Thursday 29 November 2012


Better say at the start that this film does NOT have anything at all to do with the founder of Scientology, one L. Ron Hubbard. No Sir-ee!!! Nichts, nada, rien! Right, having now got that out of the way......

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays an L. Ron Hubbard-type character, charismatic leader of a cult which believes in multiple past lives (over trillions of years!) and emotional cleansing and spiritual advancement by regressing the individual to these previous incarnations.
He takes Joaquin Phoenix's character (an ex-naval officer with mixed-up life and a very short fuse) under his wing. There's a strange mutual attraction between them, though no indication of anything even slightly sexual. Both are menacingly overbearing in their different ways and, of course, sparks fly. It seems that 'The Master' is almost grooming his new pupil to be an acolyte of his, though it doesn't actually develop this far.

It's an odd film, alternately fascinating, puzzling and frustrating - but certainly never dull.
Both the lead actors produce tour-de-force performances (with an Oscar tag?), each larger than life but still on the safe side of believable. I think Hoffman nails his character the more successfully, though they are both very good indeed (When has P.S. Hoffman ever been less than very good?).
One complaint which I do have is that the Phoenix role is played with a slight facial deformity which makes him slur words out through the side of his mouth. There were times when I just couldn't decipher what he was saying while being able to follow the person he was conversing with.
Also, I was confused by the opening scenes where there isn't a linear progression from one scene to the next, leaving me feeling like it was a jigsaw one was supposed to arrange oneself, though I found that more confusing than interesting. However, as the film goes on it becomes less of a problem.
Further still, a number of scenes have tension worked up or a conflict begun only to have that scene suddenly stop, leaving me wondering about any resolution, if there was one.
On the plus side I ought to say that in my opinion the background score of original music was of unusually high quality. 

On the whole, it's an intriguing film concerning an unusual subject. Bearing in mind that it's well over 2 hours long and I'd gone to it having suffered minimal sleep last night (pussy-care problems) it did hold my attention throughout.
So just on that factor alone, I think a fair score for 'The Master' would be........6.5/10

Tuesday 27 November 2012


I've just read that this Franco-Swiss film is to be submitted by Switzerland to the Academy Awards as 'Best Foreign Film'. Well, that just about beats everything!

I was going to start this post by saying "Why did they even bother to make this?"
If there was supposed to be some entertainment value, then it must have been so negligible as to have missed me.

In a ski resort, a spoilt twelve year old boy (who can barely construct a single sentence without inserting an obscenity) 'earns' money for himself and the one he passes off as his sister (warning: spoiler coming up!) by stealing ski equipment and clothing (and contents of wallets and purses) from skiers who are out on the slopes or elsewhere engaged, and sells them off to other skiers (yes!) on the pretext of having acquired them through clearance sales. He gives the newer items marks of wear and tear to give a more authentic appearance of being second hand. He must have been doing this for some years as he's got such expertise in this, as well as having an ability to lie with ease and to drive a hard sell - yet somehow his 'sister' hasn't cottoned on to what he's been doing until he shows her - and yet all the while he's been providing her with money with which to go on dates.
    The only real 'event' in the entire film is when it's revealed, two-thirds through, that she is not his sister at all, though I thought that (visually) their ages didn't compute. She was acting like an immature and irresponsible adolescent having casual affairs, but she would have had to have been at least 24 if there had been the relationship between the two of them as is now revealed. (I've also just seen that the actress' true age is 27.)  But if my own perception was at fault in that respect it certainly wasn't in wondering how the kid had got away with his crimes for so long without having faced the law. Are we to believe that not a single victim of these thefts reported it to the resort's authorities? - or not enough of them reported and caused a tightening of security and increased vigilance for suspicious activity? e.g. a boy wandering around alone carrying more than one pair of skis and other what-nots?  Did not even one of his buyers find that he was trying to sell to them the very equipment that they themselves had just lost? Apparently not.
    It's a very static film - mirthless from start to finish, with no redemptive path beckoning to either the boy or girl. It finishes with the boy sitting alone, forlornly on the hillside, amid melting snow just after the ski season has come to an end and all skiers and workers have departed. I take it that we are to feel sorry for him, now facing the Summer months without his regular means of income! (Sniffle sniffle!)

