Tuesday 31 December 2013


When I posted my 2013 Top Ten yesterday I took a gamble that this film wouldn't disturb that list. Well, it's just as well that I hadn't also posted a Bottom Ten!

Not being familiar with the Danny Kaye 1947 film nor with the James Thurber short story, and although I knew the basic idea of a fantasist regularly inhabiting his dream world, I had prepared myself for a gentle, even quite amusing, comedy peppered with whimsy. What I saw was a sporadically engaging (infrequently) romantic tale which didn't have to progress very far before being weighted down with cloying sentiment. Maybe my skewed and unfair expectations didn't give it the chance it needed. However, if I'd known what it was going to be I probably wouldn't have bothered going.

Ben Stiller (also directing) plays a hard-done-by character who works for 'Life' magazine, trying to attract the attentions of a female co-worker he's fallen for. Simultaneously the firm is on the edge of closure prescribed by a bearded trio of young executives, with prospects of mass redundancies. Meanwhile he's trying to save the day by searching for an elusive photographer who somehow holds a talismanic photo-negative of a picture he's required to produce for the magazine. (Don't ask. I got lost!) His search involves excursions to Greenland, Iceland (fabulous severe landscapes) and the Himalayas via Afghanistan - where the  mysterious photographer (Sean Penn) finally appears for one scene. Stiller's return is all sentiment with no laughs, which had started to fade out long before then anyway.
There are only a few excursions into fantasy, nearly all of which are towards the start of the film, and only a single one (a chase) being in any way engaging in its relative length and extravagance.
Also appearing in three briefish subdued scenes is Shirley Maclaine as Stiller's mum. At least her presence helped to maintain my minimal interest.

If I'd left this to be seen in 2014 I'd be saying "Things can only get better!" As it is I hope the new year of cinema-going gets off to a more promising start.............................3.5/10

Monday 30 December 2013

My 2013 Top Ten films.

This has been a really exceptional year. I don't recall another time when there have been so many strong and worthy contenders jostling to be included in my ultimate 10 (out of 89).
Firstly, I chose the 20 to which I'd given my highest ratings. Then weeded them down to 10 (with some notable films falling at this hurdle - 'Gravity', 'Les Mis.', 'Quartet', 'Lincoln', 'Captain Phillips', to name but some). Then I juggled with placings for the select remainder until I settled on what looked 'right' in accordance with my own personal tastes for what I consider good and satisfying entertainment, eventually coming up with (in ascending order)-

10 Saving Mr Banks
Thoroughly absorbing take on the transfer of Mary Poppins from book to film. The fact that Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks didn't look much like the originals of the characters they were portraying robbed the film of nothing. A film which could have been shallow but wasn't, especially in the Colin Farrell episodes, portraying P.L.Travers' father when she was a child.

9 Le Weekend
Exceedingly well-observed story of ageing English marrieds (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) trying to rediscover romance on a brief return visit to Paris. The occasional sour exchanges between the two alleviated with some lighter moments makes for an engaging hour and a half - dented only by Duncan's exasperatingly inaudible delivery at more than one crucial moment.

8 Much Ado About Nothing
One of the real pleasant surprises of the year. Low-budget, b/w, American cast in modern dress, set entirely in one house and its grounds - and it all comes together to work a treat.

7 The Great Gatsby
Baz Buhrmann pulls off yet another sizzler. All high energy with loads of visual and aural assaults - yet still basically faithful to the book, standing up easily in comparison to the 1970s Clayton version, with Leo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire all in outstanding form.

6 Enough Said
Another one that really came out of the blue, though boosted in audience terms by news of the death of James Gandolfini shortly before its release. A gentle romance with some quite amusing nail-biting moments. But overall, a delight.

5 Nebraska

Original story, superior script, brilliantly cast, high level of acting throughout - this has it all. Plus it's another black-and-white film, as it just had to be. Marvellous!

4 Philomena

Judi Dench, perhaps over-exposed regarding her numerous film appearances, nevertheless at the top of her game in this heart-rending tale of a mother searching for her out-of-wedlock-born son whom she was forced to give up through the policy of the Irish Catholic authorities. Steve Coogan, as the writer assisting her in the search, is as impressively convincing in a serious role as one could wish.

 3 The Hunt

Danish film, gripping drama, of primary school teacher being falsely accused of improper conduct with one of the young schoolgirls. Troubling situation which only brings to the fore worries we have of the extent to which this still happens - and no one seems to have any idea how to prevent it recurring, when a child's testimony is believed above that of the protestations of the accused. Mads Mikkelsen is extraordinary as the accused, already undergoing divorce proceedings while trying to maintain custody of his own son.
It's a testimony as to what regard I have for this film in that I place it so high despite it having two scenes which would have disqualified me from seeing it at all had I known beforehand. (The film's very opening shows the shooting of a deer - and later, there's a gruesome sequence involving a dog.)
Incidentally, this film has received by far the most hits on my blog than any other film I've ever reviewed - over twice as much as the next most viewed ('The Way Way Back' - also quite unexpected). At least 'The Hunt' strongly merits its curiosity-popularity.

2 Blue Jasmine

Just loved this! I can't imagine anyone who's even half the admirer of Woody Allen that I am, not liking it a lot. Cate Blanchett, with a superiority-complex, as she's never been seen before, all snidery and snobbery - with Sally Hawkins also putting in an amazing turn as her feet-on-the-ground 'sister'. The frequent shifting back and forth in time between NY and San Fran works well, with no difficulty in following what's going on. A film like this shows how Allen can still come up with the goods despite most critics thinking that he's produced many more disappointments in the last twenty years than fine efforts (though I'll still re-watch any of them). But this one is unarguably top drawer stuff.


Yes, I've thought long and hard whether to nominate this as my 'Film of 2013' but I'd be dishonest if I hadn't made it so. I'm quite aware that the film has had not a few detractors as well as rather more reactions of puzzlement, but I'm not compiling my list in accordance with what others think it ought to be, therefore this is the one which takes my personal top slot. 
A perfectly valid interpretation in cinematic terms of an extraordinary book. I did have the advantage(?) of having read the original David Mitchell novel before seeing the film - and have read it again since. The form is quite different for this film but with this bold re-visioning of the source it shows exactly how the medium of cinema can stand up on its own terms. With actors playing multiple roles (Tom Hanks again leading the field) in a multi-strand, time-jumping work, it succeeds with honours. It's over 10 months since I saw the film yet after all this time it still leaves a deep impression. It's a bold, risk-taking venture - and the result is that it comes out as extraordinary as it aspired to be. 

Congratulations to 'Cloud Atlas' for winning the esteemed 'Raybeard Golden Award for Film of 2013'! Well done to all concerned!

(Oh, and my 'Stinker' of the year? I give you 'A Song for Marion'. Look up my review if you want to be bothered. I can't!)

Now, here's to hoping that 2014 can serve as many nuggets as we got in the last twelve months. Bring 'em on!

Wednesday 25 December 2013

A Christmas Special - The entire gang of toms is all here!

Here's something unique from me on this special day - a comprehensive listing of my current co-habitees and regular visitors.

First in order of seniority, my beloved Blackso. He decided to live with me soon after I moved into my current flat in 2000 - and he was more than a kitten then, so he must now be at least 14 years old, more probably 15 or even older. He was originally living in a house down the road, being one of half a dozen cats resident there. All attempts to get him to stay at his home failed, he insisting on living with me for some reason. His former owners have long since moved on, taking their remaining brood with them.
He's very affectionate, purring as soon as I pick him up. He always rubs his face against my nose, and he'll never miss a chance to jump into my lap. Always been healthy too, but scares me to death with his insistence of crossing the road to prowl around in the park on the other side, or to sit on the park wall where his friendly and trusting nature to everybody passing is terrifying, making him an easy prey to anyone who feels hostile to cats. But I do love him dearly, bless him!


