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Flight

Flight

Synopsis

Stars Denzel Washington as Whip Whittaker, an airline pilot who is a druggie and a drunkard.  He drinks on his plane which will crash due to mechanical failure.  He flips the plane over and lands it with only six fatalities out of one hundred and two on board.  He recuperates in hospital and meets Kelly Reilly a drug user.  Don Cheadle plays the lawyer who deals with the potentially damaging toxicology finding. The drug taker is now his girlfriend and he has a stormy relationship with his ex-wife and kid.  He is up before a hearing.  Will he speak the truth about his alcoholism thus saving the reputation of an alcoholic (deceased colleague)?  Will he be prosecuted?

Review

The Leslie Nielsen Airplane comedy films were hilarious and when Whittaker turns the plane upside down I couldn’t help laughing.  I’m not sure if this manoeuvre can be done, but when the pilot is Denzel Washington then anything is possible.  The air crash starts at the beginning of the film so Whittaker has to prepare for the hearing and it’s here that eventually he has to achieve some sort of redemption.  I think the film is about loss of control: Whittaker’s self justification runs away from his conscience as he tries to solicit the good opinions of his colleagues, Whittaker’s inebriation spins out of control like the engine failure that caused the crash.  John Goodman plays his drug guru who uses cocaine to cure Whittaker of a hangover (to the music of Sympathy for the Devil) so out of control drug taking overtakes alcohol.  Whittaker meets Kelly Reilly in hospital, a drug user who herself is on a crazy spiral of addiction.  Don Cheadle plays his lawyer who is prepared to lie and cheat to clear Whittaker of responsibility on manslaughter charges, so lawyerish shysterism spins out of control from the need to speak the truth.  Whittaker’s union rep wants to maintain good relations with the airline company so he’s got no integrity based control.  The company boss is unaccountable.  Ironically, the one person who is most in control is a cancer patient whom Whittaker meets at the hospital.  This guy uses dark humour to reconcile himself to his impending death.  There is no one to blame and it’s accepted as an act of God.   Whittaker himself is not directly to blame for the crash and everyone passes the buck.  In this respect the out of control plane is a fitting metaphor for the main characters.  Once in prison, Whittaker says he is free since he accepts his responsibility and in good psychobabble style he achieves a sort of closure (if not forgiveness) from colleagues and passengers  His co-pilot absolves him and accepts the accident as an act of God.  The film deals with these issues in a lively style and Washington is good as the sot who confuses being forgiven with self redemption.  Naturally, he’s a failed father who achieves some sort of reconciliation with his son.  Cheadle is good as the oleaginous lawyer who wouldn’t be out of place at the foul end of an argument in a John Grisham courtroom drama.  The title is pleasingly ambiguous, is it the flight of a plane or the flight from self?  Watchable, even though it’s a confessional heading into a brick wall  .

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Lincoln

Lincoln

Synopsis

Spielberg’s film set in January 1865 at the start of the second term of Lincoln’s presidency.  Lincoln is determined to push for the 13th Amendment’s abolition of slavery before the American Civil war ends.  He must get the requisite number of votes and his allies, including Secretary of State William Edward, pressurise different politicians into voting in the required way.  Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens  who gives a powerful speech in the House of Representatives.  Lincoln’s son is keen to join the army over Mrs Lincoln’s objections, and she is grieving for her dead son.  Will the vote go Lincoln’s way?

