Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Film: 'Sunset'

If this isn't the first film I've seen in the Hungarian language then I don't recall when or which was. 
Set in Budapest 1913, in the twilight years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it's a story of a daughter of the wealthy married owners of a one time large and renowned hat store, both of whom died (murdered?) in a fire when she was a baby of two years old. She applies for a job in the very same store her parents owned and on giving her name she's met by direct hostility from all sides, current owners and staff - but she's not deterred, wanting answers to her many questions. 
Trouble is, though in some ways this is quite a compelling film at least visually, I had so many queries as to what exactly was going on that I was well and truly lost for much of the time. I don't mind in the least those films that require the watcher to join the dots themselves to make sense of the storyline but in my case the dots were just too far apart to make for plausibility. It could well be that essential information as furnished in the subtitles was lacking, but I've no way of ascertaining that. 
The young woman at the centre of the film is played by Budapest-born Juli Jakab, who maintains for much of the film a commendable equable temperament despite the many animosities aimed at her. There are a few violent scenes, most verbal but some physical too. 
A curious feature is that there are a number of scenes which are so darkly lit, sometimes from back  (surely on purpose?) that one cannot see faces, so one, me specifically, doesn't know who they are. I assume that this was to give an 'arty' effect. If so it backfired, only giving rise to needless extra questions when I had so many without them anyway.

Director Laszlo Nemes, best (and only) known for his 'Son of Saul', not seen by me, directs with assurance here but if his idea is that any intelligent film-goer should be able to follow this then I must disappoint him, unless it's me who's particularly dim.

I can see how this might be rated a superior film but by being more nonplussed than I'd need to be for coming down on that side I can't make that leap. I might well have moved my rating up by a further half point were it not so, but reflecting my confusion I have to settle for a more lowly...........5.5.

(IMDb...........6.5 / Rott Toms........3.57/5 )

Monday, 17 June 2019

Film: 'Gloria Bell'

Immensely satisfying re-make of Chilean film of six years ago (titled simply 'Gloria') which I didn't see, with same director, Sebastian Lelio - and now with Julianne Moore in the very central title role, appearing in every single scene - and she is pitch-perfect casting. 

Shot in L.A. and, later, Las Vegas, insurance operative Moore, in her late 50s, is a divorcee of 10 years - with an adult son and daughter in their own homes. While not actively looking for a partner she uses her independence by frequently going out to retro bars, 80s music, where she regularly gets up on the dance floor alone. It's on one of these visits that she and the more recently divorced John Turturro (long time since I last saw him on screen) meet and hit it off, embarking on a romance. A feature of this film is frequent use of the mobile phone, his frequent ties still to his daughters soon making her uncomfortable when she feels this distraction means she's not getting the attention she wants, most tellingly in his not mentioning her existence to his girls. But it works both ways. When the two of them go to her son's to celebrate his birthday, Turturro feels that he is being cold-shouldered by her and, not standing for it anymore, leaves the party without telling anyone. Their on-off affair reaches another climax for a similar reason later in the film.  

I enjoyed this immensely, not a duff note in the whole film, with Moore required to go through a whole gamut of emotions, much of which is unexpressed, but rather written on her visage. She's also often shown driving while singing along with hits from her favourite decade. 
The film is intelligently realised too. The director knows full well that most of the audience is savvy enough to follow what's going on without having to have it spelt out.

A film about adults told from an adult's perspective. Not too much to ask for is it? Then why can't we have plenty more of them?........7.5.

(IMDb................6.5 / Rott. Toms..............2.73 / 5)




Thursday, 13 June 2019

Film:'Booksmart'

Paying the price for giving credence to numerous reviews full of praise rather than heeding my inner voice, this was as dire a cinema experience as I've had all year. On the surface it's the kind of film I'd normally steer clear from by a mile - worldly-wise kids (in this case two female teenagers on the eve of graduation) spouting forth attitudes regarding life and relationships of such perspicacity that they'd do credit to an adult of two or three times their own years. 
In the event I was saved from much of my apprehension in that a lot of the dialogue, which I assume was intended to be quick-fire zany, was quite incomprehensible, delivered far too fast for me to grasp, at times in highly excited, even hysterical-yelling measure. How this film has received such warm notices is far beyond me.

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are the two central characters who regret having 'wasted' so much time in their high school years (filmed in L.A.) in successfully working towards high grades when they could have been having fun, sex, going to parties and drinking and drugging themselves silly. So they determine to catch up on what they missed out on in one spectacular blow-out, essentially compressed into the one day and night on the eve of their graduation. Oh, what fun!

Their school chums are worlds away from the time I was at school. Gender fluidity is 'in' and most definitely 'cool' . As if to illustrate how tolerant things have become one could hardly move for ultra-camp young men flamboyantly sashaying their way from one group to the next over the dance floor  - or were they really all men? What the hell! This is 2019 when simply everything goes! No hostility in sight - not even one raised eyebrow!

The ear-splitting (for much of the time) soundtrack reflected the prevailing sense of hedonism, with intelligent conversation virtually outlawed, and most likely would have been indecipherable in any case. 

Director Olivia Wilde (who has a considerable record as actress though in no roles which I can recall enough to have made an impression) here directs her first full-length feature. If her future projects are anything like this one I'd rather that she gave up now.

My negative opinion of the film is, I'm sure, a generation thing. Don't ask me what my couple of rating points are for - I'm blowed if I know. Maybe I just don't want to be seen as unkind.................2

(IMDb................7.5 / Rott Toms.........3.98/5 )


Monday, 10 June 2019

Film: 'Aladdin'

Just about all reviews seem to draw comparison with the 1992 animation of the story with Robin Williams voicing the Genie. That I can spare you as I never saw the earlier film - though we've all seen on T.V. clips of extracts of Williams' unique, madcap contribution. There's no doubt that Will Smith had a formidable act to follow and to do it without showing a conspicuous indebtedness to his predecessor - and I must say that he largely achieves that feat. However........
The early part of the film and the scenes sans Genie (who only appears getting on for an hour into this two-hours plus feature) are awfully stretched out and, frankly, I found dull, save for a couple of very lively and impressive big-scale song and dance sequences. As for the romance between Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and the Princess (Naomi Scott) I felt no convincing charge at all between them. Why he should fall for, on just her very first appearance, such a nose-in-the-air, supercilious young woman is beyond me. I can only think that for him physical attractiveness is everything - but it is, after all, a 'fairy tale' of sorts so we're not in the authenticity game. The villain of the peace (Marwan Kenzari - hot!), who tries to wrest the magic lamp from Aladdin is by far the most interesting character - well, after Smith's Genie.
The Genie's appearances themselves are rather amusing, witty in quick-change visuals rather than in verbal repartee. But his presences are so limelight-stealing that whenever he was gone I was longing for his return, and there the film kept sagging. 
Something I could have done without is the crashingly overwhelming music backing score which all but obliterates the words which the characters are trying to sing. (In Aladdin's first song I couldn't catch one single word!). And it's not just the songs, the unnecessary score sometimes covers up the dialogue too. 

