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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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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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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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Lady Bird


Lady Bird

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.

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L'École buissonnière (The School of Life)


L'École buissonnière

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.

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Mal de pierres (From the Land of the Moon)


Mal de Pierres

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.

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Médecin de campagne (Irreplaceable)


Médecin de compagne

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.

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Ce Qui Nous Lie


Ce Qui Nous Lie

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.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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.

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Battle of the Sexes


Battle of the Sexes

Once again we saw a film on its opening day. I can't remember watching the original match upon which this film is based, although I do recollect the news around it at the time. And I knew who won.

While Emma Stone is a good look-alike for Billie Jean King, Steve Carrell is even more of a doppelganger for Bobby Riggs. And both convey well the respective personalities and beliefs of the people they are playing. An impassioned believer in sexual equality pitted against the chauvinistic misogynist.

However, this isn't really a film about tennis. Yes, we see parts of the famous match, but you don't need to be a tennis aficionado to recognise that the tennis we see isn't consistent with Billie Jean King at the top of her game. But there's only so much an actor can do to inhabit a role. No, this is a story about King's fight for equality in the game, and a far less public battle with her own sexuality.

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A Monster Calls


A Monster Calls

This film received very good reviews when it was released and I caught up with it this week on Amazon Prime. I can see why the critics and audiences liked it. It focusses on Conor, a young boy who is struggling to come to terms with his mother's illness while at the same time suffering significant bullying at school. He deals with things with a passive reserve that strikes you as remarkable, the young actor Lewis MacDougall giving a truly impressive performance.

Conor has a recurring dream, involving the church and the large yew tree within a cemetery that is visible from his house. The church collapses and the tree disappears into a yawning hole, and Conor is desperately trying to hold on to somebody on the edge of the opening. He always awakens at what becomes the symbolic time of 12:06.

As his mother's condition worsens he is visited by the Monster, an incarnation from the large tree with internal fires that shine through its eyes. Conor reacts with confusion rather than fear, which is remarkable in the circumstances.

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Mediterranea


Mediterranea


My choice of French films on Amazon Prime is reducing having watched a good number of them. That's not to say that Mediterranea was a reluctant choice, but the subject matter is certainly contentious at this time. It follows the journey of two Africans from Burkina Faso through Algeria and Libya before eventually reaching Italy. It contains all the ingredients that we have become accustomed to seeing regularly on the news. A trek across a desert, robbed by bandits who were probably primed by the very people who were arranging their passage, and finally the perilous boat journey to Italy. Among a significant proportion of the population I've no doubt that empathy for such people is zero, but this film shows what it must be like to be dependant on a range of people who for the most part wish you weren't there.

In Italy they meet up with other Africans and are introduced to a squat, which wasn't quite what they expected. In terms of work opportunities, there aren't any, and they are exploited as cheap labour picking oranges. However, the lead character, Ayiva, is not only a good worker but is also adept at developing relationships, leading to him being welcomed to the home of an Italian family. But the local villagers are far from happy about the presence of the Africans and in time tensions boil over leading to attacks on the immigrants. This provokes retaliation, with the authorities rounding them up and sealing off their squats. Ayiva's friend, Abas, with whom he travelled to Italy, is badly beaten by a group of young Italian men.

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Les Cowboys


Les Cowboys


Learning French has given me a far greater appreciation of French films, mainly because I watch a lot more of them. This 2015 film was recently added to Amazon Prime and I watched it this week. The title is perhaps a bit misleading. Certainly there are cowboys, of the French variety, these being people in a rural area who have an affinity with the cowboy life, dressing up accordingly for the occasional gatherings where the usual cowboy fare is on offer. It is all harmless fun. At one such gathering the Ballard family are seen enjoying themselves. We have the father, Alain, Nicole, his wife, their son Georges (aka Kid) and daughter Kelly. Alain is clearly is very fond of his daughter, as we see him dancing tenderly with her. But later in the day they realise that she is nowhere to be seen. After questioning some of her friends, it transpires that she had a boyfriend, Ahmed, a fact not known to the family.

When she doesn't turn up Alain, visits Ahmed's father, and also goes to the police, who aren't particularly helpful. In time it becomes known that she has left with Ahmed, and this sets Alain off on a mission to find her. The years pass and with Georges now a young man he and his father continue the search, although Georges is less committed than his father. Kelly has previously let the family know that she doesn't want to be found and that she has a new life. They also learn that she has a child. None of this dissuades Alain. As his father becomes more and more obsessed, Georges finally refuses to help any more. Unfortunately, tragedy then strikes when his father falls asleep at the wheel of his car.

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Mother!


Mother! - Poster

Mother! was released yesterday and we went to see it. I had seen the trailer but not otherwise paid much attention to the advance publicity. I had thoughts of Rosemary's Baby in my mind but that couldn't have been wider of the mark, although I suspect that there was an intentional misdirection at work to put people off the actual reality of the story. As one reviewer quite rightly pointed out, "This is not the film that you think it is!"

First and foremost I must say that any detailed description of this film will ruin it for anybody who hasn't yet seen it. This review, therefore, will try to tread a fine line between giving you a feel for what to expect but not telling you things that will spoil the revelation - and it is a revelation. Initial press reviews lie between 'brilliance' and 'sickening'. The third act, which is all but expunged from the trailer, is bizarre in the extreme.

We start with a burnt-out house, a crystal, and then a remarkable reversal of the fire damage to both the house and its surroundings. And we see Jennifer Lawrence as mother, waking in her bed. Now, note that she is called mother, and note that this is spelled with a lower case 'm'. This is important, because her husband, a poet with writers' block is called Him, note this time with a capital H. All other characters bear lower case names, and all the names are descriptive of their place in life: e.g., damsel, philanderer, fool, idler, and so the list goes on. But before we get to these other characters, two more important ones arrive on the scene. First, we have 'man', a surgeon who arrives seemingly from nowhere, knocking on the door much to the surprise and consternation of mother. Her disquiet heightens considerably when Him invites the unexpected guest to stay.

