Archives for 2013 | Kilburnlad | Film | Reviews

Kilburnlad

Saving Mr Banks

We saw Saving Mr Banks last week. This review's a bit late as a number of other things have been occupying my time.

The film basically tells the story of how Walt Disney, after years of endeavour, finally managed to convince the doubting author of Mary Poppins, P L Travers, to release the film rights for her series of popular children's novels. Travers didn't want her characters trivialised by the 'Disney' treatment and it appears that she was a very difficult person to convince. In fact she was a very difficult person, full stop.

What was a surprise, for me anyway, was the back-story. The character of Mary Poppins was, it seems, created from Travers' childhood experience as a young girl growing up in Australia. The quintessentially English author was, therefore, actually Australian, but she had put that part of her life behind her; or had she?

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Hunger Games - Catching Fire

We went to see the latest Hunger Games film yesterday, the second of the trilogy. I enjoyed the first and this sequel didn't disappoint.

Katniss and Peeta seriously upset the apple cart in the first film by both surviving the 'Games', wherein 'tributes' drawn from the 'districts' are meant to fight until only one is left. This has led to them becoming symbols of hope for the downtrodden people in the districts, something that is upsetting the 'Capitol' even more than the way the two of them manipulated the games, which led to their joint survival.

To suppress what appear to be nascent murmurings of revolution in the districts, the forthcoming games are recast such that the tributes are to be drawn from previous winners, this being a device to eliminate Katniss and Peeta, but it merely results in them garnering even greater support from the people.

So the games commence, but an unexpected pact seems to develop within a group of the tributes, which, given 'the only one can survive' nature of the games, is unexpected. But not all is as it seems.

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The Butler

Yesterday's film was The Butler. The reviews were mixed with more than one making reference to 'Downton Abbey', which sort of degrades the film's credentials somewhat.

For me the reminder of the extremes of racism that existed in America was sobering; in fact quite shocking. And, of course, many problems still exist, as we recently witnessed in the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of the George Zimmerman. In the film, Cecil Gaines (The Butler) is shown as a child witnessing the cold blooded murder of his father by their white 'boss'. No retribution. No arrest. No trial. Blacks had no rights. Kill them and bury them. Much has changed, but there again, much has not.

I enjoyed the film although in defence of the less favourable reviews I did feel that something was lacking. I can't put my finger on it. Perhaps it tried to fit too much in, spanning what was a long life and a number of administrations. But, having said that, it's definitely worth seeing.


Gravity

As it was tipping down with rain all day yesterday we went the cinema and saw Gravity, a film I was keen to see. And I wasn't disappointed.

Every so often a film redefines cinema and I think Gravity fits this genre. One review said that it is less of a movie and more of an experience, and that describes it nicely. The whole thing is, of course, a computer simulation, but it's so real that if you didn't know better you would surely assume that it was actual filmed footage. I'm not a great fan of 3D cinema but this film is an exception. There are no 3D gimmicks, just a fantastic 3D simulation of what it must be like floating in orbit around Earth. Ethereal and very hazardous, as it turned out.

The plot isn't anything special and probably a bit far-fetched in parts, although it doesn't stretch the imagination too far. There are in reality only two actors, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, playing respectively Matt Kowalsky, a veteran astronaut, and Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission. The other 'actors' are just voices.

Disaster strikes in the form of a chain reaction of space debris, initiated by the Russian's decision to destroy one of their satellites. The shuttle is badly damaged and only Kowalsky and Stone survive the debris storm, but are left floating in space. The ensuing story of their struggle for survival forms the plot, and I won't say any more at the risk of spoiling it for anybody who is planning to see the film.


Philomena

Today's Wednesday film was Philomena starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

The cinema was packed, a very unusual occurrence for an early afternoon screening, but this I suppose is merely testament to the drawing power of Judi Dench, who was absolutely superb in the role of Philomena. Steve Coogan complemented her performance admirably.

This is the sad and almost unbelievable story of how Philomena as a young girl fell pregnant and was shipped off to the convent where the nuns showed her absolutely no mercy or compassion. Her son, after being delivered from a breech position while she was forced to suffer the associated trauma without pain relief - as penance for her 'wrongdoing' - was sold for adoption to an American couple. Fifty years later she tries to find him, with the help of former BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith, who is contracted to write her story.

The cruelty meted out in the name of religion is breathtaking and shows how religious fundamentalism is equally dangerous whatever religion it purports to represent. Equally surprising is how Philomena's religious upbringing doesn't allow her to apportion blame and the final scenes are a lesson in humility and true Christian values, which were arguably absent in the sisters who caused her so much pain.

A fine British film.


