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Baden Baden (2016)
I sometimes wonder how certain movies ever get made. This is a case in point. The script is very much less than the sum of its parts and the acting veers from risible to very good. The very good being Claude Gensac who plays Ana's Grandmother and Lazarre Gousseau, who plays Gregoire. The implausible story just doesn't go anywhere and the movie is like watching a random episode of TV series. It starts and finishes with no explanation as to what is going on or why. All we know is that Ana is a bit of a loser who doesn't have any kind of idea about anything and cares less about it all, except for Grandmother who she runs to when she has nowhere else to go. She decides to install a new shower while her Grandmother is in hospital but where does she get the money? She has no job and not much in the way of brains it would seem. There are various dead-end threads that wave around in the breeze, like Boris the supposed artist whose mother lives in a very expensive apartment. He's a rotter and she has some history with him but that's all we know. Likewise the former boyfriend Simon - the unlikely named Swann Arlaud - with whom she shares a shower in a motel and her body on regular occasions. The only nice guy is Gregoire - Lazarre Gousseau - who helps her with the bathroom but she doesn't go for nice guys, as he discovers.
The end of the movie is unbelievable. I don't think I've seen anything like it. Ana goes off with yet another bloke who she doesn't even know and who doesn't really want to know her, they sit in a field next to Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut (we don't know why) and then...It just stops. I can only imagine that either they ran out money or just gave up and went home. There must be better scripts out there than this, surely? I wouldn't recommend you to spend your time with this dismal effort, it's just not worth it. The movie should be called Bad Bad instead of Baden Baden.
Everything is brown...
Renoir painted some of the most beautiful pictures of the impressionist era. His paintings have light, they have vibrant colours, they have soft muted colours, they are coveted by collectors, galleries and especially auction houses who sell them for vast amounts of money. This dismal movie has none of these attributes. It is shot using light brown filters in the mistaken belief that this somehow looks like a Renoir painting. It does not. What it does is destroy the natural beauty of the South of France and turn the entire thing into a symphony of sludge. Not only is the movie brown, it is also makes a mockery of Renoir himself by portraying the great artist as a man of little intelligence. The script has him swearing at every opportunity and generally acting like a peasant. The script is hopeless, the characters are almost all rendered as unpleasant in one way or another. There is nothing in this movie to commend it. Do yourself a favour and go to an art gallery and look at his paintings or buy a book instead of wasting 2 hours of your life on this excruciating failure.
Belye tuchi (1968)
The lost masterpiece of Soviet cinema
Belye Tuchi - or as it should be called, Bili Khmary - is a movie that has somehow got lost and is now all but forgotten. The title is usually translated into English as White Clouds but it's really closer to something like "the dark clouds are coming" but any translation will be miss the correct subtle meaning. The movie was directed by the Ukrainian Rollan Serhiienko, although IMDb mistakenly lists him as Sergiyenko. He was better known as a documentary film maker and later made the award winning Bell of Chernobyl. His career as a feature film director only produced two movies of which this is the best. Why this film has been forgotten is a mystery. There are rumours that the Soviet authorities didn't like it because it depicts the events and results of the forced collectivisation of Ukrainian farms when all the grain grown by small farms was taken to feed the workers in the state factories in Moscow and other industrialised regions. This brought about mass starvation among the Ukraine people - a memory that still engenders deep resentment in that country. But the film is about much more than that and deals with issues of memory, loss, family and faith in a way that is not always obvious to western sensibilities but very clear to those who have lived within the Soviet system and at the same time a devout Russian Orthodox Christian culture. There are some parallels with a range of European films about the loss of the rural way of life to industrialisation and the inexorable spread of cities as new technologies drove people away from small farms towards huge combines and collectives. Indeed, White Clouds has echoes in the stories of Thomas Hardy and is as moving and beautiful as any of his tragedies. The photography is both startling in its use of experimental techniques, such as the use of Infra-Red film stock in scenes that appear to be linked to memory, and ravishingly beautiful. There are constant references to what any Russian would understand as religious imagery. There is a quite remarkable crane shot near the end of the movie that refers directly to Isaac Levitan's painting "Above the Eternal Peace" which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and is revered almost as an Ikon by most Russians. Some of the long takes and static camera shots are reminiscent of Bela Tarr, and it is quite likely that he saw this film at some point. The quality of the surviving print is OK but not great. Many of the cast were amateurs, some were actually people from the villages in Ukraine where the movie was shot. It is just a pity that such a wonderful film has been all but lost from view. If you ever have the opportunity to see it, you won't be disappointed. I was fortunate to see this wonderful movie with English subtitles at a festival of East European and Soviet films, although as far as I know it isn't commercially available. It is available in the original Russian from some specialist shops.
