THE LEISURE SEEKER

Three Star Rating

“…Leisure Seeker is in fact rather good fun, highlighting as it does the myriad ‘laugh or you’ll surely cry’ trials and tribulations brought about by the unrelenting onset of old age.” – Wayward Wolf.

Some bafflingly irrelevant, not-so-subliminal anti-Trump / pro-the wonders of diversity propaganda-aside, The Leisure Seeker is a rather entertaining – if slightly contrived – road movie – with a big heart.

Donald Sutherland portrays John Spencer, a retired English teacher with severe dementia, who, along with his beloved wife, Ella (Helen Mirren), decides to dust-off the old Winnebago Recreational Vehicle, which Ella affectionately refers to as The Leisure Seeker. Together, the couple head off on an impromptu road trip from their home in Massachusetts, right the way down to Ernest Hemingway’s house on Florida’s Key West, much to the despair of their concerned children, Will and Jane.

The trip is littered with incidents ranging from the lightly amusing to the highly improbable as the pair encounter all manner of shenanigans en route to the sunny south. All the while their grown up children fret over their whereabouts and well being, as one surely would considering the elderly couple’s respective precarious states of health.

If you can remain undistracted by the rather formulaic and at times forced narrative, Leisure Seeker is in fact rather good fun, highlighting as it does the myriad ‘laugh or you’ll surely cry’ trials and tribulations brought about by the unrelenting onset of old age. Powerless to halt this relentless march of time they may well be, but for John and Ella nothing ever seems quite so bad when contemplated over a shared bottle of Canadian Club whilst sat on the edge of a beautiful lake, miles from anywhere, at the end of a long day of driving.

Laughs-aside, The Leisure Seeker also offers an all too often painful insight into the debilitating havoc that the onset of dementia can inflict upon those affected by it, both directly and indirectly.

It is clear that John’s deteriorating memory is proving to be increasingly burdensome for Ella, not to mention cruel, both through the fluctuating nature of its manifestation, and with its propensity to lay bare some harsh and unwelcome truths of yesteryear.

All too fleetingly now John is still the effortlessly charming man that Ella married, only to revert in the blink of an eye to the confused incontinent stranger that she has more recently come to know, and for whom she must now care – morning, noon and night.

Undoubtedly it is the highly believable and impressive on-screen chemistry of the film’s leading pair that focuses the mind fully on the The Leisure Seeker‘s numerous plus points, and sufficiently away from its handful of prominent failings.

Though Paolo Virzì‘s film is ultimately a little wistful, it nevertheless casts an optimistic light, choosing to regard John and Ella’s story not as one of unremitting struggle, but of two lives well lived, and in spite of everything, done so without any lasting regrets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE ISLANDS AND THE WHALES

Three and a half Star Rating

“Day’s film primarily concerns itself… with a number of increasingly weary Faroese fishermen and sea bird hunters on whose shoulders the gathering issues and pressures of modern life are weighing heavier than ever” – Wayward Wolf.

It’s fair to say that the Faroe Islands (Føroyar to the locals), will probably always remain close to the hearts of the majority of folk that are ever lucky enough to visit them.

I’ve been enormously lucky to have paid a visit on two separate occasions, and whilst each of these trips produced enough thrills, spills, entertainment and incomparable beauty to fill ten separate holidays, I’ve always been aware that a visitor’s impression of Føroyar – as privileged as it may well be – is probably still a million miles from the reality of living, and more importantly making a living within these stunning islands.

Mike Day’s thought-provoking documentary The Islands and the Whales takes a very topical look at the Faroe Islands and its people.

As far back as anyone can remember, the Faroese people have relied upon the sea and the delicate food chain that it nurtures, for their survival. But studies which have been ongoing now since 1986 reveal increasing concentrations of mercury within this chain, with particularly high concentrations discovered in sea birds and more prominently in the pilot whales whose yearly migratory route, unfortunately for them, passes close by.

With the gravity of this revelation being keenly impressed upon the locals by health professionals, and with the inconvenient truth and implications of what this therefore means slowly dawning upon them all, the proud traditions of hunting and harvesting that are so deeply engrained within the Faorese, are now under serious threat.

This of course will be music to the ears of a whole multitude of pressure groups and environmental campaigners – most notably the activists of Sea Shepherd – whose whole-hearted loathing of the Faroese tradition of whale herding and hunting (grindadráp), is well known.

Day’s documentary not only illustrates the activists’ attempts to sabotage these hunts, but  also the levels of hypocrisy and ill-thought-out logic that they then seem to display when proposing that the Faroese people import their food instead; apparently blind to the environmental impact of such actions.

Interestingly, though I’d argue inaccurately, as the grindadráp has gained increasing notoriety, it has been rather unfairly maligned as being the Faroese equivalent of the ritual Japanese combined slaughter and capture of dolphins for the benefit of Sea World and the like, as exposed in Louie Psihoyos’s harrowing 2009 documentary, The Cove.  Such comparisons are dismissed by the Faroese who are keen to insist that the killing of pilot whales is a far quicker and more humane process than the ham-fisted butchering experienced by schools of dolphins off the coast of Japan.

