Risk : A Film Review

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Risk  A Documentary film.  1hr 34mns.

Credits. Julian Assange |Sarah Harrison | Jacob Appelbaum | Joseph Farrell | Renata Avila | Jennifer Robinson | Erinn Clark.

Directed and produced by Laura Poitras. Produced by Brenda Coughlin, Yoni Golijov. Executive Producers. Sam Esmail, Vinnie Malhotra, Charlotte Cook, Aj Schnack, Michael Bloom, Adam Pincus, David Menschel, Jess Search, Josh Braun.

Risk is living.
Watching this film is to reveal the background and recent history of Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, as he continues, up to and including this films conclusion, to be confined within the British based Ecuadorian Embassy, Embadapa under continuing detention. It also take us to the USA and the recent Trump/Russian twists since Trump’s appointments were brokered.

For all the challenges making a film of this sort presents problems, of time and with changes arriving thick and fast it through recent revision stands solidly as an extremely informative documentary – regardless of the complex co traditions it presents.  “I thought I could ignore the contradictions. I thought they were not part of the story. I was so wrong. They’re becoming the story.” confides Poitras at some low hanging fruit of Julian Assanges –
firmly blethering (sorry Julian I couldn’t find another word!) views.  His on-camera intimate talk is a very uninteresting insight to his woolly, almost seeking alarm for the sake of alarm on camera in eyebrow raised marks (tumbleweed) and some sympathy is felt, given his imprisonment, when cameras rolls on.  It is after all though, a platform which cannot be turned away given his enforced hibernation.  It consequently shows the talk as uninteresting but the whole idea of a documentary is one at times of it becoming theatre and the actors are without a script.  Some people have been severely critical of the style and filmic indulgence of Laura Poitras whose shots take on the feel of a drama when misty window reflections and artfully caught shape and darkness illuminate the bleakness of a particular dilemma or circumstance.  I believe it entirely legitimate and it implies the truth is not what we are here to see but a construction dealt with a fixed deck.

Film Review Risk

Time discloses all.

The film starts of with a view of Julian Assange in the company of the Director mulling over the outline of their collaboration.  For Julian Assange this is a much healthier time as he has relative freedom and is (only!) under curfew in a friends house in deepest Norfolk with access to the beach.  It is 2011 and his trial concerning extradition to Sweden is being contested while sundry other things are about to unfold.  The main tiger in the room is the Wikileaks formation digital encrypted document Bradley Manning has placed on the site which a password protects.  The data document, it is learnt in this early part of the documentary, has been uploaded on the interface of Wikileals without password protection.  All of the USA secret files of operations accessed are unredacted and therefore contain good and bad data.  Essentially the window is open and paper is flying everywhere on natures wind – the global internet servers are available for anyone to see classified USA documents and make of it what they will.

The breach is on Hillary Clintons watch as Secretary of State and hurried anxious phone calls from Norfolk – Sarah Harrison, legal eagle, contacts the Whitehouse and try and alert the Presidential Office, as to the carrier pigeons in flight with her Governments information with the impending prospect of ever inquisitive persons monitors lighting up and printing off, for bedtime reading – prior to good wifi, sufficient storage, small tablets which go to sleep and produce real drama and most probably a rainstorm of dirty tricks and unscrupulous methodology which is without moral bounds.

The relationship between the film maker and Julian Assange is one of pragmatism.  He is in the clasp of legal and national sidetracking issues, and the drama of a documentary on one of the world’s most proflific activists probing the internet as a deconstructionist with exposé, after revelation, – high currency for any documentary maker.  So it has a purpose first of all which we must be well prepared for, is of hubris and confident trailblazing while underneath lies a story of individual imprisonment at the hands of powerful forces with his allies equipped with little more than a large corporations staffing levels – the volunteers are widespread and underground as they piece together support and inform the dialogue – they have unknown funds and heavyweight supporters probably.   The narrative is after all a needed platform.  All platforms are fair game and we get a glimpse of a pop star filming an amateur post type interview in the Ecuadorian embassy for fans and the interview is staged less formally than Assange initially conceived of it.  Then came the cringeworthy questions. Cleverly the talk was directed by Assange at the USA where the main audience of the video existed.

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Visionary in the dark

Laura Poitras is a very clever match of combatant for Assange as she disallows his taking over situations and firmly places the focus on the conditions and surrounding circumstances of the news not brought to the everyday exposure of the information war. Laura Poitras is also a fellow activist with the extraordinary film on Snowdon, Citizenfour, a groundbreaking style of news telling and undercover deliverance on her roster.  Then previously The Oath.  We are still not convinced or editorially equipped with disseminating this form of investigation and revelatory truth seeking and telling.  Every scene is chillingly real with absurdity of the everyday crashing in and out with natural dynamism having the alarming contrast just beside it.  It’s our reality of having without due process contrived to risk (first use of the word) allowing the Courts to remove him from the UK and place him in the unstable hands of a Swedish, see what way the wind blows, democracy. ‘… pretending they are a stickler for process.’ Assange.  Venues for the camerawork are Norfolk, Cairo, London, Fort Meade Maryland, (received footage?), Tunis, America (Democratic election convention), Berlin, all places where the Wikileaks narrative tales us.  Some of it is illustrative, such as conferences for nerdy hackers, or venues where Julian Assange draws crowds by his absence.  Frontline Club host large venue quasi conferences with speakers and networking possibilities.  Usually a tube stop or two away from mine hosts M16 and Foreign Office, Home Office spooks.  Although primary taps and surveillance is of more import.  The spies are everywhere and House of Cards needs a backstory.  A very unsavoury moment of trouble in the ranks is the overview of a parallel organisations leader also being wired for sexual misdealings.  Jacob Appelbaum is portrayed as a villain – (the film indicates no charges yet exist) – he drops a sexist comment in front of Muslim pupils of hacking talk.  It would just be as offensive in any location, private or public and here it is on film.  and he occupies another slot in this film, shot in Cairo, when he exposes the state run Mubarak directed, TE Data at a open symposium of internet providers, of shutting down Twitter traffic and platforms for media exchange.  This is accompanied by an outbreak in the room of rapturous applause.  Every country will have its internet traffic police while the ‘Engines’ of social media are themselves being censored or being controlled for improper conduct which a lot of will be politically slanted.

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Situation comedy

An interesting exchange is filmed in a quiet Countrylife inspired lounge, draped, scatter cushions with Dame Helena Kennedy and the non-speaking Gareth Peirce whose silence is equally – better than that actually – entertaining as the ultras trade axioms and lawyer psychology which is to prepare a Assange for his press a Court Appearance.  So Assange’s referencing of lesbian inspired ‘tag teams’ jumps out from the notoriously crass and febrile Assange speech which his blethering style exposes. The flushed and pyretic Kennedy does not know where to look and Poitras catches this English wordsmithing, with the same silence, the by now, presumably, dejected Gareth who has met real victims and fought tirelessly in the frontline of Human Rights sitting with controlled propriety.  Sublime and an example of ethicality.  No wonder Churchill wished Business to be written and agreement not based on conversation. Recall being everything.  The drink from which Wikileaks depends, so the contrast could not be more sweetly expressed.  Physician heal thy self.

