Interesting questions get lost in space melodrama

People can feel pretty small in space
Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence discover that people can feel small in space

Film: Passengers

Director: Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game 2014)

Writer: Jon Spaihts

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: Apocalypse 2016, Joy 2015), Chris Pratt (The Magnificent Seven 2016, Jurassic World 2015), Michael Sheen (Nocturnal Animals 2016)

Plot: The starship Avalon is taking 5,000 passengers on a 120-year journey from Earth to a colony planet when an asteroid storm causes a malfunction in one of the hibernation pods. As a result, Jim (Pratt) is woken up – with 90 years still to go before the ship reaches its destination. Jim is joined by fellow passenger Aurora (Lawrence). They and Arthur the android barman (Sheen) are the only beings awake as the ship continues on its journey.

I liked the first half of this film much more than the second. It has some interesting things to say about the human condition, including our overwhelming need for companionship (spoiler alert: the circumstances of Aurora’s awakening are shocking) and the fact that all of us are passengers on our own journeys to a destination we never reach.

It also makes the point that people are becoming increasingly dependent on the technology that surrounds them. That obviously can be dangerous when the machine fails, as in the pod malfunction.

You can trust an android barman to keep a secret - or can you?
You can trust an android barman to keep a secret – or can you?

But even when the technology works perfectly – according to its own coding – it can have profound consequences, as Jim discovers when he reveals a shocking secret to Arthur.

But halfway through exploring the interesting – if hardly original – idea that we should not neglect living in the present by focussing too much on an uncertain and unknowable future, the film seems to lose confidence in itself, and switches to a fairly standard space melodrama.

The second half does contain one terrific scene involving what happens to a swimming pool when gravity is switched off, but for the most part all of the space science stuff has been done before in films like Gravity and The Martian.

Retired Bloke Rating: ***


The first project of 2017 is in the book

imgp6940IT was my 66th birthday on Monday. The Current Mrs Feeney bought me a cookery book and an apron.

As I haven’t cooked anything more challenging than baked beans on toast since we married almost 30 years ago, it seemed to me that she was trying to tell me something.

The book is based on chef Rick Stein’s recent television series Long Weekends, where he visits a city, samples the local cuisine, and cooks meals based on it.

We were watching an episode last week when I said it made me want to learn to cook. When I unwrapped my present, I thought TCMrsF must have been paying attention. It turned out to be not so.

She had already bought book and apron, and had spent the intervening days hoping that I would not submit to an untypical bout of initiative by buying my own copy.

Fortunately I maintained my usual form in the initiative stakes, and all was well. All that remains is for me to cook something.

Endings and beginnings

We went to put a Christmas wreath on my parents’ grave this week, and discovered that the permanent headstone and grave covering had been erected. I had not heard anything from the funeral directors, so the work must have only just been done.

I’m glad that it was carried out before Christmas. Going into the new year with a temporary memorial would have felt wrong.

Of course, this year we have also discovered the forgotten graves of my paternal grandmother and great-grandparents. My intermittent research into my Irish ancestry, however, has yielded very little so far.

It appears that I’m an editor again

Birthday lunch in a Swansea restaurant was interrupted by a man at a neighbouring table, who introduced himself as a fellow ex-pupil of Dynevor Grammar School.

He is now the membership secretary of the Old Dyvorians Association. The man who edits their regular newsletter is moving away, and apparently my name had come up in discussions about a possible replacement. Would I consider taking it on?

I was taken by surprise, and could not think of a good reason to say no (despite being very firmly of the opinion that schooldays are NOT the best of your life). I did point out that I had not paid my subscription for the last two years, but he did not appear to think this was a problem.

Back on the sofa

I did my second stint as a guest on the local BayTV station’s noon chat show on Wednesday. We talked, amongst other things, about the chances of Swansea City football club avoiding relegation from the Premier League at the end of the season.

I predicted they would be relegated. This from the man who confidently told his friends that Britain would vote to remain in the European Union, and the United States would elect Hilary Clinton as its next President.

