Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Descendants

Well, two Oscar-nominated films in a week! Having seen the excellent 'The Artist' last week, Jude & I caught the new George Clooney film, 'The Descendants' yesterday, which is also up for best film at the forthcoming American Academy Awards.

The story weaves together a number of plot-lines: Clooney plays Matthew King, a husband and father of two girls, coming to terms with the imminent death of his wife, comatose following a powerboat accident; he is also the sole trustee of a family trust which manages some prime real estate on one of the Hawaiian islands, which locals don't want to see sold and developed, but most of the family do; and he is also coming to terms with the discovery that his wife was in an affair with a real estate agent linked to the land deal.

It has been said that this is Clooney's best performance of his career: he's certainly given a lot of screen-time - I don't think there are many scenes in the film in which he is not a part. The emotional themes of loss, betrayal, revenge and the trials of parenting a troubled teen and a potty-mouthed pre-pubescent, give him plenty of scope to develop the character, and I would say that he does so with consummate skill (though as I only remember his work in Batman & the Ocean's franchise it's difficult to say whether it's his best performance).

I thought that Shailene Woodley, who played the elder daughter Alex, put in an excellent performance, and has rightly received many accolades (and awards) for her role in the film. She is definitely 'one to watch' in the future.

Although the plot twists were a little predictable, it was a highly entertaining film, and one which I would strongly recommend.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Artist

Every so often a different kind of film comes along, and 'The Artist' is one of those films. In an age of 3D, it is in 2D and in black-and-white. In an age of state-of-the-art sound technology, it is predominantly silent.

The Artist is designed to look and feel very much like a late 1920s silent movie; even the font used on the opening credits takes you back to the golden days of Hollywood's silent period. It comes complete with dialogue frames, and the soundtrack that runs throughout the film is evocative and unobtrusive.

The storyline concerns the fading of a silent-screen icon, George Valentin, at the onset of the 'talkies', and the parallel rise of young starlet Peppy Miller, set alongside their burgeoning relationship and Valentin's descent into financial ruin and contemplation of suicide.

There are some memorable moments for me in the film: a scene in the movie studio where Valentin & Miller meet on a stairway, with her going up, and him down, which sums up their respective careers at that stage; and a dream sequence where Valentin is coming to terms with his imminent demise as the studio invests in talkies and drops its silent stars, and where everything has sound - even a feather falling to the ground - except him, particularly stand out for me.

As well as excellent performances from the main cast - Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman and James Cromwell - the unsung star of the film for me has to be Uggie, who plays Jack, Valentin's dog, and it is good to see that he was awarded the 'Palm Dog' for his performance at Cannes last year.

This film has already been showered with awards, and I have no doubt that it may well be in the running for more as the awards season gets into full swing.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


One of the problems of highly successful TV shows is what to do when they've run their course. When Colin Dexter killed off Inspector Morse in 'The Remorseful Day' it brought a natural end to the series based on his novels, but also spawned 'Lewis', an almost as successful follow-on series. I am, and have been for many years, a great fan of both programmes.

But what about exploring what happened before we were introduced to Morse & Lewis in 'The Dead of Jericho'? Last night ITV1 gave us their take on the early days of Morse, in the one-off drama, 'Endeavour'. Set in 1965 it caught the mood of the time very well (or so it seemed - I was only 4 at the time!), and contained echoes - hints - of what was to come (or had already been) in Morse's career and life: Morse's disastrous relationships with women; his liking for real ale and single malt (though he began the show strictly TT, which was striking); the importance of crossword puzzles; his independent streak and occasional disregard for authority if it helped move the case on; his abortive student days at Oxford; the tensions between town and gown, and the influence of the Masons.

What was great to see also was the red Jaguar, 248 RPA, which appeared on a car lot and was being eyed keenly by the young Morse, and the ubiquitous cameo by Morse's creator, Colin Dexter. There was also a small part as editor of the Oxford Mail for John Thaw's daughter, Abigail. But for me The Moment of the programme came at the end, as Morse and his DI stopped at a set of lights and chatted about the case and the future. "Where do you see yourself in 20 years?" asked DI Thursday: as he asked, Morse adjusted his rear-view mirror, and in the mirror was the face of John Thaw. Sheer genius!

The part of the young Morse was ably taken by Shaun Evans, and there may be plans to produce a series if the one-off show is well-received. From the reaction I've seen from friends on Facebook, and from my own delight at this experiment, I hope that we will see more of young Morse, and see more insights into the development of this complex and enjoyable character.