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Kilburnlad

Searching


Searching

It's always good to watch a film that breaks new ground, in that the story here is told exclusively through the screens of mobile devices and computers. This, I believe, may be a first for cinema. The film itself is gripping, although if it had been filmed conventionally probably wouldn't be regarded as anything other than a competent thriller.

As somebody who has been into computing since the early 80s the approach was particularly interesting. I watched the early flashbacks through the screen of Windows XP and then name-checked the newer technology and apps as the story moved forward to the present day. After a while you can easily forget that you're seeing everything as a form of voyeurism. Unless of course your nerd factor is actively tuned to the technology, judging the veracity of what you're watching in terms of your own knowledge of the subject.

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BlacKkKlansman


BlacKkKlansman

An African American cop infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s is hard to believe, but this is the plot of this film from Spike Lee. Ron Stallworth always wanted to be a cop, so he applies to the all-white Colorado Springs police force and convinces his interviewers to take him on, beautifully coiffed afro and all. His inauspicious start in the records archive soon starts to demoralise him, so he requests a transfer to the detectives. At first denied (surprise, surprise!), an opportunity arises when the department wants somebody to go under cover at a meeting being addressed by Kwame Ture, a national civil rights leader. This goes well, and also introduces Ron to Patrice Dumas, whose afro outdoes Ron's. She's president of the black students' union and becomes Ron's ongoing love interest.

Sitting with the detectives, and flush with his success at the civil rights rally, Ron spots an advert from the Ku Klux Klan for new members. So he phones the number and speaks to Walter, convincing him of his anti-black credentials. A meeting is arranged. Of course Ron can't go, for obvious reasons, but Flip Zimmerman, one of his fellow detectives, agrees to do the 'meetings', while Ron handles the telephone conversations. The fact that their voices are different, and that Zimmerman is a non-practising Jew, making him as much a target of the Klan as Ron, just adds to the mix of tension and humour.
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L'Atessa (The Wait)


L'Atessa

Although I’m including this as a French film, it is actually an Italian production set on Sicily. The two lead female actors are, however, French, and the dialogue shifts seamlessly between French and Italian depending on who is present in the scene.

Juliette Binoche’s Anna is mourning the loss of her son, Giuseppe, as we witness the sombre religious rites and a house blacked out from daylight with mirrors covered. She receives a call from Giuseppe’s girlfriend, Jeanne, who is due to visit, but she doesn’t tell her about Giuseppe.

Jeanne arrives while family members are still present, and is clearly confused by what she sees. At first Anna doesn’t want to see her, but when she does she says that she has just lost her brother. One gets the feeling that Anna sees Jeanne as a continuing link with her son, there being more than a touch of supernatural about this film.

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The Equalizer 2


The Equalizer 2

Denzil Washington stars in this sequel to the 2014 adaptation of an 80s TV series. I enjoyed the earlier film and it must be said that this latest story is cast in very much the same vein. Critics reviews haven't been very favourable but it seems that audiences have been more inclined to have enjoyed what they saw. Denzil Washington is of course a big draw and despite arguably being too old to do what his screen persona Robert McCall does, the credibility factor doesn't seem to dissuade his fans.

As with many action films, the opening sequence has little to do with the ultimate plot, it being an introduction to McCall's penchant for taking up just causes on behalf of people with whom he has but a casual acquaintance. On this occasion it's the local bookseller, whose daughter has been abducted by her father. Cue the interior of a Turkish train, with McCall lightly disguised as some sort of religious elder having a conversation with the aforesaid father, as three mean looking henchmen sit in the background. We all know what's going to happen as McCall sets his watch timer to zero.

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Ant-Man and the Wasp


Ant-Man and the Wasp

I didn't see the original Ant-Man film and am far from up to date with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so some of the plot references were no doubt lost on me. It appears that Ant-Man didn't emerge from Captain America: Civil War exactly smelling of roses, and he is constantly reminded of this during the film. His previous bad judgement has, however, resulted in him, as his normal persona Scott Lang, being held under house arrest with an electronic tag, where he seems quite content, especially when playing with his daughter Cassie. And, what's more, he only has days to go before the tag will be removed.

Enter Dr Hank Pym, or to be more precise, his daughter Hope, aka The Wasp. Pym is a scientist at the forefront of quantum physics, which those of you who saw the previous film probably already know. He and his wife, Janet, were pioneers on the ant-person scene, and in one 'save-the-world' exploit Janet reduced herself into the sub-molecular world and consequently became trapped in the sub-atomic quantum realm. Back to Scott, who has a very vivid dream featuring both Janet and a young Hope. Pym and Hope recognise this as possible quantum entanglement (reading up on quantum physics may help you here) between Scott and Janet, proving that she is still alive. So Wasp kidnaps Scott, who is far from happy as it could violate his parole. But Scott and Hope have a bit of a thing going, so he's probably not totally unhappy.

