Monday, 30 January 2012


With the finest political satire, for the bungling powers that be, whatever can go wrong will go wrong, birthing surefire hilarity from tragic misfortune. Certainly, with 1975's Xala, the tale of a middle-aged official's struggles with the onset of horribly-timed impotence, eventually resulting in his professional ruination, legendary Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene appears to have devised an indubitable formula for caustic hilarity.
 As cocksure, polygamous El Hadji, embezzling funds for the needy in order to take a third wife, only to fail to rise to the occasion,  Thierno Leye is delightfully amusing and self-effacing. Suspecting himself the victim of a 'xala' infertility curse, the dignitary plumbs suprising depths to lift the spell, cavorting in various states of undress at the behest of 'marabout' witchdoctors, providing some memorable, amusing moments.
 The luminary's desperate exertions, coupled with several titillating run-ins with his dysfunctional extended family, provide a humorous counterpoint to constant, vivid reminders of the grim poverty of the neglected post-colonial Senegalese underclasses. With rich imagery, bureaucrats wash their cars with Evian, while deformed beggars forage in the street, Sembene's camera commendably reminding us of the cadaverous squalor of the gutter. Preoccupied with his own ultimately insignificant woes, El Hadji's complete emasculation is an apt metaphor for his complete political inadequacy.
  However, though fertile with potent satirical comment, this allegory of corruption and retribution comes up short. Though enlivened by an eclectic musical score, furnished with rich, intoxicating African beats and instrumentation, the film becomes a frustratingly laborious experience, chiefly due to its phlegmatic pace. Although demonstrating early promise, particularly in scenes between Leye and Younouss Seye as his thoroughly acerbic, griping second wife Oumi, Sembene, like his protagonist, can't keep it up. Despite scoring a disturbingly striking, memorable climax, Xala takes far too long to get there and is far too limp and lethargic to have enough lead in its pencil.

Glasgow Film Festival 2012

A dynamic line-up of screenings and events has been unveiled for 2012’s Glasgow Film Festival. Opening February 16 with the UK premiere of Your Sister’s Sister, starring Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass in a “painfully funny and utterly captivating tale of bad timing, broken hearts and the healing power of love,” according to the festival, Humpday director Lynn Shelton’s offering will be the first of 239 films screening in 16 venues across the city. Running from 16 to 26 February, this year’s event includes a record number of UK and European premieres including Rob Heydon’s much-anticipated adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy, and heartthrob Robert Pattinson’s latest turn in sensual period drama Bel Ami.
 Growing steadily in popularity since its 2005 inception, with more than 34,000 visitors last year, festival co-director Allan Hunter has promised “an amazing week for Scottish film.” Notable highlights include a Gene Kelly retrospective, promising “all of the Kelly classics,” including 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain. The celebration culminates on February 25 with the intriguing Gene Kelly Ceilidh, where attendees are encouraged to put on their dancing shoes following a special screening of 1954’s Brigadoon.
  Billed as a “festival of festivals,” 2012’s event will incorporate Film4’s Frightfest, showcasing eleven horror-fantasy exclusives, including Gareth Evan’s Indonesian martial-arts action picture The Raid and the UK premiere of William Brent Bell’s exorcism chiller The Devil Inside. Additional strands of 2012’s programme include Kapow!@GFF, dedicated to all things comic and superhero, and the Glasgow Music and Film Festival, presenting compelling music documentaries and exciting live performance from the likes of sonic pioneers Silver Apples.
  Supporting what promises to be a lively period, Scott Taylor, Chief Executive of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau enthused about Glasgow’s “reputation as a first-class filming destination,” observing that the festival “plays an integral role in that success, positioning the city on the global film festival stage and highlighting our passion and expertise in the broadcast industry.”
As a taster, the festival is preceded by the Short film Festival (9-12 February) and the Youth Film Festival (5-12), including an advanced family gala screening of The Muppets.
 Tickets are available now from

Singin' In The Rain

With the past decade’s remarkable film musical renaissance and with this year’s The Artist captivating audiences with its adroit study of the silent film era, the timing is perfect to revisit Gene Kelly’s exhilarating 1952 song and dance spectacular Singin’ in the Rain. Kelly, who co-directs with Stanley Donen, is irresistible as silent film star Don Lockwood, whose impressive propensity for captivating physical performance  catapults him up the 1920s Hollywood ladder, only for the arrival of ‘the Talkies’ to force him and his studio to re-evaluate everything they know.
  What follows is a wry, heart-warming look behind the scenes at this pivotal time in film history, with some quite staggering, energetic musical set-pieces that challenge you not to smile goofily. Kelly himself choreographs the film’s spectacular, colourful dance numbers and the results, particularly his famous, soggy performance of the title track, are breath-taking.
  As Lockwood, Kelly is eminently likeable, commanding scenes with an impressive physicality and a winning smile. Deft support is on hand from Donald O’Connor as sage crony and comic foil Cosmo, and Debbie Reynolds as Don’s songbird love interest whose remarkable voice may just be the key to the studio’s survival. When the three of them get together to croon and boogie through the number ‘Good Mornin’,’ the chemistry is extraordinary, the performance entrancing.
  Jean Hagen injects added comedy calibre as Lina Lamont, Don’s shallow, vindictive co-star whose struggles with new sound techniques, not to mention her own shrill, annoying voice, provide some riotous moments. The bewildered diva’s hilarious woes with the microphone also sum up rather sweetly the film’s portrayal of a cinema slowly finding its voice with dazzling style.
  Singin’ in the Rain is Kelly in his element, doing what he was born to do and clearly relishing it. And it is nigh on impossible not to get swept away in the flood. 

The Importance Of Arts Journalism

Due to rapid technological advances, journalists face a challenging, ever-changing landscape.  With fewer full-time critics, less space given to coverage in traditional print media and with the arts in Britain facing major funding cuts, the arts journalist’s responsibility has never been greater.
  The arts columnist continues to inform the public of cultural events, allowing audiences the freedom to decide how to spend their spare time. Imparting wisdom and opinion, they allow consumers to make informed decisions. Writing, interviewing, reviewing and previewing on cultural events ensures the arts stay on the agenda.
  Arts journalism matters because the arts matter – the basic way we engage with philosophies and ideas comes from discussing and dissecting art as intelligently, as publicly and as entertainingly as possible, and art does not exist in a vacuum. The best arts journalism puts its subject in context while remaining enriching, engaging and informative. It asserts a vital role in the community, guiding and inspiring audiences to discover creativity, while encouraging attentiveness and discussion.
  Exceptional writing can be critical in encouraging audiences to question the economic systems and controlling ideologies that condition everything we consume, fostering important discussion and debate. Art is a language through which the world communicates itself to itself and the skilled writer helps decipher the code, uncovering hidden meanings and highlighting revelations that have been overlooked or misunderstood.
 The proficient reviewer understands that the privilege of influencing strangers carries responsibilities and though many believe the critic’s fundamental role is to nurture and promote the arts, they have a duty to be truthful. The astute, commendable critic understands that their purpose is not to flaunt their brilliance, but to communicate balanced, sound arguments.
  Though often dismissed as trifling and superficial, arts journalists provide a vital service, advising, enlightening and entertaining with absorbing prose that can be enjoyed as art in itself. 

The Descendants

Re-evaluating his existence as his wife lies comatose following a boating accident in Hawaii, George Clooney’s land magnate Matt King ruminates that “family feels like an archipelago…separate, but part of a whole, drifting slowly apart.” This is an apt metaphor for Matt’s dilemma, with indifferent husband and father suddenly forced to reconnect with his dysfunctional family, while confronting the revelation that his catatonic wife was cheating on him.
  In this slight, yet funny and moving film, Clooney, so used to inhabiting supercool alpha males,  gives a poignant, understated career-best performance. Always content as the “back-up parent,” King struggles to relate to two confused daughters Alexandra (the impressive Shaileene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller), while simultaneously trying to seal a significant land deal and also track down and confront his wife’s lover. As vulnerable and exposed as he’s ever been, Clooney is subtle and touching, emotions simmering just below the surface, communicating so much weighty inner turmoil with just his eyes.
  The Hawaii of Sideways director Alexander Payne’s latest is certainly no paradise and his characters struggle to express their muddled emotions. All except Alexandra’s hilarious, omnipresent buddy Sid (scene-stealing Nick Krause, channelling a young Keanu Reeves), who says whatever is on his weed-addled mind, no matter how offensive. The slacker’s side-splitting, inappropriate commentary on a family member’s dementia is a prime example of Payne’s talent for wringing heartwarming comedy from bleak tragedy, examining life from illuminating angles.
  Though perhaps a little more superficial than Payne’s previous work, The Descendants is a tender, emotional, rewarding pleasure. Leisurely paced, eased along by gentle, soothing Hawaiian strings, this tale of a man adrift cruises by like a warm, comforting sea breeze.