Monday, 8 September 2014

Film: 'The Hundred Foot Journey'

I'm risking losing a number of friends by saying this, but I found very little to like about this film - save for multiple sumptuous shots of food, pre-, during and after preparation - and the luminous presence of Helen Mirren at her most endearingly watchable, even when playing haughty, as she does for the first hour before a certain epiphanous event.  But I'm not going to pretend that I was impressed. Otherwise, if you like gooey sentiment served in XXL spadefuls, complete with almost all-pervading music telling you what emotion you are to possess at that point, then do go along  - and suffocate! But if that still isn't enough in this overlong, two-hour film, don't forget to note the obligatory downpours (we all know it can never simply rain in films), sightseer-shots of Paris, complete, in at least one point, with accompanying accordian music just in case it slipped your mind in which country La Tour Eiffel is located - and then there's parallel double romances, young and old (well, in the latter case, a promise of it).

The always reliable Om Puri plays the patriarch of a family, who decides to leave his native India with his five children after his restaurant is destroyed by a mob, his wife perishing. They go to Europe and, by chance (or maybe 'fate', we are led to believe), end up in a small town in southern France, where he decides to open up a new Indian restaurant in a derelict property he notices, which happens to be exactly on the other side of the road from a very fashionable and celebrated restaurant run by the domineering Madame Mallory (Mirren). Cue rivalry and hostilities.
Very early romantic interest is provided between the father's eldest son (Manish Dayal) and the sole young female employee (Charlotte le Bon) in the kitchens of the restaurant opposite. Cue friction and conflict of interest.
The culinary expertise of the son takes off like a rocket and, before you can order more onion bhajis, he's a national celebrity, and is lured to work in the capital. (Being stopped outside by members of the public asking to take his photo. How often does that happen to cooks who are not even regularly on the telly, especially to one barely out of his teens? - if even so 'old' as that?)

I also found much of the script flat and predictable. In fact, early in the film I started playing a game of, when someone said a line, guessing the rejoinder - and more often than not I was right or very close. They might as well have played it in silence.

Swedish Director Lasse Halstrom has created some notable films in his career. Some of them I have liked, even a lot - while others I just failed to 'get'. You know in which category I place this one.

I ought to mention that the sight of meat, poultry and fish (very occasionally in 'living' form) did not affect my overall opinion. My reaction in this respect is very personal and it wouldn't be fair to use it against a film which might have been considered 'worthy'. However, even that aside, I did find this very heavy going - and without Helen Mirren to lighten the moments I would have found the entire venture unbearable.  
No doubt many will enjoy it. It's already collected a current high average rating of 7.6 on IMDb. The score I submitted was...........................3/10

Friday, 5 September 2014

Two new films: 'Deux Jours, Une Nuit' + 'The Keeper of Lost Causes'.

After computer troubles we're back in circulation. Only hope this ancient contraption will hold up long enough to enable me to make a significant number of further posts before it gives up again, as well as continuing my ability to comment on those of other blogpals. 
Many thanks to those of you who've wished me both for the computer problems and my own health situation, the latter of which is also continuing to improve, thank you - though there is still a little way to go yet. But I'm very moved indeed by your caring remarks.

So, catch-up time:-

Deux Jours, Une Nuit.

In the light of some very positive reviews I suspected that I might like this. I wasn't prepared to be so blown away by it.

Marion Cotillard, appearing in every scene, is the only bread-winner in a family of four (two young children). At the firm in Belgium where she works there has just been a ballot among a score or so of her co-workers as to whether to keep her employed or to agree to her being made redundant. If she goes the firm could afford to pay the rest of the staff a bonus of 1,000 Euros each (about £800 or $1,300 American). The vote was heavily in favour of dismissing her, thereby claiming their bonuses. However, she and her friend convince the reluctant boss to hold a re-ballot, on the grounds that the section's foreman exercised undue influence on the workers in letting her go because he was biased due to her history of absence due to depression. The new ballot is to take place on the following Monday - the film's title referring to a week-end she has in which to plead with her co-workers to change their votes in favour of her remaining. Much of the action is taken up by her doing the rounds of these colleagues and getting a range of reactions to her imploring, she being distressed at the thought of not being able to keep the family together in their flat should she lose her job. But some of them state their own cases for desperately needing the bonus money.
All the while she is taking her medication for her depression. Her husband, driving her around to make her requests, is afraid of her overdosing by her habit of reaching for her pills every time she feels down, which is often.

