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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
We conclude our coverage of this year’s London Film Festival with Mike Leigh’s long-anticipated biopic of J.M.W. Turner: a languorous, immersive, richly detailed work that surpasses expectations.

The popular perception of Mike Leigh remains that of a supreme anatomist (or, for those less kindly disposed towards the filmmaker, broad-brush caricaturist) of contemporary British experiences: a sharp, sensitive observer of the myriad ways in which modern life can be rubbish (or great). Yet, weigh it up, and it quickly becomes apparent that it’s actually the director’s period work that’s proved most rewarding over the last 15 years.


The peerless Gilbert & Sullivan opus Topsy-Turvy (1999) (a film that never ceases to reveal new treasures no matter how many times it’s viewed), the ‘50s-set abortion-themed drama Vera Drake (2004) and Leigh’s last play at the National Theatre, the Rattigan-esque Grief (2011), have all been among the director’s finest-ever pieces. Moreover, each has far surpassed the two rather minor contemporary films that Leigh has turned out during the same period, >Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) and Another Year (2010), both of which found the film-maker falling back in a sometimes tiresome fashion on all-too-familiar situations, conflicts, character types and tropes.


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Friday, Oct 17, 2014
A pupil/teacher story dressed up as a battle-of-wits thriller, the pushy, over-hyped Whiplash fails to impress.

In Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, Miles Teller plays Andrew Neyman, a talented and fiercely ambitious jazz drummer who studies at an elite music conservatory. When Andrew is selected by the tutor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) to join the ensemble that Fletcher conducts, it seems like a dream opportunity for the young man to kick-start his career. But Fletcher, it turns out, is a fearsome, take-no-prisoners hard ass with whom Andrew soon finds himself locked in an ever-escalating battle of wills and wits.


Having scooped both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival Whiplash arrives at this year’s London Film Festival with a considerable weight of expectation. It looks to be pushing the right buttons for some audiences here too, but I hated the film, passionately. Essentially, the movie is just another guy-on-guy pupil/inspirational teacher story, but one of a particularly extreme variety.Your response to it will entirely depend on how you take to the character of Fletcher and his teaching methods.


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Thursday, Oct 16, 2014
Two films focused on ageing characters yield contrasting results. Tom Browne’s Radiator is an exquisite, intimate family portrait, but Israel Horovitz’s My Old Lady feels entirely fake.

Radiator takes place in a run-down, rubbish-filled, rodent-ridden Cumbrian cottage where Maria (Gemma Jones) and Leonard (Richard Johnson), an elderly married couple, reside. Leonard is ailing and bed-ridden, and Maria takes care of him, patiently attending to his demands and often irascible moods.


Following a phone-call from his mother that’s a tentatively-phrased cry for help, the couple’s son Daniel (Daniel Cerqueira) comes to the cottage to be of assistance. “You come here once every few months. That’s not up to snuff,” Daniel is reprimanded by a concerned neighbour of the pair. But as he settles into the cottage, finding himself a sometimes useful but equally sometimes unwelcome presence within the weird, makeshift routine that his parents have devised for themselves, a picture gradually builds of the past hurts that have affected Daniel’s feelings about his folks.


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Tuesday, Oct 14, 2014
Two well-made, humane films focus on the lives of maths prodigies: Morgan Matthews’ modestly-scaled X Plus Y and Morten Tyldum’s epic Alan Turing biopic, The Imitation Game.

“I find any communication of a non-mathematical nature … difficult,” confesses Nathan (Asa Butterfield), the autistic teenage math prodigy protagonist of Morgan Matthews’ X Plus Y. Precisely the same self-description might be given by another of the heroes featured in one of this year’s LFF films: Alan Turing, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game.


It’s surprising just how well Matthews’ and Tyldum’s films complement each other: the one a modestly-scaled crowd-pleaser focusing on a teenager’s goal to compete in a Mathematics Olympiad, the other a handsome historical drama celebrating a figure belatedly recognised as one of the key players in the Allies’ victory in World War II.


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Monday, Oct 13, 2014
Issues of gender identity and sexuality come under scrutiny in today’s reviewed films: the latest genre-hopper from François Ozon, and Ester Martin Bergsmark’s explicit teen love story.

The New Girlfriend (Une Nouvelle Amie), the new film from the ever-prolific François Ozon, opens with a truly terrific, blackly comic visual gag: apparent preparations for a wedding that turn out, after all, to be preparations for a funeral. Eros and Thanatos are, as often, major presences in Ozon’s latest genre-hopper, and that opening reveal is certainly not the last surprise that the movie springs on us. 


Alas, while a vast improvement on Ozon’s previous feature, the awfully tacky, jejune Belle du Jour rip-off Young and Beautiful (2013), The New Girlfriend doesn’t quite make good on the promise of its superb opening sequence or its generally strong first half.


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