Dunkirk ***

IT has gathered a lot of critical acclaim – as well as doing very good business at the box office – but I found writer/director Christopher Nolan’s would-be epic film on the evacuation of more than 300,000 British soldiers from the beaches of France, under the nose of a conquering German army, disappointing.

The cinematography is impressive, but there is nothing especially innovative about Nolan’s direction. There are three narrative threads – on land, on sea, and in the air – which weave together in a non-chronological way. But there is nothing original in this narrative juxtapositioning and time looping.

There is little dialogue, beyond a few explanatory exchanges between Army and Navy officers organising the evacuation. Despite a cast that includes the likes of James D’Arcy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy, the actors are not called on to do very much. This is the director’s film, not theirs. More’s the pity.

Verdict: sadly misfiring on land, sea and air.

 

The days of Crabs and Kings

 

Monday, July 24

I attended the funeral of one of our band of retired blokes early-morning swimmers.The chapel at Swansea Crematorium was full, with as many people standing outside in warm sunshine. While there was one hymn – All Things Bright and Beautiful – there were no readings from religious texts, just a passage from the works of the Roman poet Seneca. There was an invitation, however, for “those of faith” to recite the Lord’s Prayer. I do not regard myself as a believer, but found myself joining in the familiar words; somehow, it felt appropriate.

Tuesday, July 25

I cut the grass, and put out four bags of garden refuse to be collected for recycling. Then, The Current Mrs Feeney informs me that, actually, it is our week for plastic and general household rubbish.

We drive with The Daughter to Rhossili, which once again has been voted one of the best beaches in the world. We thought a brisk walk to Worm’s Head would be very enjoyable. The car park was full; as was the overflow; and the overflow’s overflow. Mental note to self: do not visit Gower beauty spots during the school summer holidays.

Wednesday, July 26

The young man in the men’s outfitters was a very good salesman. “This jacket makes you look slimmer,” he said. I raised an eyebrow, or two. “Not slimmer,” he said; “it brings out your naturally athletic shape.” We left with the jacket, and a shirt.

At last, good news for Swansea. Planned electrification of the railway line has been scrapped, the tidal lagoon proposed for the bay is becalmed, and the football club’s best player looks poised to join a rival Premier League club. But research reveals that Swansea’s student population is happy with the price of a kebab and a pint of beer in the city.

I spend £5 in an antiques centre, on a book of classic British steam locomotives. So far, I have re-acquainted myself with Castles, Arthurs, Nelsons, Crabs and Kings, from my trainspotting days in the first half of the 1960s. My memory of the King Arthur class is particularly poignant; travelling from Swansea to Paddington, we passed ranks of them, lined up in sidings on the western outskirts of London, waiting to be delivered to their final destination, the breakers’ yard.

Friday, July 28.

The United States is confused, because there are no Americans in it. The French are annoyed, because there are not enough Frenchmen in it. The British have been enthusiastic about it. But I found Dunkirk, the latest movie about the evacuation of more than 300,00 British soldiers from under the noses of the German army in 1940, slightly disappointing. It is well-done, but offers nothing especially innovative or original. Perhaps tellingly, the most emotional moment is when the movie’s score reworks that Remembrance Sunday staple, Nimrod.

I have been absorbed in reading Murder at Wrotham Hill, the story of the killing of a female hitch-hiker by a lorry driver in Kent in 1946. The author, Diana Souhami, describes it as “a sort of fugue about killing,” and the detectives, pathologist and executioner in the case involved in “the industry of death” (a telling phrase, since the book includes a lengthy diversion to look at Nazi atrocities in death camps, and the conviction – and subsequent execution – of camp officers and staff in Allied war crimes trials). One small detail I found arresting; when a hanging was carried out – at 9am – the prison clock was always prevented from chiming that hour.

Saturday, July 29

The Daughter samples the Pouilly-Fumé I pour with our Chinese takeaway, and declares it the nicest wine she has tasted. “Expensive tastes,” says TCMrsF. “I wonder where I got that from,” replies TheD.

Retired Life Journal

Wednesday, July 5

I have ‘connected’ on a social media site with somebody who was a fellow student at Swansea University College in the mid 1970s. I have lost contact with everybody I went to university with; he, by contrast, is still in touch with all of his old crowd. This does not make me feel any better about my poor record in keeping up friendships.

