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Reviews From Solitary Confinement

The Breakfast Club [Netflix]

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Teen flics are not usually my bag (apart from the inimitable Sex Education). I really thought this was going to be an exception. Five high school types, a jock, a prom queen, a nerd, a wildly unpredictable proto-goth, and an anarchical rebel are thrown together in a Saturday detention. They have never met before. They are set a written task by the Dean, another type: the bully with an ego inflated by the insolence of office. I thought we might have some interesting chemistry here and for a while it did look promising. John Bender, the rebel, was clearly the catalyst who would provoke the others into a reaction which would enable them to reveal their inner selves in the great tradition of American drama from O’Neill to Albée. The trouble was that there was not that much inner self to reveal. They appeared, shallow, self-absorbed, obsessed with image. There was a lot of boring stuff about who was and who wasn’t a virgin and who was lying about it. When the jock showed a hint of chivalry, I felt a flicker of empathy, but it passed. I thought for a while that the nerd’s innocence was engaging but his naive eagerness to please soon turned to sycophancy. Were we meant to admire the rebel? I just found him an obnoxious dick, contrary for the sake of it. I think we were supposed to admire them for doing drugs in school but I just thought that their getting high was the outward visible sign of their inner spiritual emptiness. I was reminded of Sartre’s Huis Clos – Hell is an American High School.

JoJo Rabbit [Prime]

⭐️⭐️

Enticed into this by glowing Wikipedia review. Gave up halfway. Hitler youth kiddie finds Jewish girl hiding in the attic. That’s your story. Stylistically all over the place. The boy is accompanied by a spirit familiar, none other than Adolph Hitler himself and they get involved in a lot of slapstick. You think at first that this is like the hilarious bad taste of The Producers and Blazing Saddles but it doesn’t work. There is false note after false note and they are just not funny. What is left is gluey sentimentality. I could see where it was going and I wasn’t going with it. Cost me a wasted tenner too.

The Cell [dir. Tarsem Singh]

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

You might need a little patience with the opening of this film. It took me quite a while to work out what was going on and even when I did I found the plot-line itself thin and rather undisciplined. But persevere and you’ll be rewarded. Jennifer Lopez plays a child psychologist who uses SciFi technology to engage in mind transfer therapy. An FBI agent persuades her to use the technology to track down a serial killer. So far, so derivative. And I have to say I nearly gave up because of the confounded whispering and mumbling that disfigures so many American films. You might need the remote volume control to hand as there is some pretty apocalyptic noise too.

It is the surreal oneiric sequences that make the film special: dreamscapes that are beautiful and scary, full of eclectic imagery, chromatic and rapidly evolving, with the convincing alogic of a dream and a shifting interface with reality. A warning: some of the imagery is starkly sadomasochistic.

Oedipus Rex, Stravinsky

[A production directed by Julie Taymor starring Philip Langridge, Jessye Norman, Min Tanaka, and Bryn Terfel performed at the Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto in Japan in 1992. Youtube]

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A mind blowing production of a favourite piece of music which captures the full horror of Sophocles’ play. The mise en scène includes aspects of Noh theatre and there is much use of mime, dance, masks, puppetry, and other kinds of choric movement. The result is so deeply atavistic that cultural differences seem to evaporate in the face of primordial truths. Oedipus unknowingly violates the cardinal taboos: patricide, regicide, incest with his mother. He enters the vagina from which he came. It is he who brought the plague upon the city and he must be expelled. Stravinsky’s music with its visceral dissonances has an archaic feel to it and the sparse Latin libretto is monumental. Langridge, Tanaka and Terfel are astonishing but Jessye Norman as Jocasta is divine.

Ophelia [Netflix] ⭐️⭐️⭐️

If there had never been a play called Hamlet written by some geezer from the midlands around 1590-1601 this would have been a clever old romp combining some witty cod-Elizabethan wordplay with some tooth-achingly banal modern locutions. It is expensively produced. The sets are gorgeous. Hamlet is gorgeous. But, the idea that Hamlet secretly married Ophelia illuminates nothing. If it makes timid feminists happy about her treatment by him, I don’t mind. It’s better than the fashionable but silly and androphobic idea that he raped her. It whiled away the evening and, you know what, the costumes are gorgeous.

Crimson Peak [Netflix]

⭐️⭐️

Do you find yourself, during Lockdown, spending too much time surfing Netflix and Prime looking for something worth watching in your lonely cell? Do you choose something and persevere with it hoping it will fulfil the promise of the trailer and find, eventually, that you’ve wasted your evening. A great deal of money must have been spent on the sumptuous gothic sets of Crimson Peak, part Caspar David Friedrich, part Hammer Horror, with a whiff of the Brontes. A fortune must have been spent on the costumes.

It would have been a good idea, however, if some money had been spent on the screenplay, a charivari of clichés and dramatic bum notes that wandered around never really getting anywhere.

Mind you, I doubt if even the most talented of script editors could have rescued this incoherent stuff. Even terrible overacting by the principals couldn’t rescue it. The CGI horrors aren’t bad in themselves but there is no dynamic to the direction and therefore no suspense or shock. The whole thing sags, like ancient drapery saturated with sticky dirt. The banality of some of the dialogue beggars belief. Avoid.

Children of Men [Netflix]

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ever messed about looking for something to watch, find something and then, ten minutes in, realise you’ve seen it? That’s what happened to me tonight.

But eleven minutes in, I wanted to see it again.

I like dystopian fiction. It cheers me up. It has a particularly tonic virtue in these weird times. This apocalypse features a world of infertility. No children are being born. Until…

– give it a go if you don’t already know it –

…a child is born. There is more than a passing reference to the Christ Child and the flight into Egypt.

Superb performance by Clive Owen in the lead and Michael Caine is stunning as an ageing hippy. Direction by Alfonso Cuarón is a relentless white knuckle ride.