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This black comedy is a British oddity of a film in so many respects:
written by a woman (Sally Potter), directed by a woman (the same
Potter), as many female roles as male (actually one more out of seven),
shot in black and white, located wholly on the ground floor of a London
house, told in real time, and running for only 71 minutes.
Newly appointed (shadow) health minister Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) are hosting a small celebration of her success with an odd American/German couple April and Gottfried (Patricia Clarkson & Bruno Ganz), a mixed-age lesbian couple Martha and Jinny (Cherry Jones & Emily Mortimer), and a hyped-up husband Tom (Cillan Murphy) waiting for his wife to arrive.
All the performances by this starry cast are a delight, enhanced by a witty and twisting script, while the opening and closing scenes, so intertwined, are simply wonderful.
This film is based on a fascinating story - both political and romantic
- of which I was previously totally unaware. Tne kingdom in question is
not Britain today but Bechuanaland (modern day Botswana) in the late
1940s and early 1950s. The unlikely romance was between the black
lawyer who is a prince, Seretse Khama played so well by David Oyelowo,
and the white, working-class Londoner, Ruth Williams ably portrayed by
Rosamund Pike. Against all the odds, they defy opposition to their
marriage from both the British colonial authorities and elements of
Khama's tribe led by his uncle who has been regent for so long.
The British establishment - both politicians (including Clement Atlee and Winston Churchill) and civil servants - come out of this narrative as much more concerned with collaborating with apartheid South Africa than with respecting the wishes and interests of the people of the Protectorate of Bechuanaland. But the end titles assure us that the marriage survived and the nation thrived, so this is an uplifting message of endurance and justice.
Much of the film is shot in glorious terrain in Bechuananland and the house occupied by Khama and his bride is the actual property where they lived. For some at least of the creators of this enjoyable work, the project was personal: the director Amma Asante (previously best-known for "Belle") is both female and black (how often can you say that of a director?) and David Oyelowo is himself married to a white woman (who actually has a small acting role in the film).
You really need to have seen the original 1982 "Blade Runner" to
appreciate this long-delayed sequel because the new film is not a
self-contained story but - and all the more satisfying for being so - a
clever development of the earlier narrative. For this, we must thank
Hampton Fancher, the co-writer of both works. Fortunately I've seen and
massively admired the classic first movie four times, including "The
Director's Cut", which meant that I was familiar with the back story
but anxious about how the new work would turn out. In minutes, my fears
were dispelled because "2049" delivers just about all that fans could
It is not just the plotting that is so consistent with the original movie. French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival"), British cinematographer Roger Deakins ("Sicario") and Canadian production designer Dennis Gassner ("Skyfall") have created a visually stunning world with some awe-inspiring sets and sequences that resonate convincingly the dystopian Los Angeles of Ridley Scott's earlier work. Even the music, from Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, while having having its own compelling character echoes the Vangelis soundtrack of old.
While in our world we've had to wait an astonishing 35 years for this second film, rather neatly in the cinematic world the action has moved forward three decades. The central blade runner this time is Officer K - Ryan Gosling in an ideal piece of casting - who is tasked with terminating replicants who have gone rogue and, unlike last time when it was merely hinted that Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was himself a replicant, we are clear that the runner is an android who, initially at least, understands exactly who he is and what he needs to do.
Although women have not been flocking to see "2049", the film does have four fascinating female characters: K's virtual girlfriend Joi (Cuban Ana de Armas), his boss Lieutenant Joshi (American Robin Wright), his intended nemesis Luv (Swiss Sylvia Hoeks), and dream-maker Dr. Ana Stelline (Swiss Carla Juri). And, of course, it's no secret that Harrison Ford is back. Plus we have more musing on the nature of humanity and identity. What's not to like?
One of the many other delights of the movie though is that it offers some surprises and concludes in a manner that sets us up nicely for a third segment. Hopefully this won't take 35 years to arrive because I can't imagine being around that long. Meanwhile I'm going to see "Blade Runner 2049" again because, although it is long (164 minutes) and often leisurely, it is so rich in visuals and narrative that it invites repeat viewing. If I have a reservation about the work, it is that it lacks some of the iconic action scenes of the original, but I can imagine a final part of the trilogy with more vigour and a "Spartacus"-like exposition subtitled "The Replicant Rebellion".
"The Emoji Movie", an attempt to emulate the success of "The Lego
Movie", was released just weeks before "The Lego Ninjago Movie", the
third construct in the popular plastic brick film franchise. "Emoji"
was a disappointment, whereas "Ninjago" continues the winning formula
of the Lego series.
Many children will already be familiar with the Ninjago television series and, like "Power Rangers" (another recent film based on a television series), we have a set of heroes with their own colours and powers and, for those are unfamiliar with them, there is a quick exposition of the the six members of the Secret Ninjago Force. Like "The Lego Movie", the story is neatly book-ended by some live action.
"Ninjago" does not have the originality of the first film in the franchise, but my 10 year old companion really enjoyed it and we can be sure that Lego characters will be back on the big screen sometime soon.
The first outing for Kingsman, "The Secret Service" in 2015, was so
successful that two years later it's back, even more star-stunned and
even more outrageous but just as action-packed and entertainingly
Taron Egerton as Eggsy Unwin is growing into the role and Colin Firth and Mark Strong are back (even though the former's character was apparently killed off last time) while, thanks to the involvement of Statesman (the US equivalent of Kingsman), we now have a host of American stars, most notably Julianne Moore, who clearly loved her role as Poppy Adams, head of a truly massive drug operation, but also Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum and Halle Berry (whom we are likely to see next time round in a more active role).
Throw in Elton John playing himself and you'd think that would a rich enough cast-list. But we also have Poppy Delevingne, older sister of the model Cara Delevingne, Emily Watson (Elsa Einstein in "Genius"), and Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell in "Game Of Thrones").
From the opening fight sequence in a racing London cab, the action is furious and massively enhanced by CGI so that it all looks utterly fantastical. There's a magical lasso, following in the path of a similar device in "Wonder Woman", and some scary mechanical apparatus such as robot killer dogs and a giant meat grinder.
Four-letter expletives are commonplace, but the most offensive element is a scene at Glastonbury music festival involving a miniature tracking device which surely goes beyond the bounds of decency even for the "Kingsman" franchise. But, perhaps not, because director of both movies Matthew Vaughn and his co-writer of both scripts Jane Goldman are obviously determined to see how far they can subvert the James Bond formula for a new, usually younger, audience. And it's working ...
The day is 15 April 2013; the place is Boston; the occasion is the
annual marathon. As we all know, two radicalised Chechen immigrants,
Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze), set off
two bombs which killed three people and injured several hundred others,
including 16 who lost limbs.
This film is a very workmanlike and respectful, almost documentary-style, account of the eve of the event, the bombing itself, and tracking down of the assailants in a tense five-day manhunt. Mark Wahlberg, reuniting with the director for the third film in a row, is Boston detective Tommy Saunders, a composite of several real people, while Kevin Bacon plays FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers.
For writer and director Peter Berg, following "Lone Survivor" and "Deep Water Horizon", "Patriots Day" can be seen as the third part of his unofficial Americans-in-crisis trilogy which probably play better for US audiences than overseas, but manage to combine information with entertainment.
This time round, the viewer cannot fail to be struck by the complexity and sophistication of modern-day surveillance and forensic technologies. If only these technologies could prevent terrorist incidents (without too much of a sacrifice of our privacy and freedoms) as well as find those who have just committed such an atrocity.
Queen Victoria has now replaced Sherlock Holmes as the most featured
character on British screens. According to a study by the British Film
Institute, the monarch is now jointly tied with James Bond on 25 films.
This is thanks to "Victoria & Abdul" (2017) which is a kind of
companion piece to the earlier "Mrs Brown" (1997): both works star the
inestimable Judi Dench as the British Queen in a relationship with a
court outsider in an attempt to assuage her loneliness (indeed the new
film mentions the friendship of the earlier film).
Like all good football matches, "Victoria & Abdul" is a game of two halves. The first half is played for laughs with Abdul (Bollywood rising star Ali Fazal) and his Indian companion Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) acting like Laurel & Hardy or R2D2 & C3PO and the various British establishment characters presented in rather stereotypical or satirical manner.
But then the second half is much more serious with Victoria making very plain the sorrow of widowhood and the isolation of court life and struggling to make her "Munshi" (Indian Secretary) an intimate part of her life even when all around her - especially son 'Bertie' (Eddie Izzard) - are utterly opposed to the friendship and Abdul himself proves to be something of a charlatan.
It seems that this remarkable true story only became known in any detail through the relatively recent discovery of Abdul's diaries and, at a time of significant Islamophobia in the Western world, the idea that a British monarch and a Muslim clerk could have such a meaningful friendship resonates powerfully.
Director Stephen Frears and writer Lee Hall have crafted a work that manages to be both entertaining and topical in a very British movie that will have international appeal.
When British history writer David Irving sued for libel the American
historian and academic Deborah Lipstadt, because she had accused him of
being a Holocaust denier, I assumed that he had no chance of winning
and that, having been defeated in a court of law, the cause of
Holocaust denial would be irredeemably damaged. I was wrong on both
scores which is why, 17 years after the trial, it is so important that
this big name film about the case has been made.
As the film makes clear, Irving's defeat was far from certain because, in an English libel case, the defendant has to prove the veracity of the offending material and an important part of the price paid by the defence was that neither Lipstadt nor Holocaust survivors were called to testify so that Irving, who conducted his own case, could not exploit them. The film is released at a time when social media online and Trump in the White House are giving extraordinary prominence to falsehoods in an era which has been dubbed "post-truth".
The Holocaust happened and, if this film helps to remind people of this incontrovertible fact, it will make a valuable contribution to evidence-based discourse. The main problem for such a cinematic work of less than two hours is that the case was so prolonged and complex. It ran for five years (2000-2005) and, when it came to trial, it went on for 32 days and ended with a judgement of 355 pages. A further problem is that the viewer always knows the outcome, which inevitably diminishes the tension of the narrative, although director Mick Jackson and writer David Hare do their best to build up a sense of uncertainty. So, as a film, this is never going to be a crowd-pleaser.
But it tells an important story about an issue of huge historical significance and it does it with a roster of fine British actors. Rachel Weisz (herself Jewish) is the feisty Lipstadt and Timothy Spalling is convincing in the unsympathetic role of Irving, while Tom Wilkinson is formidable barrister Richard Rampton and Andrew Scott is cerebral solicitor Anthony Julius. Some of my Jewish friends feel that the film is unfair to the British Jewish community, but a good deal of research went into this work and every word that Irving utters during the screen version of the trial is taken verbatim from the court records.
There are far too few female film directors and probably none as
commercially and artistically successful as the American Kathryn
Bigelow. Her two previous works, "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark
Thirty", were both outstanding and showed men in uniform under
"Detroit" has the same essential theme but, as the title makes clear, this time we are on Bigelow's home territory of the United States. Indeed we are in the midst of actual events, the race riot which took place in one of the country's major cities over five days in July 1967 when 43 were killed, 1,200 injured, 7,000 arrested, and 2,000 buildings burned down.
As the film unfolds, the focus constantly narrows, starting with a quick animated history of black migration in the USA, moving on to the rioting throughout the 12th Street area of Detroit, then closing in on the Algiers Motel, and finally remaining in real time in an annex to the motel where we find ourselves in a kind of horror movie.
This is a long film and the final segment jumps forward a couple of years, with glimpses of the court case where all the accused were acquitted, to conclude with short text advising the viewer on what happened to the chief characters in the incident.
If this is a cinematic tour de force by Bigelow, it is a tribute too to writer Mark Boal and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, both of whom she has worked with before. The inter-cutting of contemporary news footage and the use of hand-held cameras mean that the viewer is drawn into a seamless exposition that, from the beginning, induces anxiety and, during the interrogation sequence, is some of the most uncomfortable viewing outside of the horror movie genre.
The acting is excellent across the piece, but the stand-out performances come from two British actors: John Boyega ("The Force Awakens") as the black security guard caught up in the events and Will Poulter ("THe Revenant") as the white Detroit cop who orchestrates the whole macabre, and ultimately murderous, shake-down
I saw Bigelow interviewed about her latest movie on "The Daily Show" and it is clear that she regards "Detroit" as not simply a 50th anniversary commemoration of a dark period of American history but a call to today's America to recognise that race is still a bitterly divisive feature of society that continues all too often to witness young black men being shot down by white policemen who are rarely called to account at a time when the current occupant of the White House is adding by word and deed to the already toxic atmosphere.
I'm really not sure about this movie.
What is certain is that it is studded with stars: Will Smith (in an unusually sensitive leading performance), Edward Norton, Michael Peña, and no less than four British actresses, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley and Naomie Harris. It deals with a terribly serious issue - the death of a young child - and it does not minimise the profound pain or offer an easy answer.
But I was not wholly convinced by the narrative device of having Smith's character, the father of the dead girl, writing letters to Love, Time And Death, three of his co-workers engaging actors to portray these three ideas, and each of the three friends associating with one of the concepts - just a bit too contrived.
A worthy and watchable effort though.
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