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Solo: A Star Wars Story


Solo: A Star Wars Story

And so the saga continues, although this time it's Han Solo's story. One could feel that they are squeezing the pips out of the franchise, but in fact it's not a bad yarn, and it has the look of the original trilogy, which also can't be bad. Although with an estimated budget of $250 million, it ought to be good.

We begin on Corellia, a ship-building planet where the young Han is a scrumrat, surviving on his wits in a world of criminality. His love is Qi'ra, also a scrumrat, and Han has a plan to get them off Corellia. He has stolen a phial of extremely valuable hyperfuel, which he uses as a bribe to get them on an outgoing transport. But as the gate closes Qi'ra is grabbed by their pursuers, and Han has to leave without her. He vows to return.

Volunteering for the Imperial Flight Academy, he is accepted, somewhat easily I thought. But he is expelled from there and ends up an infantryman, which as we know isn't the the safest ticket in town. In an attempt to escape he tries to blackmail a group of criminals by threatening to expose them, but all this achieves is him being fed to the 'beast'. The beast, however, turns out to be none other than Chewbacca, and Han's ability to speak a bit of Shyriiwook enables him to 'make a deal' and both of them break free. At this point the leader of the criminal group, Beckett, decides that the two of them might be an asset on a 'job' they have planned, and he takes them on board.

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Deadpool 2


Deadpool 2

This film continues the story from the first Deadpool, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Rather than repeat all the reasons why I enjoyed it, I would refer you to that first review, which sets the scene nicely.

This time we start with Deadpool in a thoroughly suicidal mood after the love of his life, Vanessa (aka Copycat) is killed by one of the low-lives he had previously tried to take out. But Deadpool is seemingly really indestructible, to the extent that being atomised by barrels of high explosive still doesn't do the trick. Instead his bits are recovered by Colossus from the X-Men and taken to the X-Mansion for him to recover, or should we say regenerate. He agrees to be a trainee X-Man to moderate his rather extreme style. His first assignment is to an incident at the Mutant Re-education Center, where a young mutant, Russell, aka Firefist, is threatening all kinds of retribution. This doesn't go well, Deadpool siding with the young boy and taking a lethal view towards the staff of the establishment. This results in Deadpool and Russell being arrested and incarcerated, high-tech neck bracelets being used to negate their superpowers.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

It's really fascinating to read reviews after one has seen a film. In this case they reflect the chasm that exists between the professional critics and an average audience. Quoting Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian's film critic: "Populated by Downtown Abbey graduates, this glutinous postwar rom-dram is a load of cobblers." But set against that is the 81% audience satisfaction on Rotten Tomatoes, and a packed audience at our cinema when we saw it on Wednesday afternoon, quite a rare occurrence I assure you. Its problem, if it has one, is that it's a bit twee. But compared to some of the other stuff reaching the cinemas lately, it was quite a delight to watch.

Set in Guernsey immediately after the war, with flashbacks into the time of occupation, it is based around the unlikely sounding Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The society was started in a moment of crisis, when a group of residents were stopped by Germans during the evening curfew, and needed to come up with a reason for being out. The Potato Peel Pie aspect comes from the fact the islanders were close to starving, the said dish being one of their efforts to feed themselves.

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Isle of Dogs


Isle of Dogs

After a bit of a break from the cinema, this week I saw Isle of Dogs. The trailer had intrigued me and I was looking forward to seeing something a bit different from the mainstream offerings. It was screened during the children's school holidays, which may have tempted some parents to take their little ones to see it. However, apart from being an animation with lots of dogs, I don't think that this film is aimed at children. As if to prove the point, a couple sitting next to us with their daughter left after about 20 minutes. I'm not sure whether it was the child or the adults who so quickly became disillusioned with what they were watching, but the utterances suggested that it wasn't what the parents were expecting.

It's a stop-motion animation, with the dogs having a very life-like appearance, save perhaps for their overly glassy eyes, that occasionally shed tears. The location is Japan, and the 'human' dialogue is Japanese, which often isn't translated. Instead we rely a commentary. The dogs, however, have an impressive cast of English language 'speakers', including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig and a very sultry sounding Scarlett Johansson as the former show dog Nutmeg; who's tougher than she looks. There's also a contribution from Yoko Ono, playing the research scientist Yoko Ono!

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Unsane


Unsane

A very disturbing film that amazingly was shot entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus in 4K. As a consequence it must have the shortest list of final credits that I have ever seen. The picture quality was obviously different to that of conventional filming, giving it at times a documentary feel, and the aspect ratio was noticeably different. But that is enough of the technical background. What about the film?

Claire Foy plays Sawyer Valentini, a bright young woman who has recently started a new job at a bank in Pennsylvania. But she has a secret. She has moved from Boston, where her mother still lives, to escape a stalker, David Strine. She met him when helping out at a hospice, where she used to read to his dying father. He became besotted with her, and now she thinks she sees him almost everywhere she goes. After believing that she spotted him in the bank, she seeks advice from a counsellor at a nearby hospital. During the interview she mentions occasional suicide thoughts, which is enough to warrant some further treatment. But after she signs some papers, without carefully reading them, she finds herself admitted against her will, and moved into a ward with other disturbed people. No amount of protestation has any effect, and the local police ignore her call for help once presented with the signed forms. She is trapped.

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Tomb Raider (2018)


Tomb Raider 2018

As a devotee of Indiana Jones, this sort of film will always hold an appeal for me. Add in Alicia Vikander as the resourceful heroine, and there wasn't any real doubt that I would go to see it. I'm not a gamer, so I am unschooled in the original premise of the video game, but I did see Angelina Jolie in the 2001 film, which for me seemed more like a video game than this latest incarnation.

Taking a leaf out of the Wonder Woman book, here we have the genesis of the story, as we see Lara as a rebellious young woman who refuses to sign papers to inherit her father's immense wealth while not knowing if he is indeed dead. Instead she just about gets by as a bike messenger in London. Until, that is, her father's business partner, Ana Miller, has to bail her from the police station after she collided with a police car. Taken to sign the papers to release her inheritance, she is given a Japanese puzzle bequeathed by her father, which she soon unravels - "things like this were always around the house !" This releases a key, which in turn, after solving a little riddle, gives her access to her father's secret den. There she finds a cam-corder, on which is a video left for her by her father. How the battery was still charged after seven years isn't explained. In the video her father exhorts her to destroy all his material relating to Himiko, a mythical Japanese queen said to hold the power over life and death. Lara, of course, completely ignores his request, and sets off for Japan after pawning a rare amulet that her father gave her.

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I, Tonya


I, Tonya

As we continue to work our way through the Oscar nominated films, this time it's I, Tonya. Based on actual events we see the story unfold of how Tonya Harding was implicated in the assault on her main competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, in the lead up to the 1994 Winter Olympics. As Tonya says in the film, "I mean it's what you came along for, folks. The f***ing incident!" But this film isn't so much about the incident as the life of Tonya Harding. Abused by her mother and husband, rejected as not graceful enough by the skating fraternity, she had the most difficult time of perhaps any sportsperson as her raw talent took her to the very top of women's figure skating. Despite being the first woman to perform a triple axel in competition, her marks often fell short of what her technical ability would seem to warrant.

I found this a very sad story, although the film portrays it in a humorous way. There are frequent interview scenes sprinkled throughout the story, wherein the main players in the incident recall their involvement, or not as the case may be, or perhaps as they chose to remember it. Tonya's mother, LaVona, played with an Oscar-winning performance by Allison Janney, is an uncompromising woman who believes that her daughter succeeded because she was toughened-up by her upbringing. That Tonya was tough is without doubt, but it was a toughness tinged with a large amount of rebellion that didn't go down very well with the stiff judges on the voting panels. Skating in home-made costumes with wild hair, she certainly didn't fit the normal sartorial elegance expected from figure skaters.

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Lady Bird


Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan plays a very difficult teenager who is in her final year of high school in this coming-of-age story. Lady Bird is her given name, she explains, in that she gave it to herself, this seeming to be yet another act of rebellion. Artistically inclined, she is stifled by life in Sacramento and takes out most of her ire on her mother, Marion, played by Laurie Metcalf. The family isn't wealthy, and when her father loses his job things get worse. But Lady Bird doesn't let these difficulties moderate her behaviour, although her relationship with her father is entirely different to that with her mother.

Her desire is to go to an Ivy League college in a city with culture, but her mother dismisses this, citing her behaviour, which further strains their relationship. At school Lady Bird's best friend is Julie, an academically bright pupil who seems to be the antithesis of Lady Bird's rebellious self. But while Lady Bird is perhaps not the best academically, she does show artistic promise, which is put to use when she and Julie join the school's theatre programme. There she meets Danny, with whom she flirts and they are soon enjoying a romantic friendship, albeit a very proper one, for reasons we discover a bit later. Her mother is upset when Lady Bird goes to Thanksgiving at Danny's grandmother's, who happens to live in a house that Lady Bird and Julie have often stopped and admired, it being very grand. Danny's family is clearly much richer than her's.

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Coco


Coco

A Pixar film is always worth a trip to the cinema and Coco doesn't disappoint. These days the animation is so good that you sometimes forget just how much the technology has advanced. A mind-boggling amount of time and effort goes into producing a cast of life-like characters within a setting that is equally realistic.

Set in Santa Cecilia, Mexico, the story revolves around a young boy, Miguel, who has a passion for music. But, unfortunately for him, music is banned in his family, a rule stringently enforced by his grandmother Elena. The reason behind the ban goes back to when his great-great-grandmother, Imelda, was deserted by her musician husband who left to pursue a career in music. At that time, they had a three-year-old daughter, Coco, who is now a great age and lives with the family. Elena strives to protect Coco from the event that left her without a father; thus the ban on music.

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Black Panther


Black Panther

After the tranquility and true-to-life realism of the last couple of French films I've reviewed, a quantum leap into the world of the Black Panther. I've previously expressed my opinion regarding the saturation of the Marvel franchise, with the film studios appearing to offer up one film after another for what they obviously see as an inexhaustible appetite for this type of adventure. I fear, however, that we may be getting to the point where it's too much of a good thing. Peak Marvel!

Black Panther, however, does offer something different, in that the majority of the cast is Black, which is a refreshing milestone for a big-budget superhero film such as this. They snuck in Martin Freeman as a white CIA agent, but this was hardly to satisfy the need for a 'big' star, since there is plenty of talent and star quality on show from the rest of the cast. I didn't see Captain America: Civil War, so this was my first introduction to King T'Challa, or as the title says, the Black Panther. We're introduced to the reclusive African Nation of Wakanda, where an ancient meteor strike deposited huge quantities of vibranium, a mineral that has allowed the inhabitants to develop advanced technology and keep it and themselves largely hidden from the rest of the world. The vibranium affected the plant life, and one particular plant is used to bestow upon King T'Challa super powers, which he employs in the guise of the Black Panther.

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The Shape of Water


The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro has an eye for fantasy, as anybody who saw Pan's Labyrinth will testify. The Shape of Water is no less fantastic. Set in the 1960's, within an entirely believable secret research establishment, the scientists have captured a humanoid sea creature, regarded as a god in its native South America. But in the USA it is an asset, a scientific specimen that is horrendously maltreated by its capturer, Colonel Richard Strickland. He brandishes an electric cattle prod, which he employs to the point where the creature is rendered almost lifeless. He doesn't, however, have things all his own way, losing two fingers in one encounter, which doesn't improve his feelings towards his captive.

Despite the high security level at the establishment, there is a staff of female cleaners who access the restricted areas almost at will, presumably because the bosses don't regard them as a security risk. Among them is Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute orphan who was found by the river as a baby. Esposito in old Italian was a surname given to foundlings. Elisa lives in a flat next to Giles, a graphic designer, who is himself a bit of an odd fellow, but he and Elisa get on just fine. A sort of platonic friendship where each appreciates the other foibles, communication being by sign language. Elis'a morning routine opens the film, a bizarre sequence wherein she puts eggs in water, sets the timer, and then proceeds to take a bath while masturbating. It would seem that this is in fact her regular daily routine. Read More…

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This is a film that assaults all your emotions. Brutal in its honesty, with dark humour, and above all a superb characterisation of small-town America where everybody knows everybody else, and nobody's business can remain private for long. The lead performances are amazing, with Frances McDormand playing Mildred Hayes, a mother seeking action from the police department in respect of her brutally murdered daughter, Angela, an incident that has occurred before the film's narrative commences. In her sights is the police chief Bill Willoughby, equally well portrayed by Woody Harrelson. And working for Willoughby is Jason Dixon, a racist, intellectually challenged cop who lives with his mother, and behaves in many ways just like a child.

It has been months since the murder and the police do not appear to have made any progress on the case. While driving home one day Mildred focusses on the three almost derelict billboards along the side of the road. She has an idea to put them to good use. We next see her at the offices of the advertising company, in a small office in town, where the proprietor Red Welby is at first surprised to hear that billboards even exist. But they do, and Mildred takes out a year's contract to display her messages, paying for the first month from the proceeds of selling her estranged husband's pick up and trailer. The boards read, in sequence; "RAPED WHILE DYING"; "AND STILL NO ARRESTS?"; and "HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?" They are first noticed by Dixon, who is also less than enthralled by the fact that the man putting them up is a negro.

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Hostiles


Hostiles

As a kid we didn't have anywhere near the range of toys that children have today, and there certainly weren't any computers or mobile devices. We were either cowboys with toy guns or some form of medieval character with a wooden sword, or perhaps a bow and arrow. I was very much a fan of cowboys, and of course regarded them as the heroes and the 'injuns' as the baddies. I've long since realised that this depiction in the old western movies and comics was at the very least a distortion of the truth. Hostiles is a film that unpicks that stereotype. Perhaps not as radically as Dances with Wolves, but with some superb characterisations it gets inside the people, revealing that things are never black and white, and that all members of the human race have a story to tell, and a right to be respected.

The action begins at a homestead, with the husband outside cutting timber while inside his wife schools two adorable young girls. Their idyll is destroyed when a group of marauding Comanches attack, leaving the wife, Rosalie Quaid, the only survivor with three dead children, one just a baby in arms.

We are next introduced to the battle-hardened cavalry officer, Captain Joseph J. Blocker, played by Christian Bale, who is in the final throes of rounding up some Apache warriors after a life of fighting the indians. After he arrives at Fort Berringer in New Mexico with his Apache prisoners, he is presented with an order that he feels he cannot accept. Colonel Abraham Biggs commands him to escort a former adversary, the Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk, to his ancestral lands in Montana. Yellow Hawk, played by Wes Studi, is terminally ill, and no less than the President himself has signed an order guaranteeing the Chief's safe return to Montana. Along with Yellow Hawk is his son, Black Hawk, his daughter Moon Deer, Black Hawk's wife Elk Woman, with their son, Little Bear.

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All the Money in the World


All the Money in the World

After the true story of Molly's Game we followed that with another film based on actual events, the story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III in 1973. I remember the news of this event at the time, but it was extremely interesting to learn the story of what was going on behind the scenes during this traumatic event.

We start with the 16-year-old Getty strolling around the streets of Rome, self assured and boldly telling the local street girls that he can look after himself. A boast soon shown to be no more than bravado as he is bundled into a van by kidnappers. We also have a narrative that tells us, that while the Gettys may look like us, they are not, and this is offered as an early explanation as to why what we are about to see shouldn't be regarded in the context of what 'normal' people would do.

This film is of course marked out by the fact that many scenes had to be reshot when Kevin Spacey was removed from the cast and replaced by Christopher Plummer. I must say, however, that Plummer for me had much more the look of the ageing Getty than Spacey, and I think the film has probably benefitted from the change. It's also remarkable that the editing was completed in such a short space of time.

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Molly's Game


Molly's Game

After a bit of a break over Christmas we've resumed our cinema visits, the first being to see Molly's Game. Another film that is based on actual events, this time as described in the memoir written by the real Molly Bloom. Jessica Chastain takes on the role of Molly, and a fine job she does of it. She must be one of the hottest properties in Hollywood at the moment.

The film is accompanied by an ongoing narrative from Chastain as Molly, in which she describes her early life and how she ended up running one of the most exclusive high-stakes poker games in the world. As a youngster, under the somewhat bullying direction of her father, played by Kevin Costner, she rose to be a competitive skier, once ranked third in North America. Hers was a very high achieving family and she appears to have been quite rebellious.

The film shows a freak accident ending her skiing career, but this is, apparently, a bit of dramatic licence. But she did move to Los Angeles and found a job that introduced her to the world of high-stakes poker. When her misogynistic boss decides to stop paying her, because she is getting more than enough in tips from her role as hostess and game manager, she decides to invest everything in setting up her own game. Taking her ex-boss's players along with her, she builds a high-class high-stakes operation that attracts extremely wealthy individuals, including celebrities from cinema and sport.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Star Wars: The Last Jedi

We didn't quite make it to see this latest Star Wars film on its first day, but were there the day after.

In fairness to the effort that has gone into making this film, I am going to refrain from saying too much, although if you want to be totally surprised, then don't read on! This film works as a stand-alone piece, but of course for those of us that have watched the odyssey unfold there is so much more.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) returns, still trying to understand what it is within her that makes her different, and still trying to get Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to teach her in the ways of the Force.

The Resistance is in full retreat, with Domhnall Green playing General Hux, the evil if somewhat accident prone commander of the First Order's battle fleet. The ultimate bad guy, however, is Supreme Leader Snoke, who puts up with Hux despite his failings. Snoke is also displeased with Kylo Ren (born Ben Solo), which leads to an interesting apparent meeting of minds between Kylo Ren and Rey, all done telepathically through the Force, of course. At this point we are not sure whether Kylo Ren is turning away from the Dark Side. Subsequent events tend to support this possibility. But this is Star Wars, where plot twists and the power of the Dark Side are always going to shape events.

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The Man Who Invented Christmas


The Man Who Invented Christmas

Of course Charles Dickens didn't invent Christmas, but his short story 'A Christmas Carol' arguably influenced people's sentiments during the festive season and changed the nature of the festival.

Dan Stevens, who infamously deserted Downton Abbey immediately after marrying Lady Mary, breaking many hearts in the process, plays Dickens. Let's hope the Abbey fans have forgiven him. Reviews would tend to indicate that they have, since although some of the more 'serious' critics have rubbished this film audience approval is high. For me it seemed less like a feature film and more of a BBC period drama, much in the fashion of Dickensian, which was broadcast in early 2016 but didn't survive for a second series.

After some very successful novels Dickens is going through a lean patch. Barnaby Rudge and Martin Chuzzlewit haven't been well received, and having moved the family into a more prestigious abode money is becoming tight. To secure an advance from his publishers he is nudged by his friend, John Foster, into committing to a new book, which he says will be about Christmas, and will be published within a very short timescale ready for the festive holiday. But he is shown as having what we would now call writers' block.

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Battle of the Sexes


Battle of the Sexes

Once again we saw a film on its opening day. I can't remember watching the original match upon which this film is based, although I do recollect the news around it at the time. And I knew who won.

While Emma Stone is a good look-alike for Billie Jean King, Steve Carrell is even more of a doppelganger for Bobby Riggs. And both convey well the respective personalities and beliefs of the people they are playing. An impassioned believer in sexual equality pitted against the chauvinistic misogynist.

However, this isn't really a film about tennis. Yes, we see parts of the famous match, but you don't need to be a tennis aficionado to recognise that the tennis we see isn't consistent with Billie Jean King at the top of her game. But there's only so much an actor can do to inhabit a role. No, this is a story about King's fight for equality in the game, and a far less public battle with her own sexuality.

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Justice League


Justice League

We saw Justice League on Friday, its release day here in the UK. I have mentioned previously that the whole superhero genre has started to wane a bit for me, basically because we've reached saturation. Deadpool was a refreshing change, Guardians of the Galaxy provided humour and great soundtracks and Wonder Woman was different because it at last gave us a female heroine. As for the rest, I'm afraid it's just more of the same. Which takes us to Justice League.

My take on the film is that is a group of superheroes looking for a plot; and what a plot. It appears that the super-villain in this case, Steppenwolf, does indeed hail from DC Comics, which surprised me as I thought the whole contrivance was verging on hallucinatory. We are introduced to the Mother Boxes, wrested from Steppenwolf in the past by the combined armies of the Olympian Gods, Amazons, Atlantians, ancient humans and Green Lanterns (an intergalactic police force, which was trailed but I didn't notice their representative in the film). The Mother Boxes must be kept apart, since if they are brought back together this would give Steppenwolf the power to conquer the Earth. To this end one is guarded by the Amazons, cue Diana Prince's involvement, one by Atlantis, cue Aquaman, and one by humans. The death of Superman has triggered the boxes to activate and Bruce Wayne is leading a quest to assemble a team to stop Steppenwolf taking over the Earth. In addition to those already mentioned, we have Barry Allen, the Flash, and Victor Stone, a Cyborg who is having trouble coming to terms with his cyborgness.

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Only The Brave


Only The Brave

We saw this film last Friday. I knew what it was about in general terms but hadn't read anything beforehand and I didn't realise that it was in fact based on a actual events.

It is the story of a group of firefighters. Not your ordinary house fire type of firemen, but those who tackle forest fires. The elite teams in this field are called Hotshots, but the team in this film are 'Type 2s', trainee fighters, although their leader, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), aspires for them to become Hotshots. The problem is that they are part of a municipal fire department working for the city of Prescott, Arizona, and no municipal teams have ever become Hotshots. Undaunted, they set out to prove their worth.

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Thor: Ragnarok


Thor: Ragnarok

The Marvel franchise has been ruthlessly marketed in recent times (this film is the seventeenth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and one suspects that film companies and directors realise that the ubiquity of the genre will ultimately wane the audiences' interest. So we have things like Deadpool, the anti-hero, and Guardians of the Galaxy, a sublime mix of humour and a fantastic soundtrack, that offer audiences something different, with some success. This line of thinking has now permeated into the Thor brand with this latest offering, wherein Chris Hemsworth as Thor reveals his comic abilities, while the remainder of the cast play it as much for laughs as for serious intent. And it works.

We kick off with Thor enchained and at first we think he's addressing us, by way of narrative, but we soon see that in fact it is Surtur the fire dragon to whom he's speaking. In good comic book fashion his seemingly impossible plight is merely a temporary diversion awaiting the arrival of his famous Hammer. But before this happens Surtur spells out the forthcoming demise of Asgard at his hands, once he reunites his crown with the city's eternal flame. This prophecy, which goes by the name of Ragnarok, has a short life once Thor gets to work, but keep it in mind!

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The Snowman


Snowman banner

Once again we've seen a film on its first day of release. And the cinema was relatively well attended for an early afternoon screening. Having checked out the reviews on my return, if Rotten Tomatoes is anything to go by (which is always a moot point) then the critics think it is terrible. But at the time of writing there is a 96% 'want to see it' score from audiences. Let's hope they are not disappointed. I wasn't.

A remote mountain house, a woman and her son, and a policeman arrives to the obvious disquiet of the woman. He is the boy's father, although clearly not of the live-in variety. He quizzes the boy on facts about Norwegian history, and every time the boy fails to answer correctly, he hits the woman brutally. After this he takes her to the bedroom. What follows sets up all that is to follow.

We jump forward in time and the main action is now set in a very cold-looking Oslo, where we're introduced to Harry Hole, played by Michael Fassbender. He's an alcoholic police detective who is just about hanging on to his job, having been quite a celebrity in earlier times for his crime-solving performances. He tells his boss that he 'just needs a case', which he feels will kickstart his recovery. The boss seems far from convinced. In the office he meets a new recruit, Katrine Bratt, played by Rebecca Ferguson. He asks her for a lift home, as he no longer has a driving licence, and on the way they divert to a missing person call. He doesn't see it as anything other than a marital dispute but she clearly sees something else. This is because she has a secret, and her interest in the case is coloured by something in her past.

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The Mountain Between Us


The Mountain Between Us


The professional critics' reviews of this film are far from positive, most crediting Idris Elba and Kate Winslet with rescuing what would otherwise be a complete flop. I sometimes think these critics lose sight of the fact that most people go to the cinema to be entertained, and I think that this film meets that criterion. Yes, the plot is pushing probability; yes, the romance is a bit contrived; but we all need a bit of escapism and if we want really hard reality, there are other films that meet this need.

Elba and Winslet, playing neurosurgeon Ben Bass and photo journalist Alex Martin respectively, are thrown together, so to speak, when all flights from Idaho are cancelled because of an impending storm. Both have an urgent need to get places. He is to operate to save a 10-year-old child, while she is to be married the next day in New York. With all hopes of a scheduled flight gone, Alex negotiates a charter flight in a light aircraft. The pilot Walter (Beau Bridges) is a bit of a character, the plane doesn't inspire confidence, and things go desperately wrong when Walter has a stroke over the Uintas Mountains. The plane comes down on high ground, leaving Alex, Ben and the pilot's Labrador dog stranded. Walter doesn't make it. The scenery is breathtaking but that's of little comfort to our two travellers. Ben is bruised but conscious, while Alex is alive but unconscious, and with a bad leg injury.

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Blade Runner 2049


Blade Runner 2049

After setting the scene by viewing the original Blade Runner last Monday, yesterday we went to see the long overdue sequel. I normally give a fairly detailed review of a film's plot, but in fairness to the director of this latest offering I'm not going to do that on this occasion. You need to be surprised by this film and telling too much would ruin it.

So what can I say? Ryan Gosling plays a blade runner, officer K, continuing the theme of the original film, where these special police officers track down replicants and 'retire' them. K is a newer type of replicant that is programmed to obey. His job is to hunt down the older less disciplined models. But he turns out to be somewhat more complicated. Los Angles doesn't seem to have moved on much from the earlier film. It still presents a mixture of futuristic hi-tech and metropolitan dilapidation; it's still constantly misty and there is still a lot of rain. It's a future-noir.

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Home Again


Home Again


We had a choice of three films at the cinema yesterday: Flatliners, Goodbye Christopher Robin and Home again. I really didn't fancy Flatliners and was put off Christopher Robin by the Guardian review. So we went for Home Again.

Reese Witherspoon stars in what is an archetypical American RomCom. She plays a single mum, Alice Kinney, with two children, who has moved back to her late father's house in LA, leaving an estranged husband in New York where he is 'always busy' with his music business. As single mums go she isn't doing too badly. The house is drop-dead gorgeous and her chosen profession is to be an interior designer. Hardly up against it, although the eldest daughter, Isabel, is suffering a bit of a confidence crisis.

We are also introduced to a male trio, Harry, Teddy and George, who are ambitious fledgling film makers looking for an intro to the industry, and financial backing to launch their first movie. Worlds collide, literally, when Harry bumps into Alice, who's on a girls night out to celebrate her birthday. Despite the age difference, 40 v 27, Harry is immediately taken with Alice, and the boys and girls get together for the rest of the evening, all ending up back at Alice's. Harry and Alice's relationship is well on the way to being consummated when Harry's alcoholic excesses catch up with him, requiring a rush to the bathroom. That sort of put a damper on things.

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Victoria & Abdul


Victoria & Abdul


Judi Dench once again plays Queen Victoria in this light and amusing story of how the ageing Queen became quite enchanted with a young Indian man, who had come to present a gift from India as part of the sovereign's Golden Jubilee. The film is inspired by a true story, although the leading credits do append the word 'mostly' after the 'based on true events' slogan.

There is no doubt, however, that Abdul became a very close confidant of the Queen, and she rewarded him handsomely as a result. This didn't go down well with the royal household, and much of the film's humour arises from the reaction of the assembled dignitaries who watch on in disgust as this low-born Indian receives the Queen's closest attention. Victoria's Albert had died many years earlier, and her friendship with John Brown, the subject of Dench's other outing as Victoria, was sorely missed after he also died. Abdul filled this void.

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Mother!


Mother! - Poster

Mother! was released yesterday and we went to see it. I had seen the trailer but not otherwise paid much attention to the advance publicity. I had thoughts of Rosemary's Baby in my mind but that couldn't have been wider of the mark, although I suspect that there was an intentional misdirection at work to put people off the actual reality of the story. As one reviewer quite rightly pointed out, "This is not the film that you think it is!"

First and foremost I must say that any detailed description of this film will ruin it for anybody who hasn't yet seen it. This review, therefore, will try to tread a fine line between giving you a feel for what to expect but not telling you things that will spoil the revelation - and it is a revelation. Initial press reviews lie between 'brilliance' and 'sickening'. The third act, which is all but expunged from the trailer, is bizarre in the extreme.

We start with a burnt-out house, a crystal, and then a remarkable reversal of the fire damage to both the house and its surroundings. And we see Jennifer Lawrence as mother, waking in her bed. Now, note that she is called mother, and note that this is spelled with a lower case 'm'. This is important, because her husband, a poet with writers' block is called Him, note this time with a capital H. All other characters bear lower case names, and all the names are descriptive of their place in life: e.g., damsel, philanderer, fool, idler, and so the list goes on. But before we get to these other characters, two more important ones arrive on the scene. First, we have 'man', a surgeon who arrives seemingly from nowhere, knocking on the door much to the surprise and consternation of mother. Her disquiet heightens considerably when Him invites the unexpected guest to stay.

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The Limehouse Golam


The Limehouse Golam

Set in 1880 London, this film dramatises what were referred to as the Ratcliffe Highway murders (of 1811) and links these to the fabled Golam, a being from Jewish folklore that is magically created from inanimate matter, normally clay. Set in London's Limehouse district it conveys the gas lit seediness of the area, bringing to mind the equally realistic depiction in Ripper Street. The comparison with Jack the Ripper is unavoidable.

The story starts at the end, as we are told by the music hall favourite Dan Leno, who we will see play an important part in the tale. And what a tale it is. Bill Nighy plays Inspector John Kildare, taking a role that was originally written for Alan Rickman. Nighy, however, plays the character with a mix of subdued humour and professional integrity, as he pursues a killer that has eluded his boss, who has unloaded the case onto Kildare to protect his own reputation. Kildare is aided by police officer George Flood, sympathetically played by Daniel Mays.

Much of the story revolves around Music Hall, and we are introduced to Lizzie Cree, a music hall darling who is accused of murdering her husband, John Cree. Theirs was a troubled marriage, partly because of her husband's behaviour, but also because their maid was a former performer at the music hall, who had not made life easy for Lizzie. Why was she the maid? You may well ask.

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Detroit


Detroit

Detroit is a very intense film and one that leaves you shocked as to the violence meted out to a group of innocent people, and incredulous as to the lack of justice these people received. Set around the 1967 riots one can't help feeling that not a lot has changed, with police killings still invariably not resulting in convictions, and sometimes with charges not even being instigated.

The troubles start after a police raid on an unlicensed drinking club where returning black veterans were celebrating. This in itself appears as an entirely unjustified and heavy handed action, resulting in spectators starting to protest and after a while throwing rocks. This soon escalates into what is referred to as the 12th Street Riot. With local authorities and elected representatives unable to restore order Governor George W Romney calls in the Michigan National Guard and army paratroopers. Looting is rife and properties are being torched. It is like a war zone. Cruising around and watching this are three cops, and witnessing a looter, one of them, Philip Krauss gives chase. Unable to catch the fleeing negro he shoots him in the back, and although the man carries on running he later dies of his wounds. Krauss is called in to the office back at the station and rebuked for his actions, being told that a murder charge may follow. But Krauss turns out to be nothing less than a psychopath, who is allowed back out into the melee.

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The Hitman's Bodyguard


The Hitman's Bodyguard

We saw this film yesterday and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Critical reviews have generally been poor, but comparing the critics' score on Rotten Tomatoes (39%) with that of audiences (76%), one can see that an element of artistic snobbery is probably at play. Too clichéd is the general opinion!

A film like this succeeds or fails on the chemistry between the two lead roles, and for my money that between Samuel L. Jackson, as Darius Kincaid, the hitman, and Ryan Reynolds, as Michael Bryce, the bodyguard, is spot on. Shades of The Nice Guys, I thought.

Bryce starts off as a Triple A rated personal protection agent, until that is a client meets a bad ending. He now works in the lower ranks of the protection market and is seriously unhappy about it. Kincaid is striking a deal with Interpol, offering to testify against alleged war criminal Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) if his wife (a profane Salma Hayek) is released from prison in the Hague. Interpol has put together an elite team to accompany Kincaid to Amsterdam, a team in which Kincaid has little confidence. Heading up the Interpol team is Amelia Roussel (Élodie Yung), who also happens to be Bryce's former girlfriend. They broke up after Bryce accused her of leaking information that led to his fall from grace.

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Atomic Blonde


Atomic Blonde

I saw the trailer for this a while ago and decided to put it on my mental future viewing list, and it was released this week. We saw it on Friday and I wasn't disappointed. When I first saw the trailer I didn't realise that it starred Charlize Theron, so that was a bit of a bonus.

The action takes place largely in Berlin at the time the 'Wall' was about to come down. Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, a top MI6 agent who is dispatched to Berlin after another agent, James Gascoigne, is killed. Gascoigne had obtained a list of agents and their covers, this information being secreted within an expensive watch. Broughton is to liaise with MI6's Berlin station chief, David Percival, played by James McEvoy. It all goes wrong from the off, with Broughton being picked up by two KGB agents, posing as Percival's representatives, while in fact working for a billionaire arms dealer, Aleksander Bremovych. She's not that easily duped, however, and deals with the two of them while Percival is in hot pursuit in his Porsche. The Percival/Broughton relationship thus doesn't get off to a good start.

The film is in fact told mostly in narrative, as Broughton is debriefed after returning to London bruised and bloodied, the reasons for this becoming clear as the plot unfolds. Basically it's a classic spy thriller, with the audience being left unsure who is working for whom, and even when you think you've worked that out, something else happens to make you doubt what you have just assumed. In addition to Percival and the KGB, we have a French agent Delphine Lasalle, played seductively by Sofia Boutelle, who made the Mummy look quite appealing in the recent Tom Cruise film. In this film she becomes Broughton's love interest, while adding to the intrigue as one tries to work out the affiliations of the various players.

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Dunkirk


Dunkirk

We went to see Dunkirk yesterday on the day of its UK opening. It has received very positive reviews and in my opinion rightly so. This is not a war film in the usual genre, in that there is very little fighting. That is already over as we see thousands of troops waiting on a beach, in the vain and it would appear rapidly vanishing hope of being rescued. Exposed, cold, defeated and almost defenceless, they wait while the German aircraft attack.

The story is told through the eyes of Tommy, an ordinary soldier who at the beginning of the film only just escapes with his life from a small group that comes under German fire. On arriving at the beach he soon realises the hopelessness of it all and sets out to make his own luck by pretending to be a stretcher bearer carrying an injured soldier to the Red Cross ship moored at the mole (the word for a pier/causeway not used so much these days). It would be giving too much away to recount what then happens, but it's worth mentioning that the events that follow are shown many times during the film, on each occasion from the perspective of a different person. This can initially be a bit confusing until you realise what's happening.

While Tommy is the thread which permeates the story, we are also introduced to Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), the skipper of one of the famous flotilla of small boats that set out to rescue the troops. Accompanied by his son, Peter, and a young friend, George, they make their way to Dunkirk, picking up on the way a seriously shell-shocked soldier, the sole survivor of a torpedoed rescue ship. The soldier's paranoid resistance to returning to Dunkirk leads to tragedy, but this doesn't stop Mr Dawson who knows what's expected of him.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming


Spider-Man: Homecoming

We saw the latest instalment of Spider-Man today, although in putting that way it tends to suggest that this film is a continuation of those that have gone before: it isn't. This time we have, in effect, Spider-Boy. Tom Holland plays the role as naive 15 year-old high school student Peter Parker, with much of the plot dedicated to his friendship with his classmate, Ned, who early on in the scheme of things discovers his friend's superhero secret. This leads to some close calls as the over-enthusiastic Ned is just bursting to let everybody know what he knows. And then there's Liz, Peter's dream girl at school, who, as you might have guessed, has a thing for Spider-Man.

The scenario is that a group of salvage workers, led by Adrian Toombes (Michael Keaton), otherwise known as Vulture, some years earlier were effectively robbed of a contract to scrap and dispose of alien hardware left over from the scrap that took place in Captain America: Civil War, a film I didn't see. To rub it in, the lost contract went to Stark Enterprises, as in Tony Stark/Iron Man, who had been complicit in the mayhem that led to the need for the salvage operation. This enraged Toombes, who with his techie genius, The Tinkerer, set about using some retained alien power crystals to produce a range of super weapons for profit. Our youthful Spider-Man accidentally comes across a team of Toombes' men robbing cash machines and sets about stopping them, only to be confronted with more than he perhaps expected. From this point on our hero dedicates himself to tracking down the weapons and the people behind them, despite being told to leave it alone by Tony Stark.

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Baby Driver


Baby Driver

Baby Driver was released today and we went to see it. The trailer whetted my interest and a number of positive reviews reinforced my first impressions.

With quite a lot of film genres around that start to get repetitive, it's good when something comes along that's a bit different. You will no doubt think to yourself that there have been plenty of driving movies, but while the driving is certainly integral to this film, it's not really what marks it out as special. Baby, the young man who gives the film it's name, is in hock to master criminal Doc, played by Kevin Spacey, after he stole his car not realising from whom he was stealing. Doc found out a bit about Baby, so rather than killing him, he employed him as a driver for a series of heists. Baby has to work off the debt, but he is to find out that once he is in with people like Doc, it is difficult to break free.

The lead-in to the film shows us one such heist, with Baby producing some impressive manoeuvres in a 2007 Subaru WRX. All the car action in this film is realistic, with no CGI or 'green screen' effects, and there's certainly some very impressive driving on display. Baby is constantly listening to his iPod. When other members of the gang question why he does this, Doc explains he has tinnitus, and the music blocks out the ringing in his ears. This isn't the whole story, however, and we learn that his mother was a singer, and that a traumatic incident in his childhood influences much of what he does. We also are introduced to his foster father, and the very special relationship between them. We come to understand that Baby is a complex person.

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The Man with the Iron Heart (HHhH)


The Man with the Iron Heart (HHhH)

I mentioned in the last review that we had been in Lille, France. It was very hot while we were there, and on the Sunday afternoon, with the town being very quiet and the temperature soaring, we decided to spend a couple of hours in the air conditioned cinema. The choice of English language films was limited, and we decided to go for HHhH, which is the French title of this French made film. It is a film about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, HHhH being an acronym for Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich (Himmler's brain is called Heydrich), a quip about Heydrich said to have circulated in Nazi Germany at the time. Cetainly Heydrich is portrayed as being the brain behind the 'Final Solution', although my research suggests that this was a programme that evolved rather than being promoted exclusively by Heydrich. He was, however, a very unsavoury character, regarded by many historians as the darkest figure within the Nazi elite.

This is not an easy film, depicting as it does acts of extreme violence against the Czech people during the German occupation in 1942. Reinhard Heydrich, a disgraced naval officer who rejected his existing lover when he met Lina von Osten, a member of the Nazi Party and daughter of a German aristocrat, played very convincingly in the film by Rosamund Pike. Lina persuaded Heydrich to look into joining Himmler's counter intelligence division and he was subsequently appointed by Himmler as director of the Reich Main Security Office, and later Adolf Hitler appointed him Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.

This film tells effectively two stories, one being the life of Heydrich and the other of the Czech and Slovak soldiers, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík, who were trained by the British Special Operations Executive to assassinate Heydrich. Heydrich is portrayed as evil, a not unfair depiction according to historians. He is also shown as being less than loving to his wife, at one point telling her that if she complains about his trips away one more time, she will cease to be his wife. His treatment of Resistance fighters is brutal, most opting to take a poison capsule rather than be captured alive. In one harrowing scene towards the end of the film, a young boy is made to witness his father being tortured as a way of getting him to talk. Quite upsetting.

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Wonder Woman


Wonder Woman

We were in Lille, France, for a week, and while there we saw Wonder Woman. It was the original English language version with French subtitles, although all the pre-film advertisements etc. were of course in French. We saw it in a multiplex and were treated to a wide-screen experience.

This film has been well received, in part because it's refreshing to have a female superhero, even if we have to have a male lead in the form of Chris Pine alongside. Hollywood likes to hedge its investment bets! The storyline starts by showing us how Diana of Themyscira (aka Wonder Woman) matures from the only child on the woman-only island into a super Amazonian with powers that surpass those of any mere mortal, basically because she's a demigoddess, although she doesn't yet know this. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, tries to stop Diana learning to fight, but her aunt, General Antiope, defies her sister's wishes, recognising Diana's potential and her future need to protect herself.

Introduced into this tribe of elite women warriors drops (literally) Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American airman cum spy who is trying to escape the German army, having stolen a note book from an evil chemist who is developing a deadlier form of mustard gas. Diana, personified by Israeli actor Gal Gadot, rescues Steve from a watery grave just before a German warship breaks through the island's surrounding veil. The ensuing skirmish that pits Amazonian athleticism and bows and arrows against firearms is a well choreographed scene that uses slow motion sequences to good effect. The Germans defeated (although not sure why the warship didn't send more), Diana interrogates Steve using her magic lasso, since as Steve is a spy he won't talk voluntarily. Steve tells them about the war to end all wars, namely World War I, and Diana is immediately convinced that she must leave the island to stop the this terrible conflict. Her mother forbids it, but Diana is sure that the god Ares is behind this war, and believes that if she can stop him the war will end. As you would expect, and because the story demands it, Diana defies her mother and sets off with Steve, taking a ceremonial sword that she believes to be the 'Godkiller', a weapon bestowed to the Amazons by Zeus.

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My Cousin Rachel


My Cousin Rachel

From Daphne du Maurier's 1951 novel, which I haven't read, this period drama treats us to some beautiful cinematography and a story that leaves you undecided as to whether the eponymous Rachel is a woman or a witch.

Philip Ashley was raised by his cousin Ambrose, who he regards and loves as a father. When Ambrose becomes ill he goes to Florence for the more beneficial climate, and while there falls in love with Rachel. His letters back to Philip initially contain nothing but praise for this woman, but after he marries her the tone changes completely. He accuses her of blocking his letters and worse, and pleads to come home to get away from this devil woman. Philip travels to Italy to see Ambrose but when he arrives it's too late. His cousin has died and Rachel has gone. He meets Rainaldi, who turns out to be Rachel's co-conspirator, if indeed a conspiracy is involved. At this stage Philip promises retribution on Rachel.

When Rachel ultimately appears at Philip's house all thoughts of retribution melt away. He is clearly enthralled by her from the moment they first meet. And so he becomes deeper and deeper absorbed, losing interest in his close friend Louise, who clearly has feelings for him and is becoming increasingly concerned. Philip's 25th birthday is approaching, when he will inherit everything that is held in trust. His feelings for Rachel cause him to draft a new will that leaves everything to her, on condition she will forfeit everything if she remarries. He also removes all the family jewellery from the safe keeping of his solicitor. With the jewellery in a bag and the will in his pocket, he romantically climbs the ivy up to Rachel's room, where at the stroke of midnight he fulfils his desire to be intimate with her. But in the morning she has gone, leaving him to celebrate his birthday alone. She later returns having gone to Philip's godfather, Nick Kendall, Louise's father, where she says she sought to clarify certain aspects of the will. After a less than romantic bit of love making in the bluebells, Rachel later rejects Philip's assumption that they will marry and we know that his feelings for her are not being returned.

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The Mummy


The Mummy

We saw The Mummy yesterday on its cinema release date, a rare occurrence for me. I had decided to see it based on the trailer and wasn't disappointed, although judging by the reviews a lot of people haven't felt as charitable. Tom Cruise is one of those actors that people either like or not, and many people may have judged the film on this basis. Personally, I find Cruise an extremely dedicated actor who puts everything into a role, to the extent of inhabiting the character and training himself to carry out whatever stunts are involved. In a recent interview on the Graham Norton Show he divulged that he has been training two years for something that we are hopefully going to see in a forthcoming Mission Impossible movie - if whatever it is comes off!

Back to The Mummy. This is an updated version of an idea that's been around since the 30s. However, this time instead of a clunking male mummy we have a lithe young woman, Princess Ahmanet, who was mummified and entombed alive after making a pact with the god Set, following which she murdered her family. Set gives her a special dagger with a ruby type jewel at the top of the handle, which will allow Ahmanet to transfer Set's spirit into the body of a human, but she was prevented from doing this when captured and entombed after her killing spree.

We now move forward to present day Iraq where we have Cruise, as Nick Morton, with his partner Chris Vail, chasing down a 'treasure' that he believes exists based on a map he stole from the attractive archaeologist Jenny Halsey after spending a night with her. Nick and Chris become pinned down by insurgents and look to be in serious trouble, but Chris has summoned a drone strike that sees off the insurgents and opens a large hole, in which we see an Egyptian statue that signifies the presence of a tomb. The treasure Nick was looking for? Jenny arrives and tears Nick off a strip for stealing the map before the three of them descend into the hole to investigate further.

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Colossal


Colossal

I’ve tagged this film as ‘fantasy’, but I’m not sure that’s altogether accurate. In fact I think it’s fair to say that it's unique. I was also going to say that you will either love it or hate it, but on reflection I doubt anybody will love it, although quite a few may hate it. And many will be intrigued by it. So what’s it all about?

It starts in Seoul, South Korea, with a little girl looking for her doll in a park, only to be confronted by a colossal monster. We cut from there, and move forward 25 years. Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway as a bit of a Suzi Quatro lookalike, drinks too much and has arrived back at her boyfriend Tim’s flat with her usual excuses and untruths. This time he’s had enough and tells her to leave. Her bags have already been packed.

She returns to her home town, where she moves in to her parent’s empty house. It’s unfurnished, and the first night she sleeps on the floor, waking up with a stiff neck. After buying a blow-up mattress, she’s carting it back home when a school friend Oscar passes by in his pickup. Thinking he recognises her he stops, and they renew their acquaintance. They drive to his bar, where they talk, and Gloria remarks on the fact that half the bar has been closed off. The better half in her view. Oscar obviously has a thing about Gloria, and he starts to supply things for her house. He also offers her a job as a waitress at the bar.

Permanent features at the bar are two of Oscar’s friends, Garth and Joel. Joel’s the good looking one and when Gloria makes a pass at him, Oscar’s demeanour changes. A warning sign of things to come.

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Miss Sloane


Miss Sloane

This week's film at the cinema was Miss Sloane, starring Jessica Chastain. I had seen a clip from the film previously, and having since watched the trailer, I would say that it's a film that's not represented well by short clips. In brief, it was a great deal better than I expected. Jessica Chastain can do no wrong in my book but, bias aside, here she is totally obsessive, extremely smart and very attractive.

The film initially provides us with a flash-forward, where Elizabeth Sloane is defending herself in a Senate hearing. This established, we are shown how this situation has come about.

Sloane is working for lobbying firm Cole Kravitz & Waterman when she is asked to attend a meeting with the representative of a gun manufacturer, who is seeking the company's help to target a gun positive message towards women. Sloane openly ridicules the idea in the face of the numerous killings of children by unhinged gunmen. Her reaction doesn't enamour her to her bosses, who have worked hard to secure this contract. While this is going on, Sloane is approached in the street by Rodolfo Schmidt, of rival lobbying firm Peterson Wyatt, who would like her to work against the gun lobby on the run up to the proposed Heaton-Harris bill that would expand background checks on gun purchases. Sloane sees this as the ultimate challenge and resigns from her existing company, taking many of her staff with her, but her personal assistant, Jane Molloy, declines, citing her career and future.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I remember seeing the trailer for the first instalment of Guardians of the Galaxy and concluding that it looked too daft to bother with. However, I watched it on TV a little while ago, and while my opinion of its daftness proved to be spot on, I found it extremely enjoyable. The humour and the background music carried it along and the fact that the plot lines and antics verged on the ridiculous hardly mattered.

And so to Vol.2. Well, it's a fairly seamless continuation from the first film. All the team are in place, although in place of Groot, the walking-talking tree whose self sacrifice saved the rest of the team in the first film, we have a Baby Groot who was planted as a sapling from an offshoot of the dying Groot. Now it has to be said that Baby Groot is adorable, getting into all sorts of trouble as any devil-may-care youngster might. Like Groot senior, his only vocabularly is "I am Groot". If you're not familiar with the Guardians, the rest of the team are almost as bizarre as Groot. Peter Quill, or Star-Lord as he likes to be known, is the leader. He's human of the Earthling type, although not entirely so, as we find out. Gamora is the green-skinned woman who's the sensible one. She has a sister, Nebula, who's not on the team. In fact Nebula wants to kill Gamora. Drax the Destroyer is all muscle but with a softer side. And finally Rocket, a genetically modified raccoon, who's a master of weapons and military tactics. I did say it may seem daft.

In this sequel the team is first seen protecting some valuable batteries in the service of, Ayesha, the High Priestess of the Sovereign people, a gold race that is genetically engineered to be both physically and mentally perfect. This involves a battle with an inter-dimensional monster and they are doing this to secure the release of Nebula, who was caught trying to steal the batteries. Task complete they leave, only to be pursued by the Sovereign's drones because, it transpires, Rocket has pocketed some of the batteries.

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The Promise


The Promise

This is a film that takes an important if much contested historical event as the setting for a love triangle. The event is the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, although Turkey has never accepted the term genocide for what took place. The love triangle is between Mikael, an Armenian medical student, Ana, an Armenian raised largely in Paris and her boyfriend, Chris, an American journalist.

Mikael has left his village for Constantinople to study medicine. He is betrothed to Maral back in his village, the dowry he received funding his studies. Mikael's father has told him to contact an uncle in Constantinople who runs a successful business and it is when Mikael goes to his uncle's house that he meets Ana, who appears to be a form of governess for the children. Meanwhile, in medical school Mikael makes friends with Emre, a reluctant student but the son of high-ranking Turkish official. At a reception at Emre's house Mikael again meets Ana who's with her boyfriend Chris. Ana and Mikael, who are mutually attracted to each other, subsequently begin a relationship

It isn't long before things turn nasty as Armenians are rounded up and fear spreads. Mikael is temporarily reprieved thanks to his friend Emre, but as a result Emre himself incurs the displeasure of his father. Ana and Mikael witness the ransacked shop of his uncle and Mikael goes to try to secure his uncle's release. Emre again tries to help, but this time his influence isn't strong enough and Mikael ends up doing hard labour on a railway construction project under the eyes of brutal Turkish soldiers. A chain of events result in his escape and he eventually makes his way back to his village where his family and Maral are waiting. Maral's father insists on a quick wedding after which the couple move to a remote cabin.

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Their Finest


Their Finest

Their Finest
is set in London in 1940 and takes us into the cinematic world of wartime propaganda. The Dunkirk evacuation is still raw in the minds of the public and the Ministry of Information is keen to raise moral while at the same time seeking to convince the Americans that they should join the war. Catrin, played by Gemma Arterton, has been identified as a possible script copywriter, bringing the female perspective to these public information films. She has come to London from Wales to be with her husband, Ellis, an artist whose work isn't actually mainstream, and unsurprisingly isn't selling well. Thus it falls to Catrin to earn some money.

Catrin is dispatched to interview two sisters who 'borrowed' their father's boat to join the Dunkirk evacuation. This is seen as an ideal story upon which to base a moral-lifting film. Catrin is to work with Tom, who first spotted a piece she had written. Tom's sarcasm and dismissiveness of women's dialogue as 'slop' leads to a continuing and often amusing banter between them, although it soon becomes apparent that he is attracted to her. The third member of the team is Raymond, who largely just watches on as the other two trade words. Phyl Moore, played by Rachel Stirling, keeps tabs on the team on behalf of the Ministry, her clear preference for women playing well with Tom's brand of sarcasm.

After an initial hiccup, the decision to make the film is made, and Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) is to play the sister's uncle. This was a role reluctantly accepted, as Ambrose, once famous for a screen detective, wants to play Johnny, the young rescued soldier. At risk of losing his agent, Ambrose eventually agrees to the lesser role. Things are progressing well when the team are told that they must incorporate an American serviceman in the cast, the handsome Norwegian Carl Lundbeck (even Phyl's head is turned), but unfortunately he can't act. Catrin is called upon to pander to Ambrose's ego when they want him to help Carl deliver his lines. In fact, Catrin, who earlier in the film has a brush with Ambrose, becomes his trusted scriptwriter, upon whom he comes to depend.

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The Zookeeper's Wife


The Zookeeper's Wife

Set in Poland just before Germany's invasion in 1939, we are introduced to Jan and Antonina Żabiński, who run the Warsaw Zoo. Everything is sweetness and light as Antonina is seen cycling around the zoo, followed by a young camel, while stopping off to feed various animals. But this idyll is soon to be shattered and it isn't long before we see German bombs falling on the zoo. Many animals are killed and those that aren't are acquired by Lutz Heck of the Berlin Zoo. Lutz and the Żabińskis were acquainted before the war, and he convinces Antonina that taking their prize animals to Berlin was their only chance of survival. Lutz's true character becomes more apparent when he later returns as a German officer and supervises the destruction of most of the remaining animals. You will have gathered by now that this is probably not a film for the children.

With the animals mostly gone Jan and Antonina turn their attention to the plight of the Jewish people, who have been rounded up by the Nazis into a ghetto. At great risk they first shelter a close friend, but soon develop a strategy to help many others. Converting the zoo into a pig farm gives them the opportunity to collect food scraps from the ghetto, and among the pile of scraps Jan brings out children. The venture becomes even more daring when, helped by an official in the ghetto, Jan obtains papers enabling him to take workers out through the gates. In this way hundreds are helped. To facilitate their ultimate escape women have their hair dyed blond to pass as Aryan.

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Free Fire


Free Fire

A bonus trip to the cinema this week while I was waiting for some work to be done on the car at Bury St Edmunds. I had seen the trailer for Free Fire, which showed a shoot-out in a derelict factory. What I didn't expect was that said shoot-out would be the whole film! Amazing as it may seem, this hour and a half film depicts one gun battle in the form of a black comedy.

Set in 1978, Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer) have set up an arms deal between some IRA men and a gun dealer. Frank and Chris are the IRA chaps, who are meeting Vernon, a South African dressed in a loud 'Saville Row' suit. Each side have their helpers. Frank has Stevo, a zoned-out druggie, and Bernie. Things are going reasonably smoothly, despite the weapons not being as expected. "I'm not a pizza delivery service" says Vernon, when told that the rifles weren't the ones ordered. The money has been counted by Vernon's efficient sidekick, Martin, and everything is go, but then Harry, one of Vernon's team, recognises Stevo as the person he had fought with the previous evening, and all hell breaks loose.

The one-liners in this film come thick and fast, with the natural Irish humour mixed in with Vernon's equally funny retorts. But the 'little disagreement' between the two guys, thought to have been calmed, takes on a more serious aspect when shots are fired. And so the fire fight starts, with everybody drawing weapons and seemingly shooting at everybody else. To add to the mayhem, Martin, by way of insurance, has two more shooters outside, who subsequently arrive and start adding to the outright confusion.

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The Lost City of Z


The Lost City of Z

I went to see this film knowing no more about the story than what I had previously gleaned from the cinema trailer. I had assumed that it was a story of a single adventure into the Amazon, but in fact it charts how Percy Fawcett, after his first reluctant journey there, becomes obsessed with finding the lost city of an advanced civilisation. I also didn't realise that the film was based on a real-life character.

The story starts in Ireland, where Fawcett is an army captain who has been somewhat sidelined, the snobbishness of the officer class looking down on his family because, we are later informed, of his father's problems with alcohol. He is embarrassed by being unable to display any medals, having not had the opportunity to earn any. He unexpectedly receives orders to report to the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) in London, where he is offered the opportunity to make his mark by leading a mapping survey to establish the border between Brazil and Bolivia. The RGS were to act as an uninterested third party in this politically charged exercise.

We see Fawcett, accompanied by Corporal Henry Costin, making their way through the jungle, at one point bizarrely encountering an opera in full voice at the encampment of a trader. After agreeing terms for the help of an Indian guide they continue to look for the upstream source of the river, although I couldn't quite work out how their raft seemed to be following the downstream flow of the river. A small detail. They find the source, a waterfall, and Fawcett also discovers pottery that convinces him that at one time an advanced civilisation lived in the area. Unfortunately they had insufficient food to stay and explore further.

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Get Out


Get Out

Get Out is obviously a film that divides opinion. Mark Kermode at the Guardian, a reviewer I respect, gave it four stars and made it his film of the week. Meanwhile, a reviewer at IMDB was scathing, saying that he wished he had seen Lego Batman instead. It's fair to say this film couldn't be any further removed from a Lego movie.

The opening sequence sees a young black man trying to find an address in an area in which he clearly feels uncomfortable. A leafy white suburb to put it bluntly. He has been on the phone to whoever he's trying to find, the who in that sentence becoming clear much later in the film. A car starts to shadow him and next we see him overpowered and dumped in the boot, the car screeching off.

We now cut to Chris and Rose, a seemingly happy couple. He is a successful photographer, and as he prepares to accompany her to meet her parents, he enquires "Do they know I'm black?" She hasn't, but doesn't seem to think that it matters. Her dad is fine, after all he would have voted for Obama for a third term. Chris isn't too sure, and his mate Rod, who works for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), is definitely not for it. But they go. On the way a collision with a deer, although nothing more than an accident, turns out to be a premonition of what's to come.

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Moonlight


Moonlight

After taking the Best Film award at the Oscars this year Moonlight returned to our local cinema, giving me a chance to see it. I had read reviews and had an idea what the film was about, but in the event it was to some extent a bit of a surprise. One of the first impressions was the camera work, an early sequence appearing to have been filmed with a hand-held camera creating an almost vertiginous feeling as the viewpoint encircled the subjects in a far from stable fashion. The other thing that becomes apparent as the film runs is that the cast is entirely black.

The film is presented in three acts, representing three stages in the life of Chiron, a gay black boy who struggles with his identity while growing up in Miami. The first act is entitled 'Little', referring to Chiron's nickname while he was a child.

Juan is a Cuban drug dealer, complete with a flashy car, nice house, attractive girlfriend and kids out on the street doing the business. But he is at heart a good man. Chiron is bullied relentlessly and after being chased by other boys he locks himself in an abandoned building that is being used as a 'crackhouse'. Juan finds him and tries to talk to him, but Chiron remains mute. After a further unsuccessful attempt to communicate with Chiron at a diner, Juan takes him home, where his girlfriend Teresa gradually gains the young boy's confidence. As Chiron eats another good meal, Juan remarks that although he doesn't talk much he sure can eat.

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Viceroy's House


Viceroy's House

Viceroy's House shows us the last days of Britain's three hundred year involvement in India, which commenced with the formation of the East India Company in 1600. When Lord Louis Mountbatten arrives with his wife and daughter to enact the final handing over of the country, India is already a country being torn apart by religious differences between the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu populations. Regarded as somebody who could bring together the leaders of the religious groups, Mountbatten, along with his wife, Edwina, initially try hard to be more inclusive and break down some of the imperialist attitudes. But it soon becomes apparent that things are already spiralling out of control, so Mountbatten's strongly held view that the sub-continent should not be partitioned is beginning to seem impossible to deliver.

We are also treated to a romance between a young Hindu man, Jeet, and a young Muslim woman, Aalia. Jeet helped her father when he was imprisoned by the British and had never forgotten Aalia. It is a relationship that is beset with problems, she being already 'promised', while the very idea of a couple from different religions being romantically involved was unthinkable at that time. Their experience mirrors at a personal level the hopes and fears of the nation.

Against his principles, and Edwina's conscience, Mountbatten is effectively forced into agreeing to partition, the Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah refusing to come to the negotiations unless partition is on the table. Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi on the other hand are vehemently against partition, Gandhi in particular warning of the consequences. A barrister is brought over from Britain to draw up the line of partition within a matter of weeks, a task he regards as impossible bearing in mind the consequences for the millions of people who would be affected. In the end, however, his job is made a lot easier because, unbeknown to Mountbatten, decisions had already been made years earlier. Mountbatten finds out that he has been misled but is now powerless to do anything about it.

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John Wick: Chapter 2

I didn't see Chapter 1, but the introductory sequence in this latest instalment reminds us that John Wick was brought out of retirement on that occasion to take revenge for a slain puppy. As well as killing the puppy, a present from John's terminally ill wife before she died, the Russian gangsters stole his vintage Ford Mustang Mach 1. The latest story opens with John going to retrieve his car and it's non-stop action from that point on. After taking out countless armed tough guys he gets his car back. It's a total wreck but his friendly garage man says he can fix it - by 2030!

John Wick: Chapter 2

All the foregoing just sets the scene. The real story starts when Italian crime lord Santino D'Antonio calls at John's house, asking him to honour a 'marker', an unbreakable promise in the form of a blood oath. John says that that life is behind him, but D'Antonio soon makes it clear that is not an acceptable answer. John visits 'The Boss', Winston, at the Continental Hotel in New York, this apparently being the hub of an assassins' syndicate. We later see the organisation in action, when we're shown an office full of what appear to be very ordinary female office workers, save perhaps for their tattoos, who are arranging 'hits' in the same way as they might be placing purchase orders within any other company.

Winston's advice to John is that he should accept the marker, do the deed, and then he could go back to his 'retirement'. Reluctantly he agrees. He then finds out that the 'job' is to kill D'Antonio's sister, Gianna, such that Santino can take her place at the 'High Table'.

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Fences

Fences with Denzel Washington opened at our cinema today and we caught the first screening. It's an adaptation of a play and this shows in that nearly all the action takes place in a single location, a back yard and the associated house. And it's a real life setting, not a film studio.

Fences

This film is an acting tour de force, as one might expect from a stage adaptation. Denzel Washington as Troy is quite superb and is matched by Viola Davis who plays his wife Rose. Troy, who didn't have a good start in life, portrays himself as a victim of racial discrimination. He once dreamed of a baseball career but this was stymied by virtue of him being coloured, a fact made even more galling when coloured players started to be accepted at the time he became too old to be competitive. Although he of course doesn't accept that he was past his prime. He now works as a waste collector and is not particularly happy with his lot.

Rose and Troy have a son Cory, and Troy has another son, Lyons, from a previous relationship who only seems to appear on Fridays to borrow some money. Troy's philosophy towards other people has been shaped by his past and as a result he gives Cory and Lyons a fairly hard time. Much of the film involves highly charged exchanges between Troy and his sons, while Rose tries to mediate although is also often the recipient of Troy's particular brand of philosophy. The relationship with Cory deteriorates when Troy refuses to sign documents that would allow his son to pursue a football scholarship, fearing on one hand that Cory would be treated like he was, while also perhaps not wanting Cory to succeed where he had failed. Troy also refuses to visit the club where Lyons plays in a musical group.

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Hidden Figures


Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is a drama based on the events surrounding America's attempt to put their first astronaut in orbit around the Earth in 1961. Russia has already got into space and there is a fear that it will use its advantage for military purposes by launching a bomb. In this frenetic atmosphere is a group of coloured women who are in place at the Langley Research Center because of their mathematical skills. The leading light of the group is Katherine Goble, a prodigious maths genius whose brilliance is nearly stifled by virtue of her being coloured in 1960s Virginia where racial segregation is still practised.

The film focusses on a trio of coloured women, Goble, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. Vaughan progresses to become the expert on the newly installed IBM mainframe computer, the IBM engineers seemingly being unable to get the beast working properly. There is a scene where she visits the local library to get a book on FORTRAN programming, only to be told that she isn't allowed in the whites' section, the book being unavailable in the coloureds' area. The third of the trio, Jackson, is assigned to the section building the Mercury space capsule, where the lead engineer suggests that she pursues an engineering qualification. The only problem is that the local colleges that teach engineering don't admit coloured people. Given the prejudice that existed it's a wonder that America ever succeeded in its space programme.

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Gold

We saw Gold yesterday. I had seen the trailer but knew nothing more about the story.

Gold

The reviews haven't been very complimentary, with Matthew McConaughey being credited with saving what could otherwise have been an even less memorable film. Unfortunately McConaughey's character, Kenny Wells, is not particularly likeable, so I guess that for some people this could take away from McConaughey's performance. Wells certainly didn't seem to deserve his long suffering girlfriend, Kay, played beautifully by Bryce Dallas Howard.

Personally, I didn't find it to be that bad. The story is, as they say, inspired by actual events, which usually means a fair amount of artistic licence. It is indeed based on a Canadian company, Bre-X, and the story stays true to actual events in that it involves a gold mine in Indonesia.

