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Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Confession – Living The War on Terror (2016) : An atypical talking head

This is a review of The Confession (2016)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

12 September

This is a review of The Confession (2016)

Those outside documentary circles may puzzle that film-makers choose to call their works ‘features’ (e.g. Alison Rose, regarding Star Men (2015)). However, amongst the variety that is documentary, The Confession (2016) is probably best described thus – a quality that may have helped make it ‘a hot ticket’ at Sheffield Doc / Fest (@sheffdocfest).

On first impression, though, one is more reminded of John Akomfrah with The Stuart Hall Project (2013). A very different style, but both Ashish Ghadiali and he observe subjects with powerful intensity : here, Moazzam Begg, and what he says about his life between first going to Bosnia, to see for himself what was happening to Muslims there (as he broadly put it), and his other exploratory travels. Chronologically (but, as far as Begg is concerned, not otherwise), they led to his being detained, in Bagram and then Guantánamo, for almost three years without trial. (In 2014, until charges were dropped, he was also a maximum-security prisoner, under UK counter-terrorism provisions.)

Sensationally promoting technical aspects of Boyhood (2014), or Russian Ark (2002), might make untutored viewers appreciative of apparent real-time verismo, but how will they register the achievements that make The Confession distinctive ? (Not its title, already being this year’s sixth entry on IMDb (@IMDb).) An experienced director of photography, as well as with credits for two shorts (whose themes are complementary), Ghadiali draws them in – almost unperceived – with a highly prepared interview set-up, so they may not realize how he uses it to curate the sense of integrity that they feel. (Subtle sound-design (Luke Shrewsbury) and original scoring (Nitin Sawhney) also create, or accentuate, tensions in the narrative-line.)

Edited from nine hours’ shooting, the interview is occasionally remitted, usually cut together with other material : often, stock footage to indicate countries (or locations) that Begg visited, but also his father’s television avowals of his son’s innocence (or concern for his whereabouts) – and, eventually, Begg interviewed elsewhere.

For, after a few youthful snaps, we keep seeing him in front of us as he is now, but this lets Ghadiali surprise us with Begg on camera, on the Turkish–Syrian border (a trip instrumental in Begg’s remand, pending trial, in HM Prison Belmarsh). Thereafter, the lens prompts us directly :

* What do we think of him ?

* What would we have thought of him then ?

* What is his confession ?

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Julian Joseph Trio at Herts Jazz Festival : Playing out to us from the inside

This is a review of a single set by The Julian Joseph Trio for Herts Jazz Festival

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

19 September

This is a review of a one-set performance that was given by The Julian Joseph Trio for Herts Jazz Festival, on Sunday 18 September 2016 at 5.00 p.m.

From the start, Julian Joseph led with clarity and luminosity, both in directing and drawing in his sidesmen (Mark Hodgson on bass, and drummer Mark Mondesir), and through the style and quality of his playing.

Once master of ceremonies Clark Tracey had introduced the individual players in the trio – and joked how, in an educational encounter, he had taught his fellow practitioner on the drums 'all that he knows' – Joseph tagged onto what Tracey had said, and commented that ‘Julian’ would be joining the two Marks in the rhythm section : for, although there was no shortage to be found of the fluent, or lyrical, in his pianism, he could equally be heard at times to give us patternings of a recurring or repeating kind.

Julian Joseph

As the set proceeded, Joseph’s need seemingly diminished¹ for an introductory piano solo - with its material and treatment of a highly exploratory or expansive nature - and, by the fourth number (of five), it had wholly gone. This proved to be the last of three of his original compositions², ‘Loyalty and insight’, which took flight straightaway, but later spent time over nursing a dissonance (a semi-tone ?), and then contrasting it with the relative reassurance to be found when the interval changed to a reiterated concord (a third ?).

As the set worked through, so communication and conversation with Mondesir became more focal, and so, at the end of numbers four and five, resulted in highly extended sections : it was as if the world of solo introductory rumination had become translated or transmuted into communion with another in the common measure of rhythm², just as Joseph had suggested at the outset...

