The Films I've Watched This Year #6

Film Evening. Towards the end of the last week, Indiewire published what's becoming an annual list of everything Steven Soderbergh watched in 2013. I like to think he was inspired by my own review 2004, though his doesn't mention the format he enjoyed the films  in, but does have some books and music so I suppose everything balances out. What's most notable is that his tastes don't differ that much from mine and he has similar whims like "I think I'll spend the evening with some Orson Welles documentaries..." or "I must catch up on some David Fincher's stuff..." Also he watches just as much television -- mostly HBO -- but also some UK stuff. He's seen that superb BBC's miniseries about The Great Train Robbery and on the same day as a UK episode of BBC Four's Getting On alongside what looks like an episode of the US version, perhaps for comparison.  I wonder what he'd make of my tastes..

The Square
The Short Game
The Gentle Sex
Welcome to the Punch
The Look of Love
Remember Sunday
Le Grande Depart
The Last Stand
Hotel Normandy
Broken City

The only item I watched this week not released in 2013 is The Gentle Sex, Leslie Howard's 1943 wartime romantic drama about a group of women from various walks of life who meet in the Auxiliary Territorial Service.  Amazingly dated even taking everything into account, it's burdened by a patronising voice over from Howard himself commenting on the foibles of "these ladies" few of whom have anything in the way of dimensional characterisation mostly boiled down to regional and class stereotypes.  The culture clash is enunciated with scenes like one in which middle class women offer shock and awe when they hear their working class colleagues whole families wash in the same bath water and the only Scottish character is a big fan of Robbie Burns and manages to find what seems like the only other Scottish man in the war and he happens to be wearing a kilt.  All of which commentary probably seems a bit churlish given that this sort of film had to begin somewhere and it's heart is in the right place.  But it's difficult to get past the final piece of voiceover in which Howard essentially says, "Oh well, goodbye girls, you've all had a lovely war and you've certainly deserved the chance to go and make a good home with a nice man to protect you."  Sigh.

Other than that, the main theme of the week was that I didn't see anything remarkable.  Actually, no that's probably not quite fair.  The Square deserves its Oscar nomination as a long form piece of reportage from inside Tahir Square in Egypt during the various revolutions following the lives of three men caught up and with differing ideological perspectives on events including Khalid Abdalla who played the grown up Amir in The Kite Runner.  As the horror and bloodshed unfolds,  and the protestors and the country exists through cycle after cycle of uncertainty it soon becomes clear, and this is impassioned by Ahmed, one of the other revolutionaries, that it's not about who's in power there but how they use that power and if they're prepared to make that power the subject of a constitution which is fair to all peoples and separated from rather than governed by religion, speaking for all the peoples of the country - in other words what some of us elsewhere can take for granted (even if it sometimes doesn't seem like that separation is as clear as it should be).  This is powerful filmmaking and editing and in zooming in on events there's plenty not covered elsewhere in the media.

By remarkable, I think I mean, different.  Welcome To The Punch is an disappointingly empty (for its director) crime thriller which attempts to present a Hollywood aesthetic on a much smaller budget in London and just about manages it thanks  to Ed "Chalet Girl" Wild's glistening glass photography and sterling performances from a kitchen sink cast, but there's not one moment not sign-posted and few surprises.  That's also somewhat true of Broken City about a private investigator who becomes mixed up in a political scandal in which the director Allen Hughes and most of the cast doesn't seem to have noticed (though most of the critics did) Brian Tucker's written a neo-noir filled with all of the usual archetypes, not least Catherine Zeta Jones's femme fatale (practically the only reason I bothered to watch it).  So while Mark Wahlberg's wandering around underplaying the sort of PI role Fred MacMurray would have enjoyed against Russell Crowe's Edward G. Robinson-like mayor but it's not really shot with any great flare, or rather it's shot with less flare than an average episode of The Wire by the cinematographer behind Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Pain & Gain and World War Z.

