FILMS 2011

The Black Power Mixtape

In the sane week that a woman was arrested after a racist rant on a London tram this film makes its much anticipated release in the cinema. Although set in the United States and focussing on the years between 1969 and 1975 when Black Power was in the ascendant many of the issues covered in this documentary although contextual obviously still have relevance in the present day. Featuring previously unseen footage captured by Swedish journalists and edited together by contemporary director Goran Olsson the film shows an outsiders perspective on a country’s internal struggle to reconcile its differing races in a particularly turbulent era when social consciences and attitudes were changing at breakneck speed causing those who had previously held the upper hand to take radical measures in order to retain their position of power whilst the underlings for several generations strove to attain a voice that was not only heard but listened to.

Although many of the names – Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are probably the main exceptions- may seem unfamiliar to a contemporary audience their struggles will not. Stokeley Carmichael took on the baton handed him by King and adapted his doctrines of equality but imbued them with a sense of power and aggression which was a marked change from King’s more passive stance. It is the heroic Angela Davis and her unfair treatment whose tale really stands out in this film however. Wrongly incarcerated for 18 months for the simple crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being black her tale is particularly poignant. In answer to a question that questions if and why there was violence and aggression at the heart of the Black Power movement she gives an articulate and detailed response which more than explains and instead reasons why such measures were necessary. Other notable moments include an extremely disturbing scene in which we see a newborn baby born to a junkie mother going through cold turkey. This is followed by a traumatic scene where a young black girl details how the only option open to her is prostitution and then explains how heroin is the only thing getting her through this circumstance by numbing her emotions. It is a heartfelt moment and one that shows cause and effect and its long-term effects on the next generation some of whom-like the withdrawing baby- are born into a life of no future.

Black Power Mixtape is a worthwhile effort showing an important time in America’s history both politically and socially. Whilst the time shown has to be considered contextually for full effect – I am sure no-one involved could have anticipated a black President only forty years into the future so desolate was their plight at this time- it still raises issues that need to be considered. If that young woman who sat on the tram whilst abusing those around her for not being British enough had suffered in the way Black people in America prior to the civil rights movement- sitting down on buses was only permitted in certain areas and if every white person was seated first despite paying the same fares-then she may have had something to complain about. Somehow I doubt she has suffered in the same way and her outburst really was nothing more than an ignorant racist rant.

My Week With Marilyn

 

This Simon Curtis directed film about Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe’s involvement with one of the crew –third assistant director or more accurately gofer-during the film shoot for The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956 is an entertaining insight into the star at the pinnacle of her powers and success. Michelle Williams gives a star performance as Monroe; one which is probably the best portrayal of this actress who had such an indefinable quality that no-one, despite many attempts, has ever been able to capture the essence of what made her so very special. Williams succeeds on many levels and whilst this is the films main strength  Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier ably supports her and their onscreen chemistry is greater than their real life counterparts.

Ostensibly it should have been a happy time in Monroe’s life having just married celebrated playwright Arthur Miller and embarking on a project with British theatre royalty Laurence Olivier. In reality it was merely the beginning of the downward spiral that culminated in her death, still shrouded in mystery and myth, six years later. This film concentrates on the fact that her relationship with Miller was already in crisis whilst her working life alongside Olivier was faring little better and probably even worse as he found her working ‘methods’ intolerable and at one point huffs that ‘teaching her to act is like teaching a badger to speak Urdu’. Enter Colin Clark (Eddie Remayne) a well to do clean cut young man who wants to make it in the film industry and through family connections ends up working with Olivier. Befriending Marilyn on set and in her darker moments he forms a close bond with her after Miller abdicates his duties and ‘abandons’ her to fly back to the states in order to see his children. It is this week that lends the film its title though it is never clear how far their relationship progressed and there really is no need for such a sense of propriety in a 2011 film even if it is set in the still sexually uptight 1950’s. This reticence is not apparent in Williams’ performance however. The usual Monroe trademarks are all over the film from her luminous, platinum incandescence through to the wiggle, pout, the booze and the many pills. It is an over familiar story though and any Monroe fan will feel disappointed in the fact there are no new revelations although to a younger generation it may introduce Marilyn to a whole new audience.

The cinematography on the film is excellent and combined with the camera work it does a great job of evoking the era it is attempting to portray. On occasion it does feel like a tour guide of beautiful England what with thatched cottages and Windsor Castle both getting a look in. Likewise the supporting cast seems to have been drafted in from Luvvie Central. Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Zoe Wannamaker and Doug Ray Scott and Emma Watson are all present and correct. At other times it seems that the film has its sights set on a few of the accolades garnered by The Kings Speech and Williams must surely be a contender for best actress but as a whole the film sometimes feels a little too like a BBC period drama to be a attract those kind of awards. Despite this it is still an extremely well made and enjoyable film that perfectly captures both the era and the star at the centre of the maelstrom she created on her visit to these shores.

Tabloid

In a week when the Leveson inquiry is investigating press misconduct through phone hacking this film arrives in cinemas harking back to the late seventies when although technology was not as advanced the methods deployed by the tabloid press were still as underhand and condemning as today. Focussing on the tale of Joyce McKinney a former beauty queen-Miss Wyoming-and a young Mormon, Kirk Anderson, who she allegedly kidnapped, held captive and forcibly had sex with it is still, even after viewing the film, unclear what actually happened so clouded with prejudice are the preconceptions instigated by the press. Matters are not helped by McKinney who although an extremely and intelligent interviewee in possession of a high IQ -168- and charming manner of discourse when recounting her version of events comes across as a delusional fantasist and therefore a less than credible witness.

The drama starts to unfold when McKinney first lays eyes on Anderson who she describes as a handsome desirable man though others point out that he was hardly an obvious object of lust weighing more than 300lbs and being of less than average attractiveness. This does not deter McKinney however who sets out to ensnare her man at whatever the price. Apparently some sort of compromise is reached and the two embark on an affair but when Anderson is removed to England as part of his Mormon training the trouble begins. McKinney believed he had been spirited away from her clutches and sets out to reclaim her true love and does what any (ab)normal person would do in those circumstances  enlisting the services of an accomplice-JK May- she then hires a bodyguard, a pilot and private jet then armed with a bottle of chloroform and an imitation gun flies to England to ‘persuade’ Anderson to impregnate her thus destabilising the hold the Mormon facility has over him. Where the financial backing she needs to fund such an elaborate plan derives from is never made clear but minor trivialities or reality never stand in McKinney’s way when her determination in overdrive. Along the way the bodyguard and pilot opt out so with May in tow as a loyal lapdog she tracks Anderson down and here matters become clouded in the various participants’ memories. According to the press McKinney held him captive and chained him up spread-eagled whilst she forcibly encouraged him to have sex with her repeatedly. McKinney however states that Anderson willingly accompanied her and chose to have sex with her and the handcuffs and manacles were merely sexual role play with him as her sex slave. The tabloid press, in the shape of the ever reliable Daily Mirror, cotton on to the story adding their salubrious sensationalist twist and immediately it becomes front page news and a national topic of conversation.

The subsequent coverage follows its way through the court case and after McKinney serves several months on remand is released on bail, Moments of notoriety then ensue including an infamous appearance at the premiere of The Stud where her presence even upstages that of the films star a certain Joan Collins. The story continues to become even more surreal after her release however as disguised as deaf mutes both she and May flee Britain only to turn up elsewhere as two unconvincing Indians from Calcutta. Meanwhile the press, in particular the Daily Mirror, have a field day and all manner of unsubstantiated stories are paraded as truth across their front pages. To counterbalance this the Daily Express attempt to tell Mc Kinney’s version of events and she suffers the confusing problem of having two radically alternate and differing stories about the same set of events spread across two of the biggest newspapers in the country at the same time. From the testimonies given by those involved at the time it would transpire that the truth is somewhere between the two events detailed but as no-one seems to be totally credible even this is debatable. What does become clear is that truth is a minor factor when it comes to selling newspapers or scandalising a nation by preying on those with petty morals to buy into their own brand of righteousness.

Tabloid is a thoroughly engaging film and McKinney remains to this day a fascinating character. All wide eyed disbelief and a raucous raconteur with ribald storytelling abilities who at one point, tellingly, insists that all the drama lessons she had have stood her in good stead. She reveals herself to be a thoroughly engaging if not wholly convincing or reliable interviewee although the tales of treating those around her as slaves still persist only nowadays it is the five Pitbulls she has had cloned –really- from her beloved soul-mate Booger who fulfil this role dialling phone numbers and retrieving drinks from the Fridge!! As all this is revealed at the end of this captivating and often unintentionally hilarious film it becomes clear that McKinney can quite accurately be described as barking mad.

Beloved

 

This film by director Christophe Honore shown as part of the nineteenth UK French Film Festival promised so much what with the inclusion of French film legend  Catherine Deneuve alongside her real life daughter Chiari Mastroianni, alongside a strong supporting cast including Louis Garrell. Deneuve and Mastroianni portray a mother and daughter whose lives and loves follow an unconventional path through the sixties and seventies right up to the recent past. It is a film that deals with the difficulties that arise through trying to do what may seem the right-read conventional- thing whilst the heart is telling its owner otherwise. It unfortunately does this whilst bursting into inappropriate and totally incongruous musical numbers with little concern as to how this unwelcome intrusion totally detracts from any input the acting abilities of the cast have so far contributed to the dramatic qualities of what could have been a worthwhile script. So much is lost in the translation of the musical numbers that this translates in a loss of narrative structure as they do little other than distract the audience from the themes the film is trying hard to address.

