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Ah, Christmas! That time of the year when a completely silly, seasonal movie hits our cinema screens. This year it's OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY, starring Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston (who were previously seen together in another Josh Gordon and Will Speck-directed film, THE SWITCH), and a host of comedians regularly seen on TV including Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon (GHOSTBUSTERS) and Randall Park (THE INTERVIEW), to name just a few.
The premise is not so unfamiliar for this type of fare: It's coming up to Christmas and everyone at a Chicago high tech company is kicking back in cynical anticipation of the company's very mundane "non-denominational holiday mixer" that evening. But Scrooge-like Carol Vanstone (Aniston) shows up that morning to throw a spanner in the works. She's the interim CEO of her late father's company and her good-time brother Clay (Miller) runs the Chicago branch. Carol says she's going to lay off almost half the staff unless they close a big account by that night. Clay, company CTO Josh Parker (Bateman) and Josh's second-in-command, Tracey Hughes (Munn), have an idea to throw the most epic office Christmas party ever and invite their lifeline prospect, Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance, THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON), to the bash in hopes of getting him push his $14 million business their way, which will ultimately save the branch from Carol's axe.
Very quickly, all the party supplies arrive including a snow-making machine, an ice sculpture that doubles as a phallic egg nog dispenser, an iron throne (à la GAME OF THRONES), two reindeer, an actor playing Jesus and a baby (playing baby Jesus, of course). With the free-flowing alcohol, some misplaced cocaine, an enterprising prostitute and social media, it doesn't take too long before the party shifts into high gear. Carol returns to the office just as the party hits its frenetic peak but Clay and his co-workers may just have saved everyone's jobs in the nick of time.
When I saw the trailer last week, I thought this movie was either going to be really good or really bad. It turns out it's neither. OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY is not high art, by any means, and it probably won't end up on anyone's 10 Best Holiday Films list but it's not horrible either. The script has plenty of plot holes and leaps of logic in it (don't analyse it too closely and you'll be fine), but the pacing holds throughout most of the film. (It does run out of steam in the closing act though.) With so many comedians on the set, you can be sure there were plenty of takes as they riffed off of each other, trying to come up with the funniest lines. They were successful for the most part as there were a fair number of laugh-out-loud moments. Unfortunately, there were also a number of jokes that didn't quite hit the mark and a few dry gaps that went on way too long.
As far as the acting goes, Bateman does his usual "nice guy who is the voice of reason when everyone else is insane" shtick. He does that well but perhaps it's time for him to take on a role where he plays a complete schmuck. For Aniston, she finally shows she can plays a character who is other than a version of Rachel Green and she does it surprisingly well here. Even so, I would have preferred to see someone like Melissa McCarthy (GHOSTBUSTERS; SPY; ST. VINCENT) or Lake Bell (MAN UP; NO ESCAPE) in that role. They can play the "uptight bitch" more convincingly than Aniston can. Each of the other comedians had their moments in the spotlight but no one will be talking about their performances, or this film for that matter, as they gather around in the office pantry in mid-January.
If you're looking for a reasonable amount of mindless fun with a fair bit of raunchiness, you could do worse than this film. However, if you're after something cerebral this holiday season, OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY is not for you.
The Zika virus is in the news now, with three cases being reported in Hong Kong in October. For most people, getting the virus is no big deal but if you're trying to have a baby or if you're already pregnant, it can be devastating. If you knew that your child would be born severely disabled, what would you do?
That's the dilemma stand up comedian Astrid Lorenz (Julia Jentsch, SOPHIE SCHOLL) and her partner/manager Markus (Bjarne Mädel, German TV's CRIME SCENE CLEANER) must face (though Zika is not the culprit here). At first, the prospect of having a child with Down's Syndrome is something that Astrid is ready to accept even though her nanny has already told her that she won't look after the child while Astrid is working. But when the news about the baby's health turns even worse, Astrid must decide whether she should continue with the pregnancy. In Germany, it's possible to have a mid-to-late term abortion so the option is there for her if she can live with the decision.
24 WEEKS tackles a very sensitive and controversial subject with tremendous restraint. It doesn't preach, nor does it lead the audience in one direction or the other. We feel for Astrid as she agonises over what's best for her unborn child and for her family, hoping that we never have to be in her shoes.
This is a very powerful film with great performances throughout. It's also a very challenging film to watch.
The autumn movie season has reached our shores and with it the Hollywood films that are receiving awards buzz. The latest buzz-worthy film to arrive here is DEEPWATER HORIZON, a movie "inspired by true events", which is legalese for "taking liberties with the facts". In case you forgot the tragic events of April 2010, Deepwater Horizon was the world's largest offshore oil drilling platform at the time. It went up in a ball of flames, killing 11 crewmen, and the ensuing seepage of about 800 million litres of oil from the seabed devastated both the environment and the communities along the Gulf of Mexico coast that rely on fishing and tourism for their livelihood.
The film, DEEPWATER HORIZON, only deals with the explosion half of the story, which is too bad but, then again, the movie would have been four hours long otherwise. Certainly, a film needs to be made about the environmental damage half. But in this film, we meet Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), rig operator Transocean's electronics technician. Mike is just your everyday guy, happily married to Felicia (Kate Hudson) and father to a sweet, 9-year-old girl who just adores him. As the story begins, Mike heads off for another 21-day stint on board the rig. When he gets there, we all learn that the rig is 43 days behind schedule in pumping oil from the Macondo Prospect and the boys from BP are on board to get things moving faster. The Schlumberger boys are also there but they're leaving just as Mike arrives. They've poured the concrete bed over the sea floor where the drilling will take place but BP feels there are billions to be made so why wait for the concrete to set? At BP well site leader Don Vidrine's (John Malkovich) insistence, the Transocean crew conduct some safety tests on the drilling pressure, but the results prove inconclusive. Nevertheless, Vidrine presses forward against the better judgment of rig boss "Mr. Jimmy" Harrell (Kurt Russell), and gives the go ahead to start production. Now it doesn't take a genius to know that disaster is waiting for them around the corner. Sure enough, a mixture of drilling mud, seawater and methane rushes up the pipe. The gas expands, coming in contact with the rig's exhaust system, and ignites. Within seconds, everything is exploding around the crew, raining fiery shrapnel down on them. Himself injured, Williams manages to rescue many of his colleagues, bringing them to safety.
There's no arguing that this movie is one terrific roller coaster ride. Director Peter Berg (LONE SURVIVOR) keeps dialing up the tension as the crew's situation becomes increasingly dire. (How anyone survived is truly amazing.) Wahlberg does a fine job as the movie's hero and Russell, as always, delivers a solid supporting performance. Where the film loses though is on the dialogue. Until all hell breaks loose, there's a lot of technical jargon being thrown about. If you're a mechanical engineer, you'll understand it. For the rest of us, it's just "blah, blah, blah". Then, when the rig starts exploding and fireballs race down its corridors, the dialogue switches to short sentences that all end in exclamation points, like "Watch out!" and "We gotta go RIGHT NOW!" It's not very creative but perhaps it's authentic.
Speaking of authenticity, Berg created a replica of the rig that was 85 percent to scale. (The real Deepwater Horizon was about the height of a 40-storey apartment building.) The computer monitors seen in the film are also accurate representations of what was on the real rig. As a result, the film seems less CGI'ed than it would otherwise have been. It is impressive work that is worthy of an Oscar nomination for set design.