But neither of these films are unenjoyable.  They're genre pieces and if I learnt something this week it's that films don't always have to be remarkable, that it is ok to simply be a genre piece.  Hotel Normandy's a frothy French romantic comedy about a holiday misunderstanding which isn't particularly funny but mostly good hearted manages to gather France's Sandra Bullock, Héléna Noguerra opposite the country's Steve Carrell, Ary Abittan.  At a certain point I began to wonder if I was already watching the US remake, not that Sandy would touch this kind of material post-Gravity.  Probably.  Similarly, there's not one part of Rush, at least in terms of how the film's visually constructed, which couldn't be predicted beforehand even for those of us who didn't really know the outcome.  Director Ron Howard has noticed the slight risks Peter Morgan's taking with the screenplay in forcing the audience to make the value judgements F1 fans made at the time between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, both protagonists and antagonists, both heroic and repugnant in equal measure.  Not that it would convince me, with my liberal sensibilities to actually start watching the real F1 though.

Except critics were pretty harsh on most of these  because they don't transcend their genre roots which brings us to the most fun I this week film wise, The Last Stand.  Objectively, it looks rubbish.  It's post mayorship Arnold, creaking about as the Sheriff of a small town with Johnny Knoxville as a comedy side kick and directed by South Korean auteur Kim Jee-woon making his US debut with a film which contains the elements featured already in this sentence.  But, well, it's hilarious, exciting and still manages to fit in Kim's ouvre featuring as it does, as the IMDb notes as his trade mark in fact, an anti-hero, a cold villain and a goofy yet smart sidekick (see above).  The film's bit of experimentation is in contrasting what amounts to a Michael Bay-like big action at the opening as a drugs chief escapes from FBI custody (a sequence which is exactly of the kind Welcome To The Punch aspires to) with essentially Fargo in a desert as the small town which sits between the fugitive in a fast car and the Mexican border, with Arnold in charge, prepare for his arrival.  In other words it's a B-movie and if I would have been weary of paying to see it at the cinema, just the sort of thing worth streaming from Netflix on a Thursday night.

How purposefully ropey is it?  It's the kind of film in which one of the characters, played by Knoxville, keeps a convenient collection of antique weaponry as though this sleepy small town was always going to be invaded by a hired army bent on destruction.  It has Forest Whitaker as the chief FBI investigator, a genre nod if ever there was one.  Lady Sif herself Jaimie Alexander plays the token female sheriff's deputy and proves once again that thanks to the Marvel connection, she's going to be to Wonder Woman what Clive Owen has been to James Bond.  Incidentally I read recently that Liam Neeson, who was the first choice for Arnold's role here, was offered Bond in the early 90s, for Goldeneye, but turned it down because "he has never been interested in starring in action movies".  Snigger.  "I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you."  Snigger again.  There aren't many speeches as good as that in here, and the tone's all over the place, but I laughed and laughed.  Oh no wait, there's, "You're talking to a 72 year-old man with high cholesterol, eating a bacon and cheddar omelet with extra cheddar. Do I look like I'm afraid of death?"  Yes, there's that.


Fashion In the ’60s, models floated through Paris in bubbles:
"There’s something about floating translucent bubbles that’s always seemed futuristic, from the ’60s right up to the present day. Photographer Melvin Sokolsky was on the, er, ball, then, when he shot his now iconic “Bubble” series for the Harpers Bazaar 1963 Spring Collection.

"The series is widely credited for launching the trend of bold, artistic visions within fashion photography. The bubble first takes off in color from beyond the New York City skyline, then lands on the Seine River in Paris, where it begins a surreal black-and-white tour of Parisian streets, alleys, and cafes. Designer clothes are on display in each shot, something that’s easily overlooked as model Simone d’Aillencourt cavorts in the plexiglass sphere, drawing a lot of attention (and even a few fireballs) from standers by."

The Bread Shop.

