Film Review

  • The Batman

    Tonight I went and saw ‘The Batman’.  This is the first movie I’ve seen set in this universe since 2019 and ‘Joker’ (With which the film could be part of the same universe.) and the first Batman movie since 2008 and ‘Dark Knight’.  Both these movies are highly regarded and both had critical success.  I have serious problems with both these movies and think they are overrated.  In MY OPINION ‘Joker’ is gorgeous.  Fantastic set design, great cinematography, fantastic performances, great soundtrack and sound design…  The movie as a character study was meh.  Generic and uninteresting.  ‘Dark Knight’ I have an even lower view of.  Me and my mate went to see it and we both thought the same.  Fantastic start with that bank robbery scene.  Heath Ledger Truly deserved the Oscar for his Joker.  The film was over bloated, somewhat confusing and predictable and that Batman voice…  A choice?  Really that was a choice.  Here endeth the unpopular views.

    ‘The Batman’ is the best Batman film for me since ‘Batman Begins’.  I really do love that one.  Still my favourite.  It doesn’t quite have any performance as great as Heath Ledger’s, or Joaquin Pheonix’s Jokers’   But all the performances were top notch.  Zoe Kravitz as Selina kyle/Catwoman was fun, Colin Farrel as Penguin nicely chewed scenery, John Tuturro as Falcone was good form as to be expected from the seasoned actor.  The weakest for me was Robert Pattison as Batman (He didn’t really do a Bruce Wayne.  It wasn’t a terrible performance and still watchable.  Long stares instead of replies.  It was a bit to emo for me but it had potential.  You knew this was the Batman still on the early days of his journey and he was not yet who was going to be but you can see Pattison’s Batman has the potential to be the batman we all know.

    What was great about ‘The Batman’ was the story.  It’s the first live action Batman film that really is a detective story nearly all the way through.  This film relies less on Batman physical attributes, which are here, including gadgets and the best live action Batsuit and relies more on his knowledge and observation skills.  Pacing is great, mostly, it lingers in some areas.  It suffers from the modern film habit of being overly long but it isn’t as bad as some others.  Maybe 20 minutes of stuff that didn’t need to be there.  The cinematography is great and has plenty of hero scenes and enigmatic silhouettes.  This film has lots of influences and wears them proudly noir, Hitchcock even Nolan’s Batman but mostly 2 obvious stand out influences.  Gotham city felt like it was pulled out of the ‘Arkham’ games and of course David Fincher’s ‘Seven’.  It was ‘Seven’ in so many ways but not in a bad way.  It could very much have been a good sequel.  Paul Dano’s Riddler shared a lot with John Doe.  The murder’s and the clues shared a lot with the seven deadly sins styles of murders and clues and there was part, that has to be said was ripped right out of ‘Seven’.  Even that didn’t annoy me though.  Rather it was a familiar moment.

    ‘The Batman’ was a pleasant experience, even surprise as I wasn’t expecting much.  The first live action production I’ve enjoyed in this universe since 2005.

    This is not Adrin…  The pirate reviewer.

  • Don’t Look Up 2021

    This is less a review of the film and more of an analysis of its social commentary.  I’m not great at reviews.  So suffice to say it’s a really good, fun film.  If you liked Adam Mckay’s ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Vice’ you know pretty much what you are getting and you will like this.  It’s unabashedly political so depending on your views you will be screaming at certain parts for different reasons.  The look for the film is great.  Nothing really flashy, or mind blowing visually but is great for the story it’s telling.  The soundtrack is top notch and is toe tapping good in places.  Even the fabricated pop song that is sung by Ariana Grande, who plays a vapid celebrity, at a concert promoting a call to action is spot on.  Most of the performances are great.  Meryl Streep looks like she is really enjoying her role as a populist, self-indulgent president.  If you have Netflix I recommend it.

    ******WARNING********

    This movie is totally based in a fictional reality and it in no way resembles the actual reality we live in

    This is a reality in which most power is not earned or democratically given like it is in our reality, but power is your birth right, as when Cate Blanchette, an influential presenter on daytime TV gives her backstory.  Which in no way resembles  that of the American “news” presenters Tucker Carlson, or Chris Cuomo. 

    A reality in which power comes not from what education you excelled at but where you went to school.  Unlike nearly everyone in power in the House of Commons, who are fully qualified for the roles they excel at.    A world in which the silly, shallow romance of 2 celebrities gain more interest than world changing, cataclysmic events.  A world where power that is given through nepotism, as in the president and her chief of staff, who is also her son and he has something to tell the world about the sexiness of the president, mum.   

    Power that is bought by a billionaire who has the clout and position to make decisions that can affect billions of people for profit, thinly disguised as improving people’s lives and ending poverty.  This is a fictional film in which society confuses wealth with expertise.  Unlike our expert billionaires who have a deep understanding of education, environmental issues and how to recue children trapped in an underwater cave. 

    In this fictional reality, that is nothing like ours, a vocal, influential minority confuse facts and science as conspiracies and propaganda, with their factitious ulterior motives that has no evidence.  We are so lucky to have media personalities and pundits and influencers who understand that “Climate Change” has 2 sides that are both valid.  That change always happens and we all just need to sell our houses before they are underwater.  We sensibly understand that it’s some other chumps problem. 

    In the silly reality of this film, the head of NASA is totally unqualified for the position she is in, but because of her position is easily able to convince large swathes of the population that the actual evidence and science is wrong and is willing to fall on her sword when it becomes politically convenient for those with more power than her.  In this work of fiction science and expertise is distrusted unless it conforms to a certain narrative and is presented in a way that conforms to the masses and if you say anything different you are turned in to a monster through memes on social media….  IMAGINE…. 

    Yes.. So unbelievable

    Who am I kidding…  The only thing truly fictional about this movie is the technology.  In fact there is some funny and even sad parts but none of it is even close to as sad and funny as the reality we live in right now.  The reality this is parodying is so much more preposterous, even more nuts than what is in this movie.  In fact the horror of this film is how it has become impossible to ridicule this Tweet fed, emoji ridden, celebrity obsessed, conspiracy infested, populist path we are on… 

    I recommend you watch ‘Don’t look up’ which is available on Netflix, if for no other reason than to realise how moronic those we empower are and ridiculous our reality is.

