“We’ve been waiting for you, Mr Bond”

September 26th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Thanks to the global pandemic, the release of the new (25th) James Bond movie, “No Time To Die”, has been postponed again and again and there have been no less than three trailers.

But this week, the film finally has its cinema release. If you’d like to remind yourself what we’ve been missing, you can read my review of “Spectre” here.

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A review of the classic 1967 film “The Graduate”

September 25th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

In its day – I was an undergraduate when the film was released and I first viewed it – this was seen as something of a daring work depicting sex in the suburbs between different generations. It is a sharp piece of social commentary – a critical look at the American middle class – disguised as a kind of rom-com.

I say ‘a kind of’ because the central relationship is transactional rather than romantic (the romance comes rather later in the narrative) and the comedy is often somewhat surreal (the eponymous young man decked out in underwater gear or banishing a crucifix as a weapon). Based on a novel by Charles Webb, there is some memorable dialogue including my favourite lines: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word … Are you listening? … Plastics”.

In his break-out role, young Dustin Hoffman plays 21 year old Benjamin Braddock and this proved to be just the start of an illustrious movie career. His temptress is Anne Bancroft who makes the most of some wonderful lines as Mrs Robinson. The young daughter of Mrs Robinson is portrayed by newcomer Katherine Ross whose later career was mostly in television.

The movie was only the second directorial outing for Mike Nicholls but he impresses with a variety of of cinematic tricks, perhaps the most memorable being a shot of Ben framed by the raised naked leg of Mrs Robinson. Another distinguishing feature of this enjoyable film is the use of songs by Simon & Garfunkel including the catchy “Mrs Robinson”. So all the elements of a classic.

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Why is it called the Green Room? Here’s seven possibilities.

September 23rd, 2021 by Roger Darlington

This week, I had dinner with my son in a restaurant called “The Green Room”. I guess that it is called that because it is opposite a theatre.

But why do theatres have a location called the green room? I’ve seen many explanations including:

1) It is a room close to the stage (that is, the green) for actors to meet before going on stage.

2) The waiting room for actors has traditionally been painted green, perhaps because the colour is seen as calming or the colour relieves the actors’ eyes from the glare of the stage.

3) It is a room where understudies to major players would wait and these are the green or inexperienced actors.

4) It is a room where the shrubbery used onstage was stored and the plants made it a cool and comfortable place.

5) It is named after the room behind the scenes at the Blackfriars Theatre in London which happened to be painted green.

6) Before modern make-up was invented, when make-up was first applied by actors it looked greenish.

7) The term might be a corruption of ‘scene room’, the room where scenery was stored and where actors waited to go on stage.

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My latest short story: the Covid-themed “The Great Mall Of China”

September 21st, 2021 by Roger Darlington

A decade or so ago, I decided to try my hand at writing short stories and, over a period of a few years, I completed 31. I recently (self) published these stories in a book titled “The Rooms In My Mind”.

As I prepared the stories for publication, I wondered if I could revive my short story writing endeavours and decided to start with a Covid-themed piece which I’ve titled “The Great Mall Of China”.

You can read my latest short story here. Comments are welcome.

If you like what you read, please consider buying my book here.

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A review of the documentary “Three Identical Strangers”

September 20th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

We live in a golden age of the documentary when such a work can attract the resources of a small film and be made at the length of a movie and then obtain a cinematic release. This 2018 documentary film, directed by Tim Wardle, tells the incredible story of three Americans, Edward Galland, David Kellman, and Robert Shafran, a set of identical triplets adopted as infants by separate families.

Only when they are 19 do the three learn that they have brothers and unite with them in a joy verging on rapture. But, as the narrative develops, it becomes darker and darker as we learn why the babies were separated without the knowledge of the adoptive parents – a covert experiment to address the perennial question of what most shapes our lives: nature or nurture? By the end the viewer can but share the anger and sadness revealed by the men and their relatives. 

Powerful but poignant.

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A review of the novel “Conversations With Friends” by Sally Rooney

September 17th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

I so admired Rooney’s second novel “Normal People” (and the television adaptation) that I later went on to read her first novel “Conversations With Friends” (which is itself to be adapted for television). This initial work was written while Rooney was still studying for her Masters in Dublin and the point of view is that of Frances, a 21 year old nearing the end of her literature degree in the same city. Her best friend Bobbi is a fellow student and fellow poet and, while at school together, they had a relationship.

In the first sentence of the novel, the two young students meet Melissa who is 37 and a photographer. Later they meet Melissa’s 32 year old husband Nick, an actor with mental health issues. The narrative spans less than a year and is overwhelmingly about the inter-relationships between these four characters. 

The events are pretty commonplace – friendships, relationships, illness, nobody dies – and Rooney’s style of writing is sparse, without flamboyance, but I really enjoyed the novel.

And Frances herself is an interesting, not always likeable, character: “I thought of myself as an independent person, so independent that the opinions of others were irrelevant to me”“I felt that I was a damaged person who deserved nothing”, and “The world was like a crumpled ball of newspaper to me, something to kick around”.

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What does it take to stop a US President going rogue?

September 16th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

So now we learn that the United States Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to reassure the Chinese that America was not about to launch a pre-emptive attack on them. This is an astonishing story to emerge about the last days of the presidency of Donald Trump.

It reminds me a a novel I read four years ago called “To Kill The President” [my review here] written by Sam Bourne (aka the “Guardian” correspondent Jonathan Freeland). The book begins with a demagogic US president threatening to launch a nuclear attack on North Korea.

It seems that these days the dividing line between fact and fiction is frighteningly blurry.

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A review of the 2019 Luc Besson movie “Anna”

September 15th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

No film written and directed by the French master Luc Besson is going to be dull – or ordinary. In some senses, this is Besson’s English-language revisiting of his French-language movie “La Femme Nikita” (1990) which gave rise to a Hollywood version “The Assassin” (1993) plus different television series in Canada and the United States.

In all these cases, a young woman who is destitute is trained to be a super-efficient killer for the state. However, the back story of the titular character in “Anna” and the overall tone of the work are more reminiscent of “Red Sparrow” (2018) where, in both cases, the assassin is Russian and there is a lot of violence and a fair bit of sex. If you like this sort of thing – and I rather do – it’s a lot of fun.

Anna is a beautiful Russian agent who goes undercover as a model and she is played by a newcomer to the cinema, Russian Sasha Lush, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 5′ 10″ model for the last decade and a half (see the similarity!). While Lush is new to the movies, she is backed up by some high-grade acting talent, including Helen Mirren and Cillian Murphy as top operatives in the KGB and CIA respectively. 

Besson is an inventive film-maker and here he plays a lot with timelines as he frequently flash backs to some months or even years previously in order to give us different perspectives on the same scene. This can sometimes be a bit tiresome but it does enable him to present some interesting twists in the narrative.

Since “Nikita”, spy movies have become more kinetic and violent – think Jason Bourne and James Bond – and this has had a impact on films with women as the lead action characters – think “Atomic Blonde” and “Lucy” – so Anna dispatches plenty of bad guys especially in a gloriously over-the-top sequence where she finishes up using a fork to make her point.

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A review of the new blockbuster movie “Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings”

September 6th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

This is a movie which has to be seen on the big screen and I saw it on the biggest screen in Britain (the BFI IMAX). It is the first work in the now huge Marvel Cinematic Universe with an Asian lead: Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu in his first film role.

Indeed almost all the roles are taken by actors with some Asian ethnicity and, while we have many of the usual Marvel superhero tropes, much of the style is Chinese with lots of wuxia action, a live forest and a huge dragon. Think “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” meets “Doctor Strange”. The director and co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton is himself from Hawaii which probably helped. 

There are some strong roles for women including Shang-Chi’s mother Li (Chinese-American Fala Chen), sister Xialing (Chinese Meng’er Zhang) and aunt Jiang Nan (Malaysian-born Han Chinese Michelle Yeoh), but the stand-out female role goes to Shang-Chi’s (platonic?) friend Katy played by the funny and talented Awkwafina, the American rapper with Chinese and South Korean ethnicity, who I loved in “The Farewell”.

As you would hope in a superhero movie, there are some great fight sequences and a ferocious final battle with excellent special effects, even if the plot is pretty formulaic, all leavened with some humour. 

Fans of Marvel movies – which includes me – know to stay in the cinema to the conclusion of the credits because there is always a little bit extra and this time we have an extended mid-credits sequence and a snippet at the very end when we are told “The Ten Rings Will Return”.

In these complicated times when cinemas are back open but covid is still around, we need a cheering blockbuster and it’s excellent news that this superhero movie – in which most viewers don’t know the titular character or most of the actors – is doing so well at the box office.  And, if you’ve never seen a Marvel movie, be assured that this one stands alone so that no previous knowledge is required.

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Where did the ciabatta come from?

September 3rd, 2021 by Roger Darlington

I like ciabatta and was surprised to learn recently that it is a relatively recent invention.

Ciabatta bread was first produced in 1982 by Arnaldo Cavallari, who called the bread ciabatta polesana after Polesine, the area he lived in. The recipe was subsequently licensed by Cavallari’s company, Molini Adriesi, to bakers in 11 countries by 1999.

Cavallari and other bakers in Italy were concerned by the popularity of sandwiches made from baguettes imported from France, which were endangering their businesses, and so set about trying to create an Italian alternative with which to make sandwiches. The recipe for ciabatta came about after several weeks of trying variations of traditional bread recipes and consists of a soft, wet dough made with high gluten flour.

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