DEEPWATER HORIZON is a reasonably good film that rivets you to your seat. I saw it on a regular screen but it's also showing in IMAX. It may be worth shelling out the extra bucks for this one.
What do a cello, a pipa, a shakuhachi, a gaita, a sheng and a kamancheh have in common? Aside from them all being musical instruments, they're all found and played to perfection in Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble.
The latest effort from Oscar (R)-winning music documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 FEET FROM STARDOM) profiles this musical collective from its inception 16 years ago in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts up to the present day, and gives audiences a brief glimpse into the back stories of five of its immensely talented virtuosi including Ma himself. Along the way, we are treated to some very special music coming from some instruments that most people have never heard of and being played in the most creative of ways.
Our main narrator on this east-meets-west musical exploration is Ma, who tells us that as a child prodigy he never gave much thought about what he wanted from his music but, after performing for a half a century, he began to wonder about his place in the world. He recalled what famed composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein had said years earlier about how music is a universal language, and he felt that he could be a force to unite musicians, composers, artists and audiences to bring hope to the world. With the tragic events of 9/11 and the subsequent political upheavals throughout the Middle East, the impetus to seek common ground across diverse cultures and ethnicities became all the more urgent and, with that, the Silk Road Ensemble became something more than just a one-off get together of a bunch of eclectic musicians.
As the group's name suggests, the music, the instruments and even the musicians themselves all come from countries along the historic Silk Road. (Close to 60 artists make up the ensemble.) From the western end comes Cristina Pato from the Spanish region of Galicia, who plays the gaita (Galician bagpipes). Years earlier, Cristina had the reputation of being somewhat of a bad girl in her homeland because of her unconventional musical styling. Today though, she's heralded by her people for reviving a dying tradition. From the central portion of the route come Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh and Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor. Both men are political exiles now living in the US. (Kalhor has returned to Iran from time to time but he has been barred from performing there.) From the east comes pipa player Wu Man, a Chinese expatriate who is often compared to Jimi Hendrix. Her early life, too, was influenced by political events that turned her country upside down. These four people recount their younger days and their attempts to find their own inner voices as well.
While all these stories are interesting to listen to, and perhaps these are even people whom we'd like to hang out with over a coffee at Starbucks, Neville doesn't fare too well trying to tie everything together into one emphatic final crescendo. It's like we're watching all the musicians warm up but we never get to see the concert. Sure, there are scenes of the ensemble in performance but they are too few and too short, and most often they focus on how much the musicians appreciate each other's talent rather than what the audience thinks or who has been inspired by the musicians to go out and build their own bridges of hope. Who composes or arranges all the pieces? Who chooses the programs they perform? We're not told. We see there's a visual artist (Syrian émigré Kevork Mourad) but how did he get involved with them and are there other non-musicians in the group? Again, we don't know. Most importantly, though, what are the ensemble's educational activities? We do see the two Syrian artists visiting children who are living in Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon but, again, the interlude is too brief and not enough information is told. Granted, there are probably so many stories here that Neville could have made a six-hour documentary but in keeping the film to just over 90 minutes, he left a lot out and kept a fair amount of repetition in.
If the litmus test for making a good music documentary is whether the viewer will want to go out and buy the soundtrack album afterwards, then Neville and Ma have succeeded. There's enough of the ensemble's music to whet the appetite but it's no more than just a nibble. So, while THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS: YO-YO MA AND THE SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE succeeds overall, it's neither as good as it could have been nor is it as good as what we have come to expect from the director.
Writing and directing screwball comedies must be a dead art because we haven't had a good one in a very long time. Last year's SHE'S FUNNY THAT WAY wasn't funny in any way and, while this year's HAIL, CAESAR! had its whimsical moments, it ultimately came up short in the end. MAGGIE'S PLAN hits close to the mark a few times but it also fails to sustain the momentum throughout. Oh, how I miss those classic screwball comedies like BRINGING UP BABY; HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE; WHAT'S UP, DOC? and SOME LIKE IT HOT!
In MAGGIE'S PLAN, reigning indie queen Greta Gerwig (FRANCES HA; MISTRESS AMERICA) plays Maggie Harden, a Midwestern gal who works in an admin position at The New School in New York's Greenwich Village. In her mid-30s and unable to sustain a long-term relationship, she's now considering her options, one of them being self-insemination courtesy of Guy (Travis Fimmel, TV's VIKINGS), an acquaintance from her college days who is now an artisan pickle entrepreneur in Brooklyn. (Oh, how New York hipster, haha... not!) Through a payroll clerical error, she meets John Harding (Ethan Hawke, BOYHOOD), who is not just any professor at her school, he's the "bad boy of ficto-critical anthropology", (oh, how pseudo-intellectually witty, haha... again, not!) according to her best friend, Felicia (Maya Rudolph, TV's SNL). Maggie and John strike up an immediate connection but John is already married to Georgette (Julianne Moore, STILL ALICE; DON JON), a tenured professor at Columbia who takes every opportunity she can to emasculate him. On the very night that Maggie goes to work with Guy's guyhood, John professes his love for her. Fast forward a few years and Maggie is now married to John and little Lily is almost three.
Unfortunately for Maggie, John hasn't turned out to be all she hoped he would be. He's still in the middle of writing his magnum opus and he doesn't seem to have any interest in anything else, least of all Maggie. Once again, Maggie has fallen out of love and she begins to think she may be better off without a man in her life. So she hatches a plan to get rid of John by putting him back together with Georgette.
On paper, MAGGIE'S PLAN seems like it should work as a screwball comedy and certainly, if you watch the trailer, you would think it does. Moore does her part to inject humour into the film, putting on a Danish accent and being as tightly wound as the bun on the top of her head, but the fun gets dragged down by real-world problems - infidelity, one failed marriage and one failing marriage, and resentful kids... and that's just to start. As a result, while MAGGIE'S PLAN lifts off, it fails to gain much altitude.
The film, written and directed by Rebecca Miller, is based on an original story idea by her friend Karen Rinaldi, who is a publisher at Harper Collins. Rinaldi has said that MAGGIE'S PLAN is loosely based on her own experiences of giving up on finding a partner but wanting to have a child. Miller, who is the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and the wife of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, may have been the wrong choice for this project though. Her previous efforts (THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE; THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE; PERSONAL VELOCITY) have all been heady affairs. This film needed to have a light tone throughout but sadly it didn't. As for Gerwig, it's great that she's found her niche playing quintessential, 30-something New Yorkers but this fan thinks it's starting to wear thin. We'll be seeing her again in a few months' time in the biopic, JACKIE, starring Natalie Portman. The advance word on the film has been positive but there hasn't been any press about Gerwig's contribution.
MAGGIE'S PLAN is a so-so film. If you've got nothing else to watch at the cinema, go see it.
It's no secret that I am not a fan of contemporary Japanese cinema. Too often, these films are sappy love stories involving high schoolers who are being played by puppy-faced, 30-year-old actors and actresses. Yes, I know this genre is very popular with Asia's young women and their obsequious boyfriends, but it's definitely not my thing. (Read my review of IF CATS DISAPPEARED FROM THE WORLD and you'll understand my disdain.)