For me the film's only saving grace was the welcome, but short, appearances of Gillian Anderson as a tourist who innocently befriends the boy, falling for his untruths. But she doesn't have a significant part to play.

This film is a hot contender for my 'Turkey of the Year'. If it wins the Oscar for 'Best Foreign Film' I shall stick a very large plume of feathers up my arse, photograph it, and post the result on this very blog!
But while you're waiting for that to happen I award 'Sister' a score of....................2/10 (and Ms Anderson is responsible for three of those points!)

Btw: I wonder why they English title is 'Sister' (well, okay, because that is not the relationship we start by thinking it is) - rather than something like 'The Child (Boy?) From Above', which, I suppose, in this context would be the mountainside. Anyway, who cares now? I don't!

Monday 26 November 2012


I was impressed by this. The pivotal characteristic for the central role - played by dishy Bradley Cooper (Man, this guy gets sexier by the day!) - is bipolar disorder, a subject rarely treated on film and, as far as I know, never a feature assigned to a sympathetic role as this is.

   He has just emerged from months in a mental institution, subject to restraining orders, and returns to his parents (Robert de Niro in fine, mellow form) and is set on rebuilding his marriage with his estranged, unfaithful wife.

 I was aware of some of the criticism of cliched portrayal of a character with bipolar condition - erratic behaviour, mood swings, propensity towards violence which sometimes turns on the use of a single word - all that is here, it's true. I have, in my own volunteering work come across a few people with this condition (not wishing to come over as 'superior', I own that I do have my own issues as well!) and, from my own experience, there may be some truth in the criticism, though I don't think it's overplayed here.
   He happens to meet a pushy and disdainful female with such an unattractive personality that I just couldn't see why he wants to cling to her like a leech. In addition, she has her own bagful of mental health problems. I suppose it must be a tribute to the acting skills of Jennifer Lawrence which made me feel so strongly negative about her from very first appearance. But see a lot of her he does.

     The screenplay is sharp, the acting and direction consistently well-observed. My only major reservation is in the ending - one that neatly ties up the loose ends with everyone happy, just like a fairy-tale. I've just read a review on IMDb which praises the ending in avoiding cliche. I disagree totally. That is precisely what it is. I can hardly imagine an ending which could be better designed to give everybody a 'feel-good' as they leave the cinema. But in the totality of this two-hour film, the complaint is relatively minor.

Were it not for the final few minutes I might have scored this film a bit higher, but even as it is I'm happy to give 'Silver Linings Playbook'  a well-earned........................7.5/10.

Thursday 22 November 2012

New film: 'GAMBIT'

This is a 'sort of' re-make of the 1966 Shirley Maclaine/Michael Caine/Herbert Lom feature, which I did see very many moons ago but have now completely forgotten. So I come to this re-filming, like most people will,  virtually 'new', unable to make a comparison. (My film reference books tell me the original was well-regarded).
     I suppose it purports to belong to the category which we used to call 'sophisticated comedy' - and which can only necessarily work when given a light and deft touch. That is a quality which this film lacks.

Colin Firth plays his familiar, straight-faced, shoulder-shrugging character which we are getting to know so well. Alan Rickman, in mood either exaggeratedly histrionic or with buttoned-up menace (the latter always works well from him - most recently, of course, in the Harry Potters) - and Cameron Diaz in full-throttled Texan drawl and cowgirl sass. (I was only waiting for her to slap her thighs - "Yee-HAH!"). Oh, and Stanley Tucci, in three shortish scenes, pulls from off the conveyor belt another of his fey eccentrics.
     A simple plot involves forgery of a Monet which Firth, as an act of vengeance, attempts to sell to Rickman at a price the genuine article would have commanded. Add in a sprinkling of swear words which have long since lost the power to shock.....and there you are.
    I really didn't expect to find it the bore that I did. It felt longer than it's just-under-90 mins. It's a shame because it did have a lot going for it - a good, starry cast (Tom Courtenay's in there too), easy to understand storyline and a script by the brothers Coen. But for me it failed to work - and ultimately it just didn't engross.

