Films of 2014 remembered pre-Oscars


And the winners are….

The awards are in the cupboard for distribution on Stages floodlit and spot lit across the Globe in 2015 for works that reached us in the year just gone.

So many days of entertainment has been brought to us by the Film Industry without which the world would be more of a collective basket case than it already is.

It speaks against war,poverty, genocide, corruption and mostly our own harm on harm.
Human Harm
In a film not to go on the list ‘The English DoctorHenry Marsh tells of his career which he delftly, lyrically, philosophically, breathtakingly, heartwarmingly but last and most distinguishably honors his own skills with humility and amazing unheard insightful ness of his term as a surgeon of the brain and all that placed him there in the book his wife provided (plagurising the plagiarist himself – nothing’s new I’ll find it for you Larry Page) called Do No Harm. Hippocrates must have heard in from the Barrista or Barman at his social hut.

So already you have a Film unready for the Oven of Acclamation by the Semi-Greenhouse dwelling – LA – hothouse flowers renegades all and sundry.

Two films on Human Rights I have seen and neither makes it onto the Documentary category and one that enters my list but comes off it as few have seen it is Apples of the Golan.

Burn a list out.
My list is to be short -The Guardian listing 10 in 12/12/14 g2 do it ten down to one.

It is short because on any given day they could be in the top spot. So much film acclimation is about its timely delivery. Other times it is due to compelling world themes. Boyhood is particularly good and very good at that. So is Mr Turner, Under the Skin, The Grandmaster, Leviathan, The Imitation Game, there are more. Other film performances are battering down doors and some not having even been on General Release in the UK.
JK Simmons in a film reviewed elsewhere for instance is apparently a shoe-in for Best supporting actor – well being among the early viewers I think not.
He is limited in the role by the very nature of the part and is stereotypically the bad ass teacher with hidden gripes.

Keira Knightly is excellent and is convincing as the Turing foil which BC has in the same sphere every chance of nailing the Big one.
KK is a worthy Best Supporting Actor winner in my eyes.

I find it hard to restrict the year end list to 5 but it is a necessary task in my mind.

A Touch of Sin
Starred up
In Order of Disappearance
Two days One Night

They are however arranged in the order I table today with my favorite last.

Two Days One night is a beguiling, bewildering, belligerent and superfine edge of the nerves chilling visual narrative told with the finesse of any director you could care to name.
Marion Cotillard creates this part in the manner Fonteyn created her Fredrick Ashton roles. That is with exceptional artistic and wonderous enthrallment. In seeing this film I was literally thinking alongside the walking the movement of seeing Margot Fonteyn completely rowing us into the dance, into the path of the story and us being with her.
How could the comparison be made except through the lucidity and poetry of an exquisite serious acting performance? Only one answer sheer artistry of a performer on their game.

When you watched MF and RN but particularly the women, as all ballet of significance and importance is a homage to the body of a woman.
The waif like strength of Margot Fonteyn beholden alongside the extraordinary masculine figure of the supreme male dancer Nuryev could not be more telling.

Telling is the word. Fellow French actress Juliet Binoche who inhabited my favorite contemporary film ‘Les Amant du Pont-Nuef‘ sought to herself engage with herself and have witnessed through dance this perilous journey.

I was totally absorbed beginning to end with this film for it’s telling of our times.

It’s delicate properly respectful pride of the French people whose identity is a contested place as far as a lot of Europeans are concerned.
(Rider: a lot of this film is shot in Belguim but that’s not the point).

I love the French people though there may be one or two exceptions that spill that cannot deign to wipe it up.
The essence of the people is encapsulated, the French character, flesh and bone, not just in The mesmeric Marion Cotillard but her fellow performers who each also reach the levels of the film making intent and delivering it so extraordinarily.

For me there is no question of it every being taken off the 2014 top of the mantle pride of place. For the second year in a row a French film gets my top vote. Last year it was the quite literally incredible ‘Holy Motors.’
The beauty of film making is distinctly alive in France (..and by locale Belguim..!!)

Further up and down the see-saw are found the wonder filled Polish film, Ida which I defy anyone not to be thoroughly engaged by. It has a generosity of will and sacrifice, saviour, coming of age emotion enriched as it is treated without necessity to adjust to much for the past circumstances which are carried and refuse to leave the stage of life’s drama.

Then there is one which I do not list as it is far too close to home to be yet considered as a depiction of truth. It takes as it’s timeframe 1971, abbreviated it, ’71 and turns it into a slave of the events in Northern Ireland.
It is framed in and around the city of Belfast and uses settings configured and still standing in Sheffield as the flats.
I once was a colleague of Brian Anson the GLC Architect who employed his Liverpool guile to turn against London’s philistines and was THE prime saviour of London’s Covent Garden – not the Opera House (since reformed and Floral Halled keeping the stage and Main Auditorium as it’s appendage – but the Market. Now Covent Garden District is a lesson in retention of civic space. Brian Anson came to challenge and have pulled down the Division Flats featured in the seventies for their cumbersome social experimentation – ghettos satin is an equally applicable franchise. Franchise Architecture doesn’t work – Jean de Renet and Mies Van de Rohe – never related their compositions of buildings, streets in the sky or skyscraper hip Philosopy much farther than their adopted surfaces. France and USA.

‘71 is a depiction and a violent one. As a film it gives insight to a degree but has no insider knowledge of the huge kind which The Guildford Four had.
On which in my view was only a scratching at the truth.
I am assisted in this view with the absurd way in which Twelve Years a Slave is held in totally undeserving acclaim. It is film racial porn. Fletcher was a name used in Whiplash and that has more Fletching as integral abuse in scale.
While Fassbinder flails and assaults the scene shots of horseman in the fields is disgusting hubris given what actually went in and widely chronicled. It would have turned out to have more credibility had Sam Taylor-Wood tackled it and twice as much delivered. But there you go awards and opinion.


Who is the slave – the Film Industry?

John Graham

15 January 2015


Turns out to be True

What became of reflection?
In the day when three Algerian citizens living in France turned on a group of creative, professional, traditionalist, ridicule illustrators, one thing appeared clear. The escalation of hated is fueled by failures in the human race to communicate. To turn hate into murder is an unexplained step.

The people of who we in the UK had little idea of the activities and product of their own minds which they put across in a niche of political satirism little was said here of the families and partners left behind.
The family had become the Nation. Or so it appeared.

Blasphemous satire was the alleged motive that became depiction playing into the hands of the individuals belonging to the self determined ideology of their own basis of theology. An ideology without theology.

For centuries the art form which now depicts the extreme diversity of humanity is found like an island, abandoned by mediated satire, in an age of digitized and brutalized media it’s vulnerability to hatred has been realised in the most destructive way imaginable. Is it worse than a missionary boiled in a pot?. Of course it is. We now have the means to make sociological judgements based on wider reasoning.

Were it disseminated alongside editorial as is the case in virtually all so called heavyweight media the ‘cartoon’ vexates as the crude visual metaphor unreal he’d by the journalistic endeavours so often.
Therein lies a very clear distction. One that conducts itself inside a message not itself being the message.

Like at the beginning of the French film ‘Ridicule’ the fact is the French are ‘piss-poor at it. It is not Moliere but now men are dead and this is an unspeakable violation of the right to be free to create your own measure of the world.

For the choice of expression to find itself in print media of a circulation of 60,000, bringing representative of a nations culture and a target for incensed propagandists for a cause creating itself around brutalism and against the higher authority of and will of the Creator, is a new level of ridicule gone bad.

This is a driven ferocity hell bent on creating hell on earth against all Muslim and Other Religious thought.

Traditions of becoming a challenger on behaviour of a Creator are found and faced in the margins of media they become capsules of storms seen gaining momentum in sight, like a passing tornado followed on satellite, to fade and leave behind destruction in a calm. Such is the currency of digital.

To the vast majority, confronted only when the traditions of journalism of following the currency, literally, of the moment know as the present, enter the fray, provided with instant direct news and reportable of the outcomes the undercurrent of themes known and dispersed amongst us are unknown.

