The Films I've Watched This Year #12



Film Anyway, so yes I went to the cinema this week to FACT Liverpool, where Captain America: The Winter Soldier was perfectly screened digitally in 2D (apart from an initial volume problem with the sound) on the main screen (unlike this Cineworld preview of Raid 2 where it looks like everything went wrong). Decent audience too. Mostly silent apart from the odd paper rattle and cap twisting and the couple behind me only chatted once that I noticed when the thing happened and they were presumably discussing the thing, which to be fair I did myself during the credits. As always happens with MARVEL films, there were a couple of audience members who left before the first post credits sequence, some more who stopped when they realised there was more happening and then about three of us who waited through to the end for the throw forward to Cap 3.  About the only grumble was the price, £8, which when you consider that it'll be available to own at roughly that price plus bus fare is pretty steep.

The other news was that after Lovefilm sent me the same disc again, and much as I enjoyed In This World ... I was expecting something else, when I was called back by Amazon, I was served by someone from Lovefilm's original staff who had the ability to tell me now their service ability had changed and was able to talk through three ongoing problems.  Used to be if a title like Beauty & The Beast had been in "high priority" for months they could send it out as a special dispatch.  Not any more.  The advisor was a bit frustrated by this, as well he might, though as I've found out working in call centres when there's been a system changeover, it's often the case that the new system is actually worse than what went before and not always because you're used to working in a different way.

What To Expect When You're Expecting
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Family
Le Week-End
The Underneath
Only God Forgives
Runner Runner

Bijou week again this week thanks to spending Monday night in the company of a slightly bonkers production of Purcell's King Arthur from the Saltzburg Festival in 2004, which was essentially Monty Python's Flying Opera, including at one stage most of the chorus dressed as penguins.  But every minute of that was more entertaining and original than What To Expect When You're Expecting, in which a bunch of very good performers many of whom we've loved in other productions ask us to hate them.  A film about pregnancy written by women but inevitably directed by a bloke, it's the kind of film in which said pregnancies and so forth are generally presented from the men's perspective and it's about the men's reservations about becoming a father and which horrifically puts the one female character whose pregnancy experience is to the fore throughout most of the film in jeopardy so that her husband has all the narrative agency at the end in a way which makes the Emma Thompson storyline in Love Actually look about as emotionally manipulative as a Robert Bresson film.

When I was writing about hyperlink films for my dissertation in the mid-noughties, and trying to decide if they were a genre or narrative technique, I didn't really have an answer.  Now that these films have followed the usual cycle process and reached the nadir of simply become a way of having romances with dozens of stars (see also Valentine's Day and New Year Eve), I suspect they might have been a genre after all.  Used to be in the likes of Short Cuts, Magnolia or even Crash, the connections were thematically interesting and surprising.  Now they're so loose that a character will turn up at a place at the end they have no business being and justify as such by saying they're another character's "cousin".  The kind of cousin who'll invite themselves to a hospital but wasn't on the guest list for the baby shower.  The poster's especially weird.  Only two of the women in the heavily photoshopped top section actually meet and only one of the blokes in the bottom section is connected to them in any way.

Welcome to the third paragraph.  I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that Cheryl Cole appears playing herself as a judge on a Dancing With Stars knock-off.  She plays herself badly.  Rebel Wilson is in there too in a secondary role and is forced mangle the few jokes she has through a Texan accent.  Astonishingly one of the credit screenwriters also wrote the novel of Whip It and the screenplay it was based on.  The other wrote the Lohan/Curtis Freaky Friday and the book for the stage version of Legally Blonde.  It feels inconceivable that their hands would be on the godawful golf kart chase sequence or anything in the "I can't believe it's not Richard Curtis" Jennifer Lopez adoption storyline.  But infuriatingly there are some sweet bits.  The chunk about Anna Kendrick's one night stand pregnancy, in other words the least serviced storyline, feels like it could be a whole film and she has some real chemistry with Chase Crawford.  When they're on screen it becomes a different, more rooted production.  Everything else is horrible, horrible.

I've probably said everything I need to about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but given the clamour for a Black Widow film now, the release of the trailer for Luc Besson's Lucy starring Scarlett Johansson was especially well timed.  The Family is Besson's entirely unheralded piece from a couple of years ago, so much so I didn't know it was a Besson film until I saw his credit.  Arguably the third item in a loose assassin trilogy with Nikita and Leon, The Family looks at their job from the perspective of the prey, in this case Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer and some kids in witness protection in Normandy having sold out their mob family to the feds.  Executive Produced by Martin Scorsese and somewhat spoofing Goodfellas in the same way that The Freshman riffed on The Godfather, it's genuinely funny and a little bit subversive in testing exactly what characters are capable of while maintaining our sympathy.  Perhaps I was being sympathetic after seeing WTEWYE, but the 29% on Rotten Tomatoes is unbelievably harsh.

Only God Forgives is also about family though I didn't enjoy it half as much.  Of course, given that it's a hour and half art piece dedicated to Alejandro Jodorowsky, in which the director Nicolas Winding Refn offers a fairly convention revenge thriller in a series of lushly illustrated tableau and the audience is offered simultaneously a visual technicolour feast and horrific dismemberments perhaps enjoyment in the traditional, visceral sense isn't the point.  For all the five star reviews and whatnot, it's a piece to be admired, I suppose, but it's fair to say that within about half an hour I realised I was bored and an hour in I paused the blu-ray to go the toilet and make a cup of tea readying myself for the final half hour neither of which are normal behaviour.  I was uninvolved, observing rather than participating, none of which can be said for Jodorowsky's work, Refn's previous films or the kinds of art films I usually adore.  It wants to resonate in the same way as something like Last Year at Marianbad, but these films thrive on layering extraordinary images on purposeful obfuscation.

There's none of that here, almost as though having secured financing and these actors, the production team bollocked out on just how much of the typically mainstream audience they wanted to capture.  So on the one hand the film is Sight and Sound coverbait but on the other Empire is happy to carry a few pages and an interview with Kristen Scott Thomas.  She's magnificent by the way, almost unrecognisable behind a wiry figure and long peroxide hair, but with inexpressive saucer like eyes and mask-like face, only bursting with anger when she attempts to understand how her son has managed to develop a moral conscience.  Bangkok has also rarely been this beautifully portrayed, cinematographer Larry Smith's wide angle lense capturing in astonishing detail of the urban landscape.  Perhaps the project would have been better served by being presented as a series of large print colour photographs filling an art gallery, though that obviously would deny us the few wince inducing moments of the local policeman going about his bloody business.

After a longish gap, I'm also back to watching all of Steven Soderbergh's films in order which leads me to The Underneath which was the experience which led to him entering the "wilderness" for a few years.  Going in I knew he hadn't been happy with it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a something which is of a piece with his other work, with mono-colour filters, experimental editing and time structure and glib dialogue.  The performances are good and if in places it could seem like someone trying to direct Blood Simple in the style of a Soderbergh film, it's certain more emotionally evolved than Only God Forgives which is arguably trying to do something similar.  Wanting to find out exactly what problem Soderbergh has with his work, I inevitably went online and found this interview with Criterion in which he explains where he was during the making of the film and why he then went off and made Schizopolis, but subtly doesn't explain why he was in that place:



Though that is part of a much longer interview for the blu-ray edition so it's possible there's more to it than that. The only other comment I found after a cursory search was:

"Well, ultimately (The Underneath) was kind of a mess. I didn't quite unlock it or figure it out. Some things about it are interesting, but others are...if there's a successful element to The Underneath it was finding a way to use color in the same way that noir films used to use black and white. That was the one part of the movie that worked. Everything else about the movie I can't defend. It was a failed experiment, but a good experiment to attempt. The results of that experiment were necessary in making (Out of Sight). They can't all be gems. It's a process." [Venice Magazine, July 1998]

Perhaps it was the lack of control, of feeling part of a machine. It's probably a coincidence but the film was financed by Gramacy, who also funded Kevin Smith's Mallrats in a similar period and which led that filmmaker to go off and make something cheaper under which they had much more control in Chasing Amy.

But my favourite non-action adventure, shared universe comic book superhero film of the week has been Le Week-End about an elderly couple spending their wedding anniversary in Paris revisiting some their old haunts and generally getting on each other's nerves.  Scripted by Hanif Kureishi and directed by Roger Michell, the elderly couple are played by Jim Broadbent and Lindsey Duncan who give the impression of having been married for decades and about ready for retirement.  As they wander around Paris, you could imagine that this will be Celine and Jesse from that series in a few decades, especially when later the film takes the thematic leap into talking about the generational disappointment that the collective potential of society in the 60s and 70s when everything seem possible became narrowed by short term greed in the 80s, with depth of thought replaced by surface understanding and how that impacts on the connective tissue of a marriage where one of the participants is a failed academic.

