The Films I've Watched This Year #34

TV Here's a paragraph about Matthew Collings's The Rules of Abstraction on BBC4. In The Rules of Abstraction, Matthew Collings, who is himself an abstract painter talks about the history of abstract painting over the past hundred years in ninety-minutes.  As Matthew Collings himself points out, to talk about abstract painting as a single thing is a ludicrous idea, but he attempts it anyway.  He is very good at introducing artists just outside of the mainstream and explaining the use of colour and how it creates harmony and chaos across the canvas.  But there is the problem of not really being able to explain abstract art in its purest sense, other than to suggest that the more work that's put into a painting the more profound it probably is.

A Year In Burgundy
Gangster Squad
The Purge
A New Kind of Love
I Really Hate My Job

Darling Lili
And Now ... Ladies and Gentlemen...

I Really Hate My Job is a London entry into the service worker genre (see also Clerks, Late Night Shopping and Empire Records) which has Anna Maxwell Martin managing a rat infested Soho bistro with waitresses and kitchen staff played by the eclectic cast of Neve Campbell, Shirley Henderson, Alexandra Maria Lara and Dana Pellea, battling against their shared neuroses across a single evening. Shot almost entirely on one set, it mostly feels like filmed theatre but with a sharp script, funny performances and sub-Withnail sense of human wreckage dealing with failed potential, it’s never boring. Cleverly director Oliver Parker always keeps the customers out of focus or out of shot putting the viewer right within the point of view of his cast.

Not having much of an idea of its origin, throughout I had a general sense of unease throughout of this being a period piece. For one thing, everyone's smoking inside.  It’s a measure of just how ingrained the illegality of that is now that I flinched the first time Shirley Henderson’s character lit up. Kate Nash’s first album’s on the soundtrack, plus everyone looks younger. Glancing at the supplied inlay (I received this as a preview) I realised it was shot way back in 2007, but it’s just  now creeping out direct to dvd, having only previous been seen in this parish (according to the imdb) at the Inverness Film Festival. It even reached the US sooner with a shiny-disc release in 2008 and originally saw light of day at the Transilvania International Film Festival in 2007.

There are plenty of stories about British films which fall through the cracks.  This seems to be one of them. Although it’s far from a commercial film, given the cast and the director it certainly would have had a decent release at least fifteen years ago (see the three films bracketed above) but we now seem to be in a situation, so unlike France actually, in which even this kind of material can’t get a decent release or at least couldn’t back in 2007/8 when if the Wikipedia lists are anything to go by there were already about five or six tent pole UK releases and a bunch of also rans (Lady Godiva: Back in the Saddle?). Let’s hope it’s some reason other than politics, this being a film written by a women, featuring a cast made up entirely of actresses. It can’t be this which has led to it being forgotten can it?

Most of my #francewatch "choices" were or are utterly bonkers.  Claude Lelouch's  And Now ... Ladies and Gentleman ... has Jeremy Irons as an amnesiac, disguise wearing jewel thief blacks out whilst on a round the world boat trip and ends up in Morocco where he meets Jazz singer Patricia Kaas who spends most the duration singing songs from her Piano Bar album, including Piano Bar.  Blake Edwards's Darling Lili has Julie Andrews as a German spy during World War I romancing Rock Hudson's fighter pilot and feeding his intel back to the Keiser (oh and it's a musical because of course it is).  Melville Shavelson's A New Kind of Love features Joanne Woodward as a fashion designer who after Paul Newman's sports columnist mistakes her for a man decides to gussy herself up and pretend to be a prostitute for some reason to win him over.  It's rubbish.

Actually on reflection, make that all, because you have to imagine that only in France would Populaire, a 50s retro romantic comedy about the international typewriting championship would be greenlit and have Romain Durais and Déborah François (who was the pupil in The Page Turner).  It's actually pretty magical in a similar way to Peyton Reed's underrated Doris Day film pastiche Down By Love even if now and then it slips over into unnecessary Todd Hayne's Far From Heaven in terms of deliberate tonal changes.  A Year In Burgundy is a ninety-minute documentary about wine production that's what you'd expect though none of the wineries features were prepared to give up their secrets about how the stuff is actually turned from grapes into the plonk.  Each of them have their own secret method and theft and piracy  is rife in the industry.

Neither of the US films I watched this week is any good.  The Purge takes a potentially decent dystopian idea, that that to keep crime down once a year for twelve hours there's a killing spree then uses it as a pretence for a relatively standard home invasion story that ultimately amounts to Home Alone with guns.  Excellent performances from Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey keep the morally ambiguous parents largely sympathetic, the general sense of low budget make-do is disappointing.  Gangster Squad is The Untouchables for teenagers crippled by insufficient Emma Stone who's stuck in the role of the traditional moll.  It's disappointing that four years on from Zombieland, director Ruben Fleischer (and her!) have turned out such generic tosh.  It's not unenjoyable and it's good to see Josh Brolin in a lead, but throughout you just keep wondering why the characters don't go after the accounts.  They should always go after the accounts.

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