The Pass (dir. Ben A. Williams) 2016

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The Pass is a film adaptation of a play that was a big hit when it played at the Royal Court Theatre in 2014. I have to imagine that it comes across better in the intimate surroundings of a small theatre. The premise is good, the timing is right for a movie about a closeted gay footballer, but this is not that movie. Had it been made in the 1970’s or 1980’s it would probably have been ground-breaking and interesting but at this moment we do not need a film about a selfish gay soccer star made bitter by the possibility that he might have missed out on true love.

The film is directed by Ben A. Williams and he sticks rigidly to the three act, three hotel room setting of the play. This increases the impression of it being a filmed version of a theatre play and puts another step between us and the action.

Although there are four characters in this film, two of them are two dimensional ciphers. The lap dancer, Lyndsey,  and the male groupie, Harry, are just there to use and be used. Ade, the player turned plumber, is well acted by Arinze Kene, but this film is ultimately about Jason, who is excellently portrayed by Russell Tovey. He develops into the true antihero, without a single redeeming feature. We watch him go from, a not particularly nice, 17 year old to, a harsh and vitriolic, 28 year old over the course of three acts. That is the real problem with this film, we never really liked him in the first place so we don’t really empathise with him.  He doesn’t care about anybody, he uses his wife, his child, his lap dancer, his fan and ultimately even his mate Ade. He chooses lifestyle over fulfilment, so when he is unfulfilled we aren’t particularly surprised or worried.

I had such high hopes for this film, it had so much going for it, and don’t let me take away from an outstanding performance by Russell Tovey, but so many movies made from the 1930s to the 1990s are full of flawed gay characters whose life is ruined by the fact that they can’t cope with the trauma of being queer, and I had hoped that we had moved on from that.

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The Hippopotamus (dir. John Jencks) 2017

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“The Hippopotamus” the novel came out in 1994. At the time the book was mildly shocking, moderately funny and quite witty. Stephen Fry was at the height of his popularity, he was clever, droll and sharp. 23 years later and everything has changed, the storyline is slightly distasteful, the writing seems bland and the dialogue is pompous.

Roger Allam is good as Ted Wallace, a washed up poet who investigates a series of miracles taking place in a country house, but he is just about the only good thing about this film. As a comedy it is remarkably banal, his vicious put downs and arch insights fall flat because everyone in the film has some major character flaw that makes the shot too easy to be funny.

The most interesting thing about this movie was trying to work out what had changed in the intervening years, that made the experience of watching it in 2017 so different to reading it in 1994. In the end, I decided that there was a combination of factors conspiring against it. Watching it over an hour and a half  as opposed to reading it over a few days, intensified the characters, made them less rounded, and as the flaws were the part that was important to the storyline, these were the traits that were magnified.  My taste has changed, and although I still enjoy a barbed riposte, I prefer it when both sides have the wit to take part. Sitting ducks make unexciting targets. Attitudes have changed in the last 23 years too, and the story that was shocking, but quite funny in 1994, appears borderline abusive now in 2017.

These things go in cycles, and although Stephen Fry’s star is on the wane currently, in the future he may again be recognised as a major talent. However, at the moment there is not much to recommend this film – save it to watch in 2040.

 

 

 

Michael Clayton (dir. Tony Gilroy) 2007

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The story of a giant multi national company and the lawyers who sold their souls to defend them. Let’s get the bad out of the way first, the storyline seems a bit hackneyed now and there are a couple of minor plot holes where you have to work to suspend your disbelief. However, these points aside, this is a most enjoyable film. This movie is a thriller and although we aware right from the start which are the good guys and which are the baddies, we are never quite sure how it will all turn out.

The acting is spectacular. Tilda Swinton won, a well deserved, Oscar for her portrayal of a stressed out legal advisor. George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson were both nominated for theirs. The script is great; sharp, real, and occasionally bruising. The direction is clever and taut, even though it is just under two hours long, there is no let up in the action. It is hard to believe that this is Tony Gilroy’s first film, you wonder how he managed to get a studio to trust him with either the budget or stars. However the trust was justified,  he manages to keep the viewer on edge, even though you can sometimes guess where the plot is going. The ending is quick, clean and satisfying.

This film was on many best of year lists, it was nominated for 7 Academy Awards including best film and best director.  Michael Clayton is a classic example of its genre, definitely worth watching.

Side Effects (dir. Steven Soderbergh) 2013

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Side effects is an interesting psychological thriller. The story is good; with a number of twists and turns along the way. The subject matter is pretty dark; involving the marketing and side effects of prescribed medication.

