Fences : A Film Review

Fences


Directed by Denzel Washington, Produced by Todd Black, Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, Screenplay by August Wilson, Based on Fences by August Wilson.  Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney. Music by Marcelo Zarvos. Cinematography Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Edited by Hughes Winborne. Production company Bron Creative, Macro Media, Scott Rudin Productions, Duration 139 minutes. (2hr 19mins.) Country:  United States. Language: English. Rating: 12a.

Play on Today
Venturing into film directing for the first time Denzel Washington has chosen a play to adapt for the screen.  Fences written by August Wilson is shaped as a family drama set in Pittsburgh in the age of the cities growth and expansion.  The couple at is heart are Rose played by Viola Davis giving an Oscar worthy performance as a middle aged woman married to Troy in his mid fifties played by Denzel Washington.  As the two leads they do not place any cultural struggled as the drama but the relationships they have with their close family.  In fact the only outsider is an old colleague of Troy whose acts as a folk for story telling in the backyard.   Discrimination does come into it as an aside but it avoids political messages.  Where can you go wrong with such a good cast?

Primarily it is about the contest of father and son in a rivalry born out of disappointment and poor choices.  It begins with a dialogue between Troy and Bono at work on hanging on dumpster and emptying very lightweight bins. Trash being small beer in those days apparently. They walk home and discuss the complaint Troy has made about not being allowed to become a dumpster driver.  The move is implied as being blocked because of his race.  They exchange sexist and workplace banter, using the n word (which is a 12a classification as it is outdated racist language) as braggadocios they act out the past  in a contrived male language bordering on sexist as well as racial offensive except they have the licence to use it as it solidifies their masculinity in their minds.  It crosses over in a reduced way when Troy talks to Rose with in their case impish comic marital prenuptial negotiations.  Rose is a homemaker totally at ease and comfortable with her home and the possibility of it improving bit by bit without holding big expectations.  Troy is on the other hand in dreamland where he is searching for something other than the inevitable route to the grave which gives the notional premise to the play.


Premise

Sam Cooke wrote Jesus be a fence round me.  He had no fear of death therefore but wished to be protected by the Lord Jesus.  The faith which Troy doesn’t have isolates him and makes him sole defender of his place.  Fences to him are to be constructed here on earth.  Platitudes, clichces are trotted out in the script as reflection and in the language are akin to Church preaching on sinning.  Troy has a gift for sinning.  Sinning against himself in his early life by not concentrating on his baseball skills but getting immersed in crime which put away any chance for sporting advance.  Instead he spent 15 years in jail and it is the period after this when he has brought up two sons with Viola, one who is a man on a mission to be a musician, Lyon played by the mature looking Russell Hornsby, whose attitude of creative and loose come what may approach to things contrasts with the fixed ideas of Troy whose own creativity was lost back in time.  There is an undercurrent of jealousy in this but never fully explored.  There is also a more directly presented parable of their younger son, the 14 year old athletic Cory played with immense sensitivity and strength by Johan Adepo, who is but a mirror of the past Troy has had.  Troys caring side is expressed through his disabled brother.  A war veteran whose cranial damage required a steel plate which contributes to his polarised, asbergers type state, Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), has just moved from the house to display, alongside Lyon’s moving out, a blunt display of his independence which further challenges Troy.  Troy manages to deal with these moves but cannot face the last one.  Two strikes is used often and I see these as the two strikes.  Troy in August Wilson’s mind avoids being menacing though scouts the boundaries the further discontent and disconnection with Gods purpose manifests.

  

Father Son.

Building fences is the clumsy metaphor of the play and how it is made drama.  With it originating as a stage play it is very compressed and reliant on the set pieces around the interior of the house, the living room of which reminds you of the cornflour blue of the film Moonlight which has the colour line through it.  The interior is bright and very well kept in shiny chromium sixties style with furniture on hire for 15 years still in use.  They have no TV and they have a refrigerator which is the first thing Troy reaches into for his Jackhammer Dry Gin when he returns from work while he discusses the dinner and local gossip with Rose and how she’s been making out during the day.  The home is a stable place for Cory, Rose and Troy and the job on the rota is building a fence to an empty rundown property next door.  In a back yard type place the raggety overgrown unkept disorder is in a way comforting ascorder means urbanity and the trees, bushes, vegtable garden and others variety of tending makes for a casual mix of what might be a plantation workers yard.  The order and disorder are an important methapor in Denzel Washington’s approach as are other touches.  Troy takes his sons gift and puts it below the work and studying mantra he believes would better equip Cory.  To Cory this runs against plans he has made as adjustments.  His job at a store is to be replaced by a scholarship to a school requiring his baseball skills above academic skills where at the same time he will be able to study outside of the baseball training and paling.  He also has organised work at the store on available weekends. He has Rose’s backing.  Troy on the other hand is fixed and this is regressive for everyone.  Moving on is not in Troys mindset.  He is so selfish and everything around him relates to his own battling with the devil.  He also has cause to be contrite in later events.  As I noted musician Lyon’s has escaped the grip of his father and chosen his own future. There is solidity reflecting this in the paying by Russell Hornsby.

 

Setting

Being a play without the range of a Macbeth or Three Sisters this somewhat restricts staging as so many scenes are in the same set, the backyard or kitchen, living room.  For it to work takes a very clearly crafted order and this film moves from having at times flowing interludes to the jumping around framed set shots pictorially pretty but basically daylight lit nice couplets and monologues.  Thankfully in an important scene involving Viola which will be recognised as a career performance is filmed as a static framed head shot mostly which is right on the emotional visceral painful thrust of the narrative.  Rose brings a major problem of heart over head and examines Troy’s framework in unusual confrontation showing how deep her previous compliant self has gone along.  It shows up how much Troy himself has not addressed his past or confronted his demons.  In another scene a technique which I ‘dissed’ as a poor choice at the beginning of Moonlight, is here used to carry the flow and externalises briefly the carry of the narrative.  It is when a revolt shot is used and each face is ful of expression as they speak and the rotation carries the dialogue effortlessly.  If only the rest of the film had been laid out in a pattern and not patchwork of cinematic choices.  It has the feel of a play too much of the time and even theatre screenings of plays, National Theatre Live for one, have a form and fixed style and structure which does not flit about.  The style is rich on occasions and when time has passed – to the final act presaged by a snowfall – the formula is unbroken and fixed as before.  Some wisecracking critics often come out with directional reposts described as ‘well directed’ an underpinning of a film ‘not being well directed’ as if drawing attention to the cinematic values present at times – I think it’s important to say we’re a breakdown occurs and where a flow and assured passage carries is achieved or an outcome.  It is part of the viewing experience as is sitting in a theatre would be watching Denzel and Viola on stage would be totally different to this film.  Maybe it is Washington’s choice to cool down, to remove the menace and ramp up the garrulous aspects as his own persona is able to carry it more convincingly.  In a review a scene is described thus – “… of claustrophobia … there’s clear evidence that careful thought has been put into the quiet visual architecture of this film; …  example,  where Bono warns Troy of impending ruination, places the actors in the bottom right of the frame (a scene which does not occur in the play and is basically a wise move in choosing a spot to film/replicate impending trouble visually) while rubble and an empty field symbolically take up most of the screen. I disagree on the basis the film has few moments such as this. When they do as I previously noted, they only serve to disrupt a flow so important and not replicating a stage plays approach. They have not choreographed it for screen and several shots are staple stage replicates.  The atmosphere is achieved with the back yard being reminiscent of the rural they would prefer to bring up children in.

  

Film Futures

America is lost in its Entertainment mould with the decades of Crime thrillers, Space age, Sci-Fi, War heroics, Pratfall College, Financial swindle, Corporate greed, Sexual shenanigans, and many more genre flowing towards the expectations of an  unsatiated Public whose expectations follow the hype and out of the mainstream ,assively omportant groundbreaking movies emerge despite the – and this critique is broad given it’s within a review – vast production and sometimes failing box office hit and miss targeting of audiences.  Manhattan, Apocalypse Now, Goodfellas, The God Father and many others of equal stature are not the norm.   They follow incredible journeys in cinema, On the Waterfront, In the Heat of the Night, the influence of Foreign Cinema, in creating a landscape where present day filmmakers struggle to be seen.  The films, especially in ethic rooted film is fresh and full on in examining issues and positions.  Society is reflected.  Also Fences is; and this is no slight on a Denzel Washington, there is a pecking order in the screening and output.  Denzel Washington’s profile is such that this film gets more traction than it might otherwise have had.  It is a very good debut and fairly safe and challenging as Troy’s character is not one you would immediately empathise with.  It opens up performances though which are from the first division.  Viola Davis and Jovian Adepo spectacularly inhabit their parts.  The screenplay for this 29 year old play was penned by the late August Wilson himself.  He carries through on Troy Maxson’s dance with the devil over a fence he is slow in building and likely to be caught out.  The baseball similes or straight references even, take to the park throughout.

