Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Woody Allen - never disappoints, except when he does.

I'd been so looking forward to seeing 'Whatever Works' too. It wouldn't have mattered either way that it got critical acclaim here ("Allen back on form!" - what again?) but, on previous experience, I'd been expecting to really like it anyway. As it turned out..... oh dear, what a downer! It must only be me, though. His trilogy of London films made over the last few years were all panned by the critics. Indeed, I recently heard 'Match Point' referred to by a BBC critic as his worst film ever - a mighty big claim, but I really liked it. Same goes for 'Cassandra's Dream' which no one else apart from me seemed to admire. (The third film, 'Scoop', didn't get a theatrical release here, so I'm eagerly watching for it to appear on TV.) But this 'Whatever Works' is back in his familiar NY milieu. Apart from his too infrequent brilliant flashes of wit in the script it largely left me cold. Noteworthy is that in the final few minutes there's a gay character, though the situation and what it develops into in the very final scene is treated so ineptly and rings so false as to jar. I say 'noteworthy' because it's Allen's most up-front acknowledgement that gays exist at all since Meryl Streep played the lesbian mother and Allen's character's former partner in 'Manhattan'. Even just mentioning gays in his other films is very rare and never more than just a passing comment. But I'd given up on 'Whatever Works' long before these final moments anyway.
However, having said all that, I definitely am pleased to admit that the release of any Woody Allen film is a real 'event' for me. I've found that out of all his prolific output there is only a small handful that do not repay further viewing(s) though this latest film will, regretfully, be in that category.
I know that most critics and, perhaps viewers too, consider that his best films are 'Annie Hall' and 'Manhattan', both of which I also like a lot (though in the former, the scene of the escaped lobster in the kitchen makes me uncomfortable - Laugh at me if you must!) His own favourite in terms of the finished product coming closest to his conception is 'The Purple Rose of Cairo', also pretty good. For me though, his summit of achievement has got to be 'Hannah and her Sisters'. An excellent script that feels 'true', unbeatable ensemble acting (with Michael Caine in particular never having been better and fully deserving his Oscar), great soundtrack music choices....so much going for it that I can readily forgive the too-pat 'happy ending' given to Allen's own character. I'd give it an easy 9/10. But 'Whatever Works'....well, 'cos I want to be generous, a modest 4 at most, just for those all-too-few precious moments!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Ghosts

I was going to write a blog today on whether there is some sort of existence after death - then I've just seen on the Perez Hilton site that the film 'Paranormal Activities 2' is about to be released. (The first one affected me deeply. In fact it scared the pants off me. Figuratively, of course!)
Even though I seriously doubt the existence of a Deity (most especially an omnificent, interventionist and totally benevolent one), I find myself unable to categorically say "No. There's absolutely no survival after death. Definitely not!".
I think there are too many missing explanations for phenomena such as (for want of a better word) 'ghosts'. Of course I accept that a high proportion of such witnessing is unreliable and that many of the 'appearances' are products of trickery or charlatanism. But every single one of them? Maybe, but I can't help thinking that there's something happening, for which we haven't yet discovered the whys and wherefores. I've never had such an experience myself but have met maybe two or three who do claim to have witnessed them, and I don't have any reason to think they were just kidding me. It's strange how many of these occurrences are in oldish houses, mansions, castles, churches, theatres etc in which a mysterious figure walks or glides across the floor and disappears through a wall. In each viewing of this apparition the figure seems to do exactly the same thing every time - rather in the manner of a short film being replayed over and over again. There is a theory that somehow the walls or surroundings have 'recorded' this somewhat insignificant act of the subject in the past and, in a manner at present not understood, this is what is being replayed. If the apparitions really are genuine and are not mere visual illusions then this explanation seems to me no more ridiculous than thinking that they really are authentic 'beings'. At least it would knock on the head the idea of a parallel existence in a 'spirit world', which I find more comforting than the thought that there really is another existence to which we are consigned or trapped inside.
As for seances, I don't know what to think. They must all be fake or something very troubling is happening. I don't understand why all the 'voices' maintain that they are 'happy' where they are, and they are never asked to describe or explain their surroundings. That's what I'd most like to know.


By the way, I see from the very short clip of the new 'Paranormal Activities' that a dog is featured. I'm always put off from wanting to see any film which includes animals because I know my emotions are just too easily manipulated - particularly when the animals are hurt or, heaven forbid, killed - although I'm aware that such wouldn't be allowed to actually happen in a film made in the America or Europe. But anyway I'm now not sure whether I'll be wanting to see this one. Pity. (The thing I most remember about the original 'Amityville Horror' film was my desperately hoping and willing that the family dog would get out alive - and was so relieved when it did.)

So ghosts - real or not? I dunno! WhooooooooOOOOOOooooo!!!!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Poignant annniversary day

Today is not only exactly 5 years since my mum's funeral (she died June 11th 2005), it's also exactly 31 years since my dad died. I'd give so much to have them both back - though in good health. (My mum lived until she was 89 - a fine, long run, for all that. Dad died of a sudden stroke, out in the garden, at 69.) It was good, though, that I at least really started to appreciate them before it was too late, though in both cases only really in their latter years. Lucky also that, unlike several I've known, there was no ill-feeling at all towards either of them or from them to me - ups and downs, yes, but certainly nothing even approaching the severing of communication that some have experienced. So in that I appreciate that I've been fortunate. Love you, mum, dad!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Why do I pay good money to see such uncomfortably violent films?

In 2002 it was 'Irreversible' with its graphic and prolonged vicious assault and rape in a subway as well as a seeing a man beaten to death (also in 'loving' detail) with a fire extinguisher. Then last year we had 'Antichrist' with the Charlotte Gainsbourg character snipping of her own clit and knocking unconscious the Willem Dafoe character before shooting a bolt into his calf which she uses to chain him to a large stone weight. Then, hot on its heels, we've already got this year's gore-fest offering. I've just come back from seeing 'The Killer Inside Me' and, boy oh boy! NOT for the faint-hearted - unless you really want to see two females gut-wrenchingly battered as surely never been shown on screen before (at least in a commercially produced 'mainstream' film) one of them with her face repeatedly punched, beaten almost literally to a pulp. But do please note these acts were committed because the perpetrator, erm, 'loved them'! Although in all these three films, such was their notoriety, I'd heard in advance what was in store for me, and I wondered if I'd be able to keep my eyes on the screen . I knew I'd flinch, to say the least. But it seemed a bit of a challenge to see if I could watch without looking away. I failed - but only averting my gaze for mini-seconds.
The psychology of wanting to watch such films is troubling. I've never assaulted anyone in my entire life - not even an animal. (Why did I just say 'even'?) But I dare say there are individuals around who will get a vicarious thrill from seeing two women get smashed up in extremis. So why do I go? Partly because, having been an ardent cineaste since I was 20, these are, after all, 'significant' films. But I suppose there's also an element of a sort of 'badge of honour' in having sat through them. What's also worrying is that I actually purposely avoid seeing films where I know that there will be the depiction of violence done to an animal - even if I know it's done by screen effects and that no animal is actually hurt. Of course similar screen tricks are also employed in showing violence against humans, but cruelty towards animals presses additional buttons in me - I just don't want those scenes rattling around in my head.
So there's another film which is going to linger and linger and give me nightmares. Oh well! Now, what shall I have for dinner?

Friday, 11 June 2010

Thank you, ma'am!

Got a bounce in my step this morning. Just heard on the news about the Queen's birthday honours list (which is issued, I think, three times a year - as recommended by the Prime Minister at the time). Three names jump out at me who are well worthy to be so recognised:-
The lovely, talented and still-young actress, Sophie Okenedo
The American writer/commentator Bonnie Greer - always acutely and eloquently perceptive.
The young astro-physicist Professor Brian Cox - left-leaning atheist whose boyish enthusiasm and cheeky charm has rapidly endeared himself to us on our TV screens over just the last couple of years. When the time comes for the revered Richard Dawkins to hang up his clogs, Cox would be a worthy successor - and could well win his laurels by being the primary hate-figure of all those pesky God-botherers. One can but hope.

Of course being 'honoured' with the title of 'Member/Order/Companion of the British Empire' these days carries an absurd incongruity (what Empire?). Even when there was an Empire to speak of, it was hardly something to be proud of - but nowadays everyone recognises it's just a symbolic recognition of excellence.
Before Tony Blair such awards were largely confined to crusty old retired politicians and entertainers - the notable exception was the Beatles being awarded M.B.E.s in the mid 1960s, which saw significant numbers of retired army-majors and generals etc returning their honours in disgust. But then a few years later John Lennon returned his own anyway.
Even if I myself had achieved something in public life which had been considered worthy of being recognised by a title (ah, if only!) I don't think I'd have felt comfortable accepting it. There have, indeed, been quite a number of high-profile refusals, one of the more noteworthy ones being the Jamaican Rasta populist-poet, Benjamin Zephania (one of the few people alive whom I'd most like to meet). But even so, it can't stop my rejoicing at the public recognition of people whom I admire. Congratulations to all!

Beautiful Occasion.

I was on the verge of tears (of joy) this afternoon watching the opening ceremony of the Football (Soccer) World Cup live from Johannesburg. It's still very much a novelty for me seeing people of different-coloured races mingling in this former pariah country. Even a decade and a half since the end of apartheid it seems a miracle that it happened at all - especially to people like me who, during all our politically-aware lives, had seen South Africa as a living, suppurating scar on the face of humanity. Sure, we have other 'scars' now, some of a different quality, and some indeed still within that very country, but for so long South Africa was the litmus-test for a person's attitude towards justice. I recall Mrs Thatcher, as she tried every which way to block sanctions, actually denouncing Mandela as a 'terrorist' ("Anyone who thinks the ANC will ever rule in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land!") Then there was the famous Conservative Party conference which she presided over as Prime Minister where T-shirts were widely sported bearing the legend "HANG NELSON MANDELA". (Ha ha! What a joke! What fun!) When I was working then, my colleagues would try to wind me up by bringing in sanction-flouting South African apples to eat with their lunch - announcing that they were doing so, of course. I just sat there and seethed.
Anyway, thank heavens those days are well truly past. (Thatcher shortly afterwards had the gall to claim that it was her influence that helped to end apartheid. ["Talks, yes - sanctions, NO!"] But then that same 'gracious lady' also claimed that it was her influence and that of President Regan which were paramount in bringing down the Berlin Wall and Communism in Europe. Well, as she is now in quite advanced dotage, let's allow her that comforting view of her former megalomania, shall we?)
South Africa today, despite it's searing difficulties, still offers a brilliant symbol of hope demonstrating that man, at least in some respects, can advance out of darkness. I salute you all - well apart from those Afrikaaners who want to turn the clock back. Dream on, losers!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Dreading a very likely future health situation

As long as I can remember I've suffered from night cramps (known in the USA , I believe, as 'Charley Horses'). In my family it's been only me suffering among us five siblings, but my father also had the complaint. When I was younger they came on rarely, maybe only two or three times in a year. But getting older, it's become more frequent till now it's a nightly fear. When they were occurring at the rate of about once every week or so, I told my doctor who prescribed Quinine Sulphate tablets, to be taken every night before retiring. They seemed to make little or no difference, but they also aggravated my already debilitating fractured sleep patterns, so I ceased taking them. Of course the threat of oncoming cramps continue to come on regularly and relentlessly, and I still have to jump out of bed to arrest it before it can take hold, otherwise if it's allowed to, the pain is so extreme in it's agony that if there was the means close at hand to end it all I do believe I might be sorely tempted. Anyone who doesn't experience these 'night cramps' just has NO idea! The absurd and inconsequential mild term of description doesn't even begin to reflect the magnitude of the pain. I simply cannot imagine there being anything more excruciating that it's possible to suffer. Only very recently did I become aware that jumping out of bed at some point has become just about a nightly occurrence now. I looked up the condition on the Internet yesterday but it didn't really tell much that isn't already known - suggested preventatives being going to bed well hydrated and doing calf-stretching exercises. So yesterday evening I drank plenty of water and did the stretching. The result? I had to jump out of bed twice last night. Some years ago, for the first time that I remember, I got it in both legs simultaneously and wasn't able to stand up in time to stop it. God, as a result of the absolutely dreadful pain, the sweat poured out of me while I bit and chewed on the pillow. I really thought my heart was going to give up as I heard it thumping fortissimo. I was praying for deliverance - anything, but please take this hideous agony away! After possibly the longest two or three minutes of my life it eventually passed, leaving me drenched, panting for breath but ever so thankful it had receded.
I suppose I can continue to live with this condition (what choice is there?) - but for how much longer? I'm terrified of when the time comes when I just cannot manage to get out of bed in time to stretch the calves before the pain sets in on its inevitable arc of indescribable agony, and even moreso when the time arrives when I've become permanently bed-ridden and cannot rise at all. I'll be screaming and yelling so hard my vocal cords will snap. What a horrible prospect in store. If only a really effective remedy could be found - quickly.