Sunday, April 06, 2014

19th and 20th Century History in film....at Pathe Buitenhof

Quite by chance over the past few days I have been fortunate enough to see two excellent examples of the historical film genre.
Buitenhof again was the venue, I was heartened to find that even after a break of two weeks of film attendance that I have retained the Foursquare Mayorship of the cinema.
The two films show the huge range and variety within a film type. On Thursday evening requiring escapism I headed for my favourite venue to watch The Invisible Woman.
Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in this recreation of the somewhat secret relationship between Charles Dickens and Ellen (Nelly) Ternan. When they first met Nelly was 18 and Dickens 45. He had been married married to his wife of 22 years,  Catherine with 10 children. Nelly was the third of the three Ternan acting sisters.
The film gives what seems to my sensibilities a very good evocation of 19th Century England. You can almost smell the mustiness and feel the confinement of the Victorian age. The acting is earnest and indeed Felicity Jones as Nelly gives a spellbinding performance. However,  I found the film uneven in its rendition of the story. this could be explained by stating that it follows Dickens turbulent moods however it meant that the film failed to fully engage me leaving me ultimately unsatisfied. IMDb gives the film a score of 6.4 while Rotten Tomatoes has the critics scoring the film 76% and Film-goers 52%. I would agree with the Rotten Tomatoes score which is sad as there could be a much better film somewhere in the cutting room!

Sunday 6th April - Pathe Buitenhof  - The Book Thief
I tried to put to the back of my mind some criticisms that have made of this film, and have not read the book on which is was based. I am happy to report that the film is sprinkled with wonderful performances which are drawn together into a well told story. 14 year old Sophie Nelisse gives a magnetic performance as the central character of the film Leisel Meminger. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are excellent as the very human husband and wife, with the acerbic Watson lovingly scolding the husband to whom she is devoted. Rush as the romantic and wistful father who holds the family together, but also threatens its very existence thanks to a promise given in a previous war.  I also want to make mention of Nico Liersch also 14 years old who plays Rudy, Leisel's love interest... his striking Aryan looks mark him.
I enjoyed the film the period was well presented and the characters fitted within this very well, each playing off each other. I felt that The Book Thief was everything that The Invisible Woman could have been. While IMDb scores the film 6.4 while Rotten Tomatoes scores the film with 46% from the critics and 76% from us the film-going public.
I think that the Rotten Tomatoes score for The Book Thief by film critics show that on occasions the critics in their earnest desire to give the viewing public the full picture can forget that an audience is often looking for a film which grabs them, takes them on its journey unfolding human emotions along the way. I am glad that I for one managed to banish the naysayers. This is a must see film.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Saturday Film - 29 March Pathe Spui: Captain America: The Winter Soldier IMAX 3D

I did not have my expectations set very high entering the cinema on Saturday, the main draw of Captain America; The Winter Soldier was to experience once again of Pathe's IMAX 3D experience.
One of the issues that I have with Captain America is that of all Marvel 'Superheroes' he has the most difficulty operating in a contemporary setting being rooted back in the global wars of the 20th Century.
Captain America has also been portrayed previously as a rather 2 dimensional 'cardboard character lacking a personality or a sense of humour.
Whether it is the inclusion of  The Black Widow ( Scarlet Johansson) as a foil for our hero, or the bright and crisp screenplay from a strong writing team. The result I found to be as refreshing as the exciting reinvention of Ironman back in 2008. We see Chris Evans breathe life and character into the character of Steve Rogers.
Of course we are not in the audience of Captain America for an in depth exploration of character..... This is after-all a blockbuster 3D tale about a soldier who jumps out of planes without a parachute and seems to be able to defend himself against a huge amount of bullets and rockets with a simple shield!
The story-line has also been used quite recently... I recall another hero,  James Bond and M in a recent tale about a compromised organisation which begins to turn on itself.
Taking the film with all of these compromises into consideration I still found this a credible superhero vehicle.

Of the supporting cast - Robert Redford, Samuel L Jackson and the previously mentioned Scarlet Johansson. Redford and Johansson give strong performances. I agree with others who have suggested that Johansson as The Black Widow has earned herself a film of her own. While Jackson's Nick Fury character I am beginning to find repetitive and too predictable.....There is the hope that change may be on the way regarding  the Nick Fury character(plot spoiler). However I believe that at least 80% of the audience could see through the seemingly actual demise of the character....note to director... must try harder next time!
I must admit I was relieved again to know that it was only really America that was at risk, and narrower than this that it was Washington DC that was the backdrop for our story..... the america-centric nature of the film is a little disappointing and this may ultimately cause it not to play well in the rest of the world.

However with all of its faults I did find the film well worth my time, it moved along at a good pace. Others have reported the final 20 minutes to be too full of over the top  'Bang! and Crash! I would disagree I felt that it was in proportion and leading us to the all to predictable ending.
IMDb give the film a strong 8.3 while Rotten Tomatoes scores Captain America: The Winter Soldier 94% from the critics and +99% from the audience.
I am of the opinion that the Rotten Tomatoes score is somewhat high presently, I would tend on balance to agree with IMDb with an overall score of 8.3 to 8.4.
While I wouldn't say this is a 'not to be missed' film and while it is unlikely to ever be thought of as a classic film, even of its type, I think that the film has merit if taken at face value, I have no doubt that audiences will continue to score this film highly.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

August: Osage County

Film: August: Osage County KL086 Singapore to Amsterdam
My film viewing was curtailed over the past week as I have been attending the IB 2014 Asia Pacific Regional Conference in Singapore.....it's tough but someone had to do it!
I have never been a huge fan of watching in flight movies, preferring the big screen experience. However as part of my strategy for sleeping on my return to The Netherlands I wanted to spend the early part of the flight watching a film. August:Osage County has been on my watch list for some time having seen trailers where Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts appear to be on top form.
The film film certainly embodies the matriarchal society in its most powerful form, we meet the force of nature that is Violet Weston (Streep) and her immediate family following the possibly self inflicted demise of husband Beverly. Violet had been diagnosed and is being treated for mouth cancer as we saw earlier in the story. I think it ironic that such torrents of abuse cascade from the area which is causing Violet such pain. The object of this bile is eldest daughter Barbara (Roberts). Barbara is quite capable of looking after herself 'like mother like daughter'

Violet's other daughters do not escape the wrath of Violet whose intolerance while part of her character is also being driven by the medication being somewhat oversubscribed by her doctor. Violet gives Streep the opportunity to show her full acting power and her onscreen presence is played off effectively against Roberts who is similarly blessed. Mention should also be made of Margo Martindale playing Violet's sister Mattie Fae.
Interesting then that the undoubtedly strong male cast members are all consigned to to pay 'bit parts' around the lives of the Weston women. It can't be often that Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Cooper went so unnoticed in a film.
August: Osage County was first seen as a Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name back in 2007. The film does show its origins as many of the scenes are based within Violet's house and have the feel of 'set pieces'. This does not however distract from the excellent performances from Streep and her acting sisters.
IMDb gives the film a score of 7.4 while Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 64% and an audience score of 71% presently. I am of the opinion that for all of its faults,  the performances of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts alone are worth an 8.6.
The film set up a fine flight for me, we had 'lights out' just after the conclusion which for me heralded 3 hours sleep. An excellent result I think you will agree.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Wes Anderson weekend

Pathe Bioscoop Buitenhof: Friday 14th March - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Filmhuis Den Haag: Saturday 15th March - Moonrise Kingdom

This weekend I was transported to the world of Wes Anderson. The experience feels more like having been inside his head reading his thoughts or more worrying having participated in a therapy session for Mr Anderson's deep seated psychological hang ups.
So many of Anderson's themes are very personal: family instability, parental infidelity dead animals, young love, the importance of colour to create emotion, direct dialogue delivered in a deadpan style straight to camera, his musical heritage and of course.... Bill Murray.
Murray is of course only one of the family, Ed Norton, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel and Jason Schwartzman are also essential to an Anderson film. Their participation the greater as seem willing to take small cameo roles in each offering.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a tale told by an aging writer about his adventures at the hotel of the title.
When we first enter the establishment it is down on its luck and far from the height of fashion. We meet he owner of the hotel Mr Moustafa, who our guide takes a meal with. we find out how the hotel became Mr Moustafa's property as he came under the influence of the hotel's legendary concierge from early in the 20th Century, the charismatic but horrendous Mr Gustave H (played with panache by Ralph Fiennes). The story is fantastical and very Wes Anderson with a mix of animation and oddly artificial live action we are carried along as the narrative plays out.... watch out for Willem Dafoe playing a malevolent presence through the piece.

The ensemble just works as they seem to have a sixth sense on the requirement of their acting when working with Anderson.
IMDb gives a 8.4  and Rotten Tomatoes 91% from the critics and 92% from the audience.....I have to say that I don't believe the story works so well I would suggest that 8.6 out of 10 would be a fairer score... I may have to watch the film a second or third time, which would not be a unpleasant experience.

I spotted the showing of Moonrise Kingdom almost by accident as I looked through the film listings for Saturday.
We are back on familiar Anderson territory and angst. As the two young outsiders experience first passionate love. Against the backdrop of  rural New England we follow Khaki Scout and orphan Sam Shakusky as he encounters and falls for the enigmatic Suzi Bishop.
All is played with the support of music from Benjamin Britten - Noye's Fludde ( Anderson and his brother performed in the piece when they were around 10 years old) and the Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra.
Our tale is narrated by Bob Balaban and contains other Anderson stalwarts - Keitel, Swinton, Norton, Swartzman and of course the ever eccentric Mr Murray playing Suzi's father.

