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Red Sparrow (2018)
Ostensibly this is an example of excellence in film entertainment with leading actors, proven quality in all the technical areas and professional talent executed throughout. However, the certainty of this judgement doesn't fit with the experience of the film.
The film is pleasant visually but the story is a hackneyed piece of stale Cold War espionage - replete with Russkie accents straight out of Get Smart; that 1960s parody of all Cold War spy movies.
The movie pivots between sex, physical pain and some lengthy explanation to move onto the next phase in its structure. But even with an updated, more candid, sexual angle which is about as erotic as a week old fish in St Petersburg's Kuznechny Market, the pulse barely rises.
The rhythm of the narrative lurches between dull but necessary plot exposition/transition episodes through to the deliberate fulfillment of the plan. The plotting demands acceptance of the incredible, of the nearly miraculous strategic mental capabilities of the protagonist. The apparent complexity to the plot is intended to add layers of intrigue; hey, it's a spy movie after all, but it actually loads the finished product with reams of material that is a dead weight. Like so many movies of its ilk it has to deliver a trick, yet another twist, which may surprise and excite a goldfish, but otherwise looks strained, exhausted and unfulfilling.
The question arises whether the Russians ever made similar espionage movies and the answer is, they didn't. They didn't innovate and were still beating Nazis while Westerners were being made familiar with the tropes of this genre over 50 years ago. By now it is a certainty that some innovation is way past overdue in the West.
Darkest Hour (2017)
As a film this is quite good; it's not dull, the performances are good, the production design is excellent, the script is a professional piece of work and even Oldman's make-up is not too distracting.
However, something is not right. If most people get their history from movies, this is concerning. It's obvious that actual events occurred with real people and what they did and said but in a movie this gets pasteurized into what smart people believe will be more thrilling, more sympathetic, more emotional. That process necessarily alters things into something that is even anachronistically rendered and therefore not in the record.
This defect occurs frequently in this movie , so it's not history but myth making. A good example is Churchill's dive into the Underground to meet the common person to steel his resolve. Now Churchill had a mixed view of the average voter, and he was a patrician, but even that aside, he did not need to take a Tube train survey to gauge opinion.
This scene is poached from Shakespeare's Henry V where the king goes among his soldiers the night before battle to hear them and take courage from their strength. Steal from the best is a good policy, but it's not history. It's Shakespearean history and that trades effect for accuracy too.
The audience is given this scene to present Churchill as an instrument of democracy; he's acting for what the people want, therefore he's doing the right thing. It's called pandering.
Well, it is just a movie.
Phantom Thread (2017)
A film about an obsessive, or complete solipsistic personality, is not a typical movie and this one doesn't help itself. In addition the dialog writing is so bland as to be a bromide of mundane stupefaction. It's not a code for some deeper meaning: we're talking about sewing but it's really about lust.
The key scene is when our intense and precious hero has a prissy fit about butter and asparagus. The drama; the human conflict; the emotion; the utter poverty of decent writing on display is enough to kill the movie right there. It's also quite ridiculous.
The film looks ravishing and the photography is quite engaging but long sequences of women wearing clothes and fussy rich folks is not sufficient. In this time of inequality who cares an iota for some old woman who spend loads of money on a big frock?
The less said about the Pygmalion aspect of the story the better. It's outright creepy and old fashioned.
This is a very strange movie to make at this time and far too self regarding. If it had been better written by a novelist it might have made an effect but as it is, this is a failed yet striving grasp for a mature piece of film making.
Why anyone would make a film that is historical biography and get the facts and presentation of the main personalities so wrong is impossible to understand.
While it is true that the premise: Churchill's reticence over the Overlord operation is true, and for the reasons depicted (the failed Dardenelles campaign of 1915), it reaches for melodramatic bombast to make this very bad film last for an hour and forty minutes. It has insufficient material and the writing is shoddy and weak throughout to carry the task.
As a piece of psychological biography it is completely inadequate, it is worse than feeble: it ought to have dug into Churchill's wider vision for Europe which by 1944 was unrealistic: the re-installation of monarchies in Europe, for example. In doing so it would have shown more widely where he was adrift as the war was moving to its closing phases As a drama in its own right it fails totally because it has one idea and one only and bangs on and on and on and on about it, while revealing nothing new.
