Film Friday: Moonrise Kingdom

moonrise kingdom Movie poster: Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson (2012)

Sam: So, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Suzy: I don’t know…I want go on adventures I think–not get stuck in one place. How about you?
Sam: Go on adventures too, not get stuck too.

 

There was a time when I wanted films to challenge me; to shake me out of my world into somewhere uncomfortable and new. As I’ve grown older (and life itself has proved more challenging) my movie-watching needs have changed. Now, it’s enough to be entertained; something that can often be accomplished with clever writing and good acting. Add a good soundtrack, skillful direction, artful cinematography and an interesting aesthetic — and I’m really in my happy place.

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom consistently takes me to a happy place.

It’s a simple story of two young people who fall in love and run away together — except that they are both 12 years old and they are “running away” on a very small island.

Suzy and Sam meet when Sam is sent to a summer camp on the island of New Penzance. Both highly intelligent, sensitive misfits, they become pen-friends and over the course of a year hatch a plan to run away together.

The film is set in 1965, and shot in the flat, pastel tones of photos and movies from that era. This is not only stylistically beautiful, but acts as a kind of innocence-filter to a relationship between two children, which could easily — in a different context — be quite exploitative.

moonrise-kingdom-1024x682 Suzy and Sam, Moonrise Kingdom. Image; Su Leslie

Suzy and Sam provide the central focus of the story, yet their calm, quiet relationship is the eye of a storm whipped up by the eccentric and dysfunctional adults around them.

moonrise-kingdom-2012-001-four-people-facing-foreward_0

While the children who played Suzy and Sam were both first-time actors, the adult cast was made up of established stars — many of whom are Wes Anderson’s regular collaborators. Frances McDormand and Bill Murray are great as Suzy’s brittle, lawyer parents, while Bruce Willis does a wonderful job channeling James Stewart as Penzance Island’s basically decent police captain. Both Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton have quite small roles; the former as a Boy Scout commander and the latter as the sinister and somewhat deranged “Social Services.”

The music of Benjamin Britten features extensively in the film’s soundtrack, particularly The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and Noye’s Flood, both of which were written specifically for children.

There is much that can be read into Moonrise Kingdom; themes of isolation and belonging, friendship, love, trust and adolescent sexuality. And if you find yourself thinking about these things long after the closing credits, that is great. But equally, if you simply feel happy and taken out of the everyday for 90 minutes, that’s absolutely fine too.

You can see the film’s trailer here:

Have you seen Moonrise Kingdom? What did you think? Are you as Wes Anderson fan, and if so, how does this film compare with others you’ve seen?

 About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting the latest post by Darren and Sarah.

#filmfriday

 

 

Film Friday: on the dole and on the stage

The first few months after my son was born were a bit of a blur.

What I remember most is feeling isolated, confused and sleepless. There was a lot of crying (both the kid and me) and an overwhelming sense that for the first time in my life I had no idea what I was doing and no logical, scientific way to figure it out.

The other thing I remember was watching DVDs — often still wearing my pyjamas, with the baby latched on to me. Two of my favourite films from that time are The Full Monty (1997)and Brassed Off (1996).

I have no idea how many times I watched them — often back to back. I do know that they must have provided exactly the kind of escape I needed, and that I can still watch them with a sense of real pleasure.

My reason for including both films in one post is not only about my experience of viewing them, but about the films themselves, which in many ways are very, very similar.

Made within a year of each other, both films tell the story of a group of struggling, unemployed, working-class men in England’s (formerly) industrial heartland who find success and a sense of achievement through performing.

In The Full Monty, a group of ex steel workers plan to make some money by putting on a Chippendale-like striptease show for local women.

In Brassed Off, the colliery brass band in a town that’s about to have its coal mine shut down struggles to continue long enough to compete at the national brass band championship.

Both films focus on the relationships between a group of men struggling with the all-encompassing loss of self that comes from the sort of widespread structural unemployment that gutted whole communities. Yet both are comedies. The Full Monty in particular is very funny, deftly highlighting serious issues like depression, body-image, fathers’ rights and suicide without trivializing them.

