1944 (Estonian WW2 film) Synopsis and Review

1944 is a 2015 Estonian action war drama film directed by Elmo Nüganen. The film first premiered in February 2015 in Berlin, Germany, before its release in Estonia and other Northern European countries. It was selected as the Estonian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards but it was not nominated.

The film is set in the year 1944, from the Battle of Tannenberg Line (25 July – 10 August 1944) to the Battle of Tehumardi in Sõrve Peninsula (October – November 1944) and is shown through the eyes of Estonian soldiers who had to pick sides and thus fight against their fellow countrymen. Choices had to be made, not only by the soldiers, but also by their loved ones.

The film focuses on the individual in the context of the war rather than war itself, and shows the war from both perspectives – those of the Estonians in the Red Army and in the German Army.

The film was funded by the Estonian Film Institute, Estonian Ministry of Defence, Cultural Endowment of Estonia and private investments.

During the run of the film Estonian, German and Russian are spoken.

Excuse me not using names for the most part but in war films everyone seems reduced to stereotypes and can you honestly say, barring the central characters, you ever remember the names of the entire cast during these – most of whom die shortly after their ‘provide a minimal amount of character development by showing a picture of family which foreshadows they’ll die in the next scene’ moment?

Synopsis

We open on text:

‘In 1939, Soviet Union and Germany sign a Treaty of Non-Aggression. A week later, World War II begins. In 1940, Soviet Union annexes Estonia. 55 000 Estonians are mobilized to the Red Army. In 1941, Germany occupies Estonia. 72 000 Estonians are mobilized to German armed forces. Since German Army, Wehrmacht, accepts only German citizens, Estonians have to fight in Waffen-SS and other military units. Now in 1944, the Red Army is back on Estonian border.’

The subtitles at the start confuse ‘German’ and ‘Germany’ while omitting the definite article. Great start… and they move too fast to read for the last sentence or two. I notice once or twice later the subtitles seem grammatically wrong again and suspect they were done by someone whose not a native speaker or was put under severe enough time constraints they didn’t double check their work though for the most part it’s fine.

In the trenches the fast shakey camera makes effective use of the limited perspective.

OF course it lacks the ‘Hollywood sheen’ but in some ways that works in it’s favour. Also the minimal use of music during the charges of soldiers so as to not glamorise events and give way to moments over the stark depictions of combat.

One or two have camouflage on their clothing which I assume isn’t period accurate but might be. It’s the issue of so little coverage of World War 2 events which are not explicitly form German, American, French resistance or British perspectives. As a western viewer you automatically assume the attackers are Fascists but in fact it’s the Soviet forces or as seems to be the films preferred nom de plume the Red Army.

The quieter moments in the trench barracks feel far more effective as we focus on the actors and this doesn’t require big flashy events. The story of the people involved and their motivations rather than the glorification of war. Stories of how they dealt with the situation they were in and the sense of losing oneself – the loss of personal identity as a pawn in the motivations of others.

After proceeding under cover of darkness the music has a continuous tense cord with a few stark notes. THey join some Danes. This really is a narrative not explored in the West at all.

A fat Russian chokes a man. Few if any Russians would be that fat.

Some soviets surrender and are show from behind by the protagonists.

The German commanders appear. A government man appears and congratulates them and spouts the party line they’ve proved the Estonians belong to the Aryan race. He hands out signed photos of Hitler thinking they would get a wooden or iron cross

The poem ‘soldiers mother’ plays over the radio as they mock Hitler and one returns saying the Dutch have their own toilet paper and gave him pack of cigarettes.

One soldier shows the medal his father gained in World War 1/ its all that’s left of him. An argument breaks out as there are Estonians on the Soviet side. What will they do when they face their countrymen?

Outside propaganda plays over the tannoy and they begin to sing to drown it out as they move through the trenches.

The look out says its been quiet. When one of the brothers takes over a sniper shoots him in the head and the brother left behind is in shock a moment before beginning to cry. They give him something to drink. Later one reflects that his uncle in Tallinn told him not to go but he had to as there were arrests being made. An older soldier comes to relieve him and asks if being stubborn will bring his family back from Siberia . He knows it wont. They speak of the war and what its for. Whether they’ll gain their countries independence.

A procession of civilians walk along a road as military vehicles pass them. One soldier thinks going to Tallinn would be better as they could escape via a ship to Sweden. They shoot in the air to scare people off. A self defence force leader, clearly a civilian as he’s in an suit but with an armband, asks if they’ve spare ammo. He is gives them the weapons they ceased and the man jokes with out ammo they’re no batter than clubs.

A woman stops the procession and makes a man throw away furniture and take people on his cart. The soldiers joke she is the real furher. ‘men like cow’s udders’ she says as she loads a child into it.

A plane flies overhead. They take cover in the forest. It begins to fire down on everyone. Bombs are dropped. Sainas goes to save a child but ironically is shot dead while the child is fine. Another runs for the child and saves her just in time. The driver of the soldiers truck put sout a d fire and they go to escape as the reds will be there any moment. Main guy says his sister has the same doll as the girl but she is for away now. They decide to load people onto the truck. Injured to hospital refugees to Tallinn. The girl wants her doll to tell main guy something. He holds it to his ear and after he return sit the truck leaves and the soldiers walk away in another direction on foot as a folk song plays. A storm brews as they walk across the countryside.

They see due to the open landscape there’s no way to retreat if they cant hold the location along the road on the edge of the forest. A senior member tries to rouse them with a speech of how if the Russians beat them back they’ll retake it tomorrow. Then they begin to dig the trenches. A passing man offers them food. All quiet along the western front is mentioned. Again the leader tries to rouse them about their flag flying in Tallinn but the main guy is more pessimistic. They laugh and eat. It is a moment of peace in the war.

Sept 20 a motorcyclist goes past them at speed as they’re hidden in the dry grass. A tank and supply trucks procession is heading their way. They snipe the commander and fire rockets at the tanks.A sniper takes out their sniper. Many of the characters we have been following are wiped out.

They realise they’ve been fighting Estonians on the Soviet side. Their worst fears. What will they do now it’s a reality. Both sides stare at each other. Mournful music plays out. This is the reality of fighting a war begun by others and for their agendas. The soldier who killed the poetic guy looks at the documents in his pocket and seizes them before closing the corpses eyes and laying him to rest.

At a camp we follow the Communist side. They realise it was ‘normal Fascists’ they were fighting. The commanding officer berates them then leaves. The secondary commander tells them to bury the dead and stay out of the way of the NKVD officers.

A man asks if they’re burying fascists with their own. ‘its the end of the road for everyone’ someone replies. They pity that this is how things have turned out as they bury the dead and mark them. 31 dead red army soldiers.

The same old couple who served food to the fascists now serves it to the communists. They soldiers have meat and give some to the couple. It is German stuff they had ceased. The bearded soldier pities them as the couple have nowhere to to and will be labels kulaks and sent back if not to the Gulag.

A glasses wearing soldier shows a photo of his family and everyone knows his spiel off by heart and call it before he says it. They pass through the golden fields and reach Tallin in Sept 22.

Masses of Red army soldiers are there and propaganda plays over the radio accompanied by upbeat band music.

