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.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Review of 'The African Doctor' (Bienvenue à Marly-Gomont)

French film about a Zairean doctor who qualifies in Lille, doesn't want to go home to become a personal physician to Mobutu and so takes a job in a grotty town north of Paris. He brings his family out, and his sophisticated and well-dressed wife is disappointed that it's not Paris - she misunderstood his phone call explaining about the new job.

And then it's about the racist reception they get from the town, and how the family eventually wins the populace over - he saves a baby, his daughter turns out to be a brilliant footballer who saves the fortunes of the local team, and so on. And he has to win his wife over to persuade her that they should stay, because she still wants them to move away to somewhere else - maybe the Zairean community in Brussels, where she has family and friends.

It's mostly enjoyable, and was a good family feelgood film for Xmas day, but it was sometimes uncomfortable to watch, because though it's supposed to be an anti-racist film it occasionally resorts to glib stereotypes to illustrate the 'clash of cultures' between the Zaireans and the French.

The epilogue explains that it's a real story, told by the doctor's son who is a Brussels-based rapper.

Watched on our TV via formal Netflix subscription.

Review of 'Rogue One'

Well, it wasn't so bad - almost a decent film, with a plot and acting and so on. There were some cute references to others in the series (remember, this is a pre-prequel, in terms of the narrative) but they were funny and well done. The story explains a plot hole in 'later' films (how come the Death Star is so easy to destroy?), though it has a few of its own.

I note that the earlier scenes of the resistance on...I forget, there were so many planet names in the first ten minutes...looked a lot like insurgents in Iraq, or Taliban fighters in Afghanistan - so much so that it reminded me of the Russian film 9th Company, which is of course a much better film.

Later the Rebel Alliance looks much more like a conventional army, albeit one with a rather loose and unusual command structure. In fact it looks a lot like the American army, and the fact that it seems to win its ground combat through massive air support must surely be significant - not something that 'rebels' usually can muster. We never see the fighting from the perspective of anyone on the receiving end of this, just the successes of the X-Wing fighters in smashing up Empire armoured forces and ground troops.

Watched at the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Review of 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'

Enjoyed this much more than I expected to. There's only one joke, really - the juxtaposition of the genteel and emotionally restrained world of Jane Austen with a zombie slasher movie - but it's well done, for the most part. The acting was good-ish - nice to see Lena Headey in another role, and Matt Smith too - the settings atmospheric, and the implementations of the joke were well done. I particularly enjoyed those parts with authentic Austen dialogue superimposed on a fight scene (between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy, showing off their martial arts skills, for example), and Austenian bitchiness about the Bennett girls having learned their fighting skills in less fashionable China rather than the more desirable Japan. The plot is a bit shaky here and there, and I couldn't always follow the geography of the region surrounding London which is protected from the Zombies by wall and canal, but who cares really?

Watched on TV via Chromecast, from a formal Netflix account.