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This biopic of Samuel Beckett has been getting lukewarm reviews, perhaps from those who are not fans of the great man's work. He led a rather interesting life and is the answer to the quiz question 'Which Nobel Laureate also played first-class cricket?'To be fair, it starts badly with a silly scene at the Nobel prize-giving where an elderly Beckett greets the announcement with 'Quelle catastrophe' before snatching the envelope with the cheque in it and rushing off without making an acceptance speech. We then find him in some caves, conducting a dialogue with ... well, himself.But then we begin the vignettes of his life. There's the cold, controlling mother who stands at his father's death bed saying that they will no longer be able to conspire against her. After Trinity College Dublin, he's off to Paris where he meets James Joyce but rejects his daughter Lucia, who has mental health problems. His Jewish friend Alfy persuades him to join the Resistance when the Nazis arrive but Alfy is caught and sent to die in a camp while Sam and his lifelong companion Susanne flee to Vichy France.Later, as his reputation grows, we meet Barbara Bray, the BBC producer who championed his work and with whom he had an affair. And so we circle back to the Nobel, to the 'catastrophe'. Cause everyone hates winning a Nobel.The film is predominantly monochrome, lurching into colour only at the end of Beckett's life. Maybe there's a reason for the change but it escapes me. It's perhaps a little on the pretentious side but I thoroughly enjoyed it.Much has been made of Gabriel Byrne's portrayal but the laurels really belong to Ffion O'Shea as the younger Beckett, who has more screen time.

Susan Kelly ● 218d

Well, it is certainly long (3 hours 20 minutes) but most of Martin Scorsese’s films in recent decades have been longer than the norm. I must admit at around the one-hour plus stage I was wondering “How can this last over 3 hours?”The story of how the Osage tribe in Oklahoma having found oil on their reservation became rich beyond their wildest dreams and the target of endless whites in the 1920s, who by corruption and murder tried to acquire that wealth, was first told in David Grann’s book of the film title. If you loved that book with its two-part structure and crime procedure story involving the newly formed FBI, the film may well disappoint. This is because the film entirely refocuses the story on Mollie (an amazing performance by Lily Gladstone) as an Osage woman who is courted and married by Ernest (DiCaprio), a WW1 survivor who is morally weak and easily trapped into his uncle’s schemes (Bill Hale played by DeNiro), to acquire the oil rights through marriage and then the elimination of Osage spouses and families. The film may have avoided being how a “white saviour” brought justice for the many crimes committed against the Osage, the change in emphasis largely it seems due to a request made to Scorsese by the remaining Osage tribe. However, with DiCaprio and DeNiro dominating the film it was never going to be about the Osage, the film being padded out with Scorsese style murders and double crossings. The central relationship portrayed for me sadly did not justify the length of the film, however great the individual performances on screen were.

Joe Conneely ● 242d

I recall very well seeing Ken Loach’s “Cathy Come Home” directed play on BBC-TV and then not too later in the cinema, “Poor Cow” and “Kes” and appreciating the impact they had. Fifty odd years later with Loach now 87 years of age, it would be expecting a lot for this his latest directed film set in a declining former mining town in County Durham to match those heights, though it does make a fair stab.The story of Syrian refugees being rehoused in the town after being granted UK asylum with the inevitable outbursts of anger, malice and racism by unemployed locals is well depicted capturing the ups and downs of each side’s reactions to the other. The local run-down pub of the film’s title run by T. J (Dave Turner) who strikes up a friendship with an English-speaking Syrian refugee and photographer Yara (Ebla Mari), despite the reactions of his local customers to the refugees’ presence, forms the core of the movie. Maybe it is a case of my seeing too many Loach films over the years but it all felt pretty predictable even down to the closing shots of the annual NE miners’ banner parade. Which is a pity because in parts this is one of the few UK films that I have seen which seemed to try and understand and depict the reality of the post-Brexit “Red Wall” phenomenon. The script (written by Loach’s long term collaborator Paul Laverty) sadly suffers I felt from one too many dollops of socialism, which end up detracting from consideration of this core theme.Whether this is finally Loach’s last film (given he originally announced his retirement in 2014 and has still carried on) remains open based on his own recent comments it seems.