Fortunately (for me, I guess), NAGASAKI: MEMORIES OF MY SON is not your typical Japanese sappy love story. Set in Nagasaki three years after the atomic bomb was dropped there, the film tells the story of Nobuko Fukuhara (played by Japan's most celebrated post-war actress, Sayuri Yoshinaga/?????), a lonely midwife whose son, Koji (boyband idol and actor, Kazunari Ninomiya/????), was incinerated in the blast. Although Koji was the light of her life, the frail Fukuhara has resolved to accept her circumstance as best she can, as has everyone else in her hillside neighbourhood. Fairing less well is Koji's fiancée, Machiko (2014 Silver Bear winner, Haru Kuroki/???), who just can't seem to move on with her life. She's extremely devoted to the woman who was supposed to be her mother-in-law had the bomb not taken her love away. Fukuhara doesn't mind the attention she gets from the young woman so the two of them maintain a co-dependent relationship. That all changes, though, when the ghost of Koji comes back to visit his mother. Fukuhara knows Koji is not real but that doesn't matter to her. She's happy to have his company and to reminisce with him about happier times. Together they find closure and can move forward.
If you think this story sounds a bit like the American film, GHOST, you're not alone, but it works probably due to gravity of how Koji died (he was just a happy-go-lucky medical student, not an investment banker), and to the earnestness of the performances all around. Yes, the story is melodramatic but when it goes for the heartstrings the way GHOST does, it quickly lightens up (thanks to Ninomiya's chipper performance).
Most of the action takes place in Fukuhara's very modest, three-room house. It is staged like it was originally a play that had been adapted to the screen but that's not the case. (Given the film's success at the box office, it wouldn't surprise me if it would be adapted for the stage now.) Interestingly, Fukuhara is a Christian, and a devout one at that. Perhaps 85-year-old writer-director Yoji Yamada (????), who is perhaps best known for his series of "Tora-san" films, wanted to show Western, and particularly American, audiences that the people they saw as their enemy were just like them. They prayed to the same higher being, they loved the same music, and they had the same hopes and aspirations. Such a message is all the more poignant right now when political leaders around the world are demonizing outsiders.
Though NAGASAKI: MEMORIES OF MY SON is somewhat old-fashioned in both tone and structure, it is well done. The music, by Ryuichi Sakamoto (????), is wonderfully poetic and emotive too. The film has been selected as the Japanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards. I doubt it will win but that doesn't mean you shouldn't see it.
On the very day when we learned that style trumped substance (pun intended) in the US election, perhaps seeing BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALF-TIME WALK wasn't the best of choices. It's not that most of the characters in the story would have been the same people who would have voted for the now president-elect. Rather, it's that the film represents what can go wrong when more attention is spent on style than substance.
In case you haven't heard, with BILLY LYNN, three-time Oscar (R) winning director Ang Lee (LIFE OF PI) has boldly taken viewers where no feature film has gone before. The film has a projection frame rate of 120 fps (frames per second) in 3D at 4K HD resolution. What that means is that viewers will see crystal-clear images, like a tear forming in Billy's eye, mist coming out of the soldiers' mouths as they talk on a crisp, fall morning at Arlington Cemetery and bullets whizzing over their heads as they engage with the enemy in Iraq. Unfortunately, only a handful of cinemas around the world can accommodate this format though. (There are two such cinemas in the US, and at least three in China.) If you're as lucky as I was, you'll be able to see the film in 60 fps/3D/2K, otherwise it's plain old 24 fps/2D for you. From personal experience, watching a film in 60 fps is interesting, though I'm not sure it's good. It felt like watching a teleplay or a soap opera on TV. Depths of field are very short, meaning that objects in the foreground are in focus while those in the background are not. There is no warmth in the lighting, and every zit, scar and wrinkle on the actors' faces is in full view. It also makes it very hard to focus on the story and emotional buy-in is difficult at best. Hyperrealism seems to remove the characters from our personal space and puts them instead on a stage as actors.
Based on the 2012 debut novel by Ben Fountain, BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALF-TIME WALK follows a group of Iraq War veterans as they return to the US as heroes and are feted with an appearance at a Dallas Cowboys half-time show featuring the musical group Destiny's Child. (Beyoncé, Kelly and Michelle are all played by actors here so don't get too excited.) As 19-year-old Specialist William Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) comes from a town that's not far from Dallas, he is able to make it home to see his family. There, it immediately becomes evident to his sister (Kristen Stewart, CAFÉ SOCIETY; STILL ALICE; CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA) that Billy is suffering from PTSD even if he doesn't realise it himself. She tries to convince him to leave his unit, saying that he's done his service for the country, but Billy is duty-bound to the guys at Bravo Company and he won't hear of it. He joins up with his unit and together they head for the football stadium where they are trotted out like show dogs to an appreciative crowd that has no understanding of what they went through back in Iraq. However, it doesn't take long before the lights, the crowd, the noise and the pyrotechnics of the event overload the senses for many of them and they start to crack. For Billy, it all takes him back to that fateful day in Iraq when he risked his own life trying to save his sergeant (played by Vin Diesel).
I'm sure the book must be better than the film because this screenplay (by long-time Lee collaborator Jean-Christophe Castelli) is a complete mess. Rather than dialogue, we're given long, contrived speeches and moralistic lectures that would seem right at home in a 1940s war movie. There is one scene toward the end where Billy runs into Hollywood movie agent Albert (a woefully miscast Chris Tucker) in one of the stadium's private toilets that is downright laughable. To make matters worse, Lee had Tucker deliver his lines looking right into the camera as if we're the ones who need the hear the speech, not Billy. My understanding is that the events in the book take place over a two-week period. In the movie, they seem to take place all in one afternoon. Not only does too much happen in too brief a time, the issues that are explored in the book (PTSD and the marketing of war are two that stand out) are touched upon rather superficially.
BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALF-TIME WALK is a huge disappointment. This should have been a good film but it's not. Yes, the packaging is impressive, but it's not enough to make up for what's inside.
Hannah Hermann (Géraldine Pailhas) and Daniel Dussault (Luc Picard) are a couple in their mid-40s, living in Montreal. (She is French; he is Canadian.) Along with their violin-playing teenage son, David (real-life teenage composer/violinist Alexandre Sheasby), and a few friends, they perform little-known, late 19th century French-Jewish liturgical music to appreciative audiences around town. But life isn't easy for the group known as Les Cantiques ("The Canticles"). One of their singers is moving overseas, government grant money is slow in coming and they lose their rehearsal space. Though they find a more than apt replacement mezzo-soprano in the young and rebellious Abigail (Éléonore Lagacé), it's Hannah's former music professor, Samuel (Paul Kunigis), who throws things into a spin when he insists that the piece of music that he rediscovered can only be sung in the way it used to be sung more than a hundred years ago. Abigail, however, sees beauty in the piece and wants to sing it her way. The clash divides not only the group but husband and wife as well.
This is a unique premise, and the music and singing are nice to listen to but, unfortunately, together they don't add up to something that makes for gripping viewing. Artists with money problems and the conflict between those who insist on artistic purity versus those who like to interpret are subjects that are simply not exciting to watch. The film is directed by French-Israeli Raphaël Nadjari, who has seen previous success with such Israeli hits as AVANIM ("Stones") and TEHILLIM ("Psalms"), but even those films move at a snail's pace and are not to everyone's taste.
While the performances in this film are all good - Lagacé's real-life mother, Canadian soprano Natalie Choquette sings for Pailhas - and it's interesting to listen to and learn about this obscure musical genre, it doesn't succeed in the end. NIGHT SONG is only for the most serious of music lovers or French cinephiles.
