Sunday, June 30, 2024

Cyndi at 71

 Hard to believe the great Cyndi Lauper is 71. I grew up on her music and adored her New York thrift style. The first two albums are all time classics and I even have a soft spot for her early New Wave band, Blue Angel

Cyndi has stopped off in the UK for a performance at Glastonbury this week and despite Twitter being aflame with suggestions the sound was terrible, I am pleased she has had this opportunity to play a festival ahead of her (sob) farewell tour next year. I only saw her once, back in around 1992 in San Francisco at a small club. She deserves a big stage to go out on. Here is a clip of her appearance on BBC Breakfast. 

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Heart of an Oak

 This enchanting documentary, courtesy of Laurent Charbonnier and Michel Seydoux, charts one year in the life of an oak somewhere in France. There is no narration and no subtitles, making it a viewing experience that depends on attention to detail and enjoyment of the soundtrack. There is occasional music,  some of it jarringly intrusive. 

But mostly Heart of an Oak is about the creatures that call this mighty ancient tree their home, the red squirrel that has made a nest on an extended branch, the boar and dree that come to graze, the insects that are hatched, grow up and die under its gaze, and the birds that come and go as they please. 

The four seasons are the structure for the film, with summer explosions of colour leading into the more withdrawn seasons of autumn and winter and ending with the return of flowers and leaves in spring. It is gorgeously shot and one does wonder at the technical wizardry that allows viewers to watch mice traversing their tunnels underground, as well as an acorn growing and sending up shoots. CGI may well play a part. 

The drama comes from encounters between frogs and weevils, predatory birds stalking their prey and the ingenious squirrel evading both snake and birds. Human beings are notably absent. Hurrah. 

This is nature taking centre stage and showing off its gifts, among them the humble acorn growing into a sapling next to its progenitor. 

Heart of an Oak is released on Icon Film Channel on 10 June. 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Swede Caroline


This indie comedy promises much, positioning itself firmly within the micro genre of British whimsy. Jo Hartley stars as the titular Caroline, who has been disqualified from a giant veg growing contest in Shepton Mallet.  She attracts the attention of a documentary maker who vows to follow her as she works toward the next year's contest. 

So, we are in mockumentary territory and that is where the film falls flat, with lots of hand-held shots, long mumbled conversations that go nowhere and utterly unfathomable plot twists involving exes, rival growers and a swinging couple who are detectives. 

Somehow the writer-director team of Brook Driver and Finn Bruce manage to make this almost entirely laugh-free. Hartley does her best but the writing is flat, the characters lacking heft and the story nonsensical. Alice Lowe turns up for a needless cameo with an alleged Swedish accent and then runs away, possibly to batter her agent. 

One of the issues is that we never learn much about Caroline or the two men in her life, Paul and Willie, with whom she spends much of her time. Paul is her housemate and Willie their neighbour, but it is hinted there is history among them which is never clarified and their relationships remain underwritten.  

Possibly if this had been scripted more tightly, it might have worked. As it is, the film drags on and on toward an absurd climax involving corrupt politicians and murky deals. Okey doke. 

The overgrown veg look intriguing and the diversion in a country house offers some amusement. But Swede Caroline suffers from stunted growth. 

Swede Caroline opens in UK on 19 April. 

Monday, April 01, 2024

BFI Flare: Life's a Beach...

 Possibly my last reviews from this year's Flare, although there are many films left unseen. 

Lesvia, a personal documentary from Tzeli Hadjidimitriou offers an insider's perspective on the fabled isle of Lesvia aka Lesbos. The filmmaker grew up there and is also a lesbian, so she has a life's worth of material to work with, starting from her earliest memories of visiting Eressos in 1980 and seeing naked women. There is great archive footage of the various eras of Eressos, from camping on the beach, to the development of lesbian-owned businesses, to downturns in tourism.

There is also a rather juicy conflict between the locals and the visitors which the filmmaker also outlines with a series of interviews, no doubt getting unvarnished views owing to her local status. If one might want a little more on just why Lesvia attracts so many lesbians owing to its status as the birthplace of the poet Sappho, well one must look elsewhere. 

Heavy Snow
As for Heavy Snow, well, I was just baffled. A Korean melodrama about the relationship of two school girls, Su-An and Seol, it veers off into bizarre diversions involving surfing and hiking through snow. By the end I was not even sure it was meant to be a real romance between two women but rather a metaphor for self-deception or a fever dream or even a death hallucination. Possibly one of the worst films I have ever seen. Or a work of obscure genius. No idea. 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

BFI Flare: Double Lives

 Well, my Flare viewing has slowed to a crawl but I shall soldier on. Loads more films to see. 

I started Riley last week but only finished it today as I left it to watch other things. I was not engrossed by the first few minutes but it picked up and has a lot of things to say about family pressures and breaking free of expectations. High school football star Dakota Riley is expected to do great things, especially by his coach who is also his father. For some reason the team's quarterback Jayden is staying with Riley and their sexual tension is palpable. Except Jayden presents himself as a ladies man.... There is a needlessly complicated time structure involving an older man Riley tries to hook up with. Plus loads of bare sweaty chests and throbbing homoeroticism. An out gay character proves not to be such a great ally. And the ending is open. So, hmm. Pretty decent.

What a Feeling
What a Feeling is more of a farce but also features characters trapped by familial expectation, in this case two middle-aged women in Vienna, Fa and Resi, whose paths cross at a lesbian bar before they attempt to hook up. But Fa is not out to her family, while Resi has just been dumped by her husband of 20 years. It is laugh out loud funny in places, even if the coincidences and improbabilities mount up. But how great is it to hear an Irene Cara song soundtrack a lesbian romance?

Saturday, March 23, 2024

BFI Flare: Queens of Their Dreams

 Continuing with my Flare viewing I present two films in which women find themselves at odds with the women in their families.....

Queen of My Dreams
Fawzia Mirza's The Queen of My Dreams is a stunning work and I am disappointed it was not the opening or closing night film. A sweeping work jumping back and forth in time between late 20th century Canada and Karachi in the 1960s, it finds Azra fretting at her complete disconnection from the life of her overbearing mother Mariam. They have nothing in common, she thinks, until her father collapses on a trip back to Karachi and Azra and her brother travel back to their parents' home country to deal with family matters. 

Azra then flashes back to her mother's coming of age in the 1960s, when it was expected she would marry a man with the approval of her parents and she chafed at restrictions placed on her. Sound familiar? 

Amrit Kaur plays both adult Azra and younger Mariam and the film has great fun with exploring the sounds and sights of times gone by, with film star Sharmila Tagore proving to be a touchstone for both women. When the film moves to 1990s Nova Scotia it is less compelling, but there is enjoyment in young Azra beginning to realise her queer identity while being pressed into service at her mum's Tupperware parties. 

I have seen two of Mirza's previous films but this is a massive leap forward for the writer-director, handling a huge cast on two continents and such a complex storyline. Brava.

You Don't Have....
The short You Don't Have to Like Me also features a protagonist at odds with her surroundings, in this case a masc presenting woman wandering the streets of New York feeling misunderstood and judged by all and sundry. Even her mother is on her case to find a man. The story is told in a voiceover which gives it a poetic quality, though there is one very amusing scene set on a subway when she seems to find a sense of community. A promising work from director Safiyah Chiniere. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

BFI Flare: Dudes Duding

Well, I have finally finished my first two titles from Flare. 

The Greek drama The Summer of Carmen plays out like a very meta version of Queer as Folk with some unrequited longing, various shades of masculinity and a very cute dog complicating things. Spoiler: nothing bad happens to the dog, the Carmen of the title. 

Hairy, hunky Demosthenis is unable to let go of his ex Panos, who acquires said dog and then foists it on him. Drama queen Nikitas watches from afar, increasingly frustrated by Demosthenis focusing so much attention on his shags and less on their friendship and attempts to write a script. The time frame jumps back and forth between their present visit to a rocky beach and back to the summer of Carmen's arrival, when Demosthenis was in a family crisis, as well. 

The only way I could tell what time it was was by Nikitas' hair colour. The chemistry between the two is quite good and the lovers and ex-lovers are much more in the background. Admirers of the male body are in for a treat, as much of the screentime allows the teddy bear-like Demosthenis to strut around nude or half nude. I expected the film to expand a bit more on the friends' underlying dynamics but this was only hinted at. Very clever if overlong. 

Jason Patel in Unicorns
Unicorns is an odd couple pairing of a white Essex lad, Luke, and his attraction to Ayesha, a glamourous south Asian drag queen he meets.... well I am not quite sure where because the film was quite vague about locations. Early on she asks him, "You're not from round here," which suggested it was up north but may actually have been London. 

Anyway, Luke is straight and a single dad (and a West Ham fan!) who presses his father into service as a babysitter while he drives Ayesha from gig to gig. The two leads,  Ben Hardy and Jason Patel, have great chemistry but the plotting is a bit choppy, with their relationship taking great leaps in no time at all, such as a visit to a fun fair with Luke's son that seems improbable. 

The families are not well drawn and a subplot involving the boy's mother arriving seems to dissipate abruptly. But it's an intriguing reunion of the My Brother the Devil crew of Sally El Hosaini and James Krishna Floyd, here serving as directors and writer, respectively. The theme of toxic masculinity is well observed through Luke's transformation and ability to act on his feelings.