Friday, 15 June 2012

Holidays? If only they knew!

I know that when people wish me '"Have a nice holiday!" after I've told them I'm going to be away for a few days, they are being polite rather than being malicious or sneering, their not being aware that I haven't had a true holiday since 1991. However, their comment still gets under my skin and I wish it didn't. It's just happened again when I told a nurse that I would be away for a short while at the start of July.

     In the years preceding my emigration to Cologne, Germany, in 1988 I used to go away on holiday breaks to various cities in Europe maybe 7 or 8 times a year - sometimes for long week-ends, sometimes for a week, occasionally for longer.  I won't hide the fact that the motivation for most of these trips was essentially for reasons of searching out sexual excitements. I'd spend a large part of the time cruising bars (mainly leather bars, especially those with 'dark rooms'), discos, saunas, parks (at night-time) and other well-known and notorious 'meeting places' - and often spend a significant part of the daylight hours catching up on sleep in my hotel room. (It was always a problem trying to synchronise my daytime naps with the times of the  room-cleaning service.) Even while living in Cologne I'd continue visiting other cities and countries with the same aim as before.
    Well, even if I had the resources to continue in that style, those days are necessarily long over. I just don't have the stamina any more that such a lifestyle demands - and besides, being now in my mid-60s, it would not only look absurd but it would be a succession of humiliating experiences in my being refused the attention I sought. (I don't think that there are that many guys around looking for a 'daddy' - and I don't want to experience the pain of finding how few there really are.)

     But it must sound like I enjoy not having had a proper holiday for long - and am even boastful about it. It seems unlikely that anyone, other than the really destitute, would be in circumstances that prevent just an odd break even once every few years. Sadly, that is indeed the case. Since returning from Germany (against my wishes) in 1991 it has been a continuous 'downer' thereafter. My only times away from the place I was living in at the time was to visit my increasingly ailing mother, which was hardly a 'relaxing' experience, though I did always love to see her. Since my mum died in 2006 my only times away now are annual visits to my sister (older than me by 9 years), taking in a drop-in to my eldest brother and his family. This also, though a change of scene, can hardly be called a 'holiday'. No, for over 21 years I've not had the opportunity to go away with the principal intention of just enjoying myself.
    For a long time many of the dreams I experience are located in the foreign haunts I used to know so well, which must only reflect an intense yearning to see them again. Though I'd only be going as a sightseer if I returned to these places now, I'd so love to re-visit those familiar places, if only to see how they've changed over two decades.
  Then, of course, there's so much of the rest of the world to explore - though one thing in particular would restrict my choice of where to go. Visiting a country where animals are used casually (for example, just drawing a cart - but particularly where it's not absolutely necessary, and, for example, in hot weather where the animal's owner is too lazy), witnessing it would cause me such sorrow that it would overshadow the rest of the time on holiday. So if I'm to avoid that, huge areas of the world must be ruled out. Seeing animals, birds, even live fish, on sale in markets with the intention that they are to be slaughtered, would give rise to such mental suffering that it would be pointless to continue with the holiday.

    But there's also so much of these small islands of my own country to explore. Not just large sections of England, but I've only ever been to Scotland twice - and that was to Edinburgh alone both times (not exactly typical of that country!). And I've never once been to Wales.
   Now I've got the cats living with me. When I do go away to visit my sister the cats are put in a cattery for four or five days, though that too causes me grief to do it. But going on holiday for a week or longer and I'd be spending more time worrying about them than enjoying myself. Pity I don't know anyone who could take care of them, but that is the case.
   Anyway, no point in thinking about the cats while there's still not the remotest chance that I'm going to need to leave them alone for a long time. A holiday is a luxury that is so unlikely - at least unless I win a substantial amount in the National Lottery. Now with my landlord putting up my rent (and which alone now takes up my entire state pension!) thinking of holidays remains, more than ever, just a 'pipe dream'.

    So, when people say to me "Have a nice holiday!", even though they are only assuming the nicest interpretation of my absence, and they certainly wouldn't intend to be deliberately rubbing salt in the wound, although I say it myself, I think I have every right to feel at least a tiny bit peeved.
   

