Winter in Australia always seems to be a wilderness in terms of movie magic and I have to admit to missing my regular film fix at the local Palace Cinema in the last month or two.
Don’t Read Any More if You Don’t Want Spoilers!
This trio of films couldn’t be further apart, except for each and every one presenting with a certain sort of charm, continually featuring breathtaking picture postcard scenery, as well as showcasing the talent of some very special actors, most of whom are leaving 50 years of age behind. Movies speak to different people in diverse ways and I don’t know about you, but I like to be either seduced, amused, captivated, enchanted or else torn apart emotionally by a movie, which appeals.
Hampstead, features two of my favourite award winning actors Brendan Glesson and Diane Keaton in a movie full of soft English summer sweetness.
The supporting cast too is impressive and includes the indomitable Phil Davis, the ever affable Simon Colwell and popular star of TV series James Norton as Diane Keaton’s son.
The lady herself looks as if she just stepped out of Annie Hall five minutes ago to newly inhabit a world of seniors, albeit reluctantly. Some patronising advance advertising about it being enjoyed with tea and cake by seniors raised my ire, as if anyone over 50 doesn’t retain a brain. Can’t wait until they all catch up and ‘fit the bill’.
Diane is an American expat looking for a noble cause to kick start her new day, perhaps because the women she hangs out with regularly would bore most people to death.
Brendan Gleeson plays Donald, a well-read reclusive soul, whom we discover arrived in Hampstead Heath nearby to London some seventeen years before to set up a shack on land adjacent to an abandoned old hospital built during the Victorian age.
Basically he’s more or less remained hidden from sight until now. Surrounded by lush heathland, mature old trees and the vegetation he has planted to support his own lifestyle, he’s very happy in his home and his self-sufficiency. He’s a rare breed in any age.
Donald although slightly rumpled, wears his mismatched clothes stylishly. He has a twinkle in his eye, a winning way about him and a delicious brogue that totally beguiles, well at least for me and Diane Keaton.
Basically he looks like a big loveable Teddy Bear you want to hug. The plus is for him is he’s living in a ‘Beatrix Potter’ rustic style house in the woods, built with his own two hands. Could you imagine anything more wonderfully romantic? Diane is quite undone when she sees inside.
It’s hard to believe more of the locals haven’t noticed him during all that time, let alone Emily (Diane Keaton) who discovers him by spying via a pair of old but formerly very expensive binoculars, peering out of her attic room where she has been rummaging through her boxes.
Her curiosity leads her to cross the road deliberately to explore his world changing her own and his life forever.
A local property wheeler-dealer it seems wants to pull the historic old hospital down to build masses of glittering modern apartments totally out of place in an area filled with amazing historic old pile apartment conversions.
Worse still, he is the husband of Diane’s ‘best friend’ and has already discovered Donald and is seeking to shift him off ‘his land’. He sends in the big guns to threaten his complacency, not expecting the old boy to fight back supported by Emily, his new best friend.
Emily’s husband we learn died the year before, leading to perhaps one of the best and most honest reactions to visiting his headstone in the graveyard yet displayed on screen.
Hard not to sense her disappointment and frustration with finding out all about his philandering, after the event and his death and I silently urged her on as she threw her bunch of flowers at him.
In so doing she proves herself ripe for change.
The story is based on that of the Heath squatter Harry Hallowes, who in a landmark court case was granted the deed to his multi-million-pound plot in 2007. Emily is a fictional character and I wondered why her writer didn’t make her just a little more complex and interesting. She was not quite eccentric enough!
However what the film really lacked for me was any real spark between these two people we feel great affection for, meaning the whole exercise quietly descends into affability.
In a word while pretty to look at and in a world that was pleasant to inhabit for a little while, I really wanted just a little more substance.
Madame is advertised as a love romp set in Paris, where in a society meant to be ‘equal’ in every way. Reality is divided between those living an ‘upper class’ life and the underclass who serve them. They are mostly immigrants, many coming from nearby Spain although they are not shouting ole!
Maria (Rossy de Palma) is a very colourful slightly dotty maid serving her well-connected American expat employers Bob (Harvey Keitel) and Anne (Toni Collette) who move to Paris looking for greener pastures. The assorted kids who appear all adore her as their nanny.
Anne and Bob live in a world where lots of lovely stuff abounds with closets of clothes necessary to both dazzle and delight and to drive their acquaintances and friends wild with extremes of envy.
Planning a ‘dinner party’ for guests, Anne is appalled to discover with the arrival of their son (Tom Hughes) from London for a visit, they now have an unlucky number of 13 people at their table.
Being superstitious as well as overly pretentious, Anne demands Maria don one of her dresses, make up her face and fashion her hair to ensure she has even numbers, ordering her charge to not speak a word, just to nod and be pleasant. It’s a big ask.
Wonderfully, just a little bit too much delicious wine not only makes Maria a tiny bit tipsy, but also endears her to one of their guests David, played by Michael Smiley. He finds himself drawn to Maria and her zaniness, believing her to be a Spanish Princess.
He is the British art broker the hosts are wooing to sell their wondrous work by Italian painting magician Caravaggio (1571-1610) as they need to cover their own mounting debts. However now is the time for them to keep their end up.
In the aftermath of the party David and Maria whose chemistry is instant, begin a budding romance. This lie Maria finds herself living unwittingly makes her uncomfortable and will surely have consequences.
Anne is the key. Having created this small ‘deception suddenly she finds it growing out of control as the chemistry between Maria and David explodes into a full blown love affair and now she finds herself plotting to end this unexpected and joyous liaison with malice.
She vehemently resents Maria rising above her station in life to now invade her Salon, which is far from those frequented by men and women of renown in Paris during the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.
At that time they were championing democracy, collaborating and conversing across the world of their differences and borders, to assist in solving pressing global challenges.
Madame however is really not in their league.
While the film started well and seemed promising I found myself feeling more and more disenchanted as it progressed, not believing the characters Toni Collette and Harvey Keitel were portraying could possibly be married to each other or that the UK heartbreaker Tom Hughes, another popular TV star, was really their son.
Rossy de Palma is the real star here, although the script and action sort of peters out slowly, letting her defining performance down in the end, as she battles with her character’s scruples.
Not unpredictably David abandons Maria when Anne cruelly tells him the ‘truth’.
Hurt what seems like beyond measure, Maria packs up her bag and leaves and its only her wry smile in the last frame that hints at her ability to embrace what lies ahead.
The Trip to Spain is the third story in ‘The Trip’ franchise featuring British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. They have now left their first sidesplitting road comedy, which won over audiences at the Toronto and Tribeca Film Festivals and had critics rolling in the aisles way behind.
Now they need to met morph their act and expand it.
Another picture poostcard perfect presentation, if you just forget about their characters and concentrate on the breathtaking scenery and the places they find themselves, you will find you want to immediately grab your passport and head off to invade Spain.
If that’s not possible, you could add it to your bucket list.
The spectacular countryside is full or historic architectural gems and sparkling views of the beautiful Mediterranean. I certainly wouldn’t mind eating in all six of the stunning restaurants they visit, the food certainly looked amazing and the atmosphere, absolutely awesome.
The boys spend a week meandering through Cantabria, the Basque region, Aragon, Rioja, Castile-La Mancha and Andalusia while eating, sleeping, dreaming and conversing cleverly in the deliciously deadpan way we have come to expect, although the magic is just beginning to fade.
Both in the ‘prime of life’ in their 50’s, they live in a time when it seems you can leave your loving spouse and small children and your current girlfriend happily behind, with a smile on their face and go off and have an adventure of your own without a backward glance.
Life and work has certainly never seemed so appealing, especially for these two blokes who lap it up until their week finally ends. Steve who is the footloose and fancy free of the two is dismayed to think there maybe consequences.
Along the way they’re off the cuff banter is more or less a delight and celebrity impressions they have become known for, such as that of British actor Michael Caine nearly always spot on.
The scenario while tried and tested did seem just a wee bit tired, or perhaps it was because I had been burning the candle at both ends myself!
Coogan re-visiting youthful adventures with a cougar was just a little off, especially in light of recent revelations in nearby France. And, I am not sure whom their visit to a ‘dinosaur’ park was meant to attract.
They are after all the most popular destination for children. Perhaps that was the connotation we were meant to embrace; these two adult males in the middle of life retain their youthful exuberance and sense of fun. Who wants to grow old?
A visit to the Basque country where they pass through La Mancha sees Coogan dressing up as Don Quixote seated on a horse in his tin pants, tin helmet and a spear and Brydon is his servant Sancho Panza mounted on a donkey didn’t quite gel for me either. A tad self indulgent.
A little more explanation about who these characters were may have been helpful. While Don Quixote is a comedic romantic character in a widely read classic of western literature and the subject of a very famous ballet, I really wondered how many people under 40 would know about this chivalrous hero of a Spanish novel published in 1605 (Part 1) and 1615 (Part Two) by Miguel de Cervantes.
They are surely the crowd director Michael Winterbottom needs to attract if he wishes to keep his boys gathering too much moss as they gregariously roll along highways and byways in the years to come. After all, the world is quite a big place and their ‘trips’ could continue for a very long time.
All in all, while all of three films can be likened to a fabulous visual feast to enjoy, I have to admit being a tad disappointed. There was so much promise at the essence of each work. However, somewhere along the way for me their Directors didn’t quite hit their mark.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017