Archives for 2017 | Kilburnlad | Film | Reviews

Kilburnlad

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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The Shining


The Shining

We watched this classic horror film yesterday evening as it was Halloween. Released in 1980, contemporary reviews felt that it didn't do justice to Stephen King's book of the same name, but over time it has gained respect and is now regarded by some as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Personally, I found the acting a bit stilted, perhaps reflecting the period, while much of the psychological tension came from the soundtrack, with loud dramatic crescendos accompanying the critical moments. Very old school horror.

The plot is straightforward enough. Jack Torrence, played by Jack Nicholson, takes a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook luxury hotel, which is always snowed-in during the winter. He will be there alone with his wife and son, but as a writer he relishes the tranquility. Nevertheless, the hotel manager does point out that the isolation can be a problem for some people, and recounts the story of how one previous caretaker, Charles Grady, went berserk, killing his wife and two daughters before turning a shotgun on himself. During the family's tour of the hotel it was also ominously pointed out that the building had been constructed on a Native American burial site. At this point one realised that it wasn't perhaps the place to be. Also during their introduction to the building, we learn that their son, Danny, has a telepathic ability, this being shared by the hotel's chef, Dick Halloran, who refers to it as 'shining'.

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Payback


Payback

The other evening I was browsing Amazon's catalogue and came across this 1999 film with Mel Gibson. The summary sounded interesting so I went for it.

It's a classic crime movie from perhaps a earlier age. I subsequently read that the director wanted to shoot it in black and white, but the studio wouldn't agree. Instead the colours were 'bleached' in post-production, giving it a monochromatic feel, particularly during the street scenes. There's lots of violence but also a degree of black comedy, much revolving around an ongoing 'misunderstanding' over a sum of money that Gibson's character 'Porter' is trying to get back.

We start with Porter being treated in a far from clinical environment for the removal of bullets from his back. It's a while before we see the reason for his condition, which basically arose because of a betrayal by his wife Lynn, and a partner in crime Val Resnick. Resnick is in any event a sado-masochist, who not only likes hurting people but also enjoys pain inflicted at the hands of a particularly brutal sex worker. He's also in hoc to the syndicate, this being the reason for his original betrayal of Porter.

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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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A Monster Calls


A Monster Calls

This film received very good reviews when it was released and I caught up with it this week on Amazon Prime. I can see why the critics and audiences liked it. It focusses on Conor, a young boy who is struggling to come to terms with his mother's illness while at the same time suffering significant bullying at school. He deals with things with a passive reserve that strikes you as remarkable, the young actor Lewis MacDougall giving a truly impressive performance.

Conor has a recurring dream, involving the church and the large yew tree within a cemetery that is visible from his house. The church collapses and the tree disappears into a yawning hole, and Conor is desperately trying to hold on to somebody on the edge of the opening. He always awakens at what becomes the symbolic time of 12:06.

As his mother's condition worsens he is visited by the Monster, an incarnation from the large tree with internal fires that shine through its eyes. Conor reacts with confusion rather than fear, which is remarkable in the circumstances.

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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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Mediterranea


Mediterranea


My choice of French films on Amazon Prime is reducing having watched a good number of them. That's not to say that Mediterranea was a reluctant choice, but the subject matter is certainly contentious at this time. It follows the journey of two Africans from Burkina Faso through Algeria and Libya before eventually reaching Italy. It contains all the ingredients that we have become accustomed to seeing regularly on the news. A trek across a desert, robbed by bandits who were probably primed by the very people who were arranging their passage, and finally the perilous boat journey to Italy. Among a significant proportion of the population I've no doubt that empathy for such people is zero, but this film shows what it must be like to be dependant on a range of people who for the most part wish you weren't there.

In Italy they meet up with other Africans and are introduced to a squat, which wasn't quite what they expected. In terms of work opportunities, there aren't any, and they are exploited as cheap labour picking oranges. However, the lead character, Ayiva, is not only a good worker but is also adept at developing relationships, leading to him being welcomed to the home of an Italian family. But the local villagers are far from happy about the presence of the Africans and in time tensions boil over leading to attacks on the immigrants. This provokes retaliation, with the authorities rounding them up and sealing off their squats. Ayiva's friend, Abas, with whom he travelled to Italy, is badly beaten by a group of young Italian men.

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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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Blade Runner - 1982 Original


Blade Runner 1982


We hope to see the new Blade Runner film later this week so yesterday evening we watched the original 1982 movie. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the original film is that the setting is 2019. The Sci Fi imagination clearly saw a lot more technical progress being achieved in respect of flying cars, while portraying Los Angeles as decayed and dystopian. And it never seems to stop raining.

Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a retired blade runner, a specialist police officer who hunts down replicants. These are bioengineered androids that are confined to off-world colonies, but are unwelcome back on Earth, thus the need for blade runners. Deckard is forced out of retirement to track down four such replicants, these being highly advanced and difficult to distinguish from humans. There is a test that will reveal a replicant, but these advanced models have embedded memories and can be quite difficult to identify. An attempt to do so with one of this group, Leon, ends rather badly for another blade runner.

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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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Mon Oncle


Mon Oncle


Mon Oncle
, starring and directed by Jacques Tati, is a classic of French cinema that also won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1958. I knew of it, but not very much about it, so everything came as a surprise when I started watching. At first I thought it was a silent movie, since although there was a very lively soundtrack nobody was speaking, or at least when they did speak it was for the most part inaudible. As things developed there were snatches of clearer dialogue, but I was left with the impression that Tati wanted to convey everything from the action. There is a Chaplin feel to the film.

My other surprise was what appeared to be a major American influence. The plot involves a plastics factory that produces tubes, and Monsieur Arpel is the manager, who arrives every day in his large American car. And he isn't the only one driving such a car, as shots of the traffic show that most people are driving similar vehicles. Whether that was representative of this period in France, I don't know. Monsieur and Madame Arpel live in an ultra modern house, which is very un-French, with a geometric garden, minimal furniture and an automated kitchen that would have been extremely futuristic in 1958. Meanwhile everything around them is very French. A small town with run-down houses, a market and a tabac with les hommes passing the time of day drinking coffee or beer.

