Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Film: 'The Shape of Water'

I had apprehensions that this would be swirling in heavy sentiment, something I find hard to swallow in any film - and so it is to some extent. But I had no idea it would contain so much sheer nastiness of different types on several levels in a number of episodes throughout its two-hour length. There are tender moments, certainly, though for me they were eclipsed by a very dark element which made it almost unremittingly an extremely uncomfortable watch. In fact if I could have left without disturbing at least half a dozen others in the same row I might have made for the exit after the film's statutory two-thirds had been viewed - that being the minimum proportion I must attend in order to include it in my record as having been 'seen'. (Walking out before the end of any film is actually rarer than an annual happening for me).

Shot in Toronto and Hamilton (the latter being the home city of at least one of my esteemed blog-followers), Sally Hawkins, together with Octavia Spencer, (both very good indeed) is a mute cleaner in a government research centre where an amphibious, partly humanoid-looking creature, discovered in South America, is captured and brought to be experimented upon. She establishes a relationship with the 'creature' through sign language and the two of them develop a reciprocal infatuation.  
It's all spoilt by chief researcher Michael Shannon (appropriately repulsive) who gets a sadistic pleasure from inflicting pain on the being, causing Sally H. to want to give it back its freedom.
Richard Jenkins plays her gay and lonely, commercial-painter neighbour in the next-door flat - she being his sole friend - both living above a cinema.

Director Guillermo del Toro works suitable wonders with his vision where he needs to without overplaying his hand, though all the time I felt myself resisting against being so emotionally manipulated.

As I've emphasised a number of times in the past my verdict and rating is based not so much on the extent to which it is a 'good' film - and it is clearly a very accomplished one - but rather on the degree to which I enjoyed it as an 'entertainment' and it's only in that respect that I personally found it seriously wanting. Not to mince words, I thought it profoundly unpleasant. 

The film has now been lauded across the world. Just why the U.K. is one of the last to get to see it is a complete mystery to me. Now that I have witnessed what all the fuss has been about, I will say that it's a film which, once seen, won't be forgotten in a hurry - but I wish it had been.......................3.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Last night's BAFTA awards

Yesterday was one of only two nights in the year when I stay up well beyond 9 p.m. - the other being the Eurovision Song Contest, usually in May.
In the event I got much satisfaction from the awards, and hardly any disappointment - even if most of the awards came out as predicted. 

Won't argue about 'Three Billboards' getting 'Best Picture' - as well as 'Best British Film' (Yes! - qualifying as such because its director and most of its financing came from this country). I'd have probably given 'Best Picture' to 'Phantom Thread', though only by the slenderest of whiskers.

Few could seriously complain about Frances McDormand scooping 'Best Actress' - and anyone who did complain would be simply wrong! (Sally Hawkins, your time will yet come, darling! - I've yet to see 'Shape/Water'.) 
I was equally happy to see Sam Rockwell taking 'Best Supporting Actor' for that same film, which didn't have quite the same certainty.

Daniel Kaluuya was a good choice for 'Rising Star' in the very disturbing 'Get Out'  - but the tightest competition for the males was surely in the 'Best Actor' category. Although I'd have given it to Daniel Day Lewis, again by just a (phantom) thread, so that he could ride off into retirement sunset in full glory. Nevertheless, I'm not in the least disappointed that the no less deserving Gary Oldman was the actual winner.  

And to finish the evening with that looooooooong speech of overflowing, cringeworthy 'appreciation' from Ridley Scott for being awarded the BAFTA Fellowship - oh, put a sock in it, Rid! Couldn't you see that after three hours continuous (as unedited), everyone was shifting about in their seats, with some absolutely dying for a wee! It was too much for me and I went to bed while he was still in mid-flow.

Joanna Lumley did very well for her first stint as EmCee, apparently without the same level of nervousness which Stephen Fry had often (very understandably) been subject to in previous years, even if she didn't have the same flashes of humour and wit that he always seemed to come up with. 

Btw: On the review of those in the industry who'd passed on over the last twelve months, did I blink or did they really forget to mention the late, incomparable John Hurt?