I'm afraid that with a film devoid of LOL moments, just a very few half-smiles cannot rescue 'Gambit' from a .......3/10

Tuesday 20 November 2012

New (German) film: 'BARBARA'

Sombre, unassuming, rather slow-paced, but not ineffectual drama set in 1980s East Germany involving a nurse 'exiled' to work in a small rural hospital because of her desire to leave the country in order to live with her lover who is resident in the west. She has understandable suspicions of whom, if anyone, she can trust, and she has her apartment subjected to random spot checks by the Stasi, as well as having to undergo intimate body-searches. During clandestine 'conjugal' visits by her partner plans are made for her to escape the country under subterfuge, but all the while she feels increasing responsibility not to desert the patients at the hospital - and one girl in particular - while she entertains an ambivalence towards her supervising doctor who feels a growing attraction towards her.
     All this sounds more eventful than what actually plays out before our eyes on screen.

It's an efficiently-made film, though hardly one I'm going to remember for more than a few days.

I grant 'Barbara' a rating of.......................6/10..... (though now, one day later, this feels a bit on the high side and I want to take it down a notch to 5.5)

Monday 19 November 2012

Dickens' year almost over (thank heavens!)

At the beginning of 2012 I gave myself the task of re-reading, in this 200th anniversary year of his birth, all fourteen of his major novels in chronological order of their publication - and, apart from the Christmas stories (including, of course, 'Carol'), which I traditionally read in December, I've achieved it. Never again! At least not to read them all in close succession. Before half-way through the year I was aware of developing an 'indigestion' in my brain. All that sentiment, all that waffling, those tear-inducing sufferings of 'innocent' parties, and numerous stoically-borne deaths - but more than any of this, those docile, meek, obedient female characters displaying a superhuman forbearance to their lowly circumstances that made me just want to scream!
Of course I recognise that the expectations of what was considered in the 19th century to be the accepted, decorous conduct of the female in polite society has shifted markedly. Women have, quite rightly, for a long time now, been considered quite as entitled as men to live as reactively to life's trials, rather than with the 'shut-up-and-put-up-with-it' expectations of Victorian repressedness. But, all the same, that particular aspect does make for rather depressing reading.
   I did, however, get much of the expected pleasures from re-living the very many amusing passages, a lot of which are very funny indeed - and his character word-paintings are surely second to none in entire English literature. But for the first time my patience with the stretched-out plots was becoming so threadbare that I was longing to get to the end of each novel. Also, must confess that I 'glided' over more pages than in any previous readings, either skimming them, or with my mind on 'auto'. Anyway, I've now read them all at least three times, some (Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, Great Expectations, David Copperfield) four times. Of course I'm not saying that I'm never going to re-read any of them again because I certainly will - but not more than a couple in such a short period of time. 

  So, with this year's 'project' almost done, what's 2013 got in store? Well, one thing that just has to be done is to make a third assault on the seven volumes of 'A la Recherche...' - though my pipe-dream of tackling it in the original language will have to remain just that for a bit longer.
   I've already embarked on a sixth reading of the Bible (King James edition this time, again) as well as an eighth foray into the Qur'an - making copious notes on both, while trying to make sense of both of these often contradictory exemplars of 'Holy Writ', and which get increasingly and frustratingly baffling on each reading. (The nicest people I've known in my own life have had a superior moral code, and one that was genuinely worthy of respect, than has either of these versions of a Supreme Being!)
    Then there are other 'classics' that have been waiting several years for a re-read which I want to get down to before it's too late - 'Ulysses', 'War & P', 'GWTWind', 'Karamazov Bros', 'Clarissa', 'Canterbury Tales' (in medieval English), 'Rebecca', 'A Dance to the Music of Time', then there all those early Stephen Kings when he was so very good, not to mention the incomparable Patricia Highsmith, and in addition there's.... .....oh, but life is just too short!

Friday 16 November 2012

Why gay marriage IS unnatural..... because ALL marriage is unnatural.

Leaving aside humanity for the moment, where else in nature does marriage occur without the intervention of a separate agency to activate and formalise such a relationship? Doubtless some would argue that the institution has been bestowed uniquely on man by 'God'. Even if that were true that doesn't automatically make it 'natural', otherwise those who wanted to be in such a wedded state would suddenly find that they were experiencing it without having to instigate the process. Now that would be natural! (and pretty miraculous too!)

