Poem #1:- After the Living

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As I mentioned in the previous post on this blog, dated January 1st 2012, this blog will now be used for other writing on Books, Literature, Politics, Sport (particularly football, tennis and boxing) and bits of creative writing. You can now find all cinematic concerns at http://apercucinehilia.wordpress.com . What follows below is a short piece of poetry from 2009. 
 
 

After the Living

 

In the dark wood Night turned back last

And those whom had peopled came past,

Full gone to water and sand seeded sky,

As must all whom breathe and burn and die.

 

The waters catch cold and run here -

Green of mind, fine, worn and tinged sincere.

 

Many islets are to pictures presently disposed,

Till the blank of nocturnal blindness consoles.

 

RBC, Friday, September 4th 2009

Apercu and Apercu: Cinephilia

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First of all may I wish all my readers a very Happy New Year. As I announced back at the start of December, the website in its present form has drifted away from what I’d originally intended for it. To help right this I can now confirm the inauguration of a new Apercu website devoted entirely to film. As of today, all film reviews, essays and articles will be published on the Apercu: Cinephilia website at apercucinephilia.wordpress.com . This current Apercu website will continue to operate as a repository for material on my other interests, but will be more intermittently updated. I have already transferred most of the key website links from this page to the new one, but if I have left your website out please contact me via e-mail and I will rectify things. Once again, thank you for your interest in my writing and I hope you will come over to the new website in due course.

Film Review:- Czarny czwartek – Jan Wiśniewski padł (2011)

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Dir:- Antoni Krauze

Starr:- Michał Kowalski, Marta Honzatko, Cezary Rybinski, Wojciech Pszoniak, Piotr Fronczewski, Grzegorz Gżył

It would seem that of all the great Polish filmmakers from the last century Andrzej Wajda is the one who is having the most significant effect at the ‘serious’ end of the current Polish cinema landscape. Wajda’s Oscar-winning film on the Katyn massacre managed to establish a new ‘historical-realist’ agenda in Polish drama, that has seen an increasing number of movies in recent years focusing on the events of Poland’s last combustible century of history as sources for dramatic action. This has, in particular amongst those films set during the Soviet-era, led to a sort of ‘anti-propaganda propaganda’ that attempts to rewrite the failings  and omissions of the Soviet record of history, replacing it with an account that emphasises modern Poland’s abiding concerns with heroism, patriotism and religion. Next year Wajda will return with a biopic about Poland’s folk-heroic former-President and Solidarność leader Lech Walęsa, but in the interim comes a lean and particularly vicious account of the 1970 Gdansk/Gdynia Shipyard massacre that served as a backdrop to Wajda’s 1981 movie Człowiek z żelaza

Director Antoni Krauze (Akwarium, Palec boży) comes from much the same period of Łódź film school students as Kieślowski and Polanski, but has clearly been influenced by the interests and technique of Wajda. Czarny czwartek looks to construct a multi-layered examination of the events of the winter of 1970 in the trójmiasto area. It focuses on three distinct areas of action: the political decision-making level of closed-door military and politburo meetings, the street level conflicts between protestors and the army and military police, and, finally, the pained heart of the movie which examines the experiences of the Drywa family during that fateful period of violence and unrest. This is a classic ‘realist’ film structure in Poland, that clearly demonstrates the large-scale operations of society and how they then filter down to impact upon the everyday working man and woman. It frequently dominates Wajda’s work in particular, but can also be found in recent ‘cause’ movies such as Enen. Krauze deviates from the well-worn script a little, primarily in the way he chooses to frame the events of the day in a pseudo-documentary, mock newsreel style.

The symbolism of Polish blood upon a Polish flag makes the long solemn march, in the movie's tense opening 40 minutes, particularly impressive.

One of the most striking aspects of Soviet-era Polish history is the manner in which certain stories were simply never told, or were deliberately erased from the public record. Krauze manages to emphasise this lack of a public narrative to events, by subtly showing the events as they occur upon the street and then juxtaposing them against the complete lack of radio and television information being given. The fact that so little media attention was devoted to events during the 70’s presents both possibilities and difficulties for a filmmaker like Krauze. Without the public record very little can be proven outside of the conflicting accounts of eyewitnesses. One image that did become synonymous with the 1970 protest movement, is the image that gives the film its sub-title and provoked a poetic and musical response from Polish artists of the time. Zbigniew Godlewski, a young shipyard worker from Elbląg was shot and killed in Gdynia, by militia firing into a crowd of protestors from an overhead helicopter. His fellow protestors managed to hoist his body up onto a door and carried him through the streets of the city until they were confronted by more armed militia units. At the time of this event nobody knew Godlewski’s identity, so he was given the common Polish name Jan Wiśniewski, which then served as the title of a particularly frank and forthright political poem and song ‘Ballada o Janku Wiśniewskim’. The song was sung by Krystyna Janda at the end of Człowiek z żelaza and as a direct reference is reprised at the end of Czarny czwartek, in an even more guttural and impassioned manner, by Kazik Staszewski, lead-singer of one of the foremost Polish rock bands Kult.

