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The Lego Movie (2014)


The Lego Movie (2014)There was once a time when I had all but one pack to complete the Indiana Jones-esque Egyptian series of Lego, the large temple to go with the sphinx that opens to reveal a skeleton. I was so close. Then came the Rock-Raiders which I had only one part of, then the game too, that was just when Lego was starting to commercialize, not that I really noticed it. Today we have everything from Lego The Simpsons to The AvengersIt feels to me that the idea of children and now adults using their imagination to construct their own worlds is being restricted by the ever-growing series of cash-in sets. Then came along The Lego Movie (2014) which seems like the biggest cash-in/sell-out of it all, with another one in the works, a Batman spin-off too. What happened to the good old fashioned Danish toy company that has been making Lego for over 50 years.

Putting my thoughts to onside about the current state of Lego which for me was so more about building house-boats and caravans as a kid (not the most imaginative for an artist I must admit, they were the best ever though) that came out of a yellow bucket with a square four block lid on top. That was were the real fun lay for me, pouring out the bricks onto the carpet and seeing what I could build. And that is the essence of this film. It pulls away all the cash-in series to go back to the roots of the company, the play-well, the imagine and create, once you’ve followed the instruction book which can be read by anyone in any country you can dissemble to create whatever came into your head.

The Lego Movie is a celebration of all that I’ve just said really, and most of the world who has seen this film will agree, anyone who has played with the toy and got a real buzz from it, playing for hours on end. As we follow what could the most generic of the City series figures, a builder Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) who has for years followed the rules, well the instructions as long as he has been assembled. Lets talk in Lego terms for this review, it just makes sense to. Not thinking beyond the page, unlike others around him who like either sausages or fries, they all have a particular passion, not one passion for everything. He’s a sheep follow the herd blindly not seeing past the end of the booklet to see what else is possible for himself. Well except for a double-decker sofa so friends can come over and watch a film with you. You’d need a super massive TV for that to work or even a projector maybe.

Emmet the bland builder accidentally gets himself involved in what could be the end of life for him and Lego-kind as we know it on meeting Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) who is on the hunt for the special one as prophesied by the great Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) as laid out in the prologue to the film. When Emmet discovers he is the chosen special one a lot of pressure is put on him to perform, to do good on his new title in front of the master builders (an array of figures from the heaps of series of Lego from Batman to Milhouse Van-Houten to the 80′s spaceman. Everyone and everyone is there, all having a moment in the lime-light. Which is part of the wider commercial universe they have created. All these can build using their imaginations, something that Emmet is seriously lacking after years of following the instructions, conforming to the society he is a part of.

I could go on about the plot, which for me spends time in the Old West for a time before darting all over the place, animated perfectly, if there was ever going to be a Lego film it would have to have this level of detail, the lightness of touch. Nothing is left to chance, even the water is made up of Lego single circles (again Lego lingo). From the same studio that gave us Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009). It’s heaps of fun with the sensibility of Lego central to the film. With the threat of the world being frozen with super-glue close at hand, to live the live of a theme-park, which would stop creativity dead in it’s tracks. We must remember the power of imagination, how it allows us to get carried away, to create and build whole worlds, even with a few bricks.

When we pull away to the real-world, which was a brave yet natural progression, to see the toy as it actually is the argument between father and son is played out, to play with the bricks, or to glue them frozen which defeats the object of toys. The danger of reaching adult-hood where we can loose that creativity, to move away from ‘childish’ things. Something I have seen before when action figures are collected in hope they stay in the packaging in the hopes that it will increase in value, we forget what toys are for, to play with.

I started off talking about how I view the current state of Lego which I feel has lost it heart with sets for every film franchise under the sun which restricts to a point imagination of the player. Yet on the other side of the argument with those figures in your hands the story continues  so it’s not all bad, The Lego Movie is living proof they are thriving, even in the hands of a major film company. I just can’t see where a sequel can go, except as the ending suggests an invasion from Duplo, the film is perfect as a stand-alone for me.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)


The Manchurian Candidate (2004)It’s always interesting to see how a remake of a classic film turns out, will it be a word for word, scene for scene job, or a completely new spin on a film which worked, laying the foundations to be labelled a classic. A piece of work that should be respected and held in high regard. That’s the danger with remakes, I always try to  see the original before I see a remake or a cash-in on a working formula. Such as 3.10 to Yuma both versions, which I found was expanded in the 2007 remake. As much as the psychology of the original remains in tact, everything around it was built upon, making for an action packed film that allows a coward to truly redeem himself to himself and his family. Moving forward to 1962 with The Manchurian Candidate which explored brainwashing on the battlefield of war to be brought back to the home front of politics. Having just seen the 2004 remake I safely say that things have been updated, becoming more sophisticated, whilst keeping all the ingredients of the original.