Whether monogamy is 'natural' in humans is debatable. In the 'natural world' it seems to depend on the species of being which is involved. But even where it's majority within that species it's hardly ever an entirely  exclusive one. Monogamy may work for some humans and not for others - and for that reason why should one pattern be decreed as the only acceptable and viable one for all humanity?

In our wider lives, here are just a very few of the 'unnatural' practices most of us engage in:-
Wearing clothes - cooking food - having haircut/shaving - putting on make-up/cologne etc - driving/flying -  taking medicines - undergoing surgery - wearing spectacles/contacts.........the list goes on and on.

Those who freely bandy about the 'un' word talk as though 'unnatural' is a synonym of 'undesirable', which is basically what they mean - but 'undesirable' only to them and to others who share their views.

It galls me to see a person going on and on about 'unnatural' acts while, particularly if it's a woman, sitting there with face made up to the eyebrows (literally!), lipstick, hair impeccably set, foundation cream, eye-liner and who knows what else, all in an attempt to improve on the body that her very own 'God' has given her -  and failed, because she found it unsatisfactory - and, presumably, wants to make it more attractive to men.  They've really got to use an argument other than endlessly bleating on against those who are being 'unnatural'.

Or perhaps they want to confine the use of that word solely to matters sexual - in which case they can join the 'Holy Father' and condemn all artificial contraception, by whatever method  - though he doesn't seem to be too concerned about it these days, unless it might help to prevent HIV transmission, in which case it's definitely against God's rules.
Then how about enforced labour in pregnancy and Cesarian deliveries? Aren't they unnatural too?

I'm as sure that marriage is as desirable for some as it is not for others, and both can easily apply to the same one person or couple at different times.. That doesn't mean the same automatically holds true for everybody at all times.

To go back to the beginning, if male-female marriage is the only 'natural' one, surely that must also mean by extension that divorce is also natural, despite Biblical strictures against it (and specifically, on grounds other than 'fornication'). Or am I missing something?

Thursday 15 November 2012


( The title of this British film is not a nickname, as I'd thought, but an actual surname).

Based on a novel by Michael ('War Horse') Morpurgo, this film also concerns World War I.
A work of two halves, the first part concerns two soon-to-be fatherless brothers growing up, first at school, then as farm labourers, and the younger one's jealousy at his brother's courtship and getting pregnant a girl whom he also fancies.
  I found this first half a little too meandering and it takes the outbreak of war and the brothers' enlistments into the army to give the story a much stronger focus.
    Incidentally, knowing who the author was I had misgivings about seeing this film as I'd already deliberately avoided seeing the Spielberg film for the plain reason of not wishing to be visually assaulted by the depiction of suffering animals (despite the usual disclaimer, "No animals were harmed during....etc"). So I had to grit my teeth when a point comes in this film where the army requisitions two of the farm horses to be engaged in the war. But apart from a very brief shot of a killed horse there was no further cause to be upset.
   The film begins with one of the brothers being court-martialled without it being stated why. It then turns the clock back to the brothers as boys. We only discover what the deed was towards the end of the film. I did find the conclusion quite moving.

A perfectly satisfying film, though without (for me) being strong enough for the memory to linger long, I give 'Private Peaceful' a rating of..................5.5/10

Tuesday 13 November 2012


After yesterday's high-value, heart-in-mouth entertainment, this one brings me down to earth with a hefty bump.
A largely sombre, totally humourless saga, set in New York, involving a 30s-something documentary film-maker (with a rather attractive, sweet face - here, the one on the left) in an on-off gay relationship with a vacillating young lawyer who can't bring himself to commit. Throw in a bit of casual sex, telephone sex, dope-smoking - and that's about the sum of it.

I think the trouble is that I just couldn't care much about this couple. There's nothing surprising about their difficulties - a lot of us have been through something very similar, maybe more than once. Nothing violent or spectacular happens, the film merely charts the ups and downs of their emotions, leaving me thinking "So what?".
  I was wondering if the whole thing could have been improved by shaving, say, 20 off from the film's 100 minutes, but I doubt if that would have made all that much of a difference.
    No doubt some will relate to the couple's difficulties more profoundly than I did. But, only able to speak of my own experience, I give 'Keep the Lights On' a one stage lower than unremarkable.............3/10.

