Having just written about Miss You Already, another recent directed-by-a-woman comedy/drama, and criticising its somewhat patchy use of musical cues, along comes this fluffily inoffensive new Nancy Meyers comedy and oh boy, what was I even talking about yesterday? To be fair, like Anne Hathaway’s little indie romance Song One, if I’d seen this film on a plane or on TV when I was feeling ill, then I’d undoubtedly be giving it an easier ride. It’s perfect for those occasions. But in a cinema with a crowd of other chattering (perhaps somewhat cynical) attendees, it has its difficult stretches, and most of those for me revolve around the treacly orchestral score that kicks in whenever something meaningful or emotional is happening, generally in the last third. However, if you can get past that, the precociously annoying kid and the rather overextended later stretch that deals with romantic infidelity, there’s still enough to make it passably entertaining. There are some good jokes as the film is setting up its premise, that 70-year-old Ben (Robert De Niro) has applied for a ‘senior intern’ position within Jules (Hathaway)’s internet fashion company, and has to fit in with clued-up tech-savvy youngsters. A lot of that revolves around familiar age-vs-experience clashes, but Ben is also called on to show his sensitive side quite a lot, so your tolerance for De Niro’s mugging for the camera will be tested — though luckily he’s largely pretty good at it, and inoffensive, which is this movie’s watchword. But I love Anne Hathaway, and am always happy to watch her; she has an easy on-screen charisma. So despite all that manipulative music, despite her “adorable” daughter and the fact that everyone seems to live in homes that look like boutique hotel fashion plates, despite the fact that the company (for all its financial success) never in the end actually seems to pay any of their interns a salary — perhaps a sly commentary on the modern workplace — I still didn’t leave hating this movie. Your mileage may vary.
NEW RELEASE ADVANCE SCREENING FILM REVIEW Director/Writer Nancy Meyers | Cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt | Starring Anne Hathaway, Robert De Niro | Length 121 minutes || Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Monday 28 September 2015
There’s no doubt in my mind that where and how you watch a film can materially affect one’s appreciation of it, whether at the cinema or at home, with a large or small audience, a receptive or a hostile audience, in a community centre, a church or in a foreign country: all kinds of factors can weigh in. For me, a good film to watch on an inflight entertainment system can be markedly different from what I’d choose on land. I’ve enjoyed some pretty questionable movies when miles up in the sky, quite often fluffy romcoms. And while it may not fall into that generic category, I’m not convinced that seeing Song One on terra firma would improve my estimation of it. It shares elements with the altogether glossier and bigger budget Begin Again, overlaid with an illness framework — in this case, that anthropologist Franny’s (Anne Hathaway’s) brother has been hit by a car and is in intensive care. She comes from Morocco to be by his bedside with their mother Karen (Mary Steenburgen), and from there falls into the company of his favourite musician James (Johnny Flynn), who plays the same kind of folky indie rock that Begin Again dabbled in. Sadly Johnny Flynn is no Mark Ruffalo, nor even Adam Levine, and doesn’t exactly radiate screen charisma, though I daresay that’s the point. Hathaway is always watchable, and there’s an admirable improvised feel to the scenes — certainly, it seems there are a lot of children of Joe Swanberg around in the US independent cinema at the moment. Franny’s quest to use her ethnographical skills to record the world in all its sensory nature and bring it to her brother’s bedside has some of the same obsessiveness that Ruffalo’s character deployed as a producer in Begin Again, and at times threatens to tip into unbearably twee (there are gramophones and vintage keyboards!), yet somehow it’s grounded by Steenburgen’s performance as a liberal, free-spirited mother with a penchant for Paris in the 70s. I could talk myself out of liking it pretty easily, but somehow it worked for me. At least, when I was in the air above Europe desperately looking forward to returning to the comfort of home. The poster says “a moment can change everything”, but a venue can change a film.
FILM REVIEW Director/Writer Kate Barker-Froyland | Cinematographer John Guleserian | Starring Anne Hathaway, Johnny Flynn, Mary Steenburgen | Length 86 minutes || Seen on a plane from Istanbul to London, Wednesday 9 September 2015
Unlike in 2013, I haven’t been writing reviews of every film I’ve seen this year. I also had trouble finding enough enthusiasm to write about some of the big tentpole blockbusters of the year, mainly because so many others have cast in their two cents, that mine seem entirely beside the point. Still, you’re more likely to have seen these films, so I thought I should at least write a few sentences to give my opinions, and you can disagree with me in the comments if you wish! (For what it’s worth, I’ve also taken to adding my ratings for unreviewed films on my A-Z and year pages.)
