Saturday, August 15, 2015

WARRIORS


Cricket likes to think of itself as more than a sport.  There's something called The Spirit of Cricket which is about a spirit of fairness and respect for all involved in the game - your opponents, your team, and the community in which you play.  It's a sport that brings together people around the world from backyard and beach matches to club cricketers to Test Matches at the apex of the game.  And over time, it is not too melodramatic to say that it has helped bring together and heal communities.  One of the most eloquent expressions of this is Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakarra's MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture in which he tells how cricket unified a country riven by civil war.

But cricket can have a positive influence far beyond the Test playing nations, and in his new documentary, director Barney Douglas shows how cricket is helping to change lives and attitudes among the Maasai community in Kenya.  What's more impressive is that this deeply moving story is told with wit, passion and some of the most stunning cinematography seen in a sports documentary (not to mention a superb sound-track). It's a movie with an important message, but it never feels ponderous or hectoring.  The message is elegantly woven into a classic underdog story that leaves a lasting impression.

DEATH OF A GENTLEMAN


Like the directors of this documentary, I am a passionate fan of cricket, and of the highest form of the game, Test Match cricket. Like them I have watched in horror the rise of the more explosive T20 form of the game, and how it has shortened the patience of audiences and players alike.  I have also watched with horror as the power in world cricket has shifted toward the country with the largest and most passionate fanbase and the most corrupt culture of corporate governance - India - and how that power has been used to shore up the influence of the big three nations -  India, England and Australia - at the expense of the smaller and less wealthy playing nations.  For example, the cricket world cup is the only world tournament where qualifying places are carved up among the big boys.  In football, for example, San Marino qualifies in the same way as Brazil. Free market forces ensure the best teams get through.   

Saturday, August 08, 2015

INSIDE OUT


INSIDE OUT is the phenomenally successful new Pixar movie from the directors of two films I really adored - UP and RATATOUILLE.  It's smart, witty and beautifully imagined and rendered. But for some reason it just didn't connect with me on an emotional level. In fact, two days after seeing it, the thing I remember most about my movie watching experience was the Pixar short film, LAVA, that preceded the feature. I can still sing that song and feel moved by the plight of the little volcano hoping for love.  INSIDE OUT was clever, and pretty, but I'm just not sure it's going to stay with me in that way.

This is often the problem with high concept film. INSIDE OUT posits a world in which our emotions are neatly split into five key feelings, and whichever of these controls our mood generates our memories and our feelings.  So, at first glance, our protagonist is an eleven year old girl called Riley, struggling with moving across country with her family, feeling pressured to keep a happy face for her stressed out dad, but inwardly hating it all.  But the real star of the show is Riley's emotion, Joy, played by Amy Poehler (PARKS & RECREATION).  Joy has, up to this point, been largely in charge of Riley's emotions resulting in lots of happy memories.  And Joy ascribes part of her success to keeping Sadness (THE OFFICE's Phyllis Smith) firmly off the controls.  So the coming of age journey is not really for Riley but for Joy, as she learns that everyone needs a little sadness to make the happier times happy by contrast. And sometimes a good cry, admitting your suffering, allows others to reach out to you and for you to resolve, rather than smother, your issues.  So in that sense, this is a radical children's movie, for while it still gives us a happy ending, that happiness is conditional on admitting that it's okay to be sad.

Friday, August 07, 2015

MANGLEHORN


MANGLEHORN is a super low budget indie drama from director David Gordon Green (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, UNDERTOW).  It stars Al Pacino as a long heart-broken local locksmith who finds late love with Holly Hunter's bank teller.

For the record, this is how you use voiceover. You use it to indicate a man out of step with contemporary life, withdrawing into himself, and melancholy for a former love, Clara.  You use it as one of many layers of sounds showing his disconnect - the incessant yapping of a former little league player he coached (Harmony Korine) - the electronic dance music in the club he's mistakenly been lured into - the melancholy piano soundtrack - and his own disoriented thoughts.  David Gordon Green's direction mirrors this aural layering, with scenes being decomposed into Manglehorn's confused face against atomised youngsters going about their lives, blending into and onto a man waking alone in a house with his beloved cat, Fanny.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

TERMINATOR GENISYS



TERMINATOR GENISYS is a straight forward film that makes no sense. In its first half hour we are in 2029 AD, in a post-apocalyptic world where a rebel leader called John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads surviving humanity in a fight against a sentient computer programme called Skynet.  The rebels destroy the computer but not before it sends back a Terminator robot to 1984 to kill John Connor's mother.  So he sends back his number two, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), to intercept the Terminator and save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke).  The surprise is that Sarah and an aged Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) are already tooled-up and ready, both for the original Terminator (young CGI Arnie) and Reese.  In the second half hour of the film, Good Arnie, Sarah and Reese realise that they haven't prevented Judgement Day, the day when Skynet killed humanity, but merely postponed in to 2017.  The humans time travel forward to 2017 and are greeted by an even older Good Arnie and a suspicious  J K Simmons with a plan to blow up Skynet again before the release of its deadly Genisys programme.  The third half hour sees the biggest plot twist in the film which, once you see it, you'll know it was coming. And this sets us up for the inevitable action packed showdown at Skynet.

LAUDA: THE UNTOLD STORY


Niki Lauda was an Austrian Formula One driver in the 70s and 80s most famous for suffering an horrific crash at the Nurburgring in 1976.  His scalp, upper face and right ear were burned off, he inhaled toxic fumes that poisoned his body, and his lungs didn't work.  Not only did Lauda survive bet he went on to race at Monza just 33 days after the crash, placing fourth. He later retired from Formula One and went on to be a successful entrepreneur and retained an influence in racing.

His story, and particularly his rivalry with the flamboyant British driver, James Hunt, was recently told in fictionalised and simplified form by Ron Howard in RUSH.  And the wider story of how this crash was part of an era in which the car tech advanced faster than the safety controls, was told in the superb documentary, 1. That doc was a comprehensive and beautifully made story of the evolution of Formula One racing as something that could kill you to the safer sport we enjoy today.