Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Lovers: Monday, May 22 2017

The Lovers, written and directed by Azazel Jacobs is called a romantic comedy. An unrecognizable Debra Winger plays Mary, the wife of Michael, played by Tracy Letts. Both look to be in their early sixties but are meant to be in their lat fifties. Bored out of their minds with each other, they are involved with much younger people in unhappy affairs. It's too bad they have not been learning from the many dating coaches who are generously sharing their knowledge on the internet. One of the first things that is said, is to consider how the other person makes you feel. In each of these cases, it is obvious our older couple should be running for the hills. They haven't improved on their choice of partners.

The direction is competent, if a little slow. The music is appropriate and pleasant. There was enough dialect to convey the message, but certainly didn't give the impression that any of these people were too intellectual. The acting was good, and I even felt a little for Mary, but that dissipated as the film progressed. This was a good anthropological study of life in present-day California, and much of the western world. The question arises in my mind, is it better to suffer in boring relationship for the sake of keeping a family together, or go off with someone else who is temporarily giving a bit of excitement? It was hard not to feel for the son, Joel, played by Tyler Ross. He found being with his parents almost unbearable when they were bored with each other, and it was even harder for him when he discovered that they were cheating on each other, then on their new liaisons, with each other. He was learning that his parents didn't have much loyalty, nor are they very nice people.

Did I like the film? It was interesting, but didn't make me laugh at all. In fact, I found it tragic that people make themselves and others so unhappy. It's genre description is incorrect as it is neither romantic, nor a comedy. Most of my group of 15 people didn't like it, nor would they recommend anyone go to see it. Overall, I would agree with their judgement.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Charles West Book Group: Friday, May 19 2017

Charles West Book Group
Third Friday Every Month
Place: Party Room, Floor 31
Time: 1:00pm     
(we have the room until 5 pm)

Friday, May 19 2017

Annette couldn’t join us today to facilitate the meeting, as her husband was taken ill. Presently, he is in hospital awaiting further tests. We hope the news is good, and we all send good vibes her way.

As usual, we took turns around the room giving our impressions of The Zookeeper’s Wife. Diane Ackerman is poet and writer of nonfiction. Those of us who had been expecting a story, felt that this had interfered with her telling of this tale. What was she writing? Parts were highly descriptive, if you like that sort of thing. Parts were instructive, if you were looking for information. Very little was an account of events or actions. The personalities of the participants, including the zookeeper’s wife, were under-developed. The material could have been very moving, it could have been treated as a thriller, but the author didn’t quite get it together. Some of us liked the book, but others didn’t like it at all.

An interesting discussion ensued which was instructive. We had all been looking for different things from the book, and this had influenced our attitude towards it. Some wanted a story, with action, and a stress on how horrific was the environment. They were disappointed. Some liked the poetic descriptive passages. Some liked the information that was offered from the diaries of the real zookeeper’s wife. Some found the book difficult to read, others enjoyed it.

Our Jewish members had been moved by the holocaust material. This prompted remarks that the material itself had allowed some of us to enjoy the book, even although it wasn’t too well written. Everyone was agreed that it had been a worthwhile experience to read the book, and see the film.

Annette wasn’t with us to receive our thanks, but these will be passed on to her.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop: Monday, May 15 2017

What to say about Bon Cop, Bad Cop 2 (2017)! Written by Patrick Huard, and directed by Alain Desrochers, it is entertaining. Colm Feore as the Bad Cop and Patrick Huard as the Bon Cop are both amusing in their parts. This is a sequel to Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006), with the same two starring in their original roles. They look a bit older, I would presume, not having seen the first film.

The Bad Cop is from Toronto and the Bon Cop is from Montreal. Some laughs were raised around the tensions between the two cities and provinces. If you like satire, you will enjoy the picture painted of the American cops, south of the Canadian border. It's not pretty!

I've had to remind myself of the storyline by looking up the internet. It's something to do with a car smuggling ring that turns out to be much more than it seems.

As this is a Canadian film, I would like to be kinder about the poor direction, and poor script. On the other hand, most people wouldn't even notice, and the film did make me laugh out loud a few times. This is more than can be said of any of the many films I have seen recently. It also is light entertainment, and leaves one feeling amused. Again, this is more than most films of recent vintage. If you are feeling like a romp about Canadian policemen, this is your film.

TSO: Thursday, May 4 2017

TSO warming up
The concert today is showcasing some of the music the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO), will be playing on their tour of Israel and Europe, this year.

Iris, by Jordan Pal (2016), is called an iridescent tribute to the limitless scope of nature's creativity. Pal states that his work attempts to evoke the boundless, infinite, and ever-changing splendour of nature. This first piece in today's concert, was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO). It is highly original, and coaxes unusual sounds from the orchestra.

Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op 54, by Robert Schuman (1841), continued the first half of the concert. Highly romantic, the concerto is original in concepts, and poetic rather than bravura. The soloist, Jan Lisiecki, is a young Canadian performer, and is noted for his poetic sensibility. This made him the ideal person to accompany the TSO in this piece. It was a delight to listen to the international standard orchestra blend with the beautiful performance of the pianist, in this lovely concerto. Jan Lisiecki showed his star quality, and added to his already illustrious career.

Concerto for Orchestra (1944), by Bela Bartok, was composed whilst he lived in New York City, USA. He died in 1945, and this piece seems to sum up the creative development of its creator. It is pluralistic, in that it is traditional yet experimental, uses folk music yet uses early modernism and neo-classicism. Bartok saw his finale of this piece as a "life assertion." It is almost as if this composition is Bela Batrok's "signing off", as he died so soon afterwards. Fascinating end to a lovely afternoon concert.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Norman: the Fixer: Monday, May 8 2017

Norman: The moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2016) is an Israeli-American film, directed and written by Joseph Cedar. Cedar also directed and wrote his film, Footnote (2011), which won an Academy Award nomination as Best Foreign Film, and lost to The Salesman. Lior Ashkenazi is a leading Israeli actor, and had worked with Cedar before, having a main part in Footnote.

