Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Film: 'A Ghost Story'

If you prefer films which finish with a sort of explanation, even if inadequate, as to what you've just watched, you may as well give up on this one. It'll leave you baffled beyond measure. Open questions are left to dangle tantalisingly in the wind, strands which I suspect (hottie) writer and director David Lowery himself didn't know how to tie up, even if he'd wanted to, which I very much doubt.  And yet - I liked it!

Lowery reunites the main actors of his equally likable 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints?' of 2013, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.
It's a slow-burn film with long silences amid sparse dialogue, Affleck and Mara being a couple living contentedly in a rural bungalow (filmed in Texas, but it could be located anywhere) when mysterious things begin to happen - and then an earth-shattering event for at least one of them, or probably both. Hard to give away much more without compromising the main 'surprise' taking place just a few minutes into the film. 
Most will know from previews, reviews and trailers that Affleck spends most of the film walking around entirely draped in a white sheet with two peep-holes to see through - though as we don't ever see his eyes or hear him speak, one has to wonder whether it really is him under there? - or is it a stand-in so that an expensive-to-hire star doesn't have to spend so much time on the film-set being unrecognisable, when it could have been someone who'd be far cheaper to employ. Be that as it may, it's supposed to be Affleck's character. 

I was prepared to jump in my seat at certain points when, following a long silence, I thought we'd be startled by a fortissimo 'thud' on the soundtrack, though I don't think there were any such moments. And visually there were few, if any, such 'shock' equivalents.  It wasn't exactly a 'scary' film as such, anyway.

Although its title claims it as a 'ghost' story, it's not really that spooky, and I don't think it was meant to be. It's more, well, odd! 
One of the film's most attractive features was that it was impossible to out-guess which direction it was going to take next, implausibility being as rife as unexpectedness, never with any attempt to rationalise what the hell was going on! I liked this daring, which some may rather describe as 'cheekiness'. Others may argue that the film takes the audience as just a gullible bunch of suckers, too ready to lap up anything at all which is served to them under the heading of 'art'. That may be so, but if that's the case I applaud it's chutzpah, and I readily buy into it. 

Good, reasonably solid, if puzzling, entertainment.............7

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Film: 'Tom of Finland'

What a let-down I found this! I don't know what led me to think that this would be a semi-documentary of the justifiably revered artist (real name, Touko Laaksonen) whose utterly brilliant cartoon creations played such a major part in my (then closeted) gay development and awareness, and through a lot of my later life. I thought it might include some real film footage of the artist at work in addition to, perhaps, a few reconstructed acted episodes. 
The film turns out to be a straightforward depiction of his life from fighting for Finland in World War Two up to his achieving international fame and adulation in the 1980s (he died in 1991, from emphysema) - and most disappointingly, it's all rather dull. However, if I'd realised it was just his acted-out story I still would have wanted to see it - and would have been just as underwhelmed.

The title role in this Finnish film (nearly all in that language, of course) is played by Pekka Strang (left in above pic) who, like the man in real life, looks nothing like his fantasy creations and, also like the real man, hasn't the kind of face or figure to turn most(?) heads. He doesn't suit the leathers either, which he dons in the film's final part.

I'm not sure what the trouble with this film is, there being enough incidents in his life before he became a world-renowned figure to make a reasonably interesting story - after the war his night-time cruising in a Helsinki public park with the attempts of the oppressive Finnish police trying to stamp out homosexuality by catching, arresting and imprisoning the men engaging in gay activity, every bit as homophobic as all the rest of Europe was in the 1950s. 
Then we see his travels to Berlin and attempts to get his drawings published there - and meeting similar discouraging attitudes, as well as further conflict with the equally anti-gay German police. 

He lives in Helsinki with his slightly younger sister who, belatedly and reluctantly acknowledging his tastes, makes disapproving noises, though falling short of outright hostility. 
He then takes on and lives with a younger and nicer-looking lover, though there didn't seem to me to be much significant emotional chemistry between the actors.
The film for me only came alive - and that only patchily - in the final half hour (including the onset of the AIDS crisis) when his fame, broadcast initially from California, was assured. It ends with his receiving due worshipful adulation from an adoring audience of American leather fraternity.

There are no explicit depictions of real-life sex in the film, only a few fleeting glimpses of some drawings.

Incidentally, it's a very, very long time since I've seen another film - if indeed I ever have - where everybody is continually smoking (a reflection of those times, of course, particularly the 1950s-70s). It was such a prevailing sight that I was beginning to think it must have been compulsory to have a fag in one's mouth. (Now there's a thought!) 

I don't know if half-Finnish director Dome Karukoski is gay or not, and it ought not to matter, but if he has any enthusiasm for the subject and his creations it didn't translate onto screen for me. 

On IMDb I'm in a minority  - yet again! - where there's a current high average rating of 7.4. (6.5 on 'Rotten Tomatoes'). Frankly, I found it all a bit of a drag...............3.5.

Film: 'Atomic Blonde'

I came out of this totally fatigued after having my senses pummeled into almost giving up - specifically eyes and ears, though also my poor brain! They still hurt on the morning after.
Merciless violence which would have been understandable were it played as comic-book farce with an underlying charm or irony, only this full-frontal assault was bereft of all humour that I could trace. All so damned serious!

It's Berlin, 1989, just a few days before the wall was knocked down. (Good to see the then-divided city as the location, both East and West, for more than 90% of this film - even though for much of the location work, in reality Budapest was used). 

All the action takes place entirely in flashback from an interrogation in London of British secret agent, Charlize Theron, by her boss (Toby Jones) with CIA in attendance (John Goodman) - both Jones and Goodman having little otherwise to do. 
Theron had been sent to Berlin on a mission to recover a list of names of double-agent operatives which the nasty Russians have got wind of and whose possession of same could bring the whole of western intelligence crashing down. One man (Eddie Marsan) there has got the entire list committed to memory and so has to be got out and brought back to London. 
Assisting the operation (or is he?) and already there is crew-cutted James McAvoy, another British agent, who fires on all cylinders when it's called for when he lets rip like there's no tomorrow. But it's Theron who delivers most of the full-throttle, physical action, single-handedly despatching countless numbers of police, armed agents and assorted anti-Western rotters, coming at her in groups rather than singly. However, that's no problem for her many efficient talents, even if she has to use her hands as weapons with unerring aim and against their firearms. Spurting and splashing blood and cracking bones abound. 
Nonetheless, it's not relentlessly uninterrupted noisy combat. The many fights are interspersed with periods of repose, mainly during Theron's interview, heavy with long silences and sarcastic responses. There is also a certain romance which Theron engages in to achieve her aim (all in the cause of duty, you understand) while on her Berlin mission. 

The many twists (double and triple) really started to leave me breathless, particularly when the final scenes came about. It was all so much to take in that by the time the final credits appeared my head hurt! Trying to play it back in my mind afterwards - was this character really working for this side all along? - was futile so I gave up and consigned it to the out-tray of give-up-on-it confusion. I don't know if it was supposed to all tie up neatly and make sense, but if that was the case it was lost on me.

This is only director David Leitch's second full-length feature (after 2014's 'John Wick' with Keanu Reeves, unseen by me), and he does invest some most effective work in the many well-executed combats here, though in the final analysis it's all adrenalin-pumping, superficial excitement.

I did like the film's energy but felt the overall cold, gloom-ridden seriousness of the whole enterprise played against making it completely satisfactory 'entertainment' for me. 
There's an impressive soundtrack of hits and electro-pop of that time.

There has been a dichotomy of views on this film. From what I've seen, the majority have liked it, and many of these by a lot. However, there is sizable and vocal opposing opinion, including some outright detestation. I certainly wouldn't go so far as the latter. While not quite sitting on the fence, I'll start slipping down on one side.................6.


Monday, 14 August 2017

Film: 'The Last Word'

Increasingly guilty of starting my reviews by justifying why I bothered to see a particular film, here's another one. It has as 'one of' its main stars Shirley MacLaine - and I do like to see our Shirl! 
I put 'one of' in apostrophes because in the opening credits both she and Amanda Seyfried are given equal prominence - the latter name placed second in the same frame but positioned higher. (Dear me! - Amanda who?) However, I suppose for much of today's audience Shirley MacLaine won't be well known - if she's even recognised at all!  

MacLaine plays an octogenarian, divorced and long-since retired businesswoman living alone in a massive Californian mansion. She has one daughter, Anne Heche, who appears only in a single speaking scene, not much over five minutes long. 
MacLaine, feeling that her end is approaching, and not only on account of her advanced age, hires Seyfried, the obituary writer of the local regional newspaper, to write a flattering obituary of herself in double-quick time so that she herself can sanction it. Their initial meeting is tetchy, each taking an instant dislike to the other, with Maclaine being odiously bossy from the start, though she is paying good money for the job to be done properly. She gives Seyfried a long list of people she has known, only for it to be found that when approached, none of them have a good word to say about MacLaine, that is if they are even prepared to talk about her.

Predictable as sunrise - and such as happens time and time again in the film world - the initially hostile relationship between the two women mellows and burgeons into, by the end, a strong friendship with reciprocal respect. No surprise there then.

One additional irritating aspect of the film is the inclusion of a worldly-wise, potty-mouthed little brat of a black kid, female (though for a long time I wasn't sure), about 10 years old, whom MacLaine befriends to make up a trio with the other two women - and whose presence, in my view, would be improved no end by being delivered of a damn good slap.

Also, MacLaine becomes a DJ on local radio (yes!) playing her old vinyl LPs - she never having really caught up with CDs.
(Was 'The Kinks' really the most under-rated pop group of all time? I hardly think so.)

It's also hardly a revelation for the film to reveal that the MacLaine character was not, in fact, as dire as she'd been painted, and that there were (unfair) reasons as to why she'd made so many enemies. 

Director Mark Pellington, whom I only remember through the rather good 'Arlington Road' (1999), does reasonably enough with this, but there's nothing extra-special to make it stand out. And this is yet another film which would have benefited from being shorn of at least twenty minutes. 

Not quite as dire as it might have been, but it may well have gone lower in my rating if someone other than Shirley MacLaine had starred..........4.


  

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Film: 'The Big Sick'

The hiatus in my cinema-going was not caused by the continuing tumult in my life, but rather by there being little showing that I fancied. This one has generally had above-average reviews so, despite thinking that it wasn't 'my kind' of film, thought I'd give it a go. Verdict: a little above so-so.

I didn't know the name of any of the participants save one, nor of director Michael Showalter. 
Pakistani-born actor Kumail Nanjiani plays himself in this film which he's co-written with his real-life wife, Emily V. Gordon. 
He's an aspiring stand-up comedian playing a small club in Chicago when one of the audience (Zoe Kazan) attracts his attention and romance ensues. It's awkward because his family, particularly his mother, but father as well, is determined to see an arranged marriage for him, she calling in a succession of marriageable young Pakistani ladies to 'drop by' during their family dinners, hoping that he'll take enough of a fancy to one of them to pursue a romance. Meanwhile he keeps his involvement with the American young woman secret for fear of his family's hostility. Then suddenly she's struck down by a virulent infection and placed in a medically-induced coma so she can be subjected to surgery. Her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, both exceptionally fine) not knowing of her romance, are initially cold towards Nanjiani as they don't recognise his concern. However, and as you might guess, the ice between them melts and in time they are as close as the younger man could wish. 
For half of the film, the Zoe Kazan daughter character is in this coma while the predicament of Nanjiani is played out, he having to walk a tightrope between his very real worry for her and keeping their affair from his family. 

I was disappointed that the final half hour of this two-hour film is awash with heavy, unrelieved sentiment, something I find very hard to take in large doses like this. (I appreciate that others do not share my resistance). 
Also, there is a disturbing number of lapses of continuity. Don't they watch the rushes or don't they care? They are so glaring as to be distracting that I was actively looking for the next one for much of the film's length. 

Having said that, I have to say that I found the script a superior one. Although I started out by feeling a degree of irritation towards the main characters, I did quite soon warm to them, such that I was curious as to how the story - commendably original - would develop. 
Direction was okay, I suppose, but director Showalter ought to have been more attentive to avoiding those visual continuity clangers (which perhaps most people wouldn't notice).

I reckon that most people will like this enough to recommend it, and if my 'enthusiasm' is lukewarm at max, I'd just about go along with that...................6.