View from the aisle seat

My totally marvellous friend ‘M’ is an avid movie and theatre-goer. I think I can say she sees pretty much everything, and if she hasn’t seen it or isn’t planning to see it then it is quite likely you shouldn’t bother either. So in the spirit of helping you make excellent viewing choices the marvellous ‘M’ has agreed to a regular blog spot here on Knowing; I know you’re going to thoroughly enjoy the View from the aisle seat – several of us have been enjoying her reviews (and viewing companionship) for many years. Sit back, relax, Minstrels at the ready, lights dim and off we go!

Working up an appetite for more

Posted by on Mar 28, 2012 in movie review | 1 comment

There’s nothing I enjoy more than sneaking off to the movies in the middle of the day when the rest of the world is going about its own version of real life. After a recent experience at another 12A movie (The Woman in Black) where I had to move seats to avoid the orchestrated shrieks of the lasses sitting in the same row, I was determined not to see The Hunger Games alongside members of its target audience. Call me the Scrooge, or Scourge, of popular cinema entertainment. Bah, popcorn?

So in the early afternoon daughter and I settled down with our small popcorns (yeah, right – but it has lots of anti-oxidant properties apparently so is a ‘must eat’ during this Lenten famine period). At this point I should note that neither of us has read Suzanne Collins’ blockbusting books but the recent comparisons to the likes of Battle Royale, The Running Man et al piqued our interest.

Another reason for my wanting to see The Hunger Games is the jaw-dropping talent of the amazing Jennifer Lawrence. The fact that she didn’t win an Oscar for Winter’s Bone is just one in a long line of Academy travesties. And I had heard that squirrel eating featured in this movie too, so what’s not to look forward to? Otherwise my expectations were limited, and I’m not sure my daughter had any real thoughts as to what to expect, so we were a couple of blank slates waiting to be impressed. Or empty plates waiting to be filled? So many metaphors, so many readers to alienate!

And were we? In a word; sorry, two: mostly yes.

The abject fear of the children who were literally in a fight to the death lottery situation was palpable, but while the orchestrated frenzy that surrounded this child-centred game show story was visually entertaining it was disappointing too. Maybe I’m alone in wanting a bit more of Stanley Tucci’s game show host with his fabulous voiceover commentary (bizarrely reminiscent of Best in Show, though there were no nuts references here) and wishing that the enigmatic presidential character played by Donald Sutherland was more of something, but maybe you needed to know the story beforehand, and I’m sure he’ll feature large in The Hunger Games part II.

The comparisons with Battle Royale were of course trite, with the only similarity being kids fighting to the death, because the gore was limited to large cuts, stings and a rather nasty burn; the deaths were, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, quite tastefully handled. The first scene when they are launched into the game scenario was, I felt, horrendous, and children die, obviously if not graphically.

And yes, I admit it, I cried. Several times and not always at the points when I think the director might have wanted me to. I found myself pondering a society that trained and sent a proportion of its children to their deaths as some form of tribute and sacrifice to a bygone age, and the brutalisation that this required. I also found myself calculating how long the Hunger Games had been happening and why people had chosen to have children when this was what possibly lay in wait.

Sorry, bit of a tangent there…

But yes I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I do want to know what happens next. Maybe not enough to read the books, but I’m certainly going to take the aisle seat one early afternoon in the not too distant future for another helping of The Hunger Games.

Aisle in the Mind or The Talking Snore

Posted by on Feb 23, 2012 in movie review | 4 comments

“A Dangerous Method” introduced me to three equally unexpected firsts: being bored by a David Cronenberg film; finding Michael Fassbender unattractive; and appreciating Keira Knightley’s acting.

Knightley (who the great Mark Kermode joyfully re-named ‘Ikea’ to reflect her lack of dramatic ability) plays Sabina Spielrein, a hysterical patient under Jung’s experimental psychoanalytical care. Knightley’s full throttle performance complete with jutting jaw (seemingly on the point of dislocation), bared teeth and Russian accent is a huge step up for her as an actress; indeed I had expected her role to be the weak link in this triangle with Sigmund Freud (played by Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Fassbender). Yes she is ‘Acting’ with a capital A but I am intrigued to see where she goes next, having previously avoided her films.

I approve heartily of the fact that recently Fassbender has been regularly on our screens: as Magneto, Mr.Rochester and the sexually compulsive Brandon in “Shame” all great performances allowing you to understand these flawed characters making poor choices whilst remaining beautifully haunted. So it is astonishing to me, particularly given the focus of psychoanalysis on the sexual drivers underpinning human behaviour, how unattractive he is made in this film.  Jung is a character struggling to balance irreconcilable desires to both maintain a civilised life with his rich wife whilst indulging in sexual freedom. I found myself laughing at him rather than feeling for him.

Cronenberg has given us a restrained, perhaps even repressed, film with none of the daring for which he is famed. This is a film which could have been directed by anyone, plotting is pedestrian throughout and the work never breaks out from its stage roots. Well acted, beautifully shot, but deeply dull.

