Wednesday 24 May 2017

Film: 'Whisky Galore'

This re-make of the 1949 'classic' (according to some) has had boos from all corners - usually accompanied by a question along the lines of "Why did they even bother?"
I went along partly out of curiosity that it really could be that dire (and it pretty well is) but also to escape for a couple of hours from domestic woes (with a strong feline bent) as well as the current troubling national and international news.  Anyway, it was a bargain basement screening for just £3 (= 4$ US) so there wasn't too much to lose.

I'd seen the original only once and that must have been about 40 years ago, retaining a less than sketchy memory of it. One thing I'm certain of is that I didn't laugh much, if at all. (It still regularly pops up on the fringe TV channels). 
As for this new version I can report that without any effort at all I kept a straight face right through.

The premise is that off a small, fictional, inhabited Scottish island a boat runs aground on the rocks. Its cargo includes 50,000 crates
of whisky. (Would require some boat to carry that lot - and that's just a part of its cargo! Something rather larger than the vessel we see would be called for, which is little more than a fishing trawler-size.) It just so happens - would you believe it? - that just prior to this ship being wrecked the entire island had run out of.........whisky!  It's wartime (yet again!) and there's no chance at all of replenishing supplies. Much gloominess ensues because, as we know, all Scots do love their wee dram! So this shipwreck must have happened by divine providence, mustn't it? Of course! So the islanders, led by Gregor Fisher, get together a little flotilla of rowboats to rescue what they can - for their own consumption.
Meanwhile army captain Eddie Izzard (possibly the only cast member who'd be recognised outside this country), living on the island(!) with his wife (the ever-watchable Fenella Woolgar), and with a tiny army contingent which seems to consist of just one sergeant, is unaware of what's going on under his nose, the islanders running rings round him while he tries to organise a small group of 'Dad's Army' Home Guard.
There's also a cranky, hard-line vicar who demands everyone holds to the rigours of observing the Sabbath (Funny? What do you think?). Then, the ship being reported missing, the officials arrive and there's much panicky fuss to hide all those bottles. 

Filmed in Aberdeenshire, the scenery is as gloriously magnificent as one could hope.
The script is flat, acting is as though the cast think it's all ever so droll - but if you're unsure as to where you 'should' laugh, don't worry, the insistent (annoying) music will nudge you.

Director Gillies McKinnon is probably best known for his pretty good 'Hideous Kinky' of 1998 with Kate Winslet, but 'Whisky Galore' does his record no credit all......................2.5.

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Film: 'The Secret Scripture'

Firstly, for the many who are interested and concerned, I'm very pleased to report that Blackso is doing fine. Since yesterday morning when he had his first tablet he's had no further nasty 'turns', is eating well and walking around, though with the wobbly gait he's had for some years now which I put down to his advanced years. So, it's looking as good as it could be hoped. Long may it last. Thanks yet again for everyone's enquiries and wishes.

Further update, 12 hours later: Sorry to report he's had another bad spell, same as before. :-(

Jim Sheridan is one of the few directors whose films I'll go out of my way to see. They are all significant, and so is this one, though pity about..........well, I'll come to that. 

Taking place in Co. Sligo, Eire, it features a young woman, played by Rooney Mara, in the early 1940s, and by Vanessa Redgrave as the now aged inmate of a mental institution fifty years later.
(This is Redgrave's most substantial role for many years. Although the part doesn't demand a huge range of acting abilities, she does what she has to do as well as you'd expect at a standard for which she's rightly renowned).
There are frequent shifts between the life of the younger woman, and the older who is visited by a doctor (Eric Bana) who tries to find out more about the past of the old woman who keeps muttering that she did NOT kill her baby, along with other cryptic meanderings. Is she hallucinating or is there some truth behind her ramblings? He's also puzzled by an old Bible she owns in which she's written her disjointed thoughts (true memories?) mostly along the top of the pages, but also sometimes within the texts. There are also some pages she's defaced by cutting. 

The young character is a single woman without a family, popular with her looks, and especially takes the fancy of the young parish priest, but any interest in that direction, apart from being 'wrong' she doesn't reciprocate. Things move forward when one of the young shop-owners in the village has enlisted as a British air fighter, a betrayal of the country's war-neutral status. His plane one day flies over and he has to bail out, landing injured and hanging by parachute from the branches of the very tree closest to the young woman's house. (Oh dear!) She helps him down, takes him to her house and hides him from the hostile locals. Their relationship develops and they eventually marry in secret, but he has to flee soon after. The jealous priest finds out and is instrumental, as an act of spite, to get her confined to a harsh mental institution supervised by severe nuns (force feeding, electric shock 'therapy' etc) on the absurd grounds of' 'nymphomania'.  And in this place she is confined for half a century.  

On the whole, it's a good, absorbing story, never boring for one minute - but it's capped by such a cheesy ending as to defy belief. Because I'd heard about there being such, I guessed what it would be before a certain disclosure which comes very late, while all the time thinking "Please don't let it be that!" But it was. Such a shame. 

The film is based on a novel by a Sebastian Barry but director Jim Sheridan shares the writer credits. What happened? Did he really have to follow the novel which, one assumes, had this ending, or couldn't he be bothered to change it for the film? But there it is, in my view marring what would otherwise have been a superior work.

In other respects, the filming of the Irish landscape is magnificently impressive. The script is good, as is the acting throughout. I must say, though, that I could have done with hearing a little less of the opening bars of the 'Moonlight Sonata'.

I'm going to have to shave half a point from my final rating because of the ending (others might cull it by more) but it's still stands up as a darn good film..........................6.5. 

Monday 22 May 2017

Blackso survives - for at least a few more days or longer.

I know I should be rejoicing, and part of me is, but the last three days have so drained me that the conclusion I was expecting yet dreaded would have afforded some relief in a perverse kind of way.

After a fitful night, rising at 03.45 found him sitting perkily on the kitchen floor, immediately starting to purr loudly in expectation of the breakfast I would give him. All well until about two hours later when he had another bout of losing all coordination and looking around dizzily. Then he slept and when awakened was back to normal again - which made the task ahead even harder.

Rang the vet as soon as it opened at 9.30. They gave me twenty minutes later - so, weeping freely, I scooped him up, locked him in the carry cage and took him the 5 minute walk. In the waiting area my head was down so as not to reveal the wretched state I was in. When called, the one seeing me was my least favourite of the three of them, a dour, humourless, no-nonsense fellow in his forties. I wanted it to be a certain young lady with a foreign accent who always showed sympathy both to me and to my pet. But at least this chap wasn't going to tell me lies to make me feel more comfortable.

This morning I'd read on my last-but-one blog a comment from Athene who said that Blackso's symptoms sounded very much like Vestibular Syndrome/Disease. As she suggested, I looked it up via Google, and his symptoms did very much appear to be identical with that. I told this to the vet but he immediately expressed doubts.
He did an exhaustive check on muscles and tummy and looked into both his eyes and both ears with his instruments (all of which B. hated) and then watched him walk freely around the examination room floor, in his now regular loping style which can look as though he's drunk, so for me his movement appeared to be still normal. I told the vet that this morning he'd had another bout of losing all co-ordination and balance and looking dizzy, but he was now back to what for him at his advanced age is his regular condition. I was asked to describe the accident on Friday.  The verdict was that he still thinks it unlikely to be vestibular, but more probably mild concussion. He prescribed a short of course of anti-inflammatory tablets, and if he's still getting these bouts of unbalance and uncoordination to bring him back. in a few days  Meanwhile, not to let him outside at all. 