Polish cinema is generally having a bit of an identity crisis, similar to many other ‘national’ cinemas within Europe. With its undoubtedly rich traditions (Jerzy Hoffman’s epic cinema on a shoestring, deserves a particular mention at this point) and its assortment of Internationally recognized filmmakers Polish film could, and perhaps should, be some of the most inventive and challenging of the former Soviet nations. However, popular Polish cinema is pretty much an unending stream of bland Hollywood derivatives that often don’t even attempt to hide their glaringly obvious English-language origins. As a remedy to this, many ‘serious’ Polish filmmakers have perhaps mistaken solemnity of tone and overarching portentousness for involving, high-quality filmmaking. The combined effect of these conflicting and ‘unofficial’ policies, has left modern Polish cinema with a dearth of interesting and entertaining film. Czarny czwartek is undoubtedly an important piece of cinema, as it neatly brings to light a piece of Polish history that hasn’t been fully explored and will almost certainly be unknown to an international audience. Yet it is a difficult film to watch and the style of the film seems haphazard and needlessly chaotic, as if the filmmaker was trying to unsuccessfully demonstrate the ways in which a work like this might have been censored back in the period it depicts.

This said the acting is uniformly convincing throughout, particularly when it comes to the central roles of Stenia, Bruno and Leon Drywa. Krauze does an excellent job of keeping the personal story and the political story separate for as long as possible, which when they eventually do overlap makes the events all the more shocking. Brunon Drywa (Michał Kowalski) is depicted as a reliable family man and shipyard employee, who cares most about his three children: Romek, Gabrysia and Mariolka. Living in cramped quarters alongside a live-in-lodger, Brunon and his wife Stenia (an excellent performance from Marta Honzatko) are struggling to make ends meet, but this doesn’t stop Marta from splashing out on tinned ham for Christmas, nor does it prevent Brunon from dreaming about owning his own taxi cab. The initial phases of the protest movement – which began as a result of Polish politburo leader Władysław Gomułka’s price increases on food and other everyday essentials – are viewed from a distance by Bruno and his family. Little information is revealed through the media, but hearsay spreads rumour and on a few occasions Bruno and his family are able to directly observe events unfolding in the centre of the city. Yet nothing directly impacts upon the Drywa’s until Brunon boards a train to go to work at the shipyard on the 17th December 1970.

Krauze in the chilling opening exchanges of militia fire manages to capture the incomprehensible brutality of a nation turning in upon itself. The chaos of the shooting sequences at Gdynia Stocznia train station, as well as later during the solemn protest march with Jan Wiśniewski’s body, hammer home, in much the same way as the final moments of Katyn, exactly how morally unacceptable the events unfolding are. Later Krauze’s focus upon the military police’s continued brutality toward protestors seems increasingly stylized and ineffective, particularly the protracted beating that an innocent bystander receives at the hands of an army unit and its head. But for the controlled panic and tension that spreads through the opening 45 minutes of the film this should, perhaps, be overlooked.

As with all modern Polish films about the Soviet period there is an in-built awkwardness in the way that the politburo hierarchy are depicted. The tendency is to create broad black and white discriminations between the innocent protestors for democracy and the craven and conceited protectors of the Communist status quo. Krauze initially seems to be following this pattern, as the likes of Zenon Kliszko (Piotr Fronczewski) talk in ideological soundbites with an almost inhuman ideological zeal. Amongst the party lackeys, such as Gdynia’s council head Jan Marianski (Grzegorz Gżył), there is a general feeling that action cannot be taken against a Polish city, by a Polish army and that to slaughter citizens would be utterly outrageous. However, Kliszko and the equally zealous politburo chief Gomułka (played with alternating savagery and senility by Pszoniak) effectively bully the Polish bureaucracy into order. Gomułka’s justification for turning upon his own people was the fear that Russia would commit troops to Poland in the same way they committed troops to the Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring uprisings.

