Monthly Archives: October 2014


Pride film posterSynopsis

About the alliance of gays and the miners in their struggle against the Thatcher government 1984-85.  Joe (George MacKay) discovers he’s gay and joins Mark (Ben Schnetzer) at his gay bookshop.  Mark launches Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.  They go to Onllwyn to support the miners there and meet trade union chief Dai (Paddy Considine) and Cliffe (Bill Nighy) and there’s Hafina (Imelda Staunton).  The miners visit the gay bar in London.  They turn press persecution around by announcing the Pits and Perverts benefit at the Electric Ballroom.  The miners are defeated but in July 1985 they join the gay freedom march.


Pride follows in spirit from Dagenham, Brassed Off, Billy Elliot, and The Full Monty.  The performances are solid.  Nighy is impressive as a dignified union official and Considine provides a steady presence as a Welsh trade union leader who overcomes anti-gay prejudice amongst the miners.  Imelda Staunton is wonderful as the working class matriarch who (like all women) is tougher than the miners and fights betrayal in her community.  I live in South Wales and can testify to the decent Welsh accents in use.  Dominic West as Jonathan does a great dance routine, when the Welsh woman sang Bread and Roses I choked and blubbered.    I myself  was involved in left wing politics in the early ’70s, I left London in the mid ’80s, and have lived in South Wales on and off since then, so I know both worlds and the film brings it all back.  I felt very nostalgic.  The film has come out in quite timely fashion, in the week when Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher has been published (I liked the short story) when it’s been revealed that Thatcher was prepared to declare as “the enemy within” the Labour Party and the movement.  Of course this is a heart warming film but I do have caveats: the feeling that now that the labour movement is safely defeated, it’s OK to make Ealing type films about it.  What if the actors in this film had gone on strike, in an industry not noted for being generous to all its employees?  Furthermore, although Pride is not about Arthur Scargill, I wish they would make a film showing how he betrayed the miners: by not calling for a strike ballet, getting Thatcher wrong, and his dogmatic misconception of the working class, a significant number of whom looked the other way and took Thatcher’s home buying bribe.  Still, it’s a stirring story about a lost and lamented world.

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Posted by on October 31, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Maps to the Stars

Maps to the Stars ilm posterSynopsis

David Cronenberg’s film about Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who goes to Hollywood to be employed as a “chore whore” by Havana (Julianne Moore).  Agatha meets her film star 13 year old brother Benjie (Evan Bird).  John Cusack plays a therapist to the stars, he is their father.  Agatha has been scarred by a fire she started.  We see the lives of the pampered Hollywood set and it could all end tragically…


Cronenberg specialized in horror films, the weird graphic depiction of psychological horror becoming real.  He is fascinated by physical perversion and degeneration (The Fly), and this movie presents us with monsters of depravity by pampering.  It’s interesting that though these worthless people think of themselves as decadently freewheeling, they have a very anal attitude to everyday property.  When Agatha soils on an expensive sofa, Havana can only protest like a lower middle class matron shoving the lower orders off her lawn.  Moore does another good actorly turn as a superbitch full of self disgust.  Benjie is the teenage star as malevolent midget (was Macaulay Culkin like this?), he is fuelled with self regard that has him slide down the gilded pole to unlamented destruction.  Cusack is the poisonous purveyor of vacuous psycho babble and new age quackery, the sort of role that shouldn’t go near a rich man’s swimming pool because you know something terrible is going to happen near it or in it.  The swimming pool has been a dystopian fixture in many moral tales, most notably in The Swimmer.  Cusack looks like a warped pervert in clown face white, it’s expected he’ll do something nasty and he does.  In The Brood (1979) Cronenberg invented sexless monsters as the creatures of a tormented woman, and Agatha and Benjie are similarly ripe for destruction.  One thinks of other movies exhibiting the reptilian horror of Hollywood folk: All About Eve, Postcard from the Edge, Mommie Dearest, Sunset Boulevarde.  The trajectory of success through delusion, disillusion, and failure is a shot of poison through the whole film.  Their affluence is a Neronic desolation and they must face moral reckoning.  Robert Pattinson is the chauffeur instead of being the passenger as he was in Cosmopolis.  In Maps he is merely the venal opportunist we expect from a writer who would do anything to get a break in Hollywood.


