Parky At the Pictures (5/6/2020)
(Reviews of Days of the Bagnold Summer; Guest of Honour; Olla; The Uncertain Kingdom; The Last Full Measure; Take Me Somewhere Nice; Around the World When You Were My Age; Screened Out; and 3 Brothers - Radio Raheem, Eric Garner and George Floyd)
Cinemas may be closed during these dismal days. But there are still ways to connect with some of the films on general release over the next few weeks and months. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation.
Might we also draw your attention to the Docu-Mondays that are being hosted throughout June by the Czech Centre? On the bill, which are free to watch and will be followed by online Q&A sessions, are Dan Pribán's Trabant: There and Back, Pavel Jurda's My Name Is Hungry Buffalo, Tomáš Elšík's Central Bus Station and Miroslav Janek's The Gospel According to Brabenec.
DAYS OF THE BAGNOLD SUMMER.
Best known for his small-screen exploits as Will McKenzie in The Inbetweeners (2008-10) and Adam Goodman in Friday Night Dinner (2011-), Simon Bird makes his debut as a feature director with Days of the Bagnold Summer. Adapted from a graphic novel by Joff Winterhart by Lisa Owens (who has been Bird's partner since their days in the Cambridge Footlights), this has much in common with such recent rites of British teenage passage as Richard Ayoarde's Submarine (2010) and Craig Roberts's Just Jim (2015). But the empathetic insights into the lot of a suburban single mum feel indebted to Mike Leigh and Stefan Golaszewski, although they tend to rely a lot less on the cosy indie pop of Belle & Sebastian.
Following a joyless shopping expedition into Bromley to buy black shoes for a wedding, Sue (Monica Dolan) and Daniel Bagnold (Earl Cave) get home to a phone message postponing the 15 year-old's summer trip to Florida to stay with his remarried father. Sue tries to reassure her son that they will still have fun over the next six weeks. But she seems far from convinced, as she sinks down at the kitchen table, removes her glasses and rubs her eyes.
Having returned from a hard day at the library to find that Daniel eating ketchup sandwiches in his pyjamas, Sue rollocks him for not taking Riley the dog for a walk. But Daniel snaps back that it's not his fault he's been stranded in Blighty when he should be in the Sunshine State and Sue is taken aback when passive aggressive neighbour Astrid (Tamsin Greig) commends his positive energy when she calls to collect him after he spends an afternoon with his faux posh pal, Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott).
Like Daniel, Ky has long, straggly hair and a penchant for Metallica. However, he doesn't share his friend's ambition to be the frontman of his own band. Until he does because he knows it will wind Daniel up. Astrid also knows how to push Sue's buttons, as she complains about builders wolf-whistling her when she's well aware that the 52 year-old doesn't attract that kind of unwanted attention. However, Sue does get asked on a date by Douglas Porter, her son's history teacher, after he pops into the library to get some books to mug up on the Founding Fathers for the new syllabus.
Sue has told Daniel to get a summer job and he pads around the mall foisting resumés on bemused managers in totally inappropriate stores. She chides him for job-hunting in a heavy metal t-shirt depicting an electrocution and goes to be early. Daniel hears her sobbing when she sneaks down for a midnight cola rush, but they're not really the kind to discuss their feelings. Thus, when Daniel overhears Sue chatting to Douglas on the party line, he goes into a shouty sulk and is still in a funk when his cousin Katie (Grace Hogg-Robinson) drops in with his Aunt Carol (Alice Lowe). She trims Sue's fringe and teases her about her poor track record with men, while Katie shows off phone snaps of her 19 year-old estate agent boyfriend and shocks Daniel by offering to get him some weed.
Stung by being called a Goth (when he's not sure what he is), Daniel cycles across the estate to meet the members of a band whose advert for a singer he had spotted in the newsagent's. He whiles away time with Ky and Sue holds his hair after he gets drunk and throws up in the loo. She whizzes round the kitchen doing odd jobs, while Daniel sits at the table and stares at his phone (an amusing use of accelerated footage) and summons the courage to call Douglas. Twice, having left his number to call back on rather than her own.
They go to an Italian restaurant and Sue blushes when Douglas offers her a mouthful of his spaghetti. He wonders if they might have been ships that once passed in the night before trying to remember the name of the Bagnold from his old Oxford college. It comes to him while Sue is venting about the randomness of life and why she wound up alone while her ex-husband got to start afresh in the States with a 36 year-old wife and a new baby daughter. Douglas orders a second bottle of red, while Sue considers undoing another button on her blouse, and she is both flusteed and pleased when he kisser her on the backseat of their people carrier taxi. Peering out from behind his curtains, Daniel spies on them with revulsion and pretends to be asleep when his mother comes into his room.
Teased mercilessly by Carol about becoming a sexpot, Sue wanders up to the attic to look at old photos. But Daniel complains that she has hidden his past away because she hates his father and he storms off. He also scarpers when Ky accompanies him to see the Hornchurch Drive band and discovers to his horror that they are three tweenage boys. When they try shopping for sensible black shoes again, Daniel gets in a huff because Sue spots him wearing black nail varnish and turns to see a Goth girl looking equally ashamed to be in a fast food restaurant with her dad.
With Daniel not speaking to Kai and Douglas not responding to Sue's messages, she suggests a day in Southend. She tries to coax her son into singing on the way down, but he prefers to listen to his music and remains uncommunicative when Sue tries to ask if there are any other friends he would like to invite round to the house. Trying to remain chirpy, she attempts to skim stones into the sea and gets upset when Daniel walks away because he's embarrassed to be seen with her. When she complains that he used to be such a nice boy, he sighs deeply and reluctantly trudges after her to the fudge shop, where he is called up to help with a demonstration and is discomfited by the prying questions and jokes at his expense.
Back home, Sue tells Carol that Douglas has disappeared, while Astrid suggests that she and her son are still in pain after being deserted seven years earlier. She tries to talk Sue into taking a Reiki class, but she prefers watching telly on the sofa with Riley sprawled beside her. However, old age catches up with the faithful dog and Sue and Daniel sit by his bed and reminisce about how they used to play together. She also confides that a boy she had liked at school had killed himself because things were happening at home. Riley slips away and Sue wonders whether they should tell Bob, as he had brought him home as a puppy. But Daniel says he's too preoccupied with his tropical fish and they bond in mocking him for having a man come in to clean the tank.
Swallowing his pride, Daniel auditions for the band and is pleased when they like his suggested name of Skullslayer. Sue throws Riley's bed away, which leaves a ring on the carpet under the radiator. She books a Reiki session with Astrid and feels better for having had a good sob. On her birthday, she takes Daniel for dinner and feels sufficiently good about herself to embarrass Douglas when she spots him dining with another student's mum.
Daniel is secretly proud of the way she handles the situation and is delighted when Sue gets him a pair of chic black trainers for the wedding. He compliments her on her black outfit and hat and enjoys polishing off Katie's unwanted chicken at dinner. Moreover, he gets to finish the fish left by another guest who is impressed that he's the frontman of a band and he's in such a good mood that he shares his slice of cake with his mum, as they watch everyone else dance.
Engaging and genial, if not particularly cinematic, this represents a steady start to Simon Bird's directing career. Primarily an actors' piece, it affords excellent opportunities to Monica Dolan and Earl Cave (son of Nick), who seize them with both hands. A familiar face from television, with BAFTAs to her name for respectively playing Rosemary West and Marion Thorpe in Appropriate Adult (2011) and A Very British Scandal (2018), Dolan rises above the rather workaday dialogue to create a character of stoic fragility, who finds it convenient to hide behind her mumsy image in her encounters with the more outgoing types played by Alice Lowe, Tamsin Greig and Rob Brydon.
Cave cuts a very different figure from the ones he portrayed in The End of the F***ing World (2017) and Justin Kurzel's True History of the Kelly Gang. But it's still difficult to forget the contrasting emotions he displayed in Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's 20,000 Days on Earth (2014) and Andrew Dominik's One More Time With Feeling (2016), which were made either side of the death of his 15 year-old twin brother, Arthur. Given that is also Daniel's age, this must have been a harrowing experience. But Cave gives a good account of himself, even though Harry Enfield and Kathy Bates had so nailed adolescent petulance as Kevin and Perry that he sometimes feels like a tribute act.
Abetted by Simon Tindall, Bird achieves the odd striking image of ice-cream vans, library bookcases and figures isolated within a confined living space. But the camerawork and editing are largely functional - despite being mercifully less intrusive than the cloyingly twee Belle & Sebastian song score - and leave less of an impression than production designer Lucie Red's deft décor contrasts between Daniel's room and the rest of the house and the cardigans and t-shirts unearthed by costumier Alison McLaughlin. Dividing the action into `Early', `Salad', `Dog' and `These' days, Bird and Owens pay affectionate, if clichéd tribute to single mums and misfit kids. But there's little sense of authorial personality, unless Bird was consciously setting out to become the British Wes Anderson. This isn't necessarily a criticism, but it will be interesting to see if his sophomore outing reveals whether he actually wants to be a director or a film-maker.
GUEST OF HONOUR.
Back when he made The Adjuster (1991), Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan was an arthouse darling, whose distinctively detached analysis of alienation, isolation, technology, psychological scarring and the mechanics of power warranted earnest academic tomes. Since remaking Anne Fontaine's Nathalie... (2003) as Chloe (2009), however, his star has been on the wane, with Devil's Knot (2013), The Captive (2014) and Remember (2015) drawing largely lukewarm reviews. In a bid to recapture past glories, Egoyan slips several self-reflexive references to his 90s heyday into Guest of Honour. But the gambit only serves to emphasise how far he has fallen off the pace.
Following the death of her English father, Jim Davis (David Thewlis), Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) provides parish priest Fr Greg (Luke Wilson) with a few details to help him write a eulogy for the funeral. She describes Jim's routine as a humourlessly efficient food inspector in an amusing tour of diverse premises around Hamilton, Ontario. However, she doesn't know why he took up this post after abandoning his own restaurant following the death of her Brazilian mother, Roseangela (Tennille Read).
