[REVIEW] Dunkirk (2017), Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk is 106 minutes long and consists of approx. 103 minutes of drowning, in such profusion and at so many camera angles that it makes Titanic look like Lawrence of Arabia. Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh, as head civilian and military heroes respectively, leave some impressive pauses, through which Spitfires could be and indeed are flown. Branagh’s general is Henry V in middle age, eyes set to Agincourt, unsubtlety unenhanced by Nolan’s Churchill-by-numbers script. At one point it looks like a plane might land on Branagh’s head, but it doesn’t. I might have felt more charitable if I hadn’t just seen his trailer for Poirot.

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Harry Styles is on the left. Or on the right. Or in the middle.

As Brown-Haired Boy Soldier No. 3, Harry Styles is far more competent than I’d been led to expect: truly, he is the Lillie Langtry of our time. The further cast includes one black soldier, shoved to the front of a single crowd scene as in the brochures of a left-wing private school, before disappearing forever (as in the brochures of same). A nurse has one or two lines about making the men a cup of tea before she gets blown up, which is historically accurate but also typical Christopher Nolan. I caught about 15% of the Spitfire pilots’ dialogue, but thanks to the Enigma-thumping score, I wept copiously at every appropriate moment. What with that and the UEFA Women’s Cup, my jingoistic shallows are more visible than ever.

The film’s dedication, given at the end since the beginning is mainly exposition that sets up the telescopic time-plot – is to all those whose lives were ‘impacted’ by events at Dunkirk. I suspect that some of the generation who remember Dunkirk would be horrified by the verb, not least the Oxford tutor who once censured me for using ‘prioritise’ with the comment ‘You are not writing for the Guardian’. And of course nor is Nolan, not yet.

A friend of mine was cast in Dunkirk, but they cut his scene, so by rights I should pan the thing entirely. However, he’s still in the credits (at which I gladly whooped and applauded), and the cinematography is stunning, so if I went in for stars, Dunkirk would probably get three out of five. However, I should note that since I am in re. David Suchet what Jane Austen was to English history (i.e. partial, prejudiced, and absurd), Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot is already scheduled for minus ten.

 

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Why do you go to the theatre?

Why do you go to the theatre? What makes you go, keeps you going, or (conversely) makes you stay away?

I’ve been thinking about some possible reasons, contemporary and historical, for theatregoing. There’s seasonal pantomime-going, or the individual who racks up a lifetime’s theatre attendance because they’re the dutiful spouse of a hardened fan. There’s theatre as the venue for a treat, date, or other celebration; as a place to see and be seen; or as an experience akin to sight-seeing or a heritage trip, if you want to sample an indigenous or traditional performance style. There’s escapism. There’s wanting to see a particular actor (star or spear-carrier, never let it be said that I and sundry other schoolgirls did not lose our hearts to Rory Kinnear when he was MERELY CAIUS LUCIUS), director, playwright, or designer (I am not highbrow enough for the last). There are educational reasons, whether it’s school trip or the minor miracle of finding out that someone’s been brave/foolhardy enough to stage the subject of your PhD. There’s your friend’s play, your college play, and the play starring the person you fancy. There’s a play that drags you to the theatre when nothing else has in ages, either because of the themes or the unusual casting choice that puts someone like you on stage, for once. There’s the Travelex offer, the student discount, or the Underground ad that seems like a good idea. There’s the fact that your choice is limited by where you live or what you earn or how you get about. There’s the fact that you love Cats/Hamlet/Harriet Walter/Spamalot/£22 seats at the Hampstead/Jodie because she’s better at the 9 am online rush than you are/weird immersive things in a mask more than is usual or healthy (I am all these people and worse).*

You will have other and better and more thought-provoking reasons. I should like to hear them. Thanks!

