Monday, February 24, 2014

Rumpelstiltskin..... Abergavenny Pantomime Company 2014

I would like to wish 'Good Luck and Break a leg!' to the entire cast and crew of Abergavenny Pantomime Company's production of Rumpelstiltskin at Abergavenny Borough Theatre this week....( first night Monday 24 February:
 Monday 24th February to  Saturday 1st March 2014 Borough Theatre, Abergavenny

After our very successful production of Aladdin, we have decided to perform something slightly different, a pantomime which APC have never performed before. 

“Rumpelstilskin promises to be APC’s Pantomime's finest production ever!

Ruby, a poor miller’s daughter, is forced to spin straw into gold when her drunken father boasts that she can. Help comes from an unexpected source in the shape of a menacing and crafty gnome, but at a very high price.

To purchase your tickets phone the Borough Theatre Box Office on (01873) 850505.

Guaranteed to delight the whole family with all the stunning sets, glittering costumes, wonderful songs and dazzling dancing that audiences have come to expect, topped off with plenty of laughter courtesy of the cast and chorus of Abergavenny Pantomime Company. 

I have to own up to a slight bias as this production will mark the first stage appearances of my granddaughter Abi and grandson Jaycob (uncredited but on stage... if well hidden...!). In addition their mother Emily makes a welcome return to tread the boards on the Borough Theatre stage.
Many months of rehearsal will I am sure enable the cast to bring the story to life for the audiences this week.
I am looking forward very much to coming back to Wales to see the show on St David's Day..........Good Luck all.

Saturday 22 February 2014 - Nebraska - Pathe Buitenhof

I had been looking forward to the intriguing Nebraska since I had read Mark Kermode's Guardian review of the film back in December 2013. This was followed by tantalizing snippets which appeared in  the trailers here in The Hague. The setup of this 'road movie' made it number 2 on my 'must see' list for 2014.
Bruce Dern has for me been one of those fringe actors who has never been a favourite of mine has been 'off the radar' for some time.However Dern along with the rest of the cast were given a dream of a script by writer Bob Nelson and director Alexander Payne..... From the opening image of
 a lonely old man trudging along the side of the highway, eventually 'pulled over' by the local police, sets the scene for this finely judged movie.
What a makes a masterpiece of pauses and short well observed 'one liners' and gives Dern a wonderful deadpan delivery that suits the character of 'Woody' like a glove.

We soon realize the futility of Woody Grant's obsession, as we are introduced to his close family, sons David and Ross and his wonderful wife Kate ( brilliantly observed by June Squibb) who has put up with Grant's madcap idea of claiming his $1million lottery win for too long. The family (an ordinary family) is revealed to us as we travel with Woody and David...from Montana to Nebraska
We meet Woody's siblings and their wider families, watch out for Bart and Cole. There is one great shot where brothers and sons are all sitting in the lounge watching 'the game' the image will long stay in the memory.
We are shown that Woody is a flawed 'Everyman' having been an alcoholic and failed business man, but we warm to our hero as he doggedly pursues his dream. We are introduced to Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach) the ex business partner who along with some family members wants his 'due reward' . We learn of how Kate and Woody got together in such a humorous way, it appears that Woody was quite the catch back in the day.
The pace of the film meanders along towards the final act,  where Woody now resigned to the fact that he will not be winning the much sought after prize is given a touching gift by David which allows Woody to get the last laugh.....
I return to the triumph of the script, it is superb.... one of my favourite episodes occurs when the sons determine to reacquire a compressor given to Ed Pegram back in the 1980's. The boys mistakenly enter a barn that they assume belongs to Pegram and return carrying a compressor. Woody states is not his after the boys have struggled to place the compressor into the back of the car...the following dialogue is delivered in a matter of fact way:
David Grant: Dad, why didn't you tell us that wasn't Ed's house? 
Woody Grant: I didn't know what the hell you were doing. 
Ross Grant: Have you ever seen us steal machinery before? 
Woody Grant: I never know what you boys are up to. 
Ross Grant: Why didn't you say it wasn't yours? 
Woody Grant: I thought you wanted it. 
Ross Grant: What would we want an old compressor for? 
Woody Grant: That's what I couldn't figure out.
Better yet, on returning the compressor  they spot the real owners returning... this gives Squibb some of her best lines.
As you may surmise I enjoyed this experience, the film is a triumph and is on my list of 'must see again' movies along with Inside Llewyn Davis and Captain Phillips. It gets a thumbs up and 8 out of 10 from this reviewer. Don't just take my words of praise for Nebraska take a look at what Catherine Shoard has to say