Updating firstly the Korean War to the first Gulf War that sees a unit of soldiers who were engaged in battle taken away to be brainwashed by a group of scientists employed by a financial group in the States. That’s the backdrop of the film, wanting to influence the countries politics from the heart. Updating the technique from the classic hypnotism was a strong move, allowing for technology to play a part in this game of mind-control. The dreams that we see through-out is also a brave move away from the old cut between audiences in the original that still has the effect of brainwashing just as hauntingly. When we see the men in the present day under control I would have liked to see something more subtle than a bright light to indicate the transition. Maybe it’s just me but it does insult the audience, we know too easily what is happening.

The relationship between Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) and Rosie (Kimberly Elise) is expanded from the original between Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh who had more of a supportive role that drifted in and out. To give the Rosie role more of a purpose to the plot really added to the world they were in. Not really knowing until the final hour. Whilst the Jon Voight role was reduced down considerable. Even the love interest between Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) and Jocelyne Jordan (Vera Farmiga) is just a mention. Also the resentment between Raymond and his domineering mother Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep) is reduced to a few scenes. Increasing the reach politically, not just the wife of an dead senator, she is one, her weight is felt elsewhere. Streep’s casting however is a stroke of genius, if only they allowed mother strained to be explored in more detail. Something that was more rounded by Angela Lansbury who will always remain the Eleanor Shaw for me. I was also surprised by Liev Schreiber’s casting is by far the best, an actor I thought was confined to the comic book and villain role is able to play the political puan.

The crux of the film is still in tact, brainwashing in politics, from the battlefield of war as I mentioned earlier. However the characters around the main three are reduced to nothing really. As if they turned up for a few days shooting and went onto the next film. Both of similar length, all the ideas could have been discussed to some degree here. Maybe it’s the change of times that saw these decision being made. I will always as you natural do, think of the original which will somehow however unsophisticated it maybe it made a mark that can’t be shifted easily. 

 

Frontier Town Update (18/11/14)


I’ve been working really hard today, producing all the frames for the forthcoming models which are now moving into the next phase of construction. I sound like a builder here. I will soon have another miniature town, which I am already thinking of expanding once these are all completed.

 

With all the frames in place I began to cover the front of the buildings. As I’ve done it before a few weeks ago I am pushing through them at a good speed, having got almost three out of the six being cladded out. Starting on the building before turning to the bases later on as they seem to work better when they are done last.

DSCF4918

I also added another piece to the train station as I wash’t happy with the roof, it needs to flow more at the back, it would otherwise always bug me as long as I had the model. It had to be fixed before I went further with it. I am looking forward to see how these turn out in comparison to the first three which are by far still my best models yet.

Frontier Town Update (17/11/14)


Because I am running low on some supplies I thought today to focus on what I can do, which is the  frames of four more models which are already for the next stage. I have modified two of them, both for different reasons.

The first two models were pretty straight forward, starting them yesterday, the jail and the livery stable. I noticed that I have to pay close attention to the measurements as I double them in size.

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Compared to todays models which saw me modify them for the scaling up and looking better. For the blacksmiths I was worried about the roof that extends out of the main building. I have now placed in a chimney on-top, which I am thinking will be replaced with a thinner one. I’m still not sure. Whilst the train-station is more like a station with a roof which can be seen either side of the clock face in the middle.

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Next time I’ll be getting in more supplies to push these models further. I’m tempted though to carry on with the frameworks for the two remaining models which will complete the set I already have.

