More Films! (look away if you only like reviews of wool)

Monday 19th August 2019

I have watched some good and some bad films this last couple of week.  Why do I watch bad films?  Well, I don’t know they will be bad.  And then, I am often not really ‘watching’ them as I am usually cooking or more accurately preparing vegetables from the allotment; or I am knitting.  Sometimes I will just abort about 10 minutes in, but sometimes, if it’s not actually painful, I will let it run, like background music.

First, I went to the pictures to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Just released from Quentin Tarantino. I really love the way he makes films and some of his are amongst my favourite films of all times, esepcially Kill Bill (I like Volume 1 best but both); and my absolute favourite, Django Unchained.  OUATIH is very, very long and to be honest, if it was any other film there is probably no way I’d commit to 161 minutes of cinema plus the ads/trails.  But I think his films are worth it and much better seen on a huge screen. 

This film is, in many ways, classic Tarantino. It’s long, there are lengthy scenes where not a lot seems to be happening, and character development, especially of the male actors, is very detailed.  As an aside, and really other than the Kill Bill films, I think his portrayal of women can be sketchy and I sometimes wonder about his objectifyijng of women as sex objects but anyway…There is a banging sound track, and some gorgeous scenes, classic cars and iconic Hollywood places.  On the other hand, there is a lot less violence than usual.  There is violence but a significant amount of this is the fictionalised violence in the films made by one of the leads, played by DiCaprio.  The finale is classic QT violent though, and very satisfyingly so, in my view.  Certainly, the crowd in on the evening when I went (and it was the busiest I have seen a cinema since New Year’s Day) was very pleased with the final scenes and so was I.  If you really have low violence thresholds, QT may just not be for you. But remember, I am the person who watched A Christmas Prince eleventy-five times and also, see some of my other film tips below.  I am not a hardened violence fan.  But, I think he does use violence – sometimes too much – in a very clever way that ‘spikes’ the film and erupts out of the peril and menace that are really his main MO.  And if you are expecting it, it’s not too bad. 

I loved OUATIH.  A much easier QT film than many, clever, funny at times, and beautiful.  And the cast is stellar. Not a single wrong-turn.  Perfect. It is rumoured to be his last Hollywood ‘solo’ film. I really hope that is not true. 

Anyway, here is a film right at the other end of the spectrum that I also liked a lot.  In Love With Alma Cogan is a 2012-made British film (of course it is.  How could a film inspired by Alma Cogan be anything else?), with a vintage British cast led in slightly Trigger-style by the late, great Roger Lloyd Pack.  Do not watch this, which is free on Prime now, if you are more than 5% cynical, or have a low threshold of tolerance to fluff, nonsense and kitsch.  I am often grumpy, and can be very sarcastic (oh, it’s true, and despite it being the ‘lowest form of wit’ – not true – if my sarcasm is bad you should meet my brother!) but I am genuinely one of the least cynical people I can think of. Which is why soft-as-butter films like this one are right up my rue. 

Do you know who Alma Cogan was?  I know a lot about her, and the title of the film is what drew me in.  My mother was absolutely mad about Alma and for years after Alma’s very early death, when her star had long since waned, mum played her Alma Cogan records often, loud and on repeat. Alma and I never coincided other than in our living room, when I was little.  Mum was a glamour-puss in her day and the late 50s and early 60s where her ‘era’.  Even when I was a child, she never appeared – not even in her own kitchen – without lipstick, a flick of eyeliner, hair ‘done’, scent on every pulse-point. She kept the 50s going until the 70s at least.  

Alma Cogan died at the age of 34.  She was an early Amy Winehouse, only a 1950s version.  They even look a bit alike.  In the mid-late 1950s, Alma was a pop star, often recording covers of US and, far less-successfully, 1960s UK, hits.  She was part of the glitterati. And then really quite suddenly, she wasn’t.  The 1960s swept in like a hurricane and left old-fashioned pop stars like Alma behind.  My mum sang a lot of songs when I was little, so did my dad.  And this is one of the Alma Cogan songs she sang most frequently, often while getting ready to go out, wearing what I thought were gorgeous dresses, still 1950s style even years after it was the 50s, makeup all over the dressing table, large sherry to hand (do they still sell ‘schooner’ glasses? She always had schooners of sherry), lipstick-stained cigarette burning in the green, leaf-shaped ceramic ashtray.  I give you the inimitable ‘Never Do a Tango With an Eskimo.’ You’re welcome.  

The film.  Yes, sorry.  It’s set on the east coast, in a fading seaside town, with a pier, and at the end of the pier, a little theatre.  The plot is as innocent as a new-born baby and about as sophisticated.  In the story, Alma Cogan once sang there, as her hey-day was fading.  Years later, the theatre is fading too and the film is a comfortingly predictable and simple tale about saving the theatre and along with it, the future happiness of the main characters.  Nothing bad will ever happen here, I promise.  If you need sanctuary for 90 minutes (perfect length, well done), this is it.  The actor who plays Alma does look quite a lot like Alma, too, and does a great impression.  

Here is a film I liked for very different reasons, that is both beautiful and melancholy:  Maudie, My Love, on Netflix.  It is a bio-pic about a real-life Canadian artist, Maudie, who painted in a primitive style and lived somewhere that looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere, in a two-room shack, with her husband.  Maud Dowley really did live a life fairly similar to that depicted in this 2016 film.  She painted flowers, animals, and simple scenes with a child-like folk-art style.  She painted mainly on small cards and boards, but she also painted most of the interior of the cabin and a lot of its contents.  She had a bitter-sweet life (quite a lot of bitter, actually) and was a tiny person, crippled with arthritis which became really debilitating in her last years.  This film is haunting.  Very atmospheric and beautiful in a bleak way. It is sad, but it won’t make you cry.  It may however, as it has with me, stay with you for a while – the kind of film that makes you think. I will definitely watch it again too.  

The Thirteenth Tale is another good film, and I saw it free on Amazon Prime.  It was made for TV in 2013 but totes passed me by. Olivia Coleman stars, along with Vanessa Redgrave and Sophie Turner. The whole cast is very good.  It is based on Diane Setterfield’s novel and as I have not read that, I do not know if the story has been altered for the film.  It is described as haunting but really it is a complex low-level horror story, but not the sort that will give you nightmares, I think or really frighten you.  It is very good to look at, very Gothic, and the story is ripping.  Def worth a watch.

And here is a terror, a howler:  Take My Advice, free (for God’s sake never pay to see this) on Prime.  This is an old, made-for-telly US film based on the true lives of twins who became rival agony-aunt columnists.  So with that synopsis, maybe you can see why I added it to my list and played it for Mark’s delight one evening last week.  It sounds good.  It is hauntingly, fascinatingly awful.  We watched it for about 30 minutes and then it was unbearable, so we watched something else.  But, at the gym the next day, I secretly watched the end.  It was just as bad as the start.  I kind of want to warn you, and  I also really want you to watch it so we can talk about it.  Because there is of course only one actor, the ‘twins’ are shot with one of them always with her back to camera, or just off shot – this is agony in its own right.  Then, the story takes the twins from mid-teens to late middle age – all played by the same woman.  The scene near the start where the twins do a song and dance routine for (I think) their family, is frankly just ludicrous, even M, usually behind the Telegraph, burst out laughing. And finally, the wigs.  Go on, watch it.  You won’t thank me. 

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