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 )


Monday 24 September 2018

Film: 'The Little Stranger'

Lawks, but I found this a tedious affair! A brooding 1948 tale set in an English rural manor house visited by Domhnall Gleeson as doctor, an ancestral residence too big by far for a mother (Charlotte Rampling) with two adult children (Ruth Wilson and Will Poulter) plus maidservant, all against a portentously unyielding atmosphere with a 'mystery' at its heart which for me was too diffuse to be as gripping as it was clearly intended to be. Throw in a few unpleasantly violent deaths and sporadic effects of a haunting and I came out bewildered in a 'what-was-all-that-about?' fashion, and I honestly don't care to give it much further thought. 
Not tense enough to be 'suspenseful', nor grisly enough to be true 'horror', I assume it goes in the category of 'psychological drama'.

Gleeson, apart from 'losing it' in one short scene, plays the entire drama virtually on the one, unflappable note. Charlotte Rampling is magisterially matriarchal in the way she can always be relied on to deliver. Poulson as the disfigured and injured ex-RAF young veteran is, understandably, humourlessly intense. But Ruth Wilson is the stand-out cast member in the only role here that is full of light and shade. and she does it all credibly well. 

The film is based on one of Sarah Waters' six novels to date, of which I have so far read only the one, 'Fingersmith', and have to say I was impressed with that. Apparently the film of 'The Little Stranger' follows the book quite closely and despite my reservations regarding the film I should like to read it as I'd expect it to get inside the minds of the characters more successfully on the printed page than in this visual version.

Director Lenny Abrahamson, probably best known for 'Room', (2015) draws perfectly capable performances from his cast, however I could have done with less mood-setting music on the soundtrack. 

The film has been generally quite well received. For me it lacked that extra ingredient to make it recommendable, and hence rather a disappointment.................5.

(IMDb.............6.0 / Rott. Tomes..........6.4 )

Sunday 23 September 2018

Day trip to Whitby

Week before last I visited my sister who lives on the north-east English (Yorkshire) coast, from whence I myself hail. I took the opportunity to re-visit Whitby, having been there around a dozen times before, mainly in my youth, the last time being about 10 years ago.
It's only about 20 miles from where she lives, an 80-minute bus ride on the coast road. 

Whitby, a former thriving fishing port, is a place whose international fame and reputation far belies its small size (pop. less than 14,000) - and is best known for its Abbey ruins as well as the inspiration for Bram Stoker's 'Count Dracula', where Stoker himself was impressed after staying at one of its hotels in 1890.
Whitby 'jet' (or lignite), used as jewellery, is also well known. 
It's a popular resort for the British, and in the Summer months I should imagine that its population swells to two or three times that of its residents with the number of visitors it attracts.  

 In the following photo you may just be able to make out the Abbey at the summit of the hill:-
There are 199 steps leading up to the cliff top where the Abbey ruins are located (wheeze.....puff.....gasp.....):-

There is no lift alternative. The only assistance is provided by a railing to hold. There are no seats or benches for resting. Every 20 steps or so there's a broader step, about three times the breadth of others, called a 'coffin stop' where monks and others used to be able to set down the body of the deceased on the way to requiem mass in the abbey and burial, in order to take a breather in their arduous, burdensome climb. 

The Abbey of St Hilda's was, in effect, a double monastery and was established in the year 657 C.E., flourishing with strategic status and position in medieval Christianity until it was sacked and shut down in the 16th century by Henry VIII as part of his dissolution of all the English monasteries, taking the considerable valuables for himself and pouring the gains into the country's revenues.
In the year 664 the Synod of Whitby, an international convocation, had decided on how to determine the date of Easter throughout Christianity (an unwieldy formula which we've been lumbered with ever since), as well as ruling that the Roman-styled tonsure should be adopted for monks universally.  

