Monday 28 May 2018

Film: 'On Chesil Beach'

I'd been bracing myself to feel let down by this, having been mightily impressed with Ian McEwan's novella (which I've read twice) which had been shortlisted for the 2007 Booker prize. It turned out that I was not disappointed in the least, the screenplay written by the author himself and very successfully put on screen by Dominic Cooke, whose debut as feature film director this is.

The basic story is set in 1962 on the south English coast where two newly-weds, Saoirse Ronan ('Lady Bird', 'Brooklyn' ) and Billy Howle ('Dunkirk', 'The Sense of an Ending') arrive directly after their wedding to spend their honeymoon in a fairly standard hotel. Both completely inexperienced, the consummation of the relationship doesn't go as either of them would wish (to put it mildly), and subsequent recriminations abound.
In flashbacks we see their first meeting at a CND meeting in Oxford where they are both studying, their introductions to their respective parents - her upper-class, rather snooty ones (Samuel West, Emily Watson) and his brain-damaged mother (Anne Marie-Duff) and dutiful father (Adrien Scarborough).  
She is a violinist in a string quartet/quintet, he more interested in rock (Chuck Berry) but is open-minded enough to extend his own horizons to embrace her repertoire.

The atmosphere of the book is well captured, considering that much of the written word was a spelling out of what was in the minds of the young couple - their initially held promise of the expectation of a loving life together, before it all comes crashing down - with consequent bitter and hurtful words from both parties. 

There is a two-stage epilogue, in this film given a bit more weight than the mere six pages (out of 166 in my copy) in the book. I was starting to think that it was an error to have gone this far but I must admit it was largely redeemed by a highly emotional moment near the very end where I could feel my own tears welling up. Quite beautiful it was, and took my breath away.

It's a small-scale film but sentiment is writ large without the deep wallow, which for me would have been fatal. 
Although Saoirse Ronan has shown herself to be a fine actress, her face is one which, until she acts, looks to me like a blank parchment awaiting someone to write on it before she captures the personality, which she does most ably. In contrast, Billy Howle (whose name hadn't registered with me until now, and looking at times very like a young Michael York) has a face which reveals his hand of cards straight away, a characteristic which plays itself extremely well in a film like this.

If the subject matter grabs you, I'd unreservedly recommend this film - one of the few in which I think that having read the book ought to make little difference to your opinion of this visual interpretation, which has, of course, the blessing of the writer himself - and you can't ask for much more than that.................7.5.
(Imdb...........6.3 / Rotten Tomatoes..........6.4)

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Film: 'Filmworker'

For the most part I was enthralled by this. However, if you're not stirred by the idea of a documentary about working with director Stanley Kubrick, you may as well stop reading now.

I was at one of just two screenings. both at this area's largest (and the country''s oldest) surviving single-screen cinema - part of an audience of nine in a 274-seat auditorium. 

Kubrick (died 1999) is probably my most revered of all film directors, his sparse life's catalogue including my singular all-time favourite film.
This documentary is built around an interview with Kubrick's indispensable right-hand man and jack-of-all-trades, Leon Vitali, who explains early on why he doesn't like to be described as 'assistant', preferring the film's title. From what we learn of him it sounds like he has good grounds.
Most of us will have heard stories about the director's excessive demands - a lot of 'takes' for virtually every scene - and that he was volatile, moody, exacting, rude and unforgiving. (Stories were that in filming his final feature, 'Eyes Wide Shut', both Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh walked away, the former being replaced by Sidney Pollack). 

Vitali himself, although he had appeared before on TV productions, I was only aware of from his playing the teenage. father-hating son of Ryan ONeal's 'Barry Lyndon' (1975) - and I'd given him no further thought since. (He did also appear in 'Eyes Wide Shut', unrecognisable as the masked, red-robed senior at the likewise fully masked 'erotic'(?) secret ceremony which the Tom Cruise character attends).
I remember Vitali only as the fresh-faced youth he played in 'Lyndon' (though at the time he was, in fact, well advanced into his 20s) so it rather took me aback seeing him as he now is, with his well lived-in face (over 40 years later, of course), now 69 years old, and looking rather like a survivor of the late 1960's 'flower-power' movement.
After 'Barry Lyndon' Vitali was determined to devote his future life to working entirely with Kubrick behind the camera, and when the director became aware of his promised dedication he took him on, developing him as the most trusted member of his crew, giving him all sorts of jobs to do which, it appears, he performed to Kubrick's satisfaction. The director''s well-documented mercurial demands and mood swings couldn't put Vitali off, and he stayed with Kubrick from 1975, working on his films 'The Shining' (1980), 'Full Metal Jacket' (1987) and 'Eyes Wide Shut' (1999) until his death in that year. Dying with this final film not quite complete, it was left to Vitali to put it into a final condition for for release.  