Monday, 11 June 2012

New film - 'Prometheus' (seen in 3D)

I went wanting to like this. I really did.  But what I got was disappointment.
Before getting down to specifics, I freely acknowledge that I am around two generations older than the target audience, so my perspective will inevitably be skewed from a direction the source at which the film makers are not aiming.

Okay, I've always got to grin and bear it when I see spacecraft audibly rumbling across the screen. (I believe that the only science fiction film which recognised that there is no sound in space was '2001: A Space Odyssey'. Surely, after over 40 years, it's more than high time that another film bit the bullet and attempted to depict reality?) But I tried to overlook this and not let it get in the way of my 'enjoyment'.
I found the first hour of this film, frankly, tedious. The dialogue alone was more than tedious, it was occasionally risible - and not just the pseudo-scientific gobbledygook. Even 'normal' conversation was bland and unimaginative.
  Then in the second hour we get a series of grisly, sometimes ingenious, deaths - accompanied by ear-splitting sound effects and crashing, distracting music - and all brought about with no purposeful progression.
   I am an admirer of the original 'Alien' film from 1979 - with the qualification that its most suspenseful section for me is the first 3/4 hour. As the alien creature metamorphosed into a larger being I found the scare factor proportionately decreasing. Even the final section with Ripley (plus cat) alone against the alien didn't compare with what preceded the iconic 'meal scene' and the scenes immediately following it. But what this original film did have throughout was a clear sense of direction and movement towards a climax. The plot was simple and easy to comprehend - and it had shape, which 'Prometheus' lacks.
      Now - splitting hairs again. If the crew of the spacecraft had woken up after being in cryo-sleep for over two years, where had been the starting point? Certainly not Earth. Even travelling at the speed of light it takes over four years to reach the nearest star - and their destination must, presumably, have been way beyond even that.  (Maybe there had been several intermediate stopovers, to enable them to wake up and return to hibernated state again?)
        And why do we hear later that they are 'half a billion miles' from Earth. That distance would hardly take us halfway out of our own Solar System - not even as far as Saturn when it's at its closest. Was it just a throwaway phrase which we weren't supposed to take literally? Then why say 'half a billion miles' ?- why not say 50 billion, which would certainly have been nearer to where this craft was supposed to have reached? Maybe I'm being too pernickety, but you'd have thought that with such a large budget to make 'Prometheus' they might have been able to afford an astro-scientist, even an amateur, to check on their facts.
    And, by the way, why is it that in all films set on another world, gravity is always at the force of precisely 1g? Well, I suppose that the real reason for this oddity is that it would be too much trouble and too costly to attempt to replicate smaller gravity forces. However, I do look forward to seeing the first film showing human space explorers  trying to get around subject to a gravity of, say, double that on earth. (Already a number of rock-giants in other star systems have been detected with masses several multiples that of Earth.) It shouldn't be too hard to show - and it would be interesting too, with these people getting tired out easily,  lumbering about painfully, where falling objects, which might have been harmless on earth, on a more massy world have become lethal in their velocity....and so on. There is such potential here for original situations . But I fear it could be a long wait to see it happening on screen.             
              Must say that I also look forward to the time when pre-and post operative analgesics, self-applied during continuous consciousness, are so effective as to enable one to function practically normally, even immediately after really major surgical procedure which has literally eviscerated one! The extra-strenuous physical efforts required to engage in a body fight with an alien creature wouldn't present a problem either. Pity I shan't be around to see it.
              The acting I found generally satisfactory or more. (Must admit I was for some time confused by the seeming non-appearance of the wonderful Guy Pearce - then the penny dropped!) I've not yet seen Michael Fassbender give anything less than a good, sometimes remarkable, performance - and this film continues his line of accomplishments. Charlize Theron, who, with her impeccable make-up in the far depths of space - where it's still so important to look stunningly attractive to the other members of her crew - didn't appear to have her heart in the role. (Maybe she too found it all a bit silly!). There was also a number of other names in the cast with which (apart from English Rafe Spall) I wasn't familiar. They were largely pretty good, I thought.
    
