Monday, 30 January 2012


I've had a flurry of cinema attendance since the turn of the year, with mixed results. For anyone who feels they might share my taste in films I thought I might jot down some thoughts.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The

This being the English language version starring Daniel Craig. Ridiculously, I have yet to see the original film (which even my mother-in-law has seen!), so I came to this without a bias towards either that or Stieg Larsson's novel. I did come to it with a less-than-healthy opinion of Mr Craig, who despite someone once telling me I look like him (I don't), has to date struck me as possessing the emotional range of a common house brick. Not that that quality isn't suited to this particular role - I just don't think he needs to be THAT understated THAT often. Mara Rooney comfortably outshines him here in the title role, and Christopher Plummer's typically assured performance is worth a fair chunk of the admission fee by itself. As remakes of Scandinavian films go, I get the feeling that this isn't as successful as the 2002 Pacino/Williams version of Insomnia, but that doesn't mean this is a bad film - just a slightly pointless one, perhaps. I should warn that some of the action is fairly graphic, but although I don't think it quite reaches offensiveness (though one or two scenes do come close), I wouldn't recommend going to see it with your mother-in-law. Take mine instead.

Iron Lady, The

This has ignited an interesting debate about acting versus impersonation. Meryl Streep is apparently nailed-on for Best Actress at the Academy Awards, and hers is undoubtedly a superbly observed portrayal well worth seeing no matter what your views on Margaret Thatcher. However, it seems to me there is some merit in the view that acting is really about creating a fictional character from scratch, or at least from a personal interpretation of the vision of a director and/or screenwriter. After all, Michael Sheen's performances as David Frost and Brian Clough (possibly Tony Blair - not seen that one) are equally remarkably caricatures, but I don't see any Oscars on his mantelpiece. On the other hand, I wouldn't dare to suggest that Ben Kingsley or George C Scott should be stripped of their acting awards for Gandhi or Patten. Not that Scott accepted his anyway. And on another other hand, those films were conventional biopics whereas The Iron Lady certainly is not.
I triple-digress. It's a good film. Could be better, but still good. I don't know how successful the dementia-angle they took with the film was - it makes for one of Jim Broadbent's more superfluous appearances as the hallucinated Dennis - and I think I'm with those who would have preferred more focus on 1979-1990.

War Horse

Once again, I must declare that I haven't read the novel, nor have I seen the play. Sorry about that. Actually though, I'm almost glad I haven't, since I'm reasonably sure this film would have been a disappointment to me. As it was, I thought it was watchable enough, though utterly ridiculous. Rural pre-war Devon was full of hopelessly depicted cartoon-like characters, the events of the film seemed to span a couple of months at most as opposed to the more than four years of the war, and in general Mr Spielberg's schmaltz-meter must have suffered a spectacular malfunction. For sheer unbelievability in a semi-historical yarn, I'm not sure I have seen anything to touch this. On the plus side, Jeremy Irvine. Yes I did mean to conclude that sentence quite so abruptly.

Descendents, The

This is the kind of film I get on with. No far-fetched stories about murder or adventure, or even romance. No special effects. No fluffy animals, talking or otherwise. Just actors acting. Pretending to be real people and telling a human story, of events that could conceivably happen to you or me, albeit probably not in Hawaii or in the context of a multi-million-dollar land deal. Well, I didn't say it was perfect, did I? The theme of past (and now irrelevant) infidelity put me in mind of Death of a Salesman, which has to be high praise, doesn't it? The child acting is remarkable, Clooney is excellent, the locations are at times spectacular. My pick of these four by a distance.

I suppose there was a spoiler or two amongst the above. Sue me.

Question: One of the four films mentioned moved me to tears three times. One (just) did so once. The other two did not. Can you guess which is which?

Thursday, 5 January 2012


(The time is now. The setting: a pseudo-converted farm building on the edge of an unfashionable overflow town close to a fashionable city. We can see two rooms. The first is a multi-purpose living space, with a TV and sofa to the left foreground, and a dining set and shelving to the right foreground. Behind is a kitchen area, delineated by a breakfast bar and stools. There is a high window on the back wall. On the left-hand wall are two doors, the nearest of which is open, and leads through to a bedroom. In the bedroom, a man lies on the left side of a double bed. He is dressed in a t-shirt, propped straight-backed against several pillows; his lower half beneath the bed covering. He is reading a book, and has a drink in a mug beside him on a small bedside table. There is an identical table on the other side of the bed. The bedroom also contains two wardrobes, but is otherwise large, and empty. It is evening, and each room is lit only by a single standard lamp.)

(Two men enter the living area. The younger of the two removes his coat, and hangs it on a stand beside the right-hand wall. He points the other man towards the rear door on the left-hand wall.)

YOUNG MAN: It’s just through there.

(The two men make their way across the room, until they draw level with the bedroom door. The man in the bed looks across at them, but does not get up.)

YOUNG MAN: Andrew just needs to use the bathroom.

(Andrew and the man in bed exchange simultaneously awkward ‘Hello’s. There is a momentary pause, before Andrew continues to the bathroom door and enters, closing the door behind him.)

YOUNG MAN (hushed): What are you doing in bed?

MAN IN BED (also hushed): I just thought I’d wait for you in here. How was I supposed to know he’d be coming in? (He gestures in the direction of the bathroom. There is another pause.)

YM: He’s using the toilet, that’s all! He’ll only be a second.

MIB (frosty): Well why didn’t he use the one at the pub? Or wait until he gets home? He only lives fifteen minutes from here, doesn’t he?

YM: I don’t know. What difference does it make? He’ll be gone in a minute.

MIB (still suspicious, but warming): Okay, well….. did you have a good time, anyway?

YM: Yeah, fine. It was only a couple of drinks. He’s having a hard time at the moment.

MIB: Where did you go?

YM: That new place in town. It was fine, pretty quiet.

MIB: And the rest of your day?

YM: Yeah it was alright. Went shopping after work, watched some TV, went for a run – normal stuff. How about you?

MIB: We had a nice time. I left work early so got to my parents’ around four. I opened my presents, then later we had a takeaway. I got back about nine.

YM: Oh yeah, happy birthday again by the way. What did you get?

MIB: Cash from my parents. (He picks up the book from the bedside table and shows it.) This book from my brother. Clothes and vouchers from the minor relatives. Just like any other birthday, really.

YM: Okay.

(The bathroom door reopens, and Andrew emerges to stand next to the young man.)

ANDREW (to both of them): Thanks for that. I’ll be off. (To the man in the bed) Nice to meet you.

MIB (with badly feigned sincerity): You too. Bye.

ANDREW: See ya.

YM: Okay, see you tomorrow.

(Further ‘bye’s are exchanged as the Young Man sees Andrew out of the house, before returning to the bedroom door.)

YM: That was rude.

MIB: I was not! You took me by surprise. I was half-asleep and a strange man walks past the bedroom door. How am I supposed to act? I was polite.

YM: You call that polite?! And it wasn’t a strange man, it was Andrew. I’ve told you about him loads of times.

MIB: Yes, but I’ve never met him, have I? And from what you’ve told me, he’s pretty weird anyway.

YM: I’ve never said he was weird. He’s just confused, and really upset at the moment.

MIB: Perfect drinking companion then!

YM: He needs someone to talk to. Anyway, it was better than staying at home by myself!

MIB (guilty): I suppose.

YM: You didn’t even get out of bed!

MIB: Well I don’t have any trousers on, do I?