Geography Every so often the superlocal intrudes on the national and so is the case with the emergence of The Bread Shop on Aigburth Road in Liverpool, walking distance around Sefton Park from us and its advertising which has amused Esther Addley who on Monday said:
"Supermarket Waitrose offers free coffee and newspapers to shoppers, and small retailers complain that the retail giant is squeezing them out of business. Perhaps a new approach is needed. We applaud the example of the small grocery on Aigburth Rd in Liverpool, for instance, which tempts customers with a free coffee when they buy a paper (we approve) and, this being Liverpool, the vow: "We do not sell the Sun". But it's the tantalising promise, on a board outside, of "Crap sweets and rude staff" that surely has the crowds flocking. We try to call, to check rudeness levels reach the desired mark, but when we finally locate a number, it reaches a fax. Refreshing, in this day and age, to get what you are promised."
Later in the week she managed to phone back and ....
"Reader Liz Semeonoff gets in touch about our item earlier in the week about The Bread Shop, a small bakery on Aigburth Road in Liverpool, that flogs its wares under the slogan "Crap sweets and rude staff". "It's a fabulous shop which sells a huge range and the staff are great," she says. "The shop owner always has a smile and a hello for customers." We try once again to call and this time reach Alan Gordon, whose grandfather Len and father Frank have been running the shop since 1958, now joined by next door sweet shop (The Sweet Shop) and cafe (The Cafe). Turns out he's not rude at all. "We've always had pretty good banter with the customers," he says. "Not like Tesco where they don't look at you". You can also buy T-shirts and mugs reading "Terrible service and lousy food", while the shop's carrier bags carry the slogan "I've just supported a family business" along with a picture of Gordon's three-year-old daughter Ava and the words, "I'll be the boss one day." Lovely."
Yes, indeed, lovely.

Debs's Tiff tiff.

Music  My inner teenager is having a very exciting day indeed.

Debbie with her "Shake Your Love" hair, Tiffany at around the time of "I Think We're Alone Now"?

 This be 1987, this be.

Lovefilm rebrands.

Commerce  Ever since Lovefilm, which is the primary way I watch films now, were bought by Amazon, I was waiting for the inevitable moment when it would rebrand.  The US logo appeared on envelopes was a pretty good indication and finally the announcement has been made and despite some initial fear that it would lead to the closure of by-post, as this Pocket-Lint primer indicates existing Lovefilm users will see no change other than the rebranding on the streaming app on the various devices.

There are some other changes.  A few years ago Lovefilm abandoned their experiment for streaming-on-demand newer releases and Amazon are bringing that back to, which is a bit of a concern because it might increase the lead time until they're available by post or "free" stream.  Studios are already delaying the rental release of some films often until months and months after they've appeared in the shop.  Man of Steel seemed to take aaaage (not that it mattered much in the end).

On the upside, now that it's practically the same service as on offer in the US it might mean that the Roku app from over there will finally migrate across.  The Sony app is fine, it does the job, but the picture quality is nowhere near as good as Netflix which is near blu-ray quality in HD even though they're both being delivered through the same broadband connection.

Of course, I'd be even happier if the Amazon Prime joy was spread in the opposite direction and bundled in with my Lovefilm subscription.  I just hope that it doesn't mean at some point Amazon simply abandon by-post as a dated anachronism.  There are still plenty of titles which are never streamed on either (now) Amazon Instant or Netflix and the availability gap would be even longer.  Sigh.


Film I'd been thinking about adopting a film for the blog, charting its life from announcement through to production and release and I think I've found it. After earlier news of the Romola, Carey, Abi trifecta, Screen Daily brings more casting news for Suffragette:
"... something something ... Ben Whishaw ..."
It's a The Hour reunion. I don't suppose Morgan, Garai and Whishaw could shoot a secret webisode to close out the series on the quiet?  Something as short as this charming Spaced sequel would do....


Music To the "Sugababes" where it's all gone a bit Taylor Swift. Heidi in the Daily Record:
Liverpool-born Heidi certainly doesn’t fancy doing TV show The Big Reunion that brought fellow Scousers Atomic Kitten back together last year.

She said: “The Big Reunion isn’t something I’d want to do at the moment. I know they say never say never but I’m not interested just now.

“Jade is doing her musical Tonight’s The Night and I believe Amelle is in the studio working on solo material.

