In this debut feature written and directed by Iranian born Babak Jalali, “Frontier Blues” features four, intertwined stories all set in Iran’s northern frontier with Turkmenistan, a region that has long been neglected in Iranian cinema, interesting not only for its magnificent, forlorn landscape but also for its multi-ethnic population of Persians, Turkmens and Kazakhs. Featuring non-professional actors from the northern region of Iran, Jalali’s film looks at fragments of the everyday existence of a varied collection of characters from the region.
2009 – Certificate: 12 – Iranian Film
Rating Details: One use of strong language and a moderate sex reference
7.0 out of 10
Although I frequently do nothing at work for weeks at a time (except procrastinate), I occasionally have to do something. This is normally something which I can’t delegate downwards or pass the buck upwards. Yesterday was one of those days. I had to complete a funding application. I’d known it’d need doing for the last month or so, but it was only yesterday that I did much about it, as it had a 17:00 deadline. I’d had a quick look at it the day before and decided that it wasn’t a lot of work; why I believe myself when I think something like that I’ll never know, but somehow I always do. So yesterday I found myself having to do some real work for a change. Now, there are people who actually do this sort of thing as their full time job and some of them actually seem to enjoy it. I lack the intelligence, focus and strength of character to be like that. I see it as a necessary evil that allows me to lead the decadent lifestyle that I do. No one should be forced to write funding applications; it’s only one step up from begging in the street. Like writing poetry or songs, funding bids come from the heart; they’re not something that can be forced out of someone. In my case they’re dragged screaming and kicking from my very soul, before being nakedly spread-eagled across the page for all to gawp at, pointing and laughing as they do so, as if I was exposing a very private part of me, which in a way I am. Being forced to write a funding bid is like being forced to love someone. Of course I enjoy getting that follow up letter that contains the word “congratulations”, but most of the time they just say “I’m sorry to inform you”. Writing funding bids is like asking someone out, and I’m crap at that too. (You work yourself up for ages to do it and then it all comes out wrong.) I’m just not thick skinned enough to take the rejection and it sends me into a subconscious mire of desolation and self-loathing. I still haven’t got over asking Debbie Warby out in 1977 and getting turned down; I only wanted to go and see “Star Wars” too. I never did see it at the cinema; no wonder I prefer “Star Trek”. So anyway, I got it done yesterday and what a beautiful creation it was; really, it should’ve been on display in a gallery, not stuffed into a brown envelope. After a 100mph death-defying drive, (it wasn’t far to go and I had an hour or so to get there, but I’d drunk far too much coffee), I got to hand it in before the deadline. I got a call about two hours later from the fund’s administrator, asking if I could e-mail her a copy, as she was having to scan all the applications and she’d been “inundated” with them and would be at work for hours doing them, so it would save her time. Inundated. Inundated! It’s like asking girls out again; a futile exercise that ends in humiliation and a feeling of abject failure. A woman gets asked out in this movie; that ends in abject failure too.
So this was a chance to watch my entire collection of Iranian films… all one of them. Not sure what I was expecting really, probably just some propaganda to do with nuclear bombs, oppressed women who choose to wear a burqa and jihadist wars. There isn’t anything else there is there, other than sand and oil… and camels probably? Well, that’s what it says in the papers, so it must be true. Okay, I don’t really believe any of that nonsense, but I was surprised by what I did see. In fact it took me a while to get over my preconceptions and begin to appreciate what this film actually was, which made me feel a bit guilty; I really was under the impression that it would be sort of worthy, but a bit amateurish and boring. In fact this is a black comedy, which pokes fun at itself and Iran’s own, internal preconceptions about itself. It’s true to say that not a lot happens for most of the film and there aren’t a great many spaceships, aliens or explosions in it. It’s simply a snapshot of the lives of four people that to some extent are interconnected. At first I did find it a bit boring, but when I finally worked out what I was watching it got a lot more interesting. It was almost as if I felt guilty about finding the discomfort of the characters funny, which is a bit sad really. The picture quality isn’t always the best, which is a bit frustrating as the scenery is really worth seeing. It’s also quite slow and nothing happens quickly; and in a cultural way there are a few things that just don’t sit comfortably for many westerners too. However, the majority of it is good stuff and I really rather enjoyed it.
The music used in the film is sparse and haunting. It’s not something I’d listen to on its own but as a soundtrack it’s great and adds to the atmosphere a lot. We also get treated to a bit of what sounds like Marlene Dietrich, but I could be wrong.
Movie Weather Forecast. I’ve still not started doing this properly, but it was dry and mostly sunny, with some blustery wind at times.
For stupid people like me, the trailer makes the tone of the film a bit clearer.
Recommend for wrestlers, photographers and anyone who works on a chicken farm.
No cats, chainsaws or decapitations.
Top badass moment? I like tea. I drink a lot of tea. I like coffee but I like tea more. In this film the characters drink tea. They drink a lot of tea. In fact I suspect that it’s a subtle joke about how much tea people in Iran do drink. I thought all they did there was build nuclear bombs and hate on the West, but actually they drink a lot of tea and have a sense of humour that I can relate to. That’s cool, because most of the people I actually know don’t understand it. I’m a Brit so tea is automatically badass and badass in a way coffee will never be. In fact it’s the most badass of drinks; except perhaps cider.
The sensually provocative images of internationally acclaimed photographer David Hamilton again move and breathe in Laura. A delicate journey through innocence, beauty and sensuality involving a 16 year old ballet dancer who falls in love with her mother’s former lover, a 40 year old sculptor. A classic cinematic treatment of mother-daughter competition and the first stirrings of sexuality. With utmost taste and talent, Hamilton presents the gratification of budding womanhood.
1979 – Certificate: 18 – French Film
5.0 out of 10
For reasons that mostly baffle me but probably point to a severe breakdown in the decision-making process somewhere, I’m trusted with the management of nine people at work, plus another two or three that are ‘incoming’. I’ve never received much in the way of training to accomplish this, but I do my best. I try to work them all to within an inch of their lives, make them feel worthless and in awe of me, blame them when something goes wrong and take the credit when something goes well. I provide them with impossible deadlines and grass them up to more senior people when they fail to meet them. I invent or overcomplicate existing procedures, to make their lives as difficult as possible. My managerial catch-phrase is, “if you don’t like it you can leave”. In fact the only book on management I’ve ever read is “The Art of Demotivation”. I’d heartily recommend this to anyone who manages staff. I keep my well-thumbed copy by my desk at all times. Despite my obvious lack of emotional intelligence, in a strange way I consider these ‘resource units’ as my family. (In that sense I care for them deeply, in the same way that Captain Janeway on the Starship Voyager cared for her crew, but still managed to nearly get them killed most weeks.) Consequently, I get very distressed when any of them decide to fly the nest or take maternity leave. (Mainly because of the extra hassle it’s going to cause me.) In the next couple of months I have to recruit three or four new members of staff. From experience, I’m pretty sure that interviewing is about as close as a man can get to giving birth. The only difference is that we interview during office hours to a sensible timetable that minimises the disruption it causes. It is however a painful experience, in which you deal with things as best you can, when all you really want to do is scream and moan about how long it’s all taking, as you wait for the candidate(s) to come into the room so to speak. And my top tips for interviewing? Always have the interview panel with the light behind its back. I find it helps to put interviewees at ease if you silhouette yourselves. I also find that starting off interviews with the question, “what’s the worst question we could ask you today?” often helps to put candidates at ease too. If I don’t see tears by the end, I know I’m facing a tough son-of-a-bitch, who might one day challenge my Alpha Male status, an attribute that at work we call Wow; strangely, these people always score really poorly and consequently never get appointed. There’s nothing Wow about this film either.
David Hamilton made a few films like this and they’re all crap. This is probably because I know nothing about art and can never relate to anything or anyone in them. And I hate the ‘soft focus’ (i.e. out of focus) photography that always seems to get used too, so it’s not just the people, plots and places I don’t get. I guess if I was cultured enough I’d think this movie was a cinegraphic masterpiece that “presents the gratification of budding womanhood” and unrequited love, rather than some child porn dressed up as art. But what do I know? I’m probably just an ignorant, Mail-reading Brit, who thinks anything foreign is rubbish (unless it’s American or curry). I guess if I go out and kill someone on purpose, as long as I do it tastefully it’s art, not murder. Having said that, there is a story of sorts (a somewhat pervy love triangle) and a bit of action when something catches fire. There’s also some ‘fun’ with weed-killer too. (It’s a good example of what happens when you don’t store and use chemicals correctly.) I guess if you can work around all its technical and plot foibles, then you could get something positive out of it. (It’s not unlike a trashy B-movie in that respect.)
The soundtrack is mainly plinky-plonky ‘emotional’ piano or dated prog rock. It’s not something I’d miss if it was somehow erased for existence by time-travelling, intergalactic film critics.
Trailer. Well if there is one I couldn’t find it. Yes, the Internet has let me down. The best I managed to locate were some clips, so I’ve picked out an especially action-packed one for here.
Recommended for sculptors, dancers and anyone with a very open mind.
No cats, chainsaws or decapitations.
Top badass moment? I guess it’s another reason for me to be sent to Hell, but Paul (40) manages to get off with Laura (15). It’s not that I approve or would want to be in his place; it’s just that he could, which makes it badass, although mostly just bad. What’s he got that I haven’t? Other than he’s good looking, French, talented, sexy and (in these post-Saville times) “a sinister pervert who used his fame to get close to young women and girls”. No wait, that’s Rolf Harris.
Jennifer Garner (“Daredevil”, TV’s “Alias”) and Mark Ruffalo (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) star in this hilarious flash-forward romance about a pre-teen girl who goes from geek to glamorous. With the help of some magic wishing dust, 13 year-old Jenna Rink (Garner) becomes 30 and gorgeous overnight, with everything she ever wanted, except for her best friend Matt (Ruffalo). Now, this grown woman must create some magic of her own to help the little girl inside find the true love she left behind.
2004 – Certificate: 12 – American Film
Rating Details: Moderate sex and drug references
8.0 out of 10
Went to see the New Town Kings last night at the Camden Underworld in London. It’s probably the best ska band in the country. (Quite why people listen to stuff like Coldplay when they could be listening to bands like the NTK entirely escapes me, but I think it’s probably just another symptom of the fall of humanity; the signs are all around us after all, this is just another scream of terror from the depths of hell into which we’re falling.) The gig was great, had a little bit too much to drink but managed not to be too uncoordinated or tread on too many feet. I really like going to gigs in the summer, as when you leave at the end in a sweat-soaked t-shirt, you don’t walk out into a dark night that has a wind chill that wouldn’t feel out of place in an Antarctic winter. I hate that and hanging about at Paddington Station afterwards, waiting for a train that’s either packed and you can’t get a seat, or freeing cold. (I know it’s partly my fault as I wear the same things all year, but cloakrooms are a pain so if I can’t wear it under ‘combat conditions’ or tie it around my waist, then it’s too much hassle. I’m sure regularly undergoing a freeze-thaw cycle is good for something; it’s good for some seeds anyway.) Have to say I’m feeling pretty fit at the moment. I remember seeing NTK a couple of years ago and I was knackered at the end. This time it didn’t feel that big a deal. I truly have the body of top sportsman! (Darts probably).
I can’t believe it, but this is the fifth comedy I’ve watch in a row. What’s come over me? Then again, I do choose the films I watch entirely at random, although there are a lot of complicated rules that govern this process, but at the end of the day it’s still pretty random. Anyway, let’s not consider how clichéd or stupid this film is. Let’s just consider it and its (I think for me) unique, pink DVD case. To deflect the fact and consequent embarrassment that comes from my sitting and watching a chick-flick on my own, I like to consider this as a movie with a hard science fiction storyline, that just happens to have some sort of romance built into it somewhere. We first meet our hero Jenna around the time of her 13th birthday, just before she travels about 27 years into the future, into an alternative time-line. So okay, the ‘time-machine’ consists of some sort of ‘fairy dust’ that we never get an explanation for, but that’s the nature of these things, apparently. Then in the future she does stuff and it all works out okay. Right? It is actually an excellent film, even though it’s rubbish too; I did feel myself getting emotional once or twice, (just a tiny bit of course). It also has one of those brilliant, so-crap-it’s-good dance routine scenes in it; Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” being the victim in this case. (You should check out all the people at IMDB seriously discussing how realistic this scene is and how poor the choreography is; and I thought I had trouble living in the real world sometimes.) Technically I like how this film looks and sounds on DVD.
This movie uses it’s soundtrack to strongly emphasise its 80s vibe. In this, thanks in part to the way the sound blasts out every time a song is played, it succeeds well. Even I have to begrudgingly admit that it’s not that bad.
Recommended for magazine editors, freelance photographers, 13 year-old girls and anyone who thinks 80s pop music is of any value; (yes, you there at the back, I can see you).
No cats, chainsaws or decapitations.
Top badass moment? Biach Tom-Tom getting her comeuppance. So she gets a drink spilt on her, a few harsh words and some work ripped up in front of her face; but when you’re 13 and have a social position to maintain in front of your friends, that’s probably not dissimilar to having your head blown off with a big gun by the unsung hero in the climatic final scene in a bloody action film.