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If you have seen Dune, then you will have realised that the VFX used by Denis Villeneuve are somehow different from those you have seen before. This video gives a great overview of what made that difference.

You can find further information on sand screens and the like here, and I particularly recommend this link.

Dune - awesome rendering of part one of the original classic SF novel

Movie poster - click the image for movie links

High res desktop wallpaper from the movie - click the image for the original

The Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, one of many good reasons for watching

Previous attempts at filming Dune have not gone well, partly because the technology hasn't been up to it, partly because the book tells you a lot of what is going on in people's minds, and partly because it is way too long for one film.

Now the technology certainly is up to it, and awesome, but Denis Villeneuve's magnificent movie gives the intricate human story full prominence. The special effects are there to support the powerful story, and not (as so often happens) the other way round.

Dune is more serious than Star Wars, but has all the grittiness of the excellent Rogue One (and more), while keeping everything that happens totally realistic.

If you haven't read Frank Herbert's original classic novel and haven't seen the movie yet, may I strongly suggest that you read the book first. I reviewed it here in the books section of my web site, along with many other classic SF novels.

Dune, the novel, had several sequels, which I understand may also be filmed. To be clear, this movie covers the first half of the first novel, which has obvioiusly confused some reviewers!

Sadly, I never got to see the new Dune on the big screen, which would have been mind-blowing, but a giant UHD TV (which I don't have) should do it proud.

When Marnie Was There (Movie and Novel)

I had never heard of this excellent Studio Ghibli animation (available on Netflix) until quite recently. (You can watch the movie trailer if you click any of these screenshots from it.)

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who worked on many of Miyazaki's films, and based on the 1967 novel by Joan G. Robinson, it is unusual in several ways.

As a movie, the closest to it might be Whisper of the Heart, written by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Yoshifumi Kondō, which is set in the very real world of Tokyo. Shizuku, its heroine, supported by a good family, wrestles with herself as she (often painfully) develops.

As a novel, the closest to it might be The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett's timeless classic of a lonely, introverted English girl from India brought slowly to life by the garden, its wildlife and by plain Yorkshire people unlike any she has met before.

Anna, the heroine of When Marnie Was There, is emotionally locked within herself, for reasons that only gradually become apparent. Sent to 'Little Overton', a small wetland village in Norfolk (transcribed to Japan in the movie, with startling resemblances) to stay with a plain, down-to-earth couple, she is rescued from herself by a very unusual set of circumstances.

The relationship between herself and the mysterious Marnie is both delightful and bitter-sweet, and turns out to be most unexpected.

The daughter of Robinson, Deborah Sheppard (also an author of children's books), said that the creation of When Marnie Was There began during a family summer holiday in the coastal village of Burnham Overy Staithe. Major natural features of the location include a creek and tidal marsh, with an isolated beach surrounded by sandhills.

When Marnie Was There was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 1968. Joan's fiction was always about girls who felt unloved - and she used to say of When Marnie Was There, "You can write books, but there's only every one book that's really you."

Kushiro Wetlands, in Hokkaido, Japan (image from Wikipedia)

These are extracts from the postscript to the book written by Joan's daughter in April 2002:

“Thirty years after the book was published, I heard how a Japanese man had recently arrived in the village looking for 'Little Overton'. Many years before, as a young teenager, he had read When Marnie Was There in Japanese. The book had made a great impression on him and he very much wanted to see the place where the story was set...

“He spoke very little English and he had no idea where 'Little Overton' was. All he had was a copy of the book as his guide. So he took the train to King's Lynn, as Anna had done; and finally caught the bus that goes along the coast....

“At each stop the passengers got off until he was the only person left. He began to get rather anxious. Then as the bus turned the corner he saw the windmill [which features in the book, transcribed to a large derelict silo in the movie].

“Stop, stop!” he said, “This must be it!” And he leapt off the bus. But the village wasn't 'Little Overton', it was Burnham Overy...

“He was thrilled to be here at last. To see the tide rising, the boats swinging at anchor, the wild marsh and birds and the house that been the start of it all.”

The old silo that appears in the film is based on Burnham Overy Staithe Windmill, Norfolk (image from Wikipedia).

BTW, we hope to visit this place soon, as it is not too far from where we now live (see my previous post if you are interested, follow the >> link below).

If you like this...

[Deep Inside My Heart, a music video by Priscilla Ahn, which contains many more scenes from When Marnie Was There than you will find in the official trailer. Interestingly, it opens with a short clip from Whisper of the Heart.]

[The Art of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, my article which includes Whisper of the Heart]

[Or try clicking any of this article's tags - just a suggestion!]

“Last Christmas”

We have a collection of golden Christmas movies, which we get out at this time of year to watch yet again.

This one has pretty much gone to the top of our list. We liked it SO much better than either the reviews or this trailer suggested.

Apart from being very funny (painfully so at times) it has the true spirit of Christmas running through it, which we could all really use at the moment...

The Lord of the Rings (The 2020/21 Amazon Prime “Prequel” Series)

Here is everything you wanted to know about Amazon's forthcoming quarter-billion-dollar epic...

Just kidding, of course - not many hard facts are known yet. But as a lover of Tolkien's books, I am really interested in how his huge slice of dark history will be brought to the screen, thankfully in a format long enough to contain a good amount of it, and hopefully making good use of the stunning technology now available.

So here are some of the clues we have and links to help keep track of developments.

The Amazon production, so far as we can tell, will focus on the Second Age of Middle-Earth, but may eventually extend to those events in the Third Age that occur prior to Frodo's adventures.

The map provided by Amazon (click the image above for more details and click here to explore the map) contains several interesting clues for fans of the books. In particular it shows the island of Númenor (the human inhabitants of which had Aragorn as a descendent), and the Amazon series will certainly feature Númenor's cataclysmic destruction.

Tolkien was fascinated with languages and how they evolved, and his supreme creations were the Elvish languages (among others) that underpin The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings (click the image to the right for an in-depth article).

For Tolkien, the languages came first. He said that they drove the development of characters to use the languages and then the stories around the characters.

(He also wrote that “it's always good to start with a map”.)

I look forward to seeing what use of the invented languages Amazon makes, a tough but essential thing to bring to film (although Peter Jackson's team did a commendable job in their movies).

A couple of postscripts for book lovers:

I loved The Lord of the Rings, but IMO a comparable work that surpasses it in world-building, realism and story-telling (but not invented languages) is Elizabeth Moon's Paksworld Novels (an epic story in many volumes). Elizabeth Moon is, among other things, a historian and an ex-1st Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, an interesting combination. If you liked LOTR, don't miss Moon's epic if you have never read it (the link is to a major article about it on my web site).

In The Lord of the Rings (the book, not the movie) Saruman, his powers removed but still full of malice, returns to The Shire ahead of the Hobbits and does his best to wreck both its environment and the peaceful relations between its citizens. Written long ago, does anyone else not see a spooky resemblance to what Trump is doing to the USA? Saruman didn't ultimately succeed in The Shire. It will be a long time before we know the outcome in the USA.

On that cheerful note...

If you're interested...

[Amazon's LOTR Twitter Feed]
[Latest Amazon LOTR news (w.r.t. when you are actually reading this)]
[Constructed languages (including Minionese and Klingon)]

Some digital matte paintings by Yanick Dusseault - I have obviously seen much of his work at the cinema without realising it!

There are currently some 80 images on his site, mostly used to create scenes that you will recognize from Star Wars, but others including mattes for Black Panther and Avatar. Click either image above to see the vast range of his work and how it has been applied.

If you're interested in movie technology (e.g. CGI, massive crowd simulation) you may be interested in the links that I provide here (in the right-hand column of my movies web page).

I have just finished watching Netflix's reworking of the 1965 version of "Lost in Space" (which was itself based on "The Swiss Family Robinson" written in 1822!).

I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. It's kind of like "The Martian" with Matt Damon except that here it's a collection of families stranded and the planet is much more interesting than Mars. Production values are extraordinary - a lot of money very well spent.

It's also interesting that like so many sci-fi/adventure films nowadays, women (and girls) have the strongest roles, although Toby Stephens as an American ex-SEAL is a great bonus.

(Click the image for many links.)

Margot Kidder
17th October 1948 – 13th May 2018

Like many people, I remember Margot Kidder as a wonderful Lois Lane in the movie Superman with Christopher Reeve - likely to remain the best Superman movie ever.

Also like many people (I suspect), I didn't know anything about the rest of the Canadian-American actress's interesting life, which is worth reading about.