There are very short excerpts from these final four films (some of them a mere few seconds long) as well as the three which preceded them - 'Dr Strangelove' (1964), '2001 - A Space Odyssey' (1968) and 'A Clockwork Orange' (1971). 

There are numerous present-day interjections from the likes of Ryan O'Neal, Danny Lloyd (playing the then 4-year old 'Danny' in 'The Shining') and Matthew Modine ('Eyes Wide Shut') and several other crew members and film industry executives.

A common criticism of Kubrick's films are that they are "cold and clinical", something with which I cannot entirely disagree. I can see from where this opinion arises. However, and going on a slightly different tack, I think none of his films are perfect, all having at least one major flaw (a 'hole' I like to call it) which varies from one film to another - it could be in construction, casting, the inclusion of a failed sequence which doesn't work, or any of several other aspects. Nevertheless, I do maintain that for standard of overall excellence, with every single film of his being 'significant' to a greater or lesser degree, in my opinion Kubrick is unrivalled among directors. 

I found this documentary (directed by Tony Zierra) fascinating. The only time it lost its momentum was when Vitali was talking about his own life and how it had been affected by his life's dedication to his idol. It's only natural that we should be told something of this, he being the principal interviewee and the sine qua non of the film, though knowing of his own circumstances couldn't compare with  learning additional details of Kubrick himself, of whom there are many shots, with quite a bit of off-camera footage of his working on the films in progress.

I liked this a lot, and if there's anyone reading this who shares my esteem for the director I don't think they are going to be disappointed. Even for those who don't ascend to the same heights of admiration as I do for his films I think there's still a lot to be learnt from this. If you're shrugging your shoulders with a "meh!", then by all means walk round it. Nevertheless, in terms of my own personal enjoyment I award it a good................7.
(Current IMDb.........7.6  - Rotten Tomatoes.......also 7.6)

Monday 21 May 2018

Film: 'Deadpool 2'

I wouldn't have bothered seeing this if I hadn't enjoyed the original (2016) - and I had, giving it a 6.5.

Ryan Reynolds reprises his earlier eponymous character - and more's the pity that there's little original with this further instalment of comic book extreme violence, much of it bloody - limbs and heads lopped off,  (which the context makes acceptable), too-many-to-mention stabbings, explosions, incinerations (you get the picture) - but, I think mistakenly, this time there's far too many asides to the camera of what one assumes is quickfire wit, some of which works and some doesn't, largely because much is delivered so fast that it's hard to catch the words. Fatally, I reckon, is that although I can take it for maybe half an hour, at the end of the first 60 minutes it was wearing me down, and there was yet another hour to go - and all with hardly any respite! This identical manner held up for pretty well most of the first film because at least it was original then. But to repeat all these winks and self-knowing nods to the audience is, in my opinion, milking it a might too far. It needed something fresh to carry us through a second time, and this it failed to provide. 

Ryan Reynolds has as his nemesis Josh Brolin as 'Cable' a time-travelling super-powered pest with whom he has to engage in order to protect another super-powered boy (Julian Dennison) with heat-generating hands capable of throwing fiery missiles. He enlists a team of about five assistants, male and female, each of whom has individual super-human powers too. It's not necessary to know much more as it's all subservient to spectacle anyway, and on that measure alone, I suppose it works - but two hours is one hell of a stretch for a 'comic strip'. 

For one-time (and continuing) stuntman and stunt-double David Leitch, this is his second full-length feature film, as director, his first being the substantially better 'Atomic Blonde' (2016) with Charlize Theron. In this film there's no doubt that he keeps things moving along - in fact there's hardly a stop when I'd been wishing for more breathers. But from fans of his style I can't think there'll be many complaints.  

My 'entertainment' was further diminished by two unfortunate circumstances. First, about three rows in front of me was sitting a middle-aged couple, of which he clearly had some 'issues'. He was wearing a baseball cap but all through the film he kept taking it off and, must have been half a dozen times, holding it right up at arms length and twirling it around on one finger, obscuring the lower part of the screen, and all the while muttering, which had led me to think early on that it hadn't been malicious, he just being unaware. It affected not only me but possibly a couple of dozen others, but no one said anything, and I sure as hell wasn't going to. (Once his female company did make him take his arm down, but only that one time).
Then there was a more mature woman a few rows behind me and a little way along who found practically every action and every single line so completely side-splittingly hilarious, which she broadcast to the entire auditorium with one of those ultra-irritating, shrill laughs that simply grate on ones nerves. I was by no means the only one who repeatedly turned round and glared at her with looks-that-can-kill, but she carried on in oblivious mode. What the hell was so relentlessly funny? Blowed if I know! If the film had been more entertaining than it was and required ones concentration then it might have been more problematic. As it was, I don't think it made that much difference. 

