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Kilburnlad

Chocolat


Chocolat

Not to be confused with the 2000 film of the same name starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, this is in fact the story of Rafael Padilla, a Cuban born negro who became a celebrated clown in Paris at the turn of the 19th Century. Omar Sy plays the clown Chocolat, a name he comes to despise because he finds it denigrating. But ,unfortunately for him, the attitudes of the time towards coloured people were unlikely to change simply because he rejected his circus name.

The makers of this film have significantly changed some of the historical details but the thrust of the story remains true. In his association with the clown George Foottit, a Parisian star, the duo become great favourites with audiences. Chocolat is Foottit's knockabout sidekick, who endures his somewhat demeaning role with a smile. Until, that is, he starts to resent his treatment while at the same time aspiring to greater things, such as playing Othello! But are the Paris audiences ready for this?

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Cézanne et Moi


Cézanne et Moi

Back to Amazon Prime and French films, the latest being this biographical story of the friendship between Paul Cézanne and Emil Zola. These schoolboy friends maintained a relationship throughout their lives, but this friendship was tempered by bad feeling when Zola, whose mother struggled financially after his father died, became more bourgeois, while the little-rich-boy Cézanne, from a wealthy banking family, wasted his genius in a devil-may-care life of women and contempt for authority. His work was consistently relegated to the Salon des Refusés, which displayed work not accepted by the jury of the Paris Salon.

In matters of love, or more correctly sex, Cézanne has no problems while Zola's timidity prevents him from approaching women. He becomes entranced by one of Cézanne's model's, and mistress, who calls herself Gabrielle. As the film jumps from youth to their more mature lives, we see Zola married to Gabrielle, although she now uses her real name, Alexandrine (née Éléonore-Alexandrine Meley).

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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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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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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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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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Lion


Lion

I help run a film club in a nearby village and yesterday we screened Lion, a film that I didn't get to see when it was released. It was well reviewed so I didn't expect to be disappointed, and more importantly I didn't want our film club audience to be disappointed. They weren't. As if to validate all the good reviews, our audience clapped at the end of the film and a number of people thanked me for showing it.

It is a wonderful film in many ways. It shows the happiness of two brothers, Saroo and Guddu, who are living in what we would describe as extreme poverty in India. The film begins with them stealing coal from a slowly moving train, which they later trade for milk. A small luxury that they take back to their mother, who promptly gives each of them a drink from it. When Saroo talks his elder brother into taking him into a nearby town, where there is work, this sets of a series of events that will change Saroo's life. Tired from their trip, Saroo falls asleep on the railway platform. When he awakes Gaddu is nowhere to be seen. Saroo searches a train but having not found Gaddu, falls asleep again. When he awakes the train is in motion and he can't get off. In fact he doesn't get off until the train arrives in Calcutta, some 1600 km from his home. As a Hindi speaker he is not understood by the local Bengalis.

The risks to an unaccompanied child in Calcutta are great, and Saroo has a couple of close shaves before ending up in an orphanage, from where he is adopted by a couple from Tasmania, Sue and Joe Brierley. They also later adopt a second Indian boy, Mantosh, but whereas Saroo is quiet and reasonably accepting of his new life, Mantosh appears to be more damaged psychologically, and is very disruptive.

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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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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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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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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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Au nom de ma fille (Kalinka)

Another high quality French film that recounts a true story of how a father pursued justice for his daughter over 30 years. While many films that are based on real events come across as a bit over dramatised, this film has a very authentic feel to it and certainly seems to adhere very closely to the actual events of this case.

Au nom de ma fille (Kalinka)

André and Danièle Bamberki have two children, a son and a daughter, Kalinka. We're introduced to them at their home in Casablanca, Morocco. Dieter Krombach is a German doctor who helps the family when their car goes off the road, injuring Kalinka. After this episode he becomes very attentive towards Danièle and they end up having an affair. André discovers German language learning tapes at home and this alerts him to what's going on. Despite Danièle saying that the affair was over, André remains suspicious and once more finds that she is with Krombach. This leads to their divorce.

