Midnight’s Children

bollywood_midnights_children_poster

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is generally accepted as one of the most important pieces of literature of the 20th century. Since winning the Man Booker Prize in 1981, it has enjoyed massive critical acclaim, ensured the enduring fame of its author, and was named the best ever winner of the 40-year-old Booker Prize. A film adaptation has been on the cards for years, but hasn’t come to light until now. The narrative is in safe hands – the screenplay was written by Rushdie himself.

Midnight’s Children tells the story of Saleem Sinai, born at the exact moment of India’s independence in 1947, forever linking his life to the historical path of his country. His development becomes a strange metaphor for the ever-changing social and political situations in India, which he often happens to inadvertently play a part in. As if that’s not enough, Saleem becomes the telepathic hub for the 1,000 children born within the first hour of independence, who all have their own magical powers – the midnight’s children in question.

Giles Nuttgen’s cinematography is beautiful, making India dazzle on the screen. Whether it’s the costumes or the weather, the grand colonial-era houses or the energy and life of the slums, the images are mesmerising. The literary genre of magical realism – where seemingly illogical events happen in the real world – is a difficult one to translate from the page to the screen, but it is well conveyed in parts. When Indira Ghandi rules by decree for two year in the 1970s, ‘the emergency’ is depicted with darkness cast large over India, until it ends and the sun immediately shines again. The creation of Bangladesh is more obvious in the movie than it was in the book, but this makes the vast cast of colourful characters are a little easier to keep up with when you can see them in action, as opposed to reading their names on a page.

Midnight’s Children is the kind of book you’d love to see on screen but could never imagine how it would be done. Obviously great effort has gone in to making this adaptation, as it manages to capture the essence of the book perfectly without losing any of its intricate plot. It’s also likely that watching this film will make people want to read the book, which will subsequently be much more accessible to them. The novel is epic, and should still be enjoyed as a reading experience, but here it has finally been magnificently captured on screen, and it was well worth the wait.

This article originally appeared in SoSoGay magazine.

Advertisements

My Favourite Festive Film: Sleepless In Seattle

sleepless-in-seattle-original

Much of the praise lavished on the late screenwriter and director Nora Ephron is reserved for When Harry Met Sally. But when it comes to Christmas time, the movie I always return to is her 1993 classic Sleepless In Seattle. It’s the supreme romantic comedy for me, because it has a seasonal edge. Its themes of fate, destiny and magic are heart-warming and believably immersed in a real life setting. In many ways, it’s a strong precursor to the recent favourite Love Actually.

Centring on recently widowed Sam (Tom Hanks) and his young son Jonah (Ross Malinger), the movie begins on Christmas Eve, when Jonah phones a radio show attempting to find a new wife for his father. He’s heard by Annie (Meg Ryan), driving to spend the holidays with her fiancée’s family. But across the night time airwaves – from Baltimore to Seattle – she feels a connection to the man and his son, and an anonymous courtship begins that feeds into romantic notions of a Christmas miracle.

sleepless_in_seattle2

Coming right off the back of the Harry Connick Jr. revival, the soundtrack features old jazz standards sung by everyone from Ray Charles to Nat King Cole, and is the kind of thing you might bring out at this time of year anyway. By the time the opening credits have finished rolling, it’s hard not to be bowled over with holiday spirit and romance. It reminds me of my childhood, and the hey-day of video rental, when I’d get to watch the latest releases with my parents at the weekend, and later, of watching classic Hollywood movies on Sky as a teenager.

Sleepless In Seattle is a movie drenched in nostalgia. It’s based on the 1957 movie An Affair To Remember, which the characters of Sleepless in Seattle discuss in comparison to their own situation, as the storyline plays out in parallel. The final scene, which takes place at the top of the Empire State Building, is a fulfillment of a promised reunion in the original Cary Grant movie that never actually happened. Clever, I know. Co-star Rosie O’Donnell complains of wanting “to be in love in a movie” – and who doesn’t? In my books, New York is the perfect setting for romance, but it’s also the capital city of Christmas. Alongside all the standard holiday films, Sleepless in Seattle is always a must watch for me.

This article originally appeared in SoSoGay magazine.

James Bond: The Spy Who Loved Men?

