Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

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Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Joy Mangano), Robert De Niro (Rudy), Bradley Cooper (Neil Walker), Edgar Ramirez (Tony), Isabella Rossellini (Trudy)

Jennifer Lawrence wipes the floor with the rest of the cast in this against-the-odds tale of a housewife-turned-entrepreneur

Hot on the heels of Carol comes another end-of-year title consisting only of a woman’s first name. Joy opens with the statement that the film has been inspired by true stories of daring women, and one woman in particular.That woman is Joy Mangano, an Italian-American who, in the 1990s, devised a “Miracle Mop” and made a lot of money selling it on the QVC home-shopping channel.

It isn’t clear how much fictional license  writer/director David O’Russell has taken with Joy’s story, but as told here it is a pretty gripping rollercoaster. An inventive child and valedictorian in her class at school, any aspirations Joy may have had have been crushed by family demands and a failed marriage. Her ex-husband, a failed musician, is still living in the basement two years after their divorce and is joined at the start of the film by Joy’s father Rudy, who has bailed out of another broken relationship. Her mother spends most of the day in bed watching soap operas.

Joy is constantly cleaning up after everybody. After an episode where she cuts her hands squeezing out a mop-head containing broken glass, she comes up with the idea for a mop that avoids any such inconvenience to the user. From this point on Joy has to battle a variety of forces ranged against her, from sceptical family members to unsympathetic corporate executives and corrupt business operatives. Just when you think Joy has made it, there always seems to be another knock-back.

If the real Joy Mangano only had to face half the battle depicted here, then I’m full of admiration for her. Perhaps other women will draw inspiration from this film, though I did find myself thinking that the business world appears to be so awful that I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be a part of it.

David Russell doesn’t present Joy as a linear narrative. The film opens with actors in a black-and-white soap opera delivering stilted dialogue and is followed by a flashback to Joy’s childhood, as narrated by her grandmother. References to TV soap operas recur throughout the film, explicitly linking the QVC channel’s marketing of Joy’s mop to the target audience. There are also dream sequences that tell us something about Joy’s hopes and fears.

Jennifer Lawrence gives another stellar performance as the title character. I particularly liked a scene in which she marches away from father Rudy’s auto business, a look of furious determination on her face, then picks up a rifle at the nearby shooting range and starts blasting away.

However, it must also be said that Russell’s script does not really give any of the other actors room to shine. Bradley Cooper does well enough as a top executive at QVC, but we never really feel we know him. And Robert De Niro is sadly wasted as Joy’s father. His role here is little more than a slightly more serious version of the father in Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers. De Niro’s opening scene requires him to angrily smash up some crockery, a largely pointless action that the film could easily have lived without.

In short, this is Lawrence’s film through and through, and whilst the other performers are completely overshadowed I nonetheless enjoyed this a lot.

Rating: 4/5

 

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Directors: Ben Blaine and Chris Blaine

Writers: Ben Blaine and Chris Blaine

Country: UK

Runtime: 98 mins

Cast: Fiona O’Shaughnessy (Nina), Abigail Hardingham (Holly), Cian Barry (Rob), Elizabeth Elvin (Sally), David Troughton (Dan)

This blood-soaked modern-day Blithe Spirit is a real treat

Nina Forever is a perfectly-realised first full cinema feature by the Blaine brothers, Ben and Chris, in which a young couple, Holly and Rob, find theselves haunted by Rob’s deceased former girlfriend, Nina. A rather moving comedy-horror, Nina Forever is like a modern-day rendering of Blithe Spirit. Here, though, Noel Coward’s posh drawing rooms are replaced by a cramped flat on a fog-bound housing estate, the stock room of a supermarket, and a graveyard over which an electricity pylon looms ominously. Oh, and there is lots of blood and sex.

Holly is a trainee paramedic with slightly morbid leanings, who works in the supermarket during the day. There she meets Rob, who is trying to get over the death of his girlfriend Nina, the victim of a car crash. Unfortunately, whenever the two of them try to get it on between the sheets a scarred and bloody Nina appears and makes it clear to “silly little girl” Holly that death is not going to stop her staking a claim to Rob.