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La dorMeuse Duval


La dorMeuse Duval

This film is categorised as a comedy, and for the first half one can believe it is. But as things progress it becomes very cynical and while comic elements remain, the unfolding events are far from funny. It is based quite closely on the novel Les Bottes Rouge by Franz Bartelt.

The title is a play on words from the title of the poem ‘Le Dormeur du val’, penned by Arthur Rimbaud in 1870. Rimbaud was born in Charleville-Mézières, a town on the River Meuse close to the Belgian border and the setting for this film. The film’s director, Manual Sanchez, was inspired by this poem, and another by Rimbaud entitled Ophélie, and you will see the clear influence of the latter from the image above.

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Mission: Impossible - Fallout


Mission: Impossible - fallout

The latest Mission Impossible, which is number 6 in the series, certainly doesn't disappoint. In fact it could be the best to date. Tom Cruise, as Ethan Hunt, teams up with Luther and Benji to save the world from the Apostles, a group reformed from the remnants of the Syndicate following Hunt's capture of Solomon Lane. Isla Faust is also here, of course, but on this occasion she's not actually with the team. Her mission is somewhat different, and also so secret as to be kept from Ethan.

The mission is also complicated by CIA chief Erika Stone's insistance that one of her operatives, August Walker, joins the IMF team. This is ostensibly because in the opening sequence of the film we see Ethan missing the opportunity of recovering three plutonium-filled capsules because he put the life of Luther above that of the mission. Walker, we are assured, would not have been so sentimental.

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Chocolat


Chocolat

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

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

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Après le sud


Après le sud

I'm not sure what the title Après le sud alludes to, but the English title, Heatwave, perhaps better describes the film. Set in the south of France on a sweltering hot day, we follow the lives of four people. A series of largely unrelated events lead to tragedy, but first the director sets the scene by introducing us to each of these people. Before the credits roll, we see Georges, an elderly man, who is lovingly cleaning his shotgun in his flat. This perhaps foretells of trouble to come, but at this stage everything is quite innocent.

After the credits we move to the apartment of Amélie, and her mother Anne. Anne is grossly overweight and we're treated to a very explicit view of the two women as Anne gets in the shower after Amélie steps out. Typical French realism. Amélie leaves for her summer job in a supermarket, while Anne, after a few household chores, sets off in a taxi. She leaves a message saying she's going to Aix, but in fact is headed for a clinic in Marseilles for gastric band surgery to control her weight.

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Cézanne et Moi


Cézanne et Moi

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

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

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Unsane


Unsane

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

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

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Clouds of Sils Maria


Clouds of Sils Maria

This film was advertised in one of my regular email notifications from the BBC. When I saw that it starred Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart it piqued my interest. So we launched iPlayer and settled down to watch the story unfold. Both of us were a bit tired, and this is not a film to watch unless you are prepared to give it undivided attention. In fact, it's probably one of those films that deserves at least two viewings. I must admit that at times I found myself lost.

Binoche plays Maria Enders, an international film star and stage actress. She is known for playing the part of Sigrid in both the film and stage versions of Maloja Snake, by the Swiss playwright Wilhelm Melchior. But this was twenty years earlier, and we now meet her travelling on a train with her young assistant, Valentine, played by Kristen Stewart. They are on the way to Zurich to accept an award on behalf of the now elderly Melchior, after which they plan to visit him in his remote Swiss alpine home in Sils Maria. I found the dialogue sometimes difficult to catch as Maria and Valentine spoke on the train, there being a lot of 'train' noise to contend with. At least when Maria took phone calls in French we had sub-titles! During the train journey they learn of Melchior's death.

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Les Hommes du feu


Les Hommes du feu

Films about firemen, as with those involving the police and other emergency services, seem to hold an enduring fascination for the public. But such films often concern themselves with acts of extreme bravery, or extreme disaster, with heroic derring do. But here the director has deviated from this approach, and in Les Hommes du feu we have the story of a largely unspectacular rural fire station in the south of France, with the men and women shown serving the community during some far from spectacular incidents, although nonetheless important in their own right. Of course, being French, what we do have are some very human story lines underpinning the action.

Bénédicte Meursault has been transferred to this rural brigade to join an all-male team. She is a deputy chief so will outrank all bar the captain, Philippe, who is a wise and experienced operator. Having endured the 'initiation' of being on the receiving end of a bucket of water as she leaves the captain's office, Bénédicte seems to settle in quickly, soon impressing her male colleagues during the exercise runs around the station. However, this honeymoon period is rudely ended when, after her first major call out to a road accident, it transpires that the team overlooked a casualty who had been thrown clear of a vehicle. As team leader it was her responsibility to check, and even though the conditions on the night were horrendous, with driving rain and a confused scene, this oversight plays heavily on Bénédicte, who offers her resignation. But Philippe refuses to accept it.

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I, Tonya


I, Tonya

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

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

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Lady Bird


Lady Bird

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

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

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L'École buissonnière (The School of Life)


L'École buissonnière

A delightful French comedy-drama set in the forests of Solonge, where the director Nicolas Vanier grew up on a family farm. This film is a treat for anybody who enjoys nature in addition to telling a heart-warming story.

The film begins in 1927 Paris, where after the war there are a lot of orphans. A woman named Célestine arrives at an orphanage where she is asked if she would take a young boy named Paul, who was originally from the area in Solonge where she lives. She is reluctant, and we detect that this boy features in her past, although we do not learn any more at this stage. She is introduced to Paul, and seeing the conditions in the orphanage, and how he is treated, her compassion overrules her reticence.

When they arrive back at Sologne we see that Célestine is in service to the local Count. Her husband, Borel, is the gamekeeper on the Count's estate. She introduces Paul as her cousin's son, which tells us that his real identity is best kept secret. He isn't there long before he learns of Totoche, the local poacher, characterised superbly by François Cluzet. Borel's main objective in life is to entrap Totoche in the act, this being all the more amusing since Totoche has a thing going with Célestine, who acts as an advanced warning of Borel's plans. Initially Totache wants nothing to do with Paul, but after Paul rescue's his dog from the river, the two gradually become friends, with Paul lapping up Totoche's immense knowledge of the life of the forest. As a drama this film could easily double as a nature documentary.

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Mal de pierres (From the Land of the Moon)


Mal de Pierres

Back to French films after the excitement of Black Panther. And this time it is a drama set in 1950s Provence, starring Marion Cotillard as a troubled young woman, Gabrielle, seeking more from life than her humble existence on a lavender farm is offering. The film actually starts years later with Gabrielle, her husband, José, and son, Marc, going to a music competition, where Marc is to play. On the way their taxi is held up by a double-parked lorry in Lyon, and as Gabrielle gazes out of the car window she spots a street name that has a great significance for her, but at this point we don't know why that is.

We then cut to her as a much younger woman, standing in a stream with the water seemingly stimulating sexually her as it rushes between her legs while she wears no underwear. From there, she goes to a school, where the teacher is alone as she sits down at the back of the room. When she does approach him it becomes clear that she has a serious sexual crush on him, feelings that he in no way reciprocates. Back at home, her mother in particular is very disturbed by Gabrielles behaviour, matters coming to a head when Gabrielle, having once again not managed to gain the teacher's attention, assaults him at the post-harvest party. After this she runs off into the countryside, resulting in the need for a search party, that finds her collapsed with exhaustion on an embankment.

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Black Panther


Black Panther

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

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

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Médecin de campagne (Irreplaceable)


Médecin de compagne

Another gentle French film that takes us into rural France were the local doctor, Jean-Pierre Werner, keeps the inhabitants healthy through a combination of years of experience and a very pragmatic approach. Once again the English title goes for simplicity, focusing on his 'irreplaceability' rather than his doctoring. But the need to replace him is a factor in the film, because at the beginning we see him diagnosed with a brain tumour, and being told that he must slow down. But, he's not that sort of man, and he continues with his work, which is clearly very important to him.

His consultant at the hospital, obviously conscious of Jean-Pierre's stubbornness, arranges for another doctor to help him, Nathalie Delezia, who Jean-Pierre mistakes as a patient when she arrives late in the day at his surgery. One can see that he initially resents her presence, being somewhat picky when overseeing her dealings with patients. But she isn't easily upset, and gradually eases her way into the practice. Initial concerns from some of the patients, who have become dependant on 'Dr Werner', gives way to acceptance and in time she becomes the doctor of choice for some of them. She is, however, unaware of Jean-Pierre's illness.

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The Shape of Water


The Shape of Water

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

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

Ce Qui Nous Lie


Ce Qui Nous Lie

After a bit of a break I'm back to watching French films while exercising on my static bike. Amazon has added quite a few French films since I last looked, and Ce qui nous lie has been a superb reintroduction. The English title is Back to Burgundy, which while describing the basic plot, doesn't capture the essence of the story. The translation of the French title is What binds us, which more accurately describes what is a story of family bonding as three siblings come together to resolve financial difficulties following the death of their father. It is beautifully filmed in wide screen with sublime scenery.

The story takes place almost entirely within the environs of a vineyard, where we are first treated to a view from the house as the seasons change, our narrator being the young Jean. But Jean left the family to travel the world, largely because of his uneasy relationship with his father, something that we visit as flashbacks during the story. Jean has now returned from his vineyard in Australia, the reason being to see his dying father. His sister, Juliette, is overjoyed, but his younger brother Jérémie is not so happy, having feelings of animosity towards Jean, particularly as he wasn't there when their mother died. Things are not helped when the three find that the 500,000€ inheritance tax on the estate is far beyond their ability to pay, forcing them to consider ways to raise money.

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A Ghost Story


A Ghost Story

This film didn't make our Cineworld multiplex, so when the DVD appeared we decided to watch it, based on some very interesting positive reviews. It's number nine in the Guardian's top 50 films of 2017.

