Soul Power

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Soul Power

Directed by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte

USA, 2008

Cornerhouse, 22 March 2015

This documentary is about a series of concerts that took place in Zaire, some weeks before the Ali-Foreman fight.

Ali is around, greeting James Brown, dining with Bill Withers, sparring with one of the Spinners.  Doing his trash-talking shtick.  But Foreman is nowhere to be seen.

We see the stage being built, myriad griping behind the scenes.  There is generous footage of the artists’ performances: JB was at the peak of his power around about this time, but even so for my money it is B.B. King who impresses most.

Well worth a watch.

Anna Karenina

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Anna Karenina

Adaptation by Jo Clifford

Royal Exchange Theatre, 24 March 2015

Jo Clifford’s minimalist adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel – there is little by way of stage or setting – is a drama about love false and true.

While Anna blames others and society’s mores and conventions for her woes and general unhappiness, Levin and Katy accept each other, more or less, and just get on with it.

It is a good, workmanlike production, unexceptional, but no real complaints.  However, I’m uncertain whether you’d be able to follow the story if you didn’t already know it.  Donna Berlin’s performance stood out.

Anna Karenina is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 2 May, further details can be found here.

Life of Riley

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Life of Riley

Directed by Alain Resnais

France, 2014

Cornerhouse, 21 March 2015

You would be reluctant to call this film of Alan Ayckbourn’s play an adaptation for the screen, for Resnais retains all the trappings of the stage, or so it would seem.

The characters will look out as they speak, allowing their responses to be seen by an ‘audience’.  There are no doors leading to an outside world; instead the characters enter and exit through a curtain.  Much happens elsewhere, off-stage, and (as with the play) George, the central character, is never seen.  Where cinematic conventions which create a curtailed sense of space – in effect, a stage – don’t exist, Resnais invents them.  Close-ups have an artificial quality.

As for the story, which is all about growing old, accepting ones limitations and coming to terms with death, it is a moving and melancholy one.  And it sheds light on the reason for Resnais’ artistic choices, why they are not only apt but brilliant.  The key point is that it is all about letting go.  The camera, for once, lets go of its pretensions to omnipresence.  It doesn’t see everything.

A beautiful film, the experience of watching it being rather like seeing a cinematic version of Queneau’s Exercises in Style; and it was wonderful also to see Caroline Sihol again – she is such an elegant actress.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Music by Benjamin Britten

RNCM Theatre, 21 March 2015

A fine production of Britten’s popular opera – and while this is not his best or most interesting work, it’s certainly his most entertaining.

There are few sustained arias, so it is all down to the drama of the story and the atmosphere conjured by the music.  Here we have pastoral passions, bawdy comedy, whimsy and intrigue.  Britten’s score hits all the right buttons and Charlotte Christensen makes for a riot grrrlish Puck.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is showing again tonight and on Friday.  Further details can be found here and here.

Feriado

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Feriado

Directed by Diego Araujo

Ecuador, 2014

Cornerhouse, 8 March 2015

Feriado

In this nuanced, finely wrought coming-of-age drama a gay lad from a well-to-do family, albeit one facing financial ruin, falls for a bad lad, a biker into heavy metal.

That the passion crosses ethnic and class boundaries and involves a fair amount of flavoursome slumming is probably part of the appeal too – as was the case with Goytisolo.

For Juano, Juan’s kiss comes as a thunderclap, whereas we saw it coming from a long way off.  He’d had no idea he was egging the posh boy on, had thought they were just friends.

The family faces disaster, all lies in ruin, but Juan cares nowt about any of that: he is young and alive and now knows what he is about.

Delight in the film is to be found in the understated performances, the beauty of the Ecuadorian landscape and the subtle portrait of a country (not unlike Peru) where ethnicity remains a marker of class as well as identity.  And Juan Manuel Arregui, much more than a pretty face, is sure to be a star.

Feriado was shown as part of Viva, the Spanish and Latin American Film Festival 2015.

