Review: Hunger

A combination of a free Quickflix subscription and a recent discovery of the uber-hotness that is Michael Fassbender* saw myself and Mr BG sitting down to watch Hunger, a film about the 1981 hunger strike in Northern Ireland which saw 10 prisoners die.

The film opens with a man preparing to go to work, getting dressed, eating his breakfast (a fry) and getting into his car. The street scene is a typical suburban Belfast street, with the hills in the background (so much like my granda’s street I almost did a double-take). You’re alerted to something being slightly amiss by the fact he checks under his car to ensure no bombs have been placed there, and the grazes on his knuckles.

The scene is further set by a new arrival at the Maze prison, who refuses to wear the prison garb and is taken into his new cell. You are there to witness his first look at the excrement-covered prison cell and his cell mate, virtually unrecognisable under a blanket and filth. You are thankful you can’t smell it.

Bobby Sands (Fassbender) makes an appearance about a third of the way through the film as he is dragged to a bathroom to be forcibly washed, shaved and his hair cut. Through the blood, the dirt and the hair, you begin to see the man emerge.

Much of the movie is without dialogue, and there is no incidental music. The silence forces you to simply watch and observe what unfolds before you on the screen. You see the physical deterioration (Fassbender lost up to 16 kg to play the role) – the silence adds to the reality. The only voiceovers you get is the voice of Margaret Thatcher and her hardline stance against the prisoners and negotiating with the IRA.

The greatest length of dialogue is between Sands and a priest, Dom (Liam Cunningham). With both characters backlit by the window, their profiles are in shadow. While it is frustrating in that you can’t see their faces, you are forced to concentrate on their words, the initial quick banter which leads to Sands outlining his plans to stage a hunger strike to force the British government to recognise those prisoners who have been imprisoned for acts of terrorism as political prisoners, rather than criminals.

In many ways it is quite sympathetic to the Republican cause- you develop an empathy for the prisoners who endure a great deal of physical brutality. However it is hard to ignore the reality that a toll is exacted upon the other players. The prison guard, who in an unguarded moment alone, stares blankly into the distance, one of the policemen brought in form a vanguard through which the prisoners must go, breaks down, and a hospital orderly’s tenderness towards a dying Sands are also revealed in this quietly powerful film.

The film also brought home  a long lost memory. My granny died in Belfast in 1981 and my dad went ‘home’ to go to the funeral. He also attended Bobby Sands’ funeral- one of 70,000 who did so. I remember my mum pleading with my dad to walk down the middle of the street to be safe from bombs.

*X-Men:First Class, Jane Eyre, and Band of Brothers are all Fassbender movies/appearances I can recommend. Saw Prometheus in Belfast and still wanting to see Inglourious Basterds!

Review- The Smurfs

Saturday morning saw myself and the little BGs head to the cinema to see The Smurfs! This was not the 3D version, but still an enjoyable outing, especially for Miss BG, who was going to the movies for the very first time.*

When evil wizard Gargamel with sidekick cat Azrael chases the Smurfs out of their village, six of them tumble through a worm hole and end up in Central Park. The Smurfs must try and find a way to get back to their village without falling into the clutches of Gargamel. Along the way they find friends in the guise of Patrick and Grace Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris and Glee’s Jayma Mays), an expectant couple, who are still grappling with the  life changes a baby will soon bring.

It’s a kids movie, with a nostalgic feel to keep the parents  who grew up watching the Smurfs on Saturday morning cartoons (and pestering their parents to buy them Smurfs from BP petrol stations) happy. The human stars are very able in their roles, with Gargamel (Hank Azaria) hilarious and definitely played for laughs.Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays are adorable as the couple and play the straight man to the witticisms of the Smurfs very well.

There are some funny scenes where where the Smurfs attempt to blend into Blue Men and Blu-ray signs, and there is also  a few references to Peyo the artist who created the Smurfs. I enjoyed it, but the kids loved it. Here are their verdicts and reactions.

Master BG- ‘I liked it when Gargamel got hit in the nose. And I liked the funny song, but it was very annoying.’

Miss BG-‘I liked the wizard and I liked the popcorn. Can we see The Smurfs again?’

Verdict- Thumbs up!

*Miss BG managed to sit the entire way through, and ended up cuddled on my knee. She quickly caught on to the ‘no talking when the movie is on rule’ and was casting dirty looks at a noisy three year old sitting behind us. ‘Mummy, she’s talking!’ she whispered indignantly.

Film Review – Super 8

A group of kids filming a zombie movie in their Ohio town stumble across a military conspiracy.They witness a mysterious train being derailed by their science teacher driving headlong into it. Not long after, dogs run off, people start disappearing and the military movie in.

Set in 1979, Super 8 has a retro appeal for those old enough to have lived it, or, for those who are too young, shows a window into a period where the latest gadget was a Walkman, when My Sharona was No 1 and when processing a movie film took 3 days.

The period and setting in small-town America has the same feel as ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This is not surprising, considering Steven Speilberg produced this movie. In many ways, this is an homage to the spectacular blockbustersfor which Spielberg was famous, with a darker edge.

There are spectacular effects reminiscent of the opening scenes of the plane crash of Lost- JJ Abrams has certainly adapted well to the big screen. His habit of obscuring the alien, so you only get hints of its size or shape is also apparent.

Much of  the young cast are unknown, with the exception of Ellen Fanning (Somewhere, and yes, the younger sister of Dakota Fanning). The other young lead which is a stand out is Joel Courtney who plays Joe, a young boy still coming to terms with the loss of his mother in a work accident.

Super 8 is Goonies for grownups and quite a remarkable, and enjoyable film.

What was even more remarkable about this is the fact Mr BG and myself were able to see this in the cinema, in the afternoon, while the kids were being babysat by their lovely babysitters Rory and Morgan.

Oh, and the previews were for Captain America (cheesy), Green Lantern (green), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (super awesome to the max).

And another thing, you should stay around for the credits as the zombie movie that the kids are making makes its appearance 🙂

Film Review- Let me in

It’s tough when you are adapting a cult book to a cinematic format, and even tougher when you are adapting said film to an English-language version. This was the case of Let me in, which is the English (read American) language version of the Swedish film, Let the right one in, based upon the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

Having said that, Let me in does very well under the weight of the expectations. The English version was made by the recently resurrected Hammer films, known for their  unique brand of horror. There was also a great deal of input into the film by Lindqvist, who had written the original screenplay.

The story is about Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) a young bullied boy, who befriends Abby (Chole Moretz), a young girl in a New Mexico town. As their friendship develops, Owen realises his friend is a vampire, with her ‘father’ being her source of procuring blood.

The setting  of early-1980s Reagan America, with its rhetoric of the ‘evil empire’ (The Soviet Union), which definitely enhances the story. The presence of evil is never far away in the form of Owen’s schoolboy bullies, but there is also the presence of Abby, who lends an ambiguous air of being neither wholly innocent nor wholly evil, and forever on the cusp of adolescence.

There are subtle differences between the two films. Apart from changing the location and names, the story of how Abby’s adult minder,’The Father’, comes to be her companion is alluded to. In the English version, he met Abby as a boy and grew up to be her procurer. By remaining as true as possible to the original movie and the original literary source, it has retained what is really a great horror story.

I think what made it harder for me to be objective about this was that I had read the book and seen the original movie. My past experience of being devoted to a book and seeing its film adaptation have made me somewhat leery of adaptations (I can never really like Bridget Jones Diary, and High Fidelity was saved by Jon Cusack and Jack Black’s performance), but this is exceptional.

All things Coco

I’m pretty much a Chanel girl. My fashion palette is predominantly black and white, and my favourite perfume is Chanel No.5. In fact, I even attended Chanel College, a local boys school in Geelong in my VCE year (to study French, no less). In the past two weeks I have also seen as part of my DVD catch up fest two Chanel movies, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky and Coco Avant Chanel.

Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky looks at the affair between Chanel and Stravinsky and is set in 1920, the year in which Chanel No. 5 was released, while Coco Avant Chanel depicts the fashion designer’s life before she attained iconic status, concentrating on her relationship with two men, Etienne Balsan and Englishman Arthur “Boy” Capel.

Both films look beautiful and elegant, though I think in both cases it is a matter of style over substance. Coco and Igor is based upon a novel which fictionalises the alleged affair, which commenced when Chanel invited Stravinsky, his wife and their family to stay at her country house.

Coco Avant Chanel, while starting out establishing dates for particular pivotal moments in Chanel’s life, seems to forget this device as the film progresses. Her affair with Boy Capel, for example was said to have lasted 9 years, yet this is not established in the film.

In both films Chanel is portrayed as quite ruthless, not letting anyone stand in her way of obtaining what she desires, and quite unsentimental. The actresses who portray her both do a sterling job in their roles. In real life they both represent Chanel, with Anna Mouglalis (Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinksy) modelling jewellery and Audrey Tautou (Coco Avant Chanel) the face of Chanel No.5.

Of the two, Audrey Tautou (Amelie) is able to convey an inner fragility, which belies her tough appearance. The final shot at the end of the film shows Tautou displaying an uncanny resemblance to Chanel herself, as models wearing her classic couture descend a mirrored staircase.

In many ways, her later life, with her links to the British royal family and her activities in Paris during World War Two would have been the basis of a more substantial, and certainly more controversial, movie.

This has definitely whetted my appetite to find out more of her life, and fully intend to read the latest biography by Justine Picardie. It will make for a good read on the train!

Whip it

Whip It is the story of Bliss (Ellen Page from Juno) a high-school student  from a small town in Texas who wants more to life than beauty pageants. She chances upon roller derby in Austin, which gives her the confidence to deal with other apsects of her life, including her mother’s (Marcia Gay Harden) desire for Bliss to be a beauty pageant queen, as well as her romance with musician Oliver.

The film was written by Shauna Cross who adapted the screenplay from her own young-adult novel Derby Girl. The novel is itself a fictionalised account of Cross’ experiences in roller derby in Texas. The film is also the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, who plays a small role as a roller derby girl.

Ellen Page as Bliss is perfect for the role and gives the movie its dramatic cred. The supporting cast support her ably, including a particularly hammy performance from Juliette Lewis, as a roller derby girl from an opposing team.

It has an indie-film feel, thanks largely in part by a cool soundtrack, lack of incidental music and the cinematography which has a grungy feel. The depiction of the roller derby scene feels authentic.

It is an enjoyable movie, a bit lightweight, but would definitely appeal to the same young adult demographic to which the book was targeted. It may even make you want to put on a pair of skates and fishnets…

Exit through the Gift Shop- a Banksy film

Another night, another DVD. I mean, why bother with telly when you can watch something without adverts? That’s not to say there are no interruptions when children at night become yo-yos…

Exit through the Gift Shop could be a documentary on street art, a commentary on the contemporary art world or how people use and exploit the cult of celebrity. It’s probably all of these things.

Essentially it starts with Thierry Guetta, a French vintage-clothing store owner in Los Angeles, who has an obsession with documenting everything with his video camera. A chance meeting with his cousin one night while holidaying in France, leads him to discover street art, or what authorities would call graffiti.

Thierry’s camera obsession becomes focussed on these guerrillas of the art world, who are determined to make their mark in their environment and across the world. He manages to film them under the cover of using the footage for a documentary. His ultimate dream is realised with the filming and befriending of Banksy, an elusive English street artist.

The only problem is, Thierry has no intention of making the documentary, with the tapes thrown into unlabelled tubs. His attempt to bring it together has Banksy deciding to take over the documentary project himself, and gives Thierry the task of creating his own street art. The results of this are hilarious, and at the same time quite disturbing.

It’s thought provoking and had myself and Mr BG talking about it for days afterward. It reminds me of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where everyone believes the hype of celebrity, and doesn’t wish to be seen as uncool by decrying the impostor.

The DVD could have done with subtitles, given the quality of some of the sound and the fact that Banksy’s voice was distorted (you could still hear a tinge of a Bristol/West Country accent), but the extras, such as a background documentary on Banksy and the documentary that Guetta actually composed are excellent.

It’s a fascinating look at an underground culture on the verge of becoming mainstream.

A Single Man

Last night, I treated myself to dinner and a movie. Well, the dinner was a cooked chook, and the movie was a DVD, but it was still a lovely evening.

A Single Man is set in Los Angeles in 1962, not long after the Cuban Missile crisis. George Falconer (Colin Firth), a middle-aged English expatriate English professor, is still grieving the sudden death of Jim (Matthew Goode), his partner of 16 years, and is making preparations to kill himself. The film is set over the period of a single day in George’s life- we are led to believe his last. However through various encounters during the course of the day, an old friend Charley (Julianne Moore), a student who is stalking him (Nicholas Hoult), George comes to make peace with his grief and learn to feel rather than think.

The film is directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, who also co-wrote the screenplay (based upon a novel by Christopher Isherwood) and whose production company Fade to Black also produced it. Visually, it is a beautiful film, with the same production design team behind Mad Men also responsible for A Single Man.

The performances are also quite remarkable, with Colin Firth’s portrayal as George amazing in his depiction of a man struggling to remain composed in the wake of his loss. George and Jim’s love story is told through a series of flashbacks, and it’s through these you truly see a wonderful partnership. I loved his moments of domesticity with Jim, curled up on the couch with their dogs, and felt his grief when he could not attend Jim’s funeral as it was for ‘family only’.

Julianne Moore as Charley is wonderful as the friend who still carries a torch for George after their brief affair.

The film truly evokes 1960s Los Angeles and its social mores, and thoroughly enjoyable.

500 Days of Summer

( A word of warning about these reviews- I’ll be looking at things which I have just encountered, but may not necessarily be brand-new. As I’ve just gotten my life back, so to speak, after years of study, please be gentle with me :))

This DVD literally ended up on my doorstep, courtesy of my sister-in-law Anne and my nieces Kate and Lou, who thought I’d enjoy it.

The basic premise is boy meets girl, but boy falls in love and girl doesn’t. When Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an architect turned greeting-card writer, meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel), he falls in love with her, despite Summer’s assertions she does not believe in love and is not looking for a boyfriend. The inevitable breakup happens, but the story ends on an upbeat note.

The film is unconventional for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s a story about love told from the male perspective, which doesn’t happen all that often. The non-linear narrative also adds an interesting angle to the story. As it’s told in the form of Tom’s memories, aspects are added or slightly changed, so not every flashback is told in the same way.

While it’s classified as a romantic comedy, it feels more than that. It’s quirky, off-beat and the two leads Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd rock from the sun, 10 things I hate about you) and Zooey Deschanel (often the actress in forgettable movies which makes them memorable), definitely add to that quirkiness. They have a wonderful chemistry and really own the characters.

It was short (about 90 minutes), which worked in its favour. You can sometimes spoil a story by letting it go on for too long.

The soundtrack was excellent and eclectic and featured tracks by Regina Spektor, Belle and Sebastian, Doves, The Temper Trap and Hall and Oates.

If you haven’t already seen it, you really should.