Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Review of 'Queens of Syria'

Oddly disappointing. I ought to have liked this, because of the subject matter (women refugees in Syria develop personal and social confidence through performing a Greek classical drama about displaced war victims- The Trojan Women) and the treatment...a fly-on-the-wall documentary, which I generally like. But I didn't much. I just wasn't engaged with these women or their stories, and I don't feel good about saying. I found myself checking my watch to see how long it still had to go.

Watched at Lansdown Hall as the last film in the Stroud Film Festival.

Walking on Sand

The sand is scorching, even through my white plastic sandals. I am six years old.

I am sitting on a towel, underneath a red and white beach umbrella. I’m shaded from the direct sun, but it is still very hot. I am resting my narrow back against my Daddy’s shin. I push my hands into the warm sand, scoop some up to let it fall through my fingers. Just below the surface the sand is damp, cooler.

The beach is a low thrum of sound. Dark men in straw hats walk up and down with enormous ice boxes on their back. They are calling in Italian, but I know that their rhythmic cries and songs mean that they are selling ice creams and cold melon.

I have finished my ice cream. My fingers are sticky and I am still very hot. Mummy and Daddy are reading their books, dozing. The sea is fifty yards away, through a few more ranks of towels and loungers and umbrellas. I tell Mummy and Daddy that I want to go in the water; they say I should turn round and wave to them when I reach the sea.

I hop and skip across the burning sand. At the shoreline the sand is cool, soothing between my toes. I look back at the red and white umbrella. I know Mummy and Daddy are underneath it, though I can’t see them in the bright sunlight. I wave, turn and wade into the water. I am wearing a red and white hat with the name of the resort and a picture of a friendly smiling mouse.

The sea is warm, gentle. I submerge my shoulders, enjoying the feeling of buoyancy. I watch some young men playing football with a red and white beach ball. I walk out of the water, back on to the cool wet sand. I know that I just need to walk back in a straight line, the way that I came down to the sea, and there will be Mummy and Daddy.

But I can’t see the red and white umbrella, or Mummy and Daddy. The faces of the people on the beach are blurred. My severe myopia will not be diagnosed until later in the year.

I walk up and down on a short stretch of the waterline. Soon Daddy will come to find me. But he does not come. After what seems like a very long time I start to cry.

Instantly I am surrounded by kind people, moved that a child is crying. They speak to me in Italian, and though I don’t understand them, I know they are kind. One takes my hand, and a big group walks with me along the beach, calling to help me find Mummy and Daddy. And here they are, and I cry some more and then I stop. There is much thanking and patting of shoulders, and the nice people go back to their own beach towels.


And now another little brown boy stands on an Italian shore. The early morning sky is cobalt blue. Now the sand is not hot. The boy’s feet sink its icy chill.

His clothes are wet, and his teeth are chattering. He is wearing an orange life jacket. Heaps of wet rags are scattered all along the beach. There are people lying at the edge of the water. Their limbs bob lazily back and forth in the waves. 

The boy cannot find his Mummy and Daddy. He cannot understand Italian, or English. Perhaps he speaks Arabic, or Tigrinya, or Kurdish. He cries. Soon the kind Italian people will come, and help him find his Mummy and Daddy. Won’t they?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review of 'The Daughter'

A really good Australian family drama, with lots of plot and emotion. Possibly the best Australian film I've seen since Lantana, which itself was brilliant. Much more would be a spoiler, but some great acting from favourite Austrialian actors Sam Neil and Geoffrey Rush. Not sure about the decision to make one of the characters apparently American - was that really necessary, or just to secure an international market? But a minor quibble.

I note in passing that once again alcohol is one of the main villains of the film. Funny that after 6000 years we haven't really come to terms with it, or the possibility of altering our consciousness and emotional state through chemistry.

Watched on Netflix, on our smart telly that has it built in. Interestingly (?) Ruth started watching it on her phone but the app on the TV knew where she'd got to.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review of 'Viaggio Sola' (A Five Star Life)

I really hated this film, which unaccountably won awards for 'best comedy' (and I didn't even realize it was a comedy until I saw that) and 'best actress'.

It's about an Italian woman who is a 'mystery guest' (as in 'mystery shopper') who visits the most expensive hotels and compiles reports on them for some sort of rating/review agency. We constantly hear and see the items on her check list, which are all about how good the hotel makes the guest fee. Early on we see her checking for inadequate cleaning, etc, but it's really about the amount of emotional labour the staff put in. There is no indication at all that the staff are people with their own dreams, fears, problems - this is seen entirely from the perspective of the over-privileged guests. The hotels she visits get a name check in the final credits, and they'd have nothing whatever to complain about - although the film, and the Italian title 'I Travel Alone' is vaguely meant to suggest that there is some emptiness in her life (she doesn't have a relationship or a family life) there is no suggestion that there is anything soulless or depressing about the hotels themselves, or anything fake about the promise of homeliness from an industrial facility.

