Film Review: Criminal (2016)

Sitting at home feeling like death warmed up makes you do things you might not usually consider doing.

Like watching a film you might never have thought twice about any other time.

Check the cast! Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Ryan Reynolds, Michael Pitt, and many more! This must be bloody good, right?

Hmm. Oldman shouts and runs around a lot. He has his usual not-quite convincing American accent, and plays a very angry CIA chief. Tommy Lee Jones is wasted as a scientist who has invented some kind of incredible memory-swap procedure, and doesn’t seem to believe in it himself. Ryan Reynolds has a small part as the film opens, then spends the rest of it as an occasional ‘memory flashback’. Michael Pitt, usually excellent, plays a scaredy-cat computer hacker who seems to be frightened of his own shadow for most of the film. Then we have the ‘villain’, a man who wants to use the world’s nuclear stockpile to destroy all governments.

Shall I just turn it off now? What about Costner though?

Cast against type, Kevin plays Jerico, the Criminal of the title. A man who was born without emotion, and has spent most of his life in prison, after committing many crimes because of his lack of remorse and empathy. He looks really tough, and acts it too.

So this is the idea. Reynolds character is an agent, killed at the start of the film as he tries to intervene between the hacker and the arch-villain. His body is kept alive so that Tommy’s scientist can be brought in to retrieve his memeory, using his untried invention. They need someone with a ‘blank-brain’, devoid of emotion, so they bring the unfortunate Jerico to England from prison, and do the mind-swap. But he doesn’t play ball. He escapes, and goes on the run, with the flashbacks of the agent’s memory leading him to find the man’s wife and child, and eventually to track down the hacker and the super-villain.

Meanwhile, the CIA are trying to find him, and so are the minions of the villain. In the mayhem, a lot of people get injured and killed, on the way to the ‘big finish’.

That’s about it. It tries to be a little bit of a lot of things, and doesn’t succeed. It is a bit ‘Jason Bourne’, but not tech enough. It feels like a film that might have starred Bruce Willis or Arnie, if the story had been better. There is a lot of driving around, a lot of running from Oldman, helicopter surveillance, car crashes, police chases, and plenty of shootings. Meanwhile, Jerico has to adjust to discovering what it is like to feel love and emotion for the dead agent’s family, whilst retaining his evil former self for long enough to get the job done.

Costner is pretty good, I have to say. I liked the locations in London and the surrounding counties, but I can’t really recommend it, unless you have the flu, it’s raining outside, and there is nothing else worth watching on TV.

Or if you really like Kevin Costner.

Film Review: The Favourite (2018)

When I took a break from blogging, I hoped to spend some time watching films and reading. Unfortunately, a bout of severe Flu has meant no reading, but I have managed to watch a few films on DVD. This is the first one I am reviewing.

(Historical characters, so spoilers do not apply)

This film has won so many awards that I won’t list them here. Suffice to say it was adored by most critics, though I have read mixed reviews from my blogging friends online. It is an historical drama, with real characters from the early 18th century in England, including Queen Anne, and the Duchess of Marlborough. Importantly, it is also a film where the three leads are all female, and played by outstanding actresses.

Set toward the end of the Queen’s life, we find her unwell as a consequence of disease. She is troubled too, as despite seventeen pregnancies before the death of her husband, not one child lived past the age of eleven. Saddened by becoming a widow, she lives in her palace surrounded by bickering courtiers and grabbing politicians, each and every one of them hoping to benefit from their association with the queen. Foremost of these is Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough. Her husband the Duke of Marlborough is the head of the Army, which is embroiled in the war of The Austrian Succession being fought in Europe.

Meanwhile, his wife controls not only the queen, but also parliament, and the royal funds. She is very much ‘The Favourite’ of the title. The film shows a long-term lesbian relationship between Sarah Churchill and the queen that was alluded to at the time, but has since been discounted by many learned historians. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that Queen Anne did indeed love women, and slept in her bed with them. But like many things that happened hundreds of years ago, you will have to make up your own mind about how factual this is.