Anyone who has ever researched their family tree has probably given thought to how their ancestors went about their daily lives. In the case of my family, I imagine that it was always grey and cloudy outside; never sunny and warm. Meals - dinner AND breakfast - consisted of flanken (beef short rib) and a boiled potato. The men in my lineage were either tailors or soap makers; the women were all homemakers. Of course, there were children - lots of children - and some of them died way too young either slowly from disease or quickly from ethnic cleansing. My ancestors' voices are mute, save for the odd pearl of wisdom that somehow got passed down from generation to generation and across the Atlantic and then the Pacific. In its place, there's a klezmer soundtrack. No one ever smiles and even during celebrations no one is ever happy.
That's what the film, ETERNITY (ÉTERNITÉ), is about. The story follows three generations of a French family, from the late 1800s up to the present day. Along the way, babies are born, some of the children grow up and get married while others die far too young, adults also die and the cycle repeats. Here, too, there is little dialogue because no one remembers what these people talked about back then. Instead, there's a soundtrack of classical music by Debussy, Bach and Liszt, among others. Unlike my family, this family is quite well off financially, living in a beautiful country estate in the south of France where it's always late summer or early fall. Everyone is bathed in sunshine and their clothes are always immaculately clean.
Valentine (Audrey Tautou, AMELIE FROM MONTMARTRE) is the matriarch of this privileged family but even her story begins with us learning that she was the youngest of five children, two of whom died as infants. When she is 20, we're told by the film's narrator, she marries Jules (Arieh Worthalter), a seemingly nice guy who just sits around all day playing his guitar. In short order, Valentine is pumping out baby after baby, and although the couple lose a few early on, life is good. Fortune changes for the couple with the war (World War I perhaps?) though, and Valentine's family is soon decimated. But Valentine soldiers on. One son, Henri (Belgian actor, Jérémie Renier) grows up and marries his childhood sweetheart, Mathilde (Mélanie Laurent, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), and it's not long before she, too, is pumping out baby after baby. Alas, their lives are not all aglow either as they suffer from the loss of some of their offspring too. Fortunately, they find both strength and solace in the company of their best friends and housemates Gabrielle (Bérénice Bejo, THE ARTIST) and Charles (Pierre Deladonchamps) whose lives are on a similar trajectory. Mathilde and Gabrielle are as close as sisters, though they are first cousins. Through tragedy and circumstance, their two families unite to become part of Valentine's ever-growing clan.
On paper, ETERNITY sounds like a great story but, sadly, this is one dull film that seems to last an eternity. After nearly two hours, we know very little about this family other than that they're rich, they never argue and they're blissfully happy except for when they're in mourning. The story is based on a French novel, L'Élégance des veuves ("The Elegance of Widows") by Alice Ferney, which was published in 1995. Ferney is a rather divisive figure, espousing traditional Catholic views on marriage and birth control. On the surface, it would seem somewhat curious the Vietnamese-French director Tran Anh Hung (Oscar nominee THE SCENT OF THE GREEN PAPAYA) would chose this book for his first French-language feature, but in an interview he gave to "Film Talk" a few months back, he said that as his own family is very small and their own stories have been lost forever, he appreciated Ferney's fictional recounting of one family's history.
Fans of director Terrence Malick's more recent works might enjoy this film because it's shot beautifully. If you're looking for drama and action though, look elsewhere.
Damn you, Mel Gibson! You're making it very hard for me to continue hating you. For sure, I'll never forget your anti-Semitic rants or your unwavering support for your father after his own outspoken statements denying the Holocaust. Your film, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, was way over the top, both in its portrayal of Jews and what you see as their role in sending Jesus to the cross too. It was unfortunate that the Anti-Defamation League made such a stink about the film. Had they just kept quiet, only devout Christians would have gone to see it and you wouldn't have made a tenth as much money on it as you did. You could say that the very people you hate were the ones who were ultimately responsible for putting so much money in your pocket.
But that's history and it seems that you're now on a path of redemption, keeping your racist opinions to yourself and focusing on your craft. Your latest film, HACKSAW RIDGE, is mighty good and you deserve the praise you're receiving for it. Is it worthy of a Best Picture Oscar (R) though, or are you deserving of a Best Director Oscar (R)? Hollywood does love a comeback, which is what you have achieved with this film but Hollywood is also controlled by Jews (sez you) and, while we like to forgive, we don't like to forget. It would seem that Jewish Hollywood has given you that most Christian of attributes - forgiveness, but we'll have to wait until the end of February to find out how forgetful the Academy voters are.
Now about your film, it is one of the best films I've seen so far this year but it's not without its weaknesses. I understand that it tells the true story (as opposed to being "based on a true story", which implies some element of fiction) of Desmond Doss, an American pacifist combat medic in WWII, who became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor, for service above and beyond the call of duty. Doss (played by Andrew Garfield, THE SOCIAL NETWORK) was a Seventh-day Adventist. When America entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, young men and women all over the country enlisted to fight. Doss also wanted to serve his country but he steadfastly refused to carry or use a firearm or weapons of any kind. This stance raised the ire of both his sergeant (played by Vince Vaughn, WEDDING CRASHERS) and captain (Sam Worthington, AVATAR), who tried to get him drummed out of the army on a Section 8 discharge. When that didn't work, they had Doss arrested and tried for insubordination. Doss' father (played by Hugo Weaving, THE DRESSMAKER) came to the rescue though. A veteran of WWI, the elder Doss reached out to his former commanding officer who was by that point a general. Pacifism, it turns out, is protected under the US constitution. Although Doss was allowed to return to his unit, he still faced a huge hurdle from his colleagues who didn't like him or trust him.
All that changed when the unit was shipped off to Japan to participate in the Battle of Okinawa. There, they had to climb the cliff face of the Maeda Escarpment, nicknamed "Hacksaw Ridge", and engage the enemy who was well ensconced on the top. It was a brutal campaign that lasted for weeks (or days, as depicted in the film) with heavy casualties on both sides. During a lull in the fighting, Doss scurried around collecting his wounded comrades and rappelling them down the cliff face to shocked medics below. Working throughout the night, he single-handedly rescued over 75 soldiers, many of whom were so badly injured they most certainly would have died from their wounds if not for Doss' heroism.
It's an amazing story that one wonders why it wasn't told ages ago. It turns out that various efforts had been made over the years to bring Doss' story to the big screen but for a number of reasons it never happened. For starters, the screenplay sat in "Development Hell" for over a decade. Gibson himself turned down the opportunity to direct the film twice before finally agreeing to do it. Then there was a problem with funding. In the end, production took place in Australia with a largely local cast (not to mention the director himself) in order to qualify for government tax credits there.
Unfortunately, all these factors played into some of the film's shortcomings. The story is very old fashioned and seems to be somewhat anachronous for today's audiences. World War II ended 71 years ago and the reasons for going to war have changed since then. Could a Doss exist in today's world of Iraq, Afghanistan, the Taliban and ISIS? All the Australian actors putting on their best American accents, not to mention Virginian accents for some of them, is a bit strange too. And the scenes of Fort Jackson in South Carolina are too Disney-fied to seem real. On the plus side, Garfield arguably does his best work ever bringing a Forrest Gump-like charm to Doss. If it weren't for the footage at the end of the film of the real Doss (taken before his died in 2006), we would think Garfield's portrayal was too hokey to be believed but we can see that the actor got the character right.