And as I get older (Margot was born not long after I was) I reflect that good movies are an enduring memorial to actors and actresses no longer with us, especially poignant when an actor's life is tragically cut short, as Reeve's was.

This joyous and very successful movie (French, with English subtitles) tells the story of Philippe, a wealthy quadraplegic aristocrat (François Cluzet) crippled in a paragliding accident, whose life is transformed by the arrival of Driss (Omar Sy), a hip Senegalese ex-con from the projects.

Intouchables is based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French-Algerian caregiver Abdel Sellou, a story captured in Abdel's book “You Changed My Life”, which tells us much more about the caregiver's own life and how it was transformed by the relationship.

It is the happiest of the movies in the Relationships and Personal Journeys section of my movies web page, which features some great stories about lives that have been damaged in one way or another and then become fixed, or at least improved.

If you haven't already seen it, Intouchables might be one of the best movies that you never heard of.

Click the image if you would like to read more about the movie and the true story that inspired it.

Of all the works by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, My Neighbour Totoro is undoubtedly the most loved. Children who grew up with it remember it as one of their favourite movies, and many love it even more as adults.

I never saw it as a child (I was a grown-up in 1988), but it is certainly now one of my all-time favourite movies. It's a gentle story of childhood joys and fears that celebrates kindness, a close relationship with Nature and (as one expects from Miyazaki) the Japanese tradition of respect for one's elders.

I recently had the pleasure of introducing it to my 7-year old granddaughter (not that I need an excuse to watch it), and was struck by what a wonderful antidote it is to the poisonous spirit emanating from the current US President.

I also recently discovered a marvellous retrospective of this great movie. I recommend clicking either image above to read it (the second image is actually my own screenshot). If you do, don't miss its link to an all-but-forgotten classic Disney animation called The Old Mill.

If you like this...

[The Art of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli]

One of the last remaining trees...
(My screenshots - click either image above for the Wikipedia article on this movie)

(Screenshots above from Rotten Tomatoes - click either image to see more)

If you like French animation (see here on my web site), you may remember the time when Sylvain Chomet's Les Triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville, a.k.a. Belleville Rendezvous) gave the world a wake-up call that there was more to great animation than Disney and Miyazaki.

This movie is very different and equally original (and equally Gallic, and equally unsuitable for small children). It's an adventurous eco-fable, set in an alt-reality steampunk world where almost all of the trees in Europe have been burnt for charcoal and the air is severely polluted. It has been summarized accurately as “a sophisticated, riveting adventure about the power of scientific innovation in society”.

Currently free to watch in the UK if you subscribe to Amazon Prime Video, this is a multi-award-winning treat not to be missed.

If life is getting you down...

[Try clicking the entertainment tag. Just a suggestion!]

Gene Wilder
11th June 1933 – 29th August 2016

Last month saw the sad death of Gene Wilder, a gentle comedian whose best-loved films included Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles and (one of several with on-screen buddy Richard Pryor) Silver Streak.

My personal favourite was the classic Young Frankenstein, one of several collaborations with writer/director Mel Brooks.

Many memories of that wonderful collaboration will be found here.

I greatly enjoyed Minions... and hearing words apparently from a number of languages, including Japanese and Spanish, that form the strangely comprehensible gibberish of “Minionese”.

I didn't realise, though, quite how many languages that French director Pierre Coffin actually plundered (and voiced) for his “Minionese”. Click the image above if you would like to know more!

Constructing realistic languages for books and films, on the other hand, seems to me to be an awesome task. The supreme example of this must surely be J.R.R. Tolkien's Elvish languages (among others) that underpin The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings - a massive work of scholarship, love and time.

(Click the image to the right for an in-depth article.)

Tolkien, it is said, wanted to write The Lord of the Rings entirely in Elvish, but (fortunately for us) was persuaded that the result would not be saleable...

I was very grateful to Peter Jackson's team for letting us hear these beautiful languages (both Quenya and Sindarin) in the screen version of The Lord of the Rings.

The next most impressive example of such a language (corrections gratefully received!) must be Klingon, originally created as a basic sound and a few words by James “Scotty” Doohan for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but developed considerably thereafter - much further than I had imagined.

Like Star Trek itself, Klingon has found its way into all kinds of other popular culture (e.g. it appears several times in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). However, I had no idea how far it had spread - if you're interested, take a look here.

Along with many people, I enjoyed the remark from High Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, who said, “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”

Also like many other people (I suspect), I hadn't realised that you can read him in the original Klingon - it's a real book called The Klingon Hamlet. It is written with tongue firmly in cheek, of course, but it represents a considerable tribute to the development of the language. There's also Much Ado About Nothing: The Restored Klingon Version. Check them out!

Constructed languages, it seems, can take on a life of their own...

At a much earlier stage of development than Klingon, but obviously gaining momentum, is Na'vi, the constructed language of the sapient inhabitants of the planet Pandora in the film Avatar.

Unlike Klingon, Na'vi is intended to be only a spoken language, passed down orally from one generation to the next. Nevertheless there is a growing community interested in learning it - a strange phenomenon, but perhaps a tribute to the work that went into its construction (and is still ongoing), and to the film itself.

In following these links I came across an amazing resource:

for both real and constructed languages. You can delve there into the various varieties of Chinese, for example, and also into Klingon.

Which shows that you never know where a trip to the cinema is going to lead you...

The Art of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli

I am a long time fan of Studio Ghibli, and I still consider Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away to be the finest animation ever made (a close runner-up being The Illusionist by Sylvain Chomet).

One reason that I am a fan is the beautiful environments (often urban) created in many of their films. These are works of art in their own right, and I have done my best to capture (with my own screenshots) some of the ones that I particularly like.

In order to keep this post a reasonable length, and because the art in many of the films can only be appreciated in animated form, I have chosen only three films (omitting, for example, the beautiful natural environment of My Neighbour Totoro along with many others). Click any image if you would like to see links about that film.

Kiki's Delivery Service

This charming story about the early difficulties of a trainee witch, based on a children's fantasy novel, would be worth watching just for the artwork of the beautiful Scandinavian-style landscape and city. When the weather is lousy or everything seems miserable, I watch this film again, thinking how much I would like to live here - and how much designers of modern architecture could learn from the film.

Kiki standing outside the bakery, overlooking the sea. Behind her is a glimpse of the lower part of the fictional city. The (apparently hand-painted) details of mortar, stones, plaster, tiles and so much else is incredible - the more you look, the more you see. As with so many of Miyazaki's urban environments, it is set on a hill, giving it added interest as a place and a wonderful three-dimensional feel as art.

The fictional city is “Koriko” or “Coriko”, although the characters don't mention it. Miyazaki's inspiration for it was the town of Visby on the island of Gotland, Sweden (worth looking at), although the fictional Koriko is a much larger place.

This is animation at its finest (no still images can convey how good it is), and one of my all-time favourite movies. (The version I have is in Japanese, with English subtitles, which I generally prefer.)

The bakery, with another glimpse of Koriko rising above it, lit (as often in Miyazaki's films) by a low sun. The room at the top of the stairs is a kind of storage loft, which Kiki can use free as her room (and have free use of the telephone for her delivery business) in exchange for helping out at the bakery.

The view from Kiki's room, as evening falls.

The bakery at night.

The Wind Rises

This is to be the last of Miyazaki's films (see here), and in many ways is very different from the others. A very good description of it can be found here.

It is a fictionalized version of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi fighters that flew in WWII. It features many things: the love and mystique of aviation (and a repugnance for its use in war) that is Miyazaki's own, a stunning sequence covering the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, 7.9 on the Richter scale, that devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area, and a bittersweet story concerning his love for Nahoko, a girl whom he rescues during the earthquake and then doesn't see again for some time.

The story is fascinating from a historical point of view, but it also features some fine art work that somehow makes even factories and aircraft hangars things of beauty. I have selected just a few here.

A train journey during a period of tranquillity. Jiro is on his way to a hotel where he will again encounter Nahoko. Trains, and other means of transport, feature in many of Miyazaki's films with an extraordinary attention to realistic detail. (In Kiki's Delivery Service, when looking through the front window of an old-fashioned bus about to depart, we can see its nose rise as it is lifted by the torque of the engine, before setting off - a detail most people wouldn't even care about, or notice.)

The outfall from a beautiful spring pool, near the hotel where he encounters Nahoko.

Walking back to the hotel, caught in a sudden rain squall. Wind, rain and clouds are often major features of Miyazaki's films.

The hotel where Nahoko and Jiro meet.