This film has multiple faults historically, breaches of protocol, as well as the use of language for the time. This film serves no purpose at all and is a waste of time in every respect.
Comrade Detective (2017)
In 1980s when world was on brink of nuclear clash, culture wars made on medium of opiate of masses, the TV. This to convince different people that American music, movies, hamburgers, and between meal snacks and sodas, were better than folk music and costumes of rural people and people in cities, like Sofia or Bucharest.
Now Americans mock that time in sort of irony of TV series like was a Coen Brothers movie: All the events are real only people changed, type of deal.
The show is not funny all time only when making propaganda against capitalism and US lifestyles of narcissism and individuality. And of American diet high in saturated fats. But mostly not laughing all the time, just on state ministry type Marxism dialogs.
The show is really improved on TV made at that era and application of propaganda too obvious when ethical qualities of life in countries of old Soviet bloc were much clear to people.
Still, the shows is going good so far and with much online review adopting bourgeois conformism to all other comments saying that it is all good time and having fun, a second season is as inevitable as the march of historical materialism.
Gomorra: La serie (2014)
At the end of each episode there is a music track which announces the end of that show and it's a hypnotic piece of music which alerts the viewer, not just to the end of the show, but that this drama goes on; the simple melody and beat makes that clear, and in the phrase that Kurt Vonnegut used in "Slaughterhouse 5" , which was 'so it goes', it is a sigh, a refrain for the madness of human action, and for the terrible waste of their lives.
This quality is exemplified too in the exteriors of the series: the Giorgio de Chirico exterior spaces, the dogs barking, the ugly 1960s architecture intended to make their lives better, but which is like a brutalist prison for them. No nice tree lined suburban streets for them. For the characters their daily drama is pointless and savage but its their only way to make something of the little they have.
To say this series is 'dark' is an understatement; it breathes the worst of human behavior, but the manner is not to exploit, instead it shows the extent of what people endure. In this sense it is akin to 'The Wire' and its journey through Baltimore's underworld.
To seek a character to 'root for' is to misjudge the value of drama: it is not a simple parable in which we can attach our aspirations to one character. If it was, Greek drama and Shakespeare, and much more besides, would have no value and most of the dross that mainstream TV and movies serve up would be the paragon of good writing. And it is not.
This series may seem to glorify the savagery but it does not: it makes it clear as to the losses suffered, the moral failures, and the social divisions exposed. In this way the writers have done great work as they have with the characters.
This series is quite remarkable in all the obvious production areas: it has a distinct look, the actors are all excellent without a miss, the casting choices have a reality too, and the dialect is a real pleasure too, though very hard to follow, it adds texture and depth.
The Hippopotamus (2017)
What a demonstration of Fry's weaknesses as a writer: the quasi-Evelyn Waugh story; the undergraduate reflections on life and love; the vulgarity to shock and seek a laugh. The terrible news is that this is not funny at all, not even wrily in and English with a gin and tonic bone-dry drollness funny: in fact, it's witless and boring.
But it's worse than that: it is a lousy pastiche of a third rate 1930s novel written by some forgotten hack who went to a minor public school and then never published another book. Hence the cheap and common jibes about writing and publishing, mostly true too, but nonetheless dull as the proverbial ditch water to hear served up again.
The film adds a voice over to give the audience the musings and assorted drunken drivel from the author protagonist, who is a crumpled forgettable middle-aged man of no discernible attributes.
The plot tests the audiences' patience and good humor with its series of jokes about emissions deliberately designed to upset sensitive aunties. It wastes the talents of all involved and must be considered an elaborate tax avoidance scheme conceived in order to lose money.
A Quiet Passion (2016)
The intention here is to create a novel in form and movement. It is like most Davies's films, styled in the same characteristic manner. The form means scenes progress in a way that is reminiscent of Bergman's Cries and Whispers' that is, complete in themselves and not always related to the previous action.
Within this template the film is quite successful: the design and the actors, all contribute to something that strives to make a film about an artist. That may not be very interesting and its presentation is quite static, but then, so were the lives of the people depicted.
