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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Film Noir

University of York Lifelong Learning Centre Course "Film Noir"

I had forgotten how much I like film noir until I attended this course. The last four Saturday mornings I have gone to the Cityscreen cinema in York and seen four of the best films noir.

In the early/mid seventies, on Saturday afternoons, the BBC TV would show two or three old films such as these, or Astaire/Rogers, or the big films from the fifties starring Charlton Heston or Stephen Boyd, or the westerns of John Wayne or Gary Cooper.  Really this is how I discovered a love of film.

Lifelong Learning usually run a four film course in the Spring. Last year it was Ingmar Bergman.  Previously, French film of the thirties (loved it), Akira Kurosawa (loved it), French New Wave (avoided this course). These courses are great opportunities to see the best of cinema as it should be seen, on a big screen, a good sound system, sitting in the dark, popcorn verboten.

The course was presented by a PhD film student. He also led the end of film discussion. One of the films, "Gun Crazy", had been withdrawn very soon after it was released, only one person on the course had seen it previously. If you like film noir and you get the chance, I recommend you see this film.

On Sunday, as B was out all day at a dressage competition (which did not go well, the horse was not in the mood), I watched two more.

A classic, "Double Indemnity"

Cool - sunglasses in the supermarket

and a film from 2004, "Collateral", a film that has many of the tropes of film noir, City setting, night, good guy (Jamie Foxx) bad guy (Tom Cruise), murders and gun crime, a damsel to be rescued. No femme fatale but everything else.

Yesterday (Monday) I watched "French Connection" - Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, a very grubby, down at heel New York. OK - maybe not film noir but it had many of the elements.

Today, perhaps I should go out for a walk for a few hours - maybe not, it's just started raining and the postman has just delivered another film noir "The Postman Always Rings Twice".

Sunday, 22 March 2015

"Edge of Tomorrow"

We watched this yesterday. A sort of sci-fi Groundhog Day, very enjoyable. At first I had my doubts but we soon got into it, good story, good plot twists (I don't claim to understand the physics or time implications* but we think they worked well), very good acting from the two leads and from the support roles, good direction. So, thumbs up.

* I understand from some reviewers that a few people have objected to the ending on the grounds of not complying with the laws of physics, maybe they forgot this is a piece of fiction.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


I watched "Fury" at the weekend.

The film setting - late April 1945, US Army is fighting deep inside Germany. Staff Sergeant Collier (Brad Pitt) leads a platoon of Sherman tanks through various scenes and scenarios, trying to keep himself and his crew alive to the end of the war. Lots of action, lots of shooting and pyrotechnics, lots of dubious events (the kill or be killed kind of events), lots of blood, wounds and death, lots of bad language. The story is based on actual events and the experiences of tank crews.

I liked this film, I liked it a lot. The individual scenarios  are very well done, very well acted and designed. It was good to see actual, real tanks moving around, the producers borrowed some original tanks and vehicles from the Tank Museum at Bovingdon, including the only running Tiger 1.

Brad Pitt was very good as the tank commander. The driver - Michael Pena - an actor always worth watching. The rest of the crew were all excellent. The ensemble of five strangers thrown together into the tank, five men who could not stand each other, but they understood they had to work together to survive, this came over very well. Good supporting roles played by Jason Isaacs, Brad Henke and Scott Eastwood. Good supporting roles from two German actors, Anamaria Marinca and Alicia von Rittberg.

I did not like the ending but overall, a very good film.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

End of Term Report

University of York Centre for Lifelong Learning course "God Wills It? A History of the Crusades"

For the last two terms I have trundled across York to the University campus to attend this course. 18 lectures/discussions on Wednesday evenings between 7 and 9 pm. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

My history studies are usually confined to French history and artillery fortifications after 1650, that is, starting with the reign of Louis XIV. I was interested in the course after I saw a television programme about the VII Crusade, organised and led by Louis IX in 1249, that was crushed at the Battle of Al Mansurah, Egypt, in February 1250. Then I found out that the First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II outside the Cathedral of Clermont in 1095 and that large numbers of French knights and soldiers joined the Crusades to the Holy Land. This course added a lot to my background understanding of the French military and politics of the later medieval period.

