Thursday 31 January 2013


Drawn to this 2011 film by the name in the title (for more about that major British singing star of the 1950s, see below), I went along hoping that it might be one of those ignored little gems which is only appreciated for its worth when word gets around. Unrealised hopes, alas.
Maybe I should have 'read the runes' in that it had only got a very selected theatrical release and I caught it at a one-off 11 a.m. screening for 'Senior Citizens', many of whom, being of my generation and older, could well have been attracted by the title as I had been.

Modestly budgeted, quintessentially British production, with no really big names to be recognised outside the world of British TV (though John Hurt has a cameo five minute appearance near the start), it's directed and written by Tony Britten, another veteran TV (and one-time classical theatre) actor who also wrote the music soundtrack (Very 'in-your-face'!).
It concerns the aged owner of an end-of-the-pier theatre in one of our English resorts (Cromer, Norfolk), struggling to come up with ideas to keep it alive and viable during the Winter months, while financial bodies are breathing down his neck. After a number of duff ideas someone comes up with an imitation-tribute act to Alma Cogan (died 1966), on whom he'd not only had a teenage crush but actually, for a few brief moments, took it further - and has been obsessing over her for all his life since. (The girl in the film who attempts this tribute-imitation bears no more than a passing resemblance to the star, which I can forgive, but she's even further away in trying to capture the distinctive voice.) There's also a tangential involvement with a criminal gang.

It could have been an interesting and captivating film but I found it rather clunky - and surprisingly, (considering that so many of the cast were veteran actors), much of the acting seemed self-consciously forced, though Keith Barron was okay.

Barely time-passing entertainment, certainly nothing to write home about...................4/10

Alma Cogan (for non-British readers and Brits too young to have known) was one of the really big British female singing stars of the mid-late 1950s, having a string of hits at the same time as Ruby Murray, Shirley Bassey and Petula Clark (the last two being still with us and still performing),  She died of cancer at the tragically young age of 34, by which time she'd been sidelined by changing fashions and the onset of rock and group-pop music. Though she did attempt to extend her regular repertoire of upbeat, chirpily optimistic songs into something more mature and sophisticated, her altered style never really caught on with the public. She'd been known as the 'Girl with a Giggle in her Voice', referring to the inserted, vocal 'catch' when she sang, which became her distinguishing gimmick. I liked her. She had a bouncy, sunny personality which always made me feel good - though what lurked underneath we were never quite sure (at that time such questions were never asked!) If she'd lived in a more enlightened era I'm pretty sure she would have had a large gay following - and she may well actually have done so in the then hidden gay underworld. Listening to her voice even now, it has a pleasantly infectious quality.

Monday 28 January 2013


Despite its unimaginative title this is a decent enough film - sporadically engaging, even sometimes charming, but not one that'll lodge in my memory for a long time.

Set in 1988, and based on the true story of a 38 year old man, a quadraplegic after contracting polio in childhood, who has to spend several hours a day in an 'iron lung'. (I didn't know that they still had these things. I always associate them with the 1950s and prior times, and had assumed that, by now, they might have been succeeded by another, more effective, method of treatment.)

The paralysed Mark wishes finally to lose his virginity - and, more specifically, to have penetrative sex for the first time - and he hires, for this purpose, a sort of sex-therapist surrogate. (Another thing I've learnt - I didn't know such people existed). Without even a blink, she takes on the 'task' of giving him his first experience. For me, Helen Hunt, in this role, carries the film. (We also see a couple of full-frontals of her - for those who like that sort of thing).
Then there's also the always reliable William H.Macy as a sympathetic R.C. priest - sporting some alarming, shoulder-length hair.

The film's principal point of interest is Mark's yearning for emotional involvement while his hired surrogate tries to maintain a professional distance, (she has a husband and son), causing her predictable feelings of guilt and pain. 

A fair enough film, then, but it was no great shakes for me, even though some members of the audience laughed uproariously on cue at some of the lines. I rate it a .......................6/10

Sunday 27 January 2013


Impressive.     As a very dialogue-driven film it risked being rambling, stodgy, monotonous or over-polemic. It turns out to be none of these. In my view this is possibly Spielberg's best film from his more recent offerings, only on a couple of occasions teetering on the edge of sentimental wallowing (for me the bane of too many of his films) but in this case never quite going over.

