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 ( 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)