The Shape Of Water

Why in the world I keep taking myself to the cinema when I know I don’t enjoy the experience is beyond me. I’ve been twice in the past few weeks – before that I hadn’t been for years. I don’t like cinemas for the simple reason that there are other people in them. Although the screens are much better than the one on my little Macbook, I am more than happy to deal with a lower resolution if it means I don’t have to sit in a room with humans.

However, when Guillermo del Toro brings out a new film I find it hard to resist, because I love his work and want to support him. So off I went to see The Shape of Water, which was beautiful and had Doug Jones in it, whom I also love.

Continue reading “The Shape Of Water”


Review – The Book Thief

the book thief

Here is a small fact: You are going to die.

Well, any movie that starts with that line and goes on to be narrated by Death himself all the way through must at least be worth watching, right?

I got the email inviting me to this screening and sighed. Translated from PR speak into Beth speak, ‘based on the book’ means ‘probably not as good as the book’; ‘set in World War II’ means ‘expect lots of historical inaccuracy and gratuitous violence’ and ‘the story of a little girl’ means ‘saccharine characters you’ll want to punch in the face’.

Well, the only thing this movie punched in the face was my expectations. And it would have punched my heart in the face, too, if I had a heart. And if hearts had faces.

Anyway. The synopsis:

Based on the beloved international bestselling book, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel, an extraordinary and courageous young girl sent to live with a foster family in World War II Germany. She learns to read with encouragement from her new family and Max, a Jewish refugee whom they are hiding under the stairs. For Liesel and Max, the power of words and imagination become the only escape from the tumultuous events happening around them. The Book Thief is a life-affirming story of survival and of the resilience of the human spirit.

I often find that films set in wars are just too overblown. They spend a lot of time demonstrating people’s horrific injuries – “OMG! ANOTHER LEG BLOWN OFF!” – and not enough time showing how wars actually rip people apart on a deeper level than just the physical. I’m not so interested in skin-and-bone wounds – if I want that, I’ll watch Machete – from a war movie, I want something that’ll show me what it’s actually like to live in constant fear that everything around you will literally be blown to smithereens any minute now.

I also want something that shows the effects of loss on a person, and The Book Thief definitely does that. Bit by bit, Liesel loses pretty much everything she loves in her life – her mother, her brother, her home, her old friends, some of her new friends – until towards the end of the movie I was internally begging the cinema gods behind the screen to please just spare her this next horror.

It is a film with a realistic soundscape. Not too many sobbing violins or foreboding cellos. The odd bit of accordion music from Hans, Liesel’s adoptive father. The firework screeeeeeeech-BOOM of bombs dropping on houses. There are a lot of silences, and they deepen as the film goes on and the audience forgets to breathe.

It is also a film with realistic, well-developed characters. Liesel wants to be strong, wants to do what is right, but ultimately she’s a small girl with a big heart that’s being gradually ripped to shreds along with everyone she loves. Rosa, her adoptive mother, is one of those harsh-on-the-outside, heart-of-gold-on-the-inside characters that have a special section reserved for them in my own secretly-not-as-cold-as-pretended heart. Rudy, Liesel’s best friend, is a lovely little boy who you know just has to survive, because he’s a beautiful character, and they couldn’t kill him off. Could they? Of course not. Max, the Jewish refugee in the basement, is a vibrant man, full of life even when he’s hiding below ground.

The way it’s directed is subtle enough to chill you to the core: seeing children dressed in Nazi uniforms, singing “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”, and then running through streets hung with Nazi flags on their way home from school, demonstrates the way Hitler’s regime took over everything and became just a normal backdrop even for those, like Liesel’s adoptive father, who didn’t agree with what was going on. And the cinematography is fantastic. Beautiful shots of serene landscapes juxtaposed with horrific imagery of war-torn towns, close-ups that dwell for just long enough to allow us to know what the characters are feeling. And one or two of those shots you look at and think this has to be turned into a painting. 

I liked it. Can you tell?

The end of the film was very silent. The credits rolled and we sat suspended for a few moments. On the way out I passed two other reviewers, both tearstained and sniffling. “That film was brutal!” we agreed. Brutal, but excellent.

The Book Thief will pierce its way into your heart and stick around there for a long time. It comes out in UK cinemas on the 26th of February 2014. Go see it.


Review: Looking for Hortense


This film doesn’t seem to have a story. Which is strange, because it definitely has a plotline.

Chinese business professor Damien is asked by his partner, Iva, to help out a friend of hers who is about to be deported. Damien’s father is a senior member of the French Council of State, and everyone assumes that Damien will be able to persuade him to help. But Sebastien is an absent man at the best of times, and trying to get his father to sit down and talk through the case is practically impossible.

In the meantime, Damien’s home life is unravelling. He’s fairly sure his partner is cheating on him, and their son Noé’s apathy towards his mother is gradually developing into full-blown hatred. The only positive points in his day-to-day life are the moments he spends talking to Aurore, a woman who frequents his favourite bookshop and who he sometimes bumps into on the street.

Along the way, Damien finds out things about his life that turn his world upside-down. He doesn’t know who to trust and his personal identity is brought into question.

It’s not a bad movie. It was entertaining enough, and at no point did I find myself thinking “I’m bored, I want to turn this off.” But when the credits started rolling at the end, I somehow didn’t feel like I’d experienced a story unravelling in front of my eyes. I felt more like I’d seen an extended version of that first part of most movies where you’re not really sure who the characters are.

It was a reasonable film, and I wouldn’t run screaming from anyone who suggests watching it, but I wouldn’t go and hunt it down either.


Review: Child’s Pose


Cornelia is a lady at the top of her game. Rich, beautiful and well-connected, she spends her days living the high society life with her friends. But behind her well-groomed exterior hides a distraught woman whose estranged son haunts her every waking moment. All she wants is to be reconnected with him, but Barbu has cut her off from his life, a situation that Cornelia blames on her son’s girlfriend, Carmen.

When Barbu is involved in a fatal collision, Cornelia rushes to the rescue, accompanying him to the police station and bribing as many people as she can to ensure that her son stays out of jail. Her attempts to save the day work, up to a point, but will they be enough to repair the bond between them?

A low-budget film about high-budget society, what it lacks in poise it makes up for in intrigue. This winner at the Golden Bear Berlin Film Festival gives a glimpse of how domineering parents and family feuds span cultures, classes and personality types. Worth a watch if you’re into gritty world cinema.


Review – The Broken Circle Breakdown


Elise is a practical, religious lady. Didier is a bearded romantic who believes that religion is ridiculous. She works in a tattoo parlour; he doesn’t like body art. And yet they fall together in a way that feels inevitable; they meet, get along immediately and enter a whirlwind romance that soon sees them living together and spending all their time with one another. Didier introduces Elise to bluegrass music, and she discovers the wonders of Belgian country bands, joining Didier’s own group as a lead singer.

Fast forward a few years, and they have a young daughter, Maybelle. But things are not going smoothly; their child is diagnosed with cancer and the two of them are catapulted into a world of hospital videos, chemotherapy and fear. Will their relationship be strong enough to withstand their daughter’s illness? Will the differences in their spiritual beliefs drive a wedge between them?

A beautifully acted movie with an excellent soundtrack, The Broken Circle Breakdown tugs at the heartstrings and brings up questions of life and death, love and loss. Its only downfall is perhaps how much it jumps around; past, present and future are intertwined and it often takes a couple of minutes to work out whether you’re watching the same timeframe as the previous scene. The music lifts the film beyond what might otherwise be a fairly average, if touching, drama. The haunting tones of Belgian bluegrass provide the perfect accompaniment to the events that are taking place; in some ways it is almost more musical than movie.

Out to own on DVD from the 25th of November, The Broken Circle Breakdown is not to be missed if you like good music or touching family dramas.


a late quartet (a movie review)


in order to properly comprehend this review, you must understand something about me: i do not cry. i don’t know how. i even wrote a song about it (which will eventually be available online, but isn’t yet). sometimes this lack of open emotion bothers me, especially at funerals and other social situations where you’re just supposed to cry.

i absolutely don’t cry when watching films. i’ll sit through any amount of chick flicks without shedding a tear, passing kleenexes to my girlfriends and wishing i could feel whatever it is they’re feeling.

i’ve also never been a particularly huge fan of classical music. i’ve always really wanted to like it, but never really got it, you know? if it doesn’t have lyrics, i don’t tend to understand it. i’ve always felt like it belonged to the preserves of the kind of people who drape themselves elegantly in cashmere pashminas, and other items of clothing that make an ahhhsh sound. the only classical composer i generally enjoy is mahler, and to be honest that’s less to do with the music itself and more to do with a particularly badass story about his 9th symphony that one of my teachers told me when i was about 15 and obsessed with death.

so, i got a last-minute invitation to see the late quartet, and nearly didn’t go, but then decided it’d be a good excuse to go and busk in soho afterwards, so i trundled along.

it made me ache.

this is the difficult bit: i can’t really do it justice by describing the story, because it’s not the storyline that makes it amazing. it’s just… the way it’s told. 

basic plot: quartet have been playing together for 25 years, two of the members are married. one of them is getting sick of playing second fiddle (literally and metaphorically) to the grumpy first violinist. the oldest member of the group discovers that he has a medical condition which means he needs to quit playing. this causes fractures within the quartet and the married couple discover newfound complications in their relationship.

see? not that inspiring. fairly straightforward.

i cried for pretty much the entire second half. when the credits started rolling at the end, i stayed in my seat until everyone else had left the screening room, because i wasn’t composed enough to even stand up. i then went and hid in the toilets for twenty minutes, redoing my make-up and giving myself pep talks: “scar! for fuck’s sake! you call yourself a badass?! what the hell is wrong with you?!”

no use. i left the cinema feeling raw. walked down the street, tried to start busking, couldn’t sing because i was too emotional. had to pack up and go home.

what was it that made it so moving? i really can’t say.


the acting was incredible. christopher walken was his predictably amazing self. the camerawork was also fantastic. close-ups of the actors’ faces showed every wrinkle, every curve. drew the audience into the players’ world; inside the characters themselves, to an extent. the fact that all the actors were so mature lent an element of seriousness as well, i think. it wasn’t like watching two people in their twenties bawling on their respective beds about the end of a short-lived affair; it was the deep and visceral pain of watching something disintegrate when they’d spent half of their lives – a quarter of a century – building it. trying to imagine something on that level did something to the emotion centres in my brain. they opened and tears poured out down my face.

the soundtrack is entirely classical, and i came out loving classical music. i understood, all of a sudden, why people like it, and why it’s not “just for posh people” (yeah, i know, i’m a chav with terrible taste. bite me.)

at one point, a close-up on christopher walken’s face happens at the same time as beethoven’s music rises and swells up in the background. this was almost too much for me to bear. i felt like my heart was getting redder, somehow; trying to escape my chest.

it made me raw. it hurt me. in a good way.

still kinda disturbed that music makes me cry in a way that funerals don’t, though. but oh well.

10/10 – fucking indescribable. go see it.