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Friends & Crocodiles (2005)
Large canvas, beautiful to look at, plenty to think about
This piece seems to have divided the audience and critics. We have seen and heard more negative reviews than positive ones.
We thought it was a very interesting and enjoyable piece. As so often with Poliakoff, he creates characters who don't behave as you expect them to. They infuriate and they surprise you.
In this epic piece, spanning some 20 years (early eighties to early naughties)Poliakoff examines themes of business, friendships and survival in a fast-changing world.
Crocodiles are an interesting metaphor for survival and coping with change/trauma.
So are friends, both the loyal and the relatively fair-weather variety. Both types are on display here.
Drama about business is usually horribly infuriating because the playwright has little or no insight into how business really works. Similarly technology. Poliakoff understands business and technology far better than most writers.
Of course the piece simplifies and takes positions on these issues - who wants a 20 parter on such subjects - but the piece works excellently well as a sub 2 hour film for TV.
Several critics said that they "just don't get it" with this piece. I feel sorry for them if that is really the case. Perhaps most critics, like most writers, have little understanding of business and/or technology.
The acting is excellent - Damien Lewis (everywhere these days) and Jodhi May predictably good. A few cameos for old favourites too.
The cinematography is just stunning - Poliakoff is probably now at the very top of his game in this aspect of his work.
It's big canvas stuff, it is truly beautiful to look at and it leaves you plenty to think about and talk about afterwards.
We need more of this quality of stuff on TV and cinema please!! And this piece will last. Some of those who "don't get it" just now will, in a few years time, be hailing it as a classic and repeating it for decades to come. It's that sort of piece.
Bergman's Still Got What It Takes
Like so many superb Bergman films, this movie is strongly theatrical in form - indeed it could be adapted for the stage with minimal revision. Nevertheless, it benefits from the movie form, as it enables so many of us all over the world to see four superb acting performances.
I saw Scenes From a Marriage years ago and it was interesting to see those characters reprised. However, I think this film would be perfectly enjoyable and understandable to a viewer who had not seen Scenes From a Marriage. It might even be a good idea for the "Bergman Newbie" to see Saraband first.
I love the multi-layered ways that music plays an important part in this movie, both plot-wise and symbolically. A Saraband is a slow, mournful dance. The film is basically 10 oral duets, sandwiched between a solo prologue and epilogue. The characters are to some extent represented by their musical taste - Henrik with his glorious Bach organ works (and the Saraband he loves), Johann by the booming Bruckner scherzo he is playing before and after a pivotal conversation with Karin.
The cinematography lacks some of the exceptional qualities of Bergman's earlier work - I suspect that has to do with the TV format and his advancing years - the great man is probably unable to get quite so involved in camera-work these days. But no matter. The script, the acting and the direction are absolutely top class.
87 years old and Bergman's still got what it takes. Can we please all try and persuade him to "Sinatra" (i.e. make several more final appearances?)
A Grand Day Out (1989)
What a cracking start to a career
Wallace and Gromit are a phenomenon. How many stop motion animation films win Oscars, top the US and UK box office charts etc. But all that came later.
A Grand Day Out was the first Wallace and Gromit film. Low budget. More or less a graduation piece. Of course the animation is less sophisticated than in the later films. Of course the plot is a little shallow. The entire story is designed to minimise the need for sophisticated animation and to maximise the excuse for shortcomings (perhaps dogs and people would move a bit like that on a cheese moon).
Yet it is extraordinary to see how much of the Aardman genius is already there in this short film. Hilarious and clever references to other films. Mice in shades for take off. The rocket handbrake gag. Coin-operated machine gags (brilliantly recycled in Were-Rabbit BTW). And a machine (is it an Aga?) that daydreams about skiing when it sees Wallace's holiday magazines.
Of course TWT, ACS and Were-Rabbit are better movies, but this film is so worth seeing as a sign of early genius and indeed in its own right as a crude but wonderful animated film.
Play for Today: Joe's Ark (1974)
Several of Potter's recurring themes are explored here. Terminal illness. Christian religion challenged in the face of suffering. Austere communities on the Welsh borders. Oxbridge youngsters thrown together (by birth or circumstance) with more simple people. Family rifts. Rain. Biblical metaphor (in this case both Noah's Ark overtly and the Book of Job covertly, in case you hadn't guessed).
The themes are well explored and there are several moving moments. After Joe throws the preacher out of his house, almost cursing belief itself, he then prays to Jesus and asks Jesus to take him (Joe) rather than his daughter. When the girl dies, Joe recites the Lord's Prayer in Welsh. The tacky comedian brother, Bobby, asks his girlfriend to marry him as they speed along the road to try to get to his sister's bedside in time. The short scene between father and son has barely a word but is beautifully done.
