strange_complex: (TT Baby Helios)
One of those films I didn't really 'watch', so much as be in the room while it was on. My attention was primarily focussed on writing Doctor Who reviews on my laptop - but the plot is hardly difficult to follow, so I think I can be said to have seen the film as well.

The main reason I let it play, rather than switching to some other channel, is that the Pollyanna phenomenon is a cultural trope, and I wanted to be clear what it was all about. I pretty much knew it revolved around cheesy sentimentalism, and that's true. The version I watched was a Disney film, and it's no surprise they picked it up, as it oozes with favourite Disney themes such as patriotism, sugary piety and chaste romance.

Above all, though, Pollyannaism is about the Power of Optimism. Pollyanna, a little blonde orphan, wins the hearts of a small town by always looking for the bright side in everything (the 'glad game'). Then, when she is paralysed in an accident and loses her sunny outlook, they give it right back to her by coming to show their support and appreciation for all she's done for them. Wrongs are Righted, the miserable and misanthropic become kind and loving human beings, and all is right with the world.

It's easy to be cynical, and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find even a child nowadays who would swallow this film entirely. But there's a place for stuff like this, and I hope that never ceases entirely to be the case. And at least I'll now be able to 'get' all those references which used to puzzle me.

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strange_complex: (Room with a View kiss)
Seen last night with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz at The Light.

I haven't read the book of Brideshead, but I fairly regularly catch bits of the classic Granada TV adaptation on ITV3. In fact, over the last couple of weekends, I've been watching it systematically, since - in a fairly obvious scheduling move - they have been re-broadcasting it from the beginning on Sunday afternoons to coincide with the release of the film.

Pretty much every review of the film I've seen has said the same thing, and I can't help but agree - it's slavishly indebted to the TV series, but doesn't manage to improve upon it. Sebastian in particular seemed the weak link to me - whereas in the TV series, he comes across as complex and tragic and fantastically enticing, here he just seemed like your average petulant teenager. Perhaps because the development of their relationship wasn't given sufficient screen-time, it was hard to understand why Charles Ryder was particularly interested in him; and despite the fact that they actually kiss on screen, the chemistry between them remained far less homoerotically-charged than the one which Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews created.

Still, that said, Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon as respective matriarch and patriarch of the Flyte dynasty did an excellent job - as, indeed, did Diana Quick (oops!) Hayley Attwell as a self-possessed yet vulnerable Julia. And as for the location footage! Between Oxford, Venice and Castle Howard, the only place I hadn't visited was whatever anonymous London street they used to house the Ryders of Paddington - and really, I have walked down enough London streets to get the general picture. It was like a tour of some of the richest and most cherished parts of my life.

Tom Wolfe famously dubbed the Granada TV series (along with Upstairs Downstairs) 'sheer plutography', but it seems to me that this is only true on a superficial level. Fundamentally, the story of Brideshead is about a (relatively) normal person becoming fascinated and seduced by a close-knit group of individuals who are utterly different from him, and whom he can never quite connect to or integrate with, no matter how hard he tries. The divisions between him and them in this case happen to be wealth and Catholicism - but they could equally well be poverty and Judaism, or any other combination of strong social identifiers. The story, and the tragedy, would be the same.

Consider the book to have moved up a notch on my 'to read' list.

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strange_complex: (Fred shall we dance)
I'd never even heard of this film when [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau texted me late yesteday afternoon to say that she and [livejournal.com profile] biascut were going to see it that evening at the Cottage Road cinema, and did I want to come along? But I'm glad I went, because it was great fun.

Set on the eve of the Second World War, it's a bit like a female version of Jeeves and Wooster, right down to the slashy sub-text. The only difference is that the Jeeves-figure (Miss Pettigrew) is merely pretending to be an accomplished social secretary - but still does a great job of getting the Bertie-figure (Delysia Lafosse) out of all sorts of terrible scrapes all the same. Oh, and they both end up forging meaningful heterosexual relationships at the end - which very carefully never happens in Jeeves and Wooster!

There's all the humour and costume rompery of J&W, too, including some extremely beautiful bias-cut gowns, and an apartment which reminded me so strongly of some of the designer boudoirs featured in this book that it felt like stepping inside its lavishly-illustrated pages. Also, Shirley Henderson (Ursula in Who's 'Love and Monsters' and Moaning Myrtle in the HP films) and Ciarán Hinds (Julius Caesar, yo!). And the Bechdel test is an easy pass, since most of the film revolves around a female-female relationship - and although they certainly talk about men plenty, they do talk about frocks and parties and their own career paths, too. All in all, much to be recommended.

Afterwards, we headed back to my place and invented our own cocktail - vodka, Cointreau, pomegranate and blueberry juice and a dash of lime - which we named the Miss Pettigrew in honour of the film, and then stayed up late chatting and giggling. Then, under the influence of said cocktail, it seemed like a good idea to clamber up dangerous steps and across rotting wooden platforms in the pitch dark, to get huge wardrobe boxes out of the shed and send them home with Glitzy and La Bias in a taxi.

How'm I supposed to manage when they both move over to Manchester, eh?

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
Seen this evening at the Light with [livejournal.com profile] gillywoo, [livejournal.com profile] nikkyboy, [livejournal.com profile] glennkenobi and [livejournal.com profile] blondelass.

Yup, good stuff. Basically exactly what you expect from a Batman movie these days. You know, dark and long and with big explosions. I realised as I was sitting down that I could hardly remember anything about the plot of the last one - but it didn't matter, and nor will the fact that I can't remember the plot of this one tomorrow morning, either.

Michael Caine was probably the best thing in it, but Morgan Freedman and Gary Oldman gave good value too. I cannot believe it is wise for anyone to ride around on a big powerful motorcycle while wearing a long flowing cape, though.

Oh, and a piece of advice if you go and see it (don't worry, not a spoiler): [livejournal.com profile] blondelass and I sat right through the entirety of the closing credits, just in case there would be something 'extra' after them... and there wasn't. So save yourself five minutes, and don't do that.

strange_complex: (Rick's Cafe)
IMDb page here. DVD given to me by [livejournal.com profile] mr_flay. Watched with Mum.

This is a very moving and powerful portrayal of the final few days in Hitler's bunker at the end of the Second World War, based chiefly on the memoirs of Traudl Junge, who was his private secretary at the time.

Its power rests mainly in its very straightforward telling of the story. There are no attempts to demonise any of the characters, or to draw explicit moralising judgements. Obviously, that would be ham-fisted and naive in the circumstances. Instead, all of the characters presented are extremely human, with all the complexity and contradiction that entails. And this makes the desperation of their situation, and the horror and futility of the lives being destroyed on all sides, ten times more devastating to watch, as well as making the horror of the things some of them are doing (like Magda Goebbels coldly and systematically murdering all six of her own children, because she did not want them to live in a world without National Socialism) far more immediate.

I was interested by a scene fairly early on in the film, in which Hitler presides over a model of a future Berlin which he has had built, talking about how what people really need are great monuments to inspire them, and how the Allied bombing will make it all the easier to put his new vision for the city in place. It reminded me very powerfully of the scenes in Quo Vadis in which Nero does much the same for Rome, including casting the fire of AD 64 in the same role as the bombs. This probably isn't coincidence, because Quo Vadis works quite hard at drawing links between Nero and Hitler, including for example scenes where Nero gives a straight-armed salute to troops marching by (and meanwhile, another 20th-century dictator is referenced by the fact that the actual model of Rome which Nero is crowing over in the film was originally built on the orders of Mussolini). What I don't know is whether the scene in Downfall is historically attested for Hitler, and was used for that reason as part of the characterisation of Nero in Quo Vadis, or whether things have come full circle, and portrayals of Nero are now being used to help characterise Hitler. I presume the former, since Downfall is clearly very well-researched - but either way, it was a very effective means of conveying the extent of Hitler's self-delusion at this time.

One thing did give me pause for thought when I hit Wikipedia after the film for information about the real Traudl Junge, though. As I said, the film presents itself as a historically-accurate account, and reinforces this by naming the two main books it was based on in the opening credits, and by framing the dramatisation between two short documentary clips of Traudl Junge herself talking to camera, filmed before her death in 2002. But its portrayal of her fate after she leaves the bunker deviates from the reality of her story. We see her walking safely through the lines of Russian troops who are occupying the city, and in fact being saved from the apparent lustful intentions of one of them by a young boy, who chooses that moment to take her hand and walk with her to safety. After that, the boy finds an abandoned bicycle, and the two of them sail off down sunlit country lanes to a new life. In reality, though, she and other female members of Hitler's staff were found in a cellar by Russian troops, and raped repeatedly before being kept as a prisoner of war for at least a year.

I can kind of see what the film-makers were doing here, in that they needed some way of demonstrating that the war was over, the world had changed, and Germany (represented in particular by the young boy) could now move forward into a better future. But I also felt that it did a disservice to the reality of Traudl Junge's experiences, undermined the impact of the rest of the events portrayed, and indeed fell into the trap of suggesting that once the Nasty Demon in the Bunker has fallen, everything will be all right. Since they'd done such a good job of avoiding that very simplistic line throughout the rest of the film, it was a bit disappointing to see it implied at the end.

Still, on the whole, an excellent film, which I would really recommend.

strange_complex: (Penny Gadget)
Possibly my favourite way to spend a weekend morning is to wake up late, mooch on down to the sofa, and eat my breakfast there in my dressing-gown while watching fluff on the telly and browsing LJ on my laptop. That, in fact, is what I'm doing right now. Normally, my watching fare consists of things like old episodes of Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. I don't pay the slightest bit of attention to the plot, but enjoy the sound of the familiar characters burbling in the background, and glance up at the screen every now and then to drool over the costumes and sets. Today, however, Spice World was starting on UKTV Gold just as I was sitting down. And since I have, technically, sat here throughout the whole movie, drinking coffee and reading Doctor Who spoilers, I now have to blog the film!

I actually saw it in the cinema when it first came out. I thought the Spice Girls were fab, in much the same OTT cartoon character way that I always thought KISS were fab, so I made my sister come and see it with me. It had come out that week, and there was one other girl in the cinema with us, sat right at the back. Pretty soon after that, you couldn't see it in theatres any more.

An unfair fate, though, because the film is ace! It's so ludicrous it goes straight through silly and out the other side into sheer genius. It has Roger Moore in it, being mysterious and stroking a white cat! Meatloaf, saying he'll do anything for those girls - but not that! And Bob Hoskins, who appears for about twenty seconds, for the sole purpose of pretending to be Geri Halliwell in disguise as himself! Not to mention a bad model of a Union Jack-emblazoned bus jumping over Tower Bridge, and even Naoko Mori, later of Torchwood fame.

The jokes are terrible, the plot a flimsy excuse for a succession of set-piece scenes, the acting hammy, and the entire concept deeply self-indulgent - but, but, BUT! It's so self-referential about it all, that you just don't mind. The whole movie turns out at the end to be a bad pitch spun by a couple of desperate producers to the Spice Girls' manager (Richard E. Grant at the absolute top of his game), much in the style of today's Orange 'please turn off your mobile phone' trailers. And it ends with the girls themselves breaking the fourth wall, and giggling at the couple snogging at the back of the cinema.

It's a crazy tongue-in-cheek testament to celebrity culture in the late '90s. And I love it.

strange_complex: (Sophia Loren lipstick)
Seen last night at the Light with [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau and [livejournal.com profile] biascut

If you liked the TV series, you'll enjoy this film; if you didn't, you won't. The plot is pretty simplistic, and a lot of it was intensely predictable, but it was nicely paced and structured all the same. Given that we normally get S&TC in half-hour doses, and this was 2h30, I found my interest very effectively sustained throughout.

Fundamentally, though, the plot doesn't matter too much. If you love these four women, it's just great to see them still doing their thing in fine style at forty. I won't go into spoilers about what happens to whom, but suffice to say that it all felt very plausible, and though I had a quiet little weep every time they pushed the button that said 'Cry Now', everything wraps up in a very positive and life-affirming way for all of them.

Best moment in the film? I guess this is _slightly_ spoilery, but only about clothes, really )

Honestly, though, the very best thing of all was the audience. Laughing and groaning knowingly the whole way through - and then when we came out and the lights were up and we could actually see them? Well, I don't think I have ever set eyes on such an overtly female cinema audience in my life before. If 1% of them were male, I'd be surprised. And so many Shoes! On one level, I felt slightly ashamed for buying into such a cynically-marketed phenomenon like a bunch of sheep... but on another level, I felt proud of the Sisterhood.

Well. It can be both.

strange_complex: (TT Baby Helios)
Seen last night with Mum.

I saw a trailer for this when it came out, and from that managed to get the impression that a) it was a fairly light-weight cheesy feel-good movie and b) the major driving event behind the plot was a family accidentally leaving their daughter behind in a service station when on a road-trip.

Wrong on both counts! Yes, it's life-affirming and frequently very funny - but this was definitely a lot more profound and well-observed than the term 'feel-good movie' usually implies. And yes, they do leave their daughter behind in a service station - but they realise pretty quickly and pick her up again, and it's by no means the central event of the film.

Anyway, we both really enjoyed it. I was reminded quite strongly of American Beauty in terms of how the characters and their interactions are revealed, although the plot is pretty different. And I absolutely loved the yellowy, faded and quite flat palette of colours they'd used for it. I wish I had the faintest idea how they'd achieved that 'look'.

Mum, meanwhile was reminded by the scenes with the grandfather's corpse of a 'second feature' she'd seen some time in the late '60s or early '70s, which revolves around two guys trying to get a dead body from the top floor of a tall building, down the stairs, over the garden fence and away in a car. Along the way, inevitably, they meet people coming up the stairs, and have to pretend the dead guy is drunk, or quickly shove him in a cupboard and so on. Apparently, in the end, he slips out of the back of the boot of their car, and they drive on off up the road oblivious to the fact. And if anyone has any idea at all what this might have been called, do speak up!

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw this with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz at the Light, as part of a very lovely afternoon and evening which meandered from pints, to dinner, to companionable newspaper-reading and finally to the cinema, and was generally exactly what I needed.

The film was pretty much exactly as I'd expected from all the reviews I'd read, so I don't have much in particular to add about it, except perhaps that besides the obvious 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina references, it reminded me quite strongly too of 28 Weeks Later. I suspect the release dates of the two mean that that's more likely to be a case of them both drawing on the same general zeitgeist than any actual direct influence, but still interesting.

It also gave me motion sickness, which I was expecting too on the basis of reviews and my previous experience with The Blair Witch Project. But I was prepared for that, and knew what to do about it - you just close your eyes for a bit when you feel it coming on, and listen to the soundtrack, stealing occasional glimpses at the screen if it sounds like something important is happening. So it didn't really ruin the film for me or anything - although it did mean that for the first time in cinema history, I failed to finish the popcorn I had bought.

strange_complex: (Vampira)
Seen with [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau and [livejournal.com profile] biascut at the Cottage Road cinema, Headingley.

See, I like opera. I really do. So I don't have a fundamental problem with the idea of characters in a drama expressing themselves through the medium of song. But the modern genre of the stage musical? I hate it. To my ear, the music is banal, and the lyrics usually are too. Doesn't matter how great the stories are, or the singers, or the production - fundamentally, I just don't like the music.

And then here's this film - with Johnny Depp! And Alan Rickman! And macabre Gothic darkness, Tim Burton-stylee! So what's a girl to do? She goes along to see it, hoping against hope that perhaps there won't be all that many songs. Or that maybe somehow this one'll be different, and someone will have written some decent music for it for once.

By half-way through, the main thing that was keeping me cheery was the fact that at least Alan Rickman's character didn't seem like he was going to sing. And then he started.

To be fair, this could be spoilery )

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