It is different, and I would suggest very different from any supernatural film that you may have seen. It's not horror, and to an extent it's not even spooky. And even though the ghost has a few malevolent moments, it's not really scary.

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play a young couple living in a bit of a shack of a home in Texas. She wants to move, and he doesn't. We only know him as C, and her as M, not that proper names are that important to the story. One night they are disturbed by the sound of somebody 'crashing' the keyboard of his piano. They cannot discover why this happened, and at this point you think it's the beginning of the ghost story. But it isn't, and all will be revealed much later.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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

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

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Hostiles


Hostiles

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

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

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

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All the Money in the World


All the Money in the World

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

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

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

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Molly's Game


Molly's Game

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

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

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

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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The Zookeeper's Wife


The Zookeeper's Wife

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

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

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The Lost City of Z


The Lost City of Z

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

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

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

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Beasts of the Southern Wild

We recorded this film a considerable time ago as it had received very good reviews, although I didn't know much about the story. Yesterday evening we finally got around to watching it.

It is said to be a response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster although the setting is fictional. It is certainly an unusual film that verges on fantasy, but I've no doubt that there are bayou communities in Louisiana that exist in such poverty and are at such risk from rising sea levels.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

The star of the film is Hushpuppy, brilliantly played by Quvenzhané Wallis, who was 6 at the time of the filming. At the age of 9 she became the youngest Best Actress nominee in the history of the Oscars. In the film she lives with her father, Wink, in a ramshackle home raised above the ground in deference to the constant risk of flooding. Wink and Hushpuppy seem to have a fraught relationship as they literally just survive in the hostile environment, not that either of them complains too much. Their neighbours are equally bizarre, although apparently reasonably content with their way of life. As if things aren't difficult enough, a major storm is forecast and everybody makes preparations as best they can, although in the aftermath the raised homes prove to be largely inadequate against the freak weather.

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Les Anarchistes

I'm back to watching French films on Amazon Prime while I'm on my exercise bike. I've had a break while I watched Season 3 of Arrow, which quite frankly has started to become a bit too daft as they try to develop new plot lines. Everyone's turning into a superhero of sorts!

Anyway, back to Les Anarchistes. As the Guardian reviewer said, "…. a film that couldn’t be any more French if it tried." It opened the Canne's Critics Week in 2015. Set in Paris in 1899, Jean Albertini is a normal policeman who is taken aside by a superior and asked to infiltrate an anarchists' group. He gets himself a job at the nail factory, a hellish sort of place where the workers have plenty to grumble about, and where members of the group are employed. He strikes up a particular friendship with Elisée Mayer, after 'saving' him during a police raid, which itself was a set-up to enable Jean to prove his loyalty to the group.

Les Anarchistes

While Elisée clearly trusts Jean, other members of the group are less sure. Elisée seems not to be in the best of health, and his girlfriend, Judith, soon starts to develop an interest in Jean, feelings that Jean willingly reciprocates. We therefore have the classic dilemma of the infiltrator having split loyalties between his police role and his feelings for Judith.

The anarchists exploits become more and more daring, while Jean continues to feed intelligence to his superior. We see Jean becoming concerned as he is obliged to participate in criminality and at one point asks to be taken off the case, a request that is firmly rejected. The dichotomy has to come to an end and as you may imagine there isn't a clean solution.

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Allied

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

Allied

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

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A United Kingdom


A United Kingdom

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

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Nocturnal Animals

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

alt text

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

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

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A Bigger Splash

Helen bought a couple of DVDs this week, one of which was this film. We watched it yesterday evening.

A Bigger Splash

A bit of research informs me that it is a remake of Jacques Deray's 1969 psychological thriller, La Piscine (The Swimming Pool). Certainly the swimming pool features strongly, particularly at the end.

It has a main cast of four. Tilda Swinton plays Marianne, a famous rock star who is taking time out with her partner, Paul, played by Matthias Schoenarts. Marianne is under orders not to speak as she tries to recover her voice. Their tranquility is shattered by the arrival of Harry, brilliantly played by Ralph Fiennes, a record producer who was once Mariannes lover, and who brings with him his daughter Penelope, played by Dakota Johnson of 50 Shades of Grey fame.

The frisson generated by the arrival of Harry and his daughter is immediate. He obviously isn't over Marianne, while Penelope has immediate eyes for Paul. To say Harry is over the top is an understatement. He never stops talking, is hyperactive, seems worryingly interested in his daughter and has a habit of stripping off for the pool, never mind everybody's presence. Meanwhile Paul remains reserved but is clearly uneasy. We learn that Harry actually introduced him to Marianne.

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The Accountant

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

The Accountant

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

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

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

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

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

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

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

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Deep Water Horizon

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

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

Deep Water Horizon

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

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Martyrs

The Telegraph's headline for the review of this film is "Why Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs is the greatest horror film of the 21st century". Meanwhile other critics have not been impressed, the Observer dismissing it with only two lines. It is probably the most horrific film I have ever watched.

Martyrs

It's difficult to review as any spoilers will make watching it almost pointless, unless you just want to witness the horror. It starts with a young girl, Lucy, managing to escape from painful captivity in an abandoned building. She is sent to a Catholic orphanage where she is befriended by Anna, who quickly realises that her quiet new friend is haunted by her experience, believing that monsters are attacking her.

The film moves on and the girls are now young women. Lucy believes that she has tracked down her tormentor from the days of her incarceration and dispenses summary justice to the woman and her family. She contacts Anna and at this point, about half way through the film, one doesn't really know what is going to happen next. What does happen is both surprising and shocking, and the second part of the film reveals why Lucy was taken as a child, and this time it is Anna who is to suffer.

As with many horror films religion plays a part, a big part in fact, but not perhaps in the way you may imagine. This is religion at its most fundamental, reminiscent of medieval times, where its proponents seek the ultimate truth and are prepared to inflict great suffering to satisfy their curiosity. And when the truth is extracted? Watch the film, but not if you are of a nervous disposition.

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The Legend of Tarzan

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

The Legend of Tarzan

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

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

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Alice Through the Looking Glass

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

Alice Through the Looking Glass

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

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

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

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Money Monster

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

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

Money Monster

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

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

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Café Society

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

Café Society

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

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

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Alléluia

Back to the Amazon Prime movies and the latest was Alléluia, a Belgian made French language film. It's been on my watchlist for a while, but I had avoided it up to now as it looked a bit sinister. My suspicions in this respect proved to be correct.

Alléluia

Michel is a serial womaniser who charms his way into relationships for the sexual experience and then to con money out of his victims. Gloria, who works in a morgue, is his latest conquest, and he leaves her after extracting money for a fictitious shoe company that he invented for the purpose. But Gloria isn't like the rest, she tracks him down and rather than take him to task, proposes that he continues with his exploits while staying with her as his true partner. This was always doomed to fail, and it does spectacularly.

Michel then woos and marries Marguerite, a lovely jolly woman who believes Gloria to be Michel's sister, although she soon begins to worry about their level of sibling intimacy. The foreplay before relieving Marguerite of her money naturally involves sex, at which point Gloria completely loses it. What follows is shocking in the extreme, be warned.

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Bastille Day

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

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

Bastille Day

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

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The Huntsman: Winter's War

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

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

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

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

The Huntsman: Winter's War

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

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

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Risen

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

Risen

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

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

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Suzanne

My French film season continues courtesy of Amazon Prime. This week the film was Suzanne, the story of a young woman's life from childhood, albeit that the film jumps large periods of time as her story unfolds.

I didn't know what to expect from this film. It starts at a children's dance show where Suzanne is with her father, watching her elder sister, Maria. We soon learn that their mum has died young, although we never learn why. The father, Nicolas, an HGV driver, is doing his best to bring up the two girls. At first Maria appears to be the 'wild child', but it is Suzanne who becomes pregnant and has the child, much to her father's shame.

Suzanne

Suzanne then meet Julien and he becomes the centre of her life, to the extent that she leaves her child, Charlie, with her father. But Charlie is taken into the care of foster parents as Nicolas's job means he is away from home for long periods.

Next we jump to a court hearing, where Suzanne is charged with theft and assault in relation to acts carried out with Julien, who fled justice and left her to carry the can. She is sentenced to five years in prison. While her father becomes almost estranged, her sister continues to support her.

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En Équilibre

Another French film from Amazon Prime. This time a love story but far from conventional.

Marc Guermont is a stunt horseman who is seriously injured during a scene. The take involves the horse and rider falling but after successfully doing this the horse, Othello, stamps on Marc's spine having been spooked by a dog. As a consequence he is left a T10 paraplegic.

Florence Kernel is the insurance assessor sent to settle his claim. Marc had already 'thrown out' the previous assessor when he had arrived at the hospital, and Florence had been sent to try a more gentle approach. But Marc felt that he was being short-changed and refused an early settlement. Florence, meanwhile, seemed to be beguiled by Marc's philosophy of life. A classical music lover, he questioned why she hadn't pursued her ambition to be a concert pianist, and this left her questioning her current life.

En Équilibre

She had clearly developed strong feelings for Marc and one is left with the impression that her marriage and family were no longer satisfying her. She is taken off Marc's case, as the company wants a fast settlement, and it stops his interim payments to pressurise him. Florence takes the unusual step of recommending a lawyer, an old college friend, and Marc realises that her interest in him perhaps extends beyond the professional-client relationship.

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Secret in Their Eyes

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

Secret in Their Eyes

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

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Une histoire d'amour

Working through the Amazon Prime list of French films I came to this one. It's very dark and certainly not easy to follow. Reviews were poor and I can see why. It was the debut feature from actress-turned-filmmaker Hélène Fillières and based on a novel by Régis Jauffret -- itself inspired by the murder of financial tycoon Edouard Stern.