This morning one of the right-wing tabloids has gone to town complaining that Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was the only female there (apart from Frances McDormand!) not to be wearing a black dress. To which I can only say "Oh, piss off, you scummy rag!" 

Over to you, Oscars!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Film: 'The Mercy'

The story of one Donald Crowhurst's brave but foolhardy (only on hindsight?) attempt in 1968 to become, in a race, the first person to sail around the world non-stop and solo, when up to then his sailing experience had been little more than localised boat trips. I can just about recall the news at the time on his having been found to have falsified his submitted locations in order to mislead the public and media back home into thinking that he was making spectacular progress on his venture, but I couldn't remember how it had ended. 
It's this cheating aspect that gives this otherwise 'not another!' story its unusual, more interesting angle. If it had not been based on fact we might have seen the intrepid, would-be hero courageously taking to the high seas and battling the elements, all with a cat on board which would have come to a nasty end. Thankfully there's none of that here.  

Colin Firth, in a role that seems to fit him like a glove, plays Crowhurst, who leaves his wife (Rachel Weisz) and two young children behind in Devon (the film's director, James Marsh - who also did 'The Theory of Everything' - hails from next-door Cornwall), to enter a round-the-world race, he having staked his house as security for financing the building of his trimaran vessel and his attempt, success in coming first would guarantee him fame and riches. Local interest is fierce, played out foremost by local newspaper reporter, David Thewlis (too little seen on screen these days).
It's not long after his feted departure that Crowhurst's problems start appearing and mounting up, making him quickly aware how ill-equipped he is, both in terms of his own expertise and the dubious reliability through ill-construction of his boat - not to mention the mental capacity he requires to see his difficulties through. His near despair at lack of meaningful progress takes him to the fateful decision to phone in fictitious locations to give the lie that his speed is surpassing all expectations. (I suppose that nowadays there'd be some means of satellite tracking to verify where the person actually is?) And the outcome? As you almost certainly won't know the story you'll just have to see it.

I felt it was a reasonable enough film. It's hard to see how else they could have played it out, being tied to the facts as we now know them looking back. There's little room for imagination, though all the players come out of it with heads held fairly high - though, Rachel Weisz gets to be little more than a shadow for her husband who is, unsurprisingly, the film's strong focus.     

An unusual story, certainly, though its curious nature results in a mere momentary pause before one passes onto the next item of interest - much like this film itself.............6.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Film: 'Journey's End'

You're not likely to come out of seeing this with a song in your heart. But if you're hankering after a practically unremittingly bleak World War One drama set almost entirely within the narrow muddy confines of a dug-out trench and its adjacent quarters, with an all-male cast (apart from a few seconds of a female form just before the close), then this should fit the bill for you.

You may well be familiar with the film's title as I was from the stage play (1928) by R.C.Sheriff, and which I'd seen some decades ago - the play being followed by a novel based on the theatre version. Even in this film adaptation it's pretty clear that it's tailor-made for the stage. There is little attempt here to open it up cinematically, which is good for it retaining its essentially claustrophobic atmosphere.

It takes place in 1918 in northern France, a few months before the Armistice, where a British contingent is holed up right on the front line, and knowing that a German offensive will be launched two days hence. They have been drawn the short straw in that in interchanging manning of the trench they are the ones who will be there to try to stop or hinder the German advance. It's these two days of waiting which creates the film's tension, and this is indeed ratcheted up quite effectively. Much understandable bickering and loss of tempers between the men reveals their suspense of waiting, not knowing which of them, if any, will survive to tell the tale. Attempts at humour are brief and usually fall flat.

Sam Claflin plays the nervous wreck of a Captain, finding it hard enough to keep his own composure never mind the jumpy men under his command. He's joined by Asa Butterfield as a wet-behind-the- ears young officer eager to play his part while trying to conceal his natural anxieties. It's the first time I've seen Butterfield since his appearance as the titular 'Hugo' in Scorsese's 2011 film of that name, a film for which, having now seen four times, I still retain considerable affection. In 'Hugo' Butterfield was then a boy. Now, of course, he's become a young man, and showing good potential as an up and coming actor.  

Among the rest of the cast there's Paul Bettany, as well as the always reliable Toby Jones, though his is little more than a bit-part.

Director Saul Dibbs ('Suite Francaise', 'The Duchess') does a fine job of transferring the play (as adapted by Simon Reade) to the screen, though it does still betray its theatrical source. I felt myself  wishing that I'd rather have seen it again with the immediacy and involvement of a live production. Perhaps anyone coming to this film without knowledge of its origin will appreciate it more.

Violence in the climactic battle scene is not shown in lingering close-ups, so there's little need to shield the eyes.
Colour throughout is in appropriate sepia and muddy tints.

Good enough, then, but I don't think it says anything that can't be said more effectively in the setting of live theatre..................6.5.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Film: 'Phantom Thread'

Well, only five weeks into the year with just nine films seen and I can already declare that in my opinion this will be the film of 2018 - and possibly even the decade! I returned home one hour ago after an hour's bus journey, and I haven't come down yet.

Self-proclaimed by Daniel Day-Lewis as being his filmic swansong appearance, if it's true then he's going out on a high which simply could not be any higher. He has never been better - and considering every single role he's taken where he's never been even a shade less than breathtakingly impressive, here he reaches the summit. 
No less deserving of praise is the Luxembourgoise actress, Vicky Krieps, she and Day-Lewis making a riveting companionship in acting, augmented by the august presence of Lesley Manville. These three are the only significant characters of this totally absorbing film. 
American director Paul Thomas Anderson has made some extraordinarily memorable films (incl. 'There Will Be Blood', also with Day Lewis - and 'Magnolia' , though I do wish I'd had the chance to see his 'Punch Drunk Love') - and here once again his characteristic spell works wonders.

London 1950s, it's in the world of haute couture, where slightly ageing bachelor, Day-Lewis, runs a much-in-demand dressmaking business for 'society ladies', assisted by his sister (Manville). In a 'normal', everyday restaurant he's served by a waitress (Krieps) to whom he takes a fancy, and after a little gentle verbal teasing by him this is reciprocated. They quickly become friends and he takes her back to his large residence/workshop, where he has about ten experienced, mature women who come in daily for dressmaking work, his sister presiding over everything yet ever deferring to his will and decisions. The arrival of the new young woman raises a few eyebrows but nothing is said. Meantime, the Day-Lewis character is all quiet gentleness exuding affability - but could that be the cover for something rather like a tightly coiled spring...........? 
The story carries on from there, basically following the relationship between the two central individuals. Anyone familiar with Daphne du Maurier's excellent novel 'Rebecca' (one of my all-time favourite books) will pick up on the strong resonances between that work and this film - but situation-wise rather than denouement.

It's hard to say more without giving away more than I'd wish to. It's far better not knowing which way the compelling story's going to turn. I'll only say that the film is close to being flawless, though my sole quibble is that right at the end something happens, the reaction to which by one of the three principals is just a fraction less convincing in the light of what we know about that person's character through what's gone before. But it didn't affect my overall appreciation one jot.  

Mention must also be made of the outstanding soundtrack. In addition to original music written by Jonny Greenwood there are excerpts of both jazz and classical (mostly chamber) music, all expertly chosen without being distracting. I loved it all, nothing being jarringly out of place.
Oh yes, and there's a high quality script too.

The film may not be to everybody's tastes, but there's no doubt that it hit the spot for me. If you suspect it just might be the kind of film you'd like, I do urge you to go, please!...............8.5.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Film: 'The Post'

Spielberg shows here that he can still really deliver when he keeps a tight rein on his sentimental side. I found this film better than just 'good' - yet somehow not having quite the sharp bite that the last major journalistic film had, namely 'Spotlight' of 2015. That's perhaps to do with the subject matter of the latter being right up to date (Catholic Church cover-up of child molestation by clergy - still just as topical even now!) and this present film dealing with an historical event (1971), albeit with very pertinent resonances to today relating to control of the press by the American President. 

