Saturday, 2 October 2010

'These guys play nasty'

The Special Relationship
Dir. Ricahrd Loncraine
(2010, BBC)

Britain’s relationship with America, the poodle and it’s owner.  Sheen dons the Blair grin for the third time and Dennis Quaid plays Bill Clinton with all the swagger and enthusiasm we associate with the man.    Morgan gives us his own brand of isolationistic/bi-lateral foreign/american exceptionalism policy – the script paints a lovely picture of Blair the political panther, and what got him going on his path to evil. Rather than a simple political dialogue and pseudonyms, Morgan strives straight to nuances and events that construct America and it's friend.
This is Blair’s show, we’re with him from his days as a spotty faced school boy asking for tips from the Democrats in 1993 to his carnation as P.M, and to his swift move into the dark shadows and political machinations of E.U handshakes and U.S hugs and then to that Chicago speech when Blair got the ball rolling on invasions and such like.
Akroyd’s photography is as polished as a mahogany panel in Clinton's oval office.  There are no ugly frames. Ackroyd finds wonderful composition in just two people talking. And also we have lovely details. Case in point a helicopter, so sinister as it rises from the ground its blades rotating – just a wonderfully a surreal moment. Another stand out moment Clinton riding home in his stretch limo and reflections of Washington in the window.  Ackroyd really is a man for all seasons he’ll give you hand held – frenetic war torn photography in Iraq and then he’ll give you lovely frames with subtle movements with two politicians talking in a boring room - he makes any scene work. 
Morgan always achieves the impossible of brining political heavyweights to life and why is he always so successful? The Queen, Frost/Nixon these are quality and riveting political odes, Morgan is deft at catering to his audience Who doesn't want to know how Blair and Clinton hold hands – and because middle England or any other nosey bastard is so full intrigue, every word, every action is lapped up. I can't imagine Tamara down Boujis giving a fuck about this or any of Morgan's work, because it's weight and worth is purely in the context of an audience member's expectation and knowledge of politics. I lapped it up.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

'I think we'd be great together - me and you.'

Dominic Savage
(2010 BBC)

London 2012 is upon us, thousands of athletes are undertaking the training and sacrifice that will ensue Olympic glory. Lindsey is part of this party, Aising Loftus plays a diver with hopes of representing Team G.B in 2012. It's tough for Lindsey, early starts, family troubles and the usual curiosities of a 17 year old girl. Into the mix comes Robert who manages to turn Lindsey's world upside down, more so than a quadruple double bent pike back flip off your local ten metre board. A night out on the town ends up with a romantic shag underneath the night sky with Robert.

Ok so..Dominic Savage directs, and he keeps good company, Danny Cohen D.P.s (This is England) and Ray Beckett sound mixes (The Hurt Locker). The film is beautiful, peppered with meditative shots and light kissing faces – Lindsey's brother waiting for her return from school; he loiters in the front garden and the sun light kissing is face is lovely. There's an insistence of long meandering wide shots, they come think and fast one after the other, and it's allowed because each image is beautiful, there's symmetry, poetry, everything is there to marvel at.

The film is accompanied by an abhorrent piano score, every emotional beat - we are hit with this syrupy tune which is telling us to empathise with our two leading starlets. The music is effervescent of the film's main problem, it just feels very smug. I imagine Dominic is like let me give you a snapshot of Britain, this is now, this is real, look at these real people, look at our schools, look at our beautiful English fields, look at our soldiers coming back from Afghanistan, look at the youth of day shagging like lions mating in the Serengeti. There are too many ingredients and the athlete's story is diluted into contrived shite of what is meant to be happening into Britain today.

Aising Loftus didn't look and feel like some superstar athlete, hence when she's pregnant it's like would that really happen with someone sacrificing everything for 2012. In fact maybe it could happen..but the decision to keep the baby there's the real hook, on the news of the pregnancy, I felt Aising just rubbed her tummy and went 'aww go on then...' No! Surely she'd want to get rid and get back on track for Team G.B. Suggestion to Dominic: Lindsey wants to abort and Robert disagrees, huge battle/struggle, and in the end Lindsey keeps/aborts the baby and credits role. Back to Dominic's version : after the baby's birth comes council estate and what a surprise, Lindsey's retribution, she gets back in the pool with Robert looking on in the stands cuddling the baby saying 'look at Mummy!' I didn't see that one coming..

Lindsey shouldn't be at the Olympics, look at that nice lad Tom Daley, no shagging, just hard training, he'll be on the podium come 2012 not Lindsey. I hated the film, Aising carried a smug smile, maybe that's why Dominic cast her. Luckily there's good old Eddie Marsan to weather the storm with a sterling performance as Robert's brickie dad. So the film's awful, but it's enjoyable. It's contemporary, it's ambitious, it's beautiful, so sit back and let the drab wash over you.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

'It’s not the bum territory—it’s the bum in the territory'

Dir. Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
(1968, Maysles Films)

A documentary following bible salesmen. The Simpsons – the crooked salesmen you get in numerous episodes – well here they all are : Jamie Baker - 'The Rabbit', Paul Brennan - 'The Badger', Raymond Martos - 'The Bull', Charles McDevitt - 'The Gipper'. You got the seedy, desperate type, you have the macho 'I eat steak and play poker' type. All these men graft away, as they try and flog forty dollar bibles to low income families across New England and Florida.