I was drawn to seeing this mainly because I thought having Guy Ritchie at the helm was an interesting prospect, and there is indeed a lot of his trademark rapid cut technique resulting in some very busy chase sequences. But it wasn't sufficient to carry the film for me. 

I think this will be best enjoyed by Will Smith fans (amongst whom I wouldn't count myself especially) - but also those familiar with the cartoon of 27 years ago and they want to see if this version measures up to it or exceeds it. I have no idea if all the original songs are here (there actually aren't that many of them anyway). 
The film has its moments to be sure - and a lot of the visuals are quite as spectacular as one would hope to find in a fantasy story - but I didn't experience anything that special enough to lodge it in my memory cells for any appreciable time.
And yet again, my own views are at odds with general favourable opinion. Too bad.................4.5.

(IMDb.................7.4 / Rott.Toms................4.59/5 )





Thursday, 6 June 2019

Film: 'Rocketman'

Most impressive, busy and raucous film of Elton John's (as played by Taron Egerton) life, from his boyhood showing early composing talent, up to and through his fame years revealing ever-turbulent relationships, including sexuality, right up to, though not quite confirming, his control with professional help of his multiple addictions, principally drink, drugs and sex. (His long and continuing abstinences are confirmed in the final captions). However the film is less of a biopic than a re-imagining of key moments, times in which he's always in conflict with those around him (including both parents) yet amongst it all managing to produce some of the most memorable melodies in all pop music, nearly entirely inspired by the words of his regular lyricist, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell - in a role much more substantial than I was expecting). 
His songs, often truncated, are inserted at given, non-predictable points in non-chronological order (which is wise), many of which are extravagantly performed by not only Egerton using his own voice (an extraordinary imitation) but other cast members too, and sometimes enlarged by multi-numbered singing and dancing groups. It reminded me a lot of Ken Russell's flighty creations, whose unique eye-popping style of crazy and florid excesses suits the songs admirably. (The real Elton did, of course, make a cameo appearance in Russell's 'Tommy' [on stilts and in giant bovver boots!] to sing 'Pinball Wizard' which is also performed in this film.)

Casting is all very sound - Richard Madden as his first manager (and lover), Bryce Dallas Howard as his uncaring mother, Steven Mackintosh his regimentally strict father - plus the ever dependable Stephen Graham as sweary record producer, Dick James (who used to be a household name in the 60s and 70s), short-tempered and demanding. But it's Jamie Bell who makes a really mighty impression as Taupin, a figure whose name all of Elton's fame will know, but have, like myself, scant knowledge of the part he played in his partner's career. This film, even if one accepts that it's not the literal truth of what happened, does help to flesh out a man who has been, almost purposefully, invisible. I liked that aspect a lot. 


The framework of the film is E.J., ready dressed in red angel get-up when he'd been due to go on stage, crashing in on an A.A. group at Parklands institution, Ca, where he joins the circle of other addicts and starts relating his back story. The film keeps returning to this group after each of the episodes portrayed, which is satisfactory enough as a device, these 'interludes' not slowing down the highly eventful drama at all.

We do see his short-lived, for-appearances-sake marriage to Renate, but the episode is despatched with little fuss.

Much has been said about the Russian 'version' of this film being shorn by over five minutes, and a most crucial few minutes, thus taking out all the several references to homosexuality, an action over which Elton himself has perfectly justifiably made known his displeasure. Having just seen the film intact I can only think that what they've done is to remove the heart of the film - all references to and displays of gayness are strategic to Elton's character and it's a tragic illustration of the state of things in that sad country where, if any mention of gays is made at all it has to be negative, otherwise it's regarded as 'propaganda' and therefore 'criminal'! They've even taken the thoroughly mean-spirited measure of removing from the final captions mention of Elton's husband, David Furnish. I do hope that the millions of Elton fans over there are aware of what has happened. 

Incidentally Furnish is one of the film's co-producers and E.J. himself one of the executive producers - though I got no sense of any interference from them to sanitise his troubles or, until the concluding captions, to make E.J. into someone heroically battling through his hardships. It's a human and vulnerable Elton we are presented with. 

Director Dexter Fletcher ('Sunshine on Leith', plus finishing off 'Bohemian Rhapsody' after director Bryan Singer had been fired) does an incredible job here. I'd go so far as to argue that he is the true star of this enterprise, and hope he gets recognition for this marvellous achievement come awards time.  

Before I saw this film I'd had doubts about Taron Egerton who, in just the trailer, wasn't quite successfully looking the part in the way that Rami Malek captured Freddy Mercury spot on. If he still lacks here the last ounce of visual authenticity there is absolutely no doubt that his singing imitation is phenomenal. And as an actor in this he has to cover a wide spectrum of moods and he does it all very finely, including reflecting many moments of unspoken inner turmoil, so no complaints on those grounds.  

I can't imagine any Elton fans missing this film and, equally, can't imagine many being disappointed. I wasn't - quite the reverse, in fact. I hadn't honestly expected it to be an early contender for inclusion in my Top Ten of the year, but it's up there. If you're intrigued or even just wavering, do go. It's a riot!..............8.


(IMDb...................7.7 / Rott.Toms.........4.4/5 )






  

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Film: 'High Life'

Too many distressing images and moments, some really grisly, in this set-in-space tale for me to say that I 'enjoyed' it - a few of which, though brief, involved dogs. As ever, anything involving animals suffering cuts particularly deep with me, though there'll be others who can put such behind them with greater ease. That aside, I had a pervading feeling that the film was attempting to be profound, presenting a mystifying set-up and denouement covering what was ultimately rather hollow.


Robert Pattinson is one of a motley bunch of travellers spending years en route (one-way) to a black hole, at a speed close to that of light, relaying information back to Earth on what they witness and encounter. They are a curious lot and it's never fully explained why they come to be passengers, it looking like a kind of sentence for committing some crimes? Pattinson has a baby daughter as co-traveller, clearly born recently on the voyage (the mother? I don't know) who consumes much of his attention which he shares with the cultivation of an on-board garden  (in the manner of the 1972 film 'Silent Running'). Also on board and mysteriously caring for (and exploiting?) the 'passengers' physical attributes is medic/nurse/scientist Juliette Binoche who has some degree of authority over the others.
There's a fair bit of sexual activity of a kind (including an attempted rape), something which is rarely, if ever, addressed in space films, though it's a reasonable inclusion given the long periods of time involved - though none of it is particularly 'pleasant'. Of course with a number of passengers forced to live in close proximity to each other for interminable lengths there are incidents of friction between them, occasionally turning to physical violence.

