Monday, 28 February 2011

Time Out 100 Best 'British' Films

A couple of weeks ago Time Out produced a list of the all time top 100 British films based on a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers and other industry insiders, and an entertaining list it is too.  As with any list of this type there are some inclusions that raise eyebrows (Dr No is the weakest of Terence Young's Bonds imho), omissions (Red Road, A Fish Called Wanda, A Man for All Seasons) and, I have to admit, a fair few with which I'm quite unfamiliar.

Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles running through Vienna
As I was reading through, however, I was surprised by the inclusion of some, in particular Walkabout and The Third Man, which I hadn't really thought of as 'British' films.  Fair enough, I thought, they have British directors, but then so does Gandhi and that's nowhere to be seen on the list.  Alexander Mackendrick's work is well represented but arguably his greatest film, The Sweet Smell of Success set in New York, is missing.  There are two pre-war Hitchcock films, but nothing from his career in Hollywood.  Would Inception or the new Batman films qualify as British by the definition of some contributors?

However, on looking through the list it appears that the nationality of the director doesn't really matter either-  Night And The City, Repulsion, and three Stanley Kubrick films have also been selected.  Confused, I scanned the site looking for what definition of 'British' they were working to only to find that they didn't have one.  That's fine but it did make me wonder what definition individual contributors were thinking of in making their selections.

Brigadoon: a Scottish film?
I then looked through to see how many Scottish films are included on the list but found the same problem- how should I define 'Scottish'?  The Bill Douglas Trilogy, Gregory's Girl, and even Local Hero I suppose are quite straightforward.  I think most Scots would accept Trainspotting, Whisky Galore, and probably Culloden too.  What about The Wicker Man?  The 39 Steps?  For that matter what about Braveheart or Brigadoon?

You'll notice in the poll on the right-hand side I've been careful in my wording.  They are not 'Embra films' but 'films set in Embra' precisely because I was sure there would be some pedant arguing that none of them were truly Edinburgh films.  With the exception of Hallam Foe, none of them have a Scottish director, never mind one from the city itself.

In an age where casts, crew, settings, and production are frequently international some might argue that it is pointless to think about films in terms of nationality.  I'd like to think otherwise.  Just as those films in the Middle East Festival told us something about their countries of origin, does Trainspotting and Restless Natives not do the same for Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular?  Is that the definition? 

Friday, 25 February 2011

Middle East Festival

Last weekend I had the pleasure of watching a couple of cracking films showing at the Edinburgh Filmhouse as part of its Middle Eastern Film Festival (in turn part of the larger Edinburgh International Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace).  With the whole of the region (and beyond) entering a period of uncertainty and transition it was interesting to see some of its cinematic output from recent years.

First up was Captain Abu Raed, the first film to be produced in Jordan in 50 years.  Abu Raed, played by UK-based Nadim Sawalha, is an airport janitor nearing retirement who is leading a somewhat insular life following the death of his wife and son some years before.  Finding an airline captain's hat, Raed decides to wear it home which prompts the local kids to mistake him for a pilot.  Fighting against his instinct to ignore them, he goes along with it and regales them with stories of his imaginary foreign adventures which gradually leads him to come out of his shell and start to take an active interest in the lives of others, especially the children and a friendly female pilot.

While the music and use of fades and slo-mo leads the film to occasionally come across a little twee, it is still a highly enjoyable couple of hours.  Key to its success is the superb performance of Sawalha who makes it so easy to relate to and sympathise with Raed.  He wrestles with his decisions- whether to do nothing or to put himself to inconvenience and danger by helping others.  Doing the right thing is not always easy and instinctive- the dilemma is successfully conveyed without ever being oversold.

Sawalha was available for a Q&A after the screening and explained some of the background to the production and his relationship with his excellent child co-stars.  Interestingly he remarked that he liked that the film stays clear of overt references to religion and politics but that view seems at odds with some of the key themes that run throughout.  The film confronts issues of domestic abuse and gender equality as major plot points and class is broached in the same way.  "You can tell he's not an airline pilot," says one of the boys.  "People like us don't become pilots."