Goodbye to a highly interesting, most historic and attractive, little town:-

Thursday 20 September 2018

Film: 'King of Thieves'

Going to see a film about which one already knows has had scant, if any, praise, does not fill one with excited anticipation.  That was what probably led to my disliking it rather less than I'd expected. Not a recommendation to see, without doubt, but also not as dire as all that.

Based on an actual heist of money and jewellery (value est. £14 mill. = 18.5 mill. $ American) as recently as 2015 in Hatton Gardens, East London and starring a roll-call of stalwart, aged (geriatric or very nearly - except for one) British stars as the burgling gang, led by Michael Caine (now 85-years old, here playing 76) and including Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone, Paul Whitehouse, with Michael Gambon - and Charlie Cox at a sprightly 36. 
The robbery, carried out over Easter week-end (long public hols), was, unsurprisingly, very big news here at the time, being the biggest such in British history, maybe less publicised abroad. Apparently to date only £4 million of the haul has been recovered.  

I quite liked the film's construction in that not much time is wasted in introducing the characters nor in showing the planning of the crime. In fact within half-an-hour of the film's start the burglary has begun - another half hour and it's over i.e. the loot is being divided, or at least agreed on how it is to be.

The film concentrates not so much on the mechanics of the audacious event but rather on the dynamics within the criminal group. It doesn't take long for the squabbling to start - in fact there's a major falling out and walking away by one character before it's even been committed. It's not hard to work out that the rivalries between gang members will lead to suspicions as to who can and can't be trusted to keep tight-lipped, as well as the sharing, especially since the there's no actual physical dividing up of the spoils until a few days have elapsed.   
The script is plain, unexciting and predictable (replete with 'fucking' of this and that) - with the inevitable repeated references to age and incontinence, as well as to diabetes. Not much imagination there. 
The police's relative ease in identifying the culprits was rather hard to give credence to, though it is based on what happened. I liked that there is no script at all for the officers successfully tracing the gang members, completely wordless as it was. 

t was curious why, right at the film's end, we had to be shown a succession of two-second (max) clips of four of the main stars' early films - Caine  (as Harry Palmer) and Courtenay, Broadbent and Winstone. Why? We already know who they are!

Director James Marsh's most renowned film to date is 'The Theory of Everything', and this new one hardly deserves to be spoken in the same breath as that fine achievement. Nonetheless this was, in my opinion, nowhere near the unmitigated disaster which some seem to indicate it is........................5.

(IMDb.................6.0 / Rott. Toms.................4.9 )

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Film: 'The Miseducation of Cameron Post'

This had the potential to be something exception-al. Not only because the subject matter has, as far as I'm aware, not been addressed in a feature film before - viz. the attempted 'conversion' ('correction' they would call it) from homosexuality to 'normalcy' by a Christian group -  but also because there has never been a better time than now, with the dreadful prospect of such a practice's active advocacy being pushed by a Pence Presidency looming over the horizon.
Shame, then, that for me the promise didn't quite meet the opportunity presented by the premise. Double shame that much of my disappointment stemmed from that old bugbear of mine, poor and lazy diction, and especially galling when most of it comes from the film's main star, Chloe Grace Moretz. Oh, what I'd have given for subtitles when, in a conversation, all I can make out is one half, and left guessing as to what it was she actually said. What a needless scar on the film! The only 'biggish' name here is Jennifer Ehle who, even when she talks quietly, one can still hear what she's saying. 

