/ January 2020 film thread

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Blue Straggler 01 Jan 2020

starting on 1 Jan!

Little Women (2019)

7/10

Longer review tomorrow but for now can I ask whether in the novels Little Women and Good Wives, Jo March is such a one-note, egotistical, pretentious, judgemental and selfish character, or is this something that Greta Gerwig’s adaptation brought to it? 

I was “Team Amy” straight away! 

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HB1 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

To be fair Jo was the one who "wrote" the book. Maybe she needed to have those characteristics you seem so quick to scorn! It was a far better adaptation than the 1994 offering. I told Mrs B afterwards that I'm not going to the next one (I would however probably be in my late nineties, so might enjoy a little outing!)

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Blue Straggler 02 Jan 2020
In reply to HB1:

I realised this morning that a lot of Greta Gerwig's characters, either in her own writing/directing projects OR even in just straight acting roles, are, if not downright UNLIKEABLE, at least don't give you much reason to root for them. So - having not read the novels OR seen any other adaptation, I do wonder if Greta brought a bit of this into Jo. 
I did think the film was good but that 7/10 (as opposed to higher) does reflect some narrative flaws which I think we can blame Gerwig for. For example, I got no notion that Jo had any particularly positive thoughts toward Laurie, until near the end of the film when they hit us with flashbacks of hitherto unseen frolics. 

Flo-Pu stole the show. 

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kamala 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Not seen the film, but from the book if you'd listed those characteristics (egotistical, pretentious, selfish) and asked which character, I would have said they described Amy perfectly. She does at least have the excuse of being young, so some self-centredness may be expected, but she's the least likeable of the girls in my opinion.

But much of the point of the book is about how the girls "improve" their character so if any main character is "one-note" and unchanged throughout the film, I'd say it's a significant failure. Or, since interpretation is such a variable thing, perhaps the film-maker really did read Jo as completely the opposite sort of person to how I read her. 

The book is very much of its time, and the standard the girls are held to is a self-sacrificing, traditional home-making, religious standard which might well jar on a modern audience. There's a level of moralising and attempts to mould character which today's audience is unused to and which could come across as being judgemental, though Jo is definitely not its biggest exponent.

Jo in the book is very aware of the ways in which she is lacking and tries hard to fix herself. Her flaws, for example, include a hot temper - which is a fair enough problem to work on. But her other main flaw is being an outright tomboy: far from being pretentious, she wants to "read and ride and run", and the book works to tame her to a more "womanly" standard of caring for clothes and being better at housework. As you can imagine this doesn't sit terribly well with at least one present-day reader! 

All that said, the book is such a gentle picture of a loving family, there's enough nuance in the drawn characters, and Jo is let off the leash to have just enough jolly unladylike fun, that I actually quite like it. 

To HB1: sounds like you've not read the book? I'd say in it Jo doesn't have any of those characteristics except an occasional tendency to preach: see above.

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kamala 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Just seen this - and yes, it sounds like Gerwig has done the story no favours. In the book Laurie's warm relationship with the girls and especially Jo is threaded throughout the story and develops very naturally.

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Blue Straggler 02 Jan 2020
In reply to kamala:

Thanks for your great posts. To be fair on Gerwig I maybe exaggerated my language a bit to make a point. Toned down version, Jo’s virtual piety and “martyrdom” felt ultimately self-serving. I get that Amy is meant to be seen as the selfish one who gets everything handed to her on a plate but at least from a modern viewpoint she had her head screwed on right and was honest about everything, from the burning of Jo’s manuscript, to her artistic endeavours and indeed her imminent marriage to Fred. 

It is possible that my current micro-obsession with Flo-Pu who plays Amy, has coloured my judgement! 

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aln 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Isn't there a version of this with vampires or zombies or something? 

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Andy Clarke 02 Jan 2020
In reply to aln:

There's a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I quite enjoyed it - but it bombed at the box office. 

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aln 02 Jan 2020
In reply to Andy Clarke:

Ah, thanks, that was what I was thinking of.

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Blue Straggler 05 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I never posted the promised "longer review" because a lot of it came out in later posts. 