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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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Les Cowboys


Les Cowboys


Learning French has given me a far greater appreciation of French films, mainly because I watch a lot more of them. This 2015 film was recently added to Amazon Prime and I watched it this week. The title is perhaps a bit misleading. Certainly there are cowboys, of the French variety, these being people in a rural area who have an affinity with the cowboy life, dressing up accordingly for the occasional gatherings where the usual cowboy fare is on offer. It is all harmless fun. At one such gathering the Ballard family are seen enjoying themselves. We have the father, Alain, Nicole, his wife, their son Georges (aka Kid) and daughter Kelly. Alain is clearly is very fond of his daughter, as we see him dancing tenderly with her. But later in the day they realise that she is nowhere to be seen. After questioning some of her friends, it transpires that she had a boyfriend, Ahmed, a fact not known to the family.

When she doesn't turn up Alain, visits Ahmed's father, and also goes to the police, who aren't particularly helpful. In time it becomes known that she has left with Ahmed, and this sets Alain off on a mission to find her. The years pass and with Georges now a young man he and his father continue the search, although Georges is less committed than his father. Kelly has previously let the family know that she doesn't want to be found and that she has a new life. They also learn that she has a child. None of this dissuades Alain. As his father becomes more and more obsessed, Georges finally refuses to help any more. Unfortunately, tragedy then strikes when his father falls asleep at the wheel of his car.

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The Town


The Town

We watched this 2010 film yesterday evening. The free offerings on Amazon Prime are not always that appealing but this turned out to be a good choice. The cast was fairly star-studded, with an interesting performance from Jon Hamm as a no-nonsense FBI agent, and Blake Lively as the somewhat down-market sister of one of the four criminals upon which the film is based.

We are told that the Charlestown neighbourhood of Boston (aka The Town) is renowned for producing armed robbers, generation after generation. One such group is shown pulling off a very professional heist. After 'convincing' the bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) to open the safe, they escape with the money after first microwaving the CCTV tapes and dowsing everything they've touched with bleach, to remove any DNA traces. But one of the group, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), comes across as a bit psychotic, having needlessly assaulted the assistant manager after a silent alarm was triggered - actually by Claire Keesey. Another of the group, Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), comes across as the brains and the one who regards a professional job as one where nobody gets hurt, which puts him at odds with Coughlin. He is therefore less than pleased when Couglin takes Keesey as a hostage as they escape the bank.

Claire Keesey is released unharmed but Coughlin has retained her driving licence, with a view to finding her should there be a need to keep her quiet. However, it was clear that during the heist, and later in the escape van, MacRay had become interested in her, so he offers to 'take care' of the situation, intentionally wanting to keep Coughlin away from her. This is where the main storyline of the film develops, as MacRay initially befriends Claire, and then forms a deeper relationship.

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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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Hippocrate


Hippocrate


I don't know what things are like behind the scenes in a French hospital, but you get the feeling when watching this film that it is perhaps a fairly accurate portrayal. The fact that the director, Thomas Lilti, is a medical doctor, goes a long way to explaining why this may be the case. There's quite a lot of black humour as the staff joke about a range of medical issues, along with some serious partying, such activities serving as a pressure release valve for staff working under a lot of stress with at times inadequate resources.

The English title is Diary of a Doctor, which is fitting as it follows a junior intern, Benjamin, who arrives for his first stint at the hospital full of confidence. The fact that his father is a senior doctor at the same hospital turns out to be more of a liability than a blessing, but Benjamin is keen to impress. He soon meets up with Abdel, an Algerian doctor who is interning at the hospital as his qualifications are not accepted in France. But it soon becomes clear that Abdul has the benefit of experience, something Benjamin is lacking.

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Lady Macbeth


Lady Macbeth

After this week's chilling film at the cinema, Detroit, this was another chilling experience but for entirely different reasons. Ostensibly a period drama, set in rural Northumberland, it begins with a marriage. Katherine, played quite marvellously by Florence Pugh, has literally been sold to a wealthy merchant, Alexander Lester. And she is treated like merchandise, being forbidden to leave the house and suffering humiliation in the bedroom, where her husband demands to look at her naked but has no desire for physical contact. Alexander's father, Boris, is no less unsavoury than his son, and is constantly berating Katherine for not giving Alexander a son, somewhat difficult as they never participate in sexual intercourse.

This suffocating existence continues until both Boris and Alexander are simultaneously called away on business, leaving Katherine with unprecedented freedom, allowing her to take walks out onto the moors. One day she investigates a fracas in an outhouse where a group of male workers are mistreating one of the female staff. There she has an encounter with Sebastian, a bold individual who literally lifts her off the ground. This excites her, and she contrives to meet him in the grounds. It isn't long before a tempestuous sexual relationship ensues, with Katherine releasing all her pent up emotions.

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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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Passengers


Passengers

Helen had seen Passengers at the cinema when it was released and thought I would enjoy it. So today we picked up the DVD.

After the success of Gravity I had become a bit wary of copy-cat films, but I must say that Passengers occupies an entirely different space - excuse the pun! However, like Gravity, for most of the time there are really only two people in it, Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Aurora Lane, and Chris Pratt as Jim Preston. Michael Sheen is also present as the android barkeeper, Arthur, while Laurence Fishburne makes a fairly brief appearance as the chief deck officer, Gus Mancuso.

The scenario is a futuristic space craft that is travelling to a remote colony carrying 5000 colonists and 258 crew members in suspended animation. The journey time is 120 years but 30 years into the trip a large asteroid isn't completely deflected by the ship's forward shield, causing a glitch in the systems that results in Jim's hibernation pod waking early. Confused he meanders around the ship looking for the other travellers, while the onboard support systems react with him as if the full journey has been completed. The truth quickly dawns on him and after a frantic search to find a way of re-entering hibernation, he becomes resigned to the fact that he will die on the way to Homestead II. He lets himself go and even contemplates suicide, but after seeing Aurora in her pod, and finding out about her, he becomes enamoured and starts to contemplate the idea of waking her. This he discusses with Arthur, who politely replies that the questions posed by Preston are not ones that you ask a computer.

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From Paris with Love


From Paris with Love

After playing 18 holes of golf on Friday, in very warm conditions, I wanted just to relax in front of the TV in the evening, watching something that wasn't too demanding. A search of Amazon Prime revealed From Paris with Love, and the synopsis seemed to fit the bill exactly. John Travolta plays Charlie Wax, a foul-mouthed instrument of death and mayhem, who is assisted by James Reese, a personal aide to the US ambassador in Paris. But we're jumping ahead a bit.

