This Is England ’86

I like Shane Meadows. Most of the time. Some of the time. I liked Dead Man Shoes anyway. This is England – not so much. The ending, the characters and the narrative seemed to have had less thought than was needed to make a well rounded film, and I was quite disappointed at the time.

A TV serialisation however, works perfectly, as I found out at a preview screening of the first episode of This is England ’86, here in Sheffield last week.

We catch up with Shaun, Woody, Lol and the gang about three years after the events of This is England. Shaun hasn’t spoken to the rest of former skin-heads since Combo nearly killed Milky and has returned to his life as an outsider – only with added guilt and shame. On the day of his last CSE exam, Shaun stumbles and scrapes his way around town in a series of near misses as his old friends travel to and from Lol and Woody’s wedding. Tragedy and coincidence bring them together eventually, and with a little help from Smell and her fancy of young boys, the gang are almost ready to get up to new tricks.

This time around however, the focus seems to have moved away from our old hero Shaun, and has us looking at the lovely Lol with a bit more interest – and this is a wise move. Whilst most of the original actors seem to have a bit of ‘East Midlands Stage School’ about them, Vicky McClure plays Lol with a skill that really cuts through all the bells, whistles and gimmicks of the 80s setting – she’s all heart. At the preview screening we were lucky enough to be treated to a trailer of coming episodes and I was very pleased to see that Lol’s storyline seems to be taking centre stage throughout the series – particularly her relationship with a Paddy Considine look-a-like father (was Paddy busy?).

Some things about the new series did grate upon me. Those Midlands accents come out a bit forced from time to time, the humour looks for those belly-laughs a bit too desperately and there are some anachronisms that draw your attention away from the action – but overall, This is England ’86 is well worth a watch, and I suspect it will become event TV over the coming weeks. How often do we get British television made with such pedigree?

This is England ’86 starts at 10pm on Channel 4 on 7th September, but here are some things to entertain you until you watch the first episode:

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

Showroom Cinema Twitter Review:

Human Centipede @showroomcinema. Pretty sick, but not as sick as is hyped. Niggling narrative issues, but fun for a late night screening. 2*

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Showroom Cinema Twitter Review:

‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans @showroomcinema. A film that makes you want to high-five the person sitting next to you. 4.5 stars.’

Showroom Cinema: Twitter Reviews

I’ve agreed to review some new film releases on behalf of the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield, using my Twitter account @blowupchurch.

The reviews are free to be fully honest, and require that I give the film a rating out of 5 stars. As a challenge to myself, I plan to review the film using the basic 140 characters allowed by Twitter – just 1 tweet. I’ll be posting the tweet here on The Blow Up Church.

It’ll be very tempting to write a longer blog post to accompany the tweet, but I will try to resist. I’m a big fan of restricted creativity, so this should be a interesting look at how Twitter can convey a range of reactions to film with limited word space.

Visit to Forest Row Film Society

A piece that featured on the BFFS website on my recent visit to Forest Row Film Society:

Forest Row Film Society swept the board at the BFFS Film Society of the Year awards in 2009, impressing the judges with their rapid growth, community spirit and commitment to bringing film to their corner of the country. I was delighted when the opportunity presented itself to visit this award-winning society. Although I speak to hundreds of film societies and community cinemas on the phone, I rarely get the chance to leave the office and see one at first hand. Needless to say, I was very excited.

After a long journey to the South of England I stepped off the train at picturesque East Grinstead to be greeted by Forest Row Publicity Officer Brad Scott, who kindly drove me to the screening location. As we chatted away excitedly about the virtues of community exhibition (or course!), Brad pointed out the lack of cinema provision in East Sussex and the wealth of film societies and community cinemas that have happily cropped up to fill the void. See Forest Row’s webpage detailing all of the community screenings in their area within 20 miles:

We quickly arrived in the Forest Row village, a stunning little corner of the world with a thirst for international film and challenging cinema. After settling in to my lodgings, I accompanied Brad to Forest Row Village Hall to help set up the venue for the evening’s screening of The End of the Line, a BFFS booking scheme title concerning the global depletion of fish stocks. By 8pm, the audience had streamed in, settling into their seats with a delicious slice of homemade cake and a glass of wine.

