- David Parkinson
Parky At the Pictures (31/3/2023)
(Reviews of God's Creatures; Law of Tehran; Riotsville, USA; In the Middle; and Little Eggs: An African Rescue)
Anna Rose Holmer and Saela Davis worked as director and editor on The Fits (2015), but they join forces behind the camera on God's Creatures. Having co-written the story about Black tweenage dancers being struck down by a mysterious blight at a Cincinnati leisure centre, they hand the scripting duties to first-timer Shane Crowley, who devised the premise with producer Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly. The American duo doesn't always feel at home in the Irish coastal setting, while the dialogue is prone to floridity. But the potency of the performances and the urgency of the subject matter ensure that this intense drama compels and disconcerts.
Aileen O'Hara (Emily Watson) works at the fish factory that employs the majority of the women in a small west coast village. Husband Con (Declan Conlan) is a fisherman, while brother-in-law Paddy (Lalor Roddy) has existed in a pool of silence since giving up his oyster beds. Daughter Erin (Toni O'Rourke) has just become a mother and Aileen is fussing over her grandchild when son Brian (Paul Mescal) wanders into the pub, where a wake is being held for the son of Mary Fitz (Marion O'Dwyer) who had drowned because no one else on his boat knew how to swim.
As Brian had cut off all ties after bolting to Australia, everyone is surprised to see him, especially ex-girlfriend, Sarah Murphy (Aisling Franciosi). But, while Erin is full of questions about why Brian has suddenly returned, Aileen dotes on the prodigal, who had always been her favourite child. Indeed, she's delighted when he announces that he wants to re-open the oyster beds because it means he's going to stick around. She even steals a few bits from the factory to help him get started.
Con is concerned that Brian will need another source of income while the beds recover. But Aileen stops them quarrelling after Brian poaches from another bed. She also consoles Sarah after she breaks up with Francie D'Arcy (Brendan McCormack), a short-fused fisherman who is quick to complain when he thinks the factory is cheating him.
However, Sarah tells Aileen to keep away from her after she collapses at work, on the day that fungus is discovered among the oysters and all harvesting ceases. She had wandered into the bar the previous evening, while Aileen and Brian had been having a quiet drink. But Aileen had left them together, as she hoped they could patch things up. She is appalled, therefore, when Garda Mike (Andrew Bennett ) asks her to confirm Brian's alibi, which she does without hesitation. Even when a formal charge is made, Aileen continues to insist that her son is innocent and wonders why Francie was allowed to get away with mistreating Sarah for so long.
Even though Sarah regularly sings in the pub, owner Dan Nell (Enda Oates) reassures Brian that he won't say anything untoward. Erin, however, is dismayed that her mother would protect Brian, even though she has always been close to Sarah. As a result, she tells her to stay away from her grandchild after Aileen perjures herself and the judge throws the case out of court for a lack of evidence.
Touched by the fact that Brian gets Paddy to sing some old songs, Aileen convinces herself she's done the right thing. But she feels a pang when Sarah is sacked from the factory and is barred from the pub. She winces when the men tease Brian about following her home, even though Sarah had got her in trouble at work by accusing her of cheating Francie over his oyster bags. Her conscience is still pricking her when Sarah sings at a quayside ceremony to bless the fishing currachs. Moreover, having become increasingly cool towards Brian, Aileen prevents anyone laying a hand on Sarah when Paddy dies and she spits at her son in the greeting line.
While smoking outside, Aileen muses to Erin that the world seems to be turning upside down. But she assures her it can only seem that way to someone who hadn't been looking properly, as nothing has changed. This dawns on Aileen when Paddy dies and a drunken Brian flirts with Emma Daly (Isabelle Connolly) at the wake. When he back-answers his mother when she admonishes him, Con wrestles him to the floor and they fight.
The next morning, Aileen goes out to the beds with Brian. She asks if he feels any remorse, but he insists he is only looking forwards. Wading back to the boat, she lies down and watches the circling gulls, as she hears Brian get into difficulty in the rising tide. Shortly after his memorial service, Aileen goes to see Sarah. Having lost her job, she is moving out of the family home, in which she had listened to her mother putting her drunken father to bed in her room. Haunted by ghosts, past traumas, and the sound of the wind, she no longer feels she belongs and the film ends with a close-up, as she drives away to the rest of her life.
