As well as watching films, I do manage to squeeze in a few TV programmes as well. Mrs Evangelist and I predominantly watch comedies or cookery programmes together, and if watching on my own it tends to be genre programming that attracts me, such as The Walking Dead or Game Of Thrones. But I have one particular addiction that I think drives Mrs E crazy, which thanks to the BBC iPlayer I tend to watch most evenings when doing the watching up or the housework, and that addiction is Pointless.
I appreciate that you may not be living in the UK if you’re reading this, or even if you do you may have better things to do at 5:15 p.m. on a weekday. (As if.) So if you’re not familiar with Pointless, let me briefly explain: questions on various subjects are asked of 100 members of the general public, each given 100 seconds to give as many answers as they can on the nominated topic. Those on the quiz then attempt to give answers given by as few of the public as possible, scoring a point for each person that gave the answer. The goal is to give “pointless” answers that no-one gave, but an incorrect answer scores 100 points. As teams are composed of two people, who both answer in each of the first two rounds, two incorrect answers scores 200 points. So as not to make those doing so feel too bad, they become members of an imaginary 200 Club for having done so; at least, I assume it’s imaginary.
The Review: Willy. Dinkle. Ding-dong. Schlong. Dick. Penis. Silly words, aren’t they? Got that out of our systems for now? Good. When I was at school, and the time came for sex education, our teacher put in the shiny new VHS cassette, pressed play and within five minutes a man and a woman appeared, walking around their house like the fruity naturists they obviously were, with not a stitch of clothing on. To a room full of eleven year olds, this was worthy of plenty of laughing, pointing and discussion, until we were told if we continued, the tape would go off again and wouldn’t come back on. But that urge to giggle at the mere mention of genitalia, never mind seeing them on screen, is still suppressed deep down in a great many of us, and it’s also that need to suppress the nature of discussing or seeing something that pretty much every one of us has that has seen Shame get a lot of attention for mostly the wrong reasons. It’s felt at times as if Shame has been categorised along with the pornography that its lead character is so fond of, yet the comparison feels as sensible as likening Goodfellas to The Three Stooges on the basis of slightly funny looking people with strong accents.
One thing’s absolutely for sure; Steve McQueen isn’t afraid to shy away from the big issues or themes. His first film, Hunger, was a triumph of style marrying grimness to substance with his story of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. Michael Fassbender took on the lead role both then and here, but the characters couldn’t be more different. Put him in a crowd, and Fassbender’s Brandon might be the coolest looking there, but he’ll be the one at the back, doing whatever he can to avoid drawing attention to himself. Your eyes might be drawn to him if you’re an attractive woman; you can be sure, if that’s the case, that his eyes will already be on you, and will have discreetly looked you up and down, mentally undressing you both physically and emotionally. But Brandon might also be hanging back for fear of commitment; physical contact and emotional gratification are right up his alley, if you’ll pardon the pun, but the thought of emotional connection to a woman, even his own sister Cissy (Carey Mulligan), seems to be the furthest thing from his mind.
First things first, then: Shame isn’t really about sex. It’s been loosely described as being about sex addiction, but that might be no more than an attempt to put a 21st century label on the fractured psyche of a man who just can’t say no to himself; but then again, why should he? In our internet led society of instant gratification and ready access to whatever you might desire, is it any wonder that someone channelling their OCD and overactive libido ends up following a path such as Brandon? it’s easy for Brandon to keep his deeper desires and needs to himself, but whenever his life rubs up against normal society, the relative innocents – or sister Cissy, about as far from innocent as Brandon – are what brings Brandon’s peccadilloes into sharper focus. Fassbender is fantastic, possibly in a career best performance in what’s been a busy few years, and retains just enough sympathy to keep your investment in the story, despite his more obvious character flaws. Again the charm and smoothness that’s picked him out as a future Bond in the likes of last year’s X-Men prequel are put to good use, but even Bond might blush at some of what Brandon gets up to, and it’s a neat trick in creating a character that both compels and repulses, often at the same time. Mulligan has a smaller role, but she’s almost up to the same standard, and her brashness and brittleness offer a strong dramatic counterpoint to Fassbender.