The people who feature alongside Julian Assange were constant foils but most were equal to the Assange modus operandi.  The priority was to understand what was at stake. For this you need lawyers.  Not of the level and elevation of Peirce or Kennedy but the rookie type whose Court experience would be limited.  There is no validation of this but it was like having House of Cards interns at your beck and call.   Some were very much above the hubris and grandiose ‘I’m not a martyr’  but a conflicted human being type of projection Assange fronted up with.  Sarah Harrison is the Lawyer in chief.  Her steadiness and practicality and inmate wisdom was a valuable docking in the stormy waters.  Likewise the very clear headed forthright Renata Avila an articulate devilish driver of the nitty gritty and consequential.

In every sphere of public life corruption and catastrophic decisions amplify and Law is the stalking horse most rely on.  In the regimes and democracies it seldom abates. These islands can attest to the duplicitous role of Governance outflanking and disregarding Law and its victims are many.  Attribution happens on either side with the extensive new or relatively new form of scrutiny enabled by Wikileaks has opened up a whole extraordinary proof of this.  Recent events have presented with regard to dealings of nations intent on influencing anothers course.  Some may well be in relation to the safe storage in unblockchain protected localities of immense wealth, accumulated through regimes borderless dealings which have their nation’s looking vain for the money or restitution.  Imagine a prospective ‘West’ Presidential Candidate advising a sitting ‘East’ President (a perceived foe) where the accumulation can be secretly secreted.

Our information is incomplete
Our present dependence on fast electronic communication which is barely 40 years old, across continents and borders without the impediment of time or locality has made us evaluate the systems we use of governance and the open transmission of information.  Around 1960 TV was upon us as a window into other worlds and media dissemination of news and was authorially controlled by the license providers, there came in 1967-69 a western appetite to know what was going on in Eastern block countries, how civil society worked in China, Indonesia, with a vision exposed of inequalities defined in Human Rights terms.  Inwardly the USA became, with Civil Rights activism, a lantern for freedom fighters to demonstrate and to a lesser extent in Paris and London these voices for freedom exploded into living rooms instead of through newspapers but as barely 12 hour old news.  The crush came with the Eastern Czechoslovakian Dubjek being raised from obscurity as an opposition leader into a virtual figurehead for non violent revolution.

That was 1969 and what materialized was a culture of investigative journalism.  The story of much earlier news manipulator/manipulated ‘reporter, Roger Casement and news management comes to mind.  Alongside it the apartheid staining otherwise seemingly benign places such as South Africa and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and nowhere was out of bounds except the totalitarian nations such as China and by dint North Korea a hateful terrorising oligarchy which sat as a de facto attack dog for China and its wider interests.  Our story of Wikileaks contains a terrine of global pottage, c’est-à-dire, a conglomeration of mass ingredients cooking away with sometimes overspill and untasteful results.  The mix is toxic and it’s terrine is Wikileaks and it’s operators, head of which is it’s founder, the Australian Julian Assange.  His name is synonymous nowadays with a frontiersman like truth seeker.  He does not rely on God or mantras but his individual conscious is high toxically for him, developed to speak of the sins of the universe and their authors by revealing not their persona – because participation in the construct Assange wishes to disrupt and reveal its contents is consiratorailly under the control of a minority of the minority who have vast sales of self-identity, perceptions of nationhood and history which has accumulated to a self-representation and nullifying absurdity which is the twin of Julian Assanges own idealism.

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Despair and loathing

Both Assange and the people whose information is secretively held and the indictments of their corporate collusion is in the folder of the vast exchanges with reliance on technology sparing disclosure.  Wikileaks is a data hungry cyber animal and its food is
everywhere protected by insider traders like Chelsea (Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden whose instincts for change and robust propriety were challenged by the information the American public, in whose name these revealed actions were being disposed, unaccountably, but had reached them – Manning, Snowdon – as persons of conscious whose instinct was to upload the information they had obtained via. protected routes to Wikileaks so they could decide on publication.   This film which must be itself be read as a document with T’s crossed, comas carefully placed, is a reveal of sorts.  It has a news management feel with a climateric cresendo worthy of an opera.  The tailpiece is well known with the election of Donald Trump being sullied by the interventions, presently denied of state sponsored data breaching which firstly created Fake News around Hillary Clinton and saw the infiltration of Fake News of her Democrat candidate runner Bernie Sanders be eclipsed as information became micro managed – now it is contagious with Donald taking to the Twitteriati to spell out in 120 characters his character at others expense.

Allegiances among the Wikileaks foundation are an engine room of Lawyers, high octane interns getting a fix on freedom of information as led by their ringleader Julian.  The film is a world wide documentary of events with certain areas seemingly out of bounds.  GCHQ has occasional moles but it is a minor pest control issue.  The unbearably influential rise of independent disenfranchised terrorists as written toxically in Northern Ireland as a template by the IRA is untroubled by any Wikileaks.  Whether it was the authorship of Protestant, State collusion, Catholic freedom fighters that period was when the nail bomb, coffee jar bomb and car bomb all were sworn in as terrosit devoces.  The car bomb as well as lorry-jacking with a driver virtually chained to a bomb became routine methods of attacking authority, consequences be damned, fellow human beings collateral appalling damage.  Property destroyed was not enough.  Institutions stood unaffected, they simply moved locations as and when.  Offices and civil life was targeted and an unwired network prevailed with murderous results.  A large Northern Ireland, British Establishment shaped hole exists in the Wikileaks story.

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Conclusion ####4

Cannes 2016 saw the release of this film which has been re-edited since the Democratic National Committee email leaks and also picks up on allegations about sexual abuse by another activist Jacob Appelbaum in a neat parallel to Assange difficulties which stem firstly from his own private life.  Where there they are to be believed or not is not part of Laura Poitras’s intention.  She must place testimony on the record where given and it is not avoided.  Primarily she has followed this phenomenon, the Wikileaks impact, since before the Edward Snowden film Citizenfour which went places the fictional one was intensely lacking in.  The balance of the film is caught well by the filmmaker and it is brilliantly effective in revealing the revealer insofar as ‘civility’ and privileges of privacy impose.  Having introduced it at Cannes as one thing required an updated version given the significance of revelatory exposés on the Democratic fight for the Presidency.  The reading of the film als needs adjusted.  It is very unfair to see this film as breaking conventions of documentary.  Every documentary you will have seen has a slant or tableau formed through the vision of its author. The Director here is in possession of a subject which intrudes her and delving into the minutiae behind Embassy doors is fascinating.  Not only for what it reveals but for us to see the double standards lives are made to comply with in any democracy.  Forgetting about the subject – temporarily – it becomes a portrait of human condition and conditioning unparalleled as information is our voice and rhetoric.  The everyday confrontation with falsehood is so theatrical.  Amal Clooney is witnessed from a roving overhead crowd shot of a congratulatory walk from the English Court by his side every step of the way.  The spectacle of the press is amazing to witness as we are not yet ready to screen courtroom proceedings and definitely not for tweeting out proceedings.  The knife edge is the Directors and she comes up with some close shaves.  Apparently some zoos have been doctored at the ‘actors’ request while it resonants later with the theatrical disguise of Julian Assange last public appearance.  The one adopted to go to the Ecuadorian Embassy.  The red post box seen outside is one he cannot use.  If he were to step onto the street to post a letter in the stout transmitter of private correspondence.  They were green before July 1874 when they were painted post box red.

