Monday, 28 July 2014

Film: 'THE FAULT IN OUR STARS'

Most of those who'd had serious intent to see this would have done so by now. I, without that slightest desire (because of my revulsion at depictions of teenage romance), had purposely avoided it. However, seeing as it was showing at a fag-end season release, at a one-off screening for Senior Citizens in my closest cinema (7 mins walk from my flat), coupled with the fact that not only had it received strong approval notices from a number of my blog-pals, but it has also received an astonishing, almost unheard-of, average rating on IMDb of 8.6, with gritted teeth I went.
So, was it really as bad as I'd feared? No, not really. It was much, much worse than that.


Ought to say at the outset that I haven't read the book - and now, on the strength of this, have no mind to do so.
It's not a good sign to look at my watch for the first time and find that only 20 minutes have elapsed - in a 2+ hours film! I felt being so smothered in cheesiness from the very start that I wanted to ask an usherette when they were going to dish out the crackers.
To have one character with terminal cancer would have been quite enough to cope with, but when there are not two but three of them with various 'incapacities', well the opportunities for heartstring-tugging was written all over - and boy, did the film gobble them all up with glee! And to milk it even more, at least seven times during the film (or was it eight? I'd lost count) we had another bugbear of mine - snatches of songs on the soundtrack. I always find this lazy and 'cheating'. Either have unobtrusive music, which is admittedly not easy  to do, or let the situation speak for itself in silence.
Of the two main characters Ansel Elgort was particularly irritating with his smug, faux-innocence (even if he really was supposed to be a virgin). Shailene Woodley was, at least, tolerable. And it was a small mercy that they were towards the latter end of teenage years. I should have abided it even less had they been still younger.
I didn't find their relationship had credible conviction - what critics always call 'lack of chemistry'. Her making regular moon-worshipping eyes at him when he wasn't looking was intensely annoying.

On the plus side there was Amsterdam, for me the most interesting part, but only because in the years before my last visit in 1991 I was there so often (every few weeks at one point) that I was regarding it almost as my second home. So it was good to see it again, and recognising nearly all of the locations, including the 'Anne Frank House' though I wasn't aware of the complete transformation of the now-touristy entrance. As for the grand, applause-accompanied osculatory climax to their visit, all it lacked was for one of them to have exclaimed "I'm a Belieber!"
I wasn't aware who was going to be playing the mysterious writer, but when he showed his face I wasn't all that shocked to see that it was Jesus Christ himself, undergoing and succumbing to his very last temptation, viz drink - leading up to, one assumes, a final burn-out (though only after one final re-appearance).
The toe-curling, obsequious waiter's turn at the couple's meal was bordering on being over-extended beyond forbearance.
Where the two of them sat by the canal for a bit of nooky-talk I was thinking that it looked very like the route I used to use regularly to zig-zag my intoxicated way back to the hotel at around 5 a.m. after a night of reckless drinking and debauch in the leather bars (and dark corners thereof). So, reminiscing on that gave me some relief from following the film itself.   
I shan't say anything at all about the final scenes. Do I need to?

So was there anything apart from Amsterdam that I liked about the film? Yes, there was Laura Dern, whom I haven't seen for ever such a long time, as the girl's mother. She's a good actress now - and it's especially reassuring to see that she can emote distress without contorting her face into gurning, which was once her trademark look, strange and unintentionally funny, which she couldn't help but put on. That feature seems to be part of the past now.

During the course of the film I toyed with the thought of which film I'd rather see again, this one or 'Love Story', which I haven't seen since it's release way back in 1970, another film to which I took an intense dislike - and Holy shit! You know what? I think it would have to be the latter. Even though one can guess the vague trajectory of that film after the Ryan O'Neal and Ali Macgraw characters first appear as strangers bickering at each other, at least her slide downhill health-wise isn't signalled until the film is quite advanced, unlike here where the warning bells are sounded within the very first seconds. And 'Love Story' is shorter by 20 minutes!

I made for the exit as soon as director Josh Boone's name came up on the faded-out screen. But on the way out someone on the aisle actually started clapping. Can you believe it? I shouted "Shush! It was an ordeal!" and made a hasty departure out of the building, on the way home hoping that those who had heard my remark had understood that I was describing my own experience rather than that of the characters on screen

With my regular proviso that this review is a very personal one, I'm completely aware that I'm way out on a limb from the vast majority of people who've seen this film and enjoyed it. Nevertheless, in terms of my own experience, I can't give it more than.......................2/10.


Thursday, 24 July 2014

Heart-stopping moments I have to put up with. (First pic - he's only sleeping!)

And both these occasions happened just over the last couple of hours. He only does this in Summer when it's hot. Please don't think that the returning driver would automatically notice Blackso before driving off; we have right-hand drive here! And notice, below, his tail already edging under the wheel.



These times he wasn't too hard to spot from my window but sometimes he goes right under the car, so when I know he's outside somewhere, every so often I have to go and check under nearby cars, me on all fours on the pavement, khaki-shorted arse in air, gawped at by passing pedestrians, looking for all the world like I'm looking for or planting a bomb, or I'm on heat, waiting to be mounted. (No takers so far - sigh!)
When he's too far to reach and pull out my coaxing tends to be ineffectual, at least at first. All I get is a look that says "Oh, leave me alone" or "Go to hell!". But I can't leave him there in peril so persistence is required.

Unlike Noodles, Blackso took over my life from the moment he moved in. I had wanted to go and see much-praised, new film 'Boyhood' today, but it's only showing (today, final day) at the least easily accessible of all my regular cinema venues and would have meant my being away for around seven hours (the film alone is nearly three hours long). Yesterday's 'Apes' film, showing at my closest cinema, took me just three hours away, and even then my thoughts kept coming round to wondering where Blackso would be on my return. If anything had happened to him I'd never have been able to live it down. So, no 'Boyhood' then, thanks to this little scamp.

On the subject of felines, here are a few recent pics of:-

Looking like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, Noodles came in yesterday not with butter but with a bird in his mouth! Eek! He doesn't do it often but even once is once too many. Thankfully, the poor victim looked dead. I shooed Noodles out of the window with his 'gift', and he remained on the window sill, apparently eating up the entire little body, feathers, legs, beak the lot! At least I saw him eating and next time I looked he was sitting there, licking his lips and paw and washing his face, not a remnant scrap in sight. Yum yum, indeed! Naughty, naughty boy!


Some time ago I mentioned that my newest regular visitor was a long-haired shaggy with a Persian-type face of which someone had tried to cut his beautiful coat - very inexpertly.  This is him retreating in his pitiable state. Thank heavens that his coat has grown back again in all its luxury, and he really is a beauty, though all the other cats are puzzled or even hostile at him, because he doesn't look like your 'normal' cat. I only hope he doesn't have to undergo another daft person treating him as though trimming a hedge amateurly. He's  nervous towards me (though now starting to trust) but will face up to any other cat, wailing loudly like a banshee whilst challenging them.


Above, inside, are two of my current visitors - little Tortie and fatty Patchy, both from nearby houses - but outside is the dear late little Ginger whom I found run over in April. A shock which has left a scar in me.

And finally....................

Blackso again, showing what he thinks of all my worrying about him - by sticking his tongue out. Charming!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Film: 'DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES' (in 2D)

I found this, on the whole, humdrum and formulaic, though there is no doubt that a lot of the imagery is quite remarkable, even in the flat-screen version in which I saw it.

Few could deny that Pierre Boulle's original idea in his novel 'La Planete des Singes' (usually translated as 'Monkey Planet') is an arresting one. But it's a concept that doesn't bear stretching over one, let alone several, sequels.
I saw the original 1968 film on its release and would maintain that it finishes with one of the most astonishing endings ever to be encountered in the cinema. It still sends a thrill through me thinking of that first time when I'd been sitting through the film with a friend, only I'd been seething and fuming throughout at such a silly idea as apes, not only talking in English, but English with an American accent! (As though speaking with a British accent would have made it any more plausible!). Then only to be put firmly in my place in the final frames and its jaw-dropping moment of revelation. (My friend had not been so disturbed with talking apes as I was, but he was also a 'Doctor Who' fan back in those days of daft plots, dodgy modelling, shaky scenery, fluffed lines, appalling acting - he just took the lot in his stride).
I saw all the sequels to the original (Beneath/Escape from/Conquest of/Battle for) and each one demonstrated that you can't do much more with the idea other than repeat oneself - the boredom increased with each instalment.

Then we had the forgettable Tim Burton 2001 re-make of the original. Despite its ending being much closer to Boulle's novel (which I read sometime in the 70s), neither on film or in print could the 1968 film be bettered.
I didn't bother with the sequel 'Rise of', though it did get a number of positive reviews. My revisiting of the franchise shows that nothing of note has been gained.


After that long preamble, down to specifics of 'Dawn':-
Directed by Matt Reeves, the extremely convincing anthropomorphising of the apes in this film meant that I didn't have to be concerned, as I normally might have been, with seeing animal suffering. Anyway, so much of it was plainly CGI'd (including opening sequence of hordes of apes hunting wild animals) that I didn't once have to look away.
A negative for me is that there is 'signpost' music almost non-stop - a lot of it, I imagine, intended to indicate what we are to feel, ape faces being rather more inscrutible than human ones. The film-makers seem to think that we need a guide as to our emoting. It got in my way for much of the time.

Andy Serkis as king ape 'Caesar' does as efficient a job as ever in his CGI-superimposed role (he was, of course, also Gollum in the LOTR trilogy). As to the human acting it was fair enough, though I did wish that Gary Oldman had been stretched rather more.
The power-struggle plots, both between apes and man and rebellion among the apes themselves (after we were shown that there are a number of human survivors following the escape of a deadly virus) were not especially original.

I did admire the look of the film, and they are certainly taking what's possible to depict on screen to high levels of excellence. I don't know that if I'd seen this in 3D it would have increased my rating. If you like the idea of this concept in sequels then this should not disappoint you, though I felt its potential had burnt itself out before it had hardly started...............................4/10. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Film: 'ARTHUR & MIKE' (aka 'ARTHUR NEWMAN')

This is an oddity - which makes it sound more interesting than it was.
The film is actually two years old and has probably been languishing on a shelf, gathering dust, before being transferred to DVD. It only came here for a one-off, morning screening and, notwithstanding the omens (and indifferent reviews), it looked okay enough on paper for me to toddle along. Bad decision.

Colin Firth and Emily Blunt (latter as 'Michaela' or 'Mike') play American. Is there nothing the man Firth cannot do - apart from giving us all a break? (At least six more films from him in the offing, including the new Woody Allen. Oh, saints preserve us, please!) Anyway, this time he plays an identity-switching former golf-pro who fakes his own death by drowning in order to escape his ex-wife (with resentful son, annoyed at his dad's greater interest in golf than in himself). His ex is played by Anne (closet gay or closet straight? Take your choice) Heche, though with nose that's definitely straight, who doesn't seem terribly cut up about his vanishing act. However, Firth (no fool he!) 'disappears' with a bagful of $29,000 in low denomination notes.Very soon circumstances throw him and self-pitying, whingeing Emily Blunt together who, by one of those coincidences that only happen in film, find that not only do they both have assumed identities but they also share a penchant for travelling hither and thither, breaking into strangers' homes (after checking on their times of absence) and availing themselves of the 'facilities'. (Oh, what merry japes they get up to! Laugh? I could hardly contain my ennui!) An engaging couple in the style of Bonnie and Clyde they are not! I found them off-puttingly exasperating from the start. The prevailing mood engendered in yours truly was one of wanting them to be nabbed, caught in flagrante delicto, which they actually are (literally) at one point - but, maddeningly, they always manage to scarper before being caught.

I couldn't relate to this film one bit. If it had tried to pass itself off as something a bit zany in the style of those tongue-in-cheek crime capers of the 60s and 70s it might have worked. If that was indeed the mood it was aiming at, I can only think that it misfired badly.
This is director Dante Arola's first feature film, so I suppose by starting on such a 'downer' he ought only to get better - though after this I shan't be rushing to find out his next project..............................3/10.


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A rare theatre outing - to see 'The Mousetrap'.

My first visit to any theatre in over three years. If ticket prices weren't so prohibitive I'd be making such excursions every week.

This is the first national touring production of the Agatha Christie murder mystery play that's been running continuously in London for 62 years - around 25,000 performances to date and counting - so, coming to my home town, not to have made the effort to see it might have been a bit perverse for the lover of live theatre which I am.
Even though I've known 'whodunit' for around 55 years I just wanted to take this probable final chance to see the famed play, despite there being a general consensus that it's over-rated and its playing so long is blocking a fine West End theatre from putting on worthier productions. (These very same criticisms were being voiced as long ago as the early 1970s, I clearly recall - and maybe before then.)  

I had thought that by now just about everybody would have known who was the murderer but the audible gasps of astonishment from the audience at the moment of disclosure was a surprise - and quite a pleasant one, I must say.
I'd only got to know the 'solution' because when I was around 12 or 13 I was coming home from school with a classmate who'd just been to London and was telling me excitedly about this play to which his dad had taken him. He reeled off a list of the characters on stage and said "Now who do you think was the murderer?" It may have been that he'd given an unconscious emphasis when naming that particular individual, but since then I've not only known but have managed not to tell anyone else - exactly as one is exhorted to 'keep mum' by one of the cast at the curtain call.

The single stage-setting  is the lounge of a secluded country guest-house (during a heavy snowstorm, would you believe?) where a motley collection of patrons arrive in ones. We learn at the outset that there has just been a murder in the vicinity at a seemingly unconnected location and the police have a vague description of a suspect. I shan't attempt to list the various guests without a programme in front of me as if I inadvertently miss one or my description of a particular person is wanting one may conclude that that individual is not the killer. Suffice to say that anyone who has read any of the authoress' murder mysteries will recognise the stock type of characters she's created here.

It's a 'wordy' play, despite there being a second murder, this time on-stage. I gather that at some performances in London a significant proportion of the audience nowadays consists of Japanese or other non-English-speaking tourists, who wouldn't have a clue as to what's going on - and are tempted to take photos during the performance despite strictures not to do so. No such distractions in the packed-out performance I attended.

I'd thought some of the acting might have been pretty ropey (no 'big' names in the cast). Some of it was indeed a bit mannered but I must say that on the whole it was surprisingly good. Of course one can also speak of the dated-ness of the dialogue, which does sound creaky at times, but that's like criticising the language of Priestley, G.B.S. or Wilde, even though we're all aware that Christie hardly rises to their standards. But if one accepts it as a product of its time, it passes muster.

Btw: In about 1990 I attended in London a one-person charity benefit by Sir Ian McKellan raising funds for AIDS research and care. He told the story about how he'd been accosted by a rude gentleman in the foyer of the theatre where 'The Mousetrap' was playing (Sir Ian may at the time have been raising funds for the same cause there). This person was about to enter the theatre proper when I.M. exacted his revenge. He called out to the guy "By the way, ....... did it!"
He apologised to the audience at the benefit for revealing the killer's identity but he thought that by now just about everybody knew in any case, though as this performance I went to proved, a lot of people even now still don't. 

I've bought and kept the programme for every single play, concert and opera I've attended in my entire life -  until now. The price of this one was a crippling £8 (about $14 Am.), a third of the price of the actual ticket! So, with great regret, no thanks.

I'm pleased I saw it. It wasn't an experience of memorable cherishment as far as theatrical events can be, but it was quite good fun - and is, after all, (justifiably or not), a landmark play in British theatre.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Film: 'BEGIN AGAIN'

This turned out to be a most satisfying watch. I probably wouldn't have bothered with it (the trailer wasn't particularly interesting) were it not that I recall how captivated I'd been by the same director's (John Carney) 'Once' of 2006. In fact there are a number of storyline features in common with the earlier picture, and if this one doesn't quite rise to the heights of the other it was a formidable hurdle to jump. But definitely pleasing, nevertheless.


Keira Knightly once again shows what a major acting talent she is, getting better at every appearance.
Here she's a singer/songwriter in New York, now performing her songs alone in noisy bars (courtesy of friend, James Corden) after her composing partner and boyfriend has found another female muse. She's heard on chance by slobby, drinking, dishevelled, separated Mark Ruffalo (his ex, Catherine Keener), recently self-ejected from the recording company where he works as executive. He recognises Knightly's talents and wants to publicise her by means of his contacts with his former firm. (Here Mr Rrrrrrrrruffalo is as an attractive piece of 'rough/ruff' as one is ever likely to see - though, speaking personally, I could well have done without that seemingly endless supply of stinky, black cigs he's always puffing on. Yuk!) He also has a 14-year old daughter with a knowing, rebellious attitude whom I also found oddly attractive. (No not in that way!)
There's a greater number of songs one might have expected, and which I did find surprisingly appealing for the most part. Miss Knightly has a very capable voice; though firmly in today's style it's one of those where I feel that a little more projection would have improved it. With a hastily convened supporting group consisting of keyboards, guitar, drums, violin and cello, some of the songs are performed and recorded alfresco at various city locations. (The setting for one of the climactic numbers reminded me of the Beatles' rooftop performance in 'Let It Be').

I was half-expecting that a romance would develop between the two leads, but all I'll say is that the main romantic focus remains between her and her former live-together, songwriter-partner, (Adam Levine, also fine) and it's not a dull one. Maybe the film's very end was ever-so slightly cheesy, but it wasn't detrimental to the whole. (Note: There's a gathering together over the final credits of some loose ends, which I very nearly missed.)
The script is a further 'plus' - consistently alert, sharp and, to me, un-guessable.

The rating I feel inclined to give makes me feel a little guilty that it would make it higher than some recent films I've seen which, on reflection, deserve a mark higher than I allowed at the time. But all my scores are very much 'snapshot' feelings of the moment which can change with time in either direction, which most of them do - and anyway life is just too short to keep on adjusting for evermore. So, as at now, 'Begin Again' gets a....................7. 

(For a very alternative review do visit Blobby's Blog @ 
http://www.blobbysblog.com/2014/07/do-it-again.html )



Thursday, 3 July 2014

Film: 'COLD IN JULY'

While watching this I was thinking what a good film it was, a thriller with real punch! Coming home while reflecting, and now the morning after, I'm a little bit more ambivalent (reasons upcoming) but it's still darned fine.

First of all, high marks for the storyline which veers off into unexpected by-ways, such that it's difficult to say a lot without giving too much away. Then there's the quality acting by all the main players, each being well-differentiated and played with real conviction and credibility.

It begins simply enough, though troubling, when an intruder is heard in the house of Michael C. Hall and his wife  - (plus infant son, wouldn't you guess!) His fumbling to load his gun and his nervousness in confronting the burglar reveal his practical inexperience with firearms. All that can safely be said is that much of what follows hinges on the true identity of the imposter, the attitude of the small town where it occurs, and the family being menaced because of it. This is only the start of a twisty road.

For much of the first hour of this Jim Mickle-directed film I was on the edge of my seat. The tension worked up from the outset is held exceedingly well, only slightly relaxing after this point, but  then gripping again as the conclusion approaches. 
It's set in 1989, and we are given evidence of the period in large mobile phones and the presence of videos, on which we see one especially appalling violent incident (only just cut away a split-second before it happens) which, I feel, has almost scarred my mind. 
The style of the film reminded me a lot of the 'glory days' of Sam Peckinpah - bullet-riddled, blood-drenched, and with the occasional obligatory slow-motion shots of violence. At the time (1960s and 70s) he was the only major director doing it and was accordingly criticised for giving physical violence a veneer of beauty, a quality which (they claimed), it doesn't intrinsically possess (which itself is debatable). Then everyone started emulating Peckinpah and blood and guts has become standard fare for a number of today's directors, Scorsese (at least in his films of old) and Tarantino being most prominent. However, in this film the excesses do seem to hark back particularly to those past days of no-holds barred, show-it-all-on-screen, blood-fests.

Sam Shepherd and Don Johnson do sterling service, the former as a most unappealing and scarily volatile ex-con, the latter as Texan lawman and pig-farmer, complete with gaudily embroidered shirts and high boots -  so red-neck, so camp!. Also notable is Michael C. Hall's shakiness with guns at the start transforming into assuredness as the film progresses.

I could have done without two too-appropriately timed thunderstorms to underline the action. Such uses have long since become so hackneyed, indeed ever since the invention of film sound, that I find them every bit as distracting as over-emphatic soundtrack music, of which there is also quite a bit here.

I ought to mention that I heard one reviewer say that the American (pro-gun) NRA would give this film their seal of approval. I think that's far too simplistic an interpretation. If anything, I think at heart it depicts, in a most direct way, the destructive mayhem that easy access to firearms can bring.   

Despite my reservations, I'd argue that this is a good, unusual film. My immediate feeling of satisfaction when it was over of having got my entertainment's worth led me to think that I'd be awarding it a lofty 7.5, but pondering afterwards on the feeling that it had all been a tad over-manipulative I feel bound to mark it down a notch or two. It's another one that requires warning for those of a sensitive nature, but if you feel you won't be put off by its graphic, visceral thrills I would urge you to go see......................6.5.



Monday, 30 June 2014

Film: 'CHEF'

From the trailer this looked to be passably entertaining - and so it turned out to be. Nothing more than that, but not less either.

There was one particular reason why I was reluctant to see it. I never watch any of the TV programmes concerning 'reality' cooking/competitions. Not because I wouldn't find them interesting, rather that I try to avoid the sight of meat or fish either being cooked or the finished product on a plate. In a restaurant with companions it's a mental hurdle to block out what others are having, which can be just a few inches from my face, though I've never mentioned it - at least until now, here. Luckily(?), restaurant visits these days are far less frequent than at one time. In the last twenty years, perhaps twice or thrice.

So, braving it with gritted teeth, I thought that, nevertheless, the film looked like it could be fun. In the event there was only one on-screen incident that was particularly difficult to watch, and it comes in the very opening few minutes - an entire pig's carcase being decapitated - though it's not shown with any protracted, grisly relish.

Jon Favreau takes both Director's helm and main role. (He directed the first two Iron Man films - as well as having minor parts in each).
He is senior chef at Dustin Hoffman's (just three brief appearances) L.A. restaurant (public face - Scarlett Johannson, with black hair) when he clashes with his boss on the menu after getting a stinking review from an influential restaurant critic (Oliver Platt), which goes viral on Twitter. He wants to change the menu but Hoffman insists on sticking to the tried and tested reliables. Result - Favreau leaves.
Visiting Miami with his ex (Sofia Vergara) and their 10-year old son, she suggests he turns to cooking and selling Cuban specialities. With a filthy and rickety mobile kitchen supplied by his ex's ex-husband (Robert Downey Jr in just a single scene) and with the help of his former, earthy-humoured assistant chef (John Leguizamo, whom I don't think I've seen since 'Moulin Rouge' of 2001), who has also left his newly-promoted sous-chef position at the restaurant, they get themselves set up, son assisting in major way, and are out on the road, their food products being a huge success immediately with money being raked in.

That's it, really. A film of two halves, the first in the restaurant, the second in the mobile kitchen - both halves equally entertaining without being anything extra-special. I did find much of the food, while being prepared and cooked, and in finished form, looked ravishingly tempting. I don't think mine was the only stomach that was rumbling.

It's an over-long film (nearly two hours), too lengthy for such a slight, though unusual, story, but it did hold my attention for most of the time. Passes the time satisfactorily (just).......................5.5