So back here he is, having taken one tablet, and he's in a 'normal' state again., though his next attack, if it happens at all, could happen at any time.  (He's just made an unassisted visit to his litter tray).
The vet hadn't even mentioned the ultimate option which I had been waiting for, had prepared for and was going to ask him to do whatever's necessary and get it over with. I was going to request that I might hold and comfort him as he was being injected. It never came to that. Yet I know it still might do.

So that's the situation. I fully realise it's only postponing the inevitable day. It might well have been easier to have requested putting him to sleep if only to avoid having to go through it all again but I chickened out. Meanwhile, I'll appreciate even more, if that's possible, every single minute he's still with me .

I'm enormously touched by all the messages of support and love I've received. I feel very humbled to know there are so many really nice folk around to comfort a complete stranger. I'll be posting updates on Blackso's condition as they come about, which they will, but I don't think future posts on the subject will be anything like as full and wordy as those I've posted since Friday. I've already said just about all there is to say - and I'll try to avoid repeating it all when the day comes round, next time for real. 

Grateful thanks to all - and Blackso says so too! From us both:-

and another:-

Sunday 21 May 2017

Condition of my very dear little Blackso.

Sun. 15.30.
In a bad way once more, and I'd guess that it's near terminal now.
Can't walk at all, legs failing in all directions. He can't even sit. Have to carry him to litter tray and hold him upright while he does his business, then carry him back to kitchen top where he's currently lying and trying to sleep. Looking confused as though he doesn't recognise his home and doesn't seem to recognise me, even while I'm stroking him and whispering his name - and when my 'waterworks' opened up fully. I'm wishing he'd now just slip away peacefully rather than having to take him to the vet in the morning with him having to face the physical ordeal of it and my hearing the practically inevitable suggestion. Sad beyond measure - and, yes, I'm fully aware that most of us have to go through this and that my pain is no greater than anyone else's. Still hurts like hell though.

If I may indulge in one more justification for spilling out my emotions. Apart from you, dear blogpals, I have no one else in the world to talk to about it. Some of  you may well be in the same position, I don't know. But if there's not only me who's alone we are definitely in a minority. 
My sister, now 79 and a three-times over great-grandmother, is sympathetic, bless her, but (possibly arising from her steadfast Catholicism) when it comes towards compassion for suffering, she's one who puts animals a distant second to humans, even if their plight is human-induced. They are far more precious to me than that and I know that a lot of you will know what I mean. 

I'm grateful more than anything for everybody's moving and kind thoughts and concerns. There's really no need to comment any more here, at least not until I post again tomorrow about what happened.

Thank you from my sad and tormented self, dear friends.

Saturday 20 May 2017

A highly distressful event

(There's a worrisome update to this story in italics at the end.)
I really thought I'd be posting a 'Blackso R.I.P' this morning. My nerves are still shredded after yesterday's happening.

