Category Archives: Movie Reviews

January Gems

The old year crossed into a new decade as I was glued to a destruction of a relationship. Devouring ‘Marriage Story’ in a couple of chunks on the small screen, the Netflix original has garnered four nominations (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress) in the current Academy Awards. It is interesting to note that movies made for the television platform have attracted 24 in all in a game-changing year. There’s no doubt that the performances of Adam Driver, Scarlett Johanssen and Laura Dern are exceptional as the couple at the core of the break-up spiral into the depths, assisted by the legal fraternity made up of Dern and a welcome cameo from Alan Alda. You feel compelled to stay with it to the last rites to see if the pair can claw something back out of the sorry mess. Driver’s character, a self absorbed stage-director, is totally career driven to the exclusion of his partner’s feelings. She, played by Johanssen, had to cope with his immaturity whilst trying to juggle a child and her own professional aspirations. The beauty of it being a generous two and a half hours-ish in duration is that you can spread it over as long a period as suits – and it is well worth the expenditure of time. Now ‘The Irishman’ and ‘The Two Popes’, also up for Oscars, are on my ‘to view’ list.

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Big screen wise Leigh and I had the pleasure of accompanying three grandchildren to ‘Dolittle’. I admit I enjoyed watching their faces, as they savoured the offering, more than the actual film itself. It wasn’t as bad as many critics have reported, but I found it hard to be attracted to Robert Downey’s performance and his relationship with the beasts, large and small, of the planet.

The most fun I’ve had at the cinema for quite a while came with ‘The Gentleman’. With a cast including Matthew McConaughey, ‘Sons of Anarchy’s’ Charlie Hunnam, ‘Downton’s’ Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Eddie Marsan and Hugh Grant, as we’ve rarely seen him before, the screen was full of London gangland mayhem and black, black humour. Guy Ritchie’s directing career has been patchy, but with this ensemble of class actors he’s on a winner.

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In contrast two movies that are the antithesis of the hectic pace of the above are ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ and ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ (how I hate leaving out the ‘u’!). The pace could be almost glacial with both, but the rewards are worth your forbearance.

The first listed has been greeted rapturously by the critics and has picked up a handful of prestigious gongs on the film festival circuit. With this product most of the joys are delivered towards the end, so patience is a virtue. For most of its length we can be satisfied by appreciating the sheer beauty of what is on screen, with the land and seascapes, as well as the gorgeousness of the two French female leads. In fact, there’s barely a male to be had, only the ferrymen at the commencement and a few more just before the end credits roll. It’s set in the late C18th on a storm blasted island off the coast of Brittany. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives on the isle to pretend to be a lady’s companion, but her hiring is really for the purpose to paint a portrait in secret. A noblewoman ensconced in a great gothic pile is at the bidding of her mother, determined to marry her off, something Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is none too happy about. The painting, of course, is necessary currency in the days of arranged marriages, pre-photography. The prospective Italian groom has to know what he is getting. Gradually, though, the truth is unmasked and a relationship, which becomes somewhat more than mere companionship, develops. It’s stunning, with added spice, perhaps for some, that the actress playing the initially frosty Héloïse ’s was once herself the partner of the opus’ director, Céline Sciamma.

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The slow boil continues with ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’, but here the pleasures are littered evenly throughout. It is essentially a vehicle for Tom Hanks, although his nomination at the big award is for Best Supporting. Matthew Rhys capably takes the lead as a gun reporter asked to write a puff piece on a living national treasure, Fred Rogers. A singular host of children’s television, he was a real life figure who was an institution for decades. Said reporter refuses to believe that Rogers can be so perfect a figure and sets forth to discover the darker side to the man that must be there. He bites off more than he can chew as Rogers regularly turns the table on him – with the result that the puff piece becomes so much more. It was also great to see ‘This is Us’ actress Susan Kelechi Watson in a prominent role, supported by Chis Cooper, who is always a treat.

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The movie has had mixed reviews from ‘a tonic of a film’ to ‘not even Tom Hanks can save this mess’. Stay for the end credits, with the minute’s silence mid-length being a highlight. I liked it very, very much. When Hanks and Rhys appeared on Graham Norton recently they reported that the director, Marielle Heller, was constantly asking both to slow down the speed of their delivery on set. I thought TH, in particular, was quite mesmerising as he did this. The lengthy pause is a constant feature of his performance.

So I struck it lucky in January with four gems. What will February hold?

Trailer for ‘Marriage Story’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHi-a1n8t7M

Trailer for ‘The Gentlemen’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B0RpUGss2c

Trailer for ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-fQPTwma9o

Trailer for ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VLEPhfEN2M

Blinded by the Boss

Forty Years ago I fell in love. Forty years ago, at some stage during 1980, I purchased ‘The River’. I was smitten then and I still am. The Boss, backed up by the full bombast of the E Street Band (Nils Lofgren, Steve Van Zandt and the late Clarence the Big Man Clemons are amongst the august band’s alumni) on that double album, won me. Then came the more subdued solo release ‘Nebraska’, which I also played to death, in 1982. Of course, two years later, everybody’s synapses were filled with the ear-worm that was ‘Dancing in the Dark’. Sales of ‘Born in the USA’, now on the indestructible CD format, went through the roof. For me it was an okay release but, compared to ‘The River’ and its follow-up, it was second tier for the Boss.