The second film I caught was Times and Winds from Turkey, a much slower work following the lives of four children, their families, and fellow villagers over the course of a year.  The picture opposite, showing off the stunning the scenery and the sleeping kids, is a great summary of what the film's about.  Over the course of a year, the kids encounter a lot of problems, some bigger than others but all of huge importance to them.  The landscape serves as an indication of their isolation which acts as a kind of prison, but its scale also reminds us that their problems are miniscule in a global context.  This is not to minimise how they feel, but is more a comment on how children in particular sometimes have difficulty putting things in perspective (although this is obviously not a trait confined to exclusively to children).

Like Captain Abu Raed there is a very forward-looking feel to the film.  The kids constantly find themselves in conflict with their elders and traditions although they don't fight against it and there are no value judgements placed on the village traditions.  The film ends on a spring morning with the children looking out beyond the sea- it's their choice what they do next.  As it is for millions across the region today.

A couple of days later I spotted in Fopp for just £7- well worth it.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Foreign Language Hollywood Film Titles

I must apologise for not posting as much as I had intended over the past couple of weeks- not enough hours in the day it seems.  Plenty of stuff to come, including a couple of reviews, once I find a bit of time next week.  In the mean time, here's a wee quiz for you (via IFC).

You'll know that when Hollywood movies are released in different countries, they're often given new titles for the new audiences.  Lurking Title has made a worryingly addictive game based on translating the titles back into English.

Tip- Corridor of Death is not the German title for High School Musical 3.


Sunday, 20 February 2011

ThunderCats movie? Jist gonnae no!

The Guardian reported this week that there are increasing demands online to see a remake of 80s kids show ThunderCats.  This has apparently been prompted by the circulation of this rather poor piece of footage.

The prospect of a remake is as welcome to me as a poke in the eye for two reasons.  Firstly, Hollywood's record in this department are dodgy to say the least.  The producers of Transformers, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Inspector Gadget and others have already shit on the memories of kids growing up in the 80s while straining to wring every last cent out of these once forgotten classics- fat chance of a radical change of form.  Secondly, and it's important for kids today to learn this, ThunderCats was rubbish: Snarf, Wilykit/kat, the theme music and that stupid 'hooooooo' cry, it all irritated me tremendously even as a ten year old.

It's not like I was particularly discriminating as a child either (I liked Angel Delight and Bournville) and there are films I loved as a child which look decidedly ropey to me today- Santa Claus: The Movie, Escape to VictoryStar Wars (don't get me started).  As such it should be obvious that this is a remake that has no chance of being any good.  Unless they make it with real cats.  I might be persuaded to watch that.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

'The Wicker Tree' Trailer

The trailer for the long-awaited follow-up to The Wicker Man is now available.  Expected to be released later this year, it is apparently not a sequel as such but has a strong thematic relation with its predecessor.  Robin Hardy once again directs, this time adapting his own novel Cowboys For Christ with filming in Haddington and Gorebridge. 

Obviously The Wicker Tree has great potential to disappoint those of us who are fans of the 1973 film, and I'm more than a little concerned by some of the snippets here.  Hopefully I'm wrong.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Review: Animal Kingdom

I love it when we get free tickets from See Film First, especially if it's for a film that's got the reviews and plaudits that this film has had on the festival circuit over the last few months.  David Michôd's Animal Kingdom is an Aussie crime thriller telling the story of 17 year old J who moves in with his Gran and her sons.  His uncles are caught up in a murderous tit for tat with the police which leaves J having to decide whether loyalty to his family or working with the police (Mike from Neighbours) will provide his best chance of survival.

It's not hard to see why this film has been so well received.  It's grittily shot and maintains an air of danger throughout, prompting comparisons with Jacques Audiard's A Prophet.  There are times you feel that Michôd could do with reigning it in a little; the use of slow motion in places detracts from its realist style and the over-affectionate behaviour of the matriarchal Smurf (yes, that's the character's name) would be far more interesting if it were more subtly handled.  These are relatively minor quibbles though as is its inconsistent pacing.  It starts off as a potentially interesting gangster flick with entertaining interplay between the family members before changing tack and focusing on J and how he reacts to the changing circumstances.  The last twenty minutes or so feels so rushed that it almost seems that it was an afterthought, even though it ultimately delivers a satisfying resolution.

But it was about fifteen minutes before the end when I realised what the major problem is.  Without giving too much away, J is being led into court for a crucial point in the story which will determine his entire future.  I didn't care what happened to him.  Not a bit.  One of the great achievements of A Prophet is how much you find yourself empathising with Malik in spite of his weaknesses.  All we have with J is a mumbling teenager, occasionally smiling so that we know he approves of something.  Just because he's been dealt a lousy hand isn't reason enough to care.

