Monday, May 29, 2017

Two Random ADHD Film Reviews

Two films where the lead teenage boys both suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); neither film is exactly cheery but both are superb, extremely moving and rewarding.

THE SELFISH GIANT
Dir: Clio Barnard / 2013 / UK / 91mins.
If the title sounds like it might be a Roald Dahl tale, put that thought away – it is actually more Dickensian than Dahl. Loosely based on Oscar Wilde's story of the same name, the film is set in modern day Bradford, in deprived, slum estates that are reminiscent of Don McCullin's photos of Bradford in the 1970s. The film follows two teenagers, the hyperactive and out-of-control Arbor (whose name made me think of the film The Arbor; then I discovered both were directed by Clio Barnard) and the slow and sensitive Swifty. After being suspended from school, the boys start making money by roaming the streets collecting scrap metal and selling it to a local dealer, Kitten.

Presumably the selfish giant of the title, he is played with relish by Sean Gilder (of Shameless fame), a Fagin-type character and monster, illegally employing and exploiting local children desperate to make a few pounds. Kitten also competes in local, illegal, horse harness racing, and when he finds out Swifty has a way with horses, Kitten gets him to ride his horse to compete in the races. There is not a nice bone in Kitten; he constantly shouts, swears, threatens and hits the kids. His scrapyard is his castle and it's like a vision of Hades, all fire and metal.

A social realist film in the British tradition, by which I mean depressing, it is alleviated by the remarkable acting of the two young leads and their shifting friendship; the poetry for the countryside and a terrifyingly exciting horse race along a motorway at dawn. Near the end the tragic and shocking denouement is only exonerated by the last few scenes in the film, and the final shot, the only glimpse of sentimentality in the film, but by this point a bit of sentimentality is allowed and deserved.
– 5/5

MOMMY
Dir: Xavier Dolan / 2014 / Canada / 138mins.
Being filmed in a 1:1 ratio (i.e. square) made me immediately think of Instagram but this apparently wasn't the intention. The intention was to create a private, repressive, enclosed world, which the film does. The screen opens up to wide screen twice, for about five minutes each time. The first time, halfway through the film, has Steve actually pull the screen wide open. He's running along the middle of a busy road with a shopping trolley full of groceries wearing large white headphones with Oasis's Wonderwall playing on the soundtrack; it's one of the most thrilling moments in the film. Music is key to the film – as a form of escape and release. I didn't want the scene to end, or the screen ratio to return back to 1:1, but knew it would.

Steve is the son of the eponymous Mommy of the film, a charismatic but violent and extremely anti-social teenager. Released from juvenile detention centre for setting fire to the cafeteria, it is up to hard-as-nails mommy, Diane, to look after her son and try to hold down a job. Kyla, a neighbour from across the street – a shy teacher with a stutter on a sabbatical – helps to school Steve, and the three form an unlikely yet inseparable trio.

Mommy contains some of the most exhilarating scenes of anti-social behaviour combined with music I've seen for years. And not necessarily good music – Celine Dion, The Counting Crows, Dido, Sarah McLachlan and Andrea Bocelli all populate the decidedly unhip soundtrack. Nevertheless, the mix of ballads and pop create an emotional escape to the difficult situations in the film  – Steve's violent and outrageous anti-social displays are contrasted with dreamy, slow motion, music video-like sequences full of hope and happiness.
 – 5/5

I have no opinion or expertise on ADHD; both films suggest it stems from poverty and lack of a father figure; I wouldn't know. That the only solution seems to be pills and institutions I would disagree with – these don't address the core of the problem, only mask it. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a better alternative.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The lost art of the double bill 
Notes on afflictions
Top ten affliction films
Stuttering in the movies

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Rayfaring Stranger

 
For Ray on his lonesome wayfaring travels.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The lost art of the double bill

A Google search of the term 'double bill' reveals the Everyman cinema showing a double bill of Guardians of the Galaxy along with the 'amazing' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Now, the last time I saw a double bill at the Everyman it was two Japanese erotic classics in the 1980s: Woman of the Dunes plus Ai No Corrida (yes, I've mentioned this before). Times have changed. Double bills used to have imagination, they used to make you think about the connection between the two films. They could complement each other, or be at odds with each other. The relationship might be opaque or tenuous. You might not have even heard of one of the films. Good!

