Tag: film

The startling murmurations of starlings

Saturday, 2 December, 2017 0 Comments

Jan van IJken is a filmmaker from the Netherlands and the relatively warm winter of 2015 gave him a rare opportunity to observe the “murmurations” of Sturnus vulgaris, the common starling, because the birds stayed in the Netherlands instead of migrating southwards. A “murmuration” is a mass aerial stunt with thousands of birds swooping and diving in unison and these mysterious flights create one of the world’s most spectacular natural phenomena. Theories about murmuration suggest that by grouping together the starlings create safety in numbers so that predators such as falcons find it hard to target one bird in the middle of a flock of thousands. It’s also possible that the gatherings help the birds to exchange information.


The Barcelona of Whit Stillman

Saturday, 19 August, 2017 0 Comments

The 1994 film Barcelona by Whit Stillman deals with the romantic and political adventures of two American cousins in Catalonia during what the director described as “the last decade of the Cold War”. The energy left over from the post-Franco revolution is being diverted into hostility to the US and it’s onto this dangerous stage that Fred (Chris Eigeman), a Navy officer on assignment from the visiting American fleet, strolls.

For the local intellectuals and wannabe terrorists, the supremely self-confident Fred is a symbol of all that’s wrong with “America Abroad”. He deflects their attacks, though, with fast talking and glib wit. Along the way, he entertains and infuriates his cousin Ted (Taylor Nichols), who works for a US corporation in Barcelona, and the two of them fall in love with the enormously attractive local women.

The clash between the Old World and the New World Order is played out on many levels in Barcelona. Ted dreams of big business and quotes management guru Peter Drucker, while Fred wants the infantile Marxists to get a life. The two characters resent the paranoid view of America that Europeans indulge in, but they also make use of the American stereotypes when circumstances dictate.

Whitman has an excellent feel for dialogue and in a film that is both hilariously funny and painfully accurate.

Ted: “I was trying to convince them to look at Americans in a new way and in one stupid move you confirmed their worst assumptions.”
Fred: “I did not confirm their worst assumptions…I am their worst assumption.”

Mira: “You can’t say Americans are not more violent than other people?”
Fred: “No?”
Mira: “All those people killed in shootings in America?”
Fred: “Oh, shootings, yes. But that doesn’t mean Americans are more violent than other people. We’re just better shots.”

On this day of mourning in Barcelona, it’s important to remember that the city has always provided a panorama for those who have sought to view themselves and the world through its magical lens.


Dunkirk: A cinematic and auditory masterpiece

Friday, 28 July, 2017 0 Comments

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a cinematic masterpiece. The legendary World War II story — where 330,000 Allied troops, surrounded by Germans, were evacuated from the northern coast of France — is terrifying, poignant and visually stunning. Central to the on-screen atmospherics is the score by Hans Zimmer, which uses an auditory technique caused by “Shepard tones”.

Named after cognitive scientist Roger Shepard, the sound consists of octave after octave layered on top of each other. As the bass fades in, the treble fades out and the tone sequence loops back again and again and again. Because the listener can always hear at least two tones rising in pitch at the same time, one thinks that the sound is constantly ascending. It’s eerie and unnerving and ideally suited to Nolan’s drama.

In an interview with Business Insider, Nolan said that the soundtrack was created to evoke a feeling of ever-increasing intensity that would unite the film’s three storylines. And it does. Brilliantly. Dunkirk is a cinematic masterpiece and its soundtrack is an auditory masterpiece.


Going to Dunkirk

Thursday, 27 July, 2017 0 Comments

Going to the new Christopher Nolan film, that is.

The British retreat to the coastal French town of Dunkirk in late May 1940 was a key moment of the Second World War. Several hundred thousand British and Allied troops were encircled by the Germans. Had Hitler attacked, he would have captured a quarter of a million men, stripping Britain of its army and putting enormous pressure on London to enter into peace talks with Berlin. But the Germans didn’t attack. Their nine Panzer divisions stopped outside Dunkirk. And the British were able to start their evacuation from the beaches with the result that most of the their troops got home. Some 300,000 men were rescued — two thirds British, the rest French.

As the exhausted troops were disembarking along the south-eastern coast of England, the five members of Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet met on 27 May to discuss entering into peace negotiations with Germany. Churchill was passionately against any such move, but the foreign minister, Lord Halifax, was for talks as he felt England’s negotiating position was stronger with France still in the war. He also believed that Britain’s goal should not be to fight Germany, but rather to preserve as much independence as possible in a peaceful coexistence.

During the following day’s Cabinet meeting, however, the tide turned in favour of Churchill when he declared absolutely that there would be no surrender, and that as long as he was in office, he would never negotiate with the Nazis. “If this long island story of ours is to end at last,” he declared, “let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood on the ground.”

He was thinking of the 68,111 killed, wounded or captured British troops at Dunkirk.


A sense of place

Monday, 10 July, 2017 0 Comments

Landscape is a mirror that reflects life. Those fields, woods, rivers and mountains reveal the soul of a place. The English filmmaker Max Smith began his “Sense of Place” series of videos in the Argyll Forest Park on the Cowal peninsula in the Scottish Highlands, and he’s just added the Cairngorms, a mountain range in the eastern Highlands that forms part of the Grampians. The two clips offer a combined seven minutes of sublime place.


The Foreigner, the trailer

Thursday, 29 June, 2017 0 Comments

Tuesday’s post here, Jackie Chan goes to war with the IRA, featured a poster advertising the upcoming film The Foreigner. Now, here’s the trailer.

Directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), and starring Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Liu Tao and Katie Leung, The Foreigner sees 63-year-old Chan kicking ass in his role as a father determined to avenge his daughter’s murder by Irish terrorists. What makes the film topical is that much of the action takes place in London, scene of recent terror attacks, and Liam Hennessy, the character played by Pierce Brosnan, bears an uncanny resemblance to Gerry Adams, allegedly a member of the IRA Army Council and thus responsible for atrocities such as the Harrods bombing in 1983.


Plate and palate and photography

Monday, 8 May, 2017 0 Comments

The food photographer Eric Wolfinger is a cook who has found his vocation via the camera lens. His global travels have led to the creation of Beyond the Plate, a SmugMug documentary for foodies and photographers.


Dhaka hustle and bustle

Saturday, 11 March, 2017 0 Comments

Between air pollution, poverty, corruption and rising sea levels, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is one of the least liveable cities in the world. This is tough for its 17 million residents as Dhaka has the potential to be one of Eurasia’s great urban centres. Location, location, location: Dhaka is located near several rivers, including the vast Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, which benefits Bangladesh’s agricultural economy, while the country’s mountains are rich with minerals, biodiversity and forests. In other words, Dhaka has access to all the resources it needs to prosper.

Farhan Hussain, Sajeed Sarwar and Safat Chowdhory are Bengali Film Makers and their Dhaka is full of life: “The smiling Rickshawala, the hustle and bustle of the street, the entrepreneurship spirit, the smell of freshly cooked Biriyani, the Falgun colours!”


The carnival of Nazaré

Sunday, 5 March, 2017 0 Comments

It is said that that the Portuguese town of Nazaré got its name from a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary brought to Spain from Nazareth by Christians in the 4th century. The statue arrived in Nazaré in 711, carried by a monk named Romano, accompanied by Roderic, the last Visigoth king of what is now Portugal.

Barcelona-born filmmaker Kylian Castells is more interested in surfing than statues. Here, he captures the black-and-white power of the Nazaré Canyon, which creates the “epics” that have made the town a hotspot for big-wave surfers like Garrett McNamara, Carlos Burle and Maya Gabeira. The music is by the Dark Jazz Trio.


The Silence of the Scorsese

Saturday, 4 March, 2017 0 Comments

In the 17th century, two Portuguese Jesuits travel to Japan to find their mentor, who has disappeared and supposedly renounced his faith. The Japanese authorities, fearful of colonial influence, have outlawed Christianity, which makes the priests’ mission mortally dangerous. In his 1966 novel, Silence, Shusaku Endo explored the many intricate, terrible torments feudal Japan devised to kill priests. Snippet:

“Two trees, made into the form of a cross, were set at the water’s edge. Ichizo and Mokichi were fastened to them. When it was night and the tide came in, their bodies would be immersed in the sea up to the chin. They would not die at once, but after two or even three days of utter physical and mental exhaustion they would cease to breathe.”

The plight of those “hidden Christians” (隠れキリシタン Kakure Kirishitan) portrayed by Endo was one of the reasons Martin Scorsese decided to turn the book into his latest film. The severity of his Silence is complete. The priests who survive capture and torture are forced to live as Japanese subjects, with Japanese wives, and are finally buried as Buddhists. Their notions of religious community and cultural identity are consumed by the flames of the pyre. But there is a ray of hope as Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) secretly gives absolution one last time to a hidden Christian.

Silence has not done well at the box office and the Oscar for Cinematography category in which it was nominated, went to La La Land. Still, it is a powerful statement about faith and despair and the performances of Issey Ogata as the Inquisitor and Tadanobu Asano as the Interpreter are stellar. In time, people will come to treasure Silence.


The Netflix Irishman of Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino

Thursday, 23 February, 2017 0 Comments

Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel… That’s what a $100 million budget can get you today. The big story, though, is that this star cast will be working on The Irishman for Netflix rather than one of the big studios and this indicates that something seismic is happening in the movie industry.

Anne Thompson of Indiewire, who broke the news of the deal, noted that The Irishman had long been planned as a Paramount Pictures production, but “Scorsese’s movie is a risky deal, and Paramount is not in the position to take risks. This way, he can make the project he wants.” And these projects involve serious money. STX Entertainment reportedly spent some $50 million for the international rights to The Irishman at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, which was very good news for Charles Brandt.

The Irishman The Irishman is based on Brandt’s best-selling book, I Heard You Paint Houses, about Frankie Sheeran, a killer who claimed he played a part in the legendary vanishing of the corrupt union boss Jimmy Hoffa. The book’s title, by the way, comes from the criminal slang for contract killings and the resulting blood splatter on walls.

Charles Brandt befriended Frankie Sheeran, who confessed to him that he’d been involved with the killing of Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975 and has never been seen since. Sheeran was an odious piece of work. He served with the US Army in Europe during World War II and experienced combat during the Italian Campaign, including the invasion of Sicily and the Battle of Cassino. He then took part in the landings in southern France and the Battle of the Bulge and admitted that he had been involved in several massacres of German POWs. He also claimed to have had inside information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. According to Sheeran, Jimmy Hoffa wanted Kennedy dead, as Bobby Kennedy, the US Attorney General, was “persecuting” him. The killing of Kennedy was a Mafia hit, said Sheeran, who maintained he’d transported three rifles to the alleged assassins. Fact or fiction? Netflix is betting $100 million that people will want to watch, thanks to CGI, a youthful De Niro play Sheeran and Pacino star as Hoffa.