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Hippocrate


Hippocrate


I don't know what things are like behind the scenes in a French hospital, but you get the feeling when watching this film that it is perhaps a fairly accurate portrayal. The fact that the director, Thomas Lilti, is a medical doctor, goes a long way to explaining why this may be the case. There's quite a lot of black humour as the staff joke about a range of medical issues, along with some serious partying, such activities serving as a pressure release valve for staff working under a lot of stress with at times inadequate resources.

The English title is Diary of a Doctor, which is fitting as it follows a junior intern, Benjamin, who arrives for his first stint at the hospital full of confidence. The fact that his father is a senior doctor at the same hospital turns out to be more of a liability than a blessing, but Benjamin is keen to impress. He soon meets up with Abdel, an Algerian doctor who is interning at the hospital as his qualifications are not accepted in France. But it soon becomes clear that Abdul has the benefit of experience, something Benjamin is lacking.

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Lady Macbeth


Lady Macbeth

After this week's chilling film at the cinema, Detroit, this was another chilling experience but for entirely different reasons. Ostensibly a period drama, set in rural Northumberland, it begins with a marriage. Katherine, played quite marvellously by Florence Pugh, has literally been sold to a wealthy merchant, Alexander Lester. And she is treated like merchandise, being forbidden to leave the house and suffering humiliation in the bedroom, where her husband demands to look at her naked but has no desire for physical contact. Alexander's father, Boris, is no less unsavoury than his son, and is constantly berating Katherine for not giving Alexander a son, somewhat difficult as they never participate in sexual intercourse.

This suffocating existence continues until both Boris and Alexander are simultaneously called away on business, leaving Katherine with unprecedented freedom, allowing her to take walks out onto the moors. One day she investigates a fracas in an outhouse where a group of male workers are mistreating one of the female staff. There she has an encounter with Sebastian, a bold individual who literally lifts her off the ground. This excites her, and she contrives to meet him in the grounds. It isn't long before a tempestuous sexual relationship ensues, with Katherine releasing all her pent up emotions.

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Jeune et Jolie


Jeune et Jolie

We popped into a DVD/music store in Peterborough today and I picked up a couple of French films. Jeune et Jolie was one of them and we watched it this afternoon. Translated as Young and Beautiful it follows the life of a 17-year-old woman, who after a less than fulfilling first sexual experience while on holiday, embarks on a life of prostitution. Isabelle, the said young woman, is indeed beautiful, and also enigmatic. What drives her to behave how she does is far from clear, at least until later in the film when she receives counselling, and even then you feel that she hasn't revealed all. What she does reveal is that in an immature way she is treating the whole thing as a kind of game.

In a loving family with her mother and step father, and a younger brother, it's not a question of her needing the money. She is clearly getting a form of fulfilment from her actions, if not from the actual sexual acts. One client, Georges, becomes a bit more than just a customer. An older man, he is kind and one detects that Isabelle actual enjoys being with him. More so than some of the other clients who are much less caring. Her dalliances continue unbeknown to her mother, while she attends the lycée with her close friend, Claire, who thinks that Isabelle is still a virgin. The sexual encounters are filmed to convey the different experiences she encounters, and her associated feelings, without being overly graphic although there is of course a fair amount of nudity.

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Lion


Lion

I help run a film club in a nearby village and yesterday we screened Lion, a film that I didn't get to see when it was released. It was well reviewed so I didn't expect to be disappointed, and more importantly I didn't want our film club audience to be disappointed. They weren't. As if to validate all the good reviews, our audience clapped at the end of the film and a number of people thanked me for showing it.

It is a wonderful film in many ways. It shows the happiness of two brothers, Saroo and Guddu, who are living in what we would describe as extreme poverty in India. The film begins with them stealing coal from a slowly moving train, which they later trade for milk. A small luxury that they take back to their mother, who promptly gives each of them a drink from it. When Saroo talks his elder brother into taking him into a nearby town, where there is work, this sets of a series of events that will change Saroo's life. Tired from their trip, Saroo falls asleep on the railway platform. When he awakes Gaddu is nowhere to be seen. Saroo searches a train but having not found Gaddu, falls asleep again. When he awakes the train is in motion and he can't get off. In fact he doesn't get off until the train arrives in Calcutta, some 1600 km from his home. As a Hindi speaker he is not understood by the local Bengalis.

The risks to an unaccompanied child in Calcutta are great, and Saroo has a couple of close shaves before ending up in an orphanage, from where he is adopted by a couple from Tasmania, Sue and Joe Brierley. They also later adopt a second Indian boy, Mantosh, but whereas Saroo is quiet and reasonably accepting of his new life, Mantosh appears to be more damaged psychologically, and is very disruptive.

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I Daniel Blake


I Daniel Blake

I didn't get to see this film at the cinema when it was released but it has recently been added to the Amazon Prime collection and I watched it yesterday evening. It was well publicised at the time of its release so I already had a fair idea of what it was about, but in actually viewing it I was still shocked at the portrayal of the current state of Britain's social welfare system. I accept it's a story and not a documentary, but reaction to the film when it was released, from those who had experienced the system, was overwhelmingly supportive of the fact that it was telling things very much as they are.

Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old joiner in Newcastle who is recovering from a heart attack. His cardiologist has told him that he isn't yet fit enough to return to work even though he would like to do so. Despite this, having undergone a 'work capability assessment' by a woman who is clearly reading from a script and has, it would appear, little medical expertise, he is deemed to be fit for work. Because of this he is denied unemployment support allowance and must instead apply for jobseekers allowance. He tries to explain that he has been told by his doctor that he can't work, but the bureaucratic machine is now in full swing and if he doesn't comply he will be sanctioned, which means he'll get nothing. He's given no choice other than to go to a presentation on how to produce a CV.

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Miss Montigny


Miss Montigny

The Amazon summary of this film labelled it as comedy, but I certainly wouldn't describe it as such. In fact, in many ways it is quite sad, the ending in particular being a bit bitter sweet.

The story takes place in Montigny, a former mining town in Belgium. Sandrine is our central character who works in a supermarket promoting cheese but dreams of opening a beauty salon. She's already found a run-down premises, which her and her friend Gianna are trying to redecorate. Sandrine's mother Anna is very supportive, too much so as it ultimately turns out. Meanwhile, Anna's relationship with Sandrine's father isn't all that it should be and her life goal seems to be to help Sandrine succeed where she herself feels she has failed.

Raising money for the salon is proving to be difficult and, encouraged by her mother, Sandrine signs up for the Miss Montigny contest in the hope of winning and using the prize money to realise her dream. At the sign up, Sandrine and her friend Gianna fill in the forms, guessing their vital statistics. This bit of laxity ends up being a big mistake.

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Cousines


Cousines

I've tagged this as a French language film but it's actually Haitian and the dialogue is more of a creole, making it almost impossible for me to understand, give or take the occasional identifiable French phrases and words. It's also a very low budget film, with an estimated budget of $85,000 compared with an average of $100 million for a major studio movie. This is reflected in the production values with both sound and vision being less professional than we've perhaps come to expect. However, this should not be allowed to detract from this offering from the fledgling Haitian film industry, a country that doesn't enjoy the wealth of other nations.

Jessica is a young woman whose father is working in America. She rents a room from friends of her father, Margareth and Gasner, but early in the film she learns that her father has died. If this wasn't bad enough, Gasner is adamant that she must leave her room, since her father was paying the rent and without it, Gasner needed to rent the room to somebody else. Out on the street, Jessica goes to her cousin, Johanne, who takes her in. From there, Jessica visits her estranged mother, who is invalided, neither speaking nor, it would appear, hearing. Jessica realises that there is no place for her there, and returns to Johanne's.

Johanne has a number of 'boyfriends', her way of life really being nothing less than prostitution, although each boyfriend sees her as a future partner rather than a prostitute and she strings them along rather than treating them as clients. Jessica observes this but is non-judgemental. Johanne, on the other hand, is quick to advise Jessica that she should never follow the same path.

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Captain Fantastic


Captain Fantastic

You know you have an interesting film when the Guardian's film critic Peter Bradshaw awards it one star, while the Observer's critic, Mark Kermode, awards it four. Which of them is right ? This is certainly a unique sort of film, although our esteemed professional critics always seem to be able to make comparisons with earlier offerings. For me it was something different and although at times it stretched credibility, it certainly turned conventional wisdom on its head as far as raising children is concerned.

The film starts with a moving panorama of a forest in the Pacific Northwest, before zoning in a nervous deer browsing foliage. You just know this animal is going to meet a sticky end, but the manner of its demise makes you jump. A young man daubed with camouflage mud is the hunter and soon the rest of the family arrive, all similarly muddied, led by Ben, the father. This has been an initiation into manhood for Bodevan, the eldest son. If you think his name's odd, try the others: Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai, three girls and another two boys. The names were chosen to make them unique, each being the only person 'in the world' with that name. This exemplifies the philosophy that Ben adopts for his children, who he home schools in a forest encampment, where they all bunk out in a giant wigwam.

They hunt, trek, train in self-defence and climb sheer rock faces while amassing an enormous amount of book-based knowledge in their isolated existence, where the cult of social media, and the associated technology to access it, doesn't so much not exist as is totally unheard of. They speak multiple languages, critique literature at a level far beyond their years, wrestle with quantum physics, and much else. And they reject outright the world that exists outside their parochial existence.

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Mon Roi (My King)


Mon Roi (My King)

Directed by French actress Maïwenn Le Besco, this film certainly offers a female perspective of what it must be like to be a woman in love with an absolute jerk. I felt sorry for her and embarrassed by his shameless mistreatment. Vincent Cassel plays the said jerk, Georgio, while Emmanuelle Bercot is his long suffering girlfriend/wife Tony.

The film starts in the mountains where Tony launches into an aggressive downhill ski slope, this being the prequel to us seeing her in convalescence recovering from a serious leg injury. During this recovery she reflects back on her relationship with Georgio, the good, the bad and the awful. In fact the film continually jumps between the convalescence home and their past, to the point that at the end I wasn't too sure what time frame I was watching.

Their relationship starts in a club, where Tony eyes Georgio, prior to flicking water in his face. In doing this she is emulating what she had seen him do years before, when she was serving in a bar. It was part of his chat-up technique. They are instantly attracted to each other and thus begins a fun-filled period, which is portrayed as being everything one could wish from a relationship. The only problem is that Georgio had a girlfriend, Agnès, a model, who calmly informs Tony that she has stolen her man. It transpires that Georgio has known quite a few models: quite a few women in fact. And Georgio hasn't quite fully broken off his relationship with Agnès, so when she attempts suicide and ends up seriously ill in hospital, Georgio starts to spend more and more time with her, and less with Tony.

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Moonlight


Moonlight

After taking the Best Film award at the Oscars this year Moonlight returned to our local cinema, giving me a chance to see it. I had read reviews and had an idea what the film was about, but in the event it was to some extent a bit of a surprise. One of the first impressions was the camera work, an early sequence appearing to have been filmed with a hand-held camera creating an almost vertiginous feeling as the viewpoint encircled the subjects in a far from stable fashion. The other thing that becomes apparent as the film runs is that the cast is entirely black.

The film is presented in three acts, representing three stages in the life of Chiron, a gay black boy who struggles with his identity while growing up in Miami. The first act is entitled 'Little', referring to Chiron's nickname while he was a child.

