Wednesday 29 February 2012

RECENTLY RELEASED FILMS seen by me in a cinema during Feb 2012 - with my personal ratings (+ some opinions)

There were only three contenders for my much-coveted 'Raybeard Award for Film of the Month'. It took a little heart-searching (though only a little), finally to present it to:-

This type of 'lotta talk/little action' film is right up my street. It's the kind of entertainment I revel in. The sort of film in which Woody Allen, when at his best, was supreme. Mine is a very personal reaction which others may not share, but I go to the cinema for my own enjoyment, and this delivered it. More on this superlative piece later.
My complete list of February viewings, in order of seeing, and with my own scores (out of 10) were:-

  Man on a Ledge(4)
W./E. (3)
The Deep Blue Sea (8)
Carnage (8)
The Descendants (7.5)
The Woman in Black (5)
Anonymous (5)
The Woman in the Fifth (5.5)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (6)
Young Adult (5.5)

 Further comments (on some):-

W./E.  I used to be a great fan of Madonna's music, and will still listen to her, though have grown increasingly non-responsive to her records over recent years. But it would be unfair to class me as one of those who is now averse to everything she does. I did go and see this with, I think, an open mind. But I wish I'd saved my money.
    Just exactly what was the point of having two stories running in parallel, with, as far as I could make out, hardly anything in common? Or was that precisely the point? I've said elsewhere that it was rather like flicking between two films running simultaneously on two different channels - save for the fact that Wallis Simpson makes the occasional spectral appearance in the 'other' one . Exactly why, I couldn't begin to fathom. I just found the whole thing irritating.
  I appreciate that the royal romance saga has been dramatised many times, especially on T.V., as well as in documentaries, and so to depict it yet again it needs a fresh perspective. (I could even accept Mrs Simpson dancing energetically to the Sex Pistols!) But this idea of going in tandem with a modern romance for no obvious reason totally lost me.
   Having given it a score of just three, I'm tempted to ask myself exactly what are the these three points for?  Well, I suppose the acting was pretty faultless, so let's just leave it at that.

The Deep Blue Sea    I was really looking forward to this, especially since the recent renaissance of the works of gay playwright, Terence Rattigan - and directed by that master of nostalgic atmosphere, Terence ("I do so loathe being gay.....absolutely loathe it!") Davies.
  I did already know the play quite well, and it is an undoubted masterpiece in my books. But theatre plays transferred to the screen are always cut - and Davies really pares this one down. However, what he's lost in dialogue he mostly makes up very well indeed in atmosphere. His slow-moving visual style is masterful and does the work proud. However, my only quibble is that in reducing the dialogue he's also taken a lot of the verbal histrionics out of it, a feature which works well in the theatre, but is more difficult to sustain on screen. So I can see the justification of it, though I did miss what was not there. Maybe those who don't know the play will not have the same problem I had.
     I was slightly less convinced by Rachel Weisz in the lead, even though Davies himself thought she couldn't have been bettered. I think it needed, possibly, an older person, and hence with a more significant age difference between this character and her lover, she knowing that this was probably her final chance for a physical romance, albeit adulterous, and was ever so desperate not to lose the opportunity. Her resignation at accepting her lot seemed to need a bit more conviction. However, it is on the whole, a most engrossing film.

Carnage Not a film for those who do not like to see theatre pieces transferred to screen (Not for you, then, Stephen.) - and its origins are very evident here. But I loved this.
    Based on 'The Gods of Carnage', a play by Yasmina Reza (who also wrote the play 'Art', which I know and love, and have seen on stage), this four-person chamber-piece, taking place, essentially, in one room, I found so very funny and entertaining. It amuses me to see, in the course of an hour and a half, to see the personal masks of courtesy,  manners and decorum, which we all wear in front of strangers, slowly dissolve away as people get to know each other more - the innocent odd word is taken the wrong way, barbs are noticed and reacted to, criticisms rise to the surface, point-scoring occurs, open bickering ensues until it predictably ends up with everyone verbally tearing everyone else apart. In this film there is a very gradual and carefully realised trajectory. Out of the four actors here, Jodie Foster is amazing. She seems a totally different creature at the end of the film, collapsed in on herself, from the cool, reasonable wife at the start. ( I'd be interested to know if the film was shot in the same running order as the play. I can't see how it could have been done otherwise). The other three players were almost as good, showing us four completely different personalities.
     Only one regret. Right at the end (I think they are, in fact, Kate Winslet's final words in the film) she describes someone as a "faggoty wimp." Whenever I hear this 'f' word - or the 'c-sucker' word' - it feels like a little stab. As the original play was written in French I don't know if the word, as written, was 'pede' (sorry, I don't know how to type accents). It would be an obnoxious term which someone like the Winslet character could have used. But it still hurts me a little.
   But that was the sole thing which I didn't like. Otherwise it's a wonderful film - and I'd not only watch it again, I even more want to see it on stage.

