Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

Les Miserables****

Posted: January 15, 2013 in Cinema

Whenever a great piece of theatre is translated into cinema, it is inevitable that many who loved the original will be disappointed. The makers of this could have risked alienating the devotees by choosing to discard many of the show’s key features to create a new cinematic vision, but this adaptation does not take that road; it sets out to be a definitive version of the original and, whilst it cannot replicate the experience of live theatre, it can offer the highest production values and optimum casting. Judged by these criteria, it is difficult to imagine how it could have been better done. For the first time in a major screen musical, the performers all sing live to camera rather than miming to pre-recorded tracks and this innovation is a brilliant success that will change film musicals forever. Russell Crowe as Javert looks slightly uncomfortable but, otherwise, the singing is exemplary. Karaoke style singing might suffice in comedic musicals but here it was critical not to repeat the disastrous mis-casting of Johnny Depp in “Sweeney Todd” and to use only actors who can really sing. Among leading Hollywood stars, only Hugh Jackman has a background in musical theatre, so maybe he cast himself, but more to the point is that he seems born to play Jean Valjean; he is utterly magnificent throughout.


Posted: October 29, 2012 in Cinema

Most of the previous 22 Bond films have been little more than tongue-in-cheek variations of their predecessors and they have become British cinema’s equivalent to the Christmas panto – grotesque villains, exotic “dames”, familiar plots, etc. – but the last one, “Quantum of Solace”, was so abysmal that the continuation of the series seemed threatened. At first, the choice of Sam Mendes, whose cv suggests he would be more at ease with Shakespeare than Fleming, as director of the 23rd came as a surprise, but it is a choice that now seems inspired. Mr Mendes has done for 007 what Christopher Nolan did for Batman, infusing intelligence and humanity and, in so doing, he has not ditched the action thrills, visual spectacle or old traditions; he has simply made them all bigger and better to produce a multi-layered epic. A great cast of top drawer British thespians is joined by Javier Bardem, already the nastiest screen villain of this Century so far, now even nastier. The best Bond at least since “Goldfinger”, maybe the best of them all.

London Film Festival 2012

Posted: October 12, 2012 in Cinema

With scores of films to choose from, picking a dozen or so to see has to be pot luck. I just decided when would be a good time to go and got tickets for whatever was showing. Some great films have been missed but they can wait for another day.

The big black mark against this year’s Festival is the resumption of screenings, after a two year break, in the Odeon West End where only the popcorn stand is fit for purpose. Seat numbers are almost invisible and, when seats are eventually located, they are narrow and uncomfortable; still worse, sight lines are woeful particularly in Screen 2 where subtitles can be obliterated for anyone under 7 ft tall. This exemplifies how far West End cinemas have fallen behind modern venues elsewhere. Please BFI, think again when organising the 2013 Festival and avoid this dump.

These are the films I saw:

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS**** (UK,  dir Martin McDonagh)
I described “In Bruges” as close to perfection., leaving this successor with a lot to live up to.  “Seven Psychopaths” is written by Martin McDonagh and is about a screen writer called Martin who is writing a film called “Seven Psychopaths”, so it is not surprising that it is so self-indulgent and packed with movie in-jokes that it almost looks capable of choking on its own intestines. If the former film was an homage to Ealing comedies, the homage here is unmistakably to early Tarantino; sadistic, callous, gratuitously violent, continuously inventive and very funny.

A LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY*** (UK, dirs Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson & Ben Timlett)
The liar in question is Monty Python founding member, the late Graham Chapman whose own voice, taken from tapes recorded in 1986, provides the narration. Animated in several different styles and in 3D, it is as anarchic and irreverent as befits its subject, merging fact with lunacy. Most of the laughs come from well known material, but there are plenty of them as well as abundant nostalgia for a bygone age of mirth.

IT WAS THE SON**** (Italy, dir Daniele Cipri)
It is difficult to categorise a film that moves so assuredly between comedy and tragedy. Set in Sicily, it tells of an impoverished family whose life is changed by an eccidental encounter with the Mafia. Rich characterisations and a smooth narrative flow ensure that this film enthrals the audience from beginning to end.

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON** (UK, dir Roger Michell)
Alternative titles might have been “The King’s Speech II” or “What Bertie Did Next”. Samuel West takes over as the stuttering King who crosses the Atlantic to visit FDR (Bill Murray); the Olivias Coleman and Williams play their respective spouses and Laura Linney is the President’s distant cousin/”friend”. Possibly too obviously targeted at Oscars to actually win many, this still has plenty of wit, charm and historical interest even if the script does not deliver quite everything it promises.

KEEP THE LIGHTS ON*** (USA, dir Ira Sachs)
A study over 9 years of an intense and destructive relationship in which the third partner is crack cocaine. The style is low key and understated, avoiding sentimentality and melodrama. Tender, truthful and moving.

IN THE HOUSE**** (France, dir Francois Ozon)
With a plot line that would not stand up to re-telling and surprises at every turn, this superb comedy is literate, outrageous and even slightly surreal. Kristin Scott Thomas appears and to say that the whole cast matches up to her usual standards is about as high a compliment as can be paid.

NO**** (Chile, dir Pablo Larrain)
A riveting political thriller with Gael Garcia Bernal playing an ad man involved in the 1988 Chilean referendum that led to the downfall of the brutal Pinochet regime. Shot to merge in with real life footage, the authentic look and feel adds to the tension of a film that is as informative as it is entertaining.

QUARTET*** (UK, dir Dustin Hoffman)
As it seems that old is the new young in terms of cinema box office, this must be destined for huge success. Set in a home for retired opera singers with Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and a host of others all in reliable form, it is safe, amusing, sentimental and predictable. If you seek challenging cinema, stay away but if you want no more than to spend 90 minutes with a warm smile on your face, this is for you.

MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN*** (Canada/UK, dir Deepa Mehta)
Salman Rushdie’s screenplay adapts his own novel which tells a family story against the backdrop of over 50 years of Indian history. For the most part, this challenge is met remarkably well; the film is absorbing, moving and even humorous and it is only in the last quarter that it loses its way. In this last section, the mystical elements which are infused throughout come to the fore thereby undermining credibility, political statements are too overt and the narrative flow becomes rushed.

BROKEN** (UK, dir Rufus Norris)
In a middle class community in English suburbia, petty tensions escalate, separate lives become interlinked and a chain reaction is created with devastating effects. In its themes and in its style of accentuated drama, it resembles “Crash”‘ but what worked well in a Los Angeles setting looks awkward and unnatural here. It is good to see Tim Roth back on home soil and the actors are generally excellent. However, there is much more to admire in this film than there is to like.

WASTELAND**** (UK, dir Rowan Athale)
Possibly the best British crime caper since “The Italian Job” (or is it the only one?), this is driven by fast-paced direction and energised by a cast consisting mainly of fresh young talent. In the lead role, Luke Treadaway (recently wowing National Theatre audiences in “Curious Incident…”) has ample charisma which helps to carry the film through its transition from the gritty realism of the first half to the wild improbabilities of the later stages.

RUST AND BONE**** (France, dir Jacques Audiard)
Brutal and tender in equal measures, this engrossing drama veers between the extremes of pain and ecstasy in the lives if its chief protagonists, beautifully portrayed by Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. Comparing and contrasting physical and emotional experiences, it is often uncomfortable viewing, but ultimately its rewards are considerable. A Further example of the confidence and maturity of modern French cinema.

An indie cinema miracle. This account of third World America, Louisiana at the time of Hurricane Katrina, is told through the eyes of a small child. Stark and unflinching, it is also life-affirming and, ultimately, profoundly beautiful.

BLOOD*** (UK, dir Nick Murphy)
The gritty cop drama is a genre that British cinema conceded to television many decades ago. So it comes as a neat reversal that this is adapted from a tv original. The narrative twist comes early and, from then, the resolution is inevitable. Therefore it is left to an impressive cast (including Paul Bettany, Mark Strong and Brian Cox) to sustain the interest, aided by the north-west England coastal setting which underscores the film’s bleakness.