Saturday, 28 September 2019

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch is adapted from Donna Tartt’s prize-winning novel.

As a thirteen-year-old boy, Theo (Oakes Fegley) and his mother visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to see an exhibition of Dutch masterpieces. There, while he is busy ogling a pretty red-headed girl, a bomb explodes killing his mother and several others while injuring the red-headed girl.

In the rubble Theo encounters the uncle of the girl who gives him a ring before dying. Theo then takes a painting, Carel Fabritius' The Goldfinch, which has miraculously survived the blast as he escapes. He then carries the painting with him throughout his life.


With his father absent, Theo moves in with a school friend, Andy Barbour (Ryan Foust), and his wealthy family where he grows close to the mother Samantha (Nicole Kidman). Meanwhile the ring leads him to the antiques business of James ‘Hobie’ Hobart (Jeffrey Wright), the partner of the man who died in the museum, and reunites him with the red-headed girl, Pippa (Aimee Laurence), who is convalescing with him. Theo will carry his unrequited love for Pippa throughout his life.


Out of the blue Theo’s father Larry (Luke Wilson) shows up with his girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) they uproot Theo to take him to live with them on the outskirts of Las Vegas, in a housing development that’s seems to be slowly disappearing into the Nevada desert. It is here that he meets a Ukrainian wild child called Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who calls him Potter (as in Harry) and who seems to have a bottle of vodka permanently glued to his hand. The two boys spend their days drinking alcohol and taking drugs.


When Theo's father gets drunk and dies in a car crash, he decides to return to New York but Boris won’t come with him. He is taken in by Hobie who teaches him the antiques trade and eventually Theo (now played by Ansel Elgort) becomes a partner in the business but gets in trouble for selling fake antiques. One such punter accuses him of stealing the Goldfinch and using it in a drugs deal. Which isn’t possible as Theo has the painting in his possession but hadn’t looked at it in years...

Then he runs into Boris (now Aneurin Barnard) again, now largely a gangster, and he reveals that he borrowed The Goldfinch from Theo when they were in Nevada and has since used it as collateral in some deals.


He also runs into the Barbours again (it’s a small world), bumping into Andy’s brother Platt (Luke Kleintank), who is now not quite the ******** he was back in the day and who breaks the sad news that Andy is no longer alive. Theo becomes engaged to the daughter Kitsey (Willa Fitzgerald) although Kitsey already has a long time boyfriend she intends to keep seeing but Theo is a better ‘face’ for the family. While Theo, of course, is still obsessed with Pippa (now Ashleigh Cummings), who has moved to London with her boyfriend to escape him or rather escape ‘their history’. FFS embrace it girl.


When Boris appears at Theo's engagement party (to the girl he doesn’t love who doesn’t love him and who isn’t Pippa anyway) with a plan to retrieve The Goldfinch they both jump on a plane to Amsterdam where Boris’s heavies attempt to steal the painting back. The plan goes awry and in the resulting melee, Theo kills one of the men that attacks them and an injured Boris disappears again leaving Theo alone in his hotel room contemplating suicide. 

Deep breath.


Yes it’s a complex film and one that seemed to trip over its own feet at almost every opportunity but I liked it. I liked the complexity of it all even if it didn’t make sense at times. It also seemed to runs out of steam resulting in an ending where Boris basically turns up to say ‘all sorted now’ leaving Theo embarking on a lengthy reflection that he only took the painting as a memento of his mother while the audience are muttering ‘what the hell happened there’.

Apparently the book is complex too and audiences these days are rarely trusted to work out things for themselves, so we should be grateful here for being given the chance in what is a good film but not an outstanding one.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

Set in 1969, Quentin Tarantino's new film is two stories ran in parallel. The first is total fiction and concerns Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a TV cowboy in the long running series ‘Bounty Law’.
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Rick is now a fading star as Hollywood moves on to newer and younger things. So Rick is attempting to reinvent himself but is only being offered bit parts as a bad guy. On the downward curve alongside him is his stunt man Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). They are drinking buddies but while Rick lives in luxury in the Hollywood hills, Cliff lives in a trailer with his dog, Brandy. 


Meanwhile, living next door to Rick on Cielo Drive is Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) with his wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Cue the second story, a factual one that is about to get the Tarantino treatment.


The film is set in the months leading up the real life murder of the pregnant Tate and all the other occupants of the house on Cielo Drive at that time. Tarantino slow burns through that period filling in Rick and Cliff’s story and dropping in casual encounters with Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and some of his ‘Family’ members. Cliff even visits Spahn Ranch to see an old acquaintance George Spahn (Bruce Dern) where the Family are now holed up.


