Monday, 19 June 2017

Film: 'Churchill'

This film's title is deceptive. It covers just the few days in June 1944 prior to the allied landings on the Normandy beaches, and featuring the British Prime Minister's resistance to the American-led plan.

Brian Cox plays the eponymous titular figure although facially he looks quite unlike the original, and doesn't sound much like him either - but what an actor! This putting aside of resemblances, apart from some very feeble attempts, also occurs with other members of the cast, most notably with both John Slattery as Eisenhower and James Purefoy as King George VI , the two of them looking very little like the figures they are portraying. Miranda Richardson as Churchill's steely wife, Clem, who wishes she could have her own life back, does bear a passing resemblance to the woman some of us can recall. One has to make a mental effort to stop these distractions getting in the way of enjoying the film - though, of course, younger audience members won't be as troubled as I was.

The film shows a side of Churchill that is rarely, if ever seen. Naturally I can't vouch for any veracity on that part, but it's quite different from the politician as he's usually played - here more of a fast-talking, petulant, short-tempered, yelling combative rather than the reflective and measured, brooding growler we've grown used to. 
I wasn't aware of the extent to which he'd been cut out of decision-making regarding the D-day landings after he'd vociferously expressed his disapproval of the plan, and was subsequently reduced to watching and grunting from the sidelines while Eisenhower issued the vital instructions. Even Field-Marshal Montgomery had more influence than Churchill.   
Churchill's attitude and animosity arises from his being haunted by the appalling loss of life in the Dardanelles landings thirty years before in the First World War, for which he feels he bore some responsibility, and is afraid that history might be repeating itself, with his name being vilified.  (We are spared of any warfare scenes).

Director Jonathan Teplitzky's probably best know for his 2013 film 'The Railway Man' with Colin Firth, which was fair enough without being a exceptional recommendation.

This one is a patchy film, interesting in sections but never quite taking off enough to keep one gripped despite our knowing how events turned out. I kept looking for things I hadn't known before, and I suppose that there's enough of them to keep the mind occupied. But as for making a satisfying whole (sensibly coming in at just a little over 90 minutes) I think it left something to be desired...............6.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Film: 'My Cousin Rachel'

Pleased to resume my cinema-going after a lengthy hiatus occasioned by 'circumstances' - which may well restrict the number of future similar outings for a while. Only to say for now that 'he' remains fragile, though superficially healthy apart from continuing very wobbly walk and alarming further loss of fur. When there's any more to report I'll do so.

Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourite writers. I've read more than a few of her works but not this one, an omission which now needs rectifying.

Set in rural England in what I take to be the late-18th century, the prologue shows a young boy being cared for by his guardian right until he returns from having attended school now grown up (Sam Claflin), his guardian whom he worships having been sent to Florence for recuperation from a brain tumour, and from whom he gets mail, first telling him of the lovely young woman he's become acquainted with there (the 'cousin Rachel' of the title) and then, continuing to sing her praises, the two of them marry - his correspondence suddenly becoming more disturbing until, fearing for his life at her hands, he begs his charge to come and help him. Is this for real or just a fancy of his fevered condition? Claflin rushes off to Italy to find that he has only recently just died while she is nowhere to be found. Returning to England, he is determined to seek her out and confront her - though finds out that she has already arrived at his home, which he will inherit on attaining the age of 25, she now the grieving widow seeking the solace of her cousin. He's resolved to have the matter out with her, being convinced that she was responsible for his guardian's demise. When they meet she (Rachel Weisz) turns out to be nothing like what he envisaged and his adversarial stance dissolves as he quickly becomes infatuated with her. He's also attracted to her independent spirit which can be quite forthright at times. So won over is he, in fact, that he refuses to entertain stories of her profligacy and rumours of her unfaithfulness when she was married with his guardian. He even bequeaths to her his greatest treasure, a pearl necklace which belonged to his mother. His blinkered. rose-tinted view of her continues and, against all advice, he formulates his own will, charging his entire state to her possession should he pre-decease her. He inevitably proposes marriage but is perplexed to find that her warm attitude to him changes. Too late and too bad for him! What we, the audience, can see he cannot. Therein lies the film's suspense, and most effective it is too for virtually the entire film, which held my attention without pause.

Two 'downers' for me was that the film's several intimate moments between the romantic couple were conveyed in hardly audible whispers, though I don't think that this was as important as the second - namely that I didn't quite understand a revelation given near the end, which was, presumably, intended to take one's breath away. I can understand what it was - the very final frames showed that up clearly - but it left me with a whole load of questions in my mind on the lines of "But if that was the case, why didn't....". It also left, though only in retrospect, some of the film of the interaction between the couple looking strangely ham-fisted and old-fashioned. Others may well have been carried along with it as a convincing development but for me it proved to be rather less than satisfactory.

All the acting, and the script as well, is of a very high order and the film looks terrific, not burdened by a background score which could easily have been melodramatic but was sensibly kept in check.

Director Roger Michell (also the screenplay writer) has some biggish films on his record, including 'Notting Hill', 'Venus' and 'Le Week-End' - and despite my minor reservations, this one also deserves to stand to his credit...................7.5

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Film: 'Whisky Galore'

This re-make of the 1949 'classic' (according to some) has had boos from all corners - usually accompanied by a question along the lines of "Why did they even bother?"
I went along partly out of curiosity that it really could be that dire (and it pretty well is) but also to escape for a couple of hours from domestic woes (with a strong feline bent) as well as the current troubling national and international news.  Anyway, it was a bargain basement screening for just £3 (= 4$ US) so there wasn't too much to lose.

I'd seen the original only once and that must have been about 40 years ago, retaining a less than sketchy memory of it. One thing I'm certain of is that I didn't laugh much, if at all. (It still regularly pops up on the fringe TV channels). 
As for this new version I can report that without any effort at all I kept a straight face right through.

The premise is that off a small, fictional, inhabited Scottish island a boat runs aground on the rocks. Its cargo includes 50,000 crates
of whisky. (Would require some boat to carry that lot - and that's just a part of its cargo! Something rather larger than the vessel we see would be called for, which is little more than a fishing trawler-size.) It just so happens - would you believe it? - that just prior to this ship being wrecked the entire island had run out of.........whisky!  It's wartime (yet again!) and there's no chance at all of replenishing supplies. Much gloominess ensues because, as we know, all Scots do love their wee dram! So this shipwreck must have happened by divine providence, mustn't it? Of course! So the islanders, led by Gregor Fisher, get together a little flotilla of rowboats to rescue what they can - for their own consumption.
Meanwhile army captain Eddie Izzard (possibly the only cast member who'd be recognised outside this country), living on the island(!) with his wife (the ever-watchable Fenella Woolgar), and with a tiny army contingent which seems to consist of just one sergeant, is unaware of what's going on under his nose, the islanders running rings round him while he tries to organise a small group of 'Dad's Army' Home Guard.
There's also a cranky, hard-line vicar who demands everyone holds to the rigours of observing the Sabbath (Funny? What do you think?). Then, the ship being reported missing, the officials arrive and there's much panicky fuss to hide all those bottles. 

