Tag Archives: Movies

Movies in flight

Some people hate long-haul flights.

I don’t. I embrace the opportunity to strap myself in to an enclosed space for hour after hour. The options are limited, so the distractions of daily life are eliminated.

Get stuck into that book that has been gathering dust on your bedside table for months. Read up on all the exciting stuff you can do when you touch down in a new destination. Listen to some tunes. Talk to someone. Or just think.

But best of all, check out the movies that you can watch on demand, on the personal screen a couple of feet in front of your decompressing face.

On a recent BA flight back from Cape Town I almost had a toiletary malfunction when I saw that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was available.

Image courtesy of the New York Times

How original, beautifully acted and darkly humorous Martin McDonagh’s cinematic masterpiece is. Frances McDormand must be odds-on favourite for the Best Actress Oscar, and as good as Sam Rockwell is as stupid, violent deputy Dixon, I hope Woody Harrelson gets the Best Supporting Actor nod as vilified, cancer-riddled police Chief William Willoughby.

Battle of the Sexes didn’t compare with Three Billboards, but it was an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours after dinner, and knowing that my land-based insomnia wasn’t going to disappear in the air.

It captures 1973 uncannily well, the year when Billie Jean King played ageing hustler Bobby Riggs in a symbolic tennis match, at the same time as she fought to discover her own sexuality. The ever brilliant Emma Stone looks uncannily like BJK, and Steve Carell is surprisingly good as feckless opportunist Riggs.

Still sleep wouldn’t come, so I stumbled across an engagingly dry comedy with Ben Stiller on a road trip to check out colleges in Boston with his son. Brad runs his own not-for-profit organisation, has a happy, comfortable home life but feels he has missed out, compared with his own high-achieving college friends. And now his son  Troy is going to fly into the stratosphere too….

Turns out this charming and poignant film is called Brad’s StatusSadly, I don’t know how things end up for Brad, as we landed back at Gatwick before the credits rolled . I was tempted to ask the crew if they could do another couple of circuits around the south of England…..

On the way down to Cape Town, the stand-out movie on offer was The Big Sick. In this charming clash-of-cultures comedy, a Pakistan-born stand-up comedian living in the USA falls in love with a very American student. Emily succumbs to a mystery illness, and Kumail has to navigate his way through families, faith and friendships.

With no sign of sleep things got Stronger, the true story of Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs while watching his girlfriend near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the inspirational Everyman, fighting battles with his girlfriend and blue-collar family whilst putting on a brave face to the outside world.

And just as I thought I would pull my earplugs out and close the aching eyes, I stumbled across the full-length film version of previously televised series The Trip to Spain.

I have been obsessed with The Trip, since its original incarnation in the north of England back in 2010. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon visit six posh restaurants, to review them for a newspaper. Beautifully filmed on location, the real story is the competitive friendship between the two stars, each addressing life and their respective careers in very different ways.

The beauty of the format is that you’re unsure how much is real and how much is feigned. You get to watch a documentary, a drama, comedy, and a food and travel program all at the same time. And then it improved again on The Trip to Italy, with incredible scenery, mouthwatering food, the introduction of interesting peripheral characters and more uncannily good impressions of famous people by both Coogan and Brydon, each convinced theirs is better.

The Trip to Spain was a trip too far when watching the episodic TV version, but on the big screen – well, actually a tiny mid-air one – it seemed to flow much better. Muy bien, amigos.

Where next, I wonder? Perhaps fate will have me watching The Trip to Australia just as we fly over Alice Springs en route to Sydney….

 

 

 

Movie review – The Shape of Water

Would you walk into a restaurant, not knowing if you were going to be eating a juicy steak, Bombay Duck or monkey’s brains?

Or would you risk going to the airport, unsure if you’re flying to a beach, a forest or to the Antarctic?

No? Thought not. But that’s sort of what happens at Odeon’s Screen Unseen presentations. As Forrest Gump’s Mom told him: ‘life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.’