*I am much worse at the cinema than I am at the theatre, partly because I am spatially unable to understand chase sequences, and partly because I shouldn’t eat Haribo. That said, the last film I saw was Testament of Youth (plot summary: everyone you love dies horribly, and mud) and I wept noiselessly and violently for a solid two hours. No Haribo. Late on, Vera Brittain is having her long-overdue nervous breakdown back in Somerville (MERTON) and her tute partner says “I’ve brought you some more books to read”. The most Oxonian moment on film. It dehydrated me.

[REVIEW] The Great Gatsby, May 2013.

Baz Luhrmann has taken the aesthetic he used for Moulin Rouge, the least French film ever made about Paris, and transplanted it to 1920s New York. The CGI is worse than a Doctor Who werewolf, but the costumes are stunning and I’ve spent much of today fashion-googling ‘great gatsby clothes’ with a sense of moral disgust, and that, I suppose, is the sign of a good Fitzgerald adaptation.

Carey Mulligan as Daisy.

The central performances are reasonably faithful to the book. Tobey Maguire is constipatedly uninteresting – which is right for Nick Carraway, even if the elimination of queer subtext in his interactions with McKee and Gatsby is a predictable disappointment (but then, this is Luhrmann, who de-gayed Decadent Paris). Carey Mulligan is beautiful, wispy and infuriating – just right for Daisy. Elizabeth Debicki is understated and underused as Jordan, which is annoying for the cinemagoer but actually an improvement on the book. Joel Edgerton’s Tom Buchanan looks like Benedict Cumberbatch’s hardboiled, horsewhipping older brother. Isla Fisher’s Myrtle is a spectacular improvement on the book’s two-dimensional whore. And Leonardo di Caprio? Well, he’s still a great actor, but now his face has gone orange and odd.

Di Caprio’s face is one of a triumvirate of masculine tragedies I’ve endured this week. First, I found out that Noel Fielding is forty. Then I started googling and discovered that Johnny Depp was fifty. I dealt with that a little better, having accepted that Hugh Grant and Colin Firth (for example) are in their mid-fifties by now – and that, God’s honest truth, there are UK citizens of legal voting age who weren’t born at the time of the BBC Pride and Prejudice. Depp’s slightly purple hair, tinted spectacles and twentysomething girlfriend already signalled a slow crawl towards decrepitude. And then I saw what’s happened to di Caprio’s face.

If you’ve seen Moulin Rouge, or indeed any Luhrmann film, you’ve already seen 25% of The Great Gatsby. There are moments where Tobey Maguire looks exactly like Ewan McGregor and entire sequences where Carey Mulligan sounds like Nicole Kidman. There’s a great deal of on-screen typing which, apart from a clever dissolve into snowflakes, gives me the feeling that cinema would be a better place if Luhrmann could get over his font fetish.

For all this, I really enjoyed myself. The anxious speedathons of the driving sequences left me feeling motion-sick, and Oxford’s Magdalen Street Odeon had done something infuriating with the sound levels; nevertheless, I’d watch it again tomorrow, and I’m not sure why. People are going to call this film romantic, and it isn’t; regardless of Nick’s celebration of Gatsby’s capacity for hope, it’s a story about a monomaniac’s near-psychotic love for a debutante who struggles to choose between her two abusers. All the characters in this film push capitalism to its logical conclusion: a disposable culture which disposes of its victims, as portrayed by Myrtle, Wilson, Gatsby’s servants and Gatsby himself.

I have read – and this is a weird story in itself – the third of the Fifty Shades trilogy. It’s immensely boring (see also: misogynist, degrading), cataloguing not only sex I don’t want to have but a range of consumer durables I don’t want to buy. It’s like pages of an in-flight magazine pasted between stills from a porn film. Amidst the sex, the characters eat some very nice meals and do some very extensive shopping.

Gatsby and E. L. James are not so very far apart; they both assume, rightly, that as well as the sex, they’re going to need a lot of food, drink, and conspicuous capitalism, if they’re going to get (their version of) the (money-minded, shallow, easily distracted) girl. Both Christian Gray and Jay Gatsby set the bar very low when it comes to female agency, intuition and discernment. Perhaps I’m doing Daisy a disservice; she got ludicrously turned on by Gatsby’s Disneyland Hotel playhouse, but then, so did Elizabeth Bennet in the shades of Pemberley. And in the last instance, Daisy does have the wit to realise that Gatsby’s dictatorial fantasy of their life together (although a partial product of her betrayal) is every bit as dangerous as her known misery with Tom.

The Great Gatsby is full of toxic colour, gratuitous bling, and over-saturated fireworks. It doesn’t travesty the culture of its setting in the same way as Moulin Rouge, because if austerity’s taught us anything, it’s that the capitalist boom before a financial crash (in this case, Wall Street 1928) deserves all the desecration it can get. Morning-after vignettes – of a man dredging the swimming pool for tinsel, and a servant emptying martinis into a bucket – give the party sequences more depth – sequences, incidentally, which make Frears’s Bright Young Things (2003) seem like it wasn’t really trying. Di Caprio’s comic timing and emotional commitment come as close as anything can to giving The Great Gatsby heart and soul, and if I’m tired of Luhrmann’s cinematic tics (great though it is when an artist wears his id on his sleeve), I’m glad he’s still a fan of the grandiose close-up and that, in his first reunion with Mulligan’s Daisy, di Caprio, as Gatsby remains star enough to sustain one.

I would also, admittedly, like to do my eye make-up like Casey Mulligan’s, and have a head small enough to wear cloche hats. Someone throw a disgustingly vast party, please, and in the meantime, make mine a Highball.

Advent Calendar Day 24: Scrooge!

The last day of my Advent Calendar and the BIGGEST treat of all. I thought about finishing with Malcolm Tucker’s suspiciously sniffy Christmas message to the GQ staff (google it), but decided instead to go for the richest, scariest, and best adaptation of A Christmas Carol not to feature Muppets. It’s the 1970 version of Scrooge, starring Albert Finney and Surprise Edith Evans (1888-1976, I can never quite believe that somebody born in 1888 – the year Ellen Terry played Lady Macbeth – made so many films. She knew William Poel! She created six Shaw roles!).

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, however and wherever you’re celebrating. Thanks for reading, as ever!

Advent Calendar Day 15: Muppets!

The Swedish Chef, Beaker, and Animal share a choral moment. Enjoy!

(You should of course also take the time to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol, the GREATEST of all Dickens adaptations, and its slightly alarming making-of documentary. I am word-perfect on this film. It’s awesome.)

Humanitas Visiting Professor in Drama 2012 – Vanessa Redgrave

(c) UNICEF and Susan Markisz.

Humanitas Visiting Professor in Drama 2012 – Vanessa Redgrave

 

in association with Brasenose College.

Film Screenings, Lectures and Symposium on Theatre and Politics

Programme

THURSDAY 9 FEBRUARY 2012, 3 – 6pm
Vanessa Redgrave Lecture:
Speak What We Feel Not What We Ought To Say (Part 1) – King Lear
followed by screening of The Killing Fields (2011, dir. Carlo Nero), a documentary highlighting the importance that economics and taxation plays in wildlife conservation.
@ The Examination Schools, High Street, Oxford

THURSDAY 9 FEBRUARY 2012, 9 – 11pm
Screening of The Fever (2004, dir. Carlo Nero), introduced by Vanessa Redgrave and the film’s director Carlo Nero, with Q&A to follow.


The Fever is a psychological drama based on the play by Wallace Shawn.
@ The Examination Schools, High Street, Oxford

FRIDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2012, 3 – 6pm
Vanessa Redgrave Lecture:
Speak What We Feel Not What We Ought To Say (Part 2) – Antony and Cleopatra
@ The Gulbenkian Lecture Theatre, St Cross Building, Manor Road, Oxford

FRIDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2012, 8 – 10pm
Symposium: Theatre and Politics with Vanessa Redgrave, Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington, and playwright Simon Stephens.
@ The Examination Schools, High Street, Oxford

FILM SCREENINGS (no booking required, for further information see website)
Sun 5 Feb Julia (1977, dir. Fred Zinnemann) – 7.30pm, Ship Street Centre

Mon 6 Feb Playing for Time (1980, dir. Daniel Mann) – 8pm, Ship Street Centre

Tues 7 Feb Antony and Cleopatra (1974, dir. Jon Scoffield) – 8pm, Ship Street Centre

Weds 8 Feb King Lear (2008, dir. Trevor Nunn) – 8pm, Magdalen Auditorium

All events are free and open to all however booking is required for the lectures, The Fever and the symposium. For more information and free registration, please visit: www.humanities.ox.ac.uk/events/HUMANITAS

Vanessa Redgrave Biography:

Vanessa Redgrave can currently be seen starring in Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut Coriolanus. During her film career she has starred in films such as A Man For All Seasons, Howards End, A Month By The Lake, Mrs. Dalloway and Atonement. She received an Academy Award in 1978 for her supporting role in Julia. Her scores of major roles on the stage most recently include recreating The Year of Magical Thinking at the National Theatre; Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket; The Tempest for the RSC at Shakespeare’s Globe; and The Cherry Orchard at the Royal National Theatre. She starred on Broadway in the landmark 2003 production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night and more recently in Driving Miss Daisy.

Vanessa has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 1995 and is an active supporter of Amnesty International and Liberty. She was awarded the CBE in 1967.

About the Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Drama

The Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Drama has been made possible by the generous support of Eric Abraham.

HUMANITAS is a series of Visiting Professorships at Oxford and Cambridge intended to bring leading practitioners and scholars to both universities to address major themes in the arts, social sciences and humanities. Created by Lord Weidenfeld, the Programme is managed and funded by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue with the support of a series of generous benefactors, in collaboration with the Humanities Division of the University of Oxford.

Free Stuff: Free Comics @ Videosyncratic, Cowley Road

I did not take this picture, kamshots did. I would not have included the badly-dressed girl. But crucially, this is what the shop looks like. GO GO GO. 101 Cowley Road.

I did not take this picture, kamshots did. I would not have included the badly-dressed girl. But crucially, this is what the shop looks like. GO GO GO. 101 Cowley Road.

In homage to Broke-Ass Stuart’s Goddamn Website, my current obsession & that which makes me want to live in the Mission

Videosyncratic, aka my next-door neighbours on the Cowley Road, are having a FREE COMIC BOOK DAY today (2nd May) until 6 p.m. with HUGE PILES of comics absolutely free. Titles include Avengers, Green Lantern, Star Wars, Simpsons, Wolverine, Archie, Manga, Transformers, Aliens/Predator, Batman and more. ALSO, apparently they have special guests including

JOHN CHAPMAN (Star Wars Actor):

DAN ABNETT (2000AD, X-Men, The Punisher, Doctor Who, Torchwood) – blogging about the day here.

RICHARD ELSON (2000AD, er and lots of other things including THE BEANO, dude)

SIMON DAVIS (2000AD, Justice League of America, Spawn)

All graphic novels, posters, toys and t-shirts are also 25% OFF. I, personally, do not care about graphic novels, comics or indeed most of the above (except, er, Doctor Who and sayitquietly Torchwood),* but that does sound like A LOT OF FREE STUFF and A LOT OF COOL PEOPLE. Go and spend little or no money and yet heap yourselves with SWAG.

Seriously guys, get down there, the two boys who run the shop are dressed as Spiderman and Superman, and last time I saw them they were being laughed at by the little veteran in a kilt who has no teeth and is often covered in poppies. Go on. East Oxford Community Centre is also running a Chinese Charity Day with a lot of very good and very cheap Chinese food (on til 4), so go GET AND NOT BUY a comic, then eat some noodles. I do love the place where I live.

*note: this is not an assertion of superiority. I care deeply about detective fiction and musical theatre.