The trip to Spain

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back with another of their Trip film series. The last film was The trip to Italy (2014), and it was very popular among the lovers of British films. And they should enjoy that one even more. The two comedians are in fine form and some of the dialogue is truly hilarious. Coogan and Brydon are basically playing themselves driving through Spain doing a restaurant tour for an upcoming article in a travel magazine. The story is thin and only serves to make the characters of Steve and Rob have something to come back to when they go back home. Rob is married with two young kids, and Steve has a much younger girlfriend and an adult son who will later join Steve and Rob in Spain. What’s important here is the back–and–forth conversations they have, they throw the ball at each other with perfect comic timing. It seems so effortless, you can’t even figure out if it is scripted or improvised. It’s mostly all done during a meal and in front of the gorgeous dishes set on their table. The jokes may be about the food itself:

Rob: When she said he makes chorizo like his grandmother, is that what she looked like?

Steve: No, Rob. It means the way his grandmother used to make it.

Rob: Fine, well, I think she should be more clear, because I’m picturing a grizzled old woman with the external appearance of chorizo.

 

Another funny highlight is the photo shoot. The posing in front of windmills dressed as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. And they often sing The impossible dream from Man of La Mancha. Director Michael Winterbottom knows that The trip to Spain is not about the food or the scenery, but about the two comedians. The landscape is beautifully photographed by James Clarke. But the dramatic drive of the film is the competitiveness between those two. Steve Coogan is constantly reminding his traveling companion that he received two Oscar nominations for Philomena, the film in which he co-stared with Dame Judi Dench, don’t you forget it. He’s planning to write a sequel (he calls it “a sister film”), but arranging the deal gets complicated when he suddenly gets a new agent and the studio wants to bring in a new writer to rewrite his screenplay. And then there are the improvisations. It starts with David Bowie. Brydon tries to impersonate Bowie, but Coogan tells him it is not how it’s done. They try to outdo each other. Anthony Hopkins and Roger Moore are some of the others. It takes up a big chunk of the film, and after a while it becomes repetitive and annoying. If you liked the first two films, then you probably will like The trip to Spain.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema From August 11 – 20
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/the-trip-to-spain

The trip to Spain

Directed by:
Michael Winterbottom

Screenplay by:
Michael Winterbottom

Starring:
Steve Coogan
Rob Brydon

108 min.

Rated 14A

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is not the usual British period drama. And with that title, one would expect some Shakespearean film adaptation. It’s not. It is adapted from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk district, a 1865 novella by Nikolai Leskov. The original Russian setting was transposed here to Victorian England. Florence Pugh plays Katherine, a young woman who finds herself at the wrong end of an arranged marriage. Her father married her to obtain a nice plot of land. Katherine’s husband is Alexander (Paul Hilton), a rich miner’s son. Both Boris (Christopher Fairbank), her father-in-law, and Alexander treat her horribly. She is not allowed to leave the house, and Boris constantly scolds her for not doing her wifely duties and bring him an heir. But the truth is that Alexander does not seem very interested in her. He demands that she undress and leaves her standing naked in the middle of the bedroom as he either goes back to bed, or masturbates while looking at her. They treat her worse than they treat their dogs. One day, Alexander and Boris are called away on business. For months he is left alone with the housemaid, Anna (Naomi Ackie). Katherine feels free. She can go outside and walk around freely. Then she starts a passionate affair with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), one of the workers on the farm. Then Boris comes back. He knows what happened and he beats Sebastian. That’s when Katherine kills Boris and starts a murder starts a murder spree that is quite stunning to watch. Stunning because it has rarely been done in that context, in those costumes and that repressive a society. It is minimalist for most of the film. Until the next burst of violence or sex throws all of our expectations out the window. A great pleasure comes from Florence Pugh’s ice-cold stares. She fits perfectly in the film’s mood and restraints. It’s certainly an unexpected surprise. Not for every one, for sure, but if you can stand it, I recommend it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Lady Macbeth

 

Directed by:
William Oldroyd

Screenplay by:
Alice Birch
Based on the novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk district by Nikolai Leskov

Starring:
Florence Pugh
Cosmo Jarvis
Naomi Ackie
Christopher Fairbank
Paul Hilton
Golda Rosheuvel
Bill Fellows

89 min.

