Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Film: 'Their Finest'

Having moaned in my last post about how weary I'd become of watching WW2 films, here comes another one. I'd been under the impression from what I'd read, as well as from the trailer, that this would be a lighter take on the subject of the war, and it is, in fact, a refreshingly different one. However, despite a number of gently comic moments, I wasn't expecting the central romance to be quite so dominant in the storyline, and that did tend to dull my appreciations. If I'd been in a more generously receptive mood I might have valued the film more.

It's the early 1940s following the Dunkirk evacuation and the London blitz is ongoing, when the order goes out from Churchill's war cabinet to create a propaganda film showing British stiff upper lip, doughty determination and resistance against the Nazi onslaught. as well as depicting active participation by ally USA in the struggle to make that involvement more palatable to an American audience.
Gemma Arterton plays a scriptwriter who is drafted in to assist with the film, working with others including Sam Claflin (a name I didn't recognise but discovered that he'd been in 'The Hunger Games' films). Their initial working relationship is a testy one, though you can guess the direction in which it's going to go. The mindset of the company is that the assistance of women is only needed because most of the men are away fighting. But once the war is over........

Bill Nighy plays one of the actors in the film-within-the-film, a droll presence and, for me, always a welcome one despite his ever seeming to play the same character no matter in which film he appears. This is a more substantial part than we normally see him playing, though still on the 'bitty' side. He delivers lines desiccated in their dryness as only he can.
Also in the cast, in a much smaller role, is the fine Eddie Marsan, as well as Richard E.Grant as the surly, overseeing figure ensuring that the final product comes up to government requirements. In addition, in an uncredited, one scene, cameo role is Jeremy Irons, puling out all the stops.

The film deals with the tribulations of the film crew as they try to get their film accomplished while bombs are raining on London, the effects of which are, of course, devastating to both property and to lives. Meanwhile the romance between Arterton and Claflin plays out, which I must say I found a distracting nuisance, and much less entertaining than the trials of their film-making.

The film is mainly shot in near-black and white, with scenes in sepia tint, as has become conventional now for war films. But we eventually do see full technicolour near the finish, in brief excerpts from the completed propaganda film.  

Danish director Lone Sherfig manages okay with her material. She did give us the very commendable 'An Education' in 2009, a film to which I awarded a rare '8'.

I'm certain that most others will have a better opinion of 'Their Finest ' than I can muster. Maybe my mood wasn't at the right setting from the start. As it turned out I did find it all a bit of a drag...........................5.5.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Film: 'Another Mother's Son'.

I felt I'd had more than my fill of WWII films and was going to bypass this for that reason. Not that I find them 'boring' as such, rather being made to see the endlessly repeated depictions of Nazi brutality upsets me more and more as I age. I don't need the reminding of what went on. Perhaps younger generations do. 
However, this film has an infrequently documented angle to it: viz the fact the Channel Islands was the only British territory which was occupied by the Third Reich. 

It's based on a - would you credit it? - true story of Lou Gould (Jenny Seagrove in a towering performance), a grocer's shop owner who has just lost her husband fighting in the war - or was it her son, thereby giving greater weight and poignancy to the film's title?
She takes in and hides an escaped Russian POW (Julian Kostov) who was one of a contingent of beaten up and starving prisoners brought to the island of Jersey to perform menial and arduous physical work. She gets him cleaned and tidied up, bushy beard shaved off, and gets him dressed in inconspicuous everyday clothes.
Although he speaks no English he must be a fast learner as the story starts in 1942 and by the next year he's already conversing in that language!

 The story involves anonymous snoopers who report suspicious activities to the German occupiers, presumably in return for favours - and John Hannah, working on the postal service tries to intercept and destroy these messages. There's also Ronan Keating (one-time lead singer of 'Boyzone') in probably his first major serious role in a feature film - as well as the living legend, Susan Hampshire, whom, I must admit, I'd forgotten was in the cast and whom I failed to recognise.  

It's a very serious film (directed by Christopher Menaul), not many laughs, shot entirely in appropriately subdued colours. The story is moving - though it's Jenny Seagrove in the main role who really carries the film with her subtly nuanced, highly professional performance. 

I don't have any regrets that I decided to see this though I'd now prefer to wait a long while before I see yet another war film. Oh, wait a minute. There's Christopher Nolan's 'Dunkirk' coming over the horizon soon, so I'll have to make an exception for that. In fact I've got great hopes for it, with starry cast and all - even though reports are that it's spectacularly harrowing.

However, for 'Another Mother's Son'.................6.5.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Film: 'I Am Not Your Negro'

Hard-hitting, moving document-ary using incomple-ted notes of James Baldwin (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) for a projected book on the lives and deaths of three of Baldwin's friends, Martin Luther King Jnr., Malcolm X and the lesser-known Medger Evers, all assassinated in the 1960s within a few years of each other.  

The exclusive subject treated by this film is the status of black men and women, specifically in America, aspects of which have not gone away even today, and using Baldwin's own words either through TV interviews and appearances as well as his written words eloquently recited by Jackson, and in addition, quite substantial extracts from a speech he gave at Cambridge (University, England) Students' Union. 
There's plenty of newsreel footage and stills from incidents of the time - demonstrations, police brutality and the still horrifying-to-see naked hatred directed at non-white citizens, a lot of the images being new to me, though the nature of which was well known. 
Brief extracts of feature films between the 1930s and 1960s illustrate ingrained attitudes fed to (overwhelmingly white) American audiences to make them feel better about the underlying injustices, and shifting any guilt feelings onto 'the negro problem'. Happy families and gaily dancing and singing young groups habitually exclude any non-white faces so that you'd think that true contentment only happens for - and worse, only is deserved by - whites.

Director Raoul Peck has assembled disparate sources into a coherent whole, showing that if anyone really thought that the situation had substantially improved over 50 years, that attitude might need re-examining. A good 'wake-up call', sadly still necessary - though how many times have we heard that kind of thing before? And not only in America. With Brexit having brought out the very worst of so many of us Brits, and along with our Imperial history including a prominent part in the slave trade, we can't have the luxury of smugly pointing at others. 
As far as this film goes, it merits being influential and widely seen ...................7.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Film: 'A Quiet Passion'

This is a film I liked a great deal, though I can say with confidence that it won't be to everyone's taste.

Some of us will have encountered at least one or two of Emily Dickinson's poems at some time or other. (I thought enough of them to have included one of hers among those I've committed to memory over the years). However, other than being acquainted with a very few of her writings I knew next to nothing of the life of the poetess. This film performs a very useful function in filling in that gap and, I must say, it achieves it in admirable fashion.

It couldn't have had a more sympathetic director than Terence Davies, who also wrote the screenplay, and this is but the latest in a long line of exceptional films from that source, a history of excellence in film-making that is practically unrivalled among contemporary directors.
Davies' special forte is in directing women in women-orientated stories, and once again, now with Cynthia Nixon (a name I didn't recognise though I see she's done considerable TV work) as Emily, and Jennifer Ehle as her sister, Vinnie, in an almost-as-substantial role, even though the entire focus is always on Emily. In this film with strong female emphasis, Davies almost excels even himself. 

