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Thread: MOSTLY BRITISH Film Festival March 2022

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    MOSTLY BRITISH Film Festival March 2022

    MOSTLY BRITISH 2022 SAN FRANCISCO
    NEW FILMS FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM, IRELAND, AUSTRALIA AND INDIA
    MARCH 10-17, 2022



    GENERAL FILM FORUM

    LINKS TO THE REVIEWS
    My Name is Gulpilil (Molly Reynolds 2021)
    Never Too Late (Mark Lamprell 2020)
    Ronnie's (Oliver Murray 2020)
    Together ( Stephen Daldry, Justin Martin 2021)
    Wildfire (Cathy Brady 2020)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-12-2022 at 09:13 AM.

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    TOGETHER (Stephen Daldry 2021)

    STEPHEN DALDRY, JUSTIN MARTIN: TOGETHER (2021)


    JAMES MCAVOY AND SHARON HORGAN IN TOGETHER

    A very glib talky COVID confinement two-hander that winds up going around in circles

    This is, inevitably, a closet drama. Filmed over ten days for television, and doubtless well suited to the small screen, it depicts a period of home COVID lockdown of a man and woman (they have a child) who profess, at the outset, to cordially dislike each other and not to look forward to the prolonged time together this situation will entail. These are two excellent actors, but despite some very fluent, not to say glib, writing from the fluent pen of Dennis Kelly, they cannot, alas, save the proceedings from being uneventful, talky, highly theatrical, and ultimately forgettable. Those actors are James McAvoy ("He"), Sharon Horgan ("She"), and young Samuel Logan ("Artie"), a small family in London together for long months of confinement. The time doesn't feel so long so much as repetitive and unproductive. The film skips through it, using intertitles to highlight successive chunks of it. The film feels long nonetheless, because a super-talky but otherwise eventful film about COVID is not what most of us probably need to see right now. Not now, if ever. But Stephen Daldry: he's a good director, right? And James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan: ace actors, right? How can we go wrong? Well, this is a well-made kind of unambitious film that you probably won't remember beyond next week. McAvoy puts on "his" cute Scottish accent, she her mildly colorful English one. They talk a lot. It's very static.

    The theme is of a man and woman forced to re-evaluate themselves (a little) and their relationship as a couple (at length) through the reality of the COVID-19 lockdown. Tjeu have a child and a nice house, but normally they are away much of the day. And now, all of a sudden, they are together. They're presumably the kind of posh people who can work at home. This is a topic that is neglected - the work; toward the end we learn his company has gone under, but little else about it except that he's the one who's had to tell employees they've lost their jobs. But after flirting with the idea of getting married, she assures him they should stay together. They love-hate each other too much to want to be with anyone else. The ups and downs of their feelings as a couple are marked by intertitles showing the successive dates. External events are indicated by things they say, but not in great detail.

    This is a very low-keyed drama. Imagine a story in which a big action moment in the last quarter comes when he makes aubergine (eggplant) fritters, which upon Artie's confession that he does not like aubergines, he throws in the garbage. Most of the time they are in the kitchen. They talk. They come and go and then they talk some more. Time passes. Feelings shift. In the end, they feel a little bit less hostile - if they ever really were hostile and not just playacting - than they did at the beginning, and their relationship has, after all, survived.

    The setting is a cozy, homely kind of nice London house. There's an upstairs, because that's where the kid goes, the young son who's hardly used at all in this two-hander of lengthy addresses across the fourth wall to us, about themselves and their relationship.

    The theme is that hate is a kind of love. This is an exploration, as COVID lockdown could be, of whether a couple can stand each other. "He" and "She" begin by stating that they absolutely despise each other. He hates her mouth. She hates him. No reasons why, they just do. They've been together too long, the love, if there ever was any has drained away, and being in close proximity 24/7 looks like an eternal damnation. All this feels artificial, especially so since it is declared with frequent turns of the head to us, the audience, who are not really there.

    Vicariously, at a distance, the big centerpiece event is the death of her mother, who is in a care home (a nursing home) and taken to a hospital very ill with COVID, where she dies. A doctor they know is with her, and while she is only allowed to be with her mother for fifteen minutes, the doctor promises to be there when she passes, and then he isn't, because he has another patient who had no one, who is also passing.

    McAvoy has also begun wearing a man-bun. Horgan keeps the same hair-do.

    After a pause, the revelation is that "He" and "She," of all things, have begun having sex. Regularly, solidly. Sex! Not dreamy, sensational sex, but it's good. And good for them. Eventually they go over an incident of some mushrooms in which she, or was it he? out of anger or spite fed the other wild mushrooms with the indention not of murder, but doing serious harm. This is an example of the cover-all writing that leaves us with nothing, because as it turns out she remembers wrong and he got the mushrooms, and they both ate them, and they did no harm. A sin of ill intent, one supposes, but a fairly notional one. This is the kind of thing that on a stage, with dramatic acting, might be more effective. In McAvoy's kind of flowing, understating, which never ceases to impress, it's more of a "let's just forget about it" kind of climax.

    What she cannot forget about is the death of her mother, and with him in the background, she goes into a monologue on the theme that she now thinks her mother was "killed." Teo explain this she describes the government's failures, its crucial delays in beginning to address the pandemic and Boris Johnson's idiotic behavior, the way nursing homes were virtually force-infected with COVID patients.

    Meanwhile relations are sort-of better: "I don't think I hate you anymore," he declares, and "So let's f'ing get married, then." More talk follows, recounting bad behavior on her part around vaccine-getting. It's March 2021, and they are having bad relations again.

    And then, after another story of bad COVID behavior by a non-mask-wearer in a convenience story who gets up far too close to an employee, and an employee's cool reaction to his (McAvoy's) gush about how she's a "hero," it finally comes, they hate-love all over again and his declaration: "I sort of love you." It is a very bittersweet kind of love. But they are staying together, for now, and they kiss. And kiss again, more sweetly. THE END.

    Together, 93 mins., was released in Canada, Ireland, England and the USA in June and August 2021. It has not fared well with US critics, as indicated by the Metacritic rating of 59%. Reviewed here as part of San Francisco's Mar. 2022 Mostly British festival, showing 3:15 PM, Sat., Mar. 12, 2022.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2022 at 12:05 AM.

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    MY NAME IS GULPILIL (Molly Reynolds 2021)

    MOLLY REYNOLDS: MY NAME IS GULPILIL (2021)



    This film about the great aboriginal actor is a bit too much of a downer

    I remember the film Ten Canoes (2006), a plunge into Australian aboriginal culture and life, narrated (in English, though the dialogue is all in Aboriginal language) by David Gulpilil. This most famous of the Aboriginal people to appear in film and a national figure from the age of 16 when NIcolas Roeg's Walkabout starring him brought international fame, Gulpilill was dying of lung cancer when this film about him was made. A lot of this film is about his cancer. He says he is walking over a long desert toward his end. We see him in his home with Mary Reefed, a lady caretaker who he says will be with him till he dies. The whole affair is clouded a bit by knowledge that Aboriginal culture forbids naming and depicting the recently dead (his Wikipedia biography tells us he passed away on November 29, 2021 at Murray Bridge, South Australia, Australia.

    This film is full of the man's spirit, his colorful personality, and gives a sense of his varied talents. He says Roeg was looking for a boy who could throw a spear and dance and everyone pointed to him. He also paints and we glimpse his small, beautiful, traditional-style paintings. Wikipedia tells that many of his relatives are artists of various kinds. It also tells us that he was introduced to alcohol with Walkabout, soon after by Bob Marley to "ganja," and he tells the camera that he used "too much tobacco" all his life He is undergoing chemotherapy and says it feels like a bad hangover.

    The film is impressionistic, even in its way poetic, which suits this man who was "a tribal boy," not Western, and learned English "by listening," and thrills in Walkabout by his lean strangeness, his wild dancing and his leaps. Though he was, sadly, a user, an alcoholic and a man of multiple troubles with drunken violence involving women and children, he came into our white man's world as an etherial, magical being and a tribal boy who was a skilled tracker and hunter who grew up in the bush away from the white man.. He is to be celebrated as a very special figure of cinema and art.

