Monday, 5 December 2016

Film: 'Sully'

Film based around the January 2009 incident of plane making emergency landing on River Hudson, New York, with all 155 on board surviving - the achievement gaining the title 'Miracle on the Hudson' - which most of us ought to recall from news bulletins at the time. We all know the outcome from the word 'go'.

Tom Hanks plays chief pilot Chesley Sullenberger in this Clint Eastwood directed film, with Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot. Laura Linney is underused as Mrs Sullenberger (though it is based on fact) on the other side of the country when it happened, has a few shorts scenes communicating with husband by telephone.
From very near the start of the film we see 'Sully' commencing his being interrogated by the investigation committee, which almost immediately takes on an accusatory tone - why did he risk the lives of his passengers by attempting such a dangerous landing (following his plane being disabled by colliding with a flock of birds), when he could have made any of at least three alternative far safer landings, chief one being returning to La Guardia airport from whence it had taken off just a few minutes previously?

The actual incident only covers a couple of minutes so it might have been tempting for Eastwood to have built up to the crucial time with an excessive preamble. Happily, that doesn't happen. There are a few flashbacks to the critical moments, but not as many as I'd feared. 
Likewise, we see a few passengers before they actually board for what was going to be a routine flight. Once again, these are kept to a minimum, with no attempt to sentimentalise. So, Eastwood's restraint is to be commended.
With Sully's reputation on the line, and with the media starting to suggest that his decision and subsequent action, far from being brave, he'd actually been reckless, the film successfully explains how he was, in fact, deservedly accorded being dubbed 'hero'.

It's a good film, always interesting. However, as we know how it ends, it can hardly be wildly exciting, gripping though the depiction of the actual landing on water and the rescue are.  
Competent-double plus........................6.5.


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Film: 'Allied'

Conscious that in some circles this is being rated as a 'turkey', curiosity got the better of me. I was also aware of rumours rife, denied by Ms Cotillard (but she would deny it wouldn't she?) that this film played some part in the break up of the 'Brangelina' brand. 
I'd heard too that there were one or two clunky references to the Bogart film of 'Casablanca'. Added to which there's the rarity of Brad Pitt speaking French on several occasions during the film's course, and it's carrying quite a sum of qualities to make it intriguing - or might it turn out to be just plain daft?

Pitt plays a Canadian air force intelligence officer  
(a Quebecois, hence his 'proficiency' in the language) parachuted into Morocco in 1942. That country was French then but, as France had already fallen, it was now subject to Nazi occupation. As arranged, he meets up with underground resistance fighter Marion Cotillard where, for appearances sake, he's passed off as her Parisian husband. Then, before they've hardly had time to drop their underwear they've fallen in genuine love. (Sex in a car, and in a sandstorm, would you believe - with, despite the limited confines of that space, a camera circling their love-making - and all to swooning strings, just so we don't labour under a misapprehension that this isn't serious.) 
Having taken part together in an assassination at the French embassy in Casablanca in the middle of a Nazi social party (where a string quartet softly plays in the background 'Deutschland Uber Alles', for crying out loud!), the two of them flee to London, where they get married, she becoming dutiful housewife while he carries on his war contacts, now with the British, where everyone seems to talk in upper class, lah-di-dah accents. Soon a baby arrives. Immediately after the birth a nurse hands the naked newly-born to the mother with the helpfully informative remark "It's a girl!"

So that's the first hour of this two-hour film - and now it gets interesting. Pitt is summoned to be told that there's good reason to believe that his wife is.......a Nazi spy. (Yes!) His disbelief is understandable. Nevertheless, he is instructed to keep a strict eye on her. The next hour is quite successful in keeping us guessing - "Is she or not?"

I have to say that, despite some jaw-droppers, I was never bored throughout this film, not even in the long setting-up of the first half, though part of that was wondering what I could criticise next. The script was often flat.

Director Robert Zemeckis produces a work-a-day romantic thriller. I've seen worse, though many more that are better. This one just doesn't quite manage to get over the 'okay' line................4.





Monday, 28 November 2016

Film: 'A United Kingdom'

There's no doubting the inspirational true story behind this, but I did find the film's treatment of it needlessly manipulative when it could just as easily, and more effectively, have been left to speak for itself.

It's London 1947 and Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana (David Oyelowo) is on the verge of returning to his home country as ruler, his uncle there having ruled as regent while the prince was growing up incognito in England. 
One evening at a dance he notices he's being eyed up by a young lady (Rosamund Pike) and he returns the favour, they dancing together. After a night of getting on famously (dancing and talking only) when he takes her back to her home he tells her that he can't see her again because of his circumstances which he explains. She refuses to accept that they can't go on despite who he is and so they carry on dating while they can, with her family's approval  (sister enthusiastically, mother tacitly) but not her father's - and also in the face of a warning from a supercilious British diplomacy, South Africa being next door to the prince's domain, and which has just implemented apartheid, it's vital to keep that country on-side for reasons of global relations. 
The young couple are soon married and she returns to Africa with him, where they have to cope with native hostility, led by his uncle, because of his bringing a white woman into the royal line meaning, of course, that any offspring will be mixed race. 

The two leading characters I found just too perfect to believe. They both seemed to lead exemplary flawless lives in terms of resolute determination in representing propriety in the face of hypocritical racist attitudes. Maybe they were so in reality, though I doubt that anyone could have had such saintly forbearance as this couple are shown to do in the face of the blatant prejudices (from both sides) that they come up against. I suppose it could have been that which bound them even closer together.

In the London scenes there is one instance shown of the couple being harangued and assaulted on the street because of their being black and white. In the 1950s when I was growing up such couples were absolutely never seen - whether because they were very rare or the pair were too afraid to be seen publicly together, I don't know. But in this film they are depicted openly in close loving contact without surrounding comment apart from this single incident. Perhaps around this time London had already progressed further than the north of England where I was.

The shots of African scenery are superb, fulfilling widescreen expectations. However, and as so often, I could have done with a lot less of the soundtrack music always pointing one in a certain emotional direction. Completely unnecessary when it was all in the story anyway. 

It's only the third film of director Amman Assante, her 'Belle' of 2013, I found a bit more interesting than this latest, though that also not quite satisfactory.

This film has had some very positive reviews which I can't share. If I wanted to see a hagiography then I'd prefer to have been warned it was to be so. On the other hand, it was quite educational to be told of a piece of history of which I hadn't been aware...................5.5.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Film: 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'.

This, the latest filmed project from the formidable imagination of J.K.Rowling, is the first of a projected series of five films. 

Set in 1926 New York (some 70 years before Harry Potter began his first term at Hogwarts) it has the likeable Eddie Redmayne as an itinerant globe-trotting magician carrying an old suitcase of live specimens of weird and wonderful beasts whose sizes vary all the way up to immense. When it's stolen by 'no-maj' (= 'muggle') Dan Fogler, the result is that all manner of its contents are freed with unintended consequences, creating havoc on the city and its residences, not the least being one of whom is Redmayne's nemesis in the form of Colin Farrell playing the anti-hero native magician. 
Redmayne is accompanied on his quests by the faithful but tested Katherine Waterston and is found in conflict with severely matriarchal Samantha Morton.

The film is directed by David Yates who also directed the final three Harry Potter filmed stories. Special effects abound all over the place, and are every bit as visually as impressive as one would expect. Those responsible for realising fertile Rowling's imagination on screen are to be congratulated.

I saw all the Potter films, of course (and read the first three books) and was troubled by finding every one of the former quite exhausting to watch (likewise those books to read) even though they were targeted as being, essentially, children's films. I could only assume that I was viewing them the wrong way - over-seriously, perhaps? So I did have a preconception that I would find this film likewise weighty. In the event I didn't find it quite as bad as all that, though I must say that the plot here was markedly more confusing than in the Potters. I was rapidly lost in the ins and outs of the exposition so just submitted to giving up and letting myself be taken where it wants to go. In doing that I did achieve a measure of being entertained, though I can hardly say that I'm especially keen on seeing the remainder of the series.

I think you'd have to be a Potter fan to get the maximum out of this film. I can't imagine many being disappointed by this if you'd been sad to see the Potter series finish. It's very much more of the same, though set decades earlier, and is sure to make admirers of H.P. feel satisfied that they'll continue to get their 'fix' in future planned productions of this franchise................6.




Thursday, 17 November 2016

Film: 'Les Innocentes'

French-Polish film in those two languages (with some Russian), based on 1945 immediately post-war true story of aftermath of a Polish convent being pillaged by advancing Soviet soldiers, the 15 or so nuns therein having suffered rape, not just the once but also on two further 'visits' - with the consequence of half a dozen of them falling pregnant, their times of delivery being close together. 
As you can imagine, the story is unremittingly bleak - at least that is all apart from its conclusion which seemed to be tacked on to show that life after such a dark episode need not be entirely hopeless.

It begins in the convent with a girl in labour, who had been taken in by the nuns on account of her being rejected by her parents for having become pregnant. In need of help, one of the younger nuns sneaks out of the convent and seeks a French Red Cross nurse (Lou de Laage) working in a makeshift hospital which treats newly liberated French survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. After some persuasion she agrees to accompany the nun back, but without telling her Jewish boss (Vincent Macaigne), the head doctor-surgeon, with whom she's having an affair - he being the keener, she rather less passionate about the relationship. 
At the convent, and out of sight of the sternly inflexible mother-abbess (Agata Kulesza) - who herself carries consquences of the attack on the nuns, and who is determined to keep the entire episode as their own 'secret' so as to shield the convent's ordeal from the outside world - the nurse after delivering the baby, discovers the advanced state of pregnancy of one of the nuns and gets to know what had happened. She then examines all the nuns, to the horror of the mother-abbess who is afraid the nurse will leak out the story of what happened. On discovering the reality, the nurse has to perform a balancing act of concealment from her lover/boss in the hospital while assisting where she can with deliveries. The fate of the new-born babies might be regarded by those outside the church as heartless - at least one wretched case markedly so - whereas in the mind of the abbess the reputations of the convent and the Church are paramount.

