Thursday, 21 August 2014

Film: '(MR MORGAN'S) LAST LOVE'.

This had an American release towards the end of last year under the title 'Last Love', so we Europeans get a delayed release - not a good sign for a German film in English with some subtitled French dialogue.

Michael Caine, appearing in nearly every scene, gives a sturdy performance (some reviewers disagree) as a retired, recently widowed, American professor resident in Paris. He's slowed down by advancing years, and dotes continually on the memory of his deceased wife, who makes occasional appearances in his imagination.
His mundane, spiritless life is enlivened by a chance encounter and subsequent acquaintance with a 20s-something dance instructor (Clemence Poesy) who, recognising his solitude, invites him to come along to her classes (cha-cha and line-dancing). This development could have been cheesy but it doesn't really come over like that.
An event brings Caine's son and daughter over from America (Justin Kirk and, in a small role, the impressively versatile Gillian Anderson), the former in marriage difficulties, who witnesses the, by now, deep platonic friendship between his father and a girl possibly a third of his age, and has serious misgivings about the latter's motives in getting so close.

One cannot avoid mentioning Michael Caine's attempt at an American accent, so self-consciously forced and so far off the mark as to be distracting. Accents were never his strong suit - even English ones from outside London. It makes me wonder why director and writer Sandra Nettelbeck didn't make the character an Englishman, or got an American actor to play the part. However, it's always a pleasure to see Caine on screen in what has got to be the sunset of a deservedly illustrious career.

It would have been easy to have turned this film into a sentimental mush. There is sentiment, certainly - the story demands it. But for the most part it manages to avoid being totally overwhelmed by mawkishness.
It's a needlessly over-long film - and approaching the final sections something happens which made me sit up, saying - "Oh no! Really?" This not only weakened the drama but seemed to provide an excuse for adding a further 10 minutes or so onto a film which now ends up being close on two hours long. A stronger finished product would have emerged by having had the courage of applying scissors.

There are a a few unnecessary postcard-y views of what everyone already knows is one of the most photogenic cities in the entire world. (He can even see you-know-what from his flat!)

Not a bad film, then, but one feels it ought to have been better - and, despite my reservation re his accent, I did like Michael Caine's performance a lot...........................5.5

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Film: 'THE ROVER'

So, after the recent unfortunate picture-going hiatus, and still narked about having missed a particular couple of films I was keen to see, business is resumed.

This atmospheric thriller, set in the Australian outback, has long, broody sequences punctuated by high-level violence, mostly with guns.
Set in some not-too-distant future ("ten years after the collapse" - we're not told what this 'collapse' was) it's a lawless world, only the rarely seen army trying to impose some sort of civility. The land we see is very sparsely populated, and quite different from a 'Mad Max' scenario.

Guy Pearce, whom I would not have recognised behind his grizzled, unkempt beard had I not known, plays some kind of gruff drifter who, when he stops for liquid top-up at some remote ramshackle hospitality, has his old car stolen from under his nose by a trio of no-gooders. There then ensues a chase to recover it, he picking up on his way the wounded brother (James Pattinson) of one of the thieves in order to help trace the threesome.
The Pearce character is not a 'victim' with whom one can readily sympathise. He does his own killings with no remorse - some needlessly out of convenience rather than 'necessity' such as self-defence. He's also one hell of a crack shot to boot.

The long sections in which little seems to happen I did find very effective. We know that when the inevitable violence breaks out it will be brutal. The bleak, silent landscape is most impressively captured.
I can well imagine some viewers finding the film on the slow side, willing the action to arrive, but I found that when the latter did happen, the contrast between it and the quieter scenes surrounding it heightened the drama.

However, I do have one major reservation, and it's a regular one from me - viz the indecipherability of much of the dialogue. A great deal of the conversation, though sparse, is slurred and under the breath. (Broad Aussie accents didn't help in this connection either, though I wouldn't stress it as a difficulty). It's okay for the actors, the director (David Michod) and the film crew - they know what the characters are saying. But we don't. What comes out of their mouths is the first time we are hearing it, and it's important to us in imparting information to enable us to follow what's going on. A lot of the time I had to guess, only to be proved wrong later. (I was particularly thrown by the relationship between  the Pearce character and the thief's brother). I'm sure it's not my own hearing that's at fault. I don't know how the cast can hear what each other is saying, especially when they're standing 20 feet apart yet talking in what seems like whispers or sleep-mumbling. In real life one of them would be exclaiming "Eh? What did you say?"

So that's my only serious complaint. I think I'd have enjoyed the film a lot more had I been able to follow the plot which, otherwise, ought to have been simple enough, but it became confusing for me. It's a a shame because in other respects 'The Rover' has a great deal going for it............................6.5

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Re-reading the 'classics' (for the last time?) - James Joyce's 'Ulysses'.

My cinema-going being suspended due (with enormous regret) to 'circumstances' it has enabled me to finish this 700+ pager in shorter time than I'd have otherwise managed.

This was my fourth reading, first time being in 1972, most recent being 1997, and it's number three in my venture to re-read as many of the established 'classics' as I can before my lights are switched off - which I want to think won't be by myself, unless it's my own decision.

The first book in my enjoyable task was Orwell's '1984', which I did a blog about in June. Then I read Hardy's 'Jude the Obscure', which I liked more than my previous two readings, and which I didn't post a blog about.
Now comes the third, and as with the other two, it's another one I've been savouring through a leisurely read and, consequently, getting more out of it than previous encounters.

This hefty novel, first published in 1922, has retained right up to the present day, at least part of its notoriety. The initial outrage was largely based on some 'earthy' language and sexual descriptions, resulting in condemnations and even burnings of early editions. But that was and is a hopelessly myopic and distorted view of an evident (at least to some of us) masterpiece. A number of authors, I believe, would cite this as their favourite novel of all, Anthony Burgess being just one of them. It would be very high on my list too. Anyway, the sexual aspect is but a minor part of the entity, its inclusion having been an obvious sitting target for those who'd do anything to prevent others reading of what they, the condemners, disapprove.

All the action takes place on just one day in Dublin, 16th June 1904, the anniversary of that day now being widely known in Ireland as 'Bloomsday'. It follows the conversations and meanderings of, mainly, two characters, Stephen Dedalus and his friend Leopold Bloom (whose root-Jewishness is sometimes pertinent) - but also featuring the latter's wife, Molly.
Much of the language is discursive and whole sections of the work are written in varying styles - straight narrative, entitled short sections, theatrical script, Q & A and, perhaps most famously, Molly's long monologue over the closing pages (in my edition, over 40 pages) of non-stop 'stream of consciousness' without punctuation (so no sentence endings) over life, death, men, relationships, sex, child-bearing - and much more.
The novel is, by turns, melancholic, comical, reflective, abstruse, gently irreverent (notably to the Catholic Church), political, mundane and fabulous (in the manner of a beast of myth), yet by confining all the action to a mere 24 hours within specific Dublin localities it remains self-contained without over-reaching itself.

It's not an easy read. It requires attention, which is no bad thing. It's not a novel one can let 'wash over one'.
There are parallels, so I read, with the Greek mythical hero of the title, with correspondences in the characters encountered, but, due to my ignorance of that subject, I missed them. But it wasn't important. If the work is given due concentration it repays its dividends in a big way.

I hope I get a chance to read it a fifth time. But I do seriously think that for anyone who has a feeling for good literature but who hasn't yet experienced this work, then 'Ulysses' has got to be compulsory reading

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

I'm so sore - in more ways than one!

Following my spectacular, very public tumble on Monday (mentioned at the end of my previous post) I have to be sensible and have made an appointment to see my doctor in a couple of hours. Left wrist on which I landed, still very painful, making sleeping, dressing, washing and feeding cats (five of them waiting for me this morning!) slow and agonising. Was reluctant to go to Accident & Emergency (the hospital is just 5 mins walk from me) as I was only there 3 months ago with a scary, profuse nosebleed which I couldn't stop (but which I didn't blog about) and as that was the first time in my entire life that I'd  been to any A & E, didn't want to get a reputation as someone who goes round every so often just for 'fun'.  So let's see what Mr Doctor advises - ice compress and rest, I'd imagine. At least all my fingers function, albeit painfully, so there's unlikely to be anything broken. More likely a muscle pull.

But not only that, I'd intended to make no less than four cinema visits this week. Number one I saw in Monday just prior to kissing the concrete, hard  - but so far I've missed 'God's Pocket' (Philip Seymour Hoffman's penultimate film) and 'The Golden Dream' (re illegal Mexican immigrants to USA) - and it's looking like I'm also possibly going to miss 'Lilting', with Ben Whishaw playing the survivor of a gay relationship trying to take responsibility for the disposal of his lover's remains while his Chinese, non-English speaking mother wants to claim the body but is ignorant of the nature of the relationship between Whishaw and her son. Anyway, there's still a chance that I just may be able to catch this latter one tomorrow, even though I'm rather peeved about having missed the others. Mais c'est la vie, n'est-ce pas? (ou, en d'autres termes - "Merde!")

