Playing a game with Mary Poppins called "Catch-Up"

So it’s been a long time since I sat down and wrote about any of the movies we’ve presented on a Saturday night. To be brutally honest with myself, it’s nearly twelve months, because I haven’t managed a post-movie review at all so far this summer. That is rather disappointing, not to say indecent, since we have a particularly good line up and the movies which have slipped past without comment have all been top notch. So I shall try and make amends right now…

A-star-is-born-from-left-bradley-cooper-lady-gaga-2018-ph-neal-preston--warner-bros-courtesy-everett-collectionOur season opener, A Star Is Born, remains a fine and powerful piece of work, but my second viewing felt a bit tepid, and with the story established from a previous viewing (and, of course, three previous versions and about 50 years of history) instead of gaining new insights on performance and direction, to me it felt a little bit over-familiar and slightly glib. I still rate it highly, and feel that Bradley Cooper’s multiple achievements in acting, directing, composing and singing were unfairly overlooked, but I didn’t get as much pleasure from this second time around.

MV5BNTFiZTZhYTItNmM0Ni00ZDhkLThmMzktZDFmZTRlZjU5NmIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjAyODg1OA@@._V1_The same cannot be said for Green Book, for which the merit of its Best Movie Oscar award grows on every viewing. Mahershala Ali is masterful as a man who is a minority in every situation, not just by dint of his skin colour. The way in which his ‘outsiderness’ is revealed alongside his eternal struggle to maintain his dignity is gripping. Viggo Mortensen’s hired muscle might have become little more than a comic foil, but there is depth in his love for his wife and family, and his personal journey of development just about offsets the potential pitfalls of the ‘white saviour’ trope.

983bf378-8b30-495b-a973-77d6772aa7d9-movie-review-10-31I could write a lot about Bohemian Rhapsody, but I won’t because so many people enjoyed it. I have two issues with the movie. Firstly, as a biopic based on fairly recent events,  I would expect it to have a much stronger connection to the true events. Instead the film-makers played havoc with the timeline of history in order to generate drama in the storyline. I could reel off a whole bunch of inaccuracies (Freddie was friends with the guys in the band long before the previous singer left, Freddie never ‘left the group’ so there was no reconciliation, Freddie did not get his AIDS diagnosis till after Live Aid so there was no dramatic revelation on the eve of the concert, plus others) but most of these did not affect most people’s enjoyment. Though they did mine…

Secondly, I read that the involvement of Brian May and Roger Taylor in the making of the film had impacted the screenplay. They resisted the idea of this becoming The Freddie Mercury Story, and wanted to make sure that the band members got equal credit in the story of Queen,  and in some cases equal screen time for their characters. This resulted in some rather forced scenes (I can only believe that the genesis of ‘We Will Rock You’ was there purely because Brain May insisted it was included) and - for the more technical - the scene where the band meet manager John Reid for the first time has some very strange editing to ensure each band member is on screen for equal minutes. And there are other examples...

I will say that the Live Aid concert footage is very well executed, very powerful, and filled me with nostalgia and an urge to get the concert DVD off the shelf and relive that wonderful day again.

Finally, I get caught up current, and now I can talk about Saturday night and Mary Poppins Returns. I had kept my own council about this, as I was really not looking forward to it, anticipating a highly anti-climactic sequel with little more value than a DVD to entertain the kids on rainy days. My reaction therefore was surprising. I certainly enjoyed it, but mostly I was intrigued. I would love to have been a fly-on-the-wall during the script meetings and the screenplay planning…

Mary-poppins-sneak-peek-tThe producers had the thankless task of resurrecting one of cinema’s most cherished characters, and following up a much-loved movie with a stellar reputation and five Oscar wins. They had to balance three major elements; original material to tell Mary’s new story, deliver her message and complete her mission; scenes which everyone would expect from the ‘template’ of the first movie; and enough ‘homage’ to respect the original film and to leverage the goodwill it carries.

I thought they got the balance just about right. The template gave us a song and dance number by lamplighters instead of chimney sweeps, a live action-animation song and dance number, a wacky relative of Mary Poppins who spends time on the ceiling. Homage gave us the Admiral, the kite, the refrain from ‘Feed The Birds’ lilting through ‘Nowhere To Go But Up’, a quick nod from the penguin waiters, and cameos from Dick Van Dyke and Karen Dotrice, the original Jane (Did you spot her ?).