Watching these men go about their business is all that happens in the 90 minutes. Door to door, they sell a few bibles, they struggle to sell and they sell a few more bibles. The film works and it's most definitely of a period, the suits, the motel rooms, the haircuts all feel wonderfully nostalgic and well...├╝ber cool. But man the game is repetitive, ingenious pitches of the bible and fucking over one customer after the other... Lovely photography, with the one of the salesman driving menacingly at night, and some street light kissing his face as he roams through the night, and a dark suit walking in the snow –beautiful. But come the end I was left indifferent – you know from the start who these guys are and what they're about – and maybe that's because we've seen these people hundreds of times on film and television but for me it was a little mundane.

'What does it remind you of when you hold it next to your cheek? '

Killer of Sheep
Charles Burnett
(1977 UCLA)

Charle Burnett's wonderful ode to his home town Watts, a suburb of Los Angeles. The camera dances through this black community and you simply observe people living. The film has no real narrative, we are with Stan, he works in a slaughter house, and has a wife and two children – we see him work, shop and eat. I don't know what it means or how it feels to be black and working class in L.A in the 70's, but Burnett's vignettes of this community draw you in to this world – details and moments of urban life you wouldn't get in a standard linear narrative. Like; Stan's wife doing her make up, the couple dancing to together, the children playing around the streets – every moment of these scenes are astounding.

Dinah Washington, Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong and Earth, Wind and Fire work brilliantly with the innate images of the Watts community. Along with beautiful documentary pseudo 16mm hand held camera work, everything about the film gives a heightened sense of realism. Burnett made the film his thesis film for his UCLA MFA, and he says a lot of his contemporaries were also interested in making films about the working class, but none took this pioneering approach of Burnett-who obviously knew what it meant to be black in America at this time - the majority of the cast in this film are his friends. This film documents brilliantly life in America, observe its beauty.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

'Should we remain in Algeria? If you answer "yes," then you must accept all the necessary consequences.'

Battle of Algiers
Gillo Pontecorvo
(1966 Rizzoli)

The Algerian War, the film brilliantly depicts the rise of grass root insurgencies against the French occupation among the Algerian faithful in the city of Algiers. The National Liberation Front organise, recruit and network. French rule attempts to counter this deploying paratroopers to disrupt and eliminate the FLN leadership. Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu, military top brass and commander of the paratroopers is the principal French character, he's eloquent and ruthless in his hunt to exterminate the FLN. The Algerian protactagonist is Ali La Ponte, a street hustler who is seduced and indoctrinated by the FLN during some time in prison. Maybe the characters provide a semblance to each movement, but it's hard to identify with either character – the film doesn't want you to either – the characters introduce the viewer into each group's world and beliefs.

The film is action, a series of events, you do not to side with either the French of the Algerian FLN. You observe what both groups are passionately perusing. The cinematography is beautiful, the black and white contrast is astounding. The visual style draws on documentary – everything about the look and feel of the film is very real. The film is kinetic, the characters are always on the move, whether it's through the beautiful stone walled side streets of Algiers or Mathieu giving a press conference walking through corridors, a wonderful scene of exposition.

The depiction of French torture becomes slightly monotonous, body after body being thrashed, the viewer becomes numb to the violence, maybe Pontecorvo's intention. There are no heroes or villains in Pontecorvo's masterpiece, of course the depiction of guerilla warfare can be used as an allegory for today's conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan. Paul Greengrass cites Pontecorvo's work as an inspiration and it's easy to draw parallels with United 93. However compare and contrast is not necessary to enjoy this wonderful rubric of ideologies.

Friday, 13 August 2010

'The Man is Steel, The Tank is Only Iron'

Dir. Samuel Maoz
(2009 Metro Communications)

Samuel Maoz's personal account of his experience as an Israeli soldier during the 1982 Lebonan War. The film is confined to the interior of a tank as we follow four soldiers who eat, sleep and breath the conflict. The outside world is only viewed through the viewfinder of the tank – combined with the sounds of the hydraulic movement – it's uncomfortable. The enemy, either Syrian or Muslim Lebanese are horribly characterised – screaming inexplicably – always disillusioned. Maoz's argument is this film is his story and therefore the Lebanese are going to be portrayed in a certain light – so perhaps his contrived account of the Lebanese works.

The film comes with a beautifully minimalist soundtrack – bass beats. The story really isn't about the Lebanon War – it's an allegory for war – Vietnam – Iraq – the experiences of warfare don't change - just the landscape. Maoz's film is not a generic piece but rather an epithet of the horrors of a soldier in modern warfare.

'Let's chat man to man. Now then, you're from the basement aren't you, and not blessed with much education?'

The Huduscker Proxy
Dir. Joel Coen
(1994 Warner Bros.)

A 'greed is good' tale, with Tim Robbins making the ascent from mail room boy to CEO driving Hudsucker Industries' share price into the ground – allowing Sidney J. Mussburger – Paul Newman- to buy the controlling stake in the company. With gargantuan sets, which wouldn't look out of place in Fritz Lang's M and Newman's Prince of Darkness there's plenty to enjoy. The film is a charicture of business capitalism or whatever American industry does/did so well. Robbin's playing Tim nice but dim works but perhaps is a little limited and Jenifer Jason Leigh, the love interest doing some report expose felt too familiar. Fun times though in the Coens' world of corporate chaos.