Archive for the Sound & Vision Category

Brideshead Revisited

Posted in Sound & Vision, Utter Trivia on September 28, 2011 by brunswick

Anita is a Jeremy Irons fan (who isn’t?) but has never watched Brideshead Revisited, the 1981 TV serial which made him a star and became something of a benchmark for quality British TV serials in the ’80s, along with Edge of Darkness, The Singing Detective and a few other small-screen blockbusters which have recently been remade into concise but awful movies starring Americans.

I was determined not to get sucked back into Brideshead – the first few episodes, especially the 100 minute premiere, are exceptional, and have inspired several generations of university students to ponce about with floppy hair and a teddy bear, like the anti-Rocky Horror, bless. After that it gets a bit murky… the book by Evelyn Waugh is only 330 pages, while the entire series is a bum-numbing 11 hours long. By comparison, if you filmed Harry Potter at the same rate it would be up to Part 30 before Neville got his own Sensemayá moment. As a basic rule of thumb, the film of a book shouldn’t take longer to get through than the original book.

Anyway, we’ve watched the first two episodes, and may well continue. The last time I watched it was in Moscow on videotape in 1987, and it looks great on DVD, with only a few technical wobbles betraying its TV budget origins. The older stars (especially a sleepwalking Gielgud and Olivier) were marketed more strongly than the younger unknowns, and ironically the same thing seemed to happen with the 2008 film adaptation, with Emma Thompson’s face everywhere. I haven’t watched the film yet, but I might after finishing the TV series, like finishing a big dinner with an expensive sherry that isn’t as nice.

The Women on the 6th Floor

Posted in Sound & Vision, Unwarranted criticism on August 14, 2011 by brunswick

The Women on the 6th Floor (Les Femmes du 6e étage) (2011)
NZ International Film Festival

Slight but charming, starring Fabrice Luchini (who has filled out somewhat since 1990’s La Discrète but still has very good teeth) and several of Almodóvar’s favourite actresses. The story of how an alienated Parisian stockbroker learns to enjoy life through associating with the smart and lively Spanish cleaning ladies who keep his apartment building running never turns as dark as you might expect, but the actors are a joy to watch. Something of  a pastel sketch, but what’s wrong with that?

Any attempt at an American remake (with Mexican cleaners?) would be disastrous and patronising, but this works because the upper-middle French families featured just drip with calcified ennui, and their servants are clearly much smarter and more ambitious than they are. There’s lots of food in it, so don’t watch it on an empty stomach.

The Last Circus

Posted in Sound & Vision, Unwarranted criticism on August 6, 2011 by brunswick

The Last Circus (2010)
NZ International Film Festival

One of those odd films with a completely bonkers beginning, a sensible middle, and a bonkers end. Modern Spanish films are often accused of being obsessed with Franco’s reign (1936-1975 and kind of a big deal, not an easy subject to avoid) but The Last Circus critiques this awkward period of modern history with gleefully violent satire, interlacing real events (the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco in 1973, recreated with documentary precision) with the tale of a deranged Sad Clown who looses his father in ridiculous circumstances during the Spanish Civil War and becomes obsessed with a masochistic trapeze artist, the partner of the sadistic Happy Clown who keeps the decrepit circus running.

Clips from Spanish light entertainment shows and unkind ’70s fashion only adds to the horror, like interspersing shots of a gunbattle with clips from Play School. It could never be accused of subtlety, and maybe the protagonist goes off the rails a mite too completely (there’s a squirmful sequence involving caustic soda and a flatiron) but this film is certainly a lot of fun in an ultimately depressing way. Making a New Zealand version (centred around 1981’s controversial Springbok Tour and featuring Rob Muldoon?) would probably be grounds for imprisonment.

The Trip

Posted in Sound & Vision, Unwarranted criticism on August 5, 2011 by brunswick

The Trip (2010)
NZ International Film Festival

A vain actor who was very famous in the ’90s (and yearns to be famous in the States) and a modest actor who is happy where he is, travel around the north of England visiting expensive restaurants for The Observer. A simple concept, and you don’t need to be familiar with the careers of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon to find it funny (although it helps, especially with the endless “A-ha!”s and Coogan’s choice of Joy Division for travelling music). It’s not so much Sideways as Beckett for foodies, and I’m glad I didn’t watch it on an empty stomach.

I didn’t realise this was an edited version of a six-part BBC series until afterwards, which explains the languid structure, and why Brydon repeats the same three or so Boys’ Own impressions, which makes him seem a bit boring… there’s more variety in the outtakes! It’s been cut down from 180 minutes to 110 for an American audience, but doesn’t feel bowlderised. Although it may seem strange to release a film with so many in-jokes and obscure references, I think it caters nicely to America’s anglophile audience.

A welcome addition from the somewhat pat bromance is Clare Keelan (from Nathan Barley) as Coogan’s assistant, and a lively cameo from Ben Stiller, who may or may not have been in the same continent as Coogan when it was shot.


Posted in Sound & Vision, Unwarranted criticism on August 4, 2011 by brunswick

Submarine (2010)
NZ International Film Festival

A coming-of-age film which ought to be mawkish and clichéd, but pulls it off by employing doughy teenage leads who are worlds away from Beverly Hills 90210, and employing many wry cinematic devices, like a Wes Anderson or Jared & Jerusha Hess film, except far less irritating.

Although set in Swansea in the 1980s there’s a non-specific atmosphere to this film – without the VHS tapes it could have been set anytime in the 20th century. Swansea may not have changed that much since WWII  – there’s many unlovely scenes set on ruined industrial estates and institutions, and most of the daytime scenes have a grey overcast pallor, with only brief bursts of illumination from fireworks, the heroine’s red coat, and the sun setting over a deserted beach.

The hero of the film, young Oliver Tate, is a slightly pop-eyed dufflecoat wearer with zero social skills (as deluded as Rushmore’s Max Fischer but without the ambition) who half-heartedly joins in the constant petty bullying at his grim school to avoid becoming a target himself. He’s besotted by the scathing page-cut Jordana, and once his interest is reciprocated (actress Yasmin Paige’s face speaks volumes with a smirk) he loads her up with copies of The Catcher in the Rye and King Lear and takes her to arthouse flicks so they’ll develop mutual interests. Yes, he’s that kind of boyfriend.

His parent’s marriage is disintegrating because of his father’s depression (a lined Noah Taylor, looking far older than 39) and his prim mother’s infatuation with their new neighbour, an ex-boyfriend who has become a ridiculous New Age guru. Everyone in this family is desperately repressed, and when Jordana invite him to an early Christmas dinner with her family, and her gruff father breaks down (her mother is about to have an operation to treat her cancer and may only have a fortnight to live) Oliver is so shocked he distances himself entirely from her just as she needs him the most.

Screenplay writer and director Richard Ayoade (after this and Bridesmaids, that new season of the The IT Crowd seems less and less likely) manages to create sympathy for a truly dismal bunch of people, especially the awful hero, who views himself a the saviour of all around him. In reality he’s caught between hamfistedly meddling with his parents’ relationship, and conducting his own as though he’s read about it in a book and he’s pretending it’s happening to someone else. Unsentimental, grim, yet funny.

Animation Now 2011

Posted in Animation, Sound & Vision, Unwarranted criticism on July 30, 2011 by brunswick

Animation Now 2011
NZ International Film Festival

Wow, animators aren’t a happy bunch, are they? This compilation is made up of twelve shorts from around the world, two with a NZ connection, and few of them are particularly uplifting, except for the finale Fiesta Brava, a kinetic Len Lye-like short from Canada (!) drawn directly onto film stock and featuring a joyous song about bullfighting and cuckoldry.

There’s an enigmatic Japanese short called In a Pig’s Eye featuring a household in thrall to a giant pig, hilarious but with many moments which left me wondering if it was a metaphor, or they were just doing it for the hell of it. I enjoyed Love & Theft most, an exhilarating acid trip where famous cartoon icons endlessly morph into each other, and Paths of Hate, a WWII dogfight taken to its ultimate conclusion in the bowels of Hell with a percussive soundtrack, looking a bit like a sequence from a modern remake of Pink Floyd’s The Wall – juvenile in a Tarantino way, but an impressive ten minutes of zero-gravity blood spillage and spent bullet casings.

The title of Das Tub unfortunately gives away the central joke of the film, half of which is produced by three 3D animators, the other half filmed in an impressively grotty NZ bathroom with a huge crew of film students. The other NZ short, Preferably Blue, had funding from the NZ Film Commission but was obviously made for overseas markets, even enlisting UK comedian Harry Enfield for the sub-Seuss narration.

The bombastic Miss Daisy Cutter (also available in 3D, which would be a most unsavoury experience) was like a large-budget design school film, the excellent Get Real! is what happens when a fan of both Lady Gaga and Mark Beyer gets their hands on a powerful 3D computer, the thoughtful stop-motion animation of Danny Boy was marred for me by a peculiar 9/11 reference at the end, Amar was plain depressing, Videogioco (Loop Experiment) was clever yet grim, and although Bill Plympton’s Guard Dog Global Jam was hilarious, I wish I’d seen the original first.