  • Property is no longer a theft (La proprietà non è più un furto) Elio Petri (Italy 1973)

    Property is no longer a theft (La proprietà non è più un furto) Elio Petri (Italy 1973) Flavio Bucci, Ugo Tognazzi

    Viewed: Star and Shadow, Burnlaw part of LTP film retreat, 16 June 2018 Ticket: £5

    Blitzo Schizo

    Petri ‘s ‘Property is no longer a theft’ (‘Property”) is a fable after the Aesop fashion. A moral Brechtian tale wrapped up in the delirium of filmic form.

     

    ‘Property is no longer a theft’ is a take on Proudhon’s famous assertion (property is theft), and moves on Petri’s perception that property is not so much a theft rather it has become a schizophrenic madness that rips up men and their social relations.

    Petri’s movie is an inspired satire on the madness in money and capitalism. A film construed as a satanic black comedy, an oppositin of good and evil; a relentless parody on a society defined through inequalities of ownership and wealth, and rendered psychotic by the intensity of desires they unleash.

    Petri’s script is Brechtian in its structure. The main characters defined by the situations Petri puts into play rather than their personalities. Total, the money allergic bank clerk, the Butcher the property owner, Anita the Butcher’s mistress. The roles are highly individuated but played out by the actors as types. They are not subjectivities. Their situations in relation to property make them the sorts of people they are. As types each of the main characters is granted by the script, one soliloquy; a communication delivered directly to the audience, in which each reveals candidly and repletely how they see the world and their place in it. These pieces as insights, dynamically connect the characters with the viewer,; they are key elements in the films structure, linking states of mind to the film’s action.

    The script with its Brechtian design exploits symbolic devices to throw into relief the cavernous dark spaces in which the scenario plays out.

    The script whilst in the form of a transposed fable has a simple magico-religious device at its core that allows a dark absurdity to play through the schizo desires of the haves and have not’s. Total is a have-not, and knows he will always so be. In a puff of smoke (literally) Total quits his job in the bank, vowing to revenge himself on the rich Butcher whose great piles of money he has had to count every day.   But Total, who is allergic to money as it it makes him itch, understands that money is a form of death wish and sickness, so he invents what he calls mandrake communism (hallucinogenic communism?) to pay out the Butcher. Disdaining money, Total takes on the mantel of the shaman, and in a series of slap-stick cameos resorts to stealing the Butcher’s power objects: his butcher’s knife, his hat, his jewels and finally his girlfriend the abused and fucked Anita.

    Although knocked off balance by the loss of his power objects, the butcher remains powerfully protected by the shibboleths and mantras of wealth, consoling himself that there is no point in having objects is no one wants to steal them. And repossessing Anita on her return to his flat, fucks her and celebrates his wealth with each thrust into her groin, before climaxing and in ejaculation gasping out that as wealthiest motherfucker in Rome, he is also the most degraded and pitiable. A scene that crafts out of a satyric farce, the schizo relationship of wealth possession and sex.

    Total’s attempt to destroy the butcher fails. The butchers madness simply integrates him deeper into the grain of a deeply psychotic society where all the contradictions of death madness and possession co-exist in instable counterbalance. All that the thief can do is to validate wealth.

    So Total changes tack. He cunningly insinuates himself into a robbery, after which the madness of money starts to corrupt him and overtake him. As he has foreseen, money marks him out for the forces of death, and like all good protagonists the unlucky man ends up murdered by his arch rival.

    What makes Petri’s film outstanding is his use of both camera and the sets

    to turn his fable into a total cinematographic experience. Total’s story is form and content folded into cinema, the seamless interplay of the power of movement images.

    The camera movement is extraordinary. A choreography of vertiginous pans tilts arcs and parabolas. The camera is dancing, a dance that pulls together space and the relations that take place within place. The camera spins the webs, the networks of attraction and repulsion that form the threads of Petri’s concerns.  The camera is particularly effective at changes of perspective moving from elevation and to the horizontal capturing the subject’s situation in a manner that otherwise could not be understood.

    Today’s directors like to keep the camera moving. Move the shot to stop the rot the fear of the audience getting restless. Todays camera movements and placements are usually no more than simplistic distractions. But Petri’s camera tying together moves of multiple flowing moving close-ups of individuals in a scene in complex balletic relations, always have purpose of allowing the viewer into the complexity of what is happening.

    Likewise the sets used in ‘Property’ add another dimension to Petri’s movie. Set against the eye of the flowing camera, the background sets are dark baroque and heavily ornamented. They are spaces which absorb people imprison them, a chiaroscuro of corruption created by relief and shadow. The sort of worlds made by money and into which money is absorbed. A world that has an Italian resonance where the shadows of politics, dirty money and religion are so deep no one can see what is really going on. A world of mystery.

    But Petri’s delirious cinema directed by his impeccable script and guided by the tenets of a Brechtian morality, open our eyes to the twisted schizophrenic canon of contemporary capitalist madness.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • La Grande Illusion Jean Renoir (Fr 1937)t

    La Grande Illusion
    Jean Renoir (Fr 1937) Jean Gabin, Erich von Stroheim

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 13 July 2014; Ticket £5

    Here comes a candle to light you to bed…

    The most telling psychic feature of Renoir’s movie is that it leaves the viewer with a feeling of hope. And hope is a state of mind in relatively short supply in ‘war’ movies. We leave the cinema after many of these types of films with images of shattered cities, broken bodies and smashed minds. And not much else. La Grande Illusion is of course a film from another era, but it is set in a Europe experiencing death and destruction on an industrial scale and made at a time, 1937, when Europe was again marching towards a blind date with self destruction. The basis of the film’s hope lies in the affirmation by Renoir of the human spirit as a source of strength.

