Thursday 20 June 2019

Film: 'Late Night'

I thought this had some possibilities. It definitely had its moments, though not too many, but it did get bogged down in treacle just once too often, nearly all in the latter half.

In New York, Emma Thompson is the host of a late night TV talk show of some years standing, though now in a rut, as the ratings show. It's only just dawned on her(!) that her writing team consists of eight or so white men, all at or near middle age, so she decides to shake things up by employing a woman, any woman, to join the team (cue Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the screenplay) whose arrival is the opportunity for some rather predictable and lame jokes in the way of her initially assumed, being female, to be a low-level office worker. She has next to no experience of comedy writing though she does possess a fertile mind and imagination, and before very long she creates a favourable impression with the TV host. Thompson is something of a cold-hearted despot, firing members of her team almost on a whim, but her own vulnerability comes to the fore when she's told that she is to be replaced on her own show - and this affects her deeply and the only one she can really lean on is Kaling, who suggests what she might do to counter the replacement threat. Although Thompson herself is too elevated to realise it she needs the help of this confidante and only appreciates Kaling's true value at a late stage.  
Thompson's own understanding husband (John Lithgow) now retired and suffering the onset of Parkinson's, remains at home watching his wife's changing TV persona.

I'd not heard of Canadian Mindy Kaling before and I don't think she'd be widely recognised on this side. Her script is functional enough without setting the world alight, but what I did find with her is that she has a tendency to garble her self-penned lines - often starting a sentence at comprehensible pace and then accelerating as though she can't wait to get all her words out, resulting in my thinking "What?". The contrast with Emma Thompson's speech is extraordinary, where every syllable is clear is a bell whether loud or soft, high or low - a lesson in how it should be done. 

As I say at the start, it does get sentimental at times though those episodes are not as overbearing as they might have been.
Director Nisha Ganatra has a lot of television to her name as well as a little work on short features, a few of which might have been seen in the odd cinema. This appears to be her first major cinema
feature and it's not in any way a poor contribution - though I do get the sensation that it didn't quite hit home in the punchy way for which I was hoping................6.

(IMDb................6.4 / Rott.Toms............3.98/5 )

Wednesday 19 June 2019

Film: 'Sunset'

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

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

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

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

Monday 17 June 2019

Film: 'Gloria Bell'

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 13 June 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 10 June 2019

Film: 'Aladdin'

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

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

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

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

Thursday 6 June 2019

Film: 'Rocketman'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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