Films – April/Early May

Friday 3rd May 2019

I keep an annual list of the films I watch.  2019 is up to 66 already.  So I only share a tiny percentage here.  You’re welcome.

This episode of ‘What Have You Watched, Ali?’ kicks off with a massive disappointment.  I went to see Dumbo last week, having been treated to the trip by Lily, and we were both so looking forward to it.  Dumbo, the original film, I mean, is a personal favourite of mine, although I do find it very sad.  But it reminds me of my childhood and those of the girls.  It is old-fashioned, sentimental, and sweet.  It is a very old film, decades old, so it needed very delicate handling for the re-make.  Sadly, the re-make, released a few weeks ago, is just terrible.  It is like the original in that there is a flying baby elephant.  That’s it.  There is so much wrong with this film, and if you were minded to go, I want to save you that expense and time.  Don’t bother.  The cast is weak.  Wait.  Danny DeVito?  Colin Farrell?  Michael Keaton?  Alan Arkin?  How can that be weak?  Two things.  One:  the script is terrible.  The dialog is stilted and the ‘acting’, such as it is, seems disjointed from the words.  Two:  I got the feeling that the actors knew it was a steaming pile of Dumbo-crap even as they were in its midst, so their hearts weren’t in it.  

Let’s move on to the plot.  Rather than re-make it, Disney has added a lot of plot-lines, so it is in fact a hybrid of a re-make and an entirely new film.  It is not, unlike the excellent Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel, though, so this just fell into a kind of no-man’s land.  The plot begins with a big dollop of sad and then, the sad is layered onto the film with a relentlessness that begins to feel – once you have stopped crying at the stunningly badly handled baby-mum separation – abusive and ridiculous.  I cried, of course I did, but eventually, we were both laughing (inappropriately, apparently) as each new sad landed like a baby elephant. The main character is Colin Farrell, who is given an American accent.  He is so bad at this, it is almost impossible to understand some of his dialog.  But this is limited; he has almost no lines.  I imagine the Director cut the script with increasingly savage slashes as Colin’s deep south dialect dawned, like the apocalypse, on each fresh day of filming.  In the end, he is more or less miming out his ‘words’.  Anyway, he comes back from the Great War, minus an arm (awkward as he was a stunt horse rider in the circus before the war).  While he was away, his wife died of ‘flu and his 2 kids were looked after by a juggler, I think.  And Danny De-V.  And his monkey.  Colin and his kids are, perhaps understandably, incredibly moody. The child actors – crucial to this version of the film – are not good.  Colin’s false arm is very distracting and keeps falling off.  They all – the whole circus – move to Michael Keaton’s massive circus with Disney theme-park style lands (I wonder if this was deliberate?) with inevitable, predictable and tediously repetitious servings of more sad, plus bad. It all burns down, but all the good guys escape, saved by a mermaid (woman in green fish-tail costume), and Dumbo and his mum sail off to India with the snake charmer.  

It is a ‘re-imagining’ by Tim Burton, so maybe this is how he imagined it.  Incidentally, the only film of his I like is The Nightmare Before Christmas.  I do not ‘get’ the TB hype.  We did think of leaving but we stuck it out.  I want both my money and those 2 hours back. And to un-see the carnage they made of a film I love. 

Netflix has just released Unicorn Store.  I was unsure if this was a kids film, or just a general comedy, and I am still am.  But I watched it because – UNICORNS!  Weird plot, which hangs on a slender ‘do they exist?  and can I get one from this magical store?’ thread. It was really quite bad.  Turns out they do exist (I knew that) but she doesn’t really want one.  Weirdo. That is the literal plot, but I think it might be symbolic for:  ‘I want to believe in unicorns, but I am holding onto this half-belief because I have never grown up, and am completely screwed over by my really creepy parents.  And once I get a boyfriend, I will be able to let go of my childish belief in unicorns.’ Also, if I was in charge of a film about unicorns, I would have made the unicorn look less like a horse with a fake horn, AND I would have had much nicer prospective unicorn accommodation, AND better glittery costumes and accessories.  Theirs were rubbish. 

Some better stuff now.  Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is on Netflix, and I really enjoyed it.  Annette Benning is great in it, and it is very atmospheric, slow, period and just a class, but quiet film.  

Birthday Girl is on Amazon.  This is a film about which I am a bit ambivalent.  It is about internet ‘dating’, except that it isn’t dating, and if it was, I would have no problem with it.  I think (despite having zero personal experience) that real internet dating is fine – even good.  But this film is about an area that I think is abhorrent – basically western-based men (usually) effectively buying a woman, (usually) whose life may be defined by economic hardship or even fear, poverty and desperation.  Or, if you take the view of the film, a woman with (possibly, it is not entirely clear) all these driving forces, plus crime – nasty, big-time crime.  Nicole Kidman is the lead and there is a strong cast overall.  There are moments of humour and once or twice, slap-stick and I *think* this is supposed to be a dark comedy. But because of the very dubious motives of anyone who buys another person, I was hard pressed to care much about the lead male character and it was hard to warm to anyone in the film.  So reading that back it sounds as if I hated it, but in fact, I did like it.  There is a recurring knitting theme by the way.  I mean, don’t watch it just for that, but a jumper – 2 in fact – do make occasional cameo appearances as Nicole knits, in between furiously chain-smoking and screwing. 

The Children Act (2017) is on Amazon.  Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci are both outstanding as is the whole cast.  It is a fantastic film, intelligent, fascinating, not a crass tear-jerker.  I loved it.  Do see it if you can.

Still Alice, Amazon.  I loved this film which is about a woman with early on-set dementia.  It is not a happy film, but it is also not a gut-wrencher.  I have seen the impact of dementia through a close-first-hand lens.  My experience was less ‘happy’ than this film, but it does capture a lot of the fear, anger and desperation that goes hand-in-hand with the sufferer and his/her family.  Of course this is an American, highly-insured family.  But anyway, and not just because dementia is close to my heart, I really recommend Still Alice. 

Now imagine you have to chop a massive pile of vegetables, or make many cakes, or perform some other menial tasks that occupy your hands but not your brain.  This list is for these times:  Dog Days, Netflix:  soapy, dogs, easy, a bit funny, dogs – I quite liked it, though there is one VERY SAD bit that made me howl, but it was soon over, unlike Dumbo.  Cafe Society, Amazon:  Woody Allen producing a film that is just his usual, and it was fine, good to look at and a fair story with some cracking Jewish side-characters whom I loved.  Bright Young Things, Amazon:  Stephen Fry made but is not in this film though every other British acting institution, more or less, not counting Dame Judi, is.  Easy, daft, good if you’re tired or on a train.  I was both, so it was a warm brain-bath. Always At The Carlyle, Amazon, is a docu-film about the hotel of that name in New York.  I love ‘behind the scenes’ docs and though this is not the best example, it was entertaining.  Getting to the Nutcracker is another Amazon docu-film about a Los Angeles based ballet school, which stages Nutcracker each year.  So the story follows some of the students being cast, rehearsing and the final performance.  Not bad. Maybe save it for December? 


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