Peterloo

Power is never given, it is only taken. The marchers at Saint Peter’s Field, Manchester learnt this at their cost. They thought that their demands for universal suffrage were fair and justified and two hundred years of history have proven them to be right. They thought that a mass movement of non-violent protest would change society the way they wanted it; and that exact technique worked for Gandhi in India comparatively shortly after their seminal attempt failed. In short, like most left wing types, they thought that people were essentially good, and that when presented with undeniable logic, the powers-that-were, would simply accede to superior logic and loosen their grip on power and share it with the masses of their own volition. Sadly those who planned the march to St. Peter’s Field in Manchester, severely overestimated the ruling classes’ altruism and empathy with the working class. The outcome was tragic, as it frequently is.

The film starts slowly. Grotty looking peasant apes walk around outdoors in the British north country allowing the audience to try to come to terms with how awful the weather can be in those parts. Just when you’ve come to the conclusion that they must be intellectually sub-normal because they’re wandering around outdoors in such filthy weather to little obvious purpose, the director adroitly turns your conclusions on their head. The damp unhappy looking figures go inside and begin arguing very intelligently – about politics. As they argue (which one member of my party found profoundly boring) they sketch in the power structure in which they live, and their place it. One realises very quickly that they are completely justified in being dissatisfied and that they are proposing to create their model society very much like the one we have now. This, of course, engenders the hope that their idealism will succeed and that the emancipation we probably take for granted now will be achieved by peaceful means.

At the same time, the film’s name, faint recollection of a secondary school history class that never quite managed to become an outright nap, the marcher’s chant of “liberty or death” – all go to fuel a certain feeling of cynicism that the two sides differences can be peaceably resolved. Added to that, are the memory of any number of pro-democracy protests being violently “dispersed” on the TV news. At the same time while more ringing political tub-thumping filled the screen, I found myself wibbling “But Gandhi pulled it off just about a hundred years later” and the marchers kept marching and chanting, and the parasites of the ruling class kept discussing them, and the tension mounts.

I’ve made great efforts to write this review so that it is as spoiler free as possible, and I’m certainly not about to spoil the ending now. On St Peter’s Field Manchester the direction of Britain balanced on a knife edge; by extension the evolution of all the pink bits on the map, balanced too. “Peterloo” was the moment of praxis and I heartily recommend seeing the film so that you can set yourself to considering the quite profound issues that it dredges up. My companion found it deathly boring and irritating; I found it invigorating and thought-provoking.

(C) Alex Rieneck 2019

All is True

This film is an odd kind of treat, but far more than a morsel. It sees Ben Elton revisit the scenario of his remarkably good TV sitcom “The Upstart Crow.” That of the tiresome home life of Shakespeare the man as opposed to the literary icon.

But before you start heading for the hills, “All is True” is far more than the cash-in movie of a hit Tv series or like a triple-length episode of “On The Busses” on better film stock with a censorship rating that allows more in the way of tit. “All is true” allows the writer Ben Elton to produce a bobby-dazzler of a script that examines most, if not all, of the serious issues that the series simply side-swiped as one-liners. Not that the film is dour or Po-faced, far from it, it is frequently funny, sometimes laugh-out-loud-so; but it also manages to be far more serious and propel itself well into the mandatory viewing list of anyone studying Shakespeare at either school or Tertiary level.

The film is very ably directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars in the part of Shakespeare – and to my eye he does a particularly fine job of the part too, – not a sign of his usual word mouthing or scenery chewing to be seen. Indeed the wretched man seems to have redeemed himself and almost had me in tears at one point.

1/ if you’re studying Shakespeare this film is compulsory
2/ If you’re educated and have a brain this film should be very high on your “to see” list
3/ If you love the English language, run, don’t walk to the nearest showing Go!

4.9999/5

Copyright (C) Alex Rieneck 2019 All rights reserved

Hotel Mumbai


Films about atrocities have to follow certain formulas and tick various boxes, while hopefully delivering entertainment in what amounts to a kind of societal scab-picking. The victims must be humanised, while being represented as innocent as possible. At the same time the perpetrators must have their motivations made as clear as possible – though understanding should not eclipse the evil of their actions. There should be heroism on the side of the underdog victims, balancing the perception of power between “good” and ”evil”. This, it is commonly thought, will generate suspense. It does.

