Wednesday, 10 April 2013

SassyBear lookalike - at least to me. What do you think?

I've been fascinated by a TV programme, 'The Great British Sewing Bee' - now just past its second week - which I wouldn't have bothered to watch were it not that one of the contestants, Stuart, has for me more than a passing resemblance to our own renowned and much loved blogger, Sean, aka 'SassyBear' @ http://idleeyesandadormy.com

Each week the the object is to give the contestants two or three tailoring tasks to produce, within a limited amount of time, as near a finished article of clothing as they can, which is then judged by two professionals. The series began last week with eight contestants, and two of them were eliminated and two more yesterday. They've been asked to come up with dresses, frocks, blouses, patch pockets on a skirt - and one of yesterday's tasks was to produce a pair of man's trousers. Stuart has now made the final four, though in each of the two weeks to date he was pretty sure that he'd be asked to leave (as indeed was I), but he's still hanging in there. He lives with his male partner in North Yorkshire, the part of the world where I myself grew up. He's attractively slightly camp, without it being in-yer-face, and he's as cute as a button. Whether he'll last beyond next week I'm not sure, but if he does get the boot, then, as all my interest will have dissipated, I'm not even going to bother to see who wins the competition outright.

So, is it only me who sees a strong resemblance between and S/b? However, I dare say that those who know Sean personally may well be less likely to see any similarity.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Film: 'A LATE QUARTET'

A slight preamble. Just before going into the cinema for this film I heard on my Walkman (yes, I still use one!) the news of the death of Thatcher. In the small-screen auditorium, before the lights went down I announced it to the audience of 25-30, which certainly got them buzzing - just as the film was about to start (heh heh!) - though I hadn't intended for that to happen.

Now the film:-


'The Fugue Quartet' -

1st violin: Mark Ivanir
2nd violin: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Viola: Catherine Keener
Cello: Christopher Walken


A film depicting, as far as I know, completely uncharted territory - at least I can't think of another which plays the internal personal dynamics of a group of players in a classical chamber group. (It's a subject I've often pondered on - even while a concert which I'm attending is progressing!)

The background against which the story is set is the string quartet's preparation for a concert including the  late C# minor Quartet of Beethoven Op. 131. (I was a bit afraid that the familiarity of the music would be distracting, especially when it is broken up into small segments which just suddenly stop. In the event it wasn't really so, though it might be an advantage in not knowing this particular work).

The engine of the film starts going early on with cellist Christopher Walken (in a perfectly understated role) announcing that he is showing symptoms of the onset of Parkinson's and that for the sake of the survival of the quartet the other members ought to start thinking about finding a replacement. Hoffman and Keener are  married with a violin-playing daughter and skeletons start tumbling out between the three of them. Meantime Mark Ivanir (a name I didn't know before, but quite a hottie with his facial scruff) tries to maintain his position playing lead violin against the growing resentment of Hoffman (here a big, blonde, bearded bear of a figure) who wants a turn at being first violinist. A couple of affairs take place and, when discovered, reactions are predictable, though understandable. There's even a scene of high farce, where the comedy is quite unlike the remainder of the film.
    I generally liked it. The film isn't consistently on an even keel. There are hysterical emotional outbursts, but it surely wasn't intended to be all on one contemplative level. Acting from all members of the cast could hardly have been bettered. But I think I was most impressed by story's originality of conception, and that is indeed a rarity these days.
   The final scene in the concert hall was almost unbearably affecting. It was so well executed that it made me very nearly forgive some of the possibly misplaced soap-opera emotional excesses that had gone before.

A worthwhile watch without a doubt, and quite a 'brave' film..........................7/10
    





                                                      

Friday, 5 April 2013

Film: 'DANS LA MAISON'

A delightful, light-touch, mystery-comedy from Francois Ozon who seems to have a growing knack of coming up with films of intriguing, original storylines which lodge in the memory long afterwards.

Fabrice Luchini plays a rather dull and bored schoolteacher whose interest in his work is suddenly aroused when one of his teenage pupils presents him with a particularly well-written essay of how he has wheedled himself into the family home of a classmate under the pretext of helping him with his maths difficulties. He ends his composition with the words "A suivre" (to be continued), picking it up later with what turns out to be a whole series of instalments, hooking not only the teacher but his art-gallery manager wife, the always marvellous Kristin Scott Thomas (who now seems to be appearing with more regularity in French language films than English). He shows her the first essay, ostensibly because of his pupil's superior use of language and very soon her curiosity is also aroused. She too is drawn into the drama of what the boy is up to, each instalment leaving on a 'cliff-hanger' as the pupil describes how he begins, not only to snoop around his friend's house whilst leaving him to do maths exercises, but also to eavesdrop on the conversations of the latter's parents. The teacher and wife are constantly wondering if what the pupil says he did actually happened - and so are we. Then the teacher gets so involved that when there's threat that the boy might have to stop helping his friend he intervenes to do something borderline criminal so that he'll be allowed to carry on as before. It takes a serious turn or two as the intruding youth gets ever-closer to the mother, both physically and emotionally, but I think these are justified as they serve to point up the amusing parts by giving the story some shadow in its light-hearted approach. And it all ends in really the only way it could, leaving me with a satisfying, though appropriately incomplete, smile.

It's a film that doesn't go for the really big laughs or the grand gestures. Maybe those which puzzle the audience into wondering the difference between truth and reality have become very voguish now, but this one plays it with a neat, confident touch. 
As in several of Ozon's films there is a bit of gay angle to part of the storyline (here quite slight), though it does afford the 'excuse' for a quite sudden and gratuitous, very brief homophobic put-down, something I always find particularly wounding, though maybe that's just me. 

A very worthwhile film and, with the exception of 'Cloud Atlas' (and maybe 'Lincoln') my most enjoyed film of this year so far..................................7.5/10


Thursday, 28 March 2013

Film: 'TRANCE'

(It's been longer than it should have been since my last seen film. In the interval a number have come and gone which I'd like to have seen. A major reason for missing them was preferring not to venture out during our prevailing weather, this having been our coldest March for 50 years, with nightly frosts and daytime temps still scarcely above freezing. And there's still no sign of the end of it!)


Any Danny Boyle film is an 'event' - he of 'Shallow Grave', 'Trainspotting', '28 Days Later', 'Slumdog Millionaire', '127 Hours' as well as, of course, last year's Olympic Games opening ceremony.
This latest of his has had a somewhat cooler reception than some of those I've mentioned, at least among those critics I've seen. I would tend to concur with them.

James McAvoy (of whom, must admit, I'm not particularly an admirer) plays an auctioneer who is involved with a criminal gang to steal a Goya from public auction rooms while an auction is in progress. During the crime he receives a knock on the head which renders him incapable of remembering what he's done with the painting. The gang leader (Vincent Cassel in convincingly 'nasty' mode) after a violent preamble, decides to send him to a hypnotherapist to recover his memory of the object's location.

As so often recently I did find the first 2/3 of this film very entertaining. The premise was simple and unusual. But then the convolutions start, the big revelation being that McAvoy's character's recollection of the crime and the reasons for it were not as he thought they were. The past is re-written in hindsight for his benefit as well as for our own. I suppose the film's intention is to have the audience gasping with the surprises, though I dare say that many people will have guessed the 'biggie' reveal before I did. I just found them increasingly irritating. It's yet another of the spate of films where reality and happenings in the mind are deliberately ambiguous or confused, a feature which has become a bit of a cliche now.
I found the fault of this film lies more with the writers than with Boyle himself, who can be guaranteed to provide slick direction, always with frenetic energy. He's one of those few directors who never bores me. But in this film he's going along with a storyline which I felt that even he was only half-convinced by. (There are, predictably, a number of very violent moments, though all very brief).

A bit of a disappointment, then. As I write this, the average score on IMDb site is 7.7, so clearly many others have a higher opinion of it than I have, my rating being a..................

Monday, 18 March 2013

Film: 'OZ - THE GREAT AND POWERFUL' (in 3D)

Feared I'd be giving this the thumbs down but it turned out that I really liked it.
Probably wouldn't have bothered if it hadn't been for the presence of James Franco who, though not everyone's idea of eye-candy, in my books works an alluring presence in any film - and he has such a beguiling smile too. 

A supposed prequel to you-know-what (which has, incidentally, never had particularly great appeal for me) this film depicts the arrival of the self-absorbed Wizard in that land - which has been long anticipated by its inhabitants - and the meeting and confrontation with three sister-witches, one of whom is transformed into the Wicked Witch of the West in the story that we all know. Through his battles the Wizard is torn between revealing that he is, in reality, not the omnipotent figure everyone expects him to be, and trying to maintain the illusion that he is indeed this all-powerful figure for as long as possible. The film only gets saccharine-heavy at two or three points, notably in the closing moments, but pleased to say that otherwise sentiment is kept largely at bay.  