There will of course always be exceptions to the rule, but having witnessed them both to some extent, even for a fairly devout vegetarian / occasional Pescetarian such as myself, I struggle to equate the two events beyond their mutual harvesting of Cetaceans.

Day’s film primarily concerns itself, however, with a number of increasingly weary Faroese fishermen and sea bird hunters on whose shoulders the gathering issues and pressures of modern life are weighing heavier than ever.

Indeed, Føroyar is feeling the pinch of encroaching Globalisation and many of the ills that it so often brings, more keenly than most these days. Some even go so far as to suggest that their country and way of life is coming under attack and they display an understandable bitterness about it, especially considering that the increasing prevalance of mercury in the food chain is down to large-scale industrial pollution and very much an issue not of their own making.

But this is a quietly spoken, fairly placid people, and it’s therefore often difficult to gauge the true levels of disenchantment that they feel with regard to such prickly subject matter.

The Islands and the Whales documentary is a very matter-of-fact piece which takes a fairly sympathetic, yet essentially politically-neutral stance on the plight of these fishermen and their families.

The characters are filmed going about their day-to-day activities, engaged in conversations pertaining to the increasing hardships that they now face in their lives. It’s particularly interesting to note that it’s not only the older generation that choose to bury their heads in the sand with regards to the very real health risks of consuming mercury-infected bird and whale meat, but this sense of denial seems to pervade the psyche of the younger generations too. It’s a proud and stubborn stance, but it not only places their own health at risk, but that of their young families too.

Inhabited by a people that are quietly, yet firmly nationalistic, and unafraid to show pride in their heritage – take note please, United Kingdom – there are few places on earth quite so arrestingly beautiful, and awe inspiring as Føroyar.

Traditionally such a self-sufficient nation, the impinging and intrusive effects of Globalisation increasingly prove to be very much to the detriment of the Faroese people. It threatens their very way of life and has the potential to irreparably change the nature of these wonderful islands, forever.

And take it from me, Ladies and Gentlemen, that would be unthinkable.

 

 

 

 

 

BEAST

Three Star Rating

Jessie Buckley is a tremendous piece of casting. All curly bobbed red hair, unworthiness and self-loathing, her sense of not belonging is palpable.” – Wayward Wolf.

There’s something a little peculiar about the Channel Island of Jersey. Unless you’ve visited there, its hard to properly convey its unique combination of oddity and charm, a curious blend that serves perfectly as the backdrop to Michael Pearce’s atmospheric thriller, Beast.

Moll lives with her parents in their large house within a small community on the island. Her questionable past and apparent lack of real direction in life is in stark contrast to her squeaky clean sister, Polly (Shannon Tarbet), who lives a picture-perfect lifestyle with her pilot husband, much to the delight of the girls’ rather judgemental mother. Whereas Polly has moved away from the shackles of the family home, Moll remains, under the protective – bordering on oppressive – watch of her mother who expects at the very least for Moll to toe the family line and help out with caring for her dementia-afflicted father.

Not entirely unreasonable requests you’d agree, though Moll’s erratic nature proves to be frequently at odds with her Mother’s simple demands.

A bizarre, fractious encounter on a night out, however, leads to the beginnings of a passionate fling between Moll and a mysterious local lad, Pascal. But Pascal harbours a criminal past, and with an as yet unidentified killer at large on the island, the eyes of the law are now firmly trained upon this somewhat shady Channel Islander; and through her association with him, Moll soon finds herself also under unwanted scrutiny.

Moll and Pascal are two kindred spirits, with dark pasts and inner demons. Together they share a passionate union based upon unconditional support and trust, which only serves to increasingly ostracise them from the island’s polite society.

Brutal re-imaginings of Moll’s own particular unsavoury past are illustrated by way of graphic dream-like sequences in which she becomes not the perpetrator, but the victim. A sort of guilt-ridden interpretation of her own enduring shame, perhaps?

Beast is a sort of tense and alluring coming-of-age affair. Whilst by strict definition it would probably be considered a murder mystery, it rarely ever feels like any sort of conventional whodunit, but more like a psychological probing and evaluation of confused minds.

Jessie Buckley is a tremendous piece of casting. All curly bobbed red hair, unworthiness and self-loathing, her sense of not belonging is palpable. Johnny Flynn’s rather visceral portrayal of the wiry scruff, Pascal, is simultaneously mysterious, devious and charming, whilst Geraldine James puts in a perfectly judged performance as Moll’s cold and controlling mother, Hilary.

In slight criticism, I’m left in two minds as to whether the increasingly visceral nature of Buckley’s performance as the piece develops – particularly in relation to her mind’s own descent into a very dark place – is artistically inspired or in fact rather overly self-indulgent. And the whole ‘re-invigorated, independent powerful woman in film’ routine, which seems to accompany just about every film narrative at present, is perhaps losing its impact now through over-saturation.

Two small points to consider, but no matter, Michael Pearce’s Beast is undeniably a most impressive debut feature, whetting the appetite, we hope, for more to come.