BondGayScene

However macho something is by nature, it is never safe from the inklings of homoeroticism. In fact, sometimes the more macho something is, the more camp it appears. The James Bond movies have always had hints of gay – occasionally through outcast, misunderstood villains, or lesbians that appear as sexual challenges to 007. Now, in Skyfall, director Sam Mendes has painted the pinkest portrait yet, in the form of Javier Bardem’s wonderful cyber-psycho Silva. But what does it reveal about Bond himself?

Silva makes his entrance with a long walk across a warehouse floor, in a wonderfully shot scene where we watch him advance over chair-bound Bond’s shoulder. He delivers a curious monologue, which implies the two men are like rats who have eaten everyone else, and now must ‘eat each other’ – the innuendo of which is appreciated by the actors and the audience alike. Sitting down in front of Bond, he begins to unbutton 007′s shirt and caress his chest. As he implies his own homosexual experiences, he suggests Bond tries it himself, to which Bond teasingly replies, ‘What makes you think this is my first time?’. In the next scene, as Silva dares Bond to shoot a shot glass off a girl’s head, he says he will try too, and that whoever wins ‘gets to go on top’. These are the lines that have sparked mumbled giggles in cinemas, and brought delight to queer theorists everywhere.

It may not be coincidence that this new scene mirrors the Casino Royale moment where Craig’s Bond was tied to a chair and, with somewhat obvious homoerotic undertones, had his testicles whipped. Perhaps Craig as an actor is more open to it than any Bond before; perhaps it’s been there all along, lurking in the shadows; or perhaps the old undercurrents of homosexuality and blackmail in espionage are finally coming out of the closet and becoming more acceptable in this environment. Nothing is exactly confirmed or denied, but either way, this element of dubious sexuality makes for one of Skyfall‘s most popular talking points.

This piece originally appeared on SoSoGay magazine.

The Hunger Games

I haven’t read any of The Hunger Games trilogy that has been gripping ‘readers’ across the world recently – mostly because it looks a bit too much like teen-lit for my liking – but I didn’t object to seeing the film adaptation on an Easter Monday when the only thing to do outside was to be subjected to gale force winds and torrential rain. The cinema? I’m in.

For what I’m told is quite a small novel, the film was a bit of a stretch, clocking in at 142 minutes, but I wasn’t at all bored. The Hunger Games involves two of my favourite things – a post-apocalyptic society, and reality TV. It certainly is a rare occasion when you can enjoy both in one place. The first half is spent setting up the world of Panem, and the tradition of the Hunger Games – enough to keep you engaged and interested before the games themselves begin and occupy the second half. Panem was formed from the ruins of North America after some unknown disaster, and divided into 12 districts. As a punishment for a district rebellion against the Capitol, there are annual Hunger Games, in which a male and female teenager from each district is selected to take part in a televised fight to the death, in which only one person can emerge triumphant. I found myself watching the tribal politics and survival tactics with the same kind of ‘Yeah I could do that if I had to’ mentality, with which I also watched Home Alone as a child – although in this instance, I really don’t think I’d be quite as successful.

We go through the games on the side of the hopefuls from District 12 – conveniently wrapped up in a love story which begins as a TV plot, and later becomes something a bit more real; verging on ‘star-crossed lovers’ territory. It’s love that’s actually so strong, it threatens to bring down the entire establishment. When the two threaten to eat poison fruit in the arena to commit suicide, I did see construed reflections of Adam and Eve in Eden. If it was meant to be that deep…

The Hunger Games ties in a lot of great parts from other sci-fi films – from the other worldly jungle of Avatar, to the brutal competition of the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Similar to Harry Potter, the author has here created a world that can be drawn upon extensively throughout future books and films (kudos on the cash in) – it’s certainly a place you’ll be interested to see more of. However, the absence of mythical creatures, or anything too ‘space age’ does make it that bit closer to home. You can see its realistic potential a bit more because there’s no magic involved, and despite the drastically different social situation – everything still looks fairly normal.

That said, I do reject the conclusions of some reviewers who over-state the lessons our society has to learn from this film. True, it shows the lengths we’ll go to for reality entertainment, and the facade it becomes – but the kind of show depicted in The Hunger Games isn’t exactly an inevitable result of our declining morals. It could only come as the result of some major new world order, with wacky totalitarianism at the apex of it all. If we ever get to that point, having a macabre tournament as our prime TV entertainment will be the least of our worries.

The Hunger Games is in cinemas everywhere now.

North Sea Texas

Last Sunday I had the honour of attending the UK premiere of the Belgian film North Sea Texas – directed by Bavo Defurne, and selected as the closing film at the 2012 BFI Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. It’s a beautiful tale of teenager Pim, whose youthful affair with his neighbour Gino becomes a painful unrequited love as the pair grow up.

The setting is a rural Belgian town in the 1970s, which is so far removed from the real world, that there’s a distinct sense that Pim’s love for Gino really is all he has to bother him….but for any young gay teenager who’s ever fallen in love with a handsome straight boy, that is fairly often the case. His neglectful mother and her escapades offer a comic subplot to the narrative, and if you want to dig deep there is a lot to be said for absent fathers in the two families involved. The most poignant moment comes when Gino’s mother joins the hands of the two boys on her deathbed – signalling her silent understanding that they should be together.

A special mention must go to Anton Merton’s cinematography which makes colour into one of the film’s main characters. From vibrant yellow clothing to the perfectly captured textures of the rural landscapes, this is a story with a backdrop as beautiful as its main narrative.

The evening ended in a Q&A session with director Bavo Defurne (who looked wonderful in a white Tom Ford suit), who was thrilled to have this – his first feature film – gain such a positive reception, after years of making shorts (some of which you can preview on his Vimeo page). He’s got an undeniable style of his own, and North Sea Texas shows an incredible capacity to lay an emotional journey so bare and so honest, that even amidst such an obscure setting, most of the audience could relate their own experience to that undergone by Pim.

North Sea Texas is released in UK cinemas on April 6.

The Artist

It has become one of the most talked about films of 2012, but it could easily have been lifted straight out of 1927. The Artist (in case you didn’t know) is a French produced movie which is silent, and shot entirely in black and white. A stroke of genius or just a cash in on the contemporary appetite for retro? Perhaps somewhere in the middle.

The movie centres on a silent film star who loses everything he stands for when talkies are introduced. Heard this one before? This plot has been a winner for a host of movies harking back to the era of classic cinema, from the tragic fate of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950), to the musical Singin’ In The Rain (1952) which shows how some actors managed to survive the change, whilst others failed miserably. In fact, once they’ve throw in the love story that highlights the well-known entertainment process of ‘out with the old, in with the new’, you’ve got yourself a story which feels overly familiar.

Taking us through the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the setting of the film has some striking similarities to the state of the world today, and it is worth remembering that the silent films of Charlie Chaplin thrived through the Great Depression, despite the talkies already being up and running. Just like then, there is something strangely comforting in the simplicity of this film – like all the buttons of sound, colour, 3D, blu ray and high definition are suddenly switched off, and yet the storytelling does not suffer. Under the surface, this story set 80 years ago may have a bit more relevance to our present day climate than we’d imagine.

The star turn of the movie is undoubtedly Uggie, who plays Jack, the dog. This Jack Russell has captured the attention of the world, doing publicity in his own right, showing off all his well trained tricks. He acts as the perfect companion to Jean Valentin, the movie’s main protagonist, and his displays of loyalty and love are enough to break the hearts of even the stoniest of cinema-goers. Many have been calling for him to receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actor; but then perhaps the War Horse may want a Best Actor nomination, so it’s really a can of worms not worth opening.

It’s interesting to make such a stripped back film at a time when other movies are trying to make everything bigger and brighter, but it would have been nice to see the movie tackle a more contemporary plot. Just because the movie is silent and in black and white, doesn’t mean it had to be set back when that kind of cinema making was standard. The director could have packed a greater punch if he’d used the genre to depict a modern setting and scenario – I think back to Woody Allen’s black and white masterpiece Manhattan (1979) – it would still have evoked the days of classic cinema, but perhaps could have made it more relevant to modern audiences. I say this because as a 22 year old, I was by far the youngest person at the screening I attended (the average age being about 55). Silent films require a different kind of acting – whether you view it as more real, or a bit farcical – and I’d quite like to see how that might play out in a story set in 2012.