         I did start to derive some satisfaction from spotting the conspicuous nods to other films in the 'Alien' series, particularly the original. But after a while they became distractions that seemed to be grafted onto the screenplay to create an 'in-joke'.

       Overall then, I found 'Prometheus' a hodgepodge of half-baked ideas, some not too bad, some just crackers - but the driving force of the film seemed to me to use it merely as a vehicle to show grotesqueries in non-human and part-human beings, and in manner of violence and death. All so passe! (Sorry, but how does one type an acute accent?)

                   Finally, my rating - and I'm going to be extra-generous here - a 4/10!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

New film - 'MIB III' (seen in 2D)

Not much to say about this one.

I saw the original when it was first released, but was not particularly taken by it. Think I gave MiB II a miss, though may be wrong. If I did see it it certainly didn't register. And I can't be bothered to check, which says it all!

Only went to this as was looking for a distraction from current financial woes. (Cunning, eh?  Worried about lack of money - so squander even more of it away on fripperies!)

Entertainment value for me - fairly low , but, to be honest, touching on 'moderate' now and again - though it was never sustained for more than a few moments. Quite liked Josh Brolin's dour portrayal of a younger Tommy Lee Jones character, though Will Smith's ever wise-cracking persona soon gets wearing. (Oh, and what's with all these cut-glass English accents?)

Overall, it passed the time, before having to come back to reality with a bump.

My personal rating - 3.5/10

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Hell's Bells - My landlord is putting the rent up - and by 12%!

For the last 11 months I've been living very strictly within the income provided by my Works pension + State pension - and managing to avoid dipping into my rapidly diminishing savings fund which has been kept aside specifically for:-
 (a) my burial/disposal costs so that others don't have to bear the expense (oh, and I've absolutely no plans to pop my clogs before my time is up!) - as well as
(b) a sum to have this flat professionally cleaned throughout for when the time comes to leave it - which I've promised the landlord.
Then there's also a little more on top which I've been keeping for a 'rainy day'.
Since July last year all my expenses have been cut back to the bone - apart from my single luxury of cinema once or, occasionally, twice a week. There's just no way I can contain further expenses within existing income. (I've still not even had a single holiday for 21 years!)
Money kept for a rainy day? Well, looks like it's just started raining - and, sadly, it's not raining men, so no "Hallelujah!"

   He wants to increase the rent by £60 ($92 American) per month so that it's identical with the flat under me, which is, in fact, slightly smaller than this one. When he rang me he had the impression that it would only affect me a little as he thought that I was being subsidised in whole or in part by the local Council. He seemed a bit abashed when I told him that I've been getting no help at all for the last 6 years, having had to find all the money myself. On hearing that he asked me if I could increase it by £20 for at least the time being. I couldn't really refuse. The last time he made an increase was more than 5 years ago. Besides, he hasn't been a troublesome landlord - and, very importantly, he has turned a blind eye to my having two cats even though under the tenancy agreement no pets are allowed at all. So I'm not really in a position to argue. I've just got to keep on his right side.
   So, after giving the matter some thought, I'll increase it by the £20 for a couple of months and then I'll just have to swallow hard and take the increase up to the full £60 he's asking for, even if that means going back to chipping away at my savings again.

   Of course, in these times of austerity there are plenty of people in a more desperate state than I am. It's said that so far we've experienced only about 10% of the necessary increases in prices and taxes and reductions in public services, so things are likely to get a lot, lot worse.
    Still, it's reassuring to know that when Prime Minister Cameron, sitting with his Cabinet, of whom 21 out of its 26 members are known to be millionaires, tells us that "We're all in this together!" it makes me feel sooooooo much better! 
   

Thursday, 31 May 2012

New film - 'Moonrise Kingdom'

If I'd written this immediately after seeing it yesterday I might have been less kind, but following a night's sleep my feelings have mellowed a bit
It's a film I might otherwise have missed on purpose as I suspected that it was going to feature two of my pet aversions on film - not only a puppy-love liaison (here between a 12 year-old scout and his inamorata of similar age) but also I was dreading, having seen previews, a number of snotty-nosed little brats - here an entire scout troop of them. I was also expecting that as there were so many children featured we'd be subject to hearing ridiculously profound bon-mots tumbling out of the mouths of these emotionally precocious 'little dears', teaching their adult peers how life ought to be lived - something which gets my back up possibly more than anything else on film..
     As it turned out, I've got to give it its due and say that my fears went largely unrealised - though the romantic liaison between the two runaways at the centre of the film did, at times, make my toes curl. (Perhaps that's because of the depiction of something I never experienced myself and to which I can't relate).
   Other than the two young leads, it's a very 'bit-part' film. Among the adult players it's only Edward Norton who, as the earnest, put-upon scoutmaster, has a part he can get his teeth into. The others just drift in and out with hardly time to make an impression. I really wanted to see Frances McDormand in a bigger role - and, even moreso, Tilda Swinton, who up to now I've only seen in highly dramatic parts, though I doubt if she, in just two briefish scenes, was on-screen for more than a total of 3 or 4 minutes. I was also interested to see Bruce Willis in restrained fashion, which he largely was. I did laugh aloud at Harvey Keitel in brief appearances so uncharacteristic of his previous works - here all pomposity, moustache and short pants.
    It's meant to be a quirky film, and so it is up to a point - though not as much as I'd liked. (For sheer, exuberant quirkiness I think the Coen Brothers films up to around the year 2000 were pretty unbeatable - though, sadly, rather less so since then).
     'Moonrise Kingdom' is often a visual delight, parts of it quite stunningly filmed through yellow-tinted lens. I was also pleased with the use of the music of Benjamin Britten as soundtrack (a first in any feature film, as far as I know) mainly using his 'Noye's Fludde', a Biblical music drama written for performance by schoolchildren. It worked well.
     This is the fifth Wes Anderson film I've seen. I thought 'The Darjeeling Ltd' had been so-so. 'Rushmore' and 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' both left me somewhat baffled.  The one I actively disliked throughout was 'The Royal Tenenbaums'  - which is also, incidentally, often spoken of with high regard.

I would rate 'Moonrise Kingdom' as marginally the best of his films so far.  If there hadn't been so much attention given to the cringeing 'young love' angle I might have accorded it a higher score. But all in all, I now award it a score of  5.5/10

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

New Film - 'Albert Nobbs'

You are probably not one of the few who doesn't know that the central idea of this film is that the main role played by Glenn Close is a female character passing off her life as being that of a man. This isn't a spoiler. It's revealed within the first few minutes - if you hadn't already guessed that the distinctly creepy-looking 'man' isn't what he seems, appearing more like an inexpertly-constructed waxwork come to life rather than a flesh and blood human - with face frozen, Botox-like, into uni-expression.
   ( I'm aware that some years ago Glenn Close played this same role on the stage to great acclaim.)
    Okay, I can take the conceit and look beyond that. But it requires a mighty heave of acceptance to find that early in the film she meets another 'woman' doing exactly the same thing (small world!) with whom she has to share a room in the hotel in which s/he works as butler-cum-waiter.
                    That's all I'll say about the plot. But I would have expected most of the tension to have arisen from the situation of the Mr Nobbs character trying to avoid discovery of her true identity. I found very little suspense in this direction, though that may have just been me sitting in an almost empty cinema while the hot sun was blazing down outside.
   To be fair, the film did pick up a bit in the final 20 minutes or so. There is a short scene when both 'Mr Nobbs' and the other female/male character (played in full super-butch mode - though I didn't find her male portrayal very convincing either) put on proper women's dresses - and, curiously, they look much more like men in drag than they did as men when wearing men's clothes.
   Didn't care either for the facile 'tying-up-the-loose-ends' final scene which was too predictable and easy.
Overall, then, a disappointment for me. Feel it ought to have been better - and maybe it was so when live on stage.

            My score for 'Mr Nobbs'..................4/10.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Recent film releases - catch-up

As my good and loyal blog-follower, Paul, has suggested, in future I'll try to post my personal reviews on recent cinema-viewed films shortly after I see them, rather than cover them all together in a monthly blog - by which time they could well have disappeared from the cinema circuit. So I've already got a fair number to talk about since I last wrote.

This one was, for me, the best of the most recent bunch:-


My ratings, out of 10 (which, by the way, no film has EVER got!) in order of seeing:-

The Avengers/Marvel Avengers Assemble.................4.5

Monsieur Lazhar........................................................6.5

Beloved (Les Bien-Aimes)............................................2                        (for which I did an extensive blog on 16th May)

La Soeur de Mozart.....................................................5

John Who Lives at Home............................................5

Blackthorn.................................................................7.5

The Dictator...............................................................5.5 


The Avengers - (Given the longer, clumsy title, above, in the U.K. to avoid confusion with the marvellous 1960s TV series - and the much-belated offshoot and critics/public-panned feature film of 1998 - despite which, I actually quite liked - with Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman and Sean Connery.)
    I'm not the best person to ask about films featuring comic book heroes. It's a speciality into which I can't tune - well, apart from Batman and, maybe, Superman. Having said that, I thought the script quite sharp with some dry wit, the fights were good - and the appearances of Robert D. Jnr and Mark ('Woofy') Ruffalo kept me awake. On a relatively minor point,  there did come a point when I was saying to myself "If I once more hear that word 'Tesseract'  then I'm-a-gonna walk out!"  However, I remained in my seat.
On the whole,  just passable entertainment for me - though after the experience, easily forgotten.

Monsieur Lazhar- Unassuming school drama set in French-speaking Montreal involving Algerian refugee, fleeing persecution in his home country, taking over class following suicide of its previous female teachers. Politically astute and doesn't pull any punches - especially concerning immigration - and with recognition of today's knotty problem of non-familial adults prohibited from touching children, even just to give comfort. Held my interest throughout.

Mozart's Sister - (My third French language film in succession - including 'Les Bien-Aimes).
Story which fleshes out and considerably adds to the known facts about Mozart's performing and composing sibling, elder than 10-year-old Wolfy by 5/6 years but her having to give way to her father's preference, because of her sex, in focussing on exhibiting the talents of her brattish (only slightly in this film) and precocious younger brother rather than showing off her own abilities. Mainly concerns part of a performing tour, visiting the Royal Court at Versailles, using the preposterous but intriguing notion that the Dauphin (the future Louis XVI) finding out that, unknown to her parents, she is masquerading as a young man for her talents to be better appreciated, who then connives with her cross-dressing. Quite liked it but all the time felt that it was done with a too-heavy touch. The costumes and locations are, as one might expect, magnificent.

John Who Lives At Home - Involving two disparate 30-something brothers, starting amiable enough with at least a couple of laugh-out-loud moments. But then around 2/3 through something melodramatic happens and it turns all serious - and ends with a cloying cosiness where everyone is reconciled and happy. Includes a conspicuously imported, though not-too-overplayed Lesbian dimension for a couple of characters. One of the best features is that the film plays at a crisp under-80 minutes - and it passed that time fairly nicely.

Blackthorn - This was a surprise for me, moreso because I'm not a great fan of the Western genre - if one counts Bolivia in the early 20th century as being included in that category. Taking as its premise that Butch Cassidy survived the shoot-out - which was depicted at the end of the 1969 Newman/Redford film - and survived in South America as a horse-trader. It follows him in his final years (with rather too many unnecessary flashbacks?) in league with, and falling out with, a bounty-hunter (Eduardo Noriega looking so damn sexy!). Before I went to the cinema I was concerned about the use of horses and seeing their suffering. But nearly all of it (and there isn't too much) is off-screen. (Just how do they obtain a carcase when they want to show a dead horse, especially if we've seen what looks to be like that same horse previously alive? Sorry, I'm not going to go there!) Glorious scenery, lavishly and stunningly photographed. Acting pretty good throughout. But I'm mystified and dismayed that this film has obtained an average score on IMDb site of only 6.6 as I write this. And there are unkind comments there too on the storyline and the film itself. But all I can say is that I liked it. In fact it's my best film of the last few weeks.