Set in 1993 (in some state location I can't find), Moretz, orphaned and living with parental guardians, is discovered having sex in a car with a teenage girl of similar age and is whisked off to 'God's Promise', an isolated small institute with around 10 'inmates' of both sexes and roughly similar age, run by Ehle, assisted by John Gallagher Jr who, were learn, was also subject to same-sex attraction but, with God's help he 'overcame' it (Hallelujah!) - or so he claims (Hah!). Ehle, as the resident 'governess' of sorts, is superficially oh-so-understanding but steely underneath. For me it wasn't established whether all the attendees were there for the same reason. I surmise that they were though it wasn't obvious. They have group sessions with half a dozen together, Ehle presiding, encouraging them to talk about their innermost feelings, as well as having one-to-ones. During the night an unidentified torch bearer makes the rounds, presumably to ensure there's no hanky-panky going on - including, one presumes, solo efforts. 
Moretz has flashbacks and fantasies about her Lesbian affair(s), her own lack of faith in a God not facilitating the prescribed 'healing' process. She makes particular friends with a young woman (Sasha Lane) and a young man (Forrest Goodluck - who, I think should be turning heads in a few years' time) and the three of them go on regular hikes together.

All the ingredients of an unusual and good film are here but somehow the target isn't quite hit. There's no attempt (nor should there be?) to show the misguidedness of the institution, though it's clear where the makers' and writer's sympathies lie, which is not with the Church. 
Based on a novel by Enily Danforth of her true-life experiences, director and screenplay-co-writer, Desiree Akhavan keeps it all very much low-key, there being just one moment of heightened emotional tension - apart from the sex, that is, which is not in any way explicitly shown.  

Although I did like the film I came away feeling strangely unfulfilled, the ending coming unexpectedly and leaving me, unusually, with the tantalising question of "So what happened next?"
I might have scraped by giving this a rating of '7' but I really must register a penalty half-point minimum for Moretz's hopeless,  annoying and unthoughtful lack of clear diction. So I'm afraid it's a................6.5.

(IMDb................7.0 / Rott. Toms............7.5 )

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Film: 'Crazy Rich Asians'

Set aside the Singapore location. More importantly, look beyond the fact that the entire cast is of east Asian descendancy. What you have is a fairy tale story of brazen unoriginality, complete with every cliche in the book, including suspicious family matriarch (the luminous Michelle Yeoh - above left), flighty best friend and a campy, gay brother (the latter two both thrown in for a bit of 'comic effect') - and all concluding with the corniest of endings which I only stayed for in the forlorn hope that they wouldn't opt for the obvious, predictable, happy ending - and a forlorn hope it was.

I was bored rigid within half an hour of the start though, to be fair, it did warm up a teeny bit now and again, though it couldn't sustain my interest very far.  

Constance Wu and Henry Golding, having met and 'gelled' romantically in New York travel to Singapore where she meets his family, being completely unaware of his fabulous wealth which the family acquired through playing property. His mother (Yeoh) is formally polite to the new arrival but restrains herself from giving full-hearted approval towards Wu as a potential daughter-in-law. Golding takes Wu on the rounds of extravagant functions where conspicuous wealth and affluent guests are paraded as if it's all routine and no big deal, a world which is all new to her, of course. She had no idea that she had become involved with one of the world's most eligible (i.e. good-looking and rich as Croesus) bachelors, and it's not long before she finds out what other women at these functions think of her, she having made the 'grab' of the century.

I get it that it's all supposed to be a light-hearted romance - the maddeningly insistent music (would it never stop?) will keep reminding you to keep a pleasant smile playing on your lips. There are one or two darker moments - perhaps only when the central relationship is put into jeopardy - but the general air is one of comfortable armchair viewing, pleasant enough while it lasts, though afterwards forgettable in a trice. 

I noticed a number of continuity blunders - just one: how does Golding manage to go to bed wearing dark blue pyjama bottoms but wakes up wearing light grey jogging pants? Careless.

Criticism is also being made in that the Singapore we see is practically all of Chinese origin, with hardly a trace of Indian, for instance, which is far from being the case in actuality.

The general casting is fine, an all-Asian-origin cast being long overdue for a Hollywood film (there are some short sequences in subtitled Chinese - Mandarin?), but I think we could do with something rather more weighty than this frothy affair. I think the film's two-hour length did not justify its lack of substance.