So much for that, then.

Harry Potter and the Vast Ocean of Money

Posted in Sound & Vision on July 19, 2011 by brunswick

Well, finally. It’s taken seven books, eight films and ten years to turn Harry Potter into a slightly paunchy thirty-something who you can just tell subscribes to The Guardian and thinks Eric Clapton is pretty damn fabulous. That “19 years later” coda was weird and smug in the book and it’s also weird on screen, due to the excellent ageing makeup which gives Rupert Grint a beer gut (which, frankly, you would expect) and Bonnie Wright a fat arse (which is horrifying, and gives her something to work to avoid, like Christina Ricci growing up to be Rosie O’Donnell in Now and Then).

Despite the US$7 billion (and rising) in box office returns, is this the greatest film series of all time? Despite the uneven quality of most of the films, yes. I think in future years people will judge the HP films superior to LotR, not because LotR is a better story and an overall better quality set of films, but because of the scope of HP. As I’ve mentioned before, keeping together the core cast and watching them grow up over a decade is pretty fantastic.

As the capstone to an eight-film series this had great moments and disappointing moments. The great include a flashback sequence starring Alan Rickman which reveals the true nature of the villainous Snape, cementing his place as one of the most interesting HP characters and possibly earning Rickman an Oscar nomination, which isn’t bad for a sequence which is only a few minutes long. Judi Dench did it in six minutes (in Shakespeare in Love), why not him?

It’s also a relief to get a bit of action after the turgid Pt.1, which was mostly the fault of the source material, but emphasised the fact that these films haven’t really been a lot of fun since Goblet of Fire. Unfortunately the Battle of Hogwarts sequence skimped a bit on some of the many Crowning Moments of Awesome it had to contain – when Neville cuts off the head of Voldemort’s snake in the book, it makes you proud for this tragically retarded dentally-challenged son of the North. In the film, it’s over in a flash.

I can appreciate that the deaths of many of the core cast are perfunctory because that’s what it’s like in war, but I think David Thewlis and whichever Weasley twin wot snuffed it deserved better, considering the sadgasm for that fucking Jar-Jar-Gollum wannabee Dobby which served as the climax for Pt.1. Also Molly Weasley’s “Not my daughter, you bitch!” could have been slightly more awesome, despite the fact that whatever spell she uses to ice Helena Bonham-Carter amusingly shrivels her into a Tim-Burtonesque doll. Basically, everyone who dies in this film goes out like a punk, except for Snape.

Other points which occur to my fractured and overeducated brain:

There’s a brief diversion from blowing up people with spells to shoehorn in an explanation about who Dumbledore’s brother and why he’s been keeping an eye on Harry. Didn’t care.

The Elder Wand MacGuffin explanation is just as fudged and pointless as in the book, but at least they didn’t linger on the whole “Gotta find ’em all!” aspect of the previous film. What was it, a total of seven horcruxes and three deathly hallows? Enough, get on with the killin’s.

It was amusing to see Warwick Davis (from Willow) get smeared as Griphook the elf, and then turn up a few minutes later as Professor Flitwick.

Would it have been a bit awkward on set if Helena Bonham-Carter and Emma Thompson bumped into each other? Considering, y’know, the whole Kenneth Branagh affair.

I feel sorry that Dudley Dursley didn’t get a better send-off in Pt.1… there’s a deleted scene on the DVD where he actually talks to Harry, but in the final film there’s just a long shot of him, which looks like they used a body double.

Speaking of substitutions, it’s notable that Draco’s minion Crabbe is replaced in the film with Blaise Zabini (I had to look that one up, thankfully). We also didn’t get the moment in the coda when Draco and Harry nod at each other significantly, as if to say “I’ll see you round the back of Platform 9 3/4 in five delicious minutes, you yummy Aryan, you!”

Young Albus Snape Potter is afraid he’ll be put in Slytherin House (and with the initials A.S.P., how could he not?). Harry comforts him by saying “Then Slytherin will have gained an excellent student” – to which I mentally added, “who will one day kill us all”. Come on, you know if J. K. Rowling ever runs out of money, it’ll happen.

This film might not be doing so well if it wasn’t pure escapism and if most people weren’t having such an unusually stressful time right now. Just sayin’.

18 things I learnt from finally watching the Millennium Trilogy

Posted in Bloody brilliant observations, Sound & Vision on July 12, 2011 by brunswick
  1. Don’t fuck with Lisbeth Salander.
  2. Chicks dig doughy Swedish journalists in their mid-forties.
  3. Noomi Rapace has huge cheekbones, like a dome tent.
  4. No-one in Sweden locks their doors.
  5. When you tune in to a traffic report on your car radio in Sweden, you’ll immediately drive past the incident in question.
  6. Every male over the age of seventy is either a Nazi or a pedophile.
  7. The DVD of The Girl Who Played with Fire has an odd stereo sound mix: most of the audio is in the centre and sounds like it was recorded in a biscuit tin, while the incidental music is much higher quality, and pipes in ominously from the extreme edges of the stereo image.
  8. Apple computers are ridiculously easy to hack, but only with other Apple computers.
  9. Apple laptops have keyboards which go “clackity-clack”
  10. Like many trilogies, the first film is fine on its own, while the second leaves things open so the consequences can be dealt with in the third.
  11. Investigative reporting involves the meticulous analysis of thousands of pages of information, with brief breaks involving being shot at in forests and beaten up in restaurants.
  12. There are only two non-white people in Stockholm.
  13. Old Swedish houses are apparently full of white smoke which catches the sunlight atmospherically.
  14. The official DVD English subtitles are rather dull – the downloadable ones are badly formatted and frequently hilarious, managing to make the speakers sound formal and retarded at the same time, as though they learnt English from text messages. There’s no female pronouns and they keep referring to a Soviet “detour” instead of “defector”.
  15. For added hilarity with the downloaded subtitles, turn down the volume and read the dialogue in the voice of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel.
  16. If you didn’t have issues before being committed to a Swedish children’s psychiatric hospital, you certainly will by the time you get out.
  17. The relationship between Blomkvist and Salander is beautifully gauged, even though they spend very little time onscreen together after the first film.
  18. Men Who Hate Women is a more relevant title than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is a much better title than The Air Castle That Exploded.

H.M.S. Pinafore & Trial By Jury

Posted in Sound & Vision, Unwarranted criticism on July 9, 2011 by brunswick

H.M.S. Pinafore & Trial By Jury
Wellington G&S Light Opera
Southward Theatre, Kapiti

Gilbert & Sullivan are, let’s face it, not for everyone. What was theatrical comfort food for the Victorians now seems uncomfortably white and twee, although credit must still be given to Sullivan’s pop hooks and Gilbert’s subversive humour. It’s not their fault that they’re so damn easy to parody.

Trial By Jury was one of their first collaborations, and set the tone for Savoy operas for the next twenty years. The staging is very old-fashioned, in a series of tableaux, which forces attention upon the principal singers and anyone who happens to be furiously gurning in the background. Often there was more gurning than actual acting. Coughing, twitching, even the simple act of swallowing a peppermint results in a bout of visual Tourette’s that would embarrass even Marcel Marceau and cause psychologists in the audience to murmur something about histrionic personality disorder. The last Wgtn G&S Light Opera production I saw was The Mikado in the State Opera House many years ago, and one of the chorus members was holding a cigar and mugging to such an extent that I was almost compelled to stand and shout “STOP THAT FUCKING TWITCHING, YOU DREADFUL OLD HAM! YOU’RE COMPLETELY TAKING ME OUT OF THE MOMENT!”

Anyway, I was there to see the lovely Megan singing the rather thankless role of Josephine in H.M.S. Pinafore. The romantic leads in G&S are fairly bland, and the hero was reserving his voice for the evening performance, but she acquitted herself excellently. The crew’s sailor costumes were strongly reminiscent of jammies, but I have no sympathy for grown men who audition for G&S and expect not to look silly. Pricelessly, during ‘Carefully on Tiptoe Stealing’ a thunderstorm struck, rattling the entire theatre:

CREW: Carefully on tiptoe stealing,
Breathing gently as we may,
Every step with caution feeling,
We will softly steal away.
ALL: (much alarmed) Goodness me —
Why, what was that?
DICK DEADEYE: Silent be,
It was the cat!

It was the oldest audience I’ve ever sat in, and at one point they rocked with laughter when someone shrieked “He’s fallen in the water!” A sixty-year-old radio joke? Hell, yes.

Who the hell is this Grant Buist?

Posted in Sound & Vision, Unwarranted criticism, Utter Trivia on May 17, 2011 by brunswick

I received an unexpected email from the producer of Madeleine Sami’s solid but critically-underappreciated NZ comedy Super City today, asking if they can use a quote from my review on the DVD.

Which was nice.