It's a heart-breaking tale, directed by Dardennes brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc.
Marion Cotillard excels throughout. Her face, even when alone, is a wordless script for her emotions, continually swinging between optimism and deep despair. It's a truly amazing performance.
It's also a modest film - not over-bearing in ambition, modest in length (and presumably in budget too), and with no emotion-nudging music! It all works itself into a little miracle. My only slight reservation was that maybe the ending is ever-so-slightly too pat, but the route getting there made it a thoroughly worthwhile journey. One of my films of the year............................8.

The Keeper of Lost Causes

Grim Danish-language thriller which has had some very good reviews. Mine is not going to be one of them.

Director Mikkel Norgaard's film has Nikolay LeKaas as a hard-boiled detective in Denmark returning to work following recovery from being injured by a bullet in a shoot-out. But instead of being given his old job back he's shunted to one side, to his obvious and understandable displeasure, to look at and close old cases still left open on the records. He's given a middle-eastern assistant (Fares Fares) whose earnestness far exceeds any enthusiasm he has for the work himself.
He decides to focus on the case of the disappearance five years before of an aspiring young female politician who vanished from a ferry while accompanying her mentally incapacitated and mute adult brother. It had been assumed that she'd committed suicide by jumping overboard, though no body was ever found.
Despite his boss' insistence that he close the case-file he's too intrigued to let it go and he and his assistant go on a quest to find out what actually happened.
I don't think it's too much to say that we see the young woman and how she's being kept after being abducted. It's a very disturbing scenario, putting me in mind of the horrible fate of some of the Third Reich's concentration camp inmates. And if I add that when the villain is revealed he, physically, would fit so easily into that role of a sadistic 'experimenter'..........well, there's hardly any need to say more about what he looks like. If the film wasn't so serious he'd be a stereotypical caricature.

It's a dark film all through, in every sense of the word - but it's also curiously old-fashioned. In fact I found little that was 'new' about the story. It certainly has suspenseful moments, and the situation of the victim's prolonged detention made me shudder. Buy there are really few real surprises.

I haven't seen any of the Scandinavian TV thrillers that have been all the vogue for some time, but I see this as fitting into that genre, the only difference being that this is on large, wide screen, though it needn't have been.
I'd give the film high marks for conjuring up the menacing atmosphere it requires. Acting is very good from all concerned. However, overall, it didn't leave me with a strong enough impression to retain long in the mind, apart from that one aspect I've referred to.......................5.5

Monday, 1 September 2014

Film: 'Lucy'

Further to my blog of yesterday in which I told of the situation of my computer workability being precarious, well it still remains so though I've managed to find a 'sticking-plaster' solution. How long it will hold remains to be seen. Truth is, I badly need a new computer but current financial conditions make that impossible - or even finding just a professional short-term solution. So as long as this position persists, please don't be surprised if I 'disappear' without notice. If I can see it coming I'll do my best to give due warning, though as we all know, things seem to go down rather suddenly.

'Lucy' is a strange film, not without some merit, though it does seem to fall in love with itself in the final parts.

The increasingly impressive Scarlett Johansson (whom I actively disliked when I first noticed her in 'Lost in Translation' - not any more) plays a reluctant drug mule for a Japanese criminal gang forced into the role in Tokyo by an exploitative acquaintance. She displays her initial vulnerability convincingly well, but when the bag sewn into her abdomen bursts (she is the only female of four similar mules) the effects of the drug (actually used in small doses in pregnancies) affects her brain and gives her superhuman powers, including telekinesis, telepathy and even, eventually, physical metamorphosis. Meantime, Morgan Freeman, whose screen appearances have become a watchword for 'wisdom', keeps popping up in the midst of giving a lecture on the effects of humans using more than the usual capacity of their cerebral powers - currently about 20%, we're told. The effects of the drugs on Johansson become more spectacular as the percentage grows on its way to an ultimate goal of utilising 100% of the brain's potential.

It's a pretty violent film with some grisly scenes. I think too much effort was given into putting a scientific rationale into what was happening to Johannson. Of course with such a fantastical story it needs at least the bare bones of explanation, but I think it got bogged down in its own theorising. It might have worked better if they'd trusted the audience to just go along with it 'for the ride' rather than keep giving stodgy little sermons.
As for the final scenes, director Luc Besson, who has made a fair number of watchable films in his long career, many of which are in the more 'popular' vein, looks as though he was trying to show how clever he can be with his tricksy cinematic effects, which are, it must be said, not at all bad - and with more than one nod to Stanley Kubrick - though, frankly, I could have done without a certain 'Creation of Adam' moment.

I found 'Lucy' a bit better than merely passable entertainment, though far from being exceptional.......5.5.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Computer problems again! - so if I should fall silent......

Just thought I ought to post to say that if I disappear for a while it's because my computer is playing its merry tricks once more. Thought I'd better post that 'news' while I can because any silence now after my last blog might lead some to think that something dreadful has happened - which may well be the case, but only on a technological level. Otherwise health is okay and continuing to recover. See y'all later when I can get this ruddy thing fixed.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

"DIZZY. I'm so DIZZY my head is spinning, like a whirlpool it never ends......"

The plan is/was to go to Brighton today to see 'Deux Jours, Une Nuit', but since yesterday afternoon been feeling strangely dizzy. It started yesterday morning when I felt light-headed rather than giddy but it's changed since then. Had hoped that a good night's sleep would clear it but, although did get good sleep, felt much the same way since getting up, having to occasionally hold onto bannister, radiators etc in order to negotiate my way safely about. Feeding five cats simultaneously  (my two residents plus three regular visitors) first thing this morning was tricky and slow (sorely testing their non-existent patience), carefully avoiding treading on paws or tails, and getting a clawing into the bargain should I fail.

I've got a doctor's appointment for next Wed and am loath to do anything before then as this year I'm in danger of getting a reputation for time-wasting - nor do I want to go to A & E yet again for the same reason.

Don't know what brought it about. Don't think it's connected to my fall, now two and half weeks ago. Maybe something to do with the medication for high B.P. and diabetes (type 2) - but why so suddenly? Checked on the internet and the possible causes of dizziness are so many it's useless to make a guess, which could well be off the mark anyway.

The last thing I need is yet another keeling over, most dangerously outside on the road again, and most especially before my arm has completely healed. So don't know whether it's worth risking it just to see a film for which there'll be another chance to see next week anyway, even though I'd prefer it done and out of the way.

So at the moment thinking it'll be wiser to stay indoors unless going out is unavoidable, at least until realising the hope that it might clear.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Okay. Should be able to get this out of the way in a few sentences.
If you like visceral thrills this is for you. The effects are consistently nothing less than breathtakingly impressive. During the film's course (Director: Steven Quale) I had leisure to muse how well this would have fitted into the series of all those disaster films of the 1970s, only at that time one was wondering how they 'did it' (though it often showed). Now we do know how they 'do it' and the effects are as seamlessly perfect as one could wish.

As to the flimsy storyline, mainly centred on a group of storm-chasers, well it's only an excuse in order to display the astonishing visual pyrotechnics (and sound too) which is the film's raison d'etre, and consequently one doesn't have a chance to sympathise much with any of the characters. It's not helped by a dull, predictable script, though the people caught up in the conditions are not intended to be much more than ciphers. Richard Armitage, as a college vice-principal is particularly colourless. He has a teenage son who resents his father's seeming lack of interest in him. The rest of the cast is a motley collection, including a couple of regulation, irritating, cocky characters who consider themselves untouchable and whom one wills to get their comeuppance - quickly.
A chain of tornados hits the town of Silverton, Oklahoma, progressing in strength and ending with the awesome spectacle of funnels combining to create the monster of them all.
I was half-expecting at the film's end to hear some sermonising words, or a final caption, on facing up to the perils of climate change, from which, it seems, there's practically no escape now, but we were spared that.

I actually wasn't going to see this film but Ron @ enjoyed it in the manner of a sort of fairground ride (some of which which he'd been experiencing in Toronto around the time) so I went along myself - and that's precisely what it's like. If it was to be rated for special effects alone it must score highly, but it's one of those disposable films with little substance, and I don't think it's pretending to be any more than that. So as an all-round experience I award it a fairly lowly, but not entirely dismissive.................4/10

Thursday, 21 August 2014


This had an American release towards the end of last year under the title 'Last Love', so we Europeans get a delayed release - not a good sign for a German film in English with some subtitled French dialogue.

Michael Caine, appearing in nearly every scene, gives a sturdy performance (some reviewers disagree) as a retired, recently widowed, American professor resident in Paris. He's slowed down by advancing years, and dotes continually on the memory of his deceased wife, who makes occasional appearances in his imagination.
His mundane, spiritless life is enlivened by a chance encounter and subsequent acquaintance with a 20s-something dance instructor (Clemence Poesy) who, recognising his solitude, invites him to come along to her classes (cha-cha and line-dancing). This development could have been cheesy but it doesn't really come over like that.
An event brings Caine's son and daughter over from America (Justin Kirk and, in a small role, the impressively versatile Gillian Anderson), the former in marriage difficulties, who witnesses the, by now, deep platonic friendship between his father and a girl possibly a third of his age, and has serious misgivings about the latter's motives in getting so close.

One cannot avoid mentioning Michael Caine's attempt at an American accent, so self-consciously forced and so far off the mark as to be distracting. Accents were never his strong suit - even English ones from outside London. It makes me wonder why director and writer Sandra Nettelbeck didn't make the character an Englishman, or got an American actor to play the part. However, it's always a pleasure to see Caine on screen in what has got to be the sunset of a deservedly illustrious career.

It would have been easy to have turned this film into a sentimental mush. There is sentiment, certainly - the story demands it. But for the most part it manages to avoid being totally overwhelmed by mawkishness.
It's a needlessly over-long film - and approaching the final sections something happens which made me sit up, saying - "Oh no! Really?" This not only weakened the drama but seemed to provide an excuse for adding a further 10 minutes or so onto a film which now ends up being close on two hours long. A stronger finished product would have emerged by having had the courage of applying scissors.

There are a a few unnecessary postcard-y views of what everyone already knows is one of the most photogenic cities in the entire world. (He can even see you-know-what from his flat!)

Not a bad film, then, but one feels it ought to have been better - and, despite my reservation re his accent, I did like Michael Caine's performance a lot...........................5.5

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


So, after the recent unfortunate picture-going hiatus, and still narked about having missed a particular couple of films I was keen to see, business is resumed.

This atmospheric thriller, set in the Australian outback, has long, broody sequences punctuated by high-level violence, mostly with guns.
Set in some not-too-distant future ("ten years after the collapse" - we're not told what this 'collapse' was) it's a lawless world, only the rarely seen army trying to impose some sort of civility. The land we see is very sparsely populated, and quite different from a 'Mad Max' scenario.

Guy Pearce, whom I would not have recognised behind his grizzled, unkempt beard had I not known, plays some kind of gruff drifter who, when he stops for liquid top-up at some remote ramshackle hospitality, has his old car stolen from under his nose by a trio of no-gooders. There then ensues a chase to recover it, he picking up on his way the wounded brother (James Pattinson) of one of the thieves in order to help trace the threesome.
The Pearce character is not a 'victim' with whom one can readily sympathise. He does his own killings with no remorse - some needlessly out of convenience rather than 'necessity' such as self-defence. He's also one hell of a crack shot to boot.

The long sections in which little seems to happen I did find very effective. We know that when the inevitable violence breaks out it will be brutal. The bleak, silent landscape is most impressively captured.
I can well imagine some viewers finding the film on the slow side, willing the action to arrive, but I found that when the latter did happen, the contrast between it and the quieter scenes surrounding it heightened the drama.

However, I do have one major reservation, and it's a regular one from me - viz the indecipherability of much of the dialogue. A great deal of the conversation, though sparse, is slurred and under the breath. (Broad Aussie accents didn't help in this connection either, though I wouldn't stress it as a difficulty). It's okay for the actors, the director (David Michod) and the film crew - they know what the characters are saying. But we don't. What comes out of their mouths is the first time we are hearing it, and it's important to us in imparting information to enable us to follow what's going on. A lot of the time I had to guess, only to be proved wrong later. (I was particularly thrown by the relationship between  the Pearce character and the thief's brother). I'm sure it's not my own hearing that's at fault. I don't know how the cast can hear what each other is saying, especially when they're standing 20 feet apart yet talking in what seems like whispers or sleep-mumbling. In real life one of them would be exclaiming "Eh? What did you say?"

So that's my only serious complaint. I think I'd have enjoyed the film a lot more had I been able to follow the plot which, otherwise, ought to have been simple enough, but it became confusing for me. It's a a shame because in other respects 'The Rover' has a great deal going for it............................6.5

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


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.