Monday, June 29, 2015

Review of "London Road"

A musical about a serial killer. Well, actually a setting to opera-style music of the verbatim transcripts gathered by researchers who spent time with the residents of London Road, Ipswich, where a man murdered five prostitute women during three months. You won't come out humming the tunes, though some of the images last for a long time - particularly the shots of surviving prostitutes, who have more dignity than the other characters.

This is a brilliant, clever, moving film - though it rather does confirm my prejudice that one should never let the media in any form near one's personal life. The residents do not come out of it very well, and there's more than a touch of sneering at the chavs. But no-one comes out of it very well - not the local politician, and not the voyeuristic media either.

Review of 'Sparkle'

Slightly dull and plodding romcom, without much rom or com. Young man channelling his inner 'Alfie' comes to London, uses his charm and sexual magnetism to get a job in PR by screwing the boss...unknowingly meets her daughter and becomes involved with her too...his mum is a sort of singer (really a karaoke singer, as far as I can see) but she follows him to London to have a 'career' but ends up romantically involved with failure Bob Hoskins, whose more successful brother is the PR-boss's long term lover and the father of the daughter (unbeknown to her, of course). Implausible, not interesting enough, and much too long, presumably because the quality didn't justify spending any more money on editing.

I watched this on iPlayer, and couldn't help wondering whether the person who wrote the description had seen it - it was utterly wrong.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Review of "The Fourth Estate"

Watched this in a free screening at the achingly cool venue Passing Clouds, in super-hip Dalston. A zero budget film made over three years by two people with a cheap camera and a ten-year old laptop, it's better than most films about what's wrong with the British media. Lots of talking heads, but really good ones, with smart perspectives, incisive analysis and an ability to talk to the point. Touches on a lot of subjects, including media ownership and regulation, the economics of the media, representations of race, gender and class.

In some ways too long to be really punchy (it's only 80 minutes, but it tries to cover a lot in that time) but too short to do justice to all the things it raises. I would have liked more on the first bit - ownership and regulation - and possibly more on Leveson, which is where it starts. (I was most affected, though, by the short segment in which a young black woman responds to that Lilly Allen video, which I hadn't previously seen - I'd rather ignored the furore over it as being the usual music industry PR shit). Interestingly the two film-makers didn't know that they were going to make a documentary when they started - they thought it might become lots of shorts on YouTube. I hope they do that too, because they've got lots more to say.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Review of 'French Film'

Watched on iPlayer via Chromecast, and watched for the second time. Not entirely through choice, because it isn't really worth watching twice, but Ruth couldn't remember seeing it so...

Nominally a rom-com, and about relationships with some funny bits, there's nevertheless a lot of sadness and misery in this film. Hugh Bonneville establishes himself as the "poor man/woman's Colin Firth" by playing an ineffectual, uncomfortable posh bloke who is a journalist in an unsatisfactory relationship with his girlfriend Cheryl (Victoria Hamilton).

There's a good deal of un-reflective stereotyping of French people and French-ness - the couples counsellor that they go to is a self-important over-intellectual French guy, for example. Eric Cantona plays a gnomic French film director. Although HB is the sympathetic focus of the story, and a self-proclaimed anti-French xenophobe, the French people in the film all turn out to have been right all along - the couple should split up, how relationships begin determines how they'll end, love is something that you just know when it happens...

Monday, June 15, 2015

Review of 'Queen and Country'

A largely pointless, shapeless film. I went to see this because I understood it was a follow-on from 'Hope and Glory', also semi-autobiographical by John Boorman. But that's a much better film, with the alien-ness of childhood in wartime to provide it with a dramatic focus.This just went on through a series of episodes about army life, mainly without purpose or narrative direction. It felt like watching an over-long pilot for a TV series.Pretty enough to look at, and occasionally amusing, but that's all. Lots of talent, mainly wasted.

I note in passing that the poster displays a moment in the film that is entirely unmemorable - the main character is shown here hugging his sister, who has returned from Canada. Would you know that from the picture? I don't think you would.

Review of 'A Good Woman'

This is a film version of Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan", transposed to a 1930s Amalfi ex-pat scene of wealthy Americans and Brits. It's mainly Wilde's dialogue, it has great scenery and settings, decent actors, and is faithful to Wilde's plot - so why does it drag, and why did I doze off? I think because it's too slow for the plot and the dialogue. The director lingers too long on the beautiful cast in the beautiful outfits, draped over the beautiful settings. Not really bad, but not as good as it ought to have been with the assets.

One odd thing - it's set in Fascist Italy, but there are no fascists at all, and almost no Italians. Why put it there at all? And could it have been set in 1930s Germany without any Nazis? One does wonder what goes on in the mind of Hollywood people. Also, the producer is Alan Greenspan, but it's not that Alan Greenspan.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Review of 'Grasp the Nettle'

I watched this last night at the Earl Haig Hall in Crouch End, projected from a laptop (as is typical of such showings, there was a low battery warning on the screen at around three quarters of the way through).

