Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Recent film release - 'The Bourne Legacy'

My first cinema visit for over three weeks (an inordinately lengthy interval for me) felicitously slipped in between the almost continuous 'highs' of the Olympics and the hoped-for euphoria of the impending Paralympics.

Matt Damon-less sequel to the rather good 'Bourne trilogy'. Jeremy Renner acceptable as the 'moving target', though he labours under having conspicuously lived-in features whereas Damon's bland physiognomy could be lost in a crowd, which would be an advantage in this role..
    Rachel Weisz emotes as per the instruction leaflet. Edward Norton as usual, never disappoints, though here his know-it-all authority figure hardly stretches him.
   Some of the several chases are good fun and did get my adrenalin flowing, at least up to a point. Renner not hindered at all in speed or versatility despite carrying a backpack. Very impressive. His character also displays bottomless initiative in outsmarting his pursuers, which is what is only to be expected in an action film like this.
   I'd lost the thread of the plot within the first quarter hour - and therefore the attempts during the film's course to flesh out motivation and strategy were lost on me. I don't think I'm alone. In fact maybe the majority don't bother with keeping up with what's going on, which makes those sagging longueurs of explanation all a bit unnecessary. But I suppose if they don't attempt to give it a veneer of plausibility some critic or other is going to pounce. However, once again my frequent complaint comes up - why make it so difficult to hear what the characters are saying, especially if it really is that important? But I know I'm onto a loser just by posing the question.
   All in all, a fair enough romp to wile away a couple of hours entertainingly enough. One of those see-it-once-then-forget-it films.

                          My score...............5/10

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Annual 'Birdman' event in Worthing, Sussex.

Object is to jump off structure erected at end of pier, usually (but not always) with home-made wings attachment. Prizes for entrants who glide furthest distance and stay in air longest. Not easy this year as there was only a light wind, if any at all.
Also section for jumping in crazy costumes. Wish I'd caught on camera the pair of chaps in pantomime horse outfit, which split in two in mid-leap - or, rather, mid-drop. (Most of the jumps this year were perpendicular).




















(Following pic, left foreground)
"Hey, Mr Wayne! I said 'Birdman'!  And, by the way, take your filthy paws off that lady or I'll tell Boy Wonder who'll get so jealous he's going to zap you just south of your utility belt!"





And finally, a self-portrait on my way home to feed all the pussies:-




Monday, 13 August 2012

Olympics closing ceremony afterthoughts

Granted, coming as a farewell to the most enjoyable Olympics I've ever experienced (and I can remember as far back as Rome 1960), this ceremony had to be something extra-special - and, in many respects it was.
Part of my very high opinion of the Games generally may well have been because of its location, which certainly helped - but that wasn't the full reason.

The re-creation of the London skyline, above, in illuminated model form was totally and breath-takingly astonishing - 'London Eye' (the giant Ferris Wheel), Gherkin, Battersea Power Station (as was)..... et al!


Now the closing ceremony's  'buts', plus one or two positives:-

Too long by half.

(I liked the accurate, if over-fussy, reference to the attendance of of Prince Henry).

Some of the acts too insularly British to be appreciated internationally - e.g. I'm a great 'Madness' fan, but singing 'Our House'?  Similarly, 'The Who' chosen, of all acts to close? Well, at least it wasn't Jesse J coming out for the fourth time, so that was a point in its favour.

George Michael - 5 minutes would have been quite enough, thank you.

Ray Davies singing 'Waterloo Sunset' - a sublime song encapsulating a very parochial Britishness - coming from an era when 'The Kinks' were one of the very great 'supergroups', at the same time as 'The Hollies' and, yes, 'The Who' too - as well as 'The Stones' and....well, you know who. Maybe his little act worked, maybe it didn't.

Spice Girls - must confess to an inner thrill at seeing them together again - yes, on balance it worked. (Geri now surely the skinniest of the lot, even moreso than Mrs Beckham!)

Fat Boy Slim? - bet the quizzical looks outnumbered the smiles.

