Kate Winslet

The Mountain Between Us

08/10/17

This handsomely mounted movie, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, is a story of survival against all the odds in remote mountain locations. Nicely acted and decently filmed, it’s hampered somewhat by an all-pervading sense of predictability and by the conviction that it could have been a whole lot better if it had been willing to take a few more risks, particularly in the gender-stereotyping department. 

Photojournalist Alex (Kate Winslet) is desperate to get to Denver, where she’s scheduled to marry her partner, Mark (Dermot Mulroney). But impending bad weather leads to the cancellation of her flight. At the airport, she overhears surgeon Ben Bass (Idris Elba) telling a flight attendant that he too is desperate to get to Denver in order to carry out an urgent operation on a young patient. Alex talks him into sharing the cost of chartering a small private plane, flown by aging pilot, Walter (Beau Bridges), a man who clearly hasn’t spent an awful lot of time reading up on his health and safety procedures. Almost before you can say ‘bad idea,’ Walter has suffered a fatal stroke and the couple find themselves involved in a messy crash-landing on a snow-covered mountain peak. Worse still, Walter hasn’t bothered to inform anybody about the flight so nobody knows where they are – oh, and one more thing: Alex has only gone and fractured her leg…

All the usual tropes of a survival movie are present and correct – the couple overcome the problems of staying warm (mostly it would seem, by burning credit card bills) of finding food (a couple of packets of almonds) and of healing their wounds. Ben somehow finds the necessary tools to fix Alex’s broken leg and generally patch her up. If there’s a real criticism here, it’s that Ben is pretty much the ingenious hero throughout this scenario, solving nearly all of the couple’s problems single-handedly – even, at one stage, dragging Alex along behind him like an encumbrance. A hungry cougar adds a bit of much-needed menace (and eventually ends up supplementing the food supply) but eventually, the hapless couple realise that, if they are going to make it out alive, they will have to descend the mountain on foot – and, as they travel, it becomes increasingly apparent that the two of them are falling for each other, big time. Which is awkward, to say the very least.

This would be all well and good, but the film then overstays its welcome by looking at what happens after the events on the mountain, dragging out proceedings and holding off on an ending that we all know is waiting in the wings. Winslet and Elba make an agreeable couple and manage to strike plenty of sparks off each other, but she should have been given a bit more to do on that mountain.

All in all, this is watchable stuff – but not exactly ground-breaking.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney

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A Little Chaos

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17/01/15

We missed its theatrical release but here it is, courtesy of Netflix, made all the more prescient by the recent death of its much-admired director and star, Alan Rickman. This isn’t quite Rickman’s swan song (there are a couple of films still awaiting release) but given the sadness of the situation, I only wish I could say that I liked A Little Chaos more than I actually did. It’s a polite film, handsomely mounted but lacking power and conflict and moreover, it’s a story that plays fast and loose with history.

King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) is in the process of creating the famous gardens of Versailles and the man appointed to oversee the task is master gardener, Andre Le Not (Matthias Schoenaerts). Realising that it’s too big a job for one person, he decides to apportion certain areas to other contractors and holds interviews for the posts. One applicant is the (completely fictional) Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet), trying to make headway in a world dominated by men – the fact that she manages to do so, probably emphasises more than anything else that this really is fiction. Something about her captivates Le Not (it’s definitely not her skills with herbaceous borders) and he assigns her the job of creating a water garden for the King. But as she struggles to carry out the work, she meets with considerable opposition, not least from Le Not’s bitchy wife, Madame Le Not (Helen McRory) who does everything she can to scupper Sabine’s plans. All the while, Sabine is harbouring a secret – a sadness from her past that keeps returning to haunt her.

There’s not much else to report. The inherent bitchiness of Louis’s court is nicely sketched  and there’s a fabulous scene where Sabine encounters the king and mistakes him for a gardener, something that Louis enjoys and encourages. It’s here where you really appreciate Rickman’s qualities as an actor, offering a sleepy, lizard like sensuality that makes the sequence a bit of a standout – but sadly there aren’t enough delights of this quality to carry the film. Winslet is terrific, but then she generally is and Schoenaerts, a Belgian playing a Frenchman, makes a decent fist of an English accent, something he’s obliged to do in order to tie in with everyone else.

And a major problem is, that when we finally see Sabine’s water garden, something she’s laboured on throughout the film, its… well, a little underwhelming.

It’s not a trial to watch – it will provide a diverting hour or so of entertainment – but one can’t help feeling that it might have been more than that. Which given recent circumstances makes the whole thing seem a trifle sad.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

The Dressmaker

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21/11/15

Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage is back in Dungatar, Australia. It’s a dreary, small-minded nothing of a place,  but there are demons to confront and scores to settle, and Tilly won’t rest until she’s righted those old wrongs. There’s magic (and marijuana) in her fancy-fabric bag, and – armed with her trusty Singer – she stitches up the spiteful mob.

The Dressmaker starts off wonderfully, with languid, hazy landscapes stretching out across the screen. Tilly (the ever-fabulous Kate Winslet), is as incongruous as they come, bringing glamour and a swagger to a tired, washed-out town. It’s a cartoonish, fairy-tale-ish film, with the characters writ large – and, at least to begin with – this is part of its charm. There are echoes of Edward Scissorhands here, both in the storytelling style, and in the bold, broad-strokes design. Tilly ‘rescues’ the town’s women with preposterous costumes; before long, they’re all tiptoeing along the dusty streets in high heels and cocktail frocks, corseted and primped for the daily drudge. They feel sexy and powerful, but they’re just pawns in Tilly’s game; it’s no coincidence that her own wardrobe becomes more muted as she reels them in.

The cinematography is beautiful; the acting sublime (with excellent support from Judy Davis, Kerry Fox and Hugo Weaving, all on finest form). The first two-thirds of this film are a delight. How disappointing then, to find the story arc fatally disrupted, and a final third that feels ridiculous, hysterical and hideously prolonged. There is a clear ending to this tale, and it occurs at about the eighty-minute mark; thereafter it’s an incoherent mess – and it can’t recover from this flaw.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Steve Jobs

16/11/15

Steve Jobs is a strange sort of movie. Danny Boyle’s valiant attempt to capture the wayward genius of Apple’s head honcho is a film that really could only have been made after the man’s death. If he’d still been alive he’d have sued the makers for every penny they had. Not because it’s inaccurate, you understand, simply because that’s the kind of man he was.

Set mostly at the launch of three Apple products – the original Macintosh, the ill-fated Next cube and finally, the iMac, the set up is more like that of a theatrical production – and for all Boyle’s claims that this is a ‘standing-up’ movie rather than a ‘sitting-down’ one, it still comes across as predominantly talky. The script, by Aaron Sorkin, is a cut above most movie dialogue you’ll encounter, which certainly helps, but this frankly isn’t in the same league as The Social Network, with which the film will inevitably be compared.

Jobs (Michael Fassbender), quickly demonstrates the kind of behaviour that had him classed as a major pain in the backside by pretty much everyone who had the misfortune to work with him. He’s obsessed with tiny details, unwilling to take anyone else’s views into consideration and equally unwilling to take responsibility for his daughter, Lisa, who he claims might not actually be his child. His long-suffering assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is lumbered with the unenviable task of keeping him on track and we see clashes with bearded workhorse Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan) and conversations with the closest thing that Jobs had to a father-figure, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) – unless of course you include his actual biological father, a restaurant owner who used to boast that Jobs ate in his establishment, without ever finding out he was actually waiting on his own son.

Boyle’s films are usually adrenalin-fuelled, razzle-dazzle affairs, so this slow burning, stage bound production will inevitably prove a disappointment to many. Certainly, early indications are that the movie is not exactly putting bums on seats – but it wins through in the end by virtue of Sorkin’s edgy script and a soaring conclusion, where everything finally falls into place.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Labour Day

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11/09/14

Watching this slice of sweaty, deep-fried Americana, one thought kept recurring. What was Jason Reitman thinking? The director of Juno and Up In The Air is clearly capable of good things, but here he’s given us a slice of overheated hokum that seems largely designed to enforce every outmoded sexual stereotype in existence.

Adele (Kate Winslett) is a depressed mother, separated from her husband and trying to raise her teenage son, Henry (Gatlin Griffiths) to the best of her ability. On a shopping expedition, the two of them are confronted by Frank (Josh Brolin) a wounded criminal on the run and forced to take him back to their house, where he informs them he’s going to be staying for the long weekend of Labour Day. Just so there’s no misunderstanding, he starts by tying Adele to a chair, before cooking her a nice bowl of chilli and spoon-feeding it to her. Frank, it turns out, was in prison for the murder of his girlfriend (a sequence of events explained in clunky and at first, rather baffling flashbacks) but unlike most killers, he’s the extremely helpful sort and it isn’t long before he’s mending leaky taps, waxing the floors and instructing Adele in the fine art of making a peach cobbler. In fact, Frank is so patronising, it’s a wonder Adele doesn’t tell him to sling his hook, but since she seems to have the disposition of the average doormat, she’s soon falling in love with him and making plans to elope across the border to Canada. Meanwhile, she comes in handy for the occasional bit of sock darning and wound tending…trust me, I’m not making this up, it really is what happens.

The events are seen through the eyes of young Henry, who already seems to have a distinctly creepy attitude towards his Mom and there’s the definite feeling that he thinks he’s being in some way usurped by Frank. An early sequence where he gives Adele a card offering to be her ‘husband for a day’ was doubtless intended to be cute, but it’s actually rather worrying and scenes of him shopping for masturbatory material don’t help matters one bit.

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, the film offers a conclusion of such saccharine sweetness, you imagine you can actually feel your teeth rotting. It’s always tricky when an admired director offers a less than satisfying film, but for Reitman, this is a disaster he’ll have to work very hard to expunge from my memory. Winslet and Brolin must be wishing they’d never signed their contracts.

1 star

Philip Caveney