Friday 29 August 2008

Blue Blood (2006) - ickleReview (DVD)

Boxing is a full Blue sport at Oxford University, alongside rowing and rugby. Those students who aspire to win a Blue by competing against Cambridge in the annual Varsity match see it as a great honour and are prepared to make many sacrifices to get it. This documentary by Stevan Riley (a former Oxford University boxer himself, although he never won a Blue due to a concussion) follows a number of boxing novices in their first season. There's Kavanagh, a spindly first-year Philosophy student; Charlie, a doe-eyed Fine Arts student who sings and paints nudes; Fred, a gritty Biochemist from a single-parent family who resents his father and takes to the sport like a natural; Boiler, a Mathematician rugby player desperate to win a Blue to impress his father; and Justin, an American Astrophysicist from the US Air Force Academy who fancies himself as a Christian Chuck Norris. They're coached by Des, a local builder.

The Varsity season gives the film a perfect teleology, although for many of the boxers, the experience of training and getting in the ring, of winning their Blue, seems more important than beating Cambridge at the end.

Having watched the boxing Varsity match myself a few years ago, it is a special occasion with a raw and passionate atmosphere. You cannot really appreciate how brave and brutal a sport boxing is until you see it live and up close. It's also much more about technique than fighting ability. Some of these boys are badly exposed due to their inexperience. There's a trip to Sandhurst to fight in front of the Army; and the annual Town vs. Gown match hosted in the Oxford Union debating chamber where students fight non-students.

It's odd seeing people I know on camera in a proper film. I played rugby with Boiler. I also recognized Andrew Buchan, Mark Hudson, and James Glancey (in the gym), Andrew Clements, Graham Barr, Ed Wilson, and James Grigg (in the crowd), and Guy Reynolds (who is briefly interviewed as Boiler's former rugby team-mate, and who captained the U21s in my second year).

Nugget: an excellent film that really immerses you in the spirit of Varsity, but also doesn't take itself too seriously.

Sunday 24 August 2008

Somers Town (2008) - ickleReview (cinema)

Beautiful little Shane Meadows film set in Somers Town, a high-rise housing estate near St Pancras station in London. Thomas Turgoose (whose face will be familiar from Meadows's previous film, This Is England) plays Tomo, a young boy who has come to London from Nottingham. It's not clear why he has left home, but he doesn't want to go back. He makes friends with Marek (Piotr Jagiello) a Polish boy who lives in one of the high-rise flats with his dad, Mariusz (Ireneusz Czop), a builder working on the new St Pancras International rail terminal. The two boys befriend and fall in love with Maria (Elisa Lasowski), a pretty young French waitress from the local café who let Marek take her picture.

There isn't really a plot to this film; but this is not a flaw. We never find out why Tomo left Nottingham. Meadows only sketches a faint background for the characters. But they are warm and believable. It's an affectionate portrait of Polish migrant workers. Both Marek and his dad are noble and upbeat characters. Mariusz is proud that his boss says he is one of the best workers he has ever had, which is typical of the work ethic the Polish workers have earned for themselves all over the UK. The film also deals with violent youth culture as Tomo is mugged by three local lads who take his bag with all his possessions in it and his money.

The film is shot in black and white with the exception of a short colour sequence at the end, the details of which I shall leave as a surprise so as not to spoil it any further. Gavin Clark's acoustic soundtrack perfectly complements the images.

Nugget: a lovely, gentle film about friendship, love, and life in modern Britain, which works perfectly alongside the short film Dog Altogether with which it was shown at the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford.

Dog Altogether (2007) - ickleReview (cinema)

Short film directed by Paddy Considine starring Peter Mullan (from My Name Is Joe) who plays a horrible man who kicks his dog, is racist to his local sub-postmaster, and violent towards young boys in the pub. He is a hateful character, but Mullan's performance elicits great sympathy. Olivia Colman plays an English Christian charity shop worker who prays for him and gives him the love that is obviously lacking from the rest of his life. Presumably set and shot on location in Glasgow.

Nugget: a great wee film shown before Somers Town at the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford.

Operator (2008) - ickleReview (cinema)

Nugget: funny little animated short film about a man who calls up God via the telephone operator. This is a Virgin Media Shorts selection that was shown before Dog Altogether/Somers Town at the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford.

Saturday 23 August 2008

True Stories: Biggie and Tupac (2002) - ickleReview (4oD)

Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Photo source: Razor & Tie Media Services.

This Nick Broomfield documentary is about the murders of US rappers Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls (aka Notorious B.I.G., Christopher Wallace). Broomfield snoops around the dodgy characters that surrounded these people, including ex-LAPD officers, Voletta Wallace (Biggie's mom), Marion "Suge" Knight (Tupac's producer at Death Row Records), body guards, associates, and lawyers. It's a very confusing case, and Broomfield doesn't really do anything to clear it up. There are too many names all loosely related. Too many conspiracy theories and rumours, such as that the FBI were involved in the murders to smear the reputation of hip-hop. The East Coast - West Coast rivalry stops hip-hop being positive and thus supposedly prevents hip-hop becoming a uniting and revolutionary force like the Black Panther movement of the 1960s and 70s, which the government would see as a threat.

Broomfield is often on camera with his boom microphone. One of his potential interviewees actually complains about one of his previous films that makes Broomfield look clever and all his interviewees look stupid. He is good at just letting these characters come out on camera. They are sometimes surprisingly candid, but these hip-hop people tend to speak in code, so when they say, "You know what I'm sayin'?" it's often not clear at all what they're getting at because they assume you know so much more than you do.

Nugget: not a particularly good film. Certainly don't watch it if you want to know what actually happened.