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Hector. Film Review.

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I was privileged to be at the premiere of this great movie at the Edinburgh International Film Festival tonight as guest of the co-producer, Simon Mallinson.

It’s a low budget tale with a big human story at its heart that is carried off with consumate ease by its eponymous lead, Peter Mullan.

Mullan has slowly but surely risen up the star league over many, many years, but few parts can have given him such screen time, such total empathy with the viewer and such character.

Most people associate Mullan with aggressive, gritty, hard Scottish character parts but this, although gritty and Scottish, is the complete antithesis of that.  He plays a long term homeless man that still cares about his appearance and his ability to integrate into his own form of society – his “real family” as he calls it.

It opens on Hector carefully going through his morning ablutions, only for the camera shot to widen and reveal that these are taking part in the public toilet of a northern Scottish shopping centre.  Such is the lot of a homeless person that cares about how they look.

It’s a road movie of sorts in that it follows the endless winter migrations of Mullen’s character, Hector, North and South across the UK, sleeping in the outdoors, public toilets, motorway service station car parks, shopping centres but more positively in a London Christmas homeless shelter where he has, over the years, become something of a cause celebre.

The tedium of his life is beautifully realised in the succession of lifts he gets from kind hearted (and possibly lonely) lorry and van drivers and the slow pace emphasises the sheer monotony of a life with no real purpopse.

And his situation, already bleak is heightened by the fact that every step he takes is contorted by some form of unexplained leg pain.  Hector’s life is clearly far from a picnic.

But, despite this, what lies at the movie’s core is the milk of human kindness.

Each lift acquired, each gesture of charity (a free cup of tea, a shared meal, the tenderness of the London homeless centre’s manager, played beautifully by Sarah Solemani) adds weight to the fact that homeless people are more often than not castigated for their situation, assumed to be beggars, spongers, theives.

But, the truth is, each has a story, a reason, for their situation.  And it’s this kindness that Hector elicits, dramatised in tiny vignettes again and again, that marks this movie out from the usual “it’s grim up north” docudrama that dwells constantly on the misery of life where one is cast aside from society.

It would be wrong to explain why Hector finds himself in his own situation, and for so long, so I won’t spoil it.  It sort of doesn’t matter, but we are curious.  What does matter is how Mullan crafts his perfectly rendered character into a lovable, sympathetic man and the absolute epitome of what makes people good.

To that end director and writer (based on a true story) Jake Gavin is to be congratulated on not only what is a decisive and confident debut but also a great human love story that potentially offers more to come.

Hector could come back, that’s for sure.



Nightcrawler Review
October 31, 2014, 10:47 pm
Filed under: movies, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

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You leave the movie theatre with a slightly sick feeling of guilt after watching Nightcrawler.  Guilt that you actually enjoyed this rather original moviemaking set in an ethical and moral vacuum.  In that sense the movie is entirely ironic.  You shouldn’t be enjoying this stuff.

It’s an exposition of entirely greed-induced (financial and ego driven) naked ambition that rivals Wolf of Wall Street for it’s blithe abandon of normal ethical practice.

Gyllenhaal, as Louis Bloom, almost cadaveresque after his dramatic weight loss for the part, is as unsympathetic a movie character as you’ve seen in a very long time.  His back story, which is precisely zilch, renders him a characte in search of a meaning.  A loner, a drifter, a thief, unemployed (unemployable is the truth) and entirely without remorse – emotion for that matter – stumbles upon a freelance career as an, at first hapless then really rather good, ambulance chasing ‘scene of the crime’ news cameraman.

Starting with motorway crashes and graduating to suburban crime scenes (where the threat of middle America being intruded upon by ‘Hispanics’ and other Liberal American ethnic minorities) he captures more and more challenging newsreel material that feeds the sensation-lust of an LA loser News Station’s News Editor, Nina Romina, played deliciously by Rene Russo.

Romina’s sponsorship of, and belief in, the expert blagging of Bloom feeds his desire for greater success and indeed for Romina herself.  In a toe curling ‘date’ at a camp Mexican restaurant Bloom lays it on the line with Romina in a scene of toe-curling embarrassment.  It’s as if Gyllenhaal is playing for laughs, but he’s deadly serious.