Note on the auditorium / sound set-up :

Preferring an aisle-seat, and not knowing The Hawthorne Theatre (at Campus West, Welwyn Garden City), choosing five rows back in the flat stalls, as available, had seemed a good idea. It was not an acoustic set (though it could / should have been ?), and, in this location, that fact proved to make it work less well in the auditorium :

Visually, of course, it was fine, with sight-lines across to Joseph at the keyboard, to Mondesir at the opposite side of the stage (and with a good view of his sticks and kit), and to Hodgson centre stage. However, in terms of sound via the speakers as well as directly from the stage, there was a gap where Hodgson should have been. One could see him playing, but it took one to make a conscious realization that his sound did not come through, within the ensemble, so that one could hear it as part of it without an effort – whereas, once one ‘listened for him’ (partly guided by where his hand was on the finger-board), the double-bass came across.

End-notes :

¹ Or that may just be how he customarily approaches what, on this occasion, had been chosen as the earlier numbers in the set ? In any case, many initial sets start with a tune or song that serves as much as a loosener for the ears of the audience as for an opportunity for the ensemble to ease itself in - working out who and where it is in relation to those listening.

² The first two numbers in the set had also been original compositions, and the others were standards, ‘Just one of those things’, and, to close, George Gershwin :

In the latter, ‘Nice work, if you can get it’, Joseph got right inside Gerswhin’s melody, with Mondesir amidships – undoing all the nuts and bolts, even more than his introductory solos had done, and then slowing things right down to a quiet pulse, before whizzing it dramatically back together again !

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Why¹ do we say, John and Ruth are having a new kitchen ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

21 September

The Tweets that follow are actually, of course, a hook (in disguise) for a treatment² :

A film all about couples, where each cannot understand the other's decorating shorthand...

End-notes :

¹ Meaning, by way of answer to the question, We say that, because it is true, and we wish others to know it - or, perhaps as reasonably, We say that, because we believe that it is true, and we wish others to know it. (Or, less reasonably (but, depending on our motivation, perhaps rationally ?), We say that, [knowing / believing] that it is untrue, but we wish others to believe it...)

² One challenges the reader not to agree that thinner conceits have been used as the basis for what is allegedly filmed entertainment that runs to 100-120 minutes.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 19 September 2016

Trust me, I'm a doctor [or dentist, solicitor, landscape gardener...] ~ Charging what the market will bear ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

20 September

In fact will anyone, asked to cost a job, or when drawing up an invoice, not have an eye to whether the figures will cause a splutter - or, more desirably, be accepted without batting an eye-lid ?

In Lady Windemere’s Fan [sic], Oscar Wilde had Lord Darlington quip that a cynic was ‘a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing'.

From Paul Bernal's blog []

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Reflecting on Markéta Popelková's MA show in Fine Art at The Cass (@TheCassArt)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

13 September

Images of Marketa's in situ works (acrylic on board and also on canvas, mounted on the board) at the private viewing, on the evening of Tuesday 13 September

In mid-June 2015, one had been delighted to come, hot foot from Sheffield Doc / Fest (@sheffdocfest), to be with Markéta for the equivalent viewing for her magnificently curatorial and inviting installation at the BA show in Fine Art, also at (to give it its full title) The Sir John Cass Art, Architecture and Design Faculty (@TheCassArt).

Quite an insightful difference in the practice and range, in the intervening fifteen months, of this Czech artist (and former Cambridge resident)...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Cold Comfort Terms

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

6 September

The above strand of Tweets relates to what is set out in A new formulation of the moral superiority inherent in what 'a good reason' is to be depressed

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 2 September 2016

Live each day like it’s your last – and, some day, you’ll be right ! ~ Rose Dorfman

This is a response to, more than a review of, Café Society (2016)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

2 September

This is more of a response to, than a review of, Woody Allen's latest cinematic release, Café Society (2016)

There are, in Café Society (2016), quite a few familiar Allen(esque) themes (or concerns - a non-exhaustive list is assembling below), but is this a summation of them, and could it even (but one hopes that it does not !) serve as a swansong – in the way that, although Midnight in Paris (2011) was Woody Allen’s tribute to that city (and its past literary, artistic and social life), it was excessively lauded, and would hardly be a fit note to go out on… ?

