Monday, 2 April 2018

Ready Player One

This is a film that Spielberg has been leading up to for all of his life. Here we have Wade, a gamer in Columbus, Ohio 2045, playing a massive VR game called Oasis. This has nothing to do with Mancunians in questionable headgear, more to do with the Californian scientists in the Fast Show, as if they were more tech savvy that is. It’s a film about a future where people are subjugated, in a number of ways, it’s about capitalism and socio-economics. It also has a voice over, I never generally trust films with those.

I have to say that I found the beginning of the story to be a bit boring, obvious and underwhelming. The whole film came across as a more benign version of the Matrix, combined with elements of Scooby Doo and Vanilla Sky. You can see that there is love in the film, Spielberg and his crew enjoyed themselves, and often that’s enough. They made a film that pleases them, great. The film will please a lot of people, it’ll do well on TV on Bank Holidays. Intrinsically though that is not enough. Spielberg has and will make better films than this, but over the years he has earned the right to make films like this. It is possible to wallow in shallow entertainment, but like a Chinese takeaway, you’ll soon need more.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Babette’s Feast

I have to tell you about a great cinematic experience I’ve had. On Saturday, I saw the ever excellent, Babette’s Feast (Gabriel Axel, 1987), which was put on by the marvellous Rusthall Community Cinema, which is in a village abutting Tunbridge Wells. The Community Cinema was set up a couple of years ago and it has flourished under the stewardship of Eugene Gardner and the rest of its volunteers. The film is the story of Babette, who through some twists ends up being the housekeeper to two sisters living on the unforgiving Danish coast in the late nineteenth century.
Babette, we learn, is French and is recommended to the sisters by an erstwhile singing teacher and suitor to one of the sisters, a M. Papin. In fact Babette is actually more of a companion, who works for nothing, as the sisters cannot afford to pay her. A friend of Babette’s, in Paris continues to enter her into a local lottery and one day, after many years in Denmark her numbers come up and she wins 10,000 Francs.
To coincide with the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the sisters departed, Pastor father’s birth, Babette offers to cook a French feast for the sisters and the villagers, using the proceeds of her win to pay for this. There then follows the famous feast. In the depiction of the preparation we see languorous and lush sequences of the food in the kitchen, that bring to mind painted images of such by old masters.
The, film as well, treads that well-worn path in talking about redemption, forgiveness and eventual acceptance. What it does though is to show that with age, it’s often easier to forgive, especially when you’ve got a full stomach and you’ve had a few.
Now, in Rusthall on Saturday, the community cinema people and a local café, the Daily Bread, did their very best to recreate this meal before we saw the film. They did a stupendous job. We had a magnificent seven course meal which were reminded of throughout the film.
Rusthall Community Cinema certainly strives to earn its stripes as an event cinema destination. At previous films the volunteers have dressed for the occasion, especially for the Grand Budapest Hotel and Bridge of Spies. The Sunnyside Hall is normally adorned with appropriate ephemera. They really make an effort to make the films come alive. They organise discussion groups to chew over what we’ve just seen. This effort, though, was above and beyond the call of duty and made for an extra special evening.

Friday, 27 January 2017

T2 Trainspotting

When Irvine Welsh published Porno, his sequel to Trainspotting, in 2002, Adrian Fry was most perturbed and complained that I wouldn't be able to red it on the bus owing to the cover featuring a blow up doll. Fourteen or so years later comes T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 2017) the film sequel which, according to the credits is based on Porno and Trainspotting. So we have Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, Begbie and Diane dealing with the consequences of the first film.

The film begins in Amsterdam with Renton running on a treadmill, we’re treated to a montage about the city, akin to an earlier about London. This one though features Johan Cruyff and Robin van Persie doing the business for the Dutch national team. Partially due to a collapse on the treadmill; Mark returns to Edinburgh. Here he meets up with friends, families, acquaintances and old haunts.

Of course the past hangs over everyone, as happens in life. There is the habit as well that as people get older then reminiscences grow and you spend more time in the past. Mark, Simon, Spud and Begbie spend a lot of time in the past, using this experience to inform the present. This is explored as well in looking at the relationship between father and son; and how this can ead to the recognition that not all traits need to be passed on. This is the same with Edinburgh which we see as a city of change, it’s discussed in the film how gentrification has not reached all the districts of the city though. Edinburgh is recognised as being more cosmopolitan and how European money has been aiding the regeneration of post industrial areas, for the time being.

One of the best things about this film is that Danny Boyle has not remade Trainspotting. This film features an excellent soundtrack that rivals that of the first film. The film though has a much different tone than the first film. That was about men in their twenties this is about men in their forties. There are exhilarating moments, there is conflict, there is drug misuse. However the characters have moved on, along with the audience.

