Sunday, 14 October 2018

I've reached half a gross!

Yes, this is where I'm at today (15th) - and congratulations (commiserations?) to RTG with whom I share this date (anniversary only, as he is by a significant margin the younger one). I'll later be raising and downing a swig or two of peach-flavoured, fizzy mineral water as celebration to the both of us, but specifically in hope for the alleviation of RTG's recent troubling health issues. If sometimes wishing my own complaints were less, it's reading about the trials of others which throws into relief the fact that mine could be so much worse, so got to be grateful for that, at least. 

Here's a photo from three weeks ago when I'd just returned from having had a haircut, there being a much greater quantity of chin-hair than that on top:-

And here's my two co-residents, Patchie (12 years old) and Blackso (actually Blackso II), age and owner unknown to me. though he's clearly an adult. He seems to have decided to move in, sleeping and taking his eats here - and, much to Patchie's evident displeasure, has established himself as the dominant one, having taken over the kitchen where Patchie will now no longer go. Unfortunately Blackso's been drinking a lot of water daily, a worrying sign.

I'll give them both a pat and gentle strokes from all you many cat-lovers out there.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Film: 'The Wife'

I'd been looking forward to this enormously - and wasn't let down in the least. It's a searing piece of family melodrama, played to perfection by Jonathan Pryce and Glenn Close (whose film this really is, as the title infers) as a long-married couple, and Max Irons (son of Jeremy I.) playing their son - with Christian Slater as a smarmy reporter who captures a character somewhere midway between plain annoying and obnoxious.

It's set almost entirely in Stockholm in a plush hotel where Pryce, a successful author, is there with his wife and son to collect his newly awarded Nobel Prize for Literature. In a brief prologue to their journey to Sweden, set in their Connecticut home in 1992, we see Pryce getting the phone call telling him of his award, with Close joining in his celebratory mood. However, there's the occasional subtle look on her face hinting that there's something flickering underneath her going along with his jubilant mood. Their son is also an aspiring writer, though he feels that, unlike his mother, his father is holding back on the effusive praise he'd been looking for. All the submerged feelings come out in the ensuing days. Flashbacks to the older couple's early days of acquaintanceship and relationship, culminating in their marriage are depicted (their younger selves played by Harry Lloyd and Annie Stark).  
As pent-up truths and repressed feelings come to the surface in Sweden, blazing rows ensue between Close and Pryce as well as a major confrontation with the son - such anger and venom reminding me strongly of Burton and Taylor in 'Who's Afraid.....', though in the latters' case it's been said that they were just playing out the hideous vituperation which regularly came between them in real life (so if that was true, they didn't have much acting to do!?)  In the case of Close and Pryce, though, they really have to go for it hammer and tongs, and that they most certainly do!

If Jonathan Pryce is good (which he definitely is) Glenn Close is an absolute marvel - easily one of her best ever performances on screen, if not the best. She can capture the most nuanced change of mood in her features without saying a word, and it's a treat to watch. She's definitely one of my very favourite of the more 'mature' actresses currently around.

Director is Swede Bjorn Runge, who creates a practically flawless piece within a manageable slightly over 90 mins, based on book by Meg Walitzer and screenplay by Jane Anderson. 

If you like the idea of a small-scale, family drama with home truths exploding, their having been kept a lid on for decades, I cannot recommend this highly enough - and if you're as much a fan of Glenn Close as I am, well, that ought to clinch it. Bliss!...............8

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Film: 'A Star is Born'

Bradley Cooper had considerable guts and nerve to take on such an iconic and multi-time filmed story as this, not only as his directing debut but to play the more onerous of the star parts - novice-to-film Lady Gaga taking the co-star role. And guess what? He pulls it off with some distinction. Regret to say, however, that if one is familiar with all or just one of the three previous versions (1937, 1954 with Judy Garland, and 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson) one already knows that there isn't much scope for any startling imaginative variation from the story of two intertwining lives, her career rising to super-stardom while his tanks under the influence (in this film) of both drugs and alcohol.

At the start of  the film, successful singer Cooper, already heavily into drugs and booze, happens to wander into a drag bar where small-time, local turn, played by Lady Gaga, impresses him with her rendition of 'La Vie en Rose'. For him it's pretty well love at first sight, while she's more circumspect, especially attracting the attentions of someone so famous, but she goes along with his not-so-furtive flirt until at a major music festival he coaxes her onstage to perform a song with him. From then on the die is cast and it's upwards for her, descent for him. 
The ever-reliable Sam Elliott (what a voice!) plays Cooper's character's hovering-in-the-background, elder brother, frequently exasperated at his sibling's antics and failed struggles with his inner demons, but despite all, still doggedly faithful.

Most of the songs - and all the new ones - were especially written by Lady Gaga with Lucas (son of Willie) Nelson - with some by Mr Cooper too (I've just heard from the radio). They may well require repeated hearing as for me, now just two hours later, I can't recall a single one of them. 

With regards to acting, Lady Gaga was remarkable, displaying a wide spectrum of moods and emotions in her debut role, all convincing - and Cooper as good as he's ever been, possibly his best ever in his grungy character. How he made such a good job of directing the whole enterprise at the same time is itself extraordinary.

I think the film will work best of all with those who don't know much about the story - and by now this could well be the majority of cinema-goers. Speaking for myself, although of course details varied from previous incarnations, the essential story is predictable, there being no notable material differences in the two characters'  trajectories as previously portrayed, with the result that I found it all a bit tiring (two and quarter hours) to get to the destination which I knew, in a general sort of way, was coming. 

This vehicle is sure to attract a number of Oscar nominations and will almost certainly pick up some strategic ones. My single regret as previously stated, was the feeling, details aside, of having seen it all before - which many of us will have done - and inwardly wishing Cooper had chosen something original for his directing debut. Nevertheless, what he does give us is a film of some significance all round..................7.

( IMDB.........8.6 / Rott. Toms................8.1 )

Monday, 1 October 2018

Film: 'Black '47'

I so did not want to see this. From the trailer it looked ultra-bleak and violent, confirmed by the reviews - and so it turned out to be. On my way to the cinema, not being in the mood for anything heavy, I'd thought of walking straight past and returning home. However, ultimately a sense of duty prevailed, so in I went.

The title refers to the year 1847 when Protestant Britain occupied and lorded over fiercely Catholic Eire, and the onset of famine was ravaging that island. (Incidentally, in my day it was called 'The Great Potato Famine' but the 'p' word now seems to have been expunged - perhaps to take out any mockery which could belittle the dire fate of the literally millions who starved to death when potato crops were blighted and failed in successive years.)

A visual feature of this grim film is that, appropriately, nearly all the colours have been washed out of it - though most startlingly not the redcoats of the British occupying army. 

Australian James Frecheville plays a deserter from the British army returning home to find that his entire family has been killed or let die by the unfeeling landlord and his minions, and he goes on a revenge mission to mete out summary justice to those responsible, as well as anyone who gets in his way, occupying army included. Meanwhile, a disgraced soldier (Hugo Weaving) with tracking skills and on a charge which may get him executed, is given the chance to redeem himself by assisting in the chase to find this killer. 
Stephen Rea is roped in as guide and Jim Broadbent makes a late appearance as the loathsome and arrogant British government representative supremo.

There are a number of subtitled scenes in the film (not very long, any of them) where Erse, or Irish Gaelic, is spoken.

We've seen the basic plot of this film multiple times before, most notably in Westerns - with a seriously wronged character in an 'avenging angel' role - and there's little that's original about this one apart from its location and political backdrop.
The violent scenes, of which there are quite a few, are all really too short to register as deeply troubling - and one can easily see when they are coming. 

Filmed in Co. Galway, director Lance Daly (who also co-wrote the story) has delivered quite an effective piece, by no means overlong at 94 minutes. But overall it may well appeal more to those who haven't seen this much-used plot up to now. I have to say, however, that if you're looking for an uplifting experience you won't find much to laugh at, or even give a glimmering smile at, here..................6.

(IMDb...............7.1 / Rott. Toms...............6.8 )


Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Film: 'A Simple Favo(u)r'

This is more like it! It's a cracker!
I've a keen liking for quirky films and this is full of quirks, especially in the opening scenes as well as those concluding. In between it gets quite serious-strange and unsettling. 

Filmed in Ontario (standing in for U.S.A. - I think), Anna Kendrick is a widowed mum of a six-year old son who meets the stuck-up, bristling with self-assuredness, mother (Blake Lively) of another boy in the same class, who invites her to her home where she meets the husband (Henry Golding), a one-hit-wonder writer.  The two women, through their sons' close friendship, themselves form an attachment which quickly embraces an intimacy - at least verbally - exchanging secrets and confidentialities. Then, out of the blue, while Kendrick is waiting for Lively to collect her son after school, she vanishes. Finding out that she's gone to Miami "for a few days" which her husband apparently didn't know about, though he gives the impression that she's done similar disappearing tricks before with no warning. 
To say much more is difficult as it would spoil the many twists and turns (twists within twists), quite enough to leave one giddy - yet totally intrigued as to what actually is going on and how it's going to develop.

The script is sharp and smart throughout, the story inventive - well, apart from one moment when someone 'known' to be dead re-appears, the explanation for which harks back to those films of old when what seems impossible is too neatly disposed of by resorting to an unlikely reveal which we hadn't known until then. But this happens halfway through the film and once accepted, the film carries on with its maze of revelations, so it didn't worry me too much.

The extended 'solution' scenes at the end, which attempt to tie up the loose ends, I must confess I couldn't follow entirely. However, it didn't matter as the theatricality of the situation the characters find themselves in carries it all through to a most satisfying climax.

Director Paul Feig, probably best known for the entertaining 'Bridesmaids' (2011), does sterling work with this tale. for which he surely owes a great debt of gratitude to Jessica Sharzer for the highly pointed screenplay, based on novel by Darcey Bell.  

I was starting to wonder when I would see another good, 'quality' film again. Why, it's been a full two weeks! Now this one comes along and I must say it fitted the bill very nicely, thank you.............7.5.

(IMDb............7.2 / Rott. Toms..........7.0 )


Monday, 24 September 2018

Film: 'The Little Stranger'

Lawks, but I found this a tedious affair! A brooding 1948 tale set in an English rural manor house visited by Domhnall Gleeson as doctor, an ancestral residence too big by far for a mother (Charlotte Rampling) with two adult children (Ruth Wilson and Will Poulter) plus maidservant, all against a portentously unyielding atmosphere with a 'mystery' at its heart which for me was too diffuse to be as gripping as it was clearly intended to be. Throw in a few unpleasantly violent deaths and sporadic effects of a haunting and I came out bewildered in a 'what-was-all-that-about?' fashion, and I honestly don't care to give it much further thought. 
Not tense enough to be 'suspenseful', nor grisly enough to be true 'horror', I assume it goes in the category of 'psychological drama'.

Gleeson, apart from 'losing it' in one short scene, plays the entire drama virtually on the one, unflappable note. Charlotte Rampling is magisterially matriarchal in the way she can always be relied on to deliver. Poulson as the disfigured and injured ex-RAF young veteran is, understandably, humourlessly intense. But Ruth Wilson is the stand-out cast member in the only role here that is full of light and shade. and she does it all credibly well. 

The film is based on one of Sarah Waters' six novels to date, of which I have so far read only the one, 'Fingersmith', and have to say I was impressed with that. Apparently the film of 'The Little Stranger' follows the book quite closely and despite my reservations regarding the film I should like to read it as I'd expect it to get inside the minds of the characters more successfully on the printed page than in this visual version.

Director Lenny Abrahamson, probably best known for 'Room', (2015) draws perfectly capable performances from his cast, however I could have done with less mood-setting music on the soundtrack. 

The film has been generally quite well received. For me it lacked that extra ingredient to make it recommendable, and hence rather a disappointment.................5.

(IMDb.............6.0 / Rott. Tomes..........6.4 )

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Day trip to Whitby

Week before last I visited my sister who lives on the north-east English (Yorkshire) coast, from whence I myself hail. I took the opportunity to re-visit Whitby, having been there around a dozen times before, mainly in my youth, the last time being about 10 years ago.
It's only about 20 miles from where she lives, an 80-minute bus ride on the coast road. 

Whitby, a former thriving fishing port, is a place whose international fame and reputation far belies its small size (pop. less than 14,000) - and is best known for its Abbey ruins as well as the inspiration for Bram Stoker's 'Count Dracula', where Stoker himself was impressed after staying at one of its hotels in 1890.
Whitby 'jet' (or lignite), used as jewellery, is also well known. 
It's a popular resort for the British, and in the Summer months I should imagine that its population swells to two or three times that of its residents with the number of visitors it attracts.  

 In the following photo you may just be able to make out the Abbey at the summit of the hill:-
There are 199 steps leading up to the cliff top where the Abbey ruins are located (wheeze.....puff.....gasp.....):-

There is no lift alternative. The only assistance is provided by a railing to hold. There are no seats or benches for resting. Every 20 steps or so there's a broader step, about three times the breadth of others, called a 'coffin stop' where monks and others used to be able to set down the body of the deceased on the way to requiem mass in the abbey and burial, in order to take a breather in their arduous, burdensome climb. 

The Abbey of St Hilda's was, in effect, a double monastery and was established in the year 657 C.E., flourishing with strategic status and position in medieval Christianity until it was sacked and shut down in the 16th century by Henry VIII as part of his dissolution of all the English monasteries, taking the considerable valuables for himself and pouring the gains into the country's revenues.
In the year 664 the Synod of Whitby, an international convocation, had decided on how to determine the date of Easter throughout Christianity (an unwieldy formula which we've been lumbered with ever since), as well as ruling that the Roman-styled tonsure should be adopted for monks universally.  

Goodbye to a highly interesting, most historic and attractive, little town:-