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Thursday 20 February - 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave opened in Pathe Cinemas around The Netherlands this week. Steve O'Regan and myself visited the favoured Pathe Buitenhof on Thursday evening this week for our viewing pleasure.  Steve McQueen's powerful film which retells the story of the deception of  Solomon Northup which saw him sold into slavery by a pair of unscrupulous men, pulls no punches.
The brutality and despair experienced by those who found themselves ripped from their families and transported as slave labour to the cotton and sugar cane plantations of the Southern States, is shown with very little sentiment.... striking was the fear engendered in the slaves which showed them  pointedly ignoring those who were being tortured or left to die by their owners...often having to leave them to die and carry on with their lives seemingly not noticing the scene before them.

One of my minor quibbles with the production is that on occasion scenes are held for too long. I realise that the long scene where Solomon's face expresses the absolute despair felt was extended for effect.... it did linger for too long, I would have preferred it to have drawn away leaving Solomon alone in the landscape. There were other scenes which would have benefited from a tighter editing.

The performances however were however memorable. Chewetel Echiofor puts in the performance of his career so far as his emotions run from the joy of life with his 'free' family, to the depths as he realises that he should have assisted Patsey in her wish to die with dignity.
Patsey is played with tremendous empathy by the newcomer Lupita Nyong'o who has been rightfully identified as a 'best newcomer' at awards cermonies.
Micheal Fassbender portryal of  the hard drinking, violent, and  power crazed plantation owner Edwin Epps, is a triumph, as is Sarah Paulson as Mistress Epps. Paulson shines a more stark and honest light onto the 'southern belle'. So often shown in films from the 1950's and 60's as polite refined and cultured ladies who 'civilize' their oft brutal plantation owner husbands.
Mistress Epps is brutalised by her husbands predilections, this leads her character to bristle with malevolence towards slave girl Patsey and others.... you would not want to get on the wrong side of either of the Epp's.
Other supporting character roles ably support the story, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch and Alfre Woodard exhibit great presence on the big screen. Brad Pitt's character is required to enable the end of Solomon's story, however unusually for Pitt he doesn't seem to find the mood of the film, he appears somehow too knowing and on the 'outside' of the drama.
Even with its shortcomings which include probably being 20-30 minutes too long (134 minutes!).... and the over use of lingering shots, I can forgive McQueen and the cast... the story is powerful and did leave a lasting impression on this cinema-goer.
I would give 12 Years a Slave 9 out of 10.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dear can do better!

I was looking forward to the UK Film BAFTA awards ceremony last night. The show is overseen by the 'national treasure' Stephen Fry. Sadly it is quickly becoming as safe and welcome as a comfy pair of your favourite old slippers. 
The show has become slick now that it is 'on the circuit' just ahead of The Oscars......In seeking industry approval the BAFTA's has in my opinion lost its edge and bite. I would put this down to the format which is yawn inducing - a parade of the cinematic 'great and good' roll up to deliver an increasingly short introduction to each montage of nominees. Mr F oversees the whole thing much like your favourite cuddly uncle....the ceremony has become tedious.
Another element that I find part of this is the 'downgrading' of the perceived less important categories which appear at the end of the televised main event. These awards are those which surely give an awards ceremony it's unique appeal.....I wanted more on the best animation, best foreign film, best documentary and other categories. By the end of the evening we had seen large chunks of the main contenders which shared the major categories in a great piece of free(ish) publicity.
It was good the see the best newcomer category.
I also felt for the excellent UK film The Selfish Giant whose lead actors in their teens had never acted on film before. It was up against the huge global super brands....Gravity, 12 Years a Slave et al. It really should have been in a category where it could have shone amongst its true peers.

Then there were the obituaries.....I realise that this cannot show everyone, however some major players were overlooked ....James Gandolfini, Mel Smith and the excellent Roger Lloyd Pack for example.

While it is unlikely that the BAFTA format will change.... the film industry and BBC appear happy with the status quo. I will certainly think twice before joining the back slapping event next year....the upcoming Oscars show that the billion dollar film moguls will edit the show very much in the way 'the studios' used to do in the 40's and 50's ..........please BAFTA think again, the cream will come to the top, but let's see the real heart and upcoming talent.....

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Films - 10th - 16th February 2014

A new week in film began on Monday 10th February with yet another subterranean encounter with my 50+ friends at the Pathe Cinema Buitenhof. On offer this week was Mr Morgan's Last Love ( also known as Last Love)... warning plot spoilers lurk here....
Michael Caine is Mr Morgan, a retired and recently widowed Philosophy Professor now living on his own in the Paris apartment that his wife selected and loved. Mr Morgan struggles now that he does not have his wife to translate for him. He does however live in a 'between world'  where he still sees his wife at many points during each day.... while sat on a park bench, or in bed at night.
                    Mr Morgan encounters Pauline Laubie ( Po├ęsy) when surprised by his bus stopping more quickly than he was expecting. Pauline is a Parisian dance instructor, the twinkle in her eye is met by the same in Caine's ( he still has it... of course). What then unfolds is a growing friendship between the pair.... we really have been here before in other similar films of the genre. The added layer is that both Morgan and Laubie are prickly individuals  not easy to get to know - each is withholding elements of their lives..... we have seen this before also.
In Morgan's case the frosty exterior unfolds after he attempts to join his late wife, ending in hospital. His grown children arrive and further exhibit the traits of a family that has been fractured by misunderstandings brought on by things unsaid in the past. The ill adjusted offspring of course are not happy with the growing attachment between their father and the young Parisian..... long story short.....the son does eventually warm to Pauline.... this appears to give Mr Morgan to completion he requires.
The story begins quite slowly and with a little suspension of disbelief works. However following the hospitalization and the introduction of the awkward offspring the story telling begins to unravel for me. The director appears to believe that this can be overcome by moving the characters from set to set - Paris - a family house in Dinard, back to Paris to the apartment....back to a hotel room .... STOP!
Sadly for me the need to show the audience the ending literally spoils what could I believe be a cleaner and tidier ending.
The leads and supports try their best with the script which does let them down...and for me this gives Mr Morgan a score of 6.5 out of 10 for me

Friday 14th February - The Monuments Men - Pathe Buitenhof
Based on the true story which unfolded as the Second World War in Europe drew to its close. It became obvious that the Nazi's had plundered much of the art that had been in private collections at the outbreak of war. Much of this looted from Jewish families as they were consigned to their doom in 'the camps'. Hitler and his acolytes  destroyed well known works that were considered degenerate work. Many of his top generals took work into their own private collections, Hitler himself had a plan to create the 3rd Reich Art Museum in Linz.....and to this end many unique works were looted and hidden away in mineral mines in Germany.
The fear was that as the Nazi's drew back to their homeland that they would destroy all that had been hidden. Enter the Monuments Men, a group of middle aged art experts tasked with identifying works and ensuring their return to the places from which they had been taken.....
George Clooney's film was shot deliberately as an homage to the WW2 films of the 60's and 70's ( The Guns of Navarone amongst others)...and is termed a 'Heist!'  It begins as The Magnificent Seven.... Clooney even alludes to this as he recruits Matt Damone's character, it continues in the same manner.  The shame is that this film could have been played as a period docudrama such as the excellent Argo - unfortunately this appears to be Clooney's Ocean's Eleven - prequel! As such it does a dis-service to the original team of Monuments Men.....
The real monuments men are discussed in the following academic video which I would recommend viewing...

As for the Monuments Men.... it has the feel of a Period Ocean's Eleven and this I cannot get out of my mind.... thus I would give the film a 5 out of 10 .... it could and should have been so much better!