My co-resident #2 is Noodles. Also left his home on this same road (but in the other direction to Blackso) to live with me, I think he ran away from there because the owners had two young daughters, maybe 6-8 years old at that time, who possibly just wouldn't leave him alone. (I was the same at that age, treating our then pets as toys, not allowing them time to rest.) As with Blackso all attempts to get him to return failed until his former owners just gave up. Noodles is much more stand-offish than Blackso, never demonstrative with any affection.. I'm not allowed to pick him up and he never jumps onto or stays in my lap, but in his current night sleep phase he's now sleeping in my bed beside my pillow, even purring as he settles down. I reckon he must be about 10 years old - and he's another healthy one.


Mystery cat 'Ginger' appeared as little more than a kitten about 5 or 6 years ago. I've no idea where he came from but he does now turn up here every day to eat and sleep. In the last few months he's put on a great deal of weight rapidly, more than his eating here would warrant, I think. He's now even bigger than Blackso. So whether he's eating elsewhere as well I don't know. Problem is that he's not been doctored - and his loud calling outside sounds like he's looking for a mate. Don't know what to do about him, giving me more worry than any of the others.


Patchy is the 'community cat' (probably aged around 12) who visits every day but, according to his owners (ardent cat-lovers who live just round the corner with their own family of them) is comfortable in any place where he can get food and warmth. If so, then this is definitely his favourite place of all. When he visits he takes over the entire place, even sitting at my open window to vet who comes in and out, refusing entry to 'strangers' with a snarl and a hiss - just like a personal club doorman! He's not afraid of anyone else - apart, that is, from one little intruder, an all-black visitor called 'Sooty', who terrorises all and sundry and is the only one who makes Patchy cower away. Thankfully, like Blackso and Noodles, Patchy has also been neutered.


And finally, Heckie (or Hector), next door's cat, now just over one year old. All play, inquisitive and bold as brass, he spends more time with me than he does in his own home, where he regularly finds himself locked out. So rather than wait on their window sill crying, as he used to do, he now comes to where he's learnt there's always an open window - and he scoffs food from everywhere and anyone else even while they're still eating. No manners at all! But he too hasn't been neutered even though I've mentioned it to his owner who says he will get it done. I hope so, otherwise more trouble ahead.


So those are the five who use my place as a main or second home. There are also several more pop-in visitors ever looking for scraps of leftover food that they can mop up, but never staying longer than it takes to do only that. 

Until quite recently when I was ready to turn in for the night I'd go to my bedroom and find a cat or two curled up or spread out on my bed. In this case it was Noodles and Patchy and I found myself having to snake my body between them, trying to find a position that was reasonably comfortable enough in which to sleep, but sometimes getting warning growls from Patchy, threatening to lash out with his claws if I disturb him too much. 

Pussies all over, and they've got me under their little paw-thumbs! Oh, it's a dog's life, it really is!

And the very 'bestest' of wishes to every single one of my blog readers from ALL the above - plus yours truly! (And that includes wishing you, Paul, if you're reading this. I've missed your valued comments on my recent posts. I do hope that you're okay.)

Wednesday 18 December 2013


If spectacle is your bag and you think that it's enough to make or break a film on its own, you get that a-plenty here - both as natural landscape and as CGI-produced features and structures.
This 'middle one' of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, like the first episode, left me not caring that much about what was going on, because I simply couldn't follow it all. I've read the book twice (and LOTR at least five times). Not that it matters, as the film trilogy of 'The Hobbit' is so far expanded out of the source material from which it derives as to bear little relationship to it other than the title and the basic idea. But I'm not exactly complaining about that.

Ian McKellan and Orlando Bloom are two of the stalwarts of the franchise who turn up again here, joined for the second time by Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, all joined by several faces particularly recognisable to British audiences.

I would be no less informed about the plot if there were no dialogue at all. A lot of that which there is, to me now sounds like pretentious doggerel , as though one has got to be 'in the know' to follow what's happening. Notwithstanding that, a lot of the action (with some brilliantly-created monsters of various species)  is good fun, chases galore, fights, battles, a bit of amusing slap-stick. I must give credit to the inventiveness of some of the antics - and the special effects cannot be praised too highly. On the other hand I once again experienced a few yawn-inducing longueurs, though I don't think there were as many as in the first film.

I'd already forgotten how the first part had finished, and I hadn't been interested enough to have my memory prodded. I reckon that by the time the final part mercifully appears I'll also have forgotten the 'cliffhanger' that concludes this part.

There's no doubt that this trilogy is turning into a major achievement, though in no way eclipsing the 'Ring' films, which I found much more entertaining, probably because I was more familiar with those books, and those films were an attempt, largely successful, to transfer that story to the cinema screen. 'The Hobbit' trilogy, by blowing it up so far, contains more of Jackson and his writers than it does of Tolkien, simply taking the latter's characters and creating an extended story for them. But that's cinema for you, which is fair enough.

If one is a great fan of this franchise then this film will have everyone one hopes for - interesting and varied characters (though only very few are female), no shortage of thrills with some astonishing camera work (particularly impressive in 3D). I've mentioned my reservation with the script but if one has a keener interest than I own maybe it is possible to make some sense of the gobbledygook.  

I will be going to see the final part, though not with any great enthusiasm - just to be able to say "I've seen it!"
In terms of achieving a level of entertainment for me personally, I award 'The Hobbit - Part II'.............4.

Added one day after writing above: 
As a result of Walt's comment (WCS) below, I referred back to the review I wrote for Part I of 'The Hobbit' in December 2012 and, to my deep embarrassment, find that, contrary to what I say above, I was fulsomely positive about that film, even going on to award it a 7/10 - and furthermore, saying that I was actually looking forward to its sequel! (Ouch!) But it would be unforgivably mendacious to alter the above review upwards (or downgrade last year's) so, with abject apologies for my inconsistency and faulty memory, I have decided, albeit red-facedly, to let both stand.

Tuesday 17 December 2013


Quite impressive film of a pivotal segment of Allen Ginsberg's early life, from 40-year old director John Krokidias, whose first full-length feature this is.

There can't be many people who don't know the names of, not only Ginsberg, but also Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, both the latter playing quite significant roles in this period of his life. But it's Lucien Carr, whom I didn't know much about (though I vaguely recognised the name) who was such a major influence on Ginsberg, and  I knew still less of the crime which exclusively takes up the final part of this film. It's Carr, along with Ginsberg, who has the lion's share of the film almost from the outset when the superficially callow Ginsberg arrives at Columbia University and Carr immediately becomes his mentor.  The latter's lack of respect for 'rules', both of authority and within the confines of poetry, is the catalyst which sparks Ginsberg to conduct himself in like free-thinking manner. Their mutual sympathies in this direction lead, naturally enough, to an intellectual relationship, rather than one that is physically expressed. But the major complication is Carr's previous, older relationship, who is unable to let him go. The downward spiral of the latter's desperation includes a most distressing (for me) incident involving a cat, which is going to echo in my mind for a long time, even though it's seen as being rescued before any harm befell it.

Daniel Radcliffe does a fairly good job as Ginsberg, though I personally would have preferred some actor who was far less known in this major role as it was not helped one bit by Radcliffe wearing spectacles throughout the film, inevitably resonating with another role. It needed me to take a great leap of faith to see him as someone who took so easily to various drug and drink indulgences. Maybe other viewers don't have that difficulty.