Beard tells killer to be happy and dance. The soldiers are fed and enjoy. Else where people pick through the rubble and inhabit dark silent buildings. Killer Juri visits the apartment of the dead poetic fascists woman and gives him the letter which he took from the corpse. She reads it in silence as we hear the dead man narrate his words talking about family.

Juri asks if he can help as she is tearing up. He removes his boots. She asks how he got it. Karl was her brother. She asks if he died in battle. Juri confirms it. How does he know. Juri says he witnessed it. The family were taken to Siberia. It broke Karl who blamed himself for what happened. She asks of him. He was conscripted in 39. She asks why he didn’t fight back. They were to disciplined to disobey or were cowards he admits. His family? The soldier is are his family but there’s less and less of them. She says he and her brother were similar. The innocent feel guilty. The guilty feel nothing.

She says he must be hungry and cooks for him. She watches him as he eats in silence. He takes out a cigarette and she offers him an ash tray. Its her uncles apartment not hers. They fled two weeks ago by boat to Sweden. March 9 the red army flattened the city. Juri says he was told it was Germans. She insists only women children and the elderly were there.

A little girl drew her something at the orphanage and she goes to show it but they’re interrupted by the radio. A moment passes between them and we see them walk in the park together. bird song. Slow piano. ITs not a romance as much as just comfort in kindred souls. She goes to check a door and find sit open. They go inside the church. Their footsteps echo.

She asks if he is staying long. Or will he move on? Where to? To Saaremaa he replies. She smiles to him takes his hand which fluster him and says they’re alone. He puts his arm around her hesitantly. She says she would forgive the one who put their family ane on the list to be deported. A name Jogi was on it. Juri doesn’t react. She recalls how they lived before the war smiling and falling asleep on his shoulder.

In the morning she gestures he write. She asks his family name. ‘Tull’ he lies. He is Jogi. An NKVD man calls him to the comrade captains car. He says that they’ve fought many battle together but bourgeois nationalists are still there. He says he is young and has time for everything including hanging around at night.

The captain asks who the woman was. They had observed him. Juri lies its his sister. The Capt. says he doesn’t remember it from his file. He asks Juri to report any anti-soviet efforts to him. Juri looks unsure.

17 Nov The soldiers move out across the countryside passing a form. One breaks rank and bearded soldier , Prohhor, is ready to shoot but it told to hold. The guy is at his home town so they allow him to call to the other residents. Beard mocks his grandmother said Estonia was small but not this small..

The soldier notes no one is there sadly. After a moment he says that he’ll go find them something to eat.

At night the commanding officer , Juri, staff sergeant calls on a soldier to have the three replacement soldiers come in to speak to him at the lit table he is writing at. He notes from how they stand they fought for the Germans. He tells them to forget their past and kept their mouths shut. Juri tells farm boy to feed them as well ads the others with the potatoes he fried. Farm boy tells them eat as much as they like as there is no point leaving any for the rats.

Juri asks if he heard anything about his folks who had abandoned the farm. All the farms in the area were destroyed, the people deported to Germany. He reflects the war will be over in a year or two and everyone will be back then. ‘My house is whole and I’m alive’ he remarks before leaving.

Juri later details his strategy plan to the leading soldiers.

They all drink some vodka from a bottle before farm boy remarks that Kreml (the Kremlin… Again refer to my view the subtitles were not done by a native English speaker) wanted to see him.

We next see Juri report to the Comrade captain who was cleaning his handgun. Juri hears the gun click as he closes the door but in fact the captain was putting it away before inviting him to sit. He calls on Juri to toast ‘to the victory’. The captain notes Juri got 3 replacements and asks if he checked them, Juri says he did. ‘Juri you are from the right family and have made the right decisions so far. Just like your father in his time. You haven’t applied for the party membership?’ Juri answers no. ‘That’s even better. You’ll be trusted more. You’ll go far. We’ll send you to study, and you’ll get an officer’s rank. You’ll be the company commander soon. We’d make a good team.’ Juri notes the company already has a commander, Captain Viires, as the Comrade Captain walks away. ‘That radish… Red outside, white inside. Those kinds of guys should be kept an eye on. Don’t spoil your life, Juri’

The next day, November 19, the cannons are being loaded as battle ships fire on the soldiers proceeding along the shoreline. Mines are on either side of the road. The tanks runs over a corpse. Shells hit the tanks. Many of the infantry are taken out by the impact. Still they press forward. One soldier breaks rank and runs across a field only to be killed by a landline. The soldiers get pinned down by machinegun fire and rockets shooting the tank. The tank fires on the machine begun wall blowing it up but still the infantry have to charge for cover. The tank knocks out the corner of a hut Fascist soldiers were coming out from. The on foot soldiers split into two groups heading along shallow trenches. One is blown up by a soldier dying holding a grenade and his wrist. They reach the command post and order the people inside to emerge. They then shoot them in cold blood though they surrendered, They were not ordered to shoot. Juri asks the man if he thinks it’ll bring Sarah back. The man doesn’t answer.

Later Juri sits alone outside smoking. Beard is hunched over at the table. He asks if Juri cant sleep. Juri says her cant forget the guy whose letter he delivered to his siste.r Did he tell him? He couldn’t.. But he fell in love mocks beard. ‘You didn’t kill him, the war did’. ‘MAybe God will forgive. Or not.’

Nov 22 they’re on the move again as an overseer captain says one last push and Estonia is theirs. The company Captain tells Juri the political office is interested in him. The captain says its as if they’re eating shit everyday. He had hoped to bring the men home but asks where did he bring them? He gestures for the company to stop its advance, checks and then they move on. They notice movement Fascists in the river crossing. The Fascists shout don’t shoot as their Estonian. The company captain calls for no one to shoot and those in the river to come up. Immediately the overseer/political captain runs up and interrogates them. They were not volunteers and are 16 years old. The Germans wanted to take them but they wanted to go home. The political captain tells Juri to take them and ‘shoot these traitors’. Juri says they’re children. The captain looks back at the cowering boys and announces ‘Soviet citizens who have defected to the enemy must be shot. Staff Sergeant Jogi take your men and obey the order. They were forcefully mobilised. Juri, obey the order.

Juri says he will not shoot them.

The political captain draws his handgun and immediately shoots Juri through the heart. All the men draw their rifles and aim at him.

‘Shoot. Shoot and all your relatives will be sent to the Gulag. [The company Captain faulters and slightly lowers his aim]. Are you scared? That’s right. One must be scared of Soviet Power. Captain Viires. Obey the order.’

The political captain slowly begins to raise his handgun but a shot rings out as he is shot dead through the chest.

It was the bearded soldier.

Viires orders the company to move forward and the boys to go home. Get rid of their uniforms and go home.

Beard stops a moment and kneels at Juri’s side removing his hat. Everyone stops. Beard removes a slip of paper from Juri’s jacket. He crosses himself and everyone stand over the bodies.

We then have a narration of the letter as beard delivers it as Juri had delivered the woman’s brothers letter earlier. An old woman and a girl live with her now. From the orphanage no doubt. Juri wonders, if not for the war, had they met after the war, maybe in the church, if he could face her and tell her the whole honest truth. ‘We need to start from a blank page. This is from Juri Jori, the Red Army soldier who killed your brother in a battle. I couldn’t tell you eye to eye. You are the only one left to me. Please forgive me if you can.

Then a black screen with white writing:

‘To all who fought and suffered in the name of freedom.’