It's the mid-19th century in Amherst, Massachusetts, when we first see a younger Emily (Emma Bell) at boarding school where she's already showing a degree of rebelliousness to her religious peers. On returning home to her family, the lack of religious bearings with which she was supposed to have returned infused, disappoints her father (Keith Carradine) while her mother (Joanna Bacon) maintains a disapproving silence. It's not that Emily goes so far as to voicing any atheistic propensity, which she emphatically does not, but it's her free-thinking spirit that concerns her father more - as well as her brother (Duncan Duff) - especially when she challenges the notion that the 'natural order' of things is that men are to be the leaders in society while women are to remain subservient and either non-controversial or silent What she sees as an injustice to her sex her father and brother see as obstinate and dangerous recklessness. Yet her father, though firm in his opinion, is not totally unsympathetic to Emily herself as his daughter. She finds a kindred 'wayward' spirit in (cousin?) Susan (Jodhi May) who has a witty rejoinder in every reply she gives. Parallel with this, Emily now has had some poems published in newspapers.

There is little 'action' as such in the film. (Nearly all of it actually filmed in Emily Dickinson's real house!) The most 'energetic' moments come when Emily confronts other family members for their behaviour, and her own refusal to conform with social conventions of the time. But the developments take on a serious edge when Emily becomes dramatically aware of her own mortality when she's confronted with severe back pain and starts suffering convulsive fits. Soon after this starts her own mother's health deteriorates, resulting in weepy episodes for her and her sister as well as for herself in her own physical decline.  
All the while she's becoming ever more reclusive, still writing poetry whilst perfectly comfortable in her spinsterhoood as she advances in years.

Some viewers may think that this speechy film may be too poised and calculating, both visually - some ravishingly so - as well as aurally. A lot of the scenes do indeed look like the players are posing for an artist to capture them or they are waiting for the photographer's flash. The camera will pan very slowly around an occupied room revealing only by degrees who's present there. Also, the conversations are very deliberate, each player waiting their turns for the other to deliver his or her line before making a pithy reply to it. Indeed, I was reminded more than once of Oscar Wilde - some of the ripostes are even right up there, almost to his standard. (Deliberately, I wondered? Was this entirely Terence Davies' own work or is there some evidence to show as to how such conversations were carried on?) But generally, I felt it worked a treat. 
I can also commend the use - or non-use - of music. Such as it was it was sensibly limited piano music or songs of the era, none of it being gratingly obtrusive. And instead of music we have the off-screen recitation of several of her verses.

I have to say that it's a terrific performance from Cynthia Nixon, and Jennifer Ehle's is just about as fine in a slightly subsidiary role. These two really carry the film, both deserving to be honoured for their efforts - as well as, of course, the incomparable Terence Davies himself, here at his best.............8.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Film: 'Free Fire'

Such a crying shame that, due to bus being stalled in clogged traffic, I only made it into the cinema a full 20 minutes after it had started - and the film is only an hour and a half long anyway. Probably the first time this has ever happened. Normally I'd have waited for another screening but this was the very final showing in an unaccountably short run of just one week - and for an eagerly anticipated film too. 
I had to see it by hook or by crook as it's the latest work of one of my very favourite of contemporary directors, Ben Wheatley, who's already given us such unusual and memorable films as 'High Rise', 'A Field in England' and, most notably, the highly original and unpredictable 'Sightseers' (one of my 2012 films of the year). Wheatley always has something fresh to say and with a novel approach - and this latest breaks new ground as well. 

I gather from the blurb that the action here takes place in Boston, 1978. The film is set just about entirely in a gloomy warehouse (the photo above doesn't reflect the all-pervading murkiness on screen) -- plenty of shadows to take cover in, which is just what is needed when about ten gangsters, including one young woman (Brie Larson) are arguing heatedly - the point where I came in  - before bullets start flying. Not seeing the start I didn't know who was who, what were the sides, what was the hierarchy within the rivalries and what they were feuding about, though the latter revealed itself to be a briefcase which must have contained a large sum of dosh. But as to the whys and wherefores I didn't have the foggiest. 
Apart from Larson the only other names in the cast which  I recognised were Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Patrick Bergin. Not that it helped much knowing their names as there's much facial hair on more than a few of them and, once the fighting commences in earnest, everyone makes for the cover of darkness. The next hour, apart from one lull, is almost all shooting, which must make it the most extended shoot-out I've seen in any film. I was wondering how many bullets could have been expended in the time - 200? Maybe more.
Even though I wasn't clear on which side was which, the action results in multiple gunshot wounds to just about everybody. (I don't think any of them were killed outright on first shot.) They spend the time dragging themselves along the floor seeking a more propitious place to aim at their adversaries while still offering cover. While bullets are whizzing every second or two there's much yelling, arguing, threats, insults and taunts. One might have expected it to get tiring to watch but I didn't find it so at all, even though, not having been witness to the establishing of the characters, I didn't know where my sympathies ought to lie. Actually it didn't matter all that much. I still liked it. There's very little visual dwelling on the many bleeding wounds on the several bodies, both expired and yet surviving, though hurting bad.

I really must see this film again from the very start. I can't see it preventing me from giving it my approval. As it is my rating must be a reserved, qualified one, and could well have been higher. Even so, it's a still very satisfactory score of...............6.5.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Film: 'Going in Style'

Second film seen in two days relying on getting much of its laughs from the fact that the main characters are of advanced age. Of course they can be, though surely not for that feature alone as that approach quickly loses steam. (I didn't laugh, chortle or, I think, smile even just the once). 

It was news to me to read that this is a re-make of a 1979 George Burns film, of which I'd never heard. This present version makes me curious to see the original.

The plot is simplicity itself. In New York, three retired gents find that their pensions, totally relied upon, have been frozen because of manufacturing relocations to outside America, resulting in very real threats to repossess their homes. They agree on a plan to recover their financial security by robbing that same bank.
Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin are two sides of the crime-intended triumvirate, and Sir Michael Caine, mouthy supporter of Brexit, takes the helm. ("I'd rather be a poor master than a rich servant" the multi-millionaire actor very recently opined, as he stashes his wealth in overseas havens to avoid the taxman.)
Also in the cast is Ann-Margret (whom I haven't seen for ages! - though she doesn't have that much to do here). Then there's Matt Dillon, as well as Christopher Lloyd (whose entire acting career seems to be based on mugging for the camera, and which always annoys me like hell) - and additionally, and very surprisingly for me, English actor-comedian Peter Serafinowicz.

There's very little that's original about this film. It verged on tedium a lot of the time, with that being exacerbated by background pizzicato strings telling you that, despite appearances, this is meant to be a comedy, so laugh, damn you!
Director Zach Breff thinks that a situation of three old geezers being bank robbers will carry him through to make it a droll entertainment without putting in much effort and with an unexceptional script. He's wrong. It's quite dull.

However, I must report that there were occasional shrieks of delight from some of the audience I saw it with, including a lady directly in front of me. God only knows why. Were they laughing out of hope or out of desperation? 