The August Mr Wilson  

Conclusion ###3

I really enjoyed the introduction to the work of August Wilson and the stage plays set 29 years before in Pittsburgh must accumulate a large library of varied purposeful interpretation of the ethnic conditions playing out in a big city along similar lines to Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams or as a contrasting backdrop to the more explicit approaches to political hatred and manipulation in Orson Welles Mancunian Candidate. The demons are still around and while this film brings to new audiences including the Cory age, very well conceived drama depicting the important things in life.  The family and direction of travel for equality and a sense of a creator whose work is us.  Where is the life manual except in our genes and these now are being conquered daily as coping mechanisms for ill health and the mind is yet capable of controlling itself without derangement and falsehoods or projections which are baseless and void of fact.  The magic of plays is lost and the era is well documented by now so the primary focus of the father son relationship must be disposed to inform our enquiry.  This it does in part by the confrontational aspects which are repeated in various guises until the more informative exacting deep delving dialogue gives you in very rewarding viewing central reasoning and what the message concerns.  It is certainly an approachable watch and opens alternative viewpoints America and the rest of the world would do well to examine. The central themes may even be Aristolian or Homeric with male, female needs apart. Unresolved masculinity.   The blue don’t strike out.  They consider,  needs and wants and dreams as the film suggests at one point.  You would think music would be an important part but it is kept for Rose’s church going and A song passed down through Troy.  It makes for a well counterpoint to Gabes bashed trumpet and the ‘motif’ of collected and disused brass instruments unplayed, neglected and unloved.  There is a lot of love in this film and the hardship is in the entrapment.

John Graham

22 February 2017

Belfast

On general release and a 12a rating.  2hr 19mins.

Moonlight : A Film Review


Moonlight

Director. Barry Jenkins. Cast. Alex Hibbert as Little; Ashton Sanders as Chiron; Trevante Rhodes as Black; Mahershala Ali as Juan; Janelle Monáe as Teresa; Naomie Harris as Paula; André Holland as Kevin; Jharrel Jerome as 16-year-old Kevin; Jaden Piner as 9-year-old Kevin.


Story in 3 parts

Barry Jenkins has taken a history of a boy to man and set it in three chapters.  There is a different name given to the same person taking the journey.  From Little to Chiron to Black we do find out what becomes of him in these chapters as these are the phases in life which mould and control the advance of the boy.  He is so small all call him Little in the beginning.  His choices are few.  His drug addict mother is a loose cannon and he is a wild child who makes his own way to find food and survive on Miami’s streets.  Liberty Square and Liberty City project were key.

 “It was the first time someone had come to their community and wanted to represent it onscreen, and since Barry Jenkins had grown up in that area, there was this sense of pride and this desire to support him. You felt this love from the community that I’ve never felt in any other location, anywhere in the world, and it was so strange that it happened in a place where people were expecting the complete opposite.”  Local reaction.  Police escorts filming were also needed.

It is another film without the father figure to lead the boy through the wilderness.  He is of the type of child whose wits need to be sharp and he is streetwise switched on kid.  The survivors instinct remains as a child it builds barriers other circumstances more civilised will have an immunity to.


A substitute or replacement father figure is presented in the form of a low life dealer Juan aka Blue.  Chiron also is given an alternative mother in the form of Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa.  She provides a place of refugee when home is off limits.  Their is an identikit friend who acts as a foil to the apparent destitution Chiron finds himself in, as a kind of compass point.  In dealing with all around him he becomes aware of his sense of self and sexuality and masculinity in particular.  Kevin the friend is the daytime school crutch and compass. Life becomes a shade perplexing when his mother enters his alternative world also due to her addiction. If you want to see this as a love story then it would serve that purpose well as a means to carry it through to the end.  It clearly has a central focus of love.  Absent or emerging.  All those experiences of the exhilaration, hurt and beauty of loves roll call are heartfelt and dealt with with precision and clarity for an boy caught in a mess not of his making.  The pleasure of you can call it that is the directos ability to draw us into the imperfections and choices made.  Gracefully tenderly and astutely levity of kind deeds and sometimes redemptive acts occur.


Filmic sense of place

There is a claustrophobia about the ‘hood’ the techniclour neighbourhood which if it were not for the separateness,  the sense of entrapment, the shut off segregation by class context. It is a failure of integration and also generated by the mood music of America – the sure and undealt endemic racism which has credal, national boundaries.  Into the first frames we see the neighbourhood and relaxed men talking on the street, and Juan played superbly by Mahershala Ali crosses the street to meet a pair talking and they imply then upfront talk about the deal on drugs going array.  Juan settles things and shows his dominance an function as the top man on this neighbourhood.  He identifies with the role with a tall cool gait.  The cinematographer director annoyingly follow and old circular walk around of these three before moving on down the street where a parked car and its occupants have drawn his attention.  This start is easy but limiting.  It presents no contrast or order or place.  Fortunately that is a minor blip on starting a story which involves Chiron and his mother – the Oscar nominated Naomie Harris.  Her living conditions are less well kept and are a backstreet compound of chalets in blocks and most with boarded, or grilled up windows.  The transition central to the story as coming of age is for some plain others get the subtlety of brotherhood and Little looking up to Kevin who is ‘gifted’ in pleasure potency.  Little borders on loving Levin and they share a blunt and Chiron gets to know a bit more of how he works.  Seldom clear it shows the muddle he is in. The lack of sexual insight and experience continues and the only therapy is his imposed identity persona as a crutch which ends up in the third act well expanded. Barry Jenkins makes the point not to be clear to an audience and leave them thinking despite the numerous comments that it is a gay based movie.  That’s not what he intends it or wants it to be.  More evidently it is a mixture of social and human frailties and strengths in circumstances which they are trapped by.


Performances

For Chiron there are 3 actors each giving a very connecting depiction of their adopted character.  The innocence and uncomfortable, questioning, uncertain and with a ready smart intellect clearly challenged Alex Hibbert as Little is first to capture your interest and enquiry.  His co actors in principally, Mahershala Ali as Juan; Janelle Monáe as Teresa; Naomie Harris as Paula; all give him latitude.  As they react and relate they summon belief in these people and the grim unequal situation they are in.  It is pure unpoliticised but a sense of real America without the dragging in of hot notes of comparison.  It is all done through the characters themselves gathering in the audiences belief in them.  There is a humanity and faith underlying but again no Chaplain or holy moment to underpin an anxiety or piece of harteful racism.  All is done on its own terms.  The central ‘Chiron’ has another age of reason to play with, Ashton Sanders as Chiron does it again with his portray of the sexual emergence of the self put to the test and masculinity including bullying from a constant Terrel school classmate excentuate the hurt and confusion while Juan rfeatures less here but he and Teresa provide more help as things get worse.  


Barry Jenkins in interview points out – : I think in the story, one of the strongest moments is when Juan unpacks the word [faggot]. I think for a kid to see that scene whether they identify as LGBTQ or not is important. There’s this great quote about the film that says, “Juan unpacks the word but he doesn’t unpack Little with it.” I think that distinction is very important. I think because of the journey this character goes on in the film; you watch, and you see how this guy gets further away from who he is. I think when you see the power we have to affect people for ill; I would hope that kids would humanize and identify with that character.

In a further element on period which is 1987 in feel he returns to his own upbringing No work. [to the Liberty Project buildings] I don’t like to talk about time stamps; 1987 or 1989 or things like that. But that place feels to me, largely the same as it did when I grew up. It’s part of the permanence of whatever is the spiritual and cultural gumbo that’s in the air. To be honest, when I read the script that’s what it was. I thought, “This feels like my childhood, but it also feels like now.” It felt like a very contemporary story or how stories are rooted in our past. So we didn’t have to do a lot to augment Liberty City to make it feel like the place where we grew up. It literally is the place where we grew up, and it hasn’t changed a ton. People who have watched the film talk about the imagery, but I didn’t do much. The walls are painted that color, and they have been since I was a kid.  From http://www.chocolategirlinthecity.com/      An interesting blog for a great variety of reasons.


Colour

Finally the significance of colour.  In the original play which itself has provided audiences more insight its title says it all – In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Tarell Alvin McCraney: It’s difficult to narrow down why I wrote it in a way that feels generous to the process of it. It was really self-serving. There was no real representation of myself to see, and to purge ideas on and to look at for models of. I was trying to figure out my manhood, my childhood, and my personhood. I was the son of a crack-addict who had just died from AIDS-related complications, but at the same time, I was on the precipice of a life-changing moment.   The writers view.

I was struck by the visul imprint based solely on the title.  From the appearance of the Cornflour Blue of Juan’s Buick to rooms, to looking down on chairs outside the colour turns up with frequently as a subtle glow of the saturated good life taunts the screen characters.  The saturation on Niaomi Harris in her home is significant and redolent of type.  As for Oscar worth it’s not up there in my view despite her throwing herself into the acting and working with a ‘type’ scripted in her part lamely.  She took a bit of persuasion as she did not want to play a crack addicted woman and it shows the script let her own also.  The rest get a better deal.  So if inference and facial angst is enough for an Oscar it wouldn’t be the first time.  Talking of which this has coming of age similarities to Boyhood.  Equally enriched and out of type, mainly.


Conclusion ####4

Being on the surface a coming of age film it differentiates itself by putting up the conditions and everyday mostly drug dominated complexities of restricted life.  The restricted containment and lack of connective integration seen in Nee York and very large conurbations, where the sheer scale allows for little else other than integration of a more natural kind, is expressed here because perhaps paradoxically the people have the space.  America is so huge the enclaves happen as a easy out.  Not many look at it this way but Planning, Counties, States have grown up and been shaped this way by Political driven life.  This film has broken through the barriers and provides an astute though at times trope laden story which crosses boundaries in inhabiting the characters space and giving huge performances.  It has certain limitations but it is undoubtedly a very unique and great film for these times and predicates more and carefully created work ahead. There is also a very good musical score and sound tapestry. Very mature and spot on.

John Graham

18 February 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from 17 February to 02 March 2017.

Prevenge : A Film Review


Prevenge A Searingly Tragicomedy Slasher film set in London with a .vengeful Alice Lowe as Ruth in a prenatal state of fantasy.

Director. Alice Lowe. Screenplay by Alice Lowe. Cast.  Alice Lowe, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, Jo Hartley. Music by Toydrum, (Pablo Clements and James Griffith), Cinematography Ryan Eddleston, Edited by Matteo Bini. Alice Lowe as Ruth, Jo Hartley as the Midwife,Gemma Whelan as Len, Kate Dickie as Ella, Kayvan Novak as Tom, Tom Davis as DJ Dan, Dan Skinner as Mr Zabek, Mike Wozniak as Josh, Tom Meeten as Zac.  Duration 1hr 27mins.  Cert. 15!  Others call it an 18!


Pre-Emptive Strike. (The Baby’s)

Alice Lowe writes, stars in, directs her first film in a genre which is fantasy comedic drama.  It is a twist of threads unraveling in her pre-birthing state.  In her womb is a child who has began life with a set of instructions from within.  A fierce moving story, set in built up London, of the advanced maternity state is advanced with a role play of murderous apparent revenge.  Playing Ruth whose partner has met his death in strange circumstances which are revealed incrementally.  The actual circumstances of how Ruth picks out her victims is slow to emerge, at least for me, it took a while to click with me.  Alice Lowe follows her work with Ben Wheatley in Sightseer’s a similar if slightly more tasteful black comedy set in the Lake District doing tourism no favours, alongside Steve Oram.  Having made this film in an incredible shooting over 11 days and with a script it took 2 days to write it is a remarkably fluent film.  The everyday language is heard giving it added authenticity even if it is a bit laden thick on the dark side humour wise. All baby manuals and prenatal, antenatal parenting and calming influences are set aside.  Oddly Ruth is holed up in a hotel and is routinely outdoors in pursuit of answers of some sort while she deals with the stress of losing her partner.  A birth is something which comes at a very bad time and she is catapulted into a bizarre bout of acting on hallucinatory presented thoughts of her yet to be born child.  The yet to be born girl is slightly robotic in speaking to her, we hear her voice and loud instructions, reprimands two a penny, with adult inflections mixed into her high pitched emotionally totemic voice.  Ruth is receptive and is in fact complicit in thinking all out there is not as intended and revenge is necessary for her peace.


Body talk

In the story she has a guide who is a Nurse, Jo Hartley as the Midwife, with her own bamboozingly off track advice.  Bodies and parts of them feature in scenes of unflinching acts of violence.  Ruth’s weapon of choice is a ten inch kitchen knife which she carries in her handbag. Ambidextrous she flits from having it in her left hand (for self preservation I was on the lookout for tell-tale signs – there are none!) to slitting throats with her right – not a spoiler as this is a slasher movie of gruesome ironic pulsating visceral brutality.  Alice Lowe is emotionally capable of appearing as all things and in only one aside – where a massive slasher movie trope is enacted in homage to the death living thing, make up is needed.  Her expressions manipulate with cruel ease.  ‘Acting’ is also deployed in Ruth’s skill set as one vengeful attack – partially – loosely based on baby’s dislike of free and selfish men which are identied in Ruth as users. The actual motive takes time to complete the circle for me at least. Ruth acts very smooth as a possible employee in a Pet Shop, where we start basically – even before the intro titles – as we visit the wildlife – caged – is that a possible motive? – with up close shots of lizards, and exotica for which the minutiae of living is also enrolled to kill (no pun intended) any a serial killer might induce.  While we move between the Nurse come Midwife who’s slightly suspecting of the difficulty Ruth may have dealing with things she only barely senses, Ruth is involved in this Police free slasher quest and pops up for her medical visits which she lays flat is poked and prodded, told about choices she has to make and stresses out when Social Workers are mentioned setting off alarm bells of adoption.  Unnamed ‘Midwife’ in our eyes should fear for her life.  The city is viewed sun shining out the hospital clinic window and untamed Ruth goes onto the next victim.


Symbolism

For a film to work for me it needs a component of symbolism meaning it is made with some kind of message or idea.  Inherent in this film is motherhood and giving life.  It commands a space where the maternal body is focussed on the life inside.  Into the equation comes a trauma and one actually involving a partner who is part of the child.  Transference of trauma and tragic outlook come in the shape of the unborn.  Hallucinations happen even outside chilbirth and obedience is as strong as is the fear of not taking control.  Ruth signals all the outward symbols of control but is deranged.  A fantasy has taken over.  In terms of exposing the trials of paternity and the variety of circumstances some of which deny the child life through abortion are held.  The only person who is able to control what is now part of her body is the woman and host to the life yet to reach the separation of life as a solitary being.  Into a set of circumstances a child requires love, nourishment, support and growth determined from its external cradle.  In even sense the film takes us on a course we’re the appropriate things happen in a caring society.  Withdrawl of parenthood in recognition of an incapability to raise a child in the way it deserves and warrants is seen as destructive in normal society. It is a course of least acceptance yet all kinds of situations present in the everyday to formulate and evaluate ways of bringing up orphaned, institutionalised children which are very specific and strange.  Unquestionably they are life altering for the child at the heart.  Ruth is shedding her identity by behaving as a victim casting of responsibility and is not her real self.  The extent to which she is displaced is treated here in a comedic vein.  By writing this while undergoing pregnancy herself any topics are thrown out there for us to swallow.  The strength of Alice Lowe is fixed into the story and it how it deflects from her own experience is unknown but is never far from development and it would be good to know how much she was informed about parenthood during the making of the film and any untangibles or brutal realities presented.


Performances

The casting of the film is immaculate and after a few out of focus moments, shaky handcam early doors, is very polished and with some of the mpre graphic scenes the work is in your face as slasher movies tend to be.  After the first (1 down) I looked about in shock and seeking similar reactions and they varied from open jaw to laughter to nonchalance. In the first instance the creepiness of No. 1 is ratcheted up with innuendo and you don’t quite see where it’s going.  The delivery in close confined spaces is edited extemelly well and balanced with the facial speech led story and we ponder the wildlife along with it.  We see the Scots actress Kate Dickie at one stage.  In Tom Geens Couple in a Hole she was unnervingly rich in character and bleakness and here she is playing the Boardroom executive with a cut throat (pun intended) intractable corporate kitten loving business head.  It goes on the block metaphorically speaking in a brilliantly acted and light touch subtlety acting thoroughly gripping and tense conveying a great piece of action.  There are other artful enriched performances and it is a film which is not slow and no hanging about while it progresses and materially gets worse as it is intensely an unstoppable mission.