On that form, I reckon I have almost certainly secured the Swans’ survival in the top division. I hope they are grateful.


Still winging it at 81

imagesDICKIE Borthwick was reasonably pleased with his debut performance for his new football club, despite the team losing the match 4-2.

Dickie, who scored a consolation late penalty for Portland Town, told The Times: “I did all right. Obviously I was a little bit slower than the rest of the lads but give me a few more games and I’ll get back up to speed again.”

Dickie is 81, and is surely Britain’s oldest footballer. When many a younger man has hung up his boots, or has joined the growing ranks of over-50s playing ‘walking football’, Dickie played for 70 minutes on the left wing for Portland Town’s senior team against a team of youngsters.

A retired engineer who had prostate cancer three years ago, Dickie has played parks football every season since 1948 – the year when Matt Busby’s Manchester United beat Blackpool Town at Wembley to win the FA Cup (pictured above).

Dickie puts his fitness down to quitting smoking, drinking tea, and eating a bowl of porridge before every game.

The Wine List #38: Nebbiolo

The Wine List is my retirement project to sample wine made from all of the main grape varieties mentioned in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book.

imgp6938The wine: Tesco Finest Barolo 2012.

Alc Vol: 14.5%

HJ says: “One of Italy’s best grapes. Intense, nobly fruity, perfumed wine with steely tannin.”

The label says: “A powerful red with rich, ripe fruit and chocolate flavours enhanced by classic layers of floral and savoury notes. . .Ideal with roast meats and strong cheeses.”

We drank it with: 1) Meat pie and chips 2)Beef Wellington

RBVerdict: Another Italian wine that was nice enough, but didn’t quite deliver what it promised. I certainly didn’t get intensity. Perhaps I should sample them only in mid-summer’s heat. Fruity, tannic, good acidity.

A small victory for old media

imagesDO you remember the first record you bought? I mean a proper record – a vinyl disc.

Mine was Halfway To Paradise, by Billy Fury (pictured left). I must have been about ten years old. I bought it in a record shop in the neighbouring village. I was with my older cousin Rita; she bought Wooden Heart, by Elvis Presley, which I thought was very soppy.

Anyway, vinyl records were gradually overtaken, first by cassette tapes, then CDs, and now digital downloads. All very depressing for those of us who loved the look and feel of an old-fashioned disc.

So here’s the surprisingly good news; last week, the British music-listening public spent more on vinyl than on downloads. We spent £2.4million on vinyl albums, compared to £2.1million on downloads.

Perhaps the figures, compiled in a week when people are buying music as Christmas gifts, will prove to be only a temporary blip, but who cares?

It was one small victory for records, which like other forms of “old media” are proving stubbornly resistant to reports of their demise.

So very French

images-1Speaking of old media, on Monday I watched a DVD of Les Enfants Terribles, which was a surprise because I thought I had purchased Les Enfants du Paradis from the local HMV shop. Still, one old French film is much like another, you say.

It was a very curious film; the brother and sister at the heart of Jean Cocteau’s story are meant to be in their mid-teens, but the actors playing them looked to be in their early twenties (pictured above). The brother in particular looked very peculiar in his short trousers.

Did French schoolchildren in the 1950s really go about in capes and berets? British schoolboys of the time wore gabardine macs and peaked caps, so I suppose they had their equivalent schoolwear that looks equally outlandish today.

But there is one thing about the French that is unique; their love of a bit of cod philosophy; at one point, the narrator tells us (spoiler alert in the unlikely event that this blog has inspired you to hunt out a copy of the film) that the sister had married a rich, handsome (and by-this-point fatally injured) man, not for his charm, looks or wealth; no, “she married him for his death.”

I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. I strongly suspect that it means nothing at all.

It’s a mystery to men

The Current Mrs Feeney’s car has been undergoing tests to find the source of a mysterious water leak. Nothing conclusive, but the mechanic thinks the cause may be a “thermostat sweat.”

Which makes it sound as if the car is going through the menopause.

Good luck with that

Arthur the handyman, who helps us with jobs about the house and garden, is off to Tenerife for a month from mid-January. He promises to report back on whether we would like to book the same hotel next year.

Brave or foolish man, to assume he can fathom out TCMrsF’s holiday preferences.

Christmas tree update

It’s been boxed up, collected and returned to manufacturer. There is a tree-shaped hole in the lounge. A decision on a replacement is eagerly awaited.

The view from here has been glorious

THE weather has been sunny and cold all week. I’ve been enjoying the morning views from our bedroom window across Swansea Bay; sunlight glinting on the static (please note!) wind turbines on the hills above Port Talbot, with columns of white smoke from the town’s steelworks perfectly still in the frosty air; the sea a pale blue-grey and waveless, above it a cloudless sky with gridlines of vapour trails left by the jetliners on their journeys to and from America.

In the evening, I’ve been trying – and failing – to identify the constellations wheeling across the clear sky overhead. More proof, if proof were needed, of my extensive ignorance.

A film set in the 40s that says a lot about now

The Current Mrs Feeney reluctantly accompanied me to the cinema on Tuesday, to see A United Kingdom; she thought the film was going to be a dry affair of international politics in smoke-filled rooms.

There is quite a lot of that, in a gloomy 1940s post-war monochrome London of grey mists, but also a love story in a sunbaked Bechuanaland of glorious colours.

It was a story neither of us knew anything about. Of its time, and yet once again a story that seems to have a lot to say about our contemporary problems of growing intolerance for people outside our own ‘tribe.’

London is a different country

To London on Thursday; no smoke-filled rooms in these No Smoking days, but three days of theatre, shopping and pub lunches. We arrive at the train station in plenty of time to catch the 10.28 to Paddington, to discover that it has been cancelled. A quick dash down the platform to catch the very delayed 9.28 instead (reflecting in the meantime that the seat reservations were somewhat of a waste of time and money.)

Prosecco (brought with us) and Guinness (bought on the journey) as the train travels through winter countryside: white-frost fields and grey-fog woods, with black cattle standing in single file across a field with a frozen pond. Crows flying low above leafless trees; beyond, hills in the haze of a low December sun, like banks of cloud anchored to the ground. And then, bright orange-suited railway workmen swarming on crispy banks.

London is a very different landscape. Electric angels and stars fly above the shopping streets, there are wonderful Christmas displays in the posh-shop windows, and the restaurants and pubs in the West End are filled with happy tourists. Conspicuous spending everywhere.

I pick up a copy of the Evening Standard, and read about the Liberal Democrats’ victory in the Richmond by-election, overturning a majority of 23,000 for the Conservative MP at the General Election. The victorious LibDem declares it a rejection of “hard Brexit.” London, more than ever, seems a very different country from the UK.

This Christmas fairy tale is going wrong

On the way back to Swansea, I find out that our football team (recently bought by two American investors and now managed by an ex-USA national team coach) was beaten 5-0 by Tottenham Hotspur. They are in dire straits at the bottom of the Premier League.

So much has been written and said about the economic benefits the region has enjoyed from the Swans’ against-all-odds promotion to, and continuing participation in, the Premier League. If – as seems increasingly likely – they are relegated at the end of the season, then surely that will have the opposite economic impact? I trust the council spin doctors are preparing their script, just in case.

I watch the ‘highlights’ (never a less appropriate description) on Match of the Day back home. Woeful and inept. Now there are calls for the club to sack its third manager in a year. Somebody defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting to get a different outcome. How the fairy tale has turned sour.

And so it begins

The Current Mrs Feeney has started putting up the Christmas decorations. It is a two-day job. My role is limited to carrying the storage boxes and bin liners from and to the loft. The newly-purchased six-foot pre-lit tree is judged not to be a success. Much earnest discussion on what to do about it.