Tuesday, 30 November 2010

An interview with Kristin Hersh

I’ve been very fortunate since starting to write this blog.
I’ve seen a lot of great movies.
I’ve interviewed some people whose work I really admire and who I am a big fan of.
This is something very different.
Kristin Hersh is one of my heroes.
I listen to her music every day and have taken great comfort from it at some of my lowest points.  She has also provided the soundtrack to some very special happier memories.  In my opinion she is one of the all time great singer/songwriters.
From her work with Throwing Muses (just check out “Real Ramona” or the eponymous “Throwing Muses” as an introduction) to her violently personal and revelatory solo work (starting with “Hips and Makers” and leading up to this years incredible “Crooked”) she has produced music that has the ability to make you feel like you are the sole recipient of the song and that it was created for you and you alone.  It is that ability that sets her apart from almost anyone else.
OK...I’ll just say it; I love Kristin Hersh.
When I first attempted to persuade her to answer my (typically) banal questions I really didn’t even expect a response but a response is what I got and I am delighted to report that Kristin did not disappoint; as I suspected she is sweet, funny, charming and tolerant.
I resisted the urge to simply tell Kristin how much I adored her and tried to stay focused on the blogs purpose...movies and so began by trying to merge my love of both.  On the album “The Real Ramona” there is a song called “Red Shoes” which is also the name of a beautiful film by Powell and Pressburger which tells the story of a young ballerina.  Red shoes also feature prominently in “The Wizard of Oz” and in both cases the shoes in question provide the wearer with talent and opportunity.  If MyFilms could provide you with an equally blessed pair of shoes what talent would you want them to bestow upon you?
“I’d like shoes that could teach me to talk out loud in such a way as it makes sense to other people...sadly it’s so far so bad on that front.  Shoes turn out to be as quiet as I am”
I would have been perfectly happy to end this right there and then.
That is exactly the sort of answer I was praying I would receive from you...brilliant, slightly quirky and beautifully self deprecating.
The very first time I heard you sing was when I heard the single “Your Ghost” from “Hips and Makers”.  The history of cinema is littered with ghost stories.  I wonder which of these ghosts you would choose to be; the ghost in “Ghost” where you are the unearthly lover trying desperately to protect those left behind while also finding time to indulge in some pottersy, Malcolm Crowe from “The Sixth Sense” who is the ghost who doesn’t know he has died or Casper the friendly ghost?
“Duh-uh!  Casper!  He’s the creepiest but he’s still in a good mood”
Still on a ghostly theme if you could cast any actress to play the part of “Kristin” in “The Kristing Hersh Story” who would you choose...thanks to the miracle of CGI you can choose someone who has “passed on”.  
“Jean Arthur but you would have to dub in BEA Arthurs voice”
I should point out that this is a question I often ask actors, actresses, directors and musicians and this is the first time I’ve received an answer that made me laugh out loud.  The idea of the graceful and beautiful but squeaky voiced Jean Arthur playing the lead in the biopic of Kristin Hersh but with the voice of “Golden Girl” Bea Arthur is just fabulous!
Music is a key component of film and is, clearly, a major part of your life.  What would you choose to have playing over the opening and closing credits of your life story?
The Moore Brothers”.  They just drip with sweetness without being lame, which is VERY important.  I can only hope to achieve one grain of the sugar that pours out of their songs”
Finally Kristin can you tell me which three movies you would choose to play on an eternal loop?
“Team America”
“Harold and Maude”
“You Can’t Take it With You”
“Because they are all small and happy making”
Small and happy making.
I don’t know about you but I can’t think of a finer thing to aim for...in a world where being BIG, in so many ways, is deemed to be the most important thing even if that means making people miserable there is something refreshing about knowing that someone, somewhere values small and happy making.  That someone is Kristin Hersh...you could join her!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

We Are What We Are - Cineworld - 18/11/10

There has been much praise heaped upon first time director/writer Jorge Michel Grau and his cannibal horror "We Are What We Are" and many people have seen it as one of the best horror films of the year if not the decade.

They are right.

This is the sort of intelligent and thoughtful horror film that includes "The Exorcist", "The Shining", "Let The Right One In", "Night of the Living Dead" and a handful of others.  With nods to "Dawn of the Dead", the previously mentioned "Let The Right One In" and the low budget, indie aesthetic of "Blair Witch" and "Paranormal Activity"it is not hard to see why so many are so impressed.

Inhabiting a world that is, thankfully, a million miles away from the awful, vulgarity of the likes of "Saw" or the torture porn of, say, "Hostel", "We Are What We Are" manages to do what so many horror films attempt to do but that so few fail to do...be genuinely disturbing and absolutely realistic despite the, seemingly, outrageous concept at its heart.