Saturday 15th February - Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2... in 3D.. Pathe Spuimarkt.
It was a windy afternoon in the city and I was at somewhat of a loose end... when I chanced upon CWACOM2..3D. The normally reliable Pathe Cinema had a minor meltdown on Saturday afternoon in Screen 2 at Spui. No sooner was the audience of expectant children, parents and others  requested to don 3D glasses than the system failed - the glasses had no effect everything was still blurry.....when we regained vision...the audio failed. The result was that was were treated to the opening 5 minutes of the film  twice. I feared that this was to herald a film that I could have escaped if the presentation had failed.
However what unfolded was a mad 95 minute fun fest. The story which was of course 'unbelievable' was sprinkled liberally with one liners and visual jokes for the whole laugh at.. the script really goes for it, setting its stall out to force you into submission by its very 'upbeatness'.... if that is a word? The amazing creatures that we meat ( not a spelling mistake!)... the Tacodile, Shrimpanzees to name but a few! The visual jokes were a 'piece of cake'..... yup literally a piece of cake.
I was glad that Pathe eventually got the presentation right as were we all....
The film will work for all the family.....I give it a 7.5 out of 10

A very interesting trio of films you will agree with for me unexpected results. I am now off to enjoy the 2014 BAFTA's cheering on Captain Phillips, The Selfish Giant, American Hustle and Gravity.....and of course Inside Llewyn Davis.... I have yet to see 12 Years a Slave and Nebraska and as a result cannot comment yet.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Retrospective: Saturday 11th January 2014

The Eye Cinema  Screen 2, Amsterdam - Inside Llewyn Davis

If you find yourself in Amsterdam, I would recommend that instead of following the tourists out of Centraal Station  into the city, that you strike off  in the opposite direction and take the GVB ferry (free of course) across to The Eye...
The Eye Cinema is one of the modern gems of the city and as such shows an eclectic mix of film genres. On Saturday 11th January I took myself up to the busy city to watch an intriguing film by the Coen Brothers.....
The first thing that strikes you is the music as we are introduced to the unlucky musician/merchant seaman Llewyn Davis and his life in Greenwich Village in the early 60's.
We proceed to spend a week in his company as he moves around the city playing in dingy clubs and sleeping in friends apartments by night. He has a great deal of emotional baggage, but very little in the way of possessions....unless we count the cat?

Llewyn is the remaining member of a moderately successful duo, his partner having recently committed suicide. Our hero becomes the guardian of a friend's cat  following its escape from the apartment where he has couch surfed the night before....The characters are well observed with stars Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan and John Goodman take supporting roles in the life of our
eponymous hero played in a low key style by Oscar Isaac.
I believe this film to be a gem, the look and feel of Greenwich Village and the folk scene of the early 1960's is very well observed and the acting is very well observed and sharply focused.

For me the music is the driving thread through the movie. Of the films that I have seen in 2014 it is the one I simply must see at least one more time. It is a film where I feel sure that if I see it again I will find out things that I missed first time around. This may be wishful thinking however it is how I feel. For a film where there are no dramatic cars chases or 3D sets this is quite a feat, but there it is.... Inside Llewyn Davis 9 out of 10 from me.... I would readily accept the soundtrack as a gift also :-)

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Legend of Hercules.....3D

Sunday 9th February - Pathe Spuimarkt

I wonder where to begin with The Legend of Hercules? 
My friend Steve who has accompanied me to many a 3D blockbuster over the past three years, has oft' stated that these films have millions spent on 3D and effects while having about €30 spent on the script.
Watch the trailer 
This comment cannot be levelled at The Legend of Hercules - I would conjecture that not much was spent on either script or effects! This is most obvious in the crowd scenes which when rendered in 3D look like computer generated images where the setting looks like small models. The scriptwriters seem determined to prove that volume and shouting even in confined spaces adds value and quality. This is best shown as we reach the fateful wedding of the dark haired (Richard III like) often scowling older prince to Hebe, the major characters shout their threats like children in the playground.
I also wonder why today's directors of 3D films seem to require debris (is it blossom or snow?) t be floating about, as if to identify its 3Dness. 
We then come to the costumes....poor Kellen Lutz appears to have been left out of most of the costume discussions as he is forced much of the time to be unclothed to the iis fortuitous that he has spent many months in the gym ensuring that he accurately portray the physique of the great Hercules!
I have to admit that I was aware from the trailer that this film was not going to be a classic. I guess the saving grace is that no great actors were tempted to turn up 'for the money' and have their reputations tarnished by association with the film. This will sadly also be th film's downfall I fear. It has been proven that with a few 'A graders' on board even a turkey can make its money back.

