Monday 28 January 2019

Film: 'The Mule'

So here we have Clint Eastwood at 88 (playing 90) both acting and directing, with no sign that he's about to pack it all in. It must make Robert Redford who, at a relatively youthful 82, and last year announcing that he's over with acting, wondering if he unwisely jumped the gun. (Why, even Prince Philip is still driving, and he's 97!) 

Despite its subject of drug trafficking, this is an unassuming film , one might even say almost 'gentle', and far from what one used to expect of Eastwood in most of his career of 'hard-man' portrayals.
Whilst not particularly exceptional, it's certainly not at all bad. (Btw: I appreciate that there are those who steadfastly refuse to see any film involving Eastwood because of his well-known political stances. I manage to put that out of my mind when watching). 

At the start he plays the owner of a horticultural business (he specialises in lilies) which hits hard times and has to fold. Without work and income, for which he's desperate, he's told that he can make money by simply doing some driving of a delivery within Illinois. Jumping at the chance he agrees to take a small mystery cargo as required and he gets handsomely paid, assuming that it had been a one-off consignment. But he's asked to do it again - and again - his recompense increasing each time. It takes some time for him to cotton on to what his deliveries are, despite his working for youngish, male Mexicans - all Spanish-speakers, of course. Either that or he mentally blocks it out - and soon he's up to his ears in the world of contraband. 
Without knowing that Eastwood is involved, the police boss (Laurence Fishburn) has suspicions of something untoward going on and assigns a Senior Drug Enforcement Officer (Bradley Cooper playing quite restrained - for him - and looking hot in the way only he can!) to find out what it is and to close it down.
Meanwhile the wife (Dianne Wiest) of the Eastwood character who's become distanced to her husband complains about his long absences from the family, and they have a few heart-to-heart scenes together.

There's a little bit of violence, but no full-on sustained scenes, and what there is is depicted fairly low-key.
Some may justifiably blanch at a brief scene when Eastwood meets the grateful instigator of the drug-traffic (Andy Garcia) and as a 'treat' spends the night with two shapely female forms, each under a quarter of his own age! Thankfully, we don't actually see any bedroom 'action'; it's all by implication.  

Eastwood looks and moves about as the age he is playing, so there's no complaints about that. The film's suspense derives from not knowing to what extent the Mexican drug cartel can trust him and will they decide that he is dispensable? And, of course, will the cops catch up with him and what will the result of that be?
Exemplary acting throughout, just as it ought to be with such a strong cast.

I wouldn't class this as a 'must-see' film but it is entertaining enough with no glaring faults or, as far as I can make out, nothing to turn one off from making the effort to try it. More than just 'satisfactory'................6.5.

(IMDb................7.2 / Rott. Toms............6.1 )

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Films I've paid to see twice at cinema on initial release.

I've just returned from seeing 'Mary Poppins Returns' again, a month and a day after my first viewing. Having enjoyed it so much first time I wanted to catch it again on the big screen before it disappeared, this being its final week in these parts. (I comprised one-third of the audience!) Did I think it held up to my original verdict? Yes - and more than! I was familiar with the songs this time, having played them and watched some excerpts available on YouTube, and they really are good with some especially fine lyrics. Also, I saw the film this time at a different cinema with superior sound quality so it was easier to hear and appreciate the verbally dexterous wit. 
Shame that the Oscars having just been announced today, the film only gets recognition for a couple of minor awards, just as with the BAFTAs, though that's not entirely unsurprising. I'd give it a special award for 'The Most Uplifting Film of the Past Decade' - well, perhaps jointly with 'Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again' (the first 'Mamma Mia' falling just outside the last decade).

So I was wondering if there are others of you who occasionally, if only rarely like me, pay to see a film for a second time (or more) at a cinema, or does everyone re-watch them on DVD or wait until it comes round on TV? 

These are the films in recent years where I've liked something so much on its first release (obviously excluding re-releases) that I've paid to see it again on the big screen:-

2013 - 'Les Miserables'
2012 - 'Hugo'
2010 - 'Inception'
2008 - 'Mamma Mia'
2003 - 'Chicago'
2002 - 'Amelie'
2001 - 'Moulin Rouge'

So, as you see, it's quite an infrequent occurrence. I'd be interested to know if there are any which you've seen that so got under your skin in a positive way that you just had to see again in the medium for which they were intended to be viewed.

Monday 21 January 2019

Film: 'Mary, Queen of Scots'

I found a lot of this tiresome in the extreme, culminating in an encounter between Mary and Queen Elizabeth (which, as every schoolboy and schoolgirl knows never actually happened) monumentally silly, and not helped at all by a weak script. Abounding in historical inaccuracies too numerous to list the film failed to engage me, its saving grace being the high quality casting and I spent much of the time trying to work out who it was under all that men's facial hair. Mary herself is played by Saiorse Ronan (with pronounced Scottish accent [but of course!] though Mary's first language was, in fact, French, and her English never rose above rudimentary) and Margot Robbie as her cousin and nemesis, Elizabeth.  Among the men were the estimable Adrian Lester and Ian Hart as well as an unrecognisable David ('Doctor Who') Tennant as firebrand preacher, John Knox. I have to confess to not working out which was Guy Pearce, no less, as well as missing Simon Russell Beale's appearances.  

My interest in this saga of the conflict between the two queens was only sporadically awakened but it never lasted. The focus is on the early claiming by Mary of being the true heiress to the English crown, with her relationships and marriages thrown in as a kind of sideshow whose function was to stop one falling asleep. Mary's eventual execution (on the reluctant agreement of Elizabeth) is little more than glided over, and until the final captions nothing at all is made of her deciphered coded messages to outside supporters when imprisoned on her plan to take over the English throne, which was the pivotal factor in her being condemned, or so it is reliably argued.  As for the execution itself it couldn't have been more stately and dignified - almost saintly - than as shown here, with no wig falling off the (decapitated) head to reveal an oldish woman (she was actually just 44) rather than the reputed fabled beauty, and no mention of a little dog secreted under her execution dress - while by this time Elizabeth was surviving growing old before her time, disguising the conspicuous ravages of the pox by thickly painting her face white (though we don't get to glimpse her wooden teeth by this stage).   

The settings are sumptuous as they ought to be, though there are a lot of darkly-lit candle scenes which didn't assist in the recognitions. The Scottish landscape was suitably rugged and spectacular. But it all should have amounted to so much more. 

This is Josie Rourke's first venture into film directing and she probably has further to go and better to achieve.  

Incidentally, immediately after booking my seat for this, on coming home I picked up the TV listings for today and found that at the exact same time as this screening, showing on TV was the identically-titled 1971 film with the high-powered  double-act casting of Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson, a film which I've not seen again since that initial release and for which I've been looking out. No sign of it being repeated (drat!), at least not in the next few days.

As for this current release, if I remember it at all it's going to be devoid of much, or indeed any, affection.............5.

(IMDb...........6.5 / Rott. Toms................6.3 )

Tuesday 15 January 2019

Film: 'Stan and Ollie'

I'm not sure if you have to be a fan of Laurel and Hardy to appreciate this film fully but I'm certain that it helps. I must have been into my 40s when the penny finally dropped and since then I've found their films just about the funniest ever caught on celluloid, repaying repeated viewings.

This is a labour of love and respect towards the incomparable duo, covering a late stage of their career which has been little documented, on what turned out to be their final live tour of all, through Great Britain and Ireland in 1953, 16 years after the height of their popularity (making 'Way Out West' in Hollywood) and now, in an attempt to revive their fading careers, initially playing to sparse audiences in small English and Scottish venues, though this somewhat improves later. The impetus for their tour is to help finance a projected film of theirs on Robin Hood. (Writer Jeff Pope plays fast and loose with the facts here, but it does give the film a purposeful framework). 

The transformations of Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly into the pair is beyond remarkable, and through them credibly carries the whole film.

There are flawless re-creations of some of the double act's most famous encounters on film, now replayed on stage, yet beneath the laughs there's a very evident layer of melancholy, even sombreness, which actually pervades the entire film.  
The friendship between L & H has become frayed at the edges, perhaps with over-familiarity, resulting in regular bickering, though one never loses sight of the recognition that they will always need each another, and they know it.
Their wives (Nina Arianda as Mrs L; Shirley Henderson, Mrs H) come over from America to support them and, though they are loving enough to their respective spouses in expected fashion neither seem particularly enthusiastic towards their husbands' efforts.  

It's a strong script (by the aforementioned Jeff Pope - book by A.J.Marriott) and direction by the Scottish John S.Baird is exemplary with no flagging or excess fat, coming in at a satisfyingly concise 97 mins.
Among the many locations is a five-minute scene in my current home town, Worthing (a beauty contest in the Lido), actually shot here on the seafront, this town's name being mentioned twice!

Watching the film was a bitter-sweet experience, perhaps with fewer laughs than I'd been expecting, but that's because it was so effective in depicting the pain beneath surface.

I liked this as much as I'd hoped I would, despite not having expected it to have been as dark as it was. The film's title gives no clue as to this angle being taken but it is a worthy contribution towards the duo's history on a little regarded stage of their careers - and it does them credit..................7.5.  

Thursday 10 January 2019

Film: 'Colette'

I really liked this. Although I knew the name of Colette (like a lot of people?), I had to look her up to find out/remind myself why the name was familiar.

Set in Paris during the closing years of the 19th century and the start of the ensuing one, it relates to the woman writer, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightly) who creates stories which her husband, nicknamed Willy (Dominic West, whom I would never have recognised under that facial hair) passes off as his own and gets published, the reason being that French society (or indeed many others) at that time would never have accepted a female author being so talented as she evidently was. Her novels involving her creation, 'Claudine', are hugely successful and widely read, her husband taking all the praise and credit, which she goes along with (at first) in order to keep the creditors at bay - her husband and herself living lavish lifestyles in high society way beyond their means. 
The film deals exclusively with the period of Colette's marriage to Willy, her first, even though there's plenty of subject matter for further events in the remainder of her life (she only died as recently as 1954) which are not touched on here. 
It's a 'loose' marriage at least from his p.o.v., he having dalliances and one-night stands which he tries to keep from her, though not very successfully, and she putting up with it - until she starts exploring her own sexuality. (Cue for lesbian affairs!)  

It's all very atmospheric, capturing Parisian fin de siecle society life very well. All dialogue is in English, of course, though whenever we see her writing it's in French.
Both central characters have roles of real substance and both actors are superb in fleshing them out. 

With Budapest standing in for Paris locations (apart from scenes by the Seine) director Wash Westmoreland (who was responsible for the first-rate 'Still Alice' with Julianne Moore in 2014) has done a much-better-than-capable job of evoking the milieu of the time and place, and draws fine performances from the entire cast. I look forward with great interest to his next cinematic venture. 

A fine achievement which stimulates my interest in finding more about the woman at the centre of the story.................7.

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

Wednesday 2 January 2019

Film: 'The Favourite'

The last, lingering vestiges of flu weren't conducive to having an appropriately receptive frame of mind to watch this historical royal bedchamber drama, though one thing that stood out is that no one can justifiably complain that it isn't handsomely mounted. Awards in several fields, acting included, are on the cards. It's also a most welcome three-woman tale, the few male characters being little more than background figures.

It's late in the short reign of Queen Anne (ruled 1702-14), played by Olivia Coleman, a figure who has the dubious historical reputation of being the most boring of all this country's sovereigns. Plagued and increasingly incapacitated by advancing gout, Coleman makes the figure a little more colourful than one might expect, displaying a short-fused temper with a vulnerability exacerbated by her exhaustion of life. Before she became queen she'd been through no less than 17 pregnancies, more than any other English/British queen, with all except five being stillbirths or miscarriages, only one of the survivors living beyond four, a son who'd died at eleven. (Anne's husband, Prince George of Denmark and Norway had died in 1706).

In Anne's increasingly fragile condition, she'd played into the confidences of her friend and intimate, Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), to whom she'd already delegated some royal duties, a character who's not afraid to stand up for herself and even directly answer the monarch back, something no one else would get away with. Into the scene comes one Abigail (Emma Stone), the product of a brief dalliance by an aristocrat, who presents herself as a willing and able servant to the royal household, which Lady Sarah is attracted by and takes her on, though making sure she doesn't overstep the mark in propriety, and the Queen herself is similarly impressed. It's not long before competition for the ailing Queen's attentions and favours between these two becomes manifest, becoming quite bitter in time. All this is set against battle campaigns against the French.

It's quite an accomplished film, very atmospheric throughout, not holding back on illustrating prevailing crudities of the day, both in language and behaviour, none of which should surprise anyone. Script is lively enough too.
Being me, I was several times distracted by the presences of both indoor ducks and rabbits (the latter freely jumping around in the Queen's boudoir), dreading if anything untoward were to happen to any of them, though there was little to be concerned about.......just a little!

At two hours, the film's a bit on the long side, though I must conceded that it never flags. It has meaty roles for the three actresses, all about of equal weight.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos' previous two films ended up in my 'Ten Best' of that particular year. I liked 'The Lobster' a lot when I first saw it at the cinema, though quite recently I tried to watch it again when it was premiered on TV - and found it so unwatchable I had to turn it off. I similarly loved his 'The Killing of the Sacred Deer', but haven't seen it again since its cinema screening. I don't know if I'll get the same reaction on attempting a re-watch. 

At the moment I very much doubt if 'The Favourite' will find a place in my ultimate list of 2019 - though note the current exalted ratings on other sites, below. To be fair to it, maybe I ought to see it again, next time without the inconveniences of weakened health condition around................6.

(IMDb..................8.2 / Rott Toms................8.5 )