We should have gone to India

WOUNDED ANIMAL: Hugh Jackman gets his claws into the role of Logan/Wolverine

AS yet another skull splintered, splattering blood and brain matter, I reached the conclusion that I would rather have been in British Colonial India.

The Current Mrs Feeney and I had been undecided about our regular Friday afternoon trip to the cinema. Should we watch Logan, the latest in the Marvel Comics X-Men franchise, or Viceroy’s House, the historical tale of the last days of the British Raj?

We decided on Logan. Neither of us had seen the earlier X-Men films, but the critical noise about Hugh Jackman’s third outing as Logan/Wolverine had been loud and positive, going as far as describing it as a work of movie-making genius.

And anyway, TCMrsF wasn’t sure she could stand two hours of Gillian Anderson’s hilariously strangulated English accent as Lady Mountbatten holding court as the sun went down on the British Empire, and the sub-continent descended into religious and sectarian slaughter.

CLASS ACT: Patrick Stewart achieves his usual excellence as the ailing Professor X.

I was very encouraged by the start. The early scenes between Jackman, the ever wonderful Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier/Professor X), and Stephen Merchant (Caliban) were smart and emotionally engaging.

Mind you, Logan’s metal claws had already ripped apart a gang of would-be car thieves. And then the serious stuff started. Two hours later, TCMrsF and I agreed that there had been simply too much stabbing, slashing and decapitation for us.

I could see why some critics had liked it so much; beyond the gore and the well-choreographed fight scenes, there is a lot going on in the background.

It may be coincidence, but at a time when all the talk in the United States seems to be about building walls, this is a road movie about people trying to cross borders. The irony, of course, is that they are trying to evade border patrols in order to get out of, rather than into, the States.

There is also stuff in here about the dangers of “Frankenstein Science” research into gene manipulation of both food and human beings. I got the impression that director James Mangold isn’t a fan of GM crops.

Richard E Grant’s character (Dr Zander Rice) will inevitably conjure up images of the way the Nazis perverted scientific research through people like Mengele at Auschwitz.

So, it is fair to say that this is far more sophisticated and complex than your average superhero film. I just wish it had been 30 minutes shorter and 20 mangled corpses lighter.

As we left the cinema, I asked TCMrsF what she thought of it: “Violent,” she said. Quite.

Retired Bloke Rating: *** OK way to spend an afternoon at the cinema (if you’ve got the stomach for it.) I’m sure other people will rate it much more highly.

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The Film Buff Stuff:

Logan

Director: James Mangold

Writer: Mangold/Scott Frank/Michael Green

Cinematographer: John Mathieson

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E Grant.

 

 

It’s good to see things differently

IF the secret of a successful marriage is to agree on some things, but not on everything, then the Afternoon Cinema visits undertaken by The Current Mrs Feeney and I should be doing wonders for the state of our union.

Yesterday’s trip to see Oscar Best Picture winner Moonlight is a perfect example. I was captivated by its stillness. TCMrsF was bored by its slowness.

And fair enough, if you like a lot going on, then this is not the film for you. The main character, Chiron (played by three different actors as a young child, teenager, and young man) rarely says more than a few words at a time.

This is one of those films where what remains unsaid is as significant and important to the story as what is said. The characters reveal their complexities and contradictions with looks and gestures as much as words. Chiron, in particular, looks at life through sideways glances or long, silent stares.

THREE AGES OF A MAN: Chiron is portrayed as a child by Alex Hibbert (top), as a teenager by Ashton Sanders (centre) and as a young man by Trevante Rhodes (bottom).

The film takes us through three stages of his life; as a young boy (Hibbert) neglected by his drug-addicted mother (Harris) and befriended by the dealer (Ali) who is supplying his mother with her drugs; as an awkward teenager (Sanders) who falls in love with his best friend Kevin; and as an externally-tough young man (Rhodes) who has adopted the business and persona of the drug dealer who rescued him, but has not resolved the issue of his own sexuality.

As much as the excellent performances by all of the actors, it is the visual quality, delivered by director Barry Jenkins and his cinematographer James Laxton, that will remain with me.

As for TCMrsF – well, the season of summer blockbusters isn’t far away now. There’ll be plenty going on then.

Retired Bloke Rating: ***** An excellent way to spend an afternoon at the cinema (But don’t tell TCMrsF that I said that).

