God’s Own Country (2017)

This feature debut from director Francis Lee is quite remarkable.

John (Josh O’Connor) is an angry young man for the 21st century – isolated, trapped, lacking in a means for self-expression.  Then Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) enters his life and forces him to rethink everything. Perhaps Gheorghe verges on manic pixie dream boy, but this I am prepared to forgive in an otherwise flawless film.

Gemma Jones and Ian Hart as John’s family are perfect, with Hart in particular capturing the loss of dignity and the fear which takes over when we become physically incapacitated. It’s all in his eyes.

O’Connor and Secareanu clearly spent a lot of time on farms before filming – to this city girl (albeit with farming forebears) the two certainly seem to know their way around a new-born lamb or the rear end of a cow. And Lee has captured the atmosphere of farmland in this part of Yorkshire – beautiful and brutal.

I was most impressed with O’Connor’s performance – John’s evolution from angry, lonely young man to where he ends up is beautifully nuanced, and heart-breaking.

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Logan Lucky

Bring together Steven Soderbergh, Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Daniel Craig and it should be good – and it is!

Yes, it’s a heist in the vein of Ocean’s 11 (which Soderbergh slyly and deliberately acknowledges in the background) but this means that we know we are in safe hands as far as character and story are concerned, and it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the ride.

What I love about this type of Soderbergh film is the snippets that we’re fed throughout – we know that at some point they will be key in the plot, but we don’t know as much as some of the characters and so they just seem random. Until they are explained to us later on – such as why Daniel Craig’s character needs Gummi Bears. These instances are exquisite because it lets us know that the characters are more intelligent than they might immediately appear.

Genuinely funny, with characters we are totally rooting for, Logan Lucky appears (to my non-US eye at least) to be trying to say something about the heart of America – and I think this could have been explored even further, although perhaps this would have undermined the humour. There are injured army veterans, former college football players, child beauty pageants, Nascar, country music – almost to the point of being stereotypical. But there is the constant knowledge that Soderbergh has us laughing *with* our protagonists and not *at* them and so the balance is probably correct; there is more than likely another, very different, film lurking in here about economic poverty in 21st century USA but this isn’t the place for it.

So it’s funny, with some good performances (and the odd quirky ones), and definitely enjoyable.

 

Final Portrait (2017)

Here’s the thing about genius artistic creatures. They’re often self-centred shits. And no matter how wonderful their work is, they make difficult subjects for me to watch and appreciate. Mr Turner being a similar case-in-point.

Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) is a lauded, talented artist who is constantly sabotaging his own work, treats his wife and his mistress badly, and manipulates art writer James Lord (Armie Hammer) into repeatedly altering his own travel arrangements to pose for a portrait. Giacometti fusses, swears, interrupts his own work, destroys paintings and drawings and appears to have no endearing characteristics whatsoever. Heaven knows why anyone bothered with him at all. I wouldn’t have.

I’m guessing that Hammer’s character was just so keen and flattered to have been asked to be a subject that he didn’t want to give up sitting for the artist. But I felt annoyed that he was being used and couldn’t understand why he didn’t just not return the next day. There seemed to be nothing in it for him. And he could see he was being manipulated. It’s easier to see that Giacometti is an artist struggling with self-doubt and massive insecurity, and is having a constant internal (and sometimes external) debate about his relationship with art. It just didn’t grab me.

That’s not to say that Hammer and Rush don’t give good performances – they do – just that I never felt I understood the true nature of their relationship. Which I have to put down to the writing and directing. Stanley Tucci directs, and makes some good choices with the colour palette – white, grey, navy blue – to capture the feeling of artistic frustration, broken only once by a literal splash of colour when the work of a different artist is mentioned in passing.

The warmest, and most likeable character, is Giacometti’s long-suffering artist brother Diego, played by Tony Shalhoub. But beyond him, there was very little warmth which left a distance between myself and the subject matter.

 

Tom of Finland (2017)

The images created by Tom of Finland may very well be familiar even if, like me, you know nothing about the artist himself. His drawings have influenced modern culture in many recognisable ways since the middle of the last century, but there is even more to the man that this film seeks to reveal.

