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Above - Steve Coogan and Judi Dench  Below - the real Martin Sixsmith & Philomena Lee

Above – Steve Coogan and Judi Dench
Below – the real Martin Sixsmith & Philomena Lee

PHILOMENA – directed by Stephen Frears (UK, 2013)

There’s one reference to the clitoris and a few ‘fucks’ but otherwise this is the kind of film you could watch with your mom without fear of embarrassment.

The presence of Dame Judi Dench in the title role adds a further weight of respectability to proceedings.

Peter Mullen’s The Magdalene Sisters touches on similar themes of vindictive nuns doing bad things to  ‘fallen’ women in Ireland but that movie was much fiercer.

The rage in Philomena comes not from the wronged woman but from Alex Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), the BBC journalist who helps her trace the long lost son who was sold to a wealthy American couple 50 years before.

The human interest story of   Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) and Philomena means that is not simply a rant against religious hypocrisy although we are left in no doubt about Sixsmith’s views on Catholicism! The film is based on a true story but since Philomena never actually travelled to the U.S. with Sixsmith many parts have obviously been made up for dramatic effect.

Ultimately, it’s a cosy buddy movie with a message and, paradoxically, the gentle, warm-hearted tone is probably more effective than Mullen’s film in highlighting the injustice done to Philomena and many other women like her.

Related link:

The real story of Philomena Lee (Daily Mail)

THE CASUAL VACANCY by J.K. Rowling

Drug addiction, sex, rape, power, corruption and lies. This ‘adult’ novel seems a long way from the world of Hogwarts.

On the surface Pagford is a safe and sedate town; a place where buses “trundle” and where the delicatessen is “run with the ritual and regularity of a temple”.

However, beneath this veneer of respectability lies a festering, dog eat dog world of spiteful social climbers. Rowling revels in her mockery of the airs and graces, petty rivalries and back-stabbing. At the same time she shows a compassion for underdogs and contempt for bullies and braggarts.

As a biting satire of middle class aspirations it is often reminiscent of Mike Leigh’s 1977 stage play ‘Abigail’s Party‘.

This fictional West Country town symbolises a Daily Mail culture of smug NIMBY conservatism. Its self-centred “moral radiance” contrasts with the nearby town of Yarvil where the children are portrayed as “sinister, hooded, spray-painting offspring”. View full article »

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK directed by Charlie Kaufman (USA, 2008)

This is a movie about life and dreams but mainly it’s about death.

We all have dreams, both big and small. Some of them are realized, most are not.

What gives us the impetus to work through our personal bucket lists is the transience of existence and the knowledge that someday we will die, as will everyone we know.

Theatre director Coden Cotard has a big dream. He wants to stage a play about everything: birth, dating, family and death. Particularly the last of these since, as he puts it bluntly yet accurately, “we are all hurtling towards death, but here we are for the moment, alive”.

Cotard wants his production to stand as his legacy and demands that there must be no compromises. It should tell the brutal truth, warts and all – no limits, no filters. He prepares post it notes for each participant, a single fact that the actors must build upon to create a character. Quickly you get the impression that the concept is so vast that it is unworkable. View full article »

"Are you talking to me?"

Say cheese!

MARK KOZELEK LIVE AT THE BRONSON CLUB, RAVENNA, ITALY – 5th April 2014

There’s a quiet menace about Mark Kozelek. His songs reveal he’s a sensitive guy but his highly personal, story songs never stray into sentimentalism.

The lyrics are full of the humdrum details from his life at home or on the road yet are delivered with such intensity that they seem positively revelatory.

He sings of being unable to shake his melancholy nature, a condition that I imagine is exacerbated by touring on his own and having time to brood in lonely hotel rooms.

On stage during this two-hour solo performance he’s not ice cold but not warm either. There’s no charm offensive. He seems pissed off that the audience don’t talk to him but doesn’t do much to meet us half way. He doesn’t even know what city he’s playing in so you get the impression that part of him doesn’t give a damn who’s listening and why.

He wonders why there is so much graffiti in Rome but nobody dares venture an opinion as to why Italians are so into street art. In the US, Kozelek says, kids have better things to do; they’re too busy mugging and stabbing people. This is a topic he also touches on in song form in Richard Ramirez Died Of Natural Causes.

Having a few rows of seating and playing under dimmed lighting efficiently communicates the fact that you take pictures or videos at your own peril. And amazingly, no-one does. I can’t remember the last show I went to when there was so little chatter and so few pulling out smart phones. “You are a nice, respectful audience”, Kozelek acknowledges near the end and he was not wrong. View full article »

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. View full article »

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