Such films must stay slavishly close to the facts, since any potential audience will have been bombarded repetitively with the true story, as it happened and will be primed to a high level of ‘nit-pickerdom’ before the film version has even started. It was certainly that way with me. And the Taj Hotel in Mumbai – a week of almost 24 hour coverage at the time it happened – gave the whole film a strange sense of resonant deja vu.

“Hotel Mumbai” takes all these “rules” of atrocity films and sticks to them so assiduously that I felt that the film was ticking check boxes as it went along. This is no criticism, after all anyone seeing a film on this subject must already be something of a cynic and will (even if only subconsciously) expect it to follow the “rules” and appear unbiased (since the potential Muslim) viewing audience is vast and best not alienated, as events surrounding “Charli Hebdoe” show all too clearly.
Despite all the constraints loaded onto “HotelMumbai” before it even starts, it is a remarkably successful film. The whole audience does know the ending before the film starts; But still looks like its been hit by a bus as it exits the theatre. Throughout the last third of the film I could hear my companion grinding her teeth because it made her “so angry.” Make no mistake, “Hotel Mumbai” is a good film, if not a great one- just don’t expect it all to end with a big Indian wedding- or a “Dance off” with the Terrorists; But you already knew it wasn’t that kind of film, didn’t you?
Review (c) Alex Rieneck 2019 All Rights Reserved*

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots

I was almost loathe to see this film because when I thought about I I realised that I’d forgotten just about everything I’d ever learnt on the subject . I mean I knew it hinged on idiotic doctrinal hair splitting between Catholics and Ptotestants and that Mary came to a sticky end, but that was about it. Oh, that and I had a a razor -sharp recollection of a Monty Python sketch called “The Death of Mary Queen of Scots.” Which was no help at all, except to make me laugh all over again decades after I’d seen it.

Anyway I decided that my buggered up memory would still help me spot things like a Chinese Elizabeth and thatI was probably ahead on knowledge over the average punter anyway, and being an arrogant git, check the facts after I’d seen the film. So that’s what I did. And, largely innocent of the story- line, I sat back and let the film be a film and entertain me, and lo and behold – it did! The script was something of a wonder, it took a plethora of complex characters, clarified them, set them against each other and let the nastiness flow. As you’d expect the peacetime concept of Christianity “saviour Jesus meek and mild” gets short shrift when thrown to a gang of powered- crazed sociopathic religious zealots. Before long there is a civil war in England and everybody is slaughtering everybody else for the most completely idiotic of reasons (as is usual with wars.)
Mary, the Catholic, loses and is taken captive and locked up in some nasty black hole. Over time, in a series of very well acted and conceived scenes, Elizabeth comes to show a grudging respect, if not affection for Mary since under the various bullshit constraints of religion, politics and social mores, they actually have a lot in common. Sadly however, over the period of Mary’s incarceration the country has become more politically and religiously extreme. Attempting to appeal to their Protestant monarch, certain unpleasant element simply go barking mad. Crazy rumours of imaginary Catholic plots abound, and the conspiracy theorists line up to point the finger at Mary who, they theorise must be behind all the plots, presumably pulling all the strings by mobile phone from her dungeon. I made that last bit up by the way, partially to show how little the human race has changed since 1590-or-so. So Elizabeth, get her steely-eyed look on and tells Mary that although
“she doesn’t want to” the rumours are proving destabilising to the kingdom since the longer Mary stays alive the weaker Elizabeth looks as a monarch.
And we can’t have that- so Mary has a date with the headsman. For which she wears a lovely red dress so the blood won’t show, And the psychopathic Elizabeth goes on to be the Empress Elizabeth I who establishes the British Empire across the Globe and shifts the economy from an agrarian one with occasional forays into profitable wars on the continent, to one wholly founded on piracy, war and pillage One which, I might add, Britain is still living on the proceeds of So finally, “Mary Queen of Scots is a fine film, a good solid entertainment for a generation raised on the complexities of “Game of Thrones” which is itself closely modelled on (albeit earlier) British history, and the lack of dragons is more than made up for by the verisimilitude of the plotting. I found the ending to be far more emotionally confronting than I was expecting, even though by that time my memory had caught up and I was expecting it. I wanted to cry, but I was too emotionally wiped out by it. I left the theatre mumbling the [epilog of Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon]” to myself for the arid comfort it gives.

“It was in the time of (X)
That the aforesaid personages lived and quarrelled,
Good or Bad,Handsome or ugly rich or poor
They are all equal now.”

