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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Filth

Filth film posterSynopsis

About a corrupt policeman Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy).   He plots and schemes to get ahead in the police force.  He despises his colleagues and his boss (John Sessions) and his arch rival (Imogen Poots). He drinks hard, takes drugs and is into sexual abuse.  His wife and child leave him.  He goes to brothels in Henbury with Eddie Marson whom he corrupts.  He uses his membership of the freemasonry to get ahead. He descends into hell even further.  Will he be rescued by love…?

Review

Insofar as it’s drugs in Scotland it seems a partial throwback to Trainspotting, which itself owed a lot visually to William Burrough’s Naked Lunch.  Robertson’s drug visions get creepier as he descends into a deep pit of solipsistic mayhem fuelled by alcoholic guilt and self loathing.  He feels responsible for the death of his brother from a heap of coal. He seeks release in facile self-serving put downs of his colleagues.  In one hilarious scene he imagines his colleagues in degrading scenarios, their faces in close up going from portraits by Lucian Freud to Francis Bacon.  As you’d expect amidst the relentless scatalogical grind there is a lot of repetition which gets wearisome.  McAvoy gurns his face and manically laughs in a repeat of his performance in Trance. After a while you feel you’ve been sharing the drink and drugs with McAvoy.  The screen jumps about like a Danny Boyle on amphetamines.  We’ve seen so many cynical cop movies that a policeman wallowing in a moral sewer is hardly remarkable.  Filth attempts to make some poignant contrasts between Robertson’s psychic disintegration and the beauty of a snow swept Scottish town ornamented with innocent Christmas songs.  If Sunshine on Leith is the lyrical possibility of Edinburgh then Filth is like a pilot for the ultimate bad cop.  His nihilism is mildly funny but only in an obvious way as he snivels his way to hope of redemption from the usual grounded good woman as Madonna.  Jim Broadbent usually plays Jim Broadbent, and here he does a sort of bad Woody Allen turn as an Australian psychiatrist.  Eddie Marson is the classic wimpy husband abused by his bored wife, the characters and the story are punchy but after a while you feel you’ve been flattened.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Sunshine on Leith

Sunshine on Leith film posterSynopsis

Dexter Fletcher’s film is a musical made up of songs from the Scot Reid brothers The Proclaimers.  Two Scots soldiers serve in Afghanistan and they return to Edinburgh after a friend of theirs has been killed in action.  They return to civilian life, get jobs and try to settle down, meeting varying fortunes with family and girlfriends. One soldier’s father (Peter Mullan) has a daughter by his former girlfriend and she visits him, much to the anger of his wife (Jane Horrocks).  One girlfriend wants to go to America.  The Peter Mullan character suffers a heart attack, will it all end well…?

Review

One of the simple pleasures about listening to musicals ( is Sunshine on Leith a proper musical?) is that these days the actors really sing the songs (we hope) and they do this, like in Les Miserables, with varying degrees of success and embarrassment  This is different from a few decades ago when actors mimed the songs that they couldn’t sing.  Check out The King and I.  My favourite irony in all this is Singing in the Rain where Debbie Reynolds plays an actress who provides the voice over for a star of the silent screen and a real singer provided the voice for Debbie Reynold’s singing!!!!

In Sunshine in Leith I admired the ingenuity with which the plot uses popular Proclaimers songs, the problem is that this seemed more like promotional films illustrating songs rather than a convincing story. Situations obviously set to the songs: unrequited love, ambition of living in another country, dad gets a heart attack.  Simple resolutions of problems by song lyric but there is the glorious Five Hundred Miles song and dance at the end.  At its least convincing it seems more like a rich man’s karaoke especially after the first song Sky takes the Soul in the soldier’s armoured car where its poetry is all the more powerful because of the proximity of death.  Another romantic ballad sung on a stairway also had me wanting to hear more of The Proclaimers.  I laughed and nearly cried.  All good fun.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips film posterSynopsis

About the real life incident in 2009 in which Somali pirates attack an American cargo ship that is carrying water and food for Africa.  Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips who evade the pirates once but cannot for the second attack. The Somalis are led by Barkhad Abdi.  They take over the bridge and look for the rest of the crew.  Barkhad Ali is overpowered by the crew and in an exchange the Somalis leave the ship but with Captain Phillips as their prisoner.  US Navy SEALS come to the rescue and try to release Captain Phillips…

Review

Paul Greengrass is a master of action, he made the Bourne films.  Tom Hanks plays Phillips as a decent solid American of Irish ancestry, Barkhad Abdi calls him “Irish” as if to give a quirkily human touch to the violence. Phillips can be relied upon to sympathise to a degree with the Somalis’ plight and initially he does this even at pistol point.  Their leader Barkhad Abdi tells Phillips the seas around the Horn of Africa have been overfished and the resulting poverty drives Somalis to drastic actions but he undermines this point morally by saying that the raid is big business.  As such it lacks the demonic element that membership of Al Quaeda would give the piracy, especially for the US and the west.  There is a lot of shouting and macho posturing which continues to the point of wearisome melodrama.  In the kidnap boat, Phillips misses an opportunity to gain further insight into the Somalis’ dire predicament, all we get is an acknowledgement at the start that they are persecuted by warlords and big money.  The juxtaposition of Phillips’ affluent American life and that of the pirates is amazingly stark.  The Somali landscape looks bleak, like a vast macquette for images that can verge perilously close to ‘noble savage’ condescension.  Phillips is kidnapped by the Somalis, there is no ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ of real emotional support for his kidnappers, there is too much adrenalin pumped action for that.  Hanks plays Phillips as we all would be in this situation: plain stupefied with fright.  The film really goes down the pipes when the American naval forces come into play.  I appreciate that this really happened, but inevitably it makes the film look like yet another triumphalist advertisement for good old Captain America.  I wanted to know more about the Somalis.  One amazing innovation over previous wars is the detailed knowledge the US Navy has on the Somali pirates, each of the enemy has a human face and background.  It’s a mostly absorbing film, but in the end I felt like I’d had a fight with a drunk in a rolling metal box.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine film posterSynopsis