Joe Conneely ● 263d

I am a great lover of Korean films having seen many over the years but this has to be one of the most pedestrian paced Korean films I have seen even despite over half of the story being set in North America, mainly New York. Susan's synopsis of the plot when seen on the screen all felt pretty predictable to me even down to the closing scene.Koreans clearly have some concerns and issues about children who have left the country to go overseas via forced adoption (as per this year's earlier film "Return to Seoul") or as here the parents migrating with their children to Canada. The inevitable loss of national cultural traits (such as changes to Western names or forgetting how to write Korean) with such children becoming more international is inevitable. But especially when such children later come up against little worldly experienced  Korean friends left behind as this film shows, nothing good ensues.I must admit I could not make up my mind which lead character irritated me more - the immature male wuss living on childhood memories and portraying all the sadly too recognisable Asian male traits anyone who has spent time there will recognise, or the worldly Korean female, who could never survive if she had to live back in Korea yet seems markedly insensitive to her American husband's feelings, especially in the long bar scene involving all three main characters towards the end of the film.Definitely a film I would not feel able to recommend though all the critical reviews seem to rave over its values and story!

Joe Conneely ● 286d

If you're put off by the bladder-testing running time (mine held out) or the subject matter, I would say don't be.Despite a sympathy with left-wing causes, Robert Oppenheimer is no communist and is able to assure the military of that fact when he's placed in charge of the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb before the Germans do. He settles a big team in the New Mexican desert, complete with wives and children. He has, himself, a colourful private life with women who challenge him, starting with a hard-line communist who eventually kills herself after he leaves her for Kitty, a war widow but already another man's wife.As history tells us, they developed the bomb and the military dropped it on two Japanese cities, bringing WW2 to an end at last. Oppenheimer is troubled by what he's been part of and starts to campaign to prevent any further escalation towards hydrogen bombs.After the war the US turns on him under the auspices of a man with a personal grudge. He is even accused of having been a Russian spy all through the project. As Joe says, the scene with Truman is a classic, especially the president's parting shot.This is a completely gripping story, which jumps about in time from Robert's youth to the years developing to the bomb to the years after, sometimes in colour and sometimes monochrome. The test explosion in the New Mexico desert is really tense, even though we know how it turned out. Cillian Murphy is on screen almost all the time, sometimes digitally made young, and, at the end, aged up. He holds the screen effortlessly.

Susan Kelly ● 332d

While not a great Christopher Nolan fan (I find his futuristic style films "Tenet", "Inception" & "Interstellar", pretentious I fear) this one benefits from being rooted in the historic facts of the life of Robert Oppenheimer, the "father of the Atomic Bomb". While nearly 3 hours long, it thankfully doesn't drag largely because of the mosaic form of storytelling used with endless time jumps from the outset spanning the early 1930s to late 1950s, all skilfully interwoven. Cillian Murphy in the lead role and the film itself seem set for many awards but the whole cast excels, especially Matt Damon as a driven US general in charge of the WW2 nuclear effort; Robert Downey Jr. as Oppenheimer's ultimately doomed nemesis in the McCarthy era; and Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh as Oppenheimer's two wives.The story captures very well the mood swings of the USA from 30s support in academia of socialist thinking to the Communist Red Scares of the 50s, along the way monopolising the use of Nazi hating Jewish scientists to develop the bomb at Los Alamos. Oppenheimer as the leader and catalyst of managing the many egos to catch up and beat the German efforts at nuclear fusion takes up inevitably the greater part of the film. The subsequent hand wringing when the scientists realise what they have created and naively try to control the politicians is captured brilliantly in a short scene between President Truman and Oppenheimer after the bombs have been dropped on Japan.All the usual Nolan trademarks are on show - high level audio, cranked up music score and iMax style cinematography -  but given the nearly full cinema at the midday screening today one suspects that it will enjoy a good box office despite the current competition from "Barbie" and "Mission Impossible".

Joe Conneely ● 333d

Not attracted by Indiana Jones or Asteroid City or the imminent Mission Impossible offerings, I opted for this French drama based on a true story and starring Isabelle Huppert in the lead role.Huppert plays an employee elected union representative in the French nuclear group Areva in 2011. I suppose the UK definition of her role would be shop steward but given French employment laws she has a more powerful board level position and has been very active in that elected role. This is the period of Sarkozy and Hollande as French presidents with new technocrats they appoint trying to shake up French industry. Discovery of a planned deal with the Chinese government and expectation jobs will be lost as well as French technical expertise, Huppert leads a challenge. Failure of management to listen leads to her seeking a meeting with newly elected President Hollande. The day before that meeting she is subject to a grotesque rape attack at her home.Disinterested politicians, sexist bosses, speculative media and disbelieving police create pressure on Huppert to withdraw her story as to the event having ever actually occurred. The French style of showing this gaslighting strategy avoids cranking up the action Hollywood style and instead a much slower paced French police investigation and Court procedure follows over a number of years (which as "St Omer" and "The Night of the 12th" as earlier in the year French releases have underlined is a very different process to what UK audiences might expect).At 2 hours the film felt as if it would have benefitted from trimming but the bitter sweet ending will not surprise anybody I suspect after the comparable political meddling bordering on corruption that we have seen in both France and the UK over the last decade.

Joe Conneely ● 340d

A film with a story about gardening has pretty much initially the same attraction as a film on classical music ("Tar") for me, given I have avoided gardening since being forced to do it extensively as a child when living in a rural area. However because this is written and directed by Paul Schrader, one knows it would be a lot darker and deeper as indeed proved to be the case.Narvel (Joel Edgerton) is the head gardener on an old Southern USA estate with extensive laid out gardens, where the proprietor Norma (Signourey Weaver, in superb icy matriarch role) runs annual charity events for selling the plants and flowers from her gardens. She orders Narvel to take on her grand-niece Maya, a half caste, as a trainee gardener, given Maya's side of the family from which Norma is long estranged have all died.What is set up as a garden metaphor intensive story however soon falls away. Narvel's background as a body tattooed White Supremacist who committed murders and sent most of his colleagues to jail in return for a state witness protection change of identity (hence his becoming a gardener) faces off Norma's dislike of her grand-niece for her drug and mixed race background. Feeling at times like a rural version of the prior Schrader scripted "Taxi Driver", this film like Schrader's previous two low budget films "First Reformed" and "The Card Counter" follows a man in crisis but has a rare for Schrader films, near happy ending. Just finishing its run at Chiswick cinema and given I was the only person watching the film today, probably reflects its limited appeal!

Joe Conneely ● 384d

The issue of abandoned babies is one South Korea has struggled with for a long time, especially post the Korean War. The growth in numbers of babies being adopted by overseas families via adoption agencies, especially the USA (the prior route of adopting from orphanages in Ireland having been closed down) is one that has now largely ceased. Yet with a low birth rate and high numbers of unwanted babies still being abandoned (Korea has only recently legalised abortions) it remains a source of much ongoing national debate it seems.The prior Korean film of this year "Broker" addressed the current problem within Korea. This film as others have covered is about the return home of a Korean girl adopted as a baby and taken to France. I found the film's handling of the many emotional conflicts when a baby child adopted overseas returns as an adult and tries to connect with their biological parents with all those emotions, plus a society and language they have no experience of, was handled very well. None of the plot's twists seemed unnatural though they might grate with many viewers who have little experience of the emotions depicted.The film's use of several time jumps worked well in the context of the story and from my limited time in Korea and Asia seemed to capture the conflicts between Korean and most Asian societies with European values very well. While understanding Susan's point about the lead character's selfish nature (towards both her Korean biological parents and French adopted parents plus her other relationships) I think we are  seeing more scripts in the last ten years where many if not all the lead characters are unlikeable. The TV series "Succession" takes this to an extreme and the abandoning of the old script structure of protagonist versus antagonist is the outcome it seems.

