Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tough enough?

I was pleasantly surprised by Knallhart (Tough Enough) a German film from 2006 which sneaked out in September in the UK without my noticing it. I caught it at Cornerhouse in Manchester and was glad I did. It's always good to see a film when you know nothing about it and this intrigued me from the off. The 15 year-old central character is well drawn and offers a range of emotions that seemed believable. It's a film which in different ways reminded me of La Haine and Sweet Sixteen and I can't think of higher praise.

Michael Polischka is a 15 year-old with an attractive mother of "only just over 30" as she reminds him. At the beginning of the story, Michael and his mother are thrown out on the street by her rich lover in the leafy suburbs. Michael finds himself in a tough inner city area of Berlin in a dismal flat and forced to attend an inner city school which seems rough even by UK standards. And the story moves on from there in quite conventional ways. The film makes the usual connections between crime and delinquent youth and recent immigrant communities, in this case two East European youths, who befriend Michael at school and take him home to chill out, and the 'enemy' gang, led by a Turkish youth. Eventually Michael gets involved as a drug-runner working for a suave and attractive young Turkish crime lord. He also casts envious eyes at Turkish family life (and a gorgeous young Turkish woman). The ending is well handled and explains the enigmatic beginning -- all in all a well-executed youth picture/crime story which offers a view of the 'New Berlin'. Well worth catching.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Becoming a pod person

In the week when a fourth version of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers is released in a vain attempt to recreate the success of the 1956 Don Siegel original, it seems appropriate to reflect on pods and podcasting. My free iPod shuffle arrived today, a gift from Sofa Cinema for subscribing for a minimum of 4 months. It seemed a good deal at the time and I'm very pleased with what I've heard so far, having transferred a playlist of my favourite Canadian artists in a single click. Brilliant!

Tonight I've also achieved something else in recording a streamed radio programme from BBC Radio 4 via the 'play again' function. Recording was very simple using Quicktime Pro. The programme recorded was The Archive Hour celebrating the births of the five 1907 centurions of UK documentary. I have listened carefully all the way through, but Marion Grierson and Paul Rotha weren't in the segments I registered. The main attraction of the programme for me was the archive recordings of John Grierson, Basil Wright, Edgar Anstey etc. as well as Lindsay Anderson. There wasn't too much new in the actual content, except for occasional gems such as Basil Wright meeting Grierson for the first time in a 'communist club' in Soho called the 1917 Club or some such. It was also good to hear Andy Medhurst affirming that if you wanted to know about the lives of the working class in the 1930s, you should watch a George Formby film.

This is also the week when the BBC launches its podcast service and I think I'll subscribe to at least one Radio 4 programme, probably Laurie Taylor's Thinking Aloud (which this week also included a hymn of praise to the aforementioned Mr Medhurst). Finally, I must record how pleased I am to hear Jane Garvey on Woman's Hour on Radio 4. I'm a long time fan of Jane on Radio 5's drivetime programme and it will be a shame if she will no longer be heard teasing Peter Allen, but she deserves to get a chance on Radio 4 as the consummate broadcaster she surely is. She is the third of the first generation of Radio 5's women to make it to Radio 4, following Diana Madill and Fi Glover. Radio 5 is dismissed by some snobby radio commentators in the UK, but there is plenty of real talent on the station.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Who is The Brave One?

The answer to the question may be Jodie Foster who stars in The Brave One. It might be Neil Jordan for taking on the direction. Both of them risked a critical mauling, but seem to have been rescued at the pass by the great American audience. I'm not sure if it is the prospect of this audience or the film itself which frightens me more. I've rarely been so exercised by a film.

I'm a Jodie Foster supporter, though I haven't seen that many of her films. I could say much the same about Neil Jordan, whose Hollywood pictures have never attracted me as much as the Irish/British ones. Putting the two together should promise something worthwhile. And indeed, for most of this film, Foster is excellent and Jordan provides several standout sequences. The script, however just isn't up to the job for me. As several critics have pointed out, the problem lies somewhere in the film's reference to genre repertoires. If The Brave One is judged as a 'revenge' thriller, it falls far short of the narrative economy and sheer drive of Abel Ferrara's Ms 45. I've not seen Death Wish, but I've read suggestions that it too is superior as a genre/expoitation film (whatever may be the worries about its politics). The Brave One wants to be more than an exploitation film but it lacks the clear sense of purpose that a film like A History of Violence offers. Instead, it features various subplots like the potential romance between cop and victim/avenger (prompting references to Jane Campion's In the Cut, a film which itself has genre problems, but which overall is more coherent) and the cod philosophy associated with a protagonist who is a very rare breed, a radio soundscape designer cum commentator. These aspects of the film mean it has the potential to be an interesting character study.

But I have to own up. My real problem is with American politics and gun control (the lack of it – the Jodie Foster character gets around it immediately). As a European, I just can't take seriously a film with no sense of moral purpose whatsoever apart from the belief that this 'good person' can do whatever they need to do to regain their confidence after a brutal attack. So, people are killed as if they were not human beings and a supposedly liberal character and a police officer can ignore the law without any sense of loss or any impact on their sense of moral well-being or mental health. In 1983, Tony Garnett, best known as a producer for Ken Loach, directed his second feature, Handgun, set in America and featuring a woman who is raped and who buys a gun seeking revenge. I don't remember the film in any detail, but I'm sure it was a considered argument against the use of firearms. In one of the more obvious role models for The Brave One, the Scorsese/Schrader Taxi Driver from 1976, there is a single major shootout, a psychotic protagonist and a deeply moral and disturbing take on American urban culture at the time of the withdrawal from Vietnam. In The Brave One there is a mention of Iraq and a character representing the terrors of wars in Africa where children are armed and trained to kill their parents (I'm assuming the character who makes this comment is from Sierra Leone). There are, I think, eight killings in The Brave One that are apparently 'justified'.

If you want to get depressed, read the IMDB comments. The first one I read that made a concerted attack on the film's politics as rightist ended up by claiming that it would be supported by "rabid feminists". As the Americans say, 'Go figure!'.