Friday, September 16, 2016

Film: "Iona" (2015)

This was the last film I saw in the Dublin film festival earlier this year. It set on a Scottish island, but not obviously the island of Iona, with the name of the film coming from the name of the protagonist, played by Ruth Negga. The film begins with her and a teenage boy driving a car, getting a ferry to somewhere, parking the car and setting fire to it, walking on to somewhere else and then getting a boat to the island the film is about. She is returning to the island after leaving it when she was 16 or thereabouts, with her son (who is… about the same age in years as she has been gone from the island dunn dunn dunnnnnn). It is one of those tangled webs and dark secrets revealed films.

I found aspects of the film appealing though I thought some of the roads it chose to go down were a bit distasteful. Ultimately it was only OK but it was great to see Negga in anything as she is one of those actors one could happily watch reading the phone book. Before she went away to seek her fortune in the world of TV and cinema she was the greatest Dublin stage actor of her generation.

Some women sat near me in the cinema tittered all the way through it, like they had been drinking or something.

image source (Up Late At Night Again)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Film: "Retour de Flamme: The Keaton Project" (1920-1922)

I saw this compilation of remastered Buster Keaton shorts in the Dublin film festival earlier this year. It was introduced by Serge Bromberg, who oversaw the restoration. Buster Keaton is a legendary film figure but I had never seen anything of his before (apart from a short art film he did in later life with Samuel Beckett), so I was keen to see these short films.

Sadly I did not find these films that funny but I very much enjoyed seeing them. Keaton's self-mastery is astonishing to bold, the way his face can communicate depths of expression while maintaining an apparent deadpan demeanour. In that regard the more recent actor he most reminded me of was Leslie Nielsen. Anyways, these included The One Where The House Falls Over On Top Of Him and the One Where He FInds Himself Being Chased By Loads Of Cops, and many more. It is a bit sad that he was unable to successfully make the transition to sound films, but life is hard.

image source (Timeless Hollywood)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Film: "The Lure" (2015)

I saw Polish film in the Dublin film festival earlier this year. It deals with a nightclub band who find two siren-mermaids and then bring them back to add backing vocals to their band. The mermaids also double up as strippers (who can shape-shift into human form when away from water). It is set back in the 1990s (it took me a while to register this) and it is a musical: as well as the scenes of the band playing in the nightclub there are moments when people break into song and dance routines. It is somewhat done for laughs, though I think it would be funnier if you got all the Polish cultural references, but it has its sadface moments on the transient nature of human-mermaid love. And it goes a bit horror from time to time. So thematically and mood-wise it is a bit of a dog's dinner.

I found it a bit sleazy and exploitative. It was noticeable that the two mermaids spend most of the film topless and possess a certain jailbait quality. Yet the director is a woman so maybe this is actually a feminist film, in which the audience are being confronted with their own voyeurism.

image source (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Film: "Parabellum" (2015)

This is another odd film I saw in the Dublin Film Festival earlier this year. It has an Austrian director but appears to be set in a future Argentina. It is stylistically interesting in that it features almost no dialogue. It is not a silent film: there is sound and we do hear the human voice. But the scenes where people speak are mostly ones with instructors talking to students who remain mute. There are very few scenes in which Person A says something and Person B says something back.

How can this be? Well the film begins with a man doing a series of things that you realise are him bringing his everyday life to an end. He visits an old man in a home for the elderly. He sits in his apartment while an automated caller invites him to reconsider his decision to cancel his telephone line. He hands his cat in to a cat minder. There are snippets of news reports suggesting that things are going very wrong with the world (riots, natural disasters, social breakdown, etc.). Then the man goes off on a bus to a rural location and is blindfolded and brought on a boat through a river system to a combination holiday camp and training centre. He and the other new arrivals undergo a series of preparations… for what? It seems like a combination of general fitness training and self-defence, then learning to shoot and acquiring some handy survival skills. As they go about their business we see the odd fireball pass through the sky.

The detached tone and the cultishness of the setup reminded me of films by Yorgos Lanthimos, particularly Alps. I was also reminded of that Martha Marcy May Marlene film. The latter comparison seemed particularly apt when the film turns nasty, with the protagonist and a couple of his fellows going to a house in the country and killing all the people there (this portrayed in a detached manner, with most of the killings happening off screen).