One Chance

We saw One Chance last Wednesday and I enjoyed it. The reviews, however, are somewhat tepid, which leads me to believe that I am perhaps easily entertained.

The Guardian reviewer felt that James Corden was hopelessly miscast as Paul Potts. In fact I detected from him quite a downer on James Corden. As I know absolutely nothing about the real Paul Potts I am unable to judge.

Whether or not the real life relationship between Potts and his girlfriend Julie was as sweet and quirky as the film portrays, for me the narrative played out very well. Alexandra Roach, who plays Julie, has the most lovely soft Welsh accent that you wish to hear, assuming of course you like the Welsh accent.

I suppose that what was in reality quite a tough climb from obscurity to stardom may have deserved a film that was a lot less fun, but the director was clearly not making a documentary and has instead delivered something that I feel may be a lot more popular with the general public than it is with the film critics.


Sunshine on Leith

Today's film was Sunshine on Leith. Anybody who comes out of the cinema not feeling uplifted after seeing this film must be very depressed indeed.

You have probably already guessed that I thoroughly enjoyed it. The narrative is woven around the songs of the Proclaimers and it all makes for a very enjoyable 100 minutes of cinema.

Contrived - yes. Artificial - yes. But it's nice sometimes just to settle back and enjoy the fairy story, even though there were a few heartbreaking moments along the way. But, as with most fairy stories, everything more or less comes right in the end.


Rush

A day late this week but today we went to see Rush, the story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

Quite brilliant. The racing scenes are fantastic but it's the story of the rivalry between the two men that is spellbinding. Lauda, the ultimate technician and Hunt, the raw talent, pitted against each other during the 1976 F1 season. An absorbing insight into the emotions of both men, one calculating the odds and not being prepared to push them, the other with a do or die attitude, not letting anything stand in the way of his ambition to be the F1 champion.

But Lauda did push the odds, his 'unlikable' character leading him to be outvoted by the other drivers when he suggested abandoning the German race at the Nürburgring because of the appalling conditions. It was during this race that he crashed and nearly died as a result of the fire that engulfed the car. Amazingly he was back on the track a couple of months later.

The adverts before the film (lots of ads for testosterone fuelled cars) suggest that the marketing folk rated it as a male preserve. If so, this was a mistake, as it's a very human story that happens to involve people involved with Formula 1. Don't miss it.


About Time

Today's film was 'About Time'. Reviews have been mixed, from downright dismissive (Chris Hunneysett Mirror.co.uk) to generally enthusiastic (Rotten Tomatoes).

OK, it's saccharine, it hangs on a ludicrous time traveller plot and almost everybody lives happily ever after, but all of this makes quite a pleasant change.

I liked it, and far from agreeing with the Mirror reviewer who felt that Richard Curtis was Yank-bashing, by giving Rachel McAdams "dodgy hair and dowdy clothes", I thought she was absolutely charming and would have fallen for her if she was wearing sackcloth.

Yes, Domhnall Gleeson was perhaps a bit too much like Hugh Grant, and yes it was a bit formulaic of Curtis's previous successes, but it was entertaining. I agree that the 'rules' of time travel were a bit arbitrary, and at times perhaps contradictory, but I really don't think there's much point splitting hairs over something that's generally regarded as impossible. And some critics have been exercised by the 'father and son' thing. I suggest you forget all that and just sit back and feel good. For me that was not difficult in the presence of Rachel McAdams.


Elysium

Today we saw Elysium. Helen now has a monthly CineWorld pass so I have to choose what film we see on Orange (EE) Wednesday while she can see anything else she fancies on other days.

I chose Elysium on the basis that I'm quite happy to see sci-fi and the fact that Jodie Foster is usually very discerning about what films she choses to make. Unfortunately I didn't warm to Foster's character, which I suppose wasn't surprising as the woman she plays isn't particularly nice. But it was more than just the nasty role. I found that there was something not quite convincing about her characterisation, and it pains me to say this as I think she is an exceptionally fine actor. Matt Damon, on the other hand, was for me far more convincing.

The plot assumes a massive leap in technology between now and 2154 but that's what one would expect from sci-fi. It also assumes that we will have wrecked the Earth, which is less hard to believe. The 'have-nots' live on the overpopulated planet suffering disease and deprivation while the 'haves' live on an orbiting space colony, Elysium, with every luxury you could imagine and advanced medical technology that it would seem can cure anything and re-grow any form of body damage. Just a futuristic projection of where we are at the moment if you think about it, and there is certainly a political message in this film. To emphasise this point the poverty that is displayed is real, having been filmed in the world's second largest garbage dump - on the Bordo Poniente landfill site in Mexico City. Whereas the luxury of Elysium, full of pristine lawns, swimming pools and sun loungers, was shot in Vancouver. Showing that the gulf between rich and poor is in no way a futuristic projection but an existing reality.