Monday 12 November 2012

New film: 'ARGO'

I thought this a cracking good film. It got my adrenalin pumping from early on and it doesn't really let-up until the big rescue is over. It's all the more remarkable in achieving that feat in view of the fact that we know beforehand how it will turn out. (The film 'Apollo 13' accomplished the same, and this is quite as successful in that respect as that film was.)

Those of us who lived through and remember the hideously prolonged American hostages incident in Iran in 1980 were never aware of this parallel drama being played out simultaneously. Actually, I don't even recall the lifting of the embargo on details of the affair in 1997. I suppose that by then it was regarded as a curious footnote to history, but the situation was no less harrowing.
  This film concerns the fate of six American embassy workers in Tehran escaping to take refuge in the Canadian embassy after the former premises is invaded and ransacked. By a ruse that is hardly credible it is decided to effect a rescue by flying them out of Iran using a pretence of their being a group of Canadian film-makers who had been looking for a suitable location to film their projected science-fiction production, entitled 'Argo'.
    Ben Affleck, as director as well as principal actor, really knows how to turn the screws. There are a few very brief moments of humour which are, very sensibly, kept in check - and being delivered by the ever-watchable John Goodman as well as the now-veteran Alan Arkin, the appearances of these two only add to the film's pluses.
   Incidentally, over the final credits, when we see photographs of the actual people who had been involved in the escape, the resemblances given to the actors playing them is quite uncanny - something that is usually not the case in dramatic reconstructions.
    This is without doubt the most sustainedly suspenseful film I've seen this year.

Thoroughly recommended, I give 'Argo' a score of 8/10.

Thursday 8 November 2012

2011 film: 'UNTOUCHABLE'

This has been a massive domestic hit in its native France, and it was surely that which had given me high expectations.
    Not only is it the second successive film I've seen which is French but both films concern a chalk-and-cheese friendship between a wheelchair-bound individual and an unlikely helper. I'm not qualified to say which was the 'superior' film (if one can make such an absolutist value-judgment) but I know that I thought that this was better 'entertainment' than 'Rust and Bone' - though I do have reservations in making that claim.

   Out of an array of applicants for the post, a wealthy quadripligic, with high-brow tastes in art and music, chooses a street-wise, clownish, dope-smoking, rather rebellious job-seeker (who's also into 'Earth Wind and Fire' big time!) as his live-in assistant/helper/nurse. Although one can guess, early on, the trajectory arc this film will follow, it ought to be said that it purports to be based on a true story. In fact, at the film's close we actually see, for a few seconds, the real-life couple at the heart of the story.

At the very well-attended showing I went to at 11 o'clock this morning, there were raucous laughs from the audience at the helper character's antics almost from the word 'go'. I didn't think it was that funny. (Maybe the audience was playing up to its own expectations?). In fact I very soon found the character just plain annoying. Truth to tell, it took practically the first half of the film before I warmed to it at all.
   I did find his expoundings on classical music amusing - and his visit to the opera was genuinely very funny - as were some of his gauchely direct and tactless approaches to one or two of the women employed in the man's home. On the other side I was irritated at being shown the man's face so often trying to contain his laughter, as though we were being told "It's okay to laugh at this." I think that particular point was overdone.

I can just about see why it was such a success in France. It might be termed a 'feel-good' feature, and there's nothing wrong with that.
But when I balance up what were for me the good points against its negatives I cannot award 'Untouchable' more than.......................6/10. 

Tuesday 6 November 2012

New film: 'RUST AND BONE'

If it were not for 'Oscar talk', I would have avoided this film. Two reasons :-
a) It features animals in a significant part  - even though in this case they are killer whales which, actually, turn out not to be on-screen for long.
b) Bare-knuckle fighting - again, not seen for long on the screen.
I always give a wide berth to films concerning boxing, which I find boring and completely without any attraction at all, even repulsive. Fighting as depicted here where nothing is barred (entirely illegal, naturally) is boxing times two.

She is a trainer of performing killer whales at a sea-life centre - he a bouncer (a single parent to an infant boy) at a night club where they encounter each other. He takes her back to her home after a certain incident, leaving his telephone number. She is involved in a major disastrous event - 'life-changing' is hardly adequate to describe it. (Anyone who has read reviews of this film will probably know what it was.)
    They arrange to meet up again. Friendship develops. Then a physical relationship, which is more functional than romantic. Inevitably, something deeper develops between them. He then suddenly has to leave where he's staying and goes away without telling her where he's gone. But following a further dramatic and shocking event a few minutes from the end of the film the two come together again.  
        Even if I try my best to put aside my prior unfavourable disposition towards the film, I fail to see what all the fuss is about. It strikes me as no more than an efficiently made film, with some necessarily clever filmic tricks revealing Mme Cotillard as having a particular physical condition.
 Assuming the film gets Oscar/ BAFTA nominations I can't imagine either body giving the award for 'Best Picture' to a French film for the second consecutive year (after this year's 'The Artist'). Perhaps she will get recognition for her role, but if she does I think it will be for the part she plays rather than the standard of the acting of it.

No real surprise that I was disappointed overall, but I'd actually been hoping to witness something really 'special' to justify all the buzz and the superlatives being lavished on this film. Reflecting my general downbeat assessment, 'Rust and Bone' earns a score of............3.5/10


Sunday 4 November 2012

Re-released film: 'THE SHINING'

This Stanley Kubrick classic has been given a limited cinema re-release here - including, for the first time, an additional 20+ minutes which were cut from the European release in 1980. These deleted scenes had already been part of the American release earlier that same year, but which Kubrick then removed, having been stung by the unenthusiastic or even hostile American reviews. He actually came to prefer his own shorter version, which is also the one I have on video. I'd already seen the film at least three times in the cinema as well as twice or more on video so I did know the edited version quite well. The longer film has, I believe already been shown on TV here (probably late at night) but this was the first time I myself have seen it in this cut.
The restored scenes mainly come near the beginning of the story, relating to the Torrance family's background and a reference to their son Danny's being accidentally(?) injured by his father. There are also a couple of later short scenes involving Scatman Crothers' chief cook character's failed efforts to make contact with the snowbound hotel.
    I thought that the restored minutes, although not crucial, did assist in making a bit more sense to the tale and generally helped rather than hindered the depiction of the family's isolation in the hotel's inaccessible location. 
     On first seeing 'The Shining' 32 years ago I recall feeling some irritation about the film not following the book, with very significant departures in places. I'd only recently discovered Stephen King and I had just started devouring his works avidly. He could do no wrong for me at that time and for a few years still to come. But around that time I didn't appreciate, to the extent that I do now, the acceptability of a film-maker to alter a story from the printed page. I had been expecting a faithful and literal transposition from book to screen. That had been my major disappointment. But despite this major reservation, I was still quite overwhelmed by Kubrick's style and technique, and even now it leaves me full of admiration. But then Kubrick is probably my favourite director of all. However, one thing I would say, is that, as with another favourite director, Hitchcock, I sometimes find that there are wonderful 'set-pieces', but they add up to rather more than the film as a whole. In other words, the feeling of overall satisfaction with the film after it is over can be less than the memory of the depiction of certain key moments during its progress. This is actually less applicable to 'The Shining' than to certain of his other films such as his following 'Full Metal Jacket' and his final work, 'Eyes Wide Shut'.

When it comes to giving the film a score, I was tempted to duck out of it this time as it's difficult to judge a film anew which was already known well from an 'incomplete' version. But if a gun was to be depressed against my temple I'd feel compelled to offer a rating of..........................8/10

Btw: I did find myself paying more attention to background features this time round, looking for extra significances - pictures on walls, furniture arrangements and decor, labels on boxes and tins of food etc, but didn't find anything noteworthy.
This same cinema was also showing the new film 'Room 237' (referring to the mysterious hotel room to which Danny is inexorably drawn), a documentary about some whacky theories and observations about 'The Shining', with a number of over-zealous fans of the film mentioning arcane allusions they believe Kubrick had put into his film, playing with his audience. Would dearly love to have seen it, but the timing and further expense put it beyond me. Really must try to catch it when it comes on TV.