We’ve seen some cracking films at this pot-luck movie-fest….but we’ve also seen some dogs. And that’s the point: you’ll most likely see something you wouldn’t ordinarily choose to watch, and isn’t that worth the risk….even if you don’t find Oscar gold every time?

On Monday night in Guildford, many of the audience whooped with relief and happiness when the credits revealed The Shape of Water. Gill and I looked dumbly at each other in the half-light.

And the initial omens weren’t good. After 15 minutes, we couldn’t really tell if we were watching a sci-fi movie, a black comedy, a fantasy, a romance or a thriller.

As it turns out, The Shape of Water is all of those genres – and more – and what a cinematic treat it turns out to be.

At a top secret research facility in Baltimore in the late 1950s, mute, lonely and sexually frustrated cleaner Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) forms a left-field relationship with a creature from the deep, being abused in captivity by violent security agent Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon).

Image courtesy of Rolling Stone

The unlikely plot evolves to include boiled eggs, Russian spies, the Space Race with the US, Elisa’s next door neighbour Giles – a failing artist and closet gay man – and Zelda, Elisa’s cleaning colleague and interpreter at work.

You just have to suspend your disbelief and revel in the movie magic of a love story beautifully told, with sensitivity, warmth and unbridled imagination. And just try to forget that the last time you saw Sally Hawkins she was Mrs Brown in Paddington 2.

Image courtesy of Celebzz

So go on…..get up off the couch on the first Monday in February and take a cinematic leap of faith with Odeon’s Screen Unseen.

 

 

Book review – The Talented Mr Ripley

Read the book first, then see the film is the usual advice, right?

Well, I saw the marvellous adaptation of The Talented Mr Ripley soon after it was released back in 1999, but hadn’t read the book until now.  The film version was beautifully crafted by Anthony Minghella as both Screenwriter and Director, and perfectly acted by a stellar cast, including Matt Damon (Tom Ripley), Jude Law (Dickie Greenleaf), Gwyneth Paltrow (Marge Sherwood) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Freddie Miles).

So how would Patricia Highsmith’s novel, a psychological thriller written in 1955, compare?

Tom is a feckless freeloader, struggling to make a living in New York City. He grabs the opportunity offered by wealthy shipbuilder Herbert Greenleaf to go to Italy and coax his spoiled son Dickie back to face his responsibilities in the US.

But Tom is soon as much enamoured with the languid self-indulgence of life in Mongibello as Dickie. One fly in the Italian ointment is Marge, a fellow American who has clearly fallen for Dickie, though more than he for her.  And later there is also the irritating problem of Freddie Miles, a friend of Dickie’s, who is becoming suspicious of Tom’s motives.

The plot develops around exotic Italy, from Mongibello to San Remo, Rome and Venice, with the devious Tom using his many talents to ensure he can pursue as sybaritic a lifestyle as Dickie.

“Underneath he would be as calm and sure of himself as he had been after Freddie’s murder, because his story would be unassailable. Like the San Remo story. His stories were good because he imagined them intensely, so intensely that he came to believe them.”

Ms Highsmith’s writing style is as languid as a day on the beach at Mongibello. Her real strength lies in the ability to make the reader engage with Tom Ripley’s character, even though he is clearly deeply flawed and – based on any objective analysis – largely amoral.

Ambiguity is at the heart of this classic novel, including the sexual inclinations of the main protagonists….just as they were for the author.

I enjoyed reading about Tom’s undoubted talents, but is it literary sacrilege to admit that – on this occasion, at least – I preferred the adaptation on the big screen?

Film from Paramount Pictures. Image courtesy of Into Film.

 

 

Movie review – Dunkirk

Between 26th May and 4th June, 1940 almost 350,000 British soldiers were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk, in northern France. They were what was left of the British Expedition Force after the disastrous first foray by the Allies in WWII.

Operation Dynamo – men wait in an orderly fashion for their turn to be rescued. Image courtesy of the Daily Mail..

Most of the evacuation – with German forces closing in and the Luftwaffe wreaking havoc from the air – was effected with the help of a hastily assembled flotilla of 800 small boats. Pleasure craft, fishing boats, yachts, lifeboats and merchant marine boats answered the call in our hour of need.

A failure, but a glorious one in terms of morale and future war efforts. As Churchill said at the time: “we must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.”

What a shame then, that such an infamous episode in our military history has been reduced to something of a Boy’s Own epic yarn of a film in the current Dunkirk movie.

Directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar), the story is told from 3 different perspectives and over 3 different timescales.

  1. Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is the only one of his section to survive German gunfire as they retreat through the streets of Dunkirk. Over the next week, we follow his efforts to find safety as he suffers a series of terrible mishaps.
  2. During the course of a single day, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), together with son Peter and young helper George, joins the flotilla to help with the evacuation. On the way, he rescues a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy), clinging to the hull of a sunken British ship, and who is understandably reluctant to return to the fray.
  3. In cloudless blue skies, three Spitfire pilots try for an hour to stem the damage being wrought by the Luftwaffe on the helpless troops on the beach below. The Squadron leader is soon killed. One of the pilots is shot down, but is rescued by Peter, just as water fills his cockpit. The 3rd pilot lands on French soil, and is captured, but only after the Spitfires have helped with the evacuation.

Some of the set-pieces in the film are technically brilliant, but I’m afraid the acting and plot left me underwhelmed, rather than awe-inspired.

A real shame. Such a momentous episode from WWII deserves to be more gritty than glossy.

Image courtesy of History vs Hollywood

 

Book review – Into the Water

The Girl on the Train was a stellar chart-topping publishing success for Paula Hawkins, the psychological thriller selling over 18 million copies worldwide and being adapted into a big-budget Hollywood movie, starring Emily Blunt.

So how does a writer follow that?

With Into the Water, another psychological murder mystery, but told this time from the viewpoint of multiple characters, and across seemingly disparate narrative threads.

In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help.

Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind.

But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped.

And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool . . .

One of the central characters is the fictional Northumberland town of Beckford, where Jules is forced to return for her sister’s funeral, and where she also has her own demons.

I struggled a little in the first part of this book. There seemed to me to be too many narrators, too many “inconvenient women” dying in the Drowning Pool, spanning too many years.

But like a dexterous seamstress, the author pulls together all the frayed ends and disparate threads in a nerve-jangling finale. My friend and colleague Tina, from TripFiction, observes in her own  review that: the book is constructed like a circular eddy, reflecting the motion of the water in the Drowning Pool – the characters, too, go round in circles. 

Exactly.

But – ultimately – I found this an engaging, well written and cleverly constructed novel, that will no doubt also end up on the big screen.

Thank you, Ms Hawkins…..where next, I wonder?

Paula Hawkins – image courtesy of the BBC

 

 

Review of Neruda – a cinematic trip to Chile

Here is my published review of the film Neruda, on TripFiction:

Neruda (a cinematic trip to Chile), in cinemas 7 April 2017 #nerudafilm

If truth be told, I don’t get quite as excited by poetry as I do by a good novel, or by a film. Or by travel, for that matter.

But Pablo Neruda somehow transcends poetry, and a special screening by the BFI of a film by celebrated Chilean director Pablo Larrain about an intriguing episode in Naruda’s life was too good an opportunity to miss. And I have always been interested by Chile since watching Missing, a 1982 film about the coup of 1973, launched almost on the exact same day that Neruda died.

a cinematic trip to chile

Why special? An introduction by Adam Feinstein, author of the first English language biography of Neruda, provided perfect context for when and where the film slotted into the complex life of the Nobel prize-winning poet. And animated recitals of several of Neruda’s poems by actors – in Spanish by Jorge de Juan, with English translations performed by Nickolas Grace – offered a glimpse into the prodigious creative output of the poet.

