When Hans Zimmer worried about a gladiator’s kiss

Universal Blu-ray Gladiator x650

By Ray Bennett

Hans Zimmer will relax tonight at the Krakow Film Music Festival where a live orchestra will play his and Lisa Gerrard’s score at a screening of “Gladiator” but I recall a winter’s day in London almost 15 years ago when the celebrated film composer was not so relaxed.

He was worried about a kiss. Continue reading

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James Bond music at the Krakow Film Music Festival

007 Concert Krakow 2014

By Ray Bennett

Spanish conductor Diego Navarro brought his “The Best of James Bond” concert programme to the Krakow Film Music Festival Friday night as he led the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra and a roster of mostly Polish singers through songs and cues from the 007 movies. Continue reading

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David Arnold on why James Bond music makes a difference

'The World is Not Enough' x650

By Ray Bennett

Music and songs from all 23 official James Bond films will be performed at a concert in the Krakow Arena tonight as part of the Krakow Film Music Festival to mark its 007th annual edition. Continue reading

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‘Kon-Tiki’ with live orchestra at Krakow festival

'Kon-Tiki' at Krakov screening

By Ray Bennett

Screenwriter Petter Skavlan, who wrote the script of Norwegian adventure film “Kon-Tiki”, screened Thursday as part of the Krakow Film Music Festival, says the filmmakers drew on many films for their inspiration. Continue reading

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Krakow Film Music Festival gets under way

Krakow fest opening presser

By Ray Bennett

The 7th edition of the Krakow Film Music Festival, which began in the Polish city on Thursday, has tripled the number of tickets sold to 30,000 this year, organisers said. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Bill Murray in ‘St. Vincent’


By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Bill Murray is just the way you want him in Theodore Melfi’s engaging comedy “St. Vincent” as an ageing ragamuffin and dedicated grouch whose gruff exterior is breached by a determined kid who won’t take any of his shit.

Murray employs his expert line readings and splendid timing as a wastrel who is genuinely unpleasant on the surface while young Jaden Lieberher is a marvel as the intelligent and articulate boy named Oliver so that while the film is sentimental it does not get bogged down.

They meet when Oliver and his mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) move in next door to Vincent and the moving guys accidentally break off a tree branch that lands on the old coot’s ramshackle convertible. Vincent has just drunkenly destroyed his own garden fence as he reversed his car into his drive but he immediately demands restitution for all the damage.

When Maggie is forced to leave Oliver alone in order to report to work, Vincent agrees to watch the boy … for a fee … and he becomes his regular babysitter. Writer-director Melfi contrives some entertaining scenes as the two clash and we learn that Maggie is in the middle of a custody battle and must work long hours at a local hospital to pay for Oliver’s school fees.

The lad attends a Catholic school where the class has a wide ethnic and religious mix with a teacher who is a warm and supportive priest played by Chris O’Dowd. The school is not without its bullies, however, and when Oliver takes a beating, Vincent’s temperament comes in handy.

Naomi Watts and Bill Murray at the set of 'St Vincent de Van Nuy' **USA, Canada, Australia ONLY**

Meanwhile, a Russian striptease dancer and part-time “lady of the night”  of Vincent’s acquaintance named Daka (Naomi Watts) has become pregnant and Vincent is bothered by the enforcer (Terrence Howard) for a local bookie who needs his money.

Oliver is around for these encounters and he also senses cracks in Vincent’s crusty exterior when he accompanies him to a local clinic where Vincent dons a doctor’s white coat and visits a lovely but frail woman named Sandy (Donna Mitchell), whose identity becomes significant.

When the priest teaches about saints and suggests that many people may be saints even if they are unheralded, he asks each member of the class to research and nominate an individual for sainthood. Oliver decides upon Vincent and the story follows as he  speaks to people who really know him and learns his secrets.

It could become unspeakably cloying but not in Melfi’s hands and with Murray in top form as an almost irredeemable malcontent and the remarkably self-contained Lieberher impressive as the boy. McCarthy, for once, plays a normal and sensible human being while Watts brings grit, sly wit and a convincing accent to her Russian hooker.

Composer Theodore Shapiro, whose credits include “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Tropic Thunder”, has a polished way with scores for comedies and he makes sure the ending does not become syrupy.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival; Opens: US Oct. 24, The Weinstein Company / UK: Dec. 5, Entertainment. Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, Terrence Howard, Jaeden Lieberher, Dario Barosso, Donna Mitchell; Director: Theodore Melfi; Writer: Theodore Melfi; Director of photography: John Lindley; Production designer: Inbal Weinberg; Music: Theodore Shapiro; Costume designer: Kasia Walicka Maimone; Editors: Peter Teschner, Sarah Flack; Producers: Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Theodore Melfi, Fred Roos; Production: Chernin Entertainment; Not rated, running time 102 minutes.

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Alan Rickman’s ‘A Little Chaos’


By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Handsome and creditable, Alan Rickman’s period drama “A Little Chaos”, about the only woman to design an attraction at Louis XIV’s Versailles gardens, is more dogged than inspired.

Kate Winslett plays Madame Sabine De Barra, a widow whose flair for adventurous floral designs catches the the eye of the king’s master landscaper Andre Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) despite his penchant for strict order.

The Sun King (Rickman) shares Le Notre’s preference for manicured landscapes and ahead of his court’s move to Versailles in 1682 he demands “gardens of exquisite and matchless beauty”.

De Barra wins the chance to create an outdoor ballroom surrounded by fountains to be called the Rockwork Garden and the film charts the challenges, obstacles and victories of her endeavour. The title refers to her taste for untamed nature and her disruption of the all-male clique of designers.

James Merifield’s production design and Ellen Kuras’s cinematography make clear the extent of De Barra’s creative ambition as she deals with sneering male rivals, poor workmanship and outright sabotage, and fights to overcome budget constraints and severe flooding in order to fulfil her vision.

Romantic inclinations between the female designer and her boss lead to recriminations from Le Notre’s unfaithful but demanding wife (played by Helen McCrory), who is a leading figure at court.

The king (Rickman) shares concerns that a woman could manage such an impressive creation although an encounter with her when she at first does not know his identity serves to increase his sympathy.

Rickman, who wrote the screenplay with Allison Deegan and Jeremy Brock, directs with assurance and gives the King requisite measures of arch disdain and displeasure with a little vulnerability due to the recent death of the Queen.

Winslet plays De Barra as a woman of considerable force while Schoenaerts (“Rust and Bone”) renders the master landscaper as a man of sympathy but no little gloom. The chords between the two do not really chime but neither do they between De Barra and his wife, played both haughty and flighty by McCrory.

Little is made of the sense of dread that underscores life at Court after a fleeting early reference that suggests failure on Le Notre’s part to please the king could result in his execution. When De Barra meets the monarch dressed down for the garden and speaks to him casually, she is not really horrified to discover who he is. Later, when she is presented in Court, her bold address to the king appears contrived rather than credible.

There is a marvellous scene in which the designer meets the cloistered ladies of Court who share their tales of husbands departed and children deceased. Jennifer Ehle, as the king’s current mistress, and Phyllida Law (who starred with her daughter Emma Thompson in Rickman’s only previous feature, “The Winter Guest”, in 1997) both shine in the scene.

“A Little Chaos” plays out satisfactorily, helped by composer Peter Gregson’s evocative score, but the low-keyed love affair and absence of genuine menace mean the drama never really catches fire.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival. Screens at London Film Festival Oct. 17. Opens: UK: Feb. 6, Lionsgate. Cast: Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Helen McCrory, Steven Waddington, Jennifer Ehle, Rupert Penry-Jones, Paula Paul, Danny Webb, Phyillida Law; Director: Alan Rickman; Writers: Allison Deegan, Alan Rickman, Jeremy Brock; Director of photography: Ellen Kuras; Production designer: James Merifield; Music: Peter Gregson; Costume designer: Joan Bergin; Editor: Nicolas Gaster; Producers: Gail Egan, Andrea Calderwood, Bertrand Faivre; Production companies: Potboiler Productions, The Bureau, Lionsgate U.K., BBC Films, in association with Lipsync Productions. Not rated, running time 116 minutes.

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Morten Tyldum’s ‘The Imitation Game’

TIFF 2014 'The Imitation Game' Cliff

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Morten Tyldum’s engrossing drama “The Imitation Game”, about World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, gives Benedict Cumberbatch another complex character to explore and the result is a film that will please audiences and collect major awards.

The picture will screen at the London Film Festival on Oct. 8 and it will be released in the UK on Nov. 14 by StudioCanal. The Weinstein Co. will release it in the US on Nov. 21.

Screenwriter Graham Moore’s adaptation of the 2012 book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges tells how the mathematics wizard ended up as the leader of the Ultra team at Bletchley that aimed to break the secret Nazi code called Enigma, why their race against the clock mattered to the war, and what happened to the man after the conflict ended.

It is an enthralling story about an arrogantly confident individual who emerged from a bullied childhood to achieve a mastery of mathematical computation with a ferocious drive that made no friends and angered authority.

Cumberbatch captures the man’s complexities with the skill and depth now expected from an actor who specialises in such roles. Turing’s encounters with rigid Commander Denniston, played by Charles Dance, and the others on the Ultra team including suave chess champion Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), are abrasive and not promising. The stress is doubled with the revelation that there is a Soviet spy in their midst. Only when he adds to the group a brilliant young woman named Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) does he find someone who can match his intellect and mesh with his prickly personality.

The film goes back and forth between the extraordinarily difficult struggle at Bletchley and the time in the 1950s when a break-in at his home causes the police to take interest in the fact that all reference to the top secret Ultra endeavour has been stricken from the records and so Turing’s past is a mystery.

The police do, however, have evidence of his homosexuality, which at the time was a crime punishable by imprisonment. Rory Kinnear does well as a bluff detective obliged to follow the letter of the law despite his increased sympathy for the now tortured codebreaker.

Norwegian filmmaker Tyldum, whose “Headhunters” (2011) was nominated as best foreign language film at the Bafta Film Awards, gets the pace just right as the tension mounts at Bletchley with scenes at home, at sea and on the battlefield that show how vital it is to break the code.

Maria Djurkovic’s production design appears authentic and Oscar Faura’s cinematography is both artful and accessible while composer Alexandra Desplat invokes echoes of music from the period with the required urgency at times and pleasing subtlety at others.

Along with the film itself, Cumberbatch is bound for awards contention and possibly Knightley too as she shows an increased warmth and maturity in what could have been a decorative role. Mark Strong is suitably sinister as an all-knowing MI6 man and the rest of the cast is solid.

The film casts Turing as the father of the modern computer and it makes a clear case for him as a hero of the war. It also underscores how wretchedly he was treated by authorities along with many other unfortunate men at the time.

It touches movingly on the dilemma that became clear the minute the Enigma code was broken … that to use it too often to save lives would alert the enemy and make things worse. That horrifying fact adds depth to a drama that is already bittersweet as it portrays both Turing’s enormous success and his miserable treatment.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival. Screens at the London Film Festival Oct. 8; Opens: UK: Nov. 14 (StudioCanal) / US: Nov. 28  (The Weinstein Company)  / Canada: Dec. 19 (Elevation Pictures); Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Alex Lawther; Director: Morten Tyldum; Screenwriter: Graham Moore, based on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges; Director of photography: Oscar Faura; Production designer: Maria Djurkovic; Music: Alexandre Desplat; Costume designer: Sammy Sheldon Differ; Editor: William Goldenberg; Producers: Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwartzman; Production: Black Bear Pictures, Bristol Automotive Productions; Not rated, running time 114 minutes.

