Thursday, 16 May 2013

Film: 'THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST'

Mohsin Hamid's celebrated 2007 novel has been at the very top of my 'must-read' list since it attained internationally highly praised 'buzz' shortly after its publication. I've been waiting to pick it up somewhere second-hand ever since, with no luck yet. (Yes, I know of 'Amazon', but that particular body is a dirty word over here right now because of the contentious issue of its avoiding paying British tax.)

Riz Ahmed plays an ambitious, western-leaning, Pakistani financier who emigrates to New York and is taken on as high-flying executive by a scarily-demanding, but supportive, Wall Street boss. (Kiefer Sutherland, good). Then 9/11 happens and he's forced to confront the question of where his true allegiance lies - assisted by what he experiences as the heavy-handed attitude of police, airport security, as well as public opprobium, all arising from his physical looks. Back in Pakistan for a wedding he is introduced to a certain Muslim 'spokesman' who wishes him to declare which side he is on in the 'struggle'. His story is related in flashback as he narrates his story to a Liev Schreiber character in Lahore who is trying to locate the whereabouts of an American hostage held captive for ransom. Kate Hudson provides the romantic interest, both of them conflicted by events pulling them apart despite their mutual attraction.

I found the film completely arresting - at least from the moment of the Twin Towers attack - as well as moving and believable, leading up to a gripping climax. It performs a tightrope act of avoiding showing where its sympathies lie - and I think it succeeds. Pakistani family life and that country are well captured on camera, the director, Mira Nair, displaying her sure touch. I think the central story was so strong that it could easily have worked effectively as a linearly presented 'thriller' rather than being told in flashback - though the framing device, beginning and end (with frequent visual re-visits to the narrator), is employed to show the equally important issue of the captured American hostage.
I understand that the film's ending does not follow that of the novel, though I'd rather not know what the difference is until I read it myself.

On its own terms, as a film, I'm content to give 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' a rating of ..........7.5 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Eurovision 2013 - First Semi-final


The most annoyingly-enjoyable, gloriously-silly TV event of the year kicked off last night. The first semi-final, choosing ten of sixteen hopefuls to go into Saturday's final. (Second semi is tomorrow night).







Hosted by this Swedish lady in mermaid-type shiny dress, for which I think even Mae West might have bothered to peel a grape.







So far, this year has lacked any prominent eye-candy for me. This Croatian group in national dress (including shiny knee-high boots), didn't garner enough votes to make Sat's final.







Denmark is the current overall favourite to win, singing (complete with little drummer boys) something about teardrops, with floaty things dropping from the ceiling as though they were already celebrating victory. The cheek of it! I didn't think the song was anything extra-special - but who am I to judge? It's been a VERY long time since what I thought was the best song managed to win.




Belgium's 18 year-old winner of that country's 'The Voice' TV talent show sang a reasonably appealing punchy song, 'Love Kills'. (He could turn into a hottie - when he grows up!)





I cast my own telephone vote for The Netherlands. So different from all the rest, a rather dour song called 'Birds', but sung straight and refreshingly free of gimmicks. It's that country's first achieving the finals after eight consecutive years of failure to get there. Should have a reasonable chance of finishing high-ish.




This was very much a 'first-impressions-count' vote. In fact the only one of the songs I've heard so far is the U.K.entry - Bonnie Tyler, she of the raspy voice and of 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' fame. She qualifies for automatic entry on Saturday night, along with France, Germany, Spain and Italy, because of those countries' major contribution to the event's costs - as well as with Sweden, last year's winner.

In last night's vote not one of the countries making up the former Yugolsavia made it to the finals, yet all the states which comprised parts of the former U.S.S.R. did make it. Very strange, though I don't suspect any foul play - but that doesn't mean suspicious goings-on never takes place.
Quietly pleased that Cyprus didn't get to the final. Their always giving maximum points to Greece - and vice versa - year after year after year, irrespective of the quality of the other's song, was just too silly to take seriously.

So that's Stage One over. Got to go through it all again tomorrow night. And then, Saturday - the one night in the year when I allow myself to stay up until after 11 p.m.  Oh, what excitement in store! 




Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Film: 'LOS AMANTES PASAJEROS' / 'I'M SO EXCITED!'

Having seen the trailer a few times I'd been afraid that this film might be relying too heavily on a premise that seeing gay men acting with extravagantly camp gestures is ever so funny. It turns out not to be quite as one-dimensional as that, but it's hardly any the better for it.

Pedro Almodovar has made some remarkable films - his recent 'The Skin I Live In' and the 2002 'Talk to Her' stand out for me as being extraordinarily and darkly effective. And his early female-centred comedies, which I only really appreciated on second viewing, (having initially failed to grasp the social framework within which they hang), are good fun. It's this early lighter side to which he purposefully attempts to return - and he misfires badly. Lacking any sense of a 'light touch', this might have worked better had it been a gentle and amiable comedy, but I suppose that then it might have been criticised as being too coy. In this film he goes for full in-yer-face rudery, presumably with the intention of being acerbically witty. But regular fellatory references are not sufficient to provide the necessary....erm...'bite'  for which he was, presumably, aiming. In fact it turns out to be just boring, which is quite an achievement for a situation with such comedic, not to say dramatic, potential.

A plane, having taken off from Spain on its way to Mexico is discovered to have a malfunction with its landing gear - and so, in advance of an emergency re-landing, it circles around, awaiting an opportunity to get back to ground safety.
The three gay cabin stewards, above, regularly referring to themselves in self-deprecating female terms of address and throwaway remarks, try to keep the few business class passengers entertained, they having drugged the full standard class compartment into passive somnolence. The motley collection in business class include a female celebrity (quick to use the term 'marica' - translated in subtitles as 'faggot'), a 30-something female, expressing to all and sundry her desperate desire to lose her virginity, a shady male individual (secret agent? member of criminal gang? hired assassin?....) and an unfaithful husband in a triangle with a suicidal wife and his mistress (or was it the other way round? I didn't care!). Add to this 'hilarious' mix a bisexual pilot and his hetero (hottie) co-pilot, the latter who once experimented giving a blow-job (but he retched!), and what more could you ask for? Well, quite a lot, as a matter of fact - such as something to hold ones interest.    

I did actually manage a ghost of a smile on three or four occasions - and maybe once it blossomed into a 90%. But they all soon faded. Even the three trolley-dollies performing their 'party-piece' of the English-titled song (which features in the trailer), was nothing really special. Maybe the novelty effect had worn off by then for me.

I was grateful that this film lasted just 90 minutes. I was looking at my watch within the first quarter-hour.
Almodovar can do better - we all know he can. He's certainly capable of making better comedies. I look forward to his returning to form.

I'll be generous and give this particular misjudgment................4/10


(Now re-reading the above a few hours after I wrote it, it sounds a lot more fun than it was at the time. But I'll not be rushing to watch it again.)  

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Film: 'IRON MAN 3' (Seen in 2D)

Uncontroversial, 'passes-the-time' entertainment, though by no means disagreeable.

The engaging Robert Downey Jnr reprising his titular role with, on this occasion, a bevy of good supporting stars. However, only one of these, the likeable Guy Pearce, is given substantial screen time. Pity that Ben Ki.....sorry, SIR Ben Kingsley, gets only one proper 'big' scene, in which he is very funny - and also a shame that the eye-catching Rebecca Hall's character isn't given more to do. Otherwise, Gwyneth Paltrow adequately performs as required, as does Don Cheadle, who is hardly stretched.

   The storyline hardly matters in what is, essentially, an animated comic strip. We get the expected battle with a megalomaniac villain, complete with ear-splitting explosions, loud metallic 'clunks' and sparks flying (literally) all over the place - all fulfilling their necessary quota and without which there'd undoubtedly be the feeling of being short-changed.

As any discerning cinema-goer might guess, it's one of those 'go-along-for-the-ride' films in which one doesn't expect anything profound - and it dutifully obliges........................5.5


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Film: 'THE LOOK OF LOVE'

In the light of a number of indifferent, or even hostile, reviews I might have given this film a miss were it not that the central character of Paul Raymond, the Soho-based 'porn-impresario' is played by Steve Coogan, whom I like. It's been said that some of his 'Alan Partridge' character, which I think very amusing, had gone into this interpretation. There was a little smattering of that, but I have to say that on the whole I agree with the general tenor of the thumbs-down reviews.

Tracing his career from the 1960s to the 90s when he became, it is claimed, the 'wealthiest man in Great Britain', the film is an extended flashback of his success as seen by the aged sex-industry mogul himself, having just undergone a shattering personal tragedy.
There is no real salacious content to the film, but that is very much a reflection of the fact that hard-core pornography, in whatever form (even photographs for personal 'use') through most of the period chronicled was totally illegal - though what went on 'underground' is hardly addressed at all. Having said that, for those who like that sort of thing, there are some glimpses of unadorned female pudenda and mammary glands, though I would hardly think they'd be adequate enough to engender 'stimulation' in the heterosexual male. Let it be known, however, I am hardly an authority on that particular subject!
I think the weakness of the film is that Paul Raymond is essentially a dull character. He's certainly not sympathetic but neither is he quite repellant enough to be an 'anti-hero' who might have given rise to one wanting to know what's going to happen to him next. Both his wife (Anna Friel) and his tragically coke-addicted daughter (Imogen Poots, splendid here) are much more interesting, feisty characters.

During the course of this film I found my mind wandering onto other non-related matters more often than I usually do. Even when we see Raymond distraught, especially at the end, I found myself strangely unmoved by his plight. It's true that others have felt kindlier towards the film than I have, but I think they'll be in a minority. In my opinion it could and ought to have been better in depicting a man who had such a glitzy and eventful life.

For this "So what?" film, I can't honestly award it more than.........................3.5/10

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Film: 'PROMISED LAND'

Matt Damon and Gus van Sant working together again in this rather underwhelming feature about representatives (Damon and Frances McDormand) of a natural gas company attempting to convince the residents of a small town of the benefits which allowing fracking on their land will bring them. Their attempts are stymied by an 'environmentalist' played by the not-bad-looking John Krasinski who, along with Damon himself, is the screenplay's co-writer.

The film does have its moments but they are sparse - including one major 'surprise' in the denouement which, untypically for me, I did see coming about five minutes before it was revealed.
In spite of the big, open spaces portrayed and the huge industry involved it's a small scale drama. Its green 'credentials' were, I thought, subsumed by an onrush of sentiment towards the end, Damon playing his anguish up to the hilt. Performances generally were satisfactory, in my opinion - though, apart from the concluding minutes, there's virtually no  scope for deep emotions and grand gesturing.
Incidentally, Frances Mc Dormand, whom I love to see in any film, looking painfully thin here, so much so that I've looked on the web to see if there's any mention of her having some ailing condition, but can't see anything.

A satisfactory film, then, if only just. While waiting for Gus v. S. to pull a memorable production out of the hat, I award this film a modest ...........................5

Friday, 26 April 2013

Film: 'LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED'.

Two Danish film within four days - and this is a curious one.

Appearing rather oddly among a non-English speaking cast, Pierce Brosnan plays the widowed father of a prospective groom, travelling to picture-postcard rural Italy for his son's wedding where (actually at the airport) he is 'bumped into' by the wife-to-be's mother, whom he didn't know, on the way to the same destination. (Only in films!). She (red dress, above) is recovering from post-mastectomy chemo-therapy - and has only just been shocked when discovering her husband in delicto flagrante with a young female employee from his workplace. This husband turns up at the wedding venue, actually bringing along his 'affair'. Therein lie the tensions of this gathering which provide the film's dramatic impetus. But something major occurs two-thirds of the way through (which I hadn't foreseen), which skews events and shifts the central focus from the wedding event to the burgeoning relationship between the Brosnan character and the mother, Trine Dyrholm  - who is really very good indeed, with a lovely smile covering up her inner suffering on the two subjects of her cancer fears and her husband's infidelity.

Brosnan speaks only English, though appearing to understand all the Danish (a lot of it) addressed to him. Although in the role as father he does acquit himself quite well, displaying a spectrum of emotions, I can't help feeling he is a distraction in what is essentially a drama of two families. I think if a Danish actor had been used it would have been a stronger film, though I suppose Brosnan was brought in in the hope that he would give the film a better chance on the international market.
The 'event' two-thirds through, which I mentioned, left me a bit dumbfounded initially, as I thought it was a bit flip and cliched for 2013, but it was handled competently enough and succeeded in re-focussing the story onto the two main participants.

Btw: A strange co-incidence. A few days ago, Mitch @ http://mitchellismoving.blogspot.co.uk  posted a blog which included Dean Martin's song 'That's Amore', about which I added a fairly substantial comment. I don't think I'd heard that song since my first and only viewing of 'Moonstruck' in 1987, when it was used over the opening credits. Would you believe that at the start of this new film we once again hear Mr Martin crooning, to the lilting waltz, the words "When the moon hits your eye like a big piece of pie (sic) - that's amore!" Spooky!

I quite liked this film, though more in a sense of 'it ought to have been even better', but it was still quite good entertainment. Usually when my opinion changes from what I thought immediately following seeing a film to the morning after, it's a case of increasing regard for it. This time it's gone the other way. Nevertheless I'd still give it a slightly more than adequate...................6/10

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Film: 'ROBOT & FRANK'

By the time this film first hit our main screens a few weeks ago I'd seen the trailer so many times that any minimal interest I'd had in it had virtually evaporated. But as it's now latterly been shown, for us 'oldies', in a single cheapo local screening, I thought "Why not?"

Frank Langella plays a one-time burglar and (still) incorrigible shoplifter who's done time for his crimes and is now living alone and starting to develop dementia. Set in the 'near future', his concerned middle-aged son presents him with a servant-robot to do all his daily chores for him and to offer advice about his health and nudge him with reminders. He is, predictably, initially hostile to its interference but soon realises that he may be able to use the robot, who apparently doesn't have any moral qualms, to revive his former criminal 'profession'. Romantic interest is provided by the always very watchable Susan Sarandon as a librarian former flame of his - and who, incidentally, looks nothing like the 20+ years older than she was in 'Thelma & Louise'.

It's a slight, rather quaint film, which is precisely where it was undoubtedly aimed. A few minor chuckles along the way, with one or two little excitements, but nothing more than that. I wasn't bored, though I did find myself longing for something a bit more profound, while fully aware that this was the wrong place to look for it.  Considering that the admission price was only a little more than half of what it would have been first time round I'm not complaining. Also, it comes in at just under 90 minutes - a point very much in its favour.

In terms of personal 'enjoyment', a fraction better than 'fair'...............5.5



Monday, 22 April 2013

Film: 'JAGTEN' / 'THE HUNT'

Arresting, disturbing and scarily believable Danish film.

Mads Mikkelsen (of whom I too had never heard until his villain-turn in 'Casino Royale') plays the sole male teacher in a small nursery where one of the few attending children is his best friend's 5-year old daughter. One day she tries to give him a small gift but he, thinking it would be inappropriate to accept it, gently suggests she ought to give it to one of the little boys instead. The girl, not understanding the reason for his refusal, takes revenge by telling the nursery head that he has exposed himself to her. Of course at her age she has no notion of the potential consequences. The head's initial scepticism gnaws at her until she feels she has to confront him, while the girl maintains the lie - at least until it's too late when even her retraction isn't believed, most of all by the girl's own parents who, unable to accept that their daughter could have told an untruth, convince her that what she said she saw was real. You can probably guess the trajectory the story takes, and you'd be right. Ostracism, police, open hostility - word gets round the town where both he and his teenage son (of an estranged and hostile wife) are not even allowed to enter their local foodstore. The other young kids at the nursery, hearing the story, join in the conspiracy, saying that the teacher has also abused them. If I also say that the latter has a much-loved pet dog - well, I don't think there's any need to go into further detail.

This is a modest but brilliantly effective film which I don't hesitate to recommend. Its power is in the totally credible situation where we all wonder how many lives have been destroyed by lies generating circumstances which snowball out of control. [Even worse (if that's possible) would be cases where older children, who are aware of consequences, decide to bring down an adult they dislike - though that's not the case here].
Acting is uniformly of a very high standard. It's also a refreshing 'plus' to see a film where we are asked to empathise with a character who doesn't own classic 'good looks'. (We know from the moment of the lie that he is innocent, so it's not a 'spoiler'.)
A couple of moments of discomfort for me personally was seeing a deer actually being shot (near the start of the film) - and, in rather more prolonged form, witnessing the fate of the aforementioned dog. (I always wonder how they do this on film - seeing a dog which is lively and happy, then later...... Surely they don't do the unthinkable, even if that 'unthinkable' is cheaper and far less trouble to achieve? I don't wish to dwell on it.)  Also, the cavalier attitude and merriment of the male hunting party - as well as the teacher's son's coming-of-age when he is allowed to join that party - was difficult for me to take, though that of course is the reason for their having such a group in the first place.
But if I divorce my difficulties on this aspect, which most of this film's viewers will either not share or are able to dismiss such feelings easier than I can, I have to say that this is a very accomplished film which I would urge anyone to see.

A highly deserving..............................8/10.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Catnaps - the sleep of the just?

A few minutes ago I couldn't resist capturing the look on Ginger's face of 'innocent sleep' (the little devil!) - and then quickly went round the others, all here and all within two minutes. The prevailing light and sleeping poses of Blackso, Noodles and Patchy didn't quite win over those of Ginger's portrait, but they're all within the same brief period of time.  


If only my own sleep was as undisturbed as this fearless foursome seem to be enjoying.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Distressing confrontation regarding my cats.

It's a marvel that the post I made this morning on my latest film seen was comprehensible. I was shaking when I wrote it - and even now, nine hours later, my heart is still thumping like mad.

Every day for the last twelve years or more I've let Blackso outside, early mornings usually between 5 and 6, through the front door downstairs after his breakfast, then bring him back in half an hour later for 'seconds' and then let him out again. No problem. Until now.
As I was letting him out this morning the guy in the downstairs flat pulled his door open, stood there red-faced and barked "D'you have any idea what f*ckin' time this is!" I said, taken aback, that I did know. "I've just about had enough of you and your f*ckin' cats. Every f*ckin' morning you wake me up. Just because you don't work do you think that no one else does? Did you know that you're not allowed to have pets? I'm going to report you to the landlord." I said that the landlord knew I had cats. He ignored that. "I'm going to see to it that you have to f*ckin' get rid of them!" He ranted on for a couple more minutes in similar vein while I stood there silent and gobsmacked. Then he retreated back inside, slamming the door so hard that the whole house shook. I couldn't believe what had just happened. I came back upstairs and sat paralyzed, until I had to go out for my review appointment with the diabetes nurse. (Latest prognosis results are good, though my thoughts during the session were very far away).

This downstairs neighbour is a little younger than me with a face that says he's lived a lot. I think he looks considerably older than he is. Separated from his wife, who still visits him here weekly, together with their daughter, maybe about 10 years old. Evidence from his bin, which I put out every week for both of us, is that he's a hardened drinker.

On returning from the nurse I knew I couldn't just leave things as they were but had to try to move forward. So I wrote out a long note to him, basically saying that I've never had complaints before from the previous five tenants (including two working couples), but that as he's genuinely disturbed by my routine I'll have to get Blackso to learn to use the back window, (though how, now at the age of 13, he can learn that, I don't know).But I also managed to put a bit of a sting in the tail. I asked him to let me know from what time in the morning I can be allowed to use my own door. A bit cheeky but I needed to get a dig in somehow. I went on further, among other things pointing out that the landlord had, in fact, permitted the previous tenant in his flat to own a large dog. After checking that I was satisfied with my effort I left the note downstairs in the hall for him.
About an hour later I heard a knocking on my door. The transformation was immense. He was profusely apologetic about what he'd said to me. He'd been wound up by the young guys in the house next door making so much noise throughout the night depriving him of sleep. (I hadn't heard them.) He was sorry he'd threatened me about the cats, knew how much they meant to me and knew that I regarded them as my 'children'. He said he had no real intention to report me. He was determined to find out who owned the house next door so he could to report them. (I think the guys actually own that house themselves!) He begged me, in spite of what he'd said, not to change my routine. But he also went further and said that he could hear every step I made in this flat above him - he knew when I went to bed and could even hear me snoring. I wish he hadn't said all that. It's news to me and it's now made me acutely aware of every move I make here.
Despite his insistence I dare not uses the front door again at that early hour. He is the kind of person who I suspect could well have had a violent past and I don't want him to be charging out at me, knife in hand. Blackso will just have to go out through the back window - and if he doesn't work out that he can also come back in that way at anytime I'll just have to leave him sitting outside on the garden wall looking up longingly for me to go down and carry him in. The worst thing I can imagine happening is not just the chap complaining about me to the landlord, but if he does anything to the cats themselves - or makes me have to give them up. In the latter cases I just don't know what I'll do, but I'm pretty sure it will be something drastic.

So that's the position as at now. How it'll develop I don't know. I just wish I could scoop up all (4?) of my pussies and go and live with them in an isolated house somewhere.