Saturday 28 July 2012

Olympics opening ceremony - random morning-after thoughts

Even before the very start I was already a bit irritated at the late hour for which it was programmed. (Was it really because of the fireworks, or did the sponsors want it shown at a time more suitable for North American viewers?) Within minutes of its commencement I was thinking "Oh dear, this isn't working". I was aware of the general thrust of the history concept but if I wasn't sure exactly what was supposed to be going on, what was the rest of the world supposed to think?" This went on for about half an hour before I  began to be drawn in.
The consecutive set pieces seemed to be choreographed more with the stadium spectators in mind than for TV, and there was nothing wrong with that - though witness the close-in shots of individuals or groups acting in manners which looked distinctly odd, which in a 'big picture' would have made more sense.
Kenneth Branagh's turn as a Brunel-like figure badly misfired, but the forging of the rings was quite breathtaking - and a number of the other ideas were alternately quaint, humorous and intriguing. (All those Mary Poppins!)
    Mr Bean's appearance was fine - but too much of him.
James Bond was great, if inevitable - and, of course, the 'piece de resistance' of the entire evening was Her Maj participating in a spoof. Right up to its actual happening it would have been regarded as unthinkable and is, rightly, much talked about this morning. Certainly the biggest surprise of the night.
   Arctic Monkeys & Dizzee Rascal? Well, someone must be fans of theirs!
Evelyn Glennie making her much valued percussive contribution. Macca not in best voice, but look at his age - even older than I am! His attempts to get everyone singing along to the 'Na na nas' at end of 'Hey Jude' seemed to get indifferent results, though it may have sounded better in the stadium.
   The paean to the National Health Service was a brilliant piece of cheek, if quaintly idealised (as was the brief slotting in of that lesbian kiss). Can't help imagining the outraged faces, disgust and shocks of horror in some non-British commercial concerns, and overseas capitalists generally, at this 'disgraceful' and 'blatant advertisement for Socialism'. Well, tough titty to them!
     My eyes started welling up right towards the end when I saw who was comprising the team carrying the Olympic flag. Lovely choices!
     Speeches at end somewhat too long. If only they'd copied what the Queen (looking rather uninterested throughout, even a bit grumpy) was going to do, and read out from a small scrap of paper.

I eventually retired over three hours later than my usual bed-time but was glad that I'd stayed up. It was something to be experienced live.
   Full marks for imagination, for daring to show some irreverence in what has become a rather starchy, po-faced and formulaic event, albeit previously always with some jaw-dropping, though predictable, demonstrations of mass synchronicity. I liked the 'rough-round-the-edges' approach - with even some roughness at the heart!

A fine start to proceedings. Very encouraging indeed. Now let the real action begin!

Friday 27 July 2012

Recent film release: 'The Dark Knight Rises'.

(NOTE: The following contains 'spoilers'!)

I'd been expecting to find this more enjoyable than  'Spider-Man'. Sadly, it was not thus - by quite a margin.

So what can be said that hasn't already been stated?
I'd have appreciated subtitles. Nearly all the film was very loud, unnecessarily so, often masking the dialogue which, considering that the story-line was so convoluted, ought to have been regarded as important to put over clearly.
When you know a film is going to be over two and a half hours long one hopes that one will be grabbed by something very special and that these 'rabbits' continue to be pulled out, giving an air of expectation - and fun, a feature of which this film was devoid.
The over-earnestness in attempting to rationalise the characters' motivations I found self-defeating and a waste of time as, frankly, I just couldn't have cared. 
It would be difficult to imagine anything that is as far removed from the original spirit of the Batman comics, (which I recall from the 1950s), as this is. It's also the bleakest of all the films since the character appeared through the 1989 Michael Keaton portrayal, which itself was, for me, only worth seeing for Jack Nicholson's magnificently nasty mischief-maker of a Joker.
    Trying hard not to repeat what others have said I must also point out the relationship between Bruce Wain and Alfred, who has here completely shed all the gentlemanly deference of the original wise, old background figure who knows when to keep his mouth shut. Michael Caine, jarring in his unrestrained cockney, has now become quasi-patriarch, almost a godfather! Wain was perfectly correct in shutting this insufferably uppity butler out of his life.
I found it a shame that Tom Hardy (exceptional a few years back in the scary titular lead of 'Bronson') had to appear permanently masked so that he was only able to act with muffled voice, some gymnastics and with bone-shattering blows, kicks and grips.
One thing in the film which I did like was Marion Cotillard who convinced me completely in her two-faced role - though one, of course, suspected that her 'good' side was just too good to be true. But she really is a fine actress.
My general dissatisfaction about the film was not helped at all by a scene very near the end where a nuclear explosion takes place miles out to sea and we are shown, as we always are, the sound of it reaching the witnesses at precisely the same moment as the sight of the explosion when it really ought to have been a good half-minute later or more. Oh well - a minor quibble perhaps, but it set the seal on my thumbs-down verdict.

