LONDON TOWN (2016)

October 8, 2016

london-town Greetings again from the darkness. The late 1970’s in London were filled with political, social and labor discontent. Director Derrick Borte (The Joneses, 2009) and writer Matt Brown (The Man Who Knew Infinity, 2015) use this backdrop, along with some cutting edge music of the era, to tell a coming-of-age story that is enjoyable despite its predictability.

Daniel Huttlestone (Into the Woods) plays 15 year old Shay (not Che) who carries the burden of babysitting for his sister Alice (Anya McKenna-Bruce) and cooking for his two-job dad Nick (Dougray Scott), as he dreams of meeting up with his free-spirited mom Sandrine (Natascha McElhone) who lives a bohemian lifestyle in London. Things start to change for Shay once he receives a package from his mom … his first taste of music from The Clash.

Soon enough, Shay finds himself chatting it up on a commuter train with wild girl Vivian (Nell Williams), who generously shares her own music from The Clash, as well as some insight into the band, and even a ticket to their next concert. After the best night of Shay’s life, a work accident puts his dad in the hospital, requiring the son to take on even more responsibility.

More than a coming of age story, this is what I call “the teenage awakening”. Once the world starts opening up to Shay, he begins to question everything. A serendipitous night in the clink with Joe Strummer (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) brings some surprisingly grounded philosophy and guidance. “Some people just burn bright” is a spot-on description of Shay’s mom and a lesson to Shay that parents are people too.

The movie belongs to Huttlestone, who bounces between responsible young man, bullied teen, and anti-establishment rebel. Ms. Williams is delightful in her role, and JRM brings the necessary hard edge to Strummer. Director Borte has a really nice eye for scenes, but probably was a bit too stingy with Clash tunes. The timing for the film is a bit unfortunate, as it’s released in the same year as the similar but superior Sing Street. Still it’s an enjoyable little film with enough philosophy sprinkled in that we don’t even mind the predictable ending with “I Fought the Law” carrying us to closing credits.

watch the trailer:

 

 

 


THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY (2016)

April 30, 2016

USA Film Festival 2016

man who knew infinity Greetings again from the darkness. When one imagines the most exciting topics for movies, mathematics tends to fall pretty far down the list. Heck, most students only take math classes because they have no choice, so why should anyone be interested in the story of a young Indian man who revolutionized the mathematics world at Trinity College in Cambridge in the early 20th century?  The reason is that Srinivasa Ramanujan’s personal story is about more than numbers … it’s about faith and passion and overcoming life’s obstacles.

The story also has an intriguing by-product of demonstrating the difference between intelligence and genius. Trinity College at Cambridge was staffed by some of the smartest, best-educated professors on the planet when this self-taught odd young man appeared with ideas and notebooks filled with equations and concepts that most couldn’t even fathom, much less accept.

Dev Patel plays Ramanujan, the spirited man from Madras India who accepted his remarkable talent as a gift from God. His initially difficult relationship with Trinity Professor GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons) was a clash of two men whose passion for math far eclipsed their comfort in the real world. Hardy was a bit of an outcast at the university, while Ramanujan struggled to provide for his new wife, and had little patience for those who doubted his work.

Writer/director Matt Brown doesn’t seem to believe that the relationship between these two gentlemen is strong enough to hold a mainstream audience, so he commits what comes across as an excessive amount of time to the long-distance battles of the wife and mother of this genius. On the math side, Mr. Brown doesn’t allow us to get lost in minutiae of math equations, but also misses the mark on just how groundbreaking and extraordinary Ramanujan’s work was. There is little doubt that the story of genius, when combined with the abrasive mentorship, racism, elitism and health challenges provides more than enough material to keep us glued to the screen. The rest is merely distracting.

Strong support work is provided by Toby Jones (as Littlewood), Stephen Fry, and Jeremy Northam (as Bertrand Russell), but it’s Patel and Irons who carry the weight here. It’s especially rewarding to see Irons as a co-lead again. There have been other popular math movies like A Beautiful Mind, Good Will Hunting, and Proof, but it’s The Theory of Everything that seems to have the most in common with the story of Ramanujan and Hardy. So give it a shot … and remember to show your work!

watch the trailer: