Red (dir. Robert Schwentke) 2010

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Red is available on Netflix. It is an action, comedy, thriller mash-up that does not take itself too seriously.

It has a very famous cast headed by Bruce Willis, Mary Louise Parker and Morgan Freeman. For me John Malkovich and Helen Mirren steal the show though with great off the wall characters, brilliantly portrayed.  Right through the cast are big names and they all look like they are enjoying themselves immensely.

The movie is an over-the-top version of the  over-the-top 1990s action films, where it more about the guns, the explosions, the car chases and the banter than the story. The story is particularly ridiculous here and it really does not matter because it has the all of the other elements in spades.

Reds is very knowing, in that it pokes fun at all the clichés of the time, while blatantly using them to its advantage. It has likeable, if a bit two dimensional, characters and the  direction is clever and camp.

Watch this if you want a lot of bullets, a lot of bangs and some good laughs but avoid it you want any great philosophical insights.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

Fantastic Beasts and where to find them

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Fantastic Beasts and where to find them is a good addition to the line of Harry Potter films.

It has a very strong cast and great special effects. The characters are well written and likeable. It has the added bonus of being a magical historical costume drama – set in 1920s New York City.

I particularly liked the supporting cast of characters. Kowalski and Queenie have a lovely interaction, Colin Farrell is smoothly unpleasant as Graves.

It had lots of wonderfully inventive ideas and many of the fantastic beast are really fantastic. If I were to pick a fault, it would be that some of the set pieces were too big and too monumental because they reminded you of what they were, tableaus to show off their, admittedly very good, special effects. The storyline is quite slight but, because everything else about the film is so satisfying, it hardly matters.

The 3D was the best I have seen, it was clever without being intrusive. It is worth going to see this film in a big movie theatre because of this and in order to get the full impact of those  special effects.

I have to say that I will be looking forward to the next one in this franchise.

The Forest on the Roof, Selfridges, London

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I have just been to the winter incarnation of the forest on the roof, on the top floor of Selfridges. The entrance is beautiful and Christmassy, with glitterballs and tree branches sprayed silver.

The food is good quality but overpriced (e.g. £14 for a hamburger and another £4 for the chips to go with it). The choice of beers was limited, although there was a good selection of wines.

It was packed on a Monday afternoon as I guess it will be up to Christmas and through the sale season afterwards. The tables are far too close together making it difficult for the customers and the waiters to pass through.

The restaurant is set under a long, narrow awning with a roll down transparent screen to protect you from the elements. It was a sunny day and the sun streamed through into diners’ eyes and the staff had no way of preventing this.  It was noticeably chilly as the sun went down. The main view is the roof of Primark across the street.

All in all, I would say the experience was less “Forest on the Roof” and more “Lunch in a lean-to”.

It is certainly not up to Selfridges normally high standards, I can only imagine that this is a venue more suited to the summer.

The Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, London

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The Royal Academy of Arts’ gallery is on Piccadilly, it is directly across the road from Fortnum & Mason.

The Academy was founded in 1768 by King George III. They have many varied exhibitions throughout the year. These include single artist exhibitions, for example, Hockney and Ai Wei Wei have been on so far this year. There are also themed shows containing many different artists. “Painting the Modern Garden” included works by Kandinsky, Monet and Matisse. Next years “Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932” will have Chagall, Rodchenko and Eisenstein among others.

The highlight of their year is the Summer Exhibition, on open submission exhibition, to showcase the talent of emerging and established artists. The first one was in 1769 and it has run every one of the 248 years since. This is a huge and wide ranging exhibition usually holding over 1000 pieces, of every shape, size and medium. Most of the works are for sale differing in price from a hundred pounds to hundreds of thousands.

The gallery is nominally free, but most of the exhibitions are charged, so choose what you wish to see.

The Summer Exhibition is good value, although I take off the voluntary donation and only buy one list of works for the whole party, the cost of these is automatically added unless you ask for them to be removed.

The Royal Academy is  self funded so do as your conscience sees fit!  Personally, I don’t feel too guilty as they charge 30% commission on any work sold.

Stranger Things, TV Series, 2016(Netflix)

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Once in a while a series comes along that hits all the right spots. This eight part sci-fi show, on Netflix, does just that.

Set in 1983, in a small town in Indiana, a 12 year old boy goes missing on his way home after spending the evening playing Dungeons and Dragons with his friends. During the eight episodes, spent trying to work out what happened to him, it references many science fiction films, horror story books, and conspiracy theory TV series that you can remember from the intervening period.

The story is pulpy, which is just as it should be, but it is gripping – always making you want to know what the next episode will bring. The cast is great, Winona Ryder is perfect as the distressed mother and her interaction with David Harbour as the town sheriff is a joy. The dialogue is witty and knowing, and the soundtrack is spot on.

What made this series stand out for me, was all the nostalgic homages throughout the show; a set piece from ET,  a scene from Stand By Me, quotes from the Exorcist,  bedroom posters from 1980s horror films, people reading and talking about Stephen King books. The whole series is peppered with these references and spotting them added an extra dimension to our enjoyment of the show.

