Archives for 2015 | Kilburnlad | Film | Reviews

Kilburnlad

Elle L'adore

Another French film from Amazon prime.

Muriel is the number one fan of the popular singer Vincent Lacroix. She is also a bit of a dreamer, recounting stories of questionable veracity to her friends. She works as a beautician and has two children, although they live with her former husband.

Elle L'adore

Vincent meanwhile has a girlfriend, Julie, who is a bit highly strung, and one evening 'loses it' because Vincent is playing poker with some friends. The friends leave, Vincent and Julie fight, and Julie is killed as a result of a terrible accident.

Vincent, obviously fearing for his career, hatches a plot to absolve himself from blame. He drives to Muriel's, where without telling her what has happened, he asks her to drive to his sister's in Switzerland, having moved Julie's body from his car boot to hers. Muriel would do anything for Vincent, so she agrees.

As far as Vincent is concerned everything goes to plan, Muriel having confirmed as much. But things didn't go to plan, and Muriel used her initiative, resulting in Julie's body being discovered in the Dordogne. The two police officers who lead the investigation are Pascal and Olivia, who are in a relationship, but Olivia has been unfaithful and there's friction between them, a fact that in the end affects the outcome of their case.

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Sisters

The second film this week was Sisters with Tina Fey, as Kate, and Amy Poehler, as Maura. These are both seriously funny women, as witnessed by their successful TV shows. I was, therefore, expecting something special from this film, but unfortunately it didn't work for me.

Sisters

There is a lot of humour, continuous in fact, and near the mark in places, but for me much of it was just a bit too daft. Of course I laughed, but the plot, which started reasonably sanely, descends into farce. Perhaps that was intentional.

Basically we have the successful sister, Maura, and the life disaster, Kate. Mayhem breaks out when they find out that their parents are selling the family home. Maura is merely distraught but Kate goes berserk. A plot is hatched for a final party in the house, their parents having already sold it and vacated.

Well you can probably guess what happens, and then some!

As I say, a bit too daft for me, but the reviews weren't terrible, probably on the strength of Fey and Poehler, who have a very large following. But for me this is one of the few 'thumbs-down' films I've seen this year.


Carol

I've been to the cinema twice this week, which is unusual. On Tuesday we saw Carol, with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The reviews have been very good and rightly so. This is a beautiful film that charts a relationship between Carol, a married woman in a failed relationship, and Therese Belivet, a young shop assistant who Carol meets by chance while shopping. The film is set in the 1950s, when such a relationship would have broken quite a few taboos.

Carol

Their first meeting generates feelings within both women. For Carol, who has already experienced a relationship with another woman, the feelings are familiar. For Therese, it's a completely new experience that at first she has difficulty coming to terms with, trying at one point to understand by asking her boyfriend if he has ever had feelings for another man. As you might expect, the boyfriend relationship goes quickly downhill from this point.

With her marriage becoming more and more acrimonious Carol asks Theres if she would like to go away with her, and at this point Therese's feelings are such that she readily accepts the invitation. It is during this trip that their love for each other is fully expressed while Carol's husband is meanwhile plotting to make life extremely difficult for her. The trip ends badly and the two women separate, not because of any falling out between them, but because Carol wants to protect the younger woman and deal with issues in her marital relationship.

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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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Bridge of Spies

Spielberg does it again. As soon as I saw the trailer for this film I knew that I wanted to see it, and I wasn't disappointed.

Bridge of Spies

Based on actual events, the film shows how a New York lawyer, James Donovan, at first defends a Russian spy, Rudolf Abel, and then goes on to organise and carry out a prisoner exchange with the Russians in the recently segregated East Berlin.

Tom Hanks is his usual solid self in playing Donovan, while Mark Rylance gives a remarkable performance as Abel. The paranoia of the Cold War is expertly displayed as Donovan ups the ante by not only negotiating the repatriation of pilot Gary Powers, whose spy plane was shot down by the Russians, but also a hapless American student who had been taken by the East German authorities. The Russians didn't think much of the East Germans being involved, and vice versa, while the CIA was only interested in Powers. But Donovan, forever principled, stuck to his guns, to everybody's consternation.

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11.6

I've come to the conclusion that where cinema is concerned I'm either easily pleased or my tastes doesn't align with the majority. Yesterday I watched 11.6, a French film about a security guard who one day just drives off with 11.6€ million in banknotes. That sounds straightforward enough, but his motives weren't financial, which separates this from the usual genre of bank heists. Reviews of this film were luke warm.

11.6

It's based on the true story of Toni Musulin, a complex individual who likes expensive cars and practises Krav Maga, although his use of this martial art in the film is limited to a few debilitating holds on his colleagues, by way of jests. He buys a Ferrari f430 Spider for 92,000€, apparently funded from hard-earned savings, amassed no doubt because his wife runs a bar and his money remains his.

A conscientious employee, he isn't at all valued by his boss and you can see his frustration building as the story unfolds. Once he has decided on the heist he distances himself from his wife and his normal work partners so as to not implicate them in his actions. Then, with meticulous planning, and reliance on the very poor procedures at his security company, he drives off with the money.

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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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Heartbreaker

My latest French film is Heartbreaker. Or to give it its French title, L'Arnacoeur, which is a phonetic play on words, the actual word being arnaqueur, being somebody who practises arnaque, which is a word for a swindle or a con.

Heartbreaker

Alex, with the help of his sister and her husband, operate a rather unusual business. Basically they break up relationships, which may sound somewhat harsh, but we're led to believe that it's only where the woman is at risk of marrying somebody unsuitable. Needless to say somebody, usually the woman's father, pays them to perform this service.

His ultimate challenge arrives in the form of Juliette (Vanessa Paradis) who is hopelessly in love with her soon to be husband, a rather boring Englishman - from a French perspective, if you want boring in a love-related scenario, I guess casting an English bloke doesn't need much thought!

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Le Goût des Autres

Another French film and another gentle comedy.

Le Goût des Autres

Castella is a rich but lonely business man. He is negotiating a deal that obviously exposes him to possible danger, so everywhere he goes he is accompanied by a bodyguard and his chauffeur. As a subplot said bodyguard and chauffeur become involved with a young woman in the local brasserie. The chauffeur having slept with her in the past, a fact he has completely forgotten when she reminds him of it. Meanwhile the bodyguard is far more worldly wise and soon forms a relationship with her.

Castella has also hired a 'sharp' college boy type as an assistant to help him with his 'big deal'. He rubs Castella up the wrong way while also suggesting to him that he should learn English to help in his business dealings.

Clara, an English teacher, is interviewed and promptly discounted, but a little later Castella comes across her again as an actress and is completely mesmerised by her performance in Racine's "Bérénice". From this point on he endeavours to meet her, breaking into her social circle, where he is politely ridiculed. Meanwhile his relationship with his wife, which had already become distant, is failing completely, her main emotional interest seeming to be her dog.

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Spectre

Having waited for the crowds to die down a bit, yesterday we saw Spectre. All Bond films are 'must see' for me, having read all the books when I was younger and seen all the films. I still regard Sean Connery as the archetypal Bond (showing my age) but must say that Daniel Craig has reinvigorated the genre after some pretty lean years. This latest instalment of the franchise is, quite frankly, stupendous.

Spectre

The opening sequences to these films have become a look-forward-to feature, each one seemingly outdoing the previous ones in terms of action and incredulity. For Spectre they have pulled everything out of the bag. How on earth they produce effects such as these is testament to the technical advances in cinematography and computer simulation. This opening sequence is going to be very hard to better.

Meanwhile the rest of the film doesn't disappoint. The story line is strong, the 'girls' are more than just eye candy and the villain is a worthy adversary for 007. It seems our hero has a soft spot for French actresses. Eva Green as Vesper Lynd captured his heart in Casino Royale and in the latest outing he finds himself somewhat captivated by Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann. I can fully understand why this should be the case.

The villain turns out to be Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a name from the earlier Bond films and, of course, from the original novels. The twist is that said Blofeld has a connection to Bond that comes as a bit of a surprise. This film thus reintroduces some of the original villainy and links it to story lines of the more recent films. The bits of the puzzle coming together, if you like.

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OSS117: Rio Ne Répond Plus

Having watched OSS 117: Le Caire - Nid d'Espions, it was suggested that I also watch Rio Ne Répond Plus.

OSS117: Rio Ne Répond Plus

It carries on nicely from the earlier film, with our agent upsetting just about everybody and surviving not from any innate skill but from sheer luck and help from his often incredulous partners.

In this outing he's off to Rio to recover microfilms from an ex Nazi, which contain the names of French collaborators. He's told that he has been selected because he's the 'best', which he immodestly acknowledges, but we later find out that there is a more compelling reason.

Posing as a reporter on holiday, which of course nobody believes, he ends up with Mossad agents who want to get the said Nazi back to Israel for trial. In the earlier film the Muslims were the recipients of his insults, whereas this time it's the Jews. He, of course, doesn't actually realise he is insulting people.

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Burnt

We saw Burnt today, featuring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. Reviews have been mixed and it's vying with a few other big titles, including of course Spectre. Audience reaction has been better than that of the critics, which isn't unusual.

Burnt

Cooper does a pretty good job of portraying a highly strung chef who has reappeared on the scene after a period of self-imposed rehabilitation, having succumbed to excess in Paris where he rose to be a feted chef before crashing out and letting down a lot of people in the process, some of whom return to exact payback.

The action takes place in London where, now teetotal and forsaking women, he sets out to re-establish his reputation and gain the coveted three-star Michelin rating. Of course, in the company of Helene (Sienna Miller) his avoidance of female relationships was always going to be challenged, although he starts well by giving her a good dressing down in front of everybody, having got her sacked from her previous job so that he could employ her. Not a good start.