The implacable face of politburo ideology. Zenon Kliszko (Piotr Fronczewski) tells it like it really isn't.

These slight ambiguities within the high-level political narrative are then also explored in the personal story of the Drywa family. In one particularly effective scene the politburo arrive in the middle of the night to inform a still shocked Stenia that her husband is to be buried immediately (a way of enabling the politburo to gloss over the events of the massacre). The city official who accompanies the politburo operative into the Drywa flat has the temerity to ask the lodger for a cigarette, but later on this action becomes an exchange of human courtesy, as the city official stands up to the politburo operative enabling Stenia to call on her brother-in-law Leon (Cezary Rybinski delivering a beautifully understated performance) and get him to attend the funeral also. These little vignettes show that often ‘reasonable’ people found themselves stuck defending a corrupt system, which offers a little more narrative texture than the broad Communist (bad) democratic protestor (good) dichotomy.

At the very end of the film there is a delightfully constructed series of closing shots, that effectively works as a climactic emotional montage. With the Drywa family attempting to escape their politburo organised fate by getting on a train to Słupsk, the carriages pass by the scenes of the worst violence along the trójmiasto’s shipyards. Krauze focuses the viewer’s attention on young Romek Drywa and these snapshots of his father’s workplace (and the sight of his father’s death) have all the more resonance for being suggestively located in the youthful consciousness of the next generation. This artful sequence transcends some of the seemingly televisual limitations of what has come before, but regardless of this unevenness Czarny czwartek is still a haunting and fiercely angry work, worthy of more widespread attention.

Hooray for Holly-Łódź: Cinema 5 – Charlie Kino, Movie 5 – Midnight in Paris (6/6)

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20:35pm Charlie Kino, Piotrkowska 203/205

Despite having the appearance of a rundown military barracks, Charlie Kino is a real temple of cinema and a deserved Łódź institution.

My Łodż cinema marathon ended up back where it all began for me in this city. Charlie Kino (or Kino Charlie) was the first cinema that I attended in Łódź, when I went to see a screening of Requiem for a Dream if memory serves. Back in 2001 Charlie Kino was outwardly no different from how it looks today, but back then it only consisted of one auditorium, whereas now it has three separate auditoria. The cinema is Łódź’s most important independent film theatre, having been founded by an organisation of film artists and enthusiasts back in 1994. The cinema is tucked away in a run-down looking courtyard off of the northern end of Piotrkowska, in the ‘Manhattan’ area of the city. It is actually housed on the second floor of a former government building and the owners of the cinema have gradually extended this upstairs space to allow for two smaller screens and a functional bar area. Much of the charm and pleasure of Charlie Kino is the ramshackle, almost homemade quality of the space, with lots of movie memorabilia and paraphernalia dotted around the compact foyer and the theatres themselves. The cinema has traditionally been the location of choice for minor film arts festivals in the city, as well as the more avant-garde cinematic fare that wouldn’t normally be picked up by the chain cinemas. In recent years to protect its niche in a more saturated multiplex market, it has focused much more attention on European and non-English language cinema.

Emotionally I have a strong bond with Charlie Kino, as it is so reminiscent of my favourite cinema spaces from back home, such as The Other Cinema in Soho, the Croydon Clocktower cinema, or the Filmhouse in Edinburgh. It acts as a miniature temple to film, a sacred public place in which film is taken as seriously as any religion and patrons unapologetically think of themselves as cinephiles. However, my faith in Charlie’s extra-commercial causes does not prevent me from harshly commenting on the rather woeful third screen (Sala Klubowa) in which I finally was able to catch up with Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. This tiny screen is no more than a home projector put up in an office that is separated from the foyer by a narrow sliding panel. There are no fixed seats in this space, but rather some horrendously uncomfortable Ikea kitchen furniture laid out in narrow rows. Due to the fact that the projector screen is placed fairly high up in the room, I had to crane my head uncomfortably upwards to watch, with absolutely no head support for the duration of the 90 minute running time.

The lovingly decorated interior embraces the film fanaticism of my favourite cinematic haunts such as The Other Cinema in Soho, London and the Edinburgh Filmhouse.