Where is the film going? Of course with Tarantino you can never be sure until you get there. He could have recreated the murders. He certainly wouldn't have baulked at that. In fact you find yourself waiting for tragedy to strike knowing that with Tarantino they would have been in equal parts brilliant and unwatchable but he didn't. Thankfully he didn't. The title of the film implies this is a fairy tale, where endings can be anything you want them to be, so all bets are off.


Overall it’s a long, but mesmerizing, film with all the usual immaculate detail along with an incredible soundtrack (naturally), great cinematography, great acting especially DiCaprio and Pitt among plenty of famous names both as actors and as characters played by other actors. Typically there’s plenty of drugs and violence, and a stirring of controversy in casting Cliff as a wife killer among other things in the film to get people wound up but most of all Tarantino does what he does best. He tells a great story.

Some Quentin Tarantino movies of late have disappointed, this one doesn’t. This is right up there with his best. He might as well retire now.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Animals

Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) are two friends who share a flat in Dublin and enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle with lashings of drink, drugs and casual sex. Robin Ellacott as you've never seen her before.
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The pair simply get through their days so that they can live their nights but you have to wonder how, as they both appear to work as baristas, they can afford to do this. It is true that they do seem to have a knack of finding functions where there is free drink on offer while Tyler is shameless about decanting the dregs left in other people’s glasses into her own. There is barely a single scene in the film where wine is not being drunk or drugs being snorted. A lot of the film’s budget must have gone on ‘substances.


The girls’ friendship is a close one, at times they even share a bed and rarely leave each other's side, but as they enter their 30s Laura begins to wonder if it’s time to avert an early death and grow up. She’d also quite like to finish the book she’s been writing for the last ten years, which only stretches to ten pages at the moment.

Her sister, once their partying partner in crime, is now married, pregnant and sober. She is increasingly disapproving of her sister's lifestyle and of Tyler in particular. Whereas Laura is close to her family, Tyler never sees hers.

An opportunity for a more balanced way of life presents itself when Laura meets classical pianist Jim (Fra Fee). He is diligent, level-headed and hard working. A grown up even. Everything she isn’t. 


Jim tries to fit in with Laura’s partying but he just isn’t very good at it. While Laura starts to think more and more that settling down with Jim might be quite a nice option. She tries to bridge both of her worlds, not wanting to become as boring as her sister but equally not wanting to abandon her best friend, and mostly fails. Tyler is quick to see which way the wind is blowing and doesn’t like the prospect of losing her friend.


Laura then compounds her dilemma by meet a dodgy poet called Marty (Dermot Murphy) who she clearly has the hots for but can’t follow through, well... almost but not entirely, you assume out of loyalty to Jim. Then when she finds out that Jim is cheating on her she has the nerve to be upset about it. They separate, leaving Laura alone to perhaps finally finish that book...

It’s one of those films that just drifts along and that’s a style I really like. None of the characters in the film are particularly likeable, so it’s hard to know where your sympathies lie, but that’s the point really. Well worth a look.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Yesterday

We go to the cinema on Sunday afternoon. Yes, afternoon. So it must be a Rom Com? Indeed. So why am I here? Perhaps it’s because there’s a great plot idea that comes with it. Yesterday is a collaboration between Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a wannabe rock star from Lowestoft, who works in a warehouse and plays the occasional gig in local pubs. Although he did once play on a minor stage at Latitude to about half a dozen passer-bys.

At the start of the film he is hit by a bus while the world is experiencing some sort of cosmic blackout... He comes to in a parallel universe where the Beatles never existed. Other things have been erased too but sadly there are very few diversions into this territory.


He finds out about the Beatles-less universe when he plays ‘Yesterday’ to his mates, who are stunned at his brilliance, having never heard the song before. It appears that he is the only one who remembers their music.

Being the only person to have the entire Beatles back catalogue in their head is only the second greatest thing that has ever happened to him. The first being that his best mate and manager by default is Ellie Appleton (Lily James) and she is totally in love with him.

Of course, as this is a Rom Com, he is oblivious to this fact and, as this is a Rom Com, he’s in love with her too but, as this is a Rom Com, neither of them are able to articulate their feelings for each other. Therefore they have apparently been stuck in this platonic stasis for the many many years since they met at school. Notwithstanding of course that a girl like Ellie would have been getting multiple alternative offers every week. Anyhow... did I mention it’s a Rom Com?


