Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review of 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'

One of those 'charming' films about a gradually developing relationship between a curmudgeonly old bloke and a dysfunctional young boy. The boy is placed in the foster care of a couple on an isolated NZ farmhouse, after a bad start he settles down, the foster-mother dies and he and the foster-father disappear into the bush - and are then hunted down by social services, the police, bounty hunters and eventually the army.

It's not quite as charming as the trailer implies, but it was watchable - the more so because of the stunning landscape photography. New Zealand looks amazing - the more so because it never looks pretty. Sam Neil acts well as the curmudgeon, though he's not as dysfunctional in attitude as he ought to be given the character's history and behaviour. Oh, and the film is not suitable for vegetarians.

Social services come off really badly - the woman leading the manhunt is a caricature of all the nasty social workers there ever were, and there is the implication that children in 'care' are allowed to die without much concern or afterthought. New Zealanders - the white ones, anyway - come across as surly, uncommunicative and with unresolved anger issues; I've only been to New Zealand once, from Sydney, and that's exactly how it seemed to me. I've had lots of lovely NZ friends, so sorry if this seems mean - but the whole time I was in the country it felt like a fight was about to break out, and several did.

Obtained via informal distribution and watched on a laptop in bed.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Review of 'I, Daniel Blake'

It's been a week since I watched this - in a special showing at the Vue Cinema in Stroud, at 10.25pm. Apparently it was put on again because the other shows had been sold out, but there were only six other people at this showing. We all watched it in silence and left in silence.

I didn't sleep much afterwards. It's not that the stories depicted in it were a surprise. I've read plenty of similar cases on social media, and sometimes even in The Guardian. Seeing it depicted as part of a film is powerful, though; and it's made more so because the film doesn't present a black and white picture of almost anyone. Most of the bureaucrats at the DWP aren't specially horrible (apart from the 'Sheila' character), and manage to convey that they are trying to do the best they can of an impossible job. The people who provide the young mum with a job in prostitution don't seem to be evil exploitative pimps, and there's no suggestion that they are ripping her off or abusing her. The two chancers next door importing trainers direct from the factory in Shanghai are decent enough, even though they are a bit careless with their rubbish.

It was a good film, with a few light touches despite the nearly-unremitting misery of the subject matter. It depicted the best in people as well as the worst - the way they'll help each other out, given half a chance. It wasn't Hollywood - it didn't offer unreasonable and implausible consolations; in a Hollywood movie Karen, the young mum, would have been motivated to complete her studies so that she could rise out of her class.

And it made me think a lot about what we - and specifically me - could be doing, now, that would help people like Daniel to endure, survive and resist. I'm not doing much, frankly. I was aware that skills that I have that I take for granted - how to fill in a form online, for example, or format a CV in word - would be really useful to some people. I was also moved to look for Claimants Unions, which I remembered from the 1980s. There are still some around, and maybe I ought to be volunteering or helping out there. I've been reading around the 'solidarity economy' and platform co-ops lately, but couldn't help thinking that however successful any of that was, we'd still need a welfare state to compensate for 'brute luck'.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review of 'Anonymous'

A film about the real author of Shakespeare's plays - the Earl of Oxford in this version. Lovely to look at, but quite confusing in terms of narrative structure, so that by the end I was quite confused as to who was who and whether it mattered. Not helped by the fact that the fashions don't seem to change, so lots of ruffs, wispy beards and long hair - or by the fact that Queen Elizabeth appears throughout the film at different ages (I know it's flashbacks, and I don't need the screen to dissolve to tell me it's a flashback, but I still got muddled). There's a complex structure of two frame-tales as well - we start with Derek Jacobi talking to a theatrical audience in Broadway (we know it's Broadway because there is an establishing shot of him arriving), which is presumably there to tell American audiences that Shakespeare is part of their heritage; and then we see Ben Johnson arrested and tortured to reveal something or other. At the end of the film we return first to Ben Johnson and then to Jacobi - did we really need both of these?

But I did enjoy the film...lots of good acting (I especially liked the creepy, manipulative mediocrity that is Shakespeare, played by Rafe Spall)and dialogue, and great CGI to make C16-17th London, especially the Frost Fair on the Thames scene near the end.

Watched on the screen in the Middle Floor at Springhill, via the DVD player.

Review of 'Tale of Tales'

A stunning-looking Italian film, made in English with English-speaking actors, this is a set of three fairy-tales. They aren't really linked, except in a slightly gratuitous scene at the end, which contributes nothing to the plot of any of them.

This is worth watching for the locations alone, which are all in Italy - mainly in the South. The filming is wonderful, but the plots of all of the stories are very odd. There is far too much in them - too many magical objects and events, too many contrived elements, any one of which would have been enough for a story. It gives the tales a very dreamlike quality, so that the events happen sequentially but don't unfold out of each other in the way that 'realistic' narratives do.

I note that the tales are based on collections of tales by Neapolitan poet and courtier Giambattista Basile: "Pentamerone or Lo cunto de li cunti (Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones)", though I couldn't imagine anyone exposing contemporary children to anything as horrible as these stories. As I watched I remembered 'Our Ancestors', a collection of stories by Italo Calvino - The Baron in the Trees, The Cloven Viscount and The Non-Existent Knight - which had the same sort of dreamlike, implausible quality. Maybe Italian folk-tales are in some way closer to the collective unconscious from which they emerge, unaltered by rational editing to make them flow as stories? I dunno. Any Italian friends or folklorists able to advise?

Watched in the Middle Floor at Springhill via PC and informal distribution.