Category Archives: Movies

Movie review – Inside Out

Our first experience at the Odeon’s Screen Unseen – £5 for a screening of a soon-to-be-released mainstream movie. What’s the catch? You don’t know what the film is going to be. Although they do drop a few clues onto Facebook, apparently.

When the censor’s certificate came up as Inside Out,  a few people cheered. A good sign. This is the latest movie from the geniuses at Pixar, under the Disney banner, released recently in the US and due out late July 2015 in the UK.

A good animated film usually works on different levels, appealing to both younger and older generations.

On a simple level, Inside Out tells the heart-warming coming-of-age story of 11 year-old Riley, uprooted from her happy life in Minnesota to move to San Francisco with her parents. But with shades of The Truman Show, her emotions are ruled by a panel of whacky characters from HQ inside her head, rather than inside a TV studio.

From here, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust manage Riley’s life, inserting coloured balls into her memory bank through a complex bagatelle-like mechanism. Fortunately, Joy has held sway over most of the young girl’s earlier life. But in San Francisco, things start to go awry and the personality islands in her life – family, ice hockey, friends, goofball and honesty – begin to disintegrate, and other emotions have more impact.

Spoiler alert….there’s a happy ending. But not before Riley’s world almost completely falls apart, through a series of brilliant CGI trickery, smart dialogue and imagery, in jokes, more vivid characters….and The Train of Thought.

On a deeper level – OK, not that deep – the message is that you can’t be upbeat all the time. Joy works in tandem with Sadness to pull Riley back from the brink, and all the other emotions and experiences form an integral part of her maturing life.

A fantastic cast voice the characters. The Director also directed Up. Pixar created Toy Story, Ratatouille, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, amongst others. If that doesn’t persuade you to go and see this magical movie, I’ll add a new emotion to Riley’s HQ – surprise.

Movie review – Far From The Madding Crowd

Sadly, I’m old enough to remember the critically acclaimed 1967 film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd,. Directed by John Schlesinger, it  starred Julie Christie as Bathsheba Everdene, with Terence Stamp, Peter Finch and Alan Bates as her triumvirate of suitors.

Yesterday we watched the 2015 incarnation, directed by Thomas Vinterberg with a screenplay by David Nicholls (the author of Starter for TenOne Day and Us) and aimed squarely at a 21st century audience.

Carey Mulligan is perfectly cast as Bathsheba, a beautiful, feisty, and independent young woman, who inherits her uncle’s Wessex farming estate.

Her feminism is rare in Victorian times, and her natural exuberance attracts three very different men.

Quickly becoming another famous Belgian, Matthias Schoenaerts is Gabriel Oak, a hard-working sheep farmer who loses his own livelihood and ends up working for Bathsheba.

William Boldwood is a wealthy, 40 year-old bachelor neighbour. Played by Michael Sheen, Mr Boldwood is at first indifferent to Bathsheba, but quickly becomes infatuated with her after a prank is misconstrued.

Image result for far from the madding crowd 2014

And then there’s dashing Sergeant Troy, played by Tom Sturridge. The speed with which the hitherto defiantly single Bathsheba succumbs to the ultimately disastrous soldier is surprising, and perhaps a function of this adaptation condensing the plot a little too narrowly.

This love triangle is played out in the mesmerising Dorset landscape, with exquisite cinematography by  Charlotte Bruus Christensen.  The scene of a young, untrained sheepdog herding Gabriel’s flock over the cliff tops to thud onto the beach way below will linger long in the memory.

The story ends with a sort of stoic happiness, vividly conveying Thomas Hardy’s message about the value of long-term loyalty compared with brief passion.

A joyous way to spend a couple of hours….particularly if you like Dorset.

Movie review – The Imitation Game

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and those were different times are well-worn cliches and excuses, but what happened to Alan Turing really does beggar belief.

We saw The Imitation Game last night, a profoundly moving true story of a gifted mathematician who broke the Nazi Enigma code and, as a result, made a significant contribution to shortening and winning the Second World War.

His thanks? He was offered the choice of a two year prison sentence or chemical castration, after being convicted for being a homosexual, illegal in those relatively recent times.

Alan Turing committed suicide a year into the hormone treatment. He was 41.

Growing up, he was destined to be an outsider. More brilliant than his contemporaries, arrogant, socially inept and gay, he was never going to conform.

I haven’t seen Benedict Cumberbatch in anything before, but here he portrays Alan Turin’s anguished isolation perfectly.

The Imitation Game (2014) Poster

Working during the war at the  secret Government Code & Cypher School at Bletchley Park, he has a confrontational relationship with Charles Dance’s Commander Denniston, his boss. And in the shadows lurks Mark Strong’s Stewart Menzies, a calculating MI6 spymaster pulling the strings of various characters like a master puppeteer.

Keira Knightley plays her usual posh English girl, but with real depth as Joan Clarke, another naturally gifted mathematician who joins the Enigma team.

Joan and Alan fall in love with each others’ minds. She helps him to smooth out some of his rough antisocial edges. They become engaged in order to keep her at Bletchley, after she has been summoned back to her parents to marry her off. More evidence of how quickly social attitudes have changed.

The action flips between 1951, when Alan’s Manchester home has been broken into; 1928 when he’s at boarding school; and during WW2, in a desperate race against time to break the code as the Germans threaten to gain naval superiority.

This is a fine film, well directed by Morten Tyldum and sympathetically acted by a strong cast at the top of their game.

But above all, it’s about an outsider who helped to save a nation, but who was then condemned by the misguided morality of the time.

In 2013 the Queen signed a royal pardon for Alan Turing’s criminal conviction.

Movie review – Suite Francaise

Another free preview screening, thanks to those nice people at Times+

Somehow everything tastes sweeter, feels better, looks sharper if it’s free. You feel like you’ve won a small victory in the middle of a long and challenging life, inevitably laden with more losses than wins. A bit like Millwall FC, if they were ever awarded a walk-over for someone playing an ineligible player against them.

So here we were on a Monday night at Guildford Odeon, along with a load of other grey-haired Times readers, spontaneously watching a movie for which we’d seen an enticing trailer just a couple of days earlier.

Gill had read the book, written by Irène Némirovsky, a few years ago. It’s an incomplete book, written in real time as the author, a Russian Jew, lived through the German occupation of France in the Second World War. It’s incomplete because she died in Auschwitz, and the manuscript only surfaced many decades later.

The movie must inevitably take a few liberties with the original text, in order to get it onto the silver screen….but Gill reckons the conversion has worked well.

It’s essentially a love story, but also makes some sharp observations about loyalty, betrayal, self-preservation and other very human emotions when the natural order of a small, rural community is put through a tumble-dryer.

A great cast tells the story well. Kristin Scott Thomas plays a buttoned-up French lady of a certain age to perfection.  The versatile Michelle Williams is her daughter-in-law, caught in a moral maze. And relative newcomer Matthias Schoenaerts is the reluctant German officer, a musician rather than a soldier and trapped between love and duty.

Poignant, romantic, sad and yet ultimately hopeful that not everyone is destroyed by war.

A nice escape on a Monday night. Especially as it was free.

 

 

 

Movie review – Birdman

Well, that was a pretty exhausting couple of hours….

Birdman

Claustrophobic camera work, almost entirely in the dark innards of a Broadway theatre. Pounding drums and clanging cymbals a near constant sound-track. Intensely psychological narrative of an ageing movie actor, desperately searching for validation on stage whilst wrestling with his own alter ego.

This is not an easy watch. Last time I saw Michael Keaton was probably in Multiplicity, 18 years ago. A light comedy with a subtly heavier – almost Groundhog Day-like – message, he was cloned to help him cope with his busy life.

Since then, Keaton has starred in two Batman mega-hits, before opting out. Just like Birdman, although that was three.

So what’s real here, and what’s life imitating art?

This is a clever script, darkly acted, brutally directed, brilliantly shot and sound-tracked.

And it’s a lot more challenging than Multiplicity.

 

Movie review – Her

Wow, those actor types are good at, well, acting.

The same guy who was mesmerising as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, and victimised poor old Russell Crowe in Gladiator, is unrecognisable as a quiet writer in Her.

A bespectacled and mustachioed Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a master of words and technology who crafts romantic letters for others, while his own marriage disintegrates.

But he does find real love with his new computer operating system. Yes, he forms a deep relationship with the Artificially Intelligent Samantha, who caters to his every need and understands him in a way no physical woman can. Understandable perhaps when voiced by a throatily sexy Scarlett Johansson.

I won’t spoil the way the story develops, but Her is a perceptive allegory for our technologically driven lives, and wholly believable despite the outwardly far-fetched proposition. Well, almost.

Directed by Spike Jonze, with outstanding urban cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema and a brilliantly evocative soundtrack from Arcade Fire, this is a thought provoking film that will make you look at your computer with new eyes. And want to upgrade your operating system.

Movie review – Paddington

How useful it is to have young nephews and nieces.

Without Ben (10), Jessica and Lucy (5), Gill and I would have struggled to fit the movie-going demographic at the 10:20 am performance of Paddington at Guildford Odeon on a Tuesday morning, just before Christmas.

I can see the lurid Surrey Advertiser headline writ large: Paedophile suspect arrested at Paddington performance in Guildford. Handcuffed and led away in front of the shocked audience – average age 12 1/2 – Godalming resident Andrew Morris (57) was heard screaming “but I really do like marmalade sandwiches….”

What a great film this is, no matter what your age. It will appeal as much to my generation, brought up on the Michael Bond book, as it will to the current crop of wow-me-with-special-effects-or-leave-me-at-home children, spoiled by ever larger budgets and CGI trickery.

Having been the subject of countless books and TV episodes, Paddington Bear is coming to the big screen for the very first time in a magical adventure film.

With an all-star cast acting alongside Paddington, Michael Bond’s beloved creation is being brought to life by producer David Heyman (the Harry Potter films, Gravity), director Paul King (Come Fly With Me, The Mighty Boosh) and the Oscar-winning special effects team behind Gravity, Harry Potter and many more.

I won’t spoil the plot. Suffice to say that it’s a heart-warming tale of a talking bear leaving his Peruvian jungle home and arriving in England, in search of a new life and marmalade sandwiches. But London is not as friendly as an old explorer had led his family to believe…and there’s also the wickedly glamorous taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) to contend with.

A splendid cast – of both warm bodies and evocative voices – gives the live action story a magical soul. And clever injections of verbal and visual humour mean it appeals as much to 50 somethings as to 5 year-olds. Really.

Grab a child – preferably one you know – and see it now.

Paddington Bear Movie Poster

Movie review – The Theory of Everything

Thanks to the Times+ we saw a free screening of The Theory of Everything in downtown Camberley on a freezing Monday night in mid-December.

It tells the story of Stephen Hawking and his remarkable life, largely from his wife’s perspective. They meet as new students at Cambridge and he first starts displaying signs of Motor Neurone Disease (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease or ALS) very soon afterwards.

The prognosis is that Stephen will live for another 2 years. At most.

The story of their lives from this point is told in a remarkably moving, and understated, way.

The acting from Eddie Redmayne as Stephen and Felicity Jones as Jane is Oscarly brilliant, with very able support from David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Maxine Peake and others.

Not on a par with Bad Santa for festive film fun, obviously, but highly recommended.

Spot the difference…..

Pride – movie review

Saw Pride on a soggy Wednesday evening in Guildford. Went in feeling autumnal, came out feeling positively spring-heeled.

Reviews have likened it to Made in Dagenham, The Full Monty or Billy Elliot, feel-good movies which dramatise historical events or periods, and sugar-coat them with audience-pleasing tweaks.

Pride tells the story of a group of anarchic lesbians & gays in London in the 1980s who end up supporting the miners’ strike and befriending a battle-hardened Welsh community. A classic tale of overcoming prejudice and surviving adversity.  Eventually.

A great cast, capturing the social history of the era well, and with an excellent soundtrack….go and see it if you haven’t already. And prepare to laugh and cry in equal measure.

Before I Go To Sleep – movie review

Before I Go To Sleep

Gill had read the book Before I Go To Sleep a while ago, and we finally got around to seeing the movie adaptation mid-afternoon on a Wednesday – yes, a normal working day before justretiring.com – after a long, historical stroll around Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury.

We shared the cinema screen at Vue in Leicester Square with just two other afternoon mid-weekers. Positives….a joyful lack of constant chatter through the ads, trailers and opening credits; no mobile phones ringing injudiciously; a delicious lack of popcorn-crunching and coke-slurping. Negatives….nope, can’t think of any.

Mark Kermode has reviewed the movie here in a much more erudite, and inevitably more cynical, way than I can. And I can’t improve on his tag line – enjoyably preposterous.

Nicole Kidman still looks good – ok, very good – and just about carries off the challenging task of playing the traumatised 40 year-old amnesiac Christine as well as her younger 20-something self. In the real world she’s 47.  But as Gill asked….why does she whisper throughout the whole film?

‘Creeping paranoia’: Nicole Kidman as Christine finds horrifying memories via her video diary in Bef

Colin Firth plays Colin Firth – and Christine’s faithful husband Ben – well, but I preferred Mark Strong’s performance as the mysterious and emotionally involved Doctor Nasch.

All in all, an enjoyable piece of movie hokum for a Wednesday, and an integral part of a fun day in London….a filmic filling in a London sandwich of historic stroll and Waterloo cocktails, rounded off by a sweaty, sardine-packed South West Trains trip back to Godalming with my erstwhile commuter chums. Ah, the memories.