Friday, August 19, 2016

Review of 'Trumbo'

A relatively straightforward bio-pic, about the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Conveys some of the misery of the McCarthy period, but of course is only about what it felt like to the rich and  successful leftists of Hollywood - here, as pretty much everywhere, there's nothing at all about all the less exalted people persecuted by the ascendant right wing...though to give the film its due, it does at least show that liberal Democrats were as much the victims of McCarthy and HUAC as were actual Communists. A more or less happy ending, because Trumbo's story does have one, and his family held together under the strains, which are depicted in the film; others were less fortunate. I didn't realise Trumbo wrote the screenplay for "Exodus" (the book is described as a "piece of shit" in the film), which just goes to show how you could be a Zionist and a progressive in the 1960s.

Nice to see Bryan Cranston in it - acts well, doesn't do a reprise of his Breaking Bad character.

Watched on a library borrowed DVD at my in-laws, while my father-in-law Issy watched from bed and dozed occasionally. Might be worth re-watching Woody Allen's "The Front" as a complement to this; one of the bland, pleasant characters in it acts as a front for Trumbo and others.

Review of 'Wiener Dog'

Another really sad 'comedy' - full of life's losers, bitterness, despair, deception and self-deception. Oh, and death, and the meaninglessness of death and life. A few laughs here and there, but mainly bleakness - I was close to tears more than once.

Great acting, well shot, and some very good choices of music. Not a bad film at all, but not one that I could say I enjoyed. I suspect that if I hadn't been watching it at the cinema (The Phoenix in East Finchley) I might not have stayed through to the end, which says a lot about watching habits on different media.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review of 'The Commune'

A really touching, sad film inexplicably billed as a comedy. Well, quite a few laughs, but the main focus is not the challenges of communal living. Instead it's about adultery and infidelity, and what that does to the people involved. The architect-professor who owns the house in which the commune is situated (something he reminds the communards when they confront him at one point) starts an affair with one of his students, and his successful TV producer wife is tolerant and understanding, and suggests he brings his lover to live with them rather than risk losing him altogether. It does not work out well. Does this ever work out well? Are there films (or books, or accounts) of successful happy non-exclusive sexual relationships? I only ever see the other ones.

There's childhood illness and death, and the coming of age of a young woman, going on in the background. It's nicely filmed in a way that really evokes the period. The dialogue is a bit clunky (translation?) but most of the emotional force is carried by the characters' faces rather than their words. Is that a Scandinavian film thing? Perhaps it is.

I note in passing that this is a Swedish-Dutch co-production but set in Denmark, for reasons that I don't understand.

Watched in the cinema - The Phoenix in East Finchley - with a small audience.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Review of 'The Barbarian Invasions'

French Canadian sequel to an earlier film about a left-wing academic - in the sequel he's dying of cancer and estranged from his children, but this is supposed to be a sort of wistful comedy. Occasionally well observed, it's also often a bit nasty. The Canadian public hospital is gruesome, inefficient, uncaring, and the father gets the better treatment he needs because his son is grotesquely rich and can afford to send him to the US for tests and equipment unavailable in Canada. The hospital is made worse by unattractive slobbish trade unions who loiter and block things without actually doing or even allowing any work. There is a suggestion that the liberal lifestyle and left wing ideas are funny in themselves.

Watched on a DVD from the library, watched via laptop and HDMI cable to the telly.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Womad 2016

Womad 2016 was lovely, and mainly erased the memory of all the rain-soaked misery of last year. Among the fabulous things and bands we saw were:
We actually did a dance workshop led by Mariana Pinho, who was so pregnant she looked like she might give birth at any moment; this was billed as samba but turned out to be quadrilla, which was probably all for the best as far as I was concerned...quadrilla turns out to be an easy country dance sort of thing.

We went to the Big Green Chat Show on Saturday morning, led by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News. Guests included: Dale Vince of Ecotricity, who was really very impressive and talked about the company's plans for green gas based on bio-digestion of grass (much better than poo, apparently); The One Show reporter Lucy Siegle (also of The Guardian); and head of sustainability at IKEA Joanna Yarrow - both also much more impressive than I was expecting.

One other thing we liked - the Paguro upcycled bags and wallets, made from old inner tubes and so on. May buy some when it's present-time.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Narrative Fork: a new literary term?

The idea of 'unauthorised' sequels to works of literature isn't exactly new. Scarlett was a sequel to 'Gone with the Wind' published many years after the original. There are lots of James Bond sequels by several authors who aren't Ian Fleming. Following the release of Harper Lee's rather late sequel to 'To Kill a Mockingbird' the New Yorker published a quite amusing article on this theme.

A new development, though, is a sequel which ignores previous sequels - as is the case with Alien 5. I think we need a word for this kind of thing, so I am proposing the term 'Narrative Fork', by analogy with the forks in Linux distributions. A narrative fork is a 'sequels branch' which can be defined by the titles in the main stream of sequel from which it deviates. For example, there could be a narrative fork from the Harry Potter series, branching between book two (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and book three (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), in which one of the main characters from the series is killed. Further sequels in this fork would have to remain consistent with each other, but not with the other branch of the fork.

