I reviewed Moana and its themes for Think Theology.
Yet there is still a nagging feeling, when watching Moana, that Disney are stuck in a thematic rut. The opening song in English is a revamp of the same ideas explored in the opening number to Beauty and the Beast. There, Belle longs for more than her provincial life, here, Moana is convinced of the virtues of staying within her community and finding everything she needs where she is. This is presented as the bad option. Her song that follows, which is an absolute belter, is then about looking to the horizon and sailing off by herself to find out who she truly is. The entire film revolves around her ‘finding herself’.
I was commissioned to write a programme note on Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival for Glasgow Film Theatre.
You don’t actually see the arrival in Arrival. This is a film about the sudden appearance of unidentified alien crafts in twelve different points around the globe, yet the moment they appear plays out offscreen. Instead, the audience watches Amy Adams and her near-empty linguistics class as they react to footage of the event on the news. From the very start of the film it becomes clear – this isn’t about the aliens as much as it is about the humans involved with them.
Cinema has long had an uneasy relationship with aliens arriving on earth. Early sci-fi cinema, typified by Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, was about exploration, discovery and realising strange new worlds in the exciting nascent medium of celluloid. Five years before Méliès’ groundbreaking film, however, the groundwork was laid for fear of outsiders in H.G. Wells’ novella War of the Worlds. Wells wasn’t concerned with travelling to other planets – he was wondering what would happen if other planets visited us.
I wrote a feature on the acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai for cultural magazine The Skinny, ahead of Scotland Loves Anime.
One of the most common epithets given to Japanese director Makoto Shinkai is ‘the next Miyazaki.’ As the Ghibli co-founder puts down his paintbrush, the search for his spiritual successor takes on a new urgency for anyone seeking mature, wonder-inducing anime that it’s OK for the ‘serious cinephile’ to enjoy. The comparison is a trite one, however, as the two directors share only a few things in common: they both work in animation; they are both Japanese; they are both masters of their medium. That’s where the comparisons end, however, as Shinkai’s preoccupations and style feels a world away from Miyazaki.
I’ve appeared on the radio recently a number of times to review films. Most recently I was on the Janice Forsyth Show reviewing X-Men Apocalypse, Sing Street and A Hologram for the King.
I wrote about the latest film from Studio Ghibli from a Christian perspective, for Think Theology.
When Marnie Was there is an adaptation of a British children’s novel from the ‘60s and lands towards the gently fantastical side of their canon. For fans, watching it comes with the bittersweet sensation of knowing that this is the last film you will see by such a consistently brilliant studio. The studio has wrapped up production for the foreseeable future and one of the last great bastions of hand-drawn animation has fallen. For those previously unaware of the film-makers, this could be the perfect introduction to their work. Whether you are a novice or a merch-wearing devotee, it’s a stunning piece of storytelling that proves the studio never lost its power, even at the very end.
I’ve been writing some of the programme notes for Glasgow Film Theatre, including this essay on Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship.
“For almost as long as cinema has been around, people have been adapting Jane Austen novels for film and TV. There have been the big hits – think Colin Firth in a wet shirt or Alan Rickman’s soulful portrayal of Colonel Brandon. Then, there have been the more obscure retellings, films such as From Prada to Nada, a Latina version of Sense and Sensibility. Laurence Olivier even starred in an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, although arguably that hasn’t really entered the Austen canon for devotees of the author. Then there are spin-offs, reimaginings and films about the lady herself such as Becoming Jane, Lost in Austen, The Jane Austen Book Club. Culture has become saturated with all things Jane. As a result, her razor-sharp writing and incisive cultural commentary – the reason she has attracted so many fans – becomes somewhat lost or sanitised.”
One of my recent posts for VODzilla was an interview with Miguel Gomes, director of the Arabian Nights trilogy.
What was the inspiration behind adapting a Middle Eastern set of stories to comment on modern day Portugal?
Well, it was the idea that I should show things about what was happening in my country, the social and economic crises. But I also like to tell stories, not only show things but also tell stories. For me, Arabian Nights is like the Bible of storytelling. So, it’s a very particular kind of storytelling. Arabian Nights is pretty wild and what was happening in Portuguese society was also very extreme. The real stories that people were living, the situations they were facing, were also very extreme. And so both things came together and I thought I would need the help of Queen Scheherazade to help me to tell the stories about my country.
I was part of the blogging team for Glasgow Film Festival, writing about the programme in anticipation of the lively celebration of cinema. Click the link to go through to one of the blogs.
Recently I’ve been writing more for VODzilla, an online magazine dedicated to all things you can stream online. Click below for TV recaps of Shadowhunters, reviews of some terrible Christmas films and a column dedicated to Netflix’s notorious kid’s films. In the meantime, here is a section of my review of Aloha.
The critical hammering and box office disappearance of Cameron Crowe’s latest film in the US meant that Aloha never made it to UK cinemas. In the UK, it’s now furtively appearing on streaming services for fans of Bradley Cooper or Emma Stone.
The US critics were right about this one: Aloha is a dud of such tonal awkwardness that Stone’s infamous ethnically mixed character is the least of the film’s problems. The story, as such, is about Cooper’s pilot, Brian Gilcrest, who worked for NASA before returning to a sleepy post on Hawaii. While there, he reconnects with his old flame, played by Rachel McAdams, and sparks fly with his fellow officer, Allison Ng (Stone). Gilcrest’s job is to try and persuade Hawaii’s indigenous population to let them send a rocket into space, or something. Bill Murray potters in and out spouting something about the future and Danny McBride substitutes moving his hands around a lot for a real character.
I wrote about the symbolism of the hotel in Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, for Glasgow Film Theatre.
Not unlike the recent surreal comedy The Lobster, Youthtakes place in a hotel where life moves at its own rhythms. Here, communication is stilted, patrons watch others with keen interest and this one luxury resort in the mountains becomes a microcosm of life itself. Or, at least, life for the world’s supposed geniuses. An aging, celebrated composer (played with wit and delicacy by Michael Caine), a disillusioned actor (Paul Dano), a fading director (Harvey Keitel) and an eclectic selection of the rich and famous (including Diego Maradona) all linger in this mountainside retreat, wandering in and out of each others’ lives.
As far as the narrative of the film goes, this is, to all intents and purposes simply a hotel. People come and go as they please, with regular trips into the nearby town to buy medication for their aging bodies. The simplest explanation of this film is that the hotel is merely an escape for the world’s richest people in a beautiful part of the Europe, and everyone acts a little oddly while they are there. This would placeYouth firmly in the realm of a comic drama, mining the intergenerational interaction for the meat of the story. To an extent, that’s exactly what Youth is, and it does this marvellously. However, dig a little deeper and it seems as though this hotel may be more than that, as elements of fantasy gently worm their way into the otherwise real-world story.