Reese is a very able aide, but he hankers for a more exciting role and doubles as a low-grade CIA operative. He's constantly asking his minder for more challenging tasks, stapling a surveillance bug under a desk, after failing to stick it with chewing gum not actually cutting the mustard for him. On the personal front, he has a beautiful French girlfriend, Caroline.

His wish is granted when he's asked to go to the airport detention centre where Wax is being detained over an argument about bringing cans of energy drink into the country. Wax is ferociously verbally abusing the custom officials and despite Reese's suggestion that similar drinks could easily be bought in Paris, Wax won't back down. A bit of diplomatic privilege finally breaks the deadlock. When they get in the car the reasons for Wax's attachment to the cans of drink becomes clear, and it isn't because he likes the taste.

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Personal Shopper


Personal Shopper

Personal Shopper competed for the Palme d"Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. We were in Nice at the time and saw a couple of 'Cannes' films at local cinemas, but not this one. It is now on Amazon for rental at £1.99, so we viewed it on Thursday evening. All I knew about it was that Kristen Stewart plays a personal shopper, and that there was a psychological mystery aspect.

Set mainly in Paris, Maureen Cartwright, the shopper, is first introduced to us as she arrives at an old house, accompanied by another woman. She is left there alone, and the place is quite spooky. It transpires it is the house where Maureen's brother lived, the woman who accompanied her there being her brother's girlfriend, Lara. Her brother, who was her twin, is dead. The reason for being in the house is that potential buyers want go be sure that it is free from evil spirits, but Maureen also would like to try to make contact with her brother. Both he and Maureen believed themselves to be mediums, each having promised to try to make contact in the event of the other's death. It appears that her brother, Lewis, was more convinced of the medium thing than Maureen, who seems at times to be somewhat ambivalent. She does encounter a spirit, but it isn't Lewis, and once the spirit has left her job there is done.

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Jeune et Jolie


Jeune et Jolie

We popped into a DVD/music store in Peterborough today and I picked up a couple of French films. Jeune et Jolie was one of them and we watched it this afternoon. Translated as Young and Beautiful it follows the life of a 17-year-old woman, who after a less than fulfilling first sexual experience while on holiday, embarks on a life of prostitution. Isabelle, the said young woman, is indeed beautiful, and also enigmatic. What drives her to behave how she does is far from clear, at least until later in the film when she receives counselling, and even then you feel that she hasn't revealed all. What she does reveal is that in an immature way she is treating the whole thing as a kind of game.

In a loving family with her mother and step father, and a younger brother, it's not a question of her needing the money. She is clearly getting a form of fulfilment from her actions, if not from the actual sexual acts. One client, Georges, becomes a bit more than just a customer. An older man, he is kind and one detects that Isabelle actual enjoys being with him. More so than some of the other clients who are much less caring. Her dalliances continue unbeknown to her mother, while she attends the lycée with her close friend, Claire, who thinks that Isabelle is still a virgin. The sexual encounters are filmed to convey the different experiences she encounters, and her associated feelings, without being overly graphic although there is of course a fair amount of nudity.

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Ghost in the Shell


Ghost in the Shell

Amazon was offering a £1.99 rental on this film, which I missed at the cinema. In fact with a discount coupon it only cost me £0.99. So was it worth the money?

Originally a Japanese manga series the film is certainly futuristic with gigantic holographic images permeating the city. Cybernetic technology is mainstream and it seems that it is difficult to distinguish between completely 'real' people and those who have been enhanced to a greater or lesser degree using cybernetics. Scarlett Johansson plays Mira Killian, the ultimate cybernetic hybrid in that the only organic part of her is her brain. She is led to believe that she was rebuilt after her parents were killed in a cyberterrorist attack. Juliette Binoche plays Dr Ouelet, the designer who is responsible for Mira's development, and who is very protective of her. Dr Ouelet's boss, Hanka CEO Cutter, is however far less emotionally attached and thinks only of the business benefits that will flow from the project.

As a major in the anti-terrorist bureau Section 9, Mira is know simply as the Major. She receives orders from Chief Daisuke Aramaki, who speaks in Japanese (I assume) throughout, while Mira and everybody else reply in English. The anti-terrorist team intervene in an attack on a Hanka business conference where Mira destroys a mechanical geisha, after which she learns that the geisha had been hacked by an unknown entity, known as Kuze. In an attempt to track down this entity she breaks the rules and 'dives' into the geisha's AI. She has to be disconnected when the entity attempts a counter-hack, but she learns enough to set her on its trail.

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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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Arrival


Arrival

I missed Arrival when it was released at the cinema and took the opportunity to view it this week as it had been added to Amazon Prime's offerings. Other than the basic fact that it featured the arrival of aliens to Earth I knew very little about it. The first relief was that it wasn't one of these films where the aliens destroy large swathes of the world's major cities. In fact it is the exact opposite of that. These aliens have come to help us, because in 3000 years time they will need humanity's help in return.

The story explores the power of language and plays with time in a way that requires you to think quite hard about what's going on, and even then come away perhaps not fully understanding what you've just watched. As I've said, the complete opposite of the 'annihilation' movies.

Amy Adams plays Dr Louise Banks, a linguist who has previously helped the government, and who is therefore the natural choice when alien vessels appear at twelve locations around the globe. They are large pods that hover above the ground, and when we are given the chance to see inside we observe that the natural laws of gravity seem not to apply. But that's jumping ahead. Of course, the appearance of alien vessels immediately puts the military of the countries involved on red alert, although initially they are all working together to try to understand the threat, if there is one. This accord eventually breaks down with China in particular seemingly gearing up to take military action.

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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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The Sweeney: Paris


The Sweeney: Paris

Another French language film from my watch list on Amazon Prime, this time not a comedy but lots of action. Interestingly for a French film it has an English language title, but apparently it had been know as The Squad, and Antigang, before settling on The Sweeney, piggybacking what was already a popular name from the British 1970s TV series. Most reviewers have found it odd, and a little bit daft, that this film should have been made after the poor reception given to the 2012 British film of the same name. It seems that the Paris version is a virtual remake of this earlier film.