Richard Gere brilliantly brings to life Norman Oppenheimer, who is an embarrassingly pathetic person. Lior Ashkenazi, plays with flair Micha Eshel, the Israeli politician, who becomes the Israeli Prime Minister. He is the consummate politician we all love to hate. In spite of their good looks, I found neither of these characters attractive, so that was a negative for me around the film. The rest of the cast were attractive to look at, and played their parts competently. The cinematography was adequate, with some nice shots, and the music was lovely. I enjoyed the cantor's singing, especially with the choirs. The film consists mainly of talking, too much talking, so I became bored and had difficulty staying awake.

There were fourteen of us in our group, and we retired to The Lounge at the Cineplex after the film. Fortunately, we had Chris among us, as he was able to tell us what had been going on in the film. None of us had a clue about the story line. In fact, Mike said he had an enjoyable sleep, which made me feel better about being so bored.

Richard Gere and Lior Ashkenazi and "the shoes"
What one has to know before seeing this movie is it is absolutely necessary to know that a New York Jewish "fixer" is what Jews call, a macher, a con man in other words. He is trying to find people who have needs and fix them up with other people who can fulfil those needs. He hopes to make some money in the process. I didn't know that, which meant I really had no idea what Norman was trying to do for a large part of the film. As I was struggling to stay awake, I missed the final clicking into place that led up to Norman's tragic fall. I was left with the questions, what had happened, what was it all about, and why was Norman preparing to take such a drastic measure to finalize the action that I hadn't understood anyway?

Part of the problem, I would surmise, lies with the direction. It might have been possible to explain what was going on for the totally ignorant, like me. Perhaps the pace could have been sped up a bit, and points made by changes in timing. New York Jews will probably thoroughly enjoy this film as they probably know Norman, and understand what he is about. Norman: the Fixer could be seen as a character study, but is this character worth studying? He is excruciatingly ingratiating and grovelling. I found him painfully revolting. He was exercising the talents of a salesperson, but to no positive effect. A salesperson has a product that others need and want.

I don't think I could recommend seeing this movie, which is such a pity as it has a good cast. If you like paying close attention to the interplay of the characters, lots of talking, and the intricacies of the plot, you might enjoy Norman. As Marianne said, our group should see it again, now that we have some idea of what it was about. I couldn't bear it. Maureen said she didn't really know how one would classify this film, but it wasn't entertainment to her. Everyone of our group thought they ought to have enjoyed it, after all it did have Richard Gere giving a great performance. Most were a little perplexed as to why they didn't really. It definitely does help if the story line is clear enough to follow relatively easily.

I often wonder what the director of a film is thinking about. Is he thinking about his audience at all? Does he care about his audience? Is he satisfying a creative urge inside himself, that he thinks everyone else ought to appreciate? Is he beating a large, bass drum about some issue? Does he care whether his film will make money? Is that too crass, and he is an artist expressing himself and exercising his special talents? Does the idea that people are paying their money to be entertained even enter his head? Is that kind of audience too asinine for him? What are some of them thinking?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Their Finest: Monday, May 1 2017

Their Finest (2017) is based on the book, Their Finest Hour and a Half (2009), by Lissa Evans, who began her career as a doctor, then moved on to producing shows for radio and television. The film is directed by Danish Lone Scherfig, a highly experienced winner of many awards, including an Oscar nomination for An Education (2009). It is written by Gaby Chiappe, who is known for her work in TV: East Enders; Shetland; Vera; and many more. This is her first feature film.

Gemma Arterton plays Catrin Cole, the chief character in the story about the making of propaganda films in London, England, during the Blitz, the Nazi bombings of London, in the Second World War. She is English, and plays the part in a restrained style, as it is imagined an English woman of that time might behave. The rest of the cast all played competently, as it is imagined that people of that time would have behaved. I found the dialogue stilted, and asked myself if that were really how English people would have talked to each other, even then. This is a modern film, made by younger people who didn't live during the Second World War. I found it unauthentic, as I do remember how it felt at that time, and how people behaved. It shows how most re-creations of a specific time, by people who weren't there, are fantasy. Entertaining, but not quite accurate, if you are looking for authenticity, which most people aren't. I found the film left me uncomfortable, and I've had to work out why.

The writer of the book, director, scriptwriter, and chief character of the film, are all women. What seems to have impressed them most about the time of the Second World War, is the position of women in that culture, as seen by feminists. It's made quite clear that men consider women's position in society was not to do the same jobs as men. This is authentic, but it really struck me as the "beating of a BIG drum" so that no one misses the point.

On the other hand, men were courteous towards women, as is not shown in the film. These men were also trapped in their culture. Most of them had stood up in front of minister or priest, family, friends, and society, and vowed to support their wives and children, "until death do us part". What heroes! They considered women and children were to be protected and cherished. What left me discomforted was the lack of understanding of the deeper reasons behind the culture, and the position of men. It appeared to me that a shallow, ideological position was being put forward. I don't like ideologies, even although I can see why they are useful to some people.

In Catrin Cole, has been created a woman who thinks as many women seem to in 2017. She is prepared to live with a man outside of marriage. In fact, it appears she is paying the expenses of her artist paramour. Meanwhile, she is already beginning a relationship with a fellow-writer in the film studio. When she catches the artist having sex with another woman, she stamps off in disgust, which is convenient for the script. Now she is free to pursue her own affair, because the artist has betrayed her. When her new love interest is accidentally killed, we are shown her face expressing restrained grief, as it is imagined that a woman of that time might have behaved. Obviously, she will move on, and find another. Are men so expendable and interchangeable to modern women? This is not authentic for a woman of the Second World War. Most women of that time still bought into the myth they had been taught, about "one love", and all that romantic nonsense.

Nine of us saw this film together, and my friends all found it entertaining. We adjourn to The Lounge at the Cineplex after viewing the film, and it is always so interesting to hear what everyone thinks. Maureen found it wanting in many areas, but enjoyed it nevertheless.

Their Finest is entertainment, and answers my question I keep asking, "What is entertainment?". Entertainment is fantasy, designed to be an amusement, a diversion from life. In spite of the laboured ideology and lack of authenticity, this Their Finest is! Bill Nighy is a delight, as always. He made me laugh out loud, which I always enjoy. The rest of the cast, who were new to me, were believable. A good effort by the director and writer.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Maudie: Monday, April 24 2017

Maudie is a Canadian film, directed by Irish director, Aisling Walsh. It's about the life of Canadian folk artist, Maud Lewis (1903-70), who is one of Canada's best-known folk artists. She lived all her life in Nova Scotia. Sally Hawkins starred as Maud, and Ethan Hawke played her husband, Everett Lewis. The movie was filmed in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sally Hawkins played opposite Cate Blanchette in Blue Jasmine, directed by Woody Allen, and received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. She plays Maudie brilliantly. Ethan Hawke is perhaps best know for his portrayal of the father in Boyhood, for which he received an Oscar Awards nomination, among others. He played Everett Lewis with amazing sensitivity.

The direction was a little slow for me, but Maureen and Susan thought it suited the subject matter. Life in Nova Scotia at the beginning and middle of the last century was probably a lot slower than the fast-paced world we are experiencing today. The story was treated as a love story, and as such was very sweet. Everett was supportive of Maudie, and encouraged her painting. He bought her paints and brushes, and did all the housework around their tiny home, so that she could paint. They were devoted to each other, after a slightly rocky start to their relationship. Maureen and I liked to believe the fairy tale, but Susan wasn't a believer.

Getting high critic and audience ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, Maudie is being mentioned in the same breath as the Oscars, for nomination in the Best Foreign Film category. It's worth seeing!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Going in Style: Monday, April 17 2017

Going in Style is a called a heist comedy. It is a remake of the film of the same name, made in 1979, which is called a caper film. The 2017 remake is also a caper. Maureen called it a romp, and that was a good criticism. Directed by Zach Braff, written by Theodore Melfi, the film stars Morgan Freeman as Willie, Michael Caine as Joe Harding, and Alan Arkin as Albert. Matt Dillon is Special Agent Hamer, an FBI agent who investigates bank robberies. Ann-Margret plays Annie, Albert's love interest.

Setting aside any critical faculties I may possess, I enjoyed it, and it made me laugh out loud. It was a great pleasure to enjoy the actors playing off each other. They were obviously having fun. Highly entertaining, it had a happy ending, depending on the point of view, in that the bank robbers were not caught, and they got away with it. They also got to keep the money. This is a "feel good" movie. It also feels as if it isn't new, and we have seen it before. Perhaps even many times. I think this film could be called a "pot boiler". Someone needed the money!

One thing bothered me. The premise seemed to be that it is all right to rob banks, because they rob their customers. I could sympathize with the three main characters in that their pensions were not going to be honoured because the company they had worked for was going out of business. But to blame the banks, and have the three friends use this to rationalize their becoming bank robbers, turned them into Robin Hood. I have always considered Robin Hood a criminal. Surely it is only the very young who don't realise that we need banks, and that it is necessary that they do well. These oldie goldies seemed very ignorant of the facts of economics, and life.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

TSO: Thursday, April 13 2017

Orchestra tuning up
A wonderful concert by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) was much enjoyed by John and me. This is an international orchestra and we feel so privileged to be in a position to enjoy it, here in Toronto.

The first piece was the TSO premier rendition of a composition by Mark Belanger, Wink from
Drummondville to Toronto. It was written as a tribute to Canada's 150th birthday, co-commissioned by the TSO. It seemed to me, very cerebral. Interesting to listen to the interplay of the instruments, but not appealing to the emotions. Could this be reflecting relationships between individuals on the internet?

The Isle Full of Noises, composed by Christos Hatzis was commissioned by the Orchestra symphonique de Montreal, for a program of compositions inspired by William Shakespeare. Hatzis chose to base his work on The Tempest. He used the ideas that we are "the stuff of dreams", and "the isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs ... ". This is a beautiful piece of music. The gorgeous sounds that arose from the orchestra had me on the edge of my seat. It certainly evoked for me a wondrous world of the imagination, full of dark forests, glorious storms, and fabulous creatures singing incredible melodies. Magnificent!

Lucas Debargue and Andrey Boreyko with the TSO
Piano Concerto No 2 in A Major by Franz Liszt was first published in 1863. This piece is considered the most mature and poetic of all of Liszt's works. It has virtuoso writing for every instrument in the orchestra. This, of course, also applies to the piano.

Franz Listz (1811-1886) was considered by many to be the foremost piano virtuoso of his day. For this performance of the Concerto No 2, Lucas Debargue was the soloist, and he more than rose to the occasion. In 2015, he had electrified in Moscow at the International Tchaikovsky Competition, winning the coveted Moscow Critics Award. He electrified the Toronto audience with his performance of this concerto by Liszt. What added to his rendition was that he was so into the playing of the orchestra. No big ego here, rising above the orchestra to shine. Debargue was playing with the orchestra, enjoying the inspired performance of each player as the composer gave them their time in the limelight. Debargue is master of the brilliant writing of Liszt, and that spilled over to the conductor, Andrey Boreyko, and the orchestra. The audience gave the performance a standing ovation, calling Debargue back three times. He gave a swift, brilliant encore, and was called back twice more before the audience could be persuaded to let him go. I've never heard the piano played as he did, and am quite sure Franz Listz would have been delighted with this performance of his work.

After the Intermission, the orchestra played Symphony No 3 in F Major. Op. 90 by Johannes Brahms. This work demonstrates Brahms at his conservative best. Competent, slightly original in that each movement ends quietly instead of in the stirring build up to the end that is considered normal by others, it demonstrated the competence of the orchestra. Apparently Brahms was awed by Beethoven, and was very conscious of following in his footsteps. His instincts were correct. Beethoven remained the master.

Friday, April 14, 2017

ROM: Blue Whale Exhibition April 11 2017

John and I visited the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) to view Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Story. 

The story begins with two Blue Whales being washed up on the shores of Newfoundland in April 2014. Scientist Mark Engstrom of the ROM, and his team salvaged the carcass and have created this fantastic exhibit.

We were greeted by a film show which gave an understanding of the blue whales in the wilds. This is followed by an account of the finding of the whale carcass and dealing with it.