Juan is a Cuban drug dealer, complete with a flashy car, nice house, attractive girlfriend and kids out on the street doing the business. But he is at heart a good man. Chiron is bullied relentlessly and after being chased by other boys he locks himself in an abandoned building that is being used as a 'crackhouse'. Juan finds him and tries to talk to him, but Chiron remains mute. After a further unsuccessful attempt to communicate with Chiron at a diner, Juan takes him home, where his girlfriend Teresa gradually gains the young boy's confidence. As Chiron eats another good meal, Juan remarks that although he doesn't talk much he sure can eat.

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Fences

Fences with Denzel Washington opened at our cinema today and we caught the first screening. It's an adaptation of a play and this shows in that nearly all the action takes place in a single location, a back yard and the associated house. And it's a real life setting, not a film studio.

Fences

This film is an acting tour de force, as one might expect from a stage adaptation. Denzel Washington as Troy is quite superb and is matched by Viola Davis who plays his wife Rose. Troy, who didn't have a good start in life, portrays himself as a victim of racial discrimination. He once dreamed of a baseball career but this was stymied by virtue of him being coloured, a fact made even more galling when coloured players started to be accepted at the time he became too old to be competitive. Although he of course doesn't accept that he was past his prime. He now works as a waste collector and is not particularly happy with his lot.

Rose and Troy have a son Cory, and Troy has another son, Lyons, from a previous relationship who only seems to appear on Fridays to borrow some money. Troy's philosophy towards other people has been shaped by his past and as a result he gives Cory and Lyons a fairly hard time. Much of the film involves highly charged exchanges between Troy and his sons, while Rose tries to mediate although is also often the recipient of Troy's particular brand of philosophy. The relationship with Cory deteriorates when Troy refuses to sign documents that would allow his son to pursue a football scholarship, fearing on one hand that Cory would be treated like he was, while also perhaps not wanting Cory to succeed where he had failed. Troy also refuses to visit the club where Lyons plays in a musical group.

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L'Hermine (Courted)

Amazon currently has a number of very good films on offer that are free to watch for Prime members. The latest on my watchlist is L'Hermine, referring to the attire of the criminal court judge in this courtroom drama. The English title, Courted, is a play on words, referring obviously to the court, while also alluding to the romantic story that runs in parallel with the progress of the trial.

L'Hermine (Courted)

Michel Racine is the judge, or more correctly in the French criminal court (cour d'assises), le président of the court. A fact that he takes pains to point out to a number of the witnesses, who mistakingly address him as Monsieur Judge. He has a ruthless reputation, not improved by having a touch of the flu, and is about to try a case where a young man is accused of killing his baby daughter by kicking her. We are shown the preliminaries of the case, including the selection of jurors. During this process, whereby the judge picks names from a pot, the name Ditte Lorensen-Coteret comes out, causing an immediate change in the judge's demeanour. There is obviously history between them.

The trial commences and a recess is called much earlier than usual, caused it seems by Judge Racine's encounter with Ditte. When things recommence the accused, Martial Beclin, refuses to answer any questions, simply saying in response to each that he didn't kill his daughter. The trial progresses with evidence from witnesses and interventions by the lawyers for each side, but it is interesting how the judge himself also asks searching questions. Also, before each witness is dismissed from the stand the jurors are also given the opportunity to ask questions.

During a lunch break Racine contacts Ditte by SMS and eventually they arrange to meet. Apparently such a meeting between the judge and a juror is not illegal but highly unusual. It transpires that Ditte, a nurse, looked after Racine after a serious accident, following which he had effectively fallen in love with her. Attempts then to stay in contact with her had failed. He doesn't want this second encounter to end in the same way and expresses his love for her, while she remains noticeably noncommittal. At a subsequent meeting between them, Ditte's 17 year old daughter is there, having unexpectedly come to court to watch proceedings. Racine and her actually get along very well, although she does take a call when he's part way through reciting verse, prompting him to remark that she obviously wasn't impressed by the poet.

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Dans La Cour

I'm working my way through the French language films on Amazon Prime and from the brief summary on screen I expected this to be another light comedy. It's billed under comedy and drama but the story is for the most part a bit sombre, and the ending is far from funny. That said, there is some humour along the way.

Dans La Cour

Antoine is a seriously depressed singer with a rock band and the film begins with him walking out of that life, literally. Unskilled, and of a somewhat sullen disposition, he finds it difficult to find and hold down a job. A woman at the job centre (agence d'intérim) suggests a job as a caretaker (guardien) at an apartment block, which comes with accommodation. He gets the job, not as a result of his interview which is far from sparkling, but because the landlord's wife, Mathilde, played by Catherine Deneuve, takes a rather instant liking to him. Mathilde, as it turns out, is also depressed, worrying herself awake at nights because of a growing crack in one of the walls.

Antione and Mathilde are thus somewhat like souls, and as he struggles with life, not helped by drinking and taking drugs, she becomes more and more obsessed with the state of the building. A particularly annoying tenant, Laurent, is continually bothering Antoine, while another young man, Stéphane, who also lives in one of the flats, presents problems by storing a number of probably stolen bicycles in the courtyard, one of Laurent's bugbears. Then Lev arrives, selling self-help books on meditation, and Antoine, feeling sorry for him, ends up allowing him to stay in the storeroom. Lev has a dog, and the night time barking becomes another source of complaints from Laurent. Thus Antoine's desire to have a quiet life turns out not to be realised. The comedy aspect of this film lies in these many interactions.

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Manchester-by-the-Sea

This week at the cinema we saw Manchester-by-the-Sea. It has been well received and that's not surprising considering the strength of both the story and the acting. Casey Affleck gives what will probably be the performance of a lifetime as the brooding Lee Chandler.