With CDs not introduced into Oz until 1982, my original ‘The River’ was on vinyl. Prior to it I had been aware of Springsteen – may have even purchased a couple of his earlier breakout albums. But it was the sumptuous double with tunes like ‘Hungry Heart’, ‘Independence Day’, ‘Point Blank’, ‘I Wanna Marry You’ and the eponymous title song that made me a fan for life.

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I can’t say I have all of Bruce’s output – just a goodly number are sitting in my rather jumbled CD shelving. I’ve been buying him since the 80s. ‘Human Touch’, ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ and ‘The Rising’ are also amongst my favourites. And stored away somewhere, I proudly possess his ‘Live/1975-85’ box-set on vinyl. Last year came ‘Western Stars’. Not everyone took to it – but I did. Under the influence of wife Patti Scialfa’s musical nous and as a tribute in part to the great Glen Campbell, he changed direction. The Boss moved away from the E Street sound and that of his other solo work to produce a collection of self-written songs that are full of lush, almost elegiac arrangements, also courtesy of Patti. It is a paean to the American West and in my view, it’s a beauty. But, in good news for the true believers, there is evidently another release chalked in for later this year with his signature backing band.

Yep, 2019 was a big year for our ageing hero who has reached the big 7-O, but obviously still going strong, as I hope to be approaching that milestone. At the commencement of last year he’d just finished an extended run of his one man show, ‘Springsteen on Broadway’. You can see what that was all about on Netflix. It’s a stage memoir of his life, with some acoustic songs thrown in, much like what Jimmy Barnes has done here in Oz. Well worth seeing. But, basically, last year was all about ‘Western Stars’ though, now with a cinematic documentary to accompany it. That ran in the multiplexes for only a short time, so hopefully it will also soon appear on a small screen platform.

In my admiration of Sprinsteen and his music, I can safely say, I am no Sarfraz Mansoor. BS has certainly rocked my life, but it didn’t come to dominate it, unlike with super-fan Sarfraz. He was 16 in 1987, leading a quiet so-so existence; son of a migrant family in grimy Luton, United Kingdom. One day he came across another fellow Paki, who was wearing both headphones and a rapt expression. Said fellow was jiggin’ his noggin to the Boss. Now Mansoor had heard of Springsteen, but associated his music with white bread old farts. Dads trying to be hip and with it. What could he possibly have to say to a young Pakistani youth going to school in a hardscrabble industrial town? Quite a bit it turns out, with Amolak trying to convince him of that from the get go. His new mate loaned him a few tapes which he inserted into his music machine that evening after school. And would you believe – the first ditty he listened to was ‘The River’. It blew him away into some sort of parallel universe. He was soon even more fanatical than the tape’s owner. That chance meeting began a lifelong infatuation. The Jersey Shore is not so removed from Luton, UK, after all.

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Mansoor credits the Boss for expanding his horizons, dragging him out of his challenging environment into his present day life of journalism and broadcasting. His friendship with Amolak has endured with a now quite famous image of the two of them, taken in 1990, when the duo visited BS’s ‘My Hometown’, on the Asbury Park Boardwalk, New Jersey. So how did this photo of a pair of English Paki fans achieve a celebratory status?

In 2007 Sarfraz Mansoor released his memoir ‘Greetings from Bury Park’; Bury Park being a suburb of Luton. Sprinsteen officiandos will get the reference. And these days Sarfraz has more than one close buddy. Another is film director Gurinder Chadha, famous for ‘The Viceroy’s House’, ‘Bride and Prejudice’ and the iconic ‘Bend it Like Beckham’. She took SM to the London premier of a documentary, ‘The Promise’, made about the album ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’. Of course the great man just happened to be in attendance and as friends do, Gurinder introduced Sarfraz to him. By this stage the now well established Mansoor had been to over one hundred concerts of the New Jersey singer. It came out later that the Boss was actually starting to recognise him in his audience for he was always up near the front. He stood out with the big hair do he sported at the time. Once Ms Chadha mentioned his name to BS something totally unexpected happened. The performer’s eyes lit up and he said, ‘I’ve read your book and it’s amazing’. So the stage was set.

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Gurinder had always thought there was a film in her friend’s tale, but the difficulty of getting the rights to the singer’s musical catalogue would possibly be a bridge too far. And what would the movie version be without those songs that transformed a life? But, with the knowledge that the man was well aware of the written work of her pal, there was a bit of daylight. For a while she was sidetracked by other projects, but come Brexit and its possible curtailing of unlimited immigration to Britain, she began to feel the time may well be opportune. It could portray what it was like growing up in the UK during a period when life could also be pretty grim for a newcomer to the country if his/her skin colour was little dark. She started work on a screenplay. By 2017 the only issue that remained was the music. Mansoor managed to get an email personally to Bruce himself, bypassing his middle men and he found the Boss was quite okay with them using some of his songs. ‘Blinded by the Light’ came to our cinemas in 2019.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this coming of age, rite of passage saga up on the big screen. I suppose it helps being enamoured of the same music myself, but I suspect even a non-fan would be uplifted by this movie. And there, in the end credits, he or she would see that Jersey Shore snap of two bosom buddies celebrating the fact that they had made it to the Boss’ old stomping ground.

