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What’s it all about?

A true-life drama, centering on British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett, who disappeared while searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon in the 1920s.

Why did I want to see The Lost City of Z?

Initially I didn’t, and by that I just mean that it hadn’t been on my radar even though I’d seen trailers and so forth. We went to see it because the Book God was very keen, and when I did some background reading (OK, looked it up on Wikipedia) I became interested in the story myself, so off we went.

What did I think of it?

I was totally bowled over by this film, surprisingly so. I had reasonable expectations going in that it would be a fascinating story, but I was unprepared for how invested I became in Fawcett’s quest, the relationship with his wife (an excellent Sienna Miller) and his son (Spiderman’s Tom Holland). Charlie Hunnam is not an actor I’ve paid much attention to in the past (even though he was in two films I particularly enjoyed – Pacific Rim ( which Autocorrect has just tried to turn into Pacific Rum, another type of film altogether) and Crimson Peak) but he is really really good in this, capturing the sort of stiff upper lip derring-do while suppressing emotions which will bubble to the surface attitude which I imagine all of these explorer types to have had.

I can’ explain why I loved it so much. It was a grown up film dealing with issues of obsession and honour and comradeship. It looked absolutely beautiful and I could quite happily have watched it again immediately.

I’m not sure how much of it is based on fact; I mean, it obviously is to a certain extent but the last section is clearly supposition because we know Fawcett and his son disappeared but not really what happened to him. And since then I have read a rather mean-spirited article by someone who clearly thinks that Fawcett is not worth the attention and there are “better” explorers on whom to focus. But I don’t care. I thought this was fabulous, and you should seek it out.

Mr-Holmes-poster-Ian-McKellen-600x889I have been keeping my eyes open for this film to be released ever since I saw the poster being teased on social media ages ago. I am a Holmes fan, I really admire Ian McKellen and I had read and really enjoyed the novel on which this is based (A Slight Trick of the Mind – you can read my review here on my book blog, and it also gives a synopsis of the story).

So I went to see this with reasonably high expectations and I wasn’t disappointed in any way. It is a really lovely film which has retained the melancholy which is at the heart of the novel, as Holmes looks back at his life as his memory is being damaged by age. He has lost so many people and finds himself building new relationships while trying to remember the details of the case that led him to give up detecting and retire to his bees.

It is a film that is beautifully shot and wonderfully performed. It was a little bit tempting to play spot the well-known British actor (lots of cameos) but that does the film a bit of a disservice, as those roles were cast to be effective and rounded and it works. The make-up in particular is excellent and McKellen manages to carry off Holmes n two different time periods in a very realistic way. The revelation in the film is Milo Parker, the youngster who plays Roger, the housekeeper’s son whom Holmes befriends. He’s just wonderful.

This is just a lovely film, well worth your time.

The-Hitchhikers-Guide-to-the-Galaxy-2005-Hindi-dubbed-mobile-movie-poster-1Finally getting around to seeing another in the ongoing list of films Silvery Dude thinks I must watch, this was a difficult one but as it was on TV over the Bank Holiday weekend there was no way I could justifiably avoid it.

Before I get into it there is something you need to understand; I listened to the original H2G2 series, I bought and read all the books (multiple times), I even had the recording on vinyl (somewhere in the cupboard there is a bright red LP with a yellow rubber duck on it) and later on cassette and possibly also on CD. I was a member of a pub quiz team called Followers of the Great Prophet Zarquon. I watched the TV series with its ropy early Dr Who adjacent special effects. I quote it all the time. So it is clear that I will have had Feelings about watching this film.

But first, the usual.

What does IMDb say about this film?

Mere seconds before the Earth is to be demolished by an alien construction crew, journeyman Arthur Dent is swept off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher penning a new edition of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Why Silvery Dude thought I should watch this?

Why you must watch it?  Because it’s all wrong when compared to the much-loved TV series, and yet it goes further than the TV series into the sequels, the role of Rooster etc.  Marvin is wrong, Ford…there can only ever be one, but the Vogons are brilliant !

What did I think of it?

Well, it turned out not to be as bad as I had feared. But it was a very strange experience; how can something seem so familiar and yet so unfamiliar all at once?

Stream of consciousness follows:

  • the opening song is dreadful and my heart was sinking but hurrah, 15 minutes or so in we have the proper theme tune
  • The Book has always been the best thing and Stephen Fry is a good substitute for the late Peter Jones, and I liked the visualisations
  • I actually quite liked Mos Def, but then I had never been that fond of the TV version of Ford Prefect (he looked a bit like a hamster, which is extremely unfair but what can I say?)
  • It’s (mostly) visually impressive; I really liked the design of Depp Thought and the Heart of Gold in particular
  • I thought Sam Rockwell was absolutely brilliant
  • Marvin shouldn’t be round, it just isn’t right (and I was thrilled to see original Marvin in the background of a later scene)
  • I normally love Martin Freeman but *whispers* I found him mostly annoying as Arthur, only underlined by the real Arthur’s cameo on Magrathea
  • the Vogons are indeed most excellent
  • the words just get lost in it all

So not a disaster, just disappointing. Though it did make me want to read the books for the nine millionth time so that must be a good thing.

This is my sixth film in my Films to Watch because personal challenge. FTWBI51

movies_saving-mr-banks-posterWhat do our friends at IMDb think it’s about?

Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins.

What do I think it’s about?

Saving Mr Banks is about that of course but it’s also about how Hollywood works and how an author can’t really hope to keep control of her creation when it escapes into the wider world no matter how hard she tries. Oh and the culture clash between film and books.

Why did I want to see it?

I loved both the books and the Disney film of Mary Poppins even though they are rather different, something I could spot even as a youngster, and was aware that PL Travers did not like the movie at all and never reconciled herself to it. And I have always enjoyed films about film making.

What did I think?

I thought this was brilliant. The central performances were excellent; Emma Thompson was wonderful as always, capturing Travers’ prickliness and uncompromising nature, and Tom Hanks caught the the combined twinkliness and saving-mr-banks-bradley-whitfordruthless business mind of Disney. The flashbacks to Travers’ childhood were really well done and Colin Farrell was particularly good as her charming, feckless, drunken father. All of the minor characters are played by wonderfully talented well-known actors like Paul Giamatti and *sigh* Bradley Whitford. It was a very touching story with a lot of wit and Hanks and Thompson played off each other very well.

What’s interesting is what wasn’t included, namely Travers’ adopted son who has been written out of the story presumably for dramatic effect and not because he was a bit inconvenient. If you want to know more about that side of her life then there was a very good documentary on the BBC by Victoria Coren Mitchell.

There has been a bit of a controversy (that might be too strong a word) about the whether the film soft soaps Travers’ reaction to the Mary Poppins film at the end; I am strongly of the view that they did no such thing and it’s quite clear (to me at any rate) why she is crying at the premiere. Because as she says, Mary Poppins hasn’t come to save the children; she’s come to save their father.

Conclusion

An acting masterclass and great fun with a sense of sadness at its core. I found it very moving in places. And it’s impossible to leave the cinema without singing some of the songs. Also I discovered that the Book God has never seen Mary Poppins all the way through and I have plans to remedy that soon (and an excuse to watch it again myself!)

photoSo a new James Bond film, eagerly anticipated by almost everyone given the 50th anniversary celebrations which led to such an overdose of reportage on the BBC that several accused them of overstepping their boundaries and moving into promotional territory. But also of interest because Sam Mendes was directing, bringing a different sensibility to the franchise. And finally how was Daniel Craig going to do after what has been quite a long gap (4 years) since the last film?

Now, I love the James Bond films but was pretty disappointed with The Quantum of Solace as I said here; when the best remark you can come up with after a film is to ask your husband whether he spotted the restaurant you had lunch in in Siena then you know something has gone amiss. So I will admit to being a bit wary of Skyfall.

But I needn’t have worried; this was a bit of a corker.

So, film starts with a classic set-piece action sequence in Istanbul which was absolutely riveting and ends (this is not a spoiler as pre-opening credit sequence) with Bond seemingly out of the picture. We switch back to London where MI6 in general (the lovely iconic building that I go past on the train on my commute into the office) and M in particular are under attack from someone she knows from the past. Cue return of Bon and the usual globe-trotting, high-tech spycraft that we have come to expect.

What I liked about this film:

  • they don’t try to pretend that Craig is younger than he is, and use his aches and ennui and longer recovery time to good effect (although he still looks fabulous in a suit)
  • Ben Whishaw as Q is fantastic – their first meeting in (I think) the National Gallery is very cleverly done
  • Judi Dench is brilliant once again, showing a vulnerability and uncertainty to M as her enemies (both political and actual) close in on her
  • The whole denouement in Scotland that wasn’t really in Scotland (apparently)
  • Albert Finney and my complete failure to recognise him at all
  • the development of Ralph Fiennes’ character which I thought was really well handled
  • and of course the opening sequence and Adele’s theme song which is very pseudo-Shirley Bassey, and I will forever consider that when the sky falls we should let it crumball…….