The Descendants  I liked this more than I was expecting to. I reckon this is Mr Clooney at his best. It's a good, simple story. Playing a father of two potty-mouthed daughters, I thought the latter would have been a real turn-off for me - and so they were, at first, but their alienation towards him, especially that of the elder daughter, pointed up the defects in his own former laissez-faire attitude, now regretted. The dialogue is as spiky as the plot. My single regret was that it all got a bit emotionally mushy towards at the end - 'family coming together', sort of thing. I think that mass audiences need this to feel a sense of 'closure', as they say these days. I think it would have been braver and better if, instead of going off arm in arm, they'd ended the film by all going bickering off into the sunset. But all in all, a good film.

The Woman in Black I saw the play in the West End shortly after it opened (now been running in London for over 20 years) and after seeing it I dismissed it to my companion as 'juvenile claptrap'. My friend agreed.  How on earth it's still running is unfathomable to me. The theatre play (with just two actors) was based on the Susan Hill book of the same name. Now the film opens it out considerably - but is still not entirely successful for me. 
Daniel Radcliffe, despite his facial stubble, still looks far too young for the lead. All the standard cliches of a haunted-house film are there in the first 30 minutes. But some of the purported 'shocks' only make the audience jump because of a loud thump or crash on the soundtrack, That's not skilful film-making - that's cheating!. However I have to confess that there was one point where I did indeed jump and which elicited screams from the audience, though that was just the once.
      So, not actually bad - but ought to have been better.

Anonymous A film based on the notion that Shakespeare wasn't written by Shakespeare - a hardly startling or original idea, but which I put in the same category as 'Diana was Murdered' i.e. an interesting story, and certainly a better story, but until someone comes up with hard evidence I remain sceptical. As some of the actors putting their household names to the theory by taking part in this handsomely-mounted film - Vanessa Redgrave, Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance - one must take notice of their worthwhile opinions. But I'm not lying awake at night wondering who actually did write Shakespeare - Was it really his contemporary, the Earl of Essex, just one of the several alternative possibilities, which is played out here? (Yawn!)..

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel I usually like ensemble-piece films (Steven Soderbergh, Robert Altman, Woody Allen, of course) and this is one of them. Includes Judi Dench (yet again!), Maggie Smith (yet again!) and Tom Wilkinson (yet again!), the latter playing gay - and quite unconvincingly.  But the film did have a few 'moments'. Unfortunately nearly all of them are in the film's trailer, before it all disappears, in the last half hour or so, in a wash of sentiment.


(for the moment)

Sunday 26 February 2012

The Question.

This is the second instalment of Stephen Chapman's monthly 'Q' feature.

This month's question:-

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

and my answer:-

Buggered if I can think of anything!

- or, to slightly enlarge on that curt response, I can't think of anything that doesn't merit the rejoinder "So why don't you take/haven't you taken the advice?" - to which I have no satisfactory answer.

