Not the 365 ~ movies, cats, stuff.

Another catch up post, as it’s been a couple of weeks or so since the last one. First let me tell you about the movies we’ve watched of late.

On Netflix ~Black Hawk Down (2001) Ridley Scott has to be my favourite director and it’s easy to see why in this movie. Based on the real life event of the US Army raid on Mogadishu in 1993, it stars Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Sam Shepard, Tom Hardy and Tom Sizemore. Delta Force, the 75th Rangers and the 160th SAOR (Night Stalkers) get into terrible trouble when one of their helicopters is brought down in the middle of Mogadishu. It’s ‘on the edge of your seat’ stuff and a part of history I knew nothing about.

Fraggle rating~ bloody brilliant. )Also Josh Hartnett, he’s so cool 😍).

Next up and also on Netflix is the fantastic Ed Harris in Kodachrome (2017) directed by Mark Raso and also starring Jason Sudeikis and Elizabeth Olson showing her acting chops when breaking away from the Marvel franchise. It’s a road trip sort of movie and deals with the failed Father/son relationship. Ed Harris is the irrascible Father dying of cancer, and he asks his son Ben (Sudeikis) to drive him to Dwayne’s Photo lab in Kansas as it’s the last shop able to develop rolls of Kodachrome, and Dad has 4 old rolls he has to get developed before the shop stops doing it. Olson plays his put-upon nurse. It’s all a bit predictable, I’d guessed what was on the rolls of film 5 minutes into the movie, though you don’t find out why they’re so important until the end, but Ed Harris, I’d watch him act the telephone book and he is SO good in this. Nice cameo performances from Bruce Greenwood and Wendy Crewson as Dad’s brother and wife who brought Ben up.

Fraggle rating: Excellent for Ed Harris fans, good enough for anyone else who wants a nice looking American road trip movie with smiles and pathos, good acting and a well cool car.

Phil dug out his old DVD of Stigmata (1999) directed by Rupert Wainright and starring Gabriel Byrne, Patricia Arquette and Jonathon Price. It’s a supernatural horror film about an atheist hairdresser (Arquette) who gets given a Rosary once owned by a dead Italian priest who was afflicted with stigmata. Somehow the Rosary has the same effect on Arquette and we get to see her beaten and bloodied by something invisible, all stigmata marks. She also has flashbacks of Jesus getting the same wounds she receives. Bryne plays a Catholic priest & scientist who investigates miracles and the like, and is sent to see her. At first sceptical he comes to see that it’s all happening for real and has to find out how to stop it before Arquette dies. It’s all to do with a lost gospel written by Jesus himself, that the Catholic church don’t want people to know about, as Jesus writes there’s no need for church buildings and preachy priests etc as God is within you and everywhere. Some nifty special effects in this without CGI so kudos to them for that. Byrne and Arquette have a good chemistry but the plot really is a bit daft. (Says she who loves Marvel movies 🙄 ) I should imagine it naffed off a lot of Catholics but it did really well at the box office, not so much with critics.

Fraggle Rating: Not so good for Catholics. Not so good for horror afficionado’s as it’s probably a bit tame by today’s gory standards. Good for horror-lightweights like me though.

Last and possibly least, Wild Horses (2015) written by, directed by and starring Robert Duvall. I found this when looking for Josh Hartnett movies and he is in it too, as is James Franco. I think this must have been a vanity project for Duvall. It’s a Western Crime movie and also stars his wife Luciana Duvall as a Texan Ranger investigating the 15 year old disappearance of a young man who was found by Duvall in bed with his youngest son (Franco). Hartnett plays his older brother, and Devon Abner as the eldest brother. Duvall’s character is the main suspect for offing the missing young lad, as he hates gay people. The gay issue is actually well addressed, and Franco makes his gay character just a normal guy, no camping it up.

Fraggle Rating: Apart from those wishing to ogle Mr.Hartnett, I can see no reason to recommend this one for anyone really, the script is hokey and the acting wooden in places, perhaps because he gave some parts to actual real people not actors. You need subtitles to understand Mr.Duvall’s mutterings, and the plot has more holes in it than a packet of Polo’s. There are a few scenes with the brothers and Duvall, collectively and individually where it’s really good to watch them play off each other, but they can’t save this from being a dud.

OK onto Books I have read.

I’ve just finished reading for the second time Child of The Morning by Pauline Gedge. Never mind your Cleopatra/Anthony/Caesar romp, this is about Hatshepsut, one of the first female Pharaoh’s and lived 3,500 years ago. Her life is equally fascinating as that of Cleopatra (who’s been done to death) if not more so, and deserves a great movie, but so far no-one has picked this up. Gedge’s writing is just beautiful, lyrical yet straightforward, and reading the book is like stepping back in time. The characters come to life in your head as you read it, and you can feel the breeze from the Nile. It’s impeccably researched and I highly recommended this for anyone who loves tales of ancient Egypt.

A short story from blogger Mae Clare called In Search of MacDoogal about a chap who sells his girlfrends favourite painting, and then has to retrieve it. This took me an hour to read, and I smiled or laughed all the way through it as he and his friend encounter much upheaval along the way. A fun read on a rainy afternoon.

Work and life go on much as normal. We’ve managed to visit Shelley and the kids last weekend and sat in the garden in a cold wind with a flask of coffee. It was nice to see them though, it had been quite a while.

Livvy egging it.

We still have Sophies cats, and still don’t know when Sophie will get back. They’ve been indoor cats up to now, but Winnie has been trying to escape, and has managed a couple of times. We’ve got her vaccinated now and so are allowing them out. We thought Vinnie wouldn’t be so bothered as he never seemed to be interested,but boy were we wrong! He loves it! He has a little patrol he does around the back garden, then down the side of the house to the front where he sniffs every plant and bush, then he comes in for a snack or a kip and then does it all again, all day long. Winnie is beside herself, climbing fences, on top of my shed, on top of next doors fence and shed, but she runs in every 30 minutes to make sure we are still here, and then goes out again. Everyone happy, and we can now have our doors and windows open when the weather gets warmer!


Most of you who visit here also know my 365 is going on over at the Universe Blog and have seen the Blossom tree doing it’s thing and Lucy the visiting Hedgehog, so I’ll skip those but it has had me off on walks for photographs and Phil and I trotted over to the Nature reserve, and I went one day to the secret lake, so here are a few from our wanderings.

The Blackthorne blossom was in full bloom when I went over to the secret lake, lovely to walk through.

A procession of Blackthorn

Some of the route is lined with gorse bushes.


Mr.Lonely at the secret lake, hope he finds a mate.


Phil has had to take time off work as he is having great problems with his eyes, possibly a flare up of his glaucoma, so we went out for a walk to the nature reserve to get him out for some excercise.

The male ducks were all chasing the lady ducks at the pond, and this lady was not in the mood. Well maybe she was but playing hard to get! 😊

the chase

Two swans live on the reserve and have swanlets every year, I think Mr. Lonely must be last years offspring. Lady Swan was hidden in her nest, could only just see her, but Lord Swan was patrolling the perimeter and keeping an eye on her.

On Patrol

When we got home my little 500 looked so cute next to the Happy Eater tree.

Minty and tree

and lastly, this little long tail tit is a daily visitor the the H.E.Tree


So that’s my catch up for now. I’ll be back at some point .

Stay frosty people! 😊

Not the 365 ~ movies,cats,Spring etc

Thought I’d do a little catch up as I’ve been busy with the 365 over on the Universe Blog and I just know y’all are missing my Movie Monday reviews. We are still watching movies, so I’m going to do quick dash through what I thought about them.