Despite being pitched a much more minor key, this sombre drama evokes memories of Robert J. Flaherty's Man of Aran (1934) and David Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970), if only for the number of Irish clichés and archetypes it reinforces. The lowering clouds, the seething sea, and the whistling wind all add to the sense of foreboding, as the narrative moves through its inevitable stages. But, while Davis and Holmer ably sustain the oppressive mood of melancholy and misogyny, they struggle to retain their focus on the key plot strands.
Consequently, while Sarah and Brian become more opaque, Aileen's motivations become increasingly contrived. In particular, the suddenness of her awful retribution diminishes the sense of plausibility that had already been undermined by the supposed local custom that fishermen never learn to swim to prevent lives being lost in the act of rescue. Emma Watson plays the scene with typical conviction, but it lacks the shocking impact of Gene Tierney drowning brother Darryl Hickman in John M. Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven (1945).
Watson's excellence is matched by Paul Mescal's charming roguery, notably during the scenes following Brian's return, when Aileen blithely ignores the misgivings of her husband and daughter and even fails to delve into the details of her son's prolonged absence. This casts a pall over proceedings, as Crowley denies the audience any access to Brian's past, even down to his relationship with Sarah, although it's implied that she only drifted into a romance with the equally resistible Francie because she has been conditioned to accept being abused.
Crowley's screenplay rather skirts around the issues pertaining to the local way of doing things and why Aileen is so more willing to back Brian and Con than Erin and Sarah. The dialogue also feels theatrical in places, although Davis and Holmer's direction also errs in this direction. The jagged violins, skirling pipes, and choral wails in Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans's score further emphasise the picture's self-conscious deliberation. However, Chayse Irvin's scowling imagery and Chris Foster sound design are as crucial as Inbal Weinberg's production design in establishing the highly effective sense of place for an involving, if never entirely convincing saga.
LAW OF TEHRAN.
Arthouse audiences have become used to a certain kind of film from Iran. Since the passing of Abbas Kiarostami, they tend to be potent socio-bureaucratic critiques by the likes of Asghar Farhadi or wry asides filled with meta-irony by such victims of the regime of Jafar Panahi. However, Saeed Roustaee's Law of Tehran (aka Just 6.5) is an explosive policier that has more than a touch of the mainstream about it. Initially released in 2019, it was the director's third film after Life and a Day (2016) and Blockage (2017), and was nominated for the César for Best Foreign Film before Roustaee competed at Cannes with Leila's Brothers (2022).
Samad (Payman Maadi) and Hamid (Houman Kiai) are officers with the Anti-Narcotics Police Task Force.When a suspect is buried alive in some roadworks after a chase through the streets of Tehran, Samad orders Hamid to file the report because he's getting enough grief from his superiors over some missing evidence. He's also stressed because he remarried his ex-wife in order to get a promotion and is beginning to regret it.
Hamid is desperate for revenge on the man responsible for his son's death, but kingpin Naser Khakzad (Navid Mohammadzadeh) not only has a network around him, but he is also able to bribe his way out of trouble, in a country where possession of even the smallest amount of illegal drugs brings the death penalty.
During a raid on a junkyard shanty - where addicts get their fixes in concrete pipes - Samad rounds up women and children, as well as the men, to clear the area. The men are forced to strip naked and perform squats in large holding cells to ensure they're not hiding any drugs. Finding the rigmarole distasteful, Samad leads a raid on a house to find dealer Reza Moradi (Ali Bagheri) and feels guilty at frightening his wife (Marjan Ghamari) and young children. But he uses a warrant to search the tiny house and waits for Reza to come home in order to bust him. He isn't carrying, however, and Samad is about to give up when a sniffer dog finds the wife hiding bags under her shawl.
Taking the family into custody, Samad threatens to hand the kids over to welfare unless Reza co-operates. He names Naser as his supplier and reveals that go-between Hasan Gavi (Mehdi Hoseini-nia) is smuggling drugs to Japan the next day. Samad watches him at the check-in, with three obese companions, and has them stopped. An x-ray shows the drugs that Hasan has ingested and Samad threatens to put all four on an execution charge unless Hasan comes up with information.
Niece Elham (Parinaz Izadyar) is Naser's former fiancé and Samad questions her alone. He piles files on the desk while demanding to know about her relationship with Naser and threatens to have her jailed for sleeping with him before marriage unless she reveals his whereabouts. She holds firm until he vows to tell her husband-to-be about the expensive car that Naser bought her and she buckles. As a result of her tip-off, Samad and Hamid find Naser in the jacuzzi of his penthouse apartment, having tried to commit suicide with an overdose of pills.