But Shame would be nothing without a director willing to take on material like this, and Steve McQueen succeeds in taking Shame up another level from his previous film. Hunger was almost a film in three distinct acts, the second of which was a standout single take scene between Bobby Sands and a priest. Shot from a fixed viewpoint, the conversation gripped despite being two people at a table, but even then, McQueen knew just when to cut to a more conventional shot for heightened effect. Here, his visual style is taken up a notch; from the crisp, functional blandness of Brandon’s apartment to the golden shimmer of New York nightlife, Shame looks gorgeous, and it’s not the occasional shots of genitalia at the edge of frame that will linger in the mind after the film finishes. The long single camera set-ups are put to more frequent use, but none outstays their welcome. The tight close-up on Mulligan’s face during her slow jazz rendition of New York, New York might get the most attention, but another scene were Fassbender has a dinner date is even better, allowing the slow burn of the chemistry between him and his prospective partner to ooze off the screen, every tiny detail captured in the frame.
As outstanding a debut as it was, Hunger still felt as if it would be as comfortable in an art installation as it would in a cinema. Shame feels made with only one possible destination in mind, the tricks less apparent when taken at a distance and the performances raw and resonant. By the end, the vice-like grip that’s slowly been exerted throughout the film takes hold and refuses to let go amid scenes of almost unbearable tension. Through it all, the flesh on display is kept to a few scenes and used to best effect each time it’s seen; you might need to repress those inner-child giggles when the first male member appears, somewhat briefly and briskly, but by halfway through it’s to the credit of all involved that no matter what’s seen on screen, it feels perfectly in service of the narrative. The real shame in all this is that from the US’s NC-17 rating to the judgemental looks from the usher as your ticket is checked, Shame has been judged by its reputation, which might deny the film the level of viewers its quality deserves. (Balls.)
Why see it at the cinema: McQueen and Fassbender are genuine talents; the long sequences demand to be seen in a cinema to allow you to soak in every single detail. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you immerse yourself in Shame.
The Score: 10/10
I was at the IMAX last week watching Inception. The movie reached the final scene, got the usual gasps and howls of frustration as the title card came up, and then as the music started, everyone got up and started to move. The lady sat next to me turned to her partner and simply said, “Do you want to stay and watch the end credits? Is there anything at the end?”
I know that reaction; I’ve lived with it for nearly ten years. As I’ve descended into further and further levels of movie geekery and obsessiveness, my girlfriend was sat on the sidelines. It’s not stopped her becoming my fiancée and, five years ago, my wife, but somehow she’s stuck with me through thick and thin.
So far this year, I’ve seen 61 movies in an actual cinema, and four of those twice (in two of those cases, to take her to movies I’d already seen). Her tally is 9 for this year; against my 52 last year she managed 13. She is not averse to getting in two in one day, as long as we get something to eat in between, and I did manage to get her into three in one day a few years back (not in my league, of course, but still an impressive achievement). But as you can see, I do end up seeing the vast majority on my own.
We do try to structure our lives so I see movies when she’s doing other things, but if there’s something I really want to see she will actively encourage me to make the trip. For example, last week I made a journey down an hour of winding country roads to the town of Wisbech, as they had a tiny cinema down a back street that was showing Skeletons, and I hadn’t managed to make it to one of the four screenings in the more convenient Cambridge. She managed to find that cinema when I hadn’t (and if you’re in the area, The Luxe is well worth a visit).
When your partner, regardless of your respective genders and orientations, shows a commitment like that to your hobby, you know how much you love each other. When he / she puts up with your obsessive list making, blog starting and taking a week off work to spend time in a film festival, then you consider yourself very lucky indeed. If you have your own movie widow (or widower), don’t forget to show them your appreciation once in a while.