A review of the new film “Manchester By The Sea”

March 12th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

I spent the first 23 years of my life living in what i regard as the original Manchester in north-west England, so I was always going to be intrigued by the title of this film. The small fishing town in Massachusetts is a character in itself and different scenes feature prominently in the cinematography.

In fact, by the time I saw the movie at the cinema, Casey Affleck had already deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his stunning – often understated – performance as Lee Chandler, a Boston janitor who has to return to his home town where he is astonished to find that, following the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), he has been given custody of his 16 year old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

The story starts with winter scenes of Lee’s life in Boston and it looks like this is a man with immense attitude. Only later do we learn, though one of many flash-backs, that this is not attitude, but grief, guilt and white-hot anger. Affleck is rarely off the screen and gives a powerful and moving portrayal of a man that just cannot come to terms with his loss. This is not “About A Boy” (2002) where the youngster softens the man; this is more “Ordinary People” (1980) where deep pain has no ultimate resolution.

Among so many memorable scenes, two stand out: one in which very little is said and the music of Albinoni’s Adagio has rarely been more heart-rending and another in which Joe meets his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) when little more is said but grief is shown to be unbridgeable. Writer and director Kennth Lonergan has given us a genuine tour de force.

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Mindfulness – and the reason for the raisin

March 11th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

A friend of my mine has become a trainer in mindfulness and wanted to try out a session with me. One of the exercises she used involved a raisin as explained in this short video:

The experience was strangely peaceful but a bit weird.

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What do you think is the most popular section of my web site? It’s quite a story.

March 7th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

My web site – including my two blogs – receives around 4,000 visits a day or 120,000 a month or almost 1.5M a year. The blogs are actually the most popular locations, but which section on the actual web site do you think is the most visited?

It is, in fact, the section titled “Stories To Make You Think”. I’ve just added a new entry so now there are no less than 76 thoughtful stories, motivational tales, and pieces of wisdom from around the world. I believe that it’s one of the largest such collections on the web.

You can access all the stories here.

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Would a universal basic income actually work?

March 6th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Rutger Bregman is a Dutch economist who is causing a stir with his book “Utopia For Realists – And How We Can Get There” which is published in English this week. He has an article in today’s “Guardian” newspaper in which he summarises his case that “Poverty is not a lack of character. Poverty is a lack of cash.”

He puts the argument for “an incredibly simple idea: universal basic income – a monthly allowance of enough to pay for your basic needs: food, shelter, education. And it’s completely unconditional: not a favour, but a right.”

But would it actually work? Bregman has looked at the data from a little-known experiment which took place in the Canadian town of Dauphin from 1974-1979.

He insists that the result of introducing a universal basic income was that “the people in Dauphin had not only become richer, but also smarter and healthier. The school performance of children improved substantially. The hospitalisation rate decreased by as much as 8.5%. Domestic violence was also down, as were mental health complaints.”

You can find a review of Bregman’s book here.

You can learn more about the Dauphin experiment here.

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Will Barack Obama’s next book be the best-ever presidential memoir?

March 5th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

It has been reported this week that Barack and Michelle Obama have signed a joint book deal with Penguin Random House, said to be worth $60M (£49M).

Now presidential memoirs are very rarely exciting reads. Three of the most eloquent writers and orators ever to have occupied the White House – Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D Roosevelt and John F Kennedy – all died in office and never had an opportunity to reflect on their record.

It is often held that the first presidential memoir – “An Autobiography” (1913) by Thodore Rooisevelt – is the best so far, although it admitted few errors.

The high hopes expected of Obama’s memoirs rest, not just on the uniqueness of his service as the first black president at an immensely challenging time both at home and abroad, but on the quality of his previously published writing. “Dreams From My Father” [my review here] and “The Audacity Of Hope” [my review here] were both eloquent and inspiring works that auger well for the forthcoming presidential memoir.

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Suppose the speed of light has not always been the same?

March 4th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

This week, I found myself with some time to kill and bought a copy of the “New Scientist” magazine. A special feature looked at “five impossible things about the universe that just might be true”. The first of these related to the speed of light.

Our current thinking, as embodied in Einstein’s general theory of relativity, is that the speed of light is both finite and constant. But the article pointed out that a faster speed of light would solve one of the biggest problems in cosmology: that the universe’s temperature is more or less the same everywhere, even though there has not been enough time since the Big Bang for this thermal equalisation to have taken place.

Standard cosmology solves this problem with the notion of inflation, a period in the very early life of the universe when space suddenly inflated faster than light speed (some which Einstein’s relativity does allow). The article suggests, however, that the same effect as inflation could be achieved if cosmic light speed started out infinite (or at least a lot faster) at the Big Bang and has been becoming slower ever since as space has expanded.

Initially the speed could have fallen precipitously. These days, it could be creeping downwards imperceptibly, explaining why we measure it as constant.

Just saying …

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A review of the new X-Men movie “Logan”

March 3rd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

This is the ninth movie in the X-Men franchise (I’ve seen them all) and the third of the stand-alone “Wolverine” films, but this really is an X-Men movie like no other. In characterisation, narrative, location and style, it stands apart but is entirely consistent with the others and brings the story to a most satisfying conclusion.

Set in 2029 when mutants are all but extinct and located in a bleached terrain on the Tex-Mex border, we find adamantium-clawed Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackson) and wheelchair-bound Charlers Xavier aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart) as we’ve never seen them before: fragile, failing, vulnerable and ultimately in terminal decline. In thespian terms, this raises the bar for both Jackman and Stewart who are able to deliver more nuanced performances than one usually finds in super-hero movies. They are being chased by the bad guys from Transigen in a fleet of heavy, black vehicles commanded by a metal-armed cyborg, so this is part a road movie (with elements of “Mad Max: Fury Road”) and part an elegiac western (with echoes of “Unforgiven” and clips from “Shane”).

But this is the most viscerally violent and outright bloody X-Men work of them all with perforated chests and rolling heads, not just from Wolverine and X-24 but also from 11 year old girl mutant Laura/X-23 (played amazingly by English-Spanish child actress Dafne Keen).

It’s 17 years since we first met the X-Men on the big screen and Jackman as Wolverine has appeared in them all. The three stand-alone Wolverine films have been “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009), “The Wolverine” (2013) and now (2017) “Logan” (note the human name). James Mangold directed the last two and this time originated the story and co-wrote the screenplay and he can be proud of a truly exciting and entertaining piece of work that is one of the very best in the franchise. Although possibly a litle too long, “Logan” opens strongly, it is well paced, and the ending is poignant yet uplifting. But. unlike most Marvel movies, there is no end credit scene – I told you it was different.

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A review of the critically-acclaimed and award-winning film “Moonlight”

March 1st, 2017 by Roger Darlington

On the evening of the very day I went to see “Moonlight” at a cinema in London, it received the highest accolade of the Aacedmy Awards in Los Angeles, but only after the most dramatic mess-up in Oscar history when originally “La La Land” was announced as the winner of the Best Film Award only minutes later for it to be declared that in fact “Moonlight” was the actual victor. Even without this memorable fiasco, it would have been a stunning event: the first LGBT film to be awarded the Oscars’ top honour and Mahershala Ali as the first Muslim to win an Oscar.

It is a remarkable film that tells a moving coming-of-age story of a young gay African-American from Miami in a compelling fashion: a triptych in which each of the three segments is titled by the name used for the central character at that time of his life and in which a different actor pays that character. So Alex Hibbert is Little (around 9), Ashton Sanders is Chiron (about 16), and Trevante Rhodes is Black (approximately 26) – each giving a laconic but mesmerising performance.

In a rare movie with an all-black cast, there is strong support from the likes of Oscar-nominated Naomie Harris as Chiron’s drug-using mother and Oscar winner Mahershala Ali as Little’s protector and mentor. Above all, though, this is a triumph for writer and director Barry Jenkins who adapted Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unproduced play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” and utilises a wide palette of techniques and styles to communicate his message.

“Moonlight” is a million miles from “La la Land” (which I loved) and will take only a fraction of the box office achieved by the musical. It is slow and painful and will not be to all viewers’ taste. But this is what makes cinema such a wonderful art form. We can admire both and the Academy Awards can acknowledge both.

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Who is Inspector Sands and why does he receive so many announcements?

February 28th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

I travel a lot on the London Underground system and in recent weeks I have heard several announcements calling on Inspector Sands to go to the control room. What’s all this about?

The Inspector Sands voice message is an automated message which is activated when the station fire alarm sounds. The message gives staff an opportunity to investigate why the fire alarm is operating. It is a safety mechanism that has been agreed with the London Fire Brigade and is the same system used in major national rail stations and airports in the UK.

When the fire alarm is being tested, or when a fire alarm has been triggered (up to 90% of these are false alarms), the automated voice message calls Inspector Sands to wherever the affected alarm is. Station staff then have a specified period of time to investigate before a full evacuation is triggered.

The Inspector Sands message exists so that London Underground can get staff prepared to carry out certain safety related activities but without causing unnecessary alarm for customers.

So don’t panic!

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Remembering Sir Gerald Kaufman MP

February 27th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

I was saddened to hear the news today of the death of Gerald Kaufman, the Labour Member of Parliament who was the longest-serving member of the House of Commons, having clocked up an amazing 47 years when he died.

I joined the Labour Party in 1969 in the Manchester Ardwick constituency where Kaufman was first elected MP in the General Election of 1970. He was an outstanding constituency MP and an able Minister. I still have a copy of his 1980 book “How To Be A Minister” inscribed to me and signed by him.

His brother Leslie Lever was another man who served ably as a Labour MP and my step-mother was actually his constituency secretary for many years.

Of course, this was a different time for the Labour Party. The party won the General Elections of 1964 and 1966 and the two General Elections of 1974 (both of which I contested as a Labour candidate).

These days, the Labour Party is in a terrible mess and, following the disastrous result in Copeland last Thursday, the last thing that the party – and Jeremy Corbyn in particular – need just now is another by-election in a Labour-held seat. I think that Labour will hold it but, as with every by-election since Corbyn became leader, with a reduced share of the vote. Dark times for social democrats.

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