Sticking with the film plot, Wells's grandfather had travelled to Nevada and started a mineral prospecting business, which passed to Wells's father, and early in the film passes to Wells when his father dies. Years later a recession in the minerals' market leaves Wells almost broke and as one last throw of the dice he travels to see Michael Acosta, a prospector who developed a profitable copper mine in Indonesia, and who is lauded in the industry for the way he supposedly found the copper deposits based on his research into the 'ring of fire' geological feature of the region. Wells has a dream of there being gold in the area, which seems a tenuous basis to prospect, but he convinces Acosta and, somewhat inexplicably, persuades investors to back them.

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Hacksaw Ridge

This week's film at the cinema was Hacksaw Ridge. I hadn't researched it beforehand and must say that I was pleasantly surprised.

Hacksaw Ridge

It's a film of two parts. The first charts the early life of Desmond Doss, a country lad from Virginia who learns a salutary lesson early in life when he nearly kills his brother in a fight. This episode, along with the influence of his religious mother, and his Seventh-Day Adventist religion, reinforces in him the commandment that states, 'Thou shalt not kill'. When the young men in the town start signing up to fight in World War II, Desmomd feels that he must too. But his religious and conscientious beliefs mean that he does not want to fight. He wants to save lives as a medic. This desire arose from an incident whereby he effectively saves the life of a young man, an event that also leads to him meeting a nurse, Dorothy Shutte, to whom he is instantly attracted. A rather innocent courtship ensues and the couple arrange to be married on Desmond's first leave period from his army training.

And so to the second part of the film, a much darker and hard-hitting affair. The army isn't ready to receive a recruit who is a conscientious objector, who refuses to contemplate killing and who won't even hold a rifle. His superiors set out to make life so uncomfortable for him that he will chose to seek a discharge. But they hadn't reckoned with his resolve, and after a courts martial hearing that unexpectedly fails to convict Desmond, he is free to join the other troops and go to war unarmed.

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Manchester-by-the-Sea

This week at the cinema we saw Manchester-by-the-Sea. It has been well received and that's not surprising considering the strength of both the story and the acting. Casey Affleck gives what will probably be the performance of a lifetime as the brooding Lee Chandler.

Manchester-by-the-Sea

Lee is working as a janitor in Quincy, Boston. He is good at his job but extremely temperamental. His mood swings between being most helpful to downright antagonistic, depending on how he is treated. He receives a call saying that his brother, Joe, has been taken seriously ill. There are a number of flashbacks in this film, one relating to Joe being diagnosed with a life shortening heart disease. By the time that Lee has driven to the hospital, near Manchester-by-the-Sea, Joe has died. The film actually starts with Joe and Lee on a boat with Joe's son Patrick, and on Joe's death his will requests that Lee becomes Patrick's guardian and trustee. This doesn't seem an unreasonable request but for Lee it is a bodyblow. It is a while before we learn why Lee feels that he cannot take on this responsibility, which takes us in another flashback to an incident that changed him as a person, and caused him to move away from the area.

The film then explores the relationship between Lee and Patrick, and the anguish that Lee suffers as he tries to manage affairs after his brother's death and come to terms with his responsibilities to Patrick. Things are not made any easier by Patrick's strong will and desire to stay where he is, while Lee wants them to move back to Boston. Further complications arise in respect of Lee's former wife, who he meets at the funeral reception, and Joe's former wife, they having become estranged after Joe's diagnosis. Patrick's sex life adds further complications as he is playing the field with two girlfriends, the mother of one showing an interest in Lee, an interest that isn't in any way reciprocated.

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La La Land

We went to see La La Land this week. For a change I found myself going to watch a film that had received almost unblemished positive reviews. So did it warrant the hype?

It's a homage to the classic Hollywood musicals and perhaps that's what's holding me back from saying, "Yes, it was everything I expected, a truly wonderful movie." Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are faultless as two young people navigating the uncompromising pitfalls of show business in Los Angeles, but they're not Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It is, therefore, in my opinion wrong to compare it with the remarkable musicals of yesteryear. Once you put that comparison aside then, yes, it is wonderful.

La La Land

In the opening sequence a 'spontaneous' song and dance routine breaks the monotony of an LA traffic jam. It's fun but I'm not sure that it will stick in the eternal memory in the same way as Fame or Grease Lightning. But it serves to introduce us to Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone). Sebastian is a frustrated jazz pianist working as a purveyor of trite melodies to diners in a club, a job that's clearly driving him mad. Mia, meanwhile, is working in a diner while trying to break into acting. I found the initial audition scene quite amazing and, quite frankly, if they rejected her, as they did, then whoever got the job must have been truly gifted. Emma Stone is an amazing actress even when she's acting at being a not-so-amazing actress.

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Live by Night

No golf today as it rained all morning, so instead we went to the cinema. Our choice, Live by Night, starring Ben Affleck who also wrote and directed it. We enjoyed it but checking out the reviews when I got home it would appear that we're perhaps in the minority. The Guardian uses one of its recurring descriptions, namely too sanitised. Meanwhile at Rotten Tomatoes neither critics nor audience are overwhelmed. The general consensus seems to be that it is a good story, taken from a good novel, but that it just doesn't quite succeed.

Live by Night

Set in Prohibition Boston, and subsequently in Tampa Florida, Joe Coughlin (Affleck) is a small time 'outlaw', which is what he choses to call himself as distinct from a gangster. Having had his fill of killing, and taking orders, in the First World War, he robs but doesn't kill. Unfortunately the resident 'mobs' don't find his activities acceptable and the head of the 'Irish Gang', Albert White, suggests that he gets rid of his incompetent sidekicks and joins his gang. Things are complicated by the fact that Joe is having a relationship with White's moll, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), a certain death warrant should White find out. A further complication, or one might say surprise, is that Joe's father, Thomas, is a police captain. The final complication is that Maso Pescatore, the Italian Mafias boss, has discovered the affair between Joe and Emma, and threatens blackmail in an attempt to get Joe to kill White.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Today it was the latest Star Wars film. The Guardian reviewer says that this is a film made for the fans, and I tend to agree with him. It stitches together other parts of the genre in that we now have an insight into how the plans for the death star were obtained, and indeed more background into the Rebel Alliance.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The dynamic duo in this film are Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor, the former being the daughter of scientist Galen Erso, who is regarded as a traitor for working for the Empire. Galen, however, is playing the long game, and while on the face of it he's assisting with the creation of the super weapon, he's at the same time incorporated a weakness, that we all know is exploited in the original Star Wars film. Jyn, played by Felicity Jones, who I wouldn't have put as an action hero but admit to being wrong, becomes a plucky and resourceful rebel after at first eschewing their cause. Her sidekick, Cassian, whose orders were to assassinate Jyn's father, soon falls victim to Jyn's charms, very much a re-run of the Leia - Han Solo relationship that started off frostily and, well we all know what happened.

The threat of the Death Star is not universally believed in the rebel camp and they refuse to take the risk of recovering the plans of the super weapon. In typical Star Wars fashion, Jyn and Cassian take matters into their own hands with some help from a small dedicated band that they've collected along the way. In an imperial ship that they previously acquired this little party make their way to the Imperial garrison on the planet Scarif, where the plans are kept, their only advantage being the element of surprise. The action that follows is classic Star Wars and, of course, when the chips seem to be down unexpected assistance arrives.

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Assassin's Creed

Yesterday's cinema film was Assassin's Creed. I'm not a video games player and wouldn't normally bother with a film based on the genre, but I read a review that suggested that after a succession of video game-to-movie turkeys, this one could break through the mediocrity. Well, I'm afraid it didn't do so for me. The promise was of real locations and stunts that weren't CGI enhanced in front of blue screens. That may well be true, but it still seemed like a video game to me. The story line was also a bit contrived, a sort of Matrix rip-off whereby the body stays put but the spirit, or whatever you like to call it, occupies another body, this time a body in 15th century Spain during the Inquisition.

Assassin's Creed

Michael Fassbender plays Callum Lynch, a murderer somehow rescued from his lethal injection to next appear at Abstergo Industries, a futuristic research facility where he is about to embark on his transportation to medieval Spain under the supervision of Sofia (Marion Coutillard), the daughter of the facilities director. Lynch is hooked up to the Animus. Inspired no doubt by The Matrix, it is attached to Lynch whereupon his brain and genetic code are synchronised with those of his forebear in the 15th century. We are then transported back to that time with Lynch's former self and there's some impressive action, albeit of the video game variety.

The objective is for Lynch to reveal where the Apple of Eden can be found, a mythical orb that contains the seeds of man's first disobedience, the possession of which will allow the Templars to eliminate personal free will and thus remove disobedience from society. A number of return visits to medieval Spain treat us to some spectacular parkour and martial arts, for me the high spots of the film.

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Allied

Today's film was Allied, with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Brad's break up with Angelina and rumours about an affair with Ms Cotillard have sort of overshadowed this film, and reviews have certainly been mixed. Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian was scathing about the lack of chemistry between them, although I suppose it depends on how you define chemistry. As operatives working behind enemy lines at the beginning of the film you would expect a certain amount of distrust between them, but the relationship seemed to warm up nicely as things progressed.

Allied

After a daring assassination in German occupied Casablanca the pair, Max Vatan and Marianne Beauséjour return to London to marry, after awaiting the outcome of a positive vetting for Marianne. Everything is domestic bliss until Max is summoned to meet an intelligence officer, whereupon he is told that his wife may not in fact be who he thinks she is. In fact she may be working for the Germans. Max will not accept this and proceeds to ignore orders in his quest to prove her innocence. This unfortunately doesn't have the outcome that he was hoping for, but it doesn't diminish his feelings for her.

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A United Kingdom


A United Kingdom

We saw this film last week but I've only just got around to writing the review. Based on a true story it tells of a romance between a young coloured man, Seretse Khama, played by David Oyelowo, who was studying in Britain after the war, and an English office worker, Ruth Williams, played by Rosamund Pike. This in itself marked them out for attention in the late 40s, but when it transpired that the young man was in fact the heir to the African kingdom of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) it wasn't just their families and the local racists that they needed to worry about. The British Government effectively forbade the marriage, being under pressure from South Africa, which was at that time entering the apartheid regime. They married anyway and there followed a struggle against the full force of the British government and the cultural expectations of Seretse's people in Bechuanaland.

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A Street Cat Named Bob

We went to see this film on Wednesday. Helen, who watches a lot more films than I do, had mopped up most of the titles that were screening this week but had given this one a miss. I quite fancied it, and I'm pleased that I decided to go.

A Street Cat Named Bob

Based on a true story, and following a very successful book, the film recounts the story of James Bowen, a recovering drug addict who lives rough and earns money busking around Covent Garden. After succumbing to temptation when offered heroin by an associate he almost dies, and this episode convinces him that he must kick the habit. With the help of his support worker Val, played by Joanne Froggatt, he is given a flat where he is visited by a ginger cat. After unsuccessfully trying to find the owner, he adopts the animal, or should I say that the cat adopts him. It follows him to the bus as he sets off for a day's busking. After this, the cat becomes his constant companion and is extremely popular with the public, leading to a welcome uplift to his takings.

Early in their relationship the cat returns injured, which serves as an introduction to a neighbour, Betty, who is a volunteer at a local vet. James ends up spending his food money on the vets' fee and so begins the close relationship between him and the cat, who he has named Bob at Betty's suggestion. James also clearly has feelings for Betty, which are repressed because he doesn't want her to learn he is a junkie. Betty's brother died of an overdose.

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Nocturnal Animals

I went to see this film knowing next to nothing about it. It's a tricky film to review because it would be wrong to give too much away. The power of the film is in the way it unfolds, and it's one of those films that requires you interpret what's going on. My interpretation may not be the same as yours.

alt text

As the intro starts we see a number of extremely obese women, naked all bar majorette hats and epaulets, a not too pleasant scene, and one that makes you think what an earth is this film about. We soon learn that these women are art exhibits in a gallery where we're introduced to Susan Morrow, the art gallery owner played by Amy Adams. Susan is married to Hutton, and it's soon apparent that all is not well with their marriage, and Hutton's emotions are in any event elsewhere.

This is Susan's second marriage, her first husband Edward, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, being an entirely different character to Hutton. Edward is a writer and Susan receives a manuscript from him entitled Nocturnal Animals. The book is dedicated to her and Nocturnal Animal was a nickname he used for her. At the same time as she starts to read the manuscript she becomes aware of Hutton's possible infidelity. She finds the novel devastating, and as she reads we see the story of the novel unfold as a separate story within a story, with Jake Gyllenhaal playing a husband, Tony Hastings, and Isla Fisher, whose appearance is easily confused with Amy Adams, playing his wife Laura. They and their daughter endure horrific treatment after being run off the road during the night by three men.

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The Accountant

Today we saw The Accountant with Ben Affleck playing Christian Wolff, an autistic maths genius who has a sideline in assassinations.

The Accountant

There is a bit of jumping about between his childhood and the present, which is to help to explain why he is as he is. He and his 'normal' brother were brought up in a military family, with a father who pushed aside professional help and instead elected to teach the boys to survive, which included punishing martial arts training. Judging by what comes later, there was a fair amount of special forces training involved as well.

Wolff's small accountancy firm is a cover for his multi-national exploits that involve helping some very unsavoury people. He receives his instructions from a mysterious woman over the phone. She informs him that people "are looking for him", and suggests a more low-key assignment at a company developing advanced prothetic limbs. This assignment in fact turns out to be anything but low-key. Contracted to investigate anomalies discovered by Dana, a young woman from the company's accounts department (played by Anna Kendrick), he does what he's good at and finds a major accountancy discrepancy. This results in an executive of the company meeting an untimely end. Dana is then targeted and the sister of the company's owner doesn't last long either.

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

It's a while now since I went to the cinema but Wednesday we saw the second Jack Reacher film with Tom Cruise. The reviews aren't good, citing silliness and preposterousness, to name but two. Well, such adjectives can easily be applied to the vast majority of films that reach our screens these days, so what's new?

We start with the scene that has featured on shows that have previewed this film. Reacher, sitting in a diner, has taken down a group of bad guys involved in people smuggling and the local sheriff arrives threatening to put Jack away for a long time. Cue a phone ringing and military police cars screaming to a halt outside, with the sheriff now in cuffs and being taken away.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

This opening is nothing more than a cameo leading in to the main story, which starts when Reacher contacts Major Susan Turner (who it seems took over his post in the army) after his little fracas in the diner. They flirt over the phone and arrange to meet, but when Reacher arrives at her office he finds that she has been arrested on a charge of espionage, which of course he doesn't believe. In pursuing the truth he soon finds that there is a wall of silence. The attorney representing Major Turner meets a sticky end after talking to him, and Reacher is then charged with the murder. A conspiracy is obviously afoot that all began after two of Major Turner's troops were murdered in Afghanistan. And she is now at risk, prompting Reacher to escape his own custody and take her with him.

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Deep Water Horizon

We saw Deep water Horizon today, a film that has received favourable reviews. BP don't come out of it very well at all, as we already knew from the media coverage at the time. The tension builds in the film until you're not actually sure exactly what's going to happen, or when, quite an achievement by the director considering it's an incident that received so much coverage.

Mark Wahlberg plays a central role, as the chief electrical technician, and his story links back to what it must have been like for the relatives back at home. This provides a human storyline that would have been replicated in many family homes. Of course, 11 members of the team never came back.

Deep Water Horizon

This was a trial drilling prior to setting up a working rig and we see the BP managers eager to get past the trial stage and put the rig to work, to the extent that safety checks were curtailed and fears of a pressure build up were dismissed as a 'glitch' in the measurements. We all know what happened, but the film adds substance to that with some incredible effects as the rig first suffers a blowback and then catches fire. There are some captions to explain some of the technical details but knowing a little bit about how drilling rigs work will add the understanding of what unraveled.

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The Free State of Jones

Today we saw The Free State of Jones, a drama set during the American Civil War. It stars Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight, a man who walked away from the civil war conflict to set up a community of like-minded people, including a number of former slaves. The reviews have been mixed, some professional critics having a problem with the fact that it's "yet another" black slavery story told from a white perspective. Audiences, meanwhile, see-saw between thinking it to be brilliant, to believing that it is too long, has too many sub plots and is too slow. I enjoyed it, if for nothing else that it showed once more the struggle that then existed, and still exists to this day, for African Americans seeking equality in society.

The Free State of Jones

A young kinsman of Knight is killed during a battle, and this is the catalyst for him deserting, albeit initially solely to return his son's body home. Having been branded a deserter there's no going back and after escaping a posse with chase dogs he is helped to a refuge in the Mississippi swamps, where he meets former slaves. Meanwhile the confederate soldiers are taking food and livestock from farming families and Knight's support for them transforms him and his group from being merely a nuisance into a perceived threat to the confederacy. His group grows as he convinces them that the real enemy are the land owners, whose sons are not conscripted. "We are fighting a war for their cotton".

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The Legend of Tarzan

As someone who read all the Tarzan books when young, and was a member of the Tarzan Club (yes, it did exist), any new take on him is obligatory viewing. The critics have not been impressed but audience satisfaction at Rotten Tomatoes is higher.

The Legend of Tarzan

As I've already said, I start off biased, and found the film to be enjoyable enough. After a plot-setting beginning, we move to London where Lord Greystoke (Tarzan) has been accepted back in society after coming out of the jungle. He is asked to return to Africa as a representative of the British government to meet an envoy of King Leopold II of the Belgians, the said envoy being the dastardly Léon Rom who has set the whole thing up to capture Tarzan. The plot setting at the beginning explains why.

Tarzan, however, expects foul play and leaves the ship early making his way overland to meet friendly natives. Unfortunately Rom and his mercenaries anticipate Tarzan's plan and make their way to the village, where Tarzan evades capture, but sees his Jane taken away. Thus the plot is set for a Tarzan saves Jane adventure.

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Learning to Drive

I read an article in which Ben Kingsley was extolling the virtues of women directors, citing his experience in the recently released film Learning to Drive. He said: “I do feel that it is through the prism, the lens, the perspective of the female eye – the loving female eye – that a man is almost given permission to be vulnerable." This analysis intrigued me and today we went to see the film.

Kingsley plays a Sikh, Darwan Singh Tur, who is a driving instructor by day and a taxi driver by night. One evening he is hailed down by a man who is being pursued by an extremely angry wife, and both get in the cab. The man is Ted, who has just told his wife, Wendy, that he's leaving her for another woman. Ted doesn't stay in the cab that long and Singh Tur drives Wendy home. He later finds that she has left a package in the cab.

Learning to Drive

Wendy's daughter is working on a farm and, having informed her mother that this time Ted won't be coming back (he had strayed previously), asks her mum to visit her at the farm. But Wendy can't drive, cue Singh Tur returning the package and Wendy asking him to give her driving lessons.

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The Nice Guys

We saw this film today. I knew nothing about it prior to getting to the cinema, so no preconceptions. Russell Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a guy who gets paid to lean on people, while Ryan Gosling is Holland March, a more conventional private detective who has an eye to making money from some gullible clients. Angourie Rice, meanwhile, play's Holland's daughter, Holly, and plays her very well indeed. She has a bit of a young Jodie Foster about her.

The Nice Guys - image 1

Healy and March find themselves interested professionally in the same woman, Amelia Kuttner, who not only turns out to be extremely illusive, but also part of an intrigue involving a porn movie, some shady dealings in the Detroit automotive industry and, we eventually find out, is the daughter of the Justice Secretary, Judith Kuttner. And our two anti-heroes soon discover that they're not the only ones looking for Amelia, there being some extremely unsavoury types also in the chase.

This film revolves around the chemistry between Healy and March and I must say it's superb. The humour comes thick and fast, as the 'non-detective' Healy continually keeps the often tipsy 'real detective' March on track, although the latter sometimes does come up with the goods, but there are also times when he loses his way.

The Nice Guys - image 2

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Alice Through the Looking Glass

We saw this film on the day of its release, after returning from holiday. I hadn't seen Tim Burton's 2010 film Alice in Wonderland, so I can't make comparisons, but it seems that the critics feel that the earlier film was far better. Perhaps not having seen the 'better' film allowed me more latitude but I didn't find this latest Alice film at all bad. I've never read the book, but understand that the film bears absolutely no similarity to it.

Alice Through the Looking Glass

The story revolves around time, personified quite brilliantly in my view by Sacha Baron Cohen. The Mad Hatter, played once again by Johnny Depp, is in terminal decline following the discovery of his first hat, which he made as a child for his father, and which he thought had perished along with his family at the hands of the Red Queen, Iracebeth, played by Helena Bonham Carter. The fact that the hat survived has convinced him that his family did not perish, but nobody will believe him, not even Alice. Alice, the White Queen and the creatures of Wonderland hatch a plot to help him.

The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) tells Alice that there is a way, but it is dangerous. She must go back in time to try to change the events that led to the Hatter's family's demise. In this quest she encounters Time, and steals his Chronosphere, a time machine that will allow her to try to alter past events, but which unfortunately is also needed to keep universal time, and thus everything dependant upon it ticking along hunky dory. Time, the embodiment that is, pursues her.

Alice soon finds that affecting past events is less easy than she may have thought, and in the end it is the Red Queen who, having stolen the Chronosphere, actually changes the past - with disastrous consequences.

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Money Monster

We also saw this film in Nice while its debut took place at Cannes. Directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, this was a very different type of film to Café Society, which we had seen a few days earlier. Again it was Version Original (VO), with English dialogue and French subtitles.

Money Monster refers to a TV show whose star is Lee Gates (George Clooney), a financial guru who gives tips on where people should invest their money. No doubt there are TV shows in America that are as embarrassing as was portrayed in this film (and there may even be some in Britain), but the fatuousness of it turned me off from the start. I felt embarrassed for Clooney having to play the role.

Money Monster

Fortunately a turn of events interrupted the stupidity when a punter, who had lost everything following a Money Monster sure-fire tip, turns up in the studio armed and straps a suicide vest on Gates. Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), the show's producer, continues to communicate with Gates through his earpiece, offering advice and trying to calm things down.

What follows is an interesting if somewhat unbelievable story line whereby the punter, Kyle Budwell, attempts to get Gates to explain what had caused the 'glitch' in the trading algorithm that had resulted in the drop in share value at IBIS, and thus his loss. IBIS CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) has gone missing as Patty desperately tries to get information from the company.

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Café Society

We had the privilege of seeing this film on its opening day at Cannes, but we weren't that privileged, as we saw it along the coast in Nice. Second best perhaps but still a bit of a coup. It was shown with original English dialogue and French subtitles, which was in itself interesting for me, as I compared how things were expressed in two languages that share so many words but are at the same time so different.

Café Society

Set in 1930s Hollywood, Phil Stern is the movie executive trying to keep a number of balls in the air when he is asked to find a job for his sister's boy, Bobby. When his sister Rose calls, Phil answers "Rose?" in apparent ignorance of who she is, which sort of sets the scene. Rose's life is a million miles divorced from Phil's, while Ben, Bobby's brother is a budding gangster.

Jesse Eisenberg as Bobby plays the naive New Yorker very well, his introduction to Hollywood being an arranged date with a hooker, a novice Jewish hooker no less, and the resulting encounter is very amusing. Bobby soon becomes enchanted with Phil's assistant, Vonnie (Veronica), played by Kristen Stewart. Love blossoms but there's a complication, a big complication, and they split.

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Bastille Day

When I saw the trailer for Bastille Day it appealed to me, so yesterday we went to see it. The reviews haven't been tremendous but the mix for me was just about right. Set in Paris, with the French speaking French, it provided plenty of action as well as an opportunity to try to understand what was being said - there were of course subtitles.

Idris Elba plays a somewhat rogue CIA officer, Sean Briar, who's on the case of an apparent terrorist bomber whose face has been captured on CCTV. The said bomber, Michael Mason, is however no more than a very proficient pick pocket who happened to 'lift' a bag from the actual bomber, a distraught young French woman, Zoe, who had become embroiled in something far more sinister than she had realised.

Bastille Day

It's difficult to review this film without giving away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say that everything isn't what it seems where the bombers are concerned. Briar soon suspects this, and sets out on what is effectively an unauthorised one-man campaign to track down the suspects, but he must first co-opt Mason and find the now petrified Zoe who's in hiding. The trio form an unlikely alliance as they pit themselves against a very dangerous and well resourced enemy.

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The Huntsman: Winter's War

I very rarely read reviews before going to see a film, instead relying on the trailer, which I accept can itself be misleading. If I had read reviews for todays film, The Huntsman: Winter's War, I might have not bothered to go. For example, Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian, normally a reliable critic, was taken to write:

"It is the follow-up that nobody much wanted to the film that nobody much liked, resulting in something even more visually elaborate and boring, and about which the number of tosses that can be reasonably given is lower than ever."

Meanwhile the critics at Rotten Tomatoes managed to muster 16% approval.

These reviews must influence people as bizarrely we were the only two people in the auditorium, although the rather nice weather may have also been an influence.

The Huntsman: Winter's War

So what did I think of the film? Well, it had three redeeming features, namely Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain, the last mentioned doing a good impression of Zena Warrior Princess. Three extremely attractive women and good actors to boot. And for the women, Chris Hemsworth, who I believe quickens a pulse or two.

The story is based around Snow White, although she doesn't appear, and draws also on Narnia, with Emily Blunt, as Freya, becoming the Snow Queen. Charlize Theron as the wicked Ravenna is, well, quite wicked, bringing out the evil side of her sister Freya, who up until then had been a nice person.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Back to the cinema after the school holidays and this week it was the epic battle between these two superheroes. I was intrigued on two levels: firstly, why two good guys should fight and, secondly, how Batman, despite his abilities, could hope to take on an indestructible opponent.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

The answer to both conundrums becomes clear as we are shown the destruction of Metropolis as a result of the earlier battle between Superman and the evil Zod, which leaves Batman highly distrustful of Superman, who he feels would be able at any time to wreak havoc, should he so choose. Add to this the devilish scheming of Lex Luther, who I thought was interestingly portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, whose aim is to set the two crime fighters against each other. Then we have, of course, a large chunk of Kryptonite, the final leveller in the battle that was to ensue.

In this film Batman's suit is more like armour and he certainly comes across as a much meaner figure than in earlier films, his demeanour matching his outfit. Superman is much nicer, his relationship with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) being sort of out in the open on this occasion. In fact his rescuing of Lois early on in the story turns out to be the result of a Lex Luther plot that is part of the grand plan to undermine Superman's public persona.

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Risen

Our film at the cinema this week was Risen, a story recounting the events between Christ's crucifixion and his subsequent rising. A sort of sequel to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which I didn't see. I'm by no means religious, and this choice of film was more to do with the alternatives on offer being less appealing. But I was pleasantly surprised.

Risen

The consensus seems to be that it is a far more soft-centred film than The Passion, and certainly once an early battle scene and the aftermath of the crucifixion were out of the way, the film was more about love and wonderment than blood and gore.

Joseph Fiennes plays Clavius, a Roman tribune who is at the beck and call of Pontius Pilote, played by Peter Firth. Pontius, as we know, was responsible for the Nazerine's crucifixion, and now he wants Clavius to clear up the mess. In particular they are worried by the fact that Yeshua (Jesus) said he would rise again, and both Pontius and the Jewish elders are very anxious that the body is not taken by the disciples as a way of 'proving' this prophecy. But, of course, the body does disappear, and Clavius is charged with finding it.

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Hail, Caesar!

On Wednesday we saw Hail Caesar. It was my choice, as I hoped it would be as good as Oh Brother Where Art Thou, an earlier Cohen Brothers film, also with George Clooney, which I really enjoyed.

Set in 1950s Hollywood, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is Capitol Picture's studio 'fixer', sorting out a range of problems that the stars manage to get themselves into. The studio's biggest production is Hail Caesar, starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) but skullduggery is afoot as a couple of extras drug and kidnap Whitlock, whisking him off to 'The Future'. The 'Future' in question is a group of communists intent on reshaping the future by taking on capitalism, starting with Capitol Pictures.

Hail, Caesar!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the studios Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is making the drama Merrily We Dance, and is given a new lead actor in the shape of Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), straight from the set of a cowboy film, the singing cowboy role being his only claim to fame thus far. I was greatly impressed by his gun-spinning and horse riding skills, but unfortunately they didn't transfer very well to the set of Laurentz's drama. Watch out for Doyle's struggle pronouncing Laurentz's name, not helped by the similarity between his first and second names.

Scarlett Johansson pops up as DeeAnna Moran, an Esther Williams type character, who looks a lot more elegant than she sounds. And we have Channing Tatum performing a classic Hollywood song and dance number as Burt Gurney, who turns out to be not all that he seems.

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Secret in Their Eyes

This was our film choice this Wednesday. A competent enough crime drama with an impressive cast, so I was surprised to read some fairly downbeat reviews. It seems that the film is a remake of an Oscar-winning Argentine thriller from 2009 and the general consensus is that the original was far better. Having not seen it I can't offer an opinion.

Secret in Their Eyes

The film is set 13 years after the murder of the daughter of a district attorney investigator, Jess, who is played by Julia Roberts, in a rather un-glam part. Ray, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, was as an FBI counter-terrorism investigator at the time, and a good friend of Jess, and has returned to the office because he thinks he has tracked down the murderer. He is there to convince Claire, another co-investigator at the time of the murder, to re-open the case, Claire now being the assistant district attorney.

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Deadpool

We saw Deadpool at the cinema today. Every so often a film comes along that is truly different, and I believe that Deadpool deserves this accolade. Yes, it's a superhero story; yes, it involves lots of shoot-em-up and beat-em-up moments; yes, there are lots of (amazing) stunts. So what's different? Well, this is almost a send-up of the genre, it is very funny, and the 'good' guy is at the same time pretty mean.

Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool), who renamed himself after a sweepstake that bet on the likelihood of who was going to die first out of a group mercenaries that offered protection to woman for money. After starting a passionate romance with Copycat, played by the gorgeous Morena Baccarin (Brody's wife in Homeland), he finds out that he has terminal cancer and takes up an offer of a cure that involves him mutating, à la X-men. His 'doctor' is Ajax, a really mean piece of work, who relishes inflicting pain, spurred on by Wilson's refusal to stop joshing him.

The cure has some rather unpleasant side effects but Wilson, who has now named himself Deadpool, has become almost indestructible. He sets off to find Ajax believing that he can help him undo the unwanted effects of the treatment. He travels by taxi to his showdown, which sort of sums up the non super hero aspects of this film. The showdown itself is a feast of amazing slow-mo photography as vehicles and people are spread all over the freeway. Things are interrupted by the arrival of a couple from the X-men stable, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who don't exactly agree with Deadpool's approach.

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Spotlight

We saw Spotlight today, the story of how the Boston Globe Newspaper exposed widespread child abuse by Catholic priests.

Spotlight

A new editor at the paper picks up on the story and asks the Spotlight investigative team to take it on. The team is at first reluctant to put aside its existing investigation, but once on the case they find that what at first appeared to be a story about a few priests, unfolds to implicate the Catholic Church right up to the highest levels of authority.

The Church exercised a great influence in Boston, and the reporters faced a wall of silence and obstruction when trying to investigate the facts. However, gradually witnesses were prepared to talk, and hard work revealed evidence of the widespread nature of the abuse, this being contained in the annual registers of priests that showed how certain individuals were frequently moved around, implying a 'clean up' operation in the wake of their misdemeanours.

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The Big Short

This week's cinema film (as distinct from Amazon Prime) was The Big Short. It started a bit strangely, with a narrative approach, and at first I wasn't too sure about it. But as things unfolded it became clear that the film needed to explain some fairly complicated financial practices while at the same time making itself entertaining. In this respect I feel it achieved its aim, allowing us to laugh at times during what is a very sombre revelation.

I doubt anybody isn't aware that there was a financial meltdown in 2007/8, and those of us who don't believe the Tory mantra that it was all Labour's fault, recognise that it was a result of a total meltdown in the American property market.

The Big Short

Basically, the banks and associated financial whizz kids sold mortgages to people who could hardly afford them, and who would in due course be hit with increased repayments that they almost certainly wouldn't be able to afford. (A fact lost to many in the current long run of low interest rates.) By mixing these 'sub-prime' mortgages with better quality products the risk that they posed were hidden, but unfortunately as the number of better quality products decreased the contents of these mortgage packages became more and more toxic. The film describes these shenanigans by way of some nice little cameos that use analogies to make the point.

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The Revenant

Our cinema film this week was The Revenant. My choice and I'm pleased that we went to see it.

Set in 1823, in the unsettled wilderness of what now is the Dakotas, it's a brutal film depicting the lives of frontiersmen hunting for pelts. The local indians are hostile and the story effectively starts when a raiding party attacks the hunters. The effectiveness of the bow and arrows against single shot rifles and pistols is graphically displayed as the 'white men' are cut down, resorting to escape by boat as the indians overwhelm them.

The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, the group's guide, who is accompanied by his son, the product of a relationship with an indian woman who had previously been killed. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) doesn't think a lot of Glass, especially when Glass insists that the group abandon their boat and take an overland return journey to the safety of the fort.

On the way Glass is savaged by a grizzly bear and seriously injured. After at first trying to stretcher Glass it is decided that the group should split, with the captain leading the returning group and Fitzgerald remaining with Glass and his son, along with the young Jim Bridger. It doesn't end well.

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Joy

I'm a bit late with my film review this week, having seen Joy on Wednesday.

Yet again Jennifer Lawrence delivers a fine performance as Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the Miracle Mop, and who went on to become a self-made millionaire with a business empire.

Joy

The film has actually received mixed reviews, although most credit Lawrence even if criticising other elements of the film. She has been nominated for an Oscar making her the youngest actor to ever receive four Oscar nominations.

The beginning of the film depicts a chaotic family with Joy holding everything together. Her divorced mother watches the same soap every day, Joy's ex husband, Tony, lives in the basement, her half-sister Peggy is antagonistic to her, and her dad has just 'been returned' by his girlfriend. Her grandmother, who encourages her to follow her dreams, is probably the only 'normal' person in the household.

Dad finds a new girlfriend, Trudy, a wealthy Italian widow, and everybody is invited on to her former husband's yacht. There is a 'no red wine' rule, to protect the deck, but Joy's Ex charms Trudy into allowing him to bring a crate on board. As a result of this, for reasons you can probably guess, Joy, a natural inventor, ends up turning her mind to designing a mop that doesn't need to be wrung out by hand.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

No golf today as the course is waterlogged, and closed. So we went to see Star Wars. By waiting a bit we benefitted from the cinema not being packed to the gunnels.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I've tried to avoid seeing spoilers but it's been difficult. I already knew, for example, that the director had returned to the formula that took the first three Star Wars films into cult status. I wasn't surprised, therefore, when the familiar scrolling text appeared at the beginning, nor was I surprised by all the nods, some subtle and some less so, to the originals.

I was a bit worried by the fact that they were bringing Han and Leia back, but in the event they fitted the story line while adding to the nostalgia. The meeting up in the vastness of space of Han and his beloved Millennium Falcon seemed a tad too coincidental, but it was of course necessary.

Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were relative unknowns when the first Star Wars film launched, and this has been repeated with Daisy Ridley, as Rey, and John Boyega, as Finn, both of whom are great finds. Rey is shaping up to be a worthy bearer of The Force as we inevitably go into the next productions. Perfect casting in fact. The mystery, of course, is why she can summon The Force, and there is already much speculation over this. But I think we all know that she's related to somebody from the earlier films, even if we don't know who at this stage. Again this mimics the original stories.

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In the Heart of the Sea

My first visit to the cinema in 2016 and we saw In the Heart of the Sea.

In the Heart of the Sea

The film is based on Nathaniel Philbrick's 2000 non-fiction book of the same name, about the sinking of the American whaling ship Essex in 1820, an event that inspired the novel Moby-Dick.

Herman Melville, the subsequent author of Moby Dick, visits Thomas Nickerson, the last survivor of the whaleship Essex's last voyage. Nickerson has previously refused to discuss with anybody the events of that voyage, and it's only when his wife intervenes that he agrees to do so.

As he recounts the story, the film takes us back to that fateful voyage. Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) is first mate to Captain George Pollard. Chase is an experienced whaler who had been promised his own captaincy, only to be denied by the parachuting in of Pollard, from an established whaling family. There is animosity from the off, which nearly costs them the ship fairly early into the voyage. After an early success they stop off in Ecuador, where a Spanish captain recounts visiting 'Offshore Grounds' some 2000 miles away, but where his ship was destroyed by a white whale. This is scoffed at as a 'mariner's tale' by the crew of the Essex and they set off to find the whales.

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Sisters

The second film this week was Sisters with Tina Fey, as Kate, and Amy Poehler, as Maura. These are both seriously funny women, as witnessed by their successful TV shows. I was, therefore, expecting something special from this film, but unfortunately it didn't work for me.

Sisters

There is a lot of humour, continuous in fact, and near the mark in places, but for me much of it was just a bit too daft. Of course I laughed, but the plot, which started reasonably sanely, descends into farce. Perhaps that was intentional.

Basically we have the successful sister, Maura, and the life disaster, Kate. Mayhem breaks out when they find out that their parents are selling the family home. Maura is merely distraught but Kate goes berserk. A plot is hatched for a final party in the house, their parents having already sold it and vacated.

Well you can probably guess what happens, and then some!

As I say, a bit too daft for me, but the reviews weren't terrible, probably on the strength of Fey and Poehler, who have a very large following. But for me this is one of the few 'thumbs-down' films I've seen this year.


Carol

I've been to the cinema twice this week, which is unusual. On Tuesday we saw Carol, with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The reviews have been very good and rightly so. This is a beautiful film that charts a relationship between Carol, a married woman in a failed relationship, and Therese Belivet, a young shop assistant who Carol meets by chance while shopping. The film is set in the 1950s, when such a relationship would have broken quite a few taboos.

Carol

Their first meeting generates feelings within both women. For Carol, who has already experienced a relationship with another woman, the feelings are familiar. For Therese, it's a completely new experience that at first she has difficulty coming to terms with, trying at one point to understand by asking her boyfriend if he has ever had feelings for another man. As you might expect, the boyfriend relationship goes quickly downhill from this point.

With her marriage becoming more and more acrimonious Carol asks Theres if she would like to go away with her, and at this point Therese's feelings are such that she readily accepts the invitation. It is during this trip that their love for each other is fully expressed while Carol's husband is meanwhile plotting to make life extremely difficult for her. The trip ends badly and the two women separate, not because of any falling out between them, but because Carol wants to protect the younger woman and deal with issues in her marital relationship.

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Bridge of Spies

Spielberg does it again. As soon as I saw the trailer for this film I knew that I wanted to see it, and I wasn't disappointed.

Bridge of Spies

Based on actual events, the film shows how a New York lawyer, James Donovan, at first defends a Russian spy, Rudolf Abel, and then goes on to organise and carry out a prisoner exchange with the Russians in the recently segregated East Berlin.

Tom Hanks is his usual solid self in playing Donovan, while Mark Rylance gives a remarkable performance as Abel. The paranoia of the Cold War is expertly displayed as Donovan ups the ante by not only negotiating the repatriation of pilot Gary Powers, whose spy plane was shot down by the Russians, but also a hapless American student who had been taken by the East German authorities. The Russians didn't think much of the East Germans being involved, and vice versa, while the CIA was only interested in Powers. But Donovan, forever principled, stuck to his guns, to everybody's consternation.

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The Lady in the Van

The story of how the playwright Alan Bennett allowed 'Miss Shepherd' to park her van in his driveway in Camden Town for 15 years.

The Lady in the Van

Maggie Smith plays Miss Shepherd and I must admit that after watching her I can't imagine anybody else in the role. Superb is no exaggeration. Alex Jennings meanwhile is equally good as Alan Bennett. The device of physically portraying Bennett as the two parts of his character, namely the person and the author, is very clever. The film is above all a character study, and from this flows a continuous stream of humour.

While the other residents of the street wish that the lady and her van would move on, Bennett helps her, albeit reluctantly at first. The exchange between Bennett and the social worker over his role as her 'carer' is hilarious. As the film progresses we learn more about Miss Shepherd, if indeed that is her name. Her story is a sad one. Once a gifted concert pianist, her life was changed by her time in a convent, and then by an incident that leads her to believe she is a fugitive from the law. Add in a blackmailer, and her constant need to confess her sins, and we start to understand why she is as she is.

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Spectre

Having waited for the crowds to die down a bit, yesterday we saw Spectre. All Bond films are 'must see' for me, having read all the books when I was younger and seen all the films. I still regard Sean Connery as the archetypal Bond (showing my age) but must say that Daniel Craig has reinvigorated the genre after some pretty lean years. This latest instalment of the franchise is, quite frankly, stupendous.

Spectre

The opening sequences to these films have become a look-forward-to feature, each one seemingly outdoing the previous ones in terms of action and incredulity. For Spectre they have pulled everything out of the bag. How on earth they produce effects such as these is testament to the technical advances in cinematography and computer simulation. This opening sequence is going to be very hard to better.

Meanwhile the rest of the film doesn't disappoint. The story line is strong, the 'girls' are more than just eye candy and the villain is a worthy adversary for 007. It seems our hero has a soft spot for French actresses. Eva Green as Vesper Lynd captured his heart in Casino Royale and in the latest outing he finds himself somewhat captivated by Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann. I can fully understand why this should be the case.

The villain turns out to be Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a name from the earlier Bond films and, of course, from the original novels. The twist is that said Blofeld has a connection to Bond that comes as a bit of a surprise. This film thus reintroduces some of the original villainy and links it to story lines of the more recent films. The bits of the puzzle coming together, if you like.

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Burnt

We saw Burnt today, featuring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. Reviews have been mixed and it's vying with a few other big titles, including of course Spectre. Audience reaction has been better than that of the critics, which isn't unusual.

Burnt

Cooper does a pretty good job of portraying a highly strung chef who has reappeared on the scene after a period of self-imposed rehabilitation, having succumbed to excess in Paris where he rose to be a feted chef before crashing out and letting down a lot of people in the process, some of whom return to exact payback.

The action takes place in London where, now teetotal and forsaking women, he sets out to re-establish his reputation and gain the coveted three-star Michelin rating. Of course, in the company of Helene (Sienna Miller) his avoidance of female relationships was always going to be challenged, although he starts well by giving her a good dressing down in front of everybody, having got her sacked from her previous job so that he could employ her. Not a good start.

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The Martian

We saw The Martian yesterday. Yes, I know that Spectre is out, but we're going to wait until the crowds subside a bit.

The Martian

I enjoyed The Martian. It's really a story within a story. The first is the stranding of an astronaut on Mars, and his ultimate rescue. This part of the plot is pure Hollywood, with some highly unlikely decisions and manoeuvres, and of course some nail-biting suspense at the end of it all. That said, the science wasn't too unbelievable.

The other story, within the main story, is that of how the astronaut sets about surviving faced with a prolonged stay on Mars. This is fascinating as it involves a lot of applied science, and mathematics, and as such is a great advert to young people who may not have appreciated what science has to offer. OK, some of the 'solutions' perhaps stretch things a bit, but it's all based on genuine science.