Jack now starts to painstakingly recreate as many Beatles songs as he can from memory, as Google is no help whatsoever. While Ellie, who also organised his Latitude gig, sets him up with Gavin (Alexander Arnold), a local music producer, who records a demo of his new songs.


This gets him onto local TV where he is talented spotted by none other than Ed Sheeran, who asks him to open for him in Russia. Sheeran ably demonstrates why he is a musician and not an actor but gets huge kudos for being game enough to make such a cameo performance even if he does attempt to sabotage ‘Hey Jude’.


So off Jack goes to Russia with his unreliable roadie Rocky (Joel Fry) but not Ellie who has to return to her day job as a teacher.

So far so good and so entertaining but it starts to go off the rails when the film sells its soul to the get rich quick style of the modern music industry with Jack allowing himself to be cynically packaged by Sheeran’s LA based manager Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon). Oh to have allowed his fame to grow organically in this country.


Jack does come home to launch his debut album in Norfolk with a rooftop concert in Gorleston-on-Sea. It is there that he is approached by two other people who also remember the Beatles and who thank him for saving the band’s music. They also give him the address of John Lennon (Robert Carlyle) who Jack goes to visit. It’s not really clear why this is included or what his association with the non-existent Beatles would have been. Clearly Lennon has not had a career in music and he persuades Jack not to have one either. Instead he advises him to get his woman back, who has by now run off with Gavin, the music producer.


If this is ridiculous, the ending is worse with a mortifying public declaration of love during a hastily arranged concert at Wembley Stadium where Jack also admits he stole the songs from people who don’t exist.

In reality this creates more questions than it answers. Like... so Jack can you remember any more? etc. He did also have the whole of Oasis’s catalogue to work through.

I know, I should accept it as it is.

Himesh Patel is a total star, not only with his acting but with his singing and guitar playing. As for Jack, recreating the Beatles songs musically is a massive achievement and arguably more difficult than writing them in the first place. So clearly Ed Sheeran was right, he is a better musician than him and he really had no need whatsoever to become a music teacher.

Exasperatingly enjoyable.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ tells the story of Ted Bundy (Zac Efron), one of America’s most notorious serial killers, from the perspective of his long-time partner Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) with the screenplay taken from her memoir 'The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy'.

The couple met in Seattle in 1969 where she was charmed by Bundy, then a law student. He helped her raise her young daughter, Molly, and things were fine until 1975 when out of the blue Ted was accused of murdering several young women.


He claims to Liz that he is being framed but the evidence appears to say otherwise. He is first found guilty of aggravated kidnapping in Utah but is then moved to Colorado where he is charged with murder.

While on trail there he escapes from the courthouse during a recess by jumping out of a second story window but he is recaptured after six days.


Liz decides to end their relationship but still doesn’t know what to believe. She starts drinking heavily as she attempts to deal with the fact that it her who possibly started all this by being the one who gave Ted's name to the Seattle authorities back in 1975.

Ted then escapes jail by sawing a hole in the ceiling of his cell. He is soon rearrested but only after two more women are murdered in Florida.

Liz is not the only one who doesn’t know what to believe. Bundy has quite a following of young women who are fascinated by him and also can’t believe that such a charming and good looking man could be a murderer. One of them is an old flame, Carole Ann Boone (Kaya Scodelario), who moves to Florida to be closer to him.


A pre-trial plea bargain is negotiated in which Bundy would plead guilty to some of the murders in exchange for begin sent to prison for life rather than receiving the death penalty but that would mean admitting he was guilty and Bundy won’t do it.

At the trial, the first to be televised, Bundy handles his own defence and turns much of the trial into a pantomime. He is found guilty, the crucial evidence being the matching of his teeth to the impressions of bite wounds on one of the girls' buttocks. The judge (John Malkovich) sentences him to the electric chair.


Ten years later, after Bundy runs out of appeals, Liz visits him hoping to finally hear the truth but he continues to protest his innocence to her. That is until she shows him a crime scene photograph of one of his decapitated victims and he finally admits that he sawed the girl’s head off.


Bundy was executed in January 1989, aged 42 years, after belatedly confessing to the murder of thirty women. Although the actual total is thought to be much higher.

As we are supposedly to seeing everything through Liz Kendall’s eyes the film wants us to play along with his many protestations of innocence which doesn’t really work as well as it would have done if we all didn’t already know who Ted Bundy was. This approach also makes the film into a bloodless affair until right near the end, which perhaps is no bad thing but that does leave it rather lacking in dramatic effect.