Yes, there are lots of lovely little quaint artifacts and objet d’art, such as an ornate coatstand, a glass chandelier and a post-war Warsaw produced television set, but this should not detract from the bum-numbing, neck fracturing discomfort of sitting through a film in this ill-suited space. Many of these complaints could have been ignored if at least the projection was clean and proportionate, but instead it was almost as bad as the Cinema City effort, with a hideously grainy quality throughout the first half hour, or so. The fact that Charlie charge 14 zł for such screenings doesn’t do it any favours, but I will say that my experiences on the two larger screens have generally been much more satisfactory with Sala Studyjna being fairly close to the scale and precision of Bałtyk’s presentations.

Cinema Experience: 4.5/10

 

I’d purposefully avoided this latest Woody Allen release, as I’d been so thoroughly disillusioned with the utterly objectionable Whatever Works (a film that felt both pretentious and lazy, as well as squandering the combined talents of two fantastic actresses in Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson). Allen’s cinematic output has been in an interminable decline for many years now, with only a few brief upswings of the likes of Match Point to consider. The idea of Woody patronising Paris in the same way he had done with London and Barcelona didn’t make me any keener to see this latest ‘return to form’. The impact of Whatever Works had actually been so profound that I had significantly re-evaluated my attitude toward Allen’s oeuvre as a whole, coming to the unsatisfying conclusion that even at his best in the likes of Take the Money and Run, Sleeper, Manhattan, Zelig and Crimes and Misdemeanors, his movies were in essence nothing more than the extended miseries of a chauvinistic misanthrope, who already looked out-of-touch with the times in his 1970’s heyday.

Midnight in Paris by no means sets the world alight and I’d resist describing it as one of Allen’s best works, but it does at least entertain, which is more than can be said for almost any of his films since Bullets over Broadway. It’s in the same magical-realist mode as Play it Again, Sam, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Zelig, with Owen Wilson being cast as the most un-Allen of recent Woody protagonists. Wilson plays Gil, an American screenwriter in Paris with his bride-to-be Inez (played with privileged self-centredness by Rachel McAdams). One night whilst mooching around Paris trying to find his way back to the hotel, Gil is whisked off in a 1920’s carriage-car, by people who claim to be Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. What ensues is a delightfully broad comedy about nostalgia, which manages to excuse Woody’s whimsically romantic notions about European cities by making the romance of nostalgia a central theme.

Wilson is an effortlessly engaging presence, who strikes up the necessary chemistry with Marion Cotillard, who plays his 1920’s love interest a fashion designer who would prefer to be living in Belle Epoque Paris. There are also some amusing cameos, in particular Adrien Brody’s daft turn as a rhinoceros-obsessed Dali. Overall the comedy isn’t as witty as it things, but is nonetheless affectionate, which differentiates it strongly from Allen’s more resolutely downbeat and vindictive recent fare. The biggest disappointment about the movie is that it doesn’t explore in more detail the idea of Gil’s influencing the developments of the past (aside from a brief gag about The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). My film night ended on a staggeringly coincidental note, as Léa Seydoux turns up as the possible love interest toward the end of the movie, having also been one of the first screen presences in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, way back at 9:30 this morning. One of Łódź’s great urban rhythms is this sense of reoccurring moments of serendipity. After all it was the home of that great director of coincidences Krzysztof Kieślowski.

Film Rating: 6/10

Hooray for Holly-Łódź: Cinema 4 – Silver Screen, Movie 4 – Margin Call (5/6)

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18:15pm Silver Screen, Aleja Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego 5

The Silver Screen multiplex located in the high-rise 'Manhattan' area in the centre of Łódź.

For the fourth film of the Day I cantered up the remainder of the pedestrianised section of Piotrkowska and slipped through the underpass on Al. Piłsudskiego to hook up with Marta, once more, at the Silver Screen cinema and casino complex. Silver Screen was one of the pioneer multiplex companies in Poland until it was bought out by MultiKino in 2008. Shortly before I arrived in Łódź in 2001 Silver Screen’s flagship complex was opened, which immediately redrew the cinema landscape in the city. With 10 screens on a five-storey, purpose-built, city centre site, Silver Screen was a glamorous addition to the city’s film theatres, a position further enhanced by the small-scale casino operation and ‘sky-bar’ that allowed for essential views of the city skyline, as well as serving up a pretty mean Cuba Libre.

