Archive for April, 2017

THE HANDMAIDEN

The Handmaiden

Taking its central themes and inspirations from the 2002 Sarah Waters novel Fingersmith this erotic thriller directed by Park Chan-wook constantly strives to outguess its audience with each of its three sections exploring the same tale from a different character perspective.
A much more complex and interesting take on the original tale of a pickpocket lifted from poverty to high society in Dickensian London than the BBC drama from 2005 even though both are period dramas the question of location literally sets them worlds apart as by transplanting the action to South Korea –under colonial Japanese rule- there is an exoticism and erotica the earlier interpretation never achieved.
The tale remains basically the same when a pickpocket is used to try and help an unscrupulous conman posing as a Count seduce an heiress out of her fortune when it becomes clear that sexually she is more attracted to women than men thus requiring female complicity as his own masculinity obviously falls short.
What then follows is a web of deceit, intrigue, sexual duplicity and a plot which keeps second guessing its audience and holds their attention rapt.
Beautifully shot amidst outstanding scenery with stunning sets- the palatial residence of the supposedly duped heiress is part Victorian Gothic mansion and part traditional Japanese and as labyrinthine as the action- which combine to make the whole viewing process even more of a visually stimulating experience than it already is.
Although the film clocks in at around two and a half hours long the great central performances alongside plot devices and exotic settings somehow conspire into making the time fly by.

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation

And so begins the never ending cycle of elections.
The big one though has to be the General Election in June which has has seen our glorious leader turn into what I always suspected she was, a Dalek in drag. With the phrase ‘Strong and Stable Leadership’ now her mantra repeated at every available opportunity and which offers as much clarity as her previous ‘Brexit means Brexit’ statement also trundled out when she had nothing clear to offer, which was often and still is it would seem.
I suppose we have until June 8th now to listen to the lies and mantras on repeat and try and sift through them all for a grain of truth and hope. Good luck with that one. Certainly in Scotland there seems to be some form of hope of an escape from a very Dis-United Kingdom although the right wing bias in the national mainstream media seems to indicate we too are set for a Tory takeover.
Hmmm, we’ll see!
The local elections in May will hopefully see that one-off with its tail between its legs.
Elsewhere away from the world of politics- politics are never far away though these days- I have been shocked and saddened to hear of gay concentration camps in Chechnya where gay men are entrapped then held in camps where they are tortured merely because of their sexual orientation. The fact that this is going on in the 21st century is almost beyond belief.
That is until you consider the way the world has tilted over the last few years with the rise of the far right in most of Europe and the still very unfathomable rise of Donald Trump in the US. Surely these factors and what is going on in Russia should be a lesson for us to put the brakes on now.
In times of crisis there is always music to turn to and whilst the live circuit has been a bit drab recently it looks as if things are on the up over the next short while with the likes of Chrysta Belle and Kraftwerk visiting the capital over the next couple of months. Not to mention both PJ Harvey and Jarvis Cocker both making an appearance during the Festival.
However much as I look forward to seeing these acts unfortunately they do little to help the local music scene which is once again floundering and the worrying news that even the Leith Depot which has done a lot to galvanise its local area is under threat of demolition. What with the closure of the legendary Port O’ Leith and The Parlour- both last weekend- things are looking desperate where they were once looking hopeful.
The state of the roads in the town centre are also ridiculous and although the newly introduced speed limits of 20mph-why exactly?- haven’t helped anything at times it feels as if that stupidly low restriction is actually speeding compared to the remaining stationary for an interminable age whilst travelling I have experienced recently.
Never mind at least there is always ‘Line Of Duty’ to keep our minds active whilst we seem to be at a standstill. No-one could ever accuse this drama of moving at a pedestrian pace and there is absolutely no second guessing what is going to happen next with this one. The latest series finale on Sunday looks like being an explosive one and even I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to its outcome.
Until then I am going to content myself with the new albums by The Gorillaz, assisted by the likes of Grace Jones and Mavis Staples, and Mark Lanegan albums-both out today- which on first listening sound impressive to these judgmental ears. At the cinema I aim to catch Park Chan-wook’s erotic thriller The Handmaiden. Now all we need is for the weather to improve and it could be a great weekend ahead.

