Thursday, 22 November 2012

New film: 'GAMBIT'

This is a 'sort of' re-make of the 1966 Shirley Maclaine/Michael Caine/Herbert Lom feature, which I did see very many moons ago but have now completely forgotten. So I come to this re-filming, like most people will,  virtually 'new', unable to make a comparison. (My film reference books tell me the original was well-regarded).
     I suppose it purports to belong to the category which we used to call 'sophisticated comedy' - and which can only necessarily work when given a light and deft touch. That is a quality which this film lacks.

Colin Firth plays his familiar, straight-faced, shoulder-shrugging character which we are getting to know so well. Alan Rickman, in mood either exaggeratedly histrionic or with buttoned-up menace (the latter always works well from him - most recently, of course, in the Harry Potters) - and Cameron Diaz in full-throttled Texan drawl and cowgirl sass. (I was only waiting for her to slap her thighs - "Yee-HAH!"). Oh, and Stanley Tucci, in three shortish scenes, pulls from off the conveyor belt another of his fey eccentrics.
     A simple plot involves forgery of a Monet which Firth, as an act of vengeance, attempts to sell to Rickman at a price the genuine article would have commanded. Add in a sprinkling of swear words which have long since lost the power to shock.....and there you are.
    I really didn't expect to find it the bore that I did. It felt longer than it's just-under-90 mins. It's a shame because it did have a lot going for it - a good, starry cast (Tom Courtenay's in there too), easy to understand storyline and a script by the brothers Coen. But for me it failed to work - and ultimately it just didn't engross.

I'm afraid that with a film devoid of LOL moments, just a very few half-smiles cannot rescue 'Gambit' from a .......3/10

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

New (German) film: 'BARBARA'

Sombre, unassuming, rather slow-paced, but not ineffectual drama set in 1980s East Germany involving a nurse 'exiled' to work in a small rural hospital because of her desire to leave the country in order to live with her lover who is resident in the west. She has understandable suspicions of whom, if anyone, she can trust, and she has her apartment subjected to random spot checks by the Stasi, as well as having to undergo intimate body-searches. During clandestine 'conjugal' visits by her partner plans are made for her to escape the country under subterfuge, but all the while she feels increasing responsibility not to desert the patients at the hospital - and one girl in particular - while she entertains an ambivalence towards her supervising doctor who feels a growing attraction towards her.
     All this sounds more eventful than what actually plays out before our eyes on screen.

It's an efficiently-made film, though hardly one I'm going to remember for more than a few days.

I grant 'Barbara' a rating of.......................6/10..... (though now, one day later, this feels a bit on the high side and I want to take it down a notch to 5.5)

Monday, 19 November 2012

Dickens' year almost over (thank heavens!)

At the beginning of 2012 I gave myself the task of re-reading, in this 200th anniversary year of his birth, all fourteen of his major novels in chronological order of their publication - and, apart from the Christmas stories (including, of course, 'Carol'), which I traditionally read in December, I've achieved it. Never again! At least not to read them all in close succession. Before half-way through the year I was aware of developing an 'indigestion' in my brain. All that sentiment, all that waffling, those tear-inducing sufferings of 'innocent' parties, and numerous stoically-borne deaths - but more than any of this, those docile, meek, obedient female characters displaying a superhuman forbearance to their lowly circumstances that made me just want to scream!
Of course I recognise that the expectations of what was considered in the 19th century to be the accepted, decorous conduct of the female in polite society has shifted markedly. Women have, quite rightly, for a long time now, been considered quite as entitled as men to live as reactively to life's trials, rather than with the 'shut-up-and-put-up-with-it' expectations of Victorian repressedness. But, all the same, that particular aspect does make for rather depressing reading.
   I did, however, get much of the expected pleasures from re-living the very many amusing passages, a lot of which are very funny indeed - and his character word-paintings are surely second to none in entire English literature. But for the first time my patience with the stretched-out plots was becoming so threadbare that I was longing to get to the end of each novel. Also, must confess that I 'glided' over more pages than in any previous readings, either skimming them, or with my mind on 'auto'. Anyway, I've now read them all at least three times, some (Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, Great Expectations, David Copperfield) four times. Of course I'm not saying that I'm never going to re-read any of them again because I certainly will - but not more than a couple in such a short period of time. 

