Talking Movies

September 26, 2013

Blue Jasmine

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Woody Allen’s comeback run continues with a third straight humdinger – this time in a more tragic vein as Cate Blanchett essays a comic Blanche DuBois.

Humbled socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) arrives in San Francisco, pleading poverty but still flying first class, to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Both women were adopted, but Ginger always felt their parents loved Jasmine more, and Jasmine continues their disapproval as she instantly disapproves of Ginger’s new boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale); insisting that he’s no better than Ginger’s loutish ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay). Chili, however, gives as good as he gets, and his constant nagging steers Jasmine into a receptionist job with punctilious dentist Dr Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg). Jasmine’s disruptive memories of her pampered life with ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), however, see her trying to recreate her previous social standing by landing bereaved diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). She also introduces Ginger to a boyfriend a step up from Chili, sound engineer Al (Louis CK). Will love triumph?

Woody Allen manages to combine fantastic comedy with a quite touching tragedy. Jasmine may appear a boozy socialite at first, with an unnerving habit of launching into intimate conversations about her life with complete strangers. Really she’s heavily medicated after a nervous breakdown and gets into those conversations because people assume she’s talking to them, when in fact she’s talking to thin air in which she sees Hal or other people. Blanchett is extraordinary in the lead, retaining our sympathy even as she delivers the most horrible lines. Blanchett is able to shift from gorgeous and intelligent to haggard and schizophrenic within a scene by dint of sheer facial expressiveness. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, in his second film with Allen after Vicky Cristina Barcelona, bathes the film in warm golden tones which make Jasmine’s sudden mental disintegrations all the more disturbing.

Jasmine’s life with Hal is patiently revealed in flashback to illuminate both the reasons for her breakdown, and just why Augie holds her so responsible for ruining Ginger’s life by trying to do her one good turn. Baldwin is on fine imperious form as the high-flying Wall Street tycoon whose fly-by-night practices Jasmine is (purposefully?) oblivious to, just as she doesn’t notice his endless affairs. But the other side of the comedy-drama tightrope being walked with such skill here is hilariously unhindered performances from Louis CK and Stuhlbarg as remarkably unsubtle suitors of the sisters. Blanchett has any number of waspish lines that are hysterically funny, and her relationship with her two nephews affords great opportunity to deploy them. Yet the comedy never undermines the dramatic substance and betrayal, infidelity, corruption, bad advice and bad luck subtly power the film.

The combination of two women’s romances and mental disintegration inevitably recalls Vicky Cristina Barcelona but this is a more ambitious and more successful film.

4/5

Graham Greene Festival 2013

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I’m off to Graham Greene’s birthplace Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire for the Graham Greene Festival 2013 which takes place this weekend.

I’ve been commended in the playwright category of this year’s creative writing awards, for my short satirical script The Bungalows of Old Hollywood, but this festival, which is only a half-hour train ride from London Euston, is well worth the attention of any Greene fans in the Home Counties. The always interesting line up of talks and screenings this year notably includes Greta Scacchi attending a screening of her 1985 Greene film Dr Fischer of Geneva, and the book launch by Pierre Smolik of Graham Greene: the Swiss Chapter, which covers the little researched Swiss sojourn of the adventurous writer.

Thursday 26 September

5.15 The Festival Gathering Supper at the Kings Arms Hotel 
Chicken casserole, apple crumble, wine and coffee; or vegetarian option of pastas or risotto.
This is a very happy social occasion when old friends meet, and new ones are introduced to our Festival good cheer. It is a chance to meet up with some of those at the centre of the Greene world. All are most welcome. We need to know numbers for certain by Thursday 19th September. There is a maximum of 70 tickets.

The position of the Kings Arms is marked on the map on the Venues page.

