Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Review of 'I, Tonya'

I enjoyed this way more than I expected to...I'm not very interested in sport, and less so in figure skating. I have only the dimmest recollection of the events it describes.

But this was very much the antithesis of the conventional sport film in which an underprivileged outsider triumphs over adversity through will power and determination. Here adversity triumphs over the underprivileged outsider, who very obviously has plenty of talent but nothing else - no contacts, no network, no social graces, and none of the insight that she might have needed to work out how to get by without those things.

It's well acted and shot in a way that seems to recall the nastier, shinier period it depicts.

From the film's narrative Tonya Harding actually got a rough deal - she doesn't seem to have done all that much wrong apart from choosing the wrong mother, and then the wrong husband who chose the wrong friends and associates. She seems to have been punished harder than she deserved for not dobbing her vile husband in, while others got off more lightly.

Watched on Amazon Prime.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Review of 'The Road Home' by Rose Tremain

Another beautifully written book by Rose Tremain, with a great portrait of the central character - Lev, a middle-aged Polish man who leaves his village to come to England so as to be able to support his mother and daughter - and lots of great secondary characters too. Despite the miseries that befall Lev, and some of the awful people that he encounters, it's basically positive and hopeful...probably more so than real life would be, but that's sometimes what we need books for.

Review of 'The City of Lost Children'

Re-watched this after attending some events at the Stroud Steampunk Weekend. I remembered the film as being visually arresting but couldn't recall much about the story line...and now, ten minutes after it ended, I understand why; the plot is basically incomprehensible, a mish-mash of images and cliches that doesn't add up to anything. There is a summary on Wikipedia which suggests that it's an anti-capitalist film...

Another film where there is a strong argument for a twenty-minute "extended trailer" or "art director's cut", so that we can enjoy the visuals and not have to worry about narrative.

Watched on the Middle Floor at Springhill, all by myself because no-one else wanted to sit through it.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Review of 'The Three Body Problem' by Cixin Liu

The "hardest" hard science fiction I have read for ages, with lots of theoretical physics in it. Lots of ideas and weirdness too, including a virtual reality game that rather recalled to me the 'Second Life' thing that was going on in Snow Crash.

There's lots to like in this - especially the earlier parts, set during the Cultural Revolution, which is as hard to understand for us as the alien civilisation depicted later. And the early sections about SETI.

But other aspects were sort of clunking, and I did get a bit bored by the very long section on unfolding a proton in n-dimensional least that's what I think it was about.  And I find the suggestion that advances in civilisation depend on increasing theoretical knowledge in subatomic physics (the aliens intend to stymie all progress on Earth by muddling up experiements in particle acceleration) very's one way to think about the relationship between science and technology, but not the only way.

Review of Tolkien

Rather plodding biopic about Tolkien, who didn't have a very interesting life (student then professor at Oxford). Some interest from the cutting backwards and forwards to awful experiences in the Great War, into which fantasy sequences have been inserted (dragons, monsters). I note in passing that depictions of WW1 in films tend to emphasise the slaughter and the horror, but depictions of WW2 do so less consistently.

Without the intercollated WW1 scenes it would be a dull biopic about a quite dull bloke and his dull posh friends (and nice kind wife). They drink a lot of tea and eat cake. Once he and his girlfriend are thrown out of a hotel tea room for mucking about with sugar cubes.

The more interesting bits of the story really happened before the film starts and aren't covered at all in the film...the family's move to South Africa, his mother's conversion to Catholicism and her Baptist family's decision to cut her off from all support as a result, the extraordinary education she must have given her two children at home...

Watched at the Vue in Stroud in a nearly-empty cinema, with annoying subtitles.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Review of The Post

Liberal film about the days when the mainstream media were the good guys, exposing the crimes and lies of the government, and focusing on the Washington Post's decision to publish The Pentagon Papers. Hard to believe that there was time when it was considered significant when the government was caught out lying or deliberately misleading the public, or that people believed that there would be consequences if this was revealed.

Bits of the films dragged for me, but it came to life towards the end with the decision to publish despite the fear of doing the wrong thing (endangering American lives by revealing details of war plans) or being prosecuted. It's about this point in the film that the pre-digital process of producing and distributing newspapers begins to dominate the imagery - typewriters, sub-editing by hand, vacuum capsules to take copy from editorial to typesetting, hot metal type...again, hard to believe that this was something in my lifetime.

Watched on Amazon Prime.

Review of The Children Act

Another slow emotional film, with Emma Thompson as the judge who must decide whether to force a blood transfusion on an unwilling 17-year-old Jehovah's Witness boy who will otherwise die. Nice depiction of the dilemma, and great acting from all the cast. Screenplay by Ian McEwan who wrote the book, but very cinematic...lots of powerful close-ups.

Two really trivial thoughts. Firstly, we see the judge distracted and disengaged from her marriage, but she mainly does this by working late on her laptop. She has a smartphone but the only thing she does with it is make and receive phone calls...which is not the way that modern people really are disengaged and distracted; they spend all their time checking their phones and browsing social media, and so on. I know she's a bit old that for that but the taking phone calls thing felt wrong.

Secondly, there is a good supporting performance from Jason Watkins as the devoted and self-effacing judge's clerk. But I was really aware of the other actors' eyes in the film - Thompson's eyes, and the eyes of Fionn Whitehead who plays the boy, in particular. Jason Watkins has very distinctive dark eyes, that seem to be all black pupil, and I couldn't help noticing them and remembering his performance as the vampire policeman William Herrick in Being Human.

Watched on Amazon Prime.

Review of Lucky

Slow film about an old guy in a small town in Arizona (I think) contemplating the closing stages of his life. He is remarkably well and mentally fit, though he smokes and drinks and lives alone. His life is pared down to the bare essentials, but he is content and positive about it all. He's never had a family, but he has his buddies and seems on good terms with lots of others in his community. He has no expectations of an afterlife or religious sentiments of any kind; there are a lot of shots of him walking around the fairly bleak little town, and in one of them he walks past a church...that's it, the only appearance of anything church-related in the film.

It's described as heart-warming and uplifting, and I can see why someone might think that, but my heart wasn't that much warmed or my spirit that much uplifted. If you've got to grow old and die alone, then this is a great depiction of the best way to do it, but I'm not sure that I want to think too much about the possibility that I will.

Watched at the Lansdown Film Club.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Review of 'The Art of Flying' by Antonio Altarriba

A clever, beautiful graphic novel about the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, told through the eyes of an anarchist fighter who has a miserable middle age as an exile and then a returnee to Fascist Spain, and then a miserable old age in a home in newly 'democratic' Spain.

As that suggests there are not a lot of laughs and no happy ending. Even the part that describes the brief exhileration of the revolutionary period in Catalunya are pretty bleak - the revolution seems to be betrayed and corrupted even in its best moment.  And after the defeat the ex-comrades fall into criminality and backstabbing, first in France and then back in Spain.

I'm also not really sure how much I like graphic novels as a way of telling a story. I don't read them very often, and I think it's because although they can be beautiful, they don't allow me to use my own imagination - it all feels very prescriptive. I'm not sure exactly why that's different from say film, but it is.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Review of 'Made in Belfast'

Quite a nice film, set in post-troubles (is that a bit premature) Belfast, about a writer who comes back for his unloved Dad's funeral and needs to reconcile with all of his old friends who's lives he ruined by putting them in his first book.

No fabulous cinematography, but nicely scripted and acted. The tone gradually lifts as the film progresses, though it beats me why Amazon has this categorised as a comedy. The poster doesn't capture the feeling of the film at all.

Watched on Amazon Prime, on the smart TV.