Une histoire d'amour

There are really only three characters, who we simply know as the banker, the young woman and, although it isn't clear who he is at first, her husband. The young woman is played by Laetitia Casta, a sultry brunette, while her husband is far from young. She is having a relationship with the banker, who's a masochist and not a very nice person. Her husband is fully aware but I wasn't quite clear about her and his motives, other than perhaps a promised $1m gift.

The title translates as "A Love Story", but there doesn't appear to be much love about. She plays the dominatrix, reversing their real life roles where he is all powerful and she is the slave. Some of the scenes are extremely sensual but certainly not loving. All along he either refers to her as a pute (whore) or a muse, while she seems to be strangely attracted to him. Although I've not read or seen Fifty Shades of Grey, from what I've heard there are probably some similarities with this story. The film jumps about in time and you certainly have to pay attention and concentrate quite hard to fill in the gaps.

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Spotlight

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

Spotlight

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

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

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La Jalousie

Today's Amazon Prime film was a bit more challenging than the comedy I reported on yesterday.

Set in Paris, and filmed in extremely contrasty black and white, I believe it fits the genre referred to as New Wave.

La Jalousie

It begins with Louis leaving his partner, Clothilde, with whom he has a daughter, Charlotte, to start a new relationship with Claudia. He and Claudia are both actors, although Claudia isn't working and is somewhat depressed because of this. They live in a garret, which while may sound very romantic, is actually depressing for Claudia who wants something better. Louis says he loves Claudia and can't live without her, although this doesn't stop him flirting with a woman at the theatre where he is working, nor with a woman in the cinema. Meanwhile Claudia seems even less interested in a monogamous relationship, casually picking someone up in a bar.

The film's title is fitting, as Clothilde is jealous, for obvious reasons, while both Louis and Claudia exhibit feelings of jealousy, each it seems suspecting the other of infidelity. That was my reading of the situation but I may have got it wrong.

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The Big Short

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

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

The Big Short

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

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La Proie (The Prey)

I was so keen to see the end of this film that I prolonged my exercise bike session until it had finished. Well over an hour and a half. I normally watch a film over two sessions.

This was another Amazon Prime offering and I must say that the French films that I've watched on Prime so far have all been very good. This was no exception.

La Proie (The Prey)

Franck Adrien, a convicted bank robber, shares a cell with John-Louis Maurel, who's been accused of rape but professes his innocence. Adrien is the only one who knows where the bank heist loot is hidden and a group of other prisoners are intent on making him reveal where it's hidden. With the collusion of the guards Adrien is continually physically harassed by these prisoners.

Maurel is also a victim of harassment, but in his case because of his crime. At one point Adrien defends him, and when it transpires that Maurel is to be released, because his accuser has supposedly retracted her evidence, Adrien asks him to convey a message to his wife, this being a coded message that will allow her to find the loot.

Maurel, however, is far from innocent, and he and his wife collude to abscond with Adrien's young daughter, illegally adopting her as their own child, while also making off with the bank money. Adrien is visited by a former gendarme who tells him of his fears about Maurel being a serial sex offender and worried for his family's safety, Adrien escapes prison and sets out to find Maurel.

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The Revenant

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

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

The Revenant

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

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

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Les Adoptés

I'm gradually working my way through the French films that are free to view on Amazon Prime. The latest was Les Adoptés. Mélanie Laurent, who co-wrote the screenplay, directs and stars in this film. Not surprisingly, it's a film with a very female perspective.

Les Adoptés

Perhaps I'm biased, but French films seem to get under the skin of personal relationships far more convincingly than many American ones. Lisa (Mélanie Laurent), a single mum with a little boy, has an adopted sister, Marine (Marie Denarnaud), and the two of them enjoy a close relationship more symptomatic of twins than of a sister and an adopted sister. When Marine falls in love with Alex (Denis Ménochet) this relationship is destabilised, and Lisa takes a dislike to Alex. Their mother, Millie (Clémentine Célarié) is the voice of reason as the two sisters struggle to come to terms with a new set of emotions.

Marine and Alex go through a bit of a bad patch but make up, only for tragedy to strike. With Marine hospitalised, and in a serious condition, Lisa and Alex gradually warm to each other, Alex becoming a sort of a father figure for Lisa's son, Léo, brilliantly played by Théodore Maquet-Foucher.

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Belle & Sébastien

Belle & Sébastien is my latest viewing on Amazon Prime. This is a beautiful French film with the absolutely stunning backdrop of the French Alps.

The film starts with the young boy, Sébastien, and his adoptive grandfather, César, walking in the mountains. The initial views are breathtaking. César is searching for 'The Beast', a feral dog suspected of killing sheep. Other hunters from the village, lower down the mountain, shoot a deer, leaving its fawn on a precarious ledge. What follows is a vertiginous scene where César lowers Sébastian over the edge to recover the fawn. It made me feel quite queazy.

