Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Film: 'CALVARY'

After a hiatus of over two weeks I've resumed my cinema-going, hoping that what I was going to see today would be a film of 'quality' to give me the incentive to carry on. It was.

John Michael McDonagh, who gave us the greatly enjoyable 'In Bruges'  (2008), not only directs this cracker of a film but employs one of the principal three actors of that film, Brendan Gleeson, this time playing an ageing, world-weary parish priest with feet of clay, in a village on the north-west coast of Ireland. 

The film starts with what must surely be one of the most 'sit-up-and-listen' lines ever known on film. We see Gleeson thinking to take confession from a disembodied male voice on the other side of the grille, only for the latter immediately to reveal that between the ages of seven and twelve he'd been sexually abused by a now-deceased priest - and that, whether or not Gleeson's priest was ever guilty of similar offences, he was going to take vengeance by killing him at a certain time several days hence at a certain place. All this happens in the first two minutes or so in which we see only Gleeson's face making perplexed and futile interjections, though maintaining self-control. It's an opening that really grabs by the throat - and hardly lets go.

Throughout the film we don't know if the priest knows for sure who is his threatened murderer, or even if he suspects who it could be. He confides what happened only to his companion parish priest who, because the sacrament of Penance hadn't actually been administered, opens up the possibility of pursuing the matter with the local police. But exactly who the threat came from isn't the nub of the film. Gleeson's priest goes about his routine while screen captions remind us, day by day, that 'zero-hour' is approaching. In his daily minstrations he meets up with other locals, many of whom, despite having taken Holy Communion from him at the start, treat him with everything from disregard to contempt. The full horror of widespread child abuse in the Catholic Church is by now well known and, as representing that institution, he is being targeted, full face on, with the locals' hatred. He only has one genuine friend in the village, an elderly writer, and only two beings for whom he has true affection - his adult daughter (he was widowed before taking Holy Orders) and his dog.
There are a good eight or nine other motley characters (such a variety in one small village!) any one of which could be his potential murderer but, as I say, this is not the engine that drives the film along. However, when it came to the big 'reveal' in the last minutes, if I'd been asked to guess the identity of the intended killer I would have been wrong!

The script is superior in all respects. Hardly a word is wasted - though my personal quibble is that some of the Irish accents have such strong brogue that I wasn't always able to follow what was being said, particularly near the start, though that became less of a problem with time. Maybe it's a case of getting 'tuned in' to it.

And I also, regretfully, have to mention one additional thing. On one of the radio reviews I heard, someone mentioned that the priest loses "someone....er, something that he loved."  He'd let the cat out of the bag about the fate of what was most likely to be a pet - and so it turned out to be (though not a cat). It happens as late as three-quarters through the film so for the first hour I'd been steeling myself for the moment, ready to look away from the screen. In the event it lasted for no more than a few seconds. But even so I wish it hadn't been there. (Why do they keep on doing this?)

Brendan Gleeson is amazing in the film's pivotal role and should, by rights, be seriously considered for an Oscar, though I'd imagine that the film's probable limited outlets for screenings would make it rather unlikely. But he does bring out the priest's inner turmoil, doubts and irascibility to perfection. It's both a mental and physical performance, one of the very best I've seen in a long time, completely convincing. It's vastly to the film's credit that, despite the paedophilia angle as well as the priest's own foibles, from the start it has the audience's sympathy on his side. Remarkable.
The wild, rugged and breathtaking landscape and Atlantic coast of that part of the island is also something rarely seen on the screen.

I see that this film doesn't open in America until August but I'd advise anyone, if they can't see it now, to jot down the title and give it a view when they can. Powerful stuff...............................8

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

If I should disappear without warning.......

.......don't be too surprised or alarmed. My computer's started to do strange things which I reckon is not unconnected with Microsoft's withdrawal of support, from today, for WindowsXP.


This computer is eight years old and I've been clinging onto it without updating to a more advanced Windows version. The entire hardware and software were 'state-of-the-art' way back in 2006, but now this desktop is becoming beyond useable (as well as looking bulky and unsightly). I'm trying to postpone the inevitable - for, of course, financial reasons - but I think it's going to give up on me before I can take the inevitable step of doing what really needs to be done viz: purchase a brand new computer with the very latest software.
An entirely new problem I had this morning was on this blog-site of mine where, instead of showing the blogs of everyone I follow, with their recent postings in chronological order, I was only getting the blogs of Dr Spo of SpoReflections. I don't know why his blog should have been picked out from the score or so for which I do look out. (I'm not complaining about that!) But I could only retrieve everyone else's blogs by deleting his name (hopefully, very temporarily) from my blog-list. (Dr Spo, if you're reading this I'll have to follow you by a special daily search until the problem goes away.)

Btw: A nephew of mine has gone in for the latest, 'Windows 8.1' but is having the world's own trouble which, he says, is causing widespread difficulties all over the place. But he lives 300 miles away and I have no one on hand to advise me what hardware and software to opt for and how to transfer my current files to the new contraption.
Anyway, if I go off-radar, this is the most likely reason. Just sayin'.


Now just to get any blog-readers bang up-to-date on other matters:-

Films:
I actually haven't seen any since my last posting of a fortnight ago because, frankly, there's been hardly anything at all which sounds worth seeing, at least to me.
I've been warned off 'Captain America'. Then 'Noah', from what I've read, is so dreadful I thought it might be worth going to see just for a laugh, but I'm not keen on spending money needlessly. Might see 'Divergent' next week, but not all that eager on yet another 'Hunger Games' type of thing.
The only film still playing I'd like to have seen is 'The Double'. However, showing times are frustratingly inconvenient though yet might manage it. And I am looking forward to seeing 'Calvary' in a week or two. But apart from that, nothing on the horizon, I think. But should I see anything which I'm still able to blog about I will do.


Pussy update:
I was immensely gratified to have received so many messages of sympathy for the distressing discovery of my dear little ginger friend in my previous post. Naturally I realise that it's something we all have to go through - observing or being conscious of the death of others, humans or creatures, is an unavoidable aspect of life itself and we all have to take our 'turns' at experiencing it, some more than others.
But, as if to rub salt in the wound, Ginger's owner (the very same who made a veiled threat to me that I was to stop feeding Ginger), when it came to 'claiming' the poor thing, denied that the cat was his, saying that his own cat is ginger all over whereas Ginger was ginger and white.What a nerve! I know all the cats in this vicinity and there just is not another entirely ginger one around here. (Unless he keeps it 'imprisoned', but in that case why did he threaten me?). I reckon he's just trying to avoid the charge from the local council for removing Ginger who, I understand, is kept in a freezer awaiting claim for a few days, before being disposed of in whatever way they do it. But it's very sad that the owner, whom I haven't spoken to personally since it happened, now rejects his own 'child'.
And yet another tragic pussy-tale. I mentioned briefly in one of my responses to a comment in my last post that I was being visited every single day for the last two or three weeks by a 'new' little tortie which, I was pretty sure, was expecting kittens. Suddenly it's stopped coming - the last time was just two day's following my discovery of Ginger. Although I was, of course, dreading this little mum-to-be having its litter in my flat, its abrupt disappearance makes me feel the worst might have happened. It was very affectionate, and trusted me deeply, which is why she was coming here regularly, sleeping and sitting looking out of the window. None of the other cats took against her presence in the slightest. I fear she may well have been put down, though I'd still love her to re-appear without that swollen belly. I even fear that she might have come from the same home as Mr Nasty who's taken the opportunity to draw a line under his present pets. If so I only hope he doesn't have any more, but I fear he might yet cause further trouble in the future.


And finally:-
As if there wasn't already enough happening in my life I'm just getting over the heaviest cold and persistent cough I've had in what must be something like twenty years or more. At least I hope it's on the way out. It's been a monster. Eyes and nose streaming, hacking cough through the nights with lungs wheezing like a rusty old squeeze-box. Oh, it's been a trial! Started when, having had a callous removed from the sole of one of my feet which has been troubling me for over a year and prevented my regular morning jogging (not done since Summer 2012) I took to resuming it, trying to build up gradually. Unfortunately, despite the recent mild weather, the early morning climate appears to have disagreed with the attempt and that triggered the malaise. (All my life I've been particularly vulnerable around the neck/throat area. Strange how everyone seems to have their own particular physical 'Achilles Heel', though in my case it was much higher up.)
Anyway, as long as there isn't a relapse, I should be in the pink again in a few days time, fingers crossed.


So that's the situation, gentle readers. I don't often post on matters concerning my own life so I trust this quite  lengthy entry should make up for past absences. It may be a long time before the next one.

I'll keep on using this prehistoric apparatus for as long as I can (the computer, I mean, not my body!) and post any film reviews I can before it all blows up in my face. I'll also keep commenting on your own blogs for as long as it allows.

So, if I do do a David Copperfield, don't fret. I'll get back somehow, though it could take a little while, and I'll see you on 'the other side'.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Farewell, you sweet, dear, little furball.

I'm distraught, even though he wasn't mine. At 6.45 a.m., going out for a morning jog, I discovered Ginger lying on the pavement about 100 yards down the road, beside some refuse bins outside a garage, apparently run over, with back legs askew and not breathing. I'm gutted. I so very much hope that it was over quickly and as painlessly as possible.

He's been a regular, prominent feature of my life for about four or five years, a daily visitor from a few doors away, another of the cats I seem to 'collect' who prefer my hospitality to that of their own homes. A bit of a scamp, undoctored, he had a bad habit of doing a wee on whatever was near at hand, as un-neutered males often tend to do, I'm told. But I loved him to bits.
Three months ago his owner came knocking at my door with a veiled warning for me to stop feeding him as it was making him reluctant to stay where he belonged. I did stop - but only for a while. I couldn't bear to see him crying and going hungry. (My 'Noodles' came from the exact same house about 10 years ago. It seems that, for some reason, this owner's own cats prefer not to live there. I wonder why?)
I've put a note of my tragic discovery through the owner's door.

Unusually, just yesterday, having a midday nap, Ginger joined me on the bed, purring loudly and rubbing against me. He hadn't done that for months, and unlike Blackso, only did it very rarely.
But now he's gone. (I can't bear to think how I'm going to cope when the time comes for Blackso and Noodles).  

Thank you for all the happiness and pleasure you gave me over the last few years, my precious little friend.
R.I.P. and bless you.


Thursday, 27 March 2014

Film: 'A LONG WAY DOWN'

I'd heard that this might be something of a dud, but with the opportunity for a cheapo ticket nothing can deter me, particularly while the sublimity of 'Under the Skin' on my previous posting was still vivid in my mind. In the event, however, this film (Director: one Pascal Chaumiel) turned into a bit of an endurance test.

Based on a Nick Hornby novel (unread by me) it involves  four would-be suicides meeting by chance atop a tall London building on a New Year's Eve - and all, coincidentally (if you'll excuse the pun) with the same end in mind.

Pierce Brosnan, as a widely recognisable TV chat-show host, appears first and sets himself up for the drop. But as he steels his nerve, he's interrupted by the arrival of Toni Collette. Up to that point the film had promise. That was about three minutes in. From there onwards the film lives up to its title. Charging onto the scene is teenager Amanda Poots, all hyperactive and gobby as if she'd overdosed on Red Bull, and irritatingly world-savvy way beyond her years. Then the quartet is completed by bearded and slightly hunkish (and not unattractive) Aaron Paul. Naturally they all want to know why the others have made their choices. They postpone their final acts of desperation, signing a pact on a piece of paper that each will not consider carrying out their threats until at least the following Valentine's Day, six weeks away.
Poots is the daughter of a prominent politician (Sam Neill, whose heavyweight appearance also doesn't salvage the film) and it's not long before, with her own fame-through-daddy, coupled with that of the universally-known Brosnan, the story becomes public knowledge with the media demanding to know the whys. In order to escape the hullaballoo the foursome, now in a cosy, close-knit, little gang, jet off together for a break in the sun.
Toni Collette is far and away the most interesting of the group. She lives alone with her quadraplegic son, now a young man, and it was only for her that I could work up any care at all. Of course her situation is milked for sentiment for all its worth, complete with obligatory mood music. In fact throughout the film there are not only constant nudges on the film soundtrack pointing to the emotions one ought to be having (as though we are all infants needing to be spoon-fed!) but there is also - one of my betes-noires - snatches of songs (Gawd help us!) as much as three times, in addition to another one over the closing credits. Grrrrrrrr!!!

When the film wasn't irritating it was, frankly dull. (Much watch-checking!) And when it came to the end scenes, would you believe it, it turns out that life is worth living after all. Well, who would have thought it? (Cringe, cringe)

I might have guessed that this depiction of the lives of four people intending to top themselves would not have been all downbeat. But I had hoped that it wouldn't have been, by turns, quite so annoying and so boring.
To demonstrate that I can be generous here's a................................3/10 


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Film: 'UNDER THE SKIN'

Despite being warned that an early scene featured a drowning dog, it was imperative that, by hook or by crook, I had to see this film. Verdicts to date have displayed a wide divergence between enthusiastic praise and loud raspberries, the former currently being in the majority. I'll say outright that, come December, it'll be surprising if this film isn't a strong contender for my 'Best Film of 2014'. (Btw: We see the aforementioned dog only very briefly and in long shot - and it's nowhere near the most troubling thing to occur in that particular scene.)

Director Jonathan Glazer, whose contributions includes the very entertaining crime caper, 'Sexy Beast' (2000), pulls it off again, and with flying colours.

'Under the Skin' is not going to be enjoyed by those demanding explanations, answers neatly tying up the many loose ends, and all the dots joined. It's weird - in upper-case lettering! 

An extra-terrestrial arrives on earth, in Glasgow of all places, and inhabits the human form of Scarlett Johannson. (And why not?). Having been set up by a mysterious motor cyclist, for unstated reasons she starts driving around the city in a transit van, mostly at night, stopping to ask directions from a number of lone, local, young men, going on to invite them into the vehicle, ostensibly to guide her driving route. But then she lures them back to her strange house (pitch black interior), with the implied promise of more, where she seductively strips off her clothes while they also divest expectantly. I can't say any more, but it's mighty unsettling.
During her encounters with these strangers she sports an English accent, while most of her quarry have broad Scottish ones, which I found not at all easy to understand - though with her superior alien faculties it's no problem for her to converse with them.
We see early on that she is capable of emoting when necessary, at least superficially. What she does lack, however, is any sense of empathy - clearly brought out by her cold, detached observation of the 'dog event' and its extremely disturbing aftermath.
The first part of the film stays in Glasgow, the camera playing on random pedestrians, in shopping malls, on the streets, unaware that they're being filmed, as though caught on CCTV. It's hard to be sure whether all her encounters (not all of whom she picks up) were real actors or just members of the public who just happened to be there at that particular time. This first half, I thought, was the stronger part of the film.
Then it locates to outside of the city where, paradoxically, the film's increased sure-footedness plays against the haphazard and unpredictable quality that made the first section so suspenseful. Though the level of tension is reduced marginally, the strangeness of the story remains as strong, compelling and as mystifying as ever.
Incidentally, for those who don't like them, I don't think there are any really jump-out-of-your-seat moments. The 'surprises' feel as though they've always been lurking below the surface, creepily insidiously into one's awareness rather than being in-your-face sudden shocks.

This is my type of film - one that haunts the memory, tantalises the brain, and is a fruitful subject for discussion for a very long time. It might all be dismissed as pretentious nonsense. It certainly seems slow-paced at times, though that only builds up the heavily brooding feel of it most effectively. The film provides a myriad of questions without eliciting a single answer. But it's fun, deeply thought-provoking and one of those rare events, a cinematic experience to enjoy with relish. An easily earned............................8








Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Film: 'STARRED UP'

Emphatically not for those of a delicate constitution, this brutal prison-set drama makes me wonder when I last saw such  extreme and protracted screen violence.

In this David Mackenzie film, Jack O'Connell plays a teenager transferred from juvenile detention to adult prison (somewhere in England, though filmed in Northern Ireland) which is populated by inmates seemingly all banged up for murder or GBH, he owing his own presence here to having attacked a paedophile for unwanted advances. 
The already tightly-coiled attitudes of the other prisoners meet their match in him as he doesn't just have a short fuse, his fuse is non-existent, liable at any moment to lash his fists out at anyone who challenges or sneers at him, this in a micro-world where every one is on the look-out for others who might display a lack of 'respect'. Scores have to be settled, sometimes with the help of conniving guards, and pecking-order rank has already been well established by the time he arrives. The big difference in this story is that one of the 'big guys' there who calls the shots happens to be his own convicted father (Ben Mendelsohn). Their interchanges are fraught with tension, the father caught between regard for his offspring and the need to maintain his status, which is being challenged by his son's arrival.
Even the 'classes' which the son attends (anger-management?) are taut with suspense, boiling over into physical mayhem at the slightest provocation, intended or not. The well-meaning but strugglingly-ineffective class monitor (Rupert Friend, particularly good), a member of staff employed from outside, finds it almost impossible to retain order for more than a minute or so.
The prison governor, trying to keep everything at arms-length regarding his own involvement, while striving to keep the inmates in check, is still not above taking the law into his own hands, most especially in a particularly shocking scene when the film is well advanced, when he loses all self-control.

