Halfway There

Woh woh, we’re livin’ on a prayer and so on. For our half-year review, we asked MostlyFilm contributors old and new to write a bit about one of their favourite things from the last six months. These is whats they wrotes.

Pinot noir - the year so far!
Pinot noir – the year so far!

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – by Mr Moth

I’ll be honest – when people rave about a show, I usually take against it. Just as a safeguard, really, because I know most people are idiots; how else do you explain Ted 2 or people watching Suede at Glastonbury instead of Kanye? So when people started quacking on about The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix I instantly fired up my side-eye gifs and readied myself to say “yeah, mmm, don’t really see it myself”. But I guess I had to hear that theme song everyone was mad over. My first response was that it was “Perfectly nice but thoroughly, almost ruthlessly, unfunny.” Oof.

So, you may well ask, what made me watch any more, joyless comedy hipster that I am? I DON’T KNOW, but I did. The moment it all stopped looking neat and tidy and unfunny was in episode three when, in one of those dénouements only sitcoms can manage, Kimmy’s housemate Titus finds himself attending the funeral of an elderly Korean man he doesn’t know simply to cover a dumb lie. It was too much, the barrier was broken. I realised that the show was stuffed full of jokes, absolutely crammed. You don’t even have to be the very worst kind of wanker and say “And all the jokes come from the characters” because guess what? They don’t all come from the characters! Some of them are just jokes for the sake of making you laugh!

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that I got to episode three without acknowledging I was enjoying myself. I think that has to mean that, secretly, deep down, I was. It’s the anti-Constantine, a streaming-only series I watched only half the episodes of despite saying how much I was enjoying it. Dear god, I am just the worst. Maybe you guys were right all along. Maybe you’re right about everything! Lol, just kidding. You’re all still idiots.

Blackhat – by Scout Tafoya

Untitled Michael Mann Project

America’s greatest working filmmaker released his Red Desert earlier this year, so naturally the response was muted and it vanished without a trace. Opening with the most beautiful externalization of the journey that data takes every microsecond, data including the beautifully diffuse images in Mann’s digital cameras and CGI information, Blackhat strands viewers in a modern dystopia. Mann creates a schematic for his action that matches the sudden inefficacy of the very idea of good and evil. He juxtaposes his refined futurist form with bursts of almost abject clarity, like leaving a tunnel to stare straight into a painting by Anton Mauve or Giuseppe Abbati. Relief from the intuitional blur of neon and the tragic perfection of his performers’ faces comes in the form of geometric division of people and data during abstract chase sequences.

The film may just be one long throwing up of one’s hands in defeat to a world that suddenly got too big to comprehend, but, it’s technophobic melancholy is as thrilling as any of the chase sequences in Mad Max: Fury Road. The world changes whenever we take a second to gather our thoughts. We’ve entered an age where every piece of information we could ever hope to want is at our fingertips. Blackhat is the first film to notice how that access has taken the mystery out of life, and the joy out of discovery. Everyone knows everything and nobody cares. Even a pin up like Chris Hemsworth can learn Byzantine coding and he can hardly stand what it’s done to him. His face is a mask of grim defeat to the 1s and 0s that now measure every facet of our lives, silently eating away at our individuality. Emotion can only flourish when we destroy our computers. But technology has the last laugh, as always. After all, you’re reading this right now, aren’t you?

Beloved Sisters – by Veronika Ferdman

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The first half of Beloved Sisters, Dominik Graf’s sumptuous 3-hour melodrama, is the embodiment of that oft-quoted passage from Corinthians: “Love is always patient and kind. It is never jealous. Love is never boastful or conceited. It is never rude or selfish…” The second half works hard to untie the pretty bows of those proclamations.