As for Gibson, he brings his usual heavy-handed mix of gratuitous violence, blood and Christian imagery to the film. There is no shortage of scenes of mangled bodies displayed in all their glory while rats run around feasting on the entrails. War is hell and nothing is held back to remind us of that. There is also plenty in the film that will give ministers and preachers heaps of sermon fodder for months to come. Characters seek forgiveness, find redemption and turn to G-d throughout the story, but the most blatant image comes at the end of the film when Doss himself is hoisted down the cliff face after being on the receiving end of a Japanese bullet. Injured and bloody, the camera shoots Garfield from below as if Doss is ascending to heaven as his earthly work is complete. The symbolism doesn't get more obvious than that. But, to his credit, Gibson knows how to tell a story and keep it interesting throughout.
All in all, HACKSAW RIDGE is thrillingly good entertainment though. If you can handle the religious overtones not to mention the gore, it's well worth your time and money. Damn you, Mel Gibson! It looks like you're back.
My apologies at the outset to the gazillions of Harry Potter fans out there. I'm not one of you. I'm not Potter hater; I'm just not a Potter lover. My ambivalence to the multimedia juggernaut came with the first film, Harry Potter and the Whatever. I sipped the Kool-Aid and I thought, "It's okay but it's not for me." So I skipped all the other Harry films that followed. That being said, if you are a Potter lover, you're probably not going to like this review. However, you are still most welcome to comment but please keep it civil.
In case you haven't heard, the latest film penned by J.K. Rowling is a prequel to the Harry Potter series, taking place in New York City in 1926, a good 70 years before Harry, Hermione and Ron enter the doors of Hogwarts for the first time. The book, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them", which, presumably, is about the beasts themselves and not about the adventures of an Englishman in New York, was published in 2001 under the pseudonym of its fictitious author, magizoologist Newt Scamander. The book is supposedly required reading at Hogwarts and Scamander's name is mentioned in passing in one of the latter Harry Potter books.
In the film, Eddie Redmayne (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING; THE DANISH GIRL) stars as Scamander. As the story opens, Scamander is arriving at the Port of New York with a battered suitcase in hand. He's not walking the streets too long before something pries open the sides of the case and escapes. It's a niffler, a cuddly cross between a platypus and a mole that has a penchant for stealing shiny things like gold coins and diamond jewellery. As Scamander tries to get the creature back in his Tardis-like box, he crosses paths with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) a "no-maj" (American for "muggle", or, for the unaware, someone who is not a wizard) who happens to be carrying a similar suitcase. The two men accidently swap cases and when Kowalski opens what he thinks is his case, he inadvertently releases a menagerie of other fantastic beasts onto the streets of the city.
The police and MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States), though, have bigger problems than just a burgling mystical creature and his associates. An eerie force has been wreaking havoc on the city, tearing up streets, obliterating housing blocks and even killing a US senator. The Dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald, is believed to be behind the mayhem, though Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell, THE LOBSTER) thinks it's an obscurus, an ethereal black force that hides out in young children who attempt to conceal their magic for fear of persecution. If it is an obscurus, Scamander doesn't want it harmed because he thinks it can be contained and cared for in his private refuge. The rest of the film is just a race to see who can get to the obscurus first. Along the way, Scamander has to scoop up his remaining truant beasts, meet and team up with failed Auror (a Ministry agent charged with pursuing and apprehending Dark wizards) Porpetina "Tina" Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), evade incarceration (or worse) by MACUSA, deal with Jacob now knowing too much about the world of magic, and somehow right everything that's gone wrong since his arrival on American soil. If it sounds like a lot to fit into 2-1/4 hours, it is. On top of that, Rowling has thrown in plenty of hints to future storylines, including Scamander's former lover; Tina's employment history; a blossoming relationship between Jacob and Tina's mind-reading sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol); and, of course, Grindelwald himself, who makes a brief appearance in this film's closing act.
To its credit, the fantastic beasts are wonderfully creative. There's a creature that looks like an American bison with the face of a squid (its name escapes me), a bowtruckle (a "Groot"-like tree branch), a hippogryph (a cross between a golden eagle and a horse), an erumpent (a cross between a hippo and a rhino with glow-in-the-dark skin) and a bar-full of house-elves. On the acting side, Redmayne brings his usual A-game to his character. I'm guessing that Scamander is somewhere on the autism spectrum, perhaps even having Asperger syndrome. There seem to be a number of clues that something is yet to be learned about Scamander: he's left-eye dominant, he struggles making direct eye-contact with people, and he has a specialised interest where he can work alone. (My observations are based on personal experiences with people who have Asperger's and are not meant to imply a diagnosis.) We'll presumably learn more about his medical condition in upcoming films. Newcomer Sudol and Fogler steal the film though with their budding romance. We don't know if Rowling plans to bring them back for the next film though the final scene of this film suggests that she will. The film's weak link is Waterston who is as cheerful as a pail full of used floor cleaner. We know we'll be seeing more of her as she becomes Mrs. Scamander in a future installment. That's not a spoiler. I found it on one of the Harry Potter fan pages.
All told, I didn't hate this film. I just didn't like it all that much. The story is unnecessarily convoluted and it may be a bit too dark for young children. Leaving FANTASTIC BEASTS, I felt as ambivalent about the film as I did after I saw the first Harry Potter film. I doubt I'll be seeing the other four films due to be released in this series. However, I do have up to 2024 to change my mind.
I can't remember when I first knew of the Beatles but I do know that by the time they made their American TV debut on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, I already knew the words to "She Loves You". I was only five years old at the time.
Almost one year later, in January 1965, my family and I were driving back home to Toronto after a vacation in Florida. I remember us stopping in Buffalo, NY, for dinner. Near the restaurant was a record store and my mother thought it would be a good idea to buy my brother an LP for his tenth birthday, which was just a few days away. She didn't know what music he would like but I did. I picked out the Beatles' "Something New", which was released about six months earlier. Beatlemania had taken hold in our home. (I'm not sure where that album is today. It disappeared along with our "HELP!" album years ago.)
Ron Howard's (A BEAUTIFUL MIND; APOLLO 13) new documentary, THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK - THE TOURING YEARS, looks back at the Beatles' career through a very narrow window - 1962 (just days after Ringo joined the group) to 1967 (and the release of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"), which were the few years when the four lads from Liverpool toured together. There have already been five other documentaries on the Fab Four so the obvious question going into this film is whether it would tell us anything that we didn't already know. The answer is yes, it does, but not much. Fortunately though, what is new is pure gold.
Because of its narrow focus, the film conveniently avoids mentioning Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe, the former who preceded Ringo as the group's drummer before he was kicked out by manager Brian Epstein, and the latter - a base guitarist - who died in 1962 of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 21. It also avoids mentioning Epstein's death by drug overdose in 1967. In fact, the whole drug issue with the group is quickly glossed over, saying that the boys were high on marijuana while they were filming HELP! In reality, though, they were regularly taking barbiturates to stay awake in order to perform at their late night concerts in the early years and, by 1967, they were already well acquainted with LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs. Also not mentioned were John's and George's wives, though they may not have toured with them.
