Serial Reflection: Becky

My last serial ‘Becky’ has now concluded. As I usually do, I am looking back on the process, and how it was received by readers.

Writing about a modern relationship was a new diversion for me, and as always, it started with an idea for the ending, and worked back. On this occasion, I slightly changed that ending, deciding to leave it open for the reader to draw their own conclusion.

One reader suggested (by email) that there should have been more dialogue, in the form of protracted converations. This is the familiar debate about ‘Show not tell’. I am not a professional writer, and have never really subscribed to that concept. So I carry on in the style that I am comfortable with, even though it might be ‘telling’, rather than ‘showing’.

Perhaps a few readers assumed that this story was semi-autobiographical? Other than the fact that I once lived with a nurse for some time, that was not the case. But some aspects did apply to one or other of my relationships over the years, and could also be identified by some of you from your own. Setting the story in London again was something of an easy option, as that makes it simpler for me to get a sense of place, and to judge distances and timings.

Despite my change of theme, ‘Becky’ was well-received, with 90-100 views for every episode so far, currently totalling 2850 for the thirty episodes. Engagement in the comments was satisfying too, with some readers discussing points with each other, something I always enjoy.

Some people didn’t enjoy the story, which is fine with me. Not everyone can like everything, or be expected to. And I appreciate that sticking with a long daily serial is a lot to ask for from anyone. But I would like to thank everyone who did, as well as those who shared episodes on social media, and commented on every one.

The complete story will be published soon, for those of you who prefer to read it as one long piece.

Best wishes to everyone, Pete.

Just Been Watching…(123)

Beast (2017)

This British psychological thriller was received to much critical acclaim three years ago. I got the DVD for Christmas, and just got around to watching it yesterday.

Starring the wonderful Jessie Buckley, one of the brightest new stars of acting talent in this country, it is set and filmed on location in Jersey, in the Channel Isalnds. Unlike many films set in touristic areas, it avoids the cliches, and looks at the real life and everyday existence of the people who live there.

Buckley plays Moll, a twenty-something living at home with well-off parents and a mother who treats her like a servant. She has to help look after her father, who has dementia, and also works part time as a tour guide on the coach trips around the island. Very soon, we discover she has issues, including something that happened while she was at school. Then at the celebration of her birthday, her special day is stolen away by her sister’s announcement that she is expecting twins. So Moll leaves her own party, and heads out to a nightclub to get drunk.

Meanwhile, the community is in shock, after a series of rapes and murders of young women. One of the detectives investigating the crimes is very fond of Moll, but she doesn’t return his feelings. She spends the night in the club with a young man she meets there, and when they stroll on the beach early next mornng, he tries to have sex with her. As she is struggling, she is rescued by a wild-looking stranger with a rifle, who takes her home to her family. He tells her his name is Pascal

She soon starts a relationship with Pascal, much to the annoyance of her family, who look down on the scruffy man who earns his living from odd jobs, and poaching. She is also warned off by the police detective, who confides in her that he is a suspect in the recent crimes. But Moll is madly in love with the unusual Pacal, and becomes obsessed with him, eventually moving into his house.

However, he doesn’t want the same things in life that she aspires to, and despite the mutual attraction, Moll is unsure what to do. As well as that, she is beginning to wonder whether or not he could have been involved in the crimes, and wants to know the truth. In the process, she reveals her own dark secret, and stops lying to protect Pascal’s alibi.

With Buckley on her best form, a convincing portrayal of Pascal from Johhny Flynn, and a solid turn from the reliable Geraldine James as Moll’s mother, this delivers all it promises, building to a satisfying climax on a deserted country road.

Here’s a trailer.

Film Review: The Droving (2020)

I am pleased to bring you this review of a film in which one of our fellow bloggers, Jon Risdon, has a significant role. It is a recent independently-made film, and is currently available on Amazon, free to watch for Prime members.

Martin is a serving soldier with a dark past in the military. He has returned to England to investigate the disappearance of his younger sister Megan, one year earlier. Obviously troubled, and set on revenge, he goes to the town of Penrith in the Lake District, determined to find out what happened to her. It is the time of the annual festival, The Droving. What had once been a large market for drovers to sell and trade sheep and cattle has now become a local celebration, with parades, fancy dress, fireworks, and the recreation of old legends.