The gunmen now themselves subject to killing after leaving their siege firing and in the face of gunfire in their radicalisation were responding to the Abu-Grade prison camp images and the pyramids of the naked pile of prisoners being humiliated and the easily recalled image of the shrouded hooded prisoner on a platform no bigger than their feet with their hands raised slightly imploring justice and showing a mind containing dignity.

They have been chased around France and came out in the end in a senseless bloody replay of ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’.

Serious journalism has been seeking answers and providing insight and analysis all along as ridicule has diversified the depictions of conscious.
So it has ever been. Now however the proximity of the ills and origins – now beyond state – of perceived identity and ideology have abandoned reason to the functions of a new order of allegiance.

Serbs, Croats must be wondering what the price of Kingdom is, of how they find a way to repair their past. Senseless young men and women are on the opposite side of the hill they were once on were they put the lives of others as worthless and choose to destroy figures representing the opposite.

The opposites living inside the same human design, the same physiology programmed with an bitter intensity brought out of the past rendering their future into a shambolic mess.

How this has manifested is not presently the (they need restored and he wants to do that) paramount need for focus or attribution.
The primary focus is the realisation of the seismic drift caused by media that defines expression and presents disclosure has itself become the root of propaganda.

Capital is gained in such tiny acts. They ‘represent’, they are the acidic corrosive fusion of ideas and a destructive force capitalizing on the idea.
In this tiny act the family of those lost to a trio of gunmen were not the foremost print or visual connection. The abandonment of reality was instant and the idea of a nations values and freedom of speech became the cause for concern.

This has been taken up through outrage and found to be a place for ‘nationhood’ to recapture lost found while protagonists for free speech ignore the lack of it within the greater and hidden sections of deal making political and financial agendas.

The Anglo-Saxon meeting to discuss Banking and separate ideologies of monetary approach to the management of their population and the dispersal of generated wealth and power is matched in tandem by the New Isis World Gold Bank. Except the small Isis monetarised Banking System only partially yet realised in the form of an actual Currency producing Factory or ‘Treasury’ is a mirror of the the corruption of principles as edict.

The Isis collection bowls stretch into the homes and businesses of Europe, various Charity front organisations to such an extent citizens in foreign lands, particularly Turkey manifest the structures enabling the collection and recruitment sponsorship of the Isis to turn into forces.

Such forces, since the shut down of the Gold market transfers having readily and complicit capacity for enabling gifting funds into Isis in both Syria and Turkey stifled they operation has turned to the ancient currency of hegemony the monetaristion itself. Creating Gold coin from stolen sources and now from redirected finance is designed to find the power to overturn.
Isis have the readiness and in world terms a tiny fraction of banking.
The Jewish faith whose own reaction to Isis is virtually silent is in real terms many many multiples of rich unfashionable wealth.

With that wealth is bought singularity. Impeccably religiousity. Implacable values of truth. All founde on a conversation between Gods and Crucifixion.

This weekend the diversity of the families of those killed will have gathered to begin burying their loved ones prematurely taken form them.
Since they were only some days after seeing them most probably over Christmas and New Year and memories formed even between their closest which were to carry them forward and now strained have become irreplaceable very significant precious memories it is beyond imagining what sorrow has been felt or what sorrow continues?

May the wounds of bitterness heal quickly and their memories last forever.

John Graham

9 January 2015


From the Dave Duggan play AH6905

The dead abound, the dead abound,
How do we keep them in the ground,

The past remains, the past remains
How do we satisfy its claims

The truth cries out, the truth cries out,
How do we answer to its shout,

The Two Faces of January : A Film Review

imageThree people. Many faces.

The Two Faces of January.
Dir. Hossein Almani. 12a. 1hr 36mins.

Writers of a certain kind.
Missing from the large print in the Film release poster is the name Patricia Highsmith, the writer of the 1964 novel The Two faces of January which maybe points to insecurity on the publicist’s part knowing the novelist has a certain fixed clientele.
On Patricia Highsmiths part she followed in a tradition of modern female thriller writers, Daphne de Maurier, Agatha Christie and more recently P.D. James, Patricia Cornwell and Ruth Rendel all who liked a good cliffhanger and their readers liked being captured by intrigue. Patricia Highsmith also wrote The Talented Mr Ripleya.

Thriller writers sometimes favoured the heady salty air of exotic locations and following on from the renowned 1963 marriage of the Greek shipping magnate Aristotile Onnassis to Jackie Kennedy and the yacht and gold encrusted lifestyle that lay before the public Patricia Highsmith took up our curiosity of the people you might expect to be holidaying in Athens and the Greek islands, of their pursuits and reasons for being there. Made a change from the Philip Marlowe genre of crime fiction and thrillers with numerous nasty twists and turns.
In her novel the central pair meet up with a fellow American who, like them has his own reasons to be away from his homeland. Very little of it is to do with the wonders Greece has to offer. It is there merely a tool in their own complex refuge from whatever burden is in play that they are unable to face or deal with.

Ancient Mediterranean
The lengthy attraction of the Mediterranean climate was and is one of the wonders of the world. From Athens itself to the groups of islands, like Ios where Homer is buried with its Irish Over Seas manacle and it’s 365 plus churches crammed onto a small piece of paradise with clear blue waters and charismatic spring carpet of violets, to the Apollonian haunts of Naxos where Dionysus the god of fertility, wine and drama, a saintly trinity! worshipped, to the volcanic Santorini, to the island of three known identities, Mythilene, Lesbos or Kastros, to the 3000bc to 1100bc Minoan ruins of Knossos on Crete, home of the Minotaur, the islands were made to explore and dine on by the yachting set as well as the ferried tourist. This was a godsend of a place and time for any novelist to turn up highly imaginative exotic and adventurous drama.

While the book has to set up the atmosphere of locations, the harbour side tavernas, the ever present antiquity, the opulence of some quarters and the pace of life, the film drenches you from the get go with the entrancing images in which the characters pop up. The laidback relaxed anonymity of the tourist locations suits it seems, the main characters, Colette the breezy Kirsten Dunst, all attractive, refreshing and as intoxicating as a mint julep only a permanently sustaining delicacy. Her husband Chester, Viggo Mortensen is onto his third marriage and this one might be for keeps, foolish not to, as his chain smoking and whiskey chasing lifestyle might in any case make it his last marriage anyway and so he hopes it will endure. They are a loved up union and clearly react to each other’s take on life on an equal footing. Adventure seems a real driver for both. There is a considerable difference in age also.

When they encounter the young tour guide Rydal, Oscar Issacs they establish a rapport almost instantly and hook up on a firm footing to share each other’s compainionship as fellow Americans. It suits both parties and the not so impressionable Chester has his guard up straight away and marks up one initial day to try out the tourist and tour guide thing. He has his reasons for getting into the tourist mindset, if only to actually become one and take whatever is on his mind off it, take stock, forge an experience for himself and Collette.

So there you have it a chance encounter has set up the intrigue of what these people are really about. Apart from being here as opposed to the lesser choice of elsewhere, it is not a bad place to wander into this dilemma. The scenery and old buildings, the luxury of Grand living are there. Chester fills ashtrays in the swankIest joints and has the beautiful wing woman Collete as his dearest and adored partner.

This aperitif, the luxurious quarters, the random choices made of itinerary are a prelude to the anticipated twists within this fortuitous situation, one that changes once the engagement of Rydal is in play. A flick of the pen and Patricia Highsmith alters things. Rydal does a routine rip off routine when it comes to trading with the locals as is nothing more than a boost to his earnings. It also is a racket most seem to engage in as far as the relatively rich tourist is concerned.