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

I Am Not Your Negro

This Oscar nominated documentary by Raoul Peck focuses on author and civil rights activist James Baldwin and his personalised recounting of the struggles and assassinations of three of his close friends, allies and fellow civil rights campaigners and/or activists: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Unfortunately he died several months after embarking on this project in 1979 so we will never know what conclusions he eventually reached regarding some of the changes that took place in his lifetime.
It is a stunning and utterly captivating piece of work which highlights the struggles of the African-American in 1960’s culture when it seemed anything was possible and change was not only inevitable but necessary. It was going to be long, hard fight however.
Baldwin’s fictional work at this stage was beautifully written prose and his stand out works- Go Tell it on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room and Another Country- tackled taboo subjects, both racially and sexually motivated, in a fashion that furthered his beliefs without ever being didactic. His message was always very clear however and that message was one of injustice and that survival meant a change in both moral and racial codes.
Baldwin also published poetry and short stories to further that message even further and also appeared on the TV and lecture circuit where he called out the racist standards inherent in American culture at this time. An interesting excerpt on the Dick Cavett show in 1969- Cavett looks as nervous as he did five years later when confronted with a drug addled David Bowie in his most outlandish and talked about interview- sees him pitted a right-wing conservative ‘expert’ and subsequently demolish him most eloquently and elegantly; making a point without having to force it.
His interesting analogy that black Americans were brought up being force-fed white heroes such as John Wayne and Gary Cooper and rooting for them in the movies as they obliterated the Native tribes was an eye opener for Baldwin when he realised that the native tribes were in fact him and his culture and that he was already being conditioned to oppose them.
The fact that he was also homosexual was a double whammy but that is only looked at briefly in this documentary as it is not the central theme of the work.
The most interesting and poignant thing about this documentary is how far things actually did change. At one point there is talk of a black President in the next forty years and the idea is thoroughly ridiculed. If in fact the two decades leading up to the Obama years were neglected and history moved sharply into the Trump administration it would be easy to say that little change had been effected at all as the racial divisions which drove the civil rights campaign fifty years ago are as wide as they ever were. Or perhaps they are just as apparently obvious again.
This documentary although it looks at a particular time in history is just as relevant as ever. In fact as much can be learnt today from the viewpoints it contains and similarly they can also be acted upon and things can hopefully move forward yet again.

Free Fire

Free Fire

This latest addition to the impressive Ben Wheatley canon draws together a strong cast- Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hamner, Sharlto Copley, Michael Smiley and Sam Riley- and assembles them in a deserted warehouse in 1970’s Boston. There an arms deal between two Irishmen, Chris and Frank-respectively Murphy and Smiley- and a dandy South African Vernon (Shopley) set up by the fixer Justine (Larson) is about to go down.
And go down it certainly does!
Pretty soon an argument breaks out between a couple of the hired help over a transgression the previous night and the whole scenario descends into a shoot out of epic proportions. Comparisons are inevitable with the shoot out in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs even down to the incongruous anodyne musical choices at moments of tension; here Annie’s Song by John Denver replaces Stealers Wheel’ s Stuck in the Middle with You for comic relief.
What follows for the next hour is a hail of bullets, a barrage of witty dialogue inside a collapsing building and surroundings which ultimately do more harm than the bullet storm; maiming and fatally wounding each participant until it becomes clear that no-one is going to leave that warehouse unscathed even if they do manage to stay alive.
If fast paced action shoot-outs are your type of thing then I have no hesitation in recommending this film as it is definitely a prime example of this particular genre. However I must admit I felt my attention wandering about twenty-five minutes into the carnage and felt that an opportunity had been wasted with such a stellar cast and greater use could have been made of their actual acting abilities- as opposed to rolling around in broken glass, rubble and eventually agonising pain- and there could have been either more build up or comedown before and after the action theme took over with more dialogue and deeper character analysis.
However the premise of this film never was to explain the underlying nature of the characters or to engender any interest in their back story and even the deal at the centre of the whole film is sketchy and vague about who is actually involved or even why.
As an action movie Free Fire delivers admirably on every level and of course Wheatley manages to create an overall look and feel which never disappoints. Add an attractive strong cast and Free Fire is a visually arresting feature which takes no prisoners.