We should have gone to India

WOUNDED ANIMAL: Hugh Jackman gets his claws into the role of Logan/Wolverine

AS yet another skull splintered, splattering blood and brain matter, I reached the conclusion that I would rather have been in British Colonial India.

The Current Mrs Feeney and I had been undecided about our regular Friday afternoon trip to the cinema. Should we watch Logan, the latest in the Marvel Comics X-Men franchise, or Viceroy’s House, the historical tale of the last days of the British Raj?

We decided on Logan. Neither of us had seen the earlier X-Men films, but the critical noise about Hugh Jackman’s third outing as Logan/Wolverine had been loud and positive, going as far as describing it as a work of movie-making genius.

And anyway, TCMrsF wasn’t sure she could stand two hours of Gillian Anderson’s hilariously strangulated English accent as Lady Mountbatten holding court as the sun went down on the British Empire, and the sub-continent descended into religious and sectarian slaughter.

CLASS ACT: Patrick Stewart achieves his usual excellence as the ailing Professor X.

I was very encouraged by the start. The early scenes between Jackman, the ever wonderful Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier/Professor X), and Stephen Merchant (Caliban) were smart and emotionally engaging.

Mind you, Logan’s metal claws had already ripped apart a gang of would-be car thieves. And then the serious stuff started. Two hours later, TCMrsF and I agreed that there had been simply too much stabbing, slashing and decapitation for us.

I could see why some critics had liked it so much; beyond the gore and the well-choreographed fight scenes, there is a lot going on in the background.

It may be coincidence, but at a time when all the talk in the United States seems to be about building walls, this is a road movie about people trying to cross borders. The irony, of course, is that they are trying to evade border patrols in order to get out of, rather than into, the States.

There is also stuff in here about the dangers of “Frankenstein Science” research into gene manipulation of both food and human beings. I got the impression that director James Mangold isn’t a fan of GM crops.

Richard E Grant’s character (Dr Zander Rice) will inevitably conjure up images of the way the Nazis perverted scientific research through people like Mengele at Auschwitz.

So, it is fair to say that this is far more sophisticated and complex than your average superhero film. I just wish it had been 30 minutes shorter and 20 mangled corpses lighter.

As we left the cinema, I asked TCMrsF what she thought of it: “Violent,” she said. Quite.

Retired Bloke Rating: *** OK way to spend an afternoon at the cinema (if you’ve got the stomach for it.) I’m sure other people will rate it much more highly.

images-2

The Film Buff Stuff:

Logan

Director: James Mangold

Writer: Mangold/Scott Frank/Michael Green

Cinematographer: John Mathieson

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E Grant.

 

 

It’s good to see things differently

IF the secret of a successful marriage is to agree on some things, but not on everything, then the Afternoon Cinema visits undertaken by The Current Mrs Feeney and I should be doing wonders for the state of our union.

Yesterday’s trip to see Oscar Best Picture winner Moonlight is a perfect example. I was captivated by its stillness. TCMrsF was bored by its slowness.

And fair enough, if you like a lot going on, then this is not the film for you. The main character, Chiron (played by three different actors as a young child, teenager, and young man) rarely says more than a few words at a time.

This is one of those films where what remains unsaid is as significant and important to the story as what is said. The characters reveal their complexities and contradictions with looks and gestures as much as words. Chiron, in particular, looks at life through sideways glances or long, silent stares.

THREE AGES OF A MAN: Chiron is portrayed as a child by Alex Hibbert (top), as a teenager by Ashton Sanders (centre) and as a young man by Trevante Rhodes (bottom).

The film takes us through three stages of his life; as a young boy (Hibbert) neglected by his drug-addicted mother (Harris) and befriended by the dealer (Ali) who is supplying his mother with her drugs; as an awkward teenager (Sanders) who falls in love with his best friend Kevin; and as an externally-tough young man (Rhodes) who has adopted the business and persona of the drug dealer who rescued him, but has not resolved the issue of his own sexuality.

As much as the excellent performances by all of the actors, it is the visual quality, delivered by director Barry Jenkins and his cinematographer James Laxton, that will remain with me.

As for TCMrsF – well, the season of summer blockbusters isn’t far away now. There’ll be plenty going on then.

Retired Bloke Rating: ***** An excellent way to spend an afternoon at the cinema (But don’t tell TCMrsF that I said that).

The Film Buff Stuff:

Moonlight.

Director: Barry Jenkins

Cast: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali.

OSCAR WINNER: Mahershala Ali took Best Supporting Actor for his role as the drug dealer who befriends the neglected child Chiron.

Oscar wins: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Ali), Best Adopted Screenplay.

 

Didn’t we have a lovely time

CHEERS: “British pubs” in Los Cristianos. Not to be confused with tapas bars.

