Film No 23 (2014) : The Terminal

The TerminalOne of the factors I didn’t consider fully when I decided to watch 50 films and read 50 books, is the cost. In an effort to save a few quid, I have unashamedly plundered the DVD collections of several friends. ‘The Terminal’ was one of those movies I gleaned from a raid!

When Viktor Navorski’s (Tom Hanks) homeland is subject to a military coup just as his plane lands at JFK airport, his entry papers for America are no longer valid. As he could be arrested for stepping outside the Terminal building, he decides to wait. Despite the airport manager creating opportunities for him to ‘leave’, Victor waits. For over 3 months. During that time he is befriended by the staff and tries to foster a romance with Amelia, an airline worker. We also find out the purpose of his visit to America, a promise to his father.

Tom Hanks character acting is second to none. Viktor is a believable character, but there is a vague fairy-tale feel about the film, despite its contemporary setting. There is something quite innocent about Viktor, he is a moral man, driven by honest principles. However, I did think the film was over-long, it dragged a bit in places. There is only so much riveting action you can set in an airport building.

A good film, but probably not enough interest to sustain a young audience. As my own teenager observed, ‘its alright’. My sentiments exactly.

Film No 22 (2014) : We’re the Millers

the millersThis was the holiday film. You know the one. Where you rent a cottage and it chucks down with rain, so the kids are stuck indoors watching DVDs. By the end of the week, they can quote huge chunks of the dialogue, take the role of all the main characters and throw the catch phrases in to any conversation.

Starring Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts and Will Poulter, although ‘We’re the Millers’ has definite teen-appeal, it is a funny film. Dave the Drug dealer gets robbed, so is unable to pay his takings to the Brad the Boss. As payback, Brad sends him to Mexico to bring back what he euphemistically calls a ‘smidge’ of dope. Dave has no choice but to make the trip, but figures he will be less likely to arouse suspicion if travelling as part of a family taking an RV vacation. So he rounds up Kenny, (a young neighbour), Casey, (a homeless teenager) and Rose, (a stripper), to pose as his family. Collectively, they are the Millers. Together they make the trip across the border, encountering drugs barons, tarantulas and weird families en route.kenny

This film won’t change your life, but I defy anyone not to laugh! If you need to keep a few teenagers amused for a couple of hours, this will definitely do the trick. You will probably find yourself giggling, in spite of yourself. I did!

Film No 21(2014) : Philomena

philomenaUnmarried Philomena is forced into a religious institution when her pregnancy is discovered. Made to work in the laundry, she is only allowed to spend an hour a day with the son she named Anthony. When the child is three years old, he is forcibly taken from her. She has no idea where he has gone; the last she sees of him is his face in the back window of a departing car. Philomena Lee never hears from him again. All she has is a single photograph of her boy.

Years later an out-of-work BBC journalist, Martin Sixsmith, agrees to take up her story, help her find her son. His intention is to publish the story as a ‘human-interest’ feature. The ensuing search for Antony takes Philomena and Martin to the USA, to the White House, and back to Ireland.

It’s a heart-breaking film, but not a sad one. The dialogue between Martin (Steve Coogan) and Philomena (Judi Dench) is funny. She comes from a small Irish town and he has seen the sights of the world. She is unworldly but wise; he is experienced but pig-headed. Together they give and take. Their relationship develops into a poignant one, as Martin begins to care not just about his newspaper feature, but about the real journey.

The most devastating thing about this film is that the story is true. It is a deeply affecting portrayal of an injustice which was committed against many Philomenas. I hope the film helps to raise the profile of their dilemma, so they can sleep more peacefully at night, knowing what happened to their children. You can find out more about the ongoing work and sign a petition to make it easier for mothers and children to find one another, via the Philomena Project.

philomena 2

(Philomena Lee and her daughter, Jane Libberton)

Film No 20 (2014) : We Need to Talk about Kevin

kevin shriverWith so many books to choose from, there are hardly any which I read more than once these days. ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver (who, incidentally, is a woman) is one of the rare ones. Having read it the first time, I was totally fascinated and read it again soon afterwards. The film version was released in 2011 and stars Ezra Miller as Kevin.

Kevin has committed a High School atrocity, killing students and teachers, but not himself. The book is narrated by his mother, Eva, played in the film by Tilda Swinton. She is brilliantly cast, as one of the questions about Kevin is whether he was born evil, or made that way; the Nature/Nuture debate. Tilda Swinton is not a cosy actress; she is androgynous and her interpretation of Eva is uncomfortable to watch, just as it was unsettling to read.

The film is beautifully shot, with stylish settings, minimal clutter. It has a starkness which reflects the bleak story. Kevin has it all; decent family, enough money, caring parents. What leads him to turn on his own. Is he mad? Or bad? However, the story which unfolds in the novel is told through Eva’s inner dialogue and this doesn’t translate well to the screen. There were many scenes in the film where I would simply not have understood the implications of the action, had I not read the book. As a film in its own right, ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ is artful cinema, but it doesn’t tell the story. In this instance, I’m afraid the written word wins, hands down. Bullseye.

Film No 19 (2014) : Catch me If You Can

catch meFrank Abagnale Jr is a real person. A man with a brilliant brain. He used his intelligence to master the forgery of bank cheques, getting his hands on over 2.5million fraudulent dollars! Combining this skill with his natural charm, Frank assumed a succession of false identities. ‘Catch me if You Can’ is a dramatization of his life and it’s one of my favourite films.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Jr, with Christopher Walken as Frank Abagnale Sr and Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent determined to corner the elusive trickster. Frank Jr starts learning his trade from his Dad, a failed businessman, who shows him how to blag free suit hire and a limousine for a trip to the bank manager. caprioWhen Frank Sr and his wife separate, Frank Jr is forced to change schools. On his first day of term, his formal clothes set him aside from his classmates. Rather than be made a laughing-stock, Frank pretends to be a supply teacher, taking lessons and setting work for his peers. He gets away with it for a while, which gives him the self-assurance to attempt bigger and better cons. So begins his career as an impersonator. Frank poses as a Pan-Am pilot, a doctor and a lawyer, not to mention a brief spell as a Special Branch officer. This disguise is so effective, it manages to deflect even Hanratty!

When you watch the film, you just can’t help marvelling at the blatant cheek of the guy! He succeeds in hood-winking the people around him through sheer effrontery and quick wits. He is clearly not a chump though; Hanratty is desperate to find out how Abagnale cheated his way into the American Bar – the answer is rather surprising. Actually, Frank does get his comeuppance, but there is a marvellous twist in the tale. Great film. Catch it if You Can.

Film No 10 (2014) : Grease

Grease is the word
Is the word
Is the word
Is the word
Is the word
Is the word
Is the word
Is the word
Is the word

grease 1Grease was released in September 1978, the start of my 4th year at secondary school. It was the soundtrack of my mid-teens, sandwiched between Meatloaf’s ‘Bat out of Hell’ and Springsteen’s ‘Hungry Heart’. I’m not sure whether it has ever really gone out of fashion, as it has also been playing repeatedly in the background of my daughters’ teenage years (although her tastes also encompass the somewhat incongruous Eminem!).

The screening of ‘Grease’ which I saw was a Sing-a-Longa performance. For the uninitiated, the concept is really very simple: A host introduces the movie and explains the contents of the ‘goodie bag’ on each seat; a flag to wave at Thunder Road, tissue to accompany ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ etc. Audience members parade on stage to show off their ‘Pink Ladies’ and ‘T-Bird’ costumes and it is staggering to see the lengths to which some folk go to appear as the sexiest Sexy Sandy and coolest Kenickie. As the film plays, the lyrics of all the songs appear on the screen, tempting even the worst singers to join in. Audience participation is encouraged, often with hilarious results.

The film continues to appeal to the teenage girl in lots of us. Of course it has dubious morals – Rizzo has unprotected sex, everyone smokes and Sandy finally wins over her man on a promise of surrendering her virginity. But I’m prepared to sell my feminist principles down the river for the sake of a couple of hours of fun. grease 2

I was surprised to realise that even after 36 years, the words came flooding back. Even the ‘We go together like ramma lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong,  Remembered forever as shoo-bop sha whada whadda yippidy boom da boom’. Shame I can’t remember what I had for breakfast though!

Film No 9 (2014) : La Vie en Rose

La Vie en RoseA stunning biopic of the life of Edith Piaf, powerful French chanteuse who was at the height of her fame in the 1960s. Marion Cotillard won no less than seven ‘Best Actress’ awards (including an Oscar) for this performance and it’s easy to see why. The film is full of power and pathos, Cotillard’s portrayal of the troubled and mercurial Piaf is utterly mesmerising. The film is in French with sub-titles but, for me, the performance in Piaf’s native tongue added to the drama of the movie.

