Love Is Strange – Film Review

Love is Strange

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have been a couple for nearly forty years but were unable to legally get married until New York changed its attitude to same-sex weddings. After finally getting married George finds himself dismissed from his job teaching at a Catholic music school. With their income slashed the couple are forced to sell their apartment leaving them at the mercy of the New York housing market and relying on the kindness of their friends and family to take them in. The loved ones who gave such moving speeches at their wedding find themselves having to actually act on their sentiments and come up short. Nobody is willing to take in both men so after decades together Ben and George find themselves sleeping not just in separate beds but in different apartments.

Ben ends up in his nephew’s family home sharing a bunk bed with a decidedly unimpressed teenager while George moves in with some former neighbours who are a much younger couple prone to hosting loud crowded parties that George no longer has any patience for. Both try to be the best house guests they can but Ben especially finds himself getting in the way and testing the patience of his hosts. Separated and under appreciated Ben and George rediscover just how much they enjoy each others company and the understated authenticity of their long romance holds their relationship, and the film, together.

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Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are not actors known for their subtlety, both being fantastic at taking on large characters and blowing them up to fill the stage or screen. In Love is Strange though director Ira Sachs has managed to take the scenery out of their mouths and drawn out much more subtle and nuanced performances. Lithgow does none of the loud shouting that had made us love him and as a result gives one of his best performances to date. With Love is Strange the familiar faces fade away to reveal an older couple who are deeply in love and whose company is infinitely preferable to their chaotic friends and impatient family members.

Within their script Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias have a funny and tender love story set many decades after most romantic comedies end. This is the happily ever after. Despite their difficult living situations Love is Strange doesn’t bring with it high drama, settling instead for a portrait of love told by showing a few periods in our characters lives. The film occasionally jumps forward a few weeks or months and it is up to the audience to find their own footing in the gently flowing narrative. As a result of its distinctively indistinct structure the film ends not with a bang but with a slow sigh. I can see how this might frustrate but instead I suggest accepting the film for what it is; a brief interlude into the lives of a lovely couple and the people that love them. The characters have had lives prior to the film and they continue on afterwards. The fact that I wish I had seen more is to the film’s credit.

A beautiful film about love, family, and getting old Love is Strange is a pleasant way to spend an evening.

Love Is Strange is in UK cinemas right now.

Interstellar – Film Review

Interstellar 1

Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to this review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Before we begin I would like to flag up that I will be referring to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at various points throughout. Such a comparison may seem obvious, lazy, or unhelpful but I hope you will trust me when I say that comparing this latest Sci-Fi epic to The Greatest* Science Fiction Film of All Time™ helps to put the film, and its critique, into context. Happy? Then I shall begin.

A few generations from now the world is not the technologically advanced utopia we have come to expect. Instead our planet is slowly dying. All crops fail apart from corn as dust storms roam across the harsh landscape of America. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former pilot and engineer whose time is now best spent running a farm with his children, Murph (Mackenzie Foy & Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet & Casey Affleck), and their Grandfather (John Lithgow). While Tom is happy enough following in his father’s footsteps Murph is fascinated by science. Sadly this is a world in which the scientists have failed and government money is better spent feeding the population instead of inspiring a generation.

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Life is dirty and bleak; Cooper seems resigned to the daily struggle to put food on the table and keep dust out of his children’s lungs. After a certain series of events too convoluted for me to explain here, Interstellar‘s own large black monolith, Cooper and Murph stumble across the secret base of what is left of NASA. Now headed up by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) NASA are not looking for a way to save the world but for a whole new planet for our species to move to. With the help of a wormhole pioneering explorers have already travelled to distant parts of the universe to find a viable planet but now one final scouting mission is needed to travel through the wormhole and see how they got on.

Naturally Cooper is the best man for the job and after some contemplation, and vehement disagreement from Murph, he blasts off into the void with Amelia, Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Principal (David Oyelowo). As Cooper and company search for a new home for the human race they are forced to confront whether a human can truly put the interests of mankind ahead of personal safety and the lives of their loved ones. In an adventure involving relativity, the fifth dimension, and interstellar travel Christopher Nolan bends space, time, and your mind.

But is Interstellar any good?

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Whatever my fellow audience members may have thought about Interstellar they have to admit that it is an ambitious and brave endeavour. Well… brave in the way a film can be; lives are not being put at risk here. The ambitious bravery comes in the form of including tricky science for the audience to absorb and risking people not understanding what is going on or simply getting sniffy because the science isn’t 100% accurate. It’s a difficult line to tread, teetering between incomprehension and derision, but for my money Interstellar succeeds. To fully understand the plot one has to take on a certain amount of understanding of relativity, the concept of time as a resource just like fuel, and experiencing the world in dimensions beyond time. In my opinion Nolan manages to get the basic scientific principles across well enough that nobody who is paying sufficient attention will find themselves adrift. Go to the toilet at the wrong moment though and you may want to borrow somebody else’s notes.

