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Legal Vampire (Buckinghamshire, England)

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Brooklyn [DVD] [2015]
Brooklyn [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Saoirse Ronan
Price: £5.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant, simple story. Without Saoirse Ronan might have been too slight, but she gives it power, 18 May 2016
This review is from: Brooklyn [DVD] [2015] (DVD)
I have not read the book on which this is based but this film is a pleasant, simple story starring the talented Irish-American actress (even if knowing how to pronounce her name can be a struggle!) Saoirse Ronan about a young lady who, probably never having been abroad in her life before, emigrates, from a small, conservative town in Ireland in the early 1950s to New York City, specifically to the New York borough of Brooklyn.

This was in the days when crossing the Atlantic still meant a voyage of several days by sea. On arrival, after standing nervously in line in a dark and rather unwelcoming building to answer questions and show her passport to a bored American official, she passes through a door straight onto a New York street in sunshine, and steps into a new world. Much of the film is about the differences she experiences between the two.

Having got to Brooklyn she rarely ventures very far. Even the skyscrapers of the neighbouring New York borough of Manhattan, from which Brooklyn is separated by a short stretch of water, remain unknown territory to her. Many, but not all, of those she mixes with in Brooklyn are, like her, Roman Catholics of Irish descent, who have brought many of the habits and values of their homeland with them.

This is the early fifties, pre-Rock ‘n’ Roll and pre-1960s Counter-Culture and Sexual Revolution. Although the young sometimes find ways round the restrictions that older people seek to place on what they can do, compared to later decades no one takes rebellion all that far.

Even so, the differences between her new life in New York and the old life in the small town in Ireland where her family and the friends of her youth mostly still are, and where she returns for an extended visit following her mother’s death, are sufficiently striking that the main theme of the film is which of these she will choose. This is focused by the choice she has to make between a young Catholic man of Italian decent waiting for her in Brooklyn and a local Irish Catholic boy who offers her a reason to stay in Ireland.

As I said at the beginning of this review, this is quite a simple story although there is a slight twist in it towards the end. I am too young to know how accurate a picture it gives of life in Ireland or New York in the 1950s, but it feels as though it does give a sense of both those worlds.

To me, the supporting cast are mostly good but not outstanding. I thought Jessica Paré was good as Miss Fortini, Saoirse Ronan’s boss in the Brooklyn department store in which she finds a job. Jim Broadbent as an Irish priest in New York and Julie Walters as an Irish American landlady of the old school are both perfectly good, but in roles that, apart from the accent, are a bit obvious for them. It would be nice to see especially Jim Broadbent more often playing something other than well-meaning but slightly comical and ineffectual characters. He can do a much greater range when allowed e.g. in a film I liked but which divides viewers, in which he played several different roles, called ‘Cloud Atlas’.

Without Saoirse Ronan as the heroine, ‘Brooklyn’ might be too slight a story, but she is a good enough actress to give it power. (I have only otherwise seen her in an ‘art house’ film called ‘Lost River’ that is also not to everyone’s taste but I thought was brilliant, including performances in that by Saoirse Ronan, Matt Smith and Christina Hendricks.)

The Man Comes Around
The Man Comes Around
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars 4 Stars Plus - love several songs; some don’t do much for me, 21 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Man Comes Around (Audio CD)
I give this 4 Stars Plus, which is the highest I can normally rate a complete album, as even if I love several songs on it there are almost always some that don’t do much for me. That applies here.

This album, a mixture of Pop and Country music, one or two of Johnny Cash’s own composition but mostly arrangements of other people’s, was his last released in his lifetime, although American V & VI were released after his death. His voice has aged, but in a good way, at least for the best of the performances here, giving added poignancy to the several songs that deal with death. So does the fact that Mr Cash’s wife June died a few months after this was released and Johnny Cash himself a few months later.