Apart from his fascination for the E Street’s major asset, Sarfraz always harboured a desire to actually live in the US, where he felt the grass would be greener and that the country would live up to its reputation for a place where anybody could make it. He was working towards that when the Twin Towers came down. After that, the UK, for all its issues, seemed the safer place to be. But he still visits the US regularly and there’s that lovely moment, featured in the movie, where a reference to the Boss smoothed his entry into the country at a time when any man of colour was regarded with some suspicion. The Boss opens doors.

From S Mansoor himself – ‘His songs reflected a working class experience that echoed mine. He sang about fathers and sons with an honesty and empathy that made me reflect on my relationship with my own father. He also articulated a generous version of American patriotism that suggested the US was an inclusive and welcoming place.’ It goes without saying that this image has been destroyed, in recent times, by you know who.

The world needs movies like ‘Blinded by the Light’ to counter the toxicity associated with Trump, Brexit and the rise, once again, of xenophobia. See it if you can. Love him or not, this ode to Springsteen is a ripper.

Trailer for ‘Blinded by the Light’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1YFA_J5JBU

Juliet at Fifty-five

Breasts. Beautiful, proud, fulsome and unfettered. These weren’t the bosoms of some perky young starlet willing to expose her pert assets for the furtherment of her carer. These were breasts that were well lived and you’d expect, well loved. These were breasts more than half way through their life journey, exposed in the opening sequence to ‘Let the Sunshine In’. They were startling and gorgeous. I will admit, they were bewitching and magnetic to this viewer. But sadly, they were by far the best thing about this very French 2017 offering from director Claire Denis. Their possessor is Isabelle, supposedly an artist who spends much of her time scouring Paris for love.

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She’s played by a true icon of the silver screens of her country and world wide. She, today, at 55, remains as dazzling as she ever was in such films as ‘Chocolat’, ‘The English Patient’ and most memorably, 1988’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. Seeing her in that, one is infatuated for life. She can play any role, taking it in her stride. Obviously, as well, she likes to stretch herself. She’s certainly no shrinking violet. She’s strong and womanly.

Although ‘Let the Sunshine In’ received praise in some quarters with the star receiving a César Award (French Oscars) nomination for her performance, I really struggled to remain with it. Her initial lover is bullish and repugnant. Another, far more youthful, is full of himself. Yet another is her ex whom she picks a silly argument with over his performance in the sack. It’s obvious she’s looking for love in all the wrong places. Eventually her poor judgement and lack of success starts playing with her mind. The movie becomes ridiculous when the venerable Depardieu enters to sprout some psycho-babble at her in a monologue that well and truly outstays its welcome. Of course Juliet Binoche is always wonderful, but my tip for you is to seek out, instead of the above (which is on Netflix), ‘Who You Think I Am’ which is, like those aforementioned breasts, just magnificent.

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Who You Think I Am’ has similarities to the above in that Binoche’s role here is Claire, an academic from the City of Light, reeling from a divorce and also seeking a new partner in life and love. Ex hubby (played by another French notable in Charles Berling) has had a dose of the Peter Pans and leaves his perfectly stunning wife for a younger model. Claire figures what’s good for the goose and at movie’s start she’s shacked up with the much younger Ludo. To him she’s simply a cougar. Claire’s beginning to feel it’s something more permanent. When he susses this she finds she’s again ditched, so in response she turns her attention to Ludo’s sensitive, still much younger, room mate in Alex (François Civil). Now what could be more harmless than a little on-line ‘cat-fishing’? (If you’re unaware of this procedure, look it up. I did.) Her attempt to become who she is not provides, at first, an outlet for her lovelessness, but then becomes something with quite catastrophic implications. Or does it? This will keep you guessing till the end, with several ‘I didn’t see that coming’ twists thrown in. It’s very, very clever and has much to say about the pitfalls for any of us who try to fight the invisibility that comes with the ageing process. See it on any platform you can.

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What I know about JB is that she’s ageing gloriously. There’s certainly no invisibility with her.

Trailer ‘Let the Sunshine In’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ps_Sau7xqQY

Trailer ”’Who You Think I Am’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShwXIOszzIM

Mercedes the Argentine

On average Argentina produces around fifty feature films a year. It would hold a place in the Spanish speaking work for cinematic endeavour akin to ours in the English. The Latin American country’s movies have garnered two Academy Awards and globally are popular entries at film festivals. Many of its stars are instantly recognisable to Spaniards and Latinos across the planet. One of these is Ricardo Darin. I’d become familiar with the quality of his work through the nation’s hit movies ‘The Secret in Their Eyes’ and ‘Wild Tales’. Paul Byrnes, the Age critic, describes him to a tee in saying that he ‘…has built his considerable stardom on a demeanour of disbelief. His face is permanently sceptical, as if he has heard it all before and assumes everyone is lying.’ He is regarded with the same affection we hold for Hugh Grant or Bill Nighy. So when ‘An Unexpected Love’ was advertised at the State with him as lead, it immediately caught my eye.