As for those who feel the need to take Interstellar to task for not being 100% scientifically robust, as happened with Gravity, I have very little patience. I am assuming that this a modern trend to make people feel superior by allowing them to apply derision to films that are otherwise enjoyable. No Interstellar should not be used in a science lesson but I wouldn’t use 2001: A Space Odyssey either. Did Kubrick get assessed badly for suggesting that evolution was sparked by the arrival of a large black obelisk or were critics able to accept this as a forgivable plot device essential to the story being told? Science Fiction is what it is because it is not factual. It is fiction. What is important is that the film in questions takes its own fictional science seriously and does not contradict itself. Interstellar has its own rules, explains them, and applies them. Turn your nose up and I will confiscate your light saber.

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Rather than debate the laws of physics I suggest you instead just enjoy the unimaginable visuals and infectious sense of adventure that Interstellar has in abundance. Films with this scope and imagination are few and far between and should be appreciated as such. What Odyssey lacked in emotional weight (or baggage) Interstellar is bursting with. While Odyssey‘s Dave struggled in space without any sign of a family, his wife only appearing in a sequel (played by Mary Jo Deschanel), McConaughey’s Cooper is constantly aware of his family back home on Earth. The weight of the mission to rescue mankind is made apparent through the adversity experienced both in a distant galaxy as well on the planet we call home. Interstellar wants to tug at your heart as well as muddle your mind and is mostly successful. While I did feel the struggle felt by Cooper and family occasionally the Nolan brothers’ script pulled a little too hard. One particular speech by Hathaway’s Amelia is more likely to deliver sniggers than sniffles. Bend space and time all you like but don’t over deliver on the sentimentality. In a film with two prominent female scientists it is a shame that one finds herself compromised by emotions.

The overall effect of Interstellar is one of awe. Despite some flaws the film as a whole is a visual feast and dramatic juggernaut that explores the flaws of humanity as much as it does the far reaches of the universe. Below you will notice that I have given the film a full five stars and I do this not because it is a perfect feature or my greatest film of the year, let alone all time. I give it five stars for ambition and execution. For trying something a little different. You may not like it; it might be too convoluted, too simplistic, or just try too hard for your tastes but hopefully it will give you at least one moment when your eyes widen in surprise and wonder.

Interstellar is in UK cinemas from 7th November 2014.

*Arguably/allegedly

Infrequently Asked Questions 2012

Shame Full Frontal

People of the internet find Mild Concern through a wide variety of search terms and one of the more curious ways I spend my time is keeping an eye on what people Google to end up on this humble blog. I do feel sorry for a large number of Googlers when I can see that they aren’t going to find what they searched for here.

By far the most popular unsuccessful search the film fans of the world embarked on was trying to find some images of the nudity in Shame. They wanted to see Michael Fassbender and, to a lesser extent, Carey Mulligan in the all-together and were surely disappointed to find not a single bit of genitalia on display. I apologise to you, the internet, and to make it up to you I will now answer a selection of questions people entered into Google in 2012 which led them erroneously to Mild Concern. Now if they do their search again their questions will be answered.

All of these questions are genuine, and tell you a lot about the world today…

Is The Skin I Live In in English? No, it is in Spanish and is not for the squeamish.

How old is Yoda’s actor now? Frank Oz is 68.

Is that a wig? No, my hair is all natural.

Is there nudity in 388 Arletta Avenue? No. It does contain “one scene of strong gore and horror”.

How many times is “Harry Potter” said in the movies? I counted 107 but then I did fall asleep a lot.

Is Die Hard a survival movie? I guess so… although I’d say a survival movie would be someone battling against nature or the supernatural not Alan Rickman with a dodgy accent.

Is Cool Runnings a Christmas film? It is in my family.

Why is Rupert Giles called Ripper? Giles gained the nickname Ripper in his younger days when dabbling in the dark arts with five friends. Presumably it is an allusion to Jack the Ripper.

When is Fast Girls out on DVD? It’s out! Sorry we didn’t get to this question sooner.

Where was We Built a Zoo filmed? We Bought a Zoo was filmed in California.

Heroes Season 3 what is with Claire’s hair? Hayden Panettiere cut her hair and so had to wear a terrible, terrible wig.

