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God’s Own Country

It might be being promoted as a “British Brokeback”, but apart from an agrarian context and some primal and near-violent sex scenes, God’s Own Country shares little in common with the groundbreaking American epic.

Brokeback Mountain was created at a time when the west was only beginning to understand gender diversity, and it portrayed a romance that was hindered by both law and societal expectations. God’s Own Country, on the other hand, is set in an England that is both legally affirming of homosexual partnerships and increasingly open to them culturally. The films, therefore, sit beautifully together as a study of thematic progression.

Set near Bradford, in England’s north, the story follows a young man whose father is increasingly unable to manage the farm. An Eastern European farmhand is hired to assist with lambing, and he proves to pretty damn good with his hands in more ways than one.

Now, from an Australian perspective, I do have to point out that there seems to be one rather gaping plot gap: thoughout the film, a large town is visible in the background of many farm scenes, yet for some reason, the lads are sent to spend several days camping in an abandoned hayshed presumably to be nearer the livestock needing attention. How on earth this farm can be large enough to require a sleepout is beyond me (the town is visible from both the hayshed and the homestead), but it is essential to the plot, as this is where the romance begins, so I did have to consciously suspend my disbelief at this incongruity.

Disbelief suspended, I was deeply moved by the brilliant performances of Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu. Gutteral, earthy and completely unlikely as a couple, the pair evoke great pathos, and unlike Brokeback Mountain, which suffers from the two-thirds-through “when will this end?”  illness, God’s Own Country is compelling throughout.

 
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Posted by on Monday, 4 September 2017 in BFI, British Film, Film

 

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Macbeth

macbethI fear I may be less impressed by this film than I should be.

The fact is, I think it’s very true to Shakespeare’s intentions. Had the muse of fire that we know as the cinema been invented during his lifetime, I expect this is very much how he would have imagined his play. A very Scottish Thane, rather than a slightly Gaelified English Lord, is met in battle, defeating King Duncan’s enemy in a bloodbath. He meets witches on the heath as it snows, and his wife is met in a rustic wooden cottage in a tiny village. When the king arrives, he stays in a tent. There is no hint here of English imperialism; Shakespeare’s English fable is as it should be: foreign.

In this aspect, the film distinguishes itself. It avoids the unfortunate assumptions of English and American producers which lead to a hybrid English/Scottish aesthetic, and presents The Scottish Play as if it were actually Scottish.

The performances also: spectacular! Fassbender is the quintessential Macbeth: astute, hirsute and when needed, a brute. He mixes genuine humanity with resolute barbarity. Marion Cottilard, too, is as conniving and “full of direst cruelty” as she ought to be, until her husband’s unerring barbarity tips her over the edge.

But still, I find myself craving a little more imagination. This is the Macbeth I read in high school and at university. I teach this Macbeth. It is the standard Macbeth. The Macbeth with factory fittings, or you might say, it is a Macbeth in original, mint condition. I don’t dislike it, but it’s hardly worth noticing.

At least with Geoffrey Wright’s film I thought it was disappointing. This is worse. Macbeth is protrayed absolutely perfectly, as is medieval Scotland, and I don’t care. I should care: Justin Kurzel, the film’s Australian director, should have given me a reason to care! I paid £14, an absurd sum, to be made to care, and yet, I don’t care. This is a perfect film for teaching Macbeth, unfortunately, and will probably be with us for many years to come as a result. I’m not unhappy about that. I just don’t care.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 25 November 2015 in British Film, Film, See Saw Films

 

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Burnt

This post contains minor spoilers. Not enough to ruin the film, but more than I would usually give, so proceed at your own risk!

burntBurnt is one of those great little films that really gets around your prediction instinct. The plot, in a way, is really quite predictable, but it disguises itself exceptionally well.

Essentially, the film is based on the formula for an action film. It utilises the late twentieth century chronotope of the gruff and superficially unpersonable hero, but casts him as a chef with a questionable history of drug use and alcoholism, determined to prove his value, in this instance, by attaining a third Michelin Star.

Bradley Cooper, of course is the perfect man for the job. Cooper embodies the masculine stereotype, but both his manner and his filmography allow him the leeway to delve into more unexpected waters, particularly as a sensitive and relatively accepting human being.

He is supported in this endeavour by much more nuanced casting. As a heroine, Helene (Sienna Miller) makes a shrewish entrance and, though following a similar trajectory to Shakespeare’s Kate, develops in a much more textured manner to matching Cooper’s Adam. Daniel Bruhl completes a love triangle, with his character Tony engaging with Adam’s obnoxious quest out of an unrequited love. His depiction of this character is exciting in being so understated. Neither his appearance, nor his portrayal of Tony rely on gay stereotypes, and it is refreshing to see such a subtle portrayal of a queer character, especially when the character’s orientation is a key element of the plot.