Cuffed to a hospital bed until he recovers, Naser is taken to the police station, where he is chained to a low railing beside Hasan. He tries to bully him into taking the blame, but he refuses and Samad also declines a substantial bribe. During fingerprinting, however, it emerges that Naser is really Ali Rostami, who escaped before his execution two years earlier.
In the cells, Naser meets Mohammad Ali (Mohammad Ali Mohammadi), a wheeler-dealer who makes money by selling calls on a phone hidden in the toilet. Naser contacts his brother to arrange a payment to Ali and set an escape plan in motion. However, things prove difficult to organise and Naser is crushed to discover that Elham betrayed him. He tries to cause unrest in the cell, but Samad threatens him with solitary.
Hamid accuses Naser of being behind his son's death and strikes him. He is even more furious, however, when he receives a court summons over the buried fugitive and demands that Samad faces the music himself. He reminds Hamid that he covered his back over a previous bungle and now needs him to obey orders and take one for the team.
Sharing Naser's cell is a young boy named Vahid (Yusef Khosravi), whose disabled father has been arrested for possession. He steals some pills from the doctor's office and Samad has Naser put in solitary for using them. When questioned by a judge (Farhad Aslani), Vahid pleads for his father's freedom and sobs when disclosing that he has been abandoned by his mother. As he refuses to swear that his father is a dealer, however, the judge has no option but to charge him as an accomplice and send him to a juvenile facility.
Bundling Naser into a police van, Samad takes him for a drive with Hamid and deputy Ashkani (Maziar Seyedi). He pulls over and tells Naser that he will accept the bribe and urges him to run away. But he has not gone more than a few yards before he is apprehended and returned to the vehicle. Samad demands to know whether he was behind the death of Hamid's child and Naser breaks down in insisting he would never do anything so callous.
He blames Reza and directs the cops to a ramshackle property on the outskirts of town. His brother follows, with a view to snatching Naser. But he is left cuffed to a gate, as his sibling gets scared after an explosion brings the flimsy building down after Ashkani had gone inside with a man accused of working in the drug kitchen.
Anguished by Ashkani's injuries, Samad had Naser and his mules brought before the judge. Naser accuses Samad of stealing from the confiscated stash and Hamid refuses to back him up until he tells an internal affairs investigator the truth about the buried man. Following a hasty hearing, Samad brings Hamid before the judge, only for him to claim that he can't be sure about how much heroin they found. Seething at being detained by the judge, Samad trades his designer shoes for a call on another prisoner's phone and gets someone from the evidence unit to bring the CCTV footage of Samad's stash being weighed.
Freed by the judge, Samad gives Hamid a fierce look and returns to duty. Over the coming days, the judge continues to question Naser. He confiscates his property, despite pleas to let his father live with dignity rather than having to return to his former hovel. Eventually, he passes the death sentence and Naser's lawyer (Peyman Ghasemzadeh) breaks the news that his appeal has been rejected. Bitter that the cops had resuscitated him so that they could have the satisfaction of killing him, Naser is bitter that no one has been grateful for anything he has done for them. His father dislikes his new house, while the siblings he sent abroad for their schooling have frittered their opportunities.
Shortly afterwards, Naser is visited by his family. His parents weep, as he quizzes his sisters about their time in Canada. A nephew strips to his shorts to show him the cartwheel he has learned to do at the gym. As he looks on through misty eyes, his mother declares she would happily die in his place and Naser has to be dragged away by the guards when the time elapses. The visitors are ushered out of a door and the young boy gathers his clothes before rushing after them.
One cold, wet morning, the prisoners are brought to the gallows. Guards line the route, as half a dozen men climb the steps with Naser. Samad watches from the roof, as the judge and the witnesses gather on a balcony. Naser fights back tears, as he looks around him and feels the noose around his neck. The trapdoors clang, as the bodies drop and Samad turns away. He returns to his new office, as he no longer wants to work the beat. Hamid can't believe he'll settle for a desk job, but Samad has lost faith, as there are now 6.5 million addicts in Iran and he feels the fight has been lost.