If director John Chu was out to create a pleasant, though unspectacular, crowd-pleaser, there's no arguing that he achieved it.
I didn't actively dislike it, despite there being moments when I may have wanted to.................5.

(IMDb...................7.5 / Rott. Toms...................7.7 ) 

Monday 17 September 2018

Film: 'The Seagull'

Mixed feelings about this. Had it not been for the star turn of Annette Bening I would have been less equivocal, still more unenthused. 

Based on Chekhov's renowned stage play, this adaptation is little more than half the original's length and, I may say, the better for it, having excised most of the longueurs and all those needless lines. However, apart from its costumes and the relationship between aristocracy and vassalage, it didn't feel much like turn-of-the-century Russia (that's 19th/20th century, of course). 

Actually shot in New York State, with nearly all accents being American (which is fair enough, far better than having them spoken in strangulated faux-Russian!), Bening plays an actress coming to the end of her stage career in Moscow when she hears of the seriously declining health condition of her aged bachelor brother (Brian Dennehy), so she takes herself with her successful author-lover, Trigorin (Corey Stoll) to his country estate where her juvenile son (Billy Howle) also resides - only to find a young near neighbour (Saoirse Ronan) hovering around, on whom the son has romantic attentions - until Trigorin himself becomes fascinated by her. (Ronan and Howle also played the young newly-married couple at the centre of the recent and fine 'On Chesil Beach' - a film which was actually shot after this one had already begun). Anyway, the story is one of criss-crossing affections, some returned, others not so clearly motivated. 

I've already indicated that Annette Bening was, for me, the stand-out among a relatively strong cast - except for (and many may disagree) I didn't find Saoirse Ronan right for a part in which she appeared less than comfortable as the young and emotionally immature aspiring lover. I felt that Howle much better caught the callowness of youth and its accompanying impetuosity. But Bening's ability to switch her mood at the touch of a button, always entirely convincingly, was utterly remarkable - an ability she had opportunities here to illustrate a number of times. 

This Michael Mayer-directed film I found more digestible than the full original play, without succeeding in making me any more enamoured of the piece. It's already quite a convoluted plot and the romantic aspects of certain minor characters clouds the focus yet more.

Admirers of Chekhov may be more favourably disposed to this concise filmic adaptation. I'm not sure I'd care to sit through it again. If I say that two points of my rating is due solely to Annette Bening's performance (right up there among her all-time best) you can surmise my conclusion about the film as a whole...........6.

(IMDb.................6.0 / Rott. Toms..............6.1 )

Saturday 15 September 2018

Film: 'American Animals'

Having ascertained that, title notwithstanding, this had next to nothing to do with real animals, this sounded like an unusual take on the familiar heist film - which it, in fact, turned out to be. 

With cast entirely unknown to me, this true(-ish?) tale of four Kentucky University students (actually filmed in North Carolina) planning to pull off a robbery of rare books from a special collections museum and live the high-life from the disposal proceeds, works really well for the most part - and it's given some veracity with intercutting by the true original characters who'd spent prison time for the crime, recalling direct to camera the events of the planning and execution of the robbery. Nice touch also to have their memories of the events conflict with one another in the way which, as we all know, happens in real life.
The idea that the robbery should be committed in full daylight by the quartet disguising themselves as old men was as ludicrous as the notion that people of advanced age are 'near invisible' - when they are seen together they looks as conspicuous as a brace of peacocks! Seen individually they might just get away with it though under their disguises their smooth, youthful, unlined skin would have been a dead giveaway - though one doesn't give unknown old people a close visual scrutiny, so fair enough. They are not together in a group for very long anyway.  
I liked the idea, even as based on actual events, that their initial attempt falters in a big way. In a heist film there always is something that goes wrong, though not normally to the extent of jeopardising the entire enterprise, as this does. It keeps one very interested as to what was going to happen next.

