Tuesday 28 January 2020

Film: 'The Personal History of David Copperfield'.

I thought I might like this. It achieved that and more. 
Armando Ianucci here directs his third major cinema feature and they are, for me, getting progressively better. I found 'In the Loop' (2009) rather baffling in that much of the dialogue was delivered so rapidly as to be largely indecipherable. His 'The Death of Stalin' (2017) a great improvement - and with 'Copperfield' here, which he co-writes, he hits a new high. 

It is, of course, based on Dickens' voluminous novel, which I must have read about half a dozen times (having read all his books at least three times each). This film is not one that will delight Dickens purists. I enjoyed it as there's enough to be able to easily relate to the original. All the 'contours' of David C's rise-and-fall life are here, together with most of the major characters - though if you watch while waiting for the famous lines Dickens put into their mouths you're likely to feel disappointed.

Set in mid-19th century London, the film boasts a quite remarkable large cast (entirely British, I think) ranging from well-known names to those I don't recall encountering before. But the very satisfying and most conspicuous feature of the cast is that no attempt is made to reflect what was surely Dickens' intention of having, as would have been assumed by all of his readers at that time, exclusively white-skinned characters. In this film a spectrum of complexions and racial ancestries is included, and most refreshing to see it is too. 
Though this might be the most visually obvious feature, each member of the cast was in some way different from the way I'd built a mental picture of them, not only in appearance but mannerisms too, though in no case straying too far outside the author's own character sketches. 

Stealing the film is Dev Patel as the (adult) title character in a role which fits him like a glove. In fact in every film he's appeared in to date he always seems at ease with the person he's creating, one of those rare chameleon-like actors who looks visibly comfortable no matter who he's playing - and he's not yet even 30!
The rest of the cast doesn't have a single weak ingredient - Tilda Swinton as David's hyperactive, fussy and garrulous aunt Betsy Trotwood, Hugh Laurie as the kite-flying Mr Dick, Peter Capaldi the eternal against-the-odds optimist Mr Micawber, Paul Whitehouse as Mr Peggoty (though there's no Barkis!) - then there's the sadistic, cane-wielding stepfather Mr Murdstone when David was a young boy (here played by Jairaj Varsani - wonderful) and his later best friend, Steerforth, a turncoat-to-be, he and Murdstone played by actors I didn't know -  and one of the most remarkable, Ben Whishaw (sporting a Beatles haircut!) as the schemingly unreliable Uriah Heep. Every one of them endlessly watchable.

Ianucci's direction is imaginative, his originality occasionally taking my breath away - in some respects reminding me of Monty Python's Terry Gilliam. There were moments to make me audibly laugh and even more which raised a smile.

I don't think it's a film for everyone. However, if you're one of those who finds Dickens 'stuffy', or the idea of any film of one of his books turns you off, this just may help you see delights in the writer's imaginations, even if liberties (some of them admittedly quite outlandish) have been taken with the original text. 
It would, I think, be unfair not to recognise that Ianuccui has here created something quite special..............7.5

(IMDb............6.4 - Rott.Toms........not available )

Friday 17 January 2020

Film: 'The Gentlemen"

One of those films with very high violence level and more than a few deaths  (but what else does one expect from Guy Ritchie?) where I feel just a tad guilty at having enjoyed so much, not to mention the several LOL moments. With a big name trio in the cast it promised a lot - and I think it delivers. 

Dealing with criminal activity and gang rivalries (including Chinese gangsters and Russian oligarchs) around cannabis farming and production throughout the U.K. on a huge scale, it centres on a corrupt private investigator, played by Hugh Grant (in above photo, in case you don't recognise him, and as you've never seen, or heard, him before) using blackmail tactics against Charlie Hunnam who works for a powerful mobster (Matthew McConaughey) in order to make a film based on the latter's nefarious activities. Gets very involved and being so fast-paced (and fast spoken) I could follow only part of what was going on, which didn't really matter too much as the film is largely a sequence of set pieces involving confrontations - guns, knives or fists. Colin Farrell (like Grant, quite different in appearance) is also in there, stealing outright the few scenes in which he appears (Grant and Hunnam have, along with McConaughy the most screen time) - as well as Eddie Marsan as a particularly repulsive newspaper owner.  

It may be ill-advised to describe the film as 'fun' but it certainly is a white-knuckle ride.  Lots of high-energy activity with no real 'slow bits', it should keep you awake for its entire length.

After an extended arid period in which he's made a number of ineffective films (of which I only saw his Sherlock Holmes) director Guy Ritchie - also story originator and co-writer - here returns to territory he's best known for, after some 20 years, and in which he appears to be most comfortable.  If the thought of a bucketful of bloody violence doesn't put you off, this gets my clear recommendation...............7.

(IMDb....................8.1 - Rott.Toms [critics only]..........6.3 ).   

Tuesday 14 January 2020

Film: '1917'

This is an extraordinary achievement, its principal characteristic of something remarkable being that it gives the impression of being shot by a single camera in one continuous, uninterrupted take in real time.  It's not easy to detect the 'joins' (though why should one want to?) except for one point in the story when the screen necessarily fades to blank for a few seconds. And the 'real time' concept doesn't work for a film fractionally under two hours long, when it shows daytime then night, followed by dawn arising back to full daylight. But these points are minor distractions in what is a gripping, high-tension drama from first to last.

Story is set near start of final stages of First World War in northern France, though the outcome and its timing is as yet far from clear. As part of a scenario which appears to reveal the German army may be starting to retreat, it seems that an entire contingent of 1,600 British troops could be walking into a trap devised by the enemy, lured into thinking that the Germans are retreating from a particular site, when the plan is actually to ambush the British into wholesale slaughter. There is no available means to convey this intelligence to the commander of the intended victims other than to take a hand-written order to halt the projected British advance. Two lowly lance-corporals (Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay) are selected (volunteered?) to carry this written order through a route of many hazards, including enemy fire, in order to prevent the massacre just a few hours hence - among whose men would be the brother of one of these messengers..  

Their mission is gripping from the very start - assisted by a most effective, insistently pounding, barely conscious, background score - traversing obstacle after obstacle, never knowing if there'll be an enemy gunman or sniper just over the next rise or hiding in a bombed-out ruin - and there are.   

I was steeling myself for the sight of dead horses in this - and so there are two or three near the start of the mission (and one dead dog later) - as well as quite a number of human corpses in various states of putrefaction, including swollen up bodies of the drowned. But of course such is the brutal and hideous reality of war.

Director Sam Mendes (who earned an Oscar in 1999 for 'American Beauty) is again short-listed for this, and he may well get it, though smart money seems to be on this being Tarantino's year. Mendes has made a film here which really does take the breath away. He also gets terrific performances from his entire cast, which include briefish appearances from Colin Firth and Benedict you-know-the-rest. 

It's one of those films that puts one through the wringer, a perfect antidote to any who may still be looking on war as somehow glorious and brave - not individual soldiers, I mean, but the concept of war solving anything at all. It truly knocked the socks off me..............8.

(IMDb.................8.7 - Rott.Toms.........4.5/5 )


Wednesday 8 January 2020

Film: 'Jojo Rabbit'

Here's a film like no other, no other that I've seen, anyway. Taking comedic potshots at wartime German Nazis has been old hat in films since, well, WWII itself, but here's one that not only looks at it from inside that organisation but has, as one of its main characters, Adolf himself (played by the film's own Kiwi director, Taika Waititi) and addressed as such on first name terms by the highly impressive Roman Griffin Davis (aged 12 when filmed - and living with his family not far from where I'm writing this, in fact), who's playing a member of the Hitler Youth whose imaginary friend this ludicrously camp figure of Adolf is.

Comparisons (all unfavourable, I think) have been made with Mel Brooks' 'The Producers' (1967) which now seems to have attained the status of being one of the funniest films of all time. Although I did/do find some of that quite amusing, as with all Brooks' films I find his scatter-gun method of comedy only partially successful and, ultimately, rather wearing. (Of course, with 'The Producers' a main target, as in 'Jojo', is the Nazi Party).

This new film is set in a smallish town in Germany towards the end of the Second World War (though actually filmed in the Czech Republic in quite stunning locations). 
Having failed to come up to the ideals of Hitler Youth practice (for which he earned the film title's demeaning nickname) with its obligatory sadistic aspects as tutored by instructor Sam Rockwell (assisted by a shamelessly complaisant Rebel Wilson), Jojo is beleagured with doubts as to his fitness, which is where the appearance of his muse, Adolf, comes in to reassure and comfort the boy. His mother (Scarlett Johannson) meanwhile, has complete faith in her son's abilities, refusing to listen to his reservations, while holding a secret of her own, namely that she has hiding in their home in a small concealed room, a teenage Jewish girl (Thomasin Mackenzie) - one whom Jojo accidentally discovers and befriends. 

I thought the film started very strongly indeed, with a fresh angle on what has turned out to be a tired-out topic. Though with me that feeling didn't last long especially when it got down to playing serious, mostly exemplified whenever the appearance of the hidden girl came about. There, I'm afraid, it gave out a leaden feeling which found me starting to doze off. However, it did pick up again quite considerably with the appearance just over half way through of a ten-minute scene with the menacingly lanky Stephen Merchant playing an investigative Nazi officer with half a dozen sinister cohorts all coming to examine the mother and boy's residence, looking for evidence of Jewish sympathies or anything more tangible.  From this point on I thought the film regained some of the oomph which it had started with.
There is, by the way, at least one particularly shocking scene  (apart, that is, from the killing of a rabbit) when one is least expecting it, to be referred to again towards the film's end. The in-town battle scenes at the conclusion are quite spectacular, it must be said. Well accomplished! 

If you are attracted to a film which takes on a touchy subject quite bravely and with originality, then you should be more than pleased with this. While finding that it had considerable merit, I did wonder even while it was playing that, though it's not over-long at 108 minutes, if the comic material it contained could stand up to it being stretched out to the extent it is - and which only served to emphasise the plodding nature of its serious stretches.  
But overall, not bad at all, no way!..............6.5.

(IMDb..................8 - Rott Toms.................4.8 / 5 )  

Friday 3 January 2020

Film: ''Little Women'

Must be a very long time since I've seen such a disparity in numbers between the sexes in a cinema audience (here about 100). Reminded me of when I saw a staging of 'The Vagina Monologues', that being equally one-sided, and just as much a great shame.

I read the Louisa May Alcott book some decades ago but remember no events from it, bar one dramatic incident. No doubt I saw the 1994 film version as well - every bit as big-name studded as this latest is - but also can't recall it. 

The 'March' sisters central to the story are played here by Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen, with Laura Dern as their mother. It follows the trials and fluctuations of affection and rivalries between the four younger characters and their romantic interests, though in the latter case it's writer Jo (Ronan) whose main motive for living lies more in getting her novel published than engaging in romantic liaisons. Timothee Chalamet is the principal 'beau' in various entanglements while the girls' ageing aunt is played in a few slightly comedic scenes by Meryl Streep and which, I must say, did play a part in maintaining my interest, though not that I was especially bored. The sisters' struggles to find their own particular niches in life while maintaining their sisterly bond is the engine which drives the story right up to its satisfying, if implausible in some respects, conclusion.

Director and adaptor from the novel, Greta Gerwig, (this being only her third as director), adds a few modern touches especially in the script to a film which, visually at least, looks as authentically old-fashioned as its mid-19th century setting, and I've no quibble at all with that. Colours are mostly subdued with occasional splashes for ball gowns etc. 

All in all, pretty good I'd say, without especially blazing any trails, which it probably hadn't intended to anyway. If you want to watch a pleasurable, laid-back version of a literature classic, this should more than do the job................7.

( IMDb.................8.3 - Rott.Toms..........4.6/5 )