Conclusion.  ###3

Tread careful you innocent viewers as this is packaged as being a brilliant debut, and it is, from an actress Alice Lowe, whose versatility is on show. I can’t see the bump as a very good prosthetic – can you – did she have a baby?  We deserve to know.  So I’ll tell you she was in her third trimester, it’s a new born.  It is insightful in lots of ways and has sufficient story morality – thin but present – dispatched to have us put rationality in its cross hairs and ask could something like this happen?  Obliquely the characters have lots of positives and negatives.  Some have said Ruth is a character you have no sympathy for.  I neither sympathised nor harangued her in terms of morality as it is no more than a very advanced form of horror come slasher film and pretentious are slight if at all present.  I derived a little from it but it was in terms of directorial excellence – at times – fidgety and broken – its over the top script – the performance of some who didn’t deserve their come up pence and the unparalleled lack of pursuit for the attacker.  No sirens only the lead.  It concludes as a well rounded story with a finalality bordering on normal but it is lacking in truth.

John Graham

8 February 2016

Belfast
On at QFT Queens Film Theatre from 10 February 2017 until 16 February 2017

Loving : A Film Review


Loving

Directed by Jeff Nichols, (Mud, Take Shelter, Midnight Special) Produced by Ged Doherty, Colin Firth, Nancy Buirski, Sarah Green, Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf. Screenplay by Jeff Nichols, Based on The Loving Story by Nancy Buirski.  Cast.  JOEL EDGERTON -RICHARD LOVING, RUTH NEGGA – MILDRED LOVING, MARTON CSOKAS – SHERIFF BROOKS, NICK KROLL – BERNIE COHEN, TERRI ABNEY – GARNET JETER, ALANO MILLER – RAYMOND GREEN , JON BASS – PHIL HIRSCHKOP – MICHAEL SHANNON – GREY VILLET.  Music by David Wingo, Cinematography Adam Stone, Edited by Julie Monroe, Production companies – Big Beach, Raindog Films. Cert. 12. Duration 2hrs 3mins.


The blurb

The true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who were arrested in 1950s Virginia for the crime of getting married.  The year is 1958 and the Civil Rights Movement has barely begun. Richard, a white construction worker, decides to propose to Mildred, a black woman. What should be a happy beginning to their life together soon becomes an arduous legal and political battle against the state and society. Driven out of their hometown, Richard and Mildred Loving spend almost ten years fighting for the right to live as a family in the town they consider home. They push their case as far as the Supreme Court, resulting in the landmark annulment of the discriminatory Virginian law banning interracial marriage.

 

Story unfolds

Opening with the face of Ruth Negga, pensive and seeming forlorn the frame extends to include Joel Edgerton as they contemplate an event that will cement and form their relationship.  It is in this context of inter-racial harmony, togetherness and unity we are then shown the integrated social Virginia backdrop.  The backdrop of motor racing or as they have it, drag racing petrol heads and enthusiasts of different races, no pun intended, relax and compete and show their macho skills in basic road souped up cars.  Nothing too fancy.  In the late fifties when this is an automobile high customised era of ‘winged’ chariots with valances, fins, chrome, tailegate motors expressing freedom these racers are mere tools of competition and all the scrutineering follows the rules.  Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) is a bricklayer/blocklayer working mainly on new houses with a white crew.  It’s noticeable the workplace is segregated and I didn’t see any black workers on the sites where it is a good payer and is regular work.  Mildred Loving nee Jeter (Ruth Negga) is s field worker in a plantation of tobacco and is part of a young coloured community whose work is labourious and achingly demanding.  The mix and split of these Virginias is already an orchestrated unity.  They are joined but separated by class.  The hoe-down after the Drag racing shows them together as free spirits raised and enjoying themselves. The reality is the separation is constructed by the state racial fundementalists to manage and control them.  The sense of order is plain as no revolution is happening and only later when the marches of Martin Luther King emerge via. the TVs screen which is a new medium delivering its dose of engineered mostly white produced programmes, is there a consciousness of the underlying oppressed people.


Breaking the circle

By telling this true story with an impeccable faithfulness to the events and without overdramatising the conflicts Jeff Nichols knows what matters.  The couples relationship is dealt with as an everyday love between neighbours.  Richards family is a farmstead with a few barns and no father.  His father in the past worked with for a black man andtherefore Richard’s heightened awareness of difference has another dimension.  He knows the establishing of a means to make a living is so important and management of the returns, resources, is a separate thing entirely.  Unions and workers rights themselves in their infancy.  Richards home is a 5 step timber house. I call it a 5 step verandah house as it is the Southern style of open porch under a roof edge raised as a stoop common throughout the vastness of the country they live in.  There is room to breathe the night air.  Mildred’s house hasby contrast a 2 step verandaed home.  There’s is a slightly lower less long established home.  The settlers of white stock brought this form as a colonial imprint and the black people who they now lifted with took up the style of living. Jeff Nichols takes this environment as his main template going forward in the story.  The day to day is familiar and working to mutual advantage within the restraints and constrictions.  It would be acceptable for a white and black person to live together, sleep together providing they were not married and they would have to suffer the isolation having offspring would bring and perhaps be forced to move under those circumstances.

Humanitarian rights

In this story the most important thing is the groundbreaking change the Loving’s bring about.  It is told from the very first instance when they decide to get married out of state in Washington D.C. Colombia and in a matter of fact way it happens in a registry office with Mildred’s Dad as a witness.  They all have a journey to D.C. Which underlines the backwardness of where they came from.  In the recent elections the states around Washington D.C. were distinctly democrat hence the poor turn out for the inauguration.  The movement of reconciliation – first of ridding themselves of the colonialist English/British enslavers then the Abraham Lincoln abolition of slavery had its focus here.  The slavery remained in effect through the inequality and suppression of cultural freedom which the right to choose who they married underlined.  

So the first time the legal side of things arises is when they live openly as a married couple and the local police act on instructions to arrest them.  It results in a court case and with local representation they accept their fate and move out of state to avoid incarceration and separation.  Mildred is very much now the focus of the film as she raises a family with the help of relatives they have a home and we notice the children growing in a small enclosed space.  Some direct referencing by Neff Nichols to the urban nature of this existence is played out but now the singularity of their case comes to the notice of the American Civil Liberties organisation and in steps another principal performer. Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) who is a rookie human rights lawyer full of optimistic favour but little common sense.  There then is the highlight of the movie for me a meeting in which he sequesters an office of a Law firm and manages to take on the gravitas and bearing to welcome Richard and Mildred to the concept of challenging through the courts the injustice they met in their home state of Virginia.  His niavity is very funny if it were not so devoid of reality.  Nevertheless as things move on they find a way to advance the case.  Into the package comes a Human Rights Lawyer who knows which buttons of legislature to press and the sequence is followed through.  Quite interestingly and it’s an obvious choice made, little ‘Courtroom Drama’ by way of the tension filled portrayal of landmark cases some directors ratchet up, we are treated to a matterfact brief hearing of the issues in succinct facts which is a very, very important factor in this films mastery of a difficult a prolonged process. It is a very wise move not to Labour on the machinations but put the case up front and central.  Cohen. And his cohort spelling it out. Judgements follow.


Pace and time

 The film is slow and changes in the story are therefore anticipated given the known history if not the longevity of the whole sorry apartheid.  Racial conflicts and violence are eschewed and it is a story well told due to the simplicity of the families confined to the story.  The movements between them for certain events and the passing of time is only loosely appreciated by the children.  An awful lot of the time Richard is tinkering at cars and is on the sidelines but fully behind the  battle Ruth takes a great deal of interest in and is the titans holding on to the political and gigantic nature of it.  Possibly it might be true to say the film sags in the middle and is in need of an uplift which comes in the form of the case taking on its seniority.  The state of Virginia need be challenged in the Supreme Court where about one in 400 cases assigned to it are every taken up at this level. As interracial marrying was against the law – a matter of “miscegenation”, that notably science based attribution, has them after the harassment and being locked up, guided through Mildred’s having initially written to Bobby Kennedy,  the ACLU is able to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court and change America’s ugly Jim Crow race laws of the 50s and 60s.