Burnt may not be a brilliant film, it may not boast spectacular dialogue or a unique plot arc, but it does surprise with some beautifully drawn characters and the perfect ending.

 
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Posted by on Monday, 9 November 2015 in American Film, Film, Weinstein Company

 

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Seeing Spectre with Cineworld’s stingy designers

cineworld

Cineworld Hammersmith’s decaying facade

Ordinarily, I write about plays and musicals and films. I have been known to write about writing, and about developmental work, and once or twice I have even written about a cinema. As far as I can remember, I’ve only written about cinemas with historic value, but on this occasion, it’s because a cinema has actually distracted me from the film I’ve gone to see by their sheer bald-headed stupidity.

The cinema in question is Cineworld Hammersmith. I’ve been to this cinema on a number of occasions, even though the first time I noticed it, it was shut and in such a state of disrepair that I thought it abandoned. Nonetheless, I have seen three films here, in three of their auditoria. The first two were not terribly remarkable. They lacked carpet, and had something of the feel of a hospital ward, and they have quite small screens. But other than that they were vaguely tolerable, as long as the film was good.

But tonight I was in auditorium 1 for a screening of Spectre. This being the film’s first week, and given the popularity, auditorium 1 was larger than the others I’ve visited. It was also busier. My seat (allocated) was between two other patrons, which was not surprising. What was surprising was that, when attempting to sit in it, I found the distance between the armrests was narrower than the width of my pelvis.

Now, I have sat in many seats. Some have been narrower than others, some higher, some have been more wobbly, some have been more comfortable. I have, in developing countries in South East Asia, found more than once that my ample western posterior was too much for their flimsy plastic chairs. I have also found, quite regularly, on aeroplanes and buses, seats where the distance between the seat back and the back of the seat in front is shorter than the length of my femurs, which is not terribly comfortable, as I am not equipped with joints at any point in my femurs. But never, in almost four decades on this planet (and the last two with a fully-developed pelvis), have I encountered a seat with fixed armrests that are closer together than the distance between the extremities of my pelvis.

I admit I am slightly on the tall side. I exceed the average height of men in the United Kingdom by more than ten centimetres (that’s just shy of four inches in the Old Scale). So my kneecaps are accustomed to being compressed by small seats, and I’ve learnt to sit at funny angles to compensate for stingy designers. The widest part of the human hip structure is known as the intertrochanteric width. The average for most humans is just shy of 30 centimetres. My own intertrochanteric width (I’ve checked, since encountering Cineworld’s seats) is precisely 31.3 centimetres, and the distance between the armrests in auditorium 1 at Hammersmith is, apparently, 31.2 centimetres. I know this because, upon my first attempt to sit in seat B7, I didn’t quite fit. It took me three attempts, the last of which involved substantial downward force, which was not altogether pleasant for the patrons in seats B6 and B8.

How an organisation in a relatively-advanced country like the United Kingdom can fail to recognise the need for armrests to be positioned at a distance that can accommodate above average intertrochanteric widths, I do not understand. It would make sense that a person who gets paid to design seats for humans should be at least slightly familiar with the average, as well as the outlying, intertrochanteric widths of human beings. They should also have some familiarity with the biological composition of human beings. While the femur is attached to the rest of the skeleton in a manner that permits its owner to adopt an angle that compensates for the stinginess of bus and plane seat designers, I can assure you the pelvis is not. My intertrochanteric with is fixed, and though I may be able to squeeze some of my extra flesh through these very stingy seats, it makes for a very uncomfortable film viewing experience.

Daniel Craig in a seat wider than Cineworld's.

Daniel Craig in a seat wider than Cineworld’s.

It seems to me that, when making a booking for a seat in auditorium 1 at Hammersmith, Cineworld’s website or staff should warn patrons that the seats in this auditorium are only suitable for people with average or below average pelvis widths, so as to reduce the embarrassment for those of us who are slightly wider than the average human.

So, given the immense distraction these seats provided, I can only say that Spectre is quite an engrossing film, as there were one or two occasions when I almost forgot that Cineworld’s ridiculous attempt to provide a seat was making me uncomfortable. Daniel Craig’s performance was not in any way squishy, and he seemed to have substantially more elbow room in his Aston Martin than I had in my seat. Ben Wishaw was as dreamy as ever, and seemed to have plenty of space in his seat in the gondola, even when he was beset by many tourists. I think the film is worth a look, as long as you can find a seat to sit in that doesn’t make you feel like you’re about to explode with rage at the idiocy of the person who made it. I give this film four out of five well-proportioned seats.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 28 October 2015 in Film

 

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Suffragette

suffragetteSuffragette is the story of a fictional woman in early twentieth century London, who becomes involved with the Suffragette movement to enfranchise women in the United Kingdom. Maud Watts is an ordinary mother, working in a laundry to help make ends meet. We see the journey she takes as she goes from merely supporting suffrage, to actively and militantly campaigning for it.