Further on, we encountered the skeleton of the whale, which gave some idea of its 80 feet long size. Mock ups of its brain and heart were fascinating, as is the account of the evolution of this great animal.

Not so pleasant is the history of whaling, and how the human primate hunted this beautiful creature almost into extinction. Fortunately, whale bones for corsets and whale oil went out of fashion, or were replaced with other things. The whale is endangered, but making a comeback, if not as quickly as could be hoped.

Blue Whale skeleton at the ROM
I don't like zoos, and won't visit any, so I loved this exhibit. Here we have a whale carcass, salvaged from the wilds, and put to educational use. No live animal in too small an enclosure; no living creature bored out of its mind; no sentient being depressed because it has lost control of its life: I can live with this. The incredible size of the whale can be experienced. The wonder of its evolution can be explored. Regret can be felt for the unthinking hunting done in earlier times. Hopefully, the human primate can learn from the mistakes of the past.

The Exhibit is well-worth a visit, especially for nature lovers. A fascinating story, well told, and a magnificent display. John and I loved it!

The Zookeeper's Wife: Monday, April 10 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife is directed by Niki Caro, who also directed The Whale Rider (2002). It is written by Angela Workman, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Diane Ackerman. Jessica Chastain plays the wife, Johan Heldenbergh takes the part of her husband, and Daniel Bruhl is the chief Nazi Zookeeper.

I persuaded Maureen to see The Zookeeper's Wife with me as we will be reading the book for our Book Group. She had pointed out to me that the critics really didn't like this film. I pointed out to her that Rotten Tomatoes said that 79% of the audiences seemed to like it. Against her better judgement, she agreed to join me in seeing it. She was right! One critic said he was trying to be kind, and commended the two, cute little lion cubs for their performance. He also suggested that the rabbit ought to be given an Oscar. I liked the little dromedary that trotted along behind the zookeeper's wife as she visited the animals every morning for a loving session. At least, I think that is what she was doing. I probably should have listened to Maureen's warning. It wasn't a Gypsy's Warning, but Maureen usually talks a lot of good sense. In this case, her instincts were giving her the correct message about this film.

I don't like zoos, in fact, I hate zoos, and will never visit any, so that was one strike against this film for me. The Warsaw Zoo, the scene of the film, was shown as it was in the 1940s. Small pens and cages for the animals. Thoughtless human primates viewing the beautiful animals. Just what I loathe. Then, at the start of the Second World War, the zoo is bombed by the Nazis, and I found it hard to deal with the suffering of the powerless animals. Further into the war, the Nazis take the breeding animals to Germany, and shoot the rest. By this far into the movie, I was not too happy. I love all animals, even the human primate. But I do consider some human primates as being the most horrible creatures on this earth. And this film certainly was already making that case.

We next move on to "man's inhumanity to man", as referenced by Robert Burns, Scotland's National Poet. The zookeeper's wife was asked by her husband to flee Warsaw with their son before the Nazis arrived, as it was dangerous to stay. She states that she can't flee as so many others are doing, as she thinks that is cowardly. At that, she lost my sympathy, as I disagreed with her opinion. She was putting her son, and her husband, at risk by staying.

It struck me after seeing the film, that I didn't know why it was called The Zookeeper's Wife. It was actually the zookeeper who put himself, and his family, at most risk by smuggling out the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. It was he who fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. He was literally risking his life every day. His wife was tagging along, because she happened to be there having refused the offer to leave for safety with her son. She had made her choice. I didn't find her a sympathetic character. I couldn't relate to her at all.

Niko Caro is concerned that there are so few women directors of films. This lack of experience shows in The Zookeeper's Wife. I really hate to say, it is a poorly directed movie, the screenplay is not good, the acting is uninspired, and the film really doesn't have anything to commend it, apart from the fact that most people in uncritical audiences seem to like it.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Second Time Around: Monday, April 3 2017

The Second Time Around is a Canadian romantic comedy (2017), directed by Leon Marr. He does a competent job of writing and directing. Linda Thorson plays Katherine Mitchell and Stuart Margolin plays Isaac Shapiro. Their performances are a delight to watch, and are vital to the film. Katherine is beautiful, as are so many older women. Isaac is still handsome, if you like facial hair. The musical background is operatic arias. I love opera, so I found this a great pleasure.

Set in a seniors' retirement residence, it shows that these places can be a hot bed of romance. Isaac is a curmudgeon: understandably so as he is widowed, with an only son who is too busy with his career as a lawyer to visit his father often. Katherine has broken a hip, and meets Isaac as she is recuperating in the residence. Katherine's daughter announces that she is separating from her spouse, selling the family home, moving into a small apartment with her daughter with no room for Katherine. By this time, Katherine has found a kindred spirit in Isaac, and doesn't care. She is quite happy to continue to live in the senior retirement residence. She is sharing a lovely time with Isaac, enjoying opera music together, and Isaac smoking Havana cigars. She likes the fragrance. They also do end up in bed together, but, mercifully, this is suggested rather than dwelt on in detail.

The overall picture painted of senior residences is very positive. Anyone who has any reservations ought to see this film. Dinner with friends, poker games, and all sorts of other activities, including, last but not least, love affairs. Much better than sitting "at home", alone and miserably bored.

The Second Time Around is a "feel good" movie. My friends comment was that it is "sweet". It isn't an earth-shattering contribution to the film industry, but it is entertaining. I didn't fall asleep!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Sense of an Ending: Monday, March 27 2017

The Sense of an Ending in based on the Man Booker prize-winning book (2011) of the same name, by Julian Barnes. I strongly suspect the book must be much better than the film if it won the prize. I haven't read the book, nor will I.

When the film opened, I settled down thinking I was going to enjoy it. The English do this kind of film so well. The acting of Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling and Harriet Walter, and the rest of the cast, was excellent. Without that, the question would be, was the film worth watching? 

Ritesh Batra is an Indian prize-winning director. He is known to foreign audiences for The Lunchbox, a delightful film about the delivery of lunches in Mumbai. Unfortunately, his touch on this film didn't seem quite as sure as it might have been. 