Nahoko sadly dies of tuberculosis. They marry so that they can live together for the short time left, but Nahoko disappears one day, returning to the sanatorium so that he will remember her as she was. Together with other patients, she lies (well bundled up) on the verandah of the sanatorium, and in this beautiful short sequence she looks up at the sky as snow falls.

Whisper of the Heart

This is another great favourite of mine. It's a coming-of-age story set in modern Tokyo. Its heroine Shizuku is led on a journey that becomes more and more magical at it progresses - not, in this case, the magic of myths or legends, but a way of seeing the real world through the eyes of a young teenager that becomes a true voyage of enchantment.

The film was written by Miyazaki but directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, whom Miyazaki hoped would take over from him. Kondo's premature death shortly afterwards, apparently caused by overwork, seems to have led Miyazaki to announce his retirement, although (fortunately for us) he continued to work for a further 15 years but at a more relaxed pace.

The apartment block where Shizuku lives is far from luxurious...

The door is metal and the interior is very small and cluttered. Nevertheless Shizuku's family lives happily there, and apart from the expected occasional friction with Shizuku's older sister, is very supportive of her.

Shizuku's life is one of an ordinary young teenager. She attends a local school, remarkable only for the respect that Miyazaki always shows being given by children to their elders and teachers. Shizuku writes two translated versions of John Denver's “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (hilarious when translated back to English in subtitles) - she doesn't really understand the concept of a “home town”, and her second version is entitled “Take Me Home, Concrete Roads”.

Shizuku is a voracious reader, borrowing books from the library, and keeps encountering the name of a previous borrower, Seiji Amasawa. She encounters Seiji several times without realizing who he is, and is extremely cross when he teases her. But things will change...

One day when Shizuku travels on the local train, she is joined by an unusually independent cat. When they get off together she follows him...

...losing him...

...but discovering him again higher up the hill.

The cat leads her up a steep, narrow rubbish-strewn alley.

(Monitor test: you should be able to see considerable detail even on plain concrete walls.)

Shizuku emerges into what, to her, is a different world...

...and discovers an open, and apparently deserted, antique shop... which she will discover Seiji's grandfather, and learn that Seiji himself lives downstairs, learning to be a violin maker.

Here she also meets The Baron, an amazing statuette with crystal eyes, whose story links to an unfulfilled love in the grandfather's past life.

Seiji's grandfather shows her a marvellous clock that he is repairing, whose mechanisms include another depiction of unfulfilled love.

Shizuku later meets Seiji here, and learns that he hopes to leave schooling early for a career making violins - but first he will have to prove himself by becoming an apprentice to a strict violin-making master in Cremona, Italy.

Shizuku realises how much she will miss him, and decides to challenge herself while he is away by writing a long story, which she calls Whisper of the Heart, inspired by the story of The Baron.

Seiji's grandfather wants to be the first to read her story, and Shizuku waits for hours on his lower verandah while he does so, in an agony of suspense. He finally appears and tells her that her story is a little rough, like any craftsman's first work, but she has dug out some real gems from her heart - and makes the hugely relieved Shizuku a supper of Ramen noodles.

Early one cold morning Seiji returns, and calls to Shizuku to come down.

He takes her high up to one of his favourite places... watch a magical sunrise above Tokyo

If you like this...

[Wingsee, a delightful site dedicated to the work of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki]
[The painting "Ship Flying Over The Rainbow" from "Kiki's Delivery Service"]
[Joe Hisaishi plays his piano music from "Spirited Away"]
[The Art of Animation: Disney's “Tangled”]

The Art of Animation: Disney's “Tangled”

Alan Jones, writing in the UK's historically-named Radio Times (now our leading TV and Radio magazine):

“This deft vrsion of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale find Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) trapped in a tower by Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), who uses the princes's long magical hair to stay forever young. Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) is the handsome, cocksure thief who provides the kidnapped royal with a possible escape route. It's a smart, snappy and sparkling tale, which uses Rapuzel's multitasking flowing tresses to great effect.”

Frozen is (to date) the most successful animation feature ever made, and I really enjoyed it. However Tangled is still my favourite production from Walt Disney Animation Studios, thanks in no small part to Glen Keane, Disney's master character animator, who subsequently left Disney (more on that here if you're interested).

Pascal and Rapunzel (click the image for many more)

Click this image for the full-size HD wallpaper, which also shows several of the new animation features used in the production

Flynn, beginning a long process of personality improvement...

Maximus, a horse with serious attitude, and a real masterpiece of character animation... definitely worth clicking on this one...

A particularly beautiful animation sequence (click the image for many more)

It seems that Tangled was produced at a critical time for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Recent productions had not been a success, and they were losing out to studios like Pixar Animation Studios and Dreamworks Animation. The turning point for Disney animation was Glen Keane's seminar to his colleagues, many of them wedded to old-style animation, reported here in The New York Times.

From Wikipedia's article on Tangled (worth reading):

Technical and artistic brilliance wouldn't have been enough in themselves to make Tangled as successful as it was. As Alan Jones wrote, it's a “smart, snappy and sparkling tale”, with a strong story line and many really hilarious moments. Many people were involved with that, but without Glen Keane it would have been a different tale altogether.

If you like this...

[Watch “Duet”, a wonderful animation short by Glen Keane]
[Superb animation that was NOT done by motion capture: the Tiger in “Life of Pi”]

If I had to choose just one picture to convey the flavour of expressioniste (Aline)'s wonderful pages (an impossible task) then this still from Albert Lamorisse's 1965 classic Le Ballon Rouge might be it (see here for her post with more stills).

And if I had to choose just one phrase to sum up her pages, it would be the "joie de vivre" which she kindly spreads to all of us. Whether it's her love of all things French, or beautiful fashion, or sunny pictures, or her delight in good food, or any of a hundred other things, I always (reluctantly) come away from her pages feeling much happier about life than when I arrived.

If you like this...

[Enjoy some more "joie de vivre"!]
[French films]

“Synevir” by the digital artist Danapra (Mykhailova Olesya)

The artist credits Dmitry Peretrutov for the photo, which was used in the film poster for the first Ukrainian 3D horror movie “Synevir” (you can watch the trailer, should you feel so inclined!). I am not sure how the work was split between Danapra and Dmitry - does anyone know?

I found this when revisiting Danapra's Veranda, an absolutely gorgeous picture to chase away those winter blues, which I posted here a long time ago. I see that “D. Peretrutov” is alo credited with the photo on that one, so maybe these two people are partners, or even alter egos?

Synevir (or Synevyr), BTW, I discovered is the largest lake in the Carpathian mountains of Ukraine.

This great photo of one of the Dutch windmills at Kinderdijk (from Wikimedia Commons, click image for source) reminded me of Noel Harrison's version of Michel Legrand's song "Windmills of Your Mind" (“Les Moulins de Mon Coeur”) that appeared in the original 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair.

It wasn't a great movie, I have to say, but it had much to enjoy, notably the sexual chemistry between Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway (including their famously erotic chess game).

If you'd like a nostalgia trip to the 60's, you can watch the movie's glider sequence, which was accompanied by an abridged version of Noel Harrison's song, here (or click the image to the right).

Noel Harrison performs the complete version of his song here.

BTW: The girlfriend watching Thomas Crown gliding is played by the beautiful Dutch fashion model Astrid Heeren (a purely decorative role in this movie).

In searching for videos of Michel Legrand's original, I also came across this very nice video of the instrumental version.

In complete contrast...

Later on, the Muppets produced a gloriously funny interpretation of the same song, which anyone who has suffered from seriously jangled nerves (or is only “calm on the outside”) can relate to... you can watch that here (or click the image to the left).


If you like this...

[Night photo of the Dutch windmills at Kinderdijk]
[Great music and style from the 60's: Claude Lelouch's film Un Homme et une Femme, with music by Francis Lai]

I had never registered Glen Keane's name until I saw this wonderful short animation. Now I keep noticing it, most recently when I finally got around to seeing his work on Tangled, which I liked as much as I liked Frozen. Glen apparently quit Frozen to work on Tangled - the text of his resignation letter is here.

Glen was also responsible for the character animation in one of my other favourite Disney films, Beauty and the Beast, which took the quality of Disney animations to a whole new level.

If you like animation, I recommend...

[More about Glen Keane]

I saw this superb film yesterday... so intelligent, so well acted, so relevant to today's world, and such a gripping story.

The visual effects are so good that you don't notice them as special effects - the whole film simply looks real.

Unlike the entertaining CGI tosh served up nowadays to show off bigger machines, stupidly unrealistic stunts and ear-bashing sound, the visual magic in this film is there to support the story, not the other way around.

