I’ve been rubbish updating you with reviews, I know.
I’ve been making radio shows and podcasts and being on air and stuff, so, cut me a little slack. But it’s certainly time to fill you in a few of the things around, in cinemas and online, with some quick-fire, short-ass reviews. Will that satisfy you?
Les Miserables/ La Haine
La Haine, yes, is an oldie, a classic from 1990, which has rarely lost its relevance in 30 years, an anniversary it is celebrating with a restorative polish and re-release. The story of three mates (black, white and Arab) on an estate during a night of building tensions, it still stands as one of the most important European films ever made, our continent’s response to Do The Right Thing, putting urban cinema on the map and bringing star Vincent Cassel to the fore, along with director Matthieu Kassovitz.
New, Oscar-nominated film Les Miserables is a direct descendant of La Haine, but only vaguely related to Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel and the subsequent musical of the same name. They share a setting, the Paris suburb of Montfermeil, where Hugo wrote his novel and where the Meynardiers had their bawdy inn.
The film won its creator and debut director Ladj Ly the Cesar for Best Film, making him the first black man to win France’s prestigious film prize, and it is a thoroughly thrilling ride through the secret and warring factions (black, Muslim fanatics, cafes, sweatshops, Romany lion tamers) of a tinder-box suburb just after France’s all-too-briefly unifying win at the 2018 World Cup.
A police car shows a “newbie” around the neighbourhood just as some kids capture an incidence of police brutality on a drone and the cops grimly set about trying to retrieve the incendiary footage before it’s uploaded online. Brilliant, angry, volatile, colourful, daring stuff.
For a documentary slice of British pop cultural history, Rubika Shah’s award-winning and fascinating White Riot examines the people and the social tensions around the Rock Against Racism concert in east London’s Victoria Park in 1978.
The film recalls the skinheads of the National Front, the disgusting racist slogans, street confrontations and the sense of grim decay of London in the 70s. It’s contrasted with the energy and optimism of a bunch of activists who decided to do something about it, resulting in a march from Trafalgar Square to see The Clash, Tom Robinson and Steel Pulse finally playing to 100,000 people in the park. It didn’t end racism, but it certainly was a generation’s loud shout against it.
Dumped at the altar, Sally Hawkins is on typically brilliant, eccentric outsider form in Eternal Beauty, turning in another wounded performance that challenges emotions and steals hearts at the same time.
Drawing a top cast including Penelope Wilton, Alice Lowe, David Thewlis and Billie Piper, young director and writer Craig Roberts delivers an off-beat, down-beat comedy in the ‘quirky British indie’ style he’s becoming associated with, a cinematic sitcom of bruised characters on depressed settees. It’s funny and weirdly touching, depending on your taste.
Cambodian-born British director Hong Khao’s debut film Lilting was a London Film Festival gem a few years ago, with Ben Whishaw – and this long-awaited follow-up doesn’t disappoint. If you love films set in modern Asian cities, as I do, then this is for you, as Henry Golding comes to Vietnam, journeying from Saigon to Hanoi to find his roots and scatter his mother’s ashes. He also meets Parker Sawyers’ Lewis, an American man establishing a clothes brand while also lamenting his father’s wartime presence in the city. They have a fling. It’s beautifully shot and the atmosphere expertly captured, muggy and thoughtful, honking with motorbike rides and bustle, while finding a still heart for reflection and calm. Lovely, langourous stuff.
Capital in the 21st Century
I learned quite a bit I already knew, if you know what I mean, from Capital in the 21st Century, a slickly digested doc version of French economist Thomas Pikkety’s unlikely best-seller, which I haven’t read, because it’s 700 pages and 26 hours in audio book. So here it is, all in about 100 minutes, director by Justin Pemberton and it’s, oh you know, just the history of wealth and who has it and how they got it. And a bit on how we all might share it out better. Have to say, it was entertaining if glib for an economics lesson, from the French revolution and the Industrial revolution and the British aristocracy and colonisation and the Great Depression and the fall of Communism and the opening of China and as much as they can cram in, all illustrated by talking heads like Piketty himself and variously cool scholars such as British TV historian Kate Williams, as well as songs like Lourdes’s Royals, a tune which just sounds like money itself.