Since the opening of the Cinema City complex in Manafaktura, Silver Screen has lost a little of its new kid on the block allure. Oddly Multikino resisted the urge to alter the Silver Screen brand in Łódź, something that is partly explainable as a result of the multiplex’s unique position within the Multikino family of cinemas as a theatre that profits from screening less obviously commercial cinema. Unlike Multikino’s other Polish cinema’s Silver Screen tends to have a roster of films that aren’t entirely dominated by the latest big-budget Hollywood offerings, which is not to say that Silver Screen is art house, but rather a little more refined than your regular run-of-the-mill multiplex.

One of the annoying characteristics about Silver Screen is the extremely authoritarian approach to screening that the cinema demonstrates. Although seating location is optional, people tend to be corralled into the same seating zones by ticketing staff, whose attitude tends toward the Polish bureaucratic. On top of that the multi-tiered structure of the complex means that exits and entrances are much more regimented than in any of the other city cinema’s, making the whole process of getting in and out of the movie, or making your way to the bar, all the more awkward and confusing.

With screen space at a premium Silver Screen sprawls out over five storeys of a purpose-built entertainment complex.

The screens vary in size from fairly large Cinema City style ‘premier’ screens, to smaller and less well organised auditoria, such as Screen 6 in which we watched the stockmarket horror Margin Call. As with almost all modern cinema chains Silver Screen tend to have very comfortable and cushioned seating, although unlike with Cinema City and the Helios group, they have skimped a little on leg room. The biggest problem that Silver Screen has is to do with the position of seating, with many auditoria having staircases running down the centre, or close to the centre, of the audience area. This means that there are far more seats in the theatre that have awkward, fringe views of the screen, which might leave a number of people disappointed on busy nights – and Silver Screen tends to still have a sizable traffic in terms of audience numbers. Also the auditoria tend to have seating that is very close to the screen, which forces viewers located in these seats to crane their heads upward toward the film projection.

In terms of the projection itself, the image was crisp and clear, with sound at a good level and theatre lighting dropped to near blackness. Unlike Cinema City the film was screened in the correct format ratio and also featured by far the longest trailer reel of any of the cinema chains (a whopping five full previews). The premium price of Silver Screen tickets is 22zł making it rather prohibitive in comparison with most of the other cinema chains visited. That said, in terms of concessions, promotional material and film range it is hard to compete with this venue, which is serviced by a downstairs food court, two cafes, an arcade and the aforementioned ‘sky bar’, as well as the usual sweet counters and popcorn dispensers.

Cinema Experience: 7.5/10

 

Margin Call was a movie I’d heard so little advance information about, which probably made its effect all the more powerful. Producer/star Zachary Quinto was particularly superb as the canary in the corporate counting house, but then a cast which featured such sterling performers as Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany and Stanley Tucci was uniformly excellent throughout. Demi Moore also continued her career resurgence with a tight-lipped, clench-jawed performance as the woman left holding the baby carriage as the bomb goes off. This film was writer-director J.C. Chandor’s debut feature and the signs are that Hollywood has another talent on their hands in the Tony Gilroy mode.

This fictional movie about the origins of the current financial crisis feels aesthetically very similar to two recent Clooney efforts Michael Clayton (written and helmed by the aforementioned Gilroy) and the chilly romance of Up in the Air. In an early sequence the movie actually uses the same employee severance interview structure as the latter of those films. What is remarkable about Chandor’s direction is the way in which it utilises many of the tricks of effective horror cinema, with: slightly out-of-focus shots, mysterious things occurring off-camera or partially obscured within the shot, steadily escalating tension and a methodical use of reaction shots to maximise the perception of fear. This is in essence a horror movie, where the evil villain is the amorphous and wholly nebulous force of chaos. Rather than simply plotting an easy route to condemning the finance industry for getting the world into this latest monetary crisis, Chandor’s script is savvy enough to see that the markets go through cycles of decline and expansion that can be influenced by the behaviour of those operating within them, but can never be wholly controlled or predicted.

It would be easy to criticise the film for taking a too superficial approach to its subject matter, particularly in the way it frequently avoids going into the specifics of the failed projections. Yet this would be to ignore the fact that the lack of knowledge is what is truly terrifying in the movie, with the absence of significant understanding even on the part of mathematicians and analysts hired by the financial sector only adding to the ‘fear factor’. Also it has to be acknowledged that few audience members would be willing to sit through a hardcore dissection of the vagaries of recently created financial investment packages and stock options. In this regard Chandor and Quinto have done an admirable job of approximating the panic of the early stages of a financial crisis, whilst going some of the way to humanising the faceless ‘fat-cat’ villains that so many people now seem to blame.

