Monday, February 27, 2012

Tinker Tailor Fuck You Oscar

Gary Oldman wuz robbed.

That is all.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

We aim to please

J.D. of the essential Radiator Heaven left a comment on my last post (a birthday tribute to the very lovely and very talented Emily Blunt) saying that more pictures would have been nice.

And you know what? He was right!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Emily Blunt

In what is becoming something of an annual tradition on The Agitation of the Mind, here’s a raised glass to Emily Blunt – for my money of the best actors of her generation – who celebrates her 29th birthday today.

I normally upload unapologetic cheesecake shots in these kind of entries, but whenever I see Emily Blunt I’m reminded of that quote about the eyes being the windows to the soul.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

My two least favourite genres are the kidnap movie and the courtroom drama. The same reason applies: by their own definition, they’re inherently uncinematic. There are only so many angles from which you can film the interior of a courtroom, or the enclosed space in which a kidnap victim is held. A static milieu; narratives that unfold via dialogue rather than by visual pacing or rhythm.

So I approached ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ without much enthusiasm. And it took me by surprise.

The wordless five-minute opening sequence was the hook. Shot with a documentary-style attention to detail and edited with a slowly building sense of urgency, it depicts the preparations made by Vic (Eddie Marsen) and Danny (Martin Compston) prior to their abduction of the eponymous Alice (Gemma Arterton). That’s yer entire cast, right there, by the way.

Essentially, this sequence gives us the Vic and Danny Guide to Soundproofing and Securing a Bedroom. Our boys break out staple-guns, cordless drills, hammers and rolls of duct tape and work with a studious intensity that would be a little bit frightening even if they weren’t essentially turning a bland back room into a prison right before our eyes.

Then they pile into an equally bland Transit van and peel out of a car park. Locations are kept purposefully vague. Next thing they’re yanking the back doors open and bundling in the unfortunate Alice, her hands tied and a bag over her head. No build-up to the snatch, no laborious stalking scene, no hint of Alice’s everyday life or who she is, just wham-bam, back of the van, cut to the bedroom, tied to the bed and hey-ho, Miss Creed, best hope your rich daddy pays up. Then writer/director J Blakeson follows Vic and Danny out, leaves Alice in the dark, and proceeds to spend more time with his monosyllabic villains than he does with his photogenic protagonist.

‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ basically fucked with my expectations from the word go, the title being both the first and last of the ways it did so. Putting Alice’s name right there in the title – and giving Arterton lead billing – suggests she’s our primary focus. She’s not; it’s the relationship between Vic and Danny that Blakeson is most interested in. Also, withholding the title until the end of the movie – not a new thing, but done here for a reason – puts a very different spin in what it means.

Talking of spin, kudos to Blakeson for having the cojones to go with a couple of narrative curveballs that could deep-sixed the movie if he’d made the slightest mis-timing. I probably should have seen both of them coming (or least had an inkling that they were on the way), but I honestly didn’t. Maybe it was because I’d come to the film with so much indifference and was prepared to just let it wash over me. Either way, they completely blindsided me and that’s exactly what a twist is supposed to do.

So: visually interesting when the mise en scene ought to be uncinematic; effective twists when the three-hander set-up should only allow for so much leeway; and a sparky, enervated performance from Arterton, who I’d never really rated in any of her other roles. Seriously, Hollywood, quit treating the girl as set-dressing and let her cut loose. Also, the violence is handled in a manner than made me think of early Scorsese, erupting out of the fabric of the film and the infrastructure of character relations, only for things to settle back to some ostensible form of normality just seconds later, rather than being lovingly and wincingly obsessed over as is the standard post-Tarantino operating procedure. Some indication of Blakeson’s interest in character over hardware is in any of the numerous scenes where a character is framed pointing a gun at the camera. Almost invariably, the weapon is blurred and the actor – and therefore the performance – kept in focus.

This says a lot, and it’ll be interesting to see how Blakeson’s career develops. ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ is certainly an accomplished debut: cleverly put together, confidently directed, tense and engrossing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lassie Come Home

‘Lassie Come Home’ isn’t a film I’d normally review on Agitation, however my good friend Viv Apple has provided such a unique perspective on this evergreen family favourite – at once a review and a piece of social history – that I’m honoured to share her recollections on the blog.

I have waited nearly seventy years to see this film; the story of a dog who couldn’t bear to be parted from her owner, a young Yorkshire boy called Joe. Watching it on Channel 4 the other day with 21st century eyes, I could see (or rather hear) the incongruity of its very Home Counties accents as spoken by American actors, punctuated by valiant attempts to authenticate the setting by the occasional insertion of ‘Aye, lad’ and ‘It’s champion, champion’. But the story and the production itself, although of its time, is still magic to me for very special reasons.

It was released in 1943 at the height of the Second Word War, when I was seven and had just been evacuated from London to the ‘safety’ of a farm in Staffordshire. I was the only evacuee billeted with the farmer and his wife and son, and very homesick as my mother had stayed in London to be with my father, who was exempted from military service. I had a difficult time at the farm, and after about a year was taken back to London.

