Friday, 29 December 2017

Film: 'The Greatest Showman'

The trailer for this looked really fabulous so I had very high hopes for it. Then the reviews started coming in, most of them with identical so-so opinions, thus my expectations drooped. Then I saw the film and............it was marvellous!

The story of P.T. Barnum, a name nearly everybody will know even if they have scant knowledge, as I had, of the truth behind his rise to celebrity through the 'invention' of the circus. Of course, we all accept that a film like this - even more especially since it's a musical - will play fast and loose with historical veracity, but once I got into the required mindset I thoroughly enjoyed the experience - and was quite overawed that it was young Aussie director's (Michael Gracey) very first full-length feature film - whom I suspect may have had generous helpful suggestions from his friend, the likewise Aussie main star.

Despite it being an 'original' true story, you can predict the trajectory that Barnum's (Hugh Jackman) fortunes will take, with all the usual ups and down, difficulties, successes and disaster - with a final flourish of a phoenix-like rising from the ashes (literally!).
Reviewers have said that the songs are indifferent and forgettable. I thought they were better than that - particularly the two or three upbeat numbers, infectiously toe-tapping stuff with precision-like and spectacular choreography very much in the pop video mould, but not at all worse for being that. I wasn't alone in the audience in being quite transported by the visual and aural spectacle of it all, with Jackman at the centre of several of the set pieces, showing off (as though we didn't already know) that he can sing, dance and move with aplomb and dexterity, like the very best of them. 
At the film's close it was one of those occasions when the audience applauded - and I dare say that many of them there had not realised that they were about to be subjected to that medium, so derided by some, of being a musical! (Credit due to song-composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul). 

The drama of this mid-19th century, New York story, after a brief, flashbacked childhood experience, starts with the jobless and  impecunious Barnum's marriage to the daughter (Michelle Williams) of disapproving, wealthy parents, when he has his brainwave of a show of what are, in effect, human 'freaks', he only getting financial backing for his plan by straight deceit. Now parents of two little girls, his wife, rather than offering unqualified support to him, holds back on her reservations as long as his venture brings in the money. He acquires a capable assistant - Zac Efron (also hoofing nimbly and singing ably) - but whose attraction to another young lady in the troupe brings displeasure down on him from his own parents. Then more fraught episodes take place with opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), the 'Swedish Nightingale', vastly famous in Europe whom, on a visit to London to perform for a youngish Queen Victoria, Barnum decides to take back to introduce her to American audiences, which he does with great success. Mrs Barnum, not best pleased with the development of his new 'acquaintanceship', has her suspicions.......

The energy and interest in the film kept me absorbed almost throughout. Only once did my attention come anywhere near to flagging  - in the song of the Bearded Lady - but that was exceptional.
Beforehand I'd had slight reservations about whether we were going to be shown performing animals, but they really only properly appear in the lavish final routine, and even then they are hardly 'performing' as such, being more background-like figures - and furthermore I wouldn't be at all surprised to be told that they were all CGI creations anyway. 

This was a goodie to end the year on. I can't agree with most of the reviews I've seen who are so forward with their 'so what?' indifference to it. I liked it much more. And it's a pity that, in error, I posted my Top 10 of the year before I saw it. When compiling my favourites I'd made the rash assumption that this wouldn't feature in it. Okay, it may not have actually made it into my ultimate ten choices, but I think it would have been on the shortlist as a real possible.  I'm not going back to change things now - it's not that make-or-break anyway Suffice to say that in my books 'The Greatest Showman' rates a solid.............8.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

My Ten Most Liked films of 2017


This year the vagaries of release dates has rather stolen the thunder from my list, especially its upper reaches - the top two of which had already been well garlanded (or at least forecast to being so) by the time I saw them. In fact my favourite three choices of the year seemed practically pre-ordained. But can't help that. Honesty is of the essence.

What? you exclaim!  No 'Dunkirk' (likely to scoop up several of the upcoming Oscars), no 'Call Me By Your Name' (nominated as 'Film of the Year' by at least one of our national newspapers), no 'Manchester-by-the-Sea' nor 'Mother!', 'Maudie', 'Ghost Story' - and no 'God's Own Country'? (This last I didn't see on purpose) And what the blazes is 'Paddington 2' doing on the list, inferring that this kiddie-pleaser was superior to many more worthy and weightier films. Well, if that's what you're asking, tough titty!  

This year's final tally of films seen (in cinema only) was 88, one more than 2016 (I've gone and mistakenly posted this before tomorrow's intended visit, assuming that one won't make the list) and my highest score since 2011, though still well below a quarter of all the films released in the U.K. over the period.
If selecting a short list of 18 was painful, extracting just 10 of them made me almost pour with sweat. However, having achieved it (and, unusually, all of them this year are English-language films) I employed my usual method of juggling around an order until I came up with something that felt about right - and here's the list, ascending:-

10)  The Party 
http://raybeard.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/film-party.html
A mere 70 mins in length, and director Sally Potter creates a miniature incendiary bomb - helped in large part by featuring the ever-so watchable Kristen Scott Thomas.

9) Baby Driver 
http://raybeard.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/film-baby-driver.html
Should the inclusion of one K.Spacey in a major role now disqualify this from being appreciated? - or, in fact, any film in which he's made an appearance? Well, that's too bad! 
This one is that true cinema rarity, an original! Synchronising sound and vision as never seen before, A crime film with real energy and pezzaz!  

8) Paddington 
http://raybeard.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/film-paddington-2.html
A tonic of a film, in my opinion outdoing the original of last year by far. It's a very long time since I left a cinema with such a beaming smile. Glorious, completely undemanding, sheer fun -  with Hugh Grant tickling the funny bone as never before.

7) Passengers 
http://raybeard.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/film-passengers.html
The very first film I saw this year, a most accomplished sci-fi (not my favourite of genres) and, despite one being able to see the ending coming well beforehand, ("Please, don't let it be that!), its replay in my mind is still chilling as hell. 

6) Lady Macbeth 
http://raybeard.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/film-lady-macbeth.html
A quite unexpected, sometimes grisly, gem leaving me with unanswered questions to ponder on. Very satisfying.

5) The Killing of a Sacred Deer 
http://raybeard.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/film-killing-of-sacred-deer.html
Farrell and Kidman delivering the goods, just as they never fail to do, in this bleak, disturbing story with considerable 'edge' which lingers on and on in the mind.

4) The Battle of the Sexes
http://raybeard.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/film-battle-of-sexes.html

I never saw this one coming. and when it did it was a joy. Emma Stone and Steve Carrell playing out the 1973 challenge one Bobby Riggs doles out to any woman on Earth- that he can beat her at tennis because "Men are stronger!" - and which Billie Jean King takes up with a steely determination to prove him wrong. Very strong screenplay with exceptional performances, from the two leads especially.

3) Get Out 
http://raybeard.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/film-get-out.html



A film that dares to make you ask "What the hell is going on?" - and though I did suss out the general direction it might be going in, my underlying unease at what I suspected got me fidgetting nervously as the alarming scenario revealed itself. This is what good cinema should be about - challenging, rivetting, intelligent, and not in the least bit lazy. A remarkable film. 