The Film Buff Stuff:

Moonlight.

Director: Barry Jenkins

Cast: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali.

OSCAR WINNER: Mahershala Ali took Best Supporting Actor for his role as the drug dealer who befriends the neglected child Chiron.

Oscar wins: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Ali), Best Adopted Screenplay.

 

Worth getting up in the morning for

AFTERNOON Cinema happened in the morning this week. I wanted to see Fences, Denzel Washington’s film of the August Wilson play. I prefer to see a film on Fridays, which allows me to talk about it on my regular Monday appearance on our local TV station. That way, anybody interested has time to see the film themselves before the cinema changes its programme at the end of the week.

Clear so far? On Friday, neither of the cinemas in town was showing Fences in the afternoon. It was a choice of an evening screening, or one at 11.20 in the morning. The Current Mrs Feeney and I chose the morning show.

“Is this one of those special screening for seniors?” TCMrsF asked. “No. So we don’t get free coffee and biscuits,” I said.

There is something odd about walking into a cinema in the middle of a sunny morning. I suppose real film critics get used to it. And they get free sandwiches.

The noticeable absence of free refreshments didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the film. Washington’s direction deliberately retains the structure and feel of a play. It does not attempt to distract from Wilson’s dense, poetic dialogue with cinematic flourishes.

MARRIED LIFE: Washington and Davis are brilliant as Troy and Rose Maxson
MARRIED LIFE: Washington and Davis are brilliant as Troy and Rose Maxson

There are towering performances from Washington and Viola Davis, both reprising their roles as Troy and Rose Maxson from the acclaimed 2010 Broadway revival.

This was the second film in a week (the first was Hidden Figures) we’d seen that examines the prejudices limiting black Americans. There’s a third (Loving) currently on release here that looks at the same theme. Surely not a coincidence?

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FENCED IN: houses in 1950s Pittsburg

But there’s a lot more to Fences than that. It’s also about the complicated rhythms of a long marriage, and the competition between generations. Above all, it’s about the way people are shaped and warped by their experiences.

I was surprised by the strongly religious sub-theme, with repeated references to God and the Devil, heaven and hell, life and death. Sin and Innocence also have their place in Troy’s Pittsburg back yard.

We enjoyed the experience, but it is undeniably more theatrical than cinematic. That’s why I’m giving it a slightly lower mark than such powerful individual performances would normally merit.

Retired Bloke Rating: **** Good way to spend an afternoon (or morning).

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The Film Buff Stuff:

Fences. Oscar nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Director: Denzel Washington.

Cast:

  • Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson). Nominated for the Best Actor Oscar. Washington won Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Glory (1989), and Best Actor Oscar for Training Day (2001). Has played a series of real-life figures, including Malcolm X, Steve Biko, and Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter.
  • Viola Davis (Rose Maxson). Davis won Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Doubt (2008), and was nominated for Best Actress Oscar for The Help (2011). Her current Best Supporting Actress nomination for Fences makes her the first black woman to be nominated for three Oscars.
  • Mykelti Williamson (Gabe Maxson, Troy’s brother)
  • Russell Hornsby (Lyons Maxson, Troy’s elder son)
  • Saniyya Sidney (Raynell Maxson, Troy’s daughter)
  • Stephen Henderson (Jim Bono, Troy’s best friend)
  • Jovan Adepo (Cory Maxson, Troy’s younger son)

 

Space, race and America

THE Current Mrs Feeney was delighted with our choice of film for this week’s afternoon trip to the cinema. Hidden Figures has Kevin Costner in it. TCMrsF has been very fond of Mr Costner since she saw him dancing with wolves back in the 1990s. The passing of two decades has done nothing to diminish her feelings.

So along we went on Friday. We were a little earlier than usual – not even the adverts had started. For a moment, I thought we’d hit the jackpot, and had the entire auditorium (if that’s not too grand a word, now that the average multiscreen room is not much bigger than a millionaire’s bathroom) to ourselves.

I maintained this happy (if admittedly antisocial) delusion until I spotted the chap in the third row from the front, slumped so low in his standard seat (no point paying extra for premium seats when you can sit anywhere you like in these afternoon screenings) that he was practically lying down, with his legs folded up so that his knees were resting on his chest. I reckon his back will pay for that when he’s older.

Anyway, about another dozen people arrived by the time the trailers were finished and the film began. So, pretty much par for the course.

TAKEOFF: Mercury-Redstone rocket Freedom 7 launches the first US astronaut into space in 1961.
TAKEOFF: Mercury-Redstone rocket Freedom 7 launches the first US astronaut into space in 1961.

We enjoyed the film very much. It has two big themes – the 1960s space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the civil rights movement led by the likes of the Reverend Martin Luther King.

And then it throws in a third theme; the struggle by feminists to achieve equality of opportunity and reward for working women.

The director weaves them all together by telling the true (well, true-ish; ‘based on real events’ as they say) stories of three brilliant black female mathematicians working for NASA.

HATRED: A Freedom Rider bus goes up in flames in 1961 after a fire bomb was thrown through the window.
HATRED: A Freedom Rider bus goes up in flames in 1961 after a fire bomb was thrown through the window.

While they are employed by the US Government on its space programme, they are confined to a segregated, coloureds-only wing of the agency’s HQ in Virginia. The daily racism that Katherine, Dorothy and Mary encounter is not brutal or violent (unlike the fate of the Freedom Riders that we see on a TV news programme watched by Mary’s civil rights activist husband); nobody gets beaten, shot or lynched.

It is, however, both pervasive and pernicious. It severely limits their lives through the white population’s institutionalised acceptance that coloured people are simply inferior. Hence, they cannot work in the same room as white people, even when they are doing the same job; or eat in the same canteen, or drink out of the same coffee pot, or even pee in the same toilet bowl.

WOMEN'S RIGHTS: protestors campaigning for equality in the workplace for female workers.
WOMEN’S RIGHTS: protestors campaigning for equality in the workplace for female workers.

There is a plotline about NASA’s segregated bathrooms running (literally) through the film, as Katherine has to make a half-mile dash twice a day to relieve herself in the toilet in the coloureds-only wing. There are one or two too many of these moments, even if it culminates in Katherine making a fine speech about her co-workers’ blindness to the racism around them.

Her denunciation of their prejudice is immediately followed by her white boss (Costner) taking a sledge hammer to the ‘coloureds only’ sign over the toilet door, and declaring that in NASA everybody pees the same colour.

The three main parts are really well acted, and the actresses playing them gel into an ensemble that is even greater than the individual parts.

Despite the weighty subject matter, the film has a delicate touch that ensures that it entertains. There are moments of Hollywood schmaltz that may play well in America, but could have more cynical British audiences reaching for the sick bucket.

But no matter. TCMrsF and I came away entertained, and feeling that we had learned something (despite the historical inaccuracies) about a story that neither of us had known previously. Hidden figures of recent history, indeed.

Retired Bloke Rating: **** Good way to spend an afternoon.

images-3Here’s the film buff stuff

Hidden Figures: Oscar nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actress.

Director: Theodore Melfi (Debut film St Vincent in 2014)

Cast:

  • Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Johnson). She was Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008.
  • Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughan). Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA Best Supporting Actress winner in 2011 for The Help; she is Oscar nominated again for Hidden Figures.
  • Janelle Monáe (Mary Jackson). She is also in Moonlight on current cinema release in the UK.
  • Kevin Costner (Al Harrison). Won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for Dances With Wolves in 1990.
  • Kirsten Dunst (Vivian Mitchell). Played Mary Jane Watson in three Spiderman movies. On our tv screens more recently as the neurotic hairdresser Peggy Blomquist in the second series of Fargo.
  • Jim Parsons (Paul Stafford). Best known as Sheldon in the very successful Big Bang Theory on tv.

Keep it quiet; Renton’s back in town

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BACK ON THE TRAIN: Edinburgh’s less than finest are reunited on a railway platform.

TRAINSPOTTING had a big impact when it hit the British cinema screen in 1996. The Current Mrs Feeney and I didn’t see it; we must have been busy doing something else that year.

But we do remember how much fuss there was about director Danny Boyle’s film about three Edinburgh heroin addicts and their psychopathic mate.

When you put it like that, perhaps we just didn’t think it was our sort of film. When we finally caught up with it on television, we realised we were wrong. So we were very keen this week to go along and watch Boyle’s sequel, T2 Trainspotting. Twenty years between first film and sequel; now that’s impressively failing to rush into something.

So along we went on Friday afternoon as usual. And as usual, the cinema was almost empty – which is one of the pleasures of having the free time to go to the pictures in the day when other people are in work.

