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Page Eight (2011)
It's over forty years since George Smiley first graced our TV screens, world weary, enigmatic, perceptive, and forced by circumstances back to the front line.
Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy) echoes Smiley's circumstances and something of his character. Intelligence desk officer, Worricker, is given a briefing by his boss and oldest friend Benedict, played beautifully by Michael Gambon. "Read it," he exhorts Worricker... "Read it." And eventually, Worricker does. One sentence, on page eight, carries implications that interrupt his life of jazz and paintings, his daughter and ex-wives - even his strange encounter with his neighbour... Unless she's somehow involved.
As with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, this is not a riot of special effects, or car chases, or gun fights, or sex scenes. And Worricker doesn't fit so well with today's image of a hero. He doesn't appear to have beaten the ex-wives, they don't appear to hate him, he is not even completely repellent to his neighbour, although she (Rachel Weisz) is several years his junior. All this might contribute to the lowish 6.8 rating here. But it deserves better. The acting is excellent and story is good. In fact it's a disturbingly credible, if maybe unfashionable, reading of events around the 2nd Iraq war.
It's not perfect though. The jazz, and the music in general, don't live up to early promise, and a little more atmosphere and tension would have helped.
This is the first of a trilogy, the next being Turks and Caicos, which I might be watching tomorrow. 8/10.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Well I Enjoyed It
Many reviewers seem to fault this movie for being unrealistic - or for featuring obscenely wealthy Singaporeans - or for not featuring a proportionate cross section of all Asians.
Kevin Kwan, who wrote the original book, was brought up in Singapore, great grandson of a founder of Singapore's oldest bank. Aged 11, he moved to the USA. So, for the most part, we should accept that he knows whereof he speaks.
It's possible, however, that in reflecting Kwan's personal journey, the present-day setting of the film is misleading. The overt British racism of the first scene, for instance, does not ring true for a memory of the 1990s. But transpose the present day of the movie back to 1975, when Kwan left Singapore, then this would in turn move the opening scene back to the 1950s, and the attitudes portrayed aren't so out of context. In the same way, the strangely snobbish and "postcolonial" lifestyles of the wealthy Singaporeans might also have been more in keeping with the time that Kwan was there. And he is poking fun at these lifestyles, not promoting them.
But this is a romcom, not a social commentary so it really would be best just not to worry about such things and enjoy the ride. The pretext is simple. Boy meets girl in America. He finally takes her to meet his family back home and to her amazement, they turn out to be fabulously rich. (Again let's not worry about whether this wealth might have been exaggerated.) The snobbish mother, with her dislike of all things American, provides the perfect dramatic foil to give the story an edge.
The acting is strong and there's an immense energy to the film which carries it along at an excellent pace. Constance Wu as the Chinese American lead and Henry Golding as the heir to the Singaporean dynasty have the chemistry to be the lovers while Awkwafina and Nico Santos have tremendous fun in their supporting roles. Michelle Yeoh is convincing as the conflicted matriarch and Gemma Chan (lately an android in Humans) gets a chance to be even more human as the unfortunate sister.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Yes. It's all of these things.
Is this a frame-breaking, pivotal work that changed science fiction movies for ever? Is it slow and lacking a conventional plot? Is it prescient, showing some amazing - perhaps in some cases self-fulfilling - prophecies of a future which is now (partly) realised.
Yes. It's all of these things.
But what it is not, is entertaining in normal sense. The characters are not engaging and they lack the depth we might hope for. To be honest, it's not particularly well acted and much of the dialogue is banal. Also, the sections without dialogue are immense. I wonder if we're meant to be discussing what the "message" is as the movie plays - as you might in an art gallery looking at a painting or an installation.
But be in no doubt: you should watch 2001 if you haven't already. The sight of Kubrick's prediction of the iPad is worth the watch alone, because this is some forty years before Apple "invented" the concept. And then, of course, there's HAL, the artificial intelligence.
