The Films I've Watched This Year #25

Film We painted the kitchen.

The Great Beauty
How I Live Now
This Means War
Two Lovers

This deeply average week for films was probably the last thing I needed given the situation described above the list.  Since I chose to watch two of them from streaming services it was partially my own fault.  That's especially true of This Means War which I knew was going to be rubbish before watching but having enjoyed McG's previous output, especially Charlie's Angels, held out some hope that it might not be awful.  It's awful.  Mugging, charisma-free unfunny performances from the three leads, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as two spies chasing one girl Reece Witherspoon, perfunctory action sequences and a conclusion which sets feminism back fifty years.

If however you do find yourself having to choose between this and Little Man as the only two choices other than sitting in silence looking at a wall if you've gone on holiday by mistake, you can take some comfort as you put the dvd on that the cliched wisecracking best friend Trish (yes, it's a character so generic she's called Trish) is played by Chelsea Handler is involved in at least three decent laughs and that you'll also have the "entertainment" of trying to work out what the excised material was because this looks it had a torturous post-production, offering reaction shots clearly meant for something else and the casting of Angela Bassett in a nothing role that must have been larger in some original version.

The Great Beauty was the greater disappointment because of the critical acclaim and the general sense of it being an important film and I tend to quite like important films.  But despite the winning performances, the lustrous visuals and the gorgeous music, I was bored, which considering that in many ways there isn't anything especially boring about it in the traditional sense is probably quite an odd reaction.  Glancing through those reviews in the post-match confusion, I realised that although I understood what Paolo Sorrentino's experiment in Italian decadence was trying to do, I simply didn't care, not least because he isn't adding anything new, simply reiterating the same notions as Rossellini and Fellini but utilising the language of the perfume commercials which appear on television at Christmas.

But part of me knows that my boredom stems from the sheer predictability of seeing an aging male writer going through these creative philosophical motions.  There are some good female roles in there, not least of his editor, but in general they're part of the visual landscape, to be gazed at.  I wonder what a film in this world would be like with a female protagonist, if we'd watched the story of his editor or one of the any number of contessas who feature or indeed if the writer had simply been female.  Instead we're offered another iteration of a particular tradition, in which the narrow potential both in viewer expectation and commercial viability have led to repetition rather than innovation.  Not that you can or should blame The Great Beauty for the entire industry's lack of imagination.  Probably.

The same defeatist, unfair argument could be made against Prisoners, which has Hugh Jackman as a distraught father and Jake Gyllenhaal as the cop searching for his abducted daughter, a thriller which would automatically be a hundred times more interesting if it had been gender reversed.  As it is, it's a two hour wait for confirmation of a twist which is obvious within the first twenty-minutes because, as a friend joked to me on Twitter, "Obvious casting is obvious."  Paul Dano plays the bloke fingered with the abduction and although that's not quite enough for the whole story to reveal itself, anyone who's seen enough of this kind of thing before will be left watching Gyllenhaal wilfully ignoring obvious clues because narrative structure needs him to, leading us to wonder if we're supposed to be ahead of him.

Denis Villeneuve wasn't an obvious choice for directing the material and it's true that a certain point Bryan Singer was attached with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in the central roles.  Leonardo Di Caprio was on the project for a while too.  Presumably that iteration was more generic in form.  But Villeneuve steers it more towards statement and austerity, long on psychological investigation, Roger Deakins's moody blue photography suggesting a piece which is more interested in form rather than story.  Perhaps in resting on clues for long enough for us to notice them, he is deliberately tipping his hand so that we're not strictly watching a mystery but a meditation on the inevitability of human behaviour, a subtler version of the game played by Hitch in the second half of Vertigo.

Which leaves How I Live Now as my film of the week.  Essentially the German film Lore with an unknown futuristic antagonist but without the socio-political tension, this has Saoirse Ronan's American teenager wandering the British countryside attempting to avoid "the other" whilst searching for her new boyfriend and protecting her neice.  Just the sort of thing which could be mucked up in the wrong hands, there's an alternative reality version of this somewhere presented as found footage, director Kevin Macdonald keeps much of the focus on Ronan (not all, see below) so that we share her confusion about the threat but continually wants to surprise us with her strength of will, subverting the expectations we have of the character superbly developed in the opening half hour.

If there's a problem it's that MacDonald and I'm guessing his producers, are desperate for the piece not to come across as too artsy, sacrificing some of the subtlety.  At a certain point Macdonald cuts away from an important conversation that Ronan is having with an official in her living room (you'll understand when you see it) to the boyfriend watching from outside the house in order to create some tension and empathy for him, when this really should just be just her story, her conflict.  Plus there's an absolutely godawful concluding voiceover, a poetic philosophical mush, which ploddingly sets out how Ronan's character's feelings and where the world is.  It feels imposed and undercuts a conclusion which would have worked perfectly well with just the existing visuals and music.  Sigh.

The Feeling Listless Soundtrack 1.0:
Minneapolis #1

[from: 'Eroica: Piano Improvisions', Virgin, 1990]

Music  I attended a concert for piano students at a local Christian Church in Liverpool's Chinese community, to give my mate Fani some moral support as she performed. For two hours the ills of the world dissolved for everyone as they sat watching children playing nursery rhymes and masters play traditional chinese instruments. Blinding moment at the start as the priest asked for everyone turn off their mobile phone and everyone went for their pockets and bags. How can we as a people have the ability to communicate but at the same time can't find a way to talk to one another? [Originally posted 14th October 2001]

[Commentary: Well, quite, and at this point it's impossible to go to a public event where someone isn't using their mobile phone to do something during the action.  If this was now, everyone would have their phones out recording the thing, including the priest and as ever there'd be some of us wondering exactly how much of it they're really hearing or seeing or experiencing.]

"Would you like to write a new Doctor Who story?"

Books Marcus Sedgwick has written a short piece for The Guardian about the process of writing The Spear of Destiny, Puffin Doctor Who e-book from last year. Here's how he got the commission:
Four days before Christmas, the phone call went like this:

Editor: Would you like to write a new Doctor Who story?
Me: You had me at "Would you like to write".
Editor: It's a crash schedule.
Me: Scare me.
Editor: You have four days to submit a synopsis.
Me: Ulp.
Editor: And a week to write it.
Me: *strange strangled duck like noise*
Editor: *hangs up*

About five minutes after that, the reality of what I had agreed to dawned on me. For a good few reasons, I was, well, let's say apprehensive.
Under this pressure he arguably wrote the best of the series, entirely in keeping with the Pertwee era, especially in the characterisation of the Doctor and Jo, paying homage to it and also trying something new.

Do they have those rights?

Film Because we all have our own addiction, because I can never have enough film, I'm still receiving shiny discs by post and maintain subscriptions to both Amazon Prime and Netflix. Something which is becoming an increasingly nefarious problem is navigating who has the rights to films from which companies, the reason being that all too often I've received a film by disc only to have it turn up on Netflix a week later (Frances Ha) which, now that I'm only receiving two discs at a time through the mail is a bit of a waste.

In an ideal world I'd simply cancel the dvds (finally!) but thanks to the segmentation of services and the Murdoch exclusivity problem, some films don't appear on other services at all or for at least a couple of years. Plus back catalogue is all over the place. After the Century of Chinese Cinema season, I'm planning to work my way through all of Bergman finally and not all of his work is available to stream. Studio Gibli doesn't appear on either services. Disney is patchy.  Oh and some of the Amazon Prime streams slightly ropey old dvd masters.

With that in mind I'm going to start compiling an ad-hoc list of companies I think have been carved up between Amazon Prime UK and Netflix on the assumption that if a film is from any of these companies I needn't add them to my by-post list. I'm posting the list here for easy access / editing. Just to add: these are the studio names as utilised by the database on "Lovefilm".  Plus, this is for pre-release.  If it's been released and isn't on the relevant streaming service, it's probably been and gone.

I've also noticed the odd StudioCanal thing turning up on Netflix after its first run on Amazon Prime, but I'm sticking with first run here.  Some back catalogue for Lionsgate and Disney turns up on both services simultaneously too.  Plus quite often, once its dropped from one of these services I'm back to shiny disc again.  Also just to confuse things, the same company's films can be split between the two depending on who which theatrical label they used.  E1 Momentum's stuff is at Netflix, just E1 is at Amazon Prime UK.  Blaawhhehh.


Arrow Films (six months)
Artificial Eye (six months)
Brit Doc Films (near simultaneous)
Buena Vista International (not on Lovefilm)
Curzon Film World
Dogwoof Digital
Elevation Sales (not Anchor Bay) (including Chelsea Films)
Fusion Media Sales (four months?)
Independent Films
Kaleidoscope Entertainment (six months?)
Kotch Media (six months)
Lace Group
New Wave (about eighteen months)
Masters of Cinema (new releases)
Metrodome (four months)
Momentum Pictures (six months?)
Paramount Home Entertainment (unclear - three to six months? A year?)
Universal (Vertigo)

Amazon Prime UK

Entertainment One
Lionsgate (Television only?)
Momentum Pictures
Showbox Media Entertainment / CineAsia
Twentieth Century Fox (big delay possibly as long as eighteen months available for about six months)
Universal Pictures (big delay?) (also actually Universal Home Entertainment)
Warner Home Video (big delay?)

Elsewhere (only available by post)

Axiom Films
Entertainment on Film/Video
Revolver Entertainment
Third Window Films
Universal Pictures (The Works)

I'll keep updating this with more information as and when.  You can hardly wait.  It is hard to keep an eye on because the studio name on Lovefilm's database doesn't always reflect the actual studio or has variety of synonyms (Entertainment One, E1 Entertainment, E One Ltd etc).

Plus some of these are under advisement thanks to release windows and the like (checkable by comparing adding dates on the streaming service to the availability date on the rental service).  Warner and Disney take an age to get to the Prime, so it's up to the viewer as to how quickly they need to see Dream House and such.  I'll try to add some accurate data on how quickly after the shiny disc release these as I can.

Your Letters: The Stephens/Moore Conundrum solved.

TV I don't often receive comments, but I found this on The Stephens/Moore Conundrum post from last year:
"Thank you. This post just quickly and efficiently helped me resolve an argument with my husband, who thought they were the same person. x"
That probably makes this the most useful post from last year.

(Spoilers!!) (duh..)

TV Well here we are again, then. Less than more than a few weeks before the new series of Doctor Who and we're all battening down the hatches, engaging the usual filters and hoping against hope not to suddenly have a massive spoiler turn up in open conversation on Twitter.

Of course, the difference between this and say, Elementary, is that this isn't something which has already been broadcast, but rather like Rose all those years ago turned up online because someone somewhere decided that he'd upload the first five scripts to the internets.

Unlike Rose, this increasingly looking like an administrative cock-up in the style of the blu-rays being sent out early.  This security expert says they were left on a public server and Google simply indexed them.  No hacking, just poor security at an office somewhere from someone who didn't understand how the web works [link via].

Despite having Likelyed through hours and hours of just reading the usual dozen news items about the scripts being leaked, I still managed to stumble into a blog post which listed the titles and authors of those first five episodes, three of which we're almost certainly not supposed to know yet.  Or until DWM is published.

People who call themselves fans but really aren't (because let's take a position on this) are already posting "spoiler-free" reviews in the usual places based on what they've read.  Positive or negative, doesn't matter.  Until broadcast, the content of those scripts was none of their business and it's not ours either.

This essentially:

Unless they're all fake like the Not Justice League screenplay written by Kevin Smith. Yes, that must be it.