Review

Spielberg often suffers from musical incontinence as we get syrupy music galore.  In Lincoln the music is more restrained, but this being the civil war we still get the usual trumpet solos and military drum rolls.  The folksy repertoire is something that Spielberg has always exploited: the innate wisdom and decency of the ‘ordinary’ guy against the big leaguers, the blue light moments, and reverence for gooey eyed kids.  This is kept to a merciful minimum. Daniel Day Lewis is honest Abe, always ready with a hokey anecdote illustrated with homely metaphors.  He gives Lincoln a high pitched voice which is mesmeric as it becomes more forceful.  He looks like Lincoln and moulds into him as he ages.  This is not so much acting as a summoning of his ghost.  The distinctive stove pipe hat towers over a face growing as if into weathered wood.  The scenes in this film look autumnal and smokey as if they could easily blend into the sepia photographs that confetti films about this era.  There is a Balzacian density in the interiors of the houses.  Among all this Day Lewis does justice to the stature of this man to the point of hagiography.  In the US there is often a reluctance to examine the clay feet of their idols.  Initially, Lincoln was anti-slave, but anti-equality of races, he was primarily anti-secessionist.  He was a racist wishing for the deportation of black people.  His adherence to the black cause was a belated recognition of their role in the civil war.  In Lincoln black people are not allowed to be humanly complicated, they are rather noble and eloquent.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens and his skilled oratory only falters on the details of equality.  His performance is powerfully theatrical as is David Strathairn’s as Seward.  It’s often the case that political debates in mainstream films get self congratulatory and poseurish.  This is Spielberg’s Twelve Angry Men.  Egotistical exhibitionism pretends to humane disinterest, rhetoric wins over detailed argument.  Lincoln uses a lot of pressure to get the necessary votes and he seems to do it in real time.  The political struggles compete with the domestic hell in the grieving of Mrs Lincoln (Sally Ann Fields).  Her family’s conflict mirror those of the nation.  This is a fine portrayal of Lincoln and undoubtedly towers over the hundreds of other Lincolns from D.W. Griffiths to Raymond Massi’s et al.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Les Misérables

Les Misérables

Synopsis

As nearly everyone on this planet knows, this is a globally successfull musical based on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.  It’s about Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) persecuted by his obsessive pursuer Javert (Russell Crowe).  Valjean becomes a thief and uses his loot to become a respectable mayor.  He takes the persecuted waif Fantine (Anne Hathaway) under his wing, she dies and he looks after her daughter Cosette who grows up to be played by Amanda Seyfried.  It’s French revolutionary time in the 1830s.  Cosette becomes romantically involved with Marius (Eddie  Redmayne) who is romantically pursued by Eponine (Samantha Banks). Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen play a pair of crooked innkeepers.  The barricades go up, Valjean and Javert meet again, and will Cosette learn the truth and find happiness?

 

Review

I’m not usually an aficionado of filmed musicals, their plots are crudely simple and characters are embarrassing as they mime their way through sentimentalized absurdities.  I was prepared for more of this in Les Misérables, however in spite of the usually forgettable music, in spite of Russell Crowe’s singing (sounding like a wounded cow ), and in spite of relentlessly sung dialogue, this film is quite enjoyable.  I actually wanted to sing as I left the cinema.  Les Misérables is energetic and passionate, a lot of the time it seemed more like sung acting than characters simply singing songs.  The actors sing as they perform, there is no miming from dubbed recordings and this is quite impressive.  Anne Hathaway held her notes and our attention through the “Dream” song.  Samantha Barks reprised her Nancy role, as she was equally impressive.  The acting always seems sincere and passionate and unselfconsciously often melodramatic.  The sets are amazingly detailed like the prints of Gustave Dore summoned in gloomy colours.  The revolutionaries strike poses as if for a David painting.  Paris in Les Misérables looks like a stage set for an opera and this is surely apt, the plaster elephant like an opera sentinel against the stacked furniture of the barricades.  The unrealistic absurdity of piled up furniture against gunpowder and infantry emphasizes the staginess, as does the impossibility of the Paris streets bursting into song!  Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers are hilarious as they provide Oliver Twist comic colour (they remind me of Fagin and the Artful Dodger).  Helena Bonham Carter also reprised her Sweeny Todd role but she should be careful.  In Les Misérables she wears bad make up and a fright wig, in Alice in Wonderland she wears bad make up and a fright wig, she does the same in Sweeny Todd and Great Expectations.  She really must get away from this predictable casting, maybe it’s Tim Burton’s influence.  Anyway, Les Misérables shows that you don’t have to have a good singing voice, just join in the fun.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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The Hunt

The Hunt

Synopsis

Thomas Vinterburg’s film about a teacher, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a kindergarten helper in a Danish rural area.  We see him take his son to the deer hunt and at home with his girlfriend.  A child makes accusations against him.  He is ostracized and subject to persecution.  Social interaction is off limits to him.  He is persecuted in a supermarket and there is a terrible scene at a Christmas Eve service…

Criticism

The film clearly establishes that Lucas is innocent, so our focus is on how he copes with the community and how they treat him.  It looks at our sentimentalized gullibility in our readiness to believe these sorts of accusations.  This was interestedly dealt with in Richard Hughes’ 1950s novel High Wind in Jamaica.  The Hunt is a pretty grim view of what human behaviour is capable of.  The one friend who seems to doubt the accusation keeps silent and is too afraid to help.  In what should be a legal matter, most people have made up their minds as they self righteously distance themselves from Lucas as if any friendliness towards him would taint them.  Lucas is a victim of medieval hysteria in a community whose country, Denmark, is regarded as one of the most tolerant and sophisticated in the affluent world, so what hope for the innocent accused in a less ‘enlightened’ culture?  In Britain recently we have witnessed the Jimmy Saville case (a recently deceased entertainer accused of abusing children, colleagues who knew him said nothing).