Monday, 11 August 2014

Film: 'ALCESTE A BICYCLETTE' / '(BI)CYCLING WITH MOLIERE'

Reasonable enough, without being anything to get too excited about.
The title in both languages refers to the play 'The Misanthropist' which Lambert Wilson (here on the left), a celebrated TV actor playing a surgeon in a hospital drama series, wants to put the play on stage, with himself playing the title role of Alceste. He wishes to coax Fabrice Luchini out of acting retirement to appear in the secondary part and visits him in his home on the Ile de Re (a small island off the French Atlantic coast, I've looked up). Luchini has deep reservations about resuming acting after so many years, his vacillations taking up most of the 'action' and, while he's deciding, the two of them start rehearsing the play in the expectation that he will eventually agree to do it, though Luchini would prefer to play the main part himself. A romantic dimension with a degree of rivalry between the two of them is provided by the chance appearance of an Italian divorcee.

The film's main interest is the squabbling between the two men and their relationship blowing hot and cold, sometimes with mutual admiration, at other times with exasperation about each others demands - a sort of 'odd couple' scenario.
We see them a few times cycling out together on the island but it mostly takes place in the retired actor's home where he lives alone.
 There were a few amusing situations but nothing to cause more than a mild chuckle. I got the impression that the film (director: Philippe le Guay) thought it was funnier than I and the audience found it. Some of the play's rehearsed  extracts are quite significant and I got the impression that there seemed to be a resonance between the parts they were playing and the two men in real life, so it might help to be more familiar with the play than I was.

It just about held my interest though at times it seemed to carry the simple basic idea too far and turned a bit flat...............5.5.



Btw: Shortly after coming out of the cinema in Brighton I took one hell of a heavy fall on the roadside, right among the touristy throngs, the worst tumble I've taken in many years, splitting my lip and hurting left arm - the former still bleeding a little and the arm still so sore that it's painful to move it, it now being three hours since it happened. A group of people came out of a nearby cafe to render assistance, helping me to a nearby outside seat, providing wet tissues, glass of water and making enquiries as to whether they ought to call an ambulance. I refused the latter, of course, but as to their concern I am most grateful and think I made that clear. Only hope it all doesn't feel as bad in the morning as it does now, there being another film on the cards and tomorrow's time of screening is by far the most convenient for me to attend. But, oh, how I hate attention - especially when it's something so publicly 'belittling' as this was.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Film documentary: 'FINDING VIVIAN MAIER'

(Spoiler alert: The greater part of the following is facts which I learned about Vivian Maier from this film; so if you prefer watching it with little or with no foreknowledge, you may prefer to avoid reading further.) 

Here's something off the beaten track - a factual film attempting to achieve an insight into the street photographer of the title (above) who, when she died in 2009 at the age of 83, remained completely unknown (presumably as she wanted to be) - and it's no surprise that she managed it as she lived an obsessively reclusive private life. Though working professionally as a nanny, she was so secretive about her 'recreation' (as it was thought) that none of her employers had any idea of her prodigious talent. After her death, it was only by chance discovered that she'd left scores of thousands of undeveloped b/w (and some colour) negatives, as well as some short films of the children she was caring for. It's a most engrossing film, largely in 'talking heads' style, but with very many examples of the subject's work.
I'm entirely confident that I'm far from alone in never having heard the name, though her work has now taken off big-time internationally in exhibitions, a tiny fraction of her photographs having so far been put on display.

It was only when the young co-director of this film, John Maloof, went to a local auction hoping to acquire some historical photos of Chicago, that he by chance acquired a suitcase-ful of the subject's negatives, which he left in a cupboard for a while. When he eventually got round to developing a few he found what a treasure trove he had and immediately set out to trace any more similar negatives other people might happen to have. Painstaking detective work paid off and he eventually accumulated a collection of staggering size, as well as  personal possessions, clothes, trinkets etc - though next to nothing in the way of writing, certainly no diaries. So, continuing his research, he managed to trace some of the people she nannied for, as well as some of the children themselves, and tried to piece together a picture of this mysterious, talented woman.

Although she was born in New York of a French mother, she passed herself off as being of French nationality, speaking English on surviving tape with a French accent - though a language expert reckons that her accent is an affectation. But this is a mere part of the mystery, the big unanswered question being why she took so much trouble taking photographs with an old-style box camera, yet kept her 'hobby' entirely to herself - leaving nearly all her work hidden away in crates and crates of undeveloped  film.