Anyway, here's ten of my own double (and quadruple – this would usually be an all-nighter) bills:

Retired Cops With A Nagging Hunch No One Listens To:
THE PLEDGE (2001) + HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016)

The River Journey Is The Destination: EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (2015) + APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

Maverick Directors Go Normal: PATERSON (2016) + THE STRAIGHT STORY (1999)

Social Comment Ensues When Aliens Land In The U.S.A:
THE BORROWER (1991) + BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984)

Writer & Artist Retreats: ARCHIPELAGO (2010) + TAMARA DREWE (2010)

National Geographic Photographers Having Affairs In Faraway Places: THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (1995) + GORILLAS IN THE MIST (1988)

Twisted Relationships In The Manor: ADELHEID (1969) + THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2014)

Transformations: PHOENIX (2014) + SECONDS (1966) + VERTIGO (1958) + EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

We're Watching You: THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998) + BATTLE ROYALE (2000) + THE RUNNING MAN (1987) + HUNGER GAMES  (2012)

Depardieu Eats Meat: WELCOME TO NEW YORK (2014) + LOULOU (1980)

Previously on Barnflakes:
Double Bill Me
Scala Forever!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Alton estate of mind – the book


The Alton estate of mind book(let) is finally finished. It's a personal and architectural guide to the Grade II listed Alton estate in Roehampton, where I lived many years ago. The text is mainly the same as on this very blog (see here); some of the photos are on Flickr. But there's nothing like  holding a book (or going to an exhibition). You know, the physical, tactile thing. I still have to get it printed, mind. Watch this space (again).

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Yellow parrots on pylon

Okay, I admit it. I regularly look at the website Pylon of the Month. And I'm old enough to remember the BBC series The Changes, with its fear of pylons (referred to as 'bad wires'). The parrots? Dunno, just looked like it needed a splash of colour.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Morris Dance Murders Movie

I’ve always been slightly afraid of the pagan, cultish and violent aspects of Morris dancers so it came as a delight to come across The Morris Dance Murders, a little-known, low-budget cult British horror film from the early 1970s. Starring no one famous and directed with surprising aplomb by first-timer Vivian Cluster, who seemed to vanish after the making of the film, it displays a mastery of British landscape seen only from Michael Reeves (Witchfinder General) and Nicolas Roeg (cinematographer of Far From the Madding Crowd, as well as director of such classics as Performance and Don't Look Now) around the same period. It echoes those films, and of course The Wicker Man, in its depiction of British ritual and tradition gone astray.

Set in the middle ages, the plot focuses around a troupe of Morris dancers who travel from village to village murdering random folk, then each other, with ever-increasing inventive ways (à la Dario Argento) using batons and handkerchiefs. Expect certain staples from Hammer Horror such as busty barmaids and some cranky acting, but be surprised at the lush photography, the attention to period detail and some fantastic set pieces. It's also pretty scary without being gratuitous.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

William Blake's vision of angels in Peckham

Top: possible oak tree planted in honour of Blake; bottom: Blake mural at Goose Green
It takes almost as much imagination as artist and poet William Blake had to picture him, aged 7 or 8, walking to Peckham Rye on his own and having his first (of many) vision of angels there, but that's how the story goes: "A tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars". Around 1765 the boy William, not liking built-up central London where he lived, liked nothing more than to walk seven miles or more (sometimes as far afield as Croydon) to the common at Peckham Rye. One Blake scholar says these formative walks had a strong influence on future poems such as Songs of Experience.

Locating the actual tree is impossible now; for one thing the common was a lot larger than it is now, for another, even if it's still there, does it actually matter? We had enough trouble tracking down the small oak tree that was planted in 2011 by artist John Hartley in honour of William Blake (there's no plaque or sign, and we had only had a vague map of the park with a red cross where the tree is. It was a case of not being able to see the tree for the trees). Nearby, on Goose Green, there's a mural to Blake's vision of angels, painted in 1993 as a community project.

(Did we see any angels? was the inevitable question asked us when we returned from our wanderings. Well, actually yes. I thought I spotted one on the common, but it was a dead tree. But we saw them on the mural, and then in Nunhead cemetery, our next stop.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rashisms: The Book of Rash

My friend and colleague Rashpaul passed away almost two years ago, and he is still sorely missed by many. I've been meaning to create a book of his sayings and hilarious photo montages since he died. I finally have, and will be printing it soon. Watch this space.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Pulp Poetry posthumously published

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Rocky's Rockland Road Rocky Road

My famously delicious Rocky Road finally has a logo! The full tongue twisting title – Rocky's Rockland Road Rocky Road – has its origins in a cat I had when I lived on Rockland Road.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Updated Southern Rail ads