We come hopeful of well worked narrative and jeopardy and are not in the least going to be disappoInted. They did things differently when this film was set. 1964. Apart from smoking a great deal, they had no double jeopardy of late night clubs, cheap alcohol and decibels piled high. No overcrowded streets. This was old Athens and from Piraeus port the ferries docked and transported all and sundry to and from the islands.
The only thing that struck me as unreal being the efficiency of the seafaring and transport. Taxi cabs were as usual cash devouring and fares etc. ad hoc but they were clean and shiny and the city had a sense of deserved pride. Waiters, (no waitresses) were not hard to find and while the writer/director did not introduce any discourse of anxiety it was probably because the tables the companions were usually at tipped generously. Part of the Greek dining experience is that it is expected to be laid back.
There is also a Greek relaxed engagement when Ouzo and wine loosen the atmosphere. As far as lively entertainment, well it is also relaxed and normal as you would expect culturally. Today is totally different so this period piece enjoys another set of standards.

It packs a punch
In Athens the two faces of Chester become quickly apparent and it begins an hectic journey of suspense, disbelief, emotion and sequences cleverly conceived and delivered by screenwriter, director, Hossein Amini whose mix of close ups and action, dark interiors, period exactness – in an early scene, was the terrace taverna of the Grandest part of Athens so probably indecently correct in every detail, table lights instead of candles and fine unrusticated furniture. Indecently correct and opulent.

Oscar Issacs has his work cut out from the get go also and given his lust which outmanoeuvres any money advancement to be gained from his rich commisioner, he is kept sufficiently on his toes to know he should chose his footsteps carefully.
Both men do not trust each other and at a level up from normal tourist mistrust.

There is movement of location and some Greek islands feature.
The season is indeterminate but for a ‘January’ it looks a shade too unshady.
There are a few other destinations in line and this only reinforces the period atmosphere and the continuity of life, the pace pre Visa card, pre backpack and scooter, pre packaged, pre bucket shop holidays. Pre Troika and bad, really bad banking and governments juicing its public to pay for it and its cohorts corruption. This was religious, (generalising) flat capped Greece, marine and agrarian, getting on with its gift of hospitality and their loyal attachment to the ancient, almost intrinsic essence of their intriguing heritage and present lifestyle.
It is also an irreversible time never to be replicated except in books and works of drama.

The Two faces of January
If anything the drama we encounter is relativly off centre and not ground breaking or world changing. It is a tight drama which has nerves (for the more sensitive among you!) jangling befitting the writers compulsion to surprise. They knew also how to tailor, making suits tough, as Chester’s lasts a very long time and seems to have been constructed by James Bond’s apparel maker.
Heavy grade linen compressed and refined Irish super stock?!

I was going to mention there was no mention of January and just did.
This allusion seems to fit the story and the film title very loosely.
The purpose of the title, I have not read the book, could be intrinsically linked with the following if you wanted to extend credit to the authors ultimate framework which does merit much credit and should and does offer cunning facility to the story.

The Two faces of January is far removed from the pace of mainland Europe than we are used to imagining but such is the adroitness of the director, and the cinematographer in nimbly framing this past era it instantly evokes the Patricia Highsmith attentiveness to the crucial isolation found in the narrative. She gives the characters narrow choices in this Mediterranean cluster by virtue of its many faces.

There is a clear play on words in the title with the Roman diety Janus, Janus-faced having the implicit recognition of two contradictory aspects found.
Who could that possibly be?!
Being an Aquarian (January) I am quite upset at the notion and contest it vigorously but on the other hand … !
Given the Roman habit of creating Saints; a miracle took place recently in Rome when the JP2 and the other one were welcomed into the fold, St Januaris may have fallen short of the administered deity we imagine is necessary. Men make Saints and ignore God’s teaching.

Viggo Mortesen is convincing and consistently unpredictable, playing this part with a restraint and affability true to his character and displays some wry confidence belying the stacking changes that occur. A well constructed, hard won confidence ‘attribute’ of the personality acted out. His concerns are not helped by a growing worry he is being challenged in the relationship stakes by his new companion and what he might have in mind.
He might not get a mint julep but having access to whiskey helps his mind organise and wipe out temporary concerns. Things always change.

Kirsten Dunst plays a classic companion with little misjudgement in evidence save her unstated desires, which makes her slightly unreadable and occasionally her fragility surfaces and Kirsten Dunst gets to create a little more depth to the simplified characterisation she has to deal with, alongside the evolving story dominated by the intensity Viggo Mortensen gets to play out. Patricia Highsmith maybe was not interested in framing bigger and complex detail not wanting it to get in the way of a basically formulaic adventure story. Only sometimes does it conspire to give Collette more memorable and provocative feminine traits in grabbing custody of events.

#### 4

This is an excellent classic thriller piece with a tight narrative. With hooks and little space to manouvre it creates a tension all the way through with fluctuating and never straight moral choices impinging. Certain fixed positions are taken for self preservation reasons mainly and the Mediterranean location heightens the contrasts of sedentary and adventure driven lives. There is little antiquity involved. When it does appear initially it is the youthful, Parthenon, then the civilisation of some almost five thousand years ago makes an appearance as a mere backdrop setting for more twists.

Hossein Almani has crafted a very attractive movie, well acted by all characters, with spot on minor roles also and Almani relied on his wise cinematic instinct to tell his version of a story with changing pace, alteration, changing evocative scenery and dramatic sequences all working at what cinema is best at delivering convincing dramatic environments. This is where also ecapism, emotional realism, historic tales and fantasy convey story.

This film should succeed in convincing you the art of cinema has many faces as it captures the sense of genus loci of Greece with a characters and human interest at the edge of rare dilemma.
The Two Faces of January is entertainIng, fairly intense, taut and offers up the Janus personality traits of characters you hopefully avoid on your travels and for that matter anytime.

QFT Friday 16 May 2014 through to 29 May 2014 (check June listing to see if any carry over into June.)

John Graham

15 May 2014


Frank : A Film Review

Stage emptyi
Frank. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. UK 2014. 1hr 35 mins.
Cast Michael Fassbinder, Domhnall Glesson, Magie Gyllenhall.
Inspired by Frank Sideebottom, loosely.
Who might be Frank?
The precipice Frank Sidebottom clings onto is at the edge of a wounded island. He holds on by isolation which gathered people in as his absence of apparent personality was directed into his enlarged squashed sphere of a paper dome, painted as a boy who resided within on the body of an apparent grown man. The shut out just beyond his skin.

Depictions of persona seeking interpretation in extremis of one kind or another are fairly common as a movie trait. Unlike Her and Under the Skin (previous reviews see search box top right!) this concerns a real life and one that tragically ended only a few years back.The late Chris Sievely figuratively inspired this film; it is a fictional used account of an experience had by Jon Ronson in encountering Frank on tour and mistakenly updated through a process of which an only merit might have been to appeal to a wider contemporary audience. The film industry has been doing it in spades for decades. When Jon turns up as a recruit to the Hotel the gig is at we are ushered in by a Stage Door sign following a nighttime colonnade long shot for underage viewers presumably a directorial aid to ease in the plot.
The problem in this case is that the magic and mystery is of token imbecilic characterisations which only in denouement scores any wrasp of emotional context with which you can relate, an occasion you could hear a pin drop as eyes saw some redemption in their own thoughts.
Head Issue
What results overall is I found a puffball of inflated refracted ego taken up as an artistic source sucked up by all others around this central challenged person. The person a mere figure whose meaning was fabricated within himself as a form of defence for his fearfulness.

Filming a central character whose stik is his overenlarged false head is idiotic, quickly through the limit of sans expression, well one, makes the character as flat as a discarded coke.

His person the real Chris acting Frank acting Frank returns here embodied by Michael Fassbinder. A modern suited mod might be the real Frank. The one he flees from and is the side of Frank at the bottom of his creative genius. The musical side. It only mediates as part of his creative self. Not a big head by any stretch.
Fassbinder flaps his arms, has enormous hands, for an
unfit? city boy this does not sit well nor does the affected American accent convince for the Northern soul boy Frank possibly once was. He limply droops his hands down the guitar in desperation for effect. Lame is not the word. The eccentricity is of the UK kind not remotely USA.
A Story Issues
Jon Ronson on whose story of Frank Is based and has co-scripted with Peter Straughan happened upon the tour of post punk, avant garde, new wave, post colonial, Brit pop, Chemical Brothers outboard motor combo and copped for a role as a band member with Frank recruiting him to play keys.
One character Don – Scoot McNairny is an anthem in himself and this character is the one Jon engages with first. He is deeply troubled. We are deeply sympathetic. He could be a character from centuries past.
As this is 2014 the writers have decided to ditch what could have been an era based movie, one actually relating to the media around Frank in his fate and the music scene, where Brit Pop, Chemical Brothers and Oasis or pre Oasis is were Frank marks on the page and where he was living off.
This is not the same page and frivolises the artist it given it is out there, now on our plain, it can maybe give some new credibility to the actual events and work this film misses as it is both wishful and arch. Ronson as Radiohead.
None of the scenes are believable, except the idea firstly of retreat in which the writing had some sense of idiom. The proceedings are simply methods of filling in the character of the band members. The habitat is hobbit like and spread on the counter pane of Ireland’s redeeming scenery. Even a handy lake conveys tempestuousness when summoned by Lenny Abrahamson. Avant Garde but not Warhol or anything near the epoch those gathered seem to think might materialise.
Then and the Cast
This band had a van and gigs of some kind, unscheduled, unpaid, and sparsely attended one imagined and an other catching vibes of stardust and fortune hindered only by the wrong kind of unmusicality.
In effect except for a song about a checkout girl at …. little traction became of the group Frank founded and here known as The Soronprfbs, band manager ex. roadie Don is a sidekick played as noted above memorably by Scoot McNairny, percussionist Nana very laidback and kooky, Carla Azar, bassist Frenchman Baraque also cool, a French thing happening I guess, Francois Civil and detached, temperamental, possibly reformed psychotic, (my imagination had to adopt a trope to get by the lack of content MG had to play with) theremin player Clara, Maggie Gyllenhall.
The witness to this is Ronson played by Domhnall Glesson who apparently wrote a few of the tunes heard through the film. He is excellent as Jon Ronson providing for the self penned deprecating niavity to play with for Glesson.
He gets the youthful Ronson tripping forward in life taking on the unusual normally eschewed by the mainstream and grasp of the steep slope that is music stardom is naive and at opposite poles to the avant-apocalyptic, post kindergarten, mancunian mental thrashing confines of the band he has just joined. His skills as a storyteller are journalistic and played out in a simplified demeanour in the Ronson of Men who Stare at Goats et al fame.
Makes an alternative diet to men who actually use goats for target practice before becoming rank and file terrorists I suppose and killing fields.
Then some Art Existed
Chris Sievely was many representations of Frank Sidebottom and was continually using the everyday and miscellany that growing up in an industrialized city throws at you but that is an outside story and develops later than the films timeline. So in his new life he is again on screen and beaming down grinning at the absurdity of it all from the future?
The blend of characters are attracted to Frank because he seems their ideal alter ego and he is forgiving of this as it gives him control.

This provides the friction of conflicting surfaces. The surface of his face is pivotal nondescript insouciance. That becomes their reality and hinge on the world. Unwittingly Jon takes on the role of grounding the characters in this plot. For Frank recognises in him the desired escapism Jon pursues also.
It threw at him a disintegration in values, of quality in objects, replication, consumerism which Frankly overwhelmed him most of the time.
Frank or Jon?
For plot we get a tale between two wounded countries. USA. Ireland.
Not exactly a road trip but enough plot to hang a prairie moment on.
Reality passes
A gallery exhibition at The Chelsea Space in 2006 showed in a kind of retrospective, his formation as an artist in conflict. The society in which he later performed commissioned television shows of his persona and like a ventriloquist dummy were trivial and disposable TV fodder, it felt he cashed in his chips there.
Jon Ronson being caught by the shill, Don, allowed a sage normal mentality to inhabit the band. For a change. The character portrayed by Fassbinder is overtly visual and has challenged others who accept his engagement into believing art is formed. Performance art relies on reaction.
The artist finds …X and with this creates without perceived outcome …. Not X. the viewer now the artist plus this …. Not X. With me so far?
Well it is best to describe it as unrepeatable and transitory.
With a band though each song is like a cigarette. Finished you await the next one and the addiction can only be satiated at certain times with the same afterglow melancholia as when you sought it out.
Restless Gestures
I once went to a shed somewhere in the backlands of Surrey to see Ten Pole Tudor and took part in a performance which had most of the attendees marching conga like, after the tall pied piper, which is precisely what we went for and he created the occasion for. Who killed Bambi got murdered several times that night.
If your not related to Henry VIII then TPT has it you cannot create the avant-garde. There was wit and culture, theatre and performance involved as a swipe at the punk despots who thought the world would change if they spat and stamped on a nerd before going to catch a bus or train into the restless suburbs. The only trouble came when the juice ran out. Try margarine.
Frank Sidebottom and his inventor Chris Sievely had an English affliction thing going on about sheds and so the film takes up the adventure where instead of going to a gig the band retreat to a ‘shed’ (the retreat by the Irish lake) to put down their experimental music.
True to the character Frank, instead a performance ensues in which real life is well, replaced by another form of real life. The spaces to be filled and not left empty.
It is a pity the real true life is not here.

Like beads of polystyrene the adherence is everything and once detached blow hither and. The film has that flimsy feel but the acting is what solidly endures and the habit of acting is what features most for me. How each portrayal is drawn and how Fassbinder for instance has little to play around with and gamely comes up with some plausible shapes. Likewise the remainder of the band. Domhnall Glesson is thoroughly at work in the co star role which kind of eclipses oddly that of the main man Frank.
Stephen Rennick populates the film with a pleasant, sans avant garde asides, while Lenny Abrahamson does a good job with close ups and shuffles by with a grocery delivery.
The Frank we see is not the Frank we sort of know and it is never intended to be anything close.
Without it pretending to be anything other than a light black comedy; the makers front it by claiming ahead of the film in material let’s get this out of the way; this not the Frank Sidebottom story pitched so it is much less, it fails as that being a mish mash of the graver aspects with skeletal remains of character playing, albeit executed and aided by the actors own gifts. Like acting the film, Frank, is a persona about not being anything.I just regard it as not on era. I may even tweet out the fact I reviewed it. #productplacement

QFT BElfast Friday 9 May to 22 May 2014
Lenny Abrahamson will have a Q&A at the 6pm Saturday 17 May 2014 screening.

John Graham

29 April 2014


The Sea : A Film Review

imageThe Sea by John Banville, for which he has written this screenplay film adaptation is a novel which one does not immediately see as being of a visual narrative.
In reading the book the overwhelming compassion and intimate description of feelings and minds, conjuring tricksteresque beautifully and flowingly prose, we are caught in wave after wave of thought and little dialogue.

The joins for film are the dialogue in the book so the viewer of the film need assume these portraits of the cinema and have revealed to them certain traits and habits common in mankind, which here is of the Irish variety.
It is constructed by John Banville as thoroughly as possible as a form of abridged storytelling with acknowledged differences yet incomparable to the excellence, as is inevitably the case with such a stylized novel, the written form. You can of course return to both time and time again.
Fate and time.
It is always possible to identify anyway with the fates, which Sebastian Barry recently related, “…..suddenly you see that everyone has been half drowned by the tsunami of things that happen.”
The sight of Ciaran Hinds in the very first frames, in a heavy coat in the waves and beached, breathing relates as much as this immediately.
The Sea. The title appears.
Our island selves
John Banville in the book describes the contradictions we all come across. He uses Acts in reference, but disdains of God “…creation..belief…an impiety”, unvenerative of the deity but holding onto spirit. A perfectly Irish view given the three Gods worshiped, the trinity and the order of things having only one pure God. No film has that ability of communication.
He would find in the Bible the shaping of the meanings he seeks also.

Where seaside holidays in the southern coastal resorts from in the northern side of Dublin, Laytown, (Neil Jordan’s origin) Ballbriggan, and to the southern retreats, beyond the vast Wicklow mountains – a terrain not for the fainthearted, Waterford , Tramore, Wexford beyond, provided beaches and as of the time in which the story is set around, the post war years of the world kind, a climate which was, well an Irish summer of easy going enjoyment with no cultural sentiment, though the illusion of the John Hinde postcard is one way of seeing it.
Character and Plot
Escapism was easy then and did not involve exotic parties, vast airports, for that matter small ones or distant oceans and ethnic guidance. Despite the hidden nature of the smaller places on our coastline and the state collusion there was little to see as an obstacle to happiness. So the urban well heeled and not so well heeled escaped or tried to.
Cairan Hinds is the art historian Max Morden torn back to reconcile his memory and his unadjusted feelings for losses that have happened in and since those sunny days.
His memory circles not around his own family, the father who leaves the village at the shore, (in the book Ballyless) to work in Ballymore and returning each night. His mother makes little appearance in the film and Max is an only child.
Of his seaside experiences he has a great deal to formulate for himself and it is thus he becomes entangled with fellow holiday makers from the big house behind his shack, the twins. Chloe and the mute Myles. Chloe does a lot of talking and the protecting for the both of them and has adopted, contrary to the desires and wishes of the easily infatuated Max, an allure of being a little madam. She and Myles have a mother, Connie Grace, Natascha McElhone who is radiant beautiful and host to a sensuous nature which for the most part is satiated by her pleasure seeking husband Carlos Grace, Rufus Sewell and they had as chaperone for the erratically tempered Myles, the aide de camp Rose whose age was on the cusp of adulthood.

The book is chapterless and has simply two parts though both carry references to each part, then and now.

Max Morden has the tragedy of loss himself to overcome and his relationship with his wife Anna played quietly and with compassion by Sinead Cusack is a formidable pairing of souls.
When this return to the house which the Grace family occupied, as opposed to the chalet, shack or ‘hut’ as Max described his holiday nest, there is a kaleidoscope of filmic playback and nudges in the developing backstory and foreground apparentness of the change which always results from association with the sea. The hardened memories which attach wildly and refuse to let go of the inhabited psyche. Along with the infinite joy that the mind recollects of times at or near the sea, there are disproportionate pains also in the recovery made in places revisited. Those feelings more so on a island such as ours and insular, maybe provincial, parochial as the interplay – the literal interplay – of different classes this film and book conveys; the separate local and blow ins, holiday makers who alight in your own playground. The local people feature as asides. The colonials are represented by the Grace family in the first part.

Max eschews the local kids and sets himself apart though not as a loner but of wanting something greater.
He wants and lusts a lot over Mrs Grace who he adores and young Max played by gives an easy comfortable performance as a boy on a quest.
He has a suitor maybe in Chloe, played by Missy Kavanagh ,the little madam who herself is a simultaneous protective twin acting out one part her life and looking out for the confounding, except to her, Myles, whose part is also at ease and convincing. Diecast as the voiceless twin he struggles without malice but frustration. The children as directed act out confidently and with subtlety.

The cast is equal to the task of portraying the philosophical, psychological traits of each character and when older Max returns to the house he had never boarded in, he meets the sanguine landlady, Miss Vavasour, played by the cheekbones of Charlotte Rampling. Something of a repetitive smoker who enjoys and quietly endures her own conpany. She understands the relapse to achohol which the return of Max brings about in him and his daughter of whom he is both proud and in need of have both got his best interests in sight.
Mind and Material
It is good to see a remarkable book, it is one of the previous decades best books as a period stretched drama. The direction of Stephen Brown is unobtrusive and the screenplay enabled by John Banville is the track along the which films direction takes us.
By taking on such a book, one which has intense feeling and much of it under the surface the director and actors have to draw out the undercurrent of; and this is again worth recalling that phrase of Sebastian Barry’s used above with which as a fellow writer John Banville will have no problem in endorsing, using alongside his narrative I would think – “…..suddenly you see that everyone has been half drowned by the tsunami of things that happen.”
It is plain Max Morden as most other characters, indeed ourselves, can occupy that place John Banville places him and it is a measure of both Irish authors they are plainly on the same astute page. The share the art, the gift of story telling I distinctly different ways but as a lineage of literature.

The music is as is my taste has it, clawing in parts and in final credits is only retrievable as it has been present throughout. Familiarity. Not a real problem but less is more.
Of product placement none I could report on, though Smithwick’s beer, now where is that brewed?

***3 stars

This is a strange brew as a film, a Miss Vavasour herbal tea of a film, with the figure of Ciaran Hinds, odd fleck of grey, with and without beard, furrowed face quite dominant and his rendering of the character is, as necessitated, expressive of the underlying emotions and he kind of lends melancholia to the part. There is little in the way of youthful exuberance and it is rather deliberate in pacing out the story and somewhat vague in parts unlike the book which has not (see below) been a book at the end of time. Rather it is in its title The Sea at times sunlit under an orange ochre sun or dark and revengeful taking in and taking out our memories.
It is well worth seeing and it does well being familiar with the book before or after to see the all round impressive nature of the work in both forms.

At QFT Friday 18 April to Thursday 1 May

John Graham


16 April 2014

I recently asked John Banville at a book launch, if he foresaw any changes developing in the novel form; he had been talking about his new Raymond Chandler novel, which took him last summer into a new genre and perhaps fixed form storytelling that might in the authorship have told him certain limits of the novel as a media for our communicating ideas and examining or finding meaning in life.
He responded by saying that it had not made itself apparent, he was immersed in his subject alone, that for his part since Madame Bovary and Ulysees the novel had possibly reached its apogee (my word) that it has revealed as much as it can, that so many great writers have preceded the current times and only by continuing to write; – there remains a veracious appetite which will never die it seems for novels and this way of storytelling, – will there be any discovery or advance not yet apparent in the novel.
Without doubt John Banville is one of the top one Irish writers working today. The Sea is but a small element of the writing and in it he asks himself in the first person as Ciaran, if he has the correct word for conveying a message.
It need not be judged (as a question needing answered) as his art is to impart to the reader an essence of a story. The novel form comes across with characters who sometimes cannot articulate in speech or gesture their meanings. They are perhaps plain stupid or constrained by background, situation and education. The gift of the writer is on those occasions, without pandering to explain everything to us in excruciating detail, is to play the role of the person, (my interpretation) with inner thoughts and reactions minimal and fleeting. In The Sea when Banville asks if it is the right word as Cairan, he goes on with a symphony of words (no a composer could not adorn the film with music as substitute) and he puts into Ciaran’s life a concoction of emotions to bide him in this time. It is not replicated on film.
Irish writers from short story writers, where the necessity is greatly condensed, have this gift as part of their own immersion in the Irish formation of the novel in their reading and writing.
We live in hope that a mutation of the seed will change our direction of thought but can settle for the great variations which exist and are added to in continuum.
It is a lineage of writing that John Banville is on which is how he found himself describing it when vexed by his adherence and duty to his art.

Calvary : A Film Review

Easter reflectionDirector and Writer john Michael McDonagh. Score Patrick Cassidy, Cinematographer Larry Smith, Production Design Mark Geraghty. 100 mins.
The hill on which sacrifice is made.

But first a poem by anon.

The first Irish poem ( allegedly!)

I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows –
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the vulture upon the rocks,
I am the beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of plants,
I am the wild boar in vapour,
I am the salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a world of knowledge,
I am the point of the lance of battle,
I am the God who created the fire in the head
(ed. P. Murray)

It is soon to be Easter and time for reflections on the sacrifice of Gods only son on earth. This is the Earth we live on, set between heaven and earth is Jesus. Our own view is contained physically. Until we climb higher.
The Plateau of Benbulben features a great deal as a slab of biblical proportions overshadowing the tables of Sligo, small tables which we gather round, in the towns and villages beneath.

This film is another from the brother John of the McDonagh brothers and follows his The Guard also starring Brendan Glesson.

The mortal life foresaken after Jesus has revealed for mankind the powers of God, has found disciples and put forward values for them to show, to attain, teaching us to respond to evil and drive it out. His death was necessary to affirm the truth. We now the seven deadly sins, what sin is.
In this film the earth is expressed by the sea’s edge and horizon fixed in our relation to it. The sins by the journey taken in one week by the Priest among the people he leads or claims missionary over.

