Friday, 20 January 2012

Friday Five: Hairstyles

Going to the hairdresser can make you feel great. A good hairstyle can give you confidence, whereas a bad one can ruin your day. Of course, different styles suit different people (and different moods and occasions), but there are some classics that always look stylish.

5 Favourite Hairstyles:
  1. The beehive - preposterous but fabulous. I'm thinking Dusty Springfield, Bridget Bardot, Audrey Hepburn here; not Amy Winehouse or Marge Simpson
  2. The crew cut, or variations on the theme for men, such as the suedehead, which is basically a growing out crewe cut. It's just a good, honest style that indicates you're not so vain that you spend hours messing about with hair product - I find that important in a man
  3. The asymmetric bob - I'm aware that it doesn't suit everyone and is possibly detrimental to your eyesight, but it's intriguing
  4. Beach hair - the long, tousled, curly, side-parted, messy but not look. You know; the one favoured by the likes of Kate Hudson, Heidi Klum and Penelope Cruz - of course it helps to have big eyes and a gorgeous smile
  5. Clive Owen - yes, I know that's not actually a haircut per se, but whatever style you would call his just looks effortlessly perfect - short, practical, sexy and sophisticated - lovely; just lovely.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


(dir. Richard Ayoade)

Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) deadpans early on in Submarine, “The only way to get through life is to picture myself in an entirely different reality”. With cringing self-consciousness he imagines he is original, although he is actually an achingly average adolescent. His primary concerns are to protect his parents’ marriage and to lose his virginity.

Richard Ayoade directs a superbly self-aware film that knows what it wants and isn’t afraid to draw attention to how to get it. Oliver maintains a voice-over at pertinent points in the film, noting things like, “I wish life could be more like American soap operas – then when things got dramatic you could fade down and pick it up later.” When a dramatic event does present itself he sighs, “Sometimes I wish there was a film crew following my every move. At this rate I’ll only have enough budget for a zoom.” And indeed, there is a zoom shot. It’s painfully artistic but manages to be entertaining too.

Oliver’s parents (Lloyd and Jill) are excruciatingly embarrassing in the way that only parents of teenagers can be. They are played with compelling awfulness by Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins (whom I normally find extremely annoying – here she is pitched just right). Oliver spies on them and monitors their conjugal relations by their use of the dimmer switch in the bedroom.

When Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine with a ghastly Paul King mullet), an old flame of Jill’s, moves in next-door, Oliver fears for her fidelity, especially when she attends Graham’s new-age nonsense meetings and disappears with him into the back of a sign-painted black transit van. Her husband Lloyd, reacts with a dignified depression that only makes sense once you’ve left pretentious puberty behind.

Oliver doesn’t want to be a bully but if that’s what it takes to fit in at school (filmed with painful nostalgia at Bishop Gore High School in Swansea) and get the girl (the oh-so-cool pyromaniac Jordana Bevan – Yasmin Paige) then he’ll give it a go. He fancies himself as something of a hero in his duffel coat and considers the fact that he is roundly ridiculed to be the fault of his peers, not his affectations.

He tells Jordana “It might be nice to develop more mutual interests besides spitting and setting things on fire” and their tentative sexual encounters are reminiscent of every awkward experience you haven’t managed to eternally erase from your memory. He conducts a Super 8 eight footage of memory – capturing a grainy montage of ‘two weeks of love-making’.

Typically emotionally stunted and self-absorbed, when his parents threaten to split up all he can think of is how this will affect him. He is equally insensitive to Jordana’s troubles, and is simply annoyed that “in the Top Trumps of parental problems, cancer beats infidelity”. All this is played out against the sublime whimsy of Alex Turner’s (The Arctic Monkeys) music, including sample lyrics such as “You can leave off my lid and I won’t even lose my fizz” and “If you’re going to try and walk on water make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes.”

I’m not quite sure in which era this film is meant to be set – sometime at the end of the last century at a guess. The clothes and hairstyles are early 80s; some of the cultural references are late 80s/ early 90s, and the playground argot (such as the use of the term ‘gay’ in a derogatory manner: ‘displays of emotion are gay’) is later again. Mind you, time loses all dimensions in South Wales so we are genuinely adrift.

The cast (young and adult) are superb and the acting is nuanced and intelligent. As the title suggests, there is much to negotiate beneath the seemingly placid surface, suspended in suburbia trying to decide whether to sink or swim. This is definitely better than your average film flotsam.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Films watched in 2011 (Part Three)

No Strings Attached (dir. Ivan Reitman, 2011)
A bonk buddy film in which the platonic friends with benefits fall for each other – oh, how original. It’s meant to be different because it’s the girl who shows indifference, but she changes in the end, as we knew from the beginning.

The Oxford Murders (dir. Alex de la Iglesia, 2008)
The billing of Elijah Wood and John Hurt led me to expect more than a Dan Brown does Midsomer Murders type of affair, sadly erroneously as it turns out. That’s actually unfair to Midsomer Murders, which is at least entertaining.

P.S., I Love You (dir. Richard La Gravenese, 2007)
Yes, Hilary is still wank but Gerard Butler does sexy Celtic goofball pretty well (as a Scotsman he plays Irish well enough that most Americans won’t know the difference). The only surprise is that he’s meant to be the dead one sending messages from beyond the grave, while she is the one acting like she’s in the wooden box. On the movie-review site, Rotten Tomatoes, this was liked by 82% of audiences as opposed to only 11% of top critics. That tells you all you need to know about the target market.

Portrait of a Lady (dir. Jane Campion, 1996)
Nicole Kidman has become very hit and miss – here she is very miss, but she still looks good as does everything else – and therein lies the problem. The slavish adherence to Henry James’ classic lacks any nuance.

Rage (dir. Sally Potter, 2009)
Disappointingly forgettable despite an excellent cast (Judi Dench; Eddie Izzard; Lily Cole; Jude Law; Dianne Weist; Steve Buscemi; David Oyelowo) and great premise – an exposé of the fashion industry caught on candid (cellphone) camera. It might have made a decent experimental theatre piece or even installation artwork, but doesn’t capture enough interest on screen.

The Road to Guantanamo (dir Mat Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom, 2006)
A topical reconstruction of events that led to three British citizens being held at Guantanamo Bay. I don’t agree that denying human rights legislation to detain potential terrorists in the war against terror is acceptable. Neither do I believe these guys are entirely innocent or truthful – if you are going to a friend’s wedding in Pakistan, why would you pop into Afghanistan as the borders are closing for three weeks instead? This and many other questions remain unanswered, as reasons and motives remain buried beneath too much sound and fury – more drama than documentary.

Sanctum (dir. Alister Grierson, 2011)
Australian cave-diving drama with pitiful dialogue and acting, and clearly signposted undercurrents of father/ son tension – supposedly better in 3D; yet another example of technology swamping all other cinematic considerations.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (dir. Edgar Wright, 2010)
An intelligent and amusing way of melding the virtual with the visual in an oddly appealing teen romance portrayed as an X-box game.

Sex and the City (dir. Michael Patrick King, 2008)
Before having seen this film I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Apart from daring to suggest that women over 30 should be allowed out in public (and on celluloid), I still don’t.

A Single Man (dir. Tom Ford, 2009)
Colin Firth plays slightly against type in a serious role about an English professor struggling to cope with his partner’s death in early 1960s America – an alien in LA before it really came out. So good it hurts.

The Social Network (dir. David Fincher, 2010)
Facebook is not the devil’s work – it is a pathetic attempt by selfish whining nerds to be taken seriously. A good script and solid performances prove we should communicate off-line more.

Source Code (dir. Duncan Jones, 2011)
A modern Minority Report – you get to go back in time (over and over again) until you can change the course of history, but only if you’re prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice – and if you’re not, the American government will make you make it.

State and Main (dir. David Mamet, 2000)
Funny, clever, self-reverential film about making a film. An amusing script and intelligent acting, but possibly too in on its own jokes to be great.

Submarine (dir. Richard Ayoade, 2010)
Gorgeously geeky low-budget Welsh festival film in which 15-year-old Oliver Tate imagines himself as a hero in a film about his life, dealing with angst issues common to teenagers everywhere (and especially in Swansea).

Tamara Drew (dir. Stephen Frears, 2010)
A film based on a comic based on a book should by rights be a huge incoherent mess, but it works brilliantly due to sensitive directing and a stellar cast – Gemma Arterton; Roger Allam; Dominic Cooper; Tamsin Greig.

Too Big to Fail (dir. Curtis Hanson, 2011)
Excellent – great acting, snappy dialogue and a huge issue: focussing on the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy and the subsequent global financial meltdown. It is delivered with intelligence and dignity, bravely putting forward both sides of the argument.

The Tourist (dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2010)
Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell, espionage plot, Venice setting, canal chases..., what’s not to like? Two words: Angelia Jolie – it seems she can ruin just about anything.

The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick, 2011)
Pretentious, art-house, drug-addled, irritating nonsense – Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are wasting their time, and mine.

The Trip (dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2011)
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play sort of themselves in a semi-scripted not-quite road trip as they travel the North of England in the bleak (but beautiful) mid-winter, dining at restaurants and ‘critiquing’ the food – ‘the tomato soup was tomatoey. And soupy.’ – while arguing over who does the best Michael Caine impression. What could be better? Not a lot. This homesick-inducing film would have to be my favourite of the year.

True Grit (dir. Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, 2010)
Oscar-nominated Western revenge action quest – I haven’t seen the John Wayne original, but the friend I saw it with says he has and it’s just as good in a slightly different way.

Up in the Air (dir. Jason Reitman, 2009)
Slick and diverting, likeable without being too demanding, and ultimately positive without being saccharine – and that’s just George Clooney. One great line of many: “We’re two people who get turned on by elite status. I think cheap is our starting point.” This fine example of the friends with benefits theme is anything but cheap, arguing in a roundabout fashion that everybody needs somebody to love.

Wendy and Lucy (dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2008)
A vagrant girl forms few attachments as strong as the one with her dog. It’s slow, gentle, slightly haunting and quiet, and you know you will cry.

Winter’s Bone (dir. Debra Granik, 2010)
Girl attempts to track down her druggie dad in a grim landscape, while playing the tough oldest sister with family responsibility. Jennifer Lawrence was rightfully nominated for an Oscar for her gutsy performance, and deserved it more than Natalie Portman. The film was also nominated for Motion Picture of the Year, but didn’t stand a chance against The King’s Speech.

Zombieland (dir. Ruben Fleischer, 2009)
Zombie apocalypse comedy with Jessie Eisenberg (before he did The Social Network) as a shy student trying to get home in a weird and not-so-wonderful world. He teams up with veteran Woody Harrelson as a vengeful redneck zombie slayer in a series of stock scenes (deserted supermarket; plush mansion; funfair rides and shooting arcades) reinvented with inspirational nonsense. Banjos can be deadly.