Pet Shop Boys - I wouldn't have minded a second ditty from them.
Similarly, our dear and incomparable Annie Lennox, but without all that suffocating, encumbering drapery in a second song.

Eric Idle - well, they had to have a 'Python' spot, didn't they? And it did lighten things up a bit.

Emili Sande not only opening the show but appearing again later (what the hell was she singing about? - on both occasions! I couldn't make it out.)  - though at least it wasn't as OTT as Jesse J popping up for no less than THREE times, for goodness sake - when I just had to start flicking channels. You'd think she was Princess Di the Second!

Russell Brand surprisingly good singing 'I Am the Walrus'. Didn't know he could carry a tune - and pretty well, too.

'Imagine' worked well despite it having been heard to death for too many years now. I actually found it quite moving.

Elton, conspicuous by the absence of any acknowledgement of his music - or did I aurally 'blink'? - whereas Bowie (who's had a shorter 'shelf-life', though I'm not complaining!) gets a whole section, linked in with British fashion.
Btw: I wish someone had tried to throw a mobile at that annoying, spoilt brat of a woman, Naomi C., - which I sincerely hope would have missed, of course ;-)  - and who thinks that growing up and acting her (advancing) age is, oh, just TOO much hassle! - and whose only talent, as far as I can judge, is the ability to cross her legs three times over the back of a guy as he's humping her.

Lord Coe, as in his Opening Ceremony speech, going on too long again, but not helped by the crowd cheering after just about every sentence, as though he was an American Presidential candidate. Maybe they should have done the same as they do at the Oscars (or is it the BAFTAS?) and start playing music to drown him out after he's been talking for two minutes.

I'll think of other things later, but this is what's coming to mind during a morning after a night of inadequate sleep. But there you are - my thoughts are on record.

 Now follow that, Rio - IF you can! - HAH!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Computer problems - GRRRRRRRR!!!!

Being a bit of an ignoramus when it comes to computer workings, looks like I'm a-gonna have to dip deep into that fortuitous windfall mentioned in my blog of only two days ago and which had so delighted me.
My p.c. has been functioning progressively slower over recent months, with the 'free space' on the disc now down to just 8% - a sudden drastic tumble, for some totally mysterious reason, from the near 70% of only 6 months ago - from where it had been decreasing, it's true, but only very gradually. Despite my downloading three different (free) disk-cleaning and fragmenting devices, as well as buying one for £20, none of them has made any difference at all - while it continues to get slower and s-l-o--w--e---r.
And now, to cap it all, in trying to delete files which I thought weren't needed, I've gone and deleted the means to get sound, any sound, through the speakers - and I'm not savvy enough to know how to recover it, dammit! (I couldn't even listen to Anne Marie's posting today of 'Footloose'! How much worse can it get?)
  Oh well, before digging myself into an even deeper hole, looks like the only sensible solution is to get the chappie in who installed it for me 7 years ago - but, of course, he costs money!. As is known, once you've got yourself dependent on a computer, it's awfully hard to get weaned off it.
Well, the longer it's left the more it's going to get to me - no good for the old blood pressure. So, looks like a little telephone call tomorrow morning has to be on the cards. Will try to save my tears at the price until after he's gone.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Thank you, Your Majesty!

Completely out of the blue, I get a cheque in this morning's post from Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs enclosing a cheque for £227 ($355 American) being refund of over-deducted income tax from my pension for the last tax year. Oh joy!
   Well, naturally the first thing I thought of was to go to the big local pet store and buy some 'special', more expensive food for my pussies (as one does). I blew 1/3 of it there. It would have be intolerable to have neglected them by not allowing them to share in my good fortune and then have them sulking at me.
    But let it not be said that I've neglected myself. Oh no. I've bought myself a bottle of cheap 'n cheerful red, for just over a fiver, with which to celebrate. The rest of this windfall will go into my 'unexpected events' fund - which is being built up, essentially, for my having to travel to sudden funerals. The hard fact is that at my age people I know, relations and others, are starting to drop like flies, so one simply has to be prepared.
    However, let's not get maudlin. Where's that corkscrew? I want to raise a glass to Her Majesty the Queen. Long may she continue to bestow her bounty - especially on those of us who pay our taxes!  So, bottoms up!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