Perhaps it's the book that is the problem. The flashbacks, the uncertain memory of Tony Webster, Jim Broadbent's character, the slow direction, all add to making it very difficult to follow the story. I'd had a bad night, so I hate to admit that the comfortable seat, the warmth, and the soothing, flickering light from the screen, all conspired to send me to sleep. I have this problem when I am bored, especially if I haven't slept well the previous night. The film wasn't gripping my attention. 

On discussing the film with my friends afterwards, I realised that I must have missed the crucial scene, which was led up to so slowly, and then left behind slowly, it had made no impression on my tired brain. My friends, who hadn't my problem of staying awake, also had problems with piecing the story together. This they didn't like. 

On researching the story line on the internet, it didn't seem particularly compelling. Spoiler alert: an older woman who ought to have had more sense, seduces younger men, friends of her daughter. She falls pregnant with one of them, and produces a damaged baby as she is really too old to be pregnant.  Which of the friends is the father? Make your own choice. Not a pretty picture! 

It's difficult to say anything about this film. My friends all said they definitely wouldn't recommend it to any of their friends. Too confused, and too slow!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Trainspotter 2: Monday, March 20 2017

Apparently I missed a good film when I decided I really didn't want to see the first Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle, released in 1996. I knew more than enough of the underside of Scottish life to think I might find a movie depicting Scottish druggies anything but disturbing. Based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, the screenplay by John Hodge won an Academy nomination. The film has been ranked 10th by the British Film Institute (BFI) in its list of 100 best British films of all time. The public voted it the best Scottish film of all time in 2004. My judgement seems to have been a little premature.

T2 Trainspotting is directed by Danny Boyle, brilliantly. John Hodge once again has written a fantastic screenplay. The acting is amazing. Ewen McGregor as Mark Renton, Ewen Bremmer as Daniel Murphy, Jonny Lee Miller as Simon Wilkiamson, and Robert Carlyle as Francis Begby, have each created unforgettable characters. For anyone who hadn't seen the previous Trainspotters, the flashbacks filled in what would have been vacant spots, and made sure no one in the audience would have felt left out. Better still if you had read the story of the first movie on Wikipedia, as I had in preparation. I had decided I didn't want to be left out this time.

My friends seem to be all of the same opinion about T2 Trainspotters. It's a memorable, well-made film, and probably one that one ought to see, even if only to be able to converse about it. It is not a pleasurable movie, about pleasant people, in a setting that makes the audience feel as if they have been on holiday to exotic, foreign lands. The wastelands of Edinburgh are off-putting.

As a Scot, I had the same feelings that I understand Indian people had about Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. I know that the underside of Scotland is not too pleasant, but fortunately it is not the largest part of Scotland, or of Scottish culture. I'm not too sure that I like it exposed so accurately. It left me feeling uncomfortable. I couldn't relate to the characters, nor did I appreciate their limited vocabulary that left them with the ubiquitous adjective, or expletive, which translates as sexual intercourse. It would appear that the Scottish education system, which used to be the best in the world, is no longer in that enviable position. Such a pity!

I hope audiences will take this as an anthropological study of a very small section of Scottish culture. On the other hand, there are areas of Glasgow, and Edinburgh, obviously, where a person wouldn't be wise to find themselves in after dark. There was a reason European military forces were happy to have Scottish mercenary soldiers. This film shows why the Romans built Hadrian's Wall to keep out those wild Scots. Not a pretty picture! And the last thing T2 Trainspotting could be called would be a "feel good" movie.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

American Pastoral: March 17 2017

One meaning of the word pastoral is "a work of literature portraying an idealized version of country life. In his Pulitzer prizewinning American Pastoral (1997), Philip Roth states that to him the secular American Thanksgiving is the American Pastoral. There is meant to be a moratorium on all grievances and resentments. Everyone is meant to be full of thanks for blessings received, and ought to be exuding good will towards everyone. This is the ideal: part of the ideology of the American Dream; of how the earliest Pilgrim Fathers shared their first Thanksgiving Dinner, in 1621, with the First Peoples, who had helped them settle at Plymouth. The last part of the book is a Thanksgiving Dinner, and tells of what is really happening in the mind of the chief character, The Swede.

In his book, Philip Roth is demonstrating that reality is something different from the meaning he gives to his title.  It is concerned with the grudges held by Swede's daughter, Merry, against him, and against her country. Brought up in a privileged family, she had become indoctrinated by the philosophy of Communism to see the world through the economic system of Socialism. Merry was against Capitalism, meaning private ownership of business, and the Vietnamese War being fought against the Communist North Vietnamese.

She hasn't bought into the American Dream, even although her family had been part of it. Her immigrant grandfather had founded a successful glove factory, and her father had inherited it. She didn't see her grandfather and father as the epitome of the American Dream, even although they had worked hard to establish the business which had provided jobs for many people and helped create the United States. She didn't agree with the idea that the government of the States had felt obligated to help the South Vietnamese when they asked for help against the Communist North Vietnamese who were invading their country.

She expressed her hatred for everything the Unites States stands for by bombing the local store, in the process killing a local man. By this act, she destroys her family and the pleasant life her grandfather and father had worked so hard to provide.

This book could be seen as a case study for so many families who find themselves in a similar position. One of their members hates them so much they would do them, and their country, harm. It is a universal question, and can be given so many different colorations.

The big question we are left with by American Pastoral is why? Can a young person be so indoctrinated by an ideology, either secular or religious, that they will be motivated to attack innocent people? We are left having to consider this question. A very uncomfortable subject, but a brilliant book, by a brilliant author.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Last Word: Monday, March 13 2017

The Last Word needed Shirley MacLaine, who plays the lead character Harriet Lauler, to give it some depth. Amanda Seyfried plays opposite MacLaine, as Anne, and gives a competent performance, as do all the others in the film.

Director Mark Pellington paced it too slow, although my friends didn't find it so. They felt the pace fitted in with the general atmosphere of the film. The music, by Nathan Matthew David, was not to my taste, but, no doubt, fitted the movie.