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: ‘This Is Where I Leave You’

TIFF 2014 'This Is Where I Leave You' Cliff

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Shawn Levy’s empty comedy “This Is Where I Leave You” has the same premise as last year’s “August: Osage County” as a family gathers reluctantly upon the death of a father but it replaces hateful characters with dull and uninteresting ones. Sort of, “June: Osage County”.

A fine cast is wasted on the usual contrivances in which four siblings have secrets in regard to their marriages, relationships or jobs but they cannot compare with the secrets of their parents.

The interplay between the four, played by Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver, is contrived with clichéd back-stories. The clunky device used to keep them together in their suburban family home is that their atheist Jewish father’s dying wish is that they sit shiva for seven days.

Jane Fonda appears strangely over-eager as their WASP mother and her secret when it is revealed is a surprise only because it is completely implausible.

Rose Byrne makes an attractive appearance as the inevitable beauty who never left town and Connie Britton impresses as the only real grownup in the picture.

The dearth of anything amusing, however, means the film relies for feeble laughs on a young rabbi who grew up with the males of the family, who call him Boner, and an infant boy who lugs around his potty and empties its contents every so often. It pretty much sums up the movie but it’s not enough.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival. Opens: US: Sept. 19; UK: Oct. 24, Warner Bros.; Cast: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, Debra Monk, Abigail Spencer, Ben Schwartz; Director: Shawn Levy; Writer: Jonathan Tropper, based on his novel; Director of photography: Terry Stacey; Production designer: Ford Wheeler; Music: Michael Giacchino; Costume designer: Susan Lyall; Editor: Dean Zimmerman; Producers: Paula Weinstein, Shawn Levy, Jeffrey Levine; Production: Spring Creek, 21 Laps. Rated: US-R, UK-15, running time 104 minutes.

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POSH Directed by Lone Sherfig

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Lone Scherfig’s pedestrian film “The Riot Club” follows 10 rich hooligans as they act out the delusion that they have class, style and taste as they gorge on excessive food and drink at a gastropub, deride the staff and trash the place.

Adapted by Laura Wade from her West End play “Posh”, but lacking that production’s reported comic insights, the film takes its inspiration from a club at Oxford called Bullingdon from which privileged posh boys graduate on their way to positions of power in UK government and business.

Scherfig, the Danish filmmaker who directed the equally lame “An Education” (2009), simply observes the young men as they preen and posture and proceed to do exactly what you expect, which is to utter nonsense, treat people badly, over-eat, get drunk, vomit, break things, commit craven violence and expect to be able to buy their way out of everything.

Like buttocks from the same bum, the boys are indistinguishable while Holliday Grainger, as a northern girl who mistakes one of them for a decent sort; Natalie Dormer, as a hooker too wise to be intimated by a group of callow toffs; and Jessica Brown Findlay, as the publican’s savvy daughter, all appear brighter than the boys by a mile.

The film notes that these ineffectual and repellant louts know they are bound for well-rewarded sinecures as adults but it does not attempt to account for why that should be or what might be done about it.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival. Released in the UK on Sept. 19, Universal Pictures. Cast: Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Ben Schnetzer, Jack Farthing, Matthew Beard, Freddie Fox, Josh O’Connor, Olly Alexander, Jessica Brown Findlay, Holliday Grainger, Natalie Dormer, Gordon Brown, Tom Hollander; Director: Lone Scherfig; Writer: Laura Wade, based on her play, “Posh”; Director of photography: Sebastian Blenkov; Production designer: Alice Normingtom; Music: Kasper Winding; Costume designer: Steven Noble; Editor: Jake Roberts; Producers: Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin; Production: Blueprint Pictures, Film4; Sales: HanWay Films;

UK rating: 15, running time 106 minutes

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