Review

I think the first thing to be said is that the title is so basic you are likely to never look at this film if you see it on the shelves in a shop or a list on-line. If it had a more distinct title, even ‘ Battle of Tannenburg’, ‘Tannenburg Line’ , ‘Battle of Tehumardi’ or anything as generic, but still distinct, as those I think it would have gotten more recognition as ‘1944’ alone makes it sound like this was one of the laziest by the numbers productions possible when in fact it has a good message, told without demonising bias towards any one party, and provides incite into a perspective on the Second World War not often given a voice in the west. It hasn’t got the gloss of American financed films but the core concept of showing the divide of a nation during occupation by both Fascist and Soviet forces is interesting as there are no definitive ‘good’ guys and ‘bad’ guys barring those who are self interested and seek political power. Everyone is swept up in the course of a war between foreign powers and has to face the reality they will be killing their won countrymen at some point.

If I have one issue with the film it is perhaps that the conflict scenes are bland. I wish perhaps it pushed those to the side as much as could be reasonably expected of a film set in this period involving soldiers and focused more on the characters. The death of the protagonists certainly comes as a shock to a first time viewer but it provides an important lesson I feel is often missing from war films – people have lives and things they are doing which come to an abrupt end because of events. OFten this is given the ‘here’s a photo of my family’ omen of minor characters who you know from that point on are going to be the sacrificial lamb of the films narrative so we see the results of war but the protagonists remain able to carry out their story to completion.

As I have said already I feel the translations for the subtitles on the DVD needed to be proof read as there were a few moments were the grammar went out the window. I have to assume either the translator, and the subtitler, were not native English speakers or there was a severely tight schedule and mistakes were made which leaves it to be criticised at leisure by consumers. Hopefully the company is more carefully in later releases as this is the sort of thing that will put people off buying their products. The DVD also was very bare bones but really I have come to expect that with many Foreign films now that are not released by Criterion, Curzon Artificial Eye or other long established Foreign film DVD makers who offer extensive extras.

The only truly antagonistic figures in the film are the political officers – those who have thrown in their lot completely with either the fascist or Communist forces to have power even if it means betraying their countrymen. Everyone else, for better or worse, only looks forward to when the war is over and they can return to their normal lives. The hardship undergone by civilians is represented by the procession of refugees fleeing their home in the country encountered by the Fascist soldiers.

On a sidenote I personally found the woman suddenly forcing a man to throw away his possessions so it could carry people, when said people had clearly already been on this procession for a long-time alongside the cart, a bit of a double standard. It is symbolically putting people before possessions, which is a good in the moment message, but could represent a willingness to abandon their own culture, represented by the objects that are discarded, in order to survive which seems at odds with the rest of the film’s philosophy of maintaining Estonia as a unique entity after the war’s end. Objects can be replaced of course but this moment in the film felt a bit to forced in and not cohesive with the rest of it.

The sense of Estonian national communal unity is represented by the old couple who serve food to both the Fascist and Red Army groups seeing only fellow countrymen not political sides.

The sense of the nation’s division is symbolised by the brothers from the farm being on seperate sides though on a first vieiwng this might go unnoticed as the brother on the Fascist side only mentions it in passing he is from the farm while we see the brother on the Red Army side return to the homestead. Contrasting this are the two borthers who are both on the Facist side and one witnesses firsthand the death of the other via a sniper.

If anything the bereft sister, who sees both her brother and potential love interest die, seems the anomaly as she seems to live a comfortable life even in the middle of a war torn country when everyone else has either been forced to choose a side or flee their homes. I suppose she offers the contrast to the farm boy soldier who has a home but no one to be there with while she has the orphanage ( or at least the little girl and old woman) in the end thus having a community but nowhere to call her own as she is living in her uncle’s apartment.

Would I watch this again? That is the big question and the answer is… Yes but it isn’t a film I would recommend if you didn’t have an interest in North European/Baltic cinema nor World War 2. In fact I don’t care for the seemingly endless number of films based on World War 2 but this gave a unique perspective similar to War Horse, due to the shifting perspectives of each side being represented, but without the near fairytale tone nor the convenience of it being due to a horse. Both sides are represented equally unsentimentally as external forces having a negative effect on Estonia.

In the end the concept far outweighs the execution sadly. I think with a bigger budget or more unique cinematography it might have been a world cinema classic rather than just a successful film in Estonia which you find cheap in your local supermarket with a bland, non-descript, cover as they hope people will blindly buy anything World War 2 related. Time will tell how it is received in the long run but I feel it was even-handed noting the strengths and failings of each side without leaving the audience with any prejudice save that Estonians were forced to take a side or evacuate which was sadly a truth of the era they lived in and if anything they delivered this message possibly too gently in regards to what happened to citizens. A good message, fair depiction but not a film you will remember long after watching it. The unique Estonian perspective however lends it at least a novelty value for anyone interested in not seeing yet another retread of the ‘America saved the world’ slew of Hollywood depictions nor the more blindly patriotic films of somewhere like Russia.

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Minions Movie Tie-In Collectable Stickers

5 Stickers per pack (4 normal and one foil in the pack I bought).
Price: £0.50 (I bought them at Tesco so the RRP price may vary elsewhere).
Published by TOPPS Europe Limited, 18 Vincent Avenue, Crownhill, Milton Keynes, MK8 0AW, UK.
Hellsteller: Topps Deutschland GMBH, Goethestr, 18, 60313 Frankfurt, Deutschland.

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The size of the stickers is smaller than I have seen previously. When I was growing up Panini, and its imitators, stickers were larger while Topps measure 68mm x 54mm with the foil sticker being 85mm x 61mm. However I do remember a Street Fighter II sticker collection by Merlin which had these dimensions so it may just depend on the individual company producing each series.

In comparison to the previously reviewed Frozen ‘My Sister, My Hero’ stickers, which were 97mm x 64mm, these were far smaller. If I was to make a comparison for anyone without a ruler then think of it this way: the minion stickers are ‘small business card’ size while the Frozen ones are ‘trading card’ size. However it may be a case I only ever bought stickers from Panini made series and so this smaller size seems worse when it could be the standard for most collectable sticker series otherwise.

The images are clearly printed though the print colouration seems dull compared to the vibrancy you would see on other promotional materials of these same images. The foil sticker has promotional images of the film’s villains on a foil background while the standard stickers are mostly stills from the Minions film itself. I did get one sticker which seemed to be an original image for the collection which seemed to be a generic minion, set off to one side, with a ‘funky’ pattern background. I say ‘funky’ because this is the sort of thing a think tank of advertising executives, out of touch with current trends, would consider ‘funky’ when looking at Google search for the sort of things that would be ‘60s style imagery’ such as the psychedelic artwork of Peter Max but then go on to make it as plain and generic as possible so as to not offend anyone’s sensibilities and thus ensure maximum market saturation potential for sale. This is a pretty standard practise across the industry for sticker collection tie-ins of movies so while it seems uninspired it is sadly expected and a cheap money maker for companies. It’s all about the marketing of the product not the quality of it.

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On the back of the stickers is an original illustration of the 3 main minions from the film and I would hope that the rest of the series was composed of more original artwork like this than just the generic ‘print screen’ imagery that is standard for movie tie-in collections.

