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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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Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Synopsis

From the Dickens story about the coming into fortune of Pip a blacksmith’s apprentice, Magwitch his benefactor, and Estella the love of his life.

Criticism

The film with all others must be compared is David Lean’s 1946 Great Expectations.  That film is in black and white and is threaded with exciting cliff hangers and is reputed to capture Dicken’s spirit;  after all his novels were initially serialised and illustrated in newspapers.  The Lean film is exhuberant and unconcerned with the perils of editing.  This latest film follows on from last year’s BBC adaptation of Great Expectations which starred Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham.  In this film Miss Haversham is played by Helena Bonham Carter who looks like she’s auditioning for an old rock music video.  I’m not sure that Helena Bonham Carter’s twitchiness is apt for this role.  There is great story in Haversham’s ritual of grief and revenge, here we just get a film set trying to approximate to our conventional imaginings from the book, there’s no attempt to get beyond the almost pantomimic familiarities.  She looks like she’s gurning for one of her partner’s films, let’s say Tim Burton’s “The Mad Bride”.

Pip himself is a snob, the fact that it’s easy to understand his social climbing nastiness does not mitigate the offence.  John Mills in the Lean film allows Pip a certain redemption, his gentlemanly conscience subsequently bothers him as he later treats Joe Gargery properly whereas Jeremy Irvine as Pip merely changes his attitude to Gargery because changed circumstances compel a minimal decency.

This latest Great Expectations is populated with actors who try to outdo each other in Victorian weirdness, which is more frenetic than imaginative. Estella also goes through the well worn routines we know from other adaptations, it’s as if she is merely trying to get a bit ahead of us reading the lines for her.  Robbie Coltrane plays Jaggers the lawyer, his lawyer’s office has none of the dense weirdness that Lean’s black and white film showed us.  Minor characters seem to have more freedom than in previous versions.  Sally Hawkins relishes playing the brutalized termagant trapped with the simple Gargery, she lashes out in quotidian frustration (admittedly this is not a demanding role). Jason Flemyng  as Joe Gargery is a bit more complicated than the holy fool played by Leans’ Bernard Miles, he rejects Jagger’s offer of payment for Pip with wounded pride.

The famous graveyard scene in Lean’s film is impossible to beat, the wind bleakly dramatizes the black and whites as Pip gets into a Wordsworthian terror about the surroundings marshlands.  It reminds me of that scene in The Prelude when young Wordsworth steals a boat and his guilt becomes a threatening mountain.  In this latest film this scene looks like museum workers dressing up for a picnic.

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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in All-time favourites, Film Reviews

 

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Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre posterSynopsis

From the Charlotte Bronte novel about a girl who survives a vicious aunt and a bulling school master to become governess in Rochester’s big country house.  Rochester wants to marry her but she finds out at the alter that Rochester already has a wife who is mentally ill.  Jane leaves Rochester and is saved from a stormy moor by Rivers and his sisters.  Jane teaches children and Rivers wants to marry her.  She returns to Rochester’s house to find it mostly burnt down.  She meets up again with Rochester…

Criticism

This story has been subjected to quite a few film and TV treatments.  We’ve gone from black and white Hollywood films which seem to be written by Daphne du Maurier to low key estuary accented  TV performances.  In spite of the over-familiarity of Jane Eyre, this film draws us in because of the erotic charge between Anna Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Rochester.  Critics have complained that this film is too restrained, but I find it much more powerful than if they’d simply torn each other’s clothes off!  The austerely washed out colours enable you to focus on the dialogue and how much depended on the correctly chosen word and the correct expression.  Cleverness in dialogue was often a fight for survival in ways that maybe are more difficult for us to appreciate now.  For me, this comes out clearly in the film.  The second meeting between Rochester and Jane shows us the wearily familiar advantages of the privileged, how they feel they can exploit the candour seemingly wrongfooted, by giving such defensiveness even more reason to be defensive.  Rochester thinks he never gives anything away but of course we look for signs of the facial hard work that only fitfully camouflages vulnerability.  Jane must be required to impress.  She will have none of being patronized in that facile way, and the actor Mia Wasikovska does this very well.  Her supposedly plain face shows a shrewd and alert intelligence and we all know that Wasikovska herself with her model looks will undoubtledly be advertizing posh perfume.