Incidentally, until I watched this I never thought about the 'Five Star' in 'Five Star Movement'. Is the vacuous populist party actually aiming for some affinity with luxury brands?

As one who has spent some time in such hotels when traveling on business I really, really hate them - whenever I can I've chosen to stay in cheaper places or in Airbnb.

There is a bit about her flawed relationship with her sister - part-resolved when she buys the sister an expensive dress that she'd earlier told the sister didn't suit her. She makes friends with a British feminist anthropologist who dresses like an ageing porn star, and they plan to go out but the anthropologist dies in the night in her hotel room, which makes our heroine question her life's values, but not too much....

Watched on Netflix via Chromecast.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Review of 'Cherry Blossoms'

A very moving film about an old German couple, their  relationship with their children and each other, roads not taken and lives not lived to the full...described as slow and beautiful, it was indeed beautiful and very clever - lots of story told with a few images and expressions rather than laboured through narrative and dialogue. Despite the slowness and the length it didn't drag at all.

Hard to tell much more without spoiling, but there's death and grieving, children who find their ageing parents a burden, connection between people who have suffered and are suffering...but it's not a downer of a film, though I was near to tears several times.

Small note: at the beginning of the film the woman in the couple wants to go on an adventure but says 'my husband doesn't like adventures'. We see him enjoying his very routinized Bavarian life, but also them walking together in the mountains, which areuji stunning. She wants to go to Japan, he says 'Fuji is just another mountain.' I think he has a point, though the film later says he is wrong.

Watched at Lansdown Hall as part of the Stroud Film Festival.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Review of 'The Red Turtle' (Spoiler Alert - don't read if you haven't seen the film and want to)

I was expecting quite a different film from the brief description on IMDB: "A man is shipwrecked on a deserted island and encounters a red turtle, which changes his life." I thought it would be about a man and a turtle, but it mainly isn't - because the turtle (which the man has apparently killed) transforms into a beautiful woman, who becomes his companion for the rest of his life. They have a child, who in the course of the film grows up to be a man and eventually leaves them with some other turtles.

It's a downer of a film, even though it's very beautiful - fabulous Ghibli-style animation. It's sometimes quite scary, and often moving. I'm usually affected by films (and plays) that manage to show the arc of a whole life, and this did.

For what it's worth, my take is that the film is not intended to taken as a 'realistic' fairy-tale, but rather as a visual presentation of a hallucination. In the first part, before he meets the turtle-woman, we see quite a few of the shipwrecked man's hallucinations, including a string quartet playing on the beach which disappears as he approaches. I think he has actually died quite early in the film, so that the rest of the narrative is actually his dying hallucination. That would make it quite similar to the William Golding book Pincher Martin, in which the final pages reveal that the entire course of the novel (also about a shipwrecked sailor) didn't happen, the narrator imagined the events described as he died.

One more thing; within the narrative, the man and the turtle-woman grow old together, and then he lays down and dies, and she turns back into a turtle and swims away. If people and turtles did have relationships, they'd be dominated by the inescapable fact that turtles live much longer than people - so it would be like our relationships with cats - we can love them but know we will witness their deaths.

Watched at Lansdown Hall as part of Stroud Film Festival, in front of a very full audience of adults and childrens.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Review of 'Altered Carbon'

I wanted to like this, and feel like I ought to like it - cyberpunk, some interesting ideas and philosophical discussions about identity and memory entailed by the idea of making back-ups of people (something I have considered myself from time to time) - but somehow I didn't. There's a lot of violence, and some rough sex; I don't mind either but didn't enjoy them much here. There's a confusing plot that I couldn't entirely follow. It's not that I mind complexity - I persevered with The Peripheral and ended up quite liking it. Here, though, I felt like I was reading pulp fiction that was dressed up as philosophical; I'm aware that my feelings about were influenced by the fact that I read it on Kindle, where I suspect some of the markers of 'quality' - the font, the paper, the typesetting - are absent.

I think it's a three star book - potential not fully delivered.

