Film review – Mrs Lowry & Son (Adrian Noble, 2019)

L. S. Lowry once claimed he only ever used five colours: vermilion, ivory black, Prussian blue, yellow ochre and flake white. Mrs Lowry and Son puts Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave together in a film as flatly coloured as any of Lowry’s paintings, with a plot to match. This isn’t to bismirch the overall effect – a film with a different tone would feel like a mis-step.

These are astonishing performances from the two leads.

Spall plays the titular son, famed Lancashire artist Laurence Stephen Lowry. He brings Lowry to life, as he struggles against his own mother’s opinion of his work and allows that to permeate his confidence. It’s a heartbreaking thing to watch play out.

Of course, without Redgrave giving an equally wonderful performance as Elizabeth Lowry, the whole thing would fall flat. It’s well written and delivered perfectly. Redgrave has seldom felt so dislikeable. She has a dedicated son that she completely takes for granted. All she offers is a relentless undermining that only serves to stifle his genius.

The naming of the film tells you all you need to know about how important Redgrave is to the plot. It is arguably more her story than it is his, with her character as overbearing to the story as she was in real life to Lowry’s paintings.

It feels dreary, but this is a portrait of an artist living in Pendlebury in the 1930s. It was a dreary time to live, as families were built around the financial gains of working in the local coal mines.

The film soars when Adrian Noble works some of the more familiar of Lowry’s works into the visuals of the film. As a child who grew up in nearby Burnley, Lowry was revisited many times during art lessons at school. I’m not an expert, but it is a joy to see the masterpieces brought to life.

The joys of this film shouldn’t be limited to those from northern England, nor just to fans of his art. It’s very well executed and is well worth your viewing time.

Is Porco Rosso the best introduction to Studio Ghibli?

In an ongoing quest to indoctrinate my child with good cinema and expose her subconscious brain to variety of languages, we sat down and watched a Ghibli feature film for the first time. Well, okay, she didn’t watch it. She was only six-and-half weeks old at the time. I’m hoping the audio filtered through her ears and into her dreams as it played out with her asleep in my arms. At least her bath time music was definitely familiar,

As I watched it, I thought to myself how surprising it is that Porco Rosso isn’t better known and better appreciated. It’s one of only eleven feature-length animated films that Hiyao Miyazaki has directed, and sits directly in the middle of the timeline of releases. It is also, surely, one of his greatest works of art.

The plot revolves around a World War I Italian ex-fighter pilot, who now makes his money as a bounty hunter chasing air pirates. This allows Miyazaki to show off two of his greatest loves. The first is the beautifully-realistic European setting.  His version of early 1900s Italy is so authentic you can almost taste the pomodoro. It’s set firmly in the real-world events of the aftermath of the war, with the references to the Great Depression putting it in the 1930s.

Secondly, the over-arching aeronautical theme is again on display. Hayao Miyazaki’s father Katsuji Miyazaki was the director of Miyazaki Airplane, a company responsible for manufacturing aircraft parts during World War II. As you explore his work, time and time again the skies are visited and form a central part of the stories. Never is this more the case than in Porco Rosso.

Indeed, as an entry-level Ghibli film, it’s one of the best places to start. It has a focused, robust plot with a clear start, middle and end. It has elements of fantasy included. It has a wonderful Joe Hisaishi score. Everything you’d expect of a Studio Ghibli feature.

It’s interesting that it still feels very much like a film aimed at children. But what are the themes here? The war? Depression? Lost love? Fascism? The early years of aviation? Somehow these are tied together with such grace and love and packaged in a way that feels perfectly fitting for any child.

Basically, if you’re at all interested in Japanese animation, you need to work out a way to watch this film.

As for my daughter… She didn’t wake up but I’ll be making sure she revisits this one when she’s old enough to understand it a bit more. She’ll certainly recognise the score.

Note: If you want to read more about the fantasy portrayal of Europe by Miyazaki in Porco Rosso, Chris Wood’s article ‘The European Fantasy Space and Identity Construction in Porco Rosso‘ is a brilliant read.

Note: I wrote this article in December but never got around to publishing it. My daughter is now nine months old and still listens to the same music in the bath. She’s yet to watch any television, but she does love her plush Totoro.

Film review – Photograph (Ritesh Batra, 2019)

Photograph is a sweet film that has the feel of being a western take on what Indian cinema is. It’s doesn’t have any large set pieces or emotional pyrotechnics, the character development is sparse and the ending is fairly predictable, but despite these the overall effect is largely positive.

Director Ritesh Batra has returned to ground familiar to anyone who saw his soaring debut The Lunchbox, which brought him to prominence in 2013. The concept of an unlikely friendship blossoming into an even unlikelier romance is revisited here, with a beautifully-shot Mumbai serving as the backdrop for both. Fans of his debut expecting another uplifting romance will feel a little shortchanged, so it’s best to appreciate with a fresh palate.

With Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Rafi and Sanya Malhotra as Miloni Shah, the film is in great hands. These are two complex characters and they’ve clearly thought through every move under the guidance of director Batra. Rafi has an underlying anger that is fully realised without he need to clumsily explore his past through flashbacks irrelevant to the main plot. He plays it perfectly – a man frustrated by the pressures of arranged marriages that are being compounded by the arrival of his meddling but well-meaning grandma (Dadi).

Equally, Sanya Malhotra negotiates her role delicately. Hers is a character who goes a long way to keep those around her happy, so starting a relationship with someone unknown to her family is a huge step. It’s a role relevant to so many global movements to ensure better rights for women, though some may question if her stance is a little too understated. Or perhaps it’s just more realistic in her situation than if she’d openly displayed anger.

The ending is effective, even though it was signposted from about ten minutes in. Yes, it’s a poor man and a rich girl falling in love, which is tried and tested ground for so many films – a fact they mention in the climactic scene – but it’s certainly not handled clumsily. Just because we’ve seen it before doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable.

It isn’t a groundbreaking film, but not every piece of cinema has to be to leave a lasting effect.

Film review – The Great Hack (Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, 2019)

Unless you’re 100% informed about Cambridge Analytica, you really need to watch this film. It covers a lot of what is already known to those who followed the Facebook-Cambridge-Analytica scandal at the time, as covered in The Guardian by Carole Cadwalladr in her whistle-blowing article “The Great British Brexit Robbery”.

Cadwalladr is interviewed here, along with Cambridge Analytica’s ex-director Brittany Kaiser and ex-employee of Cambridge Analytica Christopher Wylie. Kaiser does her best to paint a sympathetic picture of herself, though I struggled to forget that she was at the heart of everything that happened (thanks to the reminders in the film). As a source, Wylie’s credibility is questioned, though he features lightly. It is an example of how well the film does at keeping the viewpoint as balanced as possible.

Importantly, the film doesn’t end trying to imply that the earth-shattering revelations brought about by the Cambridge Analytica scandal have been resolved. The implications of this scandal and the continued work that seems to be going on at so many of the large technology companies feels like it’s getting worse by the day.

It’s a slightly disjointed film that, at times, doesn’t know what it wants to do with the subject matter. It may have been better-served as a four-part series, focusing on each of the subjects for an hour. The story of the New York media professor David Carroll and his hunt for his own personal information is probably the most interesting but isn’t mentioned for a long portion of the film.

I’d also like to see more prodding of current or ex-Facebook employees, who are clearly implicated in the accusations but continue to avoid the spotlight.

Regardless of its shortcomings, this is an important film to watch. It’s also one you might need to see quickly in case it unexpectedly disappears from Netflix. It might well be the most disturbing horror film of the year.

 

Shortlists Announced for 91st Academy Awards in Nine Categories

The shortlists for nine categories have been announced for the 91st Academy Awards. These lists will be further cut down when the final nominations are announced on Tuesday 22nd January 2019.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

“Charm City”
“Communion”
“Crime + Punishment”
“Dark Money”
“The Distant Barking of Dogs”
“Free Solo”
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”
“Minding the Gap”
“Of Fathers and Sons”
“On Her Shoulders”
“RBG”
“Shirkers”
“The Silence of Others”
“Three Identical Strangers”
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

“Black Sheep”
“End Game”
“Lifeboat”
“Los Comandos”
“My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes”
“A Night at the Garden”
“Period. End of Sentence.”
“’63 Boycott”
“Women of the Gulag”
“Zion”

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Colombia, “Birds of Passage”
Denmark, “The Guilty”
Germany, “Never Look Away”
Japan, “Shoplifters”
Kazakhstan, “Ayka”
Lebanon, “Capernaum”
Mexico, “Roma”
Poland, “Cold War”
South Korea, “Burning”

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

“Black Panther”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“Border”
“Mary Queen of Scots”
“Stan & Ollie”
“Suspiria”
“Vice”

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

“Annihilation”
“Avengers: Infinity War”
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
“Black Panther”
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Crazy Rich Asians”
“The Death of Stalin”
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”
“First Man”
“If Beale Street Could Talk”
“Isle of Dogs”
“Mary Poppins Returns”
“A Quiet Place”
“Ready Player One”
“Vice”

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
“Treasure” from “Beautiful Boy”
“All The Stars” from “Black Panther”
“Revelation” from “Boy Erased”
“Girl In The Movies” from “Dumplin’”
“We Won’t Move” from “The Hate U Give”
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns”
“Trip A Little Light Fantastic” from “Mary Poppins Returns”
“Keep Reachin’” from “Quincy”
“I’ll Fight” from “RBG”
“A Place Called Slaughter Race” from “Ralph Breaks the Internet”
“OYAHYTT” from “Sorry to Bother You”
“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born”
“Suspirium” from “Suspiria”
“The Big Unknown” from “Widows”

ANIMATED SHORT FILM

“Age of Sail”
“Animal Behaviour”
“Bao”
“Bilby”
“Bird Karma”
“Late Afternoon”
“Lost & Found”
“One Small Step”
“Pépé le Morse”
“Weekends”

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

“Caroline”
“Chuchotage”
“Detainment”
“Fauve”
“Icare”
“Marguerite”
“May Day”
“Mother”
“Skin”
“Wale”

VISUAL EFFECTS

“Ant-Man and the Wasp”
“Avengers: Infinity War”
“Black Panther”
“Christopher Robin”
“First Man”
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”
“Mary Poppins Returns”
“Ready Player One”
“Solo: A Star Wars Story”
“Welcome to Marwen”