Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Film: 'A Ghost Story'

If you prefer films which finish with a sort of explanation, even if inadequate, as to what you've just watched, you may as well give up on this one. It'll leave you baffled beyond measure. Open questions are left to dangle tantalisingly in the wind, strands which I suspect (hottie) writer and director David Lowery himself didn't know how to tie up, even if he'd wanted to, which I very much doubt.  And yet - I liked it!

Lowery reunites the main actors of his equally likable 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints?' of 2013, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.
It's a slow-burn film with long silences amid sparse dialogue, Affleck and Mara being a couple living contentedly in a rural bungalow (filmed in Texas, but it could be located anywhere) when mysterious things begin to happen - and then an earth-shattering event for at least one of them, or probably both. Hard to give away much more without compromising the main 'surprise' taking place just a few minutes into the film. 
Most will know from previews, reviews and trailers that Affleck spends most of the film walking around entirely draped in a white sheet with two peep-holes to see through - though as we don't ever see his eyes or hear him speak, one has to wonder whether it really is him under there? - or is it a stand-in so that an expensive-to-hire star doesn't have to spend so much time on the film-set being unrecognisable, when it could have been someone who'd be far cheaper to employ. Be that as it may, it's supposed to be Affleck's character. 

I was prepared to jump in my seat at certain points when, following a long silence, I thought we'd be startled by a fortissimo 'thud' on the soundtrack, though I don't think there were any such moments. And visually there were few, if any, such 'shock' equivalents.  It wasn't exactly a 'scary' film as such, anyway.

Although its title claims it as a 'ghost' story, it's not really that spooky, and I don't think it was meant to be. It's more, well, odd! 
One of the film's most attractive features was that it was impossible to out-guess which direction it was going to take next, implausibility being as rife as unexpectedness, never with any attempt to rationalise what the hell was going on! I liked this daring, which some may rather describe as 'cheekiness'. Others may argue that the film takes the audience as just a gullible bunch of suckers, too ready to lap up anything at all which is served to them under the heading of 'art'. That may be so, but if that's the case I applaud it's chutzpah, and I readily buy into it. 

Good, reasonably solid, if puzzling, entertainment.............7

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Film: 'Tom of Finland'

What a let-down I found this! I don't know what led me to think that this would be a semi-documentary of the justifiably revered artist (real name, Touko Laaksonen) whose utterly brilliant cartoon creations played such a major part in my (then closeted) gay development and awareness, and through a lot of my later life. I thought it might include some real film footage of the artist at work in addition to, perhaps, a few reconstructed acted episodes. 
The film turns out to be a straightforward depiction of his life from fighting for Finland in World War Two up to his achieving international fame and adulation in the 1980s (he died in 1991, from emphysema) - and most disappointingly, it's all rather dull. However, if I'd realised it was just his acted-out story I still would have wanted to see it - and would have been just as underwhelmed.

The title role in this Finnish film (nearly all in that language, of course) is played by Pekka Strang (left in above pic) who, like the man in real life, looks nothing like his fantasy creations and, also like the real man, hasn't the kind of face or figure to turn most(?) heads. He doesn't suit the leathers either, which he dons in the film's final part.

I'm not sure what the trouble with this film is, there being enough incidents in his life before he became a world-renowned figure to make a reasonably interesting story - after the war his night-time cruising in a Helsinki public park with the attempts of the oppressive Finnish police trying to stamp out homosexuality by catching, arresting and imprisoning the men engaging in gay activity, every bit as homophobic as all the rest of Europe was in the 1950s. 
Then we see his travels to Berlin and attempts to get his drawings published there - and meeting similar discouraging attitudes, as well as further conflict with the equally anti-gay German police. 

He lives in Helsinki with his slightly younger sister who, belatedly and reluctantly acknowledging his tastes, makes disapproving noises, though falling short of outright hostility. 
He then takes on and lives with a younger and nicer-looking lover, though there didn't seem to me to be much significant emotional chemistry between the actors.
The film for me only came alive - and that only patchily - in the final half hour (including the onset of the AIDS crisis) when his fame, broadcast initially from California, was assured. It ends with his receiving due worshipful adulation from an adoring audience of American leather fraternity.

There are no explicit depictions of real-life sex in the film, only a few fleeting glimpses of some drawings.

Incidentally, it's a very, very long time since I've seen another film - if indeed I ever have - where everybody is continually smoking (a reflection of those times, of course, particularly the 1950s-70s). It was such a prevailing sight that I was beginning to think it must have been compulsory to have a fag in one's mouth. (Now there's a thought!) 

I don't know if half-Finnish director Dome Karukoski is gay or not, and it ought not to matter, but if he has any enthusiasm for the subject and his creations it didn't translate onto screen for me. 

On IMDb I'm in a minority  - yet again! - where there's a current high average rating of 7.4. (6.5 on 'Rotten Tomatoes'). Frankly, I found it all a bit of a drag...............3.5.

Film: 'Atomic Blonde'

I came out of this totally fatigued after having my senses pummeled into almost giving up - specifically eyes and ears, though also my poor brain! They still hurt on the morning after.
Merciless violence which would have been understandable were it played as comic-book farce with an underlying charm or irony, only this full-frontal assault was bereft of all humour that I could trace. All so damned serious!

It's Berlin, 1989, just a few days before the wall was knocked down. (Good to see the then-divided city as the location, both East and West, for more than 90% of this film - even though for much of the location work, in reality Budapest was used). 

All the action takes place entirely in flashback from an interrogation in London of British secret agent, Charlize Theron, by her boss (Toby Jones) with CIA in attendance (John Goodman) - both Jones and Goodman having little otherwise to do. 
Theron had been sent to Berlin on a mission to recover a list of names of double-agent operatives which the nasty Russians have got wind of and whose possession of same could bring the whole of western intelligence crashing down. One man (Eddie Marsan) there has got the entire list committed to memory and so has to be got out and brought back to London. 
Assisting the operation (or is he?) and already there is crew-cutted James McAvoy, another British agent, who fires on all cylinders when it's called for when he lets rip like there's no tomorrow. But it's Theron who delivers most of the full-throttle, physical action, single-handedly despatching countless numbers of police, armed agents and assorted anti-Western rotters, coming at her in groups rather than singly. However, that's no problem for her many efficient talents, even if she has to use her hands as weapons with unerring aim and against their firearms. Spurting and splashing blood and cracking bones abound. 
Nonetheless, it's not relentlessly uninterrupted noisy combat. The many fights are interspersed with periods of repose, mainly during Theron's interview, heavy with long silences and sarcastic responses. There is also a certain romance which Theron engages in to achieve her aim (all in the cause of duty, you understand) while on her Berlin mission. 

The many twists (double and triple) really started to leave me breathless, particularly when the final scenes came about. It was all so much to take in that by the time the final credits appeared my head hurt! Trying to play it back in my mind afterwards - was this character really working for this side all along? - was futile so I gave up and consigned it to the out-tray of give-up-on-it confusion. I don't know if it was supposed to all tie up neatly and make sense, but if that was the case it was lost on me.

This is only director David Leitch's second full-length feature (after 2014's 'John Wick' with Keanu Reeves, unseen by me), and he does invest some most effective work in the many well-executed combats here, though in the final analysis it's all adrenalin-pumping, superficial excitement.

I did like the film's energy but felt the overall cold, gloom-ridden seriousness of the whole enterprise played against making it completely satisfactory 'entertainment' for me. 
There's an impressive soundtrack of hits and electro-pop of that time.

There has been a dichotomy of views on this film. From what I've seen, the majority have liked it, and many of these by a lot. However, there is sizable and vocal opposing opinion, including some outright detestation. I certainly wouldn't go so far as the latter. While not quite sitting on the fence, I'll start slipping down on one side.................6.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Film: 'The Last Word'

Increasingly guilty of starting my reviews by justifying why I bothered to see a particular film, here's another one. It has as 'one of' its main stars Shirley MacLaine - and I do like to see our Shirl! 
I put 'one of' in apostrophes because in the opening credits both she and Amanda Seyfried are given equal prominence - the latter name placed second in the same frame but positioned higher. (Dear me! - Amanda who?) However, I suppose for much of today's audience Shirley MacLaine won't be well known - if she's even recognised at all!  

MacLaine plays an octogenarian, divorced and long-since retired businesswoman living alone in a massive Californian mansion. She has one daughter, Anne Heche, who appears only in a single speaking scene, not much over five minutes long. 
MacLaine, feeling that her end is approaching, and not only on account of her advanced age, hires Seyfried, the obituary writer of the local regional newspaper, to write a flattering obituary of herself in double-quick time so that she herself can sanction it. Their initial meeting is tetchy, each taking an instant dislike to the other, with Maclaine being odiously bossy from the start, though she is paying good money for the job to be done properly. She gives Seyfried a long list of people she has known, only for it to be found that when approached, none of them have a good word to say about MacLaine, that is if they are even prepared to talk about her.

Predictable as sunrise - and such as happens time and time again in the film world - the initially hostile relationship between the two women mellows and burgeons into, by the end, a strong friendship with reciprocal respect. No surprise there then.

One additional irritating aspect of the film is the inclusion of a worldly-wise, potty-mouthed little brat of a black kid, female (though for a long time I wasn't sure), about 10 years old, whom MacLaine befriends to make up a trio with the other two women - and whose presence, in my view, would be improved no end by being delivered of a damn good slap.

Also, MacLaine becomes a DJ on local radio (yes!) playing her old vinyl LPs - she never having really caught up with CDs.
(Was 'The Kinks' really the most under-rated pop group of all time? I hardly think so.)

It's also hardly a revelation for the film to reveal that the MacLaine character was not, in fact, as dire as she'd been painted, and that there were (unfair) reasons as to why she'd made so many enemies. 

Director Mark Pellington, whom I only remember through the rather good 'Arlington Road' (1999), does reasonably enough with this, but there's nothing extra-special to make it stand out. And this is yet another film which would have benefited from being shorn of at least twenty minutes. 

Not quite as dire as it might have been, but it may well have gone lower in my rating if someone other than Shirley MacLaine had starred..........4.


Thursday, 10 August 2017

Film: 'The Big Sick'

The hiatus in my cinema-going was not caused by the continuing tumult in my life, but rather by there being little showing that I fancied. This one has generally had above-average reviews so, despite thinking that it wasn't 'my kind' of film, thought I'd give it a go. Verdict: a little above so-so.

I didn't know the name of any of the participants save one, nor of director Michael Showalter. 
Pakistani-born actor Kumail Nanjiani plays himself in this film which he's co-written with his real-life wife, Emily V. Gordon. 
He's an aspiring stand-up comedian playing a small club in Chicago when one of the audience (Zoe Kazan) attracts his attention and romance ensues. It's awkward because his family, particularly his mother, but father as well, is determined to see an arranged marriage for him, she calling in a succession of marriageable young Pakistani ladies to 'drop by' during their family dinners, hoping that he'll take enough of a fancy to one of them to pursue a romance. Meanwhile he keeps his involvement with the American young woman secret for fear of his family's hostility. Then suddenly she's struck down by a virulent infection and placed in a medically-induced coma so she can be subjected to surgery. Her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, both exceptionally fine) not knowing of her romance, are initially cold towards Nanjiani as they don't recognise his concern. However, and as you might guess, the ice between them melts and in time they are as close as the younger man could wish. 
For half of the film, the Zoe Kazan daughter character is in this coma while the predicament of Nanjiani is played out, he having to walk a tightrope between his very real worry for her and keeping their affair from his family. 

I was disappointed that the final half hour of this two-hour film is awash with heavy, unrelieved sentiment, something I find very hard to take in large doses like this. (I appreciate that others do not share my resistance). 
Also, there is a disturbing number of lapses of continuity. Don't they watch the rushes or don't they care? They are so glaring as to be distracting that I was actively looking for the next one for much of the film's length. 

Having said that, I have to say that I found the script a superior one. Although I started out by feeling a degree of irritation towards the main characters, I did quite soon warm to them, such that I was curious as to how the story - commendably original - would develop. 
Direction was okay, I suppose, but director Showalter ought to have been more attentive to avoiding those visual continuity clangers (which perhaps most people wouldn't notice).

I reckon that most people will like this enough to recommend it, and if my 'enthusiasm' is lukewarm at max, I'd just about go along with that...................6.

Monday, 31 July 2017

I gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing I ever do! (And it might well be!)

Yet another major, ugly confrontation with Mr Nasty from downstairs yesterday. Details are immaterial but I've got to find somewhere else to live otherwise I'll go out right of my mind - or he's going to kill me.

Out of the 14 addresses I've lived at, both in this country and in Germany, I've never had a neighbour who comes anything like what I have to put with in this Mr Nasty. Nobody has gotten even close. Living here is like sitting on a dormant volcano, never knowing when it's going to erupt again.

His 16-year old daughter is coming to live with him in a few weeks time (in the flat below) and I can only imagine what tales he's telling her about me. If they're going to gang up together against me - or they have major fights between themselves, which is very likely given her age of maximum rebelliousness - life here will have tipped right over into an intolerable un-livability.

Started investigating whether I can get accommodation in a retired persons block in either Brighton (where I lived 1992-2000) or Oxford (1975-88). The latter would be my preference, there being where I was happiest with such a range of cultural activities going on around, all within walking distance. I'd be satisfied to see out my remaining time there. 
A particular difficulty would be my two cats, but I'll have to resolve that when a decision is needed, if and when it comes.

I'll be posting on my progress.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Teeth, teeth, teeth

Just to make it clear, this is not - repeat, not - me! But as everyone, plus their step-uncle, is suddenly blogging about dental visits (specifically, Dr Spo @ 'Spo-reflections' and Mitch @ 'Mitchell is Moving') I don't see why I should be left out.

It may be recalled (or perhaps not) that a year ago I had a tripping accident when I went right down on the pavement and bit the concrete, a happening which all-too visibly rearranged my upper front teeth, and not in a 'prettifying' way. (In fact yesterday was the first anniversary of that fateful occurence, though I thought better than to 'celebrate' it). Since that event I've learnt to talk like a ventriloquist when face-to-face with another personage, so that my upper lip movement is minimal, thus largely concealing the distracting, visible signs of that mini-disaster. 
It took six months to get to attend a thorough (and boy, was it just!) examination at the country's main specialist hospital (handily only a short train journey away) dealing with maxillary injuries. Since then I've now had five sessions with my regular dentist who got the specialist's report to work with and be guided by. She (the dentist) has now completed work on the back teeth, including root canal work, and has now started working on the visible bits, starting with shaving down one of the front side teeth so that a cap can be fitted. Next week she'll begin on the all-important front ones - and she hopes it'll all be finished in just a couple more sessions. I hope she's right, though from a mirror-view there's still an awful lot still to do before I can open my mouth when speaking and not have the other person being distracted by the 'orrible sight of my damaged cake-hole.  
Anyway, however long it takes it'll be good to be able to smile freely again - and if it can happen before my next birthday in 2.5 months time, when I always update my profile photo, it'll be good if it can show me flashing my gnashers once more. 
So, roll on that time! - meanwhile can't afford to take any more trips.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Film: 'Dunkirk'

Now that my dear, desperate-ly missed Blackso is no longer (I think of him a hundred times a day), I don't have to arrange my 'away' times so that I'm back to bring him inside before the nearby school is out, when he might get taunted or scared by passing kids, though most of them loved him. I could always count on his waiting outside at front for my return. When I came within sight, about 250 yards away he'd recognise me no matter what I was wearing, and I'd see a little pink area appearing on his face as he gave me a welcoming 'miaow' right over all that distance. (Noodles and Patchie use the open kitchen window so I don't have the worry about them in the same way.) 

Anyway, I decided to use the opportunity to travel west 20 miles to Chichester, to see this hyper-praised film on the nearest Imax screen - the combined cost of rail fare plus inflated cinema admission for the Imax experience costing more than six times what I would have paid had I stayed in this town and seen it on a small screen just five minutes away. I'm satisfied that it was an experience that justified the cost.  

Just in case there are people who don't know what this is about (and there will be some!) it concerns the short period in 1940 when allied troops in France (about 400,000 men, mostly British) found themselves entrapped and encircled on the north French coast by Nazi forces, almost within sight of England - and the attempt to evacuate as many of them quickly before they were overwhelmed by the enemy. 
This is certainly a harrowing film, though not quite as extreme as I'd been led to believe. I don't think there was any point where I couldn't bear to look. It's going to be the opening scenes of Spielberg's 'Saving Private Ryan' which are seared in my mind deeper than the scenes in 'Dunkirk' are likely to be, even though in the Spielberg it's just that opening sequence whilst in this the distressing scenes go on throughout the entire length of the film.
It's a bitty film, running three threads together, one covering a week on land (on the Dunkirk beaches awaiting rescue), a second covering one day at sea (one small boat focussed on to represent the many, many such vessels sailing as fast as they can over the English Channel to assist with the evacuation) and the final thread covering one hour in the air - two particular air force fighter planes trying to keep the enemy bombers at bay and prevent their attack on the hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers, waiting for rescue like sitting ducks on the Dunkirk shore while the enemy keep trying, and sometimes succeeding, to sink the ships moored close to, but frustratingly only just out of reach, for the stranded men. 

The 'biggish' names in this film include Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy. It's Rylance who has the meatiest role though even his is a part that requires uttering little more than a few sentences - often with Cillian Murphy as a shell-shocked soldier picked up from the sea - then the scene changes to one of the other threads. Branagh has little to do other than to stand around with a suggestion of a half-smile on his face, suggesting that he knows something that we don't - even though he doesn't. Tom Hardy is the principal fighter pilot, unrecognisable for most of the time, as are some of his words, by his wearing a pilot's mask.
But if there's no really extended scenes for any of the actors to really get their teeth into by displaying a range of emotions, that's okay because it isn't the kind of film that would entail such. 

If there is one 'star' of the film it's just got to be the sound in the shape of Hans Zimmer's astonishing chug-a-chug score. It really keeps the tension up at a very high level from first to last - and without being overly distracting. It's a marvel, and if he doesn't get an Oscar for it I'd love to hear what beats it.   

The scenes of bombing and air-fights are totally spectacular, both in those requiring a panoramic scale and in those reduced to individual human reactions. 

Christopher Nolan works miracles yet again, and with this film he surely confirms that he's got to be in the world's Top 5 of current film directors. 

I really do wish I could this film a higher rating - I was fully expecting to - but I have to admit that seen on any screen smaller than Imax I think it's effect, drama-wise as well as in visuals and sound, it would have a correspondingly reduced 'punch', and might, for that reason, not be as highly valued as some are suggesting it ought to be. Nevertheless, it still remains a remarkable achievement.....................7.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Film: 'The Beguiled'

Never having seen the 1970 Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood film of this title  - my recollection is that although I was aware of it coming out at the time, it didn't get a wide general release - I didn't have any preconceptions about this new version, which is partly based on that earlier film as well as on the original novel by Thomas Culinnan. Director of this new version, Sofia Coppola, has taken both sources and fashioned, in my view, a product of some distinction.
In any case, with two of my current favourite actors, Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman as the leads (both as good as one could hope), I would never have resisted seeing this, and I'm glad it turned out as pleasing as it did. (Quite a number of reviews I've seen are damning, on the "boring!" line). It's true that there's little dramatic action for the first two thirds of its 90 minutes, an hour that is completely devoid of any music (apart from a couple of songs in subdued fashion) and with no sound effects. When they come it's all sensibly understated as to be hardly noticeable.

It's a couple of years after the start of the American Civil War, and Colin Farrell, a Unionist corporal, is found wounded in the woods by one of the half-dozen pupils of a small residential girls' school in Virginia (actually shot in Louisiana). He is taken in by the girls under the instruction of head Nicole Kidman who nurses his leg wound and keeps his location secret to the outside world (a passing troop of soldiers). Among the school staff is also Kirsten Dunst. There's much submerged sexual feelings among both the elder female players and Farrell, but it's not over-played at all - only the occasional very slight suggestion of a smile. Kidman, all the while, tries to maintain a starchy, governess-like, no-nonsense mien. 
One can imagine jealousies arising among the females, with their hopes and expectations of being the object of Farrell's attentions - and resentments when it's discovered where they actually are directed.  
Photography is just stunning - nearly all in whites, ochres, sepias and browns - sun's rays filtered through leafy tree branches (which was the sort of scene one saw a lot in photographs which used to grace L.P. sleeves - e.g. 'Pastoral Symphony'), but it's not out of keeping with the sultry, pent-up mood of the first hour or so.
Criticism has been made of Coppola's decision to excise out of the story a significant, and the only, non-white character. All the participants in this film are white. That complaint may well be justified - this is, after all, the Civil War! But I didn't find the omission distracting.

The film for me was engaging throughout, including the first hour where very little happens. It's beautiful to look at and, not knowing the story, I was intrigued as to where it would go next and how it would end.
This is the fifth of Sofia Coppola's films that I've seen, 'Lost in Translation' included, of course. But I do think that 'The Beguiled' is her best to date.......................7.5.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Film: 'It Comes in the Night'

Once more I've been lured to see a film because of some good reviews and a rather high current average rating of '7' on IMDb - and now regret that I bothered with it. 

We don't get to know what the 'It' of the title is. All we learn is that a small family of father (Joel Edgerton), mother (Carmen Ejogo) and 17-year old son (Kelvin Harrison Jr), with their dog, are holed up in their isolated home of wood in the middle of a forest (State unidentified - film shot in Woodstock, NY) trying to keep a low, 'invisible' profile - venturing outside only when they have to, and then additionally wearing gas masks - presumably prevent their catching some kind of infection which has taken over the world? We never really find out.  
Then a stranger (Christopher Abbott) discovers and tries to enter their home, a youngish man who is mistrusted from the outset. ("Are you sick?") He is mistreated and threatened until it's revealed that he is only trying to find food and safety for his family of wife and infant son. These three move in with the first three, there always being an air of suspicion over the new arrivals.

It's more a film of suspense than a genuine 'horror' film as such but, dear me, how it predictably ticks all the boxes of cliche, every one of which is repeated several times. All so dull and unimaginative - including many entries into dark rooms clutching lamp or torch to investigate strange noises outside (door knob turning or being rattled). The methods used to make one jump are all so tired - an ominous, low humming sound which suddenly stops (you're supposed to give a sigh of relief now) - a few seconds of silence then..........thump! The number of times this is employed is just shameful. I could forecast with over 90% accuracy exactly when the 'frights' would come. Or there's a startling sound which turns out to be something everyday, only raised by a number of decibels in order to surprise one. (Thankfully we're spared any sudden appearance of a squealing cat!) At one point we've got the threadbare and unforgivable technique of viewing a dream which turns out be within another dream. This is not skilful or original filmic technique - it's simply damned lazy!  

It's a fairly gory film though many of this genre are a lot more so. Director (and writer) Trey Edward Shults thinks he's onto a winner with this. Maybe it will make more money than it cost by a younger audience going to see it who are less familiar with the methods employed to give one a 'thrill' than I was. I just found the whole effort pretty dismal................3

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Film: 'Alone in Berlin'

I needed something to lift my prevailing mood, still rather depressed. Unfortunately all that was available was 'Despicable 3' (which might have fitted the bill, but it's not my kind of film), 'War for the Planet of the Apes' (I've only seen the Tim Burton 2014 ' 'Dawn of.....' since they resurrected the franchise in 2000 and wasn't impressed enough to see any more) - and this grim wartime (yet again!) true-ish story. 

It's absolutely the case that the courage shown by some of the characters depicted in this intense drama, 'Alone in Berlin', is uplifting, but I'm so weary of having my nose rubbed in the horrors and miseries of Nazism which (maybe unlike some younger generations, perhaps?) I've been aware of my entire life, that I'm coming to the end of my tether on the subject. However, in this film there are no mass atrocities shown, though there is some individual brutality. But there's still the reportedly ultra-harrowing 'Dunkirk' to come! Oh, saints preserve us!
I think that after seeing 'Dunkirk', any more war films, most particularly WW2 dramas, will go on my 'no-no' list - unless they are a must-see, which I understand 'Dunkirk' is.

Btw: May I just make an aside regarding the 'Planet of the Apes' films? I saw the 1968 original, starring Charlton ("Mr Green-teeth") Heston in the large, then single-screen, 1200-seater Odeon in Middlesbrough - and that experience spoilt me concerning all the rest. I also saw the four progressively increasingly dismal sequels culminating in 1973 when we thought (and hoped?) the theme had been exhausted for good. Little did we then know!
But that first viewing of the original film was a seminal moment in my cinema-going life, with the most jaw-dropping conclusion that no one, least of all me, saw coming. The startled intakes of breath and gasps from the astonished audience I recall as much as I do the screams on seeing 'Psycho'. And I had spent the entire film of 'Planet' up to that moment sitting there and silently fuming at the silliness of seeing apes on another world speaking English - and in American accents too! But all of a sudden, in the final seconds, all was explained. I don't think the surprise of the ending has been topped by any other film before or since. 

Anyway, back to 'Alone in Berlin', which I thought an impressive, very moving film, one which most effectively wound the tension almost up to snapping point, without relaxing for an instant.  
It's 1940 in the German capital shortly after the fall of France, and a husband and wife (Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson) have just heard that their only son has been killed fighting in Poland for the Nazis. This provides the trigger for their commencing a campaign of resistance against the German government, taking the form of Gleeson writing out on postcards anonymous injunctions and slogans to encourage people at large to rise up and resist Hitler and the Nazi tyranny. These postcards he, and sometimes she, deposits singly in various locations around the city. The tension in the film is simply and strongly "How long can they get away with it until they are identified?" 
The main investigator into finding the culprit is played by Daniel Bruhl (excellent) as a police chief detective leaned on heavily by the Nazi machine to bring the perpetrator(s) to 'justice' with speed.

While Brendan Gleeson, as a factory manager, displays an impassively neutral expression almost throughout the film, it's Emma Thompson who is as good as we know she can be, which is outstanding. Superficially, she's a Nazi-supporting women's group worker, but increasingly reluctant to participate since the death of her son. Her face, conspicuously without any make-up all through, betrays a formidable range of emotions. I thought she was amazing.

The only dubious point in the film was, I thought, the very final minute which seemed to me rather implausible considering all that had gone before. But the film is based on a novel (by Hans Fallada) which in turn is based on a true story. If the end of the film actually happened then I think a slightly nuanced clue in the film's body as to the conclusion might have improved its credibility. But in the context of the whole it's a minor point.
You also have to accept the entire cast (all apparently German from their names apart from the leading two) speaking in English with German accents, including Gleeson and Thompson  - though after the first few minutes, it didn't distract me too much.

This seems to be the first film I've seen directed by a Vincent Perez, who also has quite a body of acting on his C.V., mainly in French. He controls the tension in this film flawlessly and I'll be looking out for his next project as director. 
Impressive. indeed................7.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Journey's end for Blackso. Goodbye, my very dearest friend.

April 2015

This is the day I was dreading. The end came at 5.45 a.m., in my presence - leaving an irreplaceable void in my life.

I'm fully aware that some may feel I go on and on too much about the subject, writing as if nobody else has gone through a similar experience, but I have no one else in the world to talk to about it and I need somehow to relieve the pressure built up inside me. So if I indulge myself, you don't have to read any further if you'd rather not:-

There were signs last night that the end could be approaching. Two particular things changed about his condition which alarmed me (I won't go into detail). Added to which, instead of Blackso's normal croaky miaow he started a periodic kind of wail, though for nothing in particular that I could see. As I combed his rather emaciated, fur-sparse body I started noticing with some horror that fleas had already started being attracted to him, despite his regular flea drops. I could even see them darting in and out on his face. Giving him more drops, I tried to soothe him by gentle strokes and whispering that if he really wanted to let go during the night that was okay. 

I had a restless night, checking on him lying in his litter tray in the kitchen. Getting up at 4.30, I found him fast asleep and still breathing, one of his front legs rising and falling with each intake of breath. He showed no signs of moving nor indicating that he was wanting breakfast. Noodles was also there in the same room but unconcerned and he ate his breakfast as usual (which surprised me a bit as I thought he might have picked up on the situation). Blackso remained motionless until, at 5.45, he suddenly stirred and made two big soundless gulps of air. and nothing else - then rested back in repose. I immediately checked though couldn't detect any rise and fall of his breathing. I feared the inevitable had happened though I desperately didn't want it to be so. Leaving him there, I sat myself in the living room - and gushed.

With mind in a spin, I kept looking in on him and checking for signs of life without touching. Then at 9 o'clock I put some of his favourite food under his nose. No reaction. I touched him and he was cold and stiff with rigid tail. I could see also that he'd voided himself in the tray and was lying in it.

What had to be done couldn't wait so I picked him up, his entire body now as stiff as a board, and wrapped him inside a large, plastic carrier bag putting it in a shoulder bag. Rang vet at 9 who told me to bring him in at 10.

Once there in the treatment room I couldn't keep myself from blubbing as the young lady had a look at him and confirmed that he had definitely gone. I put my hand gently over him, still in the carrier bag, and wished him farewell and thanks.

(Given the choice of an individual cremation with ashes returned, which I've heard can be very expensive, or a communal cremation, I, of course, had to opt for the latter).

So that was the departure of my very best friend in the world, the only one who gave me absolute and unconditional affection, reciprocating exactly as I gave him - and not just when he wanted his eats but all the time. (Noodles only gives a soft purr when it's feeding time. Patchie can be loving but it's variable. With Blackso it was always there, guaranteed.)

Thank you for giving me so much for over 17 years, Dear Heart. Your unique place in my memory is assured for eternity. Sleep in peace with all my blessings and my most profound gratitude. 

Sunday, 9 July 2017


I'm still not sure about putting this on my blog - but I've got no one else to tell. It happened 24 hours ago and I can still feel my pulse racing. It was easily one of the biggest confrontations of my life, maybe even the worst.

My downstairs 'neighbour' (in the flat below me) and I have always had a fragile relationship - superficially 'friendly' though deep down we've never really trusted each other. 
The initial trouble first began soon after he moved in downstairs six years ago when he warned me with overt hostility about my letting out my little Blackso around 5 o'clock every morning, waking him up when he was trying to sleep. He threatened to tell my landlord about my having a cat (which my landlord already knew about) when we tenants are not supposed to have pets of any description. (Incidentally, he himself has now got a dog! - a lovely, friendly little mongrel who wails piteously whenever he's left alone, which is too often.) 
Since that time years ago our chance encounters have been kind of strained 'polite' on top but after that incident I've never been able to bring myself to accept him as someone I can rely on as a friend. I habitually refer to him as 'Mr Nasty'. 
He's 59 years old but, quite honestly looks 20 years older, with battered face, apparently toothless apart from one prominent upper central tooth; he's separated from his wife and with a now 16 year-old daughter who, he told me only recently, now refuses to visit him. 
Every so often he plays loud pop music (mainly of the 70s and 80s, a lot of it unfamiliar to me) thumping up through my floor, very probably when he's got himself pissed. I can hear him daily on his phone swearing liberally at whomsoever  - his ex-wife? his 'friends' (of whom he has quite a number)? those he works with? 
It's plain that he's almost certainly had a violent past, possibly including  a prison term or more (the dog he's got belonged to a friend who's now been recalled to jail) - and he drinks and smokes, despite having had a large part of one lung removed as well as having a heart by-pass. Oh, and his work is as a 'carer'!  

