Category: Humour

AMERICAN HUSTLE directed by David O. Russell (USA, 2013)

Following on his superb Silver Linings Playback, David O.Russell makes use of some of the same actors for this highly enjoyable yarn inspired by a FBI operation that went pear-shaped in the late 1970s; hence the pre-credits caption: “Some of this actually happened”.

The sting of a sting of a sting tale left me floundering to follow all the twists and turns of the plot so it’s probably a movie that benefits from a second viewing (I’m only glad I didn’t see it dubbed into Italian!).

Having trimmed down and worked out for The Fighter, Christian Bale has flabbed up for his role as Irving Rosenfield and is all but unrecognisable. With his dodgy hair piece and very 70s fashion sense, he looks like he’s adopted Frank Booth’s smart man disguise from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.

As a slick con artist, his partner in crime is the seductive Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who pretends to be an aristocratic English woman Lady Edith Greensly because this sucks in more victims – desperate men in search of loans. Continue reading

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK directed by David O.Russell (USA, 2012)

After the sobering experience of watching Indonesian death squad leaders giving tips on how to kill communists in The Act Of Killing, I needed some light relief.

How about a nice Rom-Com?

I was cognizant of the fact that many films in this genre are simply not funny and most are plain dumb. Silver Linings Playbook, liberally adapted from a novel by Matthew Quick, is a welcome exception to this rule. It not only has a heart and soul but has a brain too.

The movie boasts a top class double act in the form of Bradley Cooper as Pat and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany. Both have a history of mental instability and possess bags of energy but poor social skills – “I don’t have a filter when I talk” says Pat, who suffers from bipolar disorder.

Tiffany, a self-proclaimed “ex-slut” is convinced that “humanity is just nasty and there’s no silver lining”. Pat, whose motto is ‘excelsior’, believes that if you get in shape and stay positive, the breaks will come. Continue reading

TRANSAMERICA directed by Duncan Tucker (USA, 2005)

This is the only film I’ve seen of a woman pretending to be a man who wants to be a woman.

Transamerica is an issue movie but aims at subtle persuasion rather than tubthumping polemic.

You would imagine a film about a transsexual to be more about sex but it makes the valid point that switching gender is as much about identity as getting laid.

Desperate Housewives actress Felicity Huffman is quite superb in the part of Stanley / Sabrina (Bree). She oozes femininity yet looks genuinely mannish and uncomfortable in her skin.

It’s easy to imagine someone undertaking a sex change would be brash and sexually forthright but Bree is actually quite straight-laced and prim. There’s a hint of romance with a chivalrous Mexican man but the raunchiest scenes are reserved for the son (s)he didn’t know existed.

Kevin Zegers’ role of Toby reminded me of River Phoenix in My Private Idaho but as an actor he’s not in the same league. Toby is a rent boy who gets a part in a porn film as a stepping stone to ‘real’ movies.

In real life. Felicity Huffman is all woman.

In real life. Felicity Huffman is all woman.

There are some funny exchanges like a psychiatrist asking Bree what he thought of his penis. “I hate it” comes the predictable answer. “What do you friends think?” pursues the shrink. “They hate it too!” comes the reply.

I once worked with a man (Stephen) who became a woman (Sarah) and I recognised the way general tolerance is mixed with a genuine curiosity (and squeamishness) about how the physical process of changing gender.

Stanley / Sabrina (Bree) is a brilliant character study but this film loses its way is in trying to make it into an offbeat buddy movie. There is, quite simply, not enough in the plot to hold the attention and the dysfunctional father-son relationship is never wholly convincing.

It’s a light and likeable movie but changing gender is no joke and the focus on gentle comedy prevents a much grittier drama from emerging.

Becoming a parent changes you and your relationship with your partner. True as this is, banal statements of this kind say little about what fathering is like and do nothing to prepare you for the riot of emotions that go with the job.

NYC-based photographer Phillip Toledano‘s The Reluctant Father goes a long way to addressing the reality in humourous and ultimately touching way..

He likens confronting the fruit of his loins to a series of close encounters with an alien being.

His experience was all the more traumatic because, as he freely admits, “I was never particularly interested in having kids”. It was just something that happened. Continue reading

A TASTE OF HONEY directed by Tony Richardson (UK, 1961)

Shelagh Delaney’s unsentimental view of procreation puts the hearts and flowers romance of Valentine’s Day into proper perspective : “It’s chaotic – a bit of love, a bit of lust and there you are. We don’t ask for life, we have it thrust upon us”.

Lines like these help explain why A Taste of Honey retains its contemporary edge more than half a century after it was first performed.

London’s National Theatre are about to stage a new version to bring the play’s honest, down to earth characters to a new generation of theatre goers.

No prizes too for guessing why Delaney was such a formative influence on the young Steven Patrick Morrissey.

Labelling A Taste of Honey as a ‘kitchen sink realism’ might lead you expect a mundane and bleak drama. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a play (and movie) that fizzes with energy and humourously challenges popular preconceptions about so-called  ‘ordinary’ working class lives in Northern Britain. Continue reading


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