We occupy that place where our soul resides between the earth and the outside. As individuals the earth provides us with its time immemorial constants. This film casts its gaze upon the sea as a metaphor for life lived under the force of Gods design. The characters of the village behave in all manner of ways with each other and those that attend Father James’s Church, maybe go to confess their sins. The village in which it is set has pop culture symbols and characters of modern Ireland none of which have anything beyond stereotyping. The players are walking on fault lines in the script which is untidy. The framing jars at the very beginning after a confession when a stud is questioned about his affairs by the mainstay Father James. Odd angles enter, then leave? It settles into relative normality though the village street, something there yet absent provides no sane backdrop.
Some scenes are best forgotten but in the midst of them irritatingly the story rises on quite a few occasions only to drop the ball with incredulous words. Maybe that betokens the nature of us and the intention is to show our absurd responses to things.
Father James biggest problem becomes an act yet to occur which involves his death.
Naturally hurt at this possible outcome he consults his Bishop. Sure why wouldn’t he and then sets off after the absurd dialogue on Gods work. Don’t call the guards.
Father James faces among his parishioners no small difficulty of leadership which as a decent man in his chosen task he need now also contemplate his own demise. That radical, the truth, has on its tail repentance, the sinner has left the building, the vengeance is seen as himself, institutional good, emphasize his goodness for it shall therefore be inexplicable,representing God in confronting ungodliness. Brendan Glessons character is not seen in his Church except to show it as a sort of temporary form, that of a timber barn unlike the bells, smoke and mirror kind associated with the accepted religion. Very puritan. Very Scandinavian.
In the working of this tale of mystery; Father James it seems knows the affected, the filmmaker relies on Irish flavoured bitter humour and a screwed up parish to recall the grotesque, the embedded hatred kept in a seemingly logical and local narrative of which Father James is unsullied and innocent.
That placement of contempt of the Church seems to loom large as though everyone is affected, has been effected by it. As in the North; the vehicle being there the ‘troubles’ there is a communal bereavement, a causal change in the mindset of good and evil. All through the visceral loss of sense in Godliness. Brendan lashes out in a great scene on such a confrontation, his own faith challenged. The villagers make up their own religion in the void.

Of the person whose aim is to create another vile sin a week on Sunday he has an uncomfortable relationship as is the case on most points of the compass. None have any reverence towards him. A mere mortal though a good one. Willing and able to help with clearly the soundness in mind – judgement is a trammeled word – to administer in the doubts that this earthly conscious offers proverbially.

Performances from the uncommitted (atheist) Dr Harte, Aiden Gilen, Dylan Moran, Michael Fitzgerald Wealthy Man, Fiona, daugher of James, the beautiful red haired Kelly Reilly over from her exile and escaping to the ‘lost’ father; a key and solid piece of consistent convincing acting and the venerable Chris O’Dowd, imperious to the fact real life exists and a show is not life, stripey butchers apron, very fetching, his is a character in who you despair, at least I did because his manner was unconvincing except latterly.

In contrast the film is imperious when a scene of confrontation by a driver and his daughter represents the most vivid effect of how far we have come, that this is embedded in the everyday. The man represents most the condition alongside Fiona whose authorize connection with her dad is placed alongside her harmful loneliness. This splintering of the film in my mind at once decisive then a second later irregular. Many a slip between hand and mouth does mar the story. Perhaps it is the chattering of the seven deadly sins that mark it.

Brendan Glesson carries the central theme of forgiveness forward as a human being. It is as the Holy man he need minister to the mere mortals needs. He is Father James Lavelle, the incumbent here in the Yeats territory of Sligo. Yeats believing in eugenics at the same time advancing his own symmetry of poetry into floored and literary history. Clearly the air is affecting.
Brendan Glesson of course, given his honed gift of acting and his knowledge of the writer, directors aim gives full endeavour, thrusts centre frame in a for the most part restrained perfected act of role playing. In uniform the glory is not his, like forgiveness it’s Gods. He acts the part and if only.
The film, as its import takes us into the life’s of those in this place, in the course of the week, teases us to point to the portentous guilty sinner.
They are all sinners as us, with degrees of imperfection. This is seen to best effect in the father daughter relationship. There the writing is not a let down but superior and sustained in telling each’s story. Proper storytelling.

The sadness, grief, cruelty, anger and hurt here is Father James’s burden.
The past he cannot resolve except to use religion which his flock reject.
Whereas God gives to each of us a share of the burden of mankind; each taking as much as he can cope with, here the burden is cast out among the stereotypes. Each exemplifies Gods meaning. Each is a discovery for the viewer to relate too. Each of us will be affected by different elements making this film a highlight of cinematic achievements that Ireland lays claim to very occasionally. It follows on from recent themes of Irish cinema with Philomena having been the most recent comparator.
The sweep of the West of Ireland gives us Gods creation. That sea and land sometimes taken for granted and man demystifies with bungalows, estates, supermarkets and edge of town DIY stores. Reached by shiny motors.
Holy Motors. Now there’s a film way beyond this collection of humanity.
It has an episodic linearity which is spectacular.

Ireland’s character is visible with the ever present question – How could we have allowed this to happen? and this plaque is/was more than a burden but an altogether mortal execution without remorse. This is the whole nature of the film which only occasionally but very dramatically is realised here.

In the North similar practices took place yet the deflection the church chose to provide; as after the famine, as in civil war, was to seek restitution and forgiveness in the Holy Orders. What hope existed vanished in their sinful hands. They came thick and fast and clung as an overburden, way beyond the simple Christian message of loving thy neighbour. Vengeance is mine sayeth The Lord. Not yours or the Priests. James Lavelle knows his enemy is not the murderer but the sacrifice made missing for the perpetrator not having God in his life. He cannot offer anything to assuage the harm and carries the guilt through the week.

On these Sligo beaches where many a famine victim perished and were turned into the dust and sand of the beach, the continuum of earths reminder of the cycle of life speaks daily. Wave after wave of consciousness is brought about by recalling our history and this film while being a small element; pretends no greater part than to construct a story for us to contemplate.
We are beginning our return to Calvary and to forever face the self.

I don’t accept there is this degree of hypocrisy or anywhere near it, nor the extent of cynicism depicted in the Irish psyche as this film engenderers even with its black comedy stic on the seven deadly sins.
Ode to the Christian Brothers it is not but it creates a surreal picture of the life Ireland occupies as if it goes on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and sees there the divisions that still exist and the myth perpetuated of the promised land -returning with eyes wide shut. Has it the substance (topic) abuse (Eg hard-knock Irishness doled out by Dorries) a Tory with a six figure advance heart ache turns on like a dose of piles?
No we have not reached the ‘bottom’ in platitudes in Ireland or with this film being merely in the doldrums which Irish society is awakening to. For too long have the stories seemed unreal and this perpetuates that excursion. This film goes someway into trying to place self discovery on film.
As fanciful as Noah is as a biblical epic story, so the people were led onto the land, out of the hands of the Philistines, reality becomes fiction?
Partially only. No one reads reports except the Press and we have a miraculous remaining belief in mammon. Forgetting Mat. 6: 24 No one cannot serve God and riches.
Digs and dugouts are plentiful as are the (off screen) entaglements.
The bashful Publican is forgiven his bashfulness (cut to the washbasin and the show a bruise not the act, but wait, but the gory is explained how? Drama.
It lacks as despatch a homily a bit more precise than the derivative ending.

*** 3 stars

QFT Friday 11April to Thursday 24 April 2014

John Graham


Wednesday 10th April 2014

A supplementary passage on Easter and sacrifice.

In this Film Calvary is a journey taken to uncover in the hills around Sligo the truth. A passage of forgiveness. An itinerary of reaching for the truth. Conquering the flesh against evil and replacing the belief in mortal life with a spiritual one.
Like the pain accompanying childbirth the new life overcomes the torment.
Such a blessing is reason enough to reconcile Gods healing of your spirit which is capable of being damaged as is the soul by wayward acts and dislocation in lives. The hill is the place of sacrifice. Thomas asked how will we know the path we are to follow, where will you go? What happens after death. Simply Jesus tells Thomas “I cannot show you what the will be; my teaching is the path, the truth and the life.” To the folk of the world this is all they are left with but it remains part of our daily lives.
The faiths divide up and segregate people (place chosen religion here) and further prophets emerge and are given the hope of human response that they alone are the true renewal of God. We need to live by the same God, the one that separates you from the world and worldly things. Those things of hate we are set to overcome through belief in the creation. The meaningful discovery that all life comes from the true God, that you only exist through knowledge within. The sacrifice is the meaningful act. That Jesus has gone, returning to God, leaving behind the living world, returning to God asking for us to be saved from evil through the knowledge he has shown.
That reality we are not born of ourselves but through Gods placement of us. We come from a time beyond the creation of the earth, True life exists outside of us in that time were love was born.
On Calvary the promise of the return is foremost. As Jesus invited everyone to the Lords table where there were to be no shortages of the things we need to live, the food, the shelter, the love within us so we cherish the word, his word. In his own death he asks, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthami?”. My God, My God to what have you abandoned me?. “Drink” was his request, and given vinegar, said “It is done! Father, I offer my spirit into your hands.”

Golgotha is the name given to the hill outside Jerusalem we know as Calvary.
The story of Jesus being revised and rewritten so many times still tells much the same story of this event. In his life he left behind manifestations and proclamations of true goodness with the knowledge if we accept God evil need not exist. Therefore he is asking us to unite with the one immortal being, the creator from who we gain the spirit to love. This Easter time we are offered to take the symbols of the Lords table in communion. No one is turned away. There is no credal obstacle to faith. That faith where only God exists and that we are part of, that spirit living through Christ his son until we are returned to our Father and thy Kingdom come. The return is the return of the spirit to all in the Kingdom of God.
Life itself comes from knowledge of a model proclaimed by Jesus as the basis of everything? The return is – Let his power be manifest among the people.

Starred Up : A Film Review

Director David MacKenzie. Written by Jonathan Asser. UK 2013. 1hr 46mins.
12 x 7 x 10 feet high
Every cell in the Crumlin Road jail was around these dimensions. Every prisoner shared a cell sometimes three to a cell. The windows were high and each of the 4 wings came off a control centre. The symmetry of the place is as unsettling as the restricted spaces inhabited by the regime and the inmates. Crumlin Road Jail is the centerpiece non-speaking part in this dark film.
Desolation Row
It was into this environment, first into a secure single basement unit young Eric Love, played with intensity and mastery by Jack O’Connnell is introduced to Adult Prison life. He has graduated in the slippery scale of prisoner status having Starred Up, been a leader without a cause in the young offenders unit he has been here despatched from. The rows of cells face each other like surreal bedsit flats with three inch thick steel doors and a letterbox viewer at just below eye level for vertically challenged screws. This really is the end of the current road. Many inmates due spending extremely long periods in these vile in-humane conditions. The narrative of prison reform is portrayed only a control freak. The character Oliver, a self contained anger management teacher whose instinct he selflessly deploys in managing those few attendees at his Governor authorised encounters with the prisoners. His skills are borne of his own well educated and unknown derangement with a singular role of being someone he defines as being of use to fellow human beings. At continual cost to himself. So the borders and boundaries for Eric are the confines. What of the fluid state of the rest, those whose bodies comprise around 87% water? The other inmates whose only defence seems to be their physicality and bruised minds.
Jail House Rules
On his first exercise the second main character dissects the circling inmates, signaling an existing status above the rest as he crosses and approaches an isolated Eric standing alone and surveyor of the factions and clocks all around him as he smokes or looks to smoke beneath the high mesh fence.
This is his father, Neville Love, played by a twitchy Ben Mendelsohn.
The role is equally as demanding and is collected and carried as a force of anger pent up and without sense of time or purpose. As a means of communicating beyond basic verbal discourse, other than the primary token of male presence, body language, Neville nudges, communicates a great deal with a bow, shuffle of the feet or his shoulders which begin rotating and halting as a hunched internal piston wrapped in swarf laden oil.
They play off each other’s unspoken love. The never purposefully expressed love.
The love absent and through lack of, the love missing when the demons appeared to enter their lives. The narrative develops progressively deepening the fault lines present in their lives, adding new layers on this layer cake violent environment without cliche or sentiment.
The writer, Jonathan Asser, himself an ex, Wandsworth Prison therapist – which I assume he has extemporalised a great deal on, (otherwise he has had a life of caning himself on finding a new route for others), has taken each scene of the relentless gruesome violence which makes this film grab your attention and wrung the blood and water out of it until everyone has a dry disembodied taste in their mouth. The director David Mackenzie ratchets up the bi-polar criminalistics of naked ruthlessness and somewhat nascent racist division. The group which Oliver operates acts as a racial forum showing the capacities to hate irregardless of race and how most violence occurs through primordial fear. Kick offs are the glue that binds the prisoners existence. They establish the knocking order and the pyramid has its head within the prison where issues can be taken.
A large part of the film is devoted to the ruinous state the regime is in. Far from reforms being exercised or even given some scope the inn-keepers are fractured and flawed and not involved on any emotional level and given the conditions it is not the least surprising.
If I saw a Chapel or a Congregational spiritual place where no words were to be spoken, thoughts could come and go and a higher essence be reached then it must have been in a nano second of light because I remember no such place. It had no visible drug issues either, except the hand to hand transactions – and one hand beneath pillow act, that seemed to have been the writers only hint of it. The use of force and values extended by the regime however were of a level which gave little prospect of reform or even retention of self belief. The fuses were very short for good reason in a lot of cases. That belied the measures and not the means.
The entry of Eric into this prison became a contest and battle with his self control. His father with a belated interest in his son begins to see sides of himself and his son that he wasn’t bargaining for. One kick off happens when it becomes obvious to him the son can make his own choices and the fact Eric is in his Neville’s long resided in establishment Neville find his marker has moved so menaces his son into explaining what he is at. The don’t answer back slippage used is well gone. Along with the characterisations and full on interactions, this is what engages and lifts the viewers expectations. How will this pan out? Will Eric reach a goal he has yet to be shown or will it end up in the bin as lives un recyclable?
It takes both an accomplished director and writer not to overwhelm and in creating a contemporary piece it carries without proselytising a message that much of what we are seeing could be the present condition somewhere of incarceration. The prisoners in the therapy group or the place were those attending get to speak their minds, to some extent show how things can improve and their dialogue speaks volumes more than reports by institutions written for institutions. The Regime has its conspirators as do the prisoners. The actors doing the rounds as warders and the ordinary joes caught up in their own choice of failures as criminals are very well acted throughout. The coloured prisoners work out who they can and cannot trust across the races and their own instincts tend to serve them at this sharp end where time boredom and reflection feature most of the time.
That is when it doesn’t kick off. But if I could give the prisoners a piece of advice it would be to keep their door on the landing closed as there are a lot of criminals about. Grayson Perry apparently couldn’t believe it when he was on in the streets of the Newtownards Road a while back – that people still left their front doors open. “It’s not like that around Islington where I live” he apparently said.

****4 A very well made British film which ‘captures’ the eye and takes no prisoners. Sorry couldn’t help it. Very compelling narrative and densely packed with bravura performances worthy of high award when the season comes next around. No small part played by Northern Ireland Screen and local contributors. Shame some nob is going to be distilling exotic drink near its walls. You would think someone would have learnt how bad addictions have taken hold here and elsewhere. Enough crime being drug and alcohol based locally to keep lock ups like the 4M’s – Magaberry, Magilligan, Mountjoy, Maze in business for years to come.
And why were there no drugs etc on the wings in show?
The product placement was of cigarettes and a shout out for a brand of rolling tobacco. Another of Belfasts poor trade history perhaps.

John Graham


23 March 2014

QFT Belfast Friday 21st March to 27th March 2014.
On general release.


Hebrews 13:3

Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt the pain in your own bodies.

Matthew 25:3

Then will they make answer, saying, Lord, when did we see you in need of food or drink, or wandering, or without clothing, or ill, or in prison, and did not take care of you.

Under the Skin : A Film Review

Warm and Cold Blood Directed by Jonathan Glazer. Script by William Campbell.
You may have seen some strange movies and this may rate among them as one of the more challenging and difficult to get a handle on.
Jonathan Glazer, whose persona is as an affable and middle class Essex man and whose dark imaginings are homed in compartments as chapters of visionary expression of alien tales, has held onto a ten years dream in realising this film with time producing a highly developed theme.
Given this timescale there might be absences which remain in the directors reading of the story which are hard in the subsequently realised film for the viewer to tease out but ultimately it succeeds in delivering a vision in primary cold and warm blood.
It is based on the Michael Faber book of the same name.
Over this time Glazer has had lofty ambitions and collaborators working on it and overtime it has metamorpised into the pared down extremely raw culturally alien content we have revealed to us in the landscape of Scotland.
Alien Skin
The story has Scarlett Johanssen fit herself into a human creatures skin.
The real alien actor her form takes has a quest to discover the meaning of humans and the earth they exist on. To enable the story to work you need concede there is some motivation involved otherwise the actions are futile and without design. The being is what intrigues this alien. Her character, delivered with a British pre referendum English accent, is a woman whose skin she inhabits. This is delivered to her entirely lifeless by her collaborator and protector. A man.
The enabler, body guard, interpreter – who never speaks – is none other than Jeremy McWilliams, the renowned NI born World Moto GP rider, cast as a motorcycle rider following her everywhere and seemingly aware of her quest and endeavors.
They seldom meet but his background presence assists the exploration and the motorcycle races through the film on a winding, sometimes straight, wide topography on a speed fix at full throttle. The choke is out which contrasts with the seemingly sedate pace of the visitor. The malevolent controlling moving rider component is borne with the violence of speed traversing land uncompromisingly. He pushes the bike hard like a heart pushing red blood cells through a bodies veins. Having a life rush.
Jeremy McWilliams provides a harbinger portentous force not intent on any failure, controls or morality of any kind.
Alien Place
In the city the urban life confuses the Alien as she drives around observing people in their isolation as they shop, traverse the spaces between buildings talk or don’t talk to each other. Actor took control over director where they went and the randomness of real life encounters were junctions to assume a starting place for the fiction. I think this in effect makes Scarlett nĂºmero uno director. It’s her path visualized by Glazer somehow. It steps up on male suburban alien fantasy somewhat and maybe taken over in the astounding performance of the created abstract.
When it is dusk she seeks out single men from the front seat of her van. The cabin and van are anonymous to the real life Glasgow which Glazer hoovers up in its city urbanism, providing the ordinary. The device of dark streets punctuated by harsh lighting provides the extremity, the Incivility of night spaces. in the urban sprawl of road and roundabouts the visitor sees no value loss, seeing only persons going from a to b and she enquiries of.
The female she is, is mirrored in odd segments of surprise in frames. She collects these part reflections of her in habitation as an accumulation. Her body seen by her in parts builds for her a perception of a human being and in one interaction with a male she touches literally on her progressively expressed emotive reactions. She has no interior self otherwise. Acting the part of a human, the alien has been equipped to converse in the language adopted. This is realised compellingly in a coupling which shifts her concepts of humans and makes contact with pain and the angst ridden private lives challenged by their surroundings and other people. Initially without a soul she is predatory for the experiences she believes is at the heart of our existence. A surface seen as skin.
The he clothes are trashy but literate. It is not a rock star guise but a use of clothes not in the literal sense, as Paloma Faiths use of image as a protection. Seeing me as not the shy or insecure person that I am.
Alien Shifting
It was as J McW accounted to me after seeing the film for his second time “Its something different”. I took this in part to be the fact he was now an actor albeit in a character part which carries naturally held skills with ease and also that the film itself was conceptually on the outside. He also said they needed .. “someone to ride a motorcycle and kill.” He filled the role as brilliantly and focused as might any accomplished actor and convincingly so which is no small achievement upside such a defining superb performance from his co-star whose talent is at the top of the acting scale and here demonstrated.
The dark laden dusk riding and night riding were links of the narrative where he is on the trail of Scarlett Johanssen who has no other name.
She in the beginning of the film arrives as a liquid form turning into an eye emerging or passing through the cinematically Kubrickesque wormhole which creates the narrative for origin and otherworld essence and planet like elements scope out the arrival.
The liquid is transposed on a white background where her new form, a woman’s body as our watery selves, is reformed in the corpse of the culled young woman whose persona she is given to enter into our world.
Alien Plains
Scotland has never been tested thus since Arthur Conan Doyle.
The film fits a Scottish mythology and though the Northern lights do not make an appearance that northernness with storm bent pines and wild breakers on a dominant defiant coastline express fear imagined and real alongside the monochromatic headlights of the motorcycles ever present trail.
Fog appears and snow crystalises as though a metamorphic presence of the other alien world and fine particles enmesh the screen making you realise these are forms of hallucinations without the methamphetamine drug of choice on many urban streets in use as an avoidance tool.
The new forms first excursion though is into a streetscape, the urban living, the communities of people together that she has seen from behind the wheel of a van which is her home for the duration. She has other dwelling places but those are outlying points for episodic interaction of which she has several. The wheels stop in the streets recognisable as Glasgow.
In a walk through a shopping centre the anonymity is intense within the crowd same place, your place and a sense of anyplace is derived. It signals a post modern abstraction we connive in.
The folk are friendly and too hospitable for their own good which she exploits to determine the way we live. She takes on the central mating urge by using her persona to entice, attract single young men and offer them their salvation sexually. This is achieved quite straightforwardly given the aforesaid captive beauty of the Scarlett lady who attracts despite her careworn clothes and unattractive wig. She has reconciled to act in what she assumes is the prolate of the times, the predatory rituals all brought front and central as our primordial selves as she sees from the alien location.
Alien Story
Through the advances of the narrative and the visitor capturing human thoughts the city becomes itself unreal and unsettling which brings into play the Scottish landscape and nature. Is this an admission of her being unprepared for this explorations outcome and realisation, literally of complexities of people?
Some extremely kind and selfless and others despicable psychotic and violent. This is a derangement which Glazer gradually and incrementally builds. At times it is too subtle and hard to make attachments too. There is also no one to empathise with except the whole of mankind as a construct not of our making and endangered by each other’s responses to their seen viewed world. The paring out and down of the elements of narrative are difficult to get right though it can said truthfully the mechanisms of film are deliberately withheld – words – set pieces explainers – special effects point making are eschewed in favour of longer takes, still framing, which allows action to pass through. Effects are used. In morphic scenes but little else.
It becomes absorbing, infuriating, compelling to watch in order to work out what is going on. It is not simple but quietly and intelligently presented.
Who is Who
What you will make of it may not be anywhere near what I have made of it but superlatives and five star ratings are ‘alien overkill’ however it is ‘extremely good and is not like many other film you are likely to see any day soon but I will refrain from comparisons a it stands strongly on its own.

Will the adventure reach a happy ending, will it reach conclusion or will it leave things hanging or will it fold in on itself all things are possible and that is the message I got from it.

This is a cinematic oddity which may or may not become something of a cult film. The performances are brilliant and remarkable with some beautifully realised individual episodes from newcomers each Imbedding a realism of the chosen culture invaded by the explorer. There is more than ordinariness in Scotland’s identity that is an established fact. There is then an exploitation of the identity in this malicious adventure. No escape routes are shown or given, the tightness of presence with which the author, director and actors play is at times literally as drowning in oil. An altered state perfected in visual candour and without parody but exquisite carnal baggage set as the constraint on skin. Within is under the skin and Scarlett Johansson inhabits as a first class actor in this unique journey.

All journeys are unique. This no more or less so.

John Graham

12 March 2014