Rated 18A

The journey

The journey is based on the events that led to the 2006 peace agreement in Northern Ireland. The animosities are clearly laid out from the start. The leaders from the two sides arrive at the meeting. Down the hall is Rev. Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) leader of the Democratic unionist party (DUP). On the other side of the same hall stands Martin McGuiness (Colm Meaney). He turns to face Paisley. McGuiness is MP from the Sinn Féin party and a veteran leader of the Irish republican army (IRA). As the two men look at each other, there is nothing but disdain. They hate each other. Then they enter separate rooms to have two separate peace talks. That would be it, except that Ian Paisley has to leave his meeting to go celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. McGuiness agrees but only if he travels with Paisley. That way if they travel together, neither of them can be singled out for attack. The drive to the airport was long. We are told that it is unknown what was said during that trip. Screenwriter Colin Bateman imagines a conversation that might have changed the course of history. Paisley was an 80-year-old evangelical Protestant minister who hated Catholics. He called the IRA the Antichrist. And McGuiness doesn’t like what Rev. Paisley said about the Pope either. For Paisley, Martin McGuiness and the IRA, are terrorists responsible for the death of innocent people. He can even remember some the names of the victims. ”We were in a civil war”, McGuiness tells Paisley, adding that there were casualties on both sides. As a chauffeur they have baby-faced Jack (baby-faced Freddie Highmore). He’s been put there to spy on them by then Prime minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens). They have also installed microphones and a camera. The excellent Sir John Hurt appears in one of his last films (he died last January from pancreatic cancer). Hurt plays the operative monitoring the drive and listening to the conversation. This is good acting from Spall and Meaney. The more showy role is Paisley. To play the 80-year-old, 60-year-old Spall has to put a lot of make up and prosthetics. But Meaney holds his own and plays the younger McGuiness as the more tempered and sound of the two statesmen. Colin Bateman has written a good balance of witty and profound repartees. Director Nick Hamm has put the whole thing together with style and a suspenseful build-up that is quite effective. It may not all be factual, but it is pleasurable nevertheless.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The journey

Directed by:
Nick Hamm

Screenplay by:
Colin Bateman

Starring:
Timothy Spall
Colm Meaney
Toby Stephens
John Hurt
Freddie Highmore
Ian Beattie

94 min.

Churchill

As Winston Churchill walks on the beach, he has visions of death. The water is red with blood, and it gets bloodier and bloodier. His wife, Clementine, calls him back. But the nightmare is not over. As he walks back, the beach is strewed with dead soldiers. The young men who died on the beaches of Gallipoli in 1915. But it’s June 1944 now, and Churchill is the British Prime Minister. As preparation for D-Day is underway, Churchill (Brian Cox) is afraid that the Allied forces are about repeat the same mistake. It is estimated that over 50,000 allied soldiers were killed, 34,000 of them British, in the disastrous 1915 Battle of Gallipoli. Churchill took much of the blame as one of its political and military engineers. So Churchill, 70 years old in 1944, is determined to stop the Normandy landings. He is coming undone. Even more frustrating for him is the fact that nobody seems to agree with him. His assistant, Field marshal Jan Smuts (Richard Durden), is trying to reason with him. His frequent confrontations with American General Dwight D. Eisenhower (American actor John Slattery from TV’s Mad men) and British Field marshal Bernard ’Monty’ Montgomery (Julian Wadham) are only makes him look like an old fool. Even King George VI (a stuttering James Purefoy) visits Churchill and tells him to stop his campaign. D-Day will happen. His wife, Clementine (Miranda Richardson) won’t let her husband out of her grips. Especially when he drinks too much or angrily yells at a young new secretary (Ella Purnell). She forcefully tries to avoid a mental breakdown from happening. But it seems unavoidable. The production values (sets, costumes, photography, score) are tops here. I am not being an expert on the historical accuracy of the story. But screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann is also a historian, so it may be only a small footnote in history that gave her a cue write this intriguing concept. But the real draw of Churchill is the excellent performances of the two leads. After last year’s disastrous film The carer, it’s nice to see Cox finally find a part worthy of his considerable talent. In Churchill, Cox is in every scenes. He is the symphony orchestra conductor, setting the rhythm and the nuances, making sure the balances of every details are right. Quite a feat. Richardson’s Clementine Churchill is cold, calculating and fierce. She is not to be messed with. But later on she can also be committed to loving her husband no matter what. Soon to come there will be another film called Darkest hour with Gary Oldman and Dame Kristin Scott Thomas as Winston and Clementine, and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI. And maybe a soon battle royal at the Oscars. Who knows?