Where the film really succeeds is showing the boys as fun-loving but hard-working musicians, who were, first and foremost, best friends. There are plenty of scenes with them joking around with the press, partying it up after their shows, and knowing full well what makes the girls in the audience shriek with delight. (In case you didn't already know, it's the hair shake thing.) Because their recording contracts were so heavily skewed toward making money for Capitol Records and not them, they made a conscious decision to tour extensively in those early years. That was money that went mostly into their pockets. And, beginning in America, they played to crowds the sizes of which were never seen before. At the same time, Paul and John wrote scores of songs, many of which became huge hits not just for the group but for others as well. On April 4, 1964, their recordings occupied the top five slots in the Billboard Hot 100.
The film also does extremely well with the 4K remastering of the archival footage, which was a mixture of 8 mm film, TV and more. The music, too, some of which came from audio cassette, sounds amazing in the cinema. It may be that the music that we hear at their concerts was overdubbed though. As someone says in the film, the group performed at Shea Stadium using 100-watt amplifiers. The sound that the audience would have heard that day would have been akin to listening to 100 transistor radios at the same time. I don't think that any amount of digitisation would result in what we hear with the film. In any case, the music is glorious and any Beatles fan would be hard-pressed not to sing along.
For people (like me) who grew up with the Beatles, this film really is a blast from the past. (I was one of the younger people watching the movie in my audience.) It's fun, it's joyful, it's a rocking and it's a rolling.
There has never been a group like the Beatles before and there probably never will be again. They created most of the soundtrack to the Baby Boomer generation.
Make sure to stick around at the end of the film because there is a 30-minute clip of the Beatles' 1965 concert at Shea Stadium in NY. The film has been colourised (the original film was in black & white) and it looks and sounds great!
You would be forgiven if you think that Woody Allen's latest film, CAFÉ SOCIETY, is a melange of scenes and themes you've seen before in other films of his. (I'm pretty sure I said the same thing about his last film, IRRATIONAL MAN.) We've certainly seen the first half of the story before: Young, neurotic Jew from Brooklyn heads out to Hollywood to seek his fortune, finds he doesn't like the vacuous lifestyle there and returns to New York. We've also seen part of the second half of the story before: Neurotic New York Jew falls for a shiksa (gentile) goddess. And we've also seen the scene with the Jewish family at the dinner table before, though this time it plays like something Grammy Hall, Annie Hall's (albeit perceived to be) anti-Semitic grandmother, would have written. While Alvy Singer's family could have been a stand-in for my family (and for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of other North American Jewish families), Bobby Dorfman's (Jesse Eisenberg, THE END OF THE TOUR) family is about as un-Jewish as they come. Oh sure, the Jewish stereotypes are there - Bobby has a gangster brother who runs a very profitable nightclub and a sister who is married to a leftist intellectual, but if you're going to stereotype American Jews, you need to start with some Manischewitz on the Passover table. And everyone needs to speak over each other... about politics or about some old aunt's medical condition or ideally both at the same time. The Dorfmans are about as Jewish as Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip (to borrow from another stereotype in an earlier Allen film).
But let's forgive Allen for just a moment, or at least for the rest of this review. It's amazing - wonderful even - that at age 80, he is still churning out movies. CAFÉ SOCIETY is his 47th and he's showing no signs of slowing down. He just wrapped up production on a six-episode TV series that he wrote, directed and starred in. (It premieres at the end of this month on Amazon.) And he's now working on his next film, due out next year, which will star Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake and Jim Belushi. It is said to be another period piece, this time set in New York in the 1950s.
Back to CAFÉ SOCIETY, Bobby Dorfman is the aforementioned neurotic Brooklyn Jew who heads out to Hollywood in the 1930s. There, he gets a job with his uncle, Phil Stern (Steve Carell, THE BIG SHORT), who is a very successful Hollywood talent agent. Phil either represents everyone famous or he's trying to sign them up. Because Phil is so busy taking calls and having meetings with Tinseltown's A-listers, he pawns Bobby off on his assistant Vonnie, aka Veronica (Kristen Stewart, CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA; STILL ALICE), who happily agrees to show him around town. It doesn't take long before Bobby develops feelings for Vonnie but she tells him that she already has a boyfriend.
Spurned, sort of, Bobby decides that California is not the place for him and he heads back to New York where he takes a job managing his brother's popular nightclub. Bobby finds his footing there, rubbing shoulders with the Big Apple's café society, and there he meets another Veronica (Blake Lively, THE SHALLOWS), who seems way out of his league. He takes her out on their first date to a tiny but ultra-cool jazz club (because it wouldn't be a Woody Allen film without some jazz music) and, not long after, they marry. Bobby's life couldn't be better until, one evening, Vonnie walks into the club with her boyfriend, who is now her husband.
I consider myself to be a Woody Allen fan but his movies of late have been so inconsistent. Though not as bad as TO ROME WITH LOVE, another Allen/Eisenberg collaboration, CAFÉ SOCIETY is nowhere near as good as, let's say, BLUE JASMINE. Unfortunately, CAFÉ SOCIETY seems like it is two movies shoved together and neither of them has been fully thought through. The first half of the film could have been a romp - a nostalgic look at Hollywood's Golden Age, much like HAIL, CAESAR! aimed to be. Instead, it misfires with incessant Hollywood name dropping that lacks any purpose, an unlikely friendship between Bobby and a married couple who are friends of Uncle Phil's, and a creepy subplot that involves a Jewish prostitute. The setup in the second half of the film goes on far too long and, frankly, it is a huge stretch to believe Bobby could have developed into this suave and confident ladies' man after seeing his nebbishy side so evident before.
Allen himself narrates this tale of misdirected love. Perhaps the narrator is supposed to be Bobby today, and that's entirely possible since Eisenberg seems to be channelling his inner Allen, but the connection doesn't come through. Instead, all we have is a very tired, old man's voice that chafes against the mood the film is trying to convey.
On the plus side, the film is shot beautifully. Three-time Oscar (R) winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (APOCALYPSE NOW; REDS; and THE LAST EMPEROR) bathes Hollywood in rich cerulean blues, emerald greens and honey golds. How could anyone, much less Bobby, not love seeing those colours every day? Brooklyn, in contrast, is seen in drab browns, pale greens and greys, while the nightclub is awash in crisp reds, white and black. There's also a stunning scene where Bobby and Vonnie are standing on a bridge in Central Park with the sun coming up over their shoulders. New York has never looked better, except perhaps in another Allen film, MANHATTAN. (That film was shot by long-time Allen collaborator, Gordon Willis, who passed away in 2014.)
All in all, CAFÉ SOCIETY is not a horrible film. It's just not a very good film. If it wouldn't be so late in his career, I would suggest that someone tells Woody to aim for quality rather than quantity.
Making light of Hitler has always been considered taboo, especially in Germany, and the few films in recent years that have decided to dive into the deep end, so to speak, have mostly flopped. Now comes another attempt, this time based on the very successful book, "Er ist wieder da" (He's There Again), that came out in 2012.
In this story, it's 2014 and Hitler has miraculously crawled out of his bunker in Berlin alive and not a day older than he was in 1945... except no one believes that he's really who he says he is. Today's Germans just think he's a comedian who does an amazing imitation of Der Fuhrer and they laugh when he does his racist shtick on national TV and on YouTube. But slowly, slowly, the audiences stop laughing because they agree with what he says about what he thinks is wrong with the country today.
LOOK WHO'S BACK pokes a very sharp stick at Germany's neo-Fascists and others who may agree with some of the positions put forth by the country's far-right groups. Those who are currently following the US presidential elections will plainly see the parallels between this Hitler and one of the American candidates. We start laughing because we want to believe that the world has learned the lessons from history but, before long, we're shaking our heads in sadness because we realise that so many people haven't.