Along comes Abigail, a relative of Sarah Churchill; a young woman down on her luck, and seeking employment. At first she is relegated to chores in the kitchens, and it takes all of her guile to come to the attention of the queen. When she finds favour, her situation changes, much to the obvious annoyance of Sarah. The rivalry between these two women for the affection and influence of the queen is the mainstay of the story.

This film is simply breathtaking to behold. Even on my 40-inch TV it looked wonderful, and made me wish I had seen it on the biggest cinema screen available. The unusual use of extreme wide-angle and fisheye distortion lenses draws the viewer into the scene, and long tracking shots give some idea of the vast interconnnecting corridors in palaces so big, the queen could get herself lost in them. Costume and set design is nothing less than flawless, and no cost was spared recreating sumptuous period detail, including filming in locations like Hampton Court Palace and Hatfield House.

Olivia Colman rarely delivers a bad performance, and her Queen Anne is completely believable. Emma Stone as Abigail shows her cunning and contrivance well, and plays the part of a young woman prepared to go to any lengths to rise in society. But Rachel Weisz stole the film for me as the arrogant and confident Duchess, Sarah Churchill. Faced with loss of power and favour, she goes all out to recapture her influence. Every cast member is on top form, however small their role. From the cook, to the haughty soldiers there is not one that fails to convince. Nicholas Hoult shines as the politician, Harley. In a ridiculous wig, and covered in make-up, he still manages to seem ruthless and determined.

I have to make it clear that I loved this film, and didn’t want it to end. I could have watched it for another two hours without blinking, and in my opinion it deserved every award it received, and more. To my blogging friends who didn’t feel the same, I respect your opinions.

But for me, it was a cinematic delight!

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Hereditary. (2018)

I watched this film on Netflix, and I don’t know if it is available elsewhere.
***No spoilers***

You know that feeling when you are looking forward to a film? Everyone has given it great reviews, the cast is solid, and all over the Internet people are saying how good it is. You pick the right time, settle down uninterrupted, and concentrate on the film from start to finish.

You really want to like it. You want to reply to all those reviews saying you agree with them, and it’s a great film.

And then you don’t actually like it that much.

This American horror film follows the trials and tribulations of a family following the death of the elderly grandmother. She was a rather spooky lady, who we don’t get to know that much about at the start.

Things go badly wrong, and I mean badly. The pace picks up, there are some genuinely unsettling moments, and everyone involved lookes suitably distressed, scared, and anguished when they are supposed to.

But ultimately, it is an old-school devil worship/demon/occult film, with some aspects borrowed from other films, and the performances becoming overblown to the point of hysteria as we reach the (unsurprising) climax.

Toni Collette does her best as the distraught mother, though Gabriel Byrne looks half asleep through most of the film.

It’s not a bad film, but it didn’t impress me as much as it did everyone else.
I must be getting harder to please.

But you might like it.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (2017)

***No Spoilers***

I didn’t rush to see this film, despite the widespread critical acclaim, and the fact that it won a bucketful of awards, including Oscars. The reason was simple enough. I don’t really like Frances McDormand. Her long-time association with the films of the Coen Brothers (she is married to one of them) has left her with a lot of fans, but also an attitude about herself that I find uncomfortable. That said, when she is not over-acting, she can be excellent.

The film finally came to the television, so I thought I would watch it for free. It wasn’t directed by the Coens, so I hoped that fact would rein her in a bit.

For anyone who doesn’t know the story, Mildred’s (McDormand) daughter was raped and killed in the small town of Ebbing, and she thinks that the local police department is not doing enough to try to find the killer. In her frustration, she pays to hire three large billboards on the nearby country road, with a sign on each criticising the police and asking why nobody had been arrested for the crime. Repercussions follow immediately, as one of the local deputies, Dixon, becomes enraged at her and the owner of the billboards. Her son Robbie feels uncomfortable at High School when his mum is thought by everyone to just be a bitter crazy woman, and even Mildred’s ex-husband becomes involved, trying to make her give up on the billboards.

With no spoilers, I cannot really say much more about the story.

The casting is perfect, with an exceptional turn from Sam Rockwell as the deranged Dixon, and a nuanced performance from Woody Harrelson as the Chief of Police. McDormand still feels ‘familiar’ as the determined Mildred, but has enough vulnerability at times that we see the conflict and guilt inside her. Locations and sets feel completely authentic, and it has been a while since ‘small town’ America was shown so convincingly in a mainstream film.

My conclusion is that the film deserved all its praise, and more.
It is excellent.

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Mum’s List (2016)

There have been many films made about a young parent dying from an incurable disease, and having to leave a spouse and children behind. Some are powerfully dramatic, others mawkishly sentimental. This British film is neither of those. It is simply excellent.

Based on the true story of a woman named Kate Greene, writer and director Niall Johnson has assembled a superb cast and dealt with the upsetting theme in a way that anyone can relate to. Diagnosed with incurable breast cancer that has spread to her bones, Kate realises that she will be leaving her childhood sweetheart and two young boys much earlier than she ever expected to. She compiles a list of things that they should always do, not only to remember her, but to stay together as a family and be able to move on with their lives after her death.

Emilia Fox is outstanding as Kate, ably supported by Rafe Spall (son of Timothy Spall) as the grief-stricken husband trying to come to terms with the devastating news. From the moment Kate receives the diagnosis, to the scenes showing the family doing the things from the list after her death, everything is completely believable, and delivered with in the most realistic and unsensational way possible. The supporting cast playing family, friends, and the two young sons are all up to the job too, leaving us with a picture of a family tragedy that also gives hope to those left behind.

This is a film that leaves you wrung-out emotionally, as you invest so heavily in the characters despite knowing the outcome, and that there will be no magic cure or good news at the end. Only the heardest-hearted viewers could fail to be deeply moved by the rollercoaster of emotions you feel watching this.

It is just a superb piece of film-making.

(British readers can see this on the BBC i-player. It was shown on BBC2)

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Beast (2017)

This British psychological thriller was received to much critical acclaim three years ago. I got the DVD for Christmas, and just got around to watching it yesterday.

Starring the wonderful Jessie Buckley, one of the brightest new stars of acting talent in this country, it is set and filmed on location in Jersey, in the Channel Isalnds. Unlike many films set in touristic areas, it avoids the cliches, and looks at the real life and everyday existence of the people who live there.

Buckley plays Moll, a twenty-something living at home with well-off parents and a mother who treats her like a servant. She has to help look after her father, who has dementia, and also works part time as a tour guide on the coach trips around the island. Very soon, we discover she has issues, including something that happened while she was at school. Then at the celebration of her birthday, her special day is stolen away by her sister’s announcement that she is expecting twins. So Moll leaves her own party, and heads out to a nightclub to get drunk.

Meanwhile, the community is in shock, after a series of rapes and murders of young women. One of the detectives investigating the crimes is very fond of Moll, but she doesn’t return his feelings. She spends the night in the club with a young man she meets there, and when they stroll on the beach early next mornng, he tries to have sex with her. As she is struggling, she is rescued by a wild-looking stranger with a rifle, who takes her home to her family. He tells her his name is Pascal

She soon starts a relationship with Pascal, much to the annoyance of her family, who look down on the scruffy man who earns his living from odd jobs, and poaching. She is also warned off by the police detective, who confides in her that he is a suspect in the recent crimes. But Moll is madly in love with the unusual Pacal, and becomes obsessed with him, eventually moving into his house.

However, he doesn’t want the same things in life that she aspires to, and despite the mutual attraction, Moll is unsure what to do. As well as that, she is beginning to wonder whether or not he could have been involved in the crimes, and wants to know the truth. In the process, she reveals her own dark secret, and stops lying to protect Pascal’s alibi.

With Buckley on her best form, a convincing portrayal of Pascal from Johhny Flynn, and a solid turn from the reliable Geraldine James as Moll’s mother, this delivers all it promises, building to a satisfying climax on a deserted country road.

Here’s a trailer.

Film Review: The Droving (2020)

I am pleased to bring you this review of a film in which one of our fellow bloggers, Jon Risdon, has a significant role. It is a recent independently-made film, and is currently available on Amazon, free to watch for Prime members.

Martin is a serving soldier with a dark past in the military. He has returned to England to investigate the disappearance of his younger sister Megan, one year earlier. Obviously troubled, and set on revenge, he goes to the town of Penrith in the Lake District, determined to find out what happened to her. It is the time of the annual festival, The Droving. What had once been a large market for drovers to sell and trade sheep and cattle has now become a local celebration, with parades, fancy dress, fireworks, and the recreation of old legends.

He meets up with one of his sister’s friends, and she tells him about a group of men who have arrived to try to cause trouble at The Droving. Believing they might have some information, he goes to find them at some old ruins. After a violent encounter, one tells him about a hermit, a man living in a shelter hut in the hills. Martin goes to see that hermit, and after a tense interrogation of the man, is told a very ancient secret that might solve the mystery of what happened to Megan.

Wasting no time, he follows the lead given to him by the hermit, and events take an exciting turn as the film builds to its climax on the night of the festival.

This film belies its low budget, and offers excellent high-definition filming in amazingly scenic locations of the famous Lake District. I watched it on a PC monitor, and it was lovely to look at even on that. Sound is not something that usually concerns me, but it was remarkable for its quality this time. With a fast pace, and a lot packed into an 80- minute running time, there is no part that feels dull, or padded. Daniel Oldroyd gives a convincing peformance as Martin, and Jonathon Risdon stands out as a very credible hermit. The rest of the cast do their best with smaller roles too.

A British revenge thriller with a nod to films like ‘The Wicker man’, and ‘Kill List’, it mixes myths and legends from ancient times, and brings them up to date in a film that delivers some twists and turns along the way.

Highly recommended, and a sign of good things to come from the team involved.

(If you decide to watch this film, please leave a fair review on Amazon, to help Jon and the others to promote the film.)

Here’s a trailer.

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Frantz (2016)

(English subtitles for German and French language spoken)

This is the sort of film that European film makers do so well, and the award-winning director Francois Ozon has turned out another gentle masterpiece. With a cast of actors who I neither knew nor recognised, and a romantic story about the aftermath of WW1 in both Germany and France, this captivating tale surprised me with its sheer quality, and drew me in completely.

1919, rural Germany. That country has just lost that long and bitter war. Reparations and humiliation by the allies have caused anger and resentment in those who survived, and the early seeds of the rise to Nazism have already been sown. In a small town, we see Anna, making her way to the cemetery to lay flowers on the grave of her fiance, Frantz. He was killed in action towards the end of hostilities, and she is heartborken.

She lives with Franz’s parents, Dr Hoffmeister the town doctor, and his kindly wife, Marie. Together they grieve for the young man who will never return, and who is not even buried in the grave where she lays the flowers. His body lies in an unmarked grave, somewhere in France.

Anna finds other fresh flowers on the grave, and asks the gravedigger who left them there. She is told it was a foreigner, and the next day she asks at the hotel, discovering a young Frenchman is staying there. She manages to meet Adrien, and asks if he was a friend of Frantz, who studied in Paris before the war. When he says he was, she invites him to come to the house to meet the Hoffmeisters, so he can tell them about their son. In an emotionally-charged meeting, Adrien relates how he befriended Frantz, and how they would visit art galleries together, sharing their love of Manet’s paintings. At first the elderly doctor is not interested, but later softens his attitude.

The three begin a few days of friendly relationship with the young Frenchman, much to the annoyance of the local men, who hate the fact he was a soldier. Especially Herr Kreutz, who is hoping to marry Anna, and is a leading light in the new nationalist party. Then one night at the cemetery, Adrien tells Anna his darkest secret, turning their relationship on its head. He leaves the next day, and Anna pretends that his mother was ill, and that he will return.

But when he doesn’t come back to visit, the old couple are worried, and they send Anna to France to find him.

This film just oozes class. Paula Beer as Anna and Pierre Niney as Adrien are perfectly matched on screen. Historical detail is faultless, and the supporting cast members all feel like real people. At times, it is so convincing, it feels as if it was made at the time it is set. Wonderful widescreen black and white photography suits the mood, with the unexpected use of colour segments to represent dreams, and imagined sequences in the story. It is just a delight to watch such a beautifully made film.

This is film-making at a very high level. I loved it. It is a gem!

The trailer. (British viewers may find this on BBC i-player. It was on BBC 4)

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Trumbo (2015)

Most people under a certain age will not know that much about the dark period in America’s history when thousands of people were blacklisted for having left-wing sympathies, or because they had been members of the Communist Party. Investigated by the government, vilified in the press, and even imprisoned, many suffered as a result of what was later know as McCarthyism, named after a senator who led the hearings. Careers were ruined, marriages broken, and homes and families lost.

One famous Hollywood screenwriter was a part of all this, and his name was Dalton Trumbo. His books and screenwriting credits are enough to fill the entire post, but you will know some of his work, even if you have not heard his name before. ‘Spartacus’, ‘Exodus’, Papillon’, ‘Roman Holiday’, to name just a few. At one time, he was the highest paid writer in Hollywood, living a luxury lifestyle on a ranch with its own lake, and enjoying a loving marriage with a devoted wife and children. But he was also an unlikely Communist, having served as a war correspondent in WW2, and been an active supporter of strikes in the film industry.

The film opens with him at the peak of his success. Best friends with Edward G. Robinson, and part of the Hollywood elite. He is about to sign a contract with MGM, and life could not be any better. But there are rumours that he and nine other writers are about to be summoned to appear at the House Un-American Affairs Committee, where they will be asked to confess to being Communists, and supply other names to the investigators. Trumbo and some of the others decide to fight back, and make a stand. They become known as ‘The Hollywood Ten’.

This is a fine drama, heavily based on real events, and the life of Dalton Trumbo. He is played by Bryan Cranston, in a bravura performance where he is almost never off screen. Trumbo is portrayed realistically, with his obsessive desire to work affecting his family, and his outspoken stubbornness causing rifts with his best friends and colleagues. The scenes during the hearings are filmed as if to make them look like authentic documentary footage, and attention to period detail is first class.

The supporting cast is no less excellent, with Diane Lane as his wife, and many others playing the parts of real people. Those include Helen Mirren as the bitchy gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, seeking to ruin Trumbo, and Michael Stuhlbarg with a very sensitive portrayal of a troubled Edward G. Robinson. Elle Fanning shines as Trumbo’s activist teenage daughter, and Dean O’Gorman is a very convincing Kirk Douglas. Even John Goodman shows up, enjoying himself playing John Goodman. (Actually he is Frank King, but still Goodman)

You don’t really have to be a fan of old films to enjoy this, or have that much interest in the history of the blacklist in the 1940s. It works perfectly as a compelling drama about a group of people who decided to stand up and be counted.

Here’s a trailer.

Beetley Brit Brings Brutal Beatdown in Bi-Coastal Braintease Bacchanal

I just had to reblog this strange news report from America. It seems I have had the good fortune to crack Chandler’s quiz on not one, but two occasions. That will of course be of little interest to anyone other than stay at home film buffs like myself, but it is some sort of achievement
I think.

csrmastershockaward

CHANDLER SWAIN REVIEWS

“If He Can Do It, I Can Do Anything” says North Korean spokesperson for Slim Fast,Kim Jong-un, upon hearing of Beetley’s own GrouchyPete’s second internet championship crown in conquering the CSR Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, news that has ignited spontaneous religious fervor around the globe now that proof has conclusively arrived that both Pigs Can Fly and Hell Will, indeed, Freeze Over.  In an unrelated story, during his annual nightly state cocktail bash (see above) Canadian Prime Minister Justin “Bieber” Trudeau acknowledges the accomplishment of his English ally from across the pond  with the stirring pronouncement: “Huh? Who?”

  Supposed Ex-Royal Interloper Meghan              Stews at Attention Grabbing Moose                           Stalker From Beetley

 Reported to Have Asked “Grandmummy” to Declare                     …

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