Thor (US, 2011)

Oedipal shenanigans

Yet another male having to prove himself to his father… yawn. Oedipus and Freud are probably the fathers of Hollywood. Are Hollywood execs yearning to prove themselves to their fathers? Are their lives so empty that they constantly seek self-realisation in the resolution of the narrative? So why am I bothering to blog this film?

I’m not familiar with the Marvel comic source material but the film version does offer, at least, a slightly more subtle version of masculinity than, say, Schwarzenegger’s Conan. Chris Hemsworth’s pretty boy musculinity does manage to find a non militaristic way of being a man. I won’t be giving the film away by telling you that the catalyst for this is a woman: Natalie Portman’s attractive (under-statement) scientist.

Visually the film’s OK; by that I mean it’s pretty stunning but CGI’s ability to do anything has rendered it virtually incapable of creating genuine spectacle. I ended up in the 3D version which only confirmed that, for this type of cinema, it is entirely unnecessary; something multiplex audiences are starting to agree with by choosing the cheaper 2D versions this summer over the 3D offerings.

Attack the Block (UK, 2011)

High class exploitation

After two weeks on release in the UK Attack the Block was just shy of £2m at the box office; not bad for a British film but this terrific, brainy exploitation movie should be mopping up the dosh. Its marketing profile has been reasonable but it seems that the buzz for movies amongst multiplex audiences can’t get beyond the summer blockbusters. So it’s Pirates 4 and Hangover 2 that people hanker, and hunger, for not home produced, crowd pleasing movies. Hollywood’s hegemony is absolutely secure.

Which is a pity as this is a superbly made film featuring aliens invading Brixton. Everything about the film is familiar: it’s a Roger Corman creature-feature mixed with the Children’s Film Foundation films of the ’70s; it’s John Carpenter and Walter Hill… and it’s British. If the film had been set in the ‘hood’, rather than the ‘block’, and the trailer featured the gravelly-stupid American voice then I suspect it would have done much better at the box office.

If the film sounds derivative, the experience is actually refreshing. Writer-director Joe Cornish isn’t afraid to take risks; the film starts with nice white girl (Jodie Whitaker) getting mugged by nasty black boy (Moses played by John Boyega). Racially risky, however the film’s intelligence deals with the trope by fleshing out the lead character so we know him as an individual and not a racist trope. Cornish, a first time director and known as the Joe part of ‘Adam and Joe’, shoots the estate with great skill and uses the ensemble cast with convincing authenticity.

If you only go and see one move this summer, you must see Attack the Block.

Hierro (Spain, 2009)

Against the odds

This has a 5.6 user rating on imdb and I can only imagine that audiences, expecting a horror movie, were disappointed by the slow pace of this beautifully made film. Mostly shot on the desolate Canary island, Hierro, this Orphange-influenced mother-looking-for-son film is graced by fabulous direction by Gabe Ibanez (his first feature). Although the film retreads the brilliant Orphanage, there is plenty of mileage in the narrative. The film should be seen if only for the brilliantly constructed mise en scene which is complimented by an expressive use of framing.

Hierro is a rare film that grips from the first shot, a car being driven on an isolated road in the dark by an anxious mother with fidgety child. Generically we know there’s going to be a crash but Ibanez’s cutting to the boy’s toy car adds both foreboding and a ‘fantastic’ element to the scene (‘fantastic’ as in Todorov’s definition when it’s unclear whether events are supernatural or not).

The protagonist, Elena Anaya (familiar from Sex and Lucia) is a beguiling presence and if there are a few plot holes (why did the police let everyone off the ferry when there was a child missing?) it matters little when the direction is so riveting.

Oranges and Sunshine (UK-Aus, 2010)

Too much of a story to tell?

What can you say about a film when you admire its message and dislike its way of telling? It’s both good and bad, I suppose. This terrific story about a social worker who discovers that 130000 children were deported illegally, with governments’ connivance, from Britain to Australia and attempts to reunite them with their… well, it always seems to be mothers, but they must have had dads too. Therein lies one of the problems: the lack of detail.

The film suggests that, as in The Magdalene Sisters (Ire-UK, 2002), that the children are the produce of ‘fallen women’ but I guess the destitute (as shown in the director’s dad’s Cathy Come Home, BBC, 1966) weren’t spared. There’s a great tale of class prejudice and exploitation here, the children were treated like slaves in Australia, but this is the story of Margaret Humphreys, the amazing woman who brought the injustice to light. Could you tell her tale and the political chicanery behind it? Possibly only via a documentary.

What we’re given is a blur of events; a massive sense of injustice; deep admiration for Humphreys and her long-suffering family. That’s a lot but, for me, it wasn’t enough. The deportations only ended in 1970, some of  the people involved will still be alive and they should be DONE for what they did.

Pina (Ger-Fr-UK, 2011)

Depth perception

I’ve been pretty much unconvinced by the current fad for 3D but Wim Wenders’ documentary on choreographer Pina Bausch suggests there is a reason to wear two pairs of spectacles in the cinema. I was entirely unfamiliar with Bausch, however I’m now craving for more having found the excerpts offered in the documentary frustrating in their brevity. This isn’t a criticism as it’s not primarily a filmed performance of her work and, in fact, the extracts are extended; I just wanted the whole lot. Her distinctive, twitchy, ballet seems to offer a brilliant rendition of alienation.

The film’s mostly dance with interpolated talking heads of her company predictably offering a hagiography; however, by the end I believed what they said about Bausch.

I didn’t find the 3D perspective convincing, however as ballet is inherently stylised the distorted space presented to us probably intensified the action. What it did add was a sense of the physicality of the dance as the movement was more obvious in three dimensions. It no doubt helped that Wenders is an experienced director who’s spent 20 years pondering how to render Bausch’s work.

The cinema I saw it in – the National Media Museum’s little Cubby – was packed so hopefully it will come back again.

The Eagle (US-UK, 2011)

I AM a man

I enjoyed the first half hour of this as it portrayed a Roman outpost under seige from Brits… Though, it was a bit strange being ‘positioned’ by the film to sympathise with the Roman soldiers, especially when they efficiently dispatched my ancestors (though I’ve probably got Roman ancestors too). However…

This is a world without women (no female has dialogue) and the narrative drive is the protagonist’s search for the ‘eagle of the ninth’ to vindicate his father and find out if dad fought to the bitter end. I think I am desperately bored by Oedipal narratives. Channing Tatum takes lead, an actor whose neck appears to be thicker than his head, with no disguising his American accent; even Mark Strong has one! Jamie Bell, as Channing’s sidekick, does nothing with his role; but then there’s not a lot to do but look grim and fight.

This hysterically macho film concludes with a portentous burial of the dead who sacrificed themselves to bring a toy eagle back from Scotland (sorry if I spoiled it): possibly the best – unintentionally – anti war message ever filmed.