After all, Midnight in Paris is not a film that dreams this much, with Gil’s (Owen Wilson’s) entry into another world proving as easy as waiting for an old cab with T. S. Eliot in it¹, and its ending, which settles for finding love in the ‘here and now’, not with a former lover of – was it ? – Picasso’s, who herself hankers for an earlier time still. Rather, it is a direction that was perhaps indicated by Magic in the Moonlight (2014), an Allen film that was unnecessarily disesteemed, and wrongly criticized for what is also an element here – even though that is what happened in the films’ common era – i.e. a younger woman marrying a man at least twice her age².

(Though equally, in Blue Jasmine, both Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) and Ginger (Sally Hawkins) retreat into – whilst they last – blissful forms of dreaming impossibly for, respectively, what cannot be sustained, and what is too good to be true, or there are the brothers³ in Cassandra’s Dream (2007) (Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor), who realise a dream at the start, but one whose consequences almost inexorably take them further and further from it.)

However, reading a summation of a career in film into Café Society is based on what... - as if Allen were the fictional director Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), in Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth (La giovinezza) (2015), but envisaging, if not desiring leaving, his testament in making film-within-a-film Life’s Last Day ? Apart, of course, from the allusiveness⁴ of the line, quoted from Bobby's mother in the title to this posting, Live each day like it’s your last – and, some day, you’ll be right !, nothing more than the work itself, and its feel. (Yet, at the same time, Allen just cannot resist telling us – alongside the film’s ambiguous interpretations of the observation that Dreams are… dreams – about dreams as we know that he sees them, putting in a plug for those centred on NYC (East Coast ‘chic’) over ones about LA (a West Coast illusion, which Bobby, unimpressed by its film industry, describes as a ‘boring, nasty, dog-eat-dog’ existence).

Interlude - An alphabetical selection (some spoilery ?) of concerns (or themes) familiar from the Allen filmography :

* Affairs: many examples, from the hilarious parody of ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ in Love and Death (1975), to Husbands and Wives (1992) or Deconstructing Harry (1997)

* Central Park : Passim, but not least Manhattan (1979), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

* Confession being overheard by someone who should not know : Another Woman (1988), Everyone Says I Love You (1996)

* Dodgy relatives : Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989), Cassandra’s Dream (2007) [by no means the only point of contact between Cassandra and Crimes (sadly, via Match Point (2005))]

* Family : Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987)

* Financial advice, (possibly) untrustworthy : Celebrity (1998) [as well as the funniest scene ever with a banana !], Blue Jasmine (2013)

* Gangsters : Broadway Danny Rose (1984), Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

* Jewish gangsters : John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo (2013), in which Allen plays opposite Turturro - though, with Jewish gangsters, the primary reference must be Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

* Jewishness : Stardust Memories (1980) , Oedipus Wrecks (in New York Stories (1989), with Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola)

* Night-clubs : Stardust Memories (1980), Radio Days (1987)

* Religious conversion : Love and Death (1975), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Just as in Broadway Danny Rose (1984), and the tales told around the table about Danny (Allen himself) that frame it (or in Radio Days (1987), in which - as in other cases - Allen narrates, but does not appear), an infectious dream of life inhabits Café Society, i.e. the film itself and in its microcosm in the night-club that Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) agrees to help [Ben] run as its manager (but is somehow guilelessly unaware of how it is run⁵ (NB possible spoiler in the end-note), until he comes to be able to change its name from Hangover to Les Tropiques).

Allen very deliberately gives us the fiction of the film itself, both how it is told to us visually (such that we know that it must all be there – all that information about the family, and who is who – for a reason, as yet unrevealed), and in the manner and style of his own narration, casual and urbane, and which even seems to make light of state or informal executions as if ‘one of those things’ that happen in life (the camera also does not dwell). (By contrast, Irrational Man (2015) had been in a different place altogether, and employed voice-overs by its interlocked principals, Emma Stone (Jill Pollard) and Joaquin Phoenix (Abe Lucas).)

