Friday, May 26, 2017

Review of 'The Handmaiden'

A remarkable film - lots of plot twists (helped by the fact that I hadn't read the book on which it is based, though I knew about it), fabulous to look at, lots of wonderful Korean and Japanese period and setting detail. But also remarkably sexually explicit for a mainstream film, and a lot of cruelty, sexual and otherwise. Long, but never boring.

Watched at The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Review of "Their Finest"

A really good film - with quite a few laughs, though I wouldn't really call it a comedy. I was touched emotionally and personally by it in a way that I hadn't at all expected.

It's set in London during the blitz, and it feels very realistic. It can't do the smells of Underground shelters, but it does the texture and the sounds very well, recreating a world before synthetic textiles and materials. It rather connected me with the mindset of Brexit voters; for many people Europe must never entirely have lost the association with the place from which the BEF had to be rescued and from where the bombers came. The film does have a bit of a Brexit vibe - look at the poster.

Most of all it made me think a lot about how much trauma and anguish my mum must have gone through at this time. Her family stayed in London during the worst of the blitz - her parents didn't want the children to be evacuated because they believed it was more important for the family to keep together. Recently I've been directed to read this article about epigenetics, and I guess that part of my heritage - either genetic or psychological - is my mum's lived experience of the bombing of London. It struck me that the essence of the blitz experience was the randomness and meaningless of death - one character dies in his flat, another misses a bomb because she worked late that night. Isn't that a perfect description of the 'learned helplessness' model of depression? Has anyone else made the connection between this and the apparent epidemic of affective diseases in post-war Britain?

Normally I hate films about film-making...they strike me as over-indulgent. But I really liked this, even though a lot of the jokes and plot turn on the mechanics of making a film. Couldn't help thinking about what it must have been like to have watched a war film, about the evacuation at Dunkirk, with an audience full of people who had actually been there.

Watched in the Crouch End Arthouse Cinema at an early show on a Tuesday evening, with almost no-one in the audience.

Review of 'Brokeback Mountain'

Sad and beautiful film about two cowboys (well, shepherds really, though one of them does ride in rodeos) who discover that they love each other. They live their lives in relative misery, waiting for the little time that they spend together back on the mountain in 'fishing trips' that don't really fool anyone, least of all their wives.

It's the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I couldn't help thinking how much happier they'd have been if they'd left Wyoming/Texas and gone to San Francisco. But they can't - at least the Heath Ledger character can't, because though he's more or less disconnected from almost everyone, he is still connected to his kids and doesn't want to turn his back on them. I once had an email conversation with a secretly atheist hasid, about why he didn't leave the community that he clearly held in such contempt, and he answered in much the same terms.

Watched on the big screen at Springhill, via informal download.

Review of "Blackthorn"

A Spanish western, set in Bolivia in the 1920s, with a not-dead-after-all Butch Cassidy planning to return to the US to meet up with the son he's never known, but instead getting mixed up with a fleeing Spanish mine engineer who has committed a robbery and is now being chased by a relentless indigenous posse who look more than a little like the Pinkertons in the original Butch Cassidy film.

It's a western with a lot of shooting and horse scenes, but it's not so bad - some interesting young/old dynamics, a bit about what happens to people who spend their whole life chasing something (Stephen Rea as the Irish Pinkerton who has never believed that Butch was dead), and a decent enough twist.

Watched on TV via Chromecast and BBC iPlayer.

Review of "Priscilla Queen of the Desert"

Haven't watched since the 1980s...I remember feeling rather uncomfortable watching it then, because drag queens didn't fit with my vision of what gay men ought to be like. More than twenty years later, and we're all less prescriptive and more open about different ways of identifying, but I still didn't really enjoy the film all that much. Not much happens, the characters don't develop, the scenario of drag acts in rough little outback towns where the country audiences don't appreciate them is repetitive...and the bitchy queen jokes start to pall quite quickly. And the act is really not all that good - it's just a matter of watching the costumes really. The drag queens don't dance all that well, they don't sing at all...Also annoyed by the way the Terence Stamp character does the one thing that you are really, really supposed to not do when you break down in the desert (leave the vehicle and go off to look for help) but it turns out well. Shouldn't there at least be a 'don't try this when you break down in the desert' warning?

Watched in the Middle Floor at Springhill via informal distribution.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review of 'Moonlight'

Not sure why this was Best Picture - a film about a gay black drug dealer's coming of age in Miami. Bits were very poignant and well done, other parts seemed boring and over-long. I had a little doze now and then. I suspect that there were lots of significant details that I just missed; both the main character, Chirone, and his mentor Juan, had the gold crown on the dashboard of their car - I had to look that one up.

Perhaps someone could explain why it's called Moonlight, too. I was clearly in a minority; everyone else who watched it with me was more touched by it than I was. I actually preferred La La Land, which most people seem to have hated.

Watched in the Common House in Springfield from a version obtained by informal distribution.

Review of 'The Big Short'

I was rather disappointed with this. The book was great - it explained complex things and unfamiliar institutions without being patronizing - and left me feeling better informed and more angry. The film didn't do that. Some of the illustrations were silly and annoying. Some things that were complicated weren't really explained - including CDSs, which were really the toxic time-bomb under the property finance market. From the film you wouldn't even learn what a short is.

Not helped by the fact that it's really hard to tell who is who - apart from the really florid Asperger-inflected character and the one with anger management issues, and the two jock kids, they all look similar. Not clear who is working for which institution, or about the conflicts of interest within the big banks.

On the plus side it did manage to show that finance isn't separate from the real world - we get to see the families whose houses are repossessed, and there is some talk about the impact on the 'real' economy.