All this being said, the French do make a good cop film, as witnessed in the popular series Engrenages, screened in the UK under the title Spiral. And despite the poor reviews given to the Paris Sweeney, I don't think you can fault it for action, and the backdrop of Paris always adds the extra something to any film.

In case anybody doesn't know, which I doubt is the case, Sweeney comes from London rhyming slang, Sweeney Todd - Flying Squad. The British TV series portrayed this outfit as a law unto itself, cutting official corners but obtaining results. The Paris Sweeney exhibits the same characteristics, but hyped up to the extreme. The film starts with the team causing 40,000€ of damage arresting a small group of robbers. Good results but rather expensive, and the new commander, Becker, is about to make changes. To complicate matters, the team's leader, Serge Buren, is having a relationship with Becker's wife, Margaux, who's on the team. Cartier is Buren's sidekick, a small man who certainly outperforms his stature.

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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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I Daniel Blake


I Daniel Blake

I didn't get to see this film at the cinema when it was released but it has recently been added to the Amazon Prime collection and I watched it yesterday evening. It was well publicised at the time of its release so I already had a fair idea of what it was about, but in actually viewing it I was still shocked at the portrayal of the current state of Britain's social welfare system. I accept it's a story and not a documentary, but reaction to the film when it was released, from those who had experienced the system, was overwhelmingly supportive of the fact that it was telling things very much as they are.

Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old joiner in Newcastle who is recovering from a heart attack. His cardiologist has told him that he isn't yet fit enough to return to work even though he would like to do so. Despite this, having undergone a 'work capability assessment' by a woman who is clearly reading from a script and has, it would appear, little medical expertise, he is deemed to be fit for work. Because of this he is denied unemployment support allowance and must instead apply for jobseekers allowance. He tries to explain that he has been told by his doctor that he can't work, but the bureaucratic machine is now in full swing and if he doesn't comply he will be sanctioned, which means he'll get nothing. He's given no choice other than to go to a presentation on how to produce a CV.

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Le Talent de Mes Amis


Le Talent de Mes Amis

It's been a while since I viewed a French language film from Amazon Prime, basically because for various reasons I haven't been using my exercise bike, and that's when I watch these films. I had been working through a watch list and had more or less exhausted it, this latest film being one of only a few unwatched. Intuitively I had a less than enthusiastic feel for it, and as it turns out my intuition was spot on. It's received poor reviews and according to Wikipédia (France) it only lasted a month on cinema screens after release. The opening sequence suggest that the film may turn out to be a bit of a song and dance affair, but this is purely a confusing distraction.

Alex Lutz plays the lead role. I knew nothing of him but it appears that he is well-known for a highly successful one-man theatre show, as well as being an actor and producer. For this film he sits in the director's chair for the first time, metaphorically of course as he is present most of the time on screen. This is yet another male mid-life crisis story but in this case we have three males, Lutz as Alexandre Ludon, his work mate Jeff, and a schoolfriend from the past, Thibaut. Alexandre and Jeff work for a large multinational and are bored with their lives. This manifests itself in childlike behaviour that is, quite frankly, too silly for words: infantile, in fact. Their wives, Carole and Cécile respectively, provide the sanity - quelle surprise! Carole is undergoing IVF treatment and Alexandre appears to have no understanding of what this means for her, his empathy quotient being somewhere just above zero. Jeff seems more switched on at home, but is certainly less so at work, where his behaviour verges on slapstick.

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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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John Wick


John Wick

I reviewed John Wick: Chapter 2 a while ago having seen it at the cinema. With the original now on Amazon Prime I thought I should fill in the back story.

Unsurprisingly this original is very similar to the second chapter, or should I say the second chapter continued the first. The plot is much the same, somebody seriously upsets John Wick and pays the ultimate price. On this occasion John has recently lost his wife and after the funeral he receives a cute puppy, called Daisy, something that his wife had arranged to give him so he could transfer his love. Filling his Mustang up with fuel, with puppy sitting in the passenger seat, another car rolls in with music blaring and a number of men who you know immediately are going to be trouble. The leader, Iosef, remarks on John's car and asks "how much?", to which John replies that it's not for sale. Iosef says something to John in Russian and is surprised when John replies in Russian. Not to be denied, the gang break into John's house that night and take him by surprise, stealing the car and killing Daisy.

Iosef is the son of Russian crime syndicate boss Viggo Tarasov, and while almost everybody realises the folly of upsetting John, Ioseph doesn't, and doesn't really care. His father soon acquaints him with John's reputation. When Iosef asks half-jokingly if John is the Bogeyman, his father says no, he's who you send to kill the Bogeyman. He goes on to say, "I saw him kill three men in a bar with a pencil - with a pencil!" From this point on Viggo's task is to stop John killing his son. Meanwhile, Aurelio, the owner of the garage where Iosef took John's car to have a new identity has contacted John, having thrown Iosef out after flooring him. John learns Iosef's identity from Aurelio and ignores Viggo's subsequent attempts to reach some sort of compromise.

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Hell or High Water


Hell or High Water

I missed this film at the cinema but it's just become available on Amazon Prime. I've not actually tagged it as a comedy but there is a wry humour throughout.

At the beginning of the film we're introduced to two brothers, Toby and Tanner, robbing a bank. There is a degree of amateurism about them and we immediately see that Tanner is the one leaning towards violence, while Toby seemingly wants to avoid any bloodshed. We later understand this difference, Toby being the 'clever' one of the two, while Tanner being an ex-con and basically a bit wild. The story becomes more interesting when we learn the reason for their criminal activity. Their mother is recently deceased and the Texas Midland Bank is looking to repossess her farm because of an outstanding reverse mortgage on the property. Thus we have the ironic situation whereby the brothers are stealing exclusively from Texas Midland to repay Texas Midland. A Robin Hood-esque sort of tale.

This, of course, tends to move ones sympathies to the brothers. But there is no such sympathy coming from Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton. On the cusp of retirement he immediately sees some interesting features to the thieves' MO. For a start, why are they only targeting Texas Midland. And why are the amounts stolen so small. Marcus, along with his native Indian partner Alberto are on the case. Hamilton's plan is to wait in what he regards as the next town to be robbed, having decided that the criminals were sure to come calling.

