15/12/18 Filed in: Cinema
Having made a few appearances in DC films over the last couple of years, Aquaman here gets his own outing in much the same way as Wonder Woman did last year. Will he be equally successful? Well, early box office returns look promising, particularly in China, but not all the critics are ecstatic.
Jason Momoa certainly fills the role splendidly, both in terms of physique and droll humour. Being half fish certainly gives him super powers, such as lifting a submarine and resisting conventional weapons. Plus, of course, swimming like a torpedo. As with Wonder Woman we get the back story. His mother, Atlanna, portrayed by Nicole Kidman, is washed up by a lighthouse and rescued by the keeper, Tom, with whom she then falls in love. Result, Arthur, aka Aquaman. His mother is forced to return to Atlantis in order to protect Tom and Arthur from Atlanteans who are far from pleased by her 'mixed' partnership. But Volko, his mother's loyal advisor, secretly schools Arthur in readiness for his ultimate destiny, as an Atlantean king.
29/11/18 Filed in: Cinema
For us English language viewers this is the second cinema outing for Lisbeth Salander, but it's actually based on the fourth novel that was written by David Lagercrantz after the death of Stieg Larsson, the author of the original trilogy. It's classic Scandi Noir, in fact very noir. Reviews haven't been great but as quite a fan of this genre I enjoyed it.
This time we have Claire Foy in the role of super hacker Lisbeth, who we're introduced to as an avenging vigilante acting on behalf of maltreated women. Foy set out to test herself in this role, being quite a departure from 'The Queen'. This hasn't gone down well with some critics who seem to feel that her previous personas detracted from the necessary total lack of emotion required for the role. Forced to play guardian to a young boy during part of the story certainly tested her otherwise steely instincts. Said boy, August Balder, turns out to be a key player in the unfolding intrigue.
27/11/18 Filed in: Cinema
And so we have the latest incarnation of the folklore that is Robin Hood, but on this occasion it strays far from any story that I am familiar with. As a little boy Robin Hood was one of my heroes. When I wasn't a cowboy I was Robin Hood, complete with my homemade bow and one proper target arrow which was bought for me from a shop in Stamford, where I stayed during the school summer holiday with my aunt. I used to wander around the corner into the grounds of Burghley House, which served quite nicely as Sherwood Forest. I was alone, amusing myself, an art seemingly becoming less evident in the kids of today.
I was brought up with the 1950s TV series, The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene, with the signature tune that is still fondly remembered by people of my generation and supporters of Nottingham Forest. This was a basic Robin Hood, with proper longbows and impossible but believable feats of archery, at least for a little boy like me.
25/11/18 Filed in: Cinema
It is interesting to look at the range of opinions about this film, from a five-star accolade from Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian to fairly middling reviews at Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB. It is in reality the telling of an event in British social history that is sadly overlooked when we educate our children, possibly because it was one of the many less auspicious moments in Britain's past that our jingoistic present would rather forget. But director Mike Leigh is not one to shy away from reminding us of how bad things often were for our forebears.
The film is very matter-of-fact, not indulging in unwarranted added drama. It shows how in those early days of the industrial revolution, while suffering the penury inflicted on them by the corn laws, a hard-pressed people, whose lives were abject misery, were slaughtered during a peaceful demonstration. We see how, with hope in their hearts, a peaceful crowd from Manchester and the neighbouring villages, many dressed in their Sunday best, came to St Peter's Square to listen to the famed orator, Henry Hunt, who addressed them from a cart. Their banners called for reform, universal suffrage, equal representation and, quite simply, love. But the local magistrates and businessmen were appalled, magistrates who wouldn't think twice of imposing the penalty of transportation on petty thieves or, in one case depicted in the film, hanging!
02/11/18 Filed in: Cinema
Bohemian Rhapsody charts the career of Freddie Mercury from an airport baggage handler through to Queen's epic performance at Live Aid in July 1985. I must confess to not knowing a great deal about the artist, other than his and the group's unforgettable songs, which make many of the efforts from today's groups sound very ordinary indeed. From this perspective the film was, for me, an education, even if some of the critics have diminished how the film covered his private life. A big surprise was his relationship with Mary Austin, portrayed as a deep and meaningful heterosexual union. If only that had been enough for him, history would undoubtedly have been written very differently. But it seems he was bisexual, always loving Mary but straying into a homosexual world that in the end was to be his end, when he died of an AIDS related illness in 1991.
28/10/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
The French excel at producing films depicting life as it's lived, unembellished and full of everyday challenges. In this film we’re introduced to Edith, a textile worker who cherishes her job, quite simply because it gives her life purpose. Her only son now lives in Paris and she resides alone in a rather charming farm house, but what’s charm without company?
When the factory decides to relocate its production to Morocco she has the choice of redundancy, which in her case would result in quite a good severance payment, or relocating to Morocco. Eager to continue working she choses the latter, against the strong advice of the company’s personnel officer.
18/10/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
It seems that this film was released for television. It has a feel about it of what we used to refer to as a B movie, in those days when you could expect to enjoy two films when you went to the cinema.
Luis is a driver for a security company that transports cash to banks. He's a bit of a lost soul, or paumé as the French reviews say. He has two childhood friends, Sam, a successful lawyer, and Emma, who's also a lawyer. Then one day Luis decides to drive off with a van-full of money, leaving his fellow security guards sitting in the depot. This is out of character, and comes as a shock to his two friends. Embarrassingly so for Sam as it could reflect on his standing at the office, where his boss isn't the most understanding of people.
13/10/18 Filed in: Cinema
The day a man stepped on the moon is indelibly inscribed in history and the man that made that first step, Neil Armstrong, is the subject of this film. It follows his story from the lead up to his selection for the program to the point when he uttered those immortal words when stepping on to the lunar surface. I must say that it was refreshing to watch a film that portrayed the reality of getting off this Earth and landing on another body in space. We have become so used to the effortless comings and goings of space craft in the seemingly unending science fiction genre, that the realities of what is involved become lost in the superb computer graphic simulations.
Here we see the astronauts shoe-horned into what are sometimes referred to as tin cans and shot into space while experiencing the sort of environment that would scare the life out of any normal person. The vibrations, the noise, the G forces, the array of instruments and flashing warning lights, and the constant knowledge that the whole thing could so easily end up in a fireball. These are special people, but in this film we see that, despite this, behind each astronaut is a man, with the emotions and personal feelings that we can all experience. And, in the case of Neil Armstrong, this back-story is even more surprising, and is in fact what this film is really about. So if you go to see it, expect a human drama, not yet another CGI-laden space fantasy.
06/10/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
A fairly recent offering from Amazon, this 2017 film charts the life of French artist Paul Gauguin during the period of his first trip to Tahiti. Disillusioned with Europe, and the lack of appreciation for his work, he decides to travel to Tahiti for peace and quiet and to rid himself of the influence of civilisation. He leaves behind his wife and five children, who quite wisely decide that it is an inadvisable adventure.
Their fears are shown to be entirely justified during the first scenes in Tahiti, showing Gauguin trying to paint in a shanty offering little shelter from torrential rain. He has little money and his health deteriorates, culminating in a heart attack, following which his doctor recommends that he should return to France. But he is obsessed with his art, and after recovering sufficiently treks off on horseback. On the point of exhaustion he comes across a native village, collapsing and later regaining consciousness in the care of these people. In the village is Tehura, a young native girl whose parents are pleased to offer to him as a bride, an offer he willingly accepts, taking her as both a bride and a muse. Thus begins a period of stability, and relative happiness, but his obsession with his painting gradually starts to sour the relationship, and there is a young native suitor with his eyes on Tehura.
05/10/18 Filed in: Cinema
This film was on my 'ones to watch' based solely on the trailer I saw at the cinema before its release. My judgement was sound, because this is certainly a film that you shouldn't miss. It's the fourth outing for this title, the most recent previous version was in 1976 and starred Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. If I did see that version I've forgotten it, but I won't quickly forget this latest one starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. From the opening scenes to the final credits, this is a film that draws you in. The soundtrack is phenomenal, even more so as all the songs were performed live during the filming. Most films like this are lip-synched to pre-recorded tracks. To keep the tracks secret prior to the release of the film, the concert recordings, including Glastonbury, were not amplified for the crowds. A weird experience for the audiences. The quite complex technical details of how they did this can be found at variety.com.
The Glastonbury scenes were made possible because Kris Kristofferson, he of the earlier version, gave up some time on his set. And it is Bradley Cooper singing, although he trained with Lukas Nelson, son of the famous Willie. He also trained on the guitar, taking a year and a half of intensive music lessons. The end result is compelling, the performances feeling more like live recordings than staged film sets.