    A Wikipedia entry informs that the title of the film was suggested to Renoir by a book of the same title, which proposed that WAR was itself was the great illusion as it changes nothing. But on seeing the film I felt that in relation to the content of La Grande Illusion, this is ultimately too abstract an explanation to justify its content. It seems to me that this title points to some vital element in men’s nature that enables them to survive the most extreme experiences.

    In La Grande Illusion, in spite of the desperate conditions in which the characters find themselves, it is their illusions that define them as human and that are a key resource helping them to survive. Those elaborate and sometimes deliberate mental devices intentionally erected to separate and protect ourselves from the raw brutality of existence. Illusions can impede and even destroy us; but they can also give us strength in our relations with actual life. Renoir looks at both sides of the scales.

    References to illusions occur a number of times in the film, most notably in a throw away remark by an unaccredited soldier, that the war will end soon. In this soldier’s line, the relationship of the propaganda of ‘coming peace’ to the actuality of present war, is seen by the speaker as such an illusion that it’s a joke. But this need to joke is also an imperative. An impulse to affirm that in fact it is still possible to imagine something else other than a ‘continual’ state of war. The Orwellian state of ‘perpetual war’ envisaged in 1984 between Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia brooks no possibility of peace even as a joke. Perpetual War is beyond a joke, but it is a state which has found itself echoed in the Bush/Blair doctrine of the War on Terror. Perpetual War is the situation that haunts 21st century life, to the extent that today we can barely even joke about the illusion of peace.

    Illusions as collective indulgences run through La Grande Illusion. They are voluntarily contracted and dissolved as soon as their purpose is served. The prisoners imagine in great detail, eating a multicourse meal in a grand restaurant . The descriptions of each individual course sustains momentarily the illusion of actual food. Likewise the arrival of a basket women’s garments for dressing up unleashes a collective object fetishism in which the items can replace the actual absence of women. Renoir sketches out the scene sufficiently for it to be clear that sex can be an ambiguous assignment, and that clothes, as outer makers of the gender boundary can in themselves sustain the illusion of the feminine. Illusion creates the a brief triumph of imagination over reality.

    Illusion is quite different from lies. The German farmer doesn’t accept the lie, the attempt by the German military to foist on the people the illusion that the battle of Verdun which cost the lives of all her menfolk, was a glorious victory. Lies simply weaken the spirit. But the illusions, fostered as a temporary collective belief strengthen spirit.

    Our illusions define us. Renoir also suggests that songs and ritual also contribute to a significant degree to the nature of our being in the world.

    Songs run through La Grande Illusion like invisible thread holding both men and the film together. The people sing for the sense of vitality that it lends to being. It is perhaps illusionary but it brings dimensions of power and control into life. The power of the voice to affirm something. In La Grande Illusion song expresses different feelings. When the French POW’s break into the La Marseillaise on the news of the French recapture of a small fort in Flanders, they affirm their Frenchness as a type of challenge. As the German soldiers pile out of the hall to escape the song, that moment releases the men from the oppression of their imprisonment. The singing is a ‘freeing from’ the actual and it is this quality of song, that Renoir characterises as most life endorsing. Again by way of contrast in ‘1984′ there are no songs. Big Brother’s regime has colonised the collective conscience. Big Brother recognising the potency of voice to inspire collective resistance, has banished songs as ‘thoughtcrime’. Songs have been driven to the outer reaches of the psyche where George and Julia struggle as amnesiacs to reassemble the words of the nursery rhythm ‘Oranges and Lemons’. Today it seems song has lost its power to call up collective intentionality. Now in Britain we have no visions sustainable through the voice and our music is reduced to a subjectivity. We are the poorer for it. Big Brother would approve.

    The structure of La Grande Illusion is shaped by the ritual. Each phase of the film is defined through ritual: the rituals of escape, of caste, of performance, of Christmas and Birthday. Of course the organisation of attempts to escape by POW’s have a ritualistic nature and to some extent an illusionary quality as there is no escape from the war. But escape also has a symbolic quality and is motivated by a complex of inner drives.

    Central to La Grande Illusion are the rituals of class and caste as exemplified by the German Officer von Raufenstein. The ceremonial aspect of the military comprises von Raufenstein’s world, and to a lesser extent that of Boeldieu. The ritualised nature of their exchanges marks them as beings from another era, engaging in a stylised form of communication that is alien to the world in which they live and fight. Von Rauffenstein in particular is so implicitly grounded in vanishing conventions of the Junkers, that he is unable even see the actual situation that confronts him in the castle. Boeldieu in contrast connects with the actual, ultimately by dyeing. But although the illusions supported by ritual exert negative control over Von Rauffenstein and and to a lesser extent Boeldieu, other rituals presented by Renoir are much more positive. They temporarily fold over individuals protecting and invigorating them, making them stronger. The rituals of the shows mounted by the prisoners, the sharing of food, the ritual of Christmas, all are marked by Renoir as key moments of development. In time of hardship deprivation and duress ritual protects what is best in human kind.

    Renoir is a director in the classical mould. He brings to film an absolute clarity in the perspective and quality of his shots and an unsurpassed understanding of way in which he wants to construct his movie out of shots.

    The camera sustains its privileged perspective, it doesn’t hop around different points of view. The viewer always knows what they ar seeing, as Renoir brings into central frame the object of interest and holds it until its natural tension can be no longer contained and the shot ends. Each shot builds up its own momentum driving the film, as a series of mechanised springs towards its resolution in the snow of Switzerland. As a director understanding the inner logic of shot vectors and tension, Renoir has few rivals in Classical Cinema. Adrin Neatrour adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • Chef Jon Favreau (Usa 2014)

    Chef Jon Favreau (USA
    2014) Jon Favreau; Robert Downey; Scarlett Johansson

    Viewed: Empire
    Cinema Newcastle 9 July 2014; ticket
    £3.95

    Listen to the
    Tweet

    I
    usually expect these types of Hollywood productions to be a sales medium. Either selling some abstract American value:
    desire, overcoming, cheap redemption, folksy wiseacring (sometimes called
    philosophy) etc.; or to peddle a nice line in product placement. Chef plays true to type. But not only is Chef is an ‘overcoming’
    American morality fable presented with tasty side dishes of product placement
    (Mercedes and Apple), it is also a promotional feast. It
    goes the whole hog and sells the script the screen-space and verbal plugs, lock
    stock and pork barrel to one product.

    I think Chef is simply a two hour promo for Twitter Inc.

    This is perhaps the brave new age of film production.

    As we watch Chef we witness the realisation of E Doc Smith’s futuristic vision: the nightmare of the psychic penetration of commercial interests into the very grain of life. The corrupting or simply changing if you prefer, of the nature of our perceiving.

    My feeling is that Chef is an act of deception. Chef dupes the viewer into believing they are watching a movie whose sole and overt purpose is to entertain and engross. Whereas the audience are in fact lured into watching a premeditated commercially motivated film whose covert purpose is the promotion of a social networking platform. As the film progresses Twitter becomes the plot driver, not only plugged verbally, but taking up ever more of the picture screen with its own separate window.

    Favreau may argue that films must incorporate social media if they are to reflect today’s relations and social action. My response is that if the products of large corporations are to be central drivers of a script then unless that script has an axis that is quite distinct from that product, then we are watching a corrupted piece of work. An extended ad. If the script has an axis that is a discrete phenomenon, unconnected to the product, then the product or platform ( Twitter, Amazon Facebook -whatever) is then but another variable, for good or bad, in the playing out of film’s scenario.

    There was nothing I saw in the Chef credits linking Twitter Inc. to the movie. So it is not possible to ascertain whether or not Chef was sponsored by Twitter Inc. And Twitter Inc. had they been involved as a sponsor of Chef would certainly not have wanted a credit. They would presumably prefer to keep their involvement in the deep background, maintaining the cover would obviously further, both Twitter Inc. and the film production company’s goal of promoting the idea that Chef was a commercially neutral production, an entertainment not a promotional vehicle. Which indeed it may be. But without a disclaimer to the contrary, which I have not seen or heard, doubts will remain for me as to the actual nature of this movie.

    As eidetic symbols products such Coke Nike MacDonald’s already have a collective psychic assimilated actuality. But Google Facebook Twitter are not just products they are processes: not just means of connecting and relating to each other, but ways of thinking. In Chef we see the realisation and rationalisation of the particular process of internalising a message service as a state of mind.

    Twitter brings families together Chef is a typical flabby piece of Hollywood scripting and film production. Favreau brings nothing to film. He locks onto the shot reaction shot format without originality or flair. He uses a Hispanic funk soul soundtrack to alleviate the tedium of a film that is without tension and whose whole plot line revolves about delivering the Twitter Inc. message. Chef’s narrative line links the consequences of a Tweeted bitching exchange, between chef and his critic, to a classic textbook demonstration of how to use Twitter for promotional purposes. The gimmick is the old Hollywood tried and trusted cute scripting stand-by of the child leading the man towards enlightenment. Twitter brings families together. In this case 10 year old Percy introduces and teaches his 40 something dad all about Twitter.

    Two other features of Chef caught my attention. For all that Chef starts out being about high end cooking, sort of nouvelle cuisine, the food ends up as the film ends up: Junk Americana. The sort of food cooked up and successfully sold and tweeted by the eponymous great Chef ends up being the old American standby of: greasy meat under greasy cheese with tasty sauce on top, stuck between two pieces of toasted white bread. This at least does the movie justice.

    The values system expressed and endorsed in Chef seemed like an updating or slight recalibrating of the underlying values of the Rocky series of films which Stallone, like Favreau, wrote acted and mainly directed. In its visual look crude filming and cardboard characters, Chef also reminded me of these Stallone movies.

    One thing present in Chef that I certainly don’t remember from Rocky, is its sexualisation of its ten year old child character, Percy. Perhaps I am prude but I found it distasteful that when Percy with his dad and sous chef are driving across USA, the sous chef tells the child that his balls are hot! The solution is smear them with corn syrup (or something) The sous chef, who is driving the truck, sticks his hand into a pot of the stuff and then rams it down his pants, Percy’s dad does the same and recommends it to his son. Later in the trip as Chef drives he sings along to both verses of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing (performed by Hot 8 Brass) whilst the viewer has to watch the inane grin on Percy’s face as he listens to his dad. I think the point is that these sexualised events in Chef are gratuitous. There is nothing in the plot or situation that calls them in. They seem motivated by Favreau’s insecurity in his material, that even with a 10 year old boy, a proper Dad, a Rocky Dad, should be confident enough to flaunt his sexuality, even at the expense of the sexualisation of his ten year old son.

    So is Chef the start of a new trend. Is it viral? We we next be tripping down to the Multiplex to see: ‘Don’t Like’. An everyday story of a Facebook group who use their pages to raise awareness and organise a raid into deepest Mali to bring orphans back to the USA? We shall see. Adrin Neatrour adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • Of Horses and Men (Hross I Oss) Benedikt Erlingsson (Iceland 2013)

    Of Horses and Men (Hross i Oss) Benedikt Erlingsson (Iceland 2013) Ingyar Eggert Sigurtson; Charlotte Boving

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 29 June 2014; ticket £7.80

    Horses in a landscape…in vacuo…

    It used to be the big studios that were accused of being demonic forces undermining the integrity of the director, but now it is the national tourist boards that have taken on the mantel of the corruptive element.

    Erlingsson’s film is another movie from the island fringes of Europe, another landscape fest for the week-end away break zombies. Another backdrop.

    Some of these island fringe films overcome their landscape manicure. Calgary for instance which if you disregard the Irish Tourist Board Crap as necessary Danegeld, has a provocation that drives its filmic logic.

    This cannot be said of Men and Horses which as a film offers nothing either to film in itself or the Icelandic social and cultural matrices from which it is presented as springing.

    A film by the dead for the dead.