Just before the film was due to start, Brad gave me the opportunity to speak to the audience for a few minutes, and I was glad to have the chance to congratulate Forest Row on their FSoY win on home soil, and to thank the audience for their support in coming to see a very important film. Although organisers of film societies and community cinemas know a lot about the marvellous facts and figures behind the film society movement, their audiences are sometimes unaware of how important their attendance and support is in terms of the wider film industry so I was very proud to relay some impressive facts and figures about the film society network. There are now almost 500 community exhibitors in the UK, boosting the film industry economy with admissions of over 347,000 in 2009.  Theatrical ticket sales on this scale would have generated box office revenues of £1.8 million.
Since 74% of titles screened are either British-made or foreign language titles, the film industry owes a big thank you to the continued promotion of specialised films by film societies and community cinemas.

The End of the Line was a very moving film, and after the screening Mike Grenville from the Forest Row Transition team gave a brief but rousing speech to the audience about what we can do to ensure the survival of our fish stocks for generations to come. It is personal talks like these, the chance to have a glass of wine, a slice of homemade cake and a hearty discussion at the end of a film that sets film societies and community cinemas apart from other exhibitors in this country – as well as getting people off their sofas to watch films together in a community environment. The value for money at a community group like Forest Row is truly astonishing and I can easily see why catching a film at your local film society is becoming one of the nation’s favourite ways to watch a film.

After a big thank you to the organisers of Forest Row Film Society for making my trip so enjoyable, I retired to my lodgings for the night and made my way home to Sheffield on the morning train. Back in the BFFS central office again, I am more convinced than ever that film societies and community cinemas are vital in strengthening communities and bringing film right to your doorstep – and I can’t wait to visit another.

Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonzes’ Wild Things are not really very wild.

Spike Jonzes’ Wild Things are not even that scary.

Spike Jonzes’ Wild Things are depressed, neurotic, childish, angry, lonely and sad. A projection of our hero Max’s own melancholy mixed with of that of the grown-ups that surround him in the real world.

Max is a lonely boy of divorced parents with an active imagination and an excellent wolf costume.  He misses his dad, is angry with his sister and doesn’t understand why his Mum won’t play with him. When he runs away from home and meets the Wild Things, he thinks he’s found kindred souls, who just want to play, be looked after and stay together as a happy group forever. As Max becomes their king, he soon discovers that the Wild Things are selfish, egocentric, full of post-modern angst and just a little bit whiney.

In fact, the Wild Things are just the kinds of neurotic and self obsessed indie flick characters that we’d expect from the likes of Spike Jonze and his similar band of US independent directors. Max soon decides it’s best for him to go home to his Mum before he gets eaten – but he leaves knowing he still loves the big furry beasts, because they can’t help the way they are, and don’t really mean to be bad.

Spike Jonzes’ Wild Things are a handy way to blur the lines between childhood and adulthood. They nicely show how both parents and children can get it wrong, whilst still meaning well and loving each other all the same.

But for characters in a children’s film, Spike Jonzes’ Wild Things certainly make being happy seem rather complicated. Whilst I’m sure that no child will be coming out of this film feeling as terrified as recent press would have you believe, I am sure that they’ll be wondering why the Wild Things are so sad – and they’ll probably be feeling bit sad themselves.

Farewell My Lovely

After a weekend of film noir spoilers at the BFFS National Conference, I sat down to watch a dodgy VHS transfer of neo-noir classic Farewell My Lovely. Looking forward to Bobby Mitchum donning the Philip Marlowe hat, coat and gun, I was only intrigued further by the opening credits promising appearances by Harry Dean Stanton and a young Sylvester Stallone. As Roger Ebert puts it ‘no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.’ I firmly subscribe to this essential rule of cinema, even if the Stallone factor threatened to cancel it out.

Farewell my Lovely

Unfortunately the film looked and felt completely flat. Maybe it was the fact that the poor VHS transfer that made all faces resemble a Bassett’s Fruit Salad, or maybe it was the fact that Charlotte Rampling was so self-conscious about being styled exactly like Lauren Bacall that she look permanently amused by the smell of her own farts.

To me, it resembled an episode of a rainy Saturday afternoon Columbo more than a classic, cinematic thriller. The plot dragged along as low as Moose Malloy’s knuckles, whose only dialogue was the irritating refrain ‘Where’s my Velma?’ 15 minutes in, I was quite past caring about Velma’s whereabouts.