I liked this film. I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

ERRATA:
Since seeing “Mary Queen of Scots” my historical research on the subject, while it has existed, has been rather rubbish; But to give me my due, I am at least admitting that, rather than just grasping at a (catholic) God-given opportunity to bullshit.
I am assured that Mary and Elizabeth never met, their communication being constrained to a fairly long series of letters (which have presumably survived and which, at a guess, form the backbone of a very impressive script. ( one which has a grasp of the language of the time reminiscent of the work ofEthan Coen)

Points For (I’m overtired )
+The film does not have Katherine Hepburn or Lucille Ball playing anybody
+You actually care about the characters, something far beyond the reach of high- school history teachers

Maria, by Callas

“Maria, by Callas”
Perfect title. Minimal advertising needed. The title alone sells the ticket to the audience. I can attest to that. I saw the title online, I saw the film at a morning session that same day.

On the other hand though, I suppose that there are people out there who do not know who Maria Callas was, and is; but while this film would serve as a perfect education on the subject, my native cynicism suggests that a late- life crash course in the subject may prove counterproductive. A person brought up on “Maroon Five”, “the X factor” and similar product might actually find the music produced by the immortal Callas’ unique vocal instrument to not suit their pre-indoctrinated notions of music. Its a hard old world; horrible, really, and I feel sorry for them. That said the morning session I was at was half-full, and they all seemed to like it, so there may be hope for the world ,after all.
For whatever.

For those who may not know but who have read this far anyway, Maria Callas was born in NewYork City in 1923 to Greek parents, and as a teenager, enrolled with a singing teacher when it was seen that she might have talent in that direction. To those who knew her at that time she is remembered as extremely motivated, almost driven. “The first to arrive, the last to leave. She would watch everyone else sing, the sopranos, the coloratura-everyone.” To hear her tell it, she was herded into the school by her mother and badgered into trying hard. She was the victim, forced into success against her will – almost overnight she became the prima operatic soprano in the world. But sadly the world at her feet proved to be manacles around her ankles. She was trapped by her success, rather than empowered by it. In a later time she might have taken to some form of anaesthesia – Whitney Houston, in a very similar situation took to cocaine and imploded, Callas stayed clean, lasted longer, and got gossiped about. But, like all public personalities she had a private side.

Her version of the story everyone thought they knew, this is where “Maria, by Callas” shines. For example, I knew that she got divorced to marry Aristotle Onassis and that he was a rotter who seduced her while she and her husband were his guests on his yacht the “Christina.” Over the years I had encountered the story of this scandal multiple times always illustrated with pictures of the billionaire’s huge yacht and pictures of the billionaire as a ghastly old man, pictures taken easily twenty years after the time in question. The film really opened my eyes, at the time, “Ari” was ravishingly handsome, and it is easy to hear the love in the aged recording of Maria’s voice, and in the love, the true Maria, the probably rather simple girl who was eaten by the vast talent that was truly a blessing to the world and simultaneously a curse to her. “Maria, by Callas” is the telling of a true modern-day Greek tragedy. Be aware though, even for real fans the film is very like a “Best of Callas” album or playlist- a bombardment of the best arias from a wonderful career played in the order that appealed to the shape of the story being told rather than the operas the arias are extracted from. This makes it easy to become fatigued by the most beautiful voice in history- and to become crotchety at being dragged back to the “real” world by the story.
In any event “Maria, by Callas” is bloody marvellous and recommended to all, neophyte and fan alike. Wallow while the wallowing is good.

Maria by Callas

“Maria, by Callas”
Perfect title. Minimal advertising needed. The title alone sells the ticket to the audience. I can attest to that. I saw the title online, I saw the film at a morning session that same day.

On the other hand though, I suppose that there are people out there who do not know who Maria Callas was, and is; but while this film would serve as a perfect education on the subject, my native cynicism suggests that a late life crash course in the subject may prove counterproductive. A person brought up on “Maroon Five”, “the X factor” and similar product might actually find the music produced by the immortal Callas’ unique vocal instrument to not suit their pre-indoctrinated notions of music. Its a hard old world; horrible, really, and I feel sorry for them. That said the morning session I was at was half-full, and they all seemed to like it, so there may be hope for the world ,after all.
For whatever.

