Just Been Watching…(123)

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.

Just Been Watching…(122)

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)

Just Been Watching…(121)

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.

Just Been Watching… (120)

Nightcrawler (2014)

Six years after its release, I finally got to see this American drama starring Jake Gyllenhall. And I am glad I did.

Set in Los Angeles, the film reeks of sleaze, and feels like a modern ‘noir’ in every way possible. Filmed mostly at night, as you would expect from the title, it is about the cutthroat world of sensational TV news, and how the different News channels compete to buy the most disturbing and graphic film clips from the teams of cameramen who roam the streets listening to police scanner radios. The clips are then shown on the morning news, in the hope of grabbing the biggest slice of the early ratings.

We start by seeing that Louis Bloom (Gyllenhall) is little more than a petty criminal. He drives a nondescript car, and makes a living stealing things like wire fencing and manhole covers, which he then sells to scrap dealers for cash. He lives in a seedy apartment, and is very much a loner. So the scene is set for what follows.

On his way home one night, Lou happens across a serious car accident, with a woman trapped in a burning car. A news crew arrives, but they do not help the woman. Instead, they film the drama as police arrive to render aid. An interested Lou asks the camerman, Joe Loder, (the reliable Bill Paxton) for a job, but is laughed at. Undaunted, he steals an expensive cycle the next day, and exchanges it for a video camera and police scanner in a pawn shop. That night, he sets out with the intention of being a news cameraman, learning the hard way that he has to get in first, to get the best shots.

Lou is not a likeable man. He is obsessive, intense, driven, and quite scary too. Gyllenhall captures him perfectly, with that sense of something smouldering away under the surface that might explode into violence at any time. He is calculating, cunning, and as I mentioned above, sleazy.

After bending the rules to get a couple of scoops, he comes to the attention of harassed News Team manager Nina, at a second rate, struggling TV station. (The perfect casting of Rene Russo, on top form) She is clinging on to her job, just, and needs gory news reports to show management that she can deliver. Very soon, she has a relationship with Lou that is as worrying as it is successful. Lou hires an assistant, buys a professional camera, and gets a better car. He is on the up, and negotiating hard for the first-on-scene footage that only he can supply. He has more run-ins with Joe Loder, and deals with him in a very unconventional manner.

As the ratings war intensifies, Lou no longer bends rules, he breaks them. With the TV station now more or less totally dependent on him, he exceeds all boundaries of decency, and manages to even get involved in the events themselves. He is now creating news, as well as reporting on it. Nina is trapped in circle of being disgusted by him, yet addicted to the success their association can bring.

This is a film with no real winners or losers. Despite some car-chase sequences, and the occasional burst of action, it is a film about how low someone will go in search of success, and how they will drag the others down with them. Russo and Gyllenhall are just wonderful to watch on screen, and every supporting actor steps up in even the smallest role.

I thought it was excellent, as you can tell.

Here’s a trailer.

Just Been Watching…(119)

Den Of Thieves (2018)

Do you ever start watching a film and think, ‘hang on, this is a rip-off’? Almost as soon as this film started, I was wondering if it was a shady remake of ‘Heat’ (1995) which was itself a remake of ‘LA Takedown’ (1989), albeit by the same director.

‘Den of Thieves’ begins with an exciting scene where a very professional gang attack an armoured security truck, with things going wrong when one gang member kills a guard, leading to the rest of the guards having to be shot too. And it is set in Los Angeles County.
(Yes, the same as in ‘Heat’)

The cop who arrives to investigate is a hard-drinking, no-nonsene leader of an elite squad of gang-busting cops. He has little time for his superiors, and no time for the FBI at all. He puts pressure on suspects, and follows them around, actually confronting them face-to-face.
(Sound familiar?)

He is always at work or out with his team, and rarely gets home. So his wife leaves him.
(Yes,’Heat’ again)

When the police team are keeping watch on the criminal gang, they are also being watched by them in turn. As the police compile a list of suspects, the gang leader makes a list of the police team opposing him, and profiles the top cop. One of the criminals is an electronics wizard, who is also good with explosives.
(I know, ‘Heat’ again!)

I was seriously thinking of reaching for the off-switch when things took a different turn, and it stopped just parroting ‘Heat’.

Beginning with a tense hostage taking in a bank, and leading to a cleverly executed climax of the well-planned robbery of the impregnable Federal Reserve Bank, the second half gives this film its own identity. And there is a twist too!

With the police now in pursuit of the escaping robbers, it all ends not in a car chase, but in a very well choreographed shoot-out sequence in a traffic jam, of all things. So it seems to all be over. But wait. There’s another twist! And that second twist is a real goodie!

With Gerard Butler as Nick, leading the police team, and Pablo Schrieber as Merriman, the tough ex-marine criminal, I didn’t recognise any of the rest of the cast. Though one of them is ex-rapper, 50-Cent. They all did well though, and were convincing enough. Car chases were kept to a minimum, and despite the often groan-inducing similarities with earlier films, I ended up liking this film much more than I thought I would.

Here’s a trailer.

Film Review

In 2014, I had a film review published on the website, A World Of Film. I wrote this post to advertise that fact, and I don’t think that many of you have seen it before. (Other than David Miller and Olga)
The film is about the early days of photography, and a harrassed housewife who uses a camera to escape the harsh realities of her existence. I was thinking about the film today, and how simply wonderful it is. One of the best films I have seen, in fact.
Please follow the link to read my review, which is illustrated with beautiful stills from the film. And also let me know if you have ever seen it.

beetleypete

I have just had another film review published on A World Of Film. Here is a link, for anyone interested in reading it.

Everlasting Moments (2008) – Jan Troell (Pete Johnson)

Best wishes to you all. Pete.

View original post

Film nostalgia

After a brief exchange on Twitter earlier, I decided to reblog this 2015 post about one of my favourite films. Apologies to those of you who have already seen it.

beetleypete

(This is about the 1967 film, not the 2013 remake.)

When I first saw the film ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, I was fifteen years old. I liked it so much, I went to see it again the following week. I didn’t know a lot about Warren Beatty or Faye Dunaway at the time. I had never heard of Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder, or Gene Hackman either. I thought I recognised the strange face of Michael J. Pollard, but I didn’t know where I might have seen it. The man playing the Texas Ranger was Denver Pyle, and I knew him immediately, from old westerns. The same applied to Dub Taylor, who played the father of C.W. Moss in the film.

I had been going to the cinema for as long as I was old enough to sit up straight in the seat. I had seen all kinds of films…

View original post 441 more words

Just Been Watching… (118)

The Beguiled (2017)

***No Spoliers***

Just got around to watching this, which I had saved on my PVR. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a remake of the original 1971 film by Don Siegel, that starred Clint Eastwood.

Adapted from a novel of the same name, it is set during the US Civil War, in 1864. In war-torn Virginia, only a few girls remain at an academy for young ladies. Still being taught, and working the land to survive, they hope to see out the war safely, by staying in seclusion. Then one day, the youngest girl is searching for mushrooms in the woods, and comes across a wounded Union soldier. Despite him being an enemy, she takes pity on him, and helps him back to the school.

His arrival among the girls and two older women teachers causes a stir. At first they think to hand him over to Confederate patrols, but the novelty of having a man in the old plantation house makes the owner change her mind. She tends his wounds instead, and allows him to stay locked in a room until he has recovered enough to become a prisoner of war. The mixed ages of the women and girls means we see a range of emotions toward the man. From the repressed sexuality of the older lonely women, the curiousity of the pubescent younger girls, and the youngest one who looks upon him as an older brother.

The scene is set for a dangerous mix of passions to explode in the closed atmosphere of the school.

Director Sophia Coppola offers us a muted colour palette, a real sense of the summer heat in Virginia, and glances and nuances that betray the desire of the females, and their Union prisoner too. The casting is first-rate, with Colin Farrell as the Irishman who no longer wants to fight, seeing an easy life is possible by staying shut away with the women and girls. The owner of the school is played by Nicole Kidman with her usual flair, and the excellent Kirsten Dunst shines as the sexually-repressed woman who lusts after contact with the handsome man. The other girls in the cast capture the mood of the 19th century very well, and as each one encounters the man during his stay, they manage to perfectly convey their change in attitude to him.

As he grows stronger, and is able to mix with them, the soldier begins to take advantage of his unusual situation, and things build to a satisfying climax. All of this is packed into a suitably short running time that never stretches to boredom, or uses ‘fillers’. It sounds good, doesn’t it? And it is.

But, there’s a big BUT.

The whole thing is pretty much a scene by scene remake of the original 1971 film. In that one, Eastwood plays the soldier as a more sleazy and opportunistic character, and we always know his intentions. The women in that first film are less attractive too, explaining to some extent why they so easily succumb to his charms. Siegel gives us a more lurid film, as suits the story, and the sense of overwhelming repressed desire is better handled too.

In short, the remake was completely unnecessary. (They usually are) And the original, in my opinion, is a more satisfying film.

Many others don’t agree with me, I know. That’s up to them.

The Pop Stars Moonlighting Blogathon 2020

Here is my entry in this month’s blogathon, hosted by https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/
Gill has picked the theme of well-known music artists in acting roles, and I have chosen David Bowie.

This is actually a two-for-one post, as the film co-stars Ryuichi Sakamoto. He also composed the music for the soundtrack, and is a famous musician in his native Japan. To add a third musician to the mix, the theme song from the film, ‘Forbidden Colours’, was sung by David Sylvian.

As a lifelong fan of the music of David Bowie, I eagerly watched all of his acting roles too. When this film came out in 1983, I went to see it at a cinema in London.
***Plot spoilers included***

The story is set during WW2, in a Japanese prisoner of war camp for allied captives. As well as the two stars, we are treated to some excellent supporting actors, including Takeshi Kitano, Tom Conti, and Jack Thompson.

Soon after Major Celliers (Bowie) arrives at the camp, the commandant Captain Yonoi (Sakamoto) develops a fixation on him. Meanwhile, Celliers has become close to the senior British officer, Colonel Lawrence, (Conti) and soon develops a reputation as a troublemaker, and one of the spokesman for the poor conditions that the prisoners have to endure. Despite Celliers outward defiance and rebellious attitude, Yonoi fails to punish him, and it becomes obvious that he has an overwhelming crush on the attractive prisoner. This alarms the Japanese guards, and one urges his commander to kill Celliers, rather than face the shame of discovery.

But Yonoi is unable to do that, and is eventually replaced because of his lack of leadership. His successor is aware of what transpired between Celliers and Yonoi, and immediately informs the prisoner that he can expect no mercy from him. To punish him for disgracing his colleague, Celliers is buried up to his neck in sand, and left to die.

This film is beautifully shot, and the location convincing. As befits a film starring two international recording artists, the soundtrack is simply perfect, and so appropriate for the mood. Both the leads deliver excellent peformances, alongside those supporting actors who are always completely reliable.

Thirty-seven years later, it is still as powerful and interesting as it was in 1983.

Just Been Watching…(117)

Wind River (2017)

***No spoilers***

This is a modern American murder mystery with a difference. That difference is that it is set in and around a Native American Reservation, and also stars some Native American actors alongside the two white leads. Better than nothing, as far as I am concerned. More importantly, it highlights the appalling fact that so many Native American women and girls get killed or go missing every year, yet that does not even feature in national statistics provided by the government. Okay, political bit over, on to the film.

Jeremy Renner plays Cory, a hunter and tracker employed by the US Wildlife Service. His regular job is to find and kill the predators like wolves and mountain lions that take livestock from the local farmers. He is divorced from his Native American wife, after an event in their past that shattered their relationship. But he has visits with their young son, and likes to show him how to get on with horses, and learn the ways of the outdoors.

On one of his hunting trips, he comes across the body of a young Native American girl, and he knows her, and her family. He brings in the Tribal Police, but they have limited resources, so contact the FBI. Along comes just one agent, (Elizabeth Olsen) out of her depth in the rural setting, and different culture. She doesn’t even have a coat to wear, in freezing temperatures, and heavy snow. But she is a tough cookie despite all that, as we should have guessed. Discovering that Cory knows the area like the back of his hand, she enlists his help to investigate the murder.

The Wyoming scenery is as much the star of this film as any of the actors. It is breathtaking and majestic, even though that makes life hard for those who live there. There is not much work, little by way of entertainment, and the young men of the tribe are disaffected and drifting into crime. Oil companies have been granted leases on the Federal Land, and protect their investment using armed security guards.

The rest of the film is a straightforward quest to find the killer of the girl. Along the way we get to meet the local chief of the Tribal Police, (the familiar face of Graham Greene) the devastated parents of the dead girl, and some criminal elements living in squalor. There are a couple of exciting shoot-outs, and more wonderful scenery, accessed by the ubiquitous snowmobiles that offer the only practical solution to travel off-road. Central performances are solid and reliable, and the film-maker avoids some of the usual tropes in films of this genre.

The Native American characters are shown in a fair and sympathetic light, and the issues surrounding their past and present treatment by the US government are addressed with a nice light touch that works well. All in all, a good-looking murder drama that I found myself liking a lot more that I thought I would.

Here’s a trailer.