Category Archives: film reviews

I Have A Dead Ringer

Yes, it’s all too horribly true: my phone ringer is dead.  Or maybe it’s sleeping; either way on any of the various occasions when it is supposed to make a noise – alarm, text, call, facebook message, facebook update, reminder and god knows what else – it is content to make a sudden purr like an intermittent cat.  In other words it does everything it should do when it’s on silent, but it isn’t.  I have checked and double-checked the settings; I have (in the time-honoured way) turned things off and on and on and off again and still it persists in purring.  So I must perforce consider the meaning of the term ‘dead ringer’.  Jeremy Irons (once my favourite actor) plays twins in a film of that name, Meat Loaf sang about it and the Radio 4 programme features it.  So what is it?

The origin of the phrase is apparently from horse-racing: ‘dead’ meaning ‘exact’ (as in ‘dead heat’) and ‘ringer’ meaning a horse falsely substituted for another which it resembles.  Hence a dead ringer, meaning an exact lookalike.  At least I’ve always understood it to mean a lookalike, which makes the radio 4 concept somewhat paradoxical don’t it?

Still it’s a fun programme: Tom Baker is a staple and they do Boris Johnson brilliantly:

Here’s the Meat Loaf song:


and here’s the film:

A short one today but what do you expect?  My ringer is dead…

Kirk out


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What Do We Do? We Swim, Swim, Swim!

DoryYep, we all know this small blue fish, don’t we?  Dory is one of my favourite animated characters ever; and on occasions when my other half gets moody I am fond of getting in his face, making a pout and saying:

‘Hey Mr Grumpy-Gills.  Whenever life gets ya down, you know what you gotta do?  Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…’  I can tell you it really pisses him off.

Well I took my own advice today, having gotten out of bed the wrong side after a disturbed night.  And what better than to do the thing I’d been intending ever since we moved here – and go swimming?  How could I in all conscience excuse myself when on our very doorstep stands a fully-equipped leisure centre complete with swimming pool and all the accoutrements?  I couldn’t.  I didn’t.  I got out of bed, threw on a few clothes and dived in.  It. Was. Great.  I have been buzzing all day simply from the sheer joy of breasting the billows for twenty lengths: I even got to swim in the medium lane, which I never do, being normally consigned to the slowest of the slow.  I had expected the pool to be full of business-men and -women thrashing up and down before their power breakfasts.  Not a bit of it: my fellow-swimmers were mostly elderly plodders.  It was very relaxing.

So there’s my thought for today: whenever your gills feel grumpy, just keep swimming, just keep swimming….

Kirk out

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…Call Me Daniel Blake

When Ken Loach’s films work, they really work: I’ve met the man in real life and he is impressively self-effacing, putting ordinary people and their stories at the centre of his films.  And having been on the dole myself in the ’80’s I totally got ‘I, Daniel Blake’.

In the 1980’s things were both better and worse.  They were worse in the sense that unemployment was much higher (zero-hours contracts notwithstanding) and that was especially true where I’d ended up.  In the North West there literally were no jobs, especially not for a shellshocked teacher who absolutely refused to go back to the chalk face.  I guess I could have gone on sickness benefit, but I resisted the medicalisation of my mental illness and decided to face it out without the dubious help of anti-depressants: I still maintain this was the right approach for me.  But I know in my soul the grinding despair of unemployment: the feeling that you are judged by others; the impossibility of finding work no matter how you try, and the never-ending financial hardship.  Matthew Parris, then a Minister in the Thatcher government, did a TV programme where he ‘tried’ living on unemployment benefit for a week: he planned to save £3 and ended up sitting in the dark with no heating.

But I was lucky: I had a family who could help, and in the end (though very reluctantly) I returned home for a while and eventually found work.

Daniel Blake is not so lucky: he has to stop work as a carpenter when he suffers a heart attack.  His doctor signs him off but when he tries to claim ESA (sickness benefit) his claim is refused.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ is the story of one man’s attempt to navigate a labyrinth of bureaucracy and human indifference and retain his self-respect.  After he is defeated at every turn and ejected from the Job Centre (or whatever they’re called this week) he gets a spray-can and writes his testimony to the world on the wall:

This is his attempt at finding a voice in the midst of defeat and degradation.

