Well yet again I seem to have lapsed when meaning to show my face on here more often, so to speak, so here are some films I've seen recently and what I made of them:
#1 The Martian
A while ago my friend and lapsed blogger Argent, lent me the book of The Martian - I found it an interesting book which was clearly well researched but, if I'm honest, I found the level of actual science in the book a bit hard going sometimes. When I first heard it was going to be a film I really wasn't sure it would translate well for precisely that reason - how much of the book would be sacrificed in the name of cinematic action.
It's often been said that Ridley Scott is more interested in the look and feel of a film than the script and that, as a result, some of his films have struggled -but when, by some chance, he is given a good script he really delivers the goods. In this case the story finds our hero marooned on Mars after his crew flee in a storm, leaving him for dead. From thereon in he is left to try and problem-solve long enough to be rescued.
The key element in a film like this has to be the watch-ability of the main actor and Matt Damon was an excellent choice here as he walks around the habitat growing potatoes, creating water and suffering endless disco music whilst chatting to himself the entire time and trying to communicate with Earth.
The film is visually stunning, but I have to admit that it took a second viewing for me to really engage with the story - possibly because having read the book I already knew the outcome or perhaps because I never really felt he was in much danger. Still, all things considered, this is definately worth a watch - but I don't know if it would stand up to repeated watching on home video.
#2 Mr Holmes
There have been many attempts to bring the character of Sherlock Holmes to the screen, from Basil Rathbone driving around New York in a taxi inbetween fighting Nazi's to Robert Downey Jnr and Bennedict Cumberbatch with their post-modern takes on the story (for my money the only actor who ever truly encapsulated Holmes as written by Conan-Doyle was Jeremy Brett in the ITV dramatizations of the 1980s who drove himself to a nervous breakdown as a result of his commitment to the role)
In this take we find Holmes, portrayed by Ian "Gandalf" McKellan, fully retired and keeping bees, fighting against the onset of alzheimer's and desperately trying to remember his final case which took place some years early.
This isn't a detective case as such but more a character study of Holmes the man as he comes to terms with his mortality and steadily makes friends with his housekeeper and her young son - for once allowing his long-controlled emotions to come to the surface.
It's a gentle story with a wonderfully judged performance by McKellan and Milo Park shines as the young boy, and if perhaps the central mystery is a bit too thin then this hardly seems to matter by the film's conclusion. Again, I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to watch it again, but it did impress me whilst it was on the screen and left me thinking afterwards
#3 The Lady In The Van
I doubt that the name Alan Bennett will mean much in the USA but for many here in the UK his style of writing encapsulates our understanding of the "talking head" style of drama - having made a name for himself both on stage and screen for writing wry and thoughtful monologues on elements of life (including one I think was called The Biscuit Under The Sofa in which an Beryl Reed played an old woman who had had a fall and was unable to get up)
Moving on from having actors play the parts Bennett later placed himself in the centre of the stories, something he had perhaps always been on the periphery of, with his tales of Northern life and this story is no different, with Bennett recounting the mostly true story of the old lady who parked her van on his drive and lived there for 15 years.
Maggie Smith (perhaps best known as the Dowager Lady of Downtown Abbey to Americans) manages to make the central "lady" both likeable and a figure of some pity despite her rudeness and lack of gratitude) and Alex Jennings is good fun to watch as he plays Alan Bennett the writer talking to Alan Bennett the person (a device of splitting the character that works very well on the screen)
It's fair to say, as some critics have indeed done, that the story never really moves anywhere much or make any major points - but I rather think that misses the point of Bennett's work and his conclusion that sometimes things in life just happen
We took my parents with us to see this one and they both said that it was more serious than they thought it would be; but i would probably clarify that I felt the level of melancholy humour was just about right
Next film I see will be Star Wars: Episode 7 - which i'm hoping will be better than the prequels