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The Argentine and the film didn’t let me down. ‘An Unexpected Love’ has been applauded at every stop for its realistic portrayal of life for new empty nesters. Once the offspring depart, what is there left? Darin is assisted in exploring this quandary by another luminous star of that nation’s industry, Mercedes Morán. And as luck would have it, as I sat awaiting for the start of the movie, up came a trailer for another forthcoming feature from the South American country,Florianópolis Dream’. In the trailer this appeared to be a humorous take on the notion of a couple of a certain age enjoying a holiday in a nearby foreign country. I noted that Ms Moran featured as a lead as well in this other offering, so I marked it down for a future expedition.

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An Unexpected Love’ sees this particular couple wave off their last remaining child to an overseas journey. Now they feel suddenly bereft. It’s not that they don’t love each other, but their relationship lost its zest and zing long ago; a zing they now crave for their new orb without children. But how to get retrieve it? Much like the couple/couples in ‘Me, You, Her’ and ‘Easy’, two Netflix offerings, they decide to see what else the world can gift hem before its all too late. They go their own way, breaking out into the singles scene as the movie gently records what occurs. Will they find what they’re seeking? Do they truly know what that is? As Byrnes points out in his review of this, the action is about as far away from the Hollywood comic book hero dross as one can get. But it is real. It’s what happens in life. There’s no men (or women) in tights to save the day here.

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In Florianópolis Dream’ the marriage for this couple has well and truly collapsed, but the family is still together – sort of. As Lucrecia ( Morán) and Pedro (Gustavo Garzón), both psychologists – a recipe for disaster in any case, embark on a journey across a border to a holiday in a rather seedy-looking southern Brazilian resort of the story’s title, it all goes belly-up. They break down en route; their accommodation on arrival is a shit hole. To the rescue comes a local, Marco, who seems as dodgy as all get out and whose relationships with the opposite sex are fluid, to say the least. He soon draws Lucrecia into his web. Pedro falls for one of Marco’s exes.

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To me, despite its success, it’s the lesser Argentine product to the others mentioned. Sure, it’s interesting to see the interaction between Portuguese speaking Brazilians and the Argentinians, but both leads are muted, neither especially garnering our sympathy. The story itself asks more questions than it answers and as the twosome drive back to Buenos Aires at the end, one is none the wiser. But then I suppose life doesn’t always resolve – that’s one of the reasons we go to the movies. ‘An Unexpected Love’ delivers on that score, but the other saw me leaving the State disappointed.

Trailer for ‘An Unexpected Love’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtzqJgECq7Y

Trailer for ‘Florianópolis Dream’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcS78zvqzmw

Fab and Pre-Fab

My goodness, was it really fifty years ago that I espied them on that magazine cover? The foursome were cavorting in striped Edwardian neck-to-knee bathers – or that’s how I remember it. It was on the cover of an edition of TV Week. Did I notice then the deliberate misspelling of the name? Did I make a make a mental note to watch out for them on our black and white tele? It should have been to listen out for them on my transistor radio. Did I buy the mag to read up on them? I doubt it, for I was still at school and pocket money was limited. After all, it was the first time they registered with me. It didn’t matter, in any case, for soon the world would be awash with them and their catchy musical product. They headed a revolution; headed the British Invasion. The Fab Four.

What came first? Was it ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ back in 1966, or their eponymous television show? Again I cannot recall, but excuse the French, even them I recognised the show was crap. But I watched it anyway for, at any moment, they might break out into a mimed rendition of one of their hits. Mimed? The rumour was they could hardly hold a note, let alone play their instruments. We know now that was a furphy for, individually, they were, or became, talented musicians. It is true, initially, they were bought together artificially – manufactured if you like. Prefabricated. The Pre-Fab Four.

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Of course they weren’t a patch on the British stars, but had the advantage of being on our small screens once a week while the show ran (1966 -1968). And, as with the Liverpool quartet, their music has survived.

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Yesterday I went with my lovely lady to the cinema to relive the songs of the Beatles; the songs the planet was in thrall of when I was a mere slip of a lad. The film – you know the title – was a tad cheesy, the lead a bit too gormless to really believe in, its ‘wrinkle in time’ plot a clever notion of which more should have been made. In short, it lacked the substance to be a classic. Himesh Patel wasn’t anywhere near, well, Beatlesque. Lily James, the sort of love interest, was gorgeous on screen as always – but falling for him??? Give me a break. Ed Sheeren put in an appearance as himself. Would he be the superstar he is today without the Merseyside’s gift to the world? I wonder. But it was the music; the lyrics that are now embedded in our synapses that a premise of the planet rediscovering the Beatles all over again is possible. The result of Danny Boyle’s direction did not have the magic of ‘18s’ ‘A Star is Born’ or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. ‘Wild Rose’, this year, in my opinion, leaves it for dead and ‘Rocketman’ was superior too. But I am glad I was there with Leigh yesterday because, for all of its flaws, it still had some of the magic that John, Paul, George and Ringo created way back when.