The children go to visit their mother in her new home with Krombach in Germany. While there Kalinka mysteriously dies, aged only 14, allegedly as a result of an injection of Kobalt-Ferrlecit (cobalt-iron), given by Krombach supposedly to help her tan. André is, however, suspicious and obtains the autopsy report. This indicates that his daughter may have been sexually assaulted. From this point on he is convinced that Krombach isn't telling the truth and sets out to uncover exactly what happened. His daughters body is exhumed and a further autopsy shows that the sexual organs had been removed, a fact that further deepens his suspicion.

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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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Down by Love (Eperdument)

The French title of this film, Éperdument (madly / head over heels), perhaps conveys its story better than the English one. It's based on what was a quite recent real life event, when in 2012 a prison governor, Florent Gonçalves, was jailed for a year after having sexual relations with one of the female inmates at a remand centre at Versailles. The woman concerned, Emma, had been part of a gang that carried out a horrific assault on a young Jewish man who died of his injuries. The governor had a brilliant career in front of him, being at that time the youngest in that position.

The film takes a somewhat more sanitised view of this affair. The woman is named Anna in this dramatisation and we are never told what her crime was, while the governor is Jean Firmino. The casting of Guillaume Gallienne as the governor provides a remarkable likeness to Gonçalves (second photo). Adèle Exarchopoulos plays Anna.

Down by Love (Eperdument)

The way the story is told suggests that what started as a fascination between the two of them slowly developed into a deeper relationship, leading to the point where he was infatuated, thus the film title, jeopardising his job and ruining his relationship with his wife. In the real life story, Emma had lured the young Jewish man to his death, suggesting she was somewhat of a seductress. In the film Anna is shown as falling for Jean rather than overtly seducing him, although at one point she does pose topless for an art session while he is watching, the class being taken rather bizarrely by his wife, who also works in the prison. In fact at this point his wife begins to suspect that there is something between them. However, at an earlier point in the story Anna asks to be transferred because she feared things were getting too serious, and much later she says to her mother that she didn't want Jean to lose his job, or to be responsible for breaking up his family. She certainly doesn't come across as a classic femme fatale.

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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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Florence Foster Jenkins

Today's film at the Wimblington Film Club, which I run along with a woman from the village, was Florence Foster Jenkins. I missed this film while it was on at the cinema, so today it was as new to me as it was to our audience at the film club.

Florence Foster Jenkins

It is a delightful film, a comedy tinged with sadness. The marvellous Meryl Streep plays Florence, an heiress with a passion for music, having trained as a concert pianist but been unable to pursue her dream. As a wealthy woman in New York she sponsors many people in the arts, and at times is clearly duped by them. No more so than by her vocal coach, Carlo Edwards, the assistant director at the Metropolitan Opera. Florence dearly wants to sing opera, and believes that she has a good voice, which unfortunately isn't the case. But Carlo, happy to be well paid, assures Florence that she is singing beautifully.

Supporting Florence, and ensuring that she is not embarrassed by performing outside of a very select band of people, is her husband, St. Clair Bayfield, played by Hugh Grant. He is a far from successful actor, but dotes on Florence, even though he lives in a separate apartment and has a woman friend. We are led to believe that Florence is happy with this arrangement, but it's perhaps more a matter of 'what she doesn't know won't hurt her.' Assisting Florence is her new pianist, Cosmé McMoon, who at first is incredulous at Florence's singing, until St. Clair 'explains things' to him.

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Eddie the Eagle

I didn't catch Eddie the Eagle at the cinema but we chose it for our monthly film at the Wimblington Film Club. After a few 'heavier' titles this film was just what our audience needed, and judging by the spontaneous applause at the end, they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Eddie the Eagle

I remember Eddie the Eagle as an unlikely olympian who caught the public's imagination by coming last, a very British attitude. It was interesting, therefore, to watch this film and learn the full story, which I accept may have been somewhat dramatised in the film.

The desire of Eddie from a young age to become an olympian was both inspiring and humorous in equal measure. With support from his mother, but absolutely none from his father, he tries a range of sports until he actually gains some expertise at dry slope skiing. Hoping to be selected for the British downhill team he is to be disappointed because, as the story is told, his face didn't fit.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.


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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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.


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.


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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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.


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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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.