Woody Allen’s latest.   Jasmine (Cate Blanchette) who is a wealthy socialite married to Hal (Alec Baldwin).  He is unfaithful and in revenge she exposes his financial shenanigans to the FBI.  All their fortune disappears, Jasmine’s son leaves her.  She goes to San Francisco to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) who is working class.  Blue Jasmine tracks her psychic disintegration as she alienates Ginger’s boyfriend Chilli (Bobby Cannavale).  Jasmine works for a dentist and later meets a rich boyfriend Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard).  She drinks too much and talks to herself.  Will her life improve…?

Review

Unanimous critical opinion has praised this film.  I’ve been immune to Woody Allen throughout his career and on the showing of this film I still am.  All that middle class name dropping of artists and philosophers, all those intensive arguments that plod where most of us hardly miss a step.  All those self conscious witticisms and all that earnest psychobabble.  The volubility of his couples sound like the embarrassments you would overhear from a middle class soiree.  As Jasmine, Cate Blanchette plays the role that Vivien Leigh played so well.  Blanche Dubois as the alcoholic wreck who looks at the psychological and social disintegration of her life in self pitying slow motion.  It’s obvious that Allen has been reading his Tenessee Williams exam notes because Blanchette goes through Leigh’s act so well, to the point of party piece parody.  Ginger’s boyfriend plays the Marlon Brando character, Kawalski, all slick and bruiser physicality.  Might as well call this film Cat on a Menageries Hot Tin Roof.  Jasmine is a posh blonde rich bitch who doesn’t care about Ginger until she’s out of luck when her cuckolding husband loses all their money in financial disgrace.  She tries to keep up patrician appearances and pretensions in Ginger’s working class San Francisco home.  Sally Hawkins is a British actress who does either posh debutantes or feisty working women and she’s the only character in this film that I’ve got any time for.  Unusually for Woody Allen there is neither leaden humour nor would be cerebral discussion, rather there are abrasive quarrels that get physically rough.  It’s as if Woody Allen has just discovered domestic violence.  Jasmine talks to herself but her soliloquies are not Woody Allen’s Philosophy for Dummies monologue but those of a mind falling apart.  Her high class elegance is accentuated by the chunky plebeian relatives who refuse to pander to her desperate attempts to cling on to gentility.  Far from being his best in years, Blue Jasmine is a joke free imitation of Tennessee Williams.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2013 in Film Reviews

 

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Prisoners

Prisoners film posterSynopsis

Keller (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin (Terence Howard) play two friends.  Their families get together on Thanksgiving day then their daughters go missing.  A suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Deno) is found in a camper van that was suspiciously parked near their house. Alex is an adult with the mind of a ten year old, he lives with his ‘Aunt’.  On being released by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), Alex says something to Keller who becomes convinced by Alex’s guilt so he kidnaps and tortures him.  There are other suspects, a Catholic priest who has a corpse in his cellar and a creepy young guy who has an obsession with mazes and snakes.  Loki is under pressure to find the girls.

Review

Prisoners is a well paced and exiting film.  It is about the abduction of two children and the terrifying effect this has on the parents as they become unhinged.  Before the abduction they are solid middle class America, after the crime they degenerate into sadistic vigilantism.  This could be seen as a parable about terrorism and how our reactions to it can justify behaviour which is often worse than the criminality it intends to remedy.  This reminds me of the Danish film The Hunt which focuses on the pathological retribution meted out to the suspected child molester.  It’s easy to lose nuance here and descend into the simplicities of junior school level psychology but unfortunately we have all seen how a simple mob mentality can effect cultural relations.  The chief suspect is treated to brutality which seems even worse than that repeatedly dished out at Guantanamo.  Gyllenhaal  plays the clever and persistent cop very well, he did that in pursuit of a serial killer in Zodiac.  He is not alone in using brutality on suspects, his twitchy eyed perfectionism factoring into a vindictive obsession with results, which mirrors Keller’s treatment of Alex.  We first see Keller encouraging his son to kill a deer as he expresses pseudo-Emersonian values of self reliance and scepticism about human goodness.  He is like Harrison Ford’s character in The Mosquito Coast.  His arguments for his hokey philosophy seem too glib and capable of rationalization for unsavoury behaviour.  His cellar is stocked with shopping goods, he is prepared for the apocalypse.  The opening Thanksgiving scene is reminiscent of the cozy domesticity at the beginning of The Purge before that degenerated into civilizational breakdown.  The irony about Keller’s treatment of Alex is that he tortures someone who is mentally ill, and so effectively a child, which of course is precisely what the child-abducting criminal is doing.  Films like this interestingly expose our obscene hypocrisy in double standards, we are naturally outraged at the abduction and harm done to children (especially when they are white and affluent) but seem indifferent to our weapon manufacturers exporting death to brown skinned children in poorer countries – or do we think the bombs will spare them?  Do we feel a similar outrage at their fate?  Prisoners of course refers to the confinement of suspects and the mental prisms that the film’s characters so evidently live in.  Gripping!!!

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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