Belle & Sébastien

Sébastien roams the mountains at will, seemingly in preference to school, and it isn't long before 'The Beast', a Pyrenean Mountain Dog, and he meet up. The dog, which is wary of adults, forms a bond with the child, and Sébastien does everything he can to protect his new friend.

All this is taking place during the Second World War and German soldiers are posted in the village, their orders being to catch Jews, who they suspect are being led across the mountains to Switzerland by the local doctor, Guillaume.

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Joy

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

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

Joy

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

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

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

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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

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

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

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In the Heart of the Sea

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

In the Heart of the Sea

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

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

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

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The Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart

After La Fée, my latest viewing on Amazon Prime, the French film La prochaine fois je viserai le coeur, brings everything down to earth with a bump.

Based on a true story, it tells of a gendarme, Franck Neuhart, who doubles as a serial killer.

It's a disturbing film, featuring a killer who selects young women at random and executes them. His approach is to pick them up, it seemingly being quite common for young college girls to hitch lifts home, and then shoot them in the car and dump their bodies by the roadside. He doesn't assault them beforehand, his motive seemingly being simply to murder them. He uses stolen cars, which he abandons after the crime. And he writes little missives to the Gendarmerie, where he works, anonymously explaining his actions.

The Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart

The rivalry between the police and the gendarmes (they are different forces in France) is displayed, the former regarding the latter as what we would probably term country bobbies, not a patch on the city forces.

Franck is clearly mentally disturbed, and when he starts a relationship with the young woman who does his laundry, Sophie, one fears the worst. But he seems to have feelings for her and his conflicted emotions are clearly on display.

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Elle L'adore

Another French film from Amazon prime.

Muriel is the number one fan of the popular singer Vincent Lacroix. She is also a bit of a dreamer, recounting stories of questionable veracity to her friends. She works as a beautician and has two children, although they live with her former husband.

Elle L'adore

Vincent meanwhile has a girlfriend, Julie, who is a bit highly strung, and one evening 'loses it' because Vincent is playing poker with some friends. The friends leave, Vincent and Julie fight, and Julie is killed as a result of a terrible accident.

Vincent, obviously fearing for his career, hatches a plot to absolve himself from blame. He drives to Muriel's, where without telling her what has happened, he asks her to drive to his sister's in Switzerland, having moved Julie's body from his car boot to hers. Muriel would do anything for Vincent, so she agrees.

As far as Vincent is concerned everything goes to plan, Muriel having confirmed as much. But things didn't go to plan, and Muriel used her initiative, resulting in Julie's body being discovered in the Dordogne. The two police officers who lead the investigation are Pascal and Olivia, who are in a relationship, but Olivia has been unfaithful and there's friction between them, a fact that in the end affects the outcome of their case.

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Carol

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

Carol

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

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

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Bridge of Spies

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

Bridge of Spies

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

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

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11.6

I've come to the conclusion that where cinema is concerned I'm either easily pleased or my tastes doesn't align with the majority. Yesterday I watched 11.6, a French film about a security guard who one day just drives off with 11.6€ million in banknotes. That sounds straightforward enough, but his motives weren't financial, which separates this from the usual genre of bank heists. Reviews of this film were luke warm.

11.6

It's based on the true story of Toni Musulin, a complex individual who likes expensive cars and practises Krav Maga, although his use of this martial art in the film is limited to a few debilitating holds on his colleagues, by way of jests. He buys a Ferrari f430 Spider for 92,000€, apparently funded from hard-earned savings, amassed no doubt because his wife runs a bar and his money remains his.

A conscientious employee, he isn't at all valued by his boss and you can see his frustration building as the story unfolds. Once he has decided on the heist he distances himself from his wife and his normal work partners so as to not implicate them in his actions. Then, with meticulous planning, and reliance on the very poor procedures at his security company, he drives off with the money.

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Spectre

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

Spectre

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

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

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

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Burnt

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

Burnt

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

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

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The Martian

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

The Martian

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

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

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

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Suffragette

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

Suffragette

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

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

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

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Everest

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

Everest

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

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

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Macbeth

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

Macbeth

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

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

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Solace

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

Solace

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

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

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Legend

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

Legend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

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

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

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

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

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Southpaw

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

Southpaw

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

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

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

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Self/Less

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

Self/Less

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

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

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

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

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Jurassic World

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

Jurassic World

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

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

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

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Mr Holmes

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

Mr Holmes

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

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

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Far From the Madding Crowd

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

Far From the Madding Crowd

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

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

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

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Child 44

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

Child 44

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

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Woman in Gold

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

The Woman in Gold

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

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

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Amour

We didn't get to the cinema last week as it gets a bit busy during school holidays. We did, however, watch a film we had recorded: Amour, directed by Michael Haneke and starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.

