Rapscallion Magazine Film Review: Striking cinematography and a child’s eye view of the Troubles in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast makes for an unusual coming of age movie
A lover letter to the Belfast of his childhood, Kenneth Branagh’s movie of the city’s name is a deeply affectionate child’s eye view of the troubled times of the sectarianism of 1969.
Belfast contrasts the images and ideas that affect nine-year-old Buddy played by Jude Hill, the second son of a Protestant family attempting to stay out of the violence. Head of the family is Pa played by Jamie Dornan along with the real head Ma brought stylishly to life by Caitriona Balfe. There’s Buddy’s older brother Will (Lewis McAskie), his granny (Judy Dench) and Pop (Ciaran Hinds) in what is very much a family and community affair.
Brilliant cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos sets this film apart with its contrasting imagery – one moment dark and bleak of a backstreet in the rain, then a breath takingly beautiful summer’s day, or a sweeping shot of Belfast loch or close ups of frying eggs or a pint of beer. And above all the close-up studies of Jude Hill’s face as Buddy, as he tries to comprehend what is happening all around him. The riots, the violence, the soldiers, the looters and the sinister upstart gangsters parading as protectors to the Protestant community.
By simply seeing Buddy’s emotions play out in these close ups we quickly link the various sub plots together along with the slightest hints from the conversations of the grown-ups. He pieces it all together with the fantasies for television, comics and cinema mixed with the wisdom of his elders who try their best to explain the unexplainable to a child.
Belfast is beautiful and frightening, hear warming and cynical, Protestant and Catholic, with at its heart the unreconcilable. The narrative is clear as the family struggles to decide on its future as dark forces destroy the peaceful community at the beginning of the movie. And there are the subplots of Buddy’s grandparents, the gang Buddy unwillingly joins, and his romance with a Catholic female fellow classmate.
A highly original coming of age film in a crowded genre which makes the city itself visually an extra character which in a way defines the film. There are shades of John Boorman’s Hope and Glory 1987 film set in the Blitz and Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun of the same year set in war-torn China. Seen through the prism of nostalgia, laced with the brutal harshness of the times and laced with many good jokes it’s a classic and universal take on how society can break down into factional violence – while life continues at the same time – all seen through a school boy’s eyes.
Reviewed at Cineworld in Weston-super-Mare on February 15, 2022.
For more details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk
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RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE Film Review: That’s another fine mess you’ve got me into – Stan & Ollie – heart attacks, booze and judging beauty queens as the duo battle their demons (and their wives) in the twilight of their careers
Props, runners and a busy bright energy filled Hollywood opens John S Baird’s 2018 biopic of Laurel and Hardy before we are plunged into a rain swept Britain in 1953.
The world’s most famous comedy duo are in the twilight of their careers as they embark on a tour of Britain and Ireland to pick up some cash and possibly relaunch their film careers. Ill health, booze and the expectations of their manager and their wives handicap the enterprise leading to bitter recriminations between them.
Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C Reilly as Oliver Hardy give first class and believable portrayals of their respective characters. Jeff Pope’s script serves up a deal of pathos and a quite melancholy as the two struggle to come to terms with their reduced health and circumstances.
However it’s their wives who also spark off each other creating some frosty moments as they bicker over their spouses’ career prospects. At a reception Lucille Hardy (Lucy Henderson) accuses the rather grand Ida Laurel (Nina Arianda) of being the “epitome of Hollywood” to which Ida replies: “Don’t you pity me.”
Lucille was largely supportive of Hardy and wanted him to retire and take it easy, while Ida was clearly ambitious for Laurel to continue as she had her own Hollywood aspirations. Their conflicting loyalties inevitably led to tensions within the foursome as to where their futures’ lay.
Coogan is on top form as Stan. Playing the straight man suits him and he adds a strong streak of bitterness to his character which Hardy suggests was because he was never treated as well as Charlie Chaplin. John C Reilly’s make-up artist should be awarded the order of the face paint as he looked convincing as the corpulent gone to seed washed up actor.
A bitter-sweet story of their slow decline was given one or two false endings suggesting the credits were about to roll which in a way seemed appropriate since this was their last tour. Perhaps there were too many reflections of their past but they were like a cinematic comfort food. Seeing the duo play slapstick in lovingly recreated sketches is something you just can’t get enough of.
For more details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk
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Oleg Ivenko’s portrayal of Rudolf Nureyev in The White Crow is austere and unsmiling
A Cold War episode revealing the unsmiling and single-minded selfish ballet genius Rudolf Nureyev complete with a gripping climax (with brilliant dancing – contrasting with the stifling authoritarianism of the Soviet Union)
The White Crow. The Electric Cinema, Birmingham
Perhaps it was that freezing Siberian childhood as Oleg Ivenko’s portrayal of Rudolf Nureyev in The White Crow is austere and unsmiling. He does make a joke with his recently bereaved friend Clara Saint that his dancing is more effective for her depression than Prozac but in an unsmiling performance the main impression of Nureyev’s character is of a man with a single-mindedness of purpose. And that purpose was to be a creative classical ballet dancer.