I won’t spoil the ending for you but go and watch the film.

And in case you think it’s mere left-wing propaganda, here are a selection of ESA stories from the media:

In the interests of fairness, I tried to find some positive stories.  Here’s what I found:

There’s to be a lot of anecdotal evidence that what happened to Daniel happens to many people and that claims are routinely refused.  Whistle-blowers in the ‘service’ talk of a culture of trying to put claimants off so as to save money.  Of course, these services are now privately managed, meaning that there is a need to generate profit.

Words fail me: I just feel desperately sorry for people caught in this situation because I could so easily be there too.

If you’re in this situation and need help, don’t despair.  Help is available here:

Kirk out

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Wish I Was Here

Am I here?  Are you here?  Are any of us actually here?

No, that’s not a philosophical question about the reality of this life; it’s a comment on the fact that many of us are, for much of the time, not fully present.  We are distracted.  We are talking to someone and a text arrives.  ‘I’d better get this,’ we say.  Why?  Or we are looking at a terrific view and our first thought is to take a photo and upload it to Facebook.  Why?  What could be better than just appreciating the view?  Or we are walking to work past a magnificent magnolia tree (it’s that time of year right now!) and we don’t notice it because we’re in a hurry or thinking about that meeting or phone call or email.  It’s spring, people!  But do we notice?

I first started to change my bad habits when I lived in Madrid.  It became clear to me that I wouldn’t be there forever; so I made a conscious effort to notice things: the architecture, the sky, the light, the art; everything I came across.  There is beauty everywhere, even if you live in a dump, as the film ‘American Beauty’ shows in that scene with the carrier bag.  Carrier bags are not considered to be beautiful, but they can be: look at the picture above and try to get past your feelings of disgust at the way plastic pollutes the world.  Is it not beautiful?  It flies in the wind with its own grace.  There’s beauty in everything if you want to see it.  But in order to see it you have to stop and look.

Much has been written about the desirability of doing one thing at a time.  If I was having dinner with someone who was continually on their mobile, I’d walk out: similarly to arrive at a beautiful location and just take photos is an insult to the location.

When I began to study yoga I was introduced to the idea that happiness comes from concentration.  By concentration I don’t mean a ‘Rodin’s Thinker’ style screwing up of the attention but an unbroken flow, like when you’re completely absorbed in a book or film (or person).  This, I learned, is the reason why new things make us happy – because we focus on them completely.  They absorb us.  But that soon fades and if we’re not careful we seek the next new thing, instead of learning that it’s the focus that matters, not the thing.

So in order to be happy we merely have to be present.

Are you here?

Kirk out


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La La Land – A Love Story

I could be wrong about this, but I think the last time I watched a film more than twice in the cinema was in 1971 when I went to see ‘Love Story’ three times in the same week:

I wept buckets and thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen, though years later when I watched it again I decided it was the biggest load of tripe ever.  La La Land is a kind of love story too, though in many ways it’s not so easy to write about as its appeal is somewhat nebulous.  What is clear, however, is that my admiration is shared by millions, and it has been nominated for an unprecedented number of Oscars: 12 in total – the ceremony is on 26th Feb –

I haven’t quite seen it three times yet; I went by myself last week, tried to go with my son at the weekend and then went with OH last night.  It did not disappoint on a second viewing; and as we came out I was wondering exactly how to convey my reactions.

Firstly, it’s the kind of film you can’t imagine being made any more.  I don’t just mean a musical – there have been musicals including Mama Mia, which I walked out of after ten minutes – but a musical which is neither ironical nor cheesy.  It’s quite a feat to pull off in these cynical days; and part of its appeal is that somehow the music and dance are woven almost seamlessly into the plot.  With most musicals there’s some action; then the characters pause a little, the music gets louder and you know that here comes another set-piece dance routine.  Not so with La La Land.  For a start, one of the characters is a musician, which helps weave music into the narrative.  But the film kicks off with a line of cars outside LA, stuck in a traffic jam.  Suddenly one person gets out and starts to dance and one by one all the others join him, dancing on the car bonnets, on the road, on the roofs, on the hard shoulder – everywhere.  It sounds cheesy but it’s actually hypnotic: and I think the reason people love it so much is that it’s a happy film.  It’s happy without being cheesy and it’s innocent without being naive.  It’s not a sentimental or rose-tinted love-story but neither is it dystopian or cynical: and to my mind one of its best features was that the actors are interesting rather than beautiful.  Although the woman is glamorous (increasingly so as she becomes more successful) the camera never ogles her.  She is stylish and interesting: she is not a sex object.