The detachment and lack of dialogue in the film is its most appealing prospect but it also can be frustrating. The lack of exposition means it can be a bit unclear as to why things are happening, with the detached style of the acting making it harder to infer from them why they are doing things. In the end it seems like the community breaks down or maybe the protagonist cuts loose and heads off on his own. There is a stunning vista later on when he canoes towards a city that appears to be suffering very badly from a rain of fireballs. The film seemed to be on the point of a transition here but then it just ends.

Its odd nature may mark this out as the best film I saw in the film festival, though I think it may be one I like more in retrospect.

image source (Film Society Lincoln Center)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Film: "100 Yen Love" (2014)

Earlier this year I went to see a film in the film festival and actually saw the film. Jurassic Park! The film I saw was 100 Yen Love, about this waster Japanese woman who is kicked out by her parents and gets a job in a convenience store working the night shift. After doing this for a while she starts taking an interest in boxing, initially because she fancies this guy who keeps training in the local boxing club. Then she takes up boxing herself and it kind of turns her life around. It was an interesting film, providing an insight into a Japanese world of slackers a world away from the salarymen, gangsters or samurai who normally show up in the Japanese films that make it to the West. I'm not sure I liked it that much, though. It seemed a bit unsure of its tone, as to whether it was a funny film about the main character and her funny slacker world or a serious film about her overcoming her demons and getting back on the straight and narrow. I suppose films can be both.

There is one scene in the film that was a bit difficult for me to watch but has had me thinking afterwards. When the woman goes to work in the convenience store she has this co-worker who is also a bit of a loser (hence working in convenience store) but also a bit of dickhead. He is racist and also sleazy, continuously hitting on the protagonist in an unappealing manner. But this is all kind of presented as being a bit funny, in the way that sleazy characters often are in fiction. Then on a night out where they go for drinks after a boxing match he takes the protagonist to a cheap hotel and rapes her. This is clearly not funny, but it did make me think about how sleazy characters (in real life and fiction) may only be a step away from this kind of assault but still are treated in somewhat comedic terms until they actually go that far. These people are only funny if you are not the one worrying about being stuck in a lift with them.

image source (Wikipedia)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Film: "Spotlight" (2015)

In the Dublin film festival earlier this year I bought a ticket to see Why Me?, a Romanian film about political corruption in the post-Communist era. I printed out my online ticket, went to the Lighthouse Cinema, showed it to the attendants and was directed into a one of their screens. I sat and watched ads and trailers, but then disaster struck. Instead of the opening credits for Why Me? coming up on screen, I was greeted by a film censor's certificate for another film entirely, one that was already on general release and which was not being shown in the film festival. This was a terrible psychic blow, which left me feeling that some kind of cosmic joke was being played at my expense. I thought of running out to try and find the film I was meant to be seeing, but feared that it would already have started. Inertia also suggested that staying in place would be the wisest course of action, a view supported by the film being one that I had heard something positive about.

The film I was seeing was of course Spotlight, the Tom McCarthy directed film about journalists investigating a systematic Catholic Church cover up of kiddy-fiddling priests in Boston. It is based on real events and features actors playing real investigative journalists who worked for the Boston Globe. I liked that it dealt with a difficult and distasteful issue like kiddy-fiddling in a manner that was neither voyeuristic nor sensational (readers will be pleased to hear that the film features no depictions of actual kiddy-fiddling).

In the film, the existence of paedophile priests is already a known thing, but the journalists uncover that their number is far greater than previously suspected, something that could only have happened if senior figures in the Church were working to hush up the extent to which these crimes were taking place; this coverup is revealed as going all the way up to Cardinal Law, archbishop of Boston.

Aside from the sensitivity with which it handles a difficult subject, the film has a number of great strengths. One is the depiction of journalists at work, piecing together the story not by meeting silhouetted informants in car parks but through research and cross-referencing of published documents. The other thing that impressed me is its sense of moral ambiguity. Although we are left with no doubt that kiddy-fiddler priests and the people who shelter them are bad, other characters are revealed as more morally grey than initial impressions might suggest. The most striking example of this is the shyster lawyer who turns out to be arguably working to obtain the best deal he can for his unfortunate clients, someone who tried to blow the whistle on the scale of the paedophile priest problem but who gave up when no one was interested in hearing about it. And then there are the journalists themselves. Journalists in this kind of film are usually shining white knights, forces of unambiguous moral righteousness bringing the bad guys to book. And in this film they are like that, to an extent,but as the film goes on they (and we) become more aware of the older journalists' role in the cover-up of the paedophile priest scandal. They did not do so thanks to corruption or a desire to protect the Church, but because their prior biases could not support the idea that there really was a systemic problem with clerical paedophilia. People who asserted the true scale of the problem are dismissed as cranks, their claims buried on the inside pages of the paper if covered at all.

Aside from the fact that this terrible abuse of minors was allowed to happen, there are things that made me sad about this film. One was the fact that although set in the relatively recent past (late 1990s, early 2000s), it is like a relic of an age that is increasingly vanishing, one where newspapers were important institutions and serious investigative journalism still a thing. Overall though this is a powerful and well-made film with strong performances from various topnotch actors that I encourage people to see.

image source (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

July 1916

Hello Inuit Panda readers. I have been neglecting you in favour of my First World War blog. If you are interested in such things, here are links to my posts there in July:

1/7/1916 Carnage on the Somme

2/7/1916 The Somme: counting the cost, planning the next steps

2/7/1916 Baranovichi: a Russian attempt to smash the Germans

3/7/1916 The Somme: a failed night attack

6/7/1916 The Somme: piecemeal Allied attacks continue

8/7/1916 The horror of the Somme comes home to Britain

9/7/1916 The battle for Mecca

10/7/1916 Italian mine war in the Dolomites

11/7/1916 Verdun: Knobelsdorf’s last throw of the dice

11/7/1916 Italy explodes its mine under the Austro-Hungarian Castelletto

12/7/1916 Verdun: the furthest German advance

12/7/1916 Austria’s brutal vengeance: the execution of Cesare Battisti

14/7/1916 The Somme: Rawlinson sends in the cavalry

15/7/1916 Verdun: the French push back

16/7/1916 Britain sends Egyptian help to the Arab Revolt

19/7/1916 Australian disaster at Fromelles

20/7/1916 The Somme: Britain and France go their own way

22/7/1916 Exit Sazonov

23/7/1916 The Somme: British attacks fail but Australian troops seize Pozières

24/7/2016 Pozières: Germany strikes back

25/7/1916 Brusilov’s offensive begins to slow down, Evert’s continues to fail

27/7/1916 As the Somme grinds on, politicians become restless but Haig remains confident

27/7/1916 Germany executes Captain Fryatt

28/7/1916 The Dada Manifesto and the Cabaret Voltaire

30/7/1916 The Black Tom explosion

30/7/1916 The Somme: new German tactics

image source:

Reconstructed image of British soldiers advancing from The Battle of the Somme (1916) (The History Learning Site)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The incredible story of our cat

On the anniversary of our cat arriving into our lives I posted the story of her first year with us on Twitter. Now at last I am sharing this story for the benefit of my blog readers. This is a post that involves scrolling down a lot, but it does also feature a lot of pictures of what may be the world's most beautiful cat.

More amazing cat pictures here and here

Friday, June 24, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 7: Monday

My interminable account of the last ever ATP lurches towards its conclusion. Previous instalments (with actual music discussion) can be seen here, here, here, here, here and here

Sunday night ended on a positive note. The bad vibes returned on Monday morning. As we were getting ready to leave we learned that the following weekend's Manchester ATP had been cancelled. I imagined Barry Hogan spending the weekend of the Stewart Lee ATP barricaded into a bunker desperately trying to shuffle money around so that the other weekend could somehow still go ahead. I'm thinking things like "If I don't pay everyone who was playing on Stage 2 I'll have enough cash to put down the deposit on the PA if they give me a discount and some credit…", that kind of thing. Oh well. I heard reports subsequently that he was trying to borrow money from Drive Like Jehu, the Manchester ATP headliners. That's not good. I also heard of artists who found themselves marooned in England because their gigs (and the money they optimistically hoped to earn from them) had been cancelled at short notice.

Since then the Iceland ATP scheduled for July 2016 has been cancelled with barely two weeks' notice. This was a bit of a surprise, as it was reputedly underwritten financially by the Icelandic government, though having seen bad banks crash their economy they were probably careful enough not to let a mismanaged music festival do the same. And it appears that the wider ATP organisation is winding up, for real this time. I wish that ATP had stopped with the one that was originally billed as the last one ever, instead of continuing and pissing on their legacy.

I wish there were still festivals like ATP. The convenience of being able to stay in a holiday camp and see a wide range of bands playing is not to be sniffed at. I noticed on social media that a lot of people reckon they could do a better job of running this kind of festival than Barry Hogan. Maybe it is time for them to put their money where their mouth is.
More astonishing ATP pictures

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 6: Sunday (continued)

Amazing! I am still describing my trip to the last ever ATP festival. Should you want to see previous instalments, they are here, here, here, here and here.

I was very excited about seeing Bardo Pond on the main stage. They are a real ATP band, in the sense that I think playing at early ATPs played an important part in bringing them to a wider audience. There is a heavy rock freak out quality to their music, but their sound is also slow and restrained and less excessive than, say, the likes of The Heads. They include a number of blokes on instruments and a woman on flute and vocals. At previous ATPs I always saw them playing the smaller stages but this time they were on Stage 1, the big one. And while before they always seemed like a small stage band, this time they felt like they had expanded and upped their game to take on the expanse now offered to them. Isobel Sollenberger was fronting the band much more than when I had previously seen them. Her languid blissed out demeanour well suited the enveloping stoner rock sounds.
Perhaps because they have gained so much by playing ATP festivals, Ms Sollenberger actually thanked Barry Hogan from the stage. A ripple went through the crowd. I may even have heard someone saying "Fucking hell", but it was a measure of how the bad vibes of Friday had somewhat dissipated that her thanks were not followed by boos from the audience.

I saw a little bit of a 1970s documentary film about the Sunbury Pop Festival, this being an Australian music festival in the town of Sunbury. It looked like a very well made member of the festival film genre, with great footage of bands performing and then music juxtaposed with things happening in the crowd. As with every film of this type there was an incident where a guy who had taken too much acid had to be coaxed down from an observation tower. There was some interesting interview footage with a guy from a band where he was saying that what was so great about the festival was that it showed there was enough talent in Australia for festivals to be put on without having to bring in second rate American bands (for all that his band sounded like a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute act).

The most interesting bit of the film for me though was all the footage of cops getting heavy with festival goers. As presented, it looked like there were a lot of lads hanging around not really doing too much when suddenly the cops would roll up and throw people into police vans. Anyone who suggested that this might be a bit much was liable to join their friends in the wagon, perhaps receiving a few slaps into the bargain. Cops be cops.

It was also striking how white and British Isles the festival goers all looked. Unlike ATP of course! I read subsequently that Sunbury Pop declined into a festival for beer drinking dickheads. A pre-fame Queen played one year and were greeted with cries of "Fuck off back to Pommyland, ya pooftahs".

Sadly I missed the sing-a-long Wicker Man. I did catch some of Richard James, a former member of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci who must spend his time denying that he is the Aphex Twin. His music was entertainingly droney.
Rounding off the weekend for me then was the Sun Ra Arkestra. OK, let's get all Van Morrison School of Music Journalism (a phrase coined by one Dave Howarth to refer to music journalists who state the obvious or thoughtlessly parrot unchecked received opinions) on this. The Arkestra are a jazz big band led by Marshall Allen, who is in his 90s. They have their origins in the band led by Sun Ra, who was from Saturn (to where he has now returned). They wear sparkly capes. They have songs about travelling through space. They parade through the audience at the climax of their set.

To be honest, the Sun Ra Arkestra are pretty much the same every time I see them, but they are pretty much the same in a way that always makes me want to see them again. They are the perfect good time end to a festival like this. Friday's Bad Vibes were now definitively gone.

And so the festival ends on a high note… but Monday morning brought astonishing news. You can read all about it here tomorrow.

More astonishing ATP pictures