I had to pay €2 of my money to attend this film.....I cannot fully regret this as I was inside out of the wind for 90 minutes may have been better to have visited a local cafe to achieve the same effect. I would recommend the latter if you have the option. This film I would rank at 5 out of 10 this largely for the 3D arrows which gave a pleasing effect....

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Films - 1st to 8th February 2014

As in other European countries here in The Netherlands the Pathe Cinema chain runs an 'Unlimited Card' system. For the sum of 19 Euros (around £16.20) per month I can use my Unlimited Card to visit the cinema as many times as I like at no cost,. I do pay extra for 3D films... Had I selected Pathe's 'Unlimited Gold' card for 26 Euros per month I would also be able to attend 3D and 3D iMax films free.
I have had my card since December 2012 this has enabled me to see 72 films over the 12 months to December 2013. Obviously quality does not always go hand in hand with quantity.... I have seen some 'turkeys'....The Internship was about the worst! However I do try to be discerning and there are some films that I wouldn't countenance going to see, even free .... The Wolf of Wall Street however high its rating is one of these.
In addition to having 3 Pathe Multiplex Cinemas in The Hague we also are lucky to have an art-house cinema - The Filmhuis (The Film House) - this is great for those films which are not going to be blockbusters...
Not far away in Amsterdam and Rotterdam there are also great art-house cinemas.

Films seen 1-8 February 2014
Saturday 1st February - The Selfish Giant (2013 - dir Clio Barnard) at Filmhuis Den Haag
A strikingly human film. Very reminiscent of the gritty naturalistic UK  films and TV dramas from the 1960's and 1970's such as Ken Loach's Kes and Poor Cow.

The performances of the young lead actors is very honest and believable. Their interaction with the adults that they come into contact with are well observed. The film itself struck a cord with me, as it brought back memories of  a particular former pupil of mine who was very like 'Arbor'.... one of those kids that you suspect will either become a millionaire from living off his wits or will end his days in and out of prison.
The environs of the council estate were Arbor and Swifty live is brought to life vividly without any sentimentality. The denouement is shocking if not a surprise as the set up is predictable, if anything this is the Achilles heel of the film. It does not detract from the acting or atmosphere however.
I am full of praise for Clio Barnard and the cast and would recommend this film scoring it at a creditable 8.5 out of 10.

Monday 3rd February ( Pathe 50Plus) Night Train to Lisbon Pathe Buitenhof

I can't say that I have always been a fan of Jeremy Irons he does on occasions choose films which offer that little bit extra. The premise for the film requires one to suspend disbelief from the outset. A chance encounter on a bridge with a mysterious stranger leads the single, chess playing Classical Languages teacher to simply leave on the train which gives the film its title. Irons simply leaves his class and Switzerland where he lives with no luggage.... surprisingly he must have his passport with him! On arrival he seems with a small degree of research to uncover an intriguing and tragic story from the Portuguese civil war. There are interesting cameos from Tom Courtney, Christopher Lee  and Bruno Ganz.
If you are able to put up with the issues that I have alluded to above, you will find the settings and acting handled skillfully with Irons himself bringing  the professor to life with great skill.
My personal score would be 8.0 out of 10

Friday 7th February - American Hustle - Pathe Spuimarkt
I was concerned by reviews which portrayed American Hustle to be ultimately a film about wigs!  Having seen Parkland the previous week, where the world changing effects of  Dallas Texas on November 22, 1963 are well recreated for a film which ultimately is disappointing as it does not seem to go anywhere or discover anything other than the lives of those involved with the story on the day.
I am happy to report that this film is more than a film about wigs in my opinion.
Yes it does try its best to evoke the 1970's which it does well. For me the standout performances in the film come from the ladies in the cast - Amy Adams who portrays the vulnerability and drive of her character convincingly. While Jennifer Lawrence shows her acting versatility as the ' wronged wife' in a fine display of bravado. I can see why Adams has been elevated to an Oscar nomination - I for one believe that this deserved.
Bale, Cooper, Renner and the uncredited but menacing De Niro ably support the girls. Cooper being the least convincing of the whole cast for me.  The story is somewhat thin, and could leave the experience empty I think that the cast ultimately raise this above films such as Parkland....

From my 2013 statistics my favourite cinema is Pathe Buitenhof
 It is certainly a cinema with style....
both inside and out...
It does enhance the film experience.

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