Conclusion ####4

I found this film worked by following in the middle of the story the emotional switches and triggers Mildred Loving nee Jeter (Ruth Negga) produces from the very first frame.  She is intelligent, graceful, dignified and assured of her worth.  Richard is also sure of his love and is unable to express it the same way which shows when he is a backcourt no comment reply outside a courthouse to the TV whereas Mildred is despite the signs to the contrary – hopeful. Jon Bass as Phil Hirschcop is splendidly youthful and fits the pieces of the jigsaw together in terms of the Law.  Both he and Nick Kroll as Bernie Cohen derserve a second mention as they are a unit playing off each other’s belief in the strength of the Law and the ability of the Supreme Court to hear and accept their arguments which in effect they do and it is no small achievement.  Micheal Shannon who appears in several character roles in Jeff Nichols films is cast as the Life photographer reporter who visits the Lovings and creates a US media phenomenon of them as a normal couple in a normal state of marriage growing up raising children.  They are hard working and it’s is as he shows it.  Despite the dip in the middle this is a carefully crafted and very watchable film and has important nuances and insights which are seldom given space.  I thoroughly recommend a viewing.

John Graham

2 February 2016

Belfast
 Screening at QFT from Fri 3 Feb – Thurs 16 Feb

.

Jackie : A Film Review


Directed by Pablo Larraín. Produced by Juan de Dios Larraín, Darren Aronofsky, Mickey Liddell, Scott Franklin, Ari Handel. Written by Noah Oppenheim. Cast. Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt. Music by Mica Levi, Cinematography Stéphane Fontaine, Edited by Sebastián Sepúlveda, Production companies, LD Entertainment, Wild Bunch, Fabula, Why Not Productions, Bliss Media, Endemol Shine Studios, Protozoa. Duration. 1hr 35mins. Cert. 15.


A moment changes the World

You are in for an engrossing watch through the dramatic performances and palpable tensions over an event which will last long in the memory of the Political and Social history of America. The 1963 assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  He was artly responsible for setting the foundation stones of modern America which were laid by a unity of purpose naively set up on the false hopes of the ‘All American dream‘ and even proposing – in a space race with the then USSR – landing a man on the moon. Most of America was fed through the very new media of TV and infinity of lifestyle magazines from Life to Playboy.  GQ would come later and in the Trump towers supermo’s office he has framed covers of Playboy and GQ featuring DT and with this film opening in the U.K. on Friday 20 January on the inauguration of the New President of the United States it is Donald Trumps turn to shape the USA dream or sign its death nail.

The blurb on the film is After her husband’s assassination, Jackie Kennedy’s (Natalie Portman) world is completely shattered. Traumatized and reeling with grief, over the course of the next week she must confront the unimaginable: consoling their two young children, vacating the home she painstakingly restored, and planning her husband’s funeral.  Jackie quickly realizes that the next seven days will determine how history will define her husband’s legacy – and how she herself will be remembered. Chilean director Pablo Larraín (Tony Manero, No) plunges us into the devastation using a series of finely crafted flashbacks that cover the fateful day in Dallas, Jackie’s return to the White House, arrangements for the President’s funeral, and her time spent accompanying her husband’s coffin to Arlington Cemetery.  

The role came to Portman through Darren Aronofsky, who directed her in Black Swan, for which she won an Oscar in 2011. He shepherded Noah Oppenheim’s script of Jackie for a number of years. Meanwhile, Larrain’s star was rising beyond Chile, in films largely about his home country’s history (No, The Club, Neruda). The Club won a prize at the Berlinale in 2015.  Sydney Morning Herald.


Performances to celebrate

It is a very tightly crafted film, very much keeping its focus on the psyche of Jackie Kennedy in a short period and time of immense change.  With all seeming to be heading sweetly for JFK heading into a second term, this was a joyous time and full of hope but is cruelly shattered in seconds.  The script is chillingly absent of sentiment, ideology, lecture or incidental fill.  It has a welcome electrifying directness giving insight to the persons at the heart of the event.  The conversations and efficiency of words infiltrate the mood swings and juxtapositions, allowing fractious clashes to ignite believably while personalities vie to capture their own space in the story.  The likes of the senior clerical Priest, Father Richard McSorley, played with assurity and gravitas by John Hurt, who is asked by Jackie to conduct the Funeral, is a fatherly figure with a breadth of intuative and needed kind wisdom, which he delivers in a long conversation with Jackie as they survey the landscape prior to the Funeral. The suggestion Jackie has a conversation with Father McSorley is not simply him seeking her approval of the arrangements but to have her unburden the thoughts he is aware she will not release. That in itself is a vivid illumination of the key central characters and the complexity of this world shattering event. Richard E.Grant is also wholly convincing as the ‘Master of Ceremonies’ in the White House, William Walton, anticipating and conflicted by the choices of Jackie in the now decorous White House she has recently restored and transformed into a ‘peoples’ house yet extravagance is not exiled.  The chairs once used by the Lincolns are retrieved from the English aristocrat family who obtained them. Peter Sarsgaard is tremendous as Bobby Kennedy.  He has the unfortunate job of burying a brother and looking after a widow both in grief. He is fragile and has black secrets. Bobby acted a lot of the time to keep the private side of his brother hidden while he also plays someone who deals with a wife who was aware of her husbands infidelity and mixing with the wrong folk.

Jackie asks

Jacqueline (Lee Bouvier Kennedy), (“Jackie”) 1929–94, wife of John F. Kennedy (1953–63) and Aristotle Onassis (1968–75).

What happened? Who done it? the questions on the free worlds mind in 1963 when JFK, Jack Kennedy is assassinated.  It is not often mentioned but the Cold War was in people’s minds so the USSR would not only have eyes on it, they could – though we’re never cited – as possible assassins.  The immediate aftermath is the focus of this story as seen through the eyes of the highly traumatised and troubled Jackie Lee Bouvier, the widow with two small children, Caroline and John.  The world is watching and she is in a state of Post traumatic shock with few medics to help and just the White House entourage to relate to.  No one is close to her except Bobby Kennedy and her aide de camp, the lady in waiting type, Greta Gerwig whose guidance is both practical and humane.  She for instance tells Jackie how to tell the children, in the whirlwind of thought she offers clarity. It is a stellar performance on  Greta Gerwig’s part too.  Towering as she does, over the small grieving woman Jackie/Natalie whose only friend is her. Others to note if only for their presence excepting JFK are  Caspar Phillipson as John F. Kennedy himself, John Carroll Lynch as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Julie Judd as Ethel Kennedy, Brody and Aiden Weinberg as John F. Kennedy Jr., Mathilde Ripley as Jean Kennedy Smith all lurking in the wallpaper of the White House.  When HBO first conceived of the idea along with Darren Aronofsky, around 2010, it was envisaged it would be a four part mini-series, then word got about and grander plans were put together.  While it ‘rested’ at times it eventually gathered the full engagement of LD Entertainment and Wild Bunch with Darren Aronofsky at the helm if not the Directors chair.


The White House

The CBS TV black and White tour fixes us back in the day through contemporary and modern interplay of the actual footage and inserts for the actors which is in grainy b/w and the sound is raw.  Even watching black and white TVs dotted around and particularly one in a g-plan cabinet contrasting with the French decorous style of Jackie contrast and realise the era.  In the Presidens office there are many old maritime portraits of ships with masts contrasting with the decorated heros marine past. Alongside these the massive portrait of Bison and Bison (so singular an animal it retains the name unaltered on plural!) on stampede.  The Oval Office is late in receiving its bold red circular carpet.  The whole replication of the White House interiors was carroed out on the Paris studios. The sound is delicately adjusted from the b/w footage back to a smooth dialogue, say of Billy Crudup and the footage is also integrated extremely well with it having apparently been shot on 35mm film.  I had an issue with the choice of music and while it was not maudlin it was at times irritatingly harsh and unnecessarily present.

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The American Route map to success.

The opening of the film begins on the Presidential plane with the entourage, the full works, preparing to land in Texas to go on that fateful journey into Dallas.  It is visceral expectation of her home state reunion and celebration of JFK having gotten to the White House and this stellar couple being examples of the American dream realised in a form of success matched by smartness and anticipation of a better future.  TV is the elephant in the room.  The intervention and prime inventor of those dreams.  The elephant in the room being the thought – you think you had and you sitting on the back as it’s pilot as it takes you where you think you intended to go – except the elephant is doing all the driving.  As with La La Land all is colour and CinemaScope.  The TV though is still black and white.  The arc of the film is the Life series of interviews and in this immediate period, with use of flashback and CBS footage of a White House tour – a key widening view of the hidden inner workings of the White House – the Life Magazine interview which is carried out by in Massachusetts after the event; only a week actually, with – ‘The journalist’ Billy Crudup  – as end credits have it.  It is of course the Theodore White interview which Jackie Kennedy sought and demanded total control over as she did with the State Funeral which went global in its TV and cinema showing of its extraordinary homage to a leader.