You will see that, as is more often the case than not, my own rating is vastly lower than the two comparisons I offer. For the original 'Deadpool' the final IMDb score settled at 8.0, as against my own 6.5. For this I record a less than 'fair'................4.5.
(Current IMDB rating - 8.2 ------ Rotten Tomatoes 7.2)

Thursday 17 May 2018

Film: '(Seven Days in) Entebbe'

(In the U.K. the film's title is the single word name of the Ugandan town).

It's been a lean time in these parts in recent days for the discerning cineaste. To keep a foot in the door I'd been minded to see two films this week, both of which have received less than enthusiastic reviews. I ditched 'Breaking In' and opted for this one.

Those of my generation will remember the incident in 1976 which grabbed the entire world's attention for several days - the skyjacking of a French plane having just taken off from Athens, flying it to Uganda, with the terrorists threatening to kill all the passenger hostages and French crew if Israel did not release imprisoned Palestinians and sympathisers in its gaols. Israeli passengers were separated from the rest but there was the threat that all passengers would be killed if demands were not met.  
Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruhl play the leaders of this grim plot, both members of (the then West) Germany's Baader-Meinhof gang, - both of them to me seeming curiously under-powered in this film, considering the focus of the entire world being on them for so long - hardly any hysteria and very little shouting. 
Even the Israeli cabinet and politicians (including the estimable Eddie Marsan as interim Prime Minister, Shimon Peres) didn't appear to be unduly over-excited despite the rest of the world being on tenterhooks.

A principal curiosity of the film is the very strange appearance of an act, semi-dance and semi-'creative' modern interpretive movement (I guess) - performed by about twenty be-suited (mostly) men to a rousing Hebrew song, on stage in front of an audience. And what's worse is that it's repeated in short snatches throughout the film (why?) - moreover, and most controversially perhaps, its repetition is juxtaposed with the climactic shoot-out at Entebbe airport. The significance of this insertion missed me totally. It must have taken some nerve to decide to risk this, and although it added a different dimension to what would could otherwise have been a routine conclusion, I have serious doubts as to whether it worked successfully.
Through the film there's only minimal on-screen violence with nothing really to look away from. I have to say, though, that despite those of us who remember the incident knowing how it finished, there were moments now and again when tension was reasonably well ratcheted up. 

It's Brazilian director Jose Padilha who takes the chances, but I don't think he's created here a film which does justice to the seriousness of the world-shaking event which had consumed all the news media for a week or more. Rather better, and covering the same events, though not without faults, was the 1976 film 'Raid on Entebbe' (filmed just a few months after it actually happened) with Peter Finch (who was himself to die just a few months later) and Charles Bronson - with Yaphet Kotto as the crazy President Amin.

Not exactly bad, then, but ought to have been ever so much better - helped significantly by omitting that too-oft repeated 'dance' act............5.5.
(Current IMDb rating - 5.8.......Rotten Tomatoes - 5/10)

Saturday 12 May 2018

Eurovision, the final (sad) results.

Oh WEEP, ye citizens! Another year when my bafflement at the result replaces satisfaction at recognition of quality. Sometimes this febrile annual extravaganza does throw up a worthy winner, as it did last year. This time not so - and far from it! It'll be forever a mystery to me why so many voted for this empty and silly offering from Israel (I refer to the 'song', not for the embonpoint-endowed young performer, Netta).  After hearing it several times now I can still only recall the single, inane, bellowed 'hook' - "I'm not your TOY-OY!"  Oh, mercy, PLEEEEEEEASE!

This is Israel's first win since trans Dana International scooped it in 1998 with another vacuous 'song' which, to be fair was rather more memorable than this winning 'novelty' act, replete with farmyard-like noises. This wasn't even the best of the several novelty acts - that distinction surely went to the far more polished Moldova, which finished 10th (out of 26):-

My own choices:-
Czech Republic (finishing 6th):-

Estonia - the operatic lady imprisoned in the swirling-patterned, circus-tent of a dress (8th):-

 Denmark - 5 husky 'Vikings' stomping their way through a rather good. tuneful song. They included a couple of nice bits of 'rough'. (9th):-

But I finally reverted to my own original choice and cast my vote for Sweden which, in the first part of the voting, the 'juries' votes, was coming second after Austria, (which I rated as indifferent) only to be knocked down by the people's vote (huh!) to 7th place. I still think it was the classiest entry.