Dead Presidents 1995 and Phil’s choice as he had it on DVD and I hadn’t seen it. Starring Larenz Tate, Keith David, Chris Tucker, Freddy Rodrigues, N’Bushe Wright and Bokeem Woodbine. It’s based partly on the real-life experiences of Haywood T. Kirkland (aka Ari S. Merretazon), whose true story was detailed in the book  Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans by Wallace Terry, it chronicles the life of Anthony Curtis (Tate) and covers him from high school to the vietnam war and then home again to where he and his pals rob a bank. A well made film focussing on the experences of black veterans, well acted and paced, co-written, produced, and directed by Allan and Albert Hughes with skill and obvious passion. I imagine Spike Lee watched this and made notes for his Da 5 Bloods movie. I enjoyed this one much more. Fraggle Rating: underated and well worth seeing.

The Mule 2018. Clint Eastwood produces and directs from a script by Nick Schenk. Also based on the true story of a New York times article by Sam Dolnick “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule” about a WW2 veteran called Leo Sharp who became a drug courier for the cartel in his 80’s. Well this was fun, Clint has still got it and commands the screen even though he’s in his dotage now. Not sure how but he looks good even with that many wrinkles. Anyway it’s his movie though he’s ably assisted by Bradly Cooper on his tail as Colin Bates a D.E.A agent, Michael Pêna as Bates sidekick Trevino, Dianne Wiest as Clint’s estranged wife and a fairly small part for Lawrence Fishburn as Bates’s supervisor. Fraggle rating: Top Notch, especially for Eastwood fans.

The Alamo 2004. I’m sure someone out there will say this isn’t as good as the original Alamo movie made in 1960 starring John Wayne as Davy Crockett (perleeze 🙄🥴 blerk, I do NOT like John Wayne one bit) but Phil wanted the 2004 version as he really liked it so that’s what we did. No need to explain the plot I think, but just in case. In the 1830’s Texas had a revolution, small groups of Texians (that’s what they were called back then) gathered at a little town on the Mexican border called San Antonio where the Alamo compound is, and the Mexican army under the President Santa Anna came and killed them all. Dennis Quade plays Sam Houston, Billy Bob Thornton ~ Davy Crockett, Jason Patrick ~Jim Bowie and Patrick Wilson as William B Travis. I enjoyed this, the characters are well drawn and acted, and John Lee Hancock directs with a steady hand, giving the main characters room to breath. It’s a good history lesson too as we are ‘doing’ American History documentaries at the minute and it all ties in. Fraggle Rating: Good +++

Aquaman 2018. A D.C superhero movie that I hadn’t got round to. Well I have now and it wasn’t totally great, however it does have good points. Firstly it is stunningly beautiful to look at. The CGI under sea world building is easily as good as Avatar which sprang to mind straight away. Jason Momoa who plays him is well, how to put it, built like a brick s**t house as my Mum used to say, has a twinkle in his eye and gave a committed performance, as did Amber Heard as Princess Mera of Atlantis who wants to stop her brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson again) from going to war with humans and needs Aquaman (named Arthur Curry of all things) to step up, return to Atlantis and save the world. William Dafoe is phoning in a performance as the Vizier of Atlantis, and Nicole Kidman looks entirely out of place as a renegade queen who escapes atlantis, washes up at a lighthouse where the keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) rescues her, falls in love with her, impregnates her and then shortly after has to be a single parent after Atlantian soldiers come to take her back to marry whoever she ran away from. Also Dolph Lundgren is in the mix as an ally King to King Orm. There’s plot holes, a daft script and some dodgy dialogue, BUT this is one of D.C’s more light hearted movies after the darkness of Batman et al, and it was a blast from start to brilliant finish. Fraggle Rating: A mixed bag but well worth seeing.

That’s it for movies!

As most of you who follow this blog also follow the Universe blog, you already know I’m doing a 365 weekly post over there, but other life still goes on of course, and I take photo’s of that along the way. Last Sunday was Mother’s Day here, and Phil’s lovely daughter popped over with an afternoon tea for Phil and I to enjoy for the day. So nice of her to do this.

Afternoon tea. And dinner. And sandwiches for work the next day!

We still have Sophie’s cats! It’s been over 3 months now and Sophie isn’t back until at least the end of May/beginning of June so we have a ways to go yet. They are a pain in the arse and a total joy depending on what mood they are in, and I can’t resist taking pictures of them.

Sofa Day
Vinnie in default position
For two of these shots I had to get the stepladder out to retrieve her 🙄
looking for mischief.
ready for action

I’ve been enjoying having a few non rainy days and getting out to take photo’s for the 365, and also found other things along the way.

Swans on the muddy day!
Target Rocks, South Shields
Badass Crow

I found these fragments on the coast. I think it’s a letter of heartbreak, or castigation, I can’t make it all out, but it’s on a broken plate or something. Strange.


The hedgehogs have woken up and are visiting every night now, but we’ve also had a little one that visits during the day, so managed to get a couple of shots.


Hedgehogs are not usually out during the day, and this one is quite small, but she appears to be well, eating, drinking and running about well, so we are not too worried.

And finally, Spring is happening, at last, and soon the Happy Eater tree will do it’s glorious display, I can’t wait for warmer times!


The Wednesday Western ~ 17th Feb 2021

It’s been a while since we did one, but the new Tom Hanks movie is billed as such, and we watched this on Netflix at the weekend. News of The World (2020) directed by Paul Greengrass and based on a novel by Paulette Giles, is set in 1870, during the reparation years following the Civil War. The plot is actually quite simple and straightforward. Hanks plays Jefferson Kyle Kidd  a former Captain in the Confederate Army, who now travels from town to town reading the local and global new to people in church halls or saloons and they pay 10 cents to come and hear him. On one of his travels he comes across an upturned wagon and a hanged black soldier and then in the bushes finds a young white girl (Helena Zengel) who is wearing Native Indian clothes and can’t speak a word of English. Her name turns out to be Johanna, and she was captured by the Kiowa when she was very young after her family were killed, and now she has lost her Kiowa family. Kidd takes her to a Union station to see about getting her back to an aunt and uncle from her previous life but they can’t help. Kidd decides he has to take her himself. It’s a 400 mile trek so that’s a bit of a PIA for him, but he can work the towns along the way.

So basically we have here a Western road movie, and the focus is on the relationship between Kidd and Johanna. Hanks embodies the weariness of Kidd, his eyesight is failing and he has been away from his wife for a long time, but he is stoic and stable and kind. Zengel has been rightly lauded for her performance in the movie. Johanna is sad, sulky, feisty, scared, smart, vulnerable and good hearted, and Zengel shows it all in her expressions and in her eyes. Both Zengel and Hanks build their respective characters slowly up to a great relationship. Initially their inability to communicate makes that a difficulty, but bit by bit they get there. It’s not a slow film though, Greengrass balances out the relationship building with the action at a steady pace. There’s plenty of stuff to sort out along the journey. Kidd and Johanna have to work together to overcome several instances, and there are shoot outs, criminals, racist militia and the destruction of their transport all conspiring to prevent them reaching the relatives farm. Even then all is not necessarily well.

We really enjoyed this movie. Having done documentaries and movies on the civil war recently, we got more out of it as we knew about the dreadful times of the reparation, and there are some scenes at the beginning of the movie that touch upon the resentment that still endured between the Union and Confederate peoples. Filmed in New Mexico, the landscapes and scenery are stunning, miles of beautiful landscapes and Greengrass uses it well. The supporting cast all do a great job, but this is a Hanks and Zengler movie, the old and the new, and a combination well worth watching.

Fraggle Rating. Top Notch.