    Erlingsson seems to believe that you can replace thought with image and that you can replace thinking with a bit of nifty editing and manipulation. Not an uncommon illusion in a era which is heavy on technik can-do and light on meaning.

    For instance Horses and Men opens with a montage sequence comprising a number of big close-ups shots of a horse: mainly of its coat, but finally arriving at its eyes in which we see the image of the owner appear Except for a banal literality that this is a film that features horses, the montage is oddly detached from the flow of the film. The big close ups seem to be a recourse on the part of Erlingsson as a safe way to start his film. Likewise the use of digitied imagery seen in the eyes of the horses seem like a gimmick, a means of laying claim to continuities rather than actually establishing them These types of technical expressions are repeated by Erlingsson who evidently wants to believe these types of shots mean something particular . But just shooting big close-ups just producing digital FX and then inserting them in the film doesn’t actually mean anything unless they are grounded in structure or content. Otherwise such shots are just close ups for the sake of close ups, effects for the sake of effects; little more than postcards, something for the gaze. Most of Erlingsson’s camera work is characterised by the sense of vacuity: image for the sake of image – no meaning – empty shot. The landscape shots have same nondescript value.

    The film is set in a valley in Iceland and takes the form a series of fragments, stories relating the people who live in the valley with the horses that roam wild there and about which animals part of the social round revolves.

    The poverty of the narrative fragments is highlighted by the soap opera desperation that characterises them. All the fragments, and I think there were five, end in one extreme event or another: deaths – two men and two horses, castration of a horse and a fuck on the horse round up. The fragments are weak because with one exception they are simply enlarged events, they don’t centre on people. The fuck the deaths the castration the disembowelling. The characters appear as automatons driven by the the directors need to arrive at the event. The event is important, not the getting there. The events in themselves are designed to deliver an image, a magazine centre spread that is supposed to justify it. Images: the horse shot by his owner, the castrated stallion, the stallion covering the mare whose owner is riding her (This is the image on that adorns the posters for the movie), the horse disembowelled by the man seeking to shelter from the cold within its hollowed body. Images without human relations the real complexities of movement. Images like gratuitous acts of violence that are ultimately empty because they are detached from the bund of a social or human context..

    The fragments except perhaps for the first story never engage with relations, either between people or between people and their animals. In the first story we see the man shoot his horse because it has debased his dignity, so the animal is in a critical way an extension of his self conceit. But otherwise the relations between the people and their horses revolve not around relations but doing things to them, and the relations between the people of the valley themselves is restricted to the running joke that they all spy on each other with binoculars, as if in such tight communities such methods were needed to know all about your neighbour.

    The acting is unconvincing to the extent that in Horses and Men, it feels like the real people who live in the valley have been temporarily decanted form their houses and a set of stooges sent in to replace them. And the poor blighted audience, denied real people is forced to watch unconvincing fakes, and yearn for the return of the real folk

    Horses are wondrously energised creatures, but close up images of them do not a movie even begin to make. Adrin Neatrour adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • It Happened Here Kevin Brownlow, Andrew Mollo (UK 1965)

    It Happened Here
    Kevin Brownlow, Andrew Mollo (UK 1965) Pauline Murray

    Viewed: VHS 1st June 2014

    1943 and another proposition…

    Brownlow and Mollo’s movie puts foreword a proposition about human behaviour that resembles in some critical aspects Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, published some 3 years earlier in 1962. Both fictive works explore the proposition of the unheroic accommodating aspect of human nature in particular circumstances: both works draw on a structure that highlights the ordinary as opposed to the extraordinary, the unheroic as opposed to the heroic.

    Like A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, It Happened Here is an extraordinary work both in the projection of its proposition and ideas, and in its expressive delivery.

    The performance of Pauline Murray (the eponymous Pauline) lies like a jewel at the heart of the movie. In her persona she carries the concept of defeat and occupation like a cross up her own personal Golgotha. Like the Tube Shelter sketches made by Henry Moore during the Blitz, her physicality emanates a commonality of form not a subjectivity: and her face is lined and fixed with the universal marks of the grinding demands of living through hardship. It is an extraordinary presence, or rather unpresence, on screen from an actress, born in 1922, who will have known the reality of those times.

    And I was also reminded of the film footage from the second world war, and seeing the faces of Jewish women herded out of the Warsaw Ghetto onto trucks on the journey that will take them to Auschwitz. Witnessing this silent film watching these Jewesses deprived of their life and their voice, I feel a terrible sense of loss. I have no words just tears just a breathing out. I stand and watch an obscene disaster, each face I glimpse has had their fate decided Before destiny there is only silence.

    Of course Pauline can’t in actuality be compared to the Jewish women. I am certainly not saying this, but it was a similar kind of silence that defined my response to Pauline. Pauline’s role, albeit in a different context, is articulated by the same forces that made up that line of Jewish women, beaten dog harried and forced to scramble up onto the tail gate of a truck. Pauline’s response to her situation is pushed and moulded by similar imperatives: fear and self survival. And in Pauline’s situation survival seems best assured by doing what you are told to do, keeping your head down and avoiding at all costs being noticed. He role is that of the passive collaborator. We forget: often it seems there is no other choice.

    Pauline’s context in terms of Brownlow and Mollo’s script is that she is an Arian . As a nurse if she conforms and joins the party she has the right to work and so the right to live. But this right to live is provisional. Pauline, like the Jews (from whom she averts her gaze), also has the right to die if she does not agree to collaborate with the Nazis. Which collaboration though, also marks her out for retribution from the Resistance. And it is on this edge that she lives. Her fear and shrunken battered psyche are all emblematically imprinted upon her and Pauline Murray plays her newsreel role without fuss without resistance as if she had been a face in the crowd all her life.

    And we are silent before her.

    And this silence is partly engendered by the filmic quality of the movie, offering as it does to the eye images which recreate the look and dynamic of the 1940’s black and white newsreel. This surely is Kevin Brownlow’s achievement, already in his early 20’s a student of newsreel form and able to use this knowledge to produce the replication of news and documentary footage that is a virtual product of the era: a phenomenological gloss on events denied but easily imagined that with character and location seem to step out of the period’s 35mm Pathe reels and reconnect us with the intentions and textures of those days.

