Saturday, September 24, 2016

Review of "Bridget Jones's Baby"

This is exactly what you'd expect - some slapstick, some relationship humour, a lot of stuff about being a singleton woman struggling to control weight and meet Mr Right...but as long as you're not expecting Proust there are some laughs, and it's nice to look at. Almost too nice - this is Richard Curtis London, not the real one where people actually live. Bridget is still in her flat that's literally a stone's throw from Borough Market, but she can still walk in heels to Ealing where Mr Darcy allegedly lives, a route that seems to include several illuminated Thames bridges. The NHS hospital where she goes to be treated by Helen Mirren, her consultant, is beautiful, clean and mainly empty, and the consultant is available when she goes in to labour in the middle of the night.

A couple of other things I noticed; most of the time Bridget is a soppy cow whose stupidity and clumsiness provide many of the jokes. But we get a few looks at her bookshelf which suggest otherwise. When she quits her news-producer job, saying that perhaps one day integrity will be back in fashion, she goes home and we see a John Pilger book in the right hand side of the frame. Earlier there were a few old Penguin books around, of the kind not chosen for the cover picture.

Also one of the themes is that true love defies algorithms that could be used to predict which matches will and won't succeed. Mr Darcy's rival is a cerebral American billionaire who  has used his knowledge of mathematics to create a fact-based, science-based dating site. But Bridget ends up choosing Mr Darcy  - a nod to the 'anti-expert' and 'post-factual' zeitgeist, perhaps. Incidentally she's almost certainly wrong in doing this; Mr Darcy has shown himself to be cold and distracted through several movies, whereas the American is genuinely engaged and loves her just as much.

Watched at the Everyman Cinema in Muswell Hill.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Review of 'The Circle' by David Eggers

A rather good dystopian satire on Google and the world of social media/Web2.0. Very well written, with a plot and characters that work in themselves (not always the case with dystopian fiction). I thought the final denoument was a bit obvious, but that didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the book.

I particularly like the portrayal of the pompous 'internet for good' stuff with online petitions and sending 'frowns' to the Chinese government. This has made me think about my own social media use - I'm not as obsessed as the characters in the book, but they are caricatures and I'm an actual person. Highly recommended.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Review of 'Cafe Society'

One of the better of Woody Allen's more recent films - a love triangle tale set against the background of 1940s Hollywood and New York. A young, slightly awkward Jewish kid moves to LA to get a job with his big-shot agent uncle, who ignores for a while and then makes him a sort of personal gopher. He develops a relationship with the boss's beautiful PA, who has an absent boyfriend but really likes our goofy hero, only the absent boyfriend turns out to be the uncle-boss, who is married.

There's a proper plot, and a sub-plot involving the family back home in New York, which features a gangster brother - who acquires a nightclub that eventually becomes the eponymous 'Cafe Society'. It's beautifully shot, full of beautiful women in gorgeous clothes, with both Hollywood and New York looking stunning. A nice soundtrack with lots of Jazz clarinet.

It's a little bit shallow, but not as silly as some of Allen's recent efforts, and a nice mix of humour and pathos. Others have drawn attention to the way in which it's an idealised white version of the 1940s, and it is - the only Black people I noticed were Jazz musicians in a dive bar to which the goofy hero improbably brings his lovers, the only Hispanics the staff in an improbably picturesque cheap restaurant. It's also noteworthy how it's mainly the working-class Jewish characters who provide the laughs, like the crude mechanicals in a Shakespeare play; in the days of Annie Hall the WASPs were also funny, and here they are mainly not - though there are some laughs about the way the tall blonde Oklahoma beauty that the hero eventually marries thinks of Jews as exotic (probably not all that silly or unlikely in the real 1940s).

Watched at Woodford Odeon with my mum and brother.

Review of 'Brooklyn'

A gentle, romantic, period drama about immigration and emigration. Kind sweet Eilis doesn't much like the small-minded small town in early 1950s Ireland where she lives, and her kind sister arranges for her to emigrate to New York. Apart from being sick on the boat, and a certain amount of teasing from her new boarding-house friends - and not immediately taking to her job as a salesgirl in a department store - everything goes pretty well. She studies at night school and goes to local dances. She misses home a bit, but soon she find a nice Italian boy who is kind and gentle. She loves his so  they get quietly married but tell no-one.

And then the kind sister dies, and she goes back to Ireland for the funeral, and sort of doesn't get round to telling anyone about the husband back home, or answering the husband's letters. And suddenly the little town doesn't seem so bad any more, and she gets a temporary job helping out  at a factory with her newly-learned book-keeping skills, and she meets a nice local boy who she doesn't mean to lead on, but she does...

And this is the only bit of dramatic tension in the film, and it is achieved by making Eilis behave entirely out of character. She's not been anything like this at all before, and it's only the nice music and the beautiful shorts (including close-ups of her open but conflicted face) that make it at all plausible. And it's not very plausible.

It's all resolved more or less happily, with a touch of poignancy about the life she leaves behind.

Netflix via Chromecast.

Review of 'Brooklyn'

A gentle, romantic, period drama about immigration and emigration. Kind sweet Eilis doesn't much like the small-minded small town in early 1950s Ireland where she lives, and her kind sister arranges for her to emigrate to New York. Apart from being sick on the boat, and a certain amount of teasing from her new boarding-house friends - and not immediately taking to her job as a salesgirl in a department store - everything goes pretty well. She studies at night school and goes to local dances. She misses home a bit, but soon she find a nice Italian boy who is kind and gentle. She loves his so  they get quietly married but tell no-one.

And then the kind sister dies, and she goes back to Ireland for the funeral, and sort of doesn't get round to telling anyone about the husband back home, or answering the husband's letters. And suddenly the little town doesn't seem so bad any more, and she gets a temporary job helping out  at a factory with her newly-learned book-keeping skills, and she meets a nice local boy who she doesn't mean to lead on, but she does...

And this is the only bit of dramatic tension in the film, and it is achieved by making Eilis behave entirely out of character. She's not been anything like this at all before, and it's only the nice music and the beautiful shorts (including close-ups of her open but conflicted face) that make it at all plausible. And it's not very plausible.

It's all resolved more or less happily, with a touch of poignancy about the life she leaves behind.

Netflix via Chromecast.

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.