You might find it funny. I only wish I had..........4.5.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Film: 'The Time of Their Lives'

Not quite as displeasing as I'd been dreading, this is a bit of a strange one. It's another of those films which have become more frequent in recent years, one that seems to be directed at an audience of more 'senior' age.
It's being marketed as a bit of a rompish comedy but it's a tad more subtle than that. In fact the 'funny' moments are, at most, only slightly amusing. But I did detect a not unattractive poignancy in it too.

Joan Collins (whom I've not seen in a substantial role on screen since Steven Berkoff's excellent 'Decadence' of 1992) is a faded and recently widowed Hollywood star. Now with her fame and wealth behind her, she's resident in an old people's home somewhere in the south of England. 
On a coach trip to the seaside she meets up with Pauline Collins (no relation), a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage (to that decades-old stalwart of stage and screen, Ronald Pickup), where she is haunted by the death of a son who drowned in infancy. The two Collins abscond from the coach and Collins J. wiles her way to get a free pass for both of them on a ferry to northern France where her recently deceased ex-lover is due to be buried, she being determined to attend the funeral. While Collins J. trades on her former glamour (though hardly anyone remembers even her name) the unglamorous Collins P. goes reluctantly along with her - amid much bickering. 
Then they bump into Franco Nero, that 'phwarr' star of scores of films and for whom I at one time had the hots. (Still looking good, facially, now in his mid-70s, though his body, which we see totally unclad a couple of times, has now gone to flab, pot-bellied and lard-arsed). The Nero character, who lights up Joan C's eyes when she finds out  that he's wealthy, is more interested in Collins P. much to the chagrin of her acting namesake who was hoping he'd appreciate a scintillating, one-time film star more than her near-dowdy, down-at-heels companion.
Btw: Joan Collins is not afraid to be seen without her make-up, (believed now to be approaching 84), most especially in the film's conclusion which gets unfortunately, though predictably, heavily laden with sentiment

There were interesting cross-connections in this film I noticed which others may not. The film also features Joely Richardson, daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and late (gay) director, Tony Richardson. Franco Nero starred in 'Camelot' (1966) on the set of which he met Vanessa R. and they had an affair, marrying some years later. However, in this film, Nero and Joely Richardson don't share any scenes together.
Then there's a scene in a cabaret-restaurant where Joan Collins takes the microphone to warble out the song 'Who Can I Turn To?' written by her one-time husband, Anthony Newley, from his and Leslie Bricusse's musical, 'The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd'. The choice of song must, surely, have been hers.
There may have been further links which I missed, but it made the whole enterprise more interesting to me than it otherwise might have been.

This appears to be director Roger Goldby's only second feature film, most of his work to date having been for TV. He does okay with this. I thought there might have been a few jarringly embarrassing episodes as much of the humour, such as there is any, has the physical foibles of aged people as its easy target. But I hardly ever cringed, even if I did get close to it a couple of times.

A pleasant enough film, but really only one to give a very modest lift to a couple of hours.................5.   

Film; 'Ghost in the Shell'.

I'm more than a little weary of these futuristic comic-book capers - not that they are poorly made, because they aren't, and they are nearly always visually arresting, but because they have nothing at all new to say. We've seen it all before, and multiple times - and we're really supposed to say "Wow! That was a surprise!"? Come off it!

Set in a future Tokyo-esque metropolis looking very like a 'Blade Runner' city, though now with giant hologram advertising, Scarlett Johannson's brain, following extensive injuries to her body, is transplanted into a cyber-body. Juliette Binoche is the one doing the surgical procedures. (Btw: Why is it that in so many futuristic films one still sees smoking routinely carried on in the age-old way - and the Binoche character isn't alone in this. I should have thought that with all the scientific advances made there would have been some alternative way found by then of providing for those who are dependent on a nicotine fix for functioning. Perhaps by having it delivered directly into the blood stream, or injected straight into the brain, some method which doesn't pollute surroundings?)  
Johannson's historical expertise is needed to track down and destroy - would you believe it? - villainous characters intent on world domination. But there's a glitch in the works. The memories of past life that she owns, are they genuine or have they been implanted to expedite the ends of her superiors? How does this affect her behaviour? Will it make her more efficient? Do you give you a fuck? There's noisy weapon-combats galore for those who get a thrill out of such, guaranteed to stop you dozing off. Trying to follow, or even identify, the thread of a story is a waste of mental energy. I doubt if you're intended to. It hardly matters anyway. It's a film for those who need some brainless fodder to chew on, and there are enough of that audience in the world to ensure this film doesn't make a loss.
There's been some interesting sidelong talk about Johannson's main role being given to her as an American, whereas the original 'heroine' figure was Japanese. I doubt if it's worth working up a sweat over, though seeing a Japanese female fighter might have given it a bit more badly-needed interest.

All much-treaded ground, this Rupert Sanders-directed film only just managed to hold my attention, due entirely to its visuals which are rarely short of interesting, and it means you don't have to concentrate on the sound that's blasting out your ear-drums. For that reason I mark it rather higher than I think it deserves, as well as the fact that it clearly meets its requirement to provide the entertainment it promises to those who like this sort of thing, even if it did ultimately fail to 'entertain' this particular viewer............4.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Film: 'The Lost City of Z'

Yet another true story! - but don't about half of today's films make that claim anyway? 

Although it's not my 'type' of film - I was partly expecting it to be somewhere between a serious Indiana Jones and a Rider Haggard yarn - I thought it might have been more thrilling than it turned out. It's more a tale of historical interest than anything else, of a story about which I was unfamiliar

Starting in the early years of last century and going up to 1924. it relates to a Colonel Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) of the British army who hears of the existence of a city with an advanced civilisation in the Amazonian forest, and feels a compulsion to 'discover' it and make it known to the world. He makes three expeditions with all the usual features one might expect - untrustworthy fellow-travellers, confrontations with natives, battles against the elements, we've seen it all before.
The intervals between his voyages are significant and spread over several years - the second intermission covering his re-entry into army life for active service in World War I in which he experiences the Battle of the Somme. Meanwhile his wife (Sienna Miller) bears, in the end, three children, his eldest son accompanying him on his final quest, having by then attained adulthood. His faithful companion on his travels is played by Robert Pattinson.

Photography (especially the jungle scenes) and acting are generally as good as one might expect, though I found it sometimes hard to decipher quite what Sienna Miller was saying in her under-the-breath deliveries.
Additionally, I was a bit dismayed to find that on the soundtrack, Ravel's 'Lever du Jour' from his 'Daphnis et Chloe' was used not once, which might have been acceptable, but no less than four times, which really is pushing it - and not even one of those occasions was a sunrise! That feature struck me as being just lazy.

James Gray directs (and is screenplay writer for) a longish film at 2 hours 20 mins, which I suppose can be justified as there's a lot to pack in, but I was never gripped to the extent of being eager to know what was to happen next. I don't think it'll be lodging in my memory banks for very long.................5.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Film: 'Elle'

Any Paul Verhoeven film is an event, and this one easily qualifies as being just that.
I'd been waiting to see this for weeks, such has been the 'buzz', but it's been showing at near-impossible screening times - that is until today, right at the end of its run, when it fortuitously  had a single morning matinee showing. So to go I was compelled.