So all in all this bodes well for the future. There were some adverse comments on Twitter and elsewhere about the circumstances in which one of the female characters met her fate, which a number of people (mostly men from what I could see) found distasteful. It didn’t bother me at the time, and looking back I see no reason to re-examine my reaction. As far as I am concerned James Bond is totally unreal (even as they try to make it grittier); it’s a cartoon that just happens to have real people in it. And it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film. YMMV.

Looking forward to seeing this one again at some point.

Quite a lot of how I felt about The Woman in Black had to do with the atmosphere in which I watched it. I can happily confirm that I enjoyed it, but suspect that I would have enjoyed it much more under other circumstances (which I will because I liked enough to add it to my must buy list); but more of that anon.

Background:

I like a good scary movie. I love a good Hammer film. I have on occasion been too freaked to continue watching (I’m looking at you, Christopher Lee in Curse of Frankenstein) but I’ve seen enough of them and their rivals at Amicus to know that I like the style. I have read Susan Hill’s novel at least twice. I watched the 1989 TV adaptation in which Pauline Moran scared the living daylights out of me (and why can’t you get this on DVD? C’mon telly people, sort this out). So this new version had a lot to live up to but it was a story I loved and I was predisposed to enjoy it.

Context:

The Book God and I decided that it would be a good idea to go and see this on Valentine’s Day so we toodled off to our local Odeon and were slightly surprised to see a lot of people, most of them teenagers, whom I naively assumed were waiting to get into The Muppets screening next door. But no. They were all waiting to see TWIB because I had forgotten two things: the impact of Twilight and The Daniel Radcliffe Effect. For yes, the teenage audience was made up of young couples on a date (red roses much in evidence) and teenage girls wanting to see young Harry all grown up. And that meant stage whispers, nervous laughter and screaming at anything sudden on screen whether it was frightening or not. So all of my remarks about the film need to be seen in the context of a middle-aged woman turning into her mother on the spot and on one occasion turning to the young couple behind me and telling them to sit still and keep quiet.

Yes, this is what I have become.

The Film:

Having said all that I saw and heard enough to know that I really did like the film. It had some good scares, a strong supporting cast (step up Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer), good atmosphere and lovely visuals. There were times when I really felt I was watching an old Hammer movie with lanterns and open graves and handsome young heroes trying to put things right.

The Woman herself was suitably creepy and although the story had been changed a bit I didn’t mind too much at all. Daniel Radcliffe did a pretty good job, I think, but when he smiles he still looks about twelve and for that reason I couldn’t quite see him as the father of a four-year old. But when he was facing up to supernatural nastiness he was great.

This is the third ghost story I’ve seen in the past few months and its interesting to compare them. The Others is full of paranoia, The Awakening is imbued with loss and sadness, but The Woman in Black is soaked in malevolence and evil. Together they would make an excellent Hallowe’en triple bill. My heart probably couldn’t stand it though. Because despite what one of the teenage girls said walking into the screening, it may only be a 12A but it can be scary.

I first came across this film as a trailer shown when I went to see Contagion several weeks ago; for some reason (probably to do with a large stack of not-properly-read Empire magazines on my study floor) it had totally slipped under my radar, but I’m so glad I spotted it as The Awakening is a really creepy British ghost story set in the period just after the First World War.

Florence Cathcart has lost her fiance in the war and feels guilt over how they parted. The need for the grieving to make sense of what has happened to them and their huge sense of loss has led many to seek solace in spiritualism, and of course to be taken advantage of by charlatans. Florence has set herself up as a debunker of such hoaxes. She is persuaded to take on the case of the sighting of a small boy at a boarding school in the north, which appears to have led to the death of a young pupil. And that’s probably as much as can be said about the plot without straying into spoiler territory.

There are some really fundamental themes here: loss, loneliness, survivor guilt, repressed memories, the position of women in the inter-war period and the need to make sense of things which seem to have no rational explanation. Florence herself is fascinating – I couldn’t quite decide if her quest to expose spiritualism as a fraud was as much about hoping to be proved wrong as it was about protecting people from the unscrupulous.