Where it is flawed is the script, which, no doubt was crafted with some attention, yet, with a limited set of rhetorical devices: paradox, homily, hyperbole, irony, for instance; it soon becomes quite irritating. So many scenes run through a few set pieces with these rhetorical plays which are intended to amuse but repeat themselves and without any forward motion. There it resembles Bergman too: the self chastising, the self examination, accusation and reproach; the moral duty to become better, and while this may recreate the anxieties of the people involved, it is not accomplished writing.
Unfortunately this film has the moral worthiness of chapel instruction without a better insight into its subject.
The Dinner (2017)
Something went awry between novel, screenplay and editing this film. It has good ingredients and should have come out well but due to bad timing and poor structure it sinks.
Supposedly a mystery, the drama really occurs, that is the spur to action, in the last quarter; sure, it has been implied up to then, but the four leads get to it then and some life seems possible. But no, it drifts to nowhere and to nothing. It doesn't need a neat resolution but it needs a dramatic conclusion and this has missed it by a long way.
The fault is the form which in a novel can work: out of sequence scenes, flashbacks, memories, etc but in this film are tedious and give too much time to one character played by Coogan, who is capable, but not convincing, and too afflicted by sibling envy to really provide forward movement.
Because Coogan's character is pivotal in the first half, the others are ancillary and when they come forward in the last quarter they are not given much: petty self- interest from the women, and high principle from the Gere-politician. It's not helped by the irritating architecture around the dinner itself and the food as some counterpoint to the bad tastes that are in character's mouths.
This probably looked good on the page but is not successful in its proper medium. Skip it and find some other fare.
Cimono and Calvin
This is an amalgam of the more difficult Westerns with big themes and atypical, even anti-heroes, etc etc. At two and half hours it is convinced of its own significance. Unfortunately such delusion and imitation will not be enough to elevate this derivative film to anything like the level of importance to which feels it belongs.
Let's consider the duration. In two and half hours Shakespeare managed to do many of his plays, comedies and histories, all better than this. In the same length of time Wagner managed to convey up to 75% of his major works, which by comparison, were more developed artistically than this and also pushed the boundary of the form.
By contrast this pretentious Michael Cimono effort, uses length as a cudgel to convince the unsure that it surely must have some merit being as long as it is. But no; it is just long because if it was a standard length the vanity of the writer-director, would not be gratified. There's a portmanteau term - writer-director - that is almost an oxymoron.
The story which is the center, the purpose, of this work has certainly been well done in the Western genre. It is curious how the historical reality of 'the West' differs so much from the exploitative imaginations of movie makers which drip with violent fantasy for spectacle. Such predictable cruelty is dull after a short while and also, humorous, because to maintain the level of horror, the filmmaker must raise the degree of violence to greater heights which become less engaging.
The degree and style of the violence in this movie is gratuitous but it also could be said to merge with an Old Testament type of narrative and that book had plenty of nasty retribution. Even so, and especially toward the latter third of the film, there is a streak of Calvinism which augments the running cruelty with another layer of moral perspective. Calvin's influence is seen too in the art direction and clothing: it's grim and awful, and black in the wardrobe is essential.
The issue of it being entertaining is almost superfluous: this film is too meaningful - at least to its makers - such that the question of entertainment is unnecessary. Borrowing from others; padding the timing; coating a few layers of religious creed won't make the product important or great. At its heart, it is a simple and rather ordinary western tale, which had been done many times, with less slashing and bleeding.
Collateral Beauty (2016)
This movie comes with a reputation for its unintended consequences. This is not entirely fair. The film is not particularly egregious and is quite typical of its kind. It lacks a plot, the story is superficial and predictable. It is rather like a short story written by a sensitive adolescent who yearns to write deep and ever so meaningful things about life and love and how we are all connected and it's so wondrous. Golly gosh!
In other ways it is like the American remake of Wings of Desire. Where the German film was written with care and precision, setting a line between the boundaries of existence and eternity, the American remake was a sickly, mawkish, obvious work which traded on the idea for a cable television weepie.
Almost aware of its weak premise, Collateral Beauty occasionally pricks at its platitudes but that doesn't convince because the work is based on bad writing. This is apparent in the title, an illiterate clanger, which is picked apart in the film for its failings as an incomprehensible oxymoron. Yet, we are asked to continue believing in something that is flawed.