Brassed Off is the more overtly political of the two. A major element of the story involves the miners having to vote whether or not to accept a redundancy package or fight to keep the mine operational. Accepting a payout that could keep their families from the breadline is also an abandonment of their identity and acknowledgement that a much-hated government has “won.” The speech in the clip below, delivered by the late Pete Postlethwaite, sums up the film’s politics beautifully.

Gender relationships in both films are interesting. The female characters are portrayed as strong, competent and generally in charge. In contrast with their laid-off menfolk, almost all are employed; indeed both Gloria in Brassed Off  and Gaz’s ex-wife Mandy in The Full Monty, have not only jobs, but careers.

Both films have romantic sub-plots; though in The Full Monty the relationship that develops between two of the men — Lomper and Guy — is almost an add-on to the main story. In Brassed Off, the relationship between the colliery’s consultant Gloria, and Andy, one of the miners, is much more embedded. Yet in both, the central relationships are between the men, and the two films offer both an analysis and a celebration of the importance of male friendship.

While I’m not a fan of musicals (really; you have to burst into song to tell me that), the soundtrack to a film is absolutely central to my enjoyment of it. With performance at the heart of both films, the The Full Monty and Brassed Off  have really strong soundtracks.

Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff is the song most identified with The Full Monty, though whenever I hear What A Feeling, I am taken back to the scene where the would-be strippers are watching Flashdance, supposedly to improve their dancing. Instead, they end up arguing about Jennifer Beals’ welding technique.

Understandably, most of the music in Brassed Off is performed by brass bands. Indeed, the bulk of the band (excluding the main characters in the story) was made up of members of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band; the film being largely based on that town’s experiences of the mine closures.

I have to say that brass band music wasn’t really my cup of tea, but this scene changed my mind:

I’ve watched both Brassed Off and The Full Monty quite recently, and still enjoy them.

Have you seen either? What did you think?

I’m including this clip for The Full Monty because the only official trailer I could find was done for American audiences and I felt it kind of missed the point. And besides, this one gives you a chance to hear the wonderful Donna Summer again.

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting the latest post by Darren and Sarah.

#filmfriday

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film Friday: The Trip (2010)

MV5BNDEzMTM1OTM4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTE3MDcxNQ@@._V1_

Poster: The Trip, 2011. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, and based on BBC series of the same name.

Confession: I have a really loud laugh.

And yes, I know that can be very annoying in the cinema. I really can’t help it (or the sometimes-accompanying snort), but (thankfully?) I don’t often see films that really, really make me laugh.

The Trip is an exception. Fortunately, the people around me in the cinema thought so to, and I was largely drowned out.

The Trip is a foodie comedy road movie shot through with a sort of wistfulness that perhaps comes from the two lead actors playing versions of themselves. The film is constructed from edited-together footage from a BBC TV series in which the two — Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden — visit a series of restaurants in the north of England which Coogan has (for the purposes of the story) been commissioned to review for a national newspaper.

Despite this premise, and some lovingly shot scenes of restaurant kitchens, food very much takes a backseat in the film (assume you’re travelling in a bus — that sort of back seat).

Instead, the momentum and humour come from the interplay between the leads. Part friendship, part rivalry, their conversations and banter travel along a shifting boundary between their fictional and real selves. Both men are known as comic actors and gifted mimics, and it’s their mimicry that really brings the laughs.

Since The Trip, three more series and three more films have been made, with the pair travelling to different destinations in each. I have seen the second — The Trip, Italy — and found it funny although not significantly different to the original. I wonder if the third and fourth trips — to Spain and Greece — have found new territory to explore?

As actors playing actors in films that rely on naturalistic, possibly unscripted dialogue, most of the conversations are about the media. With that comes a sense that the audience is expected to be “in the know” — to be familiar with the people and films they talk about — indeed to be students of Coogan and Bryden’s own work. Without that knowledge, I doubt The Trip and it’s sequels would be nearly as funny.

