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 )