Tuesday 28 August 2018

Film: 'The Children Act'

When I first saw the trailer for this I had exalted hopes. I've read half a dozen of Ian McEwan's novels, though not this one, and he's rapidly become one of my favourite living writers. (He also wrote the screenplay for this film)

Any film starring Emma Thompson is already a 'must', and when it has the added attraction of Stanley Tucci as second in the cast then there's absolutely no question of missing it. 

Thompson is a High Court Judge in London whose remit includes decisions on some cases involving controversial questions, she having to observe a distinct dividing line between rulings in accordance with the established law of the land while keeping at arm's length varying opinions regarding the morality of such laws. 
Her busy schedule in which she takes work home has resulted in her 20-year marriage to the Stanley Tucci character long having gone 'off the boil', leaving him admitting to his wife that he's yearning to look for 'experience' elsewhere, all to her evident displeasure. 
Meanwhile a case comes up which will have larger repercussions than she realises - a situation where a young man (Ffion Whitehead) just shy of his 18th birthday and therefore legally still a minor under the guardianship of his parents, has developed leukaemia and needs a blood transfusion which would prevent him undergoing an almost inevitable slow and agonising death. All three of them are practising Jehovah's Witnesses and are withholding their permission for a transfusion. The hospital where he is being treated insists that this is the sole means for saving his life. Thompson is required to adjudicate and, prior to doing so, takes the unusual step of visiting the young patient in hospital, an act which turns out to involve her deeper than is desirable.

For the first approx. two thirds of the film I was thinking "This is really good." I'd read several critics who were less than impressed and up to this point I was sure they were wrong. Then........well, it's not something actually happening which turns it near fatally - ensuing events are actually just an extension of what had gone before  - but it goes into territory which I found just too hard to swallow as credible given the nature of Thompson's character. It's a shame because up to that point the storyline held such promise. I was also wanting to know more about Stanley Tucci's character. However, it must be said that although he's given star billing he really does play second fiddle to Thompson's judge and I don't think he has a single scene (every one of which is with her) more than a couple of minutes long. It's a pity because I've always liked him and I really thought that this could be his first really major screen role. Alas, it was not to be. 

I think I read somewhere that the film's ending is different from that of the novel, even though the screenplay was written by the same. Whether that's the case or not I didn't find the film's conclusion very satisfactory - not so much a case of loose endings, more one of being off-kilter from the rest of the film.

Director Richard Eyre has given us a handful of superb films in recent years, including 'Notes on a Scandal', 'Iris' and the much earlier 'The Draughtman's Contract'. He deals a good hand with this one too, but I don't think that as an entity it comes close to his best to date. 

If the whole film had been on the same level of excellence as the more-than-first half I might have ended up rating this with an '8', certainly at least a '7.5'. Regretfully I have to pull it down a bit from there, giving it a score which for many films receiving from me such a rating would be classified as 'good', but in this case reflecting what I regard as failed promise..............6.5.

(IMDb............6.6 / Rott. Toms............6.2 ) 

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Film: 'Apostasy'

Off the top of my head I can't think of any film concerning Jehovah's Witnesses, though there must be some. Now we have two in the same number of weeks. Next week it's 'The Children Act' in which adherents' refusal to grant permission for a blood transfusion is central, and now we have this where the same subject is at least broached in the opening minutes before it goes into other territory. 

Set in an anonymous north England town, it deals with a Witness' mother (Siobhan Finneran) single mother of two late-teenage girls (we're not told what happened to the husband), one of which, on becoming pregnant by her non-denomination boyfriend, is cast aside by the movement - though not in as brutal a way as we know happens in the Mormon 'Church'. Contact with her, even when the young father has deserted her and she's left alone with the new-born baby, is frowned upon, including contact from her mother who is told that the young mother can be welcomed back only when she wants to return and is "ready" as determined on examination by the Church's elders. Meanwhile, a newly arrived 'elder' (Robert Emms, looking alarmingly young for someone with that title) takes up romantically with the yet 'faithful' sister. 

It's a refreshingly small-scale, modest film, at a mere 95 minutes. Quite involving too, but oh, how I'm disappointed that yet again so much of the dialogue, particularly between the two sisters, and occasionally with the mother as well, is lost in blurred, undecipherable speech. I realise that at my age my hearing faculties must be less than they were, though I can't fathom out why if it's so I haven't experienced it in other areas, such as listening to radio or TV or in normal face-to-face conversation. It's incomprehensible to me how these on-screen characters can talk to each other without firing a regular "Pardon?" in both directions. Well, of course they don't need to because they know the script! Do other audience members have the same difficulty and are just too ashamed to admit it - or is it really just me? 