    The filmic form and performances of It Happened Here are given substance by the intelligence of the script and the way the script works to project the key idea implicit in the project.

    The key controlling concept is the reality of national defeat and occupation. As B and M will have observed from the response of the people in occupied France, most of the population did not fight back. The French, once defeated, wanted their lives back: a return to normal existence where you got up in the morning had breakfast went to work and returned home at night. Normalcy junkies. They accepted the justifying banalities their new Masters and turned a blind eye to the terror and murder in their midst. Although the script for It happened Here is more temporally extensive, it has the essential dimensions of a Day in the Life of…. Like Solzhenitsyn’s Ivan, Pauline goes about her daily round: being indoctrinated, working according to the Party diktat, compromising, ‘not seeing’ , eating and going to bed. All unheroic but the perfect vehicle for the viewer to understand the plausibility of the film’s proposition. As contrary to British jingoistic fantasy, most of us are likely collaboration fodder, easily scared, and whatever the cost, put our own and our families’ survival first.

    Looked at from one point of view it Happened Here involves a slight but significant transposing of ideas from Orwell’s 1984 into its script, which significantly effects the credibility of the material. In particular B and M made the adroit scripting decision to detach British 40’s Nazism from the Hitler Fuhrer cult. By the 1960’s Hitler had already become a kind of joke figure, a hobgoblin a troll. The sight of British Nazis making the fascist salute and screaming Heil Hitler would have engendered only laughter. So the script minimises Hitler (I spotted one portrait of him in the picture), and there are very few references to him. He is replaced by the idea of the primacy of the State. Everything for the state. The Nazi ideology with its forcefully pitched empty rhetoric and junk ideas remains, but there is the slight effect of Orwell that gives the structure and rhetoric of the Nazi Party greater plausibility and coherence.

    It is a horror with which we are all too used to now after the horror of civil wars in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but It Happened Here captures the essential insane logic of internecine conflict. Between the opposing forces the Resistance and the Home Nazi’s, lie the civilians, who want to live but have no options other than to die as they are a part of the contested real and imagined territory over and about whom the conflict rages. The civilians are collateral damage.

    On viewing It Happened Here almost 50 years after it was released, my feeling is that it is a remarkable film, extraordinarily incisive in its understanding and recreation of social dimensions and relations in Britain. Of course it was and still is probably political unfashionable. There are no real heroes or heroines, just a woman lost to herself trying to survive. There is no overt social message, and the covert social message is pessimistic. Perhaps this is why it seems to have been mostly ignored by commentators and writers discussing the new British Cinema of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. On my estimation Brownlow and Mollo may have only made one film, but it is on a par with anything produced by Richardson Reisz or Anderson. Ironically like the invasion it proposes that never happened, It Happened Here has also been consigned to oblivion. Adrin Neatrour adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • Frank Lenny Abrahamson (UK Ire 2014)

    Frank Lenny
    Abrahamson (UK Ire 2014) Michael
    Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 13 May 2014 Ticket: £8.80

    Life’s
    a pitch

    Frank felt like a movie that began life as a pitch at one of those low budget BFI workshops and things sort of developed from there.

    In the beginning is the Image.

    Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is dominated by the eponymous rock group lead singer, Frank who is a sort of inscrutable smiley face head on a lolly pop stick. All image little substance.

    As an image Frank is an eidolon, a graphic escaped from a children’s comic who armed with an actual body and a set of attitudes, has been animated and released into the world to expose the disjunction between his comic book immobile childish features and his pressing adult needs. A suggestive analogy.

    As he energises his band, leading the musicians to their in the rural retreat, Frank rivets the attention of the viewer dominating the visual field of Abrahamson’s movie. Should you try to look behind the mask to ask what’s there, the answer is ‘not much ‘. Frank started life as a great pitch, but as the scenario developed the script had nothing more to offer than a laboured formulaic story rich in suggestion poor in actual realisation. The script tries to suggest Frank as a charismatic character, but presents the viewer with only a suggestion of this idea, ‘Frank’ is little more than a series of vague suggestions. But the image is great and to make a low budget BFI type movie image, a USP might be all you need,

    Image is everything.

    Abrahamson’s Frank is ultimately an empty vessel: image with no content. As such it is the product of the age and the cultural forces that have produced the advertising industry and the various types of youth subculture. In both these cultural epiphenomena image is the mirror by which the spirit is enticed into the promised embrace of new narcissistic relations.

    Within a social system defined by insecurities the ad industry connects desires to products; in a world defined by the collapse of traditional markers of personal and social identity, youth subculture is a line of escape which again involves conforming self image to a more or less vague life style and concomitant values.

    I am what I see in the mirror.

    Frank is structured through the eyes of Jon through whose voice events are rather laboriously explained. Jon is one in a long line of ingénues, such as Melville’s Ishmael, who report back on world’s that are normally closed off. Jon is pitched as a wannabe musician, shackled to semi detached suburbia, and set free by the invitation to join Frank’s band.

    The band retreat to Ireland to record an album. But to record an album they have to find an identity. which is of course what Jon craves most of all. The identities taken up and tried on by Frank are like ready made off the peg solutions. Taking a series of off the peg garments off the rail of socio musical affects, Frank leads the band through the Hippy trip, the Lou Reid trip, the Devo Land trip. Perhaps part of the film’s allure is its mechanical switch through identity modes. The film finally comes to the RD Laing trip as the prominence of mental illness in the group is taken up by the script. But the relationship of the the group to their mental states is ill defined. There is nothing proposed beyond the suggestion that these people are simply, ‘other’ ‘outsiders’ who have some how come by some process or another to have been labelled. But mental illness is Frank again seems to be part of the sales pitch: it is crass and superficial as evidenced in the Don’s suicide which (with its somewhat desperate contrived presentation) seems no more than a device to keep the plot cranked up.

