Monday, 2 December 2019

Film: 'Knives Out'

This was sheer pleasure. Despite looking promising from the trailer, I was a bit nervous that my opinion would turn out to be at variance with the many praiseworthy reviews which abound. It didn't. 

A contemporary take on the whodunits of (principally) Agatha Christie as depicted on screen through the star-studded Hercule Poirot films, this involves wealthy family patriarch, played by Christopher Plummer, apparently committing suicide on the night following having celebrated his 85th birthday with generations of his family  - a cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michel Shannon and Chris Evans. But notwithstanding a seeming straight-forwardness of the situation (a pre-determined decision by the deceased to close his own successful life at this juncture and let his family move on without him?) the police have suspicions of foul play and two officers arrive for a post-funeral investigation - with a private investigator in tow, played by Daniel Craig, as unlike 007 as you could wish, and with a (to me) rather startling American regional accent. After hanging back as silent observer, it's not long before Craig takes centre stage, twinkling his way with probing questions, verbal prods and thrusts to each individual, including house staff, who was in the huge manorial residence at the time. 
Much of the first part of the film involves the audience getting to know something about a certain one of their characters of which the others, including Craig, don't (yet) know - and then we watch Craig assembling the jig-saw of clues into a meaningful shape until, in the final minutes, it all comes together. And no, I hadn't guessed the outcome (not that I'd tried too hard!)

It's filmed around Boston. Mass. with a script that is sharp, perceptive, and often funny, and with contemporary references. All the cast are on top form, each getting his or her turn in the spotlight, yet without getting the story too fragmented, Daniel Craig providing adhesion to the whole. One quite amusing feature is that one of the cast has a condition in which, if she lies, she has a compulsion to vomit. Needless to say, this feature is utilised at crucial points in the story. 
There are a lot of details in the film which are, perhaps, delivered  too fast for one (not just me?) to grasp everything. Nonetheless it's not a hard film to follow though I would like to watch it again to discover what I missed first time around. It's one of those tales where you feel that each sentence carries a weight which may nor be evident at the time, and I'm sure I missed a lot of what was significant, though in no way did that detract from my pleasure .

Director and writer Rian Johnson ('Looper' 2012) supplies perfection itself in both these fields and I can't imagine how the film could be improved. 

If you're hankering after something twisty, supremely entertaining and different from all the dross that's around, here's your solution...........8.

(IMDb............8.1 - Rott.Toms......... 4.5 / 5 )

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Film: 'Sorry We Missed You"

Scourge of Conservative British government policies, Ken Loach, now in his 84th year, comes up with another cracker, one which may well turn out to be his final film. A laughter-free zone, it's as intense and heart-rending as anything he's given us, on a par with his previous, widely well-regarded film, 'I Daniel Blake' (2016). And like that one, this is also set in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

It deals with a family struggling to survive in the era of the 'gig' economy. Where our current government regularly trumpets how it's bringing down unemployment, patting itself on the back with no mention as to how those 'in work' have to hold down two, sometimes three, jobs simultaneously because they are so poorly paid, with no job security at all, working on zero-hour 'contracts', and not knowing whether they'll be employed one hour to the next, never mind from day to day. And with millions countrywide, including some working, now having to rely on free hand-outs from food banks just to survive, that is the state we're now in.

In this film we see a family of four - parents (Kris Hitchin and Debbie Honeywood, both delivering most effecting performances) with their rebellious teenage son (Rhys Stone) and 11-year old daughter (Katie Proctor). The family is already heavily in debt to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds when the unemployed father takes on a job as parcel deliverer, having to buy a white van at his own expense, and any cases of deliveries not made on time (a schedule so tight that he has to wee into a plastic bottle so as not to lose one minute) and any damage or mishaps, even if not his own fault, to come out of his own modest pay. He has to work 14-hour days with no breaks, no days off - or he'll be sacked. Meanwhile, the mother is an itinerant social care worker, having had to surrender her necessary car so that her husband could buy the van, so she's reduced to having to use the bus to get from client to client, all of advanced age in various states of health deterioration. including dementia, some regularly soiling themselves - helping them eat, dress, wash, get to the toilet etc. 
While they're both trying to hold down their precarious jobs their son increases their worry load significantly - truancy from school, painting graffiti with pals, getting into fights, shoplifting.....But their little daughter, not yet at rebellious age, is sympathetic and supportive to her struggling parents.
It's the father, with the more risky employment, who is, perhaps understandably, the more volatile of the parents, while his wife is the solid, more reliable one, though she does 'lose it' at least once, and very publicly. 

It's a grim film with the family quartet at the centre hardly able to be bettered in acting terms. There's no resolution at the end, just fading from off the screen in an emotionally charged situation, which seems appropriate as we're in the thick of difficulties for many thousands, even millions, of families right now.  
I wish Ken Loach had yet a further 20 years or more in him. His films are always thought-provoking. However the legacy he is going to leave us with, especially in social commentary terms, will be hard to be rivalled. 
A very moving film, though maybe not one to be watched when you're feeling low and need your mood lifting!.............7.5.

(IMDb.............7.8 - Rott. Toms.......Not available ) 



Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Film: 'The Good Liar'

Just as well for not taking any exalted hopes with me into this film because I derived rather more pleasure from certain stretches of it than perhaps it deserved, virtually all in the earlier parts. Starting out in something of a 'fun' style, even jaunty, it gets progressively bleaker until the final half hour or so when, for the big 'reveal(s)' it becomes very black indeed, even appallingly so - sitting most uncomfortably with what had gone before.

Professional con-man and septuagenarian Ian McKellan (thankfully with none at all of his trademark mumblings here) via a computer dating site meets well-off widow (Helen Mirren) of similar years to feign a romantic attraction, though actually to relieve her of her riches. Ostensibly she falls for his ruse - though if there's anyone who can't guess what's going to happen they can't have seen too many films. She has a near middle-aged grandson (Russell Tovey) who is immediately suspicious of McKellan's motives. The latter continues his deception while living a double life and with the assistance of a coterie of co-conspirators, principally Jim Carter as his (ahem!) 'Financial Adviser' cheats other wealthy 'clients' out of hundreds of thousands of pounds or more, they all taking a share in the proceeds of the scam.  
The film continues with increasing focus on the McKellan/Mirren relationship, spiralling down into big-scale serious drama until it reaches its climax, first in Berlin (such melodrama!) then for resolution back in London's wealthy and leafy suburbs. Although the presentation of details of the ultimate revelations may surprise one, the fact that they occur at all should not. 

It's a weird film, tonally uncertain, neither this nor that, yet I must confess to finding a degree of compulsion in its watchability, largely because of the dual presence of two who are considered to be among our very finest British actors, one on screen, the other in theatre, playing a 'double act', it's not to be sniffed at.

Director is Bill Condon ('Kinsey', 'Mr Holmes', 'Dreamgirls') who may have had some qualms about bringing this strange product to the screen, I don't know! - a product which may be described as an old-fashioned type 'pot-boiler', though with one or two violent and gory images, albeit very short. I'm sure he does as well as he could with the material he had.

