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.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (dir. David Fincher) 2011

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This is the Hollywood film adaptation of a hugely successful 2005 Swedish book. It follows a highly regarded 2009 Swedish movie of the same story. It is a brave undertaking to attempt the third retelling of a story that has already been done twice, so well and so recently.  However “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” acquits itself admirably – it is different enough to be interesting and stylish enough to be enjoyable.

The film is a thriller and it stars Daniel Craig, so comparisons are inevitable. He says that he worked hard not to be seen as James Bond in this film and the thrills are more psychological than action, but it still comes across as a more thoughtful installment of the 007 genre. If the film company did not want comparisons with that franchise, they should have avoided using the, admittedly very good, opening credits. Once you imagine  “What James Bond does on his holidays” at the start, the thought stays with you throughout the film.

I loved Rooney Mara as Lisbeth. She was nominated for an Academy Award as best actress and it was well deserved. The original title of the book in Swedish was “Men Who Hate Women” and Lisbeth is almost the woman who exacts revenge. In this version she is quite different from the character written in the book but she manages to keep the same attitude and demeanour.  The violence is pretty full-on, but it is an angry and aggressive story, so although I am generally not a fan of shocking brutality in films, there is a good argument here, that it is relevant to the narrative.

The acting throughout is admirable, Stellan Skarsgard is excellent as Martin. The scenery is gorgeous. The cinematography is lovely, this received an Academy Award nomination too.

The film is polished and sleek, beautiful to watch and directed with a cold detachment which adds, both to the climate in which it is set and to the chilling story it relates. It was nominated for five Oscars, it won the one for best film editing.

This is a professional, well made, efficient Hollywood movie. Recommended.

 

 

13 Reasons Why, Netflix, 2017

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13 Reasons why is the currently most talked about series on TV.  It is a teenage morality tale about a 17 year old girl who has committed suicide in the weeks before the series begins. She has left behind a suicide note, in the form of 13, C60  audio cassettes, each one naming a different person as having a hand in causing her to take her own life. Each cassette states what this person did to affect her and she has arranged that the whole series of tapes is delivered to each of the thirteen people in turn.

So far, so dark – a horrible premise of a teenager’s suicide and the ultimate naming, blaming and shaming fantasy. This could have been so awful that I almost gave up watching after each of the first three episodes.

However, Hannah, the girl who killed herself, is a likeable, witty, attractive personality and we want to find out what drove her to despair. She mostly avoids playing the blame game and the series is really a universal tale about the complications of dealing with serious and difficult problems, often for the first time, as a teenager negotiates the change from child to adult.

The characters are well written and well rounded. The story is told half in the current timeline and half in flashback, this is clever, as we can see the change that Hannah’s death has brought to each person. There are stereotypes, in that they fit into their groups at the school but each individual is given a three dimensional personality and the only caricature is the one who does not get to listen to the tapes.

The acting is great, everyone talks about how good the two leads are – they are excellent.  Christian Navarro is also very good as Tony, who serves as a kind of nuanced narrator. Kate Walsh is brilliant, playing two parts really, as Hannah’s mother, before and after the suicide.

I liked the fact that the show concentrates just as much on the devastation left behind as the reasons for the death. It is a thin line between negating the reasons for Hannah’s suicide and justifying them, the show manages to realistically state the reasons for her actions but never says that she was right to do so. There is talk of a second series because of the success of season one, and possibly because of the unresolved nature of some of the issues. I believe that the show had to leave these issues open because to close them would have implied that her killing herself would have achieved a closure that might not  have been attained had she lived.

I enjoyed this series very much but I hope they choose not to film a season two, either to resolve these issues or to follow the lives of some of the other characters, 13 Reasons Why, is all about Hannah, let’s keep it about her.