Friday, December 30, 2016

Review of 'The African Doctor' (Bienvenue à Marly-Gomont)'

French film about a Zairean doctor who qualifies in Lille, doesn't want to go home to become a personal physician to Mobutu and so takes a job in a grotty town north of Paris. He brings his family out, and his sophisticated and well-dressed wife is disappointed that it's not Paris - she misunderstood his phone call explaining about the new job.

And then it's about the racist reception they get from the town, and how the family eventually wins the populace over - he saves a baby, his daughter turns out to be a brilliant footballer who saves the fortunes of the local team, and so on. And he has to win his wife over to persuade her that they should stay, because she still wants them to move away to somewhere else - maybe the Zairean community in Brussels, where she has family and friends.

It's mostly enjoyable, and was a good family feelgood film for Xmas day, but it was sometimes uncomfortable to watch, because though it's supposed to be an anti-racist film it occasionally resorts to glib stereotypes to illustrate the 'clash of cultures' between the Zaireans and the French.

The epilogue explains that it's a real story, told by the doctor's son who is a Brussels-based rapper.

Watched on our TV via formal Netflix subscription.

Review of 'Rogue One'

Well, it wasn't so bad - almost a decent film, with a plot and acting and so on. There were some cute references to others in the series (remember, this is a pre-prequel, in terms of the narrative) but they were funny and well done. The story explains a plot hole in 'later' films (how come the Death Star is so easy to destroy?), though it has a few of its own.

I note that the earlier scenes of the resistance on...I forget, there were so many planet names in the first ten minutes...looked a lot like insurgents in Iraq, or Taliban fighters in Afghanistan - so much so that it reminded me of the Russian film 9th Company, which is of course a much better film.

Later the Rebel Alliance looks much more like a conventional army, albeit one with a rather loose and unusual command structure. In fact it looks a lot like the American army, and the fact that it seems to win its ground combat through massive air support must surely be significant - not something that 'rebels' usually can muster. We never see the fighting from the perspective of anyone on the receiving end of this, just the successes of the X-Wing fighters in smashing up Empire armoured forces and ground troops.

Watched at the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Review of 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'

Enjoyed this much more than I expected to. There's only one joke, really - the juxtaposition of the genteel and emotionally restrained world of Jane Austen with a zombie slasher movie - but it's well done, for the most part. The acting was good-ish - nice to see Lena Headey in another role, and Matt Smith too - the settings atmospheric, and the implementations of the joke were well done. I particularly enjoyed those parts with authentic Austen dialogue superimposed on a fight scene (between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy, showing off their martial arts skills, for example), and Austenian bitchiness about the Bennett girls having learned their fighting skills in less fashionable China rather than the more desirable Japan. The plot is a bit shaky here and there, and I couldn't always follow the geography of the region surrounding London which is protected from the Zombies by wall and canal, but who cares really?

Watched on TV via Chromecast, from a formal Netflix account.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review of 'Hail, Caesar'.

Really disappointed by this - I like the Coen brothers' films usually, and the story line sounded like it would be fun. The trailer looked like it would have lots of good jokes...but actually I was bored. There was really only one joke, and lots of indulgent spoofs of Hollywood cheese that nobody cares about any more. Films about film-making are sometimes good - The Player, Groundhog Day, and so on - but this was a bit boring. It's nice to see the 1940s (or is it the 1950s? It wasn't really obvious) lovingly recreated, but actually Woody Allen's Cafe Society did a better job of that, and I cared more about the characters and the plot. The Eddie Mannix character is much too rich and powerful given the role of the real-life person on which he's based - at least the agent in Cafe Society is plausibly powerful.

Watched on the TV via HDMI cable to PC, having previously obtained the film via informal distribution.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Review of 'Four Futures' by Peter Frase

A really good piece of future thinking from a left perspective - something that doesn't seem to happen all that often. And a really good resource with lots of references to other material and further reading. I particularly like the way he's prepared to use science fiction references as a way of thinking about the present and the future.

I'm a little bit surprised that the chapter on 'Rentism' didn't include a reference to Guy Standing's new book "The Corruption of Capitalism: Why rentiers thrive and work does not pay", but maybe the timing didn't work.

It also made me think of William Gibson's quite new book 'The Peripheral', in which the near-future world describes something like rentism, in which the surplus population mainly engage in crime or law enforcement, or in producing off-patent ('funny') versions of legitimate goods in 3D print shops - and the distant-future world is a version of 'communism for the rich' with the poor mainly wiped out in the apocalyptic 'jackpot', and those who remain competing for status through recherche art forms.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review of 'Moonrise Kingdom'

A really nice, gentle film (albeit with some violence and the odd animal death) about young twelve-year old misfits and the relationship that develops between them. An orphan boy scout resigns from his troop and goes AWOL from an island scout camp to rendezvous with the troubled girl that he met, briefly, at a performance of Benjamin Britten's "Noyle's Floode' in the local church. In fact, there's lots of Britten all the way through, including 'The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra' on a tiny battery-powered record player - how we used to listen to music while out and about in the old days. It seems rather fitting - the upstate New York setting seems to fit with the sort of environment I imagine Britten living in on the English East Coast.

Lots of nice touches, and great to see Bruce Willis in a decent film for once. Nice cinematography and washed-out colours. Particularly liked the way that it's a sort of 'Lord of the Flies' in reverse, in that the young boy's scout troop initially persecute him for being weird and an outsider, but end up rallying round and rescuing him from the malign outside bureaucracy ("Social Services", played by Tilda Swinton) who wants to put him in a juvenile facility.

Watched on TV via HDMI from a PC, earlier obtained by informal distribution network.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Review of 'Departures'

Nearly didn't go out to watch this one - cold, late, and so on. Very glad I did - very moving, but odd and thought-provoking all at the same time.

A Japanese cellist hears that his orchestra has folded, and moves back to his old home town with his young wife. He scans the papers for jobs, goes to what he thinks is a travel company (it's called 'Departures') and ends up taking a job as a...well, not exactly an undertaker, someone who prepares bodies for funerals. In the Jewish community this is a job done by a voluntary group, in Japan it seems like it's a profession - and one with pariah status, because though the activity is appreciated, the role seems to be despised. His old acquaintances tell him the job demeans him and he should get a proper job. His wife is horrified when she finds out - somehow he's managed not to tell her - and leaves him.

It's an amazing film, about death and loss and mourning. It reminded me all over again how aesthetic everything in Japan seems to be - the rituals associated with preparing the body, which are done with the family present, and very beautiful and dignified. It also made me think about how different are the ways of death across cultures - surely an argument against the idea that there is an unchanging human nature, since the fact of death is common to all cultures, but the way of dealing with it is so different. The Japanese seem to really wallow in the sorrow.

Watched on a cinema screen at Lansdown Film Club.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Review of 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'

I can't understand who this film is aimed at. It's too silly to appeal to grown-ups, what with all the magic and the J K Rowling words (but why do Muggles have to become No-Majs), but not really suitable for kids either, because there's a bit too much mild romance. I can only assume that the kids who grew up with Harry Potter, and are now in their early 20s, are the target audience, and it's assumed that they are sufficiently brand-loyal to put up with anything set in the Harry Potter world.

The film is over long. The special effects - lots of banging and crashing and flashing - are rather wearing; there's no feeling of building to a climax, it just starts off banging and crashing and carries on. The music is well crafted but wrong too, in that it provides too many climaxes too often. Despite the intensity of what's happening I was checking my watch after half an hour.

It's a shame because it looks great, and there are vague hints that there might have been a better, more interesting and character-driven story. The anti-magic fundamentalist campaigners are more or less wasted. There's some connection between the leading campaigner and the main female character, because we see her in the memories that are extracted as the latter is about to be executed - but I can't explain what it is. There's a child abuse element (the campaigner woman beat the children in her care) but it's not really explored, and there's a creepy girl child that turns out to be of no significance at all, though it's hinted that she is important. And by the way, why make the leading female character - Tina Goldstein - Jewish (Rowling's first ever Jewish character) and then not have her be Jewish in any way at all?

An eloquent demonstration of the need for "art director's cut" 15-minute versions of films, which show all the sets and clothes but doesn't bother with the plot. Lots of films would benefit from that treatment.

Watched at the Everyman Cinema in Muswell Hill.