My dearest friend in all the world, now 18 years old, had an unhappy accident at about 5 p.m. when he attempted to get onto the cover I keep on a large, square, metal crate which I keep in the kitchen for the rubbish bags before taking them to the outside bins. It's his current choice of sleeping location, along with the worktop next to the kitchen sink.  
Not for the first time, when he jumped up it gave way under him and he plunged inside the crate, but on this occasion it seemed to have done him serious damage. When I pulled him out he couldn't stand or even sit on his hind legs., which had collapsed under him and he could only lay on his side. His eyes were fearful, darting rapidly from side to side, something I've never seen before. While working out what I could do I tried to console him with gentle strokes, half in tears myself. This happened just a few minutes before his regular vet was closing so it was too late for that - and it's not open at weekends either, though there's an emergency number. Meanwhile there was the tragic picture of Blackso needing to get to the bathroom for the litter tray he always uses, pulling himself along on front legs, his hind quarters dragging along the carpet. It seemed that something was broken. I helped him to the tray where he promptly let it out both ends together, vomiting violently while doing a poo - and then turning over in the litter and covering himself with both stuffs. My heart was breaking in two. After it seemed to be all expelled I picked him up and put him back on the kitchen carpet on a newspaper, using a kitchen towel to clear some of the muck off him, and then resigned myself to having to call out the emergency vet. But I had no money on me. So, leaving him lying there in what must have been painful physical and mental turmoil had to go out, half-sobbing, to the nearest cash machine so I could pay a vet call-out charge at least - and, on the way, would you believe, bumped into Patchie, further away than I've ever seen him before. Of course he recognised me and was determined to follow wherever I was to go - just as I was about to cross a busy dual-carriageway, and in the rush hour! So had to lead him all the way back home and shut him in. When we got back, and to my utter surprise, Blackso had somehow managed to get himself back up onto the kitchen worktop beside the sink. He'd have used a nearby chair as an intermediate step-up, but how he could have even got onto that I just don't know. He was still in a lying position and covered in you-know-what. I went out again for the cash and on returning found him there, still dazed, eyes still swivelling this way and that, but his breathing seemed to be less frantic and laboured.  I decided not to call the vet emergency just yet and wait to see how he developed. Maybe an hour or so later when I checked he'd started cleaning himself up (yuk!) - and later I was over the moon to see him sitting up normally again, and he drank water and some meaty I offered. 
He slept there all night (I checked him twice during the dark hours) and this morning he's back to eating heartily - and, most importantly of all, back to his 'normal' walking again, in his own, usual, advanced-age, loping style looking every bit as though he's drunk.  (I've been fearing for him waking along walls for some time now as he can't seem to keep in a straight line.) He went to his litter tray by himself this morning, on all four legs, and I put him outside for his morning 'constitutional', keeping an eye on him from the window - and all seems now as it was before the accident.

So, if I'd been saying prayers for him I'd now be claiming that they'd been answered! All okay now, but what a mighty scare that was!
Of course I'm fully aware that at his age he can't have much time left, and when it does come, although it'll not be unexpected it's still going to be hard to bear. But that day has been postponed - for now - and I've got the continued company of my dearest of friends for at least a while longer. 

And how is Blackso right now? Oh, he's forgotten about it!

Unfortunate update at 1.30 p.m.:-
His hind legs have buckled again, and that after a morning of moving about normally. He's now sleeping on the kitchen worktop on his side. If it's any consolation to him and myself he doesn't appear to be in the distressful panic he was yesterday when it happened but clearly something serious is wrong. Please, PLEASE mend again, my dearest one!

Further update at 7 p.m.
He's now walking on all fours once more - a bit more wobbly than he usually is but at least he's still got a bit of strength in those hind legs. Keep fighting, Son.

One more update - a day later, 5.30 a.m.
I've been up since 3 a.m. and he seems yo be fine again - walking with no problem, going to his litter tray without difficulty, and eating heartily. Of course it all could take a sudden downturn again at any time so I can't pretend it won't happen no matter how much I wish it wouldn't.
All the good wishes he's had must be working and I'll pass on the very latest messages as well. Meantime, it's a case of appreciating his continued presence with me and demonstrating it with nothing but unconditional love.
Any further developments, which will surely and sadly be downturns, I'll tell you of in a new post. Meantime, grateful thanks to everybody for all your thoughts and concerns.  XXXXXX.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Film: 'Alien - Covenant'

None of the 'Alien' sequels comes even close to the standard of the original 1979 film which many consider to be a 'classic', although I have reservations even with that one. (Brilliant up to and including that event, though after that, despite some effectively suspenseful moments, nothing could compare with the first 'shock' .) 