2) La La Land 
http://raybeard.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/exceeding-my-expectations-by-some.html


A toy-box of delights. Does anything else need be said? A film particularly for those who say "They don't make them like they used to any more." Well, here's one which shows that they can and, just occasionally, do!


1) Moonlight 

http://raybeard.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/film-moonlight.html


I can't add to what so many have already said about this extraordinary film. If my ultimate choice is predictable, I make no apology for it, suffice to say that I cannot imagine any other film beating it. A landmark and a triumph - ALL HAIL!

                           __________________________________

And, as per convention, my nomination for 'waste of time, money and everything else' of 2017 goes  to.............The Shack

http://raybeard.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/film-shack.html

- despite its morally neutral and slightly intriguing start, it becomes so heavily steeped in a message of 'Have Faith and Jesus Will Save You' it'll be mother's milk to the Xtian right. I saw it in error, thinking it would be something other than this proselytising claptrap. I'll readily concede that my verdict is based less on whether or not it's a 'good' film as on the pushing of its content. If it had been more generally spiritual rather than definably mainstream Christian, then I might have felt kinder. As it was, afterwards I felt soiled all over, necessitating my returning home and jumping straight under the shower, crying "AAAAAAAAARGH!!!" 

                _______________________________________

So what will 2018 hold, as I approach ever closer to my 5,000th film, after which I still intend to think seriously about ceasing these film posts - though at current rate that won't happen until 2019 at the earliest. 
Looks like some goodies are coming up early in the new year - but one never knows for sure until one experiences them.

Anyway, for now, thank you each and every one for even bothering to read my posts this year, and I do most sincerely wish all of you the very best for the New Year - especially, if like me, you turned out wishing that some major elements of the last twelve months had never happened. 

See you in MMXVIII.



Thursday, 21 December 2017

Film: 'The Disaster Artist'

I'd not known of the film 'The Room', the making of which this current film is based - a film reputedly so 'bad' that it's acquired a cult status as being good entertainment for all the reasons it wasn't intended to have. I think having prior knowledge, and preferably having seen, that original film would have been an immense advantage to appreciating 'The Disaster Artist', as evidenced by at least a couple of the audience I was with being in such high hysterics at every turn that they were broadcasting in their laughter an element of  "We know why its funny!" so as to be madly irritating and making me, for one, more determined than ever to keep a straight face - which, as it turned out, wasn't so hard anyway.

James Franco (a poisonous presence to some, I'm well aware) directs this film and plays the off-puttingly ambitious and over-earnest, long-haired director, Tommy Wiseau, possessing a fortune whose origins are unexplained just as his own age is unclear, meeting in San Francisco, late 1990s, with aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Franco's younger brother, Dave - looking more like James F. than James F. himself - and nicer looking!). 
The two of them going to L.A., after some false starts in which Wiseau's self-confidence over-reaches himself and he's firmly put in his place, he decides to create his own film, writes the script, which immediately gets Sestero on board, and with money no object, buys all the equipment necessary and hires all the needed crew and players, he and Sestero taking the plum roles.   
The film then follows a rather predictable path - scenes where lines are fluffed or forgotten, OTT acting, clumsy and non-intended actions, conflicts and arguments between characters both in front of and behind cameras - if it hadn't been based on what had really happened you could have guessed much of it anyway. 

When the film is completed, well over schedule, it gets its first public airing - and the audience's reaction is.......well, you can guess that too.

The film contains fleeting appearances of a few equally-statured names as Franco J., though I did miss most of them. I was also particularly disappointed not to have recognised Megan Mullally as Sestero's mother, in just the one scene. 

The film did raise in me a couple of glimmers of smiles, but no more than that. I think that not having been even aware of  the original 'The Room' played against my ability to appreciate this particular film. 
Incidentally, over the final credits there are parallel shots shown in split-screen, of scenes from the original 'The Room' and the equivalent scenes recreated for this film, showing the pain-staking attempt Franco has made to duplicate the original, and I have to say that he's done a remarkable job.  

I didn't know James Franco already has such a full body of directing experience, and here his expertise is fully evident, particularly as he takes one of the two central roles as well.
I also wasn't aware of his brother, Dave, as being an actor, though I see that he too has quite a substantial history, and this will possibly be his most central part to date.

I'm not sure how well-known 'The Room' is outside the U.S.A. (or even to what extent it's known at all there!) but I think knowing about it beforehand would be a prerequisite to giving 'The Disaster Artist' some traction in order to enjoy it fully.  As it was, despite having some mildly amusing moments, my overall feeling was that I ought to have been entertained more..................6.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Film: 'Star Wars - The Last Jedi'

It would be wrong to say that I've despised the 'Star Wars' films. I've just never been moved by them. Having seen them all on the cinema screen, my feelings are still very much the same as when I watched that first one back in 1977 - some disappointment, rather more boredom, and even more confusion - plus the questioning "Why all the fuss?" However, I do recognise that a sizeable proportion of cinema-goers are in thrall to the series and it's as though treading on sacred ground to voice the slightest criticism of new releases.  
Having said that, I will admit that this latest has rather more substance than most of its predecessors, though it could have been mightily improved by being shorn of at least 30 mins. Two hours and a half is bloating it beyond what it will take, at least to hold my interest for all that period.

I shan't attempt to precis the story for the very good reason that I couldn't follow it beyond 'goodies' v 'baddies' with, inevitably, characters masquerading as the former turning out to be on the other side and v.v. 
The cast here is more interesting than, perhaps, it's ever been. Aside from the poignant and quite substantial role for the late Carrie Fisher (going out on something of a deserved 'high'!), there are major parts for Oscar Isaac, and (I didn't know he was in it) Benicio Del Toro, as well as Laura Dern (mercifully here not screwing up her face at any point into a 'gurn'!) Then there's now-regular John Boyega (why did he have to speak with an American accent when others in cast spoke with clipped 'received' English pronounciation?) - as well as British stalwarts Andy Serkis and Warwick Davis. 
Major female role is taken by Daisy Ridley, reprising her part in the previous film, as also is Adam Driver.
Presiding over all, however, is the irreplaceable and statesman-like presence of good ol' Mark Hamill.

This is director Rian Johnson's first feature film that I have seen, and there's no denying that he handles it all with the assurance of someone more experienced - but, Jeez, what a racket for a goodly proportion of the film!    

I said last time that I was giving up on the series as they don't bring me anything special enough to justify the investment of time and money. This film doesn't change my attitude, though I do rather wish the series would now lie down and go to sleep - permanently............4.




Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Film: 'Brigsby Bear'

Were it not that I thought this original story had some potential, I might have otherwise given this a miss. Bit of a let-down then, that despite starting well, I felt any sustaining interest was largely squandered, most notably in an unashamedly crowd-pleasing finale.

