Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘drama’

There are a number of noteworthy and unusual things about Everything Everywhere All At Once, directed by ‘Daniels’ (this is the working name for the duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert); the film has apparently done unexpectedly well across a long and carefully-managed release, it is an (almost unprecedented) star vehicle for a leading lady a quarter-century on from her turn as a Bond girl; and there is the simple fact that the film is so damn weird. What is not so noteworthy or unusual is the film’s theme, which concerns an infinite multiplicity of closely connected parallel worlds and the main character’s perception of them. This is pretty standard story material at the moment, as we have already noted.

Michelle Yeoh, whose star has waxed impressively in the last five or six years despite her appearing in some (to my mind) decidedly iffy projects, plays Evelyn, a Chinese immigrant to America who has devoted her life to running a not especially successful laundrette with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, making what is surely one of the most impressive comebacks in recent years). But her relationship with her daughter (Stephanie Hsu) and father (James Hong, a veteran actor with a remarkable CV) is not good.

Worst of all, the business is being audited by the IRS, requiring all of them to go to the local tax office and contend with a not entirely sympathetic official (Jamie Lee Curtis). But strange things begin to occur as they arrive: Waymond in particular starts acting very oddly, writing strange notes to Evelyn giving her rather peculiar instructions. When she eventually follows them, she finds her consciousness transported into the janitor’s closet, which contains another version of her from a parallel universe. Or is the whole closet in another parallel universe? (It’s probably best not to worry too much about this kind of minor detail – and the thing about Everything Everywhere All At Once is that which universe the characters are in at any given moment really does constitute a minor detail.)

Well, it turns out that a parallel-universe version of Waymond is looking for Evelyn; or, to be exact, looking for an iteration of her with the potential to defeat a tyrannical multiversal despot named Jobu Tupaki (‘You’re just making up noises,’ complains Evelyn when told of this, not unreasonably). Jobu Tupaki has created a bagel with the potential to destroy the infinity of the multiverse (I promise you that this really is the plot), which interested parties are obviously keen to stop.

Fairly soon parallel-universe minions of Jobu Tupaki and members of other factions are possessing the bodies of their counterparts in Evelyn’s universe, intent on causing her some mischief, and so it falls to her to borrow the skills of some of her other iterations in order to fend them off (given Yeoh’s pedigree in Hong Kong action cinema you can probably imagine how this turns out). But what is the secret of Jobu Tupaki and can the apocalyptic bagel be neutralised before the whole of creation suffers?

Having just read that back I am aware that Everything Everywhere All At Once sounds like one of the stupidest, or at least most bloody-mindedly whimsical films ever made – and it does contain many moments which are finely-crafted pieces of absurdism and surrealism: quite apart from doomsday baked goods, there are transcendental paper cuts, dialogue scenes between rocks, and people doing things with trophies that defy genteel description. Not for the first time, the essentially cautious nature of the Marvel project is thrown into sharp relief by a smaller movie – the Dr Strange sequel suddenly looks very restrained indeed compared to the relentless frantic daftness of this film, both of them of course playing the idea of a multiplicity of parallel worlds. (What briefly resembled a spat between the two films on Twitter is rather peculiar given that talent both behind and in front of the camera on Everything Everywhere All At Once has been involved in Marvel Studios projects.)

It’s not quite as arbitrarily silly as it sounds, for there are rules and reasons for nearly everything that happens. What it really feels like, and I’m aware I don’t usually like this kind of reductionist comparison, is The Matrix blended with an offbeat indie comedy-drama: the kung fu stuff is great, even if it is quite daft, there’s a fairly solid rationale behind it all (though you do have to hang on really tight to keep track of all of the plot), and – somehow – underpinning everything is a relatively serious story about a woman coming to terms with her life and her relationships with her family.

It takes a while to get here, naturally, and one of the criticisms I’d make is that the endless possibilities that the film explores turn out to be just a bit too endless: I’d say it was about 15-20% too long, with most of the fat coming in the second and third acts. There are still some good jokes and inspired ideas, but I found myself flagging as the film bounced through yet another new take on its characters and concepts without much going on in the way of forward motion.

This being, at least in part, a film about the Chinese-American experience, it’s not entirely surprising that it eventually resolves as a kind of family saga – this is one of those films where colossal mayhem and an apocalyptic threat proves to be mainly a pretext for the protagonist to sort out their domestic relationships. But it’s a bit deeper than that – rather as with the TV series Life After Life, it eventually tackles concepts of existentialism and nihilism – if you can have or be everything, then ultimately you reach a point where nothing means anything. I’m not entirely convinced by the film’s solution to this particular philosophical quandary, but it at least does present some kind of answer to it.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is the kind of film which looks brilliant and inspired in the trailer; the challenge is how to take such a soaringly high concept and turn it into a functional and satisfying narrative. The Daniels do a pretty good job with it, in the end, although this is not a film which is especially strong on coherence. Nevertheless, there are so many good individual bits to enjoy that I am very happy to overlook the flaws in the overall story. It’s a mad and challenging film, but I mean that in the most positive way.

Read Full Post »

There’s something oddly familiar about the opening sequence of Robert Eggers’ The Northman, and it took me a moment to figure out what it was: smoke belches from the bowels of the earth into an ominous sky, thunder rumbles, and a gravelly-to-the-point-of-being-impossible-to-understand voice-over proclaims we are about the hear the legendary story of a prince and his quest for a terrible revenge in a long-past mystic era…

And I was a bit thrown when a thunderously bombastic Basil Poledouris score didn’t crash in and drive the movie on through the opening credits (like an increasing number of modern movies, it doesn’t even have a title card until the very end). The opening of The Northman recreates the beginning of John Milius’ version of Conan the Barbarian so carefully that it doesn’t seem possible that this is a coincidence – in fact, you could argue that in some ways this is the most authentic recreation of the original Conan stories brought to the screen for many years, right down to individual scenes recreating moments from the text (provided you ignore the fact the film has no explicit links to Robert E Howard’s creation and is specifically set in a different time and place).

Ethan Hawke plays King Aurvandill War-Raven, a Dark Ages king from modern Norway, who is knocking on enough to be thinking about the succession issues that will inevitably occur when he eventually takes an axe to the guts he just can’t walk away from (it comes to us all eventually). He duly takes his young son Amleth down into the cavern beneath the local shrine to Odin where, together with Willem Defoe, they put on leather shorts and bark like dogs for a while (this is by no means the last unexpectedly startling scene in the movie). It turns out that Aurvandill was right to be concerned, as not long after he is murdered by his brother Fjolnir (Claes Bang), who seizes the title and also his brother’s widow (Nicole Kidman).

