Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review of The Past

Not what you'd call a feelgood film but no less perfect for that. The dynamics of interlocking families in what looks to be a working-class outer suburb of Paris; an Iranian man who has left his wife to return to Iran, but is now returning to France to complete their divorce so that she can marry another immigrant man, even though his wife is still alive, albeit in a coma. The impacts of all of this on the children of the woman (not the Iranian man's, but he clearly loves them and is loved by them) and the second man's son.

Like real life - just as tragic and muddled, only even sadder.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review of Sunshine on Leith

A feel-good film that didn't actually make me feel all that good - wooden two dimensional characters, leaden dialogue, contrived script. It aims to do for The Proclaimers' songs what Mamma Mia did for the oeuvre of Abba, but it didn't do it for me. Maybe I don't know the songs enough; the only one that I really do know and like, 'Letter from America', is thrown away. The song is about the sadness and loss of emigration, and it's turned into a family's farewell to a young woman going to work as a nurse in a fancy hospital in Florida as part of her yearning for adventure and career development.  That says it all, I think.

BTW I watched this immediately after Rio, a cartoon film about birds. The cartoon birds were more fully developed characters than the ones in Sunshine on Leith.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review of The Zero Theorem

Another disappointment from Terry Gilliam. Visually arresting, disappointing in terms of plot, characters, emotional engagement...pretty much everything. I know that a film is bad when I find myself checking my watch to see how long it's got left.

A shame, because it's not as if he lacks imagination. The situation - an 'analyst' in some vast incomprehensible corporation gets put on to a special project to do with the meaning of life - is not uninteresting. There are lots of nice visual gags - I particularly liked the interactive billboards that greet male characters with "Hello Madam", surely a joke on the interactive signage in Minority Report. It's always better when sophisticated technology screws up in movies, though it rarely does - film-makers obviously don't use the same stuff as the rest of us.

Other stuff is a bit derivative, though. The workstations where employees have to cycle - weren't they in an episode of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror? The interactive sex site and the virtual reality suits, the mainframe that looks like a Victorian pumping station...even the music was cheesy.

Maybe Gilliam should find some more interesting collaborators.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review of Copenhagen performed by students at Kings College London

I really enjoyed this, even though I'd recently seen the TV production. It's a brilliant play and the students really did it justice. Especially hard for Freddie Fullerton, who is young but has to play an older, avuncular character but I think he pulled it off rather well. The script is great, of course, but so was the acting - the actors' mannerisms really conveyed the characters they were playing.

Who would have thought you could do so much with such a minimal set (though a rather good room for it with appropriate fittings and fixtures) and three actors?

And why isn't Michael Frayn as recognised as he ought to be? The way that this play addresses both the scientific and the moral issues is little short of genius. The fact that the answers to the latter aren't cut and dried, as they would be in Howard Brenton or David Hare, just adds to the brilliance.

It is still on for one more night - tonight (16th March). Go and see it if you can.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review of "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

A really enjoyable romp of a film, with great sets and scenery, super cast, lots of good verbal and visual
jokes...what's not to like?

There is a somewhat complex nested narrative structure. It starts with a girl by the grave of a fictional famous writer. She is reading his book. Most of the story is then the story of the book, told by a younger version of the writer; but it's told to him by a now-old man who is himself, as a boy, one of the main characters of the story. From time to time we drop back to the old man telling the story to the young writer, but mainly it stays in the entirely fictional 1930s, in two entirely fictional central European countries. Neither of them are Germany or Poland, oh no, definitely not. Lots of brilliant visual details, in prison scenes, bakery scenes, etc. I loved the decor of the hotel and the writer's apartment in what must be the Communist era - just the right combination of artless cheer and drab.

Curiously the closing credits say it's based on the stories of Stephan Zweig, but if like me you are not a big Zweig fan don't let that put you off - it's much funnier than anything he wrote.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Review of "Dog Hell: Pitbull in Ramraid Horror!"

I enjoyed this book, but I'm not sure who I would want to know that I had (apart from GCHQ, of course, who know all about what I am reading).