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The Lone Ranger

We went to see The Lone Ranger last week but I've only just got around to telling you about it. The film had poor reviews generally, although, interestingly, the audience figure for positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes is twice that of the 'approved critics'. That doesn't surprise me as I often like films that the 'critics' have panned.

So what about this one. Well, it's a comedy, although not in the Shakespearian sense as too many people get killed. Johnny Depp plays Tonto, and as in Pirates of the Caribbean, his makeup is flawless, and original. I liked Tonto, as I long ago sided with the 'injuns', having spent most of my younger childhood playing at shooting them. They were the good guys, but not in the western books and comics that I read in the 50s. But the Lone Ranger, the man that is, was not what I expected. He was portrayed as a bit of a twit, with Tonto providing most of the brainpower and wisdom. Now it's nice to see the injun put in this role, but for somebody brought up on westerns I found this diminution of the famous Texas ranger a bit hard to take.

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Only God Forgives

We saw Only God Forgives on 'EE' Wednesday. I'm a bit late reviewing it as I've not actually been on the computer much this week. Many other things to do!

A challenging film. Perhaps I was expecting something else and wasn't quite ready for it. Helen had suggested either Red 2 or this film. I knew what to expect from Red 2, the usual formulaic action drama stuff. You know, turn off the brain and watch the mayhem. Only God Forgives requires much more thought. I was tempted to say it resembles Kill Bill without the humour, but that would be probably doing it an injustice.

The characters are all a long way from what most people would regard as 'normal'. Two brothers, one psychopathic the other seriously taciturn and a mother whose parenting probably accounted for the brothers' personalities. A policeman who metes out a rather special kind of justice, when not entertaining his colleagues with his singing. Much of the dialogue is in Thai and there's a fair amount of oriental mystique about. You would be excused for losing the plot at times.

Do I recommend it? Well, it depends on whether you want a film that makes you think and whether you can stomach some fairly explicit body mutilations, which are far more realistic looking than the Tarantino variety. And as you might of guessed, there are no happy endings.


Now You See Me

Today's film was 'Now You See Me'. It seems to have received quite poor reviews but I actually enjoyed it. As I've said before, I'm a sucker for magic, which may explain why I seem to have liked the film more than many of the reviewers.

The plot was a bit like the magic, plenty of misdirection. Just when you thought you knew why 'The Four Horsemen' were doing what they were doing, you discover that you were wrong. And the final twist was pretty difficult to foretell, although with hindsight there were clues along the way.

Mélanie Laurent added French interest and the final scene on Le Pont des Arts brought back memories of my recent stay in Paris.

If you like magic and are willing to have your imagination stretched somewhat then you may well enjoy this film.


Man of Steel

I keep referring to Orange Wednesday, but of course it's now EE Wednesday, but that doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Today it was Man of Steel. I remember being bowled over by the original Superman film with Christopher Reeves. In 1978 the 'special' effects were ground-breaking, and impressive. As they said at the time, "you'll really believe that a man can fly." We've long since absorbed this type of effect and these days it's difficult to be surprised by people 'flying', and by whole cities being reduced to wastelands. So while these things were present in today's film, it needed more to differentiate itself. I was however impressed by the inclusion of sonic booms and shock waves as he broke the sound barrier - nice touch.

For the women the differentiation was no doubt provided by Henry Cavill, who even from a male perspective was, I must admit, certainly up to the job. But us males weren't short-changed, since Amy Adams is playing Lois Lane.

Fan worship aside, I liked how this version was structured. Clark Kent's job at the Daily Planet only came at the end, and we instead saw him in a number of jobbing roles as he came to terms with his identity, and his uniqueness, and the childhood years were presented in flashbacks triggered by events in this adult life. Russell Crowe was great as his father and the demise of Krypton, and the reasons for this, were I thought described in more detail and more convincingly in this version.

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Populaire

Back to Orange Wednesday after a couple of weeks' break from the cinema. Today I was treated to a French film: Populaire.

I found this to be a lovely film. Perhaps a bit too sweet for some, but I was enchanted by Rose (Déborah François) and enjoyed the mix of emotion and humour. And, for a change, I actually was able to understand quite a bit of the French. Not enough to have enjoyed it without subtitles but enough to be able to compare what they actually said with what the subtitle editor came up with.

It has been compared in some respects with The Artist. The Guardian review made the following observation:

Where The Artist was a black-and-white homage to the American silent cinema of the 1920s that was shattered by the coming of sound, Populaire is a love letter to the under-appreciated Hollywood movies of the 1950s, with a wonderful feeling for the textures of Technicolor.

If you like French films it's well worth seeing.


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.


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

I chose the film for today's Orange Wednesday trip to the cinema and made the mistake of not consulting the reviews first. I'm a sucker for magic so The Incredible Burt Wonderstone seemed like a good idea.

Lightweight, and probably a bit too long, this film was a bit too stupid even for me. OK, there were some good comedy lines but the whole thing was pretty preposterous.

The bit where the ageing magician, Rance Holloway produced a dove out of a salt cellar was impressive if entirely unlikely. Jim Carrey, as the alternative face of modern magic, was completely off the wall, which for him is nothing unusual.

I can't say that I would recommend it but if you want to switch off your brain for 100 minutes then by all means go along and chill out.


Side Effects

Orange Wednesday and today's film was Side Effects.

I knew nothing about the film before sitting down to watch it. It was Helen's choice.

For the first half or so I thought I was watching an impressive account of the dangers of modern anti-depressant drugs, and very convincing it was too. Rooney Mara, her of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was superbly showing how depression can destroy a life and how drugs are not necessarily always the answer.

Jude Law, playing the psychiatrist Jonathan Banks, who by pure chance became involved with Mara's character Emily, finds both his professional and personal life unravelling as a consequence of Emily's actions.

But all is not as it seems, and the story of depression turns into one of intrigue. I won't say more at risk of spoiling the film for others.

Well worth seeing.


Arbitrage

Todays film on Orange Wednesday was Arbitrage with Richard Gere. Helen has now joined the CineWorld Unlimited club, which means for £14.99 a month she can see as many films as she likes, plus there are other discounts and early viewing opportunities. What surprised us today is that we could still use the Orange Wednesday buy one get one free scheme. So she used her Unlimited card and I got in for free. Can't be bad.

Anyway, back to Arbitrage. With the Oscar blockbusters now history the film choice has not been as easy. With the Oscar nominations it was a matter of how can we fit them all in. Now it's a matter of what's worth seeing. Helen asked me to choose, and having read the reviews for the current films, Arbitrage seemed to come out best.

The plot centres around financial dealings, or skullduggery depending on your point of view. Add to the mix an illicit relationship and an unexpected calamity, and we have Richard Gere's character, Robert Miller, a 60-year-old investment-fund billionaire, trying to dig himself out of a very deep hole that is getting deeper by the day.

With no special effects, a credible plot narrative and Gere giving a very good performance, the film was a refreshing change from some of the recent extravaganzas. I agree with the Guardian review, in that I found myself unsure whether I was wanting Robert Miller to get his comeuppance or to pull off his bold attempt to survive what seemed to be a certain downfall.


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.


I Give it a Year

We saw 'I Give it a Year' today. A sort of back to front rom-com where we start with a marriage and end up with a divorce.

There were certainly some good laughs, many of the cringing variety. The visit to the marriage counsellor was particularly funny. It was a film that certainly didn't need super concentration.

Spoiler alert - don't read below the clip if you don't want the ending spoiled.



What I couldn't quite get, however, is while Nat (the wife) ultimately ends up with her American, Chloe (the husband's ex-girlfriend) deserved an awful lot more than to end up back with this all-time a***hole. So what was supposed to be the 'dream' ending didn't work for me.

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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Captain Phillips

We saw Captain Phillips today. I know it's not EE Wednesday but golf was rained off and it's a film I wanted to see. And I wasn't disappointed.

It's a dramatisation of the true story of an attempted hijack of an American cargo ship by Somalian pirates. They didn't, however, bargain for the resourcefulness of the captain, who through his initial evasive action and the prior preparation of his crew managed to save his ship, but at the expense of being taken hostage by the pirates in a lifeboat.

The relationship between the lead pirate, Muse, and Captain Phillips is in itself a fascinating storyline. Muse is portrayed in a way that caused me to feel a large degree of sympathy for him, and indeed for the pirates in general, which I certainly wasn't expecting. He is portrayed as astute but poor Somalian who was of course a mere foot soldier being sent on his task by more powerful men back on shore. At one point he boasts of getting millions from a previous hijack, to which Phillips asks "so why are you here?" Of course he would have seen little of that money, which really tells the whole sad story behind the pirate activity, and behind most forms of organised crime.

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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.


Gangster Squad

We saw Gangster Squad today. Very violent but with humour and very watchable.

A group of hand-picked cops leave their badges at home and set out to take down Mickey Cohen, a psychotic mobster who wants to own LA, and is well on his way to achieving his goal.

I particularly liked officer Max 'Hopalong' Kennard, who seemed to have drifted in from a wild west movie, replete with his Colt 45 (or something very similar), lightening fast draw and dead-eyed shooting.


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.


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