When Jane is rescued by the Rivers’ household, even if you don’t know the story you know for sure that Rivers’ seemingly saintly constraint is only a front for sexually predatory self regard.  I winced at each scene he was with Jane because although I didn’t previously know anything about this character, I knew he would destroy the delicate membrane of disinterested friendship.  His Christian piety is merely a sanctimonious mask for his vanity as he asks Jane to become his wife and share a missionary’s life with him.  Jamie Bell does a good job of showing his self deceptive rectitude in all its life hating resentment.

Judi Dench plays a character that has become a fixture of costume dramas, the dependable elderly domestic boss with a northern accent that spits trivially status-panicky suspicions borne out of resentful self repression, which will soften under the kindness of the hero/heroine.  Sally Hawkins plays the vicious aunt who goes through a death bed conversion to goodness which is for me somewhat bland, as it takes place in a wealthy room, no blood-spitting consumptive death for her.  Like most 19th century costume dramas I’ve seen, this film avoids the horrors of 19th century disease and ill health (no bad teeth!).  All the actors look ready for the next Jane Austen drama.

With the faded colours comes a lack of spectacle.  Rochester’s guests we tolerate as silly impostors, their snobbery is so facile they seem like a vulgar painting Jane and Rochester want to get rid of.  Fukanaga, the director, could not give this such a radical treatment as Andrea Arnold has done with Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, but the challenge is all the greater to make this much told story watchable.  This film manages to do that.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Made in Dagenham

Made in Dagenham posterSynopsis

About the 1968 strike at the Ford factory in Dagenham by women machinists who are declared unskilled labour.  They eventually fight for equal pay with men and they are led by the initially reluctant Sally Hawkins when Geraldine James steps down and accepts her as spokesperson.  The foreman is Bob Hoskins who is sympathetic to the women’s cause because he had to live on his mother’s wages and life was very hard.  They take their dispute to the management and the Michigan bosses find out about the strike and want it stopped.  Hawkins has trouble with her male chauvinist husband as well as with male chauvinist trade unionists and communist party bosses.  Geraldine James’ husband kills himself and this motivates James to join the striking women who make an impression at the TUC. conference, and then meet Barbara Castle who has to deal with American bosses and Harold Wilson.  In the end the women win and the Equal Pay Act comes out in 1970.

Criticism

Watching this film aroused curiosity, nostalgia and embarrassment for me.  Curiosity because this is yet another film dealing with recent history and it shows the same faults as other films with similar ambitions.  It’s as if this takes its cue from soap operas of the time, turning characters into broadbrush caricatures.  Trade unionists and women act like TV- depicted so called ‘ordinary people’.  It’s almost a humorous soap opera parody of working life and betrays the same fascinated misperception that middle class Marxists were hampered with at the time.  We only see working people at moments which reassuringly illustrate their ordinariness: concern with money, sexuality, relationship with bosses and other workers as if there is no life beyond these cosy predictabilities.  We are in Mike Leigh country here, I half expected Timothy Spall or Jim Broadbent to come on, playing sturdy avuncular  figures.  It would have been better to have Ken Loach directing this, though I only have a little more time for Loach than I do for Leigh.  I think they have both made a career out of turning working people into noble savages.  Showbiz perceptions of working people and work at the time came from Coronation Street and Miriam Karlin in a comedy called The Rag Trade.  I worked in a couple of factories just after this 1968 strike and they were nastier places than this film shows.   In Made In Dagenham the factory floor is a sort of performance art industrial theatre where personalities clash in a vaudeville stunt, whereas in reality factories were monotonous.

