Life In A Day

After hearing a clip on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, I started a spot of digging to find out about this award winning, user-generated-content documentary. Social network powerhouse YouTube started the whole thing…

I’m excited.

Life In A Day was a global experiment produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin Macdonald to create a user-generated feature film shot in a single day. On July 24 2010, volunteers across the globe were given 24 hours to capture a glimpse of their life on camera. The most compelling and distinctive footage was chosen for the feature film.

The reason this film has excited me so much? It’s taken a medium which has been usurped by every corporate marketing firm out there, and reclaimed it for its intended purpose. To connect people.

Unfortunately, it’s not showing in Nottingham, so this is based on finding some interesting clips which in sparked some interesting ideas.

The final scene shows a woman sat in her car with one minute to go before the 25 July turns up. In the darkness she talks about what a tedious day she’s had, how’s she’s tried and failed to find something unique which she could appreciate. In the background is a HUGE thunderstorm. It’s not deliberately ironic.

It made me think; are there things we see everyday which, although humdrum to us, could ignite the greatest passion in others? I’m guessing the lady in the scene sees storms that size every week in the mid-west states of America, but for me, in humble old Blighty, it was pretty awesome.

Kevin MacDonald said (on a interview with BBC 4 Film Programme) that this film is intended to be uplifting; a message about enjoying life while it lasts. There’s a good Christian discipline to thank God for everything he has given you by grace - but when you’ve had a hard day at work, your car’s broken down and you’ve just been dumped it can be hard to find things to be thankful for. Yet, somehow, there always is, even if it’s just in the nature around us.

When the world and his dog has access to a HD camera, editing software and the internet how can you claim ‘authorship’ with a film like this?

This is a battle I’ve had in my professional life for years now. My answer: just because you’re literate doesn’t mean you can write. And it’s the same for this documentary. Only the very best clips were selected through an enormous editing process (a great skill in itself) and even then, they need the master eye of a director to craft them into a beautiful story, to give it a unique voice, set an emotional tone.

Having been so involved with the process, fingers crossed YouTube will hold a screening…

Bad Teacher


The Times 2 on Tuesday 14 June had a really interesting piece about women in film and a fascinating analysis called The Bechdel Test.

A movie passes if:

1. It has at least two women in it with names
2. Who to talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

Sadly, my weekend film trips were less than high-brow and first up was Bad Teacher, featuring Cameron Diaz. Based, not just on this litmus test, it failed.

Firstly, I’m not sure who this film is aimed at?

The car-wash and cosmetic surgery scenes are clearly there for the boys (I don’t ever need to see 34DD’s 6ft high on screen again) but they weren’t supposed to be funny. At least I don’t think so.

So what’s in it for the girls? Slapstick petty revenge (poison ivy apples) and one-liners which couldn’t cut butter. Not brilliant. Justin Timberlake (who has proved to have comic appeal on SNL in the states) and Lucy Punch do a good job at being the bumbling side-kicks to Cameron’s straight ‘guy’, but nothing was LOL.

Maybe, I’ve missed the point and Jake Kasdan (director) is taking a very post-feminist view where there is no male/ female audience in comedy anymore and that humour is really something about recognition regardless of your sex. Something which many stand-up comedians have said before. If you identify with the situation, you laugh.

So, that’s the problem.

Diaz does a good job as Elizabeth but I didn’t identify with her because she was such a flimsy, 1 dimensional character. Why’s she so money hungry? How on earth did she end up as a teacher? How did she almost marry a billionaire?! Some kind of autobiographical-montage would have been welcome.

But no. It’s got to be wide open and vague.

Rumour is this script did the rounds in Hollywood before Diaz agreed. Studio’s, I suspect, like to keep scripts like this as vague as possible so they can create a cheap romcom by numbers – any available leading lady could fit the bill (Anniston, Moore, Heigl, Roberts) and that’s why it can’t be specific.

Hollywood finally woke up to the idea of female directors (there were three on the panel at Canne this year) so maybe they should wake up to the idea of female comedy writers. Tina Fey has shown through SNL and five brilliant seasons of 30 Rock that women writers are hilarious and snapping at her heels is fellow SNL stalwart Kirsten Wiig with hotly anticipated ‘Bridesmaid’s’. Rumour is she wrote it in six days (having previously not written anything longer than an SNL skit before) and it’s already grossed millions at the box office. Can’t wait.