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And of the Pre-Fab Four – Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith – their legacy remains as well. After the band’s demise in 1971 Mike, who was my favourite, kicked on and had a few hits under his own steam. As with the Beatles, they have lost two members along the way, but Mickey and Mike are, as I write, touring Oz as the Monkees. Paul still sells out arenas these days with Ringo making occasional forays back to the drum kit. ‘I’m a Believer’ and ‘Daydream Believer’ are classics, but the Beatles produced umpteen. Edgier bands followed in the Beatles’ wake – the Stones of course, the Who, Hollies and the list goes on. I loved the Kinks – still do.

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Watch any YouTube of McCartney playing his hits today. Look at his audience – old farts like yours truly down to the Millennials – all singing along with equal rapture to the tunes the will survive until the wrinkle in time for real comes along that puts an end to it all.

Trailer to Yesterday = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ry9honCV3qc

Columnist Barry Divola on the Monkees = https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/i-m-too-busy-singing-to-put-anybody-down-a-monkees-fan-stands-his-ground-20190611-p51wft.html

Early Winter Trio

Going north for any length of time, as much as I relish my second homes up there, I do miss my life by the Derwent. One aspect of that is my cinematic haven, NoHo’s State Cinema. I love going there – and double that if there’s an offering that attracts the attention of my lovely lady as well. For two out of the three I viewed in June, that was the case. It’s always pleasurable to discuss what we’d witnessed over a coffee or on the drive back to Old Bridgewater. And I think, with those two, we agreed that the critics got it wrong.

Both ‘Rocketman’ and ‘Tolkien’ received muted reviews, especially the latter. And in truth neither were top notch, so in that the experts were correct – but they were still a fine way to escape the winter chill for a couple of hours. The Elton biopic was not anywhere near last year’s ‘A Star is Born’, or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, as a production based around song. Most critics I read lauded the musical numbers, but panned the story-line in between. We, Leigh and I, disagreed. Certainly it went further in exposing the singer’s warts than the Queen vehicle did with Freddy’s. Taron Egerton, both vocally and visually, was a great match for the rock superstar. The problem, though, was it needed a performance to match Lady Gaga’s or Rami Malek’s sublime showings to send ‘Rocketman’ into the stratosphere. But, it was more than watchable.

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Scribe Paul Byrne describes ‘Tolkien’ as ‘…polite, plodding and unconvincing,…’ Having never read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (‘The Hobbit’ was enough of a struggle), with the only one of Jackson’s film adaptations of these great works I have viewed boring me to tears, I didn’t have the same grounding as my Leigh nor, I suspect, most of the rest of the audience. Perhaps that was to this film’s advantage for me. I thought the tale of the author’s early years and the effect of fellowship and the Great War on his life was reasonable enough. It was somewhat ‘writ by numbers’ and never reached the great heights needed to shout its virtues from the rooftops, but it was, well, pleasing. Nicholas Hoult is the renowned man and he is patently one child actor that will not disappear from our screens as he ages. The love interest and future wife, Edith Bratt, was played by Lily Collins well enough to make her father, Phil, proud. The film has been disowned by Tolkien’s heirs, perhaps taking their cues from the critics and its playing around with with the time frame of aspects of the story. You could do worse, though, than giving it some time when it emerges on DVD or a television platform.

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Sadly Leigh didn’t accompany me to see what for me was the pick of the bunch. And largely the critics concurred (four stars from Empire Magazine, 89% on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s lead, Irish lass Jessie Buckley, has something of the aforementioned Lady Gaga about her. Already noted for some previous standout performances, ‘Beast’ for example, she has a powerful set of lungs on her and she co-wrote many of the songs for ‘Wild Rose’. Many are suggesting this is her breakout performance to a successful career.

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Before her prison term Rose-Lynn Harlen (Buckley) was a star on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. No, not the Nashville icon, although that is her dream, but a down at heel bar in Glasgow. One doesn’t normally associate country music (definitely not country and western – remember that!) with the UK, hence scope for furthering her career locally is limited. She has stars in her eyes but has three massive problems – zilch dosh, a criminal record and two kids. After her put upon mother (the always reliable and watchable Julie Walters) also proves to be a blockage to moving to the USofA, her prospects open up when she gains employment, as a cleaner, on the wealthier side of town working for Susannah (the always reliable and watchable Sophie Okonedo). She soon becomes the singing-hopeful’s mentor.

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I suppose, with this, it helps to love the genre of music it portrays, but even if you’re an opera buff it would be difficult not to fall into entrancement with the feisty, flawed Emmylou/Dolly/Loretta wannabe. There’s some classic country ditties, as well as some originals. The final song is a corker. ‘Wild Rose’ will be one of the year’s best for this humble scribbler.