The cast is supported by Bruce Willis and Frances McDormand, however it is the juvenile leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward and their peers who carry the film.
IMDb gives the film 7.4 while Rotten Tomatoes is more generous in awarding 94% from the critics and 86% from film-goers. I felt that Moonrise Kingdom works better as a story than does The Grand Budapest Hotel and have no problem in awarding it a creditable 9 out of 10.
Wes Anderson's reputation and integrity are preserved by both films which are true to his movie credentials......Anderson is back on form with The Grand Budapest Hotel following  Fantastic Mr Fox which I found to be not quite up to the usual standard

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

50 Plus night at the Pathe Buitenhof

It was with a spring in my step (ha!)..... that I caught the 24 bus to the Pathe Cinema Buitenhof for 50 plus night last evening. The deal was a screening at 7.15pm ( also at 1.30 on Tuesday) with a free coffee and chocolate.. all free with a cinema card.
I have missed the past two weeks as the offering has been Diana ( not my cup of tea!.. Diana scored 8% from critics and 27% from cinema goers -Rotten Tomatoes).

This week the main feature was Still Mine, a gentle and unpretentious drama ( based on a true story) set in rural New Brunswick.
The main characters are Craig and Irene Morrison, played sympathetically by James Cromwell and the devine Genevieve Bujold. Is it just me or is Bujold still a gorgeous creature? Her eyes still flash with a sensuousness that can beguile. Enough of this fawning!!
This simple but compelling story  follows Craig as he is prompted to build a new house, for his himself and his wife as she is gripped by the slow but steady onset of Alzheimers.

We meet two of their children and a sparky grandson along with their friends and neighbours in this battle of the craftsman versus 'the law'.
Undoubtedly it is the onscreen chemistry between Bujold and Cromwell that keeps the interest in what otherwise would be a ponderous film with a predictable ending. In truth this is a little gem of a Canadian film, I have to admit that this was my second viewing, I first watched Still Mine at the Filmhuis in the city back in the autumn of 2013.... and second time around my emotional heartstrings were duly tugged again, not only by the delightful Genevieve however, but by the whole story.
IMDb gives Still Mine 7.4 while Rotten Tomatoes  scores this a 93% from the critics and 87% from film-goers. Myself even with the lack of car chases and no hint of CGI ( Unless it was the cows!) and not a shoot out in sight give Still There 8.5 out of 10. You don't have to be over 50 to enjoy this film...... but it sure helps :-)
Still Mine garnered seven nominations in 2013 at the 1st Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Cromwell), Best Actress (Bujold), Best Original Screenplay (McGowan), Best Cinematography (Brendan Steacy), Best Editing (Roderick Deogrades) and Best Original Score (Hugh Marsh, Don Rooke and Michelle Willis).Cromwell won the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Film Week - Monday 3rd to Saturday 8th March

In previous weeks I have made the most of the Dutch Pathe 50 showings at The Buitenhof Cinema. However for the past two weeks they have been showing Diana on a Monday evening at 7.15 pm.
I have no desire to go to see this film. Over the past three years I have welcomed being out of range of UK media outlets such as The Daily Express and Daily Mail where a mawkish curiosity of the UK Royal family and Princess Diana in particular persists many years after her tragic death. I could care less of the performances in the film, however I did enjoy the Naomi Watts interview with Simon Mayo from the BBC Radio 5 film show.....

This probably gave the movie greater publicity than it deserved.

Monday 3rd March - Spike Jonze -  'Her'  Pathe Buitenhof  starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Scarlett Johanson as the OS - Warning possible plot spoilers ahead!
The film currently carries an 85% score with the public (94% from critics) on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.3 with  IMDb.
Our hero from a time in the future is Theodore Twombly. Twombly is a withdrawn and detached writer of letters, who is going through divorce.

The film is set in a future where the Simon Cowell fashion of the high trouser waistband seems to have won the day. Small in-ear devices are wirelessly linked to mini computers (much like the old fashioned cigarette box in design) these are carried in special pockets enabling video interaction with the 'real world'. Theodore is very sensitive, evidence this is shown in the empathy of his messages.
Into this lonely life comes a new computer operating system (Samantha) recommended to Theodore by his friend  Amy. The system is lauded as the next generation, an OS that interacts with its user and has the ability to learn and develop.
There develops a relationship between human and machine which seems very natural and loving. Her is shot by Jonze in the warm glow of the future with great colour saturation. The characters are largely quiet and reflective. Adams is excellent as the neighbour as is Phoenix,  each exudes calm despite their inner complexity and turmoil.
The central relationship of the film is as one might guess doomed.... there is a feel to the relationship between humans and computers which is similar to  2001 A Space Odyssey......
I would concur in general with the collective wisdom of the reviews and score HER as 8.5 out of 10. I would place it in the 'do not miss' category for 2014.