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Les Femmes du 6e Ètage

This is the second of the French films I've watched after buying some previously owned DVDs from the Amazon Marketplace.

One of the reviews on the DVD case for this film says: "Une comédie délicate, enlevée et drôle", which I think describes it quite nicely.

as Femmes du 6e Ètage

In Paris, in the 60s, Jean-Louis, a stockbroker, and his wife Suzanne live in a grand apartment. Above, on the sixth floor, there are a group of Spanish house maids (les bonnes) who might as well not exist as far as Jean-Louis and Suzanne are concerned.

But when their French maid is dismissed (Suzanne and her didn't get on after the death of Jean-Louis' mother) Suzanne is introduced to the fact that she can find a Spanish maid, and she takes on trial the recently arrived Maria. With a bit of clandestine help from her friends on the sixth floor, the young Maria makes a good impression, and is duly appointed.

Jean-Louis soon becomes infatuated with Maria. His wife suspects something is going on, but misses the obvious and mistakenly accuses her husband of having an affair with an attractive new female client. He choses to admit to this imaginary affair rather than to his real feelings for Maria. Suzanne duly kicks him out.

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OSS 117: Le Caire - Nid d'Espions

I've recently acquired a few French films from Amazon's used DVD marketplace, and I've just watched OSS 117: Le Caire - Nid d'Espions (Cairo - Nest of Spies).

OSS 117: Le Caire - Nid d'Espions

This is a spoof of the spy film genre and draws heavily from the early Bond films. Jean Dujardin plays the Bond-type character, interestingly named Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath. His female co-star is played by Bérénice Bejo, and those of you who take an interest in such things will recognise this duo from the Oscar winning silent film of 2011, The Artist.

Hubert is, of course, God's gift to women and has no respect whatsoever for the religion of the local people, as shown by his silencing of the Muezzin, whose call to prayer wakes him up on his first morning in Cairo. He bumbles along and through sheer happenstance "saves the Middle East".

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The Martian

We saw The Martian yesterday. Yes, I know that Spectre is out, but we're going to wait until the crowds subside a bit.

The Martian

I enjoyed The Martian. It's really a story within a story. The first is the stranding of an astronaut on Mars, and his ultimate rescue. This part of the plot is pure Hollywood, with some highly unlikely decisions and manoeuvres, and of course some nail-biting suspense at the end of it all. That said, the science wasn't too unbelievable.

The other story, within the main story, is that of how the astronaut sets about surviving faced with a prolonged stay on Mars. This is fascinating as it involves a lot of applied science, and mathematics, and as such is a great advert to young people who may not have appreciated what science has to offer. OK, some of the 'solutions' perhaps stretch things a bit, but it's all based on genuine science.

There are internet reviews of the accuracy of the science [1 : 2], which are worth reading. The general consensus is that the only thing that was highly improbable was the storm that caused the the astronaut to be left behind. Martian atmosphere is so thin that a storm with such devastating effects couldn't really occur. This was clearly a necessary bending of the science in order to create the stranding scenario, and can be forgiven. On the other hand, if such a storm could exist it would have made short work of the air lock repair that used plastic sheeting and duct tape, something I found to be a bit far-fetched. I certainly wouldn't have been comfortable sitting there with only this temporary repair between me and the Martian atmosphere.

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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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Everest

Today's film was Everest. Based on a true story it reveals how Everest tourism can go badly wrong.

Everest

The cinematography is absolutely stunning. At times you can forget that you're watching a drama and believe that it's a real expedition, as it was of course back in 1996. The business of taking tourists up Everest had moved on from a single specialist company to the point where competing commercial interests had a finger in the pie. This introduced additional dangers, as bottlenecks caused delays, and when you are constrained by brief windows in unpredictable weather patterns, these delays can escalate the risks.

The back stories to the characters are of course the essence of the film. The reasons why people pay large sums of money and take such risks. The 'must reach the summit' mentality that is itself a risk factor, and can lead to even seasoned professionals pushing the boundaries.

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Macbeth

I'm a bit behind with my film reviews. We actually saw Macbeth last week. It was my choice as I fancied something a bit more serious than the average drama. Well, I certainly got that, but I'm not sure I was ready for it.

Macbeth

It's an incredibly atmospheric film, superbly acted. The problem, for me anyway, was that I hadn't read Macbeth, and the Shakespearian prose combined with the Scottish accents actually made it difficult for me to follow the dialogue at many points. Marion Cotillard plays Lady Macbeth, and it says something that this French actress was arguably easier to understand than the Scottish ones.

The film starts with a battle and ends with one, both depicted to show the brutality of hand to hand combat in those days. A long way from remotely controlled drones! The victorious Macbeth probably suffered what we would now call post traumatic stress and this results in actions that even the scheming Lady Macbeth finds hard to stomach. The 'three sisters', the witches, are seemingly forever present in his consciousness, and their prophecies turn out to be unnervingly accurate, although one could argue that Macbeth's fear of these prophecies led in a way to them being self-fulfilling.