Filmed in Aberdeenshire, the scenery is as gloriously magnificent as one could hope.
The script is flat, acting is as though the cast think it's all ever so droll - but if you're unsure as to where you 'should' laugh, don't worry, the insistent (annoying) music will nudge you.

Director Gillies McKinnon is probably best known for his pretty good 'Hideous Kinky' of 1998 with Kate Winslet, but 'Whisky Galore' does his record no credit all......................2.5.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Film: 'The Secret Scripture'

Firstly, for the many who are interested and concerned, I'm very pleased to report that Blackso is doing fine. Since yesterday morning when he had his first tablet he's had no further nasty 'turns', is eating well and walking around, though with the wobbly gait he's had for some years now which I put down to his advanced years. So, it's looking as good as it could be hoped. Long may it last. Thanks yet again for everyone's enquiries and wishes.

Further update, 12 hours later: Sorry to report he's had another bad spell, same as before. :-(

Jim Sheridan is one of the few directors whose films I'll go out of my way to see. They are all significant, and so is this one, though pity about..........well, I'll come to that. 

Taking place in Co. Sligo, Eire, it features a young woman, played by Rooney Mara, in the early 1940s, and by Vanessa Redgrave as the now aged inmate of a mental institution fifty years later.
(This is Redgrave's most substantial role for many years. Although the part doesn't demand a huge range of acting abilities, she does what she has to do as well as you'd expect at a standard for which she's rightly renowned).
There are frequent shifts between the life of the younger woman, and the older who is visited by a doctor (Eric Bana) who tries to find out more about the past of the old woman who keeps muttering that she did NOT kill her baby, along with other cryptic meanderings. Is she hallucinating or is there some truth behind her ramblings? He's also puzzled by an old Bible she owns in which she's written her disjointed thoughts (true memories?) mostly along the top of the pages, but also sometimes within the texts. There are also some pages she's defaced by cutting. 

The young character is a single woman without a family, popular with her looks, and especially takes the fancy of the young parish priest, but any interest in that direction, apart from being 'wrong' she doesn't reciprocate. Things move forward when one of the young shop-owners in the village has enlisted as a British air fighter, a betrayal of the country's war-neutral status. His plane one day flies over and he has to bail out, landing injured and hanging by parachute from the branches of the very tree closest to the young woman's house. (Oh dear!) She helps him down, takes him to her house and hides him from the hostile locals. Their relationship develops and they eventually marry in secret, but he has to flee soon after. The jealous priest finds out and is instrumental, as an act of spite, to get her confined to a harsh mental institution supervised by severe nuns (force feeding, electric shock 'therapy' etc) on the absurd grounds of' 'nymphomania'.  And in this place she is confined for half a century.  

On the whole, it's a good, absorbing story, never boring for one minute - but it's capped by such a cheesy ending as to defy belief. Because I'd heard about there being such, I guessed what it would be before a certain disclosure which comes very late, while all the time thinking "Please don't let it be that!" But it was. Such a shame. 

The film is based on a novel by a Sebastian Barry but director Jim Sheridan shares the writer credits. What happened? Did he really have to follow the novel which, one assumes, had this ending, or couldn't he be bothered to change it for the film? But there it is, in my view marring what would otherwise have been a superior work.

In other respects, the filming of the Irish landscape is magnificently impressive. The script is good, as is the acting throughout. I must say, though, that I could have done with hearing a little less of the opening bars of the 'Moonlight Sonata'.

I'm going to have to shave half a point from my final rating because of the ending (others might cull it by more) but it's still stands up as a darn good film..........................6.5. 

Monday, 22 May 2017

Blackso survives - for at least a few more days or longer.

I know I should be rejoicing, and part of me is, but the last three days have so drained me that the conclusion I was expecting yet dreaded would have afforded some relief in a perverse kind of way.

After a fitful night, rising at 03.45 found him sitting perkily on the kitchen floor, immediately starting to purr loudly in expectation of the breakfast I would give him. All well until about two hours later when he had another bout of losing all coordination and looking around dizzily. Then he slept and when awakened was back to normal again - which made the task ahead even harder.

Rang the vet as soon as it opened at 9.30. They gave me twenty minutes later - so, weeping freely, I scooped him up, locked him in the carry cage and took him the 5 minute walk. In the waiting area my head was down so as not to reveal the wretched state I was in. When called, the one seeing me was my least favourite of the three of them, a dour, humourless, no-nonsense fellow in his forties. I wanted it to be a certain young lady with a foreign accent who always showed sympathy both to me and to my pet. But at least this chap wasn't going to tell me lies to make me feel more comfortable.

This morning I'd read on my last-but-one blog a comment from Athene who said that Blackso's symptoms sounded very much like Vestibular Syndrome/Disease. As she suggested, I looked it up via Google, and his symptoms did very much appear to be identical with that. I told this to the vet but he immediately expressed doubts.
He did an exhaustive check on muscles and tummy and looked into both his eyes and both ears with his instruments (all of which B. hated) and then watched him walk freely around the examination room floor, in his now regular loping style which can look as though he's drunk, so for me his movement appeared to be still normal. I told the vet that this morning he'd had another bout of losing all co-ordination and balance and looking dizzy, but he was now back to what for him at his advanced age is his regular condition. I was asked to describe the accident on Friday.  The verdict was that he still thinks it unlikely to be vestibular, but more probably mild concussion. He prescribed a short of course of anti-inflammatory tablets, and if he's still getting these bouts of unbalance and uncoordination to bring him back. in a few days  Meanwhile, not to let him outside at all. 

So back here he is, having taken one tablet, and he's in a 'normal' state again., though his next attack, if it happens at all, could happen at any time.  (He's just made an unassisted visit to his litter tray).
The vet hadn't even mentioned the ultimate option which I had been waiting for, had prepared for and was going to ask him to do whatever's necessary and get it over with. I was going to request that I might hold and comfort him as he was being injected. It never came to that. Yet I know it still might do.

So that's the situation. I fully realise it's only postponing the inevitable day. It might well have been easier to have requested putting him to sleep if only to avoid having to go through it all again but I chickened out. Meanwhile, I'll appreciate even more, if that's possible, every single minute he's still with me .

I'm enormously touched by all the messages of support and love I've received. I feel very humbled to know there are so many really nice folk around to comfort a complete stranger. I'll be posting updates on Blackso's condition as they come about, which they will, but I don't think future posts on the subject will be anything like as full and wordy as those I've posted since Friday. I've already said just about all there is to say - and I'll try to avoid repeating it all when the day comes round, next time for real. 

Grateful thanks to all - and Blackso says so too! From us both:-

and another:-

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Condition of my very dear little Blackso.

Sun. 15.30.
In a bad way once more, and I'd guess that it's near terminal now.
Can't walk at all, legs failing in all directions. He can't even sit. Have to carry him to litter tray and hold him upright while he does his business, then carry him back to kitchen top where he's currently lying and trying to sleep. Looking confused as though he doesn't recognise his home and doesn't seem to recognise me, even while I'm stroking him and whispering his name - and when my 'waterworks' opened up fully. I'm wishing he'd now just slip away peacefully rather than having to take him to the vet in the morning with him having to face the physical ordeal of it and my hearing the practically inevitable suggestion. Sad beyond measure - and, yes, I'm fully aware that most of us have to go through this and that my pain is no greater than anyone else's. Still hurts like hell though.

If I may indulge in one more justification for spilling out my emotions. Apart from you, dear blogpals, I have no one else in the world to talk to about it. Some of  you may well be in the same position, I don't know. But if there's not only me who's alone we are definitely in a minority. 
My sister, now 79 and a three-times over great-grandmother, is sympathetic, bless her, but (possibly arising from her steadfast Catholicism) when it comes towards compassion for suffering, she's one who puts animals a distant second to humans, even if their plight is human-induced. They are far more precious to me than that and I know that a lot of you will know what I mean. 

I'm grateful more than anything for everybody's moving and kind thoughts and concerns. There's really no need to comment any more here, at least not until I post again tomorrow about what happened.

Thank you from my sad and tormented self, dear friends.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

A highly distressful event

(There's a worrisome update to this story in italics at the end.)
I really thought I'd be posting a 'Blackso R.I.P' this morning. My nerves are still shredded after yesterday's happening.

My dearest friend in all the world, now 18 years old, had an unhappy accident at about 5 p.m. when he attempted to get onto the cover I keep on a large, square, metal crate which I keep in the kitchen for the rubbish bags before taking them to the outside bins. It's his current choice of sleeping location, along with the worktop next to the kitchen sink.  
Not for the first time, when he jumped up it gave way under him and he plunged inside the crate, but on this occasion it seemed to have done him serious damage. When I pulled him out he couldn't stand or even sit on his hind legs., which had collapsed under him and he could only lay on his side. His eyes were fearful, darting rapidly from side to side, something I've never seen before. While working out what I could do I tried to console him with gentle strokes, half in tears myself. This happened just a few minutes before his regular vet was closing so it was too late for that - and it's not open at weekends either, though there's an emergency number. Meanwhile there was the tragic picture of Blackso needing to get to the bathroom for the litter tray he always uses, pulling himself along on front legs, his hind quarters dragging along the carpet. It seemed that something was broken. I helped him to the tray where he promptly let it out both ends together, vomiting violently while doing a poo - and then turning over in the litter and covering himself with both stuffs. My heart was breaking in two. After it seemed to be all expelled I picked him up and put him back on the kitchen carpet on a newspaper, using a kitchen towel to clear some of the muck off him, and then resigned myself to having to call out the emergency vet. But I had no money on me. So, leaving him lying there in what must have been painful physical and mental turmoil had to go out, half-sobbing, to the nearest cash machine so I could pay a vet call-out charge at least - and, on the way, would you believe, bumped into Patchie, further away than I've ever seen him before. Of course he recognised me and was determined to follow wherever I was to go - just as I was about to cross a busy dual-carriageway, and in the rush hour! So had to lead him all the way back home and shut him in. When we got back, and to my utter surprise, Blackso had somehow managed to get himself back up onto the kitchen worktop beside the sink. He'd have used a nearby chair as an intermediate step-up, but how he could have even got onto that I just don't know. He was still in a lying position and covered in you-know-what. I went out again for the cash and on returning found him there, still dazed, eyes still swivelling this way and that, but his breathing seemed to be less frantic and laboured.  I decided not to call the vet emergency just yet and wait to see how he developed. Maybe an hour or so later when I checked he'd started cleaning himself up (yuk!) - and later I was over the moon to see him sitting up normally again, and he drank water and some meaty I offered. 
He slept there all night (I checked him twice during the dark hours) and this morning he's back to eating heartily - and, most importantly of all, back to his 'normal' walking again, in his own, usual, advanced-age, loping style looking every bit as though he's drunk.  (I've been fearing for him waking along walls for some time now as he can't seem to keep in a straight line.) He went to his litter tray by himself this morning, on all four legs, and I put him outside for his morning 'constitutional', keeping an eye on him from the window - and all seems now as it was before the accident.

So, if I'd been saying prayers for him I'd now be claiming that they'd been answered! All okay now, but what a mighty scare that was!
Of course I'm fully aware that at his age he can't have much time left, and when it does come, although it'll not be unexpected it's still going to be hard to bear. But that day has been postponed - for now - and I've got the continued company of my dearest of friends for at least a while longer. 

And how is Blackso right now? Oh, he's forgotten about it!

Unfortunate update at 1.30 p.m.:-
His hind legs have buckled again, and that after a morning of moving about normally. He's now sleeping on the kitchen worktop on his side. If it's any consolation to him and myself he doesn't appear to be in the distressful panic he was yesterday when it happened but clearly something serious is wrong. Please, PLEASE mend again, my dearest one!

Further update at 7 p.m.
He's now walking on all fours once more - a bit more wobbly than he usually is but at least he's still got a bit of strength in those hind legs. Keep fighting, Son.

One more update - a day later, 5.30 a.m.
I've been up since 3 a.m. and he seems yo be fine again - walking with no problem, going to his litter tray without difficulty, and eating heartily. Of course it all could take a sudden downturn again at any time so I can't pretend it won't happen no matter how much I wish it wouldn't.
All the good wishes he's had must be working and I'll pass on the very latest messages as well. Meantime, it's a case of appreciating his continued presence with me and demonstrating it with nothing but unconditional love.
Any further developments, which will surely and sadly be downturns, I'll tell you of in a new post. Meantime, grateful thanks to everybody for all your thoughts and concerns.  XXXXXX.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Film: 'Alien - Covenant'

None of the 'Alien' sequels comes even close to the standard of the original 1979 film which many consider to be a 'classic', although I have reservations even with that one. (Brilliant up to and including that event, though after that, despite some effectively suspenseful moments, nothing could compare with the first 'shock' .) 

I have no such doubts about 'Covenant' - it's substandard. The mystery is why did Ridley Scott bother? He must have needed a substantial cash injection which, to be frank, looks like this film is providing. It's a mish-mash of re-visiting situations of the previous films. I'm sure the writers were thinking "We must have a bit of this....oh, and a bit of that......and oh, yes, and we mustn't forget when this has to happen......". And to add to its unoriginality, there's a lumbering, over-wordy script involving a philosophical explanation of the situation, totally futile in trying to explain a storyline that was far too complicated for me to comprehend. Most of these dreary lines (but also including quoting Percy Bysshe Shelley, for crying out loud!) come from two very humanoid, identical robots, both played by Michael Fassbender, usually speaking to each other - only one is a goodie and the other one not. (Ah, but will the latter ever be posing as the other? Guess!)
Apart from Fassbender, the only other name in the cast I recognised was Billy Crudup. (There were also at least two other uncredited appearances, both of whom I recognised.)