The indie spirited flipside of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel it's unafraid to show what really happens when you go on holiday,  like throwing financial caution to the wind and spending an hour trying to gauge the quality of prospective restaurants based on the menus attached to the outside, constant unapologetic referencing of the French New Wave especially Bande √† part and the sudden unheralded arrival of Jeff Goldblum playing Jess Goldblum in that way that only Jeff Goldblum can play as Broadbent's old college friend coincidentally living in Paris with a gorgeous pregnant wife in a way that only a Jeff Goldblum character might.  As Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park wanders through, you do wonder, how is this film managing this?  Jeff Goldblum in this should be about as incongruous as Michael Caine flying a giant bee in Journey 2, yet it works, works, works.  As amazing scene tumbles after amazing scene leading a beguiling climax, I was reminded of just why I love cinema. Again.

10 PRINT "BASIC is 50!"
20 GOTO 10



Technology BBC Basic was about the only language I've ever been able to understand. Sample quote: "The college students would bring their dates to the computer centre..."

Scoring “the sentinel of liberty”.

Film One of the impulses when listening to scores to action blockbusters is to assume there's a certain amount of technical mechanism about them, that a composer simply has to make things very LOUD or very quiet depending on the pacing of the story or editing.

 But as this interview Henry Jackman who worked on Captain America: The Winter Soldier demonstrates there can be a high level of artistry and wrestling with the moral and thematic elements of the characters:
"Exactly, you know, the phrase “the sentinel of liberty,” which sounds cheesy to us because we now live in such a morally complex world. In any modern political scenario it’s almost impossible to figure out who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy. And that’s sort of what the film’s about. It’s a lot easier when you set Captain America in the context of the Second World War, it’s very easy and morally unambiguous to have the Nazis as the bad guys because what Hitler was up to was unquestionably bad and needed to be stopped, whereas the environment that Captain America finds himself in this film is way more nuanced, and that’s one of the reasons he struggles."
That's why it's always such a shame when critics dismiss franchise films out of hand.

The Feeling Listless Soundtrack 1.0:
Theme from Grandstand.



Music [Originally written twelve years ago.] I got a video recorder very late in the game. Our family was never an early adopter - mostly for financial reasons. When we finally did get a video it was a hand-me-down from someone who'd bought a new one. I didn't get a computer until late either. So until my Acorn Electron arrived, if I was looking for entertainment on a Saturday I'd end up watching television. Swap Shop in the morning, followed by Wrestling on ITV at lunchtime (big fan of Big Daddy). I didn't like Dickie Davis moustache so rather than 'World of Sport' I'd be over on BBC 1 watching Grandstand. This was when football was still shown live, and so I was able to follow my team 'Everton' for much of the Eighties. And so for much of the Eighties I'd hear this theme tune.

At the time, popular TV themes would be put out as singles, which would necessitate their lengthening by another minute or so. Many took the 'Doctor Who' approach of repeating much of the tune over again. Some however, passed the time with what sounds like completely unrelated solo in the middle. So we have here something which sounds like a brass band at a Soccer match and then for no apparent reason, Brian May (or someone) appears in the middle to do an extremely seventies guitar solo. I'm surprised someone hasn't already stuck a drum beat behind this and released it into the clubs …

[Commentary: Track two. No idea. The missing story above is that the night we were given the VHS video recorder we travelled out to the Asda in Hunts Cross from Speke to buy a blank video upon which we recorded Starcrossed, the James Spader starring TV movie which was broadcast as part of a sci-fi season on what was then the still relatively fledgling Channel 4. With the novelty of being able to watch a film over and over again whenever we liked, Starcrossed became the film of choice for weeks which means I have half of it imprinted on my brain, especially the scene in the diner where Spader introduces his alien friend to the concept of a greasy spoon. This was before he began on the road to character roles, by the way. Not that any of this has anything to do with Grandstand.]

Paul McGann launches LJMU's Merseyside at War website.

"dim-witted, lazy misogynistic"

Film This rocks. The Daily Dot's Gavia Baker-Whitelaw parses the dim-witted, lazy misogynistic perception of Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow by so-called professional film reviews:
"Honestly, this kind of catsuit-focused review says more about the reviewer than the film itself. Apparently the mere concept of Scarlett Johansson in a tight outfit is so dazzlingly erotic that it bypasses some male reviewers’ conscious minds and causes them to ignore everything she says and does for the rest of the movie. The result is a series of reviews from highly respected film critics who, given the opportunity to describe each Avenger in a single sentence, replace Black Widow’s summary with the announcement, “I AM A HETEROSEXUAL MAN AND SCARLETT JOHANSSON’S BOOBS ARE AWESOME.”
The list of people mentioned in the article is scary: well respected film reviewers whose work I've even quoted in academia. Part of the problem is that half of them don't consider the MARVEL films worthy of serious discussion. As far as they're concerned, because they're light action films and based on a comic book they only really deserve their light comedic touch which inevitably leads to lowest common denominator sewage as described here and oddly those same writers fall over themselves to venerate Johansson's performance in what they consider to be serious films like Her or Under the Skin.

