Kiss of the Black Widow

Black Widow (Cate Shortland, 2021 film)

I confess I’ve only seen about a third of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’ve long wondered with something like three hundred films in the franchise now, why the recurring characters were so male and pale. Black Panther challenged this — although for obvious reasons a sequel is problematic. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) seemed to be a character defined by her gynaecology, and I don’t think they ever explained who her husband was. Now she gets her own film and a female director, so as the world ended.

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Tilda Speaks

La voz humana (The Human Voice, Pedro Almodóvar, 2020)

Part way through this English-language short, I got a flash of memory of Law of Desire (1987) and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), and realised that Tilda Swinton was channeling Carmen Maura, once Almodóvar’s muse and favourite actor. What I’d forgotten was that Cocteau’s 1930 monodrama, on which this film is loosely based, was performed in Law of Desire and fed into Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Like Tom Stoppard, Almodóvar loves this kind of mise en abîme and the whole film seems to be filmed on a film set. Continue reading →

Don’t Try This at Home. Or at Work

Druk (Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg, 2020)

Supposedly, the Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud suggests that humans are born with a blood alcohol 0.05% too low. In this comedy, four middle aged, jaded, male teachers decide to keep drinking to ascertain what the psychological effects are and whether it improves their work and personal lives. After initial success, they increase their intake.

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The Write Off Spring

David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 (Royal Academy of Arts, 23 May–26 September 2021) 

You have to admire Hockney for his prolificness and his ability to reinvent himself in a sixty-odd year career. The Tate retrospective was great but, the 1960s rooms aside, you could imagine at least two surveys of his work that didn’t overlap with that one. Having made art with paint, pencil, charcoal, various kinds of prints and Polaroids, it was hardly surprising that he’d embrace iPads and for some years he has been using them to make landscape images. 

Here we have 116 works drawn on iPads around his newish home in Normandy during the early Covid weeks of 2020, printed above their created size on paper and on the walls of three of the rooms in the Main Galleries (and they will move in August to the slightly smaller Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries). But are they any good? 

Well, they’d look good on a fridge.  

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Clang!

Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, 2019)

I’d noticed Riz Ahmed in a couple of films and been impressed, and of course he’s in Chris Morris’s Four Lions, so here he is in pretty well every scene, if not shot, of this film. Heavy metal drummer Ruben Stone (Ahmed) is in the middle of a low budget tour with his thinly-drawn girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) when he begins to lose his hearing. Whilst he is determined to get cochlear implants, first he has to check into a school for the hearing impaired and learn to sign. Here he reluctantly learns from Vietnam vet Joe (Paul Raci, stealing every scene) and befriends Jenn (Chelsea Lee).

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To Tie Firmly

Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca (1938)

Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)

Rebecca (Ben Wheatley, 2020)

It may be, of course, that I read Rebecca years and years ago — I know I started it and I studied the opening paragraph, the dream of the Manderley mansion from years later, but I’m not sure I got much further. And when I bought two Du Maurier boxsets, I don’t think Rebecca was part of them. It took me a while to track down a copy — although naturally I found several since, as a battered paperback 1992 reprint got more battered as it got carried around.

The conceit should be familiar: lady’s companion Rebecca meets aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo and the two have a whirlwind romance, before returning to the ancestral pad in … where we take to be Cornwall but it isn’t named in the book. The new bride finds life at Manderley difficult and the ghost of the dead Rebecca hangs over her, especially through the behaviour of housekeeper Mrs Danvers. A ball would be useful, perhaps, but Mrs Danvers persuades her to wear the same costume as Rebecca had and then it seems as if a wedge has been driven between the loving couple. Then a body is discovered in a sunken boat… Continue reading →

I Love Lucy N

Lacombe, Lucien (Louis Malle, 1974)

At the start of the movie, seventeen-year-old Lucien (Pierre Blaise) kills a bird with a catapult. As it is war time and this is occupied France, I at first assume this is food. (Later, he shoots rabbits and breaks the necks of chickens.) But there’s not a lot of meat on a song bird, even if you are desperate.

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A New Rose By Any Other Name

‘“A New Rose Hotel is a New Rose Hotel is a New Rose Hotel”: Non-Places in William Gibson’s Screen Adaptations’, William Gibson and the Futures of Contemporary Culture. Edited by Mitch R. Murray and Mathias Nilges. Iowa City: The University of Iowa Press, 2021, 97-109.

There is a moment in an interview with William Gibson when he says that “Being a screenwriter was never part of my game plan, and I never would have gone after it; it never occurred to me that it was something people did or that I would be asked to do it.” Inspired by watching teenagers play arcade video games, Gibson had been writing about the realm behind computer screens, of colors and space, claiming that he “Assembled [the] word cyberspace from small and readily available components of language […] Slick and hollow – awaiting received meaning.” Cyberspace has no fixed identity, relationships, or history and it lacks authentic height, width, depth, and mass and can be thought of as an addition to the catalog of “non-places” of supermodernity identified by the French anthropologist Marc Augé.

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A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Thanet

Ruby Blue (Jan Dunn, 2008)

Jan Dunn returned to the Isle of Thanet for her second feature, again on a low budget, but this time illuminated by Bob Hoskins’s last big screen appearance. We appear to be — and forgive me if this is a cliché of my reading of British film — in Ken Loach territory, as Kes seems to be in the mix.  I will be circumspect, but there are hints of spoilers.

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