So not a Top 100 movie, but one that has the power to make people laugh out loud. Right now, that’s no bad thing.

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting the latest post by Darren and Sarah.

#filmfriday

Film Friday: Only Lovers Left Alive

CP58948 OnlyLovers.pdf.pdf

Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch, 2012. Advertising poster.

I was in my twenties when I fell in love with Jim Jarmusch. In the beginning it was Stranger Than Paradise (1984), but we traveled Down By Law (1986), and on to Mystery Train (1989) until that final Night on Earth (1991).

Like many youthful romances, it didn’t last; I grew tired of the road (1), we drifted apart and before long completely lost touch.

I tried to reconnect over Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), but it just didn’t work. I was resigned to reliving my memories of that early magic on borrowed DVDs.

Then in 2013, I saw a glimmer of hope. Another chance. This time the attraction wasn’t really my former auteur-crush, but his new film’s stars; Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston and John Hurt. Based on past experience, I’d pay to watch them watching paint dry.

And that is how Only Lovers Left Alive comes to be on my list of great, watch-again-and-again-and-never-get-bored movies.

Have I mentioned that it’s a vampire movie? No? Well that surprised me too. According to my usual “will I enjoy this film” checklist, if any of the actors are sporting overly long canines, the answer is probably “no.” If the aforementioned canines are bloodied, it’s a resounding “thanks, but no thanks.”

Let’s just say, I’m rewriting the checklist.

Only Lovers Left Alive IS a vampire movie, but it’s also so much more. It’s a really tender love story, a (very dark) comedy, a celebration of art and creativity, and a cautionary tale for our sickening world. It’s packed full of musical and literary references (spoiler alert: Christopher Marlowe DID write the works of Shakespeare — and he was a vampire), haunting cinematography, and a luscious soundtrack.

I hadn’t really expected there to be much chemistry between Swinton and Hiddleston (playing a couple married for over 500 years), but somehow it works. I’d probably have suggested he get a haircut, but that’s quibbling.

Here’s the trailer, and if you haven’t seen this quirky gem — add it to your lockdown list.

Oh, and as for me and Jim. I wasn’t crazy about his next film Paterson. I haven’t seen his  latest, The Dead Don’t Die, but it’s a “zombie comedy.” Not really my favourite genre, but I loved Shaun of the Dead, so who knows.

 

 

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting the latest post by Darren and Sarah.

#filmfriday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film Friday: The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter

MV5BMmZhMTkyY2UtNDU1Ny00NmRiLWJlM2QtMzkzOTU2MDkyNGYzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTU5MTMxNTM@._V1_

Movie poster: The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter. Image: IMBd

Revisiting Twenty Feet from Stardom for last week’s Film Friday, got me thinking about other documentaries that focus on women’s lives. And that led me to The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter , the 1980 debut film of American director Connie Field.

I first saw the film in 1986; a feminist film watched through the specific lens of my own academic work on feminist film-making. It’s also an historical documentary, so the potential for an on-going love affair with this movie was there from the beginning.

Rosie tells the story of the women who kept American manufacturing going during World War II when most of the male workforce was in the military.

When the United States joined the war in December 1941, it’s army (including the National Guard) numbered fewer than 400,000 men. By the end of WWII, over 16 million Americans had served in the military during the conflict.

The vast majority of those who either joined up or were conscripted had peacetime jobs that still needed to be done; and in addition, the war itself created massive demand in manufacturing — everything from bullets to warships.

Two and a half million women from all walks of life were persuaded by Government campaigns to take on jobs that had never before been regarded as suitable for the “fairer sex”. Nicknamed “Rosie the Riveter” or sometimes “Wanda the Welder”, they found themselves in munitions factories and shipyards working under extreme conditions, with the additional pressure of knowing that if their handiwork failed, it could mean death for servicemen overseas — including their own fathers, husbands and sons.

The clip below gives you an idea of how the government campaign was framed. The sexism is excruciating  … “after a short apprenticeship a woman can operate this press as easily as a juice extractor in her own kitchen.”

The film focuses on the experience of five “Rosie’s”; setting contemporary interviews with the now older women, alongside archive footage. The effect is both exhilarating and sad.

For many, even while they were paid around half as much as male employees, it was still an opportunity to earn far more than they ever could in traditional female occupations. And over time they grew in confidence and experienced a camaraderie and pride in their work that they would never know again.

But the film makes clear that they also faced discrimination; particularly the women of colour. This intensified when it became clear just how good the women were at their jobs. Not only that, but women workers were also expected to work long hours in a factory and still go home and do the “second shift” looking after their families.

But perhaps worst of all, they were seen as  “temps”, expected to meekly go back to low-wage sewing, waitressing and domestic service when the men came home.

As one of the Rosie’s, Lola Weixel said:

I was proud that I was in the war against Fascism, and I was very aware of that every day, every minute. As a woman, I was doing something that other women felt strange about; and some men were outraged and some were amused. I still felt very womanly. And whatever I was before, I felt that I could be strong and capable and responsible for other peoples’ lives. I was aware of that then.I thought that all this was going to continue after the war. I thought that this was just a prelude to a lifetime of productive work. It was a shock to me when I realized that that was not going to be so.

 

After the war, when it became clear that many women wanted or needed to remain in the jobs they had done so well, the Government propaganda machine went into overdrive, with pseudo-science its main weapon. Suddenly, women who went out to work were guilty of terrible child neglect. The country was in danger of an epidemic of delinquency — which could only be solved by women returning to their traditional nurturing role!

I’ve seen The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter a few times; though not recently. It is available to stream, so that’s likely to change soon.

My main criticism was always that the five Rosie interviewees were filmed without real context; they were such intelligent, articulate women I wanted to know more about their post-war lives.

But a film can’t do everything, and what it does do is shine a light on a really important moment in women’s lives. And it does so with compassion, intelligence, humour and some really catchy music. Cue Rosie the Riveter (1942; Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb)

 

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting the latest post by Darren and Sarah.

#filmfriday

 

 

Film Friday: 20 Feet from Stardom

Twenty_Feet_From_Stardom_poster

Poster, 20 Feet From Stardom. Image from The Cocoa Diaries

Strip out the backing vocals from rock, pop and R&B music and you lose much of its depth and richness. And yet, how many of us can name the singers (mainly women) who perform on our favourite songs?

20 Feet From Stardom is a 2013 documentary that explores the lives and careers of some of the music industry’s most prolific backing-singers. We may not recognise the names — Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer (who’ve both sung Gimme Shelter with Mick Jagger), Judith HillClaudia Lennear, or Darlene Love — but we recognise their voices, and when the spotlight is upon them, we understand their genius.

I love this movie. It doesn’t flinch from the harsh realities of what it means to be in the background — vital to, but often unacknowledged in — moments of musical magic and history-making. At the same time, it is incredibly joyous. These women love to sing and the film gives them voice.

20 Feet From Stardom was a huge box-office success and won the 2014 Oscar for Best Feature Documentary. As a result, some of its leading ladies have been propelled at least a few more of those 20 feet to stardom.

You can see the official trailer here:

And if you’re interested in knowing more about the making of the film, this interview with Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton and the film’s director Morgan Neville, is really interesting.

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting Darren’s and Sarah’s latest posts.

#filmfriday

Film Friday: Tampopo

Tampopo-Banner-2

Tampopo (Japan, 1985). Director Juzo Itami.

Films about food feature so regularly on my roll-call of film favourites that I could fill a year’s worth of Film Friday slots with the various delights of culinary cinema.

But however long the list and whatever my current favourite, Tampopo will always hold a very special place in my heart. Like a first kiss, or the first bite of a Thai fish cake (when you’ve grown up on classic “Kiwi” tucker), Tampopo was a revelation; an experience unlike anything that’s gone before.