The themes are actually very serious and deal with unattainable, unrequited and unwise choices in matters of the heart and how they affect more practical decisions.  Both Deneuve and Mastrioanni give convincing performances as mother and daughter-hardly surprising really- and their onscreen chemistry is wholly credible. Mastrioanni as Vera comes across as indulgent and totally impractical and these qualities render her rather unfathomable as is the intention of the director I believe. Her decision to pursue a man who lives on another continent and very much an out gay man does not really make much sense. Is she really lovelorn or just self obsessed and demanding? Likewise Garrell’s constantly usurped and thwarted Clement perfectly captures the frustrations of his characters constant and perpetual rejection and how it feels to be dismissively disposed of in love. Unfortunately none of these performances are enough to save the movie as every time some dramatic inroads have been covered the protagonists of those nascent scenes burst into ridiculous snatches of song ruining any dramatic build up. The lyrics are totally abominable and one particularly excruciating number lifted lines wholesale from London Calling and Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now with little or ,more correctly, no sense of irony. At this point when I gazed along the row of the cinema I witnessed several pairs of heaving shoulders obviously attempting to stifle their laughter.

Beloved was perhaps an unfortunate choice of movie to see as I am no big fan of most musicals but in this instance I feel that the musical setting was not simply irritating but also incongruous and inappropriate. Turning it into a musical rendered it unconvincing and no amount of Gallic charm or style was enough to save it. Even the presence of Catherine Deneuve was not enough to rescue the film and that really is saying something.

Wuthering Heights


 

Director Andrea Arnold’s stripped back imagining of Emily Bronte’s much loved-or maligned in some cases-literary classic Wuthering Heights continues her theme of presenting things in a stark brutal light that pulls no punches in her ambitions of grasping at gritty realism. Like 2009’s astonishing and acclaimed Fish Tank wherein she dealt with themes of social decay in a brutal urban environment Wuthering Heights effectively-along with the recent adaptation of that other teenage girl coming of age novel Jane Eyre-re-invents the period drama with startling results. Removing the ostentatious approach that usually mars such productions Arnold takes the viewer quite literally down in the mud and removes a vast amount of dialogue merely to replace it with a series of grunts, hostile looks and physical exchanges that will alienate any with fantastical or romantic notions about the book. It is an effective and often disturbing portrayal and will certainly not be to everyone’s taste as the lack of dialogue or soundtrack may cause discomfort as it relies less on traditional methods of holding the attention but Arnold seldom takes the easy option in her work.

Adding another dimension to the work is the character Heathcliff who no longer is the raggedy, curly haired gypsy boy of Bronte’s imagination but now a black youngster- a stowaway we are led to believe- with slave branding on his back. This angle lends his uncomfortable integration into the Earnshaw family as little more than slave some gravitas and his relationship with elder son Hindley even more tension. His close relationship with Cathy is still always in evidence however although as youngsters-Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer- Arnold portrays them more as wild animals circling each other, indulging in nuzzling and pawing antics to elucidate this imagery further. The brutality that Heathcliff suffers at Hindley’s hands is captured disturbingly and the latter’s sadistic nature is often uncomfortable to watch. Heathcliff eventually runs away but returns as an adult –James Howson- with unexplained wealth and considerable grooming in order to reclaim his true love Cathy-now played by Kaya Scoladerio- who by this time has married into the wealthy neighbours the Lintons.

Heathcliff, however, re-awakens her passions but it is too late and he eventually marries Lucy her sister in law much to her chagrin and ultimate frustration. At this juncture the wintry landscapes are replaced with the lightness of spring sunshine but the darkness at the heart of the tale still persists. As those familiar with the novel are aware Cathy’s subsequent death awakens a deep sense of loss in Heathcliff with him feeling she haunts him and this is compounded in the fact he names his first child after her.

Arnold serves up no romantic notions of fantasy in this dark, brooding film and this can only be to its advantage. The darkness is a different type from the gothic approach such re-imaginings usually engender but it is no less fascinating for this. Despite this the film is not without its flaws as it does tend to go on a little too long over-extending points unnecessarily and at some points even becomes ponderous. Overall though it is a deep thought provoking work that removes all notions of romance and girlie frivolity that the novel usually-mistakenly- arouses.

The bleakness can be clearly observed in the following trailer

The British Guide To Showing Off

 

Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World is the stuff of legend offering a contrasting ideal of what and who can masquerade convincingly as beautiful in a world where the mundane is constantly in the ascendant. The fact that his ideologies are as rigorously loose as they were in 1972 when he started the whole furore with an event that had David Hockney as one of the judges and Derek Jarman as a contestant is apparent in this ‘documentary’ detailing the run up and preparations to 2009’s show at the Roundhouse in London. A moment of clarity about Logan’s intentions is revealed in a meeting with a young production assistant who is insisting on introducing technology- adding up votes accurately via mobile phones- whose suggestions are shot down in flames with Logan informing him accuracy and votes are not the important issues in choosing a winner. In this statement he reveals his inner belief that the whole show ,to him, is little more than a family ‘do’ although it is a hugely extended family and one that houses more pink sheep –of a day-glo hue obviously- than the traditional black ones. Think Warhol’s Factory contingent but with a little bit of heart soul and humility and you have some idea of Logan’s self created world. This film captures the fun behind Logan’s events but also exposes his serious side as a relevant artist whose flamboyance masks a serious message at its core.

Logan comes from a large close knit family and all seem to have a part to play in the staging of his Alternative Miss World events. This closeness extends to the friends who have been on his journey with him and who are still invited to enter the competition as contestants even though they know it is unlikely they will win. Claiming to despise celebrity culture Logan still manages to draw on his connections for his co-hosts and 2009 saw Ruby Wax join him to introduce the exuberant onstage antics and creations. Previous participants have included such luminaries as Julian Clary, Richard O’Brien and a legendary appearance in 1978 by Divine. The event also hosted a very early appearance by the fledgling Sex Pistols at a time when there were very few outlets for this band that would change the face of not just music but culture in Britain during the 1970’s. A young Leigh Bowery also made early appearances at Logan’s shows which were a perfect entry point for this extremely important aspiring performance artist.  Logan obviously spotted their potential and likewise saw them as outsiders and rebellious kindred spirits he wanted to welcome. Perpetual cultural commentators such as Grayson Perry and Brian Eno are drawn in as willing co-conspirators to Logan’s vision and lend it some gravitas although gravitas is seemingly unimportant to Logan who despite all the flamboyance and avant-garde leanings comes across as thoroughly grounded and sincere. A telling moment occurs during a corporate meeting discussing branding and such stuff and he is so disinterested it is wholly refreshing much to the consternation and bewilderment of the corporate businessmen who cannot comprehend such a maverick spirit.

The British Guide To Showing Off is a humorous, colourful and thoroughly engaging trawl through the world as seen by Andrew Logan.  A truly British eccentric he is one of a dying breed who recognises there no longer is any real alternative and although this is depressing he does not allow it to dishearten him. For such a realisation and for the progress and influence his events have exerted he deserves to be lauded and applauded.

The Future

This comedy written and directed by artist Miranda July is a seriously flawed work which contains moments of great promise which unfortunately never actually gain any real momentum and realise their full potential. Part of the problem here is that July also stars-as well as contributing her voice to the narrating voice of an injured cat that is an irritant too far- and her presence hangs heavy over the proceedings with little light relief or sense of perspective that an outsider may have been able to lend the film. Things are further compounded by the inclusion of a co-star Hamish Linklater who, as a visual foil, acts as little more than a visual doppelganger to July thus breeding concerns of overt narcissism. It is unfortunate as there are many initial moments of genuine humour and emotion dotted throughout the films duration but if Hitchcock once claimed drama is life with the boring bits left out then July has decided to not only leave in the boring bits but somehow allow them to dominate. There may be a school of thought that believes July’s attempts to avoid the traditional method of entertaining the viewer throughout instead encouraging them to apply their own thoughts  lends itself to a school of pretension but in this instance this backfires somewhat as the thought foremost on my mind was that great artists don’t necessarily translate into great filmmakers.

The film focuses on Sophie and Jason a couple who although seemingly committed to each other reveal they are both actually wary of commitment as is revealed when they consider adopting a cat. Cracks immediately start to form in their relationship and both review their lives willing themselves and each other into life affirming changes in the search for fulfilment. Both engage in relationships with characters older than themselves which merely serve to confirm their own sense of immaturity. Sophie involves herself sexually and romantically with a widowed father and his daughter but fails to engage convincingly with them whilst Jason seeks words of wisdom and philosophy from an older man he meets whilst selling him a tree in a bid to save the environment. Neither of these relationships garner any sympathy or support from the audience nor somehow does it ever feel as if this is July’s intention. Throughout the film there is little attempt to draw the audience in and this results in an emotionally blank canvas icy in its detachment.

The Future carries with it that unfortunate soubriquet of the ‘Try Hard’ film so wrapped up in its authors intentions it doesn’t manage to share them with its audience. The pacing is admirable and with more skill and better script it would offer a worthwhile alternative to the predictable fare bombarding as many senses as possible showing in cinemas at the moment. Unfortunately July’s self belief and self promotion dominate the proceedings but fail to justifiably convince thus rendering the whole project as little more than irritating whimsy.

The Help

 

The prophetic words of Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing, fashioned into a gospel lament, hung heavy in the air of the cinema as a fitting prelude to this Tate Taylor directed adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help. Serving as a tale of racial and social injustice in the deep south town of Jackson in the early sixties when racial equality was still an unimaginable dream to the coloured population –the vast majority of whom were in the service industry employed by affluent whites- and with the enforcement of Jim Crow still very much in effect if any used their voices to complain they were dealt with ferociously. That is if anyone were listening in the first place.

The Help focuses on the women employed as maids who basically operated as mother figures for the prim and proper female habitués of Jackson but at the same time were considered to be so disease ridden they were not allowed to use the same toilet lest they spread some unimaginable disease. Enter Skeeter aka Eugenia Phelan-Emma Stone-who although a contemporary of many of the new generation of bigoted women returns after years away at university developing a mind of her own but is shocked that the same prejudices and uninformed beliefs still hold sway as when she was a youngster. The civil rights movement gathering momentum in other parts of the country has yet to touch the inhabitants of Jackson and Skeeter sets out to put this to rights at the risk of being ostracised from the society circles she despises anyway.

Requesting the services of Aibeleen- a stunning performance of emotional depth from Violet Clark- to give voice to these women who are expected to raise the next generation of white children with no recognition or thanks Aibeleen is at first reluctant fearing repercussions from divulging tales against her employers. Eventually she relinquishes as a set of circumstances force her to reconsider and the realisation that if no-one ever speaks out then things can neither change nor improve. Skeeter then has to bridge the gap between the two alternate lifestyles still attending stuffy parties organised by the likes of Hilly Holbrook- a suitably repressed Bryce Dallas Howard- and elicit meetings with the ever growing number of maids who have a gripe against these very women. Sympathising with the downtrodden maids it is not long before Skeeter finds herself ostracised also although she is not alone in this. The bigotry and snobbery lying at the crux of this society is not confined to mere racial prejudice as outsider Celia Foote discovers when she tries to ingratiate herself into their inner circle. Unfortunately she is attractive, obviously sexual and commits the ultimate faux pas of living more than 30 minutes outside town therefore her presence is that of persona non grata. However as is the case in this type of movies the boot shifts onto the other foot at some point and some form of justice-the term ‘eat my shit’ takes on a new significance- for current events, if not for the hardships endured by previous generations, is attained.

Taylor does an admirable job with this film and it certainly stirs up strong emotions that stop short of lachrymose sentimentality although I must admit I felt myself choking back the tears at several points. Although the narrative is not overtly original the subject matter is. Whilst the struggle for racial equality and the unfairness inequality engenders has been documented in many films very few concentrate on the group of women at the core of this film. Performing an inestimable role in raising the next generation their voices and stories have generally remained unheard as films have focussed more on what are considered ‘important’ issues and people. It is a stirring tale and Rosa Parks would be proud. The film carries itself along at a relaxed pace that allows the viewer to absorb the points it puts across. The times certainly were a-changing and this film highlights some of the changes necessary and were  about to come in the next few following years.

The Ides Of March

 

This political drama with Ryan Gosling and George Clooney is typical of the genre in that it shows the transition from idealist to realist. What takes it to a higher level however is the superiority of the performances on display and the intricacies and relevance of the script. At one point one character states that in politics a candidate may be forgiven for bankrupting a country or even take it to war but it is simply unforgivable to sleep with an intern. The message could not be clearer if they had screamed Monica Lewinsky, cigars and dry-cleaning. Although Clooney plays Governor Morris, the Presidential candidate around whom the action centres, sat in the  director’s chair and had a hand in the screenplay-it is based on a Beau Willimon play- it is Gosling’s portrayal of his campaign manager Stephen Meyers that really drives the film. Giving a measured, assured and arresting performance- once again his facial expressions articulate as eloquently as the dialogue- he takes the audience through the murky connivances of the political system and how playing dirty is ultimately the only means of survival.

The drama unfolds around the tussle for Meyers’s services of   an ill judged meeting with an opponents team results in a job offer-that he refuses to even consider- that places his loyalty under scrutiny. Unfortunately for Meyers his immediate superior places loyalty at the head of his requirements and Meyers finds himself out of a job. At this juncture he discovers he is merely a pawn in the political game as now the opponent’s team having failed to secure his services have also removed him as a rival meaning he is no longer a threat to their campaign. That he is the best in the business is beyond doubt but if they can’t have him then they certainly don’t want him on the opposing team. Meyers finds himself totally hung out to dry but his romantic involvement with a young intern-Evan Rachel Wood- leads him to some information that places him in a bargaining position of extreme power and a whole other turn of events takes place with Meyers realising the best means of survival in the underhand world of political intrigue is to get down in the mud and fight dirty. Somewhere along the way however Meyers finds that he has to sacrifice more than a little of what he believes in merely to survive and the blank façade of disillusion hangs heavy over his features at the films denouement.

The Ides Of March will come as no revelation to anyone who doesn’t trust politics and the habitués of its convoluted, corrupt world. Does anyone really trust politicians anyway? Often voting for a political leader takes the form of which one you feel is lying to you less rather than any political beliefs or reliance on truth or ideals. This film will do little to sway opinions on that score but that does not prevent it from being an intriguing, captivating film with standout performances from not only Gosling and Clooney but also Philip Seymour Hoffman as Meyers’ boss. Also unlike many films of its genre it does not outstay its welcome, punching in at a cocky hour and a half, preventing the audience’s attention from wondering. An intelligent well made film which although short on originality in its ideologies still succinctly captures the cut-throat murky world of politics perfectly whilst showing that even the good guys eventually sacrifice their integrity in order to get some other points across.

Contagion

 

Contagion is director Stephen Soderbergh’s take on the global-pandemic disaster style movie that offers very little in the way of adding anything new or interesting to the genre but is well executed even though it leaves very little of a lasting impression. Featuring a cast that reads like an international who’s who-the frantic air kissing followed by ‘Mwah,! Mwah!’ must have been the most frequent  conversation on set- with Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Elliot Gould, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law , Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard just some of the major players involved. Unfortunately apart from Damon- who always submerges himself within a role sacrificing his ego for the greater good of the film- and Gould, whose presence provides a warmth and security, the rest seem to turn in accomplished performances but appear to be merely going through the motions. Jude Law, in particular, is excruciating to watch and someone should have told him he was not auditioning for a sequel to ‘Alfie’-that is never going to happen after all- complete with mockney accent, flat cap and cocky insouciance.

The narrative is traditional in its unfolding. The disease starts to spread after Beth Enhoff  (Paltrow) returns from Tokyo after an  international business trip to Tokyo via a stop off  for a clandestine assignation with her lover in Chicago and on her return falls seriously ill resulting in her unexpected and very sudden death. The disease starts to spread at an alarming rate gaining momentum daily. It is as if the more the human body tries to fight it the more the virus strengthens and fights back. This is bad news for the scientists who have a race against time to find a vaccine or cure that can halt it. Along the way moral and human dilemmas are put under scrutiny but unfortunately none of these issues are looked at in depth and this renders the plot somewhat redundant and lacking in gravitas.

Contagion moves along at a predictable pace and ultimately has a predictable outcome. Part of the problem of such a high profile ensemble cast is that egos tend to get in the way as they all either attempt to outdo each other or give lacklustre performances as their screen-time doesn’t merit their self worth. Damon turns in the best performance- I used to think he was unmemorable but soon came to realise he is a good actor who  rather than playing different versions of Matt Damon inhabits his roles- and  totally believable as cuckolded husband and concerned, overprotective father. The film, is ultimately, well structured and well made but unfortunately it is also a little bland and forgettable.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

 

This psychological chiller, the first by director Lynne Ramsay for nine years, based on Lionel Shriver’s Orange prize winning novel is a disturbing, haunting film that questions inherent evil and the strain it places on a mother’s instinctual unconditional love. Detailing the awkward and combative relationship between successful writer Eva and her son Kevin from his arrival as a baby through his toddler years and the ultimate troublesome teenager whose shocking actions have far  reaching outcomes that destroy not only the victims of his actions but the survivors also. Utilising flashback sequences merged with dreamlike segments delivered as snapshots so the claustrophobic nature and physical distance of Kevin and Eva’s relationship is captured succinctly the drama unfolds initially as convoluted though does pull itself into cohesion. Apart from one brief scene where Kevin is ill they are never at ease with each other and this discomfort drives the narrative with a malignant force. Featuring excellent performances by Tilda Swinton- about whom my companion referred to as sperm of the devil beforehand- and all three actors portraying Kevin, Rock Duer, Jasper Newell and most notably Ezra Miller as the blank eyed chilly teenager the film raises more questions than it can ever hope to answer. The strength of the performances means neither Kevin nor Eva manage to elicit or engender any sympathy from the audience throughout   but simultaneously this means they have been involved in creating characters we are unable to relate to or care about and this is the films major flaw..

Opening with a scene of human carnage that resembles Almodovar meets Lynch the audience is then shaken out of this dreamlike sequence and straight into the living nightmare of Eva’s life. Flashbacks then continue to intersect throughout in random order and serve to show how she has arrived at the unfortunate predicament the audience find her in at the films beginning. It transpires that ever since Kevin’s birth she has been at loggerheads with him. Her frustrations are perfectly captured in a scene where she stands next to a crowd of construction workers drilling into the street simply as a means of drowning out the constantly crying infant. The battleground continues through toilet training and the arrival of a sibling. Her husband Franklin meanwhile- John C. Reilly- refuses to accept Eva’s claims that Kevin may have problems and dismisses the belief a child could carry out a vendetta of this magnitude but, in fact, his relationship with the troublesome child does not contain the conflict or hostility that exists between mother and son.  Ramsey manages to perfectly capture the chasm that exists between the two adversaries in several scenes wherein the physical distance and body language that exists between them is apparent and this visual dynamic perfectly captures the stand-off in their turbulent relationship. Along the way Kevin’s sister loses an eye, the family guinea pig ends up in the waste disposal and still Franklin refuses to admit there is anything wrong with his son and eventually his and Eva’s relationship also first deteriorates and then eventually disintegrates.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is indeed an interesting film but I am not sure it could be termed an enjoyable one. The question of unconditional love is raised but it comes with a whole set of terms and conditions that ensure the issue remains clouded. Ramsay very cleverly doesn’t over explain or show the horrors Kevin carries out and by not exposing the audience to these it is left in their imaginations. This device also stops the film from falling into a gore fest and the realms of a low class shock horror movie although it does contain a sinister scene involving the malevolent eating of a lychee that almost spills over into black comedy. Instead although it is not the film of the year, as many are claiming, it is a superior psychological thriller that whilst sparing in its use of graphic visuals still creates a chilling, haunted  film that  doesn’t question the psyche of its main protagonist but does expose it as truly evil .

The British Guide To Showing Off

 

Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World is the stuff of legend offering a contrasting ideal of what and who can masquerade convincingly as beautiful in a world where the mundane is constantly in the ascendant. The fact that his ideologies are as rigorously loose as they were in 1972 when he started the whole furore with an event that had David Hockney as one of the judges and Derek Jarman as a contestant is apparent in this ‘documentary’ detailing the run up and preparations to 2009’s show at the Roundhouse in London. A moment of clarity about Logan’s intentions is revealed in a meeting with a young production assistant who is insisting on introducing technology- adding up votes accurately via mobile phones- whose suggestions are shot down in flames with Logan informing him accuracy and votes are not the important issues in choosing a winner. In this statement he reveals his inner belief that the whole show ,to him, is little more than a family ‘do’ although it is a hugely extended family and one that houses more pink sheep –of a day-glo hue obviously- than the traditional black ones. Think Warhol’s Factory contingent but with a little bit of heart soul and humility and you have some idea of Logan’s self created world. This film captures the fun behind Logan’s events but also exposes his serious side as a relevant artist whose flamboyance masks a serious message at its core.

Logan comes from a large close knit family and all seem to have a part to play in the staging of his Alternative Miss World events. This closeness extends to the friends who have been on his journey with him and who are still invited to enter the competition as contestants even though they know it is unlikely they will win. Claiming to despise celebrity culture Logan still manages to draw on his connections for his co-hosts and 2009 saw Ruby Wax join him to introduce the exuberant onstage antics and creations. Previous participants have included such luminaries as Julian Clary, Richard O’Brien and a legendary appearance in 1978 by Divine. The event also hosted a very early appearance by the fledgling Sex Pistols at a time when there were very few outlets for this band that would change the face of not just music but culture in Britain during the 1970’s. A young Leigh Bowery also made early appearances at Logan’s shows which were a perfect entry point for this extremely important aspiring performance artist.  Logan obviously spotted their potential and likewise saw them as outsiders and rebellious kindred spirits he wanted to welcome. Perpetual cultural commentators such as Grayson Perry and Brian Eno are drawn in as willing co-conspirators to Logan’s vision and lend it some gravitas although gravitas is seemingly unimportant to Logan who despite all the flamboyance and avant-garde leanings comes across as thoroughly grounded and sincere. A telling moment occurs during a corporate meeting discussing branding and such stuff and he is so disinterested it is wholly refreshing much to the consternation and bewilderment of the corporate businessmen who cannot comprehend such a maverick spirit.

The British Guide To Showing Off is a humorous, colourful and thoroughly engaging trawl through the world as seen by Andrew Logan.  A truly British eccentric he is one of a dying breed who recognises there no longer is any real alternative and although this is depressing he does not allow it to dishearten him. For such a realisation and for the progress and influence his events have exerted he deserves to be lauded and applauded.

The Future

This comedy written and directed by artist Miranda July is a seriously flawed work which contains moments of great promise which unfortunately never actually gain any real momentum and realise their full potential. Part of the problem here is that July also stars-as well as contributing her voice to the narrating voice of an injured cat that is an irritant too far- and her presence hangs heavy over the proceedings with little light relief or sense of perspective that an outsider may have been able to lend the film. Things are further compounded by the inclusion of a co-star Hamish Linklater who, as a visual foil, acts as little more than a visual doppelganger to July thus breeding concerns of overt narcissism. It is unfortunate as there are many initial moments of genuine humour and emotion dotted throughout the films duration but if Hitchcock once claimed drama is life with the boring bits left out then July has decided to not only leave in the boring bits but somehow allow them to dominate. There may be a school of thought that believes July’s attempts to avoid the traditional method of entertaining the viewer throughout instead encouraging them to apply their own thoughts  lends itself to a school of pretension but in this instance this backfires somewhat as the thought foremost on my mind was that great artists don’t necessarily translate into great filmmakers.

The film focuses on Sophie and Jason a couple who although seemingly committed to each other reveal they are both actually wary of commitment as is revealed when they consider adopting a cat. Cracks immediately start to form in their relationship and both review their lives willing themselves and each other into life affirming changes in the search for fulfilment. Both engage in relationships with characters older than themselves which merely serve to confirm their own sense of immaturity. Sophie involves herself sexually and romantically with a widowed father and his daughter but fails to engage convincingly with them whilst Jason seeks words of wisdom and philosophy from an older man he meets whilst selling him a tree in a bid to save the environment. Neither of these relationships garner any sympathy or support from the audience nor somehow does it ever feel as if this is July’s intention. Throughout the film there is little attempt to draw the audience in and this results in an emotionally blank canvas icy in its detachment.

The Future carries with it that unfortunate soubriquet of the ‘Try Hard’ film so wrapped up in its authors intentions it doesn’t manage to share them with its audience. The pacing is admirable and with more skill and better script it would offer a worthwhile alternative to the predictable fare bombarding as many senses as possible showing in cinemas at the moment. Unfortunately July’s self belief and self promotion dominate the proceedings but fail to justifiably convince thus rendering the whole project as little more than irritating whimsy.

The Help

 

The prophetic words of Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing, fashioned into a gospel lament, hung heavy in the air of the cinema as a fitting prelude to this Tate Taylor directed adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help. Serving as a tale of racial and social injustice in the deep south town of Jackson in the early sixties when racial equality was still an unimaginable dream to the coloured population –the vast majority of whom were in the service industry employed by affluent whites- and with the enforcement of Jim Crow still very much in effect if any used their voices to complain they were dealt with ferociously. That is if anyone were listening in the first place.

The Help focuses on the women employed as maids who basically operated as mother figures for the prim and proper female habitués of Jackson but at the same time were considered to be so disease ridden they were not allowed to use the same toilet lest they spread some unimaginable disease. Enter Skeeter aka Eugenia Phelan-Emma Stone-who although a contemporary of many of the new generation of bigoted women returns after years away at university developing a mind of her own but is shocked that the same prejudices and uninformed beliefs still hold sway as when she was a youngster. The civil rights movement gathering momentum in other parts of the country has yet to touch the inhabitants of Jackson and Skeeter sets out to put this to rights at the risk of being ostracised from the society circles she despises anyway.

Requesting the services of Aibeleen- a stunning performance of emotional depth from Violet Clark- to give voice to these women who are expected to raise the next generation of white children with no recognition or thanks Aibeleen is at first reluctant fearing repercussions from divulging tales against her employers. Eventually she relinquishes as a set of circumstances force her to reconsider and the realisation that if no-one ever speaks out then things can neither change nor improve. Skeeter then has to bridge the gap between the two alternate lifestyles still attending stuffy parties organised by the likes of Hilly Holbrook- a suitably repressed Bryce Dallas Howard- and elicit meetings with the ever growing number of maids who have a gripe against these very women. Sympathising with the downtrodden maids it is not long before Skeeter finds herself ostracised also although she is not alone in this. The bigotry and snobbery lying at the crux of this society is not confined to mere racial prejudice as outsider Celia Foote discovers when she tries to ingratiate herself into their inner circle. Unfortunately she is attractive, obviously sexual and commits the ultimate faux pas of living more than 30 minutes outside town therefore her presence is that of persona non grata. However as is the case in this type of movies the boot shifts onto the other foot at some point and some form of justice-the term ‘eat my shit’ takes on a new significance- for current events, if not for the hardships endured by previous generations, is attained.

Taylor does an admirable job with this film and it certainly stirs up strong emotions that stop short of lachrymose sentimentality although I must admit I felt myself choking back the tears at several points. Although the narrative is not overtly original the subject matter is. Whilst the struggle for racial equality and the unfairness inequality engenders has been documented in many films very few concentrate on the group of women at the core of this film. Performing an inestimable role in raising the next generation their voices and stories have generally remained unheard as films have focussed more on what are considered ‘important’ issues and people. It is a stirring tale and Rosa Parks would be proud. The film carries itself along at a relaxed pace that allows the viewer to absorb the points it puts across. The times certainly were a-changing and this film highlights some of the changes necessary and were  about to come in the next few following years.

The Ides Of March

 

This political drama with Ryan Gosling and George Clooney is typical of the genre in that it shows the transition from idealist to realist. What takes it to a higher level however is the superiority of the performances on display and the intricacies and relevance of the script. At one point one character states that in politics a candidate may be forgiven for bankrupting a country or even take it to war but it is simply unforgivable to sleep with an intern. The message could not be clearer if they had screamed Monica Lewinsky, cigars and dry-cleaning. Although Clooney plays Governor Morris, the Presidential candidate around whom the action centres, sat in the  director’s chair and had a hand in the screenplay-it is based on a Beau Willimon play- it is Gosling’s portrayal of his campaign manager Stephen Meyers that really drives the film. Giving a measured, assured and arresting performance- once again his facial expressions articulate as eloquently as the dialogue- he takes the audience through the murky connivances of the political system and how playing dirty is ultimately the only means of survival.

The drama unfolds around the tussle for Meyers’s services of   an ill judged meeting with an opponents team results in a job offer-that he refuses to even consider- that places his loyalty under scrutiny. Unfortunately for Meyers his immediate superior places loyalty at the head of his requirements and Meyers finds himself out of a job. At this juncture he discovers he is merely a pawn in the political game as now the opponent’s team having failed to secure his services have also removed him as a rival meaning he is no longer a threat to their campaign. That he is the best in the business is beyond doubt but if they can’t have him then they certainly don’t want him on the opposing team. Meyers finds himself totally hung out to dry but his romantic involvement with a young intern-Evan Rachel Wood- leads him to some information that places him in a bargaining position of extreme power and a whole other turn of events takes place with Meyers realising the best means of survival in the underhand world of political intrigue is to get down in the mud and fight dirty. Somewhere along the way however Meyers finds that he has to sacrifice more than a little of what he believes in merely to survive and the blank façade of disillusion hangs heavy over his features at the films denouement.