The film covers a 13-month period from 1948-49. At the outset, Neruda is a Communist party senator in the country’s riven government, speaking out loudly against the right-wing President’s increasing oppression of workers and unions. Neruda and his Argentinian wife Delia enjoy a somewhat elitist and sybaritic lifestyle, but that all changes when the poet is forced underground to avoid arrest and potential assassination.

Moving from house to house, thanks to support from Communist party supporters, Neruda’s reputation as The People’s Poet is cemented through his increasingly radical social poems, mocking the government and rallying workers.

But this is far from being a biopic. In fact the director himself calls Neruda an anti-biopic. Larrain intentionally blurs fact with fiction, creating a cat-and-mouse story between the poet and his police pursuer, Oscar Pelucchonneau. Pablo somehow always manages to stay just one verse ahead of Oscar, leaving poems for the hapless policeman to ponder.

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But what is real and what is imagined?

Beautifully filmed, Neruda is an intoxicatingly original concoction of genres….film noir, road movie, thriller, love story, parable. Take your pick.

In a cinematically epic finale, the policeman finally closes in on the poet in the snowy landscape of the Lilpela Pass, high in the Andes, as Neruda has been forced to flee from his home country to Argentina. But who is really the hero?

Luis Gnecco perfectly captures the flawed Neruda. A poetic genius? Definitely. Hero of the people? Probably. Arrogant, debauched and selfish? Maybe.

Gael Garcia Bernal almost steals the film as the nuanced Pelucchonneau, in many ways purer of spirit than his quarry, fedora tilted over his lean, noirish face. If only he were real…..

But there is one certainty: this luscious and thought-provoking film has cemented my desire to travel to Chile. And to read more poetry.

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

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Movie review – The Sense of an Ending

Thanks to my Times+ membership, we’ve just seen a pre-release screening of The Sense of an Ending, based on the Julian Barnes novel of the same name.

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Tony Webster is the divorced, almost reclusive and somewhat curmudgeonly owner of a second-hand Leica camera shop in London. He is in close contact with his ex-wife and heavily pregnant daughter, and yet he is emotionally aloof from them.

He is forced to reconsider his view of family, friends and life though, when he receives a strange legacy. The mother of his old girlfriend Veronica from university days, 40 years ago, has died and has bequeathed him a diary. Unexpectedly, the diary belonged to Tony’s old school friend Adrian, who dated the enigmatic Veronica after she and Tony ended their brief and unconsummated relationship.

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But Veronica refuses to give the diary back to Tony, for some reason, and the film delicately unravels the mystery of why, spanning the generations and uncovering uncomfortable truths for Tony.

This is a very English production, filmed mostly on location in Bristol and London, and featuring a stellar cast delivering beautifully understated acting. In the current timeline, Jim Broadbent is the essentially good Tony Webster; Harriet Walter his slightly acerbic wife Margaret;  Charlotte Rampling the older but still mysterious Veronica; Michelle Dockery is the mature daughter Susie facing motherhood alone.

The lesser known actors playing the main characters in their younger years capture perfectly the period and the zeitgeist of youth.

Out in cinemas on general release on April 14th, I’d urge you to see this slow-burning emotional film, whether you’ve read the book or not.

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Movie review – A United Kingdom

Based on a remarkable true story, A United Kingdom opens in post-war London.

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Young black African Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) is coming to the end of his education, and about to be recalled to his home country – Bechuanaland, later Botswana – to rule the British Protectorate as hereditary King of nation and tribe.

But he falls in love with Ruth Williams (Rosamund  Pike), who is from a very humble background and who is most definitely the wrong colour, alienating many in Bechuanaland and in Whitehall.