Rebecca Romijn-Stamos's mink throw.

Commerce How to sell furniture to celebrities. Author Peter Mountford describes the months he spent working at an LA furniture in the mid-noughties:
"Bridget Fonda, who had married film composer Danny Elfman and had stopped appearing in movies, shopped there compulsively. I have vivid memories of loading cumbersome decorative pots into the trunk of Elfman’s Maserati. Zach de La Rocha, the former frontman of Rage Against the Machine, apparently had a lot of time on his hands, too, because he drove his cool Mercedes over all the time and drank coffee at the cafe attached to the store by himself. He looked desperately bored and was always alone. Nicole Richie was not alone when she came to the cafe, nor was Kevin Costner. Victoria Beckham wore her sunglasses indoors, throughout lunch. David Schwimmer came a few times, alone, and was precisely as bitter and patronizing as you’d expect him to be. Gary Oldman was completely banal, just a middle-aged man shopping for furniture with his impossibly gorgeous 20-something lady friend."

More on the Dahlberg revelations.

TV After yesterday's discussion of the Dahlberg revelations (still trying to keep you spoiler free), I discovered (via io9) there was a previous occasion when the MARVEL universe crossed over with television. Guiding Light was a US soap opera which was broadcast from 1952 until 2009, preceded by a 15-year broadcast on radio and in 2006 ran a storyline in which one of the characters gained superpowers which continued in the comics themselves albeit for eight pages. Comic Book Resources had a set visit. Inevitably the whole thing now floats around on YouTube.





We Need To Talk About Steve Rogers.

Film Or more accurately I do. I was going to wait until the weekend, but the whole thing is still fresh in my mind's eye. So if you are planning on watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier at any time in your life and frankly why wouldn't you, it's a very strong entry in an epic superhero franchise, then stay away. I'll even put a Scarlett Johannson song, or Scarlett Johansson singing a cover version of a Tom Waits song in between this and the next block of text so your eyes can look away.

Removed: article.

Information This article has been removed because it was launched earlier when I had a strop on. The Guardian's G2 feed is back up. The main film RSS feed seems to carry all of the content. Global All's still broken though.

The Guardian doesn't seem to care about their RSS feeds any more.

Technology Over the past few days I've been rationalising my RSS feeds into some semblance of order. Part of the process was unsubscribing from all the various Guardian feeds so I could resubscribe to their main wire all feed and create some filters. It didn't go well, so I sent some emails to their userhelp department to see if they'd noticed:
Hello,

I subscribe to the Guardian All feed and it's recently changed so that instead if "Guardian Global" in the label it says "Latest news, sport and comment from the Guardian / The Guardian" before the title of the post. This means that in my rss reader it all but obscures most of the title now - see accompanying screenshot.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/rss

I don't suppose there's a chance you could snip the feed title back down to something like The Guardian All, the old Guardian Global (which I appreciate isn't perfect), The Guardian Wire ala The Atlantic or NYT or just simply The Guardian at the front?

In case you're wondering when Google Reader went down I began to subscribe via an rss to email service called Blogrtrottr means I can filter the feed in Gmail which cuts down on duplicate content from subscribing to different Guardian feeds simultaneously. :)

Take care,

Stuart.
Deciding that it might be easier to just subscribe to individual sections again I went for the G2. Oh, uh, oh:
Hello again,

I've just attempted to subscribe to the G2 rss feed and it resolves back to

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/rss

Which is *everything* :(

Take care,

Stuart.
No reply. But it was the weekend so that's understandable. What about if I tried to subscribe to tones? The following email was subjected, "Film feed now too"
Essentially it looks like all the "all" feeds are resolving to:

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/rss

And anything else rss isn't providing full content, just snippet view without such things as author details. The whole thing seems to be broken. :(

Any ideas?

Take care,

Stuart.
Yes, I know, the emoticons.  But I find the whole process of communication uncomfortable at the best of times.  Finally received a reply just now:
Hello Stuart,

Thank you for your feedback.

We feel that the best experience of Guardian content can be found on our websites and apps, and those of our partners. The change in our RSS feeds, linking back to theguardian.com, reflects this.

People who use RSS to read our content offline on mobile devices can use our suite of apps to continue to enjoy the Guardian, no matter where they are. Find out more at www.theguardian.com/mobile

Kind regards

User Help
theguardian.com
Sigh, that's that then. I did reply:
Hi,

Ok. But what's the point in having a link on the website to an RSS feed marked "film" if it just resolves back to a feed which dumps all content from the whole website into that feed? What's the point in having RSS feed links at all in that case?

Please see my other two emails for more on this.

Take care,

Stuart.
Not sure what more can be said on this really.

Revisiting "The West Wing"



TV Saved for later, this Q&A at the Institute of Politics of Harvard University:"The West Wing's Bradley Whitford ("Josh Lyman") joined moderator Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC host and former writer and executive producer of The West Wing, for a panel discussion on the making of the popular political drama. They were joined by Janel Maloney ("Donna Moss") via video conference and Richard Schiff ("Toby Ziegler") via telephone."

"Spasm! Spasm! Oh, God, here it comes... lactose intolerance!"

Film This BFI celebration of the Eiffel Tower on the occasion of its 125th birthday misses one of my favourite of its appearances in film, in Lawrence Kasdan's French Kiss in which Meg Ryan during her imperious phase and Kevin Kline with an outrageous French accent chase around Paris for reasons too complicated to describe here as is typical of a caper film.

One of Meg's character strands is that she hates Paris and because of that, the obligatory view, of the Eiffel Tower, eludes her, even though we the audience are constantly seeing it, behind her in street scenes or in reflections.  Like a ghostly presence it stalks her and we know as soon as she sees it, the romance and beauty of the place will finally engulf her.

Sadly, I can't find any relevant clips online so you'll just have to go and watch it. Here's Kevin Kline singing La Mer from the soundtrack instead. Oh for the mid-90s when a film like this would still be green-lit:

Cineramarama.

Film 360 Degrees of Historical Immersion, or how to make a narrative film for a circular screen:
"If the audience can look anywhere, how do we force them to see what we want them to see? Can an audience follow a narrative this way? How do you tell a story visually without a frame? There was a time when I did not know the answers to these questions. That time has passed.

"I recently finished Post Production on a 360 degree film for The Civil War Museum in Kenosha, WI. Produced by BPI and entitled "Seeing the Elephant" (a term Civil War soldiers used to describe the experience of battle) the 11-minute show was created to honor all the men from the Mid-Western states who fought for the North during the Civil War.

"The story follows three men and their experiences in the Union Army - the endless monotony of marching and training and waiting punctuated by the horrors of battle. In "Seeing The Elephant," the 360 degree theater is not simply a novelty; it is another tool to completely immerse the audience in the story and the world. Hopefully, they leave with at least a small idea of what it was like to be in the middle of a Civil War-era battle."
Cinerama gets its other 180 degrees.

Letters from America Lost and Found.

Radio Back in 2012, Paddy O'Connell presenter of BBC Four's Broadcasting House put out an appeal for any listeners who may have missing radio recordings at home which led to a man in Newquay contacting the programme to explain that he had many hundreds of old episodes of Alistair Cooke's Letter To America. Here's the audio of Paddy visiting the man with a list and discovering that many, many of the episodes missing from the archive were sitting in an attic.

Now it turns out, he wasn't the only one and a dairy farmer also had many hours of episodes in his shed which he only unearthed because of an impending government inspection and the need for a clearout, and collectively it's led to 650 lost episodes having been restored to the BBC archive.

They're in the process of being cleaned up and there's a voluminous post about the work here which will be of some interest to those of us who miss the extensive articles the Doctor Who restoration team used to produce about their achievements.  Sony’s Soundforge 10 in case you're wondering.  No sign of Mark Ayres.

The whole lot should be on the BBC website some time this year but highlights have already been posted, yet I think I'm going to wait.  With so much of the past soon to be restored, the marvel will be in hearing the epic sweep of history.  Makes you wonder what else other people have lying around...

Brian Cox meets Brian Cox.



People Actor Brian Cox meets Professor Brian Cox. After having been mistaken for one another for years, even to the point of apparently being invited to events when the other was expected, the two Brian Coxes hadn't previously met. Now here they are bumping into one another live on camera at the Empire Film Awards (on YouTube).

Liverpool Hopkins Waltz.



Music As The High Definitive explains: "On November 7, 1964, Sir Anthony Hopkins composed a waltz in the green room of the Liverpool Playhouse. In the video above, he hears it performed for the first time in public by world-renowned violinist and conductor André Rieu at the Belvedere."

Who's Bossktume?

Film Sometimes Recycled Movie Costumes unearths some real treasures:
"This space suit was first seen in the 1966 episode of Doctor Who, entitled The Tenth Planet on Earl Cameron as Glyn Williams. [...] The exact same costume does, however, appear in the 1980 film Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back on Alan Harris as the Trandoshan bounty hunter Bossk."
You all presumably already knew this, of course. The photographic evidence is undeniable.