I wouldn't mind the Southern Rail ads on the trains being so badly designed and ugly if the service wasn't so atrocious, but there's something about the smug, smiling faces on the ads and the pretence that everything is hunky dorey that irks me to the point of redesigning the ads to show what it's really like. I'd actually been cycling everywhere for weeks, so hadn't had to endure the service, but I took a Southern train the other day, and, yup, random cancellations and stops at red signals every few minutes still happening. Reassuring, almost, to know some things never change.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Travel first class on Southern trains
Public transport courtesy cards

Friday, May 12, 2017

Letraset after sex

Potential lame cover for a East London hipster band/design collective (naturally released on limited edition red vinyl; comes with a set of white Helvetica Letraset), inspired after seeing a Joy Division-esque poster for the band Cigarettes After Sex (they're actually quite good, despite the name) then talking Letraset.

Concept: James W
Design: Me

Friday, May 05, 2017

Random Film Review: The Dark Backward

Dir: Adam Rifkin / 1991 / 101mins / USA

I was surprised and saddened at the unexpected death of actor Bill Paxton in February this year. I'd admired him in a lot of films, he was a good character actor, very likable and watchable. Inevitably, in the wake of his death, there was a flurry online of top ten Bill Paxton films/roles, most of which I couldn't disagree with: the adrenaline-pumping Aliens, the near masterpiece One False Move (perhaps my favourite Paxton film), A Simple Plan and Near Dark (tell a lie, this is my favourite film of his). Even smaller roles in films such as Weird Science, Terminator and True Lies are memorable.

But one film (another is Talking Tiger Mountain, an experimental, sexually explicit, black and white 'psychotropic apocalyptic odyssey' shot in Wales and Tangier in 1983; another still is the horror film Frailty, the only film Paxton starred in and directed) absent from most lists was The Dark Backward, made in 1991, the same year as One False Move. I saw it when it came out at London's sleazy Scala cinema, which was the perfect venue for it. It got mostly terrible reviews, then vanished.

The Dark Backward, whose title comes from Shakespeare's The Tempest, features Marty Malt, garbageman by day and terrible stand-up comedian by night. Gus is also a garbageman, as well as an accordion player and Marty's best – and only – (back-stabbing) friend. Marty's career as a stand-up comic is going down the pan until he develops a lump on his back, which turns into a small hand, which turns into a full grown arm and hand, his fortune starts to change and Hollywood beckons...

Even an outline of the bizarre plot does nothing to prepare you for the carnivalesque sun-drenched filth of The Dark Backward. And though it's reminiscent of other films and filmmakers – imagine Gilliam's Brazil and Robinson's How to Get Ahead in Advertising remade by David Lynch, John Waters and Fellini with mise-en-scene via Soylent Green, the classic 1973 dystopian sci-fi thriller with Charlton Heston – the world it inhabits is like no other in cinema.

Filth, grime and decay oppressively permeate every inch of the film, so much that you can smell it. The streets are covered in rubbish, rats and cockroaches. Fish swim out of sewer pipes into the gutter. A Big Brother-style multinational named Blump's has 1950s-style advertising everywhere and seems to own everything from the garbage company to food: squeezable bacon, cartons of pork juice and cheddar-scented cheese are just a few of the choice morsels on offer.

Most of the cast play against type, and what a cast it is: Judd Nelson plays Marty as a sweaty, introverted loser, dressed in ill-fitting, over-sized polyester suits whilst his sleazy, over-bearing, maniacal, pushy and obnoxious, so-called best friend, Gus (Bill Paxton), in a constant state of grinning, jeering and accordion-playing, betrays him at every opportunity. James Caan is a useless at best, sadistic at worst quack doctor, Lara Flynn Boyle a sulky waitress, Rob Lowe (hard to believe the last time Nelson and Lowe appeared in a film together it was the ultimate Brat Pack film St Elmo's Fire, just a few years previously) as a sleazy talent agent, and, in an inspirational piece of casting, singer and entertainer Wayne Newton plays Marty's manager.

If the film has no sympathetic characters, and is a one trick pony (or three-armed geek), it astonishes in its detail and depravity: Gus stripping off his garbage man overalls and getting butt naked with three morbidly obese women on Marty's bed; Gus licking the breasts of a dead naked woman in a landfill site or Gus eating rotting chicken. In fact, the only tender scenes in the film are with Marty's third arm, pulling the bed cover over him at night or consoling him with a pat on the shoulder.

Watch it here.

4.5/5