There is nothing to really complain about, although the foil sticker easily picks up finger prints and is then near impossible to clean without using a soft cloth so be careful when handling them, but in this day and age you would hope for more. We used to get 10 stickers in a pack when I was growing up but now it is 5 albeit they are of far higher print quality.
I think this was a missed opportunity. They could easily create a much more original and fun series even with a basic concept of producing images of various ‘____ type minion’ having the various minions dressed as different jobs or stereotypes. We already have a Fireman Minion, a Maid Minion, Baby Minion and many others so a collection of these could easily be made and enjoyed with only a very small amount of investment in design.

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If kids want stickers of the minions then they will be satisfied, just as we all were in childhood collection of footballers (i.e. the classic company cash cows as the yearly ‘same game different player names’ computer games are for their respective companies), movie tie-ins (for me it was Jurassic Park through to Space Jam) or oddities (Garbage Pail Kids… say no more) but in comparison I think the ‘Frozen: My Sister, My Hero’ ones are far superior in quality and individual image value (so you don’t get as many dull scenes of ‘character stood with blank face in unrecognisable scene #A204b) that are not amusing in their own right. I don’t think at £0.50 these are of equal value to the Frozen ones which retail at the same price but if its minions you want then these are okay. You won’t be disappointed but you won’t be impressed either. Sort of like the film I guess if the reviews are anything to go by…

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For those interested here are the stickers’ numbers:

  • 10: Napoleonic Minions: with cannon
  • 18: 1960s line up of the main Minions: green hat, robot arm and lava lamp
  • 41: Ancient Egyptian Minions: with an upside down pyramid plan
  • 99: Blank face minion with ‘funky’ background
  • 132: (Foil) Scarlet Overkill and Herb

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Comment, Like, Follow – All are welcome. 🙂

Disney’s Frozen: My Sister, My Hero Collectable Stickers

Produced by Panini in Italy.

Cost £0.50 i.e. 50 pence per pack. I purchased them from a Tesco supermarket but they are available in most major retailers and there is a special offer where you get a few packs with the sticker album for £3.00 if I remember correctly.

5 stickers per normal packet or possibly 4 normal stickers plus a ‘special’ sticker per packet (I only bought one packet so I cannot confirm the ratio). To be honest I remember when you would get about 10 stickers in a pack but that was a very long time ago. The lower number however means you get far better quality stickers. I was very pleasantly surprised to be honest. I prefer quality over quantity as a few high quality stickers, even if not of images I would want, are always far more welcome than a dozen poor quality ones produced with company profit margins being first and foremost in mind.

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These stickers, though not suitable for applying on anything that will be outdoors and require weather resistance, like a vinyl sticker would, look quite robust compared to what I have seen in the past. The print quality is excellent and even at extremely close inspection you will not notice any attempt to skimp on the quality here. The ‘special’ sticker has a fabric like texture to it and some light applications of glitter which I found to be a nice change from ‘special’ stickers being prismatic, which often make it difficult to look at the design, or basic foil ones where the print is all too easily scratched off if you are careless. I am sure the glitter would quickly disappear but again the quality of the base sticker is high enough I think with fair treatment, such as putting on the front of a note book or to decorate furniture, these stickers would fare quite well. A very high quality product.

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As you might notice the packet I got was not primarily English language so that explains where they have made savings by just producing the one multi-lingual packaging. I doubt anyone collecting the stickers gives a damn about the packaging though it does features some nice artwork on the front in my opinion.

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The artwork is by Brittney Lee, a visual development artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios (she worked on Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph). Barbara Jean Hicks, a storyboard artist on the film Frozen. She illustrated the book ‘Disney’s Frozen: A Sister More Like Me’ (written by Barbara Jean Hicks) and I think the images on the stickers, at least the ones I got except the ‘special’ one, are all lifted directly from the book’s illustrations. I don’t know if I just had luck and got some of the nicest stickers as there are over 100 stickers for the album and I cannot imagine the illustrations in the book are that many.

I think these are a nice little treat for a child who has behaved well on a day around the shops without having to break the bank to reward them. They are definitely much higher quality than the ones I remember collecting as a child. Although personally I won’t be buying anymore I think these are a really nice treat for kids although I also remember as a child you are forever chasing the stickers you don’t have so ultimately buy a child one pack but don’t let them pick up sticker collecting as a hobby. It is one of the most ephemiral of hobbies and the subject matter often fades into history with no worth allocated to the sitckers which today seems all so important in completing the collection of. But a very nice once-in-a-blue-moon treat while Frozen is still the zeitgeist that it is. On a side note I am sure the correct phrasing is ‘My Sister, My Heroine’ althoguh they probably wanted to avoid people for some reason thinking the feminine form of the word hero (Heroine) is the exact same thing as the word for crack cocaine (Heroin)…

For those interested here are the stickers featured above are:

009: The troll performs magic on young Anna

010: Young Elsa

100: Fearful Coronation Elsa

102: Elsa portrait

F19: Special sticker fabric textured sticker with glitter of Elsa  turning to the viewer surrounded by pink flower like snowflakes


I haven’t been in a position to post anything recently. Hopefully I will be able to review a few more things soon.

R.I.P. Christopher Lee 1922 – 2015

Christopher Lee is Dead.
27 May 1922 – 7 June 2015
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Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee
, CBE, CStJ (27 May 1922 – 7 June 2015) was an English actor, singer, and author. With a career spanning nearly seventy years, Lee initially portrayed villains and became best known for his role as Count Dracula in a sequence of Hammer Horror films. His other film roles include Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Saruman in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (2001–2003) and The Hobbit film trilogy (2012–2014), and Count Dooku in the final two films of the Star Wars prequel trilogy (2002 and 2005).

Lee was knighted for services to drama and charity in 2009, received the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011 and received the BFI Fellowship in 2013. Lee considered his best performance to be that of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the biopic Jinnah (1998), and his best film to be the British horror film The Wicker Man (1973).

Always noted as an actor for his deep strong voice, Lee was also known for his singing ability, recording various opera and musical pieces between 1986 and 1998 and the symphonic metal album Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross in 2010 after having worked with several metal bands since 2005. The heavy metal follow-up titled Charlemagne: The Omens of Death was released on 27 May 2013. He was honoured with the “Spirit of Metal” award in the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden God awards ceremony.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Lee

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Bad end to a bad day.

I remember growing up watching the HAMMER horror films. I still watch them sometimes. They may seem silly to a modern audience but there is a charm there – the charm of a chamber drama unfolding in the settings, usually, of the Gothic Romantic aesthetic.

One more of my childhood idols has died this year. It is a bad year and no matter what I do it seems the wrong choice.

… and yet everything I am doing is for the benefits of others yet it means nothing.

My left eye ached severely but no one noticed. I notice when they are less than 100% but it appears the same is not reciprocated. I should try to forget it. They don’t mean to be like that. They had other things to be concerned about. My eye always aches due to atmospheric changes prior to stormy weather. It said on the news as I write this that is will be raining and stormy weather tomorrow. I am like an old man say out on the porch, veranda or mezzanine.

Tomorrow is Friday. I wish it was Saturday.

Eurovision Song Contest 2015

I have posted videos of each entrant, in order of performance, during the grand finale with my own comments as I was watching the programme live. In the end it seemed far more earnest this year and therefore less fun. It comes across as if the acts are trying to promote their own career to a wider international audience, which would happen anyway, than providing an enjoyable performance. There were far less ‘fun’ acts than in any previous years I can remember – perhaps because with the advent of the internet and digital downloads having an international career is far more possible compared to previous generations.

1-Slovenia: Maraaya: Here For You: Good upbeat song but the wind machine blowing her overly stiff hair and the unintentionally sinister diamond armed dancer were not necessary.

2 France – Lisa Angell: N’oubliez Pas: Bleak. Reminded me of ‘downer’ bad ending credits for some computer games if you made bad choices or even ones where it’s a sad end as the hero died but the future now holds hope thanks to their noble sacrifice. A good song but not something that will do well at Eurovision.

3 Israel: Nadav Guedj: Golden Boy: It sounded like an out of tune 90s boy band and although the production was good it fell flat for me.

4 Estonia: Elina Born & Stig Rästa: Goodbye To Yesterday: The singing was really good and I liked it immensely. I noted she even shed a tear while singing. Staged or not that was a nice detail. I would actually like to hear more from them.

5 UK: Electro Velvet: Still In Love With You: Nice upbeat 1920s style electro-swing piece and the neon clothing light effects in the ultraviolet light went really well. We are not going to win but at least we are showing we can be original and give people something to remember without being ridiculous. Ironically considering how often Terry Wogan complained about the cheesiness in the past we are the cheesy novelty entry this year it feels like in retrospect. But it was fun and we are improving year on year since the disapproval after the Middle East conflict…


6 Armenia: Genealogy: Face The Shadow: an awkward mix of voices with a clock theme throughout the performance. They didn’t seem to harmonise and it seems like a catastrophe for them on the night and rather awkward from an audience perspective as they didn’t gel as a group. I think one of them was from Wales as it was made up from people of Armenian ancestry from around Europe internally selected by the Public Television of Armenia to sing Face The Shadow, a “powerful anthem about peace, unity, and love”

7 Lithuania: Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila: This Time: Good fun and energy. Potential winner? A good duet nonetheless. Lithuania initially wanted a solo entry to represent them in the contest, but double act Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila won over both TV viewers and the professional jury with their duet.

8 Serbia : Bojana Stamenov: Beauty Never Lies: Good song. Very fat girl. Can tell from her face she would be very attractive if she got her weight under control. Sadly she starts screaming and there is a euro electro-disco part towards the end which ruins it. One male dancer has the beard and topknot look which is popular amongst hipsters right now. She beat two other candidates in the Serbian national selection, but Bojana Stamenov isn’t just a powerful voice – she’s also deft hand at knitting and cooking… She ate them and will become a crazy cat lady after the show.

9 Norway: Mørland & Debrah Scarlett: A Monster Like Me: Good mellow toned song however the singers seem to be off key at the start possibly. He warbles while she croons. It’s a very nice song and the further they go the better it gets but those opening moments…

10 Sweden: Måns Zelmerlöw: Heroes: Pop with electro folk: Very nice front projection effects. The bookies favourite and to be honest mine too at this stage in the contest it blows everything else out of the water.

11 Cyprus: John Karriyannis: One Thing I Should Have Done: Classic pop love song effort. The sort of thing you wouldn’t mind on the radio on a Sunday afternoon but nothing that stands out.

12 Australia: Guy Sabastian: Tonight Again: Upbeat modern pop song clearly having fun and unpressured. Obviously not going to win but hopefully they have enjoyed the event.

13 Belgium: Loïc Nottet: Rhythm Inside: slow, hipster influenced, modern pop song: I like it but many people probably won’t remember it tomorrow.

14 Austria: The Makemakes: I Am Yours: Slow start but a classic song you could imagine from previous years of Eurovision and you would want to know the name of. Setting the inside of the Piano on fire adds nothing to the perfornance as its not as if he is playing it so frantically the strings sponaniously ignite in a cartoonish style. The host nation always hobbles themselves however as I doubt anyone wants to host it a few years on the trot.. It became dull towards the end.

15 Greece: Maria Elena Ktriakou: One Last Breathe: classic Eurovision song style of grandiose pop music. Not much to say really. Good effort but nothing to grab peoples votes.

16 Montenegro: Knez: Adio: enjoyable. At least they are not singing in English… it has an element of Montenegro’s musical culture in it. This is how it should be i.e. representing your nation not trying to be all things to all people. Not going to win but respectable.

17 Germany: Ann Sophie: Black Smoke: R&B influenced as many seem to be this year in tone. Good but no doubt forgettable. She stepped in at the last moment as the one who was going to do it decided not to in the end. Good on her for doing this and you wouldn’t know about the change.

18 Poland: Monika Kuszyńska: In The Name Of Love: Last year it was Donatan & Cleo – ‘My Słowianie – We Are Slavic’ giving us the message hot blooded Slavic girls are the best in every way and do everything the best (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, get the dirty old man vote) with busty ‘milk churning’ milkmaid for those who don’t understand the lyrics to get the message of what they are saying. This year they have a singer in a wheelchair…Poland must love making everyone feel awkward. They are trolling the contest. There is no other explaination for these acts. I wonder how they will upstage this entry – a choir of children with learning difficulties, a quadriplegic playing the mouth organ and a dance troop of Alzheimer’s afflicted old age octogenarians next year? I really want to believe Poland, like Britain, don’t take the contest seriously, but they actually actually send in entries to mess with voters rather than just moan in the commentary. Last year it was the ‘dad’ vote, this year the ‘if you don’t vote for us its discrimination against the diabled’ moral guilt vote. That aside it is a good song with the uprising anthemic quality you expect of Eurovision entries. “Monika Kuszyńska brings with her a strong Eurovision message: she wants to “to build the bridge of tolerance in the name of love” with her performance” – i.e. Poland want to see how far they can push it before being kicked out by pretending they don’t know its trolling.

19 Latvia: Aminata: Love Injected: the classic Eurovision singer with an ‘overly extravagant dress’. Nice designs flashing in the background. Generic Eurovision entry. A wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen. One of the definitive ‘also ran’ entries of this year. The song title is indeed either poor english or a very dark suggestion of what the song is really about.

20 Romania: Voltaj: De La Capat/ All Over Again: A lot of the songs have this echoing anthemic thing going on this year. Again credit due to them as they don’t sing in English. Don’t know about the monochrome look… Has a sort of ‘song you hear on an advert’ quality meant to be inspirational in those 30 seconds they play it’s chorus but you get sick of it after a while and people still remember the song years later with distain. Oh there is a bit of English… well that’s okay I guess thoguh everyone singing in English seems disingenuous.

21 Spain: Edurne: Amanecer: She is Manchester United’s Goalkeeper’s girlfriend apparently – Nice visuals. Sung in Spanish. I could see this winning. The dancer/stagehand in the dark holding her cloak, pretending to be the wind and pull the cloak off, is obviously there despite their staging efforts. Then there is the reveal of the ‘classic leg revealing’ dress. Then there is a bit of dancing in an instrumental part just to keep the energy going which is a good mix between static and dynamic aspects to give a rounded performance. Spain are obviously going all out to win this year. Really working the crowd well and got a good reception.

22 Hungary: Boggie: Wars For Nothing: Serious message time. This will be sung over a video of starving war torn communities during a charity video. It’s a really sharp change in tone from the Spanish song entry. Its good but would have been better placed after one of the more subdued earlier entries. Austria decided the running order and no doubt knew the reaction this would get after the previous song. I’m not saying anything suspicious was happening just that you would never put these songs together if you had any sense… also to English speakers Boggie is just a hilarious name in contrast to the song’s serious message sadly. A moral victor raising issues but will go nowhere in the votes.

23 Georgia: Nina Sublatti: Warrior: Rock chick entry. Smoke screen and the heavy flashing effects are obscuring her on stage. Gothy warrior look – 🙂 phwoar! (I’ve been watching a lot of early 90s music videos so this look is kind of fixed in my head at the moment as a very appealing look) This more energetic song could have done with backing dancers as the staging seems a bit too bare with just her there obscured by the dry ice smoke. If not for that then this would have been the song and performance I would personally consider song of the night though it wouldn’t win (I mean it’s not as impressive as when Lordi entered and won – which makes me think they may have been a quasi-joke entry except they really went for it and won everyone over which they richly deserved). Warrior is the sort of energetic song I can imagine being the theme song to an action adventure series. Another person whose works I will be checking out. Actually singing in English which I didn’t realise initially.

24 Azerbaijan: Elnur Huseynov: Hour Of The Wolf: A very nice slower song and the ballet dancers were very good. It will be forgotten as its very ‘now’ however. A very ‘American pop singer going solo’ style song.

25 Russia: Polina Gagarina: A Million Voices: Going for the victory hard. Anthemic drum beat call to alms (yes not ‘arms’ – its wordsplay… I have explained the joke and it now lies dead like a dissected frog on a lab table), with a refrain and choral section. The drummer does look like Andrew WK pre-nosebleed however. Excellent song. No one stands a chance. If it doesn’t win it will be top three at the very least. They definitely put a lot of work into it although people like a bit of a show too so the all-white look might not work too well to get everyone’s votes). It’ll be interesting to see how Ukraine votes in regards to them considering they were always [12 points] block voting for each other in the past. Russia women always seem to have a lot of beauty marks on their skin in contrast to other countries – maybe its just they don’t cover them up with foundation, etc, makeup… She looks a bit like a more ‘Welsh’ version of Katherine Jenkins (who of course is Welsh but not ethnically ‘crab face’ Welsh i.e. small, squared, jawline and chin).

26 Albania: Elhaida Dani: I’m Alive: Already screwed before they began due to Russia’s absolute winning over of the audience. It’s very nice with a slower lead in. Absolute cleavage with a masking screen. It’s a very good song and if the running order was different it would have stood a better chance but it seems Austria has made the running order bottom heavy with all the impressive ones towards the end.

27 Italy: Il Volo: Grande Amore: Boy band look – apparently pop opera band. Ladykillers. Was a very good song I would like to hear again. Being the last probably means they are dead in the water sadly. They could easily win it though as they were very distinct should people not overlook them.

‘Voting time’ entertainment: Orchestras, male voice and female voice choirs, people whose heads were bridges (as if someone played Silent Hill 2 and got ideas…). The venue was ‘green’ i.e. in a big tent. Actually went really well on the night although if it rained it would go down in the history of the contest as one of the bad venues. I wonder if they destroyed the rain clouds by scattering silver into them as you can do if need be. Then they have a thirteen year old boy sing acapella. The traditional visit to the greenroom where you just know some acts have gone back and drunk as much as they can with some assurance they won’t have to perform, in the unlikely event they win, because there is no chance. Conchita Wurst featured far more this year than past winners were featured previously. Yes you have bearded woman Austria, yes she won the contest but she isn’t a great presenter so stop milking her.

Votes: Always the slow bit where the commentators complain about the block voting… I can’t be bothered to edit this bit so it may come across as quite cruel but then if you haven’t ever heard the British commentaries by Terry Wogan (who once called two presenters Dr Death and his assistant) or Graham Norton then I assure you I am being nice. HA ha ha one of them disappeared from technical faults so the presenters had to come back to them later. Russia are getting a lot of cheers until they are in the lead then there’s the drone of boos. (To be honest at least it’s not automatically boos like leaving housemates get on the British edition of Big Brother…) Moldova score giver has a very 1970s star trek parody porn star look… Russia/Italy/Sweden are in a three horse race for victory when we are only 8 of 40 countries into the running… the hosts remind everyone that tonight is about the music not politics regarding Russia being booed – which would have been nice if the hosts years ago said that in defence of the UK when there was the Middle East Conflict but then we didn’t get one vote and as Oscar Wilde once said “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”. Estonia vote announcer phwoar extravagant necklace but link went down. Wow Austria’s technical side is terrible with all these connection issues… Armenia vote announcer phwoar… Sweden Announcer looked like she escaped from a 1970s sci-fi series… Germany’s vote announcer looks like the opera diva from the adventures of Tintin… I notice Conchita Wurst is sat with the Russian group to ensure getting more screen time… Australia announcer is an anorexic lady of East Asian descent… COVER YOUR ARMS… Oh, Wurst is there to do the midway interview… Polina speaks very good English (I mean I assume she is Russian and not just representing them as other countries have done in the past coughEnglbertHumperdickcoughCelineDioncough)… Spain phwoar nice dress with Moroccan kind of panel patterning… Austria cutesy dorky face… Macedonia gave Albania 12 points and they didn’t cheer or thank them which is poor sportsmanship (althoguh they may not have known the cameras were on them admittedly)… Slovenia votes announcer loos like if Celine Dion dressed up as 1970-80s Cher … Hungary’s vote announcer has the loo of a middle aged mother of two ‘on a night out with her girlfriends and has done her hair and makeup’… UK announcer Nigella Lawson looks like a privileged twit with a broach over her major selling points but does the votes in foreign languages which was nice gesture. She still just seems to ‘be there’ and do very little nowadays… Georgia’s vote announcer has a 1980s lead vocalist look – AND THEY LOST HER… Lithuania’s vote announcer is mid-twenties to early thirties but styling herself as a cutesy tween and looks a little creepy with the clawed hands… Netherlands’ vote announcer dress looks bad with ultra-ultimate cleavage down to crotch with exposed spanks on the lower half as if she had the same dress as Albania’s singer and had to adjust it quickly… Poland’s vote announcer phwoar flower ring crown and showing the cleavage – Graham Norton noted she was the milkmaid from last year’s Polish entry so apparently he can recognise that cleavage anywhere (he is gay for those who don’t know who he is and does the commentary for Eurovision now Terry Wogan retired a few years ago)… She’s obviously making sure people don’t forget about last year’s entry although her face is a bit sharply featured it seems due to how she did her makeup or she had a really disturbingly severe face lift… Sweden now pull ahead of Russia and look like they may become runaway leaders… Russia announcer is Dmitri Shepelev with Action Man Eagle Eyes feature tries to joke about giving Russia 12 points and it didn’t go down well though he seemed nice… San Marino vote announcer showing the cleavage off with a low neckline lace dress and low hanging necklace… At this point it is clear Sweden has won but we still have a countries left… Iceland vote announcer her arms look as thick as her waist which is really disturbing though it’s because of dark panels on the sides of her dress… then the German commentator invades Graham Norton’s coverage and he doesn’t know why… Sweden is announced the winners though there were a few more countries left and ones they had skipped… Norway vote announcer has liquorice sweets patterned shoulder pads tried to joke falling off screen but fails and told to hurry up since the results are obvious and everyone wants to go home now… Portugal vote announcer phwoar though shiny skin and pastel pink dotted dress make her look like a Barbie wannabee… Estonia vote announcer Tanja phwoar with nice necklace most women would want… Georgia vote announcer Natia Bunturi phwoar with the 1980s band lead vocalist look… Yes these vote announcing bits are boring and have bad attempts at humour…

TL;DR: Sweden won with 300+ points though it was a close run thing with Russia up until the end and Italy just behind them. United Kingdom got 5 points ultimately. This year’s winner is given a crystal microphone.