I have no such doubts about 'Covenant' - it's substandard. The mystery is why did Ridley Scott bother? He must have needed a substantial cash injection which, to be frank, looks like this film is providing. It's a mish-mash of re-visiting situations of the previous films. I'm sure the writers were thinking "We must have a bit of this....oh, and a bit of that......and oh, yes, and we mustn't forget when this has to happen......". And to add to its unoriginality, there's a lumbering, over-wordy script involving a philosophical explanation of the situation, totally futile in trying to explain a storyline that was far too complicated for me to comprehend. Most of these dreary lines (but also including quoting Percy Bysshe Shelley, for crying out loud!) come from two very humanoid, identical robots, both played by Michael Fassbender, usually speaking to each other - only one is a goodie and the other one not. (Ah, but will the latter ever be posing as the other? Guess!)
Apart from Fassbender, the only other name in the cast I recognised was Billy Crudup. (There were also at least two other uncredited appearances, both of whom I recognised.)

It's the 21st century, and parent space ship 'Covenant' is on its way to inhabit a certain distant planet, carrying hundreds of 'passenger-colonisers' and a score or so of crew, all in cryogenic sleep while one of the robots (the 'goodie') watches over the ship's journey. An event wakes up the crew well in advance of ETA (sound familiar?) which needs correction and while they're awake they pick up a mysterious signal from a nearby world and (would you believe it!) a ship is sent to investigate, on a planet which this time is so conveniently earth-like that even breathing apparatus can be dispensed with. 
It'll hardly be a revelation to know that the denizens of this world include hostile beings, feeding on and incubating inside living flesh (thereby making robots immune) and dispatching these human host-visitors one by one in grisly fashion. About half this overlong film is set on this odd world but the grand finale returns to the mothership.

The big and many moments of conflict and confrontation are well-designed and presented, though I didn't get the sense we got throughout the original 'Alien' film of a small, diminishingly surviving crew being locked in a confined space, and sometimes trying to flee an unwanted alien on board.

I felt early on that this latest film badly needed some judicious editing. There's so much unnecessary flab which slows down the story - and that story is so involved that we need spectacle to take our minds off it.

I've seen the original film several times and it still holds up. 'Aliens' I've seen just the once but wouldn't mind sitting through again. As for the rest of them they were strictly to be seen one time only, and 'Covenant' fits with no trouble into this precise category..............5. 

Saturday 13 May 2017

Eurovision Song Contest - and I picked the winner!

In Kiev, Ukraine, this year's motto - "Celebrate Diversity" - hardly lived up to its words, at least visually. I think I managed to count  at least two non-white faces among all the backing singers and dancers, but otherwise it was a case of 'Caucasian rules OK!'

I've been following the contest ever since the U.K. first entered it in 1958, missing only two or three in the late 1970s because I went along with the notion that the whole thing was a bit naff. Can't think how I ever could have bought into that idea!

The number of times when my voting choice turned out to be the actual winner I can count on the fingers of one hand, but last night it happened, with Portugal achieving its first ever win after a wait of 54 years! - a stand-out, simple and modest ballad without any gimmicks, performed by the distinctly unglamorous Salvador Sobral and composed by his sister - and one of the very few not sung in English.

I didn't know until the voting was over that the singer was suffering from a serious heart condition, causing him to miss some of the rehearsals. I can't say if this was widely known before the contest and might have added to a 'sympathy' vote, though even if I'd been aware in advance I still think this was the best song by quite some margin - and totally different from any other of the 26 finalists -  a gently appealing non-belter.

Second was Bulgaria, a song which I didn't rate much, sung by the youngest of the participants, a 17-year old, who might have got the 'cutie' vote:-

Third came Moldova (which I'd have placed 5th), one of those barking mad entries which we love but don't like to admit we found infectious. (Nice dance moves.):-

Coming fourth, Belgium was a worthy contender, which I'd have put in around 8th position, though not remarkable enough to be much higher:-

And in fifth place, the ever highly-placed Sweden which, like Belgium I'd rate definitely above average but not spectacularly so:-

My own Top Five included three that didn't register in the final tally:-
1) Portugal
2) Romania - a happy, yodelling song which deserved to finish higher than the seventh place it did. Full marks for the sheer nerve of it! :-

3) Croatia - possibly the most remarkable listening event of the night, but finishing in a vastly unfair 13th place. A male performer with evident Pavarotti-like 'embonpoint' who sings in two vastly different registers. Possibly the most attention-grabbing performer of last night:-

4) Italy - An arresting image, and for a long time prior to the night the favourite to win, actually coming sixth. Song performed alongside man in a cheap-looking gorilla suit. Fun though, and not at all bad song:-

5) Moldova, which came 3rd.