Before I Go to Sleep (2014)
Wake me up when it's finished...
I feel sorry for Nicole Kidman. It must be depressing having to work with Colin Firth so much. Here they are again, back together after the OK but not quite good Railway Man in a dire take on the Memento/Groundhog Day riff of memory loss. None of the story really adds up, there are plot holes bigger than those in the Ozone layer and in the end it just sort of gives up. I could spend much time on the turgid script or the complete lack of any character development, but I won't. Instead I will simply note that Colin Firth has cornered the market in middle-class, stick-up-the-rectum English bores without actually requiring any acting skills, which is just as well given that he possesses none. Rather like the other hopeless exponent of diffident English "chaps", the execrable Hugh Grant. His supposed acting prowess, which garnered him an Oscar, A Golden Globe and a Bafta for The King's Speech, is nothing more than him being himself. It is a constant source of amazement to me that these two products of the public school system have been able to fool so many people into believing they can act. But acting has always been the preserve of the more affluent types and those who have achieved some kind of fame in other ways, such as modelling or just being the offspring of someone famous.
Kidman does her best with the rubbish she's been given to work with, but in the end she fails to rescue this mess from oblivion. It doesn't bode well for her after the excruciatingly bad Grace of Monaco that she appears in dismal rubbish like this, but at least she has a varied and interesting body of work to prove her credentials. Unlike Firth who continues to prove only that he got very lucky.
It's lucky for us - and Nicole Kidman - that Firth dropped out of Paddington Bear. Who knows what horror may have been unleashed by a bear voiced by a middle-aged English twit.
Does anyone know you're here?
You've probably already read the previous reviews of this movie, so I'll refrain from repeating what others have said, as far as possible. This is the best of the Comic Strip offerings by a very large margin and the reason is because it is funny without trying to appear as if the makers are concerned about social issues or any other questionable "point" which was all the rage with the painfully unfunny Ben Elton and his acolytes. Mr Jolly is just about being funny for the sake of it. Stupidly funny, childishly funny, disgustingly funny but - praise the Lord - not "we care and we're going to lecture you about it" funny. Two blokes spend 80 minutes causing mayhem and havoc - very often to each other - mostly in pursuit of any kind of alcohol, including embalming fluid, and get involved with various other lunatics, in particular the eponymous Mr Jolly, played by the great Peter Cook, of the title and a lugubrious gangster called Mr. Lovebucket, who pays Mr Jolly to "take out" his enemies, wears a white cashmere overcoat and apparently isn't a w_anker, and the heroic Nicholas Parsons. For those who don't know him, he was a stalwart of the family entertainment side of television programmes, a man who would never, ever say rude words or wear jeans. I take my hat off to him for having the confidence to put his reputation on the line, as it were, by getting involved with something which is the complete antithesis of his genre and having a bloody good laugh at the same time. As the two lunatics are fond of screaming: "Nicholas bloody Parsons!"
Anyway, the movie speeds along like a turbo charged idiot on industrial strength speed driving a truck full of explosives with no hands on the steering wheel. There is every kind of bodily function and bodily fluid involved as the two insane Escorts hurtle mindlessly towards oblivion and an explosive conclusion. In the words of one of the gangsters: "If it's tonic ye want, it's tonic ye'll get". It's a tonic for those who like their slapstick with added vomit.
In memory of Rik Mayall who died today age 56.
Les beaux jours (2013)
The road to ruin
I saw this during a French film festival in London. Both Fanny Ardant and Marion Vernoux were in attendance for a Q&A session afterwards.
The basic story is of an older woman in Calais having a brief affair with a younger man after retiring from her job as a dentist and re-discovering the sexual spark missing from her long marriage, before seeing the error of her ways. All this is set in motion because her daughters buy her a membership package to a kind of club for retired people. And therein lies the first of several problems. I cannot believe that a woman with such apparent vitality as the erstwhile Caroline would, even for a moment, consider joining a club for people who have nothing else to do. I also cannot believe that anyone - and especially daughters - would buy such a risible gift in the first place. Maybe it's a French thing.
