Film: A Story of Children and Film (2013)

A Story of Children and Film @

I really like Mark Cousins.  He talks about films in just the right way.  His voice is the voice of a man describing a precious jewel, a voice that betrays love and knowledge, a voice half lost in the dream of it all.  He skips from film to film as moments remind him of moments and from E.T. (1982) we are sudden four or five films and half a world away.  Or perhaps it’s because he presented BBC 2′s Moviedrome, the cult film series that was my first informal film school.

A Story of Children and Film is just that; an exploration of children in cinema and the common themes that Cousins finds there.  Like his The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011) I think your enjoyment will hinge on how much you like Cousins himself and how open you are to a true selection of world cinema but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s 106 minutes of joy and Cousins really understands that film is a medium of consecutive moments.

Highly recommended.

Film: The Hooligan Factory (2014)

The Hooligan Factory @

Like Mike Myers’ Austin Powers character, The Hooligan Factory suffers from the realisation that it’s target is both long gone and laughable in it’s own right.  As a result there is an initial feel that we could just be watching one of those films but, after a relatively laugh free first thirty minutes, this spoof finds it’s stride, gets comfy in what it wants to do and hits a level of stupidity that lifts everything and suddenly the laughter follows.

And there are some big laughs here; from running gags about an undercover police officer and ‘true’ hooligan auto-biographies to numerous moments of ludicrousness, and a visual gag involving a postbox that could be used as legal proof that ‘silly’ is comedy gold.  In each case the ideas are solid and the excellent cast, especially director and co-writer Nick Nevern in the role of Dex (all barely contained, bubbling over nutter), really deliver.

For the sake of full disclosure I’ve got to admit that I only picked up this film because I went to school with one of the writers about 200 years ago.  In all honesty I didn’t know what to expect but funny is funny and there is plenty of that on display.


Still chuckling about that postbox.

Film: RoboCop (2014)

RoboCop 2014 @ problem here isn’t, and was never going to be, the rating.  The film was always going to be different and a different tone could easily be part of that.  The fatal flaw is the lack of focus that means the film keeps threatening to be about something quite substantial without ever getting to it.

It’s enjoyable, I suppose, in a throwaway sense but as it’s based on such high-end source material and it has Jose Padilha, the director of the blistering and highly recommended (if a little fascist) Elite Squad (2007 and 2010) movies, behind the camera being ‘so-so’ is just as damning as being terrible.

Film: One from the Heart (1982)

One from the Heart @

Filmed entirely on sound stages with only the slightest of plots, Coppola’s love letter to the good old days of the Studio movie is an odd fish but still quite wonderful in it’s own right.

The film marries a small, street level, working class story with the kind of lavish treatment usually only afforded to the glitterati (those who glitter) and, admittedly, this does cause a slight disconnect because the staging suggests a grandiosity that doesn’t appear to be on it’s way… but there is great comic play between all the actors, the soundtrack by Tom Waits and featuring Crystal Gayle compliments the film perfectly, 4:3 framing and then Frannie (a perfectly cast Terri Garr) and Ray (the much missed Raul Julia) dance in the street and the whole thing comes together.  A delight.

Highly Recommended.

Film: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug @

So after avoiding it for some time I finally got around to watching the second part of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of The Hobbit.

Hmm.  The barrel scene says it all really.  Here is an interesting, fun escape with danger and thrills smothered in a mass of overblown nonsense and noise.  Characters do impossible things that render them indestructible and therefore uninteresting, and the whole thing quickly becomes tedious.  Repeat for most scenes.

Jackson clearly loves this world and the characters but this film really needed more distance from his The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 – 2003); a different director, one movie and just generally ‘less’ would do it.  Still, I’ll watch the last one because dragon.

Film: Streets of Fire (1984)

Streets of Fire @

If you wanted a definition of ‘cult movie’ Streets of Fire would do it.

Pitched as ‘a rock and roll fable’, it tells the simple story of a guy rescuing a girl from a biker gang.  Because it’s a Walter Hill movie it does it without irony, embarrassment or regret and, like it’s cousin The Warriors (1979), is pure comic book escapism.

From the opening shot of neon reflected on a wet street to the final showdown, the film is alive with a beat and energy that jumps off the screen.  It’s not just the fantastic soundtrack (Ry Cooder, The Blasters, and two brilliant tracks by Jim Steinman), it’s in the hard boiled dialogue, the editing, the unapologetically 2D characters and the blended 80′s and 50′s art direction that gives the whole thing a timeless sheen.

Strictly speaking not a great film, but nonetheless a wonderful must-see movie.

Highly Recommended.

Film: Metro Manila (2013)

Metro Manila @

What I really like about Metro Manila is what might have once been called ‘local colour’ or the way it works within the idea of the ‘cinema of attractions’.  This is all just a fancy way of saying that Sean Ellis’ film, with it’s street level,  newcomer point of view, made me I feel that I’ve visited a place.  Whether or not this is an accurate impression of Manila I have no idea but the living pulse of a city has been captured on film and it’s a visceral experience.

Beyond the backdrop, a character in itself, the film tells a story of poverty, desperation and seduction that becomes ever more gripping as choices are narrowed and events conspire against the protagonist.  That the film remains relatively naturalistic is a welcome change of pace especially when it still delivers pulp thrills when required.

Highly Recommended.

TV: The Normal Heart (2014) / Film: Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

a normal heart @

I didn’t catch Dallas Buyers Club on it’s cinema release.  I wanted to see it but one thing led to another and, you know, life, etc, etc but I didn’t, well couldn’t avoid the buzz and, of course, it’s McConaughey.  As luck would have it, or not, I’ve received my rental copy the week following the British TV première of Ryan Murphy’s rather excellent The Normal Heart.

In fairness, whilst both films start with AIDS they are about entirely different things but the stories and characters chosen are symptomatic of the difference in attitude between the small and large screen.  The latter is a stirring campaign film, a cry, a disaster movie in which the approaching monsoon is apathy and ignorance.  It also runs a nice sideline in representing the tension between the simplistic answer of ‘stop having sex’ and the very real, but rarely explained/contextualised, idea of sexual activity itself being a political act.

The former is a personal drama in which the virus forces the straight protagonist to meet gays and, shock horror, they turn out to be people and history is cherry-picked to allow us progressive 2014 folks to feel that, just like Forrest and his good ol’ ways escorting that girl into school and breaking segregation, we would have done something.  Wouldn’t we?  Didn’t we?  No.  The proof is history.  I suppose it’s saving grace is that the central character isn’t exactly altruistic but even with that focus the film doesn’t have much to say.

Of course both films are well acted, directed and blah blah blah.

One of them is recommended.


For a devastating look at the arrival of HIV/AIDS I would recommend the brilliant documentary We Were Here (2011).

Film: How I Live Now (2013)

how i live now @

There’s a touch of Scarlett O’Hara about Daisy, the self-regarding and troubled teenage protagonist of this grim WWIII tale.  That’s not to say that she’s obnoxious (although she is a bit) but this is a survival story that knows that living is about more than being a good person and, to quote another movie, deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.

Based on the book by Meg Rosoff, this works not only as a teen drama but it also sits nicely with that particularly effective and tough strand of British sci-fi that pits nice middle-class types against the end of the world (be it Triffids, zombies, Rage, infertility, creepy blond children, famine, etc, etc…) but, unlike the majority of British WWII movies from the immediate post-war period, know that getting your hands dirty is the best way to survive.  It also wins extra points for keeping the whys and whats of the situation vague and the people front and centre, a viewpoint often achieved through interesting visuals that really lift the film without widening the scope too far.

Recommended and a harder film than one might expect.