Meanwhile we learn a bit more about the two brothers. Toby is divorced, and his motive in all this is to provide a good life for his ex wife and two children. Tanner seems to be in it merely for the thrill of the game, at one point leaving Toby in a diner while he pops out impromptu to rob the bank across the road, resulting in a panicked escape leaving Toby in a state of disbelief.

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Miss Montigny


Miss Montigny

The Amazon summary of this film labelled it as comedy, but I certainly wouldn't describe it as such. In fact, in many ways it is quite sad, the ending in particular being a bit bitter sweet.

The story takes place in Montigny, a former mining town in Belgium. Sandrine is our central character who works in a supermarket promoting cheese but dreams of opening a beauty salon. She's already found a run-down premises, which her and her friend Gianna are trying to redecorate. Sandrine's mother Anna is very supportive, too much so as it ultimately turns out. Meanwhile, Anna's relationship with Sandrine's father isn't all that it should be and her life goal seems to be to help Sandrine succeed where she herself feels she has failed.

Raising money for the salon is proving to be difficult and, encouraged by her mother, Sandrine signs up for the Miss Montigny contest in the hope of winning and using the prize money to realise her dream. At the sign up, Sandrine and her friend Gianna fill in the forms, guessing their vital statistics. This bit of laxity ends up being a big mistake.

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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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Cousines


Cousines

I've tagged this as a French language film but it's actually Haitian and the dialogue is more of a creole, making it almost impossible for me to understand, give or take the occasional identifiable French phrases and words. It's also a very low budget film, with an estimated budget of $85,000 compared with an average of $100 million for a major studio movie. This is reflected in the production values with both sound and vision being less professional than we've perhaps come to expect. However, this should not be allowed to detract from this offering from the fledgling Haitian film industry, a country that doesn't enjoy the wealth of other nations.

Jessica is a young woman whose father is working in America. She rents a room from friends of her father, Margareth and Gasner, but early in the film she learns that her father has died. If this wasn't bad enough, Gasner is adamant that she must leave her room, since her father was paying the rent and without it, Gasner needed to rent the room to somebody else. Out on the street, Jessica goes to her cousin, Johanne, who takes her in. From there, Jessica visits her estranged mother, who is invalided, neither speaking nor, it would appear, hearing. Jessica realises that there is no place for her there, and returns to Johanne's.

Johanne has a number of 'boyfriends', her way of life really being nothing less than prostitution, although each boyfriend sees her as a future partner rather than a prostitute and she strings them along rather than treating them as clients. Jessica observes this but is non-judgemental. Johanne, on the other hand, is quick to advise Jessica that she should never follow the same path.

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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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Captain Fantastic


Captain Fantastic

You know you have an interesting film when the Guardian's film critic Peter Bradshaw awards it one star, while the Observer's critic, Mark Kermode, awards it four. Which of them is right ? This is certainly a unique sort of film, although our esteemed professional critics always seem to be able to make comparisons with earlier offerings. For me it was something different and although at times it stretched credibility, it certainly turned conventional wisdom on its head as far as raising children is concerned.

The film starts with a moving panorama of a forest in the Pacific Northwest, before zoning in a nervous deer browsing foliage. You just know this animal is going to meet a sticky end, but the manner of its demise makes you jump. A young man daubed with camouflage mud is the hunter and soon the rest of the family arrive, all similarly muddied, led by Ben, the father. This has been an initiation into manhood for Bodevan, the eldest son. If you think his name's odd, try the others: Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai, three girls and another two boys. The names were chosen to make them unique, each being the only person 'in the world' with that name. This exemplifies the philosophy that Ben adopts for his children, who he home schools in a forest encampment, where they all bunk out in a giant wigwam.

They hunt, trek, train in self-defence and climb sheer rock faces while amassing an enormous amount of book-based knowledge in their isolated existence, where the cult of social media, and the associated technology to access it, doesn't so much not exist as is totally unheard of. They speak multiple languages, critique literature at a level far beyond their years, wrestle with quantum physics, and much else. And they reject outright the world that exists outside their parochial existence.

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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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Five


Five

The name 'Five' isn't an English translation, but the original French title, which is a bit surprising.

The plot is a bit daft, as is much of the film. But it's meant to be a comedy and is indeed amusing. The language is coarse at times, probably more so if I could understand this very informal French. Subtitles tend to anglicise this type of speech, probably cleaning things up in the process.

Basically we have five friends, Samuel, Timothée, Vadim, Julia and Nestor, who have been together since childhood and always dreamed of sharing a place together. This dream materialises when Samuel offers to pay half the rent of a desirable apartment. Samuel's father thinks his son is at medical school and supports him financially on this basis. However, Samuel has a desire to be an actor and spends his time at theatre rehearsals, where he falls for the exquisitely French Maïa. Everything comes crashing down when Samuel goes to a garden party with his father and is called upon to treat a man who has collapsed. It soon becomes clear that he has no medical training whatsoever, cue for his father to cut him off, both physically and financially.

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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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Julieta


Julieta

Looking for a film to watch on Amazon Prime yesterday evening we decided on the well-reviewed Julieta. Not a French film this time, but Spanish, and a slight hiccup at the beginning when I had to work out how to display the missing subtitles.

The film starts with Julieta (Emma Suárez) packing to leave for Portugal, bubble-wrapping a small statuette the significance of which is revealed much later in the story. It is to be a new life with Lorenzo. But a chance meeting with a childhood friend of her estranged daughter stops her in her tracks. Beatriz (Bea), the friend, tells Julieta that she had met her daughter, Antía, in Switzerland, where she was living with three children. Julieta subsequently informs Lorenzo that she won't be going to Portugal, leaving him totally baffled.

We are then taken back to Juileta's youth, with Adriana Ugarte now playing the younger woman. She is on a train and declines an invitation to chat with a man who sits opposite, instead going to the lounge car. This results in two major emotional episodes, the first being that she meets Xoan, a fisherman, who will become her partner, and the second that the man she moved away from commits suicide, something for which she feels in some way responsible.

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Mon Roi (My King)


Mon Roi (My King)

Directed by French actress Maïwenn Le Besco, this film certainly offers a female perspective of what it must be like to be a woman in love with an absolute jerk. I felt sorry for her and embarrassed by his shameless mistreatment. Vincent Cassel plays the said jerk, Georgio, while Emmanuelle Bercot is his long suffering girlfriend/wife Tony.