It is an outstanding, at times electrifying piece of work and addresses the duality of providing another platform to hype the task undertaken by Julian Assange and the need for filmic storytelling to be compelling and it borders on a sitcom type of sedentary watch with mother at times as a lot of talking from the principal party is only watchable if some twist of narrative or misplaced meaning or word makes you pay acute attention because here is someone who has brought some riveting knowledge to our times.  Don’t blame the messenger.

A credit arose as it closed  –  In loving memory of Michael Ratner (1943-2016), who devoted his life to justice

John Graham

28 June 2017

Belfast

Screening at Queens Film Theatre     Showing: 30 June 2017 until 06 July 2017

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Cardboard Gangsters : A Film Review

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Cardboard Gangsters

Director Mark O’Connor. Writers. Mark O’Connor and John Connors.  John Connors as … Jason Connolly, Fionn Walton … Dano, Kierston Wareing … Kim Murphy, Jimmy Smallhorne … Derra Murphy. Remainder of cast listed alphabetically: Paul Alwright … Glenner, Alan Clinch … Whacker, Stephen Clinch … Ross Kelly, John Dalessandro … Lukey, Damien Dempsey … Curley Murphy, Gemma-Leah Devereux … Roisin, Kyle Bradley Donaldson … Stephen Kelly, Graham Earley … Evers Dempsey, Tristan Heanue … Kieran, Fionna Hewitt-Twamley … Angela Connolly, Ryan Lincoln … Cobbi, Ciaran McCabe … Sean Murphy, Lydia McGuinness … Christina, Corey McKinley … Micka Dempsey, Laura Murray … Mrs. Wilson, Aaron Blake O’Connell … Wilson, Toni O’Rourke … Sarah, Cathal Pendred … Security Officer, Robbie Walsh … House Gangster.

Duration 1hr 32mins.  Cert. 18.

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Darndale story

The Irish crime drama Cardboard Gangsters plots the story of a Dublin community, Darndale, and the infiltration of drugs into its streets and homes.  The culture is at epidemic proportions across Dublin with a crime base largely destroying the communities they were brought up in and now have drug overlords with patches to deal and exploit. Feuds are common with assainations, kidnappings, overseas gang warfare and a public caught in the crossfire. It’s little wonder Mark O’Connor and John Connors want to tackle this subject and give it a treatment which delves into the minutiae of the drugs trade and the fall out as a reality met daily. Matt O’Connor, into his fourth feature, is a conscientious socially driven Director whose film making promises a format which is well paced, as this is, full of good characterisations, which this has, follows social reality without compromise and tailors a crew and cast to deliver striking stand out films. This is one which sets out with those same intentions. The drawback is it falls into too many cliches and formulaic characterisations filling the story with very strong emotional drivers and brilliant performances yet labours with the one dimensional menu.

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Unparalleled Mother Son performances.

Jay Connolly played superbly by joint writer John Connors  just has too narrow a set of markers to put down. He plays a 26 year old who is unemployed and is a part time DJ at nightclubs were drugs are an entry requirement. He makes little money on this skill but has a sideline dealing in soft recreational drugs plus some cocaine. He and his mates are similarly banjacksd by the country, city they live in which has cardboard cut out capitalism on every billboard franked by the receipts of the lowest corporate tax rates anywhere which shored up a decrepit and corrupt government over decades of sham luxury development and high escalating property prices. It began with Zoe Developments and never stopped until the 2008 crash and they wound the windows down and let out the stink of corruption which enveloped the whole shebang – the money trailer they all were on board. The stench was smelt across Europe to the US and the EU Bank removed Irish sovereignty as penance while debts were written off and money trails led everywhere with few debtors thrown into prison.

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Getting shafted

Nama was born as was austerity.   Jay and his friends live off dole money and it doesn’t last long as most of them are into drugs in a small way to escape the mill grinding them into the ground.  Jay is reported for ‘working’ as a DJ and he merits loosing any income he has through welfare while an investigation ensues. This is a major problem and he lives with his widowed mother Angela, played by a very soulful Fionna Hewitt-Twamley and the two share a pragmatic, but despairing state of limbo.  His mother is watchful of him and knows the local criminal background. The background which took away his father.  Both are still in grief after five or so years and it is not getting any easier.

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Early hopes of escape

When the film opens we see four lifelong friends as young boys of about seven and their lives are semi feral as the wilderness as well as derelict buildings, heaps of builders rubble and eventually the woods around their North Dublin homes.  The shift is swift to the present, as they stroll around the Darndale streets, weighing up the pros and cons of various criminal enterprises they rotate in their minds.  As things take that change of direction for Jay, no income, he is in desperate need of cash and his mother is not managing either which he is quick to spot.  Both are pivotal in this film and one of its strongest parts is their relationship.  They are born with this part of Dublin as an unshift-able genus loci of all of their live’s.  God does not feature as a healer for either but his mother has a mothers belief that – if she is true to herself and carries the sacrifices for which she has no reward – except Jay’s unconditional love – then there is no counter alternative.  Love and God’s, a spirits, unseen presence, imagined everywhere.  Whatever the conditions are there is almost an unwritten law held within that life/death exist in parallel for reasons beyond them all. The version preached by the Catholic Church up to a point when their debased behavior came back to confront them was the version most families relied on but it’s far from the simple form of love and peace Jays mum is clinging onto mentally.

Now Jay reaches a crossroads and their is no turning back. The poster says ‘Take back what’s yours‘ yet we do not know in all truth what that could actually refer to. Drugs most instinctively – obviously alluding to their patch – but also take back the stolen respect and dignity and is another John Connors cause célèbre which it is very hard to tease this out with this narrative, despite the presence of ever component of the drugs trade and its immorality and tragic effects on all who come in touch with it.  Undeniably the intentions to go deeper using the story vehicle are there.

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The Gang of Four

Failure of plot happen with the four. They portray types frequently visited. Jay is the quiet leader and decisive one. He acts after a sharp intake of nitrate polluted air when crucial decisions have to be made.  His reactions always are swift.  There is his sidekick, Dano – Fionn Walton, who is a wanna be Jay but lacks the smarts and has an overinflated idea of his strength and animal logistics.  To that pairing add one other pair with firstly,  coloured native Dubliner, (John Dalesanndro?) who is all Dub and a well rounded good natured citizen with his identity fully formed but with the continual racist deflection others make of his colour ever present.  His side kick is an ordinary kid still dreaming of being a rock star – Edge/Bono/Damien Dempsey (whose songs permeate and add very very strong messages to hang the plot and narrative on) while being a rapper with an attitude in the reincarnation of Snoop dog? as Joyce of the Street reborn on the Northside. Music is their escape too.  It is no less than another songwriter, Paul Alwright.

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These two are more passive and get in over there heads when the plan Jay concocts to take over all the heavy drug dealing in Darndale gathers pace. He intends to run rings round them and take over under the noses of two sets of dealers, one a long in the tooth – Derra Murphy,  so implausible as an active Gangster not to have been wiped out by this stage – who has been doing it for 30 years non stop. Around him are a narcissistic bunch of fellow delusional hoods and pastiche Gangsters like something out of the Sopranos junior prom. The other dealer of importance he has to float off in a boat is a Northern Irish itinerant family with a hierarchy also base on the Sopranos but with an implausible young gobby boy whose resemblance in demeanour is stolen from the kid in ’71. the one who bad mouths the army. It is a bit hard to swallow due to it being delivered as one dimension bites.

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There is no slack or nuance. There is of the first mentioned old timer Gangster, Derra a real wife, Gangsters Moll, Kim played with brass by Keirston Waring of Eastenders and her hang out Ricky from The Office. who is put into situations which are far too dangerous in reality to be convincing. Everyone is an informer and it is a very degrading and bedraggled performance by a woman who ticks all the boxes and convinces you of her emotional harm and physical fragility before the inevitable happens.  The main dealer gets on his horse.  His son Sean is a go-between on the streets and his life is also to be entangled in this world as his figurehead, mentor father is the wild old man Jimmy Smallhotne as Derra Murphy.  Not a nice guy when riled.

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Screw ups, RedemptionRevelations

Jay has hit the rails in this whole new environment of his own making.  At 26 he has not modified his survival instinct to accept it could all end very badly.  Why is this seen as possible in a guy as smart as him?  He has an alternate life in a relationship with Sarah played by Toni O’Rourke, again an outstanding believable piece of acting and he has a way towards a happier life but he does see it getting out of shape in screwing it up.

What I get is a story of redemption appearing.  In the void made by his father he sees it as a probable route out of the unbearable grief of losing his mentor – not great on that score – and feels obliged to do it for the sake of his mothers security. Into this path of a future with a cause and a faith in it being the right thing he sets up scenarios which is the embodiment of the phrase ‘Take back what’s ours.’ This is a task he takes on like the universal soldier without fear or idea of wrongness. He is oblivious and a totally different person. The violence of the film is ramped up and the heat is furious as the story moves towards its sorry end.

The twists, plots, betrayals, double crosses are thrown out in every direction and within it is framed Jays realisation of his fate and his journey. It is very audacious way to take on a story which is part of the everyday practically and make it new with edge and believability but it falls down by following – and this is a first go at feature length writing as a collaboration of O’Connors and Connor so it bodes well for more nuances and less predictable tropes. I was reading about the Cartel Wives, a true story written by two sisters married to twins and Mexicos biggest drug dealers into Chicago and much of America and they played the stereo types but we’re in a different league. There is also the Matthew McConagaghy Dallas Buyers Club which wrote an entirely weird and contemporary wildfire take on drug dealing Texas style which I thought superb and a whole Club of emotions entangled in a modern world.

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Conclusion ###3

I have to bite into my critical viewpoint and not become over run with sentiment.  Dublin, Ireland deserves a film such as this, just to lift the lid off ordinary life in the shameful presence of the drugs trade exploiting the wracked minds and medically uncared for addicts and the outpouring of huge societal problems accumulating year after year.  The film goes into a story partly based on criminality which even since it was made – 2016 – is on an unrelenting course of spiraling brutality.  From previous eras these stories also come into day to day conversation and filmmakers such as Mark O’Connor see the task of their own driving force the need to put onto screens in startling effective realistic storylines something of the view outside the cinema or home.  King of the Travelers became an opus in real story progressed film narrative.  This too is neither sentimental, glorified, sexed up, hyperrealised but a searching account without answers as none come forward.  Ever.  The account is full of bloody and messy translations of human fortune delivering a grueling watchable unfolding perspective of a life in Darndale.  It takes you into places beyond the limits its trope ridden script – it follows a formula without jettisoning the usual gangster movie traits for something extraordinary – which it is in proximity of without delivering.  The scenes are beautifully framed in tracking without settling but continuing apace when things get serious, by the wide frame and flowing cinematography of Michael Lavelle and Directorship of Mark O’Connor’s strength of compressive – no out but violent immmersion.  While it is flawed in several ways it is an opening of the view never properly taken before as Cinema material.  John Connors could play a priest or an American suited and booted crooked Businessman or a junkie Coach of a Football team or even I thought. – well your imagination will be challenged as this is pulled out of the fire by performances heart felt and convincing in the deepest way effecting.
On at Queens Film Theatre from 23 June 2017 and that screening will have an introduction by John Connor, possibly Q/A?  and will continue through to and including the 29 June 2017and on general release.

From a writer whose songs have crossed the world and is an inspiration at around 31 for lots of young Irish musicians I found myself looking at his website and a letter from Damo.

Heres a very insightful and thought provoking excerpt. Hope he doesn’t object to the cut and paste!  See it all at http://damiendempsey.com/a-letter-from-damo – he puts down what inspires him.

Sam was sent to Ireland as part of a food removal regiment. These regiments were stationed all over Ireland, guarding the rivers of food that was leaving Ireland all through this terrible period. Cattle, sheep, pigs, grain, wheat, barley, peas beans, rabbits and an array of different types of food was being shipped to England, as millions of Irish starved. Ireland at this time and for many centuries was known as the garden of England. That’s why it angers me that this period in Ireland from 1845 to 1850 is referred to by everyone and in Irish history books as ‘the famine’. The word famine means extreme scarcity of food, yet in one year alone, 1847,over 4000 ships brimming with Irish food left Ireland for English ports. The same year, 400,000 Irish people died of starvation. So I’d implore people to stop using that phrase. Lets call it what it really was. Mary McAleese has referred to this period as the great starvation; I think that’s a more accurate name. Half the British Empires army was in Ireland at this time guarding the foods passage to the coast, (many Irishmen numbered among them), and the soldiers all had to be fed, this gives you an idea of the amount of food that was in the land during this time. This is what Sam Jenkins was doing in Ireland. Like many soldiers from a poor background, he felt more affinity with the poor Irish than he did with the ruling class English (who tried to brainwash the soldiers into thinking that the Irish were white apes, sub human), and he suffered because of this.

If you have the chance my friends please vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the upcoming U.K. elections, a modern day Sam (if your reading this letter I’m sure you will). This leads me onto the song Simple Faith. I feel we shouldn’t have blind faith in institutions like the state and the church and believe all were taught in school. As you can see above the version of Irish history I was taught in school about ‘the famine’ and Oliver Cromwell and Drogheda’s 2000 dead (Cromwell’s new model army killed hundreds of thousands of Irish in the Cromwellian wars) were cover-ups and lies. And not one mention in an Irish history book of the 50,000 Irish slaves sent to the West Indies or their descendants still there today in Barbados, the Red Legs.