It is a credit to the Blaine brothers’ script and Abigail Hardingham’s performance that we are able to engage in a pretty big suspension of disbelief by accepting Holly’s return to Rob after the first alarming bedroom encounter with Nina. Credit must also go to Cian Berry who gets laughs as the bereaved Rob, by playing it completely straight. Fiona O’Shaughnessy revels in the role of Nina, coming on as a wide-eyed (blood-soaked) innocent whilst delivering the bitchiest of comments.

There are some recognisable and delightful everyday observations that add to the comedy, such as when a long-awaited text message turns out to be a special offer from a local pizza parlour, and when a luckless chap on a bus finds himself stuck between a quarrelling Rob and Holly. But beneath the comedy there is a very real recognition of the pain of grief and the difficulty of moving on with life after a loved one dies.

Nina Forever brings a refreshing originality to the comedy-horror genre.

Rating: 4/5

ALC_poster

Director: Alan Rickman

Writers: Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan, Alan Rickman

Country: UK

Runtime: 117 mins

Cast: Kate Winslet (Sabine De Barra), Stanley Tucci (Philippe, Duc D’Orleans), Jennifer Ehle (Madame De Montespan), Alan Rickman (King Louise XIV), Helen McCrory (Madame De Notre), Matthias Schoenaerts (André Le Notre )

A stylish but undemanding period romance

Let me say right away that I think I may have enjoyed this period drama rather more than it deserved to be liked. Directed by Alan Rickman, A Little Chaos has some genuinely good qualities. The sets and costumes are lavish, the cinematography is beautiful, and there is some top class acting. Notably, Kate Winslet is in her element playing a woman striving for independence in a man’s world, smart but not overconfident.

As Sabine De Barra, a landscape gardener, she secures a position – in the face of male competition – to lead the construction of the grand gardens at the Palace of Versailles. The man who appoints her is André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), the head gardener to King Louis XIV. At Sabine’s first interview, however, André is not impressed by the lack of order in her designs, telling her: “In my world anarchy is by royal command and even chaos must adhere to budget”. However, upon reconsideration he decides that she can provide the kind of original eye that the gardens need.

His decision marks him out as a man of sensitivity and, unsurprisingly, an attraction develops between him and Sabine. But in time-honoured fashion there are barriers to any romance. She is widowed and with a secret that is hinted at by the visions she has of a young girl dressed in white; he is in a loveless marriage to a woman who thinks nothing of paying men for sex but who will not tolerate him forming outside attachments. Madame Le Notre (Helen McCrory) also has the ear of the Queen, so is able to exert control over her husband.

Sitting above all the courtly intrigue is the King himself, adroitly played by Alan Rickman who alternates between being fearsomely imperious and quirkily amusing. Will Sabine’s idiosyncratic vision meet his exacting requirements? And in the face of adversity will the gardens even be completed on time?

The film’s central weakness is its essentially Mills and Boon-ish plot, coupled with a certain lack of pacing. It’s pretty undemanding stuff, but may well find an audience for those who enjoy a straightforward old-fashioned romantic tale.

Rating: 6/10.

Director: Márk Bodzsár

Writer: Márk Bodzsár

Country: Hungary

Runtime: 100 mins

Cast: Márk Bodzsár, András Ōtvös, Roland Rába, Tamás Kerezstes, Sándor Zsótér, Natasa Stork

 

A tragi-comedy that’s as dark as double espresso

Sometimes it doesn’t help to read the film festival programme notes. The Raindance Festival introduction to Heavenly Shift refers to the obvious influences of Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, which led me to expect scintillating dialogue, fast pacing, and a particular kind of visual style. Márk Bodzsár’s first full-length feature has plenty going for it, but about 20 minutes in I found that I needed to adjust my expectations. I was watching a different kind of film to the one that I’d anticipated.

Heavenly Shift is a very dark tragi-comedy that features the kind of characters and situations that could well come from a Tarantino or Anderson film, but the story develops at a steady, gradual pace and the dialogue is mostly low-key. The main protagonist is Milan Kolvarov (András Ōtvös), a young conscript who deserts his side in the Bosnian conflict of the early ’90s because he doesn’t want to kill. He crosses the border into Hungary, leaving behind his fiancé Tanya (Natasa Stork), who is a nurse trying to save the lives of the injured at a Kosovo hospital. Milan needs to raise enough money that he can smuggle Tanya across the border to join him.