There's almost no histrionic behaviour between the characters, temperatures raised only occasionally and in fleeting manner, otherwise it's kept relatively subdued, mostly.
There isn't any sense of the Jehovah followers as being in any way 'monstrous', with no implied condemnation of their conduct - nor is there any 'preachifying' in their direction, the whole action being kept admirably neutral while showing in their Kingdom Hall meetings the importance of their interpretation of scripture.

This is the first full-length feature as director of Daniel Kokotajlo, and he performs the task well in unassuming manner.

I feel this would have merited a higher rating were it not for my single criticism of so much of the speech, particularly in the film's earlier part, being lost to me. Even so, it's worth a watch................6

(IMDb..........7.0 / Rott, Toms........8.1 )

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Film: 'The Eyes of Orson Welles'

You'll need to have at least a modicum of interest and curiosity about the man to stir yourself to see this one. It's something I do have, though it falls short of being fanatical. However, I did find this documentary most interesting, containing a wealth of information about his life I hadn't known.

As the film's title implies it's mainly concerned with the visual aspect of, not only his films (there were more of these than I'd realised - both as director and actor) but also with a huge collection of paintings, sketches (some almost doodles) etc which he left in a box which was only opened and examined years after his death in 1985. It turns out to have been almost a treasure trove of findings, obviously some of more value and significance than others. This film attempts to piece together and bring the strands together relating to the details of his life, his several successive wives, his interests, his travels and, of course, his filmic creations. For the most part it's very fascinating indeed.

One large caveat, though, is the form of the documentary's 'narration' which takes the form of this film's creator, Mark Cousins, talking to (the spirit of?) Welles as though he was present - e.g."You bought a donkey, didn't you? ", "Do you remember this scene, Orson?", "Why did you........?" and so on. Of course all these questions are never answered. You can imagine that to carry on like this all through an almost two hour film could, for many, get to be wearisome, not to say highly irritating. Being forewarned, I just let it wash over me and concentrated on the considerable stuff I hadn't known, and this was its own considerable reward.

There are a number of excerpts from his films, though all very brief - used mainly to illustrate his eye for visuals, in patterns, contrasts in character size, light and shade, decor. background etc - and in that respect one would have to concede that he really was a one-off, which for me is in a positive sense. 
There's shortish dialogue with one of his surviving daughters but what she had to say wasn't as illuminating as Cousins himself puts out as 'narrator'. 

This film has renewed my long-held desire to read Simon Callow's biography of Welles - three volumes published so far with a fourth and final one awaited imminently. I must get down to it before it gets too late. Meantime this film is a welcome appetiser...........6.5

(IMDb...................6.8 / Rott. Toms...................7.8 )

Monday 20 August 2018

Film: 'Christopher Robin'

Hadn't particularly wanted to see this on first viewing the trailer, only to be later underlined by almost unanimous tepid reviews. However, wanting to break a three-week hiatus of a Summer menu of kiddie films and inane blockbusters, decided to chance it. Bad move - and not solely because of this feature.

I never read the Winnie the Pooh stories as a boy or afterwards though was aware of the characters. (There was, of course, last year's release of 'Goodbye, Christopher Robin' which I saw and rated with a '5')

The augurs of an unfortunate experience were quickly evident in the large audience containing a high proportion of children aged 10 or under, mostly with their parents - including at least two babies-in-arms I saw. Annoyances grew when immediately in front of my designated seat sat a family of four, consisting of two boys with a mother who was, one might say, on the large side, holding in one hand a giant tub of popcorn to chomp on, phone in the other, she squeeeeeeeezed herself into the seat, while the boys shared a large vessel of coke (one assumes) - two straws, one vessel. Despite the request on screen to turn off phones, this 'lady' didn't - and every few minutes the blue light was being switched on and off - and she was far from alone in doing it. Then the younger of the boys, about 6 or 7, kept standing up for no apparent reason, making the seat go back with a clatter. And how many times in a one and three-quarter hour film does one need to have a wee? Three times? I kid you not. There may well have been a fourth, far as I know, as I left with maybe ten minutes to go, wanting to avoid the crush. (If I can manage to survive six hours or more with no discomfort, why can't others?)
All through the film, significant sections of which were hardly attention-holding for an audience of children, there was talking (not even whispered mutterings!) and, naturally, babies crying. And then there was the film itself..........