The storyline wasn't very original, but compared with so many of the films I've seen recently, wasn't too bad. It had the main characters both stuck in ruts in their lives. Harriet Lauler makes the first move to change, and comes into contact with Anne. They play off each other quite well, both growing in the process. In fact, Anne ends the film with a passionate speech about Harriet having taught her so much, and how she was going to change her life as a result. Very nice!

Thinking about the film a little further than I might have done if Shirley MacLaine hadn't been a producer and lead actor in the movie, it struck me that this was the last word from 82-year-old Shirley. She, as a representative of her generation, the Silent Generation (born before 1945), was giving a strong message to young women of the same generation as her co-star, Amanda Seyfried, the Millennials (1977-95).

The women of Shirley's generation had to fight for their position in the work world, and this may have made them abrasive, as it had Harriet. She was saying to Anne, don't take your life for granted, don't just drift through it. Set yourself goals, consider how to achieve them, and then go for it. Just do it, as Nike puts it! You have been given a good education; you can achieve what you want; appreciate this and put it to use to make a contribution to your world. Follow the example of the women before you who achieved so much. Don't disappoint them by not achieving more than they did. All good, motivational stuff, as is being taught by so many self-help gurus on the internet.

A sweet film. A pleasant way to pass a cold afternoon!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro: Monday, March 6 2017

I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary, narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, based on an unfinished book by James Baldwin. It takes us through the history of racism in the United States as the background to Baldwin's reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. It is not a pretty picture.

James Baldwin is seen by many as the clearest voice around the subject of Civil Rights in the States. He called himself a social commentator, not an activist, and his writings also dealt with the civil rights of homosexual men. He explored the psychological underpinnings around these issues.

Directed and written by Raoul Peck, this film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars this year. Peck was born in Haiti, but his parents fled the Duvalier dictatorship and lived in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the next 24 years. His father worked for the UN. Peck was educated in the United States, France, and Germany. He has won many awards with his films. This background gives him a broader, more objective viewpoint on the subject of race relations in the States. This is reflected in his film.

I Am Not Your Negro is an accurate, objective accounting of events around these civil rights leaders. It doesn't add any new material, but does bring to mind the social upheaval in the sixties which led to the passing of legislation aimed at ending segregation and discrimination against black Americans. Those protests forced the hand of President Lyndon B. Johnson and being the wonderful negotiator he was, he had passed through Congress the Civil Rights Bill of 1964.

I consider this film is a loving comment on the life and work of James Baldwin. He did not advocate violence, or non-violence. This quote from his work, illustrates his attitude.
If the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.
The Fire Next Time  (1963)
This seems to me a mature attitude about race relations, in fact about any problematic relationship. Rather than violence, or non-violence, simply hold up a mirror to the brothers and sisters, and show them themselves as they are. Let them see how ugly and hurtful their attitudes are, not only to the objects of the attitudes, but also to themselves. Hopefully, this will bring change. It really is the only thing that will do so. And that is what I Am Not Your Negro does. It shows how ugly and divisive is racism, sexism, and all the other isms. The United States of America was founded on the principles of the equality of each individual, followed by the right to life, liberty, and the freedom of the individual to pursue their own happiness without hurting others. This includes everyone of every race, sex, social class, religion, or any other difference. Until this is applied also to black people and they are treated as equals by all the other people in the States, the American Dream has not been, and cannot be, realized. Is it only a dream! Is there no hope!

What we also are left with after viewing the reality of race relations in the States, is the knowledge that hatred is ugly and hurts everyone. The hatred of some white people for black people, and the hatred of some black people for white people, does no one any good. This can be applied also to the many different groups in the States. The dream is that they all tolerate each other, and accept their differences. Religious freedom means that each Faith leaves the others to believe the framework that they choose to view the world. One group does not seek to impose its worldview on everyone else. The Truth is that no one has the absolute Truth. This applies to all ideologies, including political and secular ones.

Humans appear to have a built in system that favours others like themselves. The American Dream is that we all see ourselves as Americans, regardless of any differences. This should unite us. If we see life in any other way, are we really true Americans?

I Am Not Your Negro is a powerful, thought-provoking film. I hope those who see it allow it to make them think truthfully about their own attitudes towards others. If it does, the film will have achieved what James Baldwin and Raoul Peck hoped for.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

89th Oscars 2017: Sunday, February 26 2017

Charles West Film Group
After-Oscar Discussion
Monday, February 27 2017
1:30-3:30 pm
Party Room, Floor 31

We are grateful to Management
for very kindly giving us the use of the Party Room for our gathering.

We had such a lively discussion about the 2017 Oscars this afternoon.
Everyone was agreed that this Awards Ceremony is one of the best. The new producers, Michael de Luca and Jennifer Todd, have done a great job. The stage settings were beautiful. The opening with Justin Timberlake had everyone dancing, and set the atmosphere for a fun evening. Jimmy Kimmel was a fantastic host; relaxed yet kept things moving along. Even the dropping of candy from the sky and the trooping of unsuspecting tourists in one door and out another, across the front of the theatre, was part of the fun. The two tourists who were “married” by Denzel Washington will never forget that. Nor will those who shook hands with Meryl Streep and other stars ever forget their brief flash into the spotlight.

One or two of us would have given the Best Actor Award to Denzel Washington of Fences, rather than Casey Affleck of Manchester by the Sea. Emma Stone had no competition for the Best Actress Award.  Mahershala Ali of Moonlight deserved the Best Supporting Actor Award, and Viola David of Fences was a shoo-in for the Best Supporting Actress Award.

I would have given the Best Original Music Score to Mica Levi with Jackie, instead of Justin Hurwitz with La La Land. The haunting, emotional quality of Levi’s music does so much for the film. She is classically trained, and this is obvious in her music. She is also young, at 30 years old. Any film in future that she composes the score for, is a “must see”, or actually, a “must hear”, for me.