In true biopic style, the narrative is hampered slightly by having to or trying to cram a lifetime of work, love, life, happiness, sadness etc into an hour and a half. Time races forward, or a flashback conveys an idea, and the viewer can’t help but wonder if some of the difficulties encountered by the subject in his life have been glanced over simply because it isn’t possible to show or tell everything of note.

And yet, despite racing through 50 years in an hour, the film manages to capture the really significant moments of artistic  success very well indeed. There is a very touching moment when Tom realises just how important his work has been to large groups of people he had never even met before. And the occasional reappearance of Tom’s ‘muse’, Kake, is really well-integrated into the narrative just the right amount and at the correct moments.

For once, a biopic from which I actually learned a lot about its subject.

A Ghost Story

A film that was not at all what I was expecting, and which consequently took me quite a while to process. I’m still partially doing that, to be honest.

What had I been expecting? Well, I’d been half-waiting for Casey Affleck to break my heart for the second time this year. But that didn’t happen. I thought I might have been a little scared (I’m not a fan of horror). But I wasn’t.

Instead, I was mesmerised by the long takes, the silences, the fixed camera shots.

The first section sets up the relationship between Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. We can see that they care deeply about each other. We assume they have been together for quite a while given their conversations and interactions. And we can also see that, despite their closeness, not everything is perfect. All this makes the relationship real and mature.

And then, poor Casey meets his end. Rooney deals with the grief in her way, and Casey ends up still hanging around their house, covered in a sheet, unable to properly move on. There are a number of extended shots where the camera is fixed and we just wait, and wait, and wait. Sometimes something is happening slowly. Sometimes nothing happens for a long time. But each time we’re forced to take in tiny details, or just ‘be’ there as part of the story.

And then, the film makes a huge change in theme. Instead of being about very personal grief and connection, it becomes about the nature of death, time and memory, and deals in vast themes, all featuring a man in a sheet.

At one point, a self-centred, loud-mouthed hipster essentially mansplains the meaning of the film at a party, and it was the only point at which I tuned out of the film. But we see Casey not being able to move on, and we begin to understand how important the house is in that.

I did like A Ghost Story. I just can’t work out yet whether I liked it a lot, or completely loved it. But it’s still with me. Much like Casey, I feel the film is standing in the corner of my room observing me while other things happen in my life.

The final scene is open to interpretation and will be viewed differently by many. On leaving the cinema I was puzzled by it but I have since formed an opinion which, for me, makes sense of what I have seen.

Now, can we talk about “the pie scene” for a moment? Even if you haven’t seen this film, you may well have heard that “Rooney Mara eats a whole pie in one take”.

Firstly, she doesn’t. She eats maybe a third of it. It’s a big pie, admittedly, and full of chocolate, but that tiny little woman did not eat a full pie.

Secondly. That’s not a pie. A pie has a lid. What Rooney ate was a tart. Rooney ate half a tart.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming

No doubting from this that Tom Holland is an excellent casting choice for Peter Parker/Spidey. He has youthful enthusiasm and radiates a genuine desire to just do good things for his neighbourhood. Yes, he’s dazzled by the possibility of becoming an Avenger but at heart he’s just a teenager struggling with the usual high-school stuff while stopping petty-crime in the evenings.

And yet I was only just about satisfied with Spider-Man: Homecoming. It felt over-long, with some quite baggy special effects, and an alarming disregard for the development of its female characters.

And so many questions! Is the timeline between the fallout from the Chitauri invasion (Avengers Assemble), the airport fight (Captain America: Civil War) and the placing of events in this film really correct? Why does Spider-Man have to have his suit replete with voice like Tony Stark’s suit? Why has Pepper miraculously reappeared as if nothing has happened, only a short time after she broke up with Tony? Does Spider-Man have some kind of incredible healing powers, because after most of what he went through, that kid shouldn’t have survived … more than once!

Maybe I’m getting too old for this.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

You may recall that I did not like director Luc Besson’s previous feature film Lucy AT ALL.

But I had seen and heard the reviews, and I do like Jupiter Ascending, so I was prepared to give Valerian a go.

Good choice, Marie! Yes there are things wrong with the film, but I had real fun in its presence so :-p to you if you didn’t. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that I really, really liked, and also a few things that were unnecessary and whose inclusion I didn’t fully understand, but I almost feel like I need to watch it again to get the full benefit of the visual tapestry which Besson has woven for this world.