Ten of us attended, this turned out to be a very good number. The course was ably and engagingly led by Dr Cristina Figueredo, a specialist in medieval history. Each session was centred around some 25 slides and pictures, written and sourced by Cristina with a view to having us contribute to the discussion. Most of the ten spoke, but not everybody. Cristina also provided reading matter for the following week's lecture, some of which I actually read.

The course covered the eight Crusades in the Middle East, plus the Reconquista in Spain, the Albigensian Crusade in France against the Cathars, the Baltic Crusades, the anti-Ottoman Crusade called to save Constantinople and, finally, the Crusade called against the Hus Uprising in Bohemia. Several of these Crusades were completely new to me. I knew of the struggle between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin and I've seen the films "El Cid" and "The Kingdom of Heaven", but a Crusade against the Hus? What have the Hus ever done to us? All was explained by Cristina. The Hus had wanted to practice Christianity without the yoke, the pomp, the wealth accumulation of the Church of Rome, so an early form of Protestantism.

So, to summarise, this was a very good course, very well organised and conducted by Cristina, very interesting, I learnt a lot.

I was reminded that tertiary education has changed very much since my student days. I think I have written previously how, because of the loans and debt involved, students now see their courses as financial transactions and contracts with quality levels and that because of the debt they work a lot harder than I did. This was the first course that I have attended when younger attendees arrived with laptop computers and typed notes throughout the two hour sessions.

Also, this was the first course that I have attended with a couple of foreign students.  York Uni has a very large number of Chinese students and one came to the lectures. The City of York has a large number of hotels, I imagine these attract a lot of European workers, the second foreign student was a Spanish engineer who is working in a hotel.

(A slight digression - I am told that  York Uni has the largest number of Chinese students in the UK, that the Chinese Government pays their fees of £27K pa, which is three times the UK student fees of £9K pa, so we only see the best Chinese students, the brightest and they work hard, very hard.)

A still from "Kingdom of Heaven", Tiberius (Jeremy Irons) considers strategic questions

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Julie the lawnmower

This is Julie, a young Lorraine goat, employed as a self-propelled, omni-directional, automated lawnmower and gardener at Fort du Villey-le-Sec.

Many of the late 19th century forts in France are left by the French Army as surplus and are then managed by local history groups. The forts are located in large, overgrown grounds and in a few of them, goats are kept on site to eat the grass and keep the brambles under control. Fort du Villey-le-Sec also has highland cattle. I've also seen goats on the Vauban fortifications of Neuf-Brisach.

A very green method of grounds maintenance.

Saturday, 7 March 2015


 For those readers who like a film that is a little different, or with a great central performance, may I recommend "Nightcrawler". This is a very unusual rags to riches story with a totally creepy but mesmerising performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Not for the average romcom lover, but for me, fantastic.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Fort de Ronce (Forte Roncia)

I came across this picture of Fort de Ronce in the snow. Wonderful, I thought, where is that? The name suggested France and the general architecture suggests late 19th century when Séré de Rivieres was in charge of rebuilding France's border fortifications but this is not one of his designs.

After some digging I found this. Forte Roncia, built by the Italians during 1877 - 1880, at Moncenisio. After WW2 the borders in the Alps between France and Italy were redrawn and France gained a few strategic valleys, including what now became Mont Cenis and the French Armée had its fort, Fort de Ronce.

The main armament was 3 150mm cannons and 2 120mm cannons, firing across the lake and up the valley towards France.

For me, this is a magnificent piece of military architecture in a glorious setting (although I'm sure that is coincidental and was not in the designer's brief). Yet another place to add to my list of future visits.

The Italians built a number of forts in the Alps during the later 19th century, including the work below, on Mont Chaberton. I have to do some more research on this defensive line.