Concentrating almost entirely on a few weeks at the start of 1865 as Lincoln and his close circle attempt to pass the Constitution's slavery-abolishing amendment, and his fight to acquire the necessary effective votes in the Senate (by cajolery, promises and bribes), it does not shy away from depicting his motivations and anguish in prolonging the Civil War and its painful statistics of casualties, by refusing to compromise. Despite the film's title it is neither a hagiography and even less of a biography, but by capturing a short slot of time in his career (admittedly the most significant one) it does manage a totally convincing multi-dimensional portrayal of the man.

Acting throughout is of a very high order indeed. I shan't feel any of her rivals has been cheated if Sally Field picks up the Bafta and Oscar awards for her role as the self-willed but dutiful Mrs L. Similar recognition ought to be due to Tommy Lee Jones. One should not overlook Tony Kushner's superior screenplay too.  However, if Daniel D-L does not win his it will be a travesty, but he surely will. (Is there anything this man cannot do?)

If this film doesn't end up in my Top 10 of the year, I'll eat my (artifical) fur shako!...............7.5/10

Saturday 26 January 2013


Forewarned that this is a 'weepie', I wasn't all that keen on seeing this film. I do have a tendency to put up a mental barrier to scenes when an insistent orchestra is willing you to open the tear-ducts. And there are a number of those occasions here, though it must be said that the actual event itself is mercifully, and very effectively, free of such aural 'underlining'.

Most people will know by now that, despite this film's Spanish pedigree, the family caught up in and wrenched apart by the Christmas-time tsunami in Thailand of a few years ago, and on which this British family in the film is based, was actually Spanish too.

Acting by the two principal adult characters could hardly be faulted - particularly that of Naomi Watts. Also, the effects are all one could wish for in a 'disaster' film.
Because I'd prepared myself to maintain an emotional distance from the happenings on screen, maybe for that reason I did find the swooping orchestral strings especially jarring. Some watchers may not mind letting themselves be taken up by the high emotion. Not so me. That's always been the case where I find a film using conspicuous (and often unnecessary) effort to involve one in the on-screen drama. It draws attention to itself and thereby, for me, weakens the impact, whereas allowing only the sounds which naturally surround a given scene provides the veracity that a musically sentimental soundtrack takes away.

Of course it's a very simple story which everyone can follow, without it travelling down irrelevant by-ways - and that is one of its merits.
Always fine to look at, never boring or seeming to drag, I was quite impressed notwithstanding my reservations, which are very personal, and which many others may well not share.
When it comes to giving it a rating, this is hardly a film to be marked on 'enjoyment', my most oft-used criterion. It's certainly quite a gruelling watch at times, but a reasonably profound one too.

I think my overall verdict would be fairy reflected in a score of ........6/10.

Wednesday 23 January 2013


Sprawling, epic length, ultra-violent, mid-19th century tale with 'western' backdrop, concerning black slavery and bounty-hunting. Tarantino is in his element here and succeeds in providing pretty high entertainment value. I was never bored during its 2 hrs 45 mins, though it might have benefited from some judicious cutting - even if that meant having to sacrifice one or two of the graphically bloody shoot-outs.

The four lead characters are all very charismatic in their parts so that one wonders whom to look at when two or more are on-screen simultaneously - and all of them act to perfection. I particularly liked Christoph Walz's foppish German (former dentist) bounty hunter with his flamboyantly circuitous manner of speaking. Jamie Foxx was perfectly cast as the film's focus -  while Samuel L. Jackson (almost unrecognisable to me) convincingly waddles about, emerging from the background every now and then, giving his entire 'slavish' allegiance to Di Caprio's heartless and scary plantation owner. 
  As with all many of this director's films there is a significant thread of humour running through much of the film which belies the extreme violence - of which there's quite a lot - and lending the horrific scenes a comic-book depiction. (There are also a few brief scenes, mainly towards the start, concerning the treatment of horses which made me wince a bit, but they were quick).