What is the twist in Cabin in the Woods? There isn’t one.

What episodes of Misfits have sex in them? A lot of them so I wouldn’t watch if you’re too prudish nor skip any episode for fear of a sex deficit.

What football team does Nicholas Hoult support? I don’t know. I’m really sorry.

Who is on the front of After Porn Ends? Mary Carey

Why do people like Doctor Who? It is scary, funny, and has a lot of heart. Also, Karen Gillan is hot.

Is the Life of Pi film made not in non 3D? It was made in 3D so… yes? 3D is not in non 3D.

Why don’t people like Dr Who? They find it childish, silly, and irritating? Stephen knows.

Does After Porn Ends have nudity? Yes. Not one for the family.

How big is Kevin Smith’s fan base approximately? He has over 2 million Twitter followers and one fan who thinks I am a parasite.

How violent is Sightseers? Violent in short bursts with plenty of blood and caved-in skulls. All the deaths are swift though, this is no Hostel.

What happened to Cameron Crowe? He returned! With We Bought a Zoo and Pearl Jam Twenty. I saw neither.

How accurate is Lawless movie? It doesn’t matter, the film is boring as hell.

Is Ethan Hunt married in Ghost Protocol? Yes, to Julia Meade played by Michelle Monaghan.

Is Michael Cera mean? He seems lovely.

Is NOW TV worth it? Certainly not. Though they provide lots of lovely cocktails.

What is the guy’s name from Footloose that plays on Third Rock from the Sun? John Lithgow

Where can I see the complete pilot episode of BBC Lizzie and Sarah? Nowhere legal I’m afraid. Ask your most internet savvy friend and see if they can help.

Is there a disorder consisting of rape, dismembering, necrophilia, and cannibalism? I don’t think that is a disorder. That is you doing unthinkable sexual things to someone before and after killing them and then eating the remains. GET HELP!

How violent is the film I, Anna? “In one scene of violence a man and woman fight before a heavy ornament is used to strike a blow to the head. In another scene the victim of a violent death is found lying on a heavily bloodstained carpet with a bloodied face.”

What is pyjamas party? Attractive young women spend the night together gossiping, playing games, and fighting with pillows in slow motion and skimpy pyjamas. That or you stay up all night watching films at the Prince Charles cinema.

What’s the film about couple gets handcuffed together at a music festival? You Instead

I hope that clears things up. (If you want to see Fassbender’s penis Google will show it to you. The thing terrifies me.)

3rd Rock from the Sun – TV Classics

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In the first of a possibly recurring, possibly soon to be neglected, series I take a look back at the mid-nineties sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun and see what its stars are doing now.

3rd Rock from the Sun still stands out in my mind as one of the classic sitcoms. Not only does it stand out for having a high-concept premise, that of four aliens taking human form and trying to assimilate themselves in American life, but also for the unique mixture of broad slapstick comedy and clever humour it showcased. 3rd Rock was frequently over-the-top but never to excess and was never a show that could be considered stupid. While we were often laughing at the characters rather than with them it was because of some finely crafted jokes. For once you could believe that the laughter track was genuine rather than added in after the fact.

For a show with as much physical comedy and witty dialogue as 3rd Rock you need a cast of skilled comedy performers. Luckily for you I have detailed them all below, looking at the characters they played and what they’ve done since the show finished back in 2001.

John Lithgow
Where did you come from? Dr. Richard Solomon was the high commander of the band of aliens sent to investigate the planet Earth. As part of his cover Dick took on the role of a professor at a “third rate university” and gave a group of poor students a terrible education in Physics. Most of Dick’s time was spent in a rocky relationship with Mary Albright, though he occasionally dabbled with other women Albright would always be the woman for him. Dick was great for over-reacting to the world in general and referencing Lithgow’s role in best-film-ever Footloose.
Where did you go? Lithgow’s career post-3rd Rock has been prolific on both stage and screen, this includes the time I saw him playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night when, like a true nerd, I got a photo and autograph afterwards (lovely man). Good supporting performances were given in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers and Kinsey but his best performance was given as The Trinity Killer in season 4 of Dexter. More recently he has guest starred in How I Met Your Mother, given heart to Rise of the Planet of the Apes and wisely went uncredited in New Year’s Eve.

“You want the truth? You want the truth? Well, I can’t handle the truth!”