Monday Movies ~ 8th February 2021

Phil’s choice this week is another based-on-a-true-story movie, this time an oil rig disaster, Deepwater Horizon (2016). Directed by Peter Berg, it’s produced and stars Mark Wahlberg and also Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodrigues and Kate Hudson.

The Deepwater Horizon event happened in 2010 as the rig is getting ready to drill off the Louisiana coast. When Chief Electronics Technician Michael “Mike” Williams (Wahlberg) and Offshore Installation Manager James “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Russell) land on the rig after 3 weeks shore leave, they find out, and are not happy about workers assigned to test the integrity of recently completed cement work being sent home before they carried out a cement integrity test, on the orders of BP rig supervisors Donald Vidrine (Malkovich) and Robert Kaluza (Brad Leland). They’re trying to save money and the drilling start is already 43 days overdue. Jimmy rips Vidrine a new one, and demands integrity tests to be carried out before he’ll allow the drilling to go ahead. What he doesn’t know is that the cement is breaking up, and the integrity pressure tests makes matters worse. Eventually, the whole lot fails and sets a chain of events in motion that leads to the rig blowing up spectacularly, and the sad loss of 11 of the crew on the rig.

This was a really well done movie. It could have been exploitative but Berg’s direction is spot on, showing the panic and gruesome ordeals the crew have to go through as well as picking out the heroism and sacrifice of some of them. Wahlberg has come in for a fair bit of criticism in his career but he plays this straight and does a cracking job. The script gives him and his colleagues working men’s banter and it all feels really natural. Kate Hudson as Mike’s wife Felicia has a smaller part, a fair bit of it Skyping on the computer screen Mike has in his workroom, but is integral to giving the audience an emotional attachment. They wise~crack and tease each other mercilessly but the love shines through. Kurt Russell is as cool as always, and does the steely eyed bossman Mr.Jimmy proud. There’s an amazing scene when he’s blown out of the shower and flung around his quarters when the blowout happens, and the make-up department must’ve had a field day with his face to show his injuries. Malkovich as the snidey cost cutting Vidrine makes you want to punch his lights out, but he does have a strange accent I couldn’t place. The camera work was stupendous and cinematographer Enrique Chediak pulled out all the stops to film all the chain reaction pieces and then the final explosions.

The blowout and subsequent explosions are crafted well with no obvious CGI though there must have been some. I do know they made a ginormous set 85% scale recreation of the rig inside a giant two-and-a-half million gallon water tank to make it feel realistic. Of course they did Hollywood it up a bit, in the movie Mike rescues Andrea Fleytas (Rodrigues) the rig’s Dynamic Position Operator, and they jump off the top of the rig into the sea to escape the burning deck (upon which no boy stood 🤪🥴) when in real life just Mike jumped, Andrea had fallen out of a descending life raft into the sea. But Mike Williams was a big part of getting the movie done right and on the set as a consultant. Whatever liberties they did take, the survivors and families were happy with the result, and Berg emphasised that he was focussing on the men who were just doing their jobs. The bad decisions made by the BP men are not glossed over, and at the end of the movie we are informed that Vidrine and Kaluza were the only two people prosecuted for their actions and were charged with eleven cases of manslaughter. In reading newspaper articles about movie versus reality, the movie makes a good guys bad guys situation between Transocean – the company that lease the rig to BP, and BP itself, but in real life there were faults on both sides, it wasn’t so black and white. You also see clips of the testimony of the real Mike Williams and at the very end a notice saying “the blowout lasted for 87 days, spilling an estimated 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.” I think at the time more was made of the dreadful oil pollution and loss of fishermens livelihoods etc than the actual people who were on the rig, and this film redresses the balance a bit and gives testament to the heroics of the men who saved their fellow workers.

Fraggle Rating: A must see.

Our second movie is also based on a true story, and is Netflix’s The Dig (2021). Directed by Simon Stone, it tells the story of the 1939 excavation of buriel mounds at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, and the incredible anglo-saxon treasure trove of grave goods, as well as a buried ship. It is an amazing story and as a Time Team addict I’d been looking forward to this, though did wonder if it would be boring for Phil.

The wonderful Carey Mulligan plays Edith Pretty, a widowed landowner in Suffolk who hires Basil Brown Ralph Fiennes, to excavate some hilly mounds on her land. Basil takes the job after a bit of salary wrangling. He accidentally gets buried in one whilst digging when a trench collapses on him, and is dug out by Edith and her servants and survives. He starts another mound and finds iron rivets from a ship, which means the site would have been for someone of great importance, your average Joe doesn’t get a ship’s buriel on land! In the meantime, whilst Basil is getting his rivet checked out, Edith is off to London for a hospital appointment, and it turns out her heart is severely damaged from having rheumatic fever as a child, and she’s not long for this world. She keeps it quiet, but looks progressively ill throughout the movie. A prominent local archaeologist James Reid Moir (Paul Ready) wants to get in on the dig and Edith sends him packing, but when news of the discovery gets out, Charles Philips, (Ken Stott) a Cambridge archeologist turns up and requisitions the dig by order of the Office of Works as the dig is now of National Importance. Philips brings in a team including Peggy Piggot (Lily James) who in spite of being taken on because she is small and light, finds the first anglo-saxon treasures, and Basil finds a Roman gold coin. Philips wants to send the treasure to the British Museum, but in effect Edith owns it all, and she decides to keep it safe at her home, bearing in mind the war is just beginning, and London is likely to be bombed. In the end she does decide to gift it to the museum with the provisor that Basil gets the credit for the find.

That’s about all you need to know plot wise. It sounds dull but it really wasn’t at all, Phil thought it was brilliant so that’s my yardstick. The beauty of this movie is the how Stone moves the story forwards at a gentle pace yet keeps your attention. Mulligan and Fiennes give their characters a connection, a love of place, the past and the future and a mutual respect. A tiny hint of a romance that could have been if circumstances were different, and passes. Basil’s wife May is his stalwart supporter and though a small part Monica Dolan makes a good impact on the movie. Basil is gruff, taciturn and proud, but suffused with the need to dig into the earth and find the past, Edith is sharp, intelligent and had been thwarted from attending University by her father, and Mulligan shows her deteriorating health with dignity. Edith has a son Robert (Archie Barnes) who’s a sparky little lad who takes a shine to Basil which is reciprocated. There’s a side romance that didn’t really need to happen, Peggy and Edith’s cousin Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn) have a one night stand as Peggy’s husband Stuart (Ben Chapman) is having what I assume is a bromance with one of the other diggers, but it doesn’t last long as Rory has to join the RAF the next morning. It didn’t happen in real life at all. But that’s my only gripe really, it’s beautifully filmed, and England looks gorgeous through Mike Ely’s cinematography. Lovely soundtrack by Stefan Gregory that underpins but never overwhelms the movie.

I did wonder why they never show the amazing treasures found in the grave, only a glimpse here and there. But the more I thought about it this movie wasn’t about the treasure, it was about the people who made it happen and their desire for history and knowledge.

Fraggle Rating: Bloody Brilliant.

Further reading: I’ve followed a Professor of Archaeology’s blog for a long time, Professor Howard has a brilliant blog and often relates TV programmes such as Walking Dead, The Last Kingdom, Vikings and others to mortuary practices in real life archaeology. He wrote about this movie here, and did a much more indepth review of it with a lot of thought provoking comment. Worth a read if you’re a nerd like me. 🙂

If you’d like to see the actual treasures they found, the National Geographic has some good photo’s and a brilliant one of the ship, HERE.