We see Jim nursing a glass of wine, as he watches home movies on his laptop showing the young Veronica (Isabelle Franca) naming her white rabbit `Benjamin'. He had continued to care for the animal (which has its own upstairs pen) after music teacher Veronica had been sent to prison after refusing to contest accusations of improper conduct with Clive (Alexandre Bourgeois), a 17 year-old student who played in the orchestra she had conducted. A flashback suggests that she had been framed by Mike (Rossif Sutherland), the married bus driver who had resented Veronica's rejection of his awkward advances. But another scene implies that she had willingly accepted humiliation to teach her father a lesson for having an affair with Alicia (Sochi Fried), a music tutor who is first seen teaching her young son, Walter (Alexander Marsh), how to play a glass harp.
While Veronica was inside, Jim had found a phone in a locked drawer of her desk and had learned that Walter (Gage Munroe) had slashed his wrists in the bath after she had told him a secret about his mother's death in a fire. But he had carried on with his work, even after learning that he was sick, and had been intrigued when Luigi (Tony Nardi) had insisted that a rival had deliberately let a rat loose in his restaurant.
His readiness to approach things in a left-field manner perhaps influenced the way in which Veronica had tried to handle Mike after he had come to her motel room to protest about kids in the next room having noisy sex and had offered to speak to Clive about the texts he had been sending her. Veronica had assured him that the messages were about music, but she is unaware that Mike has been sneaking on to the bus during concerts (where she insists the kids leave their phones and valuables) and sending incriminating texts from Veronica's phone. When Clive twigs this and tells both Veronica and his pal, Lenny (Seamus Patterson), they agree to wind Mike up by pretending to have a wild party in a hotel room.
Fr Greg is puzzled why Veronica would admit to a crime she had not committed and she explains that her conscience had dictated that she went to prison for something that had happened in her past. We flashback to a prison visit, during which Veronica had tried to force Jim into acknowledging that he had slept with Alicia while his wife was dying of cancer. She recalls seeing them holding hands at a concert that Roseangela had attended and further remembers them slipping out during her piano lessons at Alicia's apartment to spend time alone upstairs.
Jim had been nettled by Veronica's accusation that he had held Alicia's hand in Roseangela's presence and had shown her footage that he had taken of the concert with his phone. He had insisted that he had held the camera with the hand that was supposedly touching Alicia, but Veronica had not been convinced. Indeed, she had come to hate her teacher so much that, when she had found her dozing on a sofa with a burning cigarette dangling over a pile of sheet music, she had allowed her to burn. Fr Greg is appalled by the revelation, but she remains icily calm in her rendition, as her own aspirations to become a composer had been thwarted by the traumas of her youth.
Meanwhile, Jim had discovered a number of unprocessed white rabbits in the Armenian restaurant owned by Anna (Arsinée Khanjian) and Garo (Hrant Alianak). They had informed him that they sold the ears to another chef, whose speciality was deep frying them. Despite being aware of the work they had put in to building their business, Jim had wanted to close them down. But he had relented after Anna had sworn that the rabbit meat was intended for a private party and not for public sale.
He had also exploited his status by scattering rabbit droppings on the washroom floor of a Bavarian establishment in order to coerce owner Gunter (John Bourgeois) into letting him speak with his chef grandson, Clive, who had been declining his efforts to make contact. Unfazed by Jim's knowledge that the incriminating texts had been sent during performances, Clive reveals that they knew the bus driver had been seeking revenge on Veronica for being spurned. But he also explains that she had made no attempt to defend herself and had spared him the ordeal of giving evidence by admitting her guilt and demanding the highest possible sentence. As he gets up to leave, Clive asks Jim if he was aware that his daughter felt responsible for Walter's suicide and was using this episode to assuage her sense of guilt.
Much to Veronica's surprise, Fr Greg had known Alicia from the parish and he reveals that Roseangela had encouraged Jim to seek intimacy with her because she could no longer meet his needs. He also explains that Jim had not told her about the arrangement because he wasn't sure she would understand and he had been devastated to lose the two women closest to him within such a short space of time. As Veronica processes the fact that she might have misinterpreted what she thought she had seen, we watch her younger self snooping on Jim and Alicia, as he asks for advice on how to tell her about her mother's condition.
Keen to see if Anna had kept her word about the private party, Jim had returned to the restaurant and had been accepted as guest of honour at a feast to mark a young woman's qualification as a doctor. Anna had tipped off everyone in Armenian before inviting Jim to make a speech. Having already had a few glasses of red wine, he had taken the microphone and admitted that he had come close to condemning the property and is glad he didn't because it's so nice to see a family being brought together by good food and drink. However, he had gone on to lament the shattering of the bond with his own child because a bus driver had lied about her and stolen her good name. He vows to find him and make him pay for what he had done.
Unfortunately, Garo had filmed the speech on his phone and the police call on Jim to ascertain whether he really intended tracking down the driver and killing him. As he fends off the questions, however, Jim notices that Benjamin has died (at the age of 16) and he is overwrought that this link with a time of innocence has been broken. He takes the corpse to Anna's restaurant and, while still appalled that they had shopped him to the police, he asks Garo to chop off the paws, as he doesn't have the heart to do it.
On his next visit to Veronica, he shows her footage of his inflammatory speech and she asks if her sentence will be increased because she has been identified as a partner in his vengeful conspiracy. He asks what is wrong with her and she says he is. But she also concedes that he is responsible for everything that is good about her, too.
At the funeral, Fr Greg had recalled meeting Jim at Alicia's own requiem, when he had praised Veronica's musical talents. The priest had agreed to place two of Benjamin's paws in Jim's coffin and, as he closes the casket lid, we are left with the image of Jim walking out of a kitchen and simply fading into the air, while his profile remains visible in the restaurant mirror.
Unless Veronica has a phenomenal memory for the detailed accounts that Jim might have given her of his daily doings during their prison meetings, it's hard to see how she could have such intimate knowledge of his thoughts and deeds to relay to Fr Greg. It's a nitpicking point, but the agglomeration of contrivances and convolutions in Egoyan's increasingly implausible script leaves it open to low blows. Compare this skein of flashbacks with the one bolstering Dominik Moll's Only the Animals and it's not difficult to deduce which is the superior picture.
It's frustrating to see a film-maker of Egoyan's talent resort to recycling old ideas, such as the teacher-student bond from Adoration (2008), and shoehorning in an Armenian element to the wholly unconvincing scene that gives this unintentionally meta-pastiching feature its title and nudges it along towards its underwhelming denouement. Even more peculiar, however, is Egoyan's seeming lowering of his once high standards, as some of the support playing is decidedly sub-par, while the symbolism involving wine glasses and various lapine body parts feels as strained as the overuse of Mychael Danna's Nymanesque score.
Paul Sarossy's discreetly observant autumnal camerawork is more restrained, while editor Susan Shipton brings a sense of flow to the torrent of flashbacks. But the picture's saving grace is David Thewlis, who keeps us guessing as to whether Jim is a pedantic jobsworth and failed family man or a decent bloke who keeps looking after his daughter’s pet bunny despite being ground down by life's caprices. Laysla De Oliveira also has her moments, as the daughter punishing her father and herself for things that might only have happened in her uncomprehending juvenile imagination.
`Why didn't he tell me any of this?', she asks a smarmily pious Luke Wilson after having the scales lifted from her eyes. At another point, in seeking to make sense of her father and his actions, she opines, `He made a lot of odd choices.' Sadly, she could just as easily be talking about her director.
Since winning the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for Athina Rachel Tsangari's Attenberg (2010), Ariane Labed has longed to direct. Consequently, she has spent the last decade picking up tips while acting in such acclaimed features as husband Yorgos Lantimos's Alps (2011) and The Lobster (2015), Richard Linklater's Before Midnight (2013), Guy Maddin's The Forbidden Room (2015) and Seances (2016), and Joanna Hogg's The Souvenir (2019) and its forthcoming sequel. In 2019, she finally got to call the shots herself and the resulting short, Olla, is now available to view on MUBI.
Appearing through the mist on a French provincial morning, redheaded Russian mail-order bride Olla (Romanna Lobach) wheels her suitcase through the streets and has to put up with the catcalls of watching males in searching for the house where Pierre (Grégoire Tachnakian) lives with his aged mother (Jenny Bellay). He is pleased to see Olla and she seems to be happy to be there, even though he suggests she adopts the name Lola to stop tongues wagging.
This seems unlikely, as they can only communicate through a translation app on her phone. But Pierre manages to show Lola around the house (while wearing shoe covers to avoid damaging the tiled floor) and make it clear that he expects her to be his mother's new carer. Lola amuses the old lady by playing with the remote-controlled foot rest of her La-Z-Boy recliner. She also treats her to the anodyne phrases in her French lesson, as she mops the floor. However, when Lola touches up the grey in his mother's hair, Pierre is furious with the unsolicited makeover and slaps her face. Having already made clumsy advances, he tries to atone that night in bed, but she turns her back and pretends to be asleep.
Olla is no shrinking violet, however. On her way back from the supermarket, she had dropped into the local church and enjoyed the sound of her high-heeled ankle boots clacking on the polished floor. She had also stretched out her legs in a pew in order to enjoy her own space and had returned home to masturbate while snacking at the kitchen table. When Pierre is next out at work. she also gyrates vigorously around the living-room in her underwear to the Eurodance track `What Is Love', while the old lady sits motionless in her chair, seemingly unconcerned by the various high kicks and pelvic thrusts, as Olla bounces off the walls and brushes against the net curtains.
Moreover, when Olla next goes out in a tight red leather dress, she informs the wolf-whistling onlookers of her rates for oral and penetrative sex and drags Fred (Gall Gaspard) away to fellate him to the strains of `What Is Love'. She seems pleased with her act of transgression and chuckles when Pierre asks her to dance for him in the sexy lingerie he had seen her wearing online. Her laughs become more hysterical, as Pierre starts to do a striptease. But they peter away when he drags her to the bedroom and forces himself upon her.