With its latter stages feeling as punishing as Krzysztof Kieslowski's A Short Film About Killing (1988), this is a stark, but gripping insight into Iran's drug problem and the fight to bring it under control. Draconian punishments are clearly not enough, as user statistics continue to raise. Perhaps, as Naser says, people are simply wired to make themselves miserable. But there are subtly expressed criticisms of the Islamic Republic in Roustaee's largely positive portrayal of the law enforcement agencies.
As bullishly played by Payman Maadi and Houman Kiai, the police have their flaws, with contraband going missing and some of it resurfacing in the homes of suspects. But, in spite of their good/bad dedication to duty, suspects are evidently able to bribe or break their way out of custody. Confronted with conflicting accounts and dubious evidence, judges are also faced with difficult decisions when dispensing justice, especially where innocent dependents are concerned.
The scenes with the boy deserted by his mother and Naser's nephew hit hard, as does the scene in which the excellent Navid Mohammadzadeh curses his family members for failing to take advantage of the benefits he has sacrificed himself to provide. But, for all the hard-hitting insights that Roustaee offers into how the situation impacts upon Tehran's male population, little is said about women and drugs apart from the sequences involving Reza's wife, Naser's ex-fiancée, and an column of nameless females being marched through the male detainees at the police station following the shanty foray.
The performances are variously pugnacious and pathetic, depending upon how much power the character wields and the extent of their addiction. By all accounts, the extras in the concrete pipes and overcrowded cells are all junkies. But Maadi and Mohammadzadeh stand out, with their scenes together bristling with a machismo that has earned the film comparisons with William Friedkin's The French Connection (1971) and Michael Mann's Heat (1995).
Roustaee clearly aims for a Hollywood undercurrent, with editor Bahram Dehgani feeding off the energy of Hooman Behmanesh's muscular camerawork in the opening chase sequence and the various police raids. Peyman Yazdanian's score is also dynamic. Yet, the intensity still permits an intimacy that ensures Samad and Naser come across as people rather than just movie types. No wonder this was one of the biggest box-office hits in Iranian cinema history.
Having made telling use of archive footage in The Reagan Show (2017), Sierra Pettengill delves back into the vaults for Riotsville, USA. Scripted by Tobi Haslett, this is a damning meditation on that moment in the 1960s when the American government was presented with a stark choice over how to tackle the rise in social unrest in its major cities and opted for the militarisation of the police over investment in education, employment, housing, and welfare. The consequences of a decision rooted in systemic racism can still be felt half a century later.
As US military footage of the Riotsville training facility is shown, narrator Charlene Modeste explains how the citizenry kicked back against centuries of containment and contempt by rioting in places like Watts, Chicago, Newark, and Detroit. `A door swung open in the late `60s,' Modeste reveals. `And someone, something, sprang up and slammed it shut.' With that single action, the United States sought refuge in a status quo that suited a frightened minority.
On 27 July 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the nation in the wake of widespread unrest to announce the formation of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, under Illinois governor, Otto Kerner. Johnson hoped the Kerner Commission would identify `outside agitators' as the instigators of the riots.
The largest US Army base, Fort Belvoir, was named after a slave plantation and it was here that Riotsville was built to train troops and cops in quelling civil disorder. Audiences of officers and ratings witnessed recreations recent uprisings, with service personnel playing the hippies, looters, and activists on the streets. Modeste wonders what these young men destined for Vietnam were thinking, as they assumed their roles in order to help their comrades learn how to suppress discontent. We see a Black man throw himself into the part, as he leans out of a prison bus vowing to return and fight for his rights.
In December 1967, the Public Broadcast Laboratory held a nationwide debate on policing standards and the gulf between cop John Harrington and Detroit preacher Albert Cleage is cavernous. It was further emphasised when the moderate politicians on the Kerner Commission announced their findings in March 1968. Branding the USA a racist country, they called for grassroots reforms to make equality a reality and prevent the drift into division along racial lines. Television commentators pointed out that such a programme would cost more than Vietnam and that Johnson would struggle to coax Congress into giving him the funds.
In one of his last essays, Martin Luther King, Jr. reached a similar conclusion, but insisted it was a price worth paying. But, while paperback copies of the report flew off the shelves, the Establishment failed to recognise its deductions, with the exception of an addendum suggesting an increase in law enforcement budgets.
