Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Simon and Jo Film Show 28/02/2010

From the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley we 'celebrate' Mark Kermode. Kind-of. We then sit in Dan & DeCarlo's cafe to talk about, amongst the films on release, Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, Jean-Pierre Jenuet's MICMAC's, Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away and Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love.

A small discussion on the BAFTA winners and an analysis of the Oscar nominee's for Best Animation, Best Documentary and Best Film Not in the English Language.

Blogs mentioned:
Lots of stuff on He Shot Cyrus and more on the Kid in the Front Row (both have fan pages on facebook!)

Music is by the Cocteau Twins, from Raphael Beau's MICMAC's score and the soundtrack to In the Mood for Love.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast: 21/02/2010

This week, we begin where we left off - from the Haymarket - shortly before a screening of a film we will review next week. Nevertheless, the bulk is recorded from the Curzon Soho whereby we discuss the Top 5 Box Office films and, more importantly, James Cameron apologises for Avatar ... well, an apology of sorts.

We review A Single Man in more depth and consider why on earth it hasn't got more credability in Best Picture categories. To finish, we focus on the BAFTA's and the Oscar contenders for Adapted and Original Screenplay.

Finally, we stand outside the Royal Opera House as they set-up the BAFTA ceremony and we talk about Kevin Smith's Cop Out, Russell Brand and Jonah Hill in Get Him to the Greek and Atom Egoyen's Chloe.

Music is from the soundtrack to A Single Man.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)

"There's enough bang in there to blow us all to Jesus. If I'm gonna die, I want to die comfortable"


It would make sense to cover this before the Oscars. I did not even know about the 'buzz' surrounding this when it was released in the UK - bad marketing I think. Then again, released in August, it had to compete with the Summer big-boys and ... those last two weeks of August, for me, was spent in Morocco so all the publicity it got was lost on me. Even before it got to the cinemas, buzz surrounded it following its premiere at the Venice Film festival - with a ten-minute standing ovation. It continued through the year - Best Film of 2009 - one of the few that managed to cross boundaries to get into Sight and Sound and Empires Top 10 lists. Then the awards: Directors Guild, BAFTA nominations, Golden globe nominations, Oscars ... the list goes on. After I watched it, I had to squeeze Synecdoche, New York out of the number ten-spot, placing The Hurt Locker just after The White Ribbon at Number 5.

Nevertheless, I was keen to see ever since I saw the credibility garned from the aforementioned magazines - but alas - it was only months after that I managed to watch it. Not at the cinema too - which wold have been awesome - but by paying full price for the Blu-ray disc. Quite a risk - but then, there are bigger risks you can take.

An Unknown Story

We are following bomb disposal unit in Iraq. The film opens with a situation whereby Thompson (Guy Pearce) is killed trying to 'dispose' a bomb. The film then tracks the change in the unit as a new guy - Sgt Will James (Jeremy Renner) - replaces the deceased memeber of the unit. The other two members of the unit have their own problems, but it is Will James who rocks the boat with a complete diisregard for danger - for one, he doesn't use the robot-bomb-finder, preferring to wear the bomb-suit and sorting all out himself. Throughout the film we are counting down the days before the unit are rotated out again - this gives us the impression that the soldiers are dying to get home. And maybe thats true for most of them - but some of them are in their element.

A Sense of Urgency ...

Bigelow gives the film a sense of urgency as the film is shot on hand-held, documentary-style cameras. Only using huge landscape shots and interesting angles when it reveals something shocking (five, six bombs ...) or something beautiful (the desert landscape...). The pace of each section also helps you become entirely 'on-edge' throughout the film - and as the lead actors are 'unknown' you have no investment in them as to whether they live or die. They are as unknown as the soldiers in Afghanistan now.