I thought the 3D special effects were outstanding and are exactly what a fantasy like this needs. Performances were all good. Story also pretty good but the biggest let-down for me was the utterly banal script. Not one single witticism and not one memorable line. I'd have thought that the premise of this film would have cried out for self-regarding comments or (implied) winks at the camera  - particularly for the delectation of adults who are familiar with the 1939 film, though I am aware that for copyright reasons these film-makers had to tread very carefully in avoiding overt reference to the much earlier work (though we do get the Munchkins, flying monkeys - well, at least one of them - the Yellow Brick Road, the Emerald City as well as the aforementioned Wicked Witch). But I'd have thought there'd have been enough writers around to have come up with something to raise a knowing smile every now and then. If there were any, I missed them.

On the whole I certainly did enjoy it. Whether I'd feel the same if it were not for Franco's starring role or, even moreso, if I'd seen it in flat 2D, I can't say. All I can report is that in terms of my own satisfaction it earns a good ................7/10

Friday, 15 March 2013

Film: 'SIDE EFFECTS'

I was hoping for rather more than this film delivered, as director Soderbergh has said that this will be his final feature film - though he's only 50 years old and few people really believe him.
(I hear that his yet-to-be-released American TV film on Liberace, 'Behind the Candelabra', may be given a theatrical release in Britain. I do hope it does.)
'Side Effects' is especially regrettable coming, as it does, from the same director as his brilliant 'Traffic' (2000).

 
Jude Law plays a doctor who takes as his patient a depression-prone young married woman who has apparently just made a suicide attempt.  The drug he prescribes her seems to have an unforeseen catastrophic consequence in causing her to carry out an horrific, sudden killing which she doesn't recall doing. Court case ensues revolving around whether or not she was of sound mind, which reveals Law's part in providing her with the causal drug after which, because of publicity, his reputation becomes toxic and his partners wish to disassociate themselves from him to save themselves from also going under. He, meanwhile, is determined to satisfy himself as to the 'true' cause of his patient's horrific action and to prove his innocence, while all the while his own marriage cracks up under the pressure.
Jude Law is competent enough while Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the patient's former doctor, does her steely-resolved, duplicitous, ice-queen act again - which, I find, is always a pleasure to watch.

While I can accept the almost constant sepia-tinted look of the film I don't know why it was necessary to make nearly all the indoor scenes so dimly lit, giving it an air of melodrama, enough of which was already in the script.
But the really big downer for me was, about three-quarters way through, there's an interesting twist which sheds a new perspective on all what has gone before. But, instead of just going along with this the film meanders further into increasingly unlikely plot development to the point where, for me, all credibility finally snapped. It became almost risible whereas, truth to tell, up to that point it had been pretty good - and the aforementioned 'twist' was a promising and intriguing one - though for some reason the scriptwriter thought that that wasn't sufficient even though it had been.

It's a film of miscalculation and missed opportunity. As I say, 75% of it is worth watching but I do think that the last half hour or so devalues what we'd seen up to that point.

Overall, then, for 'curiosity value' it earns from me a.......5.5



Monday, 11 March 2013

Film: 'ARBITRAGE'


Reasonably absorbing tale of high-finance shenanigans coupled with the attempted cover up of an accidental death - made more watchable by the rare big-screen presence of Richard Gere (a late substitute for Al Pacino, I read) and the even rarer and doubly welcome appearance of Tim Roth who does his slovenly act so well. Add to these two the marvellous Susan Sarandon and it's a strong cast.





Gere plays a smooth-veneered, commercial big-flyer, owning a business in which he's done some shady dealings. Not only is this his big secret which he needs to keep a lid on but a huge complication arises when, driving his young affair, the car overturns and she is killed. (This is not really a 'spoiler' as it happens early on in the film)  He now finds himself in the double bind of additionally needing to keep the fact of his having been the driver from his deceived wife, and this provides the momentum for much of the film's subsequent developments. Tim Roth, excellent as always (those hang-dog eyes!), plays the detective who suspects the truth, trying to nail the slippery Gere character.

Even though my own qualification is in finance (though not commercial) and I used to be accountant, I was quickly lost on the intricacies of the financial dealings but I didn't feel it was a great loss. (Yes, I too had to look up the film's probably unwise title in the dictionary.)

Not bad entertainment all round and by no means a waste of time, especially with these players in the three leading roles.................6.5