But back to yesterday. It was all about Blackso again, now surely in the advanced twilight of his life (18 years old), hardly able to walk (yet eating well and still usually with a wet nose), spending all his time in the kitchen sleeping in a litter tray on the litter 'gravel', often relieving himself just where he lies (which I don't in the least mind cleaning up for him). Anyway, I've been taking him outside two or three times a day and leaving him in the overgrown back garden to give him a change of scenery and some fresh air while checking up on him every hour or so before bringing him in again. In the recent hot weather I've been laying him down in the shade but despite the heat I've seen that he drags himself to lie in the sun - maybe as a consequence of losing so much fur which makes him feel cold? Every so often I offer him water as well as occasional eats. 
Yesterday afternoon came a hammering at my door. 
Mr Nasty - "Will you bring your f*ckin' cat in! He's suffering out there under the sun in the heat." (I normally get a speechless, all-over shock-paralysis when someone directs heightened anger at me, and so it threatened to be so again, but I didn't allow it to happen this time.)  
"I've had a word with someone and they tell me to report you to the RSPCA!" (= American ASPCA). 
"Hang on" I said "If he's in the sun he's moved there. I left him in the shade." 
But Mr Nasty wasn't listening to my words. I assume he'd had a few beers or more, as he does daily. 
"How can you be so f*ckin' cruel? Just bring him inside, watch him and let him die. If you leave him there in the sun I'm going to report you". 
It didn't matter what I said, he wasn't listening.  
"I'm also going to tell the landlord!" 
My protestations were in vain. 
"And I know all about you - where you've come from!"
"Where I've come from? What do you mean?"
"I know that you used to live in a f*ckin' tent!(Spitting out that last word with forceful venom, as though I'd been a member of a paedophiles' collective!)
"I've never lived in a tent." I protested with incredulity at the 'accusation', trying to explain to him that the predecessor in his own flat had indeed been homeless and used a tent for sleeping on roadside grass verges.
"Well, that's what I was told."
"Who told you that?" (and anyway, why was being homeless such an awful thing as though one ought to be ashamed of to be in that position?)
But he was only listening to himself getting out what he had to say about my cat. 
After so much of this barrage of effing and blinding straight at me I finally slammed the door in his face . He shouted through "Right, I'm now going to f*ckin' report you to the f*ckin'  RSPCA." 
"Do that!" I shouted back. 
I came back upstairs, sat down, heart racing like mad, mind in a complete whirl. How dare he suggest I'd ever be deliberately cruel to my pets, letting them suffer. He already knew full well the high regard I have for each of the three of them - and Blackso most of all, my best friend in the entire world.  
About five minutes later a softer knocking at the door:-
 "What?" I yelled. 
"Can I just have a word with you?" 
With a sigh, and half expecting him to be standing there, ready for me with a knife, I went down and warily opened the door. 
"Look, I only mean it for the best." (No apology). 
"I know how fond you are of your cats but you really shouldn't leave them out in the sun." (His windows have a better view of the back garden than I have so he can see always see where Blackso is lying). 
I said "Have you reported me? I hope you have because I want the chance to explain to them." 
"No", he said "I'd never report you". (Yeah, right! So why the threat?)  
After stammering out further self-justification for his threats he offered me a hand to shake. I did little more than touch it though I wish I hadn't done even that. 
When he'd finished rambling on, feeling more sorry for what I might think of him than how he made me feel, I coldly closed the door and went up to sit and think again.
Of course I had to the bring Blackso inside to the kitchen, with the window blind down, but with a shaft of sunlight which Blackso dragged himself around to follow so he can lie in it.

Three or four hours later I took the cat outside again, but in the front where I stayed with him (the main road is too dangerous to leave him there alone). Mr Nasty came out:- 
"Look, I'm sorry for what I said."
I told him straight that what upset me particularly was that he could come out immediately with a threat, even of blackmail, when he knew perfectly well my regard for the cats which I would never contemplate coming to any harm. 
"I know" he said "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come on as strongly like I did." 
It was an apology of sorts, but really only made because, as he himself admitted, that as we live in such close proximity we really need to get on with each other. 
He offered me his hand again - "Here's my hand with my heart. Will you take it?" I did, though part of me wished I hadn't. "Are we still friends?" ("Still"? I hadn't realised we were!) Not wishing to prolong the hostility, what could I do but answer that, yes, we were?  

I haven't seen him since then though I can hear him moving about below right now. As I say at the start above, it wasn't the first blow-up between us, and I doubt if it'll be the last. 
I don't want another experience like that with anyone!

Meanwhile Blackso is lying in the kitchen, oblivious of the stirring that went on - sleeping in a shaft of sunlight.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Film: 'Spider-man: Homecoming' (in 2D)

Bold claims are being made that this is a fresh take on the Spiderman saga. On the contrary, I found it tired and jaded, and with a pervading sense of deja vu, using thin material which is stretched beyond what it can reasonably take. 

This, the sixth in the current franchise, now boasts its third actor to play the webbed hero and 'force for justice' in an adequate Tom Holland to follow Tobey Maguire (3 films) and Andrew Garfield (2). The only new and most interesting aspect of this film is Spiderman's nemesis, 'Vulture' - here played by Michael Keaton - surely more than a mere nod to his 2014 Oscar-nominated turn in 'Birdman'. Also in this, but with more limited screen time, is Robert Downey Jr in his 'Iron Man' guise.
But the fights are all just as we have seen before. I don't know what else they can do to make them original. Dull, dull, dull!  

Director Jon Watts is a name I didn't know, and this is only his third feature film. I can only hope his next involvement has a higher interest level. 

I really feel they've come to the end of the line here though I dare say there'll be yet more films to follow this. It'll have to make a truly unique claim to make me want to see it. Failing that I can only assume it will be yet more of the noise and routine spectacle that we've become so over-familiar with....................3.5.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Film: 'Baby Driver'

This is a film like no other that I've seen - and I'm saying that in a positive sense. Most of the film is shot to synchronise with the music that the title character continuously listens to through his ear plug-ins (which he plays to drown out the non-stop noise he hears due to a hearing disability) - and it's not all heavy rock; in fact little of it is, some tracks being quite unexpected. However, although the sound level where I saw the film was not at the pain threshold I did wish I'd had something to plug my own ears somewhat and take it down a level. But the soundtrack does give the film a terrific non-stop energy which is exploited to the full in sharp visual editing - and this is coupled with an intelligent, sassy script. 

Ansel Elgort (who was male lead in 'The Fault in Our Stars' of 2014) is the 'Baby' of the title who is 'employed' by smarmy crime boss and mastermind Kevin Spacey (menacingly unruffle-able) to do the driving for him as the sole permanent fourth member of a crime quartet who are assigned to carry out bank robberies.  He's the standing member because Spacey has faith in him as he's never let him down and regards Baby as his 'lucky charm'. Others in the gang of varying membership include Jamie Foxx and John Hamm. Baby Driver's involvement in these violent capers (invariably with shootings and deaths) makes him increasingly reluctant to continue, especially when he meets fast-food waitress Debora (Lily James) with whom he wishes to strike up a relationship, but Spacey won't let him go, complete with threats.  

One relatively minor reservation I had was that I could have done without the epilogue. It's not long but it plays like a needless attempt to wrap things up neatly when a more effective ending in my view would have been just to cut the film off as soon as we're shown what's going to happen, which would have been more in character with the body of the film.

British director Edgar Wright, best known for his Simon Pegg/Nick Frost 'Cornetto' trilogy ('Shaun of the Dead', 'Hot Fuzz' and 'The End of the World' - each of which I think stands up to repeated viewings) certainly pulls out all the stops for this film, directing sure-footedly with enormous gusto and originality.

I hadn't realised until just now that most of the film was shot in New Orleans, though the location isn't betrayed, and nor is it important to know.

This gets my sure recommendation and I can practically guarantee that most of you will be carried along for a heady two-hour pleasure ride. Great fun..................7.5.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Film: 'Hampstead'

I don't think I've seen the wonderful Diane Keaton in a non-American film before. Here she is starring as an American widow in a British venture, and living in this chic part of north London where she works in a charity shop, and getting involved with gruff Brendan Gleeson, a 'homeless' itinerant who has resided in a shack on the edge of Hampstead Heath for 17 years. It's a shame, then, that I think she wasn't the right person for the part.  

Based on a true story - which every second film now seems to be - I don't know if that was why Keaton's character had to be American, though that needn't get in the way. Her personality seems not to fit here, which isn't helped by the emotional contact between her and Gleason being, to me at least, nowhere near convincing.

She only notices his home, which is mostly concealed by surrounding foliage, when she tries out a pair of binoculars from the upper reaches of her spacious apartment (which these days in that exclusive part of London would surely cost upwards of £1 million!) She learns that there's an attempt by developers to force the shack dweller to move away so, she herself not keen on the planned development anyway, gets to meet him and support his fight to stay. 

She has her own legal affairs that need untangling and the solicitor she hires (played as rather odiously friendly towards her) expects to have his hopes fulfilled when she doesn't reject his advances outright. This also struck me as a discordant note, especially when she was already starting to get involved with the Gleeson character. 

I used to know the Hampstead area a little thirty or so years ago. at which time there was still a hint of the bohemian life around there. There's no trace of that left now and nothing of such is shown in this film. I think Hampstead has pretty well all gone lah-di-dah now.

This is an amiable enough film though it never really takes off. The story is moderately interesting but hardly gripping.
The film only properly perked up for me in the outdoor scenes when I vaguely remembered the shopping streets - as well as in nearby Highgate cemetery (containing the grave of Karl Marx). But the indoor scenes between the two main characters were fairly routine depicting their burgeoning liking for each other, in respect of which I remained unconvinced.

This is director Joel Hopkins' fifth feature and the first of his that I have seen. There may be some promise within this film but I think he's going to need stronger material than this to test him properly (A thousand-fold improvement on yesterday's misfire anyway!).....................5.5.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Film: 'The Shack'

What the blazes was all that? Feels like I've just come out of a religious revivalist meeting. If yesterday's 'Gifted' was an ordeal to sit through this one was like having one's teeth extracted sans anesthetic!
Had no idea it would be on this 'God-is-the-answer-to-everything' level. Now I almost feel polluted.

I wouldn't care but the first three-quarters of an hour (of two and a quarter) seemed like it would be a straight-forward, though unexceptional, thriller. Sam Worthington, the survivor of a childhood blighted by his violent, on-the-bottle father, is now married with three children - and is haunted by the occasion when the family is on a camping trip, his youngest, a five-year old daughter, is abducted and disappears, presumed murdered. There's now also an emotional distance between him and his other two children, now adolescent. Then he gets a mysterious typed note which appears to be from his deceased father saying that they can meet at an old wooden hut in the woods ('The Shack') which he knew as a boy. With no idea who this could really be from he decides to go, ready armed, with some suspicion that this might be connected to his taken daughter. He arrives - and this is where the weirdness sets in for basically the remaining two thirds of the film. He's guided from the snow-bound shack to, within just a few yards, a flowery, sun-drenched landscape in which there's a large house peopled by three very strange individuals which he comes round to assuming are manifestations of...........God! A kindly, maternal figure in the form of Octavia Spencer (who was also in yesterday's 'Gifted' but here in a much more substantial role) - and her two adult 'children', a young woman - and a bearded young man named......Jesus, who can, incidentally, walk on water!
His confusion is, well, understandable ("Am I dead?" he asks) - and all three of them at every twist and turn of his many questions spout forth Godly aphorisms about him and his life - and they seem to know all there is to know, while he maintains how could a 'good' God allow to happen what did to his daughter? He's gently rebuked on his rush to judgment.
And it doesn't end there. With the house as his base, he explores its proximities, meeting with another mysterious woman who lectures him on wisdom and knowledge and judgment again (this goes on far too long) during which he sees his missing daughter in a vision as well as his one-time abusive father, now with effusive apologies for his conduct. Then an older oriental-type man appears who instructs him that he cannot advance in his life until he forgives and lets go. Are you still with me? - because I came ever so close to walking out and blowing a loud raspberry on my exit. 

I wouldn't have minded so much if there'd been something original in the many pithy platitudes. Standing back I cannot truly say that it's all bilge even though I might prefer to. It just sounded like an interminable homily praising the goodness of this 'Supreme Being' (The film seems to take it as read that we all believe in such, though here it's not identified with any particular 'brand' and would work just as well for both Christian and non-Christian theists alike). 

In the film's brief epilogue which I most reluctantly awaited, I was counting on there being some resolution to the riddle of what actually happened to the little girl and who did it. But no - it appears that the cure-all for what was wrong in his life was forgiveness, and by practising it his family was then drawn together as a close-knit 'traditional' family unit - two loving parents (M and F, but of course!) with a teenage son and slightly younger daughter - and to live happily ever after, one assumes.  

Frankly, there were moments in this film where I just wanted to puke - and, I repeat, not because I strongly disagreed with the sentiments (and, boy, is it sentimental!) which I don't -  but because it's all delivered in such hyper-sanctimonious fashion that I've no doubt that Pope Frankie himself would give the film his holy incense-infused blessing.

It must surely be that the entire cast of this curiosity, as well as all the behind-camera staff, were 'on message'. I can't imagine anyone at odds with the sentiments delivered wanted to, or were even allowed, to work on it. 

Director Stuart Hazeldine has only made one other full-length feature before, the very good 'Exam' of 2009. (He also made a short film entitled 'Christian' which, I guess, speaks for itself). I can only hope that with his next major effort he returns to territory more 'entertaining' and leave the unctuous sermonising to others so that mugs like me who fall into the trap can avoid it and not find ourselves paying for the undesired experience........................1. 

Monday, 26 June 2017

Film: 'Gifted'

Featuring as it does one of those precociously intelligent brats of a child which the cinema just lurves to show us, and which I just cannot abide to see, I wouldn't have touched this film with a barge-pole had it not been for some exceptionally favourable reviews - as well as the ever-positive presence of Lindsay Duncan which finally tipped the balance. 

Chris Evans is a name I know but couldn't put a face to - and here, I must say, he looks pretty hot - and he acts quite convincingly too. He's been in quite a number of films but they're nearly all popcorn-fodder blockbusters in 'The Avengers' mode, none of which I've seen.
Here he plays the Florida-resident uncle and guardian of seven-year old Mary (the said clever-clogs little twerp - played appropriately cringingly by McKenna Grace and who has a one-eyed ginger cat as a pet). She's the child of his maths-prodigy sister who had her as a result of a brief relationship and who shortly afterwards committed suicide, he taking on the role of surrogate father because, he maintains, that's what his sister would have wanted. Their own English mother (Lindsay Duncan) disowned his sister when the pregnancy became known, wanting nothing to do with the child. The infant has inherited her mother's genius and prodigious talent for mental arithmetic, and it shows up on her first day at school when she's bored out of her mind with her classmates being asked to add two plus two when she's already been doing calculus and solving quadratic equations. (Well, wouldn't you be bored?). When word gets around about her abilities, her uncle-guardian, wanting the girl to lead a 'normal' life, refuses the chance to put her in a special academy which would make optimum use of her rare talent. His mother, on hearing of the child's position, unexpectedly turns up on her son's doorstep, now taking an interest in her grand-daughter, and thinks it would be better if she took over the role of primary carer, removing her back with her to Massachusetts. The Chris Evans character disagrees, of course, and a court case ensues over the child's guardianship.

Lindsay Duncan, apart from her English accent, (can't she do American?) is practically unrecognisable in her superficially 'Americanised' persona - bouffant, flowing wig plus manner of fashion-dressing which would give her away in her home country as being conspicuously something which very few mature English women could get away with. But still, she's magnificent.

I was dreading that the little girl would, as so any films featuring children of this age do, be dripping pearls of wisdom way beyond her years, and which would teach the adults around her all about life. Thankfully, there's very little of that aspect - but her prodigious mental superiority alone is quite enough to be getting on with.

The film's plotline follows very much the same as we've seen before so many times, though instead of two squabbling parents here we have a mother fighting with her son over custody of the grand-daughter. 

Another of my cinema aversions is all-too evident - a mushy, over-bearingly sentimental, often-present, mood-setting soundtrack, including no less than two songs, dammit! Insufferable!

Director is Marc Webb, who did both the 'Amazing Spiderman' films. His contribution here doesn't spring any surprises or give any particularly memorable touches.

I've no doubt that those who are not bothered by the several put-offs that I've delineated will think more highly of this film than I did. Most younger people will not recognise it as being over-formulaic because most of them will not have seen quite as many films as I have. For these reasons, if you're not turned away by what I say you may well enjoy it. As for me, I must be honest.............4.


Monday, 19 June 2017

Film: 'Churchill'

This film's title is deceptive. It covers just the few days in June 1944 prior to the allied landings on the Normandy beaches, and featuring the British Prime Minister's resistance to the American-led plan.

Brian Cox plays the eponymous titular figure although facially he looks quite unlike the original, and doesn't sound much like him either - but what an actor! This putting aside of resemblances, apart from some very feeble attempts, also occurs with other members of the cast, most notably with both John Slattery as Eisenhower and James Purefoy as King George VI , the two of them looking very little like the figures they are portraying. Miranda Richardson as Churchill's steely wife, Clem, who wishes she could have her own life back, does bear a passing resemblance to the woman some of us can recall. One has to make a mental effort to stop these distractions getting in the way of enjoying the film - though, of course, younger audience members won't be as troubled as I was.

The film shows a side of Churchill that is rarely, if ever seen. Naturally I can't vouch for any veracity on that part, but it's quite different from the politician as he's usually played - here more of a fast-talking, petulant, short-tempered, yelling combative rather than the reflective and measured, brooding growler we've grown used to. 
I wasn't aware of the extent to which he'd been cut out of decision-making regarding the D-day landings after he'd vociferously expressed his disapproval of the plan, and was subsequently reduced to watching and grunting from the sidelines while Eisenhower issued the vital instructions. Even Field-Marshal Montgomery had more influence than Churchill.   
Churchill's attitude and animosity arises from his being haunted by the appalling loss of life in the Dardanelles landings thirty years before in the First World War, for which he feels he bore some responsibility, and is afraid that history might be repeating itself, with his name being vilified.  (We are spared of any warfare scenes).

Director Jonathan Teplitzky's probably best know for his 2013 film 'The Railway Man' with Colin Firth, which was fair enough without being a exceptional recommendation.

This one is a patchy film, interesting in sections but never quite taking off enough to keep one gripped despite our knowing how events turned out. I kept looking for things I hadn't known before, and I suppose that there's enough of them to keep the mind occupied. But as for making a satisfying whole (sensibly coming in at just a little over 90 minutes) I think it left something to be desired...............6.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Film: 'My Cousin Rachel'

Pleased to resume my cinema-going after a lengthy hiatus occasioned by 'circumstances' - which may well restrict the number of future similar outings for a while. Only to say for now that 'he' remains fragile, though superficially healthy apart from continuing very wobbly walk and alarming further loss of fur. When there's any more to report I'll do so.

Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourite writers. I've read more than a few of her works but not this one, an omission which now needs rectifying.

Set in rural England in what I take to be the late-18th century, the prologue shows a young boy being cared for by his guardian right until he returns from having attended school now grown up (Sam Claflin), his guardian whom he worships having been sent to Florence for recuperation from a brain tumour, and from whom he gets mail, first telling him of the lovely young woman he's become acquainted with there (the 'cousin Rachel' of the title) and then, continuing to sing her praises, the two of them marry - his correspondence suddenly becoming more disturbing until, fearing for his life at her hands, he begs his charge to come and help him. Is this for real or just a fancy of his fevered condition? Claflin rushes off to Italy to find that he has only recently just died while she is nowhere to be found. Returning to England, he is determined to seek her out and confront her - though finds out that she has already arrived at his home, which he will inherit on attaining the age of 25, she now the grieving widow seeking the solace of her cousin. He's resolved to have the matter out with her, being convinced that she was responsible for his guardian's demise. When they meet she (Rachel Weisz) turns out to be nothing like what he envisaged and his adversarial stance dissolves as he quickly becomes infatuated with her. He's also attracted to her independent spirit which can be quite forthright at times. So won over is he, in fact, that he refuses to entertain stories of her profligacy and rumours of her unfaithfulness when she was married with his guardian. He even bequeaths to her his greatest treasure, a pearl necklace which belonged to his mother. His blinkered. rose-tinted view of her continues and, against all advice, he formulates his own will, charging his entire state to her possession should he pre-decease her. He inevitably proposes marriage but is perplexed to find that her warm attitude to him changes. Too late and too bad for him! What we, the audience, can see he cannot. Therein lies the film's suspense, and most effective it is too for virtually the entire film, which held my attention without pause.

Two 'downers' for me was that the film's several intimate moments between the romantic couple were conveyed in hardly audible whispers, though I don't think that this was as important as the second - namely that I didn't quite understand a revelation given near the end, which was, presumably, intended to take one's breath away. I can understand what it was - the very final frames showed that up clearly - but it left me with a whole load of questions in my mind on the lines of "But if that was the case, why didn't....". It also left, though only in retrospect, some of the film of the interaction between the couple looking strangely ham-fisted and old-fashioned. Others may well have been carried along with it as a convincing development but for me it proved to be rather less than satisfactory.

All the acting, and the script as well, is of a very high order and the film looks terrific, not burdened by a background score which could easily have been melodramatic but was sensibly kept in check.

Director Roger Michell (also the screenplay writer) has some biggish films on his record, including 'Notting Hill', 'Venus' and 'Le Week-End' - and despite my minor reservations, this one also deserves to stand to his credit...................7.5

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.