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.