The Ides Of March will come as no revelation to anyone who doesn’t trust politics and the habitués of its convoluted, corrupt world. Does anyone really trust politicians anyway? Often voting for a political leader takes the form of which one you feel is lying to you less rather than any political beliefs or reliance on truth or ideals. This film will do little to sway opinions on that score but that does not prevent it from being an intriguing, captivating film with standout performances from not only Gosling and Clooney but also Philip Seymour Hoffman as Meyers’ boss. Also unlike many films of its genre it does not outstay its welcome, punching in at a cocky hour and a half, preventing the audience’s attention from wondering. An intelligent well made film which although short on originality in its ideologies still succinctly captures the cut-throat murky world of politics perfectly whilst showing that even the good guys eventually sacrifice their integrity in order to get some other points across.

Contagion

 

Contagion is director Stephen Soderbergh’s take on the global-pandemic disaster style movie that offers very little in the way of adding anything new or interesting to the genre but is well executed even though it leaves very little of a lasting impression. Featuring a cast that reads like an international who’s who-the frantic air kissing followed by ‘Mwah,! Mwah!’ must have been the most frequent  conversation on set- with Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Elliot Gould, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law , Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard just some of the major players involved. Unfortunately apart from Damon- who always submerges himself within a role sacrificing his ego for the greater good of the film- and Gould, whose presence provides a warmth and security, the rest seem to turn in accomplished performances but appear to be merely going through the motions. Jude Law, in particular, is excruciating to watch and someone should have told him he was not auditioning for a sequel to ‘Alfie’-that is never going to happen after all- complete with mockney accent, flat cap and cocky insouciance.

The narrative is traditional in its unfolding. The disease starts to spread after Beth Enhoff  (Paltrow) returns from Tokyo after an  international business trip to Tokyo via a stop off  for a clandestine assignation with her lover in Chicago and on her return falls seriously ill resulting in her unexpected and very sudden death. The disease starts to spread at an alarming rate gaining momentum daily. It is as if the more the human body tries to fight it the more the virus strengthens and fights back. This is bad news for the scientists who have a race against time to find a vaccine or cure that can halt it. Along the way moral and human dilemmas are put under scrutiny but unfortunately none of these issues are looked at in depth and this renders the plot somewhat redundant and lacking in gravitas.

Contagion moves along at a predictable pace and ultimately has a predictable outcome. Part of the problem of such a high profile ensemble cast is that egos tend to get in the way as they all either attempt to outdo each other or give lacklustre performances as their screen-time doesn’t merit their self worth. Damon turns in the best performance- I used to think he was unmemorable but soon came to realise he is a good actor who  rather than playing different versions of Matt Damon inhabits his roles- and  totally believable as cuckolded husband and concerned, overprotective father. The film, is ultimately, well structured and well made but unfortunately it is also a little bland and forgettable.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

 

This psychological chiller, the first by director Lynne Ramsay for nine years, based on Lionel Shriver’s Orange prize winning novel is a disturbing, haunting film that questions inherent evil and the strain it places on a mother’s instinctual unconditional love. Detailing the awkward and combative relationship between successful writer Eva and her son Kevin from his arrival as a baby through his toddler years and the ultimate troublesome teenager whose shocking actions have far  reaching outcomes that destroy not only the victims of his actions but the survivors also. Utilising flashback sequences merged with dreamlike segments delivered as snapshots so the claustrophobic nature and physical distance of Kevin and Eva’s relationship is captured succinctly the drama unfolds initially as convoluted though does pull itself into cohesion. Apart from one brief scene where Kevin is ill they are never at ease with each other and this discomfort drives the narrative with a malignant force. Featuring excellent performances by Tilda Swinton- about whom my companion referred to as sperm of the devil beforehand- and all three actors portraying Kevin, Rock Duer, Jasper Newell and most notably Ezra Miller as the blank eyed chilly teenager the film raises more questions than it can ever hope to answer. The strength of the performances means neither Kevin nor Eva manage to elicit or engender any sympathy from the audience throughout   but simultaneously this means they have been involved in creating characters we are unable to relate to or care about and this is the films major flaw..

Opening with a scene of human carnage that resembles Almodovar meets Lynch the audience is then shaken out of this dreamlike sequence and straight into the living nightmare of Eva’s life. Flashbacks then continue to intersect throughout in random order and serve to show how she has arrived at the unfortunate predicament the audience find her in at the films beginning. It transpires that ever since Kevin’s birth she has been at loggerheads with him. Her frustrations are perfectly captured in a scene where she stands next to a crowd of construction workers drilling into the street simply as a means of drowning out the constantly crying infant. The battleground continues through toilet training and the arrival of a sibling. Her husband Franklin meanwhile- John C. Reilly- refuses to accept Eva’s claims that Kevin may have problems and dismisses the belief a child could carry out a vendetta of this magnitude but, in fact, his relationship with the troublesome child does not contain the conflict or hostility that exists between mother and son.  Ramsey manages to perfectly capture the chasm that exists between the two adversaries in several scenes wherein the physical distance and body language that exists between them is apparent and this visual dynamic perfectly captures the stand-off in their turbulent relationship. Along the way Kevin’s sister loses an eye, the family guinea pig ends up in the waste disposal and still Franklin refuses to admit there is anything wrong with his son and eventually his and Eva’s relationship also first deteriorates and then eventually disintegrates.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is indeed an interesting film but I am not sure it could be termed an enjoyable one. The question of unconditional love is raised but it comes with a whole set of terms and conditions that ensure the issue remains clouded. Ramsay very cleverly doesn’t over explain or show the horrors Kevin carries out and by not exposing the audience to these it is left in their imaginations. This device also stops the film from falling into a gore fest and the realms of a low class shock horror movie although it does contain a sinister scene involving the malevolent eating of a lychee that almost spills over into black comedy. Instead although it is not the film of the year, as many are claiming, it is a superior psychological thriller that whilst sparing in its use of graphic visuals still creates a chilling, haunted  film that  doesn’t question the psyche of its main protagonist but does expose it as truly evil .

The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople

Aside from a generation growing up in the early seventies the name Mott The Hoople probably means very little if anything at all. Most notably famous for the career saving, Bowie penned and produced ‘All The Young Dudes’ a song so clothed in anthemic garb it defined a whole movement-Glam Rock- they were, in fact, so much more; a good time down and dirty rock and roll band that predated punk by a good five years. Their five year tenure –they formed in 1969 and disintegrated late ’74- whilst brief is a classic rock and roll tale consisting of the rise and fall then rise again only to splinter as fame sunk its insidious claws into various members unable to deal with the pressures and ego clashes resulting in acrimony and the inevitable parting of the ways.

Essentially the brain child of manager Guy Stevens-who later went onto produce the seminal  London Calling album by the Clash- Mott were put together as a  Blonde on Blonde era Dylan and Stones composite  bridging the gap of connecting with their live audiences that neither of these artists still possessed so remote had they become. Stevens wanted to strip the music back to basics whilst still imbuing it with a sense of intellectual integrity and vision which is where frontman and vocalist Ian Hunter stepped in. Ably supported by Mick Ralphs, Dale Griffin, Verden Allen and Overend Watts Mott then took to the clubs and built up a reputation as a live act that was second to none. Eventually culminating in a riotous appearance at the Royal Albert Hall, no less, their reputation was phenomenal but frustratingly they weren’t selling any records and therefore no money. After a particularly dispiriting European tour they were about to jack it all in until a certain David Bowie- whose star was only just entering the ascendant after years out in the wilderness-entered the fray offering them ‘All The Young Dudes’. Recognising an instant surefire hit the band leapt at this unbelievable offer and suddenly chart stardom and Top of The Pops were in view with their beckoning fingers. It is at this point that a whole new collection of problems arose however.

First casualty was organ player Verden Allen who quit whilst Dudes was still in the top twenty. Around six months later shortly after they recorded their best album the excellent ‘Mott’-proving they were no mere Bowie acolytes- guitarist Ralphs split fed up with playing second fiddle to Hunter who had by this juncture  effectively become band leader steering them in his chosen direction. After this the deliciously named Ariel Bender joined but the fact that they were haemorrhaging members at an alarming rate continued and his tenure was brief only to be replaced by Mick Ronson whose role as Bowie’s sideman had recently come to an abrupt end. This was, in essence, the end of the band and they never really recovered and five years after they had begun it was all over. As Ian Hunter succinctly put it ‘The fun is in the ride but there is no station.’

This film has some amazing footage and interviews with most of the major players-those who have survived-and is a document piece not simply of an era but an industry which is not known for its kind nature. Looking at this band of reprobates or intergalactic thugs-‘Liberace on LSD’ is one memorable description of their look- they looked and sounded as though they were having a ball. Interesting footage of Bowie introducing them live on stage then joining them on back up vocals has probably never been seen before. For a brief time there they lit up Top Of The Pops with a slew of great singles- Dudes, Honaloochie Boogie, All The Way From Memphis and Roll Away The Stone-and memorable appearances. A great informative film about a forgotten band  who not only had the Glam era’s defining single but provided inspiration for the punk generation skulking impatiently in the wings..

Midnight In Paris

Hailed as a return to form from Woody Allen Midnight In Paris owes much of its success not only to Allen but it’s star Owen Wilson who makes the lead character Gil so immensely likeable. Never having been much of a fan of Wilson’s before-if truth be told I generally avoid most productions he appears in due to an allergy to excessive cheese- his amiable manner makes this unlikely time travel movie about a parallel universe set in 1920’s Paris a thoroughly enjoyable piece of superior hokum that will appeal to middlebrow and faux intelligentsia in equal measures.

Feeling superior is something that Allen knows only too well and many of his films fail to hit the mark as it often feels as if he is sneering at his audience. One scenario that always springs to mind when thinking how another’s discomfort allows him to adopt a superior tone is the footage of him baiting a 16 year old Twiggy on her first trip to New York by quizzing her on who her favourite philosopher were. Hats off to her as after several moments of looking bewildered responded that she didn’t know but turned the question back on him by asking who his were. Whoever they were they probably helped someway in choosing the great writers, musicians, photographers and artists that populate the dreamlike 1920’s Paris that delivers the bulk of this films drama. A roll call that includes F.Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, Picasso, Dali, Luis Bunuel, Man Ray and a party held by Jean Cocteau. There are many others but you get the picture of the atmosphere Allen is trying to create.

