Category Archives: Film reviews

Film review of Churchill

Cast

Brian Cox as Winston Churchill

Miranda Richardson as Clementine Churchill

John Slattery as Dwight D. Eisenhower

James Purefoy as King George VI

Julian Wadham as General  Bernard Montgomery

Danny Webb as  Field Marshall   Alan Brooke

Jonathan Aris as Air Chief Marshall  Trafford Leigh-Mallory

George Anton  Admiral Sir  Bertram Ramsay

Steven Cree as Group Captain James Stagg , a Royal Air Force meteorologist

Angela Costello as Kay Summersby chauffeur and later as personal secretary to Dwight D. Eisenhower

Richard Durden as Jan Smuts   South African general  turned politician

Ella Purnell as Helen Garrett (Churchill’s secretary)

Director:  Jonathan Teplitzky

Script by Alex von Tunzelmann

This was a disappointing film in terms of its general theatrical quality which veers towards the melodramatic ,   but even more because it is a travesty of Churchill’s character. That fine actor Brian Cox might have been made for the role of Churchill and with a script which reflected Churchill’s  personality , opinions  and behaviour   accurately I have no doubt that he  would have produced a great depiction of  the man. But here he  is  bound by a script which  makes  Churchill seem like a tempestuous child, and child who more often than not could be  side-lined  and insulted to his face despite being Prime Minister  in the midst of a most terrible and threatening  war.  It is difficult to think of any scene involving  characters with power and influence  which shows him as s being the dominant character, for example, he does not chair the meetings with Eisenhower and the other military men. In real life he did.

The film is set in the four days before D-Day and the execution of t   Operation Overlord, the invasion of  Normandy.    Churchill  is portrayed as being pathologically anxious that the  invasion should not be another  bloodbath like Gallipoli in the Great War, a failure for which Churchill had been widely  held wholly or largely responsible. As a consequence the film  has him interminably prevaricating over the   D-Day landings  and after the decision is made to  invade Churchill is shown   praying  for unfavourable weather  to stop the operation: “Please, please, please let it pour tomorrow. Let the heavens open and a deluge burst forth such as has never been seen in the English Channel. Let the sea churn into peaks and troughs and tidal waves!”

That passage encapsulates the tone of the film.  Churchill is not seen as being either in command or as  a figure of authority but as a man frightened for his reputation and perhaps his soul.   So strong a part of the film was the  obsession with the failure at Gallipoli I could not help wondering if this was in some part   a consequence of having an Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky.  Australians are frequently more than a little angry about Gallipoli even  today and blame the British for the loss of Australian lives there. Film scripts are not sacrosanct and  It would be interesting to know if the subject of Gallipoli loomed  as large in the initial script as  it did in the film.

The historian Andrew Roberts has unreservedly  slated the film for its many inaccuracies relating to Churchill’s state of mind leading up to the Normandy landings, viz: “The only problem with the movie–written by the historian Alex von Tunzelmann–is that it gets absolutely everything wrong. Never in the course of movie-making have so many specious errors been made in so long a film by so few writers.” Roberts attacks the film on the grounds that it wrongly shows Churchill as dithering over D-Day, being seriously at odds with his wife, at war with the generals and being bullying to his staff.

To  the lack of historical accuracy  about events  and Churchill’s state of mind can  be added  the portrayal of  his physical state .  Churchill in real life was far from the physically lumbering man obese to the point  almost of physical handicap that was depicted in the film.  He played polo into his fifties and rode to hounds into his seventies  (in 1944 he was seventy) . This physical misrepresentation   fed into the  picture the film painted of Churchill being a man who by that stage of the war at least was a spent force at best and a positive hindrance to the successful prosecution of the war.

The depiction of Churchill’s relationship with the military is also improbable.   He is shown displaying a chronic fault of  Hitler, namely, playing at being a military mastermind  by suggesting  different strategies  such as decoy operations to mislead the Germans, tactics which fed into the film’s  Gallipoli complex.   There are also some startling and incongruous in the circumstances language involving the military with  Montgomery  calling Churchill a ‘bastard’ to his face and casting aspersions on his commitment  to the Normandy landings  by accusing Churchill of  ‘doubt, dithering and treachery’. The PM  later  describes  Montgomery (not in Montgomery’s presence)  as a ‘Puffed-up little s**t.’  It all seems very unlikely, not least because it implies that  the military not  the politicians were the real government of the UK at that time.

In fact the film plays to that idea for there is a  strange  absence of other British  politicians in the film and or   indeed of any  civilians in position of authority and influence.  For example,    Churchill’s leading scientific advisor Frederick Lindemann   had a very close relationship with him and  the two met often  during the war.. It is a little odd that he did not appear at all because apart from his value as a scientific advisor Llindemann  had a real friendship with Churchill and at a time of great stress for Churchill it is probable that he ill would have welcomed having  Lindemann around.

Then there is Churchill’s relationship with his wife Clemmie.  She is  shown as  being very ready to criticise Churchill either directly through confrontation as when she scolds  him for his drinking and indirectly by  her general  behaviour towards him which includes her apologising for Churchill’s behaviour towards his staff .  She is also shown slapping him at one point for which there is no evidence.   There is also rather too much angst from  Clemmie  about how Churchill had neglected her and a feeling that somehow her life has been unfulfilling.  Churchill is shown playing up to this, at one point  saying ‘I would understand if you left me. I’d leave me if I could.’  Real?

Even if there had been any substance to this behaviour would Churchill’s wife  have been  raising it just before D-Day?  However, again the evidence for such behaviour  is lacking.  This element of  the filmic Clemmie’s   behaviour smells  suspiciously like an inappropriate and anachronistic  feminist implant designed to show that men behaved “badly”, that is, displayed politically incorrect behaviour, in 1944 and women spiritedly rebelled against such  treatment.   The fact that the scriptwriter Alex von Tunzelmann is female may have something to do with this , a suspicion strengthened by  her  being a Guardian columnist. It would be very interesting to see Tunzelmann justifying her script in terms of historical accuracy.

Is the film worth seeing?  Probably not for  as a pure piece of drama it fails. The action flits from scene to scene  in rather stilted  fashion which robs the film of cohesion and leaves the impression  that each scene is being ticked off as having covered a particular issue as a stamp collector might  congratulate themselves on having acquired a particular stamp to add to a set.  Nor apart from Churchill and just about  his wife is there much character development for the film has a substantial number of historically  important  characters but little time is  allotted to each.  These  supporting characters are,   as one can more or less take for granted in a film manned by British actors,  adroitly executed  in as far as their very limited roles  allow. Within the  confines of this  hindrance  of Julian Wadham’s  Montgomery stood out.

That should be enough  to say don’t waste your money. However Dunkirk is one of those films which has an importance  beyond its qualities as a film. Its effect is to turn Churchill from a war hero into an irresolute,  fearful and   incompetent. In fact the misrepresentation of  Churchill  is  so complete that it qualifies as character assassination . The danger is that it will colour the public’s view of the man.   Consequently, see it  so that you can afterwards refute its view of Churchill.    In short, it should be seen  for its faults not its virtues .

 

 

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Film review of Dunkirk

Dunkirk

Cast

Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, a British Army private

Mark Rylance as Mr Dawson, a mariner and Peter’s father

Tom Glynn-Carney as Peter, Mr Dawson’s son

Jack Lowden as Pilot Officer Collins, a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot

Harry Styles as Alex, a private in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

Aneurin Barnard as “Gibson”, a French soldier masquerading as a British Army private

James D’Arcy as Colonel Winnant

Barry Keoghan as George, a young man who helps to crew Dawson’s boat.

Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton the pier-master during the evacuation

Cillian Murphy as frightened soldier

Tom Hardy as Farrier, a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot

Michael Caine appears in a spoken cameo role as Fortis Leader

Director Christopher Nolan

The year is 1940. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) has been sent to  Europe to help repel  the Germans. This fails and the BEF eventually make their way to Dunkirk, a French port  six miles from the Belgian border. Here they wait, more in hope than expectation, to be  evacuated back to Britain. But against the odds  between  27 May  and  4 June over 300 thousand, British,  colonial and French troops were evacuated, most by Royal Navy  (RN) ships but some by civilian boats, many  very small,  crewed  by  a mixture of RN personnel and civilians. (Small boats were useful  because they could get near enough to shore  for soldiers to wade out to them.  Larger boats had to either wait offshore to have soldiers ferried to them or they used a form of jetty called a mole to take people on board. )

The Germans did not press forward into Dunkirk with their army as might have been expected . Instead they attacked using  planes and submarines. Why they took this course is unclear but it was sanctioned by Hitler.  It may have been Goering persuading Hitler to allow the Luftwaffe to  gain the kudos of finishing off  the British forces.  it might have been Hitler believing  that once the British forces were out of continental Europe they would never come back. It could have been caution on the part of Hitler and his generals. Whatever the reason during the week the evacuation lasted the troops on Dunkirk beach  were  subject to bombing   and British vessels  engaged in the evacuation  were bombed and torpedoed. That is the bare bones of Dunkirk.

The brutal reality of  war has often  not been represented honestly or convincingly in films, but  the graphic opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan arguably changed that and most war films since have been much more unsparing of the audience’s squeamishness.   Indeed, modern film makers have taken to heart the American civil war general  William Sherman’s remark   “War is hell” and created Hell on the screen.   Christopher  Nolan does so here.   Consequently, the film scores very well  when it comes to the military action, giving  a graphic depiction of the multiplicity of ways of dying in action and the sheer violence and randomness  of the killing and wounding. The effect is  to  give a nihilistic quality to many of  the scenes. Whether someone lives or dies has  no particular purpose.

The aerial battles between three Spitfires providing cover to the  men on the beach and the ships taking them off   and their fights  with German fighters and bombers  are particularly compelling , perhaps because such warfare  has the shape  of single combat and the manoeuvres of planes flying fast but not at supersonic speed while  attacking with machine guns  rather than missiles  has an intimacy that the blind destruction of men on the ground absolutely lacks. The Spitfire pilot had to get close to his target and fire his guns in sustained bursts. .

All of this makes for a complicated story to tell. To address this fact Nolan has decided on an impressionistic  style rather than a straightforward chronological narrative. He does this by dividing  the film into three separate sections entitled   land, sea and air.

The  quick  flitting from one piece of action to another the film does not give great  opportunity for character development  but   Mark Rylance as Mr Dawson, the  civilian  skipper of a small boat, knits together the progress of the sea  story and as a representative of the “small ships”.

James D’Arcy as Colonel Winnant and Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton the pier-master during the evacuation represent  the  experience of senior officers  while Fionn Whitehead as Tommy and  Harry Styles as Alex  give a backbone  to the experience of the private soldier.

Spitfire pilots  Jack Lowden as Pilot Officer Collins  and Tom Hardy as Farrier do the same for the air action.

Rylance  oozed  calmness under fire and  brings what he always does to the screen,  an intensely sympathetic personality  while Hardy is coolness personified, with a courage which is anything but showy.  He is a man who is brave whilst doing what he does out of a sense of duty.

The one character that I found unconvincing  was  that  of Cillian Murphy,   who plays a frightened soldier  whose nerve has gone after having been in a ship which was torpedoed.   The Dawsons  pick him up on the  way to France and the soldier in a state of panic tries without success to get Dawson to turn about and head for England.  Somehow he never managed to make his mental anguish seem anything other than histrionic.

The film  has its historical  inaccuracies and omissions. Next to nothing is made of the French army’s resistance which hindered the German advance on Dunkirk and the considerable damage that occurred in Dunkirk is absent.  But neither is the British rear-guard action to allow most of the BEF to reach Dunkirk and be rescued . The   idea of the  film is to show the British experience at Dunkirk and in  the English Channel r ather than try to give  the complete picture of the action around and about Dunkirk and indeed within  Britain itself ,  where the families  of  both the stranded BEF men and of those who  had sailed their small boat  like the fictitious Mr Dawson  might have been included in the story.

Whether  the viewer finds  the limited scope of the film  satisfying or not it,  is nonetheless a legitimate dramatic  device to concentrate on the direct experience of those on the beach and the British forces by  sea and air  which facilitated the remarkable evacuation of some 190,000 British soldiers and  120,000  French ones. If the film had been expanded to take in the French and German warfare  relating to Dunkirk or the behaviour of the relatives and friends of the servicemen trapped in Dunkirk it would have been an entirely different film .

Dunkirk  has its limitation as a coherent  drama but taken as a whole it is an invigorating and exciting production. It gives a vivid idea of the immediacy  and multiplicity of danger which war brings and the sheer helplessness of humans caught in its coils. . That is reason enough to see it.   But there is also another reason .  The World Wars left their mark long after they were over  and not just in terms of the dead and wounded.  It left its mark on the survivors.  I  was born in 1947. The war loomed very large in my childhood and  even my early adult years. One regularly  met ordinary people who had done extraordinary things: landing on the beaches on D Day; serving  on the convoys to Russia;  flying  Spitfires and Hurricanes in the  Battle of Britain or  flying sortie after sortie with Bomber Command. The result  was a toughness in people generally but particularly in those who had seen  action, which is lacking today. It is a film which will speak especially to people who remember what the war was like and its aftermath.

 

The Hateful  8 – A tale told by an idiot

Main cast

Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren a.k.a. “The Bounty Hunter”

Kurt Russell as John Ruth a.k.a. “The Hangman”

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue a.k.a. “The Prisoner”

Walton Goggins as Sheriff Chris Mannix a.k.a.”The Sheriff”

Demián Bichir as Bob (Marco the Mexican) a.k.a. “The Mexican”

Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray (English Pete Hicox) a.k.a. “The Little Man”

Michael Madsen as Joe Gage (Grouch Douglass) a.k.a. “The Cow Puncher”

Bruce Dern as General Sanford “Sandy” Smithers a.k.a. “The Confederate”

Director and narrator: Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino is a very annoying director, not least because he is still playing the enfant terrible at an age when the thrill of provoking  adults should be long past.  The Hateful Eight contains all  his filmic outraging  stigmata: a great deal of bad and very un-pc language including oodles of “nigger” from the white characters  and  a decent helping of “cracker”  from the sole black character;  much  gory slaughter plus  a new outraging element  in the  Tarantino canon, the frequent brutal treatment of a woman including heavy  punches to her face and her  eventual  death by hanging by suspension.  If his works were classified as torture porn  he could not complain.

The annoying thing is despite his adolescent  mentality and the predictability of the general content and  style of his films, Tarantino so  often makes films  which are insidiously  watchable. We know what to expect ; we know objectively  that we should not approve   of the amoral  world he creates, we know that there will probably be no character who enlists our sympathy or liking,  but he still entices us in and we end up being drawn  to what he produces as spectators are drawn to a motorway  multiple crash.. It is a bit like watching Stanley Matthews  taking on a left back: the left back knew exactly what Matthews would do – drop his right shoulder and go round him – yet it was odds on that Matthews would  sell him a dummy and send him the wrong way.

The plot of Hateful 8  is simple in principle but complex in portrayal because the full facts of the situation are only gradually revealed.   The time is not long after the end of the American Civil War.   John Ruth  (Kurt Russell) is a white  bounty hunter who  likes to take his captures alive to stand trial not because he has any concern for justice, dearie me no,  he simply  likes to see them hang. As a consequence he has earned  the nickname . “The Hangman”.   Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is a black bounty hunter who takes the rule “dead or alive” to be best observed  by  the “dead” part of the injunction.

Ruth and Warren  are bringing in wanted criminals with handsome bounties attached.  Their destination is  Red Rock, Wyoming.  Ruth  has  a live woman Daisy Domergue  (Jennifer Jason Leigh)  in his custody while  Warren is packing two decidedly dead bodies.  Domergue is part of a notorious criminal  gang headed by her brother, Jody.

The two bounty hunters meet when a stage coach with Ruth and Domergue in it   is stopped by Warren who  climbs aboard. Another passenger  Chris Mannix  (Walton Goggins) is picked up a little later on.  He claims to be the newly appointed sheriff of   Red Rock travelling to the town to take up his position.

The stagecoach stops at  a roadhouse called Minnie’s Haberdashery  to shelter from an ever worsening snowstorm.  Minnie isn’t there but Southern General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a seeming drifter  Joe Cage (Michael Madsen) who claims to be a cowboy  on his way to visit his mother, and an  English conman and  part-time hangman called Oswaldo Mowbray (Tim Roth) are in residence together  with  Bob “Marco the Mexican” (Demián Bichir, ) who  claims to be  in charge  of the place because  Minnie is visiting her mother.    From the time that the stage coach arrives the  action is set  in or just outside  the roadhouse.

So far so seemingly  simple. Tarantino has created the West’s equivalent of a country  house murder mystery, a cast of characters all neatly stacked in a  tightly confined physical setting.  He even   uses the device loved by the likes of Agatha Christie  whereby there is an examination of  the suspects to a murder (in this case several murders through poisoning with a particularly toxic elixir of death)  while all the suspects are  together. However, unlike a country house murder mystery this is eventually a very  bloody and violent film which can vie with Tarantino’s  Inglorious Basterds or Pulp Fiction for its unashamed delight in gruesome  killing and the infliction of pain..

But the seemingly simple is in reality anything but simple. Apart from General Smithers  none of those who are  at the roadhouse when Ruth and Warren arrive are  what they claim to be and even  General Smithers is acting under duress. Even  Warren shows himself to be  a fantasist at best  by falsely claiming to have a personal  letter written  to him by Abraham Lincoln.

The action in the roadhouse starts relatively quietly with the characters  verbally  fencing with one another, although from the start there is a heavy mist of mutual suspicion,  before  accelerating  into the type of general mayhem  Tarantino loves.   By the end of the film everyone is dead or dying.   Goodies and baddies do not come into it because all the characters are seriously flawed moral  beings.

With the snowstorm raging unabated outside , the story  evolves  with clever use of time shifting as the true nature and circumstances of  those in Minnie’s Haberdashery  when Ruth and Warren arrive  is revealed  through flashbacks. This gives  the action  a staccato quality, especially towards the last third of the film,  as the immediate moment is increasingly  interrupted by  scenes from the recent past .  But this does not matter because the film is not  primarily concerned, as is common with  Tarantino’s films, with a conventional plot. Rather, he is offering the audience a sequence of arresting scenes to constantly capture their attention and   from which  scenes the plot eventually emerges.

There is  a high quality  cast with Kurt Russell  excelling in particular as the  type of self-sufficient frontiersman  character with a  time-beaten face who used to be a staple in Hollywood Westerns. Jennifer Jason  Leigh is stoical but also inexplicably calm until the story unravels to show the true purpose of those already at Minnie’s when Ruth, Warren and Domergue  arrive.  It is true that the main characters  have an large element of  caricature but that is all part of  the Tarantino method , something  Samuel Jackson is especially honours at as he goes splendidly over the top with his character.

Is the film an empty vessel sounding loud?  Looked at rationally the answer is yes because in the end there is no characters who enlist the sympathy of the audience and as is common with Tarantino there seems very little overall point or meaning . He subscribes to MacBeth’s lament “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”   But the thing is  cleverly done  and intriguing spectacle has its place in the cinema.  Worth seeing as a guilty pleasure.

 

Brexit: the movie

Director  and narrator Martin Durkin

Running time 71 minutes

As an instrument   to rally the leave vote  Brexit: the movie is severely flawed.  It starts promisingly by stressing the loss of sovereignty , the lack of democracy in the EU and the corrupt greed of its servants (my favourite abuse was a shopping mall for EU politicians and bureaucrats only – eat your heart out Soviet Union) and the ways in which  Brussels spends British taxpayers money and sabotages industries such as fishing.  Then  it all begins to go sour.

The film’s audience should have been the British electorate  as a whole.  That means making a film which appeals to all who might vote to leave using arguments which are not nakedly  politically  ideological. Sadly, that is precisely what has not  happened here because Brexit the movie  has as   director and narrator Martin Durkin, a card carrying disciple of the neo-liberal creed. Here are a couple of snatches from his website:

Capitalism is the free exchange of services voluntarily rendered and received. It is a relationship between people, characterized by freedom. Adding ‘global’ merely indicates that governments have been less than successful at hindering the free exchange of people’s services across national boundaries.

And

Well it’s time to think the unthinkable again, and to privatise the biggest State monopoly of all … the monopoly which is so ubiquitous it usually goes unnoticed, but which has impoverished us more than any other and is the cause of the current world banking and financial crisis.  It is time to privatise money.

Unsurprisingly Durkin has filled the film with people who with varying degrees of fervour share his ideological beliefs. These include John Redwood,  James Delingpole, Janet Daley, Matt Ridley, Mark Littlewood,  Daniel Hannon, Patrick Minford, Melanie Phillips Simon Heffer, Michael Howard and  Douglas Carswell , all supporting the leave side but doing so in a way which would alienate those who have not bought into the free market free trade ideology. The only people interviewed in the film who were from the left of the political spectrum are Labour’s biggest donor John Wells and Labour MPs  Kate Hoey and Steve Baker.

There is also a hefty segment of the film  (20.50 minutes – 30 minutes)  devoted to a risibly false  description of Britain’s economic history from the beginnings of the industrial revolution to the  position of Britain in the 1970s.  In it Durkin claims that the nineteenth century was a time of a very unregulated British economy, both domestically and  with regard to international trade, which allowed Britain to grow and flourish wondrously .  In fact, the first century and half or so of the Industrial Revolution  up to around 1860 was conducted under what was known as the Old Colonial System,   a very  wide-ranging form of protectionism. In addition, the nineteenth century saw the introduction of many Acts which regulated the employment of children and the conditions of work for employees in general and  for much of the century  the century  magistrates had much wider powers than they do today such as setting the price of basic foodstuffs and wages and enforcing apprenticeships.

Durkin then goes on to praise Britain’s continued economic expansion up until the Great War which he ascribes to Britain’s rejection of protectionism. The problem with this is that   Britain’s adherence to the nearest any country have ever gone  to free trade – the situation  is complicated by Britain’s huge Empire –  between 1860 and 1914 is a period of comparative industrial decline  with highly protectionist countries such as the USA and Germany making massive advances.

Next, Durkin paints a picture of a Britain regulated half to death in the Great War, regulation which often  continued into the peacetime inter-war years before a further dose of war in 1939  brought with it even more state control. Finally, the period of 1945 to the coming of Thatcher is represented as a time of a British economy over-regulated and protected economy falling headlong  into an abyss of uncompetitive economic failure before  Thatcher rescued the country.

The reality is that Britain came out of the Great Depression faster than any other large economy, aided by a mixture of removal from the Gold Bullion Standard, Keynsian pump priming and re-armament, all of these being state measures.  As for the period 1945 until the oil shock of 1973,   British economic growth was higher than it has been  overall in the forty years  since.

Even if the film had given a truthful account of Britain’s economic history over the past few centuries  there would have been a problem. Having speaker after speaker putting forward the laissez faire  position, saying that Britain would be so much more prosperous if they could trade more with the rest of the world by  having much less regulation, being open to unrestricted foreign investment   and, most devastatingly,  that it  would allow people to be recruited from around the world rather than just the EU or EEA (with the implication that it is racist to privilege Europeans over people from Africa and Asia) is not  the way  to win people to the leave side.

The legacy of Thatcher  is problematic.  Revered by true believers in  the neo-liberal  credo she is hated by many  more for there  are still millions in the country who detest what she stood for and  for whom people spouting the same kind of rhetoric she used in support of Brexit  is  a  turn off. To them can be  added  many others who instinctively feel that globalisation is wrong and threatening and talk of economics in which human beings are treated as pawns deeply repulsive.