Monday Movies – 1st Feb 2021 (2)

Our second movie this week I chose from the Netflix library after reading a review over at Keith’s movie blog. Skyfire (2019) is China’s first big-budget disaster film. Written by Wei Bu and Sidney King it is directed by Simon West who gained his action chops directing Con Air. The Expendables, The Mechanic etc, and put them to great effect for this movie.

The plot is basic, Jack Harris (Jason Isaacs) has built the first phase of his theme park & hotel complex on a volcanic Island. As you do. The Volcano does what volcanos do, and the movie is all about how the characters survive (or not) when it blows. There are some quaintly acted relationships going on, Li Xiao Meng (Hannah Quinliven) is a volcanic expert working on a way to predict lava flows, who is estranged from her Dad, another volcano scientist  Wentao Li (Wang Xueqi) but must come together to save the people on the Island. Shawn Do and Amber Kuo playing an engaged couple who help Meng and Li, they have a lovely underwater scene, fully clothed of course! The movie is mostly Chinese spoken, with subtitles, and the script is a bit hokey at times, or at least the translation is. The CGI is phenomenal, if you want to know how a volcano blows and how lava reacts then this is the movie for you, they did a great job of making it look real. The characters have an old fashioned feel to them, respect for your elders, chasteness before marriage, politeness to all and the like, but it was charming and quite refreshing. Even Isaac’s character, ostensibly the ‘baddy’ for building there in the first place and then ignoring the warning signs pointed out to him, turns out to have redeeming qualities in the end. Sometimes cliched, only a little bit derivative, this is a thoroughly enjoyable movie and family friendly, a bit like Jurassic Park but with a volcano instead of dinosaurs. Apparently it’s to part of a trilogy if it does well, and I hope it does as I’d like to see where they go with this next.

Fraggle Rating: High Octane Entertainment for all.

Monday Movies ~ 1st Feb 2021 (1)

Our first offering this week comes from Phil, who wanted to re-visit Hacksaw Ridge (2016). It’s a biographical war movie and tells the true story of Desmond Doss, an American 7th day adventist who signs up to join the US Army and ends up being the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honour for deeds above and beyond the call of duty as a medic during the Battle of Okinawa.

The plot starts out showing the family circumstances of the Doss family. We briefly go back in time to 1925 in Virginia where they live, and Desmond (Andrew Garfield) nearly kills his younger brother during a rough play fight. His Mom Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) is supportive and loving, but his father Tom (Hugo Weaving) rules with a whip, and is suffering from PTSD from the 1st WW as he lost all his pals he went to war with. 15 years later and Desmond takes an injured man to hospital where he meets his future wife, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), a nurse, and he becomes interested in medical matters. They get engaged to be married just before he signs up for the army after the attack on Pearl Harbour to serve as an army medic. He arrives in Fort Jackson to undergo basic training, and at first all goes well as he excels physically, but then it comes to weapon training and he refuses to have anything to do with a gun, and also refuses to train on Saturdays as that’s his religious thing to do. Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughan) Doss’s platoon commander, and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) try to have him discharged for psychiatric reasons but after seeing a shrink it’s determined that his religious beliefs don’t amount to a mental illness. Doss carries on with his training but has become a pariah to the rest of the trainees. Howell and Glover give him onerous extra duties and the trainees beat him up badly one night trying to get him to leave of his own accord, but he refuses to name his attackers and carries on regardless.

At the end of basic training the platoon are given leave, and Des is supposed to be going home to marry Dorothy, but instead he is arrested for insubordination for not doing the weapons training and put in a cell. Glover and Howell try and convince him to plead guilty so he can leave the army without charge, but he refuses to compromise his beliefs. During the subsequent court marshall, his Dad bursts in with a letter to the court from a Brigadier General who was Dad’s commanding officer in WW1. The letter informs the court that Desmonds pacifism is defended by the US constitution, so the charges are dropped, Desmond and Dorothy get married, then he’s shipped off to the Pacific theatre with the 77th Infantry Division. His unit ends up on the Maeda Escarpment otherwise known as Hacksaw Ridge, where, during the initial fighting, he saves the life of one of the guys he trained with, Smitty (Luke Bracier). The next morning the Japanese launch a huge counter-attack and the Americans have to fall back. Smitty is killed and many of the platoon are injured on the battlefield including Sergeant Howell. The rest of them make it down the cliffs but Desmond stays behind and rescues the injured giys one at a time, lowering them down by rope and praying to save ‘just one more’ each time he returns to find another injured soldier. All in all he rescues 75 men. The unit below are amazed at how many are being sent down. The next day Desmond rescues Howell and they both escape from the Ridge. Captain Glover apologises to Desmond for thinking him a coward, and tells him that the men won’t go back up there unless Desmond goes with them, of course he agrees, but not until he’s finished his Sabbath prayers. With reinforcements they return to the ridge and they push the Japanese back. Some of them pretend to surrender but it’s an ambush and Desmond deflects grenades away from Glover but is hit by shrapnel himself, and then lowered back to base. At the end the movie shows photo’s of Desmond receiving the Medal of Honour from President Truman.

This was an amazing movie and I didn’t mention at the start that this was directed by Mel Gibson. What a tour de force by him. He used minimal visual effects preferring to keep things as real as possible. Andrew Garfield (arguably the worst spiderman ever) put his heart and soul into this and wonderfully conveyed the essence of Desmond. There’s an interview with Desmond on the bluray extras and he seemed such a lovely guy, but we already know that from watching Garfield’s performance. Teresa Palmer is becoming one of my favourite actresses, recently saw her in Cut Bank and Message from the King and she always aces the part, here she is feisty, sweet and luminous. Vaughan and Worthington don’t put a foot wrong. I think actors tend to rise to the occasion in true war stories, they certainly did here. Weaving and Griffiths only had small parts, but owned them well.

Fraggle Rating: Bloody Brilliant.

Monday Movies ~ 25th January

Our first movie this week is Phil’s choice. The Angel (2018) an Israeli/American spy thriller. Directed by Ariel Vroman. It’s based on a non-fiction book telling the true story of Israeli spy Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian Official of very high rank.

The background to the movie, is the 6 day war of 1967 when Israel conquered large areas of land including the previously Egyptian land of the Sinai dessert.

Our movie starts in 1973, when we see Ashraf (Marwan Kenzari) fly into Rome airport with suitcases that can’t be searched as he has diplomatic immunity. Outside the airport. he meets a couple of Arab terrorists and delivers to them the suitcases and we see they contain a couple of RPG’s. We leave that scene just as the terrorists are about to fire the rockets at a commercial airliner leaving for Israel. We then go back to 1970 when Ashraf is living and studying at a university in London. He is married to Mona (Maisa Abd Elhadi), the daughter of President Nasser (Waleed F. Zuaiter) , (who doesn’t like Ashraf one bit) and they have a son. At a family dinner Ashraf and Nasser disagree on how to proceed with the Israeli conflict, with Ashraf advocating diplomacy with the help of America as peace-brokers, and Nasser believing that would upset the Russians who support them. Ashraf overhears Nasser telling Mona she should divorce her husband. He is angry and humiliated and it gets worse when he finds out that Nasser, who pays for the couple to live in London, is having him followed when photo’s of him on a night out drinking and dancing with an actress, Diana Ellis (Hannah Ware) are sent to Mona. In a fit of pique he decides to telephone the Israeli embassy and give information to the ambassador, Michael Comey, but whoever answers the phone won’t put him through unless he gives his name. He reluctantly does so, but then still is given the bums rush, so he hangs up. Ashraf and his family are recalled to Cairo when Nasser dies, and Anwar Sadat (Sasson Gabai) becomes president. Ashraf works his way up the political ladder to become his right hand man.

