Mama (Canada-Spain, 2013)

“Where’s mama?”

I’m doing some work on Guillermo del Toro so watched Mama as one of the films he executive produced and I’m pleased I did (I think). ‘I think’ because I was genuinely scared and that’s the first purpose of horror films. Of course they’re more interesting if they also have something to say, like last year’s Get OutMama is about parenthood and childhood trauma when parents fall short. I think Kim Newman gets it wrong in his Empire review where he complains that we get to see the monster too early. Because we’re not particularly concerned about what the monster is, though there is a detailed subplot explaining the why, we can focus on the children who’ve spent five years living on their own.

Guillermo del Toro was so impressed by Andrés Muschietti’s short of the same name that he facilitated the feature length version, co-written with Muschietti’s sister, Barbara who also produced. They both went on to make It, one of the big hits from 2017.

Mama owes a lot to J-horror, particularly in the contorted movements of the monster but also through the creepy mise en scene, such as stains on the wall. The CGI is not overblown and most of the shocks come from the editing. A great horror movie to make going to sleep an issue.

The performances of the children are superb, a tribute most likely to Muschietti’s direction. Children are recurring characters in Del Toro’s work, probably as a consequence of his owned traumatised childhood in a Jesuit school. I shall have to watch It.

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Dunkirk (UK, 1958)

Done before Nolan

In a Sight & Sound  interview about his Dunkirk Christopher Nolan suggested he was filling a gap in film history. Presumably, like me, he was ignorant of Ealing’s 1958 version and it is a good that the earlier film has now been unearthed. Directed by Leslie Norman, and based on Elleston Trevor’s novel The Big Pick Up and two historical books, the Ealing picture takes a more expansive view, following troops, led by John Mills’ working class corporal, making their way to the coast and Bernard Miles’ sceptical journalist who ends up joining the rescue flotilla. I expected a typical British ’50s war film, where the glories of the war are celebrated during a time when the country’s world status was in steep decline (a bit like now really), however it is an often subtle look at the nuances of the ‘phoney war’ and official incompetence.

Although it cannot match the spectacle of last year’s film it is a big budget movie and the Dunkirk beach scenes are superbly done. In addition to Mills and Miles, Richard Attenborough guilds the cast playing a slight variant on his ‘coward’ persona. I shall have to revisit ’50s British war films as they clearly are not all designed to make the likes of Simon Heffer stand to attention – in a BBC documentary he declared that the theme music of The Dambusters (I think) was enough to make him want to do so.

Wonder Woman (US, 2017)

Game changer?

The top three movies at the North American box office last year all featured female protagonists (the others were the latest Star Wars and Beauty and the Beast). Whether Hollywood, which tends to follow the money, will at last conclude that female centred films are winners remains to be seen. Director Patty Jenkins has explained (here) how she feminised the action movie and she’s produced a witty, occasionally thrilling, convincing riposte to any fanboys who think women shouldn’t have a prominent role in action cinema. Mad Max: Fury Road  was one film that drew the ire of boys who feel women don’t belong in the ‘genre’ – for example.

Chris Pratt is excellent support and plays the (slightly) punctured male ego with skill whilst Gal Gadot has old school charisma and would be interesting to see in civvies. Incidentally the scene where she has to try on women’s clothing from the early 20th century is very funny.

I’m not very interested in superhero films but was glad to enjoy this one.

Review of the Year

Top Films

  1. Blade Runner 2049
  2. Dunkirk
  3. Mudbound
  4. mother!
  5. Moonlight
  6. The Handmaiden
  7. Jackie
  8. Get Out
  9. The Olive Tree
  10. Hidden Figures

Top TV

  1. Godless
  2. The Handmaid’s Tale
  3. Alias Grace
  4. Top of the Lake: China Girl
  5. The Missing – series 2

Top films seen last year

  1. Blade Runner 2049
  2. Vertigo
  3. Dunkirk
  4. I, Daniel Blake
  5. mother!
  6. Moonlight
  7. The Handmaiden
  8. Mulholland Drive
  9. Blade Runner
  10. Interstellar

Top Albums

  1. Clare Teal, Twelve o’ Clock Tales
  2. Black String, Mask Dance
  3. Bugge Wessltoft, Somewhere in Between
  4. Jenny Hval, Blood Bitch
  5. The Rite of Spring, RLPO – Petrenko
  6. Lewis & Leigh, Ghost
  7. Nadia Reid, Preservation
  8. The National, Sleep Well Beast
  9. Arcade Fire, Everything Now
  10. The Flaming Lips, Oczy Mlody

Top Books

  1. Another Country James Baldwin
  2. Black and British: A Forgotten History, David Olusoga
  3. A Child in Time, Adrian Tchaikovsky
  4. The Game of Our Lives, David Goldblatt
  5. What Man Is, David Szalay
  6. Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Have Cornered Culture and What It Means For All Of Us, Jonathan Taplin
  7. The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser
  8. A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson
  9. Everybody Brave Will Be Forgiven, Clive Cleave
  10. Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes

Top live

  1. Cambridge Folk Festival
  2. Koyaanisqaatsi, GoGo Penguin, Howard Assembly Room – Leeds
  3. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Petrenko – Town Hall, Leeds
  4. Maarja Nuut, Howard Assembly Rooms – Leeds
  5. Leila Josefowicz and John Novacek, Howard Assembly Room – Leeds
  6. Skylight, David Hare – Theatr Clywd, Mold
  7. Lisa O’Neill, The Brudenell Social Club – Burley
  8. Pixels Ensemble – Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, Leeds
  9. Janacek and Mascagni ‘Little Greats’ – Opera North – Leeds
  10. Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards – The Live Room, Saltaire