Thursday, 14 July 2011

True Crimes

I know I'm not alone here, simply because of the popularity of true crime TV programmes and books, but I am a fan of the 'genre;' particularly stories of murder. This still does not make me feel entirely comfortable with that fact, as killing somebody in cold blood is clearly horrific. However, I also do realise that the phenomenon of straining to see the car crash you're driving past is also human nature, and to some extent we cannot resist these urges.

This is all to explain in a roundabout way my choice of book lately when I visited my local library: Ripper Suspect by D J Leighton.

I think it is safe to say that even if you're not interested in true crime stories, the Jack the Ripper tale must hold some fascination. From my own knowledge of the era, this was partly due to the fact that it was so widely reported at the time due to advances in technology and journalism; but obviously mainly because the killer was never caught. This has of course, led to many writers speculating on who the killer was, to varying degrees of success. The list of suspects ranges from East End Jewish migrants, to even the Duke of Clarence (King Edward VII's eldest son) and Lewis Carroll.

The book I read concentrated on one of the lesser known suspects: Montague John Druitt. He was a barrister who was born into a well-off family in Dorset, who moved to Blackheath to become a schoolmaster to supplement his income. This immediately raises questions as to how he ever became a suspect; two separate coroners believed the killer had surgical experience or was even a practising doctor and the killer clearly had a local knowledge of the Whitechapel area, neither of which he seemed to have.

Upon reading the book, he became a suspect based on the fact that the Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Melville Macnaghten, believed him to be the killer - two years after the murder of Mary Kelly. Oh, and because Druitt killed himself by drowning himself in the Thames shortly after her murder.

The evidence is pretty flimsy to be honest, especially because many people believe that Mary Kelly was actually not the last victim. She certainly suffered the most extensive mutilation, which may have lead people to believe the killer had reached his climax. However, there were a further four murders that have been attributed to Jack the Ripper. Therefore, it would have been impossible for Druitt to be the killer unless he had found a way back from his watery grave.

All this preamble is leading me to one thing: the pointlessness of this book. The main narrative is less than 200 pages long, and the first 100 concentrate on Druitt's adventures on the cricket field and the connections he made through playing matches with the aristocracy. Yes, he was a keen cricketer and a member of the MCC, which apparently means the Marylebone Cricket Club. Throughout the whole book, this is never mentioned, as if someone who is reading about Jack the Ripper should already know this. If I had deigned to read the inside back page about the author before even starting the book, I would have seen that he has had a lifelong interest in cricket. That's right, he didn't write this book because he had an interest in the Whitechapel murders, he wrote it because one of the (tenuous at best) suspects was a cricket fan too. The back 20+ pages even have Druitt's cricket scorecards!

It is clear early on that Druitt wasn't the killer, not least because of the few reasons I mentioned above. Therefore, in my opinion, he wasn't a suspect in the traditional sense of the word. He wasn't questioned by police and he couldn't defend himself against these allegations as he was conveniently dead at the time.

All this to basically say that I feel cheated by this book; enough to write a whole bloody blog on the thing. I went to the True Crime section of the library, not the Sports section. And if I was going to read about any sport (unlikely), it certainly wouldn't be cricket; the most boringest sport ever created.

Friday, 24 June 2011

A Town Called Panic

A Town Called Panic (2009) is a Belgian-Luxembourg-French stop-motion animated film directed by St├ęphane Aubier and Vincent Patar. According to Wikipedia, it was also the first stop-motion animation to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

The story follows a cowboy (Cowboy) and an Indian (Indian) as they try to find a birthday present for their friend Horse – who is a dog. Ha! Just kidding, he’s a horse. When their order of 50 bricks to make him a barbecue for his birthday accidentally turns into an order of 50 billion, a series of wacky and confusing incidences occur with seemingly no end in sight.

Well, where do I begin? The film is basically 75 minutes of this:

In fact, I would say that the film is about 158% crazier and for the first 15 minutes you’re left wondering how on earth they can keep this pace up for over an hour. To be frank, it’s exhausting, because I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. One particular moment that had me grinning like a loon, was when Horse received a letter and he announced “It’s from my brother-in-law.” Whenever there is any let-up though, (which doesn’t happen that often), I found myself willing something to happen as it seemed totally out of character.

Speaking of characters, they do actually talk in that mad half-shouty, half-screeching way all the time, just like they do in the Cravendale advert, and the fact they’re speaking in French somehow makes it more hilarious. There are a few characters (mainly women) who aren’t suffering from hearing loss though, so it doesn’t grate on you as much as it probably should.

This film is very popular with the children in our film clubs, but you don’t have to be three feet tall to enjoy it. Apart from the sheer escapism of it, there are some moments in it that adults can relate to. For example, at Horse’s birthday party (complete with DJ and disco lights in the living room of his house), the farmer gets a little tipsy and starts threatening the postman (or is it the policeman?) who is dancing with his wife. Not a lot of children would ‘get’ this beyond the silly drunken man causing a scene, so it was a nice little touch for us older viewers.

The animation is basic to say the least. Cowboy and Indian walk like the soldiers in Toy Story on acid, as they have the same stands holding them up. There are little to no expressions on their faces, beyond mild terror and the backdrops look like a project I tried to make in primary school when I was 10. However, this just makes the film more magical and it somehow wouldn’t be the same without it.

You can view the whole film on YouTube, if you don’t mind watching it in six parts, so you really have no excuse not to watch this film.

5 out of 5.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Life in a Day

Life in a Day (2011) is an experimental film of sorts. YouTube announced the project on 6th July 2010 by asking its users to submit films of themselves on 24th July 2010. It was produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin MacDonald, so not only was it ambitious but it was definitely taking itself seriously.

Now, this could have gone one of two ways; a poignant, funny and eye-opening look at what people deem important in their lives, or a pretentious United Colours of Benetton advert (yes, they still exist).

I am somewhat pleased to say that it definitely fell into the former category and the hour and a half seemed to whiz by in no time. Despite the 4,500 hours of footage from around 140 countries, the editors and director have done the impossible by creating a strong narrative throughout.

And it doesn’t just fall into the pattern of following expectant mothers, then babies, then children until the inevitable shot of an old man in a hospital bed; but it also makes a pretty compelling story out of the everyday routines we all take for granted.

That isn’t to say that the filmmakers ignore the dramatic, as to do so with such a project would be stupid of them. Something quite significant happened on that day, and we’re taken through the chaos. We see the family with a son struggling to come to terms with his mother’s illness, the young woman who is trying to find herself and the man telling his grandmother some very important news. But this is all interspersed with the shots of people just waking up; their faces in the mirror as they’re getting ready. And this is no bad thing. To have a constant barrage of ‘important’ moments thrown at you would have missed the point of it all. Life doesn’t always have to be significant or meaningful and this film manages to convey that beautifully.

The cynics among you may find it all a bit tedious. Why do I need to see children frolicking on a beach when I can’t stand the sight of my own? Well, I will agree that some moments do feel forced and/or set up. It is not hard to see why people would want to be seen in a certain light or be defined by their actions or clever witticisms on screen. But these are in the minority (I can only recall one or two of them now) and apart from a roll of the eyes, they do not have enough of an impact to affect the whole.

This film set out to capture what it was like to be alive on that day, and put simply, it did a damn fine job. I truly believe that it will still be around in hundreds of years’ time, helping our descendants make out what the hell it is we were up to.

A very respectable 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

I Think I May Still Be Drunk

Well, it's been over a year, so any title for this post is as good as any other. And it's true.

I will be honest with you, the reason I've resurrected this blog is because it is very quiet at work at the moment. Before deciding to write anything though, I had a read through all my previous posts.

I can only apologise people. Self-indulgent? Me? I suppose that's how blogs started, but I think I was taking the piss a little.

So I have decided to make a point to this blog, but unfortunately the only thing I can think of is films.

Now, there must be millions of film blogs out there, and Darren and our friend Lee even do a podcast on them (which I have had the pleasure of guest starring in). But I now work for a film education charity and have decided to make more of an effort in discovering new films.

Therefore, I will write a review on each new film I see and hopefully add something a little different along the way to make it a bit more special. It's got to be an improvement on my moaning about something or other (usually work or lack of), which was initially not my intention when I decided to start writing.

I will also try and get at least one post in a week, to keep my brain working.

Right, I'm off to stare blankly at my Inbox.