This seems especially apparent in the second song on the album, ‘Hurt’ and the video they made together to accompany it (there is more than one video associated with this song on YouTube; the one you need to see features Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash). They take someone else’s song about drug addiction (it begins “I hurt myself today, to prove that I can feel”) and make it seem more generally about loss, regret and the end of life, even if the last line is supposed to give hope. I do not know what the chorus line “Everyone I know goes away” was meant to signify when the song was originally written. However, Johnny singing it in his aging voice creates an image of someone at the stage of life that their contemporaries have started to die one after another, and he knows it may be his turn soon.

Best songs, in my opinion are, in no order of preference:

-‘Hurt’ (see above)

-‘I hung my head’
&-‘The Streets of Laredo’;
both of which are western or cowboy related songs in which the central character accepts the approach of death sadly, but not bitterly

-“(When) The Man comes Around” written by Cash himself. The ‘Man’ of the title is Jesus. “When the Man comes Around” means Jesus’s Second Coming, when the New Testament says that this World will end, and Jesus return to judge us, sending some to Paradise and damning others.

You need not share this religious belief to appreciate the song, you just have to respect the fact that some people do believe it, especially in the parts of the USA that are the home of Country Music.

Many lines in the song are taken from the Authorized Version of the Bible (you know, the Proper Bible, full of 'thee's and 'thou's and other archaic expressions like “it’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks” [meaning literally that it is hard for an ox to resist an ox goad, but metaphorically that it is hard to go a different way from the way the Lord wants us to go]). The combination of the (to us) curious old-fashioned language and strange prophecies and metaphors make the words quite strange to hear. Those who wish may track down the (mainly) New Testament references and their original contexts by Googling individual phrases from it and / or just ‘Meaning Lyrics Cash Man Comes Around’ or similar. However, as with quite a few pop songs it is equally possible just to be moved by the mood the words and tune create without trying to make sense of them.

-‘Desperado’ is not as good as the above but still quite good.

I am less inspired by Cash’s versions of ‘We’ll Meet Again’ (associated in Britain with Vera Lynn) , Bridge over Troubled Water’ (Simon & Garfunkel) or ‘In My Life’ (the Beatles).

Cloverfield [Blu-ray] [2008] [Region Free]
Cloverfield [Blu-ray] [2008] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Mike Vogel
Price: £3.47

2.0 out of 5 stars some will like but somehow it just did hold my interest, 21 April 2016
While I did not hate this film, about people threatened by a monster loose in New York, somehow it just did hold my interest.

It is directed by JJ Abrams who was later successfully put in charge of the ‘rebooted’ Star Trek and Star Wars film series. He was also the man behind the television series ‘Alias’, ‘Fringe’ and ‘Lost’, at least some of which were good.

Gossip Girl - Season  1 [DVD] [2008]
Gossip Girl - Season 1 [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Leighton Meester
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.32

3.0 out of 5 stars For what it is, ‘Gossip Girl’ is well made, 21 April 2016
For me, ‘Gossip Girl’ is not bad, but a bit light weight and I would not want to watch all the Seasons.

Some people are very enthusiastic about this series about the lives and loves of the ‘jeunesse dorée’ of New York, as chronicled by anonymous online commentator known as ‘Gossip Girl’.

I tried it mainly because I really liked another American teen series with which it is sometimes compared, ‘Pretty Little Liars’, and because I also very much liked Kristen Bell (the voice of ‘Gossip Girl’) when she played the teenaged detective Veronica Mars in the series of that name. Gossip Girl has less substance and intellectual content than those programmes, but then not everyone wants too much intellectual content all the time. For what it is, ‘Gossip Girl’ is well made.

Spotlight [DVD] [2016]
Spotlight [DVD] [2016]
Dvd ~ Michael Keaton
Price: £6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly low key for a Best Film Oscar winner, but good, interesting and important film, 21 April 2016
This review is from: Spotlight [DVD] [2016] (DVD)
For an Academy Award winner for ‘Best Film’ (in the 2016 Oscars), Spotlight is surprisingly low key. Do not expect impressive special effects, exciting adventure, passionate romance or hilarious comedy. The brief courtroom scenes are not classic courtroom drama.

What this is though is a good, interesting and important film about an investigation in 2001-2 by a team of reporters on the ‘Boston Globe’ newspaper, who changed the World a little by what they exposed.