The Hunt offers us the familiar plot of locals in a rural area ganging up on either outsiders or turning one of their own into an outsider victim.  One thinks of Wickerman and The Village.  Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas is quite absorbing as the accused, he handles ostracism with the support of his son as he desperately tries to hold on to his dignity and sanity.  He never succumbs to paranoia even though he has objective grounds to do so.  We seem to be looking at the frailty of our civilization, how we depend on each other’s capacity for decency to sustain our daily lives.  Without the presence of the law daily interaction can appear to be quite terrifying.  This is human weakness feeding evil and it’s much more convincing about group persecution than (for example) Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Upon establishing his innocence to the satisfaction of the locals, the film cleverly upsets our expectations.  The locals seem to have got over whatever shame or remorse they might have felt, we get no tearful apologies.  Lucas seems to have forgiven everybody and shows no resentment over his treatment, in this he seems to show more saintly forgiveness than Nelson Mandela towards the apartheid regime.  Someone then tries to shoot Lucas as he returns to the forest.  We are left guessing who did this and for what motive: anger at being proved wrong, lingering hatred for his supposed crime?  We are left guessing.

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Elena

Elena

Synopsis

Elena (Nadezdha Markina) is a middle aged woman living in a swish Moscow apartment with her partner the affluent Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov).  They sleep separately and eat together.  Elena’s son Sergei (Aleksey Rogin) is unemployed, living with his family in a shabby flat.  Elena gives him money.  Vladimir’s daughter Katya (Yelena Lyadeva) lives off her father’s money.  Vladimir has a heart attack and dies because Elena gives him the wrong medication.  Vladimir hasn’t left a will, what will Katya and Elena do with the money…?

Criticism

One is always aware of this being a film set in contemporary Russia.  For me, it’s a moral fable about the (for a few) more affluent post-communist world of that country.  There is a growing affluent middle class in Russia and it lives in a style unimaginable a bare twenty or so years ago.  When we see the austerely still camera gaze on the apartment and Elena starting her daily routine, we might expect her to be the reliable stereotype of the strong, wise Russian woman primed with the peasant resilience of her forbears, but she commits murder to satisfy her family’s greed.  She calmly and efficiently gives Vladimir the wrong medication.  The film gives much attention to this as it does to the details of her apartment and her routine. She keeps her nerve through the emotional turmoil of guilt and regret that she must feel.  The mask stays tightly on.  This is a very hard look at contemporary Russia, none of the characters are likeable.  Vladimir and Elena self righteously argue about the merits of their own family whilst dis’ing the other’s.  Elena’s son Sergei is a wife-bulling slob and his is a surly waster.  Vladimir’s daughter Katya  is a self serving attitudinising cynic who lives off her father.  There might be some affection between Vladimir and Katya but one doubts her disinterestedness given her prospect of a moneyed inheritance.  Despite the lingering shots (reminding me of Tarkovsky and Haneka), Elena cleverly sustains a plot tension which tautens the film’s nervous system to a highly watchable pitch.  Along this tension the money-grabbing characters trickle their drops of acid.

My only problem with the plot is that the medical authorities would surely suspect something especially when a few people will gain from Vladimir’s death.  Elena is a nurse, and there is nothing dubious about the medication?  The film does not tell us what Katya will do about Elena’s family moving into her father’s apartment, will she just accept it?  This is unresolved and it leaves us guessing.  An absorbing film.

 

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Midnight’s Children

Midnight’s Children

Synopsis

Based on Salman Rushdie’s novel about the fate of five generations of a Muslim family from independence to Indira Gandi’s emergency of the mid ’70s.  A boy of affluent parents is swapped by a nurse with a poor boy who will be apprenticed to a busker.  The affluent boy is visited by spirits of children born at the same hour, they have superhuman powers.  We follow the rich boy to Pakistan’s war with India (19655) then to the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, and to the dark skies of Indira Gandhi’s emergency power.

