A Tome upon Mr. Turner

Timothy Spall and Dorothy Atkinson

Timothy Spall and Dorothy Atkinson

Mike Leigh’s tale of Britain’s greatest painter begins awkwardly and has its share of deficiencies, but upon the artist’s first visit to the seashore the movie grabbed me and didn’t let go until the end of its 2 1/2-hr. run time.  A number of amateur critics are calling Mr. Turner, to paraphrase, an abominable bore, but I disagree.  As I said, I was held quite nicely.  But the film did not take advantage of the subject matter to the extent it should have.

Specifically, Leigh failed to convey in a superlative way the ethereal beauty of JMW Turner’s paintings, the live scenes that caused their inspiration, and Turner’s experiences in those scenes; in nature.  Instead the focus is more on Turner’s personal life and his impact on those close to him — and the movie is excellent in this regard.  My problem is that the movie should have been able to handle both parts of the story with equal agility.

I have cogitated upon the matter, and Mr. Turner earns a solid 7/10.

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Comparison Notes: The English Patient, Howard’s End, Only Lovers Left Alive

The Trip to Bountiless

The Trip - poster smallWhen I first saw the Michael Caine impersonation-off in the trailer for The Trip a few years back, I was amused.  But when that scene hit early in the actual movie, it rang hollow.  I love Michael Caine, and the one maestro of British impersonations (which seems to be the main point of the movie) does a dead-on Caine, really nailing both the young and old actor.  The fact that it wasn’t funny speaks volumes about this failed film.

So a recurring theme in my blog: comedy is tough.  The British comedic chemistry that this film yearns for is largely missing.  A reference in the movie is made to the phenomenally successful BBC series Top Gear.  Now there’s some comedic chemistry.  But no such luck in The Trip. 

Another problem was the split personality of The Trip.  If the comedy worked well enough it might not be so bad that it splits its effort with equally ineffective forays into drama.  I suppose the dramatic interludes are meant to bolster the overall comic output — Neighbors comes to mind, but it does not work here.

Sideways, the movie that has grown near and dear to my heart, draws obvious comparisons to The Trip.  And since Sideways started slowly, I kept giving The Trip the benefit of the doubt that it would improve as the not-so-dynamic duo trundle along.  But except for the end of the film, which I hope without giving anything away brings strong parallels to Local Hero, that higher calling is never reached on this Trip.  It is no Local Hero, it definitely doesn’t lean Sideways, and it cannot reach a Top Gear.  4/10

Friday Fun Flick: Waking Ned Devine

Waking Ned Devine - poster

I mentioned it in my post on Calvary, and further back in my “British Invasion” write-up, so let’s shine a light on Waking Ned Devine (1998).  This movie doesn’t need to force its spirituality the way Calvary did.  Now, the subject matter is completely different — there aren’t any weighty clerical matters to be tackled here, no sexual abuse cases.  But it doesn’t matter; there’s still more depth, and a heck of a lot more entertainment value.

A complete delight, Waking Ned Devine sings with joy — the right way to spark religious fervor in my book.

Waking Ned Devine - trailer - reduced

Trailer (iTunes link)

Cinematic Greats: Chariots of Fire

Chariots of Fire poster - largeINVESTIGATING THE OLYMPIC theme music, I found a Smithsonian article which explains the muddled mess quite nicely.  In a nutshell, the primary theme Americans identify with the Olympics is Leo Arnaud’s “Bugler’s Dream”, not composed by John Williams, who however added to “Bugler’s Dream” with his own original composition for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Olympics - Theme Music Article SmithsonianOutside of the U.S., the music most associated with the Olympics is the Chariots of Fire theme music by Vangelis.  That’s too bad for foreigners, because the American take is grand, spirited music that I have for most of my life strongly associated with the Olympic games — and it is so completely apt.  The Chariots of Fire music is also beautiful and spirited, and I associate it too with the Olympics — but only in a secondary manner by way of the movie.  I am happy as an American to be able to embrace both pieces of music.

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Looking into the Olympic music caused me to reflect on Chariots of Fire, a superbly great movie.  Roger Ebert gave his highest rating:

This is strange. I have no interest in running and am not a partisan in the British class system. Then why should I have been so deeply moved by “Chariots of Fire,” a British film that has running and class as its subjects? I’ve toyed with that question since I first saw this remarkable film in May 1981 at the Cannes Film Festival, and I believe the answer is rather simple: Like many great films, “Chariots of Fire” takes its nominal subjects as occasions for much larger statements about human nature.

Indeed.  Among all the remarkable aspects of this movie is its score, the brilliant collection by Vangelis.  Beyond the well-known main theme, the entire soundtrack is thoroughly modern, yet works magically as a defining theme perfectly in harmony with the period story.  I realize Chariots of Fire is a well-known and highly regarded film, having won four Oscars including Best Picture.  But that does not preclude a mention here: it is highly recommended, essential viewing.

Chariots of Fire - trailer

Trailer – IMDb

Film Brief: Cashback

Cashback (2006) is a little indie British film that you’re not likely to come across, which is a good thing.  This is the type of movie that makes you understand why we don’t see more movies from the UK.  It attempts to be both a contemplative romantic movie and a comedy, and pretty well fails at both.  A couple nice moments and some good production values save it from being a complete disaster.  3/10

Cate Blanchett on Charlie Rose

Cate Blanchett - Elizabeth

Cate Blanchett was such a revelation when introduced to the world as the young Queen Elizabeth.  She seemed so ideally cast as to represent a direct reincarnation of the actual, long lost ruler.  It’s hard to imagine anyone else in that role.

She is not my favorite actress, but there’s no question she’s one of the best around, and her interview with Charlie Rose is intriguing.

I’ve been going to sleep earlier lately, and a big downside on that is not being able to watch Charlie Rose on a regular basis.  Luckily I was able to catch the beginning of this interview, and luckily Rose posts his shows online.

Charlie_Rose & Cate Blanchett

Poison in his Veins

Living in L.A. in the mid-nineties, I was blessed to be able to see a good number of indies and foreign films that received little to no play outside tinseltown.  Reflecting back, I am surprised that such a high percentage of the films I saw were so good.  One little British film is a prime example: The Young Poisoner’s Handbook (1995).  Based on a true case, this is a delicious tale of smart young man who was one by one able to eliminate those who stood in his way.  With dark comic elements and expertly crafted high drama, I think of this movie as an English counterpart to Michael Caine’s A Shock To The System.

Young Poisoner's Handbook

Roger Ebert gave this film 3 1/2 of 4 stars:

“The Young Poisoner’s Handbook” is both funny and creepy, like an accident that is tragic and absurd at the same time (I am reminded of the famous Second City sketch in which mourners at a funeral discover that their friend drowned in a large can of pork and beans).

And Janet Maslin for the Times wrote:

“It seemed he’d finally reached the end of his tether,” Young observes at another point, about someone who hangs himself.

“The Young Poisoner’s Handbook” is sure to offend anyone who finds that an unreasonably cruel locution. Its assured style, malevolent wit and uncompromising intelligence should fascinate anyone else.

This movie is highly entertaining, and highly recommended.  Unfortunately, it is only available via DVD rental or purchase.