The scale of the task required a whole team working for months. This was just before the effect of the internet on newspaper sales made such investigations uneconomic.

Hence, rather than having one or two stars, this film features several actors with roughly equally important roles, of whom the ones I liked best (in no particular order) were Michael Keaton as the leading journalist ‘Robby’, Rachel McAdams as the only female reporter on the team, Mark Ruffalo as a younger reporter called ‘Mike’ and Stanley Tucci as a world-weary lawyer of Armenian ancestry. The latter has for years been doing the little that the system allows him to do for victims whom the authorities, the Church and, until now, the press have largely ignored. Most of these characters are based on real individuals who played their part in the investigation.

The film deals with a distressing subject, the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests, but do not let that put you off watching it. The film manages to give a sense of what happened to the victims without graphic descriptions, nor, fortunately, showing the abuse on screen.

Individual cases of serial paedophile priests were known about before, but the Globe’s investigation still shocked people. It was not just the sheer scale of the historic abuse, which involved perhaps 6% of priests, some of whom had hundreds of child victims over many years. Given the size of the Catholic Church, that means an awful lot of priests and even greater number of victims. Equally shocking was that bishops and cardinals generally knew what was going on and did very little to stop it, being more concerned to protect the image of the Church than the children of its parishioners, often doing little more than move the perpetrators to different parishes, with nothing to stop them doing the same thing again.

Finally, after months of work, the Boston Globe breaks the story at a weekend. This is taking a significant risk in criticising the Roman Catholic Church in a city with a Catholic majority and long-established links between the Catholic hierarchy and the local centres of power.

It is a sign of how quickly the world has changed that, although this was little more than a decade ago, ’breaking the story’ still meant printing presses rolling, a fleet of vans delivering paper copies of the newspaper around the city and people opening their morning newspapers to read about it. A couple of the reporters who, after months working on the case, have the Sunday off, decide to go into work anyway to see if there has been a reaction to the story. They find the rest of the ‘Spotlight’ team being deluged by calls from more victims of abuse by priests, who have been prompted by the story to speak about it for the first time. Not only do they now have plenty of material for follow-up stories, but the weight of evidence is so great that the Church has no option but to make serious efforts to change how it deals with such matters, not just in the Boston Archdiocese but nationally and internationally.

At the end of the film a caption says that cases of large scale sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests previously known to but covered up by the Church have since been exposed in the following other locations in the USA, followed by a list of places so long that, when I saw this film at the cinema, the audience gasped. This was followed by an even longer list of places where such things have since been exposed as having happened in the rest of the World.

The primary focus of this film is on the story of journalists investigating the scandal, second on the ex-victims, mostly now adults still troubled by what happened to them when younger, and third on senior Church and other establishment figures trying to hush it up. We see little of the actual perpetrators, except for a short scene in which one priest guilty of sexually abusing children begins to explain to a reporter how he feels about what he did and why he did it, before he is told by one of his relatives not to say any more.

There is also a good book about this subject called ‘Betrayal ‘, written by ‘the Boston Globe’s investigative team’. The individual journalists do not become characters in the book as they do in the film, but the book is interesting, sheds further light on what happened and, like the film, manages to deal with a painful subject in a way that fortunately manages to avoid too much explicit detail of the sex acts but still conveys the seriousness of it.

I like both film and book, although neither answers the questions of whether the priest perpetrators really believed in Christianity, and, if so, whether they somehow squared their beliefs with the things they did, and what had really led them to become priests. Paedophiles unfortunately exist in many walks of life. However, the Catholic Church’s rule that its priests may not marry nor have romantic and sexual relationships with adult women surely has something to do with the fact that such a large minority of them turned in a cruel and shameful way to adolescent or younger boys, especially, but girls too.

The Secret of Kells [DVD]
The Secret of Kells [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tomm Moore
Price: £6.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Not equal to top Disney classics but at its best a charming, interesting, varied film with its own unique character, 21 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Secret of Kells [DVD] (DVD)
Good, often charming, varied, if perhaps slow in places and slightly over-long, animated film made in Ireland (with help from Eastern Europe) set over a thousand years ago. It is about a boy novice monk who has to save his monastery’s greatest treasure, the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels, from fearsome pagan Vikings.

Like the best Disney or Pixar animations, although ‘The Secret of Kells’ may be called a children’s film, adults can like it too, and see some things in it that children may not. The makers did not have the resources of Disney or Pixar, and the animation is simpler than in a major Hollywood film, but it is still effective.

The story is partly based on history, but much of the detail is fiction or fairy tale.

During the early Middle Ages, after receiving Christianity from Britain (sometimes Irish nationalists seem to forget that St Patrick was British!) Ireland made a disproportionately large contribution to culture and Christian civilization in the British Isles and Europe.

The name of the white cat ‘Pangur Bann’, who appears in the film, comes from a surviving poem by a Medieval Irish monk about his cat.

There is a famous Early Medieval Irish illuminated manuscript called the Book of Kells, which survived the fearsome and rapacious Viking attacks when much else must have been lost or destroyed. The Vikings, as pagans with no respect for Christianity, targeted monasteries as places with wealth worth looting and easy prey as the monks were sworn not to fight.

In a scene in the film a barbaric Viking warrior finds a priceless, richly calligraphed and illuminated manuscript of Christian scripture bound in a jewelled cover. Having no conception that pages with writing and pictures on them can have a value, the Viking rips the pages out and throws them away, and just takes the jewelled cover. Such things may actually have happened then.

‘The Secret of Kells’ presents Christianity in a generally favourable, if theologically unorthodox, way as the bearer of learning, civilization and the future. The older, less rational world of pagan spirits and magic is portrayed as still secretly existing, but banished to forests and caves on the margins of society. Although the Abbot of the monastery claims such things are only legends, in one scene a character sees a frightening pre-Christian Irish pagan god. In others he is helped by a more benevolent forest spirit.

As animated films go, ‘The Secret of Kells’ is not equal to the top Disney classics like ‘Bambi’ or ‘The Jungle Book’, nor the best modern blockbusters like the ‘Toy Story’ films, so if you have not yet seen those, you may want to see them first. Some parts of this film are better than others. However, at its best this is a charming, interesting, varied film with its own unique character.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence [2001] - 2 disc set [DVD]
A.I. Artificial Intelligence [2001] - 2 disc set [DVD]
Dvd ~ Haley Joel Osment
Price: £4.73

4.0 out of 5 stars Moving, slightly sentimental, often sad; not as visually spectacular or action packed as some of Spielberg’s other films, 21 April 2016
Moving film directed by a famous director, Stephen Spielberg, based on a project by another famous director, Stanley Kubrick, who died before he could realise it himself.

This is not as visually spectacular or action packed as some of Spielberg’s other films, nor does it try to be. However, but if you can take slightly sentimental films this is a good, if often sad, one, set mostly in the near future but with the last part set in a thousand years’ time.

It is about an Android boy with Artificial Intelligence (the ‘AI’ of the title) adopted but then rejected by a human family.

I could say pretentious things about how this film ‘raises questions about what it is to be human’ and such like but I think better not. However, with the continuing development of computing and robotics some things in this film may indeed be part of our future.

Show Boat (French import, plays in English)
Show Boat (French import, plays in English)
Dvd ~ Howard Keel
Price: £10.35

5.0 out of 5 stars “D*rk*es all work on the Miss-iss-ippi!”, 24 Mar. 2016
The best popular musical written before the invention of rock and roll. If you would not normally listen to music or watch films from this era, you may find you have to give this film 10 minutes to get used to it, but it is still well worth seeing.

There is an earlier black and white film version featuring Paul Robeson which may on balance be better for acting and singing, but this 1950s colour version starring Howard Keel is not bad and has the advantage that it is, well, in colour.

