Category: Film Reviews

Posts on The Global Film Book Blog

Just a reminder for followers of this blog that some of our postings are now appearing on The Global Film Book blog. In the main these concern films that relate in some way to the various chapters in the book but otherwise they take the same approach as postings here.

Recent postings include:

Ilo Ilo (Singapore 2013) 

The Past (le passé, France-Italy 2013) 

The Lunchbox (India/Germany/France/US 2013) 

Ringu (Ring, Japan 1998) 

Nick’s Favourites 2013

Bullock's star turn

Bullock’s star turn

Gravity (US/UK) – unlike Roy I wasn’t bothered by Ryan’s (Bullock) backstory, maybe I was busy being ‘blown away’ by the visuals. It has the best use of 3D I’ve seen, when the tears come into focus as they drift towards us was particularly effective. Clooney’s paternal voice, I think, worked brilliantly to emphasis Ryan’s task when she’s left alone to survive.

Before Midnight (US) – like Gravity, Richard Linklater excels in his use of long takes enabling us to wonder at Julie Delpy’s and Ethan Hawke’s embodiment of their characters. The only downside to anticipating the next film is I will be so much older.

Philomena (UK) – it was fascinating to see Steve Coogan’s persona inhabiting the Martin Sixsmith character adding real wit to what might have been ‘simply’ a grim indictment of the Catholic Church.

McCullin (UK) – an insight into one of the greatest war photographers. McCullin’s humanity is juxtaposed with the inhumanity of what he has photographed.

Lore (Aus-Ger-UK) – Cate Shortland’s brilliant ‘arty’ direction enhances this story about the fate of children of Nazis in the immediate aftermath of the war.

The Impossible (Spain) – a combination of gripping story-telling, the tsunami disaster of 2004, and fabulous special effects made this the roller coaster ride of 2013.

Keith’s favourites from 2013

Ceasar Must Die by the Taviani Brothers.

Ceasar Must Die by the Taviani Brothers.

This has been a pretty good year for movies though I thought that it was not as strong as 2012.

My favourites among the new releases in the order which I saw them:

I Wish / Kiseki, Japan 2011.

Director and writer Hirokazu Kore-Eda produces a magical portrait of the world of childhood.

Caesar Must Die / Cesare deve morire, Italy 2011. Written and directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. Brilliant, Shakespeare’s play produced and performed in the high-security Rome Prison of Rebibbia. One groans that these talented filmmakers’ work only occasionally makes it into the UK market.

Paradise: Love, Faith, Hope / Paradies: Liebe, Glaube, Hoffnung Austria, Germany, France 2012. This trilogy of films from Ulrich Seidl is impressive both in its formal rigour and in the moral rigour with which it treats is characters. At times I laughed at times I cried.

The Great Beauty / La grande bellezza, Italy / France 2013, directed by Paolo Sorrentino.

The most stylish film I have seen this year: the final track along the Tiber is magnificent.

The Artist and the Model / El artista y la modelo Spain 2012.

Its greatest virtues are the script by Jean-Claude Carrière and the director Fernando Trueba: the black and white ‘scope’ cinematography of Daniel Vilar: and the pairing of Jean Rochefort and Claudia Cardinale.

Best Documentary that I have seen:

McCullin UK 2012. Directed by Jacqui and David Morris.

This was a record of the work of Don McCullin, who has specialised in war photography. This is a powerful record of a portfolio of really fine work, and the moral dilemmas involved in covering war are clearly set out.

The most impressive performance that I have seen:

Barbara Sukowa in Hannah Arendt, though I found the film problematic.

My favourite canine performance:

Lutz in The Wall / Die Wand, despite the traumatic scene late in the film.

Silent films:

For me the best was The Self-Seeker / Shrurnyk, UkrSSR 1929 and directed by Mykola Shpykovskyi and featured in the Ukrainian programme at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. The nominal hero of the film and title is Apollon; a petit bourgeois caught up in the Civil War between ‘reds’ [the good guys] and ‘whites’ [the bad guys]. But the real star is a camel that invariably saves the day.

The heroic camel in The Self-Seeker

The heroic camel in The Self-Seeker

The discovery of the year was the work of  Ol’ga Preobraženskaja, whose film were featured at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. Among these gems was Kaštanka (USSR, 1926) which featured my favourite canine performance from early cinema, Jacky as the title character.

Most annoying film of the year:

It has to be Django Unchained USA 2012 from Quentin Tarantino.

The film clearly involves a wealth of talent, but ‘never has so much been expended to so little effect’’

The film I most disliked:

Only God Forgives Denmark, France, USA 2012.

I wonder if it is derogatory to David Lynch to suggest that this is a poor pastiche of one of his films.

The film I found most dubious:

Act of Killing various UK countries 2012.

Joshua Oppenheimer refers to cinema verité regarding his documentary revisiting the 1965 Indonesian genocide: actually it falls between fly-on-the-wall and Big Brother.

Finally, my nomination for Audience of the Year:

all those brave film buffs who came along to the Gothic Film Festival at Kirkstall Abbey in early November. One kind soul offered me a blanket to wrap in. I thought it was worth it.

1,000 posts and counting

(From An abacus is an ancient Chinese form of counting widely used in Asia.

(From An abacus is an ancient Chinese form of counting widely used in Asia.

With the flurry of postings last week, The Case for Global Film passed 1,000 individual postings. The 1,000th post was on Vicky Donor. Our stats tell us that we have a regular group of visitors that is steadily growing but that most of you visit us when you are looking for something specific on a film and on average you visit just under 2 separate postings on your visit. Perhaps you aren’t aware of the vast array of material (approaching 1 million words and thousands of images) that we hold?

The best way to get the most out of this blog is to have a quick look at the How to navigate this site page and discover how to search through the material.

We are moving forward onto the next 1,000 now, so watch this space! Suggestions for better ways of organising the material are always welcome.

Hugo 3D (US 2011)

Hugo (Asa Butterfield) and Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) with the mechanical automaton

I’m glad that I saw Hugo in 3D on a big screen and I enjoyed watching the film despite the effort of stopping those glasses sliding down my nose. On reflection, however, I’ve got mixed feelings about the enterprise. I was impressed by Martin Scorsese’s use of 3D as a medium and the ways in which he used the format to explore/promote the use of special effects in cinema – including the bizarre presentation of clips from the films of Georges Méliès in 3D! But I’m not sure that I like it as a format. It makes the cinema feel like a theatre with the over-dramatic sense of separation of characters in the depth of presentation. I much prefer the use of deep focus and staging in depth. This occurred to me in a scene which included an older man, a small boy and snowflakes – surely a reference to the famous ‘staging in depth’ scene in Citizen Kane?

Hugo is stuffed with references, making it an over-rich feast for cinephiles. But this is ostensibly a film for children (and their parents). We watched the film at the end of its run in a large multiplex auditorium with only a modest audience. The children were quiet throughout the film – which I take to mean that they were engrossed as I suspect that they would have complained if they were bored. At the end, eavesdropping on a couple of families, I understood that they had quietly enjoyed the film – but it wasn’t the film that they were expecting. I’m not competent to judge what makes a good children’s film but I think Hugo probably works best as a spectacle rather than as a story. I thought that the script was weak in places and some scenes lacked the spark that they might have had if there wasn’t so much focus on the beautiful matte paintings and 3D staging. I enjoyed all the performances, although Sacha Baron Cohen was irritating – but I can see why others found him entertaining. The promotional materials keep telling us that this is Scorsese’s ‘first family film’, but it does have several elements in common with Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), one of Marty’s lesser-known movies. And if Kundun is included, he has made three films with important younger characters – mercifully not treating them with the sugary confections of Spielberg. He also cast a young Jody Foster in a very different kind of film – Taxi Driver.

Hugo is a long film but it doesn’t deliver as much narrative as I expected. There seem to be three parts to the film. One is a story about Hugo himself and how as an orphan he needs to keep out of the clutches of the authorities in Paris in the late 1920s – personified by the ‘Station Inspector’ (Baron Cohen), a war veteran who was himself an orphan and who now seems obsessed with rounding up waifs and strays who stray onto his patch. The second is a mystery in which Hugo and a slightly older girl, Isabelle, eventually join forces to discover the secret of the automaton which Hugo’s father was attempting to repair when he died. These two narrative strands combine to provide the ‘action adventure’ material in the film. But a fair amount of the final third of the film is taken up with what is essentially a rather conventional, but brilliantly presented visual essay on early cinema delivered by Scorsese – chair of the World Cinema Foundation and prime conservator of great films. This offers a different kind of spectacle in 3D, didactic perhaps but I’m sure we are all pleased that future film audiences are shown clips from films up to 1930 in the correct ratio and colours (i.e. with all the correct tinting of prints).

Hugo is adapted (by John Logan) from a book by Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2008). Selznick is a designer and illustrator as well as an author and there is a link on this website that shows some of the book’s many illustrations. This demonstrates very well that many of what might be assumed to be Scorsese’s ideas for framings and compositions are taken directly from the book. This doesn’t detract from Scorsese’s artistic achievement but it does tend to reinforce the idea that the whole project is driven by a desire to recreate a Parisian environment of the late 1920s, possibly at the expense of a coherent narrative. I’ll have to watch it again, but there were aspects of the chronology of the story that didn’t make sense to me and there are weaknesses of characterisation. Chloë Grace Moretz as Isabelleis rather wasted I think as the character is given little to do. I just wonder if Marty was so entranced by the excitement generated by 3D and the enormous sets, real and virtual, he had to play with that he forgot about the story. This is surprising since he must have thought about some of the other films that aspects of the story were likely to provoke in his imagination. Two that struck me were the boy’s constant observation of the station crowds which reminded me of the boy looking at the ‘forbidden’ in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (UK 1959) (one of Scorsese’s favourites) and the ‘underworld’ existence in Paris which reminded me of The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Hugo is a children’s film but that doesn’t mean it has to lose the possibility of a complex and intriguing story.

There are some very polarised reviews of Hugo, especially in North America. I don’t think it is the masterpiece that deserves to win awards but neither is it the flop that commits the sin of boredom. I think that Scorsese spent too much money ($150 million plus?) but at least you can see it on screen. I’d urge any doubters to see the film in 3D in a big screen cinema if you can still find it. It’s perhaps the first production to really explore what 3D in modern cinema can do.

NEDS (UK/France/Italy 2010)

Conor McCarron as John

According to the film’s title sequence, NEDS stands for “non-educated delinquents”. I’m pretty sure that this is nonsense. There is an interesting debate about the origination of the term on the IMDB message boards and I take it to be a term equivalent in some way to ‘chav’ in England. Sociologist Alex Law in the Media Education Journal 39, Spring/Summer 2006/7, tells us that ‘schemie’, ‘tinkie’ or ‘gadgie’ are similar terms on the east coast of Scotland to compare with ‘neds’ on the west coast. I’m surprised that Peter Mullan as writer-director (and actor) would fall into this trap. Let’s just take it to be a term used by the middle (and lower-middle) classes to abuse working-class (white) male youth on housing estates. It may indeed have been in use in the 1970s when this film is set, but not based on this rather snotty acronym (one suggestion is that ‘Ned’ is another word for ‘Ted’, both nicknames for Edward, used to describe the ‘teddy boys’ of the 1950s).

Outline (no spoilers)

1972. John McGill is just about to leave primary school where he has been a star pupil. On the day of his school prize-giving he is threatened by a boy who is only marginally older. But John’s brother is Benny, a well-known gang-leader who soon takes revenge. John moves to the unreconstructed hell of the local Catholic high school where at first he seems to be an assertive but academically gifted student. But this doesn’t last. Eventually he is caught between the disruption at home caused by his mostly absent brother and alcoholic abusive father (Mullan) and the condescension of middle-class Glasgow. He falls in with a local gang. How will he survive?


I was completely with the film for the first half and then I gradually lost my faith in the narrative and I’m not sure why. I confess that I found the dialogue hard to follow. I’ve been familiar with it for brief periods throughout my life but I always need time to adjust to the sound of the Glaswegian voice. As a result, I’m sure that I missed some of the narrative cues contained in the dialogue. Whatever he is, John is not a ‘ned’, though some of the other characters may be. I realise that in writing that, I’m already abusing ‘neds’. So let me retract. John is a bright, intelligent boy who is insulted many times but somehow keeps his cool. Then he snaps. Perhaps that is the point that Mullan wants to make. Poverty, ignorance and a lack of ‘culture’ (in the broadest terms) saps your soul, especially when you are coralled by a strong but limited father and an authoritarian and stupid education system. You either give in to lassitude or you lose control. If that is the message of the narrative, it is a powerful indictment and is to be applauded.

But it isn’t as simple as that. Peter Mullan clearly still has issues about Catholic education and I have heard arguments that this is a narrative of redemption. I’m not that keen on this idea – it seems a very American take on resolving narratives. The resolution of NEDS is either ‘open’ or ‘closed’ depending on your view on the redemption scenario. I want to take it as ‘open’ – to the possibility that John might find himself again in later life without having to be ‘redeemed’.

As to the style of the film, I can’t remember Orphans, Mullan’s first film, that well and I haven’t seen The Magdalene Sisters. I’m therefore thrown back on Lynne Ramsay’s Glasgow-set feature, Ratcatcher and her shorts, Ken Loach’s Glasgow films and the comedies of Bill Forsyth. Casting connects this film to Loach and Laverty’s My Name is Joe (1998) in which Peter Mullan is also paired with Louise Goodall. Gary Lewis appears in that film as well and in Orphans. (IMDB fails to give the full cast list of NEDS.) But I think it is Ratcatcher (1999) (also set in the 1970s) which offers links to the fantasy sequences in NEDS. (The importance of Glasgow buses in the narrative links the film to Ratcatcher and Loach’s Carla’s Song.) The other, English rather than Scottish, links are to Alan Clarke and Shane Meadows. I did think, going into the film, that I was going to see something similar to Scum (at least from the trailer). However, I don’t think that NEDS has the relentless drive of Scum or the two strong performances at the centre of that film (Ray Winstone and Mick Ford). That isn’t necessarily a criticism of NEDS. Conor McCarron in the central role of the older John gave a stand-out performance – even if not all the critics thought so (Gregg Forrest is also good as the younger John). This Is England seems somehow more optimistic and lighter – despite its harrowing final sequence. All of these films are ‘youth pictures’ and associated with the idea of ‘coming of age’.

Overall, NEDS is an interesting film, well worth anyone’s time and I suspect that with further acquaintance I might get even more from it. It manages to tell us something about the lives of working-class boys in urban Britain.  I presume that it will be dubbed or subtitled for North America.