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Solace

I must be easily pleased where films are concerned, as Solace has been roundly slated by the critics and doesn't seem to have fared much better with audiences. I didn't find it that bad. OK, the clairvoyant aspect was overplayed, especially when John Clancy (Anthony Hopkins) relates FBI agent Katherine Cowles' (Abbie Cornish) life history to her. But Hopkins is good at the psychic stuff.

Solace

Clancy reluctantly assists the Bureau in finding a serial killer but soon discovers that the killer's psychic powers are far superior to his own, to the extent that the killer is playing cat and mouse with both him and the law enforcement officers. He foresees bad outcomes for agent Cowles, but clearly wants to help and if possible protect her, as she reminds him of his daughter who died of leukaemia.

Clowes initially dismisses the whole idea of the paranormal but Clancy reveals things that cannot be otherwise explained, and when he describes intimate details of her earlier life (as mentioned above) she can no longer doubt his powers.

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Legend

We saw Legend today, the story of the Kray twins. An interesting if at times brutal biopic. Tom Hardy plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, very impressively in my view.

Legend

The East End of London of the 60s is nicely portrayed, the film starting with Reggie taking tea out to two coppers who are sitting in a Ford watching the house. Taking tea and taking the piss.

The story is related by Frances Shea, Reggie's eventual girlfriend, who tries in vain to get him to 'go straight'. This not only ends in failure, but also in tragedy.

While Reggie is mean, Ronnie is mentally deranged. The story throughout is that of Reggie trying to keep his brother in check, largely unsuccessfully. It seems that their dominance was for a time almost absolute. They were for a while literally untouchable. But Ronnie eventually oversteps the mark by murdering a rival, causing the police to reopen investigations that were previously dropped because of political pressure - Ronnie Kray having implicated senior political figures into his activities.

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Following on last week's Mission Impossible saga this week we saw The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Both are arguably of the same genre, so it made for interesting comparisons.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

My immediate reaction was to think that Henry Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo, would make a superb James Bond. I suppose my idea of Bond is heavily influenced by the Sean Connery years, and Cavill has that same suave persona and the ability to inject comedy into what is supposed to be serious stuff. Meanwhile Armie Hammer completely recasts Illya Kuryakin as a KGB superman [David McCullem as the original Kuryakin wasn't anything like this!]. He also adds to the humorous side of this production. Meanwhile, Alicia Vikander provides one half of the glamour content as Gabby Teller, daughter of a missing German scientist.

The film actually leads up to the coming together of the trio as a team, as they're certainly not buddies at the beginning. I guess, therefore, that we're in for at least one more instalment, perhaps more.

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Trainwreck

We saw Trainwreck this week. I had seen Amy Schumer on the Graham Norton show and found her very funny. She was on the show because of the release of Trainwreck, which she wrote and in which she stars.



It's basically a romantic comedy and the admittedly small audience at the midday screening we attended was certainly predominantly female, two of whom left halfway through the film. I assume that they expected something different.

For a RomCom it doesn't start very romantically. Amy's character, who's also called Amy, is a non committing kind of girl who certainly doesn't seem to be looking for true love - just sex. This is the result of an indoctrination by her father that we witness at the very beginning of the film, although her sister seems to have survived it unscathed. If the Rom bit was missing at the start, the Com bit is full on from the off, and doesn't really let up.

Amy works as a feature writer for a magazine, her hard-headed boss, Dianna, being played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton, although I didn't actually recognise her and only realised it was her when the credits rolled. It's the typical American 'Media' office, or at least typical of the sort of office portrayed in films. I suppose offices like these do exist, where people sit around and propose outlandish ideas but are never seen actually doing any real work.

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Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

My grandson stayed with us last week, which influenced the choice of film, although the Mission Impossible films are always worth watching.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

This latest instalment doesn't disappoint. Tom Cruise seems to defy ageing and it appears that he again did his own stunts. The film is non-stop action but the two most difficult and most dangerous stunts were quite amazing. In the first he clings to the door of a cargo plane as it takes off, while later in the film he undertakes a six minute free dive that may have you holding your breath.

There are scenes shot in the upper parts of the Vienna State Opera that were, by all accounts, filmed at least in part while a full production of Turandot was under way. It seems real enough as you watch it, but with all the cinema trickery now available it was interesting to learn that in this case it was the real thing.

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Hot Pursuit

We saw Hot Pursuit today. Helen's choice. The fact it had Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara in it was offered as a good reason for me to see it. I certainly regard Reese Witherspoon as an actor worth watching, her performance in Walk the Line being unforgettable. And Ms Vergara is, as was once said of Nicole Kidman, when she debuted on stage in The Blue Room, "Pure theatrical Viagra".