Martha Marcy May Marlene gives pause for thought

Posted by on Feb 15, 2012 in guest blogger, movie review | 0 comments

Knowing D blogging favourite Reasons to go North takes to the Aisle Seat with her review of Martha Marcy May Marlene and clearly enjoyed a film which left her with a few questions of her own. Enjoy! And we’re looking forward to you comments and thoughts of course!


My only reason for viewing this psychological thriller was an acquaintance of mine told me he had invested in this ‘artsy film’ which had been nominated at the Sundance awards.

Disturbing would be an understatement.  I watched the film at the Brewery Kendal, with no more than ten others on a Saturday evening.  It deserved a much greater audience, but I admit it would not be to everyone’s taste.  Cult followings are a difficult and uncomfortable subject.  This was directed with insight and sympathy for those who find themselves playing the vulnerable part in any dysfunctional relationship.  Don’t expect a full explanation of how Martha became subjugated, though ‘hints’ of the reasons for her vulnerability are given, and don’t expect a ‘tidy’ ending.  That you will have to decide for yourself.

But I did find total empathy with Martha Marcy May Marlene, I will leave you to discover where and how the four names apply.  The subtle and insidious control by a manipulative cult leader, of young and vulnerable minds, left me wondering why they did not leave, while simultaneously realising their overwhelming desire to ‘please’ this man whom they feared and yet adored.

Expect to sit on the edge of your seat silently hoping that Martha manages to move away and find some peace in her future life.


Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Posted by on Jan 29, 2012 in movie review | 1 comment

Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut, is a stirring contemporary reading of this lesser known Shakespearean tragedy; a wonderful debut and the first time that Coriolanus has been filmed.  Although we are explicitly in “a place calling itself Rome” filming was in Belgrade where the resonance of blasted buildings, suffering civilians, and marauding military gangs is strongly enhanced. More current still, opposition groups organise themselves and take to the street to protest at the indifference of the ruling elites but are violently suppressed.

Authentic rolling news updates advance the action including a cameo from Jon Snow presenting breaking news in Shakespearean blank verse and overseeing a studio debate complete with vying experts. The climatic banishment scene is staged within a television debate where Coriolanus is undone by his fierce pride and furiously spurns the studio audience: “whose loves I prize as the dead carcasses of unburied men that do corrupt my air: I banish you!” Coriolanus is a famously hard man to care for, and that is exactly as he would want it. In Shakespeare’s text there are few soliloquoys since Coriolanus sees no need to explain himself. Having been raised by his terrifying mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave in an unforgettable performance) to take pride only in crushing military achievements, his contempt for easily swayed plebian mobs who have not served the state is palpable. He is intensely aware of his own hard-fought worth but crucially refuses the customary opportunity to show the people his scars in order to gain their acclamation as Consul. He rejects the modern political necessities of spin and is brought down by the sneaky machinations of the tribunes of the people.

This film encourages us to consider whether we get the political leadership we deserve. If we accept that the powerful will always hold us in contempt but ultimately allow ourselves to be bamboozled by presentation of the message and we collude with elite patricians who cajole then reject those who are honest with us. But it is a complex debate since Coriolanus is not an attractive figure for a modern democrat to laud.

My highest praise is that this is an adaptation that had me rushing home to read the play again; the amazing language was all Shakespeare’s but the director’s choices were key. The reconcilliation scene when, after Coriolanus’ banishment, he seeks out his bitterest enemy Aufidius (Gerard Butler) is played as a deeply sexually-charged encounter between two lovers who have finally understood what has been between them all along. This is underlined by a head-shaving ritual which is replayed as the Volscians march towards Rome fuelled by beer, sessions in the barber’s chair and bass-heavy dancing. Although I should add here that I saw the film with one of the straightest men alive and he didn’t agree with my assessment of this scene, but of course, he is was wrong!

The Only Way is Maggie?

Posted by on Jan 10, 2012 in movie review | 6 comments

Watching “The Iron Lady” in the East Finchley Phoenix was always going to have a particular resonance. Cheekily the programmers treated us to a short pre-film reminiscence from a local man explaining how one of the last acts of the (Thatcher abolished) GLC was to grant the necessary money to save the much-loved cinema from sale to the highest bidder. Wry grins all around to complement our coffee and delicious cake. However that was the afternoon’s high point.

The film’s much discussed framing device where the ageing and confused ex-Prime Minister looks back at her life through the distorted prism of her own memories is fundamentally flawed. Margaret Thatcher is simply too controversial a figure for this inherently limiting approach to work dramatically since there can be no contrast. We see nothing of the impact of Thatcherism other than people protesting; there is absolutely no alternative. Even IRA bombings are presented as somehow underpinning the correctness of Thatcher’s premiership. In this version the only people who are seen to be actually hurt by her actions are her daughter, Carol (beautifully played by Olivia Colman) and Geoffrey Howe (Anthony Head, unexpectedly moving). Jim Broadbent’s playing of Dennis Thatcher is frustratingly poorly directed. Is he showing that Dennis too has suffered for her ambition; is he comic relief or perhaps Greek chorus; or simply Mr. Exposition?

The publicity for this film has repeatedly emphasised that it is a personal rather than a political story, even if we accept that premise this film is woefully shallow in its checklist approach to British history. Every screen cliché is in evidence including far too many television news montages: Brixton in flames, the bombed Grand Hotel at dawn, soldiers yomping across theFalklands, Poll Tax protestors being charged down inTrafalgar   Square. Meryl Streep, whose physical transformation in the central role is stunning, has described how she sees parallels with the story of King Lear. I would love to see Streep’s Lear but this film is not that.

The film’s join-the-dots score was a perfect demonstration of how not to: jingoistic, hammy and utterly clichéd; the music used for the ‘Sink the Belgrano’ moment could have been taken from a particularly unsubtle 1940’s propaganda film. Even the sole aural highpoint (Not Sensible’s “I’m in love with Maggie Thatcher”) is used over such a radiant montage that I wasn’t certain that the film’s makers grasped the song’s irony. At least Thatcher’s final exit fromDowning Street, complete with a tragic operatic aria and red rose petals crushed under foot (no really!) was laugh out loud funny.

For anyone else who enjoys this film as little as I did can I suggest a game to take your mind off it? The person responsible for extras casting clearly had a sense of humour as I counted at least three David Cameron look-alikes in different scenes, perhaps it’s just that he is the living embodiment of Tory smug but it did help to keep my indignation from boiling over.


Why Sarah Lund can never work for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Force

Posted by on Dec 22, 2011 in TV review | 0 comments

My personal cultural highlight of 2011 could easily be the start of Episode 9 of the second Season of “The Killing”. After a week of low-level anxiety about possible fashion choices for a female Danish detective flown into Afghanistan at short notice I was utterly delighted when Sarah Lund was revealed to have accessorised her favourite jumper with desert camouflage body armour and helmet. And then the final double episode just got better.

Her foxy detective partner, Strange, had been investigated and cleared of any involvement but Lund knew he was still in it right up to his attractive eyebrows, and finally exposed him as the multiple murder. Wearing a bullet proof vest (prefigured perhaps in those Afghanistan sequences but of which this twitchy audience member was unaware) she then gave Strange the chance to shoot her four times in the chest (although in the only real plot hole despite being special forces trained with a penchant for execution style ‘head shots’ he didn’t check if she was dead). Strange then decided to indulge in a spot of light plot exposition/taunting talking to the beautiful/ misunderstood/ possibly psychopathic Raben giving Lund the opportunity to thwack Strange with her signature torch before shooting an entire clip of ammunition into him and then going through a few more empty chambers just to work out some of her anger.

Since they never make it through the series, perhaps for Season three Lund’s boss Brix (beautifully named as his sole facial expression is summarised as ‘wall’) will just pair her with someone actively suicidal? Sofie Gråbøl who plays Lund stated that she had to lobby hard for changes when the Series One producers suggested she have an affair with the main suspect. How right she was and not just because unresolved sexual tension is a great dramatic gift to writers but because plainly Lund just WOULDN’T. Lesser mortals confronted with pizza, wine and Troels would have fallen, but not her. Similarly the ongoing Season two flirtation between Lund and Strange was beautifully acted, every awkward encounter terse and unfinished, replete with unspoken motives we can now re-examine in hindsight.

Lund can never get her man (in the romantic sense) because she, and hopefully we the audience, cares infinitely more about her getting THE man. Although since Skogaard is now apparently squeaky clean (ok yes – a punning reminder of Lund impassively interviewing him whilst he showered despite the severe temptation to have an old-fashioned gawp) perhaps in Season three…

Hollywood meets the English stage set

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 in movie review | 2 comments

There are many good reasons to see “My Week With Marilyn” but here are my top three.

Michelle Williams’s beautiful representation of the quintessential movie star who yearns to be a great actress. A stunning performance which captures her calculation and innocence; desolation and sweetness; terror and comfort (often as fleeting expressions glimpsed floating across her perfect face).  Surely the Oscar nomination (at least) is firmly in her effortlessly stylish bag.

Equally impressive though is Kenneth Branagh’s complex study of desperation as Laurence Olivier. A diva himself who expects to be the centre of attention; an experienced director who is appalled by Marilyn’s frequent unprofessional lateness; a classical actor who knows that he cannot compete with her natural star power but who marvels at what he is most jealous of.

Best of all though for me were the two line bit parts from some of the greats of English theatre which punctuate the whole film: Michael Kitchen as a laconic film producer; Toby Jones a sleazy press agent; Jim Carter as an incredulous publican; Derek Jacobi as a Windsor Castle curator; and Simon Russell-Beale playing a gossipy potential landlord dressed in a country tweed and curly wig ensemble that deserved a review all of its own.



In at the deep end

Posted by on Nov 29, 2011 in movie review | 2 comments

Terence Davies’ new film “The Deep Blue Sea” moved me to tears, although not I assume, when it was intended to. Simon Russell Beale is always a captivating stage actor and although Rachel Weisz is suitably tragic and beautiful, (more…)

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