It’s been called the first “ramen western, but it’s also a comedy, a gentle almost-romance, a bromance and a play on so many film tropes and genres that it’s hard to keep up.

At its heart is a quest for the perfect ramen. The genius is that this quest involves tough-guy truckers, a young widow and her bullied son, some homeless people, a rich elderly man, a few heart-of-gold punks and an assorted cast of Hollywood stock characters played not so much against type, as alongside but in a wholly different cultural context. Not forgetting some salarymen, a group of young women learning western etiquette, a dying housewife, a couple of con artists, and a gangster and his girlfriend who inhabit an almost entirely separate movie.

It’s messy, crazy, cheesy, sometimes quite erotic, seriously good fun.

And no matter how often I watch it I always end up craving a bowl of noodles.

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting Darren’s and Sarah‘s latest posts.

#filmfriday

 

Film Friday: Strictly Ballroom

MV5BOTU5ZTBlMWEtNGQzNi00MDNiLTk4NjEtNTQ1MTg5MzBhYzQ3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE1NjY5Mg@@._V1_ Publicity poster, Strictly Ballroom. Image from IMDb

Music, dancing, romance, rivalries and political machinations — what’s not to like?

Strictly Ballroom (1992), is Australian film-maker Baz Lurhmann’s directoral debut. Set in the world of competitive ballroom dancing, it’s a story about love and friendship, about following your dreams, and about doing the right thing when it really matters.

It’s also incredibly funny. And tongue-in-cheek. And uplifting. All of which I need right now.

You can find out more about the film and see a trailer at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) here.

And hopefully you’ll be able to watch the video below of John Paul Young singing his 1977 hit Love is in the Air, which he re-recorded for the Strictly Ballroom soundtrack.

Now get up and dance.

Fun fact:

The hit British TV programme Strictly Come Dancing gets its name from this movie — in case you didn’t know.

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting Darren’s latest post. Sarah is taking a break this week.

#filmfriday

 

Film Friday: The Lady Vanishes

The-Lady-Vanishes-1938

Promotional still from the 1938 film The Lady Vanishes, published in National Board of Review Magazine. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

I think it’s often the case when a film moves us and becomes a favourite, that we feel the pull, the magic, in our first viewing. The event becomes as memorable as the film.

But there are exceptions.

I can’t remember when or where I first saw The Lady Vanishes, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 masterpiece. It must have been on TV, but I have no recollection of it.

What I do know is that sometime in the late 1990s when I read a short story by Paul Magrs called The Lion Vanishes, (1) I understood the references: I got the joke.

I know then that I went back to the movie — even buying it on video — and the love affair began.

The Lady Vanishes (tLV)was Hitchcock’s last truly British film: indeed its success was what prompted the invitation to Hollywood.

If the name “Hitchcock” brings to mind Psycho, The Birds, or even Strangers on a Train; stop there. tLV is an altogether kinder, more gentle film shot through with wonderful British humour.

Even better — and unlike many of Hitchcock’s later films — the female characters are allowed to do more than swoon, fawn and endure violence. In many ways, the story is female-driven.

Wikipedia describes the film’s plot thus:

… based on the 1936 novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White, the film is about a beautiful English tourist travelling by train in continental Europe who discovers that her elderly travelling companion seems to have disappeared from the train. After her fellow passengers deny ever having seen the elderly lady, the young woman is helped by a young musicologist, the two proceeding to search the train for clues to the old lady’s disappearance.

Released in 1938, the film’s fictional countries and political turmoils were thinly veiled references to the world war that was looming. The triumph of the British characters over the alternately evil and bumbling foreigners was inevitable, but executed with great skill and wit.

Health warning

The Lady Vanishes  had a truly execrable Hollywood remake in 1979. I can’t even bring myself to talk about it. Avoid it at all costs!

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting Sarah’s or Darren’s latest posts.

#filmfriday


  1. The Lion Vanishes can be found in the short story collection Playing Out by Paul Magrs, 1997.