HAMPSTEAD

“…there’s a ‘twee, trying too hard to be ever-so-British and charm our friends across the pond’ alarm that’s bleating incessantly in my head. And sadly, for good reason.”

Wayward Wolf.

The metaphorical curtain rises. An orchestra sets the mood with a little light, playful music. A young boy scampers enthusiastically across the grass, his kite flapping about above him. The camera tracks his eager progress, panning purposefully past an assortment of strategically-positioned extras going about their director-allotted activities, and the camera ultimately tilts upwards into the blue heavens above.

Lovely stuff.

The scene is set…

Only, there’s a twee, trying too hard to be ever-so-British and charm our friends across the pond alarm that’s bleating incessantly in my head. And sadly, for good reason. Sighing and blowing air out of my cheeks already, there’s a nagging inevitability about what’s to follow, and we’re only two minutes in.

Welcome to Joel Hopkins’ Hampstead. A little tale based to some extent upon true events, by all accounts.

Irishman Donald Horner (Brendan Gleeson), is a man living a life of subsistence in a ramshackle hut on Hampstead Heath. This has been his home for some seventeen years but he now faces the very real possibility of eviction, for there are real estate development plans earmarked for his particular plot of land. Unfortunately for Donald, this is land for which he has absolutely no legal claim, having effectively squatted there all these years.

And then there’s Emily (Diane Keaton), an American lady living in a flat just off the heath, opposite his plot. She’ s a good egg, but the same can’t necessarily be said of her superficial bunch of busy-body friends who share the building with her. Very much the twitching curtains brigade. Hyacinth Bucket – with money. Perhaps a little weak-willed, Emily is frequently manipulated into their petty, trivial fussing and scheming.

Since the death of her adulterous husband, Emily has found herself in dire financial straits, and can no longer afford to live here. With proactive decisiveness, however, she sets about addressing this issue. Rummaging around in her attic she looks for items that she may be able to sell and stumbles upon an old pair of binoculars, through which she spots Horner splashing about in the pond on the heath opposite.

A combination of Emily’s intrigue, and a couple of convenient plot devices leads to the pair eventually meeting up. Observing Donald’s ‘alternative’ lifestyle’ induces something of an epiphanal moment in Emily. Not only does she then resolve to change herself, but the pair soon begin something of a romance.

But of course this is well-to-do leafy Hampstead, and dating the village ‘tramp’ – as it were – is somewhat frowned upon, particularly by Emily’s gaggle of well-healed friends who are appalled and rather perturbed by Donald’s appearance in the building one day.

With Donald’s impending eviction, Emily’s potential financial ruin, and the prospect of them both becoming social pariahs, it’s fair to say that these are testing times for our unlikely couple.

Fear not though folks, for this is rose-tinted, slightly sickly British rom-com territory.

You can see what Hampstead is striving to achieve, but there’s a pervading, overriding sense that everything that it brings to the table has been done before, and crucially, better.

Arguably it ‘s a mildly charming piece in places, and though occasionally slightly amusing, it is only fleetingly so; very much in that gentle inoffensive manner exemplified by the likes of long-running British comedy ‘institution’ The Last of the Summer Wine. Comedy for people that have had heart attacks, if you will. As a full-length feature film, Hampstead, humour-wise, is very much an extrapolation of this concept.

It’s not terrible. That should be said. It’s actually perfectly watchable in that ‘not much else on, on a rainy Sunday afternoon’ manner, and in Brendan Gleason and Diane Keaton, the lead roles are in safe and capable hands, with the pair making the most of what’s on offer. Indeed, if truth be told, it’s very much their input alone that truly holds this lightweight piece together.

Ultimately though, there’s a flimsiness about the narrative, a tiresome inevitability regarding the outcome, and Joel Hopkins’ tendency to overly stereotype both characters and setting is both clumsy and off-putting.

I suspect that the aim of the game here was to turn the wider world on to yet another quirky, charming British enclave of society – as was so successfully achieved with the likes of Notting Hill.

Whilst Hampstead may well appeal to those in far-flung lands whose perception of British comedic drama is based solely upon an imported diet of Benny Hill and Are You Being Served re-runs – perpetuating the unshakeable identity of quirky Brits and their endearingly quaint ways – Hopkins’ efforts to engrain Hampstead into the hearts of the many unfortunately bears more similarities with Alan Partridge’s failed attempts to “really put Norwich on the map” via the still yet to be commissioned, and almost certainly naff detective drama, Swallow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

LOGAN (Noir) – London Picturehouse Central 2nd Anniversary Birthday Screening.

“Caliban… a splendidly gawkish and surprisingly credible portrayal from the excellent Stephen Merchant”

Wayward Wolf.

It’s true, some of the best surprises do come in all shapes and sizes. In this instance, on the occasion of London Picturehouse Central’s second birthday anniversary weekend, this beautifully refurbished central London cinema played host to a mystery film screening. Logan (noir).

A rare opportunity – and a welcome surprise, even for a notoriously comic book hero-phobic sort, such as myself – to watch the final chapter in the travails of Wolverine, in a wonderfully evocative black and white cut, towering impressively above its audience on Picture House Central’s enormous main screen.

Perhaps the most immediately striking feature of Logan (Noir) is the brutal levels of violence which are as surprising as they are enthralling. We have perhaps become accustomed over the years to the concept of ‘the long good punch-up’ – as exemplified so brilliantly in that Fast Show sketch of yesteryear. Highly choreographed, tedious punching for punching’s sake, with very little discernible outcome.

Not so here. The fights are rapid, vicious and to the point. In this respect, Logan (Noir) is not a film that messes about, riding high as it does on the wave of one massive adrenalin rush, right from the off…

Some collateral shotgun damage to Logan’s Chrysler during a scuffle in the film’s opening exchanges, proves to be something of a red rag to everyone’s favourite machete-fingered maniac, and he proceeds to unleash ten tonnes of torment on a gang of ill-advised assailants, carving them up like a Christmas turkey.

Of course, had someone informed our hero there and then of the fate that would ultimately befall his beloved set of wheels, he may have been a little less ‘Toby Carvery’ on their sorry souls.

Still, the scene is set.

Logan (Noir) – part action flick, part dolorous lament – portrays Logan (a most visceral performance from Hugh Jackman), as something of an anti-hero, who, it’s fair to say, has seen better days. A grizzled, cantankerous alcoholic, keen for nothing more than solitude, he hides out in a remote outpost of the desert. Joining him there are his elderly father, Charles (Patrick Stewart), Caliban (a splendidly gawkish yet surprisingly credible portrayal from the excellent Stephen Merchant), and latterly, a young mutant girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who gives as convincing a portrayal of savage youthful mania as I can remember on-screen.

In essence this is a traditional Hollywood road movie; fugitives on the run from a relentless foe.

Having been forced from their hideout, hot on their trail are those whose mission is to arrest their progress at all costs. Laura, and a number of other young mutant ‘ex-in mates’, have escaped the experimental laboratory that was their home. Now fleeing from their creators (now oppressors, who wish them harm), theirs is a desperate bid to reach the sanctuary of the border.

Through a succession of plot twists, it has now become a rather reluctant Logan’s responsibility to help Laura and her friends to safety. All considered, this is an impossibly difficult task at the best of times.

James Mangold’s direction is fast, slick and installs an omnipresent sense of menace to proceedings. No matter where the fugitives run to, there is seldom a moment’s rest, and one can only pity those kind souls that offer to help along the way, inadvertently becoming embroiled in Logan’s problems. No matter how good their intentions; chances are they’re going to end up corpses in this film’s all too generous body count.

A visually achingly beautiful piece at times, this wonderful monochrome edition thunders along with only occasional respite from the sense of impending, encroaching doom.

With a certain tip of the hat to the Terminator movies, this is a film that may well lack a little in originality, yet more than makes up for it with its sheer cut, thrust and tension.

James Mangold has got this one very right. Logan (Noir) is not simply an enthralling action movie, but a thoughtful, memorable one at that.

If only they were all like this.

 

 

CHURCHILL

“…David Higgs has worked some magic here, conjuring  up some of the stand-out cinematography of the year to date.”

Wayward Wolf.

A few years back a statue of Winston Churchill that stands outside the Houses of Parliament in London, was desecrated by protestors. I forget why. It was nothing personal against him if memory serves sufficiently, and the perpetrators were swiftly rounded upon by most of British society.

Let’s face it, whether you concur or not, it’s a very sticky wicket that you’ll bat upon if you decide to disparage anything relating to that particular period of British political history, let alone the seemingly Teflon wartime Prime Minister himself.

But this protective attitude, or rather a slight reversal of it, is what makes Churchill such an intriguing biopic.

The film focuses on the tail end of World War II, a time in which Churchill’s usefulness as a military tactician was fast being called into question. It was after all the minds of General Bernard Montgomery of the Allied forces and General Dwight D. Eisenhower of the U.S army that were overseeing the implementation of the impending pivotal Operation Overlord.

Churchill, in comparison, whilst undoubtedly committed to the last, was perceived now as something of a dinosaur; increasingly out of touch with the technology and methods of modern warfare, despite his insistence that there was much that could be learned from the lessons of World War I.

At least that is how he is portrayed in Jonathan Teplitzky’s piece.

A stubborn, sometimes belligerent old man, he is portrayed wonderfully well by Brian Cox. Rarely without twin props of cigar and tumbler of Scotch in hand, he shuffles about from here to there, insistent upon being at the centre of everything and having a decisive say in all matters. It becomes increasingly clear, however, that owing to his age, this can no longer be the case. He is depicted as a proud man struggling to accept that he is nearing the time when perhaps he has outstayed his usefulness as a fully hands-on Prime Minister. Instead, with King George VI in agreement (James Purefoy), a new era is ushered in; an era of Winston Churchill ‘The Statesman’ – whether he likes it or not.

His long-suffering wife, Clementine (the excellent Miranda Richardson), is portrayed as a woman somewhat battle-hardened from a life duelling with an unshakeably headstrong husband. Theirs seems to be a union of respectful support and dependability above anything else.

Although Teplitzky’s film veers away from any temptation to depict the conflict itself, the heightened emotions and sense of trepidation of impending battle are brilliantly captured through the interplay between Churchill (Cox), Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Montgomery (Julian Wadham). We are left in no doubt of the sheer gravitas of the situation that confronts the three men, all of whom acknowledge – to varying degrees – a duty of care to minimise potential troop fatalities, whilst still appreciative of the need for strong, single-minded decision making for ‘the greater good’.

It’s visually a most seductive film that leans heavily on the use of sweeping vistas, some beautiful staged ‘stills’ and the use of striking silhouetted imagery. Certainly David Higgs has worked some magic here, conjuring  up some of the stand-out cinematography of the year to date.

Quite how historically accurate a portrayal of Winston Churchill this is, might well be open to debate, but it makes for an intriguing study of a much revered historical figure in a guise that perhaps won’t be entirely familiar to all.

HELL ON EARTH

“Religion after all has a habit of bypassing all avenues of logic, insisting instead upon both giant leaps of faith and the defence of the utterly unprovable.”

Wayward Wolf.

Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS – Hell on Earth from hereon in – is a Sebastian Junger and Nick Quested-directed National Geographic documentary chronicling the tragic events that have befallen the people of Syria (and indeed the country in general), and the knock-on Global effects that have unavoidably followed over the past decade or so.

You can tell that this is an American, National Geographic production. In amongst uncensored gratuitous scenes of dead bodies, scattered limbs, and general carnage, a small boy, out of his mind with grief and anger following another devastating bombing raid on his city, has his somewhat ‘expressive’ disapproval of the Syrian president edited – for swearing.

One can’t help but smile at the ludicrosity of it. Moments of levity such as this however are few and far between in this most harrowing account of what can only be described as an utter on-going nightmare.

The film analyses, in a very linear fashion, the events that led to the on-going civil war in Syria and how ultimately the fallout from that and International military intervention both there and in Iraq and Afghanistan has given rise to radical groups of Muslims hell-bent on imposing, through fear and force, their particularly unsavoury interpretation of Islam upon large swathes of the Middle East.

Watching this bleak but powerful film, one can’t help but be hugely affected by its devastating message, on a worryingly personal level. Previous generations in ‘The West’ have of course had their own set of explosive political issues to contend with. One thinks back to the 1980s and the fear of the Irish Republican Army, and of the cold war and its seemingly omnipresent threat of nuclear armageddon. Never though was it quite on the same sort of hysterical level that we see in the world today with the threat of ISIS and religion-influenced terrorism in general, very much a global concern.

However, unlike obstacles and threats to peace that were faced in the not too distant past, and for which there was at least some scope for negotiation, there is perhaps no negotiating with religious fanaticism. Religion after all has a habit of bypassing all avenues of logic, insisting instead upon both giant leaps of faith and the defence of the utterly unprovable.