There are crises of faith among the nuns while the mother-abbess clings rigidly to the notion that it's best all left to Providence and to an all-knowing God.

It hardly needs saying that the story is utterly horrifying, all set in a country at Winter-chill season with more than a fair dusting of snow on the rock-hardened earth. I dare suggest that the story is far from unique. Thankfully, we are spared any flashbacks of the original attacks on the nurses, which would have been horribly indulgent.

The only other film I've seen from director Anne Fontaine is 2009's 'Coco Before Chanel' to which I awarded a low '4' rating. 'The Innocents' is far better if only, by the very nature of what it relates, it's much more involving, though it has to be necessarily cold in illustration. And then there's the question of the positive ending. Whether that is also part of the true story or is simply put in to cast some much missed 'sunlight' onto all that's gone before, I have no idea.  Whatever, it's a story that needs to be told, and this film achieves it efficiently.................6.5.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Film: 'Arrival'

Mine won't be a popular view of this largely praised science fiction film, but I really did find it to be bordering on the ponderous. It took too long to say what it wanted, and when it did it was too little, albeit that the 'little' was merely the future of mankind, wrapped up in a predictable cosy glow of hope and amity. Goodness me! How original!

Amy Adams. a linguistics expert is called in by a Colonel (Forest Whitaker) of the American military,  to help interpret sounds emanating from within one of twelve enormous pod-like space capsules hovering over widely dispersed locations around the globe. She, along with another expert, Jeremy Renner, and a small group of military enter the pod and start making contact with the alien 'crew' from behind a translucent screen on which the latter draw puzzling circle-shaped symbols.
Much time is spent interpreting these symbols, interspersed with many flashes (far too many) of Adams playing or talking to her little daughter. If these 'punctuations' were supposed to speed up the slow action then they spectacularly failed as to me they seemed mere padding - and dull padding at that. And the film is all capped with a needlessly sentimental final few minutes.
The body of the film is played against a backdrop of nervous foreign governments threatening to attack and destroy these pods, the Chinese being to the fore in their influence with other countries.

The pods and the aliens themselves are depicted impressively and interestingly I thought, eschewing previous ideas of what aliens might look like. Likewise the sounds they made.

Two of director Denis Villeneuve's more recent films, 'Sicario' and 'Prisoners', were well worth viewing. I don't consider 'Arrival' to be in the same class. 

Once again I'm going to be in a minority in my view, but I did find this film to be far too laboured to be of especial positive significance...................5.5.


Monday, 14 November 2016

Film: 'Nocturnal Animals'

Intelligent, stylish, double-layered thriller with some harrowing moments - and a suspended ending which drew audible gasps of exasperation from the audience, which I can well understand without my sharing their sense of (presumably) feeling cheated.

This is only Tom Ford's second film as director/writer but is every bit as masterly as his 'A Single Man' of 2009.

Heading a terrific cast, Amy Adams is an art gallery owner which, it turns out, is illustrated by the film's opening credits which I can promise you is, erm, 'unforgettable'. (Tee hee!)
She receives a surprise package at home, a book written by her husband of 20 years previously (Jake Gyllenhall). dedicated to her with the same title of the film, which refers to a name he once affectionately called her. They have been out of touch with each other in the interim, her own present marriage now also falling apart, and this gift now causes her to wonder if she did the right thing in ending her first.
She begins reading and this story of fiction is shown in tandem with her current situation. 

In the story which she reads she sees herself in the part of Gyllenhall's wife again, these two characters now having an adolescent daughter. The three of them are driving on a lonely highway at night when they try to overtake another car which, apparently, won't let them pass. Eventually overtaking them, the girl makes a gesture to the car through the back window. Bad move. The other car contains three roughneck hill-billy types. The consequence is disturbing to say the least. 
Michael Shannon impressively plays an unrepentently heavy-smoking, phlegm-coughing. lung cancer-suffering state cop investigator.
There's also Michael Sheen and Laura Linney in the cast, the latter in just one scene practically unrecognisable as Adams' insufferably reactionary and unforgiving mother.

The film flits back and forth from the written story to real-life, Adams and Gyllenhall meeting up again after all these years, he keen to know what she thinks of his novel, she having previously dismissed his potential as a writer. Could there be a possibility of their getting back together again?

I found the film absorbing on both its independent strands, all beautifully photographed, some shots looking as though they would not be out of place mounted in Adams' own gallery. Background music was, very sensibly, not at all obtrusive.

I was thoroughly impressed with all aspects of this film. If there was any slight difficulty I could mention it's that one is regularly shown Amy Adams' silent face as she puts down the book having come to the end of a key episode or she is too upset by it to read on. Has she got too emotionally involved by getting drawn into the fictional situation? Is she trying to relate it to her present position? Exactly what is she thinking? We don't know, but one could argue that it's better left open for us to put our own interpretation on what her thoughts could be. I think it's a perfectly valid approach.

In summary, a fine cinematic experience - exactly what I was hankering after...........8.