Tuesday, July 11

We are in a pharmacist store; while The Current Mrs Feeney is looking for holiday supplies for our forthcoming trip to Spain, I wander down the Men’s Styling aisle. Hair gels on sale include Clay, Fibre, Gum, Paste, Putty, and Wax. We’ve come a long way from the days when my father would set off for work each morning with a gleaming head of Brylcreemed hair.

Back home, TCMrsF is trying out outfits for Spain: “Does the pink in this top go with the pink in this skirt?” she asks. This displays touching faith in the colour co-ordinating senses of one who, yesterday, she chastised for wearing purple socks with brown chinos.

Wednesday, July 12

The Welsh Government has announced plans to get a million people to become fluent in the Welsh language. The number of children attending Welsh-medium schools is to increase by a third, to 30 per cent of all seven-year-olds. I am sceptical about Government targets, but acknowledge the sea-change in official attitudes to the language. When I entered my grammar school in Swansea, in 1962, our form-master informed us that Welsh lessons were compulsory in our first year, “but after that you can drop it for something useful.”

Thursday, July 13

On the plane from Cardiff Airport to Spain, to stay with friends in their villa in the hills above the Costa Del Sol. As we ascend, the man sat directly in front of me clamps on a pair of earphones, and starts playing the first of what turns out to be a series of electronic games on his Playstation, leaving his wife to deal with the needs of their small daughter for the duration of the 150 minutes flight. I look quizzically at TCMrsF: “He’s an arse,” she responds.

Friday, July 14

Spain is enduring a heatwave, even by its own high-summer standards. The mercury sticks stubbornly above 40 Centigrade (that’s more than 100 Fahrenheit in ‘old money’). We meet up with a group of British ex-pats who gather in a (blessedly air-conditioned) hill village bar every Friday afternoon. One of them strokes my hand and tells me that I am lovely. “She says that to all the men,” my friend informs me later.

Monday, July 17

Malaga. TCMrsF and I spend three hours looking at the collection in the Picasso Museum. At the end, I have a slightly clearer idea of what Cubism was ‘about’ – but cannot shake off the suspicion that modern art is a practical joke played on gullible rich people.

Friday, July 21

Back home. TCMrsF and I watch a dvd of The Lobster. It is set in a future when single people are given 48 days to find a partner or be turned into an animal of their choice. Those on the run from this fate are called ‘loners’ and are hunted in the woods. Every loner slain grants the hunter an extra day in his or her quest for love/compatibility. It’s a film about love, loneliness, and social pressures to conform to the accepted norm. I thought it interesting; TCMrsF’s view changed, from “quirky” initially, to “rubbish” by the end.

Saturday, July 22

We are joined by The Daughter to watch a dvd of I Daniel Blake. I was the only one of us who had seen the film before. Re-watching it only reinforced my initial view; as a piece of political propaganda, it’s powerful; but as a drama, it’s one-dimensional.

 

Malaga snapshots

THIS Retired Bloke and The Current Mrs Feeney spent two ridiculously hot days in the Costa Del Sol city of Malaga this week.

The historic quarter of the city contains some beautiful buildings. I wondered why British cities rarely have examples like these two. “The Luftwaffe couldn’t have blitzed every town in the UK,” I said.

TCMrsF pointed out, sagely, that there is little need (or sense) in having balconies when it rains as often as it does in Britain.

Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga. It is no exaggeration to say the city seems quite proud of the fact.

Our mini break coincided with a heatwave, even by Spanish summer standards. The mercury remained stubbornly above 40Centigrade. Fortunately, Malaga is well blessed with pavement cafe bars. In the circumstances, it would have been remiss of us not to participate in a tincture or two under a sun umbrella.

 

The city’s botanical gardens are quirkily situated between two very busy highways that run parallel to the waterfront. Stocked with dozens of varieties of trees and plants, they also house several statues of water nymphs. Pleasantly cooling on an evening stroll.

Spider-Man: Homecoming ****

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Several months after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker, with the help of his mentor Tony Stark, tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in Queens, New York City, while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man as a new threat, the Vulture, appears (Credit IDMB for plot synopsis).

Last week, I said that Baby Driver, contrary to my expectations, would appeal well beyond a teenage/young adult audience. While Spider-Man: Homecoming is also a very good film, I think it will – unlike Baby Driver – resonate most with younger filmgoers.