At supper the next night, Pierre gives Lola money to spend on shopping. She buys a big box of chocolates and watches him wash his mother in the sit-down shower (having previously helped out). The following morning, he kisses each woman on the forehead before leaving for work. But Olla has no intention of playing the meek chattel. She has a short dress on beneath her robe and wheels the mother outside in her chair after lighting five cigarettes and turning on the gas stove. The women clasp hands affectionately before Olla teeters away with her case. She smiles as Fred and his pals show their appreciation, but strides on after a momentary glance over her shoulder.
Despite the absurdist echoes of Tsangari and Lanthimos, the films of Chantal Akerman and Barbara Loden (particularly Wanda, 1970) appear to have proved the pivotal influences on this audacious short, which announces Labed as a directorial talent to watch. Collaborating closely with cinematographer Balthazar Lab, she frames much of the action in painterly medium shots that allow the viewer's eye to roam and contrast Lola's sense of confinement within the walls of her new home with the freedom that Olla rediscovers on the streets (of what is actually Nevers).
In keeping her distance, Labed is also able to leave viewers to make up their own minds about the nature of the arrangement between Olla and Pierre and what had happened between them in cyberspace before coming face to face. It's clear that Olla enjoys sex, but there is no joy in the bedroom scenes and she responds decisively and devastatingly after being raped. We are left to speculate about her fate and few would object if Labed and Romanna Lobach to expand upon Olla's odyssey. Excellent though Lobach is, however, this isn't a one-woman show, as Grégoire Tachnakian embodies conflicted millennial masculinity, while Jenny Bellay conveys much with her eyes in a selfless display that bears comparison with her cameo as the widow who realises that married social worker Laure Calamy is having an affair in Dominik Moll's Only the Animals.
THE UNCERTAIN KINGDOM.
You have to feel a bit sorry for the team behind The Uncertain Kingdom. When John Jencks contacted producers Isabel Freer and Georgia Goggin about a platform for 20 promising film-makers to make a fictional, documentary or experimental short about the state of the nation, the burning issue was Brexit. But, as John Lennon once wisely noted about life being what happens while we're busy making other plans, the name of the game has changed dramatically, with the result that this laudable project has seen its moment pass.
Nevertheless, the theme of taking steps into the unknown remains valid, as does the concept that we no longer live in a united kingdom. Indeed, the pandemic has only served to emphasise the fact that - regardless of our views on Dominic Cummings - we are irredeemably divided by class, race, region, gender and sexual identity, among so many other things. So, this snapshot of Britain by 20 directors given complete artistic freedom and a £10,000 budget still has plenty to say, even though some say it rather better than others.
In something of a departure, the following review is comprised of viewing notes. Sometimes, there just isn't the time to produce polished prose.
Swan (Sophie King).
A satire on Brexit that sees Ian (Mark Addy) get such a high score on the British citizenship test that he is entitled to turn into a swan. Wife Donna (Sally Bretton) has misgivings, but neighbour Ted (Mark O'Sullivan) is very impressed and helps out making the house more swan friendly. After a row during a dinner party with Ted and Gwen (Kirsty Bushell), Ian decides to postpone the change to ensure he's wholly ready because `transformation means transformation'.
Mildly amusing, with silly set-pieces involving cupboard doors and a stair lift for swans. But Donna clearly thinks sharing her bed and her life with a swan. when Ian doesn't need to change and is merely showing off his sense of superiority. is plain daft.
The Life Tree (Paul Frankl).
Bolivian cleaner Isidora (Díana Bermudez) works in a London office where no one notices her as she collects the tea cups and no one listens to the news broadcasting about the effects of global warming. She takes two tangerines from an untouched bowl of fruit in the conference room. As she's about to go home, however, a bin bag rips in the storeroom and she has to leave it to get a lift with her friend, Emma (Alice Lee), who offers to help find a doctor for her ailing son, Tomas (Juan-Leonardo Solari). He is home alone in bed and vomits when Isidora gives him a sip of water and she has to change his shirt - he asks if he is going to die and she tells him not to think like that.
Back at work, Isidora finds a sapling has sprouted from the spilt bag and, by the end of the day, it has become a full-sized fruit tree. She takes the golden fruit hanging from a branch and gives it to Tomas, who seems cured when he eats it. But he lapses by the morning and the tree has vanished the next day and the room is filled with boxes. When Isidora asks about the tree, she has to shout and swear to get any attention and everyone thinks she's off her rocker. When she gets home, she is shocked to find that Tomas has gone and all that is left on the bed is plastic detritus that could be all that's left of him after he simply fades away.
Apparently, the boy has died of plastic pollution, but this isn't readily evident from a film that wants to tackle too many topics on a superficial level while tossing in a bit of magic realism and tragedy. Earnest, but doesn't really work, with the news bulletin being used to show how the Third World has been decimated by our greed, only for us to ignore those who flee in the hope of making a better life for themselves.
Verisimilitude (David Proud).
Having perplexed a casting director (Alice Lowe) by reading Richard III's `villain' speech from her wheelchair, Bella (Ruth Madeley) - who is living with spina bifida - has to settle for teaching Josh (Laurie Davidson) how to use a chair for a biopic of a Paralympian. He's a Method man and wants to get it right, but complains about the diet he's on to make him look frail. Janey (Esther Smith) the make-up girl seems to share Bella's amusement at Josh's luvviness, but doesn't know how to console her when she loses a paraplegic part on Casuality for not being convincing enough.
Director Matt (Simon Lowe) fusses over Josh, when he films a sequence in which he has to pull himself out of his chair and use his upper body strength to negotiate some parallel bars. He suffers nobly before jumping to his feet to go to lunch. When Bella tries the scene herself, she does it without the fuss and with considerably more dignity.
Matt asks if she would like a small role in the film because `one of the wheelies' has been called off to do an advert. He assures her that having a handicapped girl would be good because it `ups our diversity quota for the BFI'. Bella admits she's not really qualified because she was born with her condition, while the character has an acquired disability. But Matt says no one will care and reminds her that it will look good having some lines on her CV and she agrees - with filming ending as the camera starts to roll on Bella's big scene.
Witty insider snipe at actors who win awards for playing characters with a physical or intellectual disability and how difficult it is for those who are living with the reality to find worthwhile work.
British People (Lab Ky Mo).
When they were kids, Jun (Christopher Huong) was expelled from a posh school for defending his older sister, Jane (Lynn Hu). Now, Jun (Siu Hun Li) has brought their mother, Linda (Pik Sen Lim) to the Conservative hustings where Jane (Jennifer Lim) is hoping to land the by-election nomination ahead of prim bourgeois blonde Emily Bridgeman (Zannah Hodson). Jun criticises his sister for selling out and losing her Scottish accent, while Jane mocks him for doing a one-man show about Keir Hardie. Linda is horrified to discover that Jane plans to marry a man named Hargreaves while she is away in Hong Kong and Jun accuses her of trying to airbrush her past in order to fit in with her Tory mates.
They watch as Jane speaks and takes pride in her immigrant roots and the values of hard work and wanting to contribute to wider society. She sees these as Tory values and promises to represent the people of this part of Hertfordshire and not just British Chinese. She gets a standing ovation, but Jun walks out and Linda looks betrayed.
Interesting idea about what assimilation means and how far it should go before you risk alienating your kin in order to please your neighbours. A bit stiff in delivery, but thoughtfully scripted and very much a hot topic with so many British Asian in prominent positions within Boris Johnson's cabinet.
Death Meets Lisolette (Guy Jenkin).
A little girl named Lisolette (Harriet Turnbull) cycles around Sheerness looking for her grandmother, Bonnie (Rosalind Ayres). She climbs to the top of a church tower and jumps. A man in the graveyard named Frank (Cornell S. John) sees her land and is astonished when she just gets up and walks way, singing `My Bonnie' with her granddaughter. Bonnie's vicar daughter Fran (Carrie Quinlan) chides her for trying to kill herself again and she complains she has early onset dementia and wants to be in control of when she goes - even if she might still have another couple of good years left.
A man named Billy (Simon Kane) gives himself an electric shock on the temple with a pair of electrodes, while Tony the undertaker (Andy Hamilton) sits bored in his office. When he meets up with Frank and Billy, Tony reveals that there hasn't been a death on the Isle of Sheppey for four months and Billy claims it's because he locked Death in Arnold's shed when he came to claim him. Frank and Tony drive out to peer through a crack in the door, but see nothing. But Lisolette sees Death (Hugh Dennis) with his cowl and scythe and he informs her that she can see him because she's going to die soon. He offers her a deal to let him out in return for living to 105 and Lisolette agrees, while also doing a deal for Bonnie so that she can have two more untroubled years.
As she lets him out, an invisible Death makes his way out of the gate and Lisolette miraculously escapes being hit when she rushes into the road near a car to greet her mother. Tony is inundated with calls and Billy gets nabbed in his shower. Lisolette explains the deal to Bonnie, who is pleased. As the credits roll. we see highlights from Liselotte's daredevil life that includes speed racing titles, space walks and wingsuit flying at 105. She's happy when Death comes for her in voiceover after having lived without fear for her full span.
Genial story. But, even though dementia is a topic worthy of discussion, this is hardly a revelatory insight into modern Britain.
Ernie (Ray Panthaki).
Ernie (Paul Kaye) is a milquetoast cleaner at a school where he dreads the bell going and being trapped in a corridor with the abusive kids. His workmates treat him like a dolt and father Arthur (Steven Berkoff) despairs of him. He has had a fall after refusing an African home help and rollocks Ernie at the dinner table for having an opinion of his own while he is ranting on about Brexit being the end of him if the Leavers lose. Ernie can barely sleep as the TV news reports on rioting and the army being brought in to maintain order. So, he sneaks out for a rendezvous with a gay sex worker, Jamie (Ossian Perret), who had to flee Romania because of persecution.