It may be that in years to come this film is adored and constantly on rotation on some new media platform, as yet uninvented. "It's a Wonderful Life" had bad reviews on release and it grew into an overly loved piece of schlock with the same level of noxious banalities. The possibly is there but if so future viewers are warned to have tissues and stomach medication handy for frequent involuntary regurgitations.
What would Bogart have done?
This story and its big drama is the kind of thing Humphrey Bogart did often after he had success with "Casablanca". That is not the only thing that connects this movie with Bogart; it is a very traditional, even well-worn, type of Hollywood movie. The Bogart fare was melodramatic and plotted very carefully and in those elements this film fails considerably.
The story is small but as it goes it is rather dull, no other word for it, it is dull. It lacks drive and purpose and some unifying idea for the audience to connect with after the grace period, say 20 minutes, when we still don't know how it will develop.
The writing is truly lamentable; if this is what it takes to get a movie deal now the product is bound to be awful The pitch meeting on the project would have been the most exciting thing because the execution, in the script and on screen is lifeless, aimless and lacking in drama.
Then there are the anachronisms, the language Pitt uses to superiors, the way people greet each other, the sense that non one had the faintest idea of what the 1940s was like. The birth sequence deserves special citation: risible doesn't do it justice, it must be in the top 3 worst and ludicrous scenes ever shot in the last 40 years.
As history is not what this film was really about when Pitt seeks to prove, or otherwise, his wife's veracity, and she has to pay a well-known national anthem, it seemed perfectly fine if she offered up some other tunes, for instance: "Die Fahne-hoch", "Die Wacht am Rhein", neither Pitt, nor the director, nor writer would have known the difference.
And in the end it reaches it's terrible conclusion and delivers an unwanted epilogue which adds a mawkishness to the whole experience. It also signifies how bad the script was that it had to append such a long-winded and pointless conclusion to the work.
It's lucky for Bogie that he never saw this, and its for sure that he would have passed on it, because he was a real professional who knew a dud if he'd been offered it.
The Light Between Oceans (2016)
Dorothy Parker was right
It's a paradox that films and novels which are overtly about the lives of people over several generations, replete with the pains and tribulations of life; emotional conflict is at the forefront and intended to carry its audience on the passions of the characters. While that is clearly the intention, the result is somewhat like a stop-motion still-life.
On screen what we see are many shots of weather: transitions and cutaways; climate plays a big part in these films to underline emotions, something the writer got from an introductory course on creative writing. There are also shots of landscapes and skies and windows and sand and grass and all these shots interspersed with the characters being emotional, or quite as often, pausing reflectively while the shadow falls across their faces meaningfully, or a horizon at dusk, beautifully lit of course, and their stare pierces into the vast nowhere beyond.
This might be called a pensive moment but no one is thinking because they are really being emotional, or trying to emotionally untangle the past where there was other emotion that caused grief which is not the like the emotion they have now which is really making it very painful with thunder and lashing rain. But in the brief periods when they are contented it's sunny and the sea is placid.
Meanwhile the musical score – and it needs one – plays incessantly, not that it is interesting either, it uses similar stereotypical gestures, its moves with same overt declarative impulse.
In all this emotion the story is nearly infantile it in its simplicity, it is one straightforward drama: it contains no other plots, no other elements which combine and deliver layers to beguile its audience.
If this writing, if it can be called that, is compared with its template, the classic novel, the big difference and it's a very big, is that those books had vitality and well developed characters. It is abundantly evident in Zola or Turgenev, Balzac and others. What this deploy is take motifs and clichés: the solitary man, the isolated place, the echoes of war and the blurbs of 'achingly beautiful' are manufactured. This literary and creative defect is most obvious in the dialog, which is nothing more than platitudes. The characters run and embrace and declare more than enough but they are really inert and passive; things happen to them which make their 'lurrve' such a struggle.
Stunning locations, photography, actors, set designer cannot disguise that this is essentially drivel, unsophisticated middle-class trash.
Dorothy Parker reacted to the hypocorism in one of AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh books, and said that after few lines she had "fwowed up", which, with due consideration, is the correct response to this movie.
As though intended to fulfill a quota this film comes out and delivers a reasonable facsimile of a financial drama, yet the reason it falters so obviously is it lacks any sense of purpose, other than to offer women in the roles.
The product is a dull walk-through of corporate and financial egomaniacs who bluster without menace. It's all been seen before. Financial films are an oddity; like sports movies, they are all much more boring than the real thing. Read the financial media and the daily news is more exciting and riskier than anything served up on the screen.
The real fault of this film is that it conveys a sense of worthiness: to address a deficit in female portraits in finance and the result is a stewed bland boiled pudding. If the intention was polemical, a monograph might have been better. The story-line of the cop who uses a honey-trap to gain information is risible and quite terrible screen writing. The attempts at ruthless wit are limp and even if the overall story is stale, a rewrite by a writer who wrote attacking, sharp dialog would have covered up the other terrible blemishes in the script.
The editing and directing doesn't hand this any favors either: clunk, clunk it goes, until the very end.
Masters of Sex (2013)
Douglas Sirk's shadow
The first season has a solid trajectory and the combination of characters, the circumstances and the recreations of 1950s are all intriguing with that added element of truth. Apparently. Sure, there are compromises to tell a story but even Primo Levi did that with his memoir of Auschwitz. The curious relationship of Masters and Johnson and their quest, her maverick confidence as much as anything, are quite attractive.
Then into the second season it becomes obvious that truth and historical accuracy are being defined by what the producers believe will be sufficient. The fact that Sheen isn't bald, as was the real Masters, indicates that this is pick and choose biographical history. This manipulation of the audience might be acceptable with just Masters and Johnson, the real nature of their affair, what they said and the reason behind it, but it's a strain and disturbing when the other parties: Masters's wife in particular, are portrayed in a way for which Maier's biography does not source and there is no record. This is not about a hairstyle or a political affiliation, this is an event in a persons' life, which has been invented.
The progress from historically sourced facts, with some enhancement to raise dramatic interest, is presented in the opening of the third season. At the close the producers make it clear that Masters and Johnson is presented for their important work, meanwhile the children as presented in the TV episode are fictional. The real Masters and Johnson had children and no doubt this was done to close any possible dispute.
Even the most charitable of viewers realizes they have now been swindled. What won the trust – and in the days of Ed Sullivan, the thanks for coming into your home – is in reality just a disingenuous fraud. Yes, there are truthful parts but the overall arc, the element the dramatic pitch, the nature of the lives shown, is not related to the two real persons, nor to their families and associates.
In its place is a reworking of a Douglas Sirk picture of the 1950s: the enterprising single woman finding her way in the world.
It's a good story and in this version Lizzy Caplan is photogenic and convincing although she cleaves to the junior high school teacher way of talking, to impress upon her interlocutor the reason to her argument,in very evenly pronounced syllables much too often.
Opposite her is a block of wood in a bow tie. Playing Bill Masters would be very hard and Sheen does something with this difficult material, although he lacks physical presence and command.
Like Sirk's movies, this is middle-brow melodrama. It looks good, it's photographed well, the scripts were better in season one than later, but its connection to history and biography are only tenuous at best.
The Sound and the Fury (2014)
Filming ordinary books is easy; it's the stuff of the film business. Filming one of the greatest English language novels of the 20th century is really hard. Really hard.
The script is a worthy and very creditable effort which makes concessions to film and audience comprehensions; something Faulkner flouted when he forced readers to deal with the opening sixty pages of this remarkable book.
The telling is true enough, it keeps to the thread of the stories; the compromises between book and film are understandable; the portrayals are strong and the director has Faulkner's echo to work with. It is a solid entry to the book and no doubt it will be the thing students use instead of reading it.
The question is whether it works in its own right and that is more problematic because if one comes to the film via the book the comparisons are interminable. If a viewer sees it as is they could quibble with its purpose and narrative, still atypical, especially in these conventional times.
The essential quality of Faulkner's prose is effaced; it has to be as the camera replaces the text, and that is a huge loss for multifarious reasons, in particular the extreme subjectivity which must be diluted through the objective lens.
Even so, the film is admirable for its talent and effort; nor does it waste the viewer's attention.
