I’m wide awake in the middle of the night, so this seems like an excellent opportunity to tell you about the films that Tristan and I have seen recently. Three of them were very good; one was pretty awful.

The Descendants

We both really enjoyed this film, which told the story of a wealthy man whose life is rocked when he learns that his wife – seriously injured and in a coma as the film begins – has been cheating on him. While trying to deal with this news and manage the situation and deal with his two daughters, he must also decide how his large, extended family should dispose of their vast amount of untouched Hawaiian land. I like the way that it combined personal tragedy with broader questions about responsibility to those around you – your family and your wider community. And the story introduced enough comic elements (and at the right times) to prevent it from becoming a total weepfest. I was on the verge of crying a coulple of times, but whenever things were getting grim Sid would do something daft and the modd would lighten again. I also thought that this film did a good job of portraying the strange mix of grief and boredom that must strike when you know that a loved one is dying and you must wait it out with them (or, at least, it seemed how I would imagine this situation to be). Tristan mocks me because I’m a bit obsessed with character development in films; I want to see characters change as a result of what is happening to them, or else everything seems like a waste of time. This film did a good job of showing how Matt King, the main character, responds to his situation by shaking off the life-long torpor that his comfortable life seems to have caused in him. And I liked the way in which Alex, the older daughter, grew up in fits and starts.

George Clooney did a fine job, but it is just me, or do performances like this seem like he’s phoning it in somewhat? I don’t doubt his talent – in fact, I really like his as an actor – but when I reflect on this film now it doesn’t seem like this character required too much of him. Perhaps I’m wrong, and the effortless way in which he portrayed Matt is a testament to his skill. Anyway, it was a very good film and I’d recommend watching the DVD, if you missed it on the big screen. Rotten Tomatoes rated it at 89%.

The Ides of March

You wait for ages for a decent George Clooney film (particularly after watching something tedious like The American), and then two come along at once! I thought that this film was terrific – it tapped into the part of me that has been missing the Democratic party high-jinks of The West Wing. Indeed, Ryan Gosling’s character felt like a homage to Josh Lyman, but this was nothing but good news for me, as Josh is one of my all-time favourite fictional political operatives. Gosling is charming enough to carry it off. The film covers a short amount of time during a closely-fought Democratic primary, with George Clooney playing a handsome, personable candidate from the Obama school of politics. We later discover that this political idol has feet of clay, forcing Gosling’s character to make big decisions about how far he’s willing to go in order to protect both his personal integrity and his political ideals and ambitions. In fact, the entire film is a study in the motivations and weaknesses of ambitious men. And Philip Seymour Hoffman is absolutely superb in it.

Clooney is great in this film – he’s seems like he’s born to play the charismatic politician, but also manages to be utterly convincing when his character’s darkest side comes to light. As with The Descendants, it just doesn’t feel like this role would have been a huge stretch for him, though – I think he’ll have to play against type in a big way if he ever wants to win an Oscar. Rotten Tomatoes gave this film a rating of 85%, which sounds about right.

The Artist

I absolutely loved this film – in fact, I’d rate it as one of my favourite films of all time. I hadn’t rushed to it because I was slightly put off by the idea of a silent film, even though I’d read rave reviews about it, but when I had time to kill last week I bit the bullet and went to it – and was so glad that I made the effort. For the first time in my entire life I saw a film twice in two days; I watched it one Friday morning by myself, and then saw it again on Saturday afternoon, with Tristan. I’m still thinking about it a lot, several days later. I’m mildly obsessed with this film.

This film is utterly charming and brilliantly acted. When you take away sound as a medium for the actors to portray their characters, their facial expressions, gestures and posture become crucial. It makes for a totally different viewing experience to that of a normal film – you can’t let your attention or your gaze wander, or else you’ll miss a telling glance between two people, or a brief shot that reinforces the plot.

The lead actors were perfectly cast and did an incredible job. Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin as a screen icon who is kind and good natured, but totally delighted with his own success (this character reminded me of George Clooney, actually – he seemed exactly like I imagine Clooney to be in real life). Having seen his star fade and his good fortune desert him, George is forced to hit rock bottom before finally realising that his life isn’t over. Dujardin is quite the dishy Frenchman and I hope that his Oscar opens up a raft of English-speaking film opportunities for him. I’m so pleased that he won it.

The positive force in George’s life turns out to be Peppy Miller, a charming and kind-hearted young actress who starts as an opportunistic chorus girl and eventually becomes a movie star in her own right. Peppy is played by Berenice Bejo, a superb French-Argentinian actress who has more talent and expression in her little finger than most Hollywood actresses can show in a lifetime. If there’s any justice in the world, Bejo will become a superstar.

Dujardin and Bejo are brilliantly supported by John Goodman and James Cromwell – and by Uggie the dog, who has become Tui’s secret celebrity boyfriend. What dog could resist his sweet furry face?

Rotten Tomatoes gives this film a rating of 97%, which is well deserved in my opinion. I LOVED it. If you missed it at the cinema, watch it on DVD.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Those of you keeping score will have realised that I’ve written about three good films, so it must be time to tell you about the stinker of the bunch. This really surprised me, because Rotten Tomatoes rated Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at a highly respectable 84% – as you may have gathered by now, I tend to find Rotten Tomatoes ratings as a fairly reliable barometer of a film’s quality. I’d also read a huge number of very good reviews for the film and it’s the kind of thing that we usually enjoy a great deal, so Tristan and I were very keen to see it.

What a disappointment this film turned out to be! We both found it incredibly dull, and really perplexing – watching it was like stumbling onto the second episode of something, having missed all of the initial scene-setting and explanation provided in the first episode. We’re not idiots and we certainly don’t need the plot of a film to be spoon-fed to us, but this film neglected to give us anything but the most cursory information about what was going on. Matters weren’t helped by the dreary 1970s setting, which had every male character (and virtually every character was male) dressed in a dull brown suit or a boring grey suit, and with terrible haircuts, making everybody look alike. The characters were never clearly distinguished from each other, so the combination of a lack of personal characteristics and a lack of visual identity made them all blend together.

The cast was good, but it felt like they had virtually nothing to work with in this film. I watched most of it with a ‘WTF?’ look on my face, and only stayed for the duration because I didn’t realise until fairly late in the day that Tristan was equally bored and bewildered. And as Tristan pointed out afterwards, the whole idea of trying to figure out who the spy might be was fairly futile when the cast contains one Oscar winning superstar (Colin Firth) – it was unlikely that he was just going to be there to make up the numbers.

Anyway, this film was a dud and I would struggle to sit through it again without the aid of powerful stimulants.

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2 thoughts on “Three out of four ain’t bad

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