Gone Girl (2014) || Seen at Odeon Camden Town, London, Tuesday 7 October 2014 || Director David Fincher | Writer Gillian Flynn (based on her novel) | Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth | Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris | Length 149 minutes || My Rating very good
David Fincher continues to extend his auteurist credentials with another film dwelling in the twists, turns and dead-ends of narrative fiction, shot in a coolly modernist style, with dark corners and muted colours befitting the shifting allegiances and motivations of the characters. Ben Affleck does well as the put-upon husband Nick in small-town America whose wife has gone missing, and Rosamund Pike has a piercing intensity as that New York-born and bred wife Amy, but beyond those plot points it would not be wise to stray, suffice to say there is a twist, and more than one at that. It’s a film that doesn’t just find its drama in the orchestrated chameleonic performances of its core cast, but is itself about performance, about lives moulded by societal or parental pressures (whether the expectations of precocity and feminine perfection as forced upon Amy by her author parents, or the expectations of marriage taken on by both leads, or the requirements of the ‘gone girl’ narrative when reconfigured by the media). In a sense — and to this extent I agree with criticism of its misogynistic underpinnings — it’s about a clueless husband taken advantage of by a conniving woman deploying rape allegations and other standbys of the tabloid press, but yet the film seems too self-aware of the ways that all of its protagonists shape and control their representation for it to fully fall into that trap. However, basically what I’m saying is that this film, more than most blockbusters of 2014, would seem to repay further investigation.
Interstellar (2014) || Seen at Science Museum (IMAX), London, Tuesday 11 November 2014 || Director Christopher Nolan | Writers Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan | Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema | Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine | Length 169 minutes || My Rating good
Christopher Nolan is another kind of auteur, though he seems to specialise in unselfconscious pomposity (or at least, so it seems to my mind). Seen on a 70mm IMAX screen, this is undeniably big and undeniably epic in scope, with huge bassy rumblings and the kind of sound design and picturesque cinematographic vision engineered to convince of the earnestness of the undertaking. Without giving away any prized ‘spoilers’, it increasingly suggests an updating of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (also recently on re-release) albeit without the kind of understated intelligence of design that Kubrick’s films always exhibited. Aside from some affecting early scenes with McConaughey’s astronaut/engineer/farmer and his children, I’m not even sure the more upfront sentimentality always works in the film’s favour, as it progressively becomes more loopy — and it certainly seems to me that the almost mystical treatment afforded to black holes and other astral phenomena are somewhat akin to religious texts’ relationship to God (though with that latter concept somewhat ponderously replaced here by Gravity and/or Love). Some of the ideas seem rather too incredulous, at the same time grounded in character interactions which smack rather more of cliché, but I cannot deny that it held my attention effortlessly for three hours, and should at least be given points for trying something bold, epic and heartfelt.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) || Seen at Cineworld Fulham Road, London, Monday 24 November 2014 || Director Francis Lawrence | Writers Danny Strong and Peter Craig (based on the novel Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins) | Cinematographer Jo Willems | Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Josh Hutcherson, Natalie Dormer | Length 123 minutes || My Rating likeable
Another instalment in the ongoing young-adult dystopianism that’s been part of all our lives for the last decade or so (whether under this franchise’s title, or previous ones you may guess at; even if you haven’t read any books or seen any films, you can’t possibly be unaware of the trend). I certainly enjoy the range of darker and more complicated emotions this kind of thing leads to, even if the way they’re handled remains strictly teenage (although most mainstream entertainment pitches itself to that age range, to be fair). With Mockingjay, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss starts to really doubt her own abilities to lead a revolution as the stakes become more serious (the film is largely based in the underground compound of District 13, as they make periodic sorties to disrupt the Capitol and its propaganda), though even when crying in a dark corner, Lawrence remains effortlessly watchable. If there are any ‘games’ here, they take place in the real world of the film (Panem), which seems to make them curiously less engaging than the engineered ones of the previous two films. It also seems to squander an obvious cliffhanger ending point, but I’ll undoubtedly be back next year to see how things wrap up.