He meets up with one of his sister’s friends, and she tells him about a group of men who have arrived to try to cause trouble at The Droving. Believing they might have some information, he goes to find them at some old ruins. After a violent encounter, one tells him about a hermit, a man living in a shelter hut in the hills. Martin goes to see that hermit, and after a tense interrogation of the man, is told a very ancient secret that might solve the mystery of what happened to Megan.

Wasting no time, he follows the lead given to him by the hermit, and events take an exciting turn as the film builds to its climax on the night of the festival.

This film belies its low budget, and offers excellent high-definition filming in amazingly scenic locations of the famous Lake District. I watched it on a PC monitor, and it was lovely to look at even on that. Sound is not something that usually concerns me, but it was remarkable for its quality this time. With a fast pace, and a lot packed into an 80- minute running time, there is no part that feels dull, or padded. Daniel Oldroyd gives a convincing peformance as Martin, and Jonathon Risdon stands out as a very credible hermit. The rest of the cast do their best with smaller roles too.

A British revenge thriller with a nod to films like ‘The Wicker man’, and ‘Kill List’, it mixes myths and legends from ancient times, and brings them up to date in a film that delivers some twists and turns along the way.

Highly recommended, and a sign of good things to come from the team involved.

(If you decide to watch this film, please leave a fair review on Amazon, to help Jon and the others to promote the film.)

Here’s a trailer.

Just Been Watching…(122)

Frantz (2016)

(English subtitles for German and French language spoken)

This is the sort of film that European film makers do so well, and the award-winning director Francois Ozon has turned out another gentle masterpiece. With a cast of actors who I neither knew nor recognised, and a romantic story about the aftermath of WW1 in both Germany and France, this captivating tale surprised me with its sheer quality, and drew me in completely.

1919, rural Germany. That country has just lost that long and bitter war. Reparations and humiliation by the allies have caused anger and resentment in those who survived, and the early seeds of the rise to Nazism have already been sown. In a small town, we see Anna, making her way to the cemetery to lay flowers on the grave of her fiance, Frantz. He was killed in action towards the end of hostilities, and she is heartborken.

She lives with Franz’s parents, Dr Hoffmeister the town doctor, and his kindly wife, Marie. Together they grieve for the young man who will never return, and who is not even buried in the grave where she lays the flowers. His body lies in an unmarked grave, somewhere in France.

Anna finds other fresh flowers on the grave, and asks the gravedigger who left them there. She is told it was a foreigner, and the next day she asks at the hotel, discovering a young Frenchman is staying there. She manages to meet Adrien, and asks if he was a friend of Frantz, who studied in Paris before the war. When he says he was, she invites him to come to the house to meet the Hoffmeisters, so he can tell them about their son. In an emotionally-charged meeting, Adrien relates how he befriended Frantz, and how they would visit art galleries together, sharing their love of Manet’s paintings. At first the elderly doctor is not interested, but later softens his attitude.

The three begin a few days of friendly relationship with the young Frenchman, much to the annoyance of the local men, who hate the fact he was a soldier. Especially Herr Kreutz, who is hoping to marry Anna, and is a leading light in the new nationalist party. Then one night at the cemetery, Adrien tells Anna his darkest secret, turning their relationship on its head. He leaves the next day, and Anna pretends that his mother was ill, and that he will return.

But when he doesn’t come back to visit, the old couple are worried, and they send Anna to France to find him.

This film just oozes class. Paula Beer as Anna and Pierre Niney as Adrien are perfectly matched on screen. Historical detail is faultless, and the supporting cast members all feel like real people. At times, it is so convincing, it feels as if it was made at the time it is set. Wonderful widescreen black and white photography suits the mood, with the unexpected use of colour segments to represent dreams, and imagined sequences in the story. It is just a delight to watch such a beautifully made film.

This is film-making at a very high level. I loved it. It is a gem!

The trailer. (British viewers may find this on BBC i-player. It was on BBC 4)

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Trumbo (2015)

Most people under a certain age will not know that much about the dark period in America’s history when thousands of people were blacklisted for having left-wing sympathies, or because they had been members of the Communist Party. Investigated by the government, vilified in the press, and even imprisoned, many suffered as a result of what was later know as McCarthyism, named after a senator who led the hearings. Careers were ruined, marriages broken, and homes and families lost.

