45 YEARS***** Masterful


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THE FORTY FIVE years referred to in the movie title is that of the wedding anniversary of Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay). It’s an innocuous enough event (the last one having been cancelled due to his bypass operation) in the lives of a pleasant, happy, retired couple. But then a letter arrives informing Geoff that the body of a woman whom he had dated fifty years ago –Katya- has been discovered. It was fifty years ago when, on a hike somewhere up in the Swiss Alps, she slid, suddenly, into a crevasse and disappeared. And now, the Alps slowly melting as they are with the warming world, she has reemerged, entombed in ice.

The past has returned to cuckold the present.

The Geoff we’re introduced to is a man who seems to be shuffling toward senility and death (“the problem with old age” he tells one of his friends “is that you lose purposefulness”). He has been struggling to read Kiekegaard, the Danish philosopher. But with the arrival of the letter and the resurgence of a love long held in deep freeze like the ghost of Katya, he changes. Purpose returns. Turns out he is Katya’s next of kin. The authorities thought they’d been married. It’s a small fact he ‘thought’ he’d told his wife. He becomes secretive, petulant, and prone to prevarication. He starts smoking again. At nights, Kate discovers, he has begin to slip out of bed to their attic where, via a slide show of Katya, he can relive his past, give in to his memories and wallow… perhaps fall in love all over again with a woman dead for fifty years. Perhaps even Kate was just a wannabe version of Katya…the names are more or less the same after all.

Andrew Haigh’s brilliant movie (from a short story by David Constantine) riffs on Kiekegaard’s central philosophical construct: “Life can only be understood backward but it must be lived forward”. The issue isn’t so much that the past is always part of the present (T. S. Eliot re-construed Kiekegaard in “The Four Quartets” with his words that could be the tag line for the movie: “All time is eternally present”). Indeed the whole point of an anniversary is the celebration of the elasticity of love from past to present (and Haigh’s soundscape wonderful knits present and past together with all the hits of the 60’s.) The issue rather is that Geoff’s past is a secret unshared.

It’s as though he’s having an affair with a memory.

The discovery by Kate of Geoff’s secretly rekindled romance alters the dynamic of their relationship. The couple we met pre the arrival of the letter was one in which she was definitely the one in charge: the dynamic vibrant and somewhat superior one, guiding – as is expected of wives – her ageing, mumbling spouse (for the first half of the movie, Geoff isn’t greeted with the usual words “Hello, how are you?” but with the words “Are you OK?”). After the letter, as the reality dawns upon her that Geoff is escaping his present – her – for a better past –Katya – the wind in her sails dies away. You feel as though she’s imitating the actions of a person, distractedly planning their engagement party; but still maybe clinging to the hope that Geoff’s new found passion is just a phase (he has the desire to make love again…just not the prowess).

The big moment is the anniversary celebration where the song to which they’d danced forty five years ago was “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”. For some reason we all remember that song as one of those uber romantic songs. But as they dance, the darkness of the words sink in and the secrecy of the past finally trump the present:

“Now laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide.
So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes”

“45 Years” seems to be quietly reeling in awards: both Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay won awards recently at the Silver Berlin Bear Festival. And it won Best British Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. They’re well deserved. Rampling and Courtenay’s acting is impeccable: understated, nuanced, compellingly believable (and interestingly, miles away from the showy agonies demanded of an Oscar).

The movies itself is a jewel of movie-making craftsmanship.

In the first scene, we see a jaunty Kate returning home (a nice cottage in Norfolk). She’s greeted by the postman and their very average, very pedestrian exchange maps out the entire movie’s concerns: she remarks to him how unusually early he is. He replies it’s because of the newborn. Oh of course, she replies. She’d forgotten. She implores him to give her heartfelt best (she says she really means it) to his wife. She bids him goodbye and reminds him to call her Kate. It’s been a long time since you were a student, she concludes.

As she enters the house, we meet Geoff pouring over the letter

In two minutes, we not only get a sense of her (she was a teacher, strongly empathetic, brisk and energetic, but childless) and him (he’s bumbling, confused, trying to understand a letter written in German and given to prevarication), but the themes of birth and death, of the links between the past and the present are immediately announced.

And so it continues for the entire movie… the references to Kiekegaard, his regression to smoking (…gets in your eyes?), her tender caring, like a mother to her child, when he cuts his thumb etc. are all part of the fabric of a movie where there’s not a wasted scene; where what passes for the casualness of everyday life or everyday conversation is always loaded with meaning.

So nice to find an adult movie among this summer’s morass of mediocrity.

MISTRESS AMERICA*** Almost Very Good


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“MISTRESS AMERICA”, THE new movie from Noah Baumbach (of the brilliant, “While We Were Young” and “Frances Ha) refers to a short story penned by the young, impressionable Tracy (Lola Kirke from “Gone Girl”) about her exuberant, selfish, charismatic friend, Brooke (Greta Gerwig from “Frances Ha”, “Greenberg” etc. who also co-wrote).

Brooke has wild and totally unrealistic dreams about opening a restaurant, come community center, come hair salon, come art gallery…having herself never opened a restaurant before or for that matter, even knowing how to cook. It’s just one of the many schemes, bright ideas and follies that, undifferentiated one from the other, clutter Brooke’s lively imagination. She’s a sexy, trippy, funny, thirty year old egomaniacal loser who, in her own mind, is a success just waiting to happen. It’s not clear whether she’s simply self-delusional or has a massively inflated ego-driven overdose of self-belief.

To naïve Tracy, she’s both a leader you want to follow, and, more importantly, a character study waiting to be written. Finally to the more withdrawn, thoughtful observing eye of Tracy, here is a subject fitting her own self-centered powers of observation.

Around these two planets circle a number of lesser constellations: Tracy’s ‘object of desire’ is a nerdy looking Tony (Matthew Shear, also of “While We Were Young”) a fellow writer who seems to share none of her romantic interests; his sourpuss girlfriend, Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones) is someone who may or may not have been around prior to Tracy’s crush on him; Brooke’s clear-sighted ex-boyfriend, Dylan (Michael Chernus:“Captain Phillips”) is on-tap to be, she hopes, a willing investor in her madcap restaurant dream; and his wife (Heather Lind) is the pretty, cynical guardian against any renewed amorous interests on Brooke’s part. Various parents, the deus ex machina of the entire plot, hover dimly out of sight

As with all of Baumbach’s movies, there are many wonderfully well-observed moments and sharp, nicely written repartee. Gerwig skillfully manages to make a pretty unpleasant character come across as charming and attractive to us as she appears to her coterie of fans.

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“Mistress America” is billed as a comedy, but the neurotic, emotionally stunted, self-centered, Woody Allen-ish characters whose lives we observe are anything but comic. This is really a story about the failure of relationships, all of which are loosely held together, woven into the story of Brooke’s misguided plans to turn her restaurant fantasy to reality.

The characters don’t so much as relate to one another as intersect. No one quite gets along with anyone else: jealousy, self-centeredness, greed and possessiveness rather than either love or affection are the only glues that (barely) hold the relationships together.

It’s as though the title is suggesting that in this modern hip urban universe, the selflessness of love and marriage has been replaced by the selfishness and transience of the Mistress with its connotation of slightly seedy loveless coupling.

Perhaps.

There are meta-fictions at work here. For “Mistress America” is both the name of the movie and the name of Tracy’s short story, which is both a literary success and, possibly, just her own enamoured/jaundiced view of Brooke and her world.

Indeed, art itself can at worst be nothing more than a jaundiced, highly personal view of the world. What redeems it are the inner truths and human insights that free it from misanthropic distortion. Here, Tracy’s short story is seen less in the light of its literary achievement, more as a violation of friendship. Perhaps the ego-centricity we see of Brooke is really just a projection of Tracy’s own artistic selfishness. And the loose, episodic structure of the movie, where the relationships never quite feel real is simply Baumbach’s way of a reflecting Tracy’s still immature inability to process and fully understand the underlying dynamic of couples.

In other words we’re seeing “Mistress America” both as Baumbach’s and as Tracy’s story.

Perhaps.

“Mistress America” (why America?) is a very mixed bag: fitfully brilliant and often silly. The story’s choppy, episodic structure, with several irrelevant scenes seemingly thrown in for no purpose other than humor, give the film a forced theatrical sensibility. This is rescued only by Greta Gerwig. Baumbach is an intelligent, thoughtful writer (such a relief from Summer blockbuster rubbish), but his directorial storytelling still feels too self-conscious, too striving after a style that too often imposes itself on the story.

As a director he needs to chill and just go with the flow.

Scaremongering Plumbs New Depths as Blair Prophesies Labour “Annihilation”


leesbj:

a sensible blog about the present bacchanal taking place in UK politics now

Originally posted on ladiesdefendinglabour:

a3-posterThe hysterical railing against the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn being voted in as Labour leader is now embarrassingly over the top. Blair has become the voice of doom, seeking to ramp up fear among the Labour rank and file. According to him, if we vote in Corbyn, “it won’t be a defeat” at the next election but “will mean rout, possibly annihilation”.

The Guardian front page manages to juxtapose Blair’s mad rantings about precipices and destruction with photos of a world in flames (actually a fire at a Chinese port).

The Telegraph, of course, has also jumped on the bandwagon with the Blair ‘story’ as its headline and added a quote from Jack Straw attacking “the hard-Left candidate’s (sic) ‘economic illiteracy’”.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has decided to launch an attack from another angle with its “exclusive” story supposedly revealing Corbyn’s “‘long-standing links’ with notorious…

View original 600 more words

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION** Mission Tedium


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SOMETIMES IT REALLY doesn’t matter how much talent you have at your disposal. If a story, any story for that matter, fails to offer up people with whom we can connect…care enough to root for or hiss at, then all we have is a plot without a center; action without purpose, sound and fury without meaning.

Tom Cruise’s latest, and we can but hope, last outing, as the bland character-less Ethan Hunt, is another overwrought restaging of Mission Impossible; an exercise in headache-inducing tedium.

For some reason, the IMF has been disbanded (sadly not Christine Lagarde’s IMF) by Alec Baldwin, sleeping through his role as CIA director Alan Hurley. Hunt must go on the run. He’s discovered that there’s a covert version of the Force who’s been destabilizing nations for the last several years (downing aircraft, blowing up factories, killing off politicians etc). But no-one believes him. So, with the help of a mysterious MI6 spy (Rebecca Ferguson… the stand out presence in this farrago) and his loyal team of IMF-fers, he must go it alone and save the world.

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He runs and jumps, holds his breath for hours, hangs on to an airborne ‘plane, dodges machine gun bullets, mows down swarms of menacing motorcyclists, narrowly avoids getting kissed by a woman (whew!), kidnaps the British PM and tries everything he can possibly do to make us give a damn.

Sadly it’s an impossible mission.

But why?

“Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation” has a tremendous collection of talent. Christopher McQuarrie who directed, was one of the writers who gave us “The Usual Suspects”. Certainly his set piece action scenes, especially a long motorcycle chase, is grippingly well done. JJ Abrams of “Lost”, the charming “Super 8”, the nicely re-booted “Star Trek” and the only fun “Mission Impossible”: Ghost Protocol, is Hollywood’s latest whizz kid producer/director. Lalo Schifrin’s heart-thumping original score is beautifully enhanced by Joe Kramer. And the cast (Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin) is, at least, solid.

The problem is partly the story, which never exhales long enough to invite us to relate to either the characters or the situation they’re in. It’s as though the producers weren’t confident enough that there was something worth engaging with, so they simply took the default route of piling on the action.

But that’s putting it nicely.

At its core, the problem is Tom, who try as he might, never ever convinces that he’s a real person. And I don’t mean his character, Ethan Hunt, I mean Tom himself. Since Tom Cruise became TOM CRUISE, the only convincing role he’s had has been that of Vincent, the cold, inhuman hit man of Michael Mann’s “Collateral”. Mann needed someone as soullessly robotic as Cameron’s Terminator; and he found it in Tom.

Director Christopher McQuarrie (who also directed Cruise in the failed “Jack Reacher”) seemed happy to go with the flow and voila! “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”, a movie as soullessly robotic as its lead actor

INSIDE OUT**** Wildly Inventive


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We’ve come to expect nothing less than brilliance from Pixar (“Toy Story” etc); and its new production, “Inside Out” delivers in spades.

Written (mostly) and directed by Peter Docter (“Up”, “Monsters Inc” and as writer, “Wall.E” and “Toy Story 2”) this is a hugely inventive movie. It manages to offer a simple enough idea: “sadness is OK” via a journey through the complex issues of identity, personality, memory and angst, all wrapped up in a charming, funny, thoroughly engaging action adventure.

The movie presents a world from inside the heads of its key character, an eleven-year old girl, Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias). Were introduced to her as a tiny newborn with two characters banging around in her head: joy and sadness. Joy (Amy Poelhr) is a chirpy Tinker Bell-like creature that trails happiness in her wake; sadness (Phyllis Smith from “the Office”) is, naturally, blue and is a worried, bespectacled, shoulder-slumped, librarian type soul. At a tiny Star Trek-type console, they shape little Riley’s moods and memories.