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema on August 19 & 20
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/churchill

 

Churchill

Directed by:
Jonathan Teplitzky

Screenplay by:
Alex von Tunzelmann

Starring:
Brian Cox
Miranda Richardson
Richard Durden
John Slattery
Julian Wadham
Ella Purnell
James Purefoy

98 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

A quiet passion

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.”

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

 

In A quiet passion British director Terence Davies gives us a portrait of American poet Emily Dickinson. When we first see young Emily (then played by Emma Bell) she’s at a Christian boarding school. The stubborn Emily refuses to accept the school’s religious precepts. Her liberal-minded father (Keith Carradine) seems to take Emily’s unconventionality as a folly of youth. This is a way for Davies to say that Dickinson’s refusal to act and think outside of what was expected at the time, will color her life as well as her poetry. All her life, the unmarried Dickinson lived with the family at their home in Amherst, Massachusetts where most of the film is set. Throughout the film, religious zealots and moralists are being rightly ridiculed. There was no way that Emily would let her Aunt Elizabeth (Annette Badland), for instance, dictate what she should or should not say or think. As an adult, Emily (now played in a spectacular performance by Cynthia Nixon) befriends Vryling Wilder Buffum. Played by Catherine Bailey, it is a comic masterpiece of precision. With every flick of the fan, eye rolling insinuations and flirting stares, Vryling is very funny and entertaining to Emily and her sister Lavinia “Vinnie” (the marvellous understated Jennifer Ehle). A quiet passion is actually quite witty. There is joy and exaltation in Emily’s smiles, and laughter in her face and her eyes. But later in life she suffers terribly from the death of her parents. And she feels lonely and think of herself as ugly caused by a lifetime celibacy. She becomes a recluse, seldom leaving her room. The only thing she can rely on is her writing and her sister, also a celibate. Emily has screaming matches with Austin (Duncan Duff), her married brother, after she finds him in the living room with a married woman. Emily gets sick from Bright’s disease and her whole body is taken by terrifying, unstoppable tremors. Although Emily Dickinson wrote close to 1800 poems, fewer than a dozen were published during her lifetime. Because of Dickinson’s innovative use of punctuation and various styles and forms, she is now considered one of the most revered American poet. I remember hearing American composer Aaron Copland’s Twelve poems by Emily Dickinson, and now his use of sudden dissonant outbursts makes sense. Here we see Dickinson in the early scenes bursting with uncontrollable joy, or in later years as sorrows and pain filled her days and nights, being visited by depression and anger. It mirrors the exalted and impetuous nature of Dickinson’s poetry. In A quiet passion, Davies shows the family’s spending quiet evenings with only lamps to light up the living room. These were different times. Davies is not afraid to linger and let the silences create a reflective atmosphere. Those beautiful 360 degree pans of the rooms or, as a complete contrast, the walks in most the sunny and colourful gardens is the work of cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister. The cast is splendid. To name a few, Jennifer Ehle as Emily’s loving sister and Catherine Bailey as her best friend, form with Nixon a trio of unforgettable actresses. What I find most compelling is the respect for Dickinson from all involved. Cynthia Nixon’s complete commitment should be saluted at Oscar time. And let’s hope that the film and Terence Davies will also be remembered.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A quiet passion

Directed by:
Terence Davies

Screenplay by:
Terence Davies

Starring:
Cynthia Nixon
Emma Bell
Jennifer Ehle
Duncan Duff
Keith Carradine
Joanna Bacon
Catherine Bailey
Jodhi May
Annette Badland
Eric Loren

125 min.