One famous Hollywood screenwriter was a part of all this, and his name was Dalton Trumbo. His books and screenwriting credits are enough to fill the entire post, but you will know some of his work, even if you have not heard his name before. ‘Spartacus’, ‘Exodus’, Papillon’, ‘Roman Holiday’, to name just a few. At one time, he was the highest paid writer in Hollywood, living a luxury lifestyle on a ranch with its own lake, and enjoying a loving marriage with a devoted wife and children. But he was also an unlikely Communist, having served as a war correspondent in WW2, and been an active supporter of strikes in the film industry.

The film opens with him at the peak of his success. Best friends with Edward G. Robinson, and part of the Hollywood elite. He is about to sign a contract with MGM, and life could not be any better. But there are rumours that he and nine other writers are about to be summoned to appear at the House Un-American Affairs Committee, where they will be asked to confess to being Communists, and supply other names to the investigators. Trumbo and some of the others decide to fight back, and make a stand. They become known as ‘The Hollywood Ten’.

This is a fine drama, heavily based on real events, and the life of Dalton Trumbo. He is played by Bryan Cranston, in a bravura performance where he is almost never off screen. Trumbo is portrayed realistically, with his obsessive desire to work affecting his family, and his outspoken stubbornness causing rifts with his best friends and colleagues. The scenes during the hearings are filmed as if to make them look like authentic documentary footage, and attention to period detail is first class.

The supporting cast is no less excellent, with Diane Lane as his wife, and many others playing the parts of real people. Those include Helen Mirren as the bitchy gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, seeking to ruin Trumbo, and Michael Stuhlbarg with a very sensitive portrayal of a troubled Edward G. Robinson. Elle Fanning shines as Trumbo’s activist teenage daughter, and Dean O’Gorman is a very convincing Kirk Douglas. Even John Goodman shows up, enjoying himself playing John Goodman. (Actually he is Frank King, but still Goodman)

You don’t really have to be a fan of old films to enjoy this, or have that much interest in the history of the blacklist in the 1940s. It works perfectly as a compelling drama about a group of people who decided to stand up and be counted.

Here’s a trailer.

Just Been Watching… (120)

Nightcrawler (2014)

Six years after its release, I finally got to see this American drama starring Jake Gyllenhall. And I am glad I did.

Set in Los Angeles, the film reeks of sleaze, and feels like a modern ‘noir’ in every way possible. Filmed mostly at night, as you would expect from the title, it is about the cutthroat world of sensational TV news, and how the different News channels compete to buy the most disturbing and graphic film clips from the teams of cameramen who roam the streets listening to police scanner radios. The clips are then shown on the morning news, in the hope of grabbing the biggest slice of the early ratings.

We start by seeing that Louis Bloom (Gyllenhall) is little more than a petty criminal. He drives a nondescript car, and makes a living stealing things like wire fencing and manhole covers, which he then sells to scrap dealers for cash. He lives in a seedy apartment, and is very much a loner. So the scene is set for what follows.

On his way home one night, Lou happens across a serious car accident, with a woman trapped in a burning car. A news crew arrives, but they do not help the woman. Instead, they film the drama as police arrive to render aid. An interested Lou asks the camerman, Joe Loder, (the reliable Bill Paxton) for a job, but is laughed at. Undaunted, he steals an expensive cycle the next day, and exchanges it for a video camera and police scanner in a pawn shop. That night, he sets out with the intention of being a news cameraman, learning the hard way that he has to get in first, to get the best shots.

Lou is not a likeable man. He is obsessive, intense, driven, and quite scary too. Gyllenhall captures him perfectly, with that sense of something smouldering away under the surface that might explode into violence at any time. He is calculating, cunning, and as I mentioned above, sleazy.

After bending the rules to get a couple of scoops, he comes to the attention of harassed News Team manager Nina, at a second rate, struggling TV station. (The perfect casting of Rene Russo, on top form) She is clinging on to her job, just, and needs gory news reports to show management that she can deliver. Very soon, she has a relationship with Lou that is as worrying as it is successful. Lou hires an assistant, buys a professional camera, and gets a better car. He is on the up, and negotiating hard for the first-on-scene footage that only he can supply. He has more run-ins with Joe Loder, and deals with him in a very unconventional manner.