This is director (and writer) Bart Layton's first full-length feature film and he's to be commended for it (he's also done considerable TV and documentary work, though his name is new to me). He's taken an unusual story with angles which haven't been over-employed before, and given it legs - and I'd suggest that it's definitely worth a 'see'.................7

( IMDb.................7.1 / Rott. Toms.................7.9 )

Sunday 9 September 2018

Film: 'Puzzle'

This won't be setting the world alight but I found it diverting enough.
On first hearing about it, and with that title, I thought there might be some element of setting a challenge to us, the watchers, and liking riddles and puzzles generally, I was intrigued. On discovering that the 'puzzle', specifically jigsaw puzzles, was merely a device on which to hang a tale of burgeoning romance with small-scale family drama, I still had sufficient interest to try it. 

Kelly Macdonald is the mother in a practising Catholic family household in outer New York with a burly gentle giant of a husband (David Denman) and two late-teenage sons. She's always been drawn to jigsaws, occasionally becoming so absorbed in them that she neglects her domestic chores, though has become expert at completing them in record time. 
In a puzzle shop, buying some new ones, she sees a notice urgently requesting a partner for puzzle-solving, and this turns out to be a recently-separated wealthy city resident (Irrfan Khan), with whom she makes appointments to meet twice a week leading up to partnering him in an upcoming jigsaw competition, she having to concoct a deceit for her family to cover for her absences. You can see where this will go. As he gradually falls for her she is reluctant to reciprocate, her family loyalties being paramount. Interesting also that on more than one occasion, despite her devotion to puzzles, she belittles the practice as being childish, which is not something her partner expects to hear from her. 

It's a reasonably absorbing tale, made a little different by its unusual pretext. Kelly Macdonald captures well the dilemma faced by her character regarding where, ultimately, her allegiances are due, whilst Khan's character is totally free to make his own choices, and he is also convincing.   

This is Marc Turtletaub's second major feature as director, and it's more than acceptable. Maybe not a film one would want to go out of one's way to catch but if you do happen to see it it, either on cinema screen or on TV, where it won't lose much, it should go down reasonably well...................6.

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

Saturday 8 September 2018

Film: 'Cold War'

Having seen the trailer for this Polish, b/w film one time too many, I was in no mood to see the entire thing, it looking just too dour to enthuse me. But my resistance being prevailed over by certain critics (and one or two others) who'd gone overboard for it, go I did.

Set in the 1950s (and its margins), and beginning in Warsaw, its main character is a young music student (Joanna Kulig) with a degree of reluctance, locked into performing with a troupe celebrating in song and dance the 'achievements' of Josef Stalin, Poland then being a satellite state of hard-line Communist Russia. She meets and has a passionate affair with a music arranger (Tomasz Kot) who, because of his profession and unlike most Poles, has relative freedom to travel, he taking her to Paris where they reside a while. (Has there ever been a film, any film, with scenes set in that city where we are not given the obligatory sight of La Tour?)  There are also brief interludes in Berlin and Yugoslavia. As she starts performing solo, their relationship becomes fractious, even tempestuous, and he returns to Poland, while she remains, gets married, yet misses him deeply, and turning up to meet him during his visits back. Then she also returns to Poland.

The first thing that struck me positively about the film was the look of it, and it really is astonishing, in old-style, square dimensions - with each placement of the camera capturing almost a masterpiece of visual construction.

The Polish and French dialogue is subtitled throughout, naturally, something I never find as off-putting as some others do, and I went along easily with it, not experiencing any monotony at all.
The story itself is not intended for laughs, and we don't get a single one. It's downbeat throughout - melancholic rather than being depressing.

This is the first film I've seen from director, Pawel Pawlikowski whose last film, 'Ida' of five years ago, was generally well-received. On the evidence of 'Cold War' I'll be giving serious consideration to seeing his next feature, should it get a cinema release. 

