Tag Archives: Brendan Gleeson

ALONE IN BERLIN

“…director Vincent Perez – resisting the temptation to pad things out with dubious filler or the concoction of unnecessarily distracting back stories…”

Wayward Wolf.

The death of their only son in combat has driven a German couple to risk their own lives in defiance of the Führer himself.

Provoked by a combination of deep-set grief and simmering resentment, Otto Quangel (Brendan Gleeson), is determined to make a stand against what he perceives to be an unjust, brutal Nazi regime. His wife, Anna (Emma Thompson), refuses to allow Otto to do such a thing alone, and by association, therefore becomes the accomplice to his plans.

Painstakingly Otto begins the laborious task of disguising his handwriting in order to create almost 290 cards, each of which is emblazoned with a strong anti-authoritarian message of defiance, something he refers to as “Freie Presse” (free press). Each of these he then deposits in strategic public locations around the city of Berlin, hopeful that his anarchic messages will incite some form of radical response from a down-trodden German public.

No matter their impact on the psyche of the German people, it transpires that all but eighteen of these cards will ultimately be turned in to the authorities by a public too frightened not to do so.

Predictably, Otto and Anna’s actions soon prompt something of a manhunt in the City.

Brendan Gleeson and particularly Emma Thompson put in fine performances as a couple riddled with sorrow and driven to the point where they no longer have anything to lose, but it is arguably Daniel Brühl’s performance as the rather weasel-ish police detective, Escherich, that steals the limelight here. His persual of “the threat” posed by Otto and Anna becomes something of an obsession. Frequently out-thought or wrong-footed in his endeavours, he is willing to betray anyone, and do literally anything to solve a case which threatens to get away from him; particularly once the SS get involved, ramping up the pressure to close the net on the elusive pair of renegades.

Although nicely shot and well-paced, Alone in Berlin is a fairly straight forward premise, and judged on such criteria, there’s perhaps not enough to really make it stand out from an historically long and illustrious back catalogue of Second World War-themed film-making. That said, Alexandre Desplat’s soundtrack is memorable and worthy of mention. Suitably evocative, it successfully conjures up a bleak mood of despair with its refreshingly traditional use of  both recurring themes and motifs, embellishing the film significantly and substantially.

On balance, Alone in Berlin delivers well. Both engaging and suspenseful, one can put this down to a number of factors, but primarily owing to director Vincent Perez resisting the temptation to pad things out with dubious filler or the concoction of unnecessarily distracting back stories, allowing instead a refreshingly concise and to-the-point retelling of Otto and Anna’s fraught, daring and ultimately fool-hardy act of resistance against a wicked ideology.

Well worth a watch.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW (2015): In The Heart Of The Sea (3D)

3D films are a curious thing.
Back in the day (the 1980s to be more precise), 3D films were very much a gimmick. There was very little danger of anyone paying their hard-earned cash and getting to see anything decent in this format. It was more about short length, demonstrative offerings on big screens, served up to satisfy the public’s curiosity. There was nothing wrong with that. You paid your money, you got to see things coming out of the screen, straight at you, inducing the odd gasp or flinch – a sort of cinematic roller coaster.
More recently, 3D has made a comeback in a big way, but it’s now attached to epic feature films such as Ron Howard’s latest: In the heart of the sea.
Howard is not one to shy away from the big, the bold, or the dramatic and so it is with this nautical yarn based loosely on Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick.
Ben Whishaw plays a young Herman Melville attempting to extract the well hidden bones of an epic story out of a now considerably older and understandably reluctant Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who, as a young lad, had been a part of all the drama and hardships of the fateful voyage of The Good Ship Essex of Nantucket.
Indeed, The Essex was ready to set sail on yet another whaling mission; its crew packed full of testosterone and nautical know-how. That crew, including a young, inexperienced Thomas Nickerson (Tom Holland), would see and experience many a thing that would scar them forever.
Chris Hemsworth of James Hunt in Rush fame, is recalled once again as Howard’s lead, Owen Chase, a man bitter at being overlooked for the ship’s captaincy role, despite previous promises from the powers that be to the contrary. Being overlooked in favour of George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who has only acquired the role by way of his family connections, is particularly galling for the considerably more experienced and better suited, Chase.
In the heart of the sea is in many ways a straight forward adventure film, and much like the flailing tail fin of the monster whale itself, Howard’s direction, perhaps predictably, slaps us about the face with little or no subtlety.
Performances that are akin to setting the volume dial to maximum, from a quality cast portraying characters that lack a little depth, should really become tiresome, but credit to the director who only very seldom allows a scene to stagnate. It’s full throttle or should that be full sail ahead, in search of adventure? Adventure, in a sort of ‘Boy’s Own’ way, is most certainly what we get.
Pure Hollywood. In 3D.
But once again, the question is raised: “Does 3D actually make In the heart of the sea a better film – does it actually add anything significant that couldn’t be achieved in 2D?”
On balance, the answer, as ever, is probably no, and further still, the opening scenes are severely hampered by much 3D meddling and gimmickry, giving them a most surreal visual edge as Howard goes absolutely perspective crazy to ensure that every shot achieves absolutely maximum focal depth.
It all wears a bit thin.
Saying that, if the viewer can navigate past the opening land scenes without being too put off, then the 3D aspect of the seafaring portion of the film, it should be conceded, comes into its own, integrating far better and more organically with the film’s narrative. Wonderfully epic shots of the ocean and of the mighty monster whale are impressively done and probably worth the admission money alone.
I like Ron Howard and although it goes against the grain for me, I like his direction too. Big, bold, in-your-face and unapologetically Hollywood. That’s fine by me when a director knows not to slow the tempo down and leave us too much time to ruminate over what can be at times, rather shallow, bubblegum content.
Although the stalking white whale storyline can veer a little too close to Jaws 4 territory for comfort, we’ll give Howard the benefit of the doubt for now and mark it all down as a tip of the hat to Melville’s epic novel as much as anything.
In the heart of the sea is very much what a lot of us pay our entrance money for; larger than life, full-on entertainment and under such criteria, the film does exactly what you’d imagine it would and should.
Perfect fare for post New Year over indulgences – even in 3D.