Kyle Mooney (also one of the co-writers) stars as a twenty-something kidnap victim who was taken as an infant by a married couple (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) who raise him as their captive son. One presumes that they took him because they couldn't have children of their own - it's not explained. He's brought up to think that the air outside their isolated home (filmed in Utah) is toxic, he only being allowed out to go and sit on the roof staring in the night at stars and surrounding mountains while wearing a gas mask. His only window onto the 'world' is a contrived one that his 'parents' have made for him in their own warehouse by creating, with volunteer 'actors', a TV show, 'Brigsby Bear's Adventures', which he replays over and over on VHS video tapes - with the 'Bear' being a kind of Superman figure battling on behalf of the planet against an evil face-in-the-sun - with grottily primitive (and laughable) special effects - very 1950s - all of which he laps up with unconditional belief in its veracity! Then the police (led by Greg Kinnear) track him down, return him to his true parents (Matt Walsh, Michaela Wilkins) with his never-seen teenage sister (Ryan Simpkins) now 25 years later, and his kidnappers are clapped in prison.
The story is a tale of how he copes in adjusting to realising that what he'd been told about the world was a lie, and his utter incomprehension that others did not know of this Brigsby Bear TV programme. His social awkwardness on encountering others is evident and understandable, though everyone is aware of him through his release from his captors having been shown widely on TV news. This also makes others feel sympathetic towards him and his clumsiness in etiquette is never a cause for outright hostility, more one of curiosity, some amusement, and tolerance. His status as adult virgin is also, rather predictably, explored.

With that big papier-mache bear head (just one of a large number of the TV shows' props), I thought there might be some echoes of 2014's 'Frank' (Michael Fassbender) - but that earlier film was far superior to this.

This seems to be director Dave McCary's first feature film. I kept thinking that he was going out of his way to take the easy route and avoid challenges, particularly with that ending which I've mentioned.

Though occasionally silly, it's not a poor film by any means, though it does come within a whisper of being cloyingly sentimental, without actually falling right into it. I only wish it had been better than it's turned out...............5.5.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Film: 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer'

I'd been greatly regretting having missed this film through circum-stances on its original screen distribution six weeks ago. But then a Heaven-sent, belated, additional opportunity came my way and I seized it.

It's one of those profoundly disturbing films where I wished I'd seen it in the comfort of company and been able to discuss it afterwards. (The film's title becomes clear as it progresses - no animals are involved, only peripheral glimpses of a family dog, unharmed.)

Director Yorgos Lanthimos was responsible for last year's compelling 'The Lobster' (also starring Colin Farrell) and he's here pulled off another haunting feature, though much, much darker.

Filmed in Cincinatti, Farrell is a hospital surgeon, leading invasive operations, the film commencing with close view of two minutes of open-heart surgery (forewarned, I could avert my eyes for the duration) with a seemingly idyllic family life - wife (Nicole Kidman) plus teenage daughter and younger son. (We saw Farrell and Kidman together as recently as in this year's 'The Beguiled'). 
The surgeon has struck up a cordial but matter-of-fact relationship with a teenage boy (Barry Keoghan - creepily convincing), the son of a man he'd operated on previously (the subject of the open-heart surgery at the start). At first we wonder who this boy actually is and what is he doing being so friendly with Farrell - and why, indeed, is the latter letting him get so close at all. Slowly as things reveal it becomes creepier and things start to impinge on the surgeon's life and, crucially, on his family. It would be a spoiler to give any more away but, boy oh boy, it does venture into very dark territory! I was drawn in almost against my will but felt forced to keep watching, dreading the next turn, which only realised my worst fears. The tension is screwed up extremely tightly, it being clear that I wasn't the only audience member who was transfixed.

I must admit to some relief when it was over. Being put through an emotional wringer can leave ones nerves in shreds as well as being thoroughly satisfying. 

Farrell is excellent - this film confirms yet again that he can play vulnerable and fragile as effectively as hard-man or criminal. Kidman is also as good as she always is, though I felt that her role here was slightly underwritten, particulatly as compared with Farrell's.

Lanthimos' directing (he's also the co-writer) is exemplary throughout, could hardly be bettered, in fact. Time and again I was reminded of Kubrick (as well as some Hitchcock) in the roving camera work, up and down lengthy hospital corridors, with occasional long-shots, sometimes in silence.

A film that well paid off my yearning to catch it. Not a film for the faint-hearted or for those of a nervous disposition, but there's no doubt it's a film of disturbing (and grisly) 'significance'............8.






Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Film: 'Happy End'

You know that with a Michael Haneke film, if it has an up-beat title it's going to be heavily ironic. And so here too - though it's not so much a case of there being an  'end' as we being left to ask "So what happened next?"

The Austrian Haneke is one of the small handful of directors whose films I'd actively go out of my way to see, though we don't always get the chance to view his creations. Those we do have an opportunity at are tantalisingly enigmatic, usually deeply unsettling on some level, and always significant. Those films of his that I have seen - 'Cache', 'The Piano Teacher', 'The White Ribbon', 'Amour' - linger in my mind more than those of just about all other contemporary directors. However, his 'Funny Games' (1997) has seared itself in my consciousness as one of the most disturbingly horrifying films I've ever seen, though with all the violence (and there's a fair bit of it) taking place off-screen! (I refer to the original German-language version, not the American re-make of ten years later, also directed by Haneke, which I haven't seen). Twenty years later, 'Funny Games' still haunts me.

Back to 'Happy End' which is set in Calais, on the northernmost French coast (the location is significant). 
A multi-generational upper-class family is drawn through various circumstances to live together uneasily, prominent among which is Isabelle Huppert as a divorced, businesswoman-owner of a construction company, with troubled 13-year old daughter (correction: the girl is actually Huppert's neice. Thanks due to Rachel for her comment below) who has hacked into her father's computer account and is reading sexually- charged exchanges he's having with his new lover. Several members of this extended family make suicide attempts for varying reasons, not all having the same level of 'success'. One of them is the advance-aged grandfather who feels his time is up and wants to end his life, despite his family thwarting his attempts. Other family members have their own secrets and inter-familial frictions. So far so jolly!  The only non-French member of the cast is Toby Jones as an English family acquaintance, he also being the only one whose few scenes are in English, the rest of the film being, of course, in the Gallic tongue.

For some episodes, Haneke employs his trademark technique of showing a scene between players from a distance, out of ear-shot, we only being aware of the gestures of the actors, some of it argumentative, confrontational and, in one case here, violent. We don't know why or what was said - and it's often left unexplained. We are left to join the dots ourselves. But the method is always intriguing and it kept me hooked.

I ought also to mention that if there are any viewers of this as hyper-sensitive to the suffering of animals as I am, the film is preceded by a 10-min 'essay' on Haneke's methods, which includes brief shots of a few animals being killed, and though lasting maybe just one minute, I had to look away. When the film 'proper' starts the very opening shot is of a harmless little hamster being deliberately poisoned. Nothing else similar happens in the rest of the film. Hardly worth mentioning for some, I'm sure, but it did start me off on an uncomfortable footing.