If I don't quite go all the way with the effusive commendations which this film has attracted I would say that if it sounds like your 'bag' definitely give it a go.................7

(IMDb................8.0 / Rott. Toms................8.3 )

Thursday 6 September 2018

Film: 'Searching'

This was a satisfying experience, a bit different too. Much of the film is played out on computer screen though these sections are no less engrossing than the live action - and arguably possibly moreso, as one is hanging onto every word before it appears as print.

A 16-year old daughter of a widowed Californian (John Cho - a name I didn't recognise though I see he's been in a number of 'Star Trek' films amongst other work) mysteriously goes missing for no apparent reason, she and her father having enjoyed a cordial,  mutually respectful relationship. Having got nowhere on searching her computer files as much as he could gain access to, he has no alternative but to involve the police, with Debra Messing (whom I don't recall having seen outside 'Will & Grace' and wouldn't have recognised here had I not known) coming on the case as Chief Detective.

The story goes into some gripping stuff, never getting boring at all and both Cho and Messing deliver what's required with all the conviction that they should. I only wish I was as adept with operating the computer as the Cho character is. (No misspellings  of course!) Red-herrings and dead-ends abound until, well advanced into the film, there's a jaw-dropping twist which I think you'd have to be truly psychic to have seen coming. 

Director is Annesh Chaganty, whose first full-length feature this appears to be, and it's a promising start.

I have no complaints at all with the film up to the conclusion, but have to say that I could have done without the fairy-tale ending designed to send the audience out with a happy-happy feeling, everything neatly tied up and explained. In fact from and including that aforementioned major twist, the end of the story does strain credibility somewhat, though it doesn't spoil the memory of what led up to it. I do prefer my endings more ambiguous and challenging, leaving me with something to ponder on, though maybe I'm in a minority.

All in all, I found it a rewarding film and pleased that, although initially undecided whether to make the effort or not, I did venture to go..........7.

( IMDb..................7.9 / Rott. Toms...................7.4) 

Wednesday 5 September 2018

Film: 'Yardie'

Idris Elba's first foray into directing a cinema feature is hardly an auspicious start. However it's not bad, it just failed to impress me. However, I do commend him for choosing a story that has been little explored on the cinema screen viz. rivalry between Jamaican-origin gangs over drug control. If this subject has figured at all in a film it's always been a peripheral aspect, subsidiary to a more engrossing tale. In this film it's dead centre - and with all the related violence, which doesn't take much imagination to conjure up, a lot of it ugly (but of course!), mostly with guns. I also admire him for not appearing in the film himself when the temptation must have been strong. Other than that I'm stumped as to why I should recommend this. 

Btw: 'Yardie' is a word used by the West Indian community to refer generally to someone of Jamaican origin or, more specifically, to a member of a Jamaican gang often engaged in criminal activities. 

The first half hour of the film is set in Kingston, Jamaica, with two gangs engaged in open shoot-outs in the streets, a young boy with his brother of double his age whom he idolises, is witness to the shooting of the brother during a festive occasion to mark a reconciliation of the gangs. The incident affects him deeply when the film jumps forward several years to where he's now grown up, pulled into the drugs scene and chosen to make a delivery of cocaine to a drugs dealer in London, and where the remainder of the film is set. This central character (played by Stephen Graham) keeps seeing visions of his late brother (oh dear, such a cliche!) in broody, wordless mood, and we don't know if the latter approves or not, or is just there as reassurance that the younger brother is being watched over. 

Now I have to confess that for much of the film I could dearly have asked for subtitles because although the language used throughout is English, the Jamaican patois of nearly all the characters, London included, is so pronounced as to be almost indecipherable, with the result that I lost much of the argument, motivations and even the relationship between characters. In London the main player visits a young woman who lives with her little girl, and a relationship ensues. I couldn't even tell if this was, in fact, his wife - was he the father of the child? Search me! As for who was who in the drugs world, I can't begin to explain - and don't particularly care.