AS I sidestepped the mobility scooter making its unswerving progress in my direction outside the Queen Vic pub, at the same time and by the narrowest of margins avoiding a nasty spearing from the Nordic Walking Stick borne by the octogenarian making her determined way to buy that day’s edition of the Daily Express from the local Spar shop, it occurred to me that an early March week in Los Cristianos was neither the time or place to get the authentic Tenerife experience.

Or to meet anybody who was going to see 70 again. Imagine Eastbourne meets Benidorm, and you’ll get an idea of what greeted me when I stepped outside my hotel.

The street had several examples of the sort of establishment that is appreciated fully by the holidaymaker who goes abroad only to seek that which is familiar from home. Hence the bars that insisted of calling themselves pubs and offering “full English breakfasts”.

Judging by the number of mobility scooters and walking sticks outside, they were very popular with both factions.

Drivers and walkers alike favoured a distinctive look; to start, a baseball cap of striking hue, preferably with a pair of mirrored sunglasses perched jauntily on the peak. Below that, a short-sleeved shirt (of which only the two middle buttons should be done up), above a pair of comfortable shorts. The whole ensemble to be finished off by a pair of brown sandals, worn over beige socks.

ALL GO: a busy morning on the crazy golf course

I had already got an inkling that I had arrived in a place that could make even a Retired Bloke feel like the junior representative when I came across the daily morning aqua aerobics session.

A pool of peroxide heads were clinging to their noodles (apparently it’s a flotation aid) and their dignity, urged on by a blonde, tanned and lean German fitness instructress whose routine of jumps, twists and hops provided testimony to her vaunting ambition, in defiant disregard of the floundering reality that splashed about before her eyes.

When faced with such a situation, there is only one thing for a Retired Bloke to do. Join in. When in Tenerife, do as the Brits do.

Bacon sandwich, anyone?

Worth getting up in the morning for

AFTERNOON Cinema happened in the morning this week. I wanted to see Fences, Denzel Washington’s film of the August Wilson play. I prefer to see a film on Fridays, which allows me to talk about it on my regular Monday appearance on our local TV station. That way, anybody interested has time to see the film themselves before the cinema changes its programme at the end of the week.

Clear so far? On Friday, neither of the cinemas in town was showing Fences in the afternoon. It was a choice of an evening screening, or one at 11.20 in the morning. The Current Mrs Feeney and I chose the morning show.

“Is this one of those special screening for seniors?” TCMrsF asked. “No. So we don’t get free coffee and biscuits,” I said.

There is something odd about walking into a cinema in the middle of a sunny morning. I suppose real film critics get used to it. And they get free sandwiches.

The noticeable absence of free refreshments didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the film. Washington’s direction deliberately retains the structure and feel of a play. It does not attempt to distract from Wilson’s dense, poetic dialogue with cinematic flourishes.

MARRIED LIFE: Washington and Davis are brilliant as Troy and Rose Maxson
MARRIED LIFE: Washington and Davis are brilliant as Troy and Rose Maxson

There are towering performances from Washington and Viola Davis, both reprising their roles as Troy and Rose Maxson from the acclaimed 2010 Broadway revival.

This was the second film in a week (the first was Hidden Figures) we’d seen that examines the prejudices limiting black Americans. There’s a third (Loving) currently on release here that looks at the same theme. Surely not a coincidence?

images-1
FENCED IN: houses in 1950s Pittsburg

But there’s a lot more to Fences than that. It’s also about the complicated rhythms of a long marriage, and the competition between generations. Above all, it’s about the way people are shaped and warped by their experiences.

I was surprised by the strongly religious sub-theme, with repeated references to God and the Devil, heaven and hell, life and death. Sin and Innocence also have their place in Troy’s Pittsburg back yard.

We enjoyed the experience, but it is undeniably more theatrical than cinematic. That’s why I’m giving it a slightly lower mark than such powerful individual performances would normally merit.

Retired Bloke Rating: **** Good way to spend an afternoon (or morning).

images

The Film Buff Stuff:

Fences. Oscar nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Director: Denzel Washington.

Cast:

  • Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson). Nominated for the Best Actor Oscar. Washington won Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Glory (1989), and Best Actor Oscar for Training Day (2001). Has played a series of real-life figures, including Malcolm X, Steve Biko, and Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter.
  • Viola Davis (Rose Maxson). Davis won Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Doubt (2008), and was nominated for Best Actress Oscar for The Help (2011). Her current Best Supporting Actress nomination for Fences makes her the first black woman to be nominated for three Oscars.
  • Mykelti Williamson (Gabe Maxson, Troy’s brother)
  • Russell Hornsby (Lyons Maxson, Troy’s elder son)
  • Saniyya Sidney (Raynell Maxson, Troy’s daughter)
  • Stephen Henderson (Jim Bono, Troy’s best friend)
  • Jovan Adepo (Cory Maxson, Troy’s younger son)

 

Space, race and America

THE Current Mrs Feeney was delighted with our choice of film for this week’s afternoon trip to the cinema. Hidden Figures has Kevin Costner in it. TCMrsF has been very fond of Mr Costner since she saw him dancing with wolves back in the 1990s. The passing of two decades has done nothing to diminish her feelings.