It's not a big-budget film. The few scenes in outer space look fairly routine, nothing special, the essence of the drama being the psychological interplay between characters.

Director (and co-writer) is the French Claire Denis, my age and with a considerable back catalogue, none of whose films I believe I've ever seen. She also has a minor acting role in this film. If you ever thought that a female director, especially a 73-year old, would be liable to go easy on the violence, think not so. Denis proves that when it comes to portraying brutality and blood-letting action she is every bit as capable of not holding back as any other. 

This is obviously intended to be a hard-hitting film. If it is then too many questions got in the way for me to appreciate it, in addition to those distractingly upsetting scenes, making me wish I hadn't been to pay to see it. But it's competent enough and I'm sure there'll be those who thought "Wow". Just don't count me among them.................5.

(IMDb...............6 / Rott Toms............3/5)

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Film: 'Long Shot'

Intermittently amusing 'odd couple' comedy, the 'odd' being 'very' - she (Charlize Theron), currently Secretary of State aspiring to be the first female American President, he (Seth Rogan) an oafish, unkempt former newspaper reporter, recently become unemployed. 
It requires an enormous stretch of credibility to accept that her outward persona as poised, elegant, capable, reliable and professional could fall for this plain-speaking, careless of appearance, bushy-bearded, down-to-earth younger man, but this being a comedy, it happens when their eyes meet across a crowded room, she then discovering him to be someone she knew when he was barely adolescent. She takes him on initially as speech writer, there being understandable considerable consternation from her close staff at their proximity and developing rapport. He accompanies her as part of her entourage on overseas travels, his presence becoming increasingly evident to all - and meantime their personal relationship deepens.  

It's full of rapid talk, much of it being too fast for me to catch, though some in the audience could, and found it very funny. In fact the whole film was generally better received than what I could muster for it, though I must say that it did maintain a fair entertainment level even if I could have done without the soppy ending.

Incidentally the film's opening scene, atypical of the rest, was something which I found teetered on the very edge of sheer unpleasantness. I suppose its inclusion was as an antidote for, and to point up, the comedy which follows.

Director Jonathan Levine has yet to become a well-known name. The success so far of this film may well be impetus in that direction............6.

(IMDb................7.2 / Rott Toms...............7.1 )

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Film: 'John Wick - Chapter 3: Parabellum'

I never saw Chapters 1 & 2, not even recalling them coming out - but if I had would it have made any difference? Probably not. 

Although in this one I hadn't the foggiest idea of what was going on other than gang upon gang of hit men desperate to put out Keanu ('Frozen Face') Reeves' lights,  can't see this appealing to any but aficianados of bone-crunchingly violent combat - and there's quite a number of them here to 'savour'. all pretty extended - guns (shootings directly in face and skull from two inches away), blades (of various sorts) and fists/feet, just about everything is covered - and with all combatants, including 'Frozen Face', getting up time after time no matter what the injuries, resilient as zombies -  comic book stuff. If this is your 'thing' you won't come out feeling short-changed in this two-hours-plus film. However, if you were hoping, like I was, to see some intelligent content and context you are more liable to conclude it as being just an empty, repetitive, ho-hum show. 
Quite why actors of the calibre of Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburn, Anjelica Houston and Ian McShane decided to get involved in this forgettable mess, is an enigma. I can only assume they needed the dosh.

Director is stuntman Chad Stahelski, whose only other claim to 'fame' is also having directed the first two chapters of this same franchise. I see no reason to think that this latest addition is any different in nature from those earlier two - and there's the clear indication at the end of this film that there's going to be yet another chapter (which I must remember to miss!) But just look at the ratings others are giving this low-level disorder! I'd sooner sit through the whole four hours of Eurovision again - including Madonna! Pah!...............3.

(IMDb......................8.2 / Rott.Toms...........4.5/5 )











Saturday, 18 May 2019

Eurovision Song Contest 2019 - Oh, what a circus, oh what a no-show!


And this year's major controversy is........


Maybe my screen had been too small to pick out that two of Madonna's backing dancers revealed (briefly) Israeli and Palestinian flags on their backs, this year's contest being held in Tel Aviv amid calls for a boycott, calls which eventually had close to nil effect. More of Madge in a mo.

Winner, the Netherlands. I'm pleased for the country, claiming its first victory in 44 years, bewildered as to why this song should have won - a plaintive ballad (stressing the plain!) with minimal, actually no stage effects. But there you are. What do I know? :-




The U.K., true to its form of recent decades, came last (out of 26), and that by some margin, the only injustice being that it didn't share the wooden spoon with 15 other songs to which I had also given a rating of 1 out of 5. After hearing it now five or six times I still cannot recall thee British entry one bit. You have to feel sorry for the plucky effort of 21-year old newly discovered 'talent' Michael Rice - or do I care? Not really:-

Second came Italy followed by Russia, another two which didn't impress me much - with Switzerland coming fourth - and in fifth place, the only one of the Top 5 which I rated at all, my placing of it being third, Norway:-


For much of the voting time what looked to be a front-runner was North Macedonia but, thank Heavens, fading right out of view as a result of its indifferent public support:-

And then the most talked about entry, Australia, with its coloratura soprano perched on a pole and swinging, as it were, in the wind, reminding one - okay, well me - of an horrific medieval punishment where the unfortunate victim of torture is impaled with a pole up his/her fundament and hoisted aloft for passers-by to gawp at and be considered lucky that it wasn't themselves who was up there. 

For a while during the run-up the song was beginning to grow on me, but then it struck - what song? Apart from the admittedly arresting 'hook' of the singer with the filigree vocals there was nothing much else to it, at least nothing I could recall. Maybe the idea of giving it such a spectacular presentation would mean that voters would be so transfixed by the visuals they'd overlook the non-entity of the song itself. It came in 9th place.

And I've got to put my cards on the table by revealing my own choices. I placed the toyshop-sweet and gently unassuming Denmark entry first - simple, non-derivative and memorable, it deserved far better than its moderately respectable 12th place :- 

In at second I'd have given it to the entertaining and catchy San Marino entry, but who, almost as bad as his turn in the semis, was hampered by a rasping, occasionally off-key voice, so unlike the professional video put out beforehand. Considering the reception he got, clearly a popular act, it was an injustice to see him languish ultimately in 20th place:-

And third, as I say above, I placed Norway.


During the interval we had the dubious pleasure of being presented with five previous winners singing each other's songs, a display to the eyes which one may, or may not, wish to embed in ones consciousness:-
You just may recognise on left a previous Austrian winner, Conchita Wurst, and second from right, Israel's 1998 winner, Dana International. 


Now to Madonna - and just what on earth was she wearing? Or is 'wearing' not a term which accurately describes what she threw on? Looking every inch like a granny who wants to show that she's still 'with it' (and that eyepatch, goodness me!) her first appearance where she was 'borderline' (yay!) rude, she made no effort to disguise the fact that she didn't want to be interviewed, probably because it was time wasted in not displaying her 'talent'. When it came to her star turn 'moment', commencing with an underwhelming presentation of her wonderful 'Like a Prayer' and surrounded by be-cowled, quasi- monk, backers, it segued into a brilliant display track from her new album 'Madame X' which more than made up for her lacklustre opening section. She showed what she's still capable of which, on this evidence, is one of extremes:-


The quartet of presenters were as maddening as ever, perhaps even moreso this year. So many "Are you READY?"s when we'd been on the edge of our seats for minutes on end! And when the 41 countries introduced their panels' votes in turn, one of those presenters kept greeting each one with a "Goodnight"! Wasn't there anyone who could be bothered to even tell him?

And thus it went. This year was not one that will be memorable to me for positive reasons, but is there ever a year that is? There'll be the regular calls from British sources saying that the U.K. should pull out of this annual display of mediocre rubbish because the world, and specifically anti-Brexit Europe(!), always fails to appreciate what amazing and superior talent 'we' possess!  Hmmmm! So will run comments from those who never watch Eurovision and detest the very idea of it anyway ("Those damned foreigners!")  - those who've never been bitten by the bug which dictates just how compelling this so-called 'nonsense' really is. Despite all the nay-sayers, I still declare - Long Live Eurovision!    


See y'all next year in Clogland!



Film: 'Woman at War'

This is probably the first Icelandic feature film I've ever seen - there are hardly opportunities to see many of them anyway (if there are 'many', that is, which I doubt!) - and it's certainly the first I'm aware of being almost entirely in that language.

It's largely filmed with that bleak, barren and rugged landscape as backdrop, and it's always also interesting to get glimpses of the streets of Reykjavik, a city we too rarely see at all.

Haildora Geirhardosdottir has a double acting role - the primary one as a middle-aged and single eco-warrior, acting self-handedly in sabotaging an aluminium plant by repeatedly bringing down power lines, a position she occupies in secret whilst maintaining a front of being an adult choir mistress - and then as her twin sister who is a student of Eastern philosophy and meditation about to embark on a period of self-discovery at an Indian ashram. 
Whilst in the middle of her active anti-factory campaigning, the first woman hears that an application she made some years before to become a foster mother for an orphaned Ukrainian child has been successful and she is offered the chance to take a four-year old girl from that country. Now faced with the dilemma to accept the child or to cease her campaigning efforts she comes to an arrangement with her twin sister.

It's a compelling story, made yet more interesting by the infrequently viewed country in which she operates. A large part of the latter section of the film concerns her trying to outwit and outrun the police pursuits closing in on her, involving her having to shoot down the spy-drones they employ to investigate ground-level  signs of life.
There are one or two light comedic touches as, for instance , the police keeping after the same hapless Spanish young man whom they suspect as being the culprit of the attacks. 
A feature of the film is how a trio of male musicians (usually keyboard, tuba plus percussion) keep appearing as background to scenes without explanation as to why they are there, or sometimes woven right into the scenes - a kind of 'musical' Greek chorus, if you will, though 'music' is not to be taken too literally. Also appearing, though less frequently, is another trio, this time of young Ukrainian women in their national dress, though I've no idea what they were singing about.

Near the film's end something happens which I personally felt undermined all what had happened before, though reading reviews, few others felt the same way. It struck me as lazy and, perhaps, predictable, though that was the only point at which I felt a bit let down. Incidentally we only actually see the little girl right near the end in a flood-stricken Ukraine.  
Director is native Icelander Benedikt Erlingsson.

An unusual story which, had it been set in another country and/or had it been in English, I don't think would have been nearly as attractive as it's managed to be. I liked it................7.

(IMDb................7.6 / Rott. Toms.......4.4/5 )
  





Thursday, 16 May 2019

Film: 'Eighth Grade'

On the face of it, this would be the sort of film I'd normally keep a mile away from -  American schoolkids living their socially active lives and spouting sassy bons mots to each other way beyond their years, with situations and repartee one is expected to find simply hilarious - or so I sort of expected. In fact it was hardly any of that, being more a tale of teenage angst with precious few laughs, or none at all which I identified. I only went to see it as I've seen a few reviews which raised it above the level of expectation I've just described. Although it wasn't my 'type' of film, it wasn't really that bad either.

Shot in present day New York State, Elsie Fisher plays insecure 13-year old Kayla in her final year before going onto high school, and who lives alone with her single father (Josh Hamilton). She posts regular YouTube (or was it Facebook?) chatty videos talking of what an active social life she leads, while in reality she's shy, insecure, practically solitary and uncertain about making friends. Ever flicking over her phone screen for something which interests her rather than actually communicating, she brusquely rebuffs her father's regular enquiries about whether she's okay so he has little idea of her inner anguishes, though he picks up that she's somehow troubled. Her awkwardness extends to her class activities, and is particularly marked when she encounters the chance to have sex for the first time.

At first my expectations that I wouldn't like it at all tended to get in the way and I was toying with the thought that I might leave before it was over. But as the film went on I was actually drawn into it and felt increasing sympathy for the girl's situation, knowing how my own school situation had not been a million miles from this girl's isolated situation. 
There is a bit of the usual teenage rivalry badinage between class members both in and out of school, though it didn't detract.

The director (and writer of this film) is 29-year old Bo Burnham, a name I didn't know though I believe he's also done stand-up comedy, this being his first cinema feature. He treats the delicate subject matter with sensitivity without getting over-sentimental, and deserves praise for it.
Another thing in favour of the film is that at 93 mins it doesn't overstay its welcome - only in the final scenes a heart-to-heart between father and daughter felt a bit like trying to wrap things up a bit too neatly.

Considering that the girl's character is something like three generations younger than I am it didn't alienate me as much as I think it might have done. Those of less advanced age than my own could well take to the film still more strongly than I did, notwithstanding the fact that it did hold my interest right through. Not at all bad...............6.

(IMDb.................7.5 / Rott. Toms..........4/5 )

   

Monday, 13 May 2019

Our eternally lovely Doris Day gone.

At 97, the time came. I'll be just one of millions on millions who are feeling bereft. Lovely lady, lovely spirit, she deserves no less than to be canonised immediately. Thank you for making the world ever so much richer, our darling Doris. We worship and bless your memory. XXXXXXXXX. R.I.P.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Film: 'Greta'

This was a lesson in not paying too much heed to reviews. Despite a number of negative blurbs I've read ("silly", "predictable", "not credible", "undisciplined") I enjoyed it greatly. It harked me back to those horror films of the 60s and 70s which verged on grand guignol, though not nearly as skilfully realised as this is. Okay, so it's one of those 'leave your brain at the cinema door' films, though if you just go along with the ride I'd put it in the category of being just good, scary f-u-n.

The film's trailer gives away that it's a stalker plot, with Isabelle Huppert refusing to leave Chloe Grace Moretz alone after the latter finds a handbag left on the subway containing the owner's address and returns it to her. (Incidentally, Moretz's presence in the recent 'The Miseducation of Cameron Post' had one serious fault for me with her frequent indecipherable mumblings. I'm pleased to report that that is not the case here). Maika Monroe, as Moretz's close friend and flatmate, is the third member of the almost exclusively female cast, though Stephen Rea. a stalwart of director Neil Jordan's films, has a minor role too.  
I should mention also that there's a dishevelled old dog taken from a rescue home in a couple of short scenes. Though he comes to a sorry end there's nothing upsetting to be seen actually on screen.

A couple of things I really liked about the film was that it doesn't waste any time getting down to the heart of the story - and right through there's very little wastage in this comparatively lean film.
There's also one of those cliched sequences when horrific things happen, only for us to find out that it's just within a dream. However, and for a change, here it imaginatively goes one step beyond that.
(I have to say, though, that I could have done with a little less overworking of Liszt's 'Liebestraum No.3').

There are a few grisly scenes which might be considered humorous, and no doubt some will find them so, but it all adds up to solid, enjoyable entertainment.

We haven't seen much of respected veteran director Neil Jordan for quite some time - the last encounter I had with one of his works was 'Breakfast on Pluto' in 2005. I get the feeling that he had as much fun shooting this latest film as I had in watching it.

It's rare when my own rating is substantially higher than the consensus, but this time I'm happy to put my head above the parapet. Definitely one of the better, perhaps even one of the best, films I've seen so far this year................7.5.  

(IMDb...........6.2 / Rott. Toms...........5.7 - Note that if I'd paid attention to these I'd not have gone and I would have missed out on a pleasurable experience. )



Monday, 6 May 2019

Film: 'Tolkien'


I've never been enthralled with the idea of discovering more about the early pre-'Lord of the Rings' life of J.R.R.Tolkien but if there be any who are, this film (made emphatically without the approval of his family) attempts to sketch in those events and influences before he became the cult figure he attained prior to his death in 1973, and bursting into worldwide acclaim as a result of the two Peter Jackson 'Ring' and 'Hobbit' film trilogies. I knew some vague details of his younger years though not so as to have me hankering after more information.

Born South Africa, brought up in English Midlands, schooled in Birmingham, orphaned at 12, (his boyhood self played by Harry Gilby) his mother-appointed guardian is a Roman Catholic priest (Colm Meaney) - and, as now played by Nicholas Hoult, he then attends Exeter College, Oxford University where he forms a clique with three other similar-aged male undergraduates and meets the young woman (Lily Collins) who turns out to be the love of his life. His aptitude for languages (esp. Old English and Finnish) is recognised by a surly professor (Derek Jacobi, in pic above, right) whom he seeks to ingratiate - but then World War One breaks out and he finds himself fighting at the Somme. The whole film is punctuated with short scenes around that battle, both premonitionary and recollective, his traumatic experiences giving rise to some of the disturbing imagery,, including scenes of mass slaughter utilised in his magnum opus. 

It's not a film with which I felt deeply engaged. It might have been different if I'd been a great admirer of his works (I've read LOTR four times so far) but although I've found them passably entertaining they've never really gripped me to anything like the extent to which some are fanatical about them.

I'm sure that Nicholas Hoult is a capable actor but he has such nondescript looks that I found myself asking over and over which one he was.

Finnish Director Dome Karukoski (the disappointing 'Tom of Finland' 2017) does what is required with a story which, though not exactly ordinary, didn't grab me at all.
The film only came really alive for me at one point where he tried to take his girlfriend to the opening of Wagner's 'Ring' cycle and finding all the cheap seats sold out, they smuggled themselves into an adjacent store area in the theatre to listen through the walls. But that was for me the sole memorable scene.

I think you need to be a genuine Tolkien fan to get much out of this. It's only of interest in the light of what we know comes later (we see him writing the very first sentence of 'The Hobbit', but that's all). I can't think of any other reason to make you want to see it..................5.

(IMDb.................7.2 )

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Film: 'mid90s'

L.A., in the film title's decade (though it might as well have been contemporary as far as I could see) this mercifully short (85 mins) film, shot in square-frame ratio, takes a slice of the life of 13 year-old, but looking younger, skateboarding fanatic Sunny Suljic (bottom right in pic) as he rebels against his family (incl. Lucas Hedges as his bullying older brother - a small role though he gets second billing - and Katherine Waterston, the concerned mother). We see him befriending a small gang of street kids united in a craze for their recreation. and being inculcated in the ways that is considered de rigueur for those of their generation - smoking (not just tobacco), drinking and pill-popping, their language peppered with 'f' this and 'f' that, where approval is expressed as being as 'cool' and the go-to words for a put-down are 'fag/faggot' or simply 'gay'. The 'n' word is also liberally employed by all and sundry in a neutral sense. 

Although the film does have a strong focus in the young kid's involvement as he moves beyond his family's expectations on how to behave it's also somewhat meandering and episodic - and, for me, not really that interesting. There's a small number of violent scenes, both intentional and accidental, though a film I'll have forgotten by tomorrow.

Jonah Hill, mid-30s, is himself a Los Angeles born and has appeared as actor in some 60 films, this being his first feature film as director, and drawing on his own growing-up experiences. I will commend him, though, for one aspect of this - namely that it wasn't longer..............3.5.  

(IMDb..........7.4 / Rott.Toms..............7.1 )

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Film: The Sisters Brothers'

I'm in a quandary as to which side to come down on, a deeply unpleasant experience which has seared itself on my memory when I wish it hadn't, yet a film I can recognise as being significantly superior within the 'Westerns' genre . 

1853, starting in Oregon. The titular siblings, having the most unlikely surname of 'Sisters' (played by Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly) are a pair of bickering professional assassins in pursuit of a gold prospector (British actor, Riz Ahmed - most impressive - and eye-catching!) whose travelling companion (Jake Gyllenhal) is, unbeknownst to the former, a private investigator keeping tabs on him while trying to let their pursuers know their shifting location towards and into California. I can't say much more about the story as there are a number of unexpected turns, usually violent, wrong-footing our expectations. Sometimes I had the impression that the director/writer is 'playing' with us. 

Numerous scenes of brutal violence and revulsion, some clearly intending to be comic though I found very little to laugh at, with some alarming episodes involving horses which, even if as surely they do, come under the qualification of "no animals were harmed", I found thoroughly upsetting - and a greater distraction for me than it would be for, probably, the majority of audiences. And I'll be carrying the memory of a certain spider episode for my remaining life! If you like your films to be 'strong' with a visceral kick, this is made for you.

It's not a film I'll ever see again (thank God!), lying in the same category as something like, say, 'Apocalypse Now' which I only ever saw on its initial release 40 years ago, yet as images from it haunt me still, so will it be with this.

Director Jaques Audiard ('Rust and Bone' 2012) undoubtedly knows what he's doing, shaking us out of sitting there in complacency, but I'd hesitate to claim this film as being anywhere near a 'masterpiece'. 
'A Clockwork Orange', just as violent, and which I have seen multiple times and will continue doing so, does qualify as a masterpiece. The genius of Kubrick, evident in every one of his films in fact, presents us with scenes (including violent ones as in 'Orange' - and 'Full Metal Jacket') with an artifice where one was always aware of a towering mind at work behind the camera and thus distancing the subject matter being portrayed, making it more acceptable to witness as 'entertainment'. (Hitchcock films are similar in that respect). I'd not put Audiard in anything like the same class. But, to be fair, what he aims at he achieves, and that ultimately, is what matters.

Strong stuff, then - and definitely not one for the faint-hearted and sensitive. As I say at the top, I'm not sure which way to land on this one. In terms of my own 'enjoyment' I'd rate it on the low side as there was precious little of that emotion. But ultimately I do appreciate it as a genuinely well-made film, perfectly constructed and very fine acting in every case of the four principals. 
When it's a question of head v. heart, usually the best advice is to go with the latter. However, in this case I think I'll have to come down on the other side, even though I may shortly be regretting it. So it's a.............7.5

(IMDb..................7.0 )

  







  





Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Film: 'Red Joan'

Judi Dench must surely carry the world record for the number of film appearances by any octogenarian actor - eight (so far) at my count - and they've all been in significant roles, while the tally of those she's done since attaining sixty runs into the dozens.

This film, 'inspired' by the real story of one Joan Stanley, tells of the woman's arrest and interrogation just a few years ago following her being belatedly uncovered and suspected of having been a spy around and after World War II, conveying information to the Soviet Union on the building of an atom bomb. 

Although Dench gets lead billing in the opening credits, over nine-tenths of the film consists of flashbacks to her younger years starting at Cambridge University  (where her earlier self is played by Sophie Cookson) either when she's being questioned or she's playing through her memories and daydreams, much of it from a romantic angle, including an affair with a hothead communist student (Tom Hughes) and close friendship with a professor (Stephen Campbell More).   
Her male student acquaintances are mainly socialist, sympathetic to Stalin and Russia (long before the truth about his tyranny and oppression became widely known). Although she goes to political meetings she resists joining organisations, but then the breaking point for her is when she hears about and is appalled by the dropping of the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By this time she's working on scientific research and has access to secret information...............

Despite having as director none other than the renowned Trevor Nunn, this film which ought to have been suspenseful, even gripping, turns out to be oddly pedestrian. Dench herself is very moving and totally credible as a delicate, senile woman, but the major part of the film featuring her younger self I found not as involving as it ought to have been. Perhaps the fault lies in its pacing. It doesn't help in there being multiple (too many?) returns to the present before jumping back to the past, as though fulfilling a need to give Dench more screen time, when that really wasn't necessary.  

When it comes to standard of acting, any appearance by Dench is a guarantee of conviction. Sophie Cookson and her male co-support actors are pretty good too, but it all doesn't seem to redeem the film itself from being on the plodding side. 
Though the story is completely new to me this film doesn't exactly make me want to find out any more about it..............6.

( IMDb..................6.3 )





        

Monday, 22 April 2019

Film: 'Wild Rose'

I do have a marked antipathy to this genre of film, having seen so many over the years follow the same tired old 'Star-is-Born- with-tweaks' formula (budding young singer with unrecognised talent or limited appreciation of same on a quest to 'make it big') such that I spent a good portion of my viewing time sitting and fuming, wishing it was over with. This was only the latest of them which, I have to point out, has actually received almost universal plaudits, so what do I know?
Why did I go at all? Simply to boost my cinema-going number so I can reach the magical 5,000 and take my foot off the accelerator by starting to see only those films I really want to see. Besides, I had a chance for a cheapo ticket so there wasn't much to lose, apart from another two-hour hole in my life.   

Irish actress/singer Jessie Buckley got her name into celebrity status (though it meant nothing to me) by coming second in a BBC TV talent show a few years ago. In this film she plays a Glaswegian country music (emphatically without the appendage of '.....and western') singer, Rose-Lynn, who feels that she ought to have been American and dreams of visiting and performing at Nashville's, 'Grand Ole Opry', effectively her 'Mecca'.  As the film starts, she, a single mother of two infants who've been living with her own no-nonsense mother (Julie Walters), is released after one year in prison for drug possession, and returns to her children. However, knowing that she has to find a means to support herself she has again to palm off her resenting kids and she finds a housekeeping job with a relatively well-off and kindly suburban housewife (Sophie Okenado - for me the best thing in the film) living with her own husband and her own two children. Rose has a brash, rather immature personality, tough as old boots on the outside but (wouldn't you know it?) soft and vulnerable underneath. She's ever got her earphones on and is not averse to some hard drinking, and singing at Glasgow's own country music pub.

You can guess the line the story follows, but you'd only be partly  right - for example, at one late stage her criminal past proves to be  a spanner in the works of her dreams.   

One of the worst aspects for me was the very pronounced Scottish accents. I really could have used subtitles. In fact I scarcely picked up a single word in the first 15 mins. Talk about frustrating! And it goes on throughout, whole stretches of it. At least Julie Walter's Scottish accent was decipherable, while Sophie Okenado had no discernible accent at all.

This looks like director Tom Harper's fourth cinema feature film. None of his previous has set the critics alight. Looks like this is his first notable success. Good luck to his future.

During the film I removed my eyes from the screen periodically for the simple reason that I just couldn't be bothered to take interest. Looking at my watch was more fun!

You'd be right in surmising that there's a fair bit of singing in the film though only one complete song, I think. I can tolerate country music with ease, in fact I find a lot of it quite pleasant, but here it's the story wrapped round it that made me suffer.
Most, or nearly all of you, will be younger than I am, so probably not having seen so many of this 'type' of film you may well be more taken up by the story than I was, in which case do go. But laying my own hand down for all to see, I've had just about enough!................4.

(IMDb.................7.5)


Sunday, 21 April 2019

'The King & I' - live relay to cinemas from London Palladium.

This Lincoln Centre produc-tion with Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watan-abe is running for a season at the very theatre where I saw Yul Brynner and Virginia McKenna take on the main roles in 1979, that being the only time I've seen this musical live on stage. Pity then that I'd found that production, basically a reprise of the film, a disappointment - unlike this one. I've seen all the 'big' Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals live in glitzy, big-star West End productions and 'The King & I' is the only one of them where I felt the filmed version was better than seeing it live. 

Before talking about this new production, a few 'asides':-
Just one more comment about Yul Brynner in that earlier show. It only came out later that for the entire 15-month London run Brynner's presence was a running sore to both other members of the cast and also to the entire production team, as he steadfastly remained in his onstage role of despotic ruler offstage too, making imperious, unreasonable demands on all and sundry and insisting that he always be addressed only as 'Mister Brynner' - the running in-joke was why he didn't also demand to be addressed as 'Your Majesty'. Remaining in the persona of the character an actor is currently playing on film is actually a ploy which a number of actors adopt, Meryl Streep for example, though I doubt if anyone would have the need to maintain it continuously for as long as 15 months as Brynner felt he had to. It must have been unbearably wearing for those having to communicate with him.
On the day I saw it I must have caught Virginia McKenna on one of her 'off' days, at least I hope it was. She never lifted her speaking part or her songs, all delivered in a one-dimensional tone. When she was required to smile it appeared conspicuously more as a grimace. I can only assume that she'd had some negative news before coming on stage - or maybe she'd had a confrontation of some sort with Mr Brynner!
When the casting for that production was announced I'd felt that a brilliant choice for playing the role of Anna would have been Sally Anne Howes, though I've no knowledge of her being considered or if she would have accepted it anyway.

One final 'btw' which I only discovered a few years ago by way of a passing remark on a radio chat show, so if you didn't know it already it might be worth sharing it with you. When R & H were writing 'South Pacific' they had a song, a duet sung by Lt Cable and his love-at-first-sight inamorata, Liat, called 'Suddenly Lucky' (sometimes 'Suddenly Lovely') which was later dropped as being not fully appropriate to their situation and replaced by the weightier and beautiful solo for Cable,  'Younger than Springtime'. The story goes that when Mary Martin  ('South Pacific's original Nellie Forbush) saw the premiere of 'The King & I'  she felt that Anna needed another song and, remembering the dropped South Pacific number, she suggested to the composer and lyricist that the tune might be imported into their new show. And so it was - 'Getting to Know You'.   

So much for the past of 'The King and I' and back to this new production. 
It's now been thoroughly re-thought and, I must say, most successfully too. No more being strait-jacketed by the film version, Anna is now much more feisty, the King more clownish and out of his depth as royal ruler. The relative positions of these two as 'master and servant' were dubious even at the musical's initial production and in today's climate of greater awareness of gender inequality it becomes more important than ever to bring out its absurdity. Now Anna's attitude to being pushed around and told what to do has been gingered up a bit with good effect. 
Choreography and orchestration are quite different - and now there's a marvellous bonus of at least four songs excised from both film and the production I saw, including a major solo for the King alone, which Brynner could hardly have managed. 
The roles of the Siamese children are somewhat downplayed now so that their march of introduction doesn't outstay its effect as can happen. However the initial appearance of the two younger lovers still seems a bit problematic so that when they suddenly start singing 'We Kiss in the Shadow' one may still be left wondering "Who on earth are these two?"
The 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' ballet sequence is slightly changed without losing its national interpretation attraction at all.
I was not in the least familiar with Kelli O'Hara's name, and Ken Watanabe ('The Last Samurai', 'Inception') I knew only slightly. I thought they were both exceptionally good - as was the entire supporting cast, all with strong and accurate singing voices (even if the 'King' was clearly under some strain in his big, demanding solo).

I found the entire event both exhilarating and a discovery. I'm glad that it has to a large extent put to bed the film version (which, of course, has considerable merits) but that is the general trouble with filmed versions of stage musicals - they do tend to set in stone one's expectations. This production rises to the challenge of making it come out looking and sounding fresh while demonstrating just what a thoroughly fine piece of theatre it is. I congratulate all involved. for providing us here with a piece which truly is 'Something Wonderful'.



Thursday, 18 April 2019

Film: 'At Eternity's Gate'

Bit of a curiosity, this. Unfortunately not quite as fulfilling for me personally as I'd hoped.
First of all one has to fight past the superficial oddity of a 63-year old Willem Dafoe playing Vincent van Gogh who died at 37 (from gunshot wound to the stomach, whether self-inflicted or not was never established). But Dafoe really does rise to the challenge admirably, displaying all the passion and impetuosity one might expect of a much younger man. Facially they've managed to give him a semblance of fading youth too. So that aspect doesn't hold one back from enjoying what there was to enjoy, which turned out to be rather less than I'd wished, malheuresement.

The film covers his end-of-life-period at Arles in the far south of France, including his friendship with Paul Gaugin (Oscar Isaac) in the film's first half, and his later time as an asylum resident in Auvers-sur-Oise.
There's some tricksy camerawork to reflect the visual impact of his (generally) unappreciated paintings, not entirely successfully to my mind. But what alarmed me was the extent to which this is a very wordy film - going on and on about his feelings and need to paint, musing on what it arises from with references to philosophy and God and this and that. There was a number of times when Van G. conversed at length in 'profound' terms (including with his ever faithful brother, Theo, played by Rupert Friend - and with priest Mads Mikkelsen, whom I failed to recognise) with various characters without either the story moving forward or resolving anything, and it became just plain dull, wanting me to shout out "Oh, get on with it!" I suppose the intention was to explain what made him 'tick', but when even he himself admits that he didn't know then it was a rather fruitless exercise.
There's also the significant presence of his doctor (Matthieu Amalric) of whom both he and Mikkelsen seemed to be appearing as 'guest stars' in a production they'd requested to be part of.
Btw: The actual cutting off of part of his ear is not shown but there's a fair bit of talk about it afterwards, notably with priest Mikkelsen.

It hit me later of what the film had reminded me - a long monologue as a theatre-piece being opened up for screen transfer, rather in the manner in which 'Shirley Valentine' had undergone that same process, while it had been far more powerful as the one-person theatre show I'd originally seen it as. I think this film would similarly have had more punch as a one-actor delivery.

I get the feeling that director Julian Schnabel ('The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' 2007) has rather over-reached himself with this film, though I've no doubt that there'll be plenty of others who would dispute that. I must also add one further qualification to my own views. I simply do not have a strong appreciation of the visual, which I do most profoundly possess in the cases of literature and music, both being capable of touching my inmost being. So it could well be that those who love this artist's works to a greater extent than I can muster will see depths in this film which totally missed me. I'm perfectly comfortable with that being the case. I can only report on my own experience of sitting through it.................5.5.

(IMDb.............6.9  / Rott. Toms. Users.........62% )

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Film: 'The White Crow'

I found this, by and large, pretty good, let down just now and then by some indifferent acting. Considering that it's only the third feature film directed by none other than Ralph Fiennes - who made his directing debut back in 2011 with a highly impressive 'Coriolanus' and who, in this latest film, also takes on a significant acting role - it's another achievement with which he ought to feel well satisfied.

Those of my generation will remember the hullabaloo caused by the defection to the west by Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev (already by then a world celebrity) while on dance tour with his company visiting Paris and London in 1961. It's at the end of the first leg that he makes the historic break for freedom from his artistically strait-jacketed, Communist-watched, Soviet life . What I recall about it was the news programmes being pulled in two directions, first trying to play down the significance so as not to upset the Soviet Union too much, this being bang in the middle of the Cold War, but at the same time trying to give voice to the sensational nature of the escape which the 'popular' press had picked up on, and which really only came to full light some time later after Nureyev had been made safe and secure in London. No one doubted that his country's leaders wanted him back, but failing that, to have him killed, such was the high anti-Soviet propaganda value he carried.

The film tells of the period before and up to Nureyev's escape (Oleg Ivenko, himself a professional dancer) with flashbacks to his childhood and early dance training in Leningrad, under the tutelage of his enigmatic and softly-spoken dancing instructor (Fiennes).  
The mainly subtitled film is mostly in Russian, with some French, though also significant parts in English. 
Screenplay is by the gifted David Hare who shows his skill in the spare dialogue he's provided for the quite large cast.

Nureyev's fluid sexuality is more than hinted at, having close 'friends' of both sexes, but still plays on the safe side with nothing graphically explicit. It still came as a bit of a shock (to me, at least) to see the dance instructor's wife make much more than a direct pass at him. 

The actual defection scene at the Paris airport is near the film's end and plays out just as if from a Hitchcock thriller with high tension suspense, and is none the worse for being so. Just as the company is about to embark on a plane to London he's pulled aside by the Russian 'heavies' who've been keeping their eyes on him constantly for the whole visit, and told that Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev has ordered him back to Moscow to 'dance in a gala'. He suspects their motive and decides that it's now or never.  

It's a film which hardly ever flags, despite its two-hours-plus running time and my knowing how it was going to end. Ralph Fiennes has made a brave move in assembling a largely Russian cast which might be forgiven its occasional wooden moments. Nevertheless, the whole enterprise came out better than I was expecting..............7.

( IMDb....................6.5 )

  








Thursday, 28 March 2019

Film: 'Fisherman's Friends'

In a quandary whether or not to see this, doubting if I'd give it a fair reception (just not the kind of film I go for!) my mind was made up by the incoming news that it looked like Prime Minister Theresa May could be trying tomorrow for a third time to get her Brexit deal through the House of Commons, with the terrifying prospect that, though still unlikely, she'll pull it off - especially now with the admittedly tastily enticing promise that if it passes she'll stand down and let someone else carry on with trying to keep the ensuing havoc in check. The prospect of a new leader supported by a coterie of Europhobes, some Trump admirers, at least one climate change denier (Liam Fox) and a clutch of anti-gay-equality ministers (though Heaven forbid you should think they could be homophobic, you understand!) depresses me considerably. So I needed some distraction from the dark cloud enveloping me even though there's a fair chance she'll be defeated yet again. Thus going to see this film filled the bill for at least two hours of the waiting time until zero hour tomorrow while I wait with fingers, and everything else that can be crossed, crossed. 

Based as most films seem to be these days, on a 'true story', I knew next to nothing about this Cornish ten-fisherman singing group (largely a capella) of the film's title, having around 15 years ago given up on my prior lifetime's assiduous following of the pop charts, in which these fellows made some unlikely, though modest, impression on the (mainly album) charts with their sea-shanties, before which time I was already turning my back on this particular world. So nearly all of this was news to me.

Daniel Mays and three others are on expedition to Cornwall (the most westerly of the British mainland counties, jutting out into the edge of the Atlantic) where he's heard of this group in the little fishing village of Port Isaac (current pop, just over 700) and, having heard them in one song, thinks he can sign them uup for a lucrative recording deal. On arriving in the village their car mistakenly finds itself going the wrong way up a one-way street, inevitably meeting a vehicle coming the 'right' way and driven by a woman (Tuppence Middleton - mainly TV work up to now) with a small girl, who confronts Mays irately. Of course I was just one of many who'd know that here was what would become the film's romantic interest. (Funny how many screen romances are ignited by a squabble! Didn't they realise that very soon they'd be falling for each other?) Anyway that was cringe the first, just one of at least a dozen more ahead.
   Before the singing men are 'discovered' we see some of them on their fishing boat doing what they do - and singing! - with the unseen support of instrumental backing creeping in under their voices. Oh dear! But singing extremely ably, I must say - soundtrack provided by the authentic 'Fisherman's Friends' group, of course.

The male actors comprising the group include James Purefoy, looking hunkier and hairier than I've seen him before, who turns out to be (who would have thought it?) the father of the aforementioned Tuppence Middleton character. 
When Mays tells the men of his idea of getting a record deal for them their reaction is one of hilarious disbelief, making him show that he's serious. There's much joshing at his expense, stringing him along with tall tales which he falls for while the men laugh up their sleeves at his gullibility.

You can guess the contours the story will follow and you'd be right. We've all seen too many of these tales where an individual or group of performers dismisses the thought that they could have any recognisable talent only for them to be 'discovered' and for them to go onto fame. Usually, though, the person(s) starts as being truly awful and has to work incredibly hard to reach the standard required, which they do to win whatever trophy and even to become a world-beater. In this case it's evident that the group already have a prodigious singing expertise so there's none of that tedious training regime to which we're usually subject.

I'll confess that at several points watching this film felt like an endurance test, so twee was the story. I nearly came close to doing the very unusual of walking out after my self-imposed minimum limit of having seen two-thirds of a film before leaving, to make it count as having been 'seen'. But it must be a few years since I last did that for anything so I sat the complete film out through gritted teeth.

So did I like anything ar all about it? Yes, the singing absolutely - as well as the Cornish landscape/seascape though that was located within the confined area of small Port Isaac. 
Acting was fair to good. Script predictable and sometimes weak and unimaginative.

This is director Chris Foggins' second feature film, his first being the ignored 'Kids in Love' of 2016. I didn't notice any special touches which would make this film stand out and be retained in the memory, apart from its built-in unusual subject matter and location.
During the course of watching it I was pretty sure I'd give it a really low-rating based on my very personal individual negative reaction, though I freely admit that there'll be many more who are ready to go along with it and lap it up with enjoyment - and good for them. I can only speak for myself. However, despite my reservations, I've come down on the generous side..............4.

(IMDb.................7.0)