For many of the other movies vying for the Best Picture prize at the Oscars next month, The Artist must feel like something of a cop out. What the director has done is nothing revolutionary – he’s just done it at a strange time. In the eyes of many, this is a movie anyone could have made, and be assured some success from. Nevertheless, it is the sheer novelty of The Artist as it sits among its peers this year, that has made it hot property for the awards season. Whether or not it can win the top prize remains to be seen.

The Artist is at cinemas everywhere now.

The Iron Lady

It’s set to become one of the biggest films of the year, with a leading lady performance tipped for Oscar glory, but it’s difficult to sum up exactly what The Iron Lady is like. The Margaret Thatcher story was never going to be an easy one to tell, and this film did begin life as a ‘week in the life of’ based around the Falklands, before fleshing out into more of a biopic. Then again, as I use the word biopic I hesitate, for the history of the woman herself is not exactly given a comprehensive analysis. Instead, director Phyllida Lloyd has chosen to base the film on the imagined current day suffering of dementia which keeps Thatcher locked away in her Belgravia home. Day to day sounds and conversations, events and TV news flashes throw the 85 year old back into random vignettes from her long life as one of the most famous and divisive politicians of the 20th century. And, her imagined manifestation of deceased husband Denis is at her side for most of the current day setting; provoking, narrating, even clowning. It’s certainly a lot to take in.

It seems a great liberty for Lloyd to make a fictionalised account of Thatcher’s mental decline and make it count for almost half of the film. On the other hand, it is an eye opener to the disease itself, and I imagined instantly that it will profoundly touch anyone whose family has been affected by the disease; this is even before mentioning the elements of Greek and Shakespearean tragedy it evokes. In the beginning the issue was treated well: the mention of an upcoming Rogers and Hammerstein concert instantly transported Thatcher to her post-war youth when she first met Dennis. In this sense, dementia became a crafty plot device for the director to present isolated flashbacks in a biopic which would never have had time to tell the whole story. However, as it went on there were points where these links became less impressive and more contrived. When Thatcher accidentally stumbles on top of a bronze soldier statuette, it’s the cue for her to remember sinking the Belgrano – at this, the word that came to my mind was ‘sloppy’.

On the subject of style, it’s also worth noting that this is a movie told exclusively from Thatcher’s mind, so you can be rest assured you’re only getting her side of things. Sound bites and newsreels remind us of the headlines and public opinions which we already know so well. That is if you know them so well. You’d have to have a good memory (or in the case of anyone under 25, a good understanding) of 1980s Britain to keep up with the narrative at ease. And yet, if you are something of a history buff, you’ll feel a little short changed. Fair enough, the Falklands are given a decent enough explanation when that moment appears, but the IRA bombings – in particular, the Brighton bomb of 1984 – are featured fairly prominently, without explanation, and without any words on the issue spoken by Thatcher herself. Another weak point was that footage of the 1981 riots, the miner’s strikes, and the 10p tax protests were all used interchangeably to represent social chaos, without either of the three being discussed or explained. The film does focus more on Thatcher the woman, therefore the politics is relevant only when it is relevant to her personally – such as her very sudden and unexpected usurping from within her own party. It’s also Lloyd’s way of making sure this film doesn’t have a political slant, and as someone who professes to be ‘on the other side’ to Mrs T, she does a good job of being unbiased.

The final thing to discuss – and it’s largely inevitable – is Meryl Streep. Whatever you think of the film, its script or even Thatcher herself, Streep is every bit as exceptional as has been anticipated and reported since pre-production began. I would hesitate to use the phrase ‘performance of a lifetime’ for a woman with the back catalogue like hers, but it is certainly a piece which will stand prominently in her oeuvre. Will she win the Oscar? If there’s any justice then it should already be hers (the simple equation of a biopic plus a mental illness is enough to assure this triumph). And yet, it’s not Thatcher’s iconic persona that made this role a winner for Streep – it’s Streep’s talent that makes this entire film. And, as much as her performance is an impeccable impersonation of one of the most famous women in the world (helped greatly by an uncanny makeover), it is also a remarkable portrayal of an elderly woman with dementia; deprived of all the skills, power and familial love that she once cherished. If Streep had been playing a complete unknown suffering in this state, she would deserve similar recognition; and that’s the real bonus of this performance.

The Iron Lady is in cinemas everywhere now.