Kingdom Of The Little People

On Friday, I was sent a link by my close friend, Antony. Some of you will know that he used to work with me before I retired, and he is also an excellent photographer. He took the photo on my ‘About’ page, and many of the close-ups of Ollie that I have featured.

The You Tube film he sent me lasts only 17 minutes, and I urge you all to take time to watch this very affecting documentary.

The Kingdom Of The Little People is a theme park in mainland China. All the entertainers who perform there, and the staff who work there, are short people. Some have dwarfism, and others stunted developmental growth. Not one of them is any taller than four feet tall. They all live together at the Kingdom’, and perform shows for tourists to earn a living. They earn a good salary, about the same as an IT professional in the local region around Kunming.

The theme park opened in 2009, and is owned by a wealthy entrepreneur. The shows performed include dancing and singing, as well as scenes from traditional fairy tales, and Chinese folklore.

The whole concept of the park has been attacked and vilified by many western newspapers, as well as organisations like The Little People Of America, and Handicap International. It has been compared to a ‘human zoo’, and accused of exploiting little people, of and exposing them to ridicule. The British actor, Warwick Davis, who was born with a rare form of dwarfism, has called for the theme park to be closed down. He is well-know for his acting roles, including parts in ‘Willow’, ‘Star Wars’, and ‘Harry Potter’.

But if you watch the film, you may feel, as I did, that the opposite is true. In a country with no opportunity for such people, and where they are often publicly mocked in villages and big cities alike, this park has become a refuge, even an oasis for them. They live with people like themselves, and get well-paid to entertain the visitors. Their accommodation may seem basic and cramped by western standards, but they have most modern conveniences, form loving relationships, and enjoy sport and the usual recreational activities. Most of all, they have confidence, companionship, and a sense of self-worth that they lacked before going to work at ‘The Kingdom’.

I loved this film, and it really got to me. I watched it again before posting this, and didn’t change my mind.

A funny short film: The Gunfighter

Thanks to my long-time blogging friend, David Miller, I got to see this excellent short film yesterday. A witty satire on ‘narrated’ westerns, it gave me a much-needed chuckle, on a day of dark skies, and heavy rain.

David resides in Nevada, USA. He blogs on WordPress.
He is also a published writer, a song lyricist, and an accomplished compiler of limericks.

Just Been Watching…(111)

Spotlight (2015)
***A true story, so spoilers do not apply***

Another film I am late to, one that got huge praise from critics and viewers at the time.

This looks at the real-life events surrounding a famous investigation by a team of reporters working at The Boston Globe newspaper, around 2001. The ‘Spotlight’ team are tasked by a new editor to expand their research into allegations of historical sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston area. They are told to take it all the way up to include the church hierarchy, including the powerful Cardinal Law.

Initially looking into the actions of a dozen or more priests since 1976, it soon becomes clear that almost one hundred priests were involved in this sex scandal, and that their crimes were covered up by not only the Catholic Church, but also by some police officers, and influential lawyers. They expose the corrupt system of pay-offs to victims, and the way that the guilty priests were moved around, or given long-term leave.

Many people conspire to obstruct the investigation. Records are ‘lost’, others sealed, and the team members become frustrated when they can get few victims to cooperate, and no help from any of the former perpetrators. The dogged reporters will not be put off, and put their own lives on hold as they work all hours, and travel around to demand access to paperwork, or try to get statements from those involved. Despite finding out that some of their own friends had stayed silent after being abused, and the team receiving threats from influential people in Boston, they keep going until the story is finally published.

I thought that this was an excellent film. Despite being very ‘wordy’, and having lots of characters to keep track of, it is never confusing or dull. And even though I knew the outcome before the film started, the tension stayed with me throughout. The locations are authentic, and the casting near perfect. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, and Rachel McAdams are completely convincing as three of the journalists, and the campaigning lawyer who steers them with tips in the background. The script is sharp and realistic, and even though the subject matter is potentially distressing, none of the actual abuse is ever featured, or even discussed in detail.

A satisfyingly intelligent film, and very relevant in the 21st century.

Just Been Watching…(110)

Outlaw King (2018)
***Historical events, so spoilers do not apply***

I watched this film on Netflix. I believe it is only available there.

Another hot afternoon saw me with windows open and curtains closed, deciding to watch a film to take my mind off the uncomfortable humidity.

This is an historical drama set in 14th century Scotland, showing the struggle of Robert Bruce to become the King of Scotland, and to unify his country against the occupying English army of Edward The First. It begins with the surrender of the Scottish lords to Edward, and shows the bickering between the clans and nobles of Scotland over who should be regarded as the highest family in the land. They eventually agree to pledge themselves to Edward, and to pay his taxes. In return, some are granted lands, and Robert is given a pretty English wife, the daughter of a brave knight.

