Monday, 30 April 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

..... The answer is, it's on at the Landmark Art House cinema complex in West Los Angeles - a mere 16 miles from south-central (where I am staying) to west LA. A swanky new and up-market complex offering 11 screens showing a really good range of films - including Monsieur Lazhar. I saw this at a 9:30 screening on a Sunday night in the 24 seat Screening Lounge Auditorium kitted out with leather sofas and armchairs - nice:

The film stars Ewan McGregor as Dr Fred Jones - a government expert on Salmon, Emily Blunt as the investment consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot and Kristin Scott-Thomas as the PMs Press Officer Patricia Maxwell - Alastair Campbell in a skirt if you will. The premise of the story is straightforward. A wealthy Yemeni sheik (Amr Waked) who owns estates in Scotland and has a passion for Salmon fishing, wishes to introduce the sport to Yemen as part of a scheme to irrigate the desert and bring prosperity to his people. Dr Jones feels it is laughably unfeasible and the government are desperate for a good news story from the Arab world to deflect the pain of the losses in Afghanistan. Dr Jones is coerced into taking the project on and in the end it becomes his all consuming passion.

Along the way, the plot is deftly played out by the cast with great sensitivity and at times humour. This is a different kind of romcom - one that knows what it's about and isn't afraid to laugh at itself with the characters from time-to-time actually saying "yes - that was an attempt at a joke". There are a number of romantic and power relationships that play out in the film. The only sex scene in the film is portrayed with more comedy than intimacy and underlines just how much of a rut the staid academic Dr Jones has allowed himself to fall into. The project saves him from the insular world of the academy and awakens his spirit, senses and love in ways that they have never before experienced. It is more than the Yemeni desert that sees transformation!

The flies in the ointment are the local tribes-people who see the sheik's project as a sell-out to Western ideals and values and something which is anti-Islamic. They plot to sabotage the scheme. Added to this, Harriet's love interest gives a small insight into the tensions that are playing out in too many military families these days.

The story takes many twists and turns but is expertly navigated by the cast and Director Lasse Hallström. It deftly moves between comedy and weightier moments with characters that are believable and beguiling with McGregor, Blunt and Waked all giving performances that display a tenderness in their characterisation. It builds towards a climax that is a painful choice for Harriet - but you never quite know which way it will go - although I for one had my hopes and they were met. There is a high degree of decency portrayed by this film's characters - a kind of chivalry of a by-gone age. There is also a lot indecency portrayed by the politicians - nothing that In The Loop hasn't already given us. I imagine this will appeal more to British audiences - although the Americans I watched it with last night seemed to laugh along and enjoy it.

If this is still playing anywhere near you and you haven't seen it - please try and make the effort. If you have seen it - go and see it again! I await the opportunity to buy it on disc and commend it to you unreservedly giving it a 8.5/10.


If Jason Statham is starring in a film you know there will be guns - lots of guns. In that respect Safe doesn't disappoint. Where it does disappoint is in the lack of emotional development of the two main characters - Statham playing Luke Wright and Mei (Catherine Chan making her full-feature debut).

The story begins in the world of New Jersey cage fighting - but this is soon forgotten never to return. Throughout the film the character Wright is shown to be the only one with any moral fortitude. Having said that, his personal body count must enter three figures - so even that is relative!

The first half-an-hour or so of the film seems to offer three stories in parallel which suddenly click into interwoven synchronicity - all linked by Wright and Mei who are thrown together intermittently, in an unlikely pairing. There is a scene near the beginning which should evoke an affective response from viewers but Statham's coldness for me missed an opportunity. At the end of the film there is an endearing scene - the 80 minutes in between are devoid of emotional currency. It's a simple bloodfest.

The story is complex and is well handled by Director Boaz Yakin. It doesn't matter if the story focuses on the Chinese, the Russians or the Cops - they're all crooks. This film does little to bolster any sense of confidence in those elected to office and those who serve the public through that office. I won't say more for fear of spoiling the plot.

If you like gangster thrillers with lots of guns and blood, then this is a fine example of the genre. If organised crime, racketeering and fighting are not your thing, my advice is to avoid it. It is the only film on locally that I wanted to see (where is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen when you have the time?) and given that there are some theatres here with 20 screens, that's all a little disappointing. A solid film of its type - but it could have been a lot more. I'll give it 6.5/10.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Way Back

A road movie with a difference - they cover 4000 miles - on foot!

Set in 1941 this film tells the story of a group of prisoners in one of Stalin's Gulags in Siberia. The motley crew - a Pole who is there because his wife was tortured into making a false confession about him, an American Engineer there because he tried to escape the depression back home, a baker, and a Russian gangster-type thug. An unlikely group supplemented by a man blinded by the vitamin deficient diet of the Gulag and as they journey by a runaway girl. Indeed, a motley crew if ever there was one.  The premise is simple - walk to freedom in Mongolia.

Everyone is in the Gulag for different reasons - most of them concocted by the State. When three of the inmates decide to escape, their numbers rapidly swell and seven end up making the break under the cover of blizzard which covers their tracks. Led by the Pole Janusz (Jim Sturgess) who is at home in the forests and mountains, the group make their way continually south. Russian soldiers, wolves and mosquitoes all prove worthy foes but the group continues to make progress. they eventually cross into Mongolia only to find that the Mongolians are in cahoots with Russians and so they continue to press on south.

The group adopt a runaway teenage girl Irena (Saoirse Ronan) whose amiability lubricates the social cohesion of the group. Colin Farrell does a very passable Ruski accent as the gangster thug but it is Ed Harris' Mr Smith who adds the gravitas to the band of unlikely travelling companions. With food ranging from snake, to bugs, to deer and fish and at one point even the idea of cannibalism is discussed, so they travel ever southward.

Many adventures befall them on the epic journey. It is a long film but Peter Wier's Direction keeps it moving and the characterisations are always engrossing. I won't spoil the content or the outcome any further for you. This is a fine film and worthy of your attention. It's a pity that all the main characters are played by British/American/Irish actors when there are many fine eastern European actors around (see In Darkness to evidence that point!) Please do get hold of the disc and watch it. National Geographic is one of the sponsoring bodies and much of the cinematography would be at home in that illustrious magazine. I'll give it 7.5/10.

I've seen a total of 8 films in Winnipeg in a week - not bad. Many thanks Vic.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

In Darkness

The title of this film works on different levels. It graphically and painfully portrays the human capacity to act in ways which are inhuman. It depicts the darkness that hope sometimes requires us to stumble through if we are to come out the other end. For the most part the film is set within the darkness of the sewers under the Polish city of Lvov.

Set in World War II as the Nazi's purge the ghetto in Lvov, the film follows a group of Jews who in desperation break into the cities sewers in the hope of escape and survival. They are unaware of the harshness of the environment they are about to enter - raw sewage, darkness, lack of food and water, loss of privacy, plagues of rats and the constant threat of being discovered.

The Nazi's offer 500 Zloty for each Jew betrayed - for some this was to become a lucrative business. For the city's sewer Inspector, Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) the prospect of earning multiples of that sum for the Jews that have invaded 'his sewers' is an appealing prospect - once he has taken all the money the Jews have in the first place. What begins with the coldness of a business transaction prior to betrayal, gently transforms into an heroic act of defiance that affirms the good that resides in human nature. Socha is no easy pushover. The film graphically depicts the open racism and hatred of the Poles towards the Jews - and others. A hatred and distrust that is all too often reciprocated.

With his unique intimate knowledge of the sewers, he moves a small group of them to a more secure location leaving the others to fend for themselves. Not knowing how long the ordeal will last they live from day to day. Socha places himself and his family in extreme jeopardy and time-and-time-again they come close to being discovered. News of the war on the Eastern Front is the only comfort they receive.

This is a kind of 'Schindler in the Sewer' type film. There is despair and the need for the most basic human drives to find expression, but there remains hope. An older member of the group continues to pray, chanting in rocking motion to the sewer walls - they are even able to celebrate Passover with some Matzos Socha rescues from the ghetto. What reinforces the utter bleakness of the group's condition is that they have with them two young children who in different ways become traumatised by their experience. One of them - the last remaining survivor of the group has published her memoires in  The Girl in the Green Sweater.

I won't spoil the story by disclosing any more detail. Whilst this is not easy viewing, it repays the investment of time and emotional energy. There is no romanticised Hollywood cinema here. The Polish Director Agnieszka Holland was born a decade to the day before me. The daughter of a Catholic mother and Jewish father. Her mother was active in the Polish resistance and the film carries an authentic shadow of personal family experience. I was born in West Germany in the continuing aftermath of the war - its shadow still looms large over several generations. I hope we can all remember the pain and choose not to reinvent it again - anywhere. We need to hear stories like this one - we need to be shocked into our right senses. The heroism of Socha and others like him needs to be celebrated as collectively and vicariously they offer a way from darkness to light. Let us remain in light.

A brave, intelligent and compelling film. I'll give it 8.5/10. If you have the stomach for it - watch it.

The Trilogy of Marcus Belvaux: On the Run, An Amazing Couple and After Life

I have now managed to watch all three films over the course of three days. Perhaps it's just me, but have you ever wondered while you are watching a film, what is happening in the lives of the characters not currently on screen? This trilogy answers that question for you.

The concept and execution are very clever - and it works. Film One: On the Run is a thriller, Film Two: An Amazing Couple is a comedy and Film Three: After Life is an intense drama. Each film contains the same set of characters but each focuses on a different couple. Each film contains scenes that feature in one or both the other films. The thing that makes it work are the camera angles and the editing which allow the one scene to have a very different feel in the different movies. The idea has been masterfully conceived and executed. I would like to watch all three again simultaneously on three different screens and plot the points of convergence. One thing that anchors the three films are three teachers - all female and each one the focus of the one the three films - Jeanne, Cécile and Agnès who are friends and who all work together in the same school.

On the Run focuses on Bruno LeRoux (Lucas Balvaux) and his one-time lover Jeanne (Catherine Frot). It begins with LeRoux escaping from gaol where he has been incarcerated for 20 years for a series of terrorist acts - he is a left-wing revolutionary. He makes for Grenoble and seeks to reactivate the old network and cause more mayhem. His band of revolutionaries have all moved on, settled down and live respectable lives. The thriller aspect comes from LeRoux continually trying to evade the Police whilst also trying to take retribution against those he feels grassed on him 20 years earlier. He is a ruthless character who is unafraid to kill - but he also has a tender caring side. The ending is unexpected.

An Amazing Couple focuses on Alain (François Morel) and Cécile (Ornella Muti). It is a comedy and unsurprisingly as such struggles to translate from it's French culture. Alain needs some minor surgery and wishing not to worry his wife he doesn't tell her but sets up a trip to Paris as cover. As is usually the case, one deceit leads to another and a whole web of intrigue and suspicion builds and sucks in most of the characters from the first film.

The third and strongest of the three films is After Life which has an ambiguous title - and ending. This film features a married couple - school teacher and heroin addict Agnès Manise (Dominique Blanc) and her cop husband Pascal. This is an intense film and weaves seamlessly in and out of the first two with many shared scenes. In the first two films Pascal is shown a weak and seedy character, unsympathetic and collusive. This film uses many of the character defining scenes from the first two films but because of the editing and the context in which they are set within the narrative, they portray Pascal as a warm, loving and long-suffering husband.

As each film unfolds so more of the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place to reveal the finished scene. Each film can be enjoyed separately and the viewer would not necessarily feel cheated by only seeing one of them. However, the three together exceed the sum of their parts and offer a piece of art that is far superior to your run-of-the mill thriller, comedy or melodrama doing the rounds today. This trilogy offers gripping cinema. Kieslowski's Three Colours does something similar but nothing like on the same scale or with the same impact as Belvaux's work here.

If I were rating the films separately they would get middling scores. As they are presented as a Trilogy and I have had the privilege of watching them as such and got so much from them as a Trilogy, I will award the Trilogy 8/10 for its conceptualisation and clever inter-weaving of narrative. The Trilogy is available quite cheaply on Amazon - go on, indulge.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

Another Canadian film, one which was nominated for best foreign language film Oscar. Monsieur Lazhar is set in Montreal in an Elementary School with a class of 13/4 year-olds. It begins in the depths of snowy winter and throughout the story the cycle of the seasons mirrors the emotional and psychological health of the class.

One morning, Simon the milk monitor, discovers that their class teacher Martine, has hanged herself in the classroom. Trauma. An Algerian immigrant pitches up at the school claiming to be a teacher and offers to take on the class. The under-pressure Principal accepts the offer and so Bashir Lazhar sets to work. His methods seem clumsy and out of kilter with the ultra politically correct Québécois education system - yet his style and gentle empathy endear him to the children and colleagues alike.

The School brings in a Psychologist who excludes Lahzar from her sessions with the class much to his incredulity. As the story goes on, the effects of the event on the children emerge in different ways. The adults - teachers and parents alike - all 'hush up' what has happened and cut off the children's opportunities to achieve healing for their emotional wounds. Lahzar takes a much more holistic approach - informed by his differing cultural reference points and his own bitter personal experience - to use creativity and metaphor as tools of healing self-expression for his charges.

Lazhar's methods begin to work but the path is bumpy as the children's behaviour often puts them on a collision course with their parents who are less able and willing to process and deal with the consequences of Martine's suicide.

Needless to say there are many sub-plots going on within the story and I will not spoil it for you by discussing them or the outcome. This film is a strong as it is sensitive, as insightful as it condemning of system that has been hijacked by empty principles that serve nothing more than a detached an inhuman philosophy. The warmth of Lazhar (played by the Paris-based comedian Fellag) is captivating and the acting of the children has a natural energy and spontaneity that is both compelling and completely believable.

This film is so new it not yet available outside Region 1, but when it is, I for one will certainly be getting a copy. It is a gem - a story about loss, exile and how adults control what children may be allowed to feel and think. As soon as you get the chance - go and see it. I'll give 8.5/10.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Trilogy One: On the Run

Last night we watched the first in a trilogy from French Director Lucas Belvaux. This is an unusual trilogy in that all of the three films are happening contemporaneously and each feature stories and characters that cross over. The first film is a thriller, the second a comedy and third a drama.

I am going to wait until I have seen all three before commenting, even though each can be viewed as a stand alone film.

Watch out for more....

Barney's Version

My Canadian host decided to show me a good Canadian film! The story is told as Barney (Paul Giamatti) recalls his life - his version of his life. Others would see it differently perhaps. The fact that the film is set in his memory is important as the story ends with the onset of alzheimer's and Barney losing his memory.

Barney is as endearing as he is impossible. I loved him and loathed him in equal measure. He is a politically incorrect hedonist who is unable to take responsibility for the way he treats people and who is unable to exercise any self-control before acting. He does not know what self-restraint means and he is his own worst enemy.

Living a bohemian and indulgent lifestyle with a group of close friends in Rome he does the honourable thing when his girlfriend becomes pregnant and marries her - only to discover at the child's (still) birth that it is not his. He immediately separates from her and in a fit of lover's pique she kills herself.

His uncle gets him into TV production back in his native Montreal and he eventually becomes the producer of a very successful TV show that is truly awful made by his 'Totally Unnecessary Productions' company. This makes him wealthy and he is able to fund his high-class apartment, a mercedes and an endless supply of cigars and whisky.

His father Izzy (Dustin Hoffman), is a retired cop and very Jewish. He fixes Barney up with a Jewry socialite with a wealthy father and they marry. At the reception, Barney encounters Miriam (Rosamund Pike) and confesses to his closest friend Boogie (Scott Speedman) that for the first time in his life he is in love - with Miriam.

Trapped in a stifling marriage with his second wife (Minnie Driver) Barney bombards Miriam with presents, cards and flowers. He plots his escape to allow him to pursue Miriam. Barney's lucky break comes when he catches Boogie and his wife at it in the bedroom of their lake house. The adultery gives Barney the let-out clause he has been looking for and as the ink dries on the divorce papers he is on the phone to Miriam.

To cut a long story short, they marry and have two children and happily enjoy family life for 20+ years. Miriam is portrayed as a wise saint who is good for Barney and who challenges him just enough about the excesses of his lifestyle. Miriam dispenses the kind of wisdom that only a loving wife can. When Miriam want's to return to work as the children flee the nest, Barney objects. Miriam relaunches a successful career as a radio presenter and Barney becomes jealous of this and the Producer Blair.

Increasingly trapped by Barney's drinking, his rudeness to all her friends and his general selfishness, Miriam decides to visit their son in New York for a week. Barney is beside himself being separated from her and seeks solace in a bottle - lot's of bottles. He runs into an actress who once featured in his TV show and a drunken one-night stand ensues. When Miriam returns from New York Barney's guilt causes him to act strangely and he is forced to confess. On his third marriage when he had it all, he still wanted more and couldn't rein in his appetite. Miriam leaves and divorce follows - she marries Blair. Barney keeps on smoking and drinking and gradually begins to forget things as alzheimer's sets in. Barney dies before his time and the clear implication is that it's because of the booze and smoking.

I have not dwelt on the many sub-plots that spin within the story so as not to spoil it for you. There are many strong acting performances in this film - Giamatti won a Golden Globe for his performance, Hoffman is great but for me Pike steals the show as the classy, wise and glamourous Miriam. The make-up was nominated for an Oscar, but I was enchanted by Giamatti's evolving characterisation of the ageing Barney - with hair lines, a paunch and perambulatory style to match.

The film is painful to watch as Barney constantly excels in self-destruction. He clearly does have a soft and tender side but I was left wondering if his blind pursuit of pleasure meant that he could not see or appreciate intimacy and self-giving love in anyway. This is a big part of what makes him such an infuriating character. There are plenty of moral scenarios to ponder as well as the dynamics of the various relationships within the overall story. I really liked this film and commend it to you. I'll give 7.5/10.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Another Earth

This film was the winner at Sundance 2011 and as usual, Sundance winners don't disappoint. It offers itself as a sci-fi film but it actually delivers an intense and thought-provoking exploration of emotions - in particular guilt, redemption and love. It also posits the philosophical question 'what would it be like to meet myself?'.

For me, the film pivots on two acts of violation perpetrated by Rhoda (Brit Marling) - both predicated on selfishness, but each for different reasons. It's impossible to discuss the film in a realistic way without giving something of the storyline away, so if you'd rather not know, stop reading now.

Rhoda is a beautiful bright blonde with a passion for astronomy and astrophysics. She also likes to party. She has just been offered at place at MIT and we are told that for her, anything is possible. Driving home from the party she listens to the radio where news is breaking of a new earth-like planet appearing in the night sky as blue dot. As Rhoda leans out of the window to locate the phenomenon, she drives at speed into another car. This kills the pregnant woman passenger, her son and leaves the husband, John (William Mapother) in a coma. Rhoda is comparatively unscathed - physically. This is the first violation - one predicated on a selfishness of naivety and an invincibility born of hegemony.

As a minor, her details are with-held and she serves four years in gaol. Meanwhile the earth-like planet gets ever-closer and is discovered to be an exact copy of the original earth. Apparently it has no effect on gravitational fields or the tides - a weakness in the story. Questions begin to be asked about whether 'Earth 2' is an exact copy of the original - or whether they view us as 'Earth 2'.

Rhoda is still riven with guilt for the damage and pain she caused and rather than take up her academic career, she becomes a school janitor. Returning to the scene of the accident on the fourth anniversary, she sees the surviving father drive up and place a toy against the lamp post in a shrine-like way. This ramps up her feelings of guilt even more.

Rhoda lives in a baggy boiler suit and keeps her golden tresses under a wooly hat. She strips her room of all artefacts and instals a mattress on the floor. It is as though her job and lifestyle are a self-imposed penance - an attempt to ameliorate the guilt she is burdened by. Rhoda even strips off to lie naked on the frozen snow but is rescued and treated for hypothermia and frostbite. John has similarly let himself go as he deals with the demons and depression in the aftermath of the accident. He slums around in a dressing gown consuming booze like it's going out of fashion.

Finally Rhoda plucks up courage to visit John to apologise in person. As he opens the door her courage evaporates and she invents a story about her being from a cleaning company which is looking for new customers and offering a free trial clean. John accepts and is so impressed he asks her back and this becomes a regular thing. Each week Rhoda tears up the cheque on the way home. As time goes by, her persistent cleaning inspires John to begin living more 'normally'. As her efforts bring about a cathartic transformation in John, she experiences the same. As time goes by the two of them get closer together and eventually make passionate love at John's home - the second violation. Rhoda's selfish need for redemption has propelled her into the giving of her very self as a form of ultimate redemptive self-sacrifice.

A space travel company is planning a trip 'Earth 2' for those who can afford it and one place is up for grabs to the winner of a 500 word essay competition. After prolonged hesitation, Rhoda enters and forgets about it, feeling she doesn't have a chance. She wins - the fulfilment of her childhood dreams. Not long afterwards, as John hosts a celebratory meal, she finally confesses to John. The impact on him is understandably immense. He demands that she leaves.

She later tries to see him again but he will not open the door. She forces her way in and after an ugly and violent encounter, she leaves her ticket for him. Based on the theory that when an individual first sees 'Earth 2' the parallels stop, and so for Rhoda it was just prior to the accident, it may just be possible for John to meet up with his wife and children again. John makes the trip to 'Earth 2'. Then one day as Rhoda returns home, she encounters herself - presumably because the Rhoda on 'Earth 2' also won the essay competition to visit 'Earth 1'.

So how would it be, if you were to meet a different version of yourself, perhaps from a parallel universe? What would you say? What would you talk about? Would you anticipate being 100% identical in every way - including memories and experiences? Presumably it would be impossible to conduct a conversation with yourself as you would both ask the same question of each other at the same time? What would be the point? Surely it would only be of value if there were some differences?

This is an immensely engaging and worthwhile film that will provoke an affective response from viewers. The story is co-written by Brit Marling and the Director Mike Cahill - impressive. I am sure we will be seeing a lot of more Brit Marling who delivers a strong performance in this. I would recommend this to everyone - but don't expect a sci-fi film! I''l give it 7.5/10.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Descendants

I had been avoiding this film. Sadly it was the shortest on offer and the only one that would conclude before the plane landed. It left me feeling decidedly depressed. George Clooney stars as Matt and in common with his most recent offerings, this is another film that is more of a vehicle for Mr Clooney than any story he may be caught up in. This film is high on melodrama and serially tweaks at the heart as Matt's emotions get dragged through the mud.

This is more of a road movie where Matt is cruelly given the opportunity to shift focus from his law practice and relearn what it is to be a husband and father. As Matt makes each emotional discovery, so his body jerks into a new pose to demonstrate he has registered the emotion. The journey holds out hope that Matt will arrive somewhere new, perhaps more balanced, but he never quite makes it.

The script could be smoother. There are extended voiceovers where Matt gives the back story and telegraphs the importance of what the viewer has just seen or is just about to see. "My family is like an archipelago and they are spread all over Hawaii" Matt tells us as a map of the islands unfolds on screen.  I know we live in a messed up world, but how likely is the confluence of all these events in one person's life? Even the weather in each scene mirrors the state of Matt's emotions!

What adds to the disappointment for me are the attempts at humour that pepper the film. Rather than adding spice to alleviate the tension each attempt fizzles out like damp firework. It may be that my cultural reference points are skewed, but for me the humour didn't work at all ... and what was that running style all about?

Not only do we have a comatose mother, issues of withdrawing life-support, two unruly daughters and an adulterer with a seemingly wonderful wife and family, we also have the additional emotional pull of Matt being the centre-pin of a decision that threatens to betray the Polynesian dynasty he is a part of and whose heritage promises to make him and his cousins extremely wealthy. The film is punctuated by a series of people coming before Matt's comatose wife and telling her what they think of her/the situation. I kept expecting her to make a recovery and then hold all these people accountable - it is that kind of film. Mercifully I got it wrong.

Where the film does deliver - and by the bucket full - is through the performances of the two daughters, Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who turn in a tour-de-force. They should have been Oscar nominated, not George Clooney! The family falling apart suddenly coheres and bad behaviour disappears without any real plot development taking place.

The conclusion of the film is ambiguous. Does Matt really act out of respect to his forebears or revenge to hurt the adulterer? A further bright flicker in an other wise dull film is Beau Bridges' contribution as one of Matt's cousins. He brings a warmth and pathos to the story that is otherwise lacking.

I was right to have tried to avoid seeing this film. Only incarceration at 38,000' made me watch it! I wish I'd being flying to Vancouver rather than Winnipeg and then I could have chosen a longer film. The performances of the girls and Bridges drag this one up to 5/10.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Space Cowboys

It took four hours to watch this movie on US TV because of the ad breaks! A lesser film would have caused me to give up, but this one is endearing - even if the outcome is predictable. Clint Eastwood stars and Directs this film and as a consequence it is solid and moves with a good and even pace. Add to that a supporting cast of Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland and you know this has the potential to deliver something good - and it doesn't disappoint.

The plot is simple. These four were top military guys in their prime in the late 1950s as they were training to be the first US astronauts. They screwed up and their project was pulled in favour of sending a chimp into space. The one who did the pulling is now in need of their services to save his own ass and agrees for them to go on a final mission as a team to fix a rogue satellite whose orbit is failing.

The presenting issues are deceit and ageism. The deceit is down to the Programme Director and his self-serving scheming. The ageism is down to almost everyone. These guys did their stuff when computers were in their infancy and more was done by 'feel' and instinct. It is these qualities that shine through in how the team operate and it is how the team functions - old men coming to terms with 40 year-old hurts and disappointments that gives gravitas to the story. The dynamics of the relationships are handled with sensitivity and come across with believability which endears the foursome to viewers. There is love, forgiveness, pride, sacrifice and disappointment on show by the bucket load. For a potentially soppy and wet film, it holds up very well.

I know it's more than a decade old, but I for one was glad to catch up with this film. If it comes around on TV (with more sensible ad breaks) or on disc, it's well worth a punt. I'll give it 7.5/10.