Wednesday 5th The Lego Movie 3D - Pathe Spuimarkt

A tale of mistaken identity where as usual a 'nobody' in this case a  standard Lego character called Emmet is 'selected' to be the saviour of the world.... Nothing new there then?
However in The Lego Movie does an excellent job of luring the audience into the story, and before long you too will be willing Emmet and his colourful group of friends seek to thwart the evil President Business.

Eventually we all truly believe 'Everything is Awesome' (or Ossum!)
The movie scores 90% with the audience (96% critic score) and 8.4 with IMDb.... I believe, love Lego, love the Lego Movie.... I would suggest a score of 8.6 - go for it, you will not be alone there will be adults in the movie theatre!

Saturday 9th March After the Tone - Zaal 2 - Filmhuis Den Haag
With my usual cinema going buddy Steve O'Regan off discovering Belgium ahead of his retirement next year, I did not want to watch a 'Blockbuster in IMAX or 3D as these are likely to be on the viewing schedule in the coming weeks.
Instead I headed the the Filmhuis to catch the intriguing 'Indie' film .. After the Tone. The film is built around the life of Onno. He is very successful with a great business family and friends. Onno has just won a prize and initially everyone is trying to get through to congratulate him.
We hear Onno's voicemail kick in at the outset of the film....

His business contacts and girlfriend(s) leave him many chatty message within the first 3 days.... however as time progresses and there is no response, concern and worry grow. Onno misses significant important events in addition to work meetings....nobody gets a reply. Each character who calls is recognised not only by voice and tome, but also by location. Time goes on and it dawns on friends and family slowly that Onno may not be coming back.
For a film where we do not see any of the characters, only hearing their voicemail messages it is remarkably touching and emotional, with Onno's mother, Sister Annet and business partner Adriaan being the highlight for me. The death of his father and how this affects the family is particularly poignant as is Adriaan's reading of his eulogy for Onno.
The film is in Dutch, but is subtitled in English, and is therefore great for those learning the language and Dutch idioms. Of course it is also an interesting film. IMDb scores it 7.5 and Rotten Tomatoes has not yet received any reviews. My score would be 7.9 out of 10. It won't change the world but does throw a light on the Dutch Psyche and also it interweaves the stories of those close to Onno through 365 days.. all in 85 minutes.
 I am looking forward in the coming week to viewing Robocop, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Non-Stop....

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Oscar fever....is the hype worth it?

On the face of it, the huge media circus taking place today, where filmmakers and stars who have been vying which each other for top spot finally clash seems vulgar and loaded with self importance.
The fact that production companies and their commodities have been lobbying members of the Oscar committee is even more telling.
I recall the comment that Philomena and Judy Dench would suffer in the final Oscar shakedown due to Dench's recent operation and incapacity... Which has forced the star to cut down on her travels. This is surely a sad reflection on the 'film industry'?
In the main the films which have risen to the top this year are some of the best. We know that the critics and other media will be looking for the film which runs off with the most 'gongs'....will it be Gravity.....or 12 Years a Slave?
While the movie industry does its best to place a greater emphasis on the 'nominated' category in order to ensure that a film's credentials are in the public domain. The ultimate strength of the Oscar juggernaut trumps these efforts and eventually renders the 'worthy also rans' road kill in its wake.

My thought would be to encourage filmgoers that you know to ensure that they view the wider list of films that have been nominated across all categories. This would allow cine goers to reward those films which are deserving.
I have to admit not to have seen many of the foreign language and short, first feature offerings. I will try harder and would welcome recommendations in order to enable me to broaden my viewing.

Good luck to all for The Oscar's today.

Update:
Well done to the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences for getting the awards spot on in 2014...it was great to see the awards distributed largely fairly amongst the nominees. This year while not a classic managed to reward the deserving:

2014 Oscar winners -

BEST PICTURE:
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:
Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club WINNER
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:
Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine - WINNER
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club WINNER
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave WINNER
BEST DIRECTOR:
Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity - WINNER
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
The Great Gatsby - WINNER
BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING:
BEST SHORT FILM (ANIMATED):
Mr Hublot - WINNER
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:
Frozen - WINNER
BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION):
Helium - WINNER
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT:
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life - WINNER
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
The Great Beauty (Italy) - WINNER
BEST SOUND MIXING:
Gravity - WINNER
BEST SOUND EDITING:
Gravity - WINNER
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:
Gravity - WINNER
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Gravity - WINNER
BEST FILM EDITING:
Gravity - WINNER
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:
The Great Gatsby - WINNER
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:
Gravity - WINNER
BEST ORIGINAL SONG:
Let It Go - Frozen WINNER
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
John Ridley - 12 Years a Slave WINNER
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
Spike Jonze - Her - WINNER