Thursday 29 November 2018

Film: 'Fantastic Beasts - The Crimes of Grindelwald'.

There have been warnings galore that this was going to be a "What the dickens is going on?" film, which sums it up perfectly. I didn't even attempt to follow or comprehend all the maze of info and mumbo-jumbo designed to get you involved because, frankly, I couldn't care. I only went because I'd heard that the visuals were superlative, which is true. (Just where can they go from here? Surely the end of the road has been reached for this aspect!). But at 2.25 hours the film is far, far too long for its own good - and the final 40 mins or so is interminable, with an albino-ed Johnny Depp allowed to dominate proceedings as the titular and evil Grindelwald - something I'd assumed was a place
Btw: Why do captions always have to announce such as 'London, England' and 'Paris, France') Yet when it comes to American cities their country of location is not stated. Of course we all know of London, Ontario and Paris, Texas though those places can hardly be confused with the European metropolitans. I can't believe [most] Americans are that dumb!

Eddie Redmayne reprises his role as Newt Scamander (Saviour of the world!) - and has the heavyweight casting of Jude Law as the young Dumbledore in his early time at Hogwarts. 
The only other name in the cast I recognised was Hugh Quarshie, now an established TV regular, whom I regularly used to see on stage in a variety of roles at the Oxford Playhouse when I moved to that city, and when he was a mere stripling of 20 or so, 

To call the plot of this labyrinthine would not be unfair. How many of the audience who are not familiar with the J.K. Rowling books would be able to explain it? And how many who have read them could do likewise? Who other than keen Rowling aficianados would even care to spend time reading such? Not me! My time left may be too restricted to have the luxury of bothering with stuff like this. 

Director David Yates has already made four of the Harry Potters so there's no doubting that he knows his business - and he manages it all with the proficiency one would expect. However, I do wish he, and indeed Rowling herself, had created a product here where we are involved enough with what's going on so that we, at least speaking for myself, don't feel bored to tears.

I was going to rate this with a '3', but my kinder side is winning out, so I'd better post this quickly before I revert to my initial thoughts..........4.

(IMDb...................7.0 / Rott. Toms...............5.3 )  

Monday 26 November 2018

Film: 'The Girl in the Spider's Web'

Claire Foy, the ever-glum Mrs Neil Armstrong in the very recent 'First Man', here takes over the mantle of Lisbeth Salander in this latest addition to the 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' series of films - and she makes a fair stab at it without setting the world alight - though can'r say I relish the thought of having to sit through another of these with their trademark deeply unpleasant violence.

This time the film is based on a novel from David Lagercrantz using characters created by the late Stieg Larsson, the snow-laden Stockholm location once again providing the backdrop for the familiar topics of incest, vengeance, double-crossings, chases, gunfights (where all the  baddies are hopeless shots, unlike the female protagonist who's deadly accurate every time) with the usual workings 'outside the law' to the extreme displeasure of the police - and here also involving sibling rivalry/hostility and the targetting for kidnap of a young nerdy boy who's as proficient with computers (well, they can all operate at the speed of light!) as he is at chess.  
Despite being such a heady mix there's a pervading ho-hum feeling of deja vu throughout, which left me wanting something more and a bit different, and which it just doesn't deliver. 

Much of the cast, judging from their names, are probably Swedish. Apart from Foy herself, the only other name I recognised was Stephen Merchant (best known to British audiences as sidekick to Ricky Gervais in his TV series) here playing, for the first time in my seeing, a serious role.
Others include Sverrir Gudnason as journalist Mikael Blomkvist who played a major part in the original trilogy of books and their films - and Sylvia Hoeks as Salander's arch-nemesis sister.

Director is Uruguayan Fede Alvarez who does precisely what you expect him to with reasonable flair, though nothing more.

I've read the original Stieg Larsson trilogy and seen those three Swedish films as well as the American re-make of 'Dragon Tattoo', the latter though not having quite the bite of the European original version wasn't too bad either. This new one, which didn't engage me at anything like the level of those four films, I wouldn't put in quite the same class, though it's not totally dull either.....................5.5

(IMDb.......................6.1 / Rott. Toms.............5.1)


Saturday 17 November 2018

Film: 'Fahrenheit 11/9'

The film's title referring to the date of the last American Presidential election, this could well be the scariest film I've seen all year.