It's an odd story (this one not by A.A.Milne), set in London and Sussex and centring on Ewan McGregor as the adult C. Robin having (so the blurb goes) a 'mid-life crisis' relating to his employment and his marriage (to Hayley Atwell - underused) and his young, but (oh, so wise) brat of a young daughter - one of those kids who, you feel, would feel the benefit of a hearty slap.
The appearances of Pooh (with a most annoying, unvarying, 'poor me' voice) and his other creature friends (some exhibiting, very oddly, American accents) seemed to entertain most of the audience, but left me coldly unmoved. Plenty of rushing hither and thither didn't up the low excitement factor. I kept looking at my watch more times than probably for any other film this year. 

Director Marc Forster ('Monster's Ball', 'The Kite Runner', 'Finding Neverland', 'Quantum of Solace') does what he has to do as though it's all rollicking good-natured fun. If that's what it was meant to be it missed me.
Animations are pretty good, I must say, Didn't notice anything visually that looked 'false'.

If I hadn't had the irritations and distractions around me would I have appreciated the film more? I honestly think not. Shan't be wanting to see it again and I'm not in the slightest bit curious as to how it ended in those final missed minutes......................3

(IMDb...........7.8 / Rott. Toms..............6.1)

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Who Is America | Building a Mosque in Kingman Arizona | Sacha Baron Cohen

I wonder if any of you have seen this. I know that S,B.C. is not to everyone's taste, but this excerpt from his current TV show must be the funniest thing I've seen all year. I hope some of you will enjoy it as much as I did. 

Wednesday 1 August 2018

Film: 'Mission Impossible - Fallout'

Tom Cruise (as Ethan Hunt) saves the world one more time, and it won't be the last, I can guarantee it!
In this sixth instalment of the 'Miss. Imp.' series the implausible and needlessly convoluted storyline is again the 'hook' of an excuse on which to stage spectacular, prolonged chases, interspersed with fights - fists, sharp implements, guns - in which Cruise never has to pause to take a breather, his shots are bang on target while his adversaries always seem to miss, and any injuries are shrugged off as not consequential enough to slow him down. It's the same scenario in every one of this series, which is not to say that it's less than thrilling because I can't imagine that anyone demanding 'action' will feel let down.  

Locations are (mainly) Paris, London and Kashmir, where Cruise is out to find and render useless three plutonium bombs(!) which have been masterminded by a crazed anarchist (Sean Harris) who is already set on destroying three of the world's 'holy' cities - Rome, Jerusalem and - was it Mecca? There's considerable argy-bargy between the American CIA (represented by Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett) and British MI6 which got me lost very quickly, and is why Simon Pegg is on board (for 4th time) to assist Cruise on his mission - he and Ving Rhames (again, his 5th appearance) have now become regulars in the series, though the latter doesn't have that much to do or say other than loom in the background as a reassuring presence, Pegg having the more substantial role.

Once again we have the device of facial masks being removed to reveal that the character we thought it was turning out to be someone else. This is getting a bit tired now, I feel. Also, all those regulation injections in the neck - truth serums and God knows what else. Oh dear! And in the mix now there's Henry Cavill whom Cruise tows along on his mission with some reluctance.

This is Christopher McQuarrie's fourth feature film as director, he also having directed the previous M.I. - he's also the writer. He does fill in all the boxes as required, even if coherence in this two and a half hour film may not be its strongest suit.

I did feel quite caught up by all three big chases which did get my pulse racing at times, though not all the time. The challenge for McQuarrie was to do something a bit different from what we've seen before in countless thrillers like this. The actual mechanics of the chases may have a couple of original touches here but the formula is the same as it's always been - only with Lalo Schifrin's unexceptional motto theme blasting out every few seconds to pin it down to Miss. Imp. in case we forget. And as for Cruise doing all his own stunts (and breaking an ankle in the process - a moment at which I cringed) it really was an astonishing achievement for him.

I don't think I got as much out of this as for some of the previous M.I.s, though all the others have more or less merged into one in my memory. I know I liked the first (1996) but as to putting the rest in order of liking I'd need a refresher, though wouldn't be keen on seeing any of them for a second time.  

This film does what you'd expect and it can't be faulted on those grounds. Whether you'd class it as superior, solid entertainment would depend on what gives you a buzz. My own rating speaks for itself..............6

(IMDb.................8.4 / Rotten Tomatoes.........also 8.4)