There's very frequent use of the 'f' and 'c' words throughout, which is only to be expected. There's hardly any respite at all from the suspense as even the non-violent 'interludes' carry an expectation that a human explosion might go off at any time, which it does.
All the characters are very clearly delineated even if their back stories are not always fully explained. We know by hearsay and documentation the world in which they exist and that is basically all that is necessary to give the drama forward impetus.
It's set entirely and claustrophobically within prison walls with an all-male cast - save one or two background female warders plus the small role of a prison psychologist. I consider all the acting to be as fine as could be wished.

Until the last frames little of significant change occurs in the situation of the young inmate in this uniformly bleak film. Not one to watch if you're searching out comfortable viewing. I think some alcoholic beverage might help to get through the several bloody scenes without flinching, which I was doing all the time.

'Starred Up' belongs to the class of what is frequently termed a "powerful' film". It undeniably is!..........................6.5

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Film: 'L'INCONNU DU LAC' / 'STRANGER BY THE LAKE'

It's been a disgracefully long six months since I last saw a non-English language film, and considerably longer (several years) since the last one where being gay is an intrinsic part of its character(s), rather than sexuality being an immaterial, 'added-on' feature. Now they both come together in this film (director: Alain Guiroudie) - and, were it not for one particular aspect, which I'll spell out shortly, I'd class it as a 'corker'.

(I might mention that on IMDb at the moment one of the most prominent reviews submitted is completely damning, classing all the characters as losers and cannot understand why this film is being "championed by the gay community". He gives it a rating of 2/10. I shall not concur.)

Set only and entirely around a geographically unspecified lake where nude sunbathing in an informally recognised gay area takes place (all flaccid, by the way), together with cruising for casual sex in the adjacent foliage where both participators and voyeurs abound, this entirely male (nearly all of whom are gay) film tells of an unattached young man who starts visiting the locality and who, shortly after getting to know one or two of the regulars, witnesses (unnoticed from a distance) a murder take place. All the action happens over the ensuing few days (and dusk-times) where this chap, initially shaken by what he's seen, tries to mentally bury it, telling no one - (and this is where credibility is really stretched, my only complaint) - he not only responds to the physical advances of the murderer, admittedly with great apprehension initially, but actually strikes up a regular relationship with him. The perpetrator of the crime (an attractive 'bit of rough', I thought - right, above) does not know that he'd been seen and his new affair does not let on. As the relationship turns a bit less idyllic over the next few encounters the witness finds it harder to keep suppressed what he knows.
(Incidentally, at a couple of points there are, just for a few seconds, some hard-core action shots at which you may want to be prepared to avert your gaze).

A parallel strand of the story is when the witness guy also strikes up an unlikely friendship with a middle-aged chap who's started coming to this area, sitting in solitude after the break-up of his hetero relationship. There's no physical attraction between the two men, in fact this other guy is one of several seen in the film who has let his body go to the dogs, huge pot-belly and all. But they have a frank exchange of views on cruising, sexuality and the like.

We all know of these outdoor cruising areas, don't we? (ah, the memories!), and that side of it looks completely authentic, at least from my own experiences. But in this story, as I say, it does take a huge leap of faith to wonder how a witness to a shocking killing could, without too much protest, succumb to the charms of the murderer. I can only surmise that the desire of the flesh clouded and overwhelmed his judgment. But if you can look beyond this I do think you might agree with me that this is a superior film. Intensely atmospheric, with the blessing of having no music at all, it holds its tension throughout, culminating in a vicious final few minutes. (Maybe I also ought to add that the film's close will not satisfy those who demand a clear-cut ending).
As a piece of drama I admired it a lot - and it shows that you do not need more than a very modest budget to make an effective film.

Truth to tell, I had considered scoring this with an '8', but because of the aforementioned hole at the centre of the story, I cannot allow it onto such hallowed ground. But I have no hesitation in ultimately awarding it a silver medal's worth........................7.5

(2/10?......Hah!)