Almost empty; while the adverts were running, a man and woman – I’d put them in their 50s – came in and sat across the aisle from us. And started talking. And talking. All the way through (and over) the adverts. Anybody who has been aurally assaulted by a cinema advert knows that being able to drown it out with your conversation is a considerable achievement.

And talking. All the way through (and over) the “trailers for forthcoming features.” So that was the favourite bit for some people spoilt.

This couple were loud. How loud? Loud enough for the man sat two rows directly behind them to get up and cower in the back row.

They did stop talking when the film started. But then they laughed Very Loudly Indeed at every vaguely amusing moment for the first 15 minutes. That included the moment when Ewan McGregor’s character Renton fell off a gym running machine – because he’d just suffered some kind of heart seizure.

I was beginning to wonder the most diplomatic way for a Retired Bloke to politely request somebody to “SHUT UP!” when they quietened down. Perhaps the film was proving less amusing than they anticipated; or maybe they just decided it wasn’t worth the effort to impress on the rest of the audience (all six of us) just what Massively Big Trainspotting Fans they were.

Anyway, about the film. TCMrsF and I both enjoyed it, but not as much as the first film. As well as the same characters (Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie the psycho) T2 has all the same ingredients as Trainspotting. Drugs? Tick. Sex and nudity? Tick. Violence? Tick. Black humour? Tick. Appallingly foul language? Tick.

WHAT LARKS: Arty types promote the annual Edinburgh Festival. Renton and his mates aren't big fans.
WHAT LARKS: Arty types promote the annual Edinburgh Festival. Renton and his mates aren’t big fans.

In fact, it shares so much with the first film (including original Trainspotting footage to illustrate when one of the characters is remembering the bad old days) that it eventually comes across as a bit self-referential. As Sick Boy says when he and Renton return to the bleak Scottish moor they last visited 20 years ago, it’s dangerously easy and comforting to become nostalgic tourists in your own youth.

But you’ve got to forgive it that for the energy (and cracking soundtrack) that it also has in common with Trainspotting. The scene where Renton and Sick Boy (both Scottish Catholics) are invited up on stage to sing a song – in a sectarian Loyalist pub – will live with me. The lyrics, invented on the spot by a terrified Renton, has the recurring refrain “There were no Catholics left” – to the delight of the bigoted Protestant regulars.

And it’s always a pleasure to see a film made in and about Britain, amid the sea of Hollywood movies on American topics.

TCMrsF and I agreed it was a good way to spend an afternoon.

The Factual Stuff:

Film: T2 Trainspotting.

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Ewan McGregor (Mark Renton), Ewen Bremner (Spud Murphy), Jonny Lee Miller (Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson), Robert Carlyle (Francis Begbie).

Plot: Twenty years after he betrayed his junkie friends and made off with their money from a drug deal, Renton returns to Edinburgh. His old friends are waiting for him; and so are the memories, regrets and demons he thought he had left behind him.

Retired Bloke Rating: ****

Bloodied tale of the pacifist as war hero

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GRACE UNDER FIRE: Andrew Garfield is very good as true-life pacifist war hero Desmond Doss

Film: Hacksaw Ridge

Director: Mel Gibson

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn.

Plot: Based on the true story of Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh Day Adventist who enlists for the US Army in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. He is determined to serve his country – but has taken a vow never to handle a weapon. Ostracised and bullied by his colleagues, he is eventually allowed to go to war as an unarmed medic. In the battle for the Japanese island of Okinawa, Doss performs extraordinary acts of courage to rescue wounded men under heavy enemy fire.

What I thought of it: Andrew Garfield gives a very good performance as Doss, a man who describes himself as a “conscientious co-operator.” All the Best Actor Oscar talk is of Ryan Gosling (La La Land) and Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea), but I wonder if Garfield could be the dark horse in this category for this performance.

This is the first film that Gibson has directed in ten years; since Apocalypto (2006) and The Passion of The Christ (2004). Hacksaw Ridge completes a trilogy of films that explore religious belief in extreme circumstances.

ROMANTIC INTERLUDE: Teresa Palmer is good as Doss's future wife Dorothy Schutte.
ROMANTIC INTERLUDE: Teresa Palmer is good as Doss’s future wife Dorothy Schutte.