The film starts in the mountains where Tony launches into an aggressive downhill ski slope, this being the prequel to us seeing her in convalescence recovering from a serious leg injury. During this recovery she reflects back on her relationship with Georgio, the good, the bad and the awful. In fact the film continually jumps between the convalescence home and their past, to the point that at the end I wasn't too sure what time frame I was watching.

Their relationship starts in a club, where Tony eyes Georgio, prior to flicking water in his face. In doing this she is emulating what she had seen him do years before, when she was serving in a bar. It was part of his chat-up technique. They are instantly attracted to each other and thus begins a fun-filled period, which is portrayed as being everything one could wish from a relationship. The only problem is that Georgio had a girlfriend, Agnès, a model, who calmly informs Tony that she has stolen her man. It transpires that Georgio has known quite a few models: quite a few women in fact. And Georgio hasn't quite fully broken off his relationship with Agnès, so when she attempts suicide and ends up seriously ill in hospital, Georgio starts to spend more and more time with her, and less with Tony.

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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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Hors la Loi (Outside the Law)


Hors la Loi (Outside the Law)

This film is set against the backdrop of the Algerian independence movement. It follows the life of three brothers from the end of the Second World War up to Algerian independence in 1962, although we are in fact first introduced to them when, as children, their father's land was taken away from the family in Algeria. The film has attracted controversy in respect of historical accuracy, with accusations that it portrays the French as the villains, while likening the Algerians to the Resistance during the War. I must say that I certainly came away with that feeling.

As adult brothers we are next introduced to the three of them, Messaoud, Abdelkader and Saïd, at a parade in the Algerian town of Sétif. This was on the morning of 8 May 1945, the same day that Nazi Germany surrendered. The film depicts the French forces opening fire on the marchers, the impression given that it was French aggression, while historical reports are more equivocal, indicating that there was aggression on both sides. Whatever the truth, it is acknowledged that this event was a turning point in Franco-Algerian relations, leading to the Algerian War of 1954-1962. In February 2005 the French ambassador to Algeria formally apologised for the massacre, referring to it as an "inexcusable tragedy".

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Pension complète (French Cuisine)


Pension complète (French Cuisine)

Another whimsical French comedy with a somewhat improbable plot, but that doesn't really matter. François and Charlotte run a gourmet hotel and restaurant, but while François is fixated on attaining his first Michelin star, Charlotte is feeling neglected. Charlotte's sister Pascale appears to be an almost permanent fixture, as well as being somewhat of an embarrassment with her devil-may-care approach to life. Early in the film we have the low point of François forgetting Charlotte's birthday and then trying to make amends with a rapidly conjured cake and a rendition of happy birthday from the staff. Charlotte is not impressed.

Into this already strained relationship comes Alex, Charlotte's former husband who was thought to have died in a tsunami. This clearly brings with it a few problems. First, there is the fact that as Alex isn't dead, he remains Charlotte's husband, nullifying her marriage to François. Second, and arguably more of a problem, is that Alex still legally owns the hotel, even though it was rebuilt and its image completely transformed after Alex disappeared. Third, and perhaps the biggest problem of all, is that Charlotte appears to be gravitating towards Alex and away from François. However, François reluctantly agrees to give Alex a room, allowing him continuing access to Charlotte. Full board, you might say, which is the literal translation of the French title.

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Eye in the Sky

I didn't get to see this film when it was at the cinema but caught up with it the other evening on Amazon Prime. It's a tense film that explores the modern day fight against terrorists by the use of armed drones and other technology. Some of the equipment shown is either pushing the envelope quite hard or purely fanciful. The high resolution cameras on the drone I can just about believe, as I can the camera mounted in an imitation humming bird on a wall outside the property under surveillance, but the flying bug was perhaps pushing things a bit too far. Even if I accept that such a thing exists, which it may well do, manoeuvring it as precisely as was shown in the film using just a smartphone sized controller seemed highly questionable. But let's forget the tech and consider the plot.

Eye in the Sky

Helen Mirren plays Colonel Katherine Powell based at the Northwood control centre in Middlesex, UK. She is part of an international team monitoring Al-Shabaab militants in Nairobi, Kenya. In Nevada a USAF team is controlling an armed drone while at Pearl Harbour the intelligence centre is responsible for identifying targets using incredibly fast, and accurate, facial recognition technology. Kenyan troops are also on standby and they have field operatives monitoring the target property. The weak point in the chain turns out to be a COBRA meeting attended by British Government ministers, the Attorney General and the long-suffering and very frustrated Lieutenant General Frank Benson, played brilliantly by the late Alan Rickman.

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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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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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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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Gemma Bovery

I had read about this film when it was released and although it wasn't included in Amazon's free Prime offers, I decided to fork out £3.49 to see it. The attraction was that it had a fair amount of French dialogue and it stars Gemma Arteton, who I find very attractive.

Gemma Bovery

The plot involves a baker, Martin, who, having eschewed the life as a publisher in Paris, has returned to his little home town to run his late father's bakery. Onto the scene arrives Gemma Bovery and Charles her husband, an English couple who have bought a rundown house opposite the baker's home. Martin is immediately taken with Gemma, constantly looking at her to the point of leering - "goodbye to sexual tranquility". But that's not his only interest in her. He is fascinated by the fact that a 'Bovery' has moved into the area, the very region where Gustave Flaubert, the author of Madame Bovary, was born, and where his famous novel was set.

His fascination deepens when Gemma appears to be having a liaison with a young man, Hervé, whose family is local aristocracy. The parallels with Flaubert's novel intrigue Martin. He imagines himself as a director of a film and casts these characters into their present roles. To Martin the parallels with the Madame Bovary novel are glaringly obvious, even if they're not so to his wife and son. Emma and Charles from the novel become Gemma and Charles. In the novel Emma's romantic involvements don't end well, and Martin fears that the same fate awaits Gemma. He therefore takes steps to try to end her affair with Hervè.

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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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L'Hermine (Courted)

Amazon currently has a number of very good films on offer that are free to watch for Prime members. The latest on my watchlist is L'Hermine, referring to the attire of the criminal court judge in this courtroom drama. The English title, Courted, is a play on words, referring obviously to the court, while also alluding to the romantic story that runs in parallel with the progress of the trial.