I think the general consensus is that  'Happy End' may ultimately be not quite as remarkable as some of the director's other films. Nevertheless, despite my accepting that its lack of a clear conclusion might well infuriate some of its audience, as is the case with all the rest of Haneke's films which I've seen, I always feel that he delivers ones money's worth, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of other directors around today..................7.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Film: 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'

There have been more than one or two damning critiques of this festive-sounding film, and I'm not totally out of sympathy with them. The title ought to have been more accurately - 'The Man Who Wrote 'A Christmas Carol', which helped consolidate some of the Yuletide traditions which are still prevalent today.', but the ambitious title it's been given will just about do for shorthand purposes. 
I know a fair bit about Dickens' life (Peter Ackroyd's massive biography is a must-read for the writer's admirers) but I couldn't recall the true circumstances of his penning of this justly well-loved tale. However, I'm told that enormous liberties have been taken here with the historical facts. No surprise there then!

It's 1843 and Charles Dickens, feted after huge initial success, has seen his fortunes slump in the wake of three consecutive unsuccessful novels, and now he badly needs another 'hit' to come to his financial rescue. 
The young Dickens (must be about the first time I've seen him portrayed as clean-shaven) played by Dan Stevens in quasi-histrionic mode, and best known as 'Beast' in 2014's 'Beauty and....', is feverishly trying to come up with a workable idea in the weeks leading up to Xmas and (would you believe it?) fate comes to his aid in the form of people in his life dropping phrases, hints and usable names which his mind garners and puts together as a kernel of an idea for a shortish story appropriate to the season, he having little time available to come up with a viable plot on which to write and get it published while Christmas is still in the offing. 
His family of young wife (Morfydd Clark) and three little children get an unexpected visit from his father (Jonathan Pryce) and mother - which allows for the (too many) interruptions of heavy, miserable flashbacks of when his father (and rest of family) was taken away for debt while he, as eldest child though yet a young boy, had to work in a blacking factory with other similar-aged children.    
There's also the dour, real-life Mr Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) with all the characteristics of the book personage, who keeps popping up not just as an acquaintance but in his imagined fantasies too, acting out scenes from the eventual tale which Dickens then quickly commits to paper, the story being written for him rather than he having to work it out. He additionally meets in his imaginings, Marley, as well as the three ghosts, their appearances he similarly hurriedly has to write down.

The film seems to rely on the audience having more than a passing knowledge of the finished work, and perhaps they will. If they don't, then a lot of the references will have been wasted. (I've read 'Carol' more than any other Dickens work, perhaps around 20 times - though it is, to be fair, just a short story, excellent as it is).

The look of the film is perfect for what it is, but otherwise I found the product tedious with an unexceptional script, and an exceptionally mannered Dan Stevens in the Dickens role. Plummer's appearances as Scrooge, both in life and in imagination, are too frequent and overplayed, and even Jonathan Pryce as Charles Dickens Senior outstays his welcome, something I thought I'd never say about that actor.

I didn't find the Christmas mood particularly effectively captured. All those gloomy flashbacks and the quarrels with his printer and publisher as he comes right up to the deadline knocked the stuffing out of the turkey for me (the fact that I don't eat turkey is neither here nor there!) - though, mind you, the finished tale itself is likewise written with much sobering, thoughtful life-messages.  

Indian director Bharat Nalluri does what he can with the, to me, misguided material, though I felt his heart wasn't in it and it shows. I can't see this being added to the considerable pantheon of worthy Christmas films to be watched annually on Xmas Eve or on the afternoon of that very day. A Christmas cracker which lacks the crucial 'bang'...................4.5.  

Film: 'Beach Rats'

Largely unconvincing story of unemployed New York teenager (Harris Dickinson), one of a gang with another three similar youths, hanging around the beach and funfair looking for girls and smoking weed, getting by through pick-pocketing, and the occasional 'kindness' of strangers - only this particular young guy is leading a double life, at night hooking up on his p.c. with older men (not elderly) on gay websites for online 'chatting' and occasional meet-ups for quick sex. He hangs onto a girl who'd picked him up, thinking him sexy (which I couldn't see at all, though we'll let that pass - 'Beauty in the eye of.....' etc) and he indulges in a hot-cold relationship with her, while leading this private double life, even taking her home to stay overnight in full view of his quietly 'understanding' and protective mother (Kate Hodge) who doesn't approve of his male friends, and his stroppy little sister who's also engaged in a physical relationship. 
After maintaining this deception to his mates for much of the film, he opens up to them and tells them what he's been doing. Instead of asserting their 'macho' credentials by seeing who could outdo the others in homophobic put-downs, as I'd have expected to happen, their reaction is unbelievably relaxed about it, displaying little more than mild amusement - never mind that up till then he'd been like the rest of them, wanting "women, women, women!" He explains his conduct by saying that this is how he manages to obtain a reliable source of weed, and he'll do what it takes to get it, which they accept.
I can't deny that the film captures well the double-life that a lot of us have gone through to maintain a veneer of 'respectability' with our peers and equals by talking about relationships with girls either completely fictitious or, if the girls existed at all, inwardly praying that they weren't tracked down and interrogated so as to reveal the lie we had spun of a 'relationship'. I know it well, I've been there - growing up at a time when all gay acts were criminal, even in private, when as little as a misjudged touch on a knee could result in the loss of one's job, or much, much worse. But as far as this gang of four are concerned their only constraint is, as far as I could tell, their own opinions of each other - and, of course, there was no need for Dickinson's character to lie about the real person he's seeing.
Throughout the film I was expecting a sudden burst of violence to break out, and to that extent it did keep me tensed up.

This is director Eliza Hittman's only second feature film. She's still young and I'm assuming that this is one of the misfires that she'll encounter on her way to establishing her reputation as someone to be reckoned with - though it won't be with this...............4.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Film: 'Suburbicon'

The most uncomfort-able film I've seen in quite some years. I've yet to read a review that is defiantly 'kind' to it, and following a disastrous opening in America where it's quickly been withdrawn from cinemas, it gets a more limited screening here. All this despite it being directed by George Clooney, no less, and starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac. It did look really great from the trailer, I must say - more than interesting enough to entice me in to satisfy my curiosity.
All the negativities spouted about it seem to centre on its uneven-ness of tone and having too many strands - even a 'mess', some say. But it's not that at all. Disorientating it most certainly is.

Clooney has taken an early, late 1980s, script of the Coen brothers and (together with one Grant Heslov) has extended it and added layers - and this is where I think most critics judge that it misfires.

Set at the end of the 1950s, Damon plays a successful businessman living with his wife and 10 year-old son, and his sister-in-law, in a pristine, idyllic, storybook-like, small town enclosing a dream-creation of a perfect society. It starts off in a light tone but within five minutes something takes place which challenges the inhabitants' peace of mind, and within a further five minutes an event happens which hurtles us down to a very dark place.  One cannot say much more because the surprises come tumbling on top of each other. The initial levity tries to return now and again but now that we've seen the dark underbelly, from about halfway it's futile to pretend that it's not there and so the darkness is left just to rip its way to the end. Some of the unexpectedness is very unpleasant indeed, with some violence and blood - while the several suspenseful moments are handled with great expertise, with tension screwed up tight almost to screaming point.  
During the exposition we learn revelations about the central family, the attitudes of some of them - and far from questions being answered, the film concludes with more queries and imponderables hanging in the air than those with which we'd started - so not a film for those who like clean-cut endings.