I thought Dane DaHaan (upper left) as Carr was brilliant, as was Michael C. Hall as his priggish but attractive (bear-like) older former lover - though I'm going to find it hard to dismiss the latter's action with the cat, film or not!
I was rather less convinced by Jack Huston as Kerouac, whose 'free-spiritedness' seemed a bit forced, and Ben Foster as a very dour, very knowing, young William Burroughs who, as portrayed here, didn't seem to accord with the much older Burroughs whom I know through his later books. (Must confess I've read very little of the works of Ginsberg and Kerouac).

I don't know how I managed not to have recognised Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ginsberg's mentally damaged mother until the final credits showed, but I didn't.

I really liked the style of the film, particularly for the first hour in its capturing the disparate nature of the characters' 'lawlesnesss of minds' - featuring jazz in thickly smoky atmospheres, taking in druggy effects. Once the crime is revealed the direction of the film becomes strongly focussed, and I thought it was slightly less successful in conveying what was going on inside the players' minds.

I don't know if many people who know nothing of the actual persons depicted in this film will have the motivation to see it. It's certainly not what might be regarded as 'mainstream'. But, all in all, any reservations that I do have cannot detract from my opinion that this is a good film..............7.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Film: 'CARRIE'

It would have been a tall order to expect anyone to better Brian De Palma's 1976 version of this very early Stephen King novel, which has an assured place in my 'All Time Top 100 Films'. This one doesn't improve on it, and by some margin, but it's still not without some merit.

I didn't know the name of either director Kimberly Peirce nor of the young actress in the title role, one Chloe Grace Moretz, though I now see that the latter did appear in 'Hugo' and 'Kick-Ass'.

The film is the tale of Carrie White who, on reaching puberty with her first period (quite 'publicly' at high school) finds that she has telekinetic powers, which operate both involuntarily when she's emotionally charged or, as she discovers, she can operate at will. She lives alone with her religiously-fanatic and near-demented, Bible-toting mother who is fixated on the notion that we're all born into sin, though women especially grievously so - and who strives to force her daughter to accept it.
Carrie is seen as something of an 'ugly duckling' at school, ridiculed by her female classmates and their boyfriends, when a jape is played by inviting her to attend the school prom at which she's to be cruelly humiliated in front of all.

Moretz, as Carrie, is several years younger than Sissy Spacek was for De Palma, and is therefore closer to being the authentically-aged girl which King had in mind in his story. I thought she carried it off very well.
Julianne Moore (one of the reasons I bothered going to see this) plays her part with most of her religious feelings pent up inside whereas Piper Laurie in the 1976 version was much more demonstrative in her loopiness. I have to say that I thought the latter was the more effective of the two, conveying better the histrionics we still see in current day evangelism.

In the pivotal scene at the prom, De Palma showed off a whole range of cinematic tricks - split-screen, filtered-out sounds, slow motion - all of which worked brilliantly. Some of these are also employed at the same moment by Peirce, though not the use of split-screen. When Carrie wreaks havoc with her revenge for the extreme prank played on her I think that this new film had no alternative but to try to outdo De Palma in spectacular effects, which it does.

Incidentally, I'd hoped that with additional sensitivities of a later generation (so I thought) the pig-slaughtering scene would be a little less graphic than in the earlier film. Unfortunately not so.

By the way, when the 1976 was first released, among the cast was a hitherto unknown name (at least to cinema audiences) of a certain John Travolta. It wasn't highlighted in the opening credits, his name being just included among the rest of the cast. Then, a few years later in the wake of the screen success of 'Grease', 'Carrie' was given a cinema re-release but now with the opening credits re-vamped to show Travolta as one of the  main stars, despite his role not being that big. I think it was on the lines of - "And featuring JOHN TRAVOLTA"!

I only saw this film because of Julianne Moore's presence plus the fact that there was a Senior Citizens' screening for just £3.50. If it wasn't that good it wasn't too much to lose - besides, I have to confess to being a bit curious as to whether it could compare with the earlier version. As it turned out, with no regrets at having made the effort, I give the 2013 'Carrie' a.............6.

Monday 9 December 2013


This has been an exceptional year for a high proportion of 'quality' films - and here's yet another to join that select number, which it does with ease.

Alexander Payne is justly gaining quite a reputation for directing really worthwhile films. In recent years we've had 'The Descendants', 'Sideways', 'About Schmidt' - and this latest one just about sets the seal on his being a name to watch and whose films can be anticipated with pleasure.

Bruce Dern plays the edge-of-senility husband and father who is taken in by an advertising scam which, he thinks, informs him that he's won a million dollars. He won't take persuading from his younger son (Will Forte, a name I didn't know, and not at all bad-looking) on the reality of the company's ruse, designed just to push their magazines. His son, unable to convince him, agrees to take him the two-day drive to Lincoln to enable him to collect the prize to which he thinks he's due. En route, circumstances force them to detour to stay a while in the small town of Hawthorne with his brother and wife, with their two burly, scoffing, adult sons (like Tweedledum/dee). One evening in a bar, despite his son's warning not to do so, the father lets out that he's on his way to collect his prize winnings, and it doesn't take long for word to get around. He not only finds himself surrounded by new 'friends' but old relatives and acquaintances come out of the woodwork, directly or indirectly hoping or excepting to join in his good fortune, including Stacey Keach who expresses his own expectation more like a threatening demand. All this to the son's frustration, even when he tells them all that his father is mistaken. They are joined in Hawthorne by June Squibb, Dern's dutiful wife who's ever ready with her acid tongue to cut anyone down, Dern not least.

Small-town America is brilliantly observed in this film. Hawthorne is a world where just about everybody knows everybody else - as well as their mostly being past retirement age. (The average age of the cast must be over 60, I reckon). The cast is all excellent. The script is on its toes - and mostly very funny. (It could have been condescending to the old generation but it isn't). And what a correct choice it was to film it in monochrome - so right! - and the big-sky, flat landscapes are breathtaking.

It's a very unusual storyline, and one which holds the attention throughout. It gives one heart to know that there are these little stories out there in someone's imagination and that we don't need to be ever subjected to banalities to entertain us.

If I did think that 'Nebraska' drooped ever so slightly near the end it would in no way prevent my giving it overall a hearty recommendation. It's another one that scrapes the ceiling with an..................8

Wednesday 4 December 2013


Very enjoyable film, with a broad spectrum of moods, high and low.
To prepare myself for this I re-read 'Mary Poppins' so as to be better informed on the subject matter, though my first read was only a comparatively recent 12 years ago.

This film tells of Walt Disney's personal tussle with authoress P.L.Travers in order for him to acquire the film rights to her book, and her direct and obstructive interventions to prevent his and his team's depictions of book and title character straying from the way she'd envisaged them. Her displeasure at discovering that the film is to be not only a musical, but is also to feature scenes of animation, are well and amusingly conveyed. It's a most interesting story which I did know just a little about, though my scant knowledge was further filled in by a rather engrossing BBC TV programme a few evenings ago about the real Travers.

Emma Thompson, though looking nothing like the real-life person she portrays, does a marvellous job, conveying Travers' querulousness and obstinacy to perfection. I've yet to see Thompson fail to give a stand-out performance, and here she does it again. (Incidentally, during the close of the final credits an audio tape extract is played of the real Travers arguing with the film team about her demands for the look of the film - and it's clear that Thompson doesn't exaggerate her manner one jot).
Tom Hanks, despite the make-up team's best efforts, still looks like Tom Hanks, but he does put real flesh onto someone whom, to those of my generation, always seemed a somewhat aloof, rather sketchy figure, and even just a bit questionable in his motives, though there was nothing we knew then or now to suggest that there was really anything shady going on - at least that what I felt even before we had Michael Jackson taking troupes of young kids to Disneyland.
Colin Farrell, in regular flashbacks by Travers to her childhood in Australia, plays her wavy-haired, very affectionate father whom she adores, even though she's aware of his drink problem. I don't think I've seen Farrell play such a kindly, soft-hearted character before, and he does it quite convincingly.

It's a very entertaining film (directed by John Lee Hancock), alternately comic and profoundly moving. It attempts to show us what made Travers 'tick' and from whence her Poppins character was derived. There may well be over-simplifications in the way this is explained but I can accept that as being part of the liberties taken as 'film-speak'. Besides, it's intended to amuse and/or involve its viewers and it does that admirably.

By the way, those familiar with the book will know that Bert (as played by Dick Van Dyke in the 1964 film) is only a marginal character who appears for about 8 pages - and he's not a sweep anyway! Likewise, Mr and Mrs Banks, the former of which is very prominent in the film, are even more peripheral in the book.

When I first saw the Poppins film nearly (goodness me!) fifty years ago, although I did like it I wasn't really as overly enthusiastic as most of my contemporaries were. I thought it seemed to date rapidly on screen, and when another Sherman brothers product, 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' came out four years later (also, of course, with Dick Van Dyke, though this time not from Disney) I rated it as being the superior of the two. Even now it looks quite fresh. It must, however, be said that for songs and music, 'Poppins' was the Shermans' real triumph. It's a brilliant score with very strong songs throughout. However, in spite of that and even despite these same brothers' songs for 'Jungle Book', I'd still make a claim that the score of 'Chitty' is pretty damn good.
But that's all beside the point for now. Not having seen 'Poppins' for something like thirty years it's more than high time for a re-viewing - and possibly for a re-appraisal, which could see my opinion being revised upwards - just like a kite!

For originality, fun, deep emotion and very fine acting I award 'Saving Mr Banks' a robustly healthy.............8.

Thursday 28 November 2013


It was only because, having to go to Brighton, I thought that being there I might as well pop in for this film. It's a matter-of-fact view of the events in Dallas immediately following the Kennedy assassination (as though we were wanting still more!), released to coincide with the recent anniversary. The reviews I'd seen indicated that it was a fairly efficient though perfunctory  effort.

A reconstruction of the few hours following the fatal shots, with concentrations on the 'Parkland' hospital where Kennedy (as well as Oswald, later) was taken  - as well as the aftermath of the unwitting filming of the event by Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giametti). Others in the cast include Billy Bob Thornton, Zac Ephron and Marcia Gay Harden, they and others playing characters who were absolutely central to the drama, but all of whom, through history, are now relegated to being peripheral figures.

There's a protracted, bloody scene in the hospital as they try to hold onto the President's life - and another one much later when attempts are made to save Oswald.
There wasn't much here that was new to me, though what was new (or I may have forgotten about it) was Oswald's brother and his dreadful and scary mother's differing reactions to the news of first the shooting, and then of Lee Oswald's death. Oddly, it was at such moments that for me the film's tension, such as it was, drooped most noticeably.

What I did like about the film was that it didn't attempt to analyse or rationalise the events - or offer different versions of 'the truth', Mrs Oswald notwithstanding. We've had more than enough of that for half a century, thank you  The film, to its credit, just played everything out as though witnessed by a dispassionate observer.

I'm sure that generations to come will continue to be fascinated by the subject. I think I've had just about enough of it as I can take, and happily leave it to future, wiser heads than mine to conjecture further - and there's little doubt but that they will......................................5.5.

Wednesday 27 November 2013


Sequel to last year's 'Hunger Games', there is little that is new about this one, directed by Francis Lawrence. It's one of those films which makes me feel evermore alienated from a mainstream cinema audience. A glitzy and vulgar public ceremony (which I can readily accept) leads up to a test of survival skills for a number of previously victorious competitors fighting it out to the death, both amongst themselves as well as against a manufactured hostile environment -  for the ostensible purpose of crowd-pleasing 'entertainment', though with the more sinister underlying motive of control of the masses.

With sentimental episodes, complete with music pointing to the emotion one ought to feel, it mirrors the first film in that the first half is all about the build-up to the 'Games', sketching out, very roughly, the characters - participants and organisers - with concentration unsurprisingly on the Jennifer Lawrence character, which she plays brilliantly, by the way - and the ensuing hour or more, which is the 'Games' itself. And 'games' is the operative word as time and again I was thinking that the whole concept reminded me of a computer game where lives are disposable and one tries to win at all costs (within pre-ordained rules, of course). Well, one's own life is at stake, after all.

I found it a film brutal to the point of nastiness, but that is precisely what the game is intended to portray.
Good to see Donald Sutherland again, and Stanley Tucci too, as M.C. (even more outrageous than before), Woody Harrelson - and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is a formidable presence in whatever film he appears.

Can't believe that I gave the first film a rating of 7.5. I did think higher of it than this one, though part of that will have been due to the novelty of the concept. Witnessing exactly the same formula all over again was borderline boring. Can't see myself mustering much enthusiasm for the next in the series, though I probably will go. Or will I?

I give 'Catching Fire'  a.........................4.5.

Friday 22 November 2013

How I heard the news........

Most of those who read this blog would not yet have been born on this day - and of those who were, very few will have been old enough to remember it. So here is a little indication of how it felt to this writer.

Fifty years ago today (also a Friday) I was 17. I'd left school that Summer and was two months into my first job as trainee accountant, at that stage a mere errand-running dogsbody.

On the actual day I'd have been home about one hour, had had my dinner and, at around around 6.45 p.m., was watching TV alone, my mother being in the back living room with my grandmother.
At that time there were only two TV channels, BBC and ITV (the commercial station).
I'd have watched the national news (nothing of note that day) and was probably then watching the succeeding local news, with diminished attention.
Then the sound of my mum hurriedly coming up the hallway, calling out to me - "President Kennedy's been shot!" (She'd had the radio on in the other room. There'd been no announcement yet on TV, which was carrying on normally.) My blood froze. I can still feel it. I can't recall what I said but it was probably something like "How is he?" and she would have replied "They haven't said yet."
I felt paralysed, willing the TV to say something, - anything!  - while I was switching between the two channels.
It would have been just a couple of minutes later when, mid-programme, an announcer appeared telling us what my mum had said. He'd been shot but had survived and was being rushed to hospital.
At that time I and my whole family were devoutly religious, and I may well have got down on my knees to pray that he'd be okay.

It was a very big deal for us Catholics that JFK, being the first and so far only R.C. President, should be seen to be as successful and popular - and in our eyes up to then he had been  - while also being such a perfect family man! In fact he was head of a model, good, Catholic family. We always felt particularly proud whenever his name was mentioned, though we were also aware of his increasingly vociferous critics, which I dismissed as coming from 'sour grape Protestants'.
It hardly needs repeating here, it being so often documented, that at that time we hadn't the slightest clue about the realities of his private life, nor of the truth of his lifelong difficult medical condition. He was a hero for so many of us, the closest to a Superman that we had ever seen. He was all set to become a truly outstanding President.

Meanwhile on TV the announcer said that we'd be kept informed if there were any developments in the story, and the interrupted programmes returned. Of course my mind couldn't take in anything else on TV. I kept switching channels until - maybe something like 45 mins later, an announcer re-appeared to repeat the news when the telephone beside him rang. He picked it up....."Yes......yes......okay."  He replaced the receiver and, to the camera, "We regret to inform you that President Kennedy has died." Nothing else. The screen faded to dark. It was a hammer blow even though there was an inevitability about it.  (I was wondering why he seemed to be smiling as he made the announcement. But on reflection I don't seriously think it was a smile - more a 'pained expression', which under the pressure of the moment might have been capable of being misinterpreted.)
It was ITV who had beaten the BBC to the announcement. I switched to BBC and a good 5 minutes or more later their own regular news-reader appeared, grim-visaged, to tell us what we had already just heard.

The BBC showed their daytime test card over silence - then, all of a sudden, music, which I recognised as the opening movement of Bach's Orchestral Suite Number 3 in D, an unfortunately-chosen, gloriously jubilant sound, complete with celebratory trumpets and triumphant drums (very likely the first track on a classical music record which they happened to have on hand). ITV, after a similar few minutes silence, showed a recording of a classical concert, Sir John Barbirolli conducting Brahms' Variations on the St Anthony Chorale', a slightly less insensitive choice.
What happened then on BBC I thought was little short of a scandal. After maybe half an hour of classical music as a background to the static test-card, they returned to its normal programming schedule - and actually screened, unbelievably, two situation comedies, back to back - Harry Worth (a big-name English comedian of the time) and 'The Rag Trade' (with Miriam Karlin and Sheila Hancock), both pre-recorded with canned laughter.
I thought at the time that that was unforgivable. There was strident criticism in the papers the following day, pointing out that even Soviet Radio and TV had cancelled all their programmes in order to play solemn music for the remainder of the night.
We were later to learn that on this fateful day all the BBC big-wigs happened to be away together attending a conference on the other side of the world and had been unreachable. There'd been no one left behind in London to make a high-level decision as to what to do. I believe that because of what happened there are now contingency plans always in place to ensure that no such fiasco ever recurs.

The ensuing days are less clear to me. Masses for Kennedy's soul were being held all over the country and I attended one at my local parish church.
I remember feeling that the funeral seemed to be taking place with immoderate haste, and looked somewhat disorganised. All the major world leaders were there but I searched in vain for even just a glimpse of our then Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who did actually attend but was nowhere to be seen on film. It was French President Charles De Gaulle who was pre-eminently conspicuous.

Then it was over. Johnson had been sworn in as President within minutes of Kennedy's death being announced. Shortly afterwards Oswald himself was shot. Life tried to return to something like it was before even though there was a chunk of it missing. I carried around for some time a heavy feeling of the injustice of it all. Why did God allow it to happen? (Good question!)

During the passing of the last five decades revelations have come out about the personal lives of the Kennedys which we never dreamt could be so at the time, and which was, frankly, a severe disappointment to a lot of us. Do I think that I'd have reacted differently had I known? Yes and no. There is still no doubt that whatever his many personal foibles were JFK was the most magnetic leader I've known in my lifetime. The 'electricity' poured out of him, right through the TV screen - and there's been no one who has come even near that since - maybe Obama before he started having to make disappointing compromises, and perhaps Blair at the beginning, before we realised what a hopeless let-down he would turn out to be. But Kennedy's star, to my mind, outshines them all by far. He was 'charisma' itself.
In the days following the shooting we'd heard how, in a school somewhere in the southern States, a grinning teacher had gleefully announced the assassination to the assembled pupils, and the children clapped and cheered. I'm sure it wasn't unique. But I'm also sure it wasn't typical.

Within a very few years after this event Kennedy's reputation started turning big-time sour, in fact that of all the Kennedy's. (Not helped at all later by Edward and Chappaquiddick.) When Jackie Kennedy announced her intention to marry Greek multi-millionaire magnate and divorcee, Aristototle Onassis, the Church's disapproval was unambiguous, culiminating on her wedding day itself by the Vatican denouncing her as a 'public sinner'.
Re-appraisals of JFK's political legacy came thick and fast, mainly claiming that his radical credentials had been exaggerated and that his successor, Johnson, had actually been a greater President. There is no doubt that the latter was the one who had steered civil rights legislation through to its fulfilment, though would Kennedy have managed that anyway if he had survived? His political enemies were, at the time of the assassination, flexing their muscles for a fight to the end. His sudden death put them back in the box for while.
Robert Kennedy's politics were also being called into question long before he himself was gunned down in 1968.

And yet, half a century later, 1963 was a time of 'innocence' for which I still feel nostalgic, whilst being aware that it cannot return. The world has moved on too far for it to be repeated, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

On my only visit to the USA in 1969 I managed to make a visit to Arlington cemetery to see the grave with the eternal flame (and with Bobby's then as yet unconstructed grave set off slightly to the side). I recall being close to tears standing at the stone monument with his (or, more likely, his speechwriters') most-quoted words carved into them, six years after the event - and something of that same sadness remains in me even now.

This day 50 years ago will undoubtedly stay with me for my remaining time, and its power won't diminish now. It's poignant like few other memories. It's also a beautiful memory. Nothing in world affairs has left its mark on my mind like that event - and, while naturally profoundly regretting the tragedy itself,  I value enormously the experience of having lived through that time.

Wednesday 20 November 2013


No one can deny the laudable intentions of Lee Daniels' true story version of this chronicle of the working life of a White House servant - set against the backdrop of the American Civil Rights movement, from its burgeoning in the 1950s, to becoming a force to be reckoned with and to be ignored at a President's peril, in this case a sweep of Presidents from Eisenhower right through to Regan (but skipping Ford and Carter). However, despite it undoubtedly having its heart in the right place I found the whole enterprise bordered on the ponderous. (My patience was further tested by seeing it on a cold, rainy morning in an unheated cinema!)

Forest Whitaker plays the eponymous manservant, Cecil Gaines, his gradually ageing features from young adult to retiree, through make-up and prosthetics not being as successful as it ought to have been, sometimes looking old before his time then in a following scene appearing to be facially rejuvenated. The same applies to Oprah Winfrey's features as his rather domineering, ciggie-puffing wife. However, in this film it is she who is always the more formidable on-screen presence, and for me carries the acting honours, moreso than Whitaker, who in his working persona is trained to withhold from showing his true feelings, and only in domestic settings, such as when he is arguing with his two sons, is he allowed to give his emotions full rein. But even at such times he appears relatively subdued while it's still Winfrey who time and again steals the show.
British hottie David Oyelowo (who, I've just seen, was born in Oxford a few months after I moved there myself) plays Gaine's headstrong, militant son, Louis, and is one of those actors who effortlessly draws one's attention to whereever he is on the screen. I recall him playing a 'colour-blind' title role in the Henry VI plays with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He deserves to become a much bigger name, and no doubt he will.

A succession of well-known stars play the Presidents (as well as at least three of the briefly-seen female characters) though it's Alan Rickman's Reagan who is the only one to achieve a close facial resemblance. However, that's not really material as each President is a cipher for the developing (or regressing) civil rights politics of the time.
I did find a number of scenes to be near heart-breaking. For those of my generation it was poignant to see again news footage, now tempered by hindsight knowledge of what such struggles eventually were to achieve - not to mention how far they have still to go, in attitudes if nothing else. 

I'd have liked to have enjoyed this film more but I don't think it's as remarkable as it strives to be, though the personal story in itself certainly is noteworthy. A score which I think would fairly reflect the sum of its impact on me is................6.

Friday 15 November 2013


With a cast of five A-list stars (or very near it) plus high-expectations of writer Cormac McCarthy, director Ridley Scott comes out with.............an unpleasant, unnecessarily wordy, sporadically violent and, ultimately, rather silly 'thriller'.

Set in the ruthless world of drug trafficking between Mexico and USA, where the lives of the 'inconvenient' are as disposable as paper tissues, Michael Fassbender is the centre of the tale as an affluent lawyer who gets himself involved with this criminal fraternity, initially giving the appearance of being as hard-boiled as anyone, but only to become, during the course of the film, something of a powder puff, thanks largely to his feelings towards his intended, Penelope Cruz. He meets up first with Javier Bardem and then with Brad Pitt, both of whose salutary cautions as insiders of the 'industry' with first-hand experience, go unheeded and he soon finds himself up to the neck in trouble and the target of unlikely, rich-as-Croesus hell-cat, Cameron Diaz, who is pulling strings and is vengeance incarnate.

While watching I found that I kept myself tensed up and braced for something ultra-violent to happen - which it does several times, but it's all heavily signposted stuff.
I thought that with so many big names at least some of their contributions would be no more than cameo appearances. In fact they all have substantial roles. Pity that in the end the film doesn't live up to its promise. The only redeeming feature for me was the pleasure of seeing all these stars at one go, particularly Fassbender who is always worth watching.

I may not have bothered seeing it had I seen any reviews but I went to this completely 'blind'. As it turned out, on my exit from the cinema I immediately turned on my 'Walkman' (remember them?) and caught Mark Kermode's review on Radio 5 of the very same, and was quite satisfied to hear that his opinion was not that very different from my own. However I think that if he'd given it a rating it wouldn't have been nearly as generous as my own one of................4.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Film: 'GRAVITY' (in 3D)

If this film were to be judged on visual effects alone it would score as near a 'Perfect 10' as dammit. To call that aspect merely "impressive" would be to do it an injustice.

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are two astronauts carrying out extra-craft repairs when disaster strikes. From that point onwards the story is simple and ruler-straight linear (which is no bad thing), with the entire focus on how they can survive.

The qualification which made my enjoyment slightly less than some people's is very personal, viz: in any attempt to depict a level of reality in space-located, science fiction films my observations have a tendency to become over-critical. I wish I could just sit back and enjoy the film as an exciting piece of fiction but I do find it difficult to let my cavils go. I won't spell out those occasions (very few in this film, I must admit) when my credulity was over-stretched but it contributed to a sense of detachment, alien to many of the reviews I've read which called it "very absorbing" or similar.

Little else to say, other than that I'm glad I saw it in 3D - and this is probably the most successful use of that format in any film I've seen to date.

In terms of my own personal reaction, and fully aware that some others will certainly consider my opinion as sullenly over-harsh, I would certainly still recommend 'Gravity', with a rating of.............7.

Thursday 7 November 2013


Director Stephen Frears can usually be relied upon to come up with a film that is both significant and superior. He's already been responsible for so many of them over the last three decades or more - and here, with the flawless contributions of the acting masterclass that is Judi Dench, and the increasingly and impressively versatile Steve Coogan, he's given us a film that is right up there with the very best of them. This is an exceptionally fine film!

It is based on the true story of an Irish woman, Philomena Lee, as recorded by Martin Sixsmith, his being a household name in the 1980s and 90s for us news-junkies as, among other things he was, for a time, chief BBC correspondent in Moscow and in Washington - before joining Tony Blair's government as adviser, only to later fall out with them.

This film concerns Philomena's (Dench) 50-year search for the child she had to give up (actually sold!) for adoption, by the nuns of the institution she attended (one of the notorious 'Magdelene Laundries' for orphaned and disowned girls run in Ireland by the 'Sisters of Mercy'), because it was born illegitimate to her  when she had barely entered her teenage years. Coogan, as Sixsmith, is the writer who, initially reluctant to take up the story, becomes driven by a curiosity followed by a steely determination to assist, then taking her to America where the track leads.

I was aware of the vague outline of the story but I was totally unprepared for a certain most interesting  dimension to develop, which I shan't disclose here.

The film contains a strong indictment of the Catholic Church's attitude of the time (and still continuing in places) regarding the 'heinousness' of extra-marital sex. Any consequent birth, attended by the nuns, has all anaesthetics and pain relief withheld, in order that the young mother experiences the excruciating pain brought about by her grievous 'sin'.
The Sixsmith character is a former Catholic, now atheist (rather like me, in that respect) who articulates condemnations of the Church on this issue with words which, I'm sure, a lot of us would wish to have delivered ourselves. In fact in the climactic final confrontation I was half-inclined to cheer him on. Philomena, meanwhile, retains her faith despite the lifetime of hurt that the Church has done to her.

Coogan is also one of the script's two co-writers - and it's a magnificent one, concentrated significance with hardly an extraneous word. Most satisfying to listen to.

It's incredible to think that Dench is only one month away from turning 79. Whenever she decides to retire, which surely can't be far away now, she'll have left us a body of work which any other respectable actor would die for. If she has been somewhat over-frequent on screen in recent years I don't mind that in the least. My attitude is to treasure her while we've got her. Besides, she never delivers a dud. (If you haven't yet seen her in 'Notes on a Scandal'  [2006], I'd urge all serious cineastes to catch it. It's a performance that left me transfixed with admiration.)

'Philomena' is a wonderful film. Sentimental, yes, but it's not a contrived sentiment created to get the audience's sympathy. That's already there under the cruelty to which she was subjected.

In the remainder of this year if I see another film as fine as this one then I'll have been very lucky. As at now  there is a good handful of films already jostling for my title of 'Film of 2013'. This is another one............8.

Wednesday 6 November 2013


(Lest it be thought that I've been unduly negligent in my duty of reviewing recent releases, in my defence it ought to be pointed out that in the over two weeks since my last posting there has been a dearth of films circulating which I wished to see. In fact there was only one, 'The Selfish Giant', now been and gone, which was a possibility but which I eventually couldn't bring myself to attend on knowing that it featured horses quite prominently.)

I'd assumed that this present film was going to be a bit of an oddity, especially for someone like me whose knowledge of the central personality being portrayed is seriously wanting.

It claims to be based on the true story of one Paul Potts, a sort of male equivalent of Susan Boyle, who found fame by winning a T.V. talent show, in this case, 'Britain's Got Talent', with panel of judges led by Simon Cowell who appears as himself in this film, and is also one of its producers. (I've only ever seen this T.V.  programme 'accidentally' when switching channels, and never been able to endure it for many minutes longer).

James Corden plays Potts very well, I thought. (His singing voice is dubbed by Potts himself) He's an untrained, opera-obsessed amateur tenor who has to be pushed to jump through hoops to get the acknowledgement he yearns. He seems to have led a very eventful life. I'm willing to believe that no fictional events were added, but no doubt some of it was hyped up to make it more interesting as a film. If it was then that is fair enough too.
His pre-fame life in Port Talbot (South Wales, look you) living with his doubting and confrontational father (Colm Meaney) and his sympathetic mother (Julie Walters) is well caught - as is his romantic interest and subsequent marriage. Trouble is, notwithstanding the reality of events depicted, the film piles cliche on cliche, non-stop. One can guess the graph of his progress - but one knows where it's going to end anyway.

I hadn't realised, until I looked it up, that Potts has found a degree of international fame, though for an outsider like me it's nowhere near as high profile as Susan Boyle's. But, unlike the latter,  he is strictly classical. (The standard gamut of well-known tenor arias is run through - nothing unfaniliar).

I've only noticed Corden on film in the marvellous 'The History Boys' (of Alan Bennett, 2007), but I see he has had small roles in quite a number of films of recent years - and will be part of the cast in the much anticipated screen version of Sondheim's 'Into the Woods'. He's been a regular face on British TV for a number of years and is now particularly well known for his highly-praised starring role on stage in 'One Man Two Guvnors' in both the West End and on Broadway.

I'd also mention in the cast of this film Alexandra Roach as Potts' down-to-earth love interest, and Mackenzie Crook as his hyperactive and scene-stealing best pal.

I enjoyed this film rather more than I expected, but it's all very light, easily disposable viewing. Worth a watch but nothing to shout loudly about....................................6.

(Coming soon: 'Philomena')

Tuesday 22 October 2013


If anyone goes to this hoping for two hours plus of highly charged excitement, I doubt if they'll be demanding a refund. By the time it finished I felt quite drained as director Paul Greengrass turns the screws real tight and keeps them in that position.

A lot of people have already seen this so I won't bother to repeat anything other than it's an essentially simple tale (claiming to be based on true story) of Somali pirates highjacking a container ship off the Kenyan coast for a several million dollar ransom. We are all familiar with the relatively new hazard of piracy in that area and though I'd have heard the news about this one I couldn't recall the details nor how it had ended. I also hadn't realised that this was the first major event of its kind.

Tom Hanks, as the captain, here and so often elsewhere, presents an all-round good guy (with family, of course, though it is based on fact), this admirable quality almost certainly spilling over from the persona he presents in real life which, I dare say, he could well be, and I would certainly like to think he is. However, I do tend to find this a bit of a problem in his films as I can't always get beyond the man who is acting - and he almost always plays a 'goody'. (That's why I thought it was a refreshing change to see him in a negative role in the excellent 'World Atlas' at the start of this year). But for this film he is ideally cast as the conscientious, no-nonsense man in charge.

Brakhad Abdi as the chief pirate is a revelation. Totally convincing, he shows us how terrifying such a figure can be, a man who refuses to recognise that he, along with everyone else, has feet of clay. Incidentally, I found it interesting that neither side at any time invoked the name of God/Allah. If they did I missed it. Or maybe it's a mistake to assume that pirates who also happen to be Islamic (I assume) are all religious zealots.   

It's a very loud film. Once the action starts in earnest there's hardly a break from the thumping soundtrack. Also, there's quite a bit of shouting. In fact the entire experience at the cinema I went to approached quite close to aural pain. (I'd forgotten to take my cotton wool ear plugs, which I would have used without doubt.) But I find sound turned up to max is a common feature of many cinemas nowadays, much more than it used to be. It's as though they want to make sure we don't doze off, which is hardly likely in a tense drama like this.

As entertainment this film is very high quality, superior to many other reconstructed real-event dramas I've seen. For that reason it would be unfair if I awarded it anything less than a well-deserved.......................7.5.

Monday 21 October 2013


The predictable question to ask is: "Does knowing that this was James Gandolfini's last but one completed film make one more favourably disposed to it than would otherwise have been the case?" My answer is "Emphatically not!". I'd have found this screenplay to have the potential to be a delightful film with any cast - though here they are all uniformly excellent. Moreover, it's assuredly secured a place as one of my 'films of the year.' One of the 'invisible stars' was the script, which I found alert, intelligent and believable, without being too contrived or too glib.

I knew the names of neither main star Julia Louis-Dreyfus nor of director Nicole Holofcener before now, though I see they've both done substantial TV work. Toni Collette affords solid support as Louis-Dreyfus' friend.

The first of these plays a travelling masseuse, a divorced mother of a teenage daughter, with, among her clients, Catherine Keener, another divorcee (also with teenage daughter) and who, during her sessions, offloads her negative opinions about her ex. Keener listens sympathetically, not realising for quite some time that this 'ex'  also happens to be the guy (Gandolfini) whom she herself is currently dating, they having met up earlier at a social function and 'clicked'. (Okay, a co-incidence too far, maybe, but this is meant to be a light-hearted story.) When the revelation dawns on her she tries to juggle both her client-friend and her man-friend without wishing to betray what she's found out to either of them, probing each to elaborate on their opinions of the other.

It's a gentle rom-com, small-scale but very agreeable. Without any genuine laugh-aloud moments (at least for me, though there were some occasional guffaws among the audience), it's rather one of those aimiable, feel-good films, and on those terms alone it works a treat.

I find it hard to find fault with this film. I could have done without the insertion of a song on the soundtrack towards the end (but that's one of my perpetual bug-bears) and if the very close comes near to swimming in sentimentality it doesn't last so long as to drown in it.
If this had actually turned out to be Gandolfini's very final screen appearance it would surely have done him proud.

I was set on giving this a rating of 7.5 but now, three hours after it finished, I can still feel the after-glow, and for that reason I'm going to push it a notch further up to.........................8.

Monday 14 October 2013

Many Happy Returns, Ray! Well, thank you, Raybeard. Very nice of you to have remembered.

Tues 15th October

Three score and seven, not a particularly meaningful number per se, but another step on the way to either oblivion or immortality (I tend to favour the former.).

Three birthday cards. I expect just one more, from a 74 year old brother, who doesn't always remember, but it's not a big deal. One of the cards yesterday generously contained my only 'gift', a bit of money from a teacher friend in Munich. Very opportune it was too as I can now use it to get Noodles his long-overdue annual check-up, then use the remainder (if any) on more nutrition to continue keeping seven pussies happy, content and satisfied  - three or four times a day!.
But shan't neglect myself.  As a special treat I'm going to gorge on three fried egg sandwiches! And not only that - as I've been to the pictures the last seven days on the trot, I shall today spoil myself with the luxury of not going.

The most famous 'celebrity' who shares my birthday (actual, rather than anniversary) is Richard Carpenter,  half of one time world-renowned singing duo, who in his time has penned a number of high-quality ditties which will last much, much longer than either of us will, even if they've now practically been consigned to easy-listening 'armchair and slippers' music.

Here's a pic taken when I was still 66 - yesterday.

So, let 67 fire at me what it will. Bring it on!


Julian Assange's condemnation of this film, based on two books which, he claims, are hostile to him, has been widely reported (I'm assuming that he's watched the film) - as has his refusal to meet Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrays him.

I liked it. Frenetically-paced, it tells the story of Wikileaks from its inception right up to almost today - though Assange's ongoing self-sought sanctuary in London's Ecuadorian Embassy, and his reasons for being there, are not addressed in the body of the film and only mentioned in the film's final captions.
It's true that the rapid-fire, consecutive, short scenes doesn't give much scope for arguing the rights and wrongs of making the leaks, but all the same I found it quite an adrenalin-pumping tale (assisted by Carter Burwell's insistent-beat background score). It was also good to have the back story of some of the leaks (which most of us are familiar with), fleshed out a bit more, and I did learn a little.
I knew hardly anything at all of Assange's colleague, Daniel Bruhl, author of one of the contentious books (played capably by Daniel Domscheit-Berg) and didn't realise the extent to which the two of them were working in tandem (or is that perhaps Bruhl's own self-serving gloss?). It's only towards the very end of the film that we are shown their rupture of their partnership and what caused it.
Director Bill Condon keeps the action tight and fast. There's hardly a let-up in it - hardly.

The supporting British cast includes David Thewlis (whom we don't see enough of, these days) as a reporter for 'The Guardian' and Peter Capaldi (the new Doctor Who) as that newspaper's editor.
The main American contributors, both as senior White House staff, are Laura Linney, who's fast becoming a stalwart of largely better-than-average films, and who always seems to raise the standard - as well as Stanley Tucci, who's already been a stalwart for some time.

It's really impossible to say if Assange's denouncement of the film is justified, for who knows where the truth lies? - and is there an absolute truth anyway? Of course there isn't. All I can say that the treatment here of him and his cause is not unsympathetic while not being defiantly 'pro' either. Speaking for myself, although my heart is supportive of his cause (Yeah - go for it!) my head is rather more equivocal.

I'm surprised to see that the average rating on IMDb as at now is as low as 5.8, so clearly my enjoyment isn't shared by most. But that doesn't alter the fact that I left the cinema feeling well-satisfied at having expended time, money and effort on this entertainment.................................7

Sunday 13 October 2013


Despite a trio of quite starry actors in three of the main roles (Ruffalo, Paltrow, Robbins) to which one can add Joely Richardson and Pink (Alecia Moore), I found this borderline boring. Ennui set in early on, and at just shy of two hours it was rather too long.
Released last year in America (why do we get so many films so much later?) and classed as a drama/romantic comedy, evidence of the last word seldom shows.
One review on IMDb finds the script "incredible" and "not trite". I disagree, finding it uninspiring throughout.

Ruffalo (sadly for me, with a fur-less face this time) and Robbins meet up in a self-help group of compulsive sexual behaviour addicts. Hence the film's title. It's an unusually large group.
So far so good. Pretty sure I've not found this subject addressed on film before. Ruffalo meets up with Gwyneth at a social function and attraction is immediate. Unsurprisingly, he keeps his addiction from her - until she accidentally finds out about it after the bonking has started, leading to an off-on relationship for the remainder of the film.
Robbins, living with his wife, is visited by his long-since-left adult son and who both try to get over their past mutual hostilities, not entirely successfully.

I was hoping I'd like this film more. I didn't think the Paltrow/Ruffalo relationship looked convincing on screen and though Tim Robbins in particular was good, as he just about always is, it wasn't sufficient to rescue this.
There are also a few glaring lapses of continuity.

Btw: They keep referring to sexual addiction as a 'disease'. Thinking about that word, I'd assumed that a 'disease' was a physical illness, set off at a micro level with a virus, germ, bacterium etc. I could be wrong, or it may be that it's one of those words applied differently in American English and British English.
Also, in a hospital, would one ever really find a female, white-coated doctor, visiting patients wearing six-inch stilettos? I would have thought that they weren't the most practical shoes when she has to make an emergency bee-line, and I should have expected health regulations to demand more functionally appropriate footwear. But again, I'm ready to accept that it may happen.

A strangely unmemorable film, and therefore not one I'd recommend, except to wile away a couple of hours, perhaps awaiting something more interesting to do...........................5.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Film: 'FILTH'

The second Edinburgh-located film in less than a week. That's not too many, though in this one there's hardly anything to see that most might recognise.
Very violent, abounding in swearing, loads of cross-cutting with very few scenes lasting longer than two minutes, this wild and busy film has so many times been compared with 'Trainspotting' (like this film,  from author Irvine Welsh), and always unfavourably, as far as I've seen. But it would be mistaken to dismiss 'Filth' completely, in my opinion.

James McAvoy plays a coke-snorting, pill-popping, heavy drinking, thieving, lying, cheating detective-sergeant who's been separated from his wife and child and who's hell bent on achieving promotion above his rivals. He's one who gives 'corruption' a bad name. He'll stop at absolutely nothing to procure his rise. From the outset he plans to discredit the other potentials by any foul means he can devise, including, in one case, constructing a multi-layered scenario to make the others think that one of them is gay, a big no-no for his more mature, but just as homophobic boss (played, interestingly, by openly gay Scottish actor, John Sessions) who regards with horror the thought of one of his senior officers possessing 'non-traditional' values.
By McAvoy's similar blatant lying to the others he gets them to gang up on each in turn, and in the process has illicit and rampant sex (including a bit of S/M) not just with some of their partners but also with the wife of his (non-police) best friend, the impressively versatile Eddie Marsan, for whom he puts on a show of looking for the mystery man who's been making obscene phone calls to her. He's that very same man.
I should have said that in addition to being virulently homophobic he's also racist and rabidly mysogonistic into the bargain - but you probably guessed that that comes with the territory he inhabits.
His only moments of lucidity are when he keeps bumping into his wife and kid, yearning to be back with them again. But these intervals don't last long before he's ingesting the hallucination-inducers again.
Saying more about the story is pointless. It's all high-energy, fantasy-driven stuff, reflecting the effect on his mind of drugs and drink
Others in the cast include Jamie Bell as his close work colleague, who thinks that he's getting McAvoy's confidences, but doesn't know that he's also being duped - and Jim Broadbent in full nutty professor mode as his medical consultant. If you don't know that there's a shortish, out-of-the-blue appearance of a famous face then it's better not to spoil the surprise. (I did know, so I was looking out for him.)

Music soundtrack is incongruous throughout - Golden Oldie pop hits spanning the decades plus some very well known classical pieces, all seeming to have no connection with the action going on ('Trainspotting' had a similar feature.).

There are a number of nods to 'A Clockwork Orange', in fact so many that I was starting to count them, which became a distraction. As well as the conspicuous poster of '2001' on the boss' office wall I wondered if the film contained a general homage to Kubrick, as it also crossed my mind whether the Christmas tree was a pointer to 'Eyes Wide Shut', though maybe not. I don't see why the Kubrick connections were made. I don't imagine it's part of Welsh's source book.

Btw: I wasn't aware that the film's title is just one of the many nicknames the criminal world bestows on the police force generally, though it's hardly surprising to learn it.

I wasn't bored for an instant during this film - there's hardly any opportunity for that. Pleased I saw it but, unlike 'Trainspotting', 'Filth' (Director: Jon S. Baird) is one I'd not rush to see again nor to recommend with enthusiasm - and it's definitely not one for the faint-hearted...............6.

Friday 11 October 2013


After yesterday's raspberry of a film I was counting on a feature to redeem my belief in good cinema - and, happy to report, this largely fulfils that need.

Virtually a two-actor piece, Jim Broadbent as college professor and his teacher wife, Lindsay Duncan, go off to Paris to mark their 30th wedding anniversary, though their relationship has long gone off the boil. They live together alone, their children having grown up and flown the nest.
While Broadbent's mental state is essentially one of sexual frustration, as Duncan has put her body more or less off-limits to his advances, her attitude to him is one of barely concealed loathing, only broken by the occasional superficial frolicking and lovey-doveyness, as it's plain that she longs after something more to their marriage. Her put-downs and teasing of Broadbent are horribly cruel.
In Paris they fortuitously bump into successful author, Jeff Goldblum, a former colleague of Broadbent, who invites them to a social gathering in his plush flat, which occasions a devastatingly honest climactic scene involving the married couple.

One of the things I most like about this is that those films which have a bickering married couple at the centre of attention are quite rare for a serious film. There are certainly plenty of comedies where a fractious relationship is the main focus, but not so many husband-wife dramas as a feature film - and, even rarer to see, is the portrayal of a couple who are approaching old age. What is more, this pair is interesting. I never knew what they were going to say to one another next, just waiting for a snappish remark to give away the underlying truth of their stale relationship.
Which leads me to give well-deserved praise to writer Hanif Kureishi ('My Beautiful Laundrette' [Goodness, all of 28 years ago!],  'The Buddha of Suburbia' and 'Venus'). All the dialogue, at least that which I could hear, had significance, something many screenplay writers would do well to note.
Director Roger Michell ('Notting Hill'. 'Venus' [again] and a recent one [best left forgotten, maybe] 'Hyde Park on Hudson') coaxes a very fine performance from Broadbent, but Duncan is just extraordinary. I've never seen her till now in such a central role and this is really her film.

But now for the quibbles. As I hint above, the most serious one is in the dialogue. Duncan delivers a significant number of her lines not just under-the-breath but a few of them are merely mouthed without any vocalisation at all. This is a shame as everything that I can hear is essential to depicting the truth of the relationship. I don't want to be left guessing as to what it is that Broadbent is reacting to. Sorry, but we're not all so adept at lip-reading.
Another pity, though less of a deep trouble, was the film's falling into the trap of cliche on the soundtrack. I'd have expected something more than banalities from Michell. We get not only accordian music, for heaven's sake, but also a couple of snatches from 'Clair de Lune' as well. However, for the most part it's jazz - because, you see, Paris = cool sophistication (just in case you didn't know).
There are, mainly near the start, very short views of touristy attractions - L'Arc, L'Opera, Place de le Concorde - and (would you credit it?), yes - La Tour itself! (Actually the couple's hotel balcony view.).
The photography is done throughout in very subdued colours. At no time do we see anything garish. In fact much of the film is set at night.

I liked this film a lot, but feel it ought to have been even better. And that could easily have been achieved by the little tweak of increasing the audibilty of Duncan's words. Great pity that.

However, my faith in cinema has indeed been restored and I'm pleased to award 'Le Week-End' a fine...................7.5