A bit of an odd-ball film which I'd recommend it if you want to watch a reasonably entertaining curiosity. I do think, however, that without its two stars (plus the commendable Russell Tovey) it might have fallen yet flatter than it actually does.............5.5.

(IMDb...............6.4 - Rott.Toms [critics only] ......6.3 ).

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Film: 'Doctor Sleep'

Sequel to Stephen King's 1977 novel 'The Shining' and the Stanley Kubrick film of three years after (which King himself famously disliked), this one I found mediocre in comparison, director Mike Flanagan in no way being another Kubrick. 

I've read the novel twice and liked the 1980 film a lot (aside from a couple of quibbles, virtually all in the very final minutes), though haven't read this newer novel. 
Back in the late 70s and into the 80s I was a major fan of King's works and could hardly wait to read his latest published novel as they came out, but found that at the end of that very decade he went off the boil quite significantly, though with the odd exception - 'Misery', both book and film being a major comeback, the latter not quite as successfully realised as the book, yet still a most satisfying accomplishment.  

I don't know to what extent this new film is a faithful translation of the written word to the screen but one of the merits of the original film is that it had a very simple storyline with a cast of, basically, four - apart from excursions at the start and a certain scene in the middle. This sequel has a cast approaching a dozen with some weird off-piste additions to the continued story, so reducing the special impact of the original's claustrophobic, cut-off-from-the-world location,

Ewan McGregor is now the alcoholic adult persona of the corridor-tricycling Danny of the original, thirty-plus years later, now driven to drink and getting into fist fights because of unresolved issues brought about by what happened to him and his parents and his own 'talent' of being able to exercise 'The Shining', a rare psychic ability to connect with others possessing the same, and to recognise and sometimes see 'evil', appearing to him by both hallucinatory and reality means. I didn't feel that McGregor acted his part with quite the conviction the role demands. He didn't strike me as comfortable playing the mental-problem ridden and drink-addled struggler. 
This film rather muddies the comparatively simple concept of the original story by introducing a gang of ten or so odd-bods (vagrants?), superficially trustworthy men and women, led by 'Rose the Hat' (Rebecca Ferguson) but whose real intent is to search out and prey on children who have this 'shining' quality, kidnapping them, then murdering them in slow fashion so as to inhale the vapours which arise from the children's tortured bodies as they slowly expire. (There's one particularly harrowing scene showing the gang doing this to a captured boy).
Meanwhile the adult Danny receives a mental connection to teenage girl 'Abra' (Kyliegh Curran) who warns him of the threats from the group, the remainder of the film being a quest to find and destroy them which is exactly what Rose the Hat wants them to try. I have to say I found the appearances of this Rose more irritating than being the creepy and menacing figure we're supposed to see.

Throughout the film there are a lot of the 'Quiet.....quiet......BANG!" type of 'shocks' which always strike me as lazy and unimaginative. It's a film too full of such feeble attempts to make one jump a feature which rather detracts from the far fewer genuinely scary moments.   

I was, frankly, getting rather bored with the whole thing, something which could never be said of the 1980 film - this new one being  five minutes longer than the original at two and a half hours. It only picked up for me towards the end when Danny and Abra go to the 'Overlook Hotel' for the final great confrontation and we see some of the same rooms with which we've become familiar, including the ballroom with its bar, the hall, staircase, boiler room as well as the snow-covered maze. There are also split-second interpolations from the Kubrick film of Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. It says a lot that it needed these reminders of the original to make me sit up and get interested. 

I'm out on a limb (again!) in finding this film something less than a number of reviews give it credit for. If I hadn't been so familiar with the original book and film I might have had a higher opinion, but as it is I found this a marked disappointment, though following in Kubrick's footsteps was always going to be a high bar to clear.........4.

(IMDb.......................7.5 - Rott.Toms........4.5/5 ) 

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Film: 'The Aeronauts'

I was expecting this to be a reasonably exciting film with some gripping sequences, though in the event, apart from just one really heart-in-mouth episode, found it curiously flaccid in suspense and, frankly, maybe not as interesting as it deserves to be, but that may have been just me. Despite this I have to acknowledge that the photography, particularly when the intrepid balloon-travelling couple, scientist (Eddie Redmayne) and his pilot (Felicity Jones), are airborne at prodigious heights, is extraordinary. 

London 1862, and the pair have set themselves the task of beating the world record (23,000 feet) for height achievement in a hot air balloon, held by the French. They are a chalk-and-cheese couple, he being the more taciturn of the two, seriously intent on taking down meteorological data, while she is a wealthy and extrovert widow with ballooning experience, larking around and looking on the task as a great adventure, extracting the maximum fun from it.  (Incidentally we saw Redmayne and Jones together in 'The Theory of Everything' [2014], he playing Stephen Hawking - and for which he won an Oscar - and she the latter's first wife). Although the two of them get equal billing in this it's essentially her film, she being the one who, by her loud manner and devil-may-care bravura, pulls all the attention.

Once on their ascent they have to cope with a number of difficulties and hurdles culminating in a frozen climax as they reach height of 37,000 feet - including that heart-stopping section I mention, where she is trying to save their mission from disaster and certain death for both while he is lying frozen into a comatose condition. How they managed to replicate her efforts clambering up onto the ice-covered surface of a huge balloon is itself remarkable. (Btw: Why is it that in these ultra-cold situations we never see the breath of the actors coming out of their mouths like steam? Can't they CGI it so it looks authentic?)
During the flight there are a number of flashbacks over the previous two years showing incidents involving both main characters, including a distressing one on how she became a widow - though it struck me that these episodes in general were little more than unnecessary padding to make the film longer, even though at 1.40 it's not exactly excessive in length.

Director Tom Harper, who's done mainly TV work up to now, is also this story's co-writer (based on 'true events', as seems to be the case with so many films nowadays). As director he fulfils the requirements adequately, with some rather tricky and impressive accomplishments on the flight climaxes.

In no sense can this be called a 'poor' film. For me it just lacked that extra something to make it more memorable than what I experienced........6.

(IMDb....................6.4  /Rott Toms (critics only)............6.4 )



Thursday, 24 October 2019

Film: 'Official Secrets'

This had all the potential to be a cracking, good film, and it probably is were it not for one single fault in my viewing of it that was probably not due to the film itself, namely, the screen it was played on had its volume so low that 90% of the dialogue was indecipherable - a rare fault when the more usual complaint is that too many films are played so ear-splittingly loud so as to be on the verge of being unbearable. (You may have read of Hugh Grant's recent unhappy experience when he went to see 'Joker' - "unendurable!") It didn't help that 'Official Secrets' is such a talk-heavy film while the subject matter is a secretive one so that most of the dialogue anyway is delivered in hushed or whispered tones. When I'm unhappy about indistinct delivery of lines (which I regularly am) it almost always is because of one prominent member of the cast. But here it's the entire cast that one is straining one ears at so it's clearly not a fault of general poor diction. Great shame. I was in an audience of, perhaps, fifty, but at the end of a row where, if I'd got up to ask for the sound volume to be increased I'd have had to disturb quite a number - twice! No one else was doing it so I let it go. Only wish I'd gone to the usual single subtitled screening, but I'd missed that.

The film is based on the true story starting in 2003 in the run-up to the (Second) Iraq war, a story that was probably bigger in Britain than elsewhere, of an operative for British Intelligence at GCHQ in London - played by Keira Knightly, who can always be relied on to provide a sterling performance. She received surreptitious information from America that President 'Dubya' Bush & Co, with the connivance of Tony Blair and his cronies, are engaged in a secret campaign to gather incriminating evidence about some of the smaller United Nations Security Council members so as to blackmail the latter into coercing them to vote for a western invasion of Iraq in the wake of well-publicised and, as it turned out, fake stories about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction. The anti-war woman Knightly plays is married to and lives with an Iraqi Kurd (Adam Bakri). (Bakri is strangely placed well down in the cast list order although he occupies more on-screen acting time than most of the other characters). She decides to turn whistleblower and anonymously passes her information to 'The Observer' Sunday newspaper. The rest of the film relates to the attempt by British Intelligence to find out who leaked the story, her eventually admitting to it followed by the shameful threat of her husband being deported, and her being charged with breach of the 'Official Secrets Act', where she's defended by Ralph Fiennes. The principal reporters on the story at 'The Observer' are played by Matthew Goode, Matt Smith and Rhys Ifans. It's a very strong cast overall and they all grab and hold onto one's attention in turns, even if I couldn't always work out what they were saying.  

South African director (and actor) Gavin Hood does a really fine job with his material here - he already directed the excellent 'Eye in the Sky' (2015). I don't agree with several reviews I've seen which have found this film wanting in suspense. I thought it turned up the tension most successfully in a broodily atmospheric setting, remarkable moreso when most of us who remember the story as it developed in the news knew of its eventual outcome. 

I'll finish by rating this with a score much better than simply 'fair'. If I'd seen it and caught all the dialogue, or seen a subtitled version, I dare say it might well have ended up in my Top Ten Films of this year. However, as it is..............7.

(IMDb............7.4 / Rott.Toms.........4.3 out of 5 )


Tuesday, 15 October 2019

One more year achieved, one less to go.

Not exactly a number to play and have fun with but when you've got so far it doesn't seem to matter so much.
With photos all taken this very morn you see me not quite at my sparkling best, still trying to shake off the remnants of la grippe, but what can one do when it's merely a waiting game?


And here's the rest of the 'clan':-

My only 'official lodger' - Patchie, coming up to 14 years, and a 'lap-cat' if ever there was one.. Mostly sweetly behaved though he will hiss at me if I make him go out to do his business when he prefers to stay in the warm:-
I didn't place him here for this pic. He was just perched there when I went to take his photo. Obviously trying to show off just what a clever, multi-lingual boy he is! 


Bobby - moved in 11 months ago (from God knows where) without asking if it was okay. Very much a house cat who assumes that he can boss everyone round, including me. No idea how old he is, pretty advanced I'd say, and alarmingly fat (which doesn't show up in this pic).


   
Snowball (I'll have to think of a better name for him) who arrived with Bobby on the very same day last November, so whether they had the same previous home it's quite possible, though he's clearly far younger. Affectionate, but it soon goes to his head and he'll give me a sudden nip with no excuse. And he terrorises Patchie for some reason - have to be always vigilant in keeping them apart.


And lastly the meek and loving Blackso (the Second!). Been coming through the window daily for something like three years. No idea where his real home is, though he seems to have made it here now. However, he's the only one who never ventures inside beyond the kitchen. A real sweetie, quite old too, I imagine.

So that's my current 'family'. Will there have been any changes when I turn 74? Who can say? 
Now let's get back to working off the vestiges of this pesky flu......

Oh, and I simply must mention that RTG (arteejee.blogspot.com) shares this day with me (anniversary only, not year - he's a mere stripling in comparison) - so I'm happy to send felicitations in a Philly-ward direction for that purpose.



Thursday, 10 October 2019

Film: 'Joker'

Just coming up from having been laid low with flu (bucket-beside-bed situation, where one entire day was spent with no eating nor drinking at all, only rising to feed the pussies) - and this was just 16 days after having had my annual flu jab, so don't anyone tell me that this was mere 'coincidence', I ventured out to catch this must-see feature. 
It's courted controversy in that there is significant violence, much of it gun-related, though hardly much more than is seen in your average crime thriller. Also it meant visiting the particular screen where I haven't been since seeing there what is surely going to turn out to have been the most discomfiting film of my entire life - 'Midsommar' - which has invaded my mind for each and every day since I saw it three months ago - and, of course, I was sitting today in my very same regular seat. So all in all, not the ideal venue to have gone to in a still queasy state. 

'Joker' wasn't even slightly the film I was expecting, involving the fleshing out in some detail of the background story to the villain who was to become one of Batman's arch-nemeses. Apart from a couple of mentions of Gotham City and none at all of Batman himself who, presumably, was yet to arrive on the scene as saviour, it might as well have been anywhere. Despite the name he adopts there is nothing amusing in the film from beginning to end, being solidily dark.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) takes the title role with abundant flair, a professional, public clown in painted face and traditional outsize costume, first seen gyrating to music on the busy streets in order to attract attention to a certain store, during which he is set upon by a group of youths. It seems that this is just a routine part of his life, though other aspects are not so usual, in particular a 'condition' he has of letting out a piercing laugh at the most inappropriate moments. Once in the studio audience for a televising of a regular talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert de Niro), his laugh attracts the attention of the host who calls him onto the stage, which gives him a taste of celebrity status, for which he soon craves more. Meanwhile, living alone with his aged and ailing mother (Frances Conroy) he embarks upon a romantically-inclined friendship with a near-neighbour (Zazie Beetz) in the same apartment block. 
There are violent scenes and killings throughout, some forewarned, others not, yet the film manages to still make the title character one might have sympathy for - though if that is there it certainly wears thin or vanishes completely by the time the final half-hour comes round.

Praise has been forthcoming for the brooding, menacing background music of the Icelandic Hildur Guonadottir and I endorse it fully. 

Director and co-writer Todd Phillips has best been known up to now for his three 'Hangover' films, none of which I saw, but I have little doubt that with 'Joker' he's reached his zenith, at least for now, though I hope he manages to go onto even greater accomplishments.

I'd find it hard to fault this film in any respect really - except that, at just over two hours in length, it does tend to show what a heavyweight it is, with no relief - and when was the last time that Joaquin Phoenix did not deliver an exceptional performance? I can't remember.   

It's a film of considerable depth. If you go by first erasing all thoughts of Batman, I'm pretty sure you'll find it a rich and rewarding experience.......7.5.