Interstellar (2014)


Interstellar (2014)I’ve given myself an hour to properly digest this epic film that really does deliver on visual spectacle if nothing else. I’ve known from just the trailer (which I’ve tried to avoid) that it references both Contact (1997) and more importantly 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). It’s hard to really see Interstellar (2014) and not think of these two films. We seem to be getting more and more sci-fi with the message of saving the planet before it’s too late. More so here when its time to up-sticks and find somewhere else to live. It’s not an easy task when the world population has been reduced from one of materialist wealth and greed to one of pure survival, the world’s stock of basic food-stuffs is down to corn, which we see plenty of that throughout the scenes on mother earth that seems to want to get rid of us in sandstorms.

When single father of two Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles across a secret Nasa plan to find a new home for the human race, which is left in the dark about the project, seen as political futile, when its more important to put food on the table. The project lead by Professor Brand Nolan regular Michael Caine who by chance alone believes that the ex-pilot Cooper is needed to pilot the mission aboard the Endurance along with the professor’s daughter Brand (Anne Hathaway). For Cooper it’s a decision that doesn’t come lightly, his son Tom takes the news far better than Murph who is very much like her father develops feelings of abandonment. Left in the care of grandfather Donald (John Lithgow) who is able to see the bigger picture, knowing his son wants to make a difference.

The Endurance team leave planet earth with such hope and aspirations, knowing that they may never be coming back home, their families will probably never see them again. They have three possible planets to check out, thats after going through a wormhole that was conveniently found just next to Saturn. This is where the science really begins, already having our first serving courtesy of Professor Brand we have to let the science go over our heads to a certain extent to enjoy the visual splendour (not created in a computer). I do understand some of the science, having seen my share of sci-fi over the years, there are still moments I’m left scratching my head. But then If I was left thinking about all the techno-babble I would be missing the amazing planets that they visit. The lone spacecraft which Endurance docks travels through space.

Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey the science is still very much possible, none of what we see on-screen is too far away, apart from TARS (Bill Irwinthe onboard computer who accompanies the crew, more human than the computers we are used to. Predicting the level of sophistication that is in are grasp, give to take a century. Matched by McConaughey’s down to earth approach to the film that keeps everything grounded and engaging for the audience who is taken back and forth to earth (missing out the wormhole).

For this film to work minus the science (with the plot-holes) would be far less enjoyable. Nolan doesn’t patronise the audience with quick ideas, its researched properly, with added entertainment factor, it’s not supposed to be fully factual, it’s a film at the end of the day, if you wants facts read a book or read a science article. The science makes it all seem more real. I have to admire Nolan’s push for the celluloid film which is a dying medium, wanting to be authentic as possible. This way he was able to move away from the digital hold, allowing him to rely on good old-fashioned tricks of the light which you can really tell the difference when placed up against a C.G.I. blockbuster. We see little of space, but when we do, it’s wondrous and all spectacle, it’s an event of a film.

To say this film has faults I would probably shoot for the science which can go over your head at times like I mentioned earlier, it wouldn’t be Nolan without it. The cast is held together by McConaughey and Jessica Chastain as the older Murph, who fight for the truth when it is finally revealed we are left uncertain which way the film will lean. The rest of the cast are not really important, with a few pages of dialogue each.

From the reviews I’ve already read I was still left unsure how the reunion would come together. Where there is hopelessness at the beginning of the film, as if Nolan is against anything technological (not just digital film) he does have a point as much as we don’t want to admit it. My own mobile provider is practically forcing me to have an upgrade. The need for material goods is incredible that we loose sight of what is really important, the need for food, water, shelter and good health. Which without we would be screwed. Unlike Gravity (2013) which I can never watch again unless I’m wearing 3D glasses, I could easily watch this over and over for just the visuals which are heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick who had not even heard of C.G.I. The need to improvise really pays off here, hearing stories of how Anne Hathaway stood on one leg to float about, all the old tricks work and hold up. The ludite in Nolan really pays off, because he works hard at his craft, he didn’t earn the title as the next David Lean from Michael Caine for no good reason.

Saad Qureshi


For what seems like ages, I have been gallery gorging recently, and came across the work of Saad Quereshi who is currently exhibiting in the Gazelli Art House, London. CONGREGATION which has an installation of 99 wooden stands that altogether hold 313 life-sized Abaabil birds made from plaster and straw, representing fossilised birds who guard a Ka’bah in Pakistan.

