Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review of 'Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen'

An unusual Hungarian film, made up entirely of clips (most of them very short) from other movies of widely varying ages and genres. There are occasional Hungarian subtitles but most of the clips are in their original languages.

The clips are assembled so as to tell a simple story, but with many different actors (in many different settings) playing the parts of the two main protagonists. It's a bit like a cross between 'Man With a Movie Camera' and 'Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid'. It's funny and enjoyable, though not really suitable for children - there's a lot of bloody violence at one point, and a prolonged sex-scenes sequence around the middle (who knew there were so many cunnilingus scenes in mainstream films?). I really liked it, though I could have done without the apparently spiritual scenes at the end, when the male character, who we have seen die, comes back for a joyful reunion. The songs are particularly well done, and it's fun to see how many films you can spot.

Watched on DVD in the middle floor of the Common House at Springhill.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Review of 'We are Many'

A nice but over-long documentary about the anti-war demonstrations of February 2003, dwelling on how big they were and how amazing it was that there was coordination so that multiple demonstrations were held across the world. Lots of talking heads from people that were there and helped to organise it, some nice footage of the demonstrations themselves, and a bit of analysis.

There was recognition that all this effort didn’t stop the war, but a sort of happy ending in that the strength of the movement made it too hard for Cameron and Obama to organise bombing of Syria in support of…who? Several talking heads were allowed to say that if only there had been more demonstrations – if we’d come back every week – then we would have stopped the war.

As with the demonstrations themselves, I ended up feeling flat and a bit despondent. I don’t really buy the Syria argument. I think there was a clear motivation for invading Iraq but there was a much weaker motivation for intervening in Syria, and that the West was relatively content with carrying out a weaker, less purposeful intervention. Also funny that Ed Miliband, who went out on a bit of a limb in opposing the bombing, gets no credit whatsoever in the film.

And I also think that in celebrating so much the size of the march, the film fails in explaining what marches are and aren’t for. Not just a failing of the film, of course, but of the entire non-Parliamentary movement. Going on marches is occasionally uplifting and gratifying (it’s nice to find out that there are lots of other people who feel the same as we do, and there is the sheer pleasure of being in a purposeful crowd, as there is for football supporters), but rarely effective. It bears saying that the most effective protests are those that trigger disproportionately violent crackdowns by the state, particularly when that becomes a PR or political disaster. And even those only lead to something when the political context means that the state cares how it’s perceived – the US during the Cold War was embarrassed by the way that southern police forces repressed Civil Rights marchers, for example, while China didn’t much care what anyone thought of what it did to the protesters in Tienanmen Square.

A well-planned peaceful demonstration that is arranged and co-ordinated in advance with the police, which causes minimal disruption to traffic and shopping, is not going to stop any wars. Complaining that politicians don’t pay any heed to them just sounds like whining. 

Friday, July 01, 2016

Review of 'The New Girlfriend'

An unusual French film about the relationship between a young French woman and the cross-dressing widower of her lifelong best friend. He reveals his secret to her, and they develop a friendship that starts with her taking him shopping and then deepens into something more.

An element that isn't explicit, but nevertheless felt very strong to me, is the extent to which the man's behaviour and desire is narcissistic. He isn't gay - he doesn't want to be a woman. He loves his deceased wife's friend as a woman, and wants to have heterosexual sex with her while dressed as a woman. I think he is really in love with himself as a woman - while she is in love with him as a woman, though a sort of acceptable man-woman, because she's not really gay either, though she's sort of thought about it. She has dreams about loving her dead friend (while she's asleep in her childhood bed in the family's country house), and she flirts with a young lesbian at the gay club to which she takes her cross-dressing friend.

Beautifully shot, with lots of lovely clothes and interiors, and nice stuff. The woman and her blank husband, who barely notices what's going on, are French yuppies. The dead woman, and her family, seem to be Catholic provincial haute bourgeoisie, though I  suspect there are other markers that would situate them more precisely to a French viewer.

It's based on a Ruth Rendell short story, which I must read.

Watched at the Landsdowne Film Club in Stroud - sparsely attended, with everyone giving each other odd looks when it finished.

Review of 'The Fundamentals of Caring'

Unusual quirky film about the relationship between a  young man with something like motor neurone disease (sorry, I missed the very beginning) and his slightly disengaged ex-writer carer. They go on a road trip, pick up waifs and strays along the way, and are sort of redeemed, but without mawkishness and with a lot of humour. Better than I was expecting - particularly great acting by Craig Roberts.

Another Netflix, smartphone and Chromecast viewing.

Review of 'Full Out'

Apparently true story about a girl gymnast who is injured and told she'll never compete again but pushes herself, with the help of a crew of hip-hop dancers, to get her strength and abilities back. Worthy but predictable and dull. Very little to say about it.

Watched on Netflix via smartphone and Chromecast.

Review of 'Jack of the Red Hearts'

A teenage girl living on the skids fakes an ID to get a job as a live-in carer for a family with an autistic little girl...and despite no training or credentials manages to develop enough rapport with the girl to help her. The teenage is doing it so she can be together with her orphaned sister, so she's trying to go straight, clean up her drug habit and put her life of minor criminality behind her.

It's a bit soppy and the anticipated (and telegraphed) disasters implied by leaving a vulnerable child in the sole car of...well, another vulnerable child...don't really materialize, even though the autistic girl wanders off, gets lost, climbs on roofs and so on. The ending is a bit fairy-tale. But its heart is in the right place - the social services aren't the bad guys, the family is more understanding than they ought to be, and I think it's quite a nuanced perspective on autism and what it means for parents to have an autistic child.

Watched on Netflix via smartphone and Chromecast.

Review of 'Sicko'

A Michael Moore documentary, relentlessly polemical but enjoyable and funny too. About how shit the US health care system is, with illustrations as to how much it makes ordinary people suffer and some explanation as to why, and how it got that way. Comparisons with the health care systems of other places (including the UK) that make them seem better than they are - but compared to what people experience in the US the NHS in Britain really does feel like a product of a socialist paradise, even after so many years of battering.

A funny ending in which the little group of victims that he's gathered are taken to Cuba - first to Guantanamo, in an effort to break in to the prison so that they can enjoy the free health care provided to the prisoners there, and then to Havana, where they are given free treatment and treated like heroes. It's a staged stunt, but it's still moving.

A thought - does this convince anyone not already on Moore's side? And if not, does that matter? Is it sufficient to produce polemics that only serve to keep people on our side reassured that we're not all mad, and that there really is a better way?

For the record, watched at a free showing in the Baptist Church in Stroud as part of a 'Stroud Against the Cuts' NHS weekend. There was a discussion afterwards but we didn't stay.