White God

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White God

Directed by Kornél Mundruczó

Hungary, 2014

Cornerhouse, 1 March 2015

Lili, along with her gentle dog Hagen, is sent to live with her father while her mother and new partner go gallivanting off to Australia for a few months.

Then her father gets rid of the dog – it’s an impure breed – and the two are separated.  Thereby an intriguing film gets rolling: we see how the life of a teenage daughter of divorced parents in a post-Soviet country and a scavenging street dog (as Hagen becomes) follow parallel paths.

After a lot of shilly-shallying, the odd dollop of canine and human bonding, and an escalating horror (the dogs become upset at how they’re being treated, which is understandable), there’s a quietus ending outside a slaughterhouse.

An excellent film, White God easily has enough about it to sustain a second or third viewing.  It’s kind of like The Lives of Others only with killer dogs.

And Budapest looks well worth a visit.

No Selfie Sticks inside the Uffizi Gallery

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Here is a sign of the times, taken from a press release from Marco Ferri at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and dated 3 March 2015:

Following recent press releases, at times incomplete, the Director of the Uffizi Gallery feels the need to underline the regulation regarding the prohibition of the selfie stick, a metal monopod used to take selfie photographs by positioning a Smartphone or camera beyond the normal range of the arm.  Such a regulation has been enforced since October 2014 and is clearly stated within the premises of the ticket office of the museum as well as at point 12 of the ‘Behaviour Rules’ available online at:

http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/allegati/musei/uffizi/Divieti_2-1.pdf

So while these ‘metal monopods’ will no doubt continue to be sold on the Ponte Vecchio and elsewhere in the city, you have been told: Michelangelo and selfies don’t mix.

Catch Me Daddy

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Catch Me Daddy

Directed by Daniel Wolfe

UK, 2014

Cornerhouse, 28 February 2015

Laila is a young Pakistani woman living with her boyfriend, a white lad called Aaron, in a caravan park.  She’s working in a hair salon, he’s a bit of a waster.  They have something going on.

As their passion flares, Laila’s brother and cousins are out looking for them.  Henchmen scour the streets.  The family want her home and refuse she cannot.

Catch Me Daddy is a contemporary British crime drama that has a gripping opening – the first half hour or so – but the atmosphere is somehow not sustained.  The story meanders and the tension gradually dissipates.  It doesn’t help either that there’s no moral centre and the characters are all weak, weak, weak.  This doesn’t make the film more realistic or in any way authentic – just meaningless.  The final scenes don’t do so much provide answers as raise further questions.

Splendid performances are on show here, mind, not least from Sameena Jabeen Ahmed as Laila.  And it is good to see some new, or at any rate unfamiliar, British actors on screen.  Gary Lewis isn’t an unfamiliar face but he’s always watchable, and gives another classy performance here.

The Duke of Burgundy

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The Duke of Burgundy

Directed by Peter Strickland

UK, 2014

Cornerhouse, 21 February 2015

The Duke of Burgundy

Set in a world like yet unlike our own, The Duke of Burgundy is a study of a BDSM relationship threatened by love: Cynthia and Evelyn are mistress and maid, and lovers too.

She, Evelyn, the younger woman and ostensibly the submissive partner, is the one who is actually directing their role play.  And Cynthia begins to feel that Evelyn loves the things they do rather than she herself.  Being worshipped can be darned dehumanising at times.

There are no men in the film at all (are they extinct?) and the two women belong to an Institute that studies butterflies; women young and old attend lectures comparing the attributes of different species.  In the women’s home butterflies occupy a prominent place too, displayed under glass and in frames on the walls of Cynthia’s study.  And there are no computers either: Cynthia types her papers on an old-style manual typewriter.  All of which makes for a steampunk/slipstream feel, evoking a world as strange and disquieting as can be found in Nina Allan’s A Thread of Truth or Nike Sulway’s Rupetta.

By the end, Cynthia and Evelyn’s relationship is stagnant but for the moment intact.  However, strains are beginning to show.

A beautiful and enigmatic film.

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