For those who may not know but who have read this far anyway, Maria Callas was born in NewYork City in 1923 to Greek parents, and as a teenager, enrolled with a singing teacher when it was seen that she might have talent in that direction. To those who knew her at that time she is remembered as extremely motivated, almost driven. “The first to arrive, the last to leave. She would watch everyone else sing, the sopranos, the coloratura-everyone.” To hear her tell it, she was herded into the school by her mother and badgered into trying hard. She was the victim, forced into success against her will – almost overnight she became the prima operatic soprano in the world. But sadly the world at her feet proved to be manacles around her ankles. She was trapped by her success, rather than empowered by it. In a later time she might have taken to some form of anaesthesia – Whitney Houston, in a very similar situation took to cocaine and imploded, Callas stayed clean, lasted longer, and got gossiped about. But, like all public personalities she had a private side.

Her version of the story everyone thought they knew, this is where “Maria, by Callas” shines. For example, I knew that she got divorced to marry Aristotle Onassis and that he was a rotter who seduced her while she and her husband were his guests on his yacht the “Christina.” Over the years I had encountered the story of this scandal multiple times always illustrated with pictures of the billionaire’s huge yacht and pictures of the billionaire as a ghastly old man, taken easily twenty years after the time in question. The film really opened my eyes, at the time, “Ari” was ravishingly handsome, and it is easy to hear the love in the aged recording of Maria’s voice, and in the love, the true Maria, the probably rather simple girl who was eaten by the vast talent that was truly a blessing to the world and simultaneously a curse to her. “Maria, by Callas” is the telling of a true modern-day Greek tragedy. Be aware though, even for real fans the film is very like a “Best of Callas” album or playlist- a bombardment of the best arias from a wonderful career played in the order that appealed to the shape of the story being told rather than the operas the arias are extracted from. This makes it easy to become fatigued by the most beautiful voice in history- and to become crotchety at being dragged back to the “real” world by the story.
In any event “Maria, by Callas” is bloody marvellous and recommended to all, neophyte and fan alike. Wallow while the wallowing is good.

Review(c) Alex Rieneck 2019

The Mule

One way and another I had been somewhat looking forward to this newest picture by Clint Eastwood; by which I mean that over the course of my life I believe I’ve seen everything he’s ever done, either as an actor or a director, which happens to b to be a serious shitload of an investment of time, and in some cases, of effort. Over time Eastwood has morphed from being a blue eyed, heart throb into well, a scrawny, cynical embittered old fucker. This is not a criticism, far from it, in these times, growing a skin like a rhinoceros and an attitude that regards phlegmatic as hopelessly innocent, is basically the only way to stay even halfway sane and functional. God knows I’ve kept pace with Mr Eastwood, on *all*fronts and *88*? No wonder the man has so little patience for fools.

The story of theMule is actually very simple, and it’s a pity there were no valuable prizes to be won for guessing what was going to happen next, since I had good success at this activity. I had the entire “Earl’s wife” sub-plot pretty much worked out in about ten seconds with the film catching up about twenty minutes later. As fun goes, I felt vindicated but I much prefer to be surprised. As it stands “The Mule” is a conventional film in the classic meaning of the word – it is a film that could easily have been made in 1974. It is shot and edited delightfully slowly like the classics of the time (Not a few of them directed by a much younger Clint Eastwood).

“The Mule.” is a rather stolid unadventurous potboiler that in the old days would have been made for TV. That said, the film has some genuine thrills, a couple of nasty moments and some suspense. It never failed to be at least somewhat interesting. I was rather sad that the political subtext of the film – “Mexican drug cartels bringing criminality into the god-fearing heartland of the United States and spreading their poison through our decent values”, could almost come from a script written by one of Donald Trump’s handlers. In truth I was surprised that the film didn’t take a moment to spruik a wall, or should I say, *the* wall? But to give him his due as a director, while Eastwood always wins over the squint eyed right-wing heartlanders, he always been canny enough to not go so far that he completely pisses off the intellectual elites. In truth I actually enjoyed the film albeit in a slightly superior left wing elite kind of way. I liked the way that the beginning and ends of the film were bookends for the whole frenetic schmozzle of the middle. But then placing the whole story onto the great wheel of karma is the kind of thing that *would* win over a left- leaning educated, tosspot like myself, and such is the talent of Eastwood, it certainly would not alienate any midwesterners either.

Down the track, I wouldn’t be surprised if the bloody thing won some kind of award.

(C) 2019, Alex Rieneck