It's a film that's going to haunt me for quite some time, so unsettling I found it. It clearly won't appeal to everyone and I can appreciate why it's engendered some of its hostility. But if you like a challenge and something to think about, even though having seen it you may be wishing you could get it out of your mind but can't, this is a film for you. Do I regret having taken the chance? Not at all...................7

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Film: Battle of the Sexes'

I truly loved this, and it's an emotion for which you don't have to be an ardent tennis fan (which I'm not, anymore) to share. Furthermore, being so hardly even helps, the essential drama being played out, not so much in the climactic tennis game, than in the battle of wills between superstar Billie-Jean King (ladies' championship credentials newly eclipsed by Aussie, Margaret Court) and her challenger, Bobby Riggs in 1973. 

I was a keen tennis watcher (and hopeless player) back in the 1960s when this spoilt teenage kid, a brattish upstart named Billie-Jean Moffat, came on the scene, the enfant terrible of the time, yelling her way to victory ("Oh NOOOOO!") through temper tantrums and unsportsman(/woman)like, immature behaviour, drawing boos from the spectators for her loutish, non-existent 'gamesmanship' - and paving the way for the yet more outrageously behaved John McEnroe. But it was she who had by then killed off any interest I had in watching the sport, something from which I have never recovered. (Incidentally, in this film nothing at all is shown of her displaying the childish playing antics which were then as much her trademark as her excellence at tennis).
Of course, everyone knows what a lovely LGBTQ icon King has now become - as well as being a personal friend of Elton, no less! (I take it that the brief inclusion of his 'Rocket Man' on the soundtrack is an acknowledgment of that fact.) 

I must confess to not having become aware of the subject at the heart of this film until some 20 years after it had happened. Apparently the ultimate game was televised live around the world at the time though I don't recall it. I dare say it must have featured in news programmes, though low-down on the list of matters of significant import.

The film starts with B-J.K. (Emma Stone) expressing disapproval that in an American tournament, the men victors will earn a prize eight times that of the women, on the grounds that male players are a 'better watch' and generate more public interest - despite the fact that ticket sales for both games are in about equal demand. King pulls herself, along with other female player-supporters, out of the tournament until this injustice is rectified. Now national news, it comes to the attention of former champion, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell), who immediately gets a bee in his bonnet about men being the better players and therefore deserve a higher scale of prizes. He is so incensed that he issues a challenge that he will play and beat any woman, putting up $100,000 of his own money as stake.  Newly-crowned women's champion, Margaret Court, takes up the challenge. (I wasn't aware of this at all until this film).

But while this is going on, the married, 28-year old King, finds, much to her own surprise, that she is quite suddenly attracted to her new hairdresser, Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) - their initial encounter while she is getting her hair done being quite beautifully realised. The  slow dawning on Emma Stone's face of her being attracted to another woman is something to behold.
The realisation of King's husband (Austin Stowell) that something is going on which he didn't foresee is excellently and sensitively portrayed, capturing the confusion and emotional turmoil as he doesn't know how to express his feelings, yet not wishing to give up on loyalty to his wife. I found this aspect particularly moving.

I must also register that Emma Stone's bespectacled likeness to whom she plays is quite remarkable, her smile having a particularly uncanny resemblance.

Then there's Steve Carrell, whom I only first noticed when he was playing second fiddle to Jim Carrey in 'Bruce Almighty' (2003). I'd never been a great fan of his, at least not until his extraordinary appearance in 'Foxcatcher' (2014) where he totally subsumed his scarily domineering role - and since then I recognise that he is indeed an actor of astonishing versatility. 
This role as Bobby Riggs is a tricky one to pull off successfully without it descending into cartoon-like silliness, looking back on it from over 40 years down the line, voicing male attitudes towards women which were very prevalent at the time - and which I can verify, some of it much to my own shame! Riggs wears the soubriquet of 'Male Chauvinist Pig' proudly on his sleeve, a 'badge of honour', opining that women belong in the kitchen and should give their energies to raising families. His own wife (Elizabeth Shue) can only take so much from him, more for his own pig-headedness than his general m.c.p. attitudes. 
His contention, frequently aired on radio, includes the belief that men being (generally) the stronger sex in muscle terms, it stands to reason that they will outclass women on the tennis court - and besides, women can't handle the mental pressure of it all! Of course, all this to King is like showing a red rag to a bull - and so she decides to take up the challenge.

Always hovering in the background is the watchful (baleful?) presence of the 'wholesome', baby-carrying Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), who is quick to pick up on King's infatuation (and more) with Marilyn, and she doesn't waste any time in not-so-subtly making her displeasure at their relationship known.
If this is an accurate depiction of Court's attitudes back in the 1970s, she certainly hasn't advanced at all since those days, as evidenced in her prominent opposition to equal marriage in Australia's recent referendum 'debate'.  

It's a busy film on the whole, thanks to some snappy editing - though the few scenes of genuine intimacy between King and her lover do threaten to develop into longueurs, which they thankfully don''t. The film gallops along pleasurably, feeling nothing like the two hours of its actual length.
I must also add that there aren't any overlong tennis-playing sequences. Even the climactic match is shrewdly put together with only a few of the salient shots shown - and excellently edited too.
The film also demonstrates that, despite their polarised views, King and Riggs had a surprisingly respectful and playful regard for each other.

Screenplay is by Simon Beaufoy, best known for the original 'The Full Monty', and it's a good, sharp script with scarcely a word too many. 

If I have one major qualification it's the character of Marilyn, King's lover. In many reviews I've seen Andrea Riseborough is given credit for her part in this role. I found the character insipid, such that I was confused as to why King would have been attracted to such a colourless personality. Though Emma Stone's high quality acting did bring me to the belief that she was, against the odds as I saw it, really attracted to this Marilyn, I found little emotional chemistry between the two of them. But obviously I'm out on a limb in thinking this. That was the only major defect for me in this film. 

The regular two-person team of directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (both also directing the rather fine 'Little Miss Sunshine' of 2006) take the helm here and I have no quarrel at all with their finished work. It's hard to see how it could have been improved, apart from my one personal reservation above.

All in all, then, a thoroughly enjoyable experience which I've no doubt will be shared by many................8.



Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Film: 'Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool'

When I first read about this story (which I hadn't known until a few weeks ago) I thought that it could make for a terrific film. I'm afraid that except for the final intensely moving minutes, it largely left me uninvolved, even rather cold.

The true story is of one-time, big screen star, Gloria Grahame (played by the wonderful Annette Bening - not looking much like the original, though that shouldn't get in the way) in her late 50s and towards the end of her life, falling for an amateur English stage actor of half her age, well played by Jamie Bell. Their romance begins in California 1979 and two years later she, while on an acting engagement in England, rather than stay in a hotel, decides to move in with Bell's family in Liverpool - a family including the conspicuously bewigged Julie Walters, who is required to give not much more than a one-note performance as the mother. (We recall Bell and Walters appeared together in the original 'Billy Elliott', the film on which the musical was later based). The action here keeps shifting (a little annoyingly for me) between 1981 and 1979 and back again numerous times.