Death Obsessed

What positions this film higher than the vast majority of war films is the questions it raises regarding the initial question: What makes a good soldier? I shall never forget a conversation I had with a fellow teacher a short while ago regarding soldiers on the front line - he claimed that soldiers on the front line should be criminals. If you got to prison, he claimed, you should join the army and fight on the front line. I was very quick to state that it is madness - why on earth do you want to put the petty theives and the I-go-against-authority folk, apparently under authroity defending everyone else. I would rather someone clever and wise defend my ass. Fact is, the best soldiers are often those who conduct themselves well under-pressure and who have no fears of danger - they just focus on the job at hand. So, you think of the criminal burglar - one would assume they conduct themselves well under pressure, clearly don't consider the dangers associated with such-a-lifestyle (Jail? I'm better than that; Owner of the house with a gun? I'll beat their ass before they pull the trigger.) - the focus is on theft, and how to steal items quick and quietly.

Now think of The Hurt Locker - our first impression of Sgt Will James is that he is dangerous and a liability - but soon enough, we realise that Eldridge (Geraghty), you could argue, is a liability because he is so scared of dying and even Sanborn (Mackie) has his own fears and worries - and as careful as he is - these fears could affect his judgement. By the end, the 'loose cannon' (could their be a more incorrect term?) that is Sgt. James is the perfect soldier. Thats how I feel anyway. His focus is only on the job - his life, and even the lives of the other soldiers - are on a knife-edge anyway. If he can save a man attached to a bomb, he will try to save him (whether or not statistically it is unsafe) because he is human - and he does care. But the fear of death and danger is not a factor - the disposal of a bomb is more important. Eldridge is death-obsessed, Thompson - I assume - and Sanborn ignore it but Sgt Will James. He knows of death. Being so close to death is a part of the job (so celebrate it - keep souvenirs!). What is also part of the job, and is more important than his life - is the lives of others and the lives of the people he defends. That is the job a soldier.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)

"There is a silence where hath been no sound / There is a silence where no sound may be / In the cold grave, under the deep deep sea. -Thomas Hood"


I have to make my reviews shorter. That's a given. For one they are not reviews, they are more breakdowns of specific aspects and exploration of the links that these details show. Jane Campion's The Piano has so much depth - visually rooted in Gothic and Victorian imagery, a subject and context that feeds directly into the story and subtext of feminism and masculinity. So, with this in mind, it may be difficult to keep this short but - believe me - I shall try.

Interestingly, this is apparently the last film Kurt Cobain watched before dying. It is quite depressing and morbid ... but I do not see this as a bad thing. Kurt probably did.

Artistic Influences

As stated, this film is steeped in Victorian and Gothic imagery - a dark, grey and dull landscape akin to a Thomas Gainsborough British landscapes - except this film is based in New Zealand. Personally, I felt that the muddy, marshy landscape -and Harvey Keitel's almost-Scottish accent - almost made you feel like it was set in England. The constant rain too. The Maori tribe did establish the location a little better - and maybe the cliffs on the coast looked more New-Zealand-ish rather than the White Cliffs of Dover.

So, I read, Bronte's Wuthering Heights is a huge influence on this film - alongside The African Queen by C.S. Forester (though there is scope to assume Jane Marder's The Story of a New Zealand River is also a huge influence, says Alistair Fox). But this does not take away from the subtext and feminist messages Campion inserts through the film.

A Female Perspective

The nature of an arranged marriage is always sexist - the man chooses the woman, the woman chooses nothing. This story shows how a strong woman - Ada (Holly Hunter) and her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin ... Rogue) - are arranged to join Alistair Stewart (Sam Niell) in New Zealand through an arranged marriage. The biggest factor is how Ada is mute - representing women in the society at the time. She is a gifted piano player and see's her music as the only audible sene of expression. Alistair Stewart is not a bad guy but he is weak - the first time we see him, he is adjusting his hair - vanity is a preoccupation - and stalling the movement of the Maori's, directed by Baines (Harvey Keitel), who he has hired to collect Ada's possessions. The film hinges on the love Baines - a real man - towards Ada and how this progresses. [Spoilers now...}

