though, Rachel Weisz gets to be little more than a shadow for her husband who is, unsurprisingly, the film's strong focus.     

An unusual story, certainly, though its curious nature results in a mere momentary pause before one passes onto the next item of interest - much like this film itself.............6.

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Film: 'Journey's End'

You're not likely to come out of seeing this with a song in your heart. But if you're hankering after a practically unremittingly bleak World War One drama set almost entirely within the narrow muddy confines of a dug-out trench and its adjacent quarters, with an all-male cast (apart from a few seconds of a female form just before the close), then this should fit the bill for you.

You may well be familiar with the film's title as I was from the stage play (1928) by R.C.Sheriff, and which I'd seen some decades ago - the play being followed by a novel based on the theatre version. Even in this film adaptation it's pretty clear that it's tailor-made for the stage. There is little attempt here to open it up cinematically, which is good for it retaining its essentially claustrophobic atmosphere.

It takes place in 1918 in northern France, a few months before the Armistice, where a British contingent is holed up right on the front line, and knowing that a German offensive will be launched two days hence. They have been drawn the short straw in that in interchanging manning of the trench they are the ones who will be there to try to stop or hinder the German advance. It's these two days of waiting which creates the film's tension, and this is indeed ratcheted up quite effectively. Much understandable bickering and loss of tempers between the men reveals their suspense of waiting, not knowing which of them, if any, will survive to tell the tale. Attempts at humour are brief and usually fall flat.

Sam Claflin plays the nervous wreck of a Captain, finding it hard enough to keep his own composure never mind the jumpy men under his command. He's joined by Asa Butterfield as a wet-behind-the- ears young officer eager to play his part while trying to conceal his natural anxieties. It's the first time I've seen Butterfield since his appearance as the titular 'Hugo' in Scorsese's 2011 film of that name, a film for which, having now seen four times, I still retain considerable affection. In 'Hugo' Butterfield was then a boy. Now, of course, he's become a young man, and showing good potential as an up and coming actor.  

Among the rest of the cast there's Paul Bettany, as well as the always reliable Toby Jones, though his is little more than a bit-part.

Director Saul Dibbs ('Suite Francaise', 'The Duchess') does a fine job of transferring the play (as adapted by Simon Reade) to the screen, though it does still betray its theatrical source. I felt myself  wishing that I'd rather have seen it again with the immediacy and involvement of a live production. Perhaps anyone coming to this film without knowledge of its origin will appreciate it more.

Violence in the climactic battle scene is not shown in lingering close-ups, so there's little need to shield the eyes.
Colour throughout is in appropriate sepia and muddy tints.

Good enough, then, but I don't think it says anything that can't be said more effectively in the setting of live theatre..................6.5.

Monday 5 February 2018

Film: 'Phantom Thread'

Well, only five weeks into the year with just nine films seen and I can already declare that in my opinion this will be the film of 2018 - and possibly even the decade! I returned home one hour ago after an hour's bus journey, and I haven't come down yet.

Self-proclaimed by Daniel Day-Lewis as being his filmic swansong appearance, if it's true then he's going out on a high which simply could not be any higher. He has never been better - and considering every single role he's taken where he's never been even a shade less than breathtakingly impressive, here he reaches the summit. 
No less deserving of praise is the Luxembourgoise actress, Vicky Krieps, she and Day-Lewis making a riveting companionship in acting, augmented by the august presence of Lesley Manville. These three are the only significant characters of this totally absorbing film. 
American director Paul Thomas Anderson has made some extraordinarily memorable films (incl. 'There Will Be Blood', also with Day Lewis - and 'Magnolia' , though I do wish I'd had the chance to see his 'Punch Drunk Love') - and here once again his characteristic spell works wonders.

London 1950s, it's in the world of haute couture, where slightly ageing bachelor, Day-Lewis, runs a much-in-demand dressmaking business for 'society ladies', assisted by his sister (Manville). In a 'normal', everyday restaurant he's served by a waitress (Krieps) to whom he takes a fancy, and after a little gentle verbal teasing by him this is reciprocated. They quickly become friends and he takes her back to his large residence/workshop, where he has about ten experienced, mature women who come in daily for dressmaking work, his sister presiding over everything yet ever deferring to his will and decisions. The arrival of the new young woman raises a few eyebrows but nothing is said. Meantime, the Day-Lewis character is all quiet gentleness exuding affability - but could that be the cover for something rather like a tightly coiled spring...........? 
The story carries on from there, basically following the relationship between the two central individuals. Anyone familiar with Daphne du Maurier's excellent novel 'Rebecca' (one of my all-time favourite books) will pick up on the strong resonances between that work and this film - but situation-wise rather than denouement.

It's hard to say more without giving away more than I'd wish to. It's far better not knowing which way the compelling story's going to turn. I'll only say that the film is close to being flawless, though my sole quibble is that right at the end something happens, the reaction to which by one of the three principals is just a fraction less convincing in the light of what we know about that person's character through what's gone before. But it didn't affect my overall appreciation one jot.  

Mention must also be made of the outstanding soundtrack. In addition to original music written by Jonny Greenwood there are excerpts of both jazz and classical (mostly chamber) music, all expertly chosen without being distracting. I loved it all, nothing being jarringly out of place.
Oh yes, and there's a high quality script too.

The film may not be to everybody's tastes, but there's no doubt that it hit the spot for me. If you suspect it just might be the kind of film you'd like, I do urge you to go, please!...............8.5.