Circumstances lead Milan to find work as a paramedic, where he is teamed with world-weary but genial Vinnai (Sándor Zsótér) and the chain-smoking psychotic Kistamás (Tamás Kerezstes). Vinnai and Kistamás turn out to be involved in a people-smuggling gang. When their patients die the transportation of their bodies is used as an excuse to smuggle living people back across the border, and the paramedics get paid for every body they deliver. Milan falls in with this scheme, but is initially perturbed when he discovers that his colleagues don’t always make every effort to resuscitate patients whose hearts have stopped. He is even more shocked to find that live patients are occasionally nudged along their way with an injection of potassium. Nonetheless, his desire to be reunited with Tanya increases along with his jealous suspicions about her relationships back in Kosovo, and so he lets his own principles be compromised as he tries to raise the money to bring Tanya across to Hungary.

As comedies go, this is about as dark as double espresso, and just as strong. The cinematography emphasises this in literal terms. When we see Milan’s desertion at the start of the film, it is in daylight hours, but once in Hungary everything takes place during the hours of darkness. Although it is perhaps not a film to get too philosophical about, the ambulance scenes do provoke a few thoughts about the value of human life, not to mention the decisions faced by paramedics. The finale, when it comes, has a nice kind of poetry about it.

Rating: 7/10

Heavenly Shift was shown as part of the Raindance Film Festival, 24th September – 5th October 2014.

Pride_poster

Director: Matthew Warchus

Writer: Stephen Beresford

Country: UK

Runtime: 120 mins

Cast: Bill Nighy, Dominic West, Paddy Considine, Jessica Gunning, Faye Marsay, George Mackay, Ben Schnetzer

Pride is a wonderful comic drama, based on true events in 1984-5, about a group of striking Welsh miners who find themselves being supported by a gay and lesbian organisation in London. In the tradition of British movies such as The Full MontyBilly Elliot, and Brassed Off, this film is about downtrodden people fighting back against the odds in mid-eighties Thatcher’s Britain, except that in Pride the politics is much more to the fore rather than treated as background context for a feelgood triumph.

Ben Schnetzer plays Mark Ashton, a gay activist who identifies that gays and lesbians have a common cause with the striking miners in battling against a hostile government. He sets up a group called Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), consisting of a small group of friends who congregate at Gethin’s bookshop. However, having collected money for miners they struggle to find a mining community who will talk to gays and lesbians. Eventually, a volunteer at Onllwyn Miners Welfare Hall in South Wales takes a telephone message and, in due course, miner Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine) turns up in London, completely unaware of the nature of the people he is meeting. He gets on well with them, though, and gives a friendly and gracious speech at a gay club.

But things do not go so smoothly back home in Onllwyn, where the usual practice is to invite support groups to come and socialise. Even though LGSM has collected more money than any other group, most of the union committee do not want to be associated with them, and it takes a miner’s wife, Sian (Jessica Gunning), to browbeat the men into extending an invite. Mark and the LGSM travel to Wales and, after an initially hostile reception, the barriers between the two groups gradually start to come down.

Perhaps appropriately for a film that is about group solidarity, Pride doesn’t feature one main protagonist and over the course of the film we get brief glimpses into the lives of several characters, though this broad approach means there is no exploration of backstory for any of them. One gay man reconciles with the mother from whom he has long been estranged, whilst another character breaks away from the parents who can’t accept his homosexuality. Inevitably, one of the miners’ committee comes out as gay, whilst others notice that girls are impressed by the dance skills of gay men, and ask for lessons. Several issues are also briefly touched upon but not pursued: the separate age of consent for gay men, women’s representation in decision making, and HIV/AIDS.

This sweeping approach works well, because any deeper focus on these issues would have threatened to derail the main story, whilst at the same time we are reminded of the many important problems that gay men and women have had to face. This is also at heart a feel-good movie with a very witty script, and many memorable lines, but the interjections of character conflict and the issues mentioned above prevent the story from tipping over into schmaltz. Indeed, not every inhabitant of Onllwyn has abandoned their prejudices by the end of the film and there is no ignoring the fact that the miners themselves were defeated. However, Pride also serves as a reminder of the good things that can be achieved when people stand together in solidarity.

There are excellent performances all round, but for me the one actor who really stands out is Bill Nighy. As the quiet and diffident Cliff his performance is a million miles away from the confident and slightly louche characters we are so used to seeing him play.

Pride is a must-see film for the autumn.

Rating: 10/10

Secret_Agent

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: Charles Bennett, Ian Hay, Alma Reville and Jesse Lasky Jr.