But most internet debate centers on the messaging, and how it differs from the moral values and lessons that Julie Andrews brought to the original Banks family. I thought that the impact on this family of Emily Blunt’s Mary was more peripheral than her earlier visit, and she tended more towards grief counseling the children, than restoring family values and a sensible work-life balance. It's hard to see exactly what influence she has on the older Michael, either directly or through the children's adventures. Then again, I’ve read as many different interpretations of what Mary Poppins represented in 1964 as I have actual reviews, which in itself is significant. Mary Poppins always allowed you to take whatever you want from her no-nonsense, ‘never explain’ theory of life as an adventure with consequences. So it’s almost impossible to be right about what this films message is. Or, indeed, wrong. And, of course, she never explains herself...

Trying to judge this movie against the iconic 1964 version and its ridiculously good soundtrack is pointless. If the first movie did not exist, this would be a joyous, slightly overlong romp, with a few catchy songs. It would almost certainly generate its own sequels based on this wonderful English nanny character, and would probably be a much watched item on the DVD shelf.  And that’s good enough to count as success.

Queen songs in movies - #1

To build up for our rescheduled screening of Bohemian Rhapsody on July 3rd (and the Pot Luck Party beforehand !), here's a few samples of Queen songs used in movies. Strange how most of the best examples are either comedies, or have some humourous element. Today, Shaun Of the Dead. As the crew gather in The Winchester pub, sheltering from the zombie invasion, they are trying to stay as silent as possible, when...


Bohemian Rhapsody is rescheduled !!

We've watched multiple weather radars, hoping for good news BUT there is still a significant chance of rain between 9 and 10pm. Rather than inconveniencing you all we have decided to postpone. The good news is we have decided to reschedule for this Wednesday night, July 3rd, as you will hopefully all have the next day off!! Sorry to disappoint you all, we just want to keep you safe and dry! PLEASE LET US KNOW YOU HAVE ALL SEEN THIS!!

FAFC presents - BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY - Sat 29th June

Borap ramimalekAfter the great turn-out for Green Book two weeks ago, we are expecting another big crowd on Saturday for the much-lauded Queen bio-pic. In the cinema, this movie was very successful and, of course, Rami Malek gained many accolades for his portrayal of the singularly exceptional Freddie Mercury. I still think that the bar is not set very high for real-life impersonations, and a distinctive set of prosthetic teeth will take you a long way there…

However having said that, the movie delivers on its promise of feel-goodness, perhaps the story is a little familiar but all the more enjoyable for that, and the performance scenes are very good.

Remember, the show must go on. Please join us for a bit of a sing-song on Saturday. We guarantee we will rock you !

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FAFC presents - GREEN BOOK - Saturday 15th June

I will start by saying that of the four films we saw during my annual birthday ritual, I declared at the time that this was the best of the bunch. So despite the hype and fuss around Bohemian Rhapsody and Rami Malek’s impersonation of Freddie Mercury (which will be in my sights in later posts !), it was no surprise when Green Book took the Oscar for Best Movie.

When you look at the synopsis - gifted black musician takes white hoodlum as minder for tour of racist American South in the 50’s - it is very tempting to assume a very simple narrative is coming. Initial frostiness, growing respect, ultimate bonding, white guy physically defends black guy, etc. All very predictable.  And whilst most of the boxes are indeed ticked in that template, this movie has SO much more than that, to the extent that it could be used as a primer in schools to discuss what exactly is the nature of racism, or even what constitutes ethnicity ?

Eb08bcf0-ebb0-11e8-bfb6-965ae0fa43baAnd while Mahershala Ali scooped up most of the awards, Viggo Mortensen’s performance is also very strong (although I believe that his role should have been the supporting one, since the character of Don Shirley portrayed by Ali is, in my mind, no doubt the most important in the movie). And in our house we also love Linda Cardellini, who was excellent in this and in the recent Netflix series ‘Dead To Me’ which we binge-watched in two nights. Recommended too !

So join us for a thought-provoking exploration of the nature of race and prejudice on Saturday, and don’t forget your bucket of chicken wings !



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A little taster for the season

As Saturday approaches, I actually have other pressing things on my mind (COME ON YOU SPURS !!) so luckily I prepared this little effort a week or so ago.

A word about the song, which you may not have heard before. Linda doesn't like the music at all - the word she used was 'hate' - but this has always been one of my favourites, and it's worth knowing a little about Robert Wyatt, if you didn't already.

