Movie – Blank City

Just by chance I heard about this documentary film and by even more remote chance, it was part of Birmingham’s FlatPack film festival.

The reason for my interest in Blank City is because it details Lower East Side, New York in the late 1970s, into the 1980s where seemingly everyone made films. Not being a film geek, I recognised very few film makers but it was great to see people like Deborah Harry being interviewed alongside all these film clips made by people literally on the street or in squats.

The neighbourhood then, particularly Alphabet City way out to the East Side – a place I only ventured to a few years ago after many years of visiting the city – was an absolute no-go area. As is documented, residents feared for their life every day walking back and forth but on the plus side they didn’t have any belongings or money so thieves knew there was nothing to be stolen. It was more of a narcotics thing and as well as the drugs scene, Aids came to be around this time so there is talk of lost lives.

Really, it’s amazing to see people survive as so little was known in the very early eighties.

I loved this film from the popular culture angle but film makers and geeks – and indeed photographers will enjoy the artistic element.


Smile factor 8½/10

Movie – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

A Tom Hanks film that I nearly missed; I say a Tom Hanks film but as we know from the trailers, he is dead in the movie and so appears infrequently. In fact, annoyingly, the main character that’s in every scene is young Thomas Horn who plays Oscar, the bereaved son of the Hank’s character who perishes in the World Trade Centre on September 11th.

This is the first ‘footage’ I have seen of those events; I couldn’t even bring myself to watch on the day or since, nor have I been to the site since. However, the film isn’t about 9/11 but about a young boy coping after the early and cruel death of his beloved father. I though given that he is on his own they’d be a lot of support from his mother, played by the excellent Sandra Bullock but sadly she has even less of a role than Hanks.

Instead the film focuses on Oscar’s hunt to find out where a key he found by accident in his perfect father’s closet may lead. This would be a great story if this was a fantasy adventure but it’s set in early present day New York so a non-story to start. Whether Oscar’s self-harming and (extremely) annoying (loud) nature is due to the passing away is not clear, nor is why a mother would let her child out alone all over the city on subways, busses and walking whilst he looked to interrogate everyone with the surname ‘Black’ the name found on the keys’ envelope.

The emotional wrench that I felt from the trailers is delivered through a key point made throughout the film of Oscar hearing his Dad’s phone messages as the situation deteriorated in WTC. The most poignant though is of his mother having her last telephone conversation with him as she looks out in absolute horror at the building crumpling in front of her across the city skyline.

I know this is based on a book (which everyone suddenly seems to be reading without knowing the film had been released) but what I expected more of is a relationship (however) tense portrayed between the son and the widower. Instead the highlight is Oscar befriending his Grandma’s ‘lodger’ from across the street. That and the fact that a lot of the action is based around the Upper West where I used to live.


Smile factor 5/10

Movie – 50/50

A light hearted movie about cancer.

Well it isn’t really, it tackles the issues around getting the illness head on but the story is based on the Adams’ (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) relationship with his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen). It all focuses on Adam and how the people around him cope and react with the shock. His best friend’s main goal in life is to party hard & get laid, he doesn’t have a close relationship with his Mum (Anjelika Huston) and his Dad has Alzheimer’s. It’s inevitable he’ll grow closer to his Mum, helped in part by his shrink but not at ll by his cheating girlfriend who didn’t take the easy way out when offered. What we expect the film to focus on though is how his best friend will support him and the answer is better than the façade he puts on.

Cancer and comedy are not natural bed fellows and of course the whole time watching this movie I am thinking what if it happens to someone I love, although it already has, both ladies are doing well and being closely monitored and thankfully they hadn’t got to this advanced stage.

Well worth a watch as the movie is packed with humour and love even in the few gloomiest moments.


Smile factor 7/10


Movie – The Help

‘Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life’

I have a new, new favourite actress:

She has been in my all time favourite American drama series, West Wing, my favourite film of 2009, ‘Away We Go’ and now this, amongst other productions.

Allison Janney (I remembered her name!), plays the mother of the Skeeter and utters these lines which pretty much set the tone of the film:

‘Your eggs are dying, will it kill you to go on a date?’

From the off, I’m drawn to the home interiors; the film is based in the 1960s but happily the well to do featured are in a time warp so the furniture is from a bygone era but the frocks are delightfully 1960s, in a girlie rather than slutty way. The hair however, has a half a pint of hairspray glued on: goodness forbids any respectable lady having a hair out of place!

The story centres on the question, what’s it like to bring up other peoples white babies when yours are being looked after by someone else?

The question is uttered by a writer to the black maids looking after the society households in the southern state of USA who would have kept slavery legal if it was up to them. One of the main characters, Aibileen, has a regular mantra for the toddler she’s bringing up who’s own mother barely shows affection to; You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

Separate bathrooms for coloureds is just one issue bought up, which of course is hilarious to us but ridiculously true in an era of separate coloured sections on buses and in restaurants and the story included that it was illegal in the state of Mississippi to move books from ‘coloured schools’ to white schools.

What comes out of the film is the friendships lost and built; lost between the strong-willed Skeeter, who writes these maid’s stories for her book and her college pals – those who hire the maids – and the new bonds she then makes with the maids.

It’s a serious story told in a refreshing, enlightening and heart-warming way, bursting with thunderous humour.

I’ve never eaten friend chicken – yet – but this is the film of the year.


Smile factor 9½/10

Movie – Another Year

After the disappointment of ‘The Kids are All Right’, I’m looking forward to a nice, sweet film with some quirky British humour.
I got it with this Mike Leigh trademark production.
On a side note, this is the sort of film that many Americans just don’t get; it’s not full of people who are young or particularly beautiful so there goes Hollywood. However, every character is interesting and the film has lots of good humour, despite an often grim story line.
The story centres on a happy middle aged, middle class couple (Tom & Gerri – yes really) heading towards retirement. He an engineer (‘he digs holes’) and she a counsellor. The film opens with her counselling a depressed mother and I was fearful that the whole story will centre on this but it speedily moves to jollier moments.
For one, they have been waiting for, their son, an only child to find a girlfriend and settle down. He looks like being a sad sap but soon becomes cool, with a new perfect girlfriend in tow.
They find joy in their allotment every spare minute they get and in entertaining, particularly a single friend from the doctor’s office where the Gerri works.
Then there are the downbeat moments such as when said single friend appears to lose the limited marbles she has and when they suffer an unexpected family bereavement.
Jim Broadbent heads a fine cast as one half of the happy couple seemingly surrounded by singletons rather than other smug marrieds and dealing with life’s every day ups and downs in as jovial spirit as possible.
I love it.
Go see if you want to be shown how to be happy with your fantastic lot or to strive for more.
Smile factor 8½/10