Manchester-by-the-Sea

Lee is working as a janitor in Quincy, Boston. He is good at his job but extremely temperamental. His mood swings between being most helpful to downright antagonistic, depending on how he is treated. He receives a call saying that his brother, Joe, has been taken seriously ill. There are a number of flashbacks in this film, one relating to Joe being diagnosed with a life shortening heart disease. By the time that Lee has driven to the hospital, near Manchester-by-the-Sea, Joe has died. The film actually starts with Joe and Lee on a boat with Joe's son Patrick, and on Joe's death his will requests that Lee becomes Patrick's guardian and trustee. This doesn't seem an unreasonable request but for Lee it is a bodyblow. It is a while before we learn why Lee feels that he cannot take on this responsibility, which takes us in another flashback to an incident that changed him as a person, and caused him to move away from the area.

The film then explores the relationship between Lee and Patrick, and the anguish that Lee suffers as he tries to manage affairs after his brother's death and come to terms with his responsibilities to Patrick. Things are not made any easier by Patrick's strong will and desire to stay where he is, while Lee wants them to move back to Boston. Further complications arise in respect of Lee's former wife, who he meets at the funeral reception, and Joe's former wife, they having become estranged after Joe's diagnosis. Patrick's sex life adds further complications as he is playing the field with two girlfriends, the mother of one showing an interest in Lee, an interest that isn't in any way reciprocated.

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Down by Love (Eperdument)

The French title of this film, Éperdument (madly / head over heels), perhaps conveys its story better than the English one. It's based on what was a quite recent real life event, when in 2012 a prison governor, Florent Gonçalves, was jailed for a year after having sexual relations with one of the female inmates at a remand centre at Versailles. The woman concerned, Emma, had been part of a gang that carried out a horrific assault on a young Jewish man who died of his injuries. The governor had a brilliant career in front of him, being at that time the youngest in that position.

The film takes a somewhat more sanitised view of this affair. The woman is named Anna in this dramatisation and we are never told what her crime was, while the governor is Jean Firmino. The casting of Guillaume Gallienne as the governor provides a remarkable likeness to Gonçalves (second photo). Adèle Exarchopoulos plays Anna.

Down by Love (Eperdument)

The way the story is told suggests that what started as a fascination between the two of them slowly developed into a deeper relationship, leading to the point where he was infatuated, thus the film title, jeopardising his job and ruining his relationship with his wife. In the real life story, Emma had lured the young Jewish man to his death, suggesting she was somewhat of a seductress. In the film Anna is shown as falling for Jean rather than overtly seducing him, although at one point she does pose topless for an art session while he is watching, the class being taken rather bizarrely by his wife, who also works in the prison. In fact at this point his wife begins to suspect that there is something between them. However, at an earlier point in the story Anna asks to be transferred because she feared things were getting too serious, and much later she says to her mother that she didn't want Jean to lose his job, or to be responsible for breaking up his family. She certainly doesn't come across as a classic femme fatale.

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Comme un Avion

My latest French film viewing on Amazon Prime. It fascinates me how the English titles of French films are often far removed from the original French. In this case 'Comme un Avion' becomes 'The Sweet Escape'. I can see the reasoning behind each, the change presumably reflecting the distributors take on the different cultures.

Comme un Avion

Michel dreams of being an airmail pilot and spends quite a lot of time walking around with a model plane in his hand simulating flying. Thus you can see where Comme un Avion (as a plane) comes from. Despite being bought flying lessons for his birthday, one suspects that he realises that he will never be an aviator, so when he spots an advert on line for a kayak, his attention is immediately drawn to the similarities of cruising along in a plane and cruising along in a kayak. So he buys the kayak and plans a self-sufficient adventure, having had no training other than practising by walking around on his roof terrace with the frame of the kayak suspended about him as he pretends to paddle.

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

We recorded this film a considerable time ago as it had received very good reviews, although I didn't know much about the story. Yesterday evening we finally got around to watching it.

It is said to be a response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster although the setting is fictional. It is certainly an unusual film that verges on fantasy, but I've no doubt that there are bayou communities in Louisiana that exist in such poverty and are at such risk from rising sea levels.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

The star of the film is Hushpuppy, brilliantly played by Quvenzhané Wallis, who was 6 at the time of the filming. At the age of 9 she became the youngest Best Actress nominee in the history of the Oscars. In the film she lives with her father, Wink, in a ramshackle home raised above the ground in deference to the constant risk of flooding. Wink and Hushpuppy seem to have a fraught relationship as they literally just survive in the hostile environment, not that either of them complains too much. Their neighbours are equally bizarre, although apparently reasonably content with their way of life. As if things aren't difficult enough, a major storm is forecast and everybody makes preparations as best they can, although in the aftermath the raised homes prove to be largely inadequate against the freak weather.

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By the Sea

As the review in the Guardian says, "only a star of Angelina Jolie Pitt’s immense clout could get a film like By the Sea made." It stars Jolie and her (now estranged) husband, Brad Pitt, as Vanessa and Roland, a couple whose marriage is not in a good place. Vanessa is constantly morose, for reasons that are only revealed well into the film. While Roland is a writer. They've travelled to the south of France ostensibly, it would appear, to inspire Roland in writing a new book. He seems to do far more drinking than writing, having established a friendship of sorts with the local bar owner, who himself is still mourning the loss of his wife. His love for his departed wife contrasts starkly with the state of Roland and Vanessa's relationship.

By the Sea

A lot of the very sparse dialogue is in French, and given that I could hardly hear the softly muttered English dialogue at times, subtitles were indispensable. The film moves at a pedestrian pace, with the first half hour or more seeming to comprise of Roland going to the bar, Vanessa reclining on the bed or the balcony, and the two of them constantly at odds. Things change, however, when a newly married French couple occupy the adjacent room. By chance Vanessa found a peep-hole giving a view of the couple's bedroom and it isn't long before she is spying on them. One assumes she is envious of their relationship rather than looking for titillation. At the same time she is sure that Roland wants to have sex with the young woman, although there's absolutely nothing to substantiate her accusations.

