Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Films: Oscar nominated shorts

I have spent the past two Sunday lunchtimes at the Curzon cinema in Soho, which is rapidly becoming one of my favourite places. They have been screening the Oscar nominated short films – live action last week, animated this week.

Considering each lasted no more than half an hour, and most came in under 15 minutes, I have a surprising amount to say about some of them… more than many “full length” films.

Click the titles for IMDB entries.

Live Action

Pentecost – a funny and well acted story of an Irish altar boy in the 70s, obsessed by Liverpool FC and tasked with putting in the performance of his life at a high profile mass. Enjoyable, but very WYSIWYG.

Raju – a German couple travel to India to adopt an orphan. In a highly predictable scene the boy disappears in a busy market, plunging his adoptive parents into turmoil. What happens next does however surprise, and leads to an impossible dilemma. The director successfully captures the chaos of the situation, both physically and emotionally. This was my choice for winner on every count – story, significance and film-making.

The Shore – a tale of a broken friendship through the Northern Ireland troubles. One of them is back in town and looking to reunite…. I wonder what might happen? Highly predictable, though in an engaging and at times amusing way. For me this was the weakest of a strong field. What’s that? It won the Oscar? Shows what I know.

Time Freak – the only American entry and (I’m sure coincidentally) the most accessible, the “Freak” of the title has invented a time machine but becomes obsessed with perfecting his role in minor day-to-day encounters. A simple idea that certainly spoke to this obsessive compulsive perfectionist… I definitely wouldn’t cope with time travel!

Tuba Atlantic – Oskar is told he has days to live and wants to send a message to his disowned brother on the other side of the Atlantic. Helped along by his personal angel of death. Who is still in training. And he’s got a thing about seagulls. Utterly bonkers, but kind of sweet.


Dimanche / Sunday – I loved the “flat” style of the animation, but that’s all I did love. To be honest I didn’t understand what was happening, and neither did my two friends. Could all three of us have just been a bit thick?

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore – a hurricane sweeps Morris to a mysterious house inhabited by flying books, for which he becomes custodian. I spent the first half thinking “this doesn’t really make sense”, but then was utterly charmed by the second half. The animation of the books was spot on and couldn’t fail to make me smile. It reminded me a lot of Up, but there are many other influences that those more cine-literate than me would spot. Hardly complex, but my favourite… and this time the Oscar judges agreed with me.

La Luna – Pixar have done some amazing shorts over the years, most notably the hilarious For The Birds. Oh, and the one with the clouds…. I might need to get the Pixar DVDs out. But La Luna… sorry, didn’t do it for me. Young boy taken to work with his father for the first time, and it turns out his dad does something clever with the sky. Technically excellent, and probably works well for kids, but not much more.

A Morning Stroll – the only British nominee, and as the screening was introduced by its director/producer who seemed like a nice chap I was probably pre-disposed to liking it. A chicken and a New Yorker go for the Morning Stroll of the title – actually they go three times, with each stroll altering our view of what is really happening. The use of animation is the best of the nominees, and if I weren’t a sucker for the charm of The Flying Books it would, and perhaps should, have been my winner.

Wild Life – something to do with an Englishman moving to Canada and his struggle to settle in, plus some kind of metaphor involving a comet. I didn’t get this one at all… answers on a postcard.

This has really opened my eyes to shorts… Given I come out of almost every cinema trip thinking “that could have been 20 minutes shorter”, it’s probably fair to say I have a short attention span. But not every story or idea needs two hours, as these nominees demonstrate perfectly.

Ten films, almost all worth the short amount of my life they consumed (just under 4 hours total), for two £7 tickets. A pretty good return on investment in my book.

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Films: The Artist, The Iron Lady, Martha Marcy May Marlene

I’ve had a bit of a cinema splurge lately, so as I’m sure my opinion is worth much more than the countless others available on the internet, here are my thoughts.

The Artist

Here’s the thing… I didn’t love it.

I’ll just give you a moment to recover from that revelation…..

That’s not to say I didn’t like it and enjoy it. I’m not even saying I don’t think it should have won the Oscar for Best Film, largely because I can’t think of a better candidate off the top of my head while I type this quickly on a drizzly Sunday evening eating leftover lasagne. I just wasn’t as blown away as almost everyone else was.

I suspect this largely comes down to the expectation/anti-climax issue. As David Mitchell (who I want to be when I grow up) recently remarked upon, when anything is built up with excessive praise the result can only be disappointment. I went into The Artist wanting to see an excellent film, which happened to be silent and shot in 4:3 black and white. What I got was a fairly mediocre film which was all about being silent and being shot in 4:3. The plot was predictable, the characters (the dog aside) thin and largely unlikeable… I just didn’t care. There was some nice cinematography, the dream sequence is worthy of note, and as a modern day novelty it held my attention for the refreshingly short running time. But for me, novelty was the bulk of it. Even ignoring the shark jumping conclusion, if this had been released in the era it was meant to be taking us back to it would barely have registered.

Some have pondered whether the success of The Artist would usher in a flurry of look-a-like/lack of sound-a-likes… I doubt it. This was about a silent film being released in the 21st century. Now it has been done, the point has been made. It is nonetheless enormously uplifting that The Artist could be a popular triumph, once again proving that audiences are willing to embrace fare that doesn’t conform to the regular Hollywood formula. There may be hope after all.

