Tuesday, November 24, 2015

REVIEW: 10 Greek Street (Soho)

Just on the fringes of Soho, a thriving hub of nightlife on all evenings on the week but in particular Fridays, is 10 Greek Street. It’s one of these curious restaurants that seems to be making a renaissance in London which neither has a fixed menu (instead, the food itinerary changes on a day-to-day basis depending on the whim of the chefs), nor takes bookings. Whilst I’m fine with the former – it’s good to keep things fresh and allow cooks their free rein, I’m much less fond of the latter. I can understand why not taking reservations works from a point of view of revenue for the restaurant, as it avoids annoying punters who flake out, I like to plan my evenings in advance and am genuinely a bit thrown when you have to go away for an unforeseeable amount of time until a table becomes free, especially as, in order to stay within proximity of the restaurant, you choices of drinking holes are basically restricted to a bunch of over-priced Soho places which charge for the pleasure of being in the location rather than the quality of the drinks they’re serving.

As for the food, the menu that day (chalked up on the wall in handwriting that could stand to be more legible) featured a dainty seafood thing which I ordered. It was well-presented and appetising to eat, but for £9, there really wasn’t anywhere near enough of it and I consumed the whole dish within three bites (admittedly, I was hungry from the enforced trip to a nearby bar that this restaurant’s no booking policy forced me to endure… see how it works? Don’t allow us to take bookings, suffer the brunt of this critic’s foul mood). The minute quantity of the starter filled me with trepidation for the main course…

…And perhaps this had been a calculated move on the part of the chefs, in a wacky ‘expectation management’ move, because the main met my expectation of what a good restaurant should offer and then some. We ordered the duck dish to share, and I think you’ll agree from the photo, that the quantity was very generous:

As for the taste, wowzers. The sauce was a brilliant type of gravy that I haven’t tasted before, and the potatos were delicious (and there was a perfect amount of them, not too much, not too little). Even the greens tasted good, and you could tell they had been cooked, as opposed to just stuck on the side as a way of token healthiness. Overall, it was a treat and one of the best mains I’ve had in a restaurant in 2015. Which I was not expecting at all given the lah-dee-dah nature of the place when I first walked in.

So, the restaurant began in a deficit with me for the pretentious ‘no booking’ rule, but by the time I had finished their delicious duck meal, I realised it was worth the wait. The starters are extremely overpriced but the main was damn near culinary perfection, so I’ll be kind with my score.

Grade: B+

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Fathers and Daughters get a 15 by BBFC for 'infrequent strong sex references'

I saw the trailer for Fathers and Daughters before Brooklyn on Saturday (great movie, Saoirse Ronan is a goddess). It didn't really strike me, apart from the fact that I was happy that Jesse off Breaking Bad is getting film roles. It looked like standard PG-13 mother-daughter fodder that Amanda Seyfried seems to specialise in.

However, looking on the BBFC website this afternoon, I was struck by the BBFC rating: a 15, for 'infrequent strong sex references'. Clicking on the further details here tells us that it basically due to a passing reference to ejaculation. I looked on IMDb and the film is yet to be rated by the MPAA, although I would be very surprised if it got anything other than a PG-13. The trailer just screamed PG-13, and reading the rest of the BBFC report indicates that the film was made with a view for that rating (moderate sex references, one or two uses of the f-word, etc).

Anyway, this rating decision interested me because this makes Fathers and Daughters another film, in addition to Easy A, Dumb and Dumber To, What If... and White Chicks that got rated a 15 over here despite being clearly directed at the PG-13 market (so the 12A). This in itself is not that rare - quite a few horror movies are made for the PG-13 audience but get a 15 over here because the BBFC decide that tonally, it's just too strong for 12 year olds and below, which is fair enough. (that one year age difference between 12 and 13 does make all the difference, plus you have to factor in cultural differences between the Brits and the Americans). But the four films I listed, and Fathers and Daughters, quite obviously, are not horrors. The clincher that gave them the less commercially viable 15-rating as opposed to the 12A-rating, is the sex references.

Dumb and Dumber To featured a rather crude scene in which Jim Carey's foolish goon is tricked into fingering an old woman. Easy A, a modern day spin on 'The Scarlet Letter', featured pretty much non-stop sex jokes which whilst being tonally less strong than the aforementioned scene in Dumb and Dumber To, did allude to sex toys and STDs, topics that the BBFC would rather not have in 12A-rated film. Similarly, White Chicks had a rather crude, protracted scene where one of the men, disguised as woman, plays with a sex toy, and finally What If..., a Canadian rom-com starring Daniel Radcliffe which is by all intents and purposes quite amiable, had a few dicey references to STDs, which, as we know, is no-go at 12A.

I find all this very interesting because in terms of depiction of actual sex in films, the BBFC are much more liberal than the stuffy MPAA. We classified Match Point, Never Let Me Go, 2046 and various other films a 12A for 'moderate sex', but these scenes of supposed moderate sex were judged too steamy for PG-13 and instead slapped with an R rating. Given how the Americans don't have a 15 or 18, and just an R, this really is rather final. One of the films which got an R for this reason and a 12 over here was The Invisible Woman, which I recall had one brief scene where a woman moves on top of her husband, but I didn't think was more graphic than, say, the sex scene in Chicago, and in another one, she apparently moans, but I must have been dozing off at that point because it was a blink-and-you miss it scene.

So in just a handful of decisions pertaining to rating a movie a 12A or a 15, a PG-13 or an R, we can see the nuances in cultural differences in what the British and the Americans view as more harmful. The BBFC don't seem to mind showing sex scenes to 12s and under, provided they're relatively discrete. They're more worried about sex jokes, particularly on more adult issues such as STDs, sex toys, and fingering old women. The Americans, on the other hand, are less offended by the latter, and would rather focus on censoring [or at least limiting the audience] on actual sex scenes. 

I'll end discussing a film scene that is really, neither here nor there. In Reservoir Dogs, there is that infamous ear-cutting scene. It's made all the more grisly by what you don't actually see. Tarantino depicts the sadism of the tormentor brilliantly, both in terms of choice of background music, and the way the camera pans away; the 'conceal and reveal'. Using this device and analogising it to sex references and sex scenes on the 12A/15 border, the Brits like to conceal the references, and reveal the sex themselves. There's your duality.

Monday, September 21, 2015

On point quotes in Manhattan.

It's no surprise that I was so taken with Woody Allen's Manhattan: it tells the story of a neurotic, unlucky in love bloke in a gorgeous city and is peppered with film references. You could basically take the film, set it in London and bung me in Allen's role, and that would pretty accurately capture my many romance-related failures. I adored it, and the writing was faultless.

Here are some lines in it that I thought were particularly relevant.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Diary of a Teenage Girl and the 18 Certificate

Yesterday, I watched Marielle Heller’s Diary of a Teenage Girl, which tells the story of 15-year-old Minnie Goetz’s sexual awakening after she loses her virginity to her mother’s boyfriend. It was a good film, sadly not quite as funny as I’d hyped it up to be in my mind, and there were tonal issues with it that didn’t quite sit right with me. Thankfully, it was elevated by a transcendent performance by British actress Bel Powley as the protagonist, without whom, the film would have completely sunk. Her fearless, honest performance truly captured what it’s like to be a teenage girl, even when parts of the screenplay didn’t quite ring true. Minnie makes poor decision upon poor decision and you find it increasingly difficult to get behind her, but Powley’s large grey-green eyes and childlike visage reinforce that at the end of the day, she is just a misguided kid trying to find her place in the world, and it is our mistakes which form us. I can’t think of another young actress who could have imbued Minnie with the realism that she did – Jennifer Lawrence would have overplayed it, Kristen Stewart would have underplayed it – and it’s for Powley’s acting that the movie is worth a watch.

In the build-up to the UK release of Diary of a Teenage Girl, director Heller, actress Powley and Twitter feminists across internet have been voicing their displeasure with the British Board of Film Classification’s decision to award the movie an 18. The director argues that by doing so, the all-male certification board are putting black box around female sexuality, in a way that male sexuality is never questioned. Naturally, feminists have jumped on this bandwagon, lambasting the BBFC as being backward and threatened by women who embrace sex. I can't help feeling their arguments would have more clout had they actually watched the film first before crying sexism.

Watching the film, I thought the 18 certificate was wholly merited. The sex scenes in it aren’t anywhere as lengthy as those in, say, Blue is the Warmest Colour, but there are a lot of them, in range of positions, featuring, in want of a better phrase, what the BBFC describe as ‘mechanical thrusting’, as well as Minnie’s ill-fated adventures, of which include her and her friend blowing two random guys in a bar toilet for some money. Minnie is an aspiring artist so there are also sketches of various parts of the male and female anatomy littered throughout the narrative, as well as strong verbal sex references in which Minnie and her promiscuous best friend casually discuss the next guy they’re gonna fuck. Film critics have remarked on the irony that teenagers (between 15-17) won’t get to watch a film titled ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’, but if this is the life of a teenager being presented, I’d argue that that isn’t the worst thing.

In terms of precedent, the filmmakers of Diary of a Teenage Girl have pointed to Fish Tank, a similarly-themed movie about an Essex girl who sleeps with her mother’s boyfriend (played by the dishy Michael Fassbender), which got a 15. However, in that movie, there were only two sex scenes (one between the girl and Fassy, and another between her mum and Fassy), both of which, whilst featuring thrusting, are brief and do not match any of Diary of a Teenage Girl’s impact. Secondly, Fassbender’s characters actions are condemned pretty strongly and he is painted to be a sleazy shit. Minnie’s love interest, on the other hand, played by Alexander Skarsgård, is portrayed with more easygoing affability, even though his actions illustrate him to be quite the douche. I don’t think you can make a direct comparison between these two films at all, and if we’re going to be banding about bargain-basement arguments like ‘oh it’s about teenagers so teenagers should see it’, why not make Battle Royale and Kids a 15 as well then?

I wrote this blog in defence of the BBFC, because I feel they get a lot of misplaced slack these days. Last year, there was a media frenzy over Paddington getting classified a PG, because people couldn’t believe that a film about the friendly bear they grew up watching could be anything other than Universal. But, watching it, I thought PG was the correct decision – there were the odd curse words, and more pertinently, Nicole Kidman threatening to stuff a bear with a variety of threatening looking knives. It’s hardly Saw, but it was mildly unsettling, and it’s good that the BBFC acknowledged that, rather than pandering to public nostalgia. Similarly, when Gone Girl got an 18, lots of under-18s complained, with some poor sap with too much time on his hands even launching an online petition to try and get the rating changed (lol, because the rating of the film is the biggest problem in our lives). Cinemagoers need to understand that just because you’ve read the book and like David Fincher, doesn’t mean the BBFC have to dish out a 15 rating when the strength of the scenes in the film command something higher. The BBFC do not exist to make decisions just to appease you.

Part of my affection for the BBFC is that I don’t think British filmgoers realise how good they have it compared to the MPAA. The BBFC treat heterosexual and homosexual sex scenes the same, which the MPAA do not. Furthermore, despite what the crew of Diary of a Teenage Girl would have you believe, getting an 18 here is not that big a deal. It doesn’t kill off a film’s chances of succeeding at the box office. In the case of 50 Shades of Grey, I think we would have been surprised if it had gotten anything other than an 18. The MPAA’s ‘NC-17’, however, is extremely restrictive, and essentially kills of a film’s chance of getting advertised. And the way the NC-17 is dished out is, spurious, to say the least. (but that’s another essay for another day).

That’s not to say I agree unequivocally with every decision the BBFC make. I will never get over how the hyper-stylised violence of the two Kick-Ass movies didn’t earn them 18s, comedy as a mitigating factor or not. 2 Days 1 Night getting a 15 for a failed Xanax overdose also seemed a touch draconian (I maintain that if a 12 year old can take Heath Ledger’s shoving someone’s head into a pencil or, more disturbingly, Kate Winslet’s hand sliding down a sweat-steamed window then they’ll definitely be able to handle that, especially as the overdose wasn’t successful). Generally, some of the more adult 15s I watch I think could be 18s, so I would encourage the BBFC to err on the side of caution more. But that probably says more about my prudishness when it comes to cinema than anything.

In summary, I am delighted that the BBFC stuck to their guns about Diary of a Teenage Girl. To accuse the board of sexism and stifling female sexuality is a cheap, lazy tactic. In Diary of a Teenage Girl, Minnie goes on a destructive road of self-discovery before she truly understands into who she is, and what makes her. Perhaps the filmmakers could do something similar with their underage sex-riddled film before pointing fingers at the BBFC.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Outfit of the Day: #CheekyNandos

Cardigan: Mango
Dress: Oasis
Earrings: online
Glasses: Red or Dead
Beaded belt: Monsoon Accessorize

On Wednesdays we wear pink, ya see.