Cost: £18

7.15 Film Night at the Civic Centre 
Film: Dr Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party (1985) 
Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Starring: James Mason, Alan Bates and Greta Scacchi.
Greta Scacchi, who takes the role of Anna-Luise, has promised to be with us. This film combines Greene’s witty and cynical observations on human greed with a touching love story. The plot was conceived at a Christmas party when Graham was with his daughter and grandsons. Caroline Bourget (his daughter) and Andrew (grandson) will be with us this evening, and so the story comes full-circle – and in Berkhamsted. This will be an entertaining evening when we, the audience, can – after the film – participate in some of the fun. Members of Equity, the Musicians’ Union and the Writers’ Guild are entitled to a discount of 25% of the cost of their ticket for the screening of Dr Fischer of Geneva. This may be claimed at the door if a valid union card is shown. The film will immediately be followed by a ‘Question and Answer’ session between Greta and Quentin Falk. They will discuss the film and its making. Quentin is well known to Festival-goers, and he has the distinction of having interviewed Graham Greene. His book, Travels in Greeneland: The Cinema of Graham Greene, is the bible of Greene’s Cinema. He is the film critic of the Catholic Herald. Richard Broke, the Producer of the film, will be present.

Cost: £8.

Friday 27 September

Talks at the Town Hall, Berkhamsted

Morning Session

9.30 Book launch: Graham Greene: the Swiss Chapter by Pierre Smolik.

How did Greene – cosmopolitan author, roguish adventurer, journalist and witness to the great world conflicts of his time – wind up on the gentle banks of Lake Geneva? He liked to be most where genuine change might take place, the fundamental upheaval. Hardly Switzerland. This new book covers the less well researched part of Greene’s life. There is much interest in the book in Switzerland and at the Swiss Embassy in London. Now the author, Pierre Smolik, and publisher, Patrick Moser, together with Alexander Harbaugh will introduce the book to us. Greta Scacchi, who stars in the film Dr Fischer of Geneva, has a place in this ‘Swiss chapter’, and she will be with us. This is an opportunity to acquire a significant first-edition together with autographs of the author, the film actress, and the Greene family. There will be a book signing after the talk, and the publishing team from Call me Edouard Editeurs | Publishers will be present all day to respond to interest.

10.15 Greene’s Magic places – a talk by Professor François Gallix

Break for tea and coffee

11.30 Travels with my Priest: Greene’s Spanish trips, 1976–1989 by Professor Carlos Villar Flor

Cost: £12

Break for lunch.

Afternoon Session

2.15 The Heart of the Matter – the James Tait Black Novel of the Century? by Professor Randall Stevenson
In this last year he has been one of the panel of judges to pick the outstanding novel of the 20th Century from the annual winners of the James Tait Black Prize which is awarded by Edinburgh University and had been celebrating its 250th Anniversary. Greene’s The Heart of the Matter won the Prize in 1948, and was one of six novels selected for this Anniversary honour. We know now that it did not win, but Randall Stevenson will talk about the qualities of the novel that made it a finalist. (The film of the novel will be screened at 7.30 p.m.)

3.00 Discussion of the Novel and of the Qualities that might make for Greatness in a Novel. Panel: Professor Randall Stevenson, Mike Hill (former Festival Director), Professor Richard Greene of Toronto University. David Pearce will chair the discussion. There will be every opportunity for members of the audience to express views.

Break for tea and coffee

4.15 Greene and Israel by Frances Assa

Cost: £12

Evening Session at The Civic Centre

7.15 New Film – A Little Place off the Edgware Road

A16 minute big-screen adaptation by writer-director Tim Hewitt of a tale from the 21 Stories collection. A writer of crime fiction (Paul McGann) is suffering from writer’s block. Haunted by dreams of his wife and child, he seeks solace in a Hitchcock Festival at his local cinema as well as in regular sessions with his therapist. A disturbance outside his flat leads to a strange encounter, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. Paul McGann and Ronald Pickup co-star in the film, which Tim Hewitt will introduce.

7.30 Film: The Heart of the Matter (1953) 
Director: George More O’Ferrall. Cast: Trevor Howard, Elizabeth Alan, Michael Hordern (who once lived in Berkhamsted), Denholm Elliott and Peter Finch.
The film will be introduced by Professor Neil Sinyard, Reader in Film Studies at the University of Hull, and well known to all Greene Festival-goers

Cost: £8

Saturday 28 September

Deans’ Hall, Berkhamsted School (Castle Street)

An exhibition of Greene’s Berkhamsted will be on show

Morning Session

10.00 ‘Memory cheats’: deception, recollection, and the problem of reading in The Captain and the Enemy by Dr Frances McCormack

Break for tea and coffee

11.30 Graham Greene’s writing: the theatre of the mind. ‘I write in the way that I do because I am what I am’ by Professor John Batchelor

Cost: £14

12.30: Sandwich lunch by courtesy of the Management of the Kings Arms Hotel

Early Afternoon Session

2.30 An American investigates Graham Greene’s Aversion to America by Professor Joyce Stavick

Creative Writing Awards presentation by Professor Joyce Stavick

Break for tea and coffee

3.45 ‘We Catholics are damned by our knowledge’ by The Revd. Dr Michael Bowie

Cost: £14

Late Afternoon Session

4.45 The Birthday Toast to Graham Greene

5.00 From Buenos Aires to Berkhamsted: a personal journey by Nicholas Shakespeare

Cost: £12

Evening Session

Old Hall, Berkhamsted School

7.30 Hot Buffet Dinner, with diversions

Four courses: soup, buffet beef/salmon, dessert, cheese wine and coffee; or vegetarian option of risotto and cheese
(Maximum number: 70. We need to know numbers by Thursday 19th September.)

Cost: £33

Sunday 29 September

The Old Hall, Berkhamsted School

Early Morning Session

9.00 Tour of Greene’s School – the parts that Greene would have known – by David Pearce
There is no charge for this. Those coming should gather in the car park in front of Old Hall and beside the chapel

Break for tea and coffee

Morning Session

The VIth Form Centre – Upstairs from Old Hall

10.15 Insights into recent Greene research by Professor Richard Greene

11.00 ‘Green Shoots’ opportunities and a discussion about the structure of the 2014 Festival

11.30 The Overpowering Smell of Cooked Ham, a talk with film excerpts by Professor Neil Sinyard

Cost: £14

12.30 The Farewell Lunch in Old Hall 
Cold buffet meats, cheese, wine and coffee; or vegetarian option of a selection of quiches. (We need to know numbers by Thursday 19th September.)

Cost: £22

September 24, 2013

5 Reasons to Hail White House Down

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Short & Sweet

This has not been a good summer for blockbusters but unlike endless nonsense like The Lone Ranger, noisy mayhem like Pacific Rim, or painfully overextended finales like Man of SteelWhite House Down doesn’t take forever to tell a reasonably simple story. And even when it throws in a ludicrous but logical twist at the end it sorts everything out in one stupidly simple scene rather than dragging us thru another 20 exhausting minutes of CGI chaos.

Everything Pays Off…

There’s a reason Keith Thompson and I chose Roland Emmerich when parodying well-made scripts. Everything pays off – nothing is too stupid to be forgotten, the President’s Lincoln fandom saves his life. Everything Roland sets up will pay off later, even down to Channing Tatum missing his daughter’s talent show. She practised for six weeks honing a skill that, like everything else, will come in extremely handy later on; so better make a mental note of it now.

‘Subtle’ Satire

Roland Emmerich gave you a Dick Cheney lookalike climate change sceptic VP in The Day After Tomorrow being humiliated when climate change forced his people into refugee camps in Mexico. Here he has a black academic President with a liking for Lincoln teaching John Cale what the military-industrial complex is and being prevented from withdrawing from the Middle East by those entrenched interests. And that’s before we get to the aggressive right-wing news anchor who won’t stop crying…

Actually a Good Day to Die Hard

So, there’s a villain discovering a connection between the hero and his prominent annoying female hostage. And, also, misguided good guys roaring in on helicopters to kill everyone with a ill-judged rescue attempt, who end up in flames because they won’t listen to our hero or his conduit; and then start machine-gunning our hero on the roof of the building as he tries to help. Hmm… Wait, and he’s wearing a white vest!

Maggie Gyllenhaal

Maggie Gyllenhaal is basically playing Al to Channing Tatum’s John McClane. That makes no sort of sense at all. She’s all wrong for the part in the Die Hard analogical sense in every way imaginable but her answer to that problem is to give it EVERYTHING she’s got. She’s so ferociously committed, especially in scenes revolving around betrayal and possible redemption, that she provides some kind of perverse dignity that makes all the nonsense around her cinematically plausible.

Berkhamsted Revisited

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Prof. Peter Evans and Dr. Fergal Casey

‘Only beggars and gypsies say that one must never return where one has been before’ – Soren Kierkegaard

The annual Graham Greene Festival at Greene’s birthplace (Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire) is about to kick off, so I thought I’d cast a belated backward glance at the 2012 Festival. I travelled to Berkhamsted at the end of September to collect two prizes in the Festival’s Creative Writing awards. I won best short screenplay for Sir Joshua’s Macaw, a comedy of bad art criticism, and best prose fiction for my comedy of workplace anxiety, ‘For Whom H.R. Tolls’. I had previously won the best prose thriller category in 2011 for my story of murderous identical brothers ‘Dieu et Mon Droit’.

The festival is organised by the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust as Berkhamsted was where two different branches of the extended Greene family lived, and Graham’s father was headmaster of the venerable public school which Graham reluctantly attended; a deeply unhappy experience immortalised in the 1971 autobiography A Sort of Life. Greene mellowed towards his hometown though and returned to it imaginatively in the last decades of his life in books like The Human Factor and The Captain and the Enemy. The four-day festival includes film screenings and gala dinners, and many talks by both academic Greene scholars and film-makers involved in adaptations of his work. It has become a venue for launching new works of Greene scholarship, and having completed a PhD on the Irish influence on GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc in 2007 in UCD such a milieu of intense discussion of an English Catholic writer feels very familiar.

I was aware of Greene’s great liking for Chesterton’s novel The Napoleon of Notting Hill but had never studied Greene academically, remaining merely an avid reader and fan of works like The Ministry of Fear and The Third Man. I didn’t attend any lectures last year, but in 2011 I had the good fortune to hear Professor Michael Brennan’s lecture on Greene’s creative use of the Manichean heresy, in Brighton Rock and Stamboul Train among others, which was a truly stunning piece of scholarship. His patient explanation of the bizarre beliefs of the Manicheans and careful analysis of just how Greene used this good/evil, soul/body, man/woman set of dichotomies for his own (occasionally mischievous) purposes was one of the most dazzling lectures I’ve ever attended.

A major draw of the festival’s programme for me was a day-long creative writing workshop with two of the judges of the creative writing awards, novelist Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone and screenwriter William Ivory. The creative writing awards emulate Greene’s own range and include screenwriting, travel writing, and two prose categories – for fiction and thriller; much like Greene’s inimitable distinction between his novels and his ‘entertainments’. 2012 saw Lattin-Rawstrone and Ivory focus on Greene’s screenplay for The Third Man and his short story ‘The Basement Room’ to examine the importance of story and character in their talks on how to write convincing characters, who are then sent on meaningful journeys. The importance of tactile detail in communicating emotion was hammered home, as was the equal importance that when an important event befalls a character the reader should also viscerally feel just how important it is. The workshop includes an intense practical component in the afternoon. I did the screenplay option with Made in Dagenham screenwriter Ivory, who is a true disciple of Greene in his use of philosophical and theological concepts in his gritty screenplays. He also throws his pupils in at the deep end, plotting out an original movie scenario and characters from some pictures of actors; and then asking everyone to write a sample scene after some group discussion to fine-tune the characters and plot.

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Lee Langley and Fergal Casey

Away from this intensive writing in the basement theatre of Berkhamsted School (irresistibly reminiscent of UCD Dramsoc’s now lost LG1 space), in the Civic Centre I greatly enjoyed seeing on a big screen Lee Langley’s 1980s adaptation of Greene’s lost 1940s ‘scriptment’ into the complex and tense film The Tenth Man starring Anthony Hopkins and Kristin Scott Thomas; not least as Langley had presented me with my Creative Writing prize in 2011 and the exhortation to keep writing. As an added bonus director Jack Gold was on hand to discuss the film, revealing some of Anthony Hopkins’ acting mannerisms along the way. Once all the prizes had been given out, the birthday toast proposed, and the talks concluded it was time for the Gala Dinner in the luxurious surroundings of Berkhamsted’s venerable Public School, with an after-dinner talk by actor Clive Francis. I had the good fortune to be seated for it alongside Cathy Hogan, a previous winner in the writing awards, and Dermot Gilvary, previous director of the Festival.

I think everyone will find that there is one Graham Greene work that speaks to them. For me it’s The Ministry of Fear, for other people I know I could say The End of the Affair or Twenty One Short Stories. Why not find out which one speaks to you?

September 20, 2013

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

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Dario Fo’s most celebrated play receives an exceedingly energetic but ultimately misjudged production at the New Theatre in Temple Bar.

A madman, who likes to torment blustering local Garda (Paul Kealyn), worms his way into the corridors of power and, passing himself off as a judge conducting an inquiry, grills all the police officers present when an anarchist ‘accidentally’ fell off the 4th floor of police headquarters. Distractingly the characters retain names like Bertosi despite wearing Garda uniforms. The panicked Inspector (Neil Fleming) tries to maintain his alibi in the face of increasingly damning questions, dragooning the obviously guilty Superintendent (Rory Mullen) into buttressing the madman’s increasingly elaborate and supposedly helpful alibi for the alibi, as it were. They’re aided in their attempts to fabricate a narrative by the idiotic Constable (Paul Elliot, giving the most understated and effective performance), and hindered by the late-arriving crusading journalist (Dagmar Doring). But this is Hard Candy without any attempt at ambiguity; the dramatic dice are fatally loaded.

The play is dominated by a certified madman, but that doesn’t mean he has to be played as a madman. However, Patrick O’Donnell plays him from the get-go as Graham Norton meets Jim Carrey, with some grace notes from John Cleese as Basil Fawlty increasingly evident after the interval. This is not without merit by any means. There are many scenes which are screamingly funny because of this approach, but there are many more scenes which would work if played subtly that fail miserably because of this OTT tack. Cleese didn’t play Basil as screaming and prancing from start to finish, there were escalating levels of madness thru which Basil would reach his peak of manic exasperation. This production asks its cast en masse to start at full volume, which, toning it down being verboten, leaves them nowhere to go…

Director Peter Reid’s gloss on Simon Nye’s translation is a greater worry. An anti-austerity song is amusing, but seems pandering; but then it’s followed by an abortion zinger so pointed it’s not part of the play, but a statement of political credo – so much so that someone in the audience cheered loudly when it was delivered. This pulls you out of the theatre, and the madman’s subsequent lengthy speech on how religion reinforces capitalist hegemony annoys because Shaw would instantly produce an opposing argument; but here you’re expected to nod your head approvingly. Euripides with the Trojan Women challenged his fellow Athenian Imperialists to reflect on their conduct, Shakespeare with his history plays challenged his fellow countrymen to dream the England he was imagining for them, but this production merely asks Irish socialists to slap themselves heartily on the back.

If you believe theatre is an arena where you bask in the glory of your own beliefs then this will satisfy – but surely theatre aims for more than that?

2/5

September 19, 2013

Major Barbara

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Annabelle Comyn directs her third summer show in a row on the Abbey stage and, following 2011’s Pygmalion, makes a welcome return to Bernard Shaw.

Shaw’s 1905 play begins with the imperious Lady Britomart (Eleanor Methven) initiating her shallow son Stephen (Killian Burke) into the shameful history of his millionaire father, arms manufacturer Andrew Undershaft (Paul McGann). Lady Britomart intends to tap Undershaft for marriage settlements for their daughters Sarah (Liz Fitzgibbon), engaged to upper class twit Charles Lomax (Aonghus Og McAnally), and Barbara (Clare Dunne), engaged to bohemian Greek scholar Adolphus Cusins (Marty Rea). She also hopes, by inviting Undershaft to meet his children for the first time in decades, to spark some paternal sentiment in him so that he will abandon the Undershaft tradition of disinheriting the lawful heirs in favour of settling the massive arms concern on a foundling. The unrepentant Undershaft, however, is more impressed by his daughter Major Barbara; who he makes swear to visit his arms factory if he visits her Salvation Army shelter. But which of their competing philosophies will overcome the other?

Major Barbara is dominated by the character of Undershaft and McGann rises boldly to the challenge. His entrance into Lady Britomart’s library, absolutely unsure as to which of the three men in it is his son, is expertly prolonged, and his delivery of his unscrupulous politico-economic philosophy jaded without being cynical; his very sincerity hinting at the need for new energy which the steely Barbara suddenly offers to him. Dunne’s fervour as Barbara, with undertones of despair, complements McGann’s nuance, while Methven Fassbenders as the Wildean matriarch insulting her son and prospective son-in-laws with arch put-downs. Burke does a fine job of Stephen’s indignation shading into admiration as he sees his father’s works, but comedic honours go to Aonghus Og McAnally and his repeated contention that whatever’s being discussed involves a good deal of tommyrot. Talking Movies favourite Rea makes his shady character a worthy foil to Undershaft, alternating between ecstatic acceptance and mulish rebellion.

But, far more than Pygmalion, this play engages with the poor of London. The elegant library, by Comyn’s regular set designer Paul O’Mahony, loses its refinement to become the facade of the Salvation Army shelter. Shaw presents the poor who despise being reliant on charity (Chris McHallem’s defeated Peter Shirley), the poor who play up their Christianity to cynically con charity (Emmet Kirwan’s sly Bronterre O’Brien Price), and the poor who only Barbara would tackle (Ian Lloyd Anderson’s truly menacing Bill Walker). This is a London haunted by the winter depression of 1886, and, even as Barbara and Walker clash rhetorically and physically over his rejection of salvation, the visiting Undershaft instructs the attentive Cusins in the employers’ interest in the Army keeping the poor content, but in their place. When Undershaft offers a massive donation to Mrs Baines (Fiona Bell) to help keep open the shelter, Barbara resigns rather than usefully employ tainted money.

And so the final act finds the library transforming into a munitions factory with a massive weapon as its centrepiece as Undershaft attempts to uphold the Undershaft tradition while yet employing his fiery daughter… Major Barbara runs for nearly three hours and is a dense play. Is Shaw satirising the Salvation Army as the acme of religious enthusiasm that horrified staid Victorians? Or merely challenging the Army to convert the rich because they will be more sincere as they do not need their charity? And then there’s the grenade he throws in of personal integrity getting in the way of the greater good. Does Barbara have a duty to accept money made from wrongdoing in order to serve the greater good? Given recent resignations of conscience and Trevor Sargeant’s 2007 resignation to allow his party enter government this is not an abstract Antigone dilemma. Undershaft’s seductive honesty is very Shavian, if he doesn’t believe something he won’t pretend to for the sake of social niceties; and so he magnificently flourishes the fact that his industry controls government. But are his actions consistent with his philosophy or is he as impetuous as Barbara, so Shaw’s calling for compromise not mad idealism?

These knotty questions can’t really be answered, and so this production of Major Barbara is to be commended for expertly maintaining the comedic undertone in its intense examination of the ever-relevant clash between private integrity and the public good.

4/5

Major Barbara continues its run at the Abbey until the 21st of September.

September 18, 2013

Diana

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Downfall Director Oliver Hirschbiegel reminds us he also directed The Invasion as he once again comes a cropper working with a famous blonde Australian actress.

Diana opens with Naomi Watts’ Sloane Ranger getting into the elevator which will take her to a fatal chase thru a Parisian tunnel. It then jumps back two years to late 1995 with the unsettled Princess preparing for her ‘Queen of Hearts’ TV interview with Martin Bashir, and assiduously hiding this from her adviser Patrick (Charles Edwards). Diana, as she complains to her acupuncturist/psychiatrist Una (Geraldine James), is feeling detached from her children (by Palace meddling only co-ordinating their schedules monthly), hounded by the paparazzi, and generally unloved. When Una’s husband is hospitalised Diana rushes to visit, and falls for Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). But though she visits his family in Pakistan to ask for their blessing can she really marry a workaholic who insists privacy is vital to maintain the concentration he needs as a surgeon?

This, unlike The Invasion, feels like a Hirschbiegel movie. Bookended by showy (and ultimately pointless) tracking shots, his camera roves constantly. But this style and Rainer Klausmann’s narrowly focused cinematography is brought to bear on Stephen Jeffrey’s stilted script. Despite being based on the allegedly true behind the scenes story, you never believe for a second this really happened. Dialogue like Hasnat’s “You don’t perform the operation, the operation performs you” should have been laughed out of the room at the read-thru stage, yet it remains; inciting unintentional hilarity. The longer the movie drags on the more it feels like a Mark Millar comic: history is a cover story, what we know about Diana’s romance with Dodi Al-Fayed was just an elaborate smokescreen created by her, in collusion with a favoured paparazzo, as part of her true romance with Hasnat.

Diana feels tediously endless because talented people are failing to achieve any insight. Watts’ head is pleasingly always tilted at an angle, but she and Andrews can’t make their characters escape the bad 1980s soap opera feel of their secret romance. Every one of their arguments is the same argument, rather like The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and so no dramatic momentum ever builds. The portrayal of Diana’s persona is just too much – especially as this is meant to reveal the woman behind the facade. A scene with a tearful blind man in Rimini joyously touching her face is the nadir: Diana as Jesus meets Obi-Wan Kenobi, power going out from her to console. Diana uses her children as an arguing gambit with Hasnat, but rarely seems to think of them otherwise; her full personality thus remains a mystery.

If you don’t believe that everyone in England was watching the Bashir interview, with entire pubs eschewing watching football or drinking for it, then Diana is not for you…

1.5/5

September 14, 2013

Things We Learnt From Movies

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“I’m telling you, Besse, it’s really that easy

Martin Scorsese at his most ebullient can give the impression that Old Hollywood taught its audience how to act in every imaginable scenario. But sometimes the things we learn from movies are just slightly absurd…

TG4 is showing the second part of 2009 French crime epic Mesrine next Friday night. But while Mesrine: Public Enemy No 1 is a sprawling and rewarding saga it’s to be hoped that TG4 don’t fall asleep at the wheel like they did when they premiered the movie. Vincent Cassell’s legendary bank-robber Jacques Mesrine had just escaped from prison by shinning over a wall with Mathieu Amalric’s fellow prisoner Besse when the prison guards finally noticed and started to shoot and give chase. Mesrine and Besse made it to a car, but left behind their third prisoner when he got shot on the other side of the street; making it impossible to bundle him into the car. As they took off in the car, TG4 cut to an ad-break. But somebody while pushing the button to start the ads forgot to also push the button to stop the movie… And so, after the ad-break, instead of the hair-raising stylish escape across town in a car and a train, we caught up with Mesrine and Besse in a flat. It gives the impression that escaping from French prisons is surprisingly easy; almost as if we missed this scene on the street…

EXT.STREETSIDE OF PRISON WALL – DAY.

The burly Chief Warden PIERRE runs panting out of immensely heavy doors; which open just a fraction of a second before he bolts thru them. He finds two young prison guards JEAN and MARC standing beside a wounded PRISONER and looking disconsolately down the street. Pierre follows their gaze and sees a car containing MESRINE and BESSE is speeding away…

PIERRE: What are you two imbeciles doing? Why aren’t you chasing Mesrine?

JEAN: (quietly) He crossed the street.

PIERRE: (in disbelief) No!!

MARC: Yes, he just, he came out, and then he just… crossed right on over.

PIERRE: Pierrot Le Fou! I hate that rule…

JEAN: We couldn’t do anything.

MARC: I even had a shot, but he had one foot on the pavement, and I didn’t want to take the shot because I thought that might be against the rules.

PIERRE: You were quite right not to shoot, Marc. The last thing we want is to put ourselves in the wrong.

JEAN: (sadly) If it was even just a little wider, as a street.

PIERRE: Well what do you expect when you put a prison in the middle of a residential part of town? Oh God, that rule is just so infuriating!

MARC: Permission to go back in and beat le snot out of the other prisoners as misplaced frustration?

PIERRE: Granted. Give us your baton there and I’ll start.

Marc hands Pierre his baton. Pierre idly whacks the wounded prisoner about the head a few times; then tosses the baton away in disgust.

PIERRE: (shaking his fist) Damn you Mesrine!

JEAN: He pronounces it May-reen.

PIERRE: Shut up.

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