The Iron Lady

Back when I was a producer at a talk radio station, there were certain topics that would make the phones ring. Abortion. Parking tickets. Benefits. If it was 3 in the morning on a quiet news day and your desperate presenter was stuck doing a monologue and approaching an on air breakdown, you could throw one of these out and the switchboard would light up. Granted the people on the other end were generally over-opinionated and under-informed, but not every hour could be Sony award winning.

One such topic was our beloved/despised former PM Margaret Thatcher. Since at the age of 9 I hadn’t really developed an interest in politics (contrary to popular belief I wasn’t born reading The Guardian) I have always struggled to understand the magnitude of emotions surrounding Mrs T. Sure, I got that depending on your leaning you either loved or loathed her policies, probably more so than with most governments. But could she really be so bad that people, and not just the afore-mentioned over-opinionated and under-informed, looked forward to celebrating her death?

Realistically I didn’t expect The Iron Lady to massively realign my understanding of the emotions surrounding 80’s politics, which is good because this wasn’t a film about Thatcher’s politics. In fact it was barely about Thatcher at all… it was a cleverly executed and beautifully acted exploration of dementia, ageing, and losing power. Clearly for the latter aspect it’s hard to imagine anyone for whom the contrast could be so extreme, but otherwise the protagonist could have been anyone.

This explains why the film drew the criticism it did from many sides. For those who agree with Thatcher’s politics, reducing her life to her heartbreaking final years is an insult. For those that found her abhorrent, attempting to rouse any kind of sympathy is an outrage. The great controversies of her career were given moments of exploration which would have left even Daily Express writers thinking “now it’s a bit more complicated than that…”. This was never going to change anyone’s opinion, but I don’t think it intended to. If I want to learn about the complexities of the politics I guess I’m going to have to read some books, because it probably can’t be done in two hours of cinema.

Before I move on, Meryl Streep was thoroughly deserving of her Oscar for this role – haunting, moving and an impersonation that was pitched just the right side of cliché. Although I still struggle to take her seriously after Death Becomes Her. Also more than worthy of note was Olivia Coleman playing Thatcher’s daughter Carol, easily the most overlooked supporting actress performance of the year.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

This wasn’t the kind of film I would normally see. I would see the trailer and read about in the paper, then have no intention of going to see. It shrieked depth and intelligence, and while I wouldn’t class myself as shallow and thick (hush at the back) it just wasn’t for me. But when Claudia and Danny on Film 2012 and the good Dr Kermode all raved about it, I thought maybe I should broaden my horizons. So off I trundled…

I’m hesitant to say anything about the plot as I would agree with the many critics who have said the less you know in advance the better. In fact for the purpose of this “review” it doesn’t really matter, because even now, several weeks later, I don’t know what I made of it. All I can say is that I’m glad I ventured out of my comfort zone, as it’s rare for a film to make me think for as long as this did and continues to do.

My viewing in fact doubled as a second date – yeah, weird choice of date movie. To add to the fun the chap I was with seemed to be something of film buff so I was rather concerned about being found out when I couldn’t proffer some deep and meaningful analysis. After a few minutes of us both attempting to sound intellectually moved, we both cottoned on the fact that neither of us had a clue *. But it definitely needed to be seen with someone, as this one really did need to be dissected afterwards.

I find myself now staring at the blinking cursor asking what my point is…. I guess on this film I don’t have one. But it does make the point that I should try films I otherwise wouldn’t more often, so I would advise you do the same.

* No, I didn’t see him again. Maybe I was found out after all.

Categories: Film

TV: Educating Essex

The scourge of the inappropriate titling of TV documentaries strikes again. The name Educating Essex, and to a lesser extent the trails that have been promoting it, are clearly designed to connect with The Only Way Is Essex and to make you think that this is going to be a fun opportunity to laugh at thick Essex-folk. It’s a problem that I know all to well – my one and only broadcast television credit was on a BBC Three documentary titled F*** off, I’m a Hairy Woman, part of a series of “F*** off” programmes on various issues. The sensationalist title devalued what was, at times, an interesting look at body image and its impact. Don’t get me wrong, it was ridiculous in parts (I had to organise a hair bonfire on a wasteland in Docklands), but nowhere near as bad as the title suggested.

Anyway, I digress. Once you get over the title, Educating Essex was in fact one of the best documentaries I’ve seen a while.

The star of the show is clearly deputy head Mr Drew. He seems to capture the perfect qualities of a secondary teacher – the one that can have a laugh with his students, but who can also turn up the discipline when needed. We saw less of the headmaster, Mr Goddard, in the opening episode but he too seems thoroughly suited to the job, taking a clearly nonsensical accusation of assault deadly seriously and handing the situation perfectly.

In many ways this programme should have been quite depressing, featuring as it did a tiny minority of kids behaving in a disgraceful way. Yet the handling of these difficult situations by the school meant the programme was actually quite uplifting, even inspiring. Amongst the nuggets of wisdom dished out by Mr Drew, my favourite came when he was being interviewed about the school’s reluctance to expel unruly pupils. It was suggested that this meant the kids would always win, to which he replied that he wants the kids to win.

With so much said by politicians, commentators, the media and us everyday folk about education and what schools need to be doing, it was refreshing to see the reality of an everyday school dealing with everyday issues.

At one point the head and his deputy broke the fourth wall and made reference to the documentary they were starring in, worrying “what if they think we’re all idiots?”. Well don’t worry Mr Drew, I think the exact opposite.


Categories: Television Tags: