Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review of ‘X+Y’

A film about maths nerds and autism, rather well done; had to choke back the odd tear. The protagonist is a maths prodigy and ends up competing in the International Mathematics Olympiad. Nice depictions of relationships between nerds, male and female nerds, and savants and their parents. A few actors usually seen in Mike Leigh films (Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, and I think Rafe Spall) give great performances. 

Nice footage of Taipei; small autobiographical note, I spent some time there during the Ovum Asia Pacific tour a few years ago and found it a surprisingly pleasant place. Several of the places I visited (the big park, the night market) were in the film and it was nice to see them again.

Review of “Dear White People”

A film about racial politics on US campuses, with particular reference to a recent fad for rich white students to organise ‘blackface’ parties and the offence that it caused to African-American students.

Interesting, sharply shot and edited, and with some good conflicted characters, interesting scenario, and some good dialogue. Clearly shows, as if such a thing were necessary, that America is not any kind of ‘post-racial’, just differently racial.

But less than satisfactory for me, and lots of it frankly incomprehensible. I couldn’t understand much of the material about the American university culture (I don’t even know what a sophomore is), or pick up some of the nuances of American racial politics and/or African-American culture, or teen culture – what’s all that stuff about hair-styles really about? I don’t know or care enough to find out.

And I’m a bit mystified by having two of the main protagonists be the son of the white college president and of the black college dean respectively. I don’t know what the two roles mean (are they two halves of the Vice-Chancellor role, maybe?). And is the fact that one boy is white and the other black all that matters here? What about all the other people who aren’t from privileged backgrounds? Well, this is supposed to be an Ivy League university, so maybe they’re just not in the story, unless I missed something.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Review of 'Cuban Fury'

Very disappointed that this was not a searing account of armed struggle in the Cuban Revolution, as I had been led to believe. There were no Cubans in this film at all, and very little fury, though the Brits in it were occasionally a bit peeved.

It turned out to be a mildly amusing romcom with salsa dancing, office rivalry between men over the hot new boss, a bit of slapstick, and some good character acting, particularly Ian McShane as the seedy salsa coach. Not memorable, but not awful to watch either.

I note that the boss didn't need to be American at all. She's learning to salsa like everyone else. It's not part of her latino heritage or anything like that. So presumably British film-makers are back to the old device of putting in an American character in the hope that they can increase US sales. Ho hum...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review of 'Saturday Night Fever'

Rewatched a few weeks ago, on telly via laptop and informal distribution; tried to watch via Chromecast but found the streaming couldn't handle an HD film.

Of course it's a great soundtrack, and very evocative of the period. And some of the social observation (particularly the social climbing of Stephanie, the dance partner who has relocated to Manhattan through her job and philandering boss).

I'd forgotten how nasty it was, though - apart from the ethic gang wars and the dead end jobs, and the boys' attitude to women in general, there are two rapes, neither of which seem to be taken very seriously.

Review of 'Strangers on a Train'

Watched this at a little arthouse cinema in Girona - very comfortable seats, but hard-to-hear soundtrack. I presume the mainly Catalan audience were reading the subtitles and didn't much care.

A classic suspense thriller, perfectly made, though some aspects of the plot don't stand up to much scrutiny. I especially enjoyed it because I'd recently listened to the rather good radio play 'Strangers on a Film', about the tension between Hitchcock and Raymond Chandler, whose name appears on the credits but didn't really write the screenplay.

In the play Hitchcock and Chandler argue about whether it's important for the plot and the characters to make sense; Hitchcock says that's not important in a film, which is a different medium from print. Seeing the movie I can see that he was undoubtedly right. Lots of the plot doesn't make much sense but it doesn't matter.

Small other note in passing; watching it I found it hard to know exactly when it was set. It looked like the 1930's, and only the small poster inviting travellers to visit New York to see the UN was a give-away that it was post-war. No sign in the film that anyone is a veteran, or that the war even had happened. It was made in the early 1950's, which really did look like a vanished world. Interesting how 'grown-up' the actors/characters look, even though they are much younger than me.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review of "R100".

A Japanese shop worker whose wife is in a coma signs up to a mysterious S&M agency (‘Bondage Corp.’) to provide him with surprise dominatrix attacks in public places, which appears to be the only way he can obtain some sort of ecstasy.

At first it goes well, and we see him reaching this state in a wide range of places – a coffee bar, a sushi counter, the street, even a children’s playground. But the agency increasingly crosses the boundaries between those domains where the protagonist thinks interaction with the dominatrices are appropriate. He’s happy to be attacked in proper ‘public’ – he’s obviously got a thing about being humiliated in front of strangers, but not in his house (where his seven-year old son is cared for by his retired father-in-law) his place of employment, or the hospital room where he sits by the bed of his unconscious wife.

He seeks to have the contract cancelled but is told that he can’t. He goes to the police, but of course they are not interested in what perverts get up to, or enforcing some incomprehensible distinction between acceptable and unacceptable humiliation.

Then he accidentally kills one of the women who has him tied up at home on a waterproof sheet so that she can spit at him. From here on the film moves into pastiche thriller. The CEO of Bondage Corp, a large blonde latex-clad American, flies in the corporate jet to supervise the company’s revenge. Lots of madcap car chases and cartoon violence, as an army of leather-wearing ninja women attempt to storm the father-in-law’s house in the forest while the protagonist holds them off with a box of hand-grenades that he has found.

There are some additional surreal touches. We see a group of people discussing what the film is about between scenes. We see the film-maker watching his movie in a private screening. The characters keep wondering whether they've just felt a minor tremor that might signal an earthquake, though it never materialises. It’s silly, not very erotic, and a not particularly profound exploration of the psychological dimensions of S&M fantasies. Probably better than ‘Fifty Shades’, though.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Review of 'Suite Francaise'

If I hadn't read the book I would have thought that this was a great film about the Occupation of France that focused on everyday life rather than the heroes of the Resistance. But I have, so it was a bit of a disappointment. It was too much of an adventure story, and not enough about the dynamics of the relationship between conquered and conquerors. The silly poster makes it look like it's "Love in the Occupation", and it mainly isn't. In fact, the posters at our local cinema seemed to only have the bottom section of the one on the right.

Naturally it's simplified, with many of the story threads and characters from the book left out altogether; I think it left out some of the best bits in pursuit of more drama and action.

On the positive side, Kirsten Scott Thomas is brilliant - she could probably read the phone book and it would still be captivating. And the early scenes of the refugees from Paris does a good job of evoking the chaos.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review of 'Good Vibrations'

Watched this on the telly (well, BBC Iplayer via Chromecast actually - included this in case it becomes useful in a future social history of technology; I can't remember the last time that I watched a film on telly as it was actually broadcast). I was a bit disappointed, the more so since at least one friend with good judgement recommended it.

It seems to me that it's basically a 'kids are all right' sort of film, with a background of paramilitaries for a bit of gravitas. There's some great washed-out and gritty footage of this, but it doesn't add up to anything except the atmosphere. Like 'Northern Soul', but with guns instead of drugs - though of course in real life it was guns and drugs.

Terri is running a record shop in Belfast, and ends up running a label that discovers the Undertones among others. Although it's suggested that he was political before the start of The Troubles (and even that he had left-wing mates in both 'communities') he seems to have no politics at all now, apart from the 'music transcends all boundaries' and 'why can't we just be friends' sort of politics. Bombs go off, nasty sectarian graffiti appears (and is papered over by Terri's army of non-sectarian punks) but there's no meaning or context to it. The only British soldier who appears in the film is a Black squaddie who stops Terri's roadshow one night in the rain, but turns out to be sympathetic to his project and basically decent and respectful. That's just how it was, right?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Review of 'Maleficent'

I really couldn't see the point of this. I'm all in favour of retellings of traditional fairy tales, and I've really liked some of those (not to mention my own One Shoe Tale, of course). But this is dire. You can tell it's going to bad from the very start, because the Disney castle that appears in the opening credits become the castle in which the not-very-nice king lives. Yes, he lives in the pink Disney castle. Later on it inexplicably becomes rather gloomier, but the overall sugar-coated-ness of the story never goes away.

It's supposed to be the backstory of how the bad fairy got to be bad, but she mainly isn't. She's wicked for about ten minutes, before her heart melts and she tries to undo the evil that she has unthinkingly created. Similarly Aurora, the girl who become Sleeping Beauty actually only sleeps for ten minutes, before Maleficent wakes her with a loving kiss - not the Prince, though there is nothing event slightly homoerotic about the girl-on-girl kiss, it's a mother's love even though Maleficent isn't actually Aurora's mother. And Aurora does end up marrying the Prince who failed to wake her with a kiss, because it's not that radical a retelling, despite the big dragon-fight sequence in the castle which I don't remember from the original fairy tale.

It might have been saved by the look of the film, the sets and the special effects, but it wasn't - not creepy enough to be interesting. I can't imagine who this is aimed at - it's not really suitable for little ones, and not interesting enough in for older viewers. I had hoped that Angelina Jolie's costume as featured on the poster might be a hint about some dark erotic content (they are porno horns, aren't they?) but it isn't.

A vanity project, I'd say.