As the ratings war intensifies, Lou no longer bends rules, he breaks them. With the TV station now more or less totally dependent on him, he exceeds all boundaries of decency, and manages to even get involved in the events themselves. He is now creating news, as well as reporting on it. Nina is trapped in circle of being disgusted by him, yet addicted to the success their association can bring.

This is a film with no real winners or losers. Despite some car-chase sequences, and the occasional burst of action, it is a film about how low someone will go in search of success, and how they will drag the others down with them. Russo and Gyllenhall are just wonderful to watch on screen, and every supporting actor steps up in even the smallest role.

I thought it was excellent, as you can tell.

Here’s a trailer.

Just Been Watching…(119)

Den Of Thieves (2018)

Do you ever start watching a film and think, ‘hang on, this is a rip-off’? Almost as soon as this film started, I was wondering if it was a shady remake of ‘Heat’ (1995) which was itself a remake of ‘LA Takedown’ (1989), albeit by the same director.

‘Den of Thieves’ begins with an exciting scene where a very professional gang attack an armoured security truck, with things going wrong when one gang member kills a guard, leading to the rest of the guards having to be shot too. And it is set in Los Angeles County.
(Yes, the same as in ‘Heat’)

The cop who arrives to investigate is a hard-drinking, no-nonsene leader of an elite squad of gang-busting cops. He has little time for his superiors, and no time for the FBI at all. He puts pressure on suspects, and follows them around, actually confronting them face-to-face.
(Sound familiar?)

He is always at work or out with his team, and rarely gets home. So his wife leaves him.
(Yes,’Heat’ again)

When the police team are keeping watch on the criminal gang, they are also being watched by them in turn. As the police compile a list of suspects, the gang leader makes a list of the police team opposing him, and profiles the top cop. One of the criminals is an electronics wizard, who is also good with explosives.
(I know, ‘Heat’ again!)

I was seriously thinking of reaching for the off-switch when things took a different turn, and it stopped just parroting ‘Heat’.

Beginning with a tense hostage taking in a bank, and leading to a cleverly executed climax of the well-planned robbery of the impregnable Federal Reserve Bank, the second half gives this film its own identity. And there is a twist too!

With the police now in pursuit of the escaping robbers, it all ends not in a car chase, but in a very well choreographed shoot-out sequence in a traffic jam, of all things. So it seems to all be over. But wait. There’s another twist! And that second twist is a real goodie!

With Gerard Butler as Nick, leading the police team, and Pablo Schrieber as Merriman, the tough ex-marine criminal, I didn’t recognise any of the rest of the cast. Though one of them is ex-rapper, 50-Cent. They all did well though, and were convincing enough. Car chases were kept to a minimum, and despite the often groan-inducing similarities with earlier films, I ended up liking this film much more than I thought I would.

Here’s a trailer.

Film Review

In 2014, I had a film review published on the website, A World Of Film. I wrote this post to advertise that fact, and I don’t think that many of you have seen it before. (Other than David Miller and Olga)
The film is about the early days of photography, and a harrassed housewife who uses a camera to escape the harsh realities of her existence. I was thinking about the film today, and how simply wonderful it is. One of the best films I have seen, in fact.
Please follow the link to read my review, which is illustrated with beautiful stills from the film. And also let me know if you have ever seen it.

beetleypete

I have just had another film review published on A World Of Film. Here is a link, for anyone interested in reading it.

Everlasting Moments (2008) – Jan Troell (Pete Johnson)

Best wishes to you all. Pete.

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Film nostalgia

After a brief exchange on Twitter earlier, I decided to reblog this 2015 post about one of my favourite films. Apologies to those of you who have already seen it.

beetleypete

(This is about the 1967 film, not the 2013 remake.)

When I first saw the film ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, I was fifteen years old. I liked it so much, I went to see it again the following week. I didn’t know a lot about Warren Beatty or Faye Dunaway at the time. I had never heard of Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder, or Gene Hackman either. I thought I recognised the strange face of Michael J. Pollard, but I didn’t know where I might have seen it. The man playing the Texas Ranger was Denver Pyle, and I knew him immediately, from old westerns. The same applied to Dub Taylor, who played the father of C.W. Moss in the film.

I had been going to the cinema for as long as I was old enough to sit up straight in the seat. I had seen all kinds of films…

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