Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review of 'Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief'

A documentary about Scientology, based on a book, that reveals a lot about the inner workings of the 'church' but leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The main one is 'how come Scientology got to be so powerful when it's obviously ridiculous and run by repellent people?' L Ron Hubbard, the founder, was fat and ugly with bad teeth. So how come? Perhaps part of the answer is that there's nothing so stupid that it won't attract some people, and that the need to belong is so strong that once in some people will find any number of reasons not to leave, however nasty. Look at the WRP, for example. I do rather wonder if there was a relationship between the 'church' and some US government agencies; it does seem to have had rather an easy ride from the authorities. Trouble is that lots of the commentary on Scientology is almost as nutty as they are, so of course there are suggestions that it was a front for the CIA, and the Illuminati, and so on.

The film is a bit on the long side, with lots of testimony from ex-members about the nasty stuff they did, and how it ended up being done to them. I was really struck by the inter-cutting between clips of these people denying that they did some nasty stuff, and other later clips admitting that they had done the same nasty stuff; because what it shows is that demeanour is no guide to truthfulness. We tend to believe that we can tell when people are lying by looking at them. The movies and TV have taught us to believe that people look shifty when they are lying, and that we won't be taken in. Actually, they don't. Maybe decent people squirm a bit when they lie, but bad people, and people who think that it's OK to lie for a purpose, seem not to. Yet our system of justice is in part premised on the idea that ordinary people will be able to tell who is telling the truth.

Review of 'Love and Mercy'

A bio-pic of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who turns out to have been much more troubled than I  could have imagined from the music. A good film, with some good acting, and an interesting split-narrative structure (part during the 1960-70s heyday, part in the early 1990s).

Interesting counterpart with the story of Amy Winehouse. AW was left to the care of people who cared more about themselves, and how they could advance themselves through her career, than they ever did about her physical or mental health. It seems that a bit of dedicated competent professional help might have saved, and allowed her to graduate from youthful excess to grand old lady of Jazz.

Whereas Wilson had professional help in the shape of rogue shrink Dr Eugene Landy, who kept him sick and exploited him ruthlessly. If we are to believe the film then Wilson hit lucky in that he was rescued by car salesperson Melinda Leadbetter, who saw that something was wrong in the doctor-patient relationship. But it does highlight the problem for people who are talented, but not either commercially savvy or strong enough to cope with the pressures of a life in the limelight. How do you know who trust as doctor, counsellor, agent, lawyer, even accountant?

There is, of course, no mention in the film of the Beach Boys's politics, including their performance at a Republican fundraiser in 1984 (from which Brian was ejected). For that you'll have to read this.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Review of 'Amy'

Watched this last night, at the cinema, as part of a ‘première’ with live Q&A with director and producer. Glad I did, because some films need to be seen in a darkened room with a crowd and no other distractions.

This is a beautifully made documentary, without talking head interviews but with lots of found footage with audio interviews running over. It left me profoundly sad, of course, but also angry. I wasn't a huge AW fan, and didn't consume much of the celeb coverage while she was alive. But anyone can see what a huge talent she was, both as a singer and as a writer. So it’s hard to watch her entourage failing her. Other celebs have been protected from the worst impacts of media attention, but she wasn't. She was left to be exposed to it, because the sight of her cracking under the pressure somehow enhanced her market value. Others have survived drugs and bad relationships, but she wasn't given the time or space to regroup and recover, again because those around her wanted to keep her touring and performing. She was too young, inexperienced, and already damaged by early life to take control herself.

I note in passing that it was alcohol and bulimia that killed her rather than the shedloads of drugs that she took, but this is not to defend the drugs and the drug-taking; it all contributed to the dissolution of her personality. I also think that no-one watching this will learn anything. Young people won’t do any less booze and drugs, young women will still want to be thin, the business will still batten on to anyone with talent, and destroy them if they let it.

So sad to think that she wrote all those beautiful songs about someone as obviously shitty as her ex-husband.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Review of "London Road"

A musical about a serial killer. Well, actually a setting to opera-style music of the verbatim transcripts gathered by researchers who spent time with the residents of London Road, Ipswich, where a man murdered five prostitute women during three months. You won't come out humming the tunes, though some of the images last for a long time - particularly the shots of surviving prostitutes, who have more dignity than the other characters.

This is a brilliant, clever, moving film - though it rather does confirm my prejudice that one should never let the media in any form near one's personal life. The residents do not come out of it very well, and there's more than a touch of sneering at the chavs. But no-one comes out of it very well - not the local politician, and not the voyeuristic media either.

Review of 'Sparkle'

Slightly dull and plodding romcom, without much rom or com. Young man channelling his inner 'Alfie' comes to London, uses his charm and sexual magnetism to get a job in PR by screwing the boss...unknowingly meets her daughter and becomes involved with her too...his mum is a sort of singer (really a karaoke singer, as far as I can see) but she follows him to London to have a 'career' but ends up romantically involved with failure Bob Hoskins, whose more successful brother is the PR-boss's long term lover and the father of the daughter (unbeknown to her, of course). Implausible, not interesting enough, and much too long, presumably because the quality didn't justify spending any more money on editing.