On top of which, the 3D is just right, which is more than I can say for most 3D films.

Oh... and I just loved Maurice (no, he isn't the baby). If you've seen the film, you'll know what I mean!

(Click the image for links.)

for this one!

If you like this...

[My Movies/TV page]

So true...

...unless, of course, the book is The Da Vinci Code, in which case the iceberg would probably turn turtle!

...or the book is Elizabeth von Arnim's delightful tale The Enchanted April, which might have been written as as a script for the wonderful movie adaptation, one of my family's all-time favourites...

...but this is exactly how I feel about the film adaptations (so far) of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels.

If you saw that wonderful “life is good” movie Enchanted April, you will remember the lovely theme tune that George Briggs (Michael Kitchen, perhaps best known for Foyle's War) plays on the oboe.

The tune is Elgar's Chanson de Matin, which you can listen to on this video in an orchestral version, accompanied by many of my favourite paintings by J.M.W. Turner.

From the page:

If you're a Miyazaki fan, click the image below to see all the artist's work full size (and see how many details you recognize)... and please visit batchbatcharak, from whose fine pages this comes!

If you like this...

[Japanese animation at its finest: the master-works of Hayao Miyazaki]
[The painting "Ship Flying Over The Rainbow" from "Kiki's Delivery Service"]
[Joe Hisaishi plays his piano music from "Spirited Away"]

and maybe also...

[Beautiful stained glass by Rober Oddy]

The Hollywood beauty Jessica Alba

Best known for her looks, she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Drama for Dark Angel, a series co-created by James Cameron.

Once in a while, we are lucky enough to get a movie that provides an experience like no other. Last year, for me, that was Hugo. This year it was Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee.

Apart from being a great story of spirituality and adventure, the movie contains what must be among the most beautiful images ever seen in the cinema, and some of the most awe-inspiring visions of the ocean in all its moods and variety. Like Hugo, it can't be fully appreciated except on the big screen, and like Hugo it really needs 3D.

Not to be missed!


If you're interested in the technology of film making, Scot Byrd of Rhythm & Hues Studios corrected an article in Time Magazine as follows:

Just to be clear, motion capture was not used in "Life of Pi." Key frame animation was the technique employed by the digital artists at Rhythm & Hues, the visual effects company responsible for production of the computer-generated animals in "Life of Pi." (R&H also created the photorealistic skies and oceans during the open ocean scenes. London's Moving Picture Company - MPC - was responsible for the shipwreck sequence.)

Motion capture technique uses sensors to capture a single performance, usually performed by a human being. (Imagine putting motion sensors on a living tiger!) Key frame animation works like puppetry inside the computer. The animator sets a pose, which the computer remembers as a key frame. The performance is created as the artist sets a multitude of key frames/poses and the computer moves the character rig from pose to pose to pose.

The origins of key frame animation go back to traditional 2D cell animation, as seen in any Disney animated feature going all the way back to Steamboat Willie, followed by most Saturday morning cartoon shows and the modern animated incarnations up to and including those produced by Pixar, Dreamworks Animation, BlueSky, et al.

For Rhythm & Hues, the actual line of ascension runs from the Coca Cola Polar Bears to "Babe", "Cats & Dogs", "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe", "The Golden Compass", "Alvin and the Chipmunks" to "Life of Pi."

While it may seem an academic distinction, in the world of animation, the key frame technique has a long tradition, and the artists who have spent a lifetime developing their craft deserve their recognition. The added challenge and critically acclaimed success of melding photorealistic, computer-generated characters with photorealistic computer-generated environments demonstrates just how groundbreaking the technology and artistry of "Life of Pi" is.

If you like this...

[My movies page]

I have just finished reading The Night Circus, a very ambitious first novel of love and magic by Erin Morgenstern.

For me it is almost a really great book - there was so much that I liked about it, but sometimes (especially early on) what I call the "narrative drive" kept faltering, while various wonders continued to unfold. Eventually, however, I was gripped, and it would be worth reading if only to enjoy the author's wonderful imagination and descriptive powers. I shall certainly read it again.

An excellent review of it (which I fully agree with) can be found here.

The book is obviously a very attractive proposition for movie makers, and it seems that Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment are approaching some kind of deal on its production. Eager fans aren't waiting - the movie poster to the left, and the trailer below, are totally unofficial (click either image for more).

There is also a feeling by fans of the book, which I share, that the scope for making a real mess of bringing the story to the big screen is considerable. On the other hand, if done well, the movie could be a cracker. I await the outcome with eager nervousness...

I have to say that Marion Cotillard is fast becoming one of my favourite film actresses.

It helps, of course, that (IMO) she is one of the most beautiful women on the planet...

(Desktop wallpaper - click image for source)

However, she is also a very fine actress, as demonstrated in this recently-released movie (which I strongly recomment if you haven't seen it):

The movie co-stars the muscular Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as Ali, an ex-fighter living a bleak life low on the income scale, accompanied by his young son from a failed relationship. The name of the movie, appropriately enough, refers to the taste in your mouth if you are on the receiving end of a hard punch.

The basic story sounds unlikely, and tells you little: Stéphanie, a trainer of Killer Whales at a marineland park, loses both legs above the knee in a horrific accident. Initially suicidal, she recovers her life through a developing relationship with the unsentimental, flawed Ali.

This is not a love story, in the conventional sense. What Ali offers Stéphanie comes through an unpitying friendship and (eventually) sex, and is one of the most moving human relationships that I have ever seen in the cinema.

This is not a special effects movie, either - it is about as far from one as you can get. However, it contains the most jaw-dropping special effects that transform Marion Cotillard into a paraplegic, with or without the prosthetics that she eventually receives. This is really "art concealing art" - the technique is so good that it vanishes from view, and you simply accept what you are looking at. (If you're interested, an outline description of the technique used by Mikros Image can be found some way down on this page).

For more on the movie, see this review from The Guardian or click one of the following images for more links.

Stéphanie with Ali, in a sequence where he persuades her to come into the sea with him

Stéphanie re-enacting her lost relationship with the Killer Whale, which apparently moved the audience to tears at the Cannes Film Festival

The reunion scene. Stéphanie, walking on prosthetics, appears in front of an empty tank, and taps on the glass. Time passes, and then the Orca appears and rises up in front of her. "its vast shadow falling like a benediction" (as Rachel Cook writes here in The Observer. This is the best screenshot that I could find (I'll add a better one later when I get the DVD!).

After watching Rust and Bone I seriously wanted to check that Marion Cotillard still has those lovely legs - and she does

If you like this, you might like Marion Cotillard in...

[La Vie en Rose (her Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf)]
[Nine (a sizzlingly hot musical based on Federico Fellini's semi-autobiographical movie )]
[Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen's feather-light time-travel romantic comedy, one of his most delightful films)]

It's looking great...

[Click the image to visit the official Hobbit Movie blog]

Having seen the trailers for Brave, I wasn't sure how much I would like this latest movie from Pixar - but I did, enormously. The extraordinarily detailed CGI world in which it is set (much more impressive than appears here), the Celtic atmosphere and the slightly unusual story made this a winner for me.

Highly recommended (and definitely worth seeing on the big screen, in 3D if possible).

Channel 5 recently screened a restored version of Disney's animated version of "Robin Hood". It was a very long time since I had last seen it, and I had forgotten what an entertaining movie it is (in spite of importing lots of Americana into Sherwood Forest and recycling so much from Disney's "The Jungle Book"!). It's actually one of my Disney favourites.

It features some nice songs, and artwork like this. It happened that I paused the movie on this frame when my spouse returned with a friend from an afternoon's shopping. When the friend noticed it she thought it was a nice screensaver. Guessing what movie it came from would be quite tricky, I think!

"Follow me", a beautiful song by Kimiko Itoh, set to the music of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez

From the soundtrack of the anime/computer animated science fiction film Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

One of many beautiful things to be found on the pages of ensemble5 (forwarded to me by Elegantlady (Roberta)).

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo at Cannes...

...and Bérénice Bejo in London (image from here)...

...two amazingly good-looking people who have shot to international fame in that wonderful movie The Artist

If you haven't seen the film yet, may I highly recommend it. It is good old-fashioned entertainment, telling the story of George Valentin, a silent movie star being edged out by the talkies, and Peppy Miller, a beautiful, sparky newcomer who becomes a talkies star, and whom he is too proud to follow.

Although it is a silent movie (with music!), the movie has the same appeal as those great classics starring Gene Kelly or Fred and Ginger. Among many reasons for seeing it is Peppy's smile, which will light up your entire day.