The Dictator - Return to outright comedy of Sacha Baron Cohen, so good in 'Sweeney Todd' and 'Hugo', though this time, with the film being fully scripted, without the sense of danger that characterised his previous incarnations featuring extemporised situations with real-life gullible dupes. (Yes, I dare say that I myself would probably have been taken in too.)
      I found at least the first 20 minutes of this film so barren of laughs that I thought it was going nowhere fast. "More bite!" I wanted to shout. But then I started to sit up in the manner of - "Did he really  say what I thought he said?" Subsequently there were more more moments like that. In fact the film improved as it went on - a film in which double-entendres are banished, but the character just comes out and 'unintentionally', or on purpose, says it full-on . (What we might, in a bygone day, have termed 'Smut'!). But I regularly did find some of the lines funny. Of course it's all a huge piss-take, most of it at the expense of conservative attitudes and hypocrisies, inconsistencies and double standards. But it was fair enough. I get the feeling that when it comes on TV and I watch it again I'll get more out of it the second time round.

                                                    ___________________________________



Right, that's got my films up-to-date. Let's see if I can manage in future to write my views as I see them, ideally one at a time, but no more than a couple together. We'll see how it goes.


Saturday, 26 May 2012

Eurovision........Oh well. Maybe NEXT year!



























Once again the winner was a song and act for which I just cannot fathom the reason why it won. But win it did - and a runaway victory too, given maximum points by the majority of the 42 participating countries.
    The singer, Loreen, with her song 'Euphoria', sounding every bit the electro-pop we heard so much of in the early 1980s, wasn't exactly bad, but I would have placed it in about 10th place out of the 26 finalists. I'm a great fan of retro-pop, but if attempted in an after-era it's got to be done with a twinkle and a wink. It's killed by over-earnestness as, in my opinion, this was. However, it has already been a big hit in a great part of Europe so what do I know?

  My own telephone-vote was for Italy - an up-beat Amy Winehouse/Lily Allen-type number with a conspicuous nod to jazz. It came 10th. My second choice would have been Moldova (actually coming 11th) and then my number three, Malta, to my intense displeasure, only finished 21st!

    The final results:-
     1. Sweden
     2. Russia (the 'grannies!)
     3. Serbia (another song which I didn't rate at all.)
     4. Azerbaijan (ditto)
     5. Albania (ditto)


And the British entry, sung by 'The Hump'? It came second from last, just above Norway. I thought it deserved better but it was stymied from the start by drawing the short straw and having to appear first. I won't row back from my opinion that it had a fair chance of even winning, or at least of getting a good position. I still maintain it was a brave and imaginative choice of singer. It ought to have come in the top half at least, I reckon. But still, we did better than in some recent years. In 3 of the last 10 contests we have actually come last!
     Anyway, it's some relief that it's now all over - and next year we will have it coming from a much less contentious location.

   Now better get down to those film blogs again. I've got quite a number to write about.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Eurovision Semi-Final 2 - Another rebuff for my choice of winner



Well, it happened again. Last night I voted for the Netherlands and, like my choice of Israel on the previous round, it failed to make it to the final. What is it with these other viewers?  Don't they have taste! ;-)




The Dutch entry sung by a Joan Franko, very strangely attired in wonderful American Native Indian Chieftain head-dress gave us a cheerful, bouncy number. I think she and her gleeful toy-boy backing group thought that they had it in the bag - as I did. Oh, how wrong we were! Another loss for tomorrow night's entertainment.







What would have been my second choice, the dishy Kurt Colleja here, singing for Malta, did get through - and it's not a bad song either. So at least there's something else to look forward to.














My nomination for the title of  'Campest Act of the Night' goes to Turkey for its act of Can Bonomo, an elfinesque singer with an unlikely backing of macho, cloak-swirling, amazing dancing hottie-bears  They also got through - and with another song that was one of the better ones of last night. Looking forward to another view. Great stuff!