We also never really get to explore why he did what he did or how he got away with it all for so long.

It’s still a good film though and Efron, who is clearly trying to get into grown up film making, puts in an accomplished performance. His decision to play a notorious serial killer was an interesting gambit and one he manages to pull off.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Red Joan

Red Joan is a wartime spy drama directed by Trevor Nunn based on, but in the end baring little relation to, the story of Melita Norwood who was unmasked as a former Soviet spy in 1999.

Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) is living in quiet retirement in English suburbia and tending her garden when the police roll up to accuse her of treason. Her friends, neighbours and even her own son Nick (Ben Miles), a successful lawyer, have absolutely no idea about her dubious past. Nick thought she’d been a librarian. 


Dench plays her role admirably, as ever, but her Joan doesn't feature hugely and it is the younger version of Joan (Sophie Cookson) whose job it is to flesh out the story. This is done via flashbacks, as the older Joan digs reluctantly into her memory banks while under police interrogation.

Joan was an impressionable undergraduate at Cambridge University in the late 1930s when her conversion to the Communist cause began when an intruder appears at the window of her student flat one evening. This is Sonya (Tereza Srbova), a young lass of eastern European background who has a bus load of dodgy communist friends in tow, for whom Stalin’s reign of terror never happened.


Among these is Leo (Tom Hughes) to whom Joan is immediately attracted. He likes her too, in the sense that she’s malleable both to his point of view and to his designs on her body. Predictably Leo turns out to be a shifty, cold lover and it never really dawns on Joan that he’ll never love her as much as he loves Stalin.


After leaving University, Joan gets a job on a top secret research project developing the atom bomb. Initially she is just a secretary but her expertise in physics means her input and influence gradually increases aided by her creepy (and married) boss Max (Stephen Campbell Moore) who has the hots for her. 

Sadly the film, while well-made, lacks any real excitement or tension. Even a potentially exciting trip across the ocean to Canada under heavy military escort is underplayed but at least offers the chance for her to accede to an affair with Max, although it would appear a largely passionless one. 


The advantage of being a mere girl in 1930s\40s means that no believes she could even be involved on the atom bomb project let alone slipping nuclear secrets to the Soviets on the sly. So Max gets the blame when they suspect someone is in bed with the enemy. While Joan justifications for her behaviour ring very hollow and it is not at all clear that she believes in them herself.


Overall it is an ok film but it felt like a huge missed opportunity. It’s another of those films where the post-film googling is better than the film itself.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Wild Rose

Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) is a single mum from Glasgow out of jail on licence, hiding her electronic tag beneath her cowgirl boots and with the slogan ‘three chords and the truth’, the definition of country music, tattooed on her arm.

She announces she is back by dragging her sometime boyfriend out of the bath and taking him to the park for sex before going to see her mother and then finally her kids. She doesn’t see herself as parent, certainly not a responsible one. She sees herself as a Country singer foremost with a fervent desire to reach the Country capital of Nashville, Tennessee although the court imposed 7pm curfew severely restricts her gigging opportunities.


Her mother, Marion (Julie Walters), meanwhile just wants her wayward daughter to settle down and take care of her kids. She is persuaded to take a job as a cleaner for the extremely well-off Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) who catches Rose singing and further fuels her fantasies by arranging a meeting with Radio 1 legend Whispering Bob Harris (playing himself).


Susannah then sets up Rose and her backing band, whom she seems to have wrapped around her little finger as they turn up whenever she needs them, with a gig to fund her trip to Nashville. The problem is that Rose hasn’t come clean about her criminal record or told her employer she has children. Susannah’s husband has already seen through her and it all soon comes crashing down.


When she finally makes it to Nashville it with money from her mother’s life savings which she donates to her. However Nashville turns out to be not all that it's cracked up to be and cures Rose of her that particular itch leading the film to its inevitable happy ending.


Unfortunately, the plot has far too many illogical 'why' moments. Why did she do that? Why didn't she do this? Situations that surely the clearly intelligent Rose, and for that matter Susannah, would have thought through much better. That said the film is very enjoyable, well delivered and very well sung.


Unbelievably this is only the multitalented Buckley’s second film. She was excellent in last year's ‘Beast’ and also starred in the BBC's ‘War and Peace’, after originally making her name on the BBC’s ‘I’d Do Anything’. Here she shows not only what a great actress she is but also what a fantastic singer she is. Her kids are excellent too, particularly her daughter who is totally deadpan throughout.