Part historical fact and part invented biography, Beloved Sisters takes place in the late 1700s and depicts a love triangle between Friedrich Schiller and two sisters – Charlotte and Caroline von Lengefeld. Though the historical and artistic movements of the late 18th century are key elements of the film, Beloved Sisters is hardly a dry history lesson. Graf’s vigorously moving camera plunges into emotion, its ecstatic flourishes of movement an extension of the drama and rush of feeling at play in almost every scene. Graf plays with framing and composition with an abandon that suggests vitality rather than artistic glut or lack of vision. The

jolt from the 18th century to present-day Weimar at the end of the film (recalling a similar cold water to the face cut in House of Tolerance)serves as a reminder that the only possible witnesses to the past, to all the love and pain and history, are the stoic mute buildings, often crumbling themselves under time’s pressure. All that emotion, all that searing pain and love and joy – gone. Poof.

How to Hold Your Breath – by Lissy Lovett

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My favourite thing so far this year has been a play that I saw at the Royal Court in London in February.  It had some pretty ropey reviews from some quarters, Lloyd Evans at the Spectator spectacularly missing the point in particular, but my god in this reviewer’s opinion it was fantastic. Maxine Peake’s Dana refuses to take the Devil’s money after a one night stand, and everything goes horribly, horribly wrong.  It was about Andrea Dworkin and radical feminism, Faustian pacts, what civilisation even means, what do you do when the money runs out, how precious information is, the excessive reliance we put on personal responsibility and the limits of human endurance.  It was also pretty funny.  The writing was clever and to the point: sentences were slightly out of kilter which made the whole experience of watching it a touch disconcerting and unreal.

The cast were uniformly excellent with Peake very strong in the lead role. So often, still, in 2015, women are written as one dimensional supports for male characters and this was very much not the case here; the playwright Zinnie Harris has written a proper real life person. And it was great to see a play with women writing, starring, and with Vicky Featherstone at the helm, directing as well.  My only slight criticism was that it was a touch too long, an interval would have helped my concentration near the end, but intervals seem to be going out of fashion in the theatre world for some reason.  I don’t know if it’s likely to be seen again soon with its lukewarm reviews, but the ideas and emotions that it stirred in me have stuck around for a bit.

Mad Max: Fury Road – by Paul Duane

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Youth is wasted on the living. And you’d have to be wasted to live on Fury Road. This is one of a number of rejected tag-lines I created for septuagenarian George Miller, who was understandably worried that today’s audience wouldn’t sit still for his creaky antediluvian notions of character arc and plot development. However, with a bit of persuasion (I was able to show him how my skills turned The Wolf of Wall Street from a Hallmark biopic into the nearest thing this misbegotten century has to a Saló) he agreed to my sitting in the final edit for a week and a half. It got a bit loud. “Fuck backstory!” I shouted. “Nobody cares who Max is or how he got there! Introduce him with his back to the audience, munching a lizard, and then make him a helpless organ bank for the film’s opening forty minutes! I promise you, kids love that shit.” Then he asked me about the third act. I played him the first Ramones record. “Third verse, same as the first. Did you hear that, George? Take them back where they started. None of this ‘Hero’s Journey’ shit. Double back like Buster Keaton. It’s all the rage.” Anyway, I don’t want to say that it’s thanks to my advice that Fury Road is now bubbling under in the Total Film 2015’s Top Fifty Action Movies Made By Septuagenarians list, but I gotta say, without me, would a very expensive avant-garde exercise, with an amputee female lead and zero plot development, ever have had a shot at the big time, all shiny and chrome? I very much doubt it.

Mad Men series finale – by Danni Glover

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Advertising is about satisfaction. It doesn’t matter that it’s a capitalist lie, that the aching emptiness you feel now will return immediately following the consumerist rush, that it’s not actually possible to buy the world a Coke; as long as the ad man can sell you satisfaction in under a minute, the product itself is immaterial.

It’s fitting, then, that Matthew Weiner’s spectacular final episode of Mad Men tells the story of aching needs resolved and in the balance. Peggy needs to feel loved, Joan needs professional respect, Betty and Pete both need to care for their families. Don needs to find himself. Weiner gives his characters the satisfaction they desire and leaves them at the point of optimum happiness. But how meaningful are these moments of closure? How much do we believe in the rushed romances, the kitchen startups, the familial ascent into the sun that we see in the series finale?