Criticism

I’ve not read the novel so for me this is purely a film, no doubt as a literary heavyweight it’s got reminders of other literary classics.  Its forays into magical realism (the invisible children, the invisibility of a man in a basket) look clumsy and stilted.  Drastic editing seems to have given some characters walk on parts, as if they’re doing their bit to represent aspects of India and Pakistan’s history since 1947.  Charles Dance plays a pantomimic British Patrician, all etiolated quirkiness, so there we have the outgoing British Raj.  The poor child becomes too much of a symbol to be a convincingly rounded character, his violence and corruption are pasted on.  The film’s portrayal of mid 20th century Islam in India is corrective to our current emphasis on the more ascetic and puritanical aspects of that religion.  These Islamic people even drink alcohol and are partly cosmopolitan, they wear bright clothes and listen to jolly music.  Delhi scenes of 1972 remind me of that city which I visited in 1973.  I don’t know if Rushdie includes the caste system in his novel but it was (and is) an urgent reality of life in India and the film could have taken the opportunity to give at least a glancing acknowledgement of this but it doesn’t.  A wall poster in 1973 reminds us of Bollywood films and that world in Bombay that Clive James writes about in his novel Silver Castle.  I remember the news about the creation of Bangladesh and the film captures this vividly, celebrating it rather than wallowing in death.  The switching of the babies is a sort of fairytale introduction to the story.  When the nurse confesses to doing this the father repudiates the substituted son, patriarchal identity, a search for authenticity, must be unchallenged.  There is a crisis of identity, a search for authenticity (like in the politics of India), which current reality cannot satisfy.  From the Laurence Sterne type opening, with its shaggy dog story about the length of the founding patriarch’s nose, to the gloom of the emergency, the film does a creditable job helped by the voice-over of Rushdie himself.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Life Of Pi

Life Of Pi

Synopsis

Ang Lee’s film from Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning novel.  A Canadian writer (Rafe Spall) meets Pi, Piscine Molitor Patel (Irrfan Khan), a lecturer in philosophy.  Pi tells the writer he will enable him to believe in God and talks about his boyhood in Pondicherry in India where his father ran a zoo.  At the zoo is a tiger called Richard Parker, from the name of his captor.  Pi becomes interested in different religions, which annoys his scientific father.  His family take the zoo to Canada but a storm sinks the ship.  Pi is left on a boat with the tiger, a orang-utan, a zebra, and a hyena.  Eventually, just Pi and the tiger are left.  They come across a meerkat infested island with a grim secret, travel further, then go their different ways.

Criticism

This is a story within a story like those Russian dolls.  At the end, the Japanese owners of the sunken ship are naturally concerned as to what happened and Pi gives an open ending.   Is Richard Parker the tiger, really Pi?  Did the ship sink?  Does it matter?  I enjoyed the film as a sea adventure, like one of those war films whose sailors are stranded on a dinghy.  Pi explores the details of how any of us might cope in such a situation like the 16 year old Pi (Suraj Sharman) had to do.  This would not be possible without CGI, computer technology comes into its own here.  The details of the animals, especially the tiger. are amazing.  The sea looks spectacular, then there is the whale rising out of the psychedelic neon water.  What would David Lean have done with sea had he had CGI.  This film would be his dream answer.  As a story about a marooned individual facing the sea, it reminds me of Pincher Martin (where everything in the book happened in a moment before death by drowning).  It could also be Castaway or Swiss Family Robinson without (mercifully – ha! ha!) that sanitized family.  Pi works as a religious parable: the spiritual worth of survival by ordeal, paralleling the belief in God through a mystical journey.  Like a parable, Pi subverts and outrages our rationalist expectations, Pi must show a Job-like endurance in whatever nature throws at him.  The film neatly reverses our predatoriness towards the sea and its life, Pi must await what the sea willl do to him.  Sharing a boat with a tiger does a neat metaphorical job, the tiger is an enemy (like the sea) but it also faces with Pi the common enemy, the sea.  Pi and the tiger have been ejected from Noah’s ark of the ship and they are both Jonah-like in their helplessness before the sea.  Since Blake’s Tyger Tyger, the tiger has become the symbol of beauty and power.  Why do people gawp at these animals in zoos and circuses if not to admire the danger of death and beauty in one big cat?  In Blake, the tiger is a revolutionary force, in Pi  its uneasy and difficult relationship with the boy is a spiritual transformation.  A spectacular and thrilling film.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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