But the peace is shaky at best, and when news arrives of the capture and execution of William Wallace, (think ‘Braveheart’, sort-of) Bruce decides to try to unify the Scots against England once again, and to proclaim himself King of Scotland. When the young prince Edward is sent with a large English army, things don’t go well for Bruce, and he is forced to escape and seek refuge in the islands, accompanied by a small bad of loyal soldiers. His wife is captured and held prisoner in London, and more clan rivalries surface, with some Scots refusing to join him in any more battles against the English.

But if you know your history, then you know that he tried, and tried again, eventually raising a large army. With Edward I dying in the north on the way to confront Bruce, his headstrong son takes charge of the massive army, and he heads into Scotland determined to defeat the Scots once and for all. After the English have raped and pillaged all over Scotland, Bruce gathers more followers, and he picks an ideal spot to confront his enemies near Loudon Hill, in 1307. After a huge victory for the Scots under Bruce, the young Edward II is forced to retreat, and never again manages to conquer Scotland.

Well, here we have a very ‘old-school’ historical epic, that often feels as if it could have been made in the late 1960s. But that’s not a criticism. Wonderful location shooting, magnificent scenery, and beautiful widescreen cinematography makes this film a joy to watch. Granted, it is only ‘based on’ real events, so we have to allow for some minor inaccuracies and assumptions. But period detail is nothing less than perfect throughout, and the battle scenes show the reality of the brutal style of 14th century warfare.

We get a great cast, with some outstanding British actors, and American heart-throb Chris Pine does a great job as the troubled Bruce, complete with trying a Scottish accent.

I thought it was really good, and I enjoyed it much more than the overblown antics of ‘Braveheart’.

Just Been Watching…(109)

Apostle (2018)

***No spoilers***

I saw this on Netflix, but it was widely released.

A period drama, set in 1905. Filmed in some stunning locations in Wales, and with some Welsh actors leading the cast. But it isn’t about Wales, or the Welsh. In fact, it is about a fictional religious cult, living apart from society on a remote island.

(Yes I know, you are already thinking ‘The Wicker Man’. So was I)

Troubled ex-priest Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) is tasked with travelling to join a secret cult, in the hope of rescuing his sister. She has been trapped there by the cult members, and has managed to smuggle out a letter to their father. They are demanding a ransom, but Thomas has his suspicions that they will just take it, and not free the girl. After a difficult journey, he manages to join the community, and finds it is led by the self-styled prophet, Malcolm. (Michael Sheen) In return for work, everything is provided for the cult members, as long as they adhere strictly to the teachings of the leaders, and follow all the rules.

Thomas has no intention of doing so, and is soon off investigating on his own. He finds secret tunnels, suspicious basements, and with the help of a young man he befriends, he breaks in to discover some very dark secrets. There is also trouble with the three leaders of the cult, with one hoping to take control of the island from Malcolm, and prepared to do anything to get that power. As they hunt for the possible spy inside their community, things get out of control, and the tension begins to rise to the gory climax.

With no spoilers, thats about all I can divulge. But on the way, the film-makers throw everything at the viewer. Grisly murder, lots of gore, torture machines, a soupcon of cannibalism, a spooky human ‘Goddess’, and someone resembling ‘Leatherface’ from ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. In fact the film is so derivative, it not only borrows from ‘The Wicker man’, but almost any classic Hammer Horror film you could mention. Pretty girls in peril, men deciding to combat corruption, and above all, a heroic character who will face any danger to save anyone worth saving.

Yes, it is incredibly ‘retro’, and sometimes feels as if it was made in the early 1970s.

On the plus side, it has those stunning locations, good widescreen cinematography, a few decent shocks, and a solid cast of mainly British actors. The well-known face of Lucy Boynton is thrown in too, to give us someone nice to look at. But it’s not really scary enough to be called a horror film, and not really dramatic enough to be a historical drama. It ends up not really knowing what it is trying to be, but is always pretty good to look at.

Not great, by any means. But I quite enjoyed it.

Rutger Hauer

I have only just heard that Rutger Hauer has died, aged 75. That is a tragic loss to acting, and cinema.

I could write about all the film roles I have enjoyed seeing him in, but I have to pick my favourite, from my current top ten film of all time.

He embodied the essence of ‘Blade Runner’ (1987), as the replicant, Roy Batty. And he gave us one of the most iconic death scenes in the history of acting.

Rest in peace, Mr Hauer. You will be missed.