Throughout, Gyllenhaal commands the screen.  The Nightime lighting constantly picking out his skeletal, eye bulging look that makes him look like the devil incarnate.  This truly is an evil character and Gyllenhaal’s trademark smirk only adds to the perverse sense of evil pleasure he is gaining as his success mushrooms.

A recurring theme in the movie is his watering of a pot plant in his flat.  It’s as if it’s the only living thing he cares two bucks about.  Certainly his hapless sidekick/assistant Rick, played by Riz Ahmed, has next to no chance in this little hothouse world of emotion-free ambition.

Gyllenhaal’s faux management style ‘development’ of Rick is at times darkly amusing but usually just plain vacuous and ironic given that he draws from real world self help and management lingo that’s bad enough in the corporate world, but downright bizarre in this micro universe.

The car chases are gripping edge of seat affairs, the plot, although it has holes in the final reel (quite big ones I felt) is nevertheless highly original and unfolds at a steady pace.

The conclusion was, to my mind at least, a little disappointing, but aside from this a good, dark, star vehicle for Jake and possibly a step towards another best actor nomination.



The Hippodrome, Boness

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Tonight I finally got along to see a movie at The Hippodrome in Bo’ness.  If you live anywhere within 20 miles of this magnificent establishment I urge you to make it your first choice cinema.

It is simply beautiful.  All red velvet, art deco signage and great strip lights in the floor, not to mention the star spangled ceiling (an utter delight in itself).

At 102 years old it is the oldest purpose built cinema in the land but has been lovingly refurbished and kitted out with the latest digital technology.

The seats are comfortable.

It’s cosy.

It has, wait for it…a Balcony!

The ticket price is affordable (only £5.85). And they do Orange Wednesdays.

The drinks and ice creams are remarkably cheap.  Wine and coffee for about a fiver.

The staff are charming.

There’s free parking

But the best thing is, it’s like you’ve gone back in time to how cinema ought to be.

The find of the year by far, so far.



Great night at the cinema 1920’s style

To celebrate Halloween Jeana and I went to see the 1920’s original production of Jeckyl and Hyde made by Paramount and starring John Barrymore.

It showed at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall foer one night only and was accompanied by the collosal Usher Hall organ.

To be honest it was hilarious in places and certainly bnot scary but some nice special effects, mainly achieved through double exposure.  Here’s a few stills from the movie that I managed to capture on my G11.  It was kinda dark as you can imagine so they could be better but you’ll get the general idea.

Screen with organ behind

They didn't exactly hold back on the subtitling

Barrymore as Jeckyl

Jeckyl falling into the hands of temptation

The experiment

Hyde pounces



Slumdog Millionaire

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Well, the critics are getting awfully excited about this film, so I’d like to join the debate with a strong note of caution.

This is a pretty good movie but I think the imperfection that lies at its heart is what stops it being a great movie. namely, the acting. Of it’s 10 Oscar nominations not a single one is for the performances of its leading players and that is, in my view, totally appropriate.

This movie is too much of a pick n mix affair to truly satisfy. The central cinematic device at its core, telling a life story (in three sub-generations; infant, child and teen) means that its too stop-start to really fully engage. What you find is that the two younger sections of the film are both more believable and more engaging than the latter stage which starts to unravel in credibility the more it develops.

The performances of the two younger Jamals are light of touch, frequently hilarious – particularly in the movie’s highlight where the youngest Jamal exits the latrines in true Trainspotting style – and quite moving. Poor old, rather wooden and not especially engaging, Dev Patel has to deal with a plot that is becoming more ridiculous by the moment as his pursuit of the beautiful Latika verges, at times, on the preposterous. How Jamal can continually cross paths with the object of his affection so often in a city with a population twice that of the whole of the UK was beyond me.

OK, that’s all the bad stuff out of the way, now let’s turn to the positives. The cinematography (an Oscar nod for Anthony Dod Mantle) and sound design in this movie combine to stunning effect at times. It’s like a Discover documentary at its best and you simply cannot get enough of Mumbai, which is given added oomph by the music of A.R. Rahman who picks up no less than three Oscar nominations. Nice use of MIA’s music in places too.

It’s actually all the technical disciplines that this movie excels in and has been recognised for (sound, sound editing, music, cinematography and editing). so that neatly brings us to its direction.

Danny Boyle.

What to make of him?

Well, a director’s job is to realise all aspects of a production from performance to technical. I think the script blew his chances of the former but he has excelled at the latter and to many it is seen as the highlight of his career. I beg to differ. His track record is patchy to say the least. Trainspotting is by far the most overrated film of its generation (not a patch on his brilliant Shallow Grave), The Beach and A Life Less Ordinary are best glossed over. But 28 Days Later is as good a horror movie as has been made since The Shining, and Sunshine is as good as it gets in Sci fi. Both are, in my humble opinion at least, better movies than Slumdog.

But you lot don’t seem to agree. A quick look at Boyle’s IMDB ratings shows that the public consider Slumdog his masterpiece with a rating of 8.7 (astonishingly, that places it 34th in IMDB’s all time list). How is this possible in a seemingly foolproof ratings mechanism?

Early enthusiasm?

Maybe as the ratings mature he will come back to the field. I’d think that will indeed be the case as old moaners like me get our way.

Here are all his cinematic releases and how IMDB rate them; and my own views. Please feel free to scoff or agree as you see fit.

Slumdog IMDB 8.7 Me 7

Sunshine IMDB 7.3 Me 9

28 Days later IMDB 7.5 Me 9

Shallow Grave IMDB 7.4 Me 9

Trainspotting IMDB 8.2 Me 5 (this is ranked 182 of all time on IMDB – Holy cow!)

The Beach IMDB 6.2 Me 5

For the record A Life Less Ordinary picks up 6.4 and Millions gets a 7.2 on IMDB. I haven’t seen either, but the bit of ALLO that I saw looked poor.

I like Slumdog a lot I have to say, but its imperfections were too significant to overlook. Much as I hoped it would indeed be the ‘feelgood movie of all time’ (or whatever the marketing blurb claims) it wasn’t, but it was a great visual and aural spectacle that merits a trip to your local cinema.

7 out of 10.



Burn after reading by The Coen Brothers

Even geniuses can have a bad day at the office.

Frankly, the best thing about this movie is the poster.  The rest of it adds up to a whole heap of nothing.  Unquestionably the Coens’ poorest movie; it just never gets going.  The trouble starts with the writing which has its moments, not many of them mind you, and only then if you like the idea of John Malcovitch with Tourettes.  There is an amusing moment with a highly complex sex toy so it’s strange to see them sacrifice the more subtle end of their humour register for fairly crass fare.

It just feels like something the brothers dashed off in their lunch break.  The plot is pretty wooly and the point of it?  Well, I could see no great subliminal message.

Brad Pitt must have gone to the screenings and thought.”OMG what was I thinking of.  I am awful, like A-W-F-U-L.”  He’s not just bad, he’s criminally bad with his truly nauseating campy, gay but not gay, creepy yukky characterisation of a bungling idiot. (I didn’t like him in this).  But, maybe it’s just me, every lady in the audience guffawed every time he appeared on screen, at what I know not.

George Clooney just about passes muster as a paranoid serial womaniser and the best of the ladies (as per usual) is Frances McDormand, but again it’s far from her towering performance in Fargo and Tilda Swinton goes through the motions.

It is such a shame that this, The Coens’ first major league film – as a result of the success of No Country – had to be so poor.



Progress?

Holywood studios are concerned about the effects of piracy and for some reason, I’m not up on the technical side of things, are pushing forward with the digitalisation of cinemas.  The cost of this is approximately £50k per screen and the multinationals (owned by the studios in reality) can afford to take it on the chin.

However if, like me, you prefer to buy your films in independent cinemas (in Edinburgh that means The Cameo, Filmhouse and Dominion) you may be in for a shock.  These types of cinemas simply do not have £50k a pop to do this.

The result.

Out of business.

Predictions are that 300 of the UK’s 400 independent screens will go bust.  Surely this is a one off case for government intervention.  400 x £50k is a mere £2 million pounds.

If they can sink 500 squillion into the banking network it must be worth a mere £2 million to save a way of life.

Should we start a petition?  I’m up for it.