This is a pic of the Israeli act, Izala, my choice but who failed to get through on Tuesday (sigh!). Very interesting photo, don't you think? I want to join them under the sheets.









And finally, in case you didn't know, there are still the Russian grannies who, if they don't win tomorrow night, certainly deserve to be highly placed - though I don't want another country on the far-eastern edge of Europe to win yet again! However, 'Good Luck' to them - but even more luck to our own Brit entry, the 'Hump'!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Eurovision 2012 - It's started!

Last night was the first semi-final in what is the biggest of all international camp-fests - though also probably the only one!
Eurovision Song Contest 2012 got off to a flying start with some gloriously O.T.T. acts - and a high proportion of the songs were pretty good too, a welcome change from recent years.
Twenty countries participated and ten were chosen by viewer votes to go onto Saturday's final. Semi-final Part Two will take place tomorrow night.
The U.K., along with France, Germany, Italy and Spain, are automatic qualifiers for the final in recognition of their being the main financial contributors to the event. The U.K. entry will be the bravely and imaginatively chosen, 76-year-old crooner, Engelbert Humperdinck, who had several monster hits in the late 1960s, and 'notorious' at having been the first artiste to have kept the all-conquering Beatles from off the British Number 1 in 1967 (with 'Release Me' blocking 'Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever'. I remember it well.) His ballad this year is, to my mind, not bad at all and certainly in with a fair chance.
             My major disappointment last night was that the country I would have voted for, Israel, did not make it into the final ten. I find it hard to think why - they had, probably, the campest of all acts  (and that really is saying something!) with a conspicuously hottie (for me) backing singer, not to mention the hairy, yummy drummer, and with their lead singer sporting a single outsize ear-ring, more of a chain-link pendant - and all with a  darned catchy, jolly song that could have come straight out of a 1950s Hit Parade - and I loved it! Shame on you, Eurovision viewers, for not recognising 'quality camp'!
   However, at least two of my other choices, Moldova and Latvia did get through, as well as, very pleasingly, from Russia the group of peasant 'grannies', as they are described, though I would have thought 'great-grannies' would have been nearer the mark. Good, folksy, up-beat song though.

All this takes place in Baku, Azerbaijan, under the politically-ghastly regime of President Aliyev, that country having earned its host status after winning the contest last year. The president and his family-loyal coterie of stupendously oil-rich hacks are squeezing the event for all its propaganda worth. It remains to be seen if any of the expected demonstrations against his cast-iron grip on power and his appalling crushing of all dissent will be manifested at any time in the next few days. His totalitarian style would have made Stalin himself green with envy. Aliyev's glamorous wife, who could give Carla Bruni a run for her money - though she, Mrs Aliyev,  would have lost - is herself in charge of television coverage. Last year, Azerbaijan, at enmity with neighbouring Armenia , not only pettily blacked out its TV screens when the latter country's entry was performing, but the police after investigation of the state's telephone records, hauled in for questioning, with physical force, anyone who had voted for Armenia as a form of protest.
    Aliyev's family, including his three teenage children, are living in such unimaginable luxury beyond the comprehension of the huge majority of Azerbaijani's fantasies, to which our own British Royal Family can hardly hold a candle. 'Filthy rich' doesn't even begin to describe it. At least we can say what we like about our Elizabeth and her dysfunctional family circle - and, indeed, we do!

  So all that leaves a sour undertaste. So many of the winners in recent years have been from politically repressive regimes that it'll be a pleasant change to have it held next year in a location we have less concern about. Though having said that, I'm still very disappointed that we won't be seeing the Israeli act again on Saturday night.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Film '(The) Beloved' - my nomination for 'Turkey of the Year' (so far)

(No, not the Oprah Winfrey 1998 film of the Toni Morrison novel.)

Once in a while I'll leave the cinema before a film has ended because I just can't take any more. With 'Beloved' it's the first time I've done it in well over a year.
As you see on the left, it's a French film, similar to the 1964 'Les Parapluies de Cherbourg' in having songs (not too many), performed/mimed by the actors, punctuating the dialogue. The wonderful Catherine Deneuve actually plays a lead role in both films, but this later feature has absolutely nothing of the whimsical charm the earlier film had, which made it such a pleasant, if slightly shallow, experience.