After the controversial nature of the first two of those films, Gibson’s direction in the first half feels very conventional. Doss’s tribulations in basic training, led by Vaughn’s tough-guy platoon sergeant, are offset by subplots that tell us something about Doss’s  relationships with his future wife (Palmer), and his parents (Griffiths as his long-suffering mother Bertha, and Weaving as his war-damaged father Tom.)

The second half of the film consists entirely of the bloody efforts by the American forces to clear the Japanese from the honeycombs of caves and tunnels on the ridge that gives the film its title.

HELL ON EARTH: US Marines battle to take another ridge on Okinawa
HELL ON EARTH: US Marines battle to take another ridge on Okinawa

The battle scenes spatter the screen with blood and guts, reminiscent of the opening sequence of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Men (on both sides) are reduced to brutal basic instincts in the fight to survive and overcome the enemy.

Doss plunges into the middle of this carnage and horror to carry out his incredible rescue mission.

Gibson’s direction only occasionally veers toward the sentimental, and his religiosity is kept in check (bar one scene which portrays Doss as a Christ-like figure.)

The film does not attempt to explore the Japanese side of the conflict in the way that Clint Eastwood did in his 2006 twinned movies Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima.

The end credits are preceded with brief monologues by the real Doss. This is becoming a fashion in ‘true-life’ films. I’m not sure it’s a good idea; it tends to make you want to hear more from the actual participants, and can detract from the film you’ve just watched.

Retired Bloke Rating: **** A good way to spend an afternoon.

 

This tale of a lost child’s long journey home delivers sentimental clout

LIVING ROUGH: tens of thousands of children end up living on the streets of India every year
LIVING ROUGH: tens of thousands of children end up attempting to survive violence and exploitation on the streets of India every year

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Film: Lion

Director: Garth Davis

Starring: Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel (The Man Who Knew Infinity 2016, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2015), Nicole Kidman (Before I Go To Sleep 2014, The Railway Man 2014), Rooney Mara (Una 2016, Pan 2015, Carol 2015).

Plot: The true story of Saroo Brierley who was separated from his family in India as a child, and adopted by a Tasmanian couple. As an adult, he uses Google Earth to locate his home village.

What I thought of it: I enjoyed this film, and so did The Current Mrs Feeney (who shed a few tears as it reached its conclusion.)

Last week we went to see Manchester By The Sea (see review below), and Lion shares a similar theme, as far as both films are about lost men who make a long journey home (Lion is the more visually arresting film, replacing the grey seas of New England for the colourful vibrancy of rural and urban India.)

A NEW TALENT: Sunny Pawar is astonishing in his first film as the young Saroo
A NEW TALENT: Sunny Pawar is astonishing in his first film as the young Saroo

In Lion, the main character is literally lost. The child Saroo (Pawar in his first film) is separated from his brother, and becomes accidentally trapped inside an empty locked train that travels for two days across India until it reaches Calcutta. Unable to speak the local Bengali language, the Hindi-speaking Saroo becomes one of the city’s thousands of street children. He is admitted to a large home for lost children, before being adopted and flying to a new life in Australia.

WELCOME HOME: Nicole Kidman gives her best performance for years as Saroo's adoptive Australian mum
WELCOME HOME: Nicole Kidman gives her best performance for years as Saroo’s adoptive Australian mum

This first part of the film is more interesting than the second part, where the adult Saroo (Patel) uses the internet, and Google Earth, to locate his home village. It is difficult to wring much drama out of a man sat on a sofa with a laptop looking at maps, though Davis has a very good stab at it on his feature film directorial debut.

A NEW MAN: Patel (with Rooney Mara as his American girlfriend) gives his first truly adult performance
A NEW MAN: Patel (pictured with Rooney Mara, as his American girlfriend) gives his first truly adult performance

Patel gives his best performance since his breakthrough in Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. He was little more than a child then, so it is ironic that in Lion he is overshadowed by the extraordinary discovery Sunny Pawar, as the wide-eyed child with the inner strength to survive the threats of violence and sexual exploitation faced by children forced to live in poverty on India’s city streets (there are 80,000 lost children every year in the sub-continent).

While I think Manchester By The Sea has more emotional complexity, there is no denying Lion has the sentimental clout. A shame then that the finalé, where Saroo returns home to discover joy and sadness, feels rushed.

Despite this, and the film’s second-half slump, Lion is a well directed and well acted film that deserves your attention.

Retired Bloke Rating: ***** A very good way to spend an afternoon.