Category: ageing

Above - Steve Coogan and Judi Dench  Below - the real Martin Sixsmith & Philomena Lee

Above – Steve Coogan and Judi Dench
Below – the real Martin Sixsmith & Philomena Lee

PHILOMENA – directed by Stephen Frears (UK, 2013)

There’s one reference to the clitoris and a few ‘fucks’ but otherwise this is the kind of film you could watch with your mom without fear of embarrassment.

The presence of Dame Judi Dench in the title role adds a further weight of respectability to proceedings.

Peter Mullen’s The Magdalene Sisters touches on similar themes of vindictive nuns doing bad things to  ‘fallen’ women in Ireland but that movie was much fiercer.

The rage in Philomena comes not from the wronged woman but from Alex Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), the BBC journalist who helps her trace the long lost son who was sold to a wealthy American couple 50 years before.

The human interest story of   Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) and Philomena means that is not simply a rant against religious hypocrisy although we are left in no doubt about Sixsmith’s views on Catholicism! The film is based on a true story but since Philomena never actually travelled to the U.S. with Sixsmith many parts have obviously been made up for dramatic effect.

Ultimately, it’s a cosy buddy movie with a message and, paradoxically, the gentle, warm-hearted tone is probably more effective than Mullen’s film in highlighting the injustice done to Philomena and many other women like her.

Related link:

The real story of Philomena Lee (Daily Mail)

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK directed by Charlie Kaufman (USA, 2008)

This is a movie about life and dreams but mainly it’s about death.

We all have dreams, both big and small. Some of them are realized, most are not.

What gives us the impetus to work through our personal bucket lists is the transience of existence and the knowledge that someday we will die, as will everyone we know.

Theatre director Coden Cotard has a big dream. He wants to stage a play about everything: birth, dating, family and death. Particularly the last of these since, as he puts it bluntly yet accurately, “we are all hurtling towards death, but here we are for the moment, alive”.

Cotard wants his production to stand as his legacy and demands that there must be no compromises. It should tell the brutal truth, warts and all – no limits, no filters. He prepares post it notes for each participant, a single fact that the actors must build upon to create a character. Quickly you get the impression that the concept is so vast that it is unworkable. Continue reading

"Are you talking to me?"

Say cheese!


There’s a quiet menace about Mark Kozelek. His songs reveal he’s a sensitive guy but his highly personal, story songs never stray into sentimentalism.

The lyrics are full of the humdrum details from his life at home or on the road yet are delivered with such intensity that they seem positively revelatory.

He sings of being unable to shake his melancholy nature, a condition that I imagine is exacerbated by touring on his own and having time to brood in lonely hotel rooms.

On stage during this two-hour solo performance he’s not ice cold but not warm either. There’s no charm offensive. He seems pissed off that the audience don’t talk to him but doesn’t do much to meet us half way. He doesn’t even know what city he’s playing in so you get the impression that part of him doesn’t give a damn who’s listening and why.

He wonders why there is so much graffiti in Rome but nobody dares venture an opinion as to why Italians are so into street art. In the US, Kozelek says, kids have better things to do; they’re too busy mugging and stabbing people. This is a topic he also touches on in song form in Richard Ramirez Died Of Natural Causes.

Having a few rows of seating and playing under dimmed lighting efficiently communicates the fact that you take pictures or videos at your own peril. And amazingly, no-one does. I can’t remember the last show I went to when there was so little chatter and so few pulling out smart phones. “You are a nice, respectful audience”, Kozelek acknowledges near the end and he was not wrong. Continue reading

THE BUCKET LIST directed by Rob Reiner (USA, 2007)

Death is no laughing matter but mainstream movies still have a hard time taking it seriously. How we come to terms with our mortality is rarely addressed at anything more than a superficial or sentimental fashion.

The story of two terminally ill men making full use of their final months ought to be different but isn’t. It is also dishonest in its unwillingness to show the true ravages of cancer or the messy business of dying.

The premise of the movie is that the bucket list, things to do before you kick the bucket, takes on a new urgency when you get to learn how long you have left to live. The subtext is that procrastination or postponement of these actions is never recommended.

Morgan Freeman plays Carter Chambers a car mechanic with a high IQ whose humility is at odds with brash billionaire Edward Cole played in typically over the top manner by Jack Nicholson.

Remission following surgery and intensive care is tantamount to a miraculous recovery. One minute the two men are lying in their hospital beds, seemingly at death’s door, the next they are skydiving and road racing or gadding about the globe to visit the seven wonders of the world.

Carter is a man of faith while Edward is a sceptic. Mercifully, we are spared crass religious propaganda but Christian morality is still implicit in the film’s advocacy of family values and kindness to strangers,

The underlying message is that it is the things that money can’t buy that bring joy and fulfillment in our lives. This is something I knew already and didn’t need this lame ass movie to remind me.

NEBRASKA directed by Alexander Payne (USA, 2013)

Today is Father’s Day in Italy so it seems the right day to be reflecting on this movie.

As with Payne’s  About Schmidt & Sideways, character comes before plot and goes some way to explaining why the premise of the film is so contrived. We have to take it as a given that Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is gullible and naive enough to believe that he has won a million dollars in a magazine’s prize draw even though none of his other personality traits make this particularly credible.

Woody is cantankerous, fiercely independent and unsentimental. Thick-skinned and mule-headed, this old man shows no particular affection towards his wife or his two sons.

On the contrary, he seems to regard the younger son , David (Wil Forte), as a schmuck. This negative judgement gradually softens as, unlike the older sardonic son Ross, played by Bob ‘better call Saul’ Odenkirk, David has a limitless patience and tact. He alone is prepared to humour the old man’s obsessive demands rather than concede that he should be confined to a care home. Continue reading


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