Reflections on The Oscars

Oscar 2013 Jennifer Lawrence accepts the award for best actress

After all the hoohah has died down. What did the ceremony amount to? (Ok I know I’m rather late on this one but I’ve been rather busy volunteering at the Lesbian & Gay Film Festival lately as well as doing life stuff, so sue me. I will be blogging about this Festival later). Well a lot of self-congratulatory patting on the back as per usual.

I mean Argo for best film? Yes it’s a decent seat-0f-your pants piece of entertainment with some pretty good performances (especially from Alan Arkin and the ever reliable John Goodman). But it’s pretty  average still, not the kind of film I’d see twice as David Sexton of The Evening Standard remarked. And there are problems such as over-egging the saved at the last minute narrative cliche, yes it’s fine to have dramatic license on a true story but really how many times does the audience need to be manipulated into a state of tension? And also the agent that Ben Affleck portrays, Tony Mendez, is a Latino man which makes me wonder why they didn’t just hire a Latino actor, looks rather self-indulgent. But then Hollywood would reward a film that celebrates the American film industry as saviours.

Credit due though to Affleck’s quickfire speech which showed his humility and graciousness in thanking all those who helped him when he was down and out, and could’ve easily just left him floundering. While his tribute to his wife Jenifer Garner was sweet and touching, providing a down to earth  insight into how tough it is to make marriages work when your both in entertainment, but how it’s the “best” kind of work .  Hollywood as commentators have said do like an underdog making a comeback, which goes to show that it mostly really isn’t about the quality of the films more what those films represent.

I was glad that QT got Best screenplay for Django Unchained, being full of great dialogue and set pieces such as the hilarious pillow-case  Klu Klux Klan scene, or almost anything that Dr. Schultz says.  And QT was typically cool and calm in accepting the award and thanking the actors helping him to create truly memorable characters. And that said Christoph Waltz was also a deserved and gracious winner his charismatic and spot on interpretation of QT’s challenging swathes of dialogue is truly a tour de force.

Aside from that I haven’t seen Amour yet (and I really must see this film) but it was perhaps a shame that Emanuelle Riva didn’t win on her 86th birthday. Still I thought Jennifer Lawrence’s gutsy performance as a damaged widow in Silver Linings Playbook  was faultless (kudos too to Lawrence’s humble and sweet speech after tripping up on the stairs) , and it  was good to see that film also win Best Adapted Screenplay. It was a funny and moving film with some great characterisations of mental illness which didn’t trivialise it. It also contained one of Robert DeNiro’s best performances, a definite return to form after appearing in so much unbecoming dross, so nice that he was also nominated.

Oh and isn’t Daniel Day-Lewis bloody funny, first of all his portrayal of Lincoln was typically brilliant that’s a given, but if there’s an award for acceptance speeches he’d steal it. First he brings down the house at the BAFTAs by self-deprecatingly sending up his serious method actor rep by dead-panning that he has been practising the part of himself for the last 50 years and made up mini replicas of the BAFTA set. Then he steals the show again by joking that he was meant to be play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl Streep was meant to play Lincoln, and that he had to convince Spielberg not to shoot it as a musical. As if you didn’t like Day-Lewis already, I certainly like him more after that anyway, and it just shows that he doesn’t take himself too seriously (Russell Crowe and Christian Bale take note).  Somebody put this guy in a good comedy. I mean he outshone actors who do comedy for a living , ahem Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy (How awkward were they).

And thank god Les Miserables didn’t win anything that significant. But I can give them Anne Hathaway’s performance as it was the saving grace of an otherwise relentlessly melodramatic and sentimental mess of a film (and what was with the disorientating bits of documentary-style shaky camera-work Tom Hooper?).

As for the controversy of host Seth McFarlane, I thought he did a reasonably good job. Ok he probably shouldn’t have made that inappropriate joke about Chris Brown and Rihanna  and the Mel Gibson joke certainly wasn’t very well judged, neither was the George Clooney paedophile  joke. But I thought there was many that did work, I particularly liked the Best Actor award joke about doing what a 9 year-old can do, and any chance to get William Shatner involved is a bonus in my opinion. The highly maligned ‘Boob Song’ I also found actually pretty funny, and I consider myself a feminist.  It  really was a knee jerk reaction to label it misogynist when McFarlane was clearly just taking an ironic dig at what actors are expected to be able to do for a film.

And that Jaws theme sure was awkward, especially when cutting out heartfelt speeches of struggling people in the film industry. Only done to the poor techies of course, god forbid they cut the speech of an actor.

Oh well until next year, and if the rumours are to be believed I really do look forward to the double-whammy of  the hilarious Amy Poehler and Tiny Fey hosting.

Cloud Atlas (2012), Dir: Tom Tykwer, Andy & Lana Wachowski


Jim Broadbent as the bitter and cantekerous composer Vyvyan Ayers and Ben Wishaw as the gifted and sensitive Robert Frobisher.

Rating: 6/10

“Our lives are not our own.  From womb to tomb, we are bound to others.  Past and present.  And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future.” So Says Sonmi-351 (Doona Bae) a fabricant rebelling against an oppressive corporate future world in Neo Seoul,  2144- and later worshipped as a goddess- in one of the film’s six narrative strands (co-directed evenly by Tom ‘Run Lola Run’ Tykwer and ‘Matrix’ directors the Wachowski’s directing three stories each). This message of transmigrating souls effecting the past, present and future, is emphasised continually throughout the film connecting these interlocking jigsaw-like strands across different time periods and worlds from the Pacific Islands in 1849 to Hawaii in 2321; most pointedly by using the same actors across the stories in different parts.

And so this epic two hours forty-three minutes film takes the brilliantly complex David Mitchell novel, which incorporates a colonial history, a queer tragi-comedy, an investigative thriller, a satiric farce and dystopian and post-apocalyptic sci-fi and attempts to make something more thematically and visually cohesive out of it. As Mitchell says himself about the adaptation “where text slides towards ambiguity, film inclines to specificity” and this ends up with mixed results, where a book can be more subtle in its messages and can take it’s time drawing you in, film only has a limited amount of time to get something across. But it’s a shame they felt the need to emphasise the aspect of love changing character’s destinies and the course of history, and added neat relationships that didn’t exist, as it makes it more Hollywood fare than the pioneering, provocative (largely German) film it’s meant to be. And the sheer amount of references to the transmigrating soul and actions reverberating through time theme does begin to grate. After the fourth or fifth reference we get it already.

The film is still certainly unusual and unlike anything you’ve seen before, although I would argue that films like Babel and Crash use the multi-narrative device to better, more subtle advantage (but then they are based in one contemporary time period). It’s premise means that the film can also be quite bewildering at times; the greyhound speed at which it rushes through the narratives makes you wish it would linger more on one story, which on the plus side does makes it seem shorter than its substantial running time. The film’s premise also means it uses cross-cutting to its best most inventive advantage here to create visual matches between the stories, one example that I particularly admired was a cut from a heavy metal door closing in the 2321 story to a vulnerable Sonmi imprisoned in an unforgiving metal cell.


Tom Hanks as Zachry and Halle Berry as Meronym in the 2321 story, they give strong and memorable performances in this film.

The fact that actors take on multiple parts is also a mixed blessing. Tom Hanks gives one of his best and most entertaining performances as the sinister and avaricious Dr. Goose in the 1849 story, and is pretty good at playing the fearful and conflicted Zachary in the 2321 story, but fails to really convince as a violent criminal Irish writer in the contemporary story. While Doona-Bae (in her first English language role, for which she learnt English from scratch) gives a moving performance as Sonmi depicting well her unfolding sense of humanity and injustice, but no matter how much make-up you put on her she still looks Asian when playing Westerners and struggles to do accents. Likewise Hugh Grant gives a career best performance as villainous characters such as the racist, arrogant Rev Giles Horrox in the 1849 story and as the smarmy, misogynist nuclear plant owner Lloyd Hooks in the 1973 story, but cannot be taken seriously as a primitive cannibalistic chief in the 2321 story.  At the same time Hugo Weaving as a heartless female nurse works not because he convinces as a woman, but because he is funny as a woman in what is meant to be the film’s most comic story.

But it really is the performances most of all which makes this film worth watching, aside from all the visual trickery and its monumental production design- it’s vision of a Blade Runner-like Neo-Seoul is particularly impressive (German technical expertise is certainly showcased in this film). Ben Whishaw perfectly conveys the frustrations of a desperate, sensitive and destitute gay composer who is manipulated by his employer, a once-famous composer (Jim Broadbent, equally good here as a comically grouchy and bitter old man) in the 1936 story, he also makes a startlingly good woman in the contemporary farce, unrecognisably so. While David Gyasi gives a dignified performance as a desperate and resourceful escaped slave in the 1849 story, and Halle Berry reminds us how good she can be as a brave and determined investigative journalist in the 1973 story.

It’s certainly one hell of a ride just don’t expect it to be as clever as it thinks it is.

Interview with director Jerry Rothwell on Donor Unknown

This is the full transcript of the interview I did with documentary maker Jerry Rothwell for Don’t Panic, very nice man he was too and a very good film which should definitely be seen:

JoEllen Marsh, Jerry Rothwell and Danielle Pagano at the Tribeca premiere of Donor Unknown.

Jerry Rothwell has previously brought us such critically acclaimed documentaries as Heavy Load and Deep Water. His new documentary looks at donor conception through the quest JoEllen Marsh initiates to find out about her donor, known to her as Donor 150. Along the way she discovers a website which connects her  to 13 siblings from the same donor across America, the first connection resulting in a  New York Times article. An article their unconventional donor, Jeffrey Harrison- a hippy living on Venice beach in a dilapidated RV with his coterie of animals- sees and which prompts him to give up his anonymity and forge new relationships with his biological children. The result is a film that highlights contemporary issues of genetics, identity, family and the ethics of sperm donation, and is genuinely insightful, funny and touching. Don’t Panic talks to director Jerry Rothwell  about the issues the film raises and his approach  to the story.

What first drew you to filming this story?

I’m  always looking for a very specific situation but one which might throw light on much bigger issues. What I was really interested in was a how a group of people were trying to find a new set of relationships, brought about by technology-the ability to contact each other over the internet, but also by the technology of reproduction. There’s a very a tight story around wonder and the offspring that come about because of [Jeffrey’s] donations.

 How did you convince the producer, Hilary Durman, that it could be made as a film when it was originally going to be a radio documentary?

I think the difficultly she worried about is the issue of privacy and the question of whose story is it? The story probably belongs to about 30 people, and how do you get consent from all those people for a film to be made, which gets into some quite private issues. Then we started talking to the different families and they started talking to each-other  and then that was the really the way we got it going.

What were the siblings reactions to having a documentary made about them?

They’d  done a certain amount of media before because, they did the New York Times article. And I think  JoEllen’s motivation for doing it was to raise awareness about donor conception, that her story is like a lot of other people’s stories and to encourage people to look for their donor if they wanted  too, that it was possible and it wasn’t necessarily scary.

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London Spanish Film Festival, Spring Weekend: Agnosia, Dir. Eugenio Mira (2011)

Bàrbara Goenaga as the vulnerable and beautiful Joana who suffers from the rare condition of agnosia, leaving her virtually blind, and Eduardo Noriega as her dutiful and protective fiancé Carles.

Rating: 5/10

Directed by Eugenio Mira and co-written by The Devil’s Backbone writer Antonio Trashorras, this period gothic romance/thriller is an intriguing genre-defying prospect . Set in Spain in the early 1900s, it tells the story of  Joana Prats (Bàrbara Goenaga) a woman suffering from a rare condition, agnosia, which impairs her sensory input, leaving her severely visually impaired (which we see frequently through manipulated and distorted point of view shots).

Her father Artur (Sergi Mateu) is a lens-maker who early on in the film creates a magnifying lens which is powerfully accurate when used in rifles. However he decides to abandon it when he realises just how dangerous it’s use is. This leads to him being ruthlessly pursued by another rival lens maker, the determined Prevert (Martina Gedeck of The Lives Of Others and Baader-Meinhof Complex fame) who will do anything to get the formula for the lucrative lens. Wherein comes the espionage thriller element of the film, but what of the gothic romance part? Well, after Artur dies Joana is the vulnerable vehicle through which Prevert decides to get the formula and she uses Vicent (Félix Gómez ) (as well as other devices, but I won’t reveal them here), a doppelganger to Joana’s fiancé Carles (Eduardo Noriega) to infiltrate Joana’s fortress-like home.

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Submarine, Dir. Richard Ayoade (2010)

Oliver (Craig Roberts) and Jordana (Yasmin paige) experience growing pains in a small town in South Wales.

Richard ‘Moss’ Ayoade  directing and writing his first film could go either way: self indulgent vanity project or quirky off-beat gem. Thankfully this film is the latter. Submarine, based on the book by Joe Dunthorne, charts the story of 15 year-old Oliver Tate (19 year-old Craig Roberts), a geeky loner growing up in South Wales in the 80s. Oliver falls desperately in love with a girl at his school, the cynical and disdainful Jordana (Yasmin Paige), and plots to charm her into bed with him (losing your virginity, as countless films show, being the most important thing for any teenage boy). He also has to deal with the problems of his very middle-class and prudish parents Jill and Lloyd (Sally Hawkins-who is unrecognisable from previous roles -and Noah Taylor). Lloyd, a marine biologist, suffers from manic depression and often sits staring into space; while Jill, a frustrated office administrator, is having an affair with their next door neighbour Graham (Paddy Considine), an arrogant spiritual guru with one of the most ridiculous mullets in cinema’s history. An affair which Oliver suspects and brings upon himself to investigate.

The cast are brilliant without exception, and the film is peopled with great and memorable characters. Roberts as Oliver portrays well the insular melodramatic angst of an unpopular teenager trying his best fit in and find an identity for himself, which involves things like phases of only listening to French singers. His rushed breathless recitation of facts also suggesting autistic tendencies. His awkward and nervous attempts at seducing Jordana, including taking Jordana to an industrial site after she tells him how much she dislikes romance, are touching and funny. As are his desperate and obvious attempts to keep his parents together by such methods as inventing  a seductive letter from Lloyd. Jordana, meanwhile, could’ve been a very dislikeable character, she is sarcastic and joins in bullying an overweight girl at school; but there is a vulnerability underneath her casual carelessness, and her behaviour is made clear when we learn her mother has a terminal illness. The scene where we witness Jordana’s disappointment as she realises Oliver is not going to come to see her mother in hospital (Oliver still investigating with her is particularly poignant.

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The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Dir. Ernst Lubitsch

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart, as shop workers Klara and Alfred, are a perfect pairing.


Rating: 10/10

So this is what they mean by the Lubitsch touch. This masterpiece leaves me wondering why rom-coms are just bloody awful nowadays, especially when compared to the classics of the 30’s and 40’s (maybe all the possibly interesting story-lines have been done too well already). The remake of this film the dreadful You’ve Got Mail (how dated it already seems) is a case in point.

This film set in  depression era Budapest, follows the workers of a leather goods shop the Matuschek and Company store, and is based a lot on Lubitsch’s own personal knowledge of the family-run retail business having come from a family that ran a tailor’s shop which he had helped out in.  The engaging cast of characters include the lonely and authoritarian shop owner Mr. Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan aka the wizard in Wizard of Oz), the hard working, cultured and intelligent salesman and bachelor Alfred (the wonderful James Stewart) who has slowly worked his way up the shop’s hierarch. Then there is the humble, knowing and affable clerk Ferencz Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut) who acts as Alfred’s confidante, the pretentious, obsequious and manipulative Pirovitch who slyly solicits favour from Matuschek’s wife and the wisecracking, savvy and ambitious errands boy Pepi (William Tracy).Finally there’s Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan), the love interest and ambitious and clever saleswoman who is at first Alfred’s arch nemesis. Little do Klara and Alfred that they while they are exchanging witty barbs (such as this brilliant perfectly-timed exchange: Alfred Kralik: There might be a lot we don’t know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth. Klara Novak (Miss Novak): Well I really wouldn’t care to scratch your surface, Mr. Kralik, because I know exactly what I’d find. Instead of a heart, a hand-bag. Instead of a soul, a suitcase. And instead of an intellect, a cigarette lighter… which doesn’t work.) they are falling in love with each other via anonymous correspondence.

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Pete Postlethwaite Tribute (1946-2011)

I was very saddened and shocked to hear of such a great actor’s demise, having not even known he was ill, he apparently kept it from a lot of people. He was an excellent Shakespearian and character  actor (and with such a memorable unusual face how could you forget his roles), able to really own his large variety of characters, imbuing his roles with pathos, humour and intelligence. I really have to see more of his films now but here of some of my fave performances out of the ones I have seen. RIP Pete:

1. The Usual Suspects (1994)

2. Romeo + Juliet  (1996)

3. Brassed Off  (1996)

4. The Constant Gardener (2005)

5. Criminal Justice (TV) (2008)

6. Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)

7. Amistad (1997)

Films I must see of his:

1. In The Name of the Father (1993)

2. Last of the Mohicans (1992)

3. The Town (2010)

4. Killing Bono (2011)