A heady cocktail of corrupt regimes, the actions of insurgents, disenchanted and opportunistic religious fanaticism, and the meddling military intervention of Western super powers has not only brought the likes of Syria and Iraq to their knees, but heavily implicated much of the rest of the world into these troubles too both through subsequent unsustainable levels of mass immigration, and through vengeful terrorism in Allah’s name.

Indeed, regardless of who is doing the fighting, and whoever happens to be on the receiving end of it, Hell on Earth is awash with one constantly recurring sentiment: “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greater).

I should hope so too.

Mercilessly executing their fellow man as they go, some of those fighting in the prophet’s name are not exactly setting the bar very high.

It’s a big mess, that’s for sure, and one that’s very effectively and powerfully captured in Junger and Quested’s hard-hitting film. If there is a criticism to be made it is that a combination of information overload and the film’s very quick-fire pace and delivery make it rather difficult to absorb all content, effectively. Subsequent viewings may prove to be beneficial. On a similar note, the film’s brisk pace leaves little space and time to contemplate and ponder some of the more emotionally-charged and unsettling content – but perhaps that’s a good thing?

Benefiting from innumerable sources of both official and amateur video footage, as far as slick, informative, and relatively impartial documentaries go, Hell on Earth, though at times difficult viewing, successfully manages to capture this most troubling period in human history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colossal

“By the end, even the director seems to have given up the ghost if the clumsy, half-baked final chapter is anything to go by. “

Wayward Wolf.

Colossal falls into the category of ‘quirky’ cinema. Quirky cinema then tends to divide into one of two categories: ‘well written, surprisingly deep and meaningful beneath the quirkiness’ or ‘quirky for quirky’s sake’.

This Nacho Vigalondo directed piece is entrenched firmly in the latter camp.

Politely yet firmly nudged out of her (her boyfriend’s) New York apartment, unemployed party girl, Gloria, (Anne Hathaway), returns to her home town. There, she stays in an empty, furniture-less house that presumably belongs to her, though this is not established. Here in small town America she intends to get her life back on track again.

A chance meeting with Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) – an old acquaintance whom she vaguely recalls from their primary school days together – is initially a positive thing. Oscar owns a bar and invites Gloria to work there, at least until she’s settled back in the area again.

Gloria accepts and she, Oscar and a couple of other regulars strike up a sort of ‘after hours’ friendship, and her life soon drifts back into an all too familiar routine of late nights and alcohol.

It’s only when news comes from South Korea that a giant monster has begun to terrorise residents of Seoul, that Gloria’s unspectacular small town existence begins to liven up through a quite astonishing discovery. She is somehow connected directly to these herculean happenings that are playing out on the other side of the world.

It seems that at 8.05 am each morning, whatever physical movements that Gloria makes within the bounds of a local kids playground, are replicated exactly by the Godzilla-esque beast so many thousands of miles away. But whereas Gloria’s footsteps are merely innocent shuffles through the Autumn leaves, the monster’s are huge destructive hammer blows to both Seoul’s buildings and to its people in the streets below.

It’s certainly a ludicrous not to mention hugely ambitious narrative that director Vigalondo must sell to his audience, and one that consequently requires a massive suspension of disbelief on their part, to put it mildly.

Unfortunately, the whole shebang suffers badly from a combination of poor writing, ill-explained phenomena and plot holes as large as the monster’s considerable footprints. Despite Hathaway and Sudeikis putting in convincing turns in the film’s key roles, Colossal sadly comes across as little more than an incoherent, mad adrenalin rush of overblown ideas. By the end, even the director seems to have given up the ghost if the clumsy, half-baked final chapter is anything to go by.

Yes, there are clearly metaphors at play here, and there’s something of a back story to consider which should help to make better sense of things, but all such subtle devices seem so hopelessly lost within the film’s bungling storyline.

To some extent, Colossal masquerades as innovative film-making, hiding as it does  behind a certain level of deceptive quirkiness. It may well have been Vigalondo’s noble intention to swerve all things cliched and unoriginal, and full marks for that, but ultimately, like so many before him, the allure of Hollywood proves to be too seductive. In a flurry of contrived nonsense, and amidst a tidal wave of mildly motivated Korean extras, Colossal trundles haphazardly towards its inevitable conclusion.