The narrative revolves around Gil’s visit to Paris with his fiancé Inez and her republican parents who don’t understand his fascination with Paris and La Boheme. It is a situation only exacerbated with the arrival of ‘pretentious’ pseudo intellectual Paul –a worthy performance by Michael Sheen- which only highlights the fractures in the relationship between Gil and Inez. Nocturnal visits by Gil into some form of artistic demi-monde make no sense to Inez and indeed why they should as his rantings about Hemingway et al do constitute some form of lunacy. During these excursions he meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard) who is some form of muse to the artistic greats of the 20th century and he becomes infatuated with her. The situation however is untenable as the story develops and she also becomes obsessed with a former age –in her case the 1890’s and the time of Toulouse Lautrec- thus proving that nostalgia is prevalent in any era.  What the film makes clear is that the past is something that should be remembered fondly but should never be obsessed about as it causes delusions that are destructive to life in the present.

Midnight In Paris is so obviously a work of childlike fantasy and Wilson in some ways could be seen as playing Allen’s fantasy better looking version of himself. Many of the Modernist era characters may not be obvious to a younger audience –or at least a less educated one- and therefore it will appeal to the highbrow intelligentsia that Allen so often aims for. However the superior nature of the cast, Kathy Bates, Adrian Brody and Corey Stall amongst others make an appearance. It is an enjoyable, witty ride around the beautiful city of Paris even if it does idealize the rain somewhat. Whilst this might appeal to a resident of sunny California Europeans will never be as enamoured with romantic notions of rain and dismal weather. Simply put we get too much of it to actually hanker after it in a sentimental fashion.

Drive

 Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Drive certainly competes as a serious contender for film of the year and Ryan Gosling gives what must come close to performance of the year as the mysterious, contained and powerful lead protagonist referred to simply, in the credits, as Driver. Billed as a movie about a getaway driver the storyline is far more complex, intriguing and interesting than that description could ever hope to elucidate and Gosling a revelation who has certainly been ratchetting up the achievements this past year first with Blue Motel then this movie and also in the forthcoming The Ides Of March with previous generation bigwig and heart throb George Clooney. Driver is very much Gosling’s film though-his sweet smiling baby-faced psycho has all the qualities Bret Easton Ellis’s psychopathic Patrick Bateman lacked in his screen portrayal by Christian Bale-though Carey Mulligan offers strong support in her role as his neighbour Irene who manages to elicit moments of warmth out of this cool customer who otherwise would need an ice-pick to carve a chink in his cold, blank facade. Not that these moments of warmth are ever articulated through anything as conventional as words but instead Gosling uses a series of looks, glances and wry turns of the lips and eyes to emote what his vocabulary so obviously can’t.

The narrative revolves around Driver and his career as driver-stunt films, getaways etc.- and the changes that enter his life after he becomes involved with Irene-whose husband is in jail- and her son with whom he also strikes up a close friendship with. Things change when her husband, Standard, is released and it transpires he is heavily in debt so a heist is set up to help him out of his predicament. The heist turns out to be a double cross and from this juncture things go from bad to appalling and a rash of violent and fatal attacks take place. Although the violence does feel a little graphic it also feels necessary to the gritty realism and desperation that lie at the crux of this movie.

Driver is an enthralling movie and Gosling is well on his way to becoming one of the most respected and successful actors of his generation. It is a drive through and into LA’s seedier side where the eternal sunshine is matched by a malevolent demi-monde who drive the ambitions of those who are not the city’s more obvious elite but big players in its darker side. It is a powerful, enthralling and edgy piece of cinema the like we are not used to from Mainstream Hollywood movies and consistently captivates throughout.

The Skin I Live In


This return to form from Pedro Almodovar-2009’s Broken Embraces was competent enough though was more a detailed study of the director’s obsession with Penelope Cruz-is a film that certainly ranks amongst the years finest. Touching on issues of sexual identity, gender, and identity theft it is a heady cocktail that only a director of Almodovar’s skill and ability could hope to pull off successfully. The usual qualities you would expect-the vibrant, threatening, luscious and sensual colours- from a director of his calibre are in place from the outset and the plot whilst initially convoluted pulls itself together to form a cohesive and admittedly macabre whole wherein the characters different stories become inextricably linked with its audience’s consciousness. Featuring the first appearance in an Almodovar film since 1991’s Tie Me Up Tie Me Down it is clear that the twenty years and a Hollywood career  has not dulled either of these two protagonists sensibilities during the interim. In fact Banderas-like Cruz- always works better when working in his native language and sizzles and convinces in a way his Hollywood roles never delivered. He is also, in his early fifties, starting to physically resemble both a Latino Cary Grant and Sean Connery as James Bond, but in a good way.

The plot unfolds to reveal a brilliant surgeon Ledgard who is a pioneer in his field but is also slightly unhinged and close to full on mental collapse. An accident involving the death of his former wife hangs heavy throughout the film and his emotionally unstable daughter fills an unhealthy void in his emotional make up. After his daughter’s supposed rape Ledgard’s unhealthy obsessions take an increasingly sinister turn first in kidnapping her perpetrator and subsequently moulding her into the woman of his fantasies. In between the audience is taken on an emotional journey wherein sexual, emotional and gender issues are shown to be increasingly complex and simplistic simultaneously. It is testament to Almodovar’s film making skills and the performances of his expertly assembled cast that the film is as successful as it is as in less capable hands the scenarios that are played out would be highly implausible.

It is simply beautiful to behold visually throughout as is the case with most of Almodovar’s work. Luscious deep reds- something about an Almodovar movie always makes me want to go home raid my fruit bowl and chop tomatoes, blood oranges and exotic fruits immediately so dripping with lust are the scenes he incorporates- compete with vibrant yellows and oranges to create a dizzying effect that simply oozes sensuality from the screen affording it an almost 3d effect.

As stated before this film ranks amongst the finest of the year and although an adaptation of Thierry Jonquet’s novel Tarantula it stands alone as a work with its own merits. Accusations of absurdist drama often accompany Almodovar’s films but this is also what makes them so appealing and places them in a genre of their own whilst bestowing them with a sense of longevity alongside their individuality.

The Guard

by David Marren

Brendan Gleeson as the self appointed ‘last of the independents’ Sgt Gerry Doyle in Jon Michael Donagh’s ‘The Guard’ is a superb piece of casting in a strong dark comedy that is captivating throughout. Unconventional, challenging, non-PC –in extremis- Doyle is a rookie member of Galway’s Garda  who utilises the fact that outsiders don’t take him seriously or accord him due credit to his own advantage. Constantly challenging accepted notions and proper channels of procedure he proceeds to stay one step ahead of his colleagues and opponents throughout the duration of this well scripted and impeccably acted film. Alongside this his penchant for hedonism- prostitutes, pill popping and acid dropping are among his many vices- contrasts neatly with his apparent love for his cancer ridden mother who is dying provides some of the films more tender moments providing an antidote to the fast pace of the action that dominates as well as giving an insight and depth to the character that may not have otherwise been apparent.

The drama starts to unfold when a murder takes place and a member of the FBI, Wendell Everett- a well partnered Don Cheadle- arrives as it is connected to an international drug ring who plan on shipping in drugs with a street value of half a billion dollars. At a strategy meeting Doyle enquires just whose street the drugs are to be sold on as it is never the one that he buys his drugs on. This immediately causes friction between him and Everett and creates a situation that is only exacerbated by Doyle’s overtly racist remarks and references to FBI shooting innocent children. The partnership between these two different styles of policing is brilliantly handled as it is Everett’s softly- softly right on approach that appears flaccid and ineffective in comparison to Doyle’s straight talking bigoted rants. It is played for great comic effect and the audience is in on the joke that the tough talking Irish policeman knows exactly how to play the game and get the right results instantaneously. This results in a highly skilled caper that has many plot twists and turns culminating in a highly improbable shootout, complete with spaghetti western soundtrack, that is expertly handled.

Although ‘The Guard’ is essentially a vehicle for Gleeson he is admirably supported by a strong cast including Mark Strong as a hard drug dealer that you would not want to come up against in a dark alley- or a well lit one for that matter and a comical encounter with two prostitutes. The scenes between Doyle and his mother are also extremely moving and funny simultaneously and act as a neat counterpoint to the narrative. In fact it is the character development that raises the quality of this film as it encourages you to care about even those who only play a minor role in the overall structure. It is a film that succeeds on many different levels and the outcome leaves you with a knowing smile on your face.

CALVET


by David Marren

 Jean Marc Calvet purges his soul in this outstanding documentary directed by Dominic Allan. It is a fine piece of work that is ultimately an auto-biographical feature and acts as a form of catharsis for Calvet to relate his past transgressions as the director made the brave and justified decision not to include contributions from any other interviewees. What the audience is then left with is Calvet’s own explanations into what drives his artistic creativity and how his chequered and vividly coloured past   – drug addiction, rape, theft, a spell in the Foreign Legion and a period working as a rent boy-  informs his intricate and often disturbing work. Allan also manages to capture intimate and genuinely compelling moments as Calvet attempts some form of rapprochement with his eighteen year old son whom he abandoned twelve years previously. It is this part of the film that adds yet another dimension to an already fascinating portrait as the viewer is left in as much doubt as Calvet himself as to how this situation will pan out.

