Film Review: La Haine, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz

La Haine, or ‘The Hate’ is a French, episodal film, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. We follow the lives of three youths: Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui), Vinz (Vincent Cassel) and Hubert (Hubert Koundé), who live in a French suburban ghetto. We see their story over the course of 24 hours, ending with a tense finale. The film is set in the 1990s and it holds strong political and cultural undertones, to a point where it becomes quite difficult to fully understand without knowing information about French politics and its effects on its’ youth. However, limited background knowledge is given for general viewer understanding.

The film echoes the consistency of an art piece. It brings with it messages of how hate can breed and puts forwards a view of the oppressed youth, whilst also presenting a culture. The culture shown seems almost alien as we travel through the ghetto. It is a society filled with guns, crime and hatred for the racist police. It’s a time where ‘it was killing’ has become slang for ‘it was good’, where plain clothes policemen carried weapons and where teens grow up swearing that they’ll kill police. The picture we’re painted through this film is both vivid and unsettling and the actors and directors have portrayed the essence of the time quite well.

However, I feel some of the messages were hidden too keenly. It’s a film where you have to be well informed to fully appreciate and recognise the details within. If you’re unfamiliar with the picture the film is trying to portray, it can be difficult to connect and comprehend its content. You wonder why characters go to certain places, or what happened in whole scenes. Then as the scenes loosely interconnect, you end up losing the film entirely, only picking up on the more vivid concepts.  The scenes themselves also feel slightly disjointed; if they were more transparent and organised it might add extra tension to the finale. The finale itself was the highlight of the film, as it was a subversion of the audience’s initial expectations which brings an exciting surprise. However, the build-up for the shooting takes too long and the story connected with it: ‘so long, so good’, while very a strong and moving concept, is introduced too late into the film. This in itself seems to be the films biggest problem, in that it has many strong and powerful concepts, but they’re squashed together and rushed over.

Overall, the film set a strong snapshot-image of the culture it presented. It gave an intricate, well researched, cultural representation and story that holds several strong messages. However, while I can appreciate it as a statement and art piece, It will always be known as the ‘art-film’ I needed more knowledge of French social culture to me.

Rating: 5/10

Review of a Review: The Times – Dominic Maxwell (Joan Rivers Birmingham)

This review of Joan Rivers’ show In Birmingham was written by Dominic Maxwell, who is a critic for the popular ‘The Times’ newspaper. The show reviewed was entitled ‘Now or Never’ and is touring up until the 22nd of October.  Dominic himself doesn’t seem to have any comedy-background personally, but delving into the area of comedy for his work for the paper has let him see many various comedy gigs and festivals, so he can compare his experiences.

His review shows a positive opinion of Joan Rivers and he even notes in awe, how she ‘paints herself’ as a ‘shallow opportunist’. Although people walked out, he praises her skills as a comedian and how she ‘knows how far she can go’: a point that seems contradictory in that Joan Rivers is quite well known for her offensive comedy and yet people still walked out. However, Maxwell does seem to have some general knowledge about Joan Rivers and her style of comedy: as he mentions a joke about her closest friends, and as from the start he expected her to be offensive and applauds her for it. Such knowledge and strong opinion, however, questions the reliability of this reviewer. Can he have seen this show with no expectations or pre-formed opinions? I can’t believe he has. Comedy’s reliance on personal preference is perhaps one thing that makes it so difficult to judge in an unbiased way.

One thing I dislike about this review is the re-use of one of Rivers’ jokes. Maxwell attempts at using her joke of how if River dropped dead on stage, the audience would get a good show. Maxwell not only quotes this joke to finish his review, but he also tries to incorporate it into its’ title and theme (based on the overall theme of the show), beginning with the line ‘Joan Rivers is close to death’. While I actually like this opening line independantly due to its ability to attract attention (and how it makes good use of a set-up and subversion), to quote a joke by Joan Rivers for a written review just doesn’t work. Jokes are generally verbally based and are made effective by timing and voice. Therefore, placing a directly quoted verbal-joke in a written mode review just retracts it and takes away the skill it takes to make the joke funny. Maxwell’s theme could have worked better if he hadn’t quoted directly, but paraphrased or explained the essence.

