Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Review of 'Sweet Bean'

Interesting poignant Japanese film about food, nature, loneliness...a young man operates a bean cake shop for someone else. An older woman asks him for a job, and it's clear she doesn't really care how much she's paid. He takes her on, and she turns out to be a fabulous, spiritually inspired cook, and a former sufferer of Hansen's disease (leprosy), so that she's spent most of her time shut up in a closed community. He learns from her and finds himself. Lots of images suggesting the redemptive power of nature (especially trees) and the alienating influence of modern buildings, technology etc.

Watched at Landsowne Film Club.

Review of 'Together (Tillsammans)'

When a friend told me about this film I confused it with 'The Commune', another Scandinavian film
about communal living. This one is altogether jollier; there is some funny stuff about the mores and culture of 1970s Scandinavian radicals, but not much of the nuts and bolts of communal living, or about the mechanics of how these people all came to be living together, or what strains it places on the relationships between them.

There's an outsiders' perspective thing going on, because the narrative is about a working-class woman moving to the commune after she runs away from her drunken, abusing husband - so we can see the communards through her eyes, as well as seeing her through theirs. There's also a very straight family next door for a counterpoint. I note in passing that the working class family originally live in what is supposed to be a somewhat soulless flat in a block, of the kind that most working class people in Britain would die for, and that there is no account at all of how the commune has come to be in the rather nice suburban house where it is - is it private rented? Also, there's an old, isolated man that the abusing husband meets as a result of his plumbing job, who talks about the old days when everyone was poor but lived together and were happy. I was surprised to see just how poor 1930s Swedes had been - it sounded like modern poor India.
Watched in the Middle Floor at Springhill, via DVD and projector - with some issues about the frame size.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Great book about what's happening in the world's cities

Excellent critical account about key developments in cities - technology, development, governance - from a great author. There were a few things that rankled a little (I got fed up with the number of people introduced as 'urban theorist' and so on), but this is a really good book. Like all the best, it acts as a gateway to much more, with links and references that are really useful. I particularly like the way it cuts through all the property developer bullshit and tells it like it is for those of us who still retain the loose distinction of citizenship of these cities. I'd have liked even more about the hot money pouring in to London, New York and so on, because that seems to shape my experience of living in my city. But that's not even a quibble. No hesitation in recommending this, and I look forward to reading more by Stephen Graham.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review of 'Miss Peregrine's home for peculiar children'

The first thing to say is that I am astonished that this film has a 12 rating. Although the subject matter (boy discovers hidden world with sympathetic children threatened by monsters) is suitable for kids, the depictions are really, really horrific - the monsters eat the children (and others') eyes, and this is depicted quite graphically. I presume that the absence of blood in makes it somehow palatable to the censors, but it's quite terrifying and stayed with me.

The scenario and the plot seem a bit garbled - it's got a time-travel component that doesn't seem particularly well thought through, with little interest in paradoxes or forking futures or whatever. There's a sort of underlying nasty Nazis thing too - the monsters are called 'hollow casts', or something like, that there is a suggestion that the grandfather who introduces the boy to all this is actually traumatized by his experiences in wartime Poland (something we are not shown), and we do see the children's home being destroyed by a bomb with a swastika painted on it. Not developed, but rather thrown away - as is the suggestion that this might be all be a hallucination caused by the boy's head-hitting accident early on in the film. Did somebody mean to make more of this and then decide not to bother or to take it out? I see that it's based on a novel that was very successful - is the plot and scenario clearer in that, or less clear in a way that makes it matter less?

It's got an interesting look to it, though considering that it's set in the 1940s it really ought to look less steampunk than it does - Miss Peregrine's dress doesn't look at all Utility, for example, but sort of cod-Victorian. Lots of nice special effects, especially the raising of a sunken ship from the sea bed. It's always nice watching Eva Green, though where did that accent come from and what was it supposed to be?

Watched on a plane to New York - my first long haul flight for several years.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Review of 'Desert Dancer'

A nice enough Iran-set film about a young man who wants to dance even though it's banned by the Islamic state. He sets up a secret underground dance troupe, who rehearse in what looks like an abandoned factory or warehouse. Eventually they give a performance to a small and selected audience in the desert, hence the title. There's quite a lot about the Mousavi election campaign of 2009, which I had rather forgotten about. It's a bit long and slow, and there's not a lot of nuance - the regime are just brutal thugs, and there's not much sense that the Iranian revolution was ever about anything at all. But it has enough suspense, and some nice music and dancing.

Watched on TV via Netflix, Android phone, and Chromecast.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Review of 'In a World'

An enjoyable comedy-drama, with some rom-com elements. It's set in the world of voice-over artists, who naturally have their own hierarchy, awards and so on. The plot (and sub-plots) is actually quite complicated - my son joined us half-way through and trying to catch him up on everything that was going on and all the relationships between the characters proved too difficult. It's a bit reminiscent of those Italian comic operas, where both audience and characters don't really know what is going on or even who is who.

It's rather well done, with some good creepy characters; Geena Davis is particularly good as the Big Producer of The Amazonian Games, a dystopian fantasy franchise that pits leather-clad women against mutant cloned neanderthals on post-apocalyptic earth; sadly, this doesn't actually exist, though it should.

Watched on our TV via legitimate Netflix subscription.