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Blue Jasmine

Gravier Productions. Written and Directed by Woody Allen.

So it was off to the local “Art House” cinema again. I was going to say for the first time since we went to see Brave (which I didn’t blog about because there wasn’t much to say about it – typical feel good Disney fare) but I’d forgotten about Austenland. I must have almost blanked it out.

You couldn’t mistake Blue Jasmine for anything but a Woody Allen film. It has titles in that font he’s used since nineteen hundred and a long time ago and a jazz soundtrack. It’s unusual for a Woody Allen film to be mainly set in San Francisco though.

It tells the tale of Jasmine, a New York socialite who has fallen on hard times after her husband was arrested for illegal business dealings. She is shown as self-obsessed from the outset. On the plane to San Francisco, where she is going to live with her (half-)sister, Ginger, she babbles incessantly to the poor woman in the next seat who doesn’t know her from Eve.

She looks down on both her sister and Chili, Ginger’s boyfriend, who was about to move in until Jasmine’s arrival upset their plans.

The film charts Jasmine’s attempts to navigate her new cash-strapped life and try to make something of herself – or at least find a man who can give her back her former lifestyle – interspersed with flashes back to the “good” times with her husband (Alec Baldwin) who is revealed to have been dodgy in all aspects of his life.

Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the teetering on the edge of sanity Jasmine is a wonderful piece of acting. Sally Hawkins as Ginger (a strange choice of name for a brunette) is also convincing as a woman not terribly sure of herself or her worth. Apart from Chili (Bobby Cannavale) who seems genuinely attached to Ginger, most of the men in the film are untrustworthy in some way.

The final unravelling of the plot depends on a coincidental meeting but the information exchanged in this encounter would have emerged later in any case. This was a suitable way to dramatise it though.

There were acute observations of humanity here and as with much of Allen’s output in his latter years only a few laughs. Fine performances from the cast – especially Max Rutherford’s and Daniel Jenks’s stunned expressions as Ginger’s two sons when Jasmine unloads her woes on them while baby-sitting.

Language, Timothy!1

I meant to say when I mentioned the film Austenland that the classification certificate displayed on screen before its start said “Contains one example2 of moderate language.”

I admit I perked up a bit at that as I immediately therefore expected all the rest of the language to be immoderate. That it wasn’t (the extent of the “moderate” language was one “Wankers!” in the whole film!) might help explain my odd sense of dissatisfaction with it.

1This was the catch-phrase retort of the father in the sit-com Sorry! which starred Ronnie Corbett and featured an overbearing mother.

2The noun may have been instance rather than example. Whatever, it implied only one.

Kirkcaldy Film Festival

It’s the first ever Kirkcaldy Film Festival this weekend and as a result I was at a film premiere yesterday. (The Scottish premiere.)

The red carpet was still outside the Adam Smith Theatre this morning when we went back there for a library book sale.

Red Carpet for Kirkcaldy Film Festival

I assume the carpet will be out the whole weekend. (At least the forecast is not for rain.)

The film, Austenland, wasn’t really my thing, being a romcom based on the works of Jane Austen, but the good lady enjoyed it.

The film’s colour palette was curiously pale, as if filmed through a red absorbing filter, rendering the picture almost shiny at times.

The plot has an Austen obsessed US woman, unlucky in love naturally, deciding to blow her savings on a trip to an Austen themed experience in an English Country House, final ball and all. Cue the usual misconstruings. While it was played a lot for laughs there was a sense of straining for the joke at times. I suppose it was perfectly fine if you like that sort of thing but the best bit was during the end credits where the characters, in period dress, mimed to a rap track (something to do with it being “hot in here, so let’s take off our clothes.”)

The Angels’€™ Share

Sixteen Films, Why Not Productions and Wild Bunch. Directed by Ken Loach.

I saw this on one of my occasional jaunts to the local part-time cinema, which is a theatre most of the time.

This apparently won the Jury Prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

This reminded me a lot of Christopher Brookmyre’s books. Comedy is mixed in with violence but here the violence isn’€™t overplayed. It starts off with a very funny scene set on a railway platform where a remote Station Master berates a drunken would-be passenger over the tannoy to stand back as there’€™s a train coming. The bemused recipient of this warning behaves as you might expect but it‒s very well played. This character, Albert, is the butt of a lot of the humour in the film as he is presented as incredibly thick.

The plot revolves around a group of four convicts on community pay-back sentences being introduced to the arcane delights of whisky tasting by their overseer, Harry, a somewhat unbelievably sympathetic character. One of their number, Robbie, has just become a father and wishes to leave behind his life of brushes with the law and make a stable home for his girlfriend and child. He turns out to have an excellent nose for whisky and hatches a scheme to (ahem) spirit away – the angels’€™ share is a whisky industry term for the portion of a barrel which evaporates between it being laid down and finally tapped off so the phrase seems apposite – some of a recently discovered barrel of an extremely rare and well regarded whisky.

The movie does trade a lot in Scottish cliché – whisky, kilts, Irn Bru, violence -€“ but is very entertaining. A knowledge of West of Scotland demotic and a tolerance for expletives are necessary for full appreciation, though.

Midnight In Paris

At the local “Art Cinema”, the Adam Smith Theatre. Whoopee! No round trip to Dunfermline just to see a film. (Still on tonight, 14/2/12, if anyone wants to go.)

This is a Woody Allen film and many of his tropes are present. The lead character, Gil, is typically Allenish with his verbal mannerisms, we have the fascination with the past (Zelig; Broadway Danny Rose) and an intrusion of the fantastic (Play It Again, Sam; Broadway Danny Rose.)

Gil is a writer on a trip to Paris with his fiancee and her awful parents; a moneyed couple, snobbish and intolerant, with no redeeming features. But none of these four are really sympathetic. There is a fine cameo by Michael Sheen as a friend of the fiancee, with just the right degree of irritating know-allness.

To escape this lot, Gil walks through Paris and gets lost. At midnight he is invited into an old car cruising the streets. He is taken to a party where he encounters Cole Porter, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. On subsequent nights he meets Gertrude Stein (Alice B Toklas has a small name check,) Pablo Picasso and his mistress, Salvador Dali, Louis Buňuel and Man Ray. Gil is delighted as he is fascinated by the 1920s, his perfect time. He is also much taken with Picasso’s mistress who thinks the Belle Époque was the best era to be alive.

If at times this all seemed a bit too overloaded it is the sort of stuff with which Allen can have a bit of fun, as when Gil suggests a film scenario to Buňuel.

Stein agrees to read Gil’s novel manuscript. At one point she describes it as Science Fiction (it is set in her future.) I was dubious at this usage and checked; the term apparently wasn’t in common use until 1929.

Gil is drawn more and more into the 1920s milieu and strolling with Picasso’s mistress one night they are invited into a horse-drawn cab and end up in the Belle Époque. Cue Toulouse Lautrec, Degas and Gauguin. Here Gil realises that no-one likes their own time and the past isn’t necessarily a better place.

But he determines to stay in (present day) Paris and chucks his girlfriend.

It was the fantastic element that I found most satisfying, the going into the past aspect is the sort of thing that makes Altered History (or Alternative/Alternate History if you must) so intriguing, but the present day characters were just so crass; apart from Carla Bruni as a tour guide and a female seller of old records Gil bumps into on a shopping trip.

This was minor Allen but entertaining enough, with quite a few laughs. I enjoyed it.

The Iron Lady

I see and hear a film has been made about a certain former Prime Minister of the UK.

I must say at the outset that I shall not be going to see it – not least because the good lady (my good lady) is still too scarred by that woman’s actions that she cannot bear or contemplate anything to do with her.

I gather the film portrays its heroine as frail and dotty. (I suspect this may be a dramatic necessity for the purposes of making the film.) I have heard a speaker on Radio Scotland – a Tory MP – English of course – complain that it went beyond good taste as the person concerned was still alive and it therefore compromised her dignity. Well, that was rich.

Firstly and brutally, if she is frail and dotty she won’t know, will she?

Secondly, did she in her prime give a shit about the human dignity of all those she condemned to hardship and penury, everything she destroyed, as a result of her policies? You could call it karma.

In any case there were signs in her late Premiership that she was unhinged, if not deranged, so it’s not surprising she’s not all there in her dotage.

Yet none of this is to do with the thrust of this post.

Coincidentally I read an article from Tuesday’s Guardian that, as part of the setting up of Sky, Thatcher made the BBC pay £10 million a year to have their channels broadcast on Sky’s platform. Yet one more example of the baleful influence the woman had on British public life. And these payments persist: they are happening now.

Is this circumstance more widely known? Because I was outraged.

Does any other broadcaster – anywhere – have to pay another to have its own programmes shown on that other’s channels? Surely not.

Doesn’t the BBC sell programmes/formats around the world rather than pay others to broadcast them? Don’t the BBC, ITV and Channels 4 and 5 pay to the originator for US (or Australian or whatever) generated programmes? And doesn’t Virgin have to pay Sky to have Sky channels on its (Virgin’s) service? Doesn’t Sky itself pay HBO hefty amounts for their programmes?

We all know the reason why there would not have been much protest from the BBC at such an arrangement. The perceived power of the Murdoch Press. The pusillanimity of politicians of all parties with respect to that power.

That power may now be a busted flush and despite the Tories’ antipathy to anything that smacks of public endeavour surely the BBC ought to be demanding an end to this public subsidy of a private company. For that is what the arrangement amounts to.

As it stands it is – and always has been – a total waste of licence fee payers’ money to throw it away on Sky for no content in return.

The boot should be firmly on the other foot. Sky ought to be paying the BBC – and handsomely – for any access at all to BBC programming. Not to mention providing adequate compensation for all the years in which money has been shamefully drained away from the BBC in this way.

Edited to add:- my good lady says the speaker on the radio was none other than Jeremy (H)unt – her parentheses.

The Eagle

Off to Dunfermline for this adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff‘s novel The Eagle of the Ninth. I don€’t remember if I’€™ve read the book; if so it was as a child. I have a vague recall of a television production of the story in my youth but forgot all the details except that it involved the legend of the loss of a Roman legion, complete with imperial eagle, in the wilds north of Hadrian€’s Wall (or would it be the Antonine Wall?)

I read recently the latest historical thinking is that the legion may never actually have been lost, just absent from the records. It might simply have been redeployed elsewhere in the Roman Empire. Still, print the legend, eh?

The film’s plot is simple. Marcus Aquila, the son of the lost (and hence disgraced) legion commander comes to Britain, is wounded, saves the life of a gladiatorial combatant who becomes his slave and the pair go off to search for the lost eagle. Cue male bonding and the dawning of mutual warmth and respect. There was a strong Breakback Mountain type of undertone towards the end.

Echoes of current imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan (now add Libya?) are of course present – especially in the patrician Romans’ lack of understanding of the ways of the indigenous population.

The scenery was stunning – even if it was shot in Super Gloom-o-Vision. Lowering clouds and twilight vistas abounded. Plus lots of rain.

It may seem silly but I could have done with a little less violence; not that there was much actual blood spurting. Why must the cinema sound be so loud, though? This was particularly true of the adverts and trailers beforehand – almost deafening.

The acting was convincing enough throughout. I had never seen either of the leads, Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell before. Donald Sutherland was spectacularly ill cast, though, as Marcus Aquila’€™s uncle.

Tamara Drewe

We don’t go to the flicks much, especially since the last local outlet dedicated to cinema was closed and it required a trip to Dunfermline to ogle the silver screen but the good lady fancied seeing this so we hied ourselves off to the local part time not-flea pit otherwise known as the Adam Smith Theatre.

Tamara Drewe started out as a serialised graphic novel written by Posy Simmonds which appeared weekly in the Guardian a good few years back now. As far as I can remember that original, the film closely follows its plot.

The story concerns the disruption to the lives of the succesful author Nicholas Hardiment and his much more competent and business-like wife, who together run a writers’ retreat in Devon, plus their handyman Andy when successful journalist and former village resident Tamara Drewe returns – complete with nose job – to her earlier home in the farm next door.

The goings on are witnessed and affected by a pair of local schoolgirls who hang about the local bus shelter – the buses have long since been withdrawn – and moon over pop stars’ pictures in magazines.

Their boredom is transformed when Tamara takes up with – and brings to live in the village – the very drummer whom one of them finds so attractive.

There were excellent performances all round, with occasional cartoon moments from Dominic Cooper as the drummer, but especially good ones from the two youngsters and from Tamsin Greig as the much put upon wife of Hardiment.

The film starts off comedically – there are plenty laugh out loud moments – but becomes darker as the plot unfolds. The conventions of fiction are followed to the extent that the “baddy” gets his come-uppance.

The film has a 15 certificate and that obviously means you can include people swearing and even show them having sex; as long as there’s no full frontal nudity.

The film isn’t profound, not saying much that hasn’t been said before, but it is entertaining.

Infamy!

You may have noticed – see my sidebar – I am reading Harry Turtledove’s Days Of Infamy at the moment.

When I started reading it I showed the book’s cover to the good lady and she said instantly, “They’ve all got it in for me.” (She’s obviously lived with me too long.)

Yet it was also a natural reaction since, while for USians the word has historical resonances similar to those that Chamberlain’s, “I have to tell you no such undertaking has been received and that consequently this country is at war with Germany,” speech has for Britons, for most British people – of my generation anyway – “infamy” conjures up nothing so much as Kenneth Williams playing Julius Caesar in the film Carry On Cleo.

The very first time I watched the film, as soon as Williams uttered the first “Infamy!” I started laughing: because I knew what was coming. The phrase, “got it in for me,” was inevitable – especially if you were a devotee of Up Pompeii and other Talbot Rothwell creations. Indeed had “got it in for me” not been forthcoming it would have been something of an anti-climax.

The humour arises in a similar way to the custard pie – which I read once was funny purely since it was expected, though I’m not much into slapstick myself.

I’m more an aficionado of the pun, even the excruciating one.

Especially the excruciating one (before everyone who knows me jumps in with the comment.)

The Last Station

It’€™s a long time since I’ve been to see a film. Partly this is because Kirkcaldy for some years now has no longer had a commercial cinema – the nearest one is on the outskirts of Dunfermline -€“ but also I have kind of lost interest in the medium.

However the local theatre (the Adam Smith) does put on films when it is not presenting stage productions -€“ December and January are particular deserts for this due to the annual pantomime – and I have attended there in the past.

Only about one film on their list has vaguely enthused me since I went to see Wall-E in Dunfermline – it was set in the 1930s and had David Tennant in it; I forget the title – and the one night it was on I was tired and it was raining so I gave it a miss.

However, the good lady perused the forthcoming attractions and thought The Last Station might be interesting. I was quite willing as I had read a short story a couple of years ago (sadly I can remember neither the title nor the author) which featured the peculiar circumstances of Leo Tolstoy’€™s death. We duly saw the film last night.

It tells the tale of Tolstoy’€™s last years through the viewpoint of a literary secretary, Valentin Bulgakov, played by James McAvoy, who is taken on by the head of the Tolstoyan Movement, Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti,) mainly to monitor Tolstoy‒s wife, the Countess Sonya, wonderfully played (as you would expect) by Helen Mirren.

The focus of the film is on the Countess’€™s struggle to prevent the royalties from Tolstoy‒s work being taken from the family and given to the Russian people (as Chertkov puts it) ie more or less to the Movement. As such the Countess’€™s motivation was easy to grasp, as was Chertkov’s – the classic hanger-on and leech to great celebrity. That of Tolstoy himself, though -€“ played by Christopher Plummer – was not at all well established and seemed unfathomable. The reasons for his actions remained wrapped in mystery – or in the mist that seemed to hang over Tolstoy’s estate of a morning.

Chertkov at one point stated to the Countess that —if I had a wife like you I’d blow my brains out: or go to America” (are the two equivalent?) but the relationship between Tolstoy and Sonya was still portrayed as affectionate. Certainly in the film the Countess’€™s stance was perfectly reasonable.

Bulgakov starts out as an ardent Tolstoyan, a movement whose tenets included pacifism and celibacy. We probably did not need the depiction of the relationship between Bulgakov and Masha, a schoolteacher in the Movement’s settlement at Telyatinki, hard by the Tolstoy estate – an affair whose trajectory is inevitable from our first glimpse of her – to underscore for us the shortcomings of the latter part of that philosophy.

The Movement came over as incipiently religious with Chertkov as a kind of St Paul figure in relation to Tolstoy’€™s Jesus.

A nice touch was the inclusion of real archive footage of the characters beside the end credits as they were running.

Despite any caveats above, I enjoyed it.

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