I had to find out these truths for myself through research. The same way I found 5HTP after Brian Cowen banned it in Ireland; I try to be questioning and open. I believe we’re on the cusp of a new dawn, new age of enlightenment. People are talking about who really runs the world and owns the banks and the media. Their talking about the poison put into food and the toxins put into the water. Their growing their own food and eating whole foods, getting into spirituality and nature and mindfulness, looking back in time for learning and wisdom. They’re recycling, glass, plastic, paper, food. The things we can learn now on the internet when we sift through the garbage and do a little research is incredible. A friend of mine Dee from my street told me the Shaman are waking up around the world. A South American Shaman told her this. I’m feeling it. I’m talking about this in the song Simple Faith. People are far more open to herbal remedies now and medicating themselves with them. Their looking at what their ancestors used to heal themselves instead of having blind faith in doctors, who often have the answers but not always.

People are far more open to using cannabis for healing than they used to be. Lots of older people I know are using it for pain relief and other sorts of conditions and ailments. This is another thing that rankles me about having simple faith in the government. Some guy in a suit tells us we can’t use the healing properties of a plant that grows out of the ground, that humans have used for thousands of years to heal all sorts of ailments. The government refuses to legalise it even with the THC taken out it. The THC gets you high but the vast majority of people across the land in pain or with a condition that cannabis can help with don’t want the THC, they want the CBD part of the plant. But the powers that be cruelly say no. Yet the same powers refuse point blank to stop dumping a toxic waste. They purchase this waste with taxpayer’s money from fertilising plants, which would have to pay to dump this fluoride if our government didn’t purchase it from them for our water supply. Saying that it’s good for our teeth (countries across the world have banned it out of their water). Maybe this was true in he 1950s when many people didn’t have toothbrushes or toothpaste or mouth wash. This same toxic waste lowers IQ in children, makes people more docile, and makes people sick. And a lot of people make a lot of money from sick people.How sick is that. That’s kind of the jist of ‘Simple Faith’ anyway.

I’ve an iPhone now my friends, I’ve nearly learned how to turn it on and off, so I hope to be posting more on Facebook, if I ever learn how to take a picture on it. And I just got handed a copy of my first ever vinyl album, mother of god, its so beautiful, tears in my eyes here X.

So from Damo to Samo to good old Jeremy!

 

Churchill : A Film Review


Churchill

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky.  Cast: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy, Ella Purnell, Richard Durden, Julian Wadham.  Screenwriter: Alex von Tunzelmann.  Producers: Nick Taussig, Paul Van Carter.  Production company: Salon Pictures.  Cinematographer: David Higgs. Production designer: Chris Roope.  Costume designer: Bart Cariss.  Editor: Chris Gill.  Music: Lorne Balfe.  Casting Director: Daniel Hubbard.  Cert. PG, Duration 1 hr 38 minutes


Too important a History to portray wrongly

There are to some unbearable conceits within this film as it twists historical record and contorts speeches and rhetoric making at times a banality of its very gripping subject.  I on reflection, some time after seeing it, do recognise the scoping of the film to place Churchills ‘black dog’ – he practically made this term ubiquitous, handling the tormenting angst of war and its repellant outcome at the heart of a hostorical period.  The twist is that while this film shows it differently, Churchill had come round to the possibilities and the necessities driving the D-Day landings in France.  Here he is depicted at being totally at odds with Eisenhower right up to the daybreak on the final push and landing.

How are errors excused?

The choreography is not too clever as it is diminishing what are very able and extremely well carried performances, not least that of Brian Cox who to my mind comes home in the part.  His inflections, minor facial expressions, language spoken and in his bodily bulk; he put on nearly a stone in weight to get the swaying walk and posture spot on and it convinces immeasurably as a great performance despite the mistakes of script and history.


Light Aircraft etc.

The budget was restricted it seems.  No planes, tanks or ships are shown as this is in some ways a psychological drama in its determination to portray Churchill as a mentally crippled individual full of compassion with a deep dark hole of self doubt and awareness over the magnitude of the role he has.  Firstly as Prime Minister during the war having successfully dealt with the Blitz three years earlier it is now 1944 and D-Day for which years of preparation, a large part of which was the training in places throughout Northern Ireland, Kilkeel , Co. Down being a particularly good example where 8,000 young American airmen went on training missions, trained in dark barns as gunners shooting at projections in the sand and setting up fun attacks on the beach, in the shadow of the Mournes.  The planning was Eisenhower’s own as a Commander of the Allied forces.  Churchill was a politician and strategist.  He tried to hold the moral high ground but was at times considering chemical weapons as a means to defeat the enemy such was his commitment to the UK.


Chaptered we move

The film takes its time scale as chapters of the countdown to D-Day, Operation Overlord, D-Day minus 3 and takes us into the minutiae of the dealings between the leading militarists. Navy, Airforce, Artillery and Eisenhower heading the campaign and responsible for the ultimate decision of when to land.  Some details are overlooked, like the French airman, General Maurice Challe, on the day before D-Day handing over the Luftwaffe order of battle to Britain giving a significant indicator of where the firepower was to be directed while the Allies were planning a precise attack.  They were disposed, in other words elsewhere and surprise was a key element.  Encounters between Dwight Eisenhower (John Slattery) are somewhat theatrically driven and the screen widens to show majestic columns or stately rooms, as locations heightening modern versus old.


The Modern World

Modern Eisenhower uses language which sours in historical terms.  He would never I suggest have been so dismissive with slighted barbs of Winstons role and place at the battlefield table.  His input was invaluable.  This is one of the reasons I think the script has taken a hammering in critics eyes.  Eisenhower would in fact go on to forge an open America having seen Democracy in action in the U.K. and two decades later would be working (when he wasn’t spending half the year on the golf course) with Macmillan in forming alliances to gain access to the Suez Canal.  MI6 and Middle Eastern Committee’s arrived to advance a new world order and to enter the Cold War.  So the script was light on the forging of these continents.  It was the real beginning of Western power gripping modernity and Eisenhower knew it and gained from Churchills wider world view.

The Australian director Jonathan Teplitzk has set up scenes which stand apart, are mini bites of action and dialogue; a quasi chamber piece, from the very beginning where we see the ‘black dog’ staring into the black dark ocean and having visions, to the internal arrangement making of the Palace of Westminster War Rooms and the secretarial recruitment of his dogs body secretary, Miss (Helen) Garret (Ella Purnell) who is hounded for mistakes and if not for the occasional interruption of Clemmie (Miranda Richardson) she would fold under the abuse directed at her.  This itself is overly dramatic but Brian Cox still hold you gripped to the intentions and inner conflicts of compassion, a desperation for things not to fail despite under whose authorship they may proceed.  There are good performances from Julian Wadham as Montgomery and also Richard Durden as the Boer War veteran aide to Churchill, Jan Smuts.  Danny Webb convinces also as Brook.