Blame Antonioni for creating the sub-genre: middle class people on holiday which opens fissures in their relationships. In 'L'Avventura' this made him a star and allowed many to follow and create the tedious holiday group film.
Unrelated does nothing more for the genre: it even has the same degree of uncommunication between actors which Antonioni had made a style and permits critics to talk of the "ineffable existential etc" although it can be boring when there is a lack of meta-guidance to the film, not just an inability to write or demonstrate drama and imply something by its absence.
The scenery is quite pleasant, the actors reasonably able, though there is a terrible English 'kitchen-sink' realism with most of them and this level of dreary naturalism is like a millstone which sinks the entire effort.
Watching rain drops slide down a window pane would be more engaging.
The Dressmaker (2015)
Anyone looking at this and expecting a mature story will be disappointed. It's a child's fairy-tale which entails all the qualities - good and bad - that that genre carries.
The story is minimal and at times strains the patience with its ridiculous flashbacks and enduring plot-lines from childhood. But it's a simple retribution and justice tale and so the ordinary rules don't really apply.
That freedom of judgment has to be applied to the characters too: more like overly exaggerated caricatures than realized mature characters. The absurdity of a poor rural community dressing in expensive fabrics in the dry brown landscape is another fairy-tale touch.
This form and genre may exhaust the patience of some and fairly so, but taken on its own terms, which oddly are not too different from an early Dickens novel, because it approaches life and struggles in the same childish fairy story terms, this is quite amusing: quite, but not completely.
It is played broad like an amateur production which is tiring. It might have been more successful if played straighter.
While the strongest features of this version: the locations, photography and production design, are quite outstanding the overall impression is less than memorable. It is afflicted by a meddling director, changes that serves little purpose or revelation in the end, and all the normal problems of cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare.
A major defect is the music which constantly scrapes – telling us that all things are seething with malignancy. It does, however strain the nerves like a dentist's drill, and is just as annoying. In essence that is the flaw with the whole thing, and certainly the first hour which is dour and dreary, though not in a good way because it's so simplistically portentous and saved only by the scenery and the light.
The actors manage quite well, even if they speak in a very mannered sotto voce. In itself this is a weakness as it leads through most of the film to a vocal range that is very narrow. This pitch is evident between Macbeth and his wife as though all relationships are marked by the same register and it is necessarily identical between all parties. Paradoxically this approach leads Macbeth to be nearly unchanged from the beginning to the end, which is not how the play deals with the character. The important "Tomorrow " soliloquy is rendered lame by the continuity of the low voice which preceded it and so this speech is no different to the rest.
The typical problem of all cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare is apparent here. The two forms, poetic drama and cinema are anathema to each other. The former requires words and once they are edited it's not Shakespeare but an etiolated revision, replaced by montage and glances; which compared to a great text, are of very little consequence. Kurosawa's Throne of Blood was another prism by which to see this drama but it was only cognate in the same plot and story, not the language, and stands in the same way as his superb Ran is to King Lear.
There are several film versions of this play and now there are more filmed staged versions to view and to compare. This particular version looks quite pointless by comparison. It has made some changes, cut some parts, removed the small portion of vulgar humor which relieved the glowering doom, but in the end, it is rather fatuous.
Very like a whale
The production is solid, the corps quite capable and there are some touches - The Mousetrap section- which are quite good changes. The Polonia in place of Polonious is a trick and not particularly interesting.
Judgement rests here on Hamlet/Peake. Her performance has merit but it has many defects. The shouting, the shrillness and the pitch is set very high and almost old fashioned in its quaint gestures. She does not command through physical movement which is rather too similar to Tom Cruise when he tries to be strong, and instead conveys a lower than average statured man mimicking power. Overall Peake's Hamlet is like a very young angry gang kid from a housing project.
There is, as with the Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet, which received so much attention, a sense that these productions are used to raise status and advance careers above anything else. This is not a great Hamlet; it is quite interesting, that is all.
By the Sea (2015)
Turgid and borrowed
The notes of Chopin's Prelude in E Minor at the end neatly summarizes this stale, borrowed and unoriginal film. That prelude is so over used as to be a calling card of sophomore sensibility. Then again, it fits perfectly within the overdone story: the Midi of France, of exile and difference, of finding some true self in a marriage, and of the libido and voyeurism.
The dramatic conceit - if it has one - is owed in part to Godard's "Contempt": the hat that Pitt wears is like Piccoli's in the 1963 film; a struggling writer too, together with the marriage that suffers from some tacit fault line which only the wife knows and can cure.
In "Contempt" it had another cause, in this project it is some delusion which has struck the writer in the vain belief that she can write, and consequently serve a thread of scenes which can be presented as a film.
The first half is turgid and requires some intrigue to hold attention, but instead the audience has the face of Jolie pouting behind huge sunglasses and a Bardot-style brimmed hat with the sulking expression of a 3 year old. Pitt takes over in this portion of the film and drinks heavily and mumbles French. Going to the bar is preferable to the hotel and his wife.
In the second hour the movie wakes up but seems entangled, for no other reason, in a "menage a quatre", to give it some plot and direction. It falls apart quickly though because the writing is inane. Locations, sun and sea, and some unshaven locals fill in the running time, but to be realistic, it hasn't fulfilled anything and it's been pointless.
Then Chopin's prelude is added to the closing images and we comprehend the full mediocrity of the vision.
The original and the best
With a color palette that ranges from washed-out beige to washed-out gray (except for Saga's green Porsche), the muted register gives it a somber, chilled and forbidding look; perfect for the subject matter which is often very dark. The malevolence of the human spirit is arrayed like some grim 16th century lithograph, again very northern European, bleak and moralizing.
The key to the series is, of course, Saga, and her partners, together with her limitations as a person. This set up works well with the landscape and the stories: its exaggerates the person in the vastness of such a cruel world. There is also a very dry humor at work too, which is occasionally sardonic and smart.
There are two foreign spin offs from this series, and while they are commendable, they are nowhere near as good as this, the original which sets the bar. The plots may be a bit too clever but it shows that TV is where the good work is being done and that is certainly the case from Sweden and Denmark.
Learning to Drive (2014)
The vision of this film may not appeal to many due to its confined ambitions but its form and its realization is pleasing and quite accurate in its presentation of ordinary lives: the pitfalls, the highs, and the interchanges that make up the rest of the time.
It pitches itself well, rather like a well structured short story. It's characters are distinct; the actors fulfill their on screen dimensions well, and its lack of slick sentimental conclusion is appropriate to its presentation of this character lead piece.
The counterpoint of the end to an American marriage, based on romance, and the contractual arrangement of the Sikh marriage is done adroitly, as it would be so easy to make a melodrama of the difference.
Clarkson in particular makes the film succeed as she goes through the internal wrangles of a major change of life. Kingsley is fine opposite her and they almost strike a sort of EM Forster-style romance: refined affection without anything messy.
Child 44 (2015)
Praiseworthy but pedestrian
This is impressive to look at: the production design and photographic composition are really strong. Likewise, the story and setting is engaging; the corps of actors are all very capable and even the the use of rather feeble Russian accents does not induce mockery, more sympathy for a rather bad decision.
And yet, despite all the obvious qualities this movie somehow misses. It is still a strong movie, better than many, but it could have been, or should have been more memorable, more compelling.
It lacks energy, it drags and plods along, which may be due to its length. Maybe the editing is the cause and a re-cut could give it more spark, or even condense it to bring tighter focus. It doesn't need more action for its own sake, rather a condensed framing.
Or maybe despite the setting and historical scenery it is another cop on the trail of a killer movie story and well, that has had a many, many excursions.
Is Anybody There? (2008)
Caine and Milner make it
Tracing a story between an old man and boy should induce narcolepsy. Although Caine takes the plaudits, and he is a good character actor, this works, and can only really succeed with Milner, who is very good. He is angry and confused but once he settles on the friendship with Caine he shifts and the relationship between the two opens out.
It is a bit predictable but it works with the actors, the interchange between them is critical and in this case it does as Caine and Milner react with each other, making it possible for the audience to read their relationship.
The other actors, some respected names, are not used as well as they could have been. There were other stories to tell there and its missed. The parents are fine, seen through the boy's eyes.
The setting and mood is very well evoked: all dusty and damp with the second best of everything.