Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A Christmas Special - The entire gang of toms is all here!

Here's something unique from me on this special day - a comprehensive listing of my current co-habitees and regular visitors.

First in order of seniority, my beloved Blackso. He decided to live with me soon after I moved into my current flat in 2000 - and he was more than a kitten then, so he must now be at least 14 years old, more probably 15 or even older. He was originally living in a house down the road, being one of half a dozen cats resident there. All attempts to get him to stay at his home failed, he insisting on living with me for some reason. His former owners have long since moved on, taking their remaining brood with them.
He's very affectionate, purring as soon as I pick him up. He always rubs his face against my nose, and he'll never miss a chance to jump into my lap. Always been healthy too, but scares me to death with his insistence of crossing the road to prowl around in the park on the other side, or to sit on the park wall where his friendly and trusting nature to everybody passing is terrifying, making him an easy prey to anyone who feels hostile to cats. But I do love him dearly, bless him!

Blackso


My co-resident #2 is Noodles. Also left his home on this same road (but in the other direction to Blackso) to live with me, I think he ran away from there because the owners had two young daughters, maybe 6-8 years old at that time, who possibly just wouldn't leave him alone. (I was the same at that age, treating our then pets as toys, not allowing them time to rest.) As with Blackso all attempts to get him to return failed until his former owners just gave up. Noodles is much more stand-offish than Blackso, never demonstrative with any affection.. I'm not allowed to pick him up and he never jumps onto or stays in my lap, but in his current night sleep phase he's now sleeping in my bed beside my pillow, even purring as he settles down. I reckon he must be about 10 years old - and he's another healthy one.

Noodles


Mystery cat 'Ginger' appeared as little more than a kitten about 5 or 6 years ago. I've no idea where he came from but he does now turn up here every day to eat and sleep. In the last few months he's put on a great deal of weight rapidly, more than his eating here would warrant, I think. He's now even bigger than Blackso. So whether he's eating elsewhere as well I don't know. Problem is that he's not been doctored - and his loud calling outside sounds like he's looking for a mate. Don't know what to do about him, giving me more worry than any of the others.

Ginger



Patchy is the 'community cat' (probably aged around 12) who visits every day but, according to his owners (ardent cat-lovers who live just round the corner with their own family of them) is comfortable in any place where he can get food and warmth. If so, then this is definitely his favourite place of all. When he visits he takes over the entire place, even sitting at my open window to vet who comes in and out, refusing entry to 'strangers' with a snarl and a hiss - just like a personal club doorman! He's not afraid of anyone else - apart, that is, from one little intruder, an all-black visitor called 'Sooty', who terrorises all and sundry and is the only one who makes Patchy cower away. Thankfully, like Blackso and Noodles, Patchy has also been neutered.

Patchy



And finally, Heckie (or Hector), next door's cat, now just over one year old. All play, inquisitive and bold as brass, he spends more time with me than he does in his own home, where he regularly finds himself locked out. So rather than wait on their window sill crying, as he used to do, he now comes to where he's learnt there's always an open window - and he scoffs food from everywhere and anyone else even while they're still eating. No manners at all! But he too hasn't been neutered even though I've mentioned it to his owner who says he will get it done. I hope so, otherwise more trouble ahead.

Heckie


So those are the five who use my place as a main or second home. There are also several more pop-in visitors ever looking for scraps of leftover food that they can mop up, but never staying longer than it takes to do only that. 

Until quite recently when I was ready to turn in for the night I'd go to my bedroom and find a cat or two curled up or spread out on my bed. In this case it was Noodles and Patchy and I found myself having to snake my body between them, trying to find a position that was reasonably comfortable enough in which to sleep, but sometimes getting warning growls from Patchy, threatening to lash out with his claws if I disturb him too much. 





Pussies all over, and they've got me under their little paw-thumbs! Oh, it's a dog's life, it really is!

And the very 'bestest' of wishes to every single one of my blog readers from ALL the above - plus yours truly! (And that includes wishing you, Paul, if you're reading this. I've missed your valued comments on my recent posts. I do hope that you're okay.)

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Film: 'THE HOBBIT -THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG' (in 3D)

If spectacle is your bag and you think that it's enough to make or break a film on its own, you get that a-plenty here - both as natural landscape and as CGI-produced features and structures.
This 'middle one' of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, like the first episode, left me not caring that much about what was going on, because I simply couldn't follow it all. I've read the book twice (and LOTR at least five times). Not that it matters, as the film trilogy of 'The Hobbit' is so far expanded out of the source material from which it derives as to bear little relationship to it other than the title and the basic idea. But I'm not exactly complaining about that.

Ian McKellan and Orlando Bloom are two of the stalwarts of the franchise who turn up again here, joined for the second time by Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, all joined by several faces particularly recognisable to British audiences.

I would be no less informed about the plot if there were no dialogue at all. A lot of that which there is, to me now sounds like pretentious doggerel , as though one has got to be 'in the know' to follow what's happening. Notwithstanding that, a lot of the action (with some brilliantly-created monsters of various species)  is good fun, chases galore, fights, battles, a bit of amusing slap-stick. I must give credit to the inventiveness of some of the antics - and the special effects cannot be praised too highly. On the other hand I once again experienced a few yawn-inducing longueurs, though I don't think there were as many as in the first film.

I'd already forgotten how the first part had finished, and I hadn't been interested enough to have my memory prodded. I reckon that by the time the final part mercifully appears I'll also have forgotten the 'cliffhanger' that concludes this part.

There's no doubt that this trilogy is turning into a major achievement, though in no way eclipsing the 'Ring' films, which I found much more entertaining, probably because I was more familiar with those books, and those films were an attempt, largely successful, to transfer that story to the cinema screen. 'The Hobbit' trilogy, by blowing it up so far, contains more of Jackson and his writers than it does of Tolkien, simply taking the latter's characters and creating an extended story for them. But that's cinema for you, which is fair enough.

If one is a great fan of this franchise then this film will have everyone one hopes for - interesting and varied characters (though only very few are female), no shortage of thrills with some astonishing camera work (particularly impressive in 3D). I've mentioned my reservation with the script but if one has a keener interest than I own maybe it is possible to make some sense of the gobbledygook.  

I will be going to see the final part, though not with any great enthusiasm - just to be able to say "I've seen it!"
In terms of achieving a level of entertainment for me personally, I award 'The Hobbit - Part II'.............4.


Added one day after writing above: 
As a result of Walt's comment (WCS) below, I referred back to the review I wrote for Part I of 'The Hobbit' in December 2012 and, to my deep embarrassment, find that, contrary to what I say above, I was fulsomely positive about that film, even going on to award it a 7/10 - and furthermore, saying that I was actually looking forward to its sequel! (Ouch!) But it would be unforgivably mendacious to alter the above review upwards (or downgrade last year's) so, with abject apologies for my inconsistency and faulty memory, I have decided, albeit red-facedly, to let both stand.






Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Film: 'KILL YOUR DARLINGS'

Quite impressive film of a pivotal segment of Allen Ginsberg's early life, from 40-year old director John Krokidias, whose first full-length feature this is.

There can't be many people who don't know the names of, not only Ginsberg, but also Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, both the latter playing quite significant roles in this period of his life. But it's Lucien Carr, whom I didn't know much about (though I vaguely recognised the name) who was such a major influence on Ginsberg, and  I knew still less of the crime which exclusively takes up the final part of this film. It's Carr, along with Ginsberg, who has the lion's share of the film almost from the outset when the superficially callow Ginsberg arrives at Columbia University and Carr immediately becomes his mentor.  The latter's lack of respect for 'rules', both of authority and within the confines of poetry, is the catalyst which sparks Ginsberg to conduct himself in like free-thinking manner. Their mutual sympathies in this direction lead, naturally enough, to an intellectual relationship, rather than one that is physically expressed. But the major complication is Carr's previous, older relationship, who is unable to let him go. The downward spiral of the latter's desperation includes a most distressing (for me) incident involving a cat, which is going to echo in my mind for a long time, even though it's seen as being rescued before any harm befell it.

Daniel Radcliffe does a fairly good job as Ginsberg, though I personally would have preferred some actor who was far less known in this major role as it was not helped one bit by Radcliffe wearing spectacles throughout the film, inevitably resonating with another role. It needed me to take a great leap of faith to see him as someone who took so easily to various drug and drink indulgences. Maybe other viewers don't have that difficulty.

I thought Dane DaHaan (upper left) as Carr was brilliant, as was Michael C. Hall as his priggish but attractive (bear-like) older former lover - though I'm going to find it hard to dismiss the latter's action with the cat, film or not!
I was rather less convinced by Jack Huston as Kerouac, whose 'free-spiritedness' seemed a bit forced, and Ben Foster as a very dour, very knowing, young William Burroughs who, as portrayed here, didn't seem to accord with the much older Burroughs whom I know through his later books. (Must confess I've read very little of the works of Ginsberg and Kerouac).

I don't know how I managed not to have recognised Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ginsberg's mentally damaged mother until the final credits showed, but I didn't.

I really liked the style of the film, particularly for the first hour in its capturing the disparate nature of the characters' 'lawlesnesss of minds' - featuring jazz in thickly smoky atmospheres, taking in druggy effects. Once the crime is revealed the direction of the film becomes strongly focussed, and I thought it was slightly less successful in conveying what was going on inside the players' minds.

I don't know if many people who know nothing of the actual persons depicted in this film will have the motivation to see it. It's certainly not what might be regarded as 'mainstream'. But, all in all, any reservations that I do have cannot detract from my opinion that this is a good film..............7.





Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Film: 'CARRIE'

It would have been a tall order to expect anyone to better Brian De Palma's 1976 version of this very early Stephen King novel, which has an assured place in my 'All Time Top 100 Films'. This one doesn't improve on it, and by some margin, but it's still not without some merit.

I didn't know the name of either director Kimberly Peirce nor of the young actress in the title role, one Chloe Grace Moretz, though I now see that the latter did appear in 'Hugo' and 'Kick-Ass'.

The film is the tale of Carrie White who, on reaching puberty with her first period (quite 'publicly' at high school) finds that she has telekinetic powers, which operate both involuntarily when she's emotionally charged or, as she discovers, she can operate at will. She lives alone with her religiously-fanatic and near-demented, Bible-toting mother who is fixated on the notion that we're all born into sin, though women especially grievously so - and who strives to force her daughter to accept it.
Carrie is seen as something of an 'ugly duckling' at school, ridiculed by her female classmates and their boyfriends, when a jape is played by inviting her to attend the school prom at which she's to be cruelly humiliated in front of all.

Moretz, as Carrie, is several years younger than Sissy Spacek was for De Palma, and is therefore closer to being the authentically-aged girl which King had in mind in his story. I thought she carried it off very well.
Julianne Moore (one of the reasons I bothered going to see this) plays her part with most of her religious feelings pent up inside whereas Piper Laurie in the 1976 version was much more demonstrative in her loopiness. I have to say that I thought the latter was the more effective of the two, conveying better the histrionics we still see in current day evangelism.

In the pivotal scene at the prom, De Palma showed off a whole range of cinematic tricks - split-screen, filtered-out sounds, slow motion - all of which worked brilliantly. Some of these are also employed at the same moment by Peirce, though not the use of split-screen. When Carrie wreaks havoc with her revenge for the extreme prank played on her I think that this new film had no alternative but to try to outdo De Palma in spectacular effects, which it does.

Incidentally, I'd hoped that with additional sensitivities of a later generation (so I thought) the pig-slaughtering scene would be a little less graphic than in the earlier film. Unfortunately not so.

By the way, when the 1976 was first released, among the cast was a hitherto unknown name (at least to cinema audiences) of a certain John Travolta. It wasn't highlighted in the opening credits, his name being just included among the rest of the cast. Then, a few years later in the wake of the screen success of 'Grease', 'Carrie' was given a cinema re-release but now with the opening credits re-vamped to show Travolta as one of the  main stars, despite his role not being that big. I think it was on the lines of - "And featuring JOHN TRAVOLTA"!

I only saw this film because of Julianne Moore's presence plus the fact that there was a Senior Citizens' screening for just £3.50. If it wasn't that good it wasn't too much to lose - besides, I have to confess to being a bit curious as to whether it could compare with the earlier version. As it turned out, with no regrets at having made the effort, I give the 2013 'Carrie' a.............6.


Monday, 9 December 2013

Film: 'NEBRASKA'

This has been an exceptional year for a high proportion of 'quality' films - and here's yet another to join that select number, which it does with ease.

Alexander Payne is justly gaining quite a reputation for directing really worthwhile films. In recent years we've had 'The Descendants', 'Sideways', 'About Schmidt' - and this latest one just about sets the seal on his being a name to watch and whose films can be anticipated with pleasure.

Bruce Dern plays the edge-of-senility husband and father who is taken in by an advertising scam which, he thinks, informs him that he's won a million dollars. He won't take persuading from his younger son (Will Forte, a name I didn't know, and not at all bad-looking) on the reality of the company's ruse, designed just to push their magazines. His son, unable to convince him, agrees to take him the two-day drive to Lincoln to enable him to collect the prize to which he thinks he's due. En route, circumstances force them to detour to stay a while in the small town of Hawthorne with his brother and wife, with their two burly, scoffing, adult sons (like Tweedledum/dee). One evening in a bar, despite his son's warning not to do so, the father lets out that he's on his way to collect his prize winnings, and it doesn't take long for word to get around. He not only finds himself surrounded by new 'friends' but old relatives and acquaintances come out of the woodwork, directly or indirectly hoping or excepting to join in his good fortune, including Stacey Keach who expresses his own expectation more like a threatening demand. All this to the son's frustration, even when he tells them all that his father is mistaken. They are joined in Hawthorne by June Squibb, Dern's dutiful wife who's ever ready with her acid tongue to cut anyone down, Dern not least.

Small-town America is brilliantly observed in this film. Hawthorne is a world where just about everybody knows everybody else - as well as their mostly being past retirement age. (The average age of the cast must be over 60, I reckon). The cast is all excellent. The script is on its toes - and mostly very funny. (It could have been condescending to the old generation but it isn't). And what a correct choice it was to film it in monochrome - so right! - and the big-sky, flat landscapes are breathtaking.

It's a very unusual storyline, and one which holds the attention throughout. It gives one heart to know that there are these little stories out there in someone's imagination and that we don't need to be ever subjected to banalities to entertain us.

If I did think that 'Nebraska' drooped ever so slightly near the end it would in no way prevent my giving it overall a hearty recommendation. It's another one that scrapes the ceiling with an..................8

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Film: 'SAVING MR BANKS'

Very enjoyable film, with a broad spectrum of moods, high and low.
To prepare myself for this I re-read 'Mary Poppins' so as to be better informed on the subject matter, though my first read was only a comparatively recent 12 years ago.

This film tells of Walt Disney's personal tussle with authoress P.L.Travers in order for him to acquire the film rights to her book, and her direct and obstructive interventions to prevent his and his team's depictions of book and title character straying from the way she'd envisaged them. Her displeasure at discovering that the film is to be not only a musical, but is also to feature scenes of animation, are well and amusingly conveyed. It's a most interesting story which I did know just a little about, though my scant knowledge was further filled in by a rather engrossing BBC TV programme a few evenings ago about the real Travers.

Emma Thompson, though looking nothing like the real-life person she portrays, does a marvellous job, conveying Travers' querulousness and obstinacy to perfection. I've yet to see Thompson fail to give a stand-out performance, and here she does it again. (Incidentally, during the close of the final credits an audio tape extract is played of the real Travers arguing with the film team about her demands for the look of the film - and it's clear that Thompson doesn't exaggerate her manner one jot).
Tom Hanks, despite the make-up team's best efforts, still looks like Tom Hanks, but he does put real flesh onto someone whom, to those of my generation, always seemed a somewhat aloof, rather sketchy figure, and even just a bit questionable in his motives, though there was nothing we knew then or now to suggest that there was really anything shady going on - at least that what I felt even before we had Michael Jackson taking troupes of young kids to Disneyland.
Colin Farrell, in regular flashbacks by Travers to her childhood in Australia, plays her wavy-haired, very affectionate father whom she adores, even though she's aware of his drink problem. I don't think I've seen Farrell play such a kindly, soft-hearted character before, and he does it quite convincingly.

It's a very entertaining film (directed by John Lee Hancock), alternately comic and profoundly moving. It attempts to show us what made Travers 'tick' and from whence her Poppins character was derived. There may well be over-simplifications in the way this is explained but I can accept that as being part of the liberties taken as 'film-speak'. Besides, it's intended to amuse and/or involve its viewers and it does that admirably.

By the way, those familiar with the book will know that Bert (as played by Dick Van Dyke in the 1964 film) is only a marginal character who appears for about 8 pages - and he's not a sweep anyway! Likewise, Mr and Mrs Banks, the former of which is very prominent in the film, are even more peripheral in the book.

When I first saw the Poppins film nearly (goodness me!) fifty years ago, although I did like it I wasn't really as overly enthusiastic as most of my contemporaries were. I thought it seemed to date rapidly on screen, and when another Sherman brothers product, 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' came out four years later (also, of course, with Dick Van Dyke, though this time not from Disney) I rated it as being the superior of the two. Even now it looks quite fresh. It must, however, be said that for songs and music, 'Poppins' was the Shermans' real triumph. It's a brilliant score with very strong songs throughout. However, in spite of that and even despite these same brothers' songs for 'Jungle Book', I'd still make a claim that the score of 'Chitty' is pretty damn good.
But that's all beside the point for now. Not having seen 'Poppins' for something like thirty years it's more than high time for a re-viewing - and possibly for a re-appraisal, which could see my opinion being revised upwards - just like a kite!

For originality, fun, deep emotion and very fine acting I award 'Saving Mr Banks' a robustly healthy.............8.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Film: 'PARKLAND'

It was only because, having to go to Brighton, I thought that being there I might as well pop in for this film. It's a matter-of-fact view of the events in Dallas immediately following the Kennedy assassination (as though we were wanting still more!), released to coincide with the recent anniversary. The reviews I'd seen indicated that it was a fairly efficient though perfunctory  effort.

A reconstruction of the few hours following the fatal shots, with concentrations on the 'Parkland' hospital where Kennedy (as well as Oswald, later) was taken  - as well as the aftermath of the unwitting filming of the event by Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giametti). Others in the cast include Billy Bob Thornton, Zac Ephron and Marcia Gay Harden, they and others playing characters who were absolutely central to the drama, but all of whom, through history, are now relegated to being peripheral figures.

There's a protracted, bloody scene in the hospital as they try to hold onto the President's life - and another one much later when attempts are made to save Oswald.
There wasn't much here that was new to me, though what was new (or I may have forgotten about it) was Oswald's brother and his dreadful and scary mother's differing reactions to the news of first the shooting, and then of Lee Oswald's death. Oddly, it was at such moments that for me the film's tension, such as it was, drooped most noticeably.

What I did like about the film was that it didn't attempt to analyse or rationalise the events - or offer different versions of 'the truth', Mrs Oswald notwithstanding. We've had more than enough of that for half a century, thank you  The film, to its credit, just played everything out as though witnessed by a dispassionate observer.

I'm sure that generations to come will continue to be fascinated by the subject. I think I've had just about enough of it as I can take, and happily leave it to future, wiser heads than mine to conjecture further - and there's little doubt but that they will......................................5.5.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Film: 'THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE'

Sequel to last year's 'Hunger Games', there is little that is new about this one, directed by Francis Lawrence. It's one of those films which makes me feel evermore alienated from a mainstream cinema audience. A glitzy and vulgar public ceremony (which I can readily accept) leads up to a test of survival skills for a number of previously victorious competitors fighting it out to the death, both amongst themselves as well as against a manufactured hostile environment -  for the ostensible purpose of crowd-pleasing 'entertainment', though with the more sinister underlying motive of control of the masses.

With sentimental episodes, complete with music pointing to the emotion one ought to feel, it mirrors the first film in that the first half is all about the build-up to the 'Games', sketching out, very roughly, the characters - participants and organisers - with concentration unsurprisingly on the Jennifer Lawrence character, which she plays brilliantly, by the way - and the ensuing hour or more, which is the 'Games' itself. And 'games' is the operative word as time and again I was thinking that the whole concept reminded me of a computer game where lives are disposable and one tries to win at all costs (within pre-ordained rules, of course). Well, one's own life is at stake, after all.

I found it a film brutal to the point of nastiness, but that is precisely what the game is intended to portray.
Good to see Donald Sutherland again, and Stanley Tucci too, as M.C. (even more outrageous than before), Woody Harrelson - and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is a formidable presence in whatever film he appears.

Can't believe that I gave the first film a rating of 7.5. I did think higher of it than this one, though part of that will have been due to the novelty of the concept. Witnessing exactly the same formula all over again was borderline boring. Can't see myself mustering much enthusiasm for the next in the series, though I probably will go. Or will I?

I give 'Catching Fire'  a.........................4.5.