 Meryl Streep (that well-known actress described as over-rated by you-know-who) is Kay Graham who has just become head of 'The Washington Post' and is plunged into a baptism of fire. She and her lead reporter Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, smoking more than I've ever seen him before - in fact, that I recall him doing at all since his self-celebratory cigar in 'Philadelphia') get wind of a crisis looming at neighbouring 'New York Times'.
Background is 'The Pentagon Papers', the results of a study commissioned way back in the 1940s by then President F.D.Roosevelt into the feasibility of winning the then Indo-China War which morphed into the VietNam War. The conclusion was that victory against the Communist forces was well nigh impossible. Successive administrations under Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and right up to then President Nixon had all colluded to keep the results secret from the public while futilely continuing to send out hundreds of  thousands of troops, many thousands to their deaths and many more coming back with life-maiming injuries, all under the public deception that America was winning. No President wanted to be the one who was seen to be in charge when defeat came.
The White House discovers that the N.Y.Times has received copies of that report and intends to publish the story, so Nixon weighs in with forceful threats of dire consequences of wholesale prison terms if they go ahead. Graham and Bradlee (Streep and Hanks) are watching on the sidelines until they themselves receive the very same source material - and so the question becomes one of should they then publish, irrespective of which way the 'Times' decides to go, though especially if the Times decides not to go ahead.

The tension in the film grows quite effectively, though the subject being historical, it lacks the present-day indignation which I'd felt in the 'Spotlight' film, and it therefore was not like being screwed to quite the same high level pitch.

The acting is as remarkable as one might expect from its two main stars, though seeing Streep transform in the course of the film from a slightly nervous and gauche novice company head among all-male work colleagues and board meetings, into someone with a confident mind of her own, was a object lesson for an actor's 'how-to-do-it' manual.   

It's a significant film, not without ever-growing relevance to today's politics, and everyone comes out of it well. I'll be surprised if it fails to pick up the Oscar or two it deserves, though if it happens it'll probably be in the 'lesser' categories. Nevertheless, 'The Post' gets my unequivocal approval......................7.5

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Film: 'The Florida Project'

Following yesterday's let-down, this was decidedly better.
It's been around a few weeks and I caught it on its very final screening in this area. Not being seduced by some good reviews, I'd avoided it on knowing that it featured young kids, and there's little that riles me more on film than to see little brats spouting bons mots and advice on how to live life in a manner way beyond their years to adults who are amazed at the kids' precocity. There being nothing else on which I hadn't already seen and wasn't a kiddie-aimed film, I decided to give it a go - with gritted teeth. As it turned out, my apprehensions were groundless.

In the hinterland around Disney World, Willem Dafoe (in a role which fits him like a glove) is the manager/odd-job man for a group of cheap residential apartment blocks, out beyond the expensive hotels and motels or even mid-priced ones. The residents consist mainly of families in difficult circumstances, with kids running amok and engaged in anti-social behaviour, tenants sometimes in rent arrears, some with alcohol or drug-related problems . 
One of the residents is single mother Halley (Bria Vinaite, excellent) with 6-year old daughter, Moonie (Brooklyn Prince, also very good), the little girl having been infected with the 'so what!' attitude of her mother as well as her cheekiness, and roams around (no school attendance) with her similar-aged friends (mainly one boy and another girl) causing annoyance in all directions with their antics.  But mother doesn't give a fig what they get up to, as long as there's no danger of their being evicted. She's continually behind on her rent but manages to pay on time - just. It's not hard to guess where her income comes from, but we aren't shown anything of her 'trade' nor any of her 'customers'.
She and her daughter run riot in stores and eateries, all of which she just about gets away with, thanks to bare-faced lies which come as easily to her as breathing, much to the exasperation of staff and managers. It's Dafoe who's most sorely tried and he keeps issuing ultimata about the behaviour of the two of them, though he also exhibits a soft spot for their plight, particularly warmly towards the little girl. Then the authorities get involved.........

It's an unassuming little story, totally credible as well as being captivating in its way. Dafoe is marvellous. Even being aware of his considerable acting experience it was easy to see him as the put-upon apartments manager.

Director (and co-writer) Sen Baker demonstrates a sensitivity to the difficult subject and I'd be hard-pressed to point out where it could have been improved.  

I liked it..................7.