Ernie votes in the referendum and gets confused at the doctor's surgery when a black female receptionist informs him that he can't have an appointment for Arthur for three weeks unless it's an emergency. He tries to explain that he is old and coughing, so she tell him to take his father to A&E - but an Asian family with a crying infant is told to take a seat for the doctor. Arthur seems understanding and grasps his son's hand rather than tearing him off a strip.
On his next assignation, Jamie tries to get Ernie to dance, only to throw him out when he tries to kiss him, After work the next night, he finds Arthur dead in bed and slaps his own face in despair over a solitary meal. He lies down next to his father before going to the brothel to learn that Jamie has gone home without leaving a message.
Arriving home, Ernie sits on his bed in his room (great wallpaper - animals and birds he's probably had since he was a kid) and decides to get Arthur's long rifle. He hides it under his coat and passes the dog always left outside a neighbour flat and goes to the school. He peers through the glass into a staffroom full of preoccupied and downcast people before bursting into a room and firing, with blood splattering the door post (so he probably killed himself in an empty room - as the absence of any reaction or screaming suggests that he has died alone in an act of despairing futility that rather sums up his life).
A story that has lost much of its impetus because Boris got Brexit done, but the loneliness and neglect of white men of a certain background and age is intriguingly handled and Paul Kaye gives a performance of daunting melancholia as a man who has become an outsider in his own backyard.
Isaac and the Ram (Jason Bradbury).
Scottish skinhead-turned-bouncer Hank (Ian Pirie) rescues homeless gay teenager Isaac (Callum Myatt) from a kicking outside his club. Taking him back to his place, Hank tells Isaac that he stinks and send him for a bath, while he washes his clothes. He defends him with a baseball bat from one of the pursuers who has come to the poky flat and shows little gratitude, as he thinks he would have been fine if Hank had just let him into the club.
While Hank sleeps, Isaac calls his mother, but says nothing when she tells him that she prays for him. The next morning, Hank wakes screaming and Isaac holds him until he calms down. He tries to steal something and almost gets battered when Hank pounces on him. But they calm down and Isaac complains that he never knows what anyone wants from him. Hank offers to fetch some eggs and leave him to sleep.
Odd couple story with supposed tension, but nothing is explained and the action is too contrived in its execution and resolution. Nevertheless, it shows that you can't judge books by their covers and that decency can comes from unexpected sources.
Pavement (Jason Wingard).
A homeless man named Anthony (Steve Everts) is begging outside a Manchester bank when Katie (Liz White) objects to security guards Roger (Tony Mooney) and Gael (Mudar Abbara) attempting to move him along. They discover one of his feet has sunk into the pavement and no efforts to remove him can wrest him free. Katie calls the cops, as a couple of giggling female workmates take pictures on their phone. The female cop (Keeley Fitzgerald) warns Katie that she has no right to prevent them from doing their job. She wants to issue a £100 spot fine for sleeping rough and Katie is admonished again for protesting. But it becomes clear that the pavement is swallowing Anthony and covering him over and that nothing can be done to save him.
Katie comes back after dark and lies beside Anthony, who is now covered across the torso. She asks his name and he tells her that he fought for his country and couldn't cope with civvy street and lost his wife, kids and his home. He has been on the streets for six years and just wants to be treated the same as everyone else.
As morning comes, a digger arrives to rescue Anthony, but Victoria (Elinor Colman) strides out to say they can't dig up bank property. While everyone argues, Anthony begins to sing Jerusalem, as the asphalt closes over his face and Katie is powerless to help him. As soon as the spectacle is over, everyone melts away, leaving Katie alone in front of the pillar and Anthony's carrier bags.
The make-up for his face being swallowed recalls the Man in the Moon in Georges Méliès's A Trip to the Moon (1902), while the top and down shots suggesting Anthony's view of the starry sky and the pillars of the edifice are effectively used. But subtlety is at a premium as the choir sings on the soundtrack along with Anthony, as a patriotic anthem from the age of dark Satanic mills is reclaimed as a song of misery about the poor, the phone click novelty value of a human tragedy and society's indifference to those on its margins.
Left Coast (Carol Salter).
An elderly man named Dave works at the Mustard Seed food bank in Blackpool. He has a kind word for everyone and makes sure they get a few treats as well as the bare necessities. The Blackpool Food Partnership makes a pick-up from a supermarket, as experts on the radio discuss food supplies and shortages and we get glimpses of the Golden Mile out of rain-streaked car windows. Teachers check up on kids in schools to make sure they're eating and lots more people (mostly white and young and middle-aged rather than elderly) call in with gratitude at the way in which they are treated as human beings rather than scroungers.
The rollerccoaster rumbles along at the Pleasure Beach, but there's nothing exciting or glamorous about it in this weather. Over footage of a town on its knees, we hear Tory politicians celebrating an upturn in the economy after the recession - but they are oblivious to the realities faced by ordinary people. As they bray on the government benches, a woman reprimands someone for taking more than their entitlement and tells them `not to be greedy'.
A caption reveals that over 14 million people in the UK live in poverty, with 4.5 million being children.
Touchingly done, with a real sense of a community rallying to help its own - with no assistance from the smug, detached rhetoric spouters in Parliament, who wouldn't know hardship if it fell down in front of them.
Motherland (Ellen Evans).
Over shots of a ruin from colonial times, a Black British man (Ken Morgan) reflects on the relationship between England and Jamaica since 1655 and how the island was operated on smash-and-grab terms with the occupying power making no effort to establish a lasting society when the aim was solely to exploit. He has been forcibly returned to his `home country', but insists he is black, British and proud. Moreover, he reveals that he has never so much as received a parking ticket and was in the UK from 1948-75 without a moment's trouble. He returned to Jamaica from East London for a family funeral and was refused re-entry and told that the passport he had held since childhood was invalid. He admits it took time to control his fury and find his niche, but he has never forgotten that institutions like the Home Office have no concept of human lives and those based there can shatter a life during the course of a day's work without giving it a second thought.
Two younger lads - one northern, one southern (Tremayne Brown and AT - not sure which) - describe how they were told they were being repatriated without any time to inform family or friends or even gather their belongings before the flight. As they know nobody on the island and have UK accents, they feel vulnerable all the time, but especially at nights and tend to stay in with no prospects. Moreover, they can't see their mothers or siblings and have been sent halfway around the world (in an echo of the way the slaves were dispatched from Africa because it suited the colonial plan). Now they just have to make the most of it - but Ken resents the fact that no white Briton ever has to prove their right to remain and he can't understand why he is not entitled to the same treatment.
Lots of shots of local life from a slowly moving camera while we see close-ups of the three men as they speak, with calm dignity in the case of Ken and desparing resignation and a growing sense of hopelessness from the other two (with the indistinct sound suggesting how they aren't listened to at home and have just been turfed out into a country where they have no real roots). Very topical after the recent Windrush scandal, while the Black Lives Matter theme has been reinforced by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Borrowed From Our Children (Leon Oldstrong).
Opening with Nelson Mandela's line about children being our greatest treasure because they represent the future, this series of vignettes includes lots of slo-mo shots of kids doing kid things (drawing, skateboarding, bike riding, cross training) interspersed with footage from protests about climate change and the Grenfell Tower disaster and of some youths volunteering with Guardians of the Deep. It closes with the anonymous quotation: `The world isn't inherited from our parents. It is borrowed from our children.'
Very beautiful to look at, thanks to William Hadley's images. But with the mawkish music manipulating the emotional response to each one, this feels a bit like a party political broadcast on behalf of multicultural kids. Well intentioned, but a bit suffocating.
Camelot (Alison Hargreaves).
Captions in English and Welsh claim that King Arthur formed a kingdom in what is now Wales and some boys from the Rhymney Valley in South Wales rewrite the story. We hear them discussing how the myth relates to them before we see them re-enacting their version on a stage. It's charmingly naive and their enthusiasm is echoed in the way a couple of adult voices (maybe a father and grandfather) explain how much the area has changed since the colliery closed and yet how much safe space there now is for kids to play or catch frogs in the pond.
While the play examines Arthur's Destiny, the grandfather says he doesn't believe in it and reckons you only get out of life what you put in. The scene of granny trying to pull Excalibur from a rock is hilarious and done like a TV strong man competition. In voiceover, the boys think it would be nice to be king and live in a castle, but they would rather stay normal and go frogging with their gramps.
Amusing, different and bound in to a community rather than a loose theme. Has the feel of a Central Office of Information film and that's a compliment.
Sauna (Stroma Cairns).
In Camden Town, a group of people gather in the sauna at the community Glassmill Gym and discuss everything from truth on social media to knife crime. One woman declares that Boris Johnson is merely Donald Trump with a thesaurus, while a girl says being 25 these days is like being lost in a forest, as you have no idea where you're going. They riff on religion and how Charles Darwin stopped believing in God when his daughter died. There's plenty of banter and they agree that it's good to have a laugh, as life is too serious. A man in a wheelchair says life is about taking the right roads rather than sticking to one path, while another says religion shouldn't stand in the way of showing empathy to one another - as kindness makes the world go round.
Akin to a mini version of Patrick McLennan and Samuel Smith's The Ponds (2018) and that is also very definitely a compliment.
We Are Not the Problem (Dominika Ozynska).
The first animated film has wavy-lined pencil and wash animation of scenes of daily life in London, as Adam (voiced by Jacek Pietrzak) explains about coming to Britain from Poland to work for five years and save money. He blames Europe's problems on Angela Merkel (who is given a Hitler moustache in a newspaper picture) and Adam describes how Poles wouldn't let migrants try to impose their culture and laws. If they didn't like it, they would have to go home. He says the Poles who came to the UK contributed to the economy and even the its culture. But it's hard to tell whether migrants are looking to make a fast buck or genuinely need help and he thinks they are less valuable to the country than his compatriots.
Not entirely sure what this film is trying to say - is it just a bald statement that Brits voted to leave the EU in order to avoid Polish immigrants when the ones coming from Africa and the Middle East are deemed to be worse? Or is this a warning that racist attitudes are rampant in Europe and are contributing to the shift in the UK. Or is it saying that Brits have been unwelcoming to everyone, despite benefiting from their presence? Such ambiguity adds to the film's intrigue, if not its potency.