Fort Gordon, which was named after a Confederate general who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, was home to a second Riotsville. Here, dignitaries applaud as anti-war protesters are bundled into armoured cars after being whipped up by Black provocateurs. Special tactics were devised for countering snipers, even though Kerner found no credible evidence of sniper attacks during the riots.
After footage of white middle-class women at a police firing range, we hear Democrat Robert Byrd denouncing Martin Luther King for causing an affray in Memphis and leaving after inciting striking sanitation workers to violence. He claims this is typical of King's methodology, as he rabble-rouses without accepting any blame for the ensuing chaos. Six days later, Dr King was assassinated in Memphis. No wonder Black interviewees fear that new police powers and weaponry will mean open season.
Jimmy Collier and Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrck perform the protest song, `Burn Baby Burn', on PBL before a caption reveals that it was taken off air in 1969. It was active during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, however, when the sheriff tried to recruit a special posse to deal with rioters. As Modeste notes, however, the majority of those who picketed the event were white bourgeois kids who demanded change. But the populace as a whole sided with the cops, as they used excessive force to maintain order.
The Republican Convention at Miami Beach in August 1968 has had less publicity. This was the first such event below the Mason-Dixon Line in 104 years and one reporter claims the venue was chosen because it was only accessible via controllable bridges. A rally at Liberty City led to a showdown with police and civic leaders promised talks to rectify the situation. Meanwhile, Richard Nixon was carried as the GOP candidate and the news was brought by NBC, whose coverage was sponsored by Gulf, the oil company that promoted its fly spray during commercial breaks (in an ad that contained heavy pro-order overtones).
A converted insect repellent truck was used to fire tear gas when a disturbance erupted after a white motorist with a George Wallace bumper sticker drove into a Black neighbourhood. The National Guard was called on the third day of rioting. The city's police chiefs had trained at Riotsville.
Poet June Jordan had been present at a riot in Harlem in 1964 and had come up with a plan to transform the area. She teamed with architect Buckminster Fuller to create a public housing project called Skyrise for Harlem. But Esquire magazine dubbed it `Instant Slum Clearance'. Modeste compares this Utopia with Riotsville and notes that the impossible dream of the former has never come to pass, while the lessons learned from the latter are now implemented across the country. A moment of possibility for revolutionary change has led only to a reinforcement of the root causes of the problem.
Made over several years and the result of some painstaking research inspired by historian Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, this is a damning indictment of Washington's wilful failure to redress so many balances in America's deeply riven society. The military footage of the Riotsville complexes, with their brightly coloured fronts providing a jolly background to institutionalised bigotry and brutality, is compelling in its gruesome way. But it's the material relating to the Kerner Commission and the way in which its proposals were hoofed into the long grass that sends the most discomfiting shivers.
The clips from the Public Broadcast Laboratory also make for riveting viewing, as the efforts of white liberals to provide channels of communication merely serve to reinforce division. Several choice phrases emerge from the panel discussions, but the vox pops with ordinary Americans are more revealing, as they expose the ignorance of the average man and woman, as well as their essential decency. One suspects little has changed over the decades, or else why would Pettengill and editor Nels Bangerter go to the trouble of inserting them?
Tobi Haslett's commentary and captions also raise some pertinent issues about how the 60s brought about the federal funding of local police departments, which are driven home by Jace Klayton's electronic score, which offers a polyphonic counterpoint to keep the mind focussed, as the occasional image is microscoped into pixels (`a pointillist picture of social collapse') in order to stress the blurring of timelines and the connection between then and now - and the separate and unequal relationship between white and Black.
IN THE MIDDLE.
During the international break, Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton dedicated their 606 phone-in on BBC Radio Five Live to grassroots refereeing. Among the issues raised were why refs are prepared to accept dog's abuse from players, managers, and fans for a piddling fee, the degree to which park cloggers emulate their Premier League heroes, and the extent of support that officials receive from the FA and its county affiliates.
Only the first topic crops up in Greg Cruttwell's In the Middle, a genial companion piece to The Football Monologues (2021), which examined the pressures of running a club down the league pyramid. Filmed either side of the Covid pandemic, this is an affectionate tribute to the whistleblowers and flagwavers who keep the game going on all kind of pitches in all kind of weathers throughout the course of a season.