My 'Desert Island Discs'

'Desert Island Discs' is a BBC radio programme which has been going on for 70 years, in which a 'celebrity' from any field chooses eight records to be taken if that person were to be shipwrecked on a desert island and which would have to last, potentially, for the rest of his/her life. (A 'record' = a single track. So no complete albums, operas, musicals etc. are allowed.)
A single book may also be taken - apart from the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible, which are, by chance, already there - as well as a single luxury i.e. something which is of no practical help to survival or to escape. It cannot be a radio (or TV) as that would defeat the object of the exercise. It must also be inanimate - so, no pet cats etc!

 I've actually been listening to the programme since about 1962. Even when I lived in Germany I followed it on long-wave radio.


My blog friend Andrew @ oneexwidow.blogspot.com  has already recently done the posting of his choices and Stephen @ thestateofthenationuk.blogspot.co.uk is currently revealing his own choices one by one. So, after toying with this idea for years, I think it would be better to strike now while the iron is hot.


My choices are:-


Beethoven - 9th Symphony (first movement, rather than the last) - conducted by Otto Klemperer.

Beethoven - Piano Sonata in C minor Opus 111 (second movement) - played by Vladimir Ashkenazy

Bach -  Mass in B minor - the opening of the 'Gloria' - conducted by Karl Richter

Brahms -  Alto Rhapsody - soloist, Janet Baker

Beatles - Hey Jude

ABBA - Super Trouper

Rodgers & Hammerstein - 'This Nearly Was Mine' from 'South Pacific' - sung by Paolo Szot

Shakespeare - Selection from the 'Sonnets' recited by Sir John Gielgud.



 Beatles   I'd have been satisfied with so many of their tracks that the final choice must have an arbitrariness about it. I suppose my accolade for the best single track they ever made would be a toss-up between 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Eleanor Rigby' - but both were, largely or exclusively, solo efforts by Lennon and Mccartney respectively, but also both having a huge input from George Martin.  Then there are their many album tracks - again, almost too many jewels to count - 'And Your Bird Can Sing', 'Two of Us', 'Something', 'And I Love Her', 'In My Life', 'Here There and Everywhere', 'Sexy Sadie', 'I am the Walrus', 'Girl', 'While My Guitar...', 'Revolution'.......the list just goes on and on.
So, finally plumping for 'Hey Jude' doesn't necessarily mean I think it's the greatest of all the Beatles tracks, though it is certainly among them. It's just that it's more representative than some. For me, this time was when pop music reached the absolute heights of excellence - and it's never been quite there since, though it has come close - Bowie, Carpenters, Elton, Queen, even Madonna - and then, of course, there's......

ABBA  This is the most evocative track out of my eight choices. It marks the start of what turned out to be my decade of hedonism, during the second visit of what was to be no less than 35 visits to Amsterdam, within the next 10 years, usually alone. (On my very first visit I'd been too scared to do anything!). It was a decade of frequent peaks of joy, but also regular heartbreak, living more intensely than I've ever lived before or since, making new friends - and, within the space of a few years, losing very nearly every single one of them through.... you know what. A decade of extreme highs and lows, but years which are treasured in my memory forever.
  The 'Super Trouper' album came out when I was already a very keen Abba fan so even without the associations I would almost certainly have picked a track by them. But I think the entire album is a succession of  gems anyway - so many brilliant tracks (particularly 'Our Last Summer' which, in its lyrics, sings of Paris, a city I was then yet to discover - and to find that Paris was my favourite city of them ALL!). But the title track of this album brings all that era back to me. I only have to put it on, close my eyes - and I'm there again!