Opening with shots of Calvet’s art work – all demonic swirls and complex detail juxtaposed with vivid colour palettes- Calvet begins his tale in earnest. Stories range from the time he had to leave Miami tout de suite after defrauding 600,000 dollars to his brutal rape in a public toilet are di rigeur in this tale of an artist who had to sink to the lowliest depths of the demi-monde before reaping some form of salvation and ultimately redemption in the form of his art. His art in many ways resembles this film as he purges his soul in front of the omnipresent camera capturing him visually spewing forth over a canvas in a violent outpouring of emotion. Comparisons have been made as regards to Jackson Pollock but I also detected a definite Keith Haring influence. The sentiments and the demons are all Calvet’s own however as is this film which allows Calvet to share his story and in doing so garner a sense of relief and a clearer purpose in how he intends to pursue his future. Calvet allows uninhibited acces into many private moments and unlike many films of this genre which attempt to do this there is something about this particular effort that feels genuine. Perhaps Calvet’s contriteness and willingness to apologise and try to redeem past mistakes go a long way to gaining the audience’s support and you would have to be stone hearted not to want him to succeed.

At the conclusion of the film a certain sense of a clearer future looks set for Calvet. A recent New York show saw his paintings being valued at six figure numbers. Personally he seems to have reached a sense of stability also and how this will affect his work in the future is unclear. What is clear however is that Calvet makes an outstanding, intriguing and sympathetic  source of subject matter and he and Allan should be proud in delivering this document which details an artist who could be to the art world what Jean Genet was to the literary world.

Bobby Fischer Against the World

by David Marren

 This documentary by Liz Garbus on former world chess champion Bobby Fischer is a fascinating insight into how the worlds most popular board game managed to exacerbate existing conflict between the U.S and the Soviet Union as well as turn a child genius into a ranting socially inept exile resembling a Howard Hughes type figure. Fischer’s ranting mainly directed toward the United States and in many ways the film documents how a child protégé is manipulated and coerced for the sake of the country. A particularly telling scene occurs during an interview wherein the 15 year old Fischer has a haunted, fearful look in his eyes that show that already his life is spiralling out of control. It is a look more often associated with children within the entertainment industry- think Judy Garland, Michael Jackson and Britney Spears. It is a look that says there may be trouble ahead and validates the claim that America does not so much eat its young but chews them up and then spits them out.

With most of the events documented focussing on the 1972 world championship and the lead up dramas it is a fascinating document of a time when the Cold War was still very much in existence with the Americans and Russians constantly pitted against each other. Having only recently lost in the space race- the U.S. moon landing of 1969- the Russians were determined that they would retain the title of world chess champions an area they  up to that point held supremacy and were largely unbeaten in. The general consensus at the time was that the Soviet Union held intellectual sway over the decadent west as represented by the U.S.  Positioning Fischer against reigning world champion Boris Spassky was a risk they were willing to take but the occasion was fraught with delays, uncertainty and even accusations of Spassky being radiated by Fischer. It was a tournament that raised the profile of chess and helped it to become hugely popular, a position it retains to this day.

None of this was beneficial to Fischer’s psyche however as at the grand age of 29 he had already achieved his lifelong ambition but had not yet lived a life. Nor, it would seem, did he know how to. Tortured by his own genius he became increasingly erratic and at one point was even exiled from the U.S. for breaking an embargo. The portrait that emerges in his later years is that of a man racked with bitterness, no social skills and even extreme mental health problems. It was a sad end for a man whose genius had raised the level and profile of a game that has been in existence since the 6th century. Despite this it is hard to feel any sympathy for a man so driven with his ambition that in order to distance himself from his past he became an outspoken anti-Semite despite being Jewish himself. It was, in effect, a sad end to a sad life.


Jitters

by David Marren

 This charming coming of age Icelandic film from Baldvin C is am impressive effort that manages to address many issues and complexities that lie at the core of teenage life whilst re-iterating that sometimes adulthood is littered with as many problems and that growing up is not exclusively for the young as many of the adults in this film are deeply flawed also. Centring around the reliable and put upon Gabriel- a stand out performance from  Atli Oskar Fjalarson- who lives with his divorced domineering and over protective mother and operates as a fix it man for all his close friends troubled lives. Things alter radically for Gabriel when he embarks on a school ltrip to Manchester and meets what initially appears his polar opposite, the confident street wise Markus, and an intimate relationship is formed and changes both boys lives forever.

The story continues back in Iceland where Gabriel tries to sort out the minefield of his friends convoluted situations whilst still unsure about what to do concerning his own situation whilst trying to establish his own sexual identity. It is a tentative performance that perfectly captures the hesitancy that surrounds his mixed emotions. Mixed messages from Markus who is not so confident around Gabriel on home turf does nothing to assuage the situation. The situation with his mother only helps to exacerbate a tense situation whilst the complications of his friends loves and lives end in tragedy.

The interesting thing about this film is that it could easily have degenerated into a more erudite version of ‘Skins’ that it doesn’t is down to the fact that the characters are actually quite likeable rather than the vile nature more readily associated with the British teen drama. Each character is allowed space to grow and show some insight into what makes them tick. The adults meanwhile are not merely there as complaining authoritarian figures- though divisions arise whenever they try to exert authority- but reveal themselves to be as messed up-in some cases more so- that the teenagers they are supposedly lending guidance to.

Although squarely aimed at the teenage market ‘Jitters ‘ is an enjoyable film for any age group that doesn’t insult the intelligence of anyone. A totally assured film that succinctly captures a difficult period of growing up when feeling assured is not always the most dominant emotion.

Perfect Sense

by David Marren

Despite a promising start in ‘ Shallow Grave’ and ‘Trainspotting’ –as well as a guilty pleasure in ‘Moulin Rouge’- I have always found Ewan McGregor very often fails to convince as a credible actor. In ‘Perfect Sense ‘ however he manages to turn in a convincing performance as Michael a talented chef who embarks on a turbulent affair with Susan –an also credible Eva Green- an epidemiologist living next door to his restaurant. What is unfortunate is that the material they are given to work with is not consistent with the high level of the performances on show.

With an international epidemic laying siege on the world’s population it derives that people are losing their senses one by one. There is no discernible reason or cure for this and each occurrence is preceded by some unrelated form of emotional upheaval. The first indication that anything is wrong is an outpouring of uncontrollable grief. After this subsides it is discovered that the victim is no longer in possession of their sense of smell. After this a savage hunger that results in near cannibalism gives way to the loss of taste. This continues working its way through sound and sight and there appears that nothing can be done to stop this rapid deterioration of the human body’s functions and senses. In the centre of this Michael and Susan are drawn together and ripped apart and embark on a relationship that is tumultuous at best and extremely aggressive at worst. What really causes this films narrative to falter is that the relationship between the two protagonists simply fails to deliver any credibility. It is never made clear if they have genuine emotions for each other or whether they have been thrown together through circumstance and are inextricably entangled due to a previous inability in forming substantial committed relationships as both come across as strident and ultimately quite brittle..

It is not a film without merit however as Director David Mackenzie –who also directed McGregor in ‘Young Adam’- never allows the pace to falter and whilst the performances from the central pair are strong they are more than ably supported by the rest of the cast. Ewan Bremner is on top form as Michael’s colleague James- also a reunion of sorts between McGregor and Bremner who appeared together in ‘Trainspotting- and the cinematography captures the grey bleakness of Glasgow perfectly. One scene that shows a devastated street after a bout of carnage could have been filmed on any Saturday night in the city centre.

It is hard to say what themes the film is trying to articulate but I feel that the narrative is trying to draw attention to the fact that humans take their senses for granted. As each loss is preceded and followed by primal urges- grief, hunger, rage and violence- it becomes clear that these emotions are only aroused when we have something taken from us that we feel we are entitled to. Mackenzie does a fine job in translating the themes of the film it is just unfortunate that the characters are not well developed enough to totally convince and this renders the overall effect as being slightly underwhelming.

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

 by David Marren

 Genesis P-Orridge has been a fringe figure on the avant-garde circuit since 1967 in various guises. First making exploratory soundscapes launched with the declamatory announcement ‘we say nothing because we have nothing to say’ he made intriguing forays into collages that merged sound and visuals, esoteric ventures into industrial sound ,the formation of the Temple of Psychic Youth  as well as acquiring an unhealthy fascination for the former Rolling Stone Brian Jones along the way.  He is a quintessential eccentric artist who knows no boundaries other than the ones he creates simply to push forward as is exemplified by his claim that ‘Every one of us is telling the truth all of the time’ then ultimately concluding ‘well times change’. This fascinating documentary by Marie Losier focuses on his relationship with his personal and artistic partner Lady Jaye- who sadly passed away in 2007- and their endeavours of merging their two persons into one through clothing, wigs and eventually plastic surgery. It is a process that P-Orridge refers to as pandrogyny and creates a thoughtful insight into un-chartered territories with its central figure lending the proceedings an arresting argument for his right to be what he wants to be.

The interesting thing about this documentary is how P-Orridge’s individuality and desire to be a relentless individual in a faceless multitude emerges through his exploratory ventures into various art forms but on meeting Lady Jaye he surrenders this uniqueness by merging his features and ideologies with the person he claims is his spiritual, mental and physical equal. It is certainly an extreme process that he likens – along with the rest of his work- as emanating from the William Burroughs and Brion Gysin cut up methods. This is a method where collages are formed by splicing together unique components to create a whole new meaning not otherwise apparent and popularised by David Bowie in the 1970’s as a means of lyric writing. It emerges in this film that P-Orridge had a longstanding friendship with Gysin gaining both his confidence and respect and this informs most of his work extensively most especially the means of using his own corporeal form as a means of cutting and pasting.

Throughout the film we see Psychic TV tour and perform though P-Orridge now claims that this is in the past and he is done with being in a rock band. He now wishes to concentrate on presenting his art and writings through performances in galleries and through his books. It is a riveting documentary for anyone who has been familiar with any aspects of P-Orridge’s work over the last few decades. It is unlikely that he will ever achieve main stream success and this is probably anathema to him anyhow. Out on the fringes pushing the boundaries is where he is happiest. P-Orridge is the kind of artist who is indelibly British and is considered something of an eccentric figure or even weirdo although those who are prepared to prostitute themselves on shows such as X-Factor or Britain’s Got Delusions-sorry Talent- are the ones that come across as the real weirdoes to me. P-Orridge is a one off and true original and I, for one, am glad he is there.