Hot Pursuit

So the female leads were certainly worth going to see, but unfortunately I found the film seriously wanting. Reviews haven't been good, with the critics at Rotten Tomatoes only mustering 8% positive. On the other hand, some other reviewers have praised the comedy pairing of Witherspoon and Vergara as saving an otherwise preposterous film. I must admit I did laugh many times, but I can't say that these laughs rescued what was, for me, a pretty dire story line. The running joke about Witherspoon's character's height, and Vergara's character's age, was, however, very well constructed.

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Southpaw

Today's film was Southpaw, with Jake Gyllenhaal playing the boxer Billy Hope. I hadn't pre-read any reviews, nor had I investigated the storyline. So everything was a surprise.

Southpaw

It could have been just another boxing movie. However, it is much more than that. Billy Hope, and his wife Maureen, are both the products of children's homes, which makes their current lifestyle all the more remarkable. Large house, fleet of expensive cars and a treasured daughter. After winning a fight he buys his close friends Cartier watches.

Billy's boxing style seems to be to take punishment as a stimulus to make him fight better. Not a good approach, and certainly not one that will ensure him a long and healthy life. Maureen knows this, and tells him that he can't continue to fight this way. Unfortunately he has been provoked by a challenger in the name of Miguel 'Magic' Escobar.

Before any such match can be arranged the pair meet in public with calamitous results. Billy's world is destroyed and he ends up alone and broke, while his daughter is placed in protective care. He needs to rebuild his life and convince the court that he is a fit parent for his daughter. He also needs to earn some money, so the prospect of a fight with Escobar not only offers a financial reward, but would also allow him to settle a score.

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Self/Less

We saw Self/Less this week. Helen had described the plot to me beforehand and I must admit that it didn't sound very inviting. The Rotten Tomatoes scores reflect my initial feelings.

Self/Less

However, as is often the case I found the film better than I had expected, and certainly wouldn't be as dismissive as the Rotten Tomatoes' crowd.

OK, the storyline is preposterous, but it's marketed as a sci-fi movie so one shouldn't expect reality. Although I must admit that I prefer sci-fi films that at least take the kernel of an established scientific theory as their basis.

An ageing corporate magnate, Damian, who is dying from cancer has his consciousness transferred into the body of a healthy young man. A body that is said to have been biologically 'grown'. I'm not sure which of those two propositions is the most far-fetched, but as we later find out only one of them is in fact true.

From the beginning the now young Damian experiences some unexpected flashbacks, which are not from his own life, and which are suppressed by taking drugs that he is told are akin to anti-rejection medication. This is when he starts to unravel the fact that his biologically grown body isn't quite perhaps how it was described. You can probably guess why, but I won't completely spoil things for you.

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Jurassic World

Jurassic World has opened to extremely positive reviews and spectacular box office success, so we went to see it. The formula hasn't changed much. The theme park is now fully developed but that brings its own problems, in that dinosaurs are now 'old hat', so the mad scientists have dreamt up a new attraction to keep the public coming.

Jurassic World

Using gene manipulation they've produced a dinosaur that 'isn't a dinosaur'. It's a mixture of genes that give it some interesting evolutionary leaps, such as chameleon camouflage capability and the ability to disguise its thermal image. Add to this a brain that can and does outwit the humans, well at least the less switched-on humans, and you have a recipe for a good disaster movie.

The Indominus (that's what the new creation is called) escapes, surprise surprise, and havoc ensues. A lot of people get eaten and two visiting children, who happen to be the nephews of the theme park's operations' manager, coincidently become the creature's quarry.

In this fourth outing of the Jurassic Park phenomenon we see four fearsome Velociraptors, villains of the earlier films, actually being used to hunt down the Indominus thanks to a bit of nifty animal training by the films hero, Owen. But that doesn't work out quite to plan either, as Indominus happens to have been given some velociraptor genes - yes, they're related!

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Mr Holmes

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this film and what transpired was certainly unexpected.

Mr Holmes

Ian McKellen gives an acting masterclass in this portrayal Holmes as an old man struggling with memory loss. Holmes is haunted by his last case but his memory lapses do not allow him to put the matter to rest. In this interpretation Watson, who has died, is credited with writing the Sherlock Holmes books, but Holmes knows that Watson's telling of his last case is not accurate in its ending.

Holmes has returned from Japan, where he sought a natural remedy for his declining memory, and is back in his cottage with his housekeeper and her very bright young son. Here, his bees are perhaps his most important consideration, and he introduces the housekeeper's son to the art of bee keeping. She however becomes concerned over Holmes's influence on her son, and wants to leave for another job, but her son has formed a bond with Holmes and wants to stay. Conflict ensues.

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Spy

I've been a bit busy lately so the blogging has suffered. In fact I've been to the cinema twice since I last reviewed a film on this blog.

Spy

Last week we saw Spy. The trailer enticed me, and I'm not sorry I chose to see it. It's a comedy and succeeds completely as such. Melissa McCarthy is to my mind quite brilliant in the role of agent Susan Cooper (Coop) who, having for a long time having been kept in the 'back room', is given the opportunity to get out in the field. She is given express instructions only to observe and report, but as you can probably guess that that doesn't quite work out.

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Far From the Madding Crowd

I went to see Far From the Madding Crowd today. Most reviews compare it unfavourably with the 1967 adaptation, but as I haven't seen that, I can't comment. Nor have I read the book so am unable to make comparisons there either.

Far From the Madding Crowd

From this viewpoint of not being able to compare, I must say I found the film enjoyable and compelling. Hardy doesn't seem to do 'happy' and this story certainly has its share of heartache, although I understand that among his works it is one that at least has the semblance of a happy ending.

Carey Mulligan was to my mind beautifully cast as Bathsheba. The mystery of course is how such an independent woman could have made such a profound error of judgement with her marriage, an error that was almost immediately apparent to her and everybody else. No doubt this is Hardy's take on the female psyche, but having said this it is a plot line that appears in many stories and dare I say just as often in real life.

The scenery is beautiful, as is the depiction of farm life in those distant non-mechanised days. It was no doubt far less romantic than it appears. The interiors were also beautifully shot.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

I took my car in for service on Wednesday and while we were waiting for it, we went to see Mad Max: Fury Road.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Now I must admit that I didn't have great expectations. I've become a bit disenchanted with crash/bang movies that major on destruction of one sort or another.

I was, however, very pleasantly surprised. Yes, there is a lot of destruction, mainly of vehicles, but this film moves along at a pace that will certainly keep your attention. The story line isn't fantastic, just something to hang on what is basically a car chase movie. The effects are, however, quite amazing. From the depiction of the people in this futuristic view of a post-apocalypse world, to the phenomenal action sequences that sit somewhere between computer generated graphics and mind-blowing stunts. The effect is, however, one of believable reality. It really sets a standard.

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Les Jardins du Roi

Les jardins du Roi
While in Nice, France, I went to see Les Jardins du Roi (The King's Gardens), which was entitled A Little Chaos in the UK.

Kate Winslet plays a sort of 17th Century Charlie Dimmock who is hired by Louis XIV's chief landscape architect to help create the lavish garden at Versailles. This raises a few eyebrows in the royal court and, of course, romance is in the air. Alan Rickman as the Louis XIV adds his usual brand of humour and the whole thing is a bit whimsical.

It received poor reviews and I must say it wasn't the most memorable of films. However, the French dialogue wasn't too complicated and while I didn't understand everything, there were a lot of sentences and words that I got. It is of course wholly appropriate for this film to have a French dialogue.

The final scene was pure saccharine.


Child 44

The choice of films this week was between A Touch of Chaos, with Kate Winslet, and Child 44. Reviews for both were not good, the former being somewhat whimsical, while the latter is dark and foreboding. I rather like Kate Winslet but decided in the end on Child 44, having listened to Noomi Rapace, who plays the female lead, on the Graham Norton show.

Child 44

Once again I find myself liking a film that the critics have slated. It is set in 1950s USSR, with flashbacks, including the raising the soviet flag over the Reichstag during the Second World War. Leo, the male lead played by Tom Hardy, is a secret police agent with a conscience. Raisa, his wife, played by Noomi Rapace (of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) appears afraid of him, which is hardly surprising in the atmosphere of distrust and fear that pervades nearly every scene. Everything is bleak, people appear downtrodden, and dissidents do not fare well.

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Woman in Gold

We saw Woman in Gold this week. A true story of how Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee, took on the Austrian government to try to reclaim art work that was stolen by the Nazis during the war. She was helped by Randol Schoenberg, a young American lawyer who was himself of Austrian lineage, a fact that led him to an emotional realisation that this was not just another legal case, but something that mattered to him greatly on a personal level.

The Woman in Gold

Reviews have been somewhat mixed but I was interested in seeing the film based on the trailer, and I wasn't disappointed.

It was yet another reminder of atrocities suffered by the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis, with flashbacks showing us how the Woman in Gold, a painting of Maria's aunt by Gustav Klimt, came to be appropriated from the family home. Maria and her husband escaped the Nazis but she suffered the pain of leaving her parents behind, something that haunted her throughout her life, as revealed towards the end of the film.

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Amour

We didn't get to the cinema last week as it gets a bit busy during school holidays. We did, however, watch a film we had recorded: Amour, directed by Michael Haneke and starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.

Amour

This is an exceptional film. Georges and Anne are retired music teachers in their 80s living in a rather splendid Paris apartment. Anne suffers a stroke and the story, which takes place entirely within the apartment, is that of how Georges cares for her as she deteriorates and ultimately progresses into dementia. In accordance with her wishes, he won't allow her to go to a hospital or care home, a fact that confuses and frustrates their daughter, whose help Georges rejects.

This is a story so human, so real, that it feels at times almost like a fly-on-the-wall documentary. But that would understate its artistic brilliance. A richly deserved Palme d'Or winner at Cannes, this is directing and acting at its best. Despite the subject matter, it isn't without humour, largely thanks to Georges.