However:

Little Women (2019)
7/10

I don't know the source material aside from a vague awareness gleaned over the years, that it is to do with four sisters in 19th century America having no exciting adventures, being neither poor nor horribly wealthy, just really getting on with life and growing from girlhood to womanhood.
I got the impression whilst watching Greta Gerwig's adaptation, that actually some familiarity with the novel was assumed, because despite the 2h15m running time, there seemed to be some gaps in the narrative, not helped by a seemingly random flashback structure with only caption early on in the film, and many of the characters' appearances really not changing much across a seven year timespan despite some of them ageing from 14 to 21. Florence Pugh as Amy was a handy indicator because at least young Amy had different hair (also Florence Pugh was the absolute acting standout in this film, to the extent that I wanted the story to be more about Amy than about the - as presented in this adaptation - boring pious tedious Jo).
I won't go on about the story, a lot of you know it, and anyway I don't like to do plot spoilers etc. 
It rambles along amiably until the last half hour when it starts to drag. 
It is sumptuously shot and there are some truly nice cinematographic compositions. 
All the performances are good, although Meryl Streep does seem to be phoning it in with a glorified extended cameo, or maybe it is just that her character is a bit of caricature of the eccentric spinster.  
Aside from Pugh, I'd say the equally reliable Timothee Chalamet is noteworthy. Saoirse Ronan as Jo is fine but honestly this character doesn't give an actress much to work with. 
I do wonder whether Gerwig's adaptation has deliberately made Jo March a bit of a "protagonist who gives us little to root for"; when you look at Gerwig's previous creations (e.g. Frances Ha, Mistress America, Lady Bird) this theme is in all those leads...

Worth watching anyway. 

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BnB 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

On successive nights on Amazon video:

Uber-classic Sunset Boulevard which inspired me to re-watch the film that plays it ample homage 

Mulholland Drive, looking and sounding even better 20 years after its conception.

It's fun looking for scenes in common and musing about other tributes in Lynch's work to the Billy Wilder masterpiece.

These mark highpoints in their respective centuries. A score out of ten would be superfluous.

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John2 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Phew, there was I thinking that Jo was the modern character in the story who made a life for herself rather than being married to a man in a Jane Austenish way as her aunt wanted for Amy. I assumed that that was the point of making the film at this moment in history.

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Blue Straggler 06 Jan 2020
In reply to John2:

> Phew, there was I thinking that Jo was the modern character in the story who made a life for herself rather than being married to a man in a Jane Austenish way as her aunt wanted for Amy. I assumed that that was the point of making the film at this moment in history.

Possibly! I just didn't feel that it really came across particularly strongly or adeptly in this version. It could be that I totally misread the whole thing, but sure I did GET that aspect.  Fair comment though, thanks. 

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Blue Straggler 06 Jan 2020
In reply to BnB:

Thanks, I do keep thinking "must watch Mulholland Drive again" (I have seen Sunset Boulevard sufficient times and more importantly don't currently own a copy!)

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John2 06 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

This has prompted a little thought on my part. I had never before realised what a monumental achievement it was for Jane Austen to forge one of the greatest careers as an English novelist while writing novels about the impossibility of a woman hoping for anything other than marriage to a wealthy man. Later still Mary-Anne Evans, the author of what many think of as the greatest novel in the English language, thought it necessary to write under the name George Eliot because she did not think a woman writer would be taken seriously. As did Amantine Dupin (George Sand).

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Blue Straggler 06 Jan 2020
In reply to John2:

Off on a tangent, although back on film, I watched Whit Stillman's adaptation of Austen's short story "Lady Susan", the film called "Love and Friendship" last night, for a second time. Very very good and if familiar with Stillman's work, you might think that the arch dialogue was his. Nope. All straight from the Austen, so I am told. Very sharp and funny!

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Tom V 06 Jan 2020
In reply to John2:

Not forgetting Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.

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Andy Clarke 07 Jan 2020
In reply to Tom V:

I've always found it interesting that England's first great female author, Aphra Benn, made no attempt to hide her gender and was in fact passionate and public in her advocacy of female writers. In recognition of her bravery, male critics spent the next couple of centuries consigning her to obscurity! 

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Tom V 07 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Blue Ruin (2013).

Very good low budget revenge thriller written, produced and acted by unknowns.

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Blue Straggler 08 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

The Gentlemen.

A surprising 7.5/10. The trailer suggested to me that this would be either very funny, or very dire. I took a punt....

Seems that Guy Ritchie has taken on board that his attempts to kick-start franchises in the wake of the second Sherlock Holmes film being a bit of a dud (see: The Man From U.N.C.L.E, King Arthur) are failures, and he's taken a look at what people expect from a Guy Ritchie film, and what people LIKE.....and concluded that a return to the mockney gangsterism of Lock, Stock.. and Snatch, is the way forward. 
Whilst at the same time embracing his "slightly discount Brit Tarantino" tag wholeheartedly. And I say good on him. 

The Gentlemen is simply a fun film. The actual plot, twists and double-crosses included, is reasonably inconsequential. Other reviews have accurately mentioned that it is as much a film about cinema itself, as it is an actual story. The story and caper are fun enough but are really just a canvas onto which some cleverly played ciphers/stereotypes are painted. So there's your typical "Mr Big", your up-and-coming challengers, Mr Big's stalwart loyal right-hand man, the comic-relief henchmen, and the sometime-unreliable narrator.

I really enjoyed it despite it being clearly pitched at adolescents  

I would have scored it a bit higher but the niggles are:
Michelle Dockery was so obviously being told to act like Gemma Arterton (as in, it looked like they really wanted Gemma Arterton for the female lead). Not since Annette Bening clearly being told to BE Melanie Griffith in The Grifters, have I seen this so blatantly
Matthew McConaughey was fine but the writing/structure around his character was peculiar, he was just sort of IN it
It was a bit overlong, there were obvious pointless scene extensions that could have been trimmed, and a scene chasing some kids down went on far too long and could almost have been cut entirely. 

Otherwise, great fun mainly for the performances - Hugh Grant camping it up in some of his finest work alongside Paddington 2 and American Dreamz, Charlie Hunnam managing to be funny whilst being the "straightman", and - sadly in not much more than an extended cameo - Colin Farrell was hilarious. 
 

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Tom V 08 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I didn't know that about The Grifters. Now I've just read that Huston only accepted her part after MG had quit, having initially turned it down.

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Blue Straggler 08 Jan 2020
In reply to Tom V:

Blimey, I never knew it as a fact, it was only my opinion from watching it (and, I guess, knowing the relative star power of Griffith and Bening at that time). 

That film never worked for me because for some insane reason they decided to make Huston look about 15 years older than she really was, which seemed odd for a screenplay that has everyone commenting on how surprised they are that she is John Cusack's mother. 
Also it suffered as a "grift" movie in the immediate wake of the smaller-scale, smaller-release but superior House of Games. And it is really hard now to watch Bening in it, so clearly trying to be Melanie Griffith! I can't imagine it was any easier way back in 1990 either. 



edit - regarding The Gentlemen, I just read that Kate Beckinsale actually started shooting but parted ways with the production after 2 days. I still see more Gemma Arterton in Dockery's performance and appearance though. 

Post edited at 12:06
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Jon Stewart 08 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Just rewatched The Lobster (2015). Got to be one of the best films of the the 2010s - and maybe even better on a second watch when you know what you're getting yourself in for. For anyone who hasn't seen it, and has a taste for rather strange and very dark humour, it's unmissable. Fantastic soundtrack too, used to magnificent effect. Fantastic.

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Blue Straggler 09 Jan 2020
In reply to Jon Stewart:

I loved it on a second view. I truly don’t understand the popular critical view that it loses its way in the second half. I loved how the second half mirrored the first, in a bit of an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” way. Farrell’s deliberately stilted performance was bang on target and WHAT A CAST! Olivia Colman and John C Reilly and Rachel Weisz for your Oscar clout. Lea Seydoux and Ben Whishaw for your James Bond. Jessica Barden and Ashley Jensen for your cool TV connections. That’s just off the top of my head...

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Babika 09 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

+1 for The Gentlemen

Went last night and I thought it was good fun as well. Especially liked the bit where they're trying to explain that you can't shove cannabis farms all over the countryside because of the ramblers and the right to roam.

Best not to go if you're upset by the C word though

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Andy Clarke 10 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

1917: 9/10. A gripping piece of storytelling from director Sam Mendes and bravura camerawork from cinematographer Roger Deakins makes for an unrelentingly tense and immersive experience as we journey through the nightmare hallucinatory landscapes of the First World War. I don't think I've been so pinned back in my seat since the first half hour or so of Bladerunner 2049, another piece of Deakins genius. And there are some visual and dramatic shocks that are genuinely physical in their impact. The film follows two young soldiers on a desperate mission to get a message across a supposedly deserted no man's land to prevent a planned British attack into the jaws of a German trap. As has been well trailed it all takes place in one continuous shot (obviously with some extremely hard to spot digital stitching together) - so that we often feel we're running with the two young men, looking over their shoulders. It's a brilliantly effective technique. A fine score by Mendes favourite Thomas Newman accentuates the tension. The desolate trench landscape of mud and bodies and rats is recreated in shocking detail, with some clever disorientation as the camera zooms and pans from grisly detail to panorama. Spiked gun barrels blossom like black metal flowers. But equally striking is a life or death pursuit through a labyrinthine ruined town lit by apocalyptic flares and flames, or the dreadful pre-attack beauty of lines of white chalk trenches in the early morning sun. In amongst the nerve-shredding there is plenty for connoisseurs of classically English stiff upper lipping to enjoy. I'd be very surprised if this excellent movie doesn't continue to scoop up awards.

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Blue Straggler 12 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Hands up if you have seen “Cats”

[puts hand up tentatively]

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Jon Stewart 12 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

> I loved how the second half mirrored the first, in a bit of an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” way.

Me too - I thought one of the funniest lines was "We dance alone. That's why we only listen to electronic music".

Have you seen any of Lanthimos' other films? 

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Tom V 12 Jan 2020
In reply to Blue Straggler:

What We Had.

Not the sort of film I usually watch but very well made and Hilary Swank and  Michael Shannon  are as good as I've ever seen them.

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Blue Straggler 12 Jan 2020
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> Me too - I thought one of the funniest lines was "We dance alone. That's why we only listen to electronic music".

> Have you seen any of Lanthimos' other films? 

Yes, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (just as offbeat but without the humour) and The Favourite which I liked a lot but only because I’d seen those other two. I said at the time that anyone who hadn’t seen The Lobster or at least read some reviews, would get a rude awakening watching The Favourite. 
 

I have yet to see his calling-card, Dogtooth 

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Blue Straggler 16:27 Tue
In reply to Blue Straggler:

Here we go then. 


Cats (2019)

4/10

I had the same problem reviewing The Greatest Showman two years ago - musicals just are not a genre that appeals to me and under normal circumstances I would not have gone to see Cats. However, the rubbernecker in me was intrigued by the "cat"astrophic reception it has received. I kind of wanted to see a trainwreck of a film. The trailer, which I only managed to see once, actually did revulse me. 

And yet....it didn't seem that horrendous to me. Sure, 4/10 is not a good score but it's not like it's 0/10!

I don't know if I was being slightly soft on it because I have had three weeks of reading about how it was virtually unwatchable. 

All my criticisms of it are in line with everything you must have already heard, but mine are milder:
 - the costuming or appearance of the characters. Human faces and humanoid movement but covered in cat fur, some naked, some wearing clothes, and one wearing a fake cat suit that unzips to reveal a clothed cat underneath. Yes, freaky, but I gather that it's in keeping with the stage show and honestly you soon sort of got used to it (apart from Idris Elba and Judi Dench
- the CGI, the jerky movements, heads not seeming to move in sync with bodies. Actually having got used to the overall appearance of the thing, I didn't really notice this. I was in a bit of a food coma after a roast Sunday lunch in the pub though!
- the total lack of story and it just being two hours of different cats being introduced and then not really doing anything. Yes. I think there is three minutes of story in this. It's about 1h20m of wittering on about being a Jellicle and the head Jellicle cat making a big deal about selecting a new Jellicle for something or other, and it goes on and on, like "I'll invite you to the Jellicle ball where Old Deuteronomy will make her announcement", "Oh hi I am Old Deuteronomy, I will make an announcment", "Look, look, it's Old Deuteronomy, she'll make her announcement at the Jellicle ball" on and on and on and it is never very clear what it is that is being announced aside from selecting a cat. HOWEVER. Isn't this the template for most musicals? Look at Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for instance. So AS AN ADAPTATION OF AN EXISTING MUSICAL I don't think the film has done anything too wrong here, aside from actually having been made
- related to point three, the running time. Easily could have been 25 minutes shorter. 
- Jason Derulo as Rum Tum Tugger was baffling, I don't know if it is the character or writing, or his performance, but he always looked like his character was leading to some big reveal, like he was up to something, as he was every cosying up to all the "good" cats with a scheming look in his eyes, but then nothing came of it


Where it was surprisingly positive.....
Only about 3 minutes of James Corden
The railway cat song was quite good (and I really don't like musicals)
Judi Dench was really surprisingly tolerable, I usually can't stand her mannered performances but she suited this
Laurie Davidson as Mr Misteffoles
and special mention to Francesca Hayward as Victoria, who seemed to "get" what the film was - barely a word from her but just facial reactions to the crazy visuals going on all over. 

It wasn't unwatchable, I won't watch it again and 4/10 is not exactly a recommendation, but it didn't make me angry, it didn't freak me out, I didn't feel a need to walk out...
If it was something you were thinking of seeing because maybe you like the musical stage show, I wouldn't be put off by the massive mockery and lambasting. 

I saw three or four worse films in the cinema last year alone (Tulip Fever, Stuber, The Aeronauts and Colette)

 

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Blue Straggler 17:01 Tue
In reply to Blue Straggler:

> I saw three or four worse films in the cinema last year alone (Tulip Fever, Stuber, The Aeronauts and Colette)

Let’s swap Colette for Yesterday. I’d forgotten Yesterday. 

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Sean Kelly 21:48 Tue
In reply to Andy Clarke:

I used to know a guy who fought with the Gloucester's in Korea, but was one of the lucky ones that got away when his regiment were all but wiped out on the Imjin River. He showed me a photographic record of his regiment in the First World War and after flicking through the pages like you do, I can still remember one picture that really described what it must of been like at the front. Again it was 1917 and the image of a landscape shattered by battle. But then you suddenly notice a dead horse...50 feet up a splintered tree! It makes you think...

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Blue Straggler 09:45 Wed
In reply to Blue Straggler:

> Let’s swap Colette for Yesterday. I’d forgotten Yesterday. 

Oh and we can add Greta to the list of “proper films I saw at the cinema in 2019 which are worse than Cats”. I think Greta was the worst of 2019 actually (my other post on this topic concluded that it was Stuber but on reflection it’s Greta) 

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Offwidth 11:35 Wed
In reply to Blue Straggler:

On Cats, you seem to be avoiding a main point on why Llyod Webber stuff gets so much critical flack. It's not so much that it's terrible, it's more the inevitable middle classes mass migrations to see it, as if it's great art.

Post edited at 11:36
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Blue Straggler 11:43 Wed
In reply to Offwidth:

None of that has anything to do with the film as seen in the cinema. It is a bit of cultural elitism, and I don’t particularly say that pejoratively. 

Post edited at 12:09
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Blue Straggler 11:46 Wed
In reply to Offwidth:

The 2004 film of Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera didn’t get this level of flak, nor did the 1996-7(?) film of his Evita. I don’t think it is any perception of Lloyd-Webber as such, that has caused the 2019 film of Cats to be so lambasted. It is the costuming and the lack of story (and lack of many memorable songs - I mean it uses “Memories” twice, so even they knew they were floundering )

Post edited at 11:58
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Offwidth 12:14 Wed
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I think you're wrong there, there is often a snobbery to those who deem to judge artistic quality and some will get carried away when a chance to 'put the boot in' on a persistent theatrical offender arises. The other films were good and given cinema is more 'low-brow' they didn't provide that much an opportunity.