Left to right : Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, Dianne Wiest

One can instructively look back to the effect of Allen’s voice-overs as Mickey in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), partly when narrating his existential crisis (and how, by happenstance, The Marx Brothers came to resolve it) to Holly (Dianne Wiest) - with whom former relations, as one of Hannah’s said sisters, had been stormy and unpromising : because they had been, both of them (as here), where they were, and who they were, at the time. In Café Society, Allen uses the voice-over as our relation to a cinematic world that allows us to enter into the sheer dramatic contrivance that a man can choose to unburden himself to his younger relative about what, initially unbeknownst to either, also touches him the other – which feels awkward enough in itself, and yet it is only when, artlessly, the other passes on that story (although told in confidence) that the set-up fully unfolds, and, as a situation that it is to be repeated, we see a fight to maintain composure…

Ellen Page and Jesse Eisenberg in To Rome with Love

Quite apart from letting us see him use the cast as an ensemble (please see below), a more recent film, To Rome With Love (2012), is another that deserves more attention than it received, not just for being very good fun (and good natured, as Café Society is, and not Irrational Man (2015)), but also to be credited for being what it is – the work of a director who had the versatility, after Annie Hall (1977), to make Interiors (1978) (with all the brickbats that Allen got for it), and then make Manhattan, but also Stardust Memories (1980) (again, unjustly criticized). (To Rome with Love came before Blue Jasmine (2013) took people’s attention again (after Allen, for some reason, had it with Midnight in Paris).)

Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg in To Rome with Love

In To Rome with Love, Allen has Alec Baldwin maybe trying to help the younger man that he once was (again, Jesse Eisenberg) not make, amongst other mistakes, that of being seduced when he thought that he was seducing : it is one strand, amongst four, of wonder, which are presented with a tacitly agreed impossibility, but with none on its own asking us to credit it with the whole film. Nor exactly does Café Society, but not likewise, because it coheres around its elements in the way that Hannah and Her Sisters does (though with a different note on which to finish...).

As The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) did [which was claimed by Allen, at the time of the first edition of Woody Allen on Woody Allen, to be the film of his with which he was most pleased], Café Society revolves the question of the connectedness of image and substance – as well as the related one, both seen here and in others of his films (especially Blue Jasmine), of looking the other way as to where wealth comes from⁵ (NB possible spoiler in the end-note), or regarding the person from whom one wishes to acquire it.

Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin in Blue Jasmine

Perhaps the main sense, in Café Society, of a summation (if not of a conclusion) of a career inheres in a characteristic that it shares with that then-disliked film from 1980, Stardust Memories ? A strong sense of Allenesque couples who, though not exactly feeling regret, wonder What if... ?

And cause us to wonder deeply - when we might, instead, wonder about ourselves ?

Time passes… Life moves on… People change…

End-notes :

¹ Of course, on another level, dream is transmuted literally into wish-fulfilment for Gil, presenting as real the history that helped bring him to Paris – and overlook Inez’ own infidelity – until he realizes that he is chasing rainbows.

² It was there in Manhattan (1979) – which people usually forget was co-written with Marshall Brickman (as was Annie Hall (1977), not to omit the hilarity and foresight that is Sleeper (1973)) – and, from there (via Husbands and Wives (1992)), right up to Irrational Man (2015).

³ As it happens, Ginger and Jasmine are sisters by adoption, but not Cassandra's Terry (Farrell) and Ian (McGregor) - who, in Tom Wilkinson, have an Uncle Howard - with his line in calling in family favours...

⁴ Although, naturally one cannot go far in Allen's canon without hearing words that echo our mortality – even here, with Bobby's sister Evelyn's husband Leonard (Stephen Kunken), i.e. his brother-in-law, also talking - in the puzzled, but semi-humorous, way that his characters do - about Socrates and 'the life examined'…

⁵ Put another way, as in Cassandra’s Dream (2007) (or Match Point (2005)), getting what one wants - but at what cost ?

NB Possible spoiler : And one could ask – and will ask on a re-watching – why again, exactly, was it that Bobby went to see his uncle, Phil Stern, in LA (given that, back in NYC, Bobby is given a warning that Ben should consider disappear to Florida – which maybe Bobby 'forgot' to pass on ?)… Florida is also where Ben (Corey Stoll) was also heard urging Bobby's and his parents to go, just after Bobby has arrived in LA : as if form's sake, his mother, Rose Dorfman (Jeannie Berlin), superficially is concerned where Ben's money comes from, but then seems satisfied with some casual excuse ?

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)