Trailer for ‘Rocketman’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3vO8E2e6G0

Trailer for ‘Tolkien’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Girzu81oS8Q

Trailer for ‘Wild Rose’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_Ths6k7qXk

March Marvels

The weather’s cooler so it’s back into jeans, socks and an extra layer on top. The cinemas have turned off their air conditioning (always a bane), but it’s too early for firing up winter heating. At the State the seats are comfy, as they are at home in front of a tele, so it was time to settle into watching what we hoped would be March marvels. Were they?

Could there ever be a more perfect husband than Armie Hammer as Monty Ginsburg? He features an All-American square jaw, is broad shouldered and as tall as a redwood. He plays equal in every way to his famous wife, supportive of her career aspirations that were ahead of their time – after all, these are as the 50s morph into the 60s – and never a cuss or a harsh word crosses his lips. His better half (really), Ruth, opened up American law to embrace equal opportunity from her exulted place as a high court judge. She was diminutive as he was opposite, but what a team they made.

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On the Basis of Sex’ examines our heroine’s progress from an almost token law student, gender-wise, to the highest legal office in the land, ushering in an era of progressive decision making (which Trump has swept away with his ultra-conservative appointments). But in Ginsburg’s day remarkably forward-thinking souls, like her, paved the way for all that Trump and his cronies abhor. Liberal America will always thank her for that.

There’s nothing wrong with this bio-pic. It just doesn’t set the world on fire is all. But when Ruth succeeds by pushing through, in an unusual way, a law enshrining equal rights, it is worthily emotive. Consider a visit if it comes to one of your platforms at a future date.

Now Bill Nighy is one of my very favourites in the acting world and he shines, with all his tics and idiosyncrasies, in ‘Sometimes Always Never’. He is superb as a tightly bound man, addicted to Scrabble, living a highly ordered life. This starts to break down when he receives a call to come view a John Doe who may or may not be his long missing son. Said son stormed out during an argument with his dad over said game and hasn’t been seen by the family since. Nighy’s character Alan, a Merseyside tailor, cannot get over it and his other son Peter suffers as a consequence. At the viewing he encounters a couple with the same intention. Alan immediately fleeces the husband with his hustling ability and has a relationship of sorts with his missus, ‘Call the Midwife’s’ Jenny Agutter. Great to see her out of her habit and being just a tad naughty.

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But it’s the great thesp who delivers in this outing, in his natural element, as Alan. It’s a small film so therefore he may not get the kudos his performance warrants and it is a far from perfect film – but it is great viewing to see a mature actor at the top of his game.

And, as we turn to the small screen in March, someone else of mature years, at the top of his game, is Hugh Grant. Like Nighy, he’s another consummate Britisher, but he plays against type here in this biopic of controversial politician Jeremy Thorpe. Once, as leader of the Liberal Party, Thorpe had the political world at his feet. Then his sexual proclivities caught up with him in an era when homosexuality was against the law and it all came tumbling down. For a time he kept his true self well hidden behind marriage, but when he discovers and is titillated by Ben Whishaw’s Norman Scott, in a rich man’s stables and they take a tumble in the hay, he lets down his guard. To him Norman is just a plaything to be disposed of at will. To the younger, by far, man the relationship was much, much more – and thus, when jilted, his revenge was unforgiving. He wasn’t going to take it lying down. Whishaw matches Grant for brilliance in ‘A Very English Scandal’. Hopefully this title will be up there with HG’s other signature roles, although it’s at variance to what we normally associate with him. We watched this from a DVD and if unavailable on one your platforms, it is excellent value for the purchase price.

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Also well warranting a looksee, small-screen wise, are another two guys who have well and truly paid their dues. It’s a Netflix product and recounts the story of Bonnie and Clyde from the perspective of the hunters, not the hunted. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson are like old whisky – they get better with age – just like your scribe.

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Trailer ‘On the Basis of Sex’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28dHbIR_NB4

Trailer ‘Sometimes Always Never’ -= https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22R-JQRov_U

Trailer ‘A Very English Scandal’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggDTJc470Co

Trailer ‘The Highwaymen’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aH6vC-BBKOc

Silvio and Don

January was drawing to a close and soon I’d be off to several trips up north and a couple of house/dog sit gigs. Movies at the cinemas would be replaced by small screen ones and television series. There was still time, though, for a couple of trips into NoHo and the State.

I’d been looking forward to seeing new product from one of my favourite directors for some time. Paolo Sorentino is a master. Delivering us ‘Youth’ and ‘The Great Beauty’ in recent years, as well as the wonderful ‘The Young Pope’ into our lounge rooms, his work is visually a feast for the senses. Coupled with solid story lines, that cause us to ponder on the ways of the world, with his lush and vivid styling, he can be quite compelling.

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Well, the latter was there with ‘Loro’, Italian for them. The lush and vivid was almost lurid. It’s a none too flattering, yet not too destructive, take on the lifestyle of that behemoth of Italian politics, Silvio Berlusconi (Tony Servillo)he of the bunga bunga sex parties and never ending appetite for nubile young things seemingly willing to throw themselves at him in various stages of undress.

We are introduced to the world of the great man by a provider of said women, Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio). In its initial stages the film concentrates on him. Wanting to advance his standing in the only way he knows, Sergio rents a villa next door to the then opposition leader, constantly scheming to get back into the top job. The wannabe pimp to the rich and famous thinks he’ll catch the eye of the former Italian leader by throwing outrageous parties of his own in hope of an invitation to do the same for Berlusconi. The screen is drenched in colour and topless damsels as Sergio goes all out to achieve his aim – and it eventually occurs. But by now the emphasis has switched to SB as he parades, like an emperor, through his domain. He’s accompanied by his long suffering wife, who has just about had a gut-full, as well as a range of sycophants and wily manipulators. But now the man isn’t the force of nature he once was – his waning energy, an earthquake and a soulless party, organised by his neighbour, start to bring him down. Nothing can hide the fact he now looks and smells of old age.

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Personally, despite rave reviews, I found this outing the least satisfying of the Sorrentino offerings I’ve seen to date. It’s hard to find heart in this showpiece. It’s empty – and that’s perhaps is how it was meant to be.

In comparison ‘Green Book had crept up on me – and as an Oscar contender. As far as heart, this road movie boasts it in great dollops. It is based on a true story – much, but not all, of what you see happened. Afro-American piano-playing star-turn Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) hires Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) to drive him on a tour of the Deep South – perhaps parallels with ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ here? We are soon to find out how a black man, having a white chauffeur, will go down over the Mason-Dixon Line. After all, it is 1962. Viggo is terrific as the white guy in the role of driver come trouble-shooter (with emphasis on the shooter bit) for his charge. He earned the job due to his reputation as a fixer. This two-hander, under the obviously astute guidance of director Peter Farrelly, sees a duo of great thesps almost compete with each other to come out tops in the acting chops department. Will either of them take home the big gong for 2019?

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The bullish, street smart Tony gradually charms his aloof gay boss to lighten up and in turn his close proximity to this cultured black musician starts to change his own world view.

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It’s a predictable, but nonetheless, lovely Hollywood ending this movie has in store for us and along the way there’s also a laugh or two. Compared to the other much hyped Oscar nominees, ‘Green Book’ has flown under the radar. But late betting has it in with a shot up against the likes of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘A Star is Born’ et al. That late betting was on the money.

Trailer for ‘Loro’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bj8voOPacE

Trailer fro ‘Green Book’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkZxoko_HC0

Vice Thrice in January

This time last year, post-Boxing Day, as is usual, the pick of the crop were showing in the cinema houses around the country. Many of the award winners-to-be were on delayed release to capitalise on the holiday time-slot Down Under. They were of such quality, these gems viewed into the weeks of the first month of a new year, that several made my ‘best of’ for ‘18. These were exceptional movies.

Fast forward to the start of this mint new year and the same quality has not been provided – in other words, movies that will live long in the synapses. ‘Cold War’ was exquisite and has been the standout, but these other three, though well-represented in the current awards season, were eminently watchable, but didn’t make one marvel.

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New Year’s Day took me to the State to see ‘Colette’. I’d been looking forward to it for various reasons, not the least of them being the lead, Keira Knightley. Most will know of the French literary sensation of the first half of last century. I knew the bare bones of her story and was relishing the prospect of flesh being added, for I knew her lifestyle was immeasurably unconventional for those times. And there was some fleshing out in real style.

As with most aspiring women back when Colette was in her late teenagerhood, breaking through the glass ceiling, even in a more liberal France, was not going to be easy. Initially her best hope would be to marry well – and in the much older Henry, she felt, she had hit the jackpot. Under the pseudonym of Willy he was a popular writer in Paris. In reality his scribings were produced by a group of aspiring young authors – he just replaced their names with his to ensure sales. Colette soon shows she has aptitude, as well, with the written word and joins his assembly line. Eventually she starts to produce her wildly successful ‘Claudine’ novels, which Henry (played by ‘The Affair’s’ Dominic West, endowed with a goatee that almost has as much life as its owner) naturally takes full credit for. Of course, its raciness for the times only enhances his cachet with the beautiful people of the city. He’s easy prey for women who want a piece of him. Henry declares this is only to be expected for, after all, a man has his needs outside of his marital duty. Colette starts to chaff under his philandering, misuse of the proceeds from her labours and his increasing fame on her back. She also breaks out sexually, taking lovers of all genders, although she still retains affection for her husband, despite his sins. Eventually, though, enough is enough, when he takes liberties that she comes to find totally unacceptable, even for him.

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One of these is bedding the gorgeous southern belle Georgie Raoul-Duva. She’s played by the ravishing Eleanor Tomlinson of ‘Poldark’ fame. Problem is, she’s been in lust with Colette for some time as well. And if I may quietly tell you a little secret, the loves scenes between Knightley and Tomlinson are something to behold.