At over two hours it is too long with scenes and a story that could have been shortened as it is too slow. You find yourself wishing it would speed up to its climax in France and Nureyev’s defection.
What Ralph Fiennes does very well is to give the story layers of visual revelation to show the background to Nureyev’s life and moments of inspiration for his work as a choreographer and artistic director. Set in the present tense set in Paris ahead of his defection the story spans life in the Soviet Union and 1960s France offering a contrast between rich and poor, Communism and Capitalism, artistic freedom and stifling authoritarianism.
The dancing and in particular the practice sequences are brilliant, in part due to their authenticity as the director used dancers as actors instead of the other way around. Some critics have spoken of the acting as wooden – a cheap shot – as they knew Oleg Ivenko was a first time movie actor. All dancers are also actors – a point missed – and Ivenko was more than adequate for the role. Sergei Polunin as Nureyev’s Kirov colleague Yuri Soloviev gives strong support, as does Adèle Exarchopoulos as socialite and rescuer Clara Saint, and Ralph Fiennes not only directs but as Nureyev’s dance teacher Alexander Pushkin, but has to turn a blind eye to his wife Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova) having an affair with the dancer under his nose.
Based on Julie Kavanagh’s biography of Nureyev, adapted by David Hare, the film reveals a selfish, highly focused and ambitious dancer who knows he’s a star. His lack of charm and rudeness to those he loved would be enough to make us be repelled but his dramatic escape into the arms of the French police gives the film an exciting climax and was easily the most gripping part of what in essence captures a revealing episode in the Cold War.
Reviewed: April 6, 2019
The Electric is a cinema opened in Station Street in 1909, showing its first silent film on 27th December of that year, and is now the oldest working cinema in the country. It predates its namesake, the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill, London, by around two months.
Thriller: Laia Costa as the titular character Victoria
Victoria. Roxy Cinema, Axbridge.
You spend a lot of time in lifts, cars and stumbling along pavements in Sebastian Schipper’s 2015 thriller Victoria. And there’s so much boozing that by the end I’m sure I had a hangover coming on. Played out in real time (so it is claimed in one seamless shot) the drama as a result includes a lot of dull sections while the characters talk nonsense or flirt or booze. And talking of booze the staggering around drunk late at night scenes all add unnecessary length. In short the concept is noble but it needed an editor to make it more taut, tense and tight.
Despite the sluggish and confusing start the actors create believable characters and situations on Victoria’s drunken night out. Laia Costa as the titular character throws up a perfectly good job in a Berlin café to become the only real hard nut in a robbery where the criminal gang fall prey to their own stupidity. Using largely a hand held camera the director propels the audience into the action as though we have tagged along with Victoria, bobbing and ducking in the shoot-out and swaying about in the drug and drink induced scenes.
Despite the one shot concept and realist viewpoint the moral behind the plot is simple and universal: bad things happen to those who commit crime. They may start off with a bit of light-hearted shoplifting but it ends with in kidnapping, violence and death.
For those who don’t like sub-titles or don’t speak German there’s no problem as the body language tells you everything and the characters speak in broken English and German and even snatches of Spanish. If they can muddle through and rob a bank without more a few shrugs and snatches of teutonic-anglo-saxon – then so can you. The climax is gripping, grim and gruesome – and just about worth the slow build up.
The film was reviewed at the Axbridge Roxy Community Cinema. For more details of their films visit www.axbridgeroxy.org.uk
Woman in trouble: Scarlett Johansson as DeeAnna Moran
RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE – Film Review: brilliant affectionate send-up of Hollywood in the early 1950s by the Coen Brothers – screened at the Axbridge Roxy
Hail Ceasar! Axbridge Roxy.
Eddie Mannix beats the Romans, the Romans beat their slaves, and the slaves continue to live on zero hour contracts and are exploited by the bosses. Or something like that. You certainly can’t trust an extra if they are a Red. Especially when they kidnap a Roman and extract $100,000 from the moguls of Hollywood.
The Coen Brothers’ (Joel and Ethan) movie Hail Ceasar! takes us back to the early 1950s and the world of Hollywood where their protagonist Catholic guilt obsessed Eddie Mannix worked as a fixer, producer and professional cover-upper. Except the Coen Brothers turn him into a hero who tries his best to keep the movie industry ticking over whilst resisting an easier job in the aviation business. What a pack of nonsense should you check out the real history of Mannix. But at the same time what an enjoyable romp through the dying days of Hollywood before the onset of TV.
Geezer: Josh Brolin as fixer Mannix
Hail Ceasar! is pure satire as it pokes fun at all things lit and filmed by the movie industry of the time. Looking his age, George Clooney is the heroic idiot taken in by the ridiculously moustached Communist circle at the beach side house. Ralph Fiennes as the exasperated director Laurence Laurentz and Tida Simpson as the twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker excel in their facial contortions, exasperated body language and elegant hats and cravats. And then there’s Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) the Roy Rogers parody who rescues Clooney from the Commies in a tightly packed plot filled with excellent set pieces including a Gene Kelly naval tribute.
On the town: Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) looked like Gene Kelly
So many beautifully work scenes, so many fabulous costumes and so many brilliantly observed slices of Hollywood in an age long gone. Just don’t believe the story and accept it for what it is, an affectionate send-up of Hollywood.
More at www.harrymottram.co.uk and on Facebook, Twitter and God knows where else!
The Talented Mr Ripley: love Rome in saturated colour and Gwyneth Paltrow’s coats but it’s all about being Simon
The Talented Mr Ripley
I was on my way to the bus stop when I bumped into Simon. “Hi Simon,” I said, “how’s it going?” “Good,” replied Simon looking slightly startled, “new job and things are fine.” “College seems such a long time ago now,” I said, “I’ve just started a new job as well, in Queens’ Square. Still better get going, late for the bus, we should meet up one lunchtime.” “Nice idea,” he said and we parted. I walked ten yards up the road and thought he knew that I knew that he wasn’t the Simon I knew at college but seeing my initial conviction decided that perhaps he was Simon even though he wasn’t.
Belief. If you believe hard enough anything seems possible and so it was in The Talented Mr Ripley. Except in the Academy Award nominated 1999 film directed by Anthony Minghella, Matt Damon as the eponymous Ripley (me) and Jude Law was Dickie Greenleaf (Simon). I’m not sure who was Gwyneth Paltrow but like the film the moment with the non-Simon Simon, conviction that you are someone else is everything.
It was great to the Spanish Steps in Rome without thousands of holiday makers sitting down exhausted by the constant battle to every ruin in three days and tired looking men selling wilting roses in the suspense-filled thriller. And the saturated colour of a recreated 1950s Italy along with the numerous half-misunderstood conversations that slowly strip away Mr Ripley’s disguise were equally enjoyable. But the real star was the premise itself: with enough confidence it is possible to believe someone is Simon. Or rather Dickie Greenleaf, as Ripley attempts to steal Jude Law’s identity.
Parents are such an inconvenience (especially when they drop dead) in Ozu’s daughter-from-hell story
Happy trio: Shūkichi and Tomi Hirayama with Noriko, their kind daugher-in-law
Tokyo Story (1953)
She’s bossy, selfish and out for herself. And if you drop dead she’ll go through your stuff in an instance to see what she can have for free. Meek and mild Shūkichi and Tomi Hirayama didn’t deserve Shige Kaneko as a daughter.
Daughter from hell: Haruko Sugimura is less than welcoming to her parents
In Yasujirō Ozu’s 1953 movie Tokyo Story the elderly couple visit their grown-up children in a simple but symbolic story of unhappy family life set in post war Japan. Death camps, torture, mass rape and genocide are not mentioned by a generation that knew all about the horrors. Instead the wartime generation are too busy with their lives to think about the past but they can’t quite exorcise the ghosts of World War II along with memories of Hirayama’s second son Shōji who died in the conflict. Shūkichi and Tomi urge his widow and their daughter-in-law the saintly Noriko to remarry, and to hide her wedding photograph and pretend her husband didn’t exist. But the war creeps back into this portrayal of post war Tokyo through the subtle symbolism of a collective amnesia. It’s replaced by a booming and busy Japan that rings to the sound of construction and industry. The trains run on time and the city is alive with cars, telephones, shoppers and workers.
Unhappy family: the story is about a visit of an elderly couple to Tokyo
Retired couple Shūkichi and Tomi Hirayama visit their grown-up children in the capital, but they are disappointed that they are considered an inconvenience by their offspring and so after a couple of excursions decide to go home. Why they’d want to visit the ghastly Shige is a mystery as she makes it clear they are only welcome for about ten minutes and after that are in the way. Her grumpy husband isn’t much better and their spoilt kids make awkward moments even more excruciating. It’s compulsive viewing as the embarrassing moments pile up. Only Noriko their daughter-in-law and widow of Shōji is kind and attentive, representing a vision of perfection: if only she could have been their real daughter.
Busy city: the war is forgotten in booming Tokyo
On the way home Tomi takes ill and dies – another inconvenience for the family. Exasperated that they must give up more time the selfish grown-up children attend the funeral in bad grace and the daughter from hell helps herself to her late mother’s silk kimonos before jumping on the first train back to Tokyo.
Angel face: the saintly Noriko is the saving grace of the family as she helps the elderly couple with warmth and good grace
Viewed via Ozu’s knee-high interior camera angle each scene is like a carefully composed painting in which the trials and tribulations of universal family life are played out – along with a subtext of ‘don’t mention the war’ – Japan has moved on.
Tokyo Story (1953) Directed by Yasujirō Ozu. Written by Kōgo Noda and Yasujirō Ozu. Cinematography by Yūharu Atsuta. With Chishū Ryū as Shūkichi Hirayama, Chieko Higashiyama as Tomi Hirayama, Setsuko Hara as Noriko Hirayama, Haruko Sugimura as Shige Kaneko, Sō Yamamura as Kōichi Hirayama, and Kuniko Miyake as Fumiko Hirayama. 136 mins. Review: Harry Mottram. Five stars.