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Reviews: From “A Belfast story” to “The Chicken Shop”

by Gerry Fitzpatrick

A socialist view of recent film and television offerings

Belfast Story (2013) a film by Nathan Todd

A young film director walks into the Felon’s Club in Belfast and stands at the bar. Before he orders a drink he is recognized and the burly barman approaches, “And the Nobel Prize for bullshit goes to Nathan Todd”. Unfazed Todd says, “No thanks – I’ll just have half a lager please.” 

This did not happen, I made it up. But I am sure that many who go to the Felon’s and a number of others who went to see Mr Todd’s film – Belfast Story currently on show in Belfast would want the story to be true.  

And that’s how easily it can be done, a narrative – however implausible, is still a narrative that can have life if it includes certain suppositions about what someone would like to be true. To achieve my effect my opening paragraph doesn’t need much analysis; it uses expected scene setting – and expected responses. When I say, “expected” I mean what we have come to expect from young filmmakers, who promise us something different or even  “new” about the filmic representation of the curious set of events that we call The Troubles.

For where it may have been the case in the past something “different” would have meant Black Comedy (the best example of which are the films based on Colin Bateman’s fiction), now “new” means post-peace process. Peace for the ambitious young student entails being hung over watching daytime TV. Which means finding yourself somewhere between the well-written and not so well written episodes of Inspector Morse and Midsummer Murders. 

Young Mr Todd was not the first to think that a fictional normality for Belfast would mean a “really good” detective story. Murphy’s Law and James Nesbitt went that way. So let’s not be too harsh on Nathan if he tries to do something similar – it’s just the way they do things now, and he has to start somewhere! 

So we have the detective (Colm Meaney), and now we have to give him something to ponder. How about a serial killer? Yes that seems about right, but it’s a bit too simple. How about a sub plot that wasn’t? You know, a plot to keep dangling an alternative possibility in front of a certain section of the audience about people in high places – like the Chief Constable (played by Malcolm Sinclair) and his side kick (Damien Hasson) being up to no good. 

And the usual suspects? Oh they are simply not here at all – why? – Because they are the usual suspects. But the only Loyalists depicted in this film were on gable walls. 


So what’s it all about then? Well, nothing much.  And here we must express some sympathy with Mr. Todd because after putting so much effort into trying to second-guess the second guessers in his audience, it’s not surprising that our young writer loses interest in developing his story and his characters. Who could blame him; his characters didn’t have much life as prose pawns to begin with. On that score it may not have been intentional that Susan Davey, who plays the concerned assistant to the ex-IRA leader should have done so with a ton of schmaltz - maybe it was just inevitable. 

Da and Ma from Give My Head Peace put in appearances that are mercifully short (Ma) and short lived (Da). But the prize for most outstanding indistinction goes to the man in the mask – the “good” serial killer himself. He’s good in this story because he dispenses A4 sheet “justice” to the retired IRA men. Mr Todd sends these men to the next world in a the manner of the black comedy Theatre of Blood (1973) in which Vincent Price dispenses his critics by means of their well known vices. Only here its not vices but devices. So the nail bomber gets nail bombed, pipe bomber gets a pipe bomb, fish shop bomber gets a poisoned fish supper and the breezeblock wielder – well you get the idea. And all because young Mr. Todd wants to present the ludicrous notion that it is those few remaining (ex)physical force republicans who are the chief barriers to a united Ireland.

Outside the cinema the endless loyalist flags protests and their toleration by the state are the real material obstruction to a united Ireland.

But in Mr Todd’s film these obstacles do not exist. For in the fantasy world of Belfast Story it is only republicanism that presents the bad men to be faced down. Once you do that apparently there will be a new state of affairs in which bad filmmakers will be a new power in the land. 

Elysium (2012)

A Film by Neill Blomkamp

This is a brave little film about a big subject – what do we do about the top 1% of the world’s population who have the best health and living conditions and want to separate themselves from the rest of humanity?

If nothing is done then the world will be not dissimilar to the one depicted in this film.  Elysium is a space wheel on which the rich 1% of society live and earth is a polluted concentration camp policed by middle managers and armed robots. 

Your reviewer was taken aback at the work that had been put into the script and effects I counted at least eight or nine science fiction film moments that Neill Blomkamp had revisited to “put right”. When I say “put right” I mean from a political point of view. Take one example 2001 a Space Odyssey is a non-political film that treats space travel and the origin of human intelligence as a matter of mystery and wonder. When it was re-released in 1978 a socialist friend at the time told me that socialists were appalled by the lack of political foresight by Kubrick, “here we where [in 1968] fighting for a socialist future and one of the world’s greatest directors says that things won’t change – in thirty years time there will be a Hilton on The Moon!” 

Neill Blomkamp and the producers of Elysium bite deep into that defeat of the future by capitalism and draw blood. For we join the film as Matt Damon is not only arrested by robots we also see what capitalist states are now doing to the poor – dramatized graphically in this future where refugee ships from earth are shot down by the security minister of the space wheel played sensitively and effectively by Jodie Foster. 

But Neill Blomkamp the writer and director goes further as he shows the regime on the wheel like the US today as a dark democracy, which wants to discipline Delacourt (Foster) for her excesses. Delacourt’s response is to plan a military take over of the wheel.  Matt Damon here is also on form as the worker who wants to mind his own business and have nothing to do with escape or the politics of rebellion. Again your reviewer was impressed by how skillfully Blomkamp turns around the clunking conservatism of Paul Verhoven’s Total Recall (1990) and Peter Hymas’s Outland (1981) and writes Max (Damon) as a man who has no choice but to rebel to be more human and to put to rest the cyborg he becomes in his fight to save others. Do try to see this film. 

Chicken Shop Ch4 Reality Documentary

Once our comrade Dr Terry Eagleton went in search of a donkey. He had seen the one he wanted in the paper – so off he drove. On the way there he had a car accident and hurt his hand. In matter of minutes people stopped their cars and gave him first aid and something to eat and called the ambulance. He said of the experience that he had seen the emergence of a small socialist community. This observation could also be applied to this short series about the people who live and work in Clapham High Street south London. The people who put in the hours behind the counter were poor farmers from the Indian Punjab. The people who want and do feel supportive and kind to others are from all of London’s inner city communities. Having had something good to eat the majority stop being anonymous and want to get to know you better. Worth watching. 


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