Joe Conneely ● 399d

Since I have always felt "The Three Musketeers" whether in book form or prior film versions is tosh, I elected to see this alternative option being screened this week at Acton One.The title pretty much tells you all you need to know - a group of different background  US individuals, who each for various reasons want to do something about Big Oil's effect on their lives, congregate to blow up a pipeline in Texas. This will be done in a way that will not cause an eco disaster but will cause problems for oil prices and supply in delivering their message.The film avoids in depth debates on the rights or wrongs of their approach and longer term faults in their strategy. What it does very well is convey how people can be moved to become involved in such a venture, by intercutting the back stories of the individuals with the execution of their plan. While I am not a great lover of the use of flashbacks, it definitely works in this film because of the energetic style of editing and jump cuts employed which keeps the story and action moving from the very start of the film.The script is apparently adapted from a non-fiction book but comes across as an action fiction thriller with a great script and an unforeseen bitter sweet ending in avoiding standard Hollywood characterisations. Plus it has a great techno music soundtrack which as music I avoid but is perfect for the storytelling and edit of this film. Low budget with no big stars and running just over 100 minutes, it felt like those John Carpenter films I enjoyed so much from the late '70s onwards so what was not to like! Sadly there was only one other person in the cinema at the Friday matinee screening.

Joe Conneely ● 417d

It seems that in France 20% of murders remain unsolved. This is one of them.Clara, a happy-go-lucky 21-year-old is walking home from a friend's house one night when a hooded man looms out of the night, dowses her in petrol and sets light to her. She dies a horrific death. We know what the police don't: that she seemed not to recognise her killer.Grenoble CID set to work with Yohan as SIO, a decent, intelligent man who dispels stress by cycling in the velodrome. Clara led a busy social life and they interview a number of current and former boyfriends, some with a history of violence against women, but they have no leads and the case is closed without resolution.Three years later, a new Examining Magistrate asks him to reopen the case. He tells her that any one of the men he and his team interviewed might have been responsible 'because there is something amiss between men and women'. They stake out the location of the murder and Clara's grave on the anniversary of her death in the hope that the perpetrator will pay a nostalgic visit.I found this film utterly gripping. It is, as Yohan suggests, a film about violence against women and girls, but it's also about how the police are brutalised by what they have to see and hear in the course of their work. How many of us could cope with the sight of an immolated body? By the end of the film, Johan has a new, brilliant female recruit on his team. She remarks how odd it is that most crime is committed by men and yet it is largely men who investigate it.

Susan Kelly ● 437d

I appreciate this film was premiered in festival in 2022 and commented on under the 2022 thread but as I have just seen on general UK release, I include it here.

If one was looking for a contrast between Hollywood and European filmmaking, comparing this French film and the concurrent release of “Women Talking” (which I have reviewed separately) would certainly provide it. This true event story of infanticide by a Senegalese unmarried mother largely takes place in a French provincial court (the Saint Omer of the title) from the trial’s start to the summing up by her female defence lawyer.

Observing the trial is another Sengalese woman, a successful author and herself in the early stages of pregnancy. The two women never talk to each other exchanging just one long glance during the trial but the facts of the case and the accused woman’s history are clearly stirring deep emotions within the author about her own pregnancy and motherhood. Since this is a European film, long silences and small actions by the different characters and minimal dialogue (except for the female judge and the defence lawyer) pervade the whole film. Story links to the Greek tragedy “Medea” and the French post WW2 liberation treatment of women accused of fraternising, ensure this is portrayed as more than just a murder trial.

The film avoids being a courtroom drama, helped by the French court system avoiding adversarial cross examinations and the judge leading overall proceedings. By the end, after the key witnesses and the accused have been exposed during their testimonies and a defence summing up that makes for great cinema but feels unlikely to sway the outcome, you are not aware of the final outcome. I admit I came away perplexed but with lots of thoughts, so it was certainly a different cinema experience to usual!

Joe Conneely ● 486d

I am possibly a bit too well versed in the effects of patriarchy in enclosed family religious communities when approaching this film, through the novels of Brady Udall and Netflix documentaries  such as “Be good - Prey & Obey” and “Sins of our mother”. While they were about Mormons and their sub-sects, polygamy at least does not feature in this story of a Mid-West isolated religious farming community. Instead, continual sexual attacks and rapes of women (married and unmarried) has led to all the men departing for 24 hours to allow the women left behind to agree to forgive them. As is quickly established at the start of the film, the women use this rare freedom to instead review three options: to do nothing (forgive); stay and fight (for revenge or change); or, to leave the community (for exile). The film is apparently based on a true story though one suspects the film script does not follows all the book’s facts. The film avoids graphic violence simply showing the consequences in its different forms. Instead, it becomes an ongoing debate where an all women cast (only one male actor Ben Whishaw appears) go through all the options.The result is numerous monologues and coverage of all points of view, with a heavy religious tone pervading all the dialogue.While not doubting the film’s sincerity, after 90 minutes plus in a largely single set barn location plus a not unsurprising ending, I felt I had seen a cinematic sermon rather than an engaging movie. The film’s Oscar nomination feels more driven by a #MeToo context than the quality of it’s contents.

Joe Conneely ● 487d

It may be the Netflix “effect” but my watching of documentary films has increased dramatically in recent years. While few get shown on general cinema release, this award winning and now Oscar nominated film is showing in Acton and Chiswick.

The film uses historic footage to tell the story of Nan Goldin, a celebrated US photographer who I admit I have never heard of. It weaves together her own personal and very troubled life history alongside the campaign she led to attack the Sackler family of opioid painkiller OxyContin infamy. Her organisation PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) had a simple aim of having the Sackler’s name and sponsorships (“blood money” as Goldin calls it) removed from several major art galleries around the world (including NY Met, Guggenheim and UK Tate). This was against the background of increasing addiction deaths in the USA especially, where under a typical US approach the Sacklers had avoided major legal actions by cutting an early beneficial settlement deal with the DoJ.

The film works well because of the story drivers that Goldin herself was an Oxy addict plus in attacking the Sacklers was putting at risk the galleries who have created her personal fame and fortune. In addition, her family history is of an older sister who committed suicide at an early age that led to her rebellion and being sent sent to foster homes by her parents. Moving later to NY and a bohemian life amongst gays and transexual communities plus her own abusive relationships, the onset of drug deaths and HIV AIDs epidemics creates the backdrop of why the loss of so many friends in the 70s & 80s moved her to take on the Sacklers decades later.

A story that would never work if they tried to use actors and a script to tell such a complex history, it left me thinking about the UK comparable situation of the legacy of slavery and what it takes to create deep change. The film also contains a few embedded ironies (Goldin seems to have had a life of addiction to various drugs plus spends most of the film smoking or vaping plus her famous art photos are depicting the types of pain she attacks the Sacklers for later monetising through their drugs). Given I endlessly complain in my postings about films being too long, the 2 hours this documentary lasts did not drag for me.

Joe Conneely ● 495d

With many festival awards and an Oscar Best Actor nomination, inevitably expectations are heightener for a film. Brendan Fraser as Charlie, an overweight gay and on-line English tutor in Idaho, who is on a mission to destroy himself by over-eating and ignoring medical attention, certainly delivers an acting tour de force of what life is like for such a person, laden with very authentic makeup prosthetics all over his body. Indeed, all the small cast involved deliver strong performances in this film adaptation of a stage play, which with its single apartment set and use of Academy screen ratio reinforces the claustrophobia of a solitary lifestyle spent gorging on junk foods.

The main problem seems to be as the story unfolds and the interconnection of the characters is slowly revealed, we end up with a script of caricatures e.g. the angry long abandoned daughter who Charlie wants to reconnect with; bitter ex-wife etc.. And to top it all every time there is a dramatic moment. the string soundtrack cranks up to ensure you are aware of it. Add to that mix endless references to the novel “Moby Dick” and a heavy dose of religious zeal across the film and this was for me a pretty depressing two hour film.I am sure anybody who has seen a relative or close friend self-destruct from over indulging in whatever personal excess they have chosen will relate to the Charlie character. I just felt that for all the accolades about this film that I had read, I came away disappointed. Director Darren Aronofsky has with the same style of story done much better before, notably “The Wrestler” with Mickey Rourke.

