Tuesday 25 February 2020

Film: 'Greed'

I wasn't quite sure what to make of this.  Despite reviews giving ample clues that it was not to be so, I'd gone in the vain hope that it was going to be an out-and-out comedy, starring as it does, one of my very favourite of current and recent names in that field. Steve Coogan, particularly in his Alan Partridge persona, or something close to it. (We saw Steve Coogan's uncanny impersonation of Stan Laurel recently in 'Stan and Ollie' as well as, a bit further back, his very effective straight role alongside Judi Dench in the high standard 'Philomena'). In this film there certainly are comedic moments, including some very amusing lines, practically all of which are delivered by the Coogan character, Sir Richard McCreadie  (nicknamed 'Greedy McCreadie', an approximation of real-life controversial and disgraced business tycoon and billionaire Sir Philip Green). However, throughout the film there's a serious undercurrent - culminating in an especially hideous event near the conclusion. McCreadie is the archetype super-rich villain, who in his case has made his money by using exploited 'slave labour' (mostly women) in Asian countries (here Sri Lanka) who work extra-long days in sweatshop conditions manufacturing garments for prestigious fashion houses for a pittance - which returns an enormous profit margin for him., 
Another clue as to the film's seriousness which I ought to have picked up on is that the film is directed (and principally written) by the ever-busy Michael Winterbottom, whose films always have a distinct social dimension - and whose '24 hour Party People'  of 2002 - also starring Coogan, was particularly well received. 

The film's main thrust is the organising of a lavish, historic Roman-style celebration (in Greece!) by McCreadie himself for his upcoming 60th birthday - including the presence of an actual lion for a mock gladiatorial scene! There's a succession of arguments and squabbles with native workers regarding the arrangements, little of which is going according to plan. Also present, in the agreeable person of David Mitchell, is his hovering presence as a journalist assigned to write McCreadie's biography. Mitchell is constantly foiled, fobbed off and frustrated in his attempts to garner info on his subject and his past life (there are a number of flashbacks to the young McCreadie at Uni in his early days of cheating others for monetary gain). Unfortunately this is a thankless role for Mitchell and, although I do like him a lot on TV, his rare film presence here in a superfluous part seems to be latched on to give him something to do, a character which could just as well have been dispensed with altogether.  

A number of celebrity cameos appear, mainly in the film's second half, though apart from Stephen Fry (very briefly) I wasn't sure if they were the actual individuals or were lookalikes - possibly all the latter, I suspect. 

Just before the film's closing credits a number of captions appear which spell out the continued exploitation of (mainly) women in Asian countries, an aspect which is, seemingly in connivance even now with big fashion chains. It all made me feel a bit guilty at having watched the film waiting for the 'funny' lines, which was the principal reason of my going in the first place. Had I watched the film with less rose-tinted expectations my view of the entire film could well have been more considered and reflective. Nevertheless I feel I should rate 'Greed' in terms of the moderate entertainment value I derived from it, though which might otherwise have been higher............5.5.

(IMDb.......5.8 - Rott.Toms (critics only).....58% ).

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Film: 'Emma.'

On first becoming aware that this was being released, my reaction was one of "What! Do we really need yet another version so soon after the last successful one?" Then I was dismayed to find that the previous which I'd really liked was more than a generation ago - 1994! (You may recall it, starring Gwyneth the Goop herself in the title role, in those bygone days when she was yet a respected young actress with potential, before she started telling us all how to improve our lives). That aside, how does this newie compare? Rather unfavourably, I'd venture to suggest.

