Tuesday, March 31, 2009

THE BOAT THAT ROCKED - a lot of fuss about nothing

In general, I hate movies by Richard Curtis. He has created a mythical London in which smug middle-class bastards live in pretend-bohemia and have the emotional maturity of pre-teens. In Richard Curtis movies, the sun is always shining, unless someone has just broken up with you, in which case it rains. Everything happens for the best in the best of all worlds. It's a world I neither recognise nor find entertaining. Now, all this being said, the one thing you couldn't accuse Richard Curtis movies of was being poorly structured and lacking in narrative drive. Indeed, what irritates me so much about them is that they work so much like a Rubik's Cube of dappy fops. Everyone knows everyone else - everything is connected. Imagine then, my complete surprise in finding that THE BOAT THAT ROCKED has no point and no story. (I was less surprised to find that it had no jokes.)

What Curtis is trying to do is to make a movie about an epic clash between freedom-loving pot-tastic DJs and the reactionary, heartless British establishment. He wants the stakes to be high - freedom of expression and the very future of popular music. But he also wants to make jokes about poo and have a character called "Twatt". In reality, there wasn't an epic clash over pop music. Pirate radio stations weren't doing anything illegal. When the government realised this, instead of being all skull and dagger and Bond-villain about finding clever loopholes to shut them down, they just outlawed them. Pop didn't die. The establishment didn't win. Rather, a very typically British revolution happened. Pop was co-opted by the BBC, with many of the best DJs turning up on legitimate airwaves.

Curtis mistakenly tries to turn a rather banal set of events into A Matter of Life and Death. Kenneth Branagh and Jack Davenport play the establishment stiffs trying to shut down Radio Rock. The performances are excruciating to watch - hammy, unfunny, poorly directed and under-written. Meanwhile, a motley band of British comedians plus the brilliant Rhys Darby and Philip Seymour Hoffman play the DJs aboard Radio Rock. They make misogynistic jokes, shag a lot, play some decent records and that's about it. For nearly two hours we just get montages set to 60s hits; a piss-poor attempt at emotional drama via a paternity story; and no real laughs.

All this would be bad enough but in the final twenty minutes, Curtis decides to go in a direction that is just ludicrous. I can only hope he is satirising a very famous and very rubbish movie but I suspect that he was deliberately going for an ending that is as schmaltzy as the original.

The only possible reason to see this film is for Rhys Darby. And that's not enough. Even Bill Nighy's mannered delivery is starting to get on my nerves. As for Philip Seymour Hoffman, in general, he is a genius at picking great roles in superb dramas, but this is his worst choice since the abysmal ALONG CAME POLLY.

THE BOAT THAT ROCKED is on release in the UK and opens next week in Australia and New Zealand. It opens on April 16th in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. It opens on April 30th in Russia; on May 1st in Estonia; in May 6th in Belgium, France and Iceland. It opens in Spain on May 29th; on June 5th in Bulgaria; on June 11th in Italy and Hungary; on June 19th in Turkey; on July 30th in the Czech Republic; in Argentina, Brazil and the USA on August 28th.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

THE DAMNED UNITED - hubris, nemesis, half-time oranges

Peter Morgan specialises in well-crafted but slightly obvious and simplistic screenplays that efficiently capture British cultural figures - Queen Elizabeth II, Tony Blair, Henry VIII, David Frost and now Brian Clough. Once again, Morgan turns in a solid script that takes David Peace's savage biography and creates a more even-handed treatment of "the greatest England football manager we never had". The resulting film is an entertaining and very well-acted biopic that works as a relationship drama whether or not you know or care about The Beautiful Game. (I don't: my family support Spurs, so maybe I'm just bitter.)

The key dynamic is between Brian Clough (Michael Sheen), a cocky, mouthy Northern twat but also a genius football manager, and his Assistant Manager, Scout and professional wife, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall). Clough had the ambition; Taylor the better temper: together took a piss-poor club called Derby County from the bottom of the second division to the top of the first division in just two seasons. It all went wrong when Clough took Taylor for granted and took their jobs at Derby for granted too. Having bad-mouthed the directors in public one too many times, Clough and Taylor were effectively sacked. Worse still, while Taylor wanted to see through their commitment to third division nobodies Brighton and Hove, Clough wanted to knive Brighton in the back and take up the better offer of managing Leeds United.

I say "better offer" but it wasn't really. Clough had spent his professional life very publicly slagging off the Leeds players and their manager Don Revie (Colm Meaney). Leeds were the best club in the country, chock-full of Internationals, and that no doubt invoked Clough's jealousy. But he had a substantive reason to be pissed off too: why did such a talented club insist on playing such filthy football? So when Revie was bumped up to England manager and Leeds offered Clough Revie's old job he took it, even though it meant parting ways with Taylor. The Leeds players hated him. The fans hated him. Taylor hated him. Within 44 days he was sacked. (Although as we know, he had the last laugh. Today, Clough is remembered as the only British manager to win the European championship twice, while Revie fell into disrepute.)

The Clough-Revie relationship is up there with Mozart-Salieri for poisonous professional jealousy and sheer viciousness. And Michael Sheen and Colm Meaney are superb in these roles. Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent are also strong as Taylor and Derby Chairman Sam Longsonn respectively. In general, the film does well to focus on the friendships and rivalries and to skip over matchplay, which, let's face it, has never been done well on film. I guess my only niggle is that feeling of samey-ness and polystyrene efficiency that all Peter Morgan scripts have. Did we really need another drunken midnight phonecall between antagonists?

But this is a small quibble. Clough is a brilliant character - witty, cocky, a real showman - and his story is entertaining. Non soccer-fans shouldn't be put off by his job title. The subject matter transcends the game.