There, I hope that's clear.

A Grauniad article listing some epidemic-related fiction

Available here. Leaves out some of my favourites, including both the book and the film of Blindness.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review of 'Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen'

An unusual Hungarian film, made up entirely of clips (most of them very short) from other movies of widely varying ages and genres. There are occasional Hungarian subtitles but most of the clips are in their original languages.

The clips are assembled so as to tell a simple story, but with many different actors (in many different settings) playing the parts of the two main protagonists. It's a bit like a cross between 'Man With a Movie Camera' and 'Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid'. It's funny and enjoyable, though not really suitable for children - there's a lot of bloody violence at one point, and a prolonged sex-scenes sequence around the middle (who knew there were so many cunnilingus scenes in mainstream films?). I really liked it, though I could have done without the apparently spiritual scenes at the end, when the male character, who we have seen die, comes back for a joyful reunion. The songs are particularly well done, and it's fun to see how many films you can spot.

Watched on DVD in the middle floor of the Common House at Springhill.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Review of 'We are Many'

A nice but over-long documentary about the anti-war demonstrations of February 2003, dwelling on how big they were and how amazing it was that there was coordination so that multiple demonstrations were held across the world. Lots of talking heads from people that were there and helped to organise it, some nice footage of the demonstrations themselves, and a bit of analysis.

There was recognition that all this effort didn’t stop the war, but a sort of happy ending in that the strength of the movement made it too hard for Cameron and Obama to organise bombing of Syria in support of…who? Several talking heads were allowed to say that if only there had been more demonstrations – if we’d come back every week – then we would have stopped the war.

As with the demonstrations themselves, I ended up feeling flat and a bit despondent. I don’t really buy the Syria argument. I think there was a clear motivation for invading Iraq but there was a much weaker motivation for intervening in Syria, and that the West was relatively content with carrying out a weaker, less purposeful intervention. Also funny that Ed Miliband, who went out on a bit of a limb in opposing the bombing, gets no credit whatsoever in the film.

And I also think that in celebrating so much the size of the march, the film fails in explaining what marches are and aren’t for. Not just a failing of the film, of course, but of the entire non-Parliamentary movement. Going on marches is occasionally uplifting and gratifying (it’s nice to find out that there are lots of other people who feel the same as we do, and there is the sheer pleasure of being in a purposeful crowd, as there is for football supporters), but rarely effective. It bears saying that the most effective protests are those that trigger disproportionately violent crackdowns by the state, particularly when that becomes a PR or political disaster. And even those only lead to something when the political context means that the state cares how it’s perceived – the US during the Cold War was embarrassed by the way that southern police forces repressed Civil Rights marchers, for example, while China didn’t much care what anyone thought of what it did to the protesters in Tienanmen Square.

A well-planned peaceful demonstration that is arranged and co-ordinated in advance with the police, which causes minimal disruption to traffic and shopping, is not going to stop any wars. Complaining that politicians don’t pay any heed to them just sounds like whining. 

Review of 'We are Many'

A nice but over-long documentary about the anti-war demonstrations of February 2003, dwelling on how big they were and how amazing it was that there was coordination so that multiple demonstrations were held across the world. Lots of talking heads from people that were there and helped to organise it, some nice footage of the demonstrations themselves, and a bit of analysis.

There was recognition that all this effort didn’t stop the war, but a sort of happy ending in that the strength of the movement made it too hard for Cameron and Obama to organise bombing of Syria in support of…who? Several talking heads were allowed to say that if only there had been more demonstrations – if we’d come back every week – then we would have stopped the war.

As with the demonstrations themselves, I ended up feeling flat and a bit despondent. I don’t really buy the Syria argument. I think there was a clear motivation for invading Iraq but there was a much weaker motivation for intervening in Syria, and that the West was relatively content with carrying out a weaker, less purposeful intervention. Also funny that Ed Miliband, who went out on a bit of a limb in opposing the bombing, gets no credit whatsoever in the film.

And I also think that in celebrating so much the size of the march, the film fails in explaining what marches are and aren’t for. Not just a failing of the film, of course, but of the entire non-Parliamentary movement. Going on marches is occasionally uplifting and gratifying (it’s nice to find out that there are lots of other people who feel the same as we do, and there is the sheer pleasure of being in a purposeful crowd, as there is for football supporters), but rarely effective. It bears saying that the most effective protests are those that trigger disproportionately violent crackdowns by the state, particularly when that becomes a PR or political disaster. And even those only lead to something when the political context means that the state cares how it’s perceived – the US during the Cold War was embarrassed by the way that southern police forces repressed Civil Rights marchers, for example, while China didn’t much care what anyone thought of what it did to the protesters in Tienanmen Square.


A well-planned peaceful demonstration that is arranged and co-ordinated in advance with the police, which causes minimal disruption to traffic and shopping, is not going to stop any wars. Complaining that politicians don’t pay any heed to them just sounds like whining.