Film Review: My Feral Heart (2016)

Every so often, a British film-maker delivers a low-budget independent film that far exceeds the output of the famous directors and massive Hollywood studios. ‘My Feral Heart’ is a fine example of that. Directed by Jane Gull, and starring Steven Brandon, this film won fourteen international awards, yet is little-known in this country. Thanks to BBC 4, I was able to watch it, and I will say from the start that it is exceptional.

This is the story of Luke, a young man with high-functioning Down’s Syndrome. He lives with his mother, and he is her carer. He feeds her, goes out to get the shopping, even bathes her and dresses her. He is completely devoted to her. Then one morning, he finds her dead in bed, and his routine life is shattered. Despite his obvious capabilities, the fact that he has Down’s Syndrome means the authorities will no longer allow him to live in the family home.

Against his will, he is taken to live in a care home, with other young adults who have learning difficulties.

At least the staff are kind to him, especially day manager, Eve, (Shana Swash) who takes a shine to him and allows him an element of freedom. Luke uses that freedom to go shopping for the care home, and to wander the rural district of Essex where he now lives.

Some men arrive to look after the gardens of the care home. They are offenders, sentenced to do Community Service instead of prison time. One of them, Pete, (Will Rastall) befriends Luke, and also becomes close to Eve.

On one of his countryside explorations, Luke finds a young girl caught in a snare trap. He takes her to safety in a old barn. She is filthy, uncommunicative, and scared. He brings her food and clothes, washes her, and visits regularly to look after her. She is the Feral girl who gives the film its title.

We discover that Pete is a hunt saboteur, part of a group who go out and disrupt fox-hunting in the area. As Luke loves animals, he asks Pete if he can go. Worried about Luke’s condition, and other medical problems, Pete refuses. But Luke follows him anyway, and becomes involved. Going to check on the feral girl later, Luke cannot rouse her, so carries her back to the care home to get help.

With no spoilers, that’s about it. A short running time of less than ninety minutes, no car chases, no police sirens, and no sex. A small film about people on the margins of society, doing their best to get by in a world where they are almost invisible to outsiders.

It is just fantastic, believe me. It will break your heart with its honesty.

Filmed on location in Essex, beautifully photographed and sparingly directed with skill, the film is anchored around a truly remarkable performance from Steven Brandon in the lead, (he really has Down’s Syndrome) with a completely believable portrayal of Eve from Shana Swash, and every other member of the cast on top form.

If you can find it, please watch it. I will never forget it.

Film Review: Criminal (2016)

Sitting at home feeling like death warmed up makes you do things you might not usually consider doing.

Like watching a film you might never have thought twice about any other time.

Check the cast! Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Ryan Reynolds, Michael Pitt, and many more! This must be bloody good, right?

Hmm. Oldman shouts and runs around a lot. He has his usual not-quite convincing American accent, and plays a very angry CIA chief. Tommy Lee Jones is wasted as a scientist who has invented some kind of incredible memory-swap procedure, and doesn’t seem to believe in it himself. Ryan Reynolds has a small part as the film opens, then spends the rest of it as an occasional ‘memory flashback’. Michael Pitt, usually excellent, plays a scaredy-cat computer hacker who seems to be frightened of his own shadow for most of the film. Then we have the ‘villain’, a man who wants to use the world’s nuclear stockpile to destroy all governments.

Shall I just turn it off now? What about Costner though?

Cast against type, Kevin plays Jerico, the Criminal of the title. A man who was born without emotion, and has spent most of his life in prison, after committing many crimes because of his lack of remorse and empathy. He looks really tough, and acts it too.

So this is the idea. Reynolds character is an agent, killed at the start of the film as he tries to intervene between the hacker and the arch-villain. His body is kept alive so that Tommy’s scientist can be brought in to retrieve his memeory, using his untried invention. They need someone with a ‘blank-brain’, devoid of emotion, so they bring the unfortunate Jerico to England from prison, and do the mind-swap. But he doesn’t play ball. He escapes, and goes on the run, with the flashbacks of the agent’s memory leading him to find the man’s wife and child, and eventually to track down the hacker and the super-villain.

Meanwhile, the CIA are trying to find him, and so are the minions of the villain. In the mayhem, a lot of people get injured and killed, on the way to the ‘big finish’.

That’s about it. It tries to be a little bit of a lot of things, and doesn’t succeed. It is a bit ‘Jason Bourne’, but not tech enough. It feels like a film that might have starred Bruce Willis or Arnie, if the story had been better. There is a lot of driving around, a lot of running from Oldman, helicopter surveillance, car crashes, police chases, and plenty of shootings. Meanwhile, Jerico has to adjust to discovering what it is like to feel love and emotion for the dead agent’s family, whilst retaining his evil former self for long enough to get the job done.

Costner is pretty good, I have to say. I liked the locations in London and the surrounding counties, but I can’t really recommend it, unless you have the flu, it’s raining outside, and there is nothing else worth watching on TV.

Or if you really like Kevin Costner.

Just Been Watching…(124)

Mum’s List (2016)

There have been many films made about a young parent dying from an incurable disease, and having to leave a spouse and children behind. Some are powerfully dramatic, others mawkishly sentimental. This British film is neither of those. It is simply excellent.

Based on the true story of a woman named Kate Greene, writer and director Niall Johnson has assembled a superb cast and dealt with the upsetting theme in a way that anyone can relate to. Diagnosed with incurable breast cancer that has spread to her bones, Kate realises that she will be leaving her childhood sweetheart and two young boys much earlier than she ever expected to. She compiles a list of things that they should always do, not only to remember her, but to stay together as a family and be able to move on with their lives after her death.

Emilia Fox is outstanding as Kate, ably supported by Rafe Spall (son of Timothy Spall) as the grief-stricken husband trying to come to terms with the devastating news. From the moment Kate receives the diagnosis, to the scenes showing the family doing the things from the list after her death, everything is completely believable, and delivered with in the most realistic and unsensational way possible. The supporting cast playing family, friends, and the two young sons are all up to the job too, leaving us with a picture of a family tragedy that also gives hope to those left behind.

This is a film that leaves you wrung-out emotionally, as you invest so heavily in the characters despite knowing the outcome, and that there will be no magic cure or good news at the end. Only the heardest-hearted viewers could fail to be deeply moved by the rollercoaster of emotions you feel watching this.

It is just a superb piece of film-making.

(British readers can see this on the BBC i-player. It was shown on BBC2)

The Lakes: Pete and Ollie

The last reblog of the 2016 trip to the Lake District. My friend Antony took these photos of me and Ollie as we got to the top of a long hike. You can see how tired I look! Reblogged for new followers, and please enlarge them on the original post for the best effect.

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All photos are large files, and can be clicked on for detail.

Antony has kindly sent some of the many photos he took of myself and Ollie. I know that most of you love to see Ollie, so I have overcome the embarrassment of seeing myself looking worn out, to show you a selection.

Head down, determined to get to the top.
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We made it to the gate!
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A well-earned rest.
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I hope that you enjoy these extra photos. I am sure that you will agree that Antony excelled himself with these.

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Grasmere: The last day

The last photos I took on that 2016 trip, reblogged for new followers. Please enlarge them on the original post for the best effect.

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All photos are large files, and can be clicked on for detail.

Grasmere is a picture-perfect village in the centre of the Lake District. It has famous literary associations, not least with the poet William Wordsworth. He lived in the village for many years, and is buried in the churchyard of St Oswald’s. Other famous writers known to have stayed there include Sir Walter Scott, Thomas de Quincy, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This has all led to the village being very popular with tourists, as well as making house prices unaffordable for most people. There is also the small lake of Grasmere nearby, which we did not go to on that occasion.

Because of all the aforementioned tourists, I didn’t bother to take any photos of the village. Anyone interested in seeing or learning more about the place can follow this Wikipedia link, or search Google images. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grasmere

We were…

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A dull day in Ullswater

Two more photos from the Lake District trip in 2016. A dull day, bad light, and some rain. Please enlarge the photos on the original post to see them properly.

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All photos are large files, and can be clicked on for detail

On Wednesday, we decided to return to Ullswater, and try again for the ferry that had been cancelled in the mist on Monday. Unfortunately, we were losing the excellent weather that we had enjoyed since arriving in the region. Low cloud, a sharp drop in temperature, as well as occasional showers provided a dull atmosphere for both walking, and photography. We had to sit inside this time for the longer boat trip, which would drop us at the far end of the lake.

Once off the boat and walking, it was obvious that the weather was not going to improve that day. We had to carry on for more than seven miles of paths around the lake, many of them away from the shoreline. I still paused to take many photos, but the light was poor, so I…

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The Lakes: The Bowderstone

Photos from the 2016 trip to to the Lake District. This time, they are of a very unusual tourist attraction, not a lake. Please enlarge the photos from the original post, if you are able to.

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All photos are large files and can be clicked on for detail

After the exertions of Monday, Antony promised me a much easier day to follow. In reasonable weather, we headed off on the drive to Buttermere, one of the smaller lakes in the area. On the way, he suggested a stop at The Bowderstone, in the Borrowdale Valley.
A gentle walk of about ten minutes from the car park took us to the site.
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This huge rock is believed to have fallen from the crag above, perhaps thousands of years ago, and it is unusual in that it came to rest on its edge, and has not moved since. Now managed by the National Trust, it was one of the first tourist attractions originally promoted in the area. In 1798, Joseph Pocklington publicised the stone as a tourist site, and employed an old woman to act as a guide…

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Ashness Bridge and Walla Crag

More photos of a trip to the Lake District, in 2016. These are posted for the benefit of new followers, and anyone who missed them at the time. Please enlarge the photos on the original post if you can, as they do look so much better full-screen.

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All photos are large files, and can be clicked on for detail.

Thursday was our last but one day of the holiday, and we set off in another morning of dull weather. The plan was to take the short ferry trip to Ashness Bridge, on the eastern side of Derwent Water. From there, we would make the climb up to Walla Crag, which has panoramic views over Keswick, and the lake. After getting off the boat at the first stop, there was a short steep ascent to the bridge.
Antony informed me that this was the most photographed spot in the region.
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As we continued up to the crag, the weather improved slightly. I got this shot of the view behind us. The cluster of white houses you can see is the town of Keswick, in the distance below.
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After my exertions going up Helvellyn, I must have been getting…

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Buttermere: A gentler walk

A short photo post from my trip to the Lake District in 2016 It contains the best photo I took during that holiday, so please visit the original post and enlarge that first one, if you can. This is a reblog for the benefit of new followers.

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All photos are large files, and can be clicked on for detail.

The approach to the peaceful lake at Buttermere was made through the hair-raising Honister Pass.
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Perhaps when I was 25 years old, I might have enjoyed that drive. My MPV chose first gear all the way up, and the diesel engine was sounding like a tractor by the time we stopped before the descent, for the above photo. The downhill section was also a fairground ride, as I was on and off the brakes all the way into Buttermere. I concluded that I was happy to only have encountered light traffic during that trip.

The weather remained kind for the promised easier walk that Tuesday. Most of the path was close to the water’s edge, or not far from it.
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After a much more relaxing day, it was back to Keswick, to get ready to go out to…

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Helvellyn: My vertical limit

More photos from 2016, for the benefit of new followers since then. A continuation of my posts about a short holiday to England’s Lake District.

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This is a longer post, using seven photos to tell the story of my biggest walk to date. Please allow time for it to load on your computer. All photos are large files and can be clicked on for detail.

After the boat trip had been cancelled, we retraced our steps through the village of Glenridding, and set off in the direction of Helvellyn. This is the third highest peak in England, with a height of 950 metres, or 3,117 feet. Antony had told me that we would head for the ‘Hole In The Wall’ and Red Tarn, a lake inside the hill. Naturally, this all meant nothing to me, but gave me a mental target to aim for, as well as an eventual destination to achieve.

Anthony and Ollie ahead of me on the start of the path, heading for Lanty’s Tarn, on the way up. They look as…

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