But for all its attributes Walsh Westmoreland’s Belle Époque offering doesn’t quite crack it into the top league. That a love scene is the lasting memory says it all.

And the same could be said for ‘Vice’, not the love scene – there aren’t any – but not being a top notch contender for greatness. Again there were praiseworthy turns, this time from Christian Bale, Steve Carrell and Sam Rockwell. But, compared with director Adam McKay’s ‘The Big Short’, it comes up, well, short.

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This could have been a demolition job on Dick Cheney – the film presents enough reason, but such is the nature of Bale’s performance in the role the outcome is one of close to grudging admiration for the powerful man. Carrell’s Donald Rumsfeld is less so as he and Cheney take a green POTUS, George W (Sam Rockwell), under their wings, with the latter emerging as the supreme power behind the throne.

And they knew. They knew – although the narration makes clear, in the manner of ‘The Big Short’, that it’s not possible to be definitive for so much of the evidence has ‘disappeared’. For a time it’s difficult to discern how the character playing the narrator fits into the picture, but we should have known that dodgy decisions taken at the highest level have ramifications for those at the coalface – sometimes terrible ramifications.

Those with an interest in the political machinations of men, prepared to stretch the ethical envelope for their own ends, will get their money’s worth from ‘Vice’. And at least their White House was always functional. Could even Cheney and Rumsfeld have handled the Trumpster?

We were eager to see ‘The Favourite’, Leigh and I, although I did have some reservations, having unsuccessfully tried to watch several other of director Yorgos Lanthimos’ offerings. Certainly I lasted to the end of this new one and certainly there were again three thesps with winning portrayals front and centre of it, this time of the opposite gender to the previous. Olivia Coleman, as an addled Queen Anne, was brilliant, with Rachel Weisz playing her partner in governance and in in the royal bed chamber not far behind. Emma Stone played the latter’s wannabe usurper Abigail Hill. Abi’s family had fallen on hard times, so she’s forced to seek employment at the palace in a downstairs role. She has, however, a knowledge of herbal medicine that brings her close to the ailing Queen and gradually she works her way upstairs and to a position to challenge the Duchess of Marlborough as Anne’s favourite caressor of private parts. Occasionally, despite being a few sheep short, her majesty rises to the occasion to stamp her authority, including, at one stage, casting the Duchess out of the boudoir to the outer margins. Hubby, though, is the Duke in charge of the war against France, one of the few men in the movie to be other than a rouged-up dandified fop. Good to have him in her corner.

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So, as with ‘Vice’, we have three powerful figures at the pointy end of decision-making, but ‘The Favourite’ left both Leigh and I feeling underwhelmed, even if this period piece will no doubt pick up a few gongs in its journey through the awards season for director and actresses.

None of the trio of films should be dismissed from a looksee, but neither do they set the world on fire. ‘18 was a great year so hopefully it will improve. Maybe there are a few surprises like Lady Gaga and Rami Malek just around the corner.

Trailer for ‘Colette’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnTNgZz4Sm0

Trailer for  ‘Vice’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jO3GsRQO0dM

Trailer for ‘The Favourite’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOySDafIE74

Polish Gem

Wonderful’ – Margaret Pomeranz

Winner of five European Film Awards, ‘Cold War’ certainly has the critics swooning.

A swooning, searing film.’ – the Observer

Whether or not it will gain director Paweł Pawlikowski his second Oscar remains to be seen, but it is a stunner.

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The movie is crafted in glorious, atmospheric black and white; every shot of figure or landscape a feast for the eye. It has a glow, an aura of radiance and as well, at times, sublime bleakness. It’s the height of the cinematic art.

It opens in a wintry rural Poland overrun by mud and communist operatives. Our hero, middle-aged Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), is searching the villages in the back blocks for authentic Polish folk music. He and his team assemble a bevy of hopefuls in a decrepit country house and proceed to audition them. He soon becomes smitten by a young performer, Zula (Joanna Kulig), who naturally makes the cut and goes on to perform glorious heritage music and dance for the masses in the big cities. But the authenticity is soon compromised when the powers-to-be decide to piggyback onto the troupe’s popularity for propaganda purposes. Feeling compromised, Wiktor resolves to flee to the West with Zula at his side, but at the last moment she demurs and goes on to find fame on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain.

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Over the next decades their relationship splutters on as their lives take a wholly different course, his in the cafes of Paris, hers in the Russian dominated nations of Europe. Occasionally their schedules come together and they continue on where they left off – but these are entirely brief encounters. Then Wiktor decides he must have her, regardless of the cost – and what a cost it is.

The director packs so much into the 88 minute running length, with ‘Cold War’ featuring in many of the ‘best ofs’ for 2018. I am sure it’ll be in mine for this mint new year. Already it has stolen the show at Cannes. Almost as remarkable as the look of the piece is the soundtrack – from earthy folk to Wiktor’s jazz ensemble in Paris to the start of rock ‘n’ roll. To see Zula’s exuberant response to the latter – well, I almost swooned too. This alone is almost worth the entrance price. See it if you can.

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Trailer for ‘Cold War’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvPkDdFeTk8