15/04/18 Filed in: Cinema
After a bit of a break from the cinema, this week I saw Isle of Dogs. The trailer had intrigued me and I was looking forward to seeing something a bit different to the mainstream offerings. It was screened during the children's school holidays, which may have tempted some parents to take their little ones to see it. However, apart from being an animation with lots of dogs, I don't think that this film is aimed at children. As if to prove the point, a couple sitting next to us with their daughter left after about 20 minutes. I'm not sure whether it was the child or the adults who so quickly became disillusioned with what they were watching, but the utterances suggested that it wasn't what the parents were expecting.
It's a stop-motion animation, with the dogs having a very life-like appearance, save perhaps for their overly glassy eyes, that occasionally shed tears. The location is Japan, and the 'human' dialogue is Japanese, which often isn't translated. Instead we rely a commentary. The dogs, however, have an impressive cast of English language 'speakers', including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig and a very sultry sounding Scarlett Johansson as the former show dog Nutmeg; who's tougher than she looks. There's also a contribution from Yoko Ono, playing the research scientist Yoko Ono!
30/03/18 Filed in: Cinema
A very disturbing film that amazingly was shot entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus in 4K. As a consequence it must have the shortest list of final credits that I have ever seen. The picture quality was obviously different to that of conventional filming, giving it at times a documentary feel, and the aspect ratio was noticeably different. But that is enough of the technical background. What about the film?
Claire Foy plays Sawyer Valentini, a bright young woman who has recently started a new job at a bank in Pennsylvania. But she has a secret. She has moved from Boston, where her mother still lives, to escape a stalker, David Strine. She met him when helping out at a hospice, where she used to read to his dying father. He became besotted with her, and now she thinks she sees him almost everywhere she goes. After believing that she spotted him in the bank, she seeks advice from a counsellor at a nearby hospital. During the interview she mentions occasional suicide thoughts, which is enough to warrant some further treatment. But after she signs some papers, without carefully reading them, she finds herself admitted against her will, and moved into a ward with other disturbed people. No amount of protestation has any effect, and the local police ignore her call for help once presented with the signed forms. She is trapped.
27/03/18 Filed in: TV
This film was advertised in one of my regular email notifications from the BBC. When I saw that it starred Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart it piqued my interest. So we launched iPlayer and settled down to watch the story unfold. Both of us were a bit tired, and this is not a film to watch unless you are prepared to give it undivided attention. In fact, it's probably one of those films that deserves at least two viewings. I must admit that at times I found myself lost.
Binoche plays Maria Enders, an international film star and stage actress. She is known for playing the part of Sigrid in both the film and stage versions of Maloja Snake, by the Swiss playwright Wilhelm Melchior. But this was twenty years earlier, and we now meet her travelling on a train with her young assistant, Valentine, played by Kristen Stewart. They are on the way to Zurich to accept an award on behalf of the now elderly Melchior, after which they plan to visit him in his remote Swiss alpine home in Sils Maria. I found the dialogue sometimes difficult to catch as Maria and Valentine spoke on the train, there being a lot of 'train' noise to contend with. At least when Maria took phone calls in French we had sub-titles! During the train journey they learn of Melchior's death.
18/03/18 Filed in: Cinema
As a devotee of Indiana Jones, this sort of film will always hold an appeal for me. Add in Alicia Vikander as the resourceful heroine, and there wasn't any real doubt that I would go to see it. I'm not a gamer, so I am unschooled in the original premise of the video game, but I did see Angelina Jolie in the 2001 film, which for me seemed more like a video game than this latest incarnation.
Taking a leaf out of the Wonder Woman book, here we have the genesis of the story, as we see Lara as a rebellious young woman who refuses to sign papers to inherit her father's immense wealth while not knowing if he is indeed dead. Instead she just about gets by as a bike messenger in London. Until, that is, her father's business partner, Ana Miller, has to bail her from the police station after she collided with a police car. Taken to sign the papers to release her inheritance, she is given a Japanese puzzle bequeathed by her father, which she soon unravels - "things like this were always around the house !" This releases a key, which in turn, after solving a little riddle, gives her access to her father's secret den. There she finds a cam-corder, on which is a video left for her by her father. How the battery was still charged after seven years isn't explained. In the video her father exhorts her to destroy all his material relating to Himiko, a mythical Japanese queen said to hold the power over life and death. Lara, of course, completely ignores his request, and sets off for Japan after pawning a rare amulet that her father gave her.
18/03/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
Films about firemen, as with those involving the police and other emergency services, seem to hold an enduring fascination for the public. But such films often concern themselves with acts of extreme bravery, or extreme disaster, with heroic derring do. But here the director has deviated from this approach, and in Les Hommes du feu we have the story of a largely unspectacular rural fire station in the south of France, with the men and women shown serving the community during some far from spectacular incidents, although nonetheless important in their own right. Of course, being French, what we do have are some very human story lines underpinning the action.
Bénédicte Meursault has been transferred to this rural brigade to join an all-male team. She is a deputy chief so will outrank all bar the captain, Philippe, who is a wise and experienced operator. Having endured the 'initiation' of being on the receiving end of a bucket of water as she leaves the captain's office, Bénédicte seems to settle in quickly, soon impressing her male colleagues during the exercise runs around the station. However, this honeymoon period is rudely ended when, after her first major call out to a road accident, it transpires that the team overlooked a casualty who had been thrown clear of a vehicle. As team leader it was her responsibility to check, and even though the conditions on the night were horrendous, with driving rain and a confused scene, this oversight plays heavily on Bénédicte, who offers her resignation. But Philippe refuses to accept it.
10/03/18 Filed in: Cinema
As we continue to work our way through the Oscar nominated films, this time it's I, Tonya. Based on actual events we see the story unfold of how Tonya Harding was implicated in the assault on her main competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, in the lead up to the 1994 Winter Olympics. As Tonya says in the film, "I mean it's what you came along for, folks. The f***ing incident!" But this film isn't so much about the incident as the life of Tonya Harding. Abused by her mother and husband, rejected as not graceful enough by the skating fraternity, she had the most difficult time of perhaps any sportsperson as her raw talent took her to the very top of women's figure skating. Despite being the first woman to perform a triple axel in competition, her marks often fell short of what her technical ability would seem to warrant.
I found this a very sad story, although the film portrays it in a humorous way. There are frequent interview scenes sprinkled throughout the story, wherein the main players in the incident recall their involvement, or not as the case may be, or perhaps as they chose to remember it. Tonya's mother, LaVona, played with an Oscar-winning performance by Allison Janney, is an uncompromising woman who believes that her daughter succeeded because she was toughened-up by her upbringing. That Tonya was tough is without doubt, but it was a toughness tinged with a large amount of rebellion that didn't go down very well with the stiff judges on the voting panels. Skating in home-made costumes with wild hair, she certainly didn't fit the normal sartorial elegance expected from figure skaters.
09/03/18 Filed in: DVD
I first saw this film when I was staying near Paris in 2014. At that time my French wasn't up to understanding much of the dialogue, although the story is so self-evident that it almost didn't matter. I awaited the day that an English subtitled version would appear, but it seems that it never did, save for some unofficial downloads or separate subtitle files that can be found on the internet. One can, however, find an English subtitled trailer (below), perhaps made in readiness for something that never happened.
With my French now much improved, I bought a copy of the DVD with French subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (sourds et malentendants). This certainly allowed me to understand a great deal more of what was being said but, as I've found in the past, the subtitles often didn't correspond precisely with the spoken words. This leaves you simultaneously trying to understand effectively two streams of French, which isn't easy. Needless to say, there was still quite a bit of dialogue not completely understood.
It seems that the film never officially made it across the water to Britain and America because English speaking audience "would never allow themselves these days to laugh at blacks, Jews or Asians." Our loss, as this is an extremely funny film.
I haven't a great deal more to add to my original review, which is itself quite short. I was going to say that if you have good French comprehension don't miss it but, on reflection, if that is the case I guess you've probably already seen it, as it went down a storm in France.
06/03/18 Filed in: Cinema
Saoirse Ronan plays a very difficult teenager who is in her final year of high school in this coming-of-age story. Lady Bird is her given name, she explains, in that she gave it to herself, this seeming to be yet another act of rebellion. Artistically inclined, she is stifled by life in Sacramento and takes out most of her ire on her mother, Marion, played by Laurie Metcalf. The family isn't wealthy, and when her father loses his job things get worse. But Lady Bird doesn't let these difficulties moderate her behaviour, although her relationship with her father is entirely different to that with her mother.
Her desire is to go to an Ivy League college in a city with culture, but her mother dismisses this, citing her behaviour, which further strains their relationship. At school Lady Bird's best friend is Julie, an academically bright pupil who seems to be the antithesis of Lady Bird's rebellious self. But while Lady Bird is perhaps not the best academically, she does show artistic promise, which is put to use when she and Julie join the school's theatre programme. There she meets Danny, with whom she flirts and they are soon enjoying a romantic friendship, albeit a very proper one, for reasons we discover a bit later. Her mother is upset when Lady Bird goes to Thanksgiving at Danny's grandmother's, who happens to live in a house that Lady Bird and Julie have often stopped and admired, it being very grand. Danny's family is clearly much richer than her's.
04/03/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
A delightful French comedy-drama set in the forests of Solonge, where the director Nicolas Vanier grew up on a family farm. This film is a treat for anybody who enjoys nature in addition to telling a heart-warming story.
The film begins in 1927 Paris, where after the war there are a lot of orphans. A woman named Célestine arrives at an orphanage where she is asked if she would take a young boy named Paul, who was originally from the area in Solonge where she lives. She is reluctant, and we detect that this boy features in her past, although we do not learn any more at this stage. She is introduced to Paul, and seeing the conditions in the orphanage, and how he is treated, her compassion overrules her reticence.
When they arrive back at Sologne we see that Célestine is in service to the local Count. Her husband, Borel, is the gamekeeper on the Count's estate. She introduces Paul as her cousin's son, which tells us that his real identity is best kept secret. He isn't there long before he learns of Totoche, the local poacher, characterised superbly by François Cluzet. Borel's main objective in life is to entrap Totoche in the act, this being all the more amusing since Totoche has a thing going with Célestine, who acts as an advanced warning of Borel's plans. Initially Totache wants nothing to do with Paul, but after Paul rescue's his dog from the river, the two gradually become friends, with Paul lapping up Totoche's immense knowledge of the life of the forest. As a drama this film could easily double as a nature documentary.
03/03/18 Filed in: Cinema
A Pixar film is always worth a trip to the cinema and Coco doesn't disappoint. These days the animation is so good that you sometimes forget just how much the technology has advanced. A mind-boggling amount of time and effort goes into producing a cast of life-like characters within a setting that is equally realistic.
Set in Santa Cecilia, Mexico, the story revolves around a young boy, Miguel, who has a passion for music. But, unfortunately for him, music is banned in his family, a rule stringently enforced by his grandmother Elena. The reason behind the ban goes back to when his great-great-grandmother, Imelda, was deserted by her musician husband who left to pursue a career in music. At that time, they had a three-year-old daughter, Coco, who is now a great age and lives with the family. Elena strives to protect Coco from the event that left her without a father; thus the ban on music.