La Vie En Rose


Oh, oui, je suis un Francophile – don’t get excited, that’s about the limit of my French, but after watching La Vie en Rose last night (£3 in Tesco) I found myself adopting a convincing accent, but lacking a convincing vocab. C’est la vie.

A quick look online and I see the title translates to A Life in Pink – which is strange, as it wasn’t my impression of the film. In honesty, this film was a life in grey – lived to the full but not clearly defined.

I know nothing of Edith Piaf, except the infamous closing scene song, so I was excited to learn something new. And I did to a degree: her transient childhood, her misspent youth, her shady associates and the love of her life. However, the end credits left me with many questions – exactly how old was Edith when she died (she looked 100 when everyone else hadn’t aged)? Who was her husband? How long was she in America? What drugs was she on?

For a biographical film La Vie En Rose skirted around the detail, (which is why it’s not a documentary obviously), but I found it frustrating. Personally, I find it hard to engage with a character when at the end of almost every scene you’re sat there thinking why did that just happen (cloudy introduction of hardcore barbiturates and vague mentions of liver conditions)?

Maybe the French know all this about her and as a silly Englishwoman I shouldn’t be so stew-peed. I should be more French, accept the whole picture, and not drill down for detail. So I did. I loved the scenes in Montmartre. The struggling artists, the endless champagne, raw talent, beautiful Parisians, the twisted cobbled streets…the tragedy waiting to happen. I felt the urge to light up a Gauloises and sing La Marseillaise. It was like watching the Moulin Rouge but without the circus filter.

Again, and this is getting picky as it’s about a singer, the music did start to grate on me after two hours. She was a wonderful singer, that much is obvious, but even the diva can’t have loved the sound of her own voice as much as the film producers. To hear her contemporaries would have made the contrast of her own talent more pronounced and given the audience’s ears a break.

Marion Cotillard undoubtly deserved her Oscar – convincingly swinging from fresh-faced teenage rebel to bitchy old biddy.

Overall I think 4 out of 5 – it’s sparked a curiosity in me to find out more about her, but if I hear "Non, je ne regrette rien" again, it will be too soon.

Senner


I think documentaries are my new favourite thing to watch, this weekend I had a choice of two - Herzog's 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams' and 'Senner', an autobiographical feature about the F1 legend.

I picked the latter and was glad I did, because I enjoyed every moment. It felt as compelling and tense and emotional as the best drama I've seen, but so much more because it was about real people. The 'characters' (and there are plenty of them in this ego-fuelled sport) were fascinating.

All the drivers names were so familiar to me, and like this documentary, it was nice to reminisce about a snap shot in my life. F1 in the early 90s was a regular fixture on weekend TV in my house - the zoom and whizz from the cars was a pleasing audio trip down memory lane.

This film started a nice train of thought about the idea of celebrity. I knew who Senner was, but I couldn't tell you one thing about his private life. Thankfully, neither did this documentary. The focus was entirely about Senner's relationship with the sport, his passion for driving and his disinterest in all the peripheral technology and fame.

F1, I think is unique, it's vague. Who you support - the team or the driver? In the case of Ayrton - people loved him, what he represented, what he was - raw talent of mythical proportions - not politics, money and machines. Something so special when contrasted against who's in the game today (the preceding advert was for Tag Heuer sponsored by Louis Hamilton - arguably more famous for his girlfriend and sponsorship deals than what he can do on the track).

Senner's relationship with one-time team mate, Alain Prost, was something like an old-school arch nemesis. The 'I hate you but respect you' type. I think the comedic element came out to me as I'd watched Talladega Nights that morning and their public spats with the media reminded me of Ricky Bobby and Jean Girard. But it was fascinating. Clearly Max Clifford wasn't around to curb their PR, and it was refreshing to see their rivalry splashed out in snappy sound bites and bitchy one liners. Prost, most famously said “Ayrton's got a problem, he thinks because he believes in God, he's immortal”, after one chicane incident which saw the Frenchman exit the race early.

The audience already knows the tragic ending, so the comments about eternal life and Senner's open and profound faith in God, added an interesting dynamic to the feature.

Tragedy is the obvious point behind Asif Kapadia's documentary. Senner had a legendary status built up from an impressive talent, great looks and honest heart who was cut down at the height of his career. It was the death on an innocent. It was man's tampering with the machines which ended his life, not the human talent. Poignantly Senner ends with Ayrton lamenting his origins in the sport and the purity and thrill found in go-kart racing.

5 out 5 - loved every heart-stopping-driver-side-camera moment of it.

X Men First Class

On release this Wednesday is X-Men First Class. I’ve enjoyed about half of this endless franchise, the good (XMen - the original and best) the bad (Wolverine), and the downright ugly - (X-Men Last Stand – who thought Vinnie Jones would be a good idea?!) So I’ve eyed this prequel’s pre-release build up with more than a healthy amount of cynicism.

This week the BBC Radio 4 Film podcast had an interview with script writer Jane Goldman about the difficulties in making characters with super human powers, well, human. How can you challenge Magneto if he can escape from anything, how can you trick Xavier if he can read anyone’s mind?

Here’s the lightbulb moment. If you’re going to pursue a sequel/ prequel, and want to keep bums on seats at the cinema, you’ve got to find something different – people (I know I am) are getting tired of the same old special effects wow-a-thon. That’s why you need a talented writer, not some hack who’s there to make sure dialogue doesn’t get in the way of action, all out maddening action.

The two most interesting (and human) characters, Xavier and Magneto, have the most dynamic and, dare I say, human relationship. Xavier believes humanity and mutants can coexist, but Magneto believes in war and dominance. The exploration of this alone would make an amazing movie – the idea of what is a ‘hero’ made for great entertainment, and intelligent film making, in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Proof.

I’m not saying we need to get all super serious, these films are ultimately based on comics, which were originally for kids. But, with great budgets comes great responsibility. To keep people coming back for more, you’ve got to give them something new.

Sadly, I don’t think XMen First Class is going to cut it – I hear Magneto single handily starts the Bay of Pigs. I’m looking forward to seeing that turn up in some kid’s GCSE course work. Sigh.

BFI top 100 missed


In my weekly frenzy of booking brand new releases to my Love Film account I was struck by how many classic films I've never seen, but always intended to.

So, I was pleased to see the BFI have done half the job for me by supplying their top 100 movies, here's the one's I've missed (which look good):

1. The Third Man - As a fan of Graham Greene books, I'm annoyed I've never got round to watching this classic noir mystery.

2. Lawrence of Arabia - history epic when Peter O'Toole was hot (literally).

3. The 39 Steps - Hitchcock thriller which has escaped me - I need to watch it it's on at the theatre all the time!

4. Kes - I think I've seen half of this, but as the catalyst for so wasted-youth drama since (This iS England, NEDS) I think I'll like it, in a depressing kind of way.

5. The Lady Killers - Shocking. I've never seen an Ealing comedy.

6. Chariots of Fire - Normally sporting genre films don't get me that excited (I blame Rocky) but this is obviously about so much more - plus it's set in the 1920s so the track fashion is awesome.

7. Gandhi - Richard Attenborough's award winner about the life and times of this exceptional figure, with the state of the world, I'm hoping his passive politics will be rousing rather than disheartening.

8. The Ipcress File - I love spy movies and this is the daddy of them all!

9. The Remains of the Day - Merchant Ivory, Emma Thomas and Anthony Hopkins. YOu know it's good. The struggle between love and duty will make Downton Abbey look like Eastenders.

10. Goodbye Mr Chips - As a future trainee teacher, this is a tale of dedication to education.

11. A Clockwork Orange - I really Kubrick films but this one has escaped me beacuse I'm a pansy when it comes to on-screen violence. In light of what's followed since, maybe the controversy around this flick will seem a bit more tame.

12. Nil By Mouth - Gary Oldman's directoral debut about a working class family's struggles. Gritty and (hopefully not) realistic is how Cannes described it. Just hope I can see past the 522 F words.

13. The Killing Fields - Harrowing true story about New York journalist trapped and escaping the Khmer Rouge uprising. There's something so much more compelling about a story you know was lived for real, and this is an area of history I'm a bit wholly on, being to young at the time to understand.

Father's Day films


After reading Peter Bradshaw's top 10 Father's Day films on the Guardian this morning it got me thinking about my (decidely less high-brow) choices. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2011/jun/08/best-films-fathers-day

Sadly mine only make sense if you're my Dad, as there's little content about parental relationships. But here goes, my top 5:

1. The Young Frankenstein: Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks - you can't go wrong. This was one of the first films my Dad taped (yes VHS!) off the telly when we got our video player at Christmas - probably circa 1992. I was too young to get all the jokes, but I loved it and I think that's testament to Gene Wilder's mad performance. I can still sing all the words to his version of 'Putting on the Ritz'.

2. Some Like It Hot: another one of my Dad's favourites and my introduction to another great comedy. Jack Lemon is the real star in this madcap movie - 'Zowie!'

3. Star Wars (IV): Dad's attempts to get my brothers and me to each veg was to make a sausage stew with beans, sweetcorn, peppers and tonnes of onions and call it Star Wars Stew. We feined disregard, but secretly hoped Hans Solo had created this secret yummy-chowder.

4. Carry on up the Khyber: My Father is a pretty serious chap for the most part, but he loves the cheeky innendo and slapstick of the Carry On films. So much so, he insisted the head table (film theme) at my brother's wedding would carry this title. I'm not a big fan, but everytime they're on telly at Christmas I always think of my father chuckling away and cracking nuts (because it's Christmas, that's not a double entendre).

5. Back to the Future: 'Woah, heavy' (McFly) 'Is there a problem with gravity in the future?' (Doc) - Geoff, never one to miss a good pun/ bad use of language still finds this hillarious. Bless.

27 Dresses

Before the Ugly Truth there was 27 Dresses. This time Abby, sorry, I mean Jane, is on the hunt for love after surviving a movie-montage of Manhattan weddings.

Luckily, Jane knows she’s as much of a cliché as the film. So with a nice nod and wink from the script writer, Heigl get’s to poke fun at her own performance, (which for all intends and purposes is the same as ‘Abby’), cringing away at Jane’s unlucky antics. She’s Bridget Jones, but with better clothes and more attractive friends.

By contrast to Butler, James Marsden (Kevin) is a convincing leading man: a cynical journalist with a secret penchant for crying at weddings. Just like Goldilocks’ porridge he’s just right. He’s not a pathetic sop whose ex broke his heart, and he’s not some sleazy wise guy over compensating.
We’re back to a predictable formula, but this time, that final kiss is lusty and convincing. Hooray. They smooch, the audience cheer.

Of course, Jane would be the biggest bunny boiler in real life – that sad wardrobe full of dresses, the subscriptions to bridal magazines and infatuation with her boss would see Kevin run for the hills rather than jovially stick-around for a date. But that’s beside the point. Rom-com fans are happy to suspend belief, so long as they live happily ever after.

3 out of 5 – good performance, better sports training montage.

The Ugly Truth

From the opening scene, you know exactly what is going to happen, so in that sense, it’s very obviously, and satisfyingly, predictable. What I didn’t expect was the casual and constant innuendo, ‘lad’ language and vibrators. Not your usual fair for a chick-flick. It was like hearing your granny swear. Kind of funny, slightly shocking and definitely wrong.

Katherine Heigl plays Abby Richter, an uptight television producer in Sacramento who, we’re led to believe, falls (against her better judgment of course) for Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), a jock TV personality who’s thrust upon her to boost ratings. They’re supposed to hate each other. Luckily Mike puts this aside, and decides to become her dating coach – to prove his point, that men just want a Kim Wilde look-a-like with a filthy mouth.

Abby goes for it, and wow, look what happens she ends up with Mike, realising it’s best to be an uptight control freak – but now with hair extensions and a wonderbra. Good compromise.

I’m not sure about this one; I kind of liked it because I was in the mood for frippery and entertainment, and I appreciated that it was trying to be different by adding in the ‘adult’ language, but the screwball situations didn’t quite raise the LOL’s they’re supposed to (fellating a hotdog; the orgasmic dinner; falling out of tree face first into your neighbours crotch).

Ultimately, I didn’t really like the overt sexist – and I’m not burning bras here – Mike’s advice would have made Don Draper blush. (Something Heigle complained about after it was released apparently). Also, I couldn’t stand Abby, for someone so determined and ambitious, she pretty quickly gives up all self-respect to follow Mike’s advice. Plus, she’s simply annoying. Not only do her and Mike lack chemistry, I kind of found myself hoping Mike would end up with one of the jello-twins instead.

2.5 of 5 – sassy, but not sexy. Those ‘Hollywood kisses’ weren’t believable for me.

Chick-flick-rom-com-a-thon

Bit of a Katherine Heigl chick-flick double whammy this weekend. On Sunday I was trussed up as a bridesmaid so what better excuse than to get together with the bride on the night before and watch a good old fashioned chick flick – but the first one, was definitely not that old fashioned.

Legion

Oh my goodness. What can I say.

Paul Bettany’s pained expression throughout the film mirrored that of mine.

As a fallen angel he inexplicably lands in LA, with just enough time to slice off his wings, kill a cop and steal a car, before heading out to help the yokels at a depressing truck stop in Nevada desert. He’ll help them fight off ‘throngs’ of avengers while Mr & Mrs yokel sneak off with the second coming. Problem is, he’s only got about two guns, the wrath of heaven turns out to be possessed old ladies, ice-cream van drivers and bored extras. It’s okay, because just when the action looks like it’s getting slow, the arch-angel Gabriel turns up all bad-ass with a button-action mace and bullet proof wings.

I’ll start with the pity I felt for the excited actors interviewed during filming for the DVD extras. Apparently, before the edit, this film was going to be inspiring, with great characterisation, something that really pushes the envelope in this genre. My response; what flipping genre?!

Legion can’t decide if it’s a comedy, action, horror, drama or even sci-fi. It might have worked if it just stuck to one, but instead it awkwardly limps from one genre to another, doing a half-arsed, pitiable job. It was like an injured dog: someone put it out of its misery.

I’m wholly confident that if God wanted to destroy mankind, he’d know a bunch of zombie angel-human hybrids would be the most efficient way. Send another flood and have done with it.

0.5 out of 5 – for Denis Quaid - who worked out what a joke this film was going to be and acted accordingly.

Blue Valentine


I opted for doomed young love (Blue Valentine) rather than cute one-liners last night (Morning Glory) and I think I'm glad I did. I'm not sure. The pre-Oscars hype suggested I'd be all over this but this tale left me feeling a bit hmmm, thoughtful. Like many good films, I'm not sure I liked it.

The premise is that we watch in real time the demise of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy's (Michelle Williams) young marriage while experiencing flashbacks to happier times when their love first blossomed.

Director Derek Cianfrance’s chose to shoot the real-time scenes with this dull, blue filter which has the effect of washing out the colour, making their world seems as drab and lifeless as their love for each other. Or as one critic said, "as if the celluloid itself has been quietly weeping".

We contrast this with the more vibrant, crisp, clearer flashbacks from happier times before. Of note, are the end credits which have a wonderful firework metaphor - colours of light burst out and reveal happy photos of Dean & Cindy which instantly fade away with the phosphorescent light.

My problem with the film is that Cianfrance took 12 years to make this and, I think, still didn't quite get it right. The contrast should have been more pronounced. Flashbacks, like all memories need to have a slight nostalgic, dream-like, fading and rose-tinted feel - they should be more intense in colour, vague in detail.

Every failed relationship has a longing for the past - a longing where our memories conveniently wipe out the annoying habits, the irritating sayings, the boring hum-drum days and replace it all with perfection, witty conversations and endless excitement.

Dean lives for his 'honeymoon' world. His job at the removal company means he knows the drag of carrying baggage - he's only interested in the purity of love - it's uplifting, light and freeing feeling. So once reality kicks in he struggles to accept Cindy as the girl she really is. One who had huge potential which was taken away in an instant, literally - sperm travels fast. He longs for the pedestal moments, where he visualised perfection, true love at first sight, all the things (he admits) are down to watching too many Hollywood movies. Cindy on the other hand is frustrated with life - she envies Dean's freedom and despises that he is uninterested in it.

While Dean is stuck in the past, Cindy by contrast is routed in the depressing present. Something she's aware of, and seemingly, Dean is not - as shown by his misguided attempt to rekindle their spark with a disastrous night in the (ironically named) Future Room.

The biggest question though is what went wrong? Cianfrance is successful in showing that falling out of love can be as mysterious as falling in love. The ending is suitably vague. Cindy screams for a divorce while Dean throws his wedding ring away, but his immediate regret and her help to locate this symbol suggest they might just be in the eye of the storm. Who knows. It's refreshing to see some genuine, well acted, carefully written drama on the big screen. Hurrah.

I think I'll give it 4 out of 5, even if just for Williams excellent performance (she can REALLY play hurt, defiance and grief well).