Film: The King’s Speech

Colin Firth has captured the mixture of anxiety, frustration, fear, and shame faced by stammerers superbly in this film. You can see the dread in the lines of his face as Bertie coldly looks at the microphone in the film’s opening sequence at Wembley stadium. I am so glad that stammering has been portrayed in this film not as a joke but as a serious impediment. Some of the scenes were truly painful to watch..a feeling shared by many other stammerers who have seen the film I’m sure.

Stammering is not talked about much in the public sphere…because well, that would involve talking! It’s been fantastic to hear radio phone-ins and TV features focussing on the issue as a result of this film. However The King’s Speech is much more than a single-issue vehicle. The script, and particularly the cast are sublime in every frame. I got the feeling the cast relished playing such well-known characters.

There was a great deal of humour in the relationship between the Australian actor Logue and the King, as techniques were taught to manage his stammer (another strength of the story was that he was never “cured”). Over time I have incorporated more ticks, tricks, and runs to the way I talk in order to get certain words out than I probably even realise now, and it was reassuring to see some of those (at times toe-curlingly embarrassing!) methods being tried out here.

The stammer I have grown up with has been a serious challenge to my confidence, especially in public, but many others have it far far worse. I hope that The King’s Speech, and the accolades it will doubtless receive this year, can increase understanding and awareness of stammering, to treat it as more than just a quirky joke.

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Film: Of Gods and Men

As it seems to be open season in the media for challenging Christianity (not a bad thing I hasten to add), I was intrigued by Of Gods and Men and the critical praise it had received. Saw it last week at the QFT and came away with plenty to think about. It is the true story of a monastery of Trappist monks in Algeria in the mid nineties. They continue to minister to the local villagers in simple, practical ways…even while under violent threat from Islamist terrorists, and an insecure corrupt Government. The film follows the monks’ daily routines slowly and painstakingly, following each members’ journey towards making the decision whether or not to flee the region.

Peace is genuinely never given a chance
The leader of the Monastery challenges the leader of an armed gang in a tense encounter on Christmas Eve, calling into question their language and behaviour. There is no retaliation from the gang…just a stunned, albeit uneasy, truce, which results in the Monastery and village being left in peace.

In places of worship are we scared of each other’s voices?
Central to the film is the wonderful music. When I say music there is no score, just the daily chanting of the Monks as they carry out their duties. I believe there is comforting, reassuring beauty and solidarity in being surrounded by other voices in unison. There was no individual beauty in their voices..but there was such feeling there. In our mainstream Evangelical culture we have chosen to drown singing out with trend-chasing rock band arrangements. If the bombs come…we can’t wait for the band to kick in first.

Joy is found and wisdom revealed in the everyday
The monks each came to their decision while undertaking life’s daily grind. This was one of the most un-“Hollywood” films I have seen. It unfolded at its own pace, with very limited dialogue, as God seemed to reveal himself through the mundane details of every day.

It’s worth trying to catch this in the cinema, where you can let its rhythm and mood fully draw you in. A masterpiece.

Brittany Murphy

I found the tragic death of actress Brittany Murphy yesterday sad and extremely disturbing  (okay I know thousands of people die every day in all sorts of circumstances but the lives of Hollywood stars are almost inescapable).

Mainly because I kind of fancied her I had kept up with her film career, which seemed to have gone quiet since the middle of the decade when she was the main draw in a series of unspectacular but likeable films. What a depressing indictment of the movie business that a beautiful actress can be on the relative scrap-heap, struggling to find roles at the age of 32, and undergoing cosmetic surgery no doubt as a result.

She was too young to fully establish herself as a consistent box-office performer like Cameron Diaz or say, Julia Roberts, and too old for the constant caner antics of Lindsay Lohan etc. that seemed to at least keep them in the media spotlight. Her star burned brightest at the start of the noughties, before the celebrity blogging explosion, whichalso might explain why it was easier for her to slide out of the spotlight.

She excelled in perky, romantic comedies..a genre that now seems to use male stars as a box-office draw, perhaps because men don’t suffer the same age bias. She had definite comedic gifts, but it seems female stars can only sustain a career by being either: kooky and “indie” (Scarlet Johanssen, Zooey Deschanel); dark and edgy (Angelina Jolie); or simply by being really young (Miley Cyrus, Kristen Stewart).

Brittany Murphy did start relatively young herself in “Clueless”, the film she will probably best be remembered for, it’s a classic! Probably not enough people know she also provided the voice of Louanne in the brilliant cartoon series “King of the Hill.”

So sad that such a gifted actress and singer with so much experience behind her can crash and burn so tragically.

(500) Days of Summer

500-days-of-summer-soundtrack-artwork-400x399.jpgSaw this film on Saturday night at the cinema and actually really liked it! I initially thought it might have been a bit too smug for its own good but was a funny and original take on the rom-com. Last film I reluctantly saw in this genre was The Proposal with Sandra Bullock the romantic comedy’s John Wayne a month or so ago, which you could have interchanged with any of her other films wthout knowing the difference! Apart from Zooey Deschanel this had a mostly unknown cast (to me anyway) and the plot took some enjoyable scenic routes to an unexpected but realistic ending.