The Israelis have not forgotten about him though, and back in London reach out to him. He’s given a Mossad handler, Alex (Toby Kebbell) and that’s where I’ll stop for spoiler sakes. The rest of the movie is about his relationship with Mossad, and the informations that he gives to them regarding Egypts plans to reclaim the Sinai.

This was a fascinating movie. Very well done, very well acted by all concerned, and they didn’t mess about with history, though the double-agent part is unsubstantiated. Not shown in the movie, the real Ashraf died in a fall from his 5th floor appartment in London, and was at least the third Egyptian living in London to die under similar circumstances, all of whom had ties with the Egyptian security services. He is the only man to be recognized as a national hero in both Israel and Egypt.

Fraggle rating: Very good and fascinating spy thriller based on real events.

My choice this week has been brought about by our recent spate of lady action heroines. In ‘Ava’ a couple of weeks ago we saw Geena Davis as the Mother of Jessica Chastain’s Ava, and was reminded of a greatly enjoyable movie she starred in back in the day, ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’ (1996). Released 25 years ago and also starring Samuel L Jackson it was directed by Renny Harlin who knew a thing or two about action having done Die hard 2 in 1990 and Cliffhanger in ’93. The plot revolves around Davis’ character Samantha Caine, who suffers from amnesia having been washed ashore 2 months pregnant 8 years prior. She has a chap and a little girl and is a schoolteacher in a small town. Although she’s paid P.I’s to try and find her old self, nothing has turned up so far, and she’s now down to the cheapest one she can afford Mitch Hennesy (SLJ). Then she is spotted on TV as part of a Christmas parade, and recognised by some bad guys, at the same time as Hennesy’s assistant comes up with some information that can help find out who Samantha Caine really is. Hennesy and the bad guys turn up to Sam’s house at the same time and off we go with lots of action and derring-do. No spoilers for this one, in spite of it’s age it’s much more fun to go in blind. This is a cracking action movie, and has held up as well as if not better than some of todays offerings. They didn’t have as much CGI back then so a lot of the explosions and stunts are done for real. The cast obviously had a blast making it, with Brian Cox, Patrick Malahide, David Morse and Craig Bierko having substantial parts, but are they good guys or are they bad guys? Mostly though it’s Davis and Jackson who you keep your eyes on. There’s a great chemistry between them and the dialogue is snappy, cool and funny. The 2nd half movie is set in Niagara Falls so some pretty cool scenes of them along the way. All in all a good way to spend a couple of hours. Don’t just take my word though, SLJ has stated that The Long Kiss Goodnight is his favorite movie to watch which he has been in!

Fraggle Rating: Bliddy Great!

Monday Movies~18th January 2021

Our first movie this week, is the last of the Civil War movies, at least for now, and this week we did Gettysburg (1993) as the follow on from Gods and Generals a couple of weeks ago. Written and directed by Robert F Maxwell and based on the book The Killer Angels by Michael Sharra, this movie was a lot better I have to say. No silly women or dying kids, and no-one praying every two minutes. Martin Sheen plays Robert E Lee this time, and has a bigger part than Duvall did in G&G’s. I think Duvall would have been a better choice for this one as well, but it doesn’t really matter, this is a history lesson of a movie and it’s done very well by all concerned. Jeff Daniels again plays Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top, Tom Berenger plays General James Longstreet, reluctant to send men to their deaths unecessarily. Stephen Lang is back this time as the gung-ho Major General George Pickett, a big change from his god-bothering Stonewall Jackson in G&G’s and Sam Shepherd has a short appearance as Brigadier General Buford. All in all the acting was better, and the battle scenes were just phenomenal. It’s said that the barrage laid down by the confederates on the 3rd day of the battle was the largest ever in history, I reckon it must have been the largest in movie making history too. They must have gathered up all the old canon in the USA to do the scenes. Some of the action was allowed to be filmed on the actual Gettysburg Battlefield, including the scenes at Devil’s Den and Little Round Top and thousands of Civil War re-enactors volunteered their time to get to Gettysburg and take part in the battle. The organisation and choreography of those scenes is staggering. They must have had a blast! The cinematography by Kees Van Oostrum is amazing, and the soundtrack by Randy Edelman adds much to the atmosphere throughout the movie. Again we did this over 2 nights as the extended version is 4 hrs long, but I got through it a lot easier than Gods and Generals, and thoroughly enjoyed it. My only quibble is the false facial hair! Berenger sported a beard and sideburns that Larry the Lion would be proud of and Jeff Daniels had a fair old Wally Walrus moustach going on 🤣

Fraggle Rating ~ Top notch history lesson.

On to the next movie and this is Netflix’s Outside the Wire (2021) directed by Mikael Häfström and starring Anthony Mackie and Damson Idris. It’s labelled sci-fi as it’s set in 2036 and involves robots a bit. I’ll try not to do spoilers as it’s so new. Eastern Europe is having a bit of a war and some Ukranian fanatics are trying to bring the Ukraine back into Russia, à la Soviet Union. The Ukranians are called Krasnys, led by Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk) and are backed by Russia. There is a resistance force of led by Sofiya (Emily Beecham) who runs an orphanage. The US Army is deployed as a peacekeeping force, and consists of regular soldiers as well as ‘gumps’ robotic soldiers. A team of them is ambushed by the Krasnys, and Lt.Thomas Harp, (Idris) a drone operator back in the US disobeys orders and fires a Hellfire missile in a drone strike against a suspected enemy launcher, killing two of the Marines but saving the remaining 38. As punishment he’s deployed to Camp Nathaniel in the same area as he’s never been in combat. He is assigned to Captain Leo, who reveals himself to be a cyborg,  a highly advanced and experimental android soldier, with the capacity for feeling pain, and emotions. Leo is going to take Harp outside the confines of the camp to deliver vaccines to a refugee camp, but really he is looking for Kovak who is trying to get control of cold war nuclear silo’s.

I had thought that this would be another reverse buddy movie, where 2 guys don’t like each other but end up besties, but that didn’t happen. There are a few twists along the way which is why I don’t want to do spoilers. It’s a well made movie, and tries to make itself more than just action, by having the two main characters wrestling with some big questions about the future of modern warfare. Anthony Mackie is coming out from under The Avengers cabal, and does well enough here as an eccentric wanna-be human, though his script is a little off in places. His physicality from being the Falcon Avenger stands him in very good stead. Damson Idris takes his character from an up-his-own-arse arrogant knob to a chastened more decent human being and they play off each other very well.

Fraggle Rating: Thoughtful action movie, worth a watch.

We managed to squeeze in a third movie this week. What Happened To Monday (2017) is another action sci-fi, this time directed by Tommy Wirkola and starring Noomi Rapace, Glen Close and Willem Dafoe. It’s a somewhat bonkers plot, with more than a couple of holes in it, but great fun to watch. Noomi plays 7 identical sisters in a future where people are only allowed one child, because the world is well over populated and running out of food and resources. Siblings get sent ostensibly for cryofreezing until such time as the population thins out when they can be woken up again. Glen Close plays the politician and leader who thought of this solution. Dafoe is the grandfather who raises the girls and gives each of them the names of weekdays, Monday to Sunday. Each child is allowed out on the same day as her name, and when she returns must share all the info (which is recorded on a special bracelet) so the next girl is equipped to take over for her turn outside. They all share the same DNA and persona of one girl named Karen Settman so when they are scanned at security points it doesn’t matter which one of them it is. The movie covers a bit of the sisters childhood, and then we get to see the 7 Noomi’s living in their apartment, running a company which Grandad helped them set up. They all have different hairdo’s and colours and different personalities and after the initial set up, one day Monday goes out to work at the company and doesn’t come back home. The other 6 have to find out what’s going on. That’s it for spoilers. Noomi does so well at action and yet again ends up in some rather outlandish fights, having to do 7 of them at once must have been fun! Glen Close doesn’t have a huge part but she’s competant when she’s on screen, this isn’t Oscar fodder by any stretch. Marwan Kenzari adds the love interest Adrian Knowles, a security guard Monday has been seeing and keeping quiet about. The futuristic tech is cool, mirrors that flag up your skin’s dehydration levels or blemishes, and bracelets that hold all your details (like a cross between Apple watch and a fitbit). WIlliam Dafoe disappears a third of the way into the movie and we never find out why or what happened to him, and you do wonder how he managed to keep 7 babies fed and nappied without anyone noticing but that’s a couple of holes you can easily skip over.

Fraggle Rating: An epic fun filled Noomi-fest!

Monday Movies ~ 14/12/2020

My regular reader will know that since watching a great TV series on Netflix, not actually about the civil war, but that included Ulysses S Grant as a character, my chap Phil has gone down the rabbit hole of finding out properly about the civil war. Starting with a great 3 part documentary series on Sky about the general (called succinctly, Grant) which he said was top notch, we then got a list of films and documentaries from Pete over at Beetleypete blog and started with Ken Burns excellent documentary ‘The Civil War’ whilst we waited for blurays to arrive. In the meantime we found a couple on Netflix/Prime, and the first one was Ride With The Devil which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago HERE and now the others have arrived so we’re up and running.

Free State of Jones

This 2016 movie stars Matthew McConaughey as Newt Wright, a Confederate soldier who desserts after surviving the Battle of Corinth in 1862, when he finds out men who own 20 slaves or more are exempt from duties and can go home. It was directed and written by Gary Ross who spent a good few years researching the war, and directed the first Hunger Games to help finance it. Newt Wright becomes leader of a company of deserters and runaway slaves in Jones County, Mississippi, and the movie tells not only how that comes about, but also covers part of what’s known as the Restoration, post-war, and the prosecution of Newt’s great grandson in 1948 when it was a criminal offence to look white but have black heritage, and marry a white person.

Not an easy watch by any stretch (which it shouldn’t be) as it portrays the abject conditions and cruelty that slaves and even freed slaves were subjected to, the carnage of warfare, and the inhumanity of segregation and slavery. It didn’t do well at the box office, released on the same day as the intellectually superior Independence Day-Resurgance, and The Shallows, another weighty movie starring A Bikini with Blake Lively in it. It also got accused of being a ‘white-saviour’ movie, but in this case I think that’s unfair, but I’m probably not the best judge of that being a white person. In anycase, no-one is really saved, so there is that!

Ross directs his movie with love, the attention to detail is astounding. McConaughey does a masterful job as Newt, and excellent acting from Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Rachel, Newts second wife and an ex slave whomst she imbues with stoic dignity and grace, and Mahershala Ali as Moses Washington, a runaway slave who becomes a political activist after the war, a solid, emotional performance. It opened our eyes to a part of the war (so far) not covered in the Ken Burns documentary, to show that not all Southern folks were against the union, and not all agreed with segregation or slavery.

Extra eye-opening reading well worth doing if you are interested in the Civil War

Fraggle Rating:- top notch.

Monday Movies ~ 23/11/2020

Phil has decided to delve into American History, inspired by our ongoing watching of the Amazon TV series Hell on Wheels, which, incidentally, is brilliant. So when he was searching for a Thursday night movie he came across The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. It is a historical legal drama, and as it’s history you can have some spoilers 🙂

The plot regards a group of anti-Vietnam war protesters who are charged with conspiracy by crossing state lines with the intent to ferment rioting outside the Democratic National Convention that took place in Chicago in 1968. The seven defendants come from different protest groups, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin (Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong) founding members of the Youth International Party known as yippies, Rennie Davis and David Dellinger (Alex Sharp and John Caroll Lynch) of the National Mobilization Committee to End The War in Vietnam known as MOBE, Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) leader of the Students for a Democratic Society, known as SDS, Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) a teaching assistant at North Western University, and John Froines, a chemistry teacher from Vermont. Also in the dock as the 8th defendant was Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) national chairman of the Black Panthers.

The movie starts with showing the defendants preparing to go to Chicago for the protest, introducing the characters and setting the scene for what’s to come. We then move on 5 months to the arrests and trial of the guys. We start out in the office of John N Mitchell, who becomes the 67th Attorney General of the USA (and is in real life subsequently banged up in jail for criminal activity during Watergate) who appoints the prosecution lawyers for the trial. Tom Foran (J.C.MacKenzie) Chief Federal Prosecutor and Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) assistant federal prosecutor . The defendants, apart from Bobby Seale are represented by William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) co-founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights and active member of the National Lawyers Guild and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman) a defense council. The cast is topped off by Frank Langhella as Judge Julius Hoffman and it is patently obvious throughout the trial that he is favouring the prosecution and hindering the defense at every opportunity. Bobby Seale’s attorney Charles Garry is in hospital and can’t attend, and the judge tries to make Kunstler do the job, which neither Kunstler or Seale want.

The trial shows one episode of perfidy after another. The Judge removes jurors who seem to be sympathetic to the defendants, he issues several ‘contempt of courts’ to Kunstler and to the defendants, though Abbie Hoffman openly antagonises him. Various undercover cops and FBI agents testify, not always truthfully. Seale has been getting support from Fred Hampton,(Kelvin Harrison Jr) chairman of the Illinois Black Panthers, who sits behind him and the Judge assumes he’s giving him legal advice but a few days later he is shot dead whilst asleep by a police raiding party. Seale keeps interrupting the proceedings to demand his constitutional rights, and the judge has him removed from court by the Marshalls, who beat him up, gag him and bind him to a chair before returning him to court. Both the defence and prosecution object to this so his case is declared a mistrial. In real life he ended up doing 4 years in jail for his ‘contempts of court’ issued by the judge.

Kunstler manages to get Ramsay Clark (Michael Keaton) the Attorney General at the time of the riots to testify and he explains that he had declined to initiate prosecutions after the riots because of evidence that the Chicago Police Department instigated them. The judge won’t let the jury hear this testimony. We are shown in flashback in the night of the riot how the police removed their badges and started clubbing the defendants and anyone else in the vicinity.

So that should whet your appetite for this compelling courtroom drama, interspersed with flashbacks and real footage from the events portrayed.

This was a bit of history we knew very little about and having checked up the real stuff Sorkin didn’t mess around too much with the truth of it, just some re-arranging of the timeline to make it flow better, and a little bit of dramatic licence here and there. We couldn’t believe the binding and gagging of Seale had actually happened, in the movie that only lasts a few minutes but it really did happen and he was bound and gagged for a few days! Staggering! All in all it was a fascinating piece of work, and in spite of the seriousness there are some genuinely funny moments throughout. Cohen is perfect as the flippant Abbie Hoffman, and I say that with some chagrin as I have never liked him in anything at all until now. Mark Rylance never disappoints, and Redmayne, who can be a bit hit and miss is a definite hit in this. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II does justice to Bobby Seale and Gordon-Levitt plays his part with dignity, but it’s a quiet performance for him. Frank Langhella is absolutely superb and you cannot help but be impressed with his ability to portray this partisan judge who is impossible to respect or like. There is an uplifting ending to the movie, but that’s a spoiler you can’t have because really you all should give this one a watch!

Fraggle rating: Top Notch!!

More real history for my Saturday night movie. Based on the book The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman (2019) which was mired in controversy as although it was shot in Dublin in 2016, it became part of a legal battle between Mel Gibson (producer and star), Farhad Safina (director) and Voltage Pictures, delaying its release until 2019 and resulting in the pair disowning the final product. Still none of that matters in the watching of the movie so we’ll park that there.

The plot is about the birth of the Oxford English Dictionary. Wait! What?? I hear you cry, where’s the action Fraggle?? this sound like the biggest bore ever!! Well dear reader, put aside those thoughts because this movie is quite fascinating. Again this is history so we can have a few spoilers I think.

We start out in another courtroom, this time in London in 1872, and where William Chester Minor,(Sean Penn) a retired United States Army surgeon, is on trial for the murder of George Merrett, an innocent stranger whomst he mistook for a Union soldier he once branded for desertion during the civil war, which we see in flashback. But Minor is batshit crazy so ‘sees’ this soldier at night and thinks he’s coming to get him. Although he is not found guilty, he is found insane and the judge committs him to Broadmoor, a high security psychiatric hospital, where the head doctor Dr.Richard Brayne (Stephen Dillane) is in charge. Yes, Brayne really is his name as he was a real person. 😊

Then we move to Scotland where James Murray (Mel Gibson) is a teacher who has applied for the job of editor of what will become the Oxford English Dictionary and goes to Oxford for the interview. Murray is an autodidact who left school at the age of 14 without any qualifications but has taught himself loads of ancient and modern languages. The committee who interview him at the Oxford University Press are stuffy English chaps and would rather have someone with a degree, but Freddy Furnivall (Steve Coogan) an influential philologist (the study of literary texts and of written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning) is on his side and convinces the committee that as they are getting nowhere anyway, they might as well take a chance on Murray. The committee argue over the parameters of the task at a posh dinner. Max Mûller (Lars Brygmann) insists that it capture English at its current “purest peak” and setting strict rules for correct speech. Furnivell says that “all words are valid in the language. Ancient or new, obsolete or robust on, foreign born or homegrown. The book must inventory every word, every nuance, every twist of etymology and every possible illustrated citation from every English author. All of it or nothing at all.” That of course wins out, and is a daunting task for one man to take on. Murray comes up with a solution to enlist volunteers from anywhere in the English speaking world, and has fliers printed explaining what is wanted, that are placed in every book in every bookshop, libraries and newspapers, asking them to send their contributions on slips of paper to Murray. The slips pile up.

Back in Broadmoor, Minor, tormented by flashbacks from the civil war, saves the life of a guard whose leg has been trapped by a spiked gate, by amputating it. Brayne speaks with him to thank him and Minor asks that his army pension be given to Eliza Merrit (Natalie Dormer) who, since Minor shot her husband has had to turn to prostitution to feed her 6 kids. He also asks for his rare books to be given to him and some paints and an easel, which Brayne allows. Muncie,(Eddie Marsan) one of the prison guards, takes the letter and pension to Eliza, who at first refuses it, but after Muncie turns up at her house with food for a Christmas dinner, she changes her mind and accepts Minor’s support. Muncie and the guards give Minor a book for Christmas which has one of the fliers in it, and Minor decides he can help Murray out. He mails in 1000 slips, and writes to Murray to tell him to send him his most elusive words. Though he gives his address, he doesn’t mention that he’s a patient there. When Murray goes to visit him to thank him, he finds out, but it doesn’t stop the two from becoming great friends.

Eliza and Murray each visit Minor regularly, with Minor teaching Eliza how to read and write, but after Eliza kisses him one day, he goes a bit mental as he feels he’s killed her husband twice, so he chops off his willy in atonement. He sends his library to Murray and withdraws into himself. Brayne tries out some dodgy treatments on him which Muncie isn’t happy about.

Meanwhile back in Oxford, two of the committee, Benjamin Jowett (Anthony Andrews) and Philip Gell (Laurence Fox) are trying to have Murray removed, but Furnivall has some tricks up his sleeve and gets him the Royal Seal of Approval which can’t be taken from Murray. Murray and Eliza visit Minor against the wishes of Brayne, and Minor responds to Eliza. Murray and Furnivall get a hearing to have Minor released, but it goes against them, so Murray petitions Winston Churchill (Brendan Patricks) who was Home Secretary at the time, and though he can’t release Minor, he can and does have him deported back to the States.

Well that’s the gist of it, there’s a lot more in it obviously, and in spite of the controversy a really worthwhile watch. Helps if you like books and words though, which I do! Again actors I’m not usually keen on (Coogan, Penn) managed to impress the heck out of me, especially Penn who made his character sympathetic with every look in his eyes. Mel, well, he brought his Braveheart Scottish accent to the party, but it didn’t really bother me, he was really good in this. The scenes with Gibson and Penn were so compelling, and a lot of fun when they were playing with words. Likewise when Natalie Dormer was on screen, she is such an underated actress. I’ve seen her as Ann Boleyn in The Tudors, Margery Tyrell in Game of Thrones, and in Penny Dreadful:City of Angels in multiple roles, and she is an amazing actress, beautiful to look at and can adapt to anything she sets her cap at. I am surprised no-one gives her a meaty starring role in a movie, though she had a good part in this one. I must give a shout to Jennifer Ehle too as Murray’s 2nd wife Ada, not a huge part but she does a great job when she’s on screen.

So, to conclude, this was beautifully filmed, the acting was top notch, and the story fascinating and actually historically correct, (though maybe the kiss didn’t happen 😉 )

Fraggle Rating : Bloody Brilliant

The Wednesday Western -18/11/2020

We start out looking down our body at our boot encased feet. We are in an army medical tent, and two surgeons in bloodied white coveralls are looking at our leg. One pulls off our right boot and flings it into a pile of discarded footwear. He says your foot at least isn’t infected, the other tells him it still needs to be amputated. They decide to go for a coffee break first. You look at a tray of scary looking surgical instruments and make a decision. You manage to retrieve your boot and pull it on whilst clamping down on a piece of wood so they don’t hear you scream as you do it.

And so begins the epic tale of Lieutenant John Dunbar, who gets on his horse and rides the length of the front between the Union and the Confedarate stand off, hoping to get shot rather than lose his leg but instead inspiring the Union troops to a victory and becoming the hero of the day.

Kevin Costner made his directoral debut Dances With Wolves in 1990 and it can still stir the heart with it’s visual and emotional scale. Of course Phil has the 4hr long extended special edition and we watched it over 2 nights.

Does anyone, I wonder, not know the story of how Dunbar takes over an unmanned fort at the very edge of the American Frontier, befriends Two Socks, a wolf, and eventually, after initial hostility, becomes friends with the local tribe of Sioux. He falls in love with Stands with a Fist, a white woman who has lived with them since childhood, adopted by Kicking Bird the tribe’s medicine man, with whom he develops a deep rapport. If you do know the story you’ll remember how he participates in the hunt of migrating buffalo, and helps protect the village from a Pawnee attack. How he learns the Sioux Lacota language with the aid of Stands With A Fist, and becomes friends with a young boy, Smiles A Lot. SWAF’s first husband was killed prior to Dunbar showing up, and her husband’s best friend Wind In His Hair is hostile initially and wants nothing to do with Dunbar, but even he is won over by Dunbar as time goes on. The Sioux have watched him playing chase with Two Socks and given him the name Dances With Wolves, and so he becomes part of the tribe and is allowed to marry SWAF.

And you might remember the awfulness of what happens to Dunbar when he returns to his fort to retrieve his journal before moving on with his tribe to their winter grounds. How the Union soldiers who have turned up at the Fort kill his horse, bullet by bullet, how they tie him up and treat him cruelly, as a deserter, gone native, and take pot shots at Two Socks until he too is killed. You might weep a bit at those scenes. And then, how happy you are when the Sioux come to free him and the Union soldiers get their just desserts. You are on a roller coaster now though because Dunbar knows the Army will send more soldiers to find him, and want revenge on the Sioux for the killing of the men and he must leave with SWAF to go their own way, so as to protect the tribe. Oh and everyone in the tribe is so sad, exchanging presents with Dunbar they can hardly speak, but their eyes do and it is too hard not to feel their pain. And you might just feel more tears erupt as Wind In His Hair sits on his horse on the cliffs above the pass that Dunbar and his wife travel on their journey away, and keeps shouting for Dunbar to remember that he is his friend, will always be his friend.

 An epilogue states that 13 years later, the last remnants of the free Sioux were subjugated to the American government, ending the conquest of the Western Frontier states and the livelihoods of the tribes on the plains.

Costner put his heart and soul into this movie which took him 10 years to get into production and won him 7 academy awards, the first Western film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture since 1931’s Cimmaron, and his movie registered for preservation in the  United States National Film Registry. He was probably more proud to be made an honorary member of the Sioux Nation for the film’s popularity and lasting impact on the image of Native Americans. He garnered an excellent cast, Mary McDonnell luminous as Stands with A Fist, Graham Green a First Nations Canadian actor as Kicking Bird embuing his character with nobility and humanity. Rodney A Grant, a native American actor who grew up in the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska and whose grandparents raised him after his parents abandoned him at 6 months old. He played the aptly named character Wind In His Hair, as he had the most glorious head of long shiny black hair, and brought both ferocity and humility to his part. Floyd Red Crow Westerman a Dakota Sioux musician, actor and political activist brought gravitas to the part of Chief Ten Bears whilst Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse gave a sweet performance as Smiles A lot, a young lad on the cusp of becoming a man.

The cinematography by Dean Semlar, is breathtaking, South Dakota a land of endless plains and huge skies perfect for the story. Basil Poledouros was originally commissioned to write the soundtrack but left to do some other movie and John Barry was brought in to replace him. He delivers a sweeping, romantic score, sometimes uplifting, sometimes haunting, and everything between, echoing the wide spaces of the landscape, and the emotional clout of the story. In the process earned himself the 1991 Academy Award for best original score in a movie.

There are detractors, accusations of it being a ‘white saviour’ movie, criticisms of the lacota language used wrongly in places, or mispronunciations, the real history of the Forts, Sioux and Pawnee’s subverted for the movie, but you won’t find any moaning about it here. It’s a fictional movie and doesn’t pretend, or even need to pretend to be anything else. Costner shows us how things could have been, should have been, and that maybe integration would have been better than invasion and subjugation, but no-one ever learns that lesson, do they?

Fraggle Rating: Beyond Bloody Brilliant.

Monday Movies ~ 02/10/2020

Phil’s choice this week was Official Secrets (2019). Directed by Gavin Hood, and is a docudrama regarding the whistleblower Katherine Gun, portrayed here by Kiera Knightly. The basic plot – can it be called a ‘plot’ when it’s actually the truth of something? Not sure, anyway I digress. Shaddap Fraggle and tell’em what it’s about. Also I’m doing spoilers here as it’s actually yer real life shit.

Gun worked at GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) in Cheltenham, where she translated Mandarin Chinese into English. However, in January 2003 she and her collegues received a top-secret email from Frank Koza, the chief of staff at the “regional targets” division in the NSA of America. The email requested GB’s help in secretly bugging the United Nations offices of six nations, Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, and Pakistan. These nations were ‘swing nations’ i.e they could affect the vote to determine whether the UN approved the invasion of Iraq. This plan may well have contravened Articles 22 and 27 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which regulates global diplomacy. Gun secretly printed out the email, and took it to her friend Yvonne, who was involved in an anti-war group, to have it investigated further. Then she more or less forgets about it.

The movie then shows what happens as the email is passed to a reporter for the Observer Newspaper, Martin Bright, played by Matt Smith, and the investigations he and colleagues have to do to firstly substantiate the email, and then track down Frank Koza for confirmation. Rhys Ifans plays Ed Vulliami who is on the American desk of the Observer, and Conleth Hill portrays the Observer’s executive editor Robart Alton.

In March 2003 the email is published in the Observer, and investigations into who leaked the memo begin at GCHQ. Katherine confesses to leaking the memo hoping to prevent the US and UK invasion of Iraq, and she is imprisoned overnight but released on remand. The Govt decide to charge her with violating the Official Secrets act, but Katherine enlists the aid of Liberty lawyers Ben Emmerson and Shami Chakrabati, (Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma) who come up with a defence strategy that Katharine was acting out of loyalty to her country by seeking to prevent the UK from being led into an unlawful war in Iraq. On the day of the trial the case is dropped by the Crown Prosecuter on the grounds that prosecuting Katharine would have shown that the Tony Blair govt led the UK into war on false pretenses.

I have to admit that Ms. Knightly isn’t one of my favourite actors, but she raised her game for this one and was completely believable. This is recent-ish history and is a straightforward telling of real life events. The perfidious goings on of the Bush and Blair governments regarding the WOMD lies and obfuscations are thrown into stark relief. The director doesn’t add any frills, and uses real TV footage of Blair et al telling their lies on the news programmes when they are interviewed.

Fraggle Rating: Compelling viewing and brought to life by a committed cast.

On to my Saturday night movie. Well. I don’t know where to start with this one. At the beginning I guess. Polar (2019) billed as a neo noir action thriller, and I guess that suits. Directed by Jonas Åkerlund, it is based on a 2012 webcomic of the same name, which I’d never heard of. Still I hadn’t heard of the movie either, but I watched the trailer on Netflix and was in like Flynn. I’m a sucker for a retired hit-man who has to do one last hit movies.The retired hit-man this time round is the renowned Mads Mikkelson, which was a surprise, but my-oh-my he pulls it off.

Basic plot, though not doing spoilers this time, you need to go in without preconceptions really. Mikkelson plays Duncan Vizla, who is 2 weeks away from retirement from Damocles, an organisation of assassins whomst he works for. All their hit-men are retired at the age of 50 and then get a pension, which is worth $8 million to Vizla. The boss of Damocles Mr.Blut (Matt Lucas) uses his younger employees to kill the would be retiree’s in the company so he can keep the pension money.

The movie revolves around that premise. Blimey what a ride this was. It was such a mix of genres, with the Damocles lot looking and acting like you’d expect webcomic characters to be, but the Mikkelson story line is like a ‘proper’ thriller. The first half of the movie is more set-up story than action, then the second half flings itself at you and let me tell you, Mr.Mikkelson can out-Keanu, out-Liam and out-Denzil them all. The action is crazy but fun if you can cope with a fair amount of blood and viscera. The sex scene in it is quite gasp inducing too, he’s a bit of a lad is Mads. The only niggle for us was Matt Lucas. A British comedian ( though I have never found him funny) and comedy actor in awful TV programmes over here, including being a presenter of the godawful Great British Bake-Off, why anyone thought he’d be good in a movie is beyond me. 🙄 He didn’t seem to fit the part of an Assassin Company boss, but I suppose they couldn’t really use Ian McShane who would have been my choice. Vanessa Hudgens plays Camille, a neighbour Vizla befriends and helps out, and Katheryn Winnick plays Vivian, Blut’s right hand woman- (there’s a point, they should have cut Lucas’s part out and let her do the boss role) and she vamps it up beautifully. She looks remarkably like Scarlett Johanson (check out the side by sides on google 🙂 ) and we thought that the case until I looked up the cast!

Fraggle Rating: Bloody Fantastic.