Thursday, October 20, 2016

Film review: TRISTANA (Luis Buñuel, 1970)

Tristana (Catherine Deneuve), a recently orphaned God-fearing beauty, is given sanctuary by her new legal guardian Don Lope (Fernando Rey), a crusty old womaniser who hates religion, sympathises with the underbelly of society, and likes to backpat himself for being so anti-establishment. Much like the character Rey played in That Obscure Object of Desire, he develops an infatuation with the female lead, and it’s not long before he’s thrown caution to his wind regarding taking Tristana under his wing, choosing to take her under him instead.

From some of the other Buñuel titles I’ve reviewed, it’s evident that the man has got sex on the mind, but his depiction of Don Lope’s carnal instincts and Tristana’s grudging acquiescence to them in this film are surprisingly PG-rated (although, given the mature themes and disturbing imagery in this film, I thought the MPAA awarding this film a PG-13, made more sense) and visually restrained. The unsettling, Woody Allen-esque relationship is portrayed with a few fleeting shots of Tristana impassively getting undressed, before the scene ends. Surprisingly subtle for Buñuel, but it suits the atonal style of the film, and its messages about the double-standards of religious Spanish society.

Deneuve and Rey, two of Brunel’s favourite collaborators, prosper under his direction. As the eponymous lead, Deneuve alchemizes Tristana’s spirit effortlessly. At the beginning, she is a carefree, wide-eyed young girl who just wishes to honour her mother's love of pray. By the end, and not altogether surprisingly given what she has been through,  as her character develops, she is a resolute and cold-hearted, and absolutely God-less.

It’s evident that she’s repulsed by her legal guardian’s grabby hands (not the first time a Guardian's been handsy, amirite?), but she grins and bears it in a disquietingly silent manner. As in Belle de Jour, Deneuve portrays her character taking everything just accepting what comes to her under a façade of equanimity, which only leaves the audience more tantalised about what she’s really thinking.

Fernando Rey portrays a monster with more than a small touch of Humbert Humbert. Tristana is an unusual story because it’s not so much a case of Stockholm Syndrome, as the woman coming back to take revenge – revenge by mistreatment – on the man who so impulsively, selfishly, debased her. And her interpretation of the best kind of justice is to simultaneously be with him (in legal union) and not be with him (in emotion and physically).

The central dynamic between Tristana and Don Lope is fascinating. Despite the fact that he defiled her and she rightly resents him for taking her innocence, this is juxtaposed hatred is with her inherent Christian grace towards him, which consists of gratitude for taking her in when she was destitute, as well as a giddy sense of triumph later when he gets older and more pathetic, and she, more beautiful. These emotions come together to create a cocktail of power that she lauds over him.

Buñuel is known for his surrealist elements, but that was the component I liked least about Tristana - Don Lope’s decapitated head swinging from a bell was off-beat but now looks dated. Tristana also lacks the moments of playful levity that The Diary of a Chambermaid and That Obscure Object of Desire had, rendering it a more straightforward piece of storytelling, although in doing so, it doesn't quite reach the peaks of those two titles. Finally, the fact that the film was shot and set in Toledo, Spain, yet the characters speak French, is a tad jarring.

It’s not the best spin on Lolita in a film I’ve seen - that would be Sam Mendes’ incredible American Beauty, but, like That Obscure Object of Desire, survives the test of time well in its astute dissection of gender politics and the blurred, and often confusing, line between love and hate. 

Buñuel  for all his seedy voyeursim, understands that sex is just as much about emotional control as it is about physical lust, and his detached, capable direction, Deneuve’s suitably frosty performance (quite literally, given the film's aloof coda) and the compelling story make for a bizarre, but thoroughly watchable experience.



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Cooking Stuff that Looks Bad But Tastes Delicious #1: The Nemo.

I've been making the most of my mum being in China and having the kitchen to myself recently (I don't like cooking when surrounded by people, haha). 

My concoctions don't look too appetising, but as I bung in ingredients I like and ingredients I like only, I'm usually very pleased with the end product!

So in this haphazard invention, which I will call 'The Nemo' (because there's fish fingers in it), I put:
- 4 baby potatoes
- one red onion
- one tomato
- cheddar cheese
- oil
- 4 fish fingers

And after it was all cooked, I dipped the fish fingers in tomato ketchup.

Next time I cook it, I would increase the number of baby potatoes to about 6 or 7, as they reduce in size when fried due to it being on the pan for the longest period of time. But apart from that, I really liked The Nemo!


In other, completely unrelated-to-cooking news, I saw that Damien Chazelle's upcoming La La Land, hotly tipped to rack up multiple Oscar nominations, got a PG in Ireland despite getting a 12A over here.

I find this very interesting because I think it illustrates the Irish are a bit more flexible about single uses of the f-word depending on context, whereas for the BBFC (and the MPAA), it leads to an automatic 12A/PG-13.

A subtle point, but illustrates the nuances in different countries' attitudes towards swearing!

I wonder who hollers the solitary f-bomb in the movie, Emma or Ryan? (Or maybe, given his character's colourful language in Whiplash, J.K. Simmons gets that honour...)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Film review: I, DANIEL BLAKE (Ken Loach, 2016)

Geordie Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a lifelong carpenter who's recently suffered a stroke, is signed off work by his doctors and physios. He's a determined chap, who's unafraid of graft and unfazed when his neighbour tells him that many before him have given up due to the countless hoops they have to jump through to get Job Seekers' Allowance. But Dan soon finds that the behemoth bureaucracy facing him as he tries to sign onto JSA proves to be a more arduous task than any physical challenge he's ever been given.

He meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother of two who has been relocated from London as Newcastle is the only area that can house her family in a fracas at the Job Centre. The two form a bond and Daniel's easygoing personality wins the affection of Katie's two young children. Katie tentatively tells Dan of her plans to get a part-time job and pursue an Open University degree. For the briefest of moments, the film hints at deliverance.

But sadly life isn't like that. Katie forgoes dinner in order to feed her kids and has to resort to less than ideal methods just so she can buy necessities like deodorant. Meanwhile, the Job Center continue to make Daniel jump through unfeasible hoops in order to procure his allowance. He tries to tackle every task, such as learning to use the computer, in a workmanlike fashion, but his efforts are slammed for not being good enough.

Wry laughs pepper the film. Dan's straight-talking bluntness and his endearing attempts to tackle technology are amusing, but even these funny scenes are underscored with sadness. After days of trying to sign up to JSA on the computer to no avail, his friend prints out a form the Job Centre could have easily handed to him. Ken Loach's point about the nebulous directions of those In Charge could not be clearer. 

I, Daniel Blake is a tremendously affecting, and illustrates the power of narrative cinema, when effectively handled. After all, reading an account of how some families live below the breadline in the newspaper may evoke an 'ah' from the reader, or in some cases, aversion at being preached at. But watching Daniel and Katie's daily struggles is harrowing; the sight of Katie eating baked beans from the tin out of sheer hunger says more than any amount of column inches could.

I, Daniel Blake illustrates what real problems are and makes the audience grateful for their lot. Dave Johns, Hayley Squires and the rest of the (unheard of) cast all give authentic, natural performances, and the dialogue between characters feel organic. You come to really feel for the central characters: Daniel just wants to be treated with respect, something the Job Centre who regard him as currency, don't afford him, and Katie, who's stoic parent would endure anything to provide for her kids. The level of pathos she incurs as she tries to fulfil this is almost unbearable.

There are a few minor missteps-- Daniel's neighbours' attempts to flog imitation trainers was an amusing sidenote, but added nothing to the film other than giving it some temporal grounding (a character refers to Charlie Adam's goal from the halfway line against Chelsea, setting the year in 2015. Stupid Courtois) The hagiography of the entire working class and depiction of everyone in management as pedantic fools obsessed with keeping Daniel trapped in the Kafka-esque web of 'The Decision Maker' was anything but subtle. Life isn't quite as black and white as that. I also felt the film ended a little abruptly, although this must have been a conscious decision on Loach's part to deprive the audience of closure, which would have been dishonest.

To its credit, the film avoids the temptation to sensationalise poverty, spoon-feeding the audience sanctimonious platitudes that might turn them off such a film and have them rolling their eyes at the contrivances on screen. Plenty of films have been guilty of going overboard in depicting the descent to hell to the point that it felt like the director was taking sadistic relish from piling on the misery. Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream immediately comes to mind.

But Ken Loach's unfussy, raw directorial approach lets the unflinching gaze of real hardship the characters are put through do the talking. A sobering, heartbreaking watch, but a topical one.



Check out the rest of my reviews here!

Half-birthday Top 5s of 2016 (so far).

It's my 26.5th birthday today, so I thought I'd list my top 5 of the dominant 'Oscar' categories as of now (having seen 42 titles). 

For the acting categories I'll try my best to be objective and list in order of 'best' rather than 'favourite'. For example, my favourite performance of the year so far is Jesse Eisenberg in Café Society because I identify with his character the most. He'll almost certainly make my 10 favourite performances of 2016 list, but I concede that it's not necessarily the best male lead acting performance of the year.

To further illustrate this point, in my favourite performances of 2015, I listed Domhnall Gleeson in The Revenant because he looked damn gorgeous with a ginger beard. But objectively, he was probably only the fourth best performance in that dull film after Leo, Tom Hardy and Will Poulter.

I'm doing these lists now so I can show my love to some actors who didn't necessarily appear in prestige pictures, as they might get bumped out of the top 5s when Oscar bait like La La Land and Fences drops. For example, Jena Malone in The Neon Demon, an excellent, arresting turn, wouldn't get near the Oscars, but it was so good it needs to be highlighted. And not just due to the shock of Johanna Mason from The Hunger Games romancing the dead, haha.

And obviously, top films are not so objective because those are just favourites, haha.

01. A United Kingdom 
02. Zootropolis
03. Café Society 
04. Kubo and the Two Strings 
05. Hell or High Water 

01. Amma Asante, A United Kingdom
02. Travis Knight, Kubo and the Two Strings
03. Pedro Almodóvar, Julieta
04. Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane
05. Nicolas Pesce, The Eyes of My Mother

Actor, Leading Role
01. David Oyewolo, A United Kingdom
02. Chris Pine, Hell or High Water
03. Jesse Eisenberg, Café Society 
04. Jonah Hill, War Dogs
05. Miles Teller, War Dogs

Actress, Leading Role
01. Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train
02. Adriana Ugarte, Julieta
03. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, 10 Cloverfield Lane
04. Rosamund Pike, A United Kingdom
05. Emma Suárez, Julieta

Actor, Supporting Role
01. Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!
02. Ben Foster, Hell or High Water
03. John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane
04. Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
05. Tom Bennett, David Brent: Life on the Road

Actress, Supporting Role
01. Kate McKinnon, Ghostbusters
02. Jena Malone, The Neon Demon
03. Viola Davis, Suicide Squad
04. Haley Bennett, Magnificent Seven
05. Kristen Stewart, Café Society 

Screenplay (adapted and original) because I CBA to google which were original and adapted and hence do separate categories for both, haha
01. Café Society 
02. War Dogs
03. Zootopia
04. Julieta
05. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople

I haven't watched enough big hitters to do the aural/visual categories, as the best scores and camerawork are usually in the films which aim high and have budgets to match. But yeah, that was that!


Because I'm a shady cow...

Worst Film
01. High-Rise my only 2/10 score of the year. What a load of bloated wank. Also, it should have been rated 18 because it was so unpleasant to watch.
02. The Boss
05. Absolutely Unfunny Fabulous

Worst Performances
01. Cara Delevingne, Suicide Squad this probably won't change at the end of the year
02. Kris Wu, So Young 2: Never Gone 
03. Ricky Gervais, David Brent: Life on the Road
04. Sienna Miller, High-Rise
05. Chris Pratt, Magnificent Seven

Monday, October 17, 2016

Restaurant review: MILDRED'S (Soho)

Mildred's doesn't take reservations, which almost instantly signals alarm bells to me. The only place that has been an exception to the 'Places which don't take bookings offer terrible service to their diners' has been the excellent On the Bab; everywhere else which doesn't take bookings has shown, quite starkly, that if they don't care about making customers stand in the freezing cold waiting to get fed, they definitely won't think twice about ignoring you if you require the waiter's attention. Mildred's, lamentably, didn't go any way towards disproving that prima facie.

Mildred's is a vegetarian restaurant in Soho, and it will feed you, but, unless you make over £100,000 a year, wear an Armani suit and stockpile the alcohol order, the waiters will look at you like a piece of trash and act like you ought to be grateful that they're gracing you with their company. It also squashes all their punters in like sardines so they can maximise revenue, meaning that the sound of other people's conversations regularly intrude on the one you're conducting.

The burger was reasonably priced at £7, but the chips, which at £3 for twice as much photographed above, felt like a bit of a con. The waiter practically sneered at me and my friend when we said we were going to share a portion of fries, which was not cool. Excuse us for having the audacity to order food of our own volition(!)

I would be lying if I were to say I didn't enjoy my burger; it was plenty tasty and the texture was on point. I liked the enterprising display of flatbread rather than a bun. What a shame then, that the snooty service I'd received from the waiter, who clearly took one look at us and decided we weren't his income level of choosing, had left some a sour taste in my mouth. When we left the restaurant, they didn't even say 'goodbye', but instead, just threw us a 'and don't come back again' look.

I also don't appreciate the presumptuous way they stick on a 12.5% service charge. The service we received at Mildred's (being eye-rolled at, having our requests for water and serviettes all but ignored) was non-existent, bordering on counterproductive to our dining experience. The only beneficial contribution our waiters made were to carry our orders from the kitchen to our table without dropping it. A bit of a stretch at 12.5%, if you ask me.

If you're looking for decent vegetarian nosh but would rather it didn't come with a side order of hauteur, I'd recommend you go to the nearby Tidbits instead. There's a much more down-to-earth, hospitable atmosphere there.

Grade: D+


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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Biggest disparity between the BBFC and the IFCO?

Slight disparities between a rating awarded to a movie by the BBFC, and the IFCO, their Irish counterpart, is nothing new. After all, Irish and British sensibilities aren't identical. 

So, for example, When Marnie Was There was a PG in Ireland (as it was in the States), and a U over here. Eddie the Eagle was a 12A in Ireland and a PG over here. Irrational Man was a 15A (the Irish equivalent of a 'soft' 15) in Ireland and a 12A over here. High-Rise was a 16 in Ireland for cinematic release and an 18 on DVD (the Irish don't have a 16 on DVD), whereas it was a 15 over here. Bad Grandpa was an 18 in Ireland and a 15 over here.

On the flipside, films that the Irish have been more permissive with include Belle, a PG in Ireland and the States, and a 12A over here (the scene that got the film its 12A rating pertained to Tom Felton aka Draco Malfoy, being villainous). The Shallows was a 12A in Ireland and a 15 (absurdly) over here. And Gone Girl, an 18 over here, was a 16 in Ireland for cinematic release and then 15 on DVD.

In all of these instances, what is noticeable is that the difference in rating is by one BBFC rating (i.e. one increment between U, PG, 12A, 15, 18).

So imagine my surprise when I opened up my season 2 DVD of The Vicar of Dibley, and spotted this:

That's a difference by two whole ratings!! I can't really see what would cause such a big discrepancy in opinion. 

The Vicar of Dibley, a very warm, amusing show that exhibits Dawn French's impeccable comic timing, has a script which is laden with innuendo, featuring plays on words pertaining to sexual references and strong language. Some of the risqué humour is more suited at 12-level (which some of the DVDs are rated), but I have yet seen anything in the show that suggests 15-rated humour. 

Particularly if you compare it to episodes of Friends, where the sexual dialogue is much more in your face and crude, and 12A-rated films like Paper Towns and About Time, where the characters are constantly talking about masturbation (the former) and BJs (the latter).

So I'm fairly perplexed at what the Irish thought was 15-rated about The Vicar of Dibley. Maybe the religious jokes??

Anyway, I will keep a beady eye out for more gulfs in rating between my two favourite rating bodies! If I find a film we've rated PG and the Irish rated 18, then consider my day made!!