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Kilburnlad

Solo: A Star Wars Story


Solo: A Star Wars Story

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.

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Deadpool 2


Deadpool 2

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.

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Cézanne et Moi


Cézanne et Moi

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).

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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.

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Isle of Dogs


Isle of Dogs

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!

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Unsane


Unsane

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.

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Clouds of Sils Maria


Clouds of Sils Maria

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.

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Tomb Raider (2018)


Tomb Raider 2018

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.

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Les Hommes du feu


Les Hommes du feu

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.

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I, Tonya


I, Tonya

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.

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