'This Nearly Was Mine'  I couldn't live without something from a musical - and this is as fine a choice as any I can think of. There may be musicals other than 'South Pacific' which, though I love tremendously, I love even more. ('Les Mis' still delivers to me the highest count of pleasurable goose-pimples than any other musical.) I could also have chosen a Lloyd Webber - specifically from 'Evita' (any number of songs there!) or one from any of his trilogy written with Tim Rice.
    But this particular song from South Pacific never fails to get me close to tears. I'm not generally a great fan of Hammerstein's lyrics - 'subtlety' was never his strong point - but here, with Rodgers' gentle, lilting, poignantly sad waltz, he hits the emotion right on target. It's a sentiment which we all recognise and go through regularly, no matter what our sexuality. I just find it so very profoundly moving.
Incidentally, until I googled his name, I hadn't realised that the singer I chose, the Brazilian Paolo Szot, is an 'out' gay man. He may not sing it as expertly (he has a bit of a 'warble') as, say, Jose Carreras, but the latter declaims the song whereas the lyrics are clearly that of introspection and inner regret at the loss of something that had been so close to having - and Paolo delivers it as an 'inner voice' just as the lyrics require. Heart-moving stuff!

John Gielgud  - for me the loveliest speaking voice of my time. He may not have been the greatest actor (that surely was Olivier, though since his death even he is now considered to have been rather mannered) but what beautiful, fruity, full-bodied enunciation Gielgud had! I find his rendering of Shakespeare's words quite hypnotic - and if I have to live for the rest of my life knowing how only one person talks, I can't imagine my choosing anyone better than Gielgud to show how it can be done. Though I've learnt to recite all the Sonnets myself off by heart (yes, all 154 of them) Sir John is an object lesson in how to do it properly.


My classical choices
 Beethoven's 9th is, in my books (along with the 'Missa Solemnis'), simply the greatest music ever written by man. I only chose the former rather than the latter as I've already got a mass with the Bach (my joint-favourite of all composers) -  the 'Gloria' of whose B minor Mass is surely the most exhilaratingly joyful music ever written - by anyone!
I picked Beethoven's final piano sonata because of it being a glorious summation of his achievements - written, like his final symphony, when he was completely deaf, but nevertheless an almost unbelieveable miracle of sound and invention. Most music critics would place the string quartets as a whole, particularly the late ones, on an even higher plain than the sonatas. But there are more than twice as many of the latter - and they cover such an amazingly immense spectrum of emotion. I could live with his piano works more comfortably than with his chamber pieces, and Ashkenazy is the pianist who, for me, gets closer to Beethoven's spirit than any other.
The Brahms Alto Rhapsody, particularly the final C major section with the male choir joining the Alto soloist,  would be a piece I'd choose for my funeral, if I were to have one (though I don't want one anyway)..  It is so very simple and deeply, deeply moving. This music never ever fails to reduce me to tears - and when it's the solo voice of an angel like Janet Baker (the favourite female singing voice of my lifetime), well nothing on earth can trump that!


My luxury - a comfy pillow. (Having a good sleep is ever so important to me.)

My book - the many who pick the rather obvious choice of 'War and Peace' do so by saying that they've either never got round to reading it, or they started but never finished it. Well I would choose it on its merits - which are manifold. I've read it (so far) six times in three different translations - and I worship it as a work! Just about everybody says that 'Anna Karenina' (four or five times) is an even greater work, and I'm willing to concede that. But W & P has such a mind-blowing panorama of the psychology, emotions and motivations of a good number of individuals during Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign, that one really cares for them and what happens to them. The characters rise from out of the pages and sit with you as you read. Also, Tolstoy's sweeping commentaries on the politics and strategies of the time, with his countless 'asides', just leave me breathless. Microcosm and macrocosm brought together in one glorious volume. I love it - and it's power to involve blows me away every time. I will never stop re-reading it.



So that's it! I've said to Andrew @ 'the widow's world' that one's list doesn't have to be definitive for all time. As one goes through life the choices cannot help but change according to the impact one's circumstances of the time have had. But these are my choices as at now.


It would be so very interesting if other readers of this blog could offer their own contribution to this little game . Go on - have a go, (please)!







Saturday, 4 August 2012

'5 on the 5th' - Summer Special

Here is my contribution to Stephen Chapman's 'Summer Special' on his  blog - thestateofthenationuk.blogspot.co.uk

All pics taken yesterday.





Summer morning sun (6 o'clock) over Worthing sea-front.



Early dog-walkers (you can just about see them) under Summer morning moon in park opposite my flat.





A bit scruffy, looking more as though it's a left-over from the Beijing 2008 games - bit it's working!





This has made my Summer! Unlike Stephen, who's been favoured to be able to watch some events actually there, live in person, here is how I've been viewing events. But even so, been having the time of my life.
Yes, yes.................YEEEEEEESSSSSSSS!!!  Yet another GOLD!!!  Is there NO END to this succession of historic British triumphs????





While for some, life carries on regardless, mill. by painful mill., in ultra slo-mo.............




Saturday, 28 July 2012

Olympics opening ceremony - random morning-after thoughts

Even before the very start I was already a bit irritated at the late hour for which it was programmed. (Was it really because of the fireworks, or did the sponsors want it shown at a time more suitable for North American viewers?) Within minutes of its commencement I was thinking "Oh dear, this isn't working". I was aware of the general thrust of the history concept but if I wasn't sure exactly what was supposed to be going on, what was the rest of the world supposed to think?" This went on for about half an hour before I  began to be drawn in.
The consecutive set pieces seemed to be choreographed more with the stadium spectators in mind than for TV, and there was nothing wrong with that - though witness the close-in shots of individuals or groups acting in manners which looked distinctly odd, which in a 'big picture' would have made more sense.
Kenneth Branagh's turn as a Brunel-like figure badly misfired, but the forging of the rings was quite breathtaking - and a number of the other ideas were alternately quaint, humorous and intriguing. (All those Mary Poppins!)
    Mr Bean's appearance was fine - but too much of him.
James Bond was great, if inevitable - and, of course, the 'piece de resistance' of the entire evening was Her Maj participating in a spoof. Right up to its actual happening it would have been regarded as unthinkable and is, rightly, much talked about this morning. Certainly the biggest surprise of the night.
   Arctic Monkeys & Dizzee Rascal? Well, someone must be fans of theirs!
Evelyn Glennie making her much valued percussive contribution. Macca not in best voice, but look at his age - even older than I am! His attempts to get everyone singing along to the 'Na na nas' at end of 'Hey Jude' seemed to get indifferent results, though it may have sounded better in the stadium.
   The paean to the National Health Service was a brilliant piece of cheek, if quaintly idealised (as was the brief slotting in of that lesbian kiss). Can't help imagining the outraged faces, disgust and shocks of horror in some non-British commercial concerns, and overseas capitalists generally, at this 'disgraceful' and 'blatant advertisement for Socialism'. Well, tough titty to them!
     My eyes started welling up right towards the end when I saw who was comprising the team carrying the Olympic flag. Lovely choices!
     Speeches at end somewhat too long. If only they'd copied what the Queen (looking rather uninterested throughout, even a bit grumpy) was going to do, and read out from a small scrap of paper.

I eventually retired over three hours later than my usual bed-time but was glad that I'd stayed up. It was something to be experienced live.
   Full marks for imagination, for daring to show some irreverence in what has become a rather starchy, po-faced and formulaic event, albeit previously always with some jaw-dropping, though predictable, demonstrations of mass synchronicity. I liked the 'rough-round-the-edges' approach - with even some roughness at the heart!

A fine start to proceedings. Very encouraging indeed. Now let the real action begin!


Friday, 27 July 2012

Recent film release: 'The Dark Knight Rises'.

                                                       
(NOTE: The following contains 'spoilers'!)

I'd been expecting to find this more enjoyable than  'Spider-Man'. Sadly, it was not thus - by quite a margin.