Spoils of acting

There are several key scenes in which the staging is also placed under a rigid formula of order.  Entrance, disembark, manouevre, engage.  One is set in D-Day minus 3 where Churchill and later King Edward are summoned to the lawns of the American HQ to see the plans laid out on trestle tables.  Montgomery, Brooke’s, Eisenhower, all standing behind their plans.  The sunny day of June is kind and peaceful.  When postulating is over Churchill rails against the plan as I’ll conceived as the landing areas are narrow and forces thin.  The King George VI (James Purefoy) witnesses this and says little.  Another scene which I found to be a fulcrum in the film was one between Churchill and the King.  With recall inevitable of the Kings speech here is a piece of pure acting brilliance as Purefoy arrives unannounced to speak directly with Winston.  What follows is a perfectly scripted speech which is paced and as nuanced as ever you can imagine it precisely to be.  Within it little gold nuggets have you placing this in the historical record.  He refers to his own security mindful of getting too involved as Winston has just earlier recruited him into a dangerous situation.  The King speaks on leaving behind, ‘Lily-Beth who is only 18 years old‘ and we envision the same Lily-Beth all these years later for the umpteenth time – today May – putting another PM in charge.  We envision the young Elizabeth in this grown up world of mutilation and ongoing hardship in the U.K.where sacrifices are incalculable.  It is worth watching the film to see this alone.  Winston with the character now inhabited by Brian Cox is an eloquent, dignified and considerate, conscious foil to this measured in every word, Kings speech.


Preparations

The preparedness for war had been long and hard fought.  As a lone voice with part recognition from Harold Macmillan Churchill saw Parliment deluded by Chamberlain into believing Germany to be, contrary to fact, in poor economic condition.  In 1940 Churchill spoke ‘We “muddled through” the last war, and in doing so, we needlessly sacrificed hundreds of thousands of young lives ……  .  We cannot, we dare not, “muddle through” again’.  Once Chamberlain had been ousted for the falsity of the mounting ‘Phoney War’ and Churchill appointed Prime Minister he summoned Macmillan to create the supply chain and amongst the wares exchanged unbeknown to either ‘heavy water’ arrived from France and the atomic bomb was to emerge.  This is the preset war tableau which Dwight Eisenhower must have been totally aware of and along with that a companion at war was made of Churchill.  No enemy, despite strategic differences in their ages an advances in armaments.   So the film drops the ball conceitedly for cheap dialogue and stand-off.  By the time the change at the head of Government had taken place Hitler had deployed ablitzkrieg on the Low Countries and conquering France.  One month after France signed an armistice legions of British troops were to escape via. Dunkirk.  Soon to be screened will be a depiction of this World War 2 miraculous escape.  When it came round to Operation Overlord when Eisenhower had been summoned back to direct that campaign from America,  Macmillan was ill and out of most War work having brought together a good relationship, in previous years, with Dwight and his right hand man, Bob Murphy who admired him so much he was to write he would ‘become a great representative of your country …. – would make this world a far more attractive habitation’.  That indeed he would progress onto and attempt Post war – giving Churchill the job of building a million homes or more.


D-Day

The deployment of troops is seen from the War room and Miss Garret is stoically still engaged in communications as is Winston.  Overlord has happened and now the numbers of casualties and the extent of success of the invasion would be part of the record.


It’s a Smartphone – you can book your cinema tickets directly through to Queens Film Theatre and be assured of your seat.   They have a good selection of Whiskeys.  You like Black Bush with ice don’t you?

Conclusion ###3

Films in my mind have to have or have the possisibilty of having 5 dimensions.  Firstly the 3 dimensions we sit in, at home or in the cinema or drive-in, as witness to the 4th which is the screen.  Within the vision we see our world or another placed before us and the 5th dimension is when that screen alights with a realm never encountered or one around us never put before us in this theatrical guise.  We are transfixed and know when we have seen something of that far reaching view.  This film has almost the wit and guile the wordsmith Winston Churchill gave us but it falls short hugely as it has a weakness at the third dimension when at times we cannot advance with it from the comfort of our seats and begin to contemplate alternative narratives. Unspoken truths and witnessing conflicts in the false notes we see and hear.  It’s a bit like Gin, an acquired taste.

John Graham

15 June 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 16 June through to and including Thursday 29 June 2017.

The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. … Planning for the operation began in 1943.

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Patton in the Mournes.

The outspoken and larger than life General reached the high point of his career during World War Two, when he led the US 7th Army in its invasion of Sicily and swept across Northern France at the head of the 3rd Army in the summer of 1944. Late that same year, Patton’s forces played a key role in defeating the German counterattack in the Battle of the Bulge, later liberating the country from the Nazi regime. Patton died in Germany in December 1945 of injuries sustained in an automobile accident.
Patton in the Mournes with the 10th Infantry
Patton visited troops to inspect their training in Armagh and Down in March 1944, flying into Greencastle. He was known for his ‘colourful’ speeches, many of which he gave when visiting the troops in Northern Ireland. Women were not allowed in the vicinity when he was giving these talks, as his language was deemed unsuitable!
 

Gifted : A Film Review

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Gifted

Director, Matt Webb. Cast: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Michael Kendall Kaplan, John M. Jackson, Glenn Plummer, John Finn, Elizabeth Marvel, Screenwriter: Tom Flynn, Producers: Karen Lunder, Andy Cohen, Executive producers: Glen Basner, Ben Browning, Molly Allen. Production companies: FilmNation Entertainment, Grade A Entertainment, Distributor: Fox Searchlight, Director of photography: Stuart Dryburgh, Production designer: Laura Fox, Costume designer: Abby O’Sullivan, Music: Rob Simonsen, Editor: Bill Pankow Cert. PG. Duration 1hr 41minutes. America.  Genre, Comedy – Drama.

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The intro Basics

This is a throughly engaging and rewarding film to watch with a very smart kid at its centre. Whether or not 10 year old Mckenna Grace is as smart as she plays is not clear as she delivers a performance brimming with belief and funny childish guile. She is not to be outdone in the acting smarts either by the very good performances from 35 year old Chris Evans playing her father Frank, Lindsey Duncan playing her Grandmother, Jenny Slate playing her school teacher Bonnie or Octavia Spencer playing next door neighbour Roberta. It is about how best it is to bring up a Gifted kid who comes from a line of Gifted kids from previous generations. She has no siblings. Frank has raised her from her being 6 months old, she is now 7 years old. McKenna Grace is a ten year old and has plenty of work already amassed and looks thoroughly at home acting.

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The central core of the film is a custody battle which itself disrupts and places huge conflicts into the mix which is of no benefit to her whatsoever. It is full of engaging funny moments as well as obstacles and pitfalls but will keep you held tight to the story as it unfolds. Such is the potential of kids to entrall and create new visions everyday.  Having many hands deciding the future for Mary is a tug of war.

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Family Genius

Genius is rare and humans equipped with advanced brainpower are as this film suggests rarer than radium. From a Director whose got has shone through with (500) Days of Summer, he is very good at telling human interest family stories.  The modern day of Florida and the sunshine state has a mix of Americas class advantages and disadvantages. Frank is an Uncle to Mary who he has brought from an orphan’s indecisive future from a family tragedy in Massachusetts and Boston to a timber chalet in a seaside village with only the basics going for it and as he likes it. The brother of Diane, Mary’s mother has passed away around seven years ago and Frank has given up an assistant Professorship at Boston University. (Philosophy) in order to recalibrate his life and become a parent away from the heat of academic elite education.