I am defending your score here.

Post edited at 12:18
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Blue Straggler 12:20 Wed
In reply to Offwidth:

Have you not contradicted yourself in a single post? "Persistent theatrical offender" and "the other films were good"? 

I can't think of a film that has been treated in the same way as Cats, since Battlefield Earth - and sure that one was nigh-on unwatchable (I lasted 20 minutes but only on DVD) and before that, perhaps Ishtar (which is watchable, just not actually funny and the high budget is not reflected in what we see on screen). In both those cases, as in Cats, I agree that a mob mentality kicked in. But I do not think it has anything to do with Lloyd-Webber fans/theatre-goers kidding themselves that they are sophisticated opera experts, nor the mob using a film to attack these hypothetical deluded Lloyd-Webber fans. That is what it looks like you were saying in your first reply; maybe I have misunderstood you, it was a bit vague. 


edit - 
Just recently (and by coincidence this was the film before which I first saw the trailer for Cats which was my first introduction to the fact that Cats had been made), Charlie's Angels fared badly but did NOT get the kicking that Cats has had. It's a handy reference as it is a "beloved" bit of source material going back 40 years, so a major release...but the world just politely said "yeah, bit crap, no thanks", rather than "OMIGOD WHY WHY, MAKE IT STOP LOL"

Post edited at 12:23
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Offwidth 00:14 Fri
In reply to Blue Straggler:

I think you are mistaking critcal opinion for my opinion. To be clear I expect critics are being a bit unfair. I've not seen the film and won't be trying to.

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Hat Dude 09:36 Fri
In reply to Andy Clarke:

1917 just didn't do it for me; perhaps I was expecting too much after the glowing reviews but I came out of the cinema feeling a bit disappointed, for me parts of it were very good but there were flaws.

It is easy to get hung up on technical details and be a bit nit picking particularly if you have studied  WW1 and I do try to put that aside. I will point however to what I consider a plot hole which jarred with me; Schofield is fully immersed in the river for quite a time  before finding the Devonshire Regiment, yet very shortly afterwards he is bone dry and delivers a completely dry letter to Colonel MacKenzie.

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Blue Straggler 10:03 Fri
In reply to Hat Dude:

Oh dear. 

Weirdly, the only major film I've ever seen in which a character immersed in water doesn't magically dry off within minutes, is The Saint starring Val Kilmer. 


It's almost like it's a deliberate joke done by all film-makers, like inserting a Wilhelm Scream or a Lewton bus. It was addressed amusingly in The Last Action Hero, but then everyone just went back to business-as-usual. The most egregious example is at the end of the so-bad-it-is-brilliant "Orphan", when Vera Farmiga is fighting the antagonist including full immersion in icy water and taking a few stabs to her shoulders and upper back, and then MINUTES LATER iirc is nearly bone dry, standing around drinking cocoa and laughing with the police  

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Blue Straggler 10:05 Fri
In reply to Hat Dude:

Thanks for your comments on 1917. Funnily enough I was already not expecting the promised awesomeness, because a) Sam Mendes and b) gimmick. 

It still looks like a brilliant cinematic experience and I look forward to it, and I'll probably give it a high score but it already doesn't look anywhere near a 10/10 

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Hat Dude 10:09 Fri
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Blue Straggler 10:18 Fri
Andy Clarke 10:19 Fri
In reply to Hat Dude:

Fair enough. Certainly, if you're looking for consistently credible plot, you'll be disappointed. I did try to give a clue to this aspect by describing it as 'hallucinatory nightmare.' For instance, the airplane incident isn't really believable - but it doesn't half make you jump back in your seat! And I rather doubt there are such precipitous waterfalls anywhere on the rivers of Belgium/Northern France...

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Blue Straggler 10:37 Fri
In reply to Andy Clarke:

> And I rather doubt there are such precipitous waterfalls anywhere on the rivers of Belgium/Northern France...

This film sounds appalling!  

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Hat Dude 10:42 Fri
In reply to Andy Clarke:

>  And I rather doubt there are such precipitous waterfalls anywhere on the rivers of Belgium/Northern France...

I was thinking the same as I watched

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