Isabelle Huppert is at the heart of this French-language film, playing a divorcee living alone in a Paris house with her cat - and who, in the very opening scene, is subject to a violent assault and rape by a masked intruder. She has, of course, no idea who the assailant was.  Most films, after starting like this, would concentrate on her attempts to uncover the identity of her attacker - and so this film does too to some extent, but in doing that it goes off into most unexpected directions.  She has a past connected with a controversial and notorious event in her childhood which haunts her, and after this rape attack she does not report it to the police.
She is boss of a firm creating computer games, some grisly, with relations towards her staff being firm but sympathetic. She also enjoys a reasonably tolerant-friendly acquaintanceship with an over-the-road couple, including an ultra-religious young wife. However, when it comes to her own relations there's friction with all of them - her ex and his new partner, her mother and her much younger toy-boy also soon-to-be husband, her son and his shouty, expectant partner, as well as her imprisoned, advance-aged father whom she's virtually cut right out of her life.
There's an aspect of her personality that took me (and I'd guess nearly all of the audience) by complete surprise which puts a question mark over some of her conduct and attitudes. 

It's a story that defies prediction, Huppert's performance being faultless. It's more than just a thriller. I found, though, that now and again events and the conduct of Huppert's character did stretch credibility somewhat, though without actually snapping it.
I think at two hours ten minutes it was a good twenty minutes overlong (at least), but even so, Verhoeven keeps things moving ahead interestingly enough. 

By the way, I was a bit apprehensive in having seen Huppert's cat featured in the trailer, and every time the scene was in the house I was afraid that we'd see that her pet had come to an unfortunate end. If there's anyone who shares my particular mental trait I'm happy to report that no such fate takes place.

I'd been looking forward immensely to seeing this film. If, in the final analysis, it doesn't quite reach the heights I'd been hoping for it does come very close to it....................7.5.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Film: 'Certain Women'

An enigmatic film which is sure to exasperate those who dislike loose ends. This is a compendium of three disparate stories  - or, rather, slices of stories, since they are joined without their backgrounds having been established and all are left hanging in the air. I don't have much problem with this kind of film though I was close to asking "What was the point?"

Based on stories by a Maile Meloy (no, me neither) they are a trio of tales all set in Montana shown successively, with connections so tenuous they might as well have been non-existent, each story being around half an hour long. Then at the film's end there's a further scene from each, which barely takes any of them further at all.

First, a lawyer (Laura Dern) is acting for an irascible employee (Jared Harris) who is seeking compensation and whose dissatisfaction with developments causes him to take extreme action. (It sounds more interesting than it was.) 
The second story involves Michelle Williams (with husband James Le Gros) trying to buy a pile of sandstone from an elderly man living alone in an isolated bungalow. 
Finally, and potentially the most interesting of the three, a single woman (Lily Gladstone) who owns stables for four horses accidentally drops into an adult evening class in politics where she becomes more interested in the reluctant tutor (Kristen Stewart) than in the actual subject. 

Director, Kelly Reichardt, who also wrote the screenplay, makes no real attempt to weave the stories together, which is fair enough, though it makes those very slim connections seem imposed from outside to show some kind of token cohesion. It wasn't really necessary.

Watching the film was a fair enough experience, I suppose. I think what kept me from being bored was the expectation in each of the tales that something very significant was about to happen - which didn't. Not an obligatory watch, though neither would I class it as being 'bad'...........6.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Film: 'Get Out'.

What a cracker this is! If you like being 'entertained' and tensed up by watching a drama with a deeply disturbing undercurrent you won't currently find anything to touch this one. I saw it yesterday afternoon and since then it's haunted me, including having invaded my fitful sleep. What makes it even more remarkable is that it's also the directing debut of one Jordan Peele who is, additionally, its sole writer. His is a name to follow with considerable interest.

The unsettling starts in the very opening, pre-title credits scene - largely set to a car radio ominously and incongruously playing Flanagan and Allen's rendering of  'Run Rabbit Run' (they being two English music hall stars of long-gone yesteryear). After this chilling 'What's going on?' prologue the mood hardly lightens up at all, the tension being ratcheted up still further, notch by notch, till at points I felt near to screaming.  

Daniel Kaluuya is the boyfriend of Allison Williams and they go to visit her parents in rural Alabama for the first time, he having qualms about their not yet knowing that he is black, while her attitude is one of "Why should they mind?". During their drive a disturbing incident occurs foreshadowing what's to come, made more troubling by a curious encounter with the policeman investigating what happened.
On arriving at the palatial dwelling, things become markedly stranger still. There's something odd about the parent's demeanours  (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener), in no way hostile but peculiarly over-officious in their welcoming and camaraderie. She is a psychologist who specialises in hypnosis and even claims to be able to help him give up smoking. 
Adding to the strangeness of the parents, there's two non-white servants, one maid and one odd-job man/gardener, both of whose facial expressions and gestures seem at variance with what one might expect from people of their 'lower' ranking. Then a disruptive and hyperactive adult son appears who seems to be hell-bent on causing dissension with Kaluuya, to his parents' evident discomfort. 
The very next day, and not expected by the young couple, there's a large garden party being held in the grounds, the guests all being affluent, ageing and white - all white, that is, except for one conspicuous young man who has come as the partner of a lady some decades older than he is. One of the film's many turning points comes as the main Kaluuya's character attempts to strike up a conversation with this arrival - at which the chill deepens.

The story seems to challenge its audience to work out exactly what is going on with these very strange events. I thought I might have had it sussed out but when the big 'reveal' takes place, about an hour and a quarter into the film, it turned out that my guess was completely the opposite to the reality. 

This film is being regularly defined as 'horror' and though it does certainly have elements of that genre, to my mind it's closer to being a very taut thriller, replete with suspense and taking its cue from the unexpected and the unknown rather than displaying outright gore, the usual hallmarks of true 'horror'. There is actually some blood to be seen now and again, but at times of lethal contact between characters, especially in the grand finale of confrontations, it seemed to me that the film pulled back from showing the full bloody effects of these encounters. In fact I did wonder if the film had been cut at these points - perhaps by the censors, though I doubt it. But the effect of not going full visual throttle is to put the emphasis on the suspense rather than blood-soaked spectacle, and for that it is to be commended.

Once the revelation of explanation for the circumstances had been made I was afraid that the carefully built-up tension would be dissipated, with still another half hour of film to go. But the suspense is shifted and maintained enough to make me still dearly hope for a 'happy end'. I didn't want to leave the cinema feeling bad, the story having up to then gripped me so effectively.  

I did jump in my seat at two or three points in the film, though I think they were all cases caused by a sudden loud 'thud' on the soundtrack. That was a pity as I think I would have been just as (or more?) startled at those junctures without that auditory underlining, an adopted ploy which I see as 'cheating'.

Apart from the presence of the inestimable Catherine Keener, I didn't recognise any other names from the cast, though I now see that Daniel Kaluuya was in the justifiably well-received 'Sicario' too. (His playing the lead role in this 'Get Out', has recently given rise in some quarters as to the question of why, recently, are so many parts portraying black Americans being given to British actors? Makes a change for Brits being stereotypically cast as villains, I suppose.)

This may not be a film for those with, as they say, a 'nervous disposition', but if you can steel yourself to see it as I heartily recommend you do, I'm pretty sure that you'll be happy for having chanced the ride...........8.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Film: 'Beauty and the Beast' (in 2D)

It's been a lean time recently at the cinema in these parts so, to avoid the onset of withdrawal symptoms, I decided to give this a try, my being made curious largely by the shemozzle in parts of the world by its inclusion of (shock, horror!) a gay character. Quick, pass me the smelling salts! If it wasn't for entire governments getting into a tizzy on the subject I might well have given it a miss. 
In the event, as it turned out, I was agreeably surprised to find that the film wasn't at all bad. No, I do it an injustice - it was definitely on the 'good' side.

Let's get that 'controversy' out of the way first. It's the fourth-billed character who's a self-declared gay, one Lefou (Josh Gad), playing a 'Sancho Panza' sidekick-part to arch-villain Luke Evans' role, the latter trying to get Belle (to me, a rather insipid Emma Watson) to love him when in actuality he's only in love with himself - and anyway, she's by now in love with the Beast (Dan Stevens). I shan't waste time outlining the story which surely everyone knows, though I was impressed by how they made the Beast's face so expressive of a range of emotions, presumably, thanks to computer tricks.
Back to the gay thing. It's not a big role that he has, not much screen time, which he uses it to flounce around a bit, not exactly outrageously, but just a whisker away from being a caricature. When about half an hour into the film his 'boss' asks him why he doesn't take off with one of the many available (and apparently desperately thirsting for some lusty 'action') young ladies in the town, he baldly states that he is gay - but by no means yelling it and not making a big deal of it either. If you didn't know it was coming you might well miss the exchange. Anyway, the reaction of his boss is to give a slight moue of indifference. And that's about it - though there are just one or two slightly comic, though inoffensive, brief references to his sexuality later in the film too. Goodness only knows why there's been such a brouhaha about it. Well, I think I do know, actually. It's because for the first time (I imagine) in a Walt Disney film, which is supposed to provide 'wholesome family entertainment' there has been the inclusion of such an upfront gay character. The surprise to me is not that there now is one, it's more a case of "why did it take so long?"
Anyway, so much for that.

In addition to the named actors there is Kevin Kline as Belle's father in quite a large part. Haven't seen him on the cinema screen for ages - a welcome return!
Then, if one didn't already know, there are some big names who are visually revealed in the final credits as being the voices (some singing) behind various anthropomorphic utensils, dining objects and pieces of furniture. I did know who were in the cast but I didn't always match the voice to the actor.

The songs are mainly taken from the 1991 animation film (I preferred this new film version despite the earlier cartoon winning multiple awards) by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, the latter now being supplemented by the superior (in my opinion) lyric-writing talents of none other than Tim Rice, who always has something interesting (and often amusing) to say. Pity then, that so much of the words are hard to make out, particularly when there's group singing.
The songs are all played out suitably lavishly - especially 'Be our Guest' which has just about everything thrown at the screen without getting over-messy. I liked its presentation a lot. Exhilarating.

Director is Bill Condon who manages big set scenes with complete confidence, including those with many participants,  He's made some pleasing films over the years and I'd put this up there among the better ones of them.
It also ought to be mentioned that there's a great deal of swirling camera action which may tend to make some people dizzy. The entire film is busy both in action and camerawork and I do think that seeing it in 3D would give it a further 'plus'. 

If you were thinking that this film is unlikely to be to your taste I'd suggest you give it serious thought. It left me feeling elated, and I'm very pleased that circumstances finally leant on me sufficiently to give it a go.....................7

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Film: 'Toni Erdmann'

Touted as a comedy, I found this German film more oddity than humorous. It's mainly in that country's language, with some English and a little sporadic Rumanian - and it's just fifteen minutes shy of three hours in length! Even if seen as social commentary I found it quite hard going. It was nominated in this year's Oscar list as 'Best Foreign Language Film' for some reason that quite escapes me.

Peter Simonischek is the eponymous German resident who goes off on a whim to visit his executive business agency daughter (Sandra Hueller) who lives and works in Bucharest, where the film is very nearly entirely set. He turns up unannounced, much to her annoyance, getting in the way while she tries to carry on with her business negotiations. When he realises he isn't wanted he makes as if returning home to Germany, but shows up again at her business meetings and functions, this time sporting enormous black wig and protruding false teeth and dressed sloppily, introducing himself to her associates and friends as a lifestyle coach and describes her as his secretary. She's horrified at his lies but doesn't disabuse them of their swallowing his stories, never admitting that he is actually her father.
There's certainly potential for comedy in the situations though I confess that only once did I laugh and maybe two more times I smiled, albeit weakly.

Director Maren Ade is also the screenplay writer. I was never sure exactly what she was trying to achieve, and what the tone was intended to be. If it was supposed to appeal as being 'quirky' it was too seriously bizarre for that, not at all assisted by the very strange scene near the end with a party at the daughter's apartment when she spontaneously decides to make it a nude gathering, guests arriving and being surprised as she welcomes them stark naked at the door. Then the father arrives in a most peculiar 'costume' get-up and doesn't say a word. I just didn't understand it at all. Funny? Not really. 
The film's closing scene was, I assume, supposed to indicate that the daughter discovers the true worth of her father. If that was so it was clumsily executed. However, I can't be absolutely sure that that was the message we were supposed to take away. 

Despite some reasonably fine acting, I did find it an inordinately lengthy disappointment, and I remain bewildered as to why it's been getting some very enthusiastic reviews - perhaps more for originality of idea than for actual presentation...........4.5.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Film: 'Logan'

I did see the first 'Wolverine' film but not the more recent one. It hardly matters as the plot, such as any exists, is a standard one of grisly violence, bloody fights and chases. I kept thinking of Mad Max - and the scenario is very similar - futuristic (slightly) and barren wildernesses, this time in America. 

I only went to this because of the starring of our hunky Hugie Jackman, here appearing at the end of his steel-clawed career as a sorry, washed-up, untidily-begrizzled, alcohol-dependent character, trying to keep father-figure and wheelchair-confined Professor X (Patrick Stewart) from the clutches of various nefarious characters, including Richard E.Grant as a demented scientist trying to create, by genetic engineering, an army of children with super-human powers and nature-twisting talents. One of these, a girl of around ten or eleven, he takes with him - a total irritant of a child who, it's revealed, is his daughter in a sense, as she's been given Logan /Wolverine's own DNA. Her ability to perform formidable feats of the physical is, rather strangely, far superior to her capacity to speak, as when she talks it's only in Spanish. She has the on-screen presence of an annoying little twerp and I wish they'd left her behind to her fate. The other children, about a dozen of them (Saints preserve us!) with their 'Superman' powers are held in reserve until the film's final quarter hour for the predictable grand confrontation.