Country: UK

Runtime: 86 mins

Cast: Madeleine Carroll, Peter Lorre, John Gielgud, and Robert Young

Secret Agent is something of a hiccup in Hitchcock’s development, but entertaining nonetheless

Loosely based on Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden stories (but also drawing on other sources), Hitchcock’s Secret Agent (1936) came a year after his classic The 39 Steps and two years later than The Man Who Knew Too Much. It features actors from both those earlier films, Madeleine Carroll from the former and Peter Lorre from the latter. However, whilst entertaining enough Secret Agent fails to match either of those previous efforts.

Set in 1916, it is a story of three British spies who are sent to Switzerland to locate and assassinate a German agent. This is somehow crucial to the success of the British campaign in Palestine. The three agents are Richard Ashenden (John Gielgud), Elsa Carrington (Madeleine Carroll), and a Middle Eastern character called The General (Peter Lorre). Ashenden and Carrington are to pretend to be married, though there is a sort of subplot concerning an American (Robert Marvin, played by Robert Young) who is trying to charm Elsa Carrington. However, Ashenden and Carrington fall for each other in reality and then start to have moral qualms about the job they are doing, especially after The General kills a man they believe to be the German spy, only to find that he was innocent.

In the preface to his screenplay for North by Northwest (1951), Ernest Lehman describes how that story was devised as a way of linking some set pieces that director Alfred Hitchcock already had in mind (the United Nations, crop-duster and Mount Rushmore scenes). Many Hitchcock films also revolve around set pieces, and Secret Agent is no exception, but in this instance the linkages seem somewhat mechanical and some of the scenes themselves do not ring true. For instance, the film’s opening scene has a group of dignitaries paying their respects before a flag-draped coffin, watched by a one-armed veteran. Once the dignitaries have left, the veteran attempts to lift the coffin from its mountings only to have the box crash to the ground, revealing that it is empty. That is obviously what Hitchcock wanted to show to us, but why would a one-armed man be trying to lift a coffin?

Likewise, there is a later scene where Ashenden and the General visit a remote Swiss church to make contact with the organist, supposedly a friendly agent but one whose loyalty is in question. Upon arrival they can hear that a single continuous note is emanating from the organ. You might think that they would quickly have suspected the truth – that the organist is lying slumped, dead, over the keyboard. Yet it takes them a good two minutes before they make their way across to him.

In terms of the actors’ performances, Madeleine Carroll is fine but the relationship with John Gielgud completely fails to achieve the magic of Carroll’s pairing with Robert Donat in The 39 Steps. The weak link is Gielgud himself, who just doesn’t work as a romantic lead or an action hero. He also suffers in the scenes with Peter Lorre, as the latter acts Gielgud off the screen in his role as the womanising, ruthless, and slightly crazed General. However, apparently audiences in 1936 also had some difficulty with Lorre’s character, as his performance as one of the “good guys” was not very different from his performance as the villainous Abbott in 1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Rating: 6/10

Shown as part of the Peter Lorre season at the British Film Institute, London Southbank, September 2014.

West_Beirut

Director: Ziad Doueiri

Writer: Ziad Doueiri

Country: France / Norway / Lebanon / Belgium 1998

Runtime: 105 mins

A funny and moving account of growing up in a conflict zone

My first exposure to Ziad Doueiri’s directorial work was his excellent 2012 film The Attack (reviewed here on 27th February 2014), the story of an eminent Palestinian surgeon whose wife – unbeknownst to him – carries out a suicide bombing. Thanks to the British Film Institute’s “Discover Arab Cinema” strand, I have now had the opportunity to  catch up with one of Doueiri’s earlier films, West Beirut. Unlike The Attack, however, this film has a number of comedic elements that offset the more serious underlying themes. The story concerns the experiences of two friends, Tarek and Omar, growing up in the Beirut of 1975, the year in which civil war broke out and the city became divided into the Muslim west and the Christian east. Doueiri himself grew up in Beirut during this period and it is perhaps this experience that gives the film a sense of raw immediacy. HIs own son Rami plays Tarek the bigger (and possibly older) of the two boys, with Omar played by Mohamad Chamas. 