Monday, 23 January 2017

I, Daniel Blake

When I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach, 2016) was released there were arguments and discussions in the press as to how accurate the film was. Iain Duncan Smith, the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, argued that it was not and Damian Green, his successor, argued in a similar way. Unfortunately it transpired that Green hadn’t seen it and described the film as ‘monstrously unfair’. Which it seems is a fair description of the Tory welfare policies that led to writing and making of the film.

The story and its scenarios was constructed by information divulged by Department for Work and Pensions employees and members of their union; the PCS. This would indicate that there are staff members are far from comfortable with the situations portrayed in this film and what they are called to do. This is evident in the film where a job adviser is told off by her manager for giving too much help to a claimant. Part of the problem would be that the DWP staffing budgets have been cut meaning that the time that they can spend with claimants would be reduced.

The story is that the eponymous hero, Daniel Blake, suffers a heart attack whilst working as a carpenter. Due to his heart condition he is told not to work by his doctor and the nurses who care for him. He should then receive Employment and Support Allowance, but he is assessed as being fit for work because he says that can put a hat on and that he could walk fifty metres. He is then cast into a bureaucratic, cold and uncaring system; which has him having to look for work and proving that he is doing so, while he should be resting and recuperating.

With the film being set in Newcastle and featuring the stories of working class people returns us to familiar territory for a Ken Loach film. He has highlighted injustices in the past and illuminated some people whose plight does not often see the light of day.

In this story Daniel befriends Katie, who has moved to Newcastle with her two young children from London after they were evicted from their accommodation. We see the struggles they go through and the choices that they are faced with. These choices, of course, are the result of circumstance and consequences. The point is made that when you have nothing, or next to nothing, then you can easily end up in situations that are far from perfect; making choices that you should not have to make.

This film shows up the human cost of cutting welfare. These cuts cannot discriminate so that they only affect so called scroungers. As depicted in the film the cuts and the system they lead to leave some people behind. Digital by default is a mantra used here as well. If for whatever reason you are not fully participating in the information age then the government may not help you and you may fall behind, or worse. If your condition, or state of health, has a temporary effect, or you’re able to perform simple tasks there apparently is no excuse for you not working, you’re fit for work and should look for work. Here this includes a major heart condition that slows and doesn’t necessarily stop you.

When I think about the cultural impact of this film and the heap of bureaucratic snares that are depicted I’m reminded of Kafka, Swift and Lewis Carroll. There is a ridiculous element to this, the state does seem to have evolved into that role of the red queen eliminating problems in a cold had heartless manner, whilst the relatively caring king seems to be ineffectual. I read an article that said that filmmakers today should be asking questions and it wasn’t necessarily their place to answer them, rather like here.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016) a story about destruction basically. Amy Adams plays Susan an art gallery owner who is deeply upset with her life, so much so that she has bouts of insomnia. Her ex-husband sends her a manuscript of his novel which preys on her mind further. It puts into perspective her current marriage and of course her first. The book helps her look afresh at her professional life and revisit some decisions she's made in the past. I loved this film, full of intrigue  and suspense. Ford seems to know how to convey internal conflict with great aplomb.

Friday, 14 October 2016


Well Brimstone (Martin Koolhoven, 2016), as the title may indicate, is a western mired in a battle between good and evil. We meet Liz who with her husband and their children live in a small frontier community, she is a midwife and we soon find out that she is mute. A new preacher arrives in town and Liz takes an instant dislike to him. There then follows a story about death, accusation and redemption. It's a world full of misogyny and mistrust, where men display unspeakable behaviour, truly awful. There are some moments in this film where I had to hide away they were that horrible to look at. It maybe that Martin Koolhoven had this in mind when he was making the film, you certainly empathise with the characters. There's at least one Chien Andalou moment here. There are great production values on display here, the film is well shot but I'm not sure about some of the content I saw here and it was all a bit far fetched really.

Their Finest

Their Finest (Lone Sherfig, 2016) this a film set in the early forties in London and concerns itself with the then British film industry. Being in the middle of World War II there were of course films being made for propaganda purposes. Here we see the production of a film about the evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk in 1940. To make the film more relevant to women there is a recruitment of a female screenwriter to write the slop, as they call it, dialogue for women in most other parlances. The film does give just coverage and space to the role of women in the war and how people's perceptions changed as to what women could achieve. There is a natural humour in the film which makes the film hilarious on occasion. Some of that is due to the performances especially Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy, Sam Claflin and Rachel Stirling, but also due to the freedom the director gave her actors. There is as well a healthy acknowledgment of the nature of living in wartime and how you can be talking to someone one minute and then they're dead the next. The film is nostalgic, but with good reason, it never really strays into sentimentality, it stays true to its intentions and to the believability of the situation, as well as keeping well within the language of film.