Review of 'Lady Bird'

I can't believe this entirely conventional teen-coming-of-age/mother-daughter movie got such rave reviews. It was OK, in a dull and predictable sort of way, with little critical perspective on anything. Our heroine has a bit of under-age sex with her boyfriend, pretends to be richer than she is to impress the cool attractive girl at her Catholic school (of course, in the UK you can't pretend to be posher than you are without major deception, because everyone can tell), has spats with her mum. It's all just a bit ho hum, and much too long.

Watched at the Vue in Stroud...I paid real money to see this.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Review of 'The Limehouse Golem'

Apparently 'based' on the book by Peter Ackroyd, but it would be more accurate to say something like 'inspired by'. It's different in lots of ways, including the plot and the denoument.

Very bloody and violent, and rather graphic. It makes an attempt at the 'unreliable narrative' theme that underlies the book but I don't think it does it terribly well. It looks great, rather in the way that 'Penny Dreadful' does - um, why are we so keen to watch stuff about the cruelty and brutality of Victorian London?

Not surprised that this was not in cinemas for long - I'd meant to go see it, but it was gone before I got the chance. Bill Nighy plays one of his regular slightly confused characters, but it's not his usual sort of film - it's close to horror.

Watched on TV via Chromestream and Chromecast, following informal distribution.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Review of 'South Pacific'

One of those musicals that you think you've watched, but you haven't - you just know all the songs. Finally got round to watching it yesterday, and found it long, a bit tedious, and shapeless - the plot seems to meander along with a few meaningful incidents but no real dramatic tension. Like a lot of Rogers and Hammerstein, it seems to spend a great deal of time setting up the scenario and then resolve it very quickly.

And yet this is a famously anti-racist musical, with one song about how people become racist (not one that anyone knows, You've Got To Be Carefully Taught) forming the emotional and intellectual centre of the show. It was denounced at the time as 'inspired by Moscow'. The sentiments are much better than the standard liberal guff about racism. Oh, and when the original musical went on tour, Rogers and Hammerstein refused to let it play in segregated theatres.

And there's more, which rather passed me by while watching - some of the 'native' characters are not Polynesian but Vietnamese, deported to the islands to work on the French plantations. There's even a slight gesture in the direction of gender identity - while the female lead is singing a song in which she's a guy singing about her 'honeybun' girl, the guy who runs the laundry drags up for the big show within the show to entertain the troops, although we know he's brave and comfortably male.

Watched in the Common House at Springhill on a proper DVD.

Review of 'Oriented'

A surprising film about young gay Palestinians living in Tel Aviv...surprising in that the narrative that we are expecting, that these men can be free in a tolerant, secular, Jewish city but not in their own communities, is not what we get at all. Instead they're mainly comfortable in their own skins as gay men, but not as Palestinians in Israel. One is very clearly accepted and cherished by his tolerant, secular, modern family - one is loved and cherished but hasn't come out yet, though it's reasonably clear that his sisters can see what's going on and are sympathetic, and the third falling in and out of love with Jewish men, and feeling bad because he's sleeping with the enemy.

There's also a woman friend who hangs out with them all the time, and provides lots of support and friendship, but doesn't even merit a name, much less a back story...a shame, because that misses an opportunity to introduce a whole lot more issues.

Another surprise is the boys' trip to Amman, where they attend a huge gay concert-party. The point of this, well made, is that the picture that Israeli liberals draw of the Arab world as a place where gays are only persecuted, is incomplete. Dancing in the crowd, they say that this is what Palestine could have been. Of course, they would have had less fun in some other parts of the Arab world, and even in some other parts of Palestine - I don't think there's much of a gay scene in Gaza.

But though it's a little bit long, and includes too much footage of the boys' self-indulgent 'art' videos, it's a really interesting thoughtful film, worth watching even for people who are not specially interested in the gay experience but want to see the dynamics between Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians from another angle.

Friday, March 02, 2018

The Today Programme today

Having spent the early part of the day shouting at the radio, I can at least share some of the grumpiness with you.

Great to see how the government's decision to cancel the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry was not worth commenting on the following day...when the BBC wants to it keeps a story going by covering 'reactions' and 'comments', and when it doesn't...well, it reported on it once and that's enough. So no news about how the victims of press corruption and intrusion feel about this decision, or reaction by campaigning groups, like this statement by Hacked Off: "This is probably the first time that a Government has overruled the views of the judicial Chair of a statutory Inquiry by cancelling an inquiry against his will."

Oh, and the panel for Any Questions tonight: Barry Gardiner MP, Anna Soubry MP, Fraser Nelson and Brendan O'Neill. Two right wing journalists, a europhile Tory, and Barry Gardiner representing everything to the left of that (look him, especially the China connection).