If you're a Tarantino fan I'm sure you'll like this film. He's never been one to short-change his audience - and in this film he delivers what he's renowned for. I enjoyed it enough to give it a.......7/10

Sunday 20 January 2013

Wintertime pussy concerns spoil film-viewing.

This photo was taken from my window this morning. Maybe not much in terms of what Winter can be like elsewhere but enough to stall my plans for cinema visits until it gets less bone-chilling. Temps today have remained below freezing and are expected to dip to -4 Celsius tonight. There's a possibility of these teeth-chattering conditions ameliorating just a little on Tuesday but there's no significantly milder weather in the offing just yet.
Meantime I'm letting now four furry friends stay indoors and locking them in at night whilst keeping the heating on - necessitating my having to rise every morning around 2-3 a.m. to let them (or coax them) outside in order to fulfil their toilet requirements - and then wait for them to return, one by one, before I can try to get another couple of hours shut-eye.

The following 'choice' films, which I would otherwise have seen, are already in local cinemas or due to arrive soon, and there is considerable doubt if I can catch them all, or even perhaps any of them, as that would mean leaving the pussies alone here for up to 6 hours, with window open and heating turned off. Blackso, in particular, forgets that he can come inside via the back way and so he'll sit out in front on the low garden wall awaiting my return, where he'd be an inviting target for snowballs chucked by kids returning home from school. If I did go out I'd be worrying about him all the time.

These are the films I am missing as at now:-

The Impossible
Gangster Squad
Django Unchained
The Sapphires
False Trail

The third of these is 15 mins short of a whopping 3 hours in length. It's even longer than 'Les Mis', for crying out loud! (Concision has never been one of Tarantino's attributes).
So, if the weather doesn't quickly lighten up and warm up, even more films are going to come and go unseen. Too bad. Can't do anything about it when the pussies have got to come first!

(Taken 2 months ago)


Tuesday 15 January 2013


My favourite musical - and it's been a very long time since I felt such anticipation to see a film as I did for this. Already several of the bloggers I follow have written their own reviews and much has been said in the media so I won't re-tread familiar ground.
On my way to the cinema I was musing on the hope that, just perhaps, I might be scoring this film with a rare, exalted  '8' - or even an unheard of '8.5'.

I'll attempt a different approach in reviewing it by listing in order what I consider its positives and negatives:-

The + s

The cast - I thought all the men were good or very good (bar one) - and with Hugh Jackman being quite perfect. Even Russell Crowe I didn't think was anywhere near as poor as some have said. By now we all know that he doesn't have a singing voice and the strain in it was conspicuous for almost all the time, although his final song was very well performed.

All the actresses (bar one) were excellent. Much has rightly been said about Anne Hathaway, but I thought Samantha Barks as Eponine was outstanding.

The contributions from the choruses were uniformly impressive.

The new, specially composed song, 'Suddenly', even on this, my first hearing, struck me as pretty good. It slotted in seamlessly.

The sets were spectacular (but I was surprised that the film wasn't in wide-screen format).

Direction, pretty good.

The Disappointments

Helena Bonham Carter (doing her slutty act yet again) who might as well have been singing in Czech as far as I was concerned. She seems to think that using a mike dispels any necessity to project. Her mixture of cod- cockney with a twist of caricature French lost most of her words to me, something I didn't find with the rest of the cast. Sacha Baron Cohen was better, but not by very much. I think both these were miscast - (both too young perhaps? - though one hardly demands authenticity, and in a musical of all things!) Sacha B.C. has shown that he can be very good, as he was in 'Sweeney Todd' , which was another film in which Helena B.C. once again mumbled and whispered her way through, paying scant attention to Sondheim's gloriously inventive lyrics. (Sacrilege!)

The whole 'Master of the House' sequence seemed a bit of a mess (too much cross-cutting?), providing nowhere near the uplift that it should as an 'oasis' amidst the ultra-seriousness of the rest of the show.

What the film gained in being opened up for the screen it seemed to lose in the taut excitement I experience in the theatre. In the latter it moved along with a keen, self-generated momentum whereas in this film it almost seems to have acquired excessive 'fat'. Not only did I look at my watch several times, I actually found myself yawning - at two separate moments!
There were a few points of high emotion where I thought the tear ducts might kick in, but the emotional intensity was not sustained for as long as it had been when watching the show live. I'd experienced more prolonged 'highs' when watching on film 'Mamma Mia' for the first time, as well as 'Chicago'. (It might be significant to mention that I've never seen these last two on the stage - though when watching these films I was aware of the songs that had been edited out.)


So, on the whole, a bit of a disappointment. Whereas I long to get the chance to see 'Les Mis' on stage for a fourth time, I don't think I'll be paying to see it in the cinema again, though when it comes on the telly I will be watching it then.

In no way a bad film then, but falling significantly below what I'd been hoping for. I give it a .................6.5/10

Monday 14 January 2013

Film: 'LIFE OF PI' (in 3D)

Way back in 1974, watching the Mike Nichols/George C. Scott film 'The Day of the Dolphin' got me so upset that I decided not to pay money to see another film which has any animal in a major 'role', or the depiction of any animal physically suffering, terrorised or merely in a state of anxiety - even when, nowadays, and markedly so in this particular film, many of the visuals are computer-generated. I've largely kept to that self-imposed rule in all years since then - until now.

I found watching 'Life of Pi' such an ordeal that I cannot remember how many times I averted my eyes. The only things that prevented me from leaving were that (a) this is undoubtedly a 'significant' film which really ought to be seen by any serious-minded cineaste and (b) having paid more than twice the admission fee I normally pay, in order to watch this in 3D format, I wanted to be present for at least enough of it to be able to register it as having been 'seen'. In the event I did manage to last out until the final credits.

When I did peep through my fingers (I don't mean that literally) there were moments when the imagery was simply ravishing and breath-taking. The 3D format was at least as good as it was in last year's 'Hugo', some may say even superior as in that masterpiece. There is no doubt in my mind that this film reaches the zenith of the method .
No complaints either about the acting strength of Suraj Sharma who takes the lion's(!) share of screen time - marooned alone with the tiger for most of that time. He fulfilled the role admirably.  

Unfortunately the emotional intensity I felt during this film renders me pretty well incapable of making a reasonable value-judgment. If I did it would be an unfair verdict, one terribly biased by my own personal foibles. So, bearing in mind that my scores reflect not whether I considered a given film 'good', 'bad' or 'indifferent', but the extent to which I derived personal enjoyment and satisfaction from the experience, for the first time in these blogs I'm going to decline offering a rating at all. Sorry!

Tuesday 8 January 2013


Efficient enough thriller delivering its quota of fights (both with and without guns), chases, twisty plot devices, red herrings - and all needing Tom Cruise in super-sleuth mode to solve  the mystery with jaw-dropping intuition and truly amazing powers of deduction.

Beginning with an apparently random shooting of five members of the public, this scene has acquired a heavy significance because of recent events in the U.S.A. The suspect for the shootings, in an apparently open and shut case, is soon arrested and during questioning enigmatically calls for the title character. So enters T.C. with a blurry past, which just begs for him to be distrusted. But does his being called out from obscurity deter him from trying to fathom out what exactly did happen - and to uncover the killer's motivation? No, it jolly well does not! His unerring ability to suss out the odd suspicious word, which to us mere mortals might have gone unnoticed, pays dividends - allowing him to get to the heart of the matter in time.
Stalwart actors such as Robert Duvall and Richard Jenkins add watchability to the proceedings - and it was good to see British actor David Oyelowo in a major role. Rosamund Pike acquits herself well too. And it would be perverse not to mention the curious, though welcome, brooding and powerful presence of famed director Werner Herzog who doesn't have many lines, but then he doesn't need them.

Reasonable enough entertainment, though ultimately lacking that 'something' to make it special...................6/10

Monday 7 January 2013


This was an unanticipated pleasure. A film of which I hadn't heard and one which gets, as at today, an average rating of just 5.4 on the IMDb site, by just 22 viewers. I would not concur!

Apparently based on a story by Tolstoy, it tells of an increasingly fractious few hours between the Danny Huston character (who earns a living profiteering from purchasing repossessed, occupier-evicted properties at knock-down prices and re-selling them on) and his English driver-companion (Matthew Jacobs - a name with which I'm unfamiliar).
   The bulk of the slightly over 90 mins deals with these two characters alone, who take an unstated dislike to each other almost instantly on their initial meeting (when the driver cannot get his car's SatNav started), their subsequent needling each other constantly while trying to keep a lid on their antagonism, with real feelings seething underneath. When his driver discovers what his 'boss' does for a living he cannot restrain himself from voicing his disapproval. Their enforced reluctant companionship culminates in their being stranded together at night in the snowy peaks of Colorado in the depths of Winter.
I thought it was well-acted (particularly Huston), beautifully photographed, finely observed, a strong script and some very funny moments - even though, all in all, it's not really a full-out 'comedy' as such. The ending too was unexpected. It gets from me a well-deserved.................7/10

Thursday 3 January 2013


I might have given this film a wide berth had it not been for reviews talking about an oblique kind of humour, and that was enough to sell it to me. As it turned out, it wasn't quite as edgy or as quirky as I'd hoped, though it was by no means a waste of time and money.

It concerns an a capella female group at an American university aiming for an annual title, their previous year's attempt having been thwarted by a gross-out, mid-performance 'accident' by one of their members. Their main rivals are a similarly-numbered male group. (Cue - M/F rivalries, romantic links, suspicions of 'betrayals' and so on.) All the musical stagings are done with distinct verve, even exhileratingly so, though it's not until the very end in the final competition that we get to see a number performed complete and without interruption. Throughout the film all the acts (and there a satisfying number of them) consist of medleys of pop hits of very recent decades.

I don't think I winced at the antics on screen even once, which is really saying something, considering the ages of the main characters. The musical numbers certainly gave the film a lift, but in between them, the storyline was of no more than very moderate interest, though not being exactly vacuous either.

Not greatly disappointing then, though maybe my hopes had been just a wee bit too high........6/10 would be fair.

Wednesday 2 January 2013


This was a most agreeable start to my film-viewing year - something I wasn't expecting one little bit! It's Dustin Hoffman's first venture into feature film directing, and one of which he has every right to be pleased, even proud.

A quintessentially English tale (though the subject could be pretty well universal) by the veteran British playwright, Ronald Harwood and based on his stage play, performed with a stalwart, stellar, and entirely British cast.
The 'quartet' of the title refers to four former opera-singer residents of a largish home for retired musicians, while the impetus of the story arises from their wishing (or otherwise) to perform together a quartet from 'Rigoletto' in a small-scale concert at the home to commemorate Verdi's birthday.

The cast is uniformly first-class, as one might expect, but Billy Connolly deserves special mention for his mischievous twinkling and impish humour - while Maggie Smith (is there no getting away from that woman?), as the 'fly-in-the-ointment' late arrival at the home, shows just why she is such a very good actress, conveying both depths and subtle switches of emotion with no more than a pursed lip, or the raising of an eyebrow or a slightly altered tone of voice.

I was dreading all the 'old people' cliches - bitching among themselves, cantankerous exchanges, toilet functions, the residents being patronised by the younger members of staff etc. There is certainly the first three of these but it's all carried off without appearing over-hackneyed. Must confess that I wasn't particularly looking forward to this film, being one of several in recent months which has had aged people in central roles. Given my own years it's a subject I don't want to have my nose rubbed into, so it was with some surprise to find that I was enjoying it so much. (The dialogue in particular needs commending. It's a first-rate screenplay.)
An added bonus for me was that I hadn't realise that one of the smaller roles is taken by none other than the Dame Gwyneth Jones, whom I've seen a few times on the operatic stage, the last occasion being when she sang the title role in 'Turandot' at Covent Garden in the early 90's. Although I've never actually met her in person, she is, or was, an acquaintance of a gay friend with whom I still have contact. Must ask him if he knew that she was going to be in this film. She has a small speaking role but near the end of the film, at this concert, she's allowed to sing a truncated version of a particular well-known aria (I'm not saying which!)

So, that was a happy start to 2013. May it continue in this vein. Meantime I'm more than pleased to award 'Quartet' a.......7.5/10