A Single Lady

Two contrasting films. One made in 21 days, set in the 1960s; one costing upwards of $200m, set down a rabbit hole. One with a red queen, one with a dead queen. Oh shush you, I’m allowed to say that, it’s here on the membership card in black and glitter.

A Single Man shows one day in the 1962 life of George, a British professor of English at Random College, CA. A closet puddle-jumper, George lost his verygoodfriend Jim in a car crash a few months before. We see him coping, or not, intercut with occasional flashbacks to scenes with Jim.

I predicted in January that Colin Firth would win an Oscar for his portrayal of George. I’m doubtful now since the Academy went gay in this category last year via the medium of Sean Penn. Firth’s still in with a shot; we’ll find out in the next few hours. If he wins, I anticipate headlines punning ‘Firth’ with ‘first’. ‘Firth Among Equals’ perhaps.

Nicholas Hoult, child in About A Boy, yob in Skins, greek in the upcoming Clash of the Titans remake, plays Young Totty Kenny, a student with ambiguous desires. Hoult spouts what seems to my ears a pretty decent accent. Then again I guess Americans loved Dick van Dyke’s, so what do I know?

A few critics have huffed about excessive artiness in what is haberdashergay Tom Ford’s directorial, screenwriting and producing debut. Well, yes, it’s true there’s no Bruce Willis in a grimy vest leaping between exploding buildings, no caped spandex-encased do-gooder righting wrongs with a flick of his jaw. This is a good thing. The camera lingers a little, there are periods of calm. There is what I might haughtily call a conceit: at certain times Ford nudges the colour saturation up to 11. I generously forgive him this; overall it’s an impressive achievement. Production designers nicked from TV’s Mad Men portray that early sixties wood’n’nukes feel convincingly enough.

Artiness aside there is a story to tell, a touching one of loss and heartbreak. Sexuality is pleasingly subdued to a smidge above irrelevance. Not that it’s absent: it’s central, but in the way that heterosexuality is central to a million romcom yawnfests. Heteros won’t be tainted with gay by watching it.

I finished reading the original Christopher Isherwood novel the night before seeing the film. There are one or two noticeable differences plotwise; tweedy litnerds might be all pipes a-quiver at this. The changes improve the story as a film: shockingly, books aren’t films. I enjoyed and recommend both.

Avaragado’s rating: one Twinkie bar.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is, uh, a slightly different kettle of pigs. It contains in some venues at least one extra dimension and an audience of Ronnie Corbett lookalikes. Stars include the Burton Regulars and – marginally boggling – Barbara Windsor as the dormouse. Shame Sid James is dead, he could have played the Mad Hatter. Hattie Jacques as the Red Queen. Kenneth Williams as the Knave. Bernard Bresslaw as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Charles Hawtrey as the White Rabbit. Anyway.

As well as the usual cast, all the expected characters are present with full, faithful, bonkers Burton polish. Depp is as Depp does. The stand-out for me is the Cheshire Cat, Stephen Fry purring his way lugubriously through the film. As the Red Queen Helena Bonham Carter isn’t entirely unadjacent to Blackadder II‘s Queenie; a shame that milord Fry doesn’t get to purr a Melchettesque “Majesty”.

The visuals are stunning. From the Red Queen’s bulbous head to interaction between the real and the CGI, there’s barely a join visible. A couple of shots involving the Knave have a mildly fishy aroma, and Matt Lucas’s dual Tweedles sometimes veer away from skin towards plastic; otherwise it’s all entirely believable. CGI people are notoriously tricky thanks to the unique way our brains are funded: CGI mice can prance about with waistcoats and we lap it up; but one dodgy movement from a CGI human and we’re swooping into uncanny valley with klaxons blaring. The flying spaghetti monster gave us this talent so we could spot aliens. IT IS MY FAITH AMEN.

As a story it’s fine. Unlike A Single Man this is no faithful adaptation of the original, more a weird combination of sequel and re-imagining. A few climactic elements don’t feel entirely right; a little jarring, too mainstream perhaps given the surreality of most of the film. Not ruinous, and I’m sure perfectly acceptable for the main target audience.

Worth seeing just to be dazzled by the production.

Avaragado’s rating: cake.

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