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Like Life, Only Better March 10, 2013

Posted by markswill in About me, Media, That's Entertainment.

One of the (many) criticisms made of this blog is that it’s almost unremittingly doom-laden. To which I’d say, ‘Guilty as charged’. But as one gets older and from a growing catalogue of experience forms a world view, unless you enjoy great wealth and the insulation from reality it can afford, such pessimism is hard to avoid. Being a life-long, card-carrying hack, this augurs an almost feral need to communicate which ignores such constraints as readers’ sensitivities or sympathies, constraints which the nature of the blogosphere, e.g. no editors, no rules, no overriding context, further renders irrelevant.

But it’s not all gloom and dismay out there and as noted at the end of my last bilious outing, I also sometimes arrogantly feel moved to share some of the good stuff that I’ve enjoyed recently, which invariably means kulcher. So…

Thanks to my current day job, I can recommend some cracking films just about to come out, the best being Steven ‘I’m Giving Up Making Movies to Become a Painter’ Soderbergh’s Side Effects. I’m a huge fan of Soderbergh who’s gleefully defied categorisation with films as diverse as crime capers Ocean’s 11, 12 & 13, disease thriller Contagion, his better-than-the-original re-make of Solaris and even that low-key titillation, The Girlfriend Experience. Although revisiting the corporate malfeasance he reflected in The Informant!, just when you think Side Effects is a worthy treatise on the nastiness of Big Pharma, it suddenly goes somewhere else altogether.  And as a trio of characters in a battle of psychologically troubled wills, Jude Law, having recently snoozed his way through Anna Karenina, Dragon Tattoo’s chameleon-like Rooney Mara and much to my amazement, Catherine Zeta-Jones, have never been better.

Theatre director Rufus Norris’s movie debut Broken also ends up being more than the sum of its narrative twists and turns, namely a meditation on the moral state of the nation, (spoiler alert: it’s not looking good). Deploying his native English accent for the first time in ages Tim Roth plays a well-meaning if slightly vapid father of an adolescent daughter who circumstance obliges to grow up fast. She’s played with great spirit and credibility by newcomer Eloise Laurence and although violent, bleak and prone to arguably gratuitous flashbacks, Broken is well worth the ticket price.

Music video director Eran Creevy’s Welcome to the Punch finds James McAvoy playing a bitter cop out to avenge the crook who nearly killed him during a mega-bank heist (the reliably intimidating slap-head, Mark Strong). Structurally it’s kinda Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels for the internet generation, but despite a low-ish budget, its noir-ish view of a soulless London and excellent turns from all concerned including Andrea Risborough as McAvoy’s professional foil elevate it into something rather superior.

McAvoy’s been a busy boy lately and will shortly turn up as Bruce Robertson, a decidedly amoral detective in Filth, co-written by another newish director, Jon S. Baird from Irvine Welsh’s eponymous novel. Set like Welsh’s Trainspotting in Glasgow and occasionally saddled with the same incomprehensible dialect – bring on the subtitles, please – Robertson is trying to win back a wife understandably estranged by his wilful, often comically OTT misbehavior.

Even more entertaining, uplifting even for men of a certain age (guess who?), is Good Vibrations, a rousing biog of Terri Hooley, the god-father of Northern Ireland’s punk rock scene. I was barely aware such a thing existed, but Hooley’s transformation from hippie-ish record-shop owner to politically savvy pogo evangelist is most affecting, ending with him leading a raucously improbable version of Sony Bono’s Laugh At Me to a huge, ecstatic Belfast audience. Richard Dormer as Hooley and Jodie Whittaker as his more grounded wife are both fab.

But sadly, man cannot live by celluloid images alone, although David Thompson’s masterful The Big Screen is the best book on their development and social influence yet. And here’s a few more tomes I’ve recently read and can recommend especially if, like me, you managed no more than 0-level English. Very different from Whoops!, his razor sharp critique of cowboy capitalism, John Lanchester’s novel Capital cunningly interweaves the disparate, often deeply unattractive inhabitants of a gentrified London street who’re confronted by a malign trespasser. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl on t’other hand is a more straightforward thriller but written in an odd style that quickly turns compelling as the mystery unfolds. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshid Hamid is a thoughtful, cleverly wrought novella whose title says it all, with a pitiless final twist.  Somewhat inevitably I’ll finish with Deborah Moggach’s latest novel, Heartbreak Hotel, which following her movie-inspiring Best Exotic Marigold Ditto gives further hope and hilarity to those of us awash with middle-aged testiness and torpor.

Turning novels into scripts of course courts peril, but having enjoyed Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time I was, ahem, curious to see how it might pan out as a play and given Luke Treadaway’s astonishing performance as the OCD-ridden Christopher Boone, Simon Stevens’ adaptation is just great. Having transferred the National Theatre’s Cottesloe, its stunningly-staged production is now at the Apollo. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that all my other puffs are for National Theatre enterprises, too, although the most extraordinary – and I use the word advisedly – is a walk-around piece performed in the basement warren of Somerset House. In The Beginning Was The End is a witty, engaging and often disturbing examination of corporate and technological dystopia which obviously appealed hugely to this writer.

Also at the NT is Port, a narratively astute celebration of the human spirit, again by Simon Stevens, played across 13 years in a Stockport sink estate with some brilliant performances and a breathtaking stage design. Finally at the Southbank there’s Frances de la Tour’s, ahem, tour de force as the droll, obstinate owner of a crumbling country pile in People. Another magnificent Lyttleton staging, and although some critics disparaged Alan Bennett’s script even my film-fixated sister thought it highly entertaining, infused as it is with his usual subtle poignancy.

But that’s enough niceness for now – next week we’ll be back to grumbling normality with… Dubai!

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1. WTK - March 10, 2013

Well written of course but I miss the grumbling.

WTK - March 11, 2013

Mark, you really are a kinder and gentler person, just as Herbert Walker Bush said about America. I’m moved…to do what, I don’t know.

markswill - March 11, 2013

It’s the Zoloft Terry, or the Ambien… I dunno, I can barely read the labels anymore.

Neville Durward - March 12, 2013

As a fellow Britisher and now an escapee from a secret U.S Government research lab situated beneath the Nevada desert, I’ve on occasion had to duck in a multiplex to elude my pursuers.
Your new style blog permits me to do so in a timely fashion , causing the least disturbance to my fellow theatregoers or the inconvenies of missing the first few minutes of the latest blockbuster.

markswill - March 12, 2013

Would that be the bookish, pacifist brother of Quentin Durward, the Scottish archer in the employ of Louis the XI in the 15th Century? My Barry, how well you’ve aged, and the advent of cinema and indeed paperback books must’ve come as such a pleasant shock to you. Tell me though, how come you made it to the Americas? I thought you’d long abandoned that hollowed-out log you referred to as a canoodle.

2. hed maginnis - March 11, 2013

Have to admit. I go to the cinema for Ben and Jerry’s and brownie points. Peoples views on films I find interesting, bit like peoples views on skiing. I’m now better informed but that’s about it.
The Hooley movie. It is widely known that a previous (and really quite nice) ms Hooley got an original script and tore through it with ‘Never happened, never happened and ballocks’ strangely enough there’s a lot share that view.
Looking forward to getting my £20 quid back which I leant him in the Crown.

markswill - March 11, 2013

Really Hed, the man was a charlatan? Like I wrote, I was barely aware that there WAS a N.I. punk scene, and perhaps the producers worked on the principle that this was a common (mis)perception and felt able to embroider the shit out of the story? But that’s movies for you: more entertaining than 24 Hour Party People, though.

3. Melinda Clayton Bell - March 11, 2013

I love Soderbergh’s films, became a fan after seeing Sex, Lies and Video Tapes.and am dismayed he is ‘retiring’ but he has been exrtemely prolific in his output. I saw Side Effects yesterday and it failed to ‘draw me in’. Maybe because I am not a Jude Law fan only liking him in the Talented Mr Ripley and Road to Perdition. I felt the premise of Side Effects was good but found all the characters less than likeable and just as I thought it was getting interesting ie the denoument I fell asleep. This is the first time this has happened – I usually walk out if I am not interested in the film. So Soderbergh is right maybe the reasons people are going to the cinema these days if for different reasons to quote him “people are looking more to movies as an escape rather than a mirror”. I had a rather impromptu escape into the land of nod.

markswill - March 11, 2013

YOU FELL ASLEEP Melinda ?!?! Get a grip for chrissakes! You’re obviously working too hard, or parting too late the other nights. Or both. Agree with you about the character’s lack of likeability, but I thought it was well acted and brilliantly crafted (did you know Soderbegh does some of his camerawork and most of his editing?). And the ending was brill.

Melinda Clayton Bell - March 21, 2013

I did not realise the extent of his input. The editing can make or break a film. So Soderbergh is one of the true Auteurs in American cinema.

4. David Cobbold - March 11, 2013

Mark, you seem to have moved from being the Dr House of the blogosphere to being the movie industry’s best advocate! I will try to see as many of these films as come out here in France and see what I think, but you appear to be doing a pretty good sales job here.

markswill - March 11, 2013

Hi David, well having to see 3-4 films a week and write about 5 – 7, at least beats working for a living. I think most of the ones I puffed will appear in France, although perhaps not Good Vibrations. And next week it’ll be back to curmudgeonly normality.

5. Peter Silverton - March 11, 2013

oh, mark, you see, even you can look through the glass brightly . . .

markswill - March 11, 2013

Occasionally Pete, very occasionally!

6. martincraig - March 11, 2013

Best response for me is to say, “Thank you.” I look forward to following as many of those up as is practical in this remote bit of Scotland.

I was a little concerned (viewing this on an iOS device) to see a line-drawing of someone grabbing handfuls of tbeir fat stomach immediately below your ‘leave a reply’ exhortation, with the message ‘1 tip for a tiny belly.’ Are you trying to tell me something?

markswill - March 11, 2013

Hi Martin, but it seems those fuckers who osmose themselves onto everyone else’s website to flog their snake-oils have finally come across my blog. Nowt to do with me and anyway, last time I saw you the terms ‘snake hips’ would’ve been made for you… mind you, I think we were both 15…

martincraig - March 11, 2013

Excellent, ‘Snakehips Craig’. That’s MY Blues name sorted, now we just need to work out yours.

CORAL ‘turf accountants’ are advertising now. They certainly call a spade an agricultural implement for turning soil. Do you have to pay to get out of going through these things twice?

7. Larushka Ivan-Zadeh - March 11, 2013

Wasn’t sure from your last sentence on Welcome To The Punch if you thought it was superior or not? I thought it relied too much on the excellence of its cast – the dialogue was risible in places! Have you seen The Reluctant Fundamentalist yet, or just read it? I have high hopes… My viewing today was a triple-bill of Welcome To The Punch, The Spirit of ’45 and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone – an extremely mixed bunch!

markswill - March 11, 2013

Well Larushka, I’d agree that the Welcome To The Punch script was patchy (I’m being kind, as is my very nature!), but overall I did think it was a superior Brit Crime Caper and especially liked the art direction and cinematography. Haven’t seen TRF yet, but what I hear about it isn’t great. Difficult book to film actually, but I gather the script adds whole new sub-plots and bends the structure to create a rather different narrative.
And my oh my, you’ve had a fun day’s screening! I thought ’45 and Burt both good in their (very) different ways, although the latter runs out of steam as it nears its predictable finale and the former pushes the polemic to the max. I’ve got the new Evil Dead, The Host, The East and Out In The Dark this week… what a mix!

8. Iain Strachan - March 12, 2013

Mark, shame on you! Trainspotting was not based in Glasgow at all, but in the fair Port of Leith! Adjacent to the capitol Edinburgh, it’s vernacular is MUCH harder to get yer lugs around than Glesgae’s.
(Welsh anyone?)

markswill - March 12, 2013

Oh woe, woe and thrice woe is me. Trouble is, everything looks the same to me citywise norf of the border.

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