Amour

This is an exceptional film. Georges and Anne are retired music teachers in their 80s living in a rather splendid Paris apartment. Anne suffers a stroke and the story, which takes place entirely within the apartment, is that of how Georges cares for her as she deteriorates and ultimately progresses into dementia. In accordance with her wishes, he won't allow her to go to a hospital or care home, a fact that confuses and frustrates their daughter, whose help Georges rejects.

This is a story so human, so real, that it feels at times almost like a fly-on-the-wall documentary. But that would understate its artistic brilliance. A richly deserved Palme d'Or winner at Cannes, this is directing and acting at its best. Despite the subject matter, it isn't without humour, largely thanks to Georges.

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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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

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

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The Boy Next Door

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

The Boy Next Door

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

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American Sniper

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

American Sniper

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

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

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Selma

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

Selma

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

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Inherent Vice

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

Inherent Vice

To put this into context, take two newspaper reviews.

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

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

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

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

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A Most Violent Year

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

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

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

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The Theory of Everything

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

The Theory of Everything

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

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

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Toutes nos Envies

To help me learn French I often watch French films with French subtitles. I recently saw Toutes nos Envies (All our Desires), a sad story but also one of courage. Unfortunately a lot of the dialogue was very quietly spoken and, consequently, difficult to understand. The subtitles also often appeared to show different words to those that the actors spoke. However, the story was easy to follow and I enjoyed this film. The performances were strong and the relationship between the main characters had depth.

Toutes nos Envies

Claire is a young judge who takes on finance companies in order to help clients who have taken on loans without realising that the interest rate is too high to pay. But she becomes unwell and discovers that she has an untreatable brain tumour.

Stéphane is an acquaintance who helps her by providing legal advice and a strong platonic relationship develops between them. She confides in Stéphane that she is going to die, but hasn't told her husband. This creates a very emotionally complicated situation.

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Birdman

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

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

Birdman

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

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Big Eyes

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

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

Big Eyes

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

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Under the Skin

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

Under the Skin

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

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

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Blue is the Warmest Colour

Blue is the Warmest Colour
I was bought this DVD for Christmas. I had read about this film after it's release but was a bit surprised when I got it as a present. Obviously any French film helps me 'train my ears' to the sound of French, even though the dialogue is usually at the tricky/impossible end of the scale. The DVD was, however, an English language release with sub-titles.

When I read about this film there was much attention given to its explicit sexual nature. There's no denying that the lesbian sex scenes are as explicit as you are likely to see in any main-stream film. However, to reduce what is an amazing film to the sex is doing the production a great disservice.

The two leading female actors are absolutely amazing and I'm not surprised that both won a Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2013, as did the film and the director. Adèle Exarchopoulos (who plays Adéle) in particular gives an amazing performance. From the time when she discovers her sexuality, in late adolescence, up until the moment when she realises that her relationship with Emma (played by Léa Seydoux) is over, we witness the emotions of a young woman finding true love, playing out that love with unbridled passion and finally losing somebody who has taken over her soul. The scene in the bar where Adéle finally realises that there is no longer any hope of reconciliation must rate as one of the best emotional portrayals ever put on film.

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The Imitation Game

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

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

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Fury

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

Fury

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

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


La Femme Nikita

Nikita
I watch French films but find it difficult always to understand spoken dialogue. To help, if possible I buy films with French subtitles. Unfortunately it's not easy to find these films in England. I bought several when I was in Paris and more recently I bought some from Amazon France. It's very easy to do. You can use your Amazon UK email username and password and delivery is quick, and not too expensive.

One of the films was La Femme Nikita, which I watched last week. I was impressed. This genre is these days commonplace but I don't think that the more recent films are better. In fact, I think that Nikita by Luc Besson is still one of the best examples.


Chef

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

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

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

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


Maleficent

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

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

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

Well worth seeing. Jolie is stupendous.




De Toutes Nos Forces

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

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


The Book Thief

We saw The Book Thief yesterday.

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

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

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Dallas Buyers Club

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

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

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

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

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Inside Llewyn Davis

We saw Inside Llewyn Davis today. My choice.

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

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

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


The Railway Man

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

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

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

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

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


12 Years a Slave

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

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

This is a must-see film.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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

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



Saving Mr Banks

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

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

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

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Hunger Games - Catching Fire

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

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

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

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

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The Butler

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

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

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


Gravity

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

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

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

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


Philomena

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

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

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

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

A fine British film.


Captain Phillips

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

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

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

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Rush

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

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

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

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


Now You See Me

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

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

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

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


Man of Steel

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

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

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

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

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The Free State of Jones

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

The Free State of Jones

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

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The Great Gatsby

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

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

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

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


Mud

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

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

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

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


Side Effects

Orange Wednesday and today's film was Side Effects.

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

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

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

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

Well worth seeing.


Arbitrage

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

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

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

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


Lincoln

Today's film was Lincoln.

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

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

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

For me it was 2½ hours of great cinema.


Les Miserables

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

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

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

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

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Gangster Squad

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

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

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


Skyfall

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

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

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

The end was a surprise!

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


Argo

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

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

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


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