This is a great addition to the Netflix cannon, and if you are looking for easy, absorbing escapism, I recommend Stranger Things.

Wiener-Dog (dir. Todd Solondz) 2016

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This is a comedy written and directed by Todd Solondz. If you know his name and like his movies you will know not to expect uplifting and light hearted comedy, and this one is bleak even by his standards.

It consists of four short stories about people whose lives are affected by coming into contact with a Dachshund. It is well written, beautifully observed and has some great performances. I thought Ellen Burstyn and Julie Delpy were particularly good.

However, I really did not enjoy the film. Almost every character is cruel, self-serving or damaged and the humour comes from the dysfunctional way they deal with their lives. This is certainly a movie where we are laughing at them – not with them. Most of the laughs fall into the “so horrible it’s funny” category. The fact that that the film is so well made and the characters and situations are so realistically handled, make the comedy darker. I laughed rarely, and when I did, I disliked myself for doing so.  I left the cinema feeling depressed and dispirited.

It is said that “Great Art” is any which makes you feel strong emotions, either good or bad. In that case, this is “Great Art” but, if I were given the hour and a half back, I would choose not to spend it in that cinema.

The Gallery, Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly, London

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This restaurant is quite modest in terms of décor, with its unvarnished tables and plain wooden floor, which in Fortnum and Mason terms is definitely understated. I have seen this listed as a low cost restaurant, but I couldn’t say that I agree with that description.  I suspect that you could get away with £25 per person if you were to choose the absolute cheapest starter and main course, but you couldn’t have a dessert or wine and you could certainly not drink tea.  I noticed that tea was £8 and while I have no doubt that it is lovely tea and will come in a pretty teapot, it is hardly economical.

However, the restaurant is attractive with a view over Jermyn Street out through the window and a view over the sweet displays when you look in towards the shop. Everything is very high quality, as you would expect; pretty menu, nice napkins, good cutlery and crockery. The service is excellent.

The food is lovely too, the ingredients are top notch and each dish is beautifully prepared and presented. The beef was perfectly cooked and the gravy was rich and indulgent. So, although this is not somewhere to go if you are on a tight budget, it does serve a great lunch and I recommend it if you feel like a treat.

82 portraits and 1 still life, David Hockney, Royal Academy, 2016 London

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This exhibition is like a scientific experiment into the nature of portrait painting.

All the portraits are exactly the same size and shape. They are all full body portraits of a subject sitting in the same, yellow cushioned, wooden chair. They all have roughly the same, green and blue, background and each one was painted over the course of 3 days. They are all very recent – some only painted in February and March this year. There are 83 paintings crammed together in 3 small rooms, the walls painted in a matt magenta. A couple of people are pictured twice and one person three times over the course of the exhibition.

The individual portraits themselves are very good; Hockney is a fine portrait artist, but this is a single piece of work and it is seeing the whole exhibition as a unit that transforms this into an exceptional show. The uniformity of the portraits in terms of size, colour, and time, makes one notice the differences between them; the pose, the clothes, the gaze.

I don’t think of it as 83 individual pictures, I see it as one portrait of 83 individual sittings.

This is David Hockney at his best; confident, relaxed, colourful, witty and experimental.

I left very happy.

Star Trek Beyond (dir. Justin Lin) 2016

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Star Trek Beyond is a mixture of good and not so good.

Let’s get the worst out of the way first – the film is too long for the very flimsy story, 20 minutes could be cut, all of it from the battle near the start of the movie, which was predictable and repetitive. There are huge holes in the plot which are explained away by ridiculous technical gobbledygook, although some of this is done in a knowing, tongue-in-cheek way which at least makes it funny.

Humour is one of the good points of the film, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it is the funniest of the franchise so far. The script is excellent, there are some really good lines and the resolution of the film is both clever and witty. The special effects and the acting are good. I really liked Sofia Boutella’s character.

We are now on the third film into the reboot series and we already know all the main crew members. This film develops and handles the relationships between these characters very well, and we really do care about them by the end of this movie. It is genuinely sad to think that Anton Yeltsin won’t be there if there is another in the franchise.

Even though this is not one of the best Star Trek films in terms of plot or storyline; it is one of the best for humour and character development, and I will certainly be coming back to see what happens to them in the next instalment.

The Hive, Kew Gardens, London, 2016

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The Hive is a work of art that has come to Kew Gardens for a visit form Milan. It is an interactive piece and it is unique in that it allows the visitor to interact with bees. These bees are in a hive somewhere else in the gardens and their activity alters the look and sound of the installation.

It is an impressive structure from the distance. As you approach, it looks a little like a huge rectangular swarm of bees hovering over the park. When you get closer, you can see and hear its vibrancy and as you walk inside, it hums, throbs and gently changes colour with 1000 LED lights flickering. The work also contains an area where you can put a lollipop like stick into your mouth in order to mimic the method of communication of bees.

The Hive is both informative and interesting. It is also strangely relaxing in the way it filters the light as you sit inside sheltering form the sun on a warm London day. I would recommend not to rush through the artwork, it repays time spent there. The summer wildflower meadow on the walk up is beautiful too.