    Nonetheless one longs for a perfectly straightforward, linear documentary film that meticulously recounts Gulpilil's whole story, his film, his contribution to Australian culture. I would rather that than all the footage here of the aged, ill Gulpilil walking back and forth to collect his mail from the post box. Ultimately the constant present-time scenes depicting the gradual decline of the actor leads to that overwhelming everything else so that this film winds up being too much of a downer when it could have been a celebration of a flawed but brilliant, creative and light-hearted artist.

    My Name Is Gulpilil, 101 mins., debuted at Adelaide and showed at a number of other Australian festivals in spring and summer of 2021. Screened for this review as part of the March edition of the 2022 San Francisco Mostly British festival.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-04-2022 at 12:59 AM.

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    WILDFIRE (Cathy Brady 2020)

    CATHY BRADY: WILDFIRE (2021)


    NORA-JANE NOONE, NIKA MCGUIGAN IN WILDFIRE

    Disturbing drama of the fallout of Northern Ireland's Troubles this time focused on two women

    It is certainly true that first time director Cathy Brady gets what Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian calls "two fiercely committed performances" that are"the bedrock" of this Northern Irish border town drama which Brady also wrote. Yes, Nora-Jane Noone is solid as Lauren, the "sane," married sister and the late Nika McGuigan is riveting as Kelly, the troubled, possibly mentally deranged one, and when they play intimately together it's galvanizing, a unified force. But how the story plays out is not only troubling but confusing. What's suggested is certainly an interesting question: can a disturbed close relative cause someone to go completely haywire in sympathy? Perhaps so. But Brady plays with this idea without looking at it clearly and there are both powerful, propulsive scenes, and gaps in the writing including an ending that lacks force. Certailnly Brady shows great promise here; there is not only the great acting but poetic cinematography by Crystal Fournierand a subtle, spot-on, almost diegetic use of music by Gareth Averill and Matthew James Kelly, and we should look for what this writer-director does going forward, hoping future work will be less flawed.

    That joint craziness, arguably justified by public events of the lingering trauma of The Troubles, and private family traumas, is the "wildfire" that springs up when Kelly returns. The action begins as she goes through customs, where we learn she's been listed as missing for a year. She's returning to her small Northern Ireland border town but doesn't want anyone informed. When she gets to Lauren's house, it's a surprise and terrible shock for her sister. It turns out the sisters are only a year apart and so close they're thought of as "the twins." Their mother committed suicide some time earlier, apparently in a car crash. She, the mother, was considered crazy by the locals, who all know each other. The tragedy of her husband's, the sisters' father's, death in an IRA bombing was surely a factor.

    Kelly often has a wild, troubled look, and now that she's back, seems bent on digging things up from the past. Symbolically, soon after arrival she's up in the middle of the night literally digging up the back yard, a smooth, walled lawn, she says for what will be a great vegetable garden. Sean (Martin McCann), Lauren's husband, is the normal pillar between the two women (or trying to be) who finds Kelly's behavior unacceptable and Lauren's defense of it troubling. He announces that the grass must be put back immediately, and begins suggesting, with increasing insistence, that Kelly must "see someone" for a psychological evaluation.

    It's made clear that Kelly's disappearance a year ago was devastating for Lauren. How adrift Lauren herself now is is indicated by where she works: a vast, alienating factory-like Amazon-style distribution center where she is often late and forgets to don her proper uniform. She is soon more at home with Kelly, and they go back to being like adolescent girls looking for fun or bursting with anger at outsiders. In the memorable central scene, they get drunk together (drinking from the same glass) at a pub and dance in close embrace to "Gloria" by Them featuring Van Morrison, played over and over on the Jukebox. They're eventually kicked out, but before that they confront a group of middle-aged men, particularly one called Gerry (David Pearse) who Kelly accuses of being the murderer of their father - and all of them, of what Bradshaw eloquently calls being "still in hock to the macho cult of terrorist violence."

    In an interesting, favorable "Kermode and Mayo" spoken review Observer chief critic Mark Kermode says he likes films whose explored revelations are actually more or less clear from the start, "natural, organic progressions," as he feels Wildfire's are. One can see what he's getting at: dramatic "reveals" or "twists" often seem pat and fake, condescending to the audience. It's true as Kermode says that Brady, with help from dp Fournier, creates an "immediate world in which past and present coexist." But writing isn't complex and detailed enough to work out what Kermode points to as the film's central subject, the interaction of the private and the political.