However, Maxwell does a good job of promoting the show. He effectively makes it more inviting and gives us enough details to be able to research it and buy tickets later (presuming the readers have internet access). While not showing an overall unbiased and independent view, he shows his positive personal opinion well, while also rounding off his arguments by stating the negatives in a subtle manner. Overall I liked this review and would read more of Maxwell’s reviews.

Fiction Review: The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende

The thing with the Never Ending Story by Michael Ende is it appears to try too hard. It’s a masterpiece in terms of completely screwing the levels of narrative over and it is written very cleverly to encompass many different story-genres and expectations. However, while it masters its ‘smart’ aspects, it just doesn’t hold off as a story. It feels jumbled together like you got a pick’n’mix of stories, shoved them together, tied them with a bow and sold them as a quality sweet at a candy store… it just doesn’t slot together well enough. For most of the novel, I was more interested about the branching stories and hypodiegetic levels than the actual main diegesis! For example whatever did happen to that Centaur? Or what happened to the knight who slayed the dragon? What kinds of magical things happen in the various lands of Fantastica we don’t get to hear about in the main storyline? And guess what? Each of those stories would each be MUCH MORE INTERESTING than what we’re actually told. I’d much prefer to read about the heroic battles of a brave knight to rescue (and win the heart of) his maiden than some fat kid who wishes himself thin and heroic and ends up being a slightly more evil fat kid.

Another thing I disliked about it was how quickly it rushed over events and characters.  Some of the characters were really interesting (the fiery lion of many deaths and the centaur to name a few) and they were just rushed by and never mentioned again. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, the worst of those fly-by characters actually made the cut to come back: I’m talking of course of those annoying clown-faced flying Acharis race, who after their transformation just got on your nerves. Even forgetting all the odd ends and bits, the narrative itself seemed rushed. Atreyu’s whole journey could have been drawn out and made into a whole book… which I guess is the point for the over-all book effect but that’s  its problem. It tries too hard to get an ‘effect’ which adds to the ‘this book doesn’t work as a book, it only works as a statement of how to play with narrative’ effect.

There were things I liked about this book, however. I enjoyed the characters and thought the world of Fantastica was well thought out. I also like the concept that every story told in the human world helps Fantastica grow and how all of our stereotypical genres are added to the mix. I liked the first half of the books’ plot (Atreyu’s adventure), but I wish we could have heard a more detailed description of his travels. I’m also quite fond of the authors supposed intention to completely mess up and toy with fiction by adding in the Man of Wandering Mountain and forming a loop within the book and how that in itself works its way into the title and very being of the book.

But… unfortunately I hate books that focus too much on a statement so that the narrative ends up getting pushed to the background. However, that is another rant and shall be told another time.

Rating: 4/10

Poetry Review: The Library – Chris Woods

Chris Woods, in his poem ‘The Library’, brings forth his opinions of society. He draws on the imagery of drunken ‘lads’ lingering around the closed library with walls decorated with graffiti. He shows a dark, menacing scene that seems to echo his thoughts on the death of books and reading through the progression of modern society: a notion also picked up in his other poem ‘Video Kid’.

I didn’t like this poem. I mean, I liked Wood’s use of sound in ‘The Library’ and how he writes each line as short, quick phrases. However, as much as this brings a sense of rhythm to his work, it also depreciates the description. I prefer a poem that creates a vision through adjectives and really brings that world to life… and for me Woods really hasn’t done enough. He vaguely captures an essence of the imagery he wants to present, but he doesn’t follow through with it. I think both his rhythm and his delivery of descriptive scenes would be greatly aided by a mix of short, snappy lines and longer more descriptive lines. As it is, the vast majority of the poem consists of facts: ‘Shut at 7’ and ‘No chance of getting in’. It would be like writing a poem about a forest in autumn and forgetting about all of the wonderful magical colours and feelings, while instead writing ‘The leaves fall’ and ‘The trees are tall’. Furthermore, to make up for the lack of emotive response in this poem, Woods instead uses a sudden expletive. While it’s probably part of the whole statement, or a shock ploy, it simply makes the poem too dark for me and rings an echo of desperate. Adding that ingredient to my parody Woods-poem, we have:
‘The leaves fall
The trees are tall
Fuck, they’re high!’

…….

While I shan’t judge the poet’s work just by this one poem (as I enjoyed ‘Video Kid’ more than ‘The Library’), I’d hope to find a change in style and setting in his other poems to enable me to really be captured in his presented world.

Rating: 4/10