Things change as Riley begins to grow up. Her life evolves from the simple toddler’s world to the more complex one of the young pre-teen, with its growing conflicts and worries. In story terms, her world shifts (symbolically) from the bright carefree open skies of Minnesota to the darker, more threatening, more claustrophobic world of inner city living (San Francisco). Dad, once the center of her life, becomes more distant because of his needs to travel. And so, to Joy and Sadness and the mental worlds they created of Family, Honesty, Friendship, Hockey and Goofball Fun comes Anger (a towering Lewis Black who you may remember from “John Stewart”), Fear (“Bill Hader from “Trainwreck) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling)

The happy toddler, saddened by her loss of the old neighborhood, grows into a lonely, moody, angry little girl. At the outside level, that’s because she’s overwhelmed by all the changes in her life. But really it’s because Joy and Sadness have been zapped through a suction tube, into the dark world of long term memory. Riley’s moods are now in the hands only of Anger, Fear and Disgust. She snaps at her parents, storms out of her hockey matches and needs to escape back to the innocence of Minnesota. Those core elements of her personality (Family, Honesty etc) begin to crumble.

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Joy and Sadness must combine forces along with a half remembered imaginary friend and engage on an epic journey through the Stygian swamp of long-term memory, via the subconscious, past creatures such as The Forgetters, who dump memories they deem unimportant (they’re very active in my head) and across the dehumanizing plains of abstract thought. The only way back to master control is by hitching a ride on the Train of Thought (which of course powers down once Riley is asleep) through Imagination Land…

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And on and on.

And this is a child’s movie? The kids there ‘got it’ all, and had a ball (even as the adults in the cinema next door were grappling with the more intellectually challenging worlds of “Ant-Man” and “Jurassic World”)

Hmm.

Once again, Pixar: 1; the rest of Summer Blockbusters: 0

 

ANT-MAN** Small Guy Meets Big Laffs


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It appears that superheroes now come in two basic molds: the dark, brooding, angst-ridden mold (Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine) and the wise-ass funny guy mold (Iron Man, Peter Quill – “Guardians of the Galaxy” – and now, the latest addition, Scott Lang, aka, Ant-Man)
“Ant-Man” is a great comedy routine in search of a story.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a burglar with a heart of gold and a daughter he longs to be worthy of. When we meet him, he’s now leaving prison, intent on going straight. Clearly, that’s never going to happen. And for reasons that defy logic, he’s recruited by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a highly principled scientist who’s invented a suit which can shrink its wearer to the size (and relative power) of an ant. He’s also, handily developed a means of communicating with and controlling ants. Hank wants Lang to break into a highly guarded facility to steal a similar shrink-to-fit suit developed by one of Dr. Pym’s assistants, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll from “House of Cards”). Cross has fewer scruples than Dr Pym and has sold the technology to a league of bad guys (all of whom look like bankers. I can only assume this was coincidental).

As an arch nemesis, Corey Stoll is dull and unconvincing. In terms of real bad guys (think Ultron), two men the size of ants wrecking a child’s play room somehow lacks the drama of the usual full scale destruction of cities we’re accustomed to.

And as the mastermind of the invention, Michael Douglas seems to have wandered in from another movie, emoting boorishly about a dead wife. For some reason, Dr. Pym has sought to lie about the reason for her death to his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly, still “Lost”). This is a sub plot that seems to have been sliced into the story to add some sort of emotional centre to the movie.

It doesn’t

Hope’s role (she mainly has to react to everything that’s going on around her) is part of the new trend in ‘love interest babes’. Whereas once these eye candy objects of romance simply screamed and looked vulnerable and fragile (Kristin Dunst as Spiderman’s girl), now, since this cliché probably isn’t doing well with focus groups, the new love interest type is the powerful boss bitch type (Bryce Dallas Howard of “Jurassic World”) who finally melts into the arms of the superhero.

And yet, almost despite itself, “Ant-Man” is quite fun. Paul Rudd is a charming, self-effacing, thoroughly unlikely superhero. Between his smartass repartee and the flamboyant storytelling of his excitable Latino friend Luis (Michael Peña of “Fury” and “American Hustle”), much of this movie is laugh out loud, funny. There are some very clever lines and superb visual gags. It’s as though the director (Peyton Reid who was shoe-horned into the role when the original director was fired) really wanted to shoot a comedy but had to pay lip service to a few superhero tropes.

More than this, some of the special effects (in particular, one sequence when Ant-Man shrinks to a sub atomic scale and enters a quantum universe) are imaginative and beautifully executed (much more interesting than the much lauded accuracy of the “Interstellar” black hole sequences)

And so, once again, with it $58M opening week-end, the Marvel hit machine seems to have turned an ant into its latest franchise giant.