Obama, Oscars and Operas

Blog by Ray Philp | 21 Jan 2009

January 2009 is a month that marks a first in the noughties; it’s ok to like America again.  The inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America ushers in a new era. An era where an American administration will look positively thoughtful, even bookish as Dubya rides off into the sunset, chased by a barefoot mob tossing loafers in his general direction. As Brown, Sarkozy, Putin et al prepare to fist bump the new incumbent, Gus van Sant’s latest offering Milk shamelessly grasps the opportunity to share in the feel good factor currently washing over US politics.

The film charts the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician to be elected to office in the US.  Sean Penn is given another shot at playing the iconoclast after his overwraught turn in All The Kings Men.  It has already been nominated for several brass trinkets, and if the quiet hype surrounding the film is anything to go by it looks a winner.

Kate Winslet is also casting a sly eye on a wee yellow statue.  Not to be accused of putting all of her Oscars in one basket, she plays the lead alongside Leonardo Di Caprio in Sam Mendes’ portrayal of tumultuous suburban drama in Revolutionary Road, and in Stephen Daldry’s tale of forbidden love in post war Germany The Reader.  Both films look equally deserving of your attention, but if your lint lined pockets can only afford one film then the prospect of a reunited Winslet and Di Caprio might be too tempting for those who found their slushy smooches such an inspiration over a decade ago.

Joining her in the glutton stakes is Bill Nighy, who drags his crumpled face onto our screens for Valkyrie and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.  Whilst alternating between a fascist bloke and the king of vampires doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for the thesp, maintaining his weathered Surrey brogue in both films and keeping a straight face at the same time might have been more challenging.  Tom Cruise headlines Valkyrie as Claus von Stauffenberg, who conspires to assassinate Adolf Hitler with  a group of vigilante Nazi officers, whilst Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is the improbable third outing for the vampire franchise.  The synopsis involves werewolves and vampires not getting along and gien’ each other daggers, followed by the odd square go.

Looking towards less trophy hungry features, The Cameo in Edinburgh offer a tasty looking lunchtime treat, serving up a French cop thriller helmed by Jacquet Maillot, Rivals,
showing from Friday 23rd and running through all of next week.  Set against 1970’s Lyon, it tells the story of two brothers whose lives could not differ more.  Jacque is a police officer whose brother Gabriel has recently been released from prison after serving a lengthy sentence. Attempting to establish normality in their lives proves difficult, and things come to a head as Gabriel is drawn back into a life of crime. The story focuses on their difficult relationship that all the same remains bound by familial affection.  Imagine The Sweeney with more chain smoking and facial hair par excellence, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect.

Meanwhile, something less tasty sounding but equally wholesome comes in the form of long awaited Killer of Sheep at the Glasgow Film Theatre.  Made in 1977, this film remained unseen by the general public until 2007 due to legal issues. Digitally restored, this Charles Burnett feature centres around the life of a slaughterhouse worker in Los Angeles’ Watts neighbourhood, disillusioned with his lot but powerless to do much about it.  It paints an austere portrait of the frustration of living in mediocrity, and is well worth a look.

Finally, the Dundee Contemporary Arts is screening ‘La Boheme’ on the 30th and 31st of January for those of you that enjoy a tenor in exchange for your tenner.  It might be lazy and injudicious to attach adjectives like ‘sweeping’ or ‘epic’ to this operatic weepie, but all the same expect to be swept away by this epic tale of love against a faithfully rendered backdrop of 19th century Paris.