(Bérénice, BTW, was born in Buenos Aires, a place known for its beautiful women. She moved to France when she was quite young.)

If you like this, try...

[The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec]

The wonderful Licia Maglietta as Rosalba

Pane e Tulipani (Bread and Tulips) is one of those movies that makes you think: "This is how life should be". It is basically an Italian variant on Shirley Valentine, where Rosalba, an under-appreciated housewife, gets left behind at a motorway rest-stop (for a reason that will make you wince in sympathy) by the rest of her family who don't even notice that she isn't on the bus.

Rosalba starts hitch-hiking, deciding on the way to take a detour via Venice and live a little for herself. Without much money, she finds lodging with Fernando Girasole, a kind but gloomy (even suicidal) Icelander who runs a not-too-great restaurant, and whose Italian is peppered with archaic literary expressions (conveyed nicely via subtitles). In the same building she befriends Grazia, a "holistic beautician and masseuse", and in the city she eventually finds work in a florist's shop, run by a crusty old man with the general charm of a Basil Fawlty, whom she gradually wins over, entertaining him in the absence of customers with an accordion lent to her by Fernando.

(About that accordion... Fernando got it in payment for a gambling debt. Rosalba's grandfather taught her to play one when she was 12, shortly before he died cycling over a bridge which he believed, erroneously, to have been completed...)

Meanwhile, Rosalba's cheapskate husband, finding himself deserted by his chief cook, maid and bottle-washer, hires Constantino, a bumbling, over-weight plumber, as a private detective to locate his wife, whom he knows is somewhere in Venice. Constantino isn't as lucky as Rosalba in finding accommodation in that super-expensive city, ending up in a seedy converted barge on a canal. In his search he encounters and falls in love with Grazia, the masseuse. Fernando, discovering who Constantino really is, confronts him with an ancient rifle while he is with Grazia, in a scene made hilarious by Fernando's style of speech.

The movie delivers everything that a romantic comedy should, but with a delightful, quirky Italian flavour that makes it unique. It took me a long time to track down a Region 2 copy of the DVD (exasperatingly, Region 1 was readily available), but you can get hold of it at the moment (I see that Amazon UK currently has 3 copies). If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it...

This is a truly wonderful and enchanting movie. Based on the medal-winning semi-graphic book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, it tells the story of an orphan boy living in the hidden crevices and passageways of the Gare Montparnasse in Paris, winding the railway station's clocks and stealing food to survive.

Part of the enjoyment of this movie is wondering where the plot is taking you as various surprises unfold, so describing it too much would be a spoiler. It is an enthralling adventure, a mystery, a celebration of the early development of the cinema, and much more besides.

For the movie's creator, Martin Scorsese, this was obviously a work of love. The creation of the old railway station and its Parisian surroundings is a work of art, with some of the best CGI work you are likely to see, and (unusually) really justifies and brilliantly exploits the use of 3D. If you can still catch it in the 3D format then please don't miss it!

Asa Butterfield is brilliant in the role of Hugo - you may remember him from The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas. I see that he has been chosen to play Ender in the forthcoming movie of Ender's Game, which is the first part of (IMO) one of the finest science fiction epics ever written (reasons given here). I can't imagine a better choice, although I am always nervous about how well great writing will transcribe to the screen.

The wonderfully complex automaton that appears in the movie is NOT a CGI creation - it is quite real, the work of an English creative design and manufacturing team. If you have seen the movie then the automaton is a story that is worth following in its own right (click the bottom right of the above image if you are interested, or go here).


The pioneering cinematic work of Georges Méliès that features as part of the story in Hugo also features in The Story of Film: An Odyssey by Mark Cousins, a superb TV series in 15 one-hour parts based on his book. It was one of the best things on TV this year.

If you like this...

[My movies page]

I watched Ratatouille again recently, and was reminded of what a great (and hugely enjoyable) work of art this is - it's my personal favourite of all Pixar's productions so far.

Click the picture if you would like further ramblings on this subject!

I had never heard of this 1997 film until it was shown recently on UK television. Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Kevin Spacey and John Cusack, supported by some other fine actors (and Clint's daughter Alison as the love interest). I was expecting a steamy Southern soap opera, but I was pleasantly surprised - one word to describe it might be "dignified", not a common attribute nowadays. (I'll certainly read the book, which sounds considerably more complex.)

The film opens and closes with an a capella version of "Skylark", sung by k.d. lang. The linked video is only about a minute long, but you can listen to a surprisingly good cover version (including a film clip) here.

The a capella style suits the film, but I still really like "Skylark" by Cleo Laine and James Galway, from their magical album Sometimes When We Touch (one of my treasured possessions from the days of vinyl).

Fantasy of Flight, Florida

This is a superbly restored North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, undergoing routine maintenance. When fitted with Merlin engines (manufactured under licence in the USA), the P-51 Mustang was generally reckoned to be the finest fighter plane of WW2.

If you saw Steven Spielberg's superb film Empire of the Sun, you will remember the extraordinary scene where American planes shoot up the airfield next to the internment camp. Jim dances on the block roof, all the sounds of battle fade away, a plane passes him in slow motion, the pilot waving cheerily to him - and Jim, exalted, shouts: "P-51! Cadillac of the sky!"

This picture comes from my photoblog on Fantasy of Flight, which includes the story of the Rolls-Royce engine that literally changed the world (with the help of some very brave pilots). If you're interested, click the picture!

That French Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi...

The lovely Anouk Aimée in Un Homme et une Femme

I have a weakness for all things French, including some of their great movies. Click the image above, or go here to see a small sample of what we miss out on when we avoid movies with subtitles.

This wonderfully entertaining 2010 movie, the first by French director Luc Besson after a gap of 6 years, is a nice blend of Amélie and Raiders of the Lost Ark, with many original and witty touches of its own.

The French actress and television presenter Louise Bourgoin, whom I had not seen before, makes a cracking heroine, and the other characters (human and otherwise) include some priceless gems of absurdity (you will never again be able to watch a film like The Mummy without cracking up!)

Luc Besson is probably best known for Léon and The Fifth Element. This movie, which could not be more different, shows what an astonishing range this director has.

A good full review, based on an interview with Luc Besson, will be found here.

Thanks to my younger daughter (who bought me the DVD as an early Christmas present) for this great find!

Full Oscar-nominated 6-minute short film of 'Granny O'Grimm', directed by Nicky Phelan, produced by Brown Bag Films, and written/voiced by Kathleen O'Rourke (more on the film and its makers here)

A great share by my friend MadMadamMim (Dunja), a visit to whose pages is highly recommended.

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, starring Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson, is a simply delightful movie. It's a feather-light time-travel romantic comedy (with many clever touches), but there is real craft in creating one as enjoyable as this, and this is one of the best. Don't miss it!

Click the picture for a good review.

[More of my favourite movies...]

(Original post: May 18th, 2011)

These are some scenes from the wonderful animation The Illusionist by Sylvain Chomet, featured on my Movies page, which has just had a second major update. Since the previous update on April 11th it has approximately doubled in size, with many more sections and updates to existing sections.

If you like movies (and the flavour of my pages here), and/or you are interested in the technology of movie-making, then I hope that you will find it an interesting and useful resource.

(Original post: April 11th, 2011)

The lovely Anouk Aimée in Un Homme et une Femme

I have just completely revamped and updated my Movies Page. If you like movies (and the flavour of my pages here), and/or you are interested in the technology of movie-making, then I hope that you will find it an interesting and useful resource.

A picture of Audrey Hepburn, one of many taken of her and other celebrities by the American fashion and celebrity photographer Mark Shaw

Found on the always-delightful pages of ensemble5

(Original post: March 2nd, 2011)

This sparkling romantic comedy ("Priceless" in English) was shown recently on UK TV, thankfully in French with subtitles. Audrey Tautou's gold-digger, determined not to fall in love, reminds many people of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany's, and Gad Elmaleh's performance as her equally determined and long-suffering lover is also a delight.

If you have never seen it, I recommend that you catch this one (the DVD is only £5 from!).

If you like French "joie de vivre", you might like these previous posts...

[Samba Saravah (from the movie Un Homme et Une Femme)]
[October in Aix-en-Provence]
[Corsican Cats]


[My movies page]

(Original post: December 18th, 2010)

One of the most unexpectedly enjoyable movies for us in 2010 was the comedy action thriller RED (standing for Retired, Extremely Dangerous), based on a comic book mini-series by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner.

RED has an extraordinary, top-drawer cast including Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Karl Urban and Richard Dreyfuss. It also has a witty script by Jon and Erich Hoeber and well-judged direction from Robert Schwentke, who makes sure that the plot drives the special effects and not (as so often) the other way around.

The cast's considerable talents are used to the full, and they obviously had as much of a blast making the movie as the audience has watching it.

The DVD comes out (in the UK at least) on Valentine's Day, 2011. I have booked my copy!

If you like this...

[My movies page]

"The White Rabbit"

"The March Hare"

Characters created by Michael Kutsche for Tim Burton's movie "Alice in Wonderland"

From Michael's home page:

"Michael Kutsche is an award-winning German artist based in Los Angeles, California. He is a self taught artist who works both in traditional and digital media. His work is best described as an astoundingly lifelike depiction of parallel realities, populated by odd characters reminiscent of movies, comics but also Flemish Renaissance Painting.

"His unique approach of imaginative character creation has led him to become a character designer on Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" in 2008, "John Carter of Mars", directed by Andrew Stanton and "Thor", directed by Kenneth Branagh..."

If you like this...

[My movies page]

(Original post: November 11th, 2010)

I had never heard of this great movie until I visited the Grace Kelly exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum earlier this year, and saw a clip of it.

We bought the DVD recently, and it is right up there with the best classic Hollywood movies. It won an Oscar for Best Actress (Grace Kelly) and Best Writing and Screenplay (George Seton, who also directed), and was nominated for 5 others, including Best Actor for Bing Crosby (who lost to Marlon Brando for "On The Waterfront").

Although the subject matter (an alcoholic has-been actor struggling to make a come-back) might sound grim, it is an engrossing and very enjoyable drama with excellent performances from each of the main characters. The big surprise for me was Bing Crosby, from whom the director drew a remarkable performance (unique in his career, so far as I know) that was well worthy of an Oscar.

As an extra bonus, the DVD has a crisply restored print of the movie. I can highly recommend it.

If you like this...

[My movies page]

(Original post: September 17th, 2010)

Zoe Saldana playing Neytiri (through the movie magic described here) in the 2009 blockbuster Avatar

Seeing this awesome movie on a large screen in 3D (several times) was one of my personal highlights of this year (and I don't plan to miss the recently-released extended version). Possibly one of the most visually beautiful movies ever made, the combination of technical and artistic achievement still boggles my mind.

Reading this article reminded me that it is so easy to watch (and comment on) a production like this, without appreciating a fraction of what went into its making.

If you like this...

[My movies page]

Where The Wild Things Are (Movie)
(Original post: September 14th, 2010)

I recently watched the DVD of this movie, adapted by Spike Jonze from the great book by Maurice Sendak.

Where The Wild Things Are is not a Muppet Movie, even though Jim Henson's Creature Shop contributed to it (and Maurice Sendak had a considerable influence on Jim Henson). The movie is a unique work celebrating the fears, delights and imagination of childhood, with an atmosphere all of its own. The seamlessly-combined types of special effects used to create it are truly wonderful, but are quite secondary to the artistic skills that make the movie what it is.

From Wikipedia on the book:

According to Sendak, at first the book was banned in libraries and received negative reviews. It took about two years for librarians and teachers to realize that children were flocking to the book, checking it out over and over again, and for critics to relax their views...

and on the movie:

There were fears, expressed by production company Warner Bros., that the film was not family friendly and may frighten children; however these fears were not shared by either Jonze or Sendak, and Jonze refused to compromise. Maurice Sendak said after having seen a completed cut of the film, "I've never seen a movie that looked or felt like this. And it's [Spike Jonze's] personal 'this.'"

If you have read the book and/or seen the movie, then you may wonder what kind of tea some child "experts", critics and movie moguls smoke in their spare time.

Thanks again to my younger daughter for recommending this one...

If you like this...

[My movies page]
[My books page]

"Juno" with Ellen Page
(Original post: September 10th, 2010)

I missed this Indie movie hit when it was in the cinema, but luckily my younger daughter persuaded me to buy the DVD.

I don't think I have ever had so much enjoyment from an outlay of about $4 from (I'd tell you what it cost in pounds, but SU is too feeble to cope with strange foreign symbols).

Teenage pregnancy and the search for foster parents make an unlikely topic for a comedy, but this is a sparky, delightful comedy not to be missed. The central performance by Ellen Page, a lass who hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia, is just wonderful.

It was only when reading about her afterwards that I realised that she also played "The Architect" in Inception.

Juno is far from a one-woman success story, though. The movie is full of other delights, not least the presence of J.K. Simmons, one of my favourite actors, playing a Dad to die for.

It's great stuff. If you haven't seen it, treat yourself!

If you like this...

[My movies page]

Sir Terry Pratchett, OBE
(Original post: September 4th, 2010)

O frabjous day! Another book by Terry Pratchett!

This is the fourth in possibly my favourite of all Terry Pratchett's sequences of stories, the sequence following Tiffany Aching, trainee witch (now full witch in this book) and the Wee Free Men (a.k.a. the Nac Mac Feegles), a hilarious bunch of tiny Caledonian hooligans.

(The previous 3 in this series were The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith.)

The stories are very funny, very serious and very wise, and best of all they have the witches. I suspect that (as with Samuel Vimes of the Night Watch in some of his other Discworld novels) his principal witches carry much of his own personal philosophy.

Some time in the next few years, a form of Alzheimer's will rob the world of one of its greatest living authors (Sir Terry was knighted for services to literature), but he will leave behind a truly wonderful legacy. In the meantime, as this book shows, the creative part of his brain is still in absolutely top form.

And that's not all...

This new DVD is possibly the best so far. If you liked the Sky productions of Hogfather and The Colour of Magic, then you will love this one.

Terry Pratchett specialises in sardonic, unsentimental heroines. Claire Foy does a great job of playing Adora Belle Dearheart in this one, just as Michelle Dockery did as Susan (Death's granddaughter) in Hogfather.

The rest of the cast is also top-of-the-range, and the movie is prefaced by a short introduction from Sir Terry himself. This is a joy not to be missed.

If you like Terry Pratchett...

[My review of 'The Bromeliad']

From my web site...

[My books page]
[My movies page]

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

(Original post: August 17th, 2010)

I have rarely enjoyed a thriller so much as the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, of which The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the first part. Although it's a trilogy in books, in many ways it is a story in two parts, the second part being told in The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest.

I like the books because they are complex, multi-layered and multi-threaded, weaving together an initial murder mystery, a conspiracy thriller, a biting commentary on aspects of Swedish society (and other societies), a range of fascinating personal relationships and a nail-biting suspense thriller around the emerging story of Lisbeth Salander - the girl with the dragon tattoo. I have read them several times - knowing the end doesn't spoil the books for me. The books contain strong sex and violence (sparsely distributed), but never gratuitously nor in any kind of titillating way.

I was hesitant about watching the Swedish movie of the first book, given the considerable challenges of bringing such a story to the screen, but I bought the DVD recently and was surprised at how very good it was. It offers both a Swedish soundtrack with English subtitles and an English soundtrack, and in only two and a half hours really conveys the essence of the book.

If you enjoyed the Swedish version of Wallander then you will really enjoy this DVD. The photography and atmosphere are very similar (and it's the same film studio doing both), but the plot of Stieg Larsson's books is much richer.

[Update April 2011] Unfortunately, the second and third Swedish movies were a disappointment to me. People who have not read the books may see nothing wrong with them, but the rich and satisfying nature of the original books has been almost entirely lost, especially in the final movie. Having seen the superb 20-hour Danish TV production of The Killing, I would really like the same treatment (whether Swedish or Danish - but not Hollywood) to be given to the Larsson novels. Michael Nyqvist I can take or leave alone, but improving on Noomi Rapace as the actress for Lisbeth will take some doing.

Noomi Rapace doing a fantastic job playing Lisbeth Salander

Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist who plays the investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist

If you like this...

[My movies page]
[My books page]

Scarlett Johansson

The beautiful actress Scarlett Johansson

I have liked Scarlett ever since her great performance as the crippled teenager in The Horse Whisperer (a movie that IMO was even better than the book it came from).

(Original post: March 26th, 2010)

I see that James Cameron and Sir Richard Branson (an interesting combination) are among the many speakers at the upcoming Business for Environment Global Summit, which takes place 21-23 April 2010 in Seoul. If I had the money, it would be worth visiting the conference just to hear what these two speakers had to say.

