Monday, September 29, 2014


STILL THE ENEMY WITHIN is a British documentary that comes to us much-lauded - it won the Audience Award at Sheffield Doc Fest and has received starry praise from Britain's foremost investigative journalist John Pilger.  

To be sure, it covers a topic of burning importance, although I fear much of today's youth do not realise it's importance in shaping modern Britain - the 1984 Miner's Strike.  To give context to this in the current age when Britain's politics has cleaved so much to the centre with the big economic debates basically drawn within Thatcherite principles - the free market, enterprise, deregulation and privatisation - is difficult.   Do kids realise just how polarised Britain was in the 70s and 80s?  When we experienced the very limited London riots a few years ago I tried to explain to some coworkers what it felt to be a kid in the early 80s - when race riots and IRA bombings were common - when people were collecting money in the street to support the miners - when having AIDS was seen as a kind of biblical judgment and gays were pilloried - when Prime Ministers Question Time was offering the country a choice between radical free market economics and proper Socialism.  Do kids these days realise that Britain in the late 70s was Greece today?  Bankrupt, the IMF called in, power outages?  Do they realise that for every free market triumph of Thatcher, whole sets of industrial workers were consigned to the long-term unemployed - men out of time?

Monday, September 22, 2014


The BFI played SALOME and WILDE SALOME in a double bill followed by a Q&A led by Stephen Fry with Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain. What follows is thus a combined review of all three events.

SALOME is Al Pacino's passion project of complex origin and it stubbornly defies categorisation. It began as a project to both put on a theatrical revival of Oscar Wilde's play directed by Estelle Parsons but clearly heavily influenced by Al Pacino in the lead role of King Herod, but also in the role of film-maker, for he simultaneously directed a film version of the play (SALOME) as well as a documentary of the making of the film and play (WILDE SALOME).  To say that the resulting movies are operating on many meta levels is an understatement.  This is all made more complex by the fact that the theatrical production wasn't a full staged production but rather something of table reading in costume.  Although clearly the actors were not using the "book" to guide them but acting the lines off book.  That decision, its ramifications and reasonings, was behind some of the hostile reviews the show received.  To add to the confusion, Pacino isn't filming the play at the theatre, but rather re-creating it each day on a soundstage before the play takes place back at the theatre each night. It's a gruelling schedule, and one that clearly took its toll.

Friday, September 19, 2014


THE RIOT CLUB is a profoundly political film that has about as much subtlety as the title of the play upon which it was based, Laura Wade's POSH.  Both play and film seek to show us the casual cruelty, entitlement and vacuity of Britain's ruling elite and the vulnerability but ultimate incorruptibility of the working classes who happen to cross their path.  The lens through which Wade attempts to tell her rather simplistic tale is that of an Oxford dining society, here called The Riot Club, but clearly based on the Bullingdon Club - perhaps the most elite of Oxford's many dining societies, boasting the current Prime Minister (and I suspect the film's producer - heir to the de Walden estate) as one of its members.  In Wade's eyes these clubs are bastions of private-school educated male privilege, where spoiled rich kids get drunk, abuse the locals, and show their general contempt for anyone who isn't in their tribe. Most particularly, she asserts that the system is self-protecting - that their grossness will be paid off, bought off, leaving them to emerge into glittering careers unscathed by any "naughtiness".

Thursday, September 18, 2014

GRAND PIANO - LFF 2013 - Day Six - Absurdly Late Review!

One of the films getting the most buzz at this year's London Film Festival is Damien Chazelle's music lesson slash thriller WHIPLASH starring J K Simmons.  And as luck would have it, the movie he penned, GRAND PIANO, is on release this week in the UK.  The similarities are striking - a thriller set in the world of classical music.  And while I didn't manage to watch it at last year's LFF, I did catch it today on its theatrical release.

GRAND PIANO stars Elijah Wood as a concert pianist on the eve of giving his comeback concert after some kind of breakdown. He's evidently riven with stage fright  and early on has a deep and meaningful conversation with a fellow musician about the relative merits of giving a passionate authentic performance or just technically playing the exact right notes. (Of course, this skirts the fact that you can do both - it doesn't have to be Lang Lang vs Leslie Howard - it can be Brendel.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Exploitation director Abel Ferrara has finally found a cinematic subject perfectly attuned to his taste for excess and offensiveness.  The resulting work is at times hard to watch, but perfectly conveys the grotesque gluttony, corruption and arrogance that characterises the fall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.  He was a towering public intellectual, head of the International Monetary Fund and a candidate in the French Presidential elections when he was accused of sexual assault my a hotel maid in New York, perp walked to prison and put under house arrest.  The charges were eventually dropped - the alleged victim's statement scene as problematic although that has since been contested. But the damage had already been done. DSK was politically untouchable and whether he was or wasn't guilty of that particular charge so many vile accusations came out - orgies, drugs, prostitutes, as well as a chauvinistic belief that the elite system would protect him - that his career was over. To this day, DSK is still facing charges ever more heinous, but has also sparked his own brand of conspiracy theory wherein defenders point out the politically convenient timing of the charges that led to his withdrawal from the presidential elections.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Random DVD Round Up - POMPEII

In fairness, we don't look to Paul W S Anderson for films of complexity and artistic daring.  DEATH RACE and RESIDENT EVIL and MORTAL KOMBAT are movies designed for teenage boys that celebrate violence and musclebound men.  No cliche of dialogue is left unused in films of hollow CGI and scarce intelligence.   What's actually amazing is that actors of quality are still willing to star in them. His latest cinematic offering is a sword and sandal epic called POMPEII which borrows heavily from GLADIATOR but has none of its swagger and style.  In fact, its closer to SPARTACUS in terms of cheap CGI, cheesy dialogue and cardboard cut out heroes and villains - but without the soft porn.  GAME OF THRONES' Kit Harrington has packed on the muscle to play the hero - a Celtic gladiator called Milo.  Naturally, he strikes up an unlikely love affair with the aristocratic Cassia (Emily Browning), inspiring the anger of the evil Senator Corvinus (Kiefer Sutherland doing god knows what as an accent/speech impediment.) This leads to a TITANIC style showdown of unsurpassed stupidity and vacuity. I cared not a jot for any of the characters and simply grew more and more irate and how brazenly the cut and paste narrative had stolen plot devices and characters from better films. No matter how much you think you are in love with Jon Snow, you MUST avoid this film at all costs.  And to be frank, as much as I love Kit Harrington in GAME OF THRONES, he this film shows little evidence of any ability to carry of the leading role in a major film.

POMPEII is a POMPEII has a running time of 105 minutes and is rated PG-13.  The movie was released in spring 2014 and is now available to rent and own.  It goes on release in Turkey on October 31st 2014.