Well, the only option left for young Amleth is to swear to avenge his father, rescue his mother and kill his uncle, and make his escape across the North Sea by rowing boat until he’s big and strong enough to mount a decent roaring rampage of revenge. He ends up, as luck would have it, somewhere in eastern Europe, becoming a member of a band of berserker warriors and turning into the strapping figure of Alexander Skarsgard somewhere along the way.

All the howling at the moon and tearing people’s throats out with his teeth seems to have distracted Amleth from his oath of vengeance, but luckily a passing seeress with a very impressive hat made of corn (she is played by Bjork, who may well have provided her own costume) reminds him of the destiny that awaits him, and obliging reveals that Fjolnir has been booted out of Norway and settled down in Iceland. Instantly deciding to get on with the whole avenging deal – in fact, so instantly one is almost inclined to raise an eyebrow, but there are many things about The Northman you just have to sit back and go with – Amleth sneaks aboard a boat taking slaves off to Iceland, where he meets Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is not just a slave but also a Slav. However, etymology is not key amongst the topics they discuss during the trip, just her potential usefulness to his plans and the prospects for a Scandi-Slav hook-up before the movie is over…

As you can perhaps tell, this is the kind of historical epic that Hollywood used to regularly make not very well, frequently starring people like Tony Curtis or Alan Ladd. Those old movies tended to be enjoyable only as pieces of camp; The Northman is a bit melodramatic in places but in general it seems to expect to be taken seriously. Whether or not this is possible is another question – it’s certainly an impressive-looking and powerfully atmospheric movie but in its best moments it is so outrageously and concertedly over-the-top it can be a little difficult to keep a straight face while watching it.

The on-the-ball reader will already have figured out that the legend of Amleth, his dead father and his usurping uncle has already inspired not just Hamlet but also The Lion King, so it’s not like we’re dealing with a bold new story idea here (although the treatment is obviously different – ‘to behead or not to behead, that is the question’). However, in many ways the story structure keeps on ringing bells – the treatment of a pagan, viscerally brutal world is powerful, but the underlying narrative keeps on hitting very traditional beats. Supporters of the film will probably say that this is the point – it’s an archetypal story drawing on the same folk-legends that have inspired many previous writers (Robert E Howard amongst them). Nevertheless, I think it’s a shame that a film which is obviously the work of people with real vision and creativity should also be quite so predictable.

That said, the kind of audience that seems most likely to respond to The Northman probably won’t be going along in search of great narrative subtleties. Anyone without much of an appetite for crunching violence, heavy gore, and frequent mutilation may find the film tough going, for all that the film also has visual imagination in spades. Eggers himself was apparently a bit concerned before taking the project on that the film would tap into too many stereotypes of white supremacist culture: a particularly bonkers flavour of Caucasian hetero-normativity.

Certainly the film is striking in its adherence to a particular vision of life in the Dark Ages. All the things that usually get slipped into this kind of film when they’re made by a big studio are absent – there’s no comedy relief, no attempt to import modern sensibilities or present past cultures as somehow analogous to modern societies. This is the sort of thing that almost sounds logical, given we’re talking about a historical drama, but it marks The Northman out as niche rather than mainstream entertainment, and potentially controversial entertainment at that.

Let’s just say it likely has cult status in its future. There is a lot here to enjoy – Nicole Kidman gives one of her best performances in ages, and the rest of the cast are also strong; the action is often superbly mounted; and Eggers creates a coherent and convincing world for the story to unfold in. It’s just that it’s all a little bit too predictable, almost coming across as another headbangingly macho action movie even though it’s clear that Eggers has slightly more elevated concerns. In the end there remains a question mark over whether it’s possible to take The Northman seriously as a drama, given the setting and the subject matter. Some people may be able to – but I’m not sure I can, at least not completely. But I did have a good time watching it.

Read Full Post »

Given the sheer volume of films celebrating the achievements of plucky little Britain during the years of the Second World War, you might be forgiven for reaching the conclusion that the cupboard of history is bare, the well is dry, everything has been done – Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Enigma, The Imitation Game, The Gathering Storm, Into the Storm, Atonement, and that’s just from this century alone. Surely the British war movie industry is on the verge of finally running out of steam?

Well, maybe not: for here comes John Madden’s Operation Mincemeat, which has managed to identify one of the few incidents from the war not yet brought to the screen: a feat of misdirection brought about in the weeks and months leading up to the invasion of Sicily in Summer 1943. Quite apart from allowing the Allies to open a new front in the European war, the assault on Sicily is of significance as essentially being a test-run for the Normandy landings planned for the following year.

Of paramount importance is the need to keep the Nazis guessing as to what the Allies are up to – which leads to the involvement of a top-secret committee made up of members of the different armed services, with the objective of misdirecting German intelligence. Recently seconded to the group is lawyer-turned-intelligence-officer Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth); also present is RAF officer Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen). Overseeing proceedings, and basically providing an authority figure for the protagonists to kick against heroically, is Jason Isaacs as the stuffy chairman of the committee; Johnny Flynn occasionally pops up as a junior naval intelligence bod named Ian Fleming.

The idea is to get the Germans looking at Greece as the main prospective target of the Allied attack, rather than Sicily, and the scheme that Montagu and Cholmondeley cook up is to sell this idea by putting fake plans for the Greek attack on an actual corpse, which they then dump at sea somewhere it will be washed up and found by someone sympathetic to the Nazi cause. For this they need to find an appropriate corpse, then all the relevant details must be attended to, and their superiors convinced that this gambit is going to work – get it wrong, and the Germans will know exactly where the Allied taskforce is heading…

Also on the team are doughty office manager Hester (Penelope Wilton) and office worker Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald), and together they begin putting the deception together. The film makes it clear that this was one of the most spectacularly successful pieces of misdirection in military history, and it has already been the subject of one movie (1956’s The Man Who Never Was, in which Ewen Montagu himself made a cameo appearance) – but I can see how a film looking in detail at how the trick was pulled would seem like a good idea and have a decent chance of finding an audience.

The problem with Operation Mincemeat is that John Madden and scriptwriter Michelle Ashford seem to have set their sights on a more ambitious target than simply detailing one particular intelligence operation. Instead of just making a true-life spy thriller, they also have a go at making a doomed wartime romance, a drama about the personal relationships and conflicts between a group of Admiralty spies, a slightly tongue-in-cheek romp playing with some of the conventions of British espionage fiction, and… you get the idea.

Madden is probably still best remembered for Shakespeare in Love, a rich, discursive, sprawling tapestry of a movie which worked on many different levels. In a sense it was about the whole cultural impact of Shakespeare, and naturally carried with it the opportunity for many different tones. This is, in theory at least, a somewhat more serious movie about one particular Second World War intelligence operation, and so it doesn’t naturally lend itself to the same kind of approach.

Perhaps this explains the distinct sense of the movie being almost a patchwork quilt made up of fragments of different script drafts, which sometimes feels like it’s dragging its feet a bit just to get up to an appropriately ‘epic’ running time. It’s not as if the central spine of the narrative isn’t filled with fascinating and occasionally macabre detail: the first thing the team have to do is lay their hands on a corpse who could conceivably have drowned, and then ensure he is – for want of a better word – deployed before the natural processes of decay become too far advanced. Later on there is a desperate attempt to ensure the faked battle plans actually do cross the path of a German agent in Spain (the natural inclination of the principled Spanish is to give the papers straight back, unread). There could be a good, taut, interesting movie here.

Splicing onto this extended scenes in which Montagu and Leslie effectively carry on a relationship-by-proxy while working out the details of the love life of their nonexistent dead officer and his equally ontologically-challenged girlfriend changes the film’s whole centre of balance, especially when it becomes clear that Cholmondeley’s objection to this kind of office fraternisation is not entirely disinterested. Suddenly the whole issue of the deception operation feels like it’s been pushed into the background of a film which is actually about the complicated personal lives of some work colleages, and each new subplot and character only contributes to this further – there’s a subplot about Montagu’s slightly feckless brother (Mark Gatiss) possibly being a Russian spy, some quite high-level political intrigue about the possible existence of an anti-Hitler movement within the upper echelons of the Nazi administration, and even some in-jokey wink-wink stuff that felt a bit tired to me – there’s a lot of knowing material about Ian Fleming trotting down to Q Branch and playing with a watch that’s secretly a buzzsaw, while Matthew Macfadyen (veteran of a 19-episode run in TV’s Spooks) gets some equally arch dialogue about the ‘spooks’ he’s working with and the nature of their activities.

Little of this is flat-out bad, but the cumulative effect of it all is to slow the film down and make it seem bloated – what feels like it should be a 100-minute movie at most eventually clocks in at over two hours. Operation Mincemeat isn’t focused or innovative enough to really stand out in what is, as noted, a rather crowded marketplace (they seem to have run out of new actors to play Churchill and so Simon Russell Beale reprises a role he’s previously played on TV). The story at the heart of this project is an undeniably fascinating one, but the problem is that Operation Mincemeat too often feels preoccupied with other matters. Predictably solid performances from a quality cast, but this feels several drafts away from a script which would be worthy of their talents.

Read Full Post »

Sometimes things turn up in unexpected places, a bit like Julie Andrews in Aquaman (still, to my mind, the most baffling near-cameo in recent history). A current case in point would be Ali & Ava, written and directed by Clio Barnard (I’m pretty sure I once knew someone who drove a second-hand Clio Barnard, though I may be misremembering again). This does a very good job of looking like a gritty, naturalistic, potentially rather glum slice of life in the grim north of England, very much in the post-Kes Ken Loach tradition, and as such you’d expect it to be a dead cert for independent and art-house cinemas. But its only showing in Oxford, so far as I could discover, was in the tiniest screen of one of the Odeons (the indies were all busy truffling up money from showing Batman three times a day, but if this is the price of keeping them open then one can hardly get too irritated by it. Even so, one lunchtime showing a day on weekdays only is not really what I would call a fair crack of the whip – but it’s better than nothing.

This is a movie produced with the assistance of Screen Yorkshire, an organisation which has recently been involved in a number of productions with nary a whippet or a flat cap in sight (they got credits on Censor and The Duke, not to mention The Witcher). This one, however, is proudly and unmistakably set in present-day Bradford.

Bradford is famously multi-cultural, a fact which is at the heart of Barnard’s story. We meet Ali, a landlord and part-time DJ, a bit of a cheeky chappie and – at first sight – a relentlessly perky and upbeat character in every sense of the word. Ali is played by Adeel Akhtar, a very able actor whose profile has been rising inexorably over the last few years – he played Kumail Nanjiani’s brother in The Big Sick, was Inspector Lestrade in the baffling Enola Holmes, and I’m pretty sure he was in some commercials for a well-known supermarket chain as well. Also central to the story, as you might expect, is Ava, a widowed classroom assistant and matriarch of a sizeable brood of children and grandchildren. She is played by Claire Rushbrook, another capable performer – she was also in Enola Holmes, as well as appearing in Spice World and Secrets and Lies (just to prove that some things are currently inescapable, she also played a version of the supervillain Lady Beetle in a Marvel movie, though not so most people would notice).

Well, one of Ali’s tenants is a refugee child being tutored by Ava, and they eventually bump into one another; he ends up giving her a lift home in the rain. They discover a shared love of music, albeit not of the same genre: Ali’s penchant for dance and Ava’s fondness for folk both inform the soundtrack. One thing, as they say, leads to another. But naturally there are complications: Ali has a wife, whom he is separated from but still sharing a house with; their split is still a secret (the conservative nature of the Muslim community in Bradford makes this virtually obligatory). He clearly also suffers from depression. Ava is still feeling the effects of an abusive relationship in her past, which has also marked her children. Can it really work out between them?

I took my co-spousal unit to see Ali & Ava and we both enjoyed the film, although at the end her comment was that she had expected a bit more in the way of action. After a little further interrogation, it transpired she had not been hankering for fist-fights and car-chases, but just more actual plot. Co-spousal unit likes a good yarn with a few twists and turns and revelations to it; she is less easily beguiled by films which operate in a more purely aesthetic and artistic fashion.

The story of Ali & Ava is pretty straightforward: they meet, get on, meet again, become closer, vacillate on the edge of becoming an actual item for some time, etc, etc. It’s less of a story and more like just watching people get on with their lives. It’s certainly not a traditional chocolate-box romance – but I would go so far as to say that this isn’t really a romance per se, but more of a drama and character study which just happens to concern this rather atypical relationship. Slowly it is revealed that both characters have baggage from their past to struggle with, and naturally their friends and families are a little surprised and not entirely supportive of their coming together. There is a bit of an age-gap, but the film dwells more on the ethnic difference between the couple – racism is an issue, but one that the film handles with an impressively light and subtle touch. It’s much more concerned with gradually deepening and exploring the characters and their backgrounds – this is a drama about two individuals rather than a statement about race relations in contemporary Britain.

The playing from both leads is excellent, and they are well supported – it looks very much like many of the cast are non-professionals (again in the Kes tradition). The film’s other big draw is that looks beautiful, even when depicting quite unpromising scenes and landscapes – it feels like part of the film’s aim is to remind people of the moments of quiet beauty which occur in everyday life, and in a visual sense it certainly succeeds.

For a film which you might expect to find in an art house cinema, there is a carefully disciplined script that the film is built around. It is, perhaps, even surprisingly conventional, with a traditional three-act structure and most of the beats you would expect to find incorporated within that. But if nothing else this gives the film form and focus even when it sometimes feels like not much is going on in terms of narrative. The result is a film with considerable warmth and humanity to it, though it doesn’t attempt to conceal the harsher elements of life either. Calling it commendable and worthy probably sounds like damnation by faint praise; it’s a much more engaging and funny film than that.

Read Full Post »

As I may have alluded to before, I spent three months last Autumn living with family, a situation which none of us had ever really anticipated happening pre-pandemic. As a result, even more than usual I had a constant eye out for interesting films which would, not to put too fine a point on it, get me out of the house and give them a break from me. One of the movies which popped up on the radar was Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, which enjoyed a very brief run at the local art house at the end of November. I pencilled it in. Then various people in the house tested positive for Covid, which put the mockers on any social movie-going for well over a week.

So we’ve only just got around to watching it (on TV, need it be said), which poses an interesting question. The Power of the Dog seems to have a lock on every single Best Film award going, with Campion enjoying a similar status with respect to Best Director prizes (I would have said something similar about Benedict Cumberbatch and the Best Actor gongs until he got beaten by Will Smith at the BAFTAs); it is the critical darling of the season. Do I therefore find myself more inclined to say nice things about it, than would have been the case three months ago? Have I spared myself the embarrassment of basically saying ‘Mmm, well, it’s okay,’ about what later proved to be a towering instant classic?

It’s a moot point. What is certain is that this is an adaptation of a relatively obscure novel by Thomas Savage, set in the wide open spaces of Montana in the 1920s. Cumberbatch plays Phil Burbank, one of a pair of brothers who own a successful cattle ranch – it is fair to say Phil knows his own mind and is not too concerned about social niceties like politeness or personal hygiene. He routinely addresses his mild-mannered brother George (Jesse Plemons) as ‘fatso’ and there is never any doubt over who is really in charge, certainly when it comes to ordering the hired hands about.

Then, in the course of one of their regular cattle drives, the brothers meet a widowed inn proprietress named Rose (Kirsten Dunst), and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). George takes rather a shine to Rose, much to Phil’s disdain – Phil himself is scathing about Peter, declaring him to be weak and effeminate. You may therefore be able to imagine Phil’s response when George elects to marry Rose and bring her back to the ranch, with the prospect of Peter staying with them for long periods of time, although the extent of the campaign of psychological warfare Phil embarks upon may still come as a surprise. But is there something deeper behind Phil’s vicious resentment of Rose and her son?

It would be remiss of me not to point out that the critical acclaim The Power of the Dog has received has not quite been entirely universal – ‘hate is not too strong a word’ for one friend’s response to it, while the actor Sam Elliott’s complaints that the film misrepresents the American west, being altogether too gay, and had no business being filmed in New Zealand, have been met with bemusement and some mockery (this apparent insistence on Dogme-like authenticity is a little surprising coming from someone who appeared in Hulk, Ghost Rider, and The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot).

Then again, this is ostensibly a western, and that’s one of the genres that certain kinds of traditionalist can be a bit over-protective of, on the grounds that it epitomises all the key values of both America and genuine masculinity. Well, that’s a point of view, but there would be a lot to unpack there and I think the key question is whether The Power of the Dog really qualifies as a western at all. Geographically it’s on point, of course, although the mid-1920s setting is a shade after the ’classic’ period (although not by much – The Wild Bunch is set in the 1910s, after all).  But really it comes down to the essence of the genre, which for me is about issues of morality and self-realisation; how people choose to behave in a context where the laws of civilised society are still nascent and open to debate. If The Power of the Dog touches on this, it’s only very obliquely; this is a very modern film in its focus on issues of identity and its psychological depth – although I would agree there’s a lot of self-realisation, or lack of it, in the back-stories of the major characters here. It may be a western, but it’s also a brooding psycho-drama and a character piece, particularly with regard to Phil Burbank.

I mentioned a while back about how we are currently enjoying a period of Peak Cumberbatch; I’ve no idea how well the Louis Wain film actually did money-wise, but the last Marvel movie he appeared in was practically the definition of a smash hit and (BAFTA excepted) he looks set to fill up his bathroom with prizes for this one (I don’t think it’s too controversial to suggest that Netflix fund films like The Power of the Dog to get credibility rather than make money). And deservedly so: he succeeds in making Phil a colossally nasty piece of work without going over the top or suggesting he is irredeemably bad. The film gains much of its effect from the suggestion in the second half that he may not be, although this is a film with an essential element of ambiguity to it. Characters’ motives remain unclear – when Phil suddenly begins to act much more amiably towards Peter, is it out of a genuine desire to make a connection, or is it just part of his latest plan to make Rose’s life even more miserable? Questions like these are where the power of the film emanates from.

It’s a terrific performance from Cumberbatch and one which makes up the core of the film – though he is very capably supported by the rest of the cast, most of whom are also up for awards recognition, and deservedly so. (Jesse Plemons in particular deserves credit for taking a stolid sort of character who apparently says and does very little and turning him into a three-dimensional human being.)

Then again, and I don’t think I’m being wise after the fact, the whole film is of the kind which radiates class and quality – New Zealand stands in for Montana to breath-taking effect, and there’s a nicely understated score from Jonny Greenwood too. All the elements are marshalled with great precision and skill by Campion, who nevertheless never gets caught either writing or directing the film with ostentation. And while I’ve spent a lot of time talking about The Power of the Dog’s awards chances, it’s the actual quality of the film which counts. I can see how it might not be to everyone’s taste – too slow, or too oblique, to say nothing of the subject matter – but this is still a film of substance.