You might guess that tender moments of love-making between the two main characters are interspersed with tumultuous rows, she taking repeated umbrage at any slight hint of his, however innocently expressed, that she might be a bit on the old side. She is clearly mentally fragile - and, as it turns out, not just mentally.

The whole viewing experience felt a bit constrained for me, despite the range of emotions demonstrated, particularly by Bening. It just didn't grip me to the extent I'd hoped. It's also one of those annoying films where much is spoken so sotto voce that I didn't have a clue what they were talking about - and when that goes for the two main actors it doubly surprised and disappointed me.

I've not seen any of director Kevin McGuigan's previous films, and after this one his is not a name which will by itself entice me to see further productions of his. 

I only first became aware of Gloria Grahame herself on seeing 'Oklahoma' (1955) in which she hopelessly 'over-cookied' her character. Later I caught up on some of her previous more famous b/w films from an era when she was rightfully feted. But after the 1950s her significant film parts were few, and her rather more numerous bit-parts in numerous TV roles were not solid enough to make a lasting impression.

As I say, I wasn't aware of this particular story being played out at the beginning of the 1980s, though I suppose that by then Grahame's name had so faded from public consciousness that it wouldn't have been a major news item to generate more than a modicum of interest.

I feel I ought to point my rating of the film upwards for the single reason that Annette Bening really does give it her all............6.5.



Monday, 13 November 2017

Film: 'Paddington 2'

I'd thought the first 'Paddington Bear' film (2014) just okay, though nothing to get really excited about. No such indifference with this sequel - I absolutely loved it! The visuals and the storyline inventiveness are astonishing, all the way through with minimal lapses. And I haven't laughed so much at a film comedy in a long, long time. It wasn't just me, the entire audience seemed to be in uproarious mood. A sheer pick-you-up tonic to counter the blues!

We once again find Paddington (created by the recently-deceased Michael Bond - and voiced magnificently spot-on by Ben Whishaw) still living in an affluent London suburb with the same family (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters) and with the neighbours familiar from last time, plus a number of new additions. In minor or cameo roles there is a veritable roll-call of British actors of film, theatre and TV over several generations - plus Brendan Gleeson as the scary, hard-man prison chef who makes all the other inmates cower with a mere glance. 
Sometimes adding so many recognisable faces to a film betrays a sense of desperation in wanting to hold the audience's attention when the material is too weak or not funny enough to do the job. Not so here. It's a non-stop delight from beginning to end.
The plum acting bonus present in this is Hugh Grant (and what a hoot he is!) playing the dastardly villain - a pantomime villain, true, but perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the film.

The plot is simple enough, Paddington finding that an antiques shop has a pop-up book about London which he's set his heart on to buy  and send to his Auntie back in Peru, but he can't afford it yet. While it's being kept for him, Hugh Grant, playing a former big-name actor now reduced to appearing in dog-food commercials, hears about the pop-up book, knowing that it uniquely contains the clues to the location of a literal treasure chest, so he has to get hold of it himself. It's then a matter of Hugh Grant attaining ownership of the book by devious means and Paddington trying to get it back to send his Auntie.

Director Paul King, who also directed the first film of three years ago, directs this with considerable panache, not slacking his grip for one moment and coming up with surprise on surprise.

Please don't let the presence of Hugh Grant put you off. I know some actively dislike him (I've always found him quite endearing) but in this, as in his marvellous portrayal in 'Florence Foster Jenkins', he goes well outside the former same foppish, bumbling character he always seemed to play in films up until a few years ago - and which I also liked, by the way. But how many times has he played a 'nasty'? Rarely, if ever. But here he seizes the chance with relish and with both hands, he being possibly the most memorable aspect, among many others, of the entire film!

Btw: I must implore anyone who sees this not to exit the cinema before the final credits. You don't have to wait long for a killer of a surprise during those end credits which I can practically guarantee will send you home with a mile-wide grin on your face. 

I liked this so much that it had actually crossed my mind to award it an '8', but an inner voice started to nag at me, -"That would be just silly!" It may not be so silly when I say that this film could well end up in my Top 10 of 2017. So far it's probably the surprise of the year!...............7.5



  

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Does anyone else watch 'The Young Turks'?

For the last few years I've been getting a lot of my American political input from YouTube - a daily dose of satire and sarcasm from the likes of Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah. But for some months now, for more straight 'objective' (I know some will scoff at the use of the word) reporting I've been increasingly turning to 'The Young Turks'. I'm just curious as to why I don't think I've ever seen TYT mentioned in anyone's blogs. Is there some reason why I ought to be cautious about them? - 'cos from what I see they look pretty darned 'good' as well as entertaining. Is someone about to shatter my positive opinion?  If so, can anyone suggest an even better source available to non-American audiences for news fitting for an ageing, politico-minded progressive?   

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Film: Murder on the Orient Express'

In the Summer when I first heard about this film I was aghast. "Oh NO!", I thought. "Did this film really have to be re-made when Sidney Lumet made such a wonderful job of it in 1974?" And then finding out that it was Kenneth Branagh's brainchild to re-do Agatha Christie's classic novel, I dismissed it as being one of his 'vanity projects', though I knew I'd still have to see it.

It's clear that anybody who is not familiar with the original film version will enjoy this more by not automatically making mental comparisons which, I found, in virtually all respects, favour the earlier one. I do retain a particular affection for the Lumet, having seen that original at least three times on the cinema screen shortly after its release, and maybe half a dozen times since on video. In fact I'll declare more than that. When I last compiled a Top 50 list of my all-time favourite films (admittedly over 20 years ago), the 1974 version featured on it. I'm inclined to think that were I to update that list now it could yet maintain its place there.

That is not to say that this new version doesn't have its merits. Far from it. On the whole I was quite impressed by what Branagh's done, changing details - such as having more scenes enacted outside the train. However, the downside of that is that it loses the trapped-in, claustrophobic atmosphere which pervaded the earlier film.

Now a brief mention of the stars, too many to single out apart from Kenneth B. himself (director of this film, too) presiding over all with his circus-ringmaster (and scarcely believable) distractingly extravagant moustache. I felt Albert Finney as Poirot in 1974 was astonishing and remarkable, not adjectives I'd apply to Branagh in the same role, though he doesn't do at all badly either.

This new film has a galaxy mixture of big and middle-ranking stars, maybe not quite as many names of the then first rank that the 1974 film boasted, but nevertheless, this must be the most notable ensemble of big names appearing in one film since........well, since 1974. (Afterthought: Perhaps Branagh's own 'Hamlet' of 1997 runs it close for star-heavy appearances.)

I felt the screenplay was not as lucid as in the earlier film, the interviews which Poirot has with each of the suspects in turn being patchier and of unequal weight, and a bit more confusing too.

I simply cannot omit mentioning the soundtrack. The 1974's music is one of that film's true 'stars', tracks that have rightly become classics and occasionally feature in concert programmes, particularly the title credit music and waltz. When I hear them they still give me the goose-bumps. Written by the late (and gay) classical composer, Richard Rodney Bennett, I think it's one of the most truly marvellous film soundtracks of the last 50 years or more.
Now for this new version, Branagh has turned to his regular composer-collaborator, Patrick Doyle, whose music, I'm afraid, I've never thought that much of - and here what he's written is nothing like as memorable as is Bennett's.

Despite my qualified verdict I did like this film more than I thought I would. I'm sure it'll cause raised eyebrows when I award it a higher rating than I did for yesterday's 'Call Me by Your Name'. But so what? Too bad. I enjoyed it more...........7.













Film: 'Call Me by Your Name'

What on earth is wrong with me? Why is so much lavish praise being heaped on this? One recent reviewer on IMDb has described this as the best film he has ever seen! The highest commendation I can come up with is that it could well be in my Top 1,000 films - which itself is hardly 'poor' status, indicating that I rate it higher than at least 80% of my viewings. 

Set in Northern Italy, 1983, Armie Hammer plays an American research assistant on a visit to a professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) in Greco-Roman history, who lives with his translator wife (Amira Casar) and 17-year old son, Elio (Timothee Chalamet) in a large country house surrounded by orchards and vineyards. The young one has a hot-cold relationship with his girlfriend (Esther Garel).
After Hammer arrives there's a very slow-burn awareness of mutual attraction between him and the son, something the older man is the more reluctant to acknowledge at first. In fact the very first contact between them which is more than just a casual fleeting one, doesn't arrive until halfway through the film.  
I think the general tenor of film was purporting to conjure up a feeling of langour, reflecting the geographical location in Summer season. I think of Bertolucci and Antonioni in particular, as well as Pasolini, who succeeded in capturing that lazy, sun-drenched ambience so unique to Italy. If that was what director Luca Guadagnino was aiming at I'm not sure he got quite there, though it's true that he has caught well the underlying restlessness of the younger male's burgeoning sexuality. If his aim had been to put that latter aspect centre-stage, then I have to admit that he achieved it.

I didn't find the story all that interesting. Maybe I felt a bit unsettled at seeing the attraction played out between a 17-year old, appearing every bit as young as his character, and a man looking at least twice the younger one's age (though Hammer is actually only 31!). Perhaps it's my own ultra-conventional upbringing which needs to be revised in the head.

Screenplay (based on novel by one Andre Aciman) is by none other than the revered James Ivory himself - and who, it's been mooted, wanted to direct, or at least to part-direct, the film itself. If he had done so I would have expected him to have injected it with a touch of the magic which, I sadly feel, it lacks.

I can't imagine this film enjoying a long-life in my memory bank. In fact, now the morning after, it's already beginning to fade a bit.
Yesterday I'd settled on giving it a rating of '6', but now realising what a rarely-heard story we see on film which it is, I'll nod to that aspect and push it up a semi-notch...............6.5.




Thursday, 2 November 2017

Fondest of farewells to my most beloved Noodles

Taken 6th Oct 2017
Just returned from having had my lovely little Noodles put to sleep. Aged 15, he'd been having trouble with horribly distended tummy since July. Vet told me 6 weeks ago that little, if anything, could be done for him. So this dreadful day had to arise sooner rather than later.
He'd hardly eaten or drunk anything for 3 days and, as far as I could see, had done no wees or stinkies for even longer. Then today he started making a wailing noise every so often, clearly being in pain or at least quite some discomfort. Must have been blocked up at his back end. Tried washing him there with a warm, wet cloth, hoping that he'd be able to release something, but to no avail.

Vet examined him and she gave the verdict that the kindest thing I could do would be to let him go. Although in my heart I knew that is what would be said, when I heard it I started weeping freely. 
I was allowed to hold him as he was injected in a foreleg. He was quiet, no struggle. He went cold very quickly, and after listening for a heartbeat she whispered "He's gone". I stroked him, kissed the top of his little head, and thanked him.  

I'm numb.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Worry time with Noodles

Just three and a half months since losing my very dear, still daily missed Blackso:-

 http://raybeard.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/journeys-end-for-blackso-goodbye-my.html)

I've great concern now for Noodles, 15 years old (above pic taken six years ago). His tummy suddenly ballooned in July after untypically drinking a lot of water, and it's not going down. He can only carry himself with great difficulty, having to lug around all that weight. Vet says that at his age there's little that can be done for him. They did give me a week's supply of tablets but it made no difference. He's unable to jump more than a few inches and yesterday got stranded on the sloping roof outside, not being able to jump back up onto the kitchen windowsill to make his habitual window entrance. With the aid of a set of steps outside I managed to get hold of him and bring him back in through the downstairs door. His crying when he found he'd been stuck out on the roof had been pitiful. 
I dare not leave the kitchen window open now, day or night, even though it's also used by Patchie, my other remaining cat, for going in and out as he wants. This situation is also starting to disrupt my cinema-going plans, so I'm not able to view all I want to in good time to post a review before it gets stale. 
I'm having to play it one day at a time until the situation resolves itself. Noodles gives an alarming and sudden cry every so often indicating that he could well be in pain. Looks like this can only end one way. Troubling times.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Film: 'The Death of Stalin'

Another of those films I hoped I'd like more than it turned out to be. A reputedly 'biting' comedy which did manage to draw maybe four or five laughs from me despite my not finding it anything like as funny as many of the large audience did.

Director Armando Ianucci (and co-writer, along with David Schneider) is one of this country's foremost and well-regarded satirists, though apart from his 'Alan Partridge' radio and TV shows and one feature film (all of which I found immensely amusing), I've never quite managed to get onto the same wavelength with his other creations. Even his well-received, sardonically political feature film 'In the Loop' (2009) left me largely unmoved.

Here he's come up with a comedy around the sudden death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 and its immediate aftermath, with the undignified shambles of leading Russian politicians jockeying for power and influence in the continuing Communist administration.
He brings together a host of (mostly) established British actors - Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs, Rupert Friend, Paddy Considine, Paul Whitehouse - all speaking in a range of British accents, reflecting the fact that Russian accents too are multifarious. All these are near-eclipsed by the clownish presence of Steve Buscemi, here playing Nikita Krushchev who, despite haplessly floundering, is still very much his own man, and who would three years later, succeed to the topmost 'job'.

It's largely a farce - verbal joshing and needling and some knockabout stuff - but what makes this very different is that it's set against the horrors of Stalin-era brutality - torture, imprisonment, summary 'justice' with immediate executions. We see some grisly scenes though they are not quite overplayed, being merely sufficient to give an idea (if we hadn't already guessed) of the sort of things that did go on. 

The film is a tightrope act between humour and horror, the latter clearly intended to 'point up' the other. For some it seems to have worked. I only wish it had done so for me, the nasty taste left in the mouth lingering just too ominously for me to fully appreciate the surrounding lighter moments.

Female presence is thin - Andrea Riseborough as Stalin's daughter showing some dignity up against Rupert Friend as her drunken, megalomaniac and living embarrassment of a brother.
Then there's Olga Kurylenko as Stalin foe and concert pianist. But neither of these have anything like as much to do as the men.