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Mary’s father is an unknown. Diane’s wealthy mother Evelyn is played by Lindsey Duncan, taking on the role, in a high maintenance coutured appearance, hiding her insecurities, one of which is never having connected with her own children. She too was another vehicle of Mathematical brilliance and also been a driver of her daughter towards the high isolated gifted brilliant existence around a world class facility of University research.  She is into a second marriage also.
Her sacrifice was to have given her skills over to child rearing and now sees the world differently as one which has short changed her as she feels in respect of her own talents. Diane never intended to have children it might be said but her nature was such she had an intensity she has not been capable of holding together while missing out of parts of normal children’s lives. These are the basic elements of this tremendously engaging story. It has twists and turns in plenty of permutations and its calculus is finely balanced and beautifully shot.

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Home

The conflict which drives the film is the right and wrongs of child rearing. Frank is not in a relationship and has no children of his own and works as a self employed boat repairer at marinas in and around the coast. It is a hand to mouth existence but it seems to pay the bills and Mary attends a state school with a bunch of kids which she says are stupid, but she warms to the talents of one or two and steers her way through school being bored as she is so far ahead of the rest and she is contented with the diversity the company brings. On a school bound bus however she gets collected and then has a barney with another kid which has her before the stern school principal (Elizabeth Marvel), Frank is offered choices and he is not sure if he is right in those he makes. Evelyn turns up from Boston standing on the porch like a Californian Lizard in big shades. On a mission she has taken it upon herself to become not only involved with Mary’s life which up to now hasn’t been one of much involvement, but as a replacement mother.

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Throughout the film Mary sees the adults own lives for what they are. Like her they need love and resasurance. Being careful not to upset people she knows is an art in the family and she picks up on mood very easily. Her interests are in the strategies of the patterns the world presents and she continually searches through mathematics and their equations the patterns as a means of access to the bigger picture. Mary asks about the big questions on faith, etc. and their next door neighbour is a coloured woman called Roberta who is a great friend to Mary. They share Saturday nights and Sunday mornings as Roberta babysits giving Frank some time to himself which usually involves continuing to work on boats. Frank has a friend in Mary’s teacher played by as she values Mary and looks out for her at school. By the time Evelyn has arrived on the scene and put down a marker the education and upbringing of Mary becomes a whole greater level of complexity setting up for a troublesome middle story.

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It not just about Mary

A favourite part which will get him a feature in the Animal Oscars is the one eyed ginger cat. One life is nearly lost as a side story itself a purposeful act, while it is the only other living creature sharing Mary and Franks home. Outdoors is what was denied Diane in her upbringing as were lots of other things revealed during a prolonged custody battle Evelyn feels is necessary to embark on, which is central to the story. These elements are not found to be plot spoilers as much is levelled in the trailing of the film over custody and it is the nature of the parenting which becomes the key as well as the superb watch it is to witness Mary’s every turn and nuance, which she does with astonishingly quick belief and accuracy as to pin the fact the script is entirely natural and believable.

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Mary is played by a confident animated, subdued, kid with vitality and energy. The appearance of playing a genius is not hard. The Director has paced the sequences for Mary allowing each portion to run without any sign of interruption or coaching by a swift editing process seeing things in the blink of an eye as they unfold. Mathematical equations chalked up speedily, shouting matches – ever kid has its moments so no spoiler there then – and sequences in the journeys in Franks pick-up are very cleverly run without any pretension or jangly loss of pace – ever. The whole lends itself to lots of comedy and laughs from the audience as the lines – especially Mary’s – gets to deliver bring warmth, recognition and wisdom in large doses.

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Performances par excellence

There are parts played by folk in minor roles which are crucially delivered with the same level of excellence as the major parts. The courtroom being a particular place of the solidity of performances to show. Some scenes are very testing and revealing while the whole system of family courts felt ludicrously public, formal and of legally heightened absurdity, its access being for a few rich who could afford the luxury of seeking justice and fair judgement. Evelyn comes into her own here in Court and placing herself as an adversary against her own son is a bit of a leap though absurdity being what it is no doubt it occurs frequently in families. Some scenes are equally important and learning is not only within the classroom as Frank recognises.

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Mary has ha a very good upbringing so far and it is this balance of having a mathematical savant to be a guardian too but recognise the things children need around them, one children, the outdoors, risk, breadth of outlook, patience, giving and receiving love and knowledge of other people views and making choices based on goodness knowing everyone is not the same and she has certain advantages which are to be nurtured carefully and no wasted of taken for granted.

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Conclusion ####4

It takes Massachusetts to state the case for Americas dream of success and failure through its institutions like Cordell and MIT Universities. Protégées and Savants, Technically brilliant minds and adulterated brilliance of a kind requiring stimuli to land the answers to mankind’s biggest questions are the millstones of grinding young people into adults of stature. This film embarks on as lesson of humility at the heart of a child’s best ingests with it contracted by failings, within her immediate family of having lost the ability to control their inherent genius. Mary is a brilliant kid of a ten years old with an settled future but is brought into a place where her very home life is contested territory as well as her burgeoning and advancing skills and aptitude for learning appear as she grows towards the important teenage years when learning takes on a routine and formulaic structure.

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Seeing this develop in a Florida seaside retreat come homeplace, is her Uncle Frank whose task it has become to be Mary’s guardian. He has abandoned his own professorial aspirations, it runs in the family and usual ends up not turning out to be all it’s cracked up to be, and is content patching up boats instead of grinding away at the academic millstone which is so strictly cadenced as brilliance itself works on the handed down work of genius, he is quite estranged from this contradiction brilliance has thrown towards him. Mary is just a kid but not like many others and it is not wise to let her become disturbed by the notion she is different as around her other kids play and develop alongside each other at more or less the same pace. Mary also doesn’t watch TV and doesn’t pester Frank to take her to see Smurfs. I doubt she would like The Mummy also.

Nobody likes a smart ass says a principle character during the well balanced beautifully paced and shiningly sunshiny script delivered like an Aristolian play with much contained within its outward ordinariness. I enjoyed this film simply because it was handled so intelligently delivering normal absurdity in contrast to worldly wisdom. The counterpoints were subtle and well paced and not overly drawn out. Performances were key and as I noted above all the ensemble are to be credited with knowing which way to go with their part. No overindulgence, no out of place characterisation but all was skilfully handled. It didn’t break new ground but held its own in telling a story which will interest many and provide certain insights. A very enjoyable, rewarding watch.

 

John Graham

14 June 2017

Belfast

 

Gifted (2017) Movie Release date in UK: 16 th June 2017

 

 

 

My life as a Courgette : A Film Review 

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My life as a Courgette  Duration 1hr 6mins  Rating PG

Directed by Claude Barras, Produced by Armelle Glorennec, Éric Jacquot, Marc Bonny.  Screenplay by Céline Sciamma, Claude Barras, Germano Zullo, Morgan Navarro.  Book. Based on Autobiographie d’une Courgette by Gilles Paris, Music by Sophie Hunger, Edited by Valentin Rotelli, Distributed by Gebeka Films, Duration. 66 minutes. Country. Switzerland, France, Language French with English sub-titles.