And the U.K.?:-
Lucie Jones yelling out one of those so-called power ballads which bore me beyond tears. I've heard it several times and I still ask myself "Why?". Anyway, she managed our best position in years, coming 15th, so suppose one ought to be thankful that at least we weren't entirely humiliated as we often are.

I'm also very pleased that after a long time the title has been wrested out of the hands of eastern Europe and Scandinavia, which was getting all a bit depressingly predictable. So grateful for that.

Btw: I switched over during the several interval acts while votes were being cast and missed a stage-crasher coming on and baring his bottom. A bit sorry not to have seen that though must say that on the whole I got my evening's worth of entertainment - I've seen several worse than last night. 

And finally, have to mention that out of the three presenters (Diversity? Hah!) I just couldn't take my eyes off one of them. Guess which!:-

So, till Lisbon(?) in 2018 - and in the hope that the U.K. can at last end what will then be our 21-year drought.

Wednesday 10 May 2017

Film: 'Lady Macbeth'.

This sure is turning out to be a bumper year. Only just over one third exhausted and there's already a crowded field vying to make it into my Top 10 of 2017. Here's yet another strong contender.

Based on a novella by Nikolai Leskov, 'Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk', (which you, like me, may recognise as being the title of a Shostakovich opera), this film transfers the action from Russia to the bleak far north of England - and Northumberland was where it was shot. The nod to Shakespeare's character ought not to be taken too far. In both play and this film, the female character (here called Catherine), is a resolutely self-willed woman who connives in, or even executes, at least two murders. Pursuing any further analogy is pointless.

The film opens in the 19th century with Catherine (Florence Pugh - amazing!) getting locked into a loveless, though reasonably affluent, marriage-of-convenience. She soon shows she's made of steel and not to be pushed around, which her husband and his father resent as being unbecoming to a 'lady' in the society of that time. 
When her husband (Paul Hilton) goes away for a while she takes on a menial lover (Cosmo Jarvis), trying to hide the affair from the servants, not entirely successfully.
It's hard to say much more without spoiling it, as there are a number of 'shocks' in the story which caused me to take a deep intake of breath - shocks more in the nature of the unexpected way the story was going rather than the 'jump-in-your-seat' kind (though I really could have done without having to see the shooting of a horse).

Dialogue throughout is spare and effective. There's a slow and deliberate pace to the (90 mins) film which suits the tale.
Also, it must be remarked that there's a refreshing colour-blindness to cast members, unlikely for its time, though it didn't get in the way for me at all

I think director William Oldroyd is to be congratulated on this feature. It has been criticised in some quarters as exhibiting a degree of tastelessness in some areas, but I'd rate the risk-taking as one of its many strong points. And I'm going to look out for the next feature starring the luminous Florence Pugh................8.

Tuesday 9 May 2017

Film: 'Mindhorn'

A 'one-joke' comedy which manages to make a slender 85 mins feel too long by half.