Read Full Post »

It sometimes feels like people have been talking about ‘the return of cinema’ virtually since the moment that cinema sort-of went away, nearly two years ago. One film after another has been touted as the harbinger for the return of business as usual at the box office – first Tenet, then Black Widow (along with a few others at the start of last summer), James Bond, and finally the most recent Spider-Man. You would have thought the massive take of No Way Home would have put an end to this kind of chatter, but no: apparently the fact Covid restrictions were still in place when it came out means that $1.6 billion-and-counting somehow doesn’t qualify as ‘business as usual’ – and so the baton has been passed on again, this time to Matt Reeves’ The Batman. (We have discussed in the past the rather cute phenomenon where the addition of a definite article apparently elevates a film about someone dressing up as a bat to punch crooks to the status of Serious Drama With Gravitas.)

You know me, I’m never ever cynical, but someone who was might offer the thought that most of the people declaring The Batman to be the First True Post-Pandemic Hit are those with a vested interest in seeing it be a hit of any kind. Certainly this is a big, expensive, rather unwieldy movie, which I’m slightly surprised to see getting a release this early in the year – presumably Warners are wary about putting it up against the Dr Strange sequel, which is likely to dominate the early-summer landscape, although this would be a surprising sign of a lack of confidence given it is, after all, a Batman film.

But, you might ask, what’s another Batman film in a release schedule which already includes outings for Morbius the Living Vampire, Dr Strange, the Flash, Thor, Aquaman, Black Adam and many more? A reasonable question, and a Batman film is, self-evidently, a superhero movie on some level. But I’d argue there’s also a sense in which Batman transcends the superhero genre. People have been making films about Batman for longer than any other costumed hero; the 1989 Tim Burton film practically invented the modern superhero movie template.

When you add in the various TV series and spin-off movies – and DC and Warners’ willingness to exploit this particular property with absurd thoroughness has deservedly been the subject of satire, even in their own projects – you reach a situation which is almost unique. Your average person in the street with minimal knowledge of the lore of even one of the big-name Marvel characters will still likely know the name of Batman’s butler, be able to identify many of his regular opponents, and not need to have things like the Batmobile and the Batcave explained to them. In short, Batman and his world have acquired an almost folkloric status as something complete and resonant in and of themselves; they have become archetypal, something which even extends to comparatively minor characters like the crime boss Falcone (played by Tom Wilkinson in Christopher Nolan’s first Batman movie and John Turturro in the new one).

The great advantage this gives to film-makers is that they have a lot more creative latitude to work with – they don’t have to bother introducing all these characters every time, and because there have been so many different iterations already, they don’t have to worry about creating some kind of mythical ‘definitive’ version of the comics character. The Batman mythos is uniquely open to being adapted to suit the creative vision of anyone working within it.

So what is Matt Reeves’ take on the material? He establishes quite quickly that Batman has only been doing his thing for a couple of years, as you’d expect given the casting of the youthful-looking Robert Pattinson in the role. (Given he routinely goes around introducing himself by growling ‘I am vengeance’, it’s not surprising several characters start calling him Mr Vengeance instead of Batman.) There’s a nice sequence demonstrating that Batman really is intent on a reign of terror against Gotham City’s criminal element, then we’re off into the plot proper: in the middle of an election campaign, Gotham’s mayor is gruesomely murdered by someone who enjoys leaving fiendishly tricky puzzles at the crime scene; Batman and his ally Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) follow the trail, but find themselves uncovering a conspiracy hinting at festering corruption at the heart of the city’s establishment. But what does the killer really want – and what’s a good name for a villain obsessed with riddles, anyway…?

Reeves’ version of Gotham City inclines a bit more towards Nolan’s than Burton’s; it’s certainly light years away from anything in the Joel Schumacher films. The vibe is very much one of Watchmen meeting Seven – the main point of distinction, really, between this and the Nolan trilogy is the pervasive sense of stygian gloom and incipient horror that’s constantly in the air.

This is certainly the bleakest and most nihilistic movie ever to engage in high-profile cross-promotion with a Japanese subcompact crossover SUV and a brand of cream-filled sandwich cookie (you can imagine Matt Reeves groaning and sinking his face into his hands when he heard about this). In many ways the film takes rather an easy and obvious option in this department, presenting Gotham (and by extension the world) as a relentlessly horrible, nightmarish place, where society is riddled with corruption from top to bottom, and Batman himself is engaged on a futile (and perhaps counterproductive) crusade driven more by an urge to violence than any higher motive. There is occasionally the odd grace note of hope, of course.

To work in this kind of setting, the Batman characters are all dialled down to their most naturalistic settings, in the process losing most of the gaudy whimsicality which is surely what made them so memorable – a fat-suited Colin Farrell is unrecognisable as the Penguin, which has a certain symmetry to it as this version of the character is virtually unrecognisable as the top-hatted and umbrella-wielding villain most people will be familiar with. Something similar goes on with Zoe Kravitz’s love-interest burglar, who is a Woman With Cats, but not permitted to be anything more outlandish. Paul Dano is effective enough as the Riddler, but also essentially unrecognisable – he’s a combination of splenetic InCel and online conspiracy-monger.

Despite all this, the film often bears a surprising resemblance to previous Batman movies – if we’re serious about our thesis that Batman films are their own separate subgenre, then these moments of repetition would be the conventions of the form. The suggestion that Batman has more in common with the villain than he would perhaps be comfortable with gets articulated again, although quite subtly for most of the movie; more prosaically, the unveiling of the new Batmobile is held back until the second act, acting as the prelude to a big action sequence. In the end Gotham City itself – or at least a big chunk of it – faces an existential threat.

It’s a polished, well-mounted and effective movie, that tells a complex tale well, with some strong performances – but I can’t help feeling that the very archetypal quality that enables it to function also keeps it from really being distinctive. The Nolan movies worked so well in part because they were so startlingly different from what had come before them – this film feels more like Batman-as-usual, albeit done to a high standard, and with lashings of extra gloom and oppressiveness. (Michael Giacchino’s score is effective, but his Batman theme is about one modulation away from turning into Darth Vader’s, which I’m sure wasn’t the intention.)

Nevertheless, this is towards the top of the pile of recent DC Comics movies – which means that, the modern world being as it is, two sequels and various TV spin-offs are already in the works. Clearly Warner Brothers are convinced that you can never have too much Batman. I’m not so sure – but a visit to Gotham City now and then has its own special pleasures, many of which The Batman successfully provides.

Read Full Post »

There’s something tremendously familiar and comforting about The Duke (one of the last films directed by Roger Michell before his recent death) and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this was part of the plan. It sits comfortably within the hats-and-fags period comedy drama genre which the British film industry is extremely adept at, it stars a couple of much-loved national treasures, and – based on the audience response at the screening I went to – it shows every sign of being a genuine crowd-pleaser.

The story is based on one of those odd little true stories which has largely slipped from public recollection, although a gag referencing it is still there at the root of British cinema’s most enduring franchise (which the movie duly references). The year is 1961 and the government has just stumped up £140,000 to save a Goya portrait of the Duke of Wellington ‘for the nation’, much to the annoyance of Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent), an aspiring playwright and genuine social justice warrior resident in Newcastle (‘that’s not a real name,’ someone complains, not unreasonably).

Bunton is, not to put too fine a point on it, a fully-paid-up member of the awkward squad. (In reality he was a disabled former bus driver, something the film opts not to explore.) His current campaign is to secure free television licenses for pensioners, which he pursues to the point of reconfiguring his set so it can only receive the commercially-funded channels and then doing a short stint of porridge for non-payment.

Bunton’s wife Dorothy (Helen Mirren) has had enough of all this and orders him to pack it in. He agrees, after one last trip to London – which just happens to coincide with the Goya painting disappearing from the National Gallery one night. Soon enough Kempton and his son (Fionn Whitehead) are building a secret false back on the spare room wardrobe to hide the purloined portrait, making very sure that Dorothy never finds out about it. Kempton’s plan is to hang onto the picture until the government agrees to his demands to provide free TV licenses to the elderly – but his biggest problem may be persuading anyone to take him seriously in the first place…

There’s a big debt to many of the classic Ealing comedy films here, many of which concerned a plucky little everyman and his travails in dealing with the establishment – the setting is just after that of Ealing’s heyday, but the look of the film is still very familiar. (In a canny move, the producers have saved themselves a bit of cash by digitally inserting Jim Broadbent into archive footage of early-60s London.) Broadbent makes the most of some very funny lines, especially during the courtroom scenes towards the end of the film. But this is also a film with a contemporary sensibility, with the characters given pathos and emotional depth; there is a subplot about a family tragedy which it’s hard to imagine in a film of this kind from a previous generation.

Some critics have already begun suggesting this is a timely film – slightly ironic, this, given that it was presumably filmed pre-pandemic in order to receive its world premiere in late 2020. One would hope that this is because the film does raise questions about the degree to which we are dependent upon each other as a society, and the extent to which we should consider our collective requirements rather than remaining focused on individual success. On the other hand, Bunton’s determination to do something about elderly people being forced to pay for their TV license is potentially problematic: there is certainly a case to be made for certain specific groups being exempt. But on the other hand the issue of old people being criminalised for not paying for a license is the kind of fig-leaf pretext regularly adopted by those who would like to see the BBC completely abolished on ideological grounds. I strongly doubt most of the key players in this movie would be on board with that, and one could wish they’d handled that particular element of the story with a slightly lighter touch or different approach; as it is, one can imagine the film being adopted and championed in pursuit of an agenda it doesn’t honestly represent.

It’s not as if the film doesn’t do the usual thing of playing rather fast and loose with the actual historical events it depicts – events which actually played out over a number of years are portrayed here as occurring over a vague but shorter period, while the background to a key third-act plot twist appears to have been somewhat misrepresented, presumably at the request of the Bunton family (who were involved in the production).

Nevertheless, this is a solid production and a very likeable film – as I’ve already mentioned, this is simply the kind of film which the British film industry makes very well (often several times a year). You can sort of imagine something like it turning up on TV and being perfectly acceptable on the small screen, but it does have a cinematic polish and ambition, and some very strong performances. Helen Mirren is saddled with a slightly thankless role as, essentially, a scold with a comedy regional accent, but delivers this effectively; the film is really Jim Broadbent’s from beginning to end, balancing some quite broad comedy with moments of poignancy and sincere human decency: if it had received a wider release you would Broadbent to be in the running for at least a few gongs. (Matthew Goode works some kind of minor miracle by actually managing to make an impression opposite Broadbent as his barrister, in the courtroom sequences.)

There’s a lot to like about The Duke, not least its basic positivity and optimism about humanity in general; that it manages to put this across without being sentimental and actually working as a comedy as well as a drama is rather impressive. There is a sense in which it is, undoubtedly, the kind of film you’ve seen before, probably more than once, but on its own terms it is a superior and very effective production.

Read Full Post »

Allo again, ma dear friends! Yes, I, ze great Poirot, ‘ave been called out of retairment once more to feel in for your regulair correspondent as he ‘as ‘ad a beet of a sneefle zis week. Ze timeeng is, again, fortuitous, as zees coincides wiz ze arrival in cineemas of Kenneth Brannair’s latest crack at one of my most celebrated cases, Death on the Nile (as originally told by ma old pal Aggie, of course).

Zis is a movie wheech ‘as been ‘anging around for a bit, because of ze pandemic playing ze merry hell with cinema release dates. Indeed, since ‘e finished it M. Brannair has gone off and made an ‘ole othair movie which ‘as already come out. It eez, as you might expect, a laveesh sort of affair and so all the various backairs are surely keen to get a proper return on their investments. So, if ah poot ze little grey cells into action, can ah ascertain just what their chances are of an agreeable outcoom?

Ken ‘imself returns as ze Brannair-Poirot, who – like ze real me – is a brilliant detective and wonderfool chap, but also – unlike ze Poirot vrai – a beet of a weirdo who someone at one point calls ‘an egomaniacal freak’. Tch! Perhaps ze most obvious difference is that, in these over-exposited times, Poirot is not to be permitted just to be Poirot, and so zere is ze extended prologue sequence filling in ze back-story of the Brannair-Poirot, particularly why he has grown ‘is rideeculous moostache and why he approaches his detecting wiz such an all-consuming monastic zeal. It is not streectly necessary from a plot point of view but it does ze nice job of setting up ze moral premise of ze movie.

Anyway, back in ze present day, or at least ze 1930s, zere is a bit of rinky-dinky plotting involved in setting everything up before all ze principal characters actually end oop on ze rivair Nile. (Brannair ‘elpfully puts up a caption saying ‘ze Nile’ over a picture of a rivair wiz some big pyramids next to it, because you should nevair overestimate the intelligence of your audience.) Ze plot basically concerns a luxury cruise taken by a boonch of rich people, two of ‘oom ‘ave just got spliced – zey are played by Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer. Of course, both of zem ‘ave ze odd old flame ‘anging about ze place, and zere are various troublesome relatives, servants, entertainairs, and so on, because if you are going to ‘ave ze all-star cast zey all ‘ave to ‘ave parts to play. (Some of ze more prominent folk involved are Annette Bening, Sophie Okonedo, Russell Brand, French and Saunders, and so on.)

Inevitably, what wiz ze film being called Death on the Nile, someone gets ze chop. Actually, zere is quite a lot of chopping zis time around before everything is resolved, and ze Brannair-Poirot must spring into action and do some heavy-duty detecting before ze cruise ship gets back to civilisation. Zere is even some actual springing into action involved, wiz ze Brannair-Poirot chasing ze killair about and getting quite physical, not soomthing I would evair actually do mahself. Can Ken get his man (or woman)?

Well, ah think we all know zat ze idea ‘ere was nevair going to be to do soomthing very bold and experimental; ze Agathair Christie oodunnit iz a kind of cinematic comfort food – ze audience is ‘ere for the costumes and the slightly ‘ammy performances and ze conventions of ze form. And zese are all in place, even if most of zem feel like zey are a bit lacking in substance for whatevair reason. Most of ze cast are quite acceptable – and ze Russell Brand is startlingly effective in a completely straight role – but it feels as if zey are mostly playing slightly camp stock charactairs. Ze danger is zat zees will just be another film which looks good but which is ultimately only flippant and trivial.

Zere is at least an attempt to give ze movie a bit of ballast by establishing a proper moral premise or theme, which is zat love is a dangerous thing which makes people act like zey are crazy. Maybe love is a kind of crazy, I would not know. (Ze Brannair-Poirot, on ze other hand, does know, which is what all ze business wiz ze origin of his moostach has to do with – as I said, it is all a bit thematic.) Whatevair you make of zis motif, it is at least carried through thoroughly and energetically, although ze subtlety of ze implementation perhaps leaves just a leetle to be desired.

Ze outstanding feature of ze film, and I say zis from a position of complete impartiality, is ze performance of M. Brannair as me. As we ‘ave noted, zis is perhaps not ze purist’s Poirot, and zere are still ze running-gags about Brannair-Poirot being a leetle bit OCD and obsessed with sophisticated dessert dishes. But ze enormous moostache is less of a sooprise zis time and less distracting as a result. What becomes clearer, perhaps, is ze intelligence and presence which Ken brings to ze role; ze Brannair-Poirot initially appears to be a ridiculous fop but proves to be a man of great wisdom and authority when ze chips hit ze fan. Truth be told, M. Brannair’s performance is perhaps rathair bettair than the rest of the film warrants and certainly ze main reason to watch it.

As ze director, M. Brannair puts togethair an appealing enough package, although it is perhaps a bit heavy on ze CGI much of ze time, and ze resolution of ze story is enjoyably convoluted and devious. Ze new Death on the Nile is nevair what you would call a heavyweight affair, except perhaps when it comes to ze star performance, but I would imagine it ticks all ze boxes for ze many people who are still aficionados of Aggie’s work and – of course! – me. Everyone else will probably find it a divairting entertainment if not exactly memorable.

Read Full Post »

Martin Scorsese, esteemed producer, director, writer, and general elder statesman of the cinematic medium, caused a bit of a kerfuffle in 2019 when he declared that the films of Marvel Studios’ meta-franchise were ‘not cinema’, likening them rather to theme parks – presumably on the grounds that they are simply a commercial undertaking, part of an endless stream of franchised product.

Well, everyone’s entitled to an opinion, of course, but the great man’s complaint seems a little peculiar given some of the projects he has lent his name to as executive producer recently. The interview about Marvel was released virtually on the same day that Joker came out, while right now Scorsese’s cachet is being used to promote yet another example of a sequel intended to capitalise on the success of its forebear: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir Part II.

Well, of course I jest, albeit probably quite feebly – but there is something distinctly odd about a film which was so clearly meant for the art house getting a follow-up like this. I asked for a ticket to Revenge of the Souvenir when I turned up at the cinema and the chap on the counter didn’t bat an eyelid at it, but then they are probably used to me there. Nevertheless – obscure art house darlings don’t get sequels. Do they?

It seems they do. For those who missed it, the first Souvenir film tells the story of a young English film-school student named Julia (played by Honor Swinton Byrne), who gets a bit distracted from her studies by her relationship with Anthony, a slightly older man working in the Foreign Office, especially the fact that he turns out to be a heroin addict who (spoiler alert) ends up dying of an overdose before the end of the film. I should add that this story is told in the most restrained and unsensational manner imaginable, with scenes going off at various tangents and much attention given to Julia’s startlingly posh mum (Tilda Swinton) and other relatives.

Nothing about this screamed fertile material for a follow-up, but in some ways this hits all the targets for a good sequel: all the key creative personnel return, and the style and storyline from the first film continue seamlessly: you could probably edit the two films together into one three-hour-plus epic with the join barely showing (but I for one doubt I would have the stamina for that).

Describing the film in terms of the things that happen in the plot is probably a bit misleading, as – and here again it closely resembles the first film – it doesn’t so much feel like a story being told, as much as things happening in front of the camera in a fairly off-hand manner. But: we find Julia still coming to terms with Anthony’s death, spending time with her parents and his. The time of her graduation project from film school approaches. She enjoys a brief romantic entanglement with a fellow student.

Eventually the film settles down to focus on the film project, which – it slowly becomes clear – is an impressionistic retelling of the story of her relationship with Anthony. The school tutors are initially unimpressed by the half-finished script, and Julia is informed she can’t expect their support. (A gob-smacking scene ensues where Julia casually asks her mum for £10,000 to help out with financing the film, and Mumsy naturally agrees.) Actors are cast, sets built, and a not-entirely-trouble-free shoot gets underway.

So: The Souvenir was an autobiographical film. The Souvenir Part II is an autobiographical film about the making of an autobiographical film – perhaps The Souvenir² would have been a more appropriate title. The film is as recursive and self-referential as it sounds, but there is something strangely mesmerising about seeing another version of the events of the first film play out, not to mention a weird tension between the film’s careful naturalism and its awareness of its own identity as a piece of fiction – Julia’s own flat and the mock-up of it that appears in the film-within-the-film (which is, naturally, also called The Souvenir) are obviously both represented by the same set.