There are internet reviews of the accuracy of the science [1 : 2], which are worth reading. The general consensus is that the only thing that was highly improbable was the storm that caused the the astronaut to be left behind. Martian atmosphere is so thin that a storm with such devastating effects couldn't really occur. This was clearly a necessary bending of the science in order to create the stranding scenario, and can be forgiven. On the other hand, if such a storm could exist it would have made short work of the air lock repair that used plastic sheeting and duct tape, something I found to be a bit far-fetched. I certainly wouldn't have been comfortable sitting there with only this temporary repair between me and the Martian atmosphere.

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Suffragette

We saw the film Suffragette this week. I was impressed.

Suffragette

It seems hard to believe, even though we know it's true, that not so long ago women had to resort to civil disobedience to get the vote. Even more surprising, according to historical information that appeared on the screen after the film, is that a woman had no legal rights over her child until 1925. This meant that a husband could place their child for adoption and the wife could do nothing about it - absolutely astonishing.

Rotten Tomatoes shows the same enjoyment rating from both audiences and critics (79%), which doesn't happen very often. Perversely, in their cast listing they don't show Carey Mulligan, which must be an editorial omission, as she is without doubt the star of the film. She has already shown herself to be an accomplished actor and in this film she excels.

The general impression of the Suffragettes is, I believe, one of educated and society ladies, but Mulligan plays a working class woman (Maud). The film thus shows both the plight of these women at the beginning of the last century, which didn't have much to recommend it, and the fact that they too played a part in the furtherance of universal suffrage. And many paid a high price, as in Maud's case.

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Everest

Today's film was Everest. Based on a true story it reveals how Everest tourism can go badly wrong.

Everest

The cinematography is absolutely stunning. At times you can forget that you're watching a drama and believe that it's a real expedition, as it was of course back in 1996. The business of taking tourists up Everest had moved on from a single specialist company to the point where competing commercial interests had a finger in the pie. This introduced additional dangers, as bottlenecks caused delays, and when you are constrained by brief windows in unpredictable weather patterns, these delays can escalate the risks.

The back stories to the characters are of course the essence of the film. The reasons why people pay large sums of money and take such risks. The 'must reach the summit' mentality that is itself a risk factor, and can lead to even seasoned professionals pushing the boundaries.

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Macbeth

I'm a bit behind with my film reviews. We actually saw Macbeth last week. It was my choice as I fancied something a bit more serious than the average drama. Well, I certainly got that, but I'm not sure I was ready for it.

Macbeth

It's an incredibly atmospheric film, superbly acted. The problem, for me anyway, was that I hadn't read Macbeth, and the Shakespearian prose combined with the Scottish accents actually made it difficult for me to follow the dialogue at many points. Marion Cotillard plays Lady Macbeth, and it says something that this French actress was arguably easier to understand than the Scottish ones.

The film starts with a battle and ends with one, both depicted to show the brutality of hand to hand combat in those days. A long way from remotely controlled drones! The victorious Macbeth probably suffered what we would now call post traumatic stress and this results in actions that even the scheming Lady Macbeth finds hard to stomach. The 'three sisters', the witches, are seemingly forever present in his consciousness, and their prophecies turn out to be unnervingly accurate, although one could argue that Macbeth's fear of these prophecies led in a way to them being self-fulfilling.

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Solace

I must be easily pleased where films are concerned, as Solace has been roundly slated by the critics and doesn't seem to have fared much better with audiences. I didn't find it that bad. OK, the clairvoyant aspect was overplayed, especially when John Clancy (Anthony Hopkins) relates FBI agent Katherine Cowles' (Abbie Cornish) life history to her. But Hopkins is good at the psychic stuff.

Solace

Clancy reluctantly assists the Bureau in finding a serial killer but soon discovers that the killer's psychic powers are far superior to his own, to the extent that the killer is playing cat and mouse with both him and the law enforcement officers. He foresees bad outcomes for agent Cowles, but clearly wants to help and if possible protect her, as she reminds him of his daughter who died of leukaemia.

Clowes initially dismisses the whole idea of the paranormal but Clancy reveals things that cannot be otherwise explained, and when he describes intimate details of her earlier life (as mentioned above) she can no longer doubt his powers.

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Legend

We saw Legend today, the story of the Kray twins. An interesting if at times brutal biopic. Tom Hardy plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, very impressively in my view.

Legend

The East End of London of the 60s is nicely portrayed, the film starting with Reggie taking tea out to two coppers who are sitting in a Ford watching the house. Taking tea and taking the piss.

The story is related by Frances Shea, Reggie's eventual girlfriend, who tries in vain to get him to 'go straight'. This not only ends in failure, but also in tragedy.

While Reggie is mean, Ronnie is mentally deranged. The story throughout is that of Reggie trying to keep his brother in check, largely unsuccessfully. It seems that their dominance was for a time almost absolute. They were for a while literally untouchable. But Ronnie eventually oversteps the mark by murdering a rival, causing the police to reopen investigations that were previously dropped because of political pressure - Ronnie Kray having implicated senior political figures into his activities.

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Following on last week's Mission Impossible saga this week we saw The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Both are arguably of the same genre, so it made for interesting comparisons.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

My immediate reaction was to think that Henry Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo, would make a superb James Bond. I suppose my idea of Bond is heavily influenced by the Sean Connery years, and Cavill has that same suave persona and the ability to inject comedy into what is supposed to be serious stuff. Meanwhile Armie Hammer completely recasts Illya Kuryakin as a KGB superman [David McCullem as the original Kuryakin wasn't anything like this!]. He also adds to the humorous side of this production. Meanwhile, Alicia Vikander provides one half of the glamour content as Gabby Teller, daughter of a missing German scientist.

The film actually leads up to the coming together of the trio as a team, as they're certainly not buddies at the beginning. I guess, therefore, that we're in for at least one more instalment, perhaps more.

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Trainwreck

We saw Trainwreck this week. I had seen Amy Schumer on the Graham Norton show and found her very funny. She was on the show because of the release of Trainwreck, which she wrote and in which she stars.



It's basically a romantic comedy and the admittedly small audience at the midday screening we attended was certainly predominantly female, two of whom left halfway through the film. I assume that they expected something different.

For a RomCom it doesn't start very romantically. Amy's character, who's also called Amy, is a non committing kind of girl who certainly doesn't seem to be looking for true love - just sex. This is the result of an indoctrination by her father that we witness at the very beginning of the film, although her sister seems to have survived it unscathed. If the Rom bit was missing at the start, the Com bit is full on from the off, and doesn't really let up.

Amy works as a feature writer for a magazine, her hard-headed boss, Dianna, being played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton, although I didn't actually recognise her and only realised it was her when the credits rolled. It's the typical American 'Media' office, or at least typical of the sort of office portrayed in films. I suppose offices like these do exist, where people sit around and propose outlandish ideas but are never seen actually doing any real work.

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Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

My grandson stayed with us last week, which influenced the choice of film, although the Mission Impossible films are always worth watching.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

This latest instalment doesn't disappoint. Tom Cruise seems to defy ageing and it appears that he again did his own stunts. The film is non-stop action but the two most difficult and most dangerous stunts were quite amazing. In the first he clings to the door of a cargo plane as it takes off, while later in the film he undertakes a six minute free dive that may have you holding your breath.

There are scenes shot in the upper parts of the Vienna State Opera that were, by all accounts, filmed at least in part while a full production of Turandot was under way. It seems real enough as you watch it, but with all the cinema trickery now available it was interesting to learn that in this case it was the real thing.

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Hot Pursuit

We saw Hot Pursuit today. Helen's choice. The fact it had Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara in it was offered as a good reason for me to see it. I certainly regard Reese Witherspoon as an actor worth watching, her performance in Walk the Line being unforgettable. And Ms Vergara is, as was once said of Nicole Kidman, when she debuted on stage in The Blue Room, "Pure theatrical Viagra".

Hot Pursuit

So the female leads were certainly worth going to see, but unfortunately I found the film seriously wanting. Reviews haven't been good, with the critics at Rotten Tomatoes only mustering 8% positive. On the other hand, some other reviewers have praised the comedy pairing of Witherspoon and Vergara as saving an otherwise preposterous film. I must admit I did laugh many times, but I can't say that these laughs rescued what was, for me, a pretty dire story line. The running joke about Witherspoon's character's height, and Vergara's character's age, was, however, very well constructed.

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Southpaw

Today's film was Southpaw, with Jake Gyllenhaal playing the boxer Billy Hope. I hadn't pre-read any reviews, nor had I investigated the storyline. So everything was a surprise.

Southpaw

It could have been just another boxing movie. However, it is much more than that. Billy Hope, and his wife Maureen, are both the products of children's homes, which makes their current lifestyle all the more remarkable. Large house, fleet of expensive cars and a treasured daughter. After winning a fight he buys his close friends Cartier watches.

Billy's boxing style seems to be to take punishment as a stimulus to make him fight better. Not a good approach, and certainly not one that will ensure him a long and healthy life. Maureen knows this, and tells him that he can't continue to fight this way. Unfortunately he has been provoked by a challenger in the name of Miguel 'Magic' Escobar.

Before any such match can be arranged the pair meet in public with calamitous results. Billy's world is destroyed and he ends up alone and broke, while his daughter is placed in protective care. He needs to rebuild his life and convince the court that he is a fit parent for his daughter. He also needs to earn some money, so the prospect of a fight with Escobar not only offers a financial reward, but would also allow him to settle a score.

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Self/Less

We saw Self/Less this week. Helen had described the plot to me beforehand and I must admit that it didn't sound very inviting. The Rotten Tomatoes scores reflect my initial feelings.

Self/Less

However, as is often the case I found the film better than I had expected, and certainly wouldn't be as dismissive as the Rotten Tomatoes' crowd.

OK, the storyline is preposterous, but it's marketed as a sci-fi movie so one shouldn't expect reality. Although I must admit that I prefer sci-fi films that at least take the kernel of an established scientific theory as their basis.

An ageing corporate magnate, Damian, who is dying from cancer has his consciousness transferred into the body of a healthy young man. A body that is said to have been biologically 'grown'. I'm not sure which of those two propositions is the most far-fetched, but as we later find out only one of them is in fact true.

From the beginning the now young Damian experiences some unexpected flashbacks, which are not from his own life, and which are suppressed by taking drugs that he is told are akin to anti-rejection medication. This is when he starts to unravel the fact that his biologically grown body isn't quite perhaps how it was described. You can probably guess why, but I won't completely spoil things for you.

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Jurassic World

Jurassic World has opened to extremely positive reviews and spectacular box office success, so we went to see it. The formula hasn't changed much. The theme park is now fully developed but that brings its own problems, in that dinosaurs are now 'old hat', so the mad scientists have dreamt up a new attraction to keep the public coming.

Jurassic World

Using gene manipulation they've produced a dinosaur that 'isn't a dinosaur'. It's a mixture of genes that give it some interesting evolutionary leaps, such as chameleon camouflage capability and the ability to disguise its thermal image. Add to this a brain that can and does outwit the humans, well at least the less switched-on humans, and you have a recipe for a good disaster movie.

The Indominus (that's what the new creation is called) escapes, surprise surprise, and havoc ensues. A lot of people get eaten and two visiting children, who happen to be the nephews of the theme park's operations' manager, coincidently become the creature's quarry.

In this fourth outing of the Jurassic Park phenomenon we see four fearsome Velociraptors, villains of the earlier films, actually being used to hunt down the Indominus thanks to a bit of nifty animal training by the films hero, Owen. But that doesn't work out quite to plan either, as Indominus happens to have been given some velociraptor genes - yes, they're related!

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Mr Holmes

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this film and what transpired was certainly unexpected.

Mr Holmes

Ian McKellen gives an acting masterclass in this portrayal Holmes as an old man struggling with memory loss. Holmes is haunted by his last case but his memory lapses do not allow him to put the matter to rest. In this interpretation Watson, who has died, is credited with writing the Sherlock Holmes books, but Holmes knows that Watson's telling of his last case is not accurate in its ending.

Holmes has returned from Japan, where he sought a natural remedy for his declining memory, and is back in his cottage with his housekeeper and her very bright young son. Here, his bees are perhaps his most important consideration, and he introduces the housekeeper's son to the art of bee keeping. She however becomes concerned over Holmes's influence on her son, and wants to leave for another job, but her son has formed a bond with Holmes and wants to stay. Conflict ensues.

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Spy

I've been a bit busy lately so the blogging has suffered. In fact I've been to the cinema twice since I last reviewed a film on this blog.

Spy

Last week we saw Spy. The trailer enticed me, and I'm not sorry I chose to see it. It's a comedy and succeeds completely as such. Melissa McCarthy is to my mind quite brilliant in the role of agent Susan Cooper (Coop) who, having for a long time having been kept in the 'back room', is given the opportunity to get out in the field. She is given express instructions only to observe and report, but as you can probably guess that that doesn't quite work out.

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Far From the Madding Crowd

I went to see Far From the Madding Crowd today. Most reviews compare it unfavourably with the 1967 adaptation, but as I haven't seen that, I can't comment. Nor have I read the book so am unable to make comparisons there either.

Far From the Madding Crowd

From this viewpoint of not being able to compare, I must say I found the film enjoyable and compelling. Hardy doesn't seem to do 'happy' and this story certainly has its share of heartache, although I understand that among his works it is one that at least has the semblance of a happy ending.

Carey Mulligan was to my mind beautifully cast as Bathsheba. The mystery of course is how such an independent woman could have made such a profound error of judgement with her marriage, an error that was almost immediately apparent to her and everybody else. No doubt this is Hardy's take on the female psyche, but having said this it is a plot line that appears in many stories and dare I say just as often in real life.

The scenery is beautiful, as is the depiction of farm life in those distant non-mechanised days. It was no doubt far less romantic than it appears. The interiors were also beautifully shot.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

I took my car in for service on Wednesday and while we were waiting for it, we went to see Mad Max: Fury Road.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Now I must admit that I didn't have great expectations. I've become a bit disenchanted with crash/bang movies that major on destruction of one sort or another.

I was, however, very pleasantly surprised. Yes, there is a lot of destruction, mainly of vehicles, but this film moves along at a pace that will certainly keep your attention. The story line isn't fantastic, just something to hang on what is basically a car chase movie. The effects are, however, quite amazing. From the depiction of the people in this futuristic view of a post-apocalypse world, to the phenomenal action sequences that sit somewhere between computer generated graphics and mind-blowing stunts. The effect is, however, one of believable reality. It really sets a standard.

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Les Jardins du Roi

Les jardins du Roi
While in Nice, France, I went to see Les Jardins du Roi (The King's Gardens), which was entitled A Little Chaos in the UK.

Kate Winslet plays a sort of 17th Century Charlie Dimmock who is hired by Louis XIV's chief landscape architect to help create the lavish garden at Versailles. This raises a few eyebrows in the royal court and, of course, romance is in the air. Alan Rickman as the Louis XIV adds his usual brand of humour and the whole thing is a bit whimsical.

It received poor reviews and I must say it wasn't the most memorable of films. However, the French dialogue wasn't too complicated and while I didn't understand everything, there were a lot of sentences and words that I got. It is of course wholly appropriate for this film to have a French dialogue.

The final scene was pure saccharine.


Child 44

The choice of films this week was between A Touch of Chaos, with Kate Winslet, and Child 44. Reviews for both were not good, the former being somewhat whimsical, while the latter is dark and foreboding. I rather like Kate Winslet but decided in the end on Child 44, having listened to Noomi Rapace, who plays the female lead, on the Graham Norton show.

Child 44

Once again I find myself liking a film that the critics have slated. It is set in 1950s USSR, with flashbacks, including the raising the soviet flag over the Reichstag during the Second World War. Leo, the male lead played by Tom Hardy, is a secret police agent with a conscience. Raisa, his wife, played by Noomi Rapace (of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) appears afraid of him, which is hardly surprising in the atmosphere of distrust and fear that pervades nearly every scene. Everything is bleak, people appear downtrodden, and dissidents do not fare well.

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Woman in Gold

We saw Woman in Gold this week. A true story of how Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee, took on the Austrian government to try to reclaim art work that was stolen by the Nazis during the war. She was helped by Randol Schoenberg, a young American lawyer who was himself of Austrian lineage, a fact that led him to an emotional realisation that this was not just another legal case, but something that mattered to him greatly on a personal level.

The Woman in Gold

Reviews have been somewhat mixed but I was interested in seeing the film based on the trailer, and I wasn't disappointed.

It was yet another reminder of atrocities suffered by the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis, with flashbacks showing us how the Woman in Gold, a painting of Maria's aunt by Gustav Klimt, came to be appropriated from the family home. Maria and her husband escaped the Nazis but she suffered the pain of leaving her parents behind, something that haunted her throughout her life, as revealed towards the end of the film.

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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

We managed to fit in a second film this week, namely The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I suppose a sequel was inevitable following the success of the first film. The formula is much the same, with more or less the same people, although Richard Gere comes on the scene to add some additional appeal for the women, Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) being particularly impressed.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Following the success of the first hotel the natural plot line was for expansion. Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Maggie Smith) duly go to America to try to secure backing. This opening sequence with Dev enjoying himself in his Mustang cruising along Route 66 is well done, the interview with the prospective backers being particularly amusing. The whole film is of course amusing and makes for good entertainment.

I must admit these films make India look very appealing and I would think there may be quite a few people out there of a certain age who feel that a real-life Exotic Hotel experience might be just the thing for them. Life can of course be somewhat less romantic than fiction but I could see the attraction.

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Suite Française

We saw Suite Française today. Set in the French town of Bussy during the early part of the Second Word War, it at first shows us how the residents react to the arrival of German soldiers, which in many cases amounts to denigrating their neighbours in order to win favour for themselves.

Suite Française

The story revolves around Madame Angellier, a fearsome lady who has few friends, being that she collects rent from many of the locals, and her daughter-in-law, Lucile, who she domineers and demeans. Into this strained company comes the German officer Bruno von Falk. Lucile's husband is away fighting, but their marriage appears to have been arranged and Madame Angellier is clearly of the opinion that Lucile is not good enough for her son.

Bruno turns out to be a true gentleman, who composes music, and Lucile soon finds herself with romantic feelings for him, despite the ill feeling towards French women who consort with Germans. But meanwhile others are not faring as well under the German occupation. A family that rents a farm from Madame Angellier is particularly affected when a German officer billeted with them starts to show an interest in the farmer's wife. A sequence of events leads to the death of this officer, which provokes a deadly response from the German command.

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The Boy Next Door

Today's film was The Boy Next Door with Jennifer Lopez playing Claire, a very desirable separated mum, who ill advisably has a one-night stand with, as the film title says, the boy next door, Noah.

The Boy Next Door

You can't really blame her for falling for his erudite charm but we knew it was probably a bad idea, as she did immediately after it had happened. However, ending the 'relationship' proves for her to be a lot harder than starting it, and Noah the charmer turns out to be a psychopath. Noah first has to dampen down the spark of a reunion between Claire and her husband, by first turning Claire's son, whom he has befriended, against his father, and then against his mother. Meanwhile Noah had filmed their dalliance and was threatening her with revealing all. As you will have gathered, things aren't going well for Claire, and it gets worse, a lot worse.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

Our second film this week was Kingsman. Colin Firth as you've never seen him before!

Kingsman

With the latest Daniel Craig 'Bond' films having become serious again, after Roger Moore's almost slapstick portrayals, I suppose we needed a Bond alternative that didn't take itself too seriously. Kingsman certainly meets that criterion.

Ian Fleming's Bond was certainly a 'gentleman' and the Kingsmen take this idea to a new level. Operating from a gentlemen's tailors in Saville Row (or thereabouts) these agents always dress immaculately even when on assignments, although the opening sequence allows them a temporary lapse into SAS type garb. The organisation mimics King Arthur's legendary story with the chief Kingsman (Michael Caine) being Arthur and his team of agents adopting the names of the legendary knights. The table isn't round, however!

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American Sniper

We saw two films this week. The first outing on Wednesday was to see American Sniper.

American Sniper

Critical reviews of this film were mixed but box office receipts would suggest that it has been popular with audiences. The chief criticisms seem to be that it was blatant American propaganda, it inaccurately portrayed Chris Kyle and it unfairly implied that all Iraqi people were 'bad' while all American troops were 'good'. In other words your average war movie albeit the players may be different depending on the conflict being portrayed.

I wouldn't disagree with any of those criticisms but having accepted these shortcomings I found it a very watchable film. I suppose the difficulty lies in it being based on 'fact' and perhaps it would have been better if it was a purely fictional tale, as the 'truth' would not then have got in the way.

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Selma

We saw Selma yesterday. Following on from Lincoln, The Help, The Butler and 12 Years a Slave, there has certainly been a lot of African-American history on view in the cinemas lately. It is good that we are continually reminded of the struggle that these people endured, and to a large extent still endure.

Selma

Selma tells the story of the fight for suffrage following the passing of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which legally desegregated the South. Discrimination was still rife and it was extremely difficult for black people to register to vote in certain areas. The town of Selma was chosen as the place to make a stand against this injustice, with a march from Selma to Montgomery. The first attempt at the march got no further than crossing the town's Edmund Pettus Bridge, where it was met by police, troopers and deputies, who viciously attacked the unarmed marchers while white civilians cheered. These images were transmitted across America and the world, resulting in disgust and widespread support for the marchers.

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Inherent Vice

Today we saw Inherent Vice. If you are somebody who likes a film to have a clear plot, simply defined characters who are either 'good' or 'bad' and an ending that is clear cut, then this isn't the film for you.

Inherent Vice

To put this into context, take two newspaper reviews.

First from The Guardian: Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel is this season’s most baffling experience. What does it take to get people to leave before the credits roll?

Now from The Daily Telegraph: Stupendous - 5 stars: Paul Thomas Anderson's surreally funny Thomas Pynchon adaptation is like no noir you've ever seen.