As some others here have implied, it might be best to watch the film where sections can be speeded up. As with Shakespeare's plays, the way we watch has changed and this film could do with a none-too-deferential re-edit for a modern audience. Apparently 19 minutes was cut after a doubtful response to previews. Now, half a century on, another twenty minutes off the running time would certainly not be missed. 8/10
Emily in Paris (2020)
Lily's acting doesn't quite make up for weak characterisations
Lily Collins is small and looks younger than her thirty years. She plays the title role of Emily, a marketing executive, who we first meet working at a firm in Chicago. The company has acquired a Paris subsidiary and Emily's boss is about to move there when she discovers she's pregnant. Emily has to take on the role at the last minute, and with practically no French.
The premise is good and the way French is introduced works nicely, but the execution overall is let down by fairly weak characterisation, especially for the supporting cast in Paris.
Sylvie, played by Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, who's billed at number two for the series, is a particular issue. She's the manager at the Paris agency, resentful of Emily's presence and everything she represents especially about the importance of social media. Sylvie has parallels to Meryl Streep's role in The Devil Wears Prada. But Streep's character fizzed with a mixture of bullying, brittle malevolence and disguised vulnerabilities. She owned the screen and commanded your attention. Sylvie, by comparison, just seems shallow, rude and annoying. Perversely, her English, after first episode, seems too good for someone who sits firmly on the Parisian side of the culture clash that is often a central theme of the show.
The Paris nanny, Mindy, ostensibly Chinese but actually, again, a little too American is also rather shallow, while the chef, Gabriel - a major love interest for Emily - is more convincing.
The work of the Paris agency is often important to the plot, but the team of beautiful people just seem to flit from one superficial PR event to to the next via influencers, followers, promotions and social media campaigns often consisting of a single slogan - all of this honoured with the rather lofty title marketing. Maybe this is fairly realistic, but Lily's constantly changing stream of designer outfits - perhaps a little product placement - seems unreal and distracting.
Paris itself is loved, but the citizens get a pretty rough ride - lazy, rude, promiscuous, sexist, and constantly smoking indoors even though this is now illegal. At times they're even singled out from other French people who are seen more sympathetically. I couldn't say how much this is stereotype and how much reality, but it's as unremittingly negative as Emily is unremittingly upbeat.
This is no Sex in the City yet, but overall the series is watchable and undemanding. If you're short on time you might check just episodes 1 and 8 (which is set outside Paris). I think these two would stand alone. The last episode is also satisfactory and the story might bear a second series, especially if there are a couple of changes. 6.5/10.
Emily in Paris: Family Affair (2020)
A champagne fuelled weekend in the country
Emily visits Camille's family chateau in the country, ostensibly with a view to marketing the family's champagne business, but thankfully her research into the methode champenoise leads to much more plentiful sampling than it ever did in my experience. The family has a son or two and this combined with Emily's taste for the product leads to consequences.
The family is colourful and this was my favourite episode. I think, unfortunately considering the series title, that it's the break from Paris and the office that peps things up a bit.
Une fille facile (2019)
Life's turning point somehow like a remembered dream
Although it's set in the present day, there's a feeling that the events of this film are dredged from distant memories. It begins with the start of Naïma's last school holidays growing up in the strange double world of Cannes. Naïma herself (played by Mina Farid) comes from a normal world where her mother works as a chambermaid in one of the posh hotels frequented by the people from the other world of ridiculous idleness and unfeasibly opulent motor yachts moored on the front.
Out of the blue, Naïma's older cousin, Sofia appears and it's quickly apparent that she is the "fille facile" of the title, her over-tanned body easily flaunted for any passing lothario. Zahia Dehar has apparently some autobiographical experience to draw on in depicting Sofia and she makes the best of a fairly meagre characterisation.
Sofia quickly settles her attentions on Andres (Nuno Lopes) who owns one of the yachts while Naïma tags along and turns, in time, to Andres' sidekick, Philippe. Benoît Magimel plays Philippe, one of the more complex characters, well, but always feels too old to be of much interest to a sixteen-year-old.
Sofia and Andres' relationship is based on the exchange of meaningless sex for expensive presents. There's a retro style to some of the cinematography especially as it lingers sometimes a second of two too long on Sofia's curves and on the couple's antics. It all emphasises the dreamlike feel of the whole movie. Naïma observes the couple with a mixture of distaste and fascination - enough fascination, at least, for her to neglect her Compulsory Gay Friend, Dodo.