THE DAMNED UNITED is on release in the UK. It opens in Australia on August 13th; in France on September 9th and in Sweden on September 11th.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I.O.U.S.A - Justifiably overlooked DVD of the month

I.O.U.S.A. is a poorly made, poorly argued, poorly illustrated documentary about a serious issue, the US public debt. In a nutshell, the issue is this: prudence dictates that a government should only spend (on social security, building roads, fighting wars) as much as it earns (raising taxes). This is a balanced-budget. But, for centuries, governments have borrowed to spend and run up a "public debt". It's the equivalent of taking out a mortgage, except that, being the US, supposedly the most financially secure country in the world, the mortgage payments are very cheap. Over the past decade, the US government has taken the equivalent of a massive mortgage from China and Japan. The difference is that whereas you and I pay back our own mortgage, when the government takes out a mortgage, it's the future generations who pay through higher taxes. Now, the borrowing can still be justified if the money is spent on things that make the country more productive and thus ease the burden on future generations - stuff like building roads. (The equivalent of investing in a house and building equity - so long as you don't buy at an over-inflated price!) But if the government incurs long-run debt just to spend on frivolous stuff like cash hand-outs (the equivalent of mortgage equity withdrawal used to buy a new stereo) it's less justifiable. Moreover, as with a household, the government can take on so much debt that they risk defaulting. Historically, it was unthinkable that the US would default because, hey, it was super financially secure! The documentary argues that this isn't the case any more. To my mind this is a bit of a straw man to argue against. What would be more likely to happen, though still highly unlikely, is that the US would have to pay more for its debt. This is like riskier households paying higher mortgage rates than secure households. After all, there is a good reason why China and Japan lent so much money to the US. US debt is seen as a "safe haven" asset - there are few safer places to put your money. I mean, think about, would you rather invest in the housing market or the equity market or lend to the UK government?! For instance, last October when Lehman Brothers went bust, everyone was rushing to lend to the US - for safety - despite the already large debt. Indeed, the US was paying an interest rate of zero! So much for pricing default risk.

Taking a strongly partisan stance, director Patrick Creadon frames this issue by following the leader of the lobby group, The Concord Coalition, as he tries to whip up public anger at the state of the country's finances. Admittedly, Creadon has a tough job. The lobbyist is not particularly charismatic, and the subject he is tackling is complicated and dry. But, having seen Al Gore basically make a powerpoint presentation interesting, we know it can be done. It's hard to know what someone would think who had never considered this issue. Would they be entertained and educated? Given that my day job focuses heavily on this subject, I found the substance of the film to be poorly argued, trivialised and ill-presented. The interview snippet with Warren Buffett is short and unexciting and footage of Alan Greenspan scarce. The documentary also betrays partisanship in the kind of economic assumptions it makes, and thus, the kind of political stance it leans towards. If you really want to know more about this topic, you'd do better to start

I.O.U.S.A. played Sundance 2008 and was released in the US last summer and in the UK last November. It is available on DVD.

Friday, March 27, 2009

KNOWING - A compelling mix of sci-fi and horror

Alex Proyas (I, ROBOT, DARK CITY, THE CROW) has created a beautifully crafted, intelligent, provocative movie that uses the tropes of gothic horror as well as conventional set-piece action flicks to create as compelling a sci-fi flick as I've seen in a while. If the denouement annoyed me (in the same way that the series finale of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica annoyed me) that's not to take away from the ambition of the picture.

The movie has been marketed as a conventional sci-fi flick and vehicle for Nic Cage. Cage plays a MIT scientist, atheist and widower called John whose son, Caleb, is given a mysterious sheet of paper covered in numbers when his elementary school digs up a time capsule. Jon believes that the numbers on the paper show the date, co-ordinates and fatalities of every major world disaster and becomes obsessed with the implication that he knows the date and time of the next three disasters. As an atheist, he has to grapple with the fact that he has seemingly been handed a paper full of prophecies - and that "knowing" cannot prevent them from being lived out. Such is the sci-fi back-bone of this film.

On top of that, Alex Proyas gives us a fantastically impressive disaster movie, as John is drawn to the sites where disaster is prophesied. What distinguishes this film from, say, WAR OF THE WORLDS, is that Proyas dares to really take us into the disasters. Rather than seeing an anonymous plane crash and fireball in the distance, he shows us people being consumed by fire and the traumatic impact that that has on John. Proyas also dares to use the iconography of 9-11, including survivors stumbling through wreckage covered in ash. This adds to the emotional weight and portent of the movie, but not in a sensationalist way. Rather it speaks directly to our new post 9-11 understanding of disaster.

The movie also works as a gothic horror. John and Caleb live in a classic rambling, isolated house on a hill. As is typical in horror, Caleb is a prescient, spooky child, who starts hearing the same whispers of prophesy that the little girl heard fifty years before and wrote down on that fateful piece of paper. He has nightmares and visions that come straight out of William Blake, and the denouement is a quite brilliant combination of sci-fi and horror tropes.

KNOWING is the best film Alex Proyas has made since DARK CITY - the cult classic. It didn't carry me right through to the final scene, but I can appreciate the internal logic and bravado of its conception. I also think Nic Cage should get a lot of credit for playing a character that isn't a two-dimensional action hero and showing us what we knew from early films like MOONSTRUCK - that when he chooses to take on more complex material he really can act.

KNOWING is on release in Kazakhstan, Russia, the US, the UK, Australia, Greece, Malaysia and Iceland. It goes on release next week in Belgium, France, Argentina and Estonia. It opens on April 10th in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, Brazil and Turkey. It opens on April 16th in Hong Kong, on April 24th in Portugal, Denmark and Norway and on April 30th in South Korea. It opens on May 21st in New Zealand and on July 30th in the Czech Republic.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

TWO LOVERS - whiny people do stupid things

On an objective level I can see that James Gray has crafted an impressive relationship drama in TWO LOVERS. The slippery title speaks to a simplicity of purpose that the characters in this film are too emotionally immature to attain. Joaquin Phoenix plays Leonard, a severely depressed thirty-something with an infantile sense of humour who still lives with his parents in their mummified apartment in Little Odessa. Leonard mumbles incoherently about lost love and has no direction. Despite all this, he attracts the love of Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) - a level-headed family friend who seems to want to mother him more than marry him. Leonard carries on a relationship with Sandra, maybe to please his folks, maybe just because it's easy, maybe because on one level he does care for her. But at the same time, he's fascinating by the blonde beauty living upstairs - a similarly emotionally infantile thirty-something called Michelle played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Michelle offers everything Sandra doesn't: a glimpse into life in the City away from the suburbs - a sense of adventure. She's also someone who is such an emotional wreck that for once Leonard can be the emotional support, rather than the parasite. For Michelle, Leonard is an enabler. Someone who listens to her whine about her self-created crises and fuels her fantasies of getting away and thinking things through.