This technique of using someone who becomes involved in a movement to illustrate how people interacted through history is one I appreciate. I think it provides a view of history that is easier to relate to, and is possibly more accurate as it doesn’t present history merely through the eyes of leaders.

In this instance, the ploy is largely successful. It is easy to empathise with Maud, especially as her son is taken away from her. But it is this element of the plot that somehow gets lost along the way. One minute she is a mother, and the next she is just a suffragette, and her son is neither seen nor mentioned again.

From a feminist perspective, perhaps there is nothing wrong with this. But the purpose of creating this fictional character as a lens through which to view history is to humanise the story. The tragedy of losing such a precious relationship could not be understated, and its impact on the protagonist should not have been overlooked. It is at this point that the film goes from being brilliant to being somewhat clinical, and having the feeling of a docudrama, rather than a film.

The dialogue, nonetheless, is brilliant throughout, and demonstrates an impeccable skill. Carey Mulligan’s performance as Maud is professional and engaging.

I just wish the writer, Abi Morgan, had stuck more doggedly to her initial approach.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 21 October 2015 in BFI, British Film, Film, Film4, Pathe

 

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Last Cab to Darwin

Last CabOkay, I’m a bit late. I recall wishing I had the time to go see this on stage a few years ago, and in recent months I again thought it looked like an interesting film. How I underestimated it!
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The story of a cabby from Broken Hill who finds himself with terminal cancer and an abrupt prognosis, this film resonates with some of the deepest anxieties of humanity. When the Northern Territory legalises euthanasia, he hoofs it in his cab across the desert to end his life on his own terms.
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This is a brilliant road movie, certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen. It succeeds in portraying some deeply flawed characters with empathy and keeps them at the centre of the story despite the political nature of the theme. This is probably the film’s greatest strength. It could have ended up being something of a polemic, but it remains grounded by its earthy and endearing characters who are never out of focus.
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I ended up seeing Last Cab to Darwin in an aeroplane flying across Australia, and it turns out that’s the perfect context. I whipped up my window blind afterwards and watched Kangaroo Island pass underneath as the plane made its way out over the Bight, just the right time to whistfully ponder the beauty and ugliness of life. Australia’s outback offers the perfect metaphor for this; majestic in its grandeur and vicous in its relentless trajectory towards death and destruction.
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Be afraid, it seems to say, but stay on the road. I hope when my journey ends, I don’t have to make a decision like this, but I’m also sure I’d make the same one. I just hope our governments can manage to keep their worthless noses out of my bloody business.
 
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Posted by on Thursday, 8 October 2015 in Australian Film, Film

 

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Holding the Man

holding the manTimothy Conigrave’s autobiographical story of his love for John Caleo has turned into one of the finest Australian films ever produced. In fact, I should strike the Australian from that sentence, as it’s really one of the finest films ever produced in the world, but having seen it, I’m rather more proud to be an Australian than I was yesterday, so it’s staying.

Adapted for the stage (and subsequently the screen) by Queanbeyan playwright Tommy Murphy, Holding the Man follows the story of Tim and John from when they meet in high school and Tim pursues John. The story follows their love through homophobia, infidelity (of sorts), moderate success and finally AIDS. The characters are portrayed skilfully by Ryan Corr as Tim, and Craig Stott as John. Despite a strange, forced accent from Corr (he insists on pronouncing every T as if he were dining with the queen and it annoyed me throughout), their performances are truly impeccable.

The film matters in a sociological sense because it is set against the backdrop of the changing Australia of the late seventies through early nineties, which was when the bulk of social attitudes about the rainbow community shifted. And yet, despite the significance of these political shifts, this story is firmly grounded in the experience of the two men at the heart of this tragedy. And therein lies its greatest strength.

If you really hate spoilers, you might want to stop reading now, but really, the ending is clear from the very opening moments of the film, anyway. It is rare, I think, that this tactic works, but this is certainly one of the circumstances in which it serves well for keeping the story on track and focused. One of the benefits of knowing that John dies is that as the film delves into some very dark places the audience doesn’t question whether he will pull through. And because we know he is going to die, we are able to concentrate on the way in which the characters deal with their circumstances. It really is very strategic storytelling, and shows a master of the art was at work.

Despite the darkness of this story, this film is, at its heart, a celebration of love. It truly demonstrates a spectacular skill on the part of Tommy Murphy, to delve into such dark plotlines with such pathos and not lose sight of the heart of the story, which was the love between the two protagonists. Few writers can manage this with such dexterity.

I simply cannot recommend this film highly enough. Get it. Watch it. Share it.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 26 August 2015 in Australian Film, Film, Goalpost Pictures

 

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