Movie review – Inside Out

Our first experience at the Odeon’s Screen Unseen – £5 for a screening of a soon-to-be-released mainstream movie. What’s the catch? You don’t know what the film is going to be. Although they do drop a few clues onto Facebook, apparently.

When the censor’s certificate came up as Inside Out,  a few people cheered. A good sign. This is the latest movie from the geniuses at Pixar, under the Disney banner, released recently in the US and due out late July 2015 in the UK.

A good animated film usually works on different levels, appealing to both younger and older generations.

On a simple level, Inside Out tells the heart-warming coming-of-age story of 11 year-old Riley, uprooted from her happy life in Minnesota to move to San Francisco with her parents. But with shades of The Truman Show, her emotions are ruled by a panel of whacky characters from HQ inside her head, rather than inside a TV studio.

From here, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust manage Riley’s life, inserting coloured balls into her memory bank through a complex bagatelle-like mechanism. Fortunately, Joy has held sway over most of the young girl’s earlier life. But in San Francisco, things start to go awry and the personality islands in her life – family, ice hockey, friends, goofball and honesty – begin to disintegrate, and other emotions have more impact.

Spoiler alert….there’s a happy ending. But not before Riley’s world almost completely falls apart, through a series of brilliant CGI trickery, smart dialogue and imagery, in jokes, more vivid characters….and The Train of Thought.

On a deeper level – OK, not that deep – the message is that you can’t be upbeat all the time. Joy works in tandem with Sadness to pull Riley back from the brink, and all the other emotions and experiences form an integral part of her maturing life.

A fantastic cast voice the characters. The Director also directed Up. Pixar created Toy Story, Ratatouille, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, amongst others. If that doesn’t persuade you to go and see this magical movie, I’ll add a new emotion to Riley’s HQ – surprise.

Theatre review – It’s A Wonderful Life

What’s your favourite Christmas film?

The 1946 movie It’s A Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart, is at the top of many people’s list.

I’ve never seen the film, but I have just enjoyed a very entertaining stage version of the story, convincingly re-imagined as a live radio studio recording. And now I understand why it’s considered the ultimate festive feel-good movie. Even when seen in the middle of June.

George Bailey, the central character, is an altruistic idealist in small town America. He helps other people but when he wants to fulfil his own dreams of seeing the world and going to college, circumstances conspire against him.

He ends up reluctantly running his father’s local mortgage business, helping the community to buy their own homes, instead of letting it fall into the hands of the greedy Mr Potter.

Through no fault of his own, George ends up in dire straits and contemplating committing suicide on Christmas Eve, convinced he’s worth more to his family dead than alive.

Enter Clarence, a comic angel looking to earn his wings by saving George.

You can probably guess the way the story goes, even if you haven’t seen the iconic film. This stage production, adapted by Tony Palermo and directed by Guy Retallack, cleverly propels the audience back to the 1940s to share in George’s dilemmas, through the magical medium of the radio recording studio.

The 6 actors convincing play multiple parts, and the 7th provides perfectly timed sound effects in total sync with the plot development and actor’s actions. The ON AIR sign and period product endorsements at the end of each Act add humour and period immersion.

A very enjoyable production of a Wonderful Story. Thanks to my Wonderful Wife Gillian for an imaginative, entertaining birthday present.



Book review – The Children Act by Ian McEwan

If Mr McEwan were a footballer, he’d be playing up front for Real Madrid, earning £300k a week – net of tax – and even Cristiano Ronaldo would be in awe of his fellow striker.

For here is a writer at the very top of his game.

The Children Act is his latest performance. At just over 200 pages of incisive prose, you may feel cheated when he’s substituted early in the second half, the game long since won by his mesmerising genius.

Don’t be. Just savour the time he’s out there, spraying the ball around effortlessly, developing play between vivid characterisations and subtle plot, before smashing the ball into the net with a heartbreaking, thought provoking finale.

The main protagonist is Fiona Maye, a 59 year old High Court judge. Successful, respected and compassionate at work, her childless marriage is under pressure at home.

A case comes before her which poses a moral dilemma: the nearly 18 year old son of devout Jehovah’s Witness parents is refusing a blood transfusion, which the medical profession knows would save his young life.

Fiona’s judgement has profound implications for the boy, and for herself.

The author’s meticulous research into the legal profession, as well as into medicine, music and the Jehovah’s Witness movement, underpins every word of the novel. Combine that with deft characterisations of complex, flawed people and The Children Act becomes a rewarding read, however short a cameo performance this is.

Enjoy the game.


Eurostar….the adventure continues

Our love affair with Eurostar continues…..

On Monday June 1st we left St Pancras at 07:19 on a fresh, grey London morning.

Just under 6 1/2 hours later, we pulled into the Gare Saint Charles in exotic Marseille, cloudless skies above and Mediterranean heat wrapping itself around us, like a comforting blanket draped over an exhausted marathon runner.

Eurostar have run a summer service to Avignon for several years but from 1st May 2015, this has been extended to Marseille. From here you can explore the south of France in all its Gallic glory, make other TGV connections to France or continental Europe, or jump on a ferry to Corsica or North Africa.

On the train trip down, entertain yourself in any number of ways to make the time fly as quickly as Sepp Blatter’s final Presidential term at FIFA.

I overdosed on old-fashioned printed newspapers, buying the I for its Independent journalism and quick crossword, before realising I could get a free Daily Telegraph with a bottle of water at Smiths. And then finding free copies of the Guardian on the train. Still, you can never be over-news’d, can you?

A tradition for Gill and me on Eurostar journeys is to play crib. And for Gill to beat me at this old favourite card game, all pegging, 15-2, 15-4, 15-6, 3 for the run and 1 for his knob.

We had long conversations with our friendly fellow passengers, a retired couple disembarking at Avignon for another train connection to pick up their French river cruise. With a company they use and like. A lot. He was the sales and marketing manager for Agfa, the photographic company owned by the German conglomerate Bayer, and who single-handedly grabbed significant market share for them from Kodak before taking an impossible-to-refuse early retirement package.

We found out a little too much about them, to be honest, but we were a captive audience and I couldn’t face another newspaper.

We also immersed ourselves in books. I’m enjoying Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, savouring every page of his sumptuous writing in this short book, that I’ll need to talk about at my first meeting at a Book Club shortly after we get home.

Gill is reminiscing about our epic trip to Tasmania earlier in the year, through reading Chasing Rainbows, a fascinating autobiography by the daughter of a family who first lived in Palestine before leaving England for Australia with the wave of 1960s emigrants.

We like to indulge in a little Eurostar treat, whenever possible. For the Marseille trip an upgrade to Standard Premier class rewarded us with a comfortable seat, free newspapers and magazines, a history of the development of the photographic industry in Europe before the digital revolution, and meals served at your seat.

Shortly after easing out of St Pancras we were tucking into croissants as flaky as Jonathan Lees’ punctuality, jam, chilled orange juice and strong coffee or a choice of teas.

And somewhere between Lille and Avignon, we could choose between a surprisingly tasty vegetarian pie, with a provencale sauce to ease us into Marseillais mode, or a cold chicken salad.  Washed down with a Sauvignon Blanc or a Minervois red. With pudding and tea or coffee, naturellement.

And all served by a very jolly and entertaining Eurostar cabin crew, mangling their English vowels un peu, but all providing a polished, fun service.

We found out as we approached Avignon that someone had jumped onto the line somewhere in France. Ours was the last Eurostar train through before services were suspended. Lucky, especially as I had been stuck at St Pancras on a Eurostar train for 5 hours in March, as a result of an English Jumper at Ashford.

But what a service this is. 777 miles to Marseille. Brief stops only at Lyon and Avignon. Great service. The ability to walk the length of the train, at any time. Access to all your luggage. The ever-changing landscapes through the window…….of Kent and the length of France, from the bland plains of the Pas de Calais to the rolling hills of Provence. And all at very reasonable prices, from as little as £99 return.

Eurostar, je t’aime.