So along we went on Friday. We were a little earlier than usual – not even the adverts had started. For a moment, I thought we’d hit the jackpot, and had the entire auditorium (if that’s not too grand a word, now that the average multiscreen room is not much bigger than a millionaire’s bathroom) to ourselves.

I maintained this happy (if admittedly antisocial) delusion until I spotted the chap in the third row from the front, slumped so low in his standard seat (no point paying extra for premium seats when you can sit anywhere you like in these afternoon screenings) that he was practically lying down, with his legs folded up so that his knees were resting on his chest. I reckon his back will pay for that when he’s older.

Anyway, about another dozen people arrived by the time the trailers were finished and the film began. So, pretty much par for the course.

TAKEOFF: Mercury-Redstone rocket Freedom 7 launches the first US astronaut into space in 1961.
TAKEOFF: Mercury-Redstone rocket Freedom 7 launches the first US astronaut into space in 1961.

We enjoyed the film very much. It has two big themes – the 1960s space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the civil rights movement led by the likes of the Reverend Martin Luther King.

And then it throws in a third theme; the struggle by feminists to achieve equality of opportunity and reward for working women.

The director weaves them all together by telling the true (well, true-ish; ‘based on real events’ as they say) stories of three brilliant black female mathematicians working for NASA.

HATRED: A Freedom Rider bus goes up in flames in 1961 after a fire bomb was thrown through the window.
HATRED: A Freedom Rider bus goes up in flames in 1961 after a fire bomb was thrown through the window.

While they are employed by the US Government on its space programme, they are confined to a segregated, coloureds-only wing of the agency’s HQ in Virginia. The daily racism that Katherine, Dorothy and Mary encounter is not brutal or violent (unlike the fate of the Freedom Riders that we see on a TV news programme watched by Mary’s civil rights activist husband); nobody gets beaten, shot or lynched.

It is, however, both pervasive and pernicious. It severely limits their lives through the white population’s institutionalised acceptance that coloured people are simply inferior. Hence, they cannot work in the same room as white people, even when they are doing the same job; or eat in the same canteen, or drink out of the same coffee pot, or even pee in the same toilet bowl.

WOMEN'S RIGHTS: protestors campaigning for equality in the workplace for female workers.
WOMEN’S RIGHTS: protestors campaigning for equality in the workplace for female workers.

There is a plotline about NASA’s segregated bathrooms running (literally) through the film, as Katherine has to make a half-mile dash twice a day to relieve herself in the toilet in the coloureds-only wing. There are one or two too many of these moments, even if it culminates in Katherine making a fine speech about her co-workers’ blindness to the racism around them.

Her denunciation of their prejudice is immediately followed by her white boss (Costner) taking a sledge hammer to the ‘coloureds only’ sign over the toilet door, and declaring that in NASA everybody pees the same colour.

The three main parts are really well acted, and the actresses playing them gel into an ensemble that is even greater than the individual parts.

Despite the weighty subject matter, the film has a delicate touch that ensures that it entertains. There are moments of Hollywood schmaltz that may play well in America, but could have more cynical British audiences reaching for the sick bucket.

But no matter. TCMrsF and I came away entertained, and feeling that we had learned something (despite the historical inaccuracies) about a story that neither of us had known previously. Hidden figures of recent history, indeed.

Retired Bloke Rating: **** Good way to spend an afternoon.

images-3Here’s the film buff stuff

Hidden Figures: Oscar nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actress.

Director: Theodore Melfi (Debut film St Vincent in 2014)

Cast:

  • Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Johnson). She was Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008.
  • Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughan). Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA Best Supporting Actress winner in 2011 for The Help; she is Oscar nominated again for Hidden Figures.
  • Janelle Monáe (Mary Jackson). She is also in Moonlight on current cinema release in the UK.
  • Kevin Costner (Al Harrison). Won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for Dances With Wolves in 1990.
  • Kirsten Dunst (Vivian Mitchell). Played Mary Jane Watson in three Spiderman movies. On our tv screens more recently as the neurotic hairdresser Peggy Blomquist in the second series of Fargo.
  • Jim Parsons (Paul Stafford). Best known as Sheldon in the very successful Big Bang Theory on tv.