(IMDb...........9.0 - Rott.Toms...........4.5/5 )

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Film: 'Judy'

Found this something of a let-down, surprisingly. No complaints at all about Renee Zellwegger's towering titular performance, giving her all and much more - despite not owning the cherubic face of Judy Garland (which daughter Liza inherited), and with a singing voice, accomplished as it is, not sounding very much like who she was modelling it on. In fact if she was delivering a non-Garland song but in the same voice as she uses here, I doubt if many would guess whom she was imitating. But I repeat that her acting is extraordinary and should be worthy of awards nominations.

The film itself I thought clunky. The main thread is her 1968 series of concerts in the months before her death at just 47 in London at 'The Talk of the Town' venue, a very 'in' place as I remember (quite big but not vast) for celebrated names of the time to perform who were deemed to have sophistication and 'class'.
Judy G. ix disintegrating before our eyes, hideously dependant on pills and alcohol which, shown in numerous flashbacks, began way back as a teenager in her 'Wizard of Oz' days when she was chaperoned every minute, and persuaded and bullied into taking drugs as substitutes for eating and getting her natural sleep. Now in the lateness of her short life she's committed into delivering performances only for the money she needs, in a faraway place separated from the children she dotes on, and with a poor reliability as an effect of the pill-popping and drink she needs to prop her up - or sometimes cause her collapse on stage. Despite this aspect now being a better known story than it was at the time (I remember the news of her death shocking me - one of those 'I know where I was when I heard' moments) and its pathos, there is an element of predictability of how her decline is depicted here, her behaviour testing to the utmost the patience of those around her including impresario Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon in a very slight role) and her English 'minder' (Jessie Buckley) who has to ensure she turns up for her scheduled performances. Much rolling of eyes skyward at her conduct. There are brief mentions of her previous marriages including the appearance of Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) in a strained scene, as well as her final husband (Finn Whitrock) whom she married just months before her death. 

At around midway through the film she bumps into a simpering gay couple waiting outside the stage door, the two of them skirting close to caricature, though if one is inclined to wince at their mince you should save it for the final scene when they turn up in the audience for what was to be Judy's final live performance - and climaxing into the most cringe-worthy moment I've seen on screen for some time. (I wonder if there was any element of truth behind this toe-curling event?)

This is director Rupert Goold's second cinema feature, his first being the lukewarmly received 'True Story' of 2015. I have doubts whether this current film will do him any long-lasting favours though I have to say that it is getting glowing reviews in a number of quarters, so I could well be out on a limb yet again.  

Two more points which some may dismiss as irrelevant. Does the film's overwhelmingly British pedigree (it's a project of 'BBC Films') including much of the casting, work against the essential American element of the story? And secondly, the film's title seems to infer a wider overview of Garland's life rather than the narrow time-frame of solely the months shortly before her demise - though admittedly with several retrospective explanations of the early causes of her adult problems. Maybe it should have been entitled 'Judy - the final concerts'? 

Were it not for Renee Z's exceptional central performance I'd rate this film significantly lower than I've actually allowed it. If anyone  of lesser talent had attempted the portrayal and come unstuck the whole film would have sunk, but thanks to her it manifestly does not. She carries it off with considerable aplomb and confidence so all credit is due to her, she being the single most positive attribute of what I saw as a borderline lacklustre film............6.

(IMDb..............7.0 - Rott.Toms............4.4/5)

Monday, 30 September 2019

Film: 'Ad Astra'

Spent a worryingly painful couple of hours watching this as, before entering the auditorium, very rarely for me I purchased a coffee to take in - and in making way to my seat spilt the entire beaker-ful of piping hot liquid over my left hand. Debated whether to return home to treat it (but how?) thus wasting my ticket. Decided to  take a chance and sit it out, flexing my hand continuously, which was distracting at first but decreasingly so with time. Now I sit here with a conspicuous blister at the base of index finger, in some dull pain but reassured from searching the internet that it ought to go down within 3-5 days. 

The film I found jaw-dropping in two very diverse ways - the visuals throughout are breathtakingly impressive - though on the negative side anyone with even a basic knowledge of Astronomy, or even Physics generally, will find the wholesale employment of hopeless inaccuracies out and out baffling, such that during the course of the tale I was wondering if this was meant to be some kind of parable, analogy or dream. 

It begins with a spectacular and dizzying scene above the Earth higher than the stratosphere, a vertiginous scene indeed, but one in which we hear sounds unaffected by the all-but-absent atmosphere. Later too, in several sequences out in space and on the airless moon surface, again we have sound travelling through virtual vacuums. Not to worry too much as virtually all space films follow in this crass falsehood.
This is only one of dozens of stupefying distractions getting in the way of my enjoyment, though it may not bother others as much as it did me. Other glaring ones relate to the reality of the unimaginable vastness of space, the distances involved, the fuel needed to get there and the time a journey takes, even within the confines of our own Solar System.

Brad Pitt is chosen to go out to Neptune, just as if he was merely crossing the Atlantic! - though with a stop-off onto Mars en route. Presumably that planet, like Jupiter and Saturn, just happened to be in rarer than once-in-a-century convenient positions (the latter two  gas giants being used as fly-by 'sling-shots? Uranus didn't figure at all). The purpose of Neptune being the destination is to find his formerly presumed-dead father (Tommy Lee Jones) who was searching for extra-terrestrial life in Neptune's environs but has not been heard of for 30 years, a man who is now believed to be still alive, active, and responsible for electrical power surges being sent across the solar system threatening life on Earth and doing untold damage to everything in between and beyond, so Pitt is the one most likely to have success in telling him to "Stop, dammit!". (I can't help laughing at the very premise I've just typed! - one single, puny minuscule man, creating havoc over all that immeasurable cosmic distance, not to mention the scales involved!) - SPOILER ALERT! When Pitt does eventually return to Earth after his decades-long venture, you must admit that he looks all of, well, one month older! 

Seen as a simple adventure the film does have merit, with some unexpected thrills thrown in, though for believability it really does take the biscuit, a whole galaxy of them! 

Apart from the two actors already mentioned the only other name I knew was a rare appearance by Donald Sutherland in a minor role in the early part.

The film directed by James Gray, whose earlier films haven't made any significant 'waves' from what I can see, does deliver a good handful of excitements in this, as well as some (vague and unnecessary?) philosophising which interrupted the action for me.

Though the screen I saw the film on wasn't a small one, I do think one's enjoyment and appreciation would be upped in proportion to the size of screen, the bigger the better - IMAX best of all, of course. 

The amount you'll like this film depends on the extent to which you'd be distracted by what I'd describe as the 'howlers', and if you're not put off by them then I envy you. (It's for this very reason that I've never enjoyed any of the 'Star Wars' films - and I've seen them all). If you can get past them then there's plenty to like in 'Ad Astra' - and I really did like many of the visuals, despite the upcoming blisters...............6.5.

