Thursday, March 25, 2021

Movie review: Don't miss News of The World

I think I am right when I say News of the World is one of the best movies I have seen in a very, very long time. The story is deceptively simple: a task that must be performed but one that turns into a dangerous mission. “
In 1870, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former member of the Confederate Army who served in the 3rd Texas Infantry, makes a living traveling town to town reading newspapers for the populace for ten cents per person. Following an evening of news reading, setting out for his next location, Kidd finds an overturned wagon on the road. Investigating, he finds the body of a Black soldier and a young White girl named Johanna, dressed in Native American clothing. After an encounter with a Union Army patrol, Kidd is instructed to take the girl to Union officials at a checkpoint in a town up the road where they will sort out her Bureau of Indian Affairs paperwork and return her to her surviving family. Reluctantly, Kidd acquiesces to the request.” (Wikipedia)

Difficulties include delays in the bureaucratic red tape, with young Johanna (who speaks no English) refusing to accept being returned to her remaining family, instead yearning for the Native American family that took her in. Kidd and Johanna (movingly performed by Helena Zengel) are tracked by men who want to traffic the startlingly beautiful golden-haired, blue-eyed child, ending in a fight to the death. They meet the self-styled leader of a radical band of militia and have to talk and then fight their way out of a perilous situation. Life was hard and dangerous for anyone on the road.

If you think this is just Tom Hanks playing Sully meets The Magnificent Seven, think again. Yes, Hanks is a consummate and appealing actor, and he brings the right amount of gravitas and authenticity to the role, but it is more than that. He becomes Kidd so that while watching, you don’t see Hanks; you see Kidd. The relationship develops between two lost, lonely, and broken people. Kidd has his own personal story as Johanna has hers. Director Paul Greengrass surprises with a slow-moving but not ponderous, beautifully filmed, socially relevant (without ramming wokery down your throat) story. You will cry when Joanna cries for her adopted people, moving inexorably away across the river, disappearing into the mists. I wanted to know more about their plight. Of course, the film touches only briefly on many issues of the time, including the treatment of the Native American people uprooted by the invaders; the tensions of post-Civil War that still simmered and festered; and the surprising discovery that news travelled slowly and had to be sent through laborious means.

The acting is superb. I was pleased to see Mare Winningham make a cameo appearance. I first saw Hanks and Winningham play together in Turner and Hooch. Every single character, small or large, important or seemingly irrelevant, plays a vital role. The audiences gathered in the town’s biggest hall, cheering at good news and gasping at bad news, personified the era perfectly. The photography was stunning, taking the viewer right into the scenes. The pace was just right for every scene. Yes, I think this is the best movie I have ever seen, and I am sorry it did not smash the box office like some of the utter tripe that passes for entertainment now. A beautiful film about important issues. Don’t miss it. Very highly recommended!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Series review: Why You Should Watch Harrow

, starring Ioan Gruffudd is a definite must-watch. The premise: “Harrow tells the story of Dr. Daniel Harrow, a forensic pathologist with a total disregard for authority. He has an unfailing empathy for the dead which helps him solve even the most bizarre of cases. Willing to bend every rule, he is determined to give victims a voice and reveal the truth behind what happened to them. Meanwhile, a terrible secret from his past threatens him, his family, and his career.” (Wikipedia). However, the charm and appeal of this series lies not in the main character Harrow, but in the solid story setting, Australia, and its really great cast. Interestingly, I don’t really care for Gruffudd because I find him rather louche in his portrayals – perhaps just a case of always being cast as the handsome, lightweight, and vaguely suspect leading man? While it is all about him and his secrets, the past that rears its ugly head at inopportune moments, the main stories never get shunted to the background. Harrow and his team are always on a case, which they solve.

For me, the delight in this series comes in the form of two unlikely heroes: both middle-aged, slightly overweight, successful but insecure. Darren Gilshenan, whom I have never seen before, plays Dr. Lyle Fairley, a pathologist, a rule follower, and positive stickler when it comes to the nitty-gritty. He absolutely shines in his idiosyncrasies; an all-consuming love for everything Asian, which includes imbibing odd-smelling herbal brews and boasting an encyclopedic knowledge of Asian history and artifacts. He is absolutely hilarious and very watchable, maybe even a scene stealer… Hero #2 is Damien Garvey as Bryan Nichols, Detective Senior Sergeant at Queensland Police's Criminal Investigation Branch. He is also a real pleasure to watch. The archetypal straight arrow, also a stickler for the rules, life and people sometimes disappoint him. One of the best scenarios is when Harrow, Fairley, and Garvey go camping on a mano a mano camping trip that turns deadly.

Australia is a character all on its own and it shows in the way this is filmed. The Aussies are down to earth, straight-talking, and call a spade a spade. I know because I have literally hundreds of ‘rellies’ there. While watching, you truly believe that the characters are real people. It is so refreshing to see. The scripts are excellent and the dialogue is very natural. The location is Brisbane and surrounds, but there are a few episodes shot in the Outback. Don’t miss this one. I am hooked.


Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Movie review: Blithe Spirit

Blithe Spirit, based on the 1941 play by Noel Coward, is about a writer, Charles Condomine (played by a lacklustre and hammy Dan Stevens), who gets a fake medium, Madame Arcati (superbly performed by the inimitable Judi Dench), to hold a séance at his house. Although a successful writer, he needs some inspiration for a film script that has stalled. To everyone’s amazement, especially Madame Arcati, she conjures up the spirit of Charles’s first wife Elvira, now deceased, played with over-the-top venom by the exquisite Leslie Mann. The problem is Charles has remarried and his new wife is Ruth (played with tight anguish by Isla Fisher). She is very much alive. Charles is the only person who can see Elvira who wants her old life back… and her husband. She sets out to wreak havoc in Charles’s life and succeeds. Charles must banish Elvira, but how?

It’s hard to explain why this movie did not work for me. I have seen the black and white version, as well as the stage play several times, and really enjoyed them. The supporting cast has some notable and excellent actors – Emilia Fox, James Fleet, Michelle Dotrice et al. Judi Dench/Madam Arcati was just stupendous as the well-meaning but incompetent medium who succeeds by accident just when she should not have done. The costumes were truly fabulous, and I loved the styles which could be worn today quite easily. The sets were sumptuous as well. All the ingredients for an exceptional movie and yet around the first third, the pace dragged. I feel that Dan Stevens is the weak link in an otherwise strong chain. The variety of dangerous/dramatic supernatural events were too many and the developing relationship between Elvira and Charles as she reignites his creativity also palled. Because I so enjoyed the original, I was disappointed that I did not love this movie. But I’d advise viewers who love something fun and supernatural to still give it a try. There is a lot to enjoy and some really surprising twists. 3/5