These three people are all in relationships that are ultimately delusional and unsustainable. I am sure that to many people this is what makes for a compelling, tragic, authentic drama. I partly agree. The relationship between Sandra and Leonard was fascinating. But I have to say that I found the relationship between Michelle and Leonard utterly unsatisfying. They had no chemistry - Michelle seemed less interesting that whiny (maybe intentional?) and Paltrow mis-cast as an allurement (even if the part was written for her.) Matters weren't helped by the inclusion of one of the most unintentionally funny sex scenes I've seen in a long time.

Like I said, objectively speaking, I can see that this is an impressive film. The tone is beautifully weary, the cinematography impressive, the dull grey-blue colouring all-pervasive. I like the focus on every-day details of life in Little Odessa and the fact that a film dares to deal with the reality of relationships rather than rom-com fantasies. Still, for all that, I was rather bored throughout the movie and rather relieved when it was over.

TWO LOVERS played Cannes and London 2007 and was released in France and Belgium last year. It was released earlier this year in the US and is currently on release in Greece, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK. It opens next week in the Czech Republic, and on May 21st in Russia. It opens in Argentina on September 17th.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

IMPORT/EXPORT - immigration agitprop from Austria's enfant terrible

IMPORT/EXPORT is Austrian auteur, Ulrich Seidl's, new agitfilm about the economic relationship between "old" and "new" Europe. It's an unflinching and sporadically very funny look at the profound economic and social disruptions that have come in the wake of the end of the Cold War and the extension of the European Union. The movie tells two symmetrical stories. A single-mother living in deep poverty in Ukraine can't make ends meet as a nurse. Refusing to become a sex-worker, performing over the web for rich Germans, she comes to Austria and works in an old-people's home. Her story is mostly tragic and realistic and will certainly resonate with those of us living in Western European capital cities benefiting from the influx of East European cleaners, plumbers and waitresses, half of them working well below their qualifications. At the same time, an Austrian father and step-son are disenfranchised in their own land - along with many Western European manual workers who have found themselves out-competed by cheaper, better trained and harder working eastern Europeans. They end up journeying to the Ukraine as truckers, and while their situation is laughably pathetic, they can still use their Euros to sexually humiliate local girls. The resulting film is provocative, handsomely shot, and more entertaining than the grim subject matter might suggest. Highly recommended.

IMPORT/EXPORT played Cannes and Toronto 2007 and opened in the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and Greece last year. It opened earlier this year in Poland, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, Russia and Romania. It is currently on limited release in the UK and is also available on DVD.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PAUL BLART: MALL COP - harmless, disposable fun

Steve Carr, director of DADDY DAY CARE and ARE WE DONE YET?, has produced an utterly disposable, utterly ridiculous family action movie that succeeds purely because of the innate like-ability of Kevin James. James plays a love-able loser: fat, hypoglycemic, lame sense of humour, but a heart of gold. The audience wills him to win at every turn, whether that means getting the girl of his dreams, putting down the obnoxious watch salesman, or foiling the robbery that's taking place in his mall. The action is tame, the humour tamer, but the movie is surprisingly watchable and you can't but help have a smile on your face at the end. It's no INDIANA JONES, but for a harmless afternoon family DVD session, perfect.

PAUL BLART: MALL COP opened earlier this year in the US, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Venezuela, Australia and Singapore, the UK, Egypt, the UAE, Iceland and Spain. It opens on April 9th in Portugal; on April 17th in Belgium, Brazil and Romania; on April 23rd in Kazakhstan, Russia and Sweden; and in Estonia on July 10th.

Monday, March 23, 2009

1900 - NOVOCENTO - a magnificent hymn to class struggle

1900 is the mistranslated title of Italian auteur, Bernardo Bertolucci's political epic, NOVOCENTO - more literally, 20th CENTURY. It's a majestic, sprawling film that was financed lavishly on the back of the success of LAST TANGO IN PARIS, but even then exceeded its budget by millions. A source of controversy and initial disappointment when it played Venice and Cannes, even it's heavily reduced 3 hour cut is a marathon experience. Granted, the movie has moments of seeming self-indulgence. It is blatantly partisan, and is often poorly dubbed. But this is more than compensated for by beautiful visuals from DP Vittorio Storaro, unforgettable dramatic set-pieces, and the honesty and courage with which Bertolucci examines male friendship, moral cowardice and the mob mentality.

Essentially the movie is a story of childhood friendship turned to betrayal and anger. As the movie opens, an icon of unified Italy, Verdi, has died and two boys have been born. They represent the twin political forces that will split the newly unified country in two, and define the politics of twentieth century Western Europe. Alfredo is the rich son of the local landowner, a beneficiary of conservative politic interests; Olmo is the poor son of the local farmers, downtrodden, disenfranchised, but ripe for radical politics. Their child-hood is played out during endless summers: the fields are fecund, the sun always shines, and life is good. The young boys discover their sexuality together and are firm friends. Alfredo's home life is stunted by a cold and exploitative family - best symbolised by his lecherous grandfather (Burt Lancaster) who leers over a buxom milk-maid - exploited sexually and financially. By contrast, Olmo is raised by his community, in one particularly striking scene, standing atop a well-laden table as the village eats supper and the sun shines behind him giving him a halo. He is metaphorically the blessed son of the land.

As teenagers, the two boys are wing-men, visiting whores together, but politics and economics pull them apart in the autumn of their lives. Olmo (Gerard Depardieu) is a Communist and Alfredo (Robert de Niro) is his class enemy. His life is decadent - he marries a beautiful but distant wife - and his character callow. On his wedding day he allows a fascist mob to hound Olmo for apparently murdering a child. And so we are introduced to the most terrifying and memorable character in the movie, Atilla Mellanchini (Donald Sutherland). If Alfredo is upper class and Olmo working class, Atilla represents the middle-class response to class struggle - a radical movement to create a new elite and keep both decadent aristos and the mob oppressed. Nowhere is the brutality and egotism of Fascism better and most horrifyingly depicted on screen than in Sutherland's Oscar-worthy portrait. Winter has truly settled upon Italy.

As the war ends in humiliation, scores must be settled. The mob turns on the Fascists: Bertolucci seems to indicate that a necessary destruction preceeds the Spring of renewal and rebirth for modern Italy. Alfredo and Olmo are reuited as old men, fighting, literally, as the movie ends, transformed into little children again. Bertolucci's class struggle continues - it is historically determined and inevitable.

