Film Pop: Notes on a Scandal

Year: 2006
Director: Richard Eyre
Stars:  Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Andrew Simpson
IMDb

Er, wow.  This film was… something. Not too intense, not at all confusing (plot-wise), not visually stunning.  But nevertheless, wow.  I’m still reeling.

As this film is based on a novel (of the same name, by Zoë Heller),  I’m going to have to try not to be too critical of the storyline, as the filmmakers didn’t pick it themselves (well, they kind of did but you know what I mean).  I haven’t read the book, but I’ll inevitably seek it out eventually (back of the line, lady).

Judi Dench produce a superb (Academy Award-nominated) performance as Barbara, a teacher nearing retirement who is also apparently insane.  She befriends the new arrival to the teaching staff, Sheba (Blanchett, in another Oscar-nominated outing) and soon becomes acquainted with her family.  Sheba is married to an older man (Bill Nighy), who was a university lecturer who left his first wife for Sheba, one of his students.  Bash, as she is known to her family, begins an affair with a (frankly awful) fifteen-year-old student, risking her career and life with her husband and children, teenaged Polly and Ben, who has Down Syndrome.  This is shortly discovered by Barbara, and she spots the perfect opportunity to… let’s say “get closer” to the BFF she’s always wanted but always somehow struggled to come by with her flowering personality and natural charm.  Trying not to give away too much of the plot,  it turns out how you might expect, although there are certainly twists along the way.

It’s more than worth a watch, as the cast all generate stellar performances to bring to life a story which is perhaps too believable, almost to the point of predictable.  Notes on a Scandal is certainly a film made by its performances; Dench is the obvious highlight, and is far too convincing as a borderline-psychopathic friendless teacher, but Blanchett also impresses and steps down well into the role of a naïve young teacher considering her A-list status.  Not a blockbuster by anyone’s standards, but rated well by all and given a good dusting of award nominations (resulting in perhaps unsurprisingly few wins).  It’s also a relatively short film, coming in at around an hour and a half, which means it doesn’t drag at all and is easily watchable, unlike some so-called “psychological thrillers” which make an interesting story mundane by slowing it down with unnecessary filler (I’m looking at you, Ordinary People).

It left me asking myself (apparently out loud), “surely there aren’t actually people this crazy?”, and my girlfriend, who is much wiser than I, assuring me that these people do exist.  This film scared me. Much more One Hour Photo than The Shining, but entirely worrying.  If there are people like this, where are they?  How do I avoid them?  I’m not afraid of the crazy writer in the abandoned hotel  – I’m worried about the elderly lady down the road with only her cat for a companion. One thing’s for sure:  I’m never befriending a lonely old lady (again).

My rating: 7.5/10

Film Pop: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Year: 2012
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
IMDb

One word: Epic

Of course this film deserves more than a single word in summary, but if I had to give one word, it would be Epic.  Epic, however, should not necessarily be taken as positively as it suggests.

I should start by saying that although the book is one I read a number of times as a child and certainly enjoyed, it’s been a number of years since my eyes graced its pages (or should that be the other way round?).  I slip therefore between analysing the film on its faithfulness to the book, about which I may well be mistaken, the inevitable comparisons with the LOTR film trilogy, and on its own merit.  It’s hard as such to come at this film objectively, but I’ll try.

To begin with, I’m not sure I’ll ever be convinced of the necessity of three films (beginning with 2 ½ hours in the cinematic edition alone!) when the original trilogy (I feel like I’m talking about Star Wars now) was far longer in the books and gets essentially the same treatment movie-wise.  I feel like at least half an hour could have been portioned over to the extended edition without losing much in the way of plot (did I really have to see a mountain have a boxing match with itself for five minutes?).  And yet Bilbo’s stalling of the trolls, one of the more intelligent and funny scenes in the book is chopped down to almost nothing to squeeze in an unnecessarily long troll/dwarf skirmish.  Some of the homages to the first three films are at best overt and at worst ludicrous.  A scene in which Thorin and the Dwarves engage the Goblin army under Azog on the verges of Moria is basically the Last Alliance scene from Fellowship recast, right down to the pivotal Isildur/Sauron confrontation.

Some of the casting and characterisation of the film made me feel uneasy in a way that I can’t explain.  When Martin Freeman was cast as Bilbo I thought he sounded perfect.  And yet he, along with a number of the Dwarves, don’t make the transition from British sitcom actor to Hollywood blockbuster star all too smoothly.  Not that they don’t play their roles well.  It just seems a little amateurish at times.  A number of the original cast (Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Christopher (freaking) Lee) weren’t young ten years ago, and I can’t put my finger on it but there’s definitely something wrong with Gandalf.  And nobody likes Frodo.

But don’t let this criticism disguise my enjoyment of the film.  I was smiling much of the way through the film, laughing often, and in awe most of the time.  However, I got the overwhelming impression that the filmmakers made the film into more of an action-packed blockbuster to reel in those caught by the hook of the LOTR trilogy, where the book (at least in my memory) is far more subtle and intelligent.  So although it wasn’t entirely what I wanted (but should have expected) from the film, I stand by my one word summary:

Epic.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Music Pop: For Those About to Rock

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Artist: AC/DC

Year: 1981

Example song: For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)

This may seem an odd album to open a blog on, but bear with me.

I’m currently in the middle (hah) of an epic quest to rate every song in my iTunes library, as part of my broader mission to experience as much (different) entertainment as possible.  Gone are the days of thousands of songs sitting in my iTunes, never to be played and discovered.  This, I have found out, is easier said than done.  As I type my library consists of 14916 songs, of which 4141 are yet to be rated.  Considering the latest Eminem album was released yesterday (The Marshall Mathers LP 2 – watch this space), this is likely to go up within the hour, and the only reason the number is so low (hah) is that I now only allow myself to add songs (albums) to my library as I rate (my current policy is to rate 2,000 songs before I allow myself to add another 1000).  This quest will theoretically end when my iPod is full, but then comes the new task of trimming the fat in order to create the perfect iPod.  Anyway, I’ll crawl across that bridge when I get to it.

So the point I guess I’m trying to make here is that more often than not, when I review an album it’s probably the first time I’m hearing it myself.  Most of the time I feel unfortunately guilty listening to an album I’ve already rated, like I’m wasting valuable discovery time.  So the albums I rate (for now) might seem a bizarre choice, but I do have a system.  Kinda.  Movies, books and the like follow a similar pattern, although maybe not to such an extreme.  Again, I’ll cross that bridge when I reach it.  Seems like the Yellow Brick Road goes over a lot of bridges on the way to the Emerald City of popular culture.  Or something.  Regardless; on with the show.

For Those About To Rock can be largely described as “an AC/DC album”.  This isn’t necessarily praise or criticism, just a simple truth.  AC/DC are a band I enjoy, and I found the album enjoyable.  The lyrics can be clever, but every song sounds sorta the same.  This is a general problem with the works of AC/DC.  The fact that I can’t actually tell if that was the first time I heard the album or not is hardly surprising.  Take out Back in BlackHighway to Hell and TNT and I challenge anyone to tell the difference between the rest of the band’s back catalogue.  Again, this isn’t a criticism.  If you like AC/DC, then you’ll probably like this album.  It is, after all, an AC/DC album.

My Rating: 6.5/10