Friday 24 February 2012

The Uninvited Guest

A few months ago I wrote about my concern that 'Ginger' was trying to move in here with my own two. Although he still visits daily I'm pretty sure now that he does have his own home elsewhere and there's less chance that he'll try to live here permanently.. His home may even be the house next door.
He really is a little devil, getting too big for his pussy-boots. He's far younger (a couple of years?) than Blackso and Noodles, though he's growing rapidly, not least with the help of the extra feeds he's getting from me.
He thinks he's the boss. When the other two are sleeping he'll creep up to them and suddenly give them a wallop, as though testing that they're still alive. Also, he'll jump onto them when they're walking away or if he is the one who's sleeping, as he does quite often in my flat, when one of the others want to pass by him he'll wake up and, without hesitation, give them a smack - just to assert his rule, I suppose. Naturally, I'm not exempted either from his little 'reminders'. I think my two are a bit frightened of him.
Only pity is that he's conspicuously still 'intact' (unlike my two) - and I don't suppose his owners are going to get him doctored now, which could well mean that he'll get more aggressive. But, as at present, all their antics just crease me up with their impromptu non-stop entertainment.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Trying to ignore the 'jumbo' in the those BAFTAs

It's now nearly three weeks since being diagnosed with diabetes (Type 2 - as at now). It's been dominating all my waking hours, colouring every single thing I do - yet I don't want to go on bleating about my 'unfortunate' lot when there are millions on millions of people all over the globe who are not only in a very much worse situation than I am but who'd give almost anything to change places with me. So I spend a significant part of each day counting my blessings and hope that 'Jumbo' will at least go to sleep for a long while, enough for me to start forgetting his presence. I know he can't disappear. Anyway, the thrice-daily tablets to be taken will, unfortunately, remain as a constant reminder.


I've been tempted to bring forward my second-ever film review blog (due early in March) to pre-empt being influenced by the Oscar awards - not that it will, as I've already got short notes of what I'm going to say on the seven films I've seen so far this month. So I'll leave it for a couple of weeks more.

But just a couple of comments on the BAFTAs - I was really disappointed that 'Hugo' didn't win any major awards, being so remarkable a film - as also, but to a lesser extent,  'The Descendants'. But I was reasonably happy about the awards to Messrs Dujardin and Streep, though I didn't think the award to Christopher Plummer was anything more than "Better give him an award before he croaks!" - and yet again here we have a straight man playing a gay guy. (How very brave of him!) Not that he was bad - he certainly wasn't. I just didn't think his performance, or indeed the role, was anything exceptional.
And I do now regret not seeing 'The Help' when I'd had the chance. I was put off by more than one review who found its attitude towards what used to be called 'black people' insufferably condescending. If I do get the opportunity again, which I hope I do, I'll certainly make the effort to see it.

Monday 6 February 2012

Question - "Is Madge infallible?"

On the IMDb site (where anyone can rate and write a review of any film) as at today, 38% of 1106 people have given Madonna's first film as director, 'W.E.', a perfect 10/10 as a score, while 28% have given it the minimum rating of 1/10.
One would think that the in-between possible scores would be gradually graded, with increasing percentages approaching each end. But no - only one of the intermediate percentages is over 5% of total votes, and that only very slightly. So, opinions seem to be largely polarised.
I may be doing some an injustice but I'm assuming that a significant proportion of those who gave this film a max score (presumably because for them it's absolutely perfect in every possible way) opine that the lady just cannot do anything wrong and is beyond criticism. Dare I even ask if some were already prepared to give the film the maximum rating of "films-just cannot-get-any-better-than-this!" even before they'd seen it?
Having now viewed 'W.E.' myself, I find it hardly credible that anyone can think this film completely faultless - but, to be honest, I have never given any film a '10' - and those I've seen to which I've given even a just less-than-perfect score of '9' can be numbered on the fingers of one hand.
However, I cannot make a corresponding assumption that those who have scored it a measly 1/10 have such an aversion to La Ciccone that they think of her as simply unable to put a foot right, otherwise they would not have forked out good money to see this film in the first place. I therefore posit that those who scored it at minimum would tend to be more open-minded and had been prepared to give the film the benefit of the doubt. Is my logic at fault?

If you want to know what my own score was (you already know it wasn't a '10') you'll have to wait for the second instalment of my new monthly film review blog which will next appear shortly after the end of the month .
Oh, and btw, I used to be a totally keen Madonna fan, from the beginning ('Holiday' and 'Like A Virgin') up to and including the 1998 'Ray of Light' album. Since then, must admit that my enthusiasm, though still there to some degree, is not as fevered as it once was - and anyway, I'm gradually losing touch and sympathy with pop music anyway as I advance in years.

But am I eagerly awaiting the next Madonna-directed film? Ah, that would be telling!

Thursday 2 February 2012

Here it comes at last - 'Ray's Report on Recently Released Films' - seen Jan 2012

The 'Raybeard' award for 'Film of the Month' goes to.................. 'HUGO' - with a score of 8/10.
Congratulations to all concerned - but especially to Mr S.
Well done, Sir!

Other contenders, in datal order of viewing were:-

Mission Impossible: Ghost protocol  (7)  
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows  (5)
The Artist  (7)
The Iron Lady  (7.5)
Shame  (6.5) 
Coriolanus (7)
J.Edgar (5)
Haywire (6)

Now an additional word or two on some of them:-

'THE ARTIST' - very original (at least for the 21st century!), brilliantly executed though the storyline rather thin and predictable. But overall, it's definitely a remarkable and memorable film.

'THE IRON LADY' - nothing at all to complain about in Ms Streep (voice, especially, uncannily accurate). If anyone wants to see it as some sort of true account of the times they'll be misled. Very broad brush-strokes, but so what? - it's a film for entertainment, not a documentary!  Apart from a brief period of the Falklands victory celebrations it looked as if the entire country was in the grip of non-stop anti-Thatcher riots.This was actually far from the case. She did, after all, win three successive General Elections  (despite my own efforts in voting against her and her party in not only these three but every single local and European election during her terms!) Slightly disappointed that so much time was devoted to Mrs T in her present state of dotage - and could have done with a tad more political cut-and-thrust in her life as a politician, but what we got was more than admirable. A fine achievement of a film.

'CORIOLANUS' - I'm probably one of not many who know the play reasonably well, having read it at least a dozen times, though never seen it on stage.  The updated setting worked effectively and the savage but necessary cutting of the Bard's text (by well more than half) was judiciously done, clarifying and making more sense of the story.  Both Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler (the latter looking as hot as he ever has) play very well. Although it's true that Vanessa Redgrave is a blisteringly dominating presence whenever on screen (you just can't take your eyes of her!) I do wish that she, of all people, could have been more audibly articulate. There were times when she seemed to be mouthing the words with no sound coming out at all. We had to be lip-readers! Overall, though, a good, high recommendation.

'J. EDGAR' - It saddens me to say that a Clint Eastwood film could have been better, but I didn't think there was anything really special about this one. On specifics, although Leo d/C can be a good actor, I think he was miscast in this film. He doesn't have enough gravitas to carry off the role of what was, essentially, a megalomaniac monster. (More 'oomph' needed! Broderick Crawford in the 1977 film 'The Private Files of J.Edgar Hoover' did have the required heft and physical bulk.) Also, the prosthetics covering his natural baby-looking face in order to present us with the aged Hoover, were not that successful - actually distracting, in fact. But they were as nothing compared to those given to the Clyde Tolson character, who looked positively embalmed! Most disturbing. Also, I find it difficult to see Judi Dench popping up nowadays all over the place in widely differing roles. She always gives a very good performance, but I can't now see her acting without seeing her more as an actress playing a role. (I'm also afraid of seeing the marvellous Helen Mirren going the same way.)

'HAYWIRE' - reasonable but also forgettable. By the time it got round to the 'this explains all what's gone before' final few minutes I didn't really care and couldn't be bothered with following it. Having said that, it did have its share of quite entertaining 'moments'. 

And a final word on this month's winner, 'HUGO'. Even though I only saw it in the 2-D version I could see that it was something special within the first minute or so. I even forgave the cliched accordion on the soundtrack (and which we actually glimpse) - Hint: This is Paris, FRANCE! Ooh La la!
The visual style did make me think of another exceptional film of recent years, the 'genuinely' French film 'Amelie' , which, I loved, though I'm aware that it has its detractors. But 'Hugo' was a thrill from start to finish, with very fine acting throughout, including Sacha Baron-Cohen who, after his memorable turn in 'Sweeney Todd', continues to surprise me with his versatility. I don't expect to see many more films this year as good as 'Hugo' - and will be lucky to see one significantly better. A jolly good film - and from me (who has never given a perfect 10 to any film) a score of 8/10 is an accolade indeed.

Till my report on February's films, then - THAT'S ALL FOLKS!


Wednesday 1 February 2012

Devastated by news 16 hours ago - but been given a reprieve

It wasn't so much being designated as diabetic yesterday morning. A nuisance, yes, but I can live with it as being one of those things about getting older. It was the telephone call at 6 p.m. from my doctor:-

"I'm afraid that on testing the (urine) specimen you brought in today, it's showing something I'd rather not have found. We've detected 'ketones', and if it's confirmed it'll mean you having to go into hospital. But it could be a one-off."

I was knocked backwards. I've never ever been in hospital once in my entire life, and it's been a lifelong dread. My worst nightmare. Speechless.
He wanted me to come in next day (today) as early as possible (it needed to be dealt with urgently) taking another specimen for examination.

I rang my sister with the news, the first and closest person in the world I can turn to immediately. Unfortunately, like my two surviving brothers, she lives 300 miles away. When I told her, it didn't help for me to have broken down straight away. She was as shocked as I was, offering comfort and consolation - as well as prayers (she's very Catholic-religious), even saying that she'd come down here if I really wanted. There's no way I can have that. She is now 74, her husband, 79, and they've got not only their own health issues but a very large extended family, each parent, child and grandchild having its own problems. (My brother-in-law is very supportive too, and far more level-headed in moments of family crisis than any of the rest of us).

What upset me at least as much as going into hospital was what was to happen to my dear pussy-cats. I don't know a single soul in the area who could take care of them, so the only thing would be the cattery - with those outside kennels (albeit 'heated', as they say) under the sharp frosts we are now getting every night. And for how long? Days? Weeks? Perhaps months? Would I ever even see them again?
My younger brother rang me after my sister had given him the news, generously offering all the money I needed for the cattery or anything else. I was quite overwhelmed by his offer, though I wasn't too surprised as generosity has always been his style.

Anyway, after a night which was largely given over to lying awake, I did get some comfort in a dream which saw me in Paris (of all places) having this second test done by a doctor (not my own) and who came out with a negative result, after which I found myself air-gulping deeply before I could get any words of relief out.

My appointment this morning was at 7.50. I'd got out of bed at 4.45, sitting silently, most of the time, just waiting for the hour to arrive.
I don't recall walking the 20 minutes to the surgery. Must have looked like a zombie - mind in another world.
When my name was called, I went in like an automoton, sat down - and burst into tears. Not a pretty sight.
He asked if I was upset at my being diagnosed as diabetic. I told him that it wasn't so much that, it was the thought of going into hospital for my first time ever - and that I have so much to sort out first. (I didn't mention the cats.) He tried to reassure me on the lines of "Let's not talk about that until we've checked this specimen." He took the bottle, went to the basin, put something into it and then a suspenseful minute (which seemed more like an hour) as we waited in silence, me still trying to stifle my sobs. Then he announced "Ah, you're okay. You don't have 'ketones'". I think he expected me to jump for joy as he repeated it. "That's what you wanted to hear, wasn't it? YOU DO NOT HAVE KETONES!". I suppose I ought to have expressed some gratitude but my emotions had been so much through the wringer, I couldn't turn them around just like that. At first I  couldn't absorb what he was saying, but the message gradually seeped in.
     He told me that, given that I'm negative on the test, the situation was now the same as it had been yesterday morning - start taking the new diabetes medication, see the diabetes nurse in 2 weeks and see him again in 4 weeks. I muttered a thanks, trying to smile through the drying tears, and walked back slowly - not with a spring in my step, but the relief at the news was getting through to my addled mind at last.

It's now 2 hours since I returned. I rang my sister and my brother, who were both appropriately relieved  - and my two pussy cats are sleeping just a few feet away from me now, entirely oblivious of the emotional shake-up I've just been through.

    So that's the position, my friends.

I'm feeling a bit too raw to do the promised film-review blog right now. I may come back to post it later today, but I think it's more likely to be tomorrow.

Btw: I found out from the internet that 'ketones' are produced when the body can't use energy from food-intake but has to use the body's own fats for its energy supply. It seems I'm not at that stage - yet.