Perhaps the biggest leap of faith is to believe that Don finds enlightenment by selling it, returning to the industry that created and destroyed Don Draper. He is a faceless shadow of a man, falling from woman to woman and landing in whisky and complicity.

You can’t get closure from products, no matter what they promise, and although Mad Men may have promised a happy ending for its characters, I remain unconvinced. I loved and recognised the ironic optimism the Mad Men finale delivered. It felt true to my interactions with the industry the show represented, shallow but attractive, engaging but drenched in ennui. It may not have been the most satisfying television of 2015 so far, but for my money, it was the best.

Poldark – by theTramp

Are you sure this is a still from the programme? - ed
Are you sure this is a still from the programme? – ed

The last Sunday evening BBC period drama I really tuned in to was Pride and Prejudice. I thought the whole cast was fantastic (bar Kitty) but it really was Colin Firth sizzling beneath knitted brows and a solemn expression who truly captured my attention. That was 20 years ago (!) and I am quite certain the BBC has offered us several period literary adaptations since then and yet not a one comes to my mind. Until, that is, Poldark.

Poldark proved a bit of a phenomenon, and its lead actor, Aidan Turner – looking buff without a shirt and offering up, every episode, plenty of smouldering looks beneath knitted brows – had a lot to do with it. The fact that the show was utterly preposterous, and entertainingly so with it, also helped. If you haven’t seen Poldark, you must. Turner, who I genuinely enjoyed in Being Human, is about as wooden as it gets in this, but he smoulders and this is a story where having a good looking lead male who smoulders, and a gorgeous female who pines, is what really matters.

If this all sounds rather shallow, well it is. This is an adaptation where the peasants have perfect teeth and nails, except when it pleases the director for them not to, where Cornish accents vary wildly and the weather is predominantly sunny, unless of course the plot line requires a little pathetic fallacy. None of which matters because the key ingredients that make every historical romance series work – poor girl on the uppers, a dastardly chap out to do no good, a gruff chap with a heart of gold and looks that make a gals heart flutter, plenty of slightly improper situations where kisses almost happen, and a bit of hardship of both the emotional and financial kind that must be overcome – are all here; the yearning looks of romance paperback front covers brought to life.

Cucumber  – by Kate le Vann

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I loved Cucumber. Me writing this has been me deleting lists that begin ‘I especially have to mention…’ and then just writing down the whole cast, again, because I can’t find a place to stop. That cast, a dream of diversity and talent, also twinkles with inspiration and warmth and cleverness. I especially have to mention — no, stop it, me.

But Cyril Nri. And Freddie Fox. And Julie — no, stop it.

Cucumber, but I don’t want to spoil anything for people who are so excited by me deleting lists that they ordered the box set somewhere between the fourth and fifth sentence, contained the most harrowing death I’ve ever seen on television (sorry, DCI Bilborough), as well as the funniest shaggy-dog punchline. There was a Canal Street ghost and a kidnapping that turned into a sex game that turned into a potboiler farce. A plotline with a teacher who had abused a vulnerable teenager that ended in slapstick. All of this made me madly happy (or unhappy) but it was also sort of unnecessary, because I’d have been madly happy watching Cucumber if nothing happened at all: I’d really like to watch the whole cast on Gogglebox every week watching telly and commenting on it in Russell T Davies dialogue, and I’d really like them all to be my best friends. Russell T Davies doesn’t really write like people talk, and perhaps he doesn’t even write like people think, but what he has done in this terrific series (I especially have to mention Vincent Franklin’s amazing performance) is write like people feel. Like I feel. He knows how to break your heart but he won’t leave you alone with your heart breaking and no way of ever being happy again. He stays with you until he makes you smile, to make sure you’re okay. But he has ruled out a second series. Russell T Davies, I’m not okay.

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