Rated Parental

I, Daniel Blake

Internationally renown British director Ken Loach announced in 2014 that he was to retire from filmmaking. But in 2016 something made him angry enough to want to make at least another film. What is he denouncing? In 2008 the British government started an overhaul of their disability support and welfare programs. What was supposed to save billions of pounds a year from the welfare budget, instead cost more money to administer. For some of the claimants, the decisions taken about their benefits were fatal. Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), carpenter by trade, suffered a heart attack at work. He is recovered but, according to his doctor, not well enough to go back to work. After an assessment from a so called “health care professional”, Daniel is deemed “Fit for work”. The assessment was based on an interview with Daniel, and the decision is taken without considering his medical records or any medical expertise. He gets a letter informing him of the decision. He would like to appeal, but is told he has to wait for a phone call before he can appeal. This is Kafkaesque! Daniel is a good man who likes to help his fellow man. At the Jobcentre Daniel meets Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires), a young mother of two. Katie is refused help because she arrived late at a meeting. Daniel tries to help her as much as he can, and he becomes a father figure (or at his age it could be a grandfather figure) for the children. Daniel is told that he has to fill a form… online! Daniel is computer illiterate. He’s never been near a computer. He gets some help from Ann (Kate Rutter), a worker at the Jobcentre. But soon Ann is reprimanded because she helped him. Daniel is forced to look for work or he will lose his benefits. He is also forced to attend a ridiculous class on how to write a CV, with a stupid instruction that the job seekers should also bring a digital copy of the CV. As for Katie, she is a mom who does what has to be done to feed her kids. Dave Johns, a stand-up comedian doing his first dramatic film, is exactly the perfect actor for the part. I, Daniel Blake is a realistic film about a working class man, an ordinary guy. Johns does not seem to be playing at all. His acting is quiet, real and incredibly appealing. Loach;s directing style is simple: don’t get in the way of your characters, who are more important than the camera angles. His screenplay is a bit too structured and formatted. I knew some things would happened before they did, and it clashes with the realistic style of the film. There is a scene where Katie goes to the food bank that caught me completely by surprise. Like Johns, Hayley Squires gives a heart wrenching performance. Everything that Loach says about the welfare system in England is true. If you are a good soul who think that human beings don’t treat other human beings that way, well think again and go see I, Daniel Blake.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

I, Daniel Blake

Directed by:
Ken Loach

Screenplay by:
Ken Loach

Starring:
Dave Johns
Hayley Squires
Dylan McKiernan
Briana Shann
Kate Rutter

100 min.

Rated 14A

Although English is spoken in I, Daniel Blake, all the characters have a different accent and it is hard at times to understand them, as is often the case with Ken Loach. Because of that it will be presented with English subtitles.