As for my least-liked:-
Predictably, perhaps, the hard-rock Hungary (21st), the boringly unmemorable Slovenia (22nd)  - and the 'Spice Girls' of Cyprus, coming second! of all things! - and bookies joint-favourite with Israel. I can only ask why?:-

And, of course, among my least liked was............yes, Israel!

Then there was poor little SuRee of the U.K. following Eurovision 'tradition' by coming in at 24th place, though I really thought she would have come a lot of higher, and deservedly so.
Her act was near-highjacked by a stage intruder who grabbed her mike mid-song, shouted something about the "U.K. Nazi media" (no idea what he was referring to specifically!) and was speedily hustled off the stage, SuRee carrying gamely on, apparently little fazed. Good on her. It's currently not clear exactly who the intruder was, still under police detention, though it's being said that he is not British, and has done this stage-stealing action at least a couple of times before in other events:-

The quartet of female comperes really did drag things out rather more than it was needed, I felt - and why on earth, with 26 songs to get through, did the event have to start with two additional songs as well as all the unnecessary, but now obligatory parade of the flags? The contest itself didn't start until 16 minutes in! Then with last year's winner (now thankfully rejuvenated with heart transplant) providing yet a further two songs, though as he was in the intermission between all the acts having performed and the voting results, it was more forgivable. Nonetheless, by then my brain had been over-stuffed.

So there it is. Until next year in Israel (will it then be held in a 'new', Trump-promoted capital of Jerusalem?) when I can only hope that the final result will be more in accord with my own tastes than this one was.  

Eurovision! Just a few more hours to go and I can hardly wait.

So this is how it felt to be on the very edge of orgasm. Yes, it does seem vaguely familiar.

Controversy came early this year with China's transmission being blocked by the organisers when, in their showing of the first semi-final, they failed to broadcast the Irish entry because it featured a background dancing male couple who did no more than hold hands (not even kissing!) - and not only that, they even felt it necessary to blur out a rainbow flag in the audience! Good! - they don't deserve to receive the signals!

Russia not reached the final for the first time since they started appearing, which is something I can live with. They also had threatened not to broadcast the Irish entry but eventually backed down when told their entry would be disqualified if they did so. Their song, performed from a wheelchair by a woman suffering from muscular dystrophy, was nothing special, I thought. Better than some, perhaps, but no more than that. 

Pleased that all four Scandinavian countries have reached the final, and they are all not bad. The Norwegian is sung by the reappearance of Alexander Rybak, the highly popular, boyish-looking fiddler who won in 2009 - and deservedly so ('cos I voted for him!). 
Then there's the Swedish chappie who hasn't done himself any favours by, reputedly, slagging off some other entrants already. Pity when, otherwise, his song is one of the better ones.

Can't understand why so many are going nuts for Cyprus and Israel. The former I think is nothing special and the latter has only 'comic' novelty value going for it, and nothing else.

Biggest disappointment so far for me is that Georgia was eliminated. I thought that was the best song of all.

U.K., now 21 years since its last win, is bracing itself for a possible negative Brexit effect. However, as some of our recent entries have done so badly, if this one follows the pattern it'll be hard to tell if it suffered for that reason. But it's a pretty strong song which, I think, ought to finish in the Top 10, maybe even high up in it.  Currently, with just three hours to go to the start, it's the bookies' favourite - to come last! (My own predictions are usually hopelessly inaccurate!) 

So if you are eligible, get ready to vote tonight - for..........SWEDEN! (This may change when it comes to the crunch. Having just replayed all of them I'm wavering a bit. There's a clutch of really good ones).

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Film: 'Tully'

This held out some promise and, to an extent, it was fulfilled. However there were one or two mis-steps that jarred with me, plus a very short scene which went against the spirit of the rest of the film, leaving an unpleasant after-taste. More of that in a mo.

Shot in New York, state and city, Charlize Theron - here showing once more what an exceptional actress she is - is just days away from giving birth to her third child, this one unplanned. She already has her hands full with the present two, one of whom, the boy, has behavioural problems both at home and at school where his conduct is disrupting the class. To her resentment, it's suggested that in his own interest he ought to be educated in an institution for children with special needs. So the last thing she feels she can cope with right at the moment is yet another one demanding all the extra care needed for a new-born baby. Her dutiful husband (Ron Livingston) keeps his distance, travelling to his daily work and not interfering much with domestic chores when he returns, and she seems suited to that, but the routine now of having a baby and giving it the attention it needs is seriously wearing her down, with physical and mental exhaustion written all over her face and demeanour. Before the birth her well-meaning 'New Age conscious' brother (Mark Duplass) and his wife had suggested she might consider hiring a 'night-nanny' to look after the baby while she slept, giving her the chance to take some much-needed rest. While dismissing the notion at first (an idea she'd not heard of), she keeps the card - and, of course, before very long is ringing the number. 
Then in walks........a young, smiley, perky, inquisitive Tully (Mackenzie Davis - yes, the name is female though I'd assumed it was the husband actor's name. I see she did also appear in 'Blade Runner 2049'). After the mother's initial wariness and all the questions (despite Tully giving little away of herself), a bond grows between the two women, Tully taking perfect care of the baby with no complaints in either direction. Hubby is quite satisfied with the arrangement too.
But then there's a small sequence where the two women decide to play a little trick on the husband which I thought didn't fit in with the film's direction, in fact it was rather mean. If they'd been drinking then their action might have been, if not forgivable, at least a bit more understandable, but they hadn't. There is, incidentally, no indication that the affections of either wife or husband had wandered elsewhere. And then after this, after the briefest of mentions, the subject isn't raised again - which struck me as odd. (Did something disappear in the editing? Or perhaps I'm making too much of the incident).

It would be unfair to say whether or not the women's friendship continues all through the film, but there is another potentially catastrophic incident involving both of them towards the end. The trouble is, where I don't normally in the least mind being left with loose ends at a film's conclusion, this one left me as though waiting for the next instalment, there was so much still to be resolved. 
Another dubious point is that there are a couple of cheesy touches which are indulged in, which I could have done without, they not bringing any added salient material to the content - and there is one background song played, something which gets my goat in films every time - though this was especially puzzling in being, of all interpolations, the title song to 'You Only Live Twice'! (not sung here by Nancy Sinatra!)

Jason Reitman ('Juno', 'Up in the Air') does the directing honours and he performs serviceably with this quite unusual story. But the film belongs to Charlize Theron, whose presence both pre- and post-natal is nothing less than formidable....................6.

Monday 7 May 2018

Film: 'Nothing Like a Dame'

Very enjoyable confection of four veteran British actresses on whom the title of 'Dame' has been conferred, reminiscing together in the way that they've been doing for years, only this time with cameras present.
The illustrious quartet comprises Maggie Smith. Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins (all three of these now 83 and due to add a further year later in 2018) and Joan Plowright, 88,  practically, if not completely, blind now, also with hearing difficulties. The first two of the four named are, of course, well known to cinema and TV audiences. the latter two probably better remembered for their theatrical work, though they have both appeared in a number of films as well. (For those who don't know, Joan Plowright is the widow of Sir Lawrence Olivier, so he features prominently in their anecdotes). 
These four ladies meet up periodically in a country house (Joan Ps? in Sussex?) for a regular chinwag on this and that.
Talking points are random, though all connected with their acting careers - the direction of conversation sometimes guided or prompted by the film's director, Roger Michell ('Notting Hill' etc) from off-screen. The film crew becomes occasionally intrusive, though the four are never rude about it. 
It's not filmed in one continuous take, moving from the garden to indoors when it starts to rain, and even then it's freely chopped about, featuring brief illustrations of the films they mention as well as some of the theatre productions when they'd been recorded.

A lot of the talk frequently gets giggly, as one might imagine, and there are more than a few LOL moments - e.g. When discussing Shakespeare's 'Antony and Cleopatra' in which Judi Dench appeared on stage alongside the late Alan Bates, the latter telling Judi D. that he thought Cleo's was a far better part than Antony's, to which they all agreed - with Maggie S. tartly adding "Well, he'd have preferred to have acted as Cleopatra anyway!"
Catty remarks abound though none of it is really malicious. I could have done with just a little more bite and acerbity to some of the remarks though the four were observably conscious of the cameras the whole time, which might understandably have held them back. And, of course, it hardly need saying that the whole thing is unscripted.
Nevertheless, it's superior entertainment at just under an hour and a half, and I've seen too many films of the same length or longer, much longer, which didn't pack even a fraction of the satisfaction which this one gave me........................7.5