Film Review: Peterloo (2018)

Based around a real historical event that happened in Manchester in 1819, British director Mike Leigh directed this superb drama looking at the plight of the working classes following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, in 1815. Assembling a large cast of some of the best British acting talent, and searching the country for authentic locations, Leigh delivered a long film (Two hours and thirty minutes) that is rich in historical accuracy and period detail.

In 1816, conditions for the working classes in Britain were terrible. Rich landowners and factory owners paid tiny wages for long hours at work. In the cotton mills of Lancashire, that work was very dangerous, and done by all age groups, including very small children. Most families barely had enough to put food on the table, and the imposition of the Corn Laws banning imports of corn forced up the price of bread to unaffordable levels.

There was also no representation for normal people, as only landowners and nobles were allowed to vote in elections. With King George III incapacitated by mental illness, his foppish son The Prince Regent was in control of the country, and his lavish lifestyle caused outrage at the time. The Reform Party sought to achieve better conditions for the working classes, with the right of one man, one vote, and proper contracted and safe working conditions. But government agents and spies infiltrated the meetings, as they feared a revolution like the one that had happened in France, in 1789.

The story follows one family, and their friends and neighbours. Returning home with PTSD after his harrowing experience at the battle of Waterloo, son Joseph can find no work. His mother sells pies to make enough money to feed the family, and the rest of his relatives work long hours in the local cotton mill. All are interested in the Reform Party, and attend meetings urging protest against their living conditions and lack of voting rights. Very soon, they come under the watchful eye of government agents, as the film starts to build to the climax in 1819.

Despite this being a ‘worthy’ film, full of long speeches, and a lot of regional dialect used, I never found its pace too slow. I was completely invested in the life of the family, helped by a wonderful performance from the excellent Maxine Peake as the mother. When the Manchester reformers ask a famous orator to come and address a public meeting, they have to use the large site of St Peter’s Field in Manchester, as it is to be the largest public gathering ever seen in the north of England. There will be no violence, and no weapons carried. Families will dress in their best clothes, and march to the field together, accompanied by musicians, and carrying banners and flags.

They choose a Monday, a working day, as their absence from their jobs will also serve as a protest to the wealthy owners, and the Magistrates who dominate their lives with an iron hand. This worries the government, so the local Yeomanry and Cavalry detachments are mobilised, in case of civil unrest. Once the famous orator begins to speak, the Magistrates instruct the military to disperse the crowd. What followed was later described in the newspapers as ‘The Peterloo Massacre’, using the idea of Waterloo to impart the scale of the slaughter on the day.

Around thirty people were killed instantly, many of them women, children, and babies. Over seven hundred people were injured, by swords, bullets, bayonets, or being trampled by horses. Many of those would later die from their injuries, and some were so badly injured they could never work again.

This is not a film for everybody, but as historical dramas go I thought it was outstanding. A wonderful cast, great script, and authenticity throughout.

Here’s a short trailer.

Tourist London: A Walk In History

My friend Antony sent me another of the You Tube videos of Joolz presenting one of his very informative walks.

This time, he is walking around some very famous Central London tourist areas, and giving a detailed history in his inimitable style.
(The film is just under 30 minutes long.)

If you have ever wandered around the same places, you may well be interested in the background to them.

Film Review: Searching (2018)

I was looking for something to watch the other night, and saw this was showing on a film channel, Film 4. I went online and read two reviews, deciding it seemed to be worth watching.

And it was.

**No spoliers**

For one thing, I didn’t really recognise any of the cast. And there was something else. With very few exceptions for some scenes, the whole film is played out on computer screens, smartphone screens, television screens, and over telephone calls. It feels right up to date, with characters communicating by text message, and on other messaging platforms. Switching between screens to check maps, with many different screens often displayed at the same time. Face-time conversations, video calling, and so many other things all too familiar in this modern world.

Please don’t let that put you off. It works, and works very well. All the images and texts are clear, easy to read, and not at all confusing. And it creates a feeling of helplessness and tension that would not have worked nearly so well in a conventional format.

The Kim family is an American/Korean family doing well in California. David and Pamela have good jobs, their daughter Margot is talented, and shows promise as a pianist. But tragedy strikes (early in the film) when Pamela is struck down with terminal cancer, leaving David to bring up his daughter on his own.

He makes the best of it, and is a loving and caring father to Margot. He allows her some freedoms, but also continues to nurture her piano talent, and provide a safe and comfortable home for his daughter. One day, she calls him to say she is staying over with a group of friends at study group, as they need to work on their school project. David tells her to call him the next day.

But she doesn’t. And she doesn’t answer his calls either. He is soon very worried, and contacts the police. Fortunately, the case is assigned to missing persons specialist, Sergeant Rosemary Vick. She is dogged and determined, and promises to find his daughter. Meanwhile, David takes to social media and technology to help. He gets into Margot’s Facebook, Laptop, Messages, bank records, and everything else she has been using.

And in the process, he discovers that he hardly knew anything about his daughter at all.

Leaving it there to avoid spoilers, I will add that this is a great little film, and the small budget is never apparent. Tension is highly wound throughout, and almost nothing is what it seems. In the central role of David Kim, John Cho is simply excellent. I completely believed that he was the father of a missing girl. Everyone else in the cast handles their part well, with special mention for Debra Messing, as Sergeant Vick.

BUT WAIT! There’s a delicious twist, one that I didn’t guess at all!

Highly recommended.

Here’s a trailer.

Film Review: Songbird (2020)

As far as I know, this film is curently only available on Amazon Prime.
At least that is the only place to find it in the UK.
**No spoilers**

A film about the Covid-19 pandemic, set in the year 2024. When it is now known as ‘Covid-23’.

This is a ‘worst-case scenario’ film, where the virus is not contained, so the people are contained instead. Filmed in a near-future version of Los Angeles, the theme is dark, and so is much of the action. There is an authoritarian government that keeps the population locked down by force, and anyone who shows symptoms of the virus is removed to a ‘Q-Zone’, and left to their fate.

Rich people still manage to beat the system. Buying fake ‘Immunity’ passes, and doing more or less what they like. And there are those that have natural immunity, allowed to work outside delivering parcels, or supervising the military-style teams that enforce the rules. Every person must do a temperature check on their phones by a given time every morning. Show a high temperature, and the removal squads arrive. Fail to register your check in time, and the removal squads arrive.

There is also a new version of ‘track and trace’. Did you talk to your neighbour? Have you been inside their home? If so, we smash your door down and off you go to the Q-zone, like it or not.

But of course, there is romance, albeit a relationship carried out over a very smart smartphone. And there is some hope, in the regions beyond the Q-zone that offer a form of sanctuary.

The film borrows many ideas from those like it. We have seen films set in pandemics before, and films where terrified ordinary people are inside, living in fear of zombies, or repressive governments. The film-makers wisely stayed away from making things too smart or too sci-fi. This is a world we can all recognise, with similar technology that is just slightly beefed up from what we have at the moment.

Casting is very good when it comes to the villains. You will recognise Peter Stormaire as Emmett, the man in charge of the removal squads. Suitably creepy and ruthless. Then the rich crook, Griffin. He is played by Bradley Whitford, who was so good in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. There is a surprisingly mature turn from Demi Moore as Griffin’s wife, conflicted by her desire to protect her sick daughter. But the younger cast members were all new to me.

So, not a great film. Entertaining enough, and certainly as ‘current’ as it gets. It might be the first film about the Coronavirus pandemic, but we can be sure it won’t be the last.

I should mention that I had to watch this film on a 10-inch tablet. I’m sure it looks better on a big screen.

Here’s a trailer.

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.

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!