Of some interest is the presence of Stephen Merchant whom I've only seen in comedies - as Ricky' Gervais' ineffectual agent and sidekick in TV's 'Extras' and popping up in the occasional British film comedy in brief cameo appearances. Here his role is quite substantial and 'serious' - a hapless albino with knowledge about Wolverine and his whereabouts with the girl which the adversaries are desperate to get hold of.

I found the film very disposable entertainment and hardly one I'd go out of my way to recommend. Direction is by James Mangold who is also responsible for the unimaginative story which is little more than a pretext on which to hang reasons for depicting bone-crunching, limb-lopping, blood-spurting fights. No doubt some are excited by seeing such whereas to my mind it's all very 'so what?'  
It wouldn't be right to say that I was bored, though it's all so standard without anything to lift it out of the rut. I do think the story would have been improved if that brat of a little girl hadn't figured so large in the telling. The two and quarter hours could also have been cut back by at least thirty minutes with no damage done. 
If this kind of film is your bag, then do go. On the other hand, if you only want to see it because of the main starring role of Hugh J., you may well feel disappointed to the same degree that I was.........5.    

Monday, 6 March 2017

Film: 'Viceroy's House'

This was more 'okay' than I was expecting, it aspiring to be on an epic scale (which the subject justifies) but constrained by its time dimension of well under two hours, and the (to me) clumsy inclusion of a love story which jarred and put on the brakes for the more interesting bigger picture every time it turned up. Others may be more favourably disposed to this section than I was. But it was plainly obvious what director Gurinder Chadha was doing, depicting a small-scale personal relationship between two young people, one Hindu and one Muslim, as a metaphor for the huge subject of the partition of India in 1947 into Pakistan (East and West) and India itself based primarily on separating the, respectively, Muslim and Hindu majority religions of those areas.

Hugh Bonneville plays Lord Mountbatten, given the task by the recently elected Labour government in London to be India's last viceroy and to see through the partition. The splendid Gillian Anderson is his Lady wife, one of the film's delights every time she appears (which is regularly), each word of hers spoken like an elocution coach. I was also pleased to see Michael Gambon given a fairly substantial role when I'd feared he might have been in semi- or complete retirement by now. He appeared to be still spry enough to carry on for a while yet.
The cast also includes the final screen appearance of recently deceased, established actor Om Puri.

The developing political situation, fraught with tensions, is played out well, both between the British 'overlords' and their anticipated Indian/Pakistani successors, a potentially friction-packed subject reflected in the divided allegiances of the staff of the residence of the film's title.
I did feel now and again that the script spelt out in simplistic terms the issues involved, as though the film's audience weren't aware of them - which, for all I know, could well be true for a younger audience of today. 
Sensibly largely unobtrusive music score is by no less than the renowned A.R.Rahman.

Gurinder Chadha has made some quite pleasing films in her career ('Bhaji on the Beach', 'Bend it like Beckham', Bride and Prejudice' etc - all films on a small, localised scale). Maybe 'Viceroy's House' confirms that that is the milieu to which she is more suited and where she excels. 

This film isn't 'bad' at all. It has positive attributes, though that jarring unsatisfactory romantic subplot above all takes it down a couple of notches for me......................6.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Film: 'Fences'

Film adaptation of acclaimed August Wilson play, of which I was aware but knew next to nothing about it. Wilson himself wrote this film's screenplay and Denzel Washington not only has the main role, which is indeed a meaty one, but he also directs.

From the very opening the film betrays its theatrical roots - wordy, with some long set pieces, the majority of the speeches going to Washington's character. Many of the exchanges are nearer to soliloquies with minimal interruption from the other characters, rather than dialogues or group conversations. (My ears were tiring after just 20 minutes!)

Denzel Washington, a city rubbish collector in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, lives with his wife (Viola Davis - extraordinarily good - she deservedly recently won the Best Actress Oscar) and the younger of his two sons (Jovan Adepo - also particularly fine). Other characters are his elder son (Russell Hornsby) who drops by a couple of times, his mentally 'challenged' brother (Mykleti Williamson - not handicapped in the very severest sense, but clearly evident) - and his working colleague and best buddy (Stephen Henderson). 

I have to confess that during the first hour of these two hours twenty minutes I was starting to think that it was all beginning to be a bit of a bore, and that the piece would work better in the theatre for which it was intended. Things then take dramatic turns, first between Washington's character and his wife, then between him and his live-in son, between the two of which there'd always been a simmering tension of mutual resentment. So from those points on the drama gets much more serious.

For me the film worked to a degree - heavy stuff it is but I think I'd rather see it on stage. And yes, I'd still pay good money to see it in such a venue, though I'm not sure that many others would. If this film brings the work to wider public attention then that's all to the good, but speaking personally, despite the playwright's own major contribution in bringing it to the screen, I'm not entirely sure that the final product does the play many favours.................6.5.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Film: 'Christine'

The big mystery is why Rebecca Hall wasn't nominated for an Oscar or a BAFTA for this tour de force of acting in an intense drama leading up to the on-air suicide of news reporter Christine Chubbuck in 1974, which I can recollect only very dimly though it must have been worldwide news when it happened.

She works on a local TV channel in Saratoga, Florida, on a news magazine programme where her ambitions regarding what she wants to broadcast are continually thwarted by her unsympathetic boss whose horizons are much more confined and conservative than her frustrated self can satisfactorily work with. 
She's also single and living with her dope-smoking mother (J,Smith-Cameron) who has just taken in a new lover, of whom Christine disapproves. 
When agrees to a date with a work colleague (Michael C. Hall) it also turns out not quite as she'd hoped. 
But to even top these troubles, while she struggles with her unfulfilling work and home lives she discovers something physically about herself, with potentially very worrying consequences (to say the least). 
To complicate matters still further there's an opportunity for someone from the firm to be transferred to Baltimore, and she would dearly love to be that chosen person.

Director Antonio Campos keeps the action moving well. I didn't feel there were any longueurs at all despite all the concentration being solely on the one central character.

Hall appears in every scene and the film's focus never strays from her point of view. She's always at the centre of whatever happens. There aren't many laughs or, in fact, any at all. Her emotions are nearly always kept under the surface and there's only the one shouty scene, which is quite brief anyway. Otherwise she's a time bomb just awaiting the opportunity to explode which, as we all now know, in the end it does.

Rebecca Hall has for some time been one of my favourite 'younger' actresses (now aged 34). She always brings something positive to every film she appears in and has now achieved an elevated status when, from the very start of her career, she had the task of 'proving' herself in her own terms, being the daughter of Peter Hall, one of England's greatest ever theatre directors (and certainly the most illustrious) and actress Maria Ewing. 
Not endowed with what may be regarded as  'conventional' glamorous looks, she nevertheless is a magnetic on-screen presence in whatever she appears - and here she excels as never before, this film revealing her at an exceptional very best...............7.5.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Film: 'Patriots Day'

For the most part I found this an impressive film, managing to create quite a degree of adrenalin-pumping suspense in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings of 2013, despite our knowing how it ends.
It's useful to see on film police tactics in trying to identify the culprits and their pursuit of the bombers, the two Tsarnaev brothers. It's all too recent in our memories for the film to have taken gross liberties with the facts.

I'm not an especial Mark Wahlberg fan, still carrying with him, as he does in my mind, all that Marky Mark baggage. Though he gets top billing here, his fictitious police officer character is not as omnipresent as that might suggest, his filmic function being to provide that personal  'common touch' of a police officer with a family, which none of the other characters do - apart from the bombers themselves. 
John Goodman, Kevin Bacon (too infrequent on our cinema screens) and J.K.Simmons give the film some necessary weight, and all perform their roles very well.

The re-creating of the actual marathon site with the runners before the bombs were detonated is thoroughly convincing, deadly explosions taking place just half an hour into the film. Thereafter it's the pursuit of those responsible including such policies of how far the public should be informed when the likely suspects are identified. All portrayed as gripping stuff, I felt, notwithstanding our knowing how things are going to play out. Especially tense is when the brothers take a hostage. 

I've really got no substantial criticism of the film. Director Peter Berg (who also directed last year's 'Deepwater Horizon', again with Wahlberg) kept my interest throughout, and managed to ratchet up the tension as required with unobtrusive rhythmic-pulsing background.

I got my two-hours worth of 'entertainment' in both time and money................7

Monday, 27 February 2017

Film: 'Hidden Figures'

When I first saw the trailer for this some weeks ago my reaction was "Aw, come off it! Really?" It then seemed so improbable that I thought it must be one of those made-up, feel-good stories fabricated to please a gullible audience. So I could only hang my head in shame when I found out that the basis of the story was indeed factual and that my own prejudices had made me reluctant to believe it. Having said that, I wonder if there are, even today, forces still at play to keep a lid on the events, for whatever reason. But there's no doubt in my mind that despite being so long after the time, it's yet something that needs to be recognised and celebrated.

It's 1961 and America is pulling out all the stops to be the first to get a man into space, and racing the USSR in particular. Three African-American women  - Kathleen Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson (played respectively by Tanaji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae - the latter looking very like Whitney Houston at times) with demonstrably superior intelligence, join NASA where they find their mental abilities are worse than doubted. It's assumed that because of their colour they are fit only for menial duties, certainly nothing that would put to use their formidable intellectual capacity in mathematics and astro-physics. Virtually all of the male-dominated staff are suspicious and even their female supervisor (Kirsten Dunst) makes hopelessly inadequate and baseless judgments on their mental prowess.  Only boss Kevin Costner doesn't see their colour, though he does display an initial degree of scepticism towards a woman's role in this heavily macho field. However, when he's brought to realise how the colour segregation still operates in Florida he wastes little time in demolishing what of it he can as it only gets in the way of NASA's more important aims of getting that first man into space.
Also in the cast is the recently-awarded for his commendable role in 'Moonlight', Mahershala Ali.

By and large I fund this quite an interesting film though I did keep getting a nagging feeling that the situations were being hyped up beyond the reality of what actually happened in order to make it entertaining. The frequent, startling displays of prejudice by the white staff is intermixed with occasional humour which usually worked, but for me this created a scenario whose message was "It'll turn out alright in the end" (from a twenty-first century persepective), and so inadvertently playing down the struggles of the central female trio against colour prejudice, almost as if trying to avoid confronting the racism issue full-frontal while the anti-female strand is shown in stronger light. 

At the end of this Theodore Melfi directed and co-scripted film, we learn that all three of the central characters portrayed are actually still alive and have been recognised in scientific circles, even if decades later their achievements are still barely acknowledged at all by the public. The oldest of them has now turned 97!

It's surely an important story that needs to be told and widely circulated. I'm just not as certain that this film, apart from giving it much-needed publicity, does it any favours more than that.............6.5.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Oscars Best Picture - oh dear!

When I heard on BBC News Channel (we didn't get a live visual feed) that 'La La Land' had won 'Best Picture', though I was pleased I was also sorry that 'Moonlight' had only the single, well-deserved award to Mahershala Ali as Best Supporting Actor to its credit - a tally which hardly reflected the impact that film had had on me. Then, after reporting of the chaotic correction, I was rather more pleased because 'La La' had already received several more awards, despite it not finally getting the biggest accolade of all. 

It's easy to play the blame game (and it's clearly unfair to target Warren B and Faye D) - there'll be more than enough who'll be doing just that with glee. Someone will have had a very red face and that head well may roll. Think of the gift that's been handed to anyone who has a beef about inaccuracies in the news - should there be any such person. It's such a shame that this fiasco will now overshadow the worth of two very high standard films at the very time when at least one of them will not yet have had the chance to have achieved maximum returns in its potential box-office takings. Nevertheless, I've got to be satisfied with the eventual outcome, -though how we got here........dear oh dear!

Hearty congratulations to 'Moonlight', a most remarkable achievement.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Film: 'Moonlight'

Once a year, or more rarely, comes a film which just blows me away - and this is one of them.
Being nominated for a mere four BAFTAs was measly recognition enough, but to come away from those awards completely empty-handed was little short of grotesque. I have to hold onto faith that this weekend's Oscars will be more forthcoming in recognising what an exceptional work this is.

A film in three sections, all set in Miami (from where director and screenplay writer Barry Jenkins himself hails), it chronicles the life in three stages of first, a schoolboy (then called 'Little'), then as a late-teenager (named 'Chiron') and finally as thirty-something 'Black'. 
Initially struggling against the verbal abuse of schoolkids because he's somehow 'different', his hiding from their taunts results in his being befriended by a drug-dealer with a heart of gold, or at least partly gold, (Maharshala Ali) who takes pity for the boy's isolation and loneliness, but whose presence is resented by the boy's drug-dependent, increasingly neglectful mother (Naomie Harris - in all three sections).
Then the story moves forward to the boy as a young man and his friendship with school-colleague Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), and his emotional self-realisation - with a particularly upsetting episode where Chiron is picked out to be a victim of assault.
Finally, the action moves ahead by some twenty years with 'Black' now looking in every way the part of a toughie drug-gang member, complete with gold teeth, pumped-up body and gun - and re-discovering former close friend Kevin (now played by Andre Holland).

If the first two parts contain the most physical 'action' it's the final section which has the dramatic and emotional weight. 
The acting of all the three players of the central character (successively Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevant Rhodes) is uniformly remarkable. Despite the character's foibles I was drawn into deep sympathy for him at all the stages - quite heartbreakingly, in fact.
Naomie Harris, as the mother who puts who her own wants ahead of her maternal duties, is no less brilliant.

I found the film well-nigh flawless. Perhaps the music choices were not quite of the best? Others might disagree. Anyway, none of them is over-long. Also, I wasn't quite sure if it was the cinema's own projection problem, but there were one or two moments when the visual focus seemed to be fuzzy. I'll give the film the benefit of the doubt and assume it was the cinema's own equipment. 
My only slightly nagging fear that the film's interest in the central character might have been flagging just a very little came in the final section, but if it did it was more than redeemed by the very brief concluding scene.

In summation, I thought this an extraordinary film. If I see a finer one in 2017 it will have been a truly exceptional year................8.5.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Done it - and now I'm a happy chappy!

Solution achieved! The problem was that my archive configuration was set on 'daily' when it should have been 'monthly' - as ridiculously simple as that! Now my blogs show as I want them to, which should also make it easier for my followers to refer back to previous film reviews - and I'm happy as Larry. Grateful thanks to Sadie, Bob, Mitch and Jon especially for offering their thoughts and suggestions. Having put the problem out there it gave me the extra incentive to find the answer.
Thanks again for everyone's time.

Can anyone help, please?

(This blog-post been superceded by success as reported in my subsequent posting).

Most other bloggers have managed this so why can't I?
I want my 'blog archive list' to the right of my postings to show the title of each blog entry - at least for the current month. For weeks I've been trying to achieve this by searching on google how to do it, but whenever I try the result is always :-

 Anyone who can assist will be in receipt of my undying gratitude in the form of an enormous bundle of positive vibes!  Thanks - to whomever!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Film: '20th Century Women'

I'd been lured into thinking that this might be a film of real 'quality', and the further enticement of Annette Bening as its main star made it pretty well irresistible. 
Perhaps I didn't dig deep enough to reach the quality 'seam' because it struck me as being one of those lofty 'art-house' films which hoodwinks the audience into believing they are watching something truly exceptional, and those who do not appreciate it are too scared of saying so for fear of being categorised as intellectually wanting. Maybe I lack the necessary quality of aestheticism which one needs to understand its profundity? 
However, I don't mean to make it sound like an out-and-out dud. It's very far from being that.

Santa Barbara 1979. Divorced, chain-smoking, 55-year old Dorothea (Bening) is bringing up her 15 year old son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) in a sort of commune - though each with their own separate sleeping areas - with two other young women, a budding photographer (Greta Gerwig) who wants to capture her life in pictures by irritatingly aiming her camera at everything she sees, and a messed-up, promiscuous, younger know-it-all (Elle Fanning) who regularly sleeps with Jamie though they purposely don't engage in any sexual activity. There's also a lodger/general handyman and ex-hippie (Billy Crudup).
Dorothea has concerns for her son's development, not because he's living in such a predominantly female household but because she feels he's alienating himself in his interests, such as his liking of the then fashionable 'punk' which she's unable to grasp, making him appear an increasing riddle to her. 
The film covers only a short period, showing the various social activities of and interchanges between, mainly, the three women and the son. There's little progress or development in any of the characters during the film's two hours. At the end they're all very much at the same point as they were at the start. 

Annette Bening, despite spending much of her screen time without make-up and with hair dishevelled, is still a magnetic presence, easily dominating the rest of this ensemble cast. But what was it all for? I ask myself. There were only a couple of really dramatic events, but they soon passed without casting a shadow. It was all a bit inconsequential to my way of thinking.

Director Mike Mills is best known for having made 'Beginners' (2010) in which Christopher Plummer won an Oscar (as an aged father very belatedly coming out as gay). I thought this latest film of his nowhere near as interesting, though it's generally receiving reviews for which many other films must long. The reasons for this evade me.............5.5

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Film: 'Lion'

Most of those who were attracted to this film will probably have seen it by now. Being a Johnny-come-lately on this one, I'd already seen and heard more than a few reviews which, to my disadvantage, nearly all led me to expect something really special. And so the first section indeed turned out to be. However, even though just about everyone is saying how the second (and longer) part falls a little bit below the standard of what came before it, I'd go further and state that, for me at least, this final section dragged almost fatally. Could it have anything to do with this part, in contrast to the first, containing the performances of at least two big-name stars, Dev Patel and Rooney Mara, as well the internationally known and generally admired Nicole Kidman (count me as a fan!), it overbalanced the production? That's how I was feeling as it was playing.

The film begins with five-year old Indian boy Saroo (Sunny Pawar - extraordinary) being separated from his older brother and, sleeping on a stationary train, finds himself being carried some 1500 miles to Kolkatta, where he has to survive alone in this huge, unknown and crowded city, fending for himself, joining street children, and chillingly escaping from the clutches of those who are bent on exploiting any homeless child, This first part is necessarily very episodic but no less horrifying and suspenseful for that. Little Saroo, heartbreakingly calling for his mother and brother, gets taken to an orphanage where, eventually, through press announcements containing his photograph, lead to his being offered a home in Tasmania by a childless couple (David Wenham and Kidman). On arriving in Australia he makes a good impression even though he himself is rather lost. Things take a dramatic turn when a little later, another similar-aged, orphan Indian boy joins the family, a boy with mental health difficulties.
Jump forward twenty years and the former boy (now played by Dev Patel) is seen almost from the start, pining over his lost home and mother and brother. His foster parents are aware of this and are understanding, but his mood is rather hammered home long after we've got the message (a number of brief flashbacks shown). He finds a girlfriend in Rooney Mara, but time and again he's sidetracked into searching for his roots (and causing some friction), now with the help of Google-earth.
After the high activity of the film's first part this following section seems relatively static in comparison - too long, I thought, for balance. I'd have been happier with the first part being extended or, better, the second being edited down.
I must say, though, that I did find Saroo's inevitable return to his home in India near-tearfully moving. 

This seems to be director Garth Davis' first feature film, and there's little doubt that it's an auspicious start.  
Photography throughout is first-class though several times the background soundtrack music teetered on becoming overbearing. 
However, finally and crucially, I did feel that the film was needlessly weighted down by the over-stated Tasmanian section.................6.5

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Film: 'Fifty Shades Darker'

Why did I bother? Certainly no improvement at all on the 2015 original which started off the saga of Seattle-based, multi-billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), with a penchant for S/M, pursuing unattached and reluctant Anastasia (Dakota Fanning) - or is it she who's after him by playing hard to get? And would it matter? Their several amatory conjugations (which nowadays would hardly qualify even as 'soft' porn, always performed to a tiresome, unimaginative background blast of some bland, unfamiliar song) doesn't resolve matters, at least until the end of the film. However, fret ye not as there's the teasing 'promise' of a yet further sequel.  

I didn't think the original film, though on a similar level as this one, was quite as dire as some critics have suggested - the same way I felt about the E.L.James novel. But this new one, likewise based on James' writings, is hardly an improvement. I'll end up giving this film the same rating as I gave the first.

The moments of drama, such as they are, are when one of Grey's former affairs turns up as a stalker, and also when Anastasia's boss grows jealous of her infatuation. In addition, an early older-partner affair (Kim Basinger) warns Anastasia that Grey will tire of her and cast her aside - just as she warned in the original. The screen only comes alive when she and Marcia Gay Harden (as Christian's mother) appear, 

James Foley does the directing honours here, taking over from Sam Taylor-Wood, though their styles are much of a muchness.

I couldn''t understand at all what Anastasia saw in this Christian character - or could it have something to do with his being as rich as Trump? In the same way I didn't appreciate why he wouldn't give up the hopeless pursuit of the reluctant Anastasia when the entire world was his for the choosing. But what do I know of the vagaries of love, never having experienced it?............3.