Thursday, 14 August 2014

Re-reading the 'classics' (for the last time?) - James Joyce's 'Ulysses'.

My cinema-going being suspended due (with enormous regret) to 'circumstances' it has enabled me to finish this 700+ pager in shorter time than I'd have otherwise managed.

This was my fourth reading, first time being in 1972, most recent being 1997, and it's number three in my venture to re-read as many of the established 'classics' as I can before my lights are switched off - which I want to think won't be by myself, unless it's my own decision.

The first book in my enjoyable task was Orwell's '1984', which I did a blog about in June. Then I read Hardy's 'Jude the Obscure', which I liked more than my previous two readings, and which I didn't post a blog about.
Now comes the third, and as with the other two, it's another one I've been savouring through a leisurely read and, consequently, getting more out of it than previous encounters.

This hefty novel, first published in 1922, has retained right up to the present day, at least part of its notoriety. The initial outrage was largely based on some 'earthy' language and sexual descriptions, resulting in condemnations and even burnings of early editions. But that was and is a hopelessly myopic and distorted view of an evident (at least to some of us) masterpiece. A number of authors, I believe, would cite this as their favourite novel of all, Anthony Burgess being just one of them. It would be very high on my list too. Anyway, the sexual aspect is but a minor part of the entity, its inclusion having been an obvious sitting target for those who'd do anything to prevent others reading of what they, the condemners, disapprove.

All the action takes place on just one day in Dublin, 16th June 1904, the anniversary of that day now being widely known in Ireland as 'Bloomsday'. It follows the conversations and meanderings of, mainly, two characters, Stephen Dedalus and his friend Leopold Bloom (whose root-Jewishness is sometimes pertinent) - but also featuring the latter's wife, Molly.
Much of the language is discursive and whole sections of the work are written in varying styles - straight narrative, entitled short sections, theatrical script, Q & A and, perhaps most famously, Molly's long monologue over the closing pages (in my edition, over 40 pages) of non-stop 'stream of consciousness' without punctuation (so no sentence endings) over life, death, men, relationships, sex, child-bearing - and much more.
The novel is, by turns, melancholic, comical, reflective, abstruse, gently irreverent (notably to the Catholic Church), political, mundane and fabulous (in the manner of a beast of myth), yet by confining all the action to a mere 24 hours within specific Dublin localities it remains self-contained without over-reaching itself.

It's not an easy read. It requires attention, which is no bad thing. It's not a novel one can let 'wash over one'.
There are parallels, so I read, with the Greek mythical hero of the title, with correspondences in the characters encountered, but, due to my ignorance of that subject, I missed them. But it wasn't important. If the work is given due concentration it repays its dividends in a big way.

I hope I get a chance to read it a fifth time. But I do seriously think that for anyone who has a feeling for good literature but who hasn't yet experienced this work, then 'Ulysses' has got to be compulsory reading

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

I'm so sore - in more ways than one!

Following my spectacular, very public tumble on Monday (mentioned at the end of my previous post) I have to be sensible and have made an appointment to see my doctor in a couple of hours. Left wrist on which I landed, still very painful, making sleeping, dressing, washing and feeding cats (five of them waiting for me this morning!) slow and agonising. Was reluctant to go to Accident & Emergency (the hospital is just 5 mins walk from me) as I was only there 3 months ago with a scary, profuse nosebleed which I couldn't stop (but which I didn't blog about) and as that was the first time in my entire life that I'd  been to any A & E, didn't want to get a reputation as someone who goes round every so often just for 'fun'.  So let's see what Mr Doctor advises - ice compress and rest, I'd imagine. At least all my fingers function, albeit painfully, so there's unlikely to be anything broken. More likely a muscle pull.