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Posted by on October 17, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted Man film posterSynopsis

Anton Corbijn’s film from a John Le Carre novel.   Sadly this is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final role.  Set in present day Hamburg, Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann pursuing jihadis.  He and his fellow operatives target a Chechen, Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) who must contact a banker Thomas Brue (Willem Dafoe) in order to deal with his account.  Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) wants to arrest Karpov but Bachmann urges patience because such can lead to bigger catches and he uses lawyer Rachel McAdams to infiltrate through her relationship with Karpov.  Karpov wants to give his account away to good causes but will he fund terrorism…?


Le Carre’s previous novels have dealt with the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and it felt as if Le Carre is happier with the familiar devil of Soviet Communism.  He seems less sure about Islamist terrorism and seems to reduce Islam itself to cloak and dagger intrigue.  When Rachel McAdams confronts Karpov with news of another car bomb massacre in Baghdad he merely replies that it’s the will of Allah, at least the Communist agents were given more sophisticated arguments.  The movie presents the familiarities of cold war drama: the spymaster looking shabby and worn out, the resort to whisky and cigarettes, the gloomy (sometimes brutalist) architecture (it’s set in Hamburg), the cynical banter, the theatrical target looking conveniently dishevelled and shifty, the recriminatory dialogue foregrounding affluent entitlement, the sudden violence.  Bachmann is the George Smiley figure from Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy but is given more energy than Smiley.  He appraises the worst in human behaviour through the deliberative calm sensuality of tobacco and whisky.  Willem Dafoe’s banker looks like any villainously overpaid banker we like to despise.  Karpov wants to deal with an Islamic businessman and this man’s son is asked to betray him.  Naturally, deceit and treachery run through this film.  Can Bachmann trust the American Martha Sullivan who got Bachmann to pay for US mistakes in Lebanon?  The enemy changes but moral complexity is just as entangling as ever and the film conveys that very well.  Bachmann and his team work among the concrete and glass warrens of Hamburg, the prevailing mood is suffused with the gloomy silence of a city which recently experienced the worst of humanity.

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Posted by on October 12, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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The Riot Club

The Riot Club film posterSynopsis

From Laura Wade’s play Posh based on the Oxford University Bullingdon Club of which Cameron and Osborne were members.  Miles (Max Irons) is initiated into this club.  He’s supposed to be the “decent” one and is in love with Lauren (Holliday Grainger) from a state school.  There is a dinner party in which things get a bit nasty.  Will there be consequences?


Wade’s play has embarrassed those establishment figures connected to this sort of club.  Their behaviour oozes the smarm of social class entitlement, their intellects and egos feed at the trough where they can disdainfully whisk away the temptations of “noblesse oblige”.  It’s like watching Tom Brown’s Schooldays and the horrid Flashman, only here the bullying is more simple class snobbery.  We despise their oafishly spoilt behaviour.  They trash the grubby pub room where they are not served with the requisite finesse and they become poisonous oik baiters, loathing the poor and the low paid.  This disdainful attitude to the poor is only slightly exaggerated in the film, it is prevalent enough in the UK at the present time.  We know Miles is the decent one because he’s allowed the condescension of being nice to a northern working class girl who is, of course, decent and humane.  The Riot Club louts beat up the Scottish landlord of the pub and, guess what, the film was released in the week when the Scottish referendum took place.  Great timing!

Peel away all this obviousness, and for me, The Riot Club becomes a satire on our own double standards.  The Scottish landlord is servile to the club, are we supposed to sympathise with him in spite of this?  Then there is the club’s ploy of the intellect, before their tutors the boys adopt adversarial attitudes that serve to stimulate the intellect.  Riot shows that when the same intellectual play is translated into the outside world we’re supposed to condemn it, because the less educated can’t take the critical intellect?  Just because this critical thinking comes from spoilt brats?  Surely equality requires intellectual reciprocity.  Is being stolidly serious in the face of this critical mind supposed to be morally superior?  Riot satirizes our vicarious acceptance of such behaviour as entertaining, just as it’s a hard eyed look at middle England’s complacent compliance in greed and snobbery. Riot Club is the latest in a long line of films in which the banquet or meal is the centre of the drama.  Entertaining.

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Posted by on October 10, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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