The soundtrack was a nice surprise too, drawing on classic British pop like the Smiths and more recent groups like Doves. Proof that perhaps some Americans are still in thrall to much of our music as we are with theirs.

The Damned United twice in one day

Tottenham got spanked good and hard by one of the \”top four\” teams in the Premier League today. It was tough to take surrounded by braying Manchester United fans in a busy pub but that\’s par for the course when your team isn\’t in this upper tier!

I followed it up with a trip to see the film adaptation of the Damned United, making its belated appearance on Belfast screens. It takes a more straightforward look at the story, choosing to ignore much of the novel\’s darker fictionalised aspects, and instead focusses on Clough\’s relationship with assistant Peter Taylor (both expertly played by Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall). Atmosphere and period detail was all spot on. Were Leeds really that dirty and hated?

What was interesting were the league tables used to illustrate Clough\’s progress with Derby and then Leeds. In the mid 1970s there were so many \”big\” clubs throughout the top two divisions. A team like Derby went from Division Two to Division One champions in a matter of seasons. If you were a kid growing up then – who to support?

Fast forward to now. The same four teams are always there or thereabouts come the end of the season and this is unlikely to ever change. If you\’re wanting to get into football you\’ll pick the most successful team and hey presto it\’ll probably be one of these four. I know back in the 70s Leeds were quite dominant but teams seemed a lot closer to one another at the same time.

Anyway rant over! Guess I just get a bit miffed that there aren\’t more Everton, Villa or Man City fans around. Actually..also that there aren\’t more Ards fans too. But that\’s another story!

Finally, the film ended with the recreation of an interview with Clough and Don Revie. An extract from the original interview is below. Its fascinating to watch:

You would never get two rival managers going head to head like this in football today.

I Love You, Man

1da79_i-love-you-man-posterWe haven’t been to the cinema much this year but all the films I’ve seen on the big screen so far (with the exception of He’s Just Not That Into You) have been well worth the wait: Che Part One, The Wrestler, Gran Torino, and even I Love You Man which we watched last night was no waste of time.

Like other recent comedies such as Knocked Up and Pineapple Express, I love You Man relies on smart, witty dialogue rather than big comedy set-pieces, and an ensemble cast of lesser known stars rather then letting the film become a vehicle for one big name. It works too. This was unchallenging, likeable stuff, playing on some of the peculiarities of male friendship.

Although here in Belfast we continue to get short shrift with certain releases. Apparently Movie House cinemas have been inundated with enquiries about why they haven’t shown The Damned United. Armando Ianucci’s In the Loop also, is only getting a run at the QFT next week. It’s all well and good having an annual film festival but it’s undermined by Belfast’s failure to follow the rest of the UK’s release schedule.

5 Films from 2008

Pretty cool list of favourite films from last year on xetera, got me thinking about what I enjoyed watching in o8.
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1. Wall-E
I’m a huge fan of Pixar movies, but this is definitely their best yet. Lovingly takes the best bits of what you loved about films like ET and Short Circuit, mixes it with some imaginative silent comedy a la Chaplin, adds a bit of pathos, and a rant against  laziness and consumerism. This is from Disney?? A bit hypocritical perhaps, but still my favourite film of last year.

2. Be Kind Rewind
Only film this year to draw a tear. Advertised as a Jack Black vehicle, this instead played out as a sweet-natured film about the demolition of a local video store, and the mobilisation of a local neighbourhood to try and prevent prevent it.. 

3. I’m Not There
Too many films map out what they want you to think and expect from the opening credits. This was not one of them. Even if you’re a huge Bob Dylan fan this one will perplex you. I didn’t even to try to make sense of this one and just enjoyed the ride. Cate Blanchett was superb as the mid-60s Dylan. Richard Gere’s take was plain odd. 

4. Taken
A guiltless pleasure. Hired this from the video library with low expectations despite the man in the shop’s opinion that it was the best film he’d seen all year. Liam Neeson kicked a surprising amount of ass in this one. It was a shock to see the voice of Aslan so coldly taking people out across Paris, even shooting a policeman’s wife in the leg at their dinner table. Bit like a cross between the Death Wish movies and those straight-to-video Seagal/Lundgren/Van Damme movies of the early nineties (this is a compliment! Perhaps why video man liked it). Plus any film set in Paris is already cool, which leads on to….

5.  Paris, Je t’aime
Maybe this was released in 2007? Anyway, we saw this on DVD while in holiday in France this year. Brilliant set of short films, each set in a different arondissement of Paris, directed by and starring a host of famous names. If you’ve seen this, I’d love to know what your favourite one was. 

Also enjoyed: Son of Rambow, No Country for Old Men, Juno, Dark Knight, The Darjeeling Limited as well, which was end of 2007 but I thought back to it a bit in 2008.