THE AERONAUTS (2019)

December 6, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. ‘Up, up, and away, in my beautiful balloon.’ That song says nothing about a lack of oxygen (hypoxemia), a malfunctioning valve, or frost bite … all of which come into play in this story inspired by real life events of 1862 in London. Tom Harper directed the excellent WILD ROSE earlier this year, and for this one, he and his co-writer Jack Thorne (WONDER, 2017) base the story on both the real life record-breaking flight of scientist James Glaisher and balloon pilot Henry Coxwell, and Richard Holmes’ book “Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air.’

Reuniting from THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014) where they played Stephen Hawking and wife Jane, are Eddie Redmayne (as scientist-with-a-chip James Glaisher) and Felicity Jones (as fictional balloon pilot Amelia Wren/Rennes … yes, naming your female pilot Amelia is so very creative). Courageous real life balloon pilot Henry Coxwell gets nary a mention here, as new world cinema must require a female lead or co-lead for every filmmaker not named Martin Scorsese. So, to heck with history, Amelia Wren is now the hero of this adventure!

As it turns out, Ms. Jones’ character is the more interesting of the two. Amelia’s initial showmanship catches nerdy Glaisher off-guard, though in fact, both are over-compensating. He, for his inferiority complex and the ridicule he endures from his fellow brainiacs at the Royal Society of London, and she for the tragic loss of her beloved husband in a balloon mishap. The mismatched pair are on a mission to fly higher than any human has previously flown, and in the process, allow Glaisher to record all the atmospheric readings possible in order to prove to the skeptics that meteorology is legitimate, and the weather can be predicted (although almost 160 years later, most weather reporters still haven’t quite gotten the hang of it).

It’s a tricky thing filming two characters who spend most of the movie floating tens of thousands of feet above ground in a wicker basket. The banter between the two should be crisp and the connection or disconnect should add intrigue. Here, the two characters are dwarfed by the giant balloon and the challenges that brings. What begins as an adventure morphs into a tale of survival. Storms, frostbite and technical issues provide the conflict. We do have flashbacks to background on both Amelia and Glaisher. Himesh Patel (star of this year’s YESTERDAY) plays Glaisher’s best friend, while Tom Courtenay and Anne Reid are Glaisher’s parents. Vincent Perez appears as Amelia’s husband Pierre.

I was fortunate enough to see this in a theatre and the big screen allows for the balloon effects to have full impact. There is no doubt that streaming this on your TV will not be as impressive … although anyone suffering from acrophobia will likely still experience some discomfort. The scenes in the balloon are thrilling, and Amelia’s rescue mission up the ropes is stunning and beautifully filmed by cinematographer George Steel; however, the flashback scenes are quick to deflate the excitement. The upside here is that the English really did break the French record on the flight … even if the filmmaker had to bend history so Amelia could get credit.

watch the trailer:


QUARTET (2013)

January 27, 2013

quartet2 Greetings again from the darkness. The latest entry into the gray cinema genre is also the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman. Oddly, Mr. Hoffman chose a British play for his first film. Ronald Harwood adapted his own play for the big screen and it certainly benefits from some giants in the acting world.

Beechum House is a retirement home for retired musicians and performers. It’s a beautiful home with a stunning property ideal for long nature walks, croquet or simply taking tea on the patio. Many details of the movie probably worked better on stage, but Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith and Pauline Collins are wonderful as renowned singers famous for their rendition of Verdi’s “Rigoletto”.

quartet3 In a convoluted plot mechanism, Beechum House needs a cash infusion to keep its doors open, and the answer comes from a hoped for reunion of the above mentioned quartet in this year’s fundraising gala. Convoluted seems like the right word because, of course, the house gets “saved”, but there can’t be more than 50 people in the audience … some of which are the students Mr. Courtenay teaches in his music class.  It seems doubtful this crowd would have generated enough money to save the house from financial ruin.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be an in-depth character study. It’s just a simple, sentimental, and even sweet story of some aging, quartet5talented performers who are struggling with the pains and insecurities of old age. Michael Gambon wonderfully captures the pomposity of a once-great director who still thrives on what little power can be grasped at Beechum House.

This one is not near the level of last year’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, though it’s enjoyable enough for light-hearted and well-meaning entertainment. The gala also features a wonderful aria performed by famed opera singer Gwyneth Jones. Take this one for what it is … a pleasant movie experience.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: a pleasant, light-hearted movie with likable characters is what you are after

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are seeking something with a bit more insight into the aging process

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSEnh8Hi62E