About half way through the film, I was reminded of a couple of days from my distant past when my sister and I, naively backpacking around the US, happened upon the lives of a couple superficially similar to Sofia and Andres. But in our short time as his guests, this guy showed a conflict over his life choices and offered me an alcohol-fuelled, but apparently sincere, apology for the shallowness of his lifestyle.
Sadly, introspection like this was rather lacking from several characters in the movie and that's its major weakness. But for Naïma herself, the story is believable, and for that, it's worth watching. 7/10.
Love Wedding Repeat (2020)
Where would we all be now if...
This film explores the part played by chance at crucial moments in our lives. In this case it's at a wedding in Italy between the English Hayley (Emily Tomlinson) and the Italian Roberto. Hayley is horrified to discover a coked-up ex amongst the guests and asks her brother Jack (Sam Calfin) to keep him quiet with a strong dose of sedative. Meddlesome kids swap around the name cards on the English table and the wrong person gets the sedative. But who gets it? This is where chance intervenes, especially in Jack's hopes of ending up with Gina (Olivia Munn).
At first Bryan, the male maid of honour, drinks the drugged champagne, and everything goes awry. Then we're treated to a rerun with Jack drugging himself. Initially, things go even worse, but...
It's an interesting premis but somehow the story feels contrived, there's too much slapstick, and the social awkwardness is so uncomfortable that I fast-forwarded a few minutes in the middle. The ingredients seem right, but it just doesn't gel. All the cast is fine - I particularly appreciated Aisling Bea as Rebecca. I can't shake off the suspicion that Richard Curtis could have grabbed the project by the scruff of the neck and knocked it into shape.
The story has a certain resonance for me as I distinctly remember once swapping numbers with someone at a wedding only for my early mobile to somehow forget the number. Where would I be now if... So it's a shame this film doesn't quite work, but OK to while away a lockdown evening. 5.5/10
Military Wives (2019)
It has its good points, but this movie is essentially a sanitised tear-jerker
With their partners off on the front line in Afghanistan - Britain's most serious military action in a generation - the wives back home in the barracks accommodation are left to twiddle their thumbs. Their rather disorganised activities are initially led by Lisa (Sharon Horgan), but the colonel's wife Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) decides to bring a little order to the chaos - even if that's not entirely welcome. The choir and its gradual, sometimes bumpy progress is the result and it is the central focus of the film.
The role of Kate, grief-ridden, aloof and separated from her comrades by a huge divide of social class and upbringing, is a gift to Kristin S-T, and she plays it beautifully. Likewise, the singing - always tricky to portray - is very well done.
This is a story based on true events though, and maybe the key to the flaws in the screenplay is the writers' tendency to present these women as they would like to be seen. Yes, they have problems, and there is some conflict, but there is always a nagging doubt that we're seeing a sanitised version of real people. The focus on the now and on the members of the army family is just too blinkered. There's no outside family presented, no romantic distractions, no strained relationships with the soldiers at the front. Kate's privilege, and the resentment of it, is less obvious than it might be in the real world and and her compulsive buying of commercial tat is shown superficially, but not really explored.
So, as an undemanding and slightly formulaic view of these women and how they overcame their very real struggles, the movie can be uplifting even if it feels incomplete. 6.5/10
Isi & Ossi (2020)
Fresh feeling, well-acted Romcom (and well dubbed - for those of us who are less German)
In all honesty, a romcom depends more on the lead actors and the chemistry between them than it does on having an innovative plot. That's lucky in this case, because we do have good leads while we don't have a particularly original plot.
Isi (Lisa Vicari) is daughter to obscenely wealthy parents and in particular a domineering mother, played by Christina Hecke. Lisa was apparently in The Dark (also on Netflix). To be honest, I don't remember her from that, but I can tell you that this film is much better. Isi's mother would like her to go to university while she herself wants to do a cookery course. She crosses the tracks - or in this case the river - to get a rebellious job in a burger bar and pick up "a bit of rough" in a slightly unlikely plan to encourage her parents to pay for her course.
The first bit of rough she casts eyes upon is Ossi, a would be boxer played by Dennis Mojen. You shouldn't have much trouble filling out the rest of the plot from here, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for with a lightness of spirit and touches refreshing humour.