The Bang Bang Club

by David Marren

 

The moral ambiguities of photo journalism epitomised in Steven Silver’s’ ‘The Bang Bang Club’ is a subject shrouded in differing perspectives. On one hand the plight of those suffering has every right to be broadcast around the world but at what price. The price that a picture can sell for to the highest bidder or to the cost of human life as the photographer clicks away in his attempts to capture the perfect photo not lifting a finger to help, a fellow human being dying or being murdered merely inches away. Featuring stand out performances from Ryan Phillippe and Taylor Kitsch- a sort of Jagger and Richards with cameras- ‘The Bang Bang Club’ wisely makes no strong attempt to answer the questions the film raises in much the same way the moral dilemmas of the photographers are similarly smudged.

Based on the memoirs of Joan Silva and Greg Marinovich the two surviving members of the quartet at the centre of this drama- Kevin Carter and Ken Oosterbroek- is a cautionary tale of how your desire to succeed whilst documenting another’s misfortune can have serious ramifications. Carter committed suicide brought on by heavy drug use and an inability to reconcile his actions with his conscience whilst Oosterbroek’s character was killed in a shootout that he was trying to capture on film. The acquisition of two Pulitzer prize winning photos are shown and the photographers reaction to how their photos are received. Marinovich’s winner showing a man being burnt to death show him and his comrades celebrating in a drunken frenzy on realizing how much money will be made in Reuters, the human flame at the centre of the photo a distant memory in the drunken revelry. Carter’s winner showing a child about to be attacked by a vulture faces harsh criticism when it is revealed that he simply took his shot and then abandoned the girl to her plight. Symbolically he captured his prey in the guise of a human vulture armed with a camera.

It is thus difficult to garner much sympathy for the characters in this film as their ambition is as weighty as the need to provide an insight into injustice and famine. Whilst they may be merely providing a documentation they are occasionally on hand to offer assistance but very rarely do. It is nonetheless an engaging film although to position the photographers with gunslinger kudos is perhaps misguided as it lends a serious topic a bit of rock and roll credo which is slightly undeserved. Admittedly these photographers do put themselves on the front line –Marinovich has been shot four times whilst Silva had his limbs blown off- and the service they provide in drawing attention to situations is inestimable but the price and the cost is high in many different ways to all concerned.


Talihina Sky

by David Marren

 Having been fortunate enough to have seen Kings of Leon when they still played intimate venues around the time of debut album ‘Youth and Young Manhood’ and watched the band grow from young upstarts to international megastars playing arenas and stadiums this documentary was one I was looking forward to. Based on the yearly pilgrimage that the four band members-three brothers and one cousin- make home to Oklahoma to reconnect with family members, old friends and rivals it makes for an interesting insight into one of the biggest bands on the planet at the moment featuring footage from every stage of their career. Unfortunately much of the material shot during the recording of the debut that caught the ear of a generation was stolen so documentation of that era in particular is slighter than it should be. This is unfortunate as the period when a band is on the cusp of stardom usually provides the most interesting aspects of a bands career as they are having to constantly re-evaluate everything in their lives as they are caught up in the whirlwind of encroaching fame.

What is left, however, is still more than adequate and we are introduced to the bands grandparents- including Granddad Leon who provides the band with their name- and childhood friends and neighbouring rivals. It emerges that the Followills were always a close knit family and inviting outsiders to join the core of the band was unquestionable from the beginning. Raised in a spiritual background where rock and roll was considered the devil’s music they had to go some way to convincing their parents that forming a band was the right thing to do. Despite all their subsequent success the three brothers’ father still admits that he finds it hard to be proud of what they do even though he is proud of what they have done in consolidating financial security and an escape from the poverty of their upbringing.

Financial matters are perhaps what drive the current incarnation of the band. Many feel that they reached an artistic, commercial and critical peak with 2008’s ‘Only by the Night’ and their last offering was dull, uninspired and treading water. Accusations of arrogance and taking themselves too seriously have also plagued the band and the rise to stadiums and arenas meant that any intimacy they had with their original audience has all but dissipated. It is unfortunate as this film shows the transition isn’t always smooth – an early live version of ‘Molly’s Chambers’ is inter-cut with a more recent version with the earlier version trashing the latter in every respect- and due to the fact the band may have already peaked this film acts more as a retrospective than a relevant document.

Fast Romance

by David Marren

 

A light-hearted romp through the perils and delights of speed dating ‘Fast Romance’ lives up to it’s name and is a fast paced enjoyable piece of hokum. Set in Glasgow and directed by Carter Ferguson it is essentially an ensemble piece involving seven principal characters whose lives are stories are entwined and entangled after a speed dating evening that has consequences and provides life-changing realisations for those involved. The success of this film lies in the sympathetic characters and their portrayal by actors who clearly have enjoyed themselves in the making of the film and this rubs off on the audience who can empathise with their plights whilst willing them into a future suffused with happiness. But the path of true love never runs smoothly and the characters in the film are no exception as the audience accompany them on their travails whilst laughing out loud on several occasions along the way

As stated previously it is the strong characterisation that helps this film to set itself apart from others in the overcrowded rom-com genre. In fact to call this a rom-com is perhaps something of an injustice as it is as likely to appeal to a male audience as a female one. Whether it is a lovelorn Nadine – whose family are desperate for her to get married to be just like them – or Kenny Cairns- who after his divorce has devoted himself to looking after his cancer stricken mother and dressing as a clown to entertain children with cancer- each character has something likeable and worthy about them. A back story into what drives each character is also attempted and in the main is successful in its objectives. The friendship that develops between Cairns and his workmate Gordy is particularly touching, frank and genuine. Similarly the audience is aware before the cast that the characters they meet at the speed dating event are not everything they claim or seem to be. The Mr. Perfect- Elliot- is obviously a flaky type who has no grounding or committal instincts whatsoever whilst Spence masquerading as a detective is so obviously from the off a slime-ball practised in the art of deception. As the worlds of the protagonists create entanglements the audience are rooting for, the pace never lets up and the humour is witty without ever reaching raucous territory.

As a representation of the genre ‘Fast Romance ‘is extremely successful film that is highly enjoyable as well as likeable. The mainly Scottish cast- at times it seems to provide a rest home for previous River City habitués- gel well and have chemistry. Although the holes in the plot wouldn’t withstand too much scrutiny and the film as a whole has an insubstantial feel the whole thing rolls along at its own pace providing a smooth and enjoyable ride.

Phase 7

by David Marren

Many of us have had trouble with our neighbours at some point but the main protagonists in Argentinian film ‘Phase 7’ Coco (Daniel Hendler) and his heavily pregnant wife Pipi (Jazmin Stuart) have more to worry about than most. Directed by Nicolas Goldbart the action centres on an apartment block that has been quarantined due to the outbreak of a deadly epidemic that wipes out everyone that contracts it and the suspicions and paranoia that occur due to this. The situation breeds more than deathly germs however as one of their neighbours adopts the role of avenging angel and decides to prevent himself from contracting the disease by dispensing with all of his neighbours.

After a pleasant enough start and mild character development the film slips into a dark genre parody that mainly involves the residents of the apartment block turning to each other for support then splitting into subdivisions and ultimately every individual out solely to protect themselves-or in Coco’s case  his wife and unborn child. At this juncture the film more or less slips into a gore fest meets shoot out after shoot out. Many influences prevail with Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’, James Cameron’s ‘Terminator’ and Danny Boyle’s ’28 Hours Later’ being among the more obvious reference points. It is a film that plays on the audience’s knowledge of these films and handles the action sequences more than admirably although I found  the shooting sequences dragging  a little  and there simply wasn’t enough there to hold my interest beyond this. Aside from the two central characters none of the other roles were developed well enough for you to care what happened to them. Moments of humour were peppered throughout although some were too subtle for many to spot. I particularly thought the scene when Coco removed his quarantine suit after a marauding rampage to reveal a tee shirt that read ‘Shoot First’ was a particular clever piece of irony that may have eluded many in the audience.

As a parody of its genre ‘Phase 7’ is highly successful but I just feel that it could have easily handled more dialogue and interaction-other than just the killing and maiming- between the lesser characters. It was however a film that succeeded in its aims even if they were slightly limited and unlikely to attract any new converts to the genre.

Ghosted

by David Marren

 

This gritty drama directed by Craig Viveiros has been compared to ‘Scum ‘ but is in fact closer, in execution and tension, to French director Jacques Audiard’s ‘ A Prophet’. That it doesn’t reach the pinnacles of success of the French movie is down to the impossibly high bar that this film raised. It is however a valiant attempt and deserves to be judged on its own merits with several stunning performances- the central triumvirate portrayed by John Lynch, Craig Parkinson and Martin Compston create a dynamic with palpable tension-and a greyish colour palette that more than adequately conveys the sense of the despair and depravity at the core of the prisoners ordeals.

The arrival of Paul( Compston) in  a prison wing brings tensions to a head between contrite Jack(Lynch) and the more ruthless Clay (Parkinson). With Clay believing his position as top dog of the wing is established after an incident involving Paul he finds his once unquestioned superiority  slipping from his grasp. Paul is transferred into Jack’s cell and a bond of trust is established with the older man feeling highly protective towards the younger boy. Things are not totally how they initially appear however and revelations are revealed whilst the drama escalates culminating in an unexpected scene of extreme violence with a horrific outcome. Secrets never remain secret for long in prison and fate conspires to create a situation of intensity that is as surprising as it is horrific.

The handling of the subject matter in’ Ghosted’ is very well handled and if the narrative falters on the believable scale with the revelations that are revealed- the co-incidence versus fate theory was unconvincing and simply not plausible in my estimation- the dialogue and performances are mainly without reproach. Although it does not reach the lofty peaks of its French fore bearer it is a welcome addition to British cinema even if its outlook and premise may be a little too bleak for a mainstream audience it should not deter anyone looking for gritty realism. With ‘Ghosted’ Viveiros has created a haunting drama with a chilling outcome.


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