Life (other magazines Time, GQ are available)

Theodore White turns up at her remote lakeside home in Massachusetts at Hygennis Port in a timber colonial style high ceilinged mansion.  The brusque cautious greeting of Jackie is a trigger of thought and disclosure setting the tone and delivering a new way of journalistic intrusion.  Albeit a forthright discussion and serious interview, it is through the personality of Theodore White – whose loose collar and tie belie his penetrative technique – which loosens Jackie tongue and the core innermost telling emotions inside Jackies mind pour out easily.  His technique is simply using a notepad and pen, and his manner is stoic, serious and non judgemental, being notionally slightly deferential although he does not allow Jackie to get away from his inquisitive delving by upsetting her.  He is instead the astute and independent author of her words. Being agreeable is a ploy he will have used many times as a seasoned journalist knowing the thirst for this story and it’s massive trajectory in print. It will be her story, he tells her, as she ruminates over this slackening of the pressures post funeral  and of the historical marker she laid down.  “What I think of history?  Does that make it true?”  Her own struggling with the facts and perceptions. The truth of the assassination is always under the surface. For Natalie Portman  she had the stories to go to as the part was researched by reading the interviews, Her primary source was the seven-part eight-and-a-half-hour Life magazine interview conducted in the early part of 1964 by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. with Kennedy. One of three interviews she gave following her husband’s assassination, it was kept private throughout her life – so wiki tells me!

More insights to the way it evolved as a film are interestingly revealed on wiki and this is in a four year period which began with Racheal Weisz in the ‘titular’ part it goes on to – May 2015, Portman was confirmed to star in the film.  That same month, Chilean Director Pablo Larraín was hired having been approached by Darren Aronofsky to direct the film with Aronofsky subsequently working as a piloting producer.

    

Conspiracies aside.

The fact is this film does not dwell on the conspiracy theories or the killer(s) Ruby killing, the alleged assassin Oswald and it is intensely about the choices made in the immediate aftermath.  Natalie Portman is extraordinarily convincing in portraying a vulnerable fragile diminutive wife whose world is shattered and all known compasses are lost.  Portman was working on another film – Planetarium, with Lily-Rose Depp – during pre-production of Jackie in Paris. She prepares in depth for any role, but this one did not allow much time. She read everything she could find and studied footage of Jackie, especially her distinctive voice: silky, patrician and breathy, with touches of Long Island, where Portman spent part of her own childhood. That voice is a huge part of the performance.  Sydney Morning Herald. The strength Natalie Portman portrays, definitely Oscar worthy, is as if she is pulling her up, Jackie up and out of this extraordinary maelstrom event and is breathtaking through its simplicity and nuanced magnificently with subtlety and vocally with gesture, inflection and cadence.  From her adjusting her attire, make up, hair, and walking routine, for the outside world to her rehearsal and rehearsal of the tasks ahead with her lady in waiting, it becomes a legendary performance in itself.

 

Legacy for who?

The Life magazine and TV background of the aftermath is the question Jackie places centrally, concerning the public spectacle and projection of the legacy of her husband. The legacy is prime. She does all she can to make the cavalcade match the Lincoln funereal despite their legacies being poles apart.  With the help of Bobby Kennedy and Nancy Tuckerman, the lady in waiting, in a whirl wind she commands strength and the understandable flaky persona we have insight to, mainly due to the PTSD (as is our probable likely post-overview) which conceals an inner trauma with a sense of self she is continually framing the world view of both herself and Jack John Kennedy.  She and the Life magazine interviews which she retrieves partially – it is the widows prerogative exercised – as she is prepared to deny the journalists writing of it if need be.  This is clear to Theodore White in the journalists role and one he is prepared for.  It is too revealing so soon after the assassination she takes steps to reframe things.  In any event or so it is believed the truth may be revealed in time, however it never has been.


Conclusion ####4

In terms of reality, Jackie herself proclaims it very well, as she knows having been a Presidents wife, Public perception is often far from the truth, the managed truth.  She is at ease declaring the story is servant to the legacy.  The truth is another matter entirely.  The interview which works extremely well as the central plank of the film, is as though the legacy is assured as the fulfilment of what she wished for in terms of the funeral statelike removal of JFK was in itself testimony to the woman’s will and strength. This interview is a tail piece of extraordinary insight and it’s legacy is also hers.  Nancy Tuckerman, the splendidly relaxed and grounded Greta Gerwig is seen remaining and apart, left alone at the White House when Jackie leaves.  Don’t let it be forgot.  The words of Camelot. The invincibibility of the Camelot musical beloved of JFK who played the song, Victrola, as a refreshment after a hard day’s grind, is recalled by Jackie but she’s conscious there will be new presidents but there will never be another Camelot. On the page and of it darkness has its many shades.  The day today is just the first. A remarkable and very touching biographical memoir in a historically vexing film. While many will not be interested in the historical perspective it is a very touching story of how grief of any kind sends new priorities and shapes things so differently going forward.  It as a film asks more questions and is very contrasting for the current inauguration of a world leader going ahead right now.

       
John Graham

19 January 2017

Belfast
On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from 20 January through to 2 February 2017.  And on wide General release.

What’s not on General release is the ‘road movie’ a political thriller of 104mins. 2016. by Pablo Larrain

Neruda


It’s 1948 and the Cold War has reached Chile. In congress, Senator Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) accuses the government of betraying the Communist Party and is swiftly impeached by President Gonzalez Videla (Alfredo Castro). Police Prefect Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal) is assigned to arrest the poet. Neruda tries to flee the country with his wife, the painter Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán), but they are forced into hiding. Inspired by the dramatic events of his new life as a fugitive, Neruda writes his epic collection of poems, Canto General. Meanwhile, in Europe, the legend of the poet hounded by the policeman grows, and artists led by Pablo Picasso clamor for Neruda’s freedom. Neruda, however, sees this struggle with his nemesis Peluchonneau as an opportunity to reinvent himself. In this story of a persecuted poet and his implacable adversary, Neruda recognizes his own heroic possibilities: a chance to become both a symbol for liberty and a literary legend.

From the fibula.cl website where you can also see trailers of other films by Pablo Larrain like Fugue.
La Casa Films logo is so good I have to show it! 

The range of Cinema in Chile is astoundingly captivating.

La La Land : A Film Review

 

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Directed by Damien Chazelle, produced by Fred Berger, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt. Written by Damien Chazelle
Cast.  Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, Emma Stone as Mia, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Music by Justin Hurwitz, Cinematography. Linus Sandgren. Released. August 31, 2016 (Venice Film Festival) December 9, 2016 (United States) January 13, 2017 (United Kingdom)
Duration. 2hr 8mins. Country United States. Cert. 12a.

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Entertainment ball

In terms of public awareness and prominence in entertainment news La La Land has outshone practically every advance notice in media platforms excepting Star Wars levels.  From Emma Stone whose first public encounter in association with the movie was about six months ago at Venice, August, and the exposure has been excalating ever since, it has been a long at times, probably tiresome journey.  New work needs a great deal of similar commitment at the inception through realisation and I wonder how La La Land has affected her work.  It is the same for Ryan Gosling no doubt with roles for both of them very drastically different from this coupling ever advancing.

Let me entertain you

They nail the chemistry in this film which is in my mind one of the primary reasons it has succeeded. Mia is a barista working in a movie studio and Sebastian as a jazz painist playing in a bar with Whiplash tutor J.K. Simmons cast as owner.  They rendezvous at the bar and the friction of first love is tested as Mia …. well you figure as most reviewers have given away lots of the story and piecemeal you get to hear of the whole story anecdotally and spoilt. The love story obviously survives an early clash otherwise where’s the Movie!

The next piece of the jigsaw is location Los Angeles dream making ‘central’ and the heart of entertainment Hollywood so we are led to believe.  The world is much bigger but for ever Hollywood is the place to ‘Make It’ – a true tale of a musician struggling up the ranks who has written some of the most smaltzy and crooning type pop music fodder the Musical genre cries out for is that of Gary Barlow except he did it from North Wales to Runcorn clubs and TV induced encouragement until he produced the magic cassette tape for a man (he didn’t know) was putting together a boy band and on it was A million love songs.  When the guy heard (Nigel Martin Smith) it he was astounded.  It was entirely his own work – singing, playing, arrangements and production. But there was no Hollywood or Nashville only the GB circuit.  So the story of musical success for Gary Barlow has wealth and a great story behind it but no Hollywood traction. La La Land is a film about the ‘Make It’ struggle but without the content.  I’m beginning to warm to Take That as a guilty secret along the lines of Wham and Careless Whisper.  The look of LA is very intoxicatingly throughout this film but other films produce this high intensity colour like Cy Twombly covered cityscapes.  The dancing is very cleverly designed and camerawork follows using the most uptodate technology and some post production tweaks but the one tracking shot which I favour as a time conscious mechanism is used as a bit of a contrivance and involves the performers – bashed in car roofs show the rehearsals were trying – is monumental and eclipses the principles in the scene they ‘meet’ and it’s a hammy connection with back of car camera work following intricately played dance work and flops abysmally with ‘gestural’ negative vibes.  So not uplifting?

La La Land Review

Lachrymose.

In La La Land there are no such songs.  Not even close. The music is what musicals are supposed to be about but here it is devoid of a kicker song and one you will be singing on the way home.  Andrew Lloyd Webber is one of a kind whose skills in producing theatres West End Musical hits – to be seen in the flesh so to speak at the auditorium – invests a whole aura of entertainment enthralment into a viewer/listeners experience.  Theatre therefore is the Musical driver and it is nothing without a key song which delivers a story.  Film is let off the hook is what I’m saying.  Its visually sumptuous and reminiscent of previous screen giants which have gone from Casablanca and Mary Poppins to Les Miserable and countless more West Side Story, Saturday Night Fever etc. Which define light entertainments Musical genre.  The crossovers are there.  Evita with a song.  Every one has a song a hook, but La La Land does not therefore it is something else which is its secret.

The traits exposed her are a song and dance girl and a under rated pianist.  Bring on Marilyn straight away.  She’s even a red head.  Then there is child star risen and light hearted, no Jack Lemmon or Tony Curtis  adding spice sex appeal (gender bending in Some like it Hot) story and the band add song and key bonding moments.  ‘Make It’ again the point.  Ryan Gosling does a weaker version of any of the forerunners as most of them were all round Entertainers bending their skills into believable actor roles alongside the Musical centrality of a story with songs and kicker ones at that.

 

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The films orb

Luscious mush is not what Musical Entertainment is really about but it does put bums on seats undoubtedly has it tweeks the right buttons in a contemporary way.  Sub Woody Allen cinema techniques are deployed, with initially the screen ratio itself a harbour expanded.  The opening sequence so much talked about is an opening number.  A Scorsese or Polanski close up of a girl reading a script and wap bo bam babbaloba a dance sequence – instead of a street a highway – instead of tables and chairs – cars.

Björk in Dancing in the Dark (2000) and the train dance sequence is a million times better as was the film and all modern imitations are limp like this tends to be.  So is that a put down?  Depends.  I venture the film is not the film we are sold,  its hype has part of the ‘Make It’ into an icon feel to it.  Join up to the tale or be square.  The film and films are meant to be bigger than that and reviewers often times find themselves screwballing all types of references into ‘a film’ in order to find a hook or difference mediating it in the central plank of screen presentation.  I opt to extrapolate and go for a world view which has got me in all kinds of twists if not thought through entirely.   Opening lines and arguments come from initial sight, not as the previous projected ideas of the film whatever it is. The likelihood is however, a film cannot be trusted on first viewing to be what is up there on the screen.  Have I lost you! In all likelihood therefore I move swiftly on.

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Point me in the direction of

It is the junior life span of director that enables him to disassociate his film arc from the history of musicals.  It gives him however the leverage.  The CinemaScope outreach is breathable luscious escapist heartfelt visually skilfully paced high, low drama with the emphasis on low.  How many people thought of the roster of film stars and entertainers lost in the past year in so large a profile.  The shattering news of such film stars as Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher along with such providers of our own musical tapestry, escapist if you like, Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and George Michael it is in film we see the narrative of stardom reflected.  The can of film is in essence the sideways turn which actually is the central heme.  The position of fame and success and our appreciation of its value altered and enriched, adjusted on each film we see.  The rush of people having witnessed or in the screenings already out there and captured in the USA were at a time of a ‘unbiblical’shiftbin the conscious of all its citizens when aprobrium and vile extremist views were and are salivating the mouths of political entities whose ridicule knows no bounds, is the defining chapter of our present times.

Clear the swamp with metaphor

We are goin to clear the swamp comes the call.  This particular one (film implies?) is not one so deep it causes you to leap on car bonnets or roof’s but splash about in the rain as Gene Kelly did.  The swamp of this movie they have ‘risen’ from even temporarily, is in all views and directions not deep.  Like Gene Kelly it is a mere splash they find themselves in or is it the Directors suggestion we are in a deeper mess than we are told or believe. In Gene Kelly’s famous scene we are given to believe times ahead and even now are not so bad and moral is joyful and the moral fibre, heartfelt thanks to be alive are intact.  My view tends to the very pessimistic and Climate change (sans RHI boilers – a local NI joke literally) an these actors may well need the refugee of car bonnets for what’s coming ironically given the number of cars, down the line.

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Escapism is very conducive to projection as well as rejection.  From epic films of catastrophe and end of scenarios to stories of galactic conflict they all have their meaning.  How this one fares is anybody’s guess but it for me is simply a trailer for something more enriching and informative in this genre if it’s out there?

Conclusion ###3

As gripping as a sponge and wet as a puddle.  Give me Car wash any day.  Love the music – the jazz but not the ‘songs’!  It is a fun film and a little crazy but it is ultimately slight in terms of musical films.  Performances are spot on particularly Emma Stones Mia the red head.  No cliches then. It is not remotely the reinvention people have called it of the musical not even a hybrid. It does entertain and looks great but why should it not.  The choreography is camera led.  The shots of the dance on cars is sweeping but Busby Berkeley with fewer resources gave us politics and drama in for example The Gold Diggers of ’33.  Move it. See it but see it for what it is and enjoy it for what it is also. I hope you enjoy the experience at some level.

John Graham

16 January 2017

Belfast

Give me Car Wash anytime

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On at Queens Film Theatre until  1 February 2017 with *NOT SCREENING MON 30 JAN and on General release.

 

Silence : A Film Review


Silence

Director. Martin Scorsese. Cast. Andrew Garfield (Fr. Sebastião Rodrigues), Liam Neeson (Father Cristóvão Ferreira), Adam Driver (Fr. Francisco Garrpe), Yōsuke Kubozuka (Kichijiro), Issey Ogata (Inquisitor Inoue), Tadanobu Asano (Interpreter), Nana Komatsu (Christian Villager #1), Shinya Tsukamoto (Mokichi). Language English. US/Taiwan/Mexico. Drama. Cert. 15. Duration 2hr 41mins.

Bicameral doubt

Silence refers to the God unheard.  If your listening, the bat kol that boundary of the divine voice is silent.  Over time everlasting God has been silent and in the words of Jesus he alone speaks of the Lords guidance of supreme glory and seeks our passage into the kingdom of God. That is of course a personal view and one about pursuit of truth.

“The nature of secularism is fascinating to me, but do you wipe away what could be more enriching in your life, which is an appreciation or some sort of search for that which is spiritual and transcends? Silence is just something that I’m drawn to in that way. It’s been an obsession, it has to be done… It’s a strong, wonderful true story, a thriller in a way, but it deals with those questions.” – Martin Scorsese


Silent story

Set in the 17th Century, the film follows two Jesuit priests who face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to find their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) and propagate Christianity. The priests, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver), arrive in a country that, under the Tokugawa shogunate, has banned Catholicism and forbidden almost all foreign contact. There they witness the persecution of Japanese Christians at the hands of a government that wishes to purge Japan of all western influence. Thousands have already been executed and they eventually convince the Jesuit leader Cairan Hinds, to allow them to travel from Europe to Japan, in the prologue as we are introduced to the subject of finding out the actual whereabouts and circumstances of Liam Neesons fate.

Young missionaires

It is through Andrew Garfields as Rodriguez a Portuguese Jesuit Priest who along with Garrpe played by a gaunt and frail looking Adam Driver, the main bulk of the post history of Christianity’s penetration of Japan is told.  By enlisting the very dubious help of a guide played by Yōsuke Kubozuka (Kichijiro), who features throughout and is hugely integral as a link between the races, they enter Japan in the remotest island paradise, ironically verdant, beautiful and incongruously capable of sustaining a civilisation without hindered even of any kind.  By Gods design.  They instead reach a place where the remaining Christian Inhabitants are isolated unable to trade or move and are in a despairingly wretched place barely able to eke out an existence.  There are parallel and also isolated village communities which also do not communicate between each other as their memories and fears are ofspies and the inquisitor of severe repercussions that may manifest.


The ‘return’ of missionaries in the form of the brash, over confident, singularly fixed and uncompromising Rodriguez who is the opposite of the questioning, more grounded, philosophical and extentialist Garrpe, gives the Japanese Christians Renewed hope as Kichijiro introduces them to a group of villagers literally on landing.  They are welcomed into this fragile barely existing remote territory and the Christian faith is uplifted by their very presence and re-ritualising of the faith.  Even confession – that extremely dubious form of thetorical sin and absolution (meaning it is not in the gift of anyone to forgive as only ‘God’ can be asked to forgive) – is performed.  Ritualisation and order is established in – and this is fundamental to this religiousity – belief if only in formalised ‘uncertainty’ – and reproach is wasted within the confines of Jesuit minds and Catholicism.  That symbolises why the whole embarkation in mission in any age is subjected to ridicule, resentment, manipulation and scorn.  The symbolic universality is fixed not flexible in the human hands and ungodlike.  Image and theatre which Martin Scorsese is well practiced in is about – as religion is – about storytelling – not about the sciences of universality and human values inherently the same and equal – is employed as a narrative slightly old school as voice over and flashback but impeccably conveyed.

The elucidation in gesture and mannerisms and enunciation of the Japanese and American, Irish Actors is brilliantly delivered. Seldom in modern cinema have I been alerted to the importance of the delivery of language and line as a primary and essential aspect of dramatic filmmaking (Macbeth was the last time when I was conscious of making the required mental shift to adapt to the Scots accents and cadences within the Shakespearian rhythms of speaking as storytelling which worked for me but not as I said in that review for American friends) and as a consequence it makes this story very penetrable at all the levels it sets out to achieve.


Test of Faith

The assurance and confidence of Rodriguez is gradually changed and his character comes across doubt internally building and shaking beliefs at their fundamental level as they do in all that acknowledge it as humans.  In the desperation of one young Priest asking God for the truth of the suffering in Japan,  we realise the contemporary, familiar desperation known to the faithful and the secular, the atheist, we have no divine right to this life we embrace and share.  Less do we know it’s purpose and recoil in the conflict of good and evil in the presence of a creator in silence.  Silences are the root and branch of religious devotion and it is to the interior self the analysis brings determination and externally that alteration exists when the ‘real’ world is continuing on its vile course of inhuman acts, unable to listen to the guidance for all.  In one moment it is apparent ‘God’ speaks to Rodriguez.  In a moment when his faith is tested at the very threshold of his advocacy, in which denial becomes a very real necessity or choice, he is given the advice that forgiveness shall be forthcoming no matter what choice he makes.  It is an Abrahamic moment of judgement.  Allow the Son to die to live.

Directorial brilliance

Martin Scorsese has crafted a very profound and commanding film speaking ironically of the place of Faith religions in Japan and responding to the questions asked by placing different polarities of a point of view on religion.  He does it mainly through the cost of Priests and Christian followers of the infiltration to Japan in early 1600 of missionaries when confronted by National identity.  It is when they are called on to reject their faith publicallyband humiliatingly they begin to focus on the Silence.  First of these to face the call to reject their religion and faith is Father Ferreira played by Liam Neeson.  How come though it takes a no fee director and a cast on a pittance in Hollywood terms and maybe several other chips cashed in production, technical etc, wise, to make a film of this magnitude.  It is not a crowd pleaser nor is it pandering to convention in telling – in a year 75 years after the Japanese sinking of several submarines and vessels off Japan causing the loss of thousands of American Servicemen and women? – this narrative which has many many aspects which in any forward thinking civilised community can open up several strands of debate on our relationships in and through religions and with difference and how it is apparent that all choices are of a sacrificial kind. A loss to gain Not a gain to gain and then ultimately loose again.

 

Tadanobu Asano (Interpreter),


The power

The Japanese inquisitor Inouye, brilliantly, fulsomely, played by Issei Ogata, is almost a Devil incarnate playing with the emotions of Rodriguez when eventually they meet.  In several scenes, Inouye tells him that Christianity may be right for Europe, but it is wrong for Japan. Inouye is a supreme leader whose actions he characterised as symbols of his state.  His state and control therefore has no need of religion, it has its own as Liam Neeson explains, him having taken the Priest road less travelled and points to the Sun as their Son of God meaning all is in nature to employ gratitude and self identity which invokes astrology and cosmology as brothers in the science of discovery.  Inouye is mercurial and believable, a portray creating a real sense of Nationhood and most of these Japanese actors male and female deploy a level of gravitas and characterisation which Scorsese it seems has enabled them to ‘act’ to be unafraid of employing traits and characterisation to inhabit the part and screen.  It is absent in a significant part in my view.  Of that later.  By behaving as a evuncular wise old man with only his nation in mind and feigning sympathy – knowing the universality of religion God or no God undermines regime rule totally.


I think of the new polemic in Poland where feminism is challenged by a virtually statecrun monopoly on religion by Catholic based faith religious, forcing women who wish to have an abortion to underground risks and 10,000 women a year seeking abortions outside Poland.  There are now Welfare groups unattached to the issue of abortion being set up to recalibrate woman’s identity through yoga, fitness and general conversation and in relaxing environments.

It is the investment in common factors of emotion Inouye confronts Rodriguez with what he tells him is arrogance and puts forward the suffering he is responsible for in his presence and continual ministry to the faithful.  As every religion it is met with its own downfall through separation.  It is also the perpetrator of division in areas it succeeeds in bringing nations forward with it.  Be it imperialist Great Britain and the Church of England, The Demagogues of Jewish religions in Israel leaving behind the Judaism of their faith, the Catholicism spread as universality while being the foremost hierarchical assembly of Faith preserves on the panet.  China and large parts of Africa have no ‘established’ church and few places in Western civilisation have no presence of other than ‘established’ church which all secondary non-established non credal and non sectarian religions are supplanted minor followers in the body faith inherent in human kind.

 Yōsuke Kubozuka (Kichijiro)

Historical base

For this cinematic portrait to succeed as story and story it is, it has been based on the 1966 novel by the Japanese author Shusaku Endo, preceding it and priding that is a level of construction fictionalised through small written texts remaining of the whole failed attempt at Christianising Japan.

Throughout I had a concern regarding the playing of Rodriguez and Andrew Garfield for me lacked credibility in his emotional regard and over involved in lingering looks and stopping his facial expressions as footprints of emotion – frozen faces I call them – not acting is not acting it’s real? –  instead of the dexterous and malleable and at times throughly surprising for me who was not a great AD fan,  sings and laments as every inflection and word craft is used in its strength ultimately due to the well crafted script into reaching out to the audience to be illuminated in the intensity of meaning.  It was thoroughly old school in performance terms and in itself the Japanese and our own duo of Cairan Hinds and Liam Neeson invoked acting as a craft and art form that is very thin on the ground in a lot of modern films.  Meryl Streep has stood up at the Globe Award ceremony having a set delays stab at Donald Trump while her curios Albert Nobbs or Florence Foster are not in my view ‘acting supremacy’ – the kind of performances we see too often and the yet Meryl Streep gives in to the trope of being a character actor in the way Glenda Jackson never could nor does/did.

Conclusion ****4

It will be sometime before it is realised how important this film is in the Martin Scorsese filmmaking library.  Before have come works of dramatic historical and societal challenge.  Each constructing a view of the world based on real events and characterisations of the stories they inhabit.  This is no different.  The Last Temptation of Christ took on a historical figure and the most significant of all and he layered his own telling of the quest within the Bible to his own imagined extrapolation.  It formed a huge divide in opinion as it was partially construed as sacreligious and wild imaginary diversions not appropriate to understanding.  Given the Protestant claim at the time of Erasmus and the reformation as belonging to the Mother of Jesus born of a young woman as the Bible actually states, not the Virgin Mary extolled by the Catholic Church, the pRotestant faith claimed itself to be more Catholic and since the division erupts from time to time.  On the origin of Jesus religions bent and twist. Aristotle included.  The ultimate repost is – What is important?  The baby Jesus being the child of God or Mary as the Mother of Jesus.  Provide your own analysis but it is plain what faith resides in.

The film captures so many levels of understanding it would serve many to examine the questions which Martin Scorsese provides elements which concern mankind and the search for truth and peace among mankind.  So it not only looks superb and atmospheric depicting a very beutiful, intensely civil, complex and challenged Nation, – except the filming takes place in America/Taiwan/Mexico – it shows all sides of the existence of humanity and questions versions of our origin and ultimately challenges all to consider our creator and our need to fulfill the morality and lawfulness of rational organisation of our life’s and sustaining time.

It is a film which is calling people to listen, hear and be enlightened.

John Graham

11 January 2017

Belfast

Continues on General release and at Queens Film Theatre until 19 January 2017