(IMDb..................7.1 -  Rott.Toms...........2.9/5 ) 




Friday, 20 September 2019

Film: 'Bait'

Way off the beaten track, this one, a black & white film which may not be easy to find in cinemas, though positive notices are snowballing and screenings are widening. Word around was good so it hooked me in to give it a go.
It's specifically unusual in that it's filmed as if it had been made in the 1920s or earlier - scratchy, jumpy visuals in square-screen ratio. It was filmed firstly without sound, then the dialogue and sound effects were added later, lending it a strange sense of detachment. 

Despite this early film-making feel and appearance the setting is contemporary. 
In a Cornwall village which formerly thrived on fishing, but no longer since the lone surviving fisherman (Edward Rowe, above) has had the fishing boat permanently purloined by his brother into a tourist boat, leaving him reduced to having to cast a long, wide net on the pebble beach to catch any fish trapped when the tide comes in. With the help of a young villager he ekes out a modest living, when friction develops with regard to his right to park his car. Tension arises between him and, in particular, a better-to-do residential couple, with the constant threat of fists flying.

The film uses an odd timeline, with many strands left at the end up in the air, unexplained. I did myself feel a certain frustration at it not making sense, a sensation not at all common for me, but I did wonder what it was all about - particularly after one fatal accident which was left suspended. And why was it shot in this early-cinema style in the first place? Was the director, Mark Jenkin, cocking a snook at modern film-making methods and wished to demonstrate the advantages of keeping it simple and honest? I just don't know.  
The story itself is a modest one and I doubt if the film - no, I know - would have attracted the increasing attention it's now getting if it hadn't been for its retro look.  

A curiosity, then, which is not without some merit, though I'd hardly put it in the class of a must-see film.............6.

(IMDb....................7.8 / Rott. Toms.......not reviewed)


Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Film: 'Downton Abbey'

Well, that was a pleasant surprise! Embarking on a new phase of wishing only to see those films chosen with discernment, I wasn't sure at all whether this would be a satisfactory start. It was - and more than.

I'm one of the minority(?) who's never seen an episode of this internationally popular period TV 'soap', nor even part of any. Of course I was fully aware of the setting - historically, geographically and socially - there having been countless trailers and excerpts for years, so nothing came as a shock. 
Reviews I've seen have generally been in the 'okay' to 'quite good' range, though none were wildly enthusiastic, and they all seem to be at one in determining this film as working equally well as a television instalment. Maybe so, though coming to it with no prior expectations might have been an advantage.

The plot is a simple one. 1927 - King George V, with Queen Mary, has engagements in Yorkshire and wishes to spend one day and one night at the Crawley mansion, the extravagant manorial residence of widow and matriarch Lady Crawley (Maggie Smith). In the upstairs/downstairs world it's those with status and titles (including Hugh Bonneville) who superficially at least take it more calmly, determined to do what has to be done, while the 'downstairs' servants tend to be more flustered, wondering if they can cope with what's expected of them. However, the cat is set among the pigeons with the arrival in advance of one of the King's snooty chief staff (David Haig) with the function of ensuring that the visit goes smoothly and is up to the required super-high standard. He's an obnoxious martinet of a figure (likewise the imported French chef) who settles in, looking down his nose and ordering everyone around with disdain verging on disgust  - requiring the manor's own staff to make themselves invisible during the royal visit itself, and to leave his own bevy of royal lackeys to do all that's required. Fed up with this condescending attitude and pre-determined arrangements, the in-house staff decide to get their own back.......

Other TV regulars do their turns very ably, Jim Carter and other faces I can't quite put a name to. 
Other notable cast members include Elizabeth McGovern, Matthew Goode and Tuppence Middleton. 

The main friction element is between the Maggie Smith character and that of Imelda Staunton, both hardly hiding the fact that they loathe each other, daggers drawn at their every encounter, not even having the grace to smile, albeit insincerely, while they stab their verbals into each other. 

There are several strands of sub-plot. one involving an assassination attempt on the king. Another noteworthy one is a particularly gentle, uassuming, gay friendship which spontaneously arises when one of the manor staff and one of the visiting royal entourage find they reciprocate feelings towards each other. The latter takes his new friend to a clandestine (as it had to be) gay jazz club which, while they're there, is invaded by the police and everyone rounded up and carted off to the police station. I found this depiction quite heartbreaking. The two men's relationship, probably not consummated in the short time they have, isn't showy, We only see one quick, furtive kiss between them, but it's lovely. 

The script (by Julian Fellowes) is superior for most of the time. If it does sag a bit in the final minutes it's because there's the attempt to round things off, perhaps a bit too neatly. 

This seems to be Michael Engler's debut as feature film director, though he has done considerable TV work, including having directed several episodes of 'Downton' so he's more than familiar with the characters and the actors playing them.

One further slight criticism is that there's too much overblown background score music when the visuals already say all that needs to be said.  

Maybe if I'd been familiar with the TV programmes I'd have been less impressed with this film, though I hope that that itself can be a recommendation to anyone who, like me, is a Downton virgin - and one hopes that they, on seeing this, may derive the equivalent amount of pleasure from it as I did................7.

(IMDb....................7.8 / Rott.Toms - critics only.............6.6 )







Friday, 13 September 2019

Film: 'It - Chapter 2'

So I've reached it - now 5,000 films seen in a cinema, and henceforward I'll be reducing my cinema-going regime, only taking in those films I really want to see. More about that at the end of this posting. First 'It - Chapter 2':-


Back in the 1980s I used to consider myself one of the world's biggest Stephen King fans. Then, however, his subsequent novels, with just one or two exceptions (most notably 'Misery') seemed to lack the punch and memorability of his earliest ones - and 'It' became one of his books which, despite a terrific opening, ended up in the 'He's-written-better' category.  

I found the film of the first instalment (2017) of this two-parter just 'okay', not more special than that, giving it a rating of 5/10. So there was room to be more impressed with this one. 
In the decades since reading the novel of mighty length (as are so many of King's) I've all but forgotten what happened so came to this film with almost a clean slate, only recalling the evil, shape-transforming clown Pennywise (played by returning Bill Skarsgard) - scary, but not quite to the depth one might have wanted.
After a brief prologue featuring seven of the kids who'd confronted Pennywise in the previous part, now taking a blood oath that they'd meet up again if ever the clown returned, the major part of this film jumps forward to the group as adults (well, six of them, including James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain) meeting up again in a Chinese restaurant, the venue for the first of many (too many?) set pieces of full in-your-face, special effects horror. 
There are frequent shortish retrospective scenes of the six adults as their younger selves in exploratory, fooling around mode, discovering horrors.

Needs must mention that before this adult group's restaurant rendezvous there's a hideously violent, extended incident of gay-bashing against two young men, bone crunching and bloody, probably the most intense of this particular kind of assault I've ever seen on screen, and every bit as horrific as anything later in the film. In one or two further sequences later on homophobic put-downs are flung around with abandon. 

The film 'proper', having started with the restaurant, moves episodically to Pennywise confronting each of the group separately and in turn, with his full bag of horror tricks, he appearing in various forms and identities, some of which are quite imaginative, I must admit - and then all the group together confront him in his various guises until the overblown, protracted showdown - by which time my fatigue at the constant barrage of special effects was getting me down and, frankly, bored. The film is just 15 mins short of three hours, which is a huge ask for the audience in staying with it. 
A lot of the 'shocks' are of the 'silence - CRASH!!!' type which would only make the uninitiated jump out of their seats, while those of us used to the hackneyed technique have become inured to their predictability and can see them coming from miles off.

Looking back I found the creepiest part of the entire film was not Pennywise's many clever-clogs antics but when Jessica Chastain visits her family childhood apartment to find an old woman living there alone , and who invites her in for a cup of tea. There are no special effects at all, only the woman who, when she turns her face  away, with a sinister smile speaks volumes of horror more than all tricksy effects can muster, That was the only part of the film which truly freaked me out.
I was also surprised and quite thrilled to see Stephen King himself appearing in a brief cameo role.

It's a tiring film to watch in much the same way that I found each of the Harry Potter films extremely wearing on both mind and derriere, though the Potters have denser material to work with under a veneer of plausibility if you accept the world of wizardry, but 'It' is pure hokum from first to last. 


Director Andy Muschietti, whose only the second feature film this appears to be, pulls out all the stops with this and rarely uses subtlety - though that old woman episode was a laudable  exception. 
There are at least three conspicuous direct references to earlier horror films - 'Psycho', 'The Thing' and 'The Shining' are the ones I noticed (You could hardly miss them!) There were probably more. 

I can't imagine anyone having liked the first part will feel short-changed by this. As for me, well it was a relief to have got the darned thing over with!..............4.5.

(IMDb......................7.1 / Rott.Toms.......4.1 / 5 )


Now, having attained the cinema-going 'score' I was aiming at and having awaited for years, I'll now only be seeing films I genuinely wish to, not including those I feel ought to be seen. 
My first 'big' cinema year was 1966 when I was 19, so an easy calculation will demonstrate that since then my average has been to see about two films per week. My highest attendance rate was in 1978 when I went 205 times, the lowest being, in fact, this present year, probably finishing between 70 and 80. I think in future I may be reducing it to around just one a week, but we'll see how it goes.
So apologies to anyone who'll be disappointed to my going 'only' 50 times in a year, but there you are - one gets older!  Now 'scuse me while I go and make my booking for the next couple of weeks - a mere four visits. ;-) 

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Film: 'Hail Satan?'

Fairly entertaining documentary on 'The Satanic Temple' organisation/religion focussing on its campaign in the U.S.A. to extend the doctrine of 'Freedom of Religion' to include all religions, including Satanism, and in particular to end the heavy bias in favour of Christianity. It's main target is to counter the spreading practice of erecting stone monuments of the Ten Commandments outside certain regional government offices, and rather than have these removed. to have put up here (in Little Rock, Ark.) their own statue of Baphomet, representing Satan, in close proximity but even larger - and featuring two small children gazing lovingly into the seated god's eyes.  
There are a number of talking heads, especially that of the Temple's founder, Lucien Greaves, as well as other members and their legal representatives. I think I'm right in saying that none of the 'other side' talked directly to camera, with their words, all on film - some being archive footage, including Billy Graham - or in TV interviews conducted mainly with Fox News, more or less condemning themselves out of their own mouths. (No prizes for guessing whose side Fox News is on!).
The film takes a none-too-serious stance, not being markedly anti either side though it's clear that it's the Satanists who are both the more articulate and knowledgeable when it comes to the American constitution and politics whereas with the Xtian side one could write their words and arguments before they are even vocalised. Their position has been fixed for years, perhaps their entire lives, and nothing will make them change their minds. (Rather like a certain section of the current American electorate?) But they still protest and gatecrash Satanist meetings, talking as only they had that right - while demonstrators line the roads saying their prayers and their rosaries. 
Incidentally, the term 'Satanist' is used as a term of convenience rather than the featureless word 'atheist' ("boring" one speaker calls it) and it doesn't mean that they practice human or animal sacrifices, drinking blood or any of the rituals that have come to be associated with such people. Their rules for life conduct (respect for all life, non-injury etc), covered in their Seven Tenets. all seem eminently sensible. In fact the more I heard about it the more attractive it sounds. 

Director Penny Lane ("the barber shaves another cuss-tomer") keeps such a sensible distance from getting involved with the subject matter that it's easy to both laugh at and get maddened at certain contributions shown, the latter being entirely on one side, incidentally.

My sole reservation is that the film's focus is rather narrow, all on this particular section of Satanism. I would have preferred it to have cast a wider net, though of course that hadn't been the director's intention. 

Good food for thought without being over-demanding. Recommended...............6.

(IMDb......................7.2 / Rott. Tome..............4.1 / 5 ) 

Friday, 6 September 2019

Film: 'Dolor y Gloria / Pain and Glory'

Pedro Almodovar just carries on getting better and better, and this latest, even by his own high standards, is quite exceptional. 
As a retrospect on a section of his own life, he's played here by Antonio Banderas (right) as disarmingly vulnerable, both physically (constant pain from bad spine alignment as well as problems swallowing with risk of fatally choking) and mental - living an aimless life as a one-time highly successful film director, now in a limbo unable to recover his former powers and dependent on cocaine as well as his prescribed pain killers.  
A surprise local screening of his most successful film made 32 years previously with his former lover (Asier Etxandia - left in above still) in the lead, is the spur to his re-establishing contact, their having not spoken since that film after a big fall-out. He wants his former partner to accompany him to the screening, their meeting causing him to be introduced to the drug which is going to play an essential part in his future life which he increasingly needs to function as well as dulling the constant pain to which he's subject.
A minor quibble I have is that if his former lover acted in his film 32 years prior, that would mean that he must be now at the very least 50 years old, more likely nearer 60, and Etxandia looks nothing like that age while Banderas himself does have convincing resemblance to a man of those years. But this is not serious enough to derail my overall high opinion of the film.
There are also frequent substantial flashbacks to his life as a boy living with his mother (Penelope Cruz).

It's mostly quite a gentle film with few (and there are a few) moments of confrontation, though the general tenor is of an easy-going amble, health problems notwithstanding.

Being Almodovar, colours are vivid,. sometimes blazing.

I think the film would be most appreciated by those who are already fans of the director, otherwise I think there's a possibility that anyone who's not familiar with his works might be wondering what all the fuss is about. If you qualify as one of his 'disciples' I have no hesitation in saying that you must see this, in which both Almodovar himself and Banderas have simply never been better.

Definitely one of my 'Films of the Year' with ease. Perhaps it'll turn out to be my favourite of all 2019...............8.

(IMDb........................7.8 / Rott.Toms(critics only).................94% )


Thursday, 5 September 2019

Film: 'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark'

I comprised the entire audience in a 300-seat cinema for this. Shame that it was so unremarkable.

Back in the 1970s there was a brief vogue for films like this, containing a compendium of a handful of horror tales, each story lasting around 20-25 mins, all related in some way - often including some quite big-name actors in what were, in effect, extended cameo appearances. In this film all the names of participants were unknown to me, unsurprising being that the main characters are all teenagers.
The link between the stories are that they are all found in an ancient book which very strangely write themselves by an invisible hand whenever the book is opened, all involving in some way the four young protagonists. 
As ever in such films the half-dozen tales have varying success, ranging from flat and silly to reasonably effective. However too much reliance is placed on the overused technique of silence......silence..........silence...........BANG! - designed to make one jump, even though we can see it coming. I always think this is cheating, trying to make up for the director's lack of skill and imagination.
Shan't waste any more time in talking about this (director Andre Ovredal). If you're not a fan of the horror genre there's really no reason to see it..............4.

(IMDb...................6.2 / Rott. Toms.................3.8 /5 )

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Film: 'Mrs Lowry & Son'

It's about time I saw a film and wish to praise it, and here it is. A number of reviews I've seen are of the opinion that it's inert and doesn't live up to its promise. I beg to differ.

Firstly, I'm not sure how much the artist L.S.Lowry (1887-1976) is known outside these shores. My guess is that he's one of those localised talents whose reputation hasn't travelled far. Indeed, even in this country he was hardly a presence at all in general consciousness until, two years after his own death, it was boosted by a hit pop record on the subject of his life ("Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs" by 'Brian and Michael'). It was a spectacular hit, one of the biggest of 1978 when it spent three weeks at Number One, and from that time till now his fame was assured and he's never faded from public appreciation. Nearly every British adult will recognise the artist behind a lot of his paintings, they being so distinctive, his speciality being  scenes of a northern industrial town (he lived in Lancashire) often outside smoke-belching factories, with crowds of spindly-painted, working class people - and occasionally featuring the odd dog (mostly). I find his works more interesting rather than actively likeable. Here's a typical one showing his unique trademark style:- 



Now back to this film. It's set in 1934 as Lowry (Timothy Spall) is struggling to be recognised, living in a terraced house in a small industrial Lancashire town, alone with his aged and ailing, practically bed-confined, mother (Vanessa Redgrave). 
Spall was only five years ago portraying another painter, J.M.W.Turner, in the superb 'Mr Turner' and in this he pulls off the feat once more though here playing a completely different personality. But it's Redgrave, now 83, who gets star billing in this, her most substantial role in decades, perhaps all the way back to that Ken Russell horror-fest 'The Devils' in 1971.

Much of the film takes place in the mother's bedroom where her late-middle-aged son has to bring her meals, brush her hair, do whatever's necessary for her which she can't manage herself. But in return for his sacrifice which he carries out with a patience which would put to shame many in the same position, his mother is constantly argumentative, peevish and, at times, downright nasty.  In particular she is cruelly demeaning about his paintings and implores him to give it up and find something else to do. Despite his evident hurt he carries on with his 'hobby' (as she puts it) - until there's a mighty row.
The film is at least as much about the relationship between these two as it is about his painting - it is, after all, set in just that key year of 1934.
I didn't know much about Lowry's life and if this film is anything to go by he had no romantic interest, at least in this particular year.
The only other significant role is that of the couple's upper-class neighbour, barely surviving in an unhappy marriage. But Mrs Lowry feels it's an honour to have such a 'well-bred' lady actually living next door, unlikely as that is.

There are substantial conversations between the artist and his mother (the latter dying five years after the time this film is set) and it's that which propels the film forward, albeit in first gear. It's true that little of great moment actually happens until the pair's 'frank exchange' but I didn't mind that.

This is only director Adrian Noble's third feature film but I'm sure he's brought to the screen all he wanted to - and it's a joy. If you go without high expectations that would be the best frame of mind to appreciating it. But you couldn't get much further from an 'action-movie' than this little gem - and only an hour and a half long too!......................7.5.

(IMDb..................7.3 / Rott. Toms [critics only] ................5.3 )



Monday, 2 September 2019

Film: 'The Souvenir'

Every so often comes a film which seems intended to test one's patience, in this case for a purposeless two full hours. I honestly start to wonder if the makers are in reality laughing up their sleeves at what superficially some might take to be an 'artistic' masterwork, though they are fully  conscious of having come out with a product of pure junk to demonstrate just how gullible some are. There is always, of course, another possibility, namely that I am simply too dim to appreciate this film's 'grace' and 'subtleties'. In which case I'm the loser. I'll leave this potential explanation hanging in the air.   

I'm almost too bored to give a precis of this, but the bare bones of it are that a mid-20s film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) is in a live-in chalk-and-cheese relationship with a slightly older man (Tom Burke) in London, the latter always cadging money off her - and worse, as a development shows.  He falls prey to a drug habit while she tries to keep them together (Why? - one is bound to ask) as well as juggling with her film work. Also in the cast is Tilda Swinton, playing the young woman's mother, something she actually is in real life. 

There seems to be no clearly aimed direction of the film. It could have ended at any point and it wouldn't have made much difference. Indeed, if it had shut down after a regular 90 mins then that could have been an advantage.  

Director and screenplay writer Joanna Hogg seems to be about as bored with the whole affair as I was. A big mystery is how someone of the eminence of Martin Scorsese came to be roped in as executive producer, though I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. The film is already forgotten..................3.

(IMDb..............6.6 / Rott. Toms..................2.1 )

Monday, 19 August 2019

Film: 'Once Upon a Time ......in Hollywood'

Quentin Tarantino's new film (Final one? Yet again?) was, at just 20 mins shy of three hours long, something of an endurance test for me. It wouldn't have mattered so much if the first couple of hours had been really gripping -  or even plain moderately interesting - but, apart from a very few moments of wry humour plus a little dash of violence (most of which is reserved for the final twenty minutes, and fairly graphic, as is only to be expected from Tarantino), I found it all something of a drag. 
The set-up is okay, quite original as far as I know, but hardly substantial enough to sustain interest for a period of what is longer than a lot of other entire feature films. 

!969, mainly in Hollywood - fading film star (Leonardo DiCaprio) whose usual screen appearances as sharp-shooter cowboy is now reduced to guest slot appearances on TV. He and his stand-in stunt double (Brad Pitt) are practically joined at the hip, mooching around, drinking their idle time away in fraternal amity (and both smoking like chimneys), living in plush Hollywood celebrity-area residences. Pitt's character lives with his dog next door to director Roman Polanski's and his wife, film star Sharon Tate's, spacious home (she played by Margot Robbie). The film starts a few months before and leads up to the time of the Charles Manson 'Helter Skelter' murders. We recall from the news at the time of a group of Manson's 'hippy' followers, high on drugs, who'd got into Polanski's house (he himself being in Europe at the time), committing several grisly murders including that of the heavily pregnant Sharon Tate. I'll say no more on that score.

Although Margot Robbie as Tate gets third place billing, she doesn't really have that much to do. Probably her longest scene is when she goes alone into a cinema to watch, with great pride and satisfaction, one of her own films, pleased at the positive response to her screen appearances by the surrounding audience.

