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Closing Time: Leonard Cohen, Robert Vaughn, Jimmy Young

I had intended to publish remembrance posts today in the one day this year between Armistice Day and Remembrance Day but 2016 just keeps piling it on.

Now it’s Leonard Cohen who has left us.

Not to mention actor Robert Vaughn – aka Napoleon Solo in the Man From U.N.C.L.E. but whose best performance was as a conscientious German officer, Major Paul Kreuger, undone by circumstances in the film The Bridge at Remagen – and, earlier in the week, a voice from my youth (though he was too soft-edged to be a anything like a favourite,) Jimmy Young, once a stalwart of BBC Radio 2.

I suppose everybody will be using Hallelujah to sign Leonard Cohen off. Here instead is one of his songs from 1992, Closing Time.

Leonard Norman Cohen: 21/9/1934 – 7/11/2016. So it goes.
Robert Vaughn: 22/11/1932 – 11/11/2016. So it goes.
Leslie Ronald “Jimmy” Young: 21/9/1921 – 7/11/2016. So it goes.

Café Society

Gravier Productions, Perdido Productions. Directed and written by Woody Allen.

Off at the unusual hour of 11 am to the local “Art House” cinema where about thirty to forty brave souls were gathered to watch Woody Allen’s latest.

And what a treat to the eye it was. From the first scene – a Hollywood party – we were drenched in Art Deco and the thirties. Lovely sets and costumes.

Booby Dorfman moves from New York to find work. After first being given the run around by his uncle Phil, a powerful agent, he is eventually given a dogsbody role. Phil asks his secretary Vonnie to show Bobby the town and of course Bobby falls for her. Vonnie is though, embroiled in a clandestine affair with Phil. Meanwhile back in New York Bobby’s brother Ben has forged a career as a gangster.

The working out of the relationships eventually leads to Bobby returning to New York to run a (legitimate) nightclub for Ben, where a few years later the past in the form of Vonnie and Phil intrudes to complicate things.

This is no Blue Jasmine but was a worthwhile experience all the same. A few Allen style jokes are thrown in though I was slightly disturbed by the ethics of playing gangland murders for laughs.

Once again from the opening titles this could not be mistaken for anything other than a Woody Allen film, the font of the titles, the (wonderful) jazz soundtrack, the worldview. It was none the worse for that.

It was unusual to see Ken Stott (playing Bobby’s dad) as a Jewish New Yorker but all the performances were excellent.

Dad’s Army

DJ Films. Directed by Oliver Parker.

Having said we rarely go to see a film here we are going to a cinema twice inside a week!

The good lady has long been a devotee of the Dad’s Army TV shows. She always tries to catch them when they are on repeat (which is every week it seems) even though I bought her the box set for her birthday or Christmas one year many moons ago; so we couldn’t avoid the new film featuring its characters.

It turns out there is a dedicated cinema only a couple or so miles from our new house. It had shut down for a while when we lived in Kirkcaldy but has since reopened and it was to there we went.

In the case of Michael Gambon as Private Godfrey and Bill Nighy as Sergeant Wilson the casting was spot on. Neither gave exactly a clone copy of the originals but conveyed their essence well. Bill Paterson as Private Frazer was maybe a bit too obvious a choice and Daniel Mays was a good enough Private Walker. Toby Jones – excellent as ever – was perhaps not quite bumptious enough as Captain Mainwaring. Neither did Tom Courtenay exude the bumbling nature of Lance Corporal Jones nor was Blake Harrison quite as petted as private Pike needs to be.

But this is to complain that the film isn’t the TV series. And it isn’t. There weren’t enough laughs for a start. A few giggles and the odd grunt. There were also some minor crudities which wouldn’t have appeared in the original (“They don’t like it up ’em” notwithstanding.) It was nice to see Frank Williams as the vicar still and the other surviving member of the TV cast, Ian Lavender, as a Brigadier Dier.

Like its predecessor film with that original cast, which didn’t really work, this version of Dad’s Army shows that 90 minutes is just too long to buttress the conceit of a 30 minute sitcom. The necessity for sustained plot weighs too heavily on the enterprise. Witness also the dire On the Buses films of similar vintage which nevertheless were a commercial succes. (Then again not one of the various TV episodes of On the Buses ever attained anything near the level of the poorest Dad’s Army one.)

The plot here consists in the presence of a German spy in Walmington-on-Sea and the intrusion of a woman from Sgt Wilson’s past onto the scene.

It is the women of the town, Cissy and Dolly (Private Godfrey’s sisters,) Mavis Pike (as played by Sarah Lancashire the best thing in the film – except when she had to simper) and Mrs Mainwaring who in the end win the day – not something I could have seen happening in a TV episode I have to say.

The best thing about it all, though, was the outtakes alongside the end credits, corpsing and such.

I wasn’t convinced by Capt Mainwaring’s non-uniform shirt and Sgt Wilson’s civvy tie; they both looked far too modern.

But there was one absolute howler; and it was repeated. Paris was twice mentioned as being accessible to Walmington’s inhabitants – by telephone the second time. In 1944? Pre D-Day? (The plot is entangled with the deception plan to convince the Germans that the invasion would be in the Pas de Calais.) No such communication was possible at the time.

Sunset Song

Hurricane Films, Iris Productions, SellOutPictures. Directed by Terence Davies.

We don’t go to the cinema much, life and children got in the way not to mention Kirkcaldy’s dedicated cinema closing down years ago now so we had only what passes for the local “Art House” Cinema to rely on unless we wanted a trek to Dunfermline.

However we couldn’t miss seeing the film of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic book Sunset Song. So it was off to the Adam Smith Theatre again. (But that’s also a longer trip since our house move.)

It is difficult for a film to capture the essence of Gibbon’s masterpiece. I suppose this one made a valiant effort but I have huge reservations. The human story of Chris Guthrie’s life was well enough done but though references to it were made via voice-over (and in the odd bit of dialogue) and there were cutaways to sumptuous views of the countryside the importance of the land to the novel (and Gibbon’s intentions for it) did not come across with anything like enough force.

I noticed that the church used – at least for the exterior shots – was actually the one in Arbuthnott (the village with which Gibbon is most associated) where his memorial is situated. I can’t vouch for the interior as I’ve never been inside. I did feel that the soundtrack choir singing All in the April Evening in the lead-up to the church scene was ill-judged; too lush by far. We also had the minister wearing a surplice; not at all likely in a Presbyterian Kirk. And that pulpit looked disturbingly modern.

Peter Mullan as Chris’s father gave his usual Peter Mullan hardman performance and Agyness Dein’s acting as Chris was fine but really her accent was all over the place. At one point I thought she’d said, “they were burning the winds,” when it was whins. (The h in “wh” words is aspirated in Scots and Scottish English; the sound is more like hwins.) She also pronounced the g in “rang” and for her to be unable to say “loch” properly verges on the criminal for someone playing a Scotswoman. None of the accents struck me as being particularly of the Mearns though.

I also felt the prominence given to Chris’s husband Ewan’s fate towards the end of the film made it seem more of a lament for the fallen of the Great War in general rather than the more particular loss about which Gibbon was writing, for which Ewan stood as a metaphor.

Watch the film by all means – it says a lot about the harsh times and attitudes of the Scotland of a century ago – but for the full Gibbon experience the book is certainly to be preferred.

George Cole RIP

I was sorry to hear about the death of actor George Cole today. Another figure from my youth (and not so youth) gone. Mind you at 90 he’d had a good innings.

In his two most famous roles, Flash Harry in the St Trinian’s films and Arthur Daley in Minder Cole was always intensely watchable.

He had the advantage of learning at the feet of a master. The clip from St Trinian’s I saw on today’s News had Flash Harry in dialogue with the headmistress, played by Alastair Sim (who in real life more or less adopted him,) and I couldn’t resist a giggle.

According to a piece on the radio Cole was well liked by film crews as he behaved like a gentleman to them. Courtesy is never a hindrance.

It struck me on listening to the eulogies that the character of Arthur Daley – in which incarnation Cole delivered the immortal line, “What is occurring, Terence?” as something unforeseen went on – might have been an inspiration for Del Boy of Only Fools and Horses.

George Edward Cole: 22/4/1925 – 5/8/2015. So it goes.

Blue Jasmine

Gravier Productions. Written and Directed by Woody Allen.

So it was off to the local “Art House” cinema again. I was going to say for the first time since we went to see Brave (which I didn’t blog about because there wasn’t much to say about it – typical feel good Disney fare) but I’d forgotten about Austenland. I must have almost blanked it out.

You couldn’t mistake Blue Jasmine for anything but a Woody Allen film. It has titles in that font he’s used since nineteen hundred and a long time ago and a jazz soundtrack. It’s unusual for a Woody Allen film to be mainly set in San Francisco though.

It tells the tale of Jasmine, a New York socialite who has fallen on hard times after her husband was arrested for illegal business dealings. She is shown as self-obsessed from the outset. On the plane to San Francisco, where she is going to live with her (half-)sister, Ginger, she babbles incessantly to the poor woman in the next seat who doesn’t know her from Eve.

She looks down on both her sister and Chili, Ginger’s boyfriend, who was about to move in until Jasmine’s arrival upset their plans.

The film charts Jasmine’s attempts to navigate her new cash-strapped life and try to make something of herself – or at least find a man who can give her back her former lifestyle – interspersed with flashes back to the “good” times with her husband (Alec Baldwin) who is revealed to have been dodgy in all aspects of his life.

Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the teetering on the edge of sanity Jasmine is a wonderful piece of acting. Sally Hawkins as Ginger (a strange choice of name for a brunette) is also convincing as a woman not terribly sure of herself or her worth. Apart from Chili (Bobby Cannavale) who seems genuinely attached to Ginger, most of the men in the film are untrustworthy in some way.

The final unravelling of the plot depends on a coincidental meeting but the information exchanged in this encounter would have emerged later in any case. This was a suitable way to dramatise it though.

There were acute observations of humanity here and as with much of Allen’s output in his latter years only a few laughs. Fine performances from the cast – especially Max Rutherford’s and Daniel Jenks’s stunned expressions as Ginger’s two sons when Jasmine unloads her woes on them while baby-sitting.

Language, Timothy!1

I meant to say when I mentioned the film Austenland that the classification certificate displayed on screen before its start said “Contains one example2 of moderate language.”

I admit I perked up a bit at that as I immediately therefore expected all the rest of the language to be immoderate. That it wasn’t (the extent of the “moderate” language was one “Wankers!” in the whole film!) might help explain my odd sense of dissatisfaction with it.

1This was the catch-phrase retort of the father in the sit-com Sorry! which starred Ronnie Corbett and featured an overbearing mother.

2The noun may have been instance rather than example. Whatever, it implied only one.

Kirkcaldy Film Festival

It’s the first ever Kirkcaldy Film Festival this weekend and as a result I was at a film premiere yesterday. (The Scottish premiere.)

The red carpet was still outside the Adam Smith Theatre this morning when we went back there for a library book sale.

Red Carpet for Kirkcaldy Film Festival

I assume the carpet will be out the whole weekend. (At least the forecast is not for rain.)

The film, Austenland, wasn’t really my thing, being a romcom based on the works of Jane Austen, but the good lady enjoyed it.

The film’s colour palette was curiously pale, as if filmed through a red absorbing filter, rendering the picture almost shiny at times.

The plot has an Austen obsessed US woman, unlucky in love naturally, deciding to blow her savings on a trip to an Austen themed experience in an English Country House, final ball and all. Cue the usual misconstruings. While it was played a lot for laughs there was a sense of straining for the joke at times. I suppose it was perfectly fine if you like that sort of thing but the best bit was during the end credits where the characters, in period dress, mimed to a rap track (something to do with it being “hot in here, so let’s take off our clothes.”)

The Angels’€™ Share

Sixteen Films, Why Not Productions and Wild Bunch. Directed by Ken Loach.

I saw this on one of my occasional jaunts to the local part-time cinema, which is a theatre most of the time.

This apparently won the Jury Prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

This reminded me a lot of Christopher Brookmyre’s books. Comedy is mixed in with violence but here the violence isn’€™t overplayed. It starts off with a very funny scene set on a railway platform where a remote Station Master berates a drunken would-be passenger over the tannoy to stand back as there’€™s a train coming. The bemused recipient of this warning behaves as you might expect but it‒s very well played. This character, Albert, is the butt of a lot of the humour in the film as he is presented as incredibly thick.

The plot revolves around a group of four convicts on community pay-back sentences being introduced to the arcane delights of whisky tasting by their overseer, Harry, a somewhat unbelievably sympathetic character. One of their number, Robbie, has just become a father and wishes to leave behind his life of brushes with the law and make a stable home for his girlfriend and child. He turns out to have an excellent nose for whisky and hatches a scheme to (ahem) spirit away – the angels’€™ share is a whisky industry term for the portion of a barrel which evaporates between it being laid down and finally tapped off so the phrase seems apposite – some of a recently discovered barrel of an extremely rare and well regarded whisky.

The movie does trade a lot in Scottish cliché – whisky, kilts, Irn Bru, violence -€“ but is very entertaining. A knowledge of West of Scotland demotic and a tolerance for expletives are necessary for full appreciation, though.

Midnight In Paris

At the local “Art Cinema”, the Adam Smith Theatre. Whoopee! No round trip to Dunfermline just to see a film. (Still on tonight, 14/2/12, if anyone wants to go.)

This is a Woody Allen film and many of his tropes are present. The lead character, Gil, is typically Allenish with his verbal mannerisms, we have the fascination with the past (Zelig; Broadway Danny Rose) and an intrusion of the fantastic (Play It Again, Sam; Broadway Danny Rose.)

Gil is a writer on a trip to Paris with his fiancee and her awful parents; a moneyed couple, snobbish and intolerant, with no redeeming features. But none of these four are really sympathetic. There is a fine cameo by Michael Sheen as a friend of the fiancee, with just the right degree of irritating know-allness.

To escape this lot, Gil walks through Paris and gets lost. At midnight he is invited into an old car cruising the streets. He is taken to a party where he encounters Cole Porter, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. On subsequent nights he meets Gertrude Stein (Alice B Toklas has a small name check,) Pablo Picasso and his mistress, Salvador Dali, Louis Buňuel and Man Ray. Gil is delighted as he is fascinated by the 1920s, his perfect time. He is also much taken with Picasso’s mistress who thinks the Belle Époque was the best era to be alive.

If at times this all seemed a bit too overloaded it is the sort of stuff with which Allen can have a bit of fun, as when Gil suggests a film scenario to Buňuel.

Stein agrees to read Gil’s novel manuscript. At one point she describes it as Science Fiction (it is set in her future.) I was dubious at this usage and checked; the term apparently wasn’t in common use until 1929.

Gil is drawn more and more into the 1920s milieu and strolling with Picasso’s mistress one night they are invited into a horse-drawn cab and end up in the Belle Époque. Cue Toulouse Lautrec, Degas and Gauguin. Here Gil realises that no-one likes their own time and the past isn’t necessarily a better place.

But he determines to stay in (present day) Paris and chucks his girlfriend.

It was the fantastic element that I found most satisfying, the going into the past aspect is the sort of thing that makes Altered History (or Alternative/Alternate History if you must) so intriguing, but the present day characters were just so crass; apart from Carla Bruni as a tour guide and a female seller of old records Gil bumps into on a shopping trip.

This was minor Allen but entertaining enough, with quite a few laughs. I enjoyed it.

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