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A Street Cat Named Bob

We went to see this film on Wednesday. Helen, who watches a lot more films than I do, had mopped up most of the titles that were screening this week but had given this one a miss. I quite fancied it, and I'm pleased that I decided to go.

A Street Cat Named Bob

Based on a true story, and following a very successful book, the film recounts the story of James Bowen, a recovering drug addict who lives rough and earns money busking around Covent Garden. After succumbing to temptation when offered heroin by an associate he almost dies, and this episode convinces him that he must kick the habit. With the help of his support worker Val, played by Joanne Froggatt, he is given a flat where he is visited by a ginger cat. After unsuccessfully trying to find the owner, he adopts the animal, or should I say that the cat adopts him. It follows him to the bus as he sets off for a day's busking. After this, the cat becomes his constant companion and is extremely popular with the public, leading to a welcome uplift to his takings.

Early in their relationship the cat returns injured, which serves as an introduction to a neighbour, Betty, who is a volunteer at a local vet. James ends up spending his food money on the vets' fee and so begins the close relationship between him and the cat, who he has named Bob at Betty's suggestion. James also clearly has feelings for Betty, which are repressed because he doesn't want her to learn he is a junkie. Betty's brother died of an overdose.

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Deep Water Horizon

We saw Deep water Horizon today, a film that has received favourable reviews. BP don't come out of it very well at all, as we already knew from the media coverage at the time. The tension builds in the film until you're not actually sure exactly what's going to happen, or when, quite an achievement by the director considering it's an incident that received so much coverage.

Mark Wahlberg plays a central role, as the chief electrical technician, and his story links back to what it must have been like for the relatives back at home. This provides a human storyline that would have been replicated in many family homes. Of course, 11 members of the team never came back.

Deep Water Horizon

This was a trial drilling prior to setting up a working rig and we see the BP managers eager to get past the trial stage and put the rig to work, to the extent that safety checks were curtailed and fears of a pressure build up were dismissed as a 'glitch' in the measurements. We all know what happened, but the film adds substance to that with some incredible effects as the rig first suffers a blowback and then catches fire. There are some captions to explain some of the technical details but knowing a little bit about how drilling rigs work will add the understanding of what unraveled.

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Suzanne

My French film season continues courtesy of Amazon Prime. This week the film was Suzanne, the story of a young woman's life from childhood, albeit that the film jumps large periods of time as her story unfolds.

I didn't know what to expect from this film. It starts at a children's dance show where Suzanne is with her father, watching her elder sister, Maria. We soon learn that their mum has died young, although we never learn why. The father, Nicolas, an HGV driver, is doing his best to bring up the two girls. At first Maria appears to be the 'wild child', but it is Suzanne who becomes pregnant and has the child, much to her father's shame.

Suzanne

Suzanne then meet Julien and he becomes the centre of her life, to the extent that she leaves her child, Charlie, with her father. But Charlie is taken into the care of foster parents as Nicolas's job means he is away from home for long periods.

Next we jump to a court hearing, where Suzanne is charged with theft and assault in relation to acts carried out with Julien, who fled justice and left her to carry the can. She is sentenced to five years in prison. While her father becomes almost estranged, her sister continues to support her.

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Pauline à la plage

Yet another French film from Amazon Prime. Made in 1983, I found the acting a bit wooden, but given that the Rotten Tomatoes review awards it 100% from the critics (87% audience), who am I to judge?

I believe that the acclaim for the film probably rests with the fame of its director, Éric Rohmer, described by the Daily Telegraph after his death in 2010 as "the most durable film-maker of the French New Wave", and with his characterisation of the four principal people.

Pauline à la plage

Pauline arrives with her older cousin Marion at the family holiday home on the coast of north-west France. They soon meet up with an ex boyfriend of Marion, Pierre, who is clearly overjoyed to see her again, and hopes to renew their partnership. But Marion has other ideas, and is soon involved with Henri, an older man who is clearly a bit of a womaniser, and to whom Pierre takes an instant dislike.

Pauline, meanwhile, is observing all of this, while having also struck up a friendship with a local lad, Sylvain. Marion's not too keen on Sylvain, while at the same time she is pursuing what is clearly an affair with Henri that's going nowhere. Her advice to Pauline is, therefore, somewhat hypocritical, and doesn't carry much weight.

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Joy

I'm a bit late with my film review this week, having seen Joy on Wednesday.

Yet again Jennifer Lawrence delivers a fine performance as Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the Miracle Mop, and who went on to become a self-made millionaire with a business empire.

Joy

The film has actually received mixed reviews, although most credit Lawrence even if criticising other elements of the film. She has been nominated for an Oscar making her the youngest actor to ever receive four Oscar nominations.

The beginning of the film depicts a chaotic family with Joy holding everything together. Her divorced mother watches the same soap every day, Joy's ex husband, Tony, lives in the basement, her half-sister Peggy is antagonistic to her, and her dad has just 'been returned' by his girlfriend. Her grandmother, who encourages her to follow her dreams, is probably the only 'normal' person in the household.

Dad finds a new girlfriend, Trudy, a wealthy Italian widow, and everybody is invited on to her former husband's yacht. There is a 'no red wine' rule, to protect the deck, but Joy's Ex charms Trudy into allowing him to bring a crate on board. As a result of this, for reasons you can probably guess, Joy, a natural inventor, ends up turning her mind to designing a mop that doesn't need to be wrung out by hand.

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Un Prophète

Having watched all the French DVDs that I recently bought I'm now finding films for streaming on Amazon Prime. The latest was 'A Prophet' a crime thriller based around a French prison where a Corsican gang leader, César, and his henchmen effectively run the place.