Tarek is a typically impulsive and rebellious teenager. In an early scene that is perhaps an ironic nod to Casablanca, we see him undermining the teacher at his French-run school by singing the Lebanese anthem through a bullhorn as she is leading the others in the Marseillaise. After giving him a lecture in the superiority of French civilisation she sends him out into the corridor, from where he witnesses gunmen ambush a bus in the street. The next day, there are militias on the streets and Tarek’s parents are unable to deliver him to school. They learn that Christian militias have blockaded routes into the eastern part of the city. 

As the civil war envelops Beirut tensions rise between Tarek’s parents. His mother wants to leave the city, but his father is adamant they should stay, pointing out that they aren’t guaranteed a warm welcome elsewhere. He notes that the Lebanese are regarded as “deluxe” refugees in Switzerland and that sniffer dogs are set upon them at Heathrow Airport. 

Meanwhile, Tarek himself is motivated by other concerns. After shooting some sneak footage of the attractive girlfriend of Omar’s uncle he is determined to get the film developed. Unfortunately, the processing shop is now behind a militia checkpoint and Tarek is not allowed to pass. Tarek hardly seems aware of the danger that he is putting himself in, but Omar has a greater political awareness and tries to restrain his friend. Omar is also exasperated when Tarek makes friends with a Christian neighbour, May (Rola Al Amin), who openly wears a crucifix. Omar considers that this friendship is putting them both in danger. A turning point comes when, by a quirk of fate, Tarek inadvertently finds himself in the one location where people from both the east and west can still congregate: Madame Oum Walid’s brothel. Here, militia men check their guns at the door and mingle freely inside. Tarek discovers that there is even an agreed-upon code that allows patrons to pass through otherwise hostile areas – they need to fly a bra from a prominent place, such as a car aerial.

As if to remind us how real these events were for the inhabitants of Beirut, the film is interspersed with archive documentary clips from that period. However, Doueiri does not involve us with political arguments and, indeed, there is a lot of humour. What is brilliantly conveyed in West Beirut is that most people caught up in the conflict are just ordinary people trying to lead ordinary lives. They could be living anywhere. Tarek’s mother is a lawyer in the local courtroom. His father is currently trying to find work. The boys like pop music and Tarek has a Western sci-fi movie poster on his wall. One indication of the way in which people under duress might change comes from Omar, who tells Tarek that his father has decided their family should regularly attend the local mosque. In other words, this is religiosity arising from insecurity.

West Beirut is a hugely engaging and enjoyable film, ultimately very moving, and is one to look out for.

Rating: 9/10

Chef_2014

USA 2014

Director: Jon Favreau

Writer: Jon Favreau

Runtime: 114 minutes

Chef is a culinary feelgood movie that lacks bite

Jon Favreau’s Chef is a mildly enjoyable feelgood movie that doesn’t entirely make sense. Favreau plays Carl Casper, a respected chef at a restaurant run by Riva (Dustin Hoffman). When he learns that the restaurant is going to be visited by prominent food critic/blogger Ramsey Michel (the name presumably a blend of Gordon Ramsey and Michel Roux), Casper decides it is time to give their menu a bit of an overhaul. However, this is frustrated by Riva who insists that they should stick with what they know works. Unfortunately, the supposedly reliable offering receives a lacerating online review that is then retweeted by hundreds of people.

Casper responds by getting into a Twitter flame war with Michel (played by Oliver Platt), followed by another dispute with his boss which leads to him losing his job. Following a trip to Miami with his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) Casper is inspired to set up a mobile food van selling cubanos (a kind of Cuban sandwich). His son Percy (Emjay Anthony) gets involved, enabling them to bond, as does Martin (John Leguizamo), a friend from the old restaurant.

It’s all good-natured fun, but lacks any real drama. Once they get the van on the road the story stays on an upward trajectory until the end. It is a staple of feelgood movies that the characters should experience some major setback on the road to goal achievement (think of the police raiding the rehearsal and taking Robert Carlyle’s son away in The Full Monty). I was therefore waiting to see whether Casper would fall foul of child labour laws or if his van would be declared unroadworthy, but in fact there was no such issue to give the story some bite.

It also did not quite make sense that Casper should have blown a fuse with Ramsey Michel in the first place, when he knew full well that the real problem was his boss’s conservatism. But possibly Chef‘s worst sin is the complete wasting of two star actors. For the brief time that she is onscreen, Scarlett Johansson (playing the restaurant hostess) does little more than tell Casper how talented he is. Robert Downey Jr. plays a former husband/boyfriend of Casper’s ex-wife, who is in a position to give Casper some help at the point when he needs it. There is the potential for some tension to be thrown into the mix here, but unfortunately such tension that there is gets resolved in nanoseconds.

Chef seems to have done quite well at the box office, which I can only assume is the result of good timing – perhaps in the middle of a hot summer people want something undemanding that will maintain their positive mood. But really this seems to be the cinematic equivalent of the “playing it safe” approach that led to Carl Casper’s stinking review.

Rating: 6/10

Beatles

UK 1964

Director: Richard Lester

Screenplay: Alun Owen

Runtime: 87 mins

An enduring classic is re-released in a restored version

Clang!! This greatest of all pop music films opens with the resounding chime of the greatest chord in pop music, a chord that renders the title track instantly recognisable to millions of people worldwide. As the rest of the song plays over the opening credits, we see The Beatles being chased by their fans, indicating the frenetic lifestyle that is documented throughout the rest of the film.

Now showing in a newly-restored version, A Hard Day’s Night stands alone from any pop music film made before or since. On the surface, it presents a fictionalised day-in-the-life story about the preparation for a television variety show, in which The Beatles will be the headlining act. In order to add some episodes of dramatic conflict, the writer Alun Owen introduces the character of Paul’s scheming grandfather (“a real villain, a mixer”), played by Wilfred Brambell, who drives other characters to behave in ways that threaten to derail the TV show.

However, Owen also shows us the flipside of fame, in which the world’s most famous musicians are constantly seeking to escape from the demands placed upon them. He also delivers some sly satire on the manufacture of teenage fashion. And visually the film is a treat. Much has been made of Richard Lester’s borrowings from the French new wave cinema of the time, but it is possible to overplay this influence. Other more conventional techniques are also deployed to great effect and the heralded “Can’t Buy Me Love” sequence obviously borrows from Lester’s own 1960 work, The Running, Jumping & Standing Still Film (a favourite of The Beatles themselves).

There is a very beautiful shot in the “And I Love Her” sequence, when the camera slowly pans around McCartney’s head until a spotlight begins to make the screen white-out, until eventually we see a nicely backlit profile of Paul. This reinforces the dreamy nature of the song itself. During the same song there is also a nice shot of John sitting in the background playing the guitar, whilst in the foreground we see him reflected upside-down in what appears to be a drumskin.

Having never before seen A Hard Day’s Night on the big screen, I watched this restored version at the cinema on two separate occasions. The second time I went was on a Saturday, and the audience were mostly adults including various older adults who had brought their young children. On this occasion there were only a few lines in the film that elicited some isolated titters. The first time I saw the film was a weekday evening, and the audience was easily dominated by young people who giggled at various bits of dialogue and sight gags, including things that would surely have been incomprehensible or bizarre to a modern audience. Did they understand that the joke about Paul’s grandfather being “very clean” is a reference to Wilfred Brambell’s role in the 60s & 70s TV comedy Steptoe and Son, where his son constantly referred to him as a “dirty old man”? One of my favourite moments shows the boys in the studio where they are due to perform, and John elicits some mocking laughter by saying “Why don’t we do the show right here?”. The line is a reference to earlier, more innocent, pop musicals; there may have been only one film that used this line, but in my imagination it feels like every Cliff Richard movie has a scene where his gang – having been thwarted from performing at their intended venue – turn up at a country field, whereupon someone delivers that cliché. The knowing use of the line consciously sets A Hard Day’s Night apart from all the earlier pop musicals.

The film also has some blink-and-you-miss-it moments, as well as some elements that you can’t imagine appearing in any other movie. In one extraordinary scene Paul’s grandfather, who is Irish, is taken to a police station for his own safety, where he also bumps into Ringo. There, he launches into a diatribe against the coppers, telling them he knows it will only be a matter of time before the rubber cosh appears, and singing “A nation once again!”  The scene works because the policemen in question are in fact friendly bobbies, offering their guests cups of tea, but it still seems quite incredible to slip in such a reference to police brutality against the Irish. Quite a few of the media and showbiz figures in the film are clearly camp gay men, though thankfully you always feel these are good-natured depictions rather than homophobic (The Beatles themselves were famously accepting of the sexuality of their manager, Brian Epstein). At one point John Lennon encounters an actor in a regency costume; the two stop as they are about to pass in a corridor and the actor suggests they swap costumes. “Cheeky!”, laughs Lennon, and they move on.

To modern eyes it is surprising to see grown men behaving in a mildly flirtatious manner with girls in school uniforms, as The Beatles do in one early scene. But again, this scene is played entirely humourously and the representation of schoolgirls was almost certainly a simple recognition that this demographic was then the core audience for the Beatles. At one of the screenings I attended there were two very young girls next to me, and they giggled throughout at the scenes of similarly young girls screaming, crying, and hugging each other as The Beatles play onstage. It is only later in the film, when fully adult women appear – actresses – that The Beatles show any real interest in the opposite sex.

A Hard Day’s Night concludes with the boys departing for the midnight matinee at Wolverhampton, a reminder that they haven’t escaped the crazy hardworking schedule that fame has brought them and which, in real life, would eventually see them abandon live music and retreat into the studio. However, as the title track played over the final credits such dark thoughts were swept from my mind and I was lifted once again by some of the most wonderful pop music that has ever been made.

Rating: 10/10

 

TipTop (1)

Countries: Luxembourg, France, Belgium 2013

Director: Serge Bozon

Writers: Odie Barski / Serge Bozon / Axelle Ropert

Runtime: 106 mins

 

A police procedural-as-farce that entertains but doesn’t fire on all cylinders

At one point in Tip Top a detective reports to a senior officer on the sexual peccadilloes of two female Internal Affairs officers. “One likes to hit”, he says, “The other one peeps”. “What do you think the police are doing, then?” is the reply. Emphasising the point, we see a policeman staring in through the window, whereupon a passing copper slaps the back of his head. It is a funny moment in a film that gently amuses, but needs more such moments to really succeed.

The story revolves around the murder of Farid Benamar, a former Algerian policeman-come-refugee, who was the president of a French-Algerian friendship association – possibly engaged in shady activities – and an informant for the French police. To investigate whether the local force could have handled matters better two Internal Affairs officers are sent in. They are Esther Lafarge (Isabelle Huppert) and Sally Marinelli (Sandrine Kiberlain). The latter has been demoted because of “private behaviour incompatible with police ethics” which, we discover, refers to her compulsive Peeping Tom behaviour. Esther Lafarge, on the other hand, gets her kicks from hitting, and being hit by, her violinist boyfriend Gérald (Samy Naceri).

In one early scene we see the two women in their adjoining hotel rooms. Marinelli is gently pleasuring herself as she stares at a half-naked man in an apartment across the way. Lafarge is doing likewise as she stares at images of handcuffs, hammers, and other implements of violence, sent to her mobile phone by Gérald. Meanwhile, local detective Robert Mendès (François Damiens) is trying to peek through their keyholes in order to get some information on these women who are investigating his department. This scene sums up the basic conceit of the film: everybody is watching everyone else. When a seedy reporter starts poking around Mendès accuses him of being a Peeping Tom. But when the story breaks in the media, we realise that the general public are also hanging on every salacious detail of the case.

Such sexual territory is nothing new for Isabelle Huppert, whose character in The Piano Teacher spied on lovers in parked cars. Here, though, the subject matter is played for laughs and Huppert deadpans beautifully in her role, especially as her own character’s behaviour starts to teeter out of control. Kiberlain also effortlessly conveys the gawky awkwardness of Sally Marinelli, and François Damiens amuses as a detective whose faltering attempts to speak Arabic recall Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau.

Unfortunately, the film’s comic potential is undermined by a weak internal logic and poor pacing. In the case of Marinelli’s character, it is not clear why anyone’s private behaviour would be worthy of police attention, let alone demotion within the force. We are also told early on that Lafarge is a highly respected officer, yet later on her own position comes into question because of her own sexual activities, which leads us to wonder how she has got so far without anyone noticing her proclivities before. Tip Top also commits the cinematic sin of placing the best scene at the very start of the film (in which a man – who is actually a police officer – storms into a bar frequented by Algerians and starts shouting racist insults). After this promising opening the rhythm of the film barely changes, apart from one scene where we see Lafarge and Gerald getting their sadomasochistic kicks.

Bearing in mind these shortcomings, I probably enjoyed this film more than it deserved, in large part because of the good performances and, especially, the magnetic screen presence of Isabelle Huppert.

Rating: 6/10

Tip Top was shown at the 2014 East End Film Festival www.eastendfilmfestival.com