That is partly because Marvel Studios have again cast Tom Holland in the role of Parker/Spider-Man, after his appearance in Captain America: Civil War.  I did not see the earlier Spider-Man movies, with Toby Maguire or Andrew Garfield in the title role, but each of these actors was in his 30s when he donned the superhero costume. Those who did see them, agree that Holland is much more authentic as a teenager.

It will also appeal a lot to a young audience because much of the film is about Parker’s everyday tribulations as a typical teenage schoolboy. You may imagine that, having super powers, he would inevitably be the coolest boy in school. In fact, he is nervy, nerdy (he enjoys building Star Wars models with his best friend Ned), and has a crush on the genuinely cool girl, who he fears is way out of his dating league.

How much you enjoy these scenes of pool parties, school quizzes, and prom dances, may depend on how long ago your own schooldays ended. For this 60-something, it did become just a touch tedious.

Fortunately, us oldies can enjoy the wonderful performance by Michael Keaton as Adrain Tomes/the Vulture. Described by one film critic this week as the first sic-fi villain to emerge from the credit crunch, Tomes is not a megalomaniac bent on world domination, nor an alien with supernatural powers of destruction. He is a hard-working guy who gets shafted by the US Government, fears his family is about to lose their home, and turns to crime.

When Parker tells him that his misfortunes do not justify selling (alien-technology) weapons to gangsters, Tomes replies by asking Parker how he thinks his friend Tony Stark got rich in the first place. “We build their roads, we fight their wars, but they don’t care about us,” he says. A sentiment that will be shared and applauded by many people in this populist political age.

So, while millennials may provide its most enthusiastic audience, the film still has considerable wider appeal, with its original take on the Marvel Universe of superhero adventures.

A traditional high school movie, with superheroes and uber-villains as extra-curricular activities.

Director: Jon Watts (Cop Car 2015, The Onion News Network 2011).

Cast:

Peter Parker/Spider-Man: Tom Holland (The Impossible 2012, Captain America: Civil War 2016).

Adrian Toomes/the Vulture: Michael Keaton (Beetlejuice 1988, Batman 1989, Batman Returns 1992, Birdman 2014, Spotlight 2015, The Founder 2016).

Tony Stark/Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man 2008, Sherlock Holmes 2009, The Avengers 2012).

Ned: Jacob Batalon.

 

 

World Crime Atlas: Cape Verde

 

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‘Cape Verde is a group of semi-arid volcanic islands lying off the coast of west Africa. The economy is based on fishing and subsistence farming but relies on emigrant workers’ remittances and foreign aid’ (The Times Atlas of the World).

 

Other American Dreams, by Sergio F Monteiro

Unknown-2Publisher’s Blurb: “On a quiet island nation in the Atlantic Ocean, where the easy pace of life draws thousands of tourists a year to its serene beaches, a boat full of dead migrants has washed up on its shores unannounced. Shocking the residents of this sleepy tourist destination as well as local policeman, Sergeant Abel ‘Aranha’ Teixeira. But there is a secret world hidden from the view of tourists, and Aranha is no stranger to the corruption that plagues his otherwise picture perfect island home. He is a man with his own dark allegiances that he thought were in his past, but as he probes the mysterious circumstances that brought the doomed migrants to his country’s shores, he finds that the case is layered in something far worse than organised corruption, and far more deadly. To solve the case and bring a measure closure (sic) to the human tragedy it created, Aranha knows that he has to expose the secret world of the powerful, and bring to justice those responsible, even if it means exposing his own dark past.”

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Where and When: The contemporary story is set on the island of Santiago. One of the other islands, Sal, is the setting for the dark events in Aranha’s past.

Sense of Place: In his Prologue, Monteiro says: “I wanted to paint as complete and vivid a picture as possible about this country and the plight of all migratory folk that has become a controversial topic in today’s increasingly violent world.

Cape Verde was once a part of the Portuguese empire, and its after effects are still felt in the way Cabo-Verdean society is fiercely divided along shades of skin tone. The lighter your skin, the higher a place in the social scale you inhabit. This racial tension is exacerbated by the swelling numbers of migrants from continental Africa, and by the  growing class of citizen known as repatriados Americanos; these are Cabo-Verdeanos who have migrated to the United States, been imprisoned for crimes, and have been deported back to Cape Verde after serving their jail terms.

These returnees are a violent addition to the drug gangs that have grown increasingly powerful since the 1980s, with the connivance of corrupt police officers like Captain Danilo ‘Kutcho’ Da Silva, “short, pudgy and liked to wear an effeminate diamond earring that matched the thin, modern cut of his beard.”