I was uncomfortable with the dog-human sex, though. And now that I've read it, I see that people who viewed this also viewed...some really ghastly bestiality porn. Who knew that was even on Amazon?
It's a parody of those 'Skinhead' books from the 1970s that were read by boys at school who didn't read much. Lots of violence, some sex, homophobia, racism - you know the sort of thing. And it's a very good parody too, lots of witty dog/human crossover stuff. Sometimes it doesn't quite work, often it does.

I was uncomfortable with the dog-human sex, though. And now that I've read it, I see that people who viewed this also viewed...some really ghastly bestiality porn. Who knew that was even on Amazon? 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Barcelona February 2014

I went to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress 2014. Instead of rushing back at the end I stayed for the weekend and had a great time. I went to the Barcelona History Museum, and really enjoyed a special exhibition about the World of 1714 - the year in which Catalonia found itself abandoned at the tail end of the War of Spanish Succession and its independence came to an end.

I went with Ruth to the Sagrada Familia (only the outside - couldn't face the queue) and then on to the even more wonderful Modernista Hospital de la Santa Creu I Sant Pau.

We did Nick Lloyd's brilliant Civil War walking tour, which brought Orwell's Homage to Catalonia to life and almost moved me to tears. 

We walked all over Montjuic (yes, Jew Mountain) and visited the Catalan National Art Museum. I particularly liked this picture by Antoni Arissa.

And I met up with Phil Shepherd, and with Jamilla Evans-Evans, neither of whom I have seen for at least fifteen years.

Review of 'Cloud Atlas'

I loved the book, and this film is only tolerable. The structural complexities were always going to be hard to film. Watching it on a tablet as I did meant that I was going to miss out on the more impressive visual aspects - especially the scenes in Neo-Seoul.

Even taking that into account this is still a disappointment. The complex structure of the book is replaced with a more conventional set of inter-weaving narratives. Using the same actors to play different characters in these might have helped with the budget and the logistics but did nothing for the experience. And the characters make several laboured references to recurrence, and to the other 'themes', which I don't remember from the book.

At nearly three hours this is a long film but it felt longer.

Review of "A Field in England"

A muddle without form, point or aesthetic value. Five men (I think it's five - it's a bit hard to tell) blunder in to each other in a field while escaping from an unnamed battle in the English Civil War. It is in black and white, so we know that it's arty. There is a sort of narrative. One of the men seems to be a weedy fearful scholar, implausibly sent by his master to apprehend a tough and frightening Irish man who has stolen a manuscript from the master's library.

The manuscript apparently describes how to find treasure in this very field. The Irish man, who turns out to be an alchemist, makes the others his prisoners and forces them to dig for the treasure. At various times some of the men seem to kill each other, but they don't stay dead. Those who are killed re-appear in the film to no particular surprise. Is there a magical or supernatural explanation, or is it all a hallucination brought on by the mushrooms we see them eating. It's hard to know and ever harder to care.

Review of "Her"

A surprisingly moving film. From the descriptions and synopses doing the rounds I didn't expect to like this - I imagined a film about a geeky, tech-obsessed man taking refuge from real human relationships by falling in love with his computer. I might not even have gone, but Ruth and I were in Barcelona, exhausted from walking all over the city, and this was one of the few original-language films available at a cinema we could imagine walking to.

I couldn't have been more wrong. The main character, Theodore, suffers from a surfeit of empathy - his job involves working for, which does what it says on the tin; writes beautiful personal letters for people who are unable or unwilling to write their own. Theodore's letters are warm and charming, full of sympathy and wisdom.

And the disembodied operating system with which he falls in love is also a complex, developing character, learning what it feels like to feel, and managing the disjuncture between human emotions, the absence of a body with which to feel them, and the consequences of having non-human enormous processing power and multi-tasking capability for relationships with humans. The film works through all these complications with considerable sensitivity. Some of the time I felt a little lump in my throat. It made me think about the way that I mediate some personal relationships through technology - the Facebook friends I never meet with in real life, and so on.

The film is also visually stunning, with contemporary Shanghai standing in for a future LA - sometimes sumptuous, sometimes bleakly sterile. I rather liked the Arcade Fire soundtrack too.

Very glad I saw this.