Although the review does then say that after about half an hour you realise that you are going to have to see the film again.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Larry 'Doc' Sportell, a hippy-styled private investigator (it takes place in the early 70s) who is more often or not smoking something that makes the already surreal film all the more so. Shasta Fay Hepworth is his ex who is involved in some shady goings on with billionaire Michael Z. Wolfmann, who himself is involved with a 'free' property development and a group of Nazi bikers, and who disappears along, it seems, with Shasta.

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A Most Violent Year

We saw "A Most Violent Year" today. The name relates to the fact that the action takes place during the winter of 1981, which was statistically one of the most violent years in New York's history. That said, I'm not sure that the story is necessarily overly influenced by this fact. It is, I suppose, the scenario in which the story unfolds.

The plot revolves around Abel Morales, played by Oscar Isaacs, and his wife Anna, played by Jessica Chastain. Abel is a self-made man in the heating oil business who is about to pull off a major deal to buy an adjacent oil storage site, with river access, which will facilitate his ambitious expansion plans. Having committed most of his financial reserves to the deposit, he must finalise the deal within 30 days. But some existing problems, in the form of the hijacking of his lorries and the theft of the expensive oil, are aggravated when the authorities seek to indict the company for fraudulent practices.

Fraud or no fraud, the extent of which, if any, is never fully revealed, Abel is seen to take a very moral stance when confronting the problems, refusing for example a teamster's demand that he arms his drivers. Unfortunately one driver, returning to work after a previous hijacking during which he was badly injured, decides to take matters into his own hands. This results in yet further problems for the company, and the withdrawal of support from the bank to finance the remaining purchase price for the new site. Abel is on the ropes, and Anna is losing her patience.

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The Theory of Everything

We went to see The Theory of Everything today. It's been much spoken about and I must say that both Eddie Redmayne, as Stephen Hawking, and Felicity Jones, as his wife Jane, were very impressive.

The Theory of Everything

It's very much the story of the people, rather than that of Hawking's science, although the latter does of course flow along with the personal stories. By coincidence I read A Brief History of Time quite recently. You certainly don't need to have read it to appreciate the film, although there were a few moments in the film when I felt that I understood the context more fully having read the book. Of course these were associated with technical issues, the film itself having been based on Jane's book of their relationship [Travelling to Infinity – My Life with Stephen], not Stephen's earlier technical offering.

The fortitude of Stephen Hawking faced with a totally debilitating illness is quite remarkable, but no more remarkable than the devotion Jane showed in looking after him and raising their three children. Her career was put on hold, and it's a further credit to her that she rekindled it, and is now a professor of Romance Languages. They were married for 30 years, although separated five years before becoming divorced.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

We saw Exodus today. The reviews have been pretty awful and there's been a bit of a fuss over the casting white actors in the lead roles. Not a good start then!

Exodus: Gods and Kings

I think I must be reasonably easily pleased as I didn't find it all that bad. I agree that the lead players didn't come over as very Egyptian, so perhaps some of the criticism is warranted. The story was sufficiently dynamic for me not to find the 154 minutes running time overly long, which can't be said for some films of that length. The special effects were, as you would expect, impressive. We've become so used to computer generated scenes now that they're no longer quite as awe inspiring, but the long list of computer design artists shown in the credits gives you some idea of the amount of work that goes into creating these simulations.

I must admit that my biblical knowledge is limited but I found it quite shocking how the Egyptians supposedly suffered at the hands of God. He seems to have lost that inclination nowadays as otherwise there would be quite a few people out there who might be feeling his wrath. Depicting God as a child was also an interesting take on things. Or was it just that Moses saw him as a child because of his longing for his own son?

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Birdman

We saw Birdman today. I went without researching the film any further than what I had seen in the trailer. In this case I think that the trailer is a bit misleading and perhaps would dissuade some people from going to see the film. By this I mean the superhero type sequences. Now these are important when viewed in the context of the film, but as part of a trailer - well, they could mislead. A couple actually walked out part way through the film, so my assumption may be correct.

Anyway, to the film. It's the story of how Riggan Thomson, a former star of the 'Birdman' movies, is trying to establish himself as a serious actor and director of a Broadway play. All the time he is haunted by the ghost of Birdman trying to persuade him to return to the role for which he is well known.

Birdman

There is a subplot that leads one to believe that Thomson is indeed superhuman; or perhaps not human at all. Witness the asteroid scenes suggesting perhaps some form of visitation. There are also apparent superhuman capabilities, such as telekinesis, and ultimately flying. The film actually starts with him levitating. However, if you begin by thinking he does indeed have these powers, the flying scene later in the film will probably leave you feeling that it's in fact all in his alter ego, if you haven't already reached this conclusion. However, just as you think you've got the whole thing sussed, the final scene recasts all the doubts.

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Big Eyes

With BT having bought EE (formerly Orange), our Orange/EE Wednesdays will end in February, so I'll have to start paying for my admission. However, today we only paid for one and went to see Big Eyes. Helen's choice but I was happy with it.

As they say, it's based a the true story, that of Margaret Keane who painted those big-eyed pictures of little waifs back in the 60s. Her husband took the credit for the paintings and it was only after they were divorced that the truth came out, resulting in a court case with a somewhat unusual finale.

Big Eyes

Apparently Amy Adams, who plays Margaret Keane, was reluctant to take the role because she preferred playing strong women, but her stance changed after she herself had a child. Certainly Keane wasn't a strong woman. In fact she was tortured by the fact that her art was being claimed by another person, and even more so by the fact that she had to keep up an ongoing lie to her daughter, as her husband insisted that nobody should know about the subterfuge.

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Under the Skin

I think the word that comes to mind when describing this film is 'different'! Scarlett Johansson is an alien called Laura, prowling the streets of Glasgow looking for unattached and interested males to take back to her place, where they appear to become entranced (who wouldn't with Ms Johansson giving you the come on?) and are 'absorbed' - literally. You need to make up your own mind what's actually going on, but one assumes that they are feeding some form of alien appetite.

Under the Skin

The filming is fascinating, comprising what must be real life street scenes in the city viewed from the alien's white van. It certainly adds a whole new dimension to the cult of the white van. It almost has a documentary feel to it, as the demure Laura chats up the blokes, her rather good soft English accent contrasting with that of the Glaswegians.

At a certain point, however, our alien obviously starts to develop some human feelings, or at the very least becomes a bit confused, and this culminates in a somewhat bizarre relationship (I love the bit with the table lamp!) before things start to go decidedly downhill for her.

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St Vincent

We saw the trailer for St Vincent a couple of weeks ago and I was immediately attracted to the film. Trailers can sometimes lure you in, for you only to find that the good bits in the trailer are the only good bits in the film. In this case, however, I wasn't disappointed. Bill Murray is superb as Vincent, as is Jaeden Lieberher playing Olivier, the new neighbour's young son. And Naomi Watts, as Daka, plays a fairly convincing Russian sex worker. Not that there's really any gratuitous sex on display, it's just that Vincent having a girlfriend such as Daka sort of fits his character.

St Vincent

Very humorous from the off, it's an object lesson in how not to judge a person without knowing a reasonable amount about them. Vincent, superficially a rebellious, hard drinking, irascible, untidy and unkempt loner, is disguising a more complex person. To say more would be a spoiler.

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The Imitation Game

We saw The Imitation Game on Wednesday. The staff at the cinema had told us that it was very popular, and other reviews have been good. And it was good. Benedict Cumberbatch is carving out quite a niche for himself for playing intriguing characters, which started I suppose with Sherlock Holmes in the TV series.

Turing was a very interesting man. To what extent Cumberbatch's portrayal matches the reality is speculative, but I think he gives a convincing performance of what we think Turing was like. The main story is a matter of record, although I believe that there were earlier contributions from Polish cryptologists that haven't been acknowledged. And I'm not sure that the sub-plots had a lot of basis in fact. But without these embellishments we presumably would have a documentary rather than a popular film.

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My Old Lady

We went to see 'My Old Lady' this week. Perhaps not a film for everybody but I found it entertaining.

My Old Lady

It is set in Paris and having spent April in Paris last year and this, it certainly brought back some memories. The story revolves around 'un viager', a quaint French idiosyncrasy whereby one can buy a property with a sitting tenant at significantly reduced cost, the rub being that you, the now owner, have to pay the tenant a monthly amount up until their death.

Mathias (Kevin Kline) has inherited such a property, but unfortunately he hadn't acquainted himself with the concept of le viager, and was expecting to sell up and make a small fortune. Mathilde Girard (the Old Lady played by Maggie Smith) is 92 but expected to live a lot longer. So Mathias, who's broke, finds himself in debt. Life then becomes even more complicated when Chloé Girard (Kristen Scott Thomas) appears on the scene, a feisty woman who doesn't take to Mathias.

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Fury

We saw Fury yesterday. It is a film that doesn't pull any punches and while I have no personal experience of war, I think this film probably does a good job of portraying the inhumanity and the psychological suffering that people must experience. From the hardened soldiers to the young office clerk who is initiated into the tank crew by being made to shoot an unarmed prisoner in the back. From the SS officers to the German child soldiers, and those other young Germans who were publicly hung by the SS for refusing to fight.

Fury

There wasn't much glory on display until the final sequence, which was a bit fanciful, but this was probably a matter of playing to audience expectations. I suppose it's in the same genre as Saving Private Ryan, although in some respects more sobering. Of course it was the usual American story with no acknowledgement of other allied forces, but we're all used to that by now.

If you like war movies and are not put off by gore then it's a film worth seeing.


Chef

We saw the film Chef yesterday. It was surprisingly good, with a fine performance from Jon Favreau as Carl Casper, the Chef, and Emjay Anthony as his son, Percy. Meanwhile, Sofía Vergara, who plays his ex wife, Inez, must rate as one of the sexiest looking women to grace our screens. And considering Scarlett Johansson is also in the film, that's praise indeed for Ms Vergara.

The food looked fantastic and genuinely made me feel hungry (the trailer calls it food porn), and although the plot line typically embellishes reality (when doesn't it?), it was believable enough if you are prepared to accept that the eponymous Chef would have ever left his wife. It reminded me of a line in Spanglish when, to paraphrase, John Clasky (Adam Sadler) says to Flor Marino (Paz Vega), 'I thought you were a widow as I couldn't believe anybody would ever leave you."

Twitter plays a pivotal part in the film and I particularly liked the way little twitter birds were animated each time a tweet was sent.

A bit of mildly strong language, which results in a 15 certificate, takes the film out of the family entertainment category, which is a pity as I think that is where it should be.


Maleficent

We went to see Maleficent yesterday. Angelina Jolie at her very best. It's an interesting twist on the story of Sleeping Beauty: the story from the viewpoint of Maleficent.

Now we all know that fairy stories and the like are all about the triumph of good over evil, so it was interesting how in this case the evil, Maleficent, was in fact shown to be the product of another person's evil deed and not intrinsically bad. As a treatise on morals and the whole question of good and evil I found this story far more compelling than the conventional tale of Sleeping Beauty.

We saw it in 3D, and I would credit it as being one of the few films that actually benefits from this medium. No silly effects, just a wonderland of imagination enhanced by the realism of being in three dimensions.

Well worth seeing. Jolie is stupendous.




Tarzan (Animation)

We went to see the latest Tarzan animation today. My choice, being a great Tarzan fan when I was younger. I read all the books.

The reviews were terrible, but I thought it might be interesting to see what the latest animation techniques could produce. Many reviewers feel that the animation was, in fact, quite poor, and I suppose on reflection it wasn't anything special; even in 3D. What was more annoying for me was that Lord Greystoke had suddenly become American. Now I realise that perhaps it is necessary to update what is now an old story and bring it into the modern environment, but the whole essence of Tarzan is that of a British Lord being raised as an ape. Also, in this story he is 'adopted' by the she ape as a young boy, not as a baby, yet remarkably seems almost to lose his ability to speak. The original story was much more plausible, if one can accept the plausibility of it at all.

And the plot! Utter rubbish. And Jane is now blonde; of course.



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Qu'est-ce qu'on a fait au Bon Dieu

Another film that I saw while staying near Paris at Henri Langlois cinema in Franconville.

This film was very, very funny, even if I couldn't understand a lot of the dialogue.

A bourgeois Catholic couple have four daughters who one by one marry men of different faiths, much to the consternation of their parents. After three such marriages it's the turn of the last unmarried daughter, and the parents rejoice to learn that she's marrying a Catholic. But their elation is short lived.

The cinema was packed and the audience were almost delirious with laughter. Of course, I didn't get all the subtle language-based comedy, but the visual comedy was more than enough to keep me laughing.


De Toutes Nos Forces

De Toutes Nos Forces is a story of a disabled teenager, Julian, and his relationship with his father. Julien had challenged his father that they should participate in the 'Ironman' in Nice. At first his father told him it would be impossible, but ultimately the supreme motivation of his son changed his mind.

I saw the film, in French without subtitles, while I was staying near Franconville, on the outskirts of Paris. I probably understood only 10-15% of the dialogue, but it actually didn't matter too much because the story was so strong that dialogue was to some extent superficial. There were obviously a few humorous lines during the film, judging by the audience's reaction, but in French comedy dialogue usually goes straight over my head.


The Book Thief

We saw The Book Thief yesterday.

I hadn't checked any reviews before going, which as it turned out was probably fortuitous as some were not good. I say fortuitous as I liked this film, and it would have been a pity if I hadn't have gone because of unfavourable reviews.

Sophie Nélisse who played the principal character, Leisel, was, to my mind, exceptional, as were Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson who played her adoptive parents, and Nico Liersch who plays Leisel's friend Rudy. The depiction of how children were indoctrinated into the Nazi system, and the treatment of jews, communists and others who didn't meet the Nazi ideal, serve as a reminder of what can happen when a country turns against those who it believes are detrimental to society. Something that we should perhaps be aware of today as right wing diatribe seeks to demonise peoples from other countries. The poverty of the German people, as depicted, was, I suppose, part of the reason why the Nazis were able to gain support, by offering a better Germany, albeit at the expense of virtually everybody else.

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Dallas Buyers Club

Today's we saw Dallas Buyers Club. Another film that has been 'based on a true story'.

It is set in a time when AIDS was a relatively new phenomenon. When people thought they could be HIV infected by simple being close to an infected person. It stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, a solidly heterosexual cowboy who refuses to accept the fact that he will soon die as a result of contacting the virus.

The pharmaceutical industry was keen to turn the AIDS disaster to its advantage (nothing has changed) and this, combined with the reluctance of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve alternative treatments, left people with little hope.

Woodroof, having been pulled back from the brink, starts importing unapproved drugs that are more effective than the AZT drug under official trials. To try to get around the law he sets up a buyers club, whereby members on paying a monthly subscription get medication free, but don't technically buy it. Obviously the FDA weren't supportive.

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Inside Llewyn Davis

We saw Inside Llewyn Davis today. My choice.

The reviews were split, polarised you might say. People either seem to have found it not worth seeing, or were totally impressed. It wasn't an easy film, that's for sure. None of the characters was particularly likeable, except perhaps for the Gorfeins (their cat is fairly central to the first part of the story), a put-upon couple that Davis visited occasionally when he wanted somewhere to kip, and Troy Nelson, a well-mannered GI who was also trying to break into the music scene.

On balance it was less than I expected. The music was good, and I would have hoped that I would have felt that I wanted Davis to succeed. But he didn't inspire those feelings. In fact he did a good job of making me just want to give up on him.

So, if you like films that make you think, and that break away from the usual formulaic styles, then give it a go. It's beautifully shot in New York and Chicago and it earned the Grand Prix at the 2013 Cannes' Palme d'Or awards. But then Cannes often favours films that the general viewing public find difficult.


The Railway Man

From one depiction of man's inhumanity to man in 12 Years a Slave to another. This time at the hands of the Japanese during the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway.

I saw The Bridge Over the River Kwai many years ago, and the fact that it has stuck firmly in my memory is testament to the impact it made. One can't begin to imagine the trauma suffered by the soldiers who actually were put to work on the railway, and this latest film probably gives an even better insight into this than did the earlier film, which concentrated solely on horrors of the time, rather than psychological aftermath.

Colin Firth was his usual brilliant self, although Jeremy Irvine was equally good as the young Eric Lomax, and remarkably like the photograph of the actual Eric Lomax that we are shown at the end of the film.

It seems that the film actually over dramatised the eventual meeting between Lomax and his tormentor, but notwithstanding this bit of creative licence, the denouement was uplifting, as it would have been in real life, and re-establishes belief in the human spirit.

Needless to say, I think that this is another must-see film. The problem is that there have been so many good films lately it's been difficult to catch them all. Not to worry, the DVDs will arrive in no time.


12 Years a Slave

This film was harrowing to put it mildly. Fantastic production values with brilliant acting made the horror of what was being portrayed all the more disquieting.

It is a film to shame humankind. But of course other atrocities continue to this day across the world. One of the most poignant scenes is where the 'gentleman farmer' preaches Christianity to the slaves and manages to find a passage in the scriptures that actually justifies his treatment of them. It's quite amazing what can be done in the name of religion, another problem that the world is still wrestling with.

This is a must-see film.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is pure escapism, and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Modern special effects enabled the director to show the fantasy sequences to good effect, and it was a pleasant change to see these effects used so creatively rather than to show just another annihilation of New York, Washington or whatever.

Ben Stiller is ideally cast for the role and, for me, he attracted a great deal of empathy as the dreamer who ultimately discovered that life can surpass one's dreams.



Saving Mr Banks

We saw Saving Mr Banks last week. This review's a bit late as a number of other things have been occupying my time.

The film basically tells the story of how Walt Disney, after years of endeavour, finally managed to convince the doubting author of Mary Poppins, P L Travers, to release the film rights for her series of popular children's novels. Travers didn't want her characters trivialised by the 'Disney' treatment and it appears that she was a very difficult person to convince. In fact she was a very difficult person, full stop.

What was a surprise, for me anyway, was the back-story. The character of Mary Poppins was, it seems, created from Travers' childhood experience as a young girl growing up in Australia. The quintessentially English author was, therefore, actually Australian, but she had put that part of her life behind her; or had she?

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Hunger Games - Catching Fire

We went to see the latest Hunger Games film yesterday, the second of the trilogy. I enjoyed the first and this sequel didn't disappoint.

Katniss and Peeta seriously upset the apple cart in the first film by both surviving the 'Games', wherein 'tributes' drawn from the 'districts' are meant to fight until only one is left. This has led to them becoming symbols of hope for the downtrodden people in the districts, something that is upsetting the 'Capitol' even more than the way the two of them manipulated the games, which led to their joint survival.

To suppress what appear to be nascent murmurings of revolution in the districts, the forthcoming games are recast such that the tributes are to be drawn from previous winners, this being a device to eliminate Katniss and Peeta, but it merely results in them garnering even greater support from the people.

So the games commence, but an unexpected pact seems to develop within a group of the tributes, which, given 'the only one can survive' nature of the games, is unexpected. But not all is as it seems.

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The Butler

Yesterday's film was The Butler. The reviews were mixed with more than one making reference to 'Downton Abbey', which sort of degrades the film's credentials somewhat.

For me the reminder of the extremes of racism that existed in America was sobering; in fact quite shocking. And, of course, many problems still exist, as we recently witnessed in the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of the George Zimmerman. In the film, Cecil Gaines (The Butler) is shown as a child witnessing the cold blooded murder of his father by their white 'boss'. No retribution. No arrest. No trial. Blacks had no rights. Kill them and bury them. Much has changed, but there again, much has not.

I enjoyed the film although in defence of the less favourable reviews I did feel that something was lacking. I can't put my finger on it. Perhaps it tried to fit too much in, spanning what was a long life and a number of administrations. But, having said that, it's definitely worth seeing.


Gravity

As it was tipping down with rain all day yesterday we went the cinema and saw Gravity, a film I was keen to see. And I wasn't disappointed.

Every so often a film redefines cinema and I think Gravity fits this genre. One review said that it is less of a movie and more of an experience, and that describes it nicely. The whole thing is, of course, a computer simulation, but it's so real that if you didn't know better you would surely assume that it was actual filmed footage. I'm not a great fan of 3D cinema but this film is an exception. There are no 3D gimmicks, just a fantastic 3D simulation of what it must be like floating in orbit around Earth. Ethereal and very hazardous, as it turned out.

The plot isn't anything special and probably a bit far-fetched in parts, although it doesn't stretch the imagination too far. There are in reality only two actors, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, playing respectively Matt Kowalsky, a veteran astronaut, and Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission. The other 'actors' are just voices.

Disaster strikes in the form of a chain reaction of space debris, initiated by the Russian's decision to destroy one of their satellites. The shuttle is badly damaged and only Kowalsky and Stone survive the debris storm, but are left floating in space. The ensuing story of their struggle for survival forms the plot, and I won't say any more at the risk of spoiling it for anybody who is planning to see the film.


Philomena

Today's Wednesday film was Philomena starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

The cinema was packed, a very unusual occurrence for an early afternoon screening, but this I suppose is merely testament to the drawing power of Judi Dench, who was absolutely superb in the role of Philomena. Steve Coogan complemented her performance admirably.

This is the sad and almost unbelievable story of how Philomena as a young girl fell pregnant and was shipped off to the convent where the nuns showed her absolutely no mercy or compassion. Her son, after being delivered from a breech position while she was forced to suffer the associated trauma without pain relief - as penance for her 'wrongdoing' - was sold for adoption to an American couple. Fifty years later she tries to find him, with the help of former BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith, who is contracted to write her story.

