Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Film: 'REALITY'

Despite the title this is an Italian film - and quite an attractive one at that.

Given that the subject matter - an unassuming member of the public chasing fame by applying to appear on TV's 'Big Brother' - is such a contemporary one, I'm surprised that, for all its dramatic potential, the situation hasn't been tried on film before, at least not in any one of which I am aware.

A Neapolitan fish-stall owner is egged on, mainly by younger members of his extended family, to have a go at the preliminary stage of B.B. when Naples is visited by the show's organisers scouting for 'talent'. His initial lack of enthusiasm gradually gets the better of him when he's given a glowingly promising assessment - which leads him on to thinking that just appearing on the programme, without necessarily even winning it, will bring him such lucrative fame that his and his family's lives will be transformed. When it appears that he hasn't been called as a member of the team he doesn't lose hope as it's immediately revealed that during the course of the particular run two new members will be introduced into the house, and he's convinced that he will be one of them. He therefore starts to burn his bridges, much to the dismay of family members and friends around him, who think he's 'lost it'. I won't reveal whether or not he does get to appear in the B.B. house - but the film follows an engaging track, starting light-heartedly when he does a drag act at a wedding, and then getting pretty deep, without its depth being an encumbrance.

I think the film has a message for many people, though it's perhaps doubtful that even those who catch it outside Italy (which, I'd imagine, will be very few) would think that the depiction of the central role could possibly apply to them. I've never watched a complete Big Brother series. I did sporadically dip into the very first one out of curiosity, but not since then as I just find them a crashing bore. But the application goes wider than B.B. Consider the ubiquitous talent shows where just about everyone appearing thinks that he or she has found the key to instant untold wealth and fame, often being totally deluded as to the presence of any special 'gifts' they may or may not possess. Nothing wrong with dreams, of course, but if riches were so easily attainable we'd all be rolling in money for our entire lifespans.

'Reality' kept me absorbed, I having no idea how it was going to play out. A fairly modest film, and no worse for it being so, I award it a commendable ................................6.5


Oh, and btw: The answer to the crossword clue in my previous post is 'KINGS' - at least I hope it will be when the solution comes out on Sunday. I think the clue is rather neat.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

One for the cruciverbalists.

I thought this clue was rather good, from this morning's 'Observer' crossword:-

Two-part book from Henry James, or Edward Lear? (5)


It didn't take me long to solve it but, even so, it comes close to what might be regarded as a 'classic'.
(I'll append the solution to my next blog which, I hope will be on Wednesday after I've attended the showing of a certain film.)

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Film: 'THE EYE OF THE STORM'

This 2011 Fred Schepisi film, only now given a limited cinema release here, is based on a novel of Australian novelist Patrick White, of whom I am an admirer, though I've not read this one of his. I found it a film where the focus of the story seemed to be running away from my grasp. The more I tried to get in tune with where it was going, the further out of reach it seemed to recede. This was exactly the feeling I had when I first saw the 1985 Meryl Streep film, 'Plenty' - which I later got to like a lot. It hit me during the course of this film that the same director was responsible for both films.

This boasts a starry trio of principal roles - Charlotte Rampling as the aristocratic, bed-ridden, senility-approaching, widowed mother to Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis. (Both women are particular good).
Set in and around Sydney, the photography is ravishing. Rampling (actually only a very few years older than the actors playing her son and daughter) convincingly portrays the mother fully aware of her approaching end, and determined to die only when she ordains it. She has no obvious physical ailment apart from the normal ageing process. Her children visit her palatial home where she's lived all her life and their talk to her is of encouragement and a denial of facing reality. But she knows how things stand. There are significant flashbacks to a younger Rampling, some with Judy Davis, revealing a long-standing prickly relationship between them. The principal complications in the main story come from the female nurses, and their conflicts between professional loyalty to their patient and emotional involvement, one of them with Rush's character.

It was about half-way through this two-hour film that I felt I was starting to 'get it' - and from that point on I could sit back and enjoy it more. I'd class it as a 'challenging film'. Worth seeing, definitely - and unusual too. I wonder if on a second watching my opinion will change (For 'Plenty', seeing it again resulted in increased regard for that film.). I think my view will improve and on that expectation I'll award this film a...............6.5


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Film: 'STAR TREK - INTO DARKNESS' (in 2D)

Not much to say about this.
I've seen all the Star Trek films at the cinema though I've never been a fan - and never even sat through an entire episode of any of the TV series. But I would marginally rather watch a Star Trek film than one of the 'Star Wars'. The former's stories tend to have rather more human interest. However, in this film, when one takes away the fortississimo soundtrack gunfights, crashes and explosions, most of which occur in airless (and therefore what ought to be soundless!) space, the basic plot-line seems fairly perfunctory. Having said that, I didn't find the film as bum-numbingly tedious as some of the previous efforts in the series. But it's really one for those who have 'bought into' the Star Trek notion - and that obviously excludes me. I'm pretty sure it would leave most hardened fans thoroughly satisfied, which is all it was really intended to do.

In terms of 'pleasure' (or not) obtained for this viewer.....................3.5

Monday, 20 May 2013

Film: 'THE GREAT GATSBY' (in 3D)

In 1974, when I first saw the Jack Clayton version, I had not yet read the novel. My impression then was that Robert Redford was portraying a sympathetic, yet misunderstood, character. Then I did read the book (and again at least twice more since) and discovered that the Gatsby persona is much more complex and questionable. In this new film DiCaprio captures his shifty and shady aspect perfectly, a facet which is obvious from near the very start, and soon afterwards revealed explicitly to be so.


Baz Luhrmann applies his trademark frenetic visuals as though playing to an audience suffering from attention deficiency syndrome. Everything is busy, busy, busy - completely at odds with the spirit of the short novel which, though it can be read comfortably in a single sitting, is rich and languid in temperament, consisting of beautifully structured prose, best enjoyed when gently savoured and pondered over. Not for nothing is it regarded as one of the peaks of western literature, some going so far as to maintain, not without some justification, that it's possibly the "greatest American novel ever written". Luhrmann's film seems to be based on the idea that the greatest fault a film version could have would be to bore the audience. He doesn't do that. And you know what? I really liked it!

One could go through and tick off which cast members were better in this new film than the 74 one, and vice versa, (I've never seen the 1949 Alan Ladd film) but it all comes down to personal choice. I would just say that I missed Karen Black, given a more substantial role as Myrtle in the earlier film. And then there was Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan in the new, sometimes looking alarmingly like Ricky Gervais! Carey Mulligan I thought was good and caught Daisy's vulnerable, flighty and troubled personality so well, very different from Mia Farrow who also was at least as good in an equally valid interpretation. Tobey Maguire as the colourless narrator was okay, but it's a rather thankless part. Why he had to narrate the entire film as a reminiscence, several years on, of a recovering alcoholic was, I think, a misjudgment, giving an unnecessary and distracting weight to a character who is essentially merely functional as a witness to the Gatsby/Daisy saga. It must have been some notion of connecting that character with the tragic reality of Scott Fitzgerald's own later,  alcohol-heavy life.
I'm not sure I cared for the frequent appearance of Fitzgerald's actual words on screen. I suppose it was as a kind of homage to the source work. It seemed needless when a huge proportion of the dialogue came straight from the novel anyway - but, not only that, I also became extra-conscious of those parts of the dialogue that had not made it into the final script. Several times I was waiting for certain lines to come up which had been lodged in my memory, but which just weren't to be voiced at all.
There are only a very  few extended scenes in the film. One of them, the longest, and near the film's end, is absolutely electric - the final confrontation between Gatsby and Buchanan, with Daisy, Carraway and Jordan looking on in utter horror as it inexorably escalates.

The music anachronisms didn't worry me so much (including the fact that Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' was actually composed shortly after the 1922 setting of the film/novel - I wouldn't have known that myself had I not read it!) but it's all par for the course with any Baz Luhrmann film.

Some of the reviews I've read have been openly hostile to this film, essentially on the grounds that its spirit is so far removed from the author's intentions. Although I agree with that, I must say that as a film I think it can more than stand on its own feet. As an entertainment in its own right I'm going to award this version of 'The Great Gatsby' a satisfyingly hefty........................7.5




Sunday, 19 May 2013

Eurovsion - The Final

So, Denmark won. Not too disappointed by that though I'd have put it in about 10th place. Her song, 'Only Teardrops', achieved most of its appeal, I imagine, because of its 'hook' on the title words. But I didn't think it was even the best hook - that was surely the plucky Belgian teenager's oomphy  'Love Grows' (finishing a disappointing 12th).



The other top places went (in order) to - Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Norway and Russia - whereas they ought to have been (i.e. my order of preference) - Netherlands (to which I gave my telephone vote), then Hungary, Malta, Belgium and Iceland. Hungary's simple, understated song was the one which really stood out for me on a second listening.

None of the songs I really liked were placed near the bottom. Difficult as it is to be objective about Bonnie Tyler's U.K. entry, 'Believe in Me', it wasn't an especially arresting song, and I think 19th is only a little below where it deserved to finish. Still, it was a six-place improvement on last year's last-but-one result.
Must have been humiliating for Ireland, which has won the contest more than any other country, finishing in last place, though once again it wasn't a particularly memorable song.

Biggest surprise for me was the rowdy, jokey song from Greece finishing as high as 6th - those bearded he-men in skirts doing a knees-up was the sight of the entire event and they had me transfixed.




But the undoubted winner of the night for me was Sweden's staging of possibly the best Eurovision contest I've ever seen - and I can go back a very long way (in fact to b/w TV). They got the balance exactly right between taking it seriously and humorous irreverence - and with more than one oblique reference to the contest's gay fan base (without which I bet the event would long ago have folded) and including a very brief but explicit depiction of a gay wedding, which must have caused considerable tut-tutting (and worse) among some viewers in more conservative societies.

For overall presentation I award Sweden...............douze points






Friday, 17 May 2013

Eurovision - Second Semi-final

On the whole, more entertaining than the first part, this year may go down as the contest which included an exultation of equal marriage - Finland's entry with a 'bride' enthusiastically chirping "Marry me!", only at the end of the act to clinch it with a full female-on-female kiss. Marvellous! - even though the song itself was nothing special. But it's got through to tomorrow's final.


Any slight regret about the first semi displaying a lack of 'hottie-ness' was dispelled by the Greek entry which also made it to the final -  a group called 'Cosa Nostra', cavorting around in kilts while fool-dancing to a ridiculous, disposable, raucous song, "Alcohol is Free!" . If it wins I'll be a monkey's uncle! Though having said that, I still can't understand how hard-rock act 'Lordy' of Finland, performing in rubber monster suits, won the title a few years ago.
The combined testosterone level of this Greek act (well, from at least three of its members) made up for any lack elsewhere. Very satisfying indeed!


I'm glad I didn't have an inkling of what was in store from Romania's brave entry. One had to hear it to believe it. It's also through - and the song wasn't bad either.


The surprise of the evening for me (as opposed to 'shock' - pleasant or otherwise) came from Norway - a sober song sung by one of several acts consisting of a single lady in a white dress, but a song I found highly appealing. A strong entry to actually listen to without any visual distractions.


But, when it came to declaring oneself, if we Brits had been allowed to vote in this second part, I think I would have cast mine for Malta, with its simple, cheery ditty. Hardly outstanding and unlikely to linger around once the competition is over - but pleasant to listen to and delivered with gentle, radiant optimism.

Okay, now that I've heard all the songs at least once (apart from France, Germany, Italy and Spain, who did not participate in the semis, though I'll correct that omission before tomorrow's final), on second hearing tomorrow night my opinion may well shift. But as at now I think I'd give my overall vote to the Netherlands. If my own vote concurs with the actual result it will be the first time it's happened for decades! Let's see what transpires.








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