What's In a Name (Runyararo Mapfumo).
Desta Haile from Eritrea had a poem written for her about her name by her grandfather.
Amardeep Singh Dhillon is a Sikh who likes the fact that his name appears in the title of Manmohan Desai's 1977 film, Amar Akbar Anthony, and is happy that it's gender neutral, as he is fluid about his sexuality.
Poonum Chamdal has a name that translates as Full Moon and has liked using Luna since travelling in Argentina and enjoys being able to choose which name to use, as she wants to be the centre of her story and not a secondary character.
Mehmet Mustafa from Cyprus was called Mark as a kid and it's stuck, although he has been able to use his own name since he discovered that he shares it with an EastEnders character.
Ahmed Kaballo took the nickname Ack because classmates mispronounced his real name. Nowadays, he insists on people working a bit harder to get it right.
Wei Ming Kam worries that by staying in Britain she won't be able to keep up her family's Cantonese heritage.
Acre Fall Between (Antonia Campbell-Hughes).
Daryl (Mark O'Halloran) calls home when his car packs up on the Northern Irish border and walks home to find that his home and his estate are completely deserted. He is reunited with Kim the Collie and carries him on a search through paths and fields to an abandoned farm. They pass the coast, with signs about restricted areas. Kim runs away and finds some fish in the long grass in a field. Daryl lies down next to them in a near-reverential state and calls on the dog to come with him. It watches as he wades into the rising tide and dives underwater to swim past something in the water that has a yellow warning sticker on it.
Atmospheric, if baffling post-apocalyptic saga that is clearly about climate change and plastics, but is likely to prove too challenging for anyone not on its wavelength.
Grit/Oyster (Rebecca Lloyd-Evans & Alex Fry).
For 30,000 years of pre-history, deities were female and the goddess of sex and love was Astarte. As she returns to Earth (in the form of Erica Russell) on a playing field outside London and wanders around to see how women are depicted in modern Britain, Mara (Francesca Walsh) a black woman in a tenement flat explains how she discovered there was nothing wrong with being attracted to other women when she saw a lesbian storyline on EastEnders. A dressmaker, Carrie (Liberty Antonia Sadler), wonders how the power dynamic would change if society took more notice of the fact that women can multi-orgasm, while men are spent after they ejaculate. She recalls losing her virginity at 13 with a boy of the same age after being snowed in at his house while his parents were away. She went on top and came because she knew how to move in order to pleasure herself because she had masturbated.
Alice (Olivia Norris), an American woman with a shaved head, describes herself as a Republican Princess, whose father was one of the architects of the Grand Old Party ethos - Ronald Reagan was a regular dinner guest. She explains that she was subjected to male notions of beauty from an early age and recalls her sociopath father putting porn on around her. She later discovered that he had been raping her younger sister from the age of six until she had pulled a gun on him. Her older sister had also been drugged and abused - but she has no recollection and, as her father has since died, she has to live with not knowing whether he abused her or not.
As Astarte uses red and yellow powder to mark out insignia on the ground outside a church and begins an incantation, the dressmaker covers herself in sequins, as she shares a fantasy of being pursued by a pack of thuggish men objectifying and using her. She admits it's not the most enlightened scenario, but she's in control of the sensations.
The American describes her fantasy encounter with a charity worker who makes her feel as though she is floating. The lesbian wishes she could make a porno and do really dirty stuff - as it turns her on to be the giver and lose herself in the moment. The dressmaker agrees that orgasm is a wonderful sensation and that it's there on a plate and women should take advantage of the release it affords them to feel good about themselves.
Bold and splendidly unapologetic dissertation on female desire that channels stories from anonymous women into three masturbatory fantasies under the encouragement of a horned and topless goddess.
Strong Is Better Than Angry (Hope Dickson Leach).
Fifteen women in a kickboxing class divulge what makes them angry. They explain how the class has helped them channel their fury and, in the case of one Scottish woman, given her a reason for getting up and facing the day. A black woman is new to the group and she's a bit hesitant, as instructor Michelle Scott calls out the moves. But, she grows in confidence and begins to thump and bloody a David Cameron punch-bag that keeps bouncing back for more. A voice off-screen asks who they would punch and the expected names of Donald Trump, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nigel Farage, Brett Kavanaugh and Boris Johnson come up. At the end of the session, the others congratulate the newcomer on getting into the swing of things.
The reasons for the women getting angry range from exploiting the vulnerable to destroying the planet. But one black woman has a long list of things that have impacted upon her life - although she ends by comparing herself to a caterpillar who becomes a butterfly and declaring that she becomes strong rather than angry.
The driving rock guitar over the slo-mo Cameron slugging sequence, as his nose bloodies and the punches continue to rain in, comes perilously close to incitement and it would be interesting to see what kinds of objections would have been raised if it had been a Brexiteer punching Jeremy Corbyn or even Theresa May or Gina Miller. Nevertheless, a legitimate point is powerfully made.
This is a consciously provocative film and its inclusion reinforces the sense that this is a film by the losers in the recent debates rather than the winners - and this means the ordinary white working-class people who voted for Brexit and Boris and would feel this film is biased against them and their worldview. By the way, this could be the Scottish film - but there's no mention of independence, a cause currently being driven by a woman, Nicola Sturgeon, who has shown infinitely more effective leadership qualities than the Prime Minister.
Sucka Punch (Iggy London).
A boy (Ryan Walker-Edwards) and a girl (Amara Okereke) look into the mirror and dislike what they see. But they meet up and park their insecurities to get together. This is merely an advert, however, with the slogan `Bodys - Every Body is Perfect' and the girl talks to the camera to explain how such ads get 20 million views online and challenge viewers in the 18-24 range to wonder why such items pop up on their dashboards and what this says about the material they consume and the algorithms they generate to enable the big corporations to monitor their social media activity and learn how to shape them through their likes and dislikes on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook.
Generation Z spends around three hours a day on social media, which adds up to 84 hours a month and they don't seem to realise that the corporate Goliath has learned how to speak like David so that it seems as if they are on their side. But this is to con people into forwarding their posts and reinforcing attitudes they wish to promulgate. The model says anger is being dissipated and that the revolution is being stolen. But there is hope that we can retain our individuality if we all stick together and seize the future.
A hand passes her a can of `Sucka Punch' and she drinks it down - because she's in an advert, too, with the zinger slogan `Zero Sugar, Zero Taste'. And the film ends with the mixed-race crew congratulating her on her performance.
Clever conceit that acknowledges the addictive allure of social media, while warning against falling into its traps - while setting one for us to fall into. Brilliantly delivered by Amara Okereke and scripted by Ibrahim Salawu/
The Conversation (Lanre Malaolu).
A black man named Tyrone (Onyemachi Ejimofor) is having a date with his white girlfriend, Christine (Lauren Anthony), who tells him that he is overthinking the way white people react to him. She protests that she can't be racist because she's dating him, but she doesn't believe that people move bags on free seats on the Tube simply because he's black.
Tyrone looks into the camera and imagines a response in the form of interpretive dance - in which he interacts with five white women (Faye Stoeser, Hannah Woodliffe, Lauren Stewart, Nevena Stojkov and Beth Stoddart) who purport to understand the Black Lives Matter initiative, but can't quite accept him on his own terms - hence him choking for air in an enclosed brick space.
As the film ends, Sam (Jack Trueman) is on a date with Adaara (Wunmi Malaalu) and he is also protesting his credentials - as are lots of other white people out with black dates, who have to sit and listen to the denials of others rather than express themselves.
Intriguing idea explored with innovation and a freshness that is lacking in the more conventional vignettes. It's never easy understanding dance, but this punches through and its power and pertinence has increased n-fold since Derek Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Given that the contributor list was compiled through a mix of invitation and application, it was somewhat inevitable that this would be a mixed bag. The brief was to provide `a bright flash of insight' that might open minds and spark debate and each vignette certainly offers something to contemplate. With a running time of four hours, however, this can seem like an endurance test at a single sitting, especially as there are currently so many aspects of national life to feel ashamed about. There's also a danger, with the shorts coming thick and fast, that they can start to blur into one another and the main plus point about having to view the collection online is that it's possible to pause and reset one's moral compass every four or five films.
The documentaries prove the most consistently thought-provoking. They also have a nuance that is missing from some of the fictional items, which occasionally suffer from melodramatic over-emphasis or strained wit. By contrast, several of the experimental offerings have a quirky ingenuity that helps sock their message across. What's most noticeable, however, is the dearth of positivity, while the recurring tendency to browbeat rather then enlighten or encourage means that this nobly intentioned enterprise will almost certainly not reach the people who need to see it most.
THE LAST FULL MEASURE.
Writer-director Todd Robinson was clearly impressed by the fact that Mel Gibson and Andrew Garfield were Oscar-nominated for their work on Hacksaw Ridge (2016), a recreation of the heroics at the Battle of Okinawa that earned Seventh-Day Adventist and conscientious objector Desmond T. Doss the Medal of Honor for carrying wounded American soldiers off the Maeda Escarpment without thought for his own safety.
On 11 April 1966, USAF Pararescue Jumper William H. Pitsenbarger acted with equally reckless courage during Operation Abilene in going to the aid of Army casualties near Cam My in Vietnam. Unlike Doss, he failed to survive his mission and, in The Last Full Measure (which was filmed in 2017, but shelved for two years) Robinson considers why it took three decades for Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross to be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
With the Department of Defense in chaos after the resignation of the secretary of state. lawyer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) is advised by boss Carlton Stanton (Bradley Whitford) to bury an appeal to upgrade the award made to William H. Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine) because he will be losing his job in the upcoming administration change. However, new incumbent F. Whitten Peters (Linus Roache) is impressed by the passion of retired sergeant Tom Tully (William Hurt/Ethan Russell) and urges Huffman to give the case his full attention.