We first meet Steve Earl, a retired Tube driver who has just returned from Benidorm and is keen to tell anyone who will listen about the torrential rain. He's 66 and has been refereeing for over 25 years. As a former player, he is glad to remain involved in a game he loves and has learned to approach matches with detachment to prevent his own emotions from boiling over. A stickler for a clean kit, he knows the value of a working watch and a loud whistle, as does Lucy Clark, a trans woman who referees men's football when not driving a black cab, running a trans radio station and a pest control business, and all this while recovering from a series of heart scares.
While Steve and Lucy have found their level, Dele Sotimirin and Nigel Owen are ambitious to climb the ladder and relish the challenge of self-improvement and being assessed by their superiors. They have a way to catch 76 year-old Ron `The Rocket' Clarkson, however, who is still running the line after being involved in over 6000 games over 58 seasons. When not calling offsides, he plays the organ at his local church, laments the coarsening of Coronation Street, and awaits visits from his brother and sister in the rather cluttered house he shares with his beloved budgie.
Dele and Steve are firm believers in communication and we hear them talking to players during a game in order to defuse situations. Elle Kaplitz and Kian Hill also like to give the benefit of the doubt, especially where kids are concerned. But all agree with Dele that cards must be shown if a referee is to maintain control. Retired after 45 years, Alan `Mouse' Halfacre can't recall ever sending anyone off, but Cassandra McCoy echoes Elle in recognising the need to crack down when players try to con the officials.
Arriving in Britain from Jamaica in 2015 to take up a teaching post, Ann Marie Powell is sport mad and enjoys refereeing because she grew up around boys and knows how to transfer classroom skills to the pitch. Like Dele, she has experienced racism, but refuses to rise to it and often get players and spectators apologising after the full-time whistle for mouthing off in the heat of the moment.
Steve and Lucy (who was nicknamed `Chopper' when they played) admit that mistakes live with them long after a match, but they are always willing to learn. As is Nigel, who is aiming to get into the upper echelons and referee in front of bigger crowds. Wife Marianne admits she doesn't go very often, as all she hears is criticism and she doesn't feel speaking up for her man will help matters.
Despite being partial to the odd sausage roll and café blow-out, Ron discuss fitness and the need to stay in shape, while Dele jokes that modern players may be a bit thick, but they can run. All agree, however, that grassroots football couldn't exist without referees and that most clubs and leagues are grateful to them for doing a difficult job to the best of their ability for a measly £30 a pop. They take flak and occasionally get spat at and face intimidation, but they rise above it because any sign of weakness will be exploited.
Each has stories of awkward encounters, with Steve bemoaning the fact that many young referees are put off by the aggro. Few will match Ron's longevity. He reached Class Two at his peak and Nigel and Dele are frustrated that their best season was disrupted by Coronavirus. But they remains ambitious and keeps looking upwards. The enforced break slowed Ron down, but he reached 60 years as an official and received a letter of commendation from the FA and a carriage clock from his peers.
His quiet pride at his achievement and the hope that his siblings will come to see his awards is deeply touching and a closing caption announcing his passing in 2021 brings a tear. Indeed, a whole film dedicated to this lonely, but lovely man would perhaps have been more worthwhile than this well-intentioned, but rather patchy snapshot.
Despite namechecks in the credit crawl for Balham, Colliers Wood United, Croydon Athletic, Ashford Town, Hanworth Villa, and Sheerwater, it's never entirely clear at which level the different referees are operating. It also doesn't help that some only make token appearances, which take time away from `bigger' characters like Steve, Lucy, Dele, Nigel, and Ann Marie. It's also a shame that only one unnamed player is interviewed, especially as he raises the important point about refereeing after playing, which is something that never happens at the top level, unlike in cricket, where even Test players go on to umpire.
It might also have been useful to hear from an over-zealous parent, whose touchline antics undermine the officials and teach their kids that disrespecting authority is okay when it's `part of the game'. Following on from this, a discussion of the extent to which amateurs copy the top stars might have been valid, particularly when it comes to problems like simulation and time-wasting that have crept in from the professional game.
Something on how lower-level refs deal with injuries and concussions might also have been interesting, as the majority of games down the leagues are played without medical supervision. The absence of any reference to the mental welfare of referees is also frustrating. Moreover, it's disappointing to find no mention of women's football, as it would have been instructive to know whether officials (female, male, or trans) are treated differently. Given, however, that Professional Game Match Officials Limited deny the media access to the elite referees, assistants, and VAR adjudicators, this is a useful insight into the mindset of the people in the middle and the debt owed to them by organised competitive football at all levels. Long may their whistles peep!
LITTLE EGGS: AN AFRICAN RESCUE.
If you have been paying attention to Mexican animation over the last 15 years, you would know that siblings Gabriel and Rodolfo Riva Palacio Alatriste have enjoyed success with a string of oologic films that includes An Egg Movie (2006), Another Egg and Chicken Movie (2009), and Little Chicken's Egg-cellent Adventure (2015). They return to all things ovoid with Little Eggs: An African Rescue, which has been released in an English-language dub in time for the Easter holidays. You have been warned!
In a breathless opening segment, Toto the rooster announces the new day and is busy jousting with a whip-tongued frog when a piece of pork called Francis Bacon informs him that wife Di has laid two eggs, Max and Uly. They have hair, limbs, and faces and want to play outside with the other eggs. Toto warns of the dangers, but Di urges him to let his offspring learn for themselves.
However, Grandma is so proud of her new golden eggs that she enters them in a village competition and attracts the attention of the Duchess, a Russian crook who is collecting rare eggs on behalf of Baron Roncovich, with her dimwitted sidekicks, Panzovich and Gordimitri. They use remote-controlled moles to tunnel into the henhouse and steal Uly and Max (who just look like normal eggs to humans), as well as a pair of possums who were impersonating hens in the hope of having a feed.
With the help of one of the moles, Toto and Di and some of their friends get aboard a plan heading for Congo, where the Baron intends serving his egg collection to some important guests. Uly and Max meet the other species being kept in glass cases in the Duchess's tank and promise to help them escape. However, the Duchess is determined to complete her mission, especially after Toto causes the plane to plummet so that everyone becomes weightless (and float to the tune of `The Blue Danube').
Having tossed the animals out of the plane, the Duchess drives to the Baron's jungle palace, where Chef has the eggs refrigerated prior to cooking. Saved by the mole with a parachute, the Mexican compadres burrow underground to keep them safe from predators. However, the tunnel springs a leak and they are swept along on the tide that brings them to a lake, where they meet Hippo, Po, and Tomas (geddit?). They ferry them along the river until Toto is snatched by monkeys in the employ of Big Fat Banana, who just happens to be a talent agent.
Meanwhile, the eggs try using frozen peas to hit the thermostat on the fridge. However, the ostrich firing the peashooter only succeeds in making things colder. Luckily, a rattlesnake's tail picks the lock and a roadrunner egg adjusts the temperature. Uly suggests they pose as stones in the table displays to avoid being cooked.
While the eggs make for their hiding place, Toto finds himself on the bill at Congo Has Talent, where Lionel the Lion is the bored head of the judging panel. He is amused by Toto slipping on a banana peel and other pratfalls and is impressed when the rooster bests him in a fight and makes an impassioned speech about outwitting the humans. So, the jungle animals join the poultry in storming the fortress.
They arrive in the middle of an auction for the delicacies, which has been held up by Chef realising that the eggs have gone missing. Luckily, first prize in the talent show is a flight simulator helmet, which they plonk on one of the Russian goons and he flies the plane back to Mexico. Uly and Max declare Toto the best dad ever, while the Duchess gets jettisoned and parachutes into the sea. Back on the farm, the eggs settle in with the livestock and everyone dances to a salsa.
More exhausting than entertaining, this frantic quest is bound to appeal to tinies more than any grown-ups roped into watching along. They will be too baffled by the wacky logic of eggistence to notice the odd joke tossed in above the heads of the kids. But they will be oblivious to the flaws in the script and will succumb to the brashness of the characterisation, the vividness of the backdrops, and the breakneck pace of the action.
A surfeit of second-string accomplices (some of whom aren't even named) clutters proceedings, while Toto and Di are too sketchily limned to be readily rooted for. But it's the brattishness of Uly and Max that makes this so resistible, as they demand their own way from the outset and sulkily question Toto's affection whenever he tries to impose rules for their own good. They prove resourceful enough on their own, but no sooner have they been reunited with their parents than they start playing on Toto's guilt at being a bad dad.
Such emotional shallowness could be forgiven if the yolks were funny (ahem) or the odyssey was strewn with spills and thrills. But there's precious little peril, either from the Duchess and her palookas or the African wildlife, while the Alatriste brothers fail to make satirical capital out of the Baron and his entitled entourage. Consequently, this is all crash, bang, wallop. But what animation isn't these days?