Sally Hawkins plays a cockney sparrer, a bit like Poppy in Happy Go Lucky.  We see an early example of her bravery when she confronts the maths master who’s into corporal punishment (weren’t they all happy to cane pupils then?  Mine was).  Anyway her inarticulate decency hyperventilates like Billy Budd faced with Claggarts’ vileness.  Then she is the feminist hero confounding the chauvinist insecurities of her boring husband.  She gradually acquires articulate self confidence but it’s all done in a sort of moralistic heartwarming way, beloved of Hollywood.  It’s interesting that striking trade unionists can now be regarded as heroes.  Imagine trying to make such a film in the heyday of the strikes in the late 70s.  Of course, it’s now at a safe distance and we can all shed hypercritical tears for what’s quaint.  Hawkins gains that sentimental male approval beloved of patriarchs with a conscience, and I squirmed.  Rosemund Pike plays the Cambridge educated wife of one of the Ford managers and she develops covert sisterly sympathies with Hawkins.  It’s fascinating to see her suffering the patronizing imbecilities of her husband and it does concentrate the mind on how recent and still prevalent male stupidity was and is.  The problem is that this is all done in a jarringly moralistic way, it’s almost Dickension in its simple sentimentality.  Twenty first century audiences swallow this anodyne morality play and it amazes me.  Then there’s the jarring note of Geraldine James turning up with the strikers after she had pulled out because of her marital miseries with her mentally unwell husband.  It reminds me of the Comic Strip comedy team who did a Hollywood spoof on the miners’ strike.

Bob Hoskins did his usual rent-a-working-class stereotype, he’s been doing it since playing a Cockney soldier in Zulu Dawn.  Hoskins is likeable but too ready with the timely noble sentiment.  He is the cow eyed stalwart shedding a tear at the triumph of the just.

To remind us we are in the 60s we get the usual soundtrack of hits, and of course TV must be in black and white like in Life on Mars.  This film succumbs to the dramatic requirements which insist on cartoonish simplicity.  Miranda Richardson plays Barbara Castle, gets her feistiness quite well.  John Sessions is good as the wearily pragmatic politician who had to keep the Americans happy, he plays Harold Wilson.  Did the women strikers see themselves as pioneering feminists?  The film certainly says so:  Hawkins puts her partner right about his claims to saintliness based on surrendering his lordly rights.

Where are the Marxists, the factory gate paper sellers and agitators?  They’ve been edited out, they’d get in the way of the feel good factor, wouldn’t they?  There is nothing about the wider political context.  The women are wheeled onto the public arena like Pocohontas paraded at the court of King James and the film seems happy with that trivialization..

This movie arouses nostalgia because it exposes, without meaning to, the cruel limitations of trade unionists.  There was no vision beyond a decent striving for any better life than the capitalists would grant.  Not really true to life then but occasionally entertaining and the acting is good.

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Posted by on July 10, 2011 in Film Reviews, Out on DVD

 

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Submarine

Submarine posterSynopsis

A film about an unprepossessing adolescent set in the 1980s in Swansea, directed by Richard Ayoade, from a novel by Joe Dunthorne.  Ben Stiller is involved in it.  It stars Craig Roberts and Oliver Tait, a sharp witted and observant schoolboy (we are given to understand).  He bullies a slightly corpulent girl in order to win over Jordana (Yasmin Paige) who wears a red duffel coat.  She seems to dominate Oliver.  His parents are played by Noah Taylor, who is a marine biologist, and Sally Hawkins, who works in an office.  She is getting bored with hubby and has designs on Paddy Considine who plays a leather clad, would-be mystic .  Oliver has fantasies, he imagines the public grief at his demise.  He poses as a philosopher.  He plays host to Jordana, using boxed wine and prawns and then a candle lit bedroom.  Jordana’s mother has cancer and Jordana rejects Oliver for not visiting her mother in hospital.  In order to get her over her grief for her mother, he tries to poison her dog, thinking that such an action will get her used to grief.