Having met Frank (Christopher Plummer) and Alice Pitsenbarger (Diane Ladd), Huffman sets off to meet members of Charlie Company with the 1st Infantry Division (nicknamed `the Big Red One'), who witnessed Pits being winched into the forest in the middle of a Vietcong ambush. Embittered commander Billy Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson/Ser'Darius Blain) speaks as much about being a refugee in his own country after returning to Civvy Street as he does about Pitsenbarger, in refusing to go on the record in giving his testimony.
Wife Donna (Amy Madigan) warns Huffman that Jimmy Burr (Peter Fonda/James Jagger) suffers so badly from PTSD that he hasn't slept at night for 32 years. Meeting on a rabbit hunt after dark, Burr recalls being the unit rookie and throwing up after his first kill. At a shooting range, Ray Mott (Ed Harris/Zach Roerig) commends Pitsenbarger's valour in wondering why a USAF man like would risk his neck for Army guys when it wasn't his fight. A few weeks later, Mott drives his school bus to Washington to give Huffman a letter Pits had asked him to pass on to his sweetheart, but he had been too messed up to do it and now feels a coward.
Back at the Pentagon, Huffman learns from assistant Celia O'Neill (LisaGay Hamilton) that the paper trail back to 1966 is broken and Stanton cautions against locking horns with the USAF Medal Committee, as only one non-officer has ever received a Medal of Honor in the award's history. He also learns he's about to be headhunted by the FBI and tells pregnant wife, Tara (Alison Sudol), that he can't let the Pitsenbarger case go after visiting his dying father and realising how much the MoH would mean to him. A Thanksgiving dinner seals the deal, as does Takoda's revelation that he made a mistake in the field that exposed his own men to friendly fire and that this is the reason that Pits was overlooked for the decoration he deserved.
Flying to Vietnam, Huffman meets Chauncy Kepper (John Savage/Cody Walker), a Kurtzian recluse who reveals that his home (complete with a lepidopterarium) has been built on the site of the battle to turn Abilene into Avalon. He recalls Pits seeming to be like an angel as he was lowered into hell and he encourages Huffman to light a paper lantern and send it into the night sky so he can let go of the emotional baggage he is carrying as a result of coming to realise that the sacrifices made by America's veterans should be rightfully rewarded and eternally remembered.
Kepper also confides that Charlie Company was deliberately sent into a Vietcong ambush and discloses that one of the brains behind it was Senator Mason Holt (Dale Dye/Richard Cawthorne), who is such a big noise in Washington that Stanton threatens Huffington that his life, let alone his career will be over if he exposes him. However, like Tully, Holt feels shame for his actions in April 1966 and he agrees to risk his reputation to get the citation changed. When he's spiked by a political rival, Tara pushes her husband to use his fear to go public with the story. Peters backs him and takes pleasure as Secretary of the Air Force to present the Medal of Honour to Pitsenbarger's parents at the USAF museum at Dayton, Ohio in December 2000.
The inclusive nature of the speech that Peters gives in this closing scene, in which he asks everyone in the room with a connection to a single man's act of courage to stand and be recognised, should shame the United States in the wake of George Floyd's murder. Indeed, there's something dismayingly poignant about a film celebrating American heroism being released in the week when the country's current leader has confirmed his place among the most despicable occupants of the Oval Office.
Despite its potential to arouse such sentiments, this meandering melodrama is actually more about a white yuppie's journey of self-discovery than it is a memorial to Bill Pitsenbarger or a treatise on the values that caused him to lay down his life for his comrades-in-arms. It's also unashamedly sentimental, as Robinson ladels Philip Klein's mawkish score over every meaningful moment. It's a shame he wasn't able while shooting to take a peek at Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying (2017) - which takes its title from a speech by Abraham Lincolm - as it managed to channel its high-running emotions in following another group of combat buddies coming to terms with past deeds.
As the closing credits roll, Robinson inserts interview clips featuring several veterans who fought alongside Pitsenbarger. Their choked recollections are the most authentic thing in the entire picture and leaves one wondering whether the actuality approach might have been more apposite. That said, John Savage, William Hurt, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris and Peter Fonda (looking and sounding like his father in his last screen role), strive to give the story a smidgeon of the dignity it deserves. In discovering what it takes to be a good father and a better son, Sebastian Stan also works hard to turn a clichéd cipher into something resembling a credible central character, while Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd deliver, as they invariably do.
But no one is helped by Robinson's loaded dialogue and a narrative approach that prioritises the human interest over the political and military angles. Equally deleterious is a directorial desultoriness that suggests Robinson picked up too few tips while making his estimable William A. Wellman documentary, Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (1995). Even the Cam My sequences lack immediacy, although this may have something to do with the fact that three editors are credited alongside the 27 producers. Given its current predicament, America is clearly crying out for a hero. But it takes much more than mere sincerity for a biopic to inspire.
TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE.
It's safe to say that feature debutant Ena Sendijarevic is an admirer of American independent cinema. En route during the road movie, Take Me Somewhere Nice, she nods in the direction of Hal Hartley and David Lynch, But it's Jim Jarmusch and, in particular his absurdist picaresque, Stranger Than Paradise (1984), that has the most profound influence on a picture that follows on from the admired shorts, Travellers in the Night (2013), Fernwen (2014) and Import (2016). Having moved 20 times during her youth, the Bosnian-born, Amsterdam-based film-maker is well placed to chronicle an exile's odyssey. But this meandering rite of passage doesn't always seem to know where it's heading.
Having been bought a new lilac tennis dress by her mother (Sanja Buric), teenager Alma (Sara Luna Zoric) sets off from the Netherlands to visit her estranged father, who is in hospital in her native Bosnia. She is met at the airport by her callous, black marketeering cousin Emir (Ernad Prnjavorac) and left to fend for herself in the nondescript apartment when he goes out. With the rest of the family away on holiday, Alma wanders into town and has her hair dyed blonde at the shopping mall, which seems alien because her grasp of the language is somewhat shaky.
Forced to sleep on the doorstep, Alma is woken next morning by Emir's friend, Denis (Lazar Dragojevic). He digs the keys out of a flowerpot and tries to open the suitcase, whose lock has stuck. When he fails, he asks Alma if it's true that Dutch girls are easy and (out of sight of a camera on the wrong side of the sofa back), he traces the route to Podvelezje on her body. They are interrupted by Emir, who drags Denis away and Alma informs her mother that he is horrible.
Left to her own devices again, Alma is joining in with an old monochrome film featuring a tap-dancing spaceman when Denis arrives. They French kiss and have a knee-trembler in the lift before sitting on the stairs drinking hooch. He explains that he's Emir's intern and Alma smiles when he bolts off to play with a passing dog. When she gets home, Emir asks if she's having fun and Alma recommends that he tries it some time. He refuses to take her to Podvelezje, however, and warns her off Denis by revealing that he has a longtime girlfriend.
Forced to wash her clothes in a bathroom full of plastic water bottles, Alma decides to take the bus. She gets travel sick and has to listen to the driver and a pal complaining about the raw deal that Bosnia gets from the Russians, the Europeans, the Americans and the Turks. During a pit stop, Alma vomits at the side of the road and is left in the middle of nowhere when the coach departs without her. Unable to thumb a lift, she wanders along the road and is relieved to be picked up by Jovana (Jasna Ðuricic), a singer on tour, who takes her to the nearby hotel. Alma calls home and her mother threatens to kill Emir, who has agreed to take his cousin to the hospital if Denis can beat him at pool.
Lying in the sun in her underwear, Alma washes her dress in the swimming pool and chats with Jovna on the sun loungers. She asks Alma about herself and, having heard that her father had abandoned them because he was homesick, Jovna warns her that men are the same everywhere and not to be trusted. Unable to find her missing case, Alma asks the desk clerk (Mirjana Jagdovic) if she can pay when she gets her credit card back. But an eavesdropping politician (Mario Knezovic) offers to pay her bill and Alma masturbates while sprawled on a large double bed.
She is disturbed by Emir and Denis calling to her from the car park. However, she refuses to go with them and Jovna hurls a shoe at Emir when he tries to climb up to his cousin's balcony. Instead, Alma goes on with the politician, who plies her with drink and tries to slow dance with her at the nightclub where Jovna happens to be performing. Bumping into her in the washroom, Alma asks to borrow her pale pink lipstick and, as she gazes into the mirror in an unflattering close-up, the older woman feels very aware of her passed youth.
Staggering into the car park with her benefactor, Alma is alarmed when Emir and Denis jump out from behind his car and bundle her into the boot. When they release her, they are up in the hills and Alma wanders behind a tree to relieve herself before they drive on in Emir's car. She asks them to detour to the bus station to collect her suitcase and settles for someone else's when it's all they have to offer at lost property. Changing into a baggy white t-shirt, Alma is surprised by a package she finds tucked away, but says nothing about it when she rejoins the boys to press on to Podvelezje.
They don't get far, however, before Emir hits a dog and has to put it out of its misery. He also loses his car when the engine seizes up and the mechanic suggests selling it to the scrap yard, where Denis is telling Alma about the phallophobia that means he can't sleep with another man's girlfriend. When Alma confides that she is looking for a muscleman to look after her, he sneers that it's white men who need protecting in the modern world.
They wander along the tracks to the train station, where Denis dumps his girlfriend by phone and tells Alma he's free as they find an empty compartment. He juggles with the oranges Emir has bought and smiles when Alma suggests that he looks for an internship in Holland. However, Emir warns his cousin that Denis sees her as nothing more than a walking passport and urges her not to succumb to his lazy charm. He also cautions her that people act for one of two reasons - a good one or the right one.
On arriving at the hospital, Alma learns that her father died the day before and a nurse gets her directions to his house so that she has somewhere to stay before the funeral. After traipsing across country, they settle in for the night. Alma empties the last of the fish food into a tank full of floating corpses and changes into another t-shirt after going through the contents of the suitcase. They all lie on the bed to watch television, but Alma refuses to let Denis spoon with her.
While Emir gives Alma a driving lesson in her father's car, she asks if he also wants to leave Bosnia. But he claims to be loyal to his homeland and would prefer to be seen as a patriot than a nationalist, as he is motivated by love rather than hatred. Loading the coffin into the boot, the trio hit the road, only to be stopped by a suspicious cop. He asks Alma to open her case, but is distracted by the coffin and orders Emir to open it. The body has shifted and Alma can't decide whether to look away or take a last look at the father she barely knew.
Having buried him in a dusty cemetery, Alma tells the boys about the package in the case and they quickly realise it's cocaine. Hepped up, they blast Sonic Youth' `Kook Thing' from the stereo and Alma whoops with delight as Denis dodges out of the way as Emir drives at him in the darkness. But the mood quickly changes when Alma laughs at Denis when he tries to kiss her and she taunts him that he would be ridiculed and reviled if he ever came to the Netherlands because they hate interlopers. Emir responds by asking her why she came to Bosnia to gawp like a tourist with a superiority complex and she demands they get out of her father's car.
When they refuse to stop, Alma opens the back door and jumps out. Emir chases after her through some trees and drags her to the ground. She apologises for mocking them and tries to kiss her cousin on the mouth. He pushes her away and they exchange a series of face slaps before Emir dives on Alma and they have sex.
At first light, they drop Alma on the outskirts of town and she looks across the valley from a rusty swing at the side of the road. She calls her mother to tell her that everything has gone well and is having a quiet cry when a stray Highland Terrier clambers up the scrub to greet her. When the boys return after selling the drugs, they give Alma her cut and she asks to go to the seaside.
They check into a hotel and she blow dries the dog after a bath and ties its fringe in a bow before joining her companions for a silent dinner. Afterwards, they go to a sparsely attended magic show, where Alma is sawn in half and she smiles as she strains her neck to look round at the applauding audience, as the conjurer (Emir Hadzihafizbegovic) stands nonchalantly between the separated halves of the casket.
Lounging on a beach chair, Alma sings softly about sharing dreams. She sits up to kiss Denis, only for him to be set upon by a pair of thugs demanding to know who gave them permission to sit on their chairs. Balancing the dog on her head, Alma wades out into the sea, leaving Denis to endure a savage beating. When the heavies leave, she straddles him and lifts up his t-shirt to kiss his chest. As they make love, their hands clasp and Denis's sighs of pain become mixed with gasps of excitement. As the film ends, Alma washes herself in the sea before exiting for an uncertain future.
The final framing of Alma's legs in extreme akimbo close-up typifies the idiosyncratic manner in which Sendijarevic and cinematographer Emo Weemhoff compose the boxy Academy ratio imagery. Making repeated use of sun loungers, beds and the backseat of a car, production designer Myrte Beltman also excels, particularly in the way she contrasts the architectural styles from before and after the implosion of Yugoslavia and the way in which she exploits the changing nature of the Bosnian landscape. Encapsulated by Alma's contention that the Netherlands is a cold place full of cold people, this love-hate depiction of Sendijarevic's own birthplace and adopted home reinforces Alma's conflicted motives for wanting to see the father her mother detests on his deathbed.
Whether wearing costume designer Nedda Nagel's lilac tennis dress or a baggy white t-shirt, Sara Luna Zoric makes an arresting impression in her first feature, as she recalls both Eszter Balint in Stranger Than Paradise and Laetitia Dosch in Léonor Serraille's Jeune Fille (2017), which also centred on a woman (albeit twice Alma's age) setting out to reinvent herself in new surroundings. Zoric's deadpan expression also invites comparison with some of Aki Kaurismäki's impassive heroines. But she also has a fearlessness that contrasts with the cautious, compromised machismo of Emir and Denis, who are splendidly played by Ernad Prnjavorac and Lazar Dragojevic. It's perhaps a pity there wasn't a Bosnian female counterpart of a similar age to set against Alma, but the implications are clear from the sadness in Jovna's eyes as she looks back at herself in the washroom mirror from beneath unflattering smears of powder blue make-up.
Sendijarevic boldly puts a millennial feminist slant on the conventions of the road movie, although the cocaine in the lost/found suitcase feels more than a little contrived even for a Balkan McGuffin. The sudden arrival on the beach of two meat-headed ruffians also jars, as there hadn't previously been a hint of violence in a country whose civil war scars are still healing. But such is Sendijarevic's confidence as both writer and director that such minor glitches can be cheerfully overlooked, particularly as she has created in Alma a character whose resilience and quick-witted intelligence is both irresistible and inspiring.
AROUND THE WORLD WHEN YOU WERE MY AGE.
There are few more resistible things in modern cinema than documentaries in which film-makers use their family archives to rewrite history or settle old scores. Such works may well have an auto-cathartic value and will doubtlessly prove useful to those who recognise their own situations in the narratives. But they often leave the audience feeling like intrusive voyeurs on miseries that would be better discussed between those involved in the privacy of their own homes or a therapist's office.
Mercifully, 30 year-old Aya Koretzky's first feature, Around the World When You Were My Age, uses her father's journal and a treasure trove of 16mm and 35mm slides in a more positive vein, as she seeks to forge a new connection by retracing the globe-trotting journey that he undertook when he was her age back in 1970. Koretzky employed a similar method in the featurette, Beyond the Mountains (2011), when she used correspondence with family and friends to analyse her emotions on moving from Tokyo to Lisbon. But this unique father-daughter dialogue is every bit as intimate and affecting.
Having ventured into the woods to unearth a metal box of keepsakes from his travels, Jiro Koretzky tells Aya about the sense of sadness he felt on leaving Yokohama on 22 August 1970, as he had never been out of Japan before and the sight of his family waving him off on a Soviet ship named Baikal made him emotional. Dusting down his diary, he recalls over a sequence of slides how he disembarked in Siberia and took the train to Moscow, where he had a drunken encounter with a jovial, vodka-swilling stranger. As a result of their wassailing, Jiro slept well on the express to Helsinki.
In Tarku, he met 20 year-old student named Terttu and they had eaten blueberries in a peaceful wood. Jiro had also been struck by the lack of human presence in the country's newly built cities and he felt homesick for the clutter of Japan's ancient towns. He noted in Stockholm that everything is expensive except milk, while his health improved in Denmark because cigarettes and alcohol were beyond his price range. We see the elderly Jiro tracing his progress on a map, as he remembers visiting Hans Christian Andersen's house in Odense and wondering in the spotlessly clean Copenhagen if the rest of Europe was going to be as dull as Scandinavia.
Despite losing the sight in his right eye, Jiro continues to sketch in the garden in the company of his cat. He studied landscape architecture and came to appreciate their design. Back in Frankfurt, he had hooked up with Okazaki and had agreed to split petrol costs to travel to Munich and Vienna in his car. Although, it kept breaking down, they reached Schönbrunn Palace, where Jiro took many pictures that contrast with the riverbank views that Aya records, along with an image of a snail sliding along the top of her father's globe. Moving on to Venice and Florence, Jiro had discovered the beauty he had been seeking, but he felt most alive while eating a bowl of spaghetti under a blue sky in the peasant south.
He had been awed by Gaudi's cathedral in Barcelona and had been bewitched by a beautiful girl and been lectured by a hostel keeper when they had tried to book a room in General Franco's ultra-conservative Spain. However, he can't remember a young couple in one of the photos and moves on to being reunited with Okazaki, who had survived a car crash outside Valencia. They ditched the battered vehicle after it had taken them to Madrid and Lisbon.
As Jiro takes an Instamatic snapshot of his daughter filming him, Aya reveals that she has been in Portugal for so much of her life that she has started to forget her Japanese and has to rely on others to read Jiro's journal for her. She now dreams in Portuguese and her father's love affair with the country has started with a tasty soup in the idyllic hill town of Elvas and with the mosaic pavement makers in the capital. But he had been dismayed by the begging children of the rundown Alfama neighbourhood and the adolescent street vendors in Morocco had also made him despair of the pampered youth of Japan.
In Argel, Jiro had been touched by the hospitality of 24 year-old Mohammad, who let him sleep in his drafty warehouse room. But he had pressed on and, having survived a near-crash in the snowy mountains, had endured a miserable New Year's Eve in Tunisia before taking the ferry back to Europe after spending days sleeping in his vehicle. A bumpy ride takes him to Belgrade in what was still Yugoslavia and he is much happier among the cave dwellings at Matala on Crete. He chats with a Quebecois separatist named July and hooks up with a student named Lia at the Acropolis. They had quickly become inseparable. But, instead of seeing a photo of her, Aya inserts clumsily re-staged footage of a lookalike that somehow spoils the mood of this Greek reverie.
A suitcase recreation of a Japanese legend about an elderly couple finding a baby inside a giant peach that had been floating downstream also falls a little flat (although Aya's son relishes his cameo). But we soon resume the journey, as Jiro passes through Turkey to Syria and Lebanon and we see his finger tracing the route from Tripoli to Damascus, Homs. Aleppo and Antioch. Over an image of a burning photograph, Jiro recalls the napalming of Tokyo in March 1945 and how people froze in the river trying to escape from the flames. As he speaks, Aya reverses the footage to show a mosque rising from the ashes and her father continues his odyssey in the famous Roman ruins at Palmyra.
Although he has lived in Portugal since 1992, Jiro still feels like a foreigner because he never mastered the language. He takes tea in the garden with his Belgian wife, Anna, and discusses how the changing wind heralds the arrival of autumn. Back in 1971, he arrives in Paris and shots of the Eiffel Tower and Versailles provide the backdrop to a paean to the beaten up Taunus that had carried him for around 35,000km. Feeling a pang at leaving it behind in a parking lot, Jiro flies out to California, where he reunites with Okazaki to do some gardening in Los Angeles. In his diary, he records an unfortunate encounter with a new friend's fiftysomething mother after he had got high at an outdoor screening and had mocked her indoor garden. But he flew home shortly afterwards and hoped that the plane wouldn't crash before he touched down after 11 months away because he wanted to make use of the passion he had discovered during the course of his expedition.
This would have been a perfect submission for the Adventure Travel Film Festival that used to be held in the grounds of Sherborne School in Dorset. With Atsushi Sugita reading the extracts from Jiro's diary and Aya asking her father off-screen questions about his travels and his current life, the balance between then and now is reasonably well established. We never learn how Jiro paid for his trip and what made him leave Japan and settle in Portugal. Some of his observations on the places he visited are a bit anodyne, but he didn't write his travelogue for wider dissemination and it would be interesting to learn how he now views the more objectifying descriptions of the women he encountered.
But, even though he remains more than a little elusive, Jiro makes a genial travelling companion and editor Tomás Baltazar does justice to his capably composed images. Sound editor Pedro Góis similarly impresses with the ambient contexts he creates for the slide show that are further counterpointed by the effective musical selections. One has to wonder why Aya Koretzky decided in shooting with a 16mm Bolex with a boxy 4:5 aspect ratio to show a number of 35mm slides on their side rather in their intended portrait form. But the mise-en-abyme sequence neatly reinforces her exploration of ephemerality, just as the snail drolly stands in for Jiro and his backpack and the garden conveys the ecological message that is implied by his rejection of urbanisation, consumerism and nuclear power. Most importantly, however, Aya's exercise in self-ethnography succeeds in contrasting her father's journey with her own, as both a film-maker and a new mother.
With so many lives having become virtual over the last three months, Jon Hyatt's documentary, Screened Out, couldn't be better timed. Indeed, it feels like it should be essential, if not compulsory viewing for anyone with a mobile phone. Which makes this a tricky film to review for someone who doesn't own one. Moreover, for someone who not only has no desire to have one, but who also deeply resents the move by various online outlets to build text confirmation rubrics into their operating systems under the guise of `additional security'. But an outsider's view should be just as valid as an addict's, right?
Contrasting home movies of his own outdoor childhood with images of his three young sons. Jon Hyatt admits to being addicted to his smartphone. He reveals that 70% of adults spend between three and five hours a day online and the majority of that time is taken up with social media. This amounts to seven years of an average life and he is worried about how this will impact on coming generations, when attention spans have already dropped from 12 to eight seconds since the start of the communications revolution - and this puts us one second below the famously inattentive goldfish.
Having grown up watching their parents fixate on their phones, children are equally mesmerised by small screens and Hyatt's concern about what technology is doing to his boys prompts him to investigate. Talking heads Lisa Pont, Alex Pang, David Sax, Adam Alter, Jim Steyer and Dr Dmitri Christakis concur that phones exploit addictive tendencies and our pleasure at receiving intermittent rewards from their use relates directly to gambling addiction. Consequently, apps that have been specifically designed to monetise our attention keep giving us dopamine hits to lure us back for more.
Heading to Las Vegas, Hyatt recalls how behavioural scientist BF Skinner ran tests with pigeons to show that creatures prefer random rewards to constant gratification. Similarly, the human fascination with randomness means that we will play slot machines for hours on end in the hope of striking lucky or luckier than before. When people look at their phones, they are also hoping for a reward in the form of a snippet of information or a like for a previous post.
In 2017, former Facebook president Sean Parker confessed that tech companies set out to hook users in order to create `a social-validation feedback loop' that exploits a basic vulnerability in human psychology. Onetime colleague Chamath Palihapitiya went further in admitting that Facebook had `created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works'. Scary stuff, indeed. So scary that Justin Rosenstein, the inventor of the `Like' button, eventually removed the app from his phone.
A series of animations follow, as onetime `brain hacker' Nir Eyal describes how companies employ a four-step process involving a trigger, an action, a reward and an investment to reel people into joining their sites and providing them with content. Eventually, inner-triggers goad us into using sites like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube without needing to be prompted by the source. Ironically, in seeking this sense of inter-connectedness, people are neglecting inter-personl forms of communication that have evolved over centuries. As paediatrician Michael Rich points out, the anonymity of bonding online allows humans to sidestep their fear of intimacy and rejection by projecting a self-tailored version of themselves rather than their real personality.
However, research has shown that people who make extensive use social media are more likely to have psychological issues and, so, Hyatt decides to deactivate all of his social media accounts, with the exception of his email, to see how he could cope without them. He puts this Morgan Spurlock-like gambit in the context of the printing press, comics, television and The Beatles all similarly once being condemned as potentially ruinous to society. But Alter and Eyal point out that the potency of data means that there is more incentive for the tech companies to suck people into their orbits and Alter goes so far as to suggest that there is an arms race going on to captivate us.
While visiting Syd Bolton at the Personal Computer Museum in Brantford, Ontario, Hyatt deduces that the Blackberry (which was acerbically nicknamed `the CrackBerry') has much to answer for, as it normalised handheld distractability. As a result, he decides to quit Facebook and notes that he feels less anxious and even has time to read fiction on the Subway for the first time in years. He also flies to Seattle to meet Hilary Cash, the founder of reSTART, which specialises in screen addiction. Three of her clients speak about their problems, but Rich takes issue with the term `addiction' and worries that it will prevent parents from recognising when their own kids are becoming hooked.
At this point, Hyatt and his wife, Kathleen, decide to restrict screen access to weekends and they are pleased to see how boredom prompts the boys into finding constructive and creative ways to occupy their time. Alex Pang sings the praises of `mind wandering', which serves a valuable purpose in letting us recharge during periods of inactivity. But Christakis and Dr Nicholas Kardaras worry that children are being steered away from such periods of reflection by tech companies who need user attention in order to manipulate them into buying stuff.
They also exploit the fact that sites skirt such `stoppage cues' as the end of a book chapter or a film that prompt us to disconnect and re-engaged with those around us. Instead, they promote open-ended experiences and Rich notes that tekkie titans like Steve Jobs refused to give his kids iPads because he knew what they were capable of doing. Indeed, many Silicon Valley parents send their children to the Waldorf and Peninsula schools that pride themselves on limiting screen use and encouraging kids to enjoy their childhood.
Furthering this line of inquiry, Hyatt meets Dr Jean Twenge (who coined the term `iGen'), Melanie Hempe, Genevieve Roy-Holmes and Lisa Guernsey, who explore the notion of teenagers seeking validation from branding themselves online and slipping into depression and contemplating suicide if they feel they are not having the desired impact on their peers. Teacher Mark Danner reflects on their inability to chat to one another or switch off from the pressures of being a perfect social media construct. Hyatt also interviews a number of anonymous teens about cyber bullying and catfishing and hears how 13 year-old Victoria got so wound up on Instagram that she stepped on to the ledge outside her bedroom and was preparing to jump when her father stopped her.
The ominous music behind these testimonies feels a tad calculated. But the gravity of the point being made needs underlining, as unrestricted and unmonitored access is exposing young people to pressures for which they are not emotionally prepared. Rich and Christakis explore the concept of `distracted parenting' and suggest that a little mindfulness goes a long way when it comes to setting examples and giving children undivided attention. Two of Hyatt's own sons hint that it would be nice to spend more time together outside.
As the founder of Common Sense Media, Steyer leads the chorus of concern that accuses the major social media players of trawling people for the data they can sell to companies clamouring for our cash. Despite denials from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, everyone seems aware that dark methods are being employed to make products enticingly moreish. Steyer highlights tech lobbying activity in Washington (to the annual tune of $50 million), while we hear about shocking cases of child neglect in South Korea and the growing implementation of social rating via Internet usage in China.
As Hyatt learns that mindfulness is crucial to conquering the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), Edwin Tubb posits the importance of meditation and non-tech time. Taking a different tack, Rich insists that we should latch on to a child's in-built resistance to being told what to do by showing them how algorithms have been designed to ensnare them. All agree, the Internet is an amazing thing. But in moderation and Hyatt ends by imploring viewers to stop giving away their time so cheaply to faceless corporation who will never value it as much as the family and friends who crave and appreciate it.
This is pretty much a film that speaks for itself. In truth, there are few revelations, but it serves as a valuable overview. More might have been said about privacy and security, while the focus on phones leaves little room within the brief 77-minute running time for any analysis of the effects of tablets, laptops and PCs. However, there seems to be little doubt that humans are being systematically taught to stop speaking to each other and it's a shame that nothing is said about the trustworthiness of the content that gets batted around cyberspace in an effort to shape opinion and silence opposition by stifling independent thought.
Despite placing himself and his family at the centre of the story, Hyatt seems genial and genuine and his concerns are expressed with cogency and restraint. Yet he might have been more curious and confrontational, as no attempt appears to have been made to engage with the big beasts he clearly blames for the world becoming increasingly messed up. Some of the assembled experts can also feel over-emphatic. But they speak from positions of strength and sincerity. Indeed, after hearing their reinforcement of personal misgivings, never has the resolve to resist buying a phone been stronger. Pandemic, lockdown or not. Long live the Luddites!
3 BROTHERS - RADIO RAHEEM, ERIC GARNER AND GEORGE FLOYD.
Little needs to be said about Spike Lee's short, 3 Brothers - Radio Raheem, Eric Garner and George Floyd. It juxtaposes a clip depicting the arrest of a fictional character played by Bill Gunn in Lee's Oscar-nominated drama, Do the Right Thing (1989), with footage of the real-life deaths at the hands of serving police officers of Eric Garner on Staten Island on 17 July 2014 and George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020.
In introducing the 94-second testament that black lives matter, Lee told CNN's Don Lemon: `How can people not understand why people are acting the way they are? This is not new, we saw with the riots in the `60s, the assassination of Dr King, every time something jumps off and we don't get our justice, people are reacting they way they do to be heard. We are seeing this again and again and again. This is the thing: the killing of black bodies, that is what this country is built upon.'
Subtitled, `Will History Stop Repeating Itself', this concise denunciation of police brutality was premiered around the same time that President Donald Trump was ordering the tear-gassing of the protesters in Lafayette Square Park so that he could claw back a little machismo after having scuttled off to his White House bunker the previous day by striding to St John's Episcopal Church in order to hold up what has been suggested was a borrowed Bible in what he clearly intended to be a defiant gesture linked to his message to state governors to `dominate the streets'.
How right David Smith was in his Guardian article to quote the line often misattributed to Sinclair Lewis: `When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.'