    The idea of mental illness is simply a notion put into service as part of the mechanics of the story. The script needs mental illness, so it is imported at no great cost to any one.

    As nothing in Frank actually means anything, this gives the actors a particularly hard time. It’s like they are trapped in a music video that goes on for about 20 times longer than it is supposed to. There is simply so place for the actors to go gesturally or developmentally, so their only recourse is to cycles of repetition.

    Domhnall Gleeson in his ingénue role of Jon flounders in a sea of inconsequentiality. He is simply left bereft by the script that demands him perform ridiculous acts of thespian contortion to keep his character running on the plot rails. The other member of the caste also suffer from the same fate with the script unable to provide them with either any recognisable continuity or purpose. This is particularly true of Frank, who is interesting initially as a sort of Warhol type figure upon whose bland exterior anything can be projected. Michael Fassbinder, undermined by the demand an idea that lacks purpose into which he can fold or against which he can react, ends up looking like he doesn’t know what to do, except to do as he is told by Abrahamson.

    The use of social media lamination, Jon’s purported blog, face book and Twitter entries and his ‘secrete ‘filming of Frank ( how anyone at close quarters could film is a open question) are again the signs of a film that is lost and unable to see clearly what it is really about.

    Conceived in the image, Frank is unable to find its way beyond the image. An idea with potential is lost to the pitch. There are a few laughs, but mainly of the cheaper variety. Adrin Neatrour adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • Locke Steven Knight (Uk 2013)

    Locke Steven Knight
    (UK 2013) Tom Hardy

    Viewed Empire Cinema 29 April 14; Ticket: £4

    Will the real John Locke please stand up…Steven Knight takes us into Ivan Locke’s cockpit as he drives the highways through the night in his communication system battle truck. A bardic warrior of the 4G network taking on angels and demons in his quest to confront and balance the forces of personal kama. Locke existing as a virtual entity, a stream of consciousness and desire connecting him out to other actual worlds that he trying to shape and control. The Locke Machine. The eponymous film title taken from the name of its main character, may point to the film’s philosophical provenance, in that this name is shared with the seventeenth century English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. John Locke proposed what for the time was a radical theory of the self, which he defined as a continuity of consciousness. And certainly in Ivan Locke, as in his namesake, we see a man of the Enlightenment. A being defining himself through consciousness, and through rationality connecting to the domains of utility emotion and ethics.

    Steven Knight sets up the situation of being in a car. The car as a carapace for a continuous stream of conscious communication, a default state of modern disembodied virtual existence. The disembodied virtual element also characterises the in-car monologue Ivan directs to his dead and resented father. As well as being a device for a emotional back story, Ivan’s ‘father monologues’ also read as an extension of in-car communication into the land of the dead: as if death itself was no impediment to the unending stream of communications that characterise our existence.

    The mobile call as an existential experience in which we are defined by our intentions; where we are nodal points of vast nervous systems that relay information. Ivan’s attitude to the information that streams out of and into his vehicle validates faith in contemporary communication systems. Like a five star general he runs his campaigns on the assumption that his information is full and true, compounding the idea that we can ubiquitously control manipulate and promote ourselves instrumentally through the microwave channels.

    The film’s plot ends with the apparent triumph of Ivan the technocrat. The Ivan machine which he put into play has produced satisfactory outcomes on all fronts: the practical and the moral; and time has been bought and a position established in the difficult dialogue with his wife.

    As the film progresses we watch Locke cope with the stresses invented for him by Knight. But I felt increasingly that I was watching a sort of displaced superhero movie. The Locke machine was driven by an overcoming script engine which displaced meaning. Locke had nothing to untangle except the knots in an external world. As the script mechanics became evident, interest in the movie was sustained by ratcheting up of the emotional feed-back loops that had been put into play. But for the audience the superhero scenario left the world of Locke’s interiority as unmapped space. As Locke developed the film increasingly resembled a typical Saturday night radio play, completely reliant on melodramatics for effect.

    The lack of interiority in the Ivan character affects the film’s relationship with its audience. For Ivan states of questioning, doubt, heretical thoughts, ambivalence whatever, are not present either in script or in performance. Given the structure of the film, with its strict focus on the Ivan machine, the audience is in a situation where they have to come to some moral judgement about him. Psychically and operationally he is more than protagonist, he is presence; his actions his justifications, the film. Although the plot develops, Ivan doesn’t. The Ivan machine does not break down. It stays in operational mode throughout the film, so that half way through the movie there is nothing more to see. At this point that Ivan becomes a tired machine out of whom Tom Hardy has to try a squeeze the last few emotional miles. The character is mono-dimensional. The Ivan machine has not one line or one moment that challenges his dimension. In a critical humanist sense Ivan doesn’t develop, he responds. As a result we leave the film without being left with any perceived truth or insight; we have seen a situation that simply demonstrates what we already know.

    Perhaps Knight might assert that his depiction of interiority was effected through the exteriorities.

    Locke is vigourously interspersed with exterior night shots of the highways, long shots close shots of different durations. There is particular emphatic use of focus pulls on lighting and on the refractive and reflective metal surfaces of the motorway traffic. Now these cut away images seem sometimes to connote symbols of chaos and confusion that we the audience might link to some actual or deeper state of mind in Ivan. This may be the case, but the serial repetition of these affective shots depreciates their value. They come to seem part of the current vogue for ‘scape’ inserts into drama as a pretension of meaning. And with so many of these shots inserted as cut aways unlinked to any interiority in Ivan, they start to look increasingly like distraction.

    The positive element In Locke which pulled me in was its initial premise: the idea of compression and the crushing of space. As time intensifies space is squeezed and Locke opens with the interplay of the two networks that contract space to non-existence: the wireless network and the road network. Time radically replaces distance opening up both practical and psychic possibility in the human domain. Ivan Locke travels on two parallels of intensity and plays them perfectly like some sort of Zen master balancing the forces of Ying and Yang. Breathtaking for a while but somewhere in the intermeshing of all these elements there has to be fear, for without fear there is no meaning. Adrin Neatrour adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • Calvary John McDonagh (2014 Uk Ire)

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    Calvary John McDonagh (2014 UK Ire)
    Brendan Glesson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 22 April 2014
    Ticket £8 20

    Forgive them father…

    Calvary opens with a quote from St
    Augustin about the fate of the two thieves crucified on Calvary on
    either side of Jesus: that no presumptions should be made about the
    fate of the first thief. A suggestion that inspired Sam Beckett’s
    Godot. It is also the basis for the proposition that underlies
    McDonagh’s film examining: the relations of hope to despair,
    innocence to guilt, salvation to damnation. And Calvary is a rare
    thing a film grounded in a proposition.

    The core of the film is its ‘Rock’,
    Brendan Glesson’s Father Lavelle, a good priest and a good enough
    imperfect man. The film’s moment pivots on his performance: his
    physicality his psychic integrity his energy. And Gleeson plays out
    the scripted function of his role, that of holding the film together
    as a theorem of cosmic relations, like one of the old heroes of Irish
    myth.

    The proposition that McDonagh’s script
    puts to the audience is that an innocent has to die in order to
    balance the psychic scales of evil. Christ – suffer little
    children to come to me, died to save the sins of the world; Father
    Lavelle will die to save the sins of the Church that suffered little
    children to be buggered. An old story an innocent sacrificed in
    propitiation to the powers that that oversee the playing out of the
    life force. Calvary’s script, in its mapping of Lavelle’s
    psychological movement towards his execution, is in step with
    elemental religious and initiatory ideas about the path individuals
    take when confronted by forces endemic in the nature of the world.

    fear – questioning – rebelling –
    rejecting – chaos – understanding – acceptance – compassion –
    forgiveness

    denial of self
    Steps of this kind were taken by
    Christ as he moved towards the cross. In terms of today’s lifestyle
    ideologies that stress ‘overcoming’ not acceptance, ‘self assertion’
    over acquiescence, they are less than fashionable. But it is the way
    that Lavelle chooses.

    But it is not just that the moment of
    Fr Lavelle that is unfashionable in an aspirational culture. The
    metaphysical connections that link his fate to the fate of his killer
    Brennan oppose Western rationalism. The purpose of a rational
    system of justice is to establish: that a crime has been committed,
    to find the offender and to punish them for their acts. These
    linkages are the crux of contemporary justice, the basis justifying
    law and punishment. Calvary invokes another order of Justice. Its
    explores another inner human urge: to tear open the curtain of reason
    and to find a more primal idea of justice. One for which Necessity
    not rationality, defines the nature and the form of Justice.
    Necessity as a quasi judicial formulation is of course derided (but
    of course often resorted to, in disguised fashion, by established
    judiciaries) but the derision betrays the fear of the friends of
    rationality that the forces that drive ‘necessity justice’ lurk at
    the edge of the shadows of our nature, ready to enter the light as
    soon as vigilance wavers.

    The metaphysical notion of necessity is
    well symbolised by the scales of justice. The idea that there is
    such a thing as cosmic balance. That such a balance can be put out
    of true by events or occurrences, and that humans as significant
    elements in the cosmos can play a central role in the realignment of
    the scales. Human sacrifice stands as one example of the logic of
    law of necessity. A victim is needed: a victim does not have to be
    the guilty party. Sometimes necessity prefers a virgin or an
    innocent representative to rebalance the scales; another victim to
    mediate the reharmonising of our psychic and physical state with the
    cosmos. A restoring agent.

    There are signs that not only in
    religious psychology but in our own basic responses that something of
    this response is hardwired into our brains.

    McDonagh as writer understands
    ‘necessity’, and that it is the central idea in his script. But he
    seems to be a little embarrassed by it as a film maker. Embarrassed
    to the extent that this idea so cogently stated in the confessional
    scene becomes progressively overlaid by other images in the main body
    of the film, only emerging in clarity in the penultimate beach
    sequence. For much of the film Lavelle seems lost in a comic book
    world of contemporary stereotypes; abandoned by the film in a series
    of partially misfiring comic cameos.

    McDonagh substitutes a new grouping of
    moral mutants to replace the old standby caste of traditional Irish
    Country dwellers. Father Ted’s congregation has been superseded by
    characters transposed from the world of Irving Welsh. They are
    larger than life and scripted to provoke canned studio audience
    laughter.

    The main body of his movie suggests
    that McDonagh hasn’t thought about the nature of film: that you can’t
    script two big ideas at work simultaniously through the same material
    without having a filmic solution. His idea of Lavelle and his idea
    of a ‘Welshian Ireland’ with all its moral implications, cannot just
    be spliced together as one entity. To succeed in interweaving two
    themes you need to think in terms of film, and how film holds ideas
    together. On the basis of Calvary, McDonagh doesn’t understand this.

    Glesson holds his ground amidst this
    Channel 4 type bean fest but his presence is too often swamped and
    overwhelmed. The film, mostly shot like a situation comedy,
    struggles to find a filmic form to make the encounters anything more
    than obtrusive cameos that disengage the viewer from the film.
    These sequences often seem little more than a opportunity for writer
    director McDonagh to flaunt his skills at one liners and stand up
    repartee, rather than carve the film out into its own space.

    As mentioned above the delimiting
    factor of Calvary is the manner in which it is shot. It is shot
    like sit com. This can be an inflexible structure for a film with
    thematic propositions, as the material has no unifying hub; the edits
    flit from face to face scene to scene shot to reaction creating an
    agitation that is difficult to control. McDonagh seems to have
    fallen for the current fashion of interposing long landscape shots in
    films, so show that the film maker is in touch with nature or natural
    forces. In this case the conceit only leads to confusion in the
    audience, a feeling that they may have zapped the remote to an Irish
    Tourist Board promo. There are of course many ways in which Calvary
    could have been worked filmically: a point of view, a voice, a
    shooting style that invoked a ‘seeing’ in the viewer. As it is
    McDonagh took the line of least resistance, and the film pays the
    price.

    Adrin Neatrour
    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

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