It is, to me at least, a wonderfully atmospheric and quite ambiguous film. I had a very interesting exchange with Silvery Dude last week; he had seen this before me and urged me to go along. When we discussed the film a week or so later we discovered an almost diametrically opposite view of some key scenes and the ending in particular, all of which makes me want to see it again just to test my theory (and not at all to prove him wrong, that would be childish *coughs*)

What I can say is that it is really creepy and there were a couple of scenes which really made me jump, all very satisfying. Both Rebecca Hall and Dominic West are excellent, but I really loved Imelda Staunton as the school matron/housekeeper, a wonderful key character.

This would make a good companion piece to The Others which I saw for the first time recently, possibly too much of a sense of foreboding in both to make a sensible double bill but I may give it a try next Hallowe’en.

Recommended to all lovers of the ghostly.

This seems to be a real Marmite movie, if Tweets and other comments elsewhere are to go by. Most of the people I know loved it with one or two notable exceptions. I am not one of those, I thought Tinker Tailor was absolutely great and I could have happily sat through the whole thing again as soon as it was over.

But first a little context. I am hugely fond of the 1979 BBC adaptation of the John le Carre novel which was six hours long and took a leisurely (but still fascinating) approach to unravelling the mystery of who the mole in MI6 might be. It starred Sir Alec Guinness who is in many ways a really hard act to follow. Like the film it had a wonderful cast of stalwart British actors just showing everyone how its done. And I watch it every so often because it really is that good. So the film had a lot to live up to. And succeeded.

I think the story of George Smiley hunting down a mole in the Secret Service is only a small part of what makes this a cracking story. It’s the way the atmosphere of the Cold War is captured. This isn’t glossy Spooks territory, it’s smoky rooms and disenchanted public servants (they may be spies but they’re still public sector employees which always makes me smile a little) and back-stabbing (figurative and literal) and physical danger. I’m not even going to explain the plot more that I already have done because for me this is really about the people, their rivalries and loyalties and the choices they make.

The highlights for me were:

  • Gary Oldman is brilliant in a not very showy part even though he is the “hero”; in fact he doesn’t speak for at least the first 20 minutes but my eyes were drawn to him whenever he was on screen except when….
  • … Benedict Cumberbatch was with him; I have become a huge fan, not just because of his role in Sherlock, and he shows what a good actor he is here, despite an atrocious haircut
  • Tom Hardy tackling Ricky Tarr, my favourite character in the TV series (played then by Hywel Bennett when he was still lovely)
  • Mark Strong is possibly the stand-out in a key role which he doesn’t over-egg at all – it’s always a good sign when Strong is in a film and he is never less than outstanding

One of the most enjoyable bits for me and the Book God was the Christmas party, scenes from which pop up all the way through the film. It is a ghastly event in many ways but really captures the often black humour of civil servants, and the amount of drinking and smoking is pretty accurate (though I am not old enough to have experienced anything other than the tail end of this culture, the Book God has a fund of stories that wouldn’t have been out of place here). Also accurate, sadly, is the lack of women; the only really fleshed out character is Connie (played by Kathy Burke).

The film is directed by Tomas Alfredson which is why I suspect it has a slightly European feel to it and the drab colour palette captures the mood really well. My friend the Semi-Scandinavian spotted at least one slightly obscure (to me anyway) musical cue in Control’s flat as the film starts and we have speculated how much other similar geeky treasure are in there that none of us have spotted.

So basically this is fabulous, just go and watch it, won’t you?

Well, this is just wonderful. Lots and lots has already been written about it by people more articulate about film than I am, but I still think it’s worth saying a few words simply because it’s such a phenomenon.

So as no doubt everyone now knows, it’s all about King George VI before and after ascending the throne and how he deals with the speech impediment which makes it difficult for him to engage with his subjects.

It was a lovely cinema-going experience – no noisy teenagers, not much inappropriate food-chomping, hardly any checking of mobile devices, just lots of people enjoying a well-written and beautifully acted film.

Favourites:

  • Colin Firth was excellent in managing to capture the essence of a person to whom he didn’t really bear much of a resemblance
  • Really first class supporting cast – who thought Anthony Andrews could ever be Baldwin? And unlike some others I didn’t mind Timothy Spall as Churchill
  • Looks beautiful

But of course the main attraction for me was Helen Bonham-Carter as the Queen Mother (God bless you Ma’am) who was such a fixture in British public life for so long. H B-C was not only great at playing such an iconic figure but she looked superb.

This is just such a great film, it deserves every award it gets and I had a little cry at the end. Very satisfying and straight on the DVD to buy list.