The entrants have been taking it far too seriously the past couple of years and the show is no longer fun, the spectacle of the extravagantly staged performances isn’t as wonderful and eclectic as it once was in past years. Either you have the classic songs, the modern songs or the ‘sod it its not like we will win’ songs nowadays. Austria really messed up the international connections repeatedly and it really won’t be forgotten by the organisers in future so hopefully they will review what happened and ensure it doesn’t occur again as such faults should be a thing of the past.


Comment, Like, Follow – All are Welcome 🙂

I will tidy this entry up when the chance arises in the next few days but thought it best to just put the initial version up now. (Did that and can’t be bothered to alter it any further now)… Yes I use phwoar alot recently… I did a lot in the ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ review too… Go read more of my stuff if you like.

Barb Jungr at St Donats Art Centre

Held at St Donats Art Centre on 10th May 2015 – http://www.stdonats.com/

Barb Jungr accompanied by Simon Morris on the Piano – http://www.barbjungr.com/

Barb Jungr (born 9 May 1954) is an English singer-songwriter, composer and writer, of Czech and German parentage. She is known as a chansonnière, or singer of chansons—in the sense of classic, lyric-driven French songs; in the broader sense of European songs in the cabaret style; and in the even broader sense of a diverse range of songs interpreted in this style. She has become best known for her work with, or “interpretations” of, the songs of Bob Dylan. A song-stylist incorporating jazz and blues, her approach often includes radical re-readings of known writers as well as original material.

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The performance was held at St Donats Art Centre, formerly Tithe Barn of the historical St. Donat’s Castle, within the modern glass walled bar area of the art centre on a small stage, looking out towards the shoreline. I had assumed it was going to be in the barn stage area but the slowly dying light of day outside was a very pleasant backdrop to any performance and the house lights increased in accordance without being intrusive. They also lit one or two tea light candles on some tables but not all. It didn’t really add anything when you have the sunset in the background.

The seating was cabaret style so it was 4 chairs around each table. Somehow, though we booked the tickets all together, they had 2 people on one table and another on a separate table. In fact the couple who walked in after us forced us off the table we were sat at! Poor seating arrangement as it wasn’t a sold out performance and there were 4 or 5 tables left empty at the back. The barn would have been far more appropriate for it as it and has cabaret seating too at other performances I have attended here.

At the bar they said they didn’t have orange juice and offered an orange tango instead! But I had a tea so that’s beside the point…

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Disabled access: Although there is an art gallery on a higher floor there is easily available access for all events for anyone using wheelchairs or otherwise unable to use stairs. Both the bar area and the barn are ground floor so there should be no difficulty of access. Also there was a guy sat on one of the front tables with, I believe, autism who got concerned as he and the pianist as they were both named Simon. At one point he called out saying “My name’s Simon and you are Simon. But I am Simon… Hello.” Barb dealt with him well by making a comment on how there are so many people in the world and we can share names with others which is wonderful. So That was very skilfully dealt with by her I felt and helped him feel included in proceedings without there being a delay in the performance, and most importantly, him becoming worried and upset. Three times he had to go away with his aunt/grandmother but it didn’t disrupt proceedings. I felt a little sad for him although I think he was enjoying as he moved his hand in time with the music and Barb (and of course Simon the piano player) said hello thus dispelling what could have been a bit of a tense moment for them as an unexpected disruption. Professionalism like that should be commended.

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Review: I went in blind as I was told it was Cohen/Dylan songs and that was all I knew. The medleys were okay but due to her singing style, where she put emphasis in odd places and gesticulated in a very awkward way, it was really off putting. If she had been accompanied by more than just Simon on the piano I think it would have worked far better than what was the final performance. Also she seemed overly casually dressed and considering the tickets were £15 I would expect the performer to not look like they just stepped off the field from Glastonbury. Bitchy but the ticket price was too high for what we got from the venue and performance. I actually felt that if this were in a theatre or there were more people I would have left during the intermission – which at least one of the tables towards the front actually did. I didn’t like the re-imagining of ‘First We Take Manhattan’ which I have always really liked. They did a slower version of it, and in concept I have always thought that doing the song that way would be very effective (though the point of the song is that instrumentally it’s meant to be very upbeat, with a fast tempo, contrasting with the lyrics’ darker tone) but somehow it just didn’t ‘click’ with me… The way they did it though it was like karaoke… This is very rare for me to totally dislike an event but I cannot deny that sadly I did not enjoy and it was not based solely on not liking Barb’s singing but the overall experience as noted above with the seating and service at the bar. Simon was good in accompanying Barb but as mentioned previously there is only so much you can do as the sole instrumental accompaniment. It just wasn’t my thing on the night and apart from two students, who snuck onto a back table during the second half, I was the youngest there by 25 years easily. I’m sure Barb is far better in the right venue with the right accompaniment so this really felt like it was ‘local gig’ level not a professional.

It’s a very nice venue and doesn’t get much support. Although they consider themselves rural they do get many good acts there but really don’t seem to be able to penetrate the market due to bigger and more central venues drowning them out though you will find similar acts passing through. From the posters I saw signed on the walls they do have acts I would really like to see e.g. the Webb Sisters. I chalk it up as one bad experience and will be checking their site out again for future events. I have been here before and gone in the barn stage area just off the entrance and certainly feel Barb would have done better in there as it is more intimate and suitable for an act like hers compared to the quite large bar area looking out on the shoreline which seems more suited for a more ‘get up and dance’ friendly band performance.

Far From The Madding Crowd (2015)

In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong farm owner Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor.

Cast:
Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene
Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak
Michael Sheen as William Boldwood
Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Frank Troy
Juno Temple as Fanny Robin
Rowan Hedley as Maryann Money
Chris Gallarus as Billy Smallbury
Connor Webb as Merchant
Penny-Jane Swift as Mrs. Coggan
Rosie Masson as Soberness Miller
Alex Channon as Temperance Miller
Shaun Ward as Farmer
Roderick Swift as Everdene farmer
Don J Whistance as Constable
Jamie Lee-Hill as Laban Tall

The editing is done at a break neck pace, before you have a chance to absorb one scene you are sharply cut to the next as if you were watching a heavily edited version of a longer film or the ‘____:the movie’ edited version of a television series. There are some scenes towards the end, without giving anything away to a story first published in 1874, I felt were given absolutely no time to breathe and were being rushed in order to bring a close to the film. For example where a character is put in a gaol cell which is very artistically done but it is only put in context during the following scene through expository dialogue. This seemed very lazy as the film prior to this was able to follow Chekov’s maxim that you show ‘show, don’t tell’ when developing a narrative even at its hectic pace. At the very least the last act seems all too quick in tying up all the loose ends to the detriment of the pacing otherwise.

The cinematography of the landscape is exceptional but for the most part you will think of this as a film having been made to the standard of the BBC Drama department in its recent productions. There is not one scene that is not beautifully framed and it reminded me of Joe Wright’s 2005 film adaption of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley very often as there is a very similar soft focus and predominantly sepia yet vividly coloured palette throughout with the lighting ensuring night time scenes are sufficiently dark without being incomprehensible. However it should be noted as soon as you are aware BBC Films were involved in the production you will inevitably be comparing it to recent television series such as Sherlock, Poldark, etc. It is of the same high production quality level with a slightly more cinematic style in places but you shouldn’t expect anything extraordinarily different from the standard set by the BBC’s various recent television series.

The costumes are colourful and very good though I would question their historical accuracy as Bathsheba has a leather riding jacket – it may very well be historically accurate but just not something you associate with the period. You probably will not note this when watching it though.

The casting is excellent with special note to Matthias Schoenaerts whose performance as Oaks is intense yet unthreatening in contrast to Tom Sturridge’s more light footed and flighty portrayal of Troy. Anyone familiar with Terence Stamp’s portrayal of Troy in the 1967 adaption will probably feel Sturridge’s portrayal doesn’t hold up but I feel the film maker is making him appeal to contemporary audiences and of course what is appealing differs between generations but I feel both versions are in keeping with the character although apparently the 1967 ‘sword dance’ scene is more erotically charged and in keeping with the novel (the scene is a seduction of Troy symbolically deflowering Bathsheba by thrusting his phallic sword towards her and cutting her hair at its climax) while the modern adaption is more akin to a schoolboy showing off which ironically is another way the scene could be interpreted so it is just a matter of style choice between the adaptions. Michael Sheen is also good but I find he is better when he has more eccentric characters to portray and a reserved role like this, while performed to a high standard, doesn’t make the best use of his skills. Not at all a weak performance but I feel the other men had more to work with in their scenes. Cary Mulligan is serviceable in the role but I never really supported her as she came across overly stiff and stale. The transition from her living with the aunt, getting the farm and later on doesn’t suggest a transition of time or development in the character yet in the dialogue we are told it has definitely passed and she has a different outlook on life. Due to the down turning of her mouth the beauty mark / mole really irritated me as I kept thinking that it looked like some left over crumb of food – not a fair criticism but nonetheless it did. Far from a bad performance but it felt like a young actress being made to portray an older role as her voice is notably deeper than in her other roles and her mannerisms were very stiffly acted rather than natural which didn’t feel in keeping with this character who is not of the societal set but very salt of the earth putting on the airs of society when it is necessary.

The central characters in brief are:

Bathsheba – the stoic proto-feminist heroine. We see this character archetype time and time again in any number of similar novels with a similar narrative framework i.e. A woman who is challenging the gender assigned roles of society yet still finding herself needing to conform to them through an appropriate marriage.

This character heavily reminded me of being in the same mould as Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett. Both have suitors who initially approach them for marriage and who they turn away as they feel they have no need for them but later warm to and marry. In this film the suitors seem to ask her to marry them within the first 10 minutes of meeting her!

“Hello Bathesheba… oh my… you are… the most beautiful, intelligent, self-sufficient woman i have ever met… will you marry me?”

If this was not based on a Thomas Hardy novel but written today it would be no more respected than Twilight and its ilk due to the ‘Mary Sue’ nature of the central character. The later stories have inherited wholesale the exact narrative structure unchanged since it developed centuries ago! Back then it was a struggle for women to be viewed as people in their own right, not the property of the men they marry, but the copied narrative rings falsely today in a contemporary Western society where many of the key conflicts have been addressed, if not made redundant, by societal change via the Suffragette movement’s achievements and Feminism.

Just as the classic monomyth universally depicts a hero going on an adventure, in a decisive crisis wins a victory and then comes home changed or transformed so this narrative adapts it to a woman’s version within the traditional social structure as she comes from simple, but respectable, origins to a position of respectability and society wherein she now has the option of marrying her choice of potential suitors amongst whom we usually find the trifecta of the following:

  • The morally, but not socially, prefered choice (Oak/ Mr Darcy),
  • The traditional ‘provded for by an older man’ option, in a respectable but unappealing choice (Boldwood/Mr Collins)
  • The dashing, sexually attractive, worldly soldier who is dangerous (Troy/ George Wickham)

Gabriel Oak: A former small farm owner who suffers tragedy when he loses his flock of sheep and ends up working for Bathsheba as her shephard. During his service he offers his opinion on her life and althoguh there is colnflict between them he always puts the farm and others ahead of his own desires.

He offered marriage when he was a farm owner and she was with her aunt on a small neighbouring farm. Later on, i.e. he majority of the film, he works as her shepherd and proves himself a good, unselfish man, who gives her his opinion but never forces her hand. A man who is physically and morally strong. Seems to ha ve been simplified from the book. I kept thinking how he no doubt influenced the character of Mellors in Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

William Boldwood: When Bathsheba inherits her uncles farm he owns the neighbouring one which is far larger and so he is more a landowner who never dirties his hands compared to Oak.

After Bathsheba’s lady persuades her to send him a valentines which has no true intent behind it he offers marriage. She tells him wait. He waits. He later asks again (due to the pacing of the film it doesn’t seem a long time but I am assuming some months or years have passed) and she rebukes him again. A tragic figure ultimately though it would ruin the closing of the story if I told you it. The way Bathsheba treats him does make her morally repugnant and it is never really addressed but instead he is made to seem the ‘bad’ one as he follows societal norms and assumes she would want to marry someone of a similar social standing. There is a scene where Bathsheba and Oak look through his rooms and see he purchased items on the assumption she would agree to his proposial finally as if to suggest he was ‘stakerish’ in nature though it would make sense in the societal norm and in another story being showered which such gifts would be a ‘heartwarming’ scene not a tragic note as it is presented as here.

Sergeant Frank Troy: Young sexy, worldy, experienced soldier who ultimately teaches the female protagonist the ways of the world taking her innocence, yes in both moral and physical ways, but his association with her is restrictive and so he betrays her or uses her in order to fund his worldly ways such as gambling or drinking heavily.

As seen in Pride and Prejudice’s George Wickham and Anna Karenina’s Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (a cavalry officer). She marries him but he still idolises a former lover named Fanny Robin, who through sheer poor luck, did not arrive at the church in time to marry him, so he assumed he had been jilted and thus sought his next lover and was married within 9 months with tragic consequences. The ‘Danish handshake’ was a bit more than earlier adaptions would have had but it seemed fitting due to the scene and character involved.

Review Summary: It is a very cinematic film so definitely go see it there if you can. Although it has a long run time it will pass quickly. I found the shifts from scene to scene far to blunt and so it felt like a collection of scenes rather than a flowing narrative. Go watch the 1967 version for a good film, watch this for a modern adaption but ultimately the book is the best place for the story. Good adaption but far to sharply edited to the point you don’t have time to appreciate scenes or absorb what is gone on before the next event is underway. The music is also very fitting and enjoyable.

TL;DR: Beautiful scenes decorated with something for the ladies in the forms of Matthias Schoenaerts PHWOAR, Tom Sturridge PHWOAR and Michael Sheen PHW- um, well I guess he appeals to ladies of particular tastes…