Now we all know that Michael Moore is a major scourge of the American right, but I'm also aware that he has significant enemies on the progressive/liberal side too, and in this documentary he pulls no punches when lashing out at whoever has riled or still riles him, including former Presidents Clinton and Obama. However, his general bete noire is, essentially, the entire political 'establishment' which is in hock to corporate money and thus having a widespread likelihood towards corruption. 
I will say this, even if there are no arguments stated here against Moore's own standpoints, he makes his reasons for targetting certain individuals so crystal clear that it's hard to resist cheering him on.   

I've seen all Moore's theatrically-released (in the U.K.) documentaries going right back to 'Roger and Me' in (crikey!) 1989, followed by 'Bowling for Columbine', 'Fahrenheit 9/11' and 'Sicko'  - though not 'Michael Moore in Tr*mpland', which wasn't released here. Those I have seen were all eye-openers for me, and though this one didn't say much new in a generally-speaking sense, there is some newsreel footage I hadn't seen before, plus all the interviews he does. (Something I did learn was the origin of the word 'redneck').

The thrust of the film is to examine how it happened that the present White House incumbent managed to get there. and I think Moore makes a convincing stab to reveal just how he did, and the forces that worked in his favour when all pundits (apart from Moore himself) were saying that it wasn't going to happen.
He doesn't speak directly about the man himself through large parts of the film, major excursions from the main subject being the water-poisoning in Flint, Michigan (also the subject of his 'Roger and Me' film of almost 30 years ago) as well as the issue of gun-control, with the young kids, too young to vote, mobilising themselves to pile pressure on politicians for a tightening of gun legislation, and the gun lobby hell-bent on fighting any change. Both these issues can be guaranteed to want to make any reasonable person throw their hands up in despair that any meaningful change at all will come. 

He brings out the Hitler/Tr*mp analogy to chilling effect, to the extent that expecting political change, with the system that the U.S.A. has is, if not near hopeless, will be a super-Herculean task to achieve. It will need a will to do it and that, it seems, is manifestly lacking right now. 

This is a bleak film, very thought-provoking, and I do believe Moore has done a first-rate job in drawing disparate strands together to make a thoroughly convincing case for change.

It's well nigh impossible that many of Moore's innumerable detractors will watch this film, but I do wish they would, and I'd also like to see their replies to his attacks, with them sticking to the issues rather than resorting to demeaning him personally.

I was expecting that, now with the mid-term elections out of the way, this film might have lost some of its steam by now, but it hasn't. I was seriously toying with not bothering to go for that very reason, but pleased that I did. High recommendation..................7.

(IMDb.................5.8 / Rott. Toms...............7 )

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Film: 'Wildlife'

Actor Paul Dano, 34, debuts as director in this modestly scaled domestic tale, with the guaranteed high standard participation of Jake Gyllenhall and Carey Mulligan playing a married couple trying desperately to make ends meet whilst supporting their teenage son's education, the latter being played by Ed Oxenbould (who, incidentally shares little facial resemblance to either of his 'parents', but that's not a great distraction).   

Filmed in smalltown Montana (set in the 1960s?), the father is fired from his subservient job and, rather than re-taking his post when asked to return, follows his pride and takes another lowly one paying a pittance, as forest fire-extinguisher in a gang putting out those blazes purposely set off for environmental reasons, and which involves his staying away from home for days at a time. An unholy row ensues when he tells his wife, she because of the danger to him, but also for the fact that the family income will be significantly less than previous. To assist finances she takes up swimming instructions for adult classes. The son looks on bewildered, not sure where his own allegiance lies.

This occupies the first half of the film where, I must confess, I felt that its failure to arrest me sufficiently to the point where I'd be wondering what happens next, made me think it was all getting perilously inert. However, this changes considerably when the boy starts getting suspicions about his mother's attentions wandering towards one of the members of her swimming class, a quite significantly older, now single, man (Bill Camp), only to have his worst fears confirmed. 
Up to this point, the boy had been a somewhat peripheral character present during his parents' heated exchanges. Now he takes a central role, with at least equal screen time with the other two, perhaps even more, and he plays the part impressively.

The film didn't move me as much as it has many other reviewers (and audience, as evidenced from average ratings on two other sites, shown below), though I do think it's a more than respectable beginning if Paul Dano continues his directing, which I hope he does after this promising start. I can't imagine many classing it as a 'poor' film. It just isn't one that, despite the starry couple at the head of the cast, is going to linger in my memory for very long.............6.

(IMDb.....................7.3 / Rott. Toms................7.7.)

Monday 12 November 2018

Film: 'Peterloo'

There was a time when I eagerly looked forward to a Mike Leigh film, but this was way back in the era of 'High Hopes' and 'Life is Sweet' (1988, 1990 respectively). Latterly he's largely eschewed the small-scale domestic comedy-dramas he used to do so well, and turned to grimmer subjects ('Vera Drake') or those with a serious undertow ('Secrets and Lies'). I suppose 'Topsy-Turvy' and 'Mister Turner' were okay - just - though his only more recent film which I really enthused about was his 'Happy-Go-Lucky' of 2008. Now with this latest, and his biggest in scale to date, he's on a mission to give us a history lesson and, boy, it shows!
From what I've picked up he was (justifiably) disgruntled to find that what become known as 'The Peterloo Massacre' in Manchester 1819, has been virtually expunged from the school history curriculum, he being especially sore about it as his school was literally within yards of the site where it occurred. It involved a crowd of some 60,000 people, gathered to demand Parliamentary representation, being charged at by a sword-armed cavalry contingent which mowed them down, sending them fleeing in all directions, some being trapped. Casualties are disputed - fatalities being at least fifteen with several hundreds more being wounded, many grievously, victims including women and children. Taking place on St Peter's Field in that then growing cotton-industry metropolis in northern England (with as yet no one to represent it in Parliament), the event acquired the name as it did, alluding to the Battle of Waterloo of four years previously. Of course, it hardly needs pointing out that the number of casualties don't begin to compare with the momentous military event which finally defeated Napoleon, though that's not to belittle those who actually were killed and injured in Manchester. 

Peterloo was covered in my own history lessons (of 60 years ago!) though it wasn't examined in any depth. However, my recollection is that it was more then merely mentioned. If that has changed then it's a disservice to British history and Leigh has every right to feel aggrieved.

Having said all that we have here an epic-length film (actually 20 minutes longer than Sergei Bondarchuk's 1970 admirable, star-laden, true epic of 'Waterloo' - if my comparison is not too fatuous!) 

I found 'Peterloo' quickly got preachy and stodgy, with hardly any moment at all of anything remotely smile-raising. Leigh's earnestness in feeling that the tale needs to be told (and I can't think of any other film which has covered the events) overwhelms the slow build-up to the climactic occurrence such that I found myself nodding off at least twice.  But when it does finally come, the brutal put-down of the public gathering is expertly done and, indeed, quite distressing - and it goes on for rather longer than we might have come to expect.

The politics leading up to the 'massacre' is portrayed rather aridly - the ruling classes, including the future George IV (who was to ascend to the throne the following year) feeling that the demonstration needed to be put down forcefully for fear of it sparking the equivalent of the French Revolution which had begun 30 years before.

The only cast members whose names I was familiar with were Rory Kinnear. who plays a charismatic speaker whose presence in Manchester drew the welcoming crowd, and Maxine Peake - but I think the entire cast was struggling with a script which wasn't particularly inspiring.

It's clear that Mike Leigh feels a passion about the subject matter - and he has every right to do so. But in the final analysis I do think he hasn't manage to transfer that fervour to the screen. Other than the 'massacre' itself, I found it all a bit flat - and overlong............5.

(IMDb.................6,5 / Rott. Toms..........6.2 )

Tuesday 6 November 2018

Film: 'Widows'

Highly effective and tense heist thriller directed by the now justifiably renowned Steve McQueen, each of whose past full-length features (and there have only been three of them to date), have been remarkable in their own ways - '12 Years a Slave', 'Hunger' &  'Shame'. Now here, with his fourth, he does it again.  

Based on (so I read) a late-1970s British TV serial by Lynda La Plante set in London, the action is here transferred to present day Chicago. 
In the opening minutes we see a robbery in its late stages with four criminals led by Liam Neeson attempting a getaway, only to be confronted by police forces awaiting them, and perishing when their van, with the loot in back, goes up in flames, destroying everything inside.
Viola Davis, playing Neeson's widow, innocent of all knowledge of the robbery - and nearly always carrying around or has on a lead a small, white Scottish Terrier  (No, it was actually a West Highland terrier, as pointed out by JayGee in comments below!) - she is 'visited' by a stranger who menaces her by giving her one month to make up the money his gang has lost. Quite why the robbery was enacted in the first place is not clear, suffice to say that the money route leads back to a corrupt mayor (Colin Farrell) on the eve of what he hopes is his re-election as the latest in a dynasty of mayors, with his ageing and disapproving father (Robert Duvall) ever hovering over. 
One of the pieces that Davis' husband had left behind was details of another planned heist, and Davis has to convince two of the other widows (Michelle Rodriguez,  Molly Kunz) following the same tragedy, to join her in saving her skin by acquiring money to give to the gang, whose leader (Daniel Kaluuya ('Get Out', 'Black Panther') is particularly terrifying. She ropes in a fourth, Elizabeth Debicki, as driver to complete the all-female criminal quartet.

The premise of the film is a good, unusual one which could have gone cheesy, but it doesn't. Likewise one might expect there to have been some scope for a few grim laughs, but there's none. 

What needs must be mentioned is that there's quite a degree of sudden, heightened violence throughout the film which made me wince on each occasion, those moments coming as they do so unexpectedly. Also, about two-thirds through there's a breathtaking twist in the tale.

Although it's a very tense film I was put on further edge worrying about the fate of the dog which appears in a number of scenes, especially since the owner, Viola Davis, is being pressured to produce the money. For those who share my nervousness regarding animals on screen I can report that, apart from a brief moment when the dog is roughly lifted by the scruff of the neck, it doesn't come to any harm. 

This film may turn out to be slightly less well regarded than McQueen's other works but it's far better than most in this genre. A rather strong stomach may be needed for some scenes though there's little over-dwelling on the bloody episodes. If you think you can handle it, it gets my clear thumbs-up.................7.

( IMDb.................6.9 / Rott Toms...............8.5 )

Thursday 1 November 2018

Film: 'Visages Villages' ('Faces Places')

Quaintly likeable, oddball French document-ary in which an unlikely pair - muralist and photographer known as J.R. with veteran Belgian film director Agnes Varda - travel around to various locations in  (northern only?) France together, pasting up giant photos of people on the exterior walls of buildings (some due for demolition, others still inhabited), ship containers, railway tanks and so on. He is mid-30s, she now 90 and relatively spry for her age despite showing unsurprising signs of tiring (the film was completed 18 months ago).

It's not so much a documentary as a recording of their verbal exchanges, arguing lightly about the artwork they are trying to create and she briefly reminiscing about her film career, he giving little away of himself and tetchily refusing to take off his dark glasses so that she can see his eyes through her own progressively blurring vision.
They go to a small town, a farm (specifically a goat farm), a deserted and crumbling half-built small village, a deserted beach, and the docks of Le Havre where photos of willing people living nearby are taken in J.R.s van/photo booth when he then massively enlarges the images to plaster on the sides of chosen walls as their uncredited piece of art - with a vaguely similar motivation to Banksy, I suppose, though here without any political dimension. 

The two of them share the film's directing honours and have created an interesting piece of work which, though hardly a 'trailblazer'.  and is not likely to be seen by many, nevertheless manages to secure a pleasant enough way to spend an hour and a half of your time..............6.

(IMDb.................7.9 / Rott. Toms............8.8 )