The film traces Piaf’s life from her early days as a the young Edith Gassion in Paris. When Edith is abandoned by her mother, she is taken in by her paternal grandmother who earns her living as the Madame of a brothel. The young Edith is cared for by the prostitutes before being taken away by her father on his return from World War 1. Louis Gassion is a contortionist, but it is his daughter’s idiosyncratic and powerful singing voice which draws in the spectators. A chance meeting with nightclub owner Louis Leplée in 1935 sees Edith proverbially plucked from obscurity – her rise to fame had begun. It was Leplee who gave Edith the stage name La Môme Piaf (‘The Little Sparrow’), later to become simply Edith Piaf.

By all accounts, Piaf was not a conventionally beautiful woman, neither was she easy to work with. It was all about the voice; haunting, melancholic and edith piafpowerful. A combination of drug addiction, illness and personal tragedy took their toll on Edith. She died of liver cancer in France aged just 47.

 I don’t want to give away too much more of the singer’s life story here, as the film depicts it passionately. As to whether the film is accurate in terms of events, I have no idea. But I thoroughly enjoyed the movie – and Marion Cotillard is rather better at impersonating Edith Piaf than I seem to remember Esther Rantzen being!

Film No 8 (2014) : Blue Jasmine

blue jasmineDirected by cinema veteran Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine is not a film you watch for the plot. The story line is straightforward – girl meets rich boy, lives enviable luxury lifestyle. Boy turns out to be a philanderer and a crook and is punished for his crimes. Girl loses everything. Cate Blanchett stars as the delusional Janette, alias Jasmine, trying to rebuild her life after her husband’s imprisonment. With no money or skills, she moves in with her sister and tries to make a new start. Ill-equipped as she is for life without luxury and privilege, Jasmine’s attempts are not entirely successful.

Blanchet’s depiction of Jasmine is flawless. She runs the gamut of emotions from hope, desperation, confusion, embarrassment and rage – wearing her heart on her sleeve, her facial expressions are the window to her soul. It’s obvious that Jasmine has been misguided in her choices, ignoring the myriad warning signs that all was not well with her charmed life. Nevertheless, I was rooting for her to find a way back to the security she craved, even if she didn’t deserve it!

Film No 7 (2014) : Before Sunrise

Before sunriseA close friend whose opinions I value very highly, took a look at my blog so far and suggested that I should add more of the quirky details of my film viewing, such as who I was with and what flavour crisps we ate.

So, this week I visited a friend so that we could enjoy a film together as part of my 50:50 project. We ate salted mixed nuts and a box of Monty Bojangles Ginger Truffles which were reduced to £1.50 in Waitrose. We also had a glass of  white wine which I think, to be honest, might have been sitting open in the fridge for too long.truffles

We watched a 1995 movie starring Ethan Hawke, called ‘Before Sunrise’. Two young travellers meet on a train and decide to spend a night together in Vienna before going their separate ways. They pass the time walking, talking, sharing confidences, sometimes snacking and eventually kissing. He is somewhat arrogant, she has a stereotypically French lisp to her English. Both are gauche, seemingly victims of love at first sight, but fumbling to overcome their initial awkwardness. Hawke is intensely irritating, all mouth and trousers. Celine (played by Julie Delpy) spouts feminist theory and wears a very droopy dress. The plot is skimpy and the film made me think of an ‘A’ level Drama project.

My friend fell asleep with the cat on her lap. Luckily she doesn’t snore.

I watched the rest of the film on my own, surreptitiously sneaking in a couple of games of ‘Candy Crush’ on my phone.

Film No 6 (2014) : Captain Phillips

capt phillipsWatching the BAFTAs inspired me to catch up with some recent award winners – Captain Phillips’ actor Barkhad Abdi was awarded Best Supporting Actor for his role as Muse, the young leader of a group of Somali pirates.

The film is based on the true story of an American commercial cargo ship boarded by pirates whilst navigating between Djibouti and Mombasa. The pirates are desperate, but young, volatile and disorganised. Their composure deteriorates throughout the kidnapping; they turn on each other in violent outbursts. When they capture Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) in the ship’s lifeboat as they try to flee, the American Navy mobilises its considerable forces in an attempt to save him and end the stand-off with his captives.

Although I sensed that there must be a positive outcome for Phillips, it was by no means a given. The traumatised captain at the end of the movie is testament to the shocking experiences he has undergone and there are no winners. The film is a grim reminder of the downside of globalisation, with the divisions it creates.

It’s a tense thriller with a fair amount of violence. I find it hard to believe that this film has a 12 certificate – to my mind, it is adult viewing.