The lost city of Z

With a title like The lost city of Z you could expect a cheesy American adventure movie pilling up the clichés. But The lost city of Z is actually a very good biopic about British explorer Percy Fawcett. Earlier in the film, Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) learns that his career in the Royal Artillery is probably at a standstill because of his now deceased father’s drinking and gambling behaviours. In 1905 Royal geographical society asks Fawcett to travel to the jungle between Bolivia and Brazil to map the area. That meant leaving his loving wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and his two years old son Jack at home. Coming along with him Corporal Henry Costing (an underperforming Robert Pattinson) and Corporal Arthur Manley (Edward Ashley). Fawcett also recruits some native guides. This is a dangerous trip with the group being attacked by jungle natives with arrows and piranhas infested waters. In the middle of the jungle makes an archeological discovery that makes him believe in the old theory that a complex civilization once existed in the Amazon region. Back in Britain, his theories are laughed at by some, but embraced by others. James Murray (Angus Macfadyen) was rich and considered himself to be an explorer. He proposed to finance the next expedition, as long as he can join them. But Murray is too fat and becomes a nuisance. There were seven expeditions between 1906 and 1924. They were briefly interrupted by World war II. Fawcett’s oldest son Jack followed his father on the last expedition. This is a fascinating true life adventure film. Except from a few scenes (Nina wanting to go along with her husband, reasoning that they are equals is cute but doubtful), most of it is true. Charlie Hunnam is giving one of those grand bravura performance that is very rare. I would call it sensible machismo. Darius Khondji’s cinematography shows the beauty, darkness and dangers of the jungle. It just looks great. I recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The lost city of Z

 

Directed by:
James Gray

Screenplay by:
James Gray
Based on the book by David Grann

Starring:
Charlie Hunnam
Robert Pattinson
Sienna Miller
Edward Ashley
Tom Holland
Angus Macfadyen
Ian McDiarmid

141 min.

Rated 14A

In English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German with English subtitles.

Their finest

It probably was not easy to make films in London during the Second World War. London was bombed by the German Air Force. At any moment, your neighbourhood, your house and your life could be destroyed. Looking death in the face was a daily occurrence. But all through this, the people at the British Ministry of Information’s film division tried to make propaganda films. Adapted from a Lissa Evans novel, Their finest is a light film that mustn’t be taken too seriously. The central figure is Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) a young woman applying to the Ministry for a job as a typist. But because she previously worked as a copywriter, she’s given the job of writing ‘slop’, dialogue between women in propaganda short films. Catrin is married to Ellis (Jack Huston), a struggling painter hoping that soon he’ll strike it rich. In the meantime, it’s up to Catrin to put food on the table. But she finds that writing ‘slop’ is boring and is snobbishly regarded by her writing partner Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), a handsome but sexist young man. But Catrin is not going to let Buckley belittle her. At the Ministry’s request she travels to the coast to investigate a story about twin sisters who helped soldiers during the evacuation of Dunkirk. But the sisters’ heroism has been overblown by the newspaper. Still, she finds the idea of having two female heroic leads interesting. She makes a pitch to her supervisor, Roger Swain (Richard E. Grant), and it is decided to make it into a feature-length film. To play the twins’ Uncle Frank they hire veteran actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy). Ambrose was once a matinée idol. But that was when he played a dashing detective in a popular series of films. Now, Ambrose resents playing a supporting character, and, worse of all, an old Uncle! But he needs the money. There are a few British character actor that almost never give a bad performance no matter in what film they play. One of those actors is Bill Nighy. In Their finest he effortlessly makes it impossible not to fall in love with Ambrose Hilliard. The writing gets sidetracked a bit when the Secretary of War (a pompous cameo by Jeremy Irons) insist that the film needs an American star (Jake Lacy) to make it more profitable abroad. At home, Catrin is falling out of love with her husband, while she and Buckley are getting closer. Even if the topic and the historical setting is original and might have been interesting, I am not convinced that the treatment is satisfactory. Their finest relies too much on old American film clichés. It’s been done so many times. And so much better. But still, what moved me at the end is the screening of their film. How good filmmaking with a good script can make any audience laugh and cry. I think that the film Catrin and Buckley made in Their finest is better than Their finest itself. Too bad!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Their finest

Directed by:
Lone Scherfig

Screenplay by:
Gaby Chiappe
Based on the novel Their finest hour and a half by Lissa Evans

Starring:
Gemma Arterton
Sam Claflin
Bill Nighy
Jack Huston
Paul Ritter
Richard E. Grant
Rachael Stirling

117 min.