  So, with this year's 'project' almost done, what's 2013 got in store? Well, one thing that just has to be done is to make a third assault on the seven volumes of 'A la Recherche...' - though my pipe-dream of tackling it in the original language will have to remain just that for a bit longer.
   I've already embarked on a sixth reading of the Bible (King James edition this time, again) as well as an eighth foray into the Qur'an - making copious notes on both, while trying to make sense of both of these often contradictory exemplars of 'Holy Writ', and which get increasingly and frustratingly baffling on each reading. (The nicest people I've known in my own life have had a superior moral code, and one that was genuinely worthy of respect, than has either of these versions of a Supreme Being!)
    Then there are other 'classics' that have been waiting several years for a re-read which I want to get down to before it's too late - 'Ulysses', 'War & P', 'GWTWind', 'Karamazov Bros', 'Clarissa', 'Canterbury Tales' (in medieval English), 'Rebecca', 'A Dance to the Music of Time', then there all those early Stephen Kings when he was so very good, not to mention the incomparable Patricia Highsmith, and in addition there's.... .....oh, but life is just too short!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Why gay marriage IS unnatural..... because ALL marriage is unnatural.

Leaving aside humanity for the moment, where else in nature does marriage occur without the intervention of a separate agency to activate and formalise such a relationship? Doubtless some would argue that the institution has been bestowed uniquely on man by 'God'. Even if that were true that doesn't automatically make it 'natural', otherwise those who wanted to be in such a wedded state would suddenly find that they were experiencing it without having to instigate the process. Now that would be natural! (and pretty miraculous too!)

Whether monogamy is 'natural' in humans is debatable. In the 'natural world' it seems to depend on the species of being which is involved. But even where it's majority within that species it's hardly ever an entirely  exclusive one. Monogamy may work for some humans and not for others - and for that reason why should one pattern be decreed as the only acceptable and viable one for all humanity?

In our wider lives, here are just a very few of the 'unnatural' practices most of us engage in:-
Wearing clothes - cooking food - having haircut/shaving - putting on make-up/cologne etc - driving/flying -  taking medicines - undergoing surgery - wearing spectacles/contacts.........the list goes on and on.

Those who freely bandy about the 'un' word talk as though 'unnatural' is a synonym of 'undesirable', which is basically what they mean - but 'undesirable' only to them and to others who share their views.

It galls me to see a person going on and on about 'unnatural' acts while, particularly if it's a woman, sitting there with face made up to the eyebrows (literally!), lipstick, hair impeccably set, foundation cream, eye-liner and who knows what else, all in an attempt to improve on the body that her very own 'God' has given her -  and failed, because she found it unsatisfactory - and, presumably, wants to make it more attractive to men.  They've really got to use an argument other than endlessly bleating on against those who are being 'unnatural'.

Or perhaps they want to confine the use of that word solely to matters sexual - in which case they can join the 'Holy Father' and condemn all artificial contraception, by whatever method  - though he doesn't seem to be too concerned about it these days, unless it might help to prevent HIV transmission, in which case it's definitely against God's rules.
Then how about enforced labour in pregnancy and Cesarian deliveries? Aren't they unnatural too?

I'm as sure that marriage is as desirable for some as it is not for others, and both can easily apply to the same one person or couple at different times.. That doesn't mean the same automatically holds true for everybody at all times.

To go back to the beginning, if male-female marriage is the only 'natural' one, surely that must also mean by extension that divorce is also natural, despite Biblical strictures against it (and specifically, on grounds other than 'fornication'). Or am I missing something?

Thursday, 15 November 2012


( The title of this British film is not a nickname, as I'd thought, but an actual surname).

Based on a novel by Michael ('War Horse') Morpurgo, this film also concerns World War I.
A work of two halves, the first part concerns two soon-to-be fatherless brothers growing up, first at school, then as farm labourers, and the younger one's jealousy at his brother's courtship and getting pregnant a girl whom he also fancies.
  I found this first half a little too meandering and it takes the outbreak of war and the brothers' enlistments into the army to give the story a much stronger focus.
    Incidentally, knowing who the author was I had misgivings about seeing this film as I'd already deliberately avoided seeing the Spielberg film for the plain reason of not wishing to be visually assaulted by the depiction of suffering animals (despite the usual disclaimer, "No animals were harmed during....etc"). So I had to grit my teeth when a point comes in this film where the army requisitions two of the farm horses to be engaged in the war. But apart from a very brief shot of a killed horse there was no further cause to be upset.
   The film begins with one of the brothers being court-martialled without it being stated why. It then turns the clock back to the brothers as boys. We only discover what the deed was towards the end of the film. I did find the conclusion quite moving.

A perfectly satisfying film, though without (for me) being strong enough for the memory to linger long, I give 'Private Peaceful' a rating of..................5.5/10

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


After yesterday's high-value, heart-in-mouth entertainment, this one brings me down to earth with a hefty bump.
A largely sombre, totally humourless saga, set in New York, involving a 30s-something documentary film-maker (with a rather attractive, sweet face - here, the one on the left) in an on-off gay relationship with a vacillating young lawyer who can't bring himself to commit. Throw in a bit of casual sex, telephone sex, dope-smoking - and that's about the sum of it.

I think the trouble is that I just couldn't care much about this couple. There's nothing surprising about their difficulties - a lot of us have been through something very similar, maybe more than once. Nothing violent or spectacular happens, the film merely charts the ups and downs of their emotions, leaving me thinking "So what?".
  I was wondering if the whole thing could have been improved by shaving, say, 20 off from the film's 100 minutes, but I doubt if that would have made all that much of a difference.
    No doubt some will relate to the couple's difficulties more profoundly than I did. But, only able to speak of my own experience, I give 'Keep the Lights On' a one stage lower than unremarkable.............3/10.

Monday, 12 November 2012

New film: 'ARGO'

I thought this a cracking good film. It got my adrenalin pumping from early on and it doesn't really let-up until the big rescue is over. It's all the more remarkable in achieving that feat in view of the fact that we know beforehand how it will turn out. (The film 'Apollo 13' accomplished the same, and this is quite as successful in that respect as that film was.)

Those of us who lived through and remember the hideously prolonged American hostages incident in Iran in 1980 were never aware of this parallel drama being played out simultaneously. Actually, I don't even recall the lifting of the embargo on details of the affair in 1997. I suppose that by then it was regarded as a curious footnote to history, but the situation was no less harrowing.
  This film concerns the fate of six American embassy workers in Tehran escaping to take refuge in the Canadian embassy after the former premises is invaded and ransacked. By a ruse that is hardly credible it is decided to effect a rescue by flying them out of Iran using a pretence of their being a group of Canadian film-makers who had been looking for a suitable location to film their projected science-fiction production, entitled 'Argo'.
    Ben Affleck, as director as well as principal actor, really knows how to turn the screws. There are a few very brief moments of humour which are, very sensibly, kept in check - and being delivered by the ever-watchable John Goodman as well as the now-veteran Alan Arkin, the appearances of these two only add to the film's pluses.
   Incidentally, over the final credits, when we see photographs of the actual people who had been involved in the escape, the resemblances given to the actors playing them is quite uncanny - something that is usually not the case in dramatic reconstructions.
    This is without doubt the most sustainedly suspenseful film I've seen this year.

Thoroughly recommended, I give 'Argo' a score of 8/10.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

2011 film: 'UNTOUCHABLE'

This has been a massive domestic hit in its native France, and it was surely that which had given me high expectations.
    Not only is it the second successive film I've seen which is French but both films concern a chalk-and-cheese friendship between a wheelchair-bound individual and an unlikely helper. I'm not qualified to say which was the 'superior' film (if one can make such an absolutist value-judgment) but I know that I thought that this was better 'entertainment' than 'Rust and Bone' - though I do have reservations in making that claim.

   Out of an array of applicants for the post, a wealthy quadripligic, with high-brow tastes in art and music, chooses a street-wise, clownish, dope-smoking, rather rebellious job-seeker (who's also into 'Earth Wind and Fire' big time!) as his live-in assistant/helper/nurse. Although one can guess, early on, the trajectory arc this film will follow, it ought to be said that it purports to be based on a true story. In fact, at the film's close we actually see, for a few seconds, the real-life couple at the heart of the story.

At the very well-attended showing I went to at 11 o'clock this morning, there were raucous laughs from the audience at the helper character's antics almost from the word 'go'. I didn't think it was that funny. (Maybe the audience was playing up to its own expectations?). In fact I very soon found the character just plain annoying. Truth to tell, it took practically the first half of the film before I warmed to it at all.
   I did find his expoundings on classical music amusing - and his visit to the opera was genuinely very funny - as were some of his gauchely direct and tactless approaches to one or two of the women employed in the man's home. On the other side I was irritated at being shown the man's face so often trying to contain his laughter, as though we were being told "It's okay to laugh at this." I think that particular point was overdone.

I can just about see why it was such a success in France. It might be termed a 'feel-good' feature, and there's nothing wrong with that.
But when I balance up what were for me the good points against its negatives I cannot award 'Untouchable' more than.......................6/10. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

New film: 'RUST AND BONE'

If it were not for 'Oscar talk', I would have avoided this film. Two reasons :-
a) It features animals in a significant part  - even though in this case they are killer whales which, actually, turn out not to be on-screen for long.
b) Bare-knuckle fighting - again, not seen for long on the screen.
I always give a wide berth to films concerning boxing, which I find boring and completely without any attraction at all, even repulsive. Fighting as depicted here where nothing is barred (entirely illegal, naturally) is boxing times two.

She is a trainer of performing killer whales at a sea-life centre - he a bouncer (a single parent to an infant boy) at a night club where they encounter each other. He takes her back to her home after a certain incident, leaving his telephone number. She is involved in a major disastrous event - 'life-changing' is hardly adequate to describe it. (Anyone who has read reviews of this film will probably know what it was.)
    They arrange to meet up again. Friendship develops. Then a physical relationship, which is more functional than romantic. Inevitably, something deeper develops between them. He then suddenly has to leave where he's staying and goes away without telling her where he's gone. But following a further dramatic and shocking event a few minutes from the end of the film the two come together again.  
        Even if I try my best to put aside my prior unfavourable disposition towards the film, I fail to see what all the fuss is about. It strikes me as no more than an efficiently made film, with some necessarily clever filmic tricks revealing Mme Cotillard as having a particular physical condition.
 Assuming the film gets Oscar/ BAFTA nominations I can't imagine either body giving the award for 'Best Picture' to a French film for the second consecutive year (after this year's 'The Artist'). Perhaps she will get recognition for her role, but if she does I think it will be for the part she plays rather than the standard of the acting of it.

No real surprise that I was disappointed overall, but I'd actually been hoping to witness something really 'special' to justify all the buzz and the superlatives being lavished on this film. Reflecting my general downbeat assessment, 'Rust and Bone' earns a score of............3.5/10


Sunday, 4 November 2012

Re-released film: 'THE SHINING'

This Stanley Kubrick classic has been given a limited cinema re-release here - including, for the first time, an additional 20+ minutes which were cut from the European release in 1980. These deleted scenes had already been part of the American release earlier that same year, but which Kubrick then removed, having been stung by the unenthusiastic or even hostile American reviews. He actually came to prefer his own shorter version, which is also the one I have on video. I'd already seen the film at least three times in the cinema as well as twice or more on video so I did know the edited version quite well. The longer film has, I believe already been shown on TV here (probably late at night) but this was the first time I myself have seen it in this cut.
The restored scenes mainly come near the beginning of the story, relating to the Torrance family's background and a reference to their son Danny's being accidentally(?) injured by his father. There are also a couple of later short scenes involving Scatman Crothers' chief cook character's failed efforts to make contact with the snowbound hotel.
    I thought that the restored minutes, although not crucial, did assist in making a bit more sense to the tale and generally helped rather than hindered the depiction of the family's isolation in the hotel's inaccessible location. 
     On first seeing 'The Shining' 32 years ago I recall feeling some irritation about the film not following the book, with very significant departures in places. I'd only recently discovered Stephen King and I had just started devouring his works avidly. He could do no wrong for me at that time and for a few years still to come. But around that time I didn't appreciate, to the extent that I do now, the acceptability of a film-maker to alter a story from the printed page. I had been expecting a faithful and literal transposition from book to screen. That had been my major disappointment. But despite this major reservation, I was still quite overwhelmed by Kubrick's style and technique, and even now it leaves me full of admiration. But then Kubrick is probably my favourite director of all. However, one thing I would say, is that, as with another favourite director, Hitchcock, I sometimes find that there are wonderful 'set-pieces', but they add up to rather more than the film as a whole. In other words, the feeling of overall satisfaction with the film after it is over can be less than the memory of the depiction of certain key moments during its progress. This is actually less applicable to 'The Shining' than to certain of his other films such as his following 'Full Metal Jacket' and his final work, 'Eyes Wide Shut'.

When it comes to giving the film a score, I was tempted to duck out of it this time as it's difficult to judge a film anew which was already known well from an 'incomplete' version. But if a gun was to be depressed against my temple I'd feel compelled to offer a rating of..........................8/10

Btw: I did find myself paying more attention to background features this time round, looking for extra significances - pictures on walls, furniture arrangements and decor, labels on boxes and tins of food etc, but didn't find anything noteworthy.
This same cinema was also showing the new film 'Room 237' (referring to the mysterious hotel room to which Danny is inexorably drawn), a documentary about some whacky theories and observations about 'The Shining', with a number of over-zealous fans of the film mentioning arcane allusions they believe Kubrick had put into his film, playing with his audience. Would dearly love to have seen it, but the timing and further expense put it beyond me. Really must try to catch it when it comes on TV.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012


(No, not a re-make en francais of the 1952 Gregory Peck/Ava Gardner version of the Ernest Hemingway novel).

Likeable, unassuming, family drama.
Set in Marseilles where local trade union boss at shipyard is made redundant, along with nineteen of his fellow-workers. As the propelling event of the film happens towards its start it doesn't give much away to say that shortly after his redundancy he and his wife become victims (with two visitors) of a somewhat violent masked robbery at their home. Soon, by one of those co-incidences that rather stretches credulity, he just happens to witness a thread that enables him to uncover the identity of one the perpetrators, which turns out to be someone with whom he'd been already acquainted. The main body of the film concerns the couple's attempts to come to terms with the criminal, the latter's family and his motivation - as well as the attitude of the their own children.
     It's a modest affair and all the better for it, though I personally could have done with an ending a bit more hard-edged than the touchy-feely one we are served up with. But, on the whole, it's a satisfying and good production.

   I've seen a few films recently which have featured one or two 'hotties' of whom I wasn't aware or knew only slightly - and here comes along another one. A cuddly 'Daddy-hottie' - who, I find, is actually seven years younger than I am! Never mind, I still find him beautiful. He is Jean-Pierre Daroussin, playing the male lead.

He really presses all the right buttons for me.

Btw: The misleading title refers to the projected holiday which the main pair were due to have but, due to the robbery, have to cancel. A different English title might have been helpful.

As I say, a good film, to which I award a score of......................6.5.

Monday, 29 October 2012


Wish I'd done homework before venturing out to see this one. As it was, I was swayed not just by generally favourable reviews and its getting surprisingly good British box office, but nearly half the voters on IMDb have given it a scarcely credible 10/10 - and the average to date is 8.5. "Why?" is the question!
     My jaw dropped when, within the first few minutes, I was assailed by a succession of some of my biggest film turn-offs - teenage angst, American high school lippy pupils, including the 'regulation' bully-figures, and an (American) football game, though the latter was mercifully short. Add to the mix a flamboyant gay character, so keen to define himself, practically exclusively, by his own sexuality, inter-teenage rivalries in 'romance' - and I'm just bored by talking any further about it. It did pick up a little for me after the first half hour, but that's not saying much.
    The most recognisable name to most people would be Emma Watson (Harry Potter's friend, Hermione) though there is also Paul Rudd - as well as Joan Cusack in a very minor role.
It's one of those films that most make me feel my age. I just cannot relate to anything here. Clearly, a lot of people think it to be a wonderful film. They are welcome to that opinion. They may well be right, though I can't for the life of me see why. Anyway, I'm more than three times as old as the target audience so I accept it wasn't made for the likes of me. My mistake in going.

   I give 'Perks' a miserable, very personal rating of..............3/10

Friday, 26 October 2012


I don't think anyone who sees this would deny that this is one of the better of the series.
In the obligatory, pre-credit chase sequence I was initially a bit put out by the filmic cliches - fruit and veg from street market stalls being crashed into, with the produce flying all over the place (it is Istanbul, after all!), a gun having run out of bullets being thrown away with a mini-second of irritation....But these are minor nags in the overall scheme of the film.
  Positive aspects of this film for me was that the arch-villain (played with mincing, deliciously-campy malevolence by the excellent Javier Bardem) as well as Judi Dench's 'M', are given far more screen time than either of these roles have had in any previous Bond film, 'M''s considerably so. The new 'Q' was a brave and unexpected move too, and a good one. Also, I don't think a previous film of this series has been set so much in this country - London (a large part of it being underground - I say no more!) and in the remote Scottish highlands.  (I now don't give away any further 'spoilers'!)
       Actually, there's not much more to say. I found it quite exciting without it gripping me tautly. There's no doubt that after Dalton's Bond (who wasn't exactly bad) followed by Brosnan (who was actually pretty good), the series since Daniel Craig took over has been given a much needed shot in the arm - and all three of his films now have been of a superior standard (though some may disagree about 'Q of S').
      Yes, for a spy thriller this one is distinctly above par - though maybe it's just me in feeling more a detached observer of the on-screen antics rather than a sense of being really involved in them.
     I'd better not say more as many will be going to see this, surely the most eagerly anticipated film of 2012, and I don't want to risk marring anyone's enjoyment by my own personal opinions.

I give 'Skyfall' a.............7/10 - and would not remotely suggest that anyone should avoid seeing it. Go!