The 'joke' is that a star of a 1980s British TV detective series, 'Mindhorn', (Julian Barrett) is hauled out of an ignominious oblivion after failing, a couple of decades earlier, to make it in Hollywood and his career tanking still further following ill-advised drunken remarks on a TV chat show. His presence is now demanded by a serial killer (Russell Tovey - unfunny and annoying) who'll only communicate with the police through this character from the TV series which folded 25 years previously. So, now balded, paunchy, and out of condition, the ageing, past-it actor is roped in to try to lure the man into captivity by resurrecting the character. 
You might be able to imagine the humour, with situations including his former stuntman double (Simon Farnaby - also unfunny and annoying), his agent (Harriet Walter), former lover (Patricia Deville) and senior policewoman (Andrea Riseborough) - but surprisingly disappointing, there's also an under-used Steve Coogan as Mindhorn's former co-star, now much more successful than the his one-time partner. 
There are also cameos from Kenneth Branagh (uncredited) and Simon Callow - but, oh dear, did he have to mention 'Amadeus', just in case we needed nudging as to who he is? (For anyone not in the know, Callow was Mozart in the original London stage production of that play.)  

'Mindhorn' takes place on an attractive Isle of Man, which is one of its most interesting features - and this time it's not standing in for another location.. (For non-Brits who don't know, the Isle of Man is a smallish, modestly populated island in the Irish Sea between the British mainland and Northern Ireland, still with its own ancient Parliament, the 'Tynwald', and world-famed today as the location of the annual T.T. motorcycle races event ).

Despite my absence of enthusiasm I did manage to smile at a couple of points, both in the first quarter hour or so, when the story was being set up. But after that the whole enterprise quickly ran out of steam.
Director Sean Foley has done nearly all his previous work for TV. Now with a bigger canvas and budget it still seems small scale with material not substantial enough for large screen treatment. 

Incidentally, it might be of interest that whereas the film of 'The Promise' which I reviewed most recently, was accorded a certificate of '12A' despite its many harrowing scenes, comedy 'Mindhorn' is given a '15' certificate because of 'language and drug misuse'. 

There have been better-than-average reviews of this film. I must say that it did hold out the promise of there being something more special but, frankly, for me it wasn't realised. If it's any consolation I have to say it could have been worse!....................4.5.

Monday 8 May 2017

Film: 'The Promise'

Heavy stuff, this. I'd been misled by several reviews complain-ing that the romance between characters played by Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon (who is also Christian Bale's character's  parallel love interest) ill-advisedly eclipses the historical events taking place. I didn't find it so at all. Actually I thought the film engrossing and educational though, it must be said, with some harrowing scenes of brutality (mainly within a 30-60 mins in section of this 2+ hours film) more distressing than I've seen in any film for several years, and belying the fact that the film has been accorded a mere  '12A' certificate in the U.K.  

It's a subject I don't recall ever being seen treated in a feature film before - the apparently well-documented massacre of Armenian Orthodox Christians by Turkish forces in the early 20th century which, ever since then and even now, the Turkish government brands as 'lies' (or should that be 'fake news' or even 'alternative facts'?) led by that veritable 'champion' of a 'free'-press, Recep Erdogan  - as long as it doesn't criticise him, otherwise it's unpatriotic and subversive, and therefore criminal! (I understand that this 'respected' leader has the approval of 'The Donald'. Now there's a surprise!)

I'd heard that detractors of the film have attempted to sabotage IMDb's rating system by an en masse registering of a minimum rating of 1/10 for this film. (What's the betting that hardly any one of them have actually seen it?). Despite that minimum possible score currently being submitted by 44% of 'viewers' the film still manages to achieve an average rating of 5.9, which is good going, though it must be said that a very high proportion of the remainder have, as a reaction, similarly given it a max score of 10/10, which it hardly deserves, though I can fully understand their ploy.

The film's action begins just before the outbreak of the First World War, an opening caption helpfully mentioning the imminent collapse of "the Ottoman Turk(!) Empire". (Obviously written by someone with a Trump-like grasp of history!)
Oscar Isaac, spouting a generic, pan-European foreign accent, is an Armenian medical student in rural Turkey while Christian Bale is an American investigative reporter based in (then) Constantinople with pretty Charlotte Le Bon in tow, the latter and Isaac immediately falling for each other at first sight, with Bale suspecting that something or other is going on and, naturally, disapproves.

