Category Archives: Film

Mary Magdalene

Landscapes and coastlines reminiscent of southern Australia give this film a grounded feel that exceeds most other depictions of biblical stories. Even the perspective lent to this story by looking at it through the eyes of Mary of Magdala puts me in mind of the strong and courageous women of the Australia Henry Lawson depicted.

In this harsh environment, Mary’s voice emerges subtly and beautifully over the course of the film. Rooney Mara depicts her with a graceful sensibility that builds in courage and awareness as the story progresses.

The male disciples appear as little more than a contentious rabble, much like the church they founded. They tend to follow Jesus about, rather than travelling with him, which is a different way of depicting them than I’ve seen in the past. They argue with each other, ignoring him largely, and it is Mary who points out after Jesus’ resurrection that in their fervour they’d forgotten to listen to the man they — rather pretentiously — called teacher.

This film, though, is more than merely a feminist reading of the gospel. Jesus certainly isn’t depicted here as a feminist, and nor is he depicted as omniscient. Instead, the messiah is shown as a man who was accessible and responsive to others; one aware of the people around him and open to a greater understanding of their experiences. This, really, should be central to the Christian faith: while denominations of the church continue to argue amongst themselves about petty nonsense like whether to worship on Saturday or Sunday or whether vegetarian Catholics should take communion or whether queer people should be treated like human beings, this film depicts a Christ with ears as well as a mouth. It shows him as a man listening: in all my years listening to a myriad of teachings about Jesus, I’ve never once heard a sermon about the example he set as a listener. And yet the gospels, both canonical and apocryphal, frequently depict him listening.

I feel that this film depicts the events of the gospel — canonical, apocryphal and fictional — in a wholly engaging and enlightened manner. And most importantly, it does so from the perspective of one of the most important participants in the events themselves. Truly enlightening and exciting.

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Posted by on Sunday, 18 March 2018 in British Film, Film, Porchlight, See Saw Films


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Call Me By Your Name

I don’t like slow. I’m pretty sure I don’t like slow. But this film is slow. And I liked it.

It’s a summer in the early 1980s, and for some inexplicable reason a hunky Yank named Oliver turns up at an academic’s house in northern Italy and stays for the summer. As you do. For some reason the family speaks English with an American twang, and Oliver seems to understand Italian far better than he speaks it. The son in his mid teens, Elio, vacates his bedroom for Oliver, sleeping instead in an adjoining bedroom, which, apparently, is unsuitable for Yanks, given their delicate temperaments. And this exposition takes at least half an hour. Did I mention the film is slow?

I mean, any slower and I’d have popped out for a three course meal in the middle and probably not have missed any significant plot points. And yet, I stayed engaged. This surprises me. Usually I want the film to move, but I really didn’t mind the slow and steady building of character layers, the quiet, lounging nature of their days or the inconsistent progression of the central characters’ relationship.

Oliver and Elio connect, then disconnect. They approach an equilibrium, then are thrown off. Elio acts out, as teenagers are wont to do; Oliver doesn’t come home, as hunky Yanks are wont to do. Slowly (I did say it’s slow, right?), the unbalanced nature of this character development endears these two uncharming characters to me. I feel Elio’s angst as he recognises his attraction to Oliver, and I accept Oliver’s resistance to his own attraction.

This is, perhaps, one of the most endearing and relatable aspects of the characters: their internalised homophobia is something I recognise in myself. At no point in this film (and there was plenty of time to include it), does any other character make a homophobic comment. The only place homophobia appears is within the gay characters themselves. Elio’s parents push the couple together; other members of the community never pass any comments on their sexuality; and yet, the central characters resist their urges not only because of the age gap but because of their perceptions of right and wrong. It’s a deeply endearing process that breaks my heart.

SPOILER ALERT: Now, if you keep reading this post, you will encounter comments relating to the ending. If you’ve not seen it, stop, watch, and then carry on. The only reason this film is worth writing about is because of a magical moment of cinematic genius at the end, so I’m writing about it.

The long road to Oliver and Elio finally acting on their urges jars splendidly with the immediate nature of sex and dating in this century. That slow development is entirely foreign to younger generations, and to have it depicted in this manner is a valuable cultural record if nothing more.

But it is more. And as much as I rail against the slowness, as much as I just want something to happen, the languishing nature of the plot here leads to one beautiful moment of cinematic bliss. It begins when Oliver leaves to return to America: I felt the pain of that separation like it was my own. And it wasn’t just lovers: saying goodbye like that has been part of my life since I was 11 when a slew of deaths and departures began for my family. The gut-wrenching numbness depicted here could have been mine. And the moment when Oliver tells Elio that he’s getting married, the finality of that moment; the internalised homophobia inherent in the act; and most of all, Elio’s silent, howling alone-ness echoed in my heart like they were my own.

There, at that moment, is the genius of this film. The slow slow build, the euphoric collision of love and lust, and the sudden wrench of separation culminating in absolute despair resonate with my experience. And I sat in awe at how this film took me there so subtly, so deftly, so firmly.

Would that I had the talent of James Ivory Luca Guadagnino to recognise the value of slow.


Posted by on Wednesday, 24 January 2018 in Cinéfracture, Film, French Film, Frenesy Film Company, Italian Film


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The Greatest Showman

Rarely does a film come along that I can praise without reservation or qualification, but this is one. So much so that it’s barely worth writing about.

What do you say about a film that hits the mark on character, balances it with plot and inspires us to be our best selves?

Nothing. Just watch the damn film. Annually at the very least. Forever.

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Posted by on Wednesday, 3 January 2018 in American Film, Film, Twentieth Century Fox


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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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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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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 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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