At one point, Monteiro looks back to how the islands appeared to the Portuguese imperialists in the mid 15th Century: “lush and green beyond the imagination. Greens layered in an inviting fauna of tall Acacia trees and moist from the condensing heat of the hot earth. . .Nature’s hues so vibrant that it was as if God had painted them with the vibrant colours of a child’s imagination.”

This paradise lost is in stark contrast with the poverty and desperation of Cape Verde today: “The busy road was flanked on either side by the Tira Chapeau barrio, a district still waiting to be paved and lacking ample street lights. This was the edge of Praia, where abject poverty was all the residents of the slum had ever known. Where shoes were a luxury, school optional and dreams were of migrating to America or Europe, though few were lucky enough to make it.”

The theme of migration runs right through the novel, including a chapter near the end of the story that digresses into a long discussion between Aranha and an American Embassy spy about the roots of racism in the United States.

But people continue to make the best of things: “the viral melody of this living city. . .a familiar tapestry of night sounds. Pots clinking together blending with the sound of fireworks announcing a ship returning from the sea. Voices; loud music, slow, undulating and soft; laughter, male and female; and agitation, real and false.”

Retired Bloke Verdict: Monteiro largely succeeds in the ambition outlined in his Prologue. He places the problems of a small island nation within the context of global issues, and leads us through Cape Verde’s more recent history of revolution and war of independence, to help us understand how it reached this point. Unfortunately, there were a number of glaring errors of grammar, spelling and syntax in my Kindle edition.

Retired Life Journal

Sunday, June 25 I ORDER three books – two hardback and one very large paperback – from second-hand booksellers via Amazon, for the grand total of three pence (plus packing&postage, but you cannot have everything, I say). A good deal for me. Should I feel guilty? I recall attending a literary prize giving event where the chairman of judges described Amazon’s large distribution depot in Swansea as “The Death Star.”

I still spend plenty of money in High Street booksellers, so decide not to feel too bad about it.

Wednesday, June 28 WE are in a Debenhams store, where The Current Mrs Feeney points out a very small child having her nails varnished at a nail bar. I am not sure this is a good idea.

I buy two pairs of long swimming shorts, if you get my meaning. I now have six pairs of shorts, of varying length, as I seek the perfect marriage of efficiency in the pool and comfort at the poolside. Life was much simpler when I could wear Speedos without looking like somebody who was trying to get a pair of small songbirds past customs.

******

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THERE is a story in this morning’s newspaper about a verbal spat between former tennis star turned commentator John McEnroe, and Serena Williams (left), who must have a decent claim at being the sport’s greatest female player. McEnroe has said that Williams would be ranked around 700 in the men’s game, reigniting some old arguments about gender equality in tennis.

I have a small contribution to make to this debate. A few years ago, a neighbour who had enthusiastically taken up the sport, knowing that I had played a bit in my twenties, invited me to a game on our local courts. She regarded my protests, that I hadn’t picked up a racket for decades, as gamesmanship. She assured me that she was stepping onto the court with some trepidation.

As I recall, I was losing 4-0 when I tore a calf muscle and hobbled off home. The racket has remained under the stairs since.

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Thursday, June 29 VIOLINIST Nicola Benedetti (above) has come to the defence of those of us of a certain age who enjoy going to classical music concerts. In response to suggestions that symphony concerts should focus on attracting younger audiences, at the expense of older enthusiasts, the 29-year-old musician told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: “I can’t believe how offensive it is to categorise a group in that way and encourage a generation gap.”

Even better, Stephen Hough, the classical pianist and composer, added: “With old age comes wisdom, patience, subtlety, contemplation.” The Current Mrs Feeney says this is absolute proof that I cannot yet be old. I’m not sure this is a compliment.

Saturday, July 1 WE go to an antiques fair at the National Botanical Gardens. At one of the first stalls, I quite like a painting, but am not sure if I want to buy it. At the end of our visit, I buy myself a double-scoop ice cream cone (vanilla and fruits of the forest ripple, since you ask). TCMrsF says I have five minutes to eat my ice cream and decide if I want to buy that painting. Ice cream consumed (delicious), I decide against the purchase.

“You’ve kept me standing here for five minutes. We could have been walking back to the car,” says TCMrsF. Baffling, yes?