With Avatar, James Cameron (with a huge contribution from WETA Digital) has produced what must be the most popular environmental-message movie of all time, and possibly the most awesomely beautiful movie ever made. His technical and artistic master-work has inspired countless environmental activists, as well as (apparently) infuriating some people who see it as threatening their particular belief systems.

The person I would go to Seoul to hear, though, is Sir Richard Branson, one of my personal heroes. From the programme notes:

"In the summer of 2004, Richard launched Virgin Unite to pull together all the resources of the Virgin Group internationally and, most importantly, Virgin's best asset - its people - to tackle tough challenges facing the world. He and on-the-ground partners participate in efforts such as sustainable health clinics in Africa and the fostering of new entrepreneurs through the Branson School of Entrepreneurship in South Africa. He helped incubate the Disease Control Room, a new health resource for South Africa and the sub-Saharan African region that will help transform responses to devastating diseases such as HIV and AIDS, TB and malaria.

"In 2006, Richard pledged 100% of profits of Virgin transportation companies to clean tech investments through Virgin Green Fund. In 2007, he joined Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, and Desmond Tutu to form The Elders, a group of independent leaders that seeks sustainable solutions to global humanitarian issues. In December 2007, Richard was recognized by UNCA as Citizen of the Year.

"Richard recently helped start the Carbon War Room, which taps into global entrepreneurs to mobilize capital, innovation, expertise and international collaboration to fill in the gaps of climate change efforts already underway. Its Green Capital - Global Challenge is mobilizing capital and resources into city-led energy efficiency initiatives."

In Avatar, and in some of his previous movies, James Cameron casts greedy corporations as the stupid and reckless villains. In the form of Sir Richard Branson, and many other representatives at this conference, he will be meeting corporations that are a major force for good in the world, and others that are at least moving in the right direction. I would really like to be in Seoul in April.

[My "Environment and Technology" page]
[My movies page]

Below are some of my screenshots of Kate Madison's prequel to The Lord of the Rings, "Born of Hope" (the extended version).

It tells the story of how Aragorn came to be born, and how he eventually reached the safety of Rivendell as an infant.

Made on a shoe-string budget (£25,000) and released free on the Internet, this extraordinary achievement reminds me that we often use the word "amateur" in a derogatory sense. This movie shows everyone what real "amateurs" can do.

Arathorn, who will become the father of Aragorn

Elgarain, played by the multi-talented Kate Madison, hides her love for Arathorn, who sees her only as a true friend

The sons of Elrond helping to defend the Dunedain's settlement

Gilraen, wife of Arathorn and mother of Aragorn, narrating the story to her sleeping son

The young Aragorn, finally safe in Rivendell

(One of the main filming locations for the movie was Epping Forest - see my previous post below).

[More about the movie]
[My movies page]

Epping Forest - autumn and winter

Some of my photos of Epping Forest in autumn and winter, taken when we used to live near there.

Epping Forest was one of the main filming locations for the Internet-released prequel to The Lord of the Rings, "Born of Hope" (see my next post above).

Located to the north east of London, it's a relatively small remnant of a much larger ancient forest, which somehow makes it seem appropriate as a choice for this movie.

Joe Hisaishi, playing his own composition, the theme "One Summer Day" from one of my all-time favourite movies, the Oscar-winning Spirited Away

Joe Hisaishi is a really interesting and talented composer as well as musician. He composed the music for many of Hayao Miyazaki's movies, making a major contribution to their special magic. His stage name (reversed so his family name comes first) was adopted by him as a phonetic equivalent of the name of one of his own favourite composers, Quincy Jones.

If you like this...

[Japanese animation at its finest: the master-works of Hayao Miyazaki]
[My movies page]

A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim

Until recently I had never seen Stephen Sondheim's musical "A Little Night Music", and was unaware of what a treat I had been missing.

I was lucky enough to see this production at the Garrick Theatre, London. "Sublime" is an over-worked word, but it certainly applies in this case. Directed by Tevor Nunn, its wonderful cast included Maureen Lipman on deliciously top form as Madame Armfeldt, Hannah Waddingham as Desirée Armfeldt, Alexander Hanson as Fredrik Egerman and Kaisa Hammarlund as the saucy, free-spirited Petra.

"A Little Night Music" is probably best known for the song "Send In The Clowns". Sung by Desirée to (and with) Fredrik, it is even more stunning in the context of the play, and Hannah Waddingham's performance of it is one that I shall always remember. The other songs don't make sense unless seen in the play's context, but include some that are equally brilliant.

"A Little Night Music" is based on Ingmar Bergman's movie "Smiles Of A Summer Night", which was itself inspired in part by Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

From this review of the movie:

"The summer night has three smiles," one character says to his lover. The first comes "between midnight and dawn, when young lovers open their hearts and loins." The second smile is for "the jesters, the fools and the incorrigible." And the third smile is for "the sad and dejected, for the sleepless and lost souls, for the frightened and the lonely."

Ingmar Bergman's movie is available on DVD, but there is currently no decent movie version of Stephen Sondheim's musical (I am told that the one starring Elizabeth Taylor is not recommended). If you haven't seen the musical on stage and get a chance to, don't miss it... and if you are in reach of London, there is a very rare treat waiting for you!

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(Original post: June 9th 2009)

"Home" is an incredibly beautiful, passionate movie directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, co-produced by Luc Besson ("Léon" and "The Fifth Element") and narrated by Glenn Close. Filmed entirely from the air, it provides a unique view of our planet and what we are doing to it.

Made on a not-for-profit basis, it has just been released in cinemas and also on the Internet. You can watch the entire one and a half hours as an official full-size, high definition video on YouTube - click any image below. You can also download an HD version from BitTorrent.

Using beautiful and compelling images even for scenes of devastation and poverty, the movie makes it all too clear how little time we have left before irretrievable damage is done. Many people who view it online will, I suspect, give up watching it before the end for one reason or another - but the many others who stay with it will discover that it ends on an optimistic, positive note, describing many of the good things that are going on. This last theme is: "It's too late to be a pessimist", but it doesn't start until 1 hour and 21 minutes into the movie. If you watch it at all, please don't give up half way!

I would add to these positive messages that we don't have to give up (for example) living in beautiful cities that glitter at night (if that's what we want to do), or driving fun, fast cars. The technology exists, or is being developed, to allow us to do such things without destroying our planet - quite the reverse - and with that technology comes job and investment opportunities for many people. Green, done right, saves money, makes money and helps everyone.

PPR, who sponsored the film, is a French multinational holding company specializing in retail shops and luxury brands. The company was founded in 1963 by the billionaire businessman François Pinault. It was originally called Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, but changed its name on 18 May 2005 to simply PPR. If you are interested in how huge amounts of money and luxury goods can get together with ethical and green practices, take a good look around their site!

[ (English version)]
[My environment web page]

Natasha Richardson RIP - March 18th, 2009

I was really sorry to hear of the tragic death of the beautiful and gifted actress, Natasha Richardson. My heart goes out to her husband Liam Neeson and to the rest of her family and friends.

My favourite memories of Natasha Richardson will always be the 1994 film "Nell", where she first met and acted with her future husband.

Nell was the story of the discovery of a speech-impaired "wild child" (a virtuoso performance by Jodie Foster), raised in isolation in the woods of North Carolina, and the relationships that develop between her, the local doctor (Liam Neeson), and the psychologist who is called in to study her (Natasha Richardson).

As the story develops, several preconceptions and assumptions are overturned, the most interesting of which concern exactly who is helping whom.

Here are some of my screen captures of this movie from my DVD (the best that I could do).

One of my favourite scenes: the "Mummy loves Daddy really" sequence where Nell stops the doctors arguing. I suspect, perhaps wrongly, that it was somewhere around here that their real-life marriage had its first roots!

The final scenes:

When I saw this movie in the cinema, there were two marks of respect that are very rare nowadays: you could have heard a pin drop in the audience throughout, and nobody moved from their seats until the end of the credits.

Natasha gave many other fine performances, on both stage and screen. She will be greatly missed.

[My movies page]

(Original post: December 15th, 2008)

A pocket-powerhouse performance of Mariah Carey's song "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by 10-year-old Olivia Olson, in the delightful movie Love, Actually. Richard Curtis, the director, explained afterwards that they had get Olivia to dial back the quality of her singing in order for it to be believable to cinema audiences!

Among many other treasures in that movie was what must be one of the coolest small kids on the planet (he's about 5 years older now) Thomas Sangster.

Click either picture to play - the video will open in a separate window.

With WALL-E, Pixar Animation Studios excelled themselves in several ways.