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Scenario

Adapted from the Gilles Paris YA novel by France’s youth friendly screenwriter, Celine Sciamma (“Tomboy,” “Girlhood”), Swiss director Claude Barras’ “My Life as a Courgette” shows how life for a young child removed from a family setting, is challenged while he forges his identity as he moves into in a Children’s Carehome home.  His name is a means of ensuring singularity and the writer skillfully deploys this stop animation film as a quasi scoping out of systems of care while making it a benign film suitable and not too troublingbone would hope and so far it’s is borne out, for young children themselves.  There is a dry direct biological sense of humor which goes beyond the nasty smelly forty traits and is partly uses sexual references.  Whether kids not in a French language course get the subtitles they may find it difficult catching up the adults who are skilled at joining visuals and sub-titles up instantly as a by product of seeing good well written art house movies which this is and which delivers its humour with colourful rapid firepower.

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Stop motion identity

Life as an animated Swiss boy is in the hands of many people.  Identity is for others to manipulate and guide.  Courgette has to be flexible and obey the stop motion process to do what is willed.  Tedious as that may seem Courgette manages to escape his mentors and creators to an imagined inner sanctum which hadn’t started too well.  Firstly as a lone child without domestic comforts in an attic we see the colours of Courgette’s world in the sketches and crafts scattered around his loft bedroom. From it is the view of a large town which he explores with his kite.  A Spider-Man character drawn on one side which he submits to his conscious as his lost father.  We hear from below a loud television in the act of transmitting daily dramatic arguments in the form of a dialogue his mother Madame Courgette is transfixed by with the contributing factor of vast quantity of tiniest which are discarded and strewn all over the floor which Courgette observes with a resigned detachment.

Madame Courgette is partially responsible for her own downfall from this point onwards as the scene is set for Courgette moving out and on to a more pleasant stop motion activity involving children of his own age, around 11, and in a pleasing outskirts of town even countrified environment of a detached children’s home.  Before he gets there we meet the paper filling Monsieur Raymond a Gendarme whose function is to oversee the placement into care of this little lost boy.  Monsieur Gendarme becomes attached to the story as an evuncular near retirement policemen which the stop motion life has assigned a slightly disjointed French gendarme type nose, long and typically Gallic-ly thin whose own circumstances relate in a way to Courgettes whose name by the way is of his own invention.  His identity is what is the mast and sailing device needed to navigate the stop motion world and life.  His guide can be his imagination which we see his personality hidden yet emerging as highly coloured under the baggage of this domestic altering life. He comes over as constricted optimistic creative kind with doubts filling many of the junctions he is asked to traverse.  No male guide in the form of a moral compass or initiator open to adventure, no maternal loving parenting or emotional regulator nor any sign of a mind being educated exceptbthrough his own ingenuity.

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Parental Breakdown

Cleverly the circumstances of domestic life are thrown up in the air (literally in a way) and this begins a new adventure which Monsieur Gendarme take him into past the high rise estates, the motorway connections onto open country along the rolling quieter rural idyll which even enables Monsieur Gendarme to relax into his self adopted role. Sturdy an assured in purpose they arrive at a large attractive detached house to be greeted by two staff members and at various windows inquisitive children.  The matronly Madame Principle (have to continue with this means of naming them as it is not in the directors mind to ‘label’ them Raymond excepted, and I presume it must derive from his upbringing as say being know to his friends as Bean or such like.  Then he became a runner for a film crew etc.  for which the this film listing has about 15!) has a large topped hair tower and round Corbusier glasses which apply her short sightedness over onto a Courgette in a Breton black matronly way.  She is formidablé though confident enough in her complexity not to be overbearing and with Rose, a name escapes beneath the allusion, is a young teacher and nurse, cleaner, cook, gardener, general ‘factotum’ whose task it is to do as Nadame asks and without fuss or even being visible.  This is a stop motion circumstance the flexibility of Courgette is well able to handle as his assertive side comes out particularly concerning his name.  Odd as it is it is not to be found elsewhere except the variations across languages give it another more exotic calling as nom de plume, Plum, people have been named even Pip.

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Play time

The new surroundings are populated by a rag-tag of children placed there through no fault of their own from backgrounds of immigration, child abuse, orphaned, drug addition with a company of teachers, attendants whose care is essential to their settlement.  The narrative is one not normally travelled and it is what gives the film a pvery strong story.  Courgette is in a strange environment and shares his dormitory with the other boys and the assertive Simon who is the self appointed leader guide and spokesman being a well developed foil and thought provoking element.  Simon is troubled himself and reacts by being defensive and assertive.  Form early on we see the different personalities around the meal times and playtimes.  The young male teacher with the job of educating them is a lively active kind with an amourous relationship with Rose and together they arrange a trip to the Alps and a ski- resort.  Being a fashionable retreat the kids onl have initially sleighs and the odd set of skis to play with and there is a contrast of class in some interactions.

Another clever detail.  Every Ski-resort has its Apres ski and here Courgette and his pals have a good time in the multi-coloured disco ball atmosphere of the cabin.  Earlier this week while listening to the Radio Ulster duo of – cruel as it happens but I’ll label them! – Smashy and Nicey – Stuart and Rigsy revel in the new radio studio all bells and whistles with 21st century controls.  So when a track starts in the semi gloom the lights dim further and Rigsy can barely control his excitement as a green blob spiralls and decorates all the walls of the space age domain.  Child like frenzy is happening man especially we’re music and disco lights are concerned.  It is one of many delightful carefully segued scenes and the story takes on more characters including Courgettes close love interest, the shy Camille.  Camille is a helper and observes others traits and vulnerabilities while not attending to her own.  Her Aunt arrives on the scene commando style Camille seeks assistance in trying to avoid being taken away from this place of comfort and refugee.

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All the kids have found a place of safety and enjoy the way things open up to them.  Things aalways change and the writer makes concessions to this by placing favourable developments to counter the other less savoury elements, not that they are overplayed in either event.  The world has set them numerous problems and this story is a neat compact telling of the formative years while dealing the smarts on rearing children without harming their future.  They have at the same time to loose the baggage other children do not have which not to bear.  It is a very intelligent and sympathetic film touching in its confronting difficult issues, seldom tacked in film and animated to a level which is infectiously enjoyable.  You may know what a Courgette looks like. Look out for the other oddity veggies, L’Artichoke, L’Aubergine.   The attention to detail is fun and plentiful.

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Conclusion ####4

Running for only 66mins this is nevertheless a fully formed piece not lacking in pace, message, interesting characters, sympathetic and emotional moments dealt with a carefully script.  There is a mad American overdubbed edition which while it helps children keep up with the jokes and continual wordplay, at times involving sexual references in Gallic flavored morsels.  It is essentially a universal story but it Gods up extremely well in the Foreign/Native language version subtitled in the U.K.  Be careful which one you arrange to see as both versions are being screened by Quens Film Theatre and on General release there will also be choices.  Children are very adaptable to cartoon driven and adopt favourites depending on their own personality.  The Ghilbi Animations are pure gold and carry lots of layers often found compelling to adputs in their literacy also.  This is not a vexing or very deep message but is full of good outcomes and peppered with lots of vibrant beautifully visual content which will see the hour and a bit pass without you know it and oddly thinking that it was longervsuch is its immersive connective joy.

John Graham

2 June 2017

Belfast

on at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from 2 June 2017 through to and including 8 June 2017 and on general release.