The cruelty meted out in the name of religion is breathtaking and shows how religious fundamentalism is equally dangerous whatever religion it purports to represent. Equally surprising is how Philomena's religious upbringing doesn't allow her to apportion blame and the final scenes are a lesson in humility and true Christian values, which were arguably absent in the sisters who caused her so much pain.

A fine British film.


One Chance

We saw One Chance last Wednesday and I enjoyed it. The reviews, however, are somewhat tepid, which leads me to believe that I am perhaps easily entertained.

The Guardian reviewer felt that James Corden was hopelessly miscast as Paul Potts. In fact I detected from him quite a downer on James Corden. As I know absolutely nothing about the real Paul Potts I am unable to judge.

Whether or not the real life relationship between Potts and his girlfriend Julie was as sweet and quirky as the film portrays, for me the narrative played out very well. Alexandra Roach, who plays Julie, has the most lovely soft Welsh accent that you wish to hear, assuming of course you like the Welsh accent.

I suppose that what was in reality quite a tough climb from obscurity to stardom may have deserved a film that was a lot less fun, but the director was clearly not making a documentary and has instead delivered something that I feel may be a lot more popular with the general public than it is with the film critics.


Sunshine on Leith

Today's film was Sunshine on Leith. Anybody who comes out of the cinema not feeling uplifted after seeing this film must be very depressed indeed.

You have probably already guessed that I thoroughly enjoyed it. The narrative is woven around the songs of the Proclaimers and it all makes for a very enjoyable 100 minutes of cinema.

Contrived - yes. Artificial - yes. But it's nice sometimes just to settle back and enjoy the fairy story, even though there were a few heartbreaking moments along the way. But, as with most fairy stories, everything more or less comes right in the end.


Rush

A day late this week but today we went to see Rush, the story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

Quite brilliant. The racing scenes are fantastic but it's the story of the rivalry between the two men that is spellbinding. Lauda, the ultimate technician and Hunt, the raw talent, pitted against each other during the 1976 F1 season. An absorbing insight into the emotions of both men, one calculating the odds and not being prepared to push them, the other with a do or die attitude, not letting anything stand in the way of his ambition to be the F1 champion.

But Lauda did push the odds, his 'unlikable' character leading him to be outvoted by the other drivers when he suggested abandoning the German race at the Nürburgring because of the appalling conditions. It was during this race that he crashed and nearly died as a result of the fire that engulfed the car. Amazingly he was back on the track a couple of months later.

The adverts before the film (lots of ads for testosterone fuelled cars) suggest that the marketing folk rated it as a male preserve. If so, this was a mistake, as it's a very human story that happens to involve people involved with Formula 1. Don't miss it.


About Time

Today's film was 'About Time'. Reviews have been mixed, from downright dismissive (Chris Hunneysett Mirror.co.uk) to generally enthusiastic (Rotten Tomatoes).

OK, it's saccharine, it hangs on a ludicrous time traveller plot and almost everybody lives happily ever after, but all of this makes quite a pleasant change.

I liked it, and far from agreeing with the Mirror reviewer who felt that Richard Curtis was Yank-bashing, by giving Rachel McAdams "dodgy hair and dowdy clothes", I thought she was absolutely charming and would have fallen for her if she was wearing sackcloth.

Yes, Domhnall Gleeson was perhaps a bit too much like Hugh Grant, and yes it was a bit formulaic of Curtis's previous successes, but it was entertaining. I agree that the 'rules' of time travel were a bit arbitrary, and at times perhaps contradictory, but I really don't think there's much point splitting hairs over something that's generally regarded as impossible. And some critics have been exercised by the 'father and son' thing. I suggest you forget all that and just sit back and feel good. For me that was not difficult in the presence of Rachel McAdams.


Elysium

Today we saw Elysium. Helen now has a monthly CineWorld pass so I have to choose what film we see on Orange (EE) Wednesday while she can see anything else she fancies on other days.

I chose Elysium on the basis that I'm quite happy to see sci-fi and the fact that Jodie Foster is usually very discerning about what films she choses to make. Unfortunately I didn't warm to Foster's character, which I suppose wasn't surprising as the woman she plays isn't particularly nice. But it was more than just the nasty role. I found that there was something not quite convincing about her characterisation, and it pains me to say this as I think she is an exceptionally fine actor. Matt Damon, on the other hand, was for me far more convincing.

The plot assumes a massive leap in technology between now and 2154 but that's what one would expect from sci-fi. It also assumes that we will have wrecked the Earth, which is less hard to believe. The 'have-nots' live on the overpopulated planet suffering disease and deprivation while the 'haves' live on an orbiting space colony, Elysium, with every luxury you could imagine and advanced medical technology that it would seem can cure anything and re-grow any form of body damage. Just a futuristic projection of where we are at the moment if you think about it, and there is certainly a political message in this film. To emphasise this point the poverty that is displayed is real, having been filmed in the world's second largest garbage dump - on the Bordo Poniente landfill site in Mexico City. Whereas the luxury of Elysium, full of pristine lawns, swimming pools and sun loungers, was shot in Vancouver. Showing that the gulf between rich and poor is in no way a futuristic projection but an existing reality.

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The Lone Ranger

We went to see The Lone Ranger last week but I've only just got around to telling you about it. The film had poor reviews generally, although, interestingly, the audience figure for positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes is twice that of the 'approved critics'. That doesn't surprise me as I often like films that the 'critics' have panned.

So what about this one. Well, it's a comedy, although not in the Shakespearian sense as too many people get killed. Johnny Depp plays Tonto, and as in Pirates of the Caribbean, his makeup is flawless, and original. I liked Tonto, as I long ago sided with the 'injuns', having spent most of my younger childhood playing at shooting them. They were the good guys, but not in the western books and comics that I read in the 50s. But the Lone Ranger, the man that is, was not what I expected. He was portrayed as a bit of a twit, with Tonto providing most of the brainpower and wisdom. Now it's nice to see the injun put in this role, but for somebody brought up on westerns I found this diminution of the famous Texas ranger a bit hard to take.

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Only God Forgives

We saw Only God Forgives on 'EE' Wednesday. I'm a bit late reviewing it as I've not actually been on the computer much this week. Many other things to do!

A challenging film. Perhaps I was expecting something else and wasn't quite ready for it. Helen had suggested either Red 2 or this film. I knew what to expect from Red 2, the usual formulaic action drama stuff. You know, turn off the brain and watch the mayhem. Only God Forgives requires much more thought. I was tempted to say it resembles Kill Bill without the humour, but that would be probably doing it an injustice.

The characters are all a long way from what most people would regard as 'normal'. Two brothers, one psychopathic the other seriously taciturn and a mother whose parenting probably accounted for the brothers' personalities. A policeman who metes out a rather special kind of justice, when not entertaining his colleagues with his singing. Much of the dialogue is in Thai and there's a fair amount of oriental mystique about. You would be excused for losing the plot at times.

Do I recommend it? Well, it depends on whether you want a film that makes you think and whether you can stomach some fairly explicit body mutilations, which are far more realistic looking than the Tarantino variety. And as you might of guessed, there are no happy endings.


Now You See Me

Today's film was 'Now You See Me'. It seems to have received quite poor reviews but I actually enjoyed it. As I've said before, I'm a sucker for magic, which may explain why I seem to have liked the film more than many of the reviewers.

The plot was a bit like the magic, plenty of misdirection. Just when you thought you knew why 'The Four Horsemen' were doing what they were doing, you discover that you were wrong. And the final twist was pretty difficult to foretell, although with hindsight there were clues along the way.

Mélanie Laurent added French interest and the final scene on Le Pont des Arts brought back memories of my recent stay in Paris.

If you like magic and are willing to have your imagination stretched somewhat then you may well enjoy this film.


Man of Steel

I keep referring to Orange Wednesday, but of course it's now EE Wednesday, but that doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Today it was Man of Steel. I remember being bowled over by the original Superman film with Christopher Reeves. In 1978 the 'special' effects were ground-breaking, and impressive. As they said at the time, "you'll really believe that a man can fly." We've long since absorbed this type of effect and these days it's difficult to be surprised by people 'flying', and by whole cities being reduced to wastelands. So while these things were present in today's film, it needed more to differentiate itself. I was however impressed by the inclusion of sonic booms and shock waves as he broke the sound barrier - nice touch.

For the women the differentiation was no doubt provided by Henry Cavill, who even from a male perspective was, I must admit, certainly up to the job. But us males weren't short-changed, since Amy Adams is playing Lois Lane.

Fan worship aside, I liked how this version was structured. Clark Kent's job at the Daily Planet only came at the end, and we instead saw him in a number of jobbing roles as he came to terms with his identity, and his uniqueness, and the childhood years were presented in flashbacks triggered by events in this adult life. Russell Crowe was great as his father and the demise of Krypton, and the reasons for this, were I thought described in more detail and more convincingly in this version.

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Populaire

Back to Orange Wednesday after a couple of weeks' break from the cinema. Today I was treated to a French film: Populaire.

I found this to be a lovely film. Perhaps a bit too sweet for some, but I was enchanted by Rose (Déborah François) and enjoyed the mix of emotion and humour. And, for a change, I actually was able to understand quite a bit of the French. Not enough to have enjoyed it without subtitles but enough to be able to compare what they actually said with what the subtitle editor came up with.

It has been compared in some respects with The Artist. The Guardian review made the following observation:

Where The Artist was a black-and-white homage to the American silent cinema of the 1920s that was shattered by the coming of sound, Populaire is a love letter to the under-appreciated Hollywood movies of the 1950s, with a wonderful feeling for the textures of Technicolor.

If you like French films it's well worth seeing.


The Great Gatsby

Today's trip to the cinema was for The Great Gatsby. I didn't like Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, although many did, but was willing to give this film a try.

Having not read the book I can't comment on the interpretation. It was a story well told but I didn't come away enthralled, or indeed with any real feeling of having seen something memorable.

It certainly portrays the shallowness exhibited by those who had money in 1920s America. But perhaps nothing has changed in that respect. The acting was certainly good and I thought Carey Mulligan in particular was well cast.

I'm afraid that Gatsby's habit of referring to all and sundry as 'My Old Sport' never seemed that sincere from the off, and actually began to jar by the end of the film.


Mud

Having been in France for a month it's quite a while since I went to the cinema. Today's Orange Wednesday's treat was Mud.

The choice was between Iron Man 3, Startrek and Mud. I chose Mud because it seemed to offer a change from the onslaught of special effects.

And it turned out to be a good choice. Set in Arkansas, this is a story of how Ellis, one of two boys featured in the film, learns to deal with his feelings about love and friendship. He experiences his parents relationship break down, his 'girlfriend' turns out to be nothing of the sort, and he and his friend, Neckbone, encounter the mysterious Mud, who is on the run from the law because he killed a man who mistreated Juniper, the woman he has loved since childhood.

With fine performances all round, and the backdrop of the Mississippi, this was a very watchable film. Publicised as a coming-of-age story, with more than a passing nod to Huckleberry Finn, it gets my vote. Reviews at Rotten Tomatoes are also overwhelmingly positive.


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

I chose the film for today's Orange Wednesday trip to the cinema and made the mistake of not consulting the reviews first. I'm a sucker for magic so The Incredible Burt Wonderstone seemed like a good idea.

Lightweight, and probably a bit too long, this film was a bit too stupid even for me. OK, there were some good comedy lines but the whole thing was pretty preposterous.

The bit where the ageing magician, Rance Holloway produced a dove out of a salt cellar was impressive if entirely unlikely. Jim Carrey, as the alternative face of modern magic, was completely off the wall, which for him is nothing unusual.

I can't say that I would recommend it but if you want to switch off your brain for 100 minutes then by all means go along and chill out.


Side Effects

Orange Wednesday and today's film was Side Effects.

I knew nothing about the film before sitting down to watch it. It was Helen's choice.

For the first half or so I thought I was watching an impressive account of the dangers of modern anti-depressant drugs, and very convincing it was too. Rooney Mara, her of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was superbly showing how depression can destroy a life and how drugs are not necessarily always the answer.

Jude Law, playing the psychiatrist Jonathan Banks, who by pure chance became involved with Mara's character Emily, finds both his professional and personal life unravelling as a consequence of Emily's actions.

But all is not as it seems, and the story of depression turns into one of intrigue. I won't say more at risk of spoiling the film for others.

Well worth seeing.


Arbitrage

Todays film on Orange Wednesday was Arbitrage with Richard Gere. Helen has now joined the CineWorld Unlimited club, which means for £14.99 a month she can see as many films as she likes, plus there are other discounts and early viewing opportunities. What surprised us today is that we could still use the Orange Wednesday buy one get one free scheme. So she used her Unlimited card and I got in for free. Can't be bad.

Anyway, back to Arbitrage. With the Oscar blockbusters now history the film choice has not been as easy. With the Oscar nominations it was a matter of how can we fit them all in. Now it's a matter of what's worth seeing. Helen asked me to choose, and having read the reviews for the current films, Arbitrage seemed to come out best.

The plot centres around financial dealings, or skullduggery depending on your point of view. Add to the mix an illicit relationship and an unexpected calamity, and we have Richard Gere's character, Robert Miller, a 60-year-old investment-fund billionaire, trying to dig himself out of a very deep hole that is getting deeper by the day.

With no special effects, a credible plot narrative and Gere giving a very good performance, the film was a refreshing change from some of the recent extravaganzas. I agree with the Guardian review, in that I found myself unsure whether I was wanting Robert Miller to get his comeuppance or to pull off his bold attempt to survive what seemed to be a certain downfall.


A Song for Marion

Today we saw 'A Song for Marion', starring Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton and Vanessa Redgrave.

Basically a comedy but wrapped up in a beautifully crafted story of the relationship between Arthur (Terence Stamp) and his terminally ill wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave).

I've had a liking for Gemma Arterton ever since seeing her as Tess in the BBC production of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Her role in this film as Elizabeth, the music teacher, was made for her.

It's in the same genre as Quartet, but for me was more convincing. And don't forget the tissues. A comedy it may be but the emotions are raw.


I Give it a Year

We saw 'I Give it a Year' today. A sort of back to front rom-com where we start with a marriage and end up with a divorce.

There were certainly some good laughs, many of the cringing variety. The visit to the marriage counsellor was particularly funny. It was a film that certainly didn't need super concentration.

Spoiler alert - don't read below the clip if you don't want the ending spoiled.



What I couldn't quite get, however, is while Nat (the wife) ultimately ends up with her American, Chloe (the husband's ex-girlfriend) deserved an awful lot more than to end up back with this all-time a***hole. So what was supposed to be the 'dream' ending didn't work for me.

Lincoln

Today's film was Lincoln.

My detailed knowledge of American history is not good enough to know how many liberties were taken in the making of this film. I'm sure there were a few. That accepted, it was a very compelling story and extremely well acted by Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Fields and Tommy Lee Jones in particular.

As you would expect from Spielberg, the period setting was totally convincing, and I noted in the credits that a White House historical society had played a part in the contemporaneous portrayal of the appearance of this iconic building.

What came as a bit of a surprise was that it was the Democrats who were vehemently opposed to the passing of the thirteenth amendment, enacting the banning of slavery. And if accurately described, it was truly an uncompromising opposition. There is a revealing scene when having been appalled by the suggestion that the freed slaves may also get the vote, the members of the House were seen to be even more repulsed by the suggestion that emancipation may then come to women. We've certainly moved on somewhat since 1865.

For me it was 2½ hours of great cinema.


Les Miserables

We finally got to see Les Miserables today. Fantastic. Although I suppose I'm a bit biased as I loved the stage musical.

A number of people to whom I had spoken had expressed disappointment with the film. Some thought the singing wasn't up to scratch while others hadn't actually realised that nearly all the dialogue would be sung.

For those who didn't realise it was a 'musical' I can understand their 'disappointment'. However, I think that those people who felt the singing wasn't good enough were, to my mind, missing the point.

The lead roles were taken by actors, not singers. And this is important, because whereas on stage you see things at a distance, and it's the music, singing and stage craft that carries the show, on film you are up close and personal. In the scene where Anne Hathaway as Fantine sings "I Dreamed a Dream' you get a close up of the extreme anguish and despair that this poor woman is experiencing. The song itself is a heart-breaker but with Hathaway's incredible interpretation the thing is almost unbearably sad to watch. OK, it wasn't the best rendition of this song, which has been performed by some fantastic vocalists. But as a piece of acting alone it was brilliant, and to act like that while singing, with the whole thing being done live during the take, was something very special indeed. To my mind she should get an Oscar for those 4 minutes 40 seconds alone.

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Captain Phillips

We saw Captain Phillips today. I know it's not EE Wednesday but golf was rained off and it's a film I wanted to see. And I wasn't disappointed.

It's a dramatisation of the true story of an attempted hijack of an American cargo ship by Somalian pirates. They didn't, however, bargain for the resourcefulness of the captain, who through his initial evasive action and the prior preparation of his crew managed to save his ship, but at the expense of being taken hostage by the pirates in a lifeboat.

The relationship between the lead pirate, Muse, and Captain Phillips is in itself a fascinating storyline. Muse is portrayed in a way that caused me to feel a large degree of sympathy for him, and indeed for the pirates in general, which I certainly wasn't expecting. He is portrayed as astute but poor Somalian who was of course a mere foot soldier being sent on his task by more powerful men back on shore. At one point he boasts of getting millions from a previous hijack, to which Phillips asks "so why are you here?" Of course he would have seen little of that money, which really tells the whole sad story behind the pirate activity, and behind most forms of organised crime.

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Life of Pi

We saw The life of Pi today and it was quite incredible. Ang Lee can be relied upon to produce something special and this is no exception. The film obviously relies heavily on CGI but the brilliance lies in the fact that it's only your intuition that informs you what is likely to be real and what is generated in a computer. The 'joins' certainly aren't visible and suspension of disbelief is easily realised.

And the ending is both unexpected and superficially baffling. It's only when you start to think about it, that you realise that you are being asked to make a personal choice, and that the choice you make is effectively a reflection of your beliefs. If you've seen the film and are still struggling with the ending, try Screenrant.

Brilliant film and amazing cinematography. Interestingly in France the story is entitled L'Odyssée de Pi, which is probably more descriptive, as an odyssey it certainly is.


Gangster Squad

We saw Gangster Squad today. Very violent but with humour and very watchable.

A group of hand-picked cops leave their badges at home and set out to take down Mickey Cohen, a psychotic mobster who wants to own LA, and is well on his way to achieving his goal.

I particularly liked officer Max 'Hopalong' Kennard, who seemed to have drifted in from a wild west movie, replete with his Colt 45 (or something very similar), lightening fast draw and dead-eyed shooting.


Quartet

Our weekly trip to the cinema was put on hold over the holiday period and today was our first visit for a few weeks. We saw Quartet. The cinema was packed.

The reviews have been mixed but I guess we must be easily pleased as we found it a very enjoyable film. Despite being directed by an American (Dustin Hoffman) it is in my opinion quintessentially English, with a predominantly British cast including Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon and Pauline Collins.

It's definitely going on the list of films to show at the village film club.


Skyfall

Went to see Skyfall yesterday. It's been out a few weeks but with popular films we usually wait until the crowds have died down.

It was worth the wait. I read all the Bond books in my youth, have seen all the films and have all the DVDs. I'm one of the 'Connery was best people', which probably shows my age as much as anything else. I've always thought he was more true to the characterisation in the books. Roger Moore, I'm afraid, completely took the edge of the character, while the other actors (pre-Craig) sit somewhere between Connery and Moore. The arrival of Daniel Craig in Casino Royal, which was a return to both the plot and the characterisations in the book, redeemed the franchise for me.

Skyfall is good, very good. Bond with attitude has returned with a vengeance. Obviously all Bond movies must have a devilish villain, and Silva is about as devilish and cunning as you can get. And, of course, the Bond girls, one of whom always meets a sticky end. Not sure about the reappearance of the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger; a bit too gimmicky for the otherwise largely serious plot. In contrast to the new, very ungimmicky, Q - good casting.

The end was a surprise!

If you haven't yet seen it, it's well worth the trip.


Gambit

We saw Gambit yesterday. Orange Wednesday, where you get two tickets for the price of one, which is a steal really.

A Coen brothers film with Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Tom Courtenay and Cameron Diaz, it came with a good pedigree. And to be honest it wasn't a bad film, although it will probably be consigned to the mediocre category by many.

Rickman is a master of what appears to be unintentional humour, while Firth is well cast as the disaster-prone art expert. The plot is, of course, contrived, featuring a 'well-planned' heist that goes wrong at about every stage. Cameron Diaz as the Texas cowgirl is, as always, very good to look at, and is adept at this type of comedy role, while Tom Courtenay as 'The Major' completes the 'typical English comedy' line up.

If you fancy a lightweight comedy that doesn't require you to work your brain too hard, then it's worth seeing.



The Sapphires

Our cinema experience today was The Sapphires.

I didn't expect a great deal of it but must admit to being pleasantly surprised.

Definitely in the 'feel good' movie category, with some really good singing, lots of humour and, of course, romance. Plus the Vietnam war as a side-show. Basically The Commitments meets Good Morning, Vietnam.

The reviews have been generally good and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

And it's based on a true story.


Argo

We saw the film Argo today and were impressed. Based on a true story, with no doubt quite a lot of dramatic fiction added in, it was a gripping tale interspersed with some good humour. The final sequence, where the CIA agent attempts to get the six American embassy staff out of Iran posing as a film crew for the non-existent film Argo, is nail-biting.

News footage from the time is cleverly incorporated into the film, which gives it an added realism, and during the final credits there are stills from the film shown besides actual photos from the event. The similarities are uncanny.

The film was directed by Ben Affleck, who also plays the CIA agent. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.