Another marvellous aspect of the film is the way in which it seems to turn the hustling-bustling New York metropolis into a bizarre ghost town, seemingly on the verge of yet another profound psychic trauma. This effect is established through the impressive way in which Chandor demonstrates the disconnection and remoteness between the people in the glass-panelled offices and the city they nominally inhabit. Kevin Spacey seems to embody the moral outrage, however muted, at the objectionable behaviour of Jeremy Irons’ ruthless corporate head, yet ultimately both characters are doing what they have to do in their own best interests. In this world money talks and its value is the sole arbiter of action. Irons’ character is right to suggest that if his company didn’t dump these assets then another company would. All that they are really guilty of, it would seem, is following a mass social delusion of wealth and having the vision to come to their senses before reality becomes a nightmare.

By far the most interesting and haunting moment in the whole movie is when Paul Bettany visits Stanley Tucci’s sacked risk analyst. Tucci, one of the very best character actors out there, tells an anecdote about his previous work as a civil engineer and the bridge he helped build that actually contributed something to the communities it served. What goes unspoken here is that Tucci’s work for the corporation has none of this tangible value, or meaning, a concern for which brings Tucci broadly in line with Pitt’s Billy Beane from Moneyball.

Film Rating: 7.5/10

Hooray for Holly-Łódź: Cinema 3 – Polonia Kino, Movie 3 – The Extra Man (4/6)

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16:10pm Polonia Kino, Piotrkowska 67

The El Mariachi band will file in around twilight.

Polonia Kino is a sister cinema to Bałtyk and a fellow member of the Helios cinema chain (something equivalent to Odeon). Out of all the cinemas featured in this little project Polonia has perhaps the most ideal location, as it is housed toward the rear of a courtyard, just opposite The Grand Hotel, slap-bang in the centre of the city. There are at least two decent coffee shops barely a 50m walk from the cinema, as well as some of the best bars in the city within a 200m radius. Within the courtyard itself you have the added bonus of a longstanding Mexican theme restaurant, as well as the best of the Łódź Presto franchise Italian restaurants (one of the best value places to eat in the whole city). The exterior of Polonia looks like a traditional two-storey picturehouse, with a large foyer area and three screens. The concessions are a bit more tuckshop style than Bałtyk. I paid for 4 zł for a bottle of Sprite, which despite having been in a chiller was lukewarm at best.

A post-war raised letterbox screen is featured in all three of Polonia's compact auditoria.

Whereas Bałtyk tends to focus on 3D fare, big-budget blockbusters, kids movies and Polish releases, Polonia has diversified into indie fare, non-mainstream American releases and European cinema. My abiding memory of Polonia is as the cinema that I’d visit to watch those quiet little films like The Straight Story, About Schmidt and Genova. It seems fitting then that the movie I hustled up to see today was a low-key oddity starring Paul Dano and Kevin Kline, called The Extra Man. Sadly I was one of only two people in the cinema to watch the film. The screens in Polonia are classically raised, letterbox affairs, of the kind utilised by most provincial European picturehouses during the latter half of the last century. Being quite narrow horizontally it gives the impression that the image is somehow compacted, but really the projection is to ratio, with nothing missing from the frame. Initially the projection was slightly squint, but that was quickly corrected by the projectionist (how quaint) and, as with Bałtyk, the image quality was impressively clean throughout. Sound was functional without having the superior surround range of Bałtyk’s vast auditorium, however that is wholly appropriate for the more intimate charms of Polonia’s cinematic fare. The pricing for Polonia was exactly the same as Bałtyk, with my afternoon ticket costing 17zł. My sole serious complaint would be the prompt start time of the film, which means a complete absence of trailer material.

Cinema Experience: 8/10

 

Paul Dano is one of the most unusual performers currently working in Hollywood and his curious, slightly bruised, physical features and carefully mannered acting style made him a perfect piece of casting in this solid adaptation of Jonathan ‘Bored to Death’ Ames novel. At first the curious rose-tinted period vignette at the beginning of the movie threw me. I momentarily thought I was going to be subjected to the kind of retro-irony to be found in Todd Haynes Far From Heaven. However I was pleasantly surprised to see the way in which this gentle comedy-drama wended its way between the various different New York eccentrics that Ames loves to fixate upon. In the end it brought to mind the John Hurt and Jason Priestley feature Love and Death in Long Island.

The directing and writing team of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman previously brought Harvey Pekar’s curmudgeonly comic book genius to the big screen in American Splendor and they do a fairly good job  of capturing some of the inspired slapstick and pathos of Ames’ source novel. They are aided on this front by a wonderful performance from Kevin Kline as the contrarily Catholic upper-class gigolo Henry Harrison. Every time that Kline shared the screen with Dano, the younger actor seemed to significantly raise his game, in much the same way as he did in the presence of Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood.

The quietly affecting absurdism of the film’s central idea, namely the confused sexual identity of Dano’s Louis Ives, provokes some laugh-out-loud funny moments, particular a sequence in which Kline rubs a small lap-dog all over his body to try to transfer fleas to the mutt, but the general tenor of the movie is that of gracefully declining elegy and nostalgia. In some ways it is a companion piece to my last viewing of the night, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which similarly deals with a central character who feels woefully out of touch with modernity. The Extra Man is by no means a masterpiece but in its own minor manner it manages to cast a compelling spell upon the attentive viewer, that can induce tears of both joy and sadness from such quirky sights as two men dancing upon a beach in the Hamptons. It also manages to pose the question: why isn’t Katie Holmes in more films?

Film Rating: 6.5/10

Hooray for Holly-Łódź: Cinema 2 – Cinema City, Movie 2 – Moneyball (3/6)

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12:00pm Cinema City, Manufaktura Drewnowska 58

The entranceway to Cinema City is an impressive site, as it comprises some of the original red-brick structure of Poznański's textile factory.

About five years ago Łódź completed an ambitious overhaul of the old Poznański factory complex off of Al. Kościuszki. These dilapidated red brick buildings had been pretty much disused, apart from occasional film shoots or festival usage, since the mid-nineties, making them a rather unfortunate eyesore, particularly as they were situated behind one of Łódź’s most iconic buildings Poznański’s Palace. The factory had been at the centre of Łódź’s booming textile industries since it was opened in the mid 19th century by Polish-Jewish entrepreneur and industrialist Izrael Poznański. During the early part of the 20th century it was one of the most significant employers in Łódź, but post-war it was nationalised and after the fall of Communism in the early nineties fell into rapid decline. Now the factory complex is emblematic of Poland’s rapid conversion to North American and Western European consumer Capitalist models of city development. Whereas once the red brick buildings were the focal point and hub of heavy industry, now they have been lovingly restored and modernised, housing the massive two-tier Manufaktura shopping complex, as well as multiple boutique stores and restaurants, a modern art gallery, a historical factory museum and the large scale Cinema City complex, that I was next to visit.

Manufaktura is spread out around a central square, or concourse, that has spouting fountains, outdoor seating, beer halls, external television screens (for major sporting events) and a beach volleyball sand court. The Cinema City complex takes up one half of the building which also houses the museum and exhibition centre. The popular multiplex chain has utilised the high-ceilinged interiors of the old factory buildings incredibly well, giving the foyer an almost space-age feel. At least three of the fifteen cinema screens can hold 300+ viewers, with one of those screens being a purpose-built IMAX 3D auditorium. Of the smaller screens the standard is around the 120 seat mark. As with many other cinema complexes in the chain, most of the screens are sponsored by a business such as Orange, or SONY. Cinema City has a specific brand identity which means that its concessions tend to be uniform, serving up pic’n’mix sweets, a small selection of alcohol, soft drinks, Mars and Nestle chocolates, ice cream, hot snacks (such as chilli nachos) and popcorn.

Movie marathon days such as this require a bit of logistical planning. With Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol having finished at 11:50am, I had to jog the 1km from Bałtyk, down Piotrkowska, to the Manafaktura complex in ten minutes. My partner Marta, had thankfully got to Cinema City in advance and purchased our tickets for the film Moneyball. The tickets had cost 16 zł with our teacher discount, but normally they would cost 19zł, which rises to 21zł for weekend screenings after 17:00 on a Friday.

Cinema City supposedly prides itself on providing the most comfortable and reliable cinematic experience, but I was somewhat disappointed with the way in which they had decided to treat Moneyball. As a sports drama it had been booked onto one of the smaller screens, screen number ten. This wasn’t a problem in terms of physical comfort, as the well-cushioned, spacious and ergonomically designed seats are exemplary throughout the complex. However, the projection of the film was a source of considerable embarrassment. First of all the movie was absurdly cropped on both the right and left of the screen, so that the image lost about a third of the peripheral frame action. This essentially converted the film into a pan and scan television projection, which was deeply unsatisfying. Furthermore, for about the first twenty minutes of the film the sound was so muffled and low as to make the dialogue almost indecipherable. To make matters worse the sound resolved itself around twenty minutes in, thus demonstrating a problem with the screen settings, rather than the quality of the digital print. If this wasn’t bad enough, at intermittent points during the film significant background noise could be heard seeping in from surrounding auditoria, given Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill’s solemn discussions on baseball stats the unwanted bombast of a series of shuddering explosions. I couldn’t help but think that Cinema City had perhaps attempted to maximise their screen output at the expense of some of the basic requirements of the cinematic experience. One of the few things that I will commend the chain on, however,  was the perfect saltiness of their popcorn. All in all a disappointing experience, although I have had far better from Cinema City in the past.

Cinema Experience: 5/10

 

A film about baseball didn’t particularly jump of the screen and demand my attention. Loving writers like Paul Auster, I appreciate that North American’s have a strong and passionate relationship with the sport, but it’s one that a football loving European like myself is unlikely to understand quite so thoroughly. Hanging around in my limited baseball imagination were movies like Bull Durham, Eight Men Out and Major League. Moneyball is vastly different from all of those, although it attempts to draw similar cultural and political connections to the sport as John Sayles historical drama.

Written by two of the premier screenwriters around at the moment in Steve Zaillian (American Gangster, Gangs of New York) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing), a certain quality was always guaranteed when it came to this film. What is so surprising is the way in which the movie manages to make something ‘universally’ significant, and at the same time specifically emblematic, out of the curious incursion of mathematical analysis into the realm of professional sports. In much the same way as Sorkin examined the Facebook phenomenon in The Social Network, the film strives for, and achieves, a deeper cultural significance outside of its niche concerns, demonstrating how technology is rapidly changing old paradigms of operation in multiple industries. Early on in the film Brad Pitt’s character comes out with the oft-used gobbet of wisdom “adapt or die”. His character, the Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane, is talking with an experienced member of his scouting network and is essentially laying out the cold, modern reality of many working environments, change is inevitable and you either get with the programme, or you end up on the scrapheap. What makes Moneyball such a fascinating film is the fact that the writers and the director (Bennett Miller) are working with material that ultimately describes that brief moment when an old order, or hierarchy, is desperately trying to fend off the inevitable future.

Billy Beane stumbles upon a Bill James obsessed economics graduate, Peter Brand (an excellent and delightfully understated Jonah Hill), whilst out scouting Cleveland for players for the coming season. Brand has developed a complex statistical model that re-evaluates player worth, based around their effectiveness at doing the scoring basics on the diamond. This detached mathematical approach to the sport ignores all of the ‘human’ eccentricities and intuitions that the scouting industry relies upon, whilst also puncturing much of the pseudo-mystical mumbo-jumbo around the idea of innate talent and skill. In Brand’s analysis a player is only as good as what he statistically brings to each and every on-the-park display. This radical approach to player evaluation enabled Beane to assemble a World Series competing, record-breaking baseball team on a relative shoestring. Although it didn’t transform the face of baseball, Sorkin and Zaillian do point up the ‘silent’ legacy that it put in place that was adopted by John W. Henry (the new Liverpool owner) at Boston, enabling them to win a World Series. The idea of maths as a means of ‘neutral’ assessment is a sensible and logical one, yet none of those within the game at the time seemed willing to embrace it, perhaps because they could foresee the long term consequences it may have upon their careers. What is most effectively realised in the script is the subtle transitions that occur in the characters, with both Beane and Brand gradually acknowledging that the mathematical system must still be supplemented by the human instincts of skilled coaches and talent scouts, in the same way that some of the players gradually grasp how the system is helping them maximise their talents.

Moneyball was a surprisingly funny movie and enabled a non-Baseball loving individual like myself to engage with the drama of the situation immediately. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill were both on top form, as was an almost unrecognisable Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the role of the stubborn and beleaguered head coach. The final sequences involving Brad Pitt and Arliss Howard’s John Henry, as well as Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, add texture to the story in the way that it seeks to formulate a value, or meaning, that is devoid of the market-driven imperatives of money. It is these little moments that make Brad Pitt’s final sequence all alone in his car with his daughters recording, as he drives past the decaying industries of America, all the more poignant.

Film Rating: 8/10

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