Films around Cheltenham from 4/9/2021


I’ve chosen a Film of the Week, in the hope that it might encourage you to make a little outing to one of our local cinemas. At The Roses, Tewkesbury, they have Love Beats Rhymes (2017), on Sunday at 18:00. It’s a music drama about the rap scene in New York City. It stars Azealia Banks as an aspiring hip-hop singer/writer who is tired of the casual misogyny of the scene and her bandmates (one of whom is her faithless boyfriend).

Pressured to stay ‘in school’ (she’s 24) and graduate, she starts attending a poetry class, where a wise professor (soul singer Jill Scott) instructs her in the mysteries of iambic pentameter. In the class she meets a black British research student, who is committed to introspective poetry in the respectable Eng Lit tradition, as opposed to commercial hip-hop braggadocio. 

I can’t actually say this film is brilliant – it includes every known cliché of the showbiz musical – but it is very interesting as an example of Hollywood trying to come to terms with, and exploit, youth culture. Azealia Banks, a rising young rapper, was given the film as a star vehicle. She has since succumbed to the excesses of fame, including bizarre behaviour, ludicrous celebrity scraps, political posturing and, at one point, getting locked into Elon Musk’s house. The film was directed by RZA, leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, rappers turned street couturiers. He is a Five Percenter, a member of a weird sect of the Nation of Islam. The macho bandmate who uses her for ‘booty calls’ is played by Denzil Washington’s son. The gentle Brit poet she is drawn to is played by Lucien Laviscount, who was in the BBC’s Waterloo Road. The industry threw money at this film, but then the leading lights fell out and refused to promote it, and it flopped horribly before being effectively withdrawn.

That’s a pity, because it explores all sorts of interesting and relevant questions about the relationship between black America and education, about commerce and art, and about the language we use to explore our selves and our lives. Is rap poetry, or something else entirely? Who does the English language, and its literature, belong to? Is ‘gangsta’ culture an authentic expression of black America’s distinctive voice and circumstances, or is it just another type of exploitation? Is education the way out of deprivation, or is commerce? Can people just get along? 

Conflict is the essence of drama, somebody said. There’s plenty of conflict here, between poetry, self-expression, love, tenderness, on the one hand, and guns, strip-clubs and product placement on the other. The film makers desperately try to have it both ways, making something that lurches between a black Good Will Hunting (1997) and Boyz n the Hood (1991). The rap battles and music are exciting, but the undercurrent of violence and misogyny in commercial hip-hop is showcased and applauded at the same time as it is supposedly being deplored.

The film starts at 18:00. After that, The Roses is having a live spoken-word event, theoretically aimed at the benighted youth of Tewkesbury. Writing, including poetry, being one of my obsessions, I’m going along to both. Patrick Bliss, who is in charge of film at The Roses, has said that anyone – of any age – who comes along on this occasion will get free admission to the movie and the event, if they fancy it.

I’m planning to turn up at about 5.00 to have a cup of tea and a chat with Patrick about the Roses and the film scene in the Greater Cheltenham area generally. I would be delighted to meet any of you who felt like coming along. Something interesting to do on a Sunday afternoon, especially if you haven’t been to the Roses before.

Also at The Roses

There’s a last chance to see The World to Come (2020) on Tuesday (7/9) at 14:00. I was quite nice about it last week, judging by the trailer and reviews, but not everyone is so keen. ‘All very painterly and good to look at I suppose,’ reports Pamela Weaver, ‘but otherwise a turgid script and a succession of clichés where the narrative should have been. ’

Then there’s Summer of Soul (2021), about which reports are mixed. If you are interested in the racial politics of 1960s America – as seen through the lens of 2020s America – it will work for you. If you’re just a music fan, you may feel frustrated. It’s on tomorrow (4/9) at 19:30, on Tuesday (7/9) at 11:15 and 17:45 and on Wednesday (8/9) at 14:00.

The Guildhall

Three films of note at The Guildhall in Gloucester. I saw The Truffle Hunters (2020) a couple of weeks ago. It is a very picturesque documentary about recent developments in the age-old Italian trade of digging fungi out of the ground with dogs. I say ‘documentary’, but every scene is staged and art-directed to appeal to the tastes of the US festival market, as is the world-view of the film. Plucky, eccentric old-world peasants are relentlessly conned by greedy traders catering for the foodies of America, Russia and, no doubt, China. Of course, such foodies are the market for a charming film about quaint truffle-hunting in Italy. A light sprinkling of guilt plays well in the struggling arthouse cinemas of well-heeled liberal America. It’s on on Monday (6/9) at 11:00, Wednesday (8/9) at 19:30, and Thursday (9/9) at 14:00. 

Squeezed in on Friday (10/9) at 11:00 is Minamata (2020). This is Johnny Depp’s passion project about the American war photographer, W. Eugene Smith, who went to Japan to document the poisoning of a community by a chemical company, assisted by police and politicians, before being bundled out of the country. Depp looks the part, as the gruff but caring maverick, but he has since become something of a non-person in the industry on account of his public marital dispute and, I don’t doubt, his anti-corporatist politics. The megacorp that now owns the film seems to have declined to release it in the States, but it has now crept out here. The score, by the brilliant Ryuichi Sakamoto, is only available on vinyl (that’s where the money is). This film been buried so effectively that I can’t even see it on the pirate sites. 

The Pebble and the Boy (2021), on Friday (10/9) at 19:30, is a cheap-looking excursion down British cinema’s current favourite dead-end, Memory Lane. A 19-year-old kid takes his dead Dad’s tarted-up Lambretta – and his ashes – to Brighton pier. A nostalgia trip about a nostalgia trip: the mod revival of the 1980s. The Jam moved on from that pretty quickly, but Paul Weller won’t turn away the royalty cheque. 

The Sherborne

Delighted to see that Mark at The Sherborne in Gloucester giving a proper outing to Limbo (2020). It’s a really funny, thoughtful film about migrants trying to make a life on a Scottish island, and the different ways in which the natives respond to them. It’s on every night at 18:30 except Sunday, with a matinee at 16:00 on Wednesday. It couldn’t be more topical, unfortunately. Go and see it. 

On Sunday at 18:30, there is Fair Haven (2016), an American indie about a young piano prodigy who comes home from ‘gay conversion therapy’ and has to take over the family farm. Elegantly photographed young men having sex in barns, which seems to be the preferred venue, at least in films targeted at that particular market. ‘Even-handedness and grace,’ according to the LA Times. ‘Bad writing and direction,’ according to Film Journal International.

The Sherborne is a nice little venue, just across the road from the rugby ground. It has a nice Sony 4K projector and Dolby Digital sound, tickets are £6 and Mark will make you a cup of instant for £1.50. Note that he doesn’t have a card reader: the cashpoint is at Tesco in the London Road. Opposite the bus garage. 

The Multiplexes

Cheltenham and Gloucester Cineworlds both have Shang-Chi & the Legend of the 10 Rings (2021), a Marvel martial arts fantasy reminiscent of the endearingly bonkers Korean mega-flop Dragon Wars. They also have Here Today, billed as ‘A Billy Crystal Movie’, in which the likeable Jewish oldster teams up with Tiffany Haddish, playing a predictably raucous and life-affirming street soulsinger and sometime pole-dancer, while he fights dementia and the demise of his television comedy career. Really, when a great comic actor like Crystal is given his own film, he should remember to hire someone with the power to say ‘Good, but not good enough’. More Hollywood clichés about race relations, age relations, class relations, religion, illness, humour and celebrity than you can shake a slapstick at. 

Cheltenham, meanwhile, has another ‘Tears of a Clown’ film, in the shape of would-be auteur Leos Carax’s predictably weird Annette (2021). Adam Driver plays a miserable, self-dramatising comedian who is married to beautiful, self-dramatising opera singer Marion Cotillard. Then they have a baby (self-conscious animatronics) who proves to have a talent that put Adam in the shade. It’s a would-be musical written by the two blokes from Sparks (who also have a high-profile biopic on the circuit). Sadly, no-one seems to have read their lyrics. When you’ve heard Driver and Cotillard duetting to the words ‘We love each other so much’ for what seems like hours, you rather lose the will to live. Plus the film’s whole raison d’être is about telling you what a nightmare, darling, it is to be a globe-trotting mega-rich celebrity. Not a very interesting idea. Carax, meanwhile, seems to have decided that making striking images, however irrelevant, will stop people noticing that his film is decidedly thin on the story front. 

In Gloucester, in contrast, they are revelling in British ugliness with Rise of the Footsoldier: Origins (2021). Apparently this is the fifth in this dreary British gangster franchise, which has looped back to the days of Essex clubbing, drug-dealing and ‘security’ work for a prequel. With Vinnie Jones, who is no Eric Cantona (on any level), plus our favourite local likely lad, Keith Allen. Someone at Cineworld HQ must have been looking at the index of urban deprivation and decided that more violence and drug-driven stupidity is exactly what Gloucester needs.

Nothing of note at Vue in Stroud.

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