Criticism

This is quite funny for the first half, though you might find your laughter getting self consciously thin.  It’s a coming of age film and I think it’s apposite to list the cliches of this kind of film.  The Graduate has a lot to answer for.

a) The lead character is usually an unprepossessing sulky young man or woman but has one or two supposedly cool confederates.

b) The lead character is usually sexually inept but keeps girlfriend anyway.  If a girl, she is bright and scares boys off.

c)The lead usually makes a great fuss about learning things the rest of us take in our stride.

d) The lead usually has hippy liberal parents into sexual liberation.  They always try to  keep up with fashionable ideas and of course they are shamefully uncool.

e) The parents are usually played by actors like Stan Tucci or Noah Taylor.  Dad is usually a sexual failure and figure of fun.

f) The hero’s house is always clean and his/her parents never seem to work.

g) Freeze frame with titles indicate some moments of comic insight.

h) The voice-over threads relentlessly through the film. There is a tone of.disparagement of teachers and pupils, usually such comments focus on physical quirks or personality deficiencies.

i) Just to get some intellectual credibility, the lead must either read or name drop Friedrich Nietzsche, compulsory for adolescents..

j) So the star has to be a nerdy existentialist.

k) There is posturing with flattering fantasised self image, like Billy Liar.

l) There is some obligatorily silly friend or family relation of the nerdy hero.  They are usually some self deluded uncle or old flame who is so uncool.

m) There is the inevitable heart to heart with Mum or Dad, usually in the bedroom.

n) Somebody manages to be ill or die and this is supposed to be a wake up call.

o) If it’s set in a particular decade there will be anachronisms.

p) There is usually a leitmotif (quirky of course) and this explains the title.

q) There always must be a highly obtrusive soundtrack of guitar twanged ballads of teen angst, usually superfluous to understanding the lead (should you want to).

r) The main characters are always middle class.  Submarine is guilty of a) b) c) e) f) g) h) i) j) k) l) m) n) o) p) q) r) s) t) u) and r).  Oh dear, all of them.

SThe funny bits cannot distract from the film’s obvious lack of originality.  Its precursors go from The Graduate and Here we go round the Mulberry Bush to Adrian Mole and Juno and The Scarlet A.  The last two are by far the best of the lot.  There is the same smug self regard sinking into suffocating  self absorption.  For all the intelligence of the lead in Submarine, he is slow to learn about himself – cliche (c).  Like similar characters, he might be a dark horse to his more alpha-male aspiring school colleagues, but he is often cowardly and snobbish, and of course he gets the girl in the end.  Jordana goes around in a vivid red duffel coat which is of course an uncool article of clothing.  We are meant to think of the midget in Don’t Look Now, she turns round and slashes Donald Sutherland with a knife.  In Submarine someone turns round to him but it is not Jordana.  The coat is visually stunning in a landscape of greys, browns and greens, it’s like a splash of scarlet paint over a grey canvas

There is fashionable amusement with the quirks of other decades.  Oliver invites Jordana to a meal and he has a box of wine on the table and I wonder if that’s more 70s than 80s.  Cliche (l) is embodied in Paddy Considine.  He plays a leather trousered would be mystic, all Allen Partridge insecurity and medallion man gormlessness.  His hairdo is a mullet, he drives a star spangled van straight out of a 1968 rock tour.

The parents responsible for the cliche offences d) e) f) g) m) are Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins.  Noah Taylor looks like the perfect wally dad.  He can be relied on to offer good natured platitudes to the son he is not supposed to understand.  Sally Hawkins has become the face of Mrs Englishwoman for all decades from the debutantes of the 1950s, to Dagenham housewife of the 60s,  to a 21st century manic  optimist.  If she’s not careful, she will be wheeled onto more films to provide comfort for right wing nostalgics.  She is our contemporary answer to Deborah Kerr, the professional Englishwoman.  No doubt Americans lap this sort of thing up.  They love to hear Limmies being clever and humorous, and these sort of glorified TV productions that have been turned into films tend to be well worked rungs up the Hollywood ladder. This would have been better as a shorter TV production.

