A new arrival

Well, I have at last built up the courage to enter this blogging universe. I’ve not quite worked out the how, when and most importantly what of blogging but I’m sure that’s just a matter of time.

So for now just a word about the title. The Legal Zoo. I have a degree in zoology and a career in the law. Easy as that. An alternative reason might be the fact that working as a lawyer you have to deal with a whole range of species some of which can bite. Knowing which arachnid is which can help you survive in a world of braces and sharp suits (actually I don’t work on Wall Street). What do the two have in common – well their very own language and a fair amount of old school latin. What do they have apart. Well hopefully all sorts – the combinations are endless and with a bit of luck that will lead to some creative blogging. One way or the other the themes of one or other or both will no doubt run through the thoughts and comments.

Like a good old American anchor, I’ll need to create a cheesy sign off line but I don’t have that yet so for now I’ll say au revoir and be back soon.

NSE

Silver linings playbook (2013)****

As I sat down to watch this film, I knew only 2 things about it: (1) Bradley Cooper and potentially Jennifer Lawrence (our lead actors) were both playing characters with mental illnesses; and (2)  this film had won some serious awards.

So I sat down to watch the film and found myself, in the last ten minutes of this movie, quietly saying the words “please don’t let this end badly”.  Tiffany’s previous husband had died by the road and I was convinced that in some cruel twist of fate she would follow suit. I wanted this film to end well because it would be a travesty if it didn’t.

Why was I so concerned about where this story might end up? Films that win awards tend to portray gritty realities. In reality, things rarely pan out how you had dreamed or hoped. This film has received a considerable amount of critical acclaim. Ipso facto – this film cannot end well. I liked these characters – so gritty realism was not acceptable as far as I was concerned.

There was another thing that was bugging me in the first quarter an hour of the film. There is a long-held recognition that one of the quickest paths to oscar glory, is by playing someone who is mentally or physically ill.  Jack Nicholson in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest is a case in point. As already mentioned, I knew that mental illness was on the cards and it was made very clear from outset that Bradley Cooper’s character had issues. In my sceptical mind (pushing against the tide of critics that generally know what they are talking about), this fact immediately called into question the legitimacy of any awards this film had received. A little unfair I hear you say, but keep in mind that I was busy praying for a happy ending and was convinced this was not to be afforded me.

So to the film. Bradley Cooper, with his unfeasibly wide shoulders and tropical ocean eyes, plays Pat. Pat’s life and marriage has fallen apart and he has spent the last 8 months in a mental institute. We open with his mother extracting him from it, provided he behaves himself. Pat is bipolar. Pat is fixated on trying to get his life and marriage on track. At this point Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) enters the fray. Tiffany has her own problems and the two enter an uneasy pact where Tiffany offers to help Pat in return for a favour of her own. I’ll leave it there.

This is a story of 2 people played out against the backdrop of a series of deals and wagers. The supporting cast is excellent, which includes Robert De Niro, but Cooper and Lawrence steal every scene they appear in. I found  myself a fully paid up member of the Pat and Tiffany fan club and I really wanted to know what happened at the end – the basic requirements of a good film. As such, I was going to be pissed if the director went all “arty” at the end and spoiled it.

As to whether Tiffany does make it to the end of the movie – well I can’t tell you as that would spoil it.  Be assured though, this is a great film and one of the best I have seen in the last year.

50/50 (2011)***

50/50 is an indie romance, set against the backdrop of cancer. It’s not the first film of this kind and it won’t be the last – the question, as I sat down to watch it, was whether it could get the balance right. Not to sickly and not to sweet.

Joseph Gordon Levitt (one of the upcoming talents in Hollywood these days) plays Adam, aged 27, who is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. As the title would suggest, he is given a 50/50 prognosis and we are taken on the journey to see which way the dice will fall. More importantly, we observe the people around him rise and fall against the backdrop of his lonely journey.

The film creates a not entirely original, but certainly on the face of it an interesting, set of dynamics through which this comedy drama is to be played out.

Seth Rogen is Kyle, the best mate who supports Adam throughout, albeit not in an entirely conventional manner. This is another Seth Rogen performance that bares a striking resemblance to, well, previous Seth Rogen performances. He’s crude, off beat and always appears just slightly unwashed. Not original, but admittedly he plays the role solidly.

Other heavy weights in the ring include Angelica Houston, as Adam’s overbearing mother and Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays the girlfriend that just doesn’t want to handle all this reality so early in their relationship.

So, thus far we have a pretty standard story which Joseph is carrying. Seth’s adding a few useful punch lines. Everything else is scenery and in the case of Dallas Howard, the kind of scenery that passes you by without you noticing.

Enter Anna Kendrick’s Katherine, the therapist assigned to Adam to provide clinical support. In my view she steals the film, just like she nicked “Up in the Air” right out from under George Clooney’s nose. The interaction between her character and Adam is the most effecting of the whole film. She has a wonderful understated style in this film – a steely vulnerability that speaks volumes. The chemistry between the two works.

The other key credit for this film is its treatment of the subject matter. Yes some of the subplots are theatrical and clichéd, but Jonathan Levine captures very effectively the helplessness that cancer can evoke. He allows the film a few moments to dwell on the unfairness of it all without crossing over into melodrama. It’s deftly handled.

So, despite a slow start and some strong acting calibre not being deployed effectively, this is a solid film which is lifted every time Levitt and Kendrick share the screen.

A good mix – not a full on weepy but may require the occasional dab with handkerchief.

Preparing to go

The sound of small feet crunching across the drive.

Peter turns to find Ellie standing in front of him, hand on hips.

“What ya doing daddy?”

“Pumping the tyres.”

“Why?”

“Well, there’s the four of us, our chubby dog and all the bags when we go on holiday. That makes the car pretty heavy, so I have to pump the tyres a bit more.”

A lengthy pause. There’s more to come.

“Are we putting the trailer on?”

“No” Peter says patting the top box “we have this to put extra stuff in.”

“What if I need to go to the loo?”

Peter takes his hand from the box. “Relevance?”

“Well Daddy, what if I need the loo? If you don’t put the trailer on you can’t bring a loo?”

“Won’t a service station do, if you need the loo?”

“No Daddy. Stopping at the services would slow us down. And I want to get to our holiday cottage fast.”

“Quickly.”

“That’s what I said”.

“Ok. But how are you going to get to the loo, if it’s in the trailer and we’re driving down the motorway at 70 miles an hour?”

She looks cross. “Obviously I will sit on the loo all the way there. I’ll need a seat belt.”

“A seat belt for the loo, that’s in the trailer”

“Uh-huh.”

“What sort of loo did you have in mind? Porcelain?”

“No Daddy. One of those big green block ones. Like at the school fete?

“A portaloo?”

“No, two loos.”

“Two?”

“One for me and one for James.”

“Your brother?”

“Clearly”. Ellie is grinning shyly. “Can we have some proper loo paper as well? Not that stuff that hurts my bum. And a magazine, to read on the loo just like you do?”

“So let me get this straight. You want me to attach the trailer, fix two portaloos in it, add a toilet roll holder and a magazine rack.”

“And the seat belts Daddy. Obviously.”

Peter leans back on the car and scratches his chin.

“Does that mean the dog gets the back seat? He’ll be very happy.”

“He will won’t he Daddy”.

Peter sighs, “Ok, well I better get on with that.”

“Thanks Daddy. Are we going soon?”

“Just as soon as it’s done.”

Peter heads for the garage, but stops half way there “Ellie” he shouts, as she reaches the front door “You do realise that no stopping at a service station means no Percy Pigs.

Ellie stops “No Percy Pigs.”

“Uh huh.”

“Can’t we take some?”

“We haven’t got any.”

She tilts her head and squints at him, blocking the sun out with her hand.

“Can we stop at the service station with the trailer and the loos?”

“No. They don’t allow them. Too tall apparently.”

“Alright Daddy, don’t worry about the trailer and loos,” and she disappears into the house shouting to her mother about sweets for the journey.

Peter shoves the pump into the overstuffed boot and quickly closes it before everything springs out. He grabs a Percy Pig from the bag in the driver’s door, and then heads in doors to find his children and tickle them into submisson.

The Proposal

He knew this amount of sweating couldn’t be just because of the climb. He knew he was unfit, but this unfit? No, this was pressure. He turned his back on her and took in the view, trying to play it cool. Just taking in the landscape drawn out before them in every direction.

Sarah was in the process of tying her laces. She was breathing in mouthfuls of that crisp summer air in an exaggerated fashion. Or was she just unfit and desperately trying to recover from the climb? Suddenly he was thinking about how Sarah might turn out. He was thinking bad and decidedly unfair things.

He considered slapping himself to get some semblance of control, but realised that it would have been a tad strange to do so, alone apart from Sarah on the top of a secluded hill. Then, as his mind tried to get off the point, he considered that slapping himself in any situation, particularly a social one, would be pretty strange. Would she want to marry such a strange man?

Well, only one way to find out

He glanced across to the gorse bush that crowned the hill. Glad to see it was still there. Knowing Rob had hidden the rucksack below its blanket of branches.

He looked back to Sarah who was trudging toward the plinth beneath the stone that marked the top of the hill.

The moment had arrived. He did an exaggerated shoulder lift and inhaled deeply. Then he strode towards her as she sat down.

Before she could unwind her fleece from her waist, he was in front of her, on one knee. He had a slight fight with his pocket, and the ring was before her, swiftly followed by the question. Blurted out. Not quite how he had pictured it, but not bad.

She flushed and then appeared to falter. The look on her face said she was witnessing something she thought would never ever happen – which was a reasonable assessment of the years running up to this moment. He couldn’t breath, starting to fear the worst. But then the moment broke. She offered a three letter response and it was hugs and a little kiss all round.

What followed was the normal conversation about nerves and rings and how unbelievably long it had taken him. But Dave was buzzing and keen to double down on the surprises.

“I’ve got a little surprise for you.”

Sarah looked sceptical given they were at the top of a grassy hill with just the clothes they had on.

Dave grinned, strode over to the bush and pulled out the rucksack triumphantly.

“What’s this?”

“A little celebratory picnic, you know. Due vin, … due Boursin?”

She looked genuinely surprised. He looked like the cat that had the cream. West country clotted. He reached into the bag and as his hand settled on the neck of a bottle, he pulled it free with a theatrical flourish.

Sarah raised her eyebrows. For a moment his brain couldn’t compute, then he looked down at the bottle of Blue Nun hanging from his hand. He almost dropped it.

Silence.

He smiled, trying to recover the situation, and reached into the bag for another item. An extra large packet of pork scratchings.

“You’re kidding me”. He reached in fearful of what might come next. The crinkle of plastic packaging heralded the arrival of a four pack of Tesco value Scotch Eggs.

“Fucking Scotch Eggs”.

He couldn’t stop now. He delved in again and again, like a man who had to keep buying tickets to an unlucky dip, each item thrown in a pile at his feet. Some limp celery. A microwave burger for one. Poptarts. And to finish him off, a packet of condoms – liquorice flavour.

He looked up to see Sarah in the process of falling off the plinth, in an earthquake of silent laughter.

He turned the bag over and shook it in an angry burst, hoping that something worth eating might fall out. Instead all it offered up was a small piece of paper, fluttering down and away. He stamped on it and then reached down to pick it up from his shoe.

It contained a short message.

Hope we have provided all the necessary essentials for such a romantic moment. Please take a picture of your face – right now. Oh, and there’s a coolbox you may want to check out around the back of the bush. Give her a kiss from me… she’s a lucky girl. XX”

Bastards.

The weather held out nicely that day. And although they ended up sipping champagne and feasting on some fine produce, not everything in the rucksack went to waste in the end. You can’t beat a good poptart.

Prometheus (2012) ****

Back in 1979, Ridley Scott introduced us to the Nostromo, a deep space vessel whose commercial crew are awakened from hyper-sleep in response to an apparent SOS from a nearby planet. They visit the planet and pick up an unwanted passenger who subsequently wreaks havoc on the ship. This film was “Alien“. To this day it remains one of the best science fiction movies ever made as well as one of the best of the horror/thriller genre.

Over 30 years later, the same director, brings us another ship, Prometheus. Except with this ship, and with this film, Scott takes us back to before Alien and seeks to explain how the crew of the Nostromo ended up in that mess decades earlier. Also, as is his way, he assembles a fantastic cast to deliver this new masterpiece (with the standout performances from relative newcomer Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw and a fantastic portrayal of David by Michael Fassbender).

So, high expectations on my part (definitely a “pull the seat round in front of the TV for maximum impact” film). It’s connection with such a fabulous predecessor and the same director at the helm made this compelling viewing before I even pressed the play button. And the first half hour, maybe 40 minutes, I was smiling and excited. For the remainder, I was entertained but not over awed.

I think, ultimately, I was disappointed. But not because this is a bad film. It’s a good film. I just believed it could, and expected it would, be more. Particularly given the promise of those first 40 minutes (give or take the very first scene).

So why? Let’s delve for a moment into the hype, which all modern films are required to carry. I was led to believe that this film offered something different to the Alien series – dare I say something better. A breadth of fresh air and something altogether deeper and smarter. More cerebral.

Well, if that were true, then without even watching the opening credits, this was a potentially mixed blessing because, good though that sounds, the original Alien movie was very smart film making – it was conceptually new, ahead of its time and truly scary in parts. It created one of the most iconic film heroines and it ushered in a new generation in special effects. Most of all, it was original.

In Prometheus, Scott provides us with another crew sent out into the distant yonder, this time in search of what we believe could be our  “makers”, based on some ancient cave maps scattered across Earth. So a crew is sent across the galaxy, finds the planet and sets down to try to unravel the secrets therein. This is where the film I believe quickly falls back into a well trodden path. We have the dysfunctional crew, we have the female heroine, we have the creepy cyborg and we have the going into dark rooms and touching things that common sense would clearly tell you not to. And it’s not a problem, because its done well and builds the tension effectively combined with some stunning visual effects.

However, when everything starts to go wrong, the film drops a few notches. Yes the scenes that follow are clever, thrilling in part and drive the film to its relentless conclusion – but it left me entertained not thrilled. Ultimately, it kept to the formula set over 30 years earlier, even if it was hidden below some layers of complexity, and therefore lacked that additional injection of originality.

And what of the cerebral angle? The film does kick up a few interesting, although not entirely unexpected, tensions. For example the question about how the concept of another race creating us sits with our existing religious beliefs – a different take on the concept of of intelligent design. But interesting though these are, and despite being cleverly weaved into the story, they are not enough to raise this film to a new level.

So expectations are a powerful thing. It’s a 4 start film but I expected it to be a 5. Against most other science fiction films, this is a very good movie. But Alien still looks down upon it from above.

Not out of sight but certainly a small climb.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) ***

One of my rules of thumb in movies is that a film never outclasses the book on which it is based. I am yet to come across an exception to this rule, and despite a strong cast and an excellent director, the same applies here.

That’s not to say that the book is class, despite its best-selling status. It’s good trash fiction. This is a good adaptation of a well structured trash fiction story but it would have to truly excel to beat the book – which it does not. What further plays against this book and solidifies my rule of thumb is that this is the first book in a trilogy. I have read all three. Recently. I have a clear idea in my mind of what these characters look like and how they behave. So, to be fair, the film had an uphill struggle from the outset. In fact given the furore around the books and the general bent towards all things scandinavian in film and TV, it was a brave move by Fincher (who is a truly great director) to take this on.

To the casting team’s credit, Mara Rooney is very close to my Lisbeth Salander. Daniel Craig, as Mikael Blomkvist is not. And what’s with the glasses hanging from one ear? I tried it, its ridiculous.

So, for those who know nothing of either book or film (all 3 of you), this is the basic premise. Blomkvist is an investigative journalist who has just been sold down the river by a source. As part of a forced exile from the magazine on which he works, he takes a job from Henrik Vanger (a well cast Christopher Plummer) who asks him to move up to the Vanger island (the Vanger’s own a multinational corporation) to investigate the murder of a member of the Vanger Family decades earlier. Parallel to this is the focus of the trilogy, Lisbeth Salander. A social outrider, originally brought onboard to investigate Blomkvist for the Vangers and then recruited by him to support the investigation and the character that forms the spine of the trilogy.

It’s a beautifully shot film (although nothing knew on what is becoming a tried and tested bleak canvas that represents Scandinavian countries). The story has, in Salander, a very unique character and Fincher exploits this effectively. Craig creates a take on Blomkvist, but his cinematic persona follows him into this film and its the wrong one for this role. I think Blomkvist would be better with a little more paunch and a little less chisel given he mainlines coffee and cigarettes in the book. I also like the casting of Stellan Skargard – a man of so many films and one who depicts Martin Vanger perfectly in his quiet and understated way.

So yes – everything is more or less there, making this watchable (apart from a couple of gruesome parts – it’s not a lovely story). But it lies in the eclipse of the book and that will always be a problem. Sorry Mr Fincher.

The adventures of Tintin – the secret of the Unicorn (2011) ****

Tintin, the much loved flemish explorer, with his little white dog Snowy, could only be described as excellent source material for an epic and groundbreaking film from two of cinemas heavyweights,  Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg. The fact that its an animation is slightly more surprising. But by far the most surprising thing is you barely notice it is, given the rich canvas on which this Indiana Jones esque tale of the search for sunken treasure is cast and the detail and vibrancy of the characters that populate it. It is astounding just how far the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks have taken us and one only wonders whether all these highly paid holloywood starts will start to look over their collective shoulders when the people that really start to pull the strings are these digital pupateers who can create such auspicious characters without a single shot of a real human being required. Where will this take us I wonder. Has Harrison Ford hit retirement at just the right moment? Should Tinitin grab his hat?

The swashbuckling adventure centres around the purchase by Tintin of a model ship. This model of the “Unicorn” hides a secret message which a number of interested parties are after and will lead him on a voyage to discover the riches that the real ship carried centuries before. On his journey he is supported by the rarely sober Captain Haddock who treats water with disdain and lives solely on a diet of Whisky. Tintin is also helped by the slightly inept interpol detective twins, with their hats and walking canes in tow wherever they might be. The adventure moves from land to sea, from boat to motorbike and from city to desert at break neck speed. Interestingly, the set pieces are little more excessive then the average blockbuster which helps to further the illusion. At the same time, the animation enables Jackson to link these scenes together in a way that is visually warming to the eye.

In terms of downsides, well there aren’t many except perhaps our hero himself. This is not the fault of Jackson or Spielberg as their creation of Tintin within the film is excellent. The issue lies more with the fact that Tintin is a character from the past and even then, his status was far from mainstream having arrived from across the channel. Many will have spent more time with Asterix and Obelix than with Tintin. Tintin was at best a peripheral character in their childhoods making this more of a curiosity than the bringing to life of a childhood friend. And because of that, although this is is undoubtedly a great family film, I suspect for most it will remain just that.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.