Next to nothing, apart from her nanny-ing, can be found about her private life. She was a loner, almost certainly childless, who, it seems, never married, nor is there any indication of any relationship. In fact it seems that she didn't trust men at all, telling one of the young girls whom she cared for, the only thing that men wanted was to have sex. The question remains open as to whether the root of this is having had a traumatic experience early in her life which locked her into that attitude. But as there are no clues left it can only be surmise.
Coupled with her apparent misandry or, at least, a deep-rooted mistrust of men, there was also the possibility that she had mental issues. She'd collect piles and piles of newspapers, stacked right up to the ceiling, with the intention that sometime she'd go through them and cut out articles or photographs which might be of use to her - but she never got round to it. She would never allow others, even the house-owners of where she stayed, just peeping into her room. There are cases of her losing her temper and physically assaulting children in her charge.
To add to the intrigue, she frequently changed the spelling of her surname, sometimes saying that she was called simply 'Miss Smith'

But even if we can't fully realise this tantalisingly incomplete picture of the person, the film shows lots of example of her work, most of which would have been unseen by the photographer herself after taking them. Nearly all her photos are of people, at times the subject knowing the presence of the camera (though never looking deliberately posed) and sometimes they are discreet shots where the people are unaware. In all cases the subject looks interesting.
Here are just a few of the examples we see which I've picked out at random. If you are into photography and don't yet know of Vivian Maier, you really must have a look at more of what she achieved - and for just about everybody else it's quite a discovery too. There are lots more images which you can google.

A rewarding film of a strange and valuable discovery, and it held my attention all through its 83 minutes with ease...................7.





                                                                                               
                                                                          ..................................and so much more.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Anthony Holden's book 'William Shakespeare - His Life and Work'

I only finished reading this book less than an hour ago - and I feel like I'm in the afterglow of a most satisfying meal.
It's a 1999 work which has been broadly well-received, though not without carping from some quarters and accusations of needlessly stirring controversy in others.
I have to say that I found the amount of detail in it quite staggering, yet it could in no way be described as a 'heavy' book, even for those who are not 'Bardolaters' like myself (for which I thank Holden himself for that word). The text throughout is constantly alive, weaving together in chronological order a lot of what I did already know and a great deal that I didn't.

Holden gives short shrift to the still widely-held misconception that little is known of the writer's life. He tells us that, in fact, more is known about his life than that of any of his contemporaries, save for his playwright friend, Ben Johnson (as well as, one assumes, Queen Elizabeth and King James). It's true that he doesn't say all that much about his wife, Anne Hathaway, even though she is just adequately covered. But he says more about Shakespeare's children than I've read in any other source till now.

Holden bats away with ease the theory that this man (whom some still claim may not have actually existed at all!) did not write the works himself, but that his name was a 'front' for another writer, of whom there is a goodly handful of candidates. I've never been an ardent subscriber to this theory, and when one has placed in front of oneself the considerable evidence to show that Shakespeare was indeed the scribe, such alternative postulations seem more purposely and perversely contrary than in being soundly argued.

I'm less convinced by Holden's curt dismissal of the notion that Shakespeare was bisexual, or even gay. (Well, I would, wouldn't I?). He acknowledges the arguments of Auden and Wilde (among others) on the 'pro' side - pointing out, for example, that Wilde puts his belief of the writer being gay into a fictional story ('The Portrait of Mr W.H.') rather than having the courage to write it into a factual article. But, on my first reading of this book, Holden seems to base his entire argument for the Bard being heterosexual on a single sonnet, number 20, one of the most overtly sexual, which praises the young man's physical looks yet ultimately disdains his (the young man's) possession of a penis ("To my purpose, nothing"). I've read extensively on the sonnets (I do, after all, revise my recitation of one of them consecutively every single day) and more than one commentator, far more learned than I, or even Holden himself I'd aver, points out that this particular Sonnet, even putting aside all the other 125 of the 154 in the cycle addressed to the young man, does in fact reinforce the idea of a physical attraction on the part of Shakespeare, perhaps unconsummated, at a time when, after all, all homosexual acts were a capital offence i.e. punishable by death.  I think Holden ought to do better than, failing any indisputable evidence that S. was gay, fall back on the default possession of him not being so. I think all we can say with confidence is that coming up to the 400th anniversary of his death, it's most unlikely that anything new not known on the subject up to now is going to appear. The best we can say is that even if the door on the subject can be near-closed it will never be shut completely.

But that's the beauty of this book. It provokes thought and confrontation and encourages cross-consultation. It doesn't leave ideas lying lifeless on the page. We can disagree with them if we like. It's our prerogative.
I've learned a lot from perusing these 320-odd pages, often pausing for thought. In my monthly reading of one of the plays, which I've now done every single month without a gap for about 50 years, I'll remember his comments about this work or that, and it's bound to affect my thoughts as I read on, reaching ever deeper levels of profundity which has made Shakespeare one of my gods (along with Bach and Beethoven) ever since being in my teens.

With the book fresh in my mind I'm already looking forward to a re-read. In fact I now want to read it again at least once every year in the time I've left allotted to me.
Heartily recommended.