When the patriarch of an impoverished family collapses and dies on the beautifully kept walkways of a shopping mall his family are plunged into chaos.  There is nobody to provide financial support and, more importantly, there is nobody to provide food...which for this family means the flesh of other humans; frequently unsuspecting prostitutes with whom the father is obsessed.

Left behind are the mother, two sons and a beautiful daughter.  A desperate attempt to find a sacrificial lamb for the mysterious "ritual" that they family must carry out for reasons that are never explained sees the sons attempt to abduct a street child, successfully abduct a prostitute and then watch as their mother brutally murders her before declaring her inappropriate for the "ritual".  At the same time the boys are being hunted by two put upon and largely incompetent policemen whose efforts result in a terrifying climax to the film.

For those who see horror as being about blood, guts and the torture of women "We Are What We Are" will be a crushing disappointment and a source of frustration...which is a something to celebrate and I hope many of those people pay good, hard earned money just to be left feeling cheated, it's no more than they deserve for their oafishness.

For those who see horror as a serious and thrilling genre which can act as a vehicle for commenting on society and its ills as well as being a means of providing upset and disquiet in our, frequently, sanitised lives then "We Are What We Are" is a glorious treat.

Everyones a winner...except the losers.

Little Nicholas - Filmhouse - 17/11/10

A film about a group of sweet and tender, pre-teen hooligans in pre-war France...what's not to like?

Nicholas is a happy little boy...he has a group of good friends, loving parents and a nice teacher.  Life is good.

When Nicholas gets it into his head that his mother is pregnant and that this will mean his parents driving him into the woods to abandon him he and his friends conspire to come up with a series of schemes aimed at protecting his status as the youngest and the most loved.

What follows is best described as a comic book romp as Nicholas and his chums increasingly resemble Britains "Bash Street Kids" in their attempts to outsmart teachers and parents alike.  The film is so sweet and so completely charming that anyone who doesn't enjoy it may need to make use of the services of an undertaker.

"Little Nicholas" is a film that manages to paint a pretty picture of the innocence of youth...it is pure fancy and is delivered with warmth and wit that leaves you feeling utterly uplifted.  A film that I had never heard of but that managed, long before the end credits rolled, to barge its way into my list of favourite films.

Tres bien!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Jackass 3D - Cineworld - 13/11/10

You know how some things are so wrong they are right?

This is one of those.

"Jackass", I am utterly ashamed to say, is brilliant.

So there.

Skyline- Cineworld - 12/11/10

You know how some things are so bad that they are good, or even brilliant?

This isn't one of those.

Skyline is just so bad.

L'enfant - DVD - 8/11/10

You haven't seen "L'enfant"?


2005 Palme d'Or winner?


Multiple awards from myriad international film festivals?

Still no?


I worry about you sometimes.

Here I am trying to do my bit to educate you...sorry, I need to take this call...

(Hullo?  Oh, hullo mum.  No, it's not a bad time.  I'm just writing an entry on the blog...hmmm?  Oh, it's a French film about a young couple who live off of the boys earnings from stealing and then selling the things he's stolen...she has a baby...he does something REALLY awful...what?  It's called "The Child".  No, I'd never heard of it before either.  What?  Am I writing a really pretentious review where I pretend to know more about films than my readers?  No!  I'm not.  NO!  Look, I'm busy, I'll call you later.  Bye bye.  Yes.  I love you too.  Cheerio)

Sorry about that.

Yes, as I was saying...the fact that you haven't heard of "The Child" speaks volumes about your lack of knowledge and understanding of film.

It's a film that is full of raw and very real emotion, a film that perfectly captures the lives of people on the fringes of "normal" society and a film that does what so few films ever manage...to leave you breathless. All credit for that must go to Jeremie Renier and Deborah Francois who play Bruno and Sonia, the lucklessly desperate and desperately in love couple who seem to prove that all you need is love.  This is a love that is built to last even in the face of the most awful betrayal by Bruno.

If you are going to carry on reading this blog you really will have to make more of an effort.


Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Hunter - Filmhouse - 6/11/10

A very slow burning Iranian thriller from director Rafi Pitts that tells the compelling tale of Sara Alavi who returns home to find his wife and child missing. A 'phone call from the local police station informs him that his wife, at least, has been killed by the police after she was caught up in a demonstration. This news and the subsequent discovery that his child is, indeed, dead plunges him into a world of revenge and retribution.

Sara (Mitra Hajjar) is a quiet man who works the night shift as a security guard at a factory. His past as a convict, for crimes that are never revealed, deny him the chance to work a different shift and this keeps him from spending time with his wife and child. In free time Sara takes to the woods to hunt and his skill in this area is soon put to a very different use.

After his tragic losses Sara uses his hunting skills to kill two police officers in a manner that is reminiscent of the actions of the Washington Sniper. That decision sees Sara shift from hunter to hunted and, ultimately, to being the prize for the police officers who capture and kill him.

Short on the sort of thrills and spills that one would expect from a revenge movie from the West this is a film that requires effort from the viewer but that effort is rewarded in the performance of Mitra Hajjar who perfectly captures the pain and torment of a man who has lost everything and is prepared to do anything to avenge that.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Out of the Ashes - Filmhouse - 6/11/10

Rising like a phoenix.

Afghanistan is a country that has, for almost as long as I've been alive, been embroiled in conflict of some sort or other...an invasion by Soviet forces, internal strife at the hands of the Taliban and myriad other warlords, an invasion by allied forces as part of the "war" on "terror" and goodness knows what else.

The result should be a country and a people full of despair, hopelessness and bitterness but instead a different attitude altogether is evident in this beautifully observed documentary from directors Leslie Knott, Lucy Martens and Timothy Albone about the efforts of the Afghanistan national cricket teams attempt to reach the cricket world cup.

Hope, determination, belief, good humour and a particularly charming sort of patriotism all serve to show that even in the most awful of circumstances humanity can find a way to clamber through the rubble.

From humble beginnings playing on the sort of field that one would normally associate with potatoes to the rarified arena of international recognition the players, bureaucrats and coaches all display the sort of charm, wit and humility sadly lacking in the cash rich world of sport in the West (hello Mr Rooney). These men are propelled by a desire to prove to the world that their country has more to offer than an arena for war and by virtue of the purity of their goal they succeed.

A film that shows that hope is important.

Donkeys - Filmhouse - 1/11/10

A sequel?

A re-make?

A re-imagining?

A new film?

Tricky one this.

"Donkeys" is the second part of the Lars Von Trier inspired "trilogy" of films which began with "Red Road". The rules of the project are that three directors (English, Scottish, Danish) will make three films but use the same characters and, where possible, actors to tell their stories. So here we are re-united with Kate Dickies "Jackie" and with Martin Compstons "Stevie" from "Red Road" but here they are different versions of those characters...are you following this?

Where Dickie was the central performer in "Red Road" here she plays support to the titanic James Cosmo. Cosmo is "Alfred" the estranged father of "Jackie" and, at least initially, the unwitting father of "Stevie". He is a man who has spent his entire life avoiding responsibility and truth...director Morag McKinnon confronts him with the ultimate truth; his mortality and allows us to watch what happens.

"Red Road" was a huge film and one which garnered a lot of praise for both Andrea Arnold and for Dickie, following a film like that must be daunting. Many directors may well have decided against participating in this project following that success but McKinnon has stepped up to the mark and managed to create a film that is easily the match, if not the better, of "Red Road". Blending moments of humour that had the audience, literally, crying with laughter with scenes of such powerful, raw, emotion that the laughter dries but the tears continue to flow.

McKinnon has also managed to draw a performance from Cosmo that may well stand as the finest moment in a career that spans over 40 years and that includes television, film, theatre, comedy, drama and goodness knows what else besides. Directing "big names" like Cosmo and Dickie would be daunting for the most well versed and experienced of directors so great credit must be given to McKinnon who is at the beginning of her career.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Let Me In - Cineworld - 30/10/10

"How old are you?"

"12. But I've been 12 for a long time."

"Are you a vampire?"

"I need blood to survive."

"Let Me In" is a world away from the perfectly coiffured, heart-throb, dullards of "Twilight" or "True Blood".

Where many vampire tales live in a world of fantasy and impossibility "Let Me In" is rooted in a world that we all recognise. Don't we all have moments where we too feel like we have been "...12 for a long time" and don't we all need "blood to survive"? It is that anchor in the things we all share in common that makes this film worthwhile where "Twilight" is, for all reasonable people, worthless.

12 year old Owen lives in the sort of place where people leave...nobody ever arrives. It's a non-town, a non-place. In the middle of a savage, snow soaked, winter somebody does arrive; Abbi along with her father. They take up residence in the apartment next to Owen and instead of hanging curtains and handing out cookies to their neighbours they black out the windows and lock themselves in.

Owen is a victim. His mother isn't really there; permanently shrouded in her nightgown and lost in a drunken haze she is an ethereal presence on screen and in Owens life. His father is a voice at the end of a telephone...even further removed than the mother. At school he is tormented, tortured, by an unholy trinity of bullies who inflict the most awful physical and psychological pain on him.

Slowly, surely and inevitably we learn that Abbi is not what she appears to be...but then how does that make her any different to any of us? Her "father" is, we learn, the man who at one time was a boy like Owen who has devoted his life to helping Abbi...helping her to feed, helping her to hide and helping her to survive by murdering and bleeding young people for her.

As Owen and Abbi draw closer the "father" is pushed further and further away. It is clear that he is being replaced, clear that Abbi, despite having an emotional connection with Owen, is also aware that as "father" ages his usefulness will fade and a younger, more able and more devoted assistant is needed.

"Let Me In" is the sort of intelligent, thoughtful and thought provoking film that all too rarely finds its way into the multiplex. With performances from two brilliantly gifted actors in the shape of Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz and a script that is faithful to both the original novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist and the original film by Tomas Alfredson "Let Me In" still manages to be, defiantly, original and evidently its own film.

There are moments of real, pure horror from both the real world (the bullying of Owen, the murders by "father") and the supernatural world of Abbi (the violent attack in the underpass) and there are also moments of heartbreaking emotion (Owens painful conversation with his father, the tender, blood soaked, embraces of Owen and Abbi) which all combine to make a film that is beautifully terrifying.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Easy A - Cineworld - 23/10/10

Sadly "Easy A" is destined for "cult" status.

With little fanfare and opening at the same time as some much bigger fare and on fewer screens it was always going to be an uphill struggle for it to attract an audience.

That is a terrible, terrible shame because this is a funny, caustic, clever, witty and moving film which takes Hawthornes "Scarlet Letter" as a launch pad for a High School comedy that has much to say about the idea of love, relationships, honesty, dishonesty, religion and intolerance.

As with Hawthornes Hester Prynne director Will Gluck and writer Bert V. Royal give us a woman, Olive, who stands accused of sin by people who are themselves sinners. "Olive" uses "Hester" as an inspiration by taking to wearing a scarlet "A" to mark herself as an adulterer...despite the fact that, unlike Hester, she has not actually committed adultery, indeed she is a virgin and is content to be so.

"Olive" (Emma Stone) runs into trouble when she lies to her best friend about having had sex. That conversation is overheard by over-zealous, Christian fundamentalist and all round prig, "Marianne" (Amanda Bynes) who then takes the story to her abstinence group and from there the story spreads like wildfire around the school. At this point Olive may well have been able to claim credibility from her non-existent sexual experience but when she confides in gay friend "Brandon" (Dan Byrd) he convinces her to fake another sexual encounter...with him, in order to convince the jocks at school that he is not gay and so save him from a life of misery. One fake orgasm at a busy party later and Olive has her status as a slut consolidated and Brandon is the new stud on the block. Every geek, weirdo, loser, nerd and fat kid in school is soon lining up to have Olive perform the same miracle on their social standing and as their stock rises so Olives plummets.

With knowing nods to myriad John Hughes movies (including a brilliant "Ferris Bueller" shower scene) Gluck and Royal have created the sort of teen world that is painfully accurate while also being utterly entertaining. The dialogue is sharp and fresh, the characters are always believable and the "moral" of the story feels natural, true and convincing without ever being preachy. What is the moral of the story?

Buy a ticket for the sharpest comedy of the year and you can find out.

This is a film that deserves your attention and attendance.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Paranormal Activity 2 - Cineworld - 21/10/10

A demon.

A haunting.

A crazed Mexican housekeeper making anti-demon incantations.

A baby.

Creaky doors and floorboards.

A possessed pool cleaning robot thing.

The scary girl from the first one.

Quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet...WAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH...quiet, quiet, quiet.

A baby...a dog...a baby...AAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH THE DOG IS DEAD...a baby, quiet, quiet.

I haven't been so frightened since...wait, what was that noise...OK, it was nothing, anyway, I was saying...I haven't...wait, something is definitely there...I'll get back to you...


The Cabinet of Dr Caligari - Filmhouse - 20/10/10

You know how sometimes you just want to see a German, expressionist, horror film from the 1900's with live piano accompaniment?

Sure you do.

You're at home, there is nothing on the TV, all of your friends are busy, the girlfriend is out at some crazy exercise class, you've seen all of your DVDs...then it hits you; you want to see a silent, black and white movie that, arguably, features the first every "twist" ending that has given you everything from "The Sixth Sense" to "The Usual Suspects".

Still no?

You've read the latest copy of "Sight & Sound", you've waded through (another) Spielberg retrospective in "Empire" and it's whetted your appetite for a bit of set design from expressionist artists, direction from a replacement for Fritz Lang and the kind of hammy acting that makes Keanu Reeves look like, well, a real actor.


I worry about you sometimes.

I do.

"The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" is, and let there be no debate here, a classic. It's a film that should be in your "must see" list...if it isn't add it now and then make a point of seeing it as quickly as possible.