1900 - NOVOCENTO played Venice 1976 and was released that year. It is available on DVD.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS is a puerile, poorly-written British film that tries to walk the fine line between horror and comedy in the vein of the far more successful SHAUN OF THE DEAD and SEVERANCE. The "humour" consists in watching James Corden (THE HISTORY BOYS, STARTER FOR TEN) and Matthew Horne (TV show GAVIN AND STACEY) run round the English countryside saying "shit" and "fuck" a lot and presumably the nudge-nudge wink-wink puerility of seeing pseudo-Scandinavian chicks show their tits. I can forgive puerility if it works - just look at SEVERANCE - but this movie never earns the right to use its oh-so-clever "look how post-modern we are" title.

If you were generous, you could say that LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS was another example of a successful British TV comedy double-act failing to make the translation to the big screen, just like Mitchell and Webb in MAGICIANS. But in reality, GAVIN AND STACEY was never as funny as PEEP SHOW, and this movie is less disappointing for that reason.

LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS is on release in the UK. It opens in France on June 17th and in the Netherlands on June 25th.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the fabulously popular true-life fiction novel is a baggy, flabby affair that fails to truly capture the weirdness and sinister eccentricity of the original. The light is too bright, the situation too contemporary and recognisable, and some of the acting risible.

The story is simple. In 1980s Savannah, not the most hospitable environment for a rich white man to come out of the closet, a young hustler (Jude Law entirely failing to pull off a Southern accent) is murdered in the lavish house of a wealthy art dealer (Kevin Spacey). The resulting court case is covered by an out-of-town journalist (John Cusack). The problem is that he looses all objectivity and is drawn into the gothic world of voo-doo, secrets and a charismatic transvestite called Lady Chablis (playing herself).

The resulting movie doesn't know whether it wants to be a John Grisham style courtroom drama or a voyeuristic look at a bunch of eccentrics. Either way, it is dull, long and bland - something the novel never was. I never fully felt the scandal of tawdry sex invading genteel upper class surroundings. I never had chills running down my spine as we lingered in cemeteries at midnight with a voodoo priestess. The comedy wasn't dark and subversive but gentle and inclusive. A great disappointment.

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL was released in 1997 and 1998. It is available on iTunes and on DVD.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Overlooked DVD of the month - CASS

CASS is the impressive debut feature from British writer-director Jon S Baird, based on the autobiography of Cass Pennant, an infamous football hooligan. The movie is constructed in a fairly straightforward manner and is well-acted throughout.

We first meet Cass as a young black kid adopted by white parents in a rough part of London. Linda Bassett and Peter Wright are impressive and believable as the parents - the mother a strong, morally upright woman without being priggish - the father, a quiet, passive type whose only bond with his son is watching soccer matches - not the most forgiving environment for a black kid. Cass is an angry boy. He speaks like a white kid, but knows he's different and acts out because of it. It's unsurprising that when he's accepted by the football hooligans, and gets a sense of belonging and respect, he thrives. Violence becomes a way of life, and it's clear that Cass is clever and charismatic. When he's interviewed by a patronising middle-class TV reporter he turns the table on her with his articulate defense of hooliganism. If the working classes want to vent their frustration by beating each other up in a controlled environment, what's it to anyone else? And aren't the middle-classes more to blame for their leering voyeurism? Cass' life changes when he's put in prison and starts exploring his black heritage. He comes out and turns straight - well, semi-straight - running security for clubs, but finds it hard to put the old life behind him.

Nonso Anozie is charismatic and convincing as Cass, and the movie realistically depicts 1980s and 1990s London - the sets, costumes, language and scenery are spot on. I found the portrait of British race-relations compelling - and it resonated with my memories of that period. This is an impressive feature debut and I look forward to watching Jon S Baird's next film.

CASS opened in the UK in August 2008 and is available on DVD.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

DUPLICITY - slick and twisted, but occasional longueurs

Tony Gilroy follows up MICHAEL CLAYTON with a similarly stylish corporate thriller that substitutes romantic banter for genuine heft. Clive Owen and Julia Roberts create genuine chemistry as the spies scamming corporate bosses, Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti. The fun comes from Roberts' and Owen's charming delivery of witty dialogue as they ponder whether they are really in love or just in love with the paranoid brilliance of suspecting they are mutually scamming each other. Unfortunately, the nuts and bolts that make up the procedural thriller are pretty lacklustre. I gave up caring who was actually scamming whom long before the end. Stylistically, the Ocean's Eleven rip-off kitsch seventies score and split-screen nonsense was deeply irritating. All in all, mildly entertaining, though arguably better for DVD and dinner night than a trip to the multiplex. And what of Roberts? Is this the big come-back triumph everyone's banking on? Frankly, she looked like her prettiness had been piped to the surface of her. But that's just superficial, right?

DUPLICITY is on release in Spain, Australia, Chile, Israel, New Zealand, Thailand, Iceland, Turkey, the UK and the US. It opens next week in Belgium, Egypt, France, Croatia, Germany, Portugal, Russia, the UAE, Brazil, Estonia and Italy. It opens in Greece on April 16th; in Argentina on April 23rd; in Hungary, Denmark and Japan on May 1st; in the Czech Republic on May 7th; in Finland and Sweden on May 29th; in Norway on June 5th; in the Netherlands on June 11th and in Singapore on July 2nd.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

RECOUNT - liberal masochism

RECOUNT is a HBO movie depicting the fateful period after the 2000 US Presidential Election. The confusing design of the ballot led Democratic voters to vote Republican, and the Gore campaign asked for a recount. The Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, effectively stopped a full recount letting the pro-Republican result stand - a decision sanctioned by the US Supreme Court. And so the world was saddled with W. To those of us with a liberal turn of mind, the result was a travesty of justice and democracy. This movie panders to those views. To our opponents, the movie will be seen as partisan and therefore rejected. 

So let's assume that only liberals have a desire to watch this film, does it deliver? No. Because Jay Roach (MEET THE FOCKERS) can't decide whether he's directing a serious political expose or a broad comedy. As expose the movie fails because it doesn't actually tell us anything we don't already know. The Gore camp played by the rules, lacked the stomach for a balls-out cat-fight for the presidency and lost. The Bush camp had better lawyers, owned the institutions in Florida, and triumphed. Re-heating the debacle is just pure masochism. Sure, Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary as Gore campaigners do their best to look horrified by the lack of commitment on the part of their bosses and the evil machinations of the GOP, but seriously, what do we learn? 