Walking through the installation was a incredible, to view each individual bird, hand crafted and unique. I was reminded of the crows who gather on the climbing frame in The Birds (1963). It was a menacing sight to be confronted by all of these birds as I entered the space. These alien creatures  all staring at you with makes this piece very effective when you first encounter it. An army of birds ready to attack.

27 Inches Closer (2014)


An intervention in reaction to the British Board of Film Classification‘s 1916 policy drawn up by T.P.O’Connor that stated in rule 34 of 43 that prohibited men and women to be in bed together. A policy that effected Hollywood’s exports to the United Kingdom, a large part of their foreign market. Forcing them to depicted couples in twin beds as British film-makers were doing. An aspect of classic cinema which can be confused with the Hays Code in the U.S. a self imposed form of censorship that was drawn up in the 1930′s. Inspired also by the four bedroom scenes found in Mrs Miniver (1942) which along with a selection of other films that obeyed this censorship ruling. Pushing the twin beds of on-screen couples in photographic form from screen-shots sourced from found footage.

Tunnel of Love

Tunnel of Love

The McKenna's Packing

The McKenna’s Packing

The Miniver's

The Miniver’s

The Miniver's Talking in Bed

The Miniver’s Talking in Bed

Mrs Miniver Gettng into Bed

Mrs Miniver Gettng into Bed

Laura in a double Bed

Laura laying in bed with Guilt.

Nora waking up

 

Last Action Hero (1993)


LLast Action Hero (1993)et me start by saying I wasn’t going to write about Last Action Hero (1993) however I just can’t shake loose some of the ideas that it explore, if only for entertainment value this is one of those films. A boy Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) whose whole life is the big screen and the escapism that it allows him to engage in on a nightly basis. His favourite is one of ours at the time Arnold Schwarzenegger in his take on the Dirty Harry part Jack Slater, as we see from the beginning the third instalment of the series. The invincible rebel cop who is armed with guns in too many places. Causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. Sound familiar, spoofing the action cop genre, with Arnie in the titular role.

The lone viewer Danny adores the character, knowing the films back to front, he knows the conventions of Hollywood cinema too which come in handy later on. When his projectionist friend Frank (Art Carney) invites him to an exclusive preview showing of the new Jack Slater film he is given a golden ticket that was originally a gift from Harry Houdini. Its power is not yet known or even tested. in the hands of excited Danny its full potential is unlocked. A gateway into the film, the fourth wall is now open to him, and closed behind him.

Becoming a part of the fabric of the film. The characters unaware of the automatically reloaded guns, the gorgeous women who occupy Hollywood’s view of Los Angeles. This world is a complete film with its own reality and laws that govern it, the actors who portray them are unaware they are simply a performance, the now expands to the new element in the film, Danny who throws the completed film into chaos  From here on-in Danny teams up with Jack to solve the drug ring that is the plot of the scripted film. The villain of the film and deadly assassin Benedict (Charles Dance) is curious to know who this new element in the film is, how he knows so much. The voyeur becomes the watched that takes his experience to inform and direct the films progress.

Leading the deadly stereotypical British villain to unlock the power that the boy has, the potential of the ticket to survive in the real world. Having secured the ticket as the action progresses he understand how to use the ticket to unlock “baddies” from other film, to have the power of their on-screen character in the real world. Moving from the projected world which projected into audiences, our desires, dreams of the characters who come alive every time we watch them on the big screen. They have a life on in our own consciousness, empowered further with Houndini’s ticket become a reality.

This is a fascinating idea that holds up more than the film, even when Arnie’s character comes into contact with the man himself at the premiere of his own film, the cage he otherwise trapped in. His new lease of life is a culture shock to him, learning his limitations of as fictional character. It’s both fascinating and complex to see character confined to film come alive outside of their own framework. To imagine our favourite characters from over a century of film come off the screen, having a life beyond the film set, the special effects and the script, etc that brought them to life step out having another one. The actor may be long dead or still alive, there’s a clash when the two meet, and ultimately the new person is only as rounded as the on-screen performance given by the actor, which determine their life-span.

The film it self for me is particularly throw-away, a typical nineties action comedy that plays on the conventions of film. You could easily remake this film with another set of actors, even moving the action from a film projection to digital, allowing a film character to leak into the internet, the travel around Youtube, finding other clips of films. The possibilities are endless.

 

Heaven’s Gate (1980)


Heaven's Gate (1980)Due to the sheer length of Hevean’s Gate (1980) I have decided to watch it in two parts, just over the hour mark tonight (8/11/14) and I feel that I should hold back until I have seen beyond the Johnson County War horses ride off into town. My initial thoughts are that Michael Cimino for all he is now known for, almost bankrupting a studio by blowing his budget, his film truncated for theatrical release he has produced (only looking at the first half of the directors cut) a masterpiece that is the scale of a David Leancover vast stretches of even just one state, the emotional depth of a George Stevens and the romanticism of Robert Altman‘s McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971).  If that is even possible for a man who only a few years before caused uproar with The Deer Hunter (1978) has taken on a dark page in his countries own past, as it turned on it’s immigrants who tried to make a life for themselves, as the Americans years before once did. I can’t wait to see how the  town react to the state and even country whose middle class army turn on the people who make the country so rich.

I could only wait a single night to complete this epic of a film, putting the label to shame when applied to The Big Country (1958) somewhat. I could see the length issue, needing to bring it in to theatrical release friendly length, which would only hinder the film. Noticing scenes which could be cut back, none entirely removed. Everything is in there for a purpose, prolonged to enjoy the spectacle of their integration with American’s who here are living alongside one another in peace. An issue that has become a hot topic in the UK with the borders within the EU for free movement the influx of people from all over Europe, which is having an effect on the fabric of the nation, its politics and infrastructure. I’m just glad we have moved on even from the 1950′s and the comments of Enoch Powell wanting to pay each immigrant to leave. That’s was progress when compared to the extremes which the US government went to in Johnson County, Wyoming in 1890 with immigrant causing “near anarchy”. This conflict between the towns people enabled by the President versus the immigrants is the backdrop for this dusty dramatic epic.

Beginning in 1870 when two friends are graduating from university it seems that the possibilities are endless for James Averill (Kris Kristofferson) and Englishman Billy Irvine (John Hurt) in a sequence that is full of great promise for all the young men and the adoring women who join them in dance and celebration. We can see the beginning of something special for James and Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert) which is brought to an abrupt close with cut to twenty years later and the shooting of an immigrant from a shadowy figure from behind a sheet, the figure - Nathan D. Champion (Christopher Walken), of authority  is looming in, wanting to control if not quell the bubbling situation of fear that is brewing out in Johnson County 1890.

We can see the speed of development in the country, as we cut to not a boom town, but a booming metropolis of a busy main street, horses pulling trailers, men in shops kitting themselves out in the latest suits and guns. It’s still very much a mans world. It doesn’t quite fit for James/Jim who quickly leaves for his homestead where we find Ella waiting for him. He has all he needs, a sheriffs job and a woman who makes him happy, what more does he want. The fear of a list of 125 names made up by cattle men who fear the influx of new Europeans. His friend Billy is revealed to be a weak man of only clever words and ideals that get him nowhere in the West kept alive only by his class that.

Before the conflict begins we are treated to over an hour getting to know the people of the county that have shaped it, reminding us of the fabric the growing country then and now. Something that is the foundation of most countries that is sometimes forgotten. Its a rich tapestry of scenes that are woven together to give us an image of a cohesive community that ultimately stand-up and fight the cattle men. Ignoring the law that was behind this influx of men is long coasts riding over the countryside with guns in hand, ready to deliver justice.

With all the grand imagery that is the overwhelming factor that makes this film so enjoyable and rewarding. We see a lot of dust in the air, brought up by the wheels on the ground, the sub seeping through the windows. Visually its splendid to watch, taking us to a dirty rough and ready. It falls down on the characterisation, the old friends only have a few scenes together. Cimino is doing what I do when documenting my work, he “milks it” squeezing everything out of his scenes, allowing them to play out. A lot is going on, it’s hard to see where any cuts were made for this final directors cut. We could easily have a documentary cut of the film seeing a historical account of the conflict rather than that characters. The only characters that are really focused is within the love triangle which is tolerated and not tested. Jeff Bridges is given a few scenes as John L. Bridges who protects Ella more than anything. The ending is probably my only major fault that never really says anything, asking more questions, whose the girl who sits before a very much hurt James who cannot seem to move on. Maybe this ambiguity that has allowed such respect to build up around this film that is unique from any other in the Western genre.

If we take only one thing away from this controversial landmark film it is the visual detail, the love devotion that goes into every scene, every frame even. We should forget about the controversy behind the film, the massive budget, the incredible number of takes. However it does mark the end of an era in Hollywood film-making, the loss of directorial control, the creative reins have been now pulled in considerably. We still get the rare film that from Terrence Mallick and   Scorsese which has their stamp all over it. Now we have films that are generated out of successful franchises, reboots and superhero universes that are proven to make a massive box-office return. The studio has won out, thank god for the indie film.

Nebraska (2013)


Nebraska (2013)I’ve been waiting to get around to watching Nebraska (2013) even if Bruce Dern once shot John Wayne in The Cowboys (1972) but that was over forty years ago and most people have got over that awful scene that has more recently made me turn slightly against the actor (only for a day or so). I have seen Dern deliver some fine performances before and after that film. He is triumphed by Quentin Tarantino who has finally found a film for him, (after his cameo in Django Unchained (2012)) he is finding a new lease of life on film. All this could be down to his Oscar nominated performance in this black comedy Nebraska that sees an elderly father fall for one of the worst marketing scams going today, the million dollar check, which is something that really deserves to be thrown in the bin. Not for unwitting Woody Grant (Dern) who has for weeks already been making attempts to travel/walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his new-found fortune. Driving his family mad with despair for Woody.

What follows is an unlikely road-trip with his youngest son David (Will Forte) who reluctantly takes him to Nebraska if only to prove that he is letting himself in for a lot of embarrassment as the film progresses. You could say Nebraska is about marketing scams targeting the elderly who are more vulnerable to such practices. That’s only scratching the surface and missing the point completely, its setting things up to allow David to get to know his father better than he has in a long time. Bringing him closer to his father.

I said this was a road-trip movie, well it is in part, they do travel in a car, stopping mostly in Woody’s home town, full of memories and people from his past, one he has forgotten mostly about. Staying at his brother Ray’s (Rance Howard) home with his wife Martha (Mary Louise Wilson) and sons. This is where the real comedy starts to happen for me, the family dynamic of a family that is full of elderly and the middle-aged, all with life experience, it’s the older generation who have all the best lines though. Especially June Squibb the long-suffering wife Kate who doesn’t hold back whoever company she’s in. Stealing every scene she’s in, with a heap of charm that you can only get the older you become, the licence to let rip with what you say, not caring what others think. 

Moving onto the cinematography, a rare black and white film, even though technically it’s not, filmed digitally in colour and converted in post-production. The effect does allow you to concentrate more on the characters, not distracted by the world around them. It really comes into its own when we have the wide open shots of the landscape, just as the sunrises or sets, making it come into its own. Otherwise I was trying to work out what the real colours were. Knowing also that a colour version of the film was recently shown in a U.S channel which caused a stir, which I can understand. Ultimately with two versions out for broadcast is it really much point to argue. It’s not as if the film was original shot in black and white before being colorized, which really is a controversial technique. 

Coming back to around to Nebraska as a film it has a real heart, focusing on the family dynamic in later life, everyone has grown up, the truth will one day come out, you can see everyone’s true colour beyond the smiles at family gatherings. We learn more about Woody than anyone and that’s how we like it really, that’s where all the heart is, we want to know more about this man who is now a bumbling alcoholic who has become a shadow of his younger self which is quite sad really.

Supported by a maturer cast of characters who paint the picture of Woody’s life, all corrected by Martha allowing us to understand a flawed human being who has tried his best, bumbling through life it seems. We all know someone who has struggled, or struggling, a very human facet that sometimes can have a stronger hold over us. Making this a very relatable and enjoyable film that had me in laughing more than I thought I would. Whilst never mocking an elderly it celebrates their humanity which is rarely seen on film today.

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