It's the 21st century, and parent space ship 'Covenant' is on its way to inhabit a certain distant planet, carrying hundreds of 'passenger-colonisers' and a score or so of crew, all in cryogenic sleep while one of the robots (the 'goodie') watches over the ship's journey. An event wakes up the crew well in advance of ETA (sound familiar?) which needs correction and while they're awake they pick up a mysterious signal from a nearby world and (would you believe it!) a ship is sent to investigate, on a planet which this time is so conveniently earth-like that even breathing apparatus can be dispensed with. 
It'll hardly be a revelation to know that the denizens of this world include hostile beings, feeding on and incubating inside living flesh (thereby making robots immune) and dispatching these human host-visitors one by one in grisly fashion. About half this overlong film is set on this odd world but the grand finale returns to the mothership.

The big and many moments of conflict and confrontation are well-designed and presented, though I didn't get the sense we got throughout the original 'Alien' film of a small, diminishingly surviving crew being locked in a confined space, and sometimes trying to flee an unwanted alien on board.

I felt early on that this latest film badly needed some judicious editing. There's so much unnecessary flab which slows down the story - and that story is so involved that we need spectacle to take our minds off it.

I've seen the original film several times and it still holds up. 'Aliens' I've seen just the once but wouldn't mind sitting through again. As for the rest of them they were strictly to be seen one time only, and 'Covenant' fits with no trouble into this precise category..............5. 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Eurovision Song Contest - and I picked the winner!

In Kiev, Ukraine, this year's motto - "Celebrate Diversity" - hardly lived up to its words, at least visually. I think I managed to count  at least two non-white faces among all the backing singers and dancers, but otherwise it was a case of 'Caucasian rules OK!'

I've been following the contest ever since the U.K. first entered it in 1958, missing only two or three in the late 1970s because I went along with the notion that the whole thing was a bit naff. Can't think how I ever could have bought into that idea!

The number of times when my voting choice turned out to be the actual winner I can count on the fingers of one hand, but last night it happened, with Portugal achieving its first ever win after a wait of 54 years! - a stand-out, simple and modest ballad without any gimmicks, performed by the distinctly unglamorous Salvador Sobral and composed by his sister - and one of the very few not sung in English.

I didn't know until the voting was over that the singer was suffering from a serious heart condition, causing him to miss some of the rehearsals. I can't say if this was widely known before the contest and might have added to a 'sympathy' vote, though even if I'd been aware in advance I still think this was the best song by quite some margin - and totally different from any other of the 26 finalists -  a gently appealing non-belter.

Second was Bulgaria, a song which I didn't rate much, sung by the youngest of the participants, a 17-year old, who might have got the 'cutie' vote:-

Third came Moldova (which I'd have placed 5th), one of those barking mad entries which we love but don't like to admit we found infectious. (Nice dance moves.):-

Coming fourth, Belgium was a worthy contender, which I'd have put in around 8th position, though not remarkable enough to be much higher:-

And in fifth place, the ever highly-placed Sweden which, like Belgium I'd rate definitely above average but not spectacularly so:-

My own Top Five included three that didn't register in the final tally:-
1) Portugal
2) Romania - a happy, yodelling song which deserved to finish higher than the seventh place it did. Full marks for the sheer nerve of it! :-

3) Croatia - possibly the most remarkable listening event of the night, but finishing in a vastly unfair 13th place. A male performer with evident Pavarotti-like 'embonpoint' who sings in two vastly different registers. Possibly the most attention-grabbing performer of last night:-

4) Italy - An arresting image, and for a long time prior to the night the favourite to win, actually coming sixth. Song performed alongside man in a cheap-looking gorilla suit. Fun though, and not at all bad song:-

5) Moldova, which came 3rd.

And the U.K.?:-
Lucie Jones yelling out one of those so-called power ballads which bore me beyond tears. I've heard it several times and I still ask myself "Why?". Anyway, she managed our best position in years, coming 15th, so suppose one ought to be thankful that at least we weren't entirely humiliated as we often are.

I'm also very pleased that after a long time the title has been wrested out of the hands of eastern Europe and Scandinavia, which was getting all a bit depressingly predictable. So grateful for that.

Btw: I switched over during the several interval acts while votes were being cast and missed a stage-crasher coming on and baring his bottom. A bit sorry not to have seen that though must say that on the whole I got my evening's worth of entertainment - I've seen several worse than last night. 

And finally, have to mention that out of the three presenters (Diversity? Hah!) I just couldn't take my eyes off one of them. Guess which!:-

So, till Lisbon(?) in 2018 - and in the hope that the U.K. can at last end what will then be our 21-year drought.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Film: 'Lady Macbeth'.

This sure is turning out to be a bumper year. Only just over one third exhausted and there's already a crowded field vying to make it into my Top 10 of 2017. Here's yet another strong contender.

Based on a novella by Nikolai Leskov, 'Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk', (which you, like me, may recognise as being the title of a Shostakovich opera), this film transfers the action from Russia to the bleak far north of England - and Northumberland was where it was shot. The nod to Shakespeare's character ought not to be taken too far. In both play and this film, the female character (here called Catherine), is a resolutely self-willed woman who connives in, or even executes, at least two murders. Pursuing any further analogy is pointless.

The film opens in the 19th century with Catherine (Florence Pugh - amazing!) getting locked into a loveless, though reasonably affluent, marriage-of-convenience. She soon shows she's made of steel and not to be pushed around, which her husband and his father resent as being unbecoming to a 'lady' in the society of that time. 
When her husband (Paul Hilton) goes away for a while she takes on a menial lover (Cosmo Jarvis), trying to hide the affair from the servants, not entirely successfully.
It's hard to say much more without spoiling it, as there are a number of 'shocks' in the story which caused me to take a deep intake of breath - shocks more in the nature of the unexpected way the story was going rather than the 'jump-in-your-seat' kind (though I really could have done without having to see the shooting of a horse).

Dialogue throughout is spare and effective. There's a slow and deliberate pace to the (90 mins) film which suits the tale.
Also, it must be remarked that there's a refreshing colour-blindness to cast members, unlikely for its time, though it didn't get in the way for me at all

I think director William Oldroyd is to be congratulated on this feature. It has been criticised in some quarters as exhibiting a degree of tastelessness in some areas, but I'd rate the risk-taking as one of its many strong points. And I'm going to look out for the next feature starring the luminous Florence Pugh................8.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Film: 'Mindhorn'

A 'one-joke' comedy which manages to make a slender 85 mins feel too long by half.

The 'joke' is that a star of a 1980s British TV detective series, 'Mindhorn', (Julian Barrett) is hauled out of an ignominious oblivion after failing, a couple of decades earlier, to make it in Hollywood and his career tanking still further following ill-advised drunken remarks on a TV chat show. His presence is now demanded by a serial killer (Russell Tovey - unfunny and annoying) who'll only communicate with the police through this character from the TV series which folded 25 years previously. So, now balded, paunchy, and out of condition, the ageing, past-it actor is roped in to try to lure the man into captivity by resurrecting the character. 
You might be able to imagine the humour, with situations including his former stuntman double (Simon Farnaby - also unfunny and annoying), his agent (Harriet Walter), former lover (Patricia Deville) and senior policewoman (Andrea Riseborough) - but surprisingly disappointing, there's also an under-used Steve Coogan as Mindhorn's former co-star, now much more successful than the his one-time partner. 
There are also cameos from Kenneth Branagh (uncredited) and Simon Callow - but, oh dear, did he have to mention 'Amadeus', just in case we needed nudging as to who he is? (For anyone not in the know, Callow was Mozart in the original London stage production of that play.)  

'Mindhorn' takes place on an attractive Isle of Man, which is one of its most interesting features - and this time it's not standing in for another location.. (For non-Brits who don't know, the Isle of Man is a smallish, modestly populated island in the Irish Sea between the British mainland and Northern Ireland, still with its own ancient Parliament, the 'Tynwald', and world-famed today as the location of the annual T.T. motorcycle races event ).

Despite my absence of enthusiasm I did manage to smile at a couple of points, both in the first quarter hour or so, when the story was being set up. But after that the whole enterprise quickly ran out of steam.
Director Sean Foley has done nearly all his previous work for TV. Now with a bigger canvas and budget it still seems small scale with material not substantial enough for large screen treatment. 

Incidentally, it might be of interest that whereas the film of 'The Promise' which I reviewed most recently, was accorded a certificate of '12A' despite its many harrowing scenes, comedy 'Mindhorn' is given a '15' certificate because of 'language and drug misuse'. 

There have been better-than-average reviews of this film. I must say that it did hold out the promise of there being something more special but, frankly, for me it wasn't realised. If it's any consolation I have to say it could have been worse!....................4.5.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Film: 'The Promise'

Heavy stuff, this. I'd been misled by several reviews complain-ing that the romance between characters played by Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon (who is also Christian Bale's character's  parallel love interest) ill-advisedly eclipses the historical events taking place. I didn't find it so at all. Actually I thought the film engrossing and educational though, it must be said, with some harrowing scenes of brutality (mainly within a 30-60 mins in section of this 2+ hours film) more distressing than I've seen in any film for several years, and belying the fact that the film has been accorded a mere  '12A' certificate in the U.K.  

It's a subject I don't recall ever being seen treated in a feature film before - the apparently well-documented massacre of Armenian Orthodox Christians by Turkish forces in the early 20th century which, ever since then and even now, the Turkish government brands as 'lies' (or should that be 'fake news' or even 'alternative facts'?) led by that veritable 'champion' of a 'free'-press, Recep Erdogan  - as long as it doesn't criticise him, otherwise it's unpatriotic and subversive, and therefore criminal! (I understand that this 'respected' leader has the approval of 'The Donald'. Now there's a surprise!)

I'd heard that detractors of the film have attempted to sabotage IMDb's rating system by an en masse registering of a minimum rating of 1/10 for this film. (What's the betting that hardly any one of them have actually seen it?). Despite that minimum possible score currently being submitted by 44% of 'viewers' the film still manages to achieve an average rating of 5.9, which is good going, though it must be said that a very high proportion of the remainder have, as a reaction, similarly given it a max score of 10/10, which it hardly deserves, though I can fully understand their ploy.

The film's action begins just before the outbreak of the First World War, an opening caption helpfully mentioning the imminent collapse of "the Ottoman Turk(!) Empire". (Obviously written by someone with a Trump-like grasp of history!)
Oscar Isaac, spouting a generic, pan-European foreign accent, is an Armenian medical student in rural Turkey while Christian Bale is an American investigative reporter based in (then) Constantinople with pretty Charlotte Le Bon in tow, the latter and Isaac immediately falling for each other at first sight, with Bale suspecting that something or other is going on and, naturally, disapproves.

It's the first time I've seen Oscar Isaac in a role that's sensitive and restrained (sometimes painfully so) throughout, and he manages it very well. Up to now he's always seemed to have played abrasive, even threatening, characters,  but here he's a bit of a tame pussy cat. 
It's likewise different for Christian Bale. Not the usual larger-than-life figure he normally inhabits, but here a more ruminative individual, still with a slight menace about him, but rather more profound and better-rounded, even if he does end up playing second fiddle to Isaac.
Also popping up in the cast in minor roles are the pleasing inclusions of Jean Reno, James Cromwell and Tom Hollander.

We see the persecutions and violent attacks on the Armenians by the Turks, their being dragged off (presumably to death), the forced labour camps with starving prisoners, some near-skeletal, the execution squads etc, none of which is easy to watch. I found myself grimacing on several occasions - those times when I could bear to look at the screen, that is.

I was very impressed indeed with direction (George Terry, who has also written some classic screenplays, most notably 'In the Name of the Father' of 1993) as well as photography. The scenery looks epic-like in scale, though I did sometimes feel the script could have done with a bit of perking up.
Music is not intrusive, and the film as a whole, though maybe a tad over-long, was never monotonous.
Oh, and by the way, if like me you positively drool over Mr Isaac when he sports a bushy beard (as he did in 'Inside Llewyn Davis', and even moreso in 'Ex Machina'), you're in luck as he does wear one in the middle of this film for a while. Shame that it's otherwise, and for other reasons, also the hardest part of the film to watch. 

Summing up, this is much better than I'd though it would be, though I do repeat my warning of some difficult scenes....................7.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Film: 'The Sense of an Ending'

So, hauling myself out of sick bed once more - alarmingly close to most recent time for same reason - and armed with throat lozenges (sugar free!), I wasn't blooming well going to allow mere physical incapacity and sensible advice play any further part in demolishing my cinema-going plans, my having already missed at least one on the list, namely Warren Beatty's vanity project, 'Rules Don't Apply'. No Siree!  Duty comes first - and moreso now with the eagerly awaited 'Lady Macbeth' coming round the mountain when she comes!   

So just about everyone who will have wanted to see this prominently Jim Broadbent vehicle will have done so by now. (Can't think why such a quintessentially British, London-located film should have had such a long-delayed release date in its country of origin, months after most of the rest of the world has already seen it). Furthermore, its director is the Indian, Ritash Batra, whose lovely film, 'The Lunchbox' of 2013, I just caught up with a month or so ago on BBC iPlayer. So this latest one held quite some promise, a further boost being in having Charlotte Rampling in the cast. Though her overall screen time isn't many minutes in length, her scenes in the final third of the film are all strategic ones, and her presence is (as is usual with her) one of the most memorable aspects of the entire film. 

A lot of the film is flashbacks to Jim Broadbent's Cambridge University days, his first romance there and the shattering effect of the suicide of his best friend, for which he harbours guilt feelings. Now a divorcee running a small camera shop, he's still in contact with his ex, (Harriet Walter) and has a close but occasionally tetchy relationship with his heavily pregnant single daughter (Michelle Dockery).  Circumstances happen which occasion him to investigate those long-past University days, opening a can of worms, and eventually leading him to meet again his first love, Veronica (Rampling), played in flashback by Freya Mavor. His own younger self is acted by Billy Howie, and it must be said that neither of these two look much like their older selves being portrayed. But it's not very important, both present day and fifty years previous strands holding up well and interesting.
But overall it's Broadbent's film with him having the meatiest role he's had in many a year, which he rises to marvellously. 

I believe that the story's ending was changed by the director without the approval of Julian Barnes, on whose novel the film is based, or that of scriptwriter Nick Payne. (Ironic, considering the film's title.) But in filmic terms it still works effectively and holds it together.

It's a gently-paced film, well satisfying with few, if any, histrionic moments. I liked it much more than I'd been expecting...........7.5.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Film: 'Their Finest'

Having moaned in my last post about how weary I'd become of watching WW2 films, here comes another one. I'd been under the impression from what I'd read, as well as from the trailer, that this would be a lighter take on the subject of the war, and it is, in fact, a refreshingly different one. However, despite a number of gently comic moments, I wasn't expecting the central romance to be quite so dominant in the storyline, and that did tend to dull my appreciations. If I'd been in a more generously receptive mood I might have valued the film more.

It's the early 1940s following the Dunkirk evacuation and the London blitz is ongoing, when the order goes out from Churchill's war cabinet to create a propaganda film showing British stiff upper lip, doughty determination and resistance against the Nazi onslaught. as well as depicting active participation by ally USA in the struggle to make that involvement more palatable to an American audience.
Gemma Arterton plays a scriptwriter who is drafted in to assist with the film, working with others including Sam Claflin (a name I didn't recognise but discovered that he'd been in 'The Hunger Games' films). Their initial working relationship is a testy one, though you can guess the direction in which it's going to go. The mindset of the company is that the assistance of women is only needed because most of the men are away fighting. But once the war is over........

Bill Nighy plays one of the actors in the film-within-the-film, a droll presence and, for me, always a welcome one despite his ever seeming to play the same character no matter in which film he appears. This is a more substantial part than we normally see him playing, though still on the 'bitty' side. He delivers lines desiccated in their dryness as only he can.
Also in the cast, in a much smaller role, is the fine Eddie Marsan, as well as Richard E.Grant as the surly, overseeing figure ensuring that the final product comes up to government requirements. In addition, in an uncredited, one scene, cameo role is Jeremy Irons, puling out all the stops.

The film deals with the tribulations of the film crew as they try to get their film accomplished while bombs are raining on London, the effects of which are, of course, devastating to both property and to lives. Meanwhile the romance between Arterton and Claflin plays out, which I must say I found a distracting nuisance, and much less entertaining than the trials of their film-making.

The film is mainly shot in near-black and white, with scenes in sepia tint, as has become conventional now for war films. But we eventually do see full technicolour near the finish, in brief excerpts from the completed propaganda film.  

Danish director Lone Sherfig manages okay with her material. She did give us the very commendable 'An Education' in 2009, a film to which I awarded a rare '8'.

I'm certain that most others will have a better opinion of 'Their Finest ' than I can muster. Maybe my mood wasn't at the right setting from the start. As it turned out I did find it all a bit of a drag...........................5.5.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Film: 'Another Mother's Son'.

I felt I'd had more than my fill of WWII films and was going to bypass this for that reason. Not that I find them 'boring' as such, rather being made to see the endlessly repeated depictions of Nazi brutality upsets me more and more as I age. I don't need the reminding of what went on. Perhaps younger generations do. 
However, this film has an infrequently documented angle to it: viz the fact the Channel Islands was the only British territory which was occupied by the Third Reich. 

It's based on a - would you credit it? - true story of Lou Gould (Jenny Seagrove in a towering performance), a grocer's shop owner who has just lost her husband fighting in the war - or was it her son, thereby giving greater weight and poignancy to the film's title?
She takes in and hides an escaped Russian POW (Julian Kostov) who was one of a contingent of beaten up and starving prisoners brought to the island of Jersey to perform menial and arduous physical work. She gets him cleaned and tidied up, bushy beard shaved off, and gets him dressed in inconspicuous everyday clothes.
Although he speaks no English he must be a fast learner as the story starts in 1942 and by the next year he's already conversing in that language!

 The story involves anonymous snoopers who report suspicious activities to the German occupiers, presumably in return for favours - and John Hannah, working on the postal service tries to intercept and destroy these messages. There's also Ronan Keating (one-time lead singer of 'Boyzone') in probably his first major serious role in a feature film - as well as the living legend, Susan Hampshire, whom, I must admit, I'd forgotten was in the cast and whom I failed to recognise.  

It's a very serious film (directed by Christopher Menaul), not many laughs, shot entirely in appropriately subdued colours. The story is moving - though it's Jenny Seagrove in the main role who really carries the film with her subtly nuanced, highly professional performance. 

I don't have any regrets that I decided to see this though I'd now prefer to wait a long while before I see yet another war film. Oh, wait a minute. There's Christopher Nolan's 'Dunkirk' coming over the horizon soon, so I'll have to make an exception for that. In fact I've got great hopes for it, with starry cast and all - even though reports are that it's spectacularly harrowing.

However, for 'Another Mother's Son'.................6.5.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Film: 'I Am Not Your Negro'

Hard-hitting, moving document-ary using incomple-ted notes of James Baldwin (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) for a projected book on the lives and deaths of three of Baldwin's friends, Martin Luther King Jnr., Malcolm X and the lesser-known Medger Evers, all assassinated in the 1960s within a few years of each other.  

The exclusive subject treated by this film is the status of black men and women, specifically in America, aspects of which have not gone away even today, and using Baldwin's own words either through TV interviews and appearances as well as his written words eloquently recited by Jackson, and in addition, quite substantial extracts from a speech he gave at Cambridge (University, England) Students' Union. 
There's plenty of newsreel footage and stills from incidents of the time - demonstrations, police brutality and the still horrifying-to-see naked hatred directed at non-white citizens, a lot of the images being new to me, though the nature of which was well known. 
Brief extracts of feature films between the 1930s and 1960s illustrate ingrained attitudes fed to (overwhelmingly white) American audiences to make them feel better about the underlying injustices, and shifting any guilt feelings onto 'the negro problem'. Happy families and gaily dancing and singing young groups habitually exclude any non-white faces so that you'd think that true contentment only happens for - and worse, only is deserved by - whites.

Director Raoul Peck has assembled disparate sources into a coherent whole, showing that if anyone really thought that the situation had substantially improved over 50 years, that attitude might need re-examining. A good 'wake-up call', sadly still necessary - though how many times have we heard that kind of thing before? And not only in America. With Brexit having brought out the very worst of so many of us Brits, and along with our Imperial history including a prominent part in the slave trade, we can't have the luxury of smugly pointing at others. 
As far as this film goes, it merits being influential and widely seen ...................7.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Film: 'A Quiet Passion'

This is a film I liked a great deal, though I can say with confidence that it won't be to everyone's taste.

Some of us will have encountered at least one or two of Emily Dickinson's poems at some time or other. (I thought enough of them to have included one of hers among those I've committed to memory over the years). However, other than being acquainted with a very few of her writings I knew next to nothing of the life of the poetess. This film performs a very useful function in filling in that gap and, I must say, it achieves it in admirable fashion.

It couldn't have had a more sympathetic director than Terence Davies, who also wrote the screenplay, and this is but the latest in a long line of exceptional films from that source, a history of excellence in film-making that is practically unrivalled among contemporary directors.
Davies' special forte is in directing women in women-orientated stories, and once again, now with Cynthia Nixon (a name I didn't recognise though I see she's done considerable TV work) as Emily, and Jennifer Ehle as her sister, Vinnie, in an almost-as-substantial role, even though the entire focus is always on Emily. In this film with strong female emphasis, Davies almost excels even himself. 

It's the mid-19th century in Amherst, Massachusetts, when we first see a younger Emily (Emma Bell) at boarding school where she's already showing a degree of rebelliousness to her religious peers. On returning home to her family, the lack of religious bearings with which she was supposed to have returned infused, disappoints her father (Keith Carradine) while her mother (Joanna Bacon) maintains a disapproving silence. It's not that Emily goes so far as to voicing any atheistic propensity, which she emphatically does not, but it's her free-thinking spirit that concerns her father more - as well as her brother (Duncan Duff) - especially when she challenges the notion that the 'natural order' of things is that men are to be the leaders in society while women are to remain subservient and either non-controversial or silent What she sees as an injustice to her sex her father and brother see as obstinate and dangerous recklessness. Yet her father, though firm in his opinion, is not totally unsympathetic to Emily herself as his daughter. She finds a kindred 'wayward' spirit in (cousin?) Susan (Jodhi May) who has a witty rejoinder in every reply she gives. Parallel with this, Emily now has had some poems published in newspapers.

There is little 'action' as such in the film. (Nearly all of it actually filmed in Emily Dickinson's real house!) The most 'energetic' moments come when Emily confronts other family members for their behaviour, and her own refusal to conform with social conventions of the time. But the developments take on a serious edge when Emily becomes dramatically aware of her own mortality when she's confronted with severe back pain and starts suffering convulsive fits. Soon after this starts her own mother's health deteriorates, resulting in weepy episodes for her and her sister as well as for herself in her own physical decline.  
All the while she's becoming ever more reclusive, still writing poetry whilst perfectly comfortable in her spinsterhoood as she advances in years.

Some viewers may think that this speechy film may be too poised and calculating, both visually - some ravishingly so - as well as aurally. A lot of the scenes do indeed look like the players are posing for an artist to capture them or they are waiting for the photographer's flash. The camera will pan very slowly around an occupied room revealing only by degrees who's present there. Also, the conversations are very deliberate, each player waiting their turns for the other to deliver his or her line before making a pithy reply to it. Indeed, I was reminded more than once of Oscar Wilde - some of the ripostes are even right up there, almost to his standard. (Deliberately, I wondered? Was this entirely Terence Davies' own work or is there some evidence to show as to how such conversations were carried on?) But generally, I felt it worked a treat. 
I can also commend the use - or non-use - of music. Such as it was it was sensibly limited piano music or songs of the era, none of it being gratingly obtrusive. And instead of music we have the off-screen recitation of several of her verses.

I have to say that it's a terrific performance from Cynthia Nixon, and Jennifer Ehle's is just about as fine in a slightly subsidiary role. These two really carry the film, both deserving to be honoured for their efforts - as well as, of course, the incomparable Terence Davies himself, here at his best.............8.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Film: 'Free Fire'

Such a crying shame that, due to bus being stalled in clogged traffic, I only made it into the cinema a full 20 minutes after it had started - and the film is only an hour and a half long anyway. Probably the first time this has ever happened. Normally I'd have waited for another screening but this was the very final showing in an unaccountably short run of just one week - and for an eagerly anticipated film too. 
I had to see it by hook or by crook as it's the latest work of one of my very favourite of contemporary directors, Ben Wheatley, who's already given us such unusual and memorable films as 'High Rise', 'A Field in England' and, most notably, the highly original and unpredictable 'Sightseers' (one of my 2012 films of the year). Wheatley always has something fresh to say and with a novel approach - and this latest breaks new ground as well. 

I gather from the blurb that the action here takes place in Boston, 1978. The film is set just about entirely in a gloomy warehouse (the photo above doesn't reflect the all-pervading murkiness on screen) -- plenty of shadows to take cover in, which is just what is needed when about ten gangsters, including one young woman (Brie Larson) are arguing heatedly - the point where I came in  - before bullets start flying. Not seeing the start I didn't know who was who, what were the sides, what was the hierarchy within the rivalries and what they were feuding about, though the latter revealed itself to be a briefcase which must have contained a large sum of dosh. But as to the whys and wherefores I didn't have the foggiest. 
Apart from Larson the only other names in the cast which  I recognised were Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Patrick Bergin. Not that it helped much knowing their names as there's much facial hair on more than a few of them and, once the fighting commences in earnest, everyone makes for the cover of darkness. The next hour, apart from one lull, is almost all shooting, which must make it the most extended shoot-out I've seen in any film. I was wondering how many bullets could have been expended in the time - 200? Maybe more.
Even though I wasn't clear on which side was which, the action results in multiple gunshot wounds to just about everybody. (I don't think any of them were killed outright on first shot.) They spend the time dragging themselves along the floor seeking a more propitious place to aim at their adversaries while still offering cover. While bullets are whizzing every second or two there's much yelling, arguing, threats, insults and taunts. One might have expected it to get tiring to watch but I didn't find it so at all, even though, not having been witness to the establishing of the characters, I didn't know where my sympathies ought to lie. Actually it didn't matter all that much. I still liked it. There's very little visual dwelling on the many bleeding wounds on the several bodies, both expired and yet surviving, though hurting bad.

I really must see this film again from the very start. I can't see it preventing me from giving it my approval. As it is my rating must be a reserved, qualified one, and could well have been higher. Even so, it's a still very satisfactory score of...............6.5.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Film: 'Going in Style'

Second film seen in two days relying on getting much of its laughs from the fact that the main characters are of advanced age. Of course they can be, though surely not for that feature alone as that approach quickly loses steam. (I didn't laugh, chortle or, I think, smile even just the once). 

It was news to me to read that this is a re-make of a 1979 George Burns film, of which I'd never heard. This present version makes me curious to see the original.

The plot is simplicity itself. In New York, three retired gents find that their pensions, totally relied upon, have been frozen because of manufacturing relocations to outside America, resulting in very real threats to repossess their homes. They agree on a plan to recover their financial security by robbing that same bank.
Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin are two sides of the crime-intended triumvirate, and Sir Michael Caine, mouthy supporter of Brexit, takes the helm. ("I'd rather be a poor master than a rich servant" the multi-millionaire actor very recently opined, as he stashes his wealth in overseas havens to avoid the taxman.)
Also in the cast is Ann-Margret (whom I haven't seen for ages! - though she doesn't have that much to do here). Then there's Matt Dillon, as well as Christopher Lloyd (whose entire acting career seems to be based on mugging for the camera, and which always annoys me like hell) - and additionally, and very surprisingly for me, English actor-comedian Peter Serafinowicz.

There's very little that's original about this film. It verged on tedium a lot of the time, with that being exacerbated by background pizzicato strings telling you that, despite appearances, this is meant to be a comedy, so laugh, damn you!
Director Zach Breff thinks that a situation of three old geezers being bank robbers will carry him through to make it a droll entertainment without putting in much effort and with an unexceptional script. He's wrong. It's quite dull.

However, I must report that there were occasional shrieks of delight from some of the audience I saw it with, including a lady directly in front of me. God only knows why. Were they laughing out of hope or out of desperation? 

You might find it funny. I only wish I had..........4.5.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Film: 'The Time of Their Lives'

Not quite as displeasing as I'd been dreading, this is a bit of a strange one. It's another of those films which have become more frequent in recent years, one that seems to be directed at an audience of more 'senior' age.
It's being marketed as a bit of a rompish comedy but it's a tad more subtle than that. In fact the 'funny' moments are, at most, only slightly amusing. But I did detect a not unattractive poignancy in it too.

Joan Collins (whom I've not seen in a substantial role on screen since Steven Berkoff's excellent 'Decadence' of 1992) is a faded and recently widowed Hollywood star. Now with her fame and wealth behind her, she's resident in an old people's home somewhere in the south of England. 
On a coach trip to the seaside she meets up with Pauline Collins (no relation), a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage (to that decades-old stalwart of stage and screen, Ronald Pickup), where she is haunted by the death of a son who drowned in infancy. The two Collins abscond from the coach and Collins J. wiles her way to get a free pass for both of them on a ferry to northern France where her recently deceased ex-lover is due to be buried, she being determined to attend the funeral. While Collins J. trades on her former glamour (though hardly anyone remembers even her name) the unglamorous Collins P. goes reluctantly along with her - amid much bickering. 
Then they bump into Franco Nero, that 'phwarr' star of scores of films and for whom I at one time had the hots. (Still looking good, facially, now in his mid-70s, though his body, which we see totally unclad a couple of times, has now gone to flab, pot-bellied and lard-arsed). The Nero character, who lights up Joan C's eyes when she finds out  that he's wealthy, is more interested in Collins P. much to the chagrin of her acting namesake who was hoping he'd appreciate a scintillating, one-time film star more than her near-dowdy, down-at-heels companion.
Btw: Joan Collins is not afraid to be seen without her make-up, (believed now to be approaching 84), most especially in the film's conclusion which gets unfortunately, though predictably, heavily laden with sentiment

There were interesting cross-connections in this film I noticed which others may not. The film also features Joely Richardson, daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and late (gay) director, Tony Richardson. Franco Nero starred in 'Camelot' (1966) on the set of which he met Vanessa R. and they had an affair, marrying some years later. However, in this film, Nero and Joely Richardson don't share any scenes together.
Then there's a scene in a cabaret-restaurant where Joan Collins takes the microphone to warble out the song 'Who Can I Turn To?' written by her one-time husband, Anthony Newley, from his and Leslie Bricusse's musical, 'The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd'. The choice of song must, surely, have been hers.
There may have been further links which I missed, but it made the whole enterprise more interesting to me than it otherwise might have been.

This appears to be director Roger Goldby's only second feature film, most of his work to date having been for TV. He does okay with this. I thought there might have been a few jarringly embarrassing episodes as much of the humour, such as there is any, has the physical foibles of aged people as its easy target. But I hardly ever cringed, even if I did get close to it a couple of times.

A pleasant enough film, but really only one to give a very modest lift to a couple of hours.................5.   

Film; 'Ghost in the Shell'.

I'm more than a little weary of these futuristic comic-book capers - not that they are poorly made, because they aren't, and they are nearly always visually arresting, but because they have nothing at all new to say. We've seen it all before, and multiple times - and we're really supposed to say "Wow! That was a surprise!"? Come off it!

Set in a future Tokyo-esque metropolis looking very like a 'Blade Runner' city, though now with giant hologram advertising, Scarlett Johannson's brain, following extensive injuries to her body, is transplanted into a cyber-body. Juliette Binoche is the one doing the surgical procedures. (Btw: Why is it that in so many futuristic films one still sees smoking routinely carried on in the age-old way - and the Binoche character isn't alone in this. I should have thought that with all the scientific advances made there would have been some alternative way found by then of providing for those who are dependent on a nicotine fix for functioning. Perhaps by having it delivered directly into the blood stream, or injected straight into the brain, some method which doesn't pollute surroundings?)  
Johannson's historical expertise is needed to track down and destroy - would you believe it? - villainous characters intent on world domination. But there's a glitch in the works. The memories of past life that she owns, are they genuine or have they been implanted to expedite the ends of her superiors? How does this affect her behaviour? Will it make her more efficient? Do you give you a fuck? There's noisy weapon-combats galore for those who get a thrill out of such, guaranteed to stop you dozing off. Trying to follow, or even identify, the thread of a story is a waste of mental energy. I doubt if you're intended to. It hardly matters anyway. It's a film for those who need some brainless fodder to chew on, and there are enough of that audience in the world to ensure this film doesn't make a loss.
There's been some interesting sidelong talk about Johannson's main role being given to her as an American, whereas the original 'heroine' figure was Japanese. I doubt if it's worth working up a sweat over, though seeing a Japanese female fighter might have given it a bit more badly-needed interest.

All much-treaded ground, this Rupert Sanders-directed film only just managed to hold my attention, due entirely to its visuals which are rarely short of interesting, and it means you don't have to concentrate on the sound that's blasting out your ear-drums. For that reason I mark it rather higher than I think it deserves, as well as the fact that it clearly meets its requirement to provide the entertainment it promises to those who like this sort of thing, even if it did ultimately fail to 'entertain' this particular viewer............4.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Film: 'The Lost City of Z'

Yet another true story! - but don't about half of today's films make that claim anyway? 

Although it's not my 'type' of film - I was partly expecting it to be somewhere between a serious Indiana Jones and a Rider Haggard yarn - I thought it might have been more thrilling than it turned out. It's more a tale of historical interest than anything else, of a story about which I was unfamiliar

Starting in the early years of last century and going up to 1924. it relates to a Colonel Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) of the British army who hears of the existence of a city with an advanced civilisation in the Amazonian forest, and feels a compulsion to 'discover' it and make it known to the world. He makes three expeditions with all the usual features one might expect - untrustworthy fellow-travellers, confrontations with natives, battles against the elements, we've seen it all before.
The intervals between his voyages are significant and spread over several years - the second intermission covering his re-entry into army life for active service in World War I in which he experiences the Battle of the Somme. Meanwhile his wife (Sienna Miller) bears, in the end, three children, his eldest son accompanying him on his final quest, having by then attained adulthood. His faithful companion on his travels is played by Robert Pattinson.

Photography (especially the jungle scenes) and acting are generally as good as one might expect, though I found it sometimes hard to decipher quite what Sienna Miller was saying in her under-the-breath deliveries.
Additionally, I was a bit dismayed to find that on the soundtrack, Ravel's 'Lever du Jour' from his 'Daphnis et Chloe' was used not once, which might have been acceptable, but no less than four times, which really is pushing it - and not even one of those occasions was a sunrise! That feature struck me as being just lazy.

James Gray directs (and is screenplay writer for) a longish film at 2 hours 20 mins, which I suppose can be justified as there's a lot to pack in, but I was never gripped to the extent of being eager to know what was to happen next. I don't think it'll be lodging in my memory banks for very long.................5.