02/10/18 Filed in: Cinema
Stephanie is a young widow who keeps herself busy with a vlog and volunteers for everything at her son's school. Played by Anna Kendrick, Stephanie is the epitome of innocence. Until, that is, the day she meets Emily, whose son also attends the school. Blake Lively's Emily is everything that Anna isn't, plus some. But despite their differences, they become friends, or at least Anna does, exchanging some very personal secrets.
Emily one day asks Anna if she would mind picking up her son, Nicky, from school, which of course she's pleased to do. But Emily doesn't turn up to collect him. In fact Emily is not contactable, and Anna sets about trying to find out what's happened to her, using her vlog to garner support. Naturally she is helped by Emily's husband, Sean, who at first is not unduly worried by Emily's temporary disappearance, it having happened before. But as timer passes he becomes more concerned, while becoming perhaps too close to Anna. Far too close!
23/09/18 Filed in: Cinema
It's always good to watch a film that breaks new ground, in that the story here is told exclusively through the screens of mobile devices and computers. This, I believe, may be a first for cinema. The film itself is gripping, although if it had been filmed conventionally probably wouldn't be regarded as anything other than a competent thriller.
As somebody who has been into computing since the early 80s the approach was particularly interesting. I watched the early flashbacks through the screen of Windows XP and then name-checked the newer technology and apps as the story moved forward to the present day. After a while you can easily forget that you're seeing everything as a form of voyeurism. Unless of course your nerd factor is actively tuned to the technology, judging the veracity of what you're watching in terms of your own knowledge of the subject.
08/09/18 Filed in: Cinema
An African American cop infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s is hard to believe, but this is the plot of this film from Spike Lee. Ron Stallworth always wanted to be a cop, so he applies to the all-white Colorado Springs police force and convinces his interviewers to take him on, beautifully coiffed afro and all. His inauspicious start in the records archive soon starts to demoralise him, so he requests a transfer to the detectives. At first denied (surprise, surprise!), an opportunity arises when the department wants somebody to go under cover at a meeting being addressed by Kwame Ture, a national civil rights leader. This goes well, and also introduces Ron to Patrice Dumas, whose afro outdoes Ron's. She's president of the black students' union and becomes Ron's ongoing love interest.
Sitting with the detectives, and flush with his success at the civil rights rally, Ron spots an advert from the Ku Klux Klan for new members. So he phones the number and speaks to Walter, convincing him of his anti-black credentials. A meeting is arranged. Of course Ron can't go, for obvious reasons, but Flip Zimmerman, one of his fellow detectives, agrees to do the 'meetings', while Ron handles the telephone conversations. The fact that their voices are different, and that Zimmerman is a non-practising Jew, making him as much a target of the Klan as Ron, just adds to the mix of tension and humour.
08/09/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
Although I’m including this as a French film, it is actually an Italian production set on Sicily. The two lead female actors are, however, French, and the dialogue shifts seamlessly between French and Italian depending on who is present in the scene.
Juliette Binoche’s Anna is mourning the loss of her son, Giuseppe, as we witness the sombre religious rites and a house blacked out from daylight with mirrors covered. She receives a call from Giuseppe’s girlfriend, Jeanne, who is due to visit, but she doesn’t tell her about Giuseppe.
Jeanne arrives while family members are still present, and is clearly confused by what she sees. At first Anna doesn’t want to see her, but when she does she says that she has just lost her brother. One gets the feeling that Anna sees Jeanne as a continuing link with her son, there being more than a touch of supernatural about this film.
26/08/18 Filed in: Cinema
Denzil Washington stars in this sequel to the 2014 adaptation of an 80s TV series. I enjoyed the earlier film and it must be said that this latest story is cast in very much the same vein. Critics reviews haven't been very favourable but it seems that audiences have been more inclined to have enjoyed what they saw. Denzil Washington is of course a big draw and despite arguably being too old to do what his screen persona Robert McCall does, the credibility factor doesn't seem to dissuade his fans.
As with many action films, the opening sequence has little to do with the ultimate plot, it being an introduction to McCall's penchant for taking up just causes on behalf of people with whom he has but a casual acquaintance. On this occasion it's the local bookseller, whose daughter has been abducted by her father. Cue the interior of a Turkish train, with McCall lightly disguised as some sort of religious elder having a conversation with the aforesaid father, as three mean looking henchmen sit in the background. We all know what's going to happen as McCall sets his watch timer to zero.
16/08/18 Filed in: Cinema
I didn't see the original Ant-Man film and am far from up to date with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so some of the plot references were no doubt lost on me. It appears that Ant-Man didn't emerge from Captain America: Civil War exactly smelling of roses, and he is constantly reminded of this during the film. His previous bad judgement has, however, resulted in him, as his normal persona Scott Lang, being held under house arrest with an electronic tag, where he seems quite content, especially when playing with his daughter Cassie. And, what's more, he only has days to go before the tag will be removed.
Enter Dr Hank Pym, or to be more precise, his daughter Hope, aka The Wasp. Pym is a scientist at the forefront of quantum physics, which those of you who saw the previous film probably already know. He and his wife, Janet, were pioneers on the ant-person scene, and in one 'save-the-world' exploit Janet reduced herself into the sub-molecular world and consequently became trapped in the sub-atomic quantum realm. Back to Scott, who has a very vivid dream featuring both Janet and a young Hope. Pym and Hope recognise this as possible quantum entanglement (reading up on quantum physics may help you here) between Scott and Janet, proving that she is still alive. So Wasp kidnaps Scott, who is far from happy as it could violate his parole. But Scott and Hope have a bit of a thing going, so he's probably not totally unhappy.
13/08/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
This film is categorised as a comedy, and for the first half one can believe it is. But as things progress it becomes very cynical and while comic elements remain, the unfolding events are far from funny. It is based quite closely on the novel Les Bottes Rouge by Franz Bartelt.
The title is a play on words from the title of the poem ‘Le Dormeur du val’, penned by Arthur Rimbaud in 1870. Rimbaud was born in Charleville-Mézières, a town on the River Meuse close to the Belgian border and the setting for this film. The film’s director, Manual Sanchez, was inspired by this poem, and another by Rimbaud entitled Ophélie, and you will see the clear influence of the latter from the image above.
08/08/18 Filed in: Cinema
The latest Mission Impossible, which is number 6 in the series, certainly doesn't disappoint. In fact it could be the best to date. Tom Cruise, as Ethan Hunt, teams up with Luther and Benji to save the world from the Apostles, a group reformed from the remnants of the Syndicate following Hunt's capture of Solomon Lane. Isla Faust is also here, of course, but on this occasion she's not actually with the team. Her mission is somewhat different, and also so secret as to be kept from Ethan.
The mission is also complicated by CIA chief Erika Stone's insistance that one of her operatives, August Walker, joins the IMF team. This is ostensibly because in the opening sequence of the film we see Ethan missing the opportunity of recovering three plutonium-filled capsules because he put the life of Luther above that of the mission. Walker, we are assured, would not have been so sentimental.
18/07/18 Filed in: Cinema
We saw the first Incredibles film back in 2004 and, besides enjoying it immensely, we were amused that the two heroes, Bob and Helen, shared the same names as us. Naturally with the release of the sequel we had to see it and we went last Friday on its release date.
Superheroes have been made illegal, or at least their superhero activities have. So when Bob and Helen leap into action to stop the Underminer robbing the city bank, causing an immense amount of collateral damage in the process, the government shuts down the Superhero Relocation Program, leaving them and their three children without financial assistance. Their superhero friend, Lucius Best (Frozone) tells them about an offer he's received from Winston Deavor, a super-rich superhero fan. Deavor's idea is to arrange a publicity stunt that will rekindle the public's support for Supers.
12/07/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
Not to be confused with the 2000 film of the same name starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, this is in fact the story of Rafael Padilla, a Cuban born negro who became a celebrated clown in Paris at the turn of the 19th Century. Omar Sy plays the clown Chocolat, a name he comes to despise because he finds it denigrating. But ,unfortunately for him, the attitudes of the time towards coloured people were unlikely to change simply because he rejected his circus name.
The makers of this film have significantly changed some of the historical details but the thrust of the story remains true. In his association with the clown George Foottit, a Parisian star, the duo become great favourites with audiences. Chocolat is Foottit's knockabout sidekick, who endures his somewhat demeaning role with a smile. Until, that is, he starts to resent his treatment while at the same time aspiring to greater things, such as playing Othello! But are the Paris audiences ready for this?
27/06/18 Filed in: DVD
This film didn't appear at our Cineworld on its release, so we had to wait for the DVD. Helen has a keen interest in couture and we both recognise the brilliance of Daniel Day-Lewis in the way he completely inhabits the characters that he plays. Added to this were some extremely strong reviews, although it probably wouldn't be to everybody's taste.
Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, who in 1954 London creates haute-couture for the select few who can afford it. A perfectionist, he is fastidious and totally absorbed in his craft as he manages The House of Woodcock. He is helped by his sister, Cyril, who often acts as a mediator at times of his peak irascibility. It seems that women pass through his life, providing inspiration and companionship, but he remains a confirmed bachelor, believing that marriage would inhibit his creativity.
18/06/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
I'm not sure what the title Après le sud alludes to, but the English title, Heatwave, perhaps better describes the film. Set in the south of France on a sweltering hot day, we follow the lives of four people. A series of largely unrelated events lead to tragedy, but first the director sets the scene by introducing us to each of these people. Before the credits roll, we see Georges, an elderly man, who is lovingly cleaning his shotgun in his flat. This perhaps foretells of trouble to come, but at this stage everything is quite innocent.
After the credits we move to the apartment of Amélie, and her mother Anne. Anne is grossly overweight and we're treated to a very explicit view of the two women as Anne gets in the shower after Amélie steps out. Typical French realism. Amélie leaves for her summer job in a supermarket, while Anne, after a few household chores, sets off in a taxi. She leaves a message saying she's going to Aix, but in fact is headed for a clinic in Marseilles for gastric band surgery to control her weight.
13/06/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
Liliane works in a paté factory, her job being to place items of garnish on terrines of paté as the final part of the process. It is repetitive and mind-numbingly boring. In the evenings she sits alone at home, having a drink or two and watching the TV. Then one day, Jean, a temporary worker arrives and immediately feels that he recognises Liliane as a once famous singer who, with her song Souvenir, was just pipped for victory by ABBA at the Eurovision song contest.
Liliane assures Jean that he is mistaken, but he won't be dissuaded. Eventually his insistence causes Liliane to miss her bus, allowing Jean to take her home on his scooter. When Jean doesn't turn up for work one day, Liliane goes to find him. It transpires that Jean's father is also a great fan of Liliane, or Laura as she was then known. Jean's mother is, however, less than impressed. After a lot of coaxing Jean persuades Liliane to perform at a local club, where she is a great success, especially in the eyes of Jean's father.
26/05/18 Filed in: Cinema
And so the saga continues, although this time it's Han Solo's story. One could feel that they are squeezing the pips out of the franchise, but in fact it's not a bad yarn, and it has the look of the original trilogy, which also can't be bad. Although with an estimated budget of $250 million, it ought to be good.
We begin on Corellia, a ship-building planet where the young Han is a scrumrat, surviving on his wits in a world of criminality. His love is Qi'ra, also a scrumrat, and Han has a plan to get them off Corellia. He has stolen a phial of extremely valuable hyperfuel, which he uses as a bribe to get them on an outgoing transport. But as the gate closes Qi'ra is grabbed by their pursuers, and Han has to leave without her. He vows to return.
Volunteering for the Imperial Flight Academy, he is accepted, somewhat easily I thought. But he is expelled from there and ends up an infantryman, which as we know isn't the the safest ticket in town. In an attempt to escape he tries to blackmail a group of criminals by threatening to expose them, but all this achieves is him being fed to the 'beast'. The beast, however, turns out to be none other than Chewbacca, and Han's ability to speak a bit of Shyriiwook enables him to 'make a deal' and both of them break free. At this point the leader of the criminal group, Beckett, decides that the two of them might be an asset on a 'job' they have planned, and he takes them on board.
18/05/18 Filed in: Cinema
This film continues the story from the first Deadpool, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Rather than repeat all the reasons why I enjoyed it, I would refer you to that first review, which sets the scene nicely.
This time we start with Deadpool in a thoroughly suicidal mood after the love of his life, Vanessa (aka Copycat) is killed by one of the low-lives he had previously tried to take out. But Deadpool is seemingly really indestructible, to the extent that being atomised by barrels of high explosive still doesn't do the trick. Instead his bits are recovered by Colossus from the X-Men and taken to the X-Mansion for him to recover, or should we say regenerate. He agrees to be a trainee X-Man to moderate his rather extreme style. His first assignment is to an incident at the Mutant Re-education Center, where a young mutant, Russell, aka Firefist, is threatening all kinds of retribution. This doesn't go well, Deadpool siding with the young boy and taking a lethal view towards the staff of the establishment. This results in Deadpool and Russell being arrested and incarcerated, high-tech neck bracelets being used to negate their superpowers.
15/05/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
Back to Amazon Prime and French films, the latest being this biographical story of the friendship between Paul Cézanne and Emil Zola. These schoolboy friends maintained a relationship throughout their lives, but this friendship was tempered by bad feeling when Zola, whose mother struggled financially after his father died, became more bourgeois, while the little-rich-boy Cézanne, from a wealthy banking family, wasted his genius in a devil-may-care life of women and contempt for authority. His work was consistently relegated to the Salon des Refusés, which displayed work not accepted by the jury of the Paris Salon.
In matters of love, or more correctly sex, Cézanne has no problems while Zola's timidity prevents him from approaching women. He becomes entranced by one of Cézanne's model's, and mistress, who calls herself Gabrielle. As the film jumps from youth to their more mature lives, we see Zola married to Gabrielle, although she now uses her real name, Alexandrine (née Éléonore-Alexandrine Meley).
05/05/18 Filed in: Cinema
It's really fascinating to read reviews after one has seen a film. In this case they reflect the chasm that exists between the professional critics and an average audience. Quoting Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian's film critic: "Populated by Downtown Abbey graduates, this glutinous postwar rom-dram is a load of cobblers." But set against that is the 81% audience satisfaction on Rotten Tomatoes, and a packed audience at our cinema when we saw it on Wednesday afternoon, quite a rare occurrence I assure you. Its problem, if it has one, is that it's a bit twee. But compared to some of the other stuff reaching the cinemas lately, it was quite a delight to watch.
Set in Guernsey immediately after the war, with flashbacks into the time of occupation, it is based around the unlikely sounding Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The society was started in a moment of crisis, when a group of residents were stopped by Germans during the evening curfew, and needed to come up with a reason for being out. The Potato Peel Pie aspect comes from the fact the islanders were close to starving, the said dish being one of their efforts to feed themselves.
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 from 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.
01/03/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
Back to French films after the excitement of Black Panther. And this time it is a drama set in 1950s Provence, starring Marion Cotillard as a troubled young woman, Gabrielle, seeking more from life than her humble existence on a lavender farm is offering. The film actually starts years later with Gabrielle, her husband, José, and son, Marc, going to a music competition, where Marc is to play. On the way their taxi is held up by a double-parked lorry in Lyon, and as Gabrielle gazes out of the car window she spots a street name that has a great significance for her, but at this point we don't know why that is.
We then cut to her as a much younger woman, standing in a stream with the water seemingly stimulating sexually her as it rushes between her legs while she wears no underwear. From there, she goes to a school, where the teacher is alone as she sits down at the back of the room. When she does approach him it becomes clear that she has a serious sexual crush on him, feelings that he in no way reciprocates. Back at home, her mother in particular is very disturbed by Gabrielles behaviour, matters coming to a head when Gabrielle, having once again not managed to gain the teacher's attention, assaults him at the post-harvest party. After this she runs off into the countryside, resulting in the need for a search party, that finds her collapsed with exhaustion on an embankment.
28/02/18 Filed in: Cinema
After the tranquility and true-to-life realism of the last couple of French films I've reviewed, a quantum leap into the world of the Black Panther. I've previously expressed my opinion regarding the saturation of the Marvel franchise, with the film studios appearing to offer up one film after another for what they obviously see as an inexhaustible appetite for this type of adventure. I fear, however, that we may be getting to the point where it's too much of a good thing. Peak Marvel!
Black Panther, however, does offer something different, in that the majority of the cast is Black, which is a refreshing milestone for a big-budget superhero film such as this. They snuck in Martin Freeman as a white CIA agent, but this was hardly to satisfy the need for a 'big' star, since there is plenty of talent and star quality on show from the rest of the cast. I didn't see Captain America: Civil War, so this was my first introduction to King T'Challa, or as the title says, the Black Panther. We're introduced to the reclusive African Nation of Wakanda, where an ancient meteor strike deposited huge quantities of vibranium, a mineral that has allowed the inhabitants to develop advanced technology and keep it and themselves largely hidden from the rest of the world. The vibranium affected the plant life, and one particular plant is used to bestow upon King T'Challa super powers, which he employs in the guise of the Black Panther.
25/02/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
Another gentle French film that takes us into rural France were the local doctor, Jean-Pierre Werner, keeps the inhabitants healthy through a combination of years of experience and a very pragmatic approach. Once again the English title goes for simplicity, focusing on his 'irreplaceability' rather than his doctoring. But the need to replace him is a factor in the film, because at the beginning we see him diagnosed with a brain tumour, and being told that he must slow down. But, he's not that sort of man, and he continues with his work, which is clearly very important to him.
His consultant at the hospital, obviously conscious of Jean-Pierre's stubbornness, arranges for another doctor to help him, Nathalie Delezia, who Jean-Pierre mistakes as a patient when she arrives late in the day at his surgery. One can see that he initially resents her presence, being somewhat picky when overseeing her dealings with patients. But she isn't easily upset, and gradually eases her way into the practice. Initial concerns from some of the patients, who have become dependant on 'Dr Werner', gives way to acceptance and in time she becomes the doctor of choice for some of them. She is, however, unaware of Jean-Pierre's illness.
18/02/18 Filed in: Cinema
Guillermo del Toro has an eye for fantasy, as anybody who saw Pan's Labyrinth will testify. The Shape of Water is no less fantastic. Set in the 1960's, within an entirely believable secret research establishment, the scientists have captured a humanoid sea creature, regarded as a god in its native South America. But in the USA it is an asset, a scientific specimen that is horrendously maltreated by its capturer, Colonel Richard Strickland. He brandishes an electric cattle prod, which he employs to the point where the creature is rendered almost lifeless. He doesn't, however, have things all his own way, losing two fingers in one encounter, which doesn't improve his feelings towards his captive.
Despite the high security level at the establishment, there is a staff of female cleaners who access the restricted areas almost at will, presumably because the bosses don't regard them as a security risk. Among them is Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute orphan who was found by the river as a baby. Esposito in old Italian was a surname given to foundlings. Elisa lives in a flat next to Giles, a graphic designer, who is himself a bit of an odd fellow, but he and Elisa get on just fine. A sort of platonic friendship where each appreciates the other foibles, communication being by sign language. Elis'a morning routine opens the film, a bizarre sequence wherein she puts eggs in water, sets the timer, and then proceeds to take a bath while masturbating. It would seem that this is in fact her regular daily routine. Read More…
17/02/18 Filed in: Amazon Prime
After a bit of a break I'm back to watching French films while exercising on my static bike. Amazon has added quite a few French films since I last looked, and Ce qui nous lie has been a superb reintroduction. The English title is Back to Burgundy, which while describing the basic plot, doesn't capture the essence of the story. The translation of the French title is What binds us, which more accurately describes what is a story of family bonding as three siblings come together to resolve financial difficulties following the death of their father. It is beautifully filmed in wide screen with sublime scenery.
The story takes place almost entirely within the environs of a vineyard, where we are first treated to a view from the house as the seasons change, our narrator being the young Jean. But Jean left the family to travel the world, largely because of his uneasy relationship with his father, something that we visit as flashbacks during the story. Jean has now returned from his vineyard in Australia, the reason being to see his dying father. His sister, Juliette, is overjoyed, but his younger brother Jérémie is not so happy, having feelings of animosity towards Jean, particularly as he wasn't there when their mother died. Things are not helped when the three find that the 500,000€ inheritance tax on the estate is far beyond their ability to pay, forcing them to consider ways to raise money.
04/02/18 Filed in: DVD
This film didn't make our Cineworld multiplex, so when the DVD appeared we decided to watch it, based on some very interesting positive reviews. It's number nine in the Guardian's top 50 films of 2017.
It is different, and I would suggest very different from any supernatural film that you may have seen. It's not horror, and to an extent it's not even spooky. And even though the ghost has a few malevolent moments, it's not really scary.
Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play a young couple living in a bit of a shack of a home in Texas. She wants to move, and he doesn't. We only know him as C, and her as M, not that proper names are that important to the story. One night they are disturbed by the sound of somebody 'crashing' the keyboard of his piano. They cannot discover why this happened, and at this point you think it's the beginning of the ghost story. But it isn't, and all will be revealed much later.
31/01/18 Filed in: Cinema
This is a film that assaults all your emotions. Brutal in its honesty, with dark humour, and above all a superb characterisation of small-town America where everybody knows everybody else, and nobody's business can remain private for long. The lead performances are amazing, with Frances McDormand playing Mildred Hayes, a mother seeking action from the police department in respect of her brutally murdered daughter, Angela, an incident that has occurred before the film's narrative commences. In her sights is the police chief Bill Willoughby, equally well portrayed by Woody Harrelson. And working for Willoughby is Jason Dixon, a racist, intellectually challenged cop who lives with his mother, and behaves in many ways just like a child.
It has been months since the murder and the police do not appear to have made any progress on the case. While driving home one day Mildred focusses on the three almost derelict billboards along the side of the road. She has an idea to put them to good use. We next see her at the offices of the advertising company, in a small office in town, where the proprietor Red Welby is at first surprised to hear that billboards even exist. But they do, and Mildred takes out a year's contract to display her messages, paying for the first month from the proceeds of selling her estranged husband's pick up and trailer. The boards read, in sequence; "RAPED WHILE DYING"; "AND STILL NO ARRESTS?"; and "HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?" They are first noticed by Dixon, who is also less than enthralled by the fact that the man putting them up is a negro.
18/01/18 Filed in: Cinema
As a kid we didn't have anywhere near the range of toys that children have today, and there certainly weren't any computers or mobile devices. We were either cowboys with toy guns or some form of medieval character with a wooden sword, or perhaps a bow and arrow. I was very much a fan of cowboys, and of course regarded them as the heroes and the 'injuns' as the baddies. I've long since realised that this depiction in the old western movies and comics was at the very least a distortion of the truth. Hostiles is a film that unpicks that stereotype. Perhaps not as radically as Dances with Wolves, but with some superb characterisations it gets inside the people, revealing that things are never black and white, and that all members of the human race have a story to tell, and a right to be respected.
The action begins at a homestead, with the husband outside cutting timber while inside his wife schools two adorable young girls. Their idyll is destroyed when a group of marauding Comanches attack, leaving the wife, Rosalie Quaid, the only survivor with three dead children, one just a baby in arms.
We are next introduced to the battle-hardened cavalry officer, Captain Joseph J. Blocker, played by Christian Bale, who is in the final throes of rounding up some Apache warriors after a life of fighting the indians. After he arrives at Fort Berringer in New Mexico with his Apache prisoners, he is presented with an order that he feels he cannot accept. Colonel Abraham Biggs commands him to escort a former adversary, the Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk, to his ancestral lands in Montana. Yellow Hawk, played by Wes Studi, is terminally ill, and no less than the President himself has signed an order guaranteeing the Chief's safe return to Montana. Along with Yellow Hawk is his son, Black Hawk, his daughter Moon Deer, Black Hawk's wife Elk Woman, with their son, Little Bear.
09/01/18 Filed in: Cinema
After the true story of Molly's Game we followed that with another film based on actual events, the story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III in 1973. I remember the news of this event at the time, but it was extremely interesting to learn the story of what was going on behind the scenes during this traumatic event.
We start with the 16-year-old Getty strolling around the streets of Rome, self assured and boldly telling the local street girls that he can look after himself. A boast soon shown to be no more than bravado as he is bundled into a van by kidnappers. We also have a narrative that tells us, that while the Gettys may look like us, they are not, and this is offered as an early explanation as to why what we are about to see shouldn't be regarded in the context of what 'normal' people would do.
This film is of course marked out by the fact that many scenes had to be reshot when Kevin Spacey was removed from the cast and replaced by Christopher Plummer. I must say, however, that Plummer for me had much more the look of the ageing Getty than Spacey, and I think the film has probably benefitted from the change. It's also remarkable that the editing was completed in such a short space of time.
09/01/18 Filed in: Cinema
After a bit of a break over Christmas we've resumed our cinema visits, the first being to see Molly's Game. Another film that is based on actual events, this time as described in the memoir written by the real Molly Bloom. Jessica Chastain takes on the role of Molly, and a fine job she does of it. She must be one of the hottest properties in Hollywood at the moment.
The film is accompanied by an ongoing narrative from Chastain as Molly, in which she describes her early life and how she ended up running one of the most exclusive high-stakes poker games in the world. As a youngster, under the somewhat bullying direction of her father, played by Kevin Costner, she rose to be a competitive skier, once ranked third in North America. Hers was a very high achieving family and she appears to have been quite rebellious.
The film shows a freak accident ending her skiing career, but this is, apparently, a bit of dramatic licence. But she did move to Los Angeles and found a job that introduced her to the world of high-stakes poker. When her misogynistic boss decides to stop paying her, because she is getting more than enough in tips from her role as hostess and game manager, she decides to invest everything in setting up her own game. Taking her ex-boss's players along with her, she builds a high-class high-stakes operation that attracts extremely wealthy individuals, including celebrities from cinema and sport.