“We don’t speak and don’t really phone each other but we send each other tweets and messages and I see the girls at some things.

“I’ve not seen Amelle since May, when both of them came to my 30th birthday.”
It's all gone a bit quiet on the MKS front too. Album finished apparently, protestations of still be bezzies on Twitter and yet ...

Blind Dating in LA.

Theatre To LA, where the 3 Clubs in Hollywood is paying host to a theatrical improv experiment of the kind which you usually hear about as disastrously working through a three week run in an Edinburgh church back room during the festival but has every chance of being a success where there's people with a modicum of talent and star power.

In "Blind Date" actress Bojana Novakovic plays Anna, a girl on a, well, blind date, except each night she has no idea which actor will play her dinner companion, there's precious little script and events are governed by feed lines via text message from the director. Oh and she can only decide which version of her character she can play at the beginning of each performance as the LA Times explains:
"We just thought, if a blind date was a piece of theater over an hour [of time], what would it look like?" Novakovic said. "We had to neutralize the plot points as much as possible and create this skeletal structure so that we didn't have any written dialogue at all."

"Just like her character Anna, Novakovic has no idea ahead of time who her "date" will be — even whether the date is male or female — until the moment the show begins. The show has attracted a diverse group of talent in the date role, including Patrick J. Adams ("Suits," "Luck"), Jason Ritter ("Parenthood"), Jeremy Sisto ("Law & Order," "Suburgatory"), Jon Huertas ("Castle"), actress Troian Bellisario ("Pretty Little Liars") and Edi Gathegi, ("Justified," "X-Men: First Class"). After brainstorming potential "dates" with Winter, producer Andrew Carlberg does the casting. "
Still could be awful or amazing (though it's more likely to be the latter). Back in the day, Richard Whiteley had an Edinburgh show in which he didn't know who he was interviewing from one day until the next. When it later transferred to television he sometimes still didn't know even when they were sitting right next to him which was awkward....

Here's a trailer for Blind Date's run in Australia:

(with credit to @DIMBLEBOT for reminding me about "WHITELEY").

Mulligan. Morgan. Garai.

Film If course the headline on all the rewrites of this Screen Daily article and indeed this Screen Daily article say, "Meryl Streep to play Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst" but it's in the small print of the Empire Magazine version that the really interesting production and casting elements are. With my kean senses the rest of the article reads like this:
"... Carey Mulligan ... something something something ... writer Abi Morgan .... something something something else .... Romola Garai .... "
Mulligan. Morgan. Garai. That's quite some singularity of my interests.  Hopefully this won't be a repeat of the Your Highness debacle.  I wonder what director Sarah Gavron's been up to since Brick Lane (which was also co-written by Abi Morgan).

Pill Mill.

Law New York Magazine reports on this month's raid of the biggest "pill mill" in the city and I've gained an extra piece of knowledge being young and naive enough to know that there was such a thing as a "pill mill". A "pill mill" is a drugs den in which real Doctors dispense prescribable drugs for recreational purposes which are inevitably more difficult to prosecute because the police have the extra burden of having to prove, beyond reasonable doubt that the establishment and its employees aren't dispensing prescribable drugs for medical reasons:
"The first physician to be noticed over-prescribing at an Astramed clinic wasn’t Lowe, but a doctor named Tomasito Virey, who in the summer of 2012 made it to the top of the New York State Department of Health’s list of frequent prescribers of Oxycodone. The previous year, he’d signed 3,208 individual prescriptions — that’s 60 scrips a week, or 48 percent more prescriptions than the next closest physician. When a local NBC reporter asked Virey why he prescribed so much Oxy, the doctor replied, “We have a lot, a lot, a lot of sick patients.” Even back then, neighbors were calling Astramed a pill mill. But the local NBC report effectively derailed an investigation the DEA had been conducting into the clinic. Virey stopped prescribing Oxycodone as soon as he became a TV news star, and that Astramed office closed up shop, putting the Feds back at square one. "

Firefly with Aliens.

Film The Guardians of the Galaxy trailer, if trailer this be, seems tonally to be Firefly with aliens if Mal is replaced with Buck Rogers which is all to the good. As is so often the case too with Marvel films, it's allowed the director to imprint themselves on the property rather than the other way around so if this all looks a bit unhinged and syncopated in its comic timing, seen in the context of director James Gunn's previous work, Slither and especially Super ("Shut up, crime!") it makes some sense.

Netflix Introduces New 'Browse Endlessly' Plan.

Film As ever, The Onion. I've discovered there are ways to combat this. I'm currently only watching items which are exclusive to the service and/or released in 2013, the same for Lovefilm Instant, and once I've done that moving right into 2012, ignoring everything else. Well apart from Better Luck Tomorrow the unofficial Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift prequel which lingers in my watch list.  Waiting.  While I'm at it, here's my favourite ever film related clip from The Onion, "In Freak Accident, 34 Katherine Heigl Films Released At Once".  Meanwhile I always vowed that this blog would shut down if I ever just lazily resorted to posting YouTube clips from The Onion.


Film The Art of the Title considers Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid which evoked the westerns of the silent era to symbolically bookend what was becoming a dying genre:
"At times, a title sequence outshines the film that follows, at others, it’s a missed opportunity. This one, however, wears its seams face-out, calling attention to itself while maintaining an intimate hold on the larger themes at play. Both prologue and epilogue, this title sequence runs through the events of the film in a way that is at once revealing and reticent. The sepia tone, beginning with the tinted 20th Century Fox logo, carried through the title sequence, and paired with a melancholy piece of music composed by Burt Bacharach, places the story firmly in the mythic past. The newsreel fittingly resembles the famous 1903 short The Great Train Robbery and sets the proceedings up as a metafilm — a film acknowledging its own artifice. We wonder: how much of this is true?"

Jennifer Lawrence is working.


Geography As life mimics art, so parts of Birkenhead now look like something from a Tarkovsky film. The BBC's Inside Out North West visits Charlie Wright whose house, which used to be part of Birkenhead's River Streets now stands alone in a scorched wasteland after the estate was cleared to make way for a factory and housing complex which subsequently didn't materialise. Alone in a wilderness with only Tyre company as his neighbours, he fights off offers from the local council to buy the house in which he was born.

He's been in this predicament for some time. There's an article in 2006 which covers similar ground and includes a quote from the local council about offering to buy the house and warning of a compulsory purchase order but then admitting that there was currently no plans for a development. The BBC piece offers some hope for transformation of the area by Wirral Waters which suggests Wright would be aloud to stay, which isn't without precedent, I think, though that's usually when there's a listed building.

Just last week, Gerry Cordon on That's How The Light Gets in mentioned the house featuring as part of a tour of the local area given by writer Colin Dilmot in conjunction with the current exhibition at The Bluecoat (Chambers), Soft Estate: Edward Chell. Gerry Cordon's post is filled with apocalyptic images of the urban landscape some of which do indeed look like stills from Tarkovsky's Stalker, The Sacrifice or Nostalgia, with only patches of yellowing grass in between the concrete offering any hope.

Recovery of Nazi-Looted Art.

Art The Ben Uri Gallery is The London Jewish Museum of Art, originally founded in 1915. Find above one of their periodic Q&A events with David Glasser, Ben Uri's Chair and Chief Executive interviewing NY attorney Howard Spiegler.


TV NY-LON's Rashida Jones is interviewed by The Guardian's Hadley Freeman:
"Weird, right? A Hollywood kid who doesn't seem like a total asshole?" the feminist website Jezebel wrote about Jones last year. And it's true. She has all the credentials to be a total cliche – she even went to the same school as Paris Hilton and the Kardashians – yet she's thoughtful, unselfconscious and funny. I have interviewed some of those "Hollywood kids". One – so thin I could nearly see through her – binge-ate throughout the interview; another informed me that he "refused to be interviewed by the work-experience girl" (I was 27). Jones, by contrast, extends our time together twice over and sends me off with a box of cookies."
NY-LON is still available to watch on 4oD. My old spoilery reviews are here.