There is also a  truly  astonishing  omission in the film. At the most modest assessment immigration is one of the major concerns of  British electors  (and probably the greatest concern  when the fear of being called a racist if one opposes immigration is factored in), yet the film avoids the subject. There is a point  towards the end of the film (go in at  61 minutes) when it briefly  looks as though it might be raised when the commentary poses the question “Ah, what if the  EU proposes a trade deal which forces upon us open borders and other stuff  we don’t like?   But that leads to no discussion  about immigration,  merely the  statement of  the pedantically  true claim that Britain  does not have to sign a treaty if its terms are not acceptable. This of course begs the question of who will decide what is acceptable. There a has been no suggestion that there are any lines in the sand which will not be crossed in negotiations with the EU and there is no promise of a second referendum after terms have been negotiated with the EU or, indeed,  with any other part of the world. Consequently,   electors can have no confidence those who conduct  negotiations will not give away vital things such as control of our borders.

As immigration is such a core part of  what  British voters worry about most ,both in the EU context and immigration generally,  it is difficult to come up with a an explanation for this startling omission  which  is not pejorative. It can only have been done for one of two reasons:  either the maker of the film  did not want the issue addressed or many of those appearing in the film  would  not have appeared if the  immigration drum had been beaten.  In view of both Durkin’s ideological position and the general tenor of the film,  the most plausible reason is that Durkin did not want the subject discussed because the idea of free movement of labour is a central part of the neo-liberal  ideology. He will see labour as simply a factor of production along with land and capital. Durkin  even managed to include interviews conducted in Switzerland (go in at 52 minutes )which  painted the country as a land of milk and honey without  mentioning that the Swiss had a citizen initiated referendum on restricting immigration in 2014 and are pushing for another.

The point at issue is not whether neo-liberalism is a good or a bad thing,  but the fact that an argument for leaving the EU which is primarily based on the ideology is bound to alienate many who do not think kindly of the EU, but who do not share the neo-liberal’s enthusiasm for an  unregulated or under-regulated  economy   and  a commitment to globalism, which frequently means  jobs are either off-shored or taken by immigrants who undercut wages and place a great strain on public services. This in practice results in mass immigration , which apart from competition for jobs, houses  and services,   fundamentally alters the  nature of the areas of  Britain in  which  immigrants settle and,  in the longer term, the  nature of Britain itself .

The excessive  concentration on economic matters is itself a major flaw, because  most of the electorate  will  variously not be able to understand , be bored by the detail  and turn off or  simply disregard the claims made as being  by their  nature  unknowable in reality. The difficulty of incomprehension and boredom is  compounded by there being  far  too many talking heads, often  speaking for a matter of seconds at a time.  I also found the use of Monty Python-style graphics irritatingly shallow and  a sequence lampooning European workers compared with the Chinese downright silly (go in at  37 minutes).

What the film should have done was rest  the arguments for leaving on the question of  sovereignty.  That is what this vote is all about: do you want Britain to be a sovereign nation ? Everything flows from the question of sovereignty : can we control our borders?; can we make our own laws?  Once sovereignty is seen as the only real question, then what we may or may not do after regaining our sovereignty is in our hands. If the British people wish to have a  more regulated market they can vote for it. If they want a neo-liberal economy they can vote for it. The point is that at present we cannot vote for either . As I mentioned in my introduction the sovereignty issue is raised many times in the film.  The problem is that it was so often  tied into the idea of free trade and unregulated markets that the sovereignty message raises the question in many minds of what will those with power – who overwhelmingly have bought into globalism and neo-liberal economics –  do with sovereignty rather than the value of sovereignty itself.

Will the film help the leave cause? I think it is the toss of a coin whether it will persuade more people to vote leave than or alienate more with  its neo-liberal message.

Film review – Steve Jobs

Main Cast

Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc

Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, marketing executive for Apple and NeXT and Jobs’ confidant in the film.

Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and creator of the Apple II

Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, CEO of Apple from 1983 to 1993.

Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan, Jobs’ former girlfriend and Lisa’s mother.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the original Mac team.

Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine as Lisa Brennan-Jobs (at different ages), the daughter of Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan]

Director: Danny Boyle

Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin

Robert Henderson

The film is not about the entirety of Jobs’  life or even all of his adult life as a computer entrepreneur. It runs from the launch of the Apple Macintosh in 1984 to that of the  iMac in 1998. Consequently, it  misses arguably the most fruitful part of Jobs’  business  life which ended with his death  in 2011.

Running through the  film are two themes from outside of  the IT world. The first  is the impact of the knowledge that he (Jobs) was adopted at birth, rejected by his first would-be adopters after a few months and the adopted again.  Jobs’ inept handling of  human relations is attributed to this.   The second theme is a remnant of Jobs’ rather chaotic social life which in the film he runs on the same dysfunctional basis as his work. The remnant is his  one time girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston)  and their daughter Lisa whom Jobs tries not to acknowledge initially  as his child, but whom he  gradually accepts as his daughter.

Those are the circumstantial bare bones of the film.  The film’s distinction and energy comes from a remarkable turn by Michael Fassbender as Jobs. Fassbender  has a talent for portraying obsessive characters. He did it in magnificently in  Shame as a sex obsessive and he does it here with his portrayal of Jobs  as an unrestrained control freak with a adolescent grade  ego the size of Jupiter.  He is constantly bullying and appears to have  little if any moral  sense. When he does behave more reasonably it is invariably not because he feels guilty,  but either as a result of  Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet)  thrusting what he is doing wrong so firmly in his face that he cannot ignore it or because someone treads on his  personal territory , as when  he discovers that Andy Hertzfeld  (Michael Stuhlbarg)  has paid his daughter’s first semester fees after Jobs in a fit of temper told  her he will not pay them.  In short, Fassbender’s Jobs is very like a particularly fractious  teenager without any  adult brake on his bumptious behaviour.

Whether  Fassbender’s Jobs is a realistic portrayal  of the man is another matter. It is disputed by many who knew him  and certainly this filmic Jobs is a monstrously unsympathetic character, the sort of person who continually brings gratuitous stress into the lives of those around him.     Nor is he shown to be an  infallible  entrepreneurial wizard.  Jobs got many things  right with Apple, especially after his return to the company, but he also got a great deal wrong by relying on his judgement of what would appeal  to the public and taking little account of what his programmers and hardware engineers told him .

His worst mistake was  the original Apple Mac which he deliberately had made so that it could only take programs written for its operating system (which was incompatible with that of Microsoft),  could not readily  accommodate add-ons to improve functionality and, just to put the cherry on things, the AppleMac case could not be opened to repair or enhance except with special tools  which were not available to Apple Mc purchasers .   At the time it was launched I remember thinking it was a bonkers way of proceeding.  It was an act of supreme egotism on Job’s part because he wanted the system to be entirely self-contained, that is to be a system  he envisaged  and controlled.  With Jobs in this characterisation it was always his way or the highway.

The Wozniak character expresses his frustration at Jobs’ lack of technical knowhow most vividly when he says “What do you do? You don’t write code. You’re not an engineer.   You’re not a designer. You can’t put a hammer to a nail.  I built the circuit board. The graphical interface was stolen from Xerox Park, Jeff Raskin  was the leader of the Mac team before you threw him of his own project. Someone else designed the box.  So how come  ten times in a day I read  that Steve Jobs is a genius?  What do you do?”

Jobs’ reply is a facile “I play the orchestra, and you’re a good musician. You sit right there and you’re the best in your row.” Fine if the tune Jobs is conducting is a hit with the public but quite often it was not.

This scene is one of the best in the film. The problem is that the real Wozniak denies ever confronting Jobs so directly: “Anybody who knows me will tell you I just don’t say negative things to people, and could not have said them, and didn’t.”

