Archives for August 2013

Frances Ha” a Hopeless Bore.

Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha

Noah Baum­bach’s Frances Ha

Poor Brook­lyn. What­ev­er did it do to mer­it the sort of musi­cians and film mak­ers that have late­ly come to sul­ly its streets with such stud­ied insou­ciance? And so lit­tle to show for it.

Noah Baum­bach is part of that group of ter­ri­bly clever indie film mak­ers that includes Wes Ander­son, Spike Jones and a cou­ple of the Cop­po­las. After his fourth film though, the gen­uine­ly charm­ing The Squid and the Whale (’04) it looked as if a seri­ous film mak­er had arrived on the scene.

But the three films he fol­lowed that up with, Mar­got at the Wed­ding (’07), Green­berg (’10) and now Frances Ha all have that irri­tat­ing air of being far too clever by half.

Jesse Eisenberg and Anna Paquin in "The Squid and the Whale".

Jesse Eisen­berg and Anna Paquin in “The Squid and the Whale”.

You can see what’s he done. He’s tak­en three clas­sic, indie film sce­nar­ios, but instead of then pro­duc­ing the sort of whim­si­cal, off­beat but qui­et­ly charm­ing sto­ry that the set up sug­gests, he’s tak­en the pro­tag­o­nists and work­shopped them to death. Every time you expect them to go one way he forces them in the exact oppo­site direc­tion. It’s a sort of test, to see how far the audi­ence will go along with it, and how much they’ll put up with.

So Frances Ha is the sto­ry of a late 20 some­thing who is forced to make the jour­ney from ado­les­cence into adult­hood. But instead of in any way mov­ing on, roman­ti­cal­ly, job-wise or on any lev­el, by the end of the film she’s in exact­ly the same place. And instead of any scenes that might be deemed either charm­ing or humor­ous, they’re all just qui­et­ly embar­rass­ing. Geddit?

If he wants to alien­ate the audi­ence, as Todd Solondz does, bril­liant­ly, then he should do so prop­er­ly. But he clear­ly has a gift for mak­ing roman­tic come­dies that man­age to be gen­uine­ly engag­ing. And that deal seri­ous­ly with the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of adult life in a sophis­ti­cat­ed and nuanced way.

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in "Annie Hall".

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in “Annie Hall”.

Baum­bach needs to go back and have anoth­er look at Annie Hall and Man­hat­tan. And espe­cial­ly at the way in which the for­mer was re-shot and edit­ed when Woody Allen saw how much more inter­est­ed the audi­ence were in the rela­tion­ship between Allen and Diane Keaton.

Because if you can make films on that kind of lev­el – and he seems to be able to – then that is not a gift to be squan­dered light­ly. When you sac­ri­fice warmth for spe­cious clev­er­ness like this, all you end up doing is annoy­ing the audi­ence. And that’s not fun­ny or clever.

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Channel 4’s “Top Boy” Makes Triumphant Return.

Series 2 of Top Boy.

Series 2 of Top Boy.

When Chan­nel 4 aired the first series of Top Boy over four suc­ces­sive nights in 2011 it felt like some­thing of an aber­ra­tion. Here was a bril­liant­ly illu­mi­nat­ing win­dow on a cor­ner of inner city life, dra­ma­tiz­ing a part of Britain that con­ven­tion­al tele­vi­sion tra­di­tion­al­ly ignores. Com­pelling, believ­able, impres­sive­ly visu­al and all too real, series 1 was reviewed by me ear­li­er here.

Hard­ly the sort of pro­gramme in oth­er words that one nor­mal­ly asso­ciates with a sta­tion like Chan­nel 4.

But since then, pro­grammes like South­cliffe, the dystopi­an Utopia, the bril­liant French import The Returned (which I reviewed ear­li­er here) and now this, series 2 of Top Boy sug­gest that Chan­nel 4 might final­ly be get­ting some of its mojo back.

The Returned.

The Returned.

It’s point­less try­ing to talk about Top Boy with­out com­par­ing it to The Wire. That is man­ages to stand up to and mer­it that com­par­i­son is remark­able. Even if, for the moment, it doesn’t quite scale those kind of heights. But then again, nei­ther has it so far been giv­en scope to, with just the four episodes per series to play with.

As with all the best dra­ma on tele­vi­sion, it’s all down to the writ­ing. Ronan Ben­nett’s scripts are bril­liant­ly struc­tured and won­der­ful­ly nuanced. They’re giv­en life by a col­lec­tion of remark­able per­for­mances from a mix­ture of vet­er­ans and new com­ers. And once again the direc­tion is notable for its sense of style and grandeur as much for its grit­ty real­ism. And the whole thing is giv­en a won­der­ful sheen thanks to Bri­an Eno’s qui­et­ly men­ac­ing score.

Series two has just begun on Chan­nel 4. Watch it. This is the best and the most impor­tant dra­ma pro­duced for tele­vi­sion on these islands this decade.

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Ben Wheatley’s film “A Field In England” a Triumph of Marketing over Content.

Ben Whealey's A Field In England.

Ben Wheat­ley’s A Field In England.

Ben Wheatley’s new film A Field In Eng­land was released simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in cin­e­mas, on DVD, on the Inter­net and on tele­vi­sion all at the begin­ning of July. And the reviews that fol­lowed were almost unan­i­mous­ly stel­lar, as crit­ics were swept along by this clever piece of marketing.

Which is baf­fling, as it’s all over the place. Only Cather­ine Shoard raised a lone­ly voice of protest in her Observ­er review here.

There’s no sto­ry. Or at least not a whole one. What you have instead or four or five ideas for a sto­ry. Let’s take a bunch of guys and iso­late them in one loca­tion for an entire film. And it’s in the mid­dle of the Eng­lish Civ­il War, so some of them are on one side, and some are from the other.

But instead of fol­low­ing them in the midst of the action, let’s spend a day with them when they’ve noth­ing to do! Except hunt for buried trea­sure. Which they’re look­ing for using divination.

Plus there’s the whole Lord of the Flies thing, as they each revert to Hobb­sian brutes removed as they are from polite soci­ety. And occa­sion­al Pin­teresque, sub-Beck­et­t­ian pseu­do exis­ten­tial mus­ings along the lines that everything-will-be-all-right-once-we-get-to-the-Ale-House.

No women to distract from the "story".

No pesky women, beau­ti­ful or oth­er­wise, to dis­tract from the “sto­ry”.

Which is fine if all you’re doing is mak­ing ads. With bare­ly a minute to play with, all you can ever do is sug­gest a sto­ry, so you nev­er have to fol­low any of your ideas through. When you’re mak­ing a fea­ture film, you have to choose just one sto­ry and actu­al­ly tell it.

But as with his pre­vi­ous film The Kill List, Wheat­ley doesn’t seem to have the where­with­al to pur­sue a sto­ry through its begin­ning, mid­dle and end. Instead he resorts to hype, and slips back in to adver­tis­ing mode. Which was where he used to work before he decid­ed to try his hand at features.

You can see A Field In Eng­land’s trail­er here.

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Jane Campion’s TV Series “Top Of The Lake” Monumentally Tedious.

Jane Campion's Top Of The Lake.

Jane Cam­pi­on’s Top Of The Lake.

You’d be for­giv­en for think­ing that Jane Campion’s Top Of The Lake, cur­rent­ly on BBC2,  was the lat­est daz­zling­ly orig­i­nal and unashamed­ly intel­li­gent series to grace our TV screens. It’s not.

There’s plen­ty of plot. In so far as there are numer­ous inci­dents. There are char­ac­ters, some fine act­ing, and it’s all beau­ti­ful­ly shot. New Zealand has rarely been ren­dered as atavis­tic or as alien. But there’s absolute­ly no dra­ma what­so­ev­er. Things hap­pen. Some­times they’re explained, often they’re not. Because Cam­pi­on clear­ly has no inter­est in what you or I would call a “sto­ry”.

Or to put to anoth­er way, by reject­ing the tra­di­tions of a hope­less­ly out­mod­ed patri­ar­chal con­struct, Aris­to­tle’s absurd insis­tence that every sto­ry should have a begin­ning, mid­dle and end, she can free the female form from its reduc­tive reifi­ca­tion and reach instead for tran­scen­den­tal revelation.

What you get in oth­er words are a bunch of male and females stereo­types who just hap­pen to occa­sion­al­ly meet.

If she wants to explore gen­der pol­i­tics – and she clear­ly does – she should do a phd.

Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw in Jane Campion's "Bright Star".

Abbie Cor­nish and Ben Whishaw in Jane Cam­pi­on’s “Bright Star”.

The rea­son it’s been get­ting all these inex­plic­a­bly pos­i­tive reviews is that female crit­ics are so hun­gry to cham­pi­on any­thing that’s made by and for women, they’re ren­dered com­plete­ly pur­blind on the rare occa­sions that they get to see any.

Whilst their male coun­ter­parts are so keen to sport their lib­er­al cre­den­tials they feel com­pelled to play along. Mike Hale, who reviewed it for The New York Times here, was an hon­ourable exception.

Cam­pi­on should stick to male pro­tag­o­nists, as she did in the won­der­ful Bright Star. Because when­ev­er she deals with women, she has an uncon­trol­lable urge to lec­ture. Poorly.

You can see the trail­er for Bright Star here.

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How Hilarious Was that Pat Shortt Tweet? And What Would We Do Without Twitter?!

donkeyWas that Pat Shortt tweet the fun­ni­est thing ever? For those of you who missed it, he tweet­ed a shot of a very glum Bri­an Cody above, and one of a very jovial Pat Shortt beneath. And under­neath he wrote with supreme and all too unflinch­ing irony:

Top is sad Kilken­ny man. Below is hap­py Tip­per­ary man.

Price­less! Even that omis­sion of the indef­i­nite arti­cle, bril­liant.  Some of you I imag­ine mightn’t be com­plete­ly up to speed with the trib­al dynam­ics  of Gael­ic games. So, very briefly, here’s what was actu­al­ly going there.

You see Cody is the man­ag­er of the Kilken­ny hurl­ing team. And they were only after los­ing their qual­i­fy­ing match with Cork. So they were out. And unsur­pris­ing­ly, Cody was not a hap­py man. But what was Shortt so pleased about, I hear you ask? After all, he’s from Tipperary?

That hilarious Pat Shortt tweet.

That hilar­i­ous Pat Shortt tweet.

But here’s the catch! Even though Tipp weren’t even play­ing in the match in ques­tion, Shortt was sim­ply delight­ed as a Tip­per­ary man to see Kilken­ny get beat! That’s because there’s huge rival­ry between Tipp and Kilken­ny. Huge. And just the sight of them get­ting beat, regard­less of who they’re play­ing, is liable to put a smile on a Tip­per­ary man’s face.

And they were only after los­ing! In the All Ire­land! Class!

That’s what was so hilar­i­ous about that tweet. And talk­ing of which, where would we be with­out Twit­ter! How else would the likes of Pat Shortt get to share those kind of bril­liant one lin­ers? In the old days the only place you’d get to hear stuff like that would be from one of those delight­ful taxi dri­vers. Or at best, a friend­ly bar man (un-coin­ci­den­tal­ly, Shortt has a pub near Mid­dle­ton), ever keen to impart their end­less wit and bot­tom­less wis­dom. But now you get to read that kind of stuff all day!

What a world we live in. Class.

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