Joe Conneely ● 501d

Orchestra conductors have a reputation for being ... difficult and Lydia Tar is no different. She lives in Berlin with her female partner and their little girl but we infer that she has been often predatory in the past. She is emotionally cold but develops a crush on a new cellist, a Russian girl, but there's something a bit off about this young woman. She fails to promote her assistant and the woman turns against her. Soon questions are being asked about the death by suicide of a former protégée -- questions that require legal depositions. When doctored footage emerges of an altercation with a young man who dismissed Brahms and Beethoven as Cis White Men and therefore of no relevance, her life begins to fall apart.I found this riveting after the opening few minutes which consists of a long interview to tell-not-show us all about her. Questions remained unanswered such as what, if anything, the Russian cellist was up to.Like Joe, I know nothing about classical music and found some of the technical terms heavy going (I attended a subtitled screening so at least I could see how everything was spelled and, indeed, what music was playing at any time).Tar is a marvellously complex character who should not be dismissed as merely 'horrible'. One of my favourite scenes is where she threatens a small girl who has been bullying her daughter, adding that there's no point in the girl telling anyone what she has said as 'adults don't behave like that', so nobody would believe her.I won't say that the 2.5+ hours flew by but they certainly didn't drag the way the Fabelmans did.I confess myself puzzled by the idea that it's somehow a horror film but may read up more about it.

Susan Kelly ● 505d

I must admit to not having a great understanding or appreciation of classical music, so a film based around that subject with extensive classical music being rehearsed or played and a script with extensive dialogue about the music, was always going to be a challenge to watch. This sprawling 2 1/2 hour tale of a top level female conductor (Lydia Tar of the film title, played by the excellent Cate Blanchett) at the Berlin Philharmonic (as portrayed by the Dresden Philharmonic!) with Tar on screen virtually the whole film certainly mines all facets of what it personally takes to be able to operate at that level, both professionally and personally.Blanchett's performance is up to her usual high standard as the calculating female lead conductor, shedding or manipulating people who have helped her ascent to reach a top role in her profession. One can easily see why Oscar nominations are being mentioned. Yet the problem for me was the basic story of an individual being ruthless to succeed before suffering their unique me-too downfall, despite the unique environment in which it is told feels very drawn out. Director/writer Todd Field whose first film in 16 years this is after two films in the early 2000s I have not seen but were widely acclaimed including Oscar nominations, has certainly played with the structure of the movie to maintain interest. End titles are shown at the beginning, chunks of dialogue are delivered in German and French but subtitles are dropped when German is spoken during orchestra rehearsals, and jump cuts are used increasingly towards the end half as though the director knew he needed to speed up the story. I can see why the film has garnered praise and awards to date but admit I would struggle to watch it again.

Joe Conneely ● 516d

I have not seen the Swedish original film or read the book on which that film was based. This lightweight Hollywood remake given the theme of the film is suicide, does not have I suspect their Scandinavian black comedy element but instead finally tries to convey a more optimistic feel good version.Dependable Tom Hanks (for me the James Stewart of the 21st century given the types of roles he plays) is the recently widowed Otto whose failed attempts at suicide in joining his dead wife form the main storyline. A recently retired engineer who lives his life by routine and rules and expects others to comply, Hanks conveys the cantankerous and argumentative lead well.However the real star is co-star Mariano Trevino who at eight months pregnant with her two young children and dumb husband move in as new neighbours to Otto. Her bubbly and love of life personality is the inevitable counterpoint to Otto's grumpiness as the story progresses.At 2 hours I fear it went on too long for me becoming almost plodding, plus many of the plot twists including the ending are easily foreseen. By the end, apart from wishing it was shorter and tighter I was left wondering what a Bill Murray who I find much more adept at conveying frustration and controlled anger would have done in the role.The other problem is that the story relies heavily on flashbacks and if you think this is lazy storytelling if it dominates (as I did after seeing "Knives Out - Glass Onion" recently) then it will not add to your enjoyment.

Joe Conneely ● 529d