L'Hermine (Courted)

Michel Racine is the judge, or more correctly in the French criminal court (cour d'assises), le président of the court. A fact that he takes pains to point out to a number of the witnesses, who mistakingly address him as Monsieur Judge. He has a ruthless reputation, not improved by having a touch of the flu, and is about to try a case where a young man is accused of killing his baby daughter by kicking her. We are shown the preliminaries of the case, including the selection of jurors. During this process, whereby the judge picks names from a pot, the name Ditte Lorensen-Coteret comes out, causing an immediate change in the judge's demeanour. There is obviously history between them.

The trial commences and a recess is called much earlier than usual, caused it seems by Judge Racine's encounter with Ditte. When things recommence the accused, Martial Beclin, refuses to answer any questions, simply saying in response to each that he didn't kill his daughter. The trial progresses with evidence from witnesses and interventions by the lawyers for each side, but it is interesting how the judge himself also asks searching questions. Also, before each witness is dismissed from the stand the jurors are also given the opportunity to ask questions.

During a lunch break Racine contacts Ditte by SMS and eventually they arrange to meet. Apparently such a meeting between the judge and a juror is not illegal but highly unusual. It transpires that Ditte, a nurse, looked after Racine after a serious accident, following which he had effectively fallen in love with her. Attempts then to stay in contact with her had failed. He doesn't want this second encounter to end in the same way and expresses his love for her, while she remains noticeably noncommittal. At a subsequent meeting between them, Ditte's 17 year old daughter is there, having unexpectedly come to court to watch proceedings. Racine and her actually get along very well, although she does take a call when he's part way through reciting verse, prompting him to remark that she obviously wasn't impressed by the poet.

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Un Homme Idéal

This film scored highly on Amazon Prime and received 100%/79% scores from the critics/audience at Rotten Tomatoes, which isn't a bad recommendation.

Un Homme Idéal

Mathieu Vasseur dreams of being an author while he works shifting boxes in a dead end job. Soon after we're introduced to him, his latest manuscript is rejected by the publishers. Then a strange thing happens. While carrying out a house clearance of a deceased elderly man, who they are told has no family, he comes across a journal that was written during the Algerian conflict. Complete with sketches and photographs it's not only a wonderful record, but it's also a credible piece of writing. Mathieu decides to copy it and submit it as his own work. The result is astounding, the publisher telephoning to compliment him and seek a meeting. This he defers to give himself time to put together some credible research materials and acquaint himself more fully with the Algerian conflict.

The book is a phenomenal success, and at a reception organised in his honour one gets the impression that some people have doubts about his ability to write such a book at a young age, with limited life experience. But he carries it off, and what's more he meets a young woman, Alice Fursac, a literary expert who he first saw when he peeked in on a lecture at a college where he was collecting stuff as part of his job. Inevitably he and Alice become an item, and we jump forward to see them on the way to visit her parents, a wealthy couple who live in a mansion in the south of France. The credits include reference to La Seyne-sur-Mer in the Var Department of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.

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The Hateful Eight

I missed this film when it was on at the cinema and we caught up with it on Amazon Prime this week. It's classic Tarantino: lots of violence and blood but with an underlying humour throughout. As Mark Kermode said in his Observer review, "Hard to hate but tough to love."

The Hateful Eight

It's a long film presented in 'chapters', the first of which is 'Last Stage to Red Rock.' As the stagecoach crosses the breathtaking winter landscape, magnificently filmed, it encounters Major Marquis Warren, a bounty hunter with three corpses to transport. At this point we're also introduced to the passengers in the stagecoach, John 'Hangman' Ruth, and his prisoner, Daisy Domergue. After a bit of negotiation, and with an obvious reluctance, Ruth agrees to Warren accompanying them. The reluctance is because Ruth's passion for bringing prisoners in alive, so they can hang, exposes him to far greater risk than if he were to bring them in dead.

Further along the road they encounter and pick up Chris Mannix, a former confederate marauder who claims to be the new Sheriff of Red Rock, a claim rubbished by Ruth who regards him more as a criminal than a lawman. This 'yes I am, no you're not' banter continues between the two of them.

As the coach makes its way, trying desperately to outrun a blizzard, we're treated to a greater insight into its occupants, and also some gratuitous violence by Ruth towards Daisy. To him she's a murderer who deserves no special womanly treatment. In time they arrive at Minnie's Haberdashery, an isolated outpost that receives weary travellers. One is bound to ask why there would be a haberdashery store in the middle of nowhere.

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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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Dans La Cour

I'm working my way through the French language films on Amazon Prime and from the brief summary on screen I expected this to be another light comedy. It's billed under comedy and drama but the story is for the most part a bit sombre, and the ending is far from funny. That said, there is some humour along the way.

Dans La Cour

Antoine is a seriously depressed singer with a rock band and the film begins with him walking out of that life, literally. Unskilled, and of a somewhat sullen disposition, he finds it difficult to find and hold down a job. A woman at the job centre (agence d'intérim) suggests a job as a caretaker (guardien) at an apartment block, which comes with accommodation. He gets the job, not as a result of his interview which is far from sparkling, but because the landlord's wife, Mathilde, played by Catherine Deneuve, takes a rather instant liking to him. Mathilde, as it turns out, is also depressed, worrying herself awake at nights because of a growing crack in one of the walls.

Antione and Mathilde are thus somewhat like souls, and as he struggles with life, not helped by drinking and taking drugs, she becomes more and more obsessed with the state of the building. A particularly annoying tenant, Laurent, is continually bothering Antoine, while another young man, Stéphane, who also lives in one of the flats, presents problems by storing a number of probably stolen bicycles in the courtyard, one of Laurent's bugbears. Then Lev arrives, selling self-help books on meditation, and Antoine, feeling sorry for him, ends up allowing him to stay in the storeroom. Lev has a dog, and the night time barking becomes another source of complaints from Laurent. Thus Antoine's desire to have a quiet life turns out not to be realised. The comedy aspect of this film lies in these many interactions.

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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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L'Edudiante et Monsieur Henri

Claude Brasseur plays Henri, a curmudgeonly old man living alone in a Paris apartment. Constance, played by Noémie Schmidt, arrives to rent a room. Henri is far from welcoming, the room having been put up for rent by his son, with whom he doesn't really get on. Constance isn't hopeful that she will get the room, but she does, only because Henri apparently picked her name out of a hat, or so he says.