When I see that on the IMDb site nearly 60% of people scoring this film gave it a perfect 10 (a rating I've yet to give to any film), then I've got to recognise that I'm so far removed from the target audience that my own views are of little consequence.
Undaunted, however, and repeating a reminder that my own score reflects the degree of enjoyment I personally derived from the film rather than a judgment on whether it was efficiently made in all its aspects, I award 'The Dark Knight Rises' a.........3/10.

Monday 23 July 2012

Recent film release: 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

At the outset I ought to say that in order to catch this film at under half the usual admission price I saw it at a morning showing, in 2D, and on a less-than-large cinema screen. Clearly, then, it wouldn't have the visual 'punch' that it was intended to have. But as I'm not one easily swayed by effects which are essentially only just so much froth, it did enable me to view the film the better for precisely what it was - at least that's what I want to think.
   I wasn't more than moderately entertained - though, on the other hand, never really bored. What I thought there was a shortage of was humour, only occurring in two short scenes, the second such, very brief. To carry off comic-book heroes successfully, I think there has to be a large tongue-in-cheek element. When it takes itself too seriously it all becomes rather ponderous.

Andrew Garfield was at least adequate for the part. Everyone says he makes a better go of the portrayal than Tobey Maguire did, and I wouldn't disagree. Pity that the estimable Martin Sheen, rarely seen on the cinema screen now, should have his character disposed of so early in the film. But Sally Field as his widow was good - as was Rhys Ifans. Shame also that the film seemed to degenerate into a Spiderman v Godzilla-type monster for so much of the final part, with all the expected technical effects thrown at the screen, to which I can only say "So what?".
   Btw: Was it just me or did I miss it? Was a major strand of the plot left unresolved - or was that being kept back for the next instalment? Maybe my attention wavered at a critical moment.

All in all, not too bad, but not really a film to lodge long in the memory.

So, with that heavily-qualified endorsement, I award this Spider-Man a score of................5/10.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Recent film release: 'Killer Joe'

Unlike my previous posting for a film which I wasn't too sure about, no such thoughts here. I can categorise this one easily. I really liked this film, which was a pleasant surprise as I'd gone somewhat apprehensively, following the qualified reviews I'd seen.
William Friedkin has certainly made some landmark films in his long career ('The Exorcist', 'The French Connection', 'Cruising') and though this one is unlikely to lodge as permanently in the memory as some of them it's in no way a mean achievement.
It's the second film in a row I've seen featuring Matthew McConaughey in a lead role, here playing a corrupt cop, scarily unhinged and violent, who's called on to perform a contract killing so that the family can claim inheritance moneys. The whole scheme unravels in suspicions and deceits culminating in a particularly bloody, extended final scene - but on the way the tensions are punctuated by some amusing, deadpan one-liners delivered in sardonic style. The film retained my interest throughout its 100 minutes.
(I could, however, have done without the several scenes featuring a barking dog, leashed up in pouring rain. Even though no harm comes to it, I was all the time prepared to wince and have to look away.)
   So, being one of my infrequent recommendations, I award it...........7.5/10.

Monday 16 July 2012

Recent film release: 'Magic Mike'

Feel very ambiguous about this film. Truth to tell, I suppose I only give it the benefit of the doubt because it's a Soderbergh film, whose previous efforts I've usually liked, or even liked a lot - otherwise I might have branded this one as 'DISlikeable'.
Revolving around a male-stripper (for women) group which takes on a new....erm.... member, the latter starting out as a reluctant participant, though soon finding his stride, and thus (predictably) shifting the group's own internal dynamics - and all presided over by the surprisingly impressive Matthew McConaughey, strutting about like a know-it-all peacock.
Several of the group's striptease acts are shown, all skilfully choreographed - and with them having bodies to die for - though I must mention that in none are their pouches/thongs finally removed. Even aside from that they are not exactly The Village People, being aggressively hetero, though the unacknowledged hint of homo-eroticism wouldn't escape most people.
  I found the film largely a vacuous experience while watching it, not being able to sympathise with any of the characters - and yet, this morning after, certain scenes are still buzzing around the brain. Perhaps I'll have to wait for the memory to settle down.
                In the meantime, reflecting my ambivalent feelings, I award it a score of - 5/10.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Recent film release: 'Woody Allen: A Documentary'

I imagine that very few of those who do not count themselves as Allen aficianados will fork out money to see this. It's practically a hagiography, long at 2 hours, and less a documentary than a succession of talking heads -  Diane Keaton, Martin Scorsese and Allen's own sister, as well as Woody Allen himself, being among the most prominent - all interspersed with brief excerpts (some very brief)  from about half the films he has directed. It told me very little that I didn't already know. In fact I can't think of a single thing right now. And yet..........I really liked it a lot!
     The acrimonious split with Mia Farrow is acknowledged with more than just a passing nod, when I was expecting it to be ignored or just glossed over. Pity that Farrow herself wasn't willing to talk about her working experiences with him when several of his films which she starred in rank among his very best.
   I shouldn't think that people who don't care for his films will be as absorbed as I was. I've always been a very enthusiastic fan, having seen nearly every single one of  the 40+ films he's directed on the cinema screen when they were first released. His films really are that much of a big deal for me. (The sole one which, so far, has got away was the 2002 'Hollywood Ending' - and I've only ever seen the 2006 'Scoop' on TV.)
I'm willing to accept that his films vary in quality, but even at their worst (at least according to critics and other viewers) I've never found a single one of them at all boring - and, furthermore, there isn't one which I wouldn't watch again - several of them time after time. Apart from the very early 'slapstick'-type films, they are all very 'wordy'. Dialogue is paramount. One hardly looks to Allen for 'action', but it's the high-quality, highly-charged - and often funny - conversation which I've come to expect from him and he very nearly always delivers.

So, the score from this particularWoody Allen admirer? - at least 7.5/10 (even going on 7.75!)

Saturday 7 July 2012

Return to 'normality'

Got back yesterday from my annual few days away to visit my sister and her hubby, with whom I stayed - plus a visit to my elder surviving bro and his wifey. Also took in funeral (by fortuitous timing) of my late friend who was my mental sparring partner and stimulus of the last 52 years.
   Funeral was okay as funerals go. Refreshingly, a humanist one, with the crematorium chapel cross having been removed. About 80 people there, but I'd only known his brother (younger by 3 years) - and his wife whom I'd only met twice before, the last time being 35 years ago. Shocked by how much she'd visibly aged. She was quite a beauty when I'd briefly known her, but now she has completely grey hair and is already walking with a pronounced stoop, although she's several years younger than I am. Sad.
   Not knowing anyone outside family I sat alone on bench at back but was pleasantly surprised to hear my name being one of only two mentioned in the address other than immediate family. (Apart from Mary and his brother no one else would have known who I was). Paul leaves two sons, 25 and 30, whom I'd never seen before. Both as yet unmarried but he confided to me that he thinks the younger one, who's not at all bad-looking (with goatee-type beard), might be gay. 
   'Ceremony' began with my choice of the playing of the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recording of the 'Et in Spiritum Sanctum' from the Bach B minor Mass, which I knew Paul particularly loved - as I do.

Guests were invited to convene at a certain pub afterwards for a 'wake celebration' but, having a phobia for such social functions - even worse when I don't know anybody else - I made my excuses and left.
  Anyway, so that's over and done with.

My sister and her large family (sons and daughter, all of whom are grandparents themselves) have a number of important issues in their lives at the moment, as I have, (when aren't there any?) so it's hardly been a relaxing time.
   I wanted to be left alone with my thoughts for a while. So the day after the funeral I took a train some 40 miles away to an area of the North Yorkshire moors where we used to holiday for three consecutive years when I was a boy of around 9 to 11. In that steam-train-age of yesteryear, going a distance which these days would be considered no further than one's own doorstep was an enormous adventure. Here are some pics, including self looking very serious and almost alarmed - and the farmhouse we used to stay at. The hills around it were where I and my two younger brothers would play and whoop, running up and down hills with no trouble at all. Now I can barely walk up those same slopes, needing to halt every few steps to recover some puff.
  The deluge of rain we've been having since Spring hasn't left this part of the country unaffected either. Walking off road was an unpleasantly squelchy business. However, it all looks lush and green - very photogenically picturesque.