One of the things that made me so angry reading the book was the way that the heroes - the big shorters - made a lot of money, but nothing bad happened to the people who so carelessly created the opportunity for them to do so. The big stupids lost their companies billions, and none of them are sleeping rough. I didn't get that from the film.

Watched via HDMI cable from laptop to TV, obtained via informal distribution network.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Review of Lion

A thoughtful, moving film about adoption and lost children. A little Indian boy gets lost from his family, swept in to an orphanage, and then adopted away to Australia; eventually, and improbably (but this is a real story) as a young adult he finds his way back to the village and his birth mother. The credits sequence shows the real young adult visiting his real birth mother in the company of his adoptive mother; hard not to be moved by that if you've watched the film.

Some beautiful filming, and a reminder of why I didn't actually enjoy visiting India. Hard to be comfortable amidst so much misery.

Watched on TV via cable from PC and informal distribution network.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review of Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach

Surprisingly gentle film about the life and work of Ken Loach - lots of talking heads from actors and others, scenes of the director at works, a non-chronological account of his oeuvre, some clips. Not quite a catalogue because some films were missing (well, if there was a mention of Carla's Song I missed it) but pretty thorough, including some I'd never heard of - Black Jack, for example.

I'd forgotten, if I'd ever known, that Loach was responsible for The Big Flame, a Liverpool film that inspired the inception of the 'Libertarian Marxist' organisation that I hung around in the early 1980s.

There's quite a long section on the 'Perdition' affair, and no sign that anyone learned anything from it. At the time I rather uncomfortably assumed that people who I otherwise admired were contaminated with anti-semitism. I have a rather more nuanced view now, not least because of a rather good documentary about the Kastner affair on which Perdition, and the earlier right wing Zionist 'Perfidy', were based. But I still feel uncomfortable about the stance and the tone of Jim Allen's diatribe against Zionism.

A few observations: Loach appears to feel no irony at being an engaged Marxist on the side of the really poor and wretched, and being lauded by the luvvies at Cannes; and the film has an odd slip into regular luvvie bio-pic with an account of his early career as an actor, complete with dressing-room shots etc. And didn't everyone smoke a lot!

Watched at the Landsdowne Film Club in Stroud.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Stroud Red Band set list

 The Red Flag
Kasatchok
Down by the Riverside
Power in a Union
African Market Place  
La Cucaracha 
Solidarity Forever 
Bandiera Rossa
Bella Ciao 
The Homecoming 
The Internationale
Di Shvue






Monday, March 06, 2017

Review of 'La La Land'

Everybody has been so down on this that I was quite surprised by how much it touched me. I think sometimes how a film affects the viewer says more about the latter than the former. Set in Hollywood, this was about staying true to your dreams, and what happens when you do/don't. It plays around with narrative quite a lot - we get to see a fantasy of an alternative ending, which I think is a way of reminding us that the narrative of the film itself is not necessarily to be taken at face value. The too-bright colours in the opening sequence, and the early scenes with the girls in the flat, seem to me to be indicating that this is more or less fantasy. It rather reminded me of 'Mullholland Drive' without the horror, and perhaps 'The Day of the Locust' too.

It's a film about dreams, but maybe the characters don't stay true to their dreams, and maybe it isn't so important to do that. I think that's the thing that chimed with me at this moment - what if I was able to pursue my own dreams? Is it really what I want to do, or just a thought to distract me from what I am doing at the moment?

Seb (Ryan Gosling's character) has a dream of having his own Jazz club that will be really true to the spirit of the music, but he seems to abandon the dream for a steady job playing in a band that gets recording and touring contracts. It isn't his dream...but maybe the dream is just something you need to help you get through the drudgery of everyday life (earlier, he's a jobbing musician playing stuff that he really despises). And Emily Stone's character almost gives up on her dream of being an actor, and it's only his persistence in dragging her back to one more audition that makes it come true.

I note in passing that the music isn't great, but it's not awful either - I can still remember at least some of the tunes.

Watched on a tablet on train.


Review of 'The Brothers Grimm'

I've been watching this on an off for a while, without quite getting round to finishing it. I finally watched the last half on a train, watching it on a tablet. Considering the small size, it was visually quite stunning - Terry Gilliam at his best. The plot is nonsense, of course - a sort of fairy tale about fairy tales - but the acting isn't too bad and it carries you along. Nice to see Lena Headey playing someone other than Cersei Lannister, and she's quite good. And Jonathan Pryce as the French General is also very good.

A bit more horror than I was expecting; perhaps I am too easily upset by depictions of children losing their eyes, though surely everyone thinks that's upsetting...

There's actually a bit of seriousness in the way it represents the origins of German conservative romanticism as a response to the French invasion. I note in passing that the German village, which is beautifully depicted, looks more Slavic than German, as does the depiction of peasant culture - I'd swear they are dancing to Klezmer at the end rather than something that feels German. Still, whatever.


Review of 'Frida'

Rewatched this, partly to get some interior decoration ideas for our new flat, which I'd like to Mexi-theme. I'd quite enjoyed it the first time round; the second time it was watchable enough, and visually interesting - I quite liked the way it managed to cinematically represent some of Frida Kahlo's pictures.

But I was aware of how little attention it actually gave to the politics. We see that Diego Rivera is a bit of a radical, and that he enjoys pissing off the man as well as sleeping with lots of women, but there's no sense that the politics is actually important to him or to Frida. We see a few seconds of demonstration footage, but there isn't any sense that Mexico was a ferment of genuine revolutionary fervour at this time, or that there was a real civil war going on. Trotksy is a lovely old bloke, but not a very convincing revolutionary, and there is similarly no sense that in giving him refuge the Cardenas government was making a very definite political commitment. It wouldn't have hurt to have given some sight of how huge his funeral procession was.

Not a bad film, but not a great one.

Watched in the Middle Floor at Springhill, from a legitimate DVD,