So what can be said that hasn't already been stated?
I'd have appreciated subtitles. Nearly all the film was very loud, unnecessarily so, often masking the dialogue which, considering that the story-line was so convoluted, ought to have been regarded as important to put over clearly.
When you know a film is going to be over two and a half hours long one hopes that one will be grabbed by something very special and that these 'rabbits' continue to be pulled out, giving an air of expectation - and fun, a feature of which this film was devoid.
The over-earnestness in attempting to rationalise the characters' motivations I found self-defeating and a waste of time as, frankly, I just couldn't have cared. 
It would be difficult to imagine anything that is as far removed from the original spirit of the Batman comics, (which I recall from the 1950s), as this is. It's also the bleakest of all the films since the character appeared through the 1989 Michael Keaton portrayal, which itself was, for me, only worth seeing for Jack Nicholson's magnificently nasty mischief-maker of a Joker.
    Trying hard not to repeat what others have said I must also point out the relationship between Bruce Wain and Alfred, who has here completely shed all the gentlemanly deference of the original wise, old background figure who knows when to keep his mouth shut. Michael Caine, jarring in his unrestrained cockney, has now become quasi-patriarch, almost a godfather! Wain was perfectly correct in shutting this insufferably uppity butler out of his life.
I found it a shame that Tom Hardy (exceptional a few years back in the scary titular lead of 'Bronson') had to appear permanently masked so that he was only able to act with muffled voice, some gymnastics and with bone-shattering blows, kicks and grips.
One thing in the film which I did like was Marion Cotillard who convinced me completely in her two-faced role - though one, of course, suspected that her 'good' side was just too good to be true. But she really is a fine actress.
My general dissatisfaction about the film was not helped at all by a scene very near the end where a nuclear explosion takes place miles out to sea and we are shown, as we always are, the sound of it reaching the witnesses at precisely the same moment as the sight of the explosion when it really ought to have been a good half-minute later or more. Oh well - a minor quibble perhaps, but it set the seal on my thumbs-down verdict.

When I see that on the IMDb site nearly 60% of people scoring this film gave it a perfect 10 (a rating I've yet to give to any film), then I've got to recognise that I'm so far removed from the target audience that my own views are of little consequence.
Undaunted, however, and repeating a reminder that my own score reflects the degree of enjoyment I personally derived from the film rather than a judgment on whether it was efficiently made in all its aspects, I award 'The Dark Knight Rises' a.........3/10.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Recent film release: 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

At the outset I ought to say that in order to catch this film at under half the usual admission price I saw it at a morning showing, in 2D, and on a less-than-large cinema screen. Clearly, then, it wouldn't have the visual 'punch' that it was intended to have. But as I'm not one easily swayed by effects which are essentially only just so much froth, it did enable me to view the film the better for precisely what it was - at least that's what I want to think.
   I wasn't more than moderately entertained - though, on the other hand, never really bored. What I thought there was a shortage of was humour, only occurring in two short scenes, the second such, very brief. To carry off comic-book heroes successfully, I think there has to be a large tongue-in-cheek element. When it takes itself too seriously it all becomes rather ponderous.

Andrew Garfield was at least adequate for the part. Everyone says he makes a better go of the portrayal than Tobey Maguire did, and I wouldn't disagree. Pity that the estimable Martin Sheen, rarely seen on the cinema screen now, should have his character disposed of so early in the film. But Sally Field as his widow was good - as was Rhys Ifans. Shame also that the film seemed to degenerate into a Spiderman v Godzilla-type monster for so much of the final part, with all the expected technical effects thrown at the screen, to which I can only say "So what?".
   Btw: Was it just me or did I miss it? Was a major strand of the plot left unresolved - or was that being kept back for the next instalment? Maybe my attention wavered at a critical moment.

All in all, not too bad, but not really a film to lodge long in the memory.

So, with that heavily-qualified endorsement, I award this Spider-Man a score of................5/10.