Maybe my disappointment stems from the fact that I expected that a neo-noir, free from the boundaries of the Hays Code, could really explore the seedy under-belly of the 40s, and although it did depict a world a bit darker than it could have shown 30 years ago, it all felt a bit contrived and forced. The cinematography failed to step up here too, lacking the depth to step into the noir world much further than the doorway.

Of course, Robert Mitchum can never put a foot wrong, even when adopting a Caribbean accent and singing about ugly women (see the incredible ‘Calypso is Like So’ 1957). He does make a pretty darn good Marlowe, but it feels very strange to see him doing the film-noir thing thirty years after his own heyday.

Altogether a bit of a disappointment, but one that’s sent me back to the shelf to dig out some real Bogie and Bacall action… perhaps followed by a tad of Cape Fear.

Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno 3

Picture 6

Since I found out that Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno would be getting a third season of shorts on the Sundance Channel, I could not contain my curiosity. What could she be dressing up as next? Would there be a 6 foot strap on involved? Would she be able to contain her obvious look of joy when a female she was enacting killed or ate the male after sex?

Unfortunately, this latest batch lacks the confidence and natural humour that shone through in seasons 1 and 2. The appearance of ‘Marine Biologist Claudio Campagna’ with his on-location facts, undermines the creativity and research that stood out in the past. Whilst it’s commendable that more important issues, such as sustainability and over-fishing are being tackled this time around, it’s clear that Rossellini lacks the confidence to tackle them on her own.

The biggest disappointment is that the beautifully bawdy sense of humour of these films has become self conscious and reliant on Rossellini’s sexy delivery of innocuous words such as ‘spermateca’ or performing a strip-tease whilst dressed as a shrimp. Yes, she’s lovely, but it all seems a bit forced.

It’s not all bad news. The costumes are still impressive, especially a gauze squid outfit in which Rossellini shines blue and red torches to demonstrate underwater communication. And despite my dislike for ‘Marine Biologist Claudio Campagna’ (you’ll understand the quote marks when you watch it), he clearly has a good chemistry with Rossellini. There’s an endearing moment in ‘Harem on the Beach’ when she tries to get him to run away from a male elephant seal, charging towards an available female. It almost redeems the whole episode, which is otherwise too long and preachy.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t lost my appetite. It’s still a fantastic and inventive piece of film making, and I hope that many other seasons are commissioned.
Next time I’d like most costumes, more Isabella Rossellini and less ‘Marine Biologist Claudio Campagna’ please.

The Cinema Theatre Association

I’ve just sent off my cheque to the Cinema Theatre Association (CTA) to become a member for this year. The CTA are dedicated to the history of cinema buildings, which I think to be amongst the most beautiful buildings in this country. Throughout my childhood I watched the last of these incredible buildings be demolished in my hometown, including the Alhambra in Normacot (the Fleapit), as all cinema exhibition in Stoke-on-Trent was out-sourced to the new-build Odeon on the outskirts of town.

The Alhambra, Normacot

The CTA protect, admire and campaign for these dying buildings – although it’s too late in many parts of the country. They also produce the annual magazine Picturehouse, featuring some stunning photography of these cinemas, both past and present.
The CTA website allows you to view a list of endangered UK cinema buildings, including the EMD Cinema in Walthamstow. The EMD was the childhood cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, and is currently owned by a religious organisation that are not interested in preserving its cinematic heritage. Luckily, the McGuffin Film Society are dedicated to reclaiming the building through campaigns and film screenings. Support them here.
If you’re from an area with an old cinema theatre still standing, I’d be interested to see any pictures you may have.

BFFS National Conference 2009

In the daytime I’m the Operations Coordinator for the British Federation of Film Societies, the support and development body for the film society and community cinema movement in the UK. I love my job, as I think that the work of film societies is a seriously underrated area of UK exhibition that strengthens community and develops some eccentric and exciting film tastes. Film societies support film in all areas and can serve as a pillar for films that have no mainstream UK distribution – so they really deserve a weekend of celebration, film screenings and opportunities to meet like-minded film buffs.

The BFFS National Conference for Community Cinemas and Film Societies is taking place in Sheffield on the 19th-20th September. It’s currently my entire life, but we’ve put together some brilliant events and I expect it to be worth it to be worth every sleepless night. If you’re interested, you can find more info here or ask me a question in the comments section.