An Alphabet Of Things I Don’t Like: R

Remakes.

It will come as no surprise to long-term followers of this blog that film remakes feature for ‘R’. With a handful of exceptions, the constant remakes of great films are usually unnecessary, and completely pointless too.

Yes, they remade ‘Carrie’, that classic Stephen King adaptation from 1976.
And it was truly awful.

Taking on one of the best British gangster thrillers ever, they remade the wonderful ‘Get Carter’, in 2000.
Why? Please tell me why!

Seemingly out to murder another classic Michael Caine film, they remade ‘The Italian Job’, in 2003.
COME ON! Just stop it!

I could also write a book on how they remake foreign language films for people who can’t handle subtitles, always ruining them in the process.
One of the worst examples has to be ‘The Vanishing’. They changed the ending in the US version, to make it ‘happy’.
GRRRRRRRRRR!

And don’t get me started on Japanese Anime classics with western actors voicing the characters!
How wrong does this sound? Very wrong, believe me.

BUT WAIT!

While I am on ‘R’, I have to mention ‘Reimagining’. In case you don’t know, this is the blatant plagiarism of classic fiction, ‘Reimagined’ for the modern reader. Take ‘Jane Eyre’, set it in modern-day California, call it something else, and you have ‘reimagined’ the original. You get the idea.

DOUBLE GRRRRRRRRR!

Film makers and writers, I have a suggestion for you.

DO SOMETHING ORIGINAL!

Film Review: Journey’s End (2017)

Journey’s End is a stage play written by R.C. Sherrif, and first performed in 1928, ten years after the period in which it was set. An anti-war play, it focuses on a few days around the German offensive in the Spring of 1918, during WW1.

It was first filmed in 1930, starring Colin Clive, but I have never seen that version. However, it was also filmed for television by the BBC in 1988, starring Jeremy Northam in the lead as Captain Stanhope. That remained the definitive version for me, with a superb cast sticking to the spirit of the original play. In this version, some of the action sequences were shown on film, something the play avoided due to theatrical constraints.

Most of what makes the play effective is the claustrophobic atmosphere of life in dugouts and trenches, viewed from the perspective of the officers, and their cooks and servants. The 1988 version deviated from this slightly, but remained powerful and compelling to watch.

So now we have the new version, with Samuel Clafin as Stanhope, Asa Butterfield as the young and impressionable Raleigh, and Paul Bettany excellent as the older experienced lieutenant known to all as ‘Uncle’. Add Toby Jones as the cook, and Stephen Graham as Lieutenant Trotter, and the casting is about as good as it gets these days.

The stresses and strains of trench warfare are all there. Men reaching breaking point, officers living on whisky to get through each day, and senior commanders issuing seemingly pointless orders from comfortable accommodation behind the lines. Social class is maintained in the mud and deprivation, and we have the added complication that Stanhope is the boyfriend of Raleigh’s sister back home, so idolised by the new arrival.

Tension builds as the expected German attack comes ever closer, exacerbated by last-minute orders to attack a German trench to capture a prisoner. We have a cowardly officer unwilling to play his part, and other stiff-upper lip officers pretending all is well, in order to maintain the morale of the men.

As a film, it is beautifully photographed in widescreen; with muted colours suiting the mood, and dingy scenes in the candlelit dugouts nicely done too. It never feels less than completely authentic, not for one moment. If you had never heard of the play, or seen the earlier BBC film, you would no doubt have thought it was a wonderfully moving production. Paul Bettany is quietly outstanding as ‘Uncle’, and young Butterfield looks as if he is actually living in 1918, with his wide-eyed enthusiasm concealing inner fears.

But I have seen the BBC film, and Jeremey Northam is magnificent as Stanhope in that. Tim Spall wipes the floor with Stephen Graham in the role of Trotter, and Edward Petherbridge is even better than Bettany as ‘Uncle’. So my advice is to try to watch the 1988 version. If you can access it, here it is on You Tube. It is not a great print, unfortunately.

But if for some reason you can’t watch this, the new film is still very good indeed.
Here’s a trailer.

A Film For Halloween: Pyewacket (2017)

***No spoilers***

With TV channels full of Halloween horror films, I have been recording some of those I have never seen before.

This Canadian film didn’t reach my radar three years ago, so I sat down to watch it yesterday afternoon. One benefit was that I didn’t recognise anyone in the relatively small cast, and had few expectations of it. A Pyewacket is a familiar spirit, mentioned as long ago as the 17th century. It was also the name of Kim Novak’s cat in the enjoyable film ‘Bell, Book, and Candle’ (1958).

Leah is a grungy teenager who hangs around with three friends at her high school. She has a crush on one of the boys, and they all have a great interest in the occult. Her father has died, and her mother is unable to cope following his death. She is still managing to go to work, but drinking heavily, and finding it hard to deal with the usual teenage issues of her daughter. She makes the decision to move away into the countryside, to a lonely house hidden away in some woods.

Leah is furious, angry that she will not be seeing her friends any longer, and having to adjust to a new life in a strange place. As a compromise, her mother agrees to drive her to school and back for the rest of that term, but says she has to change schools after the holidays. Following a heated argument, Leah wishes her mother was dead, and uses one of her occult books to find a spell to conjure up the Pyewacket.

As you might expect, things go badly wrong once she has been in the woods performing the ritual.

This film feels more like a coming-of-age teenage drama, than a horror film. It takes a very long time to build any suspense or scares, but when they come, they are handled deftly, though not that scary at all. The meat of the film is about the fluctuating relationship between mother and daughter following the unexpected death of the husband and father. But the atmosphere following the casting of the spell is very well handled, with the threat of an unseen menace always apparent.

The ending is unexpected, and very well done, though it failed to scare me sufficiently for me to class this as a real horror film. I still think it is worth watching, for the sound performances, and the very good cinematography.

An Alphabet Of things I Like: J

Japanese Films.

I have written about my love for films from this country many times, so it was always going to be the choice for J.

From my early teens as a member of London’s National Film Theatre, I was introduced to some excellent foreign films, many of which were from Japan. I know lots of you don’t like to watch films with subtitles, but I am going to recommend some anyway.

Akira Kurosawa was one of the coutry’s foremost film-makers, and his historical epics are breathtaking to watch. They also inspired the later ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, and of course ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

But Japanese cinema is about more than Samurai warriors and feuding warlords.

The powerful family saga, ‘Tokyo Story’, made in 1953.

Tough Cop dramas, often starring Beat Takeshi.

Chilling horror films, like these two.

There is also the tradition of monster films, using stop-motion animation. They loved to have famous monsters fighting each other!

That brings me to the wonderful anime films made in Japan by studios that are now world-famous. There are far too many to list, but I have chosen three examples.

Many of the animated films are available in dubbed versions, voiced by famous western film stars. So you don’t even have to worry about those subtitles.
Let me know if you have a personal favourite Japanese film.

Film Review: Disobedience (2017)

I am usually attracted to any film starring Rachel Weisz. Not only is she very nice to look at, she can act too. The second thing that appealed to me about this film is its North London setting, in the Jewish Orthodox area that I know quite well from my life in London.

Weisz plays Ronit, the daughter of a much-loved Rabbi. She has left England, and is working as a successful photographer in New York, when she recieves the message that her father has died suddenly. A return to the rather drab semi-surburban streets of her youth soon reveals the reason why she left.

She had a lesbian relationship with one of her best friends, Etsi. (Rachel McAdams) Caught ‘in flagrante’ by her deeply religious father, she left suddenly, and under a cloud of suspicion. She has not been back since, but felt drawn to attend her father’s funeral celebrations. She goes to visit another old friend, Dovid, (Alessandro Nivola) and he insists that she stay there with him and his wife. Shocked to discover that he is married to her old lover, Etsi, tensions begin between the three of them, and the strict religious community that surrounds them.

I am not religious, but know something of the Orthodox Jewish faith, and its restrictions on women. There is almost no association with others outside that faith, and traditions are upheld with little allowance for the free spirit of the returned Ronit.

As Etsi and Ronit rediscover their past relationship whilst Davod is preparing to take over as the new rabbi, things build to a satisfying climax that doesn’t settle for the ending you might expect.

Weisz is as excellent as always, and ably served by the two co-stars, as well as a teriffic supporting cast. Locations are completely authentic, as are the sets, and the feel of the script. Despite sex scenes between husband and wife, and the two female lovers, it never feels salacious or gratuitious. The sense of claustrophobia in an almost closed community is ever-apparent, and the spark of rebellion that Ronit brings back from America feels set to ignite a powder keg inside it.

A serious adult drama, and highly recommended.

Film Review: John Wick (2014)

Another film I came to late, and one that has inspired sequels since.

 

Sometimesyou have to sit back and let a film wash over you, and this is one of those times. Extremely violent, and rather pointless, this is a relentless revenge-thriller about a retired hit man who returns to take on his former employers and colleagues.

Following the death of his wife from a terminal illness, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is bereft and depressed. He has a luxurious house and a fantastic classic car, but he is lonely and sad. Then one evening a parcel arrives, and it is a puppy, sent by his wife as her last wish. Something for him to love, and to give him a reason to carry on.

One day when he is filling up his car with petrol, a group of Russian gangsters appear, and ask to buy his beloved Mustang. He refuses to sell, and drives off. But that night they break into his home, beat him up badly, and kill the little puppy. Unknown to them, he is a retired hit man with a terrifying reputation. One of them is the son of the local Russian mafia kingpin, and when his father discovers he has upset the legendary John Wick, he knows bad things are going to happen.

And they do. Lots of them.

I lost count of how many people got killed, and how many times Wick was injured. He goes on a rampage, assisted by his old hit man friend, played by Willem Dafoe. On the way he has to deal with contract killers, and the legions of russian gangsters employed by the big boss. Ultimately, he tracks down the repulsive son (Alfie Allen) and finishes the job.

Reeves is ideal in the role of the effcient and emotionless killer, and the rest of the cast do their jobs well-enough. The pace of the film rarely slows, and the action sequences are beautifully choreographed, even when it seems unlikely that Wick could possibly be THAT good!

I actually enjoyed it, maybe because I am still ill.

This is my first post using the Block Editor. I clicked on the + sign, chose Classic, and carried on typing ignoring everything that popped up. If it looks any different, that’s why.

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!

Just Been Watching…(126)

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.

Just Been Watching…(125)

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.