The fiasco around the Best Film Award was considered incredible. It was thought that Warren Beatty ought to have called for clarification when he saw that there was a problem with the card he had been given. He compounded the mistake by waving it at Faye Dunaway. She thought she was being asked to read out the winner, so read the name of the film on the card, La La Land. The huge contingent from La La Land trooped on to the stage. In the middle of the acceptance speeches in which everyone was thanking everyone from their parents for having given birth to them, to their spouses, children, dogs, and whichever avatar of their god they favoured, it became obvious there was a problem. Mr. Horowitz, a La La Land producer, acted quickly, and he announced that the Best Picture Award had been won by Moonlight. Everyone acted graciously. The La La Land people moved off stage, congratulating the Moonlight people as they came on stage.

My own reaction to Moonlight was that this is much more than just a film: it is a piece of Art of the highest quality. Barry Jenkins is a genius, in my opinion. He drew out the best from all his actors, and I found myself moved. This doesn’t happen too often for me. What I liked almost best of all is that he finished on a note of hope. The two childhood friends who had grown up through a difficult childhood, found each other, and came together at the end. After viewing the film, I knew that it might win the Oscar for Best Film, and it would do so on its own merits, not as any flourish to “diversity”.

What a great pity that the first time a black film director wins the Oscar with a beautiful, tender, Art piece about the growing up of a black boy, the pleasure is dissipated by such a fiasco.

The Red Carpet is such a large part of the Oscars, and didn’t disappoint. The gowns were all absolutely breathtaking, and the men’s suits were a striking foil. What a treat for the eyes!

Great discussion, and everyone enjoyed the delicious cookies Annette had made with her own fair hands, and shared with us. The wine brought by Maureen also helped add to the occasion.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Man Called Ove: Monday, February 20 2017

A Man Called Ove (2016) is a Swedish film, based on the book of the same name, written by Fredrik Backman (2012). The film was written and directed by Hannes Holm, and he does a good job. There is never a dull moment, and no chance of having a little sleep, or meditation, whilst watching it.

Rolf Lassgard plays Ove, and grabs the attention of the audience from the first moment. He is a grumpy old man, but as his story unfolds, we come to understand the great sorrows in his life that are driving his behaviour. Typical of so many Scandinavian people, and I include Scottish people here, he is emotionally immature. He buys into the idea that to show emotions is a sign of weakness. He hasn't learned to express his feelings, so finds it hard to work through them. Rolf Lassgard plays the part to perfection. Filip Berg as the young Ove, and Ida Engvoll as Sonja, are well-cast.

Bahar Pars is Parvaneh, the wife of Patrick Lufsen, played by Tobias Almborg They are the younger couple who move in as Ove's neighbours. Parvaneh means Butterfly in Persian. Exotic, and from a much warmer emotional culture than that of Sweden, Parvaneh reaches out to Ove. She and her two daughters, help melt the hard shell surrounding Ove. He unfolds his story to the sympathetic Persian, and in so doing finds his loving heart. He becomes the family's adopted grandfather, and they give his life warm meaning. This could be seen as symbolic of the positive effect immigrants from a different culture can have on the host culture.

Nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category, A Man Called Ove is already doing better at the box office than any other foreign film, which would seem to indicate that people like it. The story is perfect from the point of view of telling a story that is one of the classics. It follows the formula of the protagonist being emotionally weakened by an event: we learn what the event was and can sympathize; a new person comes into the picture; and that new person unravels the emotional knots so that the protagonist can again move forward in life. The box office has spoken, and rewarded the makers of a film that makes us "feel good".

When films for the Oscars in the category of Best Picture are judged, they are all of high, professional standard in all the different aspects of their craft. For that Award, does content of the story come into the picture at all, I wonder. If it is Art that is the criterion, then Moonlight ought to win. If a realistic portrayal of a segment of real life, then Manchester by the Sea ought to win. If an insight into a piece of American culture is looked for, with a situation that is universal, then Fences ought to win. If a cynical piece, designed without feeling for music or dancing, purely for people looking for a light, fluffy film that makes them feel better than any of these aforementioned, then La La Land is it. If an uplifting story of people overcoming huge obstacles to achieve great things, and making us "feel good" in the process, is what is looked for, then Hidden Figures ought to be given the coveted Oscar.

It will be fascinating to learn which film the Academy has chosen to award the Oscar for Best Picture. And will A Man Called Ove win the Oscar for the Best Foreign Film?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Salesman: Monday, February 6 2017

The Salesman is written and directed by Persian filmmaker, Asghar Farhadi. He has already won many awards, and this film is no exception. It was nominated for a Golden Globe under the Best Foreign Film category. It is also nominated for an Oscar. The writing and direction are highly professional, and the film is gripping. The acting is fantastic, which makes the characters unforgettable. Everything about this film is of a high standard, which is always enjoyable in itself.

Also of great interest is the insight it gives the audience into life in Iran, and the psychology of people who live there. Farhadi has the reputation of creating films that examine the culture of his country, Iran, and its people, the Persians.

The contrast between how Iranians deal with rape, and how people in North America would react, is intense. In North America, the police consider rape a physical assault. The woman assaulted could call the police, who would be with her within a short time. She would be interviewed by a woman policewoman, who would probably take her to hospital to have a rape test done, as evidence of the physical assault. Ideally, she would be treated with sympathy and respect. In Iran, it is still considered a sexual act. In the film, no actual acknowledgement of what has happened is put forward, and the incident can hardly be discussed. The woman has been sexually violated; she is held suspect, and doesn't want to go to the police. She wants it forgotten as quickly as possible.

In the film, the rapist states that he was tempted, and expects everyone to understand that, even although he is an old, married man, he couldn't resist his strong, natural sexual drive. The victim forgives him, and even feels sorry for him in the end. I found that strange, until I realized that she, too, probably believes that she is irresistibly attractive sexually. She agrees that he wouldn't have been able to control his strong, sexual urges, when confronted by a beautiful, young, sexually-attractive woman like herself. Especially if she were naked, as she had been. This, she can forgive.

The husband feels his honour has been besmirched, and he feels obligated to do something about it. He is not forgiving. In the end, he can't quite bring himself to make the final cut, but he doesn't need to do so as circumstances does it for him. Does he, too, consider that the rapist could be understood? We see how this all impinges on the family of the transgressor: they are loyal to him, no matter what he is accused of doing. We see how vengeance has been taken without any need of the police.

In North America, if a woman were raped, one would expect, ideally, that the husband would be concerned about his wife. He would surely want to comfort her, and let her express her feelings by telling him all about it. He would call the police, even if his wife couldn't bring herself to do so. Like the police, he would consider that the assault is a physical one, and ought to be treated as such. In Iran, The Salesman shows that the reaction of the Persian couple would be very different. They wouldn't turn to each other for comfort, but, rather, would each suffer silently their own very different responses to the situation.

The Salesman made me think of how different are cultures. What if a North American man were transported to Iran and became part of the culture. How would he react then if his wife were raped? How important a part does cultural environment have on how people feel subconsciously, and think? Does this even affect their genes?

I didn't find the content of this film enjoyable, in the sense of "satisfying and leaving me with a good feeling". This was not the aim of the director anyway. It certainly was interesting as an anthropological and psychological study. I wonder if Iranians would find it satisfying? In their view, would justice be done, and be seen to be done? Probably.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Jackie: Monday, January 30 2017

Jackie (2016) is a film I didn't feel I wanted to see. I knew the story: and I am not an admirer of Jackie Kennedy; the Kennedy family; or Camelot. Nor did I really want to be reminded of a painful incident in American history. My friend, Lois, prevailed on me to see it, and I'm glad that she did.

The film focuses on the interview that Jacqueline Kennedy granted to Theodore H. White, of Life magazine. He met with her at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and this is where the film begins and ends. Billy Crudup plays White, absolutely brilliantly. He shows the right blend of obsequious attitude in his dealings with Jackie, and yet his strong, professional core keeps peeping through. This demonstrated the snobbish side of the First Lady, who was so aware of her station in life, and wanted others to be aware also. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance.

The point strongly made right at the beginning of the interview, and the film, is that the viewpoint that will be put forward is that of Jackie. This will be the story of the assassination of the American President, and the events following it, from the point of view of the First Lady. That is exactly what the film does. Correctly named Jackie, the movie shows her strong sense of drama and history. She wanted the point made that the myth she had created around the White House, of Camelot, has been destroyed by a bullet. John Kennedy was not only the President, he was also a family man, he was a husband and father, and she wanted it emphasised that this too had been destroyed.

When the Johnson administration tried to persuade her to change out of her blood-stained clothes, she refused. She insisted on being at the swearing in of the new President Johnson, and then accompanying the body of Kennedy back to Washington. She was at the forefront of the funeral, along with her children. Who can ever forget John Kennedy Junior, almost three years old, saluting his father's coffin? Jackie claimed her rightful place as First Lady, and widow of President John F. Kennedy, at the side of the slain President. John Kennedy was laid to rest by his widow, with dignity and drama. The play was over, and finished on a strong, high note. The assassin and his bullets were totally eclipsed. The woman who had been seen as a bit of a lightweight, a fashion plate, had proven herself to be much more than that. It was demonstrated clearly who had set the tone of the White House and created the mythology around the Presidency.

Jackie was directed by Pablo Larrain, and written by Noah Opperheim. Larrain is a Chilean, and this probably helped him create an objective film. It is a factual stating of the events around the assassination of President Kennedy, even if completely from the point of view of the First Lady. We do have enough of an inkling into the exasperation of the Johnson entourage at Jackie's behaviour, to glimpse their point of view. There is also a slight hint at how the Kennedy family must have felt at being kept so totally out of the picture. It is clear that Jackie was in charge of the picture being painted of the events, and that she was determined that Camelot would come to an end in a fitting manner. This film makes that clear. Brilliant!

Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy is well-cast. She portrays Jackie as the strong, determined woman she really was, behind the surface veneer of fashion queen. That facade that was presented so effectively to the public, was part of Jackie's understanding of drama. Image and branding are so important when creating a mythology. If the First Lady had a softer side, and perhaps a sense of humour, that was kept under strict control. The part she was playing was always to the fore. Portman did an amazing job of presenting us with the woman Jacqueline Kennedy wanted us to see. Peter Sargaard was believable as Robert F. Kennedy, and John Hurt, playing his last part before his death, was interesting as Father Richard McSorley, the Roman Catholic priest who ministered to Jackie.

A competent film; made by professionals; my friends enjoyed it. I can't say I enjoyed it, per se, but I did find it interesting and am glad I saw it.

Friday, January 27, 2017

20th Century Women: Monday, January 23 2017

20th Century Women, is written and directed by Mike Mills. It's semi-autobiographical, set in the 1970s, and based on his own experiences growing up with a Mom, and her sisters. He intended it as a salute to his mother, I believe.

Based in California, and at a time when thinking was changing around so many viewpoints, a film about 20th century women sounds an interesting concept. It might have been, if the subject had been dealt with by someone other than Mills. Dorothea, played by Annette Bening, is a bit scattered, Abby, played by Greta Gerwig, is a bit strange, and Julie, played by Elle Fanning, is another free spirit, driven by her surging hormones. I found I couldn't relate to any of them. They all seemed so shallow, self-centred, and lacking in any self-direction. Drifting through life, they really were totally uninteresting as people. Jamie, Dorothea's son played by Lucas Jade Zumann, appeared to me a not-too-swift loser who didn't know where he was going in life, and didn't know enough about anything to even care. I, certainly, was left not caring either. The acting was reasonably good, but the characters didn't resonate with me. I like people who are going somewhere in their lives. The conversations around the dinner table might have been shocking in the 1970s; in the present day they are boring, and even a little distasteful. There are some things best not brought to mind while eating, including bodily functions like contraception.

The direction didn't resonate either. The film moved so slowly, I had great difficulty in keeping my eyes open. One of our party, in fact, had a lovely sleep through it all. He definitely won't be recommending this film to his friends.

Santa Barbara, where the film was made, is reputed to be a lovely place. What a pity we didn't see any of it to enjoy its beauty. The movie could have been made in a studio, with one long-distance shot over what we presume to be Santa Barbara.

A light piece of fluff, it might be a way to pass a rainy afternoon, if you have nothing better to do.