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For the Love of Footloose, The Story of a Modern Dance Classic

1984 has always been a year synonymous with the idea of oppression and the rebellion against it. For many this is down to George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, featuring a hypothetical future Big Brother state and Winston Smith, a man who is sick of obeying every rule and wants to turn it loose. When 1984 finally came round one film embodied the spirit of Orwell’s dystopia with a dance twist. That film was Footloose, with its oppressive small town where music and dancing were banned. All it took was one man, Ren McCormack as played by Kevin Bacon, to arrive with the passion and drive to try to organise the greatest rebellion of all: a prom. The plot may sound a bit ridiculous but in true “you couldn’t make this up” fashion, it is based on a true story.

As Winston Smith battled against the Ministry of Truth, Ren McCormack came up against Reverend Shaw Moore (the eternally fantastic John Lithgow). Both Ren and Winston were fighting for their freedom, the freedom to think, the freedom to dance and, ultimately, the freedom to love. In the end only one of these rebels was successful, the other left with a broken spirit and no burning, no yearning and no urge to tear up the town.

Both set in 1984, both about oppressed individuals fighting an unfair system, but only Footloose has the uplifting ending with a bit of a scuffle followed by crazy dancing and a tender moment in a field. Worth noting that Nineteen Eighty-Four did have a tender moment in a forest but I’d happily go so far as to say that Nineteen Eighty-Four is a bit of a downer, great literature certainly, but for a great bit of cinema it has to be Footloose.*

Bizarrely for a film dealing with sexuality and violence, for its UK cinema release Footloose accepted almost three minutes of cuts so that the BBFC would grant it a PG rating. In America similar edits were made to bring the rating down from an R to a PG. Thankfully these scenes, including love interest and preacher’s daughter Ariel being beaten by her boyfriend and Ren being offered a joint, were reinstated for the VHS, DVD and now Blu-ray releases, along with some male nudity for the ladies.

Sadly Footloose was not a huge hit with the critics and still only has a 57%** fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. If only we were eligible we could bring that up to 58%; trust me, I’ve done the maths. America’s most respected film critic Roger Ebert gave the film just one and a half stars out of four (not five, he’s wacky that way) and his review can be summed up in its opening sentence, “Footloose is a seriously confused movie that tries to do three things, and does all of them badly.” For context, he did give The Phantom Menace three and a half stars, so I suppose no critic is right all of the time. Sadly the UK’s greatest film critic, Mark Kermode, doesn’t have a review I can find but did recently call it a “guilty pleasure and a half”.

Regardless of the critics reaction, Footloose was a success. Made for just over $8 million Footloose recouped its budget in its opening weekend where it took the top spot at the box office, a position it held for a total of three weeks. Over its eighteen weeks in cinemas Footloose was in the top ten for all but two weeks. Compare that with a more modern dance film and they simply do not measure up; I blame a lack of plot and a major hole where Kevin Bacon doing an angry dance should be.

Not just a commercial success, Footloose also picked up two Oscar nominations for best song, for “Footloose” and “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”. Both songs, along with many others on the soundtrack, were written especially for the film by Dean Pitchford the Footloose screenwriter. No wonder the background music always sounded so perfect for the scene.

Since its original release Footloose has been made into a stage musical in 1999, a show that can still be found in the village halls of Cornwall if nowhere else. The impact of the film can be felt further afield than this theatrical adaptation as popular culture is littered with references to the 1984 classic. We recently made a video (found on YouTube) collecting 41 references and homages to Footloose, a true testament to the longevity of this film. My personal favourite being an episode of Flight of the Conchords where one character dances in a barn in true Kevin Bacon style (embedded below). Worth noting too is that in the month since compiling these clips, at least two more references have been made in US TV shows making my video instantly redundant.

Not content with a classic 80’s film and a West End and Broadway musical, in 2007/2008 Paramount announced that they would make a musical remake of Footloose. This film was originally to come from High School Musical‘s director Kenny Ortega and star Zac Efron, but both eventually left the project. In 2010 these were then replaced by Craig Brewer and Kenny Wormald respectively and at this point the film moved from being a musical to a more straightforward remake as Brewer details in a recent interview. After much trepidation on this fan’s part the film is finally out tomorrow and it still remains to be seen whether it matches the original or not. Either way it is important to remember that no remake can tarnish an original work. We will always have the 1984 version of Footloose, and it will never stop being a joy to watch.

Footloose may have a corny plot but I can unequivocally say that it is my favourite film. Hopefully with the attention drawn to it by the remake we can get a few more people to enjoy this cheesy piece of 80’s dance cinema and then can shut up about it once and for all.

*Not everyone at Mild Concern agrees with this for some reason.
**Down from the 59% it was at a few days ago when I started this post, thanks to this guy.