It took me a while to recover from being away on my own, but in my absence my mother had been to the cinema to see ‘Lassie Come Home’. So, knowing how I loved animals, she began telling me the story of the film each night to help me sleep. London was still in the grip of wartime chaos, and if there was an air raid expected or a sudden siren later on, we would go down the garden to spend the night in the Anderson shelter, a corrugated iron structure offering protection from blast and flying debris - but not from a direct hit.

The shelter smelled of its damp concrete base and of the smoky remains of the previous night’s candles, which were the only source of light. There were thick woollen blankets on the three bunks, and my mother would sit on the edge of mine while I watched her face as she recounted to me Lassie’s dangerous journey back to Joe. The story caught my imagination at once, perhaps because it was about a beautiful and intelligent dog but also because, like me, Lassie had found her way home in the end. So I would ask for it to be told again, night after night, until my mother must have grown weary – though she never showed it.

Outside, the drone of planes overhead (which could have been Wellington bombers on their way to Germany or German planes about to bomb us) was punctuated by bursts of flak from anti-aircraft guns stationed a few miles away. But I was aware of ‘the war’, and to me these sounds were a normal background to the shadowy shelter - and Lassie bounding to meet Joe from school or struggling to find her way back from Scotland to Yorkshire across rivers and through strange landscapes.

Watching the film in 2012, scenes I’d only heard about seemed to find their allotted place in my memory, a seamless step from the eight-year-old now. Roddy McDowall was Joe, Elsa Lanchester was his mother and Donald Crisp his father. Elizabeth Taylor, in the role of Pricilla, granddaughter of the tender hearted Duke who buys Lassie when the family is forced to sell her, was a natural actress who didn’t yet know how beautiful she was.

From my perspective it is difficult to review ‘Lassie Come Home’ dispassionately, but if I were to try I’d say that the training of the dog (a male collie called Pal) was exemplary and enabled him/her to carry the film effortlessly. Joe and his family were well cast, villains and heroes well defined but not in a cloying way, and Californian scenery was cleverly shot to look like Scotland and Yorkshire. Most importantly, the interaction between humans and dog throughout Lassie’s long journey was convincing and at times, moving. The film was nominated for several awards, and has been described as ‘one of the truly great family films’. It was praised by the New York Times in 1943 as ‘...a story of such poignancy and simple beauty that only the hardest heart can fail to be moved.’ So it’s not just me who loves it.

And that’s good to know.

by Viv Apple

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Apologies for the lack of new content around these here parts ...

... I've been a bit tied up lately.

There's been plenty going on with the Alan Sillitoe Memorial Fund. The open poetry competition closed last month, with 486 poems entered by 185 poets, netting over £850 for the fund. We're hosting a prize-giving event at the Nottingham Contemporary on 2 March, featuring live music from local roots band Blue Yonder. A literary lunch with Nottingham's premier crime writer John Harvey is taking place on 21 April, and there are a whole slew of other events in the pipeline for 2012. Please visit our website for full information.

Also, work on a major project - which is pushing towards the three-quarters completed mark - has kept me busy as hell for the last few weeks. I've watched very few films recently and my reading has bottomed out appallingly. Of those few films I have watched, I've not really felt motivated to write about most of them; and the one exception - 'A Single Man' - deserves a lot more time and attention than I'm able to give it right now.

So please bear with me for a while. Content might tend to the pictorial for much of this month, but I will return, by March, with the opening salvoes in the Bond-a-thon.

Oh - and a directive from the Shameless Self-Publicity Committee orders me to share this with you - by the way, my short story 'The Call of Chavthulu' has been accepted for the next issue of Dark Horizons, which I'm absurdly excited about.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Alejandro Jodorowsky

Happy 83rd birthday to eccentric genius Alejandro Jodorowsky.

“Most directors make films with their eyes; I make films with my testicles.”

“One day, someone showed me a glass of water that was half full. And he said, ‘Is it half full or half empty?’ So I drank the water. No more problem.”

“What I am trying to do when I use symbols is to awaken in your unconscious some reaction. I am very conscious of what I am using because symbols can be very dangerous. When we use normal language we can defend ourselves because our society is a linguistic society, a semantic society. But when you start to speak, not with words, but only with images, the people cannot defend themselves.”

Witty, visionary and – let’s face it – pretty fucking dangerous, how can you not love a guy who is so completely true to his art?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Ben Gazzara

Sometimes you hear of an actor’s death and you think “Aw, that’s a shame, I liked that person.”

Sometimes you hear of an actor’s death and it hits you in the solar plexus, winding you, doubling you up and taking everything out of you.

Ben Gazzara: ‘Anatomy of a Murder’, ‘The Killing of a Chinese Bookie’, ‘Saint Jack’, ‘Tales of Ordinary Madness’, ‘The Big Lebowski’, ‘Summer of Sam’, ‘Dogville’.

Ben Gazzara: legend.

Rest in peace, sir. Cinema is poorer for your loss.

i.m. Ben Gazzara, 28 August 1930 – 3 February 2012

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Jennifer Westfeldt

Happy 42nd birthday to the multi-talented Jennifer Westfeldt. Best known for for indie bi-curious rom-com 'Kissing Jessica Stein', she's also a bona fide Broadway star thanks to her show-stopping role in 'Happy Town'.