This is a zero-budget, over-long, slightly shapeless, but honest and evocative film about two overlapping communities of activists; an eco-village of benders on a site awaiting development near Kew Bridge, and the 'Democracy Village' in Parliament Square. Both communities no longer exist, having been evicted by bailiffs and police. Both were affected by an influx of the casualties of life - junkies, alcoholics, and nutters, with whom they found it increasingly difficult to deal. The early phase nutters included David Shayler, the ex-MI5 agent who in the film dressed as a woman, said that he was Jesus and rambled on about the Zionist World Government. Later he came to seem quite reasonable as the next wave arrived, including 'Freemen' who denounced Shayler and others as police agents.

After the Freemen came the drunks, the junkies and the mentally ill. Several of the activists complained that they were 'not social workers', and at least one hoped to camera that they would lose their forthcoming court case so that they wouldn't have to deal with the problem people any more.

It would be hard to say that either community achieved anything at all. Some of the people who were watching at the same time were inspired by the dedication and selflessness of the activists, and the way in which they did look after the victims who they found themselves looking after. I was just depressed by all the wasted energy, and the way that the communities got progressively smaller rather than bigger as the nutters made life unbearable for others.

I do remember that student occupations in the 1970s used to have a no-drugs, no alcohol rule. That seems like basic common sense now. I can see that eco-anarchists don't like the idea of having rules (after all, who can enforce them?) but I'd say that the need for that nettle to be grasped is one of the key learnings from the film.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Review of 'The Lady from Shanghai'

Watched this again last night, on an old-fashioned DVD. Had forgotten how brilliant it is - the complexity of the plot (not only is it not easy to guess, I'm still not sure I understand it all), the camera work, and the political sensibilities. There is no attempt to pretty up the lives or the qualities of the idle rich people it depicts. They are just nasty, in a way that only cartoon rich villains with ludicrous world domination plans get to be in modern films.

We know straight away that Welles' character, Michael O'Hara, is a good sort because he killed a 'Franco Spy' in Spain; we know straight away that George Grisby is a bad guy because he was on a pro-Franco committee. And as a modern audience we know that this film was made at a specific time (1947) because this probably the last moment at which Hollywood was prepared to celebrate a 'premature anti-Fascist'.

Fabulous camerwork, especially the Chinese theatre scenes, and the lovingly lit shots of Rita Hayworth, who is very sexy but probably wouldn't get a look-in in today's Hollywood because she isn't conventionally pretty at all.The end sequence in the hall of mirrors at the abandoned amusement park probably provided the template for all subsequent versions of this.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Review of 'Boy meets Girl'

A striking example of how far mainstream attitudes have moved on issues of gender and sexuality. This film depicts the life and loves of a young transgender person in small-town Kentucky. It's mainly about characters and relationships (between trans Ricky and Ricky's best friend Robby, between Ricky and new girlfriend Francesca, and Ricky and Francesca's marine boyfriend David), but there is enough plot stuff for me to not want to spoil it for you.

A fair bit of sex between Ricky and the other protagonists, either described or depicted. Implausibly nice, in that Ricky encounters almost no hostility from the other small-town residents - not the dad, not Francesca's dad (even though he is a conservative Republican) and ultimately not even David the marine. Perhaps this a bit of an outreach film, aimed at helping trans people feel braver and more supported - it does have a fairy-tale happy ending.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Review of Calvary

A really, really good film, though not at all a feel-good film. It's a slice through contemporary Ireland with all its pain and troubles. From the very first minute the theme of child abuse by Roman Catholic priests is introduced; this is the framework for the plot, because an abuse victim wants to kill the main character as an act of revenge, in the knowledge that he is a good priest and not an abuser. The film works its way towards this inevitable denouement via the other suffering characters in the village where the priest and the abuse victim, whose identity is known to the priest but not to us, both live.

The final shots are evocative of a sort of reversed version of "It's a wonderful life". In that film the character (a banker, BTW) is persuaded not to kill himself by seeing all the lives he has touched and what would have happened to them without him. Here the priest does go, half-willingly, to his own death, and we see all the people he might have helped but now won't.

The film is full of stunningly beautiful scenery and cinematography, and the acting and the characters are great. Particular mention is due to Chris O'Dowd, who I don't always like, simultaneously playing against and drawing on the sweet-bloke characters that he usually portrays.

One thing puzzles me. When the disgraced, disgraceful banker wants to show the priest how little everything means to him, he says that he can take a valuable painting off his wall and piss on it - which he then proceeds to do. The painting is Holbein's 'The Ambassadors', which is in the National Gallery, not on an Irish banker's wall. It's a famous painting, so the film makers must know that the audience will recognize and know that it can't be there for the banker to piss on it. So why? Because the painting is a puzzle for which the solution is death underlying everything, particularly ill-gotten wealth? Or is there some other puzzle that I have missed?