But not only that, I'd intended to make no less than four cinema visits this week. Number one I saw in Monday just prior to kissing the concrete, hard  - but so far I've missed 'God's Pocket' (Philip Seymour Hoffman's penultimate film) and 'The Golden Dream' (re illegal Mexican immigrants to USA) - and it's looking like I'm also possibly going to miss 'Lilting', with Ben Whishaw playing the survivor of a gay relationship trying to take responsibility for the disposal of his lover's remains while his Chinese, non-English speaking mother wants to claim the body but is ignorant of the nature of the relationship between Whishaw and her son. Anyway, there's still a chance that I just may be able to catch this latter one tomorrow, even though I'm rather peeved about having missed the others. Mais c'est la vie, n'est-ce pas? (ou, en d'autres termes - "Merde!")

Monday, 11 August 2014

Film: 'ALCESTE A BICYCLETTE' / '(BI)CYCLING WITH MOLIERE'

Reasonable enough, without being anything to get too excited about.
The title in both languages refers to the play 'The Misanthropist' which Lambert Wilson (here on the left), a celebrated TV actor playing a surgeon in a hospital drama series, wants to put the play on stage, with himself playing the title role of Alceste. He wishes to coax Fabrice Luchini out of acting retirement to appear in the secondary part and visits him in his home on the Ile de Re (a small island off the French Atlantic coast, I've looked up). Luchini has deep reservations about resuming acting after so many years, his vacillations taking up most of the 'action' and, while he's deciding, the two of them start rehearsing the play in the expectation that he will eventually agree to do it, though Luchini would prefer to play the main part himself. A romantic dimension with a degree of rivalry between the two of them is provided by the chance appearance of an Italian divorcee.

The film's main interest is the squabbling between the two men and their relationship blowing hot and cold, sometimes with mutual admiration, at other times with exasperation about each others demands - a sort of 'odd couple' scenario.
We see them a few times cycling out together on the island but it mostly takes place in the retired actor's home where he lives alone.
 There were a few amusing situations but nothing to cause more than a mild chuckle. I got the impression that the film (director: Philippe le Guay) thought it was funnier than I and the audience found it. Some of the play's rehearsed  extracts are quite significant and I got the impression that there seemed to be a resonance between the parts they were playing and the two men in real life, so it might help to be more familiar with the play than I was.

It just about held my interest though at times it seemed to carry the simple basic idea too far and turned a bit flat...............5.5.



Btw: Shortly after coming out of the cinema in Brighton I took one hell of a heavy fall on the roadside, right among the touristy throngs, the worst tumble I've taken in many years, splitting my lip and hurting left arm - the former still bleeding a little and the arm still so sore that it's painful to move it, it now being three hours since it happened. A group of people came out of a nearby cafe to render assistance, helping me to a nearby outside seat, providing wet tissues, glass of water and making enquiries as to whether they ought to call an ambulance. I refused the latter, of course, but as to their concern I am most grateful and think I made that clear. Only hope it all doesn't feel as bad in the morning as it does now, there being another film on the cards and tomorrow's time of screening is by far the most convenient for me to attend. But, oh, how I hate attention - especially when it's something so publicly 'belittling' as this was.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Film documentary: 'FINDING VIVIAN MAIER'

(Spoiler alert: The greater part of the following is facts which I learned about Vivian Maier from this film; so if you prefer watching it with little or with no foreknowledge, you may prefer to avoid reading further.) 

Here's something off the beaten track - a factual film attempting to achieve an insight into the street photographer of the title (above) who, when she died in 2009 at the age of 83, remained completely unknown (presumably as she wanted to be) - and it's no surprise that she managed it as she lived an obsessively reclusive private life. Though working professionally as a nanny, she was so secretive about her 'recreation' (as it was thought) that none of her employers had any idea of her prodigious talent. After her death, it was only by chance discovered that she'd left scores of thousands of undeveloped b/w (and some colour) negatives, as well as some short films of the children she was caring for. It's a most engrossing film, largely in 'talking heads' style, but with very many examples of the subject's work.
I'm entirely confident that I'm far from alone in never having heard the name, though her work has now taken off big-time internationally in exhibitions, a tiny fraction of her photographs having so far been put on display.

It was only when the young co-director of this film, John Maloof, went to a local auction hoping to acquire some historical photos of Chicago, that he by chance acquired a suitcase-ful of the subject's negatives, which he left in a cupboard for a while. When he eventually got round to developing a few he found what a treasure trove he had and immediately set out to trace any more similar negatives other people might happen to have. Painstaking detective work paid off and he eventually accumulated a collection of staggering size, as well as  personal possessions, clothes, trinkets etc - though next to nothing in the way of writing, certainly no diaries. So, continuing his research, he managed to trace some of the people she nannied for, as well as some of the children themselves, and tried to piece together a picture of this mysterious, talented woman.

Although she was born in New York of a French mother, she passed herself off as being of French nationality, speaking English on surviving tape with a French accent - though a language expert reckons that her accent is an affectation. But this is a mere part of the mystery, the big unanswered question being why she took so much trouble taking photographs with an old-style box camera, yet kept her 'hobby' entirely to herself - leaving nearly all her work hidden away in crates and crates of undeveloped  film.

Next to nothing, apart from her nanny-ing, can be found about her private life. She was a loner, almost certainly childless, who, it seems, never married, nor is there any indication of any relationship. In fact it seems that she didn't trust men at all, telling one of the young girls whom she cared for, the only thing that men wanted was to have sex. The question remains open as to whether the root of this is having had a traumatic experience early in her life which locked her into that attitude. But as there are no clues left it can only be surmise.
Coupled with her apparent misandry or, at least, a deep-rooted mistrust of men, there was also the possibility that she had mental issues. She'd collect piles and piles of newspapers, stacked right up to the ceiling, with the intention that sometime she'd go through them and cut out articles or photographs which might be of use to her - but she never got round to it. She would never allow others, even the house-owners of where she stayed, just peeping into her room. There are cases of her losing her temper and physically assaulting children in her charge.
To add to the intrigue, she frequently changed the spelling of her surname, sometimes saying that she was called simply 'Miss Smith'

But even if we can't fully realise this tantalisingly incomplete picture of the person, the film shows lots of example of her work, most of which would have been unseen by the photographer herself after taking them. Nearly all her photos are of people, at times the subject knowing the presence of the camera (though never looking deliberately posed) and sometimes they are discreet shots where the people are unaware. In all cases the subject looks interesting.
Here are just a few of the examples we see which I've picked out at random. If you are into photography and don't yet know of Vivian Maier, you really must have a look at more of what she achieved - and for just about everybody else it's quite a discovery too. There are lots more images which you can google.

A rewarding film of a strange and valuable discovery, and it held my attention all through its 83 minutes with ease...................7.





                                                                                               
                                                                          ..................................and so much more.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Anthony Holden's book 'William Shakespeare - His Life and Work'

I only finished reading this book less than an hour ago - and I feel like I'm in the afterglow of a most satisfying meal.
It's a 1999 work which has been broadly well-received, though not without carping from some quarters and accusations of needlessly stirring controversy in others.
I have to say that I found the amount of detail in it quite staggering, yet it could in no way be described as a 'heavy' book, even for those who are not 'Bardolaters' like myself (for which I thank Holden himself for that word). The text throughout is constantly alive, weaving together in chronological order a lot of what I did already know and a great deal that I didn't.

Holden gives short shrift to the still widely-held misconception that little is known of the writer's life. He tells us that, in fact, more is known about his life than that of any of his contemporaries, save for his playwright friend, Ben Johnson (as well as, one assumes, Queen Elizabeth and King James). It's true that he doesn't say all that much about his wife, Anne Hathaway, even though she is just adequately covered. But he says more about Shakespeare's children than I've read in any other source till now.

Holden bats away with ease the theory that this man (whom some still claim may not have actually existed at all!) did not write the works himself, but that his name was a 'front' for another writer, of whom there is a goodly handful of candidates. I've never been an ardent subscriber to this theory, and when one has placed in front of oneself the considerable evidence to show that Shakespeare was indeed the scribe, such alternative postulations seem more purposely and perversely contrary than in being soundly argued.

I'm less convinced by Holden's curt dismissal of the notion that Shakespeare was bisexual, or even gay. (Well, I would, wouldn't I?). He acknowledges the arguments of Auden and Wilde (among others) on the 'pro' side - pointing out, for example, that Wilde puts his belief of the writer being gay into a fictional story ('The Portrait of Mr W.H.') rather than having the courage to write it into a factual article. But, on my first reading of this book, Holden seems to base his entire argument for the Bard being heterosexual on a single sonnet, number 20, one of the most overtly sexual, which praises the young man's physical looks yet ultimately disdains his (the young man's) possession of a penis ("To my purpose, nothing"). I've read extensively on the sonnets (I do, after all, revise my recitation of one of them consecutively every single day) and more than one commentator, far more learned than I, or even Holden himself I'd aver, points out that this particular Sonnet, even putting aside all the other 125 of the 154 in the cycle addressed to the young man, does in fact reinforce the idea of a physical attraction on the part of Shakespeare, perhaps unconsummated, at a time when, after all, all homosexual acts were a capital offence i.e. punishable by death.  I think Holden ought to do better than, failing any indisputable evidence that S. was gay, fall back on the default possession of him not being so. I think all we can say with confidence is that coming up to the 400th anniversary of his death, it's most unlikely that anything new not known on the subject up to now is going to appear. The best we can say is that even if the door on the subject can be near-closed it will never be shut completely.

But that's the beauty of this book. It provokes thought and confrontation and encourages cross-consultation. It doesn't leave ideas lying lifeless on the page. We can disagree with them if we like. It's our prerogative.
I've learned a lot from perusing these 320-odd pages, often pausing for thought. In my monthly reading of one of the plays, which I've now done every single month without a gap for about 50 years, I'll remember his comments about this work or that, and it's bound to affect my thoughts as I read on, reaching ever deeper levels of profundity which has made Shakespeare one of my gods (along with Bach and Beethoven) ever since being in my teens.

With the book fresh in my mind I'm already looking forward to a re-read. In fact I now want to read it again at least once every year in the time I've left allotted to me.
Heartily recommended.


Saturday, 2 August 2014

Brighton Pride Parade

 First time I'd been to the annual Pride parade, this country's largest outside London, for about 5 years. Since a few years ago, this is now the only part of the day's events 'open' to the public - the post-parade events, including music acts and refreshment marquees, entertainments and fairground rides, are now only admitted with ticket, the on-the-day price being £25 (about $42 Am), being beyond my own means. But the parade itself is well worth seeing - modest in comparison with those of bigger cities worldwide (no huge floats), but no less replete with big heart and sense of fun and humour, and noisy as one could wish - or wish not, as the case may be. Here's a flavour:-

Because of traffic diversions due to the event I only arrived after the parade had started moving, so missed the first features. I'm here approaching one of the turns on its route, with the yellowish building on the left, being the 8-screen Odeon, the cinema where I do much of my mainstream (non-art-house) film watching.



The 'Bee Gees' trailer:-

A certain other group, blasting out.....well, what d'you think?.....as sung by the local Gay Men's Choir


The 'Section of Shame:-
Placards announcing names of countries which criminalise gay relationships and activity as well as its 'promotion'.
Following it one entire section was devoted to Uganda, which got a huge cheer, especially one guy carrying a notice announcing that he was proud to be Ugandan and gay. I really wanted to cry - and to go out and hug him.
Above, this float filmed the onlooking crowd as it slowly drove past, projecting them onto its screen. I'd hoped to photograph myself but didn't time it right.

The end of the 'bears' section - standing behind the half-clad big-bellied chap wearing a bulls head is another guy in black rubber suit with dog-head mask being led on a lead attached to his collar by another leather guy. (Ah, the memories!) Wish I'd got a close-up of these, but there's bound to be some when the official photos are published. 


Above, 'angel guy' on float- a bit distant, I'm afraid.







And finally, bringing up the rear, we all like to see policemen efficiently mounted, don't we?




Pity I don't have a more versatile camera. I took a lot more than what I've posted here but these should give you some idea. Till maybe 2015, then.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Film: 'BOYHOOD'

This film is utterly astonishing. If it doesn't finish up in my Top 3 of the year I shall eat my 'smalls' and post the video right here. In fact, there's a good likelihood that it will receive my internationally much-coveted 'Silverbeard' award for best film of 2014.

But first a small, excursionary amble:-
Last week I was bemoaning the fact that I was going to miss this film due to my having to watch out for Blackso, in his scary, hot-weather habit of taking refuge by sleeping under parked cars. In fact yesterday morning my heart did a backward flip when I happened to look out of the window, only to see a black tail disappearing under a nearby parked van. Because of the torrid weather (and for no other reason) at that moment I was in an advanced state of deshabille so, always fearing that the driver of said vehicle may suddenly return and attempt to drive off before I've managed to get outside, I hurriedly had to find something to throw on to conceal my exposed (Don't look, Ethel!)   ..........PUDENDA!!!    With task duly achieved, I managed to dislodge the little fella from under there (Blackso, I mean!) and bring him inside, much to his evident irritation.

Anyway, that's all by the way.
Through one of those felicitous happenstances, 'Boyhood'  turned out to be actually showing, with no advance announcement, at one of my two hometown cinemas, this one normally only specialising in non-intellect-demanding 'blockbusters'. Did the gods interecede for me? They must have, as it was just about the unlikeliest film they could have chosen to screen. And (a lesson for them) it turned out to be a well-attended screening.

Now, getting down to the subject itself:-
Richard Linklater's film shows, over a real-time span of 12 years, the growing up of a young boy into being an 18-year-old young man. Ellar Coltrane is the infant (Mason) at the start as well as the almost fully mature adult at the finish, and we see his passing through his childhood, adolescent and juvenile phases. Growing with him is a slightly older sister (Linklater's own daughter, Lorelei) who, at the start, I felt would be well deserving of a jolly good corrective smack, so odious was she to her younger sibling. But like her male co-star, over the course of the film she also matured into a most attractive young adult.   
Although the focus of the film is, as the title suggests, always on Mason, it's the mother, Patricia Arquette, who is the 'glue' holding the whole project together. She is remarkable. I've never seen her better - and she plays a mother striving always to do what's best for kids yet revealing that she has feet of clay, not least in her calamitous marriage choices. (A number of times I was struck by her remarkable facial resemblance to Gillian Anderson). The children's (separated) father is Ethan Hawke, who is also the best I have ever seen him.

One thing that makes this film so extraordinary is that throughout its 2 hours 45 minutes nothing really spectacular or unusual happens. It simply chronicles the development of the young man through his family life, school, college, employment, in a matter-of-fact way - yet I was not bored for one instant. There are no captions during the film to indicate the age the boy has reached - and we don't need them, it working so seamlessly.
Often when a film is of this formidable length I'd be saying that it would have been more effective with, say, 30 minutes lopped off it, but I'd be hard-pushed to cite which scenes should have been dropped. They all melded into one, extremely satisfying, whole. And another thing - the use of background music is very spare indeed. There are snippets of songs but they almost entirely take place when sung on screen by the characters themselves at some event or on the car radio. They or not forced onto the film.

I left the cinema with some degree of puzzlement - namely, I can't work out why the film works so well - especially, as I say, when nothing of really major note happens. But work it does, and most beautifully too.
Trying to think of what I disliked about the film, nothing at all worth mentioning comes up.

If this film is not nominated for and doesn't win several of the major Oscar categories it's time to despair. It can only be that the tastes of this particular member of the public and of those privileged to vote are so far apart as to be beyond comprehension. 'Boyhood' is a beauty, a completely captivating, stupendous cinematic achievement. Congratulations to all involved.....................................8.5.

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.