It opens with the chorus singing: “D*rk”es all work on the Miss-iss-ippi! D*rk*es all work while the white folks play”-

- AAAGH! – I’ve just used THAT WORD ‘D*rk*e’(which is the nearest Amazon will let me write to it)- TWICE! Now three times! Sorry if that caused anyone reading this to suffer a fit (“Body all achin' and wracked with pain”) but then that’s just how they tended to talk in the 1920s when this musical was written, and in the 1950s when this version was filmed.

In those days some people in the USA suffered violence and even death at the hands of white supremacists for daring to demand equal rights for blacks. We should not forget that. However, we should also remember that nobody died from hearing the word “D*rk*e”.

Actually, even that word is toned down from the word used in the original 1920s stage production, which these days cannot be spoken as all people of liberal opinions who hear it instantly suffer post-traumatic shock and die (“Show me dat stream called de river Jordan, Dat's de ol' stream dat I long to cross”).

‘Showboat’ has good tunes and more especially lyrics, in songs such as

-‘Can’t help Lovin’ Dat Man’ (“Fish got to swim, birds got to fly, I got to love one man till I die… Tell me he's lazy, tell me he's slow, tell me I'm crazy (maybe I know), can't help lovin' dat man of mine.”)

-‘I Might Fall Back on You’ (“After I have looked around the world for a mate, then, perhaps, I might fall back on you! When I am convinced that there is no better fate, then I might decide that you will do”)

-‘Bill’ (“I can’t explain, it’s surely not his brain, that makes me thrill”)

and especially ‘Ol’ Man River’ (Ol' man river, dat ol' man river, he mus' know sumpin', but don't say nuthin')

The story is mainly about the people on a Mississippi paddle steamer in the early twentieth century as it carries passengers up and down the great river. (“Dere's an ol' man called de Mississippi, dat's de ol' man dat I'd like to be, what does he care if de world's got troubles, what does he care if de land ain't free?”)

This particular steamer is a ‘showboat’, that is, it offers live shows with musical numbers in the evenings to entertain its passengers, so many characters in the story are professional entertainers.

It is not all jollity. There are sad events, including suicide (“Ah gits weary an' sick o' tryin', Ah'm tired o' livin' an' skeered o' dyin'”) and references to the hardness of the lives of the black people who work on the river (“Let me go 'way from the Miss-iss-ippi, let me go 'way from de white man boss”), and the ‘Miscegenation’ laws which in several states banned interracial marriage. However, ‘Showboat’ is far from being all gloom and politics. It is something to watch first and foremost for entertainment.

The story was surprisingly progressive in its racial attitudes for a popular musical in the 1920s. However, sensibilities have advanced so far that anything written by anyone, black or white, before about 1980, however liberal and enlightened in its day, will now be considered by some to be unacceptably racist. In the 1960s even Martin Luther King used words like “negro” and “coloured people” in his speeches, for which, if he were alive and said that now, he would practically “land in jail”.

And so ‘Showboat’, that probably once most offended white supremacists, is now criticised and censored by trendy and liberal people. Successive productions have amended the opening chorus quoted near the beginning of this review, each time trying to be more sensitive to avoid causing offence but each time left behind by a further shift in opinion: from the Word We Can’t Say At All to “D*rk*es”; then to “coloured folks”; then to “some folks”; then to dropping that chorus altogether, which is sad.

In 1999 an amateur production of Showboat by the Teesside Operatic Society was cancelled due to protests that white actors were to appear made up to look black, just because, in a town with few Afro-Caribbean residents, they lacked black members to fill the black roles.

Ho hum. Well, let’s just enjoy the words, the music and story, give respect to their authors Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, and to the "long, low river", who:

“Don' plant taters, he don' plant cotton
And dem dat plants' em is soon forgotten
But ol' man river
He jes' keeps rollin' along…”

2001: A Space Odyssey [1968] [DVD]
2001: A Space Odyssey [1968] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Keir Dullea
Price: £4.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars “My God, it’s full of pretension!”, 24 Mar. 2016
I can only give my view of this film, as ‘2001’ seriously divides viewers. If you enjoy it more than I do, that’s good.

-Some people who genuinely love this film, and say some high-falutin’ things about it. One reviewer here calls it “a philosophical piece about man's place in the multiverse…it's a meditation”.

-Consequently there are probably others who feel they have to pretend to like ‘2001’ because it is famous and supposed to be profound.

and I have met others who, like me, find it slow, pretentious and often dull.

This film was made in 1968 when the year 2001 seemed far in the future. Based on a novel by Arthur C Clarke (although I found him much better as a non-fiction science writer than as a novelist). ‘2001’ is about the moment when human astronauts find on the first proof of the existence of an extra-terrestrial civilization.

In most science fiction films this would lead to battles in space or adventures with monsters on strange planets, but ‘2001’ is not like that. It is also not really about the extra-terrestrials, of whom we learn little.

The film is more about the portentousness of this moment of discovery, which must change the future of humanity for ever, even if we do not yet know how.

This theme is emphasised by flashbacks to a previous equally momentous point in our species’ development, when rival clans of early hominids first learned to hit each other with rocks, thus supposedly inventing warfare, or something like that. This makes for a film that some find ‘meaningful’, even if they can't say what it means.

There is a sequel, which an enthusiast for both films once persuaded me to see, which explained a few things but left many more unexplained. I did not like to tell her I did not enjoy that one much either.

In ‘2001’s favour, it has fine music appropriate to its grand, otherworldly theme (Richard Strauss’s ‘also Sprach Zarathustra’, which for a time after this film was released, became popularly known just as ‘2001’). There is also a moment in the film when the spaceship’s computer HAL asks “Will I dream?” which is moving, for reasons I cannot explain in case it spoils it for anyone who wants to see this film.

‘2001’ had a distinguished director, the late Stanley Kubrick, who, while he did not make that many films, made some very varied and original ones. In the same period he directed what to me is the brilliant, although bizarre and too shocking for some: ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and had previously made the justly famous ‘Spartacus’. On the other hand I did not like his ‘The Shining’ and cannot make up my mind whether I like ‘Dr Strangelove’, although film ‘cognoscenti’ tell us it is officially a masterpiece. However, I did like ‘Barry Lyndon’.

Unfortunately, while I am glad that some people like it, ‘2001’ just does not really work for me.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 15, 2016 1:42 PM BST

Sixteen Candles [DVD] [1984]
Sixteen Candles [DVD] [1984]
Dvd ~ Molly Ringwald
Price: £5.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Molly Ringwald good & charming but it is ‘The Breakfast Club’ you really need to see., 24 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Sixteen Candles [DVD] [1984] (DVD)
‘Sixteen Candles’ is the first of about three 1980s comedies about school-aged teenagers to be written and directed by John Hughes and to star Molly Ringwald, although the characters and plots are not related. While not a bad film, this is nowhere near as good as ‘The Breakfast Club’, which they made together the following year.

‘Sixteen Candles’ is a more ordinary comedy about teenagers. It is about a day (actually her 16th birthday) in the life of Samantha, an American schoolgirl, who never actually does get a cake with 16 candles. Her family are so distracted by her older sister’s wedding that they completely forget Samantha’s birthday.

There are eccentric grandparents visiting for the wedding, an annoying exchange student from the Far East, lecherous adolescent boys exaggerating their sexual exploits, drunken teenagers doing stupid things at parties, a couple of scenes involving girls’ underwear, and a boy and girl who love each other but due to various circumstances for most of the film do not realise that the feeling is mutual.

All of that, I think, has also been done in other films.

However, Molly Ringwald is good and charming in the lead role.

While at first I did not think she made much impression, by the end of the film I also liked Havilland Morris as the pretty blonde ‘Caroline’, who is going out with Jake, the boy Molly Ringwald’s character would like to be with, played by Michael Schoeffling. He is also good, although he has less screen time than some of the more annoying characters. Havilland Morris and Michael Schoeffling had subsequent screen acting careers but neither became a star. According to Wikipedia, Havilland Morris is now the American equivalent of an Estate Agent; Michael Schoeffling makes furniture for a living.

Like many films, ‘Sixteen Candles’ gets better as it goes along. If you persevere with it, the last part does come alive, but it is ‘The Breakfast Club’ that you really need to see.

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