The plot is somewhat thin, but it’s not about the plot; it’s about our emotional engagement with the characters and their passions.  It’s about not giving up on your dream – which is something I can totally relate to as I’ve never given up on mine.  I don’t want to tell you any more about the storyline, not because of spoilers but because it’s not really important.  What matters is your engagement, exuberance and sheer – well, happiness.  And from the first moment I was hooked.

I know just enough to be able to tell that the cinematography is stunning – but not enough to tell you exactly how: if I ever get to see it with Daniel I’ll get back to you on that.  There is not a bum note anywhere – in the settings, the music, the acting, the dancing – nowhere.  It is just about damn perfect.

Go watch.  See it at the cinema because a good film deserves that.

Kirk out

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All Right, That’s It

That’s enough now – I’ve just completely had it with 2016: only 4 days of the year left and still people are dropping like flies.  Three deaths were announced today: Carrie Fisher (from ‘Star Wars’) Richard Adams, author of ‘Watership Down’, and – oh, horror! – Liz Smith, comic actress featuring in ‘The Vicar of Dibley’, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and (of course) ‘The Royle Family’.  And that’s on top of George Michael yesterday and god knows who else before that.  I can’t keep up.

Liz Smith’s story is quite inspirational, since she didn’t start getting roles until she was 5o but ended up having a productive and entertaining career.  Here are a couple of clips from some of her shows – first of all an episode of ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ (she features around 14 minutes in) and the second features Caroline Aherne, another casualty of two thousand and bloody sixteen:

And here she is in a clip from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’:

RIP Liz, you were a treasure.  As for the rest of the deceased, I can’t even begin to get my head around it all


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Fantastic Films and Where to Watch Them

Being as how I’m now back in what we are pleased to call ‘civilisation’ (cue Gandhi on being asked what he thought of Western civilisation saying ‘It would be a good idea’ which is pretty much what I thought of Soviet communism) I have been to the cinema.  In Loughborough there is an impossibly cheap picture-house which goes by the name of Curzon and seems to employ only ghost workers, since you get your tickets from a machine and occasionally someone checks them at the door, though on this occasion they didn’t.  It reminded me of returning from my first visit to Spain in the early hours of the morning, sweeping through a deserted customs, reclaiming our baggage from a silently swirling baggage carousel and getting into a very quiet taxi to go to our bed and breakfast.  On arrival I smiled broadly at the man on the desk and said at a volume suitable for the Costa del Sol, ‘Hello, we’ve booked a room in the name of -‘  He cut me off with an appalled look.  ‘Sh!’ he said.  It struck me as amusing that the first word anyone spoke to me on landing in Britain was ‘Sh!’

But I digress.  At this spectacularly cheap cinema we were privileged to view ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.’  It was great; much lighter than the Harry Potter films (though it had one or two dark moments) and centred on the wizarding community in New York in the 1920’s where the Muggle (or ‘NoMag’) communities seem to be channelling the Puritans of the 17th century.  Enter Newt Scamander who, for those paying close attention, is mentioned at least two or three times in the Potter books as the author of the eponymous ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ and his suitcase.  The suitcase, like one of Hagrid’s bags concealing some nefarious animal, appears to contain a life-form of some description.  Fortunately the case also has a Muggle-worthy button and so gets through customs but his luck doesn’t hold as the beasts get out and cause havoc in New York.  I won’t spoil it by saying any more, but it’s a highly entertaining film and Eddie Redmayne is excellent as the Doctor Doolittle of the wizarding world.

Go watch.

Kirk out


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