Isi's Obligatory Confidante (OC) is Camilla Victoria Maria Patricia Mercedes Sissi Marion Phillipp Béatrice Abelina Andresen - a character boasting more names than brain cells. While Ossi has an ODC (Obligatory Diversity Confidante), Tschünni, whose story, it seemed to me, did quite a good, if rather superficial, job of presenting the pressures facing today's German immigrants.
Both of the main English dubbing actors get a name check on IMDB and that's justified as they were very convincing and you really can forget that the movie is even dubbed at all. There were little flaws if you look for them but not significant enough to detract from a solid 8/10.
Gone Girl (2014)
Is there something nasty in the woodshed? Oh no. Just another plot hole
Accomplished acting from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike initially mask the problems with the plot of this film. At first, you might actually take these issues for plot twists rather than plot holes. Not until the last twenty minutes or so of the 2½ hour movie does everything really start to unravel. Perhaps it's a plan to lead us to what someone felt was a particular unsettling conclusion.
But the result is a final five minutes that is deeply unsatisfying.
The actions and motivations of some of the lead characters seem to be suddenly turned on their heads. It just makes no sense. But by then, over two hours of your valuable time has been invested.
I've avoided spoilers and not detailed the plot holes here, but honestly, I think you might be better advised to go in with your eyes open to avoid disappointment. You could, for instance, read a pretty full list of the inconsistencies in the review here by banana-83.
If you choose to watch the film at all, watch it for the acting. 3/10.
True Romance (1993)
Good - but I'm not sure it's That Good
Yes. It's a good film, but I don't really know that it justifies quite the accolades or the overall score that it's received here. Are there perhaps fanbois - devotees of the work of Tarantino, or Christian Slater or any of the dozen or so famous and talented contributors who are rating what they think these people can do, rather than what they actually have done - in this film - here?
The basic story is fairly simple: Clarence and Alabama are thrown together - almost by chance - and they fall for each other. They also come - again more or less by chance - to find themselves in possession of a suitcase full of cocaine. A true romance grows - between the man, the woman and the illicit wealth...
Some of the acting is top notch and some of the episodes in the tale are entertaining. The whole though, is a little disjointed: strong gory violence and drug taking are pretty much ubiquitous and just about the deepest message of the story is that some people get lucky while some notorious criminals and law enforcers can be absurdly incompetent and trigger-happy.
Take, for instance the scene between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper. Perhaps these are impressive performances but the scene is both violent and exceptionally racist - and all for nothing. The plot motivation behind the racism is comparatively clear, but does that make it justified? Not for me. And does the scene advance the plot? Only really in the last couple of seconds, and only in a way that has been trailed far too obviously about five minutes earlier.
We still have to wait a further fifteen minutes - about an hour into the movie - before things get going properly in a long scene between Patricia Arquette and James Gandolfini.
By all means watch the film - enjoy the film - but don't forget that violence and drug-taking and racism have consequences - and not just for other people. In the real world, the central actors are more often damaged too.
6 Underground (2019)
Have Netflix lost their moral compass
Have Netflix lost their moral compass? I wonder. This is a celebration of the extremes in an "action thriller" with more innocent victims of collateral damage than there are characters in many films - more violence, more gore and, of course, more action. But then, in its last ten minutes the film crosses a moral line. Although the gore is less in evidence, that's not the issue. Suffice to say that I believe the scene does not belong in a movie targeted at a mainstream audience.
So in all honesty I'd recommend skipping this film altogether. But you could get a pretty good flavour for the action and car chase side of things by watching the first twenty minutes - which is basically a homage to The Italian Job... Or you could go on to about forty five minutes in, by which time you'll have seen all the main characters (from several angles), had your righteous indignation stirred and you should be in a position to predict the remainder of the plot with reasonable ease. You may also have noticed the pace of the movie beginning to stutter and the continuity becoming a little disjointed as we wait for the next action sequence.
Other reviewers have suggested that it's OK to enjoy the whole film if you maybe disengage your brain first. I'm not so sure that is OK, because some people's brains may not disengage so effectively. The formulaic building of (righteous) indignation is taken as justification for an orgy of grisly revenge - but what if the taste for revenge is not so righteous?
The action sequences are good though, and Ryan Reynolds is good. In fact most of the cast throw themselves into the project with gusto. But it's just not quite enough to make up for the downsides.
The director here (who I'm not going to name) apparently has a bit of a reputation for this kind of movie. But I'd suggest that it's time his wings should be clipped. Maybe this should be his last of this type. 4/10
The Bookshop (2017)
Gloom does not qualify this film as art
Sometimes there are great stories about sad subjects, but dismal, unrelenting gloom alone does not make for great literature or a great movie.
Yes, the acting and the cinematography are excellent, and yes, there is the occasional spark of insight to escape the murk... But take my word for it, it's not enough. The sympathetic characters, apart from the young girl, are so desperately shy they struggle to communicate feelings at all. The bad are snobbish, manipulative and corrupt while others are tongue-tied and surly, or petty-minded and pointless.
Prodigious talents are wasted on this story, derived from a semi-autobiographical novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. Film maker Isabel Coixet has apparently mucked with the story quite a lot and perhaps the fact that she's Catalan Spanish shows.
Emily Mortimer's character, Florence Green, shows some spirit at first, but sadly, she struggles to relate to most adults and lacks intuition. The truth can hurt, but I'm not at all sure that's a good reason to inflict the story on the rest of us.
Bill Nighy performs his few lines beautifully, but his is scarcely more than a cameo. Sadly the first time I would not recommend a film with him in it. 4/10
Mars: We Are Not Alone (2018)
Really struggling to like this second season.
We still have the talking heads - the likes of Elon Musk - from the present day to give the whole a documentary feel, but now there's also detail, for instance, of the interaction between Greenpeace and a present day drilling rig off Norway.
I'm sure we're supposed to appreciate the parallels between the oil exploration and the private drilling company that's been introduced into the fictional drama on Mars. But as we concentrate more on Greenpeace, it really starts to get in the way of the main storyline. It also focuses attention on the areas where the realism from season one has taken a bit of a hit and political correctness has started to rear its head.
Take, for instance, the plot line concerning water. On Mars water is always going to be scarce. The whole mission would be obsessed with the practicalities of it: purity, freezing and melting, containment, recycling, litres per person per day and so on. They would discuss the numbers. They would go to whatever reservoir they had and they would simply look at it. But not in this version. We're meant to believe in water being transported in a vast pipeline, clearly modeled on an oil pipeline in Alaska, and supposedly 25 km long.
And that's before we get to the drama. It's hard to sympathise with the characters on Mars when the story is constantly punctuated by Newt Gingrich or Greenpeace warriors on their walkie talkies. And we're further distanced from the fictional story as quite a number of the explorers have English as a second language and their accents just aren't always good enough. Added to that, the script is fairly sparse and the dialogue not always convincing. Lingering "emotional" head shots are no doubt meant to compensate, and sometimes they do, but other times they linger a little too long in actors that aren't quite up to the job.
In short, they needed to be fanatical about the realism, the characterisation and the plot to justify the talking heads. They just about managed it in season one, but in season two the balance has tipped the wrong way. You'd need to cut out half the earth-based documentary footage, bring in two or three really good actors and review the science to fix this. As it is, season two is only worth watching for Sci-fi aficionados. Episode 1 - 4/10. Second season - 6/10.
Low budget, but maybe worth a look
A group of friends from Rio de Janeiro decide to skip carnival and spend a few days in the country. After some difficulty they finally book a villa which turns out to be absurdly remote, and looked after by a slightly spooky concierge and his even spookier wife. The friends are told that this spookiness is down the couple's young son having disappeared under mysterious circumstances. In the complete absence of mobile signal some of the party feel isolated - a feeling which only deepens when the ancient TV starts to report the appearance of alien spaceships hovering over major cities around the world.
This really is a very low budget movie but it does have quite a clever plot. The rough edges from shortage of cash are fairly obvious from the start resulting in rather too many hand-held shots, some points where the sound is unclear - especially by the swimming pool, and probably a few scenes that would ideally have been redone and show up shortcomings in acting and direction. I watched the film with English subtitles and there were a couple of glitches here too with, for instance, the mood of rather indistinct music being zealously described and even the quietest moments helpfully labeled as "silence".
It's a pity that at some points elements of the plot can be confused with short cuts to avoid expense, but if you give it a chance and make it through to the end, you'll find the plot itself hangs together remarkably well. 5/10
A Total Obsession with getting an Engagement Ring
After a painful breakup when it turned out that her partner was certainly not thinking about marriage, Ana (Cassandra Ciangherotti) is encouraged to join a class intended to help women find a husband. These women's lives seem to be ridiculously focused on marriage, but maybe that is true of some people.
Ana is very much the centre of the movie. She starts out gawky, 2-dimensional, self-centered, and maybe a little bit over-acted, but as she works her way through men and makeovers, on her voyage of self-discovery, some things gradually improve. Yet for the early part of the movie and quite a long way through, Ana's character is hard to take and it's even harder to feel any sympathy for her.
The film has several female characters of the same physical type, with similar hair and colouring. This might be partly my weakness, but at times - especially with the makeovers, I lost track of who was who. I watched the English dubbed version, curtesy of Netflix. I think that dubbing has improved quite significantly over the last few years, perhaps as the technology has helped a little. But it still does make for a little detachment from the characters which is a shame.
This certainly isn't a great movie, but maybe good for a wet Sunday afternoon on the sofa. 6/10.
Le secret des banquises (2016)
A Bit of an Arctic Carry On
The film starts with the arrival of a mysterious box (via UPS) at a French research establishment. It's opened to reveal a baby penguin - except that after a few seconds it's clear that it's actually animatronic. To enjoy this film properly, you will have to be able to ignore this and a few other fairly low budget special effects together with some pretty unlikely science and a general disregard for the rules around animal experimentation.
The new penguin is being used, it turns out, to harvest something call PPM which confers remarkable immunity to the birds. It's the dream of the institute's much revered founder to carry this immunity across, first to mice, and then to humans. His besotted lab assistant, Christophine, played by Charlotte Le Bon is there to help him in any way she possibly can.
All that's needed now is the suspicion that the PPM needs to be "activated" by vigorous one-on-one coupling, and the stage is set for some serious action very much reminiscent of the old school British Carry On comedies. Laboratory mice, unaccountably unwilling to test out activating the PPM, are encouraged using "the hormone" which is sprayed liberally around the institute from what look like deodorant cans - with the inevitable results...
The repressed Professor Quignard, head of the institute, is played by Guillaume Canet, generally playing it pretty straight. But this is the part that would have been taken by Kenneth Williams. It's hard not to imagine him hamming it up as he would have done, in his own particular way.
In some parts, though, this film is naturalistic, the acting is good and there is a little depth to some of the characters. It's a bit more than just a Carry On in French. 6/10.
The Theory of Everything (2014)
A great performance in an interesting biopic - but maybe a little too respectful.
Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his performance as the cruelly disabled Stephen Hawking in this film, and you can see why. He has mastered amazingly the contortions and ticks that advancing Motor Neurone Disease inflicted upon the increasingly famous cosmologist. But his depiction of Hawking's earlier days at Cambridge is also impressive, helped by careful attention to detail and also by a fairly strong physical resemblance.
Sadly, though, this performance alone cannot make for a great film. The story here is not really about Hawking's scientific breakthroughs, nor about his perhaps less appreciated role in popularising science with his hugely successful books; but mainly it centres in his first marriage to Jane Wilde, played by Felicity Jones. Hers is also a bravura performance, but, as many people have noted, she does not appear to age over the decades' span of the story.
The real problem though is a nagging feeling that something is missing. Many people will know already the key facts of this story, and the film, in reality, does not reveal much more. It's not just the lightness of the science, nor the way in which his earlier public appearances do not appear to figure in the story, but even the main theme of the marriage feels incomplete. Perhaps it's because the screenplay is based largely on Jane Wilde Hawking's own book, and all the major players were alive when the film was produced.
Inevitable pressures in the relationship are hinted at, but what we see still seems rather sugar-coated. When Jane is challenged as to the fatherhood of their third child, we realise we've seen little of the intimacy of their marriage, but also we barely seem to have scratched the surface of Jane's other ambiguous relationship with choirmaster Jonathan Jones (played by Charlie Cox).
It's a shame, because no one's about to revisit this story since there's little chance they will be able to match Redmayne's central interpretation.
Still. The film is worth watching for its strong performances. 6/10.
Gente que viene y bah (2019)
Predictable but still good fun
Bea (Clara Lago) is relatively secure in her professional life as a young Barcelona architect and in her relationship with Victor (Fernando Guallar) who is also her boss. At a works celebration they encounter Victor's "second most fancied celebrity" - a news anchor called Rebecca Ramos. Bea rashly introduces Victor to the unexpectedly predatory TV celeb and the inevitable happens - overnight.
Devastated, Bea retreats homeward into the arms of her welcoming, and unconventional family - and several other colourful inhabitants of her tiny home town who she doesn't remember. In particular, she's forever bumping into the rich widower Diego (played by Álex García) in his classic pink Mercedes.
This is a conventional Romantic Comedy, but neatly crafted and well acted. The plot is fairly predictable but everybody has some fun along the way, perhaps most especially Bea's "gifted" mother (Carmen Maura). This is a good movie for the family to watch, especially if they speak Spanish, and there are some genuinely funny lines - even for someone depending mostly on the subtitles. (English audio doesn't seem to be available on Netflix.)
Generally an enjoyable movie to while away a quiet hour and a half. 8/10
Alien Warfare (2019)
I've watched this from start to finish so you won't have to.
Because I managed to last till the end, I've awarded Alien Warfare an above average 3. But I wouldn't necessarily recommend that you do the same. This maybe the lowest budget Sci-fi movie you will ever see and a few parts are quite funny.
So, at the start the crack team of navy seals are reassembled by the mysterious men in suits for a special mission. Brothers Mike and Chris have personal issues, maybe from their last bungled mission or maybe related to missing all their acting classes. You really don't want to go there! But perhaps, join the "action" at 23 minutes, after the team have flown to "The Caucasus" and are just breaking through the high security fence into the facility where all the staff have mysteriously vanished...
"Gentlemen, we're going in the front. I've got eyes on what looks like some kind of lobby!"
Remarkably, one of the staff hasn't vanished after all, but, perhaps out of a surfeit of caution, is wearing a forensic suit to get milk from the fridge. After a little banter, she loses the suit and guides our intrepid heroes to the the "High Security Containment Vault". Note the high security containment door, equipped with a "working card-reader with fully functioning red and green LEDs" (perhaps made from a kit from Practical Electronics). Inside the "vault" is "the device" which they look at quite a lot. Despite the potential threat to the entire world from "the device", no one seems to be so good at remembering to shut the high security containment door.
In another couple of minutes, the Aliens appear - ready for Warfare. They are fairly easy to identify as they're wearing their paintball suits and they have a habit of standing still in a threatening way. Conveniently - from a special effects point of view - they're "bi-pedal". In fact, they're also bi-armal and mono-headal.
You'll notice, almost immediately, that bullets have no effect on them - because they're alien. However, our crack team of intrepid heroes don't seem to notice this for the next twenty minutes or so of the movie.
The fast forward button will be tempting now, but you should probably slow the action briefly for the "Faraday Suit". To say this suit is "experimental" is putting it mildly. After seeing the suit it will be a good time to get (more) beers, or skip forward to the last five minutes - or not.
Touching, but lacks pace and drama
Juanita (Alfre Woodward) is stuck in a rut: her grown-up kids are serious wasters and her husband is long gone, leaving just her imagination and the elderly patients she nurses for company. When one patient dies, she takes the decision to change her life completely by buying a one way Greyhound ticket to nowhere - well nowhere she's ever actually heard of anyway. She finally lands in a hamlet called Paper Moon and is instantly pressed into service cooking for a Native American at his struggling and theoretically French restaurant.
This story perhaps works better as a novel. The pace is slow and the plot holds few surprises. As another reviewer says here, the movie lacks oomph. Everything is competent - nothing is special. At times it's quite funny and at times uplifting, but never exactly exciting. 6/10
I Think We're Alone Now (2018)
Clearing up dead bodies - you find a kind of peace
For a loner - maybe with a touch of OCD - a post-apocalyptic world seems to bring a certain calm and contentment. But, Del (played by Peter Drinklage) has his peaceful existence disturbed by the arrival of a second survivor. Grace (Elle Fanning), younger, and with a much more gregarious past, seems keen to join his project to clear the entire town of its dead bodies.
The characters are nicely drawn and well acted. Both are a little bit damaged and fragile, and though they're initially wary of one another, a bond gradually develops which feels natural and believable.
A plot twist about half way disturbed some commenters, but after a while I felt it added to what we learnt of the characters.
This is a slow-moving film and a very spare script, with some lines pretty difficult to hear, but it's well worth it. Director, Reed Morano is apparently known for her cinematography, and for being a woman, but I knew neither of these things. Yes, some of the images are dramatic and sometimes a little surreal, but they never distract from the story. Watch it for that. 8/10
Paris est à nous (2019)
A bewildering trance-like sequence stretched out into a whole film
Anna meets Greg at a disco and after a whirlwind romance, long enough for him to grow a beard at least, he announces out of the blue his intention to move from their Paris home to Barcelona.
Even during this first section of the film, the narrative thread is hard to grasp with many cuts between different times and places - a beach, a park and an abandoned theatre, for instance.
But as the story approaches the doomed flight to Barcelona, things get really trance-like and surreal. Perhaps it all reflects Anna's increasingly tenuous grasp on a reality, which itself now seems to play out against a backdrop of constant and confused civil unrest.
The camera is mostly hand-held and while some of the shots feel too close, others, especially those with actual riot police apparently completely surrounding the action of the movie are exceptional. The camera follows Anna, well played by Noémie Schmidt, pretty much all the way through.
The final result, though, is just too disjointed and voice-overs used throughout the film aren't quite enough to keep things together. For some too, I guess that the frequent strobe effects (perhaps carried through from the disco at the start), might well feel a bit too much. 5/10
Outrageous student girls get up to high jinks
A group of students share a house living pretty chaotically. Allie (Stephanie Simbari) encourages her best friend Kort (Kortney played by Allie Gallerani) to pursue Daniel. Allie (the character) finds herself getting jealous when the new couple start to date. While Daniel and Kort are spending more time together, Allie struggles to face up to how little she's actually achieving on her own.
While the acting is generally strong, as someone not living in the US, I found the diction and accent hard to follow for the first fifteen minutes or so - this was especially true of Stephanie Simbari. While things improve as we move along, Allie does also come over as not such a likeable character. It's quite hard to sympathise with her rather self-indulgent attitudes.
It feels a little as though some reviewers here have marked the film up purely because it comes at student excess from a refreshing angle - the girls' viewpoint. It's true that this is a nice change but it doesn't warrant giving the film 9s or 10s. At the same time it's not a bad film. The 1s and 2s don't make sense either. For me, this is a straight down the middle 5.
Friends from College (2017)
Characters that feel real and are funny at the same time
A group of friends who went to Havard together are followed through their entangled lives. The fact is that this group hasn't drifted apart as most would over the twenty years since leaving college, instead they have become so close-knit that others from outside can feel excluded.
We mostly follow Ethan, a writer who starts out with accolades, but not so many readers, his long-suffering agent, Max, his childless wife Lisa, and his long-term, on-off mistress, Samantha (Sam). All these are from the college group, together with womanising Nick and hippy Marianne. The characters are well-drawn and well acted, with quirks and flaws. A few episodes in and you start to feel you know how they should react to a situation and how they feel.
There are also partners and spouses from outside the central group. They mostly come and go - it's probably fair to say that all these resent how close the Havard types have become.
As things start out, Ethan's publishers are applying a great deal of pressure for him to transition to something a little more commercial, like young adult (YA) fiction, while Ethan and Sam feel rather uncomfortable with both now living in New York. They're right under the noses of Lisa and Sam's insanely wealthy and slightly boring husband, Jon.
Unlike most others here, I preferred the first series to the second. A few episodes in the second series started to feel to me too much that events and characters were being manipulated to fit into a plot that had been planned out for them in a group workshop. The kind of session that Max and Ethan have when Max is offering rather more support than an agent would normally give.