Caroline then spends much time either in the company of a bunch of ageing nonentities, who seem to enjoy the idea of hurtling towards eternity via the purgatory of a seniors club, or in the lustful embrace of a younger bloke and his energetic tumescence, while her husband - who still works as a dentist and therefore has a rewarding, if somewhat boring life - appears to have all the charisma of a stunned hamster. But at least he's not filling other women's cavities while his wife is playing the lusty pink oboe instead of playing bingo in the afternoon. The story takes the usual turns and follows most of the usual clichés about such affairs until the film ends with another unlikely scenario. We all get old, we all need something to live for and we all need a bit of a spark in our relationships, but do we need yet another fairly uninteresting film to remind us of our mortality and apparent fragility when time starts to accelerate us ever faster towards our ultimate - and unavoidable - oblivion?
The film is nicely photographed but ultimately it fails to engage on any level. The story is thin, the characters are not really developed beyond the cliché level and the script doesn't give the actors much to work with.
After the screening Fanny Ardant gave s few fairly unilluminating comments in reply to some hideously embarrassing questions from a bloke who thought that asking her whether she changed the sound of her voice for the film was an example of an interesting question.
Fanny's reply was "I was acting".
Letters to Juliet (2010)
Imagine the scene: Vanessa Redgrave is sitting on the terrace of her lovely Tuscan holiday home with Franco Nero, her Italian husband. The phone rings, she picks it up and answers it: "Hello darling! yes it's a beautiful day. Franco and I were just having a spot of breakfast on the terrace. What's that? A movie in Tuscany about a young girl who finds a romantic letter and decides to write a book about it? Sounds ideal darling. Any chance of a part for Franco, I'm sure there's a little cameo for him. No, he's happy to play anything, he just likes to hang around on set. Still thinks he's a bit of ladies man you know! OK, lovely, send me the script and I'll have a look at it of course, but you know I don't really need a script. I'm from a real acting dynasty you know! Bye darling, love to the wife and kids" Franco picks up a banana and asks:"Who was it Cara mia?" "Oh, just my agent. He's got a movie for us and it'll be filmed right here in Tuscany" "Fantastico! Who else is in it?" "Oh, some American girl and a young Australian chap" "What's the story?" "Something about a letter and a love affair and a pair of star-crossed lovers" "Shakespeare?" "I don't think so, but it's got a bit of Romeo and Juliet in it I think" "So what do I play?" "The long lost lover" "Just like real life" "Not really darling, you were never lost. I just ignored you for a couple of decades" "Mille grazie bambino, I love you too"
and so off they went and made a movie about something or other, with a vacuous American girl and an Australian chap whose idea of acting is to look like Heath Ledger's untalented brother. It's not very good but at least it looks nice. There isn't any acting talent on display and the story is puerile and silly, much like most of the garbage churned out by Hollywood. Vanessa does her old lady act on auto-pilot while Seyfried and Egan struggle with even the most basic requirements of acting. Like having more than one expression. I've seen more expressive faces on postage stamps. It's just a pity that so many good actors can't get a job while simpering twits like Amanda Seyfried and hopelessly wooden dopes like Christopher Egan are making movies rather than doing something more in line with their talents, like tossing burgers.
There are no words to describe this abomination
For the record, this abomination should have a zero mark. Even one star is too many. This excrescence is an insult to humanity. Angelina Jolie should hang her hypocritical head in shame for taking part in this stinking pile of ordure and then berating the rest of the world for the plight of starving children, or whatever her pet project is this month. Just think about it Angie dear: this malodorous movie cost in excess of $100 million to make - including, no doubt, many millions for your pathetic "acting talents". Would it not have been so much better to spend even half of this eye-watering sum of moolah on getting clean water and sanitation to some of the world's less fortunate children. Or do you think that adopting a few of them salves your conscience enough for you to continually make enormous sums of money from your somewhat less enormous "acting talent"? Anyway, enough of the Angelina berating (for now). What about the movie? I hear you ask. Well, what about it? It is a waste of time, unless you're a brain-dead nit-wit. That's all I can say about it. There is nothing worth writing about. But Angelina...oh dear Angelina... I suggest you donate every penny of your unwarranted fee to one of your favourite causes and take up a career as a real charity worker, as opposed to a part-time celebrity UN ambassador, or whatever it is you're supposed to be, instead of asking the poor of the world, i.e. Me, to contribute a brass razoo to your bank balance. Be ashamed, be very ashamed.