L'Etudiante et Monsieur Henri

Constance is in Paris to study, her parents being market traders in Orléans. There is a piano in the flat that's strictly off limits to Constance, which is a pity since she plays. We learn that her music teacher in Orléans discouraged her, thus her attempt to study academically, a forlorn attempt as it turns out when she fails her examinations. We also learn that Henri's wife, long deceased, played, thus Henri's sensitivity on the matter. During a visit by Henri's son, Paul, his wife, Valerie, asks Constance to play the piano. Henri relents in the circumstances but as Constance plays Henri is moved to tears, but he realises that Constance has talent.

Henri doesn't like Valerie and plots a devilish scheme to get Paul to realise that she isn't the woman for him. Henri asks Constance to seduce Paul. Not to the point of anything serious happening, but to make him realise that there are better choices for him. Constance doesn't want to do this, but a bit of less than gentle persuasion by Henri, along the lines of "if you don't do it you must leave', causes Constance to play along with the scheme. It turns out to be a bit too successful as Paul falls for Constance (who wouldn't?), while his wife leaves him and starts divorce proceedings.

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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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Une Famille à Louer

My latest French language film is a good bit lighter than the last (Éperdument). This time we have an entirely improbable scenario but, in the time-honoured fashion of French films, the characterisations make it appear believable while providing a good deal of amusement.

Une Famille à Louer

Paul-André is a businessman who in making lots of money from software development burnt himself out. He now lives in a palatial if somewhat boring mansion with his butler, appearing to be constantly morose although denying that is the case. Violette is a single mum with two children and has just been released from remand after assaulting a supermarket security guard, who caught her stealing a chicken to feed her family. She is broke and under threat of losing her children to care. Interviewed on TV she makes a heartfelt appeal about the importance of the family and not wanting to lose her children.

Paul-André catches this interview and has the brilliant idea of helping Violette, by paying her debts and renting her family. As I've said, the plot is improbable. His reason is that he wants to experience having a family before committing to have his own. Having dispensed with the assurance that he is not looking for a relationship with Violette, a contract is drawn up for a three-month trial. Violette insists, however, that he lives with them. So we see Paul-André leaving his mansion to move into a house that has the appearance of a shanty.

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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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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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April and the Extraordinary World

It was my birthday on Tuesday and we sat down to watch a film of my choice on Amazon Prime. Based on reviews I chose this French animated film that has the appearance of the bande dessinée comic books that are popular in France, and a story line that it well fitted to a comic strip. We are treated to an alternative world that is the result of a failed scientific experiment in the time of Napoleon III that results in his demise. The development of a serum to make the Emperor's troops invincible creates instead talking animals and two talking reptiles that escape the explosion that finished him off.

April and the Extraordinary World

The story recommences in 1931. Napoleon V now rules and all the renowned scientists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries have disappeared. This alternative world has not, therefore, benefitted from their discoveries, and steam power is the prevalent technology. We are introduced to a young girl called April, who watches her parents try to recreate the invincibility serum, but the authorities want to get their hands on it and the resulting chase ends tragically with her parents' death within a strange black storm cloud.

By 1941 April has grown up and takes up the challenge of the serum, working in a hidden laboratory in the head of a statue. But she is still pursued by the authorities. She has a cat, Darwin, a speaking cat of course. She eventually develops the serum and tries it on Darwin, who is seriously unwell, but it doesn't seem to work. Thinking Darwin has died, in anger she throws things about the lab, among which is a snow globe given to her by her mother, but which actually was filled with the original serum. Darwin licks a bit of the leaking liquid and revives.

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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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The Concert

Back to the French films on Amazon, although this one starts in Moscow and the first 40 minutes or so are largely in Russian, with subtitles of course.

The Concert

Dismissed from the Bolshoi orchestra thirty years earlier, for hiring Jewish musicians, Andrei Filipov has a cleaning job at the Bolshoi but his mind is still on the stage, conducting his beloved music. By chance he intercepts a fax from Paris inviting the Bolshoi to perform at the Châtelet Theatre and at that moment decides to reconstitute his old orchestra and go to Paris impersonating the Bolshoi. Getting the musicians back together is no easy task and neither is finding a manager and backer. At times one feels the whole venture is going to fall apart, particularly when we find out that none of the musicians has a valid passport. However, Gypsy friends are at hand, and we witness the musicians lining up in the airport departure hall with their photographs from the photo kiosk, as the Gypsies stick the photos in each 'new' passport and officially stamp it. The interest of an inquisitive police officer is soon dealt with!

We arrive in Paris about halfway through the film, where a prominent violin soloist, Anne-Marie Jacquet, has been requested to play Tchaikovsky's violin concerto with the orchestra. The reason for this choice becomes apparent when we learn that there is history between soloist's manager, Guylène, and Filipov, and that Anne-Marie has a history of which she has never been made aware. The disorganisation that prevailed before the group left Moscow doesn't improve on its arrival in Paris. In fact, once each of them is given some money in advance, they disappear on the town and don't turn up for the first rehearsal. Things are not looking good.

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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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Our Kind of Traitor

Skimming through Amazon Prime the other evening we came across this film, which was a bit surprising as it was only released in May 2016. However, during the lead-in Amazon Prime were credited along with other producers, so that perhaps explains things.

Our Kind of Traitor

I remember seeing the trailer at the cinema so had an inkling about the story. It's based on a John le Carré novel, so the pedigree was good.

The prologue treats us to some shady goings on involving the Russian mafia, leading to gangland executions of an apparently respectable family. This cues the main story involving Dima, a mafia money man who has become a target of his new boss, The Prince, and seeks a way to protect his family from what he sees as the inevitable outcome. To do this he befriends an innocent holiday maker, Perry, who's on holiday in Morocco with his barrister wife, Gail, she being rather too involved in her work and leaving Perry to his own devices. Dima sees Perry as an incorruptible 'good man' and entrusts him to carry information back to MI6 in Britain, as a trade for the safety of Dima's family. Unfortunately the mafia has a highly placed politician in Britain that can thwart these plans, but a tenacious MI6 agent, Hector, is prepared to ignore his superiors' orders and pursue Dima's offer. He co-opts Perry and Gail who at first are reluctant to agree to help, but as time passes Perry, and then Gail, begin to feel sympathy for Dima, despite his mafia connections and his violent background.

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