There were moments which certain members of the small audience thought hilarious. I didn't find anything at all funny in the whole film, only tiresome. I was completely 'out of it'.

It was interesting that despite the many crimes of various sorts being committed, nowhere in the film do we see any evidence of police presence. (You see, I'm trying hard to find something noteworthy to say).

I've no doubt of the sincerity in Elba trying to create a thrilling, action film. The fact is that it turned out to be so forgettable.............5.

(IMDb.....................5.7 / Rott. Toms..................6 )

Tuesday 4 September 2018

Film: 'BlacKkKlansman'

Time was when any new Spike Lee film was a major cinematic event. Alas, no more. Despite having made some two dozen feature films (plus documentaries, shorts, TV progs etc) and never slowed down since he burst on the scene in the early 80s with the much-lauded 'She's Gotta Have It' and 'Do the Right Thing', for the last 20 years-plus if there's been any mention at all of his new films it's been subdued and, at least in the U.K., most not even given a theatrical release. In fact I'm not sure that I've seen any of them since Malcolm X' way back in 1992. But here he comes now with, few could seriously deny, a most remarkable film, the timing of which could hardly be more apposite.

Set around 1971/2, John David Washington (son of Denzel) plays Ron Stallworth, on whose book the film is based, a rookie employee taken on by Colorado Springs Police Dept., but only with reluctance because of the force's previous unfavourable history regarding in-force attitudes to African-American staff. He has the superficially madcap idea of infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan by masquerading as a white sympathiser by expressing his interest and 'prejudices' on the phone (complete with multiple racial-insulting epithets) to 'the organisation', but having one of his white colleagues (Adam Driver) to be his wired-up alter ego in face-to-face meetings with members of the Klan - after coaching to make their voices sound similar. The situation gives rise to moments of high tension, as you can imagine, specifically as a result of one of the prominent Klan members being suspicious of him, suspecting him of being Jewish - which, in fact, he is, in name at least - and he even gets to meet the then Grand Wizard of the Klan, David Duke (played by Topher Grace in a significant part). 

Both Washington (in his first major role) and Driver are superb and could hardly be bettered, as also is Laura Harrier as a prominent and militant black student president befriended by Washington but the latter having to keep his true identity hidden from her.

The film opens with a short, spectacular and well known panoramic scene from 'Gone With The Wind' followed by a cameo appearance from Alec Baldwin (very pertinent, given his current well-known TV imitation persona) as a fervid, white supremacist spitting out on  camera to some comical effect 'justifications' for his racist views.   
Later in the film there is another guest appearance, this time from the revered Harry Belafonte talking of particular K.K.K. actions in a certain case which, I never having heard before, made me gasp in horror.

It could have been a bleakly one-note, polemical film but it's more multi-layered than that. There are a few lighter moments with both whites and blacks being depicted as earnest yet not unflawed. 

Approaching the film's conclusion I was initially thinking that a note of triumphalism was misplaced in the light of what we now see happening in America. Then it quickly dawned on me that we can only say that through hindsight. Who would have thought, over 40 years on, that such attitudes as displayed by the K.K.K. would be as centre-stage as they've now become, thanks to their being re-invigorated and 'legitimised' by the present W.H. incumbent? I certainly thought that such would have been confined to distant history by now.
I then also recalled that the film would be ending on a very serious cautionary note, and so it turns out, and very effectively too. We see Trump speaking, including his "very fine people" statement, which even now still sends a chill through the bones - as well as the woman being killed by being run over at the Charlottesville demonstration.  

It's a very well-judged film. Spike Lee doesn't put a foot wrong in its 2hr 15mins, though it's so well constructed it doesn't feel that length, it not letting up for one moment.

Provocative. thought-engendering, often uncomfortable (you'll probably squirm frequently at the language as I did) yet ultimately magnificently rewarding. A proud and singular achievement.......................8.

( IMDb............7.9 / Rott. Toms.............8.2 )