Lest it be thought that my overall opinion was clouded by what happens well into the film (around 50 minutes, in fact), I was starting to get irritated within the first 10 minutes. The self-obsession of the leading female character was already riling me. After another 10 mins I was beginning to wonder whether it would really improve. By the time half an hour was up the thought had drifted across my mind whether I should walk out. (According to an arbitrary self-ordained rule I set myself way back in the 1960s, I cannot include a film in my 'register' as having been seen unless I'm present for at least 2/3 of it)  So, notwithstanding the fact of wanting to leave there and then, I'd been confined  by my own strictures to endure at least another hour and a quarter of it if it was to be entered as a filmic experience.

It didn't start well when the said leading female character, working in a shoe shop, steals a pair of shoes for herself. Okay, it's such a film cliche to have a shop-lifter stealing and, naturally, getting away with it (Ha ha! - what a lark!). It's as much a hackneyed situation as it is to have a peal of thunder followed within seconds by rain coming down in torrents (Btw: when was the last film in which it rained moderately - or, even rarer, if ever, it just drizzled?). But I can accept the shoe-stealing start as being merely formulaic, even though it always irritates me intensely.
   I'll jump the next tedious 3/4 hour until the young female goes to a live music club and finds herself attracted to the performing group's drummer, a Canadian. Their eyes meet and a spark is struck. They encounter each other again outside. He invites her back to his place for a drink where she starts making advances to him. He (with some regret?) explains that he is gay. She, profusely apologising for not realising it, hurriedly leaves - though, he tries to follow, unsuccessfully. (However, you see, his passion has now been fired!) He seeks her out the next day and - before you can say "ex-gay", he's dragged her into a male toilet and is passionately and, very 'cunningly', pleasuring her with his tongue. (So, if only he'd met the 'right' woman before, he might have been 'cured'!  But why did he say he was gay if he'd actually been bi-sexual, when he could have got straight on to to screwing her? Or was it her overwhelmingly attractive presence which brought on this self-revelation that he was sexually attracted to women after all?)
   After this blistering encounter, they go their own ways - she, having several one-night stands with a number of different men - he, presumably, returning to his boyfriend. But then they meet up again. By now my 'allotted time' to remain watching the film was coming to an end. I left the cinema just as these two were renewing their yearned-for re-acquaintance (they both being unable to forget the other, of course!) - but he warns her that he doesn't think he can supply what she wants as he suspects that he might have AIDS after having experienced a wild time in New York, though he hadn't actually been for a test. (Why say "AIDS"? Why not "HIV"? But, as I didn't catch the precise French words, one can at least blame the subtitles.) But, oh, if only he'd found her earlier - then he might not have been infected! And that was when I left the cinema.
            Must admit I did wonder how the film would end. Would he find that his suspicions about carrying the virus were misplaced and that the two of them could live together - Hap.Ev.Aft.? Or would it twist around and reveal that while he turned out to be clear, she was the one with HIV after all those turns with strangers?  I've looked up the synopsis on the web and found that the ending was neither of those - and quite surprising, at least as far as she was concerned. But I'm now past caring.

      Oh, and on a general point, why is it that in nearly every single French film all the adult characters smoke like chimneys? Far more than in American and British films, where, I think, smoking is already shown with greater frequency than one encounters in real life anyway.

I would normally have included my thoughts on 'Beloved' in my upcoming blog on films seen during May which I'll do in a couple of weeks.  But I had a relatively lot to say on this one, and anyway, it gets it off my chest by devoting an entire blog to it now.

   My irritations with this film are very personal - and some who have seen it may take issue with what I've said. On IMDb site a guy who uses 'gay' as part of his blog-name thought that the film was pretty good, so it's an individual reaction.
But leaving aside the gay element (which was only one strand of the film in any case) I was felt so antagonised  from the very outset that it becomes a self-vindication in knowing that it will certainly contend to be my own 'Clunker of 2012'.