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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

We managed to fit in a second film this week, namely The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I suppose a sequel was inevitable following the success of the first film. The formula is much the same, with more or less the same people, although Richard Gere comes on the scene to add some additional appeal for the women, Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) being particularly impressed.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Following the success of the first hotel the natural plot line was for expansion. Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Maggie Smith) duly go to America to try to secure backing. This opening sequence with Dev enjoying himself in his Mustang cruising along Route 66 is well done, the interview with the prospective backers being particularly amusing. The whole film is of course amusing and makes for good entertainment.

I must admit these films make India look very appealing and I would think there may be quite a few people out there of a certain age who feel that a real-life Exotic Hotel experience might be just the thing for them. Life can of course be somewhat less romantic than fiction but I could see the attraction.

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Suite Française

We saw Suite Française today. Set in the French town of Bussy during the early part of the Second Word War, it at first shows us how the residents react to the arrival of German soldiers, which in many cases amounts to denigrating their neighbours in order to win favour for themselves.

Suite Française

The story revolves around Madame Angellier, a fearsome lady who has few friends, being that she collects rent from many of the locals, and her daughter-in-law, Lucile, who she domineers and demeans. Into this strained company comes the German officer Bruno von Falk. Lucile's husband is away fighting, but their marriage appears to have been arranged and Madame Angellier is clearly of the opinion that Lucile is not good enough for her son.

Bruno turns out to be a true gentleman, who composes music, and Lucile soon finds herself with romantic feelings for him, despite the ill feeling towards French women who consort with Germans. But meanwhile others are not faring as well under the German occupation. A family that rents a farm from Madame Angellier is particularly affected when a German officer billeted with them starts to show an interest in the farmer's wife. A sequence of events leads to the death of this officer, which provokes a deadly response from the German command.

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The Boy Next Door

Today's film was The Boy Next Door with Jennifer Lopez playing Claire, a very desirable separated mum, who ill advisably has a one-night stand with, as the film title says, the boy next door, Noah.

The Boy Next Door

You can't really blame her for falling for his erudite charm but we knew it was probably a bad idea, as she did immediately after it had happened. However, ending the 'relationship' proves for her to be a lot harder than starting it, and Noah the charmer turns out to be a psychopath. Noah first has to dampen down the spark of a reunion between Claire and her husband, by first turning Claire's son, whom he has befriended, against his father, and then against his mother. Meanwhile Noah had filmed their dalliance and was threatening her with revealing all. As you will have gathered, things aren't going well for Claire, and it gets worse, a lot worse.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

Our second film this week was Kingsman. Colin Firth as you've never seen him before!

Kingsman

With the latest Daniel Craig 'Bond' films having become serious again, after Roger Moore's almost slapstick portrayals, I suppose we needed a Bond alternative that didn't take itself too seriously. Kingsman certainly meets that criterion.

Ian Fleming's Bond was certainly a 'gentleman' and the Kingsmen take this idea to a new level. Operating from a gentlemen's tailors in Saville Row (or thereabouts) these agents always dress immaculately even when on assignments, although the opening sequence allows them a temporary lapse into SAS type garb. The organisation mimics King Arthur's legendary story with the chief Kingsman (Michael Caine) being Arthur and his team of agents adopting the names of the legendary knights. The table isn't round, however!

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American Sniper

We saw two films this week. The first outing on Wednesday was to see American Sniper.

American Sniper

Critical reviews of this film were mixed but box office receipts would suggest that it has been popular with audiences. The chief criticisms seem to be that it was blatant American propaganda, it inaccurately portrayed Chris Kyle and it unfairly implied that all Iraqi people were 'bad' while all American troops were 'good'. In other words your average war movie albeit the players may be different depending on the conflict being portrayed.

I wouldn't disagree with any of those criticisms but having accepted these shortcomings I found it a very watchable film. I suppose the difficulty lies in it being based on 'fact' and perhaps it would have been better if it was a purely fictional tale, as the 'truth' would not then have got in the way.

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Selma

We saw Selma yesterday. Following on from Lincoln, The Help, The Butler and 12 Years a Slave, there has certainly been a lot of African-American history on view in the cinemas lately. It is good that we are continually reminded of the struggle that these people endured, and to a large extent still endure.

Selma

Selma tells the story of the fight for suffrage following the passing of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which legally desegregated the South. Discrimination was still rife and it was extremely difficult for black people to register to vote in certain areas. The town of Selma was chosen as the place to make a stand against this injustice, with a march from Selma to Montgomery. The first attempt at the march got no further than crossing the town's Edmund Pettus Bridge, where it was met by police, troopers and deputies, who viciously attacked the unarmed marchers while white civilians cheered. These images were transmitted across America and the world, resulting in disgust and widespread support for the marchers.

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Inherent Vice

Today we saw Inherent Vice. If you are somebody who likes a film to have a clear plot, simply defined characters who are either 'good' or 'bad' and an ending that is clear cut, then this isn't the film for you.

Inherent Vice

To put this into context, take two newspaper reviews.

First from The Guardian: Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel is this season’s most baffling experience. What does it take to get people to leave before the credits roll?

Now from The Daily Telegraph: Stupendous - 5 stars: Paul Thomas Anderson's surreally funny Thomas Pynchon adaptation is like no noir you've ever seen.

Although the review does then say that after about half an hour you realise that you are going to have to see the film again.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Larry 'Doc' Sportell, a hippy-styled private investigator (it takes place in the early 70s) who is more often or not smoking something that makes the already surreal film all the more so. Shasta Fay Hepworth is his ex who is involved in some shady goings on with billionaire Michael Z. Wolfmann, who himself is involved with a 'free' property development and a group of Nazi bikers, and who disappears along, it seems, with Shasta.

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A Most Violent Year

We saw "A Most Violent Year" today. The name relates to the fact that the action takes place during the winter of 1981, which was statistically one of the most violent years in New York's history. That said, I'm not sure that the story is necessarily overly influenced by this fact. It is, I suppose, the scenario in which the story unfolds.

The plot revolves around Abel Morales, played by Oscar Isaacs, and his wife Anna, played by Jessica Chastain. Abel is a self-made man in the heating oil business who is about to pull off a major deal to buy an adjacent oil storage site, with river access, which will facilitate his ambitious expansion plans. Having committed most of his financial reserves to the deposit, he must finalise the deal within 30 days. But some existing problems, in the form of the hijacking of his lorries and the theft of the expensive oil, are aggravated when the authorities seek to indict the company for fraudulent practices.

Fraud or no fraud, the extent of which, if any, is never fully revealed, Abel is seen to take a very moral stance when confronting the problems, refusing for example a teamster's demand that he arms his drivers. Unfortunately one driver, returning to work after a previous hijacking during which he was badly injured, decides to take matters into his own hands. This results in yet further problems for the company, and the withdrawal of support from the bank to finance the remaining purchase price for the new site. Abel is on the ropes, and Anna is losing her patience.

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The Theory of Everything

We went to see The Theory of Everything today. It's been much spoken about and I must say that both Eddie Redmayne, as Stephen Hawking, and Felicity Jones, as his wife Jane, were very impressive.

The Theory of Everything

It's very much the story of the people, rather than that of Hawking's science, although the latter does of course flow along with the personal stories. By coincidence I read A Brief History of Time quite recently. You certainly don't need to have read it to appreciate the film, although there were a few moments in the film when I felt that I understood the context more fully having read the book. Of course these were associated with technical issues, the film itself having been based on Jane's book of their relationship [Travelling to Infinity – My Life with Stephen], not Stephen's earlier technical offering.

The fortitude of Stephen Hawking faced with a totally debilitating illness is quite remarkable, but no more remarkable than the devotion Jane showed in looking after him and raising their three children. Her career was put on hold, and it's a further credit to her that she rekindled it, and is now a professor of Romance Languages. They were married for 30 years, although separated five years before becoming divorced.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

We saw Exodus today. The reviews have been pretty awful and there's been a bit of a fuss over the casting white actors in the lead roles. Not a good start then!

Exodus: Gods and Kings

I think I must be reasonably easily pleased as I didn't find it all that bad. I agree that the lead players didn't come over as very Egyptian, so perhaps some of the criticism is warranted. The story was sufficiently dynamic for me not to find the 154 minutes running time overly long, which can't be said for some films of that length. The special effects were, as you would expect, impressive. We've become so used to computer generated scenes now that they're no longer quite as awe inspiring, but the long list of computer design artists shown in the credits gives you some idea of the amount of work that goes into creating these simulations.

I must admit that my biblical knowledge is limited but I found it quite shocking how the Egyptians supposedly suffered at the hands of God. He seems to have lost that inclination nowadays as otherwise there would be quite a few people out there who might be feeling his wrath. Depicting God as a child was also an interesting take on things. Or was it just that Moses saw him as a child because of his longing for his own son?

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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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Under the Skin

I think the word that comes to mind when describing this film is 'different'! Scarlett Johansson is an alien called Laura, prowling the streets of Glasgow looking for unattached and interested males to take back to her place, where they appear to become entranced (who wouldn't with Ms Johansson giving you the come on?) and are 'absorbed' - literally. You need to make up your own mind what's actually going on, but one assumes that they are feeding some form of alien appetite.

Under the Skin

The filming is fascinating, comprising what must be real life street scenes in the city viewed from the alien's white van. It certainly adds a whole new dimension to the cult of the white van. It almost has a documentary feel to it, as the demure Laura chats up the blokes, her rather good soft English accent contrasting with that of the Glaswegians.

At a certain point, however, our alien obviously starts to develop some human feelings, or at the very least becomes a bit confused, and this culminates in a somewhat bizarre relationship (I love the bit with the table lamp!) before things start to go decidedly downhill for her.

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