I watched this on iPlayer, and couldn't help wondering whether the person who wrote the description had seen it - it was utterly wrong.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Review of "The Fourth Estate"

Watched this in a free screening at the achingly cool venue Passing Clouds, in super-hip Dalston. A zero budget film made over three years by two people with a cheap camera and a ten-year old laptop, it's better than most films about what's wrong with the British media. Lots of talking heads, but really good ones, with smart perspectives, incisive analysis and an ability to talk to the point. Touches on a lot of subjects, including media ownership and regulation, the economics of the media, representations of race, gender and class.

In some ways too long to be really punchy (it's only 80 minutes, but it tries to cover a lot in that time) but too short to do justice to all the things it raises. I would have liked more on the first bit - ownership and regulation - and possibly more on Leveson, which is where it starts. (I was most affected, though, by the short segment in which a young black woman responds to that Lilly Allen video, which I hadn't previously seen - I'd rather ignored the furore over it as being the usual music industry PR shit). Interestingly the two film-makers didn't know that they were going to make a documentary when they started - they thought it might become lots of shorts on YouTube. I hope they do that too, because they've got lots more to say.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Review of 'French Film'

Watched on iPlayer via Chromecast, and watched for the second time. Not entirely through choice, because it isn't really worth watching twice, but Ruth couldn't remember seeing it so...

Nominally a rom-com, and about relationships with some funny bits, there's nevertheless a lot of sadness and misery in this film. Hugh Bonneville establishes himself as the "poor man/woman's Colin Firth" by playing an ineffectual, uncomfortable posh bloke who is a journalist in an unsatisfactory relationship with his girlfriend Cheryl (Victoria Hamilton).

There's a good deal of un-reflective stereotyping of French people and French-ness - the couples counsellor that they go to is a self-important over-intellectual French guy, for example. Eric Cantona plays a gnomic French film director. Although HB is the sympathetic focus of the story, and a self-proclaimed anti-French xenophobe, the French people in the film all turn out to have been right all along - the couple should split up, how relationships begin determines how they'll end, love is something that you just know when it happens...

Monday, June 15, 2015

Review of 'Queen and Country'

A largely pointless, shapeless film. I went to see this because I understood it was a follow-on from 'Hope and Glory', also semi-autobiographical by John Boorman. But that's a much better film, with the alien-ness of childhood in wartime to provide it with a dramatic focus.This just went on through a series of episodes about army life, mainly without purpose or narrative direction. It felt like watching an over-long pilot for a TV series.Pretty enough to look at, and occasionally amusing, but that's all. Lots of talent, mainly wasted.

I note in passing that the poster displays a moment in the film that is entirely unmemorable - the main character is shown here hugging his sister, who has returned from Canada. Would you know that from the picture? I don't think you would.

Review of 'A Good Woman'

This is a film version of Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan", transposed to a 1930s Amalfi ex-pat scene of wealthy Americans and Brits. It's mainly Wilde's dialogue, it has great scenery and settings, decent actors, and is faithful to Wilde's plot - so why does it drag, and why did I doze off? I think because it's too slow for the plot and the dialogue. The director lingers too long on the beautiful cast in the beautiful outfits, draped over the beautiful settings. Not really bad, but not as good as it ought to have been with the assets.

One odd thing - it's set in Fascist Italy, but there are no fascists at all, and almost no Italians. Why put it there at all? And could it have been set in 1930s Germany without any Nazis? One does wonder what goes on in the mind of Hollywood people. Also, the producer is Alan Greenspan, but it's not that Alan Greenspan.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Review of 'Grasp the Nettle'

I watched this last night at the Earl Haig Hall in Crouch End, projected from a laptop (as is typical of such showings, there was a low battery warning on the screen at around three quarters of the way through).

This is a zero-budget, over-long, slightly shapeless, but honest and evocative film about two overlapping communities of activists; an eco-village of benders on a site awaiting development near Kew Bridge, and the 'Democracy Village' in Parliament Square. Both communities no longer exist, having been evicted by bailiffs and police. Both were affected by an influx of the casualties of life - junkies, alcoholics, and nutters, with whom they found it increasingly difficult to deal. The early phase nutters included David Shayler, the ex-MI5 agent who in the film dressed as a woman, said that he was Jesus and rambled on about the Zionist World Government. Later he came to seem quite reasonable as the next wave arrived, including 'Freemen' who denounced Shayler and others as police agents.

After the Freemen came the drunks, the junkies and the mentally ill. Several of the activists complained that they were 'not social workers', and at least one hoped to camera that they would lose their forthcoming court case so that they wouldn't have to deal with the problem people any more.

It would be hard to say that either community achieved anything at all. Some of the people who were watching at the same time were inspired by the dedication and selflessness of the activists, and the way in which they did look after the victims who they found themselves looking after. I was just depressed by all the wasted energy, and the way that the communities got progressively smaller rather than bigger as the nutters made life unbearable for others.

I do remember that student occupations in the 1970s used to have a no-drugs, no alcohol rule. That seems like basic common sense now. I can see that eco-anarchists don't like the idea of having rules (after all, who can enforce them?) but I'd say that the need for that nettle to be grasped is one of the key learnings from the film.