Things that I really, really liked:

  • The opening sequence set to the Bowie track
  • The world of Müll and its inhabitants – such vibrant colours, and that iridescent blue pearlised skin-effect was just beautiful
  • The sequence taking place in multiple dimensions – really well handled
  • The Star Wars meets Jupiter Ascending aesthetic
  • Ethan Hawke as a Space Pimp!
  • Rihanna, surprisingly
  • Cara Delevingne, even more surprisingly

Things that were, admittedly, a little puzzling

  • Laureline spends most of the film demonstrating that she is driven by her head and following orders. Yet in the end she tries to convince us that she’s the renegade? Whereas he’s been flouting the rules all along, yet won’t disobey orders JUST AT THE END WHEN IT’S OBVIOUSLY THE RIGHT THING TO DO according to the film’s world?
  • I haven’t seen Dane DeHaan in very much so I’m not sure – but does he actually talk like a cut price Keanu Reeves in real life or did he make this a strange decision to channel him? Coz that wasn’t necessary.
  • Staying Alive? Please.
  • Not sure what the food parade was all about.
  • Do we really need that complete explanation of everything which occurs at the end? I had already figured it all out by then, so this was totally unnecessary exposition as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, I liked it just fine thank you very much, and will be picking this up on Blu-ray when it’s released. So there.

Podcast episode: Who am I, I am me?

If someone invites you to talk with them about film on their podcast, and says you can choose the movies which are discussed, then why pick just one Jake Gyllenhaal when you can have two?!

In part one of a two-part series on identity crises, The B-Movie Podcast‘s Adam and I chat insecurity, infidelity and spiders (yuk) as we reflect on Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy – you’ll find a link to the podcast here.

Sea of Love (1989)

Rewatching for my The Complete Pacino list.

After the failure of Revolution, it was 4 years before Pacino returned to the cinema screen in this ‘thriller’. I recall at the time liking Sea of Love quite a bit, but I was less interested this time around. Perhaps because I knew who the criminal was?

Or perhaps because things which seemed so normal in 1989 (singles ads in print form, making phone calls from booths on the street, and Ellen Barkin’s amazingly body-skimming wardrobe) really date this film watching it in 2017.

I’ve never been much of a Barkin fan, particularly in this film – but then, I guess she’s not supposed to appeal to me in a role like this. Her character isn’t that well developed, and flip-flops between storming off in a huff and then placidly forgiving the lies she’s been told so she can get a shag. Anyone who will just jump all over someone the first night while still feeling the need to carry a gun around because of ‘all the crazy people out there’ really needs to re-think her lifestyle choices. And fondling the vegetables in the all night grocery wearing nothing but an overcoat is probably high on the list of things to avoid.

But the highlight is most definitely the on-screen relationship between Al Pacino and John Goodman – they are great together as cops partnered-up to solve the murders, and I can imagine them continuing to do so long after the film’s story has ended.

My Cousin Rachel

Rachel Weisz is as captivating a screen presence as you could wish for. Beautiful, mysterious and beguiling, she has the whole audience in the palm of her hand, just as she does with young Philip (Sam Claflin), her cousin by marriage.

But Rachel is a complex character whose actions and emotions are open to interpretation, and this ambiguity creates tension from the moment she appears (which is a long way into the film, considering she is named in the title). Do we believe she is conniving or genuine, grieving or manipulating? It’s fair to say that I changed my mind a couple of times while watching, which adds to the fun and intrigue.

However, whereas Weisz provides a strong canvas on which to paint intrigue, her opposite number Claflin does not. He moves from blind hatred to puppy dog love without showing any graduation or confusion at all, rendering his first-act posturing irrelevant. And for the remainder of the story, his naïveté was then just an irritation, instead of being another layer to Rachel’s complexity. Such a shame, because du Maurier excels at tension, and Claflin’s boyish tantrums meant that once I’d made up my mind about Rachel, the tension was over.

It’s set in a beautiful part of the world, though, and so the outdoor shots look absolutely lovely; and I’d like to commend Holliday Grainger for bringing life to what is really a thankless role.

I’m not saying this is a disaster, but I sadly can’t bring myself to say it’s much more than average either.