Wednesday 31 October 2018

Film: 'First Man'

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 30 October 2018

Film: 'Halloween' (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 26 October 2018

Film: 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Film: 'Bad Times at the El Royale'

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 14 October 2018

I've reached half a gross!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Film: 'The Wife'

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Film: 'A Star is Born'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 1 October 2018

Film: 'Black '47'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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