Despite all this, Michôd is clearly talented with a great deal of potential.  His debut is worth a view when it goes on general release in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Save the Old Odeon- Sign the Petition

The Old Odeon in Clerk Street brings back a lot of fond memories for me.  As a student living two minutes up the road I was a regular visitor.  It was there that I saw all the classics of late 90s/early 2000s cinema- American Beauty, Gladiator, Blair Witch Project, Spice World etc.  I was sad to see it close in 2003 although I was encouraged to see its life extended by becoming a Fringe venue.  However, that came to an end in 2007 and it has remained unused since. 

It's not so much a sense of nostalgia that saddens me about this.  I don't particularly long for my lost youth; I'm fitter and healthier than I was ten years ago and I like sleeping in a bed instead of a mattress on the floor.  No, it's because from its art deco facade to the many original 1930 internal features it's an iconic building, and one that could still do a job serving the people of Embra.

I think the last thing I saw there was in 2005- the always entertaining Tiger Lillies (see the end of the post).  Around the same time I remember the Filmhouse was publishing plans to relocate to a new purpose-built facility in Festival Square which would provide a suitable home and main venue for the Edinburgh International Film Festival.  I remember at the time thinking that surely it would be cheaper and just as exciting for them to renovate the Old Odeon and relocate there.  

My idea came to nothing, hardly surprising as I didn't tell anyone about it.  However, today the New Victoria Project is campaigning not only to protect the building but in the long term to ensure it will "be a space for everybody; open to the community and committed to the development of the arts. Space will be allocated for the use of community education groups, meetings, societies and clubs, alongside the specialist music, cinema and cabaret auditoriums."   Many of you will agree that this sounds like a fitting use for a venue such as this, but not its owners Duddingston House Properties who want to demolish parts of it and convert it into a hotel.  However, these plans were put on hold last year by a ruling which said that the building should be marketed again in the hope of finding a use which would avoid any demolition.

Unfortunately, since then DHP have not accepted any bids (with many feeling their valuation to be unrealistic) and there are growing concerns about the state of the building, with photographs of the inside showing that water and vermin are getting in.  The worry is that if this is allowed to continue the owners will eventually be able to argue that it is beyond repair and thus be permitted to demolish it as planned.

The Southside Community Council are fighting against this.   They want to see this building returned to its former glory as a cultural hub for this part of the city.  They have sponsored a petition which is calling on the council to initiate urgent compulsory repairs and compulsory purchase proceedings so that it can be used as a cinema and arts venue.  I hope you add your name and then hopefully we can see more performances there like this.

Monday, 7 February 2011

DVD Review: Army of Crime

I have a certain fascination with the resistance movements of the second world war.  In there lies a million individual stories of the best and worst of human behaviour.  In France for instance, less than 2% of the population were ever actively involved in the Resistance in one way or another.  Of them, one in five were killed as a result of their activities (approx 100,000).  These stark figures prompt the question about whether we could have shown such defiance and bravery in similar circumstances or whether we would have followed an easier and safer path (a well trodden theme perhaps brought into focus most famously for a UK audience in It Happened Here).

Since then there have been many attempts to tell this story on film, far more than I have seen (and probably ever will see).  I've tried to keep up to speed with some of the more recent films about resistance but have become increasingly disappointed.  I'm thinking in particular of Paul Verhoeven's Black Book, the Danish Flame and Citron, the Oscar nominated Outside the Law set in the struggle for Algerian Independence, and my most recent viewing Army of Crime.  Black Book with its gratuitous close up of the (female) lead dying her pubic hair, as well as stripping and covering her with slurry later in the film, is only slightly less sensationalist than Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (which, despite its faults, is a better film than any of these imo).  Flame and Citron plods along fairly predictably while Outside the Law is overlong and loses its way.

Army of Crime, unfortunately, doesn't do much to breathe life into this genre.  From the director who so delicately handled The Last Mitterrand we got something that felt much more like a TV movie, uninterestingly shot and lacking any distinctive qualities.  It also falls into the same trap as the others with its jarringly expositional dialogue that hammers home the background and motives of the individual résistants without going to the trouble of making you care.  They seem to miss the point too- I don't need to be told the reasons why someone has chosen to resist- that would be perfectly obvious to every non-fascist.  What I'm interested in is what is it about their character that has led them to do what the majority of the population didn't.  Flagging up that one of them reads Marx and another has a Jewish dad is not a satisfactory substitute.

These films are not without their positives (except Black Book which is awful) and tell an important moral story that is as relevant as ever today.  I just can't help but feel that the subject matter deserves better than these most recent offerings.

Or perhaps I'm just using too high a benchmark (see right).

Friday, 4 February 2011

Poll: Embra-based films

So where to start this blogging adventure?  Well, it's a blog about watching films in Edinburgh so I thought I'd kick off with a poll on that theme.  I've set one up on the right for you to vote for your favourite film set (not necessarily filmed) in this braw city.

I picked the best films I could think of to include but if you feel I've made an obvious omission please let me know.  I don't think I have but prove me wrong.

"What about Journey to the Centre of the Earth?"  That's really more set under the city than in it, I would say.

"You've left off Annie Griffin's Festival from 2005 starring Stephen Mangan, Chris O'Dowd, and Daniela Nardini."  Yes.  Yes I have.  By no means the worst way to spend two hours but I've never heard anyone describe it as one of their favourite film.  For a reason.

"What about Burke and Hare?"  Go away, you're not welcome here.

A near addition was the film below before I was told that the city in question was not Edinburgh.  Shame.

Welcome to Namby Pamby Pish

So here it is, my attempt to jump on the blogging bandwagon- it was bound to happen sooner or later.

"Why has it taken you so long?" I hear you ask.  Well, I guess I never really saw the point; or rather I never really had a point.  Then it struck me.

The origins of Namby Pamby Pish

I have a terrible memory.  Not for everything- if I make a conscious effort then I can remember lots of things.  If you name a year since 1939 I can tell you who won the English FA Cup for instance.  I am a keen quizzer so there's general knowledge up there in my head, it's just a question of finding where I've put it.  However, there are other things I'm hopeless with; if you are a friend of mine then there will no doubt have been at least one occasion when you've said to me, "And of course you'll remember such and such," only to be met with a blank stare.  I probably don't remember doing it to you but I'm sorry anyway, it's not deliberate.

The same goes for films.  Not all films- I remember the good and bad that I've seen, and I can quote Spinal Tap, Monty Python, and Reservoir Dogs when the mood takes me and the company is obliging.  But there are those that I don't remember seeing (probably because they're not worth remembering) and of the good and the bad, I will often forget how good or bad I found them or indeed why I thought that at all.  As such, six months ago I resolved to make a note of all the films I watch for the first time along with a brief note of my thoughts.  The results were surprising for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, I was struck by how many 'new' films I get through- an average of 8 or 9 per month.  I would have guessed at half of that if I hadn't been keeping a note.  Secondly, by committing my thoughts into writing, even if it is three or four sentences in wee moleskin notebook, I was forced to reflect much more on the film than I had previously been doing.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was sitting having coffee with a couple of friends I hadn't seen for a few months and was telling them this.  One of them asked why I didn't blog it.  I may have been fairly dismissive of it at the time, after all, who would be interested in my opinion on the films I see, but it did get me thinking.

The philosophy of Namby Pamby Pish

Of course, there is no particular reason why anyone should interested in my opinion on the films I see.  There are other blogs that are far more professional and comprehensive (see the links on the right) but I am interested in other people's opinions.  Not just the critics but among those who don't know their Demme from their Dovzhenko- I want to be able to talk about films without having a firm grasp on critical vocabulary.

Beyond that, Edinburgh is great place to be a film fan.  One of the first things I tell people about my flat in Fountainbridge is that I'm within a 15 minute walk of 5 cinemas, including the Filmhouse and the Cameo.  We have the oldest continuous International Film Festival in the world which doesn't seem to get the attention I think it merits from my fellow Edinburghers.  We have community projects such as the brilliant Pilton Video and the fight to save the old odeon in the Southside for future film goers.  I hope I can use this site to play my small part in promoting these.

Other than that, I'll post things I find amusing, diverting or anything in the search of instigating some sort of dialogue.  Well, that's the idea anyway.  Let's see if I can keep this up for more than a few weeks.

Why Namby Pamby Pish?

Good question.  The title is a tribute to one of the best-loved films to come out of our city (see right).  It seemed a nice way to sum up the blog.

Now, where's that second post going to come from?