nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk) wrote,

Moving pictures

Last week I finally got round to jotting down some thoughts on some television (and one film) I’ve been watching recently, so here follow a few short reviews.

Northern Exposure

I borrowed the DVDs of this from my sister. I had heard that Dr Greene from ER was in it, but that must come later. It has some of the worst relatively modern interior decorating I've ever seen, and that familiar experience of wondering what else the actors you vaguely recognise have been in. It's not deep, but it generally keeps the sentimentality at bay, and manages 40 minutes of solid amusement. It is not, thank God, snarky, snazzy, or quippy (I saw an episode of Modern Family the other week, lured by the information it was by the team behind Frasier it proved - not my kind of thing at all).


I first heard of Gohatto years ago, missed it in the cinema, then on the BBC, and have finally acquired it via LoveFilm. I first came across it referred to in a review somewhere or other as "a Japanese Billy Budd". Ironically, that's pretty much the antithesis of what it actually is, which is an allegory about the dangers of allowing sexual harassment in the workplace. OK, it probably isn't an allegory about that, but it is nonetheless about it. Kano Sozaburo is a strikingly beautiful teenager who is accepted into a Samurai group defending the shogunate. I know almost nothing about this period of Japanese history, and as some of the characters are real people, it would probably carry extra resonance if I did, and the reference's to one character’s health have more impact when one knows that he died of tuberculosis aged c.23. More important, however, is that I am sure that I would have benefitted from knowledge of Japanese film conventions and literary symbolism.

Back to the plot. Kano is similar to Billy Budd in that everyone appears to fall for him, from the group leader to his fellow new recruit. Only the second-in-command (probably) remains immune. Unlike Billy, however, it gradually becomes apparent that Kano is no innocent. He is approached by, and has affairs with, his male comrades, and the viewer wonders how far they are voluntary, how far exploitative. He certainly doesn’t appear to be particularly keen on sex itself. Gradually, though, the perspective begins to change – we’ve known that Kano is less innocent than he looks in one respect for a while, as he has certainly killed before , and the issue of who is exploiting whom and why starts to look a little different.

It isn't slow. It's not high drama, but every scene is informed by character and setting and drives the plot. It has beautiful interior design. Has anyone seen it – I’d love to have a conversation with someone who actually has, as so far I’ve just been recommending. And why is no-one going on about Okiwa not cutting his hair?

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and Smiley’s People (BBC)

I watched these while I was off work convalescing, in one-episode chunks, being the time it was not too uncomfortable to wear my glasses. I had enjoyed the TTSS film (with Gary Oldman as Smiley) very much, and being rather under the weather, was glad that I had enough of an idea of the plot, even conveyed in a different order, to help me a long a bit. The series is very different from the film, it has more time and it fills it, but it never feels slow paced. Scene after scene is two people sitting talking to one another, and it’s gripping. The script is brilliant, the acting sublime, it is dramatic, comical, shocking, wince-inducing, thought-provoking, ultimately tragic. The design and direction makes the whole world look grimy and gungy and dispiriting claustrophobic, green corridors not quite adequately lit, everything not quite adequately cleaned.

Smiley’s People is a different beast, less tightly-written, with a sprawling storyline that at times I found difficult to follow (and random lesbian soft-porn. Yes, sleazy club, we get it). But it is still fascinating and gripping, with more top-notch acting. The outstanding turn for me was Bernard Hepton letting rip as a Toby Esterhase who has thought “If they’re never going to see me as anything but a dodgy foreigner, then I’m damn well going to be a dodgy foreigner to the top of my bent”.
Tags: films, television
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