Un Prophet

A young Arab prisoner, Malik, arrives and is quickly picked out by César as a useful asset. To gain César's protection, which is worth having in what is a very dangerous environment, he must do a 'little job' for him - kill another inmate. From this point on he becomes César's property, while being haunted by his victim.

This film has a very realistic feel about it. It won the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix in 2009 and Best Film at the London Film Festival in the same year.

As the plot develops Malik starts to undertake more jobs for César during his 'good behaviour' release days, these having been expedited as a result of César's influence. But Malik is far from stupid, and he starts to develop his own interests. Meanwhile César's influence is threatened when a number of the Corsicans are returned to Corsica, reducing his muscle, while a growing Muslim contingent in the prison is seen as a threat.

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The Lady in the Van

The story of how the playwright Alan Bennett allowed 'Miss Shepherd' to park her van in his driveway in Camden Town for 15 years.

The Lady in the Van

Maggie Smith plays Miss Shepherd and I must admit that after watching her I can't imagine anybody else in the role. Superb is no exaggeration. Alex Jennings meanwhile is equally good as Alan Bennett. The device of physically portraying Bennett as the two parts of his character, namely the person and the author, is very clever. The film is above all a character study, and from this flows a continuous stream of humour.

While the other residents of the street wish that the lady and her van would move on, Bennett helps her, albeit reluctantly at first. The exchange between Bennett and the social worker over his role as her 'carer' is hilarious. As the film progresses we learn more about Miss Shepherd, if indeed that is her name. Her story is a sad one. Once a gifted concert pianist, her life was changed by her time in a convent, and then by an incident that leads her to believe she is a fugitive from the law. Add in a blackmailer, and her constant need to confess her sins, and we start to understand why she is as she is.

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Suffragette

We saw the film Suffragette this week. I was impressed.

Suffragette

It seems hard to believe, even though we know it's true, that not so long ago women had to resort to civil disobedience to get the vote. Even more surprising, according to historical information that appeared on the screen after the film, is that a woman had no legal rights over her child until 1925. This meant that a husband could place their child for adoption and the wife could do nothing about it - absolutely astonishing.

Rotten Tomatoes shows the same enjoyment rating from both audiences and critics (79%), which doesn't happen very often. Perversely, in their cast listing they don't show Carey Mulligan, which must be an editorial omission, as she is without doubt the star of the film. She has already shown herself to be an accomplished actor and in this film she excels.

The general impression of the Suffragettes is, I believe, one of educated and society ladies, but Mulligan plays a working class woman (Maud). The film thus shows both the plight of these women at the beginning of the last century, which didn't have much to recommend it, and the fact that they too played a part in the furtherance of universal suffrage. And many paid a high price, as in Maud's case.

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Toutes nos Envies

To help me learn French I often watch French films with French subtitles. I recently saw Toutes nos Envies (All our Desires), a sad story but also one of courage. Unfortunately a lot of the dialogue was very quietly spoken and, consequently, difficult to understand. The subtitles also often appeared to show different words to those that the actors spoke. However, the story was easy to follow and I enjoyed this film. The performances were strong and the relationship between the main characters had depth.

Toutes nos Envies

Claire is a young judge who takes on finance companies in order to help clients who have taken on loans without realising that the interest rate is too high to pay. But she becomes unwell and discovers that she has an untreatable brain tumour.

Stéphane is an acquaintance who helps her by providing legal advice and a strong platonic relationship develops between them. She confides in Stéphane that she is going to die, but hasn't told her husband. This creates a very emotionally complicated situation.

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Birdman

We saw Birdman today. I went without researching the film any further than what I had seen in the trailer. In this case I think that the trailer is a bit misleading and perhaps would dissuade some people from going to see the film. By this I mean the superhero type sequences. Now these are important when viewed in the context of the film, but as part of a trailer - well, they could mislead. A couple actually walked out part way through the film, so my assumption may be correct.

Anyway, to the film. It's the story of how Riggan Thomson, a former star of the 'Birdman' movies, is trying to establish himself as a serious actor and director of a Broadway play. All the time he is haunted by the ghost of Birdman trying to persuade him to return to the role for which he is well known.

Birdman

There is a subplot that leads one to believe that Thomson is indeed superhuman; or perhaps not human at all. Witness the asteroid scenes suggesting perhaps some form of visitation. There are also apparent superhuman capabilities, such as telekinesis, and ultimately flying. The film actually starts with him levitating. However, if you begin by thinking he does indeed have these powers, the flying scene later in the film will probably leave you feeling that it's in fact all in his alter ego, if you haven't already reached this conclusion. However, just as you think you've got the whole thing sussed, the final scene recasts all the doubts.

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Big Eyes

With BT having bought EE (formerly Orange), our Orange/EE Wednesdays will end in February, so I'll have to start paying for my admission. However, today we only paid for one and went to see Big Eyes. Helen's choice but I was happy with it.

As they say, it's based a the true story, that of Margaret Keane who painted those big-eyed pictures of little waifs back in the 60s. Her husband took the credit for the paintings and it was only after they were divorced that the truth came out, resulting in a court case with a somewhat unusual finale.

Big Eyes

Apparently Amy Adams, who plays Margaret Keane, was reluctant to take the role because she preferred playing strong women, but her stance changed after she herself had a child. Certainly Keane wasn't a strong woman. In fact she was tortured by the fact that her art was being claimed by another person, and even more so by the fact that she had to keep up an ongoing lie to her daughter, as her husband insisted that nobody should know about the subterfuge.

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The Free State of Jones

Today we saw The Free State of Jones, a drama set during the American Civil War. It stars Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight, a man who walked away from the civil war conflict to set up a community of like-minded people, including a number of former slaves. The reviews have been mixed, some professional critics having a problem with the fact that it's "yet another" black slavery story told from a white perspective. Audiences, meanwhile, see-saw between thinking it to be brilliant, to believing that it is too long, has too many sub plots and is too slow. I enjoyed it, if for nothing else that it showed once more the struggle that then existed, and still exists to this day, for African Americans seeking equality in society.