Based, of course, on the renowned Jane Austen novel (why the film's title has a full stop/period after the title name is unclear) which I've read two or three times and admire.
Set in the early 19th century, I found this version somewhat long-winded and occasionally even stagnant, though I must say that it really is sumptuous to look at throughout, costumes, scenery and landscapes (filmed in Gloucestershire) all beautifully delivered to screen.
The cast had only three names with which I was familiar, one of which is the ever-reliable Bill Nighy (yet again) as Emma Woodhouse's father. She herself is played by Anya Taylor-Joy  who actually does look the part of the snooty, interfering, superiority-complexed young lady whose own romantic intentions remain off-limits for everyone but her. Btw: Why is Nighy, in just about all the many films he's appeared in, only ever given 'bit' parts, of which this is another one? He's never given a chance to demonstrate his full potential, and he's always so watchable.
The male lead of George Knightley is played by one Johnny Flynn, another name new to me - hovering around, not making commitments, scorned by Emma herself (at least publicly) though anyone not familiar with the story can guess how it's going to end.
Flynn is an actor who mystifies me as to why he should make young ladies' hearts turn all a-flutter - despite us getting a full couple of seconds shot of his undraped entire rear side (Ooh! How daring!" - Pah!) On the other hand I can see why Anya Taylor-Joy would be alluring to a hetero-male gaze - a bit of a beauteous, emotionless 'challenge' wrapped up as she is in all that impervious 'ice' which needs chipping away!
Miranda Hart is a pleasure to watch as the talkative, middle-aged spinster acquaintance of Emma, while we all wait for the infamously cruel put-down of her by Emma herself in front of the picnic party, and whose execution is here handled very well, Hart herself heart-breaking in her crushed reaction to the callous public humiliation. 
The only other name I recognised in the cast was Rupert Graves, though on screen I have to admit that I barely recognised him.

Now I must reveal that for me one of the very worst aspects of this film is the mood-directing background score, telling you how to react - in just about every frigging scene! Right from the the very start we get these jaunty tunes under the dialogue, presumably meant to put - or to keep - a smile on your face. Hell's bells! I just wanted to yell STFU!!!   Let the words do the talking! To be fair there is, later, a little variety with a group singing a capella 'Steeleye Span' style. But, dearie me, all so extraneous!

Director Autumn de Wilde (now there's a name for you! And btw, it's a 'he') whose first full-length feature this happens to be (Gawd help us!) pulls out all the stops (too many!) to give this the treatment he feels it deserves. However gorgeous it is too look at - and it really is - it's all a bit laboured, the concluding half hour or so especially I thought really dragged, almost fatally. Oh, and there is, naturally, the 'regulation' period-piece dance scene!

Apart from two or three of the more mature cast members I think the film would be improved without any sound at all, maybe with just subtitles. Crucially however, I think this film is a mis-step - though it hardly needs stating that my opinion is that of just one individual. I feel we don't really need yet another cinema version of this tale - at least not yet..............5.

(IMDb...............6.9 - Rott Toms (critics only)...........89% [What?!!] )  

Monday 17 February 2020

Film: 'Parasite'

Here it is - the current cinema phenomenon which picked up the 'Best Picture' Oscar the other day, the very first non-English-speaking film ever to do so.
Just about all the reviews I've heard and read are treading extremely carefully around not giving anything away, so I'll do the same and keep this extra-short. 

If you know anything at all about the film's 'plot' it'll be that it involves two South Korean families at opposite ends of the social/wealth divide, and their coming together by such means as simple as it is audacious - until there's discovered a mighty big spanner in the works, and it's not the first. 

I never saw director (and co-writer for this) Bong Joon-Ho's other film which got a wide release outside his home country, 'Mother' (2009) and also received even good reviews, but this one seems to have outstripped that one in plaudits. With 'Parasite' you get two-hours-plus of quality entertainment albeit containing moments which made me flinch, though it's a very long time since I saw any film where I went so long without looking at my watch once.

So, is all the hype and praise deserved? The answer is..............8.

(IMDb.......................8.8 - Rott.Toms....................4.6/5 )

Saturday 15 February 2020

Film: 'The Lighthouse'

I'd already gathered that watching this was going to be quite a severe test, but on discovering just how deeply unpleasant it turned out to be, I now wish I'd given it a miss. 
I could have done without seeing yet another film which ranks almost down there with a particular one I saw last July (one which I refuse to name again), one which had got so far under my skin right down to the bone, haunting my mind every single day since then (no exaggeration!). If 'The Lighthouse'  doesn't go quite as deep as that it's certainly not far from it. 

Shot in black and white, in almost square-screen ratio, it's a virtual two-actor piece - there are a few very brief shots of a third, which I shan't give away. 
Robert Pattinson is the younger of a pair of lighthouse keepers necessarily stranded in each other's company off the New England coast (shot actually in Nova Scotia) at the end of the 19th century (I hadn't picked up that it was set as far back as that) and his freely-farting senior companion, the experienced and wizenedly bearded  Willem Dafoe, You might guess that their close proximity for most of every day drives each of them to near madness, getting on each other's nerves, the latter ordering the other about while the younger is forced to obey albeit with seething reluctance. 
There's hardly any let-up in the tension between the two, only a few lighter moments when they get drunk a couple of times though these moments don't last, always quickly descending into not mere squabbling but actual fist-fights, and worse. The film's final confrontation found me acutely dismayed, near sickened, at the happenings. 
There are bloody scenes - including an especially horrific killing of a seagull whose ever-returning presence so maddened one of the men that he totally loses it. I had to avert my eyes at the playing out of this episode. Hideous.   

Since the beginning of cinema there have always been the depiction of moments of horror which turn out to be merely a dream or the product of a fevered imagination, and this film contains a number of them. Once one knows what to expect it rather drains the tension and one waits for the inevitable explanation/resolution.
I suppose it's something of which one becomes increasingly aware the more films one sees. It's a bit of a tired technique, though.

This is only director Robert Eggers' second full-length feature as director, he also being its co-writer, and I must say he delivers exactly what the story demands - tension by the bucketload with virtually no interludes of light relief, all shot in appropriate mentally-claustrophobic manner. (I gave his previous cinema feature, 'The Witch' of 2015, a rating of 3/10). As you'd expect, much of the 'action' such as it is, is set against a background of wild seas, winds, pelting rain and storms. It demands no less and t's all here.

I feel it's a film most to be appreciated if one has the 'cushion' of being in a buoyant mood when viewed. I was, in the circumstances, not in that frame of mind and was perfect material to be dragged down further to a most uncomfortable place.  However, if you want something gritty to get your teeth into, and feel that seeing unpleasant happenings such as are portrayed here is merely something you can easily shrug off, then this may well be for you.

I rate this film, not in terms of my 'enjoyment' (virtually non-existent!) but on the professionalism and success in delivering what it set out to do. Thus.............7.

(IMDb...............7.7 - Rott, Toms..............3.8/5 )

Monday 3 February 2020

Film: 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighbo(u)rhood'.

If this film was trying to replicate the amiability of the American TV personality it features, one Mr Rogers (played by Mr Nice-Guy himself, Tom Hanks - perfect casting!) then there's little doubt that by and large it succeeds. However, I'll be one of the overwhelming majority of non-Americans who've never even heard of the person or his half-hour children's TV programme (broadcast 1968-2001) in which he explains life and its problems (and solutions) in easy, non-preachy, laid-back style to children towards younger ages, with the aid of models of a miniature town and glove puppets. However, I can't help feeling that being familiar with the original personality would be a marked advantage in appreciating this film. 

Cardiff born Matthew Rhys plays an investigative reporter working for 'Esquire' magazine. with troubles in his own life, particularly with his hovering, loutish father (Chris Cooper) from whom he seems to have inherited some violent traits. He's only recently become a father himself and his fractious relationship with his parent (mother deceased) threatens to disrupt the loving and mutually respectful situation between him and his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson).  It's at such a turbulent point in his life that he's given the assignment of writing a profile of Mister Rogers, a task he's reluctant to take on, entailing, as it must, meeting the said TV personality on several occasions, meetings which turn out to be more about the ultra-clean Rogers questioning him about his, the reporter's, own life rather than him finding anything of interest (no 'dirt' found) to write about the famous man.
It'll come as no surprise to learn that Mister Rogers helps Rhys' reporter character to learn about himself, strengthening his marriage bond which threatens at times to become argumentative, and bringing him closer to his ailing father. 
Given the tensions which need resolving (the story is 'inspired' by actual events) there's a fair helping of sentiment to be displayed, though I was relieved to find that it just managed to keep on the right side of being too cloying. This is helped by not having one's emotions directed by too much background music - though there is one point where an unnecessary song appears, a ploy I just cannot abide!
Hanks' portrayal is very much a one-note depiction, the man is the same both on the television set when acting and in his own personal life (wife played by Maryann Punkett) which, I take it is what the original Mister Rogers was like. I found there was just a suggestion that the whole proceedings might start to drag a little, though it really doesn't to any serious extent. But there is one shortish, noteworthy scene in a restaurant between Hanks and Rhys which I found quite magical, almost hypnotic, in fact.

The film was shot in Pittsburgh (standing in for New York) and is rather good to look at.

Marielle Heller, in this her third cinema feature as director, executes this unusual, quirky tale most satisfactorily. Difficult to say how it could have been improved. I liked it...............6.5.

(IMDb...........7.6 - Rott.Toms............4.5/5 )