Not all of it works so well. It is slow in parts. Deliverately so. The scene where Bobby finds out about his sister and then verbally attacks the Asian worker sweeping up around him in a café, is terribly stilted (Waterman weak at showing anger and despair back then). And didn't Poliakoff more or less repeat that scene to greater effect in one of his late 70's classics?
Is this the best of Potter? No. But it is well worth a look and is a moving piece.
Where Adam Stood (1976)
Interesting, but oh so slow
This is a very interesting piece. The subject matter is fascinating - a naturalist who is a member of the Plymouth Bretheren at the time of Darwin. How does he reconcile his science with his religion? And how does his little son cope with it all? Well, it takes an age to find out (or so it seems).
The acting is good. The beach scenes are atmospheric. But oh, this piece is so slow.
There are glimpses of Potteresque greatness in this piece, but I wouldn't use it as a starting point for Potter or your dalliance with Potter might be short-lived.
Garden State (2004)
Slow but steady
I stumbled across this film by accident on a flight last night. By accident, because it wasn't even listed on the movie choices for that flight!! But I'm very pleased with the serendipity, which was in keeping with the mood and tone of the movie.
Ian Holm is the only actor in the film known to me - he is a great stage actor and plays his part in this movie well.
I am impressed to learn that young Zach is not only the lead actor (who performs well) but also the creative force behind the script and direction.
The reminders of Wes Anderson and Hal Ashby have been made elsewhere but occurred to me almost immediately on embarking on this films journey, so they bear repeating.
And it is a bit slow. Throughout, actually.
But heck, it is the lad's first movie, and it is a very good piece. Which must be a great sign for things to come. I for one will be looking out for his next.
Vera Drake (2004)
Mike Leigh at the Top of His Form
I'm a big fan of Mike Leigh, although he can sometimes disappoint. Not this time. Vera Drake is a superb piece of drama, utterly compelling from start to finish.
It has the usual Mike Leigh themes of families, relative poverty, secrets etc. The main plot revolves around Vera's avocation as a back street abortionist. This very difficult theme is covered with superb intelligence and balance.
There is an element of implausibility about Vera's naiveté with regard to the commercial value of her avocation (she does her work out of charity while others profiteer on the back of the substantial risks Vera takes), but it is almost churlish to raise this point. Also, I suspect that implausible naiveté was more plausible back then in 1950's England.
The cast are superb. A lot of the English theatre usual suspects, I'd highlight Imelda Stauton (of course) but also Peter Wight and Adrian Scarborough. I haven't seen Leigh work with these particular fine actors before but it works superbly.
Vera Drake deserves all the praise it is getting and should pick up a fistful of awards when the award season proper gets going.
Odd Man Out (1947)
Unusual and Interesting Film
Very unusual film, this. Haunting. I'm not a big fan of James Mason but he is excellent in this.
An unnamed organisation (the IRA) in an unnamed Norhern Irish city (Belfast) carry out an armed robbery that goes wrong. Johnny ends up shot, dying and on the run. The movie tracks the multiple stalking of this wounded, dying creature. Everyone wants a piece of him for different reasons.
Why the IRA and Belfast aren't named I don't know - perhaps the politics of the time caused this.
Some aspects of the movie have dated somewhat, but much of it remains gripping and fascinating.
Harold Pinter refers to it constantly in his play Old Times and you can imagine that a young Pinter would have been influenced by this movie.
Check this one out, for sure.
Jules et Jim (1962)
Has its moments
This is oft quoted as a great movie. It certainly is epic in its ambitions. However it failed to move me greatly. The love triangle thing has been done a lot and had already done so in 1962.
The epic elements didn't please me much - the cursory WW1 scenes. A passing mention of Nazism "they're even burning books now", but then let's get back to the stuff that really matters - a grade 'A' fruit of a woman and a pair of buddies who love her in different ways.
There are some beautiful moments, some fine cinematography, more than able performances, but in the end it was disappointing. Disappointing in the way that a meal in a fine restaurant might be very good on paper but just doesn't send you personally.
I'd recommend that people see this movie, but going into it with lower expectations than I had.
Stage Beauty (2004)
Can Do Better Than This
I'm a big fan of Richard Eyre and have a fascination with this period, so I should have loved this movie. It literally sent me to sleep - I needed to rewind and run about half of it a second time - unimpressive.
Actually the second half was better - in particular the Othello death scene done properly.
Don't believe the tosh some correspondents have written regarding the deep meaning on sexuality - such analysis should not get past sophomore. The restored monarchy wanted to counter the puritanical nature of Parliament years when theatre and most music was prohibited. There is an interesting story to be told about that period in theatrical history but this isn't it.
Some fine acting and some fun acting. Rupert Everett does Charles II in the style of the current Prince Charles to great effect. A lot of Eyre's favourite luvvies get cameos too.
It ought to have worked. It didn't. Move on, Richard Eyre, or better still come back to the theatre which is what you do best.