The Free State of Jones

A young kinsman of Knight is killed during a battle, and this is the catalyst for him deserting, albeit initially solely to return his son's body home. Having been branded a deserter there's no going back and after escaping a posse with chase dogs he is helped to a refuge in the Mississippi swamps, where he meets former slaves. Meanwhile the confederate soldiers are taking food and livestock from farming families and Knight's support for them transforms him and his group from being merely a nuisance into a perceived threat to the confederacy. His group grows as he convinces them that the real enemy are the land owners, whose sons are not conscripted. "We are fighting a war for their cotton".

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The Great Gatsby

Today's trip to the cinema was for The Great Gatsby. I didn't like Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, although many did, but was willing to give this film a try.

Having not read the book I can't comment on the interpretation. It was a story well told but I didn't come away enthralled, or indeed with any real feeling of having seen something memorable.

It certainly portrays the shallowness exhibited by those who had money in 1920s America. But perhaps nothing has changed in that respect. The acting was certainly good and I thought Carey Mulligan in particular was well cast.

I'm afraid that Gatsby's habit of referring to all and sundry as 'My Old Sport' never seemed that sincere from the off, and actually began to jar by the end of the film.


Mud

Having been in France for a month it's quite a while since I went to the cinema. Today's Orange Wednesday's treat was Mud.

The choice was between Iron Man 3, Startrek and Mud. I chose Mud because it seemed to offer a change from the onslaught of special effects.

And it turned out to be a good choice. Set in Arkansas, this is a story of how Ellis, one of two boys featured in the film, learns to deal with his feelings about love and friendship. He experiences his parents relationship break down, his 'girlfriend' turns out to be nothing of the sort, and he and his friend, Neckbone, encounter the mysterious Mud, who is on the run from the law because he killed a man who mistreated Juniper, the woman he has loved since childhood.

With fine performances all round, and the backdrop of the Mississippi, this was a very watchable film. Publicised as a coming-of-age story, with more than a passing nod to Huckleberry Finn, it gets my vote. Reviews at Rotten Tomatoes are also overwhelmingly positive.


A Song for Marion

Today we saw 'A Song for Marion', starring Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton and Vanessa Redgrave.

Basically a comedy but wrapped up in a beautifully crafted story of the relationship between Arthur (Terence Stamp) and his terminally ill wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave).

I've had a liking for Gemma Arterton ever since seeing her as Tess in the BBC production of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Her role in this film as Elizabeth, the music teacher, was made for her.

It's in the same genre as Quartet, but for me was more convincing. And don't forget the tissues. A comedy it may be but the emotions are raw.


Lincoln

Today's film was Lincoln.

My detailed knowledge of American history is not good enough to know how many liberties were taken in the making of this film. I'm sure there were a few. That accepted, it was a very compelling story and extremely well acted by Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Fields and Tommy Lee Jones in particular.

As you would expect from Spielberg, the period setting was totally convincing, and I noted in the credits that a White House historical society had played a part in the contemporaneous portrayal of the appearance of this iconic building.

What came as a bit of a surprise was that it was the Democrats who were vehemently opposed to the passing of the thirteenth amendment, enacting the banning of slavery. And if accurately described, it was truly an uncompromising opposition. There is a revealing scene when having been appalled by the suggestion that the freed slaves may also get the vote, the members of the House were seen to be even more repulsed by the suggestion that emancipation may then come to women. We've certainly moved on somewhat since 1865.

For me it was 2½ hours of great cinema.


Les Miserables

We finally got to see Les Miserables today. Fantastic. Although I suppose I'm a bit biased as I loved the stage musical.

A number of people to whom I had spoken had expressed disappointment with the film. Some thought the singing wasn't up to scratch while others hadn't actually realised that nearly all the dialogue would be sung.

For those who didn't realise it was a 'musical' I can understand their 'disappointment'. However, I think that those people who felt the singing wasn't good enough were, to my mind, missing the point.

The lead roles were taken by actors, not singers. And this is important, because whereas on stage you see things at a distance, and it's the music, singing and stage craft that carries the show, on film you are up close and personal. In the scene where Anne Hathaway as Fantine sings "I Dreamed a Dream' you get a close up of the extreme anguish and despair that this poor woman is experiencing. The song itself is a heart-breaker but with Hathaway's incredible interpretation the thing is almost unbearably sad to watch. OK, it wasn't the best rendition of this song, which has been performed by some fantastic vocalists. But as a piece of acting alone it was brilliant, and to act like that while singing, with the whole thing being done live during the take, was something very special indeed. To my mind she should get an Oscar for those 4 minutes 40 seconds alone.

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Life of Pi

We saw The life of Pi today and it was quite incredible. Ang Lee can be relied upon to produce something special and this is no exception. The film obviously relies heavily on CGI but the brilliance lies in the fact that it's only your intuition that informs you what is likely to be real and what is generated in a computer. The 'joins' certainly aren't visible and suspension of disbelief is easily realised.

And the ending is both unexpected and superficially baffling. It's only when you start to think about it, that you realise that you are being asked to make a personal choice, and that the choice you make is effectively a reflection of your beliefs. If you've seen the film and are still struggling with the ending, try Screenrant.

Brilliant film and amazing cinematography. Interestingly in France the story is entitled L'Odyssée de Pi, which is probably more descriptive, as an odyssey it certainly is.


Quartet

Our weekly trip to the cinema was put on hold over the holiday period and today was our first visit for a few weeks. We saw Quartet. The cinema was packed.

The reviews have been mixed but I guess we must be easily pleased as we found it a very enjoyable film. Despite being directed by an American (Dustin Hoffman) it is in my opinion quintessentially English, with a predominantly British cast including Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon and Pauline Collins.

It's definitely going on the list of films to show at the village film club.