It's the first time I've seen Oscar Isaac in a role that's sensitive and restrained (sometimes painfully so) throughout, and he manages it very well. Up to now he's always seemed to have played abrasive, even threatening, characters,  but here he's a bit of a tame pussy cat. 
It's likewise different for Christian Bale. Not the usual larger-than-life figure he normally inhabits, but here a more ruminative individual, still with a slight menace about him, but rather more profound and better-rounded, even if he does end up playing second fiddle to Isaac.
Also popping up in the cast in minor roles are the pleasing inclusions of Jean Reno, James Cromwell and Tom Hollander.

We see the persecutions and violent attacks on the Armenians by the Turks, their being dragged off (presumably to death), the forced labour camps with starving prisoners, some near-skeletal, the execution squads etc, none of which is easy to watch. I found myself grimacing on several occasions - those times when I could bear to look at the screen, that is.

I was very impressed indeed with direction (George Terry, who has also written some classic screenplays, most notably 'In the Name of the Father' of 1993) as well as photography. The scenery looks epic-like in scale, though I did sometimes feel the script could have done with a bit of perking up.
Music is not intrusive, and the film as a whole, though maybe a tad over-long, was never monotonous.
Oh, and by the way, if like me you positively drool over Mr Isaac when he sports a bushy beard (as he did in 'Inside Llewyn Davis', and even moreso in 'Ex Machina'), you're in luck as he does wear one in the middle of this film for a while. Shame that it's otherwise, and for other reasons, also the hardest part of the film to watch. 

Summing up, this is much better than I'd though it would be, though I do repeat my warning of some difficult scenes....................7.

Wednesday 3 May 2017

Film: 'The Sense of an Ending'

So, hauling myself out of sick bed once more - alarmingly close to most recent time for same reason - and armed with throat lozenges (sugar free!), I wasn't blooming well going to allow mere physical incapacity and sensible advice play any further part in demolishing my cinema-going plans, my having already missed at least one on the list, namely Warren Beatty's vanity project, 'Rules Don't Apply'. No Siree!  Duty comes first - and moreso now with the eagerly awaited 'Lady Macbeth' coming round the mountain when she comes!   

So just about everyone who will have wanted to see this prominently Jim Broadbent vehicle will have done so by now. (Can't think why such a quintessentially British, London-located film should have had such a long-delayed release date in its country of origin, months after most of the rest of the world has already seen it). Furthermore, its director is the Indian, Ritash Batra, whose lovely film, 'The Lunchbox' of 2013, I just caught up with a month or so ago on BBC iPlayer. So this latest one held quite some promise, a further boost being in having Charlotte Rampling in the cast. Though her overall screen time isn't many minutes in length, her scenes in the final third of the film are all strategic ones, and her presence is (as is usual with her) one of the most memorable aspects of the entire film. 

A lot of the film is flashbacks to Jim Broadbent's Cambridge University days, his first romance there and the shattering effect of the suicide of his best friend, for which he harbours guilt feelings. Now a divorcee running a small camera shop, he's still in contact with his ex, (Harriet Walter) and has a close but occasionally tetchy relationship with his heavily pregnant single daughter (Michelle Dockery).  Circumstances happen which occasion him to investigate those long-past University days, opening a can of worms, and eventually leading him to meet again his first love, Veronica (Rampling), played in flashback by Freya Mavor. His own younger self is acted by Billy Howie, and it must be said that neither of these two look much like their older selves being portrayed. But it's not very important, both present day and fifty years previous strands holding up well and interesting.
But overall it's Broadbent's film with him having the meatiest role he's had in many a year, which he rises to marvellously. 

I believe that the story's ending was changed by the director without the approval of Julian Barnes, on whose novel the film is based, or that of scriptwriter Nick Payne. (Ironic, considering the film's title.) But in filmic terms it still works effectively and holds it together.

It's a gently-paced film, well satisfying with few, if any, histrionic moments. I liked it much more than I'd been expecting...........7.5.