Just Been Watching…(104)

A Most Violent Year (2014)
***No spoilers***

I was late to this film, as usual. I watched it on Netflix, but it is widely available, including on DVD.

In my opinion, Oscar Isaac is one of the finest modern actors. He seems to me to have inherited the mantle of the younger Pacino and De Niro. Yet he doesn’t appear to be a ‘big league’ star, something that continues to surprise me. He takes the lead in this crime thriller, set in 1981, in New York. Perfectly cast as shady businessman, Abel Morales, who is not averse to bending the rules or going along with some corruption, in an effort to expand his oil delivery business.

After negotiating a deal to buy some riverside land containing an old oil depot, he must come up with a small fortune within a few days. It’s a gamble, but one that can make him very rich, by allowing him to dominate the oil delivery market in and around New York City. He is helped by his loyal and devoted wife, Anna, (Jessica Chastain) and his world-weary lawyer, Andrew. (Albert Brooks)

But things start badly. Someone is hijacking his trucks as they make deliveries in the city. Expensive oil is going missing, and Morales suspects his competitors are behind the thefts. He is also being hounded by an ambitious District Attorney (David Oyelowo) who is threatening him with charges of fraud, and tax evasion. Life is far from easy for Abel, and he has just moved into a new luxury house too.

Ably supported by his wife, Morales determines to find out what is going on. One by one, he investigates the dealings of his competitors, and has a lucky break when he is able to stop one of his trucks being hijacked. With less than three days to complete the biggest deal of his life, he throws everything into solving the problem of coming up with the money needed.

Despite not relying on set-piece action, this film manages to keep a tension and edginess throughout. Chastain doesn’t have too much to do as the wife, but when she is involved, she acts with her usual accomplished style. A remarkably restrained Albert Brooks impresses as the lawyer close to the edge of legality, and smaller parts are all very convincing, from a believable cast.

But yet again, this is Isaac’s film. He dominates it from start to finish, and I found myself watching his every expression and nuance throughout. This is an intelligent film, with a great script, and one that never relies on flashy scenes or shoot-outs to drive the plot.

This is what good crime thrillers should be like.

Just been watching…(103)

The Perfection (2019)
***No spoilers***

This is a Netflix film, and is only available from that service.

Thanks to my blogging friend, John Rieber, I recently read about this film on his site, and decided to watch it. Here is a link to John’s site.
“The Perfection” Is Netflix’s Twisted New “Cult Movie Monday!”

This is an out and out psychological thriller, one that is easy to watch whilst overlooking various plot-holes, and the odd ‘how did that happen?’
However, it is exceedingly difficult to review without spoilers, due to the numerous twists and turns that supply the entertainment factor.
I will still try though.

Alison Williams is one of the two young female stars, playing Charlotte, a renowned cellist and one-time child prodigy. She attended the famous Bachoff Cello academy, but had to leave to care for her terminally ill mother. Once her mother dies, she decides to reconnect with her former tutor, Anton Bachoff, (Steven Weber) and his wife, Paloma. She travels to Shanghai, where they are holding a competition to find the next cello genius. On arrival, she meets the latest star pupil, Lizzie. (Logan Browning)

The two girls connect immediately, and after the competition, they go clubbing, ending up in bed, in a lesbian relationship. When Lizzie asks Charlotte to accompany her on her backpacking tour of China, she readily agrees, and the two lovers head off on an old bus, out into the interior. But Lizzie feels ill. At first, she thinks it is a hangover, but on the bus, she becomes desperately ill. After vomiting copiously, and becoming hysterical, Lizzie thinks she might be dying. The grumpy bus driver forces the girls off the bus, abandoning them in the middle of nowhere.

Then – BAM! A great twist. Using the ‘rewind’ technique, we are taken back to the start of the day, and shown what really happened.

Next comes another film favourite, a flash-forward. We see the legend ‘THREE MONTHS LATER’ appear on screen, and we are back in America.

Then – BAM! Another twist. More flashbacks, this time to Charlotte’s youth. We soon learn that the Bachoff School is not all it seems to be, and we also get a glimpse into the dark deeds lurking within its prestigious walls. Events take a sinister turn, as both Charlotte and Lizzie end up back at the school, with the creepy Anton, and his wife.

Then- BAM! Another twist. OK, maybe I guessed that one, but in case anyone didn’t, we get another rewind, and more flashbacks.

This packs a great deal into 90 minutes. Genuine shocks, body horror, perversions, and some cello playing too.

I thought it was very entertaining, and great fun too.

Just been watching…(102)

Patriots Day (2016)

***Spoilers do not apply, as this is a true story***

On April 15th, 2013, two terrorist bombs were detonated in the crowd watching the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, and hundreds injured. This film looks at the events preceding that attack, the day itself, and the intense manhunt that followed, as the police and the FBI searched for the two suspects.

Starting the day before, the scene is set in familiar fashion as we get a glimpse of the characters who will feature throughout. Some are runners, some spectators, and some police officers. Star Mark Wahlberg appears as police sergeant Tommy Saunders. Experienced, solid, and nursing a bad knee. We see the Muslim fundamentalist bombers, two brothers preparing to detonate a series of bombs in Boston, and other cities too. The next morning, the crowds are gathering, and the runners preparing to set off. The brothers arrive with their bombs in rucksacks, mingling with the crowd. They leave the explosive devices close to the security fence, then walk away from the area, detonating the bombs remotely, by using mobile phone signals.

The bomb-blasts start the action in earnest, with realistic confusion in the crowd, and the hectic response of the unprepared police on scene. This felt very real, with frantic radio communications and requests for assistance and ambulances, as the sheer scale of the aftermath dawns on the rescuers. Injuries are also shown quite realistically, with clever use of make-up and prosthetics. Fearing more explosions, the authorities clear the scene as fast as they can, sealing off a six-block area around the incident.

For the viewer, the action then switches to the various hospital emergency rooms around Boston, with overwhelmed staff having to deal with traumatic amputations, and hundreds of minor injuries too. The state governor arrives, accompanied by the FBI. They declare that they will manage the scene as a terrorist incident, and the senior agent (played by a restrained Kevin Bacon) takes charge of all the agencies dealing with the crime.

The second phase of the film begins to play out, as the full weight of the technology available to the richest country on earth is brought to bear in the hunt for the two attackers. This actually fascinated me, as we so rarely get such insights into how much can be done, so quickly, by a dedicated team with the right software, and unlimited access to everything they need. Once the suspects have been identified, the hunt begins with a public appeal, and a detailed search of a massive area.

Spooked by seeing themselves on TV, the brothers decide to flee to New York, intending to set off more bombs there. At this stage, the film moves up a gear, and becomes an action thriller. Car-jacks, police chases, and a dramatic final shootout, which naturally involves Sgt Saunders. With one suspect killed, the other goes on the run, prompting the governor to close down the entire city, and authorise a house-to-house search until the second man is in custody. The events surrounding this incident are a matter of public record, much of which was shown live on the TV news as it happened, including the detention and arrest of the younger brother.

This film is very emotional, and it is meant to be. It is a tribute to those killed and injured, and to the law enforcement officers whose dedication tracked down the perpetrators. In many ways it is also a tribute to the city of Boston, and the resilience of its citizens. As such, it is well done, with earnest performances by every member of the cast. Perhaps overlong, at 113 minutes, it nonetheless serves as a faithful portrayal of the event that shocked Boston, and the world.

Blogathon Review: The Big Chill (1983)

I was asked by Emma to participate in her Jeff Goldblum Blogathon.

Other reviews of films featuring Jeff can be found via links here.
Who’s Reviewing What? – The Jeff Goldblum Blogathon 2019

I have chosen the film ‘The Big Chill’, which impressed me a great deal, when I was 31 years old.

I was pretty much in the target market for this film about 30-somethings getting together for a reunion, after one of their best friends commits suicide. I was the right age, a fan of Woody Allen films, and the music on the soundtrack was right up my street too. And then there’s the cast. All at the beginnings of good careers back then, we get Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Meg Tilly, and William Hurt. Plus a couple more I won’t bother to type out.

Direction by Lawrence Kasdan is always reliable, and he co-wrote the film too.

So with no plot spoilers, I won’t just tell the whole story, or even remark too much about the changes that the friends experience after meeting up following fifteen years apart. There are the expected flirtations, a lot of angst, and some home truths declared. In between some partying, and all that great music I mentioned too. Some critics didn’t like the fact that the film had little structure. There is no real middle, and certainly no comfortable ending. Nothing is nicely tied up, and viewers are left to make up their own minds about where the various members of the group might end up. I didn’t mind that, and considered that it presumed an intelligence in the viewer.

Always a plus point, for me.

For a review with no story , I am left with just two things then. The script, and the cast. The former is great. Crackling at times, never too sentimental, and with some snappy dialogue that has your head flicking between the protagonists, wondering what they will say next. As for the cast, they were carefully chosen, and it shows. A younger, bespectacled Jeff Goldblum impresses, as does an edgy Kevin Kline. Nobody feels ‘spare’, or added for effect, and they interact like people who really have been friends for a long time. That’s not something that is always easy to pull off, in an ensemble cast like this one.

We have to remember that this was released in 1983. Films like those were something of a flavour of the month back then, and perhaps these days would have more swearing, and maybe even a couple of random killings. This film is all about the words, and the emotions they convey. Jealousy, dissatisfaction, boredom, compromise, and perceived failure. And great music, don’t forget the music.

I don’t know about you, but I have had a few weekends like that…

Here’s a trailer.

Just been watching…(101)

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

I have to say straight away that I am not a huge fan of the British band Queen. I thought that ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was an amazing song at the time, and they have some ‘anthems’ that everybody can sing and enjoy. But I was very much a fan of completely different kinds of music, and never owned a single album by this band. But this is a film review, so I will rate it as such.

I would probably never have bothered to watch this, had not the DVD turned up in the house. But once it started, I thought ‘why not’? I am not sure if die-hard fans of the band will enjoy this. In fact, I do know one man who loves the group, but hated the film. I can see it from a very neutral perspective, and have no bias either way.

The first thing I should say is that this is a film about Freddie Mercury. The rest of the band is featured of course, alongside the manager, record company executives, and Freddie’s love interests. But it is all about Freddie, and the actor playing him (Rami Malek) is rarely off screen throughout. It has a rather ‘retro’ feel, looking at the rise of the famous group in much the same way as many other music biopics have done in the past. Arguments about songs, snippets of performances, world tours, sitting in dressing rooms, travelling in buses. You know the deal.

Factually, it glosses over a lot of actual events, and introduces some supposed ‘facts’ that are just not true. No doubt this is done for dramatic effect, but even a non-fan like myself found some things irritating. Much is made of Freddie’s sexuality, drug use, heavy drinking, and apparent ‘prima-donna’ personality. He comes across as someone I don’t think I would have wanted to know.

On the plus side, (yes, there are plus sides) Malek does Mercury well, even singing the songs. He struts, preens, and poses as we might expect, and he doesn’t attempt a straight impersonation. Given how well-known Mercury was, this was a good decision. But for me, this also means that he never completely convinces in the role, and despite the huge number of awards won by the film, I was far from impressed. The rest of the casting is first rate; with the reliable Tom Hollander, Aiden Gillen, and an unrecognisable Mike Myers all doing well.

I didn’t feel it though, as you can probably tell. I would sooner watch the real band in concert, to be honest.

Still, what do I know? Here’s a trailer.

Retro Review: Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Written and directed by Preston Sturges, and starring the great combination of Joel McCrea and the beautiful Veronica Lake, this comedy gets little mention today, and is worth revisiting.

McCrea plays film director John Sullivan, famous for his popular comedies. But he feels that his work has no significance, and yearns to make socially-important documentaries. With this in mind, Sullivan dresses as a tramp, and sets off on a road trip, intent on discovering how hard life can be for the lowest in society. His studio boss arranges for a bus to follow him, containing his usual luxuries, as well as a butler and valet. But Sullivan is unhappy with this arrangement, choosing to go off alone, and to travel by hitch-hiking.

On the way, he meets a girl, (Lake) a failed actress trying to return home. Believing him to be down and out she pays for his breakfast, and he is so touched by this, he takes a car from his own luxury home, in order to give her a lift. But his staff are unaware of this, and report the car stolen, resulting in Sullivan and the girl being arrested for stealing the vehicle. The girl then discovers his true identity, and decides to accompany him, dressing as a boy to blend in.

Eventually, the pair discover just how hard life can be, sleeping in homeless shelters, and eating free food from soup kitchens. When Sullivan is seen to be handing out $5 notes to help other tramps, he is beaten and robbed for the money. More confusion reigns when Sullivan forgets who he is after the beating, and attacks a railway guard, getting him a term in a prison camp. When his memory returns, he is unable to convince anyone who is really is, and why he got there, but during his time in prison, he finally learns that comedy films and laughter actually mean a great deal more to those unfortunates than any serious documentary ever could.

When his photo hits the front page of the newspapers, the girl remembers him, and his plight is publicised, leading to his release from prison.
Everything ends well, for all concerned.

This sounds lightweight, I know. But it is a real tale of morals, greed, privilege, and discovery. At times very funny, and at others poignant indeed. If you have never seen it, I recommend it for being something very different, with a great cast of actors delivering completely convincing performances.

Just been watching…(100)

The Girl On The Train (2016)

***No spoilers***

I haven’t read the best-selling novel that this film is based on, so cannot comment on whether or not it is a good adaptation. Despite being nominated for a BAFTA film award, the film received mixed reviews on release, most of which I avoided reading, so I would not see any spoilers. I waited until it was shown on TV to watch it, as is it not one of those films you need to see on a big screen.

The story is set in America, in an affluent area close to New York City. Regular train commuter Rachel, (Emily Blunt) watches the world go by from her train window, focusing on the lives of a few families in one particular street she can see from the tracks. We learn that one of those houses is where she used to live, and is now occupied by her ex-husband Tom, and his new wife and baby. His wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) employs a nanny, Megan, who is also the wife of a near-neighbour. There is some physical similarity between these two women, something which becomes integral to the plot.

Back-stories and flashbacks abound, telling us that Rachel is a bitter alcoholic who is stalking her ex, and experiencing blackouts. Megan’s husband is violent and controlling, and Anna is a lazy mother. The film makes frequent use of captions, such as ‘A week ago’, or ‘Four months earlier’, to do this, so you have to be sure to keep your eyes on the screen at all times, or risk confusion.

Rachel’s constant bothering of Tom’s new family attracts the attentions of the police, and she is warned off by female detective Riley. (Alison Janney) With her drinking getting completely out of control, Rachel begins to alienate everyone around her, including the friend she shares a house with. And the viewer is supposedly left wondering if any of her fears are real, or just drunken fantasies.

Meanwhile, Megan is undergoing therapy, and becoming attracted to her psychiatrist, Dr Abdic. She is hoping to escape her controlling husband by beginning an affair with the doctor, and also resigns as the nanny for Anna’s baby.

Are you with me so far?

So we have a sort-of psychological thriller involving three women who are all connected by the same location, and the relationships they once had, or have now.

Then Megan goes missing, and is feared dead. Rachel becomes a suspect, and Megan’s husband becomes a suspect too.

Then it all gets rather silly, to be honest. Clumsy twists, unbelievable coincidences, clueless cops accepting the obvious, and a drunk woman who seems to be the only one who knows what is actually happening. Secrets are revealed in flashback, and the eventual denouement becomes an ‘Oh really?’ moment.

This film is nowhere near as good as it thinks it is. Usually reliable actors choose hysteria over nuance, and the criss-cross timeline is neither arty, nor well-handled. We have seen many similar films before, and all of them are better than this one.

I can only hope that the book was better.