Among the motley of undesirable characters it's Simon Russell Beale's 'Lavrentiy Beria' who carries the most weight and authority and is the most terrifying, someone whose mere slight nod can signal the end of a foe. 

I will give the film one thing - it's very different from anything else I've seen, so it scores well for originality. But whether it all comes together as a cohesive, satisfying entertainment I'd find more problematic to maintain. A lot of it does work. For me just as much of it didn't - which doesn't mean that you'd agree.................6.



Friday, 20 October 2017

Film: 'The Party'

Loved this! Don't know why I should be attracted to films which feature a brace of squabbling individuals, particularly those superficially maintaining a strong, loving relationship but, once what is under the surface is revealed, they demonstrate themselves to be people who will readily 'scratch the eyes out' of  their partners as well as of all those around. I find it most entertaining to witness, often hilariously so. Perhaps it might have something to do with my never having been in such a position myself, and if I had experienced it I would find it more painful.  

Sally Potter, a director/writer never to be ignored ('Orlando', 'The Tango Lesson') comes up trumps again with this latest which, at a mere one hour ten minutes, must be about the shortest main feature I have ever seen. If I wish it had been just a little bit longer, even just by a quarter hour (and how often do I say that?) I have to admit that it finishes at just the right moment. 

Set in real, continuous time, and filmed in b/w, it features just seven players in the single setting of the home of married Kristen Scott Thomas with hubby Timothy Spall, the latter silently morose, drinking and playing jazz records, while she is single-handedly making preparations for the expected gathering to celebrate her elevation to the post of government minister. The invited guests start to arrive - a marvellously acid-tongued Patricia Clarkson, with husband Bruno Ganz who keeps inappropriately spouting New Age aphorisms which she wearily dismisses as claptrap - their relationship is clearly already well withering. Then a lesbian couple, Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer, the former expecting triplets (!) - and then finally, a nervy, coke-snorting Cillian Murphy, arrives, apologising for the delayed arrival of his wife. 

Formal courtesies are exchanged and social dignities are aimed at -  until Timothy Spall makes a disclosure which may explain his taciturnity - and then things rapidly begin to unravel, not just for him but impacting on every one of the group - and fur starts to fly!

It took about 15 minutes for my first smile to arrive, and a few minutes later came the first of my many laughs - and they then came thick and fast. (I have to say that a good number of the large audience were well ahead of me in this respect). I was thoroughly entertained by watching these characters haplessly trying to maintain composure, though with futility. I thought the script was strong, the acting as near-perfection as one could wish - I'd single out both Kristen S.T. and Patricia Clarkson in particular - but, oh, I do wish it had gone on just a little bit longer. 
It's one of those very rare films that left me longing for more, (which itself must be a first!). Having said that, I did make a well-satisfied, smiling exit......................8.





Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Film: 'Loving Vincent'

I so much regret struggling to keep awake during this - though I must stress that it had nothing at all to do with the film itself, rather due to my body-clock which has gone totally haywire on my sleep patterns recently. If I'd maintained the desired alertness there's little doubt that I'd be rating it higher than I have.

A joint Polish/British film (in English), this is a visually unique experience - yes, it really is exactly that. Set one year after the death, a suspected suicide, of Vincent Van Gogh in 1891, a young man (Douglas Booth) has been given a sealed letter written by the late artist (Robert Gulaczyk) addressed to his younger brother, Theo, the carrier wishing to deliver it to its addressee in person, not realising that Theo Van Gogh had himself died a few months earlier. When discovering this he uses the letter as a pretext to investigate the circumstances of Vincent's demise, and in particular, the reason for the suicide, mysterious in it having taken place when witnesses say that he'd been in high spirits just before the event. He talks to a number of people who knew him or had a fleeting acquaintance.

A number of familiar names appear in the cast, among them Jerome Flynn, Chris O'Dowd, Saoirse Ronan, John Sessions - all featuring in supporting roles without major significant screen time. 

Now for the unique aspect. Most of the film consists of animated sequences, close to the painting style of Van Gogh, achieved through the hand-painting in oils of some 65,000 frames by a veritable army of film artists. The results are most impressive. These sequences are interspersed with black and white nearer-reality sections which are still given an artificial hand-drawn quality. In both types of creation the identity of the actor portraying the particular character depicted wasn't always straight-forward, but that was no great loss.

The story itself is simple enough, the investigation into what caused Van Gogh to take his own life - if indeed he did. 

It's a good film, I did recognise that, at least. It also doesn't require great knowledge of the artist and his life, or indeed of his works - though the latter would help in appreciating the animations.

I think that if I'd managed to hold my attention without it flagging I may have given this film a rating of perhaps '7', but I've got to judge it through my own flawed receptivity. I'm pretty sure that in any case I wouldn't have awarded it less than..................6.5.






Saturday, 14 October 2017

Another year - and I'm still standing! (Yeah, yeah, yeah!)

Yes, one more lap of life's circuit achieved, and no sign of any bell indicating last lap - or did I miss it?

Sharing this date (Sun, 15th) with the excellent, younger blogger, RTG, (arteejee.blogspot.co.uk) I wish him lots and lots of happy returns for today, with a fervent wish for some alleviation of his health trials - and ditto for the latter directed towards his very own great and good wifey, Anne-Marie ('Warrior Queen') too. (frommybraintomymouth.blogspot.co.uk)

I have my own health issues, of course - who doesn't? - but must be thankful that mine are not as incapacitating as those of many are, particularly for others around my age. So, praise be to the 'gods' for that, at least so far.

Advancing into Shakespeare's sixth of life's seven ages ("the lean and slipper'd pantaloon"), I'm managing to keep body in reasonable shape and, even though saying it myself, think I look a little younger than my actual age. However, there are still the visible effects of the tripping accident, now all of 15 months ago, when I went down and bit the concrete, 're-arranging' front teeth. 
My dentist has done all she can within the National Health Service range i.e. all that is required for health reasons, but what remains yet undone is still conspicuous each time I open my mouth. Apparently, because further correction would be required purely for 'cosmetic' reasons of appearance it can only be done privately - and the cost of repairing just the one main front tooth is prohibitive, for the moment at least. 
I only mention it to excuse my failure to show my 'gnashers' in the latest pics - something I have to remember daily not to reveal whenever I'm talking to others - or just smiling. Not a pretty sight! - and so distracting for the person I'm addressing.

The pussies below are, of course, Noodles and Patchie - Noodles , the upper one in the middle pic, is causing me particular concern in that his tummy has ballooned since he took to drinking a lot of water and milk quite suddenly a couple of months ago, almost certainly due to kidney trouble. (His condition doesn't really show up in the photo.) The vet says that at his age of 15, little can be done for him. However, he doesn't appear to be suffering unduly even though when he wants to move he now has to waddle like a duck, carrying all that hog-like weight - and he's unable to jump up to anywhere, even just a foot or so, sleeping most of the day on the carpet.

These were taken just a few days ago, with apologies that they seem to be a bit fuzzy:-



  




So, see you again on my 72nd - though in the interim there ought also to be quite a few more film and misc blog postings.