Robert Wyatt was the original drummer and vocalist of the highly regarded English psychedelic rock band Soft Machine, and he 'enjoyed' the rock star life - too much as it happens, as in 1973 at a party he had a drunken fall from a fourth floor window and became paralysed from the waist down. His subsequent solo career has been characterised by jazz influences, esoteric song choices (he argued - and won - to appear on UK TV show 'Top of the Pops' in his wheelchair to perform his cover version of The Monkees 'I'm a Believer') and a leaning towards political and campaigning material. His version of Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding, a poignant anti-Falklands War elegy, is a perfect fit for his plaintive voice, and was a big hit in the UK.

There is, apparently, even a practice  called 'Wyatting' described by Wikipedia as "...the practice of playing unusual tracks, in particular songs from Wyatt's album Dondestan, on a pub jukebox to annoy the other pub goers." - something which clearly delights the man himself.

Anyway, judge for yourself. Enjoy this, and hopefully we'll see you Saturday, or some other evening this summer.


And it was all going so well...

It was too. Day Three, and we had both been very busy. I had replaced all the bent poles on the screen frame, got everything straight and level, and had spray painted all the tubes a rather fetching matt black.  Linda had a great idea for a new projector platform for our revised screening arrangement (you will be pleased !), and she had found a free wooden stepladder as the basis, which we had picked up that morning. I had designed a new structure for the black framing around the screen itself, and had just built the first element with which I was rather pleased. In my head I was even planning this blog post, which would be about the rejuvenation of our cinematic set-up, and Linda was taking pictures for me.

IMG_1956 IMG_1982 IMG_1970 IMG_1976

Image2I do want to say a bit of a general thank you to everyone who has ever dropped a dollar or two in our contribution jar on a Saturday night. It may not be obvious during the season, but we use this money and the little bit of profit we make from the cinema candy we sell to fund our new season upgrades. This year I did not anticipate replacing the screen, but a combination of inadequate winterizing and clumsy lawn service dudes necessitated it.  So consider yourself thanked - we’re always grateful.

I was just fitting this brand new screen, using my brand new bungee cords when - TWANG !  No it wasn’t one of the cords, it was my back. Like a guitar string snapping with a demonic off-key jangle, my back threw me into a realm of jarring pain and frustrating immobility. I have had back issues before, but mostly before we moved to America. This was (still is) almost the worst I’ve suffered, and I have so much to get done this week. We’ll plough on through, and we will have a show on Saturday, but it might not be as polished as we had hoped it would be.

FAFC presents - A STAR IS BORN - Saturday 1st June

D63w805XkAA0FUlI beg forgiveness in advance if I appear a little distracted during our first movie of the year. Since our planning began, and we put the schedule together, a combination of celestial alignments, extremely dogged and often sublime football skills, a concept called VAR, and perhaps the karmic recompense of persistent near-misses has landed my english soccer team, Tottenham Hotspur in the final of the UEFA Champions League. This is, literally, the biggest, most important 90 minutes of football in the history of the club I have followed for over 50 years, and takes place at 3pm ET on Saturday 1st June.

I have every intention of following through with the launch of our excellent 2019 summer season, but I have no idea what frame of my mind I will be in - probably at one extreme or the other from broken-hearted dejection to a manic euphoria in which very little I say will make sense ("What's new ?" I hear Linda yelling...). Be prepared.

But enough of distractions…

Lady-gaga-bradley-cooper-ally-jack-a-star-is-born-cloverA Star Is Born has a long history. It has been made 4 times, and the screenplay for the first 1937 version was co-written by Dorothy Parker. Originally, the characters were both actors, in 1954 Esther Blodgett (this time played famously by Judy Garland) becomes a singer in movie musicals, but in the two most recent versions, both star-crossed lovers are musicians.

If your love story depends on the tensions between an established but fading music superstar, and a genuinely talented unknown and her meteoric rise to fame, then you better have some good tunes in your pocket. In 1954, most of the songs were old standards, but Garland did make The Man That Got Away famous. In 1974, the soundtrack album was hugely successful.  It was the Billboard Number 1 for 6 weeks, received 4 Platinum disks AND contained the Oscar-winning song, Evergreen. From my birthday viewing, I can vouch for the music, and we all know Gaga took the statuette home this year for the excellent Shallow.

As for the acting, I remember being pleasantly surprised how well Gaga did in her first movie role (she previously did well on TV in American Horror Story) but disappointed how Bradley Cooper missed out on the kudos he should have received for a bravura performance - acting, directing and indeed singing and performing the music.

The 1974 movie is still on my list of favourites, and has a big emotional hit for me. This one also packs a heavy punch, so make sure you bring tissues !

Join us on Sat 1st June for the opening night of Folly Avenue Film Club 2019 - A Little Night Music !!


…oh, and  COME ON, YOU SPURS !

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