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.

Just Been Watching… (116)

Ghost In the Shell (2017)

Many years ago, (1995) I watched the Japanese animated film of the same title.
To be completely honest, I don’t recall much about it.

Fast forward to 2017, and they made a live action version, which I have just got around to watching.

I should mention from the start that this film stars Scarlett Johansson, which is enough in itself. (For me)
It also stars Takeshi Kitano, speaking in Japanese. That is also sufficient to make me watch it.
Hang on, here’s the wonderful French actress, Juliet Binoche and she’s playing it straight.

What more can I possibly need?

Hold your horses! Here’s Scarlett in a CGI body suit which is basically her, but naked. Phew!

This is a great film, and it’s only 10 minutes in!

The setting is a futuristic version of Japan. It might be about 2090, and definitely at a time when I am dead. Think the visuals of ‘Blade Runner’, plus ‘Metropolis’, and you get the idea. Companies are producing robotic androids, and other companies are making better versions by implanting human brains into synthetic ‘shells’. Hence the title. Some of those are assassins, others are trying to stop the assassinations.

I’m not sure why, and I could care even less. Scarlett looks so amazing, I could watch her read the phone book. Especially when she is CGI-naked! Takeshi Kitano is such a legend, he only has to turn up. As for Binoche, I forgot about her after twenty minutes. Sorry, Juliet! There are some other people in it that I couldn’t care less about, and I confess I occasionally fast-forwarded the PVR until Scarlett was back on screen.

Is it a crap film? No idea. Is it a good film? I don’t have a clue, but I doubt it. Was it a good story? Who cares? Did I like the ending? I don’t remember.

Is Scarlett in it? Oh yes, and that’s more than enough for me.

Sorry, film fans, I let you down this time. Blame Scarlett, for looking so delectable.

Here’s a trailer. (Scarlett’s in it)

Just Been Watching…(115)

Alien Covenant (2017)

***No spoilers***

I loved the original ‘Alien’ (1979). Then along came ‘Aliens’, seven years later. Still good, more action, but in my opinion it wasn’t as breathtakingly original at the first film. Well it couldn’t be, I know that. We had already seen the ‘monster’.

‘Alien 3’ (1992), and ‘Alien Resurrection’ (1997) looked to be in danger of milking the franchise, proving that you can have too much of a good thing.
(They even mixed things up, with ‘Alien versus Predator’, in 2004)

Then along came ‘Prometheus’, in 2012. This had more story, less terror, and some interesting ideas. The critics panned it, and the fans didn’t much like it either.

But I LOVED it.

When they made a sequel to ‘Prometheus five years later, I was sniffy about it.
I didn’t go to see it, and thought they had started that ‘milking’ all over again.

This week it was on TV, and I thought ‘Why not? It won’t cost me anything’.

In the film, the huge spaceship ‘Covenant’ is on a mission to take settlers to a distant planet that will support human life. There are thousands of them in ‘hyper-sleep’ for the seven year journey, and the ship is being controlled by ‘Mother’, an artificial intelligence. Helped by ‘Walter, an android life form that stays awake to undertake routine duties. They are on a one-way trip to establish a new colony, far from Earth.

A radio signal disrupts the ship’s systems, and the crew have to wake up, and deal with it. They discover it is emanating from an unknown planet, much closer than their destination. A planet that can support human life. The inexperienced Captain decides to investigate, and thing begin to go very wrong once the landing team arrives.

This is very much a sequel to ‘Prometheus’, featuring answers to things that happened at the end of the previous film. Yet it also stands alone, if you haven’t seen that film. It’s an ‘Alien’ film, so you can expect to see the familiar acid-blooded monsters that always turn up. You also get to see a lot more about those very large ‘humanoids’ from ‘Prometheus’ too.

With no spoilers, that’s about it. Some people die, some live, and there are lots of ‘WTF?’ moments involving the terrifying Alien monsters. If you have seen any of the films, you more or less know what to expect, with not that much of a twist this time. And no Sigourney Weaver, either. Michael Fassbender does well, playing identical androids. One is evil, the other kind. He acts with enough nuance that we always know which one we are watching.

If you liked ‘Prometheus’, (or was that just me?) you might want to know what happened next.

I did, and I really enjoyed this sequel too.

Here’s a trailer.

Just Been Watching… (114)

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

I watched this film on the BBC, and it is also available on Amazon.

***No spoilers***

Adapted from the novel by Peter Ackroyd, this film is set in Victorian London, in the 1880s. Think of those films about the real ‘Jack The Ripper’ murders you might have seen, and you get the idea. However, Ackroyd is a distinguished and wonderful writer, and he brings that era to the screen in fascinating detail, with convincing performances from a dedicated cast.

With a series of brutal and unconnected murders causing uproar in one of London’s poorest districts, Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) is brought in to take over the case. He is not expected to be able to cope, and is merely a scapegoat for Scotland Yard to blame when he fails. He soon discovers a connection with a woman on trial for poisoning her husband, (Olivia Cooke) and with the assistance of Constable Flood (Daniel Mays) he starts to look closely at all the suspects for the heinous crimes.

Where this story scored for me was in the introduction of real people into the fictional killings. The famous Music Hall entertainer, Dan Leno, once the highest paid person in Britain, features heavily throughout. He is played by Douglas Booth, with real flair. Other suspects include Karl Marx, the writer of Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto. He was actually living in London at the time, and is woven into the story.

The tale unfolds in a series of flashbacks and ‘fantasy’ sequences, as we see inside the mind of the troubled detective. We also follow the life of the poisoning suspect, Lizzie Cree, and her unfaithful husband, John. Most of the film is set in a Music Hall, where many of the characters work. This allows for a very interesting insight into the entertainment of the time, along with the way that social classes mixed in such establishments. With no spoilers, I cannot go into detail. But this film had me gripped, and wanting to know the identity of the murderer.

That is revealed right at the end, in a wonderful twist that I didn’t suspect. And I love twists!

I should add a warning that the murders are shown in some graphic detail, with lots of blood. There are some sexual references, and minor nudity, but nothing unsuitable for TV viewing in the 21st century. If you like your murder mysteries set in the past, and enjoy films with an old-fashioned feel, then this is one for you.

It has had mixed reviews, but I would suggest ignoring those. This film brings a cast of mostly British character actors all at the top of their game. In addition to those mentioned, there is the reliable Eddie Marsan as the theatre manager, and Henry Goodman as Karl Marx.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and the performances.
This trailer gives a good feel of the film.

Retro Review: Apocalypse Now (1979)

People have written books about this film, and even made documentary films about it. The behind-the-scenes events have become the stuff of legend, including the difficult behaviour of its star, Marlon Brando. This updating of the novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ has inspired academic articles, and decades of debate and discussion.

But this is just my own opinion of it as a film, and my memory of seeing it at the cinema when it was released.

Forty years ago. Can you believe that? I have never seen the film since, and yet I can recall most of it from memory, and play certain scenes out in my head with no effort whatsoever.

As far as I am concerned, that is the mark of a film that exceeded all expectations, and can well deserve to be called a cinematic masterpiece.

This was also the first time I can remember hearing a soundtrack in ‘Surround-Sound’, at a Central London cinema. The opening scene of the sound of helicopters over the view of a spinning ceiling fan was so effective, most of us turned around in our seats, and looked around the cinema. It really did feel as if a helicopter was circling above our heads.

The film had hardly started, and I was already overwhelmed.

In case you have never seen the film, I won’t just keep writing about scenes, and will add no plot spoilers. And if you have never seen it, I suggest you rectify that at the earliest opportunity.

You will know the names of many of the cast members. Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Frederick Forrest, Robert Duvall, (in a memorable role) Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn, Lawrence Fishburne, and Dennis Hopper. This is a film about the Vietnam War that goes far beyond that conflict, examining what war does to ordinary men, and how far they can sink into the abyss.

The cinematography is superb. Direction by Francis Ford Coppola is just right, and the casting near-perfect too. It is an experience that transcends a normal evening at the cinema. It gets inside you, and makes you think. And your conclusions are often far from comfortable.

Much has been said about this film. It was attacked on release by some critics, claiming that it was an indulgence by Coppola, a film-maker well-known for such indulgence. It famously ran well over budget, and some of the stars gave interviews about the difficulties they encountered during its making. You can read all that, and you can watch the documentaries. If you want to.

Or you could just watch this amazing film.
Because it is absolutely fantastic.