There is a very strong acting performance across the board. Steve Jobs is splendidly   cast and apart from Fassbender,  there is a dominant  turn  by Kate Winslet (does she ever give a poor performance?) as Jobs’  right hand woman and confidant  while  Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, Jeff Daniels as John Sculley,  Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the original Mac team are all very convincing because they are just the type of personalities with just the type of looks one would expect in such jobs.  Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan is, Jobs’ former girlfriend and Lisa’s mother is by turns convincing  as a single mother justifiably  angry at Jobs’ failure to acknowledge his daughter denied  and pathetic inadequate  .

The screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin who wrote the screenplay for the  Social Network.  This is not anything like as good a film as the Social Network, which retained its taut energy and constantly  evolving storyline  throughout , whereas Steve Jobs  is much more dependent on Fassbender’s  bravura scenes which in general tone do begin to have a certain sameness towards the latter stages of the film. Nonetheless Steve Jobs has much of the Social Networks quick wittedness in its dialogue and the relationship between  Fassbender and Winslet is constantly sparky.

This film is not as good as it might have been but it will not bore you.

 

Film review – The Revenant

Main cast

Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass

Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald

Domhnall Gleeson as Andrew Henry

Will Poulter as Jim Bridger,

Forrest Goodluck as Hawk, Glass’s son

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Robert Henderson

The Revenant is a tremendous disappointment . Like so many modern  films it substitutes a catalogue of frequent action for character development and condemns the plot to a distinctly mechanical unfolding of one damn thing after another  as the protagonist Hugh Glass  (DiCaprio) survives the hostility of the environment, Indians, some of the men he works with and most spectacularly an encounter with a grizzly bear.

The  year is 1823. A band  of trappers  by  Captain Andrew Henry  (Domhnall Gleeson) are in what is now the Dakotas and what was then  a still wild and largely unsettled (by whites)  part of the Louisiana Purchase, populated by  Indian tribes who varied from the friendly to the warlike.  Glass is the most experienced trapper and   knows the territory best.  His half Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck)  is also a member of the hunting party.

The trappers  are attacked by a band of Arikara Indians who  are armed with bows and arrows. But this being  the age of  the single shot muzzle loading muskets and pistols the trappers do not have an overwhelming superiority  in weaponry. They  suffer heavy losses and retreat from the fight by  boat down a river.   After making their escape Glass  persuades Henry that the party must come off the river and make their way back to the trading post overland.   This decision does not go down well with some of the remaining trappers including John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

Glass is then mauled by a grisly bear which leaves him  unable to walk or speak and seemingly on the verge of death.   After carrying him on a makeshift  stretcher  it becomes apparent that they cannot take him with them. Glass ‘s condition also worsens.  Eventually Andrew Henry  accepts that Glass will die but wants him to have a decent burial so asks for two  men   to remain behind and bury Glass properly. Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter)  agree to undertake the task for  additional pay.  Hawk  also stays.

Bridger leaves Fitzgerald alone with Glass. He persuades Glass  to signal by blinking that he wants Fitzgerald to put him out of his misery. Glass  blinks and Fitzgerald begins to suffocate him. Hawk  catches Fitzgerald in the act  and Fitzgerald kills him in a struggle. Bridger then returns before Fitzgerald can kill Glass. Fitzgerald  lies that he has seen a band of Arikara  Indians nearby and persuades Bridger to flee the scene leaving Glass to die. The pair then head for Fort Kiowa. On their  way Bridger discovers that Fitzgerald not seen any Arikara and gets a bad conscience. When they reach the  fort Fitzgerald lies about Glass dying and being given a decent burial. Bridger doesn’t like it but keeps mum.

As for Glass he does not die and gradually recovers both his mobility and voice. He then engages in  a wildly improbable journey to Fort Kiowa most of which  he conducts at first by crawling, then by  staggering with  the aid of a rough staff.   Most of the  action takes place in a wintery snow filled landscape. Yet not only does Glass survive the cold on land, he has several episodes when he is in what must have been water which was close to freezing . Yet DiCaprio is frequently seen in water which must have been icecold. In one scene he is swept away by the current of a fast flowing river encumbered with a heavy fur poncho-style garment  which is his own real guard against the cold. In real life Glass  would  have  rapidly died from hypothermia.

There is also no consistency in the extent of Glass’ supposed disability following the grizzly mauling. There is one scene which is truly absurd when Glass having been moving slowly with the aid of a staff suddenly regains the full use of his legs and runs.

These types  of wildly  improbable events would not matter in a fantasy such as XMen, but it does matter here. The  Revanent (meaning one who returns and especially one who returns from the dead) is  inspired by the allegedly  true story of Hugh Glass.  Apart from the fact that it is meant to have its roots in reality, the film takes great pains to look authentic, the screen being filled with filthy clothes, unshaven faces with dirty  ill-kemped beards and hair, bad skin and  inexhaustible   amounts of mud, all this set against a bleak background of  birch  forest.  The  absurdity of much of the action is horribly at odds with the  tenor of the film which is  deadly serious.

Then there is the question of historical  veracity.   Much of the important plot elements have no solid basis in fact. There is no evidence that Glass had an Indian wife or a half Indian  son.  Hence there was no son for Fitzgerald to kill. Glass was not helped by an Indian  after being deserted by Fitzgerald and Bridger. Glass did not kill  Fitzgerald let alone that seek him out  because Fitzgerald had either vanished or enlisted in the US army,  which meant he could not be safely killed because it would be treated as murder.   Take away those parts of the story and the story has lost much of its energy.

Some of the invention is also plainly designed to fit into the politically correct envelope.  The invention of an Indian wife and half-Indian son,  the depiction of Glass’ survival as being in part due to the help of an Indian, the running thread of an Arikara  chief attacking  the  trappers not for  the simple booty of the  furs but to trade them for  horses and guns  to enable the recovery of his kidnapped daughter all have no basis even in the tale that the real Hugh Glass told.  It is also true that little is known for certain  of Glass , who was  the only witness to what happened after he was left for dead and who may well have greatly embellished the story.

But even as the story is told in the film there is a curious deadness and inconsequentiality to the tale.  The dreadful truth is  the film is rather boring. The episode with the bear and the attack on the trappers by the Indians are undeniably thrilling, but there is the lack of characters who can engage the audience’s sympathy or even interest.  DiCaprio does his best with the material he is given but the it  is pretty frugal fare, not least by the fact that he is either alone or unable to speak for much of the film.   He is neither villain nor hero  but  a drab, dour unsympathetic  personality in a perilous situation.  That does not make for sympathy and the lack of sympathy means one cannot really care about how if at all  Glass will save himself.

Of the rest of the players  only Tom Hardy makes any real  impact. He is ostensibly the villain but might be seen more as a victim of circumstance  for,  after Glass fails to die of his wounds Fitzgerald and Bridger are left in in an impossible position. They cannot carry  Glass nor is Glass in any fit state to walk.  Their lives are at risk. Fitzgerald behaves badly in one way by pretending that he and Bridger have carried out their task and buried Glass after he has died a natural death, but to leave Glass was not unreasonable. Domhnall Gleeson as Andrew Henry  is sadly y miscast because he is positively wooden and horribly far from being a leader.

This is a film which is too  self-consciously important, the sort of film which one can imagine would-be Oscar winners grasping fondly  in the belief that it had Oscars galore written all over it. It may well be such a film for it has already made its mark at the BAFTAS,  but if it is it will be a triumph of promotion over substance.

 

Politically incorrect film reviews – The Martian

Main cast

Matt Damon as Mark Watney (botanist, engineer)

Kristen Wiig as Annie Montrose, NASA spokesperson (Director, Media Relations)

Jeff Daniels as Theodore “Teddy” Sanders, Director of NASA

Michael Peña as Major Rick Martinez, astronaut (pilot)

Kate Mara as Beth Johanssen, astronaut (system operator, reactor technician)

Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson, Hermes flight director

Sebastian Stan as Dr. Chris Beck, astronaut (flight surgeon, EVA specialist)

Aksel Hennie as Dr. Alex Vogel, astronaut (navigator, chemist)

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor, NASA’s Mars mission director

Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a NASA astrodynamicist

Benedict Wong as Bruce Ng, director of JPL

Director Ridley Scott

Imagine Robinson Crusoe without  a Man Friday  and stranded on another planet  rather than a deserted island  and you have the plot of The  Martian in a nutshell.

Botanist Mark Watney ( Matt Damon)  is part of  the Ares III mission  which has landed on Mars and set up a temporary base there. A dust storm blows up while the crew are out on the surface and Watney is hit by some flying debris. The rest of the crew are sure he is dead, but they also have a major danger  to distract them from searching for him: the dust storm is threatening to blow over the rocket that  will take them back to their orbiting Hermes  spaceship. If the rocket topples over the crew will be stranded on Mars.   Consequently, they make an emergency take off  without Watney, get safely to the Hermes and  head  for Earth.

But Watney is not dead. He has been injured by  the flying debris,  but not mortally. The facility which sheltered the crew on Mars, the Hab, is still functioning  and there is a large Mars rover vehicle intact.  Watney sits down in the Hab and does  exactly what Crusoe does, takes an inventory of what he has then sets about working himself out of the monumental hole he is in.  This he achieves  in a series of   ingenious ways   including, again mimicking  Crusoe , by scavenging equipment  from  wrecks, in this case  from abandoned equipment  left  from previous missions, manned and unmanned, to  Mars.

Most of the film  is taken up with Watney’s efforts  to overcome  one daunting  obstacle to surviving  after another long enough to have any chance of rescue.  He starts from the bleak  point of knowing that NASA  think that he is dead.  Hence his   first need is to establish contact with Earth to let them know he is alive.  He eventually does this  by cleverly  tinkering with equipment  intended for other things until eventually he has an email  link with NASA.

After making contact with NASA,  Watney’s  most pressing problem is  having enough food   to last long enough to keep him alive until Earth can attempt to rescue him. It will take several years to send another spaceship to Mars and Watney  has food for nothing like that long. Luckily he is a botanist so he works out a way of producing water and this,  with the excrement from the astronauts acting as fertiliser, allows him to grow potatoes inside the Hab with sufficient success  to allow him to survive for considerably  longer but not long enough for the next Mars expedition, Aries IV, to arrive and save  him.

While Watney is problem solving on Mars NASA is problem solving on Earth and meeting with disaster. Their attempts to   launch an unmanned rocket with extra supplies to allow Watney to survive until Aires IV can get there  ends in disaster and all looks lost.  But eventually  the Aries III mission ship Hermes ship is re-provisioned a in space and then turned around on its flight to Earth and sent back to Mars to rescue Watney. This is done only with the help of the Chinese (note the glib  internationalism and/or kotowing to the Chinese).

After further adventures including a disaster with the Hab and a long ride across the Martian surface in the Mars Rover the film culminates in a hair raising exercise to rescue Watney. Does he make it? Well, you will need to see the film to discover that.

Damon’s performance as Watney  recaptures  the engaging boyishness of his early films like Goodwill Hunting and Rounders.   He is also decidedly funny. Without him the film would be pretty dull,  for apart from Damon the plot involving the rest of the cast is rather predictable and even those with  the larger parts such as Jeff Daniels as Theodore “Teddy” Sanders,  the Director of NASA and Jessica Chastain as Melissa Lewis,   the Ares III Mission Commander, are distinctly one-dimensional.  Sean Bean is horribly miscast as Mitch Henderson the Hermes flight director speaking what lines he has with as much verve as a speak-your-weight-machine .

The Martian has been criticised in some quarters for Damon’s role being too comic.  That is a mistake. Whether  or not someone in such a desperate and isolated position  would be able to maintain such an upbeat  persona with the sense of both his utter physical isolation and desperate circumstances  pressing upon him is of course debatable . But that is to miss the point. The same objection could be levelled at Robinson Crusoe.  But in both cases what counts is whether there is a good story to be told and in both cases the answer is yes.   Moreover, the attitude of Watney  is that of those with the  “right stuff”, an epitome of American can do. Nor is he  utterly alone for most of the film. To keep him sane  he has his contact with Earth for most of the time and eventually  the Aries III ship Hermes . He also records his progress on a video blog, something which would provide a sense of purpose.   It is Boy’s Own stuff but none the worse for that. Nor is it  utterly unbelievable. Think of the tone of the diaries kept on Scott’s doomed return from the South Pole or the resolution of the crew on Apollo 13 after an oxygen tank  exploded  two days into the mission and crippled the spacecraft.    Boy’s Own behaviour is found in real life.

The  depiction  of Mars is unnecessarily sloppy.  It  looks convincing as far as the scenery is concerned, but  there are   anomalies. The gravity on Mars is one-third of that on Earth yet when Damon moves around  there is no  indication of this  in his  walk ,which one would expect to be at least mildly bouncing. Nor when Damon moves things does he do so with unexpected ease as one would imagine he should with only one-third Earth gravity.   Then there is the atmospheric pressure which is around  one-hundredth of the on Earth. Would the storm which causes the Aries Mission  crew to leave really have had the energy to hurl debris as violently as it did or threaten to knock the rocket over?  The answer is no because it is the density of atmosphere which provides the “weight” behind a dust storm. On Mars the dust storm would be a  breeze not a hurricane.  As the dust storm plays a significant role in the plot this is not a small thing.

For politically correct casting  fans The Martian provides a feast.  The commander of the Aries II mission is a woman; the Chiwetel Ejiofor is  Vincent Kapoor, NASA’s Mars mission director, Benedict Wong is  Bruce Ng, director of JPL and there  are ethnic minority and female  bodies all over the place in the NASA control room scenes.  Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a NASA astrodynamicist, s the whizz kid who produces  the maths which allows the  Hermes to turn round and head back to Mars is black.  (The overwhelmingly  white  and male  reality of NASAtoday  can be seen here).

Despite its flaws  the film  is genuinely  entertaining.  You will not leave the cinema feeling you have wasted a couple of hours.

Film review- Legend

Main cast

Tom Hardy  as Ronald “Ronnie” Kray and Reginald “Reggie” Kray

Emily Browning as Frances Shea

Christopher Eccleston as Leonard “Nipper” Read  A Detective Superintendent in charge of taking down the Krays

Taron Egerton as Edward “Mad Teddy” Smith – A psychopathic gay man rumoured to have had affairs with Ronnie

Paul Bettany as Charlie Richardson

David Thewlis as Leslie Payne The Krays’ business manager

Chazz Palminteri as Angelo Bruno – The head of the Philadelphia crime family and friend and business associate to Ronnie and Reggie.

Kevin McNally as Harold Wilson

Director Brian Helgeland

This biopic of the East End gangsters  of fifty years ago, the Twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray,   contains a great deal of technological wizardry and an unusual  performance by Tom Hardy who plays both  twins.  The technology is so slick that it allows both Krays to appear on the screen at the same time without any sense that the scenes have been faked,  even when the twins  have an extended fight.

But technological marvels do not equal a good film and Legend has severe weaknesses.  Like many biopics it  tries to cover too much ground, thinking that by ticking off a large number of incidents in a life this in itself produces  the ideal telling of a life.    That may have some merit in a written biography but it is death in a film.  The Krays being violent to establish their claim to be hard men,   Reggie having a brief spell in prison, the murders of  George Cornell and Jack “the Hat” McVitie, and a good deal more simply  flash by. This gives precious little opportunity for character development or a proper examination of  any part of the biographical  subject’s life.

It is true that Hardy’s performance as the twins is remarkable in as much as he invents  two distinct personas  for the Krays; an almost rational albeit violently amoral one for Reggie and a declamatory  character with the hint of a lisp  for Ronnie, who spends the film in a perpetual  state of violence, both suppressed and realised, while hatching crackpot plans for the establishment of a Utopian community  in Nigeria or  saying things which utterly discompose other characters such as  his habit of loudly announcing that he is a homosexual.   Hardy also gives Ronnie a rich behavioural wardrobe of tics and bulging eyes that  seem to be perpetually on the point of shooting out of their sockets. This creates a problem because Hardy’s  Ronnie is so off the wall that he comes across not as a real human being, however flawed, but as a monster created for theatrical effect.

It is true that gangster films often  have a cartoonish element  because of the mixture of  the normal with the abnormal,  for example,  characters frequently engage  in incongruously  normal conversations about, for example, their wives and children during which they often assume a moral position, then engage in some horrific violence.  But such scenes do not dominate films and are often deliberately funny. The depiction of Ronnie in Legend  is neither amusing nor truly threatening.   It also detracts from Hardy’s depiction of Reggie – which is convincing enough when  taken in isolation – because  it is difficult to take seriously either of the characters when one is palpably ridiculous. ( Try to imagine Bond or  Jason Bourne acting against  Norman Wisdom playing  a villain in his  most popular character guise of Norman Pitkin).

But the main  problem with the film is there is simply too much  Ronnie and Reggie .The best gangster  films are those where  there is  strong ensemble playing. Think of the Godfather series or Friday the Thirteenth.  Apart from Emily Browning as  Reggie’s girlfriend and eventual  wife  Frances Shea  (the most convincing scenes are those  between Hardy in his guise as Reggie and Francis Shea)   and (just about)  David Thewlis as Leslie Payne the Krays’ business manager,  the other characters simply do not have the chance to develop because they have so little screen time.  Bewilderingly, the personality who supposedly loomed largest in the Krays’ minds in the real world, their mother Violet (Jane Wood) barely appears, while two  actors  with  substantial  film careers –  Paul Bettany as Charlie Richardson and  Christopher Eccleston as Detective Superintendent Leonard “Nipper” Read  – are variously barely used (Bettany)  or given only a series of scenes so short that their effect is  minimal  (Eccleston).

At the end of the film my thoughts turned to the  1990 film The Krays in which the Kemp brothers from Spandau ballet played  the twins.  In some ways  this was unintentionally  an extremely funny film  because it was set in an unbelievably clean East End;  Billie Whitelaw in the role of the Krays’ mother produced the worst attempt at an East End accent I have ever heard from a professional actress – right up there with Dick VanDyke’s “Gor blimey, Mary Poppins”  – and   Steven Berkoff  enjoyably went an astronomical distance over the top as George Cornell.

But the saving grace of  The Krays was  characters other than  the twins being much more developed. Moreover, the portrayal of the difference between the  Krays was less contrived. Indeed, considering their lack of acting experience at the time  the Kemp brothers  were surprisingly, indeed from their view point, perhaps worrying convincing as the Krays, with Ronnie being a much more believable  character than he is in Legend.  Hence, for all its absurdities  The Krays  is both a more convincing evocation of the twins and considerably more entertaining  than Legend , which  truth to tell becomes rather boring as the film progresses because it is all rather one-dimensional.

Legend is a not  howling flop merely  mediocre. I say this with  regret because Tom Hardy is a charismatic  and accomplished actor, probably the best English  film actor  of his generation.  The subject matter also suits him because he is a convincing hard man with a fine talent for portraying violence.  But in the end the film is too unbalanced, too unbelievable to be either a meaningful biopic or simply a first rate gangster film.

Inside Out does not know its audience

Main Voice cast

Amy Poehler as Joy

Phyllis Smith as Sadness

Bill Hader as Fear

Lewis Black as Anger

Mindy Kaling as Disgust

Richard Kind as Bing Bong, Riley’s long forgotten imaginary friend

Kaitlyn Dias as Riley Andersen

Diane Lane as Riley’s mother

Kyle MacLachlan as Riley’s father

Director: Pete Docter

This is a film with high ambition. It is an  attempt at explaining the workings of the human brain whilst tugging the heart strings of adults and children  by telling the story of an unhappy and insecure child.

At the centre of the film  is an  11-year-old girl named Riley. Her parents have just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco. As a consequence Riley feels isolated and lonely because she has left all her friends behind and everything else which was familiar.

Most of the action takes place inside Riley’s mind, although there are occasional  forays into the interior consciousness  of her  parents.  Headquarters is Riley’s conscious mind which contains  five emotional  personifications: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. Memories are  represented as orbs  which can be changed by contact with the five personifications.   There are core  memories  housed in a hub in Headquarters  which power five “islands”, each of which reflects a different aspect of Riley’s personality: Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island and Goofball Island.  The Islands sit over a memory dump where unimportant or unwanted memories are placed.   Aside from all this is an area storing  long term memories.

Joy is the dominant personification and acts as the organiser of Riley’s personality and emotional balance. . Sadness is the other important personification.  A theme running through the film is the fact that   sadness is  not just an unwonted  quality  producing misery  but sometimes  a creative force  which shifts the momentum of the mind by making memories which are sad to be flavoured with poignancy of melancholy so that they become more than just sadness.

There is an oddity with the personifications. Riley’s personifications are divided between  entities which are clearly male or female. Joy, Sadness and  Disgust are female and Anger and Fear male . On the occasions when the personifications of the parents are see the mother’s are all female and the father’s all male.  Was this just slapdash or a conscious decision? I rather suspect slapdash, but either way as the difference goes unexplained it undermines the film’s pretensions to be more than just a cartoon about a child’s negotiating of a difficult period of her life.

Joy and Sadness get accidentally swept into the maze of long-term memory along with the core values.   The rest of the film is devoted to Joy and Sadness struggling to make it back to Headquarters, which they eventually do,  while  Fear, Disgust and Anger are trying incompetently  to keep Riley’s mind  normal, there attempts resulting in the personality islands collapsing into the memory dump leaving Riley without the psychological structure to keep her on the straight and narrow and temporarily depriving her of the better angel of her personality.

Treated as an Odyssey  that is simple enough  and potentially attractive as a storyline.  But there is an insuperable obstacle to the film being enjoyable  and  developing into a well  loved Pixar classic. Inside Out  is very didactic.  To understand what the film is about it is necessary for the audience to take on board the animation’s  instruction on how the mind works or at least the film’s  version of how it operates. That raises  a very awkward question, namely, what is the natural audience for the film?  Will children of Riley’s age honestly follow what is happening?  Will adults for that matter? Or will a somewhat baffled boredom be the result?

Of course there is a second element to the film, the emotional journey of Riley. Will it appeal to pre-pubescent girls  around  Riley’s age? Perhaps but  the portrayal of the girl is what girls of that age would probably see as parents being  patronising superior and “just not understanding them” . That could  either alienate them or be something which  enlists their empathy.  But I doubt whether  it will have any attraction to  boys in the Riley age group because they would  be at best  uninterested in what girls think  and at worst actively hostile.

It is also difficult to believe that either  girls or boys of Riley’s age would have found the storyline exciting.   There is a bit of routine improbably physical cartoon action with Bing Bong , Riley’s imaginary friend  from long ago, helping   Joy and Sadness  to return to Headquarters, but there is little of that and not terribly thrilling at that. The film is so intent on showing how clever it is   – gee, whiz, we’re showing  everyone how the brain works – that those producing it have lost sight of the fact that they are in the entertainment business and their clients are first and foremost children.

That leaves adults. In many modern animations there are a host of knowing jokes for adults but here there are next to none. In fact, make that there are precious few jokes for children or adults.  That leaves emotion engagement. Critics and various mediafolk have made great play about tears flowing as they watched Inside Out,  but the sentimentality is too contrived to be entirely  convincing.

As a serious exposition of how the brain works Inside Out  is a non-starter.   To be a serious exposition it is necessary to properly understand concepts like short and long term memory. Most people will simply think that one lasts  longer than the other, when   short term memory is very short indeed (a few  seconds ) and the relationship between short and long term memory is still much debated in academic circles.  The film gives an impression of certainty where there is no certainty.

There is also a problem with the personified emotions, joy, anger, sadness, fear and disgust. These are presumably meant to be the primary  emotions  which can combine to produce secondary emotions  in the same way that red, blue and yellow are primary colours which can be  mixed to produce other colours. But is it  true that the five personified emotions are really the only primary emotions?  For example,  how would jealousy be created out of  two or more of them? Anger, Disgust  and Fear might be components of jealousy, but there is far more to jealousy than those emotions, for example, greed and  desire.

The animation has met with widespread , indeed fulsome, praise   from critics who see  the film as a penetrating and intelligent drama daringly dealing with the difficult and nebulous subjects of brain function and consciousness  as well as depicting an 11-year-old girl’s  interior world. This judgement I find utterly misplaced. Why has critical opinion been so adulatory? I suspect that it is a film which the chattering classes  feel obliged to praise because of its self-consciously serious intent.

Technically the film is first rate as one would expect from Pixar.  It looks superb and the actors providing the voices do their best to  imbue the characters with distinct personality.   But truth  be told the film is curiously  bloodless,  and whisper it quietly,  distinctly  dull.  In fact,   Inside Out has the tone of the kind of book  Victorian children had  vainly thrust upon them to instruct the child in moral improvement . There was a large component of children of the Riley age group  in the audience when I saw Inside Out . They were remarkably silent.  Was that because they were entranced or because they were unengaged?  I rather suspect it was the latter.

Politically incorrect film reviews – Dear White People broadcasts the wrong message

Main cast

Tyler James Williams as  Lionel Higgins

Tessa Thompson as  Sam White

Kyle Gallner as Kurt Fletcher

Teyonah Parris as Colandrea “Coco” Conners

Brandon Bell as  Troy

Malcolm Barrett as  Helmut West

Dennis Haysbert  as the Dean

Justin Dobies as Gabe

Peter Syvertsen as President Hutchinson

Director: Justin Simien

Dear White People  cannot make up its mind  whether it should be  a comedy  out of the National Lampoon Animal House stable  or a serious drama.  At one moment there are halfway decent jokes such as a college radio  broadcast  announcing  that the minimum  number of black friends a white person must have if they were not to be called racist had been raised from one to two  with white listeners  reacting in panic-stricken fashion and at another ritual  expressions of  PC horror because a blackface party organised by white students is going to be held. This is a shame because the subject  – black students in a white dominated Ivy League university – has considerable possibilities for either form of film.

The film is  set in Winchester, a fictitious Ivy league university where the majority of students are white. The university’s white President Hutchinson (Peter Syvertsen) has decided to place students in  campus  accommodation on a colour-blind basis.  This is met with resistance  in an all-black  residential house  known as Armstrong/Parker.  A film production major and mixed-race  girl Sam White (Tessa Thompson)  unexpectedly wins the election for who is to be head of Armstrong/Parker  beating  Troy (Brandon Bell),  the son of Winchester’s  Dean and uses her position to begin  agitating for  Armstrong/Parker  to remain  all black.

Sam also  has her own college radio station named Dear White People which   unblushingly pushes black stereotypes of whites such as her broadcast requests  “Dear white people … please stop dancing”, “Dear white people please stop touching my hair. Does this look like a petting zoo to you? “  When  the black dean  of Winchester (Dennis Haysbert)   tells her that the Dear White People broadcasts are racist  she responds  “ Black people cannot be racist. Racism describes a system of disadvantage based on race “. When challenged by her  boyfriend  Gabe (Justin Dobies ) about how she would feel if someone started  Dear Black People broadcasts,  her  smug black victimhood response is “No need. Mass media for Fox  make it clear what they think of us.”    You get the idea of where she is coming from.  Except you do not get the full picture because  her boyfriend is white and she has a secret liking for Taylor Swift, a distinct no no for a right-on black.

This type of  blurring of character is used frequently  in the film to demonstrate not that  everyone is the same under the skin,  but to offer an excuse for  further wallowing in black victimhood. The black students at Winchester U cannot complain of lack of opportunity or of being treated in a demeaning way, but they can still have a great appetite for  playing the victim.  This means they have to be  inventive. One of the ways is to claim that even privileged  blacks like them are under tremendous strain because  whites expect blacks to both conform to a stereotype  and be experts on black culture,  or at least experts on  what is perceived by both black and white as black culture. Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) as a black gay student  who does not feel very black is the prime example in the film as he admits “I listen to Munford and sons and watch Robert Altman films”  and is told by a white girl on the student newspaper he wants to write for  that “You’re only technically black”.

Simien  is both black and gay and  judged by the screenplay he has produced, so obsessively  concerned about both that the need for basic  dramatic structure is tossed aside.    It is also a problem that he  wrote the screenplay as well as directing. This is always a difficult duality, particularly as the film is his first attempt at feature length direction.  It was also crowdfunded so there was not the usual  studio oversight.  Having a free hand as writer and director may sound fine in theory but it rests a great deal  on the individual who has the free hand.  In this case it is a serious mistake, not least because Simien is  very green as a  director.   This  inexperience shows because he  is  clearly under the impression that cramming in everything about a subject will result in a good film. The problem with this approach is that it destroys any plausible narrative as scenes  streak by without any continuous dramatic coherence holding them together. One can imagine Simiens  whilst directing ticking off one by one the  “what blacks think of whites”  set pieces he has created.

Examples of these set pieces are :

Mixed race light skinned blacks do better in a white world that dark skinned blacks. This is hung on the difference between in treatment of mixed race Sam White  and  authentically black Coco Connors (Teyonah Parris) by a white TV producer  of  TV reality show “Black Face/White Place” following Sam’s story but , rejecting  Coco pitch for a show  “Doing Time at an Ivy League”.

Troy has a white girlfriend which is seen not as integration but simply as a ploy white girls pull when they want to annoy their parents.

There is a good deal that is deliberately  non-PC  in the  film. A  white   hoax invite to the  party which causes outrage  is sent out  with an invocation to  “Liberate Your Inner Negro”, Sam White is described as “like the pissed off child of Spike Lee and Oprah”  and   Sam’s white boyfriend says “ I’m sick of your tragic mulatto bull” . But it has very little effect both because  there are too many “outrage” words and storyline  (even the most committed liberal or black activist can only be outraged so many times) and because of the unconvincing  nature of the outrage  shown.

On top of this jerky narrative there is the crude realisations of both the  characters and the drama such as it is.  The film  is littered with clumsily constructed stereotypes. Troy (Brandon Bell )  is the non-threatening black  who says things such as “I really don’t see the issue. Never ran into any lynch mob.” ; Sam White the threatening black;  Troy’s father ( Dennis Haysbert )the paranoid black parent  desperate for his son not to give whites  a chance to belittle him by  trying to make a career as a comedy writer instead of  being in a  respectable professional  occupation;  Kurt Fletcher ( Kyle Gallner) is the arrogant white boy with a hint of racism.

The comic book nature of the film as it moves swiftly from satirical point to satirical point robs  the actors of any chance for substantial character development. Within those confines  they all make a good fist of things with  Kyle Gallner and Brandon Bell being  especially convincing as the stereotypes they were asked to portray.

What is fascinating about the film is that  it contains  considerable anti-white racism,  but  Simiens seem to be oblivious to it.  The  white characters are allowed only subordinate parts   while the black characters remain centre stage. Black characters  have many jibes against whites while the white characters are allowed only a few token ripostes  but they are very token, for example,    Kyle Gallner  ventures “Sometimes I think that the hardest thing to be in the American workforce is educated white guy”. Consequently, the portrayal of whites in the film is  ultimately derogatory  whereas the blacks who are shown in less than a flattering light are in a different category. They may have prejudices about whites but these  are presented as being a consequence of  white racism both historical and present day.   The message of the film is that blacks may be ostensibly  racist  but the should not be censured or even mildly disapproved of because of the historical legacy, but whites are there to be pantomime villains to be booed at every opportunity.  Most probably this is not  a deliberate propaganda ploy by Simien but simply an unconscious  reproducing what is the default position for politically conscious blacks and white liberals.

There is a sharp  comedy of manners to be made of the relationship between whites and blacks in a privileged situation but this is not it. Ditto a really biting satire on white liberal mores when faced with  racial questions and the comfort blanket of black victimhood.  What the viewer is left to view  is a cinematic and ideological mess which is too soft centred to even provoke outrage.

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