That said, the pace isn’t any quicker this time around, and if you’re not quite on board with the notion of a film which exists more as a piece of sensory and aesthetic art than as a narrative this probably isn’t the film for you. There are more obvious incidental pleasures, I should say – chief amongst them the reappearance of Richard Ayoade as temperamental auteur Patrick, given to shouting things like ‘You’re forcing me to have a tantrum!’ I really wanted Ayoade to be in the movie more, and found myself wondering why he’s never had a lead role in a movie; he certainly has the presence for it.

As the film went on I found myself pondering the prospects of a Souvenir Part III and what it might involve – an autobiographical film about someone making an autobiographical film about an autobiographical film, perhaps. In the end, however, there is a very definite sense of a conclusion taking shape – the fictional version of The Souvenir is completed and screened, and the different layers of metafictionality begin to collapse into one another. From what we see of the fictional movie, it looks like a pretentious load of old cobblers, but in a strikingly different way from the ‘real’ Souvenir; nevertheless, both feature Julia as the lead, rather than the character cast as her. Early in the film she is given a line of dialogue about her desire to make films that represent the imagination brought to life, rather than a straightforward recreation of life as it is lived – for most of the movie this feels like an ironic joke, given how naturalistic and low-key most of the action is – but Julia’s own film holds true to this. And, perhaps, the conclusion of Souvenir Part II suggests that Joanna Hogg’s films are equally works of the imagination. It certainly has all the strengths and weaknesses of the original film, but its subtle blending of different layers of fiction with reality gives it a depth and a puzzle-box quality all of its own. For many people it will doubtless just be a rather introspective film about posh people being pretentious together. But I suspect it’s a very good rather introspective film about posh people being pretentious together.

Read Full Post »

With any substantial body of work there comes a point when new additions to it struggle to match up to the aggregate presence of all that has gone before: what I sometimes call the ‘Bank Holiday Bond’ phenomena, where each new James Bond film is forced to compete not just with individual previous films, but the collective memory of the rest of the series. It doesn’t just happen with series and franchises, but anything with consistent style and sensibility.

If you were to watch Parallel Mothers with the credits removed and the sound turned off, there’s a pretty good chance – assuming you know your world cinema – that you’d be able to guess exactly what you were dealing with. The setting is photogenic, Spanish, mostly urban, with fabulous interior décor; the cast is predominantly female, with a leading role for Penelope Cruz; not a very great deal seems to happen in terms of conventional action, though this doesn’t stop everyone clearly having an emotional time of it. Yes, it’s a Pedro Almodovar movie – and Almodovar’s reputation has reached the point where anything other than a supremely accomplished film inevitably feels like a bit of a disappointment.

Cruz plays Janis, a successful photographer living in Madrid. After taking some pictures of Arturo (Israel Elejalde), a forensic anthropologist, she asks for his help: some of the men from her home village were killed in one of the purges at the very beginning of the Spanish Civil War. The families have located the site of the mass grave and are seeking professional assistance in having the remains excavated.

Quite apart from all this, Janis and Arturo hit it off on a personal level – without dwelling too much on the details of los pajaros y las abejas, Janis falls pregnant. Unfortunately, Arturo is unwilling to commit, but this does not concern Janis overly. Down at the maternity hospital she makes the acquaintance of Ana, a teenage girl also having her first child, albeit in rather less agreeable circumstances. The two women become friends, giving birth at almost exactly the same time, and having very similar experiences – both infants are whisked off for observation just after delivery.

Eventually, however, they both take their children home, staying in touch: Janis has to contend with a less than impressive au pair, while Ana’s mother seems more concerned with her acting career than her daughter and granddaughter. But then Arturo, who is visiting, openly wonders why Janis’ daughter doesn’t resemble either of them that closely. Janis reluctantly has a test done in secret, and learns the disquieting truth – there has been a mix-up at the hospital and the child she is raising is not her own…

So, for the most part it seems to stick pretty closely to the sort of thing you’d expect of an Almodovar film – the director works his usual minor miracle by making a film mostly comprised of people having conversations in cafes and apartments, and yet still manages to keep things engrossing. There’s a sense in which most of the story takes place on a very intimate and human level, and yet Almodovar finds a way to elevate the emotions to an almost operatic pitch without tilting the whole thing over into camp. As it is, the narrative skips back and forth between conventional drama and melodrama with the greatest elegance.

Mixed in with it this time, however, is something else, and perhaps essentially Spanish. To my regret, I know very little about the details of the Civil War in Spain; my understanding is that the whole subject remains sensitive and little-discussed in Spain itself. The conflict is still within living memory, and something the country has yet to fully come to terms with. Certainly this is the first Almodovar film to address the topic, even obliquely: and even here it initially seems like the plotline about the excavation of a war grave is just a plot device.

It is not, but it takes a long time for this to become apparent. The film as a whole is about the idea of family – not just the people close to us, and those we choose to live with, but the people from whom we have emerged and those whom we will leave in our place. The uncertainty that Cruz’s character feels about her great-grandfather’s fate in the war is echoed in the question-mark over the whereabouts of her true daughter and the nature of her relationship with the child she is raising.

To be honest, it feels like a combination of soap opera plotting with an act of historical witness, a slightly peculiar combination which Almodovar never quite manages to integrate with complete successful: the sequences concerning the war and the dig feel like bookends on a rather more typical Almodovar drama, one which doesn’t quite resolve entirely satisfyingly as a result.

Nevertheless, it’s still an engaging and moving story (I should say this film marked the first time I and my old friend Olinka went to the cinema together in about two and a half years, and she was characteristically scornful of the realism of some of the post-natal sequences). It’s certainly a brilliant showcase for the talent of Penelope Cruz, who gets the chance to develop a fully-rounded characterisation and dominate the film – completely believable even when possibly acting a little irrationally, this is the kind of performance that cries out for recognition, and it is no surprise at all she is in the running for an Oscar this year. Almodovar still manages to find space for impressive contributions from Milana Smit and Aijana Sanchez-Gijon as well.

Does it quite live up to the standard of the best of Almodovar’s earlier films? Perhaps not; it’s not as utterly satisfying and rewarding as a film like – to choose an example – Talk to Her. But in that case we’re talking about an exceptional film, a classic. You can praise a film for being brilliant, but it’s unfair to criticise one for not reaching that standard. This is a very good film by any conventional standard.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »