Thursday, 9 April 2015

Eurovision Song Contest 2015 - My evaluations and choice for winner.

It doesn't take place until towards the end of next month (with the two semi-finals in the days preceding), but for the first time, taking a leaf out of Craig's blog......

..........I've listened to each of this year's 40 entries, giving all of them my complete attention. After careful consideration, I've now come up with my choices, ordinally placed as follows:-

1) Estonia (current betting odds puts it 3rd)     
2) Austria (19th)
3) Denmark (30th)
4) Russia (7th)
5) San Marino (40th, i.e. last!)

I have high hopes for the U.K. entry, a M/F duo with a 'Roaring-20s' pastiche. Present betting places it 10th.  I think it's a brave choice, unlike any other entry this year - or maybe it's a sign of desperation to try to get something noticed after many years of finishing in unillustrious positions, even last or near to last (except for Andrew Lloyd Webber's [pretty good] song, which finished 5th in 2009). If the U.K. doesn't make the first ten with this one there ain't no justice. If it ends up in the bottom half it'll be a travesty; but travesties have always been second nature to this infuriatingly watchable event.

A few further comments:-
Current favourite is Sweden (it usually is!) which I don't rate at all. It didn't even make my 'long list' of 12 from which I chose the above five. But it's a rare year indeed when my own favourite song wins, the last one being (also 2009) with Alex Rybak, the little happy hottie from Norway with his fiddle.

My top choice of Estonia clearly won't be to everybody's taste, but it has an attractive originality about it, both melodically and lyric-wise.

Austria's song, which I place second, is a very Lennon-esque arrangement (think 'Imagine'), though putting that aside I think it's a quality song.

Denmark's entry (a throwback to 1960's pop groups) reminded me a lot of the title song of the Tom Hanks written-and-directed film 'That Thing You Do', but it's no worse for being that. It's a cheerful little number.

Russia gives us one of those rather predictable, aspirational big ballads but I've heard a lot worse, and it's actually not that bad. The video features mainly little kids but also adult couples, most of advanced age, only one (or two?) of which could possibly be considered as a possible same-sex couple (both couples being female), though they are much more likely to be familial-related. Anything suggesting that gay couples can be okay (oh, horror!) would be contravening their 'gay propaganda' laws. ("We Believe in Dreams", indeed - but dreams for whom?)
The accompanying video mimics but is very different from Madonna's video for her abridged version of 'American Pie', which was gratifyingly upfront about showing us gay couples. (I loved her version of the song itself, by the way, which had an infectious drive to it, even though it was generally panned and Madge herself regretted having acquiesced to Rupert Everett's pestering her to release it.)

Australia's offering wasn't at all bad. It very nearly got into my Top 5 with it's jazzy inflections. However, I doubt if it'll be highly placed, unless the novelty of having that country enter for the first time gets it noticed.

You can hear (and see) all the songs here:-

So there you are. Make of my choices what you will - and we'll see if they come to pass on May 23rd.

The second part of the above is easy, at least for some of us - the first, well-nigh impossible!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Sudden pussy predicament - now resolved.

(These are not my own, sadly. Picture taken from internet.)

Because I don't blog often on what's going on in my own life (pretty uneventful, if truth be told), it won't be known that a new one of my occasional furry visitors, as a result of my open-window policy, first started poking nose in about mid-Jan, tentatively at first, then gradually getting bolder until about a month ago she started sleeping on my bed every night with me and it was clear that a full move-in was on the cards. A little tortoise-shell tabby, collared (which she was soon mysteriously to lose) but disturbingly 'chubby' - which my own feelings of denial preferred not to think of what was the most likely cause. My enquiries in the vicinity as to who could be its owner came to nothing. Anyway, she was here sleeping day and night, being fed by me (impossible to refuse) when, about a week ago, she suddenly disappeared for 24 hours, and then re-appeared looking substantially thinner. My denial to face up to likelihood continued. She seemed to be carrying on as before- at least I assumed that all was normal - until, just after 5 p.m. yesterday, I followed where she was making for in my bedroom and discovered under a pile of old clothes which had been chucked in a corner.......three tiny kittens! All writhing about in lively fashion, their eyes still as yet unopened making the occasional little squeaks as they felt out their tiny paws for mummy, who was watching me anxiously in my having discovered her new offspring. I must have been sleeping in the same room for several nights and been entirely unaware of the new occupants. 
There was no way I could keep them, already owning two cats in a flat where having any pets at all is not allowed, my landlord having turned a blind eye to my present other two. It would have been a stretch too far to expect him to approve still more. So my moment of near-panic progressed to practicalities. Discovering them on the eve of Good Friday, when help and advice was unlikely to be forthcoming before next Tuesday, was all that I needed! Managed to get through to my local animal clinic just as they were closing and they suggested I try the local Cat Welfare Trust. Rang a lady there as she was on way home. But she rang me back an hour later, bless her. She arranged that someone could come and collect all four pussies this very Good Friday morn, which was done - assuring me that the mother would be spayed and found a home and the three kitties would be comfortably looked after, have done what's necessary to them including having tag implants and will also, when old enough, be given new homes. And all at no charge!
    Naturally I was sorry to see Tortie go (the name I gave her and to which she'd started responding) as she was becoming another cuddly fixture, undesirable though it was. But there was no alternative and in the now four hours since she's been taken away I've tried to stop my mind from dwelling on her and the kitties. The lesson for me is that I'll just have to be more careful as to who I allow to settle here in future and, as sexist as it is, keep all tabbies out, or at least in the unlikely event that I know that they've been neutered.
   I never took a picture of Tortie, and certainly not her kitty-kids, which is maybe just as well. It would be heart-breaking to have reminders of her until my present mental 'trauma' has subsided.
It's been an emotionally-fraught few hours since yesterday evening. Can only now try to get back to giving my entire attention to the two elderly co-resident companions which I have got.

As another revered blogger whom I avidly follow says - heigh-ho!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Film: 'Cinderella'

Firstly, a regretful situation has arisen in which, because of a change of screening times at my two most oft-frequented cinemas (both in Brighton and both 'art-house', belonging to the same chain)  the morning matinees, which I normally attend, have been shifted forward by 30 mins, which means that for at least one of these cinemas I'm unable to make it in time using my Senior Citizens' free bus pass. I would be able to manage it by taking the train but that would mean paying more than the actual price of admission in addition, which is something I'd have been willing to do had I money to spare, but as it is, it's not going to be possible. Even getting to the other cinema in time is going to be touch-and-go, leading to occasional wretchedly wasted journeys, I fear. 
The change was made some weeks ago and already there have been a good six or seven films which I would ordinarily have seen, thus accounting for my failing to post anything here for a longer than usual interval.
I had actually, in any case, been considering winding down my attendances, and hence postings of reviews, either when I reached a specifically round 5,000 films viewed (some 340 still to go) or when I attained the age of seven-zero in 18 months time. Taken out of my hands, it looks like that situation may arise before either of these numerical 'landmarks' arrives.
Still, I shall dauntingly press on, though it looks as though the future films which I cover will be of a more limited range. Truly sorry about that, as you may appreciate.

 So to Kenneth Branagh's well-received 'Cinderella' - and yet again I find myself swimming against the tide. I found this a turgid affair. Eschewing the 'waistful' mention of liquid diets, it was, without doubt, gloriously visually accomplished. However, apart from Cate Blanchett as C's blisteringly spiteful stepmother, I found little to stave off the boredom. The two step-sisters were just too annoyingly daft for words. (Am I alone in thinking that there are few things as UNfunny as someone deliberately singing out of tune, while we are supposed to believe that they are trying their best?).
I found both Lily James in the title role and Richard Madden as the Prince insipid and forgettable whilst Helena Bonham Carter's Fairy Godmother was just plain irritating. (Two principal-minor roles are taken by Derek Jacobi and Stellan Skarsgard.)

The film faithfully sticks to the basics of the story with which we are all familiar, save for a moderately significant embellishment towards the end, though it all seems to be expanded, to its detriment, to the point of attenuation. It would have been much more effective at half the length; even a single hour would have more than sufficed.

Branagh's direction and swirling camerawork is done with the panache we've come to expect of him, while scenery, costumes and locations are as lavish and opulent as one could wish. The transformation of Cinderella, pumpkin and accoutrements was impressively achieved - the de-transformation at midnight even moreso.

I have to confess never to have been a fan of Patrick Doyle's music in any film where he's written the soundtrack score, and here it's distractingly upfront - though I dare say that those who were not put out by the negatives I've noted up to now may not notice it especially.
Praise has been accorded to Chris Weitz's screenplay though I didn't find it witty as some have said, and far less than the story deserves in order to keep it fresh.

I did go to a morning matinee at my closest cinema, and shouldn't have been too surprised, on entering, to be hit by a thick fug of sweet-smelling confections emanating from the purchases of scores upon scores of shouty kids, mostly adult-accompanied, including quite a number of toddlers and even a few babies. The din before the curtains went up was near-deafening, though I have to say that once the film started they were, for the most part, reasonably attentive (except for two instances of wailing babies, hastily carried out). It didn't really affect my 'enjoyment' of the experience, such as it was.

It's clear that I am way outside the target group for this film. Even so, I had expected there to have been more in it to have kept me entertained...............................3/10.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Film: 'Suite Francaise'

As someone who has become more than a little weary of war films, any war - most especially those set during WWII - I came to this hoping for something at least a little bit different, and in that respect it delivered, though without merit enough to make it outstanding.
Stories on film set during the start of the Nazi occupation of France are infrequent enough, so that alone kept my interest alive - just!

Michele Williams, who's made some rather good films already this early in her career, including 'My Night with Marilyn' - and here occasionally reminding me of (pre-transformation) Renee Zellweger - is the wife of a French P.O.W. held in Germany. She's living with her mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas), fiercely resentful of the Nazi occupation of their small town, they representing the captors of her absent son. When the lieutenant of the German unit (Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts)  politely asks to be allowed to use one of their rooms as live-in accommodation for himself, her disdainful, but reined-in, displeasure is evident. Of course a refusal is impossible. The daughter-in-law gradually recognises the sensitive side of the German, and his playing and composing on their piano becomes the catalyst for their growing mutual attraction, it being a cat-and-mouse game to keep what's happening between them from the mother. The drama also involves an active local resistance fighter who has to go into hiding because of his patriotic, anti-Nazi activities.

Based on part of an unfinished work of Auschwitz-doomed Jewish writer, Irene Nemirovsky, the film seems reasonably complete in itself. All bright colours are removed. Speech is, for the most part, sensibly delivered  in unaccented, or only very slightly accented, English. Acting is good - though KST, wonderful as she always is, is here required to deliver a largely one-note performance.
Director Saul Dibb (who made the rather better 'The Duchess' of 2008) does well with his reliable resources.

Quite a reasonable achievement, then, with a story seen from a slightly unusual angle - yet nothing to get over-excited about............................6.5.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Film: 'X + Y'

This ought to have been so much better! However, I dare say that those who don't share my deep aversion to excessive background music - and this is positively swimming in it - could well feel that this is a fine film. It's one of the very worst examples of that particular trait I've seen in a long time. Why, oh why, do they do it? It's just so unnecessary. Instead of nudging our emotions in the direction the makers feel it ought to take, let the story speak for itself, for crying out loud! Are we deemed to be so stupid that we can't think for ourselves without 'pointers', or are the makers afraid that we are going to be bored?

The principal redeeming factor is the three adults in the cast, of which more anon.

Based on a true story (yawn!) its central character, played by Asa Butterfield (the titular lead in Scorsese's excellent 'Hugo' of 2011), is the teenage mathematical prodigy son of a widowed mother. Having been present as a child when his father is violently killed, he's become emotionally withdrawn to all, has inept social skills - but especially cold, unresponsive and, frankly, rude to his suffering, caring and loving mother. Sally Hawkins is astonishing as the latter. We see her trying to put on a cheerful face while trying to mask the worrying turmoil she holds underneath. Her sympathetic performance really tugged my heartstrings every time she appeared.
The story takes the son from being tutored as a child in advanced maths by the bear-like and muscular dystrophic Rafe Spall (son of Timothy S.), jumping some years to his attempting to compete for a place in an International Mathematics Olympiad at Cambridge University. He's taken with co-competitors to train in Taipei with the Chinese team (cue music with an Oriental 'tinge') where his withdrawn mien doesn't make him any more popular. His team's mentor and guide for this Far-East visit is the irrepressible Eddie Marsan, all energy and efficiency - and yet another 'bear'!

Apart from the music (there are even snatches of three songs, would you believe it!) I thought the arc of events was very much what we've seen a number of times before and, notwithstanding that it's based on true events, it's all capped by a feelgood ending which struck me as more convenient than convincing.
There were also, in my view, rather too many flashbacks to the character as a child responding to the affection of his shortly-to-die father.

We've seen Sally Hawkins recently in Woody Allen's terrific 'Blue Jasmine' as well as in Mike Leigh's superb 'Happy-Go-Lucky' (where her weird and disturbingly serious driving instructor was the same Eddie Marsan as here, though in this film the two only have one brief scene together).

Director Morgan Matthews, whose first feature as director this appears to be, has assembled a flawless cast and it's the three adult actors who hold the film together, being a total pleasure to watch. More's the pity, then, that the film itself was so marred in certain respects - though, of course, that may be just me..........................6.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Film: 'Still Alice'

Profoundly affecting film for which Julianne Moore recently won both Oscar and BAFTA as 'Best Actress'.
Such being the vagaries of release date distribution, a number of those reading this will probably have already seen the film, which has only just made it to these regions.

Although other features have dealt with the subject of Alzheimer's before (most notably and movingly in 'Away From Her' of 2006, with Julie Christie), this is the first one I know which has at the centre a character suffering from the early onset of the disease, Moore playing the sufferer, a 50 year-old professor-lecturer in linguistics. It might be argued that having the latter profession is just a bit too contrived,  being someone whose profession is primarily concerned with words, yet the ability to remember those very tools of verbal communication begin to elude her. However, once that situation is taken as read it's portrayed most convincingly and, indeed at times, quite upsettingly.
I must confess that I've never been aware of personally knowing anyone of any age who has suffered from the disease. (My own mother, who lasted till she was 89, was mentally sharp to the end). I can only assume that the portrayal as shown here is accurate. I'm not aware of anyone who's said it's not so.

Julianne Moore is at least as good as she's ever been, if not even better, and fully deserves her plaudits and awards. Her slow deterioration is heart-breaking to witness, gradually and seemingly inconsequential at first, then increasing in seriousness. Alec Baldwin plays the role as her sympathetic and caring husband with conviction. I had a slight problem with one of their adult children, their younger daughter and most prominent of the siblings, Kristen Stewart, who had a tendency to mumble. No such problems with the rest of the excellent cast.
I was half-expecting that there might be scenes of hysteria and shouting but it is, on the whole, played quite low-key. Of course there are also moments of tense drama but they're not out of place with the overall mood.
Screenplay is first-rate. I've just noticed with some surprise and sorrow that the writer (based on a Lisa Genova novel) and the film's co-director, Richard Glatzer, died only a week ago at the age of 63. It's particularly poignant and sad that he's finished on such a fine work as this.

I'd strongly recommend this. If it's only, for me, just the slightest hair's breadth less successful than the aforementioned 'Away From Her', that was an awfully high hurdle to leap anyway................................8.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Film: 'Chappie'

Under all the bluster, bangs and bullets this robot fantasy, set in the near future, is essentially pretty formulaic stuff. My main reason for going at all was to see the HUGE Jackman, in this as eye-poppingly delectable as he's ever been (despite alarming hairstyle), in super-macho, baddie mode, cavorting up and down sometimes in crotch- and bum-clinging shorts - and in that I wasn't in the least disappointed.

Set in and around Johannesburg (Director Neill Blomkamp's home city) Dev Patel is the young office nerd who succeeds in making one of a damaged army of shut-down police robots intelligence-independent and emotionally-sensitive, with abilities to mimic and repeat human actions as instructed. He and his pet robot are kidnapped by an anarchic and violent street gang who have to supply a rival group with an enormous monetary sum within a week. Patel is then forced to enlist his robot (the 'Chappie' of the title) into assisting with criminal heists in order to obtain the ransom. Jackman, working at the same organisation as Patel, has his own ideas on what to do with the decommissioned force of police robots, and is not best pleased when he susses out that Patel has achieved an advance in making this particular robot near-human - only to then discover that he has also been coerced into assisting with criminal activities.
Also in the cast, and playing her standard, cold, ruthless authority figure, is Sigourney Weaver, whose on-screen time must total no more than five minutes max.  

Much of the action centres around Chappie's learning how 'he' should act by copying the mannerisms, talk and gun-toting activities of the gang whom he sees as his mentors, despite Patel's efforts in trying to protect him from their undesirable influence. Some of the audience found his antics while training amusing but it left me uncomfortable in the same way I'd feel seeing a dog being trained to perform illegal or morally unacceptable acts. And when Chappie, in order to be trained, is thrown in the deep-end by being left stranded with another gang who taunt, fling missiles at, and try to destroy it, I felt very uneasy. It had clear resonances with real life in seeing the robot as being the victim of a baying, hostile mob, intent on destroying  simply for its being 'different'. Perhaps I'm carrying the analogy too far but I'm certain that the notion must have been in the director's (also the co-writer's) mind.

Acting throughout was reasonable enough. Special effects, through CGI of course, as flawless as one has come to expect. However, the 'signpost' music soundtrack was rather too invasive and insistent to the extent that it became a bit irritating.

Btw: I thought that Dev Patel (recently seen in 'The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'), here in a 'straight' role, points up just how much his part in 'Hotel' was a caricature, and I now feel a bit guilty of a certain condescension as having seen much of his role in that film as arising from him as a person rather than being the quaint-Indian-type he was acting. 

'Chappie' is not a great film, certainly nowhere near as good as the same director's first foray into robotics, 'District 9' of 2009, but it's okay enough. And if you, like me, are also a great fan of Mr Jackman (and I do appreciate that not everybody is), then his presence alone makes the whole thing more than worthwhile. If you're not a fan, however, you'd better deduct a point from my.............6.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Film: 'Inherent Vice'

This is weird, though not in the quirky, positive way that I found his, Thomas Paul Anderson's, 'Magnolia' of 1999.

Director Anderson has an impressive record of having made some pleasingly off-beat films in recent years, among which I'd cite 'The Master' and 'There Will be Blood' as being particularly fine. (There was also his 'Boogie Nights' which others have liked more than I did). And now comes 'Inherent Vice', certainly odd, though in a far less satisfying way than some of his others.

I assume that this film, with all its dope-smoking, is meant to reflect the unreal, semi-dream quality of Thomas Pynchon's novel (unread by me). I was quickly lost in its incoherence - the essential story being of Wolverine-sideburned, sprawling-haired Joaquin Phoenix, playing an LA private detective in the 70s, trying to find out what happened to a missing former girlfriend, and meeting all sorts of strange characters on the way, including a coterie of leathered-biker Nazis (or so it's assumed).
To maintain interest in a close on two-and-a-half hour film is a tall order and requires a firmer anchor than is provided here. Not that there aren't the occasional moments of amusement, though hardly sufficient to make the whole a watchable event.

Phoenix is good, as he generally is, as is also Josh Brolin, playing a humourless, abrasive, anti-hippie officer of LAPD, creating sparks whenever he and Phoenix encounter each other. There's a bit of violence here and there but nowhere near as much as one might expect. We also see, in a minor role, Reese ("Do you know who I AM?")  Witherspoon - whom we saw together with J.P. recently in the Johnny Cash film "Walk the Line" - as well as Owen Wilson and an oleaginous Benicio Del Toro. But the film belongs to Joaquin Phoenix who plays spaced-out perplexity quite convincingly.

I saw the film 24 hours ago but it's already fading in my memory, which is curious in that its oddity might have been expected to be longer-lasting mentally, but its confusion does it no favours. It's a long haul. Maybe it might have been improved by doing what so many of the characters do, watching it while drawing on a spliff....................5/10.