The creation of the desolate earth environment, and the space-going cruise ship, are incredible artistic achievements (as well as superb technical achievements) in their own right. I can imagine some people being put off going to see the movie because its first part is set in a planet-sized garbage tip, and who would want to see that? In fact, the earth environment is a work of strange, desolate beauty, lit by a coppery light and given wonderful aerial perspective by the haze in the polluted air. This picture (one of several concept background paintings for WALL-E at the Pixar - 20 Years of Animation exhibit in Finland) gives some idea, but the environment realised in the movie is so imaginative, so detailed and so highly textured that you really have to see it on the big screen. I shall certainly buy the DVD but it won't be the same!

The visual environment is only part of it, of course. The inventiveness of the story is quite exceptional, and it has some of the magic and pathos of the silent movies of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. When WALL-E plays his treasured tapes of old musicals, the contrast of Earth's past with the current desolation is highlighted, but the musicals also provide an uplifting background to the unlikely romance between the two main characters, which is conducted entirely without normal speech.

The movie also has a serious side, very unusual in popular animated films. The space-going vessel (awesomely realised) is a combination of mega Caribbean cruise ship and aseptic Disney theme park. It is a pristine, gleaming vision of hell in which nothing has changed for 700 years, except that the passengers have become helpless and obese, doing nothing and creating nothing for themselves, seeing the world only through computer screens and having their every need attended to by an army of robots. Don't worry though, WALL-E is about to change all that... and the movie becomes (in addition to everything else) a really exciting adventure story.

In spite of the sombreness of the underlying themes, this is a joyous movie that sparkles throughout (and which has numerous Easter-egg references to other great movies). My favourite scene is probably the one where WALL-E and EVE are outside the space-ship, performing a kind of aerial (or vacuum) ballet as WALL-E uses a fire extinguisher to try to get back on board, which turns into a weightless dance worthy of "Singing in the rain".

It's magical stuff.

[Other WALL-E links]
[Pixar's previous masterpiece: "Ratatouille"]
[Japanese animation at its finest: the master-works of Hayao Miyazaki]
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For me, Ratatouille was the most enjoyable movie of 2007. Apart from the appealing story and the staggeringly good animation, there was the wry experience of being educated in the enjoyment of good food by a rat!

Like many people, I suspect, I now take great animation like this for granted. I have to keep reminding myself that thinking about the artistry in this movie (or in any good animated or special-effects movie) as "computer generated" is like crediting the artistry of Rembrandt to the hog bristles in his brushes and to the pigments in his paint!

This article gives some idea of what was actually involved in making Ratatouille. It really is a case of art concealing art (I knew the expression but never looked up its origin, hence the link!). Pixar Animation Studios can be justifiably proud of this one.

(I am glad to see that the DVD also has a copy of the hilarious Pixar short Lifted, which was shown with Ratatouille in our local cinema.)

[Japanese animation at its finest: the master-works of Hayao Miyazaki]
[My movies page]

Samba Saravah is a musical sequence from Claude Lelouch's movie Un Homme Et Une Femme, one of my all-time favourites.

It's hard to believe now that when this film appeared in England in 1966, the censors gave it an X certificate. Times have certainly changed...

It's essential to see this movie in French, with subtitles if necessary. The French language (and this movie) has a rhythm, a style and a soul to it that just doesn't translate into English.

Every time that I hear this music, the words go on dancing in my head for hours afterwards:

“…Mais quelque soit le sentiment qu’elle exprime,
Elle est blanche de formes et de rimes.
Blanche de formes et de rimes,
Elle est nègre, bien nègre dans son coeur…”

You will find all the words of this song (with a translation) here. Click the picture above to play the video - it will open in a separate window.

I had to add a couple of pictures of the beautiful Anouk Aimée...

If you like this, you'll find more on this movie here:

[My movies page]

(Originally posted: April 13th 2008)

I like good children's movies, but I was not expecting to like this one as much as I did. The production values, art direction and acting were all first rate. The only slight problem with it is that the build-up before the "fantastical creatures" appear is so good that their actual appearance (good as it is) can't quite live up to the imagination - which is probably just as well, or it would be too scary for young children.

I first saw Freddie Highmore in Finding Neverland, where he played one of the sons of the family that J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) befriends. Freddie plays two brothers in "Spiderwick" and his performance is very impressive. The rest of the excellent cast includes Mary-Louise Parker (from Fried Green Tomatoes, The Client and many other good movies) and a very welcome appearance by Dame Joan Plowright, who was married to Laurence Olivier. She starred in one of our family's all-time favourite movies, Enchanted April.

If you liked any of the movies mentioned above and are still young at heart then you'll probably really like this one.

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Another picture (author unknown) of Aishwarya Rai, one of the most beautiful women on the planet...

Anika Noni Rose as Mma Makutsi, Jill Scott as Precious Ramotswe and Lucian Msamati as Mr J.L.B. Matekoni
in the wonderful BBC dramatization of the book.

It isn't often that a perfect film is made of a perfect book, but Anthony Minghella's last film is as close as you can get. The casting, the script writing, the Botswana locations, the luminous cinematography - everything, in fact - are a perfect joy from start to finish.

I love the delightful books (eight of them, as of April 2007), which tell the story of Precious Ramotswe, a "traditionally built" Botswana woman, and her mission to solve the problems of her local community.

The author clearly loves the country and the people that he writes about. Running throughout these sunny stories is a (very lightly delivered) message about what is really important (and not important) in life.

So often we hear about Africa's problems, and what we need to do about them. From these books, and from this film, we get a view of Africa that is almost exactly the other way around. And a beautiful, uplifting view it is, too.

Click the image above for links about the movie; click the image to the left for links about the books (both will open in a separate window).


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[My books page]

For Johnny

Do not despair
For Johnny-head-in-air;
He sleeps as sound
As Johnny underground.
Fetch out no shroud
For Johnny-in-the-cloud;
And keep your tears
For him in after years.

Better by far
For Johnny-the-bright-star,
To keep your head,
And see his children fed.

The picture is of a Lancaster bomber on the night of 16/17 April 1943 over Ludwigshafen, and was painted by Marek Dziewa, as described in this story of commemoration and reconciliation.

The poem is by John Pudney.

The connection between the two (in my mind) is the classic British film The Way To The Stars, which was derived from Terence Rattigan's play Flare Path. It's one of my favourites: a simple and moving story of British and American pilots based at an airfield in the Midlands during the Second World War, and the relationships that they form with the local community. John Pudney's poem is given to one of the characters, and is always remembered by those who have seen the movie.

(If you are interested, I describe some of my other movie favourites here.)

(Original post: January 4th, 2008)

If political correctness sets your teeth on edge...

If you couldn't believe the (true) story about the school in Gloucester, England that banned the use of swimming goggles in the pool because the teacher might be distracted by helping a kid to adjust them when another kid was drowning...

If you find the relentless concentration on achievement and performance in the school education system more than a tad overdone...

If you aren't planning to send your daughter to the Cheltenham Ladies College (a real place)...

... then get some therapy for your repressed anarchic feelings and go see St Trinian's, an excellent, wonderfully non-PC remake by Ealing Studios of their original classic 1954 film "The Belles of St Trinians", inspired by the cartoons of Ronald Searle. The new version is a blast!

Read the BBC's review of the new movie here.

You will also find a good Ronald Searle Tribute page, looking forward to the new movie, here.

If you like this...

[My movies page]

This is a delightful site dedicated to the work of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, director of the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, one of the finest animated movies ever made.

Sometimes when the weather is lousy or everything seems miserable, a reminder that life can be good, after all, is very welcome.

Several movies by Miyazaki definitely provide such a reminder; one of my favourites in this category is Kiki's Delivery Service, which is worth watching just for the artwork of the beautiful Scandinavian-style landscape and town, a miracle of loving creative genius - but there is a lot more to it than that. This is animation at its finest (no still images can convey how good it is), and one of my all-time favourite movies. (The version I have is in Japanese, with English subtitles, which I generally prefer.)

My Neighbour Totoro is an enchanting story about children encountering the spirit of the forest when they move to a country home. Miyazaki's portrayal of the beautiful countryside in wind, sun and rain is a joy to watch, and is an artistic achievement in its own right.

Another great favourite of mine is Whisper of the Heart. A coming-of-age story set in a modern city, Miyazaki leads his heroine on a journey that becomes more and more magical at it progresses - not, in this case, the magic of myths or legends, but a way of seeing the real world through the eyes of a young teenager that becomes a true voyage of enchantment.

If you like this...

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