If the story told in the film is remotely close to the truth, it is yet another episode in British colonial history of which we should be ashamed. Driven by the burgeoning cold war, the new policy of apartheid in neighbouring South Africa, and the possibility of finding valuable minerals in Bechaunaland, Seretse is banished by the British government from his own land, initially for 5 years and then for life.

But Ruth has remained in Africa, where she gives birth to a daughter and where she slowly wins round the local people.

The only British politician or diplomat to emerge from this shameful overbearing behaviour is a young Tony Benn, who fights Parliament for the right of Seretse to return. Newly elected Prime Minister Winston Churchill reneges on an earlier promise to overturn the exile, and Jack Davenport deserves credit for his reptilian portrayal of Sir Alistair Canning, a devious – though fictitious – career diplomat who thrives on wielding colonial power over subjugated nations.

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The film moved me to tears. It is a powerful tale rooted in reality, and told with vivid cinematography, particularly of the African landscapes. But it is related somewhat in stark black and white tones – the evil colonial masters against the wholly good Seretse and his pale skinned wife – when I suspect there were many shades of grey in the truth of history.

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No matter. Good wins out, Seretse returns to his homeland and facilitates a new democratically independent country.

And Ruth is even finally reconciled with her own family.

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Movie review – Moonlight

Did Moonlight really win this year’s Oscar for Best Picture?

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I’m sorry, but I really can’t understand why. I’m glad feel-good La La Land didn’t – despite the almighty cock-up that briefly put that movie’s hands on the gilded trophy – but I thought Manchester by the Sea was a more worthy winner. Or even Lion.

Moonlight tells the story of a young black boy growing up in a rough Miami ‘hood, with a crack-head mother, being bullied at school and slowly realising he’s gay. That’s an awful lot of politically correct boxes duly ticked, especially after the previous year’s Oscar furore at the lack of recognition for Black American and other non-white actors.

The film tracks the hard early life of Chiron in three stages: at school, as “Little”, as teenager Chiron; and – 10 years later, after imprisonment – as fully-fledged drug-dealer “Black”, relocated to Atlanta.

The boy’s mother is well played by Naomie Harris, who finally cleans up her act and asks Chiron for forgiveness.

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The only person who really recognises how Little is suffering in his early life is Juan, brilliantly acted by Mahershala Ali, and ironically the dealer who is supplying Little’s mother.

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The potential for some sort of happiness out of this troubled early life comes in the shape of Kevin, an old school friend of Chiron’s, but who also played a part in him being sent to juvenile prison.

The story is sensitively told, but for me the film was too slow, the language of the street too hard to understand, and – call me superficial – but this was a couple of hours of endurance, rather than entertainment.

 

 

 

Movie review – Lion

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A 5 year-old boy lives in poverty in rural northern India, but is much loved by his hard-working mother and older brother Guddu.

Tragically, he is accidentally displaced to the mean streets of Calcutta, where he survives with other lost children, until swept up into a secure facility. Unspeakable things happen here, but young Saroo is fortunate and is adopted by a caring Australian couple.

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He settles in well – Nicole Kidman as your new Mum can’t be a bad experience, after all – but the family unit is destabilised by another arrival from India. Saroo’s newly adoptive brother Mantosh struggles with demons that he sadly never really overcomes.

Saroo thrives in Tasmania though, and qualifies to study hospitality management at university in Melbourne. He embraces the cosmopolitan environment there, and meets and falls in love with Lucy, sympathetically played by Rooney Mara.

But 25 years after being separated from his real family, Saroo becomes desperate to track them down, with inevitably damaging consequences for his Australian family and friends.

Based on a true story, this is a charming film, if a little mawkish at times. I defy you not to be reaching for the Kleenex when Saroo, played by Dev Patel, finally locates his village and family in India.

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Two things linger in my mind after seeing Lion. The scene where Sue Brierley tells Saroo that she and husband John could always have had children of their own, but wanted to offer a better life to parentless children from a poorer society.  And the caption – as the closing credits roll – that 80,000 children are lost in India every year.