To Rome with Love (2012)
Cab for Mr. Allen!
The scene opens with a small red haired guy sitting in a movie theatre staring at the flickering images on the screen. The black and white images are reflected in his black framed glasses. His eyes are wide in wonder and awe, he holds a bag of popcorn in his hands but he never eats any. The movie finishes and he remains transfixed as the sparse audience leaves the darkness of the cinema.
"I gotta make this movie in Rome, Fellini made his movies in Rome"
The red haired guy is now a grey haired old guy and he's talking to someone in staccato, stuttering phrases.
"Whaddya mean, I'm no Fellini? Did Fellini ever win an Oscar?"
A woman's voice replies like a patient parent trying to explain to a five year old he has to go to bed.
"And Bergman made his movies in Sweden but you never went there did you?"
"Yeah, I know but Sweden is cold and gloomy"
"So were all your Bergman homage movies"
"Whaddya mean? hey I gotta tell ya, I got great reviews for those movies and.."
"...very few paying customers"
"It's not all about money, Fellini never made any money either"
"That's the only thing you have in common with Fellini"
"Oh, funny! who writes your screenplays?"
"Not you, obviously"
"Listen, I'm going to make this movie in Rome and that's that"
"Enjoy your holiday"
"It's not a holiday, I'll be making a movie"
"With you it's the same thing"
"Listen honey, people will love it, I guarantee it"
"Sure they will, everyone loves to look at holiday snaps"
"Oh! you really gotta start putting this stuff down on paper"
"And you should stop making holiday movies"
"Fellini never had to put up with kind of stuff"
"He didn't think he was Woody Allen"
This is a terrible movie. Don't waste your time. Woody Allen has lost any plot he may have had, as has this movie. It is a hopeless attempt by the once great director to be Fellini and it fails on every level. Apart from the nice photography it is rubbish. It is with a heavy heart that I must write these words about a man that has produced a few of the truly great movies, but I'm afraid I must. Midnight in Paris was bad but this is even worse. Except this doesn't have Owen Wilson, which is the only saving grace I can think of.
A crime against acting
To give a flavour of the pace of this turgid production here is an example of the script: When (five seconds of silence) do (five seconds of silence)you (five seconds of silence with staring eyes)have (five seconds of blank faces and silence) to (more silence)leave (the silence between words is boring by now)for ( silence and staring with additional meaningful looks)the (silence punctuated by annoying piano arpeggio stolen from Arvo Paart's Spiegel im Spiegel) front (piano, staring, silence.....etc,) etc....all of which is delivered in a series of mumbles that make Marlon Brando seem like Olivier in Henry the Fifth by comparison. And the acting! Oh, the acting! In short, where is it? Eddie Redmayne goes through the entire 3 hours with nary a hint of emotion. Whether he's in the throes of battle or soft-focus intercourse, his expression remains that of a lobotomised wide-mouth frog. He would make a very good double act with the other non-entity of the moment, Douglas Booth, the pneumatic-lipped drip who gave us a magnificently one-dimensional performance in Great Expectations. A more superficial pair of perfunctory performers I cannot imagine... However, I digress...rather like the author Sebastian Faulkes and the scriptwriter whose name escapes me...fortunately. There seems to be a fad at the present time for all things steeped in ersatz history, Downton Abbey being the most obvious contender, which itself was nothing more than a complete re-hash of Upstairs Downstairs. Perhaps there is a longing for those oh-so-romantic Victorian and Edwardian days when men had moustaches, women were merely decorative and children died of malnutrition and a multitude of diseases. Ah, but the romance of war, let us not forget those glorious days when thousands of men were sent to their very avoidable deaths every day by Generals who cared nothing for the damned Germans and even less for their own soldiers. It was all done with the best intentions, in other words the preservation of their rapidly disappearing lifestyle and fortunes, or to put it another way, the British way of life. And this is just the sort of fallacious hypocrisy that productions such as Downton Abbey and Birdsong seek to exploit and present as historically accurate with their sepia tinted whimsy and risible story lines. It wouldn't be so bad as long as the acting was up to scratch but it isn't. The only saving grace of this production is the photography, which is quite beautiful most of the time. And as a previous reviewer has so accurately written, tortoises and marathons do not an entertainment make.