I am a fan of Tarantino's films but I'd definitely say that this is his weakest one of all, not exactly a good one to go out on if that is what is intended. Overall, it's nowhere near as violent as his other films and though I was tensing myself up expecting to see a finale of major bloodbath dimensions when it came he didn't go quite as far over the top as I was anticipating. 
A major compression of the film by reducing its playing time by one full hour would, in my opinion, not go amiss. It can take it, and there'd be the gain of taking out those many intervals of ennui. However, yet again (as you can see by ratings from other sites) my view is not widely shared, so in disagreeing with how I feel you'd be part of a majority. 
Oh, and by the way, Brad Pitt's dog doesn't come to any serious harm - only some rather cruel teasing...............6.

(IMDb...............8.2 / Rott. Toms..........3.77/5 )


Monday, 12 August 2019

Film: 'Blinded by the Light'

Here we have yet another in what has become a sequence of films revolving around pop music of decades past.  This time, however improbable (though based on a true story), it concerns a 16/17-year old student  (Viveik Kaira) in a Pakistani family living in Luton  (one of the large British towns with the highest proportion of Asian-origin population) in 1987 with an obsession for the songs of....... Bruce Springsteen (yes, really!)  It's based on the true life experience of Sarfraz Mansoor, who, in recent years, has become quite well known in British media circles - and whom, I do believe I very briefly encountered (amiably) in Luton in the early 90s, though he won't recall it.

Director is Gurinder Chadha who has created a notable niche for herself in British-Asian based films in the last two dozen or so years - 'Bhaji on the Beach', 'Bride and Prejudice', 'Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging'  - and her best known to date, 2002's likeable 'Bend it like Beckham'.  

In this film, with a talent for writing articles and poems, the young aspiring writer is floating directionless under the concerned eye of his strict Muslim father (Kulvinder Ghir) who wants him to have a steady, reliable job with regular income, and with whom he lives along with his keeping-head-down mother and socially aware teenage sister, superficially conformist.  At college he meets a young Sikh (Aaron Phagura) who introduces him to the songs of Springsteen - and which brings him to a 'lightbulb' moment!   
All this is set against a very evident background of Mrs Thatcher's divisive premiership in a town where, in particular, anti-Asian prejudice is rife (though basically anything non-white English) seen through racist graffiti on homes, openly hostile conduct, intimidating presence of the National Front (now morphed into the 'English Defence League') and some appalling and disgusting behaviour from the latter and their sympathisers.

The young man's epiphanous moment of awareness of Springsteen's lyrics is during the hurricane night of October 1987, when he puts on a tape he'd been given - a night when I, living in Oxford at the time and not having heard the warnings, had simply slept through those hours of the strongest and most destructive winds to hit Britain in a century!
Springsteen's lyrics (seen floating on-screen and swirling round his head, which is just as well as I found them not easy to decipher by ear alone) give him the confidence to acquire a regular girlfriend (Nell Williams) the untypical daughter of hoity-toity Tory parents.  

Much of the drama of the story lies in the conflict between father and son over the latter's writing ambitions, his down-to-earth father preferring to see his son in a secure, steady-income occupation, the situation being exacerbated by the father himself being laid off with hundreds of others from the nearby car-making plant, leaving the mother as the family's sole bread-winner through her home sewing work. Of course the young man continues to aspire towards his own dreams, encouraged by his sympathetic college tutor (Hayley Atwell).   

I thought the first hour of this two hour film (too long by at least 20 mins) was first-class. Then it not only sags conspicuously but gets very bleak with a drastic mood change when racial matters come right to the fore. Also I felt let down by, despite it being true story-based, how in predictably filmic style, the conflict between father and son is finally resolved by the cheesiest of developments when the father comes round to seeing his own error - something we've witnessed countless times on film before  - and in revelatory mode he turns into being proud of his son's achievements, accepting him as a talented writer. Wince-inducing stuff!  

Overall I did like the film. If it hadn't been based on reality I'd have laughingly dismissed the unlikely premise of a young Pakistani kid being so influenced by Springsteen, a singer who was already considered as getting 'past it' at the time this film is set. But given how it is I must accept that this was near to what actually had happened.

I wish I could have rated this film higher but that over-extended second half did have some nasty edges to it, and that unbelievably banal ending devalued much of what had gone before. Still, by no means a bad watch........6.5.

(IMDb...........6.2 / Rott.Toms (critics only)............7.4 )





Monday, 5 August 2019

Film: 'The Current War'

I found this an oddity, and not a terribly satisfactory one either.
As far as I know it's virgin territory for this particular story in the cinema - the competition between Thomas A. Edison, played by Benedict Cumbersome (sorry, couldn't resist!) and one George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) as to which of them would be the one to install a nationwide system of electric power in the U.S.A. 
One particularly unsavoury feature I wasn't expecting is that an inordinate proportion of the film deals with who would design the first electric chair for capital punishment.  Eventually we see not only the first 'occupier' of that means of execution but, leading up to it, a demonstration of a horse being electrocuted.  All this was a prequel to my leaving the cinema with a nasty aftertaste lingering.   If this kind of thing simply washes over you, fine, but I was left almost wishing I hadn't seen the film.   

It's an exceedingly busy feature with very few shots lasting more than, perhaps, five seconds.  If this was a technique to insure against one getting bored it didn't work in my case as, despite its visual flitting here and there like a hyper-active butterfly, it was peculiarly stodgy in a convoluted story which quickly lost me and my interest.
The rivalry between the two men is so bitter throughout that I was only surprised they didn't challenge each other to a duel.  There's also some betrayal in what passes between the respective assistants of both of them in stealing each other's secrets, all making for a thorough unpleasantness with frayed tempers on display,   Cumberbatch's Edison being the more cerebral of the two, and feeling particularly hard done by as the film progresses.  Both the latter and Shannon as Westinghouse represent two towering intellects burning up with jealousy against the other in a strangely stolid film. 
As nearly all of the action takes place before widespread electricity is in use, much of it involves inadequate gas-lit scenes, not always easy to decipher.

During the film I had the leisure to ask myself what was wrong with it to explain my lack of engagement.  I thought at first that it might be the screenplay, though listening carefully, that aspect wasn't especially weak. 
The photography was generally good or very good, befitting of the subject matter, with some impressive vistas now and again. 
I failed to pin down the fault other than identifying the underlying repugnance I had towards certain aspects of the story which I've mentioned earlier, so my partiality may be at least some way to blame.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has made a few cinema features before but nothing to have got him especially noticed.  Maybe he was trying too hard with this one with all those tricksy visuals?  I don't know. I only throw out the thought.

I don't think it's a film to warm to.  Might be useful as an historical representation of a little-documented episode, little represented at least in popular culture.  And was this matter of creating an electric chair truthfully so pivotal as this film seems to imply?  

Not a film I can whole-heartedly recommend, though others may differ from my very personal appraisal.  I can safely say that I for one won't be watching it again...............5. 

(IMDb..................6.2 / Rott.Toms (critics only)......31% )