Worse still, the broad comedy undermines the seriousness of the issues, and is, in fact, unnecessary. Katherine Graham is ludicrous enough without Laura Dern's caricature, and Tom Wilkinson's James Baker is a pantomime villain. The real truth of the recount is horrifying enough without camping it up.

Overall then, as someone who loves politics and thinks of herself as a liberal, I was sorely disappointed by this movie. I can't help but think that a more balanced documentary would've served us better.

RECOUNT is an HBO TV movie shown in 2008. It was released in the UK, Spain, Switzerland, the Philippines and Hungary last autumn and is available on DVD.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

SURVEILLANCE - when weird trumps conventional judgment

SURVEILLANCE is a deeply bizarre film that works against all probability. It's directed by Jennifer Lynch who is known, if at all, for being David Lynch's daughter and for directing the bizarre flick BOXING HELENA - a movie so odd Kim Basinger tangled with lawyers to avoid it. Years later, and Lynch is back with a movie that starts off as a conventional horror flick. Two serial killers savagely kill a sleeping couple pre-credits and then disappear into the night. Post-credits, two Feds turn up to interrogate the survivors - an eerily observant young girl; a coked-up teenager; and a dodgy state cop. The title of the flick alludes to the fact that the Feds hook up surveillance cameras to watch the interrogation, but not a lot's made of it. Rather, the movie plays like a thriller in which the corrupt cop and the coked-up teen evade their interrogators, and the Feds try to extract information from the kid. Anyone who knows anything about horror movies will guess the plot twist - the "whodunnit" - miles before the ending. But the movie actually gains in interest after that. Because just how the serial killers are entrapping their victims, and just what they do to them when they get them, is so bizarre it's transfixing, despite the balls-out ridiculous performance from the parties involved.  There's also mild enjoyment to be had from the sub-David-Lynchian tropes his daughter has adopted - Feds with eccentric mannerisms and a nihilistic world in which the powers that should be protecting you are typically the most frightening of all.

SURVEILLANCE played Cannes 2008 and was released last year in Portugal, France, Germany and Austria. It opened earlier this year in Croatia and the Netherlands and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in the US on June 26th.

Monday, March 16, 2009

THE BLACK BALLOON - earnest but dull Aussie drama

THE BLACK BALLOON is the critically acclaimed feature debut from Aussie writer-director Elissa Down. It's a semi-autobiographical movie about a teenage boy learning to deal with his autistic brother. Just as WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE? dealt honestly with cruelty and shame, so does BLACK BALLOON. So much so that at times, while this movie is evidently heart-felt, it seems like a poorer quality knock off. Good performances from Toni Colette as the happily suffering mum and Rhys Wakefield as the protagonist are offset by the familiar story and unforgivably schmaltzy ending.  Forgettable.

THE BLACK BALLOON played Berlin 2008 where it won the Crystal Bear and was released in Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and the US last year. It went straight to DVD in the UK.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

THE CLASS / ENTRE LES MURS - traversing the murky waters of liberal angst

THE CLASS is an award-winning quasi-documentary about modern race relations in France, from the writer-director behind the provocative sex-tourism drama, HEADING SOUTH. Based on the experiences of teacher, François Bégaudeau, the movie recreates the atmosphere and tensions of a year in a Parisian inner-city school, casting François and a host of real students and creating a script through extensive workshopping. 

The energy and authenticity of the film - the quality of its hand-held camera-work - the pleasure of spending two hours getting to know the kids - the purity of the concept of never leaving the class, never following the kids home - has won THE CLASS praise, and perhaps surprisingly, the Palme d'Or, beating competition from IL DIVO, THREE MONKEYS, WALTZ IN BASHIR, GOMORRA and CHANGELING. 

To my mind, it deserves praise for its energy and insight. I had fun watching the film. But is it really as subversive as everyone thinks? The standard argument seems to be that THE CLASS deserves praise for having overturned the typical Hollywood movie in which an idealistic teacher comes into a rough class and through innovative teaching techniques earns their respect. Think DANGEROUS MINDS. There's a troubled boy who disturbs class and usually ends up dropping out, despite the extenuating circumstances of trouble at home. There's the bright girl who denies her talent by getting pregnant, or dropping out. And there's the anonymous rabble of ne'er-do-wells who start off rough as houses but end up charming, considerate and thankful.

THE CLASS is no different. Yes, it may be a bit more honest about racial tensions, but you can still see the familiar genre tropes. The teacher is still an earnest liberal who transgresses the line of involvement, and defends his kids against the powers that be. A bolshy boy will still end up threatened with expulsion. And the majority of kids do end up responding to the teacher and learning something. Moreover, the film has real flaws, creating scenes that seem absurdly saccharine and break the carefully constructed feeling of authenticity. When a promising Chinese student's mother is threatened with deportation, would a guilt-laden teacher really raise two toasts to him with champagne, trumping her happiness at being pregnant? And, in the final scene, would a bolshy kid really accurately precis' Plato's Republic, thereby neatly putting the teacher who'd called her a skank in his place? This all seemed ludicrous to me.

So, I guess my response to THE CLASS was conflicted. I admire it technically, and I admire its intentions. But in reality, Laurent Cantet has created a movie as unreal and stereotypical as those awful Hollywood genre pics he so clearly wanted to subvert.

THE CLASS played Cannes 2008 and was released in France, Belgium, Italy, Israel, Greece, Poland, Portugal, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Turkey, Russia, Romania, Latvia, Sweden, the US and Norway last year. It was released in Croatia, Germany, Spain, Australia, Denmark and Finland earlier this year. It is currently on release in the UK, Hong Kong, Estonia and Brazil.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Call me a heartless bastard but I was bored witless by WENDY AND LUCY

Wendy is a young woman with no history and a family that is indifferent toward her. In addition, she has a clapped-out car, a dog called Lucy, a kind soul, and precisely enough money to get her to seasonal work in Alaska. This film comprises eighty minutes of masochistic liberal angst, in which Wendy's car breaks down, she can't afford the repairs, she gets arrested for shoplifting, and loses her dog in the process. Evidently, we're meant to feel desperately sorry for Wendy. She's one step away from homelessness and the system doesn't so much oppress her as just not give a shit. And this film wants us to empathise so badly, it hits us over the head with just how pathetic Wendy is. Feel its earnestness in the pure realism of Kelly Reichardt's direction! Feel it's aching heart in Michelle Williams' uglied-up haircut and tragic face! Be manipulated by the scene in which Wendy has to give up her pet dog Lucy!

WENDY AND LUCY is a masochistic, manipulative, one-note film. Over-hyped and by far not as profound as it thinks it is.

OLD JOY played Cannes, Toronto and London 2008 and was released in the US last year. It was released earlier this year in Croatia and is currently on release in the UK. It opens on Australia on March 26th in Australia; and on April 8th in France.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

BRONSON - sheer genius

I haven't been this excited in a movie theatre since watching IL DIVO. I had that same feeling of watching a movie made by a director steeped in cinema, subverting the conventional biopic form, showcasing a charismatic lead performance in a movie with breathtaking visual style. And as with IL DIVO, the audience is forced into an uncomfortable relationship with the subject of the film: captivated by the charisma of a fundamentally despicable character. Not that you can really put Andreotti in the same category as Charles Bronson. The former was a Machiavellian politician of almost evil genius: the latter is Britain's most violent prisoner (re-named after the Hollywood actor), still detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, whose serially pyschotic exploits are tabloid-fodder, turning him into an icon of savagery.

Nicolas Winding Refn's movie opens with Bronson as icon: the bald head, the ludicrous drooping mustache, the exaggerated accent, the mental stare, the bare-knuckle boxer's physique. Tom Hardy's transformation is astonishing. He dominates the screen both with his physical heft and psychological menace. A vicious punching is never more than a second away. Framed against a black back-drop, Hardy's Bronson is the inarticulate narrator of his own life story. The movie proceeds in broadly linear picaresque fashion. Here's Mickey Peterson, the sweet child of patently normal, middle-class parents. Here's Mickey as a school-boy, throwing a desk at his teacher, for no apparent reason than that he feels like it. Here's Mickey getting banged up for armed robbery. Here's Mickey drugged up in a mental asylum until he tries to murder a fellow prisoner and get back to a normal prison. Here's Bronson taking his art teacher hostage. Here's Bronson howling, feral in solitary. 

Bronson relates all this with a matter-of-factness that denies the audience the psychological theorising that is the typical currency of the genre. A boy is born with a predilection for being violent. Why burden ourselves with liberal angst? Bronson mocks the very notion of trying to understand, pulling a sucker-punch with a scene in which he starts crying on first getting banged up, then turns to the audience and mocks them for being taken in. These music-hall acts, in which Bronson, made up like a Pierrot, acts out his life for a tuxedo'd audience, are the most sinister in the film - more sinister than the violence. Because it's then that we see Bronson as agent of his situation rather than as feral thug. He wants to be inside. He wants to be famous for being brutish. He's upset when the system doesn't collude with his fantasy. He's playing us.

Of course, as he partially acknowledges, he also gets played. In engineering his iconic status he turns himself into a pantomime act: violence as comedy, tabloid-fodder, at core, pathetic. The prison governor says this many times. Bronson adopts the painted eyelashes of Kubrick's Alex. The director colludes - with Kubrickian use of a classical score and carefully framed tableaux. The film is spectacular to look at. Bronson has turned himself into a spectacle. But in the final analysis, he has become a clown.

The genius of this film is to acknowledge the iconic nature of Bronson without glorifying his acts. Again and again, he is beautifully filmed - he commands the screen - doing the most unspeakable things. He is transfixing. But at the same time, the movie subverts his iconic status. When he's bare-knuckle boxing, it's never to a big audience. When he asks for more money, his manager cuts him down to size: "You just pissed on a man in the the middle of nowhere". In the same segment, the movie shows Bronson as a ridiculous cuckold. When told his girlfriend is in love with another man he goes out and steals her a ring. When told she's already engaged, he doesn't go out and murder the bloke, he meekly congratulates her. And the movie starts and finishes with Bronson reduced to a caged animal.

The resulting film is stunning to look at, features an award-worthy performance from Tom Hardy and walks the perfect line between fascination and adulation. It's a giant leap forward for Nicholas Winding Refn, building on the dark humour and bathos of the PUSHER trilogy - creating a work of force. Definitely the best film of the year to date.

BRONSON played Sundance 2009 and is on release in the UK.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Some thoughts on WATCHMEN - replete with spoilers

WATCHMEN is one of the finest graphic novels ever published - far surpassing the norm in its carefully constructed panels; the quite beautiful production design; the counter-point of the main plot and the meta-narrative; its careful examination of the nature of identity; and its logical unraveling of the implications of state-sponsored vigilantes. It's a book that works as a discourse on utilitarianism and equally well as a police procedural. Most of all, it's a book about reading - how we read - how we collect information - how reading creates cultural phenomena - how what we read echoes what we see around us. You can see all that in its pages. Traditional panels are interspersed with psychological reports, extracts from autobiographies, marketing materials and corporate memos. Most famously, one of the characters in the novel is a young kid who sits by a newspaper stand reading a nihilistic book called "The Tale of the Black Freighter". This meta-comic tells of a man who looses his humanity and enters a sort of living hell, while around the teenage reader, the book speaks of a world on the verge of nuclear annihilation. In short, WATCHMEN is a masterpiece.

I approached the feature film adaptation of the novel with some trepidation. It seemed practically impossible to do the book justice: the complexity of the novel's intellectual ideas and the deliberate structure of its panels - the sheer length of the main story and the internal comic - made me think that it would be better suited to a lavish mini-series or a feature film trilogy. Added to that was the more profound objection - that a novel that was so much about reading comics should be left as a reading experience.

Still, sniffing pop-cultural pay-dirt, the studio forged ahead, even when writer Alan Moore disavowed the project (and, impressively, the money). A number of directors were associated with the project including Terry Gilliam and Paul Greengrass, who apparently had wanted to update the story. Finally, the film passed to Zack Snyder, evidently a director who understood how to translate graphic novels to screen (viz the stunning visuals in 300) and also, apparently, loved the book. Fanboys breathed a sigh of relief. If the movie were to be a poor shadow of the book, at least it wouldn't be willfully messed with.

Sure enough, the resulting film is very faithful to the book - both in terms of plot and production design. The bravura opening credits tell us everything we need to know about the world we are entering. As bulbs flash, the camera moves through sepia-tinted photographs. We see the the world as we know it take a fork in the 1940s. A handful of people decide to don costumes and fight crime under the banner of The Minutemen. They have no special powers: they aren't superheroes - they're as flawed as the rest of us. Moreso. What kind of person only truly feels themselves when in disguise? What kind of person can resist the intoxication of power than comes with being above the law? And, indeed, should anyone be above the law at all? Who watches the watchmen?

By 1960, the Cold War is in effect and the existence of masked heroes has changed the nature of politics. Masked vigilantes make for an almost perfect arm of the shadowy secret services we suspect of conspiring against us: the flips The Comedian to assassinate Kennedy and gives him leave to terrorize the Northern Vietnamese. But the game is changed even more completely by the creation of the first genuine superhero, the victim of an horrific experiment that turns a physicist into a near-god - a man who can control atoms - Dr Manhattan. He's a good kid, so when Richard Nixon asks him to intervene decisively to end Vietnam, he does. Unlike his fellow vigilante, The Comedian, who enjoys the irony of state-sponsored violence, Dr Manhattan merely feels indifference. For a man who can see all of time and matter, one human life is of no importance. How can a man like that love a woman? Or feel any stake whatsoever in humankind? Would he not, logically prefer the quiet of Mars?

By the early 1980s, the original Minutemen are all but retired - into failed marriage, a mental asylum, a quiet life...There's a new Nite Owl and Silk Spectre - and new characters altogether - but the government has out-lawed their vigilante-ism and they are reduced to, in one case literal, impotence. The exception is Ozymandias, an intellectual giant who, Schwarzenegger like, uses a body-building video to build a personal fortune. Where Nixon (still in power) feels callous disregard for human life and Dr Manhattan mere indifference, Ozymandias is yet more dangerous: he is one of those dangerous utilitarians who is willing to destroy millions to save billions, viewing his own intelligence as the only moral requirement to him taking such as decision.

These are the themes and motivations underlying WATCHMEN. The device by which the reader is taken through this rich history is a criminal investigation. As the book opens, Rohrshach finds The Comedian murdered. Rohrshach warns the other Minutemen that their lives at risk and reunites with Nite Owl II to investigate the murder, interrogating a former enemy, Moloch, who is dying of cancer. When Dr Manhattan is humiliated on a live TV show, accused of causing cancer in the people he works with, and loves, he leaves Earth in a fit of pique. And so, Rohrshach has the link. He realises that Ozymandias has framed Dr Manhattan, shaming him into leaving earth. When Ozymandias nukes major global metros, he knows that Dr Manhattan will be blamed and that the visceral shock and the common enemy will force an end to the Cold War and the start of global co-operation. Rohrshach won't sit still for this act of brutal arrogance, and pays the ultimate price for arguing for free will, even when it is almost inevitable, pace The Black Freighter, that humankind's fundamental brutality will inevitably triumph. The book ends wonderfully ambiguously - a boorish newspaper junior may or may not take seriously the ramblings of a psychotic mind in a journal left in the crank file. He may or may not choose to believe that the nuclear war was a hoax by a utopian sociopath....

The movie is a remarkably successful abridgment of the source novel. True, without the Black Freighter story it loses some of its poignancy, but the imminent release of the animated feature DVD should go some way to remedy that - it's the best practical solution. But all the great lines, great scenes and great characters are faithfully rendered. It was a joy to watch - the credits were sheer genius - and the sets are simply wonderful. In general, the acting was strong - I particularly liked Carla Gugino as Silk Spectre I - she completely sells a very complex character, and Billy Crudup gives a moving performance, visible through a motion capture suit, as Dr Manhattan.

I still have three major problems with film. They detract from it being a pantheon film. But let me be clear. Despite these flaws, WATCHMEN remains a spectacular achievement - hugely enjoyable and as thought provoking and subversive as ever.

Problem number one is the use of popular music. I found some of the musical cues superb but many were jarring, quixotic and used to ill-effect - thrown in and then cut away from - as if Snyder got bored. The use of Leonard Cohen's sublime "Hallelujah" during a rather excruciatingly shot love scene was particularly crass and only partly offset by the perfect use of Dylan's "The Times They Are A'Changin'" Problem number two is the use of some really poor prosthetics and wigs. The Richard Nixon mask was horrible - like a cheap party shop mask. They would've done far better to just cast an age-appropriate actor who could approximate the voice, Frank Langella styl-ee. And as for Matthew Goode's wig, it completely took me out of every scene featuring Veidt. Why couldn't Matthew Goode just have naturally styled hair? Which brings me rather naturally to Problem Three: Matthew Goode's performance as Ozymandias. Goode seemed completely mis-cast - his frame is too slight, his natural bearing too diffident for an imposing, self-made man and ex-body-builder. Moreover, his choice of accent - soft, mumbling - further undermined his credibility. Quite simply, Goode was acted off the screen by Crudup, Wilson, Haley and Gugino.

All of which adds up to a spectacular film, though not one without its flaws. A film that doesn't disgrace the book but doesn't live up to its complexity either - how could it have done? I suspect that fanboys will respond well to the fidelity and quibble, as I did, over certain characters that aren't particularly well rendered. Overall, you can't deny the childish joy of seeing something you've read many times up on a big screen.

WATCHMEN is on global release.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

THE YOUNG VICTORIA - all this useless beauty

THE YOUNG VICTORIA is a luscious-looking film in which two rather beautiful, warm-hearted people - Queen Victoria and the future Prince Albert - meet and almost instantly realise that they will be in love for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, this happens in the first thirty minutes of the movie, and isn't enough to hold our attention for the next seventy minutes. So a lot of time is spent watching a cast of supporting characters harrumph about the lavish sets kicking over pot plants and shout like sulky teenagers* - everyone from the then Princess Victoria's uncle, the King (Jim Broadbent), to her mother's controlling adviser (Mark Strong) to Queen Victoria's slipper adviser, Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany). Poor screenwriter Julian Fellowes even resorts to throwing in a rather ridiculous act of heroism to add to the stakes, but this is all stuff and nonsense. He knows it and we know it. The simple facts are these: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love and were deeply devoted to each other, spawning nine children who went on to rule Europe. It's enough to warm the cockles of your heart, but not enough to fill a feature film. All the beauty, all the perfectly serviceable performances, are thus rather wasted. Although I must say that I was rather impressed by Rupert Friend for the first time.

(*Maybe not coincidentally, as this was a major component of director Jean-Luc Vallee's previous film, CRAZY.)

THE YOUNG VICTORIA is on release in the UK. It opens in Israel on April 2nd; in the Netherlands on April 23rd; in Russia on April 30th; in Belgium on May 6th; and in Norway on September 11th.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

THE HAPPENING - decent concept hamstrung by mis-casting

Evidently, THE HAPPENING is a piss-poor film, but it is not as risible as many reviewers have accused it of being. Admittedly, I was in a minority of near-one in liking M Night Shyamalan's last film, THE LADY IN THE WATER, so maybe my ability to critique his work has been tarnished.But, for all that, it seems to me that what irks critics is that M Night Shyamalan does the same thing over and over: he makes these portentious thrillers in which mankind is imperiled by some spooky external force. I'm sure that the fact that he cast himself as the saviour of the world in his last movie didn't endear him to his peers either.

The thing about THE HAPPENING is that the central conceit is a good one. It's a disaster movie that's perfectly in tune with the INCONVENIENT TRUTH generation, and seems strangely plausible. I even like the fact that Shyamalan avoids the classic disaster movie set pieces - you know, the scenes that were done so well in KNOWING. When disaster comes, people flee the city, but instead of cars jamming up the exits from New York, people are walking through the countryside outside of Philadelphia. Their reactions all seem plausible and all the more frightening for that.

The problem with THE HAPPENING, other than its pointless title, is that it's mis-cast in its lead roles. To put it bluntly, Mark Wahlberg and John Leguziamo just don't look convincing as school teachers. And once you twig to that, it's all over.

THE HAPPENING opened in summer 2008 and is available on DVD and on iTunes.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Overlooked DVD of the month - IN MEMORY OF MY FATHER

IN MEMORY OF MY FATHER is an anarchic black comedy exposing the neuroses and vanities of a Hollywood family on the day of their father's death. The conceit is that the domineering patriarch is extending his control even after death thanks to his egotistical desire to have the whole thing captured on handicam by his sons. As the camera rolls, we see the dead man's absurdly young wife (Judy Greer) twitter on about shopping and try to pick up his elder son. We'll see the middle son (Jeremy Sisto) become paranoid that his wife is having a lesbian affair.

IN MEMORY OF MY FATHER played some fests in 05/06 and went on limited released in the UK and US last summer. It's available on DVD.

Overlooked DVD of the month - CITY HALL

From the writers of SCENT OF WOMAN, RAGING BULL, TAXI DRIVER, GOODFELLAS and CASINO comes a political thriller starring Al Pacino, John Cusack, Danny Aiello and and David Paymer. The resulting movie is slick, compelling and labyrthinthine in the links it establishes between the mafia, the political machine and law enforcement. John Cusack plays the naive out-of-towner turned New York Deputy Mayor. Through his eyes we start to investigate the corruption in City Hall when a cop and a mafiosi kill each other in a shoot-out and an innocent kid is killed in the crossfire. The key question is why the mafiosi was on probation in the first place. The investigation takes us into bent real estate deals and exploitative political grand-standing. We see genuinely bad men and we see good men who can't help but be implicated in a corrupt establishment. The most sympathetic is Martin Landau as the judge who signed off on the probation. The most compelling is Danny Aiello's political fixer and Rogers & Hammerstein fan. In contrast to his later films, Al Pacino's histrionics are well contained and carefully aimed. As mayor, he constructs a beautifully melodramatic funeral oration - perfect advertising and yet also just what was needed. John Cusack is also perfectly cast as the charismatic Deputy Mayor who finds himself out of his depth. The movie isn't perfect. It's rare to find a film that would've benefited from a longer cut, but this is a great example. I also found the insertion of Bridget Fonda's character a bit clumsy and redundant. Still, for all that, CITY HALL is a slick, engaging political thriller that stretches the brain but still contains pleasurably witty one-liners and dramatic set-pieces. Highly recommended.

CITY HALL was released in 1996 and is available on DVD and on iTunes.

Monday, March 02, 2009

SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY - brilliant, if dated, British relationship drama

SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY is a brilliant British relationship drama directed by John Schlesinger, of MIDNIGHT COWBOY fame. It's an unflinching, devastating examination of the consequences of free love and sexual repression in the early 1970s - the time when the naivety of the 1960s sexual revolution was being exposed. Britain is on the verge of economic collapse, with strikes and power cuts. The country also seems to be in the midst of a moral crisis: the old guard realise that social norms have been profoundly changed; the 60s generation are waking up to reality; neither is in control. All this and more is played out through the relationships between Alex, Elkin and Daniel.

Alex (Glenda Jackson) is a middle-aged divorcee, having a relationship with the younger, bisexual Elkin (Murray Head). They are in an open relationship, but only Elkin exploits that freedom, sleeping with Daniel (Peter Finch), a closeted homosexual and respected Doctor. Given that consensual sodomy had only been made legal in the UK in 1967, and that prejudice was still rife, Daniel's decision to remain closeted is understandable and tragic and his dependence on Elkin all the more heightened. Peter Finch is heart-breaking in the role. Alex is a less tragic figure (she has more options) but also sympathetic. She wants to be bohemian, but can't let go of her need for commitment and love. She's shocked more often and more easily than she would care to admit:

Alex: Children... are you smoking pot?
Lucy (8 years old): Are you bourgeois?

What doesn't stand up today is the presentation of the bohemian Hampstead family to which the children that Alex and Elkin are babysitting belong. It all seems absurd and bizarre. The relationship drama does stand up, dripping as it does with honest authenticity, as Schlesinger translated his own experience as a closeted gay onto the screen. The filming style also holds up. The freewheeling camera and realism harken back to Schlesinger's early 60s British "kitchen-sink" dramas. Watching the film today, I was also struck with the double tragedy of the movie. There's Daniel, trapped, at the centre of the film. And then there's John Schlesinger, who had the guts to depict homosexuality honestly on screen, came out professionally, and was punished with a steady drying up of good work offers.

SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY played London and Venice 1971 and was nominated for four Oscars. It is available on DVD.