None of the major characters in the film are nice people, all of them are manipulative and duplicitous, so it is hard to feel empathy when bad things happen to them.
Having said that, Rooney Mara and Jude Law both put in compelling performances. Steven Soderbergh is a reliably good director, and the direction of this film suits the subject matter well. The setting is modern urban and you are made to feel the adversity and frustrations of their day-to-day life.

The dialogue is sharp and the story is clever, a Hitchcock style chiller, that enjoyed a revival in the 1980s, but is out of fashion now.  I dislike how calculating everybody turns out to be; every character is using everybody else with no regard to their welfare or needs. Perhaps this is a comment on the pharmacological industry, but it feels implied of the world in general and this is too dystopian an outlook to make easy viewing. The problem is, the acting and directing are good, so you can see their motivation and at times it is tempting to believe that it could be true.

In summary, this is a well made movie, that seems little too cold and analytical for its own good now; however, in the future, with the benefit of hindsight, it is possible,  that this might be one of those films that we look back on as capturing the mood of the world at that time. I hope not, but I want someone remind me to watch it again in 15 years time.

Quartet (dir. Dustin Hoffman) 2012

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Don’t sit down to watch this expecting any deep revelations about the meaning of life. Think more in terms of an episode of Glee with opera music and old people.

Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut is full of visual metaphors for old age. The time of year is late autumn, there are beautiful sunsets and it is all set in a wonderfully maintained ancient building.  The acting is good, the direction is good, the setting is beautiful and the music is lovely. The story is undemanding, particularly predictable, in fact it is almost facile but it is all very likeable and chilled. It is probably perfect Sunday afternoon fare, you could doze off for a few minutes and when you come back you will still know exactly where you are in the storyline.

It has a cracking cast and the director has left them to do what they do best. Maggie Smith has some great arch put downs, which she delivers perfectly. Michael Gambon is a wonderfully camp, self obsessed director.  Pauline Collins is giddy and dizzy. Tom Courtenay is wounded and rueful, and Billy Connolly is a rude and distasteful old charmer. The dialogue is sharp and there a few nice cameos and set pieces.

Easy and comfortable, if films were shoes, then quartet would be the tartan slipper!

 

Shrek (dir. Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jensen) 2001

 

shrekShrek has just turned sixteen and it is now available on Netflix.  I remember having enjoyed it when it came out, so it is interesting to see how it has fared in the intervening years.

It has aged well. It is crammed full with jokes and these are still funny, the cultural references have remained relevant and the story is that rare mixture of knowing and sweet. The cast of fairytale characters are timeless and their lines are clever and likeable. The evil lord is wonderfully nasty without being either frightening or creepy.  The story has a nice uplifting moral tone and you are longing for the heroes to prevail. The animation and delivery are both well done, Eddie Murphy is particularly good as Donkey, how bittersweet to have your most enduring role as an animated ass!
This film won the first Oscar for Best Animated Film and it is a deserving opening winner. It is a big feat to have a movie that is principled and simple enough to entertain you as a child, but subversive and referential enough to provide a new set of pleasures when you watch with your own kids. I believe that I enjoyed it just as much now as I did then.

A lovely film that stands the test of time.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (dir. Taika Waititi) 2016

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the antithesis of a Hollywood movie. It feels home made and local, but that is exactly what it sets out to do. This film makes a point of being unsophisticated. It is set in New Zealand, it has New Zealanders as characters and it shows a New Zealand ethic to the world.

It is a rough film with a warm heart, about a grumpy old man and a juvenile misfit who don’t understand each other at first, but who look after each other’s welfare when needed. Taika Waititi, the director, has a deft hand at showing characters expressing care without using soft words. True affection here is shown by honesty with humour.

It is not a perfect film, but it doesn’t try to be perfect, and that is part of its charm. This film revels in the rebellious; all the main roles are outsiders and happy that way. It is a strange mixture of rural realism and wild fantasy. Some of the characters, especially the baddies are comic book caricature. It is chock full of great lines and the good characters are well defined and warm. Sam Neill is good as Hec, and Julian Dennison is excellent as Ricky. There are also a few, beautifully quirky, cameos.

The scenery is, unsurprisingly, amazing; it is set in outback New Zealand, it is part travelogue, reminding the world why they should want to visit.  The soundtrack is unusual and endearing, the birthday song is surprising and funny. It is lovely to see a film that manages to blindside you, and I hope the success of this one results in more of this type of film being made.