    Perpahs there are "natural, organic progressions," but it's still surprising how much Lauren will unravel, or how things will end up, with Lauren, to the despair of poor Sean (with whom I found myself increasingly in sympathy with), becoming more and more in sympathy and in league with Kelly, not in a good way, and the action winding up with the two sisters on a suicidal fugue. The death of their mother is never fully explored, but that it was suicide isn't really kept a secret, nor that Kelly is riven by anger and torment. I found myself disturbed not so much by the vague issues Kelly wants to confront, which flashbacks suggest are her own personal demons, as by how Sean gets lost in the shuffle here. He should have gotten Kelly to that therapist. This is a disturbing film, but unfortunately that's not just because of the unraveling of its two central women but because the action leaves too much vague and inchoate.

    It remains to underline, however, that the sound and images are fine here, and the galvanic performances of the two leads show us what a great talent we lost in the untimely death of Nika McGuigan. Cathy Brady is a filmmaker to watch.

    Wildfire, 85 mins, debuted at Toronto Sept. 2020, playing at London, Thessaloniki, Russia's Irish film festival, and San Diego. Screened for this review as part of the March 10-17, 2022 San Francisco Mostly British festival. Metacritic rating: 72.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-06-2022 at 09:04 AM.

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    RONNIE'S (Oliver Murray 2020)

    OLIVER MURRAY: RONNIE'S (2021)


    RONNIE SCOTT IN RONNIE'S

    All about Ronnie...There's so much to tell

    Jazz fans who attend San Francisco's March 2022 version of the Mostly British festival will not want to miss Ronnie's, a documentary film about Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, the world-famous London venue, which also tells a lot about the man who co-founded it and was its leading light for 37 years, from its opening in 1959 till his death in 1996.

    It's important to know that Ronnie was a Jewish kid from the East End of London and that he was also a serous musician himself, a saxophone player for whom performing on his instrument was essential to his well being and sense of self. The club was the first to be run by a fellow musician, which meant a lot to jazz while infuriating competitors. We also learn how rich and wild London's Soho section was back in the Fifties, and how the club fed off the vibrant New York jazz scene of that time.

    As Ronnie and his co-manager say in an interview, one of many included here, so many jazz players performed there it's easier to say who didn't than who did. They mention Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker. The film of course includes clips of some of the greats performing at the London venue including Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Ben Webster, Van Morrison, Chet Baker and Ella Fitzgerald. As always one wishes some of the clips had been allowed to play out longer. But that would have been hard, because this is an immense film about a time, a place, an art form, and a man - which finally winds up delving deeply into Ronnie Scott's complex personality as well as the club's history. Scott was bipolar and suffered from periods of crippling depression, exacerbated when circumstances forced him to stop playing his instrument. Alcohol was not a help. The latter part of the film grows sad, but there is still a rich glow from the sense conveyed of a musical renaissance and one of its signature platforms.

    The film is a rich tapestry, conventional enough in its visuals, but highly informative and atmospheric, mostly using voiceover with skillfully interwoven testimony whose speakers are identified by rapid-fire inter-titles - largely avoiding the distracting monotony of talking heads. Ronnie's is a doc the provides a lot to chew on. A truly evocative and exciting film for jazz fans.

    For more details, see the BFI review by Nick James in Sight and Sound from the time of the film's London release.

    Ronnie's, 103 mins., opened in London Oct. 23, 2020. It showed in DOC NYC Nov. 11, 2020 and at Winston-Salem, North Carolina (RiveRun) May 15, 2021. Limited US release Feb. 11, 1011. Screened for this review as part of San Francisco's Mostly British festival (Mar. 10-17, 2022). The film will is also available online in the US now.
    Showtime:
    3:00 PM VOGUE THEATER, SAN FRANCISCO
    WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16, 2022

    _________
    *Hear Chris Connor sing her signature version of "All About Ronnie" HERE.


    ELLA FITZGERALD PERFORMING IN RONNIE'S
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-12-2022 at 01:16 PM.

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