Baines is a 'stocky', well-built man - almost animalistic with his understanding to the tribal Maori's and patterns on his face. Almost Neanderthal in his attitude - he cannot read - he falls for Ada and, through dominance, forces her to fall for him. Ada, though not a virgin (she has a child) is chaste - buttoned-up in black. Clearly Stewart has not consummated the marriage - but Ada has not made it easy. She gives him no signal as to what he should or shouldn't do - and he begins confused and then becomes frustrated. Slowly but surely, through what Alistair believes is piano lessons, Baines takes advantage of Ada. He tells her that she can own the piano herself if she plays for him - bit by bit he tells her to take off her garments for his pleasure eventually sleeping together. Ada was locked away and he opens her up - and she seems uncomfortable but content with the progression of their relationship.

Her love for him builds and they begin an affair, which inevitably Stewart finds out about. He attempts to rape her - possibly attempting to be more masculine, akin to Baines. This is an uncomfortable sequence but, as we know, Baines was not sincere in his intentions so it does not make one man better than another. Nevertheless, he fails and he takes her home and boards up the house. He closes-her up - physically stopping her lust for Baines. Slowly, she begins to touch him and appear to be attracted to him. One scene shows her caress his buttocks - he is uncomfortable and moves to ask if he can touch her. This seems to be her dominance over him - she is the 'man' in the relationship, while he is the 'woman'. Their relationship progresses and he takes the boards down - trusting her as he leaves. She knows Baines is leaving and sends Flora to him to send a last-message of love - but Flora runs to Stewart and shows him the message, clarifying that her Mother intended it for Baines. Stewart heads back, in the rain - an incredible sequence - dragging Ada out into the rain and placing her piano-playing hands on the block and chops off her forefinger. Her phallus as the dominant character in their relationship is now emasculated - and she is alone to be cared for. But Stewart turns to Baines, shotgun in hand, and tells him that he knows she wants to be with him - and Baines and Ada set sail fo a life together.

In the boat, Ada lets the piano go - she gets rid of it and consciously attaches herself to it, drowning herself. But, she decides to live and struggles free. Is this weight of thepiano symbolic of her previous love - the Father of Flora? She cannot move onto another man - Baines or Stewart - until she lets go of the past. Following this, we see Ada and Baines happy in a house - Ada even learning to speak.


Each of the details above could be explored in further detail - the roles in a marriage, previous relationships, masculinity and feminity, etc. So much to explore and this is what makes this film so incredible. This film is not based on a book - inspired by many, but not adapted from - and it has managed to create a context that completely expresses the chaste position of many women in a marraige, in a relationship even. Campion has set the scene within a small group of people - and there is inevitably further subtext through the position of the Maori tribe in the group - but the three characters, the three-way between Ada, Baines and Stewart provide a fascinating foundation for an exploration of so many themes of sexuality and sexism. Stewart even observes Baines and Ada make love - Stewart wishes he was Baines ... does Stewart wish he was Ada? Stewart is not a dominant man and may desire that man. I am sure there is more depth within that, but this is what makes the film incredible. After that first watch, I would like to watch it again and maybe a second watch will develop my understanding of the dense subjects it explores.

And I haven't even started on the soundtrack - a soundtrack I had before I watched the film. Michael Nyman is an incredible composer and this film shows how incredible his music is.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, 2009)

"Maria Elena used to say that only unfulfilled love can be romantic"


Like most of us bloggers - who love movies but don't get paid to watch them - I had only seen this once when I rated it third best film of 2009. I watched it soon after Christmas and, I must say, it remains as high as it was. Contrary to other views - Nick James' coverage of Cannes in 2008 claimed Vicky Cristina Barcelona as "another clunky, ham-fisted comedy from the fading genius" and he continues, stating that "the story fizzles out as you knew it always would". Nick James - why are you so cruel? Even recently, on the podcast, Jo claimed this was one of the worst pay-offs in history - the Cruz-Johannsson kiss. I completely disagree. In my chart it is good enough that, in time, it could potentially climb higher. I adore this film. As some of you may know, I'm an Art teacher - I graduated in Fine Arts, focussed on oil-painting portraiture and art history. The creative mind and what makes creativity - and the completely intertwined attitudes to love, romance and sex that art has is something I find true and fascinating. To add to it, prior to watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona I was going through a semi-Woody Allen phase and managed to watch a bunch of his movies over a short period.

Sensual and Sexual

The big sell of this film - not that it was what pulled me to the film - was the kiss between Johansson and Cruz. It's not the centre piece - but anyone who feels that this type of thing is worth hunting down is clearly someone who also, potentially, wants to understand sexuality and attraction (How do they make her attracted to her? etc) - or they are perv's. This film does answer that question, but also changes the perception of such an attitude (attraction to sexuality and attraction to another person) and challenges these expectations - the long-term and short-term nature of these attitudes. Cristina (Johansson) follows instinct and attraction - she is prepared to challenge her views and accept others. A true liberal. But alas, like anything in the world, experience can hurt and sometimes forces you to face who you truly are. Cristina values art - she wants to be art - as an actress. She turns to photography but only rates herself when accepted by others - much like acting. Can you act a role on your own for the sake of yourself and no audience? Cristina needs an audience and therefore needs acceptance and acknowledgment. Praise and support. But, when she is expected to be self-sufficient, she retreats to comfort, to something she knows and understands. Hence, inevitably perhaps, her self-analysis, pushes her away from the artistic central romance between Juan-Antonio (Bardem) and Maria-Elena (Cruz).


I always get frustrated when someone claims they are 'just like Chandler' from Friends. Chandler - who was infamous for having a phobia of commitment. By labelling yourself under his banner, you think you are funny and self-effacing - who is ever going to be as arrogant to believe they are Joey? Who is going to want to admit being anything close to psycho-geek Ross? Whatever the case, the nature of commitment is interesting - and whenever we watch these films and television programmes - especially like Vicky Cristina Barcelona, inevitably, we draw comparisons and have to consider where we stand.

Are you like Vicky? Secure in her attitude towards relationships - proud of her planning and future, set out in stone, in front of her. Or are you like Cristina? Expecting to find love - not worried about defining love, just knowing what it is. This attitude is set up in the opening as the two arrive in Barcelona. The two explore options and explore possible choicses in their life but, by the end, remain believing what they initially felt: fear of embarressment, fear of commitment, fear of unplanned eventuality, a fear of some sort stops them from 'seeing through' their instincts and and attitudes.

But, when comparing yourself to the characters, there is a third choice - are you like Maria-Elena? Completely free in her artistic ambition. The 'true' genius - the genius who Juan-Antonio apparently takes his ideas from. The nature of commitment and love are tangible to her - the arguments are not wanted and the consequence of these arguments are not discussed. She acts how she feels without any foresight into how her attitudes affects others. This comes to the forefront at the climax as her 'emotions' become dangerous, wounding Vicky. Juan-Antonio is similiar in that respect - his perfection flawed by his lack of concern over other people. What about Vicky's husband? Does he consider him when he flirts with Vicky? No - the 'unartistic' have nothing compared to the passion of Juan-Antonio. His selfish 'discovery' and pride is what forces Vicky to leave - he is frustrated as he doesn't now how to balance his emotions and, as Vicky is rational and will plan, Juan-Antonion is irrational and acts on emotion. That is who they are. The tragic finale - as Vicky and Juan-Antonio are clearly not meant to be -fits perfectly in fiction and makes us, as a viewer, that much more involved.

Our Involvment

As an audience, what makes us more involved is the true-to-life nature of Vickys relatives: Judy and Mark. We might relate on a wishful level with the primary characters - but there is no connection to the world we live in. I don't know about you - but I haven't got the finances to just paint and create day in, day out (the best I have is some small sketches as I how 30 twelve year-old kids how to cross-hatch), and I have not got any relatives with the beautiful pad in Barcelona (Limerick? anyone?) - but the fact is, Judy and her husband Mark have been together for a long time and we know these comfortable figures - work colleagues or, dare I say it, parents. Judy and Vicky, discussing Judy's infidelity, is an incredible scene as Patricia Clarkson's Judy has to face-up to what she has done. Mark and Doug's only crime is a lack of creativity - they are not bad people. Judy knows this but is too far in - the romance and lust outweighed the security and comfortable marriage she is in. But is this experience going to impact on Vicky? Would it impact on you? There is something so real about Judy confessing her sins to Vicky - and even, when Vicky is shot in the hand, the completely ridiculous nature of the situation suddenly appears and the anger at herself - moreso than Juan-Antonio - and the trust she has betrayed of Dougs is the biggest concern. Those few seconds post-shooting, Vicky believes her entire futrure has changed and she is suddenly positive that is not what she wants - realigning herself with Doug and the family and life she and Doug had planned. Luckily, Doug is clueless and believes her lie.


We stay with Barcelona as long as Vicky and Cristina - we are with them for the ride. They arrive and leave witht he same perspective so, the cynics out there could feel a bit used. The 'space-time' continuum is disrupted by Juan-Antonio, but alas, by the end we are where we were. Akin to Michael Mann's starting and ending at a different airport (see Collateral and Heat) this does the same, beginning and ending at the same escalator.

Personally, I try and understand Juan-Antonio. Is he real? Is he an amalagamation of a fantasy guy - the most romantic man in the world - or are we supposed assume he exists? Furthermore, if he does exist, is he insane? The world he tries to balance - his destructive relationship with Maria-Elena (she stabbed him!) ... the proposition to Vicky and Cristina ... these are not normal situations. Then this begs the question about artists. What is an artist? Juan-Antonio and Maria-Elena clearly are artists ... but they have insecurities to say the least. Is Cristina an artist? Or, inside, are we all artists? Vicky has romantic expectations but gave up on them. Judy wants the romantic world of Barcelona - and the infidelities. Maybe it serves as a warning to ignorant men of the world: Appreciate romance and passion and, ultimately, art in the widest possible sense of the word - otherwise suffer the consequences as, inevitably, people will crave the art from somewhere, and settle for the romance from someone else.

I just re-read the last paragraph, it might not work. It seems a weak finale to the bastard post I have been writing and re-writing for god knows how long. But, enough is enough. I shall inevitably revisit Vicky Cristina Barcelona and, when I do, I may make a few adjustments ... until then ...

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast: 14/02/2010

We are set up at the Curzon Mayfair, but begin just off King Street a little close to where St James Theatre used to be ... we reveal why we are there on the podcast.

We review The Princess and the Frog, Youth in Revolt, Nine and the masterpiece: Citizen Kane. Then, to finish, we tell all about impressive and completely unimpressive romance in movies.

Trailer coverage is on Toy Story, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I Love You Phillip Morris and, the hotly anticipated theatrical trailer of Shyamalan's The Last Airbender.

Music is from Nine and Herrmans magnificent music for Citizen Kane.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast: 07/02/2010

Recorded at the National Theatre, the BFI and the IMAX at Waterloo, this week we are 'all over the place'. We first run down the top 5 films and, alas, the number two spot has changed - albeit with a film that has been sitting in the top five for far too long. Richard joins us for coverage, sharing his views on the recent releases while we all rip apart the Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Film nominees at the upcoming Oscars. Then, to finish, a bit of mockery headed towards Ridley Scott's Robin Hood and excitement for The Last Airbender directed by auteur M. Night Shyamalan.

Music this week from the soundtrack to Invictus and Youth in Revolt.

The link is: