Wednesday, November 25. 2015
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 had quite a lot to live up to. In my opinion it’s been one of the best film adaptations of a book or series of books I’ve seen - The Lord of the Rings from 15 years ago is the only other contender and it’s hard for me to judge between them - and this film needed to finish that run of excellence off in style. In addition although this is never going to be a stand-alone movie it still has to be a good movie in its own right. Finally, it has to work for people like me that have read and love the books and are going to look for their favourite scenes and object if they’re not there and still work for someone like my companion who hasn’t read the books but has seen the previous films. Happily I think the film delivers on all counts, and my companion enjoyed it too and felt it delivered for her.
Saying this is not a stand-alone movie is a bit of an understatement. There is no ‘what has gone before’ and no gentle introduction. If you don’t remember the end of Mockingjay 1 (Peeta rescued, then flipping out and trying to strangle Katniss) then the opening scene won’t make any sense. That moves straight into the remaining obstacle to the attack on the Capitol, and then the final assault, pretty much without a break and without explanation. Equally, you’re expected to understand Katniss’ role as the figurehead, the three-fingered salute and all the rest of the symbolism of the Mockingjay. Other characters come and go, particularly poor Johanna, in an almost bewildering flickering (particularly if you’re not clued in as to who they are from the books or, possibly, a recent rewatch of the earlier films).
The big scenes from the book are there with one exception: Katniss runs away to the front lines and the ‘star squad’ is formed post hoc rather than the testing scene in Thirteen. I can live with that and I doubt it’s anyone’s biggest scene of the second half of the book. The story as told worked perfectly well for both of us. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily better and it left Johanna with a really incidental role but it worked in plot development sense and did lead to a lovely scene when she arrived at the front and was recognised so it wasn’t clearly worse either.
As always through this series there is a mixture of the huge action scenes (and as you might expect from a film trailed as the final war on the Capitol there’s a lot of big action scenes) and the smaller, intimate moments. That continues through this film. In particular, for the first time we see Katniss with both Gale and Peeta for big chunks of the film so the love triangle finally comes to the fore. It doesn’t dominate the smaller moments but it’s certainly there.
As a fan of the books I commented in my review of the last film that they’d downplayed the PTSD element and that has continued here. While mostly that worked I felt it really weakened the final scene and my companion felt they should have finished one scene earlier because the final scene as shown was so weak. Again, it’s tricky for me to judge that - I want the final scene since it’s close to the final scene from the book - but, on reflection, as the film is structured she’s probably right. The film, both Mockingjay films in fact, lack the impact of Katniss’ PTSD so her talk of nightmares lacks context and it seems rather too much like a ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ scene.
Despite that reservation, this film packed all the oomph I hoped for and pretty much hit all the messages about war, power and tyranny it needed to hit to be true to the book. To be honest, there’s no point watching this if you don’t like and haven’t watched the others, but if you enjoyed them go and watch this: I’m confident you should enjoy it too as they wrap up the story with panache and the care they’ve taken over the others.
Bechdel Test: Yes. There are multiple named female characters who have conversations throughout the film about a variety of things. To pick a small one, Johanna and Katniss have a conversation about how annoying Katniss is because she says all these heroic things and really means them - and by the way, can I steal some of your drugs please?
Russo test: No. The only characters we really see where sexuality enters into it are Gale, Katniss and Peeta, plus briefly Finnick and Annie. They’re all straight.
Tuesday, November 24. 2015
Jessica Jones is Netflix’ and Marvel’s latest venture in TV. It exists firmly alongside Daredevil (and if you’ve watched Daredevil you’ll see a familiar face or two crop up) and in the MCU (there are references to “the big green dude” and “the incident” when aliens invaded New York and were fought off but it is also firmly stand alone.
As is usual with these things, I’m not a reader of the original material so I’m coming in without preconceptions except the trailers and what I’ve been told through them and odd comments.
Jessica Jones establishes its tone as film noir - seedy PI taking pictures of a cheating spouse and an office door that wouldn’t look out of place with Marlowe’s name on it - right from the opening scene. It adds the pretty stereotypical heavy drinking by the end of that scene. The only note that shows there’s something extra is that Jessica (played by Krysten Ritter who at 1.75m is not short, but is hardly and huge and doesn’t look like a bodybuilder), effortlessly throws the disgruntled husband across the room and through the window on her door.
That case unsatisfactorily resolved, at least for the cuckolded husband, enter the Schottmans, whose daughter Hope has gone missing. They were referred to Jessica from the police station and Jessica quickly pieces together the clues to realise that Hope has been taken by Kilgrave (played by David Tennant) who has some form of mind control power and who previously kept Jessica herself prisoner for an undisclosed, but long, period of time and made her do terrible things. As the pilot unwraps, Jessica visits Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), who was clearly a dear friend and begs money from her so she can run from Kilgrave - it says much about their relationship that although they haven’t been in touch for six months Trish finds her a large pile of cash without question. She also meets up with a lawyer, Jeryn Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), who gets her jobs from time to time, and stakes out Luke Cage’s (Mike Colter) bar despite saying she shouldn’t.
This, more or less, establishes Jessica’s support network. Malcolm, her neighbour, it is probably fair to say is more of a co-dependent relationship but he is the other significant figure.
The series could proceed down the case of the week format, and if it was on TV it probably would but, although time passes, the show essentially commits to the hunt for Kilgrave. As you might imagine hunting down a guy who can control minds is not exactly straight-forward and there are a lot of missteps and tragedies on the way. Some of these arise from Jessica’s poor decision making (she’s a drunk and has severe PTSD) and some of those arise from the fact that Kilgrave knows her well and knows how to manipulate her into positions of weakness. However, some arise from her making decisions to protect Hope from the consequences of being exposed to Kilgrave’s powers. You can certainly argue whether those are smart or dumb decisions but they’re decisions that I regard as necessarily to Jessica’s sometime’s fragile grip on her sanity and I completely understand.
The show is not graphic but is unflinching is looking at the effects of being in the power of a man who can literally have people whatever he wishes simply by saying it. I’ve read one critic who claims the show shies away from challenging the fact that Kilgrave is a rapist. I would counter that it isn’t afraid of that but it makes it clear that in some ways rape is only one of the ways Kilgrave violated Jessica, and Hope and others. And in many ways, for Jessica, rape is the smallest of the ways he violated her. He made her act like she loved him, ate his favourite food and tell him she loved it (it now makes her throw up) and more. That on-going, systematic control and violation of her will is far, far worse - at least as it’s portrayed here. Other people will have different opinions on this issue but I thought it worked well. There is something she did while under the Kilgrave’s influence that is far more damaging to her identity and burdens her with far, far more guilt which I’m not going to delve into, because spoilers. But, if you take Kilgrave’s power as a metaphor for rape, you don’t need to spell it out and hammer it home for it to be an effective metaphor and a powerful message. Sometimes less is more. And I can understand why Jessica could feel far more guilty about what she did while under his influence than about being raped too - although I understand other people will have different opinions on that matter.
I want to talk briefly about Jeryn and the women in her life. Thanks to Jeryn, this series easily passes the Russo test. You could swap Carrie-Anne Moss for any number of 50 year old good looking men and they would fit absolutely straight in to the role of aggressive, manipulative defence lawyer who is divorcing his wife to trade her in for a younger, prettier model. I understand that the comic books had Jeryn as a man and the TV show has just swapped her for a woman and kept all the other character traits. I didn’t know that and anyone that thinks you can’t just gender swap a lot of powerful characters in shows really needs to watch this one. She is in no way the token lesbian, it’s a facet of her character that we see, just as we see Jessica’s attraction to Luke, Trish’s messy entanglement with Simpson and the like. We need more shows to handle their LGBT characters like this, as well as seeing more shows and films handle their female characters like this.
You might notice Jessica’s support network is almost all female. This is a show with successful women, powerful women, all over the place. Jessica may not be a success by many standards but she sets out to capture Kilgrave and manages and when he escapes and she is set free of certain other to keep him alive she adjusts her aims and plans for those goals pretty effectively too. That was nice to see and unusual in any show, but certainly in a show about solving crime. Of course, if this was a work of literature I could spend time analysing in depth how the different people with power use their power and contrast that with how Kilgrave abuses his. In fact most of the characters except Jessica explicitly have power thanks to their words just to further highlight the parallels. Just because this is a TV show based on a comic book doesn’t mean that those choices and those parallels and contrasts aren’t there. As you might guess, although there are a fair number of conversations between these various women about Kilgrave, there are a lot of conversations about other things and while I’m not sure every episode passes the Bechdel test, most of them do and the series overall certainly does.
While discussing the literary themes of characters with power, there are a number of other themes that are developed through the series. I’m not going to go into details of how because that would be incredibly spoiler heavy, but there are on-going themes looking at redemption, revenge and forgiveness, the nature of love and how we recognise it and how it develops and changes and on responsibility and guilt (and forgiveness again).
This show won’t be to everyone’s tastes. It goes to some dark places and deals with dark topics. But although there’s a superhero or two and a supervillain floating around, it’s a remarkably human story. Of all the superhero shows I’ve seen, film and TV, this is the one I’m most comfortable with and the one I’m certainly hoping they bring back. Not least because of all those extra bits that are so nicely crafted in here that are too often absent in other shows ostentibly in the same genre.
Sunday, November 15. 2015
We’re a few weeks past the last RWC and although the dust hasn’t fully settled, it’s starting to. What I’m going to do, instead of writing a team of the tournament - it’s quite hard to look past all those players in black shirts who may not have had great games in the pool rounds but all performed in one, two or all three of the knock-out matches and it never really looked in doubt is, instead, write something prospective, about the tier 1 teams and their prospects going forwards. I’m going to do this in order of their IRB rankings and I’m only doing the tier 1 teams because I don’t see enough of the tier 2 teams outside the RWC to form a long term opinion.
On that basis, while the order will shuffle a bit I’m sure and New Zealand might not be as completely dominant in the next four years as they were in the last (where they only lost three games), I think they’ll still be the pace-setters and the favourites come 2019. In Europe I predict more turbulent times - England, France and Italy all look to be in disarry, so the lineup of the 6N could change, and the cracks I think are there in Irish rugby will be papered over because of the confusion in the other teams. Japan will come out stronger than ever, and whoever has them in their group, playing at home, will have an extra group of death to worry about in four years time. Based on these rankings, Gatland to lead the Lions to New Zealand seems like a bit of a shoe-in, although back-to-back Lions series wins, not so much.
Sunday, November 15. 2015
This film is probably the most English thing I’ve seen all year, certainly the most English film. It’s going to appeal to a lot of people in the UK but will it ever work outside this sceptered isle?
It is, is essence, the true story of Alan Bennett moving in to Camden Town in 1970 and the creative yuppie middle-class community that lived there. But, much more, it is the story of his relationship Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous elderly homeless woman who lives in a van and moves around Camden who, when the council put down yellow lines, he invites to stay on his drive for a few weeks and ends up staying for fifteen years! In parallel with that is the story of Bennett’s relationship with his mother, who is not estranged but now more distant as she stays in Leeds. He adds to this by having himself in the story twice: you have Bennett the actual person and Bennett the writer, both present and arguing with each other at various points, particularly over the parallels that the author draws between the person’s relationships between these two elderly women.
This could be a terrible, car-crash of a movie. In the hands of a lesser writer than Alan Bennett and, it has to be said a lesser and younger actor than Dame Maggie Smith, it might well have been. Bennett brings his typical sharp obversation which makes this both rise to be great while, I suspect, limiting it’s appeal to the UK or those that really know us well. As you would expect his commentary is sometimes acerbic but there are more than enough moments of genuine warmth, laugh out loud joy as well as pathos and some surprising elements of dignity and victories of the human spirit and we both came out feeling warmed and uplifted by what we’d seen.
It’s practically impossible to say what happens, because in some ways nothing does. It really does just observe and relate fifteen years of these two people going about their lives living in really close proximity without living together. But it really is a wonderful example of how, in the hands of a brilliant writer, something that sounds quiet banal can turn into brilliant entertaining art.
Bechdel test: Despite Bennett, Bennett and Miss Shepherd being the main faces, there are a number of other female faces and they do interact, they are named and have brief snippets of conversation. It’s a scrape but it’s a pass.
Russo test: Bennett is gay and it’s made clear that the succession of gentleman callers that Miss Shepherd assumes are communists are there for more carnal pleasures. The story ends with the first man he invites to move in with him saying he should stop talking to himself so much! A clear pass.
Wednesday, November 4. 2015
Until very recently Zite was my news aggregator of choice for the iPad. A while ago Zite was bought out by Flipboard and recently they decided to push people towards their app rather than Zite, as part of a longer term move towards discontinuing it.
When I did my mentoring training it said when you give feedback you should say something positive at the start, limit your negative feedback to no more than 3 key points and say something positive at the end. On that basis, I find myself unable to give appropriate feedback about Flipboard. So I’ll say the one good thing I can and the biggest single bugbear and leave it there.
They added a pretty UI. They limited, dramatically, their sources of news. To the extent that to get ANY other source of news about the UK when I had UK as a category I had to ban The Telegraph as a source. Now, I don’t actually mind reading some stories from the torygraph to balance up other things. But when it’s the only source of news, there’s something wrong! I could keep going, but I won’t.
And then along came Apple News with iOS9, finally released in the UK about a fortnight ago.
Now, News has a rather different look and feel in several ways.
News is actually quite rapidly expanding its range of sources, which is good. It does, apparently, offer a system to let you subscribe to RSS feeds as well, so you can add specific blogs if you choose. I’m not going to be taking that system up: I have a perfectly good RSS reader and I use it for different things thanks. But it is an option that’s out there, and I can see it could be useful. You can, and I do, choose specific channels (say The Huffington Post UK, although that’s not one of mine) rather than topics. This lets me get stories from Ars Technica, for example, that I might otherwise miss.
News is different to Zite and Flipboard. I find it immeasurably better than Flipboard. It’s harder for me to compare to Zite because it has some features I really like but it lacks some features of Zite that I really miss. That said, I find reading news with News is a pleasure once again and really there can be no higher praise for this kind of app than that.
Friday, October 30. 2015
There’s little doubt that whoever wins tomorrow will be the team of the year, and deservedly. So far Australia and New Zealand have swept almost all before them - it’s one-all in their matches, so the winner of tomorrow’s match will have a 2–1 lead in head-to-head matches this year as well as winning the game’s biggest tournament.
There’s a lot more doubt about who will win player of the year. There have been years where a certain R. McCaw has had his name on the trophy and he hasn’t been the world’s best player. They’re balanced out by years when he’s been head and shoulders the best in the world and other players have lifted the title, so he’s probably won the right number, just not in the right years. I would say Pocock probably should win on balance, but if Carter, Hooper or Savea have a blinder tomorrow they’re in with a chance. Laidlaw and Wyn Jones are both good solid nominations and in a year that didn’t have a RWC they’d both be in with a decent shout. But the first four all have a chance to change the course of the big game of the next four years and that will weigh really heavily in a lot of people’s minds.
Coach of the year is more interesting. The nominees are Eddie Jones, Daniel Hourcade, Michael Cheika and Steve Hansen.
One of Hansen and Cheika will have the year’s highest winning percentage and the big cup.
Cheika will have also have transformed the mess the Wallabies were in a year ago into a world-class team regardless of whether they win or not. MacKenzie, the former coach, resigned because of off-field issues. But before he went, Australia were in a mess - how much of that reflected those off-field issues we’ll never know - but if he’d continued in charge I’d have confidently predicted England and Wales to leave that group (Wales on top of course) and Fiji might have come third. Australia were really playing that badly. Of course Cheika changed the rules to get Giteau and MItchell back (there’s nothing wrong with this, he changed Australia’s selection policy about overseas players, not IRB rules) but other than that he mostly took a bunch of talented, excellent players and made them cohere into an excellent team. But going from a prediction of free-falling and finishing third or fourth in the group to playing in the final and a chance of winning the tournament in a year, that’s still impressive.
Eddie Jones has taken a group of players who have always been willing but have been (fairly) considered too small to genuinely compete at the highest level and beaten South Africa as a statement of the fact that they’ve arrived. It’s fair to temper that with the fact that up to and including that match, the Bokke were not playing well. However, tier 1 nations ought to beat tier 2 nations even when they’re easing players back in and playing at less than their best. That they didn’t is testimony to the advances that Japan have made and the ability of the players to put Jones’ strategy into effect.
In two years Daniel Hourcade has taken Argentina from a team where you knew exactly what you got: an amazing scrum and maul, a decent lineout and usually a good goal kicker - not quite the epitome of 10-man rugby but close - to a side that are not without flaws but certainly play an expansive, 15-man game. In that time they have racked up a draw and a win (away) against South Africa and home and away wins against Australia. Their game has certainly improved thanks to being in The Rugby Championship and playing South Africa, New Zealand and Australia twice a year for the last four years and will only continue to do so - especially as they will now have a Super Rugby side and be able to have a core squad of players who play together year round. But Hourcade has made them into a team that plays a much more dangerous game (as Ireland found to their cost) and a side that can play with the best in the world for the whole match as they demonstrated in their opening match of the RWC against the All Blacks.
In some ways, Steve Hansen has the easiest job. If you can write McCaw, Carter, Nonu, Smith x 3, Whitelock, Retallick, Savea and Read on your team sheet - names that certainly enter any argument for best in their position in the world although opinions will vary about whether or not they will win that place of course, you’d struggle to find anyone who would deny they deserve consideration - where’s the skill? But if you’d said 18 months ago he’d be leaving Israel Dagg and Aaron Cruden behind the world would have looked at you like you’d gone mad. (Now, Cruden was injured so that choice was easy, but Dagg was dropped.) Cory Jane was dropped too, another eye-opener, Jane and Dagg were replaced by Naholo and Milne-Skudder - certainly one of the names that’s lit up the RWC. With Woodcock forced to leave the squad due to injury and a prop that basically no one had heard of called Moody turns up to make that beautiful off-load against the French and then start in the semi-final and final. England are making excuses about lack of experience in key positions, New Zealand won a semi-final with a prop winning his 10th cap, and a hooker winning his 35th. Yes, they have a load of experience in other places but that’s some really key positions with not that much experience. And that, as much as managing his stars is Hansen’s claim to greatness and why he deserves to be on this list. Yes, he’s lucky that New Zealand produces players of quality as readily as it does. But he identifies and nurtures those players. The final selection process is often brutal, but when Carter goes, after tomorrow, New Zealand have FOUR players who have won tests against top 3 nations starting at 10 to consider as his replacement. When McCaw retires, Sam Cane is his obvious successor. But he is already being pressured by another Savea (Ardie) who some (me included) think played better than Cane in the Super Rugby this year. It’s arguable that leaving Ardie at home, so he played in the NPC and got that experience did a lot more for his development than sitting on the bench in England and Wales though… and next year he’ll be that much better. And this, as much as all the wins is why Hansen is on this list.
Unlucky not to get nominated? This year in particular, Warren Gatland. Gatland took a team that couldn’t keep players on their feet out of the pool of death and almost to the semi-finals. Wales played with fourth choice players, wings in the centre, third-choice scrum-halves on the wing and all kinds of things and found ways to win. It was impressive.
I’m sorry Eddie, I’ll be shocked if you win. You’re a good shout for the nomination but not to win. It will probably go to the coach of the winning team in the final. But if Argentina win tonight and I had a vote, I’d vote for Hourcade. Changing the entire way a team play in 2 years, and doing it well enough to come third in the RWC when you were ranked 8th in the world at the start of the competition that’s some coaching. (Argentina are now up to 4, which is a much more realistic place for them, all those wins in the RWC make a big difference.) If South Africa win, the winner of the final will, deserved walk off with another gong, although winning that gold cup tomorrow will matter far more I’m sure.
Monday, October 19. 2015
Sicario as the film informs you at the beginning (and in the trailer indeed), means hitman in Mexico. That piece of information essentially tells you a lot about the movie but what, precisely, it means is not clear for a long time.
The film actually starts with an FBI raid by the kidnap recovery team on a Mexican drug cartel house in Phoenix, Arizona and a very grisly discovery. The lead agent, Kate Macer, is recruited from there to an inter-agency task force that is going to try and get the guy that gave the orders that lead to this particular house and the events that caused it to become just how it is.
At this point, despite the warnings of her boss, you can see how Macer is raring to go and do the right thing and get El Jefe of the cartel in a suitably FBI way. Given the nature of the trailers for the film, it doesn’t constitute spoilers to say not everything is as simple and straight-forward as she thinks and the film very effectively handles her increasing distress and confusion as she tries to work out what the hell is going on and she watches due process being ignored, the law being flouted and so on. It takes us along on this ride by the simple expedient of basically only revealing information as she sees it, until the very end when she finally understands what’s going on in it’s entirety.
That’s not to say the film only uses this device to ratchet up the tension. There are a number of set piece fight scenes and several of them work the tension levels nicely with long periods of will-they-won’t-they and then explosive action. The other combat scenes are largely more unrelentingly long term combat scenes that are fitting in their place.
The plot, in and of itself, is perhaps less twisty than I expected but there are several moments where there are conversations that serve as a commentary on the success, or otherwise, of America’s war on drugs and the lengths to which it is willing to bend its own laws to continue to try and prosecute that war.
Overall, thoroughly watchable and entertaining, if rather different to our normal fair.
While film is certainly watchable entirely on its own merits it is also interesting for another reason. The story goes that Emily Blunt asked to be considered for the lead role, which had originally been written for a man. Unless it was written for as a gay FBI agent there’s one scene that has been changed a little - she picks a guy up and takes him home after a rough day, which I suspect would have been different. The end of that night might have been changed too but the details of that constitute spoilers. (The end of that scene makes me think it might have had a gay FBI character. Although there are ways it could have been done with a man picking up a woman it’s hard to see it playing out quite the way it did.) There are a few scenes where she’s shown as weak in some way and care is taken to show one or more men being as vulnerable as her in all but one of these. I found myself wondering if those would have been shot that way if it was a male actor in that role - for most of them I think it would have been but not necessarily for all.
But, those comments aside, there was nothing obvious that made any difference about the fact it’s a woman. Which was good. Except, of course, it’s a woman in a leading role in an action-thriller. If this had been Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Bradley Cooper or even someone like Stephen Amell making the move from TV to movies no one would have batted an eyelid. Emily Blunt is probably too thin and lacking in muscle for the role in reality but at least she actually has visible muscles. And she carries off this role with aplomb. I don’t know how many female agents the FBI has but hopefully we’ll start to see more women cast in these roles in movies based on this bit of casting. It’s not like we don’t have actors other than Emily Blunt that can do it after all. Hopefully we’ll be allowed (by the dinosaurs that hold the purse strings) to see them in future.
In a film with a cast this large the success or otherwise rarely actually lies on the shoulders of just the star, despite what the studio system would have us believe. Josh Brolin and Daniel Kaluuya both turn in solid supporting actor performances in different ways, with Brolin being called on to hit a wider range and hitting all the nuances nicely. But Benicio Del Toro puts in a truly magnificent performance. While the film, rightly, follows Blunt’s character, if I had an Oscar vote, I don’t think I’ve seen a performance more deserving than Del Toro’s and his performances with Blunt power many of the most memorable non-action scenes of the film.
Even if you’re not sure about the war on drugs action/thriller story, the woman in a role written for a man aspect of the film is interesting too and if you’d like to see more movies made with women in leading roles, go support it. I would suggest you won’t regret it unless you hate this genre of movie.
Bechdel test: Dismal fail. Kate is, according to IMDB, the only named woman in the film. There is a scene where she could have a conversation with another woman, but she doesn’t and the woman is “Reggie’s Dance Partner” which is not a name.
Russo test: Fail. We only see Kate and Reggie express their sexuality and they’re both straight.
Wednesday, October 14. 2015
Although I haven’t seen the movie (and don’t plan to) the book 50 Shades of Grey is the poster child for a dysfunctional, abusive relationship with shades of kink rather than a functional D/s relationship. It is also, incidentally, print and celluloid proof that anyone who trots out the line that vampire stories are s-and-m sex metaphors needs to be careful. 50 Shades started as Twilight fanfic, and Twilight might have poor female role models but doesn’t have poor vampire-human relationships so far as I know. Transfer them to a BDSM relationship and you DON’T get a healthy relationship, you get an abusive one.
Why did I start there? Well The Duke of Burgundy is a film about a BDSM relationship that, while far from perfect, is clearly being done pretty well.
The film opens with what appears to be the maid turning up to the rather distant owner of the house and being instructed to clean the study. As it unfolds, it becomes obvious they’re a couple and this is one of their roleplay scenes, and a firm favourite. The scene can, and at various points does, develop in many different ways, with boot cleaning, laundry duty and subsequent play-punishment, the Mistress throwing litter around, the maid having to clean the porch outside in the pouring rain or apparently wearing nothing on her bottom half except high heels. Other scenes develop too, almost always at the urging of the younger, submissive partner to the increasing, but hidden, discomfort of the older, dominant one.
That is not to say the dominant partner does not play up to her role well. She punishes her submissive in one scene and when the sub asks to stop because it’s no fun, just carries on remorselessly. It is made clear before this that if there is a genuine cause for concern she will stop a scene but just because it’s not fun is not enough.
The laundry duty and play-punishment causes the dominant partner’s unease to explode, and rather than following the script, she breaks down in tears, finally expressing her unease. The couple settle into a period of vanilla sex, with both of them happy, but the closing scene is of the sub knocking on the door in her maid’s outfit and the dominant dressed in her stern mistress of the house outfit and wig once again.
For a film that’s about a lesbian couple in a kinky sexual relationship there’s essentially no naughty bits. You see a lot of legs, and more shoulders than you’d expect in most films, but no nipples, areola, vaginas and only the same amount of buttock as you might see of someone in hotpants. The punishments, even when it’s absolutely clear what they’re going to be, if they involve exposing body parts, are left to your imagination. Whether or not you find it erotic depends on exactly what fetishes you have. I don’t know about Peter Strickland’s (the director’s) fetishes (although I’d be willing to guess) but he certainly manages to film several things that aren’t fetishes of mine in a such an obsessive level of detail I could feel the fetishistic desire oozing through the screen.
This is a film with marginal plot. It is basically a year (approximately, the passage of time isn’t clearly marked) in their life, largely told through the intensification of their kink, then the sudden relaxation into vanilla life and then the return to kink. That won’t be to everyone’s taste, just as the subject matter won’t be. But it’s a lavish, fetishistic delight in so many ways it’s worth a look despite that.
Bechdel test: It’s a lesbian love story. Take a wild guess… In fact there are no men at all and most of the women are named, although there are only really conversations between Evelyn and Cynthia, and the two of those plus The Carpenter.
Russo test: Likewise, it’s a lesbian story, guess!
Sunday, October 4. 2015
Much like Everest, The Martian is a disaster movie. However, unlike Everest it is probably closer to Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff in tone.
The premise is simple. Ares III, a manned mission to Mars, has to abort when an unexpectedly strong storm blows up and threatens to blow over their MAV (the vehicle that will get them off Mars, back to Hermes the ship that will take them home). While evacuating from the HAB (their base on Mars, the habitat facility they’ve been living in) to the MAV, one of the astronauts, Watney, is struck by flying debris, his electronics are damaged and are a search they take off before the MAV tips over believing he’s dead.
He has food for about 300 days (the mission was for a lot less long than that, but it was for a crew of 6 and NASA oversupplies on principle) but it will take at least 800 days for a rescue mission to arrive. All this is in the trailer.
There are other problems that crop up, which I won’t detail here, because, spoilers. One of the issues that is relevant and in the trailer, is that for a chunk of the movie Watney is out of touch and has to solve problems on his own, once he establishes contact, he has lots of brainy people trying to come up with solutions to help him. This is the bit that reminded me of Apollo 13. But even then, there’s a huge element of him being alone and a long way away. Twelve light minutes means when something goes wrong he has to cope with the emergency and then tell people about it. These parts reminds me of The Right Stuff.
And although a lot of the attention focuses on the action on Mars, there is enough of the Earth-side science and the Earth-side politics to keep all sides of it moving along in an interesting fashion and create some unexpected tensions that develop things that work to give you a different set of things to worry about.
Stringing together the series of disasters to be plausible and juggling to make them really bad but just survivable for long enough every time must have meant I don’t know how many rewrites of the original book. But it works and makes a tense movie that all of us who went thoroughly enjoyed. Although it had a terrible disco sound check.
Also, just for giggles and not a spoiler, Sean Bean has now been to a Council of Elrond in two movies!
At 2:21 this is quite a long movie, our backs and backsides knew about it but it didn’t feel like it dragged at any point. There are a lot of pretty shots of Mars but I’m not convinced it really needs a big screen, it’s quite a small movie, being a one-hander in effect for a lot of the time. But this is one film where the hype is really believable - it is well worth seeing.
Bechdel test: Yes, absolutely. Most obviously Melissa Lewis (Commander) and Beth Johanssen (Astrogator) have a number of conversations about exciting things like orbital velocity, interception points and the like. But they’re named and the conversations aren't about men, even though they are about rescuing a man. They’re professionals doing their job having the conversations they need to do them.
Russo test: No. The astronauts are all straight that we see. We don’t really see anyone else’s personal life.
Saturday, October 3. 2015
When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party it’s fair to say it wasn’t a shock - the pollsters had been paying out on it for about a week - but in the political landscape it had the impact, and shock value, of an earthquake.
Corbyn is a pretty hard-left socialist, even by our “European Socialist” standards. As a leader of a political party, where since Michael Foot really, it’s all been about “occupying the centre ground” this is a really dramatic shift to the left. Corbyn certainly seems to the left of Kinnock by several steps, and Neil Kinnock is one of those rare people who fought and lost two general elections as the leader of the opposition in succession. It is certainly argued, rightly or wrongly, that he lost because he was too left wing to appeal to the electorate successfully. It’s no wonder there are a lot of really nervous Labour MPs out there.
However, if we look at parties which cover the whole of Great Britain (I use the term very advisedly: Northern Ireland is, as always, different when it comes to politics, equally since IndyRef the SNP has shown a massive increase in membership, but that’s only in Scotland) all of the parties have been showing a decline over the last several decades. This election, the Labour leadership election that is, has boosted Labour Party membership by over 200,000. Many of those were the £3 affiliate members and doubtless some of those were mischievous voters. However, it’s clear that a significant number were not and also an appreciable number were the more expensive full members. At least 50,000 of those 200,000 people joined the Labour Party in the week or so after Corbyn was elected leader. They’re not malicious or mischievous voters, they’re probably a mix of returning Labour voters and potential new voters but many of them are young and engaged and are probably new voters. More on this later.
The bulk of the press hate Corbyn. They hated Milliband, who was far more moderate, which is no surprise since they’re fairly or completely pro-Tory. Even the exceptions to the pro-Tory press such as the Guardian seem pretty anti-Corbyn for some reason - he’s not the liberal, centrist Labour they’ve been supporting for the last 25 years after all. Having a genuine socialist to pillory is an easy target for all of them. The natural readership of the right-wing press will lap it all up of course, although the Guardian is shifting stance it seems.
The real question is, will the wider public be so critical? Even if you assume no overlap of readers, the print media only reaches about 10–12 million readers these days. It’s potentially influential but not the dominant force it used to be. Equally, there was an interesting piece published that looked at some of the economic “heresies” that Corbyn has proposed, renationalising the railways, People’s QE and the like. They’re incredibly unpopular with the Conservatives, and with the pro-Tory media, but they have widespread (>50% at least) support in the general public. People look at the amount we spend on the supposedly private rail companies in subsidies and wonder if we’re getting a good deal. Renationalisation is not seen as a bad move by many, although it certainly is by some. People hear the warning that the kind of things in People’s QE can cause inflation, then hear the news that inflation is staggering around 0% rather than the 2.5% target and wonder why this is a bad thing. The list goes on like this.
There is, barring something dramatic happening, basically 4 years and 8 months until we have a general election, although there are various elections between now and then. The economic situation will probably change and what Labour are saying now might not be the right answers in 2020. They need to be light enough on their feet to cope with that. But at their conference and after it they have been saying the right things.
Despite this, Corbyn undoubtedly has problems. I’m inclined to a pacifist point of view, with a non-interventionist foreign policy. Unilateral disarmament doesn’t scare me. But I’m in a small minority here. He needs to say something that will work with the electorate and say it soon and elaborate a coherent policy.
Regardless of this, ultimately, winning elections is a numbers game. Lets say half of the 150,000 pre-vote members stay and 4/5 of the post-vote members stay until 2020. And whatever number are returning party members but existing voters rather than young new voters are made up for by a slower influx of new, young voters if Corbyn continues to appeal to them over that time as he did during the leadership hustings. That’s ~115,000 new Labour voters come the next election. If he continues to do well with the population rather than the media he could continue to bring more than this in, and the numbers I’m using could need to be raised appreciably. Equally, of course, if he does terribly, they’ll need to be adjusted down. This is the harsh reality of politics but the evidence to date says he attracts people when he speaks and he attracts young people to vote for the first time, just as Blair did.
If you think it only took 900 in the right places to change their votes for it to be a hung parliament what could an extra 115,000 votes do? We don’t know where they’re based of course: it’s likely many of them are in places where Labour elected MPs safely anyway and they are, relatively speaking wasted, and some are wasted because they’re in places where Labour doesn’t really stand a chance. But they can’t all be, can they? Even if only 10% are in marginals, 11,500 extra Labour voters in the right places is a lot of a swing where it matters. Some time that reality will hit home. It will hit home to Labour MPs, to Tory strategists and to the press. And what will happen then will be really interesting. Remember it only took 900 people to vote different for a hung parliament… an estimated 11,500 votes is a big number compared to that even when you accept there’s a fair margin of error (or guesswork) there.
It’s interesting, as someone who hasn’t actually voted Labour (I’ve voted Green) for many years to wonder what has brought about the resurgence in Labour Party membership. My best guess, and it is only a guess, was neatly summed up in a quote from one of the commentators early in the campaign. I don’t remember it exactly, and I can’t find it by searching which suggests I’ve mangled it somewhat, but it went something like:
It’s easy from this perspective to forget what Tony Blair offered in the mid–90’s was hope. A hope for a better Britain, a brighter future. His story and current history is saying what he did was occupy the middle ground and win because he won Middle England but what if how he won them was by offering them hope? None of the current crop of politicians in any party seem to offer much in the way of hope. Corbyn may not deliver on hope but when he speaks he seems to make you believe, even cynical old journalists like me believe, that there is a hope for a brighter, better future again. And that could just be a far more powerful message than any of us really understand at the moment.
I’ve heard Corbyn speak several times now. He doesn’t sound like the polished PR clone that we’ve had for a long time. If I’m honest, I like that. I find it refreshing to find someone articulate who speaks his mind rather than the party message soundbite. I suspect that might be part of his appeal to the wider public as well, an aspect beyond the hope he seems to engender I discussed briefly above. He isn’t always on the party message and sometimes that sounds like a gaffe, sometimes that is presented as “this is my view and I hope to bring the party with me” but I’m prepared to give him and the Labour Party some time to settle down and sort things out. They don’t have to roll out policies for a general election instantly. It does make him sound like a principled individual when he says thinks he believes in - he must know some of them are going to be unpopular and that is novel in this day and age.
It will be interesting to see what happens as the party machinery tries to get to grips with Corbyn. He is spouting off these statements at odds with core (current) party policy. At the moment he can still, the Tory press won’t forgive him whatever he says, the Labour MPs won’t either, but with the wider Labour Party he’s probably still got a honeymoon period, and with the electorate there’s a sizing up period. He is unknown, relatively, he’s been elected leader, he’s done his first conference - we’re past our first date but we’re still getting to know each him. The ones that matter, the voters that change their mind and their votes will be making up their minds over the weeks and months to come. Although the evidence is, they often don’t decide until they walk into that booth, more or less, a Thursday in May, 2020. But, back to the point, with Blair, Brown (however uncomfortable he looked) and Milliband (however unnatural it looked on him) we had people who had been more or less polished, taught to deal with the public, the media and so on. Corbyn has changed his appearance: he no longer looks like a working geography teacher, he looks more like a retired geography teacher - his jackets are a bit nattier as if he no longer has to consider how well they’ll stand up to the rigours of the classroom and the assaults of ink, chalk and the like. But he has this distressing habit of answering questions. He may not answer yes or no - like many a teacher his answers are longer and more detailed than that - but they are clear enough, do directly answer the question and when probed more he answers waspishly that he has made his position quite clear. (Watch or listen to the question on pressing the button to launch nukes if you’re not sure what I’m talking about. He had explained why he wouldn’t use them, and was probed about whether he would actually do it. His response was polite but pretty pointed, he didn’t quite call the interviewer stupid but he pretty much accused her of not actually listening to what he’d said!) I like this form of answering questions with reasons and thought out positions. (It might help I agree with a lot of the reasoning on this case, it will be interesting to see what I think when I hear him questioned on a topic where I disagree with him more.) But, I think those that listen might find it interesting. We’ve had 25+ years of politicians spinning answers like crazy, and avoiding answering questions they think have awkward answers. Corbyn gave an answer he must have known would be unpopular supported by his reasoning. Whether or not I agree with his position, I think I’ll find that a better approach than the soundbite and non-answer we’ve had for so long.
There was much talk that there would be plots and moves to depose him. While it’s technically easy to do, the face he won over 50% of the vote in a field of 4 in the first round in all three “colleges” of the Labour Party’s voting system makes that an act of suicide. If he’d won solely on the basis of the affiliates you could have attempted to change the voting system, throw out affiliate voters, and trigger a new election and hope someone else comes forward. Now the potential rebels need really solid grounds to do so. They may turn up. Conventional psephological wisdom says occupy the centre ground and he’s not going to do that. Conventional psephological wisdom said we’d have a hung parliament with Labour the biggest party too. Those reasons really may not turn up.
Friday, September 25. 2015
I never had an urge to climb Everest. It should also be said I have neither the aptitude nor the ability as well as lacking the desire. Having watched Everest I no longer have the need to climb it either!
The first half of this film acts very nicely as a tourist video of the climb and the spectacle of the mountain itself, thus circumventing any need for me to ever try and actually do all that training and dangerous exertion and so on. I’m not sure how much was shot on the mountain and how much mocked up but I imagine quite a lot is shot there. The [wiki page for the film](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everest_(2015_film) doesn’t say how much but does say they shot in Nepal.
This first half of the film also establishes the various personalities of our “team” of climbers and those around them, including the other teams, all aiming for the summit in May, 1996.
1996 was if, like me, you didn’t know the real start of “Everest tourism.” You still had to be a good climber (the climbers in the team discuss their other conquests, including Mount McKinley, for one of them Everest is the last of the Seven Summits and so on) but there were multiple tour groups all paying (the figure of US$65,000 is mentioned) experienced Everest climbers to get them to the summit and back. It had obviously happened before - Rob Hall, the central character of this film had done it, this seems to be the first year with multiple competing tour groups. Hence the other teams and their characters. Because this is based on a real historical disaster from 1996 (and because it’s hard to have spoilers from real events 19 years ago so brace yourself for that!) you get a bigger cast than you might in a fictional piece. There are certainly characters present who obviously were there in fact but who you would role into one character or remove altogether if you were writing this as fiction.
Finally, as part of the team training, it establishes the less obvious physiological hazards the climbers will face. These include the symptoms of hypoxia, cerebral oedema and hypothermia. As you might guess, this being film with limited time, many of these become relevant later on.
Anyway, by and large, things go well as our intrepid team make the summit. We learn enough about most of them to understand why they’re there - although it’s somewhat superficial in places. We get the views and we get enough moments of danger, safely overcome, to understand something of both the risks and the competence of the guides that are leading the groups striving for the summit.
And then they get to the top and things start to change. The weather changes, as its wont to do. Rob Hall, the team leader, makes a compassionate, human but ultimately stupid decision that puts various people’s lives at risk.
And from then on we’re into disaster movie territory. Who will survive in low oxygen, freezing temperatures, night falling and all the rest?
Several of them die on the mountain, some are left for dead but survive albeit with massive frostbite despite the odds and some survive. I would hazard a guess that even those physically ok didn’t survive without trauma.
This film won’t be for everyone and to be honest it’s not the sort of movie I’d normally pick out but the spectacle of the first half is really beautiful and worth seeing, and worth seeing on a big screen. The unfolding disaster of the second half is moving without being maudlin and although you may disagree it didn’t feel overlong to me. Unlike a lot of 70’s disasters movies this sort of people fighting to survive the extremes of nature doesn’t annoy me in the same way that say The Towering Inferno style often can, where it’s fighting more against incompetence and stupidity. This won’t be one of my favourites at the end of the year, but I suspect it will tuck in just behind that group.
If you like random actor trivia, two different actors who played terminators were in the movie (playing Guy and Rob). This doesn't normally do it for me, but it distracted me a couple of times. Both were West Island New Zealanders pulling out their best Kiwi accents and managing pretty well.
Bechdel Test: I think, oddly, no. There are a lot of named female characters: Helen (base camp manager), Peach (wife of one of the climbers), Yasuko Namba (a climber), Jan Hall (now Arnold) and Caroline (the camp doctor) among others. Quite a few of them talk to each other. But I can’t remember any of them not talking about one of the men. The ones that could have talked about other things are largely limited by the language barrier.
Russo test: No. No one identifies as anywhere on the LGBT spectrum.
Saturday, September 19. 2015
So iOS9 is here.
Unlike some people I haven’t had developer versions and so on to play with, this is just my first thoughts after using it for a few hours.
The change of font from Helvetica Neue to San Francisco seems small to me when I look at the fonts on comparison sheets and elsewhere but actually using the iPad it seems much more significant and actually quite pleasant it has to be said. It is, perhaps, really dramatic when you come to use the keyboard and you’re suddenly faced with a keyboard that changes from lower case to upper case and back when you press shift. I was used to the old style but this seems more obvious and not off-putting except for an instant of “WTF?” or, perhaps “wtf?” But it’s more than that - the appearance of the app names and more is appreciably, if fairly subtly, different. I think it’s an improvement although I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. It feels somewhat crisper and easier to read though. A more dramatic change - if you use folders you get 16 items per page instead of 9, at least on an iPad.
Sidebar apps, or app sharing - you can pull in a sort of minified version of some apps from the right to take up 1/4 of the screen but only apps that are set up for this - seems to work nicely. It’s a little odd in iBooks if, like me, you flick to turn pages when you get a little arrow asking if you want a sidebar to show or not. Also, if you want to use it in iBooks while you’re reading, you’ll turn the page every time! But in other apps it’s nice. In less than 24h I’ve shifted to tapping on the right to turn the pages 95%+ of the time so it doesn’t evoke that slider arrow. The sidebar probably won’t work for all types of apps - you get a sort of ultra-minified version of the app which works nicely for reminders for example but is less satisfying for some other things - it’s too narrow to make a satisfying reading experience in my opinion, although iBooks is available there as is Instapaper. It will be interesting to see what developers add to this over the coming weeks and months.
Speaking of Reminders, I might be one of the few, but I have always used this app and it’s had an overhaul. Some of it is purely visual - check buttons for completed actions are grey not blue for example. Some is more suitable for me although if you have a load of items in a day it might be less good - there’s a little + for adding new reminders on every day that displays. Because a lot of my reminders are repeats (things like take my pills twice a day - you only get the current reminders for those) I used to get about 5 days on a screen in landscape, now I get about 4–5, plus a load of extraneous + buttons to let me add new reminders for those days. That said, when I want a reminder to ring someone for work (which happens moderately often) I can see it being really useful compared to the old interface. (You had to add a reminder, then set it to a specific day to achieve this which was a fiddle.)
Calendars has also had an overhaul and imports things from various places - it tells you so when you first load it but I didn’t notice anything in with a quick glance. I don’t use it that much on the iPad to be honest, and only found this because I was checking what day of the week a particular date fell on for some reason. I don’t use Mail on the iPad routinely either - I use too many folders for email on my iMac and it messes things up - so I won’t attempt to review that.
One of the most touted things is content blocking for Safari. You can’t actually search for content blockers but I was directed to one called Purify and I thought I’d give it a go (there’s a longer story there but this post is long enough. You get the app, then enable it via Settings > Safari, and that’s it. (I looked at screen shots of some other apps, they may have more twiddles and options.) And, at first that’s it. But when you surf around weird things happen. Sites, even sites you might expect to be relatively slow, load really quickly because loads of junk doesn’t get loaded. Most adverts vanish. Most social buttons vanish. The speed increase, even on sites like the Second Life marketplace or eShopping sites makes mobile browsing over wifi essentially as fast as browsing over an ethernet plugged-in computer.
Even without that Safari has changed. Some content renders differently when absolute positioning is used, there is a clipboard option that I have to explore properly, and if you paste into the address bar you get “paste and go” as an option. I understand the reader view has been overhauled. I don’t use this much but it is meant to be well worth it now.
Apple’s News app isn’t yet available in the UK. I’m looking forward to it. Flipchart bought out Zite a while ago and have started heavy-handedly hinting that Zite’s days are numbered. Flipchart is a poor replacement for Zite (although at first glance it looks pretty it lacks a lot of features and draws from a very restricted pool of sources, certainly for UK news). I don’t mind reading the Torygraph for some articles but it seems to be 90% of the news… and the only sensible option seems to be to mute it as a source which is not really that good either So, I’m hoping News, when it arrives, does better. It’s not a really high bar to aim for.
But iOS9 is looking good so far. And content-blocked Safari browsing is amazing.
Sunday, September 13. 2015
I finally caught up with The Maze Runner (which I missed at the cinema due to a migraine) in the expectation, and now hope, of seeing the sequel soon.
I’m sure, when it was released, as a YA dystopia it was compared, and probably not all that favourably, to The Hunger Games franchise. The problem is, the world of Panem is fully fleshed and complex from the start while in The Maze Runner we have a crowd of boys (and part way through one girl) living in moderately idyllic circumstances except they’re surrounded by a maze full of nasty creatures that shifts and changes and anyone out there overnight is never seen alive again. There is no fully fledged world and apart from the box delivering a new boy (except the one girl) and supplies every month there is no contact with the outside world. This all boys living together and the camp dynamics made me think much more of Lord of the Flies than The Hunger Games.
I felt the film did a decent job of balancing the various group dynamics within the camp with the initial dread of the unknown of the maze and then the horror/action sequences as they explore the maze and get attacked by the creatures inhabiting it and so on. The clashes between the “We’re safe here, we should stay and not disrupt the status quo” and “we should explore, we should get out” dynamics are clearly done and have other parallels that are obvious. It’s interesting to ask whether the fact that Gally, the embodiment of the conservatives, is also a bully and seems to believe sacrificing people to the maze in an almost religious ritual will bring back the good times which are present in the film are deliberate and how much more clearly they are present in the book.
The action sequences are good enough I wish I’d seen it at the cinema. And, surprisingly, one of the main characters you meet early is one of the first ones to die. There are plenty of token characters who die too as well as a few more significant and more keenly felt character deaths. Sadly in 2014 (when it was released) there’s a case of “the token black guy dies” still, although the token Asian survives.
One thing that isn’t clear to me is why the token girl appears. I understand there’s a series of books this franchise is based on and perhaps it’s clearer there. I’m certainly not opposed to women in movies but this really felt like tokenism - although she did get to have some really good moments, keeping the whole camp full of boys at bay when she first woke up for example.
I have been using the word token a lot. I don’t know if that’s present in the book but the film’s casting made it feel that way, most definitely.
One place I felt this movie genuinely fails when compared The Hunger Games and many other films was in its lead. Dylan O’Brien, who plays Thomas, had played the central character’s best friend in a teen TV show for 5 seasons… so he’d been somewhat important but not the star in an ensemble cast. I think he fails to make the transition to the big screen well. Ami Ameen as Alby I did believe as a leader and I felt I’d like to see more of him but of course I have, in Sense8. Jennifer Lawrence already had a film career and while it’s hard to argue against the idea that the original The Hunger Games proved she was a star, films like X-Men: First Class which was out the year before proved she could carry her own against such lightweights as James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender so the potential was certainly already there for all to see.
As a film, The Maze Runner packs all its “the world is more complex, lets have a sequel” reveals into the last few minutes. That’s not a disaster, it stands alone nicely enough for what it is and the reveals for the sequel work smoothly and organically enough that I didn’t feel like they were bolted on (unlike, for example Inception where the film’s ending is so different to the book’s and felt wrong and not only to me but to someone that didn’t know the books too.
Overall, despite its flaws, I enjoyed this film. I’d like to have seen it at the cinema. I’m going to try to see the sequel at the cinema. I’m also going to read the books and see just how different they are.
Bechdel test: No. There are actually two named female characters but there is nothing approaching a conversation between them.
Russo test: No. Actually there is nothing approaching any form of sexuality. In a camp full of teenage boys a teenage girl turns up and none of them behave at all inappropriately towards her. They obviously put bromide in their supplies.
Sunday, September 13. 2015
Legend is, for me, an interesting but disappointing film. As a fan of Orphan Black seeing Tom Hardy playing twins is unremarkable: I’m used to Tatiana Maslany playing Sarah, Beth, Cosima, Rachel, Helena, Alison, Krystal, Tony and briefly Katja (plus, of course) Sarah as Beth, Sarah as Cosima, Sarah as Katja, Sarah as Alison (and Sarah as Alison rping Donnie), Helena as Sarah, Cosima as Alison and so on. There were moments with her playing Jennifer too of course, in the build up to Season 2. And various moments like the clone dance party, Helena’s dream sequence and the dinner party and more with 3 or 4 clones closely interacting in ways the Kray twins rarely did but 2 clones together for long and often intensely physical shots (fights and the like) is pretty commonplace. So while that might be interesting for some that isn’t what made it so for me.
Tom Hardy himself is a compelling actor and it was interesting to see him play these characters - characters that are such a part of British modern history - and that makes it different to Tat’s sublime work doing the same multi-character work with fictional characters in Orphan Black. Telling the story from the perspective of Frances Kray (née Shea) as she meets, is courted by and marries Reggie also helps make it an interesting story for me - you see them from a different perspective to the normal gangster story, this is really a love story but the film is essentially about the baggage that one of the lovers has: his criminally insane brother whom he loves dearly, his love of being a gangster and his ambition to rule London’s underworld. That makes it interesting too.
Why was it disappointing? Well, although I don’t really know anything formal about the Krays, I do have a sense of what their grip on London was like; a cultural mythic sense of how brutal they were if you like. There are reasons in the film why Frances is protected from this: partly wilful ignorance, partly because Reggie wanted her to believe he was going straight and so hid it from her. But it plays up Reggie as the charming rogue (he has to be charming in the film, he sweeps Frances off her feet and marries her despite her misgivings and her mother’s disapproval after all). But it all comes across as rather too glamorous and not nasty enough given what I do know of what went on. I’d have been happier if this was an American crime story (where I wouldn’t know those details) or a fictional piece. As it was, it constantly jarred for me this glamorous veneer without the violence and terror really showing through. That was enhanced by the film using at least some of its more violent episodes as instant counter-points to moments of comic relief. Perhaps that’s meant to set up a sense of contrast to make you realise you’re seeing it through a filter but for me it set up an extra layer of uneasiness in the director’s choices.
It’s worth noting, in addition to the gloss and glamour that the chosen storytelling method put on it, about 2 minutes scanning Wikipedia will point out a number of clear factual errors in the film - things like dates and times of crimes that I’m prepared to bet Wikipedia has probably got right. These didn’t disappoint me at the time and don’t after the event either: I’m prepared to grant them artistic license because it made the story work nicely. But if you’ve looked into the true story of the Krays you might well be disappointed by the errors you notice.
This is the first film we’ve seen in a while that got an 18 certificate. There are a couple of fight scenes that probably make for that. Although one is quite Hollywood sanitised (if you beat people with hammers it should be bloodier than that I’m sure, I’ve seen enough CSI to know about “the first blow is free, then there are arcs of blood splatter” and so on), the other is bloody and brutal. Additionally there’s a mostly on-screen pill-popping suicide which probably pushes it up there too. And a LOT of swearing, although some of it will escape the delicate ears of the US audience who won’t understand why Reggie pulls a gun when he’s called a nonce pansy I’m sure.
There is also, as you’d expect from a movie set in the 60’s a lot of smoking. Everyone smokes all the time. It’s become so unusual in this day and age it took me a few minutes to adjust to the sight of it though. There are a couple of scenes set in clubs where it’s almost a case of peering through the haze on the long shots which I vaguely remember from the 80’s but it was a shock to see in a modern movie.
I would suggest this film is worth watching for some of the performances, certainly Tom Hardy’s. As a biologist I had to write a lot of essays that started “Compare and contrast…” and this film would give you a great founding to do that for building and portraying characters. (Orphan BlacK could do it too, and better mind you.) Watching it you were never in doubt about who you were seeing despite them being played by the same person, although there were times when a stunt double’s face was too clearly visible which jarred. As with a lot of British movies there a strong element of “Oh, that’s x from y isn’t it!” as loads of British actors get their big screen moments too. If that sort of exercise and the other things I’ve mentioned above don’t intrigue you then don’t go. The negatives are, I suspect, British (and possibly age) related only. I suspect it might do much better in the US than here because there’s not that same awareness of the Krays and who they were and what they did. Even after that I’m not sure it’s important to see at the cinema. There wasn’t much here that felt particularly cinematic to me.
Bechdel Test: Just, but yes. There are a lot of scenes between Frankie and her mother that ought to make it pass easily but Tara Fitzgerald who plays her mother is credited without a character name (not even “Frances’ mother”) on IMDB. However, there is a tiny scene of a chat about how badly Frankie makes tea with Violet (and Ronnie) so it just scrapes in. Given the amount of testosterone that’s quite a surprise. It’s not a good movie for role models for women.
Russo Test: Perhaps surprisingly given the era and the genre yes, clearly. Ronnie clearly identifies as homosexual (according to wikipedia he was almost certainly bisexual, having happy relationships with men but hoping to marry someone called Monica). He has a couple of pretty men around him throughout the film and associates with a number of gay men at various points. None of them are “the token gay” and Ronnie is certainly defined by a lot more than his sexuality, his hangers-on less so.
Sunday, August 30. 2015
I suppose the place I need to start this review is by saying I’m not a rap fan but, overall, I enjoyed the movie. Unlike the racist cop “Rap ain’t art” I’m merely saying I don’t generally like it (although there are some tracks I do like) in the same way I don’t like speed metal or bubblegum pop, or I do like goth music.
The next thing to say is that this is a biopic about a band. This is the model of music biopic where the band split up AND someone dies rather than one or the other, which probably explains why it runs to almost 2.5 hours. While there were scenes I could have lived without to make it shorter it didn’t hugely feel like it dragged at any point.
The film, like all music biopics, is probably pretty accurate - there’s a lot of rabid fans out there, it’s hard to make stuff up - and given Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Easy-E’s widow are among the producers it’s likely to be a pretty fair representation of the internal workings of N.W.A. Not being a fan of the genre or the band (I’ve heard of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube but I didn’t know they were in the band) it’s hard for me to comment on what’s been missed out. Rumours of misogyny, violent abuse of women and the like are rife and see no part in this film for example. In fact, apart from Dr. Dre’s mother there are almost no females in the movie except party girls until the band get older and start to settle down and acquire serious girlfriends who later become their wives. They don’t cover up a level of casual violence and threats with guns and the like that is frankly frightening.
I think the fact I didn’t know anything about the band helped make the movie more engaging for me: I was watching a story where I didn’t know what was going on, except in the broadest of terms. I recently watched Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (The Ian Dury and the Blockheads biopic) on TV where I knew the music and the story much better. I enjoyed the music much more but the film much less because I knew the story already.
The other thing that worked well for me was seeing their origins and the racist abuse they suffered individually and as a group. It’s easy for me to say “racism is terrible!” I’m white, and I live in a place where even if I was black I would be incredibly unlikely to be threatened with being shot for being black (it’s not true that none of our police are armed but it rare to see them and rare for those that are armed to shoot, even in our big cities) although harassment is certainly more common for black people here. This film slams the reality of it in your face in an impossible to ignore and really hard to condone way. Being harassed and technically legally beaten up for trying to walk across the street from your friends to your parent’s house because you’re black - that’s meant to be right? And the events of 2015 are doing a lot to show that America as a culture really hasn’t done a lot to advance matters between its police and its African American populace in the last 25 years or so.
There’s a line in the film, when Ice Cube is being interviewed, where he says he’s a journalist, telling the truth about what he sees around him in bloody, brutal reality rather than fancy words. I don’t know first hand that this is, or was, that reality - but I really don’t doubt it. The film captures and shows that to us in a way nothing I’ve seen before has ever really managed.
I went in expecting to be interested by this film and it ticked that box, but I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I expected too. It’s absolutely not a film to which you can take your children - the amount of profanity, drug use, random nudity and sex going on as N.W.A. live out the rock’n’roll excess lifestyle (even if they’d object to that styling of it) makes sure of that. I was a bit surprised when I saw it had a 15 certificate and that string of warnings but none of it counts as extreme or prolonged or bloody violence I guess.
Bechdel test: There are plenty of named women but they don’t talk to each other. There’s a shed-load of young, male, sex-starved attitude towards women too. Definitely not.
Russo test: Not by a long way. But then the film was infamous for its homophobia (even I remember that) so no surprises there.
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