Occasionally funny but very derivative.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go poster

SYNOPSIS Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, it’s about a group of clones (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield) who are pupils in a special school for people whose body parts will be harvested by the time they are thirty.  They are electronically tagged so there appears to be no escape.  A teacher (Sally Hawkins) tells the pupils of  their fate for which she is removed by the head teacher (Charlotte Rampling).  Each clone will suffer three surgical removals called ‘donations’ and with the third comes ‘completion’ ( a euphemism for death).  Carey Mulligan acquires the role of a ‘carer’ who looks after the clones as a sort of counsellor.  Knightley and Garfield are lovers but Knightley later confesses that Mulligan and Garfield were really meant for each other.  Mulligan felt excluded and jealous. Knightley is ‘completed’, so Mulligan and Garfield speak to the art teacher who visits their school to find out their spiritual status (i.e. if they merit the avoidance of ‘completion’ ).

REVIEW This is ostensibly a sci-fi film, but it doesn’t really look like one, but then glass domes and boiler suits do not really make convincing sci-fi either.  Isn’t the best sci-fi simply a plausible extrapolation from present concerns?  In this respect this is a plausible dystopia rather like The Handmaid’s Tale. If one compare’s it with the only Ishiguro I’ve read and watched on film (i.e. Remains of the Day), then it’s a very English setting.  Just like Remains of the Day, it’s the deceptively genteel environment for evil.  In Remains the servant’s boss is chatting with Nazis, and in Never Let Me Go it’s the setting for industrial murder.  Kazuo Ishiguro, like Joseph Conrad, seems more English than the English.  Like the Anthony Hopkins butler in Remains, there is the same uncomplaining acceptance of authoritarian outrage, all the more horrifying for its workaday stoicism and zombified mindlessness.  Hopkins’ butler in Remains has had the humanity leeched out of him, he can only serve and never give because he is too emotionally terrified to do so.  The victims in Never Let Me Go rage against their fate, but to no avail, so at least there is some resistance, but in both books and films there is the common thread of sacrifice and the bland acceptance of the horrors of it.

Britain in this film is a sort of hellishly plausible twentieth century with a few differences, rather Pullman’s Golden Compass, but not so exotic.  This is a deferential society and these pupils are brought up on some sort of public school ethos, which gives the story a satirical edge whether intended or not. We see servile Brits going about their business, self servingly accepting the obscene harvesting that is done on their behalf: didn’t all these upper class Bloomsbury types and New Statesman socialists accept the need for forced sterilization?  One film critic has called this a parable, but I wonder how.  A parable is a short story with a moral point, here the point is not even made but it doesn’t have to be.   Killing people for the benefit of other people is beyond question utterly wrong.  It doesn’t even begin to touch on the relative merits of deontological versus utilitarian arguments.  If there is a parable, it’s about our treatment of animals, so a vegetarian could find a lot here apposite to their case.

The affair between the three is understated and tastefully British.  I half expected schoolkids in schoolcaps and uniforms and a young Haley Mills from Whistle Down the Wind, to walk on to the set, it touches a nostalgic nerve.  There is a kind of innocence about their relationship that’s quite touching.  It brings out the loneliness of sexual jealousy and the search for identity in a world which cruelly denies them any proper human status.  Mulligan’s character is painfully good to the point of saintliness and I expected some sort of swift savagery to be run past us, but with a deceptive gentleness from Mulligan it never came.  The scenes from the countryside as the horrible fate closes in reminds me of those luscious rural scenes in Shadowlands about C.S. Lewis.

The idea of death imposed on young people was used in the 70’s sci-fi films Soylent Green and Logan’s Run, but we are allowed  no exotically artificial distance in this film.  I know Ishiguro is fascinated by British self abasement and masochistic acceptance of arrogant authority, but I cannot believe that self conscious fully human clones could  accept their fate, or that Brits could stand by to let it happen. This  is a central implausibility in the book and film.  Still, very absorbing.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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