Rated 14A

My Scientology movie

John Dower and Louis Theroux’s in-your-face documentary about the Church of Scientology is intriguing, strange, funny, scary and revealing. Wanting to make a documentary on the church proved difficult when British journalist Theroux was, unsurprisingly, denied access to the church and its leader David Miscavige. They decided to find another approach. They contacted Marty Rathbun. Marty was at one point one of the highest senior member of the church, before he cracked and left everything behind. Rathbun alleges that there is violence within the church, and that Miscavige himself often beats his staff. After Rathbun divulged these affirmation to newspapers, he has been harassed by the church. Rathbun has a temper and sometimes gets frustrated by Theroux’s inquisitive questions. Dower and Theroux’s plan is to audition actors to stand in for Miscavige and actor Tom Cruise, who is the most famous Scientologist. They are going to re-enact some of the speeches and interviews. At audition Andrew Perez impresses everyone and is chosen to read for David Miscavige. And actor Rob Alter looks very much like Tom Cruise. During the filming there are some weird moments. As Theroux and the crew tries to visit some Scientology estates with other former Scientologists, they get a visit from a woman and a cameraman. The lady order them to leave while the cameraman films them, with Theroux’s crew filming the Scientologist’s cameraman, then someone gets out a cell phone and films the whole thing. This is a totally absurd scene. One day Theroux notices that a car is following them. Then, outside of the studio they spot another camera filming them. They refuse to answer why they are filming. If Theroux wanted a reaction from the Church of Scientology, he certainly got it. And trouble maker Theroux is not afraid to be confrontational. Another interesting but nerve-racking look at Scientology. Highly recommended.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

My Scientology movie

Directed by:
John Dower

99 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

The sense of an ending

The sense of an ending has the advantages of dealing in both the present and the not too distant past. When Tony Webster (the always superb Jim Broadbent) gets the news that Sarah Ford has died, and that he has inherited some money and the diary of his old pal, Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn). Sarah was Veronica‘s mother. Veronica was Tony’s first love. He only met Sarah once, so why would she bequeath him anything? And what was she doing with Adrian’s diary. It’s very intriguing to Tony. Furthermore, when he learns that Veronica refuses to hand out the diary, Tony wants to meet her. Tony Webster is now in his sixties and lives in London. His thirtysomething daughter, Susie (Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery) is pregnant and Tony is accompanying her at her prenatal classes. Tony still maintains a friendly relationship with his ex-wife, Margaret (Harriet Walter). It is through his conversations with Margaret that we will find out what happened 40 years ago. The first meeting with Veronica (Freya Mayor). Tony (played in his youth by Billy Howle) is then invited to spend a week-end with the Fords, where he meets the seductive and enigmatic Sarah Ford. With a few deft brush strokes, Emily Mortimer paints a powerful and delicate portrait of a lonely, bored, on the verge of depression, bourgeois housewife, sexy and full of life who is enjoying the fun of having Tony’s lively presence as a distraction. At school, Adrian Finn is one Tony friends. When news comes that a boy committed suicide, Adrian seems to romanticized the boy’s action. Forty years later, Tony gets to see Veronica (now played by Charlotte Rampling) again. It brings up more questions than it answers. This labyrinthine plot is from a Julian Barnes novel. It s a good screenplay that eliminates most of the confusions with its “no fuss” approach. It is helped by Indian director Ritesh Bitra who has a fine eye to the small details of daily life. It’s fun to watch good actor having a great time with this material. Rampling is making sure that Veronica remains a mystery, as she should be. Jim Broadbent and Harriet Walter have the best moments. Their playful teasing is fun to watch and credible. Although it is not a masterpiece, The sense of an ending is good and fun enough to recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The sense of an ending

Directed by:
Ritesh Bitra

Screenplay by:
Nick Payne
Based on the novel by Julian Barnes

Starring:
Jim Broadbent
Harriet Walter
Billy Howle
Emily Mortimer
Charlotte Rampling
Michelle Dockery
Joe Alwyn
Freya Mayor
Matthew Goode

108 min.