There are a number of scenes in the film where "Hitler" is speaking with the everyday people of Germany and my understanding is that these were all unscripted. If you think fascism can't make a comeback, you need to watch this film.
COLONIA is a film that has its roots in history. Set in the early 1970s, Emma Watson (the HARRY POTTER series; NOAH) stars as Lena, a German flight attendant for Lufthansa, who gets caught up in a web of political intrigue in Chile after her German activist boyfriend, Daniel (Daniel Brühl, GOOD BYE LENIN!), gets arrested by DINA, president Augusto Pinochet's secret police. Lena learns that Daniel was taken to a secretive place called "Colonia Dignidad" (Dignity Colony), which was founded by German émigrés in the 1950s and run like a cult by the enigmatic Paul Schäfer (played by Michael Nyqvist, JOHN WICK) since his arrival there in 1961. To rescue Daniel, Lena decides to join the colony but she quickly learns that while getting in is relatively easy, getting out is impossible.
Like her HARRY POTTER co-star, Daniel Radcliffe, Watson isn't shy about taking on meaty acting roles. Unfortunately, this film was not the right one for her. The biggest problem I had with this film was that the actors all spoke English, rather than Spanish and/or German. That was clearly done to accommodate Watson and to get the project greenlit. For the first ten minutes, I thought Lena was British rather than German.
That aside, the story is never boring. It also sheds light on a piece of history that few know about.
We are currently witnessing the rise of far-right and far-left political parties, not just in Germany but in many other countries around the world. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel (DOWNFALL) revisits Nazi Germany with a story that is based on true events. In November 1939, Georg Elser planned and carried out an elaborate plot to kill Adolph Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi leaders at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich. But Hitler left the beerhall earlier than expected and survived the attack. Had he stayed there another 13 minutes, the world would be a very different place today.
13 MINUTES is generally well made (save for a hallucinogenic sequence that seems terribly out of place) but the film suffers from a lack of suspense. We know how it ends. To compensate, father-daughter screenwriting team of Fred (SOPHIE SCHOLL) and Léonie-Claire Breinersdorfer, offer up a hefty amount of Elser's backstory, from his days as a carefree, accordion player to his affair with the unhappily married Elsa, which is shown in flashbacks. The film stars Christian Friedel who may be best known for his role as the School Teacher in the 2009 film, THE WHITE RIBBON.
All in all though, 13 MINUTES is a good film that sheds light on a piece of history that few people know about.
Britain's most famous reprobates are back! No, I'm not referring to a certain prince and his ex-wife. I mean PR maven Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and fashion editor Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley). It's been 24 years since we first met them but only four years since their last special aired on TV. Since then, they've gotten a bit older (although, at 70, Lumley looks, dare I say, absolutely fabulous) but they still know how to party... and, boy, do they party in this long-awaited big screen adaptation of the hard-drinking, heavy-smoking gal pals from London's West End.
As ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE opens, the ladies literally roll out of Eddie's (or, mostly likely, someone else's) Bentley, after a full night of debauchery. At home having breakfast is the ever-suffering Saffy (Julia Sawalha) along with Saffy's now 13-year-old mixed race daughter, Lola. Coming down the stairs on a chair lift is Edina's mother (90-year-old! June Whitfield). Edina's PA, Bubble (Jane Horrocks), is waiting there too. Not much has changed at the Monsoons, it seems. Except it has. Eddie has maxed out all her credit cards, her gay ex-husband, Marshall, has decided that he can't keep supporting her in the style to which she's become accustomed, and much worse, there's not a bottle of Bolly to be found in her huge champagne fridge. What's a girl to do?
Fortunately, Patsy is putting together an event where anyone who is anyone in the fashion industry will attend. She learns that Kate Moss is looking for a new PR firm to represent her and Eddie goes to the event hoping to land Kate as a new client. Unfortunately, in Eddie's zeal, she inadvertently knocks Kate over the balcony and into the Thames where she goes missing. The world thinks that Edina has killed Kate and, in this new age of Facebook, Twitter and instant news, Edina becomes an overnight pariah. With nothing left for her in London except, perhaps, jail time, she and Patsy hightail it to Cannes where, Eddie says, everyone's a criminal, intending to spend the remainder of their days sponging off the rich there.
I think I've seen all the episodes of the original TV series and I have always thought that Saunders was a better physical comedian than she was a comedy writer. That feeling still holds true with this film, which she also penned. The laughs are there but they are very few and far between. There is one scene where Eddie is speaking with a book editor hoping to get her memoire published. He looks at the manuscript and sees "blah blah blah blah" typed across many of the pages (sorry for the spoiler). I get the impression that the screenplay for this film looked the same. She had a rough idea of how a scene would go, and she and Lumley would just riff it a few times until they got it to the point where she was satisfied. That formula doesn't make for a great film.
To her credit, Saunders did manage to corral a huge number of familiar faces to appear in the film including Lulu, Emma Bunton, Stella McCartney, Joan Collins, Barry Humphries, Jon Hamm, Gwendoline Christie (TV's GAME OF THRONES), Graham Norton, Jerry Hall, Jean-Paul Gaultier and, of course, Kate Moss. Rebel Wilson (PITCH PERFECT), Chris Colfer (TV's GLEE), Dawn French and Robert Webb (TV's PEEP SHOW) all have small character roles in the film too. As the closing credits rolled up the screen, I noticed a couple dozen people had appeared as themselves. If you're a fashionista, you will recognise the names. I certainly didn't.
Interestingly, there has been very little promotion for the film done here in Hong Kong. Even the cinema where I saw it didn't have one poster out. I'm guessing the distributor knows it's not a very good film.
Two men and a klutzy, 43-year-old woman who can't seem to get her life in order. What could possibly go wrong with that mix? Yes, Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is back after a 12 year absence. The British heroine is older, she's now a TV news show producer, she's swapped her diary for an iPad and she's finally down to her goal weight. She still loves her chardonnay though, and she still has feelings for Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) even though they broke up five years earlier because he was too busy saving the world.
As BRIDGET JONES'S BABY opens, Bridge is celebrating her birthday all alone. Her friends have moved on but it seems she hasn't. Both Shazzer (Sally Phillips) and Tom (James Callis) are busy with their families. And where is Daniel Cleaver, you ask? Hugh Grant opted out of this film so the writers had to do something with his character, which they did in the first ten minutes of the film. Bridget is all by herself, and in case you didn't figure that out on your own, the film's soundtrack blares Eric Carmen's 1975 song, "All By Myself", as she blows out the single candle on her red velvet cupcake.
To make up for not being there for Bridget on her birthday, Miranda (Sarah Solemani), her 30-something year old friend from work, takes Bridget to a Glastonbury-like festival where they plan to cut loose all weekend. After a few too many drinks and a snubbing of singer Ed Sheeran, Bridget loses Miranda and heads back to their yurt to crash. But she accidentally lands in the yurt occupied by handsome American, Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey, TV's GREY'S ANATOMY), and the two end up rolling around in the sack together. A few days later and back in London, Bridget runs into Mark at a baby christening and it doesn't take too long before she's rolling around with him in one of their host's bedrooms. Not surprisingly (for Bridget), a few weeks after that she learns that she's pregnant but she doesn't know if the father is Jack or Mark. And so begins Bridget's latest journey as she tries to decide who she wants as her partner.
I think it's wonderful that in 2016 we can see a movie about a single, career woman who doesn't think twice about keeping her baby when she finds out she's pregnant but why did the screenwriters have to ruin it by having Bridget make these two saps jump through hoops for six months as they try to win her love? Why couldn't she just say to the men, "I'm having this baby whether you're in the picture or not. Now just f*** off and let me get on with it!"? (Bridget uses the "F" word a lot in this film so it's within the realm of possibility that she would use it here too.) Instead, we have scene after scene of Jack and Mark trying to outdo each other for Bridget's affections. Who will she choose - the dashing, rich American Internet maven or the handsome, altruistic British lawyer?
This is clearly a film for romantics, which I suppose I am not. Nor am I in the film's target demographic. At the press screening I attended, the room was filled with mostly 30-something year old women who laughed at each of Bridget's mishaps... and, in true Bridget fashion, there are plenty. At 28, it's endearing; at 43, it's annoying.
Equally annoying is the film's music that plays like the soundtrack of Bridget's life. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the screenwriters chose the songs first and then wrote a script around all the lyrics. So, when Bridget thinks out loud, we have Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud". When she's messing around with Mark, we have Ellie Goulding's "Still Falling For You". And when she's fed up, we have Lily Allen's "F*** You". It's all too obvious.
Director Sharon Maguire apparently shot three different endings to keep the real ending secret but even non-romantics like me could easily figure out who Bridget chooses. But will she live happily ever after with her choice? That's the question we're all left with in the film's final scene.
If you're a 30-something, female, romantic, you will love this film. If not, it will be like having root canal.
One either has to be a genius or a crazy person to cook up a bare bone with a bunch of juicy vegetables and call it an Entrecôte Special but that's what director Clint Eastwood has done with his new film, SULLY.
Billed as "the untold story" of the "Miracle on the Hudson", the forced landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the river that separates New York from New Jersey, the film revisits those tense 208 seconds when Capt. Chesley Sullenberger III, or "Sully", as everyone called him, made that fateful decision that thankfully resulted in no deaths. That's right. No one died. A few lacerations and a couple cases of hypothermia, but all 155 passengers and crew lived to tell the tale... and they did. Sully wrote a book, as did quite a few of the passengers. A documentary was also made ("Miracle Landing on the Hudson"), which aired on the NatGeo channel in 2014. So what's new to learn from SULLY?
Not much, it seems. Aside from recreating the plane's takeoff, air strike, forced landing and swift rescue, which are all done very well, the film gives us a taste of Sully's (Tom Hanks, A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING) backstory - learning how to fly crop dusters as a young man in Texas, being a jet fighter pilot a few years later and, in 2009, a happily married man with two teenage daughters who unwinds by going running - but all we really learn is that the real Sully is just your everyday, very serious and very professional, commercial pilot who knows his job inside and out. The film also sheds some light on the suits at the NTSB, the National Transport Safety Board, whose job it was to investigate the "crash" as they saw it. Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, THE DARK NIGHT) are repeatedly questioned by the NTSB as the flight recorders are examined, computer and pilot simulations are run, and the plane's engines are recovered from the water. It's no secret that it all ends happily ever after with Sully remaining an American hero to this day.
To Eastwood's credit, he created a thoroughly competent movie. Rather than showing us the flight from start to finish, he teases it out, first giving us a peak inside Sully's brain in the days after the event as he wrestles with the possibility of what could have happened if he had tried to land the plane at one of the two nearby airports. Eastwood's smartest decision though was casting Hanks, America's most trusted actor, to play America's most trusted pilot. No one else could have done the role as well.
Eckhart, sporting a healthy walrus moustache, does fine work as Sully's loyal and equally professional second-in-command. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Laura Linney (MR. HOLMES), who plays Sully's wife, Lorraine, though, to be fair, she wasn't given a lot to work with. All we see of her is a number telephone conversations with Sully where she tries to lend her support to him in the only way that she can. It's not a great acting stretch for her.
Perhaps intentionally, little effort was made to give us information about the passengers. We're told about a group of three men who made it onto the flight just as the plane's doors were closing, a mother travelling with a baby, and a woman travelling with her wheelchair-bound mother, but nothing more is known about them or any of the other 154 people (Sully excluded). At 96 minutes in length, this is a very economical film.
SULLY is a solidly good movie. I wasn't wowed by it because it is so bare bones but it was entertaining enough. Eastwood shot it in IMAX so you may want to watch it that way. And be sure to stay for the credits because there are some scenes of the real Sully, Skiles, the passengers and crew.
While Hollywood turns its back on making films that involve real acting, preferring instead to concentrate on superhero franchises and special effects, the Europeans are thankfully still crafting intelligent fare, including the delightfully bittersweet FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS.
Based on the life of the famed, matronly socialite, FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS takes the audience back to those pre-Autotune days of the 1930s and '40s when singers either had to be good at what they did or they had to have lots of money. In the case of "Lady Florence" (Meryl Streep), it was the latter. An artiste from a very young age (she gave a piano recital to then US president Rutherford B. Hayes), Jenkins devoted her adult life to the arts, rubbing shoulders with the likes Arturo Toscanini, Cole Porter and Enrico Caruso. In 1909, she met third-rate Shakespearean actor St. Clair Bayfield (played by Hugh Grant), and the two entered into a non-traditional (for that time) relationship that lasted until her death in 1944. In 1917, she founded the Verdi Club in Manhattan, a social club of made up of other well-heeled music lovers, and installed herself as the organisation's "President Soprano Hostess". With Bayfield's full support and active participation, she often staged extravagant tableaux vivants, which were very popular back in the day. She would also sing at private recitals that Bayfield would indulgently organise on her behalf. Tickets were very tightly controlled so that only her closest allies would be in attendance. So shrill was her singing voice though that Bayfield would have to bribe a few sympathetic music critics so that they would write glowing reviews of her performance in the press. Whether or not Jenkins knew she couldn't sing well is up for debate but, if she did know, she didn't care. She just loved singing and Bayfield loved making her happy. (She also kept him living in style, which included having a separate apartment in Brooklyn and a mistress on the side.)
Due to popular demand from her loyal friends, Jenkins decided to expand her audience. First, she cut a record, which became a huge best-seller based on its novelty value. Then, she booked herself into Carnegie Hall along with the young and curiously named Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg, TV's THE BIG BANG THEORY), whom Bayfield had earlier hired to be her musical accompanist on the piano. No one was more surprised than McMoon when Jenkins sang her first few, glass-shattering notes during their rehearsals but he quickly understood that this was an earnest woman who wouldn't hurt a fly... plus he was getting paid extremely well and given the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall, something that most musicians only dream of doing.
There's a reason why Streep is the most-nominated actor in Academy Awards history. Like Florence herself, Streep throws herself voice-first into the role. She is a delight and it wouldn't surprise me if she earns herself a 20th Oscar nomination for her efforts. It couldn't have been easy to sing so badly so well. Streep said in an interview that she had to learn the correct notes and then come in just under or over them. Grant does wonderful work too, possibly giving us his best performance in years. There's a scene where